Hannah and her sisters (1986)

This is the review of Hannah and her sisters, the only Woody Allen movie I have seen complete, well that doesn’t mean the others are bad. Hannah and her sisters caught my attention when I read the synopsis on imdb, where it more or less says that the movie is about Hannah and her sisters and how they all keep changing partners until they find the perfect match for each other. That’s what it says in the synopsis, but the film actually portrays a very human phenomenon and I feel very difficult to portray, which is the loss of the dominant position within the family (which happens to Hannah towards the end) and how the rest of the people adapt to this new context following the logic of their own idiosyncrasies. To show this interesting change in the family dynamics, the director/screenwriter takes a lot of chapters to advance the plot in a very particular way (I guess for those who love Woody Allen’s films it shouldn’t be that particular, but for an initiated it is!) jumping between characters over and over again, but let’s be honest, not always with a cohesive logical structure, although honestly, what does it matter! In some parts it seems that the movie doesn’t have a defined theme, especially the parts that correspond to the character Woody Allen plays (the hypochondriac) compared to the rest of the movie, don’t seem to have a thematic relation until almost the end of the story. None of this detracts from the entertainment and interest of the story, which concludes with this change in the hierarchical structure of the family.

But… what is the movie about? Well, it’s mostly about Hannah’s sisters, who start the story without having reached the fullness of their lives (without having formed a stable family), unlike Hannah, who welcomes them happily at home with her husband and daughters. At this point in the film, Hannah has the upper hand with her sisters and stands as the benevolent and concerned queen, ready to help but also to remind them of all the problems that keep the family in the way it is currently configured. After the opening scene, where they come together to celebrate Thanksgiving, we spend part of the film watching Hannah’s husband get involved in a love affair with Lee (the sister played by Barbara Hershey), who is living with an older painter (who was also her teacher). At the same time, Holly (the sister played by Dianne Wiest) struggles to find work as a theater actress with her friend April, who ends up beating her in the castings… and in love too! So it goes with poor Holly, who in one revealing scene realizes that, although she has some acting chops, she can’t compete with her friend’s talent and panache.

So let’s say that the film is about Hannah having a settled life (or so she thinks), while her sisters struggle to build a meaningful life following their desires (obvious because the film is also based on the story of an extended family with enough resources). While Holly takes a path that leads her to abandon her dreams of becoming an actress, to later make the decision to try her hand as a writer, Lee leaves the painter to maintain a clandestine relationship with Hannah’s husband. While this happens, we are also involved in the story of Mickey (Woody Allen), who suffers from hypochondria and even fantasizes about being diagnosed with terminal cancer, a situation that leads him to lose the meaning of life and seek solace in different religions. It is worth mentioning that Mickey is Hannah’s first husband and that their relationship was ruined after Mickey discovers that he is infertile. So, while Mickey, who is a television writer, debates with the gods about the fate of life, Holly and Lee wander again and again in the search for emotional stability.

And how does the story end? Well, in the end everyone is happy except Hannah and her husband Elliot, who pay for the success of Hannah’s sisters via worsening their own relational situation. Partly because the first script Holly writes relates to Hannah’s life, with things about her that are personal and that she resents being known (although we could also interpret that she is really upset that her sister is achieving success and this makes her uncomfortable). The other problem that the couple faces in the end is Elliot’s infidelity with Lee, something that is never explicitly talked about in the film, but that constantly appears in the sense of guilt that surrounds both characters, although Lee decides to put an end to the affair and return to study at the university, where she falls in love again with a professor (some people don’t change). But hey, in the end it feels like the movie is about Holly and Mickey, at least they manage to make some change and be happy together (not counting that catastrophic first date). I have the impression that Hannah appears more as the pillar that unifies the stories than as a leading character, so sometimes I think if the movie shouldn’t have been called “Holly and her sisters”, but well, that’s up to the creators I guess. As far as movies about love relationships go, I’d say this film is definitely one of the best I’ve seen, especially because of the clarity in the development of the characters and the conversations between them, the situations they have to face! Things that seem so mundane at a quick glance but are so important in each person’s life story that seeing them portrayed on screen is very interesting. I’m referring to moments like the declaration of an infidelity, a date that goes wrong, the search for a sperm donor or others that we encounter throughout the hour and forty-six minutes that the film lasts.

