5.10.2012

invasion of the paramount: day three

the selections for day three come to us courtesy of nick barbieri, web marketing associate at the paramount, and he warned me it was going to be somber. he is, quite obviously, a master of understatement. we begin things with fatih akin's fierce and staggering head-on (2004).

it is the story of two turkish immigrants on mutually self-destructive paths living in germany. cahit is in his forties, a whirlwind of furious depression that abuses whatever substance he can afford, who is essentially waiting around to die, as townes van zandt once put it. well, he's not so much waiting around as racing headlong toward it, ultimately driving his car straight into a wall in an intoxicated attempt to put himself out of his considerable misery. he fails at his attempt and while recovering he meets sibel, a beautiful twenty-something prone to implosion as well. in an effort to escape the clutches of her oppressive, traditional family she proposes marriage to cahit who demurs at first but later capitulates and they establish a marriage of convenience in which each is free to lead their own life. in more conventional love stories this would be the beginning of a familiar cycle of grudging affection and growing familiarity until the eventual happy ever after. these two are not that fortunate. faux domesticity isn't enough to eliminate the lesser angels of their natures. it tempers them somewhat, temporarily diverting those energies, but they still indulge in the behaviors that are taking their lives nowhere. the affection does grow, however, but unfortunately results in tragedy. cahit, still explosive, picks a fight one evening with an ex-lover of sibel's and accidentally kills the man. in the shadow of this tragic mistake, cahit and sibel come to the realization that they truly do love one another. it just took this terrible thing to make them understand it. then things get bad. with cahit languishing in prison, sibel returns to turkey, attempting to assuage her grief with more drugs and recklessness. she is raped and, later, viciously beaten. flash forward several years. cahit is released from prison and he travels to istanbul to find sibel, who has started her life over and has a son. she is stable and her sister tells cahit she no longer needs him. he persists and eventually sibel agrees to meet him. they finally consummate the marriage, now several years on, and make plans to leave together the following day. cahit waits for her at the appointed place and time but she does not come and when we last see him he is on the bus, finally returning to his hometown, alone. when you make a film like this you are treading a dangerous line. the slightest misstep and these characters teeter over into completely unsympathetic territory. there is nothing less interesting than one-dimensional reprobates indulging their appetites at everyone's expense. the leads in this, though, are incredibly charismatic and have such chemistry that you will forgive them terrible things.  they are not so inhuman as to be irredeemable. birol √ľnel as cahit was charged with a particularly difficult task. as an actor, i can imagine letting characters inhabit you is difficult enough, but how do you go about the task of thoroughly emptying yourself? when we find him he is a void, a thrashing husk, effectively dead already. to see him raise himself from unimaginable depths for the sake of love is a powerful thing. the difficulty of the turkish immigrant experience in germany only further compounds the difficulty. in the wake of the terrible fatal accident, when sibel returns to turkey, you get the feeling that the isolation and alienation of that experience is now hers to carry forever. no matter where she goes there will never be "home" ever again. appropriately enough for this film, there is no happy ending. while the two of them may have found a more serene existence without one another, they will never find solace. there is a price they will continue to pay for as long as they live. crushingly real, beautifully done.

we move from there even further into reality, love and desperation with peter friedman and tom joslin's silverlake life: the view from here (1993).

it is funny sometimes how the queue reflects/magnifies the world around me, but never so much as this film on this day. north carolina's heinous and hateful legislative blunder followed almost immediately by the first time the leader of the free world has ever spoken up for same sex marriage makes for an unforgettable climate in which to process this devastating and poignant film. it is a documentary that evolved from the video diaries being kept by tom joslin to document the battle he and his lover of twenty-two years, mark massi, were facing with AIDS. originally intended as joslin's project primarily, things took a turn as his health deteriorated much more rapidly than massi's. what follows is a tender and moving record of the ebb and flow of a terrible, unstoppable decay. the camera duties move from joslin to massi to friedman, a longtime friend and former student of joslin's, as the health of the two men enters a more steep decline. i am almost overwhelmed by how important a document this is. it is relentlessly honest and grants us total access to an issue that a good number of americans remain ignorant of some twenty years down the road. it should be required viewing. we watch these two men struggle with their disease, with their families and with their own fears and frustrations as they face what was, in 1993, a death sentence. i don't know that i have ever seen an american film deal so unflinchingly with death, to the point that we almost see the last breath escape joslin's body. massi trains the camera on his lover moments after he passes, singing "you are my sunshine", and it is just gutwrenching. the pain is almost unendurable. it may seem an odd thing to do, having the camera be so ever-present at these moments, but they seemed to innately know how vital it was that people see this. it was vital for them to fulfill these promises to one another and it was essential that someone tell the public at large the unvarnished truth about this disease and the heartbreaking circumstances of dying in america's margins, alienated even from your own family for simply living and loving as you choose. to temper the anguish somewhat, we also get to see the two men in much happier times. intercut with the family interviews and doctor visits, we get to see excerpts of a much older film featuring the two of them when they first met. as they stare into each other's eyes, we are witnessing the beginning of a great true love story. as we stare into tom joslin's eyes where the light has just gone out forever, we are witnessing a crucial and defiantly political piece of filmmaking. though it hurts, we should not look away.

whew. what a thorny, inspiring day. thanks, nick. you know i am happiest when being put through my paces. i appreciate you letting me see those, especially silverlake life, more than i can say.

does tomorrow hold a challenge or two as well?

you might say that. see you then!

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