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

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:  http://blogs.hcplonline.org/avblog/index.php/category/foreign-films/.


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.

Foreign Films New to View January 15

Friday, January 30th, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Foreign Films New to View Decemver 14

Friday, January 30th, 2015
Age of Uprising, directed by Arnaud Des Pallieres
(In French, with English subtitles)
Michael Kohlhaas is a prosperous horse trader, who is wronged by a young, arrogant nobleman, when two of his horses are mistreated by the lord’s men.  In 16th-century France, those who were wronged could turn to the courts for redress, but the nobleman holds threatening influence over the legal community, and Kohlhaas’s petition goes unheard. This historical drama, based on fact, might have ended there, but when an even greater evil falls on Kohlhaas, he takes the law into his hands and exacts revenge.  This leads to an all-out rebellion that threatens the stability of the domain.  With a kind of aesthetic detachment, the filming of this drama is both beautiful and daunting in its cool depiction of the cruelties and injustices of a nation clawing its way out of barbarism towards a more humanistic level of civilization
Bobby Jasoos, directed by Samar Shaikh
(In Hindi, with English subtitles)
Bobby Jasoos wants to be a private eye.  So far, she has had no nibbles for cases, but never discouraged, she continues on. Then she gets a break.  A wealthy man wants some people tracked down, and Bobby seems to be the P.I. for the job.  Bobby has some obstacles, however:  the slim clues given to her for each person to be found, a rival private investigating office whose boss berates her constantly, pressure from her family to marry someone she can’t stand, and her very traditional father, who thinks her line of work is absolutely the wrong direction for her to take.  Bobby remains steadfast, even as she begins to doubt just what this rich guy wants with his missing persons.  Is he up to no good?  Is maybe the suitor her family has chosen for her not such a bad guy after all?  Can she reconcile her career with her formidable father?  It’s all part of the laughs, the songs and dances, and the general romp through a movie that offers good cheer and a little light suspense.
Le Chef, directed by Daniel Cohen
(In French, with English subtitles)
If an aspiring chef constantly gets fired from his jobs because he is so very particular in what his diners eat, what is he to do?  Get a job painting the trim work at an old age home. That is Jacky’s fate, a culinary genius, who just isn’t appreciated by his customers.  Once at the old-age home, in between touching up window frames, he inspires the cooks there to prepare the best food ever for their residents.  Then he comes to the attention of his culinary hero, the famous chef and TV personality, Alexandre Legarde, who takes him on to try to revive his career – Legarde’s, that is.  Legarde’s notion of cooking is becoming old hat, while more esoteric styles of the culinary arts are in full swing.  Can Jacky really save the career of such a famous traditionalist?  While the elements of farce are in full swing in this movie, viewers might catch an occasional glimpse of something yummy to eat and more than a few laughs.

Chinese Puzzle, directed by Cédric Klapisch

(In French and English, with English subtitles)

If you have seen either L’Auberge Espagnole or Russian Dolls, also directed by Klapisch, you will recognize a good portion of the characters in
Chinese Puzzle.  This film completes a trio of movies about a cosmopolitan group of young folks striking out on their own in this big world of ours.  InChinese Puzzle  we meet again Xavier, now an established writer, looking for inspiration for his next book and not getting very much of it, even when various 19th-century philosopers appear before him to offer advice.  When his English ex-wife, Wendy, moves to New York, he follows if only to visit his children.  There he comes across Isabelle and her lesbian lover Ju, who want children and ask Xavier to provide the fatherly half of that equation. Then along comes Martine, previously Xavier’s girlfriend, as well as her two children.  Xavier needs a wife to get a green card to stay in NYC so that he can continue to see his kids, and, well, it’s complicated, and funny, even very silly at times, but always cheerful.  Besides the two films mentioned above, HCPL also owns Paris, directed by Klapisch.

A Coffee in Berlin, directed by Jan Ole Gerster

(In German, with English subtitles)

Niko is not having a good day. His girlfriend leaves him; a motor vehicle official denies him his driver’s license; and his wealthy father pretty much sloughs him off when it comes to a little spare cash to tide him over – that’s all before nightfall.  And to make it all worse, he can’t seem to get a cup of coffee anywhere, in Berlin, where some of the best European coffee is ubiquitously available on every street corner.  What seems like the set-up for a comedy has its more serious, brooding side, though, as Niko struggles to consider his options. His friends are no help, making light of Berlin’s dark past and generally proving useless.  Shot in slick black and white,  with a cool jazz soundtrack so fitting to this at-once brooding and lively city, this movie begs to be watched a second time.

Easy Money:  Hard to Kill, directed by Babak Najafi

(In Swedish, with English subtitles)

I just wanted to bring to the attention of action movie fans this film and its sequel, Easy Money:  Life Deluxe, both of which are follow-ups to the very popular Easy Money. The three movies follow the same characters, all criminals, living dark, tormented lives, fighting goodness and each other as well as themselves, as they shift uneasily in their actions and conflicts, worrying about their loved ones and how they inevitably fail them at turn upon turn.  Bad guys with a conscience?  Not entirely unheard of, but don’t trouble yourself with the thought that any of these three movies might be too morally ambiguous or too intellectually deep. They are full of action and fights, and if the occasionally angst-ridden mobster wrings his hands over the right or wrong of his actions, find some comfort in the fact that the existential crisis will pass in a moment or two, and the characters will be up to their usual shenanigans once more.

The Empty Hours, directed by Aaron Fernandez Lesur

(In Spanish, with English subtitles)

When Sebastián’s uncle leaves the seventeen-year-old in charge of his motel while he undergoes a medical procedure in the city, Sebastián finds that his job involves more than just registering people for rooms. The maid never shows up, so all of the housekeeping falls to him.  The kid across the road is stealing coconuts from the trees on the motel’s grounds.  And then there is Miranda, a woman who regularly meets her lover at the motel for the afternoon.  But Miranda is finding that she has to wait more often than not for her boyfriend, and Sebastián finds that the time passes very, very slowly when the chores are done.  It is natural that the two should form a friendship that aids both of them in their empty hours.

Five Star Life, directed by Maria Sole Tognazzi

(In Italian, with English subtitles)

What if your job involved staying in five-star hotels as a secret shopper, so to speak, to rate the hotels?  Imagine an all-expense-paid visit to five-star hotels in Switzerland or Morocco, Paris or Berlin.  What a life.  And there we find Irene, whose seemingly lonely life might not be so bad after all. She has a solid relationship with her sister and her sister’s family; she has some firm and fast friendships, and she is secure in her career.  But when her best boy pal finds his true love, it isn’t Irene, but another woman. And her sister’s family is time-consuming for her younger sibling.  Can Irene find satisfaction living a life as a loner?  When she meets an astute feminist scholar in Berlin, she gets a glimpse of the worth and value of her life and what she can offer to the world and to herself.

