Category Archives: Country

#329 Pickpocket

(1959, Robert Bresson)

“Perhaps everything has a reason”

So, uh, I have a slight problem. I’m sitting down to write this review because my list says that I’ve watched it. However, this came as a shock to me, since I couldn’t remember watching it initially. So this review may prove difficult and I have to rely on information online as well as my notes to try and remember what it was all about. This probably isn’t the best start.

Pickpocket is, apparently, about a pickpocket. Sorry to shock you, but it is. Martin LaSalle is Michel, who pickpockets someone at a racecourse and is arrested, although the charges don’t stick. Following this, he then falls in with a bunch of professional pickpockets and then shenanigans.

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#323 The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp

(1943, The Archers)

“Can’t imagine anything more awful than to be a prisoner of war in England”

In 1930s Britain, a cartoon character emerged in one of the major papers, openly criticising the British establishment by being blundering, preposterous and full of hot air. Colonel Blimp was designed to be a satirical representation of British military officers who spoke with a great deal of authority on topics they didn’t understand and expressed very jingoistic views. In 1943, production team The Archers decided to develop this character further in a movie, exploring his life and expanding him into more than just a stereotype. And thus, The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp.

The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp focuses on Major-General Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey), exploring his life through a series of lengthy flashbacks. Starting with his escapades in the Boer War in the early 20th century and leading through the World Wars, we witness his attempts to maintain a stiff upper lip in the face of complicated diplomatic incidents and his growing affection for a woman named Edith Hunter (Deborah Kerr), and how this affects his decisions. Read the rest of this entry

#319 Good Bye Lenin!

(2003, Wolfgang Becker)

“The future lay in our hands. Uncertain, yet promising”

We’ve visited one previous movie about divided Germany before here on SvTM, the surprisingly good The Lives Of Others, but there haven’t been many others since then. Perhaps now it’s time to take a look at the effects of the regime on the ordinary citizens of East Germany, specifically when the Berlin Wall fell. Perhaps it’s time to say Good Bye Lenin!

The movie is set in 1989, where we focus on young East German citizen Alex Kerner. After he attends a protest rally in October, his mother Christiane (Katrin Sass) sees him and suffers a heart attack amidst the chaos. Due to delayed medical intervention as a result of the protests, Christiane falls into a coma, with no clear indication of when she’ll come out. During her eight-month coma, the Berlin Wall falls and the reunification of Germany begins.

However, when she comes out of her coma, the doctors inform Alex that the damage to her heart is serious, and any sudden shock could potentially bring on a fatal attack. Realising that the political upheaval going on around them could be exactly the kind of shock that could affect his staunchly socialist mother, he sets about trying to concoct an elaborate lie that the Wall never fell and Germany is still divided.

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#317 La Belle et la Bete

(1946, Jean Cocteau)

“Belle, you mustn’t look into my eyes”

It’s a tale as old as time – a beautiful romantic tale about a young girl enslaved by a beast-man in his magical castle until she is able to turn him into a charming prince through her innocent nature. Wait, that doesn’t sound very romantic at all! Yes, it’s everybody’s favourite children’s story about Stockholm Syndrome, Beauty And The Beast.

However, this isn’t the famous Disney version, this is instead the original French adaptation, La Belle et la Bête. After a wealthy merchant loses his fortune through dealings with unscrupulous people, he finds himself lost in the forest. Upon finding a large castle, he picks a rose from the garden and is immediately caught by a fierce beast-man (Jean Marais), who sentences him to death. However, a deal is made, and he can be spared if he sends his daughter to take his place. And so, Belle (Josette Day) is sent to the castle, where she is imprisoned and must now live with the Beast, who appears to hide a soft side under his gruff exterior. Read the rest of this entry

#313 The 39 Steps

(1935, Alfred Hitchcock)

“I know what it is to feel lonely and helpless and to have the whole world against me, and those are things that no men or women ought to feel”

Hitchcock was an awesome director, as we’ve already established here on SvTM, but I find that much of his best work came during his later years as a filmmaker, and I’ve found it harder to get into some of his earlier British work. But I’m not giving up, as today we’ll be looking at another of his early British works and seeing how well it holds up today. Let’s examine The 39 Steps.

