Male bonding in movies is still a relatively rare subject for the cinema to tackle. If it’s not one of the new crop of movies exploring gay relationships, cinema usually doesn’t know how to portray the love, admiration and affection between men.
Here are three very different films. They explore unique approaches to the subject of male bonding. It’s probably interesting to note that each is set in a predominantly all-male environment. Enjoy.
The Sergeant (1968)
This exceptional movie on male bonding caught my adolescent imagination on British TV late one night. I was about 14 years old at the time. As a keen film buff, I’ve tried to seek it out time and time again. Without remembering the actor, director or even the title of the film, it was hard to find. It’s taken years to discover a clip on YouTube, but the full movie is there in eleven parts, and that’s where I’ve just watched it again.
Another boundless performance from Rod Steiger of course, but this time as the lovelorn Master Sergeant Albert Callan, obsessed with one of his men. The inevitably tragic ending is typical of its time. However, The Sergeant feels much more like a modern documentary drama set against a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the army than a piece of Hollywood fiction nearly half a century old.
The silent opening sequence alone with its mournful jazz score and the blend of B&W and colour footage is still masterly cinematography. Still hard to find on DVD or for sale anywhere on the net, the storytelling is as good today as it was back then. You’ve just got to love the Internet for helping to find things!
Cell 211 (Celda 211) (2009)
You might expect some male bonding in a prison movie, but this is no Shawshank Redemption. It’s like being grabbed by the throat for 104 minutes. Cell 211 takes a stranglehold on your consciousness and never let you go, even after the credits have rolled and the screen has turned to black.
It tells the claustrophobic story of a young prison guard who gets caught up in a riot in his first day on the job. He must pretend to be an inmate to survive the ordeal. A friendship soon develops between him and the hard-headed riot leader, but as usual, life always has a way of changing the game and upping the stakes.
One of the best recent non-Hollywood films soon to be remade as a Hollywood film. Do yourself a favour and watch the original.
The male bonding in this film is between two brothers. These two are forcibly drafted into the South Korean army to fight against advancing Communist forces in the early 1950s and find themselves in emotional and ideological conflict. Jin-Seok is the younger of the two for whom, the older brother, Jin-Tae, has sacrificed to provide an education while working as a shoe-shine boy. What follows is probably the most gruesome anti-war film ever as the two brothers battle conflicting experiences of war and grow apart.
So realistic and bloody are the battle scenes that it’s almost like being there. Under Je-Gyu Kang’s spectacular direction, we too are dodging bullets and shrapnel on the battlefield. This is a fantastic opportunity to see the Korean war from the POV of Koreans for a change. But what remains as the credits roll is an epic tale of the love between two brothers in which the casualties of war are laid bare for all to see. Suberb. Highly recommended.