Profile Stats

Total Profile Views:
2513
Profile Views Last 7 Days:
4

About

Member Since
February 2003
 

Want-to-See Movies

This user has no Want to See movie selections yet.

Want-to-See TV

This user has no Want to See TV selections yet.

Rating History

Såsom i en Spegel (Through A Glass Darkly)
8 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

It is hardly coincidental that Ingmar Bergman chose to inflict the most unpredictable, unaccountable, and uncorrectable disease on his protagonist in [b]Through a Glass Darkly[/b]. In many respects, Bergman's imposition of clinical schizophrenia is a contorted manifestation of his own endlessly circuitous pontificating on both the unforgiving reality of a Godless universe, and man's stubborn refusal to concede such a confession even in spite of the most dire of circumstances. Karin's disease is strong enough to distort her earthly senses and rational sensibilities, but it is not powerful enough to sway her from an equally forcible adherence to faith in God's presence and benevolence. But such blind devotion is not limited exclusively to Karin's torturous introspection; each of her loved ones is forced to confront the realization of a vast emptiness in their own lives, a void that cannot be filled without the false promise of a greater purpose and a higher design. Karin's faith in God is the panacea for her ungodly contagion, while her loved ones' absence of faith is the source of their own epidemic, creating unwavering senses of hopelessness, emptiness, and uncertainty in each respective character. But by the end of the movie, all of these characters' beliefs and concerns become irrevocably reversed. Karin discovers the true face of God, Martin prays for compassionate assistance, David embraces the need for love, and Minus discovers that each one of his elders is just as confused and helpless as himself. [b]Through a Glass Darkly[/b] is not only an analysis of the destabilizing effects of an incurable disease on the security and happiness of a typical family, it is an examination of the extent to which those individuals will test their love for one another, as well as their insistence on ascribing a transcendent meaning to the randomness of their lives, and the indifference of their environment.

Bergman goes about achieving this end by presenting the movie from each of his principals' differing perspectives. Karin provides the most directly confounding viewpoint, effectively thrusting the audience into the irregular symptoms of her disease by stressing the indecipherable spontaneity of her "second world". Karin's inability to function within both her normal, practical life and her hallucinatory illness is a subtle commentary on Bergman's part pertaining to both the inapplicability of religious ideals during an insufferable existence, and the incoherent, imaginative constitution of spiritual devotion. Karin's final revelation, when she is confronted by the God who emerges from the crack within the wall, suggests Bergman's complete rejection of the idea of spiritual amnesty and absolution, choosing instead to wallow in the unchangeable solidity of Karin's fate. But Bergman's sense of hope is not completely tarnished. In the movie's final scene, Bergman offers his own philosophical interpretation on the meaning of God and the importance of faith. But Bergman emphasizes the importance of investing one's strength and courage not into some fanciful concoction of an omniscient and omnipotent being, but in the tangible sincerity of human compassion and sympathy. Irreversible tragedy can indeed be conquered, Bergman argues, but not through the passive acceptance of God's greater purpose. Rather, he insists, to place faith in the transformative power of love and determination is enough to defeat the dehumanizing repercussions of inexplicable disaster. Instead of needlessly praying to an unknowable, disinterested deity, Bergman insists that we should rather take comfort in the knowledge that we will be able to ease the pain of our loved ones through our active presence and fierce resolve, and not our passive patience and idle tolerance.

Surprisingly, it is not Karin who exposes this revelation to the audience, rather it is David, Karin's absentee father figure. In many respects, David serves as Bergman's autobiographical self. He is a prominent artist who devotes his greatest time and energy to completing his brilliantly empty work, rather than dealing with the real difficulties of his demoralized family. He returns home in an effort to study the consequences of his daughter's disease, undoubtedly in the hopes of using such knowledge for future novels. Even when confronted with intimate tragedy, he still cannot feign anything but half-hearted concern and coldly detached sympathy. This, Bergman insists, is the consequence of living in a world where there is no hope for the salvation of humanity. In this respect, Bergman does not completely reject the benefits of a worldly faith in otherworldly possibilities, and David serves as an example of the emotional destructiveness of human emptiness and purposelessness. In this sense, Bergman understands David as his greatest fear of the potential of his own adherence to objective atheism. Without any hope for the possibility of an amicable resolution, how does one continue to be human in a world of inhumanity? What solace can be found in the knowledge that God in fact does not exist, and that all of our actions are futile efforts to simply postpone our inevitable departure? The answer to these questions, David discovers, can not conveniently be found in some condescending intellectual thesis or pretentious artistic conception. It is only when David rejects his calculating rational skepticism that he can begin to understand the importance of maintaining hope in a world characterized by pure apathy and capriciousness. Even in a Godless universe, Bergman argues, we can still find meaning and morals in our personal experiences of trial and tragedy.

