Mittwoch, 29. Februar 2012

La demora (Plá, 2012) - #Berlinale 2012

A single overworked mother of three kids close to poverty and a slightly demented father does the unthinkable

This very simple told film was very delightful and it did what very few European films do that I have seen lately: there is still hope in humanity. The human condition is not only a sad but also a beautiful, powerful one. Seemingly effortlessly this story comes toward a much anticipated but nevertheless surprising ending. The actors were wonderful and totally believable.

I was extremely happy that I saw this film first at the Berlinale.

Everybody that I told the story in a few words were quite amazed: this must have been a dream to pitch.

Al Juma Al Akheira (Alabdallah, 2011) - #Berlinale 2012

 A taxi driver is faced with surgery and is forced to rethink his life.

The film is extremely slow, but although I had difficulty of following in the beginning (due to sheer tiredness) the film got me by and by. In a society that has an incredible number of restrictions and some rather bizarre types of freedom when viewed with a Westerner's eyes I could really get a small glimpse into the torment of the main character. There were some nice ideas in how the character refuses to take any kind of responsibility for his behavior, his actions and how they might affect others.  There is also no big change in the way the lead perceives the world, more of a realization of his situation.

I didn't feel the political allegory that reviewers have pointed out, but then I was not totally immersed in the topic. 


Hemel (Polak, 2012) - #Berlinale 2012

A young woman tries to experience love by going through an endless string of relationships while trying to keep her father's affections.

The film has a chapter structure - something I really like, especially memorable in "Brownian Movement" last year. I did lose the over-arching character of the chapters here and wasn't quite sure what they are standing for. There were some really interesting scenes in the film, my favorites are the "shaving scene", the final scene and some inbetween. The energy in the audience during this particular screening was rather impatient with the film, and there were audible sighs when the film stretched on too long and another chapter title came up. Others told me about very positive reactions of the audience.

Although I enjoyed Hannah Hoekstra's performance very much, I couldn't connect to her "thinking" moments - and there are many. Those started to feel more like a music video at points. Tendency in new films to underline reflective moments with too much music, I should avoid this trap at all costs!

Great cinematography with the love scene and the lights wrapped around the body.

Montag, 27. Februar 2012

Xingu (Hamburger, 2012) - #Berlinale 2012

The story of the three Brazilian brothers fighting to set up an Indian reservation in the Amazon jungle.

This is definitively more of a biopic, or even a fictionalized documentary of the three brothers' lives. In grandiose imagery it recounts their struggle for the different indigenous tribes to get them a completely sealed off reservation in the middle of Brazil. This in itself is quite an extraordinary feat, and their story deserves to be told.

The many things those brothers achieved was maybe a bit too much for a dramatization. In consequence some parts of the film have a very documentary feel towards them. I still couldn't quite connect to the personal motivation of the three main characters, there was some kind of invisible force driving them to their actions and I caught myself one or the other time looking for the reason behind that in the story. I was quite fascinated by Joao Miguel's performance within the confines of the script, seems like somebody to watch out for.

The parts are told in fragmented parts and maybe the film should have simply been *much* longer (in the style of Che) to pay those men adequate tribute and giving an interpretation of their personality.

Samstag, 25. Februar 2012

Rebelle (Nguyen, 2012) - #Berlinale 2012

Two child soldiers feel attracted to each other.

The story was told straightforward with no specific surprises in the structure. The film lives off the beauty of the imagery and the acting of this wonderful little story. A lot of emotional engagement for me came through the extreme contrast of the very tender moments with the extremely brutal and violent scenes of the film (which I assume are pretty close to the real world). There are also some very haunting mystical moments, beautifully captured and displayed.

The main actress was definitively great to watch and came across so naturally that I was quite astounded to learn the she wasn't able to read during the time of shooting. She has learned to since, though.

Popiól i diament (Wajda, 1958) - #TSPDT #118

Two political contract killers find themselves having made a grave mistake and have to correct it now.

Despite all the differences the setup made me faintly think about "In Bruges" and it also has some rather comic similarities, I thought. The script here is far more symbolic and lost me quite a few times due to the rather philosophical ramblings and excursions of the main character. The balance between the comic scene with the drunk men and their strange partying made it feel a bit "eastern" to me.

The story asks a lot of questions in terms of moral and identity. Although the man treats the girl with contempt up to a point, the gravity of the situation sinks in when the viewer realizes that he could have made a much better choice for himself so easily. I also assume that this was very strongly felt by Wajda. The script had a lot of rather unemotional scenes, which worked nicely through their very symbolic set-up(the burning schnaps was a beautiful image).

