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Mixed media: film

movies
A first for Korean film as ‘Burning’ shortlisted for foreign language Oscars. 

Burning

Directed and co-written by Chang-dong Lee (148 minutes)

Jongsu delivers parcels. He lives in a run-down family smallholding in earshot of the propaganda broadcasts from the border with North Korea. He wants to write but apart from petitioning for leniency for his father, who’s in jail, on trial for assaulting a neighbour, he writes nothing. He seems friendless, lives alone, with a cow. It’s a not a great life.

But then, randomly, Haemi comes along. She says she knows him – they’re from the same village, and she tells the story of how he once rescued her from a well. He says he doesn’t remember her. She’s done some acting, mimes peeling and eating a tangerine. She’s good. She’s as lively as he is stolid. She wants to live, to travel, discover the world. And she has a cat – could Jongsu feed it while she’s on a trip to Kenya? She shows him her place, and seduces him. Body and soul.

A few weeks later, at the airport on her return, she rings Jongsu for a lift. When he gets there, she’s with a smooth, confident, amused guy – Ben. They’re now an item...

Taking off from a very short Murakami story, Burning is a well-drawn social parable, a love story that turns into a noir thriller. It’s about class, about longing for a different life, about attachment and indifference, about the random and the predictable. It’s cumulative, seductive, and burns into your memory.

★★★★★ML

Green Book - A liberal's movie

Green Book

Directed and co-written by Peter Farrelly​ (130 minutes)

The Green Book was a segregation-era guide to the southern US for African Americans. The film is about Don Shirley, a great Jamaican-born pianist and composer, on a 1962 tour of the South with an Italian-American driver, Tony Vallelonga. (It’s co-written by his son Nick Vallelonga.) Director Farrelly is known for ‘gross-out’ comedies (There’s Something About Mary) but this is in a lower key. Like his comedies, this too is a role-reversal mainstream movie, but with a serious point – African Americans suffered abuse and indignities that people outside the southern states of the US had little idea of.

Tony, or Tony Lip as he’s known, knows his way around his Chicago patch; he’s good with people, and he can look after himself. But he’s down on his luck, has lost his job, and needs money. Don Shirley needs a driver. It’s a familiar story: a growing relationship between very different personalities, thrown together in difficult circumstances, and who both change for the better.

The highly educated, multi-lingual but cloistered Don tries fried chicken, and learns about Aretha Franklin and Little Richard. But he has to prepare for concerts in closets, is barred from ‘whites only’ toilets, and can’t eat in a hotel dining room where he’s about to play. He cultivates Tony’s sensitivity in letters that stun his wife, and Tony leaves behind his prejudices.

Green Book is a classic liberal film, with great performances, a vivid period feel, superb soundtrack, and, not least, great warmth and compassion.

★★★★✩ML

New Internationalist issue 517 magazine cover This article is from the January-February 2019 issue of New Internationalist.
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