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June Films

1834 words

This month with Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter, The Limits of Control, The Flowers of Shanghai, Home, Workingman’s Death, Contact High and Le Temps Qui Reste.

Die Angst des Tormanns vorm Elfmeter

Wim Wender’s Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (a.k.a. The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty Kick), based on Peter Handke’s novel of the same name which I haven’t read, tells an uneasy story about a goalkeeper who aimlessly wanders through Vienna, picks up the girl selling tickets at the cinema, kills her for no apparent reason and then retreats to the hinterland at the border to visit an old friend.

His friend can tell that he’s uneasy, and he becomes even more so when seeing the village’s police, but nothing really happens and the film does not resolve his strangely ‘lost’ state.

Even though this film was made long ago in the 1970s and plays in Austria, it still has that empty American feel to it which seems a trademark of Wim Wender’s newer films. Odd how this sticks over decades. I guess it’s called a ‘style’.

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

The Limits of Control

Jim Jarmusch’s new film The Limits of Control will probably disappoint many people who saw the trailer and got the impression that it’s a crime thriller featuring Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and Gael García Bernal. While technically those actors appear for a few minutes each, they’re not the films main point and neither does it qualify as a classical thriller.

Isaach de Bankolé in front of the Towers

Luckily I hadn’t seen the trailer beforehand and I’m not such a Bill Murray fan either, so this worked well for me. The real star and protagonist is played by Isaach De Bankolé who speaks very little and just receives codes on tiny sheets in match boxes of the club ‘Le Boxeur’ throughout the film (while doing what one may be tempted to call ‘out-Samuel-L.-Jacksoning Samuel L. Jackson in terms of determined coolness). The journey that’s apparently prescribed by those codes takes him to Madrid, to Sevilla - with special focus on the Torre del Oro - and further into the Spanish countryside. He dives into those locations, walking around, studying the paintings and ordering countless pairs of espresso of which the right one seems to be most suitable for swallowing little paper notes.

Matchboxes on a café table

The tiny code messages are brought to him by wildly different people (which suggest that Mr Jarmusch tried to call all his cool actor friends and get them to participate), many of which have a story to tell after being assured that The Man doesn’t speak Spanish. And after many iterations of this process, each of which gives ample opportunity to explore cool buildings, interesting interiors, an amazing variety of simple yet interestingly coloured suits from the protagonists small suitcase, he ends up in the countryside killing a businessman in a tightly guarded building. Luckily, by then, it seems irrelevant how he manages to enter the building, it’s enough for him to be there to do his job.

Two coffees and two match boxes on a café table.

In terms of a lone quiet man on his way I thought this film had a slight parallel to Dead Man and that extended to the reappearing slow music in the film which seemed very appropriate and sounded like Low to me (it is by Boris, though, Boris sounding like Low, I’d say).

Two coffees on a café table

It’s a cool and good looking film. It doesn’t need to make sense.

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

The Flowers of Shanghai

The Flowers of Shanghai is a an excursion into the world of Shanghai’s upper crust brothers (a.k.a. Flower Houses) that lets us meet their bosses (a.k.a. Aunties), their staff (a.k.a. Flower Girls) who were bought at young age and educated for the job and their patrons.

The film follows a few of the girls and the drama of their existence. Where drama does not mean anything ‘modern’ about how this job may be bad for them - they don’t seem to mind - but more the little fights between the different girls and their plans to marry one of their patrons who seem to be mostly old guys who like drinking games.

The whole film is richly decorated and shot in an extremely warm look. It’s also a bit boring as the drama doesn’t really make it across the screen and the film lasts over two hours. On the upside, the film is full of hot towels and opium! Whenever someone arrives at a flower house, a servant preparing an opium pipe and some hot towels isn’t far.

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

Home Planet

Without doubt drawing from the popularity of documentaries like Blue Planet or the goregous Planet Earth series (that stuff was the closest I ever got to admitting that HD television sets may be advantageous, but I have yet to indulge into a HD version of 2001…) as well as the feel good narrative of An Inconvenient Truth, there is a new film going by the name of Home which stresses both the beauty of the planet and the bad things we do to it.

