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Pop Stuff: Tales of a Screen Junkie

A look into how films can captivate our soul and imprint a message that we may take forward in life

Soleil Nathwani Nov 15, 2016
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Poster of ‘Jackie’

I draw a fine line between movies and films. In a movie, we switch off and lose ourselves in a narrative that goes down smoothly, like buttered popcorn—007 saves the day, credits roll. Films, on the other hand, bring us closer to our flawed selves. Their characters strike chords so deep that we’re forced to look within. If movies are a happy ending-haven from the daily grind, great films provide a catharsis that helps us endure life, warts and all. I speak from experience. The emotional balm of the recently concluded 54th New York Film Festival rescued me in a way no secret agent could.

Weeks ago, I moved out of my decade-long home in New York. To cope with packing my Thirties into boxes and saying goodbye to the perfect brownstone on an idyllic, tree-lined block in Greenwich Village, I decided to act first and grieve later. I miscalculated the effects of exchanging my sanctuary for a storage unit in the Bronx. As I woke up in a makeshift rental, greeted by suitcases, the heady liberation of putting change into motion felt weighed down by questions that only arise outside the comfort zone; identity, belonging, the ‘future’. But as I watched film after film, I unearthed answers in their narratives, cried tears that had eluded me while I was bubble-wrapping my memories, and found an anchor in powerful protagonists who laid their feelings bare.

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The NYFF is a good indication of what’s in store for the Oscars from around the globe. At a moment where a combusting world confronts us constantly with the bigger picture, the films being lauded conversely emphasize the individual. In Pedro Almodovar’s Julieta , his heroine struggles with the disappearance of her daughter. In Elle, Isabelle Huppert gives a tour de force performance as a woman who refuses to play the victim of sexual assault and in Oliver Assayas’s Personal Shopper, Kristen Stewart rails against the memory of her dead twin brother. Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson has the brilliant Adam Driver playing a bus driver who claims his identity as a poet, Barry Jenkins’s much acclaimed Moonlight tells a story of coming to terms with being a gay, black man, and in Manchester by The Sea, Casey Affleck faces the demons of a tragic family history.

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Poster of ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Half Time Walk’

Socio-political issues and events are also explored through private experience. Cannes winner I, Daniel Blake is a take down of bureaucracy through one man’s heartbreaking journey. The documentary Fire At Sea brings the refugee crisis home to roost and India’s The Cinema Travelers awakens the spirit, telling the story of a dying breed of projectionists. The Iraq war, brought to screen by Ang Lee in Billy Lynn’s Long Half Time Walk, and the assassination of JFK explored by Pablo Larrain in Jackie, focus narrowly on the experience of the singular person—the soldier, the widow— and are consequently more moving. If I walked into the audience off kilter, I came out more grounded, emboldened with the sense of shared
human experience.

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It’s the depth of this experience that great films capture on screen and deliver to us in a way that life cannot. Observing others navigate a crisis helps us resolve, rein in or simply recognize our own. As a glut of Bollywood and Hollywood movies floods the theaters, I recommend making time for this year’s films. True, Deepika Padukone and Vin Diesel in The Return of Xander Cage might be a spectacular diversion but for our imperfect selves, movies will always be just a great distraction, whilst films can be a life saver.

The author is a film producer and journalist and a former hedge fund COO. Twitter: @whats_cutting

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