Sunday, March 31, 2013

Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman)

Anna the housekeeper.

"Cries and Whispers", released in 1972 and is certainly one of Ingmar Bergman's more accessible films, is an emotionally moody and atmospheric work so raw and scarring that it's the closest a human drama can get to terrifying. And its story, my friends, isn't your typical Jane Austen.
In simple terms, the film is an emotional horror story between three sisters, one dying (named Agnes) and two (named Maria and Karin) in utter disconnect, and how they all try, as reluctant as they may be in doing so, to mend their fractured relationships. Oh, and there's also the maid named Anna (Kari Sylwan in a sublimely affecting performance), the person who has been the most caring towards Agnes yet isn't really being given much importance or attention by the sisters simply because she is just, well, a housekeeper. But is she, in the eyes of the terminally ill Agnes, really just that? 
"Cries and Whispers", for me, is easily the most frightening of Bergman's works simply because it has eerily established, with its masterful use of dream-like flashbacks and painfully ingraining dialogue ("it's all a tissue of lies"), the wounded core of an ostensibly functional family. Evidently, familial dysfunction is one of Bergman's most favorite issues to explore in most of his films, and here in "Cries and Whispers", I do think that it has reached its most destructive zenith. 
In a way, the film can easily be compared to his later, equally masterful "Fanny and Alexander" simply because they have both examined the hidden perversions and emotional hollowness of an otherwise happy and affluent family in a way that's both realistic and stunningly metaphysical. But for me, "Cries and Whispers" is much closer, both in style and in intent, to Bergman's earlier "The Silence", likewise an ambiguous tale of two emotionally strained sisters and their effort (or the lack thereof) to try and connect with each other in sexually abstract ways that only Bergman (and his legendary cinematographer Sven Nykvist) can capably and eloquently capture on-camera with so much dramatic force.  And just like the said 1963 film, "Cries and Whispers" is also extremely claustrophobic, be it in its literal 'mansion' location comprised mainly of narrow hallways and red-draped rooms or in Sven Nykvists's dramatically suffocating camera work. 
The film, in its immediate essence, is a darkly consummate chamber drama, but typical of Bergman, such simplicity is but a veneer. In ways more than one, I do think that this film is a definitive representation of who he really is as a filmmaker in respect to what he can present visually and thematically. For the former, this film, as usual, is an exquisite costume drama, and for the latter, it is a flinching account of how memories can forever scar the deepest recesses of the 'soul'; an aspect of existence which Bergman himself has imagined as a "damp membrane in varying shades of red" (the reason for the film's crimson visual motif). Even in the casting, headed by regulars Liv Ullmann, Harriet Andersson and Ingrid Thulin (three of the most stunning actresses the cinema has ever seen), the film is typical Bergman. 
Often framed in stark close-up shots, the three actresses effectively convey, through the most anguishing of facial expressions, the very shadowy extent of the soul. And in one of the film's most enigmatic sequences, we see the younger Maria (Liv Ullmann) circling around and caressing the older Karin (Ingrid Thulin) as if she's trying to convince her to give in, but to what? It is here then where the ambiguous questions of 'homoeroticism' and 'incest' come to play. But on the other hand, to accept such a perspective, as what others are claiming, is but a betraying over-simplification of what the film is really all about. 
"Cries and Whispers", essentially, is an ambiguous film about love regardless of context, and whether or not you see the relationships between the characters as homosexual or not is quite irrelevant because although the film is littered with potentially sexual images, love is really the film's central focus, and Bergman is quite comfortable in not letting his audience know where that 'love' is coming from, how it came to be, or why is it such a mysterious and elusive force in the first place. 
But aside from that, the film is also about trying to build a bridge between two cold souls (Maria and Karin) and the inability of such a bridge, built in the most hastened of ways, to instantly translate into a pure form of affection. Here then is where Bergman's often used concept of the 'Silent God' enters the scene; that even though we can call to Him all we want, there will always be this underlying current of futility in doing so because, well, humans, and the relationships they create, are just either too fragile or already damaged from the get-go to be mended in an instant, even by an all-knowing God. 
In conclusion, although I would highly recommend "Cries and Whispers" to every single cinephile out there, I wouldn't go my way as to immediately force it down the throat of a Bergman tenderfoot. Exploring his oeuvre, in my view, should be treated as a journey, and honestly speaking, "Cries and Whispers" is never the preferable starting point. But still, if you're looking for a peculiarly intense yet visually elegant drama, then look further, you must not.

