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March Films

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This month featuring Celebrity, Team America, Gespenster, Pan’s Labyrinth, Rikyu, 5×2 and Network.

Celebrity

Celebrity is a so-so Woody Allen film from 1998. It deals with the struggles of a married couple who split up and start going different ways. While she goes on to an exciting new life in the media industry with her new husband, he continues to struggle as a neurotic writer trying to get his name known. When just listening and not watching what’s on-screen you’d bet that his role is played by Woody Allen himself as it’s just that typical Woody Allen role.

But it isn’t and I find it remarkable that Allen can make other people be so-much himself (or his on-screen self). As things have to go in a Woody Allen film, the neuroses and love-stories flourish while the writing suffers. All in a very entertaining way. We even have some scenes with a tolerable Leonardo Di Caprio in there.

At first I was thrilled by the fact that the film is in black and white. But as it went on I thought the black and white somehow looked rather modern and artificial. I’m not really sure what that is about.

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

Team America

I missed out on Team America when it was in cinemas because I didn’t think it sounded too compelling as a film. Yeah, South Park is fun, but seeing that dragged out in full film acted by puppets sounded like stretching things a bit too far. And in a way it is.

One thing did change, however. And that was the curious fact that some weeks ago my flatmates started saying Matt Damon in a silly voice whenever the opportunity arose in the form of some celebrity news being in the paper or so. While that was funny in itself, I soon learned that it actually came from Team America. So I had to check that out myself.

And yup, it was quite funny. In all its actor hatred, singing dictator and anti-terrorism ridicule. And, hey it’s apparently Rated R for graphic crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language - all involving puppets. Uh, hot puppet sex! And it’s lovely to have a film in which all parties are wrong for a change.

Kim Yong Il as seen in  Team America

Finally, they get extra credit for blowing up the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre in the opening scene just to kill some Arab guys. The fact that this doesn’t seem completely unrealistic probably stresses the – err – ‘communication problems’ that American foreign policy has had a for a while.

[Let me add that German school education and the standard school atlas won’t help you finding out where Mount Rushmore actually is. Thanks to Google Earth…]

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

Gespenster

Gespenster is the most recent film by Christian Petzold (the director of Die Innere Sicherheit). It is quite short and painful in telling two tragic stories.

The main one is about two girls in trouble, Nina and Toni. Nina, an orphan, falls in love with Toni, a broke liar. And they spend some time together with fun activities like shoplifting and end up going to a casting where they are supposed to tell about their friendship. There, Nina stops lying and moves from the story they made up to the real story about how she first saw Toni when she was harrassed by some guys in the park. That leaves an impression and at a party soon after, Toni goes on to sleep with the director as Nina learns from his wife…

The other story is about a French couple, Françoise and Pierre, who come to Berlin. When Françoise sees Nina she is convinced Nina is her daughter who was abducted many years ago. And as charming as that may sound in terms of a happy end, it is just not happening.

With the people in the film and their problems, this film made me feel rather uncomfortable throughout.

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

Pan’s Labyrinth

I am quit split about this film. On the one hand I saw the preview with all its dark fantasy elements and decided I won’t like it. On the other hand I found it hard to find a bad review of it and heard many people recommend it and say Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno) is the film that should have won the foreign Oscar rather than Das Leben der Anderen. And people usually said that thinking about the film’s merit rather than the politics and stupidity going with big money film awards.

In the end my gullible self decided to go and watch the film anyway so I could form ‘my own opinion’ on the topic. And I found that people were mostly right because Pan’s Labyrinth really tackles a big story – fascism and how it is perceived by a little girl – and does so in an ambitious way.

Ofelia going through a door she drew on the wall with chalk

This means we don’t just get to see the ugly face of good old fascism with its uniforms, power structures, unified opinions and arbitrary killing. (It made me wonder: people who flourish in fascist systems, would their skills also make them successful in business? or in art?) And we follow the girl Ofelia who has to move to the countryside with her mother who is pregnant by her new husband – a captain in the army.

Not only does she witness the cruelty going on in the fight against the terrorists opposition in the mountains who belong to the same families as the captain’s servants. She also dives into a fairy tale world in which she is a princess and has to solve problems so she can get back to her kingdom. Those stories take place in a dark world which isn’t really my type of thing. The only thing I really liked of that was the chalk to just draw a door where you need it, I thought all the fairy tale figures were a bit gross. Which probably was their point – but that didn’t make the film more enjoyable to watch for me.

One of those films which is well worth watching. But which I probably won’t watch again.

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

Rikyu

The Japanese film Rikyu plays in 16th century Japan and revolves on the dealing of the local lord Hideyoshi who wants to convince his peers to invade China. Not really my topic to be honest. If it weren’t that the film revolves around Rikyu, the lord’s tea master who conducts and teaches the way of the Japanese tea ceremony.

As I am quite keen on most tea-related things I was familiar with Rikyu who wrote what seems to be the book about the tea ceremony. And it was great to see the interaction between the powerful yet nervous lord and the calm and determined Riyku in the film. There are also plenty of tea ceremonies and different rooms for the ceremony which Rikyu designed and constructed.

While the film is quite slow, peaceful and long it still wasn’t boring and we see how Rikyu rises with the powers that are and eventually falls from their favour – leading ultimately to him having to leave and kill himself.

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

5×2

After having finished the François Ozon short film DVD with mixed impressions and really having liked Les amants criminels, it was time to try another one of Ozon’s full length films. This time I tried 5×2 which I still remember avoiding when it was in cinema because its posters looked definitely like a girl film romantic thing to me (and of course with a name just begging to be written with improper typography giving me an additional negative kick).

And while the film is about the relationship of a couple (2) in five acts (5), it isn’t the typical romantic film you’d expect. For one it is about a failing relationship. And in addition it’s told backwards. Now that sounds a bit silly. At least since the Pulp Fiction era non-linear narrative has become quite standard and just going straight-on backwards, with the acts going from divorce to meeting friends to childbirth to wedding to falling in love, doesn’t sound like an overly exciting concept.

But it works perfectly well. In fact running the story backwards makes it more dramatic because you keep wondering how things became the way they did. How they ended up wanting the divorce without too much stress and drama around it. And in the end it all spells out in an undramatic and slightly tragic way.

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

Network

Network is a mid 1970s film by Sidney Lumet (who also did Running on Empty a decade later) situated in the TV news business. While I was at first not too impressed with the film’s all 1970s media company setup, I started liking it once the main plot line thickened.

We learn about a new show which is transformed into a kind of preaching event in charge of its host Howard Beale. That show is wildly successful and gives a financial upswing to its TV station. All of which is orchestrated by the modern programme manager Diana (Faye Dunaway - Arizona Dream) who at the same time bedazzles the news show’s former manager Max. As time goes on and the show’s market share rises it becomes more and more apparent how all that success is totally market driven and lacks basic sense or even humanity. While such ‘insights’ may be completely obvious today – I found it quite astonishing to see them in such a well made story from thirty years ago.

And the whole idea of doing TV shows on terrorists with some wonderful ‘authentic footage’ surely is an interesting twist, particularly these days.

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

April 4, 2007, 0:42

Tagged as faye dunaway, film, françois ozon, gespenster, lang:de, leonardo di caprio, network, pan's labyrinth, rikyu, sidney lumet, team america, woody allen.

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