The Last Sentence, directed by Jan Troell

(In Swedish, with English subtitles)

While Norway fell to the Germans in World War II, Sweden declared its  neutrality, keeping itself in the precarious and fragile middle of a horrific conflict.  But there were Swedes who understood perfectly the evil confronting their country and the world.  Tornny Segerstedt was one of them, a journalist who boldly stood in opposition to Hitler, calling him an insult and then reading aloud in triumph to his office staff a telegram of opposition from Göring.  This film takes a look at Segerstedt’s heroic journalistic fight, but does not hesitate to scrutinize his personal life as well.  That was anything but heroic, as he virtually ignored his wife, flirted in public with his mistress, his best friend’s wife by the way, and probably paid more attention to his dogs than to his family.  Segerstedt may have been a Swedish wartime hero, but he was also arrogant and at times insufferably boorish.  For a portrait of a complex man, whose lonely crusade and obstinance nearly toppled his country out of its neutrality, take a look at this splendidly shot movie.  Troell also directed Everlasting Momentsavailable at HCPL.

The Foreign Films New to View February 15

Friday, January 30th, 2015

 

Dormant Beauty, directed by Marco Bellocchio

(In Italian, with English subtitles)

Based on real-life events in Italy, this movie focuses on the right to die, through multiple interrelated stories.  The foundational story is of a woman who has been in a coma for seventeen years and whose family is fighting to have her removed from life support.  Meanwhile, those in favor of allowing the woman to die and those opposed form another story, focusing on a young man and a young woman from opposing sides, who meet and fall in love.  Divina Madre is a movie star whose daughter is currently in a coma, a daughter she desperately wants to keep alive.  A physician tries to keep a drug addict from dying, a young woman who herself truly wants to end it all.  Finally, Senator Beffardi must make a decision about whether to vote for or against the right to die, in upcoming legislation, with his conscience pulling in a different direction from the position of  his political party.  The stories intertwine as the drama progresses, but ultimately we are left with questions from the complexity of this issue.

 

 

For a Woman, directed by Diane Kurys

(In French, with English subtitles)

Anne and Tania are clearing out their recently-deceased mother's effects, when they come upon various photos and letters that beg for more investigation.  As their mother's past emerges, the two daughters find out that Lena's life in the 1940s was more complicated than they had ever thought.  For one, their father had a brother, previously missing in the war, but now returned, whose presence complicates the family.  Lena feels strongly that she would never have an affair, but Jean is here now, and his quiet manner and air of mystery prove to be powerful forces, drawing Lena to him.  But what secrets does he hide from his wartime past?  And how will this impact the harmony of the family?

 

Honey, directed by Valeria Golino

(In Italian, with English subtitles)

Irene has a very peculiar occupation.  She delivers powerful medicines to the terminally ill who want to die.  It is a difficult job, emotionally and otherwise, involving some risk to Irene; nevertheless, she is dedicated to her task, feeling a committment to those suffering.  But she has standards for those whom she serves:  they must be terminally ill.  So when she meets Carlo, an older architect, who suffers from something more like depression or just plain ennui, she refuses to help him.  Unfortunately, he already has the powerful sedative in his possession, so short of breaking into his flat to retrieve it, Irene has little choise but to befriend him and more or less talk him out of his suicide.  That is her challenge  – to draw him back into life where he might find the connection he needs to hang on.  Irene might also find out that she herself longs for connection as well, and here is the very person who can hold out his hand for her to grasp in this lonely world or ours.

 

In Bloom, directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross

(In Georgian, with English subtitles)

Eka and Natia are best friends in Tbilisi, Georgia.  In 1992, Georgia had only been independent from the Soviet Union for a year.  The country is still unsettled politically, and turbulence and violence seem to be everywhere.  Eka and Natia witness the general tensions, even while they try to be normal teens, going to school, sneaking a cigarette here and there, playing music, doing homework, even flirting with boys.  But the violence gets personal when Natia is abducted by a young man who wants to marry her.  While Natia ultimately submits to the proposal, Eka feels a need to rebel against this kind of behavior, recognizing that there is something primitive in all this violence.   She fiercely defends her own independence, fighting back, even using violence to fight violence.  But is that the way to grow into a more civilized nation?  Perhaps Eka through her own behavior could lead the way.

 

 

The Little Bedroom, directed by Stephanie Chuat and Veronique Reymond

(In French, with English subtitles)

Rose, an elder-care nurse, understands loss, not so much from her elderly patients, but from her own recent miscarriage, an event so painful, she cannot bring herself to dismantle the unneeded nursery in her flat.  When she meets Edmond, an elderly diabetic, she recognizes a fierce life force in him, a will to remain independent and free of all the misery of old age.  She in turn wants to protect that force, despite his increasing fragility.  We also meet Rose's husband and Edmond's son, both of whom wish to seize career opportunities that will take them away from home.  Rose makes a daring move to free Edmond from his nursing home and to safeguard his independence, but this will complicate her own life as well as that of her husband, not to mention that of Edmond's son.  What she considers doing is flat out against the law, very close to kidnapping, but Edmond is his own person and seeks maybe even more than Rose can offer him in order to live a life of dignity. 

 

  

Marius & Fanny, directed by Daniel Auteuil

(In French, with English subtitles)

Keep in mind that Marius & Fanny was originally an opera, and you might get a keener sense of the drama being played out here.  This is a romance of sorts, an old story of two young people in love, but not wanting to show it, and then finally embracing that love, despite Marius's longing to go to sea, to have adventures, and do more with his life than work in his father's bar.  Fanny, a fishmonger's daughter, knows he will never be fully happy, married and settled in a tradesman's life with a wife and children.  Should she instead marry the much older Panisse, a man who has money and position?  Or should she urge her lover to forget the sea's calling and marry her instead?   A story told in two discs, one devoted to Marius's point of view and the other focusing on Fanny, the movies have an antiquated feel, but the golden tones and soft lighting lend an almost fairy tale quality to the stories, something like, well, an opera without the singing.  Auteuil also directed The Well-digger's Daughter, owned by HCPL.

 

 

 

Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Dobaara, directed by Milan Luthria

(In Hindi, with English subtitles)

I am sorry to say that HCPL does not own Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, the movie that preceded this one, in which our main character, Shoaib, is introduced, but I do not think you will miss anything of the necessary background to understand this Bollywood extravaganza follow-up.  Shoaib is not only a gangster but the driving force behind the underworld in Mumbai.  When he meets Yasmin, she has no idea who he is and what a dangerous man he can be.  Her sass and sharp tongue don't so much offend as intrigue him.  Could the cold and ruthless Shoaib be falling in love?  Meanwhile, his young protege, Aslam, is also falling for the beautiful Yasmin.  With lots of song and dance, despite the rather serious subject of Indian organized crime, the movie propels us through the challenges and dangers of a love triangle once upon a time in Mumbai.

 

 

Slow Food Story, directed by Stefano Sardo

(In Italian, with English subtitles)

You have no doubt heard of the Slow Food Movement, the deliberate avoidance of fast food and the promotion of locally grown food, prepared in slower, more raditional ways.  Did you also know that the movement was begun by an Italian, who used what he had learned from his leftist politics to propel the Slow Food Movement forward?  Carlo Petrini found himself increasingly appalled by the growth of fast food worldwide, its unhealthy quality, and the way that fast food subverted and sabotaged the efforts of the local farmers and restaurateurs.  So in 1986, Petrini initiated his effort to restore food and the eating experience to their past levels of quality.  This documentary takes a decidedly playful approach to the subject, with a mix of interviews, narrative, and even animation, done with humor and wit.  Along the way, you may just find a craving for artisan cheese and maybe some nice Italian wine as well.  Prepare to watch this with healthy snacks before you.