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson)

Two saints.

Considered by cinephiles as one of the greatest films of all time, "Au Hasard Balthazar" is Robert Bresson's lyrical meditation on spirituality, martyrdom and human cruelty, and after so many years, it still stands the test of time as one of the most truly reflective Christian films without overtly highlighting the fact that it is indeed one. Bresson, known for his minimalist approach to filmmaking, is never too easy to resort to cheap emotions and utter sentimentalism. Instead of examining the inhumanity of man through the eyes of the human characters, he has filtered everything through the primitive perspective of a work-burdened donkey named Balthazar, a symbolic manifestation of sainthood, and is also the silent absorber of all of the characters' worldly sins. The donkey, indeed with all his hardships and misfortunes as he gets passed on from one owner to another, is on the receiving end of a film that is really human nature itself, in all its ugly glory, in a nutshell. As what Jean-Luc Godard has once said about "Au Hasard Balthazar": "…this film is really the world in an hour and a half". Well, I do not know if he has just said that to impress Anne Wiazemsky (the film's lead, which Godard would marry a year later), but nonetheless, his comment on the film really is as truthful as you can get. 
The film, for all the critical accolades that it has received, should not be looked upon as a fine piece of narrative filmmaking. On the contrary, "Au Hasard Balthazar" is unusually clunky in its exposition, characterization and camera work. Sometimes, it even suffers from unwarranted scene jumps that are quite frustrating to sit through, especially when the film itself really calls for a more 'observant' approach to cinematography. While the characters, although it is given that majority of them are representative of man's cruelty to things and creations that they consider to be comparably inferior to them, are quite caricature-like. A specific example is the Gerard character (played by François Lafarge), a typical delinquent who seems to go through every waking moments of his life with a penchant to hurt those around him, including the girl Marie (Anne Wiazemsky), Balthazar's original owner, and the only person he seems to be interested in. 
Also, the whole 'legal' angle that Marie's farmer of a father was deeply involved in wasn't given enough emphasis, which, along the way, has resulted in some uncalled-for unevenness in the plot and some blurry character motivations. 
But in all fairness, all those shortcomings do not really distract from the uncannily spiritual experience that "Au Hasard Balthazar" has to offer. After all, the film is an emotional event and not a narrative one, and is more a visual reflection on the quiet beauty of Christian faith rather than being a story about it. For starters, I do think that I will remember this film not because of its story but because of its inspired, poetic and almost fable-like visual realization of faith and kindness within a subtle theological context. 
As a Christian, when I think of the words 'passion' and 'martyrdom', an image of a sweltering and exhausted donkey would have been the last thing to materialize in my mind. But after watching "Au Hasard Balthazar", as much as it is quite awkward to analogize a donkey's everyday plight to the soul-saving hardships that Jesus Christ himself has went through, I thought, well, why not? After all, the world, in all its evils, can indeed crucify a hapless soul in ways more than one, and who can better endure such an infliction by people 'who do not know what they're doing' than a pure, wordless donkey who neither does. As what the Blessed Mother Teresa has said, "God is the friend of silence". 
In my honest opinion, I do think that no other film in existence has tackled Christian faith in such a non-preaching light, and Bresson, for whatever deficiencies he seems to have had in the film in terms of storytelling, has created a cinematic piece of such innocent glow. Indeed, "Au Hasard Balthazar" is a film that has successfully tackled the essence of Christian faith without even looking like a religious film. And without an overtly Christian aspect to spice it up, the film has managed to overcome religious boundaries to tell a simplistic tale of purity and saintliness in a manner that is powerful yet very humbling. It may not turn you into a man of religion overnight, but it will certainly convince you to reflect on your way of life and on your beliefs, and to ask yourself the question of "Have I been good enough?" Such is the power of "Au Hasard Balthazar".

