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January Films

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This month with Runaway Train, Jerichow, Dufte, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Hundstage, Lichter and Let’s Make Money.

Runaway Train

The mid-1980s flick Runaway Train was surprisingly good. All the drama of prisoners escaping from an Alaskan high security prison, getting onto an uncontrolled train and everybody trying to figure out what to do in that situation. Does anybody know they’re on there? Is it reasonable to derail the train to prevent it from destroying things along the line?

Throw an enraged policeman trying to capture the fugitives into the equation and you’ll end up with extra expletives and violence. Fun to watch and interesting to see Alaska feature as something huge, lonely and white - rather than the home of a stupid politician - for a change.

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

Jerichow

A bit of drama happened in Göttingen’s cinemas at the end of last year when the big cinema megacorporation finally shut down the ‘Stern’ cinema. This didn’t seem like a surprise - what good is there in a small-ish cinema showing the slightly smaller films in times of few visitors to a big corporation? Still it seemed like a shame because the cinema itself is quite nice and comfy - and less than five minutes by foot from home. But the Stern cinema re-opened in January with new people running it. And one fun idea they came up with was to run Sunday matinée shows with a sort-of breakfast going along with them.

We gave that a shot and saw a preview screening of Christian Petzold’s new film Jerichow there. Situated in a East German village by the same name it shows all sorts of misery. That of the region seeming a bit run down, that of a tragic marriage and that of an intruder into it.

The marriage is between Ali, a successful businessman with a bit of an alcohol problem who’s running a bunch of fast food stalls and Laura who’s tied to Ali by big debt she used to have and will tolerate the occasional beating for that. And the drama comes in the form of ex-soldier Thomas who is broke, needs a job, starts working for Ali, does his job well, and gets involved with Laura. Tragedy ensues, plans for killings are made and, yet, everything ends up not quite as planned.

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

Dufte

Another nice thing about the re-opened cinema is that they show an additional short film before the main feature. We got to see Dufte this way. A short film playing in a train compartment in 1950s GDR where all people in the compartment try to smuggle coffee from West Berlin back home. The smell gives their little conspiracy away - even to the representative of the police state who has a blocked nose and the harmless old lady who brought the coffee for her husband’s birthday is betrayed by one of the passengers and loses her coffee that way. And despite the official making clear that they know everything and there’s no way to evade them, things come to a happy end in which all parties have their nice cup of coffee.

[Now who thought that English subtitles in Arial are a good idea?]

Sympathy for Mr Vengeance

Chan-Wook Park’s 2002 film Sympathy for Mr Vengeance is wierd, somewhat violent and yet compelling to watch if you don’t mind the odd bit of blood, desired and forced kidney transplants, kidnapping, working on a revolution and yet the protagonists seeming to be ‘good’ people. The film looks good, is relatively quiet and suggests it needs a second viewing to get all the details straight.

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

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

With Woody Allen going all warm and European in his latest films, one doesn’t have to venture to New York to pursue the task of seeing all his films. And with him enlisting Barcelona in its full touristy Gaudí beauty as well as the hotness of both Scarlett Johansson and Penélope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, there remains very little chance for failure. And indeed, the film is a winner in terms of hotness alone. Even more so for darkroom aficionados…

I am not sure that Allen’s narrator style and determination to not miss out on any clichéed photo opportunity is the greatest of filmmaking but with its ironic touch it’s certainly an interesting idea.

Darkroom scene in the film

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

Hundstage

When seeing Austrian films you always wonder what’s wrong with the country that makes their directors create such depressing or fucked up films. Hundstage (a.k.a. Dog Days) is no exception. Meandering through Austrian suburbia with the associated funny accents in a series of hot days we see a lot of people stressed and undressed by the heat. Add some grumpiness, adultery, insanity and criminal intent to that and you already have the spirit of the film right there.

Couple subathing on their terrace next to a concrete mixer

I was once more struck by the way Ulrich Seidl’s films capture that certain emptiness and blandness you see in postindustrial suburbia.

guy sunbathing in front of a row of box-shaped holiday homes

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

Lichter

In Hans-Christian Schmid’s 2003 film Lichter (a.k.a. Distant Lights) we go to Germany’s eastern border and see Eastern Europeans trying to come into the country after having been dumped close to the border by ‘facilitators’ who were supposed to bring them to Berlin. While it remains unclear what exactly those people - whole families even - try to escape from, the questions they raise on arrival are clear: Who will assist them in trying to cross the border? Who on the German side helps them? Who makes sure they get sent back home properly according to the law? Difficult questions which the film approaches.

In a side story we also see some German-Polish business going on with office buildings being built and a young architect (August Diehl) being disillusioned by both his pretty plans being ruined and an old acquaintance working to ‘entertain’ the business people.

The EU has expanded since the film was made, so Germany’s eastern border is not the one people need to surmount to come in anymore, but our great poor eastern neighbours still remain a relevant topic.

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

Let’s Make Money

Erwin Wagenhofer’s new film Let’s Make Money [IMDB]is a documentary about modern capitalism. It was made before shit hit the fan and gave us that fincancial crisis to enjoy but it deals with topics pretty close to it like tax havens, pension funds and investment gambling. With the focus, however, being more on social aspects such as people getting a rather bad deal out of growing cotton in Burkina Faso because free markets stop when it comes to subsidies for cotton farming in the U.S. or insane investments into building holiday resorts in Spain which seems quite profitable for the people who do it even though they remain unpopulated and burden the environment and tax payer as each of them has to bring along its own infrastructure which apparently has to include a golf course for a resort to be attractive to investors.

Just as in We Feed the World Wagenhofer lets the people who are involved in the topic do the talking, highlighting that even people who are in those businesses sometimes consider their practices shoddy. And also highlighting that things like investment schemes or Channel Island tax havens can sound like perfectly reasonable things to work with when presented in the right way and focusing on essentials like ‘profit’.

Particularly the cotton topic was depressing. I am not a textbook consumer and I already hate doing things like buying clothes, but this makes things more upsetting: There’s essentially no way I can buy a shirt and support the people who plant the cotton, weave the fabrics or create the shirt from them. Whatever you do, the money you put into the system as a ‘consumer’ seems to end up in the hands of the people whom you wouldn’t want to give it to. And it’s hard to see how to reasonably change that, no matter what all those young happy politician types (like the attac/Green guy who was in the discussion after the film) tell you.

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

February 2, 2009, 0:16

Tagged as alaska, andrei konchalovsky, august diehl, benno fürmann, chan-wook park, christian petzold, country:at, country:de, dufte, erwin wagenhofer, hans-christian schmid, hundstage, ingo rasper, jerichow, let's make money, lichter, nina hoss, penelope cruz, runaway train, scarlett johansson, sympathy for mr vengeance, ulrich seidl, vengeance trilogy, vicky cristina barcelona, woody allen.

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