Foreign Films New to View January 15

Aftermath, directed by Wladyslaw Pasikowski
(In Polish, with English subtitles)
Franek Kalina has returned to his rural Polish hometown after living abroad in the U.S.  His brother Jozek has stayed all these years to manage the family farm.  Some trouble has been brewing, however, the first hint of which is the sudden and unexplained arrival of Jozek’s wife in the U.S. Why did she leave Jozek? Franek discovers, rather quickly, that Jozek has been engaged in a heated controversy in the town, and now the entire community seems to be opposed to whatever it is he is doing.  Jozek has been digging up the displaced and desecrated headstones from an old Jewish cemetary that was destroyed during WWII and resetting them in his wheat field.  Franek is perplexed.  Why would he do this?  Jozek replies that it seems the right thing to do.  As Franek investigates further, he begins to uncover some dark and disturbing history about his former village and even about his own family, of events that happened many years ago during the war.  The townspeople are even more incensed by this other kind of digging, with Franek persisting and the anger of the people brewing until a breaking point is reached.  Pasikowski collaborated on the screenplay for Katyn, also owned by HCPL.

Borgman, directed by Alex van Warmerdam
(In Dutch, with English subtitles)
If you think that this movie is a fairy tale of some sort, you are probably right.  But it is a tale in which the unrelentingly sinister ogres are not going to be vanquished by any charming prince, not if they can help it anyway.  The movie opens with a group of men, including a priest, in pursuit of a band of strange people who live in burrows underground in the woods.  The priest and party are out for blood, preferably with spikes through the heart, and Borgman seems to be the prime target. While he and his gang escape and shift elsewhere, Borgman finds a new place to live, this time in the home of an artist and her family.  Marina feels sorry for him, but even from the start, we wonder if she is a bit mesmerized by this bearded older man.  Borgman wants a lot more out of this little family than just a place to live, and Marina is in a perfect position to accommodate him and his gang.  While the evil grows along with the body count, we start to feel that maybe not all fairy tales end well.

The Forgotten Kingdom, directed by Andrew Mudge
(In Sesotho, with English subtitles)
Atang is something of a layabout, a young adult living an aimless life in Johannesburg, along with his posse of friends.  When his father dies, he is obligated to return the man’s body to Lesotho for burial.  Atang is anything but sentimental about family, least of all his estranged father, but the funeral is paid for already and the arrangements have been made.  Off he goes to fulfill his obligatory task.  But once in the land of his birth, he begins to feel a link to the stunningly beautiful world around him.  He also meets again a childhood friend, Dineo, now grown into an attractive young woman, who understands the value of an ancestral legacy.  Atang’s task is to journey into the countryside and there find something of his lost self from his childhood and his ancestors.  This is a story about reconnection and a kind of redemption at the same time, set in a land so beautiful it takes away your breath.

Grigris, directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
(In French, with English subtitles)

Souleymane, also called Grigris on the dance floor, is a young man in Chad, who bears a severe disability.  His leg is withered, which limits his work options but apparently not his ability to dance.  And dance he does, with joy and abandon at local nightclubs, winning acclaim and admiration from the audience of friends and neighbors.  Mimi, a local prostitute, also begins to admire him, but for more than his dancing.  He is genuinely kind to her, and she needs some kindness.  When his uncle is hospitalized, it is up to Souleymane to assume responsibility for payment for his uncle’s care. But as a helper in a photography studio, he doesn’t earn very much at all.  He must turn to the dangerous task of smuggling for those much-needed funds.  And that is where the problem arises, with failed smuggling plans angering the leader of the illegal operation.  Grigris might need to get out of town fast if he wants to survive all this.  Mahamat-Saleh Haroun also directed Abouna and A Screaming Man, owned by HCPL


I Am Yours, directed by Iram Haq
(In Norwegian, with English subtitles)

Mina is no traditional Pakistani woman, not by any means.  A single mother, she lives in Oslo, divorced from her architect husband and determined to make it on her own as an actress.  But she is also filled with her own doubts and flaws, making her more likely to fall for guys who maybe aren’t the healthiest match.  When she meets Jesper, a movie director, he seems like a boyfriend for her. But is he?  Are the two of them just needy enough not to see how destructive two people can be to each other?  Mina wants to give herself to someone, but can she trust herself to find the right person first?  Over all this is her damaged relationship with her disapproving mother, clinging to traditional mores and incapable of understanding her daughter’s modern ways in a modern society


Master of the Universe, directed by Marc Bauder
(In German, with English subtitles)
This documentary offers clear, concise explanations of just how the financial crisis of the past several years happened.  Through the voice of Rainer Voss, a former financial trader, we are reminded of the origins of the crisis – all the way back to the Thatcher and Reagan years of deregulation and privatization, leading to the growing exuberance at the vast amounts of money to be made with slippery buying and selling schemes, the rapid changes that occurred to banks and other parts of the financial markets, the devastating results to investors, from individuals to entire nations, the utter contempt that financiers felt towards the common buyers of stocks and derivatives, and so much more.  Voss delivers all this in a calm, steady voice that cannot hide his own emerging bitterness as he awakens to the amorality of it all, and the mean price he himself has paid for all this, with a neglected family and diminished dreams.  Voss is filmed in the vast, empty rooms of a failed bank in a skyscraper in Frankfurt’s financial district, a setting that lends an appropriate atmosphere to the subject.  One take-away for me was Voss’s reminder that twenty years ago, the average holding time for a stock was four years.  Now it is twenty-two seconds.  In that shortened time, Voss reminds us, no one can feel an attachment to the stock or the company it supports, all the easier then for us to buy, swap, and trade with no heart in it except for the finances behind it all and the profit ahead. 

The Mystery of Happiness, directed by Daniel Burman
(In Spanish, with English subtitles)
Santiago and Eugenio are the best of friends as well as successful business partners.  They’ve lived their entire adult lives working and enjoying life side by side.  So when Eugenio suddenly disappears, Santiago is more than bewildered; he is bereft.  He and Eugenio’s sharp-tongued wife, Laura, begin a journey to find the missing Eugenio.  As they travel deeper into the surrounding countryside and farther into the motives behind Eugenio’s departure, they begin to discover that sometimes happiness is found in odd places through mysterious ways.

Reportero, directed by Bernardo Ruiz
(In Spanish, with English subtitles)
Since January of 2007, as the documentary Reportero explains, forty-two journalists have been murdered in Mexico, most likely for drug-related reporting.  Zeta is a weekly publication in Tijuana, Mexico, dedicated to reporting these difficult stories about crime and drug cartels.  This film follows one of the reporters from Zeta, whose task it is to get the news, even if it endangers his life.  Already two of his newspaper’s editors have been assassinated by drug gangs, and he himself is constantly in danger for his life, all for reporting the truth on gangs, drugs, drug lords, and the evils in his society.  Part of the PBS POV series, this movie should give you pause when considering the courage of our journalist neighbors to the south.

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