Norma Rae goes Brit in this fact-based tale of exploited women working for the Ford Motor Company in Dagenham, England, in the Sixties.
Ford already has one of the more dreadful histories in American business. Henry Ford helped spread anti-Semitism around the world, and thanks to the recycling of his original publications today, these very same writings are continuing to advocate hatred of the Jews to newbie neo-Nazis. If this weren't enough, according to one source, "Ford sent Hitler 50,000 Deutsche Marks every year on the Führer's birthday."
Well, it seems the Fords were not only hostile to Jews, but also out to exploit women as well, paying them barely half of what men were making for the same type of work.
Rita O'Grady (Sally Hawkins), a sewer of the company's seat covers and mother of two, finds herself suddenly the leader of the rebellion against corporate greed. At first just fighting for higher wages for her peers, Rita soon sees herself catapulted into being the national spokesperson for women's rights and an "Equal Pay for Equal Work" bill.
Of course, she wins, and according to the film's end credits, this victory caused nations around the world to follow suit and pass their own parity laws.
Hawkins, who first sprung into the public's attention with Happy-Go-Lucky, perfectly captures Rita's angst as she treads the path from pre-feminist inarticulateness to being the moving mouthpiece of outraged female workers everywhere. She's endearing in the best sense of the word.
Director Nigel Cole, who might just be the George Cukor of his age with Calendar Girls and Saving Grace under his belt, mostly avoids clichés here. And by spicing up the film with numerous bra shots for nonpolitical viewers, filling the cast with attractive souls, and stitching a subtle humor throughout thanks to William Ivory's adroit screenplay, Made in Dagenham will be a delightful, eye-opening history lesson for anyone who can get past the title.
(Please note that "Wooly Bully" and other Sixties rock faves are played throughout.)
There's crap, and there's pseudo-intellectual crap. Uncle Boonmee apparently falls into the latter category. Showcased at the recent New York Film Festival and a prize-winner at Cannes, this offering from Thailand, directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, focuses upon the dear uncle who's dying of kidney problems. At one of his final meals, Boonmee's dead wife shows up along with his long-lost son who's dressed up in a bad gorilla outfit and has red lights for eyes. Apparently, the lad has fornicated with a Ghost Monkey or something like that which causes one to become totally hirsute. By the end of the film, Uncle has died, and his sister-in-law along with her daughter and her son, a monk, are in a hotel room. Shortly after the monk showers, he and Mom split into separate beings so one half of them can watch TV and the other can go out to eat. If I made any of this sound charming, I hang my head in shame. And if I got any of the facts wrong, please forgive me. I burnt my notes previously to cleanse my soul.
One often hears of actors who can read the phone book and exalt their fans in doing so. Here the superb Vanessa Redgrave achieves this narrative feat, except the phone numbers are replaced by historical facts united by a journey of a make-believe character, the titular Robinson, who's gone missing. He apparently has also been talked about in two previous films helmed by the British director/writer/editor Patrick Keiller.
On screen for 101 minutes, Robinson in Ruins robustly showcases images of military bases, battered disco posters, opium fields, tractors, a spider building his web, bees buzzing about flowers, and countless shots of lichen growing on a traffic sign. Only one human is ever spotted and just for a few seconds. The action spans several centuries and boasts numerous comments on the likes of Goethe, primroses, meteors, horse chestnut trees, and Edmund Burke ("The laws of commerce are the laws of Nature, and therefore the laws of God.") There is also a refreshing leftist antiwar element spouted here plus a wit that pops up now and then, although sparingly.
Yet for all of these cerebral allusions and Nature Channel footage, plus the addition of Redgrave's glorious intonations, numerous critics could not hinder themselves from taking a nap during the 9 AM New York Film Festival preview screening. I, for one, almost enjoying myself, was able to partake in the whole venture with wide-open lids. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is featured in the forthcoming documentary Activist: The Times of Vito Russo and has been edited out of Rosa von Praunheim's New York Memories. In the fall, he'll be teaching "American Jewish Theater" and "Theater into Film" at The City College of New York. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily News, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi).