This week has been a good week. I managed to watch three films and (uncharacteristically) I'd recommend them all. Here's a sparing review of each:
1/ 'Boy' by Taika Waititi (2010) | Film 4
I had seen Boy before but rated it so highly I made sure to record its UK premiere last weekend. You could say it's a silly film about serious issues, but that would be doing it a disservice. So try this instead: It's a film about boys and their fathers—the way young boys need a hero, and the role a father, in presence and in absence, has in shaping that mould.
'Boy' (James Rolleston) as everybody calls him hasn't seen his father 'Alamein' (Taika Waititi) in years. In his absence he's painted a picture of his Dad: he dances like Michael Jackson, captains the rugby team and fights overseas in the army. We realise this might not be completely accurate when a classmate tells Boy “You're a liar, your Dad isn’t overseas, he's in jail for robbery [...] he's in the same cell block as my Dad.” That I think encapsulates what I mean by silly and serious—a funny line underlined with a humourless truth. The film is full of funny lines and its strength is that none of them takeaway from the stories’ poignant truths.
At one point Alamein asks Boy not to call him 'Dad'. It's moving, and it's smart writing. Really it's Boy who should be asking people to call him by a different name—the way he cares for his younger brother and cousins is beyond his years. But of course he never would, because every boy is somebody's boy, even when their father isn’t around.
“I wish he was my Dad” another kid enviously says to Boy about Alamein one point. That might be the most important line of the film.
2/ 'Terri' (2011) by Azazel Jacobs | MUBI.com
Terri (Jacob Wysocki) wears his pyjamas to school, not because he's weird but because they're comfortable. Of course everybody else thinks he's weird, including the Vice Principal 'Mr. Fitzgerald' (John C. Reilly) who meets weekly with Terri to 'shoot the breeze'. Terri lives with his ill Uncle who requires daily medication. His Uncle has brief moments of clarity and during one of these he's disgusted with Terri for laying mouse traps outside for no apparent reason. Why does Terri do that, does he enjoy death? Or killing? Maybe he is weird.
'Terri' is a funny film. Of course it is, John C. Reilly is in it. Can anybody make you laugh easier than him? He had me laughing at first sight in 'Terri'. The way he moves his head, his eyes, the emphasis he puts on certain sounds, it's all second nature. He makes it look that way at least. When Mr. Fitzgerald tells Terri, “I knew this kid growing up who tied flaming tennis balls to cats tails and loved every minute of it, I think he's a cop now”, we get at the essence of what Jacobs is trying to say in this film: we're all weird, especially when we're young.
When Terri meets with Mr. Fitzgerald a new friendship is born. I'm not sure who needs the friend more, Terri or Mr Fitzgerald, it's probably a tie. But they help each other. Terri makes other friends as well, a younger boy called Chad and a girl Heather that Terri thinks he has a crush on. They get up to some pretty weird shit, but here's the thing, don't we all at some point? The director Jacobs drops in and out of Terri's life, most of the time it's when shit gets weird, but what Jacobs doesn't show us is just as important. Take the ending, there's no 'resolution', no nice tying up of everything. But maybe there doesn't need to be, because we realise Terri has been a good kid all along, life just gets weird sometimes.
3/ 'No' (2012) by Pablo Larrain | MUBI.com
Chile had a very important referendum in 1988, and advertising, love it or (more likely) hate it, played a large part in deciding the outcome. The people would vote either Yes or No. Yes to another 8 years of rule under General Pinochet or No to dictatorship, opening the door to democratic elections for the first time. The film follows advertisement creative René Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) as he is recruited by the 'No' side. His boss is later recruited by the 'Yes' side and thus creating an internal conflict symbolic of the conflict that would divide the country over the next month.
Each side would have 15 minutes worth of advertising every night for 27 days. 15 minutes to persuade, influence and ultimately win the electorate. That seems pretty scarce, 15 minutes, and part of me thinks the film itself might be too scarce. But then another part of me thinks it might be a masterpiece; I've got my own internal conflict.
Saavedra remains pragmatic and strangely nonpartisan in his work for the No campaign. For him it's about the work. He realises that the advertisements so far 'don't sell' and that his task is plain (yet hugely complex): How do you get people to vote, both young and old. He decides the answer is with 'happiness', that will transcend the ages. The No side decide to run with it and the rest is history. The most important decision in Chile's history is sold to the people like a bottle of Pepsi.
The cinematography in 'No' is beautifully unique and it feels like a very real documentation of the events. I accuse of it being too scarce in that a film shy of 2 hours can't do justice to an event as important and interesting as this. 'No' poses important questions about politics, advertising and democracy, and at the beginning our protagonist Saavedra tells us that, “If you're brave, you're free.” I think that's an invitation, an invitation to answer the film’s biggest questions.