Vol. 4, No. 9
The Foreign Films New to View newsletter is a monthly publication designed to keep you up to date on some of HCPL’s latest foreign films on DVD. The selections in this newsletter are just a sample of the rich variety of films available to you through your library. Use the sign-up box above to have this newsletter sent directly to your e-mail every month, with new, recommended movies for you to view.
As It Is in Heaven, directed by Kay Pollak
(In Swedish, with English subtitles)
Although I’ve never seen Mr. Holland’s Opus , I understand that there is an audience for movies in which a musician or composer or conductor resurrects a group of not-so-good musicians and helps the group metamorphose into a brilliant instrument of music and harmony, while he or she simultaneously finds fulfillment. Such is Pollak’s film, nominated for an Oscar in the Foreign Film category in 2005. Daniel Daréus is a passionate and talented orchestra conductor, world-renowned, cosmopolitan, and altogether brilliant. When he suffers a near-fatal heat attack, however, he begins to rethink his life’s purpose, traveling to his childhood home town to give himself time to rest and forge new paths. There he is encouraged to lead the small church choir, which is foundering for lack of leadership. Daniel steps in and finds more than a little talent in the group. In addition to shaping the singers into a competitive chorus, he also must deal with unpleasant home town issues, some lingering from his bullied childhood. All in all, the tear-jerker aspect is counterbalanced a bit by the quirky personalities of his choir.
The Girl by the Lake, directed by Andrea Molaioli
(In Italian, with English subtitles)
Based on the Karen Fossum novel Don’t Look Back (not owned by HCPL but available through interlibrary loan), this film takes place in Italy, probably in the stunning Dolomites. The village in which the events occur is so beautiful, audiences may be distracted by the scenery. Try not to be. This thriller is gripping and calls for one’s full attention. A young woman’s body has been found by a lake, and a police inspector from a larger jurisdiction is called in to solve the case. Wrapped in this police procedural are other issues involving a mentally impaired man, who happens to like little girls, a sorrowful young couple who have lost their young son in a tragic accident, and the chief inspector’s personal issues with his daughter as he grapples with his wife’s increasing dementia. Throughout the story and despite the turmoil in his own life, the inspector remains focused on the case, as he cooly and methodically unravels the secrets held tightly in the village.
Home, directed by Ursula Meier
(In French, with English subtitles)
I sometimes wonder how it is that people can live next to an interstate highway, with the constant noise from the cars, trucks, and motorcycles, the pollution, and so on. Marthe’s family is being subjected to that chaos caused by traffic. Their home, one that has been in the family for years and settled in quiet isolation, has had the world brought to it in the form of the din of cars and trucks when a highway is finally completed nearly outside their windows. They had grown used to the unfinished highway, a stretch of concrete that they put to practical and playful use when it dead-ended in front of their house. But when the rumble of road-making equipment arrives, the family knows life will change for everyone irrevocably. How will Marthe and her family adapt to this? They could move, but what if they don’t want to do that? Home provides viewers with insight into the effects of traffic on people as they struggle to cope in an unpleasant, even destructive environment.
Jermal , directed by Ravi Bharwani, Rayya Makarim, and Utawa Tresno
(In Indonesian, with English subtitles)
A jermal is a platform at sea that houses workers who fish from that platform. Jaya is a boy who sails to a jermal to stay with his father, Johar, whom he hardly knows, except that his mother has told him that Johar is a good man. Johar seems nothing like that. He abandoned his family years before. He sleeps most of the time or drinks when he is awake. He radiates unfriendliness and distances himself from the young Jaya. Jaya has more than a distant father to deal with, however; he also has the bullying and teasing of the other boys and the constant threat of being caught by the police, since all the boys are underaged and should be at school. But he is tenacious, and his tenacity, along with his ability to read and write, puts him ahead of the other boys. Eventually, that tenacity and willful spirit will urge him towards a direct confrontation with Johar, one that might just pull them together after all.
Old Partner, directed by Lee Chung-ryoul
(In Korean, with English subtitles)
While technically a documentary, one does sense elements of staging in this drama. Nevertheless, the story that unfolds is compelling. Choi is an elderly farmer in Korea, whose aged ox is half his age, but just as feeble and just as determined to carry on with the everyday tasks at hand (or hoof). Choi and his old ox are friends in a way, although viewers may wish the poor beast could be let out to pasture for his final days on this earth. While Choi’s wife and grown children urge him to sell the ox, and he thinks seriously about that, he feels a kind of bond with the animal. The ox likewise seems to have a special bond with him. The two of them struggle to get their daily work done, with Choi turning when he hears the ox bell ring, even though he’s nearly deaf and the ox knowing from years of routine when to stop and start on their journeys to the fields to do their work.
A Prophet, directed by Jacques Audiard
(In French, with English subtitles)
Malik, only nineteen and just beginning a six-year prison term, wants only to survive in the French prison to which he’s been confined. He tries to make himself invisible, but Luciani, the head of the Corsican gang in prison, has other plans. And for Malik, it’s follow Luciani’s directives or die. Does Malik really have a choice? This film is not only a portrait of a French prison system, but a story about education – the education of a more-or-less innocent young man into a hardened killer, even as he learns to read and write in a more traditional educational style.
The Secret of the Grain, directed by Abdel Kechiche
(In French and Arabic, with English subtitles)
Slimane is a Tunesian immigrant in France, who for the past several decades has worked in the shipyards of the hard-scarbble seaside city of Sète. He has raised his family there, but now in his older years, he finds himself more on the periphery than on the inside of the family circle. Being included in the family is essential to the immigrant’s life. He visits his children, but remains apart from his divorced wife’s household. He lives in a shabby but homey room in a hotel owned by his lover, but when it comes to the traditional family meal, he deliberately excludes himself, taking his portion alone in his room instead. His dream is to open a couscous restaurant in a city where the French still look down upon the Arab-speaking immigrants who came to their shores so many years before. Slimane’s opening night of his dream-restaurant teeters on disaster, as circumstances beyond his command, like so much else in his life, wedge their intrusive way into his path to success. The actors are largely non-professionals, yet one would be hard-pressed to distinguish the professional from the amateur, so alive and real are the characters, especially Rym, the daughter of Slimane’s lover, who shimmers with intensity in everything she does.