So then what are Bergman's conclusions, and how do they relate to Korin's madness? Unsurprisingly, they are just as confusing and conflicted as the combating questions and concerns of each one of Bergman's characters. There is no definitive answer to the question of suffering and mercy, Bergman argues. The only way we can arrive at a solution, whether it be spiritual or material in nature, is through our own experiences that shape and challenge our deepest beliefs and opinions. Whether we believe that love is the cure to end all tragedy, or whether we believe that God will someday walk through the door and alleviate our misfortune, it is important nonetheless that we believe that the world is indeed subject to change, and that life is only as random as we choose to make it. [b]Through a Glass Darkly[/b] is an ingenious examination of the convoluted prism that characterizes our perspective of spiritual feasibility in a world plagued by disease and devastation. Often times, it seems, our ability to find meaning in the birth of tragedy depends entirely on the angle at which we examine the faces.

Grizzly Man
Grizzly Man (2005)
8 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

[img]http://www.onlymagazine.ca/images/280.png[/img]

It would be rather easy and quite comforting to simply label Timothy Treadwell as a delusional crackpot who ultimately received his just deserts. Treadwell's woefully naive idealism coupled with his willful rejection of the most basic realities of his natural surroundings make him a rather wieldy target for even those with terrible aim. Treadwell's inability to anticipate the inevitable consequences of his actions has been interpreted by many to signify the man's complete separation from any resemblance of realism and sensibility, thus marking his extensive efforts as purely frivolous and futile. But by merely dismissing the man's utopian vision of a harmonious existence between humankind and nature, we're ultimately doing a great disservice to ourselves as well. Werner Herzog, one of the cinematic world's preeminent cynical jackasses, was able to both understand and empathize with Treadwell's contorted optimism, refusing to conveniently sticker Tim as some sort of brain damaged, new-age spiritualist. Herzog discovered inside of Treadwell's madness an alluringly gullible romanticism that carefully shielded a secluded demonic realism. Treadwell's refusal to succumb to the demands of our world's primitive natural order clearly fascinated Herzog just as much as Tim's secretively smoldering fixation with the indigenous inhumanity of the unforgiving material world.

Herzog ingeniously incorporates Treadwell's tangential metaphysical ruminations into the movie in order to communicate his own conflicting philosophical perspectives while also conveying a semblance of sympathy and familiarity, if not outright accordance as well. Herzog immediately empathizes with Treadwell's desire to search for some higher meaning beyond the discernable limits of both sanity and security, but does not fail to readily concede the enigmatic stupidity of Timothy's misguided enthusiasm as well. In many respects, the movie explores many similarities between Treadwell's adventurous pursuits and Herzog's well-documented desire to impose his own will on the natural world. For all of Herzog's pontificating on nature's unmistakable indifference, such confessed naturalism has never stopped the man from attempting to conquer these impartial forces through sheer fierce determination. Similarly for Treadwell, even the unequivocal evidence suggesting the inapplicability of his philosophical disposition (the murder of a baby fox, the infanticide of a baby cub, instances of cannibalism during an extended drought) is not enough to dissuade him from the attractiveness of his hallucinatory insistence on the beauty and simplicity of the natural wilderness. While Herzog mocks and scolds Treadwell for his blatant ignorance with regards to the childlike quixotism of his pilgrimage, he also seems to secretly admire him for his refusal to conform to others' expectations, even when all the impulses of the universe seem to be conspiring against him. Like Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo, Herzog is able to extract carefully hidden noble qualities buried within a man of very questionable character.

In many respects, Timothy Treadwell's quest for natural harmony was an unattainable search for spiritual absolution as well as social vindication. Herzog shows great respect for Treadwell's intense desire to discover a sense of place and purpose within a higher immaterial order, while similarly displaying affection for Timothy's corporeal drive to convincingly demonstrate both his superiority and masculinity to all of those who had expressed doubts and engaged in interference. Herzog has always reserved his greatest admiration for those great historical figures who have unleashed their greatest ambitions upon the natural world around them, and Treadwell is clearly no exception. But this is not because of some juvenile fascination with conquest and subjugation; Herzog's veneration has always been directed towards the instinctual human passion to satisfy one's greatest aspirations, forces of the uncaring universe be damned. Treadwell's absurd eagerness to prove the feasibility of his ideological utopia is sufficient enough to earn Herzog's qualified approbation, but it is not practical enough to stave off Herzog's equally powerful adherence to rational skepticism. Just as Herzog ultimately recognized the folly of Aguirre's ways, Timothy Treadwell is similarly depicted as a man who has become so lost within his untamed search for grandeur that he has forgotten the very purpose of his once innocent expedition.

