This week was a week of rest, Mid-semester Break according to the Thompson Rivers University calendar, so I used it to the fullest. Rather than go out and track down cultural events, I decided to be a couch potato and watch some internationally focused movies: My Name is Khan, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles and Waste Land. These three movies were played during the International Days festival at my university and I highly recommend them.
My Name is Khan (directed by Karan Johar) was the first movie I’ve watched in a while with the ability to make me cry. It is about a Muslim man named Rizwan Khan (Shahrukh Khan). He has Asperger syndrome, which impedes his life but also lends him the gift of repairing any mechanical problem. He moves from Mumbai to America to live near his brother when his mother passes away. Once there he meets a Hindu woman, Mandira (Kajol Devgn) and her son Sameer (Yuvaan Makaar). 9-11 strikes and Muslims are persecuted everywhere in the United States. Hindus are also attacked because they are mistaken for Muslims. After a series of events, Mandira challenges Khan to find the President of the United States of America and say to him, and through him to every citizen of the country, “My name is Khan. And I am not a terrorist.” This drives Khan on a journey across the country as he seeks to tell the country that just because he is Muslim it doesn’t mean he’s a terrorist.
Though I’ve never really critiqued any movies before I have to say that this movie, in my opinion at least, was really well done. It had its ups and downs as life does and there were all kinds of personalities and perspectives in the film. Some lines were used repeatedly through the film–like Khan emphasizing the proper pronunciation of his name- and that brought the film together and made the audience think about how interconnected the world is and how there must be compromise and consideration. Khan emphasizes the Muslim pronunciation of his name and it’s his name that causes such grief for him. I really liked that technique, that repetition of lines. Also, despite being a Bollywood film, Bollywood being notorious for producing movies with more songs and dancing than a western musical (ok so I exaggerate just a little), My Name Is Khan only had a few scenes of spontaneous dancing.
While Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles did not exactly tug my heart as much as My Name is Khan I definitely grew fond of the old reserved Japanese man, Gouichi Takata (Ken Takakura), as the plot unfolded. On bad terms with his son, Gouichi goes to Tokyo when he hears that his son has been hospitalized, but is refused by his son. Inspired by a video his son’s wife shows him, Gouichi decides to travel to Li Village in China to fulfill a promise his son made to videotape, Li Jiamin, a Nuo Opera artist’s, performance. He hopes to gain forgiveness from his son with this act. Gouichi, a quiet man who lived in relative solitude in a fishing village after his wife died, suddenly has to deal with a number of people and, most frustratingly, through a language barrier. With some help from an official translator, when he really needs it, and a friendly Chinese guide with a small grasp of Japanese at his side, he steadily works towards his goal.
The film only showed the son once, so it was hard to pick up the feelings between the two, but Gouichi’s devotion to fulfilling his son’s promise instilled an understanding of the connection between loved ones despite personal barriers. Gouichi who doesn’t seem to have any patience with his son, is shown to have infinite patience with the various people he has to go through to get to the Neo Opera artist, which I think led me to eventually warm up to the character.
Waste Land was a documentary about people employed to collect recyclable material from the garbage in one of the world’s largest landfills, Jardim Gramacho, in Brazil. Which meant though it is less dramatic than the other two films, the fact that it is showing something real and people’s everyday realities was its shock factor. This documentary showcases the lives of a number of workers in the Association of Recycling Pickers of Jardim Gramacho (ARPJG) who are represented in works by the world-renowned artist Vik Muniz. With low wages and their days literally spent in at the landfill, the film reveals the stories and aspirations of these people.
The neat thing was the honesty of the film as the artist tackles a number of stereotypes and problems. One thing that stuck with me from the film was Vik’s hesitation about going to Jardim Gramacho in the first place. He and his wife were worried that he would be faced with tough, closed and potentially dangerous individuals at the dump. But he was met, at least according to the film, with hardy, cheerful people. They certainly weren’t content, but many individuals were optimistic and working to improve the conditions of their job and community. Rather than despair they were carving a life out of society’s wastes. On top of this show of resilient spirit there was an artistic aspect to the film, a discovery of beauty in the filth of humanity. Vik created portraits of these individuals with their help, using material they pulled from the landfill. Once complete the portraits were auctioned off with all proceeds going back to the individual and community.
As it turns out, the landfill has since been closed down, and is being transformed into a methane recapture plant. I wonder what happened to the workers of the ARPJG.
Anyway, check these out if you have a quiet evening and want to watching something that makes you think about the world and society.