“A Man Called Otto” (2023 Film)

If you run into Otto on the street or in a store, your eyes will see him as a grumpy old man who would cavil at one cent for everything. But if we look at him with the mind, he is quite a character for sure, and you will fail to dislike him once you know him and his secret. He is very good at fixing machines, from dishwashers to radiators, bicycles, and cars. He is also a fine babysitter and a great driving instructor. But as God is arguably fair in evenly distributing talents in us, Otto has a hard time mastering one thing: the art of killing himself. And boy, shouldn’t he thank God for such failed experience?

Otto is a lonely man in his sixties who lost his love of life and dear wife, Sonya, to cancer. Sadness comes not in a single spy but in the battalion, for he has just been forced to retire from his long-term job due to the juggernaut of changing generations at his workplace, as with other places. He has no children but himself, and as Sonya was the beacon of Light in his already reticent and shy life, he sees no light, joy, or meaning in life. The world suddenly turned grim and dreary. Otto is wrapped in his sorrow and besieged in loneliness under the roof of distress. We are privileged to look into the psychology of the destitute in the darkest night of the soul distressed in utter loneliness, which can be broken with a light of kindness and humor as shown by Otto’s new lively and lovely neighbors Marisol and her family. 

Humor is a handmaid of Hope, which Otto needs on the dark night of his soul. So, as the name suggests, Marisol and her pleasantly vivacious family bring the beauty of Sea and Sun to Otto’s Dungeon of Despondency with lots of laughs followed by tears and more laughs that will make anyone harnessed with a yore of life lightened. And since Otto is secretly a big-hearted person – literally and clinically – he slowly but surely warms to the warmth of friendship and love and shows his true colors as radiantly gorgeous as afternoon sunshine showering the brilliantly golden orange trees in summer. Oh, and there is a homeless cat that seems to be Sonya’s familiar in cat skin sent by her from heaven to be his company.

Otto is one lucky person to be surrounded by a loving community of neighbors, who becomes an alternate form of a family with emotional support and care, often overlooked and ignored by overtly advocated individualism with no face of humanity. Indeed, that doesn’t mean returning to agrarian society or something to the effect of the notoriously puritanical Salem, where everyone cast a jaundiced and suspicious eye on the targeted loner in the community, with trademark gossiping and ostracizing. Showing care shouldn’t be complicated because one can just say hi by trying to understand why the person behaves the way they are. I believe that is how we can prevent suicides by detecting sadness from the person instead of devolving the person to a therapist or counselor or ignoring them as if they were invisible or a burden to care. Just like Marisol and his family have shown, Light defeats Darkness. And everyone deserves Laughter.

Dark Water (2005) – film review

Here’s a young mother with a five-year-old daughter freshly divorced from her husband who thinks she’s delusional, paranoid even, and wants to keep sole custody of their daughter. The daughter is everything she has reason to live, a life that has been so hard to endure with an indelible traumatic childhood. Yet, because she sees herself in her daughter needing constant unconditional love, which she was not allowed to have, she will do anything to protect her from the harsh reality of life, even from the supernatural peril of the beyond reality.

So the story of Dark Water (2005) narrates Dahlia, a young divorcee trying to take full custody of her daughter Ceci away from her assiduously hostile husband. Instead, he embarks on a legal battle to claim sole possession of Ceci because of Dahlia’s unstable mental state. Dahlia, a once copy editor from Seattle, takes a low-paying administrative position at a Manhattan Radiology office for livelihood in a delipidated apartment in Roosevelt Island with Ceci. The semblance of the apartment is the working-class version of Rosemary’s apartment. Dark water is leaking everywhere: from the elevator to their bedroom ceiling, and the laundry room, which is a prelude to the finding of a tank on the rooftop where the traumatic ends of a certain young Russian girl abandoned, unloved finds her and her memories. Or is it Dahlia’s phantasmal delusion of confronting her own child self in her painkiller-induced pill to alleviate the cruel migraine caused by the yoke of woes?

