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A sad mess
First, it's not true that the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians was ignored by the world. Europeans made much of it at the time, since it was convenient propaganda against Germany and its Turkish ally. The fate of the Armenians was recounted in schools in the West for decades -- as was the fate of the Belgians at the hands of the Kaiser and his Huns.
Secondly, there is no evidence that Hitler referred mockingly to the Armenian tragedy. As far as we know, that's an urban myth.
Thirdly, this was World War I. Turkey was at war with Imperial Russia. The Armenians inhabited the border territory and their allegiances were mighty ambiguous to say the least. How necessary is it to draw a diagram of that complication? Eastern Armenia was a separatist threat to a country at war, with hostile populations living on the disputed border next to the enemy.
Finally, there was a guerrilla war being waged by Armenian nationalists. Now, the Ottomans have a long history of cruelty to other peoples, both Christian and Arab. Obviously, the crimes committed, by ethnic Turks in uniform, in the ethnic cleansing of the Borderlands, were horrendous, and is properly the main issue of this film. But is this film the best way to expose this event?
It should be asked why Egoyan made the film. To militate for Armenian nationalism? pay a debt to his own ethnic group? or explore his roots? It doesn't work as a thematic puzzle, and it's clearly not a thoughtful debate about the problem of history/perspective.
A simple debate format, with clearly understood narratives overlaying cinematic techniques, would have given Egoyan the basis for exploring his themes and obsessions. Instead, we get the usual Egoyan exhibition, with arch constructs overlaying arch dialogues overlaying sentimental poses and positions. Egoyan seems blind to simple detail and deaf to credible vocabulary. Yet all successful movie-making begins with that -- realism and real life -- and moves carefully into abstraction, not vice-versa. Finally, the fact that he makes movies to provide employment for his wife is yet another reason to make a wide pass around this material.
Maurice Richard (2005)
A lot of fun -- but not a "great" film
Fans of ice hockey and especially fans of the legendary Montreal team (or should I say worshippers) are going to like this film. The re-creation of the period (wartime and postwar Quebec) is very good. The ice action is exciting and some of the editing is excellent. Mostly, patrons will enjoy the title performance by Roy Dupuis, whose tense and interiorized delivery is riveting.
The film's achievement is to present the social and historical setting with restraint. The film could have been iconography, since Rocket Richard was the Babe Ruth and Joe Louis of the French-Canadians (and the fight with Dill was the Schmelling fight). But the movie does not rise to that bait: We are reminded that the greatest player in history, Richard, had to toil over a drill-press to earn a living, even while enjoying fame. The nascent pride of the French-Canadian, and the simmering needs of the impoverished, Montreal working-class, are offered without shouting, which is how they'd have been offered in the period of 1940-1955.
Elements of historical realism are good. Especially wonderful is the depiction of the press of the period and of the French-speaking announcers. Radio French then was so good that it might have been called precious-- a condition of radio employment of the time, and a bit pedantic for a Quebec audience. Also interesting was how circumspect the pride was on the French side. People in the US South and Cajun Louisiana will relate to this.
On the negative side are lots of things related to production value. Basically, the writing is poor-to-pedestrian. Dialog is obvious and clumsy, either needlessly echoing the sentiments of the period or conveying chunks of story that should be organic, not crassly narrated. The film is poorly focused, too, beginning correctly with the Forum Riot, but never truly coming back to that event. The entire movie should have been constructed as a series of flashbacks from one, defining event; it should also have been built with intimate scenes, not group-talk in the locker room. Yet the film skitters all over the map, hopping from one large scoring scene to another, one period to another, sequentially, and without any central moment. This is complicated by a confusing series of hockey games, where the precise stakes of each game (playoffs? regular season? final game??) are not explicit. Since Richard was so driven and efficient, the entire dramatic tension then evolves into his domestic conflict, where he agonized about being a young father putting himself at risk. Yet even that is fuzzy, since there's no one, single, domestic event offered, to help make it palpable. All you then see is the long-suffering wife worrying about what "might happen" to her husband.
Because dialog is so bad, major characters like Dick Irvin drone in melodramatic tones, one-dimensional, where in fact they were more complicated. Finally, the film technique might have better exploited the speed and drama of the games themselves.
This is so far under Raging Bull that we won't even go there, and its techniques don't match the sophisticated Quebec cinema of today. Nevertheless, it's a good film, especially for the Worshippers, and all fans of hockey and even history. Rocket Richard was a phenomenon, not just an athlete, and this film helps us to understand why, with some great acting, and much entertaining and emotionally draining material.
