Film Reviews 2009

Good, Moving Away From Reality

Source: La Republica Cultural

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Image Larry Horricks.
© Good Films.
Roberto Alcover Oti pointed out in Dirigido (The Guide),...that the movie-maker Bryan Singer, transformed into an unexpected aesthete, has managed in the recent Valkyrie to deactivate our capacity for reflection through the device of exposing a few facts with no objective other than pure entertainment. That is to say, it tells us nothing about the moral chaos existing among the Nazis themselves. It is still a given that the subject matter of the Jewish Holocaust, which is a bottomless sea, continues attracting audiences and continues being a smart bet at the box office as much from the economic point of view as the artistic, even though the second is increasingly subordinated to the first. The approaches are multi-faceted and diverse, but it is interesting to note that few have examined and explored the inside of the National Socialist beehive, orchestrating a more ambiguous study of an individual trapped in his own web, like the familiar "good man," now and in the past, who in the bizarre atmosphere of false distinctions falls into the thickets of perverse power manipulation.

Hollywood has steadfastly maintained their strategy of well-defined Manichean distinctions, since D.W. Griffith put it into practice with excellent results for the general audience of that new entertainment medium, the film. And though the good guys have fooled around with a greater range of possibilities, including their peccadilloes being adorable, the bad guys have been sketched in a black and absolutely biblical diabolical wickedness.

And consequently doubt has almost never made an appearance in the juicy material about the various "hives" that shaped the SS, which, obviously had to make use of a distinguished group of elite professional institutions to give respectability and appropriate correctness to the new cause of creating the perfect society. Philosophers, professors, film makers (among them those whose names we've all frequently repeated), physicists and chemists, or writers like the protagonist of Good, from the Brazilian director born in Austria, Vicente Amorim. Maybe if Amorim had not embarked on his project with a star as adaptable as Viggo Mortensen, his film would have passed unnoticed on the screen, or simply would be in a drawer with thousands of other movies that were never released. But Viggo is one of those delicious creatures that can perform in big mainstream adventures, as well as play small parts in smaller movies, and he seems to have a taste for the honey of the small, and gives it an appearance of intimacy and admiration that few actors, many more remote, ever achieve. Adorable Viggo who whispers Spanish to us with an Argentine accent.

There are films that deal with the past that speak to and warn of the present. Good is one of those. It warns, to begin with, that you are not being presented with the usual film. Amorim's movie is grounded in a reflection on the ethical and moral, without glamorizing the staging and its aesthetic and narrative balance. That produces, understood within the parameters of the film's seductiveness, the strange effect of erratic delusions which permeate the theatrical aesthetic of few characters and limited spaces, but do so from a deeper level than that which its apparent pointlessness suggests during the course of the film, and in which the specific weight of the emotional impact provoked in the viewer lies in the subtle work and minimalism of the actors. Amorim's project, an adaptation of a play, utilizes allegory with some metaphoric images which give this story its distinctive character and which end in a final emotional crescendo.

That said the story is based very little on the before and after circumstances of the protagonist, an intellectual won over (willingly or unwillingly) by Nazism. In fact, a few hints, some indications of his personal situation occur that attempt to sketch his personality as pusillanimous and hesitant, but at the same time kindly. The central theme of the film is the way in which governments enlist certain intellectuals in order to completely convince their already starry-eyed followers and win over the doubters and to avoid the controversies that all professional elites carry (or should carry) as baggage.

Good is a film that has so much substance to sample, to deconstruct, and badly I'm afraid that I am going to extend this commentary more than is customary. But I take as mine the words of Alejandro G. Calvo that a criticism should always be something more, without lecturing or insisting, or being an automaton, but permeable, never static, always alive and incomplete, even mistaken and outrageous with no limits on the horizon, remote from the bureaucracy that imposes the mediocrity of what is read in all media. Farewell to those who have grown weary and patience to those who continue here.

It is repeated ad nauseum that Nazism rose from the ashes, that an exhausted and demoralized people needed charismatic and shining ideas that promised to order the normal chaos, that of man in his global context. Order the chaos inherent in humanity! For that there is nothing better than to construct concepts. Seduce the masses with the ideal society and entrap the intellectuals with dazzling materialism, sinecures and privileges, lavish attention and admiration. Nothing they like more. Yesterday or today.

John Halder is one of those intellectuals. Writer and university professor, his ideas about euthanasia for humanitarian purposes, expressed in a fictional novel, are utilized conveniently by the Nazis. Considered a bankable commodity, he is attracted little by little to the party of which he eventually becomes a member. The camera breathes his character's insecurity and transmits, more with the silences of Viggo/Halder than with words, his somewhat naïve social climbing. But there is something different in this slow transformation of Halder; while he resists reality, his unconscious rises to the surface in sporadic hallucinations in which music is the central character. Something that the director has planted without warning and which surprises the audience exceedingly. But let's clarify something, this curious surrealistic touch which at first seems to break the dramatic flow, turns out to be a perfectly valid and suggestive instrument in the end.

Amorim expresses, lavishly, this man of letters' tense fluctuations between fear and internal disagreement with what he sees, between kindly discretion and disgust, between his desire for promotion and the betrayal of trust due to his friend and to the Jews in general. Amorim plays it calmly; he does not want to construct an explosive crescendo to a grand melodrama. He maintains the intensity with unhurried pacing in order to head for a demoralizing collision with reality, and he does it with an aesthetic that continues to be seductive in the creation of ambience, good costuming and proper utilization of shooting in Budapest. Halder represents one of those ambiguous Nazis who, with the intention of improving their status, utilize their convenient and comfortable blindness, ending up in a situation with no way out.

Not without certain provoking frustrations about story construction, we watch how Halder moves from the family chaos in which he finds himself, to a new family arrangement at the hands of Anne, a seductive young woman seduced by Nazism to showing how cold-blooded this arrangement is. Good is a commendable choice that speaks to the present and the morality of intellectuals in relationship to power. It is a struggle, a different challenge for the viewer. An antidote to the watered-down mainstream. It leaves behind a long wake of reflection about what was pointed out at the beginning, the moral chaos among the Nazis themselves.
Last edited: 4 August 2009 14:45:33
© La Republica Cultural.