Monday, 10 July 2017

The Exiles (1961)

De rodløse
In my old hometown of Aalborg in Denmark there is a perpetual party. I fair weather it will be outside on the square in front of the train station while in poor weather it moves inside into one of the bars on the square, but it will always be on. When I lived there we called it Grønlænderfesten, which translates to The Greenlandic Party, since majority of the participants would the Greenlanders who had moved to Denmark. They were always happy and they did not bother anyone, but it was difficult not to think that in their alcoholic haze they lived a shadow life of what they should have been.

“The Exiles” seems to be the American equivalent. This is about American Indians, or whatever it is politically correct to call them, who has left the reservation and now live a shadow life in Los Angeles on the fringe of society. They may be partying hard, but it does not seem like a happy life, not for any of them and there is constantly a feeling that this is wrong, that they should be doing something else.

How real this movie is I am unable to tell, but it feels like a portrait of the lives of real people, who narrate over filmed events of one evening and night in their lives. It might be called a documentary, but it is not a film that offers any explanations or opinions other than the characters themselves. As a mirror on reality it would be a good double feature with “Chronicle d’un été”, here succeeding where “Chronicle…” according to itself failed.

We follow Yvonne and Homer who live together in the Bunker Hill neighborhood in Los Angeles. They both left the reservation to strike out for themselves in Los Angeles, where they met each other. Yvonne is a sad, soft spoken character who does all she can to make Homer appreciate her. She cooks for him, fix his cloth and let him do whatever he wants in the hope that he will be a good husband and father to the child she is expecting and maybe even get a job. In return Homer is just being an asshole.

Homer does not do anything but watch television at day and hang out with his friends at night. They hit the bars, pick up girls, gamble their money away, drink some more and get into fights. In that process Homer does not offer Yvonne a single thought, but seems to be perfectly okay about what he is doing as if it is his right. But Homer is not happy, even though he has a ton of excuses for what he does. We rarely see him smile and there is a quiet desperation about him, which becomes most expressed when he going to a midnight pow-wow with the other Indians on a hill on the outskirts of town.

Both Yvonne and Homer seems to be wasting their lives waiting for something else, something they can only vaguely define and which they seem completely unable to reach for.

I did not like Yvonne and Homer very much, they were too much fool and asshole to be likeable, but it was remarkable how honest they were and how exposed they got in the course of this movie. This cannot have been an easy movie for them to watch afterwards and I wonder how the director got so close to them. Part of me thinks he was abusing that confidence by the not very flattering way they are portrayed, but another part is quite convinced that they we nod and agree that this is pretty much what their lives are about. These are not resourceful people. Yvonne is not strong enough to leave or stand up to Homer and Homer is not strong enough to look himself in the eye and take responsibility for his life. Instead they just flow with it.

It is fascinating and not a little sad, a bit like the Greenlandic party in Aalborg. These are just two people and their friends, but something here speaks for a larger group of people with similar background. And then of course we get a good look at the not so glamorous life in Los Angeles in the late fifties, far away for Hollywood’s glitz.    

This was the last 1961 movie for me. Next comes 1962…


  1. I'm through with Book movies for 1961 as well. I have eight movies left from my own list.

    If you are inclined to branch out a bit for 1962, I would like to recommend Harakiri (and Sanjuro but I think you are planning on that one). Harakiri is disturbingly powerful but absolutely beautiful and thought-provoking.

    1. Agree with you on The Exiles. I felt so sorry for those people. Fortunately for them, they seemed to lack the introspection to fully grasp the utter futility of their lifestyles.

    2. I have not heard of Harakiri, but I will look it up and, yes, Sanjuro is in pipeline for 62 :)

      You are right, they did not seem to grasp the futility of their lifestyle and I do not know if that is a blessing or a curse for them. If they had understand but as is apparent lacked the strength to do anything about it, it should drive them mad.

  2. I wasn't a fan. I'm pretty convinced that the only reason this made The List is because it was essentially missing for 50 years and discovered in 2008. If this had been released in 1961, I don't know if anyone would know or care about it today.

    1. That may well be. Sometimes obscurity is an asset. It is not a movie I would go back to, but in terms of catching reality they did a much better job than the French in Chronicle d'un été.