Film Reviews by Genre: TEARFUL
Barbara Lombardo, Susana Campos
You are 15 (but actually 16), when a judge takes you away from your parents, who are not your parents, and sends you to live with the grandmother you have never met.
There have been many films about ” the disappeared” in Argentina. From 1976 to 1983, the military dictatorship waged a campaign of terror against any suspected dissident. People were taken from their beds in the middle of the night and thrown into secret prisons to be tortured and killed. One of the best films, and earliest, was The Official Story (1985). In The Official Story, a couple adopt a baby and the wife grows suspicious and goes in search of the real mother.
The point of view of Cautiva is the opposite: that of the child. Cristina, or Sophia as her mother called her at birth, is swept up and displaced not in the era of the disappeared, but in the era of the found.
She lives a normal middle-class life with her parents until she is hustled out of school one day and taken to confront a judge who informs her that her parents are not hers, her name is not hers, and the people she must go to live with are relatives of her real parents who disappeared back in 1978.
The focus of Cautiva is unearthing the history of that period through the eyes of an innocent who is both hurt by it and changed by it. Through a girlfriend who has experienced a similar shock, Cristina learns about her mother, about the moment of her birth, and about the way she was taken, as a day old infant, from her mother; who was then killed.
Floating through the story like an evil apparition is Henry Kissinger, the American political front man who not only worked with the dirty regime in Argentina but also showed up for the 1978 world cup soccer match as an invited guest of the dictators. The film seems to imply that America has no cleaner hands than the ruling generals.
And so it may be. But the focus here is on Cristina and the very troubled life of a teenager learning she is not the child of her parents. This is both the dream and the nightmare of every child. Here Cristina’s nightmare finally becomes her salvation as she learns to live with the truth.
Ursula Werner, Horst Rehberg, Horst Westphal, Steffi Kuhnert
Cloud 9 explores all the feelings, all the love, all the passion, all the nudity we think of as the province of young love. Only these lovers are in their late sixties and seventies.
Urula Werner plays Inge, the woman who leaves. She’s been a film actress since 1960 but it takes more than courage to take off all our clothes and do nude love scenes at the age of (approx)64.
She lives a quiet life with her husband, Werner (Horst Rehberg). She sings in the church choir, entertains her grand children, and takes in sewing. The sewing is her undoing. Taking a pair of altered trousers to Karl’s (Horst Westphal’s) apartment for a fitting, she finds her self in a passionate kiss. In a minute she’s slipped of her own panties and is heaving away in bed with him.
The scene is one we’ve seen in countless young love movies. Two lovers impetuously drawn to each other by animal magnetism who toss away all caution with their clothes. But watching it with sixty and seventy year olds is, at first, shocking. They have lust on their faces but their bodies don’ give that satisfying voyeurism we’ve come to expect of young skin.
The ringmaster of this tender, personal film is Andreas Dresen. His interest in character stories and intimate relationship is his brand. Grill Point (2002) is another good example. Dresen is an Ossi, or “Easterner.” This is the derogatory German term for people who came from Eastern Germany before unification. In the eyes of a Wessi they are a less polished, less sophisticated.
So it is with Dresen’s wonderful characters. In Grill Point they were married couples having affairs with each other’s spouses. The action was set in a small East German town where nightlife centers around the snack bar set up in the town park. Cloud 9 seems to be set in a Berlin suburb. We can see the red and yellow cars of the S-Bahn commuter trains whirr past Inge’s back yard; we catch a glimpse or two of a vertical city in the distance. But the Berlin of Cloud 9 is a small town of railway backyards, tree-lined streets of apartments, church socials and family picnics.
Cloud 9 doesn’t have a silver lining. The consequences of elder love are different from those of young love. There is no time lift for heart mending. When Inge moves out, Werner is left with no future. Her happiness with Karl is short-lived. Or is it? The movie takes us only as far as her new life and new pain. Dresen should do a follow up with Cloud 10.
Penelope Cruz, Sergio Castellitto, Claudia Gerini
When a leading man directs, writes, and stars in his own movie the title should be “watch out.” But seducing Penelope Cruz to be your co-star counts for a lot, because you know she’ll upstage you.
Sergio is always wonderful and sympathetic. See him as Mario, the Italian sous chef and lover in Mostly Martha on MovieWithMe.com. Here he is as compassionate surgeon whose daughter is hovering between life and death in the adjacent operating room. While he paces, he reviews his life.
Well, not really his life, but his romantic life. There’s the daughter, and then there is the child he almost had with the untamed feral woman he really loved. Who could play that part? This gets to the real value of this movie: watching Penelope Cruz in yet another role where she manages to fill the screen with lips so wide they could swallow all of Italy.
Sergio is a movie star, and this is supposed to be HIS movie. But Penelope steals the show from the moment she appears. Someday someone will write an art book called “The Many Faces of Penelope,” showing how she moves from film to film making her hair, face and body into fine sculptured art. From Jamon Jamon to Open Your Eyes, to All About My Mother to Volver to Vicky Cristina Barcelona she is always a different Penelope. In Volver she even hoisted a fake ass to give herself the curves of a peasant woman. In Vicky Cristina Barcelona she perfected the slut look to bring life and energy of a movie even Javier Bardem couldn’t save.
Don’t Move is yet another look at those lips and those eyes. Even without makeup (or not much, at least) when she is dying, she looks damn good. (To be fair, it is a different face without the usual eye shadow. Eye shadow is to her eyes what flame racing stripes are to hot rods).
Don’t Move is her film, even though Sergio stars, directs, and wrote. Tough to go to the premiere of your own movie and see all the eyes turn and all the lips move to cheer someone else. But then, what lips, what eyes.
