Posts Tagged ‘Foreign’

MOVIE: Unforgiven (2013) (Japanese remake)

July 20, 2014

unforgivenFans of the Western genre will appreciate the symmetry of this film.  Back when Clint Eastwood was an actor instead of a director, he appeared in the film A Fistful of Dollars, a spaghetti Western based on the Japanese samurai movie Yojimbo.  And now, mumble-mumble years later (I could look that up, but I won’t) one of his films has been reverse-engineered into a samurai movie all its own.

The good news is that it’s very good.  The bad news is that it’s virtually a scene-for-scene remake, with few surprises.  The guns have been replaced with swords, and the outfits are (mostly) different, but aside from that, most of the characterizations and the action is the same.  Which is fine, really; it’s a remake, after all. It’s just that there was a lot of room in this story for newness based on the fairly dramatic cultural and historical differences, and that didn’t get as much consideration as I would’ve liked it to.  Maybe the grim business of killing is the same in every culture, but I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed by the lack of invention.

Fans of Ken Watanabe, future Boyfriend of the Week, should definitely catch this one — he makes an excellent Clint Eastwood.  But even better is his sidekick Akira Emoto, who not only plays Morgan Freeman’s character, but looks exactly like a Japanese Morgan Freeman.  I couldn’t take my eyes off him, frankly.  It was amazing how much they resembled each other.

Definitely recommended to fans of the original, but this film stands alone just fine as well, so if you hate gunslingers but love samurai, you’ll find a lot to like here for sure.

[View trailer]

Genre: Western/Eastern, Foreign
Cast:  Ken Watanabe, Akira Emoto, Jun KunimuraShiori Kutsuna, Yûya Yagira

MOVIE: The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)

July 17, 2014

brokencircleThis is the saddest, most beautiful film I have ever seen.  I kind of want to leave it at that, but I’m about to make a huge mess of everything instead by going on, because, you know . . . I’m in a mood. And it put me there. Apologies in advance.

The Broken Circle Breakdown, based on a play cowritten by the film’s hirsute star, Johan Heldenbergh, is about a Flemish man, Didier, who begins the story in love with American bluegrass music, and ends it in love with a tattoo artist named Elise.

They meet at a show he’s playing, and fall head over heels almost immediately. Initially, it’s largely a physical relationship — they want each other desperately, and there’s little time for anything else. But when Elise suddenly becomes pregnant, the relationship is turned upside down, shaken like a cup full of dice in a Yahtzee game. Finally, they manage to overcome their trepidation at making so immutable a commitment to each other, get married, and move in together, beginning the business of living.

One night, as Didier’s playing some of his favorite tunes for Elise, she begins to sing along, timidly at first, then, gauging his reaction, more boldly. He realizes her voice is exactly the thing his band has been missing, and she soon becomes an integral part of the group, bringing harmony both to his life and to his music.

Nine months later, they have their child.  Four or five years after that, they lose her.

And then they lose everything else.

This isn’t a spoiler, I wouldn’t say, by the way — the story is told in a series of flash-backs and -forwards, jumping back and forth through various stages of their relationship, so you know what’s coming, for the most part, long before you get there.

That’s why, in fact, it took me over 2 months to watch this movie all the way through. After the first 30 minutes or so, I had to stop every ten and wait another week before continuing. It was that difficult to watch, that difficult to feel, to experience.  I have never lost a child, and I can’t even begin to imagine what that would be like.  But I’ll tell you this, because I can’t seem not to right now: I’ve lost the chance at a child, the hope of a child, and the language of that grief seemed to me to share at least enough of the same roots as the language of the grief in this film that it was completely and painfully decipherable.

It’s not the same, obviously, and I don’t mean to suggest that it is, either. After all, Didier and Elise meet their baby girl, they watch her grow, they come to know her, they fall desperately in love with her face, her smiles, her laughs, her tears, her curiosity, her lust for living. And then she is taken from them, slowly and with no small amount of suffering. It is a terrible thing. It is, in fact, the most terrible of all things. It compares to nothing. It’s the kind of grief that swallows a person whole and never spits them back out, not all the way. In this film, you watch Didier and Elise be swallowed up just like that, right there on the screen, every tiny, terrible gulp.

At the risk of exposing way too much about the bedrock of my heart, though — or worse, making this beautiful film and all its tragedies all about me (yuck) — I will tell you this:  there is a baby that haunts my dreams. She never existed, not once, not for a single moment.  Yet, she is as mine as anything ever has been. In those dreams, she is as real as you are. As real as I am.  She has my eyes. She has his hair. She visits me all the time. And when I wake, she is gone.  Every time, she is gone. And so, while it’s not the same — not even a little bit — it is still, in all the ways relevant to this, the same enough to matter.

