Oscar Time! Movies reviewed: Omar, The Great Beauty

Posted in Action, Cultural Mining, Drama, Espionage, Italy, Morality, Movies, Palestine, Romance, Suspicion, Torture by CulturalMining.com on February 28, 2014

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Oscars 2014It’s time for my Oscar picks. Warning – I’m almost always wrong.

Best Actor. Should win: Matt McConoughey. Will win: Chiwetel Ejiofor.

WINNER: Matt McConoughey X

Best Actress. Should win: Judy Dench. Will win: Cate Blanchett.

WINNER: Cate Blanchett

Best Supporting Actor. (No idea… Jared Leto?)

WINNER: Jared Leto

Best Supporting Actress. Should win: Lupita Lyongo. Will win: Jennifer Lawrence.

WINNER: Lupita Lyongo X

Best Documentary. Should win: Act of Killing. Will win: 20 Feet from Stardom.

WINNER: 20 Feet from Stardom

Best Director. Should win — Steve McQueen. Will win:  Russell or Cuaron

WINNER: Alfonso Cuaron

Best Picture. 12 Years a Slave (Should win and will win.)

WINNER: 12 Years a Slave

Best Movie in a Foreign Language. Should win: The Hunt. Will win: The Great Beauty.

WINNER: The Great Beauty

Sunday, March 2, 2014 ,  midnight. Oscars Results: My predictions weren’t bad this year — I got 6 or 7 out of 9 correct. The two I got wrong were winners I labeled “should win” not “will win”: Lupita Lyongo, and Matthew McConoughey.  And I gave myself two “will win” options for best director (Russell or Cuaron).

So, in keeping with this theme, this week I’m looking at two movies nominated for best foreign language picture. One’s a dramatic thriller from the Palestinian Territories about a young man caught between a rock and a hard place; the other is a nostalgic look at contemporary Rome.

Omar_ Adam BakriOmar

Dir: Hany Abu-Assad

Omar (Adam Bakri) is a young Palestinian who works in a one-man pita bakery. He’s a clean-scrubbed guy with an indefatigable spirit. Nimble on his feet, Omar can climb a three-storey wall — and back again — in a few seconds. And climb he does, over the Separation Wall that runs along the long border between Israel and the Occupied Territories. Because walls mean nothing to Omar — the border is porous, an arbitrary line.

Why does he cross the wall? Ostensibly to visit Tarek – serious, stern (Iyad Hoorani) and Amjad, a teller of jokes (Samar Bisharat).

But his real motivation is Nadia (Leem Lubany) Tarek’s younger sister, who lives on the other side of the wall. Omar is as tall dark and handsome as Nadia is kind, witty and beautiful with tousled black hair. Omar, Bakri, Lubany

One day he’s stopped by a particularly cruel unit of the border patrol. The Israelis are about his age, but they beat him up and publically humiliate him. A shift in Omar’s thinking?

So he joins Tarek and Amjad for a planned action. They are all prospective members of the militant Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade. Their initiation? A shooting. Omar doesn’t personally kill anyone but he’s the one arrested.

Omar, Zuaiter, BakriIn prison, he’s tortured and interrogated. Finally he’s approached by a member of Al Aqsa. He warns Omar that spies are everywhere – they’ll pretend to make friends with him to get him to confess. The only way out is to collaborate with the Israelis – and any collaboration will last forever. His words are prophetic.

Soon enough, he’s out again, working to marry his love, trying to find the traitor who gave up his name, and, meanwhile, regularly speaking from a phone booth with his Israeli contact Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter) an Arabic-speaking agent.

Whose side is he on? Which side does he really support? Can he even trust his friends, his love, his fellow militants?

Omar is a dramatic thriller about the Israel/Palestine conflict told decidedly from the Palestinian point of view. As a drama, it shows the psychologically draining toll non-stop surveillance takes on the lives of Omar BakriPalestinians. The movie’s done like a chess game: each side makes a move, countered by his opponent. But you soon see there are multiple chessboards, operating simultaneously, with countless players, alliances and betrayals until it’s hard to figure out who is black and who is white.

The acting is great, especially Adam Bakri and Leem Lubany as the young lovers, and Waleed F. Zuaiter as Omar’s handler. While not perfect, this is a thoughtful, informative and disturbing film, one that makes you think… and then rethink.

01_Toni_Servillo_La_grande_bellezza_foto_di_Gianni_FioritoA Great Beauty

Wri/Dir: Paolo Sorrentino

Jep (Toni Servillo) is a bon vivant living in the floating world of contemporary Rome. It’s still the Dolce Vita. Ostensibly, he’s a novelist, but hasn’t done anything great in decades. He coasts along, living off his reputation, and partying with faded royalty, vapid models and the ultra-rich. He is a camera, experiencing and recording all of this in mind.

His Rome is one filled with gilded palaces, rococo night clubs and 13_Giovanna_Vignola_foto_di_Gianni_Fiorito_01893velveteen Vatican chambers. His editor at a popular magazine, Dadina (Giovanna Vignola), is a little person, given to wearing electric-blue dresses. As his 65th birthday approaches he confides in her: he needs to find something or someone important, genuine – the “great beauty” of the movie’s title.

Slowly, the movie chugs along, heading toward his dinner party, with an elusive guest. Will he be touched by God? Or will it all prove as superficial as the rest of his life?

06_Sabrina_Ferilli_Toni_Servillo_Giorgio_Pasotti_La_grande_bellezza_foto_di_Gianni_FioritoThe Great Beauty is a nostalgic look at Rome’s faded glory, the cool elegance of old Fellini movies. Wonderfully acted, carefully shot. But does it add up to anything new?

I found this movie hollow at the core.

And, aside from a few minutes of genuine beauty, it’s not attractive at all. It’s drenched in a 1970s aesthetic of awful opulence, far from the coolness of 50s and 60s Italian cinema. And both its story and its look exists more as a tribute (or a rehash) of older Italian movies than as a new one all its own.

The Great Beauty is now playing and Omar opens today in Toronto; check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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