Writers Choice

WRITERS CHOICE- This month’s theme is ‘FREEDOM’

‘Writers Choice’ is a new segment at screenqueens. Each month a theme will be chosen and the contributors asked to choose a film to mini-review based around said theme. This month’s theme is ‘freedom’.

persepolis_ver2_xlgPERSEPOLIS (2007)

Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical cartoon about growing up a girl during the Iranian Revolution, based on Satrapi’s graphic novel of the same title. Marji is outspoken, rebellious and intelligent; the film cleverly tells the stories of the lives of ordinary Iranians swept up in radical political changes and the horrific state-sponsored violence and oppression. Marji’s Marxist parents teach her about the importance of questioning the world around her and independence of thought, while at school she is taught to respect the authority of the regime of the day (pre-revolution, the children are told to love the Shah; post-revolution, they rip the images of the Shah from their textbooks). When Marji is fourteen, her parents become afraid that her outspokenness will land her in trouble, so they send her to alone to Austria. But Marji finds life in the “free” Europe to be just as oppressive, as she struggles with her Iranian identity. She falls in with the “misfit” crowd at school, but Marji just sees them to be superficial, only interested in sex, drugs and listening to her accounts of war (while at the same time dismissing her experiences as soon as they clash with their nihilistic world-view). When Marji is eighteen, her life rapidly falls to pieces, so she returns to Iran – where she discovers much has changed and rebuilds herself and her life.

Marji literally escapes the repressive extremist islamist regime as a teenager by travelling to start a new life in Austria, as her parents fear she will be arrested for speaking out against the regime. She again literally escapes from Europe, when returns to Iran as an adult after suffering heartbreak, depression and homelessness. It also contains more subtle forms of escape. Marji’s family and friends escape from the government’s control by hosting illegal parties. Thirteen-year-old Marji escapes by buying Iron Maiden tapes from the black market and wearing a denim jacket. The bored teenagers, who Marji meets in Austria, try to escape the ennui of their safely middle-class lives by taking drugs and reading anarchist philosophers.

Being written and directed by an Iranian woman, the film doesn’t fall into the traps that media about the Middle East produced by Westerners too often does; it doesn’t rely on lazy racist stereotyping of Muslims or Iranians (the “poor little meek oppressed Muslim woman” doesn’t pop up here), nor does it patronise it’s characters.

BECHDEL TEST?

100%. This film has plenty of well-rounded female characters, and is also written and directed by a woman, based on a book by the same woman, so extra points! –Molly Kerkham

dazed_and_confused_ver2DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993)

Set in 1976 in Texas, Dazed and Confused follows a group of “loser friends” who try and find a party on the last day of school before summer and attempt to get Aerosmith tickets. Sounds clichéd? It is: the word “man” is used 203 times. The freedom the teens seem to live in this imagined 70’s time capsule is almost unimaginable today, no mobiles, twitter, Instagram, facebook or let alone any internet to keep track of each other or stop them from leaving the house. Adults make attempts to control the teens, which have little to no effect, cheap beer can be bought anywhere and almost everyone can drive. Made 17 years on its fantastically nostalgic, so rose tinted that a character even remarks “If I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself”. This film is just all about the freedom of summer, where dusk till dawn you can wander the suburbs drinking and smoking and doing pretty much whatever the hell you want, even if it seems you’re not really doing anything. –Reba

the-lives-of-others-posterTHE LIVES OF OTHERS (2006)

The lives of Others is a German film, directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and originally “Das Leben der anderen”. It portrays Eastern Germany in the ‘80s, a society of ingrained suspicion and terror. On one level it is a thriller, on another a historical insight into life under the Stasi, which may have something to do with its winning an Oscar as well as a BAFTA for best foreign language film.

