Day 3 at DIFF

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

The Raliway Man
Clear blue skies and a slightly chilly wind made for beautiful weather on day 3 of Dubai International Film Festival. It was a great setting to watch the lovely new Jason Reitman film, Labor Day, starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, and young actor Gattlin Griffith. At its core, Labor Day is a love story. It’s about needing love, giving love, and the love of love. The storyline begins when Adele (Winslet) and her son Henry (Griffith) encounter a fugitive named Frank, (Brolin) who thrusts himself into their sheltered world. Serving a prison sentence for murder, Frank seems volatile at first but as he hides out at Adele and Henry’s house, he slowly gains their trust. The three then form an unlikely bond of love and friendship within their cocoon of safety from the outside world.

Reitman’s films usually are very character driven and Labor Day is no different. The desires of the three, each for their own type of love, makes their story layered and believable. Combined with the scenic setting of a quaint New Hampshire town, and an emotionally subtle score, Labor Day is a lyrical film that resonates on the vulnerable scale of human emotion.

And speaking of vulnerability, and love, the second film I saw yesterday, The Railway Man, tackled these themes but in a very different way. This film tells the story of Eric Lomax who meets and falls in love with Patti. Their romance is almost a fairytale, until on their wedding night, Eric has a terrible nightmare flashback of his time as a prison of war. While Patti tries to uncover the truth and Eric struggles to keep his life under control, his past begins to unfold in a parallel narrative, revealing the torture he experienced at the hands of ruthless Japanese commander named Nagese, while working on the Thai-Burma railway.

As harrowing as the tale is, there is a motivating factor of reconciliation of the past so Eric and Patti can move on and have a life of love together. Colin Firth and Jeremy Irvine, who play the old and young Eric Lomax, deliver the performance with such vulnerability it is often terrifying. But what is most unbelievable is how the film was based on a true story. Normally when film’s are “based on a true story” you often wonder how much of it is real. Thankfully, I had the pleasure of sitting for a Q&A with the director of The Railway Man, Jonathan Teplitzky, after the screening.

Jonathan related the involvement of the real Eric and Patti Lomax and assured the audience to the authenticity of the film’s recount. The film took 15 years from its inception to get to the screen. Over that time, the filmmakers and the Lomax’s formed a close relationship,  developing the story from Eric’s initial book of the events to the screenplay, and finally the film. To help make the film stay as true to life as possible, many of the scenes of the railway were shot on real sections of it in Burma. The team also had real prisoners of war visit the sets, who Jonathan says were “chilled to see how real to life it was”.

It was really great to hear how passionate Jonathan was about the project, and how close he actually became to the Lomax’s, especially with Eric, who sadly passed away last year. When asked what drew Jonathan to the project, he responded by saying how it was difficult not to connect very quickly with the story on a very human level. He said it shows the best and worst of human nature, and what humans are capable of.

His answer is simple but eloquently encapsulates the film. Although the film certainly covers a tough subject, particularly if you haven’t heard of the Thai-Burma railway, it is definitely worth a watch. I’m also hoping this film will have helped to thicken my skin a bit for Day 4’s screening of 12 Years a Slave, which I’m sure will be even more harrowing. By Sara Castillo. 

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