Many people have taken issue with this back and forth dialogue between Herzog and Treadwell, bemoaning the use of voice-over narration as manipulative, theatrical and unnecessary. Many people have accused the movie of being quite staged and overtly fictional, while needlessly abandoning the most basic purpose of Treadwell's adventure in order to posit some hackneyed, sophomoric philosophical dichotomy that was completely beyond Timothy's intentions and perhaps comprehension as well. But without Herzog's added abstract speculations, Treadwell's undertakings lose a great deal of larger significance and withstanding permanence. Without Herzog interjecting his own balanced suppositions, we're unable to see just how Treadwell's acts of defiance are not only acts of pure lunacy, but acts of poignant proclivity as well. It would indeed be easy to categorize Treadwell's activities as little more than the product of years of alcohol and drug abuse coupled with prolonged bouts of frustration and isolation, but it is infinitely more difficult to recognize his actions as a manifestation of a much deeper, exclusively human predilection to create meaning in one's life by imposing order upon one's natural surroundings. Werner Herzog's (and it [i]is[/i] Werner Herzog's) Grizzly Man is not only a fervent rebuke of the unfeasible insanity of Timothy Treadwell's hopeless optimism, but also a tempered celebration of humanity's imperishable stubbornness, arrogance, and inspiring audacity.

Human Resources (Ressources humaines)
8 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

[img]http://metropolis.japantoday.com/xmg/508/undisputed-deadlook.jpg[/img]

While Denzel Washington was receiving heaps of critical accolades for his admittedly impressive work as Ruben Carter in the trite and formulaic [b]The Hurricane[/b], Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames received little to no praise and publicity for their efforts in the much more challenging and entertaining [b]Undisputed[/b]. While Denzel's film strived for a curious form of politically correct political consciousness and exhibited an oddly detached sense of empathy for its principal subject, [b]Undisputed[/b] kept it real, kept it simple, and made us give a damn. Most critics dismissed director Walter Hill's movie as just another cliché-ridden sports movie that celebrated violence and manliness at the expense of any sort of moral-centeredness. What these folks failed to understand was that [b]Undisputed[/b], as evidenced by its cleverly ironic title, was in fact a thoughtfully layered examination of our peculiar fixation with watching grown men pummel each other as a means of enjoyment. Much like Robert Wise's [b]The Set-Up[/b], made some fifty years prior, Hill's movie seeks to scrutinize this obsessive fascination while reminding the audience of the ethical consequences of their deranged craving for fulfillment.

The film's two lead characters, Monroe Hutchins and Iceman Chambers, are very different individuals although they both share a comparable thirst for competition, and a similarly tragic history of violence. Chambers is the heavyweight champion of the world, until he is convicted of rape and sent to Sweetwater Prison, where Hutchins resides, serving a life sentence for murder. Monroe is the champ on the inside, and Iceman immediately becomes the challenger once he loses his freedom. Both men are undeniably stubborn in their own unique ways; Iceman refuses to back down from anyone by brashly demonstrating his physical superiority over the other inmates at every opportunity, while Hutchins exudes a quiet confidence, remaining calm and withdrawn, confident in the knowledge of his well-earned respect and high standing within the prison hierarchy. Monroe shows respect and deference to the abilities of Chambers, but such civility is not reciprocated by Iceman. The escalating tensions finally lead to an adrenaline rush of a conclusion, giving the audience what they want while at the same time asking them why it is that they want it in the first place.

[b]Undisputed[/b] is a loud, bold, flashy boxing movie that is filled with nuance and subtlety. Hill's movie asks many stimulating questions, and reveals many of the enticing hypocrisies surrounding our sports-crazed society. Perhaps the most pressing question Hill asks us is, to simplify it considerably, why is fighting only acceptable when it takes place within a ring in a controlled environment? Monroe is serving a life sentence for killing a man with his bare hands, but would he still be in prison if he had done so while inside a boxing ring? Can we remove malicious intent from the equation if both persons assent to the possibility of injury or perhaps even death? Why do we praise men for physically assaulting each other as a means of entertainment, and then punish other men for physically abusing others as a means of necessity?

