Mixed Media: Films

The Assassin film still

The Assassin

directed and co-written by Hou Hsiao-Hsien. 105 minutes

A series of sumptuously costumed scenes set out Tang Dynasty court intrigues. In fast, clean fight scenes, the assassin outdoes the court’s guards but holds back on her mission – to despatch the local ruler, who plans to secede his province. Imposing landscape shots put it all in belittling perspective.

The assassin is a trained killer without equal, but her target is her cousin. She observes him, considering the bloody consequences of his death on his family and province. She’s a killer, but she’s contemplative.

The intrigues aren’t a million miles from modern imperialism. Taiwanese art-house director Hou Hsiao-Hsien has created a beautiful looking film that works at many levels, but it is weighted with exposition. If only it relied less on speech and showed us more!

Star rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Rams

written and directed by Grímur Hákonarson. 93 minutes

They share a love of their demanding work, their Icelandic valley and landscape where they have neighbouring farms, and, not least, their sheep – a rare old breed that survives nowhere else. They’re grizzly, beardy old brothers, who live alone and who have not spoken to each other for 40 years. When they have to, they send each other notes by sheepdog.

When the elder wins a prize for best ram at a local show, the younger brother is jealous. Feeling cheated, he sneaks into the ram’s pen to check out the beast – and discovers it has scrapie, the ovine form of BSE. Both brothers face the extinction of all their animals.

The low-key, bone-dry character comedy builds to a magnificent dramatic ending – that says everything about their love and commitment.

Star rating: ★ ★ ★

This Changes Everything

by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein. 90 minutes

Lewis and Klein have taken the latter’s book and turned it into a documentary that roots the climate-change debate in the lives of embattled people around the world. The film begins as a kind of story-telling that, departing from the ‘polar bear’ recounting of climate degradation, situates the problem back in the Enlightenment notion of the domination of nature. It is this that has allowed the major economic actors to treat pollution simply as sad but necessary collateral damage. This Changes Everything takes us on a restless and beautifully filmed journey across the globe, starting in Alberta’s tar sands and ending in smog-choked Beijing. Each stop involves not only a horror show but a gathering resistance, be it stopping pipelines in rural Montana or defending wetlands from coal-power generation in Andhra Pradesh. Lewis and Klein thus counterpose the domination-of-nature narrative with a story from below, where the fight to value nature is joined to people’s battles to defend lives and livelihoods from a rapacious capitalism.

Star rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Reviewer: Richard Swift

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