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

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.

Foreign Films New to View April 2014

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

An Enemy of the People, directed by Satyajit Ray

(In Bengali, with English subtitles)

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

 

Himalaya, directed by Eric Valli

(In Tibetan, with English subtitles)

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

 

 

The Home and the Worlddirected by Satyajit Ray

 (In Bengali, with English subtitles)

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

 

The Prey, directed by Eric Valette

(In French, with English subtitles)

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

 

 

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

(In French, with English subtitles)

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

  

The Stranger, directed by Satyajit Ray

(In Bengali, with English subtitles)

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

 

 

Wadjda, directed by Haifaa al-Mansour

(In Arabic, with English subtitles)

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

 

 

 

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

(In Mandarin, with English subtitles)

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

 

 

  Zaytoun, directed by Eran Riklis

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

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

 

Foreign Films New to View March 2014

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Foreign Films New to View Feb 14

Friday, January 31st, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foreign Films New to View Jan 14

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Vol. 8, No. 1

The Attack, directed by Ziad Doueiri

(In Arabic and Hebrew, with English subtitles)

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

Barbara, directed by Christian Petzold

(In German, with English subtitles)

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

Eyes Without a Face, directed by Georges Franju

(In French, with English subtitles)

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

Laurence Anyways, directed by Xavier Dolan

(In French, with English subtitles)

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

The Painting, directed by Jean-Francois Laguionie

(In French, with English subtitles)

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

Passione, directed by John Turturro

(In English and Italian, with English subtitles)

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

Renoir, directed by Gilles Bourdos

(In French, with English subtitles)

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

Something in the Air, directed by Olivier Assayas

(In French, with English subtitles)

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

The Foreign Films New to View Dec 13

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

December 2013

To subscribe to our Foreign Films Newsletter, click here.

Foreign Films
New to View

Vol. 7, No. 12

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

All About My Mother, directed by Pedro Almodóvar

(In Spanish, with English subtitles)

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

The Big City, directed by Satyajit Ray

(In Bengali, with English subtitles)

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

Gippi, directed by Sonam Nair

(In Hindi, with English subtitles)

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

In the Fog, directed by Sergi Loznitsa

(In Russian, with English subtitles)

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

In the House, directed by Francois Ozon

(In French, with English subtitles)

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

War of the Buttons, directed by Christophe Barratier

(In French, with English subtitles)

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

The Young Montalbano, directed by Gianlucca Tavarelli

(In Italian, with English subtitles)

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

Foreign Films Nov 13

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Amour, directed by Michael Haneke

(In French, with English subtitles)

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

  

The Deep, directed by Baltasar Kormakur

(In Icelandic, with English subtitles)

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

 

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Secdirected by Luc Besson

 (In French, with English subtitles)

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

  

Future to Bright Hai Ji, directed by Sanjay Amar

(In Hindi, with English subtitles)

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

 

The Glove, directed by Woo-Suk Kang

(In Korean, with English subtitles)

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

 

 

Hecho en Mexico, directed by Duncan Bridgeman

(In Spanish, with English subtitles)

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

 

 

Kon Tiki, directed by Espen Sandberg and Joachim Ronning

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

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

 

A Man Vanishes, directed by Shohei Imamura

(In Japanese, with English subtitles)

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

Foreign Films Oct 13

Monday, September 30th, 2013

A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, directed by Thierry Binisti

(In French, with English subtitles)

Tal is a teenager from France now living in Jerusalem. Distressed by a Palestinian bombing in a café that killed a young woman and her father, Tal wonders if it is possible for the two sides ever to meet. She asks her older brother, a soldier in the Israeli army, to toss a bottle with a message into the Gaza Sea, hoping that a Palestinian will find it. She requests only a chance to talk, to discover motivations, and to form a connection. When the young Palestinian Naim finds the message, he begins to wonder about this young girl. With great effort (he must rely on an Internet café and dodge the ever suspicious soldiers of Hamas), he replies to Tal’s message and continues to reply to her further questions and thoughts. Gradually, a friendship forms out of the despair they both feel, more so for Naim, who has little chance of ever moving out of the dreary and dangerous world in which he lives. Not for cynics, this remains a movie of hope in the midst of darkness.

Easy Money, directed by Daniel Espinosa

(In Swedish, with English subtitles)

Three low-lifes, three connections to drug dealing, three steps closer to disaster. J. W. is a student and a cab driver, who likes to pretend he’s much wealthier than he is. Actually, he has no wealth whatsoever, but he’s a schemer and wheeler-dealer, so it isn’t long before he’s dating a wealthy heiress and thinking he’d better find some cash to keep up appearances. Jorge is a fugitive from prison looking over his shoulder for the cops and for the Serbian mafia. Mrado is a member of that mafia and is searching for Jorge, a private matter of revenge that might explain Jorge’s looking over his shoulder a lot. The lives of the three men intersect when J. W. jumps into the cocaine smuggling business and rescues Jorge from a severe beating by Mrado. The three characters, now thoroughly linked, will find themselves simultaneously smuggling drugs, dodging each other, and avoiding the police. It’s a mean world out there.