This is oversharing, which I try not to do here, because who cares, really? What you want to know is whether or not this is a good movie. So I’ll tell you: yes, this is a good movie. In fact, this is a beautiful movie; it is a beautifully written, beautifully wrought film that will throw your heart into a well and leave you stand standing there craning your ears for hours, listening for the splash that never comes. This is the kind of movie you put on and never fully take back off. It is that rich a thing. That good, that hard, that everything and more.

Beyond that, and as a bonus to all you bluegrass fans out there (or those of you who never knew bluegrass before but are about to), the soundtrack is as much a work of pure, perfect craft as the film itself.  At one point in the movie, Didier tells Elise the story of the origins of bluegrass — how it was started by immigrants from all over the world who were living in this great melting pot of cultures in the Appalachians, coming together with each of their own traditional instruments to make a new sound.  More so than any other music, bluegrass is the sound of the acceptance of “other,” the sound of cooperation, dizzy experimentation, pure love of tone.  It’s a combination so artful it practically hangs on the walls.   Even if you decide not to watch the film, you should definitely give the record a listen, because every single minute is a total masterpiece of rhythm, resonance, and racket.

I don’t really have the words to express how highly I recommend this incredible film. I recommend it very, very highly.  The problem is, asking you to watch it — if you have any heart at all — is like asking you to take a kebab skewer and shove it into your eye.  I can’t help but think, however, that  movie capable of hitting a human being this hard is the rarest gift of all.  It’s what movies are supposed to do — they are supposed to generate that same rhythm and resonance in our own lives, right there as we watch them.  A film that actually succeeds at doing that is a rare gift, and it’s the kind of experience you’ll never forget.  In my private life, I am fairly rigorously loathe to feel things. I don’t like it. Not one bit.  But when I’m forced to do it, as I obviously was by this film, the reward sometimes more than makes up for the journey.

In that regard, I don’t know what to tell you, really, other than this:  The Broken Circle Breakdown grabbed me by the ankles and flung me heart-first into a wall.  And I’ll never be able to thank it enough.

Do with that what you will.

[Rent on Amazon (free with Prime) | Netflix it]

Genre: Drama, Foreign
Cast: Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh, Nell Cattrysse, Geert Van Rampelberg, Nils De Caster,Robbie Cleiren

MOVIE: Into the White (2012)

December 4, 2013

intothewhiteSet during WWII, or, more specifically, in the middle of the snowy nowhere in Norway during WWII, this little gem of a film tells the true story of two British and three German soldiers forced by extremely cold circumstances to work together to survive.

It starts with an air battle in the blinding snow.  Both sides end up going down — the British plane shoots the German one and then crashes itself.  Freezing, the two groups of crew miraculously manage to stumble across the same little cabin in the aforementioned middle of the snowy Norwegian nowhere — kismet!  Unable to do anything until winter abates and they can hike out, the five men have to learn to live together — something that comes much easier for the two eldest officers, who are about as war-weary as they come, than for the two young bucks who pretty much want to blow each other up REAL BAD (the roles of prisoners v. guards switch a few times, depending on who happened to grab the gun while the others were sleeping).

As time passes and tedium sets in, the men slowly get to know each other — something facilitated greatly, as is often the case, by the exciting discovery of a bunch of liquor stored under the floor boards.  Ultimately, grudging respect turns into full-on friendship, and they begin to make plans for getting out together and going home.

Annnnnd then the Norwegians ski in and ruin everything.  Ach, typical. (Oh wait, I’m part Norwegian. . . never mind, we’re awesome.)

Based on a true story (you can read about it here), this movie was incredibly engaging and entertaining.  It was also a pleasant surprise to see both Rupert Grint (Ron from the Harry Potter films) and Florian Lukas, whom I first saw in the mountain climbing film North Face and find just utterly and ridiculously handsome.  Grint did a surprisingly good job being cocky, which I would not have figured him for.

Good acting, great story, cute guys — what’s not to like?  Recommended!

[Stream on Netflix | Buy or rent from Amazon]

Genre: Drama, War, Foreign (in German, Norwegian, and English with subtitles)
Cast: Florian Lukas, David Kross, Stig Henrik Hoff, Lachlan Nieboer, Rupert Grint

SIFF MOVIE: Everything Will Be Fine (2010)

June 4, 2011

This gripping Danish film starts out as one thing — a thriller involving the Iraq War — and ends up as something completely different — a heartbreaking love story.  The end, employing a gimmick I usually hate with a passion in films but which is done masterfully here, had me weeping in my seat, something I almost never do in theaters (don’t much like cryin’ in public).  And I wasn’t the only one sniffling and wiping my eyes as the end credits rolled, either (much to my relief; see above re: cryin’ in public).

