Thursday, February 25, 2010


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Despite introductory literatures at various film festivals describing this Cannes Grand Prix Award winner as having 5 stories "woven" together, the stories are quite separate, except for the common theme of the criminal world under the influence of the notorious Mafia Camorra gang. Does it mean that this film is not good? Hardly, if you have the correct expectations. With its 5 separate stories taken from the explosively revealing book by Roberto Saviano (who purportedly had to go into hiding after its publication), Gomorrah is best viewed as a dramatised documentary. As such, it is an excellent piece of cinematic work.

What you notice almost right away, and continuously for the entire 130 minutes of the film, is that the camera never stops moving, a polar opposite to Ozu's, for those who have seen the Japanese master's work. But don't let me mislead you into thinking that this is one of those dizzy, hand-held camera affairs. The movement of the camera, while noticeable, is never distracting. What it does is to take the audience into the various locations in Naples with an amazing sense of reality. In addition to the everyday activities of the proliferation of characters, the film does not omit showing things such as a yawn from an entirely inconsequential and random figure. This is as close to having the audience as an on-site POV observer as you can get.

A brief capsule of the five stories follow. A, adolescent boy's initiation into the underworld, starting with understandable enthusiasm, soon plunges into disillusionment. A middle-age go-between man finds that his influence is fast dissipating in the constantly shifting politics of the underworld. A young businessman has a rude awakening to the business of toxic waste disposal. Two listless, clueless young men on a wild rampage in the underworld find out, too late, that they are not invincible. A tailor with close connections to the Mafia, moonlighting for a lucrative reward from the rivalling garment factory operated by immigrant Chinese, finds out that the situation is too hot for him to handle.

No more needs to be said. This is the sort of film that needs to be seen to appreciate. Only one thing to remember: this is not "The Godfather" nor has it ever intended to be.

By Harry T. Yung ( from Hong Kong

Taking Woodstock

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Truthfully, I believe that the thing so many detractors point to concerning Taking Woodstock is my favorite part of the whole endeavor. I thought that the trailers did a very good job of explaining that Ang Lee was telling a story about the behind the scenes construction of the festival, using Elliot Tiber's story of saving his parents motel and putting their sleepy little town on the map. If you want to see the concert and the music and the artists, rent Woodstock the documentary. Even when the show is in full swing, you never get closer than a glimmer of light at the center of a sea of people because it is not about the music. This is peace, love, and disharmony, showing the partiers, the hippies, the moneymen, and the international melting pot mixing together for an event the world had never seen. It is the reawakening of two elderly Jewish immigrants who have been waiting to die and the sexual awakening for Tiber himself, finally able to toss the suit aside and figure out who he truly is. The music is just the catalyst for all the human intricacies to come out.

It begins with Tiber's return home, attempting to save his parents from having the bank foreclose on their livelihood. The motel is in shambles—dirty sheets, an empty pool, and towels are an extra buck to use. By being the new town commerce department president, Tiber works his way towards a permit to have his annual music festival, or evening of record playing outdoors, and a new information booth to be erected and drive traffic in to stay at the motel. Here is the prodigal son returned, getting hellos and welcome backs from everyone in town, glad to have a young person with vision in Bethel. Money is tighter than ever, though, and his friends from the city are moving to San Francisco, so the sober realization that he has locked himself into a season made of a slow death makes him pay extra attention to the fact that the Woodstock Festival just got run out of town close by. With a permit already signed for music, a willing neighbor in Eugene Levy's dairy farmer Max Yasgur to supply land, and a surprising past friendship with the show's organizer Michael Lang, the stars appear to be aligned for Tiber to work some magic. The townsfolk no longer feel too happy to have him back though.

