The Boss Inspiring Lives Across the Pond

The effects of music on our lives is hard to put into words but Sarfraz Manzoor, who was born in Pakistan and raised in Thatcher-era England, did just that. He can tell you exactly what kind of impact one musician — Bruce Sprinsteen — had on his once wayward life.

Do you love films inspired by true stories? Do you fancy a sweet teen romance with great production values and an inspirational plot? Blinded by the Light, is set in a small British town in 1987. Rebellious teens are shown sporting crazy hairstyles and listening to New Wave music. One young Pakistani teen is struggling with his identity under a strict Muslim father in a neighborhood vandalized by white nationalists.

Enter The Boss. When a high school friend gives our young hero two tapes of Bruce Springsteen music for his Walkman, the lyrics become the anthem that changes his life. Viveik Kalra stars as Javed; lip-syncing lyrics and shifting between rage and the joy of young love — smiling from ear to ear. He’s been writing poetry to express himself but is navigating two worlds. How to honor his father, face up to the racist bullies and pursue his dream of being a writer? Inspired by Springsteen’s lyrics about working class heroes, he begins to understand that the class warfare and racial intolerance are something worth fighting for. Gurinder Chadha, who also directed Bend it like Beckham, is a great fit for this material.

Based on the book, Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll; by Sarfraz Manzoor, the film uses Springsteen’s lyrics in a wonderful way. They become alive when the words are superimposed on the neighborhood buildings as Javed listens to them. The lyrics even swirl about his head as he absorbs them. By showcasing the lyrics this way, the meaning of the words and how they resonate for this conflicted young man are made real for the audience as well.

Many scenes are set inside Javed’s room as he writes away his frustrations or tries to style himself in The Boss’s image. Keeping the focus of the film on his home life and his interactions with his family gives this film an intimate feel — you are brought into the family dynamic. There’s a fun scene where the boys sneak a Bruce Springsteen record unto the turntable at the high school music station and that soundtrack follows the friends as they travel through town. As they travel past striking Union workers, a dance crew in the town square and their fellow students, everyone starts to dance to the music. This is a sweet teen film that tells the hero’s journey in a unique way. Blinded by the Light celebrates family and hard work and though it’s set in 1987 England, it’s sadly relevant for today’s America with our class division and intolerance.

Viveik Kalra, Nell Williams and Aaron Phagura appear in Blinded by the Light by Gurinder Chadha, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Nick Wall.

Drinks with Films Rating: 3 cups of Marsala Chai (out of 5)

One of my favorite films from 2016 is a messier version of this film — set in Ireland and also featuring a protagonist inspired by music and bullied by white nationalists — Sing Street was nominated for a Golden Globe but not seen by many people. If Blinded by the Light makes you smile but you’re more of an 80’s New Wave music fan…check out Sing Street. Not as much smiling, lower production values and more eye make-up — but also a lot of heart.

“VARDA BY AGNÈS”

Nothing is trite if you look at it with empathy and love. — Agnès Varda, from her last film, Varda by Agnès

a darling illustration of Varda from a bag I was lucky enough to score from the film’s publicist
Tom Luddy, Rosalie Vatda, Martin Scorsese, Mathieu Demy, moderator Annette Insdorf

Agnès Varda, the Belgian-born French filmmaker died in March and the Telluride Film Festival dedicated this year’s festival to her and celebrated her life and work with special guests. Bringing in her friend Martin Scorsese and her two children, Rosalie Varda and Mathieu Demy and the founder of the festival, Tom Luddy to discuss her ground-breaking work and then screening Varda’s last film, Varda by Agnès. An instant film-studies classic, her film is a beautiful overview of her work and collaborations with actors and cinematographers. Varda is shown giving talks to students in both France and the US with clips of her work, then the film jumps to new footage of Varda speaking with her actors in the same locations where she filmed.

Martin Scorsese spoke about having Agnès Varda visit him on the set of The Irishman (Opening at the NY Film Festival where Varda’s film will also screen). She chided him on his politics and he soothed her with saying the film was about unions since she’s was all about the working man. It was touching to hear how he sought her approval and valued her opinion. Rosalie and Mathieu spoke about their unusual upbringing when famous directors and stars were guests at their home and they traveled to LA with their father, Jacque Demy and their mother. She was always busy making films. Indiewire has a lovely interview with Rosalie in Agnès Varda’s Daughter On Her Mother’s Death and the Future of Her Archive.

from the 46th Telluride Film Festival Program

I was so glad I got to be at the Tribute screening of this film because Tom Luddy spoke of his relationship with Varda from his years in San Francisco. He introduced her to Jean Varda, who turned out to be a relative of hers and she immediately decided to make a film about their reunion. Luddy is in the film as she recreated her introduction by him in the short Uncle Yanco…and it’s featured in Varda by Agnès. The short also screened at the festival with Black Panthers, another film that Tom Luddy assembled the crew for and encouraged Varda to make so she could document an important movement in US history. It was great to her about her filmmaking process and how her creative energies; her joie de vivre made her someone that no one wanted to say no to.

