Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Art To Tears

 It's not easy predicting when we'll cry. Circumstances play a role. Sometimes, sad news brings just solemn silence, brooding, and we cry later when the initial shock has settled. At other times, an event, a face, a word can take us right there. The tears come fast and freely, and the emotions flow with them. It hurts to cry, but there's pleasure in the process, too, a pure reckoning of our deepest, most indispensable feelings 

I have movies on my shelf that make me cry every time. When I sit others down to re-experience these movies through them, my anticipation of the emotions to come can be overwhelming. It feels so good, though, to feel so much at such a concentrated level. It's amazing what art can do! This is easily the most enjoyable type of crying because, although we reference our own experiences as we process any form of art, we stand at a comfortable distance from it; it's arguably not first-hand experience, though the act of watching and listening is just as unimpeded as life beyond the screen.

 It's inevitable that we will not always respond the same way to that which moves us today. Time and raw experience see to that. Our emotional memories are processed, synthesized, and packed into the filing cabinets of our brains, and the files themselves are shuffled, re-arranged, deleted, and discarded. Nothing remains the same.

Until tomorrow comes, these are the movies that currently move me to tears.

If there is one consistent element to them all (apart from their exceptional natures), it is the heart-rending or life-affiriming music.

For me, MUSIC is the third dimension, the cinematic enzyme that enables us to absorb and feel the emotions of another living creature, be it man, woman, child, tree, plant, bird, or Mother Earth herself.  

 Je-gyu Kang's Brotherhood of War (Taegukgi) tops my list at the moment of films that annihilate my emotions with a great story, characters whose feelings we feel, and a dramatic situation that is inherently powerful. In this, two brothers are conscripted into South Korea's conflict with the North. The oldest brother takes on suicide missions to guarantee his younger brother's safety, but a terrible reality awaits him. Powerful hardly describes this incredible movie. It's devastating.

The score by Dong-jun Lee, available on CD, is the best orchestral score I've heard in years.

I'm shaking just writing about it.

Goodbye Uncle Tom (Goodbye Uncle Tom), surely the masterpiece of masterpieces for directors Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, must be experienced at least once in your lifetime.

The opening ten minutes is a surreal and breathlessly beautiful sequence in which a helicopter carrying Italian journalists appears over a Southern cotton field in the mid-1800's. The film's immortal love song, 'All My Love', voiced with perfection by Katyna Ranieri, and composed by Rizo Ortolani, sends this segment of the film to heights most films could only dream of reaching.

The motif is repeated throughout what is a challenging, original, and brave piece of cinematic art.

The Elementary School (Obecna Skola) is Jan Sverak's most moving and perfect film.

As I have written out it at length on these blogs, I won't repeat myself here.

For mine, Running Out of Time is Johnny To's greatest suspense thriller. I don't consider his A Hero Never Dies a suspense thriller, so no disrespect is intended. On the contrary, it is as equally moving and included on this list also.

A terrible sadness runs through this movie, a sadness embodied in the mission of Andy Lau, a dying man.

The score, by Raymond Wong, is unlike anything I've heard before, shrewdly incorporating orchestral, Scottish, and electronic elements.

One of the most effective generators of emotion here is a tenderly handled love story. Although it's a subplot, it's extremely potent, and manages to lift all the other elements.

The chemistry between Lau and regular To stalwart Ching Wan Lau is electric.

See this. Feel this. 

Set during WWII in rural France, this is a powerful drama exploring the impact of war on children.

An orphaned girl is unofficially fostered by a peasant family, and learns to live with the darkness around her. With a young boy her own age, she retreats into a ritualized world that allows her some semblance of control. Until reality tears her world apart once more.

This Academy Award-winner (for Best Foreign Film) is brutally emotional with support from a simple, devastating score.   

Not as well known as Ghibli's My Neighbor Totoro or Naussica In the Valley of the Wind, Whisper of the Heart's focus is on a friendship between a boy and girl who bond when they discover that they're checking out the same books at the library. Together, they enter a strange yet familiar world.

Although there are a couple of fantasy interludes, this is the studio's most realistic production, and might well have made an excellent live action film.