Demetri Martin doe a real good job at showing the shy and reserved Tiber, slowly discovering the man he wants to be. By watching his parents break out of their funk—Imelda Staunton is fantastic as the old woman manufacturing anti-Semitism to guilt her way to what she wants and Henry Goodman shines as the father finally able to express himself to his son, having more than just his wife to spend time with—he starts to envision a future. They now have the money to hire help with the mortgage paid off; he can move along and create a name for himself somewhere knowing they will be okay alone. But, of course, things are not that cut and dry. Secrets are uncovered within the family that cause what should be a joyous time to be sadly unsatisfying, yet their discovery allows for a move towards the future. And through it all we see the concertgoers arriving, organizers getting details ready for the show, and just a plethora of unique individuals passing by and interacting with Tiber as he journeys through the mass of humanity.

All the real moments of clarity come from these people periodically entering and exiting the film. There is Emile Hirsch's Vietnam veteran, ravaged by flashbacks and an unsympathetic brother in Jeffrey Dean Morgan, that allows the harmonious joy to wash over him, bringing back memories from before the horrors overseas; there is Paul Dano and Kelli Garner as tripped out hippies, adding some entertainment despite being involved in the most unnecessary scene of the movie with the prerequisite drug-induced colors and movement of static objects; and there's Liev Schreiber's cross-dressing, ex-Marine, head of security, doubling as the sage-like voice of reason for the Teichberg family, seeing the love they have for son Tiber as well as Elliot's blindness to that expression. I would actually compare the film to something like Bobby, not as good mind you, but a similar film using a historical event to show intertwining stories occurring on its outskirts. Even though everything revolves around this young man, it really is the characters that resonate rather than the story they are taking part in.

Ang Lee appears to really enjoy the split-screen, bringing it back from his Hulk days, but in much better use here. Whereas the gimmick back then was to give a comic book feel, showing the exact same thing three times from different angles, the current utilization displays the numerous activities going on, the comradery, the nudity, and the enjoyment of a weekend away from the constraints of capitalism as collage. This film is a slice of life, a sprawling epic about the people instead of the event itself, and that's exactly why I enjoyed it as much as I did. Everyone is crazy in some respect and watching them act insane is a lot of fun amongst the details of the time. The mudslides are in full use, every piece of metal is electrified come day three, and the chocolate milk is delicious. Taking Woodstock may not be some profound tale that needed to be brought in front of cameras, but it is a piece of history and nostalgic look back to a time when rock and roll could enrage a town and unite it. You don't have to look farther than good ol' Annie played by Bette Henritze, loving the yoga classes and the no longer vacant hotel rooms at her establishment. Sometimes you just have to let loose for once and live.

Un Prophete

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A 19-year-old man of North African origin is sentenced to six years in prison for assaulting a police officer. When he enters prison, he is naïve, shy, and almost withdrawn and cannot read or write. When he leaves six years later, he has become a self possessed, educated individual, capable of controlling his own destiny as well as that of others. Jacques Audiard's (Read My Lips, The Beat That My Heart Skipped) A Prophet, winner of the Grand Prix Award at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, is an engrossing coming-of-age drama set in a French prison in which Malik el Djebena (Tahar Rahim), a Muslim estranged from his own community, is recruited into the ruling Corsican Mafia and eventually becomes a gang leader himself. Though deeply involved in nefarious and often bloody activities, the genuineness of his personality makes him an appealing and sympathetic character and adds depth to a riveting experience.

Based on a story by screenwriter Abdel Raouf Dafri, the film clocks in at a lengthy 150 minutes but never feels padded or stretched out. Unable to film in an actual prison location (because they were all being used), Audiard had his own prison built in an industrial area of Paris. As he explains, "Watching it take shape helped us build the prison in our minds, as well." When Malik first arrives, he is singled out by Corsican Mafia boss César Luciani (Niels Arestrup) and told to kill a fellow Muslim prisoner Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi) by slitting his throat with a razor blade. If he refuses, he will be killed himself.

Once the job is done in as brutal a killing scene as you will ever witness or want to witness, Malik is put under César's protection, becoming the Corsican's Arab who carries out menial tasks for him inside the prison. Beset by visions of the deceased Reyeb, Malik, however, soon begins to educate himself on many levels, not only learning to read, but teaching himself Corsican and learning details of Luciani's business. More importantly for his survival, he learns how to operate among the various prison subcultures with their various rituals and codes of honor though he is still an outsider, not fully trusted by either group.