Gloria La Morte
Paola Mendoza, Sebastian Villada, Laura Montana
If you are Latin, the proving ground for human strength is not Columbia or Mexico, it is Queens. At least according to several recent films set in the borough. Entre Nos joins Paraiso Travel and Where God Left his Shoes (both on Movie With Me) as a gritty emotional movie about tough life and tough love on the streets off Roosevelt Avenue.
Laura Montana (as Mariana) stars in her own story, which she dedicates to her mother. Her husband leaves at the beginning of the movie and she is penniless with two children. The downward progression to homelessness doesn’t take very long and the family is reduced to collecting cans from garbage to sell for food.
Montana’s own story is not so different. Her Colombian mother brought her up on the streets of LA until she became a teenage gang member.Then she was shipped back to Colombia to live with an aunt. It was there, she says, that she learned that life was more than survival. She came back to LA and went to UCLA film school. That led to a part in a student movie that led to a major role in Sangre de mi Sangre (2007). That film is set in Brooklyn.
Entre Nos is remarkable that it got made at all. Small films like this are only possible because of filmmakers who burn to tell human stories. Laura Montana says in a YouTube Interview that her film is about survival and coming of age: first for the woman she plays, then for her son (Sebastian Villada). “We’re told time and again stories of white males, but weâ€™re not told stories of complex people of color…and I thought instead of complaining about it I was going to do something about it and I started writing.”
The result is effecting, personal, and original.
Maria Heiskanen, Mikael Persbrandt, Jesper Christensen, Callin Ohrvall
The passing of any technology leaves a mystery we do not question. Canals became railroads. Carriages became autos. Sewing machines became lazar stitchers. Photography becames digital imaging. Everlasting Moments is a time capsule for the magic age of film cameras.
Jan Troell creates a time of wonder where a simple black and white photo could release humans from the drudgery of their lives and lets them dream. Maria (Maria Heiskanen) is the working class wife of the drunken, brutish, but charming Sigge (Mikael Persbandt). Continually pregnant, working every waking hour as a seamstress, she finds a long forgotten camera tucked in a drawer. Her first instinct is to sell it.
But Sebastian (,Jesper Christensen), the romantic who runs the photography store, suggests that she first try taking some picture. Maria's fascination starts when Sebastian takes the camera lens and focuses the flutter of a butterfly on her hand. He introduces her the solemnity of the darkroom, and supplies her with film chemicals to try it for herself.
The yearning for passion in these two is redirected to their silent, side-by-side witness of the alchemy of the developer's potion. The red darkroom light casts a sensual glow over them as they watch images emerge from nowhere.It is these scenes, and the simple, artful pictures from Maria's camera that explain the mystery of film and photograph.
No historical treatise, no factual documentary can ever get as close as Everlasting Moments to giving us a sense of what it was like to experience technology past. And no modern photographer working with digital cameras and printers can understand the delight of those silent, dark hours alone in a small red-lit room with smelly chemicals and a pair of tongs.The only sound in the darkroom is the rhythm of the rocking tray as developer sloshes back and forth over a piece of paper. Whiffs of black began to darken into clouds and then become a face, a tree, a cat: a special moment of life memory. These are the Everlasting Moments.
Erika Marozsan, Joachim Krol, Ben Becker, Stefano Dionisi
A love triangle ends in suicide over a song. Or is it resentment of the Nazi general who can order the piano player to play his favorite tune? The most amazing thing about Gloomy Sunday is how well it plays as a three-course melodrama in a restaurant that serves too much schmaltz.
The Jewish owner of a successful Budapest restaurant, Szabos, keeps them coming back for his special beef roll dish and his gifted piano player who composes the theme everybody wants to hear with their dessert. He’s in love with his beautiful waitress, and she’s in love with the new piano player. The two men decide to share her. A German businessman is in love with both the food and the waitress. He gets big portions but no love. Later he becomes a Nazi commander, stationed in Budapest. He sneaks off to the Jewish-owned restaurant for a good meal, a couple of tunes, and schnapps with his old friends.
Hans (Ben Becker) promises Lazlo (Joachim Krol) that he will spare him deportation. Just in case, Lazlo puts the restaurant in Ilona’s (Erika Marozsan’s) name. Hans reneges, Lazlo is rounded up, and Ilona sleeps with Hans to save Lazlo. It doesn’t work, Hans sends Lazlo to the camps anyway.
The peculiar, and endearing part of Gloomy Sunday is that everyone, save the piano player, seems to make an interesting life accommodation to time and circumstances. The two men understand they are rivals but Ilona won’t choose, so they share her. She becomes the helpmate to both. Lazlo insinuates himself in her love for the piano player by becoming his career manager and insuring the success of his song. The girl sleeps with the Nazi when she must, and the Nazi tries to shows, in his dying moment, that his betrayal was over love.
In the end, Ilona is left with the son she bore from her long ago liaison with the piano player. They toast to the past in the restaurant she now runs. If this isn’t the stuff of grand opera it should be. It’s from a novel by Nick Barkow, called A Song of Love and Death. This is a much better title than Gloomy Sunday and a hint that great melodrama awaits. Nothing wrong with melodrama if you are expecting it, and this is Gloomy Sunday’s real strength.
Birol Unel, Sibel Kekillil
Cahit crashes his car head on into a wall and wakes up in recovery to meet a suicidal girl who says she’s going to marry him. That’s just the first ten minutes of writer/director Fatih Akin’s pretty amazing maze that leads from Hamburg to Istanbul.
To know the characters, you’ve got to know the history. In the boom days of German car companies they needed more workers than the country could supply. So Turks were imported as guest workers. To the everlasting regret of proper Germans: they stayed. Today the major cities of Germany have big Turkish communities. German’s have had a hard time adjusting to head scarves, but an easier time snacking on doner kebab and curry wurst (supposedly invented at Konnopke’s Imbiss, a Turkish snack bar in Berlin).
