Archive for the ‘Foreign Films New to View Archive’ Category

Foreign Films New to View April 2014

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

An Enemy of the People, directed by Satyajit Ray

(In Bengali, with English subtitles)

This DVD is part of a larger collection of three Satyajit Ray films called Late Ray, which HCPL has chosen to offer individually.  This version of the Henrik Ibsen play is set in Bengal in the 1980's.  The dedicated Dr. Gupta is seeing more and more patients with cases of dangerous water-borne illnesses. When he suspects the source to be the sacred waters from a popular fountain in a Hindu temple, his efforts to close the temple to prevent illness and death are met with hostility by the local priestly and business communities.  And when his family is threatened as well, he sees how easily a society can turn against the bearer of difficult news. In short, he finds himself to be an enemy of the people.   HCPL owns several other films by Satyajit Ray in DVD format, including The Big CityThe Apu Trilogy, The Lonely Wife, and The Chess Players.


Himalaya, directed by Eric Valli

(In Tibetan, with English subtitles)

Tinle has been the village chief for decades, but when his son dies on a trading journey to the lowlands, he refuses to accept his son's friend Karma as his  successor.  Karma is fully as capable as Tinle's son and takes a sensible approach to village matters.  In fact, he wants to lead the next caravan before the winter snows set in, while Tinle would prefer to wait for the most auspicious moment to depart,  as determined by the gods.  Each man is hard-headed, and that stubborn nature may lead both into danger, but maybe together they can pull through successfully, if only they could lay aside their pride.



The Home and the Worlddirected by Satyajit Ray

 (In Bengali, with English subtitles)

An adaptation of a Tagore novel called Ghare Baire, this is perhaps the best of the three DVDs in the Late Ray collection, if one could choose a best Ray film.  Bimala knows only a little of the world outside of her domestic realm.  But when her husband, Nikhilesh, introduces her to his friend Sandip, she wonders if her sedate life is enough.  Sandip is a revolutionary; he holds radical political views in this time of  transition and rebellion in early 20th century India. Sandip's views are seductive to this isolated woman, but she will need to learn what love is and who it is who truly loves her and trusts her to seize the world on her own terms.


The Prey, directed by Eric Valette

(In French, with English subtitles)

Franck is a convicted bankrobber, who understands almost too late that his family is in imminent danger from a psychotic serial killer.  Complicating matters is the location of the loot from Franck's original crime.  Only he knows where the stolen money is hidden, and now a few others, such as his partners in crime, would also like to know it.  But first he must break out of prison to save his wife and child.  And then, on the run, he needs to outwit a serial killer, dodge the cops, and so much more.  Lots of action in this one…



The Returned (Season 1), directed by Fabrice Gobert and Frèdèric Mermoud

(In French, with English subtitles)

So what would it be like if one of your loved ones came back from the dead, looking pretty darn normal, acting normal as well – except for maybe that newly acquired voracious appetite?  Prepare to make a lot of sandwiches and snacks for your dearly departed. This is what happens in a small French city in the French Alps – worth watching just for the scenery, by the way.  Back they come, those departed loved ones, some from recent deaths, some from long ago, all seeming to be OK, as though nothing much has changed or occurred.  But then funny things begin to happen in the community, such as the water level upstream behind the nearby dam is dropping for no apparent reason.  Power outages occur as well.  Strange marks are developing on the living and the returned.  Something ominous is brewing in this town.  I'm sorry; I am not certain that I will be able to watch beyond Season 1 on this series; it just is getting a little too creepy.  But should the second season become available, count on HCPL purchasing it.  Maybe you will be able to watch beyond the climax of the first season, and then you can tell me what happened to all those police officers who were protecting the townspeople on the hill in that last sequence. 


The Stranger, directed by Satyajit Ray

(In Bengali, with English subtitles)

This is the third film from the Late Ray series.  Anila receives a letter from a long-lost relative, an uncle, who is a world traveler.  He hasn't been in Calcutta in decades, since Anila was a little girl, in fact.  Now, he wants to visit his only remaining relative.  At first Anila is thrilled, but her husband is suspicious that Manomohan may be truly a stranger and no relative at all.  Uncle Manomohan proves to be charming and seemingly who he claims to be.  Doubts persist though, and when doubt leads to insult, the family must consider what is truth and what is not, and what is the proper behavior towards strangers.



Wadjda, directed by Haifaa al-Mansour

(In Arabic, with English subtitles)

This Blu-ray also has a DVD, so if you do not have a Blu-ray player, watch it in DVD format.  Wadjda just wants to have fun.  But being a girl in Saudi Arabia doesn't give her much leeway.  Still, she strives for a bit of independence and individuality.  She wears hightops when every other girl at school settles for the ubiquitous plain black Mary Janes.  She counts a neighbor boy as her best friend.  And most of all, she wants a bicycle.  There isn't exactly a law forbidding her from riding a bike, but somehow it could compromise her virginity, according to her mother and many others.  Despite this admonition, she works and saves for a beautiful bike at a nearby toy store.  Meanwhile, her mother is fighting with her father because he wants to take a second wife so that he can have his precious son.  Wadjda is a determined girl, and sees hope where others would despair.  Well, it is a beautiful bike she wants, and that is reason enough to fight for what is right.




Young Detective Dee:  Rise of the Sea Dragon, directed by Tsui Hark

(In Mandarin, with English subtitles)

If you have seen Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame and enjoyed it, you may want to watch Young Detective Dee, which explores the early life and deeds of this inestimable Chinese official.  Detective Dee, by the way, is drawn from a real Chinese official, Di Renjie, who worked within the Tang Dynasty (618-906).  In this story, Empress Wu has sent for Dee to help with an investigation of a mysterious and very dangerous sea monster that is destroying whole fleets of ships.  More than that, it has slipped into the waterways inland and has even attacked a temple procession, thwarting the sacrifice of the beautiful courtesan, Yin.  But the plot involves more than a violent sea dragon.  There is also a nefarious plot in the works to overthrow the emporer.  Further, the sea monster is not all that he appears to be, and, yes, he has more to his life and features than a horrible monster might have.  Regardless, an even deadlier monster is about, and Dee needs to use all of his wisdom and his martial arts skills to save the empire.



  Zaytoun, directed by Eran Riklis

(In Hebrew, Arabic, and English, with English subtitles)

Refugees from Palestine now living in a camp in Lebanon,  Fahed's family wants only to go home again.  The 12-year-old's father, in fact, nurtures an olive tree sapling that he wishes above all to plant in the yard of his ancestral home. After Fahed is left an orphan, he has nowhere to go but to the men of the camp who train young boys to be fighters and terrorists.  When an Israeli jet crash lands and the pilot is captured, Fahed sees a way to get his olive tree and the pilot as well back to Israel.  And  from there, we have a road trip with Fahed and Yoni, helping each other through the treacherous journey back to Israel.  Struggling through adversity, stepping carefully through mine fields, both metaphoric and real, they pull together as road buddies to get to their destination alive.  Riklis also directed The Syrian Bride and The Lemon Tree, owned by HCPL.