The film focuses on two men and the way in which their lives eventually intersect.  The first is a young guy, Ali, who has agreed to go to Iraq to serve as a translator for the Danish army.  As his story progresses, we see him arrive in the Middle East, get stationed at a POW camp, and then witness numerous horrific human rights atrocities perpetrated by the Danish army against Iraqi prisoners.

The other man is Jacob, an older man who writes screenplays and who is about to adopt a child along with his wife Helena.  He’s struggling with his latest project, though, and the stress is mounting as his producer tells him he’s got until Friday to deliver a script or else the project is kaput.  Distracted one night driving home from his office, he accidentally hits a man we soon realize is Ali, back from the war and walking home after his debriefing.

Jacob leaps out of the car and races to Ali’s side, just in time to hear the injured man say, “Get my bag out of here!” before passing out.  Confused, Jacob grabs Ali’s duffel, throws it in his backseat, and speeds off to find help.  He pulls into a mini-mart to make an anonymous call from the payphone there, not realizing there’s a security camera pointed right at him (whoops), and then takes off for home.

Once safely alone, he opens Ali’s bag and inside finds a packet containing Ali’s diary and a set of graphic photographs depicting the violence he witnessed overseas.  Jacob immediately contacts his sister, a reporter named Siri (played by Paprika Stein, who I adored in last year’s SIFF film Skeletons), and the two decide the photos must come out.  Siri puts Jacob in touch with a more appropriate reporter for the job, Michael, and the two agree to meet.

Jacob keeps the photographs after Michael tells him the paper can’t print them without verification from Ali.  But when Jacob decides to call the police and turn himself in, primarily so he can find out where Ali ended up, the cops tell him they have no record of the accident.  That is, they got his phone call, but when they arrived at the scene ten minutes later, there was no body.

Jacob immediately becomes convinced the army had been following Ali, stole his body, and are now after HIM, knowing he’s got the incriminating photographs.  As the days pass, he becomes more and more paranoid, focusing that paranoia on one man in particular he believes has been following him.  Then the bodies start piling up, Helena disappears, and all hell breaks loose.

That’s when the story changes abruptly, shedding its political thriller costume and revealing itself to be one of the saddest films I have seen in a really long time.  I’ve read some other reviews of this movie in which the reviewers say they weren’t moved at all by the ending, instead feeling kind of duped or cheated by it, and I completely understand that reaction.  But for me, the story really hit somewhere powerful, and the acting, my god — the agony of the characters in the final scene shot straight from the screen into my heart and sat there twisting for hours after I’d left my seat.

Despite the devastating ending, though, I absolutely loved this film.  It’s beautifully crafted, wonderfully written, and just confusing enough to keep you thinking, without being so confusing you become annoyed.  When I looked back, I could see plainly a number of elements that could have clued me into the twist at the end, elements that struck me as slightly strange at the time  (like the enormous painting of a security camera over a hotel room bed — weird decor for a bedroom), but not necessarily relevant to the story — until it was over, that is, and everything clicked.

Very effective, very intelligent, very moving, and very, very highly recommended.

[View trailer | IMDb page]

Genre:  Drama, Foreign (Denmark)
Cast: Jens Albinus, Igor Radosavljevic,  Marijana Jankovic, Thomas Høite Meersohn, Paprika Steen

SIFF MOVIE: Jucy (2010)

June 1, 2011

Australians Lucy and Jackie (code name “Jucy”) are best friends and have been for years.  Both in their early 20s, they work at a local video store together, act in a local theater group, and share as much of every waking moment with each other they possibly can.  They’re so close, in fact, that rumors abound regarding their sexual preferences.  But no, they’re straight.  Guys have “bromances;” Jucy’s having a “womance.”

When their local theater group decides to put on an adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, starring the object of Jackie’s desire as Rochester (Alex), both girls try out for the play.  They’ve made a pact, you see, that by the next cast party (usually a somewhat depressing affair for the girls, who feel like they’re making less of their lives than they ought to be), Lucy will have her dream job (acting full-time) and Jackie will have a dreamy boyfriend (Alex, or anybody else she can find).  The play seems like the perfect chance to fulfill them both.

Problems strike, though, when Lucy, not Jackie, ends up cast as Jane opposite Alex, leaving Jackie to play Rochester’s crazy wife Bertha — just as Jackie had decided to quit taking her medication for depression.  Pretty soon, Jackie’s so deep in despair she can barely function, and when the girls have a terrible fight — a fight featuring the kind of spot-on cruelty only best friends or siblings can wield — Lucy decides she’s had enough of Jackie, quits the play, and takes a corporate job in marketing alongside her snooty, more traditionally successful younger sister.

