Month: September 2020

The Painted Bird (2020)

Written for RAF News September 2020

Life is suffering – never has this adage been truer than in Václav Marhoul’s The Painted Bird. A young boy is left without a guardian in war-torn Eastern Europe and so finds himself falling through the care and clutches of various people – most harbouring such a cruel sadism that it makes the occupying Nazi’s look simply more orderly in their approach to torture.

The Painted Bird - PÖFF - Pimedate Ööde filmifestival

Passed from an old crone, who believes him to be a vampire, to a jealous miller (Udo Kier), from an elderly priest (Harvey Keitel) sold to a lecherous loner (Julian Sands), from a Nazi soldier (Stellan Skarsgård) to a twisted kind of milk-maiden. The film weaves a tapestry of malevolence that is so ubiquitous that it’s crossover with the second world war appears incidental.

Shot in crisp black and white, there is a stunning beauty to the horror on screen, which makes it that much stranger to endure. It reminded me of the phantasmagoric Russian film Hard to Be A God, but rather than a sprawling Boschian hellscape, this one is more pointed and concise, and without the respite of humour.

It’s a gruelling watch, and as you stay longer in the company of the tortured and tormented young boy, played phenomenally by Petr Kotlar, you become cynical of any offered kindness. You watch as he interacts with different animals, each carrying symbolic significance, none moreso than the titular bird, which is painted by an elderly man who demonstrates the plight of this young boy and indeed the Jewish people: we watch the now segregated bird return to it’s flock unrecognised, pecked to death in a flurried murmuration before it falls from the sky.

The Painted Bird is unrelenting, and you might wonder why the film was even made, adapted from Jerzy Kosiński’s controversial 1965 novel of the same name. I have found few answers, but the images and ideas live long in the memory, though there are many you’d much rather forget.

The Karate Kid (1984)

Late night rewatch of this 80s classic at my local cinema where the subtext became glaringly obvious and touchingly profound.

Daniel Larusso, a wise-cracking street kid with charm and a taste for karate, moves from New Jersey to California with his mother.

The handyman for his local apartment comes in the shape of Okinawan mystic, Mr Miyagi, who slyly teaches him spiritual life-lessons but then also springs in to defend him from the Arian nation of bullies from his school with some spin kicks and high chops.

Trained in the Cobra Kai Dojo run by an ex-marine who teaches mercilessness, alpha-nazi Johnny takes issue with Danielson and repeatedly beats and harasses him with his gang, until it is decided that they shall meet in a proper karate tournament.

The Karate Kid is a film about fatherhood and models of masculinity. Daniel agrees to carry out chores for Mr Miyagi in the hopes of receiving training before he realises that this was the training. By waxing cars and painting fences he has powerful wrist movements that can block incoming attacks.

It is Miyagi’s incidental parenting that teaches discipline that can be applied elsewhere in Danielson’s life. His role is not solely a yoda-like guru (offering near exact advice as “do or do not, there is no try” except with a bit of colour about grapes and highways) he is an old man who lost his chance to be a father when he lost his wife and unborn child.

Carrying a zen-like patience, he passes on his wisdom though seemingly mundane and trivial instruction – but this becomes the model of Larusso’s character. When Miyagi tells him that he learnt from his father, Larusso says ‘you musta had some kind of father’. The sequel confirms that Larusso’s father had died – making this surrogate position an open vacancy. And Miyagi calls him Danielson. But of course!

Although it carries the 80s motif of good guys beat up bad guys in the end, even though they are the underdog and didn’t want to fight, the message, to my mind, was about the the ways in which you teach your children and ready them for the world, and the lessons we don’t realise that we’re learning. I had put away a few cocktails by this point.