Films for Winter
After watching Bong-Joon Ho’s award-winning Parasite (not yet available through the library) my boyfriend and I decided to check out some of his other films. First we watched The Host (2006) a horror movie about the horrendous results of human abuse of the environment, the film opens with an evil scientist pouring large amounts of formaldehyde down the drain into a river. This week we watched Snowpiercer (2013) by Bong Joon-Ho and Waterlilies, Celine Sciamma’s debut film (2007). The two films could not be more different in the themes, pacing, settings, cinematography and emotional tenor.
In Snowpiercer we are presented with a terrifying post-apocalyptic scenario where climate change action has gone wrong and the earth is a frozen wasteland and no longer habitable. All of humanity’s survivors are contained within the compartments of a train which endlessly circles the globe. The train is a compacted microcosm of class struggle, a strict hierarchy is brutally enforced. The proletariat classes dwell within the dark, cramped filthy rear of the train, kept alive by eating gelatinous protein bars of condensed insects while the upper classes reside in the front end in cramped luxury. The film is based on the original graphic novel series Snowpiercer by Jacques Lob.
The upper classes never come in contact with the poor dwellers, indifferent to their suffering, and are seen as being in their rightful place. The rulers are unimaginably cruel, dehumanizing the poor by subjecting them to public torture and separating families. The action of the film is an uprising of the oppressed passengers, made all the more tense by the narrow constraints of the train and unpredictable lighting conditions. The entire film is tense, with frequent bloodbaths, as the poor heroically work their way from the back to the front of the train.
The French title of Waterlilies is "Naissance des Pieuvres" translating to "birth of the octopuses". Waterlilies is beautifully-lit, sensual and slow. Sciamma tells us the story of three teenage girls’ sexual awakening in suburban France. Marie, sullen and sensitive, becomes fixated on Floriane. Floriane is in the midst of exploring her sexual power with various men and boys while facing bitter judgement and jealousy from her synchronized swimming teammates. Marie’s friend Ann, who is awkward and clumsy, is fixated on sex. Ann has a raging crush on a boy from the water-polo team who walks in on her naked in the change room. It is a film that’s about looking and being seen, the anxiety of expressing sexuality, desirability, the pain of judgement and rejection, and a longing for connection.
In Waterlilies we focus on adolescent girls who are always at the pool, swimming, showering, performing synchronized swimming, cycling and dancing. There is no political commentary and no adults. Our attention is focused entirely on the relationships between the characters and their social hierarchies, which are much more subtle and are not enforced, but implied.
In Snowpiercer there is no sensuality and little tenderness. Physical connection between characters is almost always violent. Transgressions are the puncturing of flesh with axes, fire, knives, guns, bodies freeze to death, and people are maimed countless times. The suffering in this film is abject, but permitted because of the heroic qualities of the proletariat and their rightful resistance of the cruel upper classes. Snowpeircer focuses on grizzled, grimy men who have been hardened by the cruelty of their oppressors and the brutality of their living quarters.
I liked that Sciamma’s Waterlillies didn’t exoticize or sensationalize the lesbian love scenes for the sake of a viewer’s gratification. Eroticism is implied and resides mostly in the realm of fantasy. When Marie and Floriane kiss in the changing room, it's more charged than the candidly depicted sex scene between Adele and Emma in Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013, also based on a graphic novel by Julie Maroh). Waterlilies sustains tension characters are left emotionally ambivalent right until the end.
These two films are wildly different but both directors deserve our attention. In the cold of winter, if you can bear to get colder, watch Snowpeircer, otherwise watch Waterlilies! I am anticipating Sciamma's newest film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which is currently on order, starring the enchanting Adele Exarchopoulos (who also starred in Waterlilies).
What are your favorite coming of age films? What post-apocalyptic action movies do you recommend?
Come watch films at the Toronto Reference Library on Tuesday afternoons from 2 -4pm as part of our History, Mystery and Discoveries program series. We have an excellent line up of documentaries planned every week until the end of February. We offer many other free movie screenings across our branches throughout the year.