The Three Movies I Watched Last Week. Now With Even More Thoughts!

Last week I watched a few female-centric films. Two were directed by women, and two were what I would describe as feminist. Shockingly enough, they were the same two.

In the order of my watching, I give you three mini-reviews.
 

In The Land of Blood and Honey

I don’t necessarily have to be in a specific mood to watch any specific genre. Sure, sometimes I ‘feel like’ a shoot-em-up, a romance, 10 Things I Hate About You, etc. But if I’m in a situation where that’s not available or others want to watch something else, I quickly adjust.

What I was in no way ready for Friday night, however, was Schindler’s List: Sarajevo. Blood and Honey was as physically and emotionally devastating as that famous film, but as it deals vividly with the way war physically and psychologically ravages women, I was more affected than by most films.

That’s not to say both films are equally good. Jolie is a better director than a writer, and it shows in the formulaic dialog and occasional rehashing of points. To see Ajla stay after certain events, to watch Danijel devolve slowly into madness, is almost to forget the film gives us no solid reasons for either – at least once both people have left the prison camp setting.

Shakespearean plot points abound (Ophelia and Othello, especially), but get lost or remain half-finished amid the activism and melodrama.

Jolie is an activist, and though we can hardly forget it during the film, we can hope this film has some intended results of drawing attention to genocidal factions and – if we’re lucky – atrocities of men against women that the global community so easily overlooks as unfortunate byproducts of wars they can’t or won’t intervene in.
 
 
 

D.E.B.S.

At first, I thought the special edition copy I obtained (never mind how, or why I got the special edition) was a very good bootleg, what with its misspelled tagline. But as the internet shows me no other cover, I must conclude the typo is intentional, or some sort of code. Regular edition tagline? “They’re crime-fighting hotties with killer bodies.”

Said crime-fighting hotties have the shortest skirts of all their schoolmates. I’m fairly certain I heard their secret school referred to as ‘Eastland,’ but verbally referenced or not, it’s a blatant Facts of Life shout-out. The bad guys steal bags of cotton with giant black $ symbols. The sidekick, intentionally as unattractive as possible (so we don’t for a moment consider the villainess is straight), deadpans ‘love is harder than crime.’ TWICE. I mean, what more could you ask for!?

If you ask for ‘substance,’ I think you’re confused. Substance would just weigh this movie down. As would plot – though it get points for continuity, both with a subtle running Australia gag and the sidekick’s penchant for suspenders. I kept waiting for him to trip and the movie to fall into full-on slapstick.

Yes, we get it: it’s amusing to see the beefcake guys relegated to roles generally filled by hot women. Dropping in on missions to be needy and occasionally annoying, running through halls as filler, standing in as dates for Big Events Where Shit Goes Down, being one-night stands; the guys are very game to go along for the ridiculous ride.

As was I.
 
 
 

Memoirs of a Geisha

When I was a child, my parents insisted I read a book before I saw a movie. I generally still hold to that rule. Watching a movie adaptation is like reading a thorough spoilers of what may be a great book. And I don’t believe in spoilers.

I enjoyed the book well enough. One of my peeves was the story is given in a barely-utilized frame tale. The frame-book is written by a man, who uses it to tell a woman’s story secondhand. The device is not emphasized enough to justify its existence, so why bother at all?  It serves only to further degrade a woman, as if she’s incapable of learning to write or directly narrate her own journey.

The book doesn’t glaze over issues with the ‘system’ of geisha, prostitutes, and other female subservients. More than one scene depicts inspection of a woman’s virginity and the multiple ways women can be raped by those in authority over them; which is ‘everyone.’ When the Chiyo’s voice comes through, it’s angry.

The movie was far more accepting and less critical of the process, beautifying everything including the characters. Every grotesque physical attribute on the book – from Nobu’s facial deformity to Mother’s teeth – is softened to a barely objectionable sidenote. Hatsumomo doesn’t feel so much threatening as overdramatic. The camera focus goes soft and then fades instead of keeping our gaze on a woman being subjected to examination, groping, and finally full penetrative sex. The old woman scolds Chiyo once, then dies off-screen. And so it goes.

I wasn’t looking for anything graphic, but I wasn’t looking for glamorization of human slavery, either. I would have preferred the film stick closer to the book. I’d even suggest more of Blood and Honey‘s harsh treatment of men who hate women.

Comments
2 Responses to “The Three Movies I Watched Last Week. Now With Even More Thoughts!”
  1. Chelsie says:

    Great analysis. Of the three films, I’m only familiar with Memoirs. I agree that the film’s spectacular cinematography seems to glamorize what is actually a horrendous tale. Chiyo herself is pretty disappointing, especially in since the film strips her of what little resistance or dignity she is endowed with in the book. I will say that Arthur Golden’s depiction of the geisha tradition has been widely disputed. Obviously, I’m not denying the innate objectification that accompanies such a profession, but traditionally, life as a geisha was voluntary and well-respected. Virginity selling is most likely an invention of the author.

    Another troubling aspect of the film to me has always been the use of obviously non-Japanese actors in the main roles. I love Zhang as much as the next person, but really?

    • Melanie says:

      Thanks Chelsie!

      I agree the depiction of the tradition and virginity selling is questionable, but, if you’re going to film a book adaptation with that problem, you have three options.

      1) ignore it entirely and film the other parts of the story.
      2) do your research and make it more historically accurate.
      3) stick to the book, problematic/accurate or not.

      But if you choose #3, as the movie does, do not glamorize it with your shot/acting/editing choices.

      As for the actors, the only one who worked for me in this film was Michelle Yeoh. She’s also by far the biggest female name, and I can see why they would cast her and Watanabe: it boils down to box office draw.

      As none of the other actors really stood out to me in their roles, and they’re not household names in the US, I don’t understand why those roles couldn’t be filled by Japanese, or at the very least spread over the spectrum of Asian countries.

      I will note that to truly be accurate, not only would they cast Japanese actors, but the characters (possibly not the VO, as her Memoirs are told after she moves the the US) would speak Japanese. The mostly American audience didn’t seem to have a problem with that little inaccuracy though.

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