Film Reviews 2008

With Good Vicente Amorim Gains Status

Source: O Globo (Brazil)

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© Good Films/Odd Lot International.
With a gala session next Wednesday, October 8, at 10 pm, at the Odeon, Good, by the Brazilian Vicente Amorim, proves that the Rio Festival has learned to leave the great (and, in this case, disturbing) surprises until last. Director of O Caminho das Nuvens, Amorim may now consider himself part of the select group of Brazilian filmmakers with strong international visibility, including Fernando Meirelles, Walter Salles, José Padilha and Carlos Saldanha, among (few) others, with this adaptation of C.P. Taylor's homonym play.

The filmmaker may have nailed it with the way he deals with the drama basis of the project, preserving a structure that reflects drama staging in his neoclassic shots. When you see an actor reach the maturity Viggo Mortensen, the lead actor in the movie, has reached, it's hard to immediately register the directing subtleties of a director that is not yet an auteur. But in this fable about the decaying certainties and morals of an idealistic intellectual, Amorim was careful enough to let his camera indicate Viggo's dramatic strength, reaching a fine balance.

Distant relative to Copenhagen, the acclaimed play by Michael Frayn that's part of the tradition of historic drama, Good follows the trajectory that leads literature professor and writer Halder (Mortensen) to the height of Nazism, between the years of 1933 and 1942. There are few characters at the drama's core, which seems to indicate the ideological conversion of a humanist educator into a spokesman of Hitler's aims. That's not the major point, though. Halder isn't intellectually inclined to the swastika's arms. He's a tragic, passive hero, overwhelmed by the power of the feelings of passion and love that rule him: his former student and now lover Anne (Jodie Whittaker) and the dream of a lively Germany. That's not a political dream. On the contrary, it's an almost ultra-romantic ambition. It's Halder's Goethe moment, showing his affinity with Romantism in his time and space evasions from the discrete hallucination that haunts him: the feeling that an old ballad from his homeland plays in the moments of highest affective tension.

That tension's peak has a name: Maurice, a Jewish shrink with whom he maintains a two decade long fraternal friendship, started during military duty. Maurice, smartly played by Jason Isaacs, outlines the chaos that Halder, blinded by need, fails to see. The new Germany rising before the protagonist's eyes, with SS officials (Hitler's FBI) bearing rings of Nibelungs in their fingers, obfuscates its evidence. A specialist in Marcel Proust's work, a censored author by the Nazis, Halder tries to leave "searching for the lost time" in his obedience to the Reich; but it's too late.

That feeling of "too late", materialized in a painfully poetic ending, is foreseen in the first scenes, by the cloud of sorrow surrounding Halder's head. The ethical and existential anvil in his conscience is translated by Mortensen's discreet gestures and biting look, that illustrate the greatness he has achieved as an actor. Through him, Good can compare with critically acclaimed films like A Man For All Seasons (1966), by Fred Zinnemann, for which Paul Scofield won the Oscar for his role as the philosopher Thomas More. The difference between these two characters is that Halder's "Utopia" lies in the preservation of values that Nazism threatens to take away. Specially, a value called friendship.

To translate this dramatic uneasiness, Amorim strips the movie from any epic feeling. Halder's drama is not that of a mythical figure. It's just the drama of someone who has remained true to his noblest feelings, not realizing that the most intimate of values may be corrupted by social relationship. Formally, the cinematography by British Andrew Dunn, perfectly serves the director's efforts, choosing a metonymical (linguistic figure in which the part replaces the whole) framing of close-ups. In close-ups, Halder's eye tells his truth: the stupefaction before a horror that screams, asking permission to pass.

Good is therefore more than just a good movie. The future will tell how long it remains in the eyes of cinema fans.
Last edited: 21 November 2008 15:53:42