Foreign Films April 13

Dangerous Liaisons, directed by Hur Jin-ho

(In Mandarin, with English subtitles)

Two beautiful, wealthy, powerful people in 1930′s Shanghai suffer from the ennui that only the beautiful, wealthy and powerful can suffer. Xie Yifan, the strikenly handsome playboy of the Orient and the ravishingly beautiful Mo Jieyu are something of best friends, although one wonders how two such cold people can be friends at all. Nevertheless, they are a match in wealth, wit, and boredom. When Miss Mo, as she’s called, urges Xie to seduce the young, vulnerable Beibei, betrothed to another powerbroker, it is for revenge and amusement. Xie has his eyes on Du Fenyu, an equally vulnerable widow. Bets are placed, and the stakes are high. But Xie and Miss Mo might find out that playing with the heart brings with it dangers that can be devastating. I had seen Stephen Frears’s film version years ago and had not thought I’d enjoy a remake in 20th century China, but the film is at once striking and moving and worth the watch.

Even the Rain, directed by Icíar Bollaín

(In Spanish and Quechua, with English subtitles)

A film being made in Bolivia about the exploitation of the indigenous people by Columbus and a real-life drama known as the Bolivian Water War merge as two film makers pull together their project on a shoe-string budget. They try to save pennies while they themselves exploit their extras, played by indigenous locals. Sebastián is the film director, sensitive to the script and the purpose of the film, while the producer, Costa, is thinking of ways to keep the wages of the extras as low as possible, Enter Daniel, not only as it turns out an excellent actor but also a leader in the demonstrations going on in the water war – a very real event that occurred when the people of Bolivia rose up against the privatization of their water supply by multinationals. The people will be forbidden to gather even the rain, as Daniel points out, in astonishment. Sebastián struggles to keep his actors from getting arrested as they demonstrate against the outrageous developments in the water war, while Costa learns a lesson or two in what it means to live in a Third World country. Worth seeing if just for the performance of Juan Carlos Aduviri, who plays Daniel.

Heleno, directed by José Henrique Fonesca

(In Portuguese, with English subtitles)

Heleno de Freitas was a champion Brazilian soccer player in the 1940′s, admired by his legions of fans and adored by women. This biopic shows us his last ten or so years, when his ego (as big as a house) makes him an impossible teammate; and his selfishness and ruthless infidelity, a curse to women. But it is his encroaching dementia due to syphilis that leads to his ultimate downfall. Beautifully shot in black and white, this film reminds us that melodrama can occur in real life, not just in fiction.

Les Intouchables, directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Tolendan

(In French, with English subtitles)

Despite its smashing success in France, Les Intouchables has roused only cautious and reserved praise from U.S. critics. Their reservations stem from the obvious racial stereotyping. Nevertheless, the film is based on fact: an aristocrat becomes paralyzed from the neck down due to an accident, and a hired aide lifts him out of his ennui through sheer force of life and spirit. Philippe has led a life of luxury and action. But his very fulfilled life comes to a grinding halt when he suffers a broken neck in a hang gliding accident. Along comes Driss, an African who really just wants someone to sign off on his employment form to prove he’s looking for work. Philippe challenges him to take the job and run with it. Driss accepts, once he sees the fancy car that Philippe no longer can drive. Paired with Driss, Philippe does get to ride around in his sports car again, and even engage in high speed chases, smoke marijuana, enjoy cool rock music, and generally live again. Driss brings joy to an injured man’s life, and if there is something of stereotyping here, it helps that Driss is such a cool guy to begin with.

The Kid with a Bike, directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

(In French, with English subtitles)

Cyril has a lot to feel angry about. HIs father has abandoned him, although Cyril won’t admit to that. His father has also sold his prized possession – his bike. He is now a ward of the state. He has only himself in this world, one forlorn eleven-year-old. Then he bumps into Samantha, literally, a woman with her own grounded life, who recognizes immediately that Cyril needs an advocate in this big lonely world. She becomes his foster parent, helps him find his ne’er-do-well father, comforts Cyril when it’s clear Dad couldn’t care less about his son, and gets him his bike when it’s stolen. The bike is Cyril’s escape, leading him to freedom, danger, happiness, and even to his father in that futile attempt to reunite, but is it enough to connect him to family? Samantha with her enormous heart and strength will do whatever it takes to pull him into a real life of family and connection. The Dardennes also directed La Promesse, which HCPL owns.

Little White Lies, directed by Guillaume Canet

(In French, with English subtitles)

Try going on vacation every year with your same best friends, except as time passes, you realize that you are not certain you like them very much. So we find a group of pals who have joined Max and his wife Vero for an annual lengthy stay at their shore home. Their friend Ludo will not be joining them this year, since he has suffered a horrible accident and is lying comatose in the hospital. The friends tell themselves he’d really rather they go to the beach than linger in his hospital room, and off they go, only occasionally wondering how he is faring. So while they bicker and annoy each other over glasses of wine and leisurely summer outings, the turmoil underneath it all roils, not just in stale friendships but in the underlying tragedy of Ludo. Canet’s study in friendship is worth a look, even if the film is a little on the long side. Canet also directed Tell No One, a mystery that still resonates with me after a viewing a couple of years ago.

Me, Too, directed by Álvaro Pastor and Antonio Naharro

(In Spanish, with English subtitles)

Remarkable performances by both Pablo Pineda and Lola Dueñas lift this from the sappy to real drama. Pineda, who despite his Down syndrome has earned a university degree, plays Daniel, himself a college graduate, who longs to fit into a world beyond one where he has been defined by a damaged chromosome. Along comes Laura, who herself seems damaged in her own earthy, flamboyant and iconoclastic way. When the two meet, an odd friendship of misfits emerges, with the two of them helping each other along to the next stage in life.

The Thieves, directed by Chou Dong-hoon

(In Korean, with English subtitles)

Ok, here’s a Friday night movie for you. You know the kind: one that will keep you entertained when you are too tired to think after a week of work, a film that gives you lots of action and a plot probably too complicated to follow, but certainly not necessary to understand in order to enjoy the story. This one involves a jewel heist with rival gangs forged together in order to succeed in their quest. Macao Park and the beautiful and daring Pepsi, once an item but now apart with some degree of bitterness, pull together their forces to steal a priceless diamond. With intrigue, betrayal, plot and counterplot, it keeps you on edge just to think about it. The action alone should draw a fan base, particularly the rappelling around skyscrapers. That Pepsi sure can swings five hundred feet up in the air!

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