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Friday, March 29, 2013

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

Petra and Karin.

My second Fassbinder film, "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant" has caught me off-guard on how insightful its screenplay really is in terms of examining the painful nuances of love. Mounted by Fassbinder as something akin to a theatrical play (it was, after all, made to be one), the film chronicles, in an almost real-time fashion, the emotional complexities of a certain Petra von Kant (played by Margit Carstensen with an otherworldly sense of controlled lunacy), a renowned yet romantically jaded fashion designer who, after an unsuccessful marriage with a certain Frank, has decided to lead a loveless life. That is, until she meets an aspiring fashion model named Karin (Hanna Schygulla), a young woman who will simultaneously prove to be the best and worst thing to ever come to her life. 
Although Karin states that she indeed likes Petra, she can never say that she loves her with a straight face and with a full, unhindered conviction. Is she only drawn to Petra because of her fame and because of her money? Is she just fascinated by Petra's manipulative character? Or is it something more humanly unexplainable? Rainer Werner Fassbinder, a most emotionally articulate auteur in the tradition of John Cassavetes, seems unsure himself, but so are the characters. After all, the film's focus is not on the spark that has ignited such a romance but on the tearful aftermath of such a heavily conditional affair. 
Set entirely in a small but evidently lush apartment space, the film then explores, using long shots, deep focus and slow tracking shots, Petra's metamorphosis from a relatively sane yet possessive woman to a terribly lovesick sap who's just inches away from utter romantic lunacy. Fassbinder, through his powerfully amoral and emotionally insular screenplay (which he has written while he's on a 12-hour flight from Berlin to Los Angeles), has created an aura of detachment between the characters that populate the film and the audience, which makes for a more compelling viewing as we ourselves question the very reason as to why we stay on to watch such a cold, manipulative woman cry her hearts out for 2 hours. The answer for that, ironically enough, resides in the film's most crucial character bar Petra von Kant herself: Marlene (Irm Hermann), Petra's secretary and co-designer who sees in Petra an untamed dominatrix who she is more than willing to masochistically submit to. 
In a way, because of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's deceptively simple scenario and intelligent but admittedly self-destructive ruminations on love, we, the audience, were able to channel Marlene's unconditional subservience to Petra, and we are fascinated by it. But at the same time, we (or I am, at least) are also equally fascinated by our inclination to watch the Petra character unravel in front of our very eyes. 
Sure, we are abhorred by Petra's whiskey-a-minute behavior, telephone-centric existence and her constant bossiness towards Marlene the silent slave, but we just can't look away. Thanks to Fassbinder's subtle yet incisive portrayal of a lovesick woman who, at the same time, is also quite sick of love, our inclination and affinity to witness the film's developments and emotional devolution transcends that of a typical film viewer. Instead, we are drawn into Fassbinder's simplistic approach that's as melancholic as it is full of sound and fury simply because it speaks some truth. 
For a film that is composed mainly of painfully long shots and is set entirely in one location, "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant" may prove to be a very challenging piece of work to sit through. But honestly speaking, I never felt the 2-hour running time simply because I was very engrossed on anticipating how Petra may ultimately turn out to be. Sure, she is such an alienating character in the fashion of all those 'rich and ruthless' film characters out there, but deep inside, her emotionally devastated heart is a core that we can all identify with. Love is a real bitch, you know, and Fassbinder (and each and every one of us) knows that. A quote from him: "Whether the state exploits patriotism, or whether in a couple relationship, one partner destroys the other." 
There was a theory on a great IMDb discussion thread that I have read which states that Petra and Marlene, figuratively and essentially, are one and the same, and that (SPOILERS) Marlene leaving Petra in the end is the symbol of their emotional deliverance, and is therefore adhered to the 'Stoicist' philosophical school of thought ("to be free from anger, envy, and jealousy"); an existential framework which is also specifically applicable in the context of the interpersonal relationship between Petra the master and Marlene the mastered (to accept even slaves and those that are considered inferior as "equals of other men, because all men alike are products of nature"). Although a film that is admittedly not everyone's cup of tea, "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant" is a very rewarding piece of cinema. It may not give out the most concise feelings and the most reassuring of answers, but hell, isn't that what great films are all about?

