Heidi (1937)

I happened to hire out this DVD for a relative, but I watched it and really enjoyed it.

I have known about Heidi but hadn’t been impelled to engage in it.

Having had a nosy on the internet, it’s based on the Johann Spyri children’s book, published in the late 1800’s. The story of Heidi has since been adapted for television and the movie screen many times.

I hired out the Shirley Temple one. It’s the color version, so there may be a black and white original.

In ten minutes I was hooked in to this sweet movie.

Heidi’s Grandfather Adolph (Jean Hersholt) is huddled away in the snowy Swiss Alps. He looks after Heidi (Shirley Temple) when her parents die and the silent and detached man becomes fond of her. Their friendship grows warmly.

Despite Adolph having had a chip on his shoulder, against people and God, his faith in God and others comes back to life. This movie is therefore spiritual as well as for a thoughtful mood. It’s also got real life themes.

As the story goes, Heidi really wants to be with Adolph, but is moved around by others. Upset by Heidi’s departure from the Alps, Adolph walks to Frankfurt to bring her back.

At Frankfurt, she becomes friends with a wheelchair-bound invalid, who is the daughter of a wealthy widower, and Heidi brings much life and joy into her life.

Adolph making it to Frankfurt is time bound, but works in making the viewer even more eager to find out what will happen next.

Some of the plot is neatly sown together, but complications arise also. This movie is most of all warm-hearted and uplifting.

Heidi, Director: Allan Dwan, Genre: Family drama, Year: 1937, Rating: 8/10

12 Years a Slave

I expected 12 Years a Slave  to be handsomely mounted and richly literate, reminiscent of films in the 1980’s. But now that I’ve seen it I realize it’s already  a classic.

As well as being strikingly produced, it shows the painful plight of African American slaves in white-owned plantations in the South before the American Civil War and the success of the abolition movement.

The film starts by telling us this is a true story.

The buying and selling slaves is then shown as business-as-usual.

Paul Giamatti has a small but prominent role as a seller, costumed finely like many other Southern men in the 1840s.

The dubious economics of the endeavor are revealed as the story unfolds, while the class system is starkly depicted along with the slave owners’ depravity.

All the cruelty occurs in the context of Solomon Northup’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) descent from a comfortable life in New York state where he lived as a free black man.

Sold into slavery and passing from master to master, he at first wants revenge. This turns to helplessness, then  the urge to survive even when facing indignities and institutional savagery.

Powerful scenes will sober and stir any viewer.

Of course, we are not meant to enjoy such brutality, but it has a way of highlighting the unfairness of slavery.

The rape of a slave is not about sex. It’s more about control, power and hate.

And if it weren’t for Brad Pitt’s small but important role, the story would be bleak and incomplete.

Central to a string of powerful performances is Michael Fassbender – a Bible mis-quoting, proud, senseless, shameless, and ruthless master of Northup.

And when his cotton crops fail, he blames his slaves for bringing God’s punishment.

We expect something better to happen, but we don’t know how when the odds are heavily stacked against it.

Perhaps the central question of 12 Years a Slave  is how do we maintain our dignity in the face of cruelty and injustice?

Northup plays games, fights back, and faces getting killed.

Slavery has almost broken his will to live, and yet he remains human.

This is a powerful film, a must-see, but it is grim and not for every taste

12 Years a Slave, Director: Steve McQueen, Genre: Drama, Year: 2013, Rating: 10/10