There is no shortage in the film of details involving drug traffic, sex, payoffs, and general prison corruption, things we have seen before, yet the level of our personal involvement remains high due to the heart pounding set pieces and the compelling performances of the lead actors. Slowly, César raises the level of jobs given to Malik, affording him the opportunity to leave the confinement of the prison on several day passes, one involving his first ever flight to Marseilles to negotiate with another Mafia kingpin. Little by little, Malik sets up his own enterprises with his friend Ryad (Adel Bencherif) who is suffering from cancer, and begins to establish his independence from the Corsicans. He becomes known as a prophet when he survives a bizarre car crash, an incident that has been foretold in a fantasy sequence.

Supported by a compelling original score by Alexandre Desplat and brilliant cinematography by Stéphane Fontaine, A Prophet is violent, often ugly and difficult to watch, but is redeemed by the quality of the direction, the outstanding performances by Rahim and Arestrup and the honesty in which it handles the conflicts among ethnic groups, conflicts that mirror French society as a whole. Tahar Rahim is little more than a cipher at the beginning, yet acquires considerable strength of character by the end of the film. According to Audiard, "When I looked into his eyes there was no melancholy, no tragedy, just someone very open, very light, very full of life." A mixture of gritty reality, flights of fancy, identity exploration, and psychological character study, A Prophet is one of the best films of 2009.

By Howard Schumann, from Vancouver, B.C.


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Although sadly school violence has become all too common place in recent years, very few films have dared to examine it. Gus Van Sant did it thoughtfully and patiently in his Tarr inspired Elephant, which took home the Palm D'Or at Cannes when it debuted. That film dealt with the daily routines of a number of high school students on the day of the shooting. Conversely, Ilmar Raag's Klass details the weeks leading up to its sad climax, dissecting just how such an event can happen.

One day, after being chided by his girlfriend, Kaspar (Vallo Kirs) for helping pick on Joosep (Part Uusberg), he begins to change his ways, and sympathize with the boy. This causes his friends - the bullies - to turn on him, and soon both are the victims. Their daily routine consists of Kaspar trying to protect Joosep, and trying to stop their beatings. After weeks of torture, and a fateful trick used to assemble the two into a trap on a beach one day changes everything for everyone.

Director Raag uses a frenetic editing pace in many segments. Some scenes are masterfully created with cutaways timed nicely, while at other times the editing is too busy, trying to be too flashy. That can be a distraction, and I think takes away from the film. Raag also mixes up his soundtrack, at times using pounding techno music, sometimes working, good sometimes not. On the other hand, Raag also employs a few beautiful orchestral pieces, sparsely. Although I would have liked to see them used more throughout the film, when they do occasionally play I admit it does seem to make what's on screen just that much more poignant. Raag also uses some ambient strings here and there, usually playing one booming note at a time, which i thought was interesting. He seems to have a keen sense for tonally offbeat direction, which I like. If he can tone down his want of flash (which I do not really like), I think he has some serious potential.

Although i would have preferred Klass to be a quieter picture, I still think this is a very very strong film. It is unquestionably a modern film, dealing with somewhat modern issues. Some certainly will - and have - call into question some of the plausibility of the film. For example, teacher's rarely seem to be present. My answer to their quarrel would be that such realist logic need not apply here. Whereas Van Sant's Elephant was shot as documentary, Klass is shot as parable. It's about why otherwise good kids can to unthinkable things. Typically, these kids are no more evil than those who pushed them over the edge to begin with. Klass does something that is not uncommon in pictures, by making its villains worthy scum. Given that this is about a school shooting, that is actually quite a bold move. Raag makes his bullies despicable, putting the audience in the uncomfortable position of wanting to see them punished, and handily. It's all about empathy.