In typical Hitchcock style, The 39 Steps is about a man who ends up wrongfully accused of something he doesn’t fully understand. Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), a Canadian on holiday in London, attends a performance by Mr Memory, a performer who claims he can remember all manner of facts. During the performance, shots are fired, and Hannay finds himself trying to help a woman named Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim), who reveals herself to be a spy, prompting Hannay to end up in an adventure of espionage and mystery.

The 39 Steps is a movie from Britain made before 1990. As a result, it suffers the same problem as every other pre-1990 British movie suffers from – it’s incredibly stiff and awkward. Character interactions are persistently marred by an insistent politeness and an obsessive fear of showing any kind of emotion. This, of course, affects the film before it even begins. It’s most notable in Hannay’s rather flat response to a random woman following him home and announcing that she’s a spy, which feels like a big thing that would elicit more questions than he seems willing to ask.

Fortunately, Hitchcock managed to tap through it a little. Just a little, mind, but it’s something. Some of the dry wit does feel dry in a way that’s genuinely amusing, there’s a sense of attraction between Hannay and his unwitting partner, Pamela (Madeline Carroll), and there are plenty of action-packed moments to hold the film together.

That said, The 39 Steps is a confused movie. While it’s not hard to follow by any means, there’s a feeling that things don’t piece together nearly as well as they do in later Hitchcock movies. Pamela is introduced quite late in the movie, an encounter with a mysterious professor seems to happen too soon, and generally moving from one scene to another feels slightly haphazard, as if it was all made up on the fly.

I think part of the reason the movie flows as well as it does despite these issues is because Hannay is a likeable protagonist. A witty and sarcastic chap, Hannay faces up to a lot of the weirdness he ends up wrapped up in with humour and quips. He clearly isn’t too pleased by what’s happened, but he seems to take it in his stride, and the audience ends up coasting along with him. At times his reactions can feel a little unrealistic and silly, but he’s so likeable that you really don’t care.

I also felt that much of the movie’s set pieces were hugely entertaining, from Hannay sliding across a train carriage to escape pursuers to a scene where he’s forced to give a political speech because he ducked through the wrong door at the wrong time. The central mystery is also intriguing enough that it keeps the film moving even when the film seems determined to not give you a direct answer.

The conclusion was also immensely satisfying, bringing everything full circle and wrapping things up nicely enough, leaving some ambiguities to keep us thinking even after the credits have rolled. It doesn’t answer everything but it concludes things nicely enough.

Overall, The 39 Steps is a good movie, but suffers from British stiffness that prevents it from being a great one. Makes for a good career starter for Hitchcock though.

Starring Robert Donat, Madeline Carroll, Lucie Mannheim & Godfrey Tearle
Written by John Buchan (novel) and Charles Bennett & Ian Hay
Produced by Michael Balcon
Music by Jack Beaver & Louis Levy
Cinematography by Bernard Knowles
Edited by Derek N. Twist

Favourite Scene: The scene where Hannay finds himself mistaken for a political candidate is hugely entertaining.
Scene That Bugged Me: A gunshot being stopped by a book continues to be implausible.

Watch it if: You want to see some of Hitchcock’s history
Avoid it if: You need the title explained to you immediately

#312 Run Lola Run

Lola Rennt
(1998, Tom Twyker)

“Everything else is pure theory”

Quite often I’ll find myself amusingly pointing out how 80s certain 80s movies are. This is not a bad thing. Back To The Future is an immensely 80s movie that is also great fun. But rarely do I apply this to 90s movies. It’s rare for me to point at a movie and say “this movie is so 90s”. Trainspotting and The Matrix are rare exceptions, as is Run Lola Run, which is possibly the most 90s movie ever made.