 

 

Tosca's Kiss, directed by Daniel Schmid

(In Italian, with English subtitles)

This older documentary has been lovingly restored so that we might enjoy some of the enduring beauty of the music these elderly Italian musicians and opera singers produce.  The movie focuses not only on the residents of a retirement home in Milan but also on the home itself, Casa di Riposo per Musicisti.  More familiarly called Casa Verdi, it was founded by Giuseppe Verdi himself as an enduring offering of gratitude to those who produce the beautiful music of opera.  The documentary focuses mostly on soprano Sara Scuderi but allows us to listen to many others, who, even in their old age, use voice and musical instruments to bring us sublime pleasure.  If you like opera, or even if you don't, you might find this to be a lovely surprise, full of intense beauty in song that will lift up your very soul. 

 

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


Foreign Films New to View November 2014

Friday, October 31st, 2014

The Bridge, directed by Bjorn Stein and Charlotte Sieling

(In Swedish, with English subtitles)

Øresund Bridge connects Denmark to Sweden.  When a body of a woman is found precisely on the center of the bridge's span, investigators from both countries must become involved in solving the crime.  But what seems to be the body of one woman turns out to be that of two, cut and connected in the middle.   And the killings don't stop there.  A Truth Terrorist has surfaced, claiming to be committing crimes to draw attention to various social injustices, carrying out one horrific crime following another. This grisly and gripping Danish/Swedish television series has gone through a couple of hugely popular seasons, with Danish inspector Martin Rohde and the peculiar Swedish inspector Saga Norén handling the various cases.  Join them, if you dare.  Charlotte Sieling co-directed the excellent Danish TV series Borgen.  Bjorn Stein was a co-director of Storm, Underworld:  Awakening, and 6 Souls, all owned by HCPL.

 

The German Doctor, directed by Lucía Puenzo

(In Spanish, with English subtitles)

Lilith, bright-eyed and energetic but small for her age, lives with her parents Enzo and Eva, along with her siblings, in Patagonia in 1960.  Then her family moves to a hotel owned and managed by Eva's parents.  While they are there, a physician of German extraction insinuates himself into the family, quietly doing some sort of research and eyeing Lilith all the time.  We might not be certain just who he is or what he is up to, but the fact that a large  population of German immigrants has also settled in the region, some of whom are undergoing drastic plastic surgery, might give us a clue or two.  Lilith is so fascinating to Dr. Gregor, with her unnaturally short stature, that he offers advice on her growth performance.  While Enzo becomes alarmed at Dr. Gregor's persistent attention, Eva seems to have fallen under his spell, willingly cooperating when he proposes some little experiments on Lilith to help her grow.  When it becomes clear that Eva is now pregnant with twins, we can see Dr. Gregor practically salivating over that little detail.  Becoming increasingly creepy as the story progresses, the film broadens to reveal even more evil present in those isolated forests bordering the southernmost Andes.  While not a horror movie, it may as well be, based on fact as it is.

 

 

Gervaise, directed by René Clément

(In French, with English subtitles)

Years ago, I had read the novel L'assommoir by Emile Zola on which this movie is based, so I knew how this older classic film would turn out. And if you are familiar with the novels of Zola, you will no doubt guess correctly that our title character Gervaise has a tough time of it in 19th century France.  Gervaise and her useless lover Lantier live in Paris, where she works as a washerwoman and he lounges about, until he deserts her and their two little boys.  Alone, she uses her wits and wisdom to build up her own successful if modest business.  After marrying a roofer, the steady Coupeau, she seems to be on her way to a secure life, until Coupeau falls off a roof and damages himself permanently.  To ease his chronic pain, he turns to alcohol, an even speedier road to downfall.  From then on, Gervaise struggles against the odds to keep her and her little family from plunging into dire poverty, much as it is still today for the working poor.  This older classic has been in the library system for a while, but it is worth bringing it to your attention, should you wish to continue to view more Clément DVDs owned by HCPL.  Clément also directed Forbidden Games, Purple Noon, and The Damned (reviewed in the October 2014 issue of the newsletter).

 

Ida, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski

(In Polish, with English subtitles)

Ida is a novice, just days away from taking her final vows in a Polish convent in 1962.   But Mother Superior insists that she first meet her aunt, whom she did not even know existed.  Wanda Gruz is, in contrast, a high-level judge in the Communist government's court system. She is also a chain-smoking, heavy drinking woman, who does not mind engaging in a one-night stand with a stranger.  But Wanda also holds secrets close to her heart, not the least of which is that Ida is Jewish, orphaned near the end of the war and then given to the convent for rearing.  Wanda wants Ida to travel with her to the Polish countryside to find out just what happened to Ida's parents when they went into hiding and Wanda slipped off to fight the Nazis in the resistance.  More than that, Wanda wants further truths uncovered, as sorrowful as they may be.  And so the film grows into a mystery as well as a road movie.  It is also a pronounced study in contrasts, as the serene Ida pairs with the restless and tortured Wanda.  Filmed beautifully in black and white, the soft greys lend an otherworldly air to this brilliant movie.

 

Ilo Ilo, directed by Anthony Chen

(In Mandarin, with English subtitles)

At first, I thought this movie might be another Yi Yibut, alas, it is not humorously poignant, taking instead a serious look at a middle class family in Singapore in 1997, on the edge of falling apart as the family finances falter.  Hwee Leng is a besieged, pregnant, working mother, whose incorrigible son Jiale is constantly in trouble at school.  Her husband Teck has lost his job and a lot of money besides on the falling stock market, all of which is unbeknownst to Hwee Leng.  When the family hires sweet-natured Teresa to mind the household chores as well as Jiale, Hwee Leng thinks matters will right themselves.  But with so much going on under her nose, if out of her sight, things just don't seem to be getting better.  Increasingly, the story shifts to Teresa, a Filipino immigrant in desperate need of money to send back home for the care of her own little child.  How she and Jiale eventually bond is touching in its long, painful process, but effective and moving.

  

The Last of the Unjust, directed by Claude Lanzmann

(In French, with English subtitles)

Director Claude Lanzmann, best known for his monumental documentary Shoah, brings us now a close look at Benjamin Murmelstein, one of the members of the Jewish Council at Theresienstadt, that mock Jewish ghetto near Prague, used by the Germans to show the world that actually the displaced and uprooted Jews of Europe were living quite well in spa-like locations.  But Murmelstein provides another side to that story, narrated in a series of interviews in 1975 with a much younger Lanzmann.  As an Elder on the Jewish Council of Theresienstadt, he was one of only two Jews allowed in the presence of Adolf Eichmann, and his insight into Eichmann contrasts sharply with Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil."  How he survived it all is a miracle in itself, but his survival brings with it the suspicion that he was greatly at fault in matters of the fate of Theresienstadt's captive inhabitants. This documentary is long, well over three hours, but it is packed with intense dialogue and moving documentary footage from that horrible era.  Lanzmann allows Murmelstein to talk and share his memories and his perspective on persons, places, and events that will bring you to the edge of a nightmare that you can only pray will never happen again.

