Archive for March, 2015

Foreign Films New to View Archive March 15

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Crimes of Passion, directed by Birger Larsen, et al.
(In Swedish, with English subtitles)
Sleek and stylish, the episodes in this Swedish TV mystery series are full of  intriguing plots as well as fashion nostalgia.  Our protagonists dress beautifully and live in equally beautifully furnished houses, if you go for 1950s designs.  Our main character is Puck, a highly intelligent PhD. student and college instructor, who finds herself solving deadly murder mysteries wherever she happens to be – on vacation, visiting friends, working as a personal secretary – you get the idea.  In fact, if Puck moved into my neighborhood, I’d move out, so likely is a murder to follow her.  Her boyfriend Einar as well as police superintendent Christer Wijk team up with her to get the job done, no matter where the mystery is set.  Even if you aren’t crazy about TV mysteries, you may want to give this a glance for the fashions and sleek Scandinavian designs.

A Day in the Country, directed by Jean Renoir 
(In French, with English subtitles)
Based on a short story by Guy de Maupassant, this Renoir beauty from the 1930s draws in the viewer with its gentle telling of a tale about a petit bourgeois family from Paris, enjoying its once-a-year outing in the countryside.  At a restaurant by a river, M. and Mme. Dufour have just arrived, toting along daughter Henriette, the agedgrandmother,and klutzy Anatole, shop assistant to M. Dufour and soon-to-be son-in-law.  While the family waits for its picnic lunch to be served in the garden, la grand- mère plays with an adorable kitten, Anatole and M. Dufour go fishing, and mother and daughter idle about, observed by two locals who plan to seduce the two women.  Rodolphe escorts Mme. Dufour on a rowboat adventure, while Henri, the second and more gentle and responsible of the two layabouts, falls hopelessly for the innocent Henriette.  What happens in the short sojourn along the river will inpact the two of them for the rest of their lives.  Jean Renoir, who has a bit part in this movie, directed Grand Illusion, also owned by HCPL.

Fifi Howls from Happiness, directed by Mitra Farahani
(In Persian, with English subtitles)
The British Museum calls Bahman Mohassess, an Iranian artist in long-time, self-imposed exile, "one of the most significant Modernist artists of Iran."  This documentary may reveal why.  Filmed in his Roman flat, filled to the brim with his works, the movie focuses mostly on Mohassess seated before the camera, aged and ill, discussing his works and his life.  The dialogue between filmmaker and subject is interspersed with historical footage from the time in Iran under the Shah and then the days following the  Islamic Revolution of 1979.  All of this impacted his art in ways both profound and absurd, such as the insistance, post-Revolution, that certain sculptures of abstract nude male figures be covered with underpants.  But Mohassess, who seems to have a well-developed death wish in his constant cigarette smoking, lets us know that it is he ultimately who controls the fate of his art, refusing to take up any new work, destroying his various canvasses and sculptures, and generally hiding the rest of his masterpieces, along with his talent.  A dark if fascinating figure, Mohassess draws you into his world for a tour of rich abstractions long hidden from our gaze.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, directed by Mami Sunada
(In Japanese, with English subtitles)
This documentary allows us to venture behind the scenes at Studio Ghibli, especially focusing on two persons of particular esteem:  Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, both masters of anime.  Think From up on Poppy Hill, The Wind Rises, Castle in the Sky, and the newest production, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, all owned by HCPL.  Many more titles grace the HCPL collection, should you be a fan of anime.  While these two estimable animation directors are the focus of the film, we also are allowed a view of the process of animation in the studio, where we meet other animators, technicians, directors, and even the resident cat, much loved and pampered by the employees.  A homage to these two artists as well as an explanation of the how-to of animation, the film may entice you to seek out more of these masterpieces for your viewing pleasure.


Norte, the End of History, directed by Lav Diaz
(In Tagalog, with English subtitles)
Based loosely on Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, this story from the Philippine director Diaz leads us into the dark regions of a cold and evil heart, that of Fabian, a brilliant law student. While he is given to long, learned, but meandering discussions with his professors on subjects of law and crime, he drops out of law school before taking the bar exam, to the  disappointment of professors and colleagues alike.  When Fabian murders a loathsome moneylender, probably for no reason other than that of the sheer, cold joy of doing so, the innocent Joaquim is blamed.  Joaquim languishes in prison for a crime not committed, and Fabian goes about free, but only in a physical sense.  His may be a tortured soul but not one for whom we have much if any compassion.  His torture is of his own making and does not call for our sympathy or understanding.  The daunting length of this movie may discourage the faint of heart, but the film captures so much natural beauty in its slow, leisurely telling that the shots are often breathtaking, the montages poetic, all well worth the watch.


