erasing clouds

Best Movies of 2001

by Joseph Palis

1. Unfinished Song (Iran) Director: Maziar Miri
This film tells about the search by a musicologist for a traditional female singer of lullabies and elegies in a male-dominated Iranian town for his research. Unable to solicit help from the hesitant people who were afraid of the patriarchal backlashes if they indirectly assist him (women are not supposed to sing in public in Iran), the persistent music ethnographer used his cunning and resourcefulness to track down the best female singer of the region. That act re-opened emotional wounds, revealed the town's blind obedience to tradition, and effectively showed a canvas of people who are alienated in their own native land. The film's last scene was so unexpected and unforced and cuts through the heart.

2. Foreign Sister (Israel) Director: Dan Wolman
Foreign Sister was made on a shoestring budget according to director Dan Wolman. Bereft of special effects and cinematic accoutrements, the film tells the story of a middle-class woman who takes in an African househelp. The presence of the househelp in a typical Israeli household raised issues about ethnicity, sex and class. The movie recalls the improvised atmosphere and authenticity of a Mike Leigh film, and the performance, if its correct to call it that, makes you feel you are observing somebody else's household because the characters act and speak the language and inflection of people who are not aware that there is a camera to document their lives. The film ultimately calls for tolerance although it subtly suggested that a happy ending is not anywhere near.

3. No Man's Land (Bosnia/Herzegovina) Director: Denis Tanovic
"No Man's Land" is the term used by soldiers to describe the ground between the two opposing renches, and in Tanovic's version, it's the last frontier where people can finally be in neutral grounds and assess their lives because of the war, and how war ultimately destroys people who might potentially be good friends if they are not fighting for their own countries. The movie pokes fun at misguided ideologies and the he-who-has-the-gun-has-power relationship between a Serbian and Bosnian soldier. The film vividly shows the politics behind international hostage negotiations and the natural instincts of human to exoticize situations that are ripe for media coverage and manipulation. Makes you think about current news reportage about wars in other countries.

4. Under the Sand (France) Director: Francois Ozon
The film accurately captured the various stages of grief and recovery and the promise of coming full circle with one's life after a devastating loss. The story is about a woman who lost her husband in the beach and her subsequent search for him and ultimate denial to herself and friends about his disappearance. Charlotte Rampling is a joy to watch. It's as if she is a prism of emotions. She conveyed oh so vividly the various colors of grief and stages of recovery and the final scene was so nakedly real I almost swore she herself felt the pain and was no longer acting. She resembles Julie Christie and Blythe Danner by way of the smiling eyes of Helen Hunt. And I found a director to watch out for: Francois Ozon. Under the Sand was his fourth but I wondered about his perspicacity in the previous three.

5. Moulin Rouge (Australia) Director: Baz Luhrmann
The third part in Baz Luhrmann's Red Curtain trilogy, Moulin Rouge but is an explosive combination of genuineness, authenticity and sincerity that make this a winner in every respect. Its easy to lambaste the film's obvious excesses (i.e. MTVish images, high-ceiling shots, break-out-in-song numbers) and Luhrmann's flourishes are anything but minimal, but you are enthralled by its majesty and sweep and you grieve silently in its quiet moments. The florid use of pop tunes amidst the swirling 1899 Montmarte of Toulouse-Lautrec parallels the intensity and big feelings of two people in love in an environment where love is not permitted and where good and evil are not as well delineated as the gray areas surrounding them. Ahead of its time.

Issue 8 1/2, February 2002 | next article

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