Helen is an American woman who has the perfect life. Musical, a mother, married to a rich lawyer husband, she has no reason to quickly slip into a suicidal depression that tears her family apart, which is exactly what she does. She befriends a younger, yet equally troubled cellist and slowly finds her way towards some form of happiness through electro convulsive therapy.
It’s hard to comment on a film such as this, because you can see the good intentions seeping through the cracks of nonsense and white, upper middle class presumption that present themselves as part of the universal. Let’s put aside Helen’s plight descending from a privileged state which means that her subsequent medical treatment is swift and highly personalised. The thing that baffles me most about American movies is the presumption that the standing husband/wife unit have no friends or support structure outside of family whatsoever. Towards the beginning of the film we meet a bunch of people that the pair sit laughing around a dinner table with, but the only other time we see a ‘friend’ is when she is attempting to seduce the husband now that she’s found out Helen has debilitating depression.
The film commands us to see the big D as an entirely medical problem that comes out of nowhere. But you only have to see the figure of Helen, who is entirely obsessed with her husband and daughter to see where there may be a problem. Any time she focuses on anything outside of that family unit (her piano playing, her new friend Matilda) it is seen as a symptom of her depression. Her husband at one point is even violent towards Matilda, but is forgiven because he is ‘frustrated’ that Helen wont go home with him, to the isolation that probably contributed to her depression in the first place. But no, the only thing that can fix her is drugs, ECT, and going back to the family unit. No other options are explored. At one point, Helen talks about her depression as if she is an addict: I’m terrified I’mgoing to relapse. Take these two pills, and if it’s not working in the morning, then take two more pills.
Judd is very good in the role of Helen. Her portrayal of Helen’s uncommunicativeness, her inability to express her pain except through messy tears is commendable. My main problem with the film was what it was trying to say, as it lay somewhere in-between an in depth study of depression and a redemption story. If it was a study of depression, it was clinical and over-medicalised: of the two mentally ill characters, only the one without previous life problems could be saved. If it was a story of redemption, its quasi-scientific use of mental illness as its ‘trial’ was overly simplistic.

See the original article posted here: http://www.beat.com.au/arts/2011/04/8/helen/american-middle-class-depression-electro-colvulsive-therapyit-family-unit-helen-helen-helen-s-uncomm

Below sea level

In the Californian desert, thousands of miles from the built up cities that spat them out, is Slab City, a community of homeless people living out of their vans and cars, attempting to blot themselves out on the surreal desert landscape. Below Sea Level documents their lives and how, despite their best efforts, it becomes impossible to completely submit to the loneliness so many people think they desire.

Filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi follows seven members of Slab City over a period of five years, each living with their trucks, vans, tents and, most importantly, their dogs. Each has experienced a rupture that has brought them to this place, to their day to day existence that is punctuated by the tentative gestures of their fellow inhabitants.

Rosi’s style falls into an increasingly prevalent school of documentary filmmaking, emphasising unobtrusive observation. You never see the film crew, or hear their voices. There is no narration, no commentary, no summation of the disparate reasons these people have arrived at such a place. It is an exercise in patience and reflection – no questions from the filmmaker-as-protagonist, no purposeful teasing out of stories that have brought the subjects’ lives to this point, and by denying that sort of narrative, the piece has a certain sense of calm to it.

Not that this film is easy to watch. The lives that are followed have a certain ritualised, and ultimately positive, behaviour to them. Kenneth, or ‘Bus Kenny’ as he is known, is in an ongoing renovation battle with his old school bus, trying to connect with ‘the Doctor’, a recently divorced woman who is struggling with her new homeless identity. David, the ‘water guy’ drives his truck full of water around to the inhabitants, selling it to those who need it. ‘Bulletproof’ and ‘Insane Wayne’ form a booze addled relationship that swings between tender and unstable in seconds. Cindy, an ex-Navy transwoman, shakily starts a salon out of the back of her RV, her fragility essentialising the existence of the desert dwellers, all functioning in their own way, defying a final judgment on their lives. And all through Mike Bright, spending his nights alone in his caravan, writes a ballad of the citizens of Slab City.

