Wheeler shows films with intriguing parallels
What an opportunity awaits in local theaters. And it’s not the latest and last “Star Wars” film. In fact, this cinematic treat involves two films: “Crash,” which is in its well-deserved third week in Aspen and El Jebel, and “Up and Down” – which shows just two nights, today and Monday, at the Wheeler Opera House.Not only are both films outstanding on their own, but the two are startlingly similar in theme, structure and feel. “Crash” is entirely about racism in the melting pot culture of present-day Los Angeles; racism in the melting pot of Prague, Czech Republic, is the most prominent of the handful of issues explored in “Up and Down.” In both films, an ensemble cast populates a series of vignettes that sometimes barely touch one another and occasionally collide, violently and poignantly. Both films are intense, unafraid to make the audience squirm – although “Crash” has the upper hand in this department. The fact that both films feature a pair of hoodlums menacing their respective cities and a separate case of people-smuggling is downright bizarre.It is a bonus that the parallel movies come from different film-making cultures. The American film “Crash,” the directorial debut of Paul Haggis – who also wrote the screenplay for the Academy Award-winning “Million Dollar Baby” – is no standard Hollywood production. But despite its small budget (reported at $6.5 million at imdb.com), it sports a cast of Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Don Cheadle, Ryan Phillippe and more recognizable names. Further, though it addresses a most weighty topic in a deadly somber way, “Crash” plays like a slick thriller, calculated to grab the audience by the collar. This is the rare case where that is not a criticism.”Up and Down” comes from Europe, where the tradition is to allow greater room for interpretation. Director Jan Hrebejk – whose exceptional World War II drama “Divided We Fall” earned a best foreign film Oscar nomination in 2000 – observes from a greater remove, with more subtle points of view. While “Crash” forces the viewer to reflect on racism – that on the screen and in their own being – “Up and Down” is looser in focus, exploring family dynamics as much as racism. There is even an air of comedy to the plot lines – about a reformed soccer hooligan and his baby-craving wife, and a man returning from Australia to visit his aging father and extended family. Thus, “Up and Down” doesn’t have the same contrived quality as “Crash,” which relies on a series of coincidences to make its statement.Beyond the content, “Crash” and “Up and Down” have similar things to say about humanity. In both films, individuals are capable of the best deeds and the worse intentions, and vice versa. Often in the same day. We fight off our demons; we give in to our most parochial tendencies. We crash (more often than not, into one another), we get up, we fall back down. And that applies equally to an L.A. cop or a Czech humanitarian.Consider both films equal treats. (And for the full weekend immersion, rent “Magnolia,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant 1999 film to which both “Crash” and “Up and Down” have been compared.)Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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