Run Lola Run is about a woman named Lola who runs a lot in the movie. There you go, there’s your plot. Oh, okay, here’s more. Lola (Franka Potente) receives a phone call from her boyfriend (Moritz Bleibtreu), who’s gotten himself involved in some unspecified criminal scheme and now owes some gang members a large sum of money that he left sitting on the subway. Lola now has twenty minutes in which to retrieve the money, or replace it, and so she races to help him. The movie shows three attempts at this, varying in Lola’s success.

So yeah, this is the most 90s movie ever made. It’s like Trainspotting switched its drug of choice to ecstasy and slept with The Matrix, resulting in this child. It messes around with styles and genres, it has a thumping club soundtrack, it features “cool” youth as its central protagonists and goes out of its way to make itself appear as stylish as humanly possible.

And you know what? It works! That thumping club soundtrack drives the film, injecting it with so much energy that you feel the pressure of Lola’s running. You almost feel like you’re running along with her, and this feels as tense and as exciting as you’d expect it to be. It works so well in the movie’s favour since, well, most of it is about Lola racing against the clock.

There’s also some stunning cinematography on show here. The movie employs a number of different filming styles to represent different things – Lola initially running out of her apartment building is animated, scenes involving Lola’s father and his mistress are filmed in a shaky handheld camera style, some scenes are long takes, while others are heavily cut as if it was an Edgar Wright movie. It’s easy to think that this mashing of styles could potentially lead to confusion and disorientation, but it doesn’t. It instead creates a dizzying thrill ride of a movie.

Story-wise, Run Lola Run is fascinating. We never know if the three attempts Lola makes are Groundhog Day style loops, if they’re alternate realities, or if they’re simply three versions of what could have happened. Cases can be made for Lola being both aware and unaware of the different attempts – Lola is inexperienced with a gun in the first run, but is mysteriously good with one in the second – and it leaves an awful lot of unanswered questions by its end. But they’re questions that are left open to interpretation, allowing the viewer to craft theories forever over the myriad possibilities.

This is both a good and a bad thing, however. While it’s certainly good because it gives value to repeated viewings, as you can attempt to figure out the mysteries, there’s still a sense of emptiness in regards to the whole movie. It asks a lot of questions, but does it mean to ask them or are they the result of plot holes papered over by the stylish exterior?

However, this is pretty much the only complaint I have about the movie, and even then it’s pretty vague as criticisms go. On the acting front, Lola is a very likeable character and Potente is fantastic at playing the huge array of rapid-fire emotions she goes through, and carries us through the film in the best way possible. And, what can I say, I guess I like super stylish 90s movies.

Run Lola Run is fantastic. After a few weeks of tearing apart films I simply couldn’t get into, it was refreshing to watch a film that felt exciting, tense and hugely entertaining from start to finish. If, like me, you love 90s cinema, this is one you can’t miss.

Starring Franka Potente & Moritz Bleibtreu
Written by Tom Twyker
Produced by Stefan Arndt
Music by Tom Twkyer, Johnny Klimek & Reinhold Heil
Cinematography by Frank Griebe
Edited by Mathilde Bonnefoy

Favourite Scene: Too difficult to pick a single scene, but possibly the wealthy banker’s car regularly crashing into some thugs, which amused me.
Scene That Bugged Me: The bed chat was a little bizarre and unexplained.

Watch it if: You like stylish 90s movies
Avoid it if: You don’t like pounding club soundtracks driving a movie

#310 Taste Of Cherry

(1997, Abbas Kiarostami)
طعم گيلاس (Ta’m e guilass)

“You want to give up the taste of cherries?”

Last time we encountered critically acclaimed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami here on SvTM, I wasn’t impressed and failed to see the critical acclaim. Maybe this time we’ll see something worth praising this time around, as we look at his later film Taste Of Cherry.