What happens next — in the play, with Alex, with Jucy’s relationship, and more — is a brilliant, wild ride.  This film is an absolute delight, with the perfect balance of hilarious comedy and heart-breaking emotion  This smart, witty, and affectionate film won me over almost instantly, in large part because of Francesca Gasteen and Cindy Nelson’s perfect take on their characters.  Not only did Jackie and Lucy seem completely authentic to me, but they charmed the hoo-hah out of me to boot.  I left the film feeling like I really knew them — and what’s more, that I really loved them too.

As I’ve said before, one of the things I love most about going to see movies at the Seattle International Film Festival is the audience experience.  When it comes to “regular” movies these days, I often find myself in an audience of fewer than ten — nobody’s going to theaters any more, it seems.  Or, at least, they aren’t going at 5pm on a weeknight.  But SIFF movies are generally pretty full of people, and they’re all people who LOVE WATCHING FILMS.  They don’t talk.  They don’t text.  They really, really get into good movies, and they have a great time razzing bad ones.

The audience for Jucy was one of the best I’ve sat amidst so far this year.   We were all, men and women alike, so thoroughly engaged and charmed by this film that the energy in the room left me buoyant for hours.  People laughed at the funny parts with abandon, they let out a hushed sound of sympathy when the origin of Jackie’s tattoos became clear, and I could tell the entire room was having an absolutely marvelous experience.

Definitely keep an eye out for this one.  You can already reserve it for your queue at Netflix (see link below), and if you can catch it at a film festival, I highly recommend you do.  A true gem.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Comedy, Foreign (Australia)
Cast: Francesca Gasteen, Cindy Nelson, Andrew Ryan, Ryan Johnson, Charlotte Gregg, Christopher Sommers, Sally McKenzie

MOVIE: [REC]2 (2009)

July 13, 2010

NOTE:  This review contains spoilers for the first film in this series, [REC], and its American remake, Quarantine.  That probably goes without saying, but better safe than sorry when it comes to these things, non?  Oui.

I still remember exactly where I was when I saw the first [REC] movie:  curled into a terrified, tight little ball on my mother-in-law’s guest room bed, watching it play on my laptop while my husband was in the other room watching TV (no fan of horror films, he).  When it was over, I unfolded myself, padded into the living room, and announced I’d just seen the scariest movie of my life.  (He didn’t seem terribly impressed, but what does he know from scary?  Pfft.)  I watched it again a few months later, as well as the American remake (Quarantine), and even though it wasn’t nearly as scary the second or ‘Merican times, I still rank it pretty high in my list of Awesome.  When I can remember every detail about the scene I was sitting in myself while watching a movie, that means it was either an incredibly great experience or an incredibly bad one.  This one: incredibly great.

And so, as you can imagine, I approached its sequel, [REC]2, with a mix of excitement and trepidation.  Could it possibly be any good?  Would watching it just ruin the original for me in some way?  Would it be disappointing?  Hokey?  Stupid?

Answers:  Yes, No, No, No, and No!  Though it’s not as good as the first film, as few sequels are, it’s still one heck of a good time.  Well-constructed, well-acted, and, though not scary (to me, anyway), definitely thrilling to watch.

The story picks up immediately where the original left off, with TV reporter Angela Vidal being dragged away by the zombie-esque little girl in the attic who started the whole thing off.  Cut to the front of the quarantined building, where a doctor with the Department of Health is preparing to enter with a handful of SWAT team members, on a mission to get up to the attic where he believes a cure for the “infection” is tucked away.

In case you’ve forgotten what was revealed in the end of the original, it had to do with a researcher who was studying an infected girl he’d locked up in an attempt to find a cure for her.  Thinking she was secure, the researcher had hidden her away up there for months — until the disease got loose and began to spread through the building.  The doctor believes the researcher had that cure nearly completed when the outbreak outbroke and the plan is to get in there, grab it, and get back out, with the help of his hired guns.

The gang goes inside where, naturally, they are promptly attacked by a variety of infected residents.  They manage to get to the attic, finding a vial of patient zero’s blood — the key to the cure.  Part 1 of The Plan is a success.  The only problem is, Part 2 involves getting back out of the building, which is going to be a bit of a challenge now that half the hired guns are dead.  To complicate matters, a group of kids with a camera have broken into the building and are now running around recording everything.  They can’t be allowed out with their footage, so the doctor and what remains of his goons have to catch up to them before making a break for it.