Sibel (Sibel Kekilli) is needy for love in all the wrong places and targets Cahit (Birol Unel). He’s a druggie who won’t talk about his first wife’s death. She’s tried to slit her wrists and is now captive of her family. Both share a Turkish lineage and both have turned away from their roots. They speak German when together.
He agrees to a marriage of convenience so she can escape her parents’ home; but even on their wedding night his violence erupts and he throws her out of his apartment. She drinks at a bar in her wedding dress and seduces the bartender for a place to stay.
The film walks a tortuous path towards self-identity: Capit and Sibel yearn for love but are blocked by fear and violence. Capit kills a man in a bar fight and goes to jail. Sibel taunts a gang to beat her to death and they nearly do. It sounds grizzly but this is all subtext. What keeps us interested is our belief that these two really want to share love for each other, and somehow will find a way.
Like Akin’s later, superb film, The Edge of Heaven (MovieWithMe), these strangers in a strange land must return from Hamburg to Turkey to find themselves, and in this case, understand their love. (Sibel Kekilli also stars in When We Leave, a 2010 German/Turkish film is which displacement in an alien culture has tragic consequences).
In Akin’s films Turkey is a mystical place where modernism is mixed with a gathering sense of self. It is the homeland where truth, blotted out by Western European life, reappears. In The Edge of Heaven it is Nejat’s road trip to the village of his father. For Capit, just released from prison, it is the pilgrimage to a place he doesn’t know with a language he doesn’t speak in search of the girl he never let himself love.
What makes Aikin so brilliant are stories that border on pathos but always manage to hold the line. In less skilled hands, they would be soap operas. Head-On is only the second of many full-length films by a now-acclaimed brilliant filmmaker. But it needs no excuses for being an early work.
HOUSE OF SAND
Fernanda Montenegro, Fernanda Torres
I'VE LOVED YOU SO LONG
Kristin Scott Thomas, Elsa Zylberstein
JIN ROH:THE WOLF BRIGADE
Yoshikatsu Fujiki, Sumi Mutoh (voices)
Maja Ostaszewska, Danuta Stenka, Artur Zmijewski
KING OF THIEVES
Lazar Ristovski, Yasha Kultiasov, Oktay Ozdemir, Katharina Thalbach, Julia Khanverdieva
Mixing romanticism and misery was always been a specialty of Eastern Europe. The excuse was grimness enforced by Communism. The Communists are long gone but the filmmaking conventions persist.
Jan Sverak, who directed Koyla, is a leading proponent. Ivan Fila, who directed King of Thieves and Lea before, is an eager student. Both films are about children who undergo traumatic experiences as they experience the injustices of the world.
Barbu (Yasha Kultiasov) and his older sister Mimma (Julia Khanverdieva), children of a Ukrainian peasant, are sold to a traveling circus promoter for a better life in Berlin. The girl is forced into prostitution and the boy is trained to be a pickpocket. Caruso (Lazar Ristovski) is the ringmaster overseeing it all.
He’s a mixture of charm, magic, and brutality that is counterbalanced by his drug-addicted girlfriend Julie (Katharina Thalbach) and Marcel (Oktay Ozdemir), the boy who befriends Barbu and tutors him in the art of thievery.
What keeps this pudding together is Caruso’s swings form demonic to delightful. One moment he is whipping the boys and threatening them if they don’t go out and get more money. The next he is doing magic tricks and taking Barbu to the circus.
The photography is by Vladimir Smutny, a seasoned pro with colored gels. He’s from the paint with light school of Eastern Europeans who are time-warp practitioners; throwbacks to when Hollywood cinematographers also believed that a shadow was something without value unless you bathed it in color. The effect heightens the romantic feeling of a film whose plot is pretty grim.
But the combination of grimness and romanticism is the reason King of Thieves stands out and is worth a look. The other curious reason to have a look is the production shut down in the middle for lack of money. It was re-started two years later. Two years is a long time for two rapidly growing kids. Interesting to watch Barbu and Mimma as they take a jump in size and maturity not entirely due to their new professions as a whore and a thief.
Leila Hatami, Ali Mosaffa
You can’t have children but you can give your husband permission to take another wife and you get to pick her. If this was an American remake it would star Adam Sandler and Sarah Silverman (actually, not a bad idea). But this an Iranian original and there is not an ounce of comedy in it.
Leila dearly loves Rez and he loves her. But the pressure of his family to produce a child is too strong for her to weather. She consents to the worst she can imagine: allowing her husband, under Muslim law, to take a second wife while she remains married to him.
The slow destruction, and final resurrection, of the intimate life between them is deadly serious, intense, and heart breaking. We see an Iran behind the headlines; in the interiors of wealthy houses where family ties are a bond as strong as love. Except for the multiple wife custom, it looks surprisingly Western and modern.
The couple try to work out their problems on long drives through the Tehran city nightscape, returning home to make appetizing dinners of kabobs and veggies. If it wasn’t for the women having to throw on chadors every time they stepped out of the house, you might think it was LA. In the family gatherings there is a lot of friction between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, but everyone eats exceedingly well.
Leila Hatami also stars in Low Heights, the airplane hijack movie also on MovieWithMe. There she also plays the long suffering wife, but at least she’s got a gun. Here she’s restricted to a kabob spear. See Leila Hatami for the performance she brings to a beautifully written story about the intensity of young marriage; and also see the film for the food: beautifully prepared and eaten.
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne,
Arta Dobroshi (Lorna), Jeremie Renier (Claudy), Fabrizio Rongione (Fabio)
So many films about immigrants but so few that drill down to their vast emotional problem: loneliness. The physical hurdles are familiar, but the feeling of isolation is not.
