Today I'd like to review and compare two documentaries that I've recently seen, “Born Into Brothels” and “Gunner Palace”, hereby referred to as BIB and GP.
BIB caught my attention even before the Oscars. I saw the preview before “Hotel Rwanda” and thought it looked fascinating: woman goes to Calcutta, teaches children of the lowest caste to take artistic photos. Will the children rise up and out of their poverty?
If only for the exploration of how art brings beauty into life, it looked worthwhile.
So Nancy, Hadas, and I checked it out after a fine meal at Pho Lemon (spicy curry tofu, yum).
I left the theater with more complaints that praise, however. BIB did show that art lifts us up. But the documentary was not art itself: shaky camera work made it hard to view, and incomplete background information made for confusion during the first half of the show. Where exactly was this taking place? How long had the filmmaker been there? And differentiating between the children became a little difficult, especially when some of the girls happened to look alike.
Believe it or not, I don't feel that BIB truly showed the destitution of the brothels of Calcutta. The shots were not wide and didn't fully encompass the area. One did become emotionally involved with the kids, though, especially with Avijit, the boy whose artistic talent brings him prizes and good fortune, only to be held back by the confusion of the Indian bureaucracy. (By the way, at first I totally online casino spelled bureaucracy wrong. That's a tricky word to spell!) The ending was not quite an ending, since life never has an ending when you're right in the middle of it; I was saddened but not surprised by some of the epilogues. On the other hand, there were a few children who surprised me in their tenacity and ability to get out of their situations. Even though BIB won the Oscar for best documentary, I wouldn't recommend seeing it, unless it's on video and you really, really enjoy photography.
GP was a movie I didn't expect to enjoy, but I actually did. It was made a year ago, and thus it was filmed before most of the American casualties in Iraq had occurred. GP is a picture of the lives of soldiers in Iraq, one that hadn't been presented as well in “Fahrenheit 9/11.” This was less of a political missive and more of a video diary of Charlie Battery, a group of soldiers who live in and work out of a decrepit old palace in Baghdad. They have a pool, a band, and some parties, but for the most part, they spend their days in fear that an IED on the street will blow up their poorly armored vehicles. They break into houses at night, searching out members of Hussein's party; sometimes civilly, sometimes violently. The variety of people serving over there was fascinating: women and men, people of all ethnic backgrounds. I thought the film portrayed quite well the different reactions the soldiers receive from the Iraqi people — some help and serve as translators and informants, some join groups that are being trained to police Baghdad (“Only for the money,” said one soldier), some throw rocks and build bombs and aim to get Americans out.
I got bored a couple times during the movie, but I think that's because the soldiers' lives actually get a little rote at times. There were a couple things that stuck with me — first, a soldier commented that he doesn't feel like he's protecting the USA anymore – he's now concerned with protecting himself. And at the end of the documentary, we learn that a few soldiers we met in the previous eighty minutes have died in various altercations.
I recommend “Gunner Palace.” It's very easy to forget that 1500 American military have died in Iraq already — these are our fellow citizens, and their stories should be heard, whether one agrees with the war or not.