Sunday, March 29, 2009

Glorious and Free

I just realized that the last three movies I’ve gone to have all had one thing in common: they are all Canadian films! In my quest to support independent film, I just happened to seek out three very different movies, all set and produced in Canada! I thought it would be interesting, as an outsider, to review them for you!

The first, “The Necessities of Life,” began on breath-taking Baffin Island with an Inuit man who was hunting for his family’s food. The landscape was majestic and his way of life so traditional it was a surprise to suddenly see a ship loom on the horizon. The man takes his family aboard, identifies himself and discovers he has tuberculosis. He is stunned he has to leave his family that very minute and be quarantined for treatment. After three months on a boat, he is driven in a car to a sanitarium set in 1950’s Quebec City (not to be confused with the province of the same name!). Keep in mind he has never been in a car or building before nor seen a tree. Everything is new to him: the food, the bathroom, his haircut, his face shaved, the bed and most of all the language and customs. Everything is bewildering and we observe him going through profound culture shock and then isolation. He is saved by a thoughtful nurse who locates an Inuk orphan (also with TB) to be his friend. This was such a beautiful movie and very well acted.

"It’s Not Me, I Swear!” was also set in Quebec but hailed from 1970's suburbia. A little boy acts out to get attention or to assert some sense of control over his chaotic life. At times both charming and disturbing, this wasn’t an easy movie to watch and I felt it needed more focused sense of direction. I was never sure when the climax or resolution happened.

Probably having the greatest appeal to the masses, “One Week” featured a teacher who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and takes a motorcycle trip from Toronto to the west coast of Canada. Watch this for scenery and quirky quintessential Canadian moments. The product placements (from Tim Horton’s “Roll Up the Rim” promotion to the Roots leather jacket Joshua Jackson sported the entire movie) did leave a bit of a bad taste in the mouth and some parts of the story seemed forced (random forest sex?) but overall I totally enjoyed the ride (as well as the awesome soundtrack).

With so many other countries in the world, I feel it’s vital that we seek out other voices that are trying to be heard besides just the Hollywood blockbusters. By the same token, I think Canadians who create need to define themselves by what they are instead of merely as a contrast to the mainstream (by that I mean the States). Watching these movies set in Canada, I got to know a little more about the culture and life of my adopted country. I definitely would like to see “Pontypool” next and hope to see some Canadian documentaries as part of the Hot Docs Festival next month. Any other Canadian film suggestions?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

To the Left

How did the word “right” come to mean “good” or “correct?” Is the word “left”, by implication and extension, “wrong?” When one works with ESL students, interesting questions like this always arise! Here’s my perspective on the matter!

Culturally we are biased to favour the right-handed person. We drive and walk on that side. When entering a museum or store, the impulse is usually to head to the right. When men are escorting or dancing with women, they are to offer them their right arm. Most instruments, weapons, computer mouses, cars, scissors and clothes are all designed for people who are right-handed. Politically, conservatives are referred to as the Right. Even the way our we read and write our language is more convenient for the right-handed. In spoken language we say someone is “in the right” when they are justified in a given situation or “way out in left field” when we think don’t agree with their position.

This bias extends to other countries to some extent as well. When I was in Korea, we always offered an empty glass or money with our right hand (or sometimes with both hands together). I’ve already mentioned the use of the left hand in Asia before. Numerous languages equate the world "left" with evil.

So what happens when you are, through no fault of your own, different? That what may seem unnatural to the majority, is naturally expressed in you? My aunt was born this way. At school they forced her to use her right hand instead and to this day her writing is illegible. On the “other hand”, my left-handed uncle, born several years later, was allowed to use his left hand and does quite well.

While we certainly don’t judge a left-handed person as someone is morally deficient, it might surprise you to learn that people used to do this very thing. Something was “wrong” with a person who wasn’t in the “right.”

I find people tend to make the similar judgments and have the same biases towards people who are, also through no fault of their own, different in terms of sexual orientation. What may be natural to the majority, seems unnatural to sexual minorities. In fact the term “queer,” meaning not normal, was also used as a term of derision. Just as with left-handed people, being different than the majority doesn’t necessarily mean one is abnormal, wrong or unnatural.

However despite this logical conclusion, an enormous, staggering amount of money, effort and tears have been spent by well-meaning people to change this condition which most studies have shown to occur naturally in humans, as well as other species. And while this trait may influence brain patterns to a degree ("southpaws" use their right brain more, queers have different brain patterns than hetero-peers), being gay, like being a “lefty” doesn’t necessarily make one a more interesting person. It’s really up to the individual to determine that for their lives. Society is “right” to evaluate a person by the way they chose to live their life but not by the circumstances that merely place them in the minority. That, my dear readers, would be just plain wrong.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Dress You Up in My Love

I have to say that I really have been blessed to be surrounded by so many interesting friends! One I meet with to discuss film, literature and life in general. He’s a writer and a good one and it’s my hope that someday his genius will be recognized if only by himself!

The other day we started a debate that still continues. He made the statement that any story could be interesting so long as it was well-written. I demurely disagreed, saying I’m eternally in love with a compelling story, whether or not it’s well-told. To me, it’s really the content that matters. He can’t abide by bad writing and I’m bored with people who have nothing substantive to say. And therein lies our dilemma: Which is more important, style or substance?

This question could be applied to so many other areas as well. For example I like art that says something or is recognizable. However, if it’s just colours and shapes (too modern), I really don’t get the point, no matter how well artfully it’s created.

In the movies I’ve seen, the most memorable were low-budget films that had compelling plots. Well done CGI or special effects don’t really leave much of an impression on me. I appreciate beautiful cinematography, the “art” of filmmaking, but I am impacted more by the story, the content.

I was going over this issue with other friends of mine and one brilliantly used the example of Chinese calligraphy. It can be beautifully executed but without knowledge of the content, it is meaningless.

This brings me to the importance of content in our lives. “Although I speak…and have not love I’m like a gong or a cymbal.” Love is what gives our lives substance, meaning. Our lives ARE the story. In the end, it really is what’s on the inside that counts. And the rest…well that’s just style and that’s fabulous too!