[On the inspirational teacher trope in films]

Blackboard Jungle

“The figure has been made familiar through countless Hollywood films: an initially-reticent protagonist who takes charge of a class full of “challenging”, “disadvantaged” or “impoverished” students, typically teenagers. The youth have no desire to make the teacher’s job easy and the teacher is faced with the daunting task of winning the students over. But (s)he believes it is possible and that the children could be saved, if only (s)he could find a way to gain their trust. The teacher then single-mindedly dedicates herself to her mission, generally at great personal cost. (S)he may, in a few instances, have a character flaw—alcoholism, drug abuse, minor moral transgressions—but is eventually redeemed through her work. These “classroom dramas” demonstrate a liberal charitability towards the wayward students, whose difficult behaviour and casual cruelty are tolerated with a Catholic forbearance.”

[Full article at Film Companion]

Road to the Oscars?

Road to the Oscars?

The official entries for the Academy Award have been made and as many as 67 countries are vying for the coveted award this year. Among the leading contenders for the nominations are Germany’s The Baader Meinhof Complex, Italy’s Gomorra, France’s Palm D’Or winner The Class, Iran’s The Song of Sparrows directed by Majid Majidi and Israel’s Waltz with Bashir. And the Italian entry is already making waves and being termed as one of the best crime dramas from the country.

The film interweaves five stories of five individuals – all inhabitants of Camorra (the notorious society of Naples known for its criminal activities) – a designer who sells himself to the fake manufacturers of the underground, a kid who fascinates getting into one of the gangs, two teenagers who wish to tackle everything with their newfound arsenal, an illegal businessman who pays the land owners in order to dump industrial waste and a plumber who tries to earn by other means. The narrative crosscuts irregularly from one story to another and it would a miracle if one could remember all five threads during any point in the film. But all this only adds to the harshness that the film depicts.

The basic atmosphere of the clan resonates what goes on there. There is no law, no neutrality and no word called crime. Everyone seems to belong to a gang and the gang wars are the courts that decide the future of the inhabitants. Everyone assumes that they are on the right side and are fighting for a cause. If Meirelles gave us the City of God, Matteo Garrone gives us the City without God. Gomorrah apparently refers to an ancient city that was decimated by God for the immense depravity of its residents. Indeed, it feels like God has deserted the settlement and has left everyone on their own as we see the figure of the Good Shepherd being dismantled and suspended by ropes (a possible nod to La Dolce Vita) as a family moves out of one of the buildings.

As Roy Stafford notes at The Case for Global Film, the locality forms a vital part in the narrative as we see in a fleeting shot that the whole establishment is so geographically close to the rest of the world, yet is culturally isolated from it. And like these structures, the film is completely devoid of any decorations that we see in conventional storytelling. It never once shows the trappings of a tale of crime, punishment and redemption that one expects at the starting of the film. Though it becomes a bit difficult to digest, it does provide the sense of confinement that the characters feel and the absence of any effort to come out of the vicious circle.

Also remarkable is the film’s photography that uses the camera as an active entity rather than as a tool for documentation. Like a thug staring at an intruder or like a dog sniffing a stranger, the camera gets close to the character, almost intimidating him and carefully peruses each one of his moves as if supervising his activities. It chooses to see what it wants and leaves out what it thinks is unwanted. It effectively becomes one of the clan members, even looking over corners and hiding behind people. For most part, the cinematography feels like hand held work, but never becomes nauseating even in the most dramatic moments.

The film is in the news for all the wrong reasons as the author of the book on which the film is based is under a life threat from the gangs of Camorra and a couple of the actors have been arrested in connection to the Camorra case. All this only assure that the director has been successful in exposing the inner working of one of the most arcane societies of the world. With the Academy’s policy towards violent and brutal films drastically changing, Gomorra may well cruise through to the last five and one can be sure that the weak Indian entry Taare Zameen Par has one less slot to compete for.

Verdict: