The Review: Cinema is an art form, and one I’ve fallen in love with, but as anything from a passing interest to a passion it serves well as a form of escape. Being able to take yourself off to a darkened room and lose yourself in the latest blockbuster or indie classic is actually a privilege, and one that it’s easy for us to take for granted. It sounds a little clichéd, granted, but we shouldn’t forget that the escape which we can grant ourselves in the cinema isn’t one which is available to many parts of the world. So used are we to the possibilities that cinema can offer, it’s amazing to think that there are so many people that have never had that wonderful experience.
Thanks to film critic and all-round cinema champion Mark Cousins, we can now see what effect that experience has on a group of children who are completely new to the concept. Cousins took a film crew to a tiny village of less than a thousand people, put a call out to the children and then, when they all appeared at his mocked up cinema (consisting of two bed sheets sewn together and several rows of dusty chairs), he showed them a selection of children’s movies, from E.T. right through to The Singing Ringing Tree. Then, to see what effect the experience had on them, he gave out three small digital video cameras and awaited the results.
What I’ve not mentioned so far, and what the movie doesn’t rush to reveal either, is that the village in question is Goptapa, which lies in the Kurdistani area of Iraq. The village itself has seen trauma, including being gassed by government troops over ten years ago when rebels were suspected of being in the area. What’s remarkable, given that there’s nothing in the experience they get from their viewing session to prompt it, is that some of those use their video blessing to explore the repercussions of this tragedy further, and the effect it continues to have on their lives, while others take entirely more fanciful routes.
The children, as so many are, seem remarkably resilient, although many are too young to have experienced or to remember the horrors of previous years, but their spirit comes shining through both in their interviews with camera and in their own filmmaking, tempered by the more sobered reactions of their elders but nonetheless capturing a fascinating portrait of a village trapped in the Iraqi desert. Cousins complements this with a stunning series of images which capture the inherent beauty in the surroundings, whether natural or man-made, and weaves together a captivating portrait of this village, its people and their lives. The First Movie is a remarkable and uplifting paean to the power of cinema and the effects it can have on people, and will leave you contemplating your own good fortune if you’re able to see it in the cinema.
Why see it at the cinema: A film this dedicated to the art of the cinema and its profound effect on people not only has to be seen in the cinema, otherwise it’s missing the point, but also you need to use something at least as big as two bed sheets sewn together to fully appreciate the crisp cinematography and amazing images.
The Score: 9/10
The Review: There is an undeniable standard to live up to in terms of Iraq war movies. Since the best in class had just walked off with an Oscar, there’s no shame in being second best. The fact that this doesn’t make the top three is then somewhat more surprising.
Most of the fault can be found in the script, which tries to be political discourse, history lesson, thriller and action movie all at the same time, and ends up not serving any of them well. You feel that the message, maybe polemic once upon a time, is now the accepted view anyway and consequently there is an almost Michael Moore preachiness at times.
Lots of solid actors are not given anything to stretch them, but there are some well executed if unspectacular set pieces that all have a familiar feel to them.
Sadly, most involved have done better, and nothing really lingers once the film is over, having reached a predictable conclusion, leaving only a missed opportunity where maybe greater things should have been.
Why see it at the cinema: Greengrass’ constantly moving camera can divide opinion and the big screen does make it easier to discern what’s going on at times. The geography of the chases is also important, and the cinema allows for more of the detail of this to come across.
The Score: 5/10