The film’s focus is around Georg Dreyman, a playwright (Sebastian Koch) and his actress girlfriend – Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), a couple under surveillance from the Stasi, though not due to anti-regime behaviour. Once Hauptmann, their surveyor (and main protagonist in my opinion – Ulrich Mϋhe) realises the pair are not black-listed and are simply being watched because a minister of the regime wants Dreyman gone so he can court Sieland – his view of them changes considerably, and he can see how in love they are.
Though Dreyman is a communist, he is wary of the state’s fascist surveillance and once a close friend commits suicide, Dreyman is pushed to publish an article on suicide rates in Eastern Germany, which had been covered up. The Stasi, of course, are furious and open a case to find the author. I won’t give the rest away because the end of the movie is an amazing twist, but I cannot recommend it enough, it is a GREAT film and writing this makes me want to watch it again!! The cinematography is not particularly notable but the plot is what makes this film so good, its theatrical tragedies and characters are, rightly, given centre stage due to the dull backdrop of 1980s East Germany. –Josie

With regards to the theme of freedom, this film is striking in its portrayal of the total lack of freedom that East German citizens had during the Cold War period: lack of freedom to travel, lack of freedom to publish work and lack of freedom to express personal views. This film shows a completely different spectrum of control in a society, something which is unique to the German Democratic Republic, though at the same time makes you question to what extent we also live under a Big Brother-type regime.

good_bye_leninGOODBYE, LENIN! (2003)

In Cold War Eastern Berlin in 1989, the socialist activist Christiane Kerner (Katrin Saβ) slips into an eight month coma after seeing her son at a rally against the State. Whilst she sleeps, the Berlin Wall falls, capitalism spreads throughout Berlin and her adored East Germany vanishes completely. Upon Christiane’s awakening her family are told she is so weak that she must avoid all forms of excitement. Her two children Alex (Daniel Brϋhl) and Ariane (Maria Simon) cannot let their mother learn of the momentous events that have swept through Germany or she will have a heart attack and die.

Hey remember Frederick Zoller from Inglourious Basterds?? Well you’re looking at him and he remains just the cutest little thing, but this time not a Nazi. Daniel Brϋhl’s portrayal of Alex is so endearing, constantly scampering around desperately trying to keep his family happy. He goes to great lengths to keep his mother safely in the dark, creating false news broadcasts and searching everywhere for her favourite Spreewald gherkins.

The film makes the audience question the true nature of freedom. Alex is free in a new, exciting Western world, but trapped by his mother’s condition. He is unable to fully seize the capitalist opportunities that await him and is forced to watch bleakly from the outside as others leap into consumerist euphoria.
Then we have Christiane who is free in her mind. Unaware of the true nature of her environment she lives in pitiful (??) delight. Maybe ignorance is bliss after all.

Good Bye Lenin! is a deeply funny and charming account of freedom. The Cold War is freshly presented in a previously unseen personal light. It’s also fairly educational and you find yourself learning a lot about a no-so-long-ago, but utterly bizarre state of affairs. As an after note I would personally like to remind everyone not to listen to anyone who tries to tell you that German is an ugly language because you do not need that sort of negativity in your life. –Joey

into_the_wild_xlgINTO THE WILD (2007)

‘Two years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. So now, after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual revolution. No longer to be poisoned by civilization, he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild. Alexander Supertramp. May 1992.’

Based on a true story, Into The Wild follows Christopher McCandless (or Alexander Supertramp as he likes to be known) on his ultimate act of freedom; living off the land. Seen by some as a foolish privileged white boy and to others an inspiration, Into The Wild definitely draws some controversy and we see Christopher (played by the wonderful Emile Hirsch) leave behind everything he owns to become an ‘aesthetic voyager’ and trek into the Alaskan wilderness with very little supplies or knowledge.

In my eyes it is a truly stunning vision into the very extremes of human nature and how we have become so accustomed to our corporate capitalist world, Christopher states ‘I think careers are a 21st century invention and I don’t want one’. To me this is the film at its purest form, an escape from an all too daunting world, limiting ourselves to basic necessities and just being ‘out there in it’.

