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

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.

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.