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The Green Life: Movie Review Friday: Beautiful Islands

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July 22, 2011

Movie Review Friday: Beautiful Islands

Escape to the movies with one of our Movie Review Friday selections. Each week we review a film with an environmental theme. Seen a good eco-flick lately? Send us a short review and look for it in the next Movie Review Friday.

Beautiful Islands (2009)

Available on DVD

Director Tomoko Kana's Beautiful Islands is a cinematic time capsule documenting life on three islands affected by climate change: Tuvalu, Venice, and Shishmaref, Alaska.

It's a minimalist documentary, in that there's no narration and dialogue is sparse. When the film's non-English-speaking subjects converse in their native languages, subtitles are provided only occasionally, as if to suggest that watching and absorbing may be more important than understanding. The subtitles that do appear function almost as captions.  

The film's mood is one of anticipated nostalgia. The viewer begins to mourn these islands in advance of their destruction, even as the movie's characters — many of them children — laugh, sing, and dance.

Without narration, there are scenes in which the director's choices osciallate between great poignancy and a muted heavy-handedness: A teacher in the South Pacific nation of Tuvalu explains climate change to his students. "That's why the rest of the world are worrying about you people here," he says. "Aren't you worried?" The children reply: "No!" They explain, "because we believe in God." Nevertheless, the class's drawing exercise has the kids sketching stick figures clinging to palm trees as the water rises. One figure's cartoon speech bubble says, "help."

The movie's slow pace and absent narration leave space for the film's real subject — water — to be heard loud and clear. In Tuvalu, we see children frolicking in puddles; in Venice, a woman pulls up her fur coat as she wades through a flooded restaurant; in Alaska, ice breaks into floating plates as two men hunt a seal.

As water encroaches upon the islanders' lives, they remain active in their pursuit of normality, but the viewer is forced into a meditation on change. It's not a pleasant exercise, and these islands' rich cultures and exquisite natural beauty make this aquatic takeover difficult to bear.

--Della Watson

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