Watching seven movies in sixteen hours

by Marlena Chertock

Last Monday, Dec. 13, I was sitting in my dorm room, finished with final exams and waiting for my ride home the next day.  I decided to go to the library and pick out a few movies to help me pass the time.  I was drawn to the independent and foreign films and ended up picking out seven movies total.  I planned on watching as many as I could before the next day.  I want to give a bit of a review or my thoughts on the films.

Here was my list:

  • Live from Baghdad
  • Helvetica
  • The Squid and the Whale
  • The Lemon Tree
  • I Heart Huckabees
  • Something Like Happiness
  • How to Be

While Something Like Happiness or Stesti in Czech wasn’t the first movie I watched, it became my favorite out of the bunch.  The film is in Czech with English subtitles, and the language barrier wasn’t a hindrance at all.  I feel like I could have watched the movie without subtitles and understood it completely fine, or very close, because there was such raw emotion in the film and that the actors portrayed and I feel that emotion is language-less.

Underneath all the layers and confusion of kids growing up into adulthood, the film really is a romantic movie in an unexpected setting.

I really liked the area the movie was filmed.  The setting helped to bring out the emotions and gave them context.  The economic status of the characters seemed to be lower or lower-middle class, and the locations that the film was set help to portray this.  Two of the characters, Monika and Dasha, live in a rundown apartment complex and another, Tonik, has moved out to live with his aunt in her dilapidated and crumbling farmhouse.

The film centers on four best friends.  One, Monika’s boyfriend, flies to America in the first scene of the movie.  Ever after that, Monika hopes he will send her a ticket so she can join him.  Dasha has two kids and several unfit boyfriends.  And Tonik, a poorer boy who lives on a farm.

I spotted Tonik, played by Pavel Liska, early on as my favorite character.  I’m planning on watching his The Country Teacher next.  Liska is a very strong actor.  He is one of the most recognizable actors in the Czech Republic, along with Tatiana Vilhelmová who plays Monika.  For his performance in this film, Liska won a Czech Lion, the highest film award in the Czech Republic, according to the Film Movement website.  He performs his character so well — a man who’s trying to figure out how to live and stay happy in the Czech Republic.  Throughout the film, his relationship with Dasha is tested as her mind falters and Monika and he must take care of her children.  His relationship with Monika also grows, and the audience sees that Tonik wishes something more could develop between them.

While the movie doesn’t tie up loose ends and end like an American or British romantic film, I like it better than those.  The movie left me hanging and making up endings for the characters.  It left me longing for them to feel something like happiness.  This film is more than a romantic movie, a story of four friends, a story of growing up or a search for meaning and happiness — it is filled with more emotion, more complexity, more longing than most other movies that are shown in theaters.  I truly recommend this film.

The Squid and the Whale is another favorite movie of mine.  I watched it many years ago with my mom and stepdad but they didn’t know it was rated R, so when the sex scenes came on the screen they quickly conversed, “Should we cover their eyes?”  “Yeah, probably,” and then slid their hands over my sister’s and my eyes.  So since I didn’t get to see all of it clearly I wanted to see it again.  And it was worth it.

The Squid and the Whale is a very powerful movie about divorce and the confusion, difficulties, emotions, fighting and learning and growth that comes with it.  It is based on director Noah Baumbach’s parent’s divorce.  The film makes you want to hate parents and dads, makes you wonder how much of your parents you really come to be, how much they can and do influence you.  Looking back, I can see why this film would interest me so much, as my parents divorced when I was very young, five years old.

The film focuses on the selfishness of the parents and how much they really don’t understand their kids.  It shows you how adults don’t have all the answers and are trying and failing just like children.  The children going through the divorce, Walt and Frank (played by Jesse Eisenberg and  Owen Kline), truly portray all the confusion and anger and countless other emotions that children going through their parents’ divorce face.

The movie looks like it was filmed in the 1980s, which is when it is set, but it was actually made in 2005.  It looks like it was filmed with older cameras to give it that effect.  The cars look older, the New York buildings and apartments look older — but I guess that’s what they’re so good at in the movie business, making it all seem real.

I would recommend this film to anyone who has gone through divorce, who has divorced parents, or anyone who wants to see a movie about growing up to become or fighting against becoming our parents.

Helvetica is a documentary about text, font, typeface and how pervasive the particular font has become in our world.  Director Gary Hustwit traveled to the United States, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, France and Belgium.  I found the documentary funny and filled with characters, graphic designers, text designers and more who are very passionate about their job.  It is also funny that now when I look at signs I realize how many are really in Helvetica font.

It’s a light film but it also opens your eyes into how words and signs infiltrate and run our lives and how the font choices behind them are so important.

Live from Baghdad is a powerful, very captivating movie.  It’s a movie about covering war in the news and broadcast television.  It’s movies like this that make me proud that I’m going into journalism, that assure me more and more that it’s the right career for me.  (Note: Look forward to a coming blog post about my favorite journalism movies).

The movie was very action-filled and it also explained the process of gathering news to broadcast, I don’t think it was all perfectly accurate, but it gave a nice overview.

The movie shows how dangerous journalism and reporting is, especially during war.  The story follows a team of reporters, cameramen, sound operators and TV directors as they report in the Gulf War.

The Lemon Tree is another movie from the Film Movement.  The film is about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it is also not.  The film offers the Palestinian side a lot more emotion, which you don’t often see or get in the news or other movies, it gives the whole concept of “other” a face, a human side.  It is important to have this and give the “other” this so people don’t become countable objects who are easy to destroy and murder and shoot and kill.

The movie is a lot about hope in a country and area where sometimes there seems to be so little or where there seems nothing else can be done.  But the film is inviting, telling people to not think of the other side as an other but instead to look at them as people, as equals.

I Heart Huckabees is a really weird comedy movie.  I learned a lot about philosophy, mostly about existentialism, the philosophy I seem to keep going back to and wanting to learn more about, the one that seems to draw me in the most.

I will advise one thing, don’t go into this movie wanting to see pure comedy or a movie that has a simple plotline, because the comedy in this movie is outrageous and abstract and random.

In the movie, a husband and wife are existential detectives, played by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin.  They solve other people’s existential crises — crises that disrupt relationships and workplace functioning and everyday life.

So the setup of the movie is wacky in itself.  The detectives explore the metaphysical meaning of the world, of life, and of several characters.

If you’re looking for a movie that will leave you laughing out of its comedy or just sheer strangeness, this is the movie for you.

How to Be is a funny and interesting coming-of-age-esque film.  It stars Robert Pattinson as Art, a very uncool guy who’s trying to find what he believes in, what gives him joy, what is his direction, what he should do in life … he’s searching for himself and having a hard time finding himself.  His parents have always been nasty to him and don’t offer any support.  It is funny to see Pattinson in such a movie, it is a very different film than the Twilight series and Harry Potter-esque movies.  Pattinson plays a more natural and real-life character in this movie and the audience sees him as not cool at all, as a normal or actually very not normal guy.

The film is another look at family life and how much parents influence their children.  For example, Art’s mother grew up in a very strict house with set meal times and other rules.  As a result, she didn’t impose such rules and meal times on Art.  Art’s father is emotionally distant and will sit and read for hours without speaking to someone.  He grew up in a house where his father made him read classic literature and then explain the meaning to him, so now he seeks solace in books as an adult but does not nurture Art.  The idea reminds me of The Squid and the Whale.

While Pattinson isn’t the greatest actor and can’t quite pull of the complexity of the character, I think the plot and idea of the movie is good enough that I would watch it again.

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