Sunday, 7 November 2010

Humane cinema

Two great, and humane, films to report from this weekend.

The first, Departures, was the Japanese winner of the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2009. It tells the story of a cello player who, after losing his job in a Toyko orchestra, returns with his wife to his home town where he unwittingly takes a job as an undertaker. His particular three-person company specialises in highly ritualised ceremonies in which the family of the deceased are present while the, well, "undertaking" is respectfully and gracefully performed. Even so, this job brands him almost as an untouchable, even to his wife, but the narrative quietly dignifies his role, and shows how it eases the emotional suffering and pain of those left behind. It's not an entirely perfect film, and has something of a contrived loop that draws in the cellist's own family, but it's an enjoyable and satisfyingly humane piece.

The second, The Kids Are All Right, is in many ways quite a conventional family drama, but stands out both in being centred around lesbian parents and, more significantly, by not making a big deal of this. Narratively the film works really well, and has more than a few great laughs in it, but I, woolly liberal that I am, really took to its normalisation of the central relationship. Although there's no reason that this shouldn't feel right, social history suggests otherwise, so one part of the film's success for me is just making a non-traditional family credible and loving. That almost seems like a "so what?" point in this day and age, but I can't think of any other films that do the same (though that might just be me being cosseted). Anyhow, highly recommended. (Oh, and it got extra brownie points from me by finishing in my old LA workplace, Oxy.)

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