Fourth Report | Fantasia 2015

prophet 75While my mature self wishes for a bit more bite in the plentiful life advice offered in Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, I loved the animation.

 

 

 

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Has anyone made it through adolescence without passing through a “Kahlil Gibran stage”? Maybe, but I have yet to meet such a person. Perhaps because of this association with the coming-of-age years, combined with a certain glibness in the Lebanese poet’s most famous works (including, of course, The Prophet), his work is often mentally filed under the category of adolescent pretentiousness. And yet, there’s often something meaningful mixed in with the obvious proclamations in Gibran’s works—“let there be spaces in your togetherness” is excellent advice for sustaining a marriage, for instance—and so he remains one of my teenage crushes that I just can’t quite banish.

So, of course, I had to see the animated film Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, written and directed by Roger Allers and animated by an all-star team including Joann Sfarr, Bill Plympton, and Nina Paley. The film consists of a frame story about a poet named Mustafa (voiced by Liam Neeson), who is a stand-in for the Prophet, and a whole cast of characters including his housekeeper Kamila (Selma Hayek), her mischievous daughter Amitra (Quvenzhané Wallis), a whole town filled with admirers of the poet, and a police force that has it out for him. The story is set in an unnamed Middle Eastern town (Gibran was born in Lebanon) and provides many occasions for the declamation of Gibran’s work, sometimes in song, most often when people ask the poet for advice. These individual digressions are where the different animators get to show off their work, and their imaginative flourishes provide a nice contrast to the straightforward, realistic animation of the frame story.

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is G-rated from start to finish, even though several of the individual segments reference marital love. In fact, Gibran’s voice in this film has been even more homogenized and conventionalized (dare I say, made more “syrupy”) than is true even in his own writing. While my mature self wishes for a bit more bite in the plentiful life advice offered here, I loved the animation. Plus, I guess there’s something to be said for producing a film with nothing in it to offend even the tenderest of sensibilities.

bridgend 75The same can not be said of Bridgend, directed by Jeppe Rønde, a broody, atmospheric film based on true events in the small Welsh town from which the film takes its name. Filmed on location, Bridgend takes advantage of the beautiful natural setting (well shot by cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jonck), which can also be dark and foreboding. The story involves a teenager, Sara (Hannah Murray, Gilly from Game of Thrones) who moves to the town with her father, a policeman, and receives an uncertain welcome from a tight-knit group of local teens. One of the boys says to Sara, “we keep ourselves to ourselves around here,” and that doesn’t include having much to do with outsiders, or, for the teenagers, with the adult population of town either.

There’s something not quite right in Bridgend, a fact which becomes obvious in the first scene, in which a dog comes across the body of a hanged boy. It seems the town has been beset by a high rate of teenage suicides, without any obvious explanation or even connection between them, other than the age of the victims. This poses two questions: what is going on in the city that could cause so many young people to forfeit their lives, and will Sara become involved in this local culture?

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Rønde’s direction avoids easy answers: for instance, while social media may play a role in the suicides (the local teenagers discuss the suicides online, using handles like “Wildkid” and “Lonewolf”), the fact is that young people use social media to discuss all kinds of things. Bridgend also seems to offer few prospects for young people (the coal industry having collapsed long ago), so there’s a certain self-destructive hopelessness in the attitudes of many of the teenagers, but both are also true of many towns where young people are not killing themselves in droves.

One of the great triumphs of this film is how realistically and respectfully it portrays teenage culture. Much of what these kids do is typical of kids everywhere—they like to go skinny dipping, drink too much, take foolish risks, and antagonize adults—but there’s also a distinctly pagan feel to some of their activities, which involve bonfires, nudity, and collective rituals. Above all, Rønde portrays the teenagers as living in a world of their own, and of their own creation, with a specific culture that is largely impenetrable even to the adults in their own community. | Sarah Boslaugh

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