 

 

The Suspect, directed by Sin-Yeon

(In Korean, with English subtitles)

Dong-chul has already had a rough time of it, finding defection from North Korea his only option after a painful betrayal some time preceding the film's present action.  Now his current South Korean employer has been murdered, and it is up to Dong-chul to complete a mission his dying employer bestowed upon him in his last moments of life.  More than that, he has been wrongfully accused of that very murder. The key to it all is in the eyglasses the old man gave to him before he died.  Now Dong-chul's task is multi-fold.  He needs to find the secret information necessary to prove his innocence; he needs to learn what happened to his family still in North Korea; he must determine the importance and significance of the information he is tracking down; and finally, he wants revenge.  This movie promises lots of action scenes, with car chases, the usual blow-'em-up incidents, and much hand-to-hand combat.  Something for almost everyone…

 

 Tabu, directed by Miguel Gomes

(In Portuguese, with English subtitles)

This is the sort of movie that marks just how foreign a foreign film can be.  It is a story within a story, one we see first-hand, the other narrated for us by one of the characters.  The link between the stories seems weak at first glance, but the two are connected.  Pilar is a woman whose frail, elderly neighbor Aurora is sinking. Her health is tenuous at best, and her only companion is Santa, her patient and kind maid.  As Aurora slips closer to death, she urges Pilar and Santa to find Gian Luca, someone from her past.  When they do find him, he also is ailing but is well enough to meet them and tell them a story, that of Aurora and him many years ago in a lush, steamy Portuguese colony in Africa.  Here we find ourselves in the heart of the movie, but it is done in pure storytelling format, with Gian Luca narrating in a voice-over to a black-and-white tale of the illicit love affair between Aurora, married to a wealthy landowner in the colony, and Gian Luca, who is a friend passing through, until he sees Aurora and decides to linger a while.  So this is a story told from the memory of an elderly man about his perception of something that happened many years earlier in a land on the verge of revolution.  He and his lover are themselves moving temptingly close to a revolution of their own, as their affair deepens and the rules of society shift and loosen to accommodate their forbidden love.

 

We Are the Best, directed by Lukas Moodysson

(In Swedish, with English subtitles)

Sweden in the early 1980's, when this story takes place, probably feels like the nexus of rebellion to kids like Klara and Bobo, best friends forever, who are working out how to wear their nonconformity for the greatest effect. Right now it's punk, goth, heavy metal – definitely outsider stuff in their middle school.  When the clueless staff of the local youth center won't let them practice music, they decide to form a band, although neither can play an instrument. No matter – Klara takes the bass guitar and Bobo gets the drums, the only two instruments available at the center.  Then they ask their classmate Hedvig to join them.  The trouble is Hedvig is a devout Christian, but she's also an outsider and, better yet, she can play a guitar, I mean, really play it well.  That's all they need to get started.  More than the band though, the film focuses on the three girls and their home lives, their interactions with parents and with friends.  It is a funny, poignant tribute to teens finding themselves in what seems to be an alien world, this thing called adulthood.

The Foreign Films New to View Oct 14

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014
 

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:  http://blogs.hcplonline.org/avblog/index.php/category/foreign-films/.


Bullett Raja, directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia

(In Hindi, with English subtitles)

With a running time of well over two hours, one should expect a lot of action in this buddy film about gangsters and corruption in India.  Raja is our very cool eponymous hero, who befriends Rudra at a wedding during a shootout, yes, a shootout.  From there, the two take off, blasting guns and fighting corruption or engaging in corruption, whichever  – I must admit that I lost track during the movie.  Then along comes Mitaali, beautiful and flirty, who falls for our hero.  Does he have room in his heart for a woman, with all that buddy loyalty thing going on?  I'm not sure, although does it really matter?  Great fun and, yes, lots of action.  Dhulia also directed Paan Singh Tomar, a Bollywood drama owned by HCPL.

 

The Damned, directed by René Clément

(In French, with English subtitles)

If you like war movies, this older film is a gem.  Just as Berlin is falling in 1945, only days before Hitler will commit suicide, several Nazi officials and collaborators flee in a submarine from Oslo, headed for South America, where they will set up an on-going front to the war.  A quirk of fate thrusts an innocent French physician on board as well, who is there just to care for the ill and then to be disposed of when this gang of thugs reaches its destination.  The movie was filmed almost entirely in the sub, and not surprisingly the form of the movie enhances the content, as tensions mount, submerged hatreds boil to the surface, and the pressures of the cramped quarters along with pent up rage and bitterness exlode.  The film includes historical footage from the war, which adds to the grim story, and its gritty black-and-white cinematography reflects the darkness of the characters.  HCPL has a number of DVDs directed by René Clément, including Forbidden Games, Gervaise, and Purple Noon.

 

 

The French Minister, directed by Bertrand Tavernier

(In French, with English subtitles)

Pity poor Arthur Vlaminck, the new speech writer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, working directly under the Foreign Minister himself, the stately, imposing Alexandre Taillard de Worms.  Alexandre is given to abstractions when he articulates his thoughts but would prefer that his speech writer capture his ideas and make them concrete, no small task considering that his ideas can be summed up in language such as, "Legitimacy!  Unity! Efficacy!"  Huh?  On the Foreign Minister's commando team of writers, researchers, and attachés, Arthur has an ally in the person of  calm and collected Claude Maupas, a kind of spin doctor/permanent secretary.  One gets the sense that Claude has seen it all and been through it all before.   He can offer Arthur some advice and even consoling words, but it is Arthur who must wade through Alexandre's abstractions to more concrete substance.  If you favor subtlety and wit in your comedies, this is for you.  Tavernier also directed The Clockmaker and The Princess of Montpensier, owned by HCPL.

 

Manakamana, directed by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez

(In Nepalese, with English subtitles)

One of the most fascinating documentaries I've seen this year, Manakamana is a film for those with discerning tastes.  The premise is simple:  film subjects on their ride in a gondola lift up and down a mountain in Nepal as they visit a temple to the goddess Bhagwati.  They are confined passengers for about eight or nine minutes on this breathtaking journey over ravines and forests and up the steep slopes, as a stationary camera films them during the ride.  Sometimes the people talk; sometimes they are silent; sometimes they remark on the view or the shortness now of this once-long journey, sometimes they eat ice cream.  They laugh, they talk, they look in wonder at the sights below.  We the viewers are granted the privilege of riding with them, observing their expressions, listening to their comments or their silence, hearing the whisper of the mountain wind, seeing with the passengers the changes in the landscape below as the modern world encroaches on what used to be their known world.  The slow pace may not be for everyone, but for those of us who long for a few moments of quiet thought, this is a movie for us.

 

The Missing Picture, directed by Rithy Panh

(In French, with English subtitles)

This is a most unusual and striking documentary, not just because of the compelling story it depicts but also because of the format.  Rithy Panh created clay figures, not animated as in claymation but used in a stationary setting to create dioramas to tell the story, set by set, scene by scene, of his family's sufferings under the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the 1970's.  Almost childlike in form, the figures nevertheless draw our sympathy and prick our conscience that the world did not do more to end this brutal reign of terror sooner.  The director intersperses his dioramas with propaganda footage from the Cambodian archives, allowing us to see the real-life faces of the people of a sad nation during that nightmare of Cambodian history.

