Two friends in a complicated world

By: Armando Núñez Chiong

Green book

Whatever the nonconformities generated by persistence and questioning in the history of the Oscars, and whatever happens in future editions, it is difficult to deny that at least the day of 2019 was signified by encouraging decisions for those who cry for a world without social set-asides, discards or stigmas.
Nominations for best work were prodigal in films about the so-called “minorities”: The Black Panther (Ryan Coogler) reserves the lead role in a film animated by an African-American superhero; Infiltrated the KKK (Spike Lee) follows in the footsteps of an undercover black agent in America’s best-known segregationist ranks; Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer) chronicles the complex life of celebrated rock singer Freddie Mercury; Rome (Alfonso Cuarón) evokes the vicissitudes of a domestic, indigenous Mexican; and Peter Farrelly’s Green Book gloats in fraternal relationships that arise during a work trip between a celebrated black, cultured and successful pianist, and the humble Italian he has hired as a chauffeur and bodyguard.
In short, Green… received the award for Best Picture, and Rome gained recognition for the non-English-speaking film. Of course, titles are missing from the previous list, because what it is all about here is not to report in detail on the awards, but to highlight a trend that, without being new – Passing to Miss Daisy (1989), by Bruce Beresford; Everything about my mother (1999), by Pedro Almodóvar, and an already profuse etc.– prevailed this time, even though this meant in several cases privileging minimalism or intimacy, over the magnificence of the great superproductions.
Another trait shared between some of the aforementioned films and the award-winning film was the recreation of real stories, certainly nuanced by the subjectivity of writers, producers and directors. Thus, for example, the “different” sexuality of the black character is recorded on a minor plane, which confirms that the premise of the performers had more to do with the theme of raciality in general, including the Latin origin of the driver, who is also strictly the protagonist, so be it “by one head”.
Writing does not mean, by the way, ignoring that the pianist is never so humiliated as when, surprised in fraganti in a spa, he appears naked on the floor, handcuffed and beaten. And that his most impressive catharsis has to do with family incomprehension, which is not precisely because of the color of his skin.
But the story begins towards the end of 1962 in New York, and what matters to emphasize is ethnic and racial conflicts in a context that shows symptoms of essential changes in the country’s history and, over time, in a part of the world, even if it is by no means a solved problem.
Anthony Vallelonga, named Tony Lip (Tony Lip, for his persuasive ease), of Italian descent, is in the film a humble man, of the world, with a lively emotional intelligence and tough-type skills. He lives in the Bronx with his family, whom he loves and must sustain by dealing with all kinds of specimens at Copacabana Nightclub, where he guarantees safety. Almost at the beginning of the story, he becomes temporarily unemployed. Important: even if you are pressed by the need to make pragmatic decisions, you are racist. And in turn he himself will be despised for being what some (still) consider colored people.
His eventual patron, Donald Walbridge Shirley, was a famous black pianist and composer, a man of privileged education and talent. For reasons that have to do with convictions and racial pride, he decides to undertake with his classical music trio a tour that includes several states of the so-called “deep south”, where prejudices by skin color have done greater damage in the United States.
Superb, suffered, alcoholic, elitist… Don Shirley knows he needs someone with Tony Lip’s abilities, because he’ll expose heds the most risks. And it is with the contract of employment between them that the avatars of both begin, embodied by Viggo Mortensen the Italian, and Mahershala Ali the pianist. The two were rightly nominated for their performances, although only the second was awarded as a supporting actor.
Well counted, without populism, with small and significant climaxes and transition zones that allow to bear with pleasure the two hours of the film, interest is in crescendo, although from the beginning we suspect what the end will be. Dramatic, funny, sad… either way, the notified viewer assumes from the outset that there will be a harmonic outcome.
It is that Green Book constitutes one of those very many films in which two people est distanced or predisposed by mutual knowledge or prejudice of any kind, are placed in a situation that will lead them to undertake a “journey” that in the end will mean a rethink of something that they prioritized as an unalterable truth, or have never been questioned. In the end, comes friendship, love or simply the validation of “the other”. They’re learning and growth films. There are all kinds and modalities, deep or light, but they are always beautiful. In Cuba, three films immediately come to mind: Strawberry and Chocolate (Alea-Tabío), Habanastation (Ian Padrón) and El acompañante (Pavel Giroud).
The title is about The Negro Motorist Green Book, a manual that circulated between 1936 and 1967 for African Americans who needed to know where they could settle during their stays in some states. And this is something that is always thanked for stories of this cut: we must not idealize, but human beings can change their circumstances, even at a rate that we cannot understand. That book is simply a thing of the past.
Significant is the way Farrelly is showing his views. He’s not interested in a pamphlet work and redundancies. In the Alabama restaurant sequence, where they prevent Don Shirley from eating alongside his fellow travelers, flat escapees stand out that insert Christmas motifs, including a close-up of Jesus in the manger: there (only there?) they have turned what should be stone of change into decoration.
All this leads to an end where, overcoming obfuscations through a journey that has united them, the pianist does not hesitate to take the wheel of the car so that Tony, overcome by fatigue, can stand with his own – including his traveling companion – on Christmas Eve, a longing he had expressed from the beginning.
The important thing is that for those Christmases the two of them are slightly better beings, and perhaps something similar happens with some viewers, even though this one we inhabit remains, badly despite us, the same place that Tony Lip sometime calls “a complicated world”. Ω

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