The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

I Beg Your Pardon?

with 4 comments

There has been a debate going on in the Filmspotting forums where I hang around, about the habit of playing the movie at double speed, which some forum dwellers have confessed they have.

“What’s the harm if it makes the movie more enjoyable?” say a few while others argue that it shows a lack of respect towards the film makers. My position is: do whatever you like, as long as you’re open about it in your reviews. Honesty and transparency works best in the long run.

In the name of transparency, I’ll right away admit that I had some issues with Half Nelson that might affected my view on it. The copy I saw didn’t only lack subtitles in my native tongue (Swedish); it lacked subtitles altogether.

For some movies this wouldn’t be any problem at all; being brought up in a country where don’t have the horrendous habit of dubbing movies, I’m reasonably good at English, especially if it’s fairly close to the BBC English I’ve been taught. But as soon as we move away from the upper-class tearooms into shadier environments, I get into trouble. Usually this can be solved. For instance I’m watching Mike Leigh’s movies, not with Swedish subtitles, because there are none, but with English subtitles intended to help people who have hearing difficulties. This works as a charm and I won’t miss a thing.

I’m afraid that the lack of subtitles probably had a negative impact on my experience of Half Nelson. There were a few times when I just couldn’t quite hear the dialogue and I’m pretty sure I missed some of the nuances because of this.

It wasn’t just some of the character’s street style accents that gave me a challenge; the entire movie is made like a non-commented documentary with a wobbly hand-held camera and mumbling actors. I may sound as if I’m making fun of it, but even if we’ve seen this manner over and over again in arty low-budget movies, I actually like it. Overused or not, shaky cameras give an authentic touch. But when the sound is just as shaky, it gets tough for people like me.

Avoiding clichés
But even if I probably didn’t “get” everything (especially not the documentary clips about the civil rights movement that broke into the plot every now and then and really didn’t add anything to me), I basically liked this movie.

Ryan Gosling is brilliant as the want-to-change-the-world teacher on drugs, walking further and further down on a road towards self destruction. His budding friendship with one of his pupils could easily have turned into a cliché, something just too cheerful, sentimental and happy-ending to be believable. This never happens.

The film makers said in the interview in the extra material that they didn’t want to be another typical dark, edgy indie movie, but I’m afraid that this is exactly what it is. It’s not until towards the end that we can see a tiny glimpse of hope in the form of a rejection of a ride with the drug dealer and a well-needed shave for the teacher. That’s about as good as it gets. Still it’s enough for me. After all, compared to the previous film I saw, Naked, this was quite cheerful.

Half Nelson (Fleck, US, 2006) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

July 20, 2011 at 11:44 am

Posted in Half Nelson

4 Responses

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  1. I have two things to admit here: I really dig Ryan Gosling, but I didn’t make it through this film. the thematic was of natural interest to me as a teacher, but from the very beginning something put me off watching (I made it to 15mins or so), I can’t quite name it. you certainly mentioned some of it, tho.
    He’s a great and versatile actor though, one of the srangest films I have seen with him was ‘Lars and the real Girl’, I wonder what you would say to that one…Blue Valentine is also a great film and ‘The Notebook’ is well….*SIGH* hehe!


    July 22, 2011 at 8:13 am

  2. It’s a pity you didn’t finish it but I can see where you’re coming from. It’s not one of those movies that captures you right from the start, and particularly so since I found it a bit hard to follow what was said. It took me quite a while to get into the rythm of it and start to appreciate it and it was only later in the movie, particulary in a scene where the teacher confronts the drug dealer, when the pieces fell into their places and I felt that I got what it was about. From that moment I became more invested in it and interested in what direction the movie would take.


    July 22, 2011 at 8:19 am

  3. I loved this one. In relation to your recent post about movie amnesia. Thus was a film that really strict a cord with on a second viewing. Gosling was outstanding. Here’s my thoughts
    P.s. If my links are becoming too regular, just say. I won’t be offended. 😉

    Mark Walker

    April 28, 2012 at 8:46 am

    • Go on and link away! It’s helpful and guides me towards your own takes, which I’m happy to take part of. As of the film: I think it could win even more on a second viewing – especially if I had the luxury of subtitles. And Gosling was great. I’m really a fan.


      April 28, 2012 at 9:53 am

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