Agnès Varda was a true genius, working right till the end of her life and it’s so inspiring to see her work and celebrate her life. Faces Places (Visages Villages) brought her a resurgence of popularity and the film was nominated for an Oscar and won many International awards. I hope this film will also get the acclaim it deserves.

Say Hello to “The Farewell”

Director and Writer, Lulu Wang has been winning accolades for her touching, personal film. The Farewell was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and won Audience Favorite. The emotional story follows a Chinese American family traveling from America for a fake wedding. The immediate family have decided to hide the truth about the family matriarch’s diagnosis and the wedding is an excuse for everyone to say goodbye. Awkwafina is perfectly cast as the American daughter straddling two cultures; she plays a stand-in for the director. The Farewell is based on a true story about Wang’s family which the director first shared as a story in a 2016 episode of This American Life. The film poster reads “Based on an actual lie.”

The film explores the daughter’s feeling of conflict. Should the grandmother be told the truth so she can say proper goodbyes and get her affairs in order? The Chinese family knows that this is not the case and that this is a “good lie” and one that lets the matriarch, Nai Nai (grandmother in Mandarin) retain her dignity and possibly prolong her life by not focusing on the illness. It’s unusual to see so many older actors be the focus of a story and it’s a view of China and Chinese culture that’s likely new to most people. Instead of a sad movie focusing on death, the story has funny moments and focuses instead on the resilience of family bonds.  Awkwafina’s expressive face showcases a wide-range of emotions: fear, anguish, joy and finally, acceptance. After her hilarious turn in Crazy Rich Asians, it’s interesting to see her playing it straight in a drama.

You’ll enjoy the ending with the “real” Nai Nai. The Farewell will warm your heart, but do yourself a favor and book dinner (or lunch) at a really good Chinese restaurant for after the movie…because The Farewell will also leave you hungry!

Awkwafina, center, surrounded by her movie family in China

Drinks With Films Rating

The Farewell – 4 shots of Baijiu (Chinese liquor) out of 5 — to celebrate family

Who Do You Trust?

Who do you trust?

It’s a rainy Saturday night and you’re in the mood to go to a movie. If you live in a major city, you have many choices of where to see a film and what to see. Do you rely on word of mouth? Is there a newspaper with a reviewer you trust? Or, like many Americans, do you simply pull up Rotten Tomatoes? If that’s the case–you’d likely miss out on this fine film, The Aftermath.

Keira Knightley has made a career of emotionally-riveting performances in period pieces. How you feel about this film will depend on your affinity for her, for foreign films set during war time, and complicated storylines featuring fraught romances. Will you trust me that this trio of well-regarded actors create nuanced characters, that the screenplay based on the book by Rhidian Brook presents a side of World War II that’s a different perspective than Americans are used to, and that the costumes and production design are phenomenal? Or will you believe the reviews on Rotten Tomato?

Director James Kent introduces this story of a British Colonel and his distraught wife with falling bombs. After an awkward train station greeting that reveals their discomfort, we see the devastation of Hamberg as they travel to their new home. The contrast between the visiting British military–the Victors, and the citizens–the war victims, still digging thru the rubble in the streets is starkly drawn. The couple, played by Keira Knightly and Jason Clarke spy a mother combing her daughter’s hair thru a bombed out apartment wall. Cut to the view of a beautiful mansion in the snow. The door opens to their new home–the luxurious manor home of a German architect (Alexander Skarsgård) filled with art and modern furniture.

Instead of the typical American film where the backstory is feed to us upfront, in The Aftermath, we discover each person’s tragedy as the story unfolds. The movie trailer reveals the steamy romance at the center of the story but it’s the Hitler youth and the tragedy of the young men lost on both sides of the war that is the central narrative. The daughter of the architect, Freda, played by a remarkable Flora Thiemann suffers the lose of her mother, then must see her home stolen from her family as she’s forced to live in the attic. How can she trust that her father will take of her?

The film wants us to think about how the British Military was sent to start Reconstruction when the city was full of starving, grieving displaced families that didn’t want them there and viewed them as the enemy. Would you trust the people who bombed your city to help you? How does a family grieve? How does a city grieve?

Alexander Skarsgård is the handsome star that will draw an audience. It’s Jason Clarke, who’s performance as the Colonel who’s had to bury his humanity to survive the evils of war, that deserves the attention. I left this film feeling like I’d had a history lesson but also experienced how war and tragedy changes us all. Trust me, it’s worth a watch.

Drinks with Films Review: 4 glasses of purloined German wine (out of 5)