Fog and Crimes, directed by Riccardo Donna

(In Italian, with English subtitles)

Chief of Police Franco Soneri works within the moody atmosphere of the Po River, uncovering the mysteries in the land and people around him. In this first episode of season one, Soneri has recently arrived in Ferrara from Milan, from which he has been transferred, and is immediately confronted with a death, possibly a suicide, of an elderly man, who fell down a stairwell. But here’s something else: the captain of a barge on the river has also disappeared on the same night that the elderly man met his demise. And the missing man is none other than the brother of the dead man. More than coincidence, Soneri suspects. He knows that people of the Po Valley hold grudges for a long time, and he knows that at least one of the elderly brothers was a Fascist during World War II, so might it be revenge, even of some crime or outrage done so long ago? But the likely suspects either were mere children during the war or weren’t even born yet. Who is the murderer, if this was a murder? And where is that other brother, the barge captain? Soneri’s investigation is only partially obstructed by the never-ending rain that produces flood-stage levels on the Po. His first mystery to solve in this dreary, foggy, drizzly place leads him to more than crimes in the present, but also dark legacies of the past.

The Great Spy Chase, directed by George Lautner

(In French, with English subtitles)

This older French spy parody is just plain silly. A wealthy arms manufacturer has died, and it is up to the spies from several nations to try to retrieve the patents on his invaluable weapons. Starting with the perfunctory elimination of various spies while on a train, the movie gives one the hint that James Bond has nothing on these guys, and they don’t use gadgets either. A simple gunshot or a knife in the back or just a push out the door of the swift-moving train will do just fine, thank you. The French spy will try to seduce the deceased man’s widow, while the American will try to buy the patents with his bottomless bag of money. Others will don disguises and attempt to weasel their way into the home of the widow. As I said, this one is just plain silly. If you think you might enjoy more French spy parodies, try two of Michel Hazanavicius’s films owned by HCPL, OSS 117: Lost in Rio and OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, both of which star Jean Dujardin of The Artist fame.

I Killed my Mother, directed by Xavier Dolan

(In French, with English subtitles)

Xavier Dolan is a director on the rise from Quebec – young, talented, studied in his work and yet daring in story and execution. In this film, Hubert is a typical teen – he hates his mother, Chantale. He’d hate his father too, but his father isn’t really in the picture. Instead, his single mother must cope with his surly looks and smug insolence, while he must contend with her nagging and “I-already-know-how-this-will-turn-out” lectures. (Mothers always seem to know these things.) What Chantale does not know is that Hubert is gay and has a beau, the dashing Antonin, whose mother, like Antonin, is very cool. Everything about Antonin is cool, in fact, even his last name, Rimbaud. Of course, Hubert is not really going to kill his mother, but metaphorically, he may need to do something like that to free himself as he continues on his journey of growing up. Dolan’s movie Heartbeats is currently available in DVD format at HCPL; you may want to take a look at it if you like I Killed My Mother.

The Rabbi’s Cat, directed by Antoine Delesvaux and Joanne Sfar

(In French, with English subtitles)

Algeria, the 1920’s – here is a land possessing both the ancient and the modern, where Jews and Muslims live side by side. In this land resides a rabbi, whose daughter has a much-loved cat – just an ordinary cat, one might say, until it swallows a parrot one day, and behold! The cat talks. Thus begins the animated adventures of a talking cat, who accompanies the rabbi and his friends on a journey to find a mythical people – Africans who are Jews. A lost tribe of Israel perhaps? The adventure, in typical French fashion, provides an opportunity for the travelers, cat included, to engage in lengthy intellectual discussions that are at once philosphical and humorous. Some to their adventures are dangerous; others just humorous, but add to the talking cat a companion talking donkey, and you have more room for laughs than anything else.

Shun Li and the Poet, directed by Andrea Segre

(In Italian, with English subtitles)

Shun Li is a Chinese immigrant, working to pay off her debt incurred when she traveled abroad to find a better life. When the debt is paid, her little son will be able to join her, but at the rate she is going, that will be years from now. Her efficiency and strong work ethic advance her to minding a little bar in Chioggio, a town not far from Venice, where she meets Bepi, himself an immigrant from what was Yugoslavia. He has taken nicely to his adopted land through the years, although his occasional nip of grappa is a throw-back to his Slavic roots. He is a widower, whose son lives in another city; she is a mother, whose son is thousands of miles away. In their mutual loneliness, a friendship grows. That others see danger in this growing connection leads to a greater conflict and deeper sense of who is a foreigner and who belongs.

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

Foreign Films Sept 13

Friday, August 30th, 2013

The Assassin’s Blade, directed by Jingle Ma

(In Cantonese, with English subtitles)

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

ID: A, directed by Christian E. Christiansen

(In Danish, with English subtitles)

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

Loose Cannons, directed by Ferzan Ozpetek

(In Italian, with English subtitles)

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

Penny Pinchers, directed by Jung-hwan Kim

(In Korean, with English subtitles)

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

Tristana, directed by Luis Buñuel

(In Spanish, with English subtitles)

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

White Elephant, directed by Pablo Trapero

(In Spanish, with English subtitles)

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