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Challenge Week 32: Welcome to Dongmakgol

I knew absolutely nothing about this one going in – in fact, I kind of thought it was a documentary or something. It is not, though it does have a historical setting. During the Korean War, a couple of soldiers from South Korea and a small group of North Korean soldiers get separated from their respective armies, and end up in the same isolated mountain village, whose eccentric residents have no knowledge of the war or modernity in general (they have no idea what guns and grenades are). Oh, there’s also an American soldier there. After a tense few days, this motley crew of abandoned enemies become involved in the life of the village, forming a new unified society with the villagers – until an American unit comes to finish the job the lost American soldier didn’t, cutting off supply lines to North Korea.

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Challenge Week 32: La Haine

Social problem films are often kind of a difficult sell for me, but I was hoping some of the stylistic choices on this one would win me over and they did help quite a bit. Some people complain that Antoine’s delinquency in The 400 Blows (my #2 film of all time) is too mild to warrant the kind of response it gets; La Haine is kind of like what The 400 Blows might be like if the delinquency were more extreme (and the film were more overtly stylistic and less lyrical). In the wake of police brutality and riots, the youth of Paris are on edge, trigger happy, and ready to bust some heads. Quickly our main trio of characters differentiate themselves – Hubert, a black youth who’s jaded about rebelling against authority and really just wants out of the situation; Said, of Arab descent, who’s wound tightly but is also kind of a goofball; and Vinz, who is truly full of the hatred of the title.

Stakes are raised when Vinz reveals he’s got the gun lost by a police officer earlier in the riots. Some stuff like this struck me as culturally odd – in the US, it seems likely that smalltime hoods like this would already have access to guns, but perhaps things are different in France, or perhaps I’m overestimating the ease of access even here thanks to firearms’ ubiquity in movies and TV. Anyway. The point is he’s got a gun, and the interplay between the three friends as they figure out what to do with it (and what NOT to do with it) is dynamic and interesting, as Vinz is gung-ho on mindless revenge and Hubert wants to de-escalate the situation.

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Challenge Week 31: Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco

It has been several years since I saw Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan, generally his best-known work and one that I enjoyed immensely, and I gotta thank Dan for pushing me into seeing more of Stillman’s work. After seeing these two, I definitely need to see Metropolitan again, since I’ve forgotten a lot of it.

For some reason, this type of film – which mostly consists of overeducated, unemployed or underemployed, not necessarily wealthy but very privileged people talking to each other – feels really comfortable to me. Maybe because I’ve spent most of my life being overeducated, underemployed, and unwealthy but privileged. It’s not quite like looking in a mirror, but I feel both comfortable and awkward around people like this. Some of Noah Baumbach’s films fit in the same category, especially Kicking and Screaming (which also, probably not coincidentally, shares cast member Chris Eigeman with Stillman’s trilogy) and Frances Ha.

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Challenge Week 30: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

There are far too many Miyazakis on my unseen list, so I’m glad David gave me the push to get to this one. Sometimes overtly environmentalist stuff bugs me, not because I’m anti-environment – just because it often comes across preachy. I knew this was likely to be heavily pro-environment, but it worked for me quite well because the message is really one of symbiosis.

In the film’s post-apocalyptic world, a toxic jungle filled with giant aggressive insects has developed, and is creeping closer and closer to the world’s few remaining human settlements, including the peaceful and fertile Valley of the Wind. Some of the other surviving kingdoms want to use an ancient Giant Warrior (one of the bioweapons that destroyed the world 1000 years ago, now lying dormant) to destroy the toxic jungle once and for all, but the Valley’s princess, Nausicaa, takes a much more pacifist approach, preferring to avoid or calm the insects rather than antagonize them, and definitely not in favor of razing the whole thing. Turns out she’s right, as the toxic jungle is actually cleaning the topsoil poisoned by the apocalyptic war and creating clean soil and water.

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Challenge Week 30: Harakiri

It’s no secret that Japanese movies are sometimes a tough sell for me, though I have to admit that’s starting to turn around. Someday soon I may have to stop using that excuse. This isn’t the MOST affecting classic-era Japanese film I’ve seen (that would be Mizoguchi’s Sansho the Bailiff), but it’s definitely one of the more emotionally raw ones, and I appreciated that greatly about it.

Harakiri is the Japanese custom of suicide for the sake of honor. In this case, a ronin, Tsuguma, whose master has died, leaving him no one to serve, comes to a nearby noble’s estate and requests to perform harakiri in his courtyard. The noble stops him and tells him the story of another ronin, Chijiiwa, who recently made the same request…as you might guess, these stories are connected.

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