Definitely a film that deserves a deeper study, especially in relation to the theme and the structure of the script.

Donnerstag, 23. Februar 2012

X-Men: First Class (Vaughn, 2011)

A group of mutants decides to bond, thanks to some upper-class funding.

Basically, this is all back story. And after the mess of TRON:L I didn't expect much. But I was pleasantly surprised. This movie might be light and entertaining, but compared to all other similar movies it had surprising depth and I didn't felt (too) dumb while watching it. I somehow felt that the actors were more closely focused on delivering the physical aspects of their parts, but Fassbender and the direction somehow managed to make some rather preposterous scenes watchable, even enjoyable. Best example for this was the radar telekinetic test - this scene could have been cringeworthy, but they somehow managed to hold it together within the limits of such a film.

The ending felt a bit forced with the extremely stagelike showdown on the beach, where quite a lot of characters undergo some rather sudden changes in policy. Maybe they stretched it just a little bit there.

Study the satellite dish scene, for not being cringe worthy. 

Mittwoch, 22. Februar 2012

TRON: Legacy (Kosinski, 2010)

Visual effects porn - (although porn scripts are better)

This film is a bizarre pastiche of great work of the VFX department and a strangely insufficient vision of the scriptwriter. I feel deeply sorry for Mr Kosinski on this one - I am pretty sure he had a more concise vision of this film that must have been slaughtered in thousands of meetings by some brain-dead executives. The bad thing is: they must believe that they were right, looking at the numbers only. What is obvious, that they could have filmed their own behinds and added some fx to that - attracting the same numbers of moviegoers.
Rarely, I have felt so emotionally disconnected to ALL the characters in a movie like in this one. It was like watching the weather forecast's outtake. The "son thing" is boring, the "Jeff thing" is polarzombieexpress-like, the "Girl thing" is stupid and so on.
I wish I hadn't seen this movie - it was so much better in my imagination. The original got me hooked on wanting to make films and animations - this one: maybe I should go and study law.

In April the Following Year, There Was a Fire (Somunjarn, 2012) - #IFFR 2012

A young man returns to his home town after losing his job in Bangkok.

There was something formally interesting in the film, in the sense that it crossed the boundary between personal documentary and fictional, staged scenes very fluently. It is definitively not a docu-drama, but it's also not a fictional film. It ends with a somewhat open question: would we (the audience) wish for the narrative to continue?

I felt a bit disconnected to the film throughout and would have liked more concrete information on the actual events that led to the current situation of the protagonist/filmmaker. For some reason, the father and son kitchen scene still sticks in my mind and I was fascinated by the way they were eating, rolling the rice into little balls in their hands before eating it.

Mittwoch, 8. Februar 2012

38 témoins (Belvaux, 2012) - #IFFR #Rotterdam

A young woman has been killed in the close vicinity of 38 witnesses who didn't hear a thing - except one man.

The film left me thinking for a while after watching. Other critics have described it as too moralistic, but I didn't think it was. I somehow felt that the characters were actually much too occupied with pondering their moral choice - which somehow took quite a lot from the otherwise realistic tone of the movie. Maybe I would have put an upcoming marriage between the two leads or a planned pregnancy as a sort of external motivation to get life in order - in the current situation they were floating in an endless ocean of indecision without the hope of ever reaching a port, regardless of their actions and decisions.

I really loved the opening scenes and the last part - they were strong and told their story without any need for lots of dialogue. There is great camerawork and the many ships in their majestic, slow movement toward the harbor also settled in beautifully with the rhythm of the movie, but I didn't spend too much time thinking about possible symbolic connection between the boats and what happens in the house.

Dienstag, 7. Februar 2012

Kotoko (Tsukamoto, 2011) - #IFFR #Rotterdam


A young mother lives with the threatening delusions that her child might get killed - and her visions become more intense.

The film felt quite normal length but appeared to be "only" 90 minutes long - by today's standards this is now called short :) - I was quite stricken by the story and the performance of the lead character. I've heard that she is not a professional actress but a singer - but she did amazingly well. At many points I could barely watch - not because of the brutal imagery but because some of the stuff she was doing to herself and to others was too weird and frightful. The film left quite a strong afterfeeling.

The ultra-sharp video-like imagery worked quite well for this kind of movie. I really loved the end scene where the "fantasy world" becomes very tangible and there are many amazing scenes. Unfortunately, the singing goes on way too long, but that just might be a concession to the japanese market.