  

The Rocket, directed by Kim Mordaunt

(In Thai, with English subtitles)

Ahlo, a Laotian boy, from his inauspicious birth through his first ten years, seems to be trailed by bad luck.  His very birth as a twin is itself a sign of bad luck, as even his twin brother is born dead.  His mother defies tradition and keeps the remaining live infant, despite strong, persuasive arguments from his grandmother.  As Ahlo grows, he does indeed seem to bring bad luck to his family and community.  Or maybe he just happens to be in the wrong village, designated for destruction when a new dam is built, at the wrong time.  Once his family makes the mandatory move to a dismal camp for all the displaced citizens, the struggles begin anew.  But Rocket is a hopeful movie, even funny at times, as Ahlo grows into a lively and creative child, bent on misadventure and occasional rebellion, but ultimately a good kid.  His challenge is to find a way to get enough money for his family to buy some farmland and start afresh.  One way is to enter the annual rocket contest in a nearby village to see if he can win the grand prize.  With the help of a former collaborator with the U. S. Army, and with lots of daring-do, he risks all to produce a frighteningly effective rocket, all for the love of his family.

 

 

Sister, directed by Ursula Meier

(In French, with English subtitles)

We have to keep in mind that 12-year-old Simon and his older sister Louise are just two kids, alone in the world, trying to survive.  Then we can sympathize with Simon, the little thief, who spends his days stealing expensive ski equipment from the prosperous tourists on the slopes of the western Alps.  Sometimes Louise works; more often than not she quits her jobs in anger over some slight or other, so Simon's job as a thief is what really keeps them alive. He steals food from backpacks, skis from unsuspecting tourists, and just about anything else he can lift.  Occasionally he is caught and suffers a beating or a severe scolding.  Occasionally Louise leaves him to spend time with one boyfriend or another.  But always the two of them are in great need, barely knowing how to take care of themselves or each other.  As despairing as all of this sounds – a movie about the invisible poor – it does contain a ray of hope that the two will survive to adulthood and live a better life than what is there for them now. Ursula Meier also directed Home, owned by HCPL

 

 Two Lives, directed by George Maas and Judith Kaufmann

(In Norwegian and German, with English subtitles)

Katrine is a woman living in Norway in the early 1990's, happily married to the handsome Bjarte, an intrigal part of an intergenerational family, with daughter, grandchild, and mother.  Although her origins are full of sorrow, she is brimming with joy now.  Her mother was part of the Nazi Lebensborn program in the 1930's that focused on producing children with Germans in an effort to create a master race.  Katrine's mother's relationship with a German officer was a love match, but Katrine was still taken away as a baby by the Nazis and raised in Germany.  Well after the war, she escaped from East Germany and made her way back to Norway, found her mother, and started her life.  But something is amiss and always has been.  Katrine may not be who she appears to be after all. She travels periodically to East Germany, disguises herself with a wig and sunglasses, and checks files in dark government basements.  She meets unsavory Stasi types, and she flashes back to a chase in the Norwegian woods years ago that seems to be a key to a dark past.  A story of spies and identity theft, Two Lives holds mystery and intrigue for viewers.  Co-director Judith Kaufmann also directed Vivere, owned by HCPL.

 

When I Saw You, directed by Annemarie Jacir

(In Arabic, with English subtitles)

After the Six-Day War in Palestine, thousands of Palestinians found themselves in Jordanian refugee camps, separated from family, community,  and land.  The young Tarek and his mother Ghaydaa are two of those many faces.  Tarek's father departed in another convoy and is now hopelessly lost to them.  His mother is willing to wait for her husband, searching every newly arrived truck of refugees, but Tarek is determined to make his way back to his home. This is the story of his journey.  He sets off on his own, with his mother not far behind, frantically searching for him.  The story may be soft on the Palestinian militias, whom Tarek meets on his journey, but I think we are seeing them more through Tarek's childish eyes.  When his mother catches up with him, she also finds refuge in the mountain militia camp, but their stay there is only temporary, as Tarek heads for the border, Ghaydaa right behind him, the view of their homeland within grasp.

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



Foreign Films New to View Sept 14

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Bethlehem, directed by Yuval Adler

(In Hebrew, with English subtitles)

Sanfur is a Palestinian teenager, who is working as an informant for the Israelis, under the supervision of Razi, an Israeli operative.  The relationship is complex, revolving around Sanfur’s brother, Ibrahim, an active militant now in hiding.  Sanfur and Razi like each other, but neither trusts the other very much.  Young and a bit naive, Sanfur is maybe just looking for a better life for himself and his parents.  Razi wants Ibrahim though and will employ whatever methods necessary to secure Ibrahim’s capture.  He wants to live in peace and safety, but so does Sanfur.  When Ibrahim does get cornered by the Israelis, Sanfur feels tremendous guilt.  There might be a way to make up for his slip, but the lure of living in a safe Israel as opposed to the oppressive West Bank is also at work here. His choices in these matters are dire, if he really does have any choices.

 

Bicycling with Moliere, directed by Philippe le Guay

(In French, with English subtitles)

Gauthier, a mediocre soap opera star, would like to revive Moliere’s The Misanthrope and can think of no better actor for a major role than Serge, an old acquaintance from acting days long gone by.  Serge, however, wants no part in the scheme.  He prefers living alone on a small island off the coast of France, stewing silently over the annoyances and evils of humankind.  But if he did accept, he would want to play Alceste, the lead.  Well, so would Gauthier, who hesitates to rehearse the less meaty part of Philinte.  They reach an agreement to rehearse alternating roles, and off they go, reciting the lines in Alexandrine verse, allowing the audience to share in a rare performance of this classic play…well, at least part of Act I.  Serge begins to pull out of his disagreeable funk, and Gauthier seems to be taking acting more seriously as the rehearsals progress.  Then along comes the disagreeable Francesca, an Italian woman in the midst of a nasty divorce, and the dynamics shift yet again.  Will Francesca, showing her lively and happier side, be able to move Serge away from his misanthropic view of the world?  Or will humankind live down to Serge’s expectations?   With both comedy and drama, the movie propels us along to our own conclusions. Philippe le Guay also directedThe Women on the 6th Floorcurrently owned by HCPL.

 

Capitaldirected by Costa-Gavras

 (In French, with English subtitles)

The director of the political thriller Z, also owned by HCPL, presents here an indictment of free-wheeling capitalism, the kind where behind closed doors, boards of directors hash out how to save money by laying off employees, while increasing their own bounty through various legal and illegal schemes.  The film follows Marc Tourneuil, who has risen through the ranks of the French Phoenix Bank.  Now he runs the bank but comes head to head with Dittmar Rigule, a hedge fund manager, who wants to own the bank to swell his own coffers.  Which character is more evil is hard to pinpoint, promising the viewer at least some satisfaction no matter what the outcome of the story. 

 

Children Without a Shadow, directed by Bernard Balteau

(In French, with English subtitles)

With the invasion of Belgium by the German army in 1942, all Jews were in immediate peril.  But through a collaborative effort of the resistance and Jewish families, thousands of children were hidden in Belgian households for the duration of the war. This documentary presents the story of Shaul Harel, whose parents placed him in the safety of the resistance.  It wasn’t an easy or particularly happy time for the little boy, but Professor Harel recalls for us the joys as well as the sorrows of those years. The film takes us beyond World War II into the post-war days when Harel stayed in a home for refugee children until his permanent move to Israel.  He is reunited with some of his childhood buddies, who reminisce together.  He draws his family into the story as well, as his children and grandchildren see where he hid and meet his friends from days gone by.  While the documentary holds unbearable sadness, it shows the happiness as well, with the resilience of children blooming afresh in a savage world.