Dark Water is an American adaptation of the original Japanese film Dark Water (2002) by Koji Suzuki, the famous writer of the Ring trilogy, excellently translated to an American audience who will find broad universal themes of human nature, psychology, and behavior. You don’t have to have perfect childhood fed on parental love to be a loving parent. Of course, unhappy childhood will affect the development of one’s character and behavior pattern more or less, but it all boils down to one’s nature to be loved and be loving. Dahlia wants to counteract the demon of the past, which still grabs her with its tenacious tentacle of recurring nightmares and murderous migraine, by being constantly -and eternally – loving and kind to Ceci despite her unhealed scars left in her child self. Perhaps that is why her name is Dahlia, whose flower word is loyalty, dignity, courage, and support due to its withstanding of harsh conditions.

Jennifer Connelly, playing Dahlia, is not only beautiful but also talented in a way that few actresses on screen possess in our time. Her presence in scenes is unique in that her character is downright realistic yet oddly out of the world in a riveting way, as exhibited in this film. No wonder the late film critic Roger Ebert admired her for the same reason. With her exceptional performance and the storytelling that grips the eyes and ears of the beholder, Dark Water is a worthy film for those who delight in supernatural horror without blood and screams.

‘Buck and the Preacher’ (1971)

Rousseau’s dictum of “Men are born free and are chains everywhere.” fittingly describes the condition of what it means to be free from slavery after the Civil War. Even so, freedom was recalcitrant to belong to them, and the hardships that came with the price of liberty from the carnage of the war still beset the newly freed along the trail of exodus to the new promised land in the west as articulated in Sidney Poitier’s classic western film “Buck and the Preacher” (1971).

Buck (played by Sidney Poitier), a former Union sergeant turned scout, leads a wagon of freed blacks from Louisiana to the west, where they hope to start their new lives without a shadow of slavery. But alas, the shadow of slavery still haunts them. It is up for grabs in the form of renegade ex-soldiers, probably both of the Union and the Confederates, hired by the former enslavers to bring the migrants back to the chains of slavery. They attack the wagon, rape women, and kill the old and the young, constantly intimidating them to return to where they belong. But the pain of loss and death is even less painful than the thought of returning to the past, and the journey marches on. Buck protects the journey, and the self-proclaimed preacher conman artist (played by Harry Belafonte) a former slave, chimed in, despite his original ulterior motive of money-gaining. This unlikely dup proves to be something of Moses and Aaron, so to speak, in a way that they guide and protect the persecuted people from the sordid bondage to a new promised land even if it takes a nearly decimal lot.

Then there are Indians across the wilderness as gatekeepers to the land of freedom. They are no outsiders to the persecution with their land taken away and their very beings threatened to decimate. The Indians live by the toll fees migrants have to pay when crossing their territories, not the least due to the paucity of livelihood resulting from the government’s confiscation of the land. When Buck implores the tribal chief to help them against the white attackers because they are all brothers, the chief retorts him by saying, “But black people also fought against us with the whites.” The mistrust is natural, as is the confrontation of the two peoples whose rights are put to contests orchestrated by the forfeiter of the rights. The class consciousness between the Indians and the blacks needs a manifestation of shared injustice and empathy, which both of them attest to an objective reality where they prove to be on the same side.

This film is one of the great Sidney Poitier’s and finest as I have been watching as remembering this brilliant actor who has recently died. Always poised with a commending presence filled with natural confidence and will without being febrile and vociferous, Poitier exudes his irresistibly graceful charisma on screen in this memorable Western about blacks and Indians, who are often seen in the peripheral characters contributing to highlighting main white characters. But this is not a revisionist Western at all to polarize the thematic elements of the genre. Hardly so. Instead, “Buck and the Preacher” is an eye-opening Western film about the peoples who are likely to be cast as outsiders even if they also rightfully belong to, to quote Lincoln, “the family of freedom with a jewel of liberty” called Americans.