Sunday, February 15, 2009

JDIFF movies so far...

After the fantastic Doubt on Thursday night, the next film I saw during the Dublin festival was the Turkish film Dot yesterday afternoon. It was an okay-thriller about a man who steals an ancient Koran and then tries to atone for his sins. Taught me quite a lot about Turkish calligraphy, mind!

I then rushed home to do some online pitches (more details later) and returned to see the Palm d'Or winning French movie The Class. This is a fictional movie shot like a documentary about a high school teacher in a rough Parisien district and his class of 13-year-old students. Brilliantly performed by its non-professional cast, this is an unflinchingly honest look at the realities of being a teacher. Francois, the teacher in question, never fails to challenge his class yet it is clear that he cares deeply about their uncertain futures. The script is funny and acerbic - I highly recommend this one and it should be required viewing for anyone who thinks controlling a class is easy!

Then this morning I saw the utterly brilliant Gran Torino. This is allegedly Clint Eastwood's last film as an actor - if so it's a fitting swansong for him. We first see his character, retired Detroit auto-worker Walt Kowalski glowering at his wife's funeral, gazing in bewildered rage at the congregation. It's hard to know who he is more angry at: his wife for dying and leaving him, his two grown sons and their repellent families or the young parish priest whom he refuses to engage with.

Walt is a simmering presence throughout the film - never has there been a more angry old man and the fact that he is the main character is one of the things that makes Gran Torino so enjoyable. He is an unrepentent and unflinching racist, calling his Vietnamese neighbours zipperheads (and worse!) and telling the young priest that he is nothing more than an overeducated virgin. He's rude and unpleasant - and yet totally watchable.

The film sees Walt getting unwillingly involved in the lives of his next-door neighbours: shy son Thao and his outgoing sister Su, as well as their mother and grandmother. Thao is being targeted by a local Asian gang, who want him to become a member. When their efforts to recruit him spill onto Walt's property and he threatens them with a gun, he becomes a hero to the neighbourhood and an enemy to the gang. The scene is set for a bloody showdown - but on the way we see a chance for redemption as Walt gets Thao a job and against the odds, starts to view him as a friend.

With shades of his old characters Dirty Harry and William Munny haunting this movie, Clint Eastwood commands the screen from his first moment and it's his film all the way, but he is supported by an outstanding cast, many of whom are not pro actors. This is possibly Eastwood's most personal films in years and it is certainly one of his best.

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