Political Film Review #496

‘Tis the season for heartwarming movies, and The 33 may top the genre for 2015, just five years after 33 men were rescued from a Chilean mine for 69 days (though filming is at a mine in Colombia). But the film is not entirely a feel-good film because of their suffering and the confrontational tactics of their relatives. The latter, in particular María Segovia (played by Juilette Binoche), refuse to allow the miners to be left to die, as that is the original aim of management of the San José Mine. First opened for copper and gold mining in 1869, the mine previously collapsed five times with no survivors–but that was in the age before international media could broadcast a breaking news story on a daily basis. In any case, many relatives now demand their rescue in democratic Chile, and President Sebástian Piñera (Bob Gunton) is persuaded by Minister of Mines Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro) to respond fully. A tent city is erected, and schooling is provided for children of the men. The world is watching, and drills to free the miners come from several countries in order to dig to the depth of 2,300 feet. But while the drama plays out topside, the miners discover that their safety has never been a priority: There is insufficient food and medicines, communications from the bottom are not working, and a stairway was never completed for them to climb out, even assuming that they could go beyond the cave-in below the Atacama Desert. (A title at the beginning claims that 12,000 miners die annually.) Most extraordinary is how the miners bind together: Foreperson Luis “Don Lucho” Urzúa (Lou Diamond Phillips), supported by experienced miner and natural leader Mario Sepúlveda (Antonio Banderas), maintains strict control over what little food is available while trying to maintain calm and camaraderie as emotions flare from time to time. Although Piñera promises miners $10,000 each for a year to recover, titles at the end state that the miners got nothing, though the San Estéban Mining Company was found negligent. Directed by Patricia Riggen, the film is based in part on information contained in Héctor Tobar’s Deep Dark Down: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free (2014). The Political Film Society has nominated The 33 as best film on human rights and best film on democracy of 2015. MH

After serving as a marine for five years of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, Joe Caruso (played by Michael Markiewicz) returns to his Staten Island home but is plagued by memories of intense combat, including dead bodies, which are presented on the screen as flashbacks. He cannot sleep without nightmares, and during the day painful memories seem easily triggered. He cannot relate to Sarah Quinn (Tina Grimm), whom he promised to marry, does not look for a job, becomes an alcoholic, and annoys his grandfather Max Schell (Louis Vanaria) with whom he lives. But why add another to the genre of films featuring post-traumatic stress disorder, such as The Deer Hunter (1978), The War at Home (1996), and In the Valley of Elah (2007)? In the case of Joe’s War, directed by Phil Falcone, some remedies are suggested: visits to psychiatrist Dr. Michael Galante (Armand Asaante)—not supplied by Veterans’ Administration—, friendship with Sal (Anthony J. Gallo), who has gone through the same recent experience, and discussion with his grandfather who finally reveals that he had PTSD after the American war in Vietnam. But Joe’s recovery begins after a year, much too late. MH