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne explored it in Rosetta (1999) and here it is again. Rosetta lived in a trailer camp with an alcoholic mother. Lorna lives with a drug addict she has married to get her Belgium residency papers(she is Albanian).
Like all the Dardenne films, the bleakness of Belgium is the shadow over events. This shitty little country, caught between the French culture of the Wallonia, and the Flemish culture of Flanders is held together with duct tape. Like most other products made in Belgium, it is not very good.
In this land of blight, Lorna tries to move up the social ladder. This means dumping her druggie husband so she can get paid off to marry a Russian. Once he’s got his papers, she is free to live out her dream with a another dubious immigrant who makes a living cleaning the insides of nuclear reactors.
The wonder of the Dardenne brothers is they can take characters like Lorna and Rosetta and make us care. Their genius is in casting. Where did Arta (Lorna) come from? Kosovo is the answer: she is an ethnic Albanian. But she started acting as an exchange student in the North Carolina. Then she was thrown back into the war in Kosovo. Her family fled to Albania (that’s like fleeing to Siberia).
Before seeing the film, read these two interviews with Arta. The one from the Huffington Post will give you breathless details. The one from BIRN (Balkan Investigative Reporting Network) is less gushing but more has more facts. Lorna’s Silence is all about Lorna, so you ought to know all about Arta.
Lazaro Ramos, Marcelia Cartaxo
MOTHER OF MINE
Topi Majaniemi, Marjaana Maijala Brasse Brannstrom, Esko Salminen
Aldemar Correa, Angelica Blandon, Margarita Rosa de Francisco, John Leguizamo
Sometimes a movie is a big screen bore and a small screen gem. A Colombian director and Latin cast shooting an American movie in New York City with subtitles? Reina seduces Marlon into abandoning squalid life in Medellin for the mean streets of NYC. He loses her almost immediately and spends the movie looking for the girl named “Queen” (Reina) is an a place named Queens.
John Leguizamo turns up here and gives an idea for a flat screen double feature: Paraiso Travel followed by Where God Left his Shoes. This 2007 movie traces a homeless family trekking to find shelter in the same hostile outer boroughs. What is it with the outer boroughs? I always thought charity and compassion began there. From these two films you’d think Manhattan was, by contrast, a borough full of innkeepers with warm smiles and open hearts.
Many cross-the-border films have shown the trials of the trip, but few talk about the trails of the destination. Marlon is not only searching for Reina but for himself, and the obsession with the first blinds him in the second. How else could he turn away from a gorgeous thing like Margarita Rosa de Francisco? She’s the heart of the picture and magnificent.
Paraiso Travel is a Neoyorquino movie that shows life under the Elevated where Roosevelt Boulevard meets Junction Boulevard and the next turn is Tecun Uman on the Mexico Guatemala border.
Valeria Golino, Vincenzo Amato, Francesco Casisa
Lampedusa is an isolated Italian island near Tunisia where the sun beats and the beat of hot sensuality rises above the ancient cliffs. Grazia (Valeria Golino) is a fisherman’s wife who some think mad, some think erotic, and all think is too much to leave alone.
The real life Lampedusa is a place of azure beaches where you are either a fisherman or a tourist. That is, unless you happen to be one of the hapless African immigrants trying to escape to Italy who wash up on its shores and make the international news. But this last aspect of the island culture is another movie yet to be made.
The Lampedusa of the film Respiro is limited to the story of Grazia’s (Valeria Golino) husband Pietro (Vincenzo Amato) and their three sons. The oldest, Pasquelle (Francesco Cassia) is the only one among the family or the village who understands his mother’s need to escape the judgment of a family and a town who sees her only as too free spirited.
When her husband decides to ship her to Milan for psychiatric treatment, she escapes into one of the caves in the cliffs that surround the island. Everyone looks for her and when they find her clothes on the beach, they assume she has drowned herself. Oldest son Pietro (Francesco Casisa) is devastated until he finds her hiding place. The he makes secret daily trips to her cave to supply food.
It could be an Italian opera: an elemental story of love, fear and tragedy where small human creatures play against a fantastic landscape. But director Crialese manages to pump up the sensuality to a point where you feel everything and everybody on this island exudes a basic sexual life force. Grazia always has that freshly fucked look except when she tears off all of her clothes in front of her sons to go skinny-dipping. And the sons rarely wear more than skimpy swimsuits; except when rival gangs attack them, strip off their suits, and send them running home naked.
Lampedusa reminds me of another remote island, Formentera, along the Spanish coast, where another sensual movies was filmed in a land where the sun beats: Sex and Lucia (MovieWithMe).
Margarethe von Trotta
Katja Riemann, Maria Schrader, Jutte Lampe
You open your morning newspaper in 1943 and read, “Gestapo Frees Jews.” You take a gulp of coffee. This is startling but you also remember a headline back in 1938, “Goebbels cancels annual anti-Jewish Kristallnacht: glassmakers protest.” If you were a German citizen at the time and could still afford coffee, both stories were true.
Americans view of the Nazi era, propagandized by the franchising of Holocaust museums and Quentin Tarantino movies; is of relentless, depraved evil. We make no allowance for what historian Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.”
What happened at Number 2-4 Rosenstrasse (Rose Street) has never been forgotten among Berliners, but it took the bravery of director Margarethe von Trotta to finally film it 60 years later. Starting in January 1943, the Gestapo rounded up all the 6000 Berlin Jews for deportation and death. The rumor was that Joseph Goebbels, head of propaganda, wanted to have them all gone by Hitler’s birthday in April. (This kind of sentimentality is exactly what made Goebbels such a highly paid PR exec.)