Salvo, directed by Fabio Grassadonio and Antonio Piazza
(In Italian, with English subtitles)
Salvo means "safe" in Italian, and so we might find it ironic that no one is particularly safe from this mafia hitman, who doggedly pursues his victims.  But then when Salvo inadvertently meets the blind Rita, sister of a man he plans to kill, something shifts in him, and Salvo begins to form into something more like his name.  While artfully done, the movie is at its core an action/crime film, with lots of shooting and that sort of thing.  But whether Salvo can in fact find a kind of redemption through Rita and she in turn find safety in him remains the focus of the story.


The Strange Little Cat, directed by Ramon Zürcher
(In German, with English subtitles)

Almost all of the action in this film takes place on what is probably a typical Saturday in an ordinary flat in Berlin.  A mother and father go about the usual weekend chores, chauffeuring children here and there, going shopping, sewing buttons on shirts, seeing to the repair of the washing machine, preparing dinner.  The children go about their lives as well, getting ready for a visit from uncle and aunt, nephew, and grandmother, all coming for dinner.  All the while, the four-legged family members, a dog and a cat, make their presence known, weaving in and out of view, interjecting themselves in nearly every scene.  An ordinary day…and yet we see before us the drama of the ordinary, even if nothing particularly dramatic occurs on the surface. Still, we the viewers are granted this little glimpse, this gift from Zürcher, of the everyday life of a family on a typical Saturday in an ordinary flat in Berlin. 


Violette, directed by Martin Provost
(In French, with English subtitles)

Violette Leduc lived a harsh life, growing up the illegitimate child of a housemaid, eking out a living selling black-market goods in post-war France, struggling to connect again with her heartless, erstwhile lover.  It is not until she finally met the grand Simone de Beauvoir that she found a direction, or rather, the direction was always there, but not the means to follow it.  This bio-pic reveals that relationship of the mentor and the novice writer.  We see de Beauvoir giving Violette the impetus and inspiration to form her sad and dreary life story into the wildly popular works of literature they ultimatley became. Provost also directed Séraphine, owned by HCPL.


Foreign Films New to View Archive April 15

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015


The Foreign Films New to View newsletter is a monthly publication designed to keep you up to date on some of HCPL's latest foreign films on DVD. The selections in this newsletter are just a sample of the rich variety of films available to you through your library. Use the sign-up box above to have this newsletter sent directly to your e-mail every month, with new, recommended movies for you to view. See the Foreign Films New to View Archive for selections from back issues:

Cesare Mori, directed by Gianni Lepre

(In Italian, with English subtitles)

This Italian TV miniseries tells the very real story of an early 20th century police official, whose ruthless tactics in fighting the Mafia in Sicily brought him ultimately to the attention of Mussolini himself.  Known as the Iron Prefect for his seemingly heartless but nevertheless efficacious crime fighting methods, Cesare Mori was successful in tamping down the growing threat of the Mafia in his country.  He did not, however, endear himself to the folk of the land, who did not particularly enjoy having their towns surrounded by police forces and their water and food supplies cut off until they gave up any Mafia members hiding out in their areas.  When Mussolini noticed his success, Mori was promoted, until, of course, he happened to come across active Fascist partnerships with the Mafia. Then Mori's career took an odd turn – sort of being kicked upstairs.  Fans of Italian history and language may find this biopic to be particularly enjoyable, with its fast pace and lush filming. 



Happy End, directed by Petra Clever

(In German, with English subtitles)

Lucca isn't happy with her life.  She is a student under lots of pressure from her father to get into Harvard Law School.  That is bad enough, but then she is falsely accused of vandalism at a local aquarium. For that transgression, she is forced to do community service at a hospice, called appropriately, or not, Happy End.  Depressing enough as that task may be, Lucca only has a limited number of hours she needs to serve before she can dwell again on her upcoming exams.  All that changes when she meets Valerie, who by night sings at local clubs and by day serves as something of a volunteer at Happy End.  Valerie is on a mission to protect an elderly resident from her unscrupulous, money-grubbing son. So when the aged Herma dies, Valerie and Lucca begin a journey to bury her ashes on the lakeshore that has a special connection to her beloved deceased husband.  With the son in pursuit, the two of them dash across the countryside to fulfill their task. Through this escapade, Lucca sees another side of life and finds a new joy in all that she does.