Foreign Films New to View March 2014

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Anno 1790, directed by Richard Petrelius, Levan Akin, and Kristina Humle
(In Swedish, with English subtitles)
It is the end of the Age of Enlightenment, on the cusp on the Romantic Era, and Europe is engulfed in uprisings and revolutions.  A survivor of the Russo-Swedish War, Johan Gustav Dåådh is a physician, who just wants to go home after years of serving in the Swedish army. But first he has been asked to join the Stockholm police – not that he really wants to do so, but when he sees the level of corruption and injustice that irks, no, angers him, he submits and stays to solve a crime or two.  This Swedish TV series adds some historical perspective to what might have been yet another police procedural.  What is notable about the series is the historical details, mingled with the philosophy and thought of the late 18th century. Dåådh’s firm commitment to justice, no matter if the accused be a rich aristocrat or a poor shoemaker, enriches the already solid stories.

Berlin Alexanderplatz, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
(In German, with English subtitles)
Originally released in theatres, this 15.5-hour film, based on the novel of the same name by Alfred Döblin, found itself immersed in controversy when it was reshown on German TV as a miniseries.  Ostensibly, the outcry was over technical elements of the broadcast, but it may have emerged more from the story itself, especially from the portrayal of the main character.  In 1928, Franz Biberkopf has just been released from Berlin’s Tegel prison for murdering his sweetheart.  The series follows Franz as he readjusts to life outside of prison, engaged in dubious employment, dabbling in National Socialism and then Communism, falling in and out of love with various girlfriends, going on drunken binges, and generally engaging in unrepentive behavior.  While the world around him is becoming increasingly chaotic, with the unstable Weimar Republic, Biberkopf continues to stumble through life, erring and sinning and simply not understanding the dangers of life around him.  Fassbinder also directed The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant and World on a Wire, both owned by HCPL.

Bombay Talkiesdirected by Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar, and Anurag Kashyap
 (In Hindi, with English subtitles)
While there really was a film company in India called Bombay Talkies, this film is a celebration of movie-making in India on the occasion of its centenary year.  Consisting of four short films, each made by a different director, Bombay Talkies covers a variety of narratives.  One explores the complications that coming out can have in a young gay man’s life.  Another is an adaptation of a story by India’s greatest film director, Satyajit Ray, about a failed actor who finds joy in amusing his ailing daughter with his antics.  Still another takes a look at a young boy who wants nothing more than to be a Bollywood star,  and the last examines a father-son relationship in which a father asks his grown son to fulfill a last wish for him. All four reveal the modernity and sophistication of Indian films today, in this 100th-year celebration.  

Don Matteo, directed by Enrico Oldoino
(In Italian, with English subtitles)
HCPL owns for now only two sets of episodes in this long-running Italian TV detective series.  Don Matteo is a much-loved parish priest, who hears confessions, says Mass, and solves crimes, not necessarily in that order.  He excels in his priestly duties, but he’s very good at this business of crime-solving too. Riding his bicycle, blue eyes flashing, priestly cassock flowing about his legs, beret jauntily perched on his head, he cuts a fine figure in the streets of his town.  There goes the priest, off to solve another mystery, using his deep awareness of the complexities of human nature to help him along.  Since his spirituality also informs his crime-solving, this adds another level of interest to the stories. 

The Hunt, directed by Thomas Vinterberg
(In Danish, with English subtitles)
What would you do if you were accused of being the worst kind of criminal, a pedophile, and all of your known world of friends and community turned against you?  This is what Lucas experiences when he is accused of exposing himself to one of his kindergarten charges.  It is truly all a misunderstanding that the little girl tries desperately to undo in her five-year-old inarticulate way, but the damage is done. The suspicion is there.  Worst of all, the supposed victim is the daughter of Lucas’s best friend.  Now he faces losing everything – his job, his place in his community, his friends, even his family.  He lives in a close-knit small town, so to be cast out is bad enough, but then  Lucas decides to fight back, to stick it out and demand that his accusers see his innocence.  This could be a devastatingly dangerous strategy in a rural community of hunters well honed in their skills with their rifles.  But Lucas also is a hunter and understands the nature of hunters and prey.    

Madras Cafe, directed by Soojit Sircar
(In Hindi, with English subtitles)
A political spy thriller, Madras Cafe takes a look at very real events in India’s recent history, to wit, the civil war in Sri Lanka and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.  Vikram Singh serves in the Indian Army Special Ops, working on  complicated and dangerous Sri Lankan issues.  Along the way, he meets a beautiful British journalist, who is investigating the current events of the region.  Fast-paced and action-packed, the film might reveal to American viewers some of the murkier aspects of Indian politics. 

Maria Wern, directed by Erik Leijonborg
(In Swedish, with English subtitles)
Maria Wern is a police inspector on the Swedish island of Gotland.  As a widow with two young children, she seems to be living under the delusion that she will find peace and security on this quiet island.  Ha! In the very first episode owned by HCPL, she has a killer in her own backyard.  In fact, her little daughter finds a corpse.  So there you go, Maria; no peace and quiet for you.  But the crimes are intriguing and the cases complicated enough to keep a viewer on edge and looking forward to the next episode.

Spiral, season 1, directed by Pascal Chaumeil and Pilippe Triboit
(In French, with English subtitles)
I almost had to stop watching this TV series because of the gruesome content, but the stories and characters from episode to episode are compelling and pull the viewer in.  When a once-beautiful young woman is found in a dumpster, dead and mutilated, a team of Parisian investigators get to work.  But the crime is much more complicated than they have anticipated, and murky lines begin to emerge in the investigation, confusing the path of clues that this homicide squad has.  The plot spins further out, with questions of corruption in the justice system and adding more layers of crimes to the story.  I have been told that this series is completely addictive, so be prepared to watch all the episodes owned by HCPL.

Foreign Films New to View Feb 14

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Beck, directed by Kiell Sundvall
(In Swedish, with English subtitles)
This Swedish TV series features Martin Beck, a middle-aged police detective, who stops at nothing to solve his cases. He puzzles through the intricacies of a mystery, using wits and police skills, and he may even break a few rules on the way. But he gets the job done. In the first episode, two immigrant boys are found dead. The murder of children is bad enough, but then what appears to be a message from a radical right-wing anti-immigrant organization presents a threatening twist to the story. Each of the episodes involves complications that compound the mystery and reveal a little more about the twists and turns of crime in a modern society.

Becoming Traviata, directed by Philippe Beziat
(In French, with English subtitles)
This documentary takes us through various stages of rehearsal and preparation for the opera production of La Traviata, starring Natalie Dessay. From staging to choral practice to specific scene rehearsals, we get to see the offstage drama as well as the onstage performance. Of course, the music is splendid, and so is Dessay, who carries the production with her beautiful dramatics and charming voice.

Blood of the Vine, directed by Marc Riviere
(In French, with English subtitles)
HCPL has been able to acquire some very good European TV series recently, most of which are mysteries or police procedurals. Count this as one of the more unusual mystery shows. Benjamin Lebel is an enologist, expert not only in tasting wine but also in figuring out just what that red wine is in the glasses that surround the murder victim. In this first episode, Lebel is asked by the local police to figure out precisely that. Of course, his palate is up to the job, as he tastes the wine, thinks on it a little, names the wine, guesses the year it was bottled and then identifies the location where the grapes were grown. How helpful to have those detection skills! But why is it in the first place that the victim was killed in that fashion – the old man was bludgeoned, in fact, with the wine glasses arranged artfully around his body? And then more corpses show up, along with similar arrangements of wine glasses. How exactly does the wine connect the victims to the murderer? The police are very fortunate to have Lebel to help out on this one.

