“Iron Crows” and “Gainsbourg” at Film Forum

Ship breakers in Bangladesh in "Iron Crows" at Film Forum

Film Forum continues to demonstrate the diversity of its movie programming with two new films that could not be more different from each other: “Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life,” opening on August 31, and “Iron Crows,” which opened on August 24.  While I liked “Iron Crows,” in part for the directness of its story telling, I found the narrative of “Gainsbourg” to be convoluted. 

I want to be fair and point out that “Gainsbourg” has very good production values and fine actors.  The film looks as if a lot of thought and talent was put into its creation.  The bottom line though is that I could not follow the movie’s story.  I mean, I “got” parts of it, but only in a way that was general and not very satisfying.

On my way into the “Gainsbourg” press screening that I attended, I was handed a thick booklet of press notes explaining the film’s background and clarifying certain story elements.  That is not the way it is supposed to work.  The movie should speak for itself.  After all, not every viewer will be given press notes.

I think the point here may be that in order to understand and appreciate “Gainsbourg,” one has to know something about the life of French singer Serge Gainsbourg, who, apparently, was popular in the 1960s.  That is fine, but give me a coherent story.  Being abstract and not including those of us who may not be well versed in French popular culture, of 50 years ago, deprives us of the opportunity to learn and appreciate the film’s subject.

“Iron Crows” is 180 degrees in the other direction from “Gainsbourg.”  It is a beautifully shot documentary about a very sad subject.

The port city of Chittagong, in Bangladesh, has a large ship breaking industry.  Ships that have been retired are sent there to be dismantled by men and boys who are paid two dollars a day.  The working conditions are hazardous.  One worker points out that a falling nut could easily kill one of them.  The workers were only recently given hard hats.  Many of them work bare foot.  One former worker tells how he lost a foot, on the job, and can no longer work.  Despite this, the men and boys are grateful for the employment.  One worker declares, “Allah sent us to the world to do this.”

Syed Munna, the film’s cinematographer, has done a masterful job of photographing the hazardous working conditions, as well as the workers who risk their lives.  His images juxtapose the natural beauty of Bangladesh against the man made images of partially dismantled ships.   Every one of his shots looks as if the camera was locked down on a tripod and the scene properly lit.  How he managed to accomplish this in the middle of such dangerous working conditions is amazing.

Director Bong-Nam Park has done great work introducing and humanizing the workers through interviews.  They prove to be a very articulate, funny and intelligent group of men and boys.

“Iron Crows” is not a call to social action.  The film simply shows us a situation that is thought provoking and frustrating.

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on August 25, 2011, in Documentary, Film Forum, New, Off the Beaten Path. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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