Some movies really understand poverty in America

Ron Howard has a scene in new “Hillbilly Allegi” I get closer to the quiet dignity that I wish the rest of the film had. Glenn Close is standing in a doorway. She is playing the role of Mama, a high school proud Appalachian grandmother who will eventually write the memoir on which the film is based. Mamo accepts a free dinner from Meals on Wheels. And when she hurts him to do so, she asks for more food. The delivery child was embarrassed in the blink of an eye. But he bends the rules a bit and the two join in on a small but meaningful act of charity.

The complex realities of poverty – reflecting not only its hollowed-out emptiness, but also the feelings of shame and despair – have always been intriguing. This is doubly true for those employed by Hollywood.

Filmmakers in Europe and Asia have strong track records. Italy has its own tradition of neo-imperialism, which gives us medieval heartbreak “Cycle Thieves” And “Umberto D.” In India, Satyajit Ray made human miniatures of the 1950s Apu trilogy, which was far from destroying the breadth of the hair. Socially committed voices such as the British Ken Loach (“I, Daniel Blake”) and the Belgian Darden brothers (“Rosetta”) have each won the Cannes top prize, the Palm d’Or twice.

But millions more Americans are closer to poverty than a year ago and food lines are going on the horizon, perhaps we should be better at addressing it. Even though theatrical distribution in the post-vaccine world is magically discounted, money will remain in the minds of the audience, no matter how much escapism and popcorn we prefer.

To his enduring credit, Hollywood produced a mythical moment of compassion in the worst days of the Great Depression: a clitic close-up that remains gritty and open-ended decades later. Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights” (1931) is a comedy shaking with economic anxiety. While the resourcefulness of its iconic protagonist is never in doubt, Little Tramp seems very rough by the end of the film – clothes, clothes on the streets after a stretch in prison. In last shotHowever, he is seen for what he loves; His eyes sparkle, knowing that there can be no one else to hide his true identity. Does she love him? (In detail, do we?) The black fade on Chaplin’s quivering face is both hopeful and a touch uncertain.

Critic James Agee called it “the highest moment in films”. But Studios, Bye and Large, did not follow Chaplin’s lead. Ultimately, there were no tools of poverty, meaningless or convenient plot to solve at the end of decades. Kelly Reichard’s “Wendy and Lucy” (200 us) drowns us in the cruel chaturdashi that comes with limited needs: Do I buy dog ​​food or steal it? Do I get my broken car serviced or done without it? Every choice takes Wendy back, played by lonely Michelle Williams, who is tied up in Alaska, a small example when she encounters sympathy, a feeling she finds confusing. (The Times criticizes critic AO Scott Movie celebrated “Neo-neo-imperialism” as a piece of house.))

Like “Wendy and Lucy”, honest films about subsistence life never write a one-size-fits-all solution. Sometimes they are not about fixing things. Between Sean Baker’s pastel-tinted squealer “The Florida Project” (2011ony) and Harmony Corinne’s Crawn-in-Minute “Gummo” (19and), the children go about the business of dreaming and playing, inventing their own getaway, not so innocently. An ex- “Hunger Games” Jennifer Lawrence is too young to be unhappy to bring up her siblings and find her missing father, but exactly the same in Debbie Granik’s Ozarks thriller “Winter Bone” (2010) Does.

In the future “Nomadland” (A significant sensation at the Fall Film Festival), Frances MacDormand, a hard-working widow living in her van, disappears in the role of Fern and travels from job to job after her Nevada factory town collapses. (He is “homeless, not homeless,” the character insists.) The film is careful to preserve the fern streak of freedom ferns, which sometimes record others as frostbitten. McDormand and director Chloe Zhao improve and shoot their project with real van-dwelling nomads.

In elevating a film about poverty it is important to find a strain of autonomy or courage – even from a modest budget – by being gracious. Michelle Pfeiffer engraved in her career performance “Where is it?” (2018), Andrew Dosamu’s small-looking indie masterpiece of urban segregation. It is about an unemployed, divorced Brooklyn woman who falls through the crack of the social security net. (Kyra is on the verge of becoming bag Lady.) Her frustration is offset by her desire to go to scary lengths.

This is because poverty itself is scary. Financial ruin serves as a subdivision of many classic American horror films, perhaps because the demons are easier than the real thing. From Leatherface and his cannibal clanthe Texas Chainsaw MassacreIf they had not been closed in the meatpacking plant, “(1974) would have had no ax.” Hook-stall “Sweet seller“(1992) in front of the downtrodden Chicagoans of the crime-stricken Cabrini-Green housing project, at least before he begins to have a taste for undergraduate students obsessed with urban legends.

A science-fiction film that pays more than lip service to the plight of the poor, John Carpenter’s socially inflammatory “they live” (1988), described flatly by the director as a reaction to Reaganomics. Its homeless protagonist, Nada (Roadie Piper), drifts between construction work before donating a pair of special sunglasses that allow her to witness an alien (ie, UPI) invasion already. According to Piper, who himself felt homeless before embarking on his pro wrestling career, Carpenter additionally offered daily wages to sighted stray people. Fed them as well.

Partly filmed in a flancy Shantown, the script calls for Justiceville, with the city’s luxe glass towers gleaming in the distance of Los Angeles, “They Live” is destructive on many fronts, especially for sightseers As witnesses, some citizens will wipe out Cityscapes instead of leaders. Such incidents happened in the past: Kent Mackenzie’s “Exile” (1961) captures LA’s Bunker Hill and the small community of working-class Native Americans who once lived on the reservation. Today, the Victorian buildings of the neighborhood and their inhabitants are long-standing, fueled by corporate gentrification and racism.

Like a picture, a film illuminates the pain, trapped in time. In the case of these plays – with the best of them, Charles Burnett’s “Sheep Killer” (19 1978ality) – A universality associated with scenes that anyone who struggles recognizes: tense conversation at the kitchen table, fury in a steady stream of despair, from car trouble to sickness of existence. (Burnett’s beaten-down patriarch works in an abattoir.) The camera sees a stablemate.

The same documentary-like eyes also catch something serially from the misty Watts Summer Air: the boys leave the roofs from building to building. It is dangerous and insane – even more curious. There is freedom in his leap. The camera tilts down and we don’t see any security nets. Burnett includes shots for all those reasons and one more: maybe you can fly away.

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