mid-century maunderings for men who know better
Nero is a Mexican or an American. Being born in the U.S. doesn’t automatically confer citizenship. Nero is trying to get to Los Angeles from Mexico to see his brother and get himself documented. He eventually makes it, only to find things aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. His status is ambiguous. He joins the army. He fights unseen enemies and ends up alone, lost, walking through the desert trying to find his way back to the U.S. lines. This film toys with our expectation that bleak stories will turn around in the final act, the way they always do in American film. And we do have a fleeting sense that everything will work out. At the end of the film, a caption informs us that undocumented residents were promised a green card upon completion of a tour of duty in the U.S. military. This turned out to be a non-core promise.
The countryside always gets a good mention in New Zealand film. Expats don’t talk about it much, but that might be because they’re sick of all the Germans who’ve colonised the place walking around in the nude. I can understand wanting to keep that to yourself. The few New Zealand films I have seen have not been set in a mystical land or an ancient time. They have been nasty, brutish and funny. The countryside has been magnificent sure, but the drama and the relationships have been the reason to keep watching. You can actually fly to New Zealand for less than it costs to get to Perth. If you like countryside, you can hire a grey-import and pootle around for a reasonable price. You will see marvellous hills, valleys, craters, mountains, prehistoric forest and coast. You probably won’t experience the malevolence, brutality and imminent danger that is at the heart of films like Two cars One night, Once were Warriors, The Navigator, The Quiet Earth, Boy and Utu. Mahana is another family drama about respect, revenge, patriarchy and generational change. It is funny. The writing and performances are uniformly excellent. “It is not as violent as Mad Max” (Park Chan Wook MIFF guest 2004) but it is violent, so lovers of New Zealand cinema need not be disappointed. It is also a love story.
This is exactly the kind of worthy self-righteous nonsense that I try to avoid. Masquerading as some kind of throwback to a time when people had values and stood up for things that mattered, Captain Fantastic is clearly some kind of moist paen to independence and manly virtue. Minutes into Captain Fantastic, we learn the Captain’s wife has died while being treated in hospital. Under normal circumstances, I love a film where a man’s wife is dead. You get great scenes of coping, resilience, learning to love again and letting go. Even better if there are kids wise-beyond-their-years involved. This film loads you up with six Swiss Family Robinson meets the O.C. type kids parrying their father Ben’s brutal combat training regime and ‘Great Books’ reports with wry sarcastic quips way beyond their years. The conflict and drama comes from Ben’s decision to take a good old old Merry Pranksters road trip to the mother’s funeral which her parents have forbidden Ben from attending. These kids have never left the wooded arcadia they have spent their lives in and have no urban skills, social skills, or manners. I would love to tell you everybody learns great truths and finds that despite the modern world being rubbish, there is something to be said for civilisation and grandparents, but I left after half-an-hour and have no idea how the film ends so I’ll tell you this: everybody learns great truths and finds that despite the modern world being rubbish, there is something to be said for civilisation and grandparents.
What more could you want?