We continue, and we’re halfway there through these series of essay/reviews about the nominated films to this year’s Oscars. Today we have the surprise nominee, fan favorite and thinkpiece grower, sequel action film that has garnered 10 nominations.
by Jaime Grijalba.
What is behind the overcoming praise for an action film in this day and age? And what is the thing that makes me agree with all of them? There’s something to be said about the idea behind the fact that a sequel to a 30+ year old franchise and whose other installments had no precedent in the history of the Oscars: it’s the idea behind the force of critics and the idea that a well crafted piece of genre still can be nominated, and sometimes win, in the whole landscape of the times in which we live, at least in terms of how the industry seems to work (but I must say that I’ve never been too bothered with the latest choices for best picture, I am a happy little salmon in that fact), but there’s no denying that this is maybe one of the weirdest and most different nominated films for Best Picture in a long time. It’s also one of the most impressive and better constructed action films in years, in terms of both choreography, editing and camera placement, so we know where everything is, and it’s not trying to mask its identity as a pure entertainment action film, that also happens to have some interesting thoughts on the side: it’s an always contradicting film about identity, gender, perception, reception and what we expect from films like this, or discourses like the ones touted around them.
The main one is its position as a feminist film, among other things, as a progressive and a completely different perspective towards women than in any other action film or even Mad Max film that has came out since the first ‘Mad Max’ (1979, Miller). The position of power that Furiosa has in the system created by the overbearing and patriarchal Immortan Joe is telling of how important and different the narrative of this film is compared to the rest, specially when we take a look at the place in which the movie starts: an institution/government that doesn’t differentiate itself from the way we live today, but it’s clearly much more extreme, obvious and demeaning towards every metaphoric aspect of it: the powerful are in the top, the poor, who scavenge and plead for water and food, are in the bottom of the whole chain, and it’s only the decision of those in top that let the drippings (much like in the capitalism system, that really doesn’t work) fall onto those that are less favored. It’s easy to color inside and imagine, because the movie invites you to do just that, which at the same time makes it easier to take ‘pot shots’ at. But what matters in the context of the film is how inherently powerful the figure of Imperator Furiosa is in the architecture of the society, and how taken for granted is, and the fact that she’s not a stock character “hero” or “villain”, she creates her own kind of character, the Furiosa character.
But while as strong as a character Furiosa is (and as minimized the role of Max himself is in the movie on the long run), and as noble her intentions are of saving the brides from the claws of the Immortan Joe and their repeated labors of breeding his legacy, I still think there’s an element of exploitation in how the bodies of the brides are photographed, specially after the sand storm sequence, where they are wet, their clothes glued to their naked skin, the almost slow-motion quality of the scene, as if Max had encountered a vision of paradise, the music even helps to certify that notion… so, that means that the whole intention of the film is sabotaged by that? Not at all. That means that the film is visually and thematically contradicting with itself, and thus becomes much more interesting and richer with every watch. The second time I watched it, thankfully on a big screen, I could see how the events that could possibly go against the whole thesis of the film about woman liberation from the oppression of those who destroyed the world (men), but at the same time I could see how clever George Miller was in smuggling all these ideas in the genre that, classically, has appealed more to men, at least in a historical sense, and if you find me at fault while saying that, well, hear me out as a member of a family where men love the stupid action films that I despise, while I group with the women to watch other stuff.
But enough of all that, I’ll have another venue to talk about Charlize Theron’s performance. I want to talk about the cinematography. I haven’t seen such a thing of beauty in action filmmaking in a long time. While it’s not my favorite cinematography of the year (that’d have to be the one in ‘Nie yin niang’ (2015, Hou), of course) I’d say that I haven’t seen such a bold use of Day for Night in today’s cinema that so thematically and artistically works as both contrast and as a breathtaking experience in theaters. The lush yellows and the deep blues are far far away from the “teal and orange” that seems to cover the spectrum of modern action filmmaking, as here the vivaciousness of every shade of the palette is what brings the richness in the eyes of the performers something incredible: for Charlize Theron, half of the power in her powerful performance is thanks to her eyes, either shadowed or clean, as they shine thanks to the precise lighting in both “modes” (day and night), while Tom Hardy most of the time doesn’t have anything else besides the bright eyes to convey the emotions, his trust or distrust, and all of that would’ve been lost on a half-assed cinematography. It is precise, incredible and something worth applauding.
While it seems that there’s much much to talk about regarding this movie, I can’t say much more, when I saw ‘Mad Max’, about six or seven years ago, I didn’t like it, and I didn’t think much of ‘Mad Max 2’ (1981, Miller), so I wasn’t really expecting to like it, but I must say that this is the culmination of the incredible career of George Miller, someone who has managed to increase the stakes and through painstaking precision and wont, he was able to churn out one of the most entertaining, emotional and overall masterful works of action cinema in a long time. It’s my favorite film nominated for Best Picture this year, and I hope that it surprises us by winning.