Sunday, August 19, 2012


We've watched a couple of DVDs over the last few days.  One of these was The Way Back, which is supposed to be based on a true story of a group of escapees from a prison camp in Siberia during the Second World War three of whom managed to make it to India finally, by walking all the way.  When I say 'supposed' apparently there's a bit of argy-bargy gone over over the years as to how much truth and how much invention is contained in the original book on which the movie is based.  And then, of course, the movie makes some changes of its own.

Be that as it may, this movie, directed by Peter Weir, is surprisingly engrossing, especially considering that it's over two hours long and for a good deal of that time the characters are walking.  Yup, walking. Naturally, other stuff happens within that, and there are inter-relational things that go on, especially when the group of men is joined by a young girl who seems to be the only one capable of getting their histories out of them.  The main character, Janusz, played by Jim Sturgess (who kept reminding me of Sam Worthington of Avatar fame for some reason) is cast in the heroic mould: not only is it his intention to find the wife who betrayed him, he also wants to bring forgiveness to her.  But beside that underlining aim, he's also the one who has the endurance and determination and skills to keep going, and to assist the others to struggle on.  Of course some don't make it - we know that only three will survive because of a note at the beginning of the movie - but that doesn't stop us being involved with their journey; the adjective 'intrepid' barely covers it.  The cast includes Ed Harris as a grizzly old American caught up in the War - he's excellent - and Colin Farrell as a Russian criminal who only gets to come along because he has a very sharp knife.  Farrell does one of his wild man performances, and covers his natural intelligence under a guise of feral survival instincts.  He's excellent too.  Saoirse Ronan, who was only 16 at the time she made the movie, brings her wonderful waif presence to her role, and, for a time, becomes the centre around which the movie moves forward.

The characters walk through Siberian forests in blizzards, over mountains in the sunshine, out into the Siberian Desert where they nearly get cooked to death, up into Tibet (snow again), and finally to India, where the women are picking tea.  The photography is superb, and the things the actors themselves have to go through in the performance of their roles is sometimes almost beyond the call of duty.   I picked this movie up at the Library without knowing anything about it.  It was well worth getting.

The other film is a documentary called The Promise of Music.  Directed by the German, Enrique Sánchez Lansch, with a German film crew, this movie looks at a number of aspects relating to El Sistena, the system used in Venezuela to teach children music and bring them into a place where they're a contributing member of a proper orchestra.  It's publicly funded in that country, and the idea is now spreading further afield, both England and Scotland have begun to use it.  It has a deeper purpose that 'just' music-making; it aims to help youngsters from poverty areas to gain a good foothold in life and get themselves out of the poverty net.  As a result, in Venezuela it was under the Social Welfare area of the Government, rather than the Cultural one.  

While this movie looks in some degree at the process of El Sistena, it focuses more on some members of the Simón Bolivar Orquesta Sinfónica and its young conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, a lively and impassioned man who began his musical career as a violinist but quickly realised that conducting was his true love, and forte.  At the beginning the Orchestra (who also appear in the video on the Scottish version of El Sestina) is in the late stages of rehearsal for a concert in Bonn, where they'll play, amongst other things, Beethoven's Eroica Symphony.  We travel with them to Bonn and see part of the concert - though if you go to another section of the disc you can see the entire concert, including the wonderful piece at the end in which they truly let their hair down, Venezuelan-style.  This is only one of the many heart-warming moments: another is when several of the children's orchestras combine together to perform Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony, with Dudamel conducting.  

But apart from the music performances, there are a number of interviews with various members of the orchestra showing how they came up through the ranks, how they feel about El Sestina, what it's like to be part of such an organisation, and much more.  These are often entertaining, as the young people, mostly in their early to mid-twenties, are a delight, though they take their music very seriously.  

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