 

The Jewish Cardinal, directed by Ilan Duran Cohen

(In French, with English subtitles)

Jean-Marie Lustiger was a Jewish child who converted to Catholicism in his early teens, while hiding with a Christian family during the Second World War.  Sincere in his faith and strong in his embrace of Christianity, he nevertheless felt in his heart the tug of his heritage.  This drama based on his life focuses more on the church politics during the reign of Pope John Paul II than on Lustiger’s earlier childhood experiences.  John Paul took a liking to this sharp, intelligent priest and elevated him from bishop to archbishop of Paris, and finally appointed him a cardinal in 1983.  This may not seem like much of a narrative for a drama, but the story heats up when Carmelite nuns set up a charity hospital in Auschwitz, usurping for their own the horrors that Europe’s Jews endured there, shifting the emphasis of the Holocaust from Jew to Christian Pole.  The outrage was universal, and Cardinal Lustiger needed to use all of his persuasive skills to urge the Pope, himself a Pole, to move the nuns out, against the will of other anti-semitic Poles.  Tensions were high as Europe reeled from a vicious right-wing resurgence in the European church, with the Jewish Cardinal doing his best to restore a more gentle vision of love and charity.

  

Like Father, Like Son, directed by Kore-eda Hirokazu

(In Japanese, with English subtitles)

Ryota and Midori seem to be living an upper middle-class dream.  They want for nothing, and they plan the same for their little boy, Keita.  Then their life is turned upside down when administrators from the hospital where Keita was born reveal that a terrible mistake occurred six years earlier. Keita and another baby were switched at birth.  While they love Keita tremendously, they also want their own son, Ryosuke.  He, in contrast, has been raised by a far less prosperous family, although an intensely loving one.  Ryosuke has siblings, or rather Keita does now, but Ryosuke is used to the rough and tumble of his less organized but happier family.  Keita, on the other hand, is used to piano lessons and private schools, tutors, and all the special attention a wealthy only child might expect.  How the two families cope with this dilemma and finally confront it is a testament to love.  Hirokazu also directed Still WalkingNobody Knows, and  After Lifeall owned by HCPL.

 

 

Omar, directed by Hany Abu-Assad

(In Arabic, with English subtitles)

Omar is a baker by trade, living on the West Bank, trying to make a better life for himself, but the usual obstacles seem to get in his way:  the Israeli occupation for one and pressure to participate in terrorist acts for another.  Then a friend of his kills an Israeli soldier, and everything changes irrevocably.  When Omar gets caught and sent to prison for the crime, it seems at first that despite the torture and interrogation, he might have a chance for release and freedom. Then he makes one tiny mistake and finds himself entangled in a collaborative effort with the Israelis to seek out the real killer.  He thinks he can cleverly turn the tables on the Israeli security forces, but he may be in way over his head on this one.  In war, do you ever know who your real friends are?  Abu-Assad also directed Paradise Now and  Rana’s Wedding, owned by HPCL.

 

 On My Way, directed by Emmanuelle Bercot

(In French, with English subtitles)

Families can be complicated.  When Bettie finds out that the love of her life has taken up with a much younger woman, she has had enough.  She throws up her hands, abandons her failing restaurant (in the midst of dinner), and drives off into, well, not the sunset, but something like that.  Her long drive takes a side trip when her estranged daughter, Muriel, calls to ask her to take her son, Charly, to his grandfather’s house, while Muriel accepts a new position at work.  Bettie doesn’t know Charly’s grandfather, having never met her ex-son-in-law’s family, nor does she even know her own grandson that well.  But she recognizes an opportunity to deliver a peace offering in accepting the task. And then the adventure begins, with Bettie and the young Charly traveling around France on an excellent road trip, hanging out together, working through their own issues, and generally finding that while not all of life’s problems can be solved on the road, many of them do go away with time and distance.

 

Prisoners of War, Season 1, directed by Yorem Toledano, et al.

(In Hebrew, with English subtitles)

I found this Israeli TV series to be riveting.  Three soldiers were taken prisoner by Palestinians seventeen years earlier, but through careful and persistent negotiations by the Israeli government, two of them have finally been released.  The third is probably dead, having suffered a likely fatal blow during a torture session years before. The world to which the survivors return is far more complicated than they would want.  It isn’t just the ambivalent nature of their release that unsettles a nation:  most people are jubilant, but some are resentful that terrorists were released in the exchange.  The Israeli army needs also to interrogate the men intently on their years of captivity.  And to cap it off, their families are having maybe more difficulty than anyone could have anticipated, with the men so long absent now back in their lives.  And there are in fact many unanswered questions that linger and hang over the soldiers, making their fragile return even more difficult and problematic.  When Season 1 ends, the cliffhanger presented makes one long for Season 2, now on order at HCPL.

 

7 Boxes, directed by Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémbori

(In Spanish, with English subtitles)

Victor just wants to make a little money and maybe buy a TV set or a cool cell phone.  For now, he pushes a delivery cart in the market, looking for anyone who might need a load lifted and carted off.  When a shady butcher asks him to move seven wooden crates out of the butcher shop and keep them hidden for just a little while, the money offered is too much of a temptation. But then the boxes get stolen, and the butcher wants the boxes back, and Victor finds himself being pursued through the labyrinthine market of stalls and warehouses, all the while looking for his stolen cart and boxes.  Then he finds out what is in the boxes, and the game changes completely.  Life can be pretty dangerous in a Paraguayan marketplace.

   

Foreign Films New to View June 14

Friday, May 30th, 2014

The Act of Killing, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer

(In Indonesian, with English subtitles)

This film is difficult and problematic.  In the mid-1960's, the Indonesian government condoned and supported the mass murder of anyone suspected of bearing left-wing sentiments, holding communist beliefs, supporting labor unions, or being a student or an intellectual – you know,  the usual suspects.  Hundreds of thousands of people died as a result. This movie documents the events not through newsreel footage but through the recollected narratives of the killers themselves, who, of course, roam freely throughout the land even now.  Nominated for an Academy Award this year, the film explores the actions of that handful of thugs who helped carry out a tyrannical government's edict to destroy dissension in Indonesia.  It is not a pleasure to watch, but it does exhibit something of the depths of evil to which people descend.  In between the narratives of the thugs, we see surreal scenes of musical numbers, while the killers playact the scenes of horror they performed so glibbly many years ago.  What is disturbing is the lack of compassion for the victims, the utter absence of any sense of wrongdoing, the continued support of the government for these policies, and the horrifying, ongoing presence of evil in that society.  Unsettling and nightmarish.

 

Approved for Adoption, directed by Jung Laurent Boileau

(In French, with English subtitles)

Filmmaker Jung Boileau was just a little five-year-old orphan in Korea when he was adopted by a Belgian family forty-some years ago.  Through a blend of animation, photography, and film, we follow Boileau as he adjusts to his new life and loving family.  Adjusting is not that easy, although his first several years seem only mildly difficult, with an occasional disturbing incident of racial prejudice or a vague sense of inequality that adopted children may feel now and then, that sense of not being quite loved as much or not belonging as fully as other family members. When Boileau grows into his teen years, problems do arise – in his behavior, in his sense of identity, in the manifestation of his rebellion.  These are difficult years for Boileau and his parents and siblings.  He looks into how he fit in or didn't fit in his family.  He returns to Korea as an adult only to understand that he is as much a foreigner there as in his home country of Belgium.  But above all in this story,  he seeks and finds where he is truly loved and where he truly belongs.  It is both a sad and joyful story documented here for us.