Directed by Sean Penn and accompanied by a stunning soundtrack by Eddie Vedder there is no doubt that this is one of the most beautiful and inspiring films I have seen. –Chloe

Aargo_xlgRGO (2012)

It’s 1979 and an Iranian revolution has taken over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Over 50 Americans are taken hostage, but six manage to escape and hide out at a Canadian ambassador’s home. The six’s escape is still not known to the Iranians and so the U.S. State Department over in America start looking in to ways to rescue them back to the United States before they find out. This is when Ben Affleck (who also directed the film)’s character, Tony Mendez, a U.S. Central Intelligence Agencyexfiltration specialist, comes in to play. While thinking of ways to get the six and himself out of Iran safely, he comes up with an outrageous and risky plan. He proposes that they start a movie, a fake movie to be more specific, called Argo. He will go in to Tehran as the producer of the sci-fi film Argo and pick up the other six Americans who will be his “Canadian film crew” that were in Iran scouting exotic locations for the film. Mendez’s colleague mumbles that “this is the best bad idea we have”, and with the lack of time for the Americans’ safety, the plan is quickly set to work.

Although mostly aware of how this movie was going to end when watching it, this movie had me at the edge of my seat. The pacing of the film was great and the suspense was almost too much for me to handle. I almost felt the need to fast forward to the end of the film and make sure the Americans returned to freedom safely. Intense, well-paced, and suspenseful, this based on true-life thriller is definitely Ben Affleck’s best work yet. The only thing I would mention though is that, although many critics have claimed the film to have been quite accurate to the real event, some have said the film is a narrow and distorted view of the event. Yes, the movie is an American movie, from the point of view of an American, but most scenes approach the Iranian people as unintelligible, loud, screaming, bearded monsters. The screaming, the pushing, and the waves of weapons does effect the fear generated from the film but it is important to know that this film is clearly viewed from the American’s eyes. –Rena

les_miserables_ver11_xlgLES MISERABLES (2012)

The first week I got Les Mis on DVD I watched it four times. I’m still not really sure how I managed that given its running time of 158 minutes, but, being an absolute sucker for musicals I just couldn’t resist. Based on the historical French novel by Victor Hugo, and directed by Tom Hooper we follow Jean Valjean, or “Prisoner 24601” through his struggle for freedom in 19th century France. Broken dreams, passion, loneliness, heartbreak and of course the struggle for freedom are all major themes throughout, making it a bit of an emotional roller coaster, but nevertheless, a gripping film. I think Hooper’s real stroke of genius was to make the cast sing live on set, rather than pre record the songs in the studio. The film’s dialogue is almost entirely communicated through song, so the fact the recording was live gave the words such a raw and vibrant touch of reality, perhaps the reason I find it so easy to watch time and time again. The cinematography for me was another huge attraction. A scene that stands out in my memory particularly being immediately after Valjean’s escape; when he has to scope a landscape so vast and daunting and contrasting to the claustrophobic opening of the film. Something about the film really captivated me. –Imogen

shawshank_redemption_ver1THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)

Although an obvious film to choose for the theme of freedom, The Shawshank Redemption is one that cannot be missed out. Known to many as the best movie ever made, and arguably the best adapted movie from the wonderful mind of Stephen King, it tells us the story of Andy Defrense (Tim Robbins) a young, successful banker, who’s life changes drastically when he is wrongly convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover and sentenced to life time imprisonment. When in prison, he makes friends with Red (Morgan Freeman), where he tries to adapt to prison life and goes on an unforgettable journey within the confinement of the prison walls. I think what makes this movie be considered one of the best movies ever for most is that it is such an eloquent deception of hope, friendship, and redemption. Although Andy is going through such hardship, he never looses hope and never gives up on his quest to become a free man again. It does not pretend to be something it is not- it tells it like it is. It is brutal, violent and horrifying but what emerges from it can only be described as a magnificent piece of art. –Hayleigh

girl_affiche3GIRL, INTERRUPTED (1999)

Before the beginning of Girl interrupted the main character, Susanna (Winona Ryder), has lost her motivation after graduating high school. She engages in an affair with a married man and eventually attempts to commit suicide. The story begins when Susanna is advised to spend some time at Claymoore mental hospital. Susanna has an eventful time at Claymoore, where she befriends; psychopathic Lisa (Angelina Jolie), pathological liar Georgina (Clea DuVall), sexually abused Daisy (Brittany Murphy), burn victim PollY (Elizabeth Moss) and Nurse Valerie (Whoopi Goldberg).

