Les Triplettes de Belleville

[Screenshot]Man. I’d heard that Belleville was bizarre, but I think I might’ve been totally unprepared for how very bizarre it was. The closest match in my experience, in mannerism and tone, is Tuvalu, but really this is a completely different kettle of weird and owns its special brand of batshit insane completely. It’s pretty much entirely a mood piece: reach for characterizations or plot and you’ll end up grasping fog, but it revels in its atmosphere of surreal grotesquerie. “Grotesque” is definitely the word: the cityscapes are dreary, the human figures variously squat, square, and unrealistically elongated, the action uneathly in its languor. There’s a certain old-fashionedness to its abstract blockiness (which kind of strengthens my comparison to Tuvalu, I suppose), which gives it a certain peculiar charm in spite of what must be admitted to be very ugly art.

It’s not for everyone, and it runs perhaps long enough to wear out its welcome, but it’s definitely original and unusual.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

“What kind of crap are you reading these days?” my father asked incredulously, as I set down Anne of Green Gables on top of Pirates of Venus, having brought both along on my trip. Anne is not bad the way Pirates of Venus is bad, but evidently it is not thought meet that a 29-year-old male reads them (nonsense: if I can watch shoujo anime and hold my head high, I think my masculine pride will survive a novel targeted at 19th-century Canadian schoolgirls).

Anyways, on to Anne. I’m afraid the story never engaged me too much. As a child I might’ve loved the first three-quarters, with Anne charming the socks off everyone around her with her whimsical, innocent garrulity, but being an old, joyless fart these days, her imaginative-chatterbox routine mostly made me want to lie in a dark room with cold compresses on my eyes. There seemed to be generous timeskips near the end to get everyone where they needed to be, and Anne grew a lot less interesting (as you might have determined from above, I found young Anne wearying. But older responsible Anne just felt kinda dull. There may be some verisimillitude there, and/or an aanalogy to my own life. I’m going to stop talking now). Even the death of a major character couldn’t really rescue my interest much.

Evidently there are sequels. Lots and lots of sequels. I don’t think I’ll read them, since I find it hard to imagine this story proceeding in a direction I find terribly interesting.

See also: Project Gutenberg, Wikipedia.

Wonderfalls

[Screenshot]Wonderfalls was clever, funny, fresh, and imaginative. It was, therefore, doomed, doomed, doomed. But we got thirteen good episodes out of it, and, unlike Firefly, we got a story with a beginning, middle, and end (featuring evil Kayleea character played by Jewel Staite who is not, in fact, Kaywinnett Lee Frye). It managed a pretty impressive juggling act between the progressive plot and the episodic nature of the story, so that most episodes were pretty self-contained while still contributing to the overall plot arc. There’s a bit of a mixed-bag quality to the episodes, and I quite frankly preferred the episodes where the faces gave nonsensical but explicit instructions to the somewhat overplayed Field-of-Dreamsesque indeterminate referent game.

There is great onscreen chemistry with a splendid cast. Dhavernas reminds me irationally of Linda Cardellini from Freaks and Geeks, but that may be just similarities of character. Either way, she (like most of the characters) balances a number of contrary aspects in a realistic way, making her simultaneously intelligent, directionless, brutal, and softhearted. All the major characters come out as multidimensional humans, and this works just about as well as I’ve seen acting work on TV. The technical aspects are good if not spectacular: the CG work is hardly mindblowing, but it’s not meant to be. It’s subtle and well-integrated into the live-action.

What didn’t I like about Wonderfalls? Mostly that we’re not going to see any more of it.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Hotel Rwanda

[Screenshot]I have to appreciate film. Without it, I might never know a damn thing about history.

My knowledge of the Rwandan genocide was pretty fragmentary: I knew there were a lot of people getting killed out there, but I didn’t know why or by whom. This is pretty typical American complacency, I’m afraid. Hotel Rwanda managed to be educational, and interesting, without deviating too far from truth. It’s great when cinema can do that. The acting and cinematography were all superb, but what really made this one was the story, and some themes brought to the fore.

Two themes I found particularly involving were international inifference and the pointlessness of the genocide. This film doesn’t pull any punches in condemning the lackluster and cowardly overall international response, while praising those who do stand by their responsibilities (e.g. Sabena, the UNAMIR commaders). It’s refreshing to see our selfishness and blindness (yes, even my own) treated with the contempt it deserves, and contrasted with authentic decency. And it worked for me. The other theme I found somewhat mystifying but no less significant: it’s established early on that there’s not actually a racial distinction per se, or at least not one anyone can actually work out with any confidence (in a movie which wasn’t tied to reality, it would sure turn out that both Georges Rutaganda and General Bizimungu were actually Tutsis; real life, alas, does not always give us educational situational ironies). The genocide seemed, in a few key scenes, to be not so much about getting rid of the Tutsis for racial purity as killing them and then stealing their stuff. And that’s important. Nobody goes out and butchers their neighbors without a reason. Maybe the Interahamwe included authentic anti-utsi zealots, but an awful lot of the grief and death isn’t zealotry so much as good old-fashioned avarice.

There’s an inversion of the entire situation to be seen in the final scenes of the film as well, althoguh the inversion isn’t strictly symmetrical. The convoy driving against the tide of humanity? All those people going the other way are Hutu refugees, fleeing from a Tutsi army. Granted, the RPF didn’t commit atrocities even close to those prepetrated under the Interahamwe, but there’s a distressing symmetry between the eventual effects of the “bad guys'” regime and the “good guys'” liberation.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.