Borgen, directed by Søren Krach-Jocobsen
(In Danish, with English subtitles)
Birgitte Nyborg is Denmark’s first female prime minister. Out of a fragile coalition that excludes the more conservative parties, Birgitte, along with her staff and allies, must navigate a complex political world as local, national, and world crises hammer away at them. While she begins her term full to the brim with energy and her ideals in tact, gradually the necessities of governing forge her into a pragmatic and flexible leader, willing to compromise where need be but still trying to hold onto those original ideals. The plots that weave throughout this Danish TV series never seem to blunder into melodrama, but keep right on the edge of smart political drama.

Caesar Must Die, directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani
(In Italian, with English subtitles)
The Taviani brothers do it again, producing an original and moving work of art, this one filmed in the high security wing of Rome’s Rebibbia Prison, where inmates prepare to perform Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. While not precisely a documentary, the film does allow us a glimpse of the transformative power of the Bard’s words on the prisoners, some newly arrived residents, some old-timers, some in for murder, some for lesser crimes, but all very much moved and changed by their participation in the play’s performance. Paolo and Vittorio Taviani also directed The Night of the Shooting Stars and The Lark Farm, both of which are owned by HCPL.

Commissario Brunetti, directed by Sigi Rothemund
(In German, with English subtitles)
If you like the Commissario Brunetti mystery book series by Donna Leon, you will find this German TV production to be a pleasant diversion. Filmed in Venice, nevertheless it was made for a German audience and is therefore in German. No matter. The mysteries are intricate and nicely drawn, with an occasional ciao or buon giorno to further the Italian effect. So far, HCPL has been able to purchase four episodes of this series, but each is an independent story, so pick up the series where you will. In each, Brunetti intrepidly studies a crime scene and makes what he can of it, using the evidence at hand and his wits and genius. Just to give you a taste of what to expect, in episode 5, the earliest episode that HCPL owns, Brunetti is faced with a dead orchestra conductor for an opera production, not particularly well liked, although highly respected for his skills. Complicating matters is the difficulty of dealing with the suspects, from divas to musicians. And then there are Brunetti’s family members, particularly his teenaged son, who is going through his Communist stage. So some drama, some mystery, some humor – what’s not to love?

Inspector Coliandro, directed by Marco and Antonio Manetti
(In Italian, with English subtitles)
As you have probably noticed, most of the European TV series acquired recently by HCPL are dramas and mysteries, engrossing, intriguing, serious in every way…but not this one. Well, it does involve murder and mystery, of course; it is a detective show after all, but it has its light touches as well, with more than a few laughs. Coliandro is a young police officer, who has apparently found himself in charge of supplies rather than murder cases, counting out the cases of yogurt for the police headquarters cafeteria. But when a motorscooter courier finds herself holding a package of cold cash that she was to deliver, she smells trouble. She decides to turn it over to the police rather than continue on with her delivery. But her troubles are about to be compounded at the station when she gets linked up with Coliandro rather than a more experienced detective. This is right up Coliandro’s alley – suspicious amounts of money being delivered to a man, who as it turns out winds up dead, and now Coliandro and the courier are the targets of the same killers. Just enough humor to give you some laughs but without diminishing the drama…

The Keys to the House, directed by Gianni Amelio
(In Italian, with English subtitles)
Gianni abandoned his son Paolo in his infancy when Gianni’s lover died in childbirth. Since then Paolo has been raised by his mother’s sister and brother-in-law. He’s developmentally disabled and a handful, if fairly functional at the age of fifteen. Now, however, his aunt and uncle need Gianni to step in as Paolo’s father to take him to Berlin for various tests and treatments. Gianni knows nothing about being a father, much less being a father to a child with special needs. But once in Berlin, he meets Nicole, a mother of a severely disabled daughter, who also is in the hospital for treatment. Nicole patiently guides Gianni towards his responsibilities as a father and shares her wisdom along the way. But is Gianni up to the task?

The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear, directed by Tinatin Gurchiani
(In Georgian, with English subtitles)
Tinatin Gurchiani’s documentary explores what it is that Georgian young adults and teens would make disappear in their lives, if such a machine existed that could do just that. Appearing before her ostensibly to audition for roles in a movie, the guileless young people answer the director’s off-camera questions about their lives, their disappointments, their hopes. Our focus is on their faces, expressive and full of hope, but also sorrowful, the products of childhood nurtured in war and poverty. Sometimes Gurchiani follows the auditioners offsite to see how they live. Most of her subjects are poor and struggling. Many have dreams and ambitions. Others are also despairing, and to witness the deep despair of these young people is at times heartbreaking.

Reality, directed by Matteo Garrone
(In Italian, with English subtitles)
Luciano is a fishmonger, who gets by in life, enjoying a fair amount of happiness along the way. With his family and friends surrounding him, he measures prosperity by a different means from most of us – it is the joy that comes from his everyday routine and from his loved ones who are part of that routine. Then bitten by the bug of reality television, he finds himself consumed by a desire to be tapped as a participant on Grande Fratello, or Big Brother, Italian style. Making it big is all he wants now. He will stop at nothing to be part of that seemingly glamorous life on a set, under the constant scrutiny of the cameras for all of Italy to see. Going from his neighborhood, where everyone knows him, to a place where a nation might get to know him seems to be a dream just outside his grasp. And what will he do if he does grab that dream? We’ll see…Garrone directed the prize-winning Gomorrah, owned by HCPL.

Thérèse, directed by Claude Miller
(In French, with English subtitles)
Thérèse marries not because she loves her fiancé but because this marriage is expected of her. Should she marry Bernard, she will have made an excellent match, increasing her family’s forests by enormous amounts. The two of them will be the power couple of the province. But what of love? Thérèse can keep that at bay, until Bernard’s sister, her best friend, falls in passionate love with a man both charming and forbidden in this small provincial world of theirs. Only then does Thérèse feel an awakening, one so strong that she attempts to destroy Bernard to be free of him, an act that may spell her own downfall. Miller also directed A Secret, owned by HCPL.

Foreign Films New to View Jan 14

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Vol. 8, No. 1

The Attack, directed by Ziad Doueiri

(In Arabic and Hebrew, with English subtitles)

What would you do if you were told that your loving, sensitive spouse was actually a suicide bomber, responsible for the deaths of over ten children? You would probably react as Amin does in The Attack, with shocked incredulity. Amin is, after all, a prominent Palestinian surgeon, an employee at an Israeli hospital, a winner of national awards for his medical skills, a man, in short, respected and admired by his Jewish colleagues. He and his wife have mingled easily and often with these prestigious colleagues. Now Amin faces the bloodied sheet covering the remains of his wife. Yes, that is his wife, but she must herself be an innocent victim of this insane act. Gradually, Amin is convinced that his wife was indeed the bomber, but now he asks, why? The story follows Amin as he searches for answers, all the while experiencing the wrath of a startled people, who had accepted him as a friend but now must suspect him to be an enemy. His wife’s last act changes his life and his sense of himself, as he tries to maneuver in a now-hostile world.

