All That You Can Be

Once Upon a Time in America

Directed by Australian filmmaker Gregor Jordan from Robert O'Connor's 1993 novel, Buffalo Soldiersis a movie of richly saturated colors, tastefully deployed period music, and choreographed set pieces. In the most elaborate, a smacked-out tank crew on maneuvers rolls through the local Oktoberfest, crushing an orange VW bug emblazoned with the anarchist "A." Confounding an army convoy on an autobahn exit ramp, they inadvertently blow up a gas station and proceed through the woods to rejoin their company. The perps are blissfully ignorant, but their escapade enables Elwood to make off with two truckloads of arms.

Elwood is on the verge of his greatest score when a new top sergeant, given the heroic name of Robert Lee and played with a grim death grip by Scott Glenn, arrives to tear his playhouse down. Complicating matters, this hardass has a nubile daughter (Anna Paquin, more adult here than in X2but no less the inadvertent femme fatale). Elwood's strategy of vengeful humping further inflames Lee's program of vengeful hump-busting. As the body count mounts and schemes are folded within schemes, Elwood sinks deeper in shit and Buffalo Soldiersloses its percolating groove somewhat short of the faux apocalyptic closer.

Understandably, Buffalo Soldiers—which premiered at the 2001 Toronto Film Festival two days before September 11—has spent nearly two years on the Miramax shelf. Now perhaps, with another U.S. occupation rapidly souring, its time has come. Watching a tele-babbling Bush, one stoned GI asks, "Where is the Berlin Wall?" In its post-Vietnam cynicism, Buffalo Soldiersfeels almost avant-garde.

Kingdom for a horse: Maguire astride star-spangled symbol in Seabiscuit
photo: François Duhamel
Kingdom for a horse: Maguire astride star-spangled symbol in Seabiscuit

Details

Seabiscuit
Written and directed by Gary Ross, from the book by Laura Hillenbrand
Universal
Opens July 25

Buffalo Soldiers
Directed by Gregor Jordan
Written by Jordan and Eric Axel Weiss & Nora MacCoby, from the novel by Robert O'Connor
Miramax
Opens July 25, at AMC Empire and Angelika

Balseros (Cuban Rafters)
Directed by Carles Bosch and Josep M. Domènech
Seventh Art/HBO/Cinemax Documentary
July 23 through August 5, at Film Forum

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Made by Spanish television, the documentary Balseros(Cuban Rafters) opens in Cuba during the summer of 1994 when ongoing shortages and a failed attempt to hijack a ferry to Florida triggered spontaneous street disturbances and prompted thousands of Cubans to attempt to paddle to Miami.

With news-breaking immediacy, the filmmakers show would-be balseros dismantling their houses to build rafts. These flimsy vessels receive send-offs worthy of rockets to Mars and, per some remarkable footage of empty rafts on the open sea, seem far more dangerous. After some weeks, Bill Clinton ordered the U.S. Coast Guard to intercept the balseros and warehouse them at Guantánamo with a lottery to determine eventual émigrés. Thus, families are divided and reunited and refugees dispersed throughout the U.S. The filmmakers track seven lucky winners while monitoring their left-behinds—taped, in a form of instant feedback, watching videos of their relatives in Guantánamo and Miami or, in split screen, talking to them on the phone.

The extraordinary sense of recording stories as they unfold is maintained even in Balseros's second half, when the filmmakers return five years later to document the broken relationships and degrees of adaptation. Among other things, the movie offers a fascinating perspective on the U.S.—a paradise at once cold and abundant where, for all the emphasis on family values, the individual reigns supreme. A poignant soundtrack by the exiled singer known only as Lucrecia provides each protagonist with a personal theme. Becalmed or bobbing along, they remain balseros—but then, as this engrossing documentary suggests, so are we all.


Related Story:
"Oceans Apart: Carles Bosch Chronicles a Cuban Exodus" by Laura Sinagra

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