Foreign Films Oct 13

A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, directed by Thierry Binisti

(In French, with English subtitles)

Tal is a teenager from France now living in Jerusalem. Distressed by a Palestinian bombing in a café that killed a young woman and her father, Tal wonders if it is possible for the two sides ever to meet. She asks her older brother, a soldier in the Israeli army, to toss a bottle with a message into the Gaza Sea, hoping that a Palestinian will find it. She requests only a chance to talk, to discover motivations, and to form a connection. When the young Palestinian Naim finds the message, he begins to wonder about this young girl. With great effort (he must rely on an Internet café and dodge the ever suspicious soldiers of Hamas), he replies to Tal’s message and continues to reply to her further questions and thoughts. Gradually, a friendship forms out of the despair they both feel, more so for Naim, who has little chance of ever moving out of the dreary and dangerous world in which he lives. Not for cynics, this remains a movie of hope in the midst of darkness.

Easy Money, directed by Daniel Espinosa

(In Swedish, with English subtitles)

Three low-lifes, three connections to drug dealing, three steps closer to disaster. J. W. is a student and a cab driver, who likes to pretend he’s much wealthier than he is. Actually, he has no wealth whatsoever, but he’s a schemer and wheeler-dealer, so it isn’t long before he’s dating a wealthy heiress and thinking he’d better find some cash to keep up appearances. Jorge is a fugitive from prison looking over his shoulder for the cops and for the Serbian mafia. Mrado is a member of that mafia and is searching for Jorge, a private matter of revenge that might explain Jorge’s looking over his shoulder a lot. The lives of the three men intersect when J. W. jumps into the cocaine smuggling business and rescues Jorge from a severe beating by Mrado. The three characters, now thoroughly linked, will find themselves simultaneously smuggling drugs, dodging each other, and avoiding the police. It’s a mean world out there.

Fog and Crimes, directed by Riccardo Donna

(In Italian, with English subtitles)

Chief of Police Franco Soneri works within the moody atmosphere of the Po River, uncovering the mysteries in the land and people around him. In this first episode of season one, Soneri has recently arrived in Ferrara from Milan, from which he has been transferred, and is immediately confronted with a death, possibly a suicide, of an elderly man, who fell down a stairwell. But here’s something else: the captain of a barge on the river has also disappeared on the same night that the elderly man met his demise. And the missing man is none other than the brother of the dead man. More than coincidence, Soneri suspects. He knows that people of the Po Valley hold grudges for a long time, and he knows that at least one of the elderly brothers was a Fascist during World War II, so might it be revenge, even of some crime or outrage done so long ago? But the likely suspects either were mere children during the war or weren’t even born yet. Who is the murderer, if this was a murder? And where is that other brother, the barge captain? Soneri’s investigation is only partially obstructed by the never-ending rain that produces flood-stage levels on the Po. His first mystery to solve in this dreary, foggy, drizzly place leads him to more than crimes in the present, but also dark legacies of the past.

The Great Spy Chase, directed by George Lautner

(In French, with English subtitles)

This older French spy parody is just plain silly. A wealthy arms manufacturer has died, and it is up to the spies from several nations to try to retrieve the patents on his invaluable weapons. Starting with the perfunctory elimination of various spies while on a train, the movie gives one the hint that James Bond has nothing on these guys, and they don’t use gadgets either. A simple gunshot or a knife in the back or just a push out the door of the swift-moving train will do just fine, thank you. The French spy will try to seduce the deceased man’s widow, while the American will try to buy the patents with his bottomless bag of money. Others will don disguises and attempt to weasel their way into the home of the widow. As I said, this one is just plain silly. If you think you might enjoy more French spy parodies, try two of Michel Hazanavicius’s films owned by HCPL, OSS 117: Lost in Rio and OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, both of which star Jean Dujardin of The Artist fame.

I Killed my Mother, directed by Xavier Dolan

(In French, with English subtitles)

Xavier Dolan is a director on the rise from Quebec – young, talented, studied in his work and yet daring in story and execution. In this film, Hubert is a typical teen – he hates his mother, Chantale. He’d hate his father too, but his father isn’t really in the picture. Instead, his single mother must cope with his surly looks and smug insolence, while he must contend with her nagging and “I-already-know-how-this-will-turn-out” lectures. (Mothers always seem to know these things.) What Chantale does not know is that Hubert is gay and has a beau, the dashing Antonin, whose mother, like Antonin, is very cool. Everything about Antonin is cool, in fact, even his last name, Rimbaud. Of course, Hubert is not really going to kill his mother, but metaphorically, he may need to do something like that to free himself as he continues on his journey of growing up. Dolan’s movie Heartbeats is currently available in DVD format at HCPL; you may want to take a look at it if you like I Killed My Mother.

The Rabbi’s Cat, directed by Antoine Delesvaux and Joanne Sfar

(In French, with English subtitles)

Algeria, the 1920’s – here is a land possessing both the ancient and the modern, where Jews and Muslims live side by side. In this land resides a rabbi, whose daughter has a much-loved cat – just an ordinary cat, one might say, until it swallows a parrot one day, and behold! The cat talks. Thus begins the animated adventures of a talking cat, who accompanies the rabbi and his friends on a journey to find a mythical people – Africans who are Jews. A lost tribe of Israel perhaps? The adventure, in typical French fashion, provides an opportunity for the travelers, cat included, to engage in lengthy intellectual discussions that are at once philosphical and humorous. Some to their adventures are dangerous; others just humorous, but add to the talking cat a companion talking donkey, and you have more room for laughs than anything else.

Shun Li and the Poet, directed by Andrea Segre

(In Italian, with English subtitles)

Shun Li is a Chinese immigrant, working to pay off her debt incurred when she traveled abroad to find a better life. When the debt is paid, her little son will be able to join her, but at the rate she is going, that will be years from now. Her efficiency and strong work ethic advance her to minding a little bar in Chioggio, a town not far from Venice, where she meets Bepi, himself an immigrant from what was Yugoslavia. He has taken nicely to his adopted land through the years, although his occasional nip of grappa is a throw-back to his Slavic roots. He is a widower, whose son lives in another city; she is a mother, whose son is thousands of miles away. In their mutual loneliness, a friendship grows. That others see danger in this growing connection leads to a greater conflict and deeper sense of who is a foreigner and who belongs.

To view past editions of the newsletter, see Foreign Films Archives.

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