The film “Fury,” written and directed by David Ayer, set for release this fall, depicts the last months of World War II as American troops crossed the Rhine and moved into Germany. Ayer describes his film as attempting to present a “ground truth,” a brutal reality that has heretofore not been shown to audiences regarding the actions taken by American GIs as they fought their way across Germany, facing Wehrmacht soldiers who may have believed the war was lost but fought as if the outcome could still be changed.
Ayer mentions that only the first 20 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” presented an authentic depiction of the “ground truth” of war. And he’s prepared in “Fury” to take the truth of war, in all its bloody starkness, to the next level.
The question begged by Ayer’s comments regarding authenticity and “ground truth” in films is interesting and in effect poses a conundrum for Hollywood screenwriters and filmmakers: How much truth in big-screen storytelling do audiences really desire?
That question brings us to the recently released film “Boyhood,” written and directed by Richard Linklater. The film is groundbreaking. First it was shot over 12 years, beginning when the central character, Mason, portrayed by Coltrane Ellar, was 6 years old. It concludes as he leaves for college.
Linklater, along with actors Ethan Hawke, as Mason’s father, and Patricia Arquette, playing Mason’s mother, returned each year and shot a segment of the film. Year after year, Mason grows and changes and confronts different situations as he gradually matures into adolescence, with all of its exigencies.
While “Boyhood” is focused on Mason, it also examines the challenges of parenting as his mom and dad (who are divorced) confront their own changes. His mother, ambitious and responsible, wants a better life for Mason and his sister Samantha, played by Lorelei Linklater. She makes, however, awful choices in men, marrying an abusive, alcoholic man.
Mason’s dad, initially portrayed as shallow and irresponsible (he leaves the family and goes to Alaska for a time), grows into his parental role and is never a villain.
What “Boyhood”is about, essentially, is, in the aggregate, all those small moments that comprise the human condition. Such as it is. There is no harrowing conflict, no sustained or destructive melodrama, no crisis that takes the story to a nadir followed by a gratifying or uplifting resolution. “Boyhood" is life, presented in a series of vignettes that are filled with “ground truth.” Which may be more than audiences are prepared for, some feeling that the film flatlines (isn’t life, as lived, day after day, mundane? And if it wasn’t, wouldn’t we find it intolerable?).
That, of course, will be the challenge for “Boyhood.” Will it find an audience that sees beauty in all those small and even inconsequential moments that comprise a singular life?
Perhaps we go to movies for the fairy tale, for the surreal (even pulp cinema requires a sustained suspension of disbelief).
Which brings us to the delightful and uplifting “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” a film layered with a patina of decency and humor and essentially good will (a glass slipper). Its plot is clearly formulaic and Disneyesque but still abundantly entertaining.
At its center is a family that has fled Mumbai, India, after a political mob destroyed its restaurant. Trapped in the resulting fire, the wife of the patriarch, Papa Kadam (Om Puri), is killed.
The family members travel first to England, but move on to France, hopeful that they can open another restaurant. Serendipitously, their van breaks down in the hamlet of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, where Papa decides he has found his restaurant — a crumbling place in need of repair.
As it turns out, across the street is Le Saule Pleureur, a Michelin one-star restaurant, owned by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), an uncompromising widow with big political connections.
To Madame Mallory’s displeasure, the Kadams open the Maison Mumbai, and it is the gifted Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), Papa’s son, who will be its chef.
Madame Mallory sniffs at “those people,” her Gallic sensibilities offended. Papa sniffs right back at her French pretensions and sense of entitlement.
This is war, they declare. And so it is. A clash of cultural cuisines of epic proportions, all with an underlying humor and respect that never wavers. Both Papa Kadam and Madame Mallory are principled people, no matter Madame’s chilly demeanor (which we know will soon thaw).
As for “ground truth," films of this sort are not about life as it is lived. They are about life as we wish it to be. There is not a moment of racism in either direction. These are merely lovely people, eminently watchable, having a haute cuisine disagreement.
And to make it more interesting, there is a scent of love in the air between Hassan and the Madame’s sous chef, the lovely Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon).
“The Hundred-Foot Journey” is a long, unrelenting smile. Expectations of “ground truth,” as well as cynicism, should be checked at the door.