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November 02, 1989 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1989-11-02

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Page 8 -The Michigan Daily -Thursday, November 2,1989
Ursa m
The Bear (or is it The Bor
BY MIKE KUNIAVSKY

ior

e?)

filled with cliches

1
t
r

It's ironic that sometimes the
best efforts yield the poorest results,
while the side effects of those efforts
produce things which are much
greater than the original intent. Such
is the case with Jean-Jacques An-
naud's (Quest for Fire, Black and
White in Color) The Bear. While
preparing for the production of The
Bear, Annaud made a much greater
film, The Name of the Rose, and
Claude Berri - the film's producer
- had time to both produce and di-
rect both Jean De Florette and
Manon of the Spring. It is unfortu-
nate that the film that these two had
dreamed of making while producing
these other "ditties" turns out to be
such a dog, er, bear.
The plot of the film is fairly
simple: "an orphan bear cub, a big
solitary bear, two hunters in the for-
est, the animals' point of view"
(Annaud's own words). More specif-
ically, it is the adventure of a bear
cub from the death of its mother in
the spring of 1885 until the first
snow and the start of hibernation.
The most interesting thing about the
film is that the whole story is filmed
with live animals (there are a couple
of scenes where mechanical "stunt
doubles" were used, but these aren't
noticeable) which leads to plenty of

In a scene from Jean-Jacques Annaud's ursine opus The Bear, a wounded
kodiak gets mad at a hunter. in maintaining his animal-oriented theme,
Annaud had a bear in a suit play the hunter.

spectacular shots of bears doing
things two feet-from the camera that
you wouldn't think they'd do two
feet from their own mothers.
The film has one big problem,
though. The screenplay treats the
bears as if they were human. It gives
them emotions, reactions, and feel-
ings that are distinctly human, and it
even has them speaking to each
other - in "bearspeak" - and
dreaming (how does Annaud know
that bears dream of frogs and not of

The [Festivaf o
Liqhts.
INDIA9QCULThRAL
PROGRAM
'wit/h ANC
I9DINAN MERIUCASY DENTASSOCIrATIOQ
November 3, 1989 at 7:00 pm
Mendelsohn {aff(in the Michigan League)
*FOOD for only the 1st 170 peopfe

subatomic physics?). One of the
very first scenes has the cub (Youk,
played by Douce) seeing its mother
killed and then whimpering as it
snuggles to her limp body. This
type of stuff has been done - and
overdone - by Disney many years
ago (maybe because Gerard Brach,
the screenwriter, hasn't left his
apartment in 25 years; he doesn't
know his stuff is clich6d, but Berri
and Annaud should have) and it does
nothing but present to the children
in the audience (and this is presum-
ably a children's film, based on its
rating and subject matter) with a
view of what is probably one of
their worst fears. The film also rein-
forces conservative Western values
by having the cub-child unable to
survive without the violence of the
bear-father and never attempting to
free itself from dad's stereotype, just
unsuccessfully trying to replicate the
actions of the elder; again, not a
good way to build childhood self-es-
teem.
It is truly unfortunate that An-
naud chose such a previously-trav-
eled path to take. He had so many
avenues open to him because of the
incredible talent of the bears' trainers
and the intelligence of the bears
themselves. He could have had a
commentary on society, a metaphor,
or a parable, but instead he chose to
remake Benji.
THE BEAR is now playing at Briar-
wood and Showcase Cinemas

The Land
by Antonio Torres
Readers International
$1 4.95/hardcover
"We were born in a harsh land,"
the narrator of Antonio Torres' gut-
wrenching novel tells us, "where ev-
erything was already condemned
from the beginning." Set in Torres'
birthplace of Junco in the impover-
ished Brazilian state of Bahia, The
Land is a frequently bitter and al-
ways agonized depiction of life in a
land where "the sun dried up every-
thing" and where, consequently, each
new day is less a new beginning
than a way of marking how "sharp-
toothed decay" takes yet "another
bite out of our lives, leaving the be-
ginnings of death behind with each
mouthful."
But most of all, The Land is a
biting indictment of "progress" and
the quixotic aspirations it spawns in
a poor rural people who are con-
sumed by a "great, impatient long-
ing" - a longing which grinds
meaning out of the present without
ever delivering the promised future.
In a country where two-thirds of the
population lives below the subsis-
tence line (set at $75 a month) and
where an astounding 300,000 chil-
dren die each year before their first
birthday, Torres' novel demands a
focus on the victims of Brazil's in-
dustrial growth - both those
hopeful rural poor who stream
southward to Rio and Sao Paulo
only to find menial work or no work
at all and those families they leave
behind with dreams of their loved
ones' magnificent return.
Appropriately enough, then, The
Land opens with such a return - or
at least seems to. Nelo, the oldest of
12 children, who had left Bahia years
before "without having a square inch
of land where he could fall down
dead," has returned from Sqo Paulo,
apparently rich, unquestionably im-
pressive, and universally revered. His
"rags to riches" story is the talk of a
town that is all too willing to
swallow his success story whole.

