by Howard Schumann
Unconditional love is the ability to love people exactly
the way they are and the way they are not, without judgment or evaluation.
This is a big stretch for me, but for the wise old grandmother in the
South Korean film, The Way Home, it is second nature.
This film by Lee Jeong-hyang, one of Korea's few female
directors, is this year's biggest box-office hit in South Korea, and
the first Korean film to receive major studio distribution in the United
States. The grandmother, played with startling authenticity by first-time
actress, 78 year-old Kim Eul-boon, conveys without speaking the redeeming
power of love. Like the young aboriginal girls in the Australian film
Fence, Kim had never even seen a movie before she was
discovered in a talent search among rural villagers.
story concerns Sang-woo (Yoo Seung-ho), an insufferable seven-year old
boy from Seoul, is deposited at his grandmother's house in the remote
village of Youngdong in Korea's Choongbuk province, so that the mother
can have time to look for work. The grandmother's posture is stooped
and her face is withered from years of hard work, and she suffers from
a chronic disability and can't speak. She lives in a wooden hut carved
into the hillside. The stunning cinematography captures the beauty and
remoteness of this mountain retreat.
is about the most spoiled and irritating boy that I have ever seen in
films, and one that would try the patience of St. Francis of Assisi.
Full of street-smart know-it-all, he marches into grandma's home with
his electronic toys, cans of Coca-Cola and Spam, and starts calling
her dummy and byungshin (retard). When she asks what he wants to eat,
he tells her "pizza, hamburger, and Kentucky Fried Chicken." She walks
all the way to town to buy him a chicken, but he won't eat it (until
he is too hungry to resist) because it is boiled in a pot and not fried,
Colonel-style. Despite everything the boy does to her, including stealing
her shoes so she has to walk barefoot, and removing a clasp for her
hair so he can sell it to buy batteries for his Game Boy, she remains
centered and loving. Rather
than refusing to cater to his every whim, she becomes increasingly generous,
cleaning and cooking for him and overlooking his stealing. He begins
to accept the new lifestyle, helping his grandmother to thread a needle,
hang up clothes on the clothesline, and shop with her at the market.
Gradually he also learns about the meaning of kindness when he sees
his grandmother give a package of vitamins to a dying man, and when
a neighborhood boy forgives him for teasing him about a "crazy" runaway
cow. When Sang-woo's mother comes back to retrieve him, though undemonstrative,
he has clearly changed.
was expecting a saccharine payoff, but Ms. Jeong-hyang wisely stays
away from a melodramatic farewell that would be out of sync with the
rest of the film. Besides, it isn't about the destination but the journey,
and Sang-woo in his sojourn with grandma has learned some valuable lessons
that become apparent by the end of the film. The Way Home
is dedicated to all grandmothers around the world, and speaks volumes
about the power of loving-kindness to heal the hardest heart. This is
not just the ten-thousandth variation on the city slicker versus country
bumpkin theme, but a refreshing look at what truly makes a difference
in life. With a lovely score by Kim Dae-hong and Kim Yang-hee, it is
yet another example of the emotional power of films that do not require
a huge budget, mind-boggling complexity, special effects, or even dialogue
to work their magic. And magic it is indeed…Have you hugged your grandmother
Our culture often sees violence as a way to solve
problems. A common response to violence is to seek revenge for these
crimes; however, recent news stories about the exoneration of over ninety
former death row inmates show that innocent persons may be executed
in the process. Many prominent political and religious groups have called
for the abolition of capital punishment as an integral part of the defense
of human life. Unfortunately, The Life of David Gale,
ostensibly a liberal film on the subject, shows anti-death penalty protestors
in such a negative light that the proponents must be rejoicing. Director
Alan Parker, who gave us the lie of heroic pro-civil rights FBI agents
in Mississippi Burning, wants us to believe that opponents of
capital punishment are unprincipled egotists, alcoholics, frauds, hypocrites
and womanizers who are willing to throw away their principles to promote
Spacey plays David Gale, a philosophy professor in Texas and an anti-capital
punishment advocate. He finds himself on death row in a Texas prison
after having been convicted of the rape and murder of Constance Harraway
(Laura Linney) a fellow activist. Along comes Kate Winslet as Bitsey
Bloom, together with an intern Zack Stemmons (Gabriel Mann), to spice
up the action. Bitsey (c'mon, folks) is an investigative reporter whom
Gale chooses to talk to, because he thinks she will not compromise her
sources and wants to prove his innocence. With his execution in a couple
of days, Gale tells his story to Bitsey, and it is dramatized in flashbacks
announced in dizzying sequences that flash words at you such as desire,
murder, and punishment.
film gets deeper and deeper into absurdity as the convoluted story unfolds.
With time running out and in possession of sensational videotape, Bitsey
and Zack must figure out the truth about what took place and stay one
step ahead of a cowboy in a pickup truck who is following them. But
since the film has more plot holes than there are craters on the moon,
the audience will be several steps ahead of her.
Life of David Gale is not a film about capital punishment at all.
It just uses the issue to attract audiences to what is essentially a
standard thriller with an unbelievable plot. No anti-capital punishment
activist would ever have to compromise their integrity to make a point.
They need only look to the public record, where many actual cases of
wrongful conviction exist, and where the Governor of Illinois recently
released everyone on death row because of questionable evidence. The
film does not tell us about the real death row, where the poor and minorities
are more likely to be executed than those who commit similar crimes
but can afford better legal help. A film about a black or Hispanic defendant
who cannot afford a high-priced lawyer with a ponytail would not play
at the box office. The Life of David Gale is a cynical and dishonest
film that should be sentenced to movie death row awaiting execution.
by both gentle and frenetic rhythms, the vibrant music of the Manouche
resounds throughout Swing, the latest film by director
Tony Gatlif. The Manouche are Gypsies living in the Alsace area of France,
whose music combines the rhythm, melody, and emotion of their own culture
with the jazz, swing, and blues of America. Gatlif, of Algerian and
Gypsy ancestry, has made numerous films dealing with Gypsy cultures
around the world, such as the acclaimed 1993 documentary Latcho Drom.
This film not only provides a unique insight into Gypsy life but is
also a charming coming-of-age story about two unlikely friends.
(Oscar Copp) is a blond-haired, blue-eyed French ten-year old who is
on vacation at his grandmother's house. He is drawn to Swing (Lou Rech),
a boyish-looking girl of his age and is captivated by the music that
is an integral part of her life. Fascinated by the guitar music of the
Django Reinhardt School played by Miraldo (Tchavolo Schmidt), he buys
an old guitar and asks Miraldo to give him lessons in exchange for help
in writing letters to the Welfare Department. Max and Swing explore
the natural beauty of the countryside together, wandering along the
lost roads and hidden rivers of the French countryside. When she invites
him to musical evenings at her home, he learns the history and songs
of the Manouche and their tribulations during the Holocaust.
story is slight and not fully realized, but it doesn't really matter.
The film is not about the story but about the people, their music, and
their way of life. Gypsies have been one of the most persecuted ethnic
minorities throughout history. Like the Jews, their numbers were decimated
during the Holocaust, and their heritage and traditions are in jeopardy.
Gatlif says, "I'm simply trying to transmit something that is disappearing…
I am trying to be a witness." Swing transmits that "something"
with meaning and joy.
©2003 Howard Schumann