Poem of the Week

For Veterans’ Day

A Box Comes Home

 by John Ciardi

I remember the United States of America
As a flag-draped box with Arthur in it
And six marines to bear it on their shoulders.
I wonder how someone once came to remember
The Empire of the East and the Empire of the West.
As an urn maybe delivered by chariot.
You could bring Germany back on a shield once
And France in a plume. England, I suppose,
Kept coming back a long time as a letter.
Once I saw Arthur dressed as the United States
of America. Now I see the United States
of America as Arthur in flag-sealed domino.
And I would pray more good of Arthur
Than I can wholly believe. I would pray
An agreement with the United States of America
To equal Arthur’s living as it equals his dying
At the red-taped grave in Woodmere
By the rain and oak leaves on the domino.

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Waltz with Bashir

My final film from the library’s Fall Film Challenge was the animated Waltz with Bashir. My first animated documentary, Waltz with Bashir (the president of Lebanon was Bashir Gemayel) shows Ari Folman seeking to remember his experience in the Lebanon War of 1982 . Twenty years after the war, a friend confides in Folman that he’s had recurring nightmares about this war. Folman mentions that he has no memories of his experience in this war. Consequently, he goes on a quest through the fog of the past to reclaim his memories of a massacre. He visits old friends, some who fought and others who’re psychologists to find the truth.

The style of the animation was dark and bold. I found the animation enhanced the documentary and succeeded in producing a jarring look at war. I had no knowledge of this war and while I learned a lot, I realize I probably should find out more so that I don’t have just one point of view. What is particularly interesting was how Folman and others’ not only dealt with the impact of their war experience, but were haunted with how the massacre compared in their minds, their parents’ experience in the concentration camps of WWII.

The ending is haunting not only because of its portrayal of the aftermath of a massacre and its shift from animation to news footage. Waltz with Bashir is not for kids, not even teens, I’d say not just because there’s violence and some explicit sex scenes, but also because the analysis of the past features complex ideas that the few young people can understand.

If you know more about this conflict, please share below in the comment box. I’m eager to expand my knowledge.

*In Hebrew with English subtitles.

The Last Metro

Starring the elegant, beautiful Catherine Deneuve, François Truffaut’s The Last Metro takes us back to WWII where Marion Steiner struggles to aid her Jewish husband who’s hiding under their theater, to put on a new play despite the government censors. The news is that Lucas Steiner has fled France, but that’s a cover. He’s hiding out in the theater’s basement, where his wife Marion visits every night. She lined up a guide to get him out, but the plan fell through as the situation has grown too dangerous.

Though he’s going stir crazy, Lucas listens through the pipes and gives notes to the performers via Marion, who must keep a cool façade while being pulled in all directions fearing that a German-sympathizing critic will censor the play, which could lead to the discovery and imprisonment of her husband.

Gérald Depardieu plays a young amorous actor, who’s also in the Resistance.

As the film is based on Truffaut’s childhood memories of the era, The Last Metro offers several light hearted moments, such as Depardieu’s failed attempt to woo one of the theater staff.

The film is well acted and paced covering a significant era, but for me it wasn’t quite as good as The 400 Blows or Zazie dans le Métro

The Human Condition, III

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I’m beyond blown away by The Human Condition. It’s not that the third installment outstripped, the two earlier films, it’s that as a whole this film moved me like no other. It’s a masterpiece and probably the best anti-war film made.

In the third film, routed by the Russians, Kaji and his comrades are the only survivors of their unit. They must stealthily get back to southern Manchuria from this northern wilderness where the Russians are hunting down stragglers and the Chinese, now free, are out for revenge. Along the way, Kaji and his two or three companions encounter a group of Japanese refugees, half-starved, this motley group consisting of emaciated, exhausted women, children and elderly, fight for the meager food Kaji and his mates have found. While Kaji leads, it’s an uphill battle to get people to cooperate or ration their food.

Later, after most of the refugees die or run off, Kaji and his friends are captured by the Russians. If you thought that since the war is over by now, there’d be some decent treatment, guess again. The Japanese soldiers are sent to a hard labor camp. They’re underfed and aren’t given any clothes for the coming winter. Kaji’s reprimanded for using gunnysacks over his tattered uniform. This ingenuity is considered insubordination. On top of that the Japanese-Russian translator sides with the Russians and misinterprets his countrymen’s statements. Again, there’s no justice.