While posing challenging moral inquiries such as these, [b]Undisputed[/b] also takes great delight in observing some of the more sordid qualities patently evident within the world of professional boxing. Ving Rhames' character is quite clearly based quite heavily on the life of Mike Tyson, a fighter whose physique was just as Greek as the path that his career ultimately traveled. Iceman's incarceration, similar to Tyson's, sparks a media and public backlash that immediately vilifies a man who was once idolized by many for rather suspicious reasons. Despite Iceman's insistence on his innocence, his once loyal fans choose to demonize him for his sexual exploits. But do they disprove of his actions because of the grief that they caused for his victim, or do they selfishly object to his transgression because it will deprive them of their own perverted sense of enjoyment? By the end of the film, it becomes obvious that it is, in fact, the latter. When Iceman is reinstated after receiving an early release due to "good behavior" and regains his heavyweight title, the fans forgive him for all of his sins, and the cries of his victim are completely forgotten.

[b]Undisputed[/b] is a searing indictment of our society's inexplicable fascination with the competitive nature of physical violence that was inexplicably dismissed by most critics as a B-movie posing as a big studio blockbuster. While Walter Hill's latest masterpiece may not have the impressive production values that were afforded to Denzel Washington's shallow Oscar vehicle, it contains more original ideas than the majority of most of today's big studio releases, which are infinitely more deserving of being labeled as primped and primed B-movies decked out in Hollywood's emperor's clothes. Most people will look at this movie's premise and write it off as just another dumb sports movie, and these people will unfortunately miss out on one of the most intelligent screenplays of our new century.

...

[img]http://www.ragtagfilm.com/archives/images/resources.jpg[/img]

When dealing with the subject of the changing face of the increasingly globalized business world, most people seem to trend towards the recently released [b]In Good Company[/b], mostly because it's an insultingly easy movie made for a culture that loves simplicity. While Paul Weitz's latest picture took the easy way out by simply pointing the finger and then patting itself on the back (and even making a few tasteless jokes along the way), Laurent Cantet's debut feature film, [b]Human Resources[/b], tackles a more difficultly ambiguous task. Cantet's movie didn't have a bunch of pretty faces and cute little gags to push what it was selling; all it had was an aesthetically ugly foundation built upon principles, morals, conviction and integrity. While Weitz's movie blatantly and lamely used its broken moral compass to signify a pretense of compassion and empathy, Cantet's movie goes all the way, and doesn't apologize for doing so. [b]Human Resources[/b] is a rare film that doesn't treat business ethics like an after-school special, and reminds us that the resolution is never quite as cute and cuddly as hacks like Weitz would like you to believe.

[b]Human Resources[/b] is a docu-drama of sorts that focuses upon the relationship between Franck, an intern for a local labor firm, and his father, Jean-Claude, who has been working the same assembly line for thirty years. When Franck first arrives he's full of piss and vinegar, eager to prove that his federal loans did not go to waste on booze and strippers. Franck attempts to supplant himself on the short-list for future job candidates by deviously circumventing hierarchical expectations and playing the Iago to his superior's Othello. Franck plants the seed in his supervisor's mind that leads to the invariable downsizing of the labor force. But when Franck discovers that his father is one of the unlucky bastards about to get the axe, he is faced with a moral crisis of, well, Shakespearean proportions. Rather than sit back and let nature run its course, Franck decides to take action, and learns an immeasurably valuable lesson that was conveniently glossed over during his course lectures. After secretly confiding with one of Jean-Claude's colleagues, Franck breaks the news to his father in a decidedly inconsiderate fashion, indicating that while his intentions were pure, his sympathy was not. The remainder of the film focuses upon Franck's search for moral certainty within an endless maze of contradictions; a search that proves just as empty and futile as his union's quest for justice and fairness.

Cantet's film asks many arresting and timely questions dealing with the relationship between workers and management, and the responsibilities each one holds for the other. It also directly confronts the shifting ideological expectations of the business world, which no longer favors experience in their prospective employees, but rather potential. Franck certainly has plenty of potential, enough that his new employers feel they can successfully mold it their own advantage. But what they did not anticipate was that Franck would hold a moral resoluteness concrete enough to match his impressive intellect and ingenuity. Unlike [b]In Good Company[/b], Cantet's aspiring youngster doesn't selfishly reconsider his choice of profession because he is threatened with termination, he does so because he knows a pile of horseshit when he sees one, and isn't about to stick around and ignore the smell, either. When Franck is confronted with the need to throw his friends and family under the bus in order to advance his own career, he doesn't balk at the appropriate solution. Rather than securing his place in the firm's highest ranks, Franck undergoes a complete transformation and begins to take action against what he perceives to be a great injustice and unjustifiable disservice to the company's loyal servants. But, in a stark contrast to Franck's youthful positivism, Cantet interjects his own weathered pragmatism, reminding us that the right decision isn't always the right decision after all.