Montag, 6. Februar 2012

Wuthering Heights (Arnold, 2011) - #IFFR #Rotterdam 2012

The classic tale of the love between a farmer's daughter and a gipsy who is taken in by the family.

The imagery of this very gritty rendering of the story is breathtaking and - lightly put - very very wet. It rendered the savage and barren landscape with the few animals hunting for prey in such an astonishing way that I completely forgot that my seat was way too close to the screen.

The acting was very fine and the way that the young and the grown up lead tries to (unsuccessfully) control his feelings was an uncomfortable delight to watch. The main character talks only the bare minimum and remains totally determined to get what he believes he needs for his spiritual survival. Would love to see that again just to study the lines of the lead but also for the amazing energy that spills over from the pictures and the edit.

Samstag, 4. Februar 2012

A woman under the influence (Cassavetes, 1974) - #TSPDT #156

A mentally instable but fragile house-wife tries to cope with the hostilities of suburban day-to-day life.

The story of the movie is simply constructed, as it is obvious from early on, that the husband will have to do something about the confusing behaviour of his wife. When he finally has her committed in the extremely realistic but very uncomfortable scene with his mother and the family doctor, I was really wondering how the film might turn. I didn't like the way the scene at the beach was edited, but how the father totally mismanages his fatherly duties was quite a revelation.

Even though Rowlands acting was jaw-dropping I was also quite amazed by Falk's work. There is a certain subtlety in his calm behaviour that made me think that he was having substantial mood swings inside him. The story also transports that, so he works incredibly well.

I would like to look at the commitment scene again - there is a lot of movement in the scene although most of the time nobody is really moving around except Rowlands and Falk trying to contain her (and his mother).

L'armée des ombres (Melville, 1969) - #TSPDT #573

The operation and code of honor of the French resistance movement during WWII.

The image is quite interesting for a biopic in the sense that it doesn't focus on anything like a specific morale. Also, the story takes some very unexpected terms at quite some points. First to mind comes to scene where they man is saved from execution at literally the last moment (actually, it's after that to be precise). Another story point I didn't like too much was the self sacrifice of one of the members. It does make sense when retold, but the pacing of that story part just felt wrong somehow. The film has long phases where not a lot happens and then bursts into violence, although this is more at the beginning than at the end.

The capturing of the many moods was quite interesting. It shows different aspects of the resistance leaders trying to operate in their very difficult condition. There is a lot of fear, there is a code of "honor" that everybody is obliged to serve. There is also a certain serenity in accepting fate as it is handed to you by the war.

Sciuscià/Shoeshine (De Sica, 1946) #TSPDT #694

Two young shoe-shiner boys make their dream come true and buy a horse. But then they get arrested.

I can safely say that this is the only horse movie that has ever appealed to me. The story starts out very slow, but builds up pretty intensely as the two boys are in prison. The obvious symbolism of the last scene - the horse being present - didn't disturb me in the least. I was even relieved by the slight surreal turn the movie took, after that long stretch in the prison.

I wonder if the boys were treated differently from the director with the older boy being displayed as more gentle. In that sense the story could also be interpreted as the struggle of the two boys with their awakening personality.

Here, I also like the setting very much as it beautifully described the post-war misery everybody was in. The only thing going was the American soldier, bringing money to the poor kids in the streets (and they seemed to have made good money of them)

The Cranes Are Flying (Kalotozov, 1957) - #TSPDT #663

A young couple in love gets torn apart by the war and the woman marries her lovers cousin.

The story is beautifully structured and amazingly convincing even if it focusses on a very small environment that those people depicted live in. The story develops at an even pace and the woman's characters can barely break out of her role. The presumably bittersweet ending only provided a rather slight relief but thinking about it it's exactly what her character would have done: finally adapted to a positive reality. There is an interesting resemblance to Nights of Cabiria where the character finds inner strength to participate in life again, after being washed down all of the film.

The other thing was the stunning photography. The use of hand camera, wide angles, and then suddenly very expressive camera work delighted me many times. There was a great scene where she is fleeing the refugee camp, and the camera picks up something that might maybe be best referred to as speed lines. Where she is peering through the fence hoping to find her lover in the crowd of new soldiers is also amazingly well filmed, with the moving camera. (This was way before steadycam)

Many scenes worth studying in this one.

