We warily approach the back end of March, which can only mean that it’s time to review the movies that have crossed our paths this month. Tune in for our takes on The Mauritanian, Ride Your Wave, and Minari.
The Mauritanian is based on Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s memoir Guantánamo Diary, and to anyone that’s been paying attention simply bringing up the spectre of Guantanamo will tell you all you need to know about what you’re going to see in this film.
Salahi is played here by Tahar Rahim, and is taken from his family home in, well, Mauritania, and held without charge under suspicion of involvement in the 9/11 attacks in the mildly controversial Guantánamo Bay facility ultimately for over fourteen years, excluding the occasional jaunt to CIA black sites for a spot of the ol’ enhanced interrogation ex plus alpha.
His case is eventually brought to the attention of defence attorney Nancy Hollander, played by Jodie Foster who takes on the case and, in the process of uncovering the facts of the case, we’ll hear a bit of the life story of Salahi, which to be scrupulously fair would have warranted a bit of questioning at least, but surely not the horrors inflicted on him by the American Torquemadas.
On the other side of the coin is the military prosecutor, Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch), tasked with and heavily encouraged to secure a prosecution, but in the course of reviewing the supposedly damning evidence finds on hearsay and the same takeaway as the Spanish Inquisition, that being that if you torture someone enough they’ll eventually tell you what you want to hear. To his credit, he does the right thing and refuses to prosecute this non-case – it’s just a great pity the US Government cannot come to the same conclusion and waste another six years of an innocent man’s life in appeals.
I don’t believe I have anything particularly negative to say about any aspect of this film – as opposed to the subject matter, which would warrant as much negativity as I could muster for as long as I have oxygen, however I would be lying to you if I said I can muster a great deal of enthusiasm in talking about it. To be clear, Rahim, Foster and Cumberbatch are all great and director Kevin Macdonald keeps things bombing along well enough, if you’ll pardon the phrasing.
Perhaps it’s just the miserable nature of the central content that makes it hard to be enthusiastic about, which compares rather poorly on my part given the frankly incredibly forgiving and reasonable attitude that Salahi has shown throughout and after this ordeal.
It’s a very well made and put together film, telling a story that needs to be told, especially given that Guantanamo Bay is, barely believably, still stinking up the joint. If you’re in the mood for an alternately miserable and enraging experience, get this in your watch queue.
RIde Your Wave
19-year-old Hinako (Rina Kawaei) has returned to her childhood home of Chiba to attend university, selecting that city in particular to allow her to indulge her great passion of surfing, the sea being the one place where the somewhat awkward and clumsy young woman is graceful and poised. Here she attracts the attention of the two-year-older firefighter, Minato (Ryota Katayose), who regularly watches her ride the waves from the top of the fire station and calls her his hero.
A fire next to her apartment building, and her subsequent rescue by Minato, is the spark that ignites (if this film isn’t going to be subtle about its metaphors, then neither am I) an energetic, cute and largely believable, if cheesy, relationship between the two, and we are swept along as they have a number of dates and experiences together.
This budding romance, the first third, more or less, of Ride Your Wave, is fluff. Heart-warming and enjoyable fluff, to be sure, but fluff. A pleasant confection, but likely to be forgettable and, given its saccharine nature, after 90 minutes, likely to give you cavities. But tragedy unexpectedly strikes as Minato dies while trying to save someone from drowning. The more complex, and more rewarding, remainder of the film, rather unexpectedly, becomes about grief, with a strong undertone of self-belief, and too much focus on eggs as food, because eggs are bowfing. Oh, and magical water ghosts, which Minato now is. I should probably mention that, it’s quite important.
In the typical way of ghosts, Minato has some unfinished business, to wit: ensuring Hinako is able to ride her own wave and move on. In the less typical way of ghosts (I can’t believe I’m writing that), he only appears when Hinako sings the song the two sang together on their first car trip, and then only in any nearby accumulation of water (leading to a wonderfully tragicomic scene in which a grief-stricken Hinako opens her soul to a toilet bowl).
After convincing herself that she’s not mad and that Minato really is in the water, Hinako becomes happy again, and resumes, as much as she is able, her relationship with Patrick Wavy. Her friends, and particularly Minato’s prickly, “blue-ringed octopus” of a little sister and his firefighting kōhai, Wasabi, who can’t see Minato, but can see Hinako talking to water bottles and giant, plastic, water-filled porpoises, are… less convinced of her mental state? But they’re her friends, and will stick around to help her let go of Minato and get up on that metaphor, I mean surfboard, once again.
