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April Films

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This month with Assembly, Milk, Don’t Come Knocking, Il Divo, But I’m a Cheerleader, The Quiet Earth and Electroma.


Following recommendations, I watched Assembly (Ji jie hao), a film about the Chinese Civil war. More specifically it tells the story of a soldier, Gu Zidi, who has to defend a position with his troops until the bugle sounds for assembly. Their job is hopeless, his soldiers all die and the bugle never sounds. He’s tormented by this ever after, thinking that he may not have heard it, killing all his soldiers as a consequence. Eventually he tries to figure out what exactly happened and to make sure his unit and the dead soldiers get the credit they deserve for it.

This may sound like a typical war film, but it’s more than the normal ‘hooray’ thing you’d expect. Gu Zidi isn’t running around all the time boasting about ‘honour’ and the great guys, but he’s wrecked by what happened and only manages to get out of that with the help of a friend he won in the war by saving his life. The fight scenes at their hopeless command in the first half of the film are also impressively graphic and cruel, thus driving home the hopelessness of their task and the ingenuity they put into it.

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


Gus van Sant’s Milk was highly lauded when it came out in the U.S. I have to admit I was a bit sceptical about that as of van Sant’s films those about growing up tend to be great while the others like the biographical Last Days were so-so. Luckily I was unnecessarily sceptical here and the film errs, if anything, on the side of being a bit too popular and mainstreamish in telling the story of Harvey Milk who fought a good fight for gay rights until he was shot.

What’s probably most impressive about the film (apart from the fact that - going by the photos shown at the end - they managed to cast people for the various roles who look really similar to the real people they represent) is how the film brings back the ‘bad old times’ in which people could expect to be taken seriously when they demanded that people should be fired from their jobs for being gay. While things probably aren’t perfect yet, it seems that society has come a long way since, thanks to the effort people like Mr Milk made.

Demonstration scene in the film

They also showed the 1984 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk which is probably a bit more factual yet still quite dramatic, for the drama is in the murders that happened. It also put a bigger focus on the upsetting verdict the killer of Milk and Moscone (whose name the non-Californian only knows from the convention centre of the same name…) received and the civil unrest that followed. [But why-oh-why did this film which could serve as a Helvetica promotion come with Ari-fuckin-al subtitles, as so many German subtitlings do?]

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

Don’t come Knocking

Despite being the posterboy (or at least respected old man) German director, I haven’t watched that many of Wim Wender’s films. Possibly because they have a reputation for being a bit slow. Don’t Come Knocking isn’t particularly fast but in no way boring as it tells the story of an actor riding (he’s a cowboy actor) away from the set he’s working at, visiting his mum for the first time in decades and tracing down his kid he didn’t even know of before being retreived by a Matrix-like agent of his employer.

It’s amusing how the film is very artificial in the scenes and shots it creates, merging the various ascpects/stereotypes of American hinterland. Skies are blue, colours are rich, views are depressing. What still upsets me, though, is how Earl manages to throw pretty much his entire furniture out of a window and it’s not dropping down right next to the window but makes it all the way onto the street. Good for the film, for sure, but physics seem to work differently here.

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

Il Divo

Much lauded and recommended: Il Divo, a film about Italian politician Guilio Andreotti finally made it to local arts cinemas. As seems common in the ‘dynamic’ world of Ialian politics Adreotti was elected many times to many offices. He also seemed to be associated with many criminal charges, timely deaths of people disagreeing with him and so on. Yet he was never convicted. People say that this film helps getting a feel for how politics in Italy work.

The amazing thing about the film is how it’s pretty much told from the point of view of Andreotti himself. A small hunched and migrained man who is convinced to not do anything for himself but just for the sake of god. He’s friendly but quite distant at all times and while he never does anything explicitly evil, the feeling remains that he isn’t really independent of them.

Andreotti in Il Divo

I thought the film itself in the way it was arranged and shot was amazing as well. With fantastic looking scenes and bits of electronic music being injected in the narrative, it left a great impression. There’s are great spatial effects through camera zooming and the revealing of text as well. The film is a pleasure to watch for the looks alone.

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

But I’m a cheerleader

But I’m a Cheerleader presents itself as a comedy-drama about a girl whose parents are worried about her loving girls and sending her out for re-education. Naturally that doesn’t work out particularly well, particularly with other similarly inclined girls around. The whole setup of the film with the pink re-education centre where the girls wear pink and learn ‘girl-activities’ like vacuuming and changing nappies and the guys wear blue and learn ‘guy-activities’ like logging wood and fixing a car is rather funny and that kind of humour is probably the only way to address such institutions in a light-hearted way.

Pink environment with girls learning how to clean in the film

I suppose the sad point is that similar re-education institutions, along with the people believing they’re a good thing, most likely do exist for real.

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

The Quiet Earth

In The Quiet Earth something fantastic happens and pretty much all people vanish from the planet. However, discovering that is quite scary, as the planet suddenly becomes very quiet without all the chatter and movement generated by people. For some reason, Zac is still around and he tries to figure out what was going on (he eventually sort-of manages as, incidentally, he worked at a project which may just have led to that situation). Later on he meets two more survivors, Joanne and Api and they try to get along, figure things out and prevent worse things from happening. Amusing to watch but not the best-motivated film.

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


Two robots strive become human in Electroma. They fail. They’re also Daft Punk. It’s not a big Daft Punk music video. It’s a slowly told story, it’s tragic, it’s a bit on the boring side to be frank.

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

May 6, 2009, 13:59

Tagged as assembly, but I'm a cheerleader, country:it, daft punk, don't come knocking, electroma, geoff murphy, gus van sant, il divo, jamie babbit, milk, paolo sorrentino, quite earth, wim wenders, xiaogang Feng.

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