Lord or War is a film about weapon trade. We hear the story of Yuri, child of a family of Ukrainian immigrants to the U.S. who gets into the weapons business and finally hits big time there after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc which releases gazillions of weapons that are guarded by underpaid and dissatisfied soldiers. Eldorado for arms dealers.
People like Yuri then do their best to acquire those (and other) weapons and to sell them to whoever needs them most. While doing this Yuri starts making friends among the world’s finest dictators but he’s damn good at the job and knows somebody else would step in once he stops doing it. So he continues, particularly as it’s a rather lucrative business as well.
Eventually tragedy ensues and his family is destroyed by both the violence of his business and the police chasing him. Yuri himself gets away with everything because the government needs people like him to do the dirty work for them, but he ends up being fairly alone. Emphatic types might feel sorry for him.
I was a bit undecided about seeing the American remake of the brilliant Funny Games in cinema. On the one hand it is said to be not worse than the original because Michael Haneke painstakingly stuck to the original, on the other hand the whole idea of Americans being too stupid to simply watch a film that’s dubbed or subtitled and not using their ‘own’ stars and interiors makes me sick. I also suspect that even though there is an American re-make it will not be seen by the people who need to see it most. By the time I decided to see it anyway the week that it run in local cinemas was over. So instead I settled for some other Haneke.
Unlike in Funny Games where a family arrive at their posh holiday home and the horror starts slowly dawning on and then happening to them, Haneke’s 2003 film Le temps du loup starts with a knockout. Family arrive at their not quite so posh holiday home, another family is there, their daddy shoots the owning family’s daddy. Two minutes into the film you see mum and her kids running away and trying to find people who can help them.
But the horror only comes slowly here as well. Not only do the mom and kids take the loss without too much effect at first, there also seems to be some kind of strange situation in the country or the region they are in which means there is nobody to help them, there is nobody to call who will bring them home. Something bad has happened - which is never shown in the film. They end up in a place where others already wait for a train that may or may not come by to take them back to the city. Food and water are scarce and the crust of civilisation wears thin.
I didn’t really get the situation presented in the film, but it surely helped present the fragility of people’s good manners as well as how priorities shift once you have to make sure you survive the next day. Many question arose as well: To which extent did the mother do a good job looking after her kids - how deep did the killing of her husband touch her really? How relevant would that be in the situation they are in? What kind of discipline and organisation does a group of people need to get along? How do you react when the people who killed your husband/dad come to stay in the same camp you are in? And so on. As usual, this isn’t light fare and it was somewhat hard to grasp.
And while in the Haneke mood I also caught up on his 2003 Code Inconnu [IMDB]. It’s not as shocking as his other films and doesn’t have a similarly tight story. Rather, it weaves a number of different stories together which touch modern life, urban life, rural life, immigration and how they all fit together and at times don’t. Throw in some métro photography and you’ll have me pleased.
While the film isn’t as spectacular as Haneke’s other films and doesn’t give you the absurdly evil, nihilistic, whatever elements, it manages to keep you at that level of ambiguity which comes from everybody behaving sort-of OK but not quite. You can sympathise with people but you wouldn’t say they’re totally right.
One of the more amusing stories in my history of film watching is that the real reason why I first watched Funny Games was that I had seen a film which I quite liked on telly at some time in the 1990s. I remembered that its name began with funny and when looking for it, I ended up getting Funny Games instead. Of course my error became clear rather quickly after starting to watch the film as this one wasn’t about comedians. This error wasn’t a loss, but it was a little irritating.
Only later I found out that the film I remembered was Funny Bones, a slightly touchy but well told story about the son of comedian Las Vegas who fails to become a comedian as well and returns to the origin of his family in Blackpool when searching for inspiration. There he quickly meets the past of his family, along with the guys his dad stole his act from and his half-brother who really does have ‘funny bones’.
I finally got round to seeing the early 1990s Dutch film De Noorderlingen (The Northerners) after just 15 years. It plays in a new 1960s village with a single road and we follow the fates of the people there and their society as a whole. It’s a somewhat sterile road but in the living rooms and the nearby forests everybody has their little secrets and bits of drama.
The very strict concept of everything happening along the single road of that small but modern village reminded me a bit of Dogville. While the styles and storylines differ significantly, the concept of that remote place with all its secrets seems similar.
Ang Lee’s 2007 film Lust, Caution wasn’t mind blowing, but good looking - fantastic colours, light, dresses - and rather intense as well. A group of students in the drama society decides to kill Mr Yee, a collaborator of the Japanese. They want to get close to him by having one of them become Mrs Mak, another rich lady, and become friends with his wife. And they fail for the simple reason that Mr. Yee departs before they see an opportunity.
A few years later, resistance against the Japanese still needs help and they get another opportunity. They play the old game again, Mrs Mak reappears and eventually starts having an affair with Mr Yee. He, in turn is doing some dirty prison work and is quite paranoid - never relaxing, and desperately needing to be in control at all times. He’s quite cruel to her but the ‘politics’ of the situation cause things to go on until their plan is found out. And because Mr Yee is good at his job, they are shot.
You could have done it three years ago, nipples, diamonds.
Let me add that I thought the English title was an excellent match for the film because lust and caution really describe the central feeling in the scenes with Mr Yee well. The German title, unfortunately, was
Gefahr und Begierde - danger and lust - which seems just the wrong way round.
And if you could be fooled to think that maths and geometry and cool, be sure to look at the Dimensions films. Some good ideas and visualisations in there. And even tri-lingual, endlessly subtitled and with licenses that will be considered politically correct by the hipsterati.
the whole idea of Americans being too stupid to simply watch a film that’s dubbed or subtitled and not using their ‘own’ stars and interiors makes me sick
It’s not that Americans are stupid, it’s that American movie studios are chickenshit. For example, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon made a crapload of money here despite being dubbed/subbed (depending where you saw it.), and titles such as Lola Rennt and Léon did pretty decent business here… I think the main issue is that film distribution here is very much divided between big studios who only pay attention to movies that gross in the 9 figures and smaller distributors that are quite happy distributing films on the “arts” circuit — there is a very healthy small theatre circuit (every moderately-sized metro area has 1-3) where foreign-language films can do quite sustainable business. The remakes happen when the big studios wave big stacks under the noses of the foreign producers, who are always quite happy to sign away the remake rights. If this practice is “stupid” then they’re every bit as much to blame for jumping on the cash.
That’s of course another thing I don’t get about this: How could Funny Games be a mainstream film? I can’t imagine the re-make did particularly well in mainstream cinema.
I was just trying to take a ‘the market is invariably right’ POV here. If the American business assumes their customers can’t take subtitles or dubbing, that must be correct. At least that’s how the ‘market’ is usually presented these days.