Political Film Review #353

BIOPICS SHED NEW LIGHT
Vincere (Italian word for “win”) is about Benito Mussolini’s secret wife and child. Mussolini, while an anti-monarchist socialist, was on the wanted list by the Italian royal government. One day, while pursued by the Carabinieri, Mussolini (played by Filippo Tini) is protected by Ida Dalser (played by Giovanna Mezzogiorno), and they carry on an affair. However, Mussolini has a public marriage with another woman, so after his ascension to power, Ida and Benito Junior (played by Fabrizio Costella) are arrested and placed into insane asylums to keep them out of the way. One wonders whether current Italian politics prompted the film, directed by Marco Bellocchio, which portrays their treatment, how they react to their treatment, and ends with credits containing dates of their death. Interspersed within the narrative are documentary clips of the era. The Political Film Society has nominated Vincere as best film exposé of 2010. MH

A second biopic, Creation, directed by Jon Amiel, is about Charles Darwin (played by Paul Bettany) during the time when he had writer’s cramp. Although he had completed all the research required to publish his On the Origin of Species (1859), and he was encouraged if not goaded by Joseph Hooker (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and Thomas Huxley (played by Tony Jones), he is unable to move his pen to finish the book that was eventually sold out on the day of its publication. The preacher in town, the Reverend Innes (played by Jeremy Northam), discourages him from writing, knowing that acceptance of his ideas made God less responsible for the flora and fauna of the planet. He and his spouse Emma (played by Jennifer Connelly) are estranged, and she sides with Innes. Darwin also exhibits psychosomatisms, notably a trembling hand. Alfred Russell Wallace, who articulated the concept of natural selection in a twenty-page essay during 1858, surprises him but still does not get Darwin off his duff to write. The real reason for his inability to write is psychological, buried in an event that haunts him, awaiting a mental exorcism. Based on the book Annie’s Box (2001) by Randal Keynes, the film is much too slowmoving. MH

THE PARADIGM OF THE HARIMAYA BRIDGE INSPIRES GENERATIONS OF JAPANESE
According to legend, as explained later in the film, a beautiful woman and a Shinto priest were separately banished after he gave her a hairpin as a sign of his love while both were on the bridge. A replica of the bridge is reproduced in the same town, Kochi, the site of the film, as well as painted on the canvass of Mickey Holder (played by Victor Grant), an African American artist and teacher who died one day in an auto accident in the Harimaya Bridge. Directed by Aaron Willfolk, the film focuses on Mickey’s father, Daniel (played by Bennett Guillory), who flies from San Francisco to Japan after his son’s death for one purpose–to retrieve Mickey’s art legacy. Daniel’s trip is clouded with the memory that his own father died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. However, Daniel has to learn not only about his son’s life in Japan but about Japanese culture. As for the latter, he finds out a lot: (1) Japanese are very polite and bow to show respect. (2) Japanese keep their homes, offices, and streets spotless. (3) Knocking on a stranger’s door is a police matter. (4) Despite all the bombing in World War II, nature and landscaping blend into perfect harmony. (5) Japanese smile a lot and rarely show negative emotions. (6) They never contradict. (7) They defer to and trust authority and tradition. (8) Japanese treasure gifts. The last point is where the culture clash is most intense. Daniel wants to take all his son’s art work back to San Francisco, even those given as gifts, and he has a list of all those to whom his son gave his paintings. Upon arrival, Daniel is met by members of the Education Office who supervised his position as teacher, and he asks the staff to collect the art for him so that he can speedily return to San Francisco. The staff does not want to comply, of course, so they find a way to defer Daniel’s request without offending him—asking him to make the request personally. Accordingly, Daniel meets his son’s Japanese bride, Noriko Kubo (played Saki Takaoka), and the story of his son’s life in Japan unfolds beautifully with many surprises and more exposure to Japanese culture along the way. MH