Film Recommendations: “Integrity”

Alex Watkin

Last month, Alex selected three films around the theme of “hypocrisy” inspired by the unfortunate reoccurrence of high profile politicians flouting their own COVID-19 restrictions. This month, in contrast, the theme surrounds the virtue of sticking to your word and staying true to your principles – “Integrity”.

A Hidden Life (2019) Directed by Terrence Malick

Director Terrence Malick’s philosophical style synergises perfectly with the story of an Austrian farmer (August Diehl) who refuses to fight for the Nazis during World War II. The character Malick crafts, from real life conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter, has an unpretentious honesty which provides the necessary sincerity to Malick’s poetic enquiries.

Within a small personal story, Malick explores monumental thematic repercussions far greater than many War films which focus directly on the military combat. Ultimately, he explores the ability all of us possess to influence the world in small but meaningful ways.

Unlike many films, A Hidden Life doesn’t feel like a series of contrived dramatic events

Malick’s dreamlike handheld wide-angle cinematography allows for a unique sense of intimacy with the characters and brings impressionistic personality to the Austrian landscapes. Rather than filming short snippets and compiling them to build a scene, Malick and cinematographer Jörg Widmer filmed long extended takes and then cut these down to the significant moments.

Unlike many films, A Hidden Life doesn’t feel like a series of contrived dramatic events, but rather a collection of organic moments which combine to create a touching story. This is because the camera isn’t dictating the action, rather it’s the other way around. Like in a documentary, the action dictates the camera, which instinctually captures the reality. This schema provides A Hidden Life an unparalleled sense of reality.

The Dark Knight (2008) Directed by Christopher Nolan

Too often denigrated as solely a film about Joker (Heath Ledger), Christopher Nolan’s second Batman (Christian Bale) film is in fact one of the few times in live action Batman’s psychology has been properly explored.

Christopher Nolan, brother Jonathon Nolan and David S Goyer, craft a script which prioritises the ethical conflict over the physical conflict, thus allowing the film to transcend the superhero genre. Even so, it also has some of the best superhero spectacle ever put on film. Nolan’s belief in practical effects coupled with the dynamic internal conflict constantly provide the action dramatic weight.

In many ways, The Dark Knight is still in origin territory, with this being Batman’s first encounter with eternal nemesis Joker (at least that’s the way it seems watching The Dark Knight on its own, undoubtedly Heath Ledger’s tragic and untimely passing affected the direction of the series moving forward).

Throughout, the Joker tries to corrupt Batman, to force him to brake his rules and compromise his unwavering morality. This inexperienced Batman has to learn to adapt to Joker’s psychological warfare and as he does he becomes the quintessential version of the character. The ending echoes Nolan’s Memento and Inception; in all three there is a prioritising of personal truth over objective factual reality- in The Dark Knight it occurs because of Batman’s inflexible morality. 

Where Is The Friend’s House? (1987) Directed by Abbas Kiarostami

This Iranian film, from director Abbas Kiarostami, depicts eight-year-old Ahmed (Babek Ahmadpour) who must find his friend’s house to return a school exercise book which he took by accident. Alone, Ahmed traverses local Iranian villages in desperate search. If he doesn’t find the house before the next morning the friend will likely be expelled from school.

The film plays out similarly to the Italian neo-realist film Bicycle Thieves (1948), with both intensifying a sense of hopelessness as the films continue. Like Bicycle Thieves, the straightforward concept works brilliantly, providing both clear internal and external conflict.

Kiarostami crafts a film which reminds us of the nobility of youthful black and white morality

The cinematography of Where Is The Friend’s House? is creative yet modest, with each shot given the time to breathe. Dialogue is limited, but when it is used it’s never wasted with each new verbal exchange providing another layer to the central conflict. All this creates a schema that is thoughtfully minimalistic and fully sustains the 83-minute runtime.

Besides the physical environment being a barrier for Ahmed in his quest to find his friend, he’s also faced with the discouraging traditionalist attitudes of the adults in the community. They completely ignore Ahmed’s pleas for help, instead preaching to him the need for homework, housework and discipline in general.

Over the course of the film, we – like Ahmed – become frustrated with the adults’ inability to genuinely listen to him as we are reminded what it’s like to be an eight-year-old. Kiarostami crafts a film which reminds us of the nobility of youthful black and white morality and hence teaches us that adults absolutely have something to learn from children.  

Alex Watkin

Featured Image courtesy of UCFFool via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

In-article trailer 1 for A Hidden Life courtesy of SearchlightPictures via youtube.com. No changes were made to this video.

In-article trailer 2 for The Dark Knight courtesy of Movieclips Classic Trailers via youtube.com. No changes were made to this video.

In-article trailer 3 for Where Is The Friend’s House? courtesy of Zé da Adega via youtube.com. No changes were made to this video.

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