Every character in Girl Interrupted struggles with their freedom in different ways. Susanna is always striving for freedom as she refuses to attend college or “end up like her mother” and rebels against societal norms with her ‘promiscuity’. Throughout her stay at Claymoore Susanna becomes less and less concerned with her freedom, as she grows more and more accustom to life in the institution. She learns to exercise what little choices she has available (e.g. faking swallowing her pills) and to feel free through these acts of disobedience. Her character is always tired of life, detached and directionless but during her stay at Claymoore we see her become more and more passionate and defiant. On a more sinister note this leads to one of the points made by the movie, that if you spend too long without experiencing freedom you forget what it is. This is clearest when Susanna’s boyfriend (Jared Leto) offers to run away with her and she refuses claiming she now relies on the support of Claymoore. Susanna in general demonstrates the institutionalisation, as the easier it seems for her to leave Claymoore the more she relies on it. Lisa is the most powerful strong character in the movie (to the point where I thought Susanna’s name was Jamie because that’s what Lisa says a couple times). Lisa is desperate for escape but her idea of freedom is flawed and idealistic and in the end she always comes back to Claymoore. Lisa demonstrates knowledge of this referring to her self as a “lifer”.

Overall the film is very pro freedom or at least anti other people restricting yours. However it sends the message that your imprisonment is only as bad as you make it by showing fun times had between the girls whilst still in the institution. It also projects the idea that freedom isn’t as black and white as it may appear. Daisy is the first girl who is released from the hospital but is the most trapped of all, under the thumb of her abusive father. Even Daisy doesn’t realise the futility of her attempt of freedom until it is brutally pointed out to her by Lisa. Another point made by the movie is that institutionalisation is a sane reaction to restricted freedom. The movies saner patients (Susanna and Georgina) at the hospital all seem fairly institutionalised and reliant upon Claymoore while Lisa at the other end of the spectrum fights her imprisonment from start to finish. The predominantly female cast allows several points about feminism to be raised. The restrictions placed on the character’s freedom aren’t only due to their mental health issues but also due to their gender. Susanna’s promiscuous behaviour becomes a factor behind why society believes that she is mentally ill but the same wouldn’t be said for a man at that time. –Bella

posterEVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED (2005)

Everything is Illuminated, a screen adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s first novel, depicts the tale of Jonathan (Elijah Wood), a young Jewish man, who is searching for answers regarding his family’s history. Phew! That was a mouth full. Since this month’s theme is “freedom,” Everything is Illuminated, one of my all time favorite films, came to mind. The beginning of the film revolves around Jonathan’s trip to the Ukraine where he meets Alex Perchov (Eugene Hutz), his translator, and Alex’s grandfather (Boris Leskin), his driver.  Alex’s grandfather is “blind” and apparently needs his dog Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. around at all times because she’s his “seeing-eye-bitch”. The Perchov family runs a business where they give tours to American Jews so that they can be reconnected to their families’ past. Although the book goes back and forth between Jonathan and Alex’s writing, Jonathan is portrayed as a collector in the film. His hobby of collecting artifacts that belonged to his deceased family members began as a little boy when his grandfather, Safran Foer (Stephen Samudovsky), died. (Sidenote: Isn’t it cool that Jonathan Safran Foer used his own name for two of his characters?!) He was in his grandfather’s room at the time of his death and noticed a cricket encased in amber. Years later, his grandmother (Jana Hrabetova) is in the same room in her bed when she gives Jonathan a Star of David necklace and an old photograph that his grandfather wanted him to have.

