Foreign Films New to View Archive March 15

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.


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