"In the Shadow of the Moon: Four stars (PG)
Ten Canoes: Four stars (NR)
Two movies that warrant your attention, one set mostly in the heavens and the other set firmly on Mother Earth. Both films require you to adjust your mindset a bit to best appreciate what they offer. In the Shadow of the Moon, opening at Landmark’s Keystone Art Cinema on the Northside, asks those of you with a jaded attitude towards space travel to set it aside and remember the wonder felt around the world when humanity first landed on the moon. Ten Canoes, opening at Key Cinemas on the Southside, asks you to not get whiny about the subtitled parts and to be patient as a seasoned aboriginal storyteller tells his sometimes meandering tale.
Incidentally, is it just me, or do you also find the whole Landmark’s Keystone Art Cinema and Key Cinemas thing confusing? Hell, I compose most of the listings and I still occasionally get the two mixed up because they both have the word “key” in their names.
But I digress.
Ten Canoes, set in an aboriginal community in Australia, starts off with narrator David Gulpilil intoning, “Once upon a time in a land far away,” then laughing and saying, “I’m only joking.” With that, writer/director Rolf de Heer makes it clear that his film will not be a traditional stylized tale. Instead, he takes us back to when oral communication was everything, when the person telling the story felt free to take periodic verbal side trips because he knew his listeners would stick with him to the end.
Which is what you need to do. When the story starts to wander, resist the urge to squirm and allow yourself to wander with it. There’s a lot to enjoy. The scenery is beautiful, the acting is solid (many of those in the cast are first-time thespians), the story — a cautionary tale about the dangers of coveting one of your brother’s wives — is involving, and there are numerous moments of bawdy humor. Too many stories involving aboriginal people are strident tragedies. Ten Canoes dares to tell its rich tale without tub-thumping. It’s very good.
David Sington’s In the Shadow of the Moon is an exceptional documentary covering the nine Apollo moon missions. Remember how thrilled we were when Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the lunar surface? Remember how we became bored with the subsequent missions? Shadow of the Moon never loses its enthusiasm, as the people involved — including most of the surviving astronauts (except the intensely private Armstrong) — tell their stories. The British production is beautifully assembled with lots of great footage and fascinating anecdotes. It’s hard to believe it took this long for someone to create such a documentary.
In the Shadow of the Moon left me feeling elated over the majesty of it all and sad because of the current pedestrian state of the space program. I wish the filmmakers had included more footage on the surface of the moon. I really wish they could have coaxed Neil Armstrong into talking. Regardless, In the Shadow of the Moon is a doozy, as is Ten Canoes.