Even teacher's have a hand in such cruelty. Klass includes a couple moments of subtle hostility by one teacher, as Joosep expresses the vanity of individuals defining themselves by label. This is a not so direct theme throughout the film in fact. The teenagers, of course, are covered in head to toe with their brand name clothes, and chide Joosep for not wearing such clothes, yet harass him for wearing brand name sneakers - shoes fit for someone cooler than he.

This is a very strong film from Raag. It is well acted by its leads. It contains flashes of greatness. The film works best when it sticks to its story. Raag gets carried away with his direction at times, but despite it the film still works very well. It is a thoughtful film. It can be painfully cruel, but such subject matter deserves cruelty. When Kaspar and Joosep make that fateful walk into the school, their expressions are not of anger, but of profound sadness, which I suspect is what most must be truly feeling. I found the last few moments of this film dreadfully sad. When the shots are silenced, the heavy presence of inevitability sets in with the contemplation of all which has just happened. Such weight should be felt on all our shoulders. We've all been bullied, bullies, or the conscientious middle man at some point in our lives. Klass is one Estonian export that classrooms all over the world could benefit from.

By MacAindrais from Canada

Batoru rowaiaru (Battle Royale)

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Kinji Fukasaku made a film called Battle Royale back in 2000. He's made plenty of films in the past. I've seen very few of them, apart from Battle Royale but I'm always searching for more.
Battle Royale is a film that has affected many, many people. There are rabid fans of Battle Royale and there are even more people that hate it. Let me tell you why. Battle Royale is a film that exercises its right to explore an idea. Many films have great ideas but most are poorly realized. Battle Royale is simply an awesome movie about one of the most hypothetically traumatic things that could ever happen to teenagers. For those that don't know, the film focuses on what happens when a group of high school students are sent to an abandoned island to kill each other. What brings such a bizarre idea to fruition includes civil unrest, teenage anxiety, and a nation literally terrorized by their youth. It's set in Japan and though it is just a movie it still hit pretty close to reality due to current problems with Japanese youth. In fact, the film was poorly received by the government who feared that the release of the film would incite riots and other such acts of mayhem by the same youth which it focused on. The problem is the same the world around. Young people are much more volatile than they ever were say 20-30 years ago and Battle Royale captures the essence of the horror that today's youth would face going into such a circumstance. Friends kill other friends and bullies all to survive. At the same time they get to live out those videogames that they loved to play at home.

[SIDE NOTE: Counter-Strike, a Half-Life (popular videogame) mod for example, easily prepares young people for the reality of weapons. How many bullets are in a clip of an MP5? What does an assault rifle sound like? Questions like these are easily answered by the videogames of today. Sure, these weapons are also on the streets and in some parts of the world they are even in the hands of children as young as five years-old but the videogame set up creates a comfortable experience with such weapons. It's not that videogames necessarily make people want to get guns rather it gives familiarity to guns. I should mention that I love to play Counter-Strike myself and will continue to play it in the future. I don't hate the game, I'm just pointing out that it does present a fairly realistic portrayal of weapons.]

The problem is that there can be only one survivor of this island massacre, this only adds extra pressure to the already unprepared children who have to fight for their lives. What is truly shocking is that the actors and actresses who have been selected to portray these teens are around the same ages of their characters. They aren't the aging 20-30 somethings that just happen to look young; they are literally teenagers. This flick has some serious bite! It's such a great comment on how we are living in the 21st century in a time when frequently the fear for a country comes from within rather than outside forces.

Certainly, terrorism is at the forefront of the average North American's mind due to the World Trade Center attacks and CNN's endless coverage of the horrors of said event have easily made the problem an international event. But before that the biggest headline grabbers focused on young people, filled with `rage', unleashing their anger on their helpless peers using an array of weapons (mainly guns). School shootings shocked the world when children started killing their peers.

