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January Films

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La Strada, Last Days, The Color of Money, Babel, Made In U.S.A., Kurz und schmerzlos, Lipstick on your Collar, 茶の味, Hwal, Out of Rosenheim and others.

La Strada

After seeing La Dolce Vita I was told to try out Fellini’s La Strada as well. La Strada is also called a ‘classic’ by many people and while being just six years older than La Dolce vita (1954 vs 1960) it looks much older with movements looking much less smooth and more like they did in old silent movies.

The story also seems less modern – about the girl Gelsomina who is sold to traveling artist Zampanò and who manages to cope with this thanks to her simple-mindedness. While she dislikes the crude Zampanò, she still gets used to him and enjoys the lifestyle of travelling and artistry. And of course there’s more tragedy on the way coming by the ‘fool’ character Il Matto who wants to offer more to Gelsomina than just playing along with Zampanò. But he can’t really do that. Particularly after Zampanò kills him.

I thought La Strada was more accessible than La Dolce Vita, probably because the story is more conventional and the film is shorter. On the other hand, La Dolce Vita seems significantly more modern in comparison.

What amazes me is Fellini’s – presumably unintended – skill to coin expressions: After being surprised to learn that La Dolce Vita established ‘paparazzo’ as a term, I was surprised again when seeing the protagonist in La Strada being called Zampanò which in German is occasionally used as a name for people who are showing off boastfully or to express that people who do have a good standing and who are proud of it probably can’t live up to that standard.

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

Last Days

Last Days is another Gus Van Sant film that plays with the Kurt Cobain story / myth. Some guys in a house in the countryside. Drugs, depression, strangeness, suicide. Hard-to-understand weirdness. All that in a non-excited environment with more mumbling than talking happening – and not even too much of that.

Perhaps this is an interesting approach to the topic, trying to avoid the obvious stereotypes that so-called ‘documentaries’ go for these days but rather attempting to let the viewer live with the main character and get a feeling for how he feels. That said, interesting isn’t necessarily good. And ultimately I didn’t like the film too much. Perhaps I’m just not enough into the whole Cobain story (although a friend always tried to get me in – but even he managed to survive the age of 27…)

Finally, let me bitch about the film industry: Showing a film in Cannes in spring 2005 and publishing it in the US and many other places in summer 2005 is mean when you only release it in Germany at the beginning of 2007. Grrr.

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

The Color of Money

The Color of Money is a mid 1980s flick starring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise. The former is good while the latter already sucked when he was young. Luckily not as badly as he does these days so the film wasn’t spoiled. And we get to see young Vince (Cruise) who’s a great pool player being coached by old-time player Ed (Newman) who wants to teach Vince the tricks of the trade.

Those focus on successfully making money more than on showing off and winning stuff. That of course doesn’t go down well with Vince who just wants to enjoy and win the game. But as Vince learns to live within profitable limits of the pool table, Ed gets drawn back into the sport that he dropped out of long ago. He gets himself some glasses and goes back to play. Quite unprofessionally, for the sake of the game rather than the money, of course…

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

Babel

While I didn’t like the trailer too much, I heard a number of my friends say that Babel is an excellent film - so I went to see it anyway. After all it’s directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu who had ample opportunities to prove himself as a master of dark brilliance (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, one of the BMW films, a section of 11’09”01) – and who used those opportunities well.

Shot from the film with the two Moroccan boys

And seeing this film was absolutely worth it. It consists of several independent stories which (surprise, surprise) are linked by a single detail and people having problems to communicate play a role in each of them. Be it the American couple Richard (a kind of grown up looking Brat Pitt) and Susan (a half-bitchy Cate Blanchett) half of whom get shot in Morocco and who urgently need medical help while travelling the middle of nowhere with a bus full of tourists who consider all the locals dangerous terrorists. Be it the Moroccan peasants who buy a gun from their neighbour and whose son shoots a tourist bus that’s passing by. Be it the Mexican nanny who wants to attend her son’s wedding and need to take the kids with them because their parents are stuck somewhere in Africa. Or be it the deaf daughter of the rich Japanese businessman who.