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Drowning by Numbers (Peter Greenaway)


If Kubrick's attention to visual composition as a photographer shows in his masterful films, then I can say just the same for Peter Greenaway, whose artistic sensibilities as a painter bleed through the constructions of his films' imagery. Take for example the scene here in "Drowning by Numbers" where a man, after drowning, lies peacefully in the pavement, with the camera looking at him from his feet. The scene, a moment of surprising serenity in a film that's filled with sexual and psychological oddities, religiously echoes its source inspiration, which is Andrea Mantegna's "The Lamentation over the Dead Christ". 
Such moments, for me, are what make Peter Greenaway's films more endearing to the audience, despite the fact they are often times filled with macabre violence and are adamant in its departure from conventional storytelling. But as what Greenaway has once said, he is drawn towards a form of cinema that is truly non-narrative, and here in "Drowning by Numbers", a truly challenging film that plays a macabre numbers game on sex and death, it is very much evident. 
Suggestive of the film's title, it is indeed, on surface level, about numbers and about drowning. But with Peter Greenaway, a filmmaker who, a year later, was able to create a cannibalistic parable in the form of "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" and subtly analogize it with the evils of Thatcherism, the thematic assumptions that's represented by the film's "Drowning by Numbers" title is just too deceptively simple and misleading. 
But of course, the film sure has a semblance of a plot: A harmless-looking mother (Joan Plowright) and her two daughters (Juliet Stevenson and Joely Richardson), all of which are named Cissie, have this strange, almost fetishistic inclination of drowning their respective husbands and lovers. Along then comes Madgett (Bernard Hill), the local coroner who, because of his belief that the women will repay him with rich sexual favors, decides to help them in covering up their murderous deeds via falsely declared causes of deaths (heart attack and death by misadventure seem to be his favorites). 
Again, the story seems so deceptively light and, in true noir tradition, formulaic. But let's again be reminded that Peter Greenaway is on the helm, so expect him to play cinema, a form that he has long believed to have died many years ago, into his utmost advantage and in complete conformity to his one-of-a-kind vision. With numbers 1 to 100 appearing randomly (but chronologically) all throughout the film, be it in the shirts of quirky joggers or tattooed into the skins of forlorn cows, Greenaway is, in a way, making his audience aware of the uncomfortable fact that death is always around the corner and that it is not a scythe-holding, black-hooded man that may bring it to us but mere numerals. This, from where I look at it, stays true to Greenaway's fear that "The pretence that numbers are not the humble creation of man, but are the exacting language of the Universe and therefore possess the secret of all things, is comforting, terrifying and mesmeric.”
With his visual and thematic approach for this film, his apprehensive look at numbers surely and clearly shows, all while some calmly fatal horseplay of sex and murder proceeds in the foreground, not to mention some consistent feminist undertones that are reminiscent of femme fatale films of years past. 
Interesting enough, what makes "Drowning by Numbers" such a resonant art film is not its utter thematic seriousness but its morbid playfulness that can be aptly mistaken as a form of harsh humor. Specifically, I'm talking about the film's unique integration of bizarre games (invented specifically for the film), all of which are explained in aching detail (by Madgett's son Smut, played by Jason Edwards), into the story. Granted, it may or may not be truly integral to the whole film, but then again, that's one of those artistic liberties that separate a true visionary like Greenaway from all the others. Adamant of not taking the easy way out, he was able to punctuate the film's claim that 'death' can be liken to a game in a very exciting and fresh manner (partnered with Michael Nyman's classical scoring). 
Also, "Drowning by Numbers'" use of enforced repetition, which, for some, is quite discomforting in the context of storytelling, is fitting for the film's wholly playful nature. Some even argue that the film's story could have been easily told in 1 hour, but keep in mind that Peter Greenaway, essentially, is not a narrative filmmaker so the joke's on whoever said that. After all, Greenaway clings on to the belief that every medium has to undergo a kind of redevelopment and evolution. "Drowning by Numbers", by deconstructing the traditional means of telling a story, is a textbook example of such.
As a parting quote, Peter Greenaway has once stated that "We do have some ability to manipulate sex nowadays. We have no ability, and never will have, to manipulate death." Surely, that may be the case for our final hurrahs, but such is not the same case for film as an art form because it is independently powerful in its own right, and some form of manipulation, so as to attain a higher form of message transmission, emotional evocation and expression, wouldn't really hurt. Greenaway is quite aware of that fact.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Chungking Express (Wong Kar-wai)

