Monday, March 18, 2013

Upside Down [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  Chicago SunTimes (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (D-)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
AVClub (T. Robinson) review
Chicago SunTimes (P. Sobczynski) review

Upside Down [2012] (written and directed by Argentine-born, French-educated director Juan Solanas [IMDb]) is a film that clearly exasperates young (North) American viewers (see the review links above):

On one hand the stunning CGI visuals can not be denied.  This is a fantastic story of two sister planets existing somewhere in the universe that are so close to each other that the mountain peaks of one world practically scrape the mountain peaks of the other and skyscrapers from one world could be built to extend from the base of one world to base of the other thus becoming bridges between the two worlds, albeit actually crossing from one world to the other proves "difficult" as each world is made up of matter "inverse" to the other resulting in each other's matter igniting after a relatively short period of time.

An added wrinkle to the setup of the story, no doubt born of the writer/director's Argentine (Southern hemispheric) origins, is that one world, colloquially called "UpTop" has become far richer than the other, colloquially called "DownBelow," so much so that people from the world "DownBelow" have taken to stealing pieces of the world "UpTop" to use as fuel to warm their hovels below (Remember, the matter from the one world ignites after some time after contacting the inverse matter of the other).  As such migration between the two worlds already very difficult/dangerous because of the physics (presumably no one would really want to ignite in flames after spending an extended time in the other world) but is being actively discouraged by the richer world "UpTop" afraid that the people of the world "DownBelow" would come to "steal" pieces of their world to help heat their own.

Only "bees" apparently flying where they will (and beyond the reach of armed border guards) have been able to fly back and forth between the two world producing a pink pollen with magical (gravity cancelling) properties in both worlds ;-)

Such then is the "magic" of this concept that immediately evokes cinematic wonders like that of the silent film era SciFi classic Metropolis [1927] and the more recent CGI big-budget wonder Inception [2010].  Smaller, more "indie" style films touching on similar themes include the outstanding Another Earth [2011] as well as a small Chilean film that played here at Chicago's Latino Film Festival in 2012 called Third World [2009] (A film that suggested that to the poorer residents of Earth's "third world" countries, visitors from the richer "first world" could just as well be "space aliens.")

The radical dividedness of the the world "rich" and "poor" / "north and south" even "indigenous" / "modern" appears to be clearly appreciated by residents of the Global South.  The current film comes from an Argentinian director.  I've mentioned the Chilean Sci-fi film touching on the same subject.  And I myself was involved in another project, this one a book by Brazilian author Milton Claro and supported by my religious order called The Amazonia that We Do Not Know [2006], which was about the largely unknown and certainly under-appreciated residents of the Amazon, that often dealt with the same theme.  Indeed, that book's chapter, The Story of Judith, describing a Brazilian parliamentary investigation regarding the unequal/abusive relationships that had developed between Brazilian soldiers staffing military outposts in the Amazonian jungle and Yanunami tribespeople they had been sent to protect, sounded to me from the beginning to a story worthy of a science fiction novel in its own right: As I read first read it, I thought to myself: "On my, TO BOTH OF THESE SETS OF PEOPLE, the Yanunamis and the young Brazilian soldiers, the "Others" must have seemed like 'People from another world.'").

Alright, the Concept of this story is simply AWESOME (other AWESOME films from simply a "conceptual" point of view would include the Tron and Transformers franchises).  How about the execution? 

This is "the other hand" of the story where most of the young North American reviewers (see again above) get exasperated.  Too many inconsistencies.  Why don't the star-crossed lovebirds Eden from the world "UpTop" (played by Kirsten Dunst) and Adam from the world "DownBelow" (played by Jim Sturgess) eventually explode or something as a result of all their interaction (first in the mountains of each others worlds as children, then working in the same "Transworld" office building as young adults)?  Heck, they even create a baby (off screen) at the end! (And one thought Bella and Edward of the Twilight Saga [2012] were doing something dangerous/radical ;-).  Then if the worlds are meshed so close together, how does their sun ever rise or set in their worlds?  The questions could be endless... Indeed, both of the young reviewers I refer to above "give up" and one suggesting "just turn on your ipod and watch the graphics" and the other suggesting that the film's true future will be in the home-made "fan videos" that will inevitably appear on YouTube after the film becomes available on DVD (and hence available to be "spliced up" ;-).

But I would suggest to the people (young and no longer so young) who watch the film to do what one's supposed to do when one goes to the movies and just "suspend disbelief" (as if the recent movie Oz: The Great and Powerful [2103] is realistic ...) and enjoy the show.  This film does come from Latin America and there's a whole literary tradition of Magical Realism that comes from there.

Catholics in particular should give the story a chance.  Half the Catholics in the United States now come from "DownBelow" Latin America.  And indeed, we have a new Pope Francis I, who's made it clear that he's going to be interested in dealing with addressing the universal (though in the South patently obvious) problem of poverty.  This film addresses that issue as well and does so in a way that is quite honestly VISUALLY SPECTACULAR.

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