Monday, March 24, 2008

Cinematic Abortions

The volatile, hot-button issue of abortion has rarely been tackled with real cinematic and intelligence. American films like The Cider House Rules and If These Walls Could Talk are, on the whole, too smug and too simplistic in their respective handling of the issue. In comes Cristian Mingiu's film, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days completely and utterly stripped of politics, the film is probably one of the most poignant films on abortion ever made.
Set in Romania in the 1980's, the film follows a day in the life of Otillia (Anamaria Marinca), a young woman trying to procure an abortion (which was illegal in the country at the time) for her none-too-bright friend Gabita (Laura Vasilliu). The film's brutally raw honesty can get a little bit uncomfortable at times. The lead performance of Annamaria Marinca is truly amazing. Despite her character's inexplicable actions such as actually prostituting herself when the abortionist they hired was angrily backing out and her almost saintly devotion to her half-wit of a friend, she makes it all seem believable. In a scene during a party at boyfriend's family's house, she sits in the middle of the table not saying a word, she still manages to be a focal point of the scene and convey a multitude of emotions.
Freed from the need to convey anything political or make a firm stand on the issue, Mingiu instead made a film that's truly a gripping story on the lengths someone can go through for friendship and at the same time, a fascinating look into a time and culture seldom seen outside of it's country. It's truly a staggering piece of cinema.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

There Will Be Greatness

Paul Thomas Anderson has always been a problematic filmmaker for me. His previous works, Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love contain many, many moments of greatness but always falls short of overall greatness due to the filmmaker's nasty habit of veering into pretentiousness, self-indulgence and excess. There is absolutely no denying Anderson's talent as a filmmaker. Up until now, he's just a kid director trying to find his cinematic voice.

As far as I'm concerned, he has finally found it in There Will Be Blood. This is a staggering, thought-provoking epic of a film about a silver miner turned oil tycoon Daniel Plainview whose descent into greed and corruption is matched by his rivalry with a devious young preacher, Eli Sunday (played by Paul Dano). The film is a mesmerizing allegory of two of today's major problems in the world, greedy capitalism and religious fundemantalism/hypocrisy.

Taking inspiration from Upton Sinclair's novel Oil! Paul Thomas Anderson finally finds a very strong footing as a filmmaker channeling people like Robert Altman and Terrence Malick. A major factor without a doubt is the stunning performance of Daniel Day-Lewis whose transformation into Daniel Plainview is nothing short of masterful. I sat in my chair in awe of his ability to take this repulsive character and turn him into believable and frightening human being which on the hands of a lesser actor, would be merely a caricature. His Oscar win is well-deserved indeed. Matching him scene for scene is Paul Dano, one of his generation's most promising young actors. Going toe to toe with Daniel Day-Lewis in a scene is no picnic. A lesser actor would be swallowed whole by Day-Lewis but he didn't, he matched him, scene-for-scene. I find it puzzling Dano didn't get much awards attention with his role. As his adopted son, H.W., Dillion Freasier also gives admirable support. Hopefully, this amazing young actor would find more roles in the future.

Yes, Paul Thomas Anderson finally makes a great film and with There Will Be Blood, he joins the ranks of the Great Filmmakers. Bravo.