Movies I’ve Recently Seen: Au Hasard Balthazar, Jojo Rabbit, Bob Le Flambeur, The Blue Kite, Ford v Ferrari

Here are five films I’ve scene since my last Recently Seen article. Not a bad one in the group. (Which isn’t to say that they’re all masterpieces.)

A Au Hasard Balthazar (1966), Criterion Channel

Robert Bresson tells us plenty about human nature in this story of the life and death of a donkey. And no, it’s not a children’s film and the donkey doesn’t talk. The donkey, Balthazar, is just a donkey. He’s sometimes treated well by his owners, and sometimes treated horribly. Balthazar has no choice in the matter. There’s also a little girl who grows into being a big girl. Unlike Balthazar, she can make her own choices, and like so many teenagers, most of her choices are bad ones – especially about boys. A very sad story about how people treat others – human and otherwise.

A- Jojo Rabbit (2019), California (Berkeley)

I almost avoided Taika Waititi’s latest comedy; I’d been somewhat disappointed by his What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, although they had their good points. But I couldn’t avoid the new film’s concept.

In the last weeks of the Third Reach, 10-year old Jojo struggles to fit in with the Hitler Youth. He doesn’t get much useful help from his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Waititi himself as the funniest Hitler since Dick Shawn in The Producers). Scarlett Johansson plays his mother, a secret anti-Nazi hiding a Jewish girl in the house. Jojo doesn’t quite understand. Sam Rockwell plays a Hitler Youth officer who’s clearly losing his enthusiasm for war and fascism. Waititi shows an excellent sense of when to turn the movie from comedy to tragedy. The young Roman Griffin Davis gives a believable performance as Jojo; he also really looks like he could be Scarlett Johansson’s kid.

B+ Bob Le Flambeur (Bob the Gambler, 1956)

Melville’s heist movie focuses very little on the heist, which isn’t even discussed until the film’s second quarter. This noir is really about Bob, who makes a comfortable living gambling. Everyone likes and respects him – including the police. In an early scene, one cop explains how Bob saved his life, although he’s not sure if Bob intervened to save the cop or the would-be cop killer. He’s also chivalrous with the ladies, protecting prostitutes from their pimps. Bob is an unlikely but entertaining character. But as a heist film, it’s not exceptional.

B+ The Blue Kite (1993), Kanopy

Think of this as a Chinese Boyhood, following a young boy and his mother over years of difficulty, changing father figures, and growing up. But this time the story is set in China from the mid 1950s to the Cultural Revolution. In other words, this child is being raised in a society that is not only oppressive, but irrational. You don’t know when someone will be shipped off to a reeducation center (i.e., concentration camp) for a completely random reason – such as going to the bathroom at the wrong time.

While it’s similar to Boyhood, Zhuangzhuang Tian shot the film conventionally – over months, not years. Three young actors played the boy at different ages.

Unfortunately, the version on Kanopy (I can’t find it streaming anywhere else) looks awful – like a VHS blown up to widescreen.

B Ford v Ferrari (2019), Shattuck

You have to  take the bad to enjoy the good in this one. The car racing scenes are exciting and fun…especially on a big screen. The rebels vs. the corporate suits plot provides quite a few cheers. And Christian Bale gives an engaging performance as the man who does things his way (Matt Damon is fine, but nowhere near as interesting). But the movie, based on historical events, is filled with Hollywood clichés. It has the flirting couple that turn out to be already married. Also the company executives who almost always do the wrong thing. And let us not forget the scene where the two main male characters go fisticuffs at each other for no good reason. And of course, the Ferrari driver in the climactic race looks like a villain from central casting.

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