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Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Humane Cinema

I've been catching up on films on DVD of late. I recently saw two that Eyewear recommends unconditionally for their take on the human condition - Milk and The Class. Milk recreates the gay struggle for freedom and respect in the American of the 1970s in the Castro district of Frisco, and all that was missing was poet Thom Gunn to make this one of my favourite movies of all time.

I appreciate gay culture and its achievements, and very much admire how lovingly the movie celebrates these men (and women) who were brave and out there. It really is a bracing socio-political portrait of the queer shoulder to the wheel, with some of the verve of Costa-Gravas. Easily the director's best since Elephant. Emile Hirsch as a swaggering young rent boy with curly hair and outlandish Swifty Lazaar specs steals the show, though Penn makes all the right moves as the giddy-yet-Republican midlife-crisis man who gets a new lease on life (twice) by jumping into love, then public life.

The Class, a french film, purports to be a fly on the wall drama of everyday life in a tough urban Paris classroom, where the teenage kids from multi-ethnic backgrounds contend against their mainly decent and tireless French teacher, who wants them to explore language, high speech, and self-portraits with dignity and ambition. Full of startling conflict, debates about football, the nature of writing and language, and the polity itself, the movie encounters more aspects of humanity and need than most novels or four-season TV series. When the teacher snaps and betrays his own values, the banal is elevated to the eternally vital. I am not entirely sure where fact and fiction met, but cannot keep thinking about the characters' fates. Wonderful stuff.

I wonder, sometimes, if poetry can do as much as film, to explore the humanity that we all share.
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