Directed by Yorifumi Condo, and with original music by Yuji Nomi, not Joe Hisaishi, the studio's regular composer.

The film features a stupendously moving version of John Denver's 'Country Road'.  

Hachi-ko is based on a true story about a dog who waited (at a train station) for his master years after the man had died.

Unnecessarily remade in the US with Richard Gere in the master role,  Haich-ko is a diamond quality Japanese movie that conveys a simple, sentimental story in an admirably restrained  style. It's ultra-subtle and mercifully  free of explanation and artifice. Somewhat tragic by design, its emotions are released slowly, and its impact is strong.

 My Father's Glory, based on the childhood memoirs of Marcel Pagnol, and with music by Vladimir Cosma, is a boy's celebration of his father's (perceived) superhuman abilities, and acknowledgment of the same man's flawed humanity.

An early schoolroom scene in which Marcel's father, played by Phillipe Caubere, exudes pride in the fact that his young son can read, is very beautiful, and captures a human warmth that is rarely so effortlessly conveyed.     
The companion film, My Mother's Castle, is equally moving and unforgettable.

Johnny's To's heroic bloodshed masterpiece! There is something so pure and raw about this movie. It's both a visual and an emotional feast. It wears its heart on its sleeve. It paints its own world from the ground up. It goes to places unexpected for this genre.

Again, Raymond Wong supplies the score, and what a fine piece of work it is, easily one of the greatest film scores ever written.

Tragic, surreal, emotionally brittle, barbaric in its violence.

Almost too much for a cinephile to take... but I'll take it any day...straight up!


  1. My emotions lie quite close to the surface, so it doesn't take much for me to get blurry eyed in a film.

    However, the first time I saw Brokeback Mountain it just smashed me. After the film I literally wept for about an hour after I got home. It was a very strange and unsettling experience.

    I know that the film is emotionally manipulative, and I'm sure people will scoff at me for admitting to this (probably due to backlash to the film's hyped mainstream status), but frankly I couldn't give a shit.

  2. Amazing post Phantom, "When I sit others down to re-experience these movies through them, my anticipation of the emotions to come can be overwhelming" I feel exactly the same way. Just thinking about Bullet in the head and the score is enough to make me start as I'm typing this!

    A Hero never dies too, As you say the score is amazing and it's complete lack of subtlety is it's strongest element, daring the viewer to take it as you say straight up.

    I'm a firm believer that if you are going to watch a film you have to give yourself to it otherwise don't watch it, if you can't invest in it then you aren't going to feel anything from it.

    Loving the love for Running out of time too Phantom, it's a great film and one that is often overlooked presumably due to it seemingly being more mainstream.

  3. Hero -- yes, you must give yourself completely to a film -- or anything -- to fully partake in its charms. Abandonment is good!

    Do you know if the new RUNNING OUT OF TIME Bluray is decent? I must pick that up. The climax where Lau drives off with the music pumping is sublime. Transporting even.

  4. Hero -- a review of the HK RUNNING OUT OF TIME Blu-ray on blue-ray.com gives picture AND sound pretty high marks (with some reservations). Sounds like a significant improvement on the fairly lacklustre DVD.

  5. A great post. Have you ever watched Grave of the Fireflies? This one always leaves me with damp eyes.

  6. I've been meaning to pick that up, but was waiting for a review first. Seems like a worthwhile upgrade. My blu ray of Throwdown shipped today, I'll post a brief review for that when it arrives.

  7. Hero -- look forward to that... and I'll let you know what the BR of RUNNING is like when it arrives.

    Can we possibly expect a HERO NEVER DIES BR?

  8. Brigitte Fossey looks about 70 years old in that picture, maybe thats derived from the solemn atmosphere that Rene Cle-girl-t imbued into the film.

  9. Hamster -- calm down, son, he was referring to the post above it, not your Fossey comment.

  10. Cheers geezer, i didn`t realise that, although my Fossey com-girl-t was easily the pick of the bunch, as per usual.

  11. A Curious Female -- I love GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES. So beautiful and so sad. My perfect movie.

  12. Aylmer -- love what you want to love. That's what defines you.