Barbara, directed by Christian Petzold

(In German, with English subtitles)

Barbara is a physician, trapped in the surreal world of East Germany in the 1980′s, where every action is under surveillance, every word capable of arousing suspicion. For some minor infraction, applying for a visa to the West perhaps, Barbara has been transferred, exiled really, from Berlin to a tiny provincial hospital near the German coast. Further punishment includes constant surveillance by the Stasi, whose front man pays surprise visits to check on her. These visits include humiliations as well as the reinforcement of her sense of punishment. Then there is also the young physician Andre, who may or may not be playing a role with the Stasi, but who does have a sense of the need to help his patients, a need he tries to reinstill in the detached Barbara. When Barbara sees an opportunity to defect, the complexities of her life and her sense of duty urge her to think carefully before she steps towards freedom. Petzold also directed Yella, Ghosts, Jerichow, and The State I Am In, owned by HCPL in dvd format.

Eyes Without a Face, directed by Georges Franju

(In French, with English subtitles)

Dr. Grénessier has lost his beloved daughter Christiane, who has disappeared after being horribly burned in a car accident. The film opens with a body being dumped in a river, and then subsequently, the good doctor must go through the ordeal of identifying that body. Indeed, he affirms, this is his daughter. She is dead. Or is she? In fact, she lives yet in Dr. Grénessier’s house, wandering ghostlike around the villa, wearing a mask to cover her scars. The body found and misidentified was that of a hapless woman whose face had previously been transplanted, unsuccessfully, to Christiane’s by Dr. Grénessier himself. Now he needs a new victim. Together with his assistant Louise, a face transplant success story, he seeks out young women and tries yet again to give his daughter her face and her life back to her. But Christiane knows something of the evil that her father is performing, not just on young women but on animals used in experiments. She longs for freedom for herself and for all the creatures who suffer under her father’s scalpel. Her actions and her destiny are entwined in a morally ambiguous world.

Laurence Anyways, directed by Xavier Dolan

(In French, with English subtitles)

Laurence has been living a lie all his life. Although he is in a loving relationship with Frédérique (or Fred), he has long felt that he is really a woman in a man’s body. Now, in his mid-thirties, he knows it is time to become that woman he feels he has been all along. Given this new reality and the love he shares with Fred, will he be able to make that difficult, even dangerous, transition? Fred is willing to give it a try because she loves him. Even his mother shifts her point of view over time, but how about the rest of the world? Taking us through ten years of transition, Dolan shows us the joys and sorrows along the way during this great journey, while Fred and Laurence grow closer, then apart, then closer, and so on. Xavier Dolan is also the director of Hearbeats, and I Killed My Mother, owned by HCPL in dvd format.

The Painting, directed by Jean-Francois Laguionie

(In French, with English subtitles)

On this canvas live three kinds of beings: the Alldunns, who are completed figures; the Halfies, who have not quite been completed by the now-missing artist; and finally, the Sketchies, who are merely line drawings. The Alldunns rule the world of the canvas, humiliating the Halfies and enslaving and torturing the Sketchies. Ramo is an Alldunn who does not think this way. Together with his beloved Halfie, Claire, they journey off the canvas into the world of the abandoned art studio to find the artist to ask him for his help in making right what he has left wrong. With brilliant colors, hauntingly beautiful animated scenes, and artfully witty dialogue, this film should be a must-see for art lovers young and old alike. Laguionie also directed the charming Princes and Princesses, owned by HCPL in dvd format.

Passione, directed by John Turturro

(In English and Italian, with English subtitles)

Exploring the richness of Neapolitan music, this documentary was filmed on location in Naples. While we hear both the doleful and the joyful strains of Italian song, we may also discern the roots of this music, from Europe to the north, Africa to the south, the Middle East to the east, and Spain to the west. The melange that emerges is enchanting in the sound produced. Performances are by contemporary Italian musicians and vocalists as well as by performers of the past.

Renoir, directed by Gilles Bourdos

(In French, with English subtitles)

In the summer of 1915, in the midst of the Great War, a young woman approaches the aged Renoir at his home on the French Riviera, responding to a request for a model. There Andrée meets not just Pierre-Auguste, the famous Impressionist painter, but his son, Jean, who will later become the distinguished film director. For now though he is a wounded soldier, recovering at home until he goes back to the front. And he is ripe for falling in love. Andrée, Renoir père, and Renoir fils spend that tortured summer together, the older man struggling to capture what he can of life on his canvases, his son torn between duty and his love for the young woman, and Andrée finding her own way in this idyllic world of summer haze and wild flowers.

Something in the Air, directed by Olivier Assayas

(In French, with English subtitles)

It is 1971 in France, and to young revolutionaries across the land, everything is falling apart. Gilles wants very much to be part of the action, in his cool, collected way. Not much seems to phase him as he drifts from one revolutionary action to another, but he is, after all, a high school student; summer break will be here soon, and then he can go to Italy or somewhere else to plot, plan, take some drugs, and party. It’s all part of the revolution. As listless as this young artist seems to be, he does have some ambitions and does in fact connect to other students. Being a tad self-centered, he drifts but still longs to effect change. It’s just something in the air. The prodigious director Olivier Assayas claims many films to his name, some of which are owned by HCPL in dvd format, including Clean, Irma Vep, Summer Hours, the biopic Carlos, and one of the short pieces in Paris, Je T’aime.

The Foreign Films New to View Dec 13

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

December 2013

To subscribe to our Foreign Films Newsletter, click here.

Foreign Films
New to View

Vol. 7, No. 12

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:

All About My Mother, directed by Pedro Almodóvar

(In Spanish, with English subtitles)

Pedro Almodóvar does it again, with a complex plot involving numerous female characters, all with their own issues and problems, displayed with both a touch of humor and the serious. Manuela is a nurse who works in an organ transplant department in a medical facility in Madrid. She is a single mother, raising her splendid son, Esteban, who wants two things in life: to be a writer and to find his father, long missing from Manuela’s life. When tragedy strikes, Manuela goes on a journey to Barcelona to find answers to puzzles in her own life. Here we meet that cast of eccentric women and female wannabes, from an aging actress, to a social worker nun, to a transsexual, and so on. This film feels epic in its scope but on a domestic level, raising the question: are our ordinary lives in and of themselves epic? Maybe so…If you like Almadovar, try some other DVDs of his films owned by HCPL, including Volver and Talk to Her.

The Big City, directed by Satyajit Ray

(In Bengali, with English subtitles)

How does Satyajit Ray do it? How does he take ordinary people and make their little lives so compelling? Arati is a young housewife, trying to make ends meet on her husband’s small salary, while caring for her little son, her young sister-in-law, and her husband’s elderly parents. When it becomes clear that Subrata’s salary will no longer be enough, Arati gets a job. Although she has little confidence in herself, before long her self-esteem grows, as does her salary. But tensions rise in the little household, and conflicts edge into the open. When Arati is faced with a moral injustice at work, she has to make a decision, one that may involve a level of courage she is not certain she has. Considering that this movie was made in 1963, it is unusually enlightened and progressive in its message, but then again, it’s a movie by Satyajit Ray. If you like this film, consider watching some other Ray films on DVD owned by HCPL, including the renowned Apu Trilogy (Pather Panchali, Aparajito, and The World of Apu), The Chess Players, and The Lonely Wife.

