How Green Was My Valley ★★★★★

...So wow.

Maybe I do need to be a little more discerning with my grades in general (this is my third 10 this month) because how often do you walk out of a film in which you 1) cry multiple times at the most subtle of gestures and most expressive of compositions and 2) decide that you need to reconsider who you call your favorite director.

On the surface, Ford is your granddaddy's favorite director: heavy, a bit slow, perhaps a little too moralizing, and (oh dear no!) sentimental. But then there's the actual Ford, the one I came to when I saw Mogambo last year: loaded with emotion in every frame, packing in expressive compositions throughout, and drenched with the hopes and pains of the past—a damn right good 'ol sentimentalist. And maybe you find his broad humor outdated, but that's your problem. Not his.

There are never true villains in Ford movies, and I couldn't help but think during How Green Was My Valley of a man who once said, "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they are doing," which might be the way to describe the antagonistic characters in this complex tapestry of a community.* Like many of Ford's best films, he centers his story around families, and layers them with complex negotiations between the generations of the past and present. He is perhaps cinema's greatest political pragmatist—it even comes out in the subplot where young Huw learns to fight. Not everything can be solved the good Christian way, especially when the good Christian way is lead by the men and women at Mass who only go out of fear, as Mr. Gruffydd bellows at his sermon.

And can we talk about that kiss? I don't cry at romances...ever. The films I cry at are usually scenes involving death. But Ford has a gentle touch in his framing, like using the wide shot during Mr. Gruffydd and Angharad's confrontation at the door, the negative space is so empty yet the emotions are so heavy. So yes, I cried at that kiss. And then Mr. Gruffydd standing between the gravestones during the wedding...and then their hand passing by each other near the end. Ford works in small gestures for maximum impact.

Ford works through and with compositions to tell his story more than anything else: what and how things are framed are his central technique. Didn't notice Toland's name in the credits, so it unmistakably shows that Ford was just as much a master craftsman: deep focus all around, characters always framed in their essential relations, lighting is always dynamic.

Could go on, and will probably at some point. Any banal discussions of comparisons to another film I will leave for the schoolyard children to wrestle about. This film struck me deep.

*It might help to have grown up in a Catholic Midwest background, but you gotta take the Christianity as it is—Mr. Gruffydd tells us that prayer is simply deep thought anyways. If you accept it in Bresson and Bergman, why not Ford?

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