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December Films

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This month with Drifting Clouds, , The Seventh Seal, Spur der Steine, Conte d’Automne, Inland Empire, Batman, Batman Begins and the big end of year question.

Kauas pilvet karkaavat

I really need to visit Finland. If only to check out whether all people do there really is drinking shutting up and being depressed. Aki Kaurismäki’s Kauas pilvet karkaavat (a.k.a. Drifting Clouds, a.k.a. Wolken ziehen vorüber) certainly reinforces that impression.

The film may be quite adequate for these days as it tells the story of a couple who lose both their jobs - as a tram driver and headwaitress respectively - in a recession and suffer through the agony of feeling useless, possibly having to apply for benefits, and so on. Instead of discussing their problems they mainly shut up, look tragic or drink. And then, somehow, the film still manages to go for a happy end.

And, yes, there is a distinct lack of headwaitresses in many places these days.

Fellini’s (a.k.a. otto e mezzo) was recommended to me a long time ago and finally I managed to see it. Not only is this 1963 film in stunningly pretty black and white with the protagonist played by a grey-headed but charming-as-ever Marcello Mastroianni - it also manages to be wonderfully surreal in the way it tells its story, the allegedgly somewhat autobiographical one of a director in a creative crisis, in a wonderfully dreamy way. ‘Dreamy’ in a surreal sense rather than a kitschy one. And somehow the 2+ hours of the film past in a breeze. I suppose one could studiously re-watch it to discover and grasp all the hints and nuances in there.

Corridor in 8½

[Corridor scenes always make me think of the Coen Brothers ]

Det Sjunde inseglet

Remaining in the realm of highly lauded black and white classics with numbers in their title, next came Ingmar Bergman’s Det Sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal). While the whole subject of mediaeval films and knights coming back from crusades isn’t close to my heart, the film was still fascinating in the way it touches a bunch of issues with both religion and social behaviour in a direct and yet reasonably positive way.

Spur der Steine

While there’s no number in the title Spur der Steine (Trace of Stones), the film is old and in black and white as well. Though not quite as gorgeous visually. Which may (or may not) be because it was made in the GDR in 1966. The film deals with the way work was done in the GDR at the time. And it doesn’t put that in the best light by making clear that construction projects could suffer from both a lack of materials and from the people in charge being mainly concerned about whether things went according to the party’s ideology. Said ideology may well require them to highly laud the working schedules they despised last week. It also brings them into a bit of a crisis when one of the female lead engineers expects a child from one of her married colleagues…

While the film was made by the state run film making company in the GDR, they somehow realised that it wasn’t propagandistic enough afterwards and the film was banned later on.

Conte d’Automne

Conte d’automne is the third part of Eric Rohmer’s seasons cycle. Again, it’s full of fancy intellectual talk of book store owners and wine makers discussing in complex terms the tragedy of their relationsships - and the former actually courting some guy for the latter. An amusing film but once more lacking the lightness I sensed in Conte d’Été.

Inland Empire

I really liked some of David Lynch’s old works like Lost Highway, Eraserhead or Twin Peaks. But the guy lost me somewhere along the way. Mulholland Drive was confusing and watching Inland Empire now left me with the impression that things haven’t improved since. There must be some line between films that are too long, ill-lit, without a clear story and those who aren’t. Inland Empire seemed to be on the wrong side of that line.


I’ve never been a big comic or superhero fan and all the Batman I had seen before was some crappy 1970s TV series or so. Seeing The Dark Knight this year suggested that I might have missed out on some subtle conflicts because of that. And German television deciding to screen a few Batman films between christmas and the new year helped me fill the gap.

And Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman fills the gap rather nicely. And while Heath Ledger made a brilliant Joker in this year’s film, Jack Nicholson was an equally excellent Joker in the older film. Coming to think about it, the Joker seems like the perfect role for the guy.

Batman Begins

The newer, 2005, Batman Begins which was the predecessor of this year’s Dark Knight wasn’t as strong a film. Still, it gave a useful story about Batman’s background and how everything came to be. Not really thrilling, but helpful for ignorants like myself.

The Big Question

The big question remaining is which films were the best in 2009, now that the time for end-of-year sum-ups has come. Looking at the new films, I’ll point to Waltz with Bashir as my favourite which manages to be animated, very good, historically relevant and with a cool soundtrack at the same time. Then comes the wildly popular The Dark Knight, if only to prove that I can also like mainstream stuff. I still agree with the Joker that the people on the boats should really have blown each other up, though. Good fun could be had with Burn after Reading. An I’ll give an honourable mention to Juno which only came to Germany in 2008, was kind of sweet and had a great soundtrack.

And while not really relevant for the year 2008, I’d also like to highlight the following ‘old’ films which I found rather excellent: Unashamed brilliant Michael Haneke misery in Der siebente Kontinent, fantastic drama of past decades in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They, more Austrian drama in Import/Export and rediscovering a film I liked a long time ago: Funny Bones.

There we are. Which films did I miss out on last year? Which ones were your favourites?

January 4, 2009, 22:13

Tagged as , aki kaurismäki, batman, christopher nolen, conte d'automne, david lynch, drifting clouds, eric rohmer, federico fellini, frank beyer, ingmar bergman, inland empire, jack nicholson, manfred krug, seventh seