Foreign Films March 13

After the Banquet, directed by Kim Yun-Cheol

(In Korean, with English subtitles)

Seven friends, all former university students, gather together to celebrate the nuptuals of two of the group. An eighth friend is missing, however, with no word from her as to why she isn’t there. After the wedding banquet, the friends join together for an intimate dinner together to reminisce. And here they get walloped by a surprise: Mi-rae, the teenaged daughter of the missing friend, arrives to announce that her mother is dead, and she now wishes to find her father, one of the four men present. Of course, immediate suspicion falls on her boyfriend from their university days, but it’s rather more complicated than that. Two of the other guys may just as likely be Mi-rae’s father. As the evening rolls on into the next following days, more is revealed of the mystery, as well as the value of enduring friendship and the ties of family.

Beloved, directed by Christophe Honoré 

(In French, with English subtitles)

This romantic comedy that is something of a musical as well begins when Madeleine as a young adult steals a pair of glamorous shoes that sets her in a direction she had never before considered. Mistaken for a prostitute, she falls into the role, finding along the way a Czech physician husband and a daughter, Vera. Years later, Madeleine is divorced from Jaromil and remarried; Vera is a grown woman now, with her own issues; and Jaromil may or may not be back in the picture. An all-star cast of European familiars (Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Milos Foreman, Louis Garrel, and American actor Paul Schneider) works to lift the movie from silly to occasionally poignant. It perhaps covers too many years and involves too many songs, but fans of French romantic comedies will find this confection just right. Christophe Honoré also directed Making Plans for Lena, owned by HCPL.

Elena, directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev 

(In Russian, with English subtitles)

Elena is a middle-aged woman in a nearly loveless marriage to the much wealthier Vladimir. Both have disfunctional children from previous marriages, and both see the disparity in their social stations and income. While Vladimir’s daughter is a drug-user (only on weekends, as she puts it), Elena’s son is an alcoholic lout, sponging off his mother and Vladimir for extra bucks. Her grandson, Sasha, is nearly as bad, joining in mindless brawls just for kicks. But Sasha is about to be drafted in the militay. If he can get some money together, he can go to college and avoid that nasty fate, even if he’s not exactly college material. Vladimir firmly states that Sasha is on his own, and makes the point even clearer when he signals that he wants to rewrite his will and leave Elena not with a full inheritance but with an annuity. Elena needs to consider alternatives…and they could be life-changing.

Farewell, My Queen, directed by Benoit Jacquot

(In French, with English subtitles)

On the morning of July 14, 1789, Sidonie, the serving woman whose job it is to read to Queen Marie Antoinette, awakens to no more an irritation than mosquito bites on her arm. So begins an increasingly frightening day at Versailles, when the inevitable is denied and the obvious pushed aside as much as possible by servants and nobility alike. Sidonie is a nobody, as even she will readily admit, but she is forced into the intrigue of the downfall of royals and nobles alike, as much as any lord or lady. She adores the queen and will do anything for her, but when she is asked to disguise herself as a noblewoman, so better to effect the escape of a favorite of the queen, she must ponder her own possible fate in this ruse. For a more contemporary setting in a movie by Jacquot, try À Tout de Suite.

Phantom Pain, directed by Matthias Emcke

(In German, with English subtitles)

Many would consider Marc a slacker. He works at odd jobs, drinks a lot, proves to be totally unreliable even when it comes to picking up his young daughter from school, and is a disaster in relationships with women. But his virtues shine. He is a great storyteller; he knows how to live simply and modestly with no extravegance; he has a remarkable level of kindnes; and his dreams are admirable – he just wants to ride his bicycle along some of the most difficult routes of the Tour de France. When he loses his leg in a horrific traffic accident, even that bit of his life seems over. But in addition to his other virtues, he possesses a tenacity of life that could be the key to helping him adjust direction and move on.

Tai Chi Zero, directed by Stephen Fung

(In Mandarin, with English subtitles)

Described as steam punk kung-fu, Tai Chi Zero provides entertainment where I didn’t expect it. I have to admit it doesn’t matter too much about the plot here, since the action, romance, humor, and adventure will keep a viewer absorbed. Yang Lu Chan finds himself in the role of defender of a village that faces imminent danger from an unscrupulous railroad tycoon, who sees the villagers as just one more obstacle in the way of his goal for extending the rail line. But there’s just one thing besides Yang standing in the way: the entire village, from the youngest to the oldest, knows a kind of superb tai chi fighting that could tip the scales here in this battle for a village and for a way of life.

Les Visiteurs du Soir, directed by Marcel Carné

(In French, with English subtitles)

Gilles and Dominique are on a mission. They have been tasked by Satan himself to visit the castle of the Baron Hughes and take away at least one person each, to increase the devil’s downfallen. So on a beautiful spring day in 1485, the two envoys arrive at Baron Hughes’s castle. When the Baron invites Gilles and Dominique over the threshold, it is an innocent enough mistake, an act of hospitality during a day of celebration. Anne, the daughter of the widowed Baron, is about to marry Renaud, even as she harbors many reservations in this arrangement. What happens next, as the envoys attempt to carry out their task, is of even greater consequence for Gilles and Dominique than they might expect. While Dominique, really a woman disguised as a man, toys with the pompous and arrogant Renaud, Gilles falls in love with Anne. To complicate matters, since the mischief-making is turning topsy-turvey, the devil himself shows up to set things aright. Will true love triumph over evil? Not likely, but this fairy tale of a story is told in a form that reflects style – with eloquent costuming, haunting camera shots, and soft, seductive black and white film. If you like this film, you may want to try Carné’s ravishing Children of Paradise, also owned by HCPL.

The Well Digger’s Daughter, directed by Daniel Auteuil

(In French, with English subtitles)

Patricia is the beautiful daughter of Pascal, a humble widowed well digger. After she falls in love with the grocer’s son, Jacques, a huge step up socially, she risks all for her lover and becomes pregnant. Jacque’s parents are appalled, and Patricia is sent off in disgrace to live with an aunt. Pascal is deeply disappointed in his daughter, but underneath his gruffness and pragmatism, he cares deeply for her and her five other sisters. What holds a family together? What heals a family in crisis? What is it that binds it with such strength that the biggest disgrace to one family can become perhaps its strongest link? For Pascal it will take one look, one lingering glance, to set his priorities in the right direction. 

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