HUMAN FLOW and the Beauty of Sorrow

The director and well-known artist of HUMAN FLOW, Ai Weiwei, created an amazing piece on the human condition: it presents the journey of the 65-million refugees who walk across the world in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.  They are fleeing wars, climatic change, poverty, and discrimination.


HUMAN FLOW was filmed in 23 countries, among them Lebanon, Syria, Greece, Italy, France.  It is much more than “a moving picture”: HUMAN FLOW elicits emotions beyond compassion.   It took the courage and the talents of an extraordinary filmmaker, a photographer, a composer, and dozens of local participants – as well as the distribution team of Magnolia and Amazon Studios to document the tribulations, challenges and hardships of human beings filmed in aerial views, in close-ups, or in groups.   The images beautifully present the “big picture” of refugees (huge pans of lands covered with refugee camps) and the smaller picture of their plight—individuals, children, women whose pain and survival skills create deep sorrow about the politics at the root of their tragic fate.


HUMAN FLOW is moving, well documented, inspiring; it also includes quotations from Turkish and Kurdish poets, Buddhist philosophers that appear regularly on the screen. Definitions of the term refugee, reminders of how human rights have been defined by the European Union, figures that report the numbers of displaced people in each country after the onset of the Iraq war give the movie an invaluable educational dimension.


Whether one already knows about refugees or not, taking two hours out of your Black Friday weekend at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s Film Club screening, is an experience for your intellect and your heart.  Ai Weiwei was not content to film the refugees: he lived with them, walked at their side, shared their daily existence.  He brings about the compassion every human being should experience when becoming aware of this dire picture of our present world:  people who have lost everything and cross borders that are suddenly closed to them, those who face rain, rivers, wade in the mud, experience deaths of family members, walk in sorrow through a cemetery full of those who did not survive the crossings, deprivation, and humiliation.  It would be sheer indifference not to take action after one listens to the poignant interviews of the refugees as well as their representatives from the United Nations and other organizations such as Human Watch.

A few images, moments and quotes stuck to my mind.  One showed silent refugees posing on a white background:  no words were uttered; indeed, which ones could express their condition? Another one showed Africans coming out of a boat and being handed light gold blankets which made them look like a group sculpture shaking in the wind.

Yes, mankind should be ashamed of letting such events happen on our planet, mankind should also be proud of having among us individuals who are determined to save others.

“You killed me, and like you, I forgot to die” was one of the quotes from a poet.

HUMAN FLOW.  A tribute to life, an appeal to our consciousness.

Reviewed by Martine Bourdeau


HUMAN FLOW and the Beauty of Sorrow

Not Priscilla


 There are golden periods of history, usually ten or twenty years when everything is just perfect, or as perfect as is possible in this vale. I lived through one: 1958-1968, when being a kid in America was marvelous. Sorry you guys missed it. Werner Herzog’s movie, Queen of the Desert, is set in another one of those golden periods, from the end of Victoria’s reign to the First World War, when the Brits ruled practically everything, the sun never set on the Empire, pip pip cheerio stiff upper lip wot wot, and fin de siècle English upper crust lower middle aristocrats could traverse the tottering Ottoman Empire with quite a degree of impunity…until it all changed, as golden decades are wont to do.

The movie depicts Gertrude Bell, a real life lower middle aristocrat who gets it into her head between cotillions to go do something adventurous. Given the bunch of lower middle aristocrat idiot suitors her Mum keeps throwing at her, I am sympathetic. (By the way, Mum is played by Jenny Agutter. Jenny Agutter! Remember her from Logan’s Run, An American Werewolf in London? Oh yeah, you remember. Seen her popping up quite a bit lately, including Captain America: Winter Soldier. Nice). Gertrude’s Dad suggests a trip to Tehran, which isn’t the crazy idea it would be today; back then it would be like a trip to Rio: exotic, interesting, an incomprehensible language, somewhat dangerous, but civilized.

So, she goes, sponsored by her quite delightful British Consul uncle, portrayed by Mark Lewis Jones, who has the best lines in the movie (except for one short stint at the beginning when Nick Waring as Sir Mark Sykes delivers a series of insults worthy of Peter Capaldi in In the Loop). There, she falls in love with Henry Cadogan (portrayed by James Franco in the wooden, non-expressive acting style he perfected as Green Goblin), who ends up killing himself, and then Gertrude falls in love with Major Charles Doughty-Wylie (played by Damien Lewis…you know, Captain Winters in Band of Brothers) who volunteers for Gallipoli, which is pretty much suicide…hmm. Mayhaps those idiot suitors back in merry ole dodged a bullet?

Anyways, grief-stricken because of driving men to suicide, she takes off for the deserts of the Middle East, meeting Druze and Bedouins and Lawrence of Arabia and Ottoman Lieutenants and single-handedly changing the course of Arab history…well, no. As much as Herzog wants you to believe that, just ain’t true. Bell was one of many persons involved in the modern shaping of the Arab peninsula, including at least one other woman, Lady Anne Blunt, who reached the city of Ha’il before her.

