Author Topic: Snow Falling on Cedars  (Read 2433 times)

Najemikon

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Snow Falling on Cedars
« on: January 17, 2008, 01:07:46 AM »
Snow Falling on Cedars    4/5

Though I've yet to record any of it here, I've been having a bit of an unwatched marathon. DVDs I bought cheap thinking I'd watch them when the mood hit and then it never bloomin' hit! Tonight I made the effort to catch up with this one.

At its heart, it's a simple courtroom drama set in a fishing community in the years just after WWII. A fisherman has been found dead, tangled in his nets. A Japanese fisherman is accused of his murder and so begins the usual round of prosecution versus defence, but with a backdrop of prejudice and mistrust against the Japanese community so soon, relatively speaking, after the attacks on Pearl Harbour. The Japanese have their own problems with trust. Despite loyalty to the US during the war, they were still shipped off to camps. They are afraid of an unfair trial. Meanwhile Ishmael, a reporter (Ethan Hawke) is quietly observing the proceedings.

The film is so much more than a simple drama though. It is more concerned with emotion and history. All the main players are dealing with their past, letting it form their own prejudices. The most important history is between Ethan Hawke's reporter and the wife of the accused because he's letting it influence a very important decision. They were lovers, split up by the war. Now he has found important evidence, but instead of handing it over, he broods, unable to truly let go of her. His father, a newspaper man outspoken in his defence of the Japanese, had recently died. Ishmael was never so convinced of his fathers unwavering support of the Japanese and is perhaps fearful to continue it now, so tries to stay neutral.

Usually I really enjoy courtroom stories, but I think what put me off for so long was some of the reviews. Good or bad conclusions, they spoke of it being based on a novel and how the film had matched its ponderous, poetic nature. Somehow I was never in the mood to be bored!

I wasn't of course. Far from it, in fact I was utterly enthralled. This is a truly beautiful film from the very opening shots, the sort where you think you could press pause at any moment, frame it and hang it on your wall. Of course, if you did that you'd be unable to appreciate the use of sound. It's as brilliant as it is ambitious, with scenes and dialogue overlapping in a manner that often contradicts what you see and highlights some emotional clash.

There's a lot of emotional clash. Just as with the sound, flashbacks pepper the narrative, drawing parallels between past and present. And these flashbacks are never highlighted; they drift in and out as if daydreams. They somehow feel more genuine that way, though it does demand your attention keeping track! The detail in some scenes is astonishing (a memory of a love scene), reminding me of a Terence Malick film, while in others, there is hardly any (fractured, incoherent dialogue when narrating a letter). Another sign of a genuinely intelligent and adult film.

In retrospect, perhaps some criticism is valid. Empire suggested that it is too ponderous, and that Ishmael moodily indulges a long time getting where he's going. But that's the point I think. That like many of us, a seemingly simple decision can be clouded by very human emotions and sometimes those clouds are thick.

Now if it was all thoughtful poetry, beautiful or not, the real trial would have been in watching it! Brilliantly, the trial on screen is a fantastic focal point though. The Judge (James Cromwell) and the barristers (Max Von Sydow for defence) have some great banter. Like a real court case, their scenes bring all the threads into sharp context, stripping away the emotion to leave bare facts.

I can't recommend this enough. Ambitious, adult, beautiful and enigmatic. Plus the story of Japanese-Americans was an interesting one I hadn't considered before. Truly, there are two sides to every story, and that could be this films tagline.

I hate to commit, but in some ways, this would appeal most to those of us who enjoyed Lost In Translation. I hasten to add though that that comment shouldn't put off people who didn't. This film lacks Translations commitment to evoking a constant mood. Instead, it builds up a mood, but then breaks it to, as I said before, demonstrate some sort of paradox.

Blimey. I went on a bit there! Sorry, but films like this deserve rattling on about. They are not always perfect, but the mere fact they try to bend rules and conventions demands support. So there.  ;)

m.cellophane

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Re: Snow Falling on Cedars
« Reply #1 on: January 17, 2008, 03:57:50 AM »
Wow. I haven't seen this in years. I'm intrigued to give it another go.

Also, I enjoy your writing. Nice review.  :thumbup:

Offline Kathy

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Re: Snow Falling on Cedars
« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2008, 12:34:03 PM »
Thank you Jon; I look forward to seeing this.

Najemikon

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Re: Snow Falling on Cedars
« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2008, 09:26:50 PM »
Ta for your comments! I'm surprised this isn't more well known. It should be drawing more of an opinion, good or bad. I don't think it's film you can sit on the fence about but obviously people are doing.

lovemunkey187

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Re: Snow Falling on Cedars
« Reply #4 on: January 19, 2008, 11:52:12 AM »
Ta for your comments! I'm surprised this isn't more well known. It should be drawing more of an opinion, good or bad. I don't think it's film you can sit on the fence about but obviously people are doing.

I've not watched, and to be honest, the title doesn't inspire me to watch it.

Some film titles immediately make me wonder what the film is like(Immortal Beloved, The January Man), or they trigger something that connects with my basic side(Die Hard, Predator, Return of the Living Dead pt III)

This is no reflection on your review, but I'm still not inspired to watch it, although the review is very well written.

Najemikon

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Re: Snow Falling on Cedars
« Reply #5 on: January 19, 2008, 03:19:17 PM »
I know exactly what you mean. I looked at the damn cover so many times, pondering whether to watch it that particular night, but another title might have just pushed me quicker.

I'm really fussy about books. I would be unlikely to ever read a courtroom based novel, but you can tell that with a title like that, it would attract a certain type of reader. With films though, I'll try anything once, but still it was one of several reasons to resist in this case.

It's like when Snakes on a Plane was coming out. Empire followed that development very closely as everyone was hoping it was going to be a throwback to classic b-movie horror. And that's just because of a title, long before anything else was known. At one point it was almost renamed to something ambiguous, like Flight 732 or something, and a campaign was launched to get it back. With that title, you know what you're going to get: A plane, with some snakes on it. I hear it was a general disappointment, but whatever... most of it's audience sat and watched it because of that title.

Offline Jimmy

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Re: Snow Falling on Cedars
« Reply #6 on: January 19, 2008, 04:01:56 PM »
I know exactly what you mean. I looked at the damn cover so many times, pondering whether to watch it that particular night, but another title might have just pushed me quicker.

With that title, you know what you're going to get: A plane, with some snakes on it. I hear it was a general disappointment, but whatever... most of it's audience sat and watched it because of that title.
That's make me think (the title, not the movie reviewed) of one of the movie that I've reviewed on my marathon :

DVD title : Killing machine (generic, you think of a futuristic robot war Sci-fi movie)
Original title : Daehakno-yeseo maechoon-hadaka tomaksalhae danghan yeogosaeng ajik Daehakno-ye Issda
Literal title : Teenage Hooker Became Killing Machine in Daehakroh (where they got the synopsis)