Iceman, directed by Wing-Cheong Law

(In Cantonese, with English subtitles)

Ho Ying is a noble warrior during the Ming Dynasty.  But through conflict and treachery, he and his three worst enemies are frozen solid in ice, where they stay until a thaw restores them to life and catapults them into modern times.  So now our protagonist has to dodge and fight his antagonists and find ways to adjust to a very different world.  Far fetched?  No need to think too long and hard about the plot. The action is what matters, with nonstop fights and clashes, as well as humor that lifts the story a bit and allows you not to take this very seriously. 



Jealousy, directed by Philippe Garrel

(In French, with English subtitles)

Filmed in black and white, the images of this movie  might remind you that well-made French films can be rapturously beautiful.  The story is full of complexity, melancholy, and longing.  Louis is breaking up with his long-time lover, Clothilde, abandoning her for Claudia, although he dearly loves their little daughter and certainly has no desire to leave her out of his life.  All three adults are actors, but their careers are not going anywhere.  So while the lovers slip out of relationships that anchored them, their careers do not offer them the support that they so longingly desire.  Claudia especially seems at odds with her situation and eventually moves on, sparking that emotion in Louis, jealosy, that he previously had ignored in Clothilde.  Garrel also directed Regular Lovers, Philippe Garrel x 2, and Frontier of Dawn, all owned by HCPL.



The Pirates, directed by Seok-hoon Lee

(In Korean, with English subtitles)

The Emperor's Great Seal that will bestow all of the official pomp upon the new Joseon dynasty rather unfortunately has been swallowed by a whale.  Off goes the royal navy to save the day.  Unfortunately, the navy's ships are not fast enough for whale hunting, so the pirate captain Yeo-wol is recruited to do the task.  She may be the leader of a band of ruthless pirates, but she also has a soft spot, especially for a certain whale whom she saved years ago, when she was a child and it was a calf.  So her feelings about this assignment are ambivalent at best.  She also has another pirate pursuing her, seeking revenge for a past offense. To make it even more complicated, the landlubber bandit Jang Sa-jung wants a part of the reward for catching the whale, but he knows nothing of seafaring, and he seems to be falling in love with the beautiful Yeo-wol.  It's all very complicated, but no worries – this movie is so full of action and good-natured humor that the plot hardly matters.  Just kick back and enjoy the story, such that it is. By the way, at least some of this story is based on historical fact, so while far-fetched in plot, it lingers close to reality in the telling of the tale.



Playing Dead, directed by Jean-Paul Salome

(In French, with English subtitles)

Jean is at best a mediocre and temperamental actor, who can't figure out why he doesn't land any more meaty roles.  His ego is sure to get in the way of any analysis of that issue in his life.  When he does finally land a job, it is as part of police investigations in crime reenactments, in which he plays the dead victim.  Well, of course, his supersized ego propels him into his own crime scene investigatory speculations, which bring him up against the smart and sophisticated magistrate assigned to the investigation, who wants nothing of his shenanigans, not to mention his flirting with her.  This movie does not have very subtle or sophisticated humor, but it is pretty silly in premise and style.  It was even nominated for several film awards, although I do not think it won any.




The Raid 2, directed by Gareth Evans

(In Indonesian, with English subtitles)

  If you have seen  The Raid:  Redemption ,owned by HCPL, and if you liked it, you will be happy to know that The Raid 2 promises not to disappoint as a sequel.  Rama is back as the Indonesian police officer with integrity, know-how, and, I might add, the strength and skills to take on entire criminal gangs nearly single-handedly.  This time he infiltrates a major crime family to thwart a potential turf fight and much more corruption.  Despite the R rating, the movie provides lots of vivid violence that should satisfy everyone who enjoys action films.  The action is nearly nonstop and occurs everywhere.  So prepare yourself for serious conflicts between the good guys and the very, very bad guys.



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