Gippi, directed by Sonam Nair

(In Hindi, with English subtitles)

Fourteen-year-old Gippi is a typical teenager, maybe just a tad overweight and definitely not very sure of herself. She sulks and complains, but basically, she’s a good kid, cheering up her divorced mother and keeping her pesty little brother in line. When the school mean girl goes after her, while flaunting a new, good-looking boyfriend, Gippi maneuvers her way into the life of an older high school student, who is very, very hot. Mean Girl can see through that one, and a big public humiliation for Gippi leads to some soul-searching and turnarounds in her life.

In the Fog, directed by Sergi Loznitsa

(In Russian, with English subtitles)

The fog of this film is both the real fog that drifts in and out of the dense woods of war-torn 1942 Belarus, as well as the fog of war. The confusion and mistakes in understanding when in the midst of battle congeal in the story of Sushenya, a simple railroad worker, who is mistaken for a collaborator with the German occupying forces. Actually, he is innocent, but that is not the impression the members of the resistance have, or even of his own community and family. For his supposed betrayal, he is to be executed for seeming to be something he is not. But at the moment of execution, a firefight erupts, with one resistance fighter disappearing into the woods and another severely wounded. Now it is Sushenya who must consider his moral position here – to carry the wounded fighter to possible safety or to flee into the forest as well. The meanness of war and the darkness that it evokes swirl around the men, like the ever-present fog drifting through the trees in a haunted world.

In the House, directed by Francois Ozon

(In French, with English subtitles)

Germain is a literature teacher at a high school of rather typical students: no one in particular stands out in terms of talent; no one holds much interest for him. Then one student, Claude, turns in his composition assignment, and Germain’s attention perks up. Claude, it seems, is a bit of a voyeur. While he himself lives a sad life in a broken home with an ailing father who needs his care, Claude has been observing from afar the loving, stable family of his classmate Rapha. He has since insinuated himself into the family and then has written about his escapades, drawing closer and closer to Rapha and his mother in particular. Germain must consider the moral aspects of this continuing writing assignment: does he continue to encourage an obviously talented young man to write (perhaps in the style of Flaubert or Dostoevsky!), or does he stop this nonsence that could easily lead into dangerous territory? His debates with his wife about this lead nowhere, as Germain is his own man, bound and determined to find that one potentially great writer, no matter what the outcome. Ozon also directed Hideaway and Potiche, also owned by HCPL.

War of the Buttons, directed by Christophe Barratier

(In French, with English subtitles)

Please note that HCPL owns an Australian production of this same story, bearing the same name, but of course with different young actors and so on. Try this one, if you would prefer to see a French story in, well, French. We find ourselves in occupied France during World War II, and although this country village lends a certain degree of protection to its occupants, the war is very much present in the form of collaborators, willing community supporters of the Nazis, and those fighting them or hiding from them. Children in two neighboring villages engage in their own war of sorts, with slingshots and cudgels. It’s something closer to play or childish rivalry, with some bruises and bruised egos, but nothing serious. It’s a matter of collecting buttons from the losers in each engagement, with some embarrassing consequences, as kids make their ways home sans culottes. But war is war, and a young Jewish girl needs to keep her identity hidden in the midst of the children’s frivolity – not easily done in a small village. The children just may be able to help her, though, despite the evil around them.

The Young Montalbano, directed by Gianlucca Tavarelli

(In Italian, with English subtitles)

If you like the Detective Montalbano series, of which HCPL owns many episodes, you may want to meet the same characters in their younger manifestations – Salvo Montalbano, Catarella, Augello, and even the young Fazio. Besides giving viewers some details on the background of these police detectives, the mysteries are solid and usually devoid of the typical grizzly and gruesome images that some TV detective series have. Episode One focuses on a peace-loving shepherd accused of killing a local bully. Episode Two takes a look at the murder of a man in a hotel room on New Year’s Eve. Episode Three involves a kidnapping, from which the young victim is released, but why was she kidnapped in the first place? As is typical of these stories, not just one, but a few plots are deftly interwoven to add levels of complexity to the stories.

Foreign Films Nov 13

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Amour, directed by Michael Haneke

(In French, with English subtitles)

Georges and Anne have been married for many years; they are growing old together in a quiet, gracious world of their making.  They go to concerts; they spend afternoons with Anne’s former music students; they have conversations that one might think impossible for people who have been together for so long.  (What more can there be to say?  Plenty.)  Their love for each other generates more connections even as time passes.  Then it all comes to a screeching halt.  Anne’s health falters because of a blocked carotid artery, and suddenly the world changes for them.  What follows is a realistic view of aging and ailing.  We will find no stereotypic old folks here, cute and grumpy and full of laughs for us, but rather two human beings who suffer, endure, and keep going.  One is reminded of Beckett’s closing lines from The Unnamable, “I can’t go on, you must go on, I’ll go on.”  And so they do, adjusting and not adjusting to a new reality of living and of life.  No pretty picture is presented here, but we are permitted to witness quite possibly the best acting in years of anyone on the screen, so powerful and intense in a deep quiet, provided by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, both themselves now older and capable of giving us the gift of realism in a sad and doomed existence, one that is our world as well.


The Deep, directed by Baltasar Kormakur

(In Icelandic, with English subtitles)

Gulli is a fisherman, living on one of the islands off the coast of Iceland.  The 1973 eruption of lava from a fissure that nearly destroyed his town was his defining childhood experience.  Now, he is an adult, just an ordinary guy, living with his parents, taking life for granted.  He goes out on a fishing boat, just another job to do, and his life turns topsy turvey.  The boat capsizes, and the crew is lost. Gulli manages to hang on in the frigid waters, about 40° F.  It is night and he is a few miles from shore, but he needs to make it back to land before he succumbs to the elements.  He will do what he has to do to get to safety, to hang onto life.  Based on a true story, this remarkable tale shows how the ordinary person can be extraordinary in the midst of adversity so intense that even a nightmarish, destructive volcanic eruption from childhood will not compare.


The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Secdirected by Luc Besson

 (In French, with English subtitles)

Adele Blanc-Sec is a young woman of courage and wit, who finds herself immersed in adventure wherever she happens to be.  Now she’s off to Egypt, in this early 20th century tale, to retrieve an ancient artifact that may just hold the key to curing her comatose sister, made so through a tennis accident years earlier.  But through a series of unfortunate occurrences, a pterodactyl is set free above the streets of Paris – yes, a pterodactyl, and now Adele has more than her poor sister to worry about.  Her wit alone should draw laughs from the audience, but her audacity and sly humor move this heroine towards a hard-fought triumph.  Now, if only those police detectives and various bad guys would get out of her way!


Future to Bright Hai Ji, directed by Sanjay Amar

(In Hindi, with English subtitles)

Ajay and Sonia want to make it big in Bollywood, so they move to Mumbai to try their luck in the thick of it. Ajay is a scriptwriter, and Sonia is an actress.  While their talents are many and their willingness to work hard is evident, these attributes don’t seem to get them anywhere.  In time, they feel discouraged and beaten down.  Then an astrologer tells them some good news:  the future will be bright shortly.  But will it?  Along with a catchy theme song,  lots of Bollywood drama and comedy keep the film moving through music, dance, tears, and laughter.