At first they spared Jewish men married to Christians (called: geltungsjuden). The Nuremburg laws of 1935, outlawing marriages to Jews, also exempted existing marriages. Therefore the husbands could not be counted as Jews for deportation. But in March 1700 geltungsjuden were arrested and housed in the Jewish Community Hall at 2-4 Rossenstrasse to await deportation. It was a convenient place to store them since Gestapo headquarters was nearby.
As soon as word got out about where the men were imprisoned, their wives began to gather in the street below. For a week the women stood, their numbers growing to over 1000. They were threatened by the Gestapo. Police aimed guns at them. Sometimes they would run and disperse for a few minutes, only to return in stronger numbers. The wives called out the names of their husbands, hoping for a yell back from the windows above. At the end of a week, Goebbels realized he had created a public relations nightmare.
Good Aryan German women were standing in the street defying threats, pistols, and machine guns in solidarity with their husbands imprisoned inside. It confirmed the suspicions of more and more law-abiding citizens that the government respected no laws.
This was not the first time. Kristallnacht was a big blowout in 1937 that had also backfired. On the pretext of retaliation for a German diplomat’s assassination in Paris, Goebbels had ordered his thugs to go out and beat up Jews, break windows in Jewish businesses (Kristall=glass), and trash property. You can see pictures of it in any of the dozens of Holocaust museums. It’s chapter one in the time-line for the Holocaust.
So if it was such a big success, why didn’t Goebbels make it an annual event? There were no more Kristallnachts because a large segment of the German public, especially the more educated, disapproved of it. It gave them an uneasy feeling that the Nazi government was capable of going beyond the law. In ‘37 this was enough to call off future Kristallnachts celebrations. In 1943, the war was going badly. The Battle of Stalingrad was lost, people were on rations, Army generals were questioning tactics and strategy. What the Nazis didn’t need was more tsuris (Yiddish=aggravation) on the streets of Berlin.
Over a thousand women were standing day and night, shoulder to shoulder. If Kris Kristofferson had been born they would be singing: “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose” (he didn’t write it until 1969). Inside Gestapo headquarters something had to give. After a week, Goebbels ordered the men released. They poured out of the building into the arms of their wives.
This is a powerful film detailing the complex relationship of several generations of women, ending in a moment of joy and tears. But don’t look in the Holocaust museums for references to Rosenstrasse or to the few historians like Tzvetan Todorov who note the negative impact of Kristlanacht. It doesn’t go along with the neatly packaged mythology of doom. If evil is banal, there are always good people who see a way to challenge it: and sometimes they win.
Cary Joji Fukunaga
Edgar Flores, Paulina Gaitan
SON OF THE BRIDE (EL HIJO DE LA NOVIA)
Juan Jose Campanella
Richard Darin, Hector Alterio, Norma Aleandro
THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED
Romain Duris, Aure Atika
remake of Fingers (USA 1978, 90 min, dir: James Toback, cast: Harvey Keitel, Tissa Farrow, James Brown)
Rarely is an American movie remade as a French one. Usually it is the reverse. What's clear is our style is brute confrontation and theirs is subtle manipulation. These two films, both excellent, are a Rosetta stone of Anglo-French cultural understanding.
James Toback made Fingers in 1978 with a young Harvey Keitel. You have to forgive him carrying a boom box everywhere on his shoulder: not even Sony Walkmans had been invented yet. Jacques Audiard made Romain Duris a Belmondo-like thug who hides his musical ambition as a concert pianist by playing imaginary keyboards on cafe tables.
Audiard also adds characters and levels of plot absent from Fingers. It would be easy to say the French version has more depth and polish. But it is easier to improve than create from nothing. I think the American version is actually subtler for what it leaves out, and more electric for emotions that are not stated.
Witness the two love scenes. Harvey Keitel is crude and forceful. Romain Duris is expressive, romantic, yearning and wanting. One is a trashing animal ready to climb on his conquest. The other is opening himself up to feelings long simmering. But which has more heat, and what is more honest in human passion? I think Toback takes the prize and his film, though less sophisticated and less of a successful character study; finally has more raw power. See them both together and acknowledge them both as excellent. See them for Tissa Farrow and Aure Atika adding very sexual interpretations to the same part. Then go on see Toback's Tyson and Audiard's The Prophet to understand the extent of their cinema art.
THE COLOR OF PARADISE
Hossein Mahjoub, Moshen Ramezani
Some movies are so lavish they justify the extravagance of the big flat screen you bought for yourself. Mohammad has been sent to a special school for the blind in the city. He’s nearly abandoned until his widowed father comes to reclaim him and take him home.
Home is a long journey to a simple country life with a grandmother and sisters. Along the way the lavish color and abundance of nature fills all 46 diagonal inches of big screen, making home video a near-theater experience.
Once home in the country, Mohammed (Moshen Ramezani), adapts readily because his cheery personality is accepted by everyone. Only the father has bitter feelings about his life, and his relationship with his son. The boy is a burden in a life that, with the death of his wife, is suddenly without an anchor.
The film culminates in one of the most spectacular river calamity scenes I have ever watched. Perhaps you need to have run rivers to understand what you see cannot be faked. The boy is swept away and the father, after hesitating, jumps in too. The power of the river takes the boy, the father, and the horse and will not release them.
Natural life, like the river, is a vital part of Majidi’s theme that spans movie after movie. He loves to contrast city with country. The elements of country are poverty and human conflict. The complications of the city diffuse these and overlay these with hurdles that are for Majidi films, grave life impediments.