Battle Royale is not meant to trivialize school shootings and youth violence. Rather, it's an examination of the lengths which a government will go in order to discipline the youth. It's such a ludicrous idea. But the characters stay true to form as they profess long held crushes with their dying breath all the way down to naively trusting others who they've always admired as the popular kids. It's sick. Strange. Beautiful. Familiar. Different. And completely engaging. Most people are against the film because they feel that the plot is simply silly or because the dialogue is too hammy or some such nonsense. At the same time, those naysayers will praise films like Braveheart for its honest portrayal of Scotland's only historical hero. I loved Braveheart. I thought it was great too but it's bogus, for the most part. Certain battles and events really did happen. But William Wallace was no man to look up to. He raped and killed women and small children but none of that made it into the film because it was not that kind of "feel good" thing that would sell Wallace as a hero. Battle Royale, since it draws on fictitious characters and plot is far more interesting because it really makes you think about your own life. Could you kill your best friend from high school if the two of you are stuck on an island of death? To this day I refuse to answer that question. It sickens me to think of such a thing and so I felt disturbed by what those 42 kids had to do in Battle Royale. What's even worse is that they were picked by lottery to end up on the island. In the Japan that exists in Battle Royale, each year a random high school class is picked for the event. We are led to believe that all youth in Japan are bad seeds in this film but that really doesn't seem to apply to the class which the film follows. For all intents and purposes, they were innocent. The dialogue between characters is poignant, real, and totally innocent. You can literally see how limited their vocabulary and understanding of the world around them is. Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, some of the characters even profess love for their classmates without even knowing what love is all about. High school is a weird time for anybody. It's an awkward time that is all about experience and misunderstandings. So many people AFTER high school really learn the truth about who liked them and what people really thought of them. During high school there's always some social wall that stops any REAL open communication between two people. Being on the island forces unchecked emotions and feelings to flow out of the characters because death is on the horizon. Can you really label the dialogue as lousy in those circumstances?

Obviously, there are intelligent and well-organized people in the world. Some exist in high school but for the most part teenagers are brash, foolish, and irresponsibly reckless because they've yet to learn from experience. They rarely have any experience. Teenagers put on an island to kill themselves will certainly not learn anything new and if they do it won't matter considering that they'll soon be dead.

Naturally, some go insane and mutter those math equations that their teachers promised them would be valuable in the real world. Others feel the need to fulfill their sexual desires, who wants to die as a virgin, right? Still others try to make the best of the situation by spending their last few hours alive as civilized as possible. But the purpose of the game affects all of these teenagers. They have to hurry. If the battle isn't finished in 3 days they all must die which is easy for the people in charge who have low-jacked each teenager with collars that explode. Not enough to take the head clean off, by default, but rather just enough of an explosion to open up the jugular. They bleed out until they die.their hopes and dreams for the future go with them. This is a grisly film that doesn't specifically cater to gore hounds. Certainly there are some really disturbing death scenes and moments but nothing TOO over the top. The idea is shocking enough, there's no need to be excessive. At first this fact upset me. I wanted this film to be a bloody parade of carnage because I reasoned that it's just a movie. Just some form of entertainment that existed to please me. But the whole idea is sickening and compelling enough to satisfy on more layers than just the visual.

In the end, this is not a film for just anyone off the street. There are so many sceptics and people who are unable to maturely grasp the concept of the film. These are the people that really hate it and you can't really blame them. For too long, Hollywood has been the dominant authority on filmmaking in the world. What was once a greatly expressive and thought-provoking medium has now simply become a trite and boring thing. Everything is recycled over and over. It's repackaged, re-sold, re-distributed to the point that people can hardly accept something new and radical and different. If it's not safe, generic, or commercial than the reason for a film's existence appears to be highly questionable. Battle Royale isn't going to change the world. I wish it could but the damage has already been done and now there is no place for a film that challenges socio-political norms or has subtitles. But that's alright. Films that matter are still being made even if they don't get the same amount of press or attention that the next Leonardo DiCaprio movie will get. If you enjoy Battle Royale then Kinji Fukasaku, who directed and adapted the film for the screen along with his son Kenta, will be able to rest in peace. The man died on January 12th, 2003. He was 72 years-old and all he wanted to do was make movies until he died. He got his wish.