Each of these stories is dramatic in its own right. And many things in them go wrong without anybody even wanting to do bad things. It’s mostly misunderstandings that make things go wrong. ‘Ill Communication’ if you want. And there are many points made by the film which range from a certain scepticism vis-à-vis people in uniforms and positions of power to the hint to not let drunk people drive you to the fact that guns aren’t child’s play to seeing Joe average tourist being a complete jackass to the more positive point that even if you are injured in a foreign culture whose language you don’t speak people will understand your pain and help you.

Shot from the film at the wedding in Mexico

And even that only captures a tiny fraction of the film. It makes clear that the world has shrunk. That regardless of the actual distances things can and will be related. And that even holds for time. And in this small world each step you take brings great responsibility. All this could be considered as a take of globalisation from a point of view that isn’t primarily focused on capitalism.

I guess I’m trying to say you should just see this film. It’s well over two hours long but you won’t notice. It’s not particularly uplifting but it’s brilliant. It’s not Hollywood style ‘beautiful’ but beautifully shot with gorgeous scenery and tight focusing. It’s not disastrous but still tragic.

Not that I have become a big fan of happy films all of a sudden – but I do wonder what a happy film by Iñárritu would look like. Would it be fantastic or dull?

Shot from the film with  a Japanese girl on a swing

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

Made In U.S.A.

Made in U.S.A is a 1966 film by Jean-Luc Godard. While it possibly lacks a coherent story more than Bande à part, I thought it was quite cool in places.

The film centers around Paula (played by Anna Karina who also starred in Bande à part) who throughout the film is investigating, being suspected and killing. In fact a strangely high number of people are shot in this film which doesn’t really seem violent. Furthermore the film plays all kinds of strange tricks – with little déjà-vu repeats of a few seconds or with people telling you what’s going on on screen or what they are thinking.

There are also numerous playings from a tape with recorded messages from some communist party guy. And there’s a brilliant scene in a bar where not only there is a barman who is extremely busy considering there are just four people in his par but – more importantly – there’s some worker drinking there who starts of a rather long play on language and grammar by interchanging subjects and objects in sentences.

Other things I enjoyed were the fact that they speak relatively clearly and slowly in the film, so I could watch it in French without too much need for subtitles. And the frequent presence of ‘As Tears go by’ (apparently sung by Marianne Faithfull – whom I wouldn’t recognise if she sang to me in a film). I think I need to get out one of my Rolling Stones CDs now…

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

Kurz und schmerzlos

Kurz und schmerzlos (aka Short Sharp Shock) is an early film by Fatih Akin (Solino, Gegen die Wand, Crossing the Bridge) playing among immigrants in Hamburg. We learn that being Turkish is different from being Greek is different from being Serbian. And we see how all of them try to get along but things just end up being painful and bloody.

The modern world meets the old traditions without too many problems in this film. But unfortunately its main characters, Gabriel, Bobby and Costa are small time crooks and manage to get themselves into loads of troubles that costs them their friendship and some of their lives.

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

Lipstick on your collar

I re-watched Lipstick on your Collar, an early 1990s British mini serious which I enjoyed very much when first seeing it back then. It consists of six episodes playing in the ‘war office’ of the British military. And we get to see all the quirks of the people working there.

The main protagonists are the shy newcomer Private Francis Francis and the more boastful Private Hopper who are language clerks in that office. And throughout the episodes they not only have to live through the quirks of their superiors but also have to deal with the girls they fancy. All that wouldn’t be brilliant, though, if it weren’t for the way this is done: Throughout the episodes there are frequent scenes in which Hopper starts sinking away in his parallel world where he and the others sing some hit from the time the series plays in (Suez crisis).

And it’s not just singing but everybody’s suddenly wearing appropriate costumes as well as singing and dancing along to the music. Which is great fun. Private Hopper is played by a very young Ewan McGregor by the way. It’s really a shame about him. He’s so great in this and his old films but then he got into the whole Star Wars crap and did loads of other bad films.

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

茶の味

茶の味 (The Taste of Tea) is a Japanese film which I had the opportunity to see recently. I don’t think it really made it to Europe beyond a few film festivals. Which is sad because it’s a fantastic film with some sweet little stories in it.

Each member of this artistic family has his or her little story: The slightly crazy grandfather who acts out manga moves, the mum Yoshiko who is drawing mangas and discussing those moves with the grandfather, the little daughter Sachiko who tries over and over again to do a backflip on a horizontal bar and is followed by an imaginary larger version of herself, the son Hajime who falls in love with a new girl in in class – and goes on to play Go with her - and the father is some kind of hypnotherapist who’ll run practice sessions on his family. And there’s much more to fill well over two hours.

