I LOVE Mark Osborne’s short film, More, which came with El Bola, the very first FilmMovement selection (Year 1, Film 1).   I watch it over and over and over again!  It presents an interesting contrast between children who are simply being happy with adults intent on producing and consuming happiness.

The Hop (2002)

The Hop is an extremely engaging, entertaining film. I didn’t even connect that it was in black and white until halfway through it!

The movie begins with a young black boy named Justin (Kalomba Mbuyi) explaining why the Pygmies are the reason he and his classmates speak French. Hannibal had employed the Pygmies to help him against the Romans because they held the secret to taming African elephants (by “Hop”). But as Hannibal begins slaughtering the Romans, the Pygmies notice the lake is blood red and they see it as a sign so refuse to help. The Romans are then able to capture Hannibal.  So the Pygmies are the reason Justin and his classmates speak french. His class presentation captivates his classmates. He’s very engaging.

Justin is a straight A student, but he and his father are illegal immigrants and both get caught, thanks to their racist neighbor who discovers Justin is borrowing from their television cable to watch a soccer match. The neighbor throws Justin’s television out the window and it hits a car which catches the attention of the police. Justin and his father take off running, but the father is caught. Justin hides in a delivery truck and ends up befriending the driver, Frans, who is apparently still involved in communist activities.  Frans explains to Justin that there is only a fine line between the pathetic terrorist and the peace prize. Frans tells Justin that Alfred Nobel invented dynamite and is the craziest of all because he made a fortune by inundating the planet with explosives and then came up with the Nobel peace prize.  Begin, Arafat, Kissinger, Sadat, Mandela all got the Nobel prize because they played with a lot of dynamite.

The rest of the movie is about Justin attempting a “hop” on the Belgium authorities to get his father back. I’m just not sure I’m on board with the glorification of terrorist activity, even though I appreciate the point the film is making.  And I know next to nothing about the race relations in Belgium. But it was well worth watching, even if I’m not up on my Belgium politics.

Munyurangabo (2007)

I’ve seen several movies about the Rwandan massacre over the years so was a little bit worried Munyurangabo would be another movie about the genocide. Instead it was a fantastic and very emotionally moving movie about the aftermath of the genocide.  Lee Issac Chung, an American and son of Korean refugees, shot the movie as a project for a class of at-risk Rwandan students, so much of the cast and crew are actual genocide orphans and refugees who engage in improvised dialogue. This is the first film to be done entirely in Kinyarwanda, which Chung doesn’t speak, so he had to rely upon a translator.  Even though it’s obviously not professionally acted, Munyurangabo has an incredibly realistic, authentic feel.

The movie is about two friends. Ngabo (Jeff Rutagengwa), a Tutsi whose father was slain in the genocide and Sangwa (Eric Ndorunkundiye), a Hutu. Both have planned a journey to avenge the death of Ngabo’s father, but they stop through Sangwa’s village first. Sangwa becomes obsessed with pleasing his abusive father who demands Sangwa end his freindship with a Tutsi.

Family ties are important, but very often it’s those family ties that lead to horrible division among peoples and cultures.   The mother is simply happy to have her son return to her, but the father makes loyalty demands of him. If the son gives into these demands, he’ll likely carry on the racial hatred from the past generations. If he doesn’t, he risks losing the love and respect of his father.  It’s an incredibly difficult position to be in and the film handles it beautifully!

The Country Teacher (2008)

I appreciate any film that makes me think. The Country Teacher made me think.  Fantastic movie set in the rural countryside of the Czech Republic.


The teacher leaves Prague to teach in the country, apparently to get away from his homosexuality. Of course, this is impossible and he winds up having strong feelings for a boy whose age is undisclosed but is likely over 18 years of age because his girlfriend is in college.

The teacher’s homosexual ex-lover shows up in the country town and woos the boys girlfriend which greatly upsets both the teacher and the boy. The teacher is concerned for the emotional well-being of the boy, not himself and tells him to go after the girl which ends up in a humiliating scene.

Meanwhile, the teacher has been mentoring the boy in school with great success. Both celebrate a good grade on a test by getting drunk in the local bar. The boy is extremely drunk and passes out on the teachers bed. The teacher, who is likewise drunk, becomes overcome with what is played off as a tender, physical emotion for the boy and begins to stroke his penis. The boy wakes up appalled and leaves. Meanwhile, the teacher attempts suicide for his transgressions.

So here’s the deal…

…when the teacher felt up the boy, I was completely appalled. It made me angry!