The good:

  • The characters and the situations they face.
  • Mickey’s religious journey.
  • The end of the story.

The bad:

  • On a few occasions I feel that the device of the character having a monologue in the middle of an action doesn’t come across well constructed (not on all occasions but definitely on some).

Compliance (2012)

Well, this time I think things are a little more difficult than in previous occasions, what can we say about Compliance? This film manages to articulate a story based on what Hannah Arendt described, after her investigation into the crimes of the Nazis against the Jewish people, as the “banality of evil” (but I’m not saying that the film is about Nazis or about Hanna Arendt!). The first thing I can say is that the hour and a half that the film lasts is a difficult journey to endure, the series of situations that occur from the beginning, the growing tension that does not stop and that becomes increasingly claustrophobic gives evidence of the immense ability of the director Craig Zobel to keep us on the edge of our seats, wishing more than anything else that the situation would stop, but at the same time, we know that it will not stop and that things are going to get worse and worse.

But… why did I start remembering Hannah Arendt’s research? Well, because the term “compliance”, which is the name of the film, refers to a characteristic of human psychology in which an individual blindly submits to a request, when this request comes from a person that the individual feels as his or her hierarchical superior. Hannah Arendt went a step further in this respect by describing the motives that led so many Nazi officers and soldiers to commit the horrible attempts on the lives of thousands of people, only to defend themselves by saying that all they had done was obey orders. The banality of the evil consists then in the justification, especially of the officers, who simply could not see the evil they were committing, blinded perhaps by the desire for promotion in their professional careers and having treated the whole affair as one of a merely bureaucratic nature. And it is this same behavior that we find in the protagonist of the story, Sandra Fumm, the manager of a fast food branch, played masterfully by Ann Dowd, who is confronted with a phone call in which an alleged police officer asks her to arrest one of her employees, accused by this same person of stealing from one of the customers. All it takes is for “Officer Daniels” to tell Sandra that he has been in contact with her superior, and she follows all the instructions he gives her, accusing Becky, the alleged thief, without any evidence, and proceeds to strip search her. From here and until the end of the film we witness, time and again, behaviors completely out of line with morality, many of which are recognized by those who commit them (I am referring to Van, Sandra’s boyfriend) but which, nevertheless, they cannot but carry out, in the face of the danger of losing something themselves.

In terms of cinematography, it is important to note that the film presents a different kind of story and characters than what we are used to as spectators. From the choice of the main location, the fast food restaurant and its narrow corridors and rooms, to the conflicts that are generated between the characters, all anchored to the hierarchical structure of an ordinary work. It is important to point out that the main character, Sandra, is not a character with a dramatic arc or who learns a lesson during the development of the film, but she stays in the same position from the beginning. Even in the end, when she is being interviewed about what happened and she declares to be completely innocent, we witness a person who cannot see the impact her own actions have had on others. It is here that the concept that Hannah Arendt coined at the end of her investigations clearly appears, this blindness caused by the indiscriminate desire to remain on the side of the law, of the hierarchy, in an attempt to protect one’s own life, at the expense of autonomy and moral judgment.

In conclusion, I would like to say that Compliance is a film that I think many people should see, because it makes it clear that we human beings are subject to mistakes far beyond what we would like to recognize. The fact that an innocent person can go through a hell like Becky did, while doing a job that wasn’t even transcendental to her, because of another person for whom things did seem to be more transcendental, but again, for all the wrong reasons, is a much closer reality than it seems, since the story in the film is based on real events.

The good stuff:

  • The dramatic intensity that grows with every moment.
  • The outstanding performances of all the characters involved in Becky’s arrest.
  • The final dialogue of the protagonist.

The bad:

  • The beginning of the movie can be uninteresting.

In short… watch or die!

Wall street (1987)

Wall Street is a film by Oliver Stone, one of those (literal) Hollywood big fish. The movie appeared in the middle of the 80’s, which I understand is the time when everything ended up going to hell in cultural terms. Here is one of those critical pieces of human endeavour that shows why it is not worth criticizing in film format (perhaps because it ends up being a cathartic praise), but which also has the value of cynical entertainment that characterizes the medium and the director.

