The Broken Circle Breakdown, directed by Felix Van Groeningen
(In Flemish, with English subtitles)
Didier is a Belgian who loves America, specifically American bluegrass music, but anything American is fine with him. When he meets Elise, a tattoo artist from Ghent, he may not understand what lies ahead, but Elise has an idea that it will include her. So she joins his bluegrass band as the lead singer, and off they go, down that road of life, with all its joys and sorrows. The sorrows they find along the way are in fact overwhelming. Cutting back and forth in time, the film shows us Maybelle, their youg daughter, who develops leukemia, the greatest trial of their life together. All along the way, from marital spats to Maybelle's ordeals to Didier's gradual understanding that America does not necessarily hold the answers to life's worries, the music pulls them along, with both exuberance and sorrowful laments. The music is purely American and a pleasure to hear, even if you are not a bluegrass fan.
The Grandmaster, directed by Wong Kar-wai
(In Mandarin, with English subtitles)
For those who like martial arts films, especially those of Wong Kar-wai, be prepared for a treat. Although when the film opens martial arts hero Ip Man is forty, he is still in his spring of life. The current grandmaster of martial arts fighting is retiring and is looking for a worthy successor. Several masters of different martial arts styles present themselves to the grandmaster, but only one will reign. While the fighting styles differ profoundly, while the rivalries between masters grate, and while tensions between masters smolder, what is most important is staving off the the Japanese, who have invaded China. The film takes us through the worst of those terrible times and leaves us with Ip Man's place as grandmaster firmly in his grasp, with balletic, thrilling fight scenes all along the way. HCPL owns several films by Wong Kar-wai in DVD format, including In the Mood for Love, Chungking Express, Ashes of Time Redux, and the English-language My Blueberry Nights.
The Great Beauty, directed by Paolo Sorrentino
(In Italian, with English subtitles)
Jep Gambardella wrote a novel forty years earlier, a huge hit, an enduring classic, but since then, he's done nothing much. Yes, it is true that he is the king of the nightlife in Rome; true, he gives the best parties for his socialite friends; true, he glides effortlessly through a life of leisure, an increasingly bored observer of the world around him, but what else has he done? When Jep finds out that the love of his life from many years ago is dead, he begins to reflect on the utter uselessness of his own life and just what his legacy will be when he also leaves this world. Some critics have called this an updated La Dolce Vita, and I agree that it holds a touch of Fellini in Jep's ennui and the film's images that at times feel hallucinogenic. Winner of this year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, this movie is visually stunning and worth a view just to gaze on the images of magnificent Rome, eternally beautiful. Sorrentino also directed two other movies owned by HCPL in DVD format: Il Divo and the English-language production This Must Be the Place.
(In Italian, with English subtitles)
This is a Blu-ray/DVD combination, so if you do not have a Blu-ray player, do not hesitate to borrow it anyway. This older film focuses on a police detective on the threshhold of a promotion out of Homicide and into the political division, who murders his mistress and then helps in the investigation of the very crime he has committed. He leaves clues, points out errors in the investigation, practically cries out his guilt, but he is so above suspicion that no one regards his efforts. The film settles into a Pirandellian atmosphere as the police detective, who remains unnamed throughout, tries in more and more desperate ways to alert the investigators to his culpability. Absurdity is only half of it. The film stresses the dangers of fascism, as it becomes clear that the political division in this police department is deeply involved in disrupting political dissent in a time when all of Europe seemed to be exploding with rebellion.
Lost Islands, directed by Reshef Levi
(In Hebrew, with English subtitles)
The Levi family is large and full of life. The parents and five sons live in Israel in the 1970's,when, like today, war is always on the horizon. Still,they find joy in life and in each other, particularly the twin teenaged sons, Ofer and Erez. When a new girl begins attending their school, rivalry and conflict arise between the twins. More than that, though, Erez begins to see chinks in the wall of solidarity and harmony surrounding the family, and he recognizes that families are way more complicated than they may seem. Can a brother forgive a brother for wooing a girlfriend from him? Can a son forgive a father for a betrayal? Can a father forgive a son for an irrevocable act that changes the lives of everyone in the Levi family? Despite this, the strength of family is maybe what will ultimately hold it all together.
Our Children, directed by Joachim Lafosse
(In French, with English subtitles)
The horrific crimes committed in this film happen early on, so the story focuses on the why of it all. What is it that can push a person to do what is done? Based on a true crime committeed some years before the making of the film, the story protrayed is both intriguing and deeply sorrowful. When Murielle and Mounir marry, they seem to have everything, thanks to Mounir's adoptive father, André. But André has a way of slipping into the young couple's lives, with Murielle being more disturbed by his intrusions than Mounir, who is, after all, André's son. While on the one hand the family grows and thrives, Murielle's life is becoming more and more diminished. Her struggles to articulate her confusion and frustration as well as her feelings of being trapped are met with some scepticism from her young husband and outright opposition from André. How can Murielle escape this prison of generosity with such a huge price? Frustration builds to rage, with leads to horror. Lafosse also directed Private Property, owned by HCPL in DVD format.
Patience Stone, directed by Atiq Rahimi
(In Persian, with English subtitles)
An unnamed woman ministers to her comatose, unnamed husband in their house in an unnamed city in Afghanistan, amidst an unnamed conflict. In this way, The Patience Stone reflects the universality of this particular woman's ongoing plight. She stands for many more women in Afghanistan and other lands supported by patriarchal societies. Her husband used to be a fighter, who in a stupid argument was shot in the neck and now lies immobilized, all but abandoned, as is also his wife, by family and friends. A mullah makes a half-hearted attempt to appear to be concerned, but for the most part, our protagonist works alone to keep her husband alive and comfortable. What will she do if her husband dies? Is there a way that she can survive on her own? As she slowly discovers, she is doing that right now, surviving through her own wits and wisdom, doing what she has to do to keep on living in a world as cold as a winter morning, while her husband lies staring with the nothingness of a man dead to her plight.
Polisse, directed by Maiwenn
(In French, with English subtitles)
Polisse tells the stories of a Parisian police unit that focuses on crimes against children, and those crimes are legion. They include sexual abuse and violence, some of which is not even recognized by the perpetrators as abuse, so ingrained is it all in the culture. An imam wants to marry off his child daughter; Gypsies groom their little ones for a a life of pickpocketing and other petty and larger crimes; a father sexually abuses his daughter. The police in the unit may have their own messy lives, but when on the job, they lay that aside to fight for what is right and just. The various stories can be hard to take, but they are riveting and bring home two points: that this is a harsh world, especially for female children, and that in some countries, the state is willing to fight to protect those children to the bitter end.