This week was all about saving lives, whether it’s one life or a thousand lives. I started this week off with The Intouchables, moved on to Life is Beautiful (La vita é bella) and finished with Schindler’s List. Needless to say there was a lot of sobbing and heartstrings were not just tugged, but wrenched.
The Intouchables (2011)
Based on a true story, a young black man from the projects (Sy) storms into an interview for a job as a caretaker for a quadriplegic aristocrat (Cluzet), and thus begins the buddy love story between Driss and Philippe, two men who never should have met.
Philippe decides to hire Driss, despite his severe lack of qualifications, based on the fact that Driss treats him like a normal person—something that none of the other applicants could do. Queue the montage of the two buddies being unlikely best friends—Driss gets Philippe a date, Philippe takes Driss parasailing, the two of them smoke weed—until Philippe realizes that Driss needs to take care of his actual family in the projects after a conversation about where Driss comes from. Philippe is miserable without Driss, however, and when Driss gets a call from the housekeeper (Le Ny) that Philippe is despondent, Driss is more than happy return to his service.
Listen, we have all seen this movie before: two people from opposite sides of the track teach each other the meaning of life, the young, rough hooligan teaches the stuffy, rich guy how to have fun, blah blah blah. Despite the trope, Intouchables isn’t preachy or cloyingly sweet. It’s a simple, funny buddy dramady and although it has its moments that tries to pluck the heartstrings, and the ending is seriously moving, the comedy largely overtakes the drama. Cluzet and Sy’s on-screen chemistry is really fun to watch. Driss is easy-going and goofy; Philippe is kind and patronly, and you can feel the misery from Philippe when Driss is gone and the joy when he comes back. Intouchables is better than the average movie of its ilk and its the performance of its two protagonists that takes above the rest.
Scene to watch: This scene where Driss is confused as to why no one is dancing at Philippe’s birthday party (be prepared to have Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland” stuck in your head FOREVER).
Why you should watch it: If you’re tired of the traditional two-friends-that-shouldn’t-be-friends movie and need a good laugh.
Why you shouldn’t: If you absolutely need explosions, or nudity, or violence to enjoy a movie—this had none of that. Or if you hate Earth, Wind, and Fire; they are featured heavily in the soundtrack.
Life is Beautiful (La vita é bella) (1997)
Directed by Roberto Benigni
Starring Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini
Won three Oscars: Best Actor (Benigni), Best Original Score, Best Foreign Language Film
Nominated for four others: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Film Editing
IMDb’s Top 100: #27
A imaginative Jewish bookkeeper from the countryside named Guido (Benigni) attempts to open a bookstore in a nearby city. He woos Dora (Braschi, Benigni’s real life wife), the wife of a local magistrate with a series of adorable tricks, and they marry and have a son named Joshua (Cantarini).
Years go by, World War II descends upon Europe, and Guido and his family are sent to a concentration camp. In order to protect his son from the horrors of living in a camp, Guido uses all of his charm, wit, and imagination to turn their new life into a series of games—and if they win, they get to go home.
The way that Benigni subtly masks the horrors of the Holocaust, in both his direction and his acting, is brilliant. His constant humor and deft handling of serious subject matter is what makes this movie so profound. There is one scene, right when they arrive at the concentration camp, when a German officer arrives in the barracks to explain the rules and asks for a volunteer to translate his instructions into Italian. Guido volunteers, and while the officer is explaining that if you disobey, you’ll get shot or hung, Guido is explaining the rules of the game to his son: no crying, no asking for your mother, etc. It’s hilarious, but also sobering when you realize what is actually going on, and that’s really smart. The audience feels like it’s a game and then something happens that makes you realize that oh, actually they’re in serious danger.
What really struck me was that this was really a story about the bond between a father and his son that just happened to take place during the Holocaust. The innocence and trust Joshua shows his father, and the love and sacrifice Guido gives his son are heartbreaking. By the end, I was sobbing. Benigni deserved his Oscar.
Scene to watch: The scene where Guido is translating for the German soldier is hilarious and also, the heartbreaking ending.
Why you should watch it: Because it’s a work of art.
Why you shouldn’t: There’s no reason why you shouldn’t.
Schindler’s List (1993)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes
Won seven Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score
Nominated for five others: Best Actor (Neeson), Best Supporting Actor (Fiennes), Best Costume Design, Best Sound, Best Makeup
IMDb’s Top 100: #6
The eponymous Oskar Schindler (Neeson) arrives in the ghetto in Krakow, Poland in the middle of World War II in order to try and make a fortune making enamelware for the military. As a member of the Nazi Party, he uses his connections—and bribes—to acquire a factory. He hires Itzhak Stern (Kingsley), a Jewish accountant, to manage his money for him, and he hires Jewish workers to work in his factory because they cost less.
When Untersturmfuhrer Amon Goeth (chillingly played by Fiennes) arrives in Krakow to oversee the construction of the Plaszow concentration camp, he orders the ghetto “liquidated,” meaning thousands of men, women, and children are gunned down in their homes and in the streets. Schindler witnesses this and becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce—at first, for reasons of profit, but gradually because he knows he can save their lives. Schindler begins pulling Jews out of the concentration camp to work in his factories, which have become fronts for his heroic efforts, eventually saving upwards of a thousand Jews from death.
I loved that this film was in black-and-white. It sets the tone for the time period, making it feel authentic; Spielberg said that his reason for filming in black-and-white was because it portrays the sense of hopelessness that pervaded Jewish life during the Holocaust. In my opinion, Schindler’s List would not have been as effective and real if it had been in color.
Some scenes are very hard to watch. The “liquidation” of the Krakow ghetto, watching people getting gunned down in the street, is probably the hardest to watch.
Ralph Fiennes was spellbinding as the ruthless Amon Goeth. You can see the dead hatred in his eyes whenever he’s on screen; watching him randomly shoot workers from his balcony is particularly chilling. He outshines his co-stars and despite his awful character, I wished he had been onscreen more often.
There is not a finer piece of cinematography, in my humble opinion, than when Schindler announces to his factory that Germany had surrendered. He challenges the Nazi soldiers that were guarding his factory, who had been given orders to “clean out the facility,” that this would be their opportunity. The camera suddenly cuts to the back of the factory floor; we can see Schindler staring at the guards up at the balcony and there is about three to four seconds of silence and it’s raw and charged and emotional and beautiful. I can’t find a clip of it, but it is one of the most incredible pieces of cinematography that I’ve ever seen.
Scenes to watch: The scene above (if you can find it); this shower scene is also incredibly poignant.
Why you should watch it: Schindler’s List is one of the reasons I started this blog, so that I could say I’ve seen it. I feel more culturally enriched now that I’ve seen it, and if you haven’t, you will too.
Why you shouldn’t: If you’re squeamish.