Oy vey, it’s going to be a long night for our intrepid heroes.

We eventually learn all the details about the origin of the infection, details I probably wouldn’t have swallowed in an American film, but which made enough sense to me in a Spanish one — you’ll see what I mean when you get there.  And while the story wasn’t nearly as good as the original’s (it’s more fun when you’re clueless, in my opinion), it was still completely entertaining.  I had the big twist at the end figured out before it was revealed, but not too far in advance, and though they tacked on a scene immediately after its revelation that I think would’ve been better left out (speaking of hokey: giant worm thing = NO), overall, I thought this film gave us a pretty sharp twist on the usual rage-virus/zombie story.  I also liked the variety of cameras involved — each soldier has their own helmet-mounted camera, allowing us to see their point-of-view, and the kids have a camera as well, letting us into their side of the story at about the half-way point.  We also end up reunited with the TV camera from the original — hold onto your hats!).

Overall, damn satisfying, and, happily, the end leaves us with an intriguing direction for a [REC]3.  Too risky?  Hard to say.  Three-for-three seems like a lot to ask.  But I’ll still be chomping at the bit if they make it.

[REC]2 just opened in theaters (Seattlites: it’s at the Varsity right now, I believe).   But you can also rent it from Amazon.com for about $10 (with English subtitles), and it was well worth every red cent from where I sat.  Both Spanish films recommended, and I was pleased with the American remake of the original as well (Quarantine).

[Pre-queue at Netflix | Amazon Video-On-Demand]

Genre: Horror, Foreign
Cast: Jonathan Mellor, Manuela Velasco, Óscar Zafra, Ariel Casas, Alejandro Casaseca, Pablo Rosso

SIFF MOVIE: Cargo (2009)

June 13, 2010

This science fiction movie from Switzerland turned out to be a happy surprise.  Never having seen a Swiss film (I don’t think?), let alone a Swiss space thriller, I had no idea what to expect.  But, wonder of aces and bliss, it not only had decent special effects (though, granted, a bit cartoony in places), but an extremely creative and satisfying story to boot.  Go, Switzerland!

Set some time in the future, Earth has been evacuated due to dangerous levels of acid rain which have poisoned the ground and made it impossible to grow food.  The majority of the population now lives in a series of space stations which have gotten dangerously overcrowded, leading to famine and disease.

A handful of wealthy or otherwise fortunate people have been allowed to resettle on a new planet, Rhea, where, TV ads tell the space station residents, life is bright, clean, green, and happy.

Dr. Laura Portmann, the main character of this story, decides it’s time to get off the station and work her way to Rhea, where her sister lives.  Towards that end, she takes a job as medical officer on a cargo ship transporting, she is told, construction materials for a new station closer to a galaxy more likely to hold habitable planets.  The trip will take eight years (four each way), but will make Laura enough money to get to her sister: totally worth it.

On the cargo ship, we find the usual sci-fi suspects: the grizzled, no-nonsense captain, the suspicious and all-too-serious female XO, the goofy fix-it guys, the nerdy computer/science geek, etc.

Thrown in for good measure, though, is a TSA agent — a space cop of sorts — now a mandatory presence on all vessels due to an escalation of violent terrorist attacks being perpetrated by an anti-technology, anti-government organization known simply as “the Luddites.”

Once the mission gets on its way, everyone goes into cryo-sleep with one person awake at a time, taking eight-month shifts.  About three-and-a-half years in, it’s finally Laura’s turn.  At first, it’s mostly just boring.  Then one night, she begins hearing noises, noises that eventually lead her to suspect someone else is on board and awake — a stowaway.

The next thing she knows, crewmates are dying, the TSA agent keeps making out with her (oh, shush — he’s gorgeous, so who could blame her?), and, well, things with Rhea, she soon discovers, are not quite what they seem.

Overall, I found the story and characters really engaging.  The little romance between Laura and the TSA guy was overdone to the point of silliness at times, but not unbearably so.  Also, I appreciated a lot of the smaller elements, mostly related to the science of space-travel.  Like the ship being really cold, the presence of “gravity reversal” cautionary signs on all the doors (it takes so little to make me accept your space travelers walking instead of floating — so very little — but it does take something, okay?), etc.  Sure, there was noise in space (no there isn’t!), but at least it was muffled.  I forgave it quickly, if only because of the super-cool jet packs.

Definitely a good choice for spaceship-set sci-fi film fans.  Not sure you will be able to see this one on the big screen unless a film festival comes your way, but you can keep an eye out for it at your local video store or prequeue it at Netflix.  And, well, you oughta.  Recommended!