In Children of Heaven (MovieWithMe.com) the father and son must go into the rich part of the city to seek work so they can survive their subsistence life in a poor village at the city’s edge. In The Color of Paradise it is a blind boy leaving the shelter of the city for a bucolic life that is both delightful and lethal. Majidi doesn’t seem to weigh in on the values of city versus country except to point out that the vast difference from one to the other causes much confusion to the human beings who must travel between.
He is at his best with children: pointing up the innocence and tragedy they can exemplify so well. After seeing his films, take a look at Turtles Can Fly (MovieWithMe), another excellent Iranian film about children in Iraqi Kurdistan during the American no fly zone before the start of the Iraqi war.
THE CRIME OF FATHER AMARO
Gael Garcia Bernal, Ana Claudia Talancon, Andres Montiel
What girl could resist Gael Bernal? Especially if he is a priest and she loves Jesus? This was a big hit in Mexico, which seems strange for a movie based a Portuguese novel written in 1880 by Jose Maria Eca de Queiros. He was a cosmopolitan writer who often took on the Church.
The movie moves the action from a sleepy town near Lisbon to a sleepy town near Mexico City. Far enough away so all the intrigue of small town life can play out, but near enough to feel big city sophistication lurking over the hill. Everyone here is having an affair with somebody.
The local priest has been fucking his maid since she was young and good looking (she’s now middle-aged). He’s also available for baptisms at he hacienda of the drug lord. He’s the biggest contributor to the priest’s pet project: a new hospital. The town mayor, known affectionately as “Gordo” (fatty) has a live and let live attitude towards it all.
Into this sleazy backwater comes a new priest, Father Amaro (Gael). His blue eyes immediately set of an estrogen flow in Jesus-loving Amelia. He rents a room claiming he wants to give her instructions for joining an order of nuns. And he proceeds to give her very intense instructions on the bed, nonstop. In the next room a mentally handicapped child listens in. Weird.
There is melodrama for everyone, and at almost two hours, you have to take a head count to see how many have fallen from grace. The neat trick is making an 1880 novel work in contemporary Mexico, and keeping the pot boiling. And there’s the satisfaction of seeing Gael Garcia Bernal play a priest who can’t keep his zipper zipped.
THE EDGE OF HEAVEN
Baki Davrak, Nurgul Yesilcay, Hanna Schygulla
Kolya Spiridonov, Maria Kuznetsova, Nikolai Reutov
A six-year-old boy alone in the Russian countryside searching for his mother is not just another road movie. Vanya (Kolya Spiridonov) is an unwanted child in an Oliver Twist style Russian children’s home.
He’s slated for adoption by a nice Italian couple when he gets the notion that his mother is alive somewhere out there and would take him back if only he could find her. With the help of the other kids, he sneaks a look at his records and finds clues to where to go.
True to Dickens, the older kids in the home have long resorted to stealing and prostitution to get by. Vanya’s survival skills are well honed. He steals his records and sets off by train and by foot over a giant swath of Russian countryside on a mission to find his natural mother. Pursuing him are Madam (Maria Kuznetsova ) and Grisha (Nikolai Reutov). (Some reviews call Grisha “Gregori,” go figure). To them Vanya represents a big fat payment from the Italian couple. But the kid is crafty at braving corrupt authorities and escaping assorted dangers.
Too bad this isn’t a kid’s movie. Pampered western kids might have a few nightmares seeing what Vanya goes through, but maybe it would teach them something about life. The movie is thoroughly adult and never lets up. The amazing thing about The Italian and about Charles Dickens is 150 years hasn’t made much difference. Kids are still mistreated, still sold like commodities by unscrupulous guardians, and still thrust into the horrors of life without, food, shelter, or parenting. The subject is often covered in documentaries but Andrey Kravchuk’s film is all the more real for being drama and (we assume) fiction.
But then, Dickens wrote fiction too, and his was more real and more effective than any reformer pamphleteering of the time. The Italian is a good example of the power of fiction to be real.
Wood Harrelson, Ben Foster, Samantha Morton
The true historians of war are gravediggers. By the time their battle begins the others have all ended. The smoke has cleared. All that is left is a lot of questions without answers. Shakespeare employed a couple of these shovelers in Hamlet.
Modern times demand a more psychological approach. The Messenger is about Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), just retuned from Iraq and assigned to be an army Casualty Notification Officer. He works in a two-man team with hard ass Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson). Their job is to drive around notifying dead soldier’s wives and parents that their lovers and sons have bought the big one.
Owen Moverman directs from his own script; and the film has a writerly feel. It’s not so much the drama of war’s nihilism, like Hurt Locker, as it is a mindful reflection.
If you ever want a downer evening try double billing The Messenger with Gardens of Stone. The latter is Francis Coppola’s 1987 film about men assigned to the ceremonial burial details at Arlington Nation Cemetery (during the Viet Nam War).
The first movie notifies the next of kin, the second movie blows the trumpet and folds the flag as the coffins slide into the ground. Both are very good films. Together they offer a requiem for America’s recent war adventures.
We can hope The Messenger is not damage Moverman’s career the way Gardens of Stone was for Coppola’s. In Coppola’s case it was not the movie, it was the making of the movie. During the filming, Francis’s son Gio (Gian Carlo) was killed in a gruesome accident. The speeding motorboat in which he was a passenger passed under a towline and he was beheaded.
Coppola retreated into his Silverfish video command trailer and never came out. He directed the rest of the picture in seclusion. Each day word came from the unseen director for set ups and shots of military burials.
An experience like that is ample reason to lose your love of making films. Gardens of Stone was (in my opinion) the last great chancy subject for Coppola. Afterward he settled into another Godfather sequel and a lot of executive producer credits. The few films he has actually directed since are minor works that smell of easy money.
