Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri

 

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Frances McDormand in Three Billboards outside Ebbing Mssori. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

I did not run out and see writer/director/producer Martin McDonagh’s new film Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri because I knew it had something to do with an abduction of a young girl, and as a  parent, I tend to avoid plots like that. I didn’t really read about the film either, just enough to know that Frances McDormand was in it and that it was curiously labeled a dark comedy. This last factor is what got me to the theater earlier today; how could a film about the loss of a child be comic?

Three Billboards accomplishes this difficult feat because it isn’t actually about what happened to the lead character Mildred Hayes’ daughter Angela as much as it’s about what happened to the community around this awful event, and by extension, what happens to communities all over the world in the face of trauma, injustice, and tragedy.

McDormand plays Hayes as a steely-eyed, somewhat frightening, divorced mother trying to make it through each day in the wake of her daughter’s vicious rape and murder several months earlier. Frustrated with the lack of suspects brought in and her sense that the police are too busy harassing African-American kids for misdemeanors to “do their job” and investigate the murder, she takes the odd step of purchasing space on three billboards on the remote road near where her daughter was killed to chastise the police chief by asking why there have been no arrests. When it is revealed that the chief has pancreatic cancer, the town turns on Hayes, seeing her billboards as cruel considering he is on his deathbead.

And in a sense, it is cruel for her to leave those signs up in light of the chief’s devastating illness that will leave his two young daughters fatherless in a matter of weeks or moths. But it is this sort of  morally ambiguous circumstance that is piled up in layers throughout the brilliantly constructed script. The characters face tragedy after tragedy, each one responding in the way humans ordinarily do: with anger, violence, and hatred. And time and time again that response leads to further injustices, more pain for someone, and little by little an erosion of the community itself.

I could talk about the strength of McDormand’s performance, the equally solid work of Woody Harrelson as the Chief and Sam Rockwell as a racist police officer, but the weight of the film is carried by its script, which never feels predictable, but ends up seeming very real and very familiar. Police brutality, anti-cop violence, misogyny, racism, the victimization of young women, even the crimes of the Catholic Church are all subjects broached here, but ultimately, I was moved by everything in the story leading to the conclusion that anger in the face of tragedy must be tempered by thought, compassion, and an abiding vigilance guarding our common humanity.

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Tom of Finland Opens in New York

c474032a-dd9f-485b-8ff5-0b69c9abf9c0.jpgI caught this film at Tribeca earlier this year and, coincidentally, there was an art gallery in Provincetown showing original works by “Tom of Finland.” The movie is opening on Friday in New York and I really hope it will make its way to the Cape, because it was a really interesting perspective. I really never knew much about Finland’s position during World War II, and although the story is about an artist whose depictions of homoeroticism have made him a household name in Finland as well as in the gay community around the world, the impact of the war that is shown this film is really quite fascinating. Anyway, here is a story I wrote about it in Provincetown Magazine this past spring.

Closing Night: Yallah! Underground

This year the festival was diverse in its offerings, but with a common goal of offering different views of life in Arab and Middle Eastern countries.

So often I hear from people who say they think Muslims should be doing more to combat terrorism or people who have never heard of Arabs who are not anti-American fundamentalists. This is a fundamentally broken system of media at work, presenting only horrifying images to us, with no element of hope. This is why the Arab Spring was so surprising to us, in the U.S., at least. We didn’t know there were regular, normal people in the Arab world. We didn’t know there were courageous revolutionaries who want the same things we want: freedom of expression, tolerance, and the ability to pursue their lives without undue government interference.

The Closing Night Selection is Yallah! Underground, a film by Farid Eslam that shows us alternative, underground artists in Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon. These are young musicians and artists with something to say who are not afraid to say it. It is so inspiring to see younger musicians expressing themselves joyfully on stages in front of other young people having a great time. There is always the need to share music, around the world, and always the need to come together and experience the arts, whether as a release from the tensions of life, or as a provocation to change our lives. I am so happy to be presenting this film tonight, co-sponsored by WOMR, at their studios in Provincetown.

The film will be preceded by I Am Palestine, a short film by Farid Kirreh and Kai Staats that profiles various Palestinians. You can watch a trailer for that film here. One of the directors, Kai Staats, will join us via Skype for Q&A (hopefully!). I look forward to seeing you all tonight in Provincetown

The Cape Cod Festival of Arab & Middle Eastern Cinema closes tonight, Sunday, May 7, at 7 p.m. with Yallah! Underground at WOMR Studios, 494 Commercial St., Provincetown. Tickets ($15) can still be purchased online this afternoon, and then at the door.