I am going to start this post with a word of warning: I really don’t know all that much about films. By this I mean camera angles, special effects, cinematography (is that even the right word?!) and hell, aside from some unfounded grumblings now and again about how all soap actors are crap and that Hugh Grant unwaveringly plays the loveable fool, I don’t even know much about acting. What I do know however, is that every once in a while a film comes along that has a lasting effect on me, a film that in some way changes my perspective on life and influences the way I think and feel. And I’m not talking here about films like Marley and Me that provoke a heart-wrenching half an hour of self-indulgent tears and a further ensuing half an hour hugging your dog (or at least in my case). Nor am I talking about the kind of film where no one except the two characters you only ever cared about (and were only ever supposed to care about) survive some earth-shattering disaster and live happily ever after. I’m talking about films that get under your skin, the kind that linger in your thoughts long after you’ve thrown away the popcorn box or turned off the TV. Films that make you think.
Anyone who read my previous post may be thinking it’s slightly ironic that after attempting to argue that a film adaptation of a good book can never truly beat it, I am now writing about films that have changed my life, however it was actually a couple of interesting points about how we shouldn’t be attempting to compare the two different mediums that got me thinking about the effect a film can have. Whilst I fiercely stand by my argument, (note that neither of the below films are adaptations of books (though one is loosely based on a series of short stories)) what your interesting responses made me realise is that the effect a good film can have can be equally as powerful, albeit in a different way.
Obviously this is an incredibly subjective post and I am the first to admit that there are no doubt hundreds of brilliant films out there I’ve not go round to and may never get round to watching, but for now here are my top two:
“You mean she would rather imagine herself relating to an absent person than build relationships with those around her?”
Set against the romantic backdrop of Paris and with the beautiful Audrey Tatou at the forefront you could easily watch this film without the subtitles and still appreciate it. And don’t be put off by the fact that it’s subtitled, after about 10 minutes of watching you don’t even notice they’re there and if anything, being able to soak in the French accent whilst watching only adds to its beauty. The film follows the life of Amelie Poulain, an introverted Parisian waitress who, as a result of being wrongly diagnosed with a rare heart defect which meant she couldn’t attend school, has spent her life confined to the realms of her own company and lives mainly through fantasy and imagination. Prompted by the death of Princess Diana and the discovery of an old keepsake of a previous tenant, Amelie reflects on the transient nature of life and resolves to dedicate her time to bringing joy to those around her. Rather than attempting grand gestures Amelie engages in small selfless acts which we later learn have far-reaching effects for the other characters.
Throughout the film we also see Amelie battle with her own personal demons as she begins to discover that whilst she is helping those around her to achieve happiness, she herself isn’t. After a chance encounter with an odd but charming young man Amelie finds herself falling in love for the first time, but having always lived her life through dreams and imagination, overcoming her shyness proves a difficult task and we discover that before being able to date her lover, Amelie is in need of a date with reality.
The beauty of the film, much like the actions of Amelie, lies in the little things. There are so many understated but remarkably powerful moments in this film which are difficult to describe, but impossible to forget. What I really loved about the film was that, despite its quirkiness, it feels incredibly real. Whilst ultimately a love story, Amelie isn’t your average rom-com and broaches issues usually left untouched – introversion and social anxiety. Anyone who has ever felt shy, lonely or an outsider (which I imagine we all have at some point) will take great solace in this film and emphasise enormously with the incredibly likeable lead. I’m not sure if it was the director’s intention but the film also carries a great message, even the smallest acts of kindness don’t go unnoticed and the film left me resolute on becoming a better person and trying to help others wherever I can.
Perhaps the most notable way in which Amelie affected me is that it made me realise that to achieve your dreams you have to go after them. In the same way that Amelie unwittingly lets her imagination take control of her, I too am guilty occasionally of allowing myself to get carried away in a daydream or fantasy about what life could be like if I was someone else or somewhere else, but ultimately, as the age-old saying goes ‘you get out of life what you put in’ and Amelie helped me realise this. And even if you do find yourself daydreaming (as I still often do) as Walt Disney put it ‘if you can dream it you can do it’ – a philosophy that we find ourselves willing Amelie to take heed of throughout the film.
2. Million Dollar Baby
“I’ve seen you at Mass almost every day for 23 years. The only person comes to church that much is the kind who can’t forgive himself for something. Whatever sins you’re carrying, they’re nothing compared to this. Forget about God or heaven and hell. If you do this thing, you’ll be lost. Somewhere so deep you’ll never find yourself again”
It’s extremely difficult to talk about this film without revealing what makes it so remarkable and prevents it from being just another run-of-the-mill boxing flick. So, whilst I won’t discuss what happens, if you haven’t already seen this film and would prefer to watch it without any prior knowledge of its content I suggest you stop reading now.
This film had a profound impact on me. Long after switching it off I laid in bed soaking in its content, replaying the scenes in my head. It changed me in the sense that it helped me realise how lucky I am and that I should be grateful for everyday. The film introduces us to Frankie (Clint Eastwood) an old-time boxing trainer and his ex-fighter and close friend Eddie (Morgan Freeman) who work together in their local gym. Troubled by and blaming himself for a severe injury Eddie sustained whilst fighting under Frankie, Frankie adopts a cautious approach towards training his subjects, an approach which backfires on him when he is deserted by his most promising boxer who then goes on to achieve great things. The two veterans are then approached by Maggie (Hilary Swank) who announces her desire to become a successful professional boxer and wants Frankie to train her. Frankie holds reservations about Maggie: she’s too old, she’s a woman, she’s not his usual project and he doubts she will achieve her dream. But Maggie is persistent and as we sadly learn, she has nothing else in her life. This dream is the only thread of hope to which she clings. Frankie eventually accepts, though dubiously and reluctantly; however it is not long before she thrives under him and is finally realizing happiness, partly through her boxing success and partly through the close bond she forms with Frankie. Ultimately however, a horrific tragedy strikes and the characters are forced to re-evaluate their lives and choices and make decisions they thought they would never have to make.
This is one of those films that makes you take a step back and re-evaluate your life. It prompts you to appreciate what you have and renders all those little things we worry and complain about everyday seem so frivolous and trivial. Whilst it is not a film I would watch again in a hurry, partly because I think if you know what’s coming then it would detract from the power and force of the ending and partly because I felt thoroughly distressed after watching it. The film brings to life the concept that tragedy can befall anyone at anytime and I found myself contemplating how I would deal with a similar situation. And so whilst you shouldn’t expect to walk away from this film all warmth and smiles, it is most certainly worth a watch, not only for the powerful storyline but for the stunning acting by Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman. It definitely deserves all the Oscars it won.