The Glove, directed by Woo-Suk Kang

(In Korean, with English subtitles)

Kim Sang-nam may think of himself as a baseball hero for his superb pitching skills, but his career is teetering on the edge of oblivion due to his bad behavior.  To redeem his public image, his agent shifts him from the pitcher’s mound in the professional playing fields to a small high school for the deaf, to coach a not very good but very determined team.  His cynicism gradually melts as he begins to understand that he still means something to the world, even if it’s in the eyes of a dozen or so high school boys, all struggling to overcome the obstacles that life has tossed them.



Hecho en Mexico, directed by Duncan Bridgeman

(In Spanish, with English subtitles)

This foreign documentary explores just what it is to be Mexican in our modern world.  The film uses music throughout to shift from scene to scene, with a blend of modern and ancient images of Mexico.  Whether a study of the beautiful and varied music of this land or a close look at a complicated and equally varied people, this lively, warm film is full of energy. The music propels the narrative forward as the audience immerses itself in all things Mexican.



Kon Tiki, directed by Espen Sandberg and Joachim Ronning

(In Norwegian, with English subtitles, or in English alone)

I read Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki more years ago than I care to admit, but while the book dates me, the narrative itself will never age.  The daring of the young Norwegian explorer is breathtaking, as he and five other men sailed off into the Pacific from South America on a balsa-wood raft, to prove that Polynesians may have originated from that continent, rather than Asia.  Although Heyerdahl’s theory is probably wrong, his adventure lives on.  Now there is a new movie, filmed twice, done once in Norwegian and then each scene redone in English, and it is full of that same adventure, with storms, sharks, and men facing possible death on a vast ocean.  They traveled well over 4,000 miles, alone, with little radio contact and certainly no help from the world of ships and solid land, a world too far away to help out if help would have ever been needed.  Be sure to watch the Norwegian version for its own nuanced take on matters, but enjoy the English version as well if you wish.


A Man Vanishes, directed by Shohei Imamura

(In Japanese, with English subtitles)

Shohei Imamura sought to discover what it is that connects people, in this documentary about a man who disappeared, who disconnected himself from the world he knew.  Tadashi Oshima vanished in 1965, leaving behind friends, relatives, and co-workers, all equally baffled.  Imamura wonders how it is that a man could disappear in a land so small and so full of others, yet Oshima was never seen again.  This documentary explores his disappearance, but more than that, it takes a look at the people previously connected to him, who seem at once a part of his life and not a part of it.  Yoshie Hayakawa, for example, dated him, and then we are surprised to find out that she is in fact his fiancée, a much deeper relationship.  Others knew him for various lengths of time, but not one friend or co-worker seems to have known what motivated him. Some speculate that he embezzled funds from his company. Did he?  And was Hayakawa truly his fiancée?  The more extensive the interviews develop, the fuzzier the portrait of a man vanished becomes.  What we see and hear serves to further the mystery rather than to clarify it.

Foreign Films Oct 13

Monday, September 30th, 2013

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.

Foreign Films Sept 13

Friday, August 30th, 2013

The Assassin’s Blade, directed by Jingle Ma

(In Cantonese, with English subtitles)

Zhu Yanzhi is the daughter of a wealthy wine merchant; even so, with both rank and wealth, as a woman, she may not study various esoteric martial arts. So disguised as a young man and sent to a mountain fastness to be trained in martial arts of the highest sort, she meets Liang, her trainer. Both feel a pull, a connection, and it becomes clearer to them as time passes that destiny is at work here. When Zhu Yanzhi’s true identity is revealed, Liang knows she is the one for him. This romantic opening of the film is light and even comedic. Then the story takes a darker, more serious turn, as a traitorous plot unfolds involving court intrigue and the forced marriage of Zhu Yanzhi to the treacherous Lord Ma. You may recognize elements of Shakepeare’s Romeo and Juliet in the unfolding of a scheme Zhu Yanzhi plans to use to trick Lord Ma out of the marriage, with the taking of poisons, messages sent and thwarted, and so on, but beyond that intrigue, there are also the fight scenes, both action-packed and nicely choreographed.

ID: A, directed by Christian E. Christiansen

(In Danish, with English subtitles)

A young woman wakes up in a creek, her memory gone, no identification on her, and a duffle bag with two million euros lying nearby. Who is she? What’s with the money? And who are those men in the mysterious white van that seems to follow her at every turn in the road as she makes her way back into the world? A chance encounter with an iPod gives her a clue that leads to her identity: she is in fact Ida Just, the wife of a world-famous singer. More than a renowned singer, Just is also the leader of some sort of radical terrorist group that needs money for weapons, thus the €2 million in the duffle bag. Except the money is from a bank robbery gone awry. And while Ida has no connection to the holdup or her husband’s radical terrorist group for that matter, her beloved brother Martin is deeply involved. So the plot thickens. It may all seem overly complicated, but this is actually what I would call a good Friday night movie – not too intellectually taxing, with fast- paced scenes of pursuit and near misses, and nearly mindless dialogue that probably doesn’t matter too much as long as you pay attention to the action.

Loose Cannons, directed by Ferzan Ozpetek

(In Italian, with English subtitles)

Tommaso has two secrets he has finally gotten up the courage to share with his family: he wants to be a writer and he’s gay. But before he can make his announcement at a family dinner, his brother lobs a molotov cocktail of his own onto the table. He is gay as well. Their father promptly disowns him and then has a heart attack, lands in the hospital, and in his recovery begs Tommaso to take over the family pasta-making business. What’s Tommaso to do? Tommaso will have much more to learn than how to run a pasta machine. He also needs to negotiate labor issues, land a sale, purchase ingredients, and deal with managers’ complaints, not to mention that he’d still like to tell everyone who he really is and what he’d rather be doing with his life. Maybe his grandmother, the founder of company, can show him a way out of this mess. She has a secret of her own, after all, with regrets for not having done what she should have done many years before, and the wisdom to help him not repeat her grave errors on life’s journey.

Penny Pinchers, directed by Jung-hwan Kim

(In Korean, with English subtitles)

Ji-woong is a layabout, with no job and no desire for one, no longer an allowance from his family, and now that he’s been evicted, no place to live. He remains only mildly concerned about all this. Hong-sil is the opposite. She works hard, saves what money she earns, and does what she can to pinch every last penny that comes her way. She has a goal in mind: to buy her own place and find some peace and security after a troubled adolescence with a ne’er-do-well gambler of a father and a dying mother. She is by necessity a schemer. So when she partners up with Ji-woong to save money, it could be a good lesson for the careless gadabout, or it could be that Hong-sil is going to use Ji-woong in a convoluted money-making scheme, or it could even be that both will have to change a little to get what they want in this big, mean world of ours.

