Da 5 Bloods
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I May Destroy You
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A gripping film about how hard life was before, and about how little it took to overthrow a person's dreams
This is a deeply realistic film about the lives of poor farmers struggling to survive. It also has a lyrical, poetic and deeply humane quality about it. The story of ordinary people struggling, often losing, yet remarkably resilient and optimistic, was billed at the time as 'a story of America', which fits perfectly. To capture the feeling of this film, think of a quieter version of a Frank Capra film, with lots of elements from The Grapes of Wrath. A beautiful film. The one off note in the film for me was Beulah Bondi's portrayal of the grandmother, who seemed to be the result of one-dimensional over-acting. But if it pleased Jean Renoir, who am I to complain?
If you can get past the horrible grandmother, this is a beautiful and great film. Why Renoir had Bondi perform in this cartoonish way almost ruins the film. Stay with it though. Its gritty, real, touching and brilliantly acted (even if Scott is too polished to come off as a dirt farmer). Betty Field shines.
Effective and all-too-real. The plight of the rural, uneducated southern white was a major problem, but filmmakers never addressed the bigger injustice: the plight of the totally disenfranchised,poverty-stricken black people who had no way to succeed in the 1940s.
One of a handful of films from Jean Renoir's American Period (roughly 1941 to 1947) that saw him tackle American themes but never straying too far from his interests in class and economic justice (that were most prominent in his greatest film, The Rules of the Game, 1939, and even La Grande Illusion, 1937). Here, Zachary Scott plays a cotton picker with a young family who decides to strike out on his own as a sharecropper (renting some of his former boss's land and including a share of the crop as payment). His wife, Betty Field, enthusiastically throws herself into fixing up the farm and sowing the field. His grandmother, Beulah Bondi, complains endlessly but is sweet deep down. Renoir manages to lend some human feeling to the proceedings and the relationships among the family and between Scott and his mean-spirited neighbour (J. Carroll Naish) seem authentic enough. It's a tough life but Scott and his family tackle it in a good humoured way (most of the time). In some ways, this is almost a neo-realist view of the (poor white) South, though I reckon things would have been even harder for some.
There was a lot of sincerity in this film about the life of the southern farmer, it's a gem.
Sam Tucker (almost sounds like a name a country-based folk song from the 30's or 40's would be about, not far removed from Dan Tucker) has worked the land for other people, but his uncle as he's dying tells him to work for himself. He takes his word more than just to heart, he goes for it and takes his family (wife, two kids, and the uppity grandma) to live in what is basically a shack on a farm where the land is not too expensive. Actually it's inexpensive for a reason: the well doesn't work so Sam has to go next door to the neighbor who doesn't really take kindly to a new family next door (Norman Lloyd is his, uh, son or nephew or something), and he tries to get into farming for cotton.
He doesn't have much money or things like tractors, but he's got two hands, a good body and two mules, right? He can make it work... maybe. And this is the scenario that drives one of the few English language films that Jean Renoir made over the years. He comes to this part of America - and, though uncredited, William Faulkner contributes to the script for some of that good ol' fried-Southern talk for authenticity, which is felt - and sees things in a way that is probably truer to the American spirit than some might think some French guy would make.
This is all about cutting out your own path and that "pulling yourself by your own bootstraps" mentality which has become a cliche (somewhat on the Right actually, or Libertarian at least) and not going for the path of least resistance, that thing called a "job" for someone else. While one might want to criticize Sam for doing such a hasty action, the drama from the film, which comes in both the personal (his son gets sick from, you know, not having a friggin' cow around at first, and from a lack of vegetables), and the more natural (a big storm and a flood will basically do one in if the cotton's just there and not farmed yet), feels like its own kind of organic criticism.
And yet Renoir never judges, and the characters who try to question Sam's motives sound reasonable enough like from his brawny, rowdy friend (who at one point gets into a bizarre, over the top but rather uproarious bottle-throwing fight with a bar owner in the local town, a memorable set piece by far). It's pure in its simple view of this man and how he wants to make a good life for his family, even if he is "gambling" so to speak with the land. There's this feeling to much of Renoir's filmmaking that emphasizes what good can come from this Earth that is farmed and the hard work that goes in to it; there's a few brief dips into religion - at one point Sam stops in his tracks and looks up and talks out loud praying to God, which is a fairly static shot but well acted enough - but mostly it's about having some kind of spiritual, even existential piece of mind: Sam knows the hassles and he knows the drawbacks, and if has to fight for it (and he does) he will.
There are caricatures, to be sure, like the old grandmother who spends most of the time complaining (in a move that might make John Ford cringe, she stays out by the vehicle as a storm comes in when the family first comes to the new house, and finally comes in reluctantly for her coffee), or a few of the townspeople or Lloyd's character (even the neighbor's daughter, with some off-and-on come-ons to Sam, is something of a type), but it never stops the film much dead in its tracks. There's a flow to this movie that, like several of Renoir's other films, has something closer to poetry than a hard-lined, traditional narrative arc that has to his A-B-and-C. There's ups and some major downs, and moments where Sam really does doubt himself, and by the conclusion there's this really wonderful moment where Sam goes from giving up to coming back around when he sees what he's accomplished.
In short, The Southerner has its flaws in some of the acting, but the execution of this story and how deeply felt it stays to what its trying to show about a rural section of American (or really world) life is admirable and exquisite in its way. Its art is plentiful even as it seems slight and conventional at times, which is a minor miracle especially for someone who's coming to this place anew.
Now I know where they got the character they modelled Granny of the Beverley Hillbillies from. This film shows what it was like to be a farmer in the days before social assistance and the indomitable spirit of those who persevered.
it has "grapes of wrath" in it
another tale of farmers