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Yet another bunch of films coming here: the harmless Blow Out, the fantastic Caché, the disturbing Funny Games, the even more disturbing Les amants criminels, the beautiful but sick 13, the uncomfortable Wolfsburg and the documentaric Black Box BRD. I guess I should try getting a job in marketing in case I continue putting strange adjectives in front of everything. But I doubt my applications will be successful unless I start watching films that warrant the use of adjectives like ‘phenomenal’, ‘entertaining’, ‘hilarious’ and their siblings.

Blow Out

The film Blow Out was recommended to me, following Blow Up and The Conversation. It’s another film with an audio recording of an accident existing and sound engineer Jack (tolerably played by John Travolta) hearing that it wasn’t quite an accident and trying to prove that.

Some consipiracies happen, some technical playing takes place and things are mostly figured out. Yet the film lacks the charm and subtlety of The Conversation or the brilliance of Blow Up. It’s more like a mostly straightforward crime story. Entertaining but not much more.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Caché

Widely lauded was Michael Haneke’s recent film Caché (Hidden) which managed to be screened in (arts) cinemas for a long time. Despite him being Austrian, it’s a French film. It’s a quiet film with long shots of empty and cool – sometimes too cool – scenes. The story is about the couple Georges and Anne receiving video tapes with recordings of their house or from within their car. It remains unclear who made those recordings and how they are made.

But while investigating this stalking, Georges comes across one of his childhood secrets again and strongly suspects to have found the reason for the stalking. That’s plausible but the film ends without any confirmation for that suspicion, giving it an open and slightly uneasy feel.

I thought the film was very cool. And being French helped with that. I doubt we would have seen the same kind of cool in German or Austrian film. And despite containing a somewhat troubling story, the film manages to remain ‘light’ on the surface and makes you worry later on rather than straight away. Well done!

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Funny Games

When seeing Caché, I saw that Haneke also directed Funny Games. Sometime in the late 1990s I saw a film which I really liked on late night TV and I figured it was Funny Games for some reason, so I was eager to see it again. Just that the film I saw back then definitely wasn’t Funny Games! (Or this Funny Games anyway.) Because, erm, that film back then was enjoyable. And Haneke’s Funny Games is downright evil.

It’s about a posh family visiting their huge holiday house at a lake to go sailing. Just that two guys come into their house to kidnap, torture and kill them. And to enjoy that whole process. While it’s clear pretty soon that things are not going to end good, I was drawn to continue watching. Anna, the family’s mother is incredibly strong in the film there’s the hope there might be a good ending. But their kidnappers play their game too well for that.

And game is to be taken literally here, as the kidnappers keep offering to play games with the family – including a bet that the whole family will be dead by the morning. It’s very cruel and it’s an attack on the viewer. The very same viewer who’ll happily watch similar violence in other films. And a viewer which the kidnappers directly address in a few scenes, by saying things along the lines of we can’t kill them now, can we? Don’t you want us to develop a proper storyline here? or by simply rewinding the film when things go wrong from their point of view and doing them properly in the replay.

While I found those moments of direct communication with the viewer to be a bit distracting, they are probably good to make the film’s point very clear. And they also make the film more bearable as they give you a moment to gasp and recall your role in all this as a viewer of the film.

I assume that for this is a film it’s good that it’s (in) German (or Austrian or whatnot) and I wonder how the remake that seems to be made by Hanke in a UK/US/French production will turn out. I’d say, go and see the ‘original’ now so you can tell people the remake is crap when it comes out ;). And of course I keep wondering which film I actually saw back then… I think it was with a circus in it.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Les Amants Criminels

After having seen 8 femmes and Swimming Pool – both of which were solid but not outrageously good – I was pointed to François Ozon’s earlier film Les amants criminels which was recommended as being much better and more intense.

And it was both! Even uncomfortably more intense. While the film begins like a high-school crime story, with our criminal lovers Alice and Luc killing their class mate Saïd who let his friends rape Alice, things turn around seriously once they start trying to bury the body. First it turns out that Alice made the rape story up. But before we can learn why all that happened and how Luc digests those news, the two are captured by a weird guy living in the forest.

And that ‘weird’ is not just in the normal sense you’d expect for people living in the woods. It’s more in the sense of a guy who’s a bit cannibalistic, who likes locking the kids up in his basement and prefers ‘my boys tender and my girls bony’. So in a way we end up with a pervert’s version of Hänsel and Gretel. It’s irritating and it’s not comfortable to watch because it goes to places you’d rather not think about, but despite – or that because – of that I thought it was a rather good film.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

13 (Tzameti)

And staying in the French (or French / Georgian, I think) region, there is 13, a black and white film which I thought is beautifully shot (nice black and white, large apertures, just the stuff I like). I starts out with a harmless story about a guy working on some people’s house. We learn that the house is observed but it’s not clear why. Just after the owner dies and the worker picks up a letter from the ground we start seeing the bigger picture. [What follows may contain spoilers]

shot from the film 13

The letter contains an invitation and as it has been hinted that it’s about big business, the guy picks it up and decides to go there instead of the deceased recipient. Which ends up making him a ‘player’ in a killing game where a number of rich guys place bets. The game is essentially Russian roulette with a number of people standing in the circle and aiming at the guy in front of them. Scary and nerve wrecking stuff. Particularly when the number of people shrinks and the number of bullets per gun rises in later rounds. While the people placing the bets are relatively upbeat, the experience is obviously nerve-wrecking for the ‘players’. Quite a sickening idea, really.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Wolfsburg

And, following up on the excellent Die Innere Sicherheit by Christian Petzold I also watched his 2003 film Wolfsburg [more info at arte]. And that was pretty much unbearably cruel as well.

The story isn’t all unknown: guy in a car kills boy on a bike and drives away; later on he falls in love with the boy’s mother. And all this with a fiancé / wife on his side. It’s shot in long and simple scenes and has just the kind of short-term predictability I can’t take where you want to shout and tell the protagonist that it’s all wrong and going wrong, but you see things happen anyway and it’s not pretty.

While I didn’t think it was a bad film, I still don’t think I’d want to see it again. Style-wise, you’ll recognise certain aspects of Die Innere Sicherheit and subject-wise, I found Open Hearts to be both a better and slightly less painful film (possibly because there are just more storylines to keep you distracted) on a similar topic.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Black Box BRD

Black Box BRD is a documentary on German terrorism. Back from the times before that expression became popular and was used for everybody with a different accent, opinion or skin colour. In the 1970s and 80s the RAF fought against what they considered to be going wrong in Germany and killed a number of people in the process. One of the victims was Alfred Herrhausen, then boss of Deutsche Bank who was blown up in his car in 1989.

The film interviews his wife and a number of his friends. For a view from the other side, the family and friends of Wolfgang Grams are interviewed as well. He was involved with the RAF and was shot when the police tried to arrest him in 1993. (While the police claim he shot himself, nobody could prove that.)

Throughout the interviews we get to see how and partly why both of the film’s deceased got to where they ended and how they and their friends perceived the situations. And after seeing that you may end up thinking that Herrhausen was more civilised than you’d expect a bank’s boss to be and that Grams was more reasonable and concerned than you’d expect someone involved with terrorists to be. But it is also made clear that both of them knew about the risks of their respective ways and were prepared to take them.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

July 24, 2006, 0:41

Tagged as amants criminels, black box brd, caché, christian petzold, film, funny games, john travolta, michael haneke, tzameti, wolfsburg.

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