Tristana, directed by Luis Buñuel

(In Spanish, with English subtitles)

In 1920′s, pre-Civil War Spain, Don Lope steps into his role as guardian to the young and innocent Tristana, whose mother has recently died. But after the old rouè seduces her, he wonders why she hates him so very much. Hmm…Tristana for her part understands that revenge is a dish best served cold. While she falls in love with the young artist Horacio and eventually runs off with him, she returns only when she falls gravely ill. Although she recovers, she loses a leg due to the illness. Then Tristana marries Don Lope after all, not for love, of course, but for that long-awaited revenge. If you like Buñuel, try some of his other films on DVD at HCPL, including Viridiana, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Simon of the Desert, and The Exterminating Angel.

White Elephant, directed by Pablo Trapero

(In Spanish, with English subtitles)

The priest Julián and social worker Luciana have lived and worked for many years in the slums of Buenos Aires. When Nicolás, a young priest, joins Julián, they work together to lift up the residents of the shanty town and pull them away from the proverty, crime, and dangers that surround them. But they too may find themselves facing the same dangers from petty criminals, drug lords, and the goverment security forces. Through all this stands the White Elephant, an abandoned structure that was to be the grandest hospital in all of South America. Instead, after the Perón years, the hulk has been left to deteriorate, half-built, useless, and now the home of countless squatters, including the priests, a kind of relic of an ideal long abandoned and a symbol of the cast-off population that lives within and around it now. Trapero also directed Carancho, owned by HCPL.

Foreign Films Aug13

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Bleak Night, directed by Yoon Sung Hyun

(In Korean, with English subtitles)

Teenager Ki-tae seems to be something of a bully, mercilessly teasing and taunting his friends, but he is a tormented soul himself, even as he torments those around him. He tries to hide his own haunting demons, but occasionally they show through, as when he reveals his longing for his now-deceased mother. When he commits suicide, his bereaved father (first his wife and now his son!) searches for clues as to why this tragedy has happened. Sometimes it might be best to let the dead rest, but some comfort might await Ki-tae’s father if the truth comes out.

11 Flowers, directed by Wang Xiaoshuai

(In Mandarin, with English subtitles)

The Cultural Revolution is just coming to an end in China, and while eleven-year-old Wang may be oblivious to the previous years’ upheaval, he is keenly aware of his own child’s world. His friends, his school, his adventures and misadventures in his town all inform his daily life. His father and mother struggle to feed and clothe him and his little sister, so when Wang loses a precious new shirt, it feels more like a great tragedy. Everyday life twists into something else though, when Wang discovers that it is a murderer who has stolen his shirt, to staunch a bullet wound no less. How will he ever explain this one to his mother? Both serious and comedic, 11 Flowers will give the viewer more of a taste of an ordinary child’s life in China.

The Gatekeepers, directed by Dror Moreh

(In Hebrew, with English subtitles)

Six former heads of Shin Bet, the Israel Security Agency, speak out on terrorism, how to fight it and how not to fight it, giving a retrospective view of their work and analyzing how Shin Bet’s actions and counteractions have impacted Israel as a nation. Their conclusions are not hopeful. What could have lapsed into a documentary of talking heads instead emerges as compelling drama, as these six cool, level-headed, seasoned warriors for and defenders of a nation speak out on the utter futility of efforts taken and the hopelessness of results garnered. Actual footage of terrorist and counterterroist actions is sometimes breathtaking in this raw and informative documentary.

The Giants, directed by Bouli Lanners

(In French, with English subtitles)

Young teen brothers Zak and Seth are learning the hard way how to survive on their own in the French countryside. Their mother has abandoned them, and although they have a roof over their heads, that will make no difference in their situation if they also have neither food nor money. When they meet up with the slightly more resourceful Danny, another castoff child, they seem at first to fare a little better. Then Zak and Seth fall prey to Danny’s older brother’s employer, a ruthless drug dealer, who more or less escorts them out of their house, when he wants to use it for his drug dealing. Homeless, the two brothers and Danny feel at once a kind of freedom and oppression. With some genuinely comic moments, this tale is ultimately one about kids learning to survive in a hard and bitter world.

No, directed by Pablo Larraín

(In Spanish, with English subtitles)

In October of 1988, something remarkable happened in Chile. After fifteen years in power, the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet offered the people of Chile a referendum on his rule. A yes vote would grant him eight more years as president. A no vote would mean new elections and new hope for the nation. But in the years Pinochet ruled, he also brought a degree of financial stability to the turbulent nation, and despite the brutality of his rule, the citizens of Chile were starting to slide into a degree of hesitation to alter matters. When a center-left coalition formed to push for a no vote, they needed something different to urge people to oust the dictator. This is the story, somewhat fictionalized, of how that urging came about. It focuses on René, an ad man, who is detached from politics but gets drawn into the campaign, even if he himself will shy away from any political confrontation. And the campaign he conjures up is unique. Instead of trying to appeal to people’s moral principles – look how bad it was under Pinochet; look at how he tortured and murdered the opposition – the campaign will offer the people of Chile a cheerful, happy alternative. While the yes-vote side will emphasize the new prosperity and stability, the no-vote side will pull in the younger voters with an emphasis on sunshine and dancing and jingles that run through a citizen’s head. The whole project is a gamble, but it has to be embraced for any kind of success. Those viewers who are familiar with this historical event know of that success, but just how it happened is lesser known. No shows us how such a victory can be grasped.

Off White Lies, directed by Maya Kenig

(In Hebrew, with English subtitles)

Libby is a thoroughly American teen, who is sent to Israel by her mother to stay with her father for a period of time. Whether this is a sort of vacation or the outcome of a custody agreement or what isn’t revealed to the viewer; all Libby seems to know is that she has to stay as a matter of convenience to her mother. Unfortunately, Shaul, Libby’s father, is pretty much a likeable ne’er-do-well, jobless and homeless, a sometimes inventor of gadgets but not terribly successful. Then he comes upon a scheme: why not pose as refugees from the Second Lebanon War? This is 2006, after all, and the war is in full swing. So Libby and Shaul find a new home, where they can remain as long as they do not reveal their real situation to their host family. That works for a while, until Shaul seduces the wife of the family and Libby rebels against the deception and subterfuge. But the happy-go-lucky Shaul may resourcefully climb out of his woes yet. We’ll see…

The Pool, directed by Chris Smith

(In Hindi, with English subtitles)

Venkatesh is a young hotel janitor, who also sells plastic shopping bags on the street for extra income, along with his one true friend, Jhangir, an orphan. He doesn’t ask for much in life, just a successful day of bag sales and a quiet gaze at a beautiful swimming pool in a garden that he can see if he climbs a tree and peers through the foliage. What he does long for is a swim in that pool. Then in the garden, he also sees a young woman and an older man, the owners of the house, garden, and pool. Eventually, Venkatesh finds a way to work in the garden as a kind of caretaker, and while doing so, he draws to him the friendship and confidence of both the young woman, the daughter in this little family, and the older man, the father. While Venkatesh is truly living on the edge of complete poverty, and while the father and daughter are much wealthier, they reveal a deeper sorrow from their past that Venkatesh just may be able to assuage in his cheerful, earnest manner. Director Chris Smith is a director of various genres and styles, making mostly English-language movies, some of which HCPL owns, including Collapse.

