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International Cinema: September 2022 Films Recap

IC rings in the new school year with gripping films and lectures.

movie projector in fog
Photo by Jeremy Yap

The Host—September 14

Although horror movies often feature fictional monsters, director Bong Joon-ho’s The Host features real-life monsters in today’s society: pollution and violence. Professor Carl Sederholm (Horror and Film) lectured on Bong Joon-ho’s The Host. The story centers around a monster emerging from South Korea’s polluted Han River and attacking locals.

Some critics classify The Host as a comedy, whereas others call it a melodrama. Joon-ho enabled the story to depart from the traditional, strict narrative and played with the idea of what a horror film can be.

The Host is also a reflection of contemporary problems that disrupt everyday life. Sederholm pointed out that with the increase in school shootings, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and outbreaks of disease and illness, monster movies like The Host help us learn how to grapple with these larger-than-life threats. This movie also comments on the situations that lead to the creation of a monster. Deliberate pollution of the Han River leads to the monster coming to life, and a suicide involving the Han River is what gives the monster its taste for human blood.

Joon-ho’s work with mood and trope crafts a compelling movie that subverts expectations and portrays not just a monster but real, frightening issues in our world today.

The Devil’s Backbone—September 21

The harsh reality of war might be much scarier than a typical ghost story; however, in the dark horror film, The Devil’s Backbone, director Guillermo del Toro uses ghosts to bring war to life. Professor Lin Sherman (Spanish Enlightenment and Romanticism) offered insight into del Toro’s film, explaining that it features young orphans during the Spanish Civil War who discover a young ghost wandering the school grounds where they live.

del Toro directed three major horror films that take a dark approach to the underbelly of the Spanish Civil War. In addition to The Devil’s Backbone, the films include Cronos and Pan’s Labyrinth. Each deals primarily with themes of death, dismemberment, and decay.

In The Devil’s Backbone, del Toro depicts disturbing motifs like undetonated bombs within the school, disturbing images of fetuses with spina bifida (a medical condition where the spinal cord does not develop or form properly), and slugs. These repeated images continually emphasize the horrors of war throughout the film.

The film also explores the narrow, treacherous bridge that connects one space to another, including life to death, presence to absence, being to nothingness, and the self to the other. This warns against the apocalypse and destruction of war and the fragile and precarious nature of reality.

Dr. Gama—September 28

Given the recent efforts for racial equality across the globe, Assistant Professor Jordan Jones’ (Brazilian Literature) lecture on director Jeferson De’s
film, Dr. Gama, was timely and inspiring. Dr. Gama presents the true 19th-century story of Black Brazilian, Luiz Gama. As a 17-year-old, Gama gained his own freedom from slavery through learning to read and studying Brazilian law. Using his legal knowledge, he freed over 500 enslaved individuals.

Unfortunately, the 500 freed individuals were the exception, not the rule. Although abolished on paper in 1831, slavery did not officially end until 1888, making Gama’s work all the more impactful. Many enslaved individuals likely continued to work in grueling labor and inhumane conditions until the official end of slavery. The backbreaking work left enslaved people exhausted as they harvested brazilwood, sugar, gold, diamonds, and coffee to support Brazilian endeavors.

In the closing credits, Jeferson De included the statement, “Black Lives Matter.” His modern-day connection to a historic tragedy demonstrates the pervasiveness of racism in the world as well as an individual’s ability to make a difference.

Attend the International Cinema lectures and accompanying movies each Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. in 250 KMBL to hear more great stories. Check out the semester lecture and showing schedule here.