Favela Rising: You probably recognize "favela" as the term for slum, as in the 300 poverty-infested neighborhoods around Rio de Janeiro. In the worst of these slums, in the crossfire of corrupt police and battling drug armies (some shown in video clips), Anderson Sá emerges as a voice of hope.
A former drug trafficker himself, Anderson turns to the transforming power of music, starting the performing group Afro-Reggae and teaching samba percussion to kids. Some of the stories and images of violence are deeply disturbing, though they're counterbalanced by images of more and more kids swayed by the possibility of a nonviolent future for themselves.
The film portrays Anderson's own trials as well, in which he finds a parallel to the transformation of his neighborhood. The film includes a great soundtrack, including some crazy harmonica beatboxing as well as tunes from Chico Cesar and Pink Martini. Mix that in with the compelling story and add Anderson's affinity for the Hindu deity Shiva -- and a powerful "cameo" by the Orisha Obatala -- and you've got one amazing film that I highly recommend.
Favela Rising trailer
Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno): Oscar-nominated for (among other things) Best Foreign Language Film, Pan's Labyrinth is being lauded as an adult fairy tale. I like such things, and I like supporting foreign-languages films when they (rarely) show up at our local uberplex. So rare are they that the girl selling the tickets issued a special warning: "You know that this is a foreign film, in Spanish, with English subtitles, right? You still want to see it?" Yes, I said, I do.
At least, that's what I thought at the time. The warning I wish she'd given is "You know that this film is a very dark fantasy, and that the villain is not only mean and overbearing, but also psychotic and violent? You know that even once his tyrannical credentials are well established, you'll be exposed to further images of torture, murder, and gore, right? You still want to see it?" Um, well, when you put it that way...
Knowing what I know now, I would have headed to another theater at that point. Yes, Pan's Labyrinth is a gorgeous film, with amazing sound and visual effects. But I went seeking fantasy, and the fantasy was too little and too late, with the bulk of the film taking place in the hard, violent reality of 1944 fascist Spain. And this reality was very realistic. Seeing this kind of lovingly detailed film violence makes me wonder: Would it be a good thing if all film violence were so realistic? Would this help re-sensitize jaded movie-goers?
I don't know. But I do know that I would rather take the stylized violence of, say, a Stephen Chow movie over this brutal realism any day. Any day at all. If you do see it, don't say I didn't warn you.
Pan's Labyrinth trailer