Room 514, directed by Sharon Bar-Ziv

A young Israeli officer interrogates a soldier to get to the bottom of an incident of unnecessary violence towards an Arab family. Gradually, she discovers that the commanding officer of that unit was responsible for the brutalization of the Arabs, but her questions and the answers that emerge bring disturbing consequences, perhaps more than she ever expected when she began the investigation. The film occurs in a small interrogation room, giving the film a claustophobic feel, which tightens the drama and ratchets up the tension as the interrogations reach greater depths of truth.

Tai Chi Hero, directed by Stephen Fung

(In Mandarin, with English subtitles)

This sequel to Tai Chi Zero (reviewed in our March 2013 newsletter ) brings us once again into the world of steampunk kung fu, as Yang Lu Chan struggles to learn the proper way of tai chi fighting. The charming Chen Yu Niang, daughter of the town’s leader, has the task of instilling technique and discipline in the somewhat clumsy and seemingly dimwitted Yang. But there is room for growth here, and it just may be that by this planned-trilogy’s end, Yang and Chen will have a more interesting relationship than student/master. But first things first. When a government official sets his eyes on the village as a possible railroad passage, he and his British counterpart will stop at little to get what they want. It will be up to the villagers as well as Chen’s brother, an inventive wizard, to set things right. Lots of action, creative inventions, and a bit of comedy as well will bring amusement and thrills to kung fu action film fans.

Foreign Films July 13

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Breathing, directed by Karl Markovics

(In German, with English subtitles)

Roman is serving time in a juvenile detention center, and it looks as though he will remain there a long time. He has no family; he has difficulty connecting to others in society; and he’s in for a murder charge. With confidence neither in himself nor in the justice system, he doesn’t have much hope for probation. But a job in a mortuary changes his view of himself and of the world. When he sees a woman’s corpse, a woman who bears his last name, he wonders if this could be his mother. It isn’t, but this starts him on a journey, both a geograpic one and a deeper, spiritual one, in which he seeks out his mother, searches for answers to some dark, lingering fears, and grasps at an understanding of and redemption for the crime he has committed.

Cold Prey II, directed by Mats Stenberg

(In Danish, with English subtitles)

If Cold Prey wasn’t creepy enough for you, if you did not get your fill of bloodly and gory violence inflicted upon young adults just wanting to have some fun in an abandoned hotel in the mountains, then you may want to try this sequel. And it begins just where the original ended. Jannicke, our intrepid survivor, is in the hospital after her slasher ordeal with the mountain man/killer-of-young-adults, where his body now lies in the morgue. Unfortunately, when he exhibits signs of life, the medical staff feel compelled by various oaths of ethics to revive him, much to their later regret. Well, they should have known…really. With the mountain man on the loose once more, it is left to Jannicke, yet again, to stop him before too many more bodies pile up. I have heard a rumor that Cold Prey III is out – a prequel. I will be certain to consider it for purchase should it become available, to satisfy anyone’s curiosity about what has happened before all this mayhem and maybe also why the mountain man feels so compelled to cause blood to flow.

Gate of Hell, directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa

(In Japanese, with English subtitles)

A young samurai falls in love with a woman he has rescued during a turbulent and dangerous uprising, but finds out later that she is already married. With his ambition to marry her thwarted, he persists, to the point where she fears being compromised. She also finds her beloved husband in danger, when it becomes clear that the samurai would even kill to get what he wants. What is remarkable in this 1953 film is the color: sumptuous and ravishing. While the story hinges on an obsession strong enough to result in tragedy, it also grants the viewer a feast for the eyes.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, directed by Takashi Miike

(In Japanese, with English subtitles)

Something of a remake of an earlier Hara-Kiri, Miike’s version is different in both form and content. Tsugumo is a samurai fallen on hard times. He approaches the lord of the local noble house to request that he be allowed to commit ritual suicide as a way of leaving this world in honor. Before granting his wish, the lord tells him a cautionary tale of a recent similar event, one that ended very badly for a young man, who might have been bluffing about committing suicide, instead hoping for a much-needed handout. While Tsugumo listens patiently to the tragic story, one suspects that there is more to it all. Indeed, Tsugumo not only knew Motome, the young man, but loved him as a son. And so he in turn tells a tale that should put the lord and his court to shame, a tale of hard luck and tragedy, with desperate people taking desperate measures to survive, a tale that should inform the prosperous and arrogant lord of the need for mercy and compassion in a hard world. Miike also directed 13 Assassins, a popular samurai film owned in DVD format by HCPL.

Lore, directed by Cate Shortland

(In German, with English subtitles)

When the Third Reich fell in 1945, both guilty and innocent continued their suffering, with the occupation of troops and the disintegration of society. Hannalore, called Lore by her family, is both innocent and guilty. While the fourteen-year-old has not commited any war crimes herself, she is a Nazi child through and through. Before her parents are taken into custody for their parts in the horrors of their nation, they admonish her to travel with her younger siblings in tow to her grandmother’s house in Hamburg, a distance from the Bavarian Black Forest of about 500 miles. It is a nightmare of post-war chaos that greets Lore, with her young charges in hand. Together they discover that traveling on foot is less adventurous, as Lore tries to make her brothers and sister believe, and far more dangerous, even deadly. Along the way, they find Thomas, a young Jewish man, who is the only one with proper papers for safe passage north. While he helps them, he remains a mystery, since he doesn’t match the identity of the man whose papers they were. Even with his extended hand of help, Lore persists in believing in the Reich and in her hatred of Jews, Americans, and nearly everyone else not of Aryan German descent. Only later, at the journey’s end, will she glimpse some understanding of the real nightmare of the clash between beliefs and reality, between good and evil.

Neighboring Sounds, directed by Kleber Mendonca Filho

(In Portugeuse, with English subtitles)

A neighborhood of reasonably prosperous souls in the city of Recife in Brazil is the setting for this film. The inhabitants are a mix of those who live in relative prosperity and those who serve them, whether it be delivering bottled water, cleaning a flat, or providing security. While the movie has little plot and is perhaps overly long, it is worth sticking out if only to appreciate the subtle buildup to an unfolding tension with a surprising crescendo. The sounds of the neighborhood become a kind of character – a dog barking off screen, horns honking, doors closing, a car alarm blaring. All seem to follow the human characters, ever present, ever reminders of a foreboding that lies under the sweet familiarity of a neighborhood, a lurking danger that may or may not be out to get us.

Purple Noon, directed by Rene Clement

(In French, with English subtitles)

If you have read Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr. Ripley or if you have seen the recent movie adaptation with Matt Damon, you may feel that seeing a film version made in 1960 is not necessary. Think again. First of all, Purple Noon stars Alain Delon in all his youthful loveliness. And secondly, this version is as tense and suspenseful as can be and is well worth the watch. If you have read the book, you know how this one goes; the film follows the book closely enough. If you are not familiar with the story, let us just say that the more-or-less impoverished Tom Ripley is hired by the father of Philippe Greenleaf to persuade the wealthy, profligate son to return from Italy where he has been living the life of leisurely abandon, to assume his more pressing obligations in the U.S. Tom finds along the way that he rather likes living in a wealthy lifestyle. So he contrives to make Philippe disappear and assumes his identity along with his riches. Murder, suspicion, and a cat-and-mouse game ensue, with the Italian police pursuing Tom, who is clever enough to keep the game going. Tense and gripping and, of course, there is Delon. Clement also directed Forbidden Games, Gervaise, and Is Paris Burning?