A Good Yarn

Friday, April 25, 2008

More Movies, but not M-SPIFF

I saw a couple of movies outside of the festival this week. First up was:

Technically, The Visitor is part of the M-SPIFF, because it was the opening film. But I couldn't make it that night and was lucky enough to get tickets to a sneak peek this week. It's opened at the Lagoon this weekend and it's a wonderful film. It's about a Connecticut college professor named Walter who is living a life of quiet desperation. He is forced to present a paper at a conference in NYC, but when he shows up at the apartment he keeps in the city, he finds it's been illegally sublet to Tarek, a drummer from Syria and his Senegalese girlfriend. Walter doesn't want to force them out on the street, so he lets them stay with him in the apartment until they can find somewhere else to live. Then Walter and Tarek become friends, with Tarek teaching Walter how to play the African drums. One day after a day of playing drums in the park, Tarek is arrested and since he's in the country illegally, he's detained for deportation. The film is a small story about something real, but it doesn't come across as some great lecture or white liberal guilt. It's incredibly well acted and well written and directed. You get very involved in these characters' lives and really want things to turn out well for them. The writer/director is Tom McCarthy, who played one of the least sympathetic characters ever to appear on The Wire (a show that features drug dealers and murderers, dirty cops, selfish politicians and apathetic teachers). Obviously, McCarthy is just as gifted an actor as he is a writer and director.

I also saw this film:

The Counterfeiters won this year's foreign language Oscar and while I wouldn't say it measures up to last year's winner (The Lives of Others), it still is a very good film. The film is based on the true story of a group of Jewish concentration camp prisoners who were given the task of creating undetectable forgeries of British and American money. The Nazis planned to use the fake bills to flood their enemies' markets and weaken their economies. They also realized they could use the forged money to buy real supplies for their failing military operations. The film's main character is a master forger who is in the death camp not only as a Jew, but also as a career criminal. The film does a good job of exploring the themes of the high price of survival and the prisoner's guilt over the relative luxuries they got (comfortable beds, reliable food, easy work) for their work as opposed to the rest of the prisoners. The movie is a little bit formulaic in the characters, but things did not always proceed exactly as you expected. It's definitely the type of film that will give you plenty to think over and talk about afterward.