Friday, February 27, 2009

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

From director Mark Herman, comes a Holocaust-story about two children- called The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas (2008). Based on the novel by John Boyne, it tells the story of Bruno, whose family is relocated to the countryside during World War II. Separated from all his friends, and driven by loneliness to explore his surroundings, he comes across a 'farm', and a 'boy in striped pyjamas'. Of course, the farm is a Nazi concentration camp, and the boy is a Jewish prisoner. What follows is a friendship that transcends beliefs, culture, and race- and perhaps even death.

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas is a story based on the Holocaust, but with a refreshingly new perspective- for it is seen through the eyes of a child. Bruno, as the son of the German officer, questions the treatment of the Jews with all the innocence that childhood possesses, and wonders why they are treated badly, while they are so comfortably off. He sees smoke from the camp's chimneys, rising into the sky, and wonders what's burning, and why it smells so bad. He thinks all the people in 'striped pyjamas' are farmers, and thinks it ridiculous that the 'farmer' in his kitchen gave up his medical practice to peel potatoes.

The film presents the inhumanity and horrors of the Holocaust- as seen through the non-judgmental, naive eyes of a young child. It is a beautiful story, with all its languidity- for here there is no fast-paced action, no Death Marches, no excessive violence- but despite all that, the simple treatment of the film moved me much more. Credit goes to Asa Butterfield and Jack Scanlon for great acting, in the roles of Bruno and Shmuel (the Jewish boy) respectively. Vera Farmiga, as Bruno's mother, puts in a riveting performance too- as the woman who is torn between her roles- will she be a good German wife and support her husband's none-too-noble work, or will she be a mother and protect her children from the horrible sights of the Holocaust? And Bruno's father (David Thewlis) seems to fit into his role as the Nazi officer with ease- in many parts, he seems to actually be the monster his wife accuses him of being.

What is perhaps one of the most moving aspects about this film is the multi-layered treatment of the characters. No one character is portrayed as all good, or all bad- no, not even the Germans. Bruno, in all his innocence, sympathises with the ill-treatment of the Jews in his house, and quickly forms a friendship with Shmuel, a friendship that is based purely on talk from either side of an electrocuted fence- Bruno brings him food, keeps him amused, and is indeed all a good friend should be. However, he lies in a situation, to save his own skin, and thereby Bruno is not a flawless character.

The pronounced British accents in all the characters are a little disconcerting, and certain parts of the movie call for suspension of disbelief (for instance, how would a young Jewish prisoner be left unattended near the fence for hours at a stretch? And is it really so easy to dig into a camp?).

But once you get used to all that- the cinematography, the music, and the good direction take up all your attention. The movie is stunning in its own way, and despite some minor imperfections, it still works- and is woefully underrated. This grim story about a bond between two young boys will leave you emotionally raw, but somewhere, I guarantee, you will feel a sense of hope.

With themes like the loss of childhood and innocence, the Holocaust, and internal conflict, it is a piece of cinematic achievement that will leave you spellbound, almost as much as Life Is Beautiful- another film that deals with a child's innocence about the Holocaust.

The ending is beautiful and poignant- and perhaps the only way the story could have ended. I was left with a sense of loss, and oddly yet, a sense of faith, that perhaps friendship does overcome every kind of boundary, and that despite the odds, it can live on.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Truman Show.

The Truman Show, directed by Peter Weir, is undoubtedly one of the best films ever made. Released in 1998, it tells the story of Truman Burbank, a man with a seemingly-happy life in suburban America, who discovers his life has been carefully constructed and manipulated, and that he is part of a TV show, broadcasted worldwide. His wife, friends, and apparent family are all actors, the island on which he lives is a set, where even the sunrises and sunsets are digitally controlled.

Jim Carrey establishes himself in this film as a brilliant actor, one whose talents are not just confined to facial contortions and slapstick comedy. Indeed, his portrayal of the man who finds his life to be a public spectacle is astonishingly good. Carrey outdoes himself with a stunning and thought-provoking performance, and I found it hard to identify him with the same actor who played Stanley Ipkiss in The Mask, and the animal-lover in the Ace Ventura movies. Those who think that Carrey cannot carry off serious roles should watch this. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind wouldn't be a bad choice either.

Truman's character development is flawless- a light falling from the sky, a distorted radio message, and an accidental look at what appears to be a lift- all raise his suspicions, and he finally realises that his life has been part of a TV show for 30 years.

Laura Linney, who plays his wife, is outstanding as well. Her performance is one that suggests depth- as Truman starts to realise his life is not what it is, her smile gets wider, her consolations more desperate- as an actress, as part of the TV show, she does not want the elaborate lie to be exposed.

Ed Harris plays Christof, the man who has conceptualised the TV show that Truman is part of. He is the master, whereas Truman is the puppet. Harris portrays Christof as a man characterised by grim ferocity, and a brutal lack of compassion. Even though his screen-time is much less (it is Carrey who practically holds up the movie), Harris's Oscar nomination is well-deserved. Also, Christof is perhaps a take on God Himself, the Creator- who has made up our world, and watches while we discover ourselves and the many truths that surround us.

The film can be interpreted on many levels. I think, first and foremost, it is a brilliant commentary on the role of the media, and a satiric look at how it controls our lives. There are scenes in The Truman Show where people are shown to be glued to their TV sets, almost having given up their normal activities.

Secondly, it is a jab at the voyeuristic nature present in all of us - the desire to watch another person's life, to look at how he leads it, and to follow his every movement, every thought, and ogle at the intricacies that make up his life.

And third, it is perhaps a look at how fragile our lives are, and how, sometimes, they can be made up of lies. Truman's life is seemingly perfect- he has a good job, friendly neighbours, a pretty wife... Indeed, he seems to be living the American Dream in all its glory- but half an hour into the film, you realise that's not the case at all. He is trapped by a job that he finds dull and boring, his neighbours get on his nerves, his wife is a little too plastic, his thoughts are filled with memories of his ex-girlfriend- and soon enough, Truman realises his entire life is being manipulated.

The Truman Show
has brilliant cinematography- certain camera angles make it seem as if we are watching not just a movie, but Truman's life itself- we are one of the viewers in the movie glued to their TV sets. The soundtrack is good, and the momentum of the movie builds itself up with determination, leading to an absolutely brilliant climax.

The film is dramatic, sincere, and not pretentious in any degree. It's an extraordinary, highly original film that leaves you thinking. And having watched it a decade after it was released, its relevancy is still potent, and its message strikingly clear even in the present day.

It's sad that Carrey didn't even get an Oscar nomination for his acting, but then again- Life Is Beautiful had lost out in the Oscars too. Sometimes, even the best films don't make it, and it's up to the viewers to immortalise them in their own way.

Watch The Truman Show for its unique storyline, its satirical portrayal of media and voyeurism, and lastly, for Carrey's performance. You will not be disappointed. This movie- a political and social allegory, will not let you forget it in a hurry.