Femme fatale.

In the same year that Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" has unexpectedly revolutionized an entire film culture, a film entitled "Chungking Express", directed by one of Tarantino's film heroes, Wong Kar-wai, came forth with a similarly unique visual flair but on a wholly different emotional scale, and the rest, folks, is cinema history. With an imagery that resembles that of paintings created by the most turbulent-minded of artists and with an emotional center that seems so innocent yet so knowing, the film is a stimulating reminder of how nice it is to live and, more importantly, to love. Well, and also maybe some hints of how lovely it really is to eat (the film, after all, is filled with endless shots of food). 
Shot mostly within the confines of a cheap but suggestively lucrative lunch shack named "Midnight Express", the film chronicles, in achingly beautiful sounds and colors, the story of two lovelorn police officers, Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Cop 663 (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), and how they painfully (and humorously) cope up with their romantic grief via their own personal idiosyncrasies. The first, a mid-twenties officer, is so pained by the estrangement of a certain girlfriend named May that he decides to buy a can of pineapple every single night until it piles up to 30. But the catch is that he only buys the ones that have an expiry date of May 1 (his birthday) so that when the said date finally comes and 'May' is still not back in his arms, it's only then that he can arrive at the conclusion that she really doesn't want him anymore, and that those fast-expiring pineapples need some desperate eating. 

The second one, an officer literally living beside the airport, is silently devastated when her stewardess of a girlfriend has suddenly left him alone, needy and slightly schizophrenic, as he begins to talk to his stuff toys, console his towels and scold his soaps, among others. 
But with utter disconnect, naturally, also comes a chance to connect anew. First, there's the mysterious, blond-wigged woman (Brigitte Lin), possibly a high-class low-life who has caught 223's love-hungry eyes. And then there's the infinitely quirkier Faye (Faye Wong), a short-haired young woman who's got this idiosyncratic affinity with the song "California Dreamin'". By emotionally patching these characters together to cope up with an increasingly apathetic Metropolitan existence with all their personal frustrations, vulnerabilities and imperfections intact, Wong Kar-wai has cleverly toned down "Chungking Express'" potentially overbearing angle on love to the point that the film itself is not anymore a dual tale of love but simply, in itself, a mere cinematic slice of life. 
Well, granted, a more stylized version of life, that is, but still, with Wong Kar-wai's wisely organic yet weirdly fascinating approach on characterization and his purely artistic sensibility of merging his sometimes frantic but often times observant imagery with stirring music to create an audiovisual kaleidoscope, "Chungking Express" has attained a cinematic form that is wholly its own. Is the film a romantic fare? Sure, but it has something more to say than that. Is the film, then, an existential feature? Perhaps, but the film evokes so much joy and naïve wonder that problems of existence just cannot seem to feign its enthusiasm and vigor for life (and love) at all. 
With those certain indecisions about the film's real categorization, I think it's more than safe to assume that "Chungking Express", in the process, has created a new, specific type of cinematic language, specifically on how it has meandered and reflected on the qualms of love and life yet preserves its pristine affinity to just breathe, hope and desire. If "Chungking Express'" main intent is to shake me out of my apathy and convince me into wandering the streets of wherever to search for a person who may or may not repay the love that I may offer, then the film has failed. The film, after all, is never an operational 'how to' guide on finding a lost soul to connect to. Instead, it is, more significantly, a film that shows the leaps and bounds of how a certain love is lost and once again found; of a life merely wasted and a life well-lived. "Chungking Express" is just a reminder of how beautiful and reassuring it is to know that in every stream of people you may come across, there's always that one person who may just return your smile with an even bigger, more luminescent one. And better yet, there may also be that someone who may just go their way to draw you a crude boarding pass that may bring you somewhere worthwhile. 
"Chungking Express", with its one-of-a-kind cinematic approach, is more concerned, in the context of love and existence, on how to say things rather than what to say, how to feel than what to feel, and how to properly enunciate emotions rather than how to choose the right words for it. And for that, I fully commend it. Only few films can make you feel so alive, and only few films, simply put, can make you feel very fortunate of having seen them. This counts as one, and I hope that its ability to make people feel may last more than 223's pineapples.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Viridiana (Luis Buñuel)