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre: Science Fiction, Foreign
Cast: Anna-Katharina Schwabroh, Martin Rapold, Regula Grauwiller, Pierre Semmler

MOVIE: The White Ribbon (Das weisse Band) (2009)

February 9, 2010

This quiet, disturbing film is the latest by Austrian director Michael Haneke, a filmmaker who doesn’t always impress me with his stories or even his point of view, but who definitely never fails to leave a mark on my brain one way or another (Funny Games in particular, Caché to a lesser extent — and watch for reviews of The Piano Teacher and The Seventh  Continent coming soon).

Annnnd, yeah.  You see that sentence right up there?  I’ve had that sentence written for a week now and I can’t seem to move beyond it.  I have no idea what to say about this film.  I think this film is absolutely brilliant.  Is it?  Am I right about that?  I have no idea.  But it makes me feel like anything I say about it will be almost necessarily stupid by comparison.  Bear with me.

Here’s what I can manage:  The White Ribbon is about a small village in Germany, set just before the start of World War I.  A bunch of weird things are happening — people getting hurt, barns being burned, etc. — and nobody knows who to blame.  There’s a pack of kids in the village who all act strangely — unsettlingly nice, kind of — and we’re led to believe immediately that they are the ones carrying out these progressively horrific  crimes.  Ranging  from ages 6 to 12 or so in about 1917, they would also clearly, then, be the kids who grew up to be Nazi officers and prison guards and the otherwise-evil perpetrators of great cruelty during WWII.

We’re led to believe that their parents, who are an unsettling mix of evil and good, are the ones who put them directly on this path.   We can see how that would be the case quite clearly.  For one thing, the ones who misbehave are made to wear white ribbons in their hair or around their arms to “remind them” of the type of purity they are supposed to be aiming for — marked, like the Jews during WWII, and raised to be obsessed with the concept of white = clean.  The movie is shot in black and white and is sort of hyper-lit so that those whites are almost overpowering in their brightness, the blacks then mostly just shades of various gray.  The look of this film is marvelous.  And very powerful.

There is a shot of a husband crying over the body of his dead wife next to a blindingly bright window that I will never forget — all you see is his back shaking off to the side while this almost painful white blast of sun bores holes into your retinas.  There is the sound of a injured child howling that I will never forget — I almost had to get up and leave the theater at that point, in fact, because the howling was so awful and so real and it went on for an absolutely unbearable amount of time, an amount of time that felt so much longer than necessary (and, oh, Mr. Haneke, I KNOW you did that on purpose).  There is the look on the face of a young girl who glances up nervously with a wistful, fake “it’s all right” smile at her brother while her father is in the middle of abusing her — I will never forget that either.  And, my god, the speech the doctor gives the midwife — that’s when I finally started to cry.  Her face.  Those words.  Her face.

I spent the entire two hours of this film sitting with my knees pulled tightly into my chest.  It was that hard to watch — I needed that much of the rest of my body between me and it.   And yet, at the same time, it was also oddly beautiful.  The narrator, the town schoolteacher, falls in love for the first time while all this is going on, and it was a romance of such quiet charm and innocence.  Such a strange, intense counterbalance to the other stories we were seeing.  And the mothers — the mothers.  Them too.

Oh, you see?  This all sounds utterly inane.  I tried to warn you!   Look, this film is impossible to talk about; you’ll just have to go see it for yourselves and do your own thinking.  When you’re done, come back and think some more with me?  Maybe then we can figure out what to say.

And man, it is SO time to rent some trash now.  Trash coming soon, trash coming in great quantities (aided in no small part by an upcoming trip to Mom’s this week, hurrah!).  Trash, trash, trash, and laughs — I promise.

[Pre-queue it at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Drama
Cast:  Christian Friedel, Ernst Jacobi, Leonie Benesch, Ulrich Tukur

MOVIE: The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

December 15, 2009

Have you ever seen a movie that was so amazingly put together — so thought-out, so intentional, so beautiful — that when it was over, you started to think everything you are doing with your entire life is a complete waste of time?  I had that experience about four times this past weekend, and this is the movie that started it all off (the other three were Orson Welles movies, but I’ll get to that in my next post).

This Spanish film is absolutely — argh.  I was completely stunned by it.  It’s so quiet and simple, so planned, so thoughtful, and sometimes so intensely moving I could barely stand watching.  Ana Torrent, who plays the main character (a six year-old girl also named Ana), is breathtakingly adept at using her face to express emotions and there were times in this movie when a simple look from her completely broke my heart.  The minute I finished watching it, I immediately restarted it so I could watch it again.  And I would’ve gone for a third round too if I hadn’t decided that was just too ridiculous even for me.

