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Cinema '59 * World Cinema of Freedom Struggles -- A Supplement

September 2, 2008

Ryszard Cimek
September 1, 2008

Following Jamyang Norbu's Cinema '59 essay I added few more items

Man of Marble, 1976 Poland, Andrzej Wajda.
Wajda explores the world of propaganda film, the glorification of the
worker, and the reality that lies behind it. Birkut (played with
total conviction by Jerzy Radzwilowicz) is built up as a worker's
hero in Stalinist Poland because a person making a film wants to
prove, for propaganda purposes, that Birkut can lay more bricks than
anyone else, and so he is challenged to reach a new record figure.
Many years later, a young film student, Agnieszka, played with just
the right mix of idealism and strong-headedness by the great Krystyna
Janda, is puzzled why Birkut should have fallen from favour with the
authorities, and starts to uncover a can of worms turned into a nest
of vipers by corruption, propaganda, and the Communist system. Wajda
here is at his most openly critical of totalitarianism, and when the
film first came out to rave reviews, he was admired for the bravery
of his vision. A must for anyone trying to understand what living
under Eastern bloc Communism was really like, and a gripping story
too, with some shocking moments. This is the reason why many Poles
don't want to watch the movie any more - ironically, the highest
compliment that can be given. It is too close to the truth that many
people in this now thoroughly Westernised country would rather forget.

Man of Iron, 1981, Poland, Andrzej Wajda
Fictionalized documentary capture's rise of Poland's Solidarity
movement. Viewers interested in the human stories that make up
history will be intrigued by this portrait of a government reporter
covering events.

It depicts the Solidarity labour movement and its first success in
persuading the Polish government to recognize the workers' right to
an independent union.

The film is a continuation of the story of Maciej Tomczyk, the
protagonist of Wajda's earlier film, Man of Marble. Here, Maciej is a
young worker involved in the anti-Communist labour movement,
described as "the man who started the Gda sk Shipyard strike", and a
journalist working for the Communist regime's radio station, who is
given a task of slandering Maciej. The young man is clearly intended
as a parallel to Lech Wa sa (who appears as himself in the movie).
The film was made during in the brief thaw in Communist censorship
that appeared between the formation of Solidarity in August 1980 and
its suppression in December 1981, and as such it is remarkably
critical of the Communist regime. It won the 1981 Palme d'or at the
Cannes Film Festival.

Interogation, 1980, Poland, Ryszard Bugajski
Based on a true story reflecting the Stalinist terror of the early
1950s, Ryszard Bugajski's harrowing film was banned under martial law
in Poland and only became available after the director smuggled a
copy of Interrogation out of the country. Tonia (Krystyna Janda), a
singer in a sleazy cabaret, is imprisoned without explanation. Days
become weeks become months, varied only by the persuasion,
intimidation and torture of interrogation. Janda's outstanding
depiction of a woman who becomes heroic in the face of torture and
imprisonment, takes you to places few films are willing to explore.
In the early 1980s, film director Ryszard Bugajski worked under
Andrzej Wajda at the Polish film studio Film Unit X. Bugajski had
been developing a script about repression and brutality in Poland in
the 1950s under Stalinist rule. As the studio was run by the
Communist state, all film scripts had to be approved by the Culture
Committee before a film could go into production. A script such as
Interrogation, that was openly critical of the State, stood little
chance of approval. However, at the time Interrogation went through
the system in 1982, the authorities were preoccupied with
preparations for the forthcoming imposition of martial law and it
somehow slipped through the net. Interrogation was passed for production.

The Lives of Others, 2007, Germany, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
In East Berlin in 1984, the secret police, known as the Stasi, are
gaining more and more control, spying on German citizens, and
recruiting thousands of them to spy on each other. Captain Gerd
Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) has been ordered to find something on
playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), so he sets up a
surveillance room and listens closely as Dreyman, his actress
girlfriend, Christa-Marie Sieland (Martina Gedeck), and various
suspected radical friends gather in their apartment. But when Wiesler
discovers that culture minister Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme) cast
suspicion on Dreyman only so he can have his way with Sieland, the
master interrogator and torture teacher starts taking a long look at
just what it all is about. THE LIVES OF OTHERS was nominated for an
Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2007. Interestingly, during
and after the filming of the movie, several of the actors (including
Muhe) found out that they or their families had been victims of the
Stasi--and in one case, the father of an actor (Charly Hubner) was
revealed to have been a member of the Stasi himself.

Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1987, UK, Philip Kaufman
Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Tomas, the happily irresponsible Czech
lover of Milan Kundera's novel, which is set in Prague just before
and during the Soviet invasion in 1968. Lena Olin and Juliette
Binoche are the two vastly different women who occupy his attention
and to some extent represent different sides of his values and
personality. In any case, the character's decision to flee Russian
tanks with one of them--and then return--has profound consequences on
his life. Directed by Philip Kaufman, this rich, erotic, fascinating
character study with allegorical overtones is a touchstone for many
filmgoers. Several key sequences -- such as Olin wearing a bowler hat
and writhing most attractively -- linger in the memory, while
Kaufman's assured sense of the story inspires superb performances all around.

Closely Watched Trains, 1966, Czechoslovakia, Jiri Menzel
Milos Hrma, a bumbling dispatcher's apprentice at a village railway
station in occupied Czechoslovakia, longs to liberate himself from
his virginity. Oblivious to the war and the resistance that surrounds
him, he embarks on a journey of sexual awakening and self-discovery,
encountering a universe of frustration, eroticism and adventure
within this sleepy backwater depot. Milos becomes involved in a plot
to blow up a German ammunition train, but when the plan backfires, he
is forced to commit the ultimate act of courage.