Owen Moverman is luckier. Or is he? There was no personal tragedy we know of while making his death trip film. But the writer-director’s worldview is a tad mawkish. His Casualty Notification Officers must offer emotional justification as they act out the futility of war. To make them emotionally interesting, Will has to have a love affair with a soldier’s widow, Jena (Samantha Morton).
Coppola was felled by a bizarre personal tragedy. Moverman seems to hunt bizarre emotional situations on screen.
Look at his past writing credits like Jesus’ Son, Face, Married Life, and The Big Blow you feel he’s a kinky dude. Where he goes next is going to be interesting. Where he has been with The Messenger is certainly worth experiencing as long as you’re not feeling suicidal.
THE SEA INSIDE
Javier Bardem, Belen Reuda, Lola Duenas, Mabel Rivera
It takes balls for the top leading man of Spain to do a movie in a bald cap. It also takes guts to make a movie that’s never going to be seen on date night. The Sea Inside takes place in a bedroom where Ramon Semperdo (Javier Bardem) has been confined for 30 years since a dive into the ocean left him a quadriplegic (nothing works except his head).
His battle is to die; rather than being served day and night by people who must change his soiled bedclothes every four hours, he wants to end it all. But Spanish law is no more helpful than American law (see the Terri Schiavo case). So he gets himself a smart lawyer who is also living with a degenerative disease, and she starts the court challenge in motion.
You wouldn’t think it would be fascinating to watch someone try to die for two hours and five minutes. In action movies people die in five seconds. The remarkable idea here is to make the movie not about understanding dying, but understanding living. Ramon loves life. But he sees that life is more than dreams, and he dreams a lot. He knows his dreams must satisfy him: he knows they cannot. Hence his life is torture with no end except death.
One of the hottest scenes in the movie is the kiss between him and his lawyer, Julia (Belen Reuda). Yet it never happened. Along the way to death there is a constant parade of people who come to him trying to persuade him that life is worth living because everyone goes through terrible times. What is good for one is not for another, he argues, and all he wants is to make his own decision.
The magic of The Sea Inside is not, for me, about everyone having a different idea of the value of life. It is about the director, Alajandro Amenabar, who made this amazing film. I think he is one of those geniuses of movie making that come along so rarely. His ability to work magic on so many different films is beyond explanation. This guy started with a student film, Tesis, and has never stopped. Take a look at his credits and wonder how he could go from Open Your Eyes (remade badly with Tom Cruise) to The Sea Inside.
THE STONING OF SORAYA M.
Mozhan Marno, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jim Caviezel
Jim Caviezel played Jesus in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. In The Stoning of Soraya M. he plays a reporter happening upon a story about a modern woman who must walk her own steps to her village's version of the crucifixion. This actor's personal passion expressed in his adopting of special needs children, and his support of politically incorrect causes; makes his participation in this singular, powerful movie all the more interesting.
A movie is what it is on screen: that is everything. Or is it? The writer/director of The Stoning of Soraya M. is known for taking on non PC subjects and making statements of personal conviction. Both Caviezel and director Cyrus Nowrasteh are drawn to a story that defies audience sensitivities to paint truth, harshness, courage and sadness. Soraya (Mozhan Marno) brings dignity to her own death.
Mozhan too, is no stranger to speaking out. She starred in a one women show 9 Parts of Desire about women in war-torn Iraq. The play, written by Heather Raffo (also the title of a book about the Middle East by Geraldine Brooks), comes from Ali ibn Abu Taleb, an early leader and scholar of Islam who said, "God created sexual desire in ten parts: then he gave nine parts to women and one to men."
Soraya M's husband accuses her of adultery so he can be free to marry a younger woman he has found in a nearby city. That the punishment for adultery is death by stoning doesn't disturb him. Nor does he flinch at throwing the first stone at the head of the mother of his children as she waits defenseless: buried to her waist in the village square.
It's easy to eject the DVD after seeing The Stoning of Soraya M. and condemn Iran as a primitive country driven by the intractable dogma of the Ayatollahs. But Iran is, in may ways, actually quite permissive: if you are a man.
Soraya M. is about that one part of desire granted to men and how the rage, feared impotence and lust for domination over those other nine parts propels men towards madness and grisly murder. Ali ibn Abu Taleb did not restrict his observation to Muslims. Violence towards women can happen anywhere, and it does.
THEY CAME BACK
Geraldine Pailhas, Jonathan Zaccai
Teruyuki Kagawa, Kyoko Koizumi, Yu Koyanagi, Kai Inowaki
The world plunged into financial crises in 2008 but Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata was already a testament to what was about to happen. Released in 2008, the film follows one struggling Tokyo family from job loss to slow family disintegration.
Ryuhei (Teruyuki Kagawa) loses his white-collar job but cannot face his wife, Megumi (Kyoko Koizumi) with the news. Each day he dresses in a suit and tie for work and leaves home with his briefcase. She learns the truth when she sees him standing in a food line for free lunch at a local park along with other unemployed salary men.
Her eldest son, Takashi (Yu Koyanagi), finds his exit from the household by joining the American army under a new recruitment offer for Japanese. He’s promptly sent to the Middle East battlefields. The youngest son, Kenji (Kai Inowaki), observes all this while trying to sneak away and take piano lessons that the family cannot afford.
In the end, at his brilliant recital, there is at least hope for something; even though the family can not pay for the schooling he will need to realize his musical potential.
Though set in middle class Japan, there is a resonance to Where God Left His Shoes (MovieWithMe.com) because both films sketch the desperation that comes when there is no way out. The events of 2008 are still rolling over, receding slowly and revealing the debris like a retreating tsunami. Both films seem to ask, where do you go when there is nowhere left to go?
Michelle Monaghan, Benjamin Bratt, Nathan Fillion
Michelle Monaghan is Diane, a tough trucker who lives on the road and fucks handsome drivers without leaving her phone number. But somewhere out there beyond the darkness she’s got a kid who she’s left with her ex-husband Len (Benjamin Bratt).
