Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Recent movies - La Strada, The Kite Runner

La Strada (1954) - This one has been in my queue forever. It's my first Fellini.

La Strada (Italian for "The Street" or "The Road") is about a simple girl named Gelsomina who is sold by her mother to a brutish traveling strong-man named Zampano (played by Anthony Quinn). The cover of the DVD and focus on Gelsomina in the movie led me to believe that she was the main character, but by the end it turns out that she is an instrument of potential redemption for Zampano, and that it is his arc we will follow. Gelsomina remains innocent throughout all the horrible things she endures: being sold into slavery, being raped by her thuggish master, being left on the streets when Zampano goes carousing and womanizing, being forced to leave any place that gives her comfort, watching Zampano steal from nuns, witnessing a murder, and finally being left by Zampano. By the end it seems that her life was the catalyst for finally breaking his heart.

In the few reviews I've read of the DVD, much has been said of Giullieta's performance as the simple Gelsomina, and indeed her face shows you her heart. Anthony Quinn is also very good as Zampano, though it was interesting that I never realized that his voice was dubbed by an Italian until after I'd finished the movie. The Criterion edition gives you the option to watch the movie with either the English or the Italian dub, and while the Italian is the way to go to hear Giullieta's authentic voice, you really miss out on Quinn's reading of the lines (and I'm rather embarrassed that I mistook the Italian dub for his real voice when it is actually quite different). The Italian actor for him sounds fine, but it's very simple and just sells "brutish thug" without giving the character the nuance that Quinn's inflections add. The movie was made like Leone's Westerns, in that each actor gave their lines in their native language, so Quinn was always speaking English on set while Guillieta (and most everyone else) spoke Italian. It is really fascinating switching back and forth between the language tracks for different scenes.

The Kite Runner (2007) - I read the book recently and enjoyed it, so Amy and I rented the movie. The movie is a pretty good adaptation of the book. It's always hard for me to judge the movie version of something I've seen or read before. Watching the movie is more like following along with a narrator and mentally checking off all the scenes that were left in and those that were left out. Nevertheless, I think I can say that the movie stands on its own.

The casting is pretty good. I pictured perhaps a bigger man playing Baba, but his face and demeanor were perfect. The boys were also good, though I missed the story of Hassan's hare-lip from the book. They changed Assef's character a bit too, leaving out the half-German heritage from the book, but I suppose it would have been hard to cast that role (aside from the fact that it would lengthen the movie with a minor plot point).

It's a tough story thematically, and the movie stays close to that. The books deals more with it, but it tells the story of two boys growing up in pre-Taliban Afghanistan, right up to the point where the Soviets invaded, and then jumps to America for a while, then to Taliban controlled Afghanistan, and eventually ends up in modern day America. It's a unique perspective to view events from, given our ties to Afghanistan now. It's interesting too having watched this after Charlie Wilson's War, which also dealt with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

I'd recommend the book for the more complete story, but the movie is a fine one.


jeri said...

I enjoyed La Strada too. I'm slowly, here and there, delving into the old Italian cinema, and this is one of the better ones, in my opinion.

Nobody said...

I missed the Kite Runner but I liked Stranger Than Fiction so I'm looking forward to seeing Forster's take on an action movie like Bond.