The Simple Lives of "Simple" Minds

by on 週一, 19 十一月 2012 5806 點擊 評論
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In today’s cinema, with its emphasis on entertainment and commercial success, it is no easy feat to find stories that take a risk by using people that are different as their main characters. It is much simpler to use explosions and CGI or make a sequel than to try to voice some form of social criticism. The two movies I am choosing to review this week try to do exactly that. Their central characters are special, and have limited capacity for interaction, but that does not mean that they are limited human beings.

These movies do not seek to patronize us by simply causing us to feel sorry for these people, but rather try to tackle broader issues within society by contrasting them with their lives and the problems they face. Sometimes, as can be appreciated in these films, it might be better to be special than to be faced with the harshness, cruelty and indifference that often pervades society. The films make a strong case that intellectual disability does not equate to abnormality, quite the opposite; people that are mentally different frequently behave in a much more healthy way emotionally than those people considered “normal”.

Anita is a movie by Marcos Carnevale set in Buenos Aires in 1994. Anita is a young woman with Down Syndrome who lives a happy but very dependant life with her mother, Dorita. Her mother feeds her, instructs her how to bathe, and they even hold hands together at night. It is implied that the mother, who is a widower, gets as much out of these interactions as Anita does, and they both seem to enjoy their work in the family bookstore.

One day, however, everything changes in one of the most tragic incidents in recent Argentinian history, the AMIA (Argentine Israelite Mutual Association) bombing, which happens while Dorita is in the building itself, having left Anita by herself in the bookstore since she would just be a few minutes. This historical event serves as a backdrop, and is not really touched upon very much in the film, presumably because the director wants the focus to be on Anita’s plight. Anita, caring and knowing not about politics, bombs, and explosions, doesn’t understand what has happened, and, unable to find her mother, wanders the city alone. This is where the true story of the movie begins, as Anita encounters many different people and interacts with them.

The director smartly avoids being overly negative or positive when examining the way people respond to this lost, helpless person. And this, in a way, is what makes it shocking; a reflection of the times we live in, in which only ultimate sensory stimulation is enough to rouse people. Thus, when dealing with Anita, most of the characters in the film don’t show incredible compassion or outright rejection, but rather treat her in an indifferent manner, sometimes with good intentions but with a sense of apathy.

It is always challenging to film a movie in which the character with the most screen time has very limited capacity for communication, but another success of “Anita” is the way that the director manages to make her say more with her body language than with her speech. There are quite a few smart shots of Anita’s eyes or of her feet as she walks which are touching in a clever and subtle way, and share a lot about her emotions at the time.

The film generally tries to avoid judging any of its characters and instead leaves it up to the audience to make up their mind about the morality of their actions, and whether they would do things differently if confronted with a similar scenario. Anita has a brother, who begins looking for her after the explosion, and could probably find her with relative ease if she were to be taken to a police station. Unfortunately, it never occurs to any of the people who come in contact with her (which include a divorced alcoholic, Chinese shop owners, and a woman from a less privileged area of Buenos Aires) to give her in to the authorities; or, if it does occur, the idea is disregarded for some reason or another.

It is never directly said, but it is heavily implied, that the last person to take care of Anita develops an emotional attachment towards her and is therefore reluctant to let her go. Herein lie some of the sweetest moments of the movie, which offer some redemption towards humanity; the point being made is that no matter what the state of our mind is, as human beings we have a strong desire to reject loneliness and feel love towards other people.


Shower DVD coverShower is a 1999 movie by Yang Zhang dealing with the growing gap between modern and traditional society in China. There have been many such films in recent years, but a lot of them can be read as providing a general view of changes in China or even serving as promotional material for either of the two sides. Yang Zhang chooses instead to avoid general discussion of the larger events as much as possible, and focuses on making his film as character-driven as possible.

Da Ming, a businessman in the booming Shenzhen, returns home to Beijing after receiving a letter that leads him to believe his father may be dying. Upon returning he finds that his father and younger mentally disabled brother, who wrote the letter, are both fine and still working in the family bathhouse as always. The reason the brother wrote to Da Ming was because of the bathhouse being scheduled to be torn down to make way for modern buildings.

Here, as in Anita, we see that the younger brother, Er Ming, is quite dependent on his father, although not to the same extent as Anita is. Er Ming and his father love each other tremendously and Er Ming loves his work at the bathhouse, frequently assisting the customers with problems they might have such as helping one man find the courage to sing.

The film presents a choice for Da Ming, as he becomes increasingly attached to the simple life offered by the bathhouse in contrast with the hustle and bustle of Beijing. With the demolition looming ever closer, should he return to his wife and business in Shenzhen or stay with his father and brother in Beijing? For Er Ming, there is no choice. This is the only life he knows; his world is comprised of his father, the customers, and the bathhouse.

Yang Zhang films all the characters in a personal and intimate way, giving us an insight to what it must feel like to be an old person in a country changing so rapidly, to be left behind by the times. The moments when the camera focuses on Er Ming are almost tender, full of loving care and attention.

As with Anita, a case is once again being made for the fact that people who are different or have some kind of disability, can often be on a much straighter path in life than the mainstream society. Er Ming’s love for his father and happiness in both the simple pleasures in life and helping others is sharply contrasted with the business-like nature of Da Ming at the beginning of the film.

The story continues to unravel until the end, which is left slightly open to interpretation. The film raises some interesting points in father-son relationships and the way the past is often forgotten when something new comes along. The relationship between Er Ming and his father teaches both Da Ming and us, the audience, a thing or two about what things in life matter the most.

 

 

最後修改於 週三, 08 一月 2014 17:34
Daniel Pagan Murphy (李大年)

Graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA Chinese-International Relations in 2009. He has been living in Taiwan ever since and has been working at eRenlai since 2011.

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