The story is, on the surface, fairly simple.  It’s set in a small Spanish village in 1940, right after the end of the Spanish Civil War.  The main character is the aforementioned Ana, who lives in an enormous, echoingly-empty house with her older sister Isabel, her father (a beekeeper and inventor/philosopher), and her mother (painfully distracted a good portion of the time by the agony of being separated from her lover by the war).

As the film opens, the 1931 film Frankenstein has just come to town and Ana and her sister both go see it.  Instead of being terrified by the story, in particular the famous scene in which the monster kills the little girl, Ana seems enthralled by it.  She asks her sister over and over why the monster killed the little girl and why he was then killed by the villagers.  Why, why?  Her sister eventually tells her the monster ISN’T dead.  That he’s a spirit who lives in an empty — what was that, a farmhouse? — in the middle of a big field outside their village.  Isabel tells Ana he’ll take human form if she calls to him, and Ana, enraptured by this idea, begins to go to the farmhouse each day, calling out to him, “Yo soy Ana, Yo soy Ana,” to try to bring him out.

At the same time, a Republican soldier on the lam from the victorious Francoists leaps off a train and injures his leg.  He manages to make his way to that farmhouse, where he holes up for a few days.  Of course, Ana finds him there and immediately assumes he’s the monster in human form.  Unafraid, she begins to take care of him, bringing him food and clothes.  A few days later, however, the Francoists find and kill him, leaving behind only a trace of bullets and blood for Ana to find.

What happens next is hard to explain — intentionally so, I think — and is open to vast amounts of interpretation.  And I loved that about it.  Because what happens next is essentially rooted in Ana’s own confusion about life, human nature, war, death, and monsters, and her confusion translates directly into OUR confusion in a way that somehow manages to be more profound than frustrating.  But it wasn’t even really the story of this film that so pulled me in.  It was the visuals and the quietness.  It’s been a long time since I saw a movie that was this QUIET — I don’t even know exactly what I mean by that, because I don’t think I’m specifically talking about sound.  That said, the sounds in this film are also completely mesmerizing.  There’s almost no music — instead what we get is the gentle hum of bees and the constant low-level whoosh of wind rushing over an open field.  The sounds of the world.

In a lot of ways, this movie reminded me of the Swedish film Let the Right One In, another movie about thoughtful children that moves deliberately and takes even the smallest of details seriously.   There’s a scene in Beehive when Ana comes into her bedroom to find someone (I won’t say who) lying dead on the floor.  What she does when she discovers the body — the way she talks to it, moves its arms, the way she hesitates, the look on her face — it was just so CORRECT.  So exactly what a six year-old would do.  So heartbreakingly spot-on.  How does a six year-old actress have the self-awareness it would take to be able to make those expressions and halt in those hesitations so correctly?   I had the same reaction to Kåre Hedebrant in Let the Right One In — you can’t pull those kinds of physical expressions off without a masterful grasp on the ramifications of human emotion.  How do they do it, these little, little kids?   I don’t have that kind of grasp now and I’ve lived six or seven times as long as they have.   I just — I was floored.

The look of this film is also stunning:   the lighting in the house that highlights its miserable emptiness, the broad shots of the vastness of the field surrounding the farmhouse, the look into the well as Ana drops a rock down it, the shots of outsides of buildings with handwritten signs and war-torn crumbles, the flush of heat on the face of Ana’s mother as she sits in front of a fire and systematically burns all the letters to (from?) her lost lover (which reminds me, oh argh, argh, Ana’s mother’s agony, it just so dug its way right into me).  Then there are all the metaphors —  the beehive-like aspect of  both Ana’s house and the entire village, everyone’s emotions so subdued by the smoke of war.  Ana’s ultimate buzzing  flight.  And the whole concept of what makes a monster, a challenging question at any time (a little To Kill a Mockingbird here, I’d say), but certainly twice as complicated in the aftermath of a war.

I think of myself as a creative person at times.  I like to write.  I play music.  Sometimes I even do stuff like paint or take photographs.   But when I see art like this, it never fails to put me in my place.  I think, yes, I am leaving things behind that are meaningful and have a place.  And then I see something like this and no.  No, I am not.  If I make something in my lifetime that is even a tenth as beautiful as this film, maybe then I will be able to say I made a mark.

Don’t hold your breath.

[Netflix me (available on Watch Now) | Buy me]

Genre:  Foreign, Drama
Cast:  Ana Torrent, Isabel Telleria, Fernando Fernán Gómez, Teresa Gimpera

MOVIE: Martyrs (2008)

October 22, 2009

martyrsThis was another film I picked up off the local video store’s “Recommended for Halloween” shelf.  But I think this French film is going to be extremely hard to describe in a way that truly conveys WHY I found it so incredibly powerful, because it cannot be described without detail of the absolutely ASTONISHING amount of violence and gore, if only to serve as a warning to you guys.