This is the story about a man known as Mr Badii (Homayon Ershadi), who drives around town looking for someone to help him. As the film progresses, we learn that he’s planning on killing himself, and is looking for someone to bury him in exchange for a fee. The film then focuses on the reactions from the various people he tries to get to help him.

So, this is a film about driving. Lots of driving. Shots of a car driving along winding mountain paths or through quarries or through crowds of people looking for labouring work. More car shots. Shots of a man driving the car. And so on. During all of this, people talk. They talk a lot. About nothing. Talking & Driving: The Movie. Hurray.

This is supposed to be a movie that reflects on the nature of depression and suicide but everything that might help achieve that goal has seemingly been thrown out of the window. We’re supposed to reflect on the nature of suicide through Mr Badii and yet we know absolutely nothing about this incredibly drab and boring man. He converses with at least three people in his attempt to find a gravedigger, but he says little to nothing about himself.

What’s more, we don’t know his background, we don’t know why he wants to kill himself, and we don’t know why he needs a complete stranger to bury him. We spend an hour and a half with this guy, and we end up learning exactly nothing about him. This is bad film-making and storytelling, pure and simple. How are we supposed to reflect on suicide if we don’t know the circumstances that led to it?

What’s more, the attempts to keep the viewer distant and objective really don’t help matters. I know I’ve complained about some movies, especially war movies, overdoing things for emotional manipulation, but this is way on the other end of the scale. The movie works so hard to remove all emotional attachment from the audience that the only thing the audience feels is boredom. This movie is boring. It bores you. It feels twice as long as it actually is.

This distance is clearly meant to represent some postmodern statement on the nature of film, where the director seems to openly laugh at anyone trying to find emotional attachment in a fictional character, to the point of failing to resolve the film at the end, instead panning over to the film crew to say “it’s a movie, you idiots! Stop caring!” The only problem is, this concept was done better in a 30-second advert. For furniture. That actually made us care about its central protagonist in the first place. Who was a friggin’ desk lamp.

And do you what makes this worse? The whole scheme, the central “driving point” of the plot, feels so at odds with how someone actually suffering from depression would act. Suicide is typically an act of desperation, decided on during a depressive episode and enacted with some degree of urgency. It’s not a meticulously-planned action that requires several days of preparation and assistance from others. I honestly felt like Kiarostami had never met someone suicidal before in his life.

This is backed up when the title reveals itself in a story told by one of Badii’s prospective gravediggers, where he states that he almost committed suicide himself once and then he tasted some mulberries and suddenly he felt better about himself and the world. This is not how depression works. This is not why people commit suicide. This is wrong, wrong, wrong! No one in the history of anything was ever “cured” of depression, least of all by fruit!

Ultimately, Taste Of Cherry is a waste of everybody’s time. It’s longer than it needs to be, it fails to understand depression and suicide, and never bothers to tell us anything about its central protagonist. It definitely left a bad taste in my mouth.

Starring Homayon Ershadi, Abdolrahman Bagheri, Afshin Khorshid Bakhtiari & Safar Ali Moradi
Written by Abbas Kiarostami
Produced by Abbas Kiarostami
Cinematography by Homayun Payvar
Edited by Abbas Kiarostami

Favourite Scene: There was nothing I particularly liked about this movie.
Scene That Bugged Me: While all of it was boring, the part where Badii gets out of his car to literally hang around the house was especially mind-numbing.

Watch it if: You need a sleep aid
Avoid it if: You’re looking for a movie that explores depression

#304 Hiroshima Mon Amour

(1959, Alain Resnais)

“You saw nothing in Hiroshima”

So it is today that the Japanese surrendered at the end of World War II, which seems an appropriate time to review a movie about the Hiroshima bombings. I would have done it back on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombings themselves, but I took a long hiatus and didn’t do it so this will do instead. So, Hiroshima Mon Amour then. What’s it like?

Set in Hiroshima (obviously), a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) is in Japan filming a movie about peace, where she gets into a relationship with a Japanese man (Eiji Okada). The two discuss the Hiroshima museum and then start talking about love and loss and memory. And…uh…the movie kinda stopped being about Hiroshima at that point and…I’m not really sure what it was about by the end.

