In last year’s edition, I reflected on how the cinematic theme running throughout a majority of the year’s best films seemed to be that of internal ruminations, an inward reflection of the self isolated from the outside world. This year’s films were no less contemplative, but did so from the perspective of one existing within the world, instead of isolated from it. The inner consciousness was a reflection of the tribulations of a world gone awry, whether through political or emotional strife; leaving the characters with very real gashes indeed.

The coming-of-age narrative was brought to life several times this year. From the perspective of a child, we witnessed the changing world shrouded in violence, from barbarous war to domestic alienation. In Rebelle, the cruelty of war is a reality and adulthood is heinously forced upon young Komona. The title protagonists in Ginger and Rosa find their friendship tested by revolution on all sides, compelling a schism between what is familiar and what is inevitable. The indomitable spirit of hope and progress is on full display in Beasts of the Southern Wild, as Hushpuppy becomes enraptured with questions of her purpose in the tapestry of the human spirit. Finally, the fragility of youth is the target in Broken, as Skunk – not unlike Scout of To Kill a Mockingbird – faces malignity and injustice with all the definition and courage of an innocent.

The misguided search for love – or something similar – was also on display this year. In two seemingly complementary films, Seidl’s Paradies: Liebe and Matthiesen’s Teddy Bear find their white protagonists seeking to fill a void in foreign countries (Kenya and Thailand, respectively). Although concerning similar subject matter, the approaches are vastly different. Seidl takes a distinctly misanthropic view on colonial exploitation and power relations, disguising a very human need for companionship. Matthiesen, in contrast, takes a more light-hearted and perhaps naive perspective, as the self-consciously sensitive Dennis seeks not sex, but true companionship.

The final major theme of note is concerning America vis-à-vis the Middle East. Zero Dark Thirty and Argo straddle the line between supposedly objective filmmaking and thinly veiled contempt for the “barbarism of Islam”. Far more eloquently worded pieces have been posted about the matter (the excellent , “And the winner is … Islamophobia“, for example), and justifiably so: the ‘self-serving moral ambiguity’ of the West is hardly inconspicuous, where “in an increasingly complicated world, America just keeps on doing the right thing”. These films are just as much about the narrative as they are a statement on American foreign policy, however much the filmmakers would like to claim otherwise; it is all very well to be morally superior when one is on the white side of the wall.

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