Nicole Kidman portrays Gertrude from about age 17 to well into her forties with nary a whiff of extra makeup or softened lens, at least that I could detect, and that’s nice. She’s a queen in her own right and does a rather excellent job of idealizing and overblowing the heroic woman-hear-me-roar aspect of Bell that director Werner Herzog is obviously intending. Which is a lovely 21st Century notion, but Pax Britannica was more responsible for Bell’s safe travels than anything. That, and the tolerance–and amusement–of the Druze and Bedouins.

Not Priscilla

Bells Are Ringing


The Handmaiden is a Korean movie based on the English novel Fingersmith. I’ve always understood a fingersmith to be a Dickensian pickpocket or someone else similarly light-fingered, but, apparently, the term is also a popular one with the LGBTQ community. You could use your imagination to figure out why but the movie saves you the trouble.

This is a double cross of a double cross, with the ‘fingersmiths’ of the title attempting to pull a con on the young, naïve, and fabulously rich Lady Hideko (played by Min-Hee Kim who is oh-my-God beautiful), whose uncle wants to marry her. What? Yes, the oh-my-God horrid Uncle Kouzuki (played by  Jin-woong Jo) intends to wed the Lady, his niece, in order to inherit her fortune, which he needs in order to pursue rare 14th Century Japanese pornography texts. What? Yes, 14th Century Japanese pornography. Quite rare. Quite explicit, and quite priceless to a small but very degenerate group of Japanese businessmen in occupied Korea during the early 20th Century. The fingersmiths, local Koreans, hatch a plot for a fake member of Japanese nobility named Count Fujiwara (played by Jung-woo Ha) to sweep in and offer the Lady a chance to escape by eloping with the good Count to Japan, taking her fortune with her, naturally. After about a week of marriage, commit her to a nuthouse, make off with the cash, life is good…so how’s a Korean going to pull off Japanese nobility? Eh. Not at issue, because the uncle is a Korean, too, who is turning Japanese oh yes he’s turning Japanese I really think so. It’s a thing.

So, in order to pull this improbable plot off, the Count gets a member of his fingersmith gang to pose as the Lady’s handmaiden of the title and urge her to accept the Count’s suit. But the handmaiden, Sook-Hee (played by Tae-Ri Kim. No relation. I think) is not only a fingersmith of the Dickensian connotation but also of the LGBTQ one (figured it out yet?) and falls head over heels with the Lady, which I can understand because she is oh-my-God beautiful and so innocent and pure and naïve and…

No she ain’t.

And this is where the double cross of the double cross comes in, which I don’t want to say very much more on because it is dee-lightful. In more ways than one, especially when bells are ringing.


Go see for yourself.

And be prepared. Because, hoo boy, you’ll be treated to some excellent exhibitions of 14th Century Japanese pornographic techniques not once, not twice, but at least five times. In detail. And bordering just this side of an X-rating. You’ll wish the director, Chan-wook Park of Old Boy fame, had added six or seven more examples. But I guess you’ll just have to watch the movie again. And again. And again…



Bells Are Ringing

Lost Weekend V: Men Go to Battle


This is not a Civil War movie. It is a story about two idiot brothers who happen to live during the Civil War. The former does not so much inform the latter as the latter allows the former to seek a kind of redemption. Which is fortunate for the brothers; otherwise, they would drown in their idiocy.

Actually, only one of the brothers is an idiot: Francis, an out-of-his-depth farmer who fancies himself a financier and master horticulturist and raconteur and he is not any of those things. Not even close. Henry, his long-suffering brother, is continually beaten down by his idiot brother’s schemes and plots and cruelties and finally, FINALLY, says the heck with it and lights out for the Union Army. After making a fool of himself at an out-of-his-depth social engagement, that is.

Maybe he’s as big an idiot as his brother.

But, no, he’s not. He’s blessed with gallons more commons sense than Francis, but cursed with filial duty which requires him to defer to the idiot, which ruins what few opportunities Henry has. Hence, the running off to be a soldier, the only chance left for Henry to find a life of his own. Which he blows.

Maybe he’s as big an idiot as his brother.

Who knows? Who cares? Both characters are forgettable, like the background denizens of small, unnoticed byways barely glimpsed from an interstate exit. A flash, a recognition, then gone.

Just like this movie.


Lost Weekend V: Men Go to Battle

Lost Weekend V: Men and Chicken


Scandinavians. They’re an odd lot. Blame it on seeing the sun maybe two days a year, or, depending on where in Scandinavia you are, never seeing it set and having to dig your way out of the house every week or so, but those guys are a bit over the top. Remember Viking raids? The Thirty Year’s War? Ikea? It shows in their movies. Their detectives are more morose, their serial killers more ruthless (a hyperbaric chamber? Hannibal Lecter is green with envy), their Christmases more Krampusy. Even their comedies are a bit out there: The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, Rare Exports (okay, okay, not really a comedy but weird enough to be in the neighborhood), and now, Men and Chicken.