Cry Freedom, 1987, United Kingdom, Dickie Attenborough
Steve Biko was one of the heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle in
South Africa. A proponent of non-violent activism and founding member
of the influential Black Consciousness Movement, he died in police
custody in 1977, aged 30. In Cry Freedom, that's half way through the
movie. Attenborough's film, while an ode to the life and martyrdom of
the man, is in fact the story of Biko's friend, Donald Woods.

Woods (Kline) was a real-life hero himself. Editor of a South African
newspaper, he was one of the leading white voices in the
anti-apartheid movement, risked life and limb to investigate Biko's
death, and eventually had to escape the country (dressed as a
Catholic priest) to publish his findings. Cry Freedom describes the
journalist's extraordinary experiences from his first meeting with
Biko in 1975 to his dramatic flight into Losotho less than three
years later. In so doing, the film confirms with sympathy and a deal
of emotional clout what we all knew -- that Biko was a truly great
man, that apartheid and the regime enforcing it were inhumane, and
that love must overcome hatred.

Cleverly, it does all that while beating to the pace of a thriller,
reaching fever pitch after Biko's demise when Woods, hounded by a
gnashing John Thaw (playing Minister Of Police, James Kruger),
attempts to uncover the brutal truth of his friend's death.

Singing Revolution, James Tusty, Estonia (2007) (Documentary)
The Singing Revolution traces the history of Estonia and the Baltic
region from its very roots between 5,000 to 8,000 years ago through
to the Singing Revolution. It tells of the conquests that Germans,
Danes, Swedes, Poles and Russians had over the country and the many
hands that this small nation passed through over the centuries.

The movie concentrates on acts of peaceful defiance of Estonians
against their Russian occupiers through peaceful protests. The story
is one of the step-by-step reestablishment of Estonians independence
without violence and through mass demonstrations of unity and singing.

Zelary, 2003, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Ondrej Trojan
Two very different people meet and fall in love in "Zelary," the
Oscar-nominated (Best Foreign Language Film, 2003) romantic epic from
director Ondrej Trojan. Eliska, a sophisticated medical student,
first meets Joza at a Prague hospital, where her blood saves the
injured sawmill worker's life. But Eliska also works with the Czech
resistance and when she's betrayed to the Gestapo, Joza agrees to
hide the young woman in his remote mountain village of Zelary. Forced
to marry the rough-hewn peasant and pose as his wife, Eliska is at
first defiant and angry. But with the passing of time, she comes to
realize that there's more to Joza than first meets the eye. And so,
even as the war rages around them, Eliska and Joza soon find
themselves deeply and passionately in love, until an unexpected twist
of fate threatens to put their extraordinary romance to the ultimate test.

The Sixth Sun: Mayan Uprising in Chiapas, 1995, USA, Saul Landau
The film does a good job of explaining in unsensationalized terms
what the Zapatistas are about, and how U.S. corporations, NAFTA, and
the WTO are directly responsible for the uprising. The Zapatistas are
not depicted here as terrorists, although they may well strike terror
into the hearts of the world's richest CEOs, (and for good reason),
but as defenders of peasants' rights who chose guerilla tactics after
more civil methods were closed to them by an indifferent government.

Paradise Now, 2005, Belgium, Hany Abu-Assad
The story places two close friends, Palestinians Said and Khaled,
recruited by an extremist group to perpetrate a terrorist attack in
Tel-Aviv, blowing up themselves. However, things go wrong and both
friends must separate in the border. One of them, maintaining in his
purpose of carry the attack to the end, and the other will have his
doubts about it.

In Nablas on the West Bank, Said and Khaled, who have volunteered to
be suicide bombers, receive word it will be tomorrow - the cell's
first operation in two years. They're shaven and shorn, in black
suits to pose as settlers in Tel Aviv for a wedding. Something goes
wrong at the crossing, they're separated, and the action is
postponed, long enough for renewed questioning of what they're about
to do. Suha, the well-educated and well-traveled daughter of a
martyr, challenges the action. She likes Said and has her own ideas.
"Under the occupation, we're already dead," is Khaled's analysis.
Fate and God's will seem to drive Said. We must be moral, argues
Suha. Can minds change?

Ashoka, 2001, India, Santosh Sivan
Prince Ashoka, heir to the Magadha Kingdom, bowing to his mother's
demand forsakes his princely status and goes to live in the wild for
awhile. There he meets and falls in love with Kaurwaki. He identifies
himself as Pawan, not wanting to disclose his identity yet. Ashoka
has to return to Magadha, but when he returns to find and wed
Kaurwaki, he is told by Bheema that Kaurwaki and her brother Arya
have been killed. Devastated Ashoka returns home. On the way home he
is attacked and Devi, of the Buddhist faith rescues him and tends to
him till he gets well. As a result, Devi's marriage to her groom is
cancelled. Ashoke weds her and brings her to Magadha, only to be told
by his father that since Devi is not of the same race as he, she
cannot be welcomed. Ashoka leaves with Devi and lives in Ujjaini.
Soon Devi gets pregnant, and this arouses jealously and hatred
amongst Ashoke's step-brothers. As a result they plot to kill Devi,
however, their plans are foiled by Ashoka's mother, who is killed.
Ashoka swears to avenge his mother's death by killing his
step-brothers one by one, except for one, who has led to Kalinga.
Ashoka asks the ruler of Kalings to turn over his step-brother to
him, and they refuse. Ashoka swears to raze Kalinga to the ground.
Ashoka is unstoppable. Even his close friend, Virat, too, is unable
to stop Ashoka. Ashoka proceeds to war, little knowing that the queen
of Kalinga is none other than Kaurwaki, who is still alive.

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