Sleeping and Dreaming. Movies Reviewed: Selma, Winter Sleep
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.
Dark winter is a good time to catch up on your lying down. To sleep, perchance to dream. But if you’re sleeping you’ll miss all the good movies. Aye, there’s the rub. This week I’m looking at two dramas. One from Turkey is about a rich man in a sleepy town. The other is an American historical drama about a man who had a dream.
Dir: Ava DuVernay
It’s 1964. The civil rights movement is in full swing. LBJ’s in the White House, Democrat and die-hard segregationist George Wallace is in the Alabama governor’s mansion and J Edgar Hoover is in the FBI, spying on everyone. But on the street, leading the protests is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo). He has led a series of successful, non-violent actions. The bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. The desegregation campaign in Birmingham. And then in Selma, Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) attempts the unthinkable. She applies to register to vote. But the Jim Crow laws are still in full force, making it virtually impossible to vote… unless you’re white.
King had just won the Nobel Peace Prize and is allowed to talk directly to LBJ (Tom Wilkinson). But his call for election reform is firmly rejected by the White House. So King and his confreres set off for Selma, Alabama to bring the protest home. As a preacher King is dedicated to non-violent resistance, modeled on Gandhi’s principals. But the local police have no such restrictions, clubbing, whipping, and even killing the unarmed protesters. But because the sheriff, mayor and governor are elected by a basically all-white electorate, the police can kill blacks with impunity. This makes the voters rights movement all the more important.
So the protests evolve into a series of actions, culminating in a march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. They are sure it will capture the nation’s attention if they are able to do it? But will the powers that be allow it to happen? King wonders why America can send soldiers to Vietnam, but not to Alabama where Americans are being attacked.
The movie covers the months surrounding the protests in Selma, the contributions of the other protesters, including a competing student movement operating out of the same town. It also delves into the personal lives of Martin and his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo). And subtly woven into the story is the fact that the FBI was bugging and spying and harassing on the whole movement, punctuated with late-night phone calls and constant surveillance and intimidation.
This is an engrossing and exciting film. There was some odd miscasting, things like Tim Roth who I love as an actor, but doesn’t make it as George Wallace. He just doesn’t achieve that good-old-boy feeling. And some of the side characters are prone to speechifying everyday conversations. But that doesn’t matter. Oyelowo is fantastic as Martin Luther King, both in his speeches and as a believable character. And it gives an intimate look at the behind-the scenes organizing of the civil rights movement. Its an historical drama but educates and excites the viewers at the same time.
(As an aside, I recommend you stay through the closing credits as the music plays. You’ll hear a recording from Selma in the 1960s that will forever alter how you think of the song Kumbaya.)
Dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) is a former actor and now a well-to-do landlord. He lives in Cappadocia in Turkey, known for its lunar landscape, where people live in homes carved straight out of volcanic ash. Wild horses roam the nearby fields. He owns a small hotel, and delights in chatting with tourists from Japan, and young adventurous travelers.
Aydin spends his time writing snooty columns about unimportant things for a local paper. And he earns money from the people who live in the nearby homes inherited from his father. But he doesn’t handle the “little” things like rent collection. So he’s shocked when, going out for a drive, a schoolboy Ilyas throws a rock straight at his car breaking a window! What is the meaning if this?
Back at home, he shares the dinner table with his beautiful young wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen), and his recently divorced sister Necla (Demet Akbag). They keep their conversations civil and intellectual, but filled with hidden, barbed invectives and sly, hidden insults. Afterwards, they each retreat to their own wing of the house.
But gradually, as winter comes, the quiet easy life he lives begins to unravel. Nihal devotes her time to a fund-raising project that Aydin dismisses as a silly project. And his sister’s own anger also leads to friction among the three. Aydin is distracted by side ventures – such as taming wild horses after a chance comment by a motorcycle-riding adventurer. Meanwhile, despite the pleading of an imam, the poorer people, including one of his tenants, are ignored… with troubling results.
Winter Sleep is a long, subtle — but never-boring — look at its characters. The beauty of the scenery and photography and the impressiveness of the film comes from the way you follow the emotions, as the stories slowly revealing themselves over the course of conversations: feelings of love, guilt, envy and jealousy, gradually rise to the surface. Subtlety triumphs which makes the sudden surprises all the more shocking. I like this movie.
Winter’s Sleep and Selma both open today in Toronto, check your local listings. And the Canada’s Top Ten series continues at the TIFF Bell Light Box with great Canadian films like The Price We Pay, Corbo, Mommy, and In Her Place.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for CIUT 89.5 FM and culturalmining.com