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Le ciel et la boue (1961)
A fascinating account of a group of Europeans and local guides who journeyed by foot through 450 miles of harsh, unexplored New Guinean terrain. It offers insight as to what earlier explorers must have faced during their expeditions. On many occasions during viewing I couldn't believe they continued filming, given how difficult conditions were getting.
The expedition takes place from September 1959 to April 1960. At this time the island of New Guinea was divided between a Dutch colony in the west and an Australian colony in the east. The team appears to be financed by the government of France, to survey some uncharted territory (which had still appeared blank on maps) between two mountain ranges, and to identify the source of an important river. They have some limited contact with the Dutch colonial authorities in the capital city, but supplies can only be delivered through infrequent airdrops; the men frequently find themselves having to go it on their own.
The film can roughly be divided into two parts. In the first half of the film, we primary view a few tribal societies and see how they operate. The second half is focused more on the terrain and how the expedition muddled through as the months went on. Few details are left out: we often see nudity (several tribes do not wear clothing) as well as scenes of physical discomfort experienced by the explorers, including being swarmed by flies and covered with leeches.
The narrator does not subscribe to the standard politically-correct doctrine ("all cultures are exactly equal") of those of today - he will on occasion refer to them as "savages" and acknowledge the group's fear being around cannibalistic tribes (can you blame them?). But he does attempt to learn about their cultures, and frequently expresses his joy at the shared humanity he realizes that his men and the natives possess. He notes their astonishment at seeing modern technology (such as a radio) without so much being condescending as wondering just what it would be like to have never seen such technology before.
In sum, this is a rare viewing experience, one that will stay with the viewer for some time after wards. Definitely recommending viewing.
New in Town (2009)
I think this film, while not a classic by any means, is being underrated at its current score. Admittedly, I came close to turning off the DVD ten minutes in, when it appeared to be little more than a cheesy send-up of life in the country. Yes, there are a few slapstick moments. And yes, the plot and its various "twists" are predictable. But if you suspend your cynicism and just take it in, it's not that bad of a way to spend an hour and a half. The film is somewhat unconventional in the sense that, unlike so many recent films set in small-town America, it does not portray residents as narrow-minded people in need of enlightenment. As the film progresses, the residents of New Ulm are increasingly shown as three-dimensional human beings. Their strong sense of family and communal ties is embraced, and in fact, portrayed favorably compared to the stark individualism celebrated by our mass culture. In its own way, the film suggests to the urban, "sophisticated" viewer that perhaps there is something to be learned from such people, or at least, that their cultural traditions should not be dismissed out of hand. A little sappy, yes, and predictable, but also heartwarming and a nice little glimpse into a slice of Americana we don't see portrayed that often on the big screen nowadays.