HUMAN CONDITION

I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say it’s sure powerful and not what I expected.

Why would anyone want to watch such a long trilogy of films about such horrible times? According to the film’s star Tatsuya Nakadai, who’s earned a spot in my actors’ hall of fame, in Japan they have annual marathon viewings of Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition and they always sell out. I watched the film to broaden my insight into a significant historical era and to see a master filmmaker’s work.

The Criterion Collection DVD set includes interviews with the director Masaki Kobayashi and the lead actor Tastuya Nakadai, for whom this was is first lead role. Nakadai mentions how much he learned about the film business from his cast members. He hadn’t much experience prior to this film, just Black River, in which he played a gangster. He really didn’t know much about film and hadn’t played such a pure-hearted character before. You’d never know from his performance.

Sepia Saturday

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This week’s prompt sent me searching for nostalgic photos with mechanics. I was surprised that my Flickr Commons search yielded so many women fixing cars and planes.

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National Library of Scotland 1918

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University of British Columbia, 1914-18?

Landscape

U.S. National Archives, 1942

If you’d like to see more Sepia Saturday photos, click here.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot stars Tina Fey as Kim, a broadcaster who half-heartedly volunteers to go to Afghanistan on assignment. Fey’s character leads a nice, but ho hum life in New York with a steady boyfriend (Josh Charles) and a steady, unchallenging job just reading news. Once in Afghanistan, she realizes she’s way over her head. She eventually adapts to life during wartime.

While away, she discovers her boyfriend is cheating so she’s free to take up with Martin Freeman’s politically incorrect, usually philandering, war-savvy character, who’s a photo journalist.

I felt the first half of the movie drags and contains a lot of obvious jokes and clichéd situations about culture, but it’s worth watching on DVD or on a plane where you can watch half, take a break and watch the second half. Tina Fey does a fine job as does Martin Freeman and Josh Charles. The reason to watch is to see what sacrifices people make during this war that too many of us forget and to see what has gone on in Afghanistan.

 

No Regrets for Our Youth

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Directed by Kurosawa, No Regrets for Our Youth surprised me as it’s the story of a young woman by a director whose prolific body of work otherwise emphasised male characters. The heroine Yukie is carefree and playful at the start of the film. She has no use for anything serious. The film opens with Yukie strolling through the mountains with her father’s university students. When they come to a shallow creek, she halts and waits for someone to rescue her.

Noge, a very political, man of action carries her across the water that seems about three inches deep. On the sidelines looking awkward is his friend Itokawa who has feelings for Yukie, but is too shy and unsure of himself to do anything. Yukie likes teasing men more than anything and  plays Noge and Itokawa off each other.

As political tensions rise in Japan leading up to WWII, Yukie’s father is fired by the government because he’s spoken out against military aggression. Made after the war No Regrets for Our Youth, contains several scenes with characters discussing the importance of academic freedom, free speech and the importance of self sacrifice when working towards a greater good. Both Yukie’s father and Noge, who is arrested and imprisoned pay for their ideals.

After seven years, Yukie leaves her hometown Kyoto, to work in Tokyo. Here she bumps into Itokawa who’s continued to play it safe. He’s a lawyer and is married. He’s kept in touch with Noge, who’s just been released. Now Yukie’s matured somewhat and when she sees Noge again she’s willing to give up a conventional life to risk life with a rebel.

Soon Noge is arrested and she’s imprisoned, questioned and eventually released. We’re not entirely sure of what Noge did with his underground work but he says that in 10 years the Japanese will thank him and Yukie. From then on Yukie’s life is full of hardship, hardship she voluntarily takes on despite protests from her parents and Noge’s parents. It’s amazing to see someone who was such a flibbertigibbet turn into an honest to goodness heroine.

While the film was made early in Kurosawa’s career and lacks the mastery of later films, No Regrets of Our Youth tells a compelling story and enlightened me on anti-war protests in Japan prior to and during WWII. Also, I wish this Criterion Collection DVD featured more commentary or background information.