This is a riff on the white line fever picture that has a been a Hollywood staple since They Drive by Night (1940). As soon as I see a kid in a movie with a tough guy or babe, my sentimentality buzzer goes off. You know where it is going the moment Daddy says Mommy has to take the tyke. I reviewed Mostly Martha and No Reservations on MovieWithMe. In those make and remake movies, the woman is a top chef and the kid is the precocious niece whose parents have been conveniently killed in an auto accident.
Trucker at least gives us a tough kid to match his mother’s lifestyle. Though I wish he smoked cigarettes like she does-that would be a cinematic breakthrough. But Tucker is something a little more than its predictable story: it is a road movie about nights and highways and dank motels. This is a genre in itself; always supported by an ample catalogue of country and western songs that reveal emotions big rig drivers never can.
In most countries, guys drive trucks and drink beer. Only in American do they also live in a mythic dimension. (One exception: The Wages of Fear, but that is really an American style movie made by the French). These movies are more than C&W music and lost characters: they are an extension of our western cowboy themes. You can be lonely watching the fire burn down with your horse tethered on the lonely desert: or you can be lonely in the cab of your Kenworth lighting the white line bend around the earth ahead.
TURTLES CAN FLY
Soran Ebrahim, Avaz Latif
UNDER THE SAME MOON (LA MISMA LUNA)
Adrian Alonso, Kate del Castillo
WHERE GOD LEFT HIS SHOES
John Leguizamo, Leonor Varepa, David Castro, Samantha M. Rose
In the list of Christmas movies, few end badly. The most popular ever, It’s a Wonderful Life, manages to pull joy from despair in the last reel. But Where God Left His Shoes doesn’t have an uncle Billy to arrive with a basket of money and save the day.
Frank (John Leguizamo) is a down on his luck boxer who finds himself homeless along with his wife and two children. Together they range through a gulag of homeless shelters and welfare centers across New York City while Frank hunts for the elusive job that will qualify his family for subsidized housing. Angela (Leonor Varepa) is his long enduring wife who tries to manage the two kids and bed them down among bums and crazies in bed bugged dormitories.
How do you teach your son values when the world around you has ceased to value you? What do you do when there is no place to sleep? How can you make your pleas heard in a system where everyone else is pleading too?
Frank tells son Justin (David Castro) they are the forgotten. The title refers to the fact that they have been forsaken even by God. He does not dwell in the places they do. You won’t find him leaving his shoes there when he beds down for the night.
This is not a perfect film, and critics have torn it apart for plot problems. The lack of a happy ending also goes against the traditional Christmas movie. We don’t want to be depressed on Christmas any more than we wanted to be depressed on Thanksgiving when Edward R. Murrow presented Harvest of Shame on CBS network, on Thanksgiving weekend 1960.
The Murrow doc followed migrant field workers toiling in the land of plenty and suffering poverty and hopelessness. Like Where God Left His Shoes, Harvest of Shame tried to raise a little indigestion in the stomachs of a nation filled with turkey and stuffing.
The effect of both films has been limited. Harvest of Shame got all the awards but nothing changed for the migrants. Where God Left His Shoes was slammed by the critics, seen by few, and never credited for social issues it raised and the people it profiled.
But its story and subject deserve greater attention. This is also one of the small but growing list of films about the outer boroughs of New York City. Far from the LED lights of Times Square, this is the New York where most of the City’s 20 million people actually live (see also Paraiso Travel on MovieWithMe.com).
Ana Geislerova, Gyorgy Csehaimi
Do all of us want to walk through an unmarked door into a secret life better than the one we thought we wanted? Eliska/Hana has two names in Zelary because she has two lives. One is as the big city hospital nurse who assists her surgeon boyfriend in saving the life of a rough country peasant by giving him a transfusion of her own blood.
That is before the Gestapo gets wise to the hospital staff’s resistance activities. Suddenly, that night, she must flee. It has all been arranged. She will accompany the peasant laborer she helped save back to his mountain village. There she will pose as his wife until the war is over.
The best war movies are about uprooted people and the generous acts by strangers who preserve the flame of life and compassion. The best of these stories must sometimes age with the storytellers. Kveta Lagatova didn’t think of writing a book until she was in her 80s. Then she took out a story she had written thirty or forty years before, based on what she had heard when she was a schoolteacher in the isolated mountain region were Joza (Janda) takes his new bride, Hana (known as Eliska before she went into hiding).
“The characters there (in the mountains) have very sharp contours, that which elsewhere is not so well-defined” commented Kveta. Her book, Jozova Hanule, became a best seller in the Czech Republic and the basis of Zelary. Like Hana in the movie, Kveta witnessed a culture that hadn’t change is a century, and would soon disappear with the rush to modernity.
Zelray is a love story, large and romantic, about the most unlikely lovers in a place far removed from history. Yet it makes its own history. The tragedy of the ending, and Hana/Eliska’s return, reminds me of the ending of Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala. Both films confront their protagonists with the loss of something wild and free not only in the wilderness, but also in themselves. They know it can never be replaced. They mourn for themselves.
Their tragedy is ours too, because we’ve all joined a more civilized world. It is even more perplexing to us because our choice was also for survival: of a kind just as necessary as in the forests and mountains. Hana can never go back, and she knows it. Could Kveta Lagatova have written this book as a young woman? Kurosawa was in his sixties when he directed Dersu.
Perhaps only a lifetime lived through the 20th Century could connect the brutality of the Nazis-feared as the destroyers of civilization; to the destruction of nature and traditional life actually caused by civilization. These two films are my idea of an amazing double feature.
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