There's no denying that [b]Human Resources[/b] is a heavily biased and heavily manipulative film. Cantet makes no effort to disguise his political leanings, and the movie is all the more powerful because of it. While I hate tree-hugging socialism as much as the next guy, Cantet's film isn't nearly as radical and ideologically driven as others seem to believe. The heart of the movie is not found in some boring political thesis, but in the consideration and empathy shown towards the people who really matter in all of this. Cantet doesn't deliberately make his workers infallible saints deserving of our respect and charity, he makes them earn our equal sense of compunction. To this end, he employs some manipulative means, but not in the vain of some overbearingly condescending "humanism" like you'd expect from Lars Von Trier or someone of his ilk. Cantet's intentions are far too pure to sink to such depths of posturing elitism, and his purity makes our identification with the principal subjects all the more fulfilling.

[b]Human Resources[/b] is a great example of what a promising young filmmaker can accomplish without the aid of big noisy visuals and big expensive talent. Cantet's debut offering proves that all you need to make a good film is a great story and a ton of enthusiasm. While some may mistakenly mistake Cantet's offering of the latter as muddled pessimism, there is little doubt that Cantet really does give a damn about what he's doing, which is more than I can say for the majority of his contemporaries. Many have derided the film as boring and unimaginative, repetitive and unconvincing, contrived and disingenuous, but in a day in age when all anyone gets worked up over anymore involves giant apes, talking lions and fictional superheroes, it's refreshing to see someone who actually has something interesting to say, and actually has the balls to say it.

Undisputed
Undisputed (2002)
8 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

[img]http://metropolis.japantoday.com/xmg/508/undisputed-deadlook.jpg[/img]

While Denzel Washington was receiving heaps of critical accolades for his admittedly impressive work as Ruben Carter in the trite and formulaic [b]The Hurricane[/b], Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames received little to no praise and publicity for their efforts in the much more challenging and entertaining [b]Undisputed[/b]. While Denzel's film strived for a curious form of politically correct political consciousness and exhibited an oddly detached sense of empathy for its principal subject, [b]Undisputed[/b] kept it real, kept it simple, and made us give a damn. Most critics dismissed director Walter Hill's movie as just another cliché-ridden sports movie that celebrated violence and manliness at the expense of any sort of moral-centeredness. What these folks failed to understand was that [b]Undisputed[/b], as evidenced by its cleverly ironic title, was in fact a thoughtfully layered examination of our peculiar fixation with watching grown men pummel each other as a means of enjoyment. Much like Robert Wise's [b]The Set-Up[/b], made some fifty years prior, Hill's movie seeks to scrutinize this obsessive fascination while reminding the audience of the ethical consequences of their deranged craving for fulfillment.

The film's two lead characters, Monroe Hutchins and Iceman Chambers, are very different individuals although they both share a comparable thirst for competition, and a similarly tragic history of violence. Chambers is the heavyweight champion of the world, until he is convicted of rape and sent to Sweetwater Prison, where Hutchins resides, serving a life sentence for murder. Monroe is the champ on the inside, and Iceman immediately becomes the challenger once he loses his freedom. Both men are undeniably stubborn in their own unique ways; Iceman refuses to back down from anyone by brashly demonstrating his physical superiority over the other inmates at every opportunity, while Hutchins exudes a quiet confidence, remaining calm and withdrawn, confident in the knowledge of his well-earned respect and high standing within the prison hierarchy. Monroe shows respect and deference to the abilities of Chambers, but such civility is not reciprocated by Iceman. The escalating tensions finally lead to an adrenaline rush of a conclusion, giving the audience what they want while at the same time asking them why it is that they want it in the first place.

[b]Undisputed[/b] is a loud, bold, flashy boxing movie that is filled with nuance and subtlety. Hill's movie asks many stimulating questions, and reveals many of the enticing hypocrisies surrounding our sports-crazed society. Perhaps the most pressing question Hill asks us is, to simplify it considerably, why is fighting only acceptable when it takes place within a ring in a controlled environment? Monroe is serving a life sentence for killing a man with his bare hands, but would he still be in prison if he had done so while inside a boxing ring? Can we remove malicious intent from the equation if both persons assent to the possibility of injury or perhaps even death? Why do we praise men for physically assaulting each other as a means of entertainment, and then punish other men for physically abusing others as a means of necessity?

While posing challenging moral inquiries such as these, [b]Undisputed[/b] also takes great delight in observing some of the more sordid qualities patently evident within the world of professional boxing. Ving Rhames' character is quite clearly based quite heavily on the life of Mike Tyson, a fighter whose physique was just as Greek as the path that his career ultimately traveled. Iceman's incarceration, similar to Tyson's, sparks a media and public backlash that immediately vilifies a man who was once idolized by many for rather suspicious reasons. Despite Iceman's insistence on his innocence, his once loyal fans choose to demonize him for his sexual exploits. But do they disprove of his actions because of the grief that they caused for his victim, or do they selfishly object to his transgression because it will deprive them of their own perverted sense of enjoyment? By the end of the film, it becomes obvious that it is, in fact, the latter. When Iceman is reinstated after receiving an early release due to "good behavior" and regains his heavyweight title, the fans forgive him for all of his sins, and the cries of his victim are completely forgotten.