We are not, I think, supposed to take much of the action particularly seriously (especially not, I hope, the plastic porpoise), it all playing rather tongue-in-cheek, but it doesn’t mean that the film’s explorations of grief and acceptance, as well as self-belief, are any less earnest or valid, and its tone does mean that the sentimental sections are often juxtaposed, or even cut through, with some very funny moments, making for a very pleasant mix.
It’s a strangely conventional film for The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl director Masaaki Yuasa (though maybe he fancied some of that Makoto Shinkai money and fame?), and in tackling that magical, mystical young adult fare that Shinkai has made his stomping ground, much of his flare and style has necessarily been submerged, but there are hints in there still, as well as some little digs at the trappings and clichés of these types of films, though not enough to call this parody or satire.
I’ll finish on an aside, and that it’s that this film that has once again sown in me massive doubt about whether I’m actually correctly getting out of many films what has been put in, due to, let’s say, questionable subtitling. I had a number of options for Ride Your Wave, and dipped in at a random point near the start to compare them before watching the whole film, and, my, there’s quite the difference.
As Minato and Hinako are in Minato’s car together for the first time, Hinako remarks about Minato’s fondness for finless porpoises and notes that his car, a FIAT Barchetta, even looks a little like one. Given that the car IS a FIAT Barchetta, and that the character clearly says, “Barchetta”, I made what seemed the sensible choice and selected the subtitle track that reflected that, and NOT the track that instead read, “don’t you think it looks like ‘Q-Taro the Little Ghost’?” (A 1960s manga character, a quick google tells me.). Now, I don’t know Japanese, so I can’t say that character wasn’t also mentioned at the time (but I don’t think so), but if I hadn’t lucked in on that section to test, who knows how far from the original intent my experience with this film might have been?
This, of course, has nothing to do with the film, but I add it as a cautionary tale, and a reminder that it’s often worth doing a little research on the quality of subtitles of what you’re going to view, especially when it’s something as much worth viewing as Ride Your Wave.
The Korean American Yi family become surely the first and only people to move from California to Arakansas. I suppose it was acceptable in the eighties. Steven Yeun’s Jacob Yi seeks a new life as a farmer of Korean vegetables, to cater for the increasing number of Korean immigrants, although until that’s up and running he and his wife, Han Ye-ri’s Monica won’t give up their day jobs as chicken sexing, which it says here is definitely a real job and won’t put you on some kind of register.
Monica’s less enthusiastic about the whole upping sticks and moving to the sticks deal, and even less so about their trailer home, and the distance from the nearest hospital when their youngest, Alan Kim’s David Yi has a heart condition. Arguably hardest done by, but least analysed is elder sister Noel Kate Cho’s Anne Yi, who’s saddled with a lot of babysitting despite being a baby herself.
Setting up a farm is, naturally, a great deal of hard work and is not without its challenges, and it’s these challenges, or rather the deleterious effects these have on the family dynamics, particularly Monica and Steve’s relationship that is the central concern of the piece. Further spice is added when Monica’s mother, Youn Yuh-jung’ s Soon-ja arrives from Korea, sharing a room with David much to his displeasure, and there’s also some local colour in the form of eccentric Korean war vet and now part time farmhand, Will Patton’s Paul.
Not knowing anything much about this going in I suppose I was expecting racism to be a larger part of the story, so it’s refreshing to see that by and large it very much isn’t. Shame this week’s real life events don’t have quite the same positivity. Instead it’s a tale of immigrant experience, hard work and human relationships, inspired by director Lee Isaac Chung’s own experiences.
Much like The Mauritanian, I don’t have all that much negative to say about it, but at the same time can’t get all that excited about it. I’m beginning to this this is more of a me problem than an it problem. Particularly given that my only niggle with this film is that Jacob and Monica’s repeated motif of their relationship saving each other is hit rather too squarely on the nose by events at the film’s conclusion.
I suppose given the origins of it, comparisons with Parasite are invited, although a closer match on at least some levels is Shoplifters, and if those are the comparison guns you’re pulling out of the armoury then I suppose it must be advancing the war effort on some front. Not quite sure where that train of thought is trundling towards, but suffice to say it’s all very efficiently told, and well acted on all the cast’s parts. Especially the young ‘uns. So, no huge complaints with it, and I certainly recommend it. Yes. That’s a borderline coherent thought, that’ll do to wrap up.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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