Best elevator pitch for this movie: HG Wells meets Monty Python. A couple of brothers, Gabriel and Elias (played by David Dencik and Mads Mikkelson, both of them under severe attack by the make-up crew), discover that their Dad is not their Dad. Turns out their real father is an obscure scientist living on an even more obscure island, so they set out to find him and get some answers because, hoo boy, are these two guys messed up. Gabriel makes the oddest throat-and-nose clearings while Elias…guy needs to be shot with a tranquilizer dart. They find three half-brothers living in an old sanitarium and, hoo boy, are those guys messed up. Some of the subsequent insanity includes assault by taxidermy, an ill-conceived pre-school employment effort, and the worst attempt ever to pick up women.

And, hoo boy, is it hilarious. Over-the-top hilarious. Like Finland.


Lost Weekend V: Men and Chicken

Lost Weekend IV: Finders Keepers


Finders Keepers is a documentary but you won’t believe that because there’s no way this is real. Just no way. A film covering a dispute over an amputated leg found in a barbecue smoker? C’mon, stop it. But, it’s true. God help us.

While “amputated leg found in a barbecue smoker” sounds suspiciously like the first few moments of a Monty Python skit, that’s what happened: John Wood, destitute from a substance abuse problem, abandons a storage unit in which he’d left a barbecue smoker containing his amputated leg…his actual leg: not a wooden one or a prosthetic. He’d  asked the doctor to give it to him after it was amputated. Sentimental value, I guess. That he thought to keep it inside a smoker opens up other subjects but let’s stay focused. A guy named Shannon Whisnant buys the storage unit at auction and discovers the leg and, well, finders keepers.

F**kery and shenanigans ensue.

Whisnant attempts to make money off the limb by selling tickets, T-shirts, and appearing on a reality show, while John Wood goes through increasingly desperate measures to recover the foot. It all ends up before Judge Mathis. I kid you not.

It is a bizarre story, all true, all crazy, and you’ll spend half the film with your jaw dropped. But, you will be vastly entertained.

God help us.

Lost Weekend IV: Finders Keepers

Lost Weekend IV: 99 Homes

Timely, topical, toxic, scary, and uncomfortable!  These are a few of the words that can describe 99 Homes.  Think “location, location, location” and you will know this movie is about the real estate market.  In brief, a desperate, unemployed construction worker (Andrew Garfield) in the post-economic crash of Orlando, Florida accepts a job with a real-estate broker (Michael Shannon) who is ruthless in his evictions.  A Faustian deal with the devil is in the making.


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Lost Weekend IV: 99 Homes

Lost Weekend III: Human Capital

In a year in which scathing assessments of the causes, repercussions, and continued failures from the 2008 financial collapse have often taken center stage, it’s nice to have a set of eyes across the Atlantic take it all in and give us another perspective on financial greed. 2013’s Human Capital (Il capitale umano), from Italy’s Paolo Virzi, gives us a glimpse of what happened during his country’s economic meltdown of 2010. Characters from every walk of life intertwine in a story that unfolds in four chapters, each one giving us a different point of view of the central, biting issue of the movie – the fatal hit and run of a working class waiter. Every character is affected by this event, and while lives are turned upside down by the engaging, unfolding narrative, the resolution of it all leaves much to be desired.


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Lost Weekend III: Human Capital

Lost Weekend III: What We Do In The Shadows

I missed What We Do in the Shadows during Lost Weekend III.  Honestly, I don’t remember why- quite possibly I had a scheduling issue, but it’s more likely that I didn’t pay attention to what it was about, assuming it was a scary film and I’m not usually into horror flicks (sorry Faye!).  So I got a copy from Bowman Library (front and center in the Film Club 3.0 display! Check it out), settled in to watch it, and almost turned it off during the first 15 minutes because I had no idea what I was seeing.  I am here to tell you, I did not follow my instincts and BOY am I glad I didn’t!  This film was a hilarious send up of campy vampires, reality TV, mockumentaries, and bromances.  If you liked Best in Show, Spinal Tap and the like, this film is definitely for you.


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Lost Weekend III: What We Do In The Shadows

Lost Weekend III: Song of the Sea

I had almost little expectations going into this film. I’m not saying I didn’t expect it to be good. I just didn’t know what to expect. I was aware of this film only from hype. That’s not a lot to go on enough for me to get excited about a film. I mostly knew it from the fact that the style looked exactly like that of Secret of The Kells. I still haven’t seen that film, but I think I will be seeing it soon after seeing Song of the Sea. I collect favorite animation studios like Smurfs collect Smurfberries. Disney, Pixar, Ghibli, Laika, Aardman. All amazing. Song of the Sea was my introduction to Irish animation Studio, Cartoon Saloon. It is a discovery I am glad I made.


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Lost Weekend III: Song of the Sea