28 April 2010

Julie and Julia

Based on a book by Julie Powell, Julie and Julia is a film that details the relationship between two people who barely know each other physically, but who get connected through their memoirs. Julie tries to make her days more meaningful by initiating a project -- to start blogging about her one-year assignment to cook all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by none other than Julia Childs and her two French friends, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.

The film does show that to accomplish such a tasking assignment is not easy and you need more than just yourself, but a very supportive spouse to help you through, in the same way that Julia Childs had her husband encourage her to realise her true passion -- cooking. Similar to Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate, Julie and Julia uses cooking as a poignant metaphor of learning about oneself, one's desire, and one's fear.

But across the two generations, one starts to see the difference in terms of social status. Julia was a wife to a political diplomat who was designated to station in various US embassies overseas. She didn't need to work and cooking was more like a hobby-like vocation. Julie, on the other hand, represents a modern-day city woman in her early thirties, who has to work full-time. Cooking for her is definitely something extra that she needs to fill in her time. But the similarity is that the two women find cooking a hobby that makes their lives meaningful.

It makes me wonder that there's something about this film more than just cooking. It's the writing about it: Julia collaborating on her French cookbook and Julie on her blog. Writing does emphasize the experience of sharing and communication, something that we nowadays are deprived of. Like cooking, writing means you spend time thinking about words and about how to mix them up before sending them out. Both Julie and Julia are concerned with publishing, as it means that their voices are heard and that people out there appreciate what they're doing. Publishing, in this sense, is not so different from seeing your friends enjoy the food you just cooked -- sharing something good.

I'm not sure whether I'm doing the same thing here, trying to share something good. But I guess that somewhere somehow in this blog I've laid myself bare for your scrutiny. Sexy feeling, isn't it?

19 April 2010

V for Vendetta

Perhaps V for Vendetta is one of a few films that directly pertains to what is currently happening in Thailand. Centering on the issues of censorship, power, and violence, the film is set in London in the future whereby civil wars are common and violent suppression is something not totally unheard of.

V, the name of the masked man, is unhappy with how the government administers their work through distorted media and a series of cover-ups. People are brainwashed not to think or disagree with how things are run. Those who show a modicum of dissent will be 'silenced' and made disappeared through various means, some of them including the use of fatally poisonous germs. Thus, it's no wonder how in the beginning of the film we see people just go about doing their routine jobs in a very boring setting, where there's no art or literature that may enable them to think and criticize.

This tedious setting is set in contrast to V's own apartment, peopled by a great number of famous paintings and books. This acculturation of early forms of civilization enables V to think differently and abhor the government's cheap media spinning and concocting of lies or partial truths. Besides V was also a victim of the plot by the government to try their new invention -- a fatal germ -- on living people to test for possible immunities. Apparently, none but V survived and his body has ironically been beefed up in this process.

However, watching this film doesn't give me any hope for change. Just look at how surreal the whole thing is presented, how V is modeled on a superhero figure who is both intellectual and distinguished by his bodily stamina. Besides, he's eloquent with words, a feature that is rarely attributed to the majority of heroes who choose to remain reticent. V, on the contrary, talks a lot and somehow one can sense that he'd better be an English teacher than a hero.

There's one thing I don't like about the film -- the torture of Evey Hammond. It turns out that she's been subjected to a series of torments by V's own hands. What I don't understand is how she could forgive him so easily and continue to trust him, despite his misbehavior that could've led to her death. However, there're also some points that strike me as interesting -- how she needs to learn not to fear death before being part of his team. The film shows that such fearlessness ironically needs violent infliction of pain and mental stress. This leads to a crucial issue in the film, that is, how violence is somehow necessary in the creation of freedom. To have freedom, you must be able to stare at death in the eyes and must also be able to stand out from the crowd. However, in order to do that, you need to be subjected to violence that breaks you from the societal mold. This is simply because somehow peace comes with fear and fear sometimes comes with selfishness.

08 April 2010

The Women

One of the most unlucky aspects of The Women is, despite its star-studded list of actresses, its timing, which is a bit too late. This is because everybody who is interested in this type of film would more or less definitely have seen Sex and the City. The main four characters are quite similar and the fact that all of them dwell in an urban landscape even emphasizes the similarity even more. What is even more strikingly similar is that both films do highlight the power of men, despite the status of present-day city women.

All in all, I don't find the film too objectionable, as most reviews have said. The director does manage to convey the important message that female bonding is indeed crucial and even indispensable at the time when male power is invisibly pervasive, as we literally see no men in the film, apart from the baby in the end.

What is central here is how the city women are stereotyped in this film -- one taking an editorial post in a very trendy women magazine, one a woman who loves to have children and a big loving family, and one a lesbian. But the film does center on another stereotype, which I find banal yet interesting -- a woman who is rich but whose husband has a secret affair with a salesgirl. What we see here is a spoiled housewife who has this ideal American dream facing the 'real' crisis for the first time when her husband is found to have a secret lover. This betrayal is so vital to her growth, making her question what she really wants in life. My first impression here is that, like Sex and the City, this film brings up a lot of questions. It portrays how fragile modern women are, how much they are sheltered from real life, and how such a middle-class life blinds them to so much that could've happened in their life. No wonder that while a lot of city women may identify themselves with the film, a lot as well would find these problems too banal and light -- so insignificant and repetitive that a budget and a powerful cast should not have been wasted.

Perhaps the genre of romantic comedy does hinder the serious development of the film, as we see Mary excel in her fashion designing career and then able to be financially independent. What would've happened if she had failed? What would've happened if her daughter had liked the mistress of her husband? In other words, what if the film cares a little bit more to show the harsh realities of life in the city, where not everything is rosy?