[b]Undisputed[/b] is a searing indictment of our society's inexplicable fascination with the competitive nature of physical violence that was inexplicably dismissed by most critics as a B-movie posing as a big studio blockbuster. While Walter Hill's latest masterpiece may not have the impressive production values that were afforded to Denzel Washington's shallow Oscar vehicle, it contains more original ideas than the majority of most of today's big studio releases, which are infinitely more deserving of being labeled as primped and primed B-movies decked out in Hollywood's emperor's clothes. Most people will look at this movie's premise and write it off as just another dumb sports movie, and these people will unfortunately miss out on one of the most intelligent screenplays of our new century.

...

[img]http://www.ragtagfilm.com/archives/images/resources.jpg[/img]

When dealing with the subject of the changing face of the increasingly globalized business world, most people seem to trend towards the recently released [b]In Good Company[/b], mostly because it's an insultingly easy movie made for a culture that loves simplicity. While Paul Weitz's latest picture took the easy way out by simply pointing the finger and then patting itself on the back (and even making a few tasteless jokes along the way), Laurent Cantet's debut feature film, [b]Human Resources[/b], tackles a more difficultly ambiguous task. Cantet's movie didn't have a bunch of pretty faces and cute little gags to push what it was selling; all it had was an aesthetically ugly foundation built upon principles, morals, conviction and integrity. While Weitz's movie blatantly and lamely used its broken moral compass to signify a pretense of compassion and empathy, Cantet's movie goes all the way, and doesn't apologize for doing so. [b]Human Resources[/b] is a rare film that doesn't treat business ethics like an after-school special, and reminds us that the resolution is never quite as cute and cuddly as hacks like Weitz would like you to believe.

[b]Human Resources[/b] is a docu-drama of sorts that focuses upon the relationship between Franck, an intern for a local labor firm, and his father, Jean-Claude, who has been working the same assembly line for thirty years. When Franck first arrives he's full of piss and vinegar, eager to prove that his federal loans did not go to waste on booze and strippers. Franck attempts to supplant himself on the short-list for future job candidates by deviously circumventing hierarchical expectations and playing the Iago to his superior's Othello. Franck plants the seed in his supervisor's mind that leads to the invariable downsizing of the labor force. But when Franck discovers that his father is one of the unlucky bastards about to get the axe, he is faced with a moral crisis of, well, Shakespearean proportions. Rather than sit back and let nature run its course, Franck decides to take action, and learns an immeasurably valuable lesson that was conveniently glossed over during his course lectures. After secretly confiding with one of Jean-Claude's colleagues, Franck breaks the news to his father in a decidedly inconsiderate fashion, indicating that while his intentions were pure, his sympathy was not. The remainder of the film focuses upon Franck's search for moral certainty within an endless maze of contradictions; a search that proves just as empty and futile as his union's quest for justice and fairness.

Cantet's film asks many arresting and timely questions dealing with the relationship between workers and management, and the responsibilities each one holds for the other. It also directly confronts the shifting ideological expectations of the business world, which no longer favors experience in their prospective employees, but rather potential. Franck certainly has plenty of potential, enough that his new employers feel they can successfully mold it their own advantage. But what they did not anticipate was that Franck would hold a moral resoluteness concrete enough to match his impressive intellect and ingenuity. Unlike [b]In Good Company[/b], Cantet's aspiring youngster doesn't selfishly reconsider his choice of profession because he is threatened with termination, he does so because he knows a pile of horseshit when he sees one, and isn't about to stick around and ignore the smell, either. When Franck is confronted with the need to throw his friends and family under the bus in order to advance his own career, he doesn't balk at the appropriate solution. Rather than securing his place in the firm's highest ranks, Franck undergoes a complete transformation and begins to take action against what he perceives to be a great injustice and unjustifiable disservice to the company's loyal servants. But, in a stark contrast to Franck's youthful positivism, Cantet interjects his own weathered pragmatism, reminding us that the right decision isn't always the right decision after all.