All the usual suspects are there: energy waste, melting ice, killing rain forests for beef. The shots are nice, the story isn’t particularly new and I started wondering what films like these will change. They feel like preaching to the converted. A little drop of feelgood about the world combined with an extremely mild critique of the powers that are, we can lean back and appreciate the planet. Well done.

FWIW, the film has a home page as well as a YouTube page where you can watch it in a number of languages. Some comments I read suggest that there may be national restrictions on whether you can watch the film, so no guarantees for those links.

Shot from plantations in Almeria, Spain in e film

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

Workingman’s Death

Another Austrian film. What’s it with Austrian film makers? They manage to create the most depressing and weird films of social commentary as well as extra-dry documentaries. Michael Glawogger’s Workingman’s Death is in the later category.

The film opens with the following quote by William Faulkner:

You can’t eat for eight hours a day nor drink for eight hours a day - nor make love for eight hours a day - all you can do for eight hours is work. Which is the reason why man makes himself and everybody else so miserable and unhappy.

Hence it focuses on work, the dangers of work and the meaning of work for people. In five parts, it shows us five jobs which are excessively unpleasant or unimaginable for people living in rich countries. It silently films the work being done and catches a few comments of the people who do it. A few of them are fine with their job, a few do it because it has to be done, many aren’t particularly happy but they don’t complain. They need the money.

Each of the sections comes with a title (covering the screen in what looked like a stencil version of Helvetica). In Helden (Heroes), miners in Ukraine run their own illegal mining operation simply for the purpose of heating their homes. The work looks exhausting and dangerous, but they’re fine with it. They have to make do. In Geister (Ghosts), people in Indonesia collect sulphur at sulphuric springs. They pick it up and carry loads of it over a mountain to earn their money. There are tourists taking photos with them. In Löwen (Lions) we visit a ‘butchery’ in Nigeria. People bring their cattle there to have its throat cut by the local butcher. The blood runs out and other parts of the market offer to handle the skinning and roasting. It seems perfectly normal, yet it looks fantastically gross with mud and blood abound - you’ll receive your roasted and skinned cow’s head freshly washed, though. In Brüder (Brothers) we visit a shipwreckking yard in Pakistan. Old ships are brought there and they are disassembled by the local workers. The ships are huge and cut into parts which then - spectacularly - fall down and are disassembled further until they end up on a big pile.

The final part Zukunft (Future) is in China. It deals with the steel industry and how it has been growing and becoming more modern in the past decades. Workers see the progress and acknowledge its importance. As a contrast to this some shut down steel plants in Germany are shown. They have been turned into amusement parks. Making it look like everybody is at a different stage of the progress curve and that it’s at least unclear in which direction progress leads.

A very interesting film, I think.

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

Contact High

Michael Glawogger’s current film is Contact High [official site]. It was highly lauded in the paper and in it’s drug induced - which reminds you of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas from time to time, possibly crossed with a splash of Michel Gondry’s happy weirdness - it is far from the serious issues shown in Workingman’s Death.

The film’s setup is that of two guys working in a sausage stall in Austria. A bag with illegal substances needs to be picked up in Poland and because of a series of fuck-ups it becomes their job to do that. The mastermind behind the operation doesn’t agree and decides to follow them by car. We end up with people in Poland, substance use, a number of different bags ending up with the wrong people - bags of wildly different styles, it should be added, this isn’t a sensible story like What’s up Doc? -, including a bag full of sausages.

Needless to say, things end up being weird. In a funny way that’s amplified by everybody speaking Austrian accents.

Shot from the film

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

Le Temps Qui Reste

Slowly filling the remaining gaps in my François Ozon watching by finally seeing Le Temps Qui Reste (Time To Leave). The film’s story sounds so pathetic that I almost decided to skip the film: The main character, Romain, is a successful photographer in his early thirties, then he learns that he has cancer and doesn’t want the agony of chemotherapy with a tiny chance of survival.

