Brooklyn Bridge to the Past

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

Early on in John Crowley’s  Nick Hornby scripted film adaptation of Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, the director wisely let’s his camera linger on star Saoirse Ronan’s face while at a neighborhood dance where her BFF Nancy has nabbed a man on the dance floor and Eilis is once again left to ponder whether there will ever be anything or anyone to keep her in Ireland.  Ronan, whose performance would be a revelation if she hadn’t already proven herself as a wee lass in Atonement, completely and subtly commands the camera and the audience, the slight tensing of her neck tendons, the nuanced flint in her eyes, that almost imperceptible sigh.  The whole plight of everyone who has ever wondered what else might be out there is written on her face.  And off to America…and to Brooklyn…Eilis goes.  Brooklyn is blessed by a few of these very smart moments, and also by a lot of clichéd ones.  There’s really not much suspense in guessing our heroine’s fate, but there are moments of sincere heartache and gentle beauty. Continue reading

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Cinematic Culture Clash

I believe it was Chaim Potok who once said something to the effect of “all great literature is about the clashing of cultures.”  In his novel, The Chosen, his insular idea of culture clash was an Orthodox Jewish boy befriending an Hasidic Jewish boy.  I think the same can be said of great cinema, though independent filmmakers often take a more volatile approach.

Below are four films that have passed through my Netflix queue this year that I believe deserve to be singled-out, praised, buzzed about…chosen.  All four are in a way about the clashing or melding of cultures and the effects that has on individuals, and three of the four are from directors with immigrant heritages.  Three of them have a good chance of making my top ten list for 2009, while another (from 2008) is in the running for my top 25 of the decade.  As is often found in independent films, with lower budgets and tighter focus on achieving a personal dream, filmmakers hone in on story and character with often startling results.  Low profile or lost in the shuffle either due to foreign origin or lack of widened stateside distribution, they deserve a larger audience, and those selective cinephiles who routinely uncover them have a duty to pass on the word.  Queue these up, post haste. Continue reading