Saturday Night At the Movies

I noticed on the net today a story that the average person checks their smartphones sixty times a day for social media news feeds. I guess that is why I have felt the need to avoid both smart phones and social media. Then again, we all need our distractions. But what are positive and negative distractions? Well, here are three from old movie screens that, I think, work like a combination of both:

Army Of Shadows: I first saw this while researching the IRB, perhaps appropriately. It is a purely human and episodic drama that involves secret political meetings, the assassination of informers, prison escapes, the different “revolutionary” sensibilities of different generations and, in general, a sense of the unavoidability of counter-productive behaviour. Some have reviewed this film as being like a classical Greek drama because its abiding sense is one of fatalism. Although its director had first-hand experience of the subject matter of the film (the French Resistance in World War Two) and was a ‘patriot’, he decided to focus on the failures rather than the successes. A combination of real-time editing and relying on what is not said was the director’s favoured means of persuasion. This was his best film. A bonus feature on many a dvd copy is a thirty-minute documentary, which is actual footage of the liberation of Paris (19-26 August 1944) caught by French amateur filmmakers that was turned into a wartime cinema broadcast by the French liberation committee, albeit (on my dvd) with an English voiceover provided by Noel Coward.

Rome Open City: justifiably the best known World War Two resistance film, shot in Italy while the war was ending. This is a much more conventional drama where the mood is not one of fatalism, even though, once again, all meet a sorry end. If one sees the female characters in its story as pivotal, it can throw an interesting light on just how wartime hatreds can emerge, who are the master manipulators in society and who are the true victims. The world was not born yesterday.

Pi: this one probably looks like a cross between “a digital humanities thesis that went terribly wrong” and “a cyber security nightmare”. Actually, it is more of a Jewish mystical folk tale about the wisdom of not seeking an answer to the unanswerable. Comparable, on that level, to ‘A Serious Man’; the only Coen Brothers film I’ve seen that I think actually “works”. Dark, but with a touch of wisdom in there somewhere…

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