Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Fathers and Sons

Just coincidentally three recent new movies I saw deal with fathers and sons.

Footnote - This Israeli film, by Joseph Cedar, is about a father and son who both are professors of Talmudic research. The film opens with a long close-up shot of the father smoldering with what appears resentment or jealousy while he sits listening to his son give a speech after having won an award. But, alas, the father gets his turn in the spotlight when he is told he will be awarded 'the Israeli Prize'. Finally, after all the hard work in an obscure corner of an obscure field - which has yielded him no more than a footnote in someone else's work - he is getting recognized. Or is he? It's fun to watch the father try and undermine the son while the son tries to bolster his father's reputation. The film use of mordant humor rather than slapstick helps give the film a realistic tone. Because of that it also stops short of being the crowd pleasing film some may want it to be. I'm fine with that. Good film.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi - This documentary by David Gelb is more about 85 year-old sushi master Jiro Ono than about his son. But given that his son is in line to replace his father some day it becomes a film in some ways about obligation and tradition. The film has very little tension or conflict. Instead it comes to praise and to make us hungry. It's mainly about $300 a night sushi served in a inauspicious small restaurant under an office building in Tokyo. What keeps the film interesting is the daily process we see as they try to get the best fish and then prepare and serve the best sushi in the world. Jiro Ono smiles a lot, gives sage advice and creates sushi with a skill that only a master could.

The Kid with a Bike - The father's absence is actually the key to this film. A lowlife dad leaves his 11 year-old son to the orphanage because he claims he can't take care of him. The boy is drawn to a woman who becomes a mother to him on the weekends. Like most of the Dardenne Brother's films this one has a central character that is driven by a focused primal instinct that keeps him alive but makes him dangerous to himself. The film, if anything, presents us with the Dardenne's absolute mastery of the medium. At times subtle and often brutal and realistic the film achieves the kind of grace that very few filmmakers have.

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