Indie Movies for Independence Day: Social Struggle, Foreign, and Lost Worlds
It’s Independence Day, so here’s a serving of my favorite independent(ish) films to help you celebrate. For the purpose of this article, “indie” will mean “outside of the mainstream aesthetic,” even if the film was made by a studio inside of a larger company. These movies pass the Bechdel Test. What is the Bechdel Test, you ask? To pass, a movie has to have:
1. At least two women
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man
Revolutionary, I know. But amazing how hard this can be to find in the mainstream. If you don’t love the movies below, I will punch you in the nose! Okay, not really, but…
Social Struggle and Family Drama
Bread and Roses (2000): Maya is a quick-witted young woman who comes over the Mexican border without papers and makes her way to the LA home of her older sister Rosa. Rosa gets Maya a job as a janitor: a non-union janitorial service has the contract, the foul-mouthed supervisor can fire workers on a whim, and the service-workers’ union has assigned organizer Sam Shapiro to bring its “justice for janitors” campaign to the building. Sam finds Maya a willing listener, she’s also attracted to him. Rosa resists, she has an ailing husband to consider. The workers try for public support; management intimidates workers to divide and conquer.
In America (2003): Following the tragic death of their adolescent son Frankie, Irish couple Johnny and Sarah Sullivan and their remaining two offspring, 10 year old Christy and 5 year old Ariel, emigrate illegally to the United States via Canada with little in their pockets. Their final destination is Manhattan where Johnny hopes to work as a stage actor. They move into a unit in a run town tenement housed primarily with drug addicts, transvestites and one tenant coined “the man who screams”. They do whatever they can to eke out a supportive family environment in this difficult situation, the support which ultimately extends to those around them, most specifically “the screamer” who turns out to be an African-American artist named Mateo with AIDS.
The Sea Inside (2004): Life story of Spaniard Ramón Sampedro, who fought a 30-year campaign to win the right to end his life with dignity. Film explores Ramón’s relationships with two women: Julia, a lawyer who supports his cause, and Rosa, a local woman who wants to convince him that life is worth living. Through the gift of his love, these two women are inspired to accomplish things they never previously thought possible. Despite his wish to die, Ramón taught everyone he encountered the meaning, value and preciousness of life. Though he could not move himself, he had an uncanny ability to move others.
Letters from Iwo Jima (2006): The story of the battle of Iwo Jima between the United States and Imperial Japan during World War II from the perspective of the Japanese who fought it.
The Lives of Others (2006): In the early 1980s, Georg Dreyman (a successful dramatist) and his longtime companion Christa-Maria Sieland (a popular actress), were huge intellectual stars in (former) East Germany, although they secretly don’t always toe the party line. One day, the Minister of Culture becomes interested in Christa, so the secret service agent Wiesler is instructed to observe and sound out the couple, but their life fascinates him more and more
Peeks into Lost or Unknown Worlds
A Love Song for Bobby Long (2004): Upon hearing of her mother’s death, jaded teenage loner Purslane Hominy Will returns to New Orleans for the first time in years, ready to reclaim her childhood home. Expecting to find her late mother’s house abandoned, Pursy is shocked to discover that it is inhabited by two of her mother’s friends: Bobby Long, a former literature professor, and his young protégé, Lawson Pines. These broken men, whose lives took a wrong turn years before, have been firmly rooted in the dilapidated house for years, encouraged only by Lawson’s faltering ambitions to write a novel about Bobby Long’s life. Having no intention of leaving, Pursy, Bobby Long and Lawson are all forced to live together. Yet as time passes, their tenuous, makeshift arrangement unearths a series of buried personal secrets that challenges their bonds, and reveals just how inextricably their lives are intertwined.
ME: the French Quarter has been restored, but in A Love Song, we get to see the New Orleans that was lost in its gritty, pre-Katrina glory.
Sunshine Cleaning (2008): Rose and Norah, in Albuquerque, lost their mother when they were young. Rose is responsible – a housecleaner, raising her seven-year-old son Oscar. She’s also having an affair with Mac, a married cop, her high-school sweetheart. Norah can’t hold a job. Their dad, Joe, is quirky. When Oscar is expelled for odd behavior, Rose wants to earn enough to send him to private school. Mac suggests she clean up after crime scenes, suicides, and deaths that go undiscovered for awhile. Rose enlists Norah, and Sunshine Cleaners is born. Norah bonds with the dead, Rose finds out that it’s a regulated business, and complications arise. Can a family marked by tragedy sort things out?
(Unless otherwise noted, summaries are from IMDb.com.)