There's no denying that [b]Human Resources[/b] is a heavily biased and heavily manipulative film. Cantet makes no effort to disguise his political leanings, and the movie is all the more powerful because of it. While I hate tree-hugging socialism as much as the next guy, Cantet's film isn't nearly as radical and ideologically driven as others seem to believe. The heart of the movie is not found in some boring political thesis, but in the consideration and empathy shown towards the people who really matter in all of this. Cantet doesn't deliberately make his workers infallible saints deserving of our respect and charity, he makes them earn our equal sense of compunction. To this end, he employs some manipulative means, but not in the vain of some overbearingly condescending "humanism" like you'd expect from Lars Von Trier or someone of his ilk. Cantet's intentions are far too pure to sink to such depths of posturing elitism, and his purity makes our identification with the principal subjects all the more fulfilling.

[b]Human Resources[/b] is a great example of what a promising young filmmaker can accomplish without the aid of big noisy visuals and big expensive talent. Cantet's debut offering proves that all you need to make a good film is a great story and a ton of enthusiasm. While some may mistakenly mistake Cantet's offering of the latter as muddled pessimism, there is little doubt that Cantet really does give a damn about what he's doing, which is more than I can say for the majority of his contemporaries. Many have derided the film as boring and unimaginative, repetitive and unconvincing, contrived and disingenuous, but in a day in age when all anyone gets worked up over anymore involves giant apes, talking lions and fictional superheroes, it's refreshing to see someone who actually has something interesting to say, and actually has the balls to say it.

Springtime in a Small Town (Xiao cheng zhi chun)
8 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

[img]http://thecia.com.au/reviews/s/images/springtime-in-a-small-town-4.jpg[/img]

The 1940's was undoubtedly one of the most significant decades in modern Chinese history. Caught up in the midst of a war with Japan, China opened itself to the influences of Western modernity as a means of absolute necessity. Further complicating matters was the national civil war between the Nationalist and Communist forces that resurfaced in a disturbingly violent fashion following the conclusion of the second Great War. These years were consequently characterized by incessant hardship and adversity for the vast majority of the Chinese populace, particularly the unaligned rural agriculturists caught between two stubbornly opposing forces. This decade was characterized not only by an intense militaristic conflict that heavily divided the nation, but also an unavoidable cultural schism that erupted between the "traditionalists" and the "modernists". This ideological dichotomy characterized the very essence of Chinese society following the defeat of Japan, and subsequently influenced the lives of many unfortunate victims imprisoned between the impartial forces. Many Chinese citizens would have their land, their beliefs, and their pride forcibly taken from them in an alarmingly swift and unexpected social and political movement. Needless to say, for many people, a feeling of disillusionment and uncertainty began to characterize their daily existence.

This cultural conflict and subsequent emotional disconnection is eloquently and subtly captured by director Zhuangzhuang Tian, who is perhaps most famous for his previous films [b]Horse Thief[/b] and [b]The Blue Kite[/b]. That many critics dismissed this particular film as a simplistic, standard love-triangle tale is hardly surprising, as Tian's allusions are easy to miss without considerate deliberation. Many of these critics failed to place the story into its proper historical context, and thus were only able to appreciate the most basic meaning of the story. What they did not realize was that Tian's film was not only a philosophical rumination on the inner conflict between reason and emotion, desire and consideration, betrayal and morality, but also a cleverly disguised commentary on the social conditions for many of China's rural wanderers during the late 1940's.

[b]Springtime in a Small Town[/b] is a story that involves three principle characters, namely Zhang Zhichen, Dai Liyan, and the mistress Yuwen, the source of both men's affection and attention. Zhang returns from Shanghai to the small town where he was raised in order to pay a visit to his old friend, Liyan. Unbeknownst to Zhang, Liyan is in fact married to Yuwen, Zhang's former childhood sweetheart. What follows is a series of events conducted between the three individuals in which each person attempts to arrive at an understanding of how to reconcile their emotional and sensual needs with their need for responsibility and loyalty to each other. Tian's complex love-triangle is a casually restrained powder keg association, ultimately culminating in an unsettling tragedy that restores a sense of compassion and morality to each of the principal characters. Tian's argument appears to be that we can only appreciate what we have when we nearly have it taken away from us, but in a bewilderingly brilliant twist, the final shot of the film seems to contradict this premise almost entirely.

The cinematography, provided by [b]In the Mood for Love[/b]'s Ping-Bing Lee is some of the most amazing work you will ever have the privilege to witness. His depiction of springtime in 1940's rural China is a dizzyingly contradictory clashing of gray mists and clouded blues surrounding crumbled remains of once proud architectural landmarks. His vision of springtime is a complex combination of an unforgiving overcast carefully guarding a world of untamed beauty only occasionally allowed to peak its way through the cracks of its overbearing oppressor. During the early stages of Zhang's arrival, Lee's springtime is a warmly relaxed atmosphere consisting of a remarkably breathtaking range of colors and expressions. But as time goes on, the weather alters considerably, but rather than having the clichéd coming of a storm to signify the impending crisis between the film's characters, Lee ingeniously masks the otherworldly beauty found within his lens behind a thin wall of somber mist and hazy obscurity. [b]Springtime in a Small Town[/b] features some of the most beautiful photography imaginable, and like any great film, uses its remarkable images to complement and expand upon the narrative.

