Mary Reviews Movies About Fathers

by June 24, 2010 at 9:26 am 6,208 0

Mary Burgan Borderstan Movie Fan

Mary Burgan is the Borderstan Movie Fan.

Mary the Borderstan Movie Fan’s column on movies runs every two weeks. Mary Burgan is a retired professor of English and association executive. Her previous reviews are listed at the end of this post.

Father’s Day was over on Sunday, but the pleasure of the phone calls lingers on at our house. I have my own day, and it brings not only phone calls but flowers and even chocolates, but the phone calls for my husband seem different. They tend to carry the kind of restrained enthusiasm that goes by another name–respect.

That same restraint seems to me to underlie many films about good fathers. I exclude the respect in the portrayal of Don Corleone in The Godfather; despite the loyalty of his sons, the Don is, after all, a monster. I am thinking here of decent male models for children, especially boy children.

I decided to test my thesis about a special respect for such fathers by going to see the latest version of The Karate Kid. The son in that film has lost his biological father, but he finds another father in China; his mother has had to move him there because of her job. The new father appears in the person of a handyman named Mr. Han.

Eventually it turns out that Han is actually a Kung Fu master who has turned away from his martial art because of personal tragedy. (Note: The American version of the film keeps the title, Karate Kid, to play off the original 1984 film. In Asia, where they know that karate is a Japanese, not Chinese martial art, the film is called The Kung Fu Kid.)

Box-office evidence suggests that boys love this father-son movie. I did not love it. I liked it. What there is to like is Jaden Smith, the actor son of Will Smith, who stole my grandmother’s heart with his lonely bravado in coping with a strange culture and the sweetness of his slow learning from the master. The master, Jackie Chan, is a heart-stealer as well. He plays the role of the taciturn father figure with a twinkle in his eye and evident sympathy for the boy. There was too much bashing in the final Kung Fu tournament for my taste, but the action was exciting and the moral satisfying.

What I didn’t like was the length at 2 hours and 20 minutes. This is a warning: Do not indulge in one of the massive cokes for sale in the lobby if you want to sit through the film without interruption. If you fail to heed this warning, there is enough dead time in the middle to allow for a quick trip to the bathroom. The film was co-sponsored by the China Film Group, and so a swatch of its middle turns into a tour of China, beautifully filmed but kind of slow.

There are other less padded and more revelatory movies about respect for fathers available, and you can find lists of the more current ones on the internet. My own list is more selective.

First, of course, is To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). That film just aired on TCM, and I watched Gregory Peck’s dignified lope once again with affection. He’s a good dad, but the best thing about the film may be the adventures of the kids–peering in at a forbidden window, going downtown when they shouldn’t, accepting a new kid in a summer friendship. These have survived the almost 50 years since the movie was made, and they remain as fresh as “sweat and sweet talcum.”

Another other great film about fatherhood has been aired in this Father’s Day season on HBO. In the Name of the Father (1993) stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Pete Postelthwaite as a Northern Irish father and son who are falsely imprisoned for a pub bombing in Britain in the early 1970s. It is difficult to say who presides in this story of fatherly loyalty, for both actors are marvelous. Day-Lewis manages to convey the flighty and drug-ridden rebellion of the son’s generation that gradually undergoes a change of heart as he realizes his stoical father’s loyalty to him in gaol.

Not all the fathers in the films I can mention are so patient with their sons. Some are exasperatingly stubborn or foolish. The very conflict their sons feel in loving them becomes the focus of the drama.

Since I have disallowed Don Corleone from my pantheon of fathers of respect in beginning this essay, I’ll turn back to Italian fathers in ending it. The most memorable Italian fathers of all are depicted in Italian films about flawed men. The first is the tragic father in Vittorio De Sica’s classic, The Bicycle Thief, from post-war Italy (1948). And then there is the brutal father in the first masterpiece by the Taviani Brothers, Padre Padrone (1977).

My favorite Italian father, though, is Aurelio, the father in Fellini’s Amarcord (1973). The film shows him as a noble man despite his noisy exasperation with his children, his neighbors, and the politics of his country. He plays the Internationale from the church steeple when a Fascist festival is held in his village, and his humiliation by the local police makes him all the more deserving of respect.

Other Reviews by The Borderstan Movie Fan


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