Obsession and repression.

My dear readers, I am back (Well, let's just pretend that I do have some deeply-devoted few) and kicking again after some months of art film deprivation. Nevertheless, with my personal cinematic drive seemingly back in its groove (hopefully), I am then here to review and share my thoughts about "Viridiana", a film that marks my return, after the slightly numbing Academy Awards season and the draining toll inflicted by the academe, to the ever-loving cradle of what I really care about the most: world cinema. And to add a certain side idea, it's in fact the Lenten season, so my viewing of "Viridiana" is not at all random but is, in fact, of certain religious relevance, albeit a slightly irreverent one (I'm planning to rewatch "Life of Brian" within this week, by the way). 
Like majority of Luis Buñuel's creations, "Viridiana" is a comedic attack on Christianity and the bourgeoisie, but unlike his later, entirely elitist-lampooning satires like "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" and "The Phantom of Liberty", "Viridiana" was also able to have enough time to examine the utterly savage tendencies of the unfortunate ones (in simple yet sad terms, 'paupers') when given enough wings to flap away from their plights. And although they were shown in the film as a genuinely sympathetic lot, Buñuel has also characterized them with a sort of fragile loyalty towards the proverbial hands that feed them, which makes the whole 'pity' thing towards them more weirdly elevated yet at the same time increasingly discomforting. 
Honestly speaking, although Buñuel, for me, is certainly one of the boldest filmmakers there ever was, I always thought that the satirical nature of his films are always steeped in utter partiality (sans "Los Olvidados, of course); that is to say that he always solely attacks the populace of high society, and we love him for it. But surprisingly, "Viridiana" is a deeply refreshing exception. 
Although the film itself is a dominantly psychosexual meditation on emotional repression that's centered mainly on the characters of Don Jaime (Fernando Rey), the melancholic widower, and Viridiana (the luminous Silvia Pinal), the soon-to-be consecrated nun, it was still able to successfully pass as a deliciously unnerving social satire that's centered upon the utterly self-destructive nature of altruism. In this regard, I am of course talking about Viridiana's unconditional assistance of the beggars (she has brought them to his Uncle Jaime's house after an unexpected tragedy), which has, sadly, backfired for the worse. Buñuel, in this film, is not much a surrealist but more of a highly-fevered and imagery-conscious social commentator who knows who to poke with his patented 'dig' (tickling but painful) in the ribs. The perennially humorless Catholic Church, which has officially denounced the film, has proven to be such an easy target. But ultimately, what is "Viridiana" really all about? 
In a way, like Buñuel's later, more fetishistic "Belle de Jour", it is about the pains of sexual repression. But what makes "Viridiana" different is how it has tackled such an issue in a way that subtly pinpoints religious hypocrisy as the culprit as to why it pervades existence. Yet in the end, the film still has enough discoursing power left to highlight the fact that an attempt at carnality still isn't the answer. And in an ending that is both dark and innuendo-laden, it is slightly suggested that sex, in such a context, is nothing but a savage trap; a superficial card game; a painful punch line. Such is the sad, sad comedy of existence, as seen through the camera lens of the very bold Luis Buñuel.

