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August Films

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This month with Central do Brasil, Judgement at Nuremberg, L’aile ou la cuisse, Boogie Nights as well as Inglourious Basterds.

Central do Brasil

My flatmate had to do a report on Central do Brasil [a.k.a. Central Station - IMDB, Wikipedia] for his Portuguese class, which gave me the unexpected opportunity to watch it. The 1998 film starts in Rio de Janeiro’s central station where ex-teacher Dora works as a writer. Illiterate people come to her desk and pay her to write letters for them. She’s a mean person, judges her customers by their letters, takes the ‘liberty’ to mock the letters together with her friend back home and isn’t too keen on actually mailing the letters in case she disapproves of their content.

One of her customers, Ana, comes along with her little son Josué and is run over by a bus when she leaves the station. Against her initial intentions Dora eventually takes care of Josué, particularly after she starts having a bad conscience after selling him off to child traders for ‘adoption’. After freeing Josué from that, they start looking for his father on a long trek on buses through Brazil during which they lose much but eventually start trusting each other. Eventually they find the right place, Bom Jesus, figuring out that Josué’s father is himself on his way looking for Ana and his son in Rio, but hasn’t come back. So Dora leaves the boy with his half-brothers and sneaks away to get back home.

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

Judgement at Nuremberg

1961’s Judgement at Nuremberg [IMDB, Wikipedia] is a black and white film that clocks in at more than three hours without being dull. It presents a court trial against judges under the Nazi regime.

The film highlights two main things: One the one the the (from today’s point-of-view unsurprising) ease with which otherwise intelligent people end up justifying the killing of people because ‘it’s the law’ and they’re ‘doing their job’. The other are the political difficulties of the trials against Nazi-era crimes: There was supposed to be the illusion of the Nazi-era powers being held responsible for what they did without turning the German people into enemies (or killing too much of the local business elites, I guess).

The first of those points are shown in the film by the reactions of the judges who built their own little models about doing their jobs well and about what ‘law and order’ is and it’s reflected from time to time by the way they answer questions or the way their attourney attacks witnesses. The second point is highlighted by the setup of the trial whose judge comes from the American hinterland and who is ‘reminded’ by the military that it’d be a bad idea to be too harsh.

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

L’aile ou la cuisse

I’ve been a fan of Louis de Funès films as a kid. He’s always this hectic slightly choleric guy running around and pulling grimaces and his films were on TV. Yet, the list of films seems endless and L’aile ou la cuisse [a.k.a. The Wing and[?] the Thigh -IMDB] is one I only saw now.

In the film, de Funès plays Charles Duchemin, the owner of a famous restaurant guide who makes and breaks restaurants by assigning stars to them. He does that job in typical de Funès style by dressing up (so he isn’t recognised), pulling faces, taking little samples and so on. But the big challenge in the film is that Jacques Tricatel, a big industrial foodmaker who brings a lot of bad food to the people tries to buy good restaurants as well and serve his ‘malbouffe’ there.

After running through a few side-stories involving Duchemin’s son Gérard who’d rather be a clown in a circus than a food tester, Duchemin’s pretty and young new secretary Marguerite and the fact that a former star cook takes revenge on Duchemin by forcing him to stomach a bunch of industrial food, leading to a loss of taste, they break into Tricatel’s factory to uncover how his ‘food’ is made. In a final show-off in a TV debate, Tricatel and the Duchemins are confronted and the ‘quality’ of Tricatel’s food as well his attempt to kill Duchemin are revealed.

The film is funny and entertaining. It’s also well balanced by mocking both the food guides and critiquing industrial food. When keeping in mind that it was made in 1976 one also suspects that it’s rather prescient or that we should be scared about the ‘malbouffe’ we can/have to buy today.

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

Boogie Nights

I never saw Boogie Nights [IMDB, Wikipedia] and catching up with that gap wasn’t really worth it. A guy starts being a porn star and all the stereotypes you may have about the porn business - cheeky names, people congratulating each other for their cheeky names, directors who are artists, porn stars who are actors, drugs, stupidity - end up being spelled out. Um, great.

Sure, there are a few fun scenes in the film, and one has to chuckle when seeing the cheeky trailers shown in the film or directors trying to insist on using proper film for their art. At an hour less this may have been entertaining, but the way it is it’s a dull ode to the 1980s to me.

Trailer shot from Boogie Nights

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

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s new film Inglourious Basterds [IMDB, Wikipedia] boggles the mind with the spelling of its title. At just over two-and-a-half hours it’s a very long film, but time just flies by. The film is quite funny, a bit violent and - not quite unexpectedly - indulges in a play with stereotypes.