Yes, this is another French-made film about Japan that rambles on about nothing for a long time and ends up not being about Japan after all. Yes, it’s Sans Soleil all over again. What is it about Japan that makes French filmmakers so enamoured with it that they have to make a philosophical essay of a movie in response? Please tell me. I’d like to know. I’d also like to ask, can we ban them from ever doing it again?

Essentially, this is a long conversation between two people of different nationalities about things. Not specific things. Just things. It starts out with them discussing a Hiroshima memorial museum and ends up with the actress reminiscing about a German soldier that she dated during the war, which of course was forbidden and so she was full of angst. And there’s some stuff about memory in there and everything is dressed up in flowery poetic dialogue that sounds completely unlike anything a real human being would say in casual conversation.

Because of this latter issue, the main problem with the movie is our good old friend “not giving a crap about the central characters.” They waffle on about nothing and talk in such flowery ways that they don’t feel like people, they feel like a catalyst for an essay that Alain Resnais wrote once. And not a very interesting essay either. Your essay gets an F, Alain. Sorry.

Here’s why. Your essay makes no sense and has no central point. Is Hiroshima Mon Amour about Hiroshima? No, that’s just added to the title to mislead you and make you think it may be about something a little more interesting (as interesting as World War II can be at this point). It drops the Hiroshima stuff pretty quickly and then just rambles on forever. I also found it hard to care much about the German solider romance backstory because I kept wondering what the hell happened to the Hiroshima stuff that the movie was allegedly supposed to be about.

In fact, it’s so hard to talk about this movie beyond this aspect because this is all there is. It’s just two people who barely know each other and are never really introduced to the audience talking. For 90 minutes. About nothing.

So again, I say, can we ban French people from making rambling essay movies about Japan? Or if not, can we ban them from being praised by critics and ending up on these lists? You want a movie about the devastation WW2 wreaked on Japan? Go watch Grave Of The Fireflies instead. You’ll get a lot more out of it.

Starring Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas & Pierre Barbaud
Written by Marguerite Duras
Produced by Samy Halfon & Anatole Dauman
Music by Georges Delerue & Giovanni Fusco
Cinematography by Michio Takahashi & Sacha Vierney
Edited by Jasmine Chasney, Henri Colpi & Anne Sarraute

Favourite Scene: Whenever they actually talked about Hiroshima, which, you know, the film was allegedly supposed to be about.
Scene That Bugged Me: Absolutely everything else.

Watch it if: You like rambling French films
Avoid it if: You want a movie about Hiroshima

#300 Downfall

(2004, Oliver Hirschbiegel)
Der Untergang

“The war is lost… But if you think that I’ll leave Berlin for that, you are sadly mistaken. I’d prefer to put a bullet in my head.”

Hitler parodies were everywhere on YouTube at one point. These were usually videos where Hitler would be ranting away in German while some wacky person added subtitles that suggested he was ranting about something mundane or anachronistic, such as getting his Xbox Live account banned. Well, did you know where that clip came from? It came from Der Untergang, aka Downfall, a movie about, well, Hitler’s downfall at the end of World War II.

It’s April 1945, in Berlin. Hitler (Bruno Ganz) is celebrating his birthday when suddenly loud blasts begin to rock the city. Demanding answers, Hitler discovers that the Soviets have breached German lines and are just outside the city. Determined to face off against the Soviets rather than surrender, we witness Hitler descend into madness as he deludes himself into thinking he can survive the onslaught and still win the war.

Now, there are naturally some reservations about this movie. The idea of humanising Hitler and setting a movie based on his perspective of the decisive Battle Of Berlin is one that not a lot of people particularly like the idea of. There are plenty that say that presenting Hitler as human is an insult to all who lost their lives in the Holocaust, and all those who fought to take him down.