I am a fan.

By Jamie ( from toronto, ontario

Thursday, February 18, 2010


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If you've watched Alexander Payne's About Schmidt starring Jack Nicholson and found yourself comfortable with the pacing of the film, you'd be deligted with this Norwegian import of 2009. I made it a point to watch it myself after Roger Ebert classified it under his best foreign language films of the year. The humour was subtle, and the performance by Baard Owe was equally understated.

The film starts at the point where the lead character is on the threshold of his retirement, after a disciplined life of driving trains for 40 years. Here's a man who depends on monotony. He's never had a more exciting day in his life other than the few times he visits his senile mother in a nursing home.
As uncomfortable he is with his retirement, his social life is restricted to bartenders, a tobacconist, and his colleagues.
But things tend to stop being mundane right from the night of his retirement. A kid forces him to sleep over when he finds himself to be an intruder, he misses his last ever train route, he accompanies an old man, travels in a car driven by a blindfolded guy, adopts a dog... all under unusual circumstances which he never brought upon himself. Unlike other movies which brood about post retirement-depression, this one calls out for the protagonist to live out these years of monotonous bliss like he's got nothing to lose. Pretty decent film. Entertaining if you could really get under the skin of the character of Odd and learn to be him as the film progresses.

By Fazil

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Sita Sings the Blues

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Just watched this movie and it was brilliant. To begin with, this piece by Roger Ebert is what got me curious.

Watch the full movie here. Do not copyright:

“Sita Sings the Blues,” Nina Paley’s new film, which arrives in New York on Friday trailing festival love, is certainly ambitious and visually loaded. There are songs, bright colors and a story taken in part from one of the biggest, oldest epics in the world. But it is also modest, personal and, in spite of Ms. Paley’s use of digital vector graphic techniques, decidedly handmade. A Pixar or DreamWorks extravaganza typically concludes with a phone book’s worth of technical credits. Ms. Paley did everything in “Sita” — an amazingly eclectic, 82-minute tour de force — by herself.
Well, she didn’t sing the songs. Instead, she selected recordings from the early jazz singer Annette Hanshaw, whose voice, poised between heartbreak and soigné resignation, sets a mood of longing for this multilayered tale of love gone wrong. This music also provides an unlikely but seductive accompaniment to the main story, which comes from the Ramayana, an ancient and voluminous Indian epic.
Its hero is the blue-skinned Rama, avatar of the deity Vishnu, but Ms. Paley is more interested in Sita, his wife, whose devotion becomes both a romantic inspiration and a feminist cautionary tale. Her adventures are narrated by three shadow puppets who speak in the accents of modern Indian English and who quibble over details and interpretations.
Meanwhile, Sita, Rama and other characters from the Ramayana are rendered in various styles, including a “Betty Boop Goes Bollywood” look for the musical numbers and an illuminated-manuscript manner for the dramatic scenes.
All of this is entwined with the simpler, sadder, more drably drawn chronicle of a woman named Nina, whose longtime boyfriend, Dave, takes a job in India and eventually breaks her heart. This is a stripped-down, modernized variation on what happens to Sita, whose absolute love for Rama is repaid with suspicion, a humiliating trial by fire (to test her purity) and banishment. Hanshaw, crooning after inconstant or unkind lovers, completes the picture.
Not that “Sita Sings the Blues” will leave you wallowing in transhistorical, multicultural woe. On the contrary: Ms. Paley takes the pain in stride, and uses it as an occasion for whimsy and inventiveness. The movie’s playful spirit may represent a bit of defiant payback for whatever actual Dave may be out there; it shows that sometimes formal ingenuity can be the best revenge.
And the ingenuity of “Sita” — which evokes painting, collage, underground comic books, Mumbai musicals and “Yellow Submarine” (for starters) — is dazzling. Not busy, or overwhelming, or eye-popping. Just affecting, surprising and a lot of fun.