But, we soon learn, it has swallowed
Nelo as well. Less than ten pages
into the novel, his impressionable
young nephew Totonhin, the novel's
narrator, discovers Nelo hanging
from the ceiling, a suicide.
The remainder of the novel - a
beautifully crafted dialogue with the
past that mixes peasant superstition
with poignant interior monologue,
bits of world history with memories
of drought, and the history of Nelo's
family with its inexorable
disintegration - tries to explain this
suicide. Totonhin presents us with
the obvious, immediate causes first:
Nelo's syphilis, his poverty, his al-
coholism. But Totonhin knows there
is more, that there are causes for
these symptoms whose genealogy is
integrally connected to the land that
spawned Nelo and that, the novel
implies, he never really left.
In a nightmarish dream sequence,
the novel catalogues the erosion of
Nelo's marriage to a woman who
came to despise the poverty he never
completely escaped and the rural
habits and traditions that branded
him a Bahian. Smothered beneath
his own insecurities, Nelo can only
respond by trying to be tougher, in-
voking the "brutality, force, and
character," which, "like the Holy
Trinity," are "men's things" in a
world with little time for emotion.
As the novel recedes deeper into
the past, Totonhin confronts the
consequences of a code which dic-
tates that "if you're a man, all your
gestures have to be rough." Torres'
women, much like the land itself,
are stapegoats for bewildered men
who have neither the power or re-
sources to fight the systemic forces
- the banks, the police, the specu-
lators - which, Torres makes clear,
are the true cause of their oppres-
sion. Powerless themselves, Torres'
men turn on their women in a search
for power as illusive as the dreams
which dominate Bahian life.
Along the way, the son who has
always hated his mother for her alle-
giance to an impossible future be-
gins to listen, for the first time, to
E WAVE ...

her song of lament about the past. "I
wish I was a man so I could control
my own life," she confesses, and
gradually Totonhin begins to appre-
ciate how little his mother has*
controlled in a life dominated by
pregnancies and children, a
continually drunk husband and
endless work, both within the home
and in cottage industry labor for
others.
It is in accepting his mother's
victimization that Totonhin comes
to feel most "lost, helpless, alone."
If his mother, much like the land it-
self, is not responsible for a Bahia in
which "wretchedness comes from
wretchedness born of wretchedness"
- if, that is, the dreams she and
Nelo share are only a symptom and
not the cause of the family's
poverty, Totonhin must either accept
life's absurdity or analyze - and
fight - the political forces that
forged that absurdity in the first
place.
Torres, ever tl realist in a world
where reality itself is the height of
the absurd, ends the novel with To-
tonhin poised on the brink of that
very madness which he had tried so
desperately to escape. The Land, un-
like those who people the world it
depicts, resolutely refuses to hold
forth false promises. But its author,
by facing this world squarely an
naming the oppressors within it
clearly, does hold forth a possible al-
ternative, if only implicitly. The
Land provokes rage even as it de-
scribes despair; it defines the parame-
ters of the possible even as it de-
scribes an impossible situation. A
parable of a paradise lost, it exposes
the shibboleths that, even as Brazil's
poor prepare for national elections
this month, continue to obstruce
their path to paradise regained on the
land that was once their own.
-Mike Fischer

RIDE THI

DON'T BE UNINFORMEDI
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DE AALY
READ THE DAILY[
DAILY"'[

Use and Read
Zbt irbi tan ail Classifieds

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Kimo Ford
Embry-Riddle
University

The Fords
have always
driven
Volkswagens.
Ask Kimo Ford why he bought a Volkswagen and
get ready for some family history.
"Everyone in my family has driven a Volkswagen
at one time or another. My dad had a Microbus in
the Sixties. My mom and sister both drove Beetles.
And my brother, who's also a student, drives an
'83 Volkswagen Rabbit.
"So when I saved enough money to buy a car
there was only one logical choice. A Volkswagen.
My car's a '79 Rabbit. With 145,000 miles on it.
Ten years old and all those miles and it's still
running great.
"If you ask me, it's the perfect student's car.
Good on gas. Fun to drive. And big enough to
carry four friends." Even so, Kimo is already think-

10

S

I

ing about his next+
"Absolutely. A GTI

car. Another Volkswagen?
. White. Gotta have white."

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