However, Hitler was a real person, not some fairy tale monster made up to scare Jewish children, and a portrayal of him as human is a better lesson for humanity than acting like nobody else is capable of what he did. So here it is, a human portrayal of Hitler, showing him as a flawed human being with twisted thoughts and a complete lack of compassion and empathy. It’s a portrayal of humanity at its darkest, and we need that.

And Bruno Ganz nailed it. His performance is excellent throughout. Hitler is presented as this twitchy, uncomfortable little man with not an ounce of empathy in him. He is quick to anger, makes irrational decisions and deludes himself of his own greatness. He’s not particularly nice, and even in moments where he begins to appear rational and sensible, he’ll start to spout off some nonsense about how proud he is to have eradicated so many Jews. Essentially, he’s portrayed as someone you don’t really want to spend much time with.

The problem is, Hitler’s portrayal is pretty much the only good thing about the movie. The rest of it is a plodding mess that makes me question exactly what it’s trying to achieve. It’s a movie that shows a flawed human version of Hitler in the midst of scenes of concerned looking Germans not saying anything to each other, or at the very least debating whether or not they should leave Berlin, over and over.

The problem is, the many generals and staff under Hitler’s command (and I mean MANY), are not even remotely fleshed out in the way Hitler himself is. As such, everyone tends to bleed together as a single autonomous unit called “the people who aren’t Hitler”. Sure, you can tell them apart physically – there’s the fat one, the creepy-looking one, the stern one, the doe-eyed secretary and the other secretary (I think she was a secretary), but good luck remembering any of their names. Oh, and there’s Eva Braun, but she’s just kind of there because she was Hitler’s wife, but she’s got just as much personality as the rest of them.

The problem is, so much screen time is dedicated to these personality-free extras that the movie feels utterly pointless much of the time. And for a movie about Hitler’s downfall, it’s odd that Hitler kills himself (not a spoiler!) 40 minutes before the movie ends, leaving us with over half an hour of faceless characters running around trying not to get shot…and often getting shot. Repeatedly.

Downfall would be a great movie if it stuck to its guns and retained some level of focus. As it is, its determination to get every tiny little detail, however insignificant, into it 150-minute running time is tiresome and dull. Stick with a story about Hitler and we’ll be in a better place. And to highlight my displeasure with the movie, I’m going to make a Hitler Rants video. Bye!

Starring Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Ulrich Matthes, Corinna Harfouch, Juliane Köhler & Thomas Kretschmann
Written by Joachim Fest & Bernd Eichinger
Produced by Bernd Eichinger
Music by Stephan Zacharias
Cinematography by Rainer Klausmann
Edited by Hans Funck

Favourite Scene: The famous Hitler rant is probably the best part of the movie for many reasons. Even if you don’t find it a good scene on its own merits, at least it’s easy to turn off subtitles and imagine a comedy reason for Hitler’s rants.
Scene That Bugged Me: Why does the movie just keep going after Hitler’s death? Why won’t it end?!

Watch it if: You really need to complete your collection of movies giving an account of World War II
Avoid it if: You came here for Hitler’s suicide and expect it to be over by then

#299 La Jetée

(1961, Chris Marker)
“This is the story of a man…and of a woman’s face”

I know of La Jetée for three reasons. First of all, I’ve reviewed director Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (and wasn’t impressed). Secondly, I’m a fan of the band Pure Reason Revolution, and their track “Blitzkrieg” samples dialogue from this movie (the page quote, which is actually two sections of dialogue fused together). And finally, the much more well-known Terry Gilliam movie 12 Monkeys draws heavily from La Jetée. So there’s a lot to be interested in there, so let’s take a look.

Set following World War III, a nuclear war that destroyed much of the planet and its population, La Jetée examines the attempts of scientists in the future to send people back in time to correct the mistakes and stop the war from happening. The main character, The Man (Davos Hanich), is chosen for this purpose because of a stark image of a woman (Helene Chatelain) he remembers seeing in his childhood, prior to the war, which provides him a direct link to the past.

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