While each of these stories may seem like just a little blip somehow they manage to form a wonderfully consistent film together. I really liked that. And at times it reminded me of the style of Michel Gondry - just in a less ‘on steroids’ way.

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

Hwal

Kim Ki Duk’s 2005 film Hwal (The Bow) took ages to come to Germany. As usual it is a very quiet film with not much speaking done and it looks beautiful. It is about an old man living on a boat who rose a girl he found there. And he wants to marry her when she turns 17. Seeing them in the film immediately splits you in two parts. One thinking that this is just sick and that locking her up on the boat when she should be enjoying her youth is wrong. The other seeing that he does genuinely care for her.

The only contact to ‘normal’ people they have are the fishermen which the old man brings to the boat. They try to feel up the pretty young girl which the old man stops by shooting arrows with his bow dangerously close to them. In a way the bow is his main way of communicating. Not only aggressively but also by turning it into an instrument.

But shortly before she turns 17, things change. One of the fishing guests brings along his young son. Who fancies the girl and who seems to be the first person she likes. This changes the situation so much that the old man sees his decade old plan of marrying her in danger. All the preparations he already made for a traditional wedding ceremony seem to become futile at once and he doesn’t see much point in living on without her.

Somehow the film still manages to find a relatively non-dramatic ending from this situation.

Out of Rosenheim

Out of Rosenheim (Bagdad Cafe) is a great 1980s U.S.-German film by Percy Adlon starring Marianne Sägebrecht as a Bavarian who leaves her husband on a trip to the U.S. and stays in a run down motel in the countryside, getting to know and love the locals and vice versa. Just a great film with all the national stereotypes – particularly that running gag about coffee strengths – you know and love.

Personally I think Rosalie goes Shopping which (together with Zuckerbaby) is another part of the trilogy of cooperations between Sägebrecht and Adlon is even better though.

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

Others

Other films were Antonioni’s Il Deserto Rosso which I didn’t like / didn’t get; the recent French film Le doux amour des hommes about a young poet who thinks he can’t fall in love, then does and then wonders whether he really did – so-so; David Lynch’s classic Eraserhead which is a visually gorgeous black and white affair with interesting background sound / music – I also thought it was rather gross; Re-watched Woody Allen’s wonderful Manhattan which may be the film that got me hooked on the Allen style - wonderfully rich black and white and of course Allen having a bunch of young and pretty women as ex-wives and girlfriends; also Woody Allen’s early 1970s Bananas which is pretty much slapstick in many places but doesn’t fail to take the piss of pretty much everything from politics to intellectuals (and includes a fun Battleship Potemkin quote); and his newer Small Time Crooks with poor stupid people becoming rich through effort rather than crookery and then being fleeced by the rich; Sleepers a film about child abuse in a ‘home’ for offenders and their revenge which’d be much better without the kitsch of its last ten minutes.; re-watched Ang Lees’ fantastic Eat Drink Man Woman which really made me long for a good Chinese meal (which I doubt I can get around here) and was amused to see that his earlier film Pushing Hands – while not quite as good – has similar bits of cooking scenery in it; as, interestingly has Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover which does seem a bit too wannabe theatrical to me at times; finally, Dark City about a city where people are kept for experiments by aliens who make both the world and its inhabitants change, is a cool looking film that may have inspired Sin City a bit. [Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Battleship Potemkin quote in Woody Allen's Bananas

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February 2, 2007, 8:28

Tagged as alejandro gonzález iñárritu, ang lee, anna karina, babel, bananas, bbc, brad pitt, cate blanchett, color of money, cook thief wife lover, dark city, david lynch, deserto rosso, doux amour des hommes, eat drink man woman, eraserhead, ewan mcgregor, fatih akin, film, gus van sant, hwal, jean-luc godard, katsuhito ishii, kim ki duk, kurz und schmerzlos, last days, lipstick on your collar, made in u.s.a., manhattan, marianne sägebrecht, michelangelo antonioni, out of rosenheim, percy adlon, peter greenaway, pushing hands, sleepers, small time crooks, strada, taste of tea, woody allen.

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