Bite-Sized Thoughts: JCVD (2008) & SCUM (1979)

In no particular order, here are some of the miscellaneous things I watched this weekend:

JCVD(2008), Dir. Mabrouk El Mechri.
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme,Valerie Bodson,Herve Sogne

JCVD is a strange little Belgian film that blends drama, documentary-style and farce disturbingly well. The premise revolves around Van Damme getting caught up in a post office robbery and hostage situation, but to give away much more would be a sin. It's unpredictable from start to finish, containing biographical elements from his life, playing with the line between reality and narrative. Van Damme, of course, plays himself, something that he arguably does in every film he's been in, but in a far more literal sense - his fame in Belgium is off the record, and yet this beloved national hero is suddenly the midst of a public scandal. Van Damme is startlingly good, using his physicality in an entirely new way. Muscular yet clearly aged, with tired eyes and a sort of still-prideful humility, he lopes around in the film with palpable melancholy and growing bewilderment. His monologue near the close of the film seems painfully true to his biographical details, and all the more affecting because of it. With its Godardian style and winking eye toward Van Damme's aging action hero/nice-guy persona, JCVD is unclassifiable but entirely worth watching. (Also, I highly recommend one of Van Damme's height-of-career films as a precursor in a double bill. Double Impact might do nicely. No pretension here!)

SCUM (1979), Dir. Alan Clarke.
Starring: Ray Winstone, David Threlfall, Martin Phillips

Rounding off the weekend with the least fun of the bunch, I watched the Play for Today-based (and initially banned) movie SCUM, starring a shockingly baby-faced Ray Winstone as a young offender in borstal at the end of the seventies. It's a gut-twistingly cruel film, featuring institutional corruption, rape, suicide, and particularly pugnacious scenes of racism. Archer, an eccentric hippie-type, poses the only voice of reason in the film, decrying the role of institutional punishment and its harmful effects. It's a close to the knuckle, sparingly shot, male-dominated film, the only feminine figure being that of the elderly woman who does occasional and useless checks on the boys' well-being.It merely depicts the violence and corrupt forces in borstal (including one vile warden who watches on as a young boy is raped) and allows the audience to walk away with their conclusions. Anti-Thatcher from the ground up, SCUM makes for uncomfortable viewing, but it is a central piece of British cinematic history - and a wonderful example of the heavily ideological social realism of the period which Britain did, and does, so well.


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