Saturday, March 31, 2007

Three Documentaries

Three excellent documentaries I saw recently. All highly recommended.

Touching the Void: Touching the void tells the real life story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, two Brits in their early twenties, who go on a mountaineering expedition in the Peruvian Andes. The 6344 metres high Siula Grande mountain has never been climbed before and the two men want to make a name for themselves. After three and half days of continuous climbing they both make it up to the summit but on the way down Joe meets with an accident and fractures his leg. Simon tries to bring his friend down with him initially but after some further mishaps has to take the painful decision of cutting the rope and making his way back down alone. The real story starts from here about how Joe survives against all odds even after having "touched the void", i.e came face-to-face with death. It could easily have become one of those cheesy stories about how inspiration and the will to succeed against all odds leads to success etc but it does not mainly because it is so awesomely shot. The story is narrated entirely through the voices of the (real) Joe and Simpson and their third partner who was in-charge of the base camp. The rest of the film is a dramatic reconstruction of the actual events. And what a reconstruction it is! If you have seen films like Cliffhanger or Vertical Limit and think you have seen enough, wait till you see this one. Also the struggle and ordeal that Simon goes through, virtually crawling his way back to the base of the mountain, it makes one think afresh as to where does this will t0 survive come from? What is this elemental force that keeps him going against such insurmountable odds? Did he have something special psychologically? Must have been. That's why not all of us become mountaineers. Some reviews of the film here.

One Day in September: The Munich Olympics terrorist attack was in news last year because of the controversy surrounding the Steven Spielberg film Munich. Spielberg's film also had a brilliant reconstruction of what happened in Munich but the rest of the film was very naive, simplistic and cliched. This documentary is not really a reconstruction but is made entirely of actually footages from the tragic event. Michael Douglas in his sonorous voice provides the sparse commentary but rest of the time it is the events which speak for themselves directly. There is also a remarkable interview with one of the survivors of the Black September terrorist group responsible for the attacks. He performs the usual role of providing the other side of the story. There are also interviews of the German officials in charge of the negotiation and the rescue operation. Overall the Germans come out very bad in the end for the ineptness they showed. It is shocking to see how ridiculously ill prepared they were. There is also an interview with the wife of one of the murdered member of the Israeli team. It is all fused together so brilliantly that it is difficult to take your eyes off screen for even a second. It is relentless and horrifying and suspenseful, even though one already knows how the whole thing will end in advance. Like Touching the Void, this film was also directed by Kevin McDonald, who obviously looks like a very important filmmaking talent on the strength of just these two films. It also won the Oscar for the best documentary film in 2000. The Wikipedia page of the film here.

Into the Arms of Stranger: On the eve of the second world war a remarkable rescue operation called Kindertransport saved the lives of over ten thousand Jewish children by taking them away from their homes in Central Europe and Germany to England, where they lived in foster homes and orphanages. A major part of the documentary is about the men and women, now in their sixties and seventies, telling their experiences of leaving home at such an age and landing up in an alien country. Judi Dench provides the necessary narration with her usual crispness. It is remarkable, the clarity and enthusiasm with which all of them tell their painful stories. A few of them were even reunited with their parents after the war but most of them were not so lucky. They knew the terrible truth about what had happened to their parents soon after the war ended. It is also tragic to think how many more lives could have saved. Only children were allowed because the British government thought that they wouldn't be of considerable burden to the national economy! And even then they had to go through lots of bureaucratic hassles. A similar proposal to bring children to US was quashed by the senate because they felt that the children belonged to their parents and they couldn't allow children to come on their own. It won the Oscar for the Best Documentary film too. This is the wikipedia page.


steve m said...

"Fractured his leg" is a bit of an understatement isn't it? His shin bone went through his knee! I wrote about this film here

Alok said...

thanks steve, will check out your post.