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Friday, March 8, 2013

Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)

Honest Abe.

Honest Abe, the Liberator, the Great Emancipator. Throughout the course of human history, or to be more exact, the human understanding of history, Abraham Lincoln has always been highly considered as a pinnacle icon of human nobility, and numerous films have been made about him. From John Ford's "Young Mr. Lincoln" (starring Henry Fonda) to the insanely random "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter", Honest Abe has always been ubiquitous in the annals of cinema. But do you know what's the only thing lacking? Yes, you've guessed right, a proper biopic that would cater to a modern audience. And that, my friends, is just what director Steven Spielberg has given us: a version of Abraham Lincoln that wouldn't kill vampires for pleasure or would just serve as a supporting snippet for a Nostradamus documentary (D.W. Griffith's "Abraham Lincoln") but one that would really make us feel how it is to be a pressured leader whose sole purpose is to deliver his country from prejudice and bondage. 
It of course stars one of the greatest actors of our time, Daniel Day-Lewis, as the eponymous American president, a role that has deservedly given him his third Academy Award (although my heart still have a soft spot for Joaquin Phoenix's performance in "The Master"). Even from this film's early stages of pre-production, I was keen enough to follow the latest developments, specifically when Liam Neeson has surprisingly decided to vacate the lead role. In a way, when Neeson left the cast, I thought the film will certainly be shelved. But then, the great news has struck me: according to reports, Daniel Day-Lewis has agreed to replace Neeson as Lincoln. And then just like that, the film's first production picture, that of DDL sitting with a humble grin, came out; Day-Lewis, even in his casual, non-19th century garb, looks spot-on as the much-venerated president. From that moment on, with him looking more Abraham Lincoln than Abraham Lincoln himself, I just knew it: Daniel Day-Lewis will make history as the first actor to nab 3 Best Actor Oscars. And bless the Oracle of Delphi, made he did. 
Although "Lincoln", as a period biopic, sometimes lacks the particular liveliness that characterizes the genre, Day-Lewis' performance and Steve Kushner's exquisitely written screenplay was able to work hand-in-hand to carry the whole film through. And for Spielberg, who, for this film, is surprisingly subtle in his sentimentalism, his choice of where to approach Lincoln's humanity was perfect, and that is through Abe's humbling skill as a storyteller. Instead of utilizing some emotionally swaying speeches (hell, the Gettysburg address has not even seen the light of day), Spielberg has filtered Lincoln's influential personality through his witty retelling of various anecdotes and whatnot, which makes him all the more endearing and instantly reachable not just for the characters that surround him but also for us viewers. In this case, myth-making works the other way around: this time, a veneer of enigma won't certainly do Abe Lincoln's personality justice. What's needed is a dose of humble humanity and some hints of vulnerability, which this film has taken on with class. 
Consider the brief scene when Abe's son is sleeping on the floor. Instead of immediately bringing him to his bed, Abe, uncharacteristic of a larger-than-life leader, slowly hunched his posture and lied down on the floor with his son. Despite the film's abundance of memorable images, this is the scene that has stayed with me the most. Perhaps the film is suggesting that more than being a father of an entire nation, Lincoln is also the patriarch of a simple family, and in many cases, it's as important to be good as the latter as it is to be great as the former. 
Again, Spielberg was able to display his exceptional range as a director in this film; that he can be subtle as he can be emotionally preachy and that he can direct sequences of massive proportions the same way he can execute smaller scenes of emotional resonance. If ever this film has proven anything, aside of course from Daniel Day-Lewis' flawless acting prowess (not to mention the film's great supporting cast that is headlined by the great Sally Field and the grumpy-looking yet very witty Tommy Lee Jones) which has given life and character to a man whom we have never even seen in actual footage or even heard deliver speeches, then it is Spielberg's utter completeness as a filmmaker. 
But then again, after all is said and done, this film is solely Abraham Lincoln's: A man who has shaken the status quo for the sake of a higher purpose, a man who has delivered America from the ruthless hands of slavery, and a man who, simply put, has forever changed the face of human history.


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