This holiday weekend brought with it two cinematic outings of the documentary sort.
The Road to Guantanamo
The review quotes featured in advertising for this quasi-documentary use words like "stunning," "timely," "gripping," "remarkable." Yes, it is all those things and more. Director Michael Winterbottom has created a devastatingly effective reenactment of the capture and imprisonment of three British citizens who took an ill-advised side-trip on a wedding holiday and found themselves in a war zone during the post 9/11 bombing of Afghanistan. Arrested as suspected Taliban fighters, they are brutalized, endlessly interrogated and treated like animals during their years of imprisonment.
Talking head clips of the three former prisoners relating their experiences are smoothly interwoven with the reenactment footage, keeping the drama firmly anchored in reality. The young actors portraying the men do a brilliant job. Their faces, along with the faces of the real-life trio, stayed with me for hours after seeing the film. Their horrifying experiences haunted me. And to think they were the lucky ones who were finally heard and released. Some falsely accused men still sit behind barbed wire wondering what's to become of them. Thank god the Supreme Court recently ruled against the White House's irresponsible and cruel policy towards these "enemy combatants" left to twist in the wind without charges or evidence.
Winterbottom's skilled filmmaking proves that "this happened, then that happened" true-life stories can be visually and artistically compelling, while still conveying the facts. I'd call it a must-see for any American who gives a damn about how the world is treated in our nation's name.
Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man
I wasn't familiar with Cohen's work until about five years ago when my friend P-girl included "Hallelujah" and "Suzanne" on a mix CD for me. Then last summer she took me to a tribute night where artists like Inara George and Michelle Shocked covered Cohen's work under the stars in Topanga Canyon. That was the real eye-opener (or ear-opener) for me. Something about hearing other voices singing his words and melodies made me realize how brilliant, and prolific, a songwriter he really is.
Perhaps that's part of what inspired filmmaker Lian Lunson to build a movie tribute to Cohen around a tribute concert held in Canada a couple of years back. While I enjoyed the film--including the concert clips--it definitely left me wanting to know more about the man, the myth, the monk. I had expected to learn more about Cohen's life and loves, but the selected tidbits that are shared do help frame his work and life. He is a very charming man and a true inspiration. My favorite interview clip was about his early writing days with his circle of poet friends, relating how they would critique each other's work mercilessly--never excusing a single flaw in each other's choice of words. No wonder Cohen's lyrics are so polished, potent and poignant.
The most enlightening description I've read of the film was written by Zach at his Elusive Lucidity blog. I really enjoyed his reflections on the artist himself and the artistic process in general. And I have to agree with him, too, on finding Bono (who waxes poetic about Cohen in the doc) to be smirk-inducing.
Perhaps inspired by Leonard, here is a poem for the night:
Squinting at celebrity cellulite
In the checkout line
Nightlights and nectarines await
Smooth-scalped, he seemed to smile
At my silent savoring of
those public imperfections
"Mostly good," he answered the clerk's inquiry
"Mostly good," I mused to myself
Nightlights and nectarines and away