 

Armadillodirected by Janus Metz Pedersen

 (In Danish, with English subtitles)

Like other war documentaries before it, I am thinking of Restrepo, also owned by HCPL, this film focuses on the soldiers engaged in warfare in Afghanistan. The soldiers happen to be Danish.  Stationed in an isolated outpost called Armadillo, they are committed to making Afghanistan a better place, although  viewers and the soldiers themselves may have their doubts that this is an achievable goal.  We follow the men from deployment through a year of service and then beyond into a followup after they return home again.  While they long for actual engagement, most of their work is a daily grind of dealing with local village issues and just passing the time.  When they do see combat, we are right there with them, seeing what most of us hope never, ever to see, in all the realism that makes documentaries more than art, closer to life and, in this case, death. 

 

Bestiaire, directed by Denis Côté

(In French, with English subtitles)

The stars of this film are mostly four-legged.  They are animals who live in a safari park in Quebec, where we see them over a winter of being penned in and then into milder weather, when the two-leggeds of the world, we humans, visit them to gaze upon them in something of surprise and wonder.  The beasts of this safari park would rather that we not bother.  They clearly are not happy, and are distressed outside their natural environment and inside these cages and pens and fenced-in fields.  Still, the camera captures a beauty in them that shames us for holding the animals of the world in any kind of lesser status than we hold ourselves.  There really isn't any dialogue here; what words we hear are only background sounds and not important to the movie. What is important is the quiet dignity of these beautiful creatures, as they struggle to live on in a world unnatural to them and to their souls.

 

Disco & Atomic War, directed by Jaak Kilmi

(In Estonian, with English subtitles)

One of the more humorous of the documentaries discussed in this issue, maybe the only humorous one, this film looks at life in Estonia during the Cold War.  Our narrator grew up in the city of Tallinn, while Estonia was a nation within the Soviet Union, a nation perhaps a little too close to Sweden and Finland for the comfort of government officials.  Here, a clever person might figure out a way to rig an antenna that maybe could pick up Swedish and, by extension, American television.  Here, a resourceful boy might turn into the purveyor of news of what happened to J. R. Ewing in the lastest episode of Dallas.  Here, neighbors might collectively join ranks to outwit the police, hiding TV antennas and sharing news and secrets of the outside world.  And, yes, in that dark time of blocked access to information, our own "beautiful, fragile culture" that produced Dallas and Baywatch served to open a Soviet Bloc nation to the West, while people waited with bated breath to find out who killed J. R.

  

Hitler's Children, directed by Chanoch Ze'evi

(In German, with English subtitles)

So we know what happened to Hitler and his top henchmen – some killed themselves, some were hanged unto death, some served time in prison – but what of their children, their sons and daughters and grandchildren and nieces and nephews?  What of them?  How did they go on living, knowing their parents, grandparents, and uncles did what they did?  This documentary explores just that issue.  The children carry the guilt, and most seem fully aware of their family's deep shame for the past.  They make amends as best as they can, visiting places of their childhood that spark memories of darker times, exploring those memories for clues of what was really going on around them, but now with eyes open and hearts breaking.   

 

Le Joli Mai, directed by Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme

(In French, with English subtitles)

In 1962, the people of France experienced something they had nearly forgotten existed:  peace.  The war in Algeria was over, or at least was at a standstill; the horrors of the previous world war were fading, as were its scars; and for the first time in years, Paris was alive with happiness.  This is a document of those heady days in the spring, when May was once again lovely.  Marker and Lhomme shot hours and hours of film of random Parisians, interviewing them and asking them about their lives and beliefs, their politics and convictions.  From shopkeepers, to laborers, to members of a wedding celebration, to students, the people of Paris speak out with bemusement and with annoyance, with joy and concern.  Collectively, they give us a sense of what it was like in those lovely days of spring in Paris.

 

 

Mademoiselle C, directed by Fabien Constant

(In English and French, with English subtitles)

Who is Carine Roitfeld?  She just happens to be one of the biggest names in high fashion, the editor of fashion magazines, including Vogue Paris, a constant presence in the world of designers, models, photographers, and magazine editors, in short, a fashion icon.  In this documentary, Fabien Constant follows Roitfeld as she shifts to a new endeavor, to create and publish a fashion magazine, CR Fashion Book.  Well, if any of the documentaries in this list unsettle you in their harsh realism, you may find this to be a delightful, if superficial, amusement, as the fashionistas of New York and Paris flit about, concerned about their own deadlines and rivalries, adornments and hairstyles.  Some excitement is truly infectious as Roitfeld prepares for the publication of her magazine that seriously puts the noses of other fashion editors out of joint.  In between Roitfeld's sessions with her personal ballet instructor and her consultations with designers, we meet her family and her associates, to add more to the celebration of her life.  If you find yourself leafing through Elle or Vogue while standing in the supermarket checkout line, wishing you were any place but there, you may want to lose yourself in Roitfeld's world.  This documentary will certainly open the door to another world for you.  If you like fashion documentaries, not necessarily foreign, you may want to try something even better than this,  Bill Cunningham New York, also owned by HCPL.  While Cunningham is not exclusively a fashion icon, his photography is iconic in itself, and a delightful segment of the film explores Fashion Week in Paris.

 

  My Perestroika, directed by Robin Hessman

(In Russian, with English subtitles)

Like Michael Apted's Up Series, this documentary focuses on adults, who reflect on their childhood and on how growing up in a world now gone impacts those adults even today.  The subjects of the film just happen to be children who lived in a very different Russia from what we know today.  Russia of the 1970's seemed almost a fairy tale in the recollections of the featured men and women.  It presented to them a magical, carefree time.  Then along came change in massive ways, with perestroika, the crumbling of the Soviet Union, the attempted coup in 1991, the unsettled decade of crime and capitalism that followed, and now, their present life under Putin.  The women and men reflect and consider life then and life now, with the expectations and realities that ordinary people must confront from day to day.

 

This Is Not a Film, directed by Mojtaba Mirtahmash and Jafar Panahi

(In Persian, with English subtitles)

Jafar Panahi is an Iranian film director forbidden to work on his craft by the Iranian government, which considers his work too controversial, too challenging for the Iranian people.  Panahi was arrested in 2010, tried, and sentenced to six years in prison, a sentence which he is now appealing.  While he awaits the outcome of that appeal, he resides as obscurely as possible in his apartment.  In  the same trial, he was also forbidden to direct films for twenty years; thus, his denial that this is a film.  It isn't, in a way, since he uses only a small video camera or his smartphone to record his actions occurring in a day.  While he allows us to see what he is doing on a typical day of confinement, he also reflects on the films he might make, were he allowed to make them.  This sort-of film also allows him to regard film itself as a medium and the nature of art within the real world.  Yes, it is philosophical and emerges as its own art form – at once a film and not a film; no, it is never a film, lest the Iranian government clamp down even more.   HCPL owns two other films directed by Panahi, Crimson Gold and Offside, and another in which he had a hand in the making, Border Cafe.