And yet, at its root, this film is actually one of the most heart-wrenching, thought-provoking movies I have ever seen.  Almost beautiful, certainly incredibly powerful, it’s a story I would describe as being primarily about women and trauma, and the amazing resilience sometimes found therein.

[NOTE:  SPOILERS are contained below, so skip the review if you think you are going to watch this.  But don't skip all of it -- go down to the very bottom and read the very last paragraph, because if you are going to rent this movie based on my recommendation, that paragraph is mandatory reading from my perspective.]

This film opens fifteen years ago with a young girl (Lucie), maybe 12 or so years old, found running half-naked and covered in blood, howling, through the streets of an industrial area in some unidentified French town.  She is discovered and hospitalized, and it becomes clear she has been the long-term victim of systematic  torture and abuse (not sexual, but utterly heinously physical).  At first, she can barely communicate, but she eventually makes friends with a younger fellow patient, Anna, and over time, they become extremely close.

Cut to fifteen years later, with a nice family at home having breakfast:  a mom, dad, and their two teenagers, sitting around the table joking and joshing the way loving families do.  Suddenly, an adult Lucie bursts through the front door and shoots all four of them in the chest point-blank with a shotgun.  She then calls Anna who, horrified, shows up to help.  Lucie has long been haunted (in her mind) by the “ghost” of a girl she’d also seen being tortured one room over when she was a captive, a girl she’d had to leave behind.  That “ghost” slices Lucie with a razor at every chance — but Anna knows it’s really just Lucie mutilating herself.  And so, knowing her friend is crazy, she doesn’t fully believe her when Lucie insists the parents she’s just killed were the same people who assaulted her as a child.

When Lucie realizes Anna doesn’t believe her — not even now — she lets the ghost take her life.  Devastated, Anna can’t bring herself to leave the house — or Lucie’s body — for another full day.  Just as she’s about to leave, though, she stumbles across a hidden room in the house that leads down to a horror chamber just like the one Lucie had described.

What happens next is virtually indescribable, and completely unstomachable.  Another victim, a new round of attacks, and the most astonishingly graphic violence I have EVER seen on film.  Absolutely the very definition of “horror,” in fact.

And yet, this film was impossible to stop watching, much as I desperately, desperately wanted to turn it off.  The two stars (Anna and Lucie) are amazing, for one thing.  Anna’s expressions of love, fear, care, horror, and more for her broken, broken friend Lucie are among the most powerful emotions I’ve seen expressed by an actress in anything ever.  And the entire concept of the “martyr” (defined by the movie as a “witness”), was intensely powerful as well (even while the actual set-up for the martyrdom made little sense to me — for those who have seen the film, if the thing witnessed by Anna was, in fact, the group’s ultimate goal, why didn’t they just do what Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts did in Flatliners?  That would’ve been much more effective, in terms of their ultimate goal, right?  Though it I guess it wouldn’t have been as sickly satisfying for them.  Maybe that’s the explanation.).

I kept thinking, actually, that this is a movie Eli Roth really needs to watch.  Because this is what he needed to do with Hostel – he focused too much on the sick thrill of the violence (which, frankly, seems almost laughably tame compared to the violence in this film), and not nearly enough on the actual emotions, motivations, and ultimately the incredible resilience of his movie’s survivors.  By comparison, Hostel seems downright childish to me.  Vacuous.

This movie isn’t really about the violence at all, as much of it though there is.  It is, in essence, a movie about survival.  And the horror that comes AFTER you’ve survived — AFTER you’ve “witnessed.”  The torment.  The suffering.  And ultimately, the strength.   And god, hopefully:  the calm.

Absolutely astonishing.   Really.  Truly.  Astonishing.

And people?  In case I have not stressed this enough, LISTEN TO ME RIGHT NOW:  this is an UNRATED movie that contains HORRIFICALLY GRAPHIC VIOLENCE.  This is your warning.  I am serious.  You have been warned.  Children should not be around when you watch this.  I’m not even sure YOU should be around when you watch this.  I probably should not have been around when I watched this.  Except that, to be honest, I really needed to watch this.  Those in the know might understand why.  Hello, perspective.  Nice to meet you.

Check back next week for a review of another French horror movie (turns out they make a lot of them!), which I hope will be as good in some ways and not as good in others.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre:  Horror, Foreign
Cast:  Mylène Jampanoï, Morjana Alaoui, Catherine Bégin, Robert Toupin, Patricia Tulasne


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