Freitag, 3. Februar 2012

Le notti di Cabiria (Fellini, 1957) - #TSPDT #180

A lively prostitute tries to fall in love but always gets picked up by the wrong guys.

The sheer indestructability of Masina's character made me want to cheer for her bad luck and her strange distortion in judging other people. Of all Fellini's films this one I was totally delighted to watch, maybe because I didn't know about any "film analysis" overtones this would have. It appeared to be more playful, lighter and even quite close to a fictional personality, it beautifully singled out the human warmth of Cabiria.

The meeting with the famous film maker was extremely memorable and her reaction to the lavish house was beautiful and something worth studying shot-by-shot.

I remember Mama (Stevens, 1948)

The life and times of a Norwegian family in San Francisco in the 40s.

The film is extremely entertaining although nothing much happens except that the daughter grows up to become a writer and retell her mother's story through her own words. And that's how I saw the film: Through the wondering and naive eyes of a child, believing in the unfailing truth and honesty of his parents. I believe that what makes this film's beauty is the longing for the unspoiled happiness of the perfect happiness in the viewer - and this seems to work extremely well, judging from other commentaries of people around the globe.

Most of the characters are over the top, but still they work together extremely well. Especially the obnoxious uncle was a revelation, especially how he started to develop real depth without leaving his comical figure.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Kazan, 1945) - DTC #636


A young family struggles to make the wish of the daughter for better schooling come true.

There is a weird similarity to the "I Remember Mama" which is more upbeat and more rewarding to watch I think. But this one has extremely strong acting, and although I thought the interpretation of the mother let on too much variability which made her emotional development a bit harder to follow.

I felt a bit strange about how the very charmingly played father of the family disappears out of the picture exactly at his personal turning point. If his turn-around had been a bit more troubled than the rather kitschy Christmas situation I would have been more convinced.

Overall, the movie had an extremely theatry feel to it, something that significantly changed with later films of Kazan.

Du rififi chez les hommes (Dassin, 1955) - DTC #378

A jewel heist goes well but every one of the gangsters has a weak spot - for one its women, for another its his family.

Two things are worth intense studying in this film: the extreme dryness and distance of the violent characters with each other for one. There is an undefinable politeness between the characters, even they oppose each other to death. I also loved how the criminals are entangled in something like a very middle-class private life, and that they go to work their job like any other occupation. Even when they kill each other it happens as a sort of duty they are forced to perform for higher powers.

The actual break-in is a long and very suspenseful, totally silent sequence. Especially the humorful elements such as the unfolding umbrella and the comical use of the fire extinguisher left a great impression.

The Heiress (Wyler, 1949) - #TSPDT #640

The shy and clumsy daughter of a rich doctor is wooed by a beautiful young man for marriage.

The story took quite a while to unfold for me. It starts very slow and paces along until the moment that Havilland's character is denied the union by her father. I really liked the interpretation of the father, and his harsh judgement of his daughter that breaks out of him, once he loses composition and humor was quite gripping. Also de Havilland's performance left quite an impression - her growing coldness and her initial disgust at her own cruelty towards her father were the highlights for me.

Apart from that the film kept a lot of the theater-like qualities and felt a little heavily staged at one point or another. It relied on effective but very few visual clues about the interior feelings of the characters, and I would have loved to see more of this.

The Killers (Siodmak, 1946) - #DTC #532

An rundown boxer tries to escape his fate and his own infatuation with the wife of the mob's boss.

Quiet a strong story and there is a certain passivity towards the end of the life of Lancaster's character that makes it really gripping. There are some great visual clues scattered all over this move which makes it very joyful to watch. Gardner looks astounding in the film and her character is never really "cold", only selfish.

The only thing that disturbed me in the film is that his transformation from being a pretty optimistic stubborn boxer to a very negative passive gas station attendant happened a bit fast (and not actually in the movie). The guy put up such a struggle in the beginning that I wondered why he never got around to figure out what had happened to him.

Meshes of the afternoon (Deren, 1943) - #TSPDT #254

A woman is trapped in a circular dream that keeps repeating.

After watching it twice, I could understand more of the circular structure of the story. What slightly bothered me was that the whole story was told in symbols only and the action has mostly transferring character, ie putting the character in the place where it could observe himself in another manifestation. There are some nice ideas, like the mirrorface under the hood and the short chase sequence in the beginning.
On the other hand, the editing of some of the sequences was too slow and I feld the symbolic being a bit too overweight. The film felt a bit too self-conscious to me and I wasn't interested in the psychological process of the character(s).