martedì 24 dicembre 2013

12 Years a Slave

When I thought about a perfect Xmas movie to write about today in my blog, I unexpectedly thought about the new Steve McQueen film, 12 Years a Slave
I had the chance to see its avant-première a couple of weeks ago in a Paris cinema and I was eager to share my feelings about it with my readers.
Nobody else, I guess, would consider it a good movie for the Xmas time, but I do.

I am fed up with Xmas stories and fairy tales, I’d rather prefer to talk about an awful, tragic, real story: maybe it is not a bad idea to face the inhumanity of human beings on Xmas day! 
Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor)
Steve Mcqueen, a British film-maker, is famous for his tough movies. From the story of Bobby Sands, the IRA revolutionary who starved himself to death (Hunger), to the story of Brandon, a NY sex addict (Shame), McQueen is not exactly the entertaining movies kind-of-guy. And I sincerely love him for that. For his third movie, he decided to go even “closer to the bone” relating the true story of Solomon Northup (the film is based upon Northup’s autobiography, having the same title). 
Northup, in 1840, was a free black man living with his family not far away from New York. A fine violin player, a well respected man in his community. One day, he accepts the job offer of two gentlemen, not knowing that the offer hides the most dreadful humbug: he has been sold as slave and sent to the Southern states to work in cotton plantations. The shock, for this cultivated man, is unspeakable. For 12 long years he will be obliged to work in the worst human conditions and be subject to the cruellest physical and mental punishments by his owners. When the hope is almost lost, Northup has the chance – unlike so many other slaves – to get back to freedom and write about his uncommon story...  
Northup (Ejiofor) and Epps (Fassbender)
If your reference in movies about slavery is Gone with the wind or The Colour Purple, well, forget about them, but if you want to know what really meant to be a black slave in the United States of America around 1840, well, this is the right movie for you. As it was the case for his previous films, McQueen is not here to gild the pill. Slavery is a shameful stain on American history, and it will always be. No matter what. This a story of rage, of survival, of dignity. McQueen shows it with his particular way of filming: very rigorous plans, scarce music, no useless scene, no-frills. He goes to the core of the story, straight away, without even giving you a chance to escape. Furthermore, this is not, at all, a heroic kind of movie. Northup is not better than any other slave. He is just more cultivated than they are. Which is a minus, not a plus, in a situation like this. The less you know, the less you feel, the better it will be for you. Northup is speechless, as we are, witnessing the misery, the cruelty, the non-sense of the whole situation. He is not brave, he is barely able to survive, keeping a feeble hope to go back to life and human condition.
Epps (Fassbender), Patsey (Nyong'o) and Northup (Ejiofor)
McQueen should be also complimented for the incredible cast he has been able to assemble. This is the best cast of the year: to play Solomon, he has chosen a great but underestimated (until today, I hope) British actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose performance is absolutely astonishing. It could have been so easy to overdo to play this character, but Ejiofor follows the path of a perfect understatement. In the role of a female slave, the newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, an actress from Kenya, grab you heart and never let it go, becoming pretty quickly unforgettable. Also actors having minor roles here are unforgettable: Paul Giamatti as the pitiless slaves seller, Paul Dano as the awful slaves manager in one of the plantations, Benedict Cumberbatch as a more human plantations owner, and Sarah Paulson as the cruel wife of Mr. Epps, the last owner of Solomon. To play Edwin Epps, the bad, bad guy of the story, McQueen turned to his acteur-fetiche, the German-Irish actor Michael Fassbender, proven that their relationship will be remembered as the Scorsese-De Niro liaison of modern time. Fassbender, perfect Southern accent and eyes injected with the red of hanger and booze, is a strange kind of persecutor: tortured by his feelings for a black slave, he is struggling in a more human way than expected. This is what great actors manage to do: you want to hate them but in the end you feel sorry for them… 
The only feeble point in this chain of fabulous actors is, as usual, Brad Pitt: having the charisma of an artichoke, his 5 minutes on screen are simply soporific.
Bass (Brad Pitt)
The UGC Les Halles, the cinema where the avant-première was taking place, informed people buying tickets on their site that Steve McQueen would have been present to the screening. When the film was over, a couple of people arrived, announcing a “big surprise”: McQueen couldn’t make it, but the two main actors, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o, were there. I guess that the audience was still so shaken by the movie, that seeing in flesh and blood the two actors was kind of an emotional shock. Ejiofor and Nyong’o were welcomed by a standing ovation and a long, long and big applause, and they were sincerely overwhelmed, looking at each other in disbelief.
Nyong'o and Ejiofor at the screening in UGC Les Halles, Paris - December 10
Well, I want to use this image, so simple but powerful: real feelings created by fictional scenes, to wish you a Merry Xmas, dear readers.
I hope it will be as human as possible!

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