The dogs in this film deserve a mention in themselves. They are essential companions to most of the desert inhabitants; where people have failed them, their pets have not. The Pet Cemetery is a landmark in an otherwise arid landscape, people gather to scatter the ashes of their old dogs, and otherwise spiky characters are seen to coo and cuddle over new litters.

The slow pace of this film may put some people off, but I found that the expansive and gentle approach laid out the documentary subjects in whatever way they wanted. There was no pounding political commentary to their stories – unless they themselves wanted to provide it. This lack of commentary by Rosi meant that their stories weren’t turned into causes, highlighting their pain for the ‘greater good’. The overarching reminder was that, despite allowing these cameras, these strangers, into their lives, they were in the desert for a reason, coping as best they could with either a system that had let them down, or a series of life events from which it is sometimes impossible to rebound.

Slab City


By: Gianfranco Rosi

Runtime: 110 min

Genre: Documentary

Country: USA | Italy

Language: English

Venice Film Festival 2008 – Winner Best Documentary
Cine du Reel Paris 2008 – Winner Grand Prix
DFA 2009 – Official Selection
One World 2009 – Official Selection
Nododoc Festival 2009 – Official Selection

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/film-tv-radio/below-sea-level-181135?sc=1

Me, my gypsy family and Woody allen

Me, My Gypsy Family and Woody Allen is a film documenting the first tentative steps a Romany girl living in Italy, Laura Halilovic, takes into the world of filmmaking. This is not a completely alien landscape; the camera she uses to document her life and the lives of her family when she is 19 was given to her by her father, who himself filmed their celebrations and lives when Halilovic was just a girl.

The documentary, winner of the UCCA Prize 2009 at the Bellaria Film Festival in Italy, acts primarily as a diary, a diary of a people, and a diary of a girl who has come of age, perched on the edge of adulthood in a culture where marriage and family are an essential part of life. Me, My Gypsy Family and Woody Allen is a an act of Halilovic finding her voice, going from the shoe gazing mumblings of teenagehood – demonstrated especially when the subject of marriage first arises – to a final and more eloquent expression of her own plans for her future and how they relate to her culture and family.

We are introduced to Halilovic’s family gradually, framed through current portraits of her parents, brothers and sisters, her family having migrated to Italy from Bosnia and Herzegovina decades before. They live in a public housing flat, a big step in the Romany community, who traditionally are forced to camp in large numbers, shifted from site to site on the whims of the local councils. This fixed address created better opportunities for Laura to attend school and have a complete education.

The pain of a persecuted people is at first demonstrated historically – the holocaust, the systemic destruction of the Romany people throughout predominantly Eastern Europe. These are her relatives – her grandparents and great grandparents. But it is soon after that the continued persecution of the Romany’s by the Gagé, anyone who is not a Roma, is highlighted. Camps are evicted and bulldozed, they are called thieves and bandits on the street, or, from the point of view from an excited little girl at her first day of school, she is whispered about and ostracised from her peers. That concept of ‘integration’ is brought up again and again, its insidiousness coming from its lack of clear meaning. This is most obvious when the word is brought up during the potential eviction of sixty people, including Halilovic’s grandmother and uncles, from land that they themselves had purchased, the charge of building without a permit as an excuse. Every year Halilovic, born in Italy but not officially an Italian citizen, must give her fingerprints in order to renew her visa.

A lot of the craft in this film is a bit clunky, but entirely forgivable given the filmmaker’s age and the message the film is trying to give. You can see her future potential in the framing of her shots, the imagery within a scene that holds the most poignancy. This film is about her, but she is hidden behind the camera, perhaps unable to combine this foraging for identity with the strong culture of the Romany, her teenage stargazing at Woody Allen combined with the first act of making her own film, her own body of work.

Me, My Gypsy Family, and Woody Allen screens on Friday, May 07, 2010 at 9:30 PM at Cinema Nova in Carlton. It screens with the short film Bingo

Part of the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/film-tv-radio/me-my-gypsy-family-and-woody-allen-181126?sc=1