But at the beginning of the film we are shown a scene where the boy’s mother, a much older woman, attempts to seduce the young teacher. That should have been equally appalling right? The teacher doesn’t want her advances, yet she is upset with him for turning away an older woman.

Everyone is the film is sexually active or has been sexually active. There aren’t any virgins and no hang ups about sex.   The teacher is probably just a few years older than the boy. Maybe four years older, if that.

Yet, I (and I assume most who watch the film) immediately forgive the older woman for her advances on the teacher while feeling disgust toward the teacher for his advances on her son.

The older woman was making advances toward a homosexual who didn’t want them any more than did the boy who received the homosexual’s advances. Yet, we have no sympathy whatsoever for the homosexual who forgets himself around a young man he has both mentored and genuinely cares about.

What the film brought home was that these prejudices are socially constructed and are not based on natural inclinations!!

The natural inclination of the older woman was to have sexual feelings toward the younger man. The natural inclination of the homosexual was to have sexual feelings toward a student he’s been mentoring. There’s really no difference at all!   Which is not to say people should go around making unwanted advances toward one another.  I don’t condone what the teacher did at all!!  But maybe there is good reason to sometimes question our psychological compulsion to be disgusted with some situations and not with others.

Definitely a thought provoking movie.

The Architecture of Reassurance (1999)

The short film, The Architecture of Reassurance, is the directorial debut of Mike Mills who went on to direct Thumbsucker.  The film is from 1999. In 1998, there was a book that came out about how Disneyland affects the American lifestyle by the same title.  I don’t know if there is a connection, or not, but the themes are the same – how does popular culture shape our lives?

Mike Mills said of suburbia, “I really had this confusion where I thought because everything was so integrated design-wise, everybody who lives there must be integrated, they must all have the same kinds of feelings.”  He thought this should have made suburbia the happiest place on earth.  Of course, that isn’t the reality and he presents this realization through Alice who descends into the madness of suburbia from her modern home on the hill just as Lewis Carroll’s Alice descends into the madness of Wonderland.

Interspersed throughout the film are interviews with actual homeowners and their teens of the houses he used for the film. All of the homes look similar, including the interiors. It slowly dawns on Alice that she is not welcomed in Suburbia because she just doesn’t quite fit in.  At the beginning of the film, Alice tells her mother she’s going out and her mother tells her that if she sees any strangers, to tell them she said hello. I thought that was hilarious given the stranger danger we who grew up in the burbs have been brainwashed with for years on end. (Some of my friends will barely let their kids play on the streets!)

Ali Zaoua, Prince of the Streets (2000)

Ali Zaoua, Prince of the Streets is captivating. It takes place in modern day Casablanca, Morocco and focuses on the lives of street kids, many whom are actually played by legitimate, homeless street kids!

The street kids are all part of a gang that is ruthlessly ruled by an older street kid who apparently has a habit of raping them and cutting their faces. Four of the kids decide they want out of the gang and leave, but one of them, a boy who dreams of becoming a sailor and getting he and his prostitute mother out of the city, is killed when gang members throw a stone at him. The other three boys dream of burying him like a prince and the remainder of the movie is about their attempt to do so.

I think what captivated me most about this film is the stark difference between the dignity of the dreamers and the ugliness of the street kids whose motto is, “Life is a pile of shit.” If you genuinely believe life is a pile of shit, what reason do you have to treat one another with dignity?  But those with imagination are better able to recognize the dignity inherent in all of life, even if the reality of their lives is extremely harsh.

This could have been an extremely depressing movie because it deals with a harsh reality most of us barely know exists!  But Nabil Ayouch handles the subject with sensitivity and compassion.

Eldorado (2008)

This months Filmovement film, Eldorado, is from Belgium. Bouli Lanners directed the film, wrote the screen play and plays the main character, Yvan. Can’t quite put this up there with my favorite Filmovement films, but it’s quite good.

The two main characters, Yvan and Elie, are unlikely traveling companions but Yvan has his reasons for being kind to Elie and the two set off on a trip through absolutely gorgeous territory.  They meet up with all kinds of bizarre people along the way like a nudist camper and a psychic. The psychic’s words keep coming back to me. He told Yvan that he would dig a grave with his bare hands and that he needed to walk on the rest of the graves. I guess sometimes things just need to be buried. But it’s so sad when what needs to be buried is still alive!

Eldorado is a compassionate, heart wrenching, thought provoking and well-acted film.  Definitely worth watching!