Celebrating Storytelling in all its Forms

So, last night was my Super Bowl, as in the 85th Annual Academy Awards. As a person who values film nearly as much as I do literature (you can tell I’m pretentious about this because I say “film” instead of “movies”), I eat up awards season. I fully endorse celebrating the best. I will admit that last night’s broadcast was a bit ho-hum and expected, but I felt satisfied that Argo won for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. That was the only thing I really routed for. Other than that, I was happy that a small fairy tale like Beasts of the Southern Wild made it all the way to the big event. Although I didn’t expect it to win anything, I appreciate when independent films have a chance to show against the usual Hollywood juggernauts (the first time I realized I was a film geek was during the 1998 Oscars when I wanted The Full Monty to beat Titanic).

PIFF 2013Now that another Oscars ceremony is over, that means we have a whole year to start thinking about the next one, am I right? In the meantime, there are plenty of good movies to see in theaters now. While all the pre-Oscars buzz was happening, I was attending the 2013 Portland International Film Festival and reviewing it for the Rearguard. Just as I did at last year’s PIFF, I saw and reviewed three films. As always, PIFF provided me with a wide range of cinematic choices. I laughed, I shielded my eyes, and I felt uncomfortable a few times too. The first movie I saw, Caesar Must Die, was an interesting documentary/drama hybrid that used real inmates in an Italian prison but had them acting as characters of themselves according to a script. The plot follows the prisoners as they prepare for a performance of Shakespeare’s classic Julius Caesar. Throughout the film, the audience watches as the men are transformed by the opportunity to interact with art.

The second film I saw,  a dark comedy from England called Sightseers, was about as far away from Caesar Must Die as I could get at this festival. It follows a new couple, both lonely and both a bit off, on a road trip across the English countryside. Almost immediately, the trip takes a sinister turn and their holiday becomes a murder spree. In the tradition of the very dark English comedy, humor seamlessly transitions into violence, gory enough that I looked away from the screen more than once. This was a movie that kept me guessing. Up to the last minute, I had no idea how it would turn out, something that doesn’t happen often enough in films.

Continuing my trend of not having a trend, the third and final movie I saw, Paradise: Faith, was a character study following one Austrian woman who struggled with her Catholic faith. She took her religious fervor to a whole new level of overzealous, whipping herself in front of the cross as a form of penitence and developing an uncomfortable, sexual infatuation with Jesus Christ. She’s not alone in her pursuit for holiness, though, when her estranged wheelchair bound husband, who also happens to be Muslim, returns to their home. He begins to antagonize her missionary lifestyle, which causes her to be stuck between the life she has on earth now and the afterlife she hopes to have someday.

To read my review of Caesar Must Die, go here.

To read my review of Sightseers, go here.

To read my review of Paradise: Faith, go here.

Or else, go see them for yourselves! Beyond the award shows and the film festivals, we can’t forget that our ability to tell a story is one of the essential elements of our humanity. Shaping narratives helps us to make sense of the world, to better understand it. So watch a movie, read a book, or tell someone a story. Don’t forget to interact with art.

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