Films with such a storyline can easily end up being unbearable. Luckily this one doesn’t and instead we see how Romain tries to cope with this situation - at the same time trying to ‘live’ in his remaining days and being completely lost when it comes to dealing with it. Being a highly cynical person himself, he feels he can only tell his grandmother and not his parents, friends or colleagues. Yet, he tries to collect a few memories, to - sort-of - make up with his sister and to remember the nice things of his childhood. It’s a hard way Romain has to go, and he struggles.

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

Also by Ozon and worth seeing: Un lever de rideau (a.k.a. A Curtain Raiser), a short film about a guy dumping his girlfriend because she’s always late. They love each other but that’s driving him nuts. A simple story that leaves nobody happy.

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

July 4, 2009, 9:47

Tagged as angst des tormanns beim elfmeter, bill murray, contact high, flowers of shanghai, françois ozon, gael garcía bernal, home, hsiao-hsien hou, jim jarmusch, lever de rideau, limits of control, michael glawogger, temps qui reste, tony leung, wim wenders, workingman's death, yann arthus-bertrand.


Comment by d.w.: User icon

My justification for HDTV — if you’re going to watch a film on crappy television anyway (which some would argue isn’t “really” seeing it), you might as well do it at something close to the proper aspect ratio and w/ decent color reproduction and proper highlight and shadow and all the rest. That the HD set usually has the advantage of hanging on the wall and not consuming the entirety of the room it sits in is just a bonus.

July 5, 2009, 22:05

Comment by ssp: User icon

Yeah that’s a dangerous can of worms to open. I am not enough of a snob (yet) to consider home viewing of films too bad. My impression is that in many films I simply don’t need to care too much about the image quality. The eye seems pretty forgiving and the real joy is in the story. Of course the are films which also (say Kubrick) or only (say those documentaries) make an effort to have great pictures and in those a cinema or a good screen at home should be an advantage.

I think my main reservation about HDTV are twofold. One is the ‘TV’ aspect of it. To me, TV seems dead. I never watch it (the fact that we cancelled the cable and they switched the terrestrial signals to digital renders the kitchen TV useless for TV watching because nobody cares enough to buy a DVB-T converter). And the sheer inanity of what is broadcast means I can just watch YouTube instead and if there is a show that’s worthwhile, you can still get it from the internet or plug in that Eye-TV. As a consequence I simply don’t want to have a TV device (and I may be nostalgic enough to hang on to my grandma’s 1980s Telefunken for as long as it keeps working).

The other point is that HDTV devices seem quite expensive, particularly when they’re only used to watch a film every now and again. Even more so when more and more people have computer screens which can display at least the same resolution and seem reasonable in terms of speed and colours. I’m just too stingy (or poor, or anti-consumer, or ecological – whatever you prefer) for that.

July 6, 2009, 2:26

Comment by d.w.: User icon

Telefunken: best brand-name ever. :) (the different meanings of “funk” in German and English are an endless source of juvenile amusement to me, e.g. the best military rank ever: Oberfunkmeister, who really seems like he ought to be a member of one of George Clinton’s bands.)

Most of the content I watch is either very timeshifted (i.e. the few worthwhile series get DVRed) or is sourced via Netflix on optical media or is streamed or downloaded from the net and routed through set-top boxes. Being social means getting it to a larger screen then the one on my Mac. In terms of expense, the HD set costs not much more than the analog set it replaced, which was crapping out anyway. (I realize that consumer electronics are priced differently here than in the EU, though…)

July 6, 2009, 18:32

Comment by ssp: User icon

I kind of counted on your Telefunken love. English speaking people seem to love it, particularly people who like electro music (I once assisted friends in a electro music society at uni to create decorations with Telefunken logos and stuff…).

And that Telefunken has proven indestructible so far (although, admittedly, the dealer tuned in the stations for my grandma when she bought it and nobody could figure out how to change them since…), so I doubt I’ll need a replacement. As ‘social’ film watching is quite hard with my flatmates. Not only do you need to agree on times, quite surprisingly other people have differing (i.e. wrong) ideas of what ‘fun’ is as well and prefere happy films or frown at watching films with subtitles.

Anyway, if I spent money on a bigger screen, I’d certainly get a nice large one for my desk. I’ve been eyeing one of those for a while.

July 6, 2009, 21:46

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