The photograph is what motivated Jonathan to start the journey. Every one of his family member’s picture is pinned to the walls of his bedroom with their objects in plastic Ziploc bags pinned below them. He realizes that he barely knows anything about his grandfather, let alone the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazi liquidation, Augustine (Tereza Veselkova). When he tells Alex and Alex’s grandfather that he wishes to find her in Trachimbrod, Alex’s grandfather seems unsettled, but doesn’t explain why. When they finally reach the beautiful meadow of sunflowers where they believe Augustine lives, (spoiler!) a woman named Lista (Laryssa Lauret), her sister, is there instead. She has boxes upon boxes of collected items from dead Jews. It turns out that Augustine was shot during the Nazi liquidation when her father would not spit on the Torah. Lista recognizes Alex’s grandfather and recalls that he was the man who was supposed to have been killed by the Nazis, but managed to survive. At this point, Alex’s grandfather has a flashback where he is lined up against a wall with other men. The camera pans up to his face, revealing the Star of David stitched to the outside of his jacket. In the distance, a woman with a scarf covering her face is watching. After the sound of gunshots are heard, the scene cuts to a pile of bodies of dead Jewish men. The woman approaches the pile of men and begins to collect their belongings. The woman is Lista. Suddenly, Alex’s grandfather emerges, takes off his jacket, and throws it into the pile before walking away.

The idea of “freedom” is challenged in this film. The obvious form of freedom, or lack of freedom, is the Nazi liquidation. However, Lista, Jonathan, Alex, and Alex’s grandfather individually have internal struggles with freedom:

Jonathan: His constant need to collect items from his family’s past stems from not wanting to forget. By collecting things, he can piece together his past, and therefore create a solid identity. Throughout the film, Jonathan is a soft-spoken, skeptical man. He feels as if he does not have the freedom to live his life to the fullest until he has all the answers to his history. His perspective changes when Lista asks Jonathan why Augustine buried her wedding ring before being killed. He says it is because she wanted to be remembered, but Lista tells him, “The ring is not here because of us. We are here because of the ring.” She then gives Jonathan a box of artifacts with the ring included for him to keep. This debunks Jonathan’s theory that it is his duty to expose the life of his deceased family members. Their stories will live on and will reveal themselves on their own. He collects two bags the soil from Trachimbrod, which he finds out was destroyed, and uses one to pour over his grandfather’s grave.

Alex: Besides giving tours to American Jews, Alex never associated himself with Jewish traditions. Everything changes when he finds out that his own grandfather was once a Jew. When Alex and Jonathan depart, Jonathan gives Alex his grandfather Safran’s Star of David necklace. This is the moment when Alex is free to accept his identity, even when his own grandfather didn’t. At the end of the film he is seen writing to Jonathan. He states, “Everything is illuminated in the light of the past. It is always along the side of us on the inside looking out. Like you say, “inside-out”. In this way, I will always be along the side of your life and you will always be along the side of mine. Our families will be with us. And our families’ families. Your grandfather, and perhaps in some way, my grandfather as well.”

Alex’s grandfather: When Alex’s grandfather has the flashback of throwing away his jacket with the Star of David on it, he is recalling the time he gave away is identity. It was unsafe for him to identify as a Jew, so he erased this portion of himself and kept it from his family. His meeting with Lista changes his perspective when she shows him the tombstones of the men who died at Trachimbrod. These men died because they were Jewish, but their stories carried on. At the end of the film, he “frees” himself by committing suicide in a bathtub. Alex is dumbfounded by this at first, but then makes the conclusion that perhaps his grandfather wanted to bury his past with him, now that he was finally content for the first time. Alex pours soil from Trachimbrod that Jonathan gives him on top of his grandfather’s grave, so he is literally buried with his past.