 

To Dance Like a Man, directed by Sylvia Collier

(In Spanish, with English subtitles)

This is perhaps the only truly joyful documentary in this month's list, and its attention is directed towards three boys, triplets, who love to dance. They are studying in the National Ballet School of Cuba, which hundreds of young people strive to attend to refine their skills in dance.  Cuba, by the way, is a country where ballet is a national pastime, greatly appreciated by the masses.  We follow the young boys as they audition for parts, go through routine exercies at the barre, and dance joyously in classical ballets.  We also meet other young students, as well as several young adult dancers and their instructors, who share their philosophy of dance.

Foreign Films New to View May 14

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

The Broken Circle Breakdown, directed by Felix Van Groeningen

(In Flemish, with English subtitles)

Didier is a Belgian who loves America, specifically American bluegrass music, but anything American is fine with him.  When he meets Elise, a tattoo artist from Ghent, he may not understand what lies ahead, but Elise has an idea that it will include her.  So she joins his bluegrass band as the lead singer, and off they go, down that road of life, with all its joys and sorrows.  The sorrows they find along the way are in fact overwhelming.  Cutting back and forth in time, the film shows us Maybelle, their youg daughter, who develops leukemia, the greatest trial of their life together.  All along the way, from marital spats to Maybelle's ordeals to Didier's gradual understanding that America does not necessarily hold the answers to life's worries, the music pulls them along, with both exuberance and sorrowful laments.  The music is purely American and a pleasure to hear, even if you are not a bluegrass fan.

 

The Grandmaster, directed by Wong Kar-wai

(In Mandarin, with English subtitles)

For those who like martial arts films, especially those of Wong Kar-wai, be prepared for a treat.  Although when the film opens martial arts hero Ip Man is forty, he is still in his spring of life.  The current grandmaster of martial arts fighting is retiring and is looking for a worthy successor.  Several masters of different martial arts styles present themselves to the grandmaster, but only one will reign.  While the fighting styles differ profoundly, while the rivalries between masters grate, and while tensions between masters smolder, what is most important is staving off the the Japanese, who have invaded China.  The film takes us through the worst of those terrible times and leaves us with Ip Man's place as grandmaster firmly in his grasp, with balletic, thrilling fight scenes all along the way.  HCPL owns several films by Wong Kar-wai in DVD format, including In the Mood for Love, Chungking Express, Ashes of Time Redux, and the English-language My Blueberry Nights

 

The Great Beautydirected by Paolo Sorrentino

 (In Italian, with English subtitles)

Jep Gambardella wrote a novel forty years earlier, a huge hit, an enduring classic, but since then, he's done nothing much.  Yes, it is true that he is the king of the nightlife in Rome; true, he gives the best parties for his socialite friends; true, he glides effortlessly through a life of leisure, an increasingly bored observer of the world around him, but what else has he done?  When Jep finds out that the love of his life from many years ago is dead, he begins to reflect on the utter uselessness of his own life and just what his legacy will be when he also leaves this world. Some critics have called this an updated La Dolce Vita, and I agree that it holds a touch of Fellini in Jep's ennui and the film's images that at times feel hallucinogenic.  Winner of this year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, this movie is visually stunning and worth a view just to gaze on the images of magnificent Rome, eternally beautiful.  Sorrentino also directed two other movies owned by HCPL in DVD format:  Il Divo and the English-language production This Must Be the Place.

 

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, directed by Elio Petri

(In Italian, with English subtitles)

This is a Blu-ray/DVD combination, so if you do not have a Blu-ray player, do not hesitate to borrow it anyway.  This older film focuses on a police detective on the threshhold of a promotion out of Homicide and into the political division, who murders his mistress and then helps in the investigation of the very crime he has committed.  He leaves clues, points out errors in the investigation, practically cries out his guilt, but he is so above suspicion that no one regards his efforts.  The film settles into a Pirandellian atmosphere as the police detective, who remains unnamed throughout, tries in more and more desperate ways to alert the investigators to his culpability.  Absurdity is only half of it.  The film stresses the dangers of fascism, as it becomes clear that the political division in this police department is deeply involved in disrupting political dissent in a time when all of Europe seemed to be exploding with rebellion.

 

Lost Islands, directed by Reshef Levi

(In Hebrew, with English subtitles)

The Levi family is large and full of life.  The parents and five sons live in Israel in the 1970's,when, like today, war is always on the horizon.  Still,they find joy in life and in each other, particularly the twin teenaged sons, Ofer and Erez. When a new girl begins attending their school, rivalry and conflict arise between the twins.  More than that, though, Erez begins to see chinks in the wall of solidarity and harmony surrounding the family, and he recognizes that families are way more complicated than they may seem.  Can a brother forgive a brother for wooing a girlfriend from him?  Can a son forgive a father for a betrayal?  Can a father forgive a son for an irrevocable act that changes the lives of everyone in the Levi family?  Despite this, the strength of family is maybe what will ultimately hold it all together.

  

Our Children, directed by Joachim Lafosse

(In French, with English subtitles)

The horrific crimes committed in this film happen early on, so the story focuses on the why of it all.  What is it that can push a person to do what is done?  Based on a true crime committeed some years before the making of the film, the story protrayed is both intriguing and deeply sorrowful.  When Murielle and Mounir marry, they seem to have everything, thanks to Mounir's adoptive father, André.  But André has a way of slipping into the young couple's lives, with Murielle being more disturbed by his intrusions than Mounir, who is, after all, André's son.  While on the one hand the family grows and thrives, Murielle's life is becoming more and more diminished.  Her struggles to articulate her confusion and frustration as well as her feelings of being trapped are met with some scepticism from her young husband and outright opposition from André.  How can Murielle escape this prison of generosity with such a huge price?  Frustration builds to rage, with leads to horror.  Lafosse also directed Private Property, owned by HCPL in DVD format.

 

 

Patience Stone, directed by Atiq Rahimi

(In Persian, with English subtitles)

An unnamed woman ministers to her comatose, unnamed husband in their house in an unnamed city in Afghanistan, amidst an unnamed conflict.  In this way, The Patience Stone reflects the universality of this particular woman's ongoing plight.  She stands for many more women in Afghanistan and other lands supported by patriarchal societies.  Her husband used to be a fighter, who in a stupid argument was shot in the neck and now lies immobilized, all but abandoned, as is also his wife, by family and friends.  A mullah makes a half-hearted attempt to appear to be concerned, but for the most part, our protagonist works alone to keep her husband alive and comfortable.  What will she do if her husband dies?  Is there a way  that she can survive on her own?  As she slowly discovers, she is doing that right now, surviving through her own wits and wisdom, doing what she has to do to keep on living in a world as cold as a winter morning, while her husband lies staring with the nothingness of a man dead to her plight.

 

 

Polisse, directed by Maiwenn

(In French, with English subtitles)

Polisse tells the stories of a Parisian police unit that focuses on crimes against children, and those crimes are legion. They include sexual abuse and violence, some of which is not even recognized by the perpetrators as abuse, so ingrained is it all in the culture.  An imam wants to marry off his child daughter; Gypsies groom their little ones for a a life of pickpocketing and other petty and larger crimes;  a father sexually abuses his daughter.  The police in the unit may have their own messy lives, but when on the job, they lay that aside to fight for what is right and just.  The various stories can be hard to take, but they are riveting and bring home two points:  that this is a harsh world, especially for female children, and that in some countries, the state is willing to fight to protect those children to the bitter end.