Tian's film is not only a compelling romance story, but it is also a fascinating look at how rural life is often filled with conflicting emotions of simplicity and monotony, desire and boredom, intimacy and alienation. Perhaps the most intriguing question that Tian's film proposes is whether Yuwen seduces Zhang because she truly lusts for him, or because her dissatisfaction has clouded her judgment. Is Zhang the perfect partner that Yuwen has waited for her entire life, or is he simply the convenient means of escape that could finally pull Yuwen out of her idle seclusion? After all, Zhang is a prominent physician from a big city, a man who lives an exciting, unpredictable life. Yuwen's husband, Liyan, lives in a sickly state of isolation, pleased with and accustomed to his traditional way of life. It is in this sense that Tian presents the conflict between the traditional rural lifestyle of China, and the newly discovered modern world rapidly unfolding before the nation's eyes in the industrialized urban areas. But even when you remove the film from its historical context, the message still remains profoundly engaging and elusively contemplative. As someone who has spent the majority of their life growing up in a small town, I can certainly identify with many of Yuwen's complaints and concerns, and many of you should be able to as well.

Also fascinating is the manner in which Tian casually destructs the popular perception of female meekness and submissiveness that most people usually attribute to most Asian cultures. Yuwen is an assertive, manipulative woman who goes to great ends to ensure that she receives what she desires. She is not some absent minded puppet of her overbearing husband, rather, the traditional roles between the two parties have been completely reversed. Liyan is the sickly, dependant individual who relies upon his wife's charity and benevolence to maintain his spirits. In fact, by the end of the film, Liyan winds up making the sacrifice that he feels is necessary to bring his wife happiness, rather than vice versa. Liyan's compassionately emasculated character stands in stark contrast to Yuwen's coldly cunning and deliberately devious persona, a rare transfiguration that has caused many to erroneously label the film as secretively misogynistic. Tian's intentions with this film are not to scold or belittle his female lead, but rather to elevate her to levels far beyond her stereotypical limitations. Yuwen's unique qualities present yet another confounding layer to the film's encapsulating mysterious tale of morality.

How does all of this relate to the cultural crisis existing within China during the film's time period? Well, I already touched upon the conflict between rural and urban existence that characterizes a great deal of the dramatic tension within the film. But there is also the more abstract political allusions evident within the movie that I will touch upon. Tian's film cleverly mentions many of the impending cultural and social changes within China without making explicit reference to the external events existing outside of the story. The fractured fortifications on display throughout the town square provides a stark reminder of the violence and turbulence that confronted the film's characters. The disturbingly barren, vaporous landscape seems to indicate a persistent sense of uncertainty, uneasiness, and displeasure that is manifested in the actions and words of the characters. Yuwen views Liyan as representing the antiquated, unappealing principles of traditionalist China, while she simultaneously sees Zhang as the spontaneous, promising future of her being (the modernist lure, so to speak). [b]Springtime in a Small Town[/b] is not only an engaging tale of love, lust and loneliness, but it is also a clever parable detailing a period of unparalleled transition for a once proudly unified nation.

With all of this said, it is the final shot of the film that provides the greatest source of complexity for the story and frustration for the viewer. We are at first led to believe that Yuwen is content to remain with Liyan after experiencing the tragedy that brings the two closer together than ever before. But the final sequence of images seems to completely contradict this premise. We witness Yuwen sitting idly by her windowsill, knitting the same garment that she was working on prior to Zhang's arrival. Suddenly, we hear the whistle of a train in the distance, and the look on Yuwen's face seems to completely violate whatever notions of contentedness we may have believed her to possess. Then there is the film's final image, which is one of the most profound closing shots of any movie this side of [b]2001: A Space Odyssey[/b] or perhaps even [b]Maborosi[/b]. Some people have interpreted this final shot to indicate Yuwen's sense of dissatisfaction and emptiness, but I think there is even greater significance to be attributed to the closing image. I view the last shot as simply one last nostalgic look at a time that could no longer be considered sustainable in a rapidly changing world. Tian's concluding shot is his one final farewell to a traditional culture and society that would never again be quite the same. His agony, we come to appreciate, is not so dissimilar from Yuwen's pain after all.

[b]Springtime in a Small Town[/b] is a quiet, unassuming little masterpiece that was released to little fanfare or critical acclaim. You should all do yourselves a great service and give it a chance one of these days. I promise that you will not regret it.