Lista: Although Lista relates to Jonathan in the sense that they both collect items from deceased people, she is stuck in the past. She has constant reminders that she lost her sister and has not left her home since the war. Jonathan gives her the amber cricket that belonged to Augustine, which gives her a peace of mind. She asks Alex’s grandfather if the war is over, to which he responds by kissing her hand and stating that it is, in fact, over.

The letter that Alex writes to Jonathan at the end of the film is a book titled Everything is Illuminated. The last sentence in the book, and the last spoken line in the film is, “I am sending you this because we have shared something to exist for. And of course, in case anyone comes searching.” Both Jonathan and Alex share the freedom to identify with their family’s history, something that can never be destroyed. –Cristina

slc-punk-movie-poster-1999-1020364980SLC PUNK (1998)

It’s 1985 and Stevo (Matthew Lillard) is punk as fuck. In this era of Reagan Republicanism, the densely Mormon town of Salt Lake City (SLC) is teeming with conservative values. Stevo and his blue hair have no business gallivanting around, blasting the Sex Pistols and screaming about anarchy.

Written and directed by James Merendino, SLC Punk is the narrated memories of Stevo, once a wealthy punk rocker from a broken home. The punk subculture that he associates with stands in stark contrast to the highly conservative Mormon Church that influences the opinions of much of Salt Lake. Stevo rejects many of the other youth subcultures, such as the mods, hippies, Nazis, and rednecks, because to him and his friends, everything else is selling out and punk-anarchism is the only true path to enlightenment.

To legally be an adult is to have one’s first taste of freedom. As Stevo so eloquently put it, “I love you guys, don’t get me wrong. But for the first time in my life I’m eighteen and I can say fuuuuuuck youuu.” However, this “freedom” is ephemeral. Freedom, ironically, is nothing without a construct within which it can be distinguished from subordination. The punk lifestyle is one such construct. To be a punk is to reject societal standards and therefore be free. Stevo and his friends took full advantage of their freedom—drinking, fucking, and fighting as they damn well pleased.

Over the course of the film, it becomes apparent that the punk lifestyle isn’t sustainable. Stevo begins to see the dark side of rampant drug use and senseless violence. As his friends fall victim to homelessness and even overdose, Stevo reassesses his father’s pleas for him to enroll at Harvard Law. He puts away his Doc Martens and his nihilistic worldview, choosing to conform and follow the well-to-do path his father had paved for him. –Katarina

boat_that_rocked_ver6THE BOAT THAT ROCKED (2009)

The Boat That Rocked, directed by Richard Curtis, tells the story of a fictitious pirate radio station named ‘Radio Rock’, and it’s group of DJs who broadcast music to the UK from a ship in the North Sea. Throughout the film, we see the battle between them and the government, who are determined to shut them down, intermingled with scenes about the people on board the ship concerning love, family and friendship.

The film begins with Carl (Tom Sturridge) arriving onboard to stay with his godfather, played by Bill Nighy (which instantly makes the film even better). Carl is allowed to stay on a boat in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of music-obsessed, cigarette-smoking adults and not attend school – which is basically every teenager’s dream. This, combined with the all of brightly coloured 60s clothing is enough to make you cry for a couple of days after watching it because your life is nothing like this (probably just me, really).

But it is also one of those films that make you want to DO STUFF and put what you’re passionate about first. Since I watched The Boat That Rocked I have admired every character for their determination to do things that only make them happy. And to me, that’s freedom. But they are free not just because they are no longer stuck doing things they don’t care about, but because when they’re working for the radio they don’t have anyone telling them what to do. They are essentially in their own little bubble, surrounded by all that is important to them, and I think that’s something everyone could be envious of.

I keep coming back to The Boat That Rocked because of this idea of freedom, which I personally am envious of. I admire the film for it’s light-hearted representation of everything; it’s passion for music, but most importantly because of the independence given to the characters. Not only are they free, in a sense, but also this does not have any negative consequences for the characters. Freedom is something that is represented as achievable, and although it does inevitably come to an end, the film seems to imply that it is something that is important to experience – if only for a brief period. –Georgia

 

 

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