The Wolfpack

Thanks to Sharon for bringing this unique documentary to my attention. Directed by Crystal Moselle, The Wolfpack (2015)shows a family consisting of six brothers, their parents and their sister who live in New York. The parents met when the mother went backpacking in South America. She shared his dislike for materialism and were married.

The sad and curious thing about this family is that the father became a control freak and would lock the wife and children in the apartment. He believed it was for security, but actually I saw it as a form of control. They could only go outside when the father permitted it and he apparently went with them so no one could escape. One year they were allowed out 9 years and another they weren’t taken outside at all.

The film focuses on the older brothers. The mother was certified by the state to homeschool the kids and they all spoke articulately and politely. The father had wanted 10 children as his dream of heading a tribe, but seven was the limit (biologically) for the mother. The father didn’t work; the father explained that he didn’t believe in work. I wondered what he did when he was out of the house for hours and hours. They family lived on welfare. The father dreamt of moving to Scandinavia, where the welfare was even better, but that never materialized.

The compelling thing about the documentary is how creative the boys were. To stave off boredom and keep sane, they watched the 5000+ DVDs that their dad had collected and then they’d copy the scripts and act out the films. They made clever props. It’s a good thing there were so many kids or they wouldn’t have enough actors.

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Dodes’ka-den

Kurosawa’s 1970 Dodesu ka-den (どです か でん) was his first color film and the first film he released in five years after going though a rough experience directing a film for 20th Century Fox, a studio that didn’t trust him and spread rumors about him having had a nervous break down. To prove his detractors wrong, Kurosawa brought a collection of short stories to life on film.

Set in a post-war slum, Dodesu ka-den follows a group of beautiful or actually mainly grubby losers, most of whom aren’t regulars at the public bath. The story begins with a boy we’d now consider on the autism spectrum. He begins his day praying with his mother who’s distraught by his behavior. Every day, this boy, who lives out the fantasy that he’s a trolley driver by pantomiming every action of one. The actor’s skill would give Marcel Marceau a run for his money. The boy meticulously follows the rules of trolley service and scolds anyone who’s accidentally sitting on his “tracks.” Of course, he’s the prime target of taunting neighborhood boys.

There’s a group of half a dozen housewives who spend their days overseeing the comings and goings of everyone in the surrounding shanties. They gossip about the two women who’re married to men seemingly competing to be the town drunk and who casually swap their husbands from night to night. These women are little better than their husbands in terms of temperance or temperament.

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Another woman has five children and another on the way. Each child has a different father. She’s selfish and doesn’t care for anyone else. The scene when her current “husband” comforts the kids who’re crying because their pals have told them that each one has a different father and that this good-natured guy is not their “real” dad, was a highlight.

The scenes with the homeless dreamer who has his son beg for food and helps the young boy keep his spirits up by sharing his imagined view of the glorious house they’ll one day have with a English gate, a Scottish living room, and a swimming pool, were poignant and touching.

One of my favorite characters was an engraver who was the one sensible person in the neighborhood. He quietly made the right decision or said the right thing whenever someone was on the brink.

The film doesn’t have a typical story structure where people are facing a defined problem and its resolved by the end. Most of the characters had bleak existences that would make a Dickens character look privileged. Yet the film does offer respect and hope. Sometimes that hope was the charactes’s greatest flaw.

Poldark Season 3 Finale

Poldark Season 3 went out with a bang making viewers wish for September 2018, which can’t come soon enough for me. From start to finish his episode was amazing.

George returned from London and when he saw that Drake had set up his smithy near his land, he hit the ceiling. Elizabeth tried to make him see reason and not interpret this as a provocation from Ross. As usual, George ignored sense and set his yeoman to vandalize Drake’s blacksmith shop.

Meanwhile the unctuous vicar has taken to drugging his young wife Morwenna while he indulges his foot fetish and whatever else with her even younger sister Rowenna. Rowenna’s hard to figure out. Of course, she’s manipulating Ossie, but where did she learn to be so conniving. How can she stand Ossie, who makes most viewers skin crawl if tweets are to be believed? Rowenna announces she’s with child and Ossie’s expression was priceless. Call it schadenfreude, but seeing Ossie, who’s ruined Morwenna’s life, getting taken down was so satisfying.

Since three French ships were spotted on the horizon, Ross and others are instructed to prepare local men for a possible attack. This is right around the time of the French Revolution, which was so violent and the English of the day were very nervous.

George’s henchman sets fire to Drake’s smithy, totally destroying his work, which compels Drake to humbly tell Elizabeth all about this. Finally, Elizabeth is getting to a point where she takes action rather than just staying in the background letting everyone around her, like Morwenna, suffer.

When George interrupts Drake and rudely sends him packing, Elizabeth realized Drake was right and she stands up to George. Finally! This episode Elizabeth wasn’t imbibing her “little helper” and seemed to have waken up. She tries to make him see reason and stop speculating and obsessing over what Ross was doing.

But Elizabeth’s action was too little, too late. Tom Harry with two thugs found Drake leaving Trenwith and beat him till he was near death. Tom kicked him into the edge of a river and left him for dead. Such humanity. Demelza happened to find him and got Dwight.

Dwight prescribed abstinence for Morwenna for another few weeks and Ossie would have nothing of it. Why he’s not content with one sister is beyond me. Rowella has told Ossie she’s pregnant and offers a solution to the problem by bringing a very wimpy librarian in as a possible husband. The librarian, no doubt coached by Rowella, asks Ossie for £1000, which makes Ossie the Slime-bag turn beet red. Rowella’s probably 16 and she’s got this middle-aged lecherous hypocrite tied up in knots. Morwenna overheard the conversation and acts. When Ossie creeps into her room, she draws a line in the sand and tells him he’s never to touch her. Shocked that the once mousy Morwenna is forceful, he demands she do her wifely duties. She responds that if he takes one more step she’ll kill their son, which makes Ossie back off. He now thinks she’s crazy.