Most overrated film of the year
Hate to say it, though. This film is so earnest and so desirous of improving the lives of the marginalized. What a pity it was written and directed by a social worker.
Overall, there are few moments in the film that aren't contrived, telegraphed, clichéd, or overwrought. The story is a case study and a conceit without artistic merit. Neither the acting nor the direction has any credibility.
Ms Huffman's acting is an extended vaudeville routine. You have to have a reason for doing what you do in film. The depiction of a man who is becoming a woman is already a notion, perhaps an interesting one, given a truly creative treatment. The idea of choosing a woman to play a man who's becoming a woman, however, is a trick -- sophomoric at best. Go to any downtown in any large city; you'll see more convincing transsexuals and they're real. Heck, Tim Curry was more authentic. The deepening of Ms Huffman's voice works for a few minutes. Some of her gestures are masculine, but so what? Exactly what is the film saying by asking a female to pretend she's a male pretending to be a female?
On a theatrical stage -- not on film -- given a very spare, intimate script, this conceit might work. On a stage, this sort of layering plays within the imagination : it's imaginary, not "photographic." In the world of film, however, the camera's eye is primary. Ms Huffman's routine is doomed because it's trying to cover "reality" with 2 meaningless coats of falsity.
Everything rings wrong about the movie. The scenes at the parents' house are bad TV sit-com -- dumb farce. The Noble Indian who gives the characters a ride is an embarrassment. He has all the depth of a figure on a coin. Why would a Native be more interested in this he-she-wee-wee than us Dumb White People? If there's a reason, you'd better show it to the audience. The role of the hustler is a throw-away: what sort of teenager would put up with such condescension? This unhappy film should just go quietly into the can, back to the Department of Social Work.
A fine effort indeed
Just because this film has been attacked by pols and shills, here's my 2 cents. Spielberg manages to set the agenda, and sets it correctly. It is indeed about the antecedents to 9/11, and bravo to Spielberg for taking it on, but not somewhere in Afghanistan, but at its genesis, the squalor of Palestine.
Spielberg's film is an essay on revenge and how hopeless and self-defeating that ancient temptation is. It's brave of Spielberg to say it to us now; brave, too, to paint the avenging Israelis as somewhere below the Angels. Let's be candid: There are harsh sentiments expressed here, by some Israeli characters, that the Evangelical Lobby simply doesn't want aired.
Spielberg's handling of the Bana character is masterful. Noteworthy is how uncompromising it is: this is a man whose identity has collapsed. It's entirely right that his Israeli handler should refuse the Sabbath-meal invitation at the end, realizing that the bonds of the older religion (and pre-Zionist identity) are shattered and meaningless.
Spielberg might have improved this product (some of the dialogues are horribly wooden). But that's not important. That a mainstream US film should go where this film goes is significant. This is a major-minor event in Spielberg's long and luminous career.
Where the Truth Lies (2005)
A learned opinion, from around 2000
Confirms what one critic wrote, around 2000 ("The Movie Guide" Perigree Books), about "Exotica," namely that the film sounded lurid, but was far more interesting in the promise than in the watching. It was, said the writer, easy to defend this stuff as serious and provocative, since its liabilities could be made to sound fashionably postmodern: the characters opaque (and boring), because meant to defy bourgeois conventions; the plots unconvincing, because they seemed to challenge traditions of narrative. All for the pondering by English departments and Cult-Theory seminars. The critic concluded that Egoyan was successful on his own (academic) terms; but, for the film-going world, a pretentious bore.
L'anglaise et le duc (2001)
Yes, but. . .
Eric Rohmer seems to have wanted to produce a docudrama, and has made a very interesting go of it. As film fiction, it's not very good, and not even the camera work is engaging. However, many of the film's qualities are worth considering. That gritty, antique, and "real" Paris we crave is by now a cliché. However, Rohmer's computer-enhanced tableaux of revolutionary Paris, by contrast, effectively evoke period art. Indeed they are filmed engravings. Do they "work"? Perhaps not as any sort of realism; however, they remind us that this film is history and philosophy, not just drama. I felt that their deliberate alienation was interesting. The growing terror of the revolution is Rohmer's chief concern. In this film, it is palpable and fearsome, and evokes some of the totalitarianisms of the 20th century. There is certainly a story arc and as much dramatic tension as anyone could ask for. The trial scene is both exciting and intimate. The actor Dreyfus gives a luminous performance -- passionate, thoughtful, riveting. Although this film takes a long time to get itself unwound, one might even be captivated -- de-captivated! -- by the end.