Read the original article here

Precious: Based on the Novel PUSH by Sapphire

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Here are two words we promise not to use in this review of "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire": monstrous and horrific.
It isn't that those descriptions aren't appropriate. They are. Lee Daniels' astounding second feature is, after all, the pained saga of a child shaped by abuse — sexual, emotional and, yes, socioeconomic.
Claireece "Precious" Jones is a 16-year-old from Harlem who is pregnant (again), illiterate and abused sexually and emotionally by her father (gone) and her mother (present and volatile).
But the words merely capture the pathology depicted in the film. They don't get at its more profound and shattering joy. A dance with darkness isn't the reason "Precious" is so stirring and striking a piece of work, although the comic Mo'Nique's depiction of Precious' mother is unforgettable.
So here are a few of the images that give this bold work its amazing grace and provide evidence of Daniels' deep appreciation of the details that save us: an orange scarf; blue eye shadow; a television clip of Shirley Chisholm announcing her 1972 presidential run.
These are nothing short of signs of life along the way to a woman-child's transformation from lost to found.
And then there is the word that marks the shattering turning point for the Harlem teen who has so much stacked against her that some cynics have likened her to a stereotype missing only the hounds nipping at her heels. That word is "Here."
In a gale-force debut, Gabourey Sidibe sits squeezed into a chair in a classroom at an alternative school. She has been suspended from her public high school. Dangerously overweight, she is a mass. She is impossible to ignore yet invisible to those around her. She is unloved. Yet she harbors some flickering inkling that she deserves better.
Ms. Rain (the luminous Paula Patton) asks her students to say something about themselves. Precious demurs, then changes her mind. It's the first time she's spoken in a classroom.
How does that make her feel? Ms. Rain asks.
"Here." Her voice sounds like it comes from some recess.
"Precious" would not be so soul-rattling if the filmmaking were timid. Daniels is fearless. He seems to have required the same from his actors.
Mo'Nique plunges headfirst into a moral abyss that makes her frightening. Not since Sybil's mom has there been such an indecent parent. Mary has declared open warfare on her daughter. Pans fly. Words devastate. She intends to vanquish. After all, Precious was impregnated by her "man."
"Precious" isn't a tale about rescuers, though there is a village of characters reaching out. A former principal stands outside Precious' apartment building, sucking on a cigarette and carrying on a pivotal conversation on an intercom. A nurse (Lenny Kravitz) tries to school Precious and her "Each One, Teach One" classmates in nutrition.
One critic described "Precious," which won both the grand jury prize and the audience award at Sundance in January, as "poverty porn." It's not. But it is graphic. And it argues a point we all should know: There is something obscene in a wealthy nation's children living in neglect.
Mariah Carey, unadorned and barely recognizable, is subtle as Mrs. Weiss, a welfare caseworker. She is our stand-in in the film's most powerful moment.
If Mary's profanity-laden tirade early in the film ushered us into Precious' hell, the teary monologue that Mary delivers sitting in Ms. Weiss' cubicle with Precious nearby is its differently evil twin. It is a stunning "empathy with the devil" scene.
"Precious" isn't a sociological diatribe. And its story of abuse isn't peculiar to poor folk.
Daniels isn't a practitioner of indie filmdom's "new neo-realism."
He provides pockets of hope. Imagination protects, however briefly. A sexual assault gives way to a paparazzi fantasy. Precious, bejeweled, signs autographs before a thunderstorm and reality set in. The film is not without moments of humor.
Even his use of music eschews the predictable. It's another way he creates an alternative rhythm to the beat-downs Precious receives at home. Sunny Gale's chirpy swing of a hit, "Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?" would seem too obvious a selection for our hero's journey. Instead, it's a gift, to her and us.
Daniels' vision here is closer to that of the novelist Toni Morrison. His real is magical. It goes beyond. It liberates a girl named Precious.
When Ms. Rain first invites Precious to join her in the classroom, the youngster walks slowly, tentatively down the hallway. Daniels makes it look like she's going toward the light. Toward another life.
She is.