The townspeople hear of George’s thug’s attack on Drake. This on top of George’s increasing the price of grain and doing nothing in Parliament to help the poor makes people’s blood boil. They’d lay siege to Trenwith if it weren’t for Ross’ rousing speech. As we all know, he should be in Parliament.

Hugh’s poetry and attentive ways melt Demelza’s heart. Ross has taken her for granted and gives everyone else in his life more attention. Hugh reveals to Demelza that he’s going blind. Though she struggles with the choice, Demelza grants Hugh’s wish to give themselves to each other before he goes blind. (He put that more poetically.)

Meanwhile Ross leads the militia to Trenwith where the peasants are about to lay siege to George’s property. It’s a tense scene interspersed with flashbacks of the French Revolution.  In the end, Ross gets the people to lay down their arms by promising to take a seat in Parliament when asked.

There were a few scenes not in the 1970s series that I don’t think worked or seeing the DVDs of the 1970s series made me not like this series’ treatment of those parts as much. When Elizabeth turns the tables on George making him swear on the Bible that he wouldn’t suspect her of loving Ross or question Valentine’s lineage, George well apart emotionally. It humanized him as much as anything could, but I felt he was too weak. Also, the melancholy in Demelza’s return and the end of the episode showed more doubt in the marriage’s future. It was sadder and I think that’s partly because while both are fine, this Demelza isn’t as spunky or humorous. She’s got spirit, but of a different sort. I did wish the peasants had burned down Trenwith.

I’ll add that I miss Jud’s character and I think casting went overboard with stereotyping the librarian as a complete wet noodle. He wasn’t so weak and pasty in 1976.

But all in all, the show was gripping. I admit I watched it twice since we’re in for a Masterpiece drought till Victoria returns.

I’m going to miss Ross, Demelza, Caroline, Dwight, Geoffrey Charles, Prudie, the guy with the scar, Elizabeth, Drake, Morwenna & Co. They return in the summer of 2018 in the U.K. I may need to get a VPN.

Carrot Top (Poil de Carrote) 1932

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Written and directed by Julian Duvivier, Poil de Carrote or Carrotop (1932) will grab your heart. It’s the story of a boy whose mother has no love for him, while she spoils and adores his older siblings Felix and Ernestine, Carrot Top is the family’s Cinderella, who has to do all the chores and is the only person in the home, including the maid, who wears rags.

When the film opens, Carrot Top is getting scolded for writing a school essay stating, “A family is a group of people forced to live together under one roof who cannot stand each other.” His teacher tells him that all mothers and fathers love their children. The teacher clearly hasn’t met Mr. and Mrs. Lepic. Carrot Top has to call his parents Mr. and Mrs. Lepic and he’s absolutely right when he tries to convince his teacher that not all families are like Norman Rockwell paintings. Throughout this debate we see how smart and witty Carrot Top is.

Just as predicted, when Carrot Top arrives in his home town from boarding school, no one’s there to pick him up from the train station. When he gets home, the abuse and trouble begin. At every chance the stern Mrs. Lepic ridicules and overworks her son, who it’s well know was an “accident.” Mr. Lepic has withdrawn from home life and just doesn’t see what’s going on. He lives in his own world surviving by ignoring everything around him.

Only the new maid, Annette sees the injustice and hardship Carrot Top faces. His only other allies are the little girl he plans to marry and his good natured godfather who offers solace, but doesn’t intervene till the very end.

As the story progresses, Carrot Top’s upbeat attitude erodes. His shrew of a mother who looks for every chance to make life hard for Carrot Top is just too much. It breaks his spirit to see children his age in town who’re in nice clothes and are allowed to play.

Robert Lynen gives a realistic, sincere performance that shows amazing emotional range. Poil de Carrote was his first film. I learned from Criterion Collection’s essay, that Lynen joined the French Resistance in his 20s and was caught and executed by the Nazi’s.

I chose this film because I saw that Harry Baur of Les Misérables played the father. Again he provides an excellent, sensitive performance.

While I’d never heard of this story, Poil de Carrote began as a novel, then was a play, a silent film directed by Julian Duvivier, who made this film. Through the years, Poil de Carrote has been adapted numerous times into TV programs, cartoons and other films.

Tenant of Wildfell Hall

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Written by Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall goes into uncharted territory for novels of the 19th century, I’ve read.  The story follows Helen, a smart, beautiful heroine who sets her cap for Arthur Huntington, a handsome rake. Despite her aunt’s warnings, Helen insists on marrying this manipulative cad.

Most of the book is narrated by Gilbert Markham a prosperous landowner. I thought this was original as most stories of this sort either have an omniscient or female narrator.

When the story opens there’s a great deal of mystery. Mrs. Graham, an aloof woman moves into the countryside with her young son. She keeps a distance from the people in the community, but attracts Gilbert Markham. As he tries to get closer to Helen, she pulls back though it’s clear she’s attracted. To explain herself, she gives Gilbert her diaries so that he can understand why she tries to live so secretively. It also gets her to take the narrative reins.

We learn that Helen’s husband has been abusive and callous from the start of their marriage. Arthur is an alcoholic, gambler and philanderer. Brontë, who’s brother fought several addictions, shows the darker side of 19th century. It was a time when there was a lot of addiction, gambling, and disrespect towards women, who had little freedom or options.

While the heroine was sometimes too Puritanical and rather icy, it’s an understandable response to her husband’s behavior. I appreciated how different the story was from an Austen or Gaskell book.  For more commentary on The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, you can listen to the Midday Connection Bookclub podcast.