The film plays in Nazi occupied France in 1944. It focuses on a small unit of American soldiers (jewish ones to make the message clear) who set out to kill and scalp German soldiers and send a few of them home with a swastika carved into their forehead. On the other side there’s most notably German ‘Jew Hunter’ Hans Landa who is smart, well educated and takes pride in outwitting the people trying to hide things from him by careful observation.

»Nuit Allemande« at the cinema in Inglourious Basterds

German propaganda end up premiering a film ‘Stolz der Nation’ about one of their war heroes, Frederick Zoller, in Paris. Zoller shot hundreds of American soldiers from a bell tower. The premiere eventually takes place in a cinema chosen by Frederick because he fancies its owner Shosanna, a jewish girl, who previously managed to flee from a raid by Hans Landa on the place they were hiding in. With many highly ranked Nazis - all the way up to Goebbels and Hitler - being in the cinema, Shosanna sees the opportunity to take revenge by burning down the cinema during the show. A similar chance is seen by the Inglourious Basterds and even by Hans Landa who sees a nice opportunity to come out of this as a hero.

First and foremost the film is great entertainment. It’s also an interesting mix of American and European cinema with Brad Pitt starring as the boss of the ‘Basterds’ (in a remarkably good and un-Brad Pittian role) and young (ah well, a few years ago’s young) German actors like Daniel Brühl and August Diehl being fresh faced Nazi officials. With their different origins people speak a whole load of languages and it just works out.

Hans Landa negotiating in the film

From a historical point of view, I am not sure how well the film does. Hitler seems like a joke (as usual on the silver screen), the whole concept of ‘revenge’ against the Nazis may feel intuitively good but is intellectually wrong, and things just work out too easily. The absurdity of three attempts to kill the high Nazi officials succeeding at the same time, trivialise the whole problem. On the other hand, particularly the portrait of Hans Landa is brilliant. Smart beancounters like him who are happy to use their powers in the most profitable way and - one suspects - even enjoy the triumph of having caught, trapped, exposed, others, always look like a particularly depressing part of the evil.

Finally there are the stereotypes. Tarantino makes an effort to leave none of them out. From the French countryside to Riefenstahl to the Nazi decorations: While his cross references to other films may be subtle, all of those decorations are as in-your-face as they can get. And neither is there much subtlety in the film’s stereotypically good guys behaving just in the way the bad guys do.

It’s a good film that easily fills its length. But - in a typically German way if you wish - I am inclined to think that may handle a serious topic like the Third Reich a bit too lightly. And while it has those typical Tarantino-style dialogues and first-class absurd scenes (e.g. SS officers sticking cards saying King Kong to their head) it does seem to lack the abundance of cool and sexy one got used to from earlier films..

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

September 4, 2009, 23:37

Tagged as aile ou la cuisse, august diehl, boogie nights, brad pitt, central do brazil, country:br, country:fr, daniel brühl, inglourious basterds, judgement at nuremberg, louis de funès, marlene dietrich, paul thomas anderson, quentin tarantino, stanley kramer, walter salles, william shatner.

Comments

Comment by Dave2: User icon

“From a historical point of view?!?”

Given that practically nothing in the film is historically accurate, and Tarantino made no attempt at anything but writing his own history here, I was able to dismiss the idea fairly early in the film. I loved the movie, and enjoyed the way that it manipulated us. First he gets his audience to revel in the non-stop killing of Nazis… then holds a mirror to them by showing the Nazi’s as the audience reveling in the non-stop killing of Americans. So while you may think that the success of the multi-tiered plot at killing the Nazi high command trivializes the problem, I actually think it was a bold statement about violence begetting violence in a way you rarely see in film (the good guys acting like bad guys was the entire point for me!). And I felt dismissing the seriousness of the Third Reich was actually a way of dismissing the seriousness of the film itself AND the audience they reflected… and thank heavens for that, because it would have been a mindless, boring bloodbath without it.

As you note, Hans Landa was absolutely brilliant, and put an edge to Inglourious Basterds that elevated the entire film. One of the most sinister “bad guys” to come along in ages.

Along with “District 9” it’s my favorite film of the year so far.

September 5, 2009, 17:40

Comment by ssp: User icon

Nothing against the violence-begets-violence point.

My point goes more along the line that it took a whole country of seriously fucked up people to run the Third Reich whose willingness to participate was crucial. But they don’t really appear in the film.

September 5, 2009, 22:31

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