Well… to be honest, I have to say that this movie has disappointed me, although that doesn’t make it a bad movie, I was entertained for most of the 2 hours and a little bit longer. What can I say, let’s see… the film is an oversimplification of the hero’s journey for a protagonist who pays for his sins, mainly against his own father, but redeems himself in the end, finding the moral compass that he abandoned when he started the actions that led him to get what he wanted, money and power. Up to this point, it sounds more or less normal for a movie, a protagonist who has a desire and pursues it relentlessly, to later obtain what he was looking for and pay the consequences of having obtained it. Although this is the typical Hollywood structure, which many people say works so why change it (I think the people who say this perhaps haven’t realized that this is the main reason why modern movies are so predictable), I think the problem doesn’t feel like it’s there specifically, but in the narrative.

In the beginning of the relationship between the main character of the story, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) and the antagonist Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), the latter gives a series of instructions to Bud to produce premeditated movements in the stock market, with the intention of obtaining personal gain. This is the “Gekko method” which can be summarized as creating fictitious movements, via the purchase or sale of a large number of shares, and then using a mass media to intervene in public opinion and “guide” stock buyers to follow the game. Let us consider the “Gekko method” as a fictional device, probably resulting from an investigation of the stock market by the scriptwriter, used by the antagonist to carry out his antagonistic desires (namely, to treat the rest as sacrificial sheep), something like an abstract sword to tyrannize the masses (without pursuing with the last statement any political position). So far so good, Bud learns this way of doing business and ultimately uses the same weapon against Gekko (from mentor to antagonist), by regretting sending his father (Martin Sheen) to the hospital, after betraying him to get the position of CEO in the company where the father works (slaughtering him like a vile sheep).

Sounds logical, doesn’t it? But wait… if it was so easy to beat the antagonist, just use his own technique against him… now, let’s concede that Bud is acting with the help of the antagonist’s archenemy (the enemy of my enemy is my ally?). Maybe you’re thinking right now, but this is a small detail in a successful movie, wait, I’m not making my point yet (I think). What I mean is that in this climate scene the antagonist loses all his power, even in retrospect, as if all his previous actions become meaningless. After so many years in the ruthless business of power and money… has anything like this ever happened to him before? A tycoon overdrawn in resources is defeated by a newbie using the weapon that the same tycoon has taught him? It’s possible, I know… maybe deep down Gekko was more interested in getting between Darryl Hannah’s legs, we don’t know. But deep down I feel that there’s one last twist missing, one that puts the protagonist in a real predicament, that brings him completely against the wall. What if Gekko pre-empts Bud’s plan and makes him fail in his attempt, causing Sir Lawrence Wildman (Gekko’s archenemy) to lose a lot of money? This would leave Bud with not one, but two billionaire enemies to confront, forcing him to surrender to justice, sacrificing himself to bring to light the malicious practices of the powerful. But no… the story goes to the moralistic side and reminds us that “honesty and hard work are worth more than billions of dollars” and that “doing the right thing leads you to accept that you are just another ant in the anthill”. Those who have seen the end of the film will understand me. The rest of the movie I really like, the exploration of the world of finance gives you that sense of contrived dynamism that in real life happens maybe sporadically and most of the characters are attractive and interesting to me (Bud’s friend in the office gets all the awards). Something that disturbs me a little about the film is a character that appears in the office where Bud works, he is a gentleman of parsimonious walk that takes advantage of all the instances to reflect on the moral section of the plot, he is like an angel, a little cricket that in my opinion is completely out of place, I say this because my thinking at this moment is bordering on pure cynicism and utilitarianism and I don’t see any value in the moral turpitude I was completely in love with until I realized that I was also one more of those playful ants that get lost in the collective. Goodbye individual identity, goodbye Gordon Gekko!

The good stuff:

  • Bud’s friend at the office.
  • Some of Gekko’s dialogues are instant classics.
  • The detail of the cigar in Martin Sheen’s character.

The bad stuff:

  • From the climax on it becomes a Christmas story.
  • Excess of moralism.

In short… look for the summarized version on YouTube.