As Much Ado team, we’re starting a new writing series called “Films That Made Us Happy in 2017” in which each writer of our blog will write a personal essay on a film that made them happy, joyful, cheerful and all. It might be their favourite or least favourite, or neither. Our aim with this series is to highlight an aspect of cinema that is as important today as the times when cinema first entered people’s lives, that tingling feeling and the smile we have when we leave the theatre. Hope you enjoy our new series! -Dilara Elbir
When I was thinking about what movie I could talk about for this series, my mind went to various places. ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is my favourite movie of the year and anyone who knows me knows I can’t go a day without gushing about how much I love it; Films like ‘Baby Driver’, ‘Free Fire’ and ‘Logan Lucky’ are an absolute blast and had me in stitches from laughter from start to end; I have such a deep personal connection to ‘Columbus’ because Casey feels like a reflection of myself. But there was one film that unexpectedly put me through every emotion on the palette, that made me feel like I had lived an entire life in 90 minutes, that gave me a greater appreciation of life by the time the credits rolled – that film is ‘Jane’.
For the uninitiated, Jane Goodall has achieved legendary status as the leading expert on the study of Chimpanzees. Since she was a child she loved and wanted to work with animals, but she couldn’t afford to go to university. Then she was granted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – she was recruited by a scientist to study chimpanzees in Gombe, with the hope that her lack of education would allow her to identify behaviours that trained scientists may have overlooked. What makes ‘Jane’ so impressive is the fact that it even exists. Over 100 hours of lost footage were only recently recovered and the results are astounding, considering the footage is over 50 years old. To tell an entire life story in 90 minutes is an incredible feat in itself but Brett Morgen still manages to find time to luxuriate in the majestic beauty of the African plains.
‘Jane’ is more than just a beautiful movie though — it’s an emotional journey of wondrous highs and heartbreaking lows that have the potency of even the most powerful of dramas. I recall four moments where I cried. One was because of the exuberant joy I felt when Jane receives a letter from Hugo van Lawick — the National Geographic photographer who Jane was initially ambivalent towards — containing a marriage proposal. Feel free to judge but I’m in love with love, and the way Goodall talked about Hugo in her narration made me think “I hope they got married.” Later, I cried when they got divorced — but like Jane, the film still holds a great deal of care for Hugo, treating him as a supporting player in Goodall’s illustrious career while also portraying him as a driven man with dreams of his own. And lastly, I cried because of the chimpanzees. Brett Morgen impeccably translates the way Goodall sees animals to the screen so that it’s impossible to not empathise with them. In the same way that Goodall recognised that chimps are more , the film extensively explores each chimp that Goodall grew to love like they were her own family to the . So when a polio outbreak decimates the clan, well, of course I could feel tears welling up in my eyes.
Call me cheesy but films about people following their dreams despite the odds routinely affect me in profound ways. Jane Goodall became one of the most respected primatologists despite never receiving education or training. She didn’t let her wealth bracket stop her from doing what she loved. When the pressures of marriage, family and fame began to mount, she still continued to live in Gombe and study chimpanzees — for 55 years and counting. The film plays out like the most heart-wrenching of biopics, but retains the immediacy and intimacy of documentaries. Watching ‘Jane’ feels like sitting with your grandmother in front of a cosy fire as she recalls her youth — and it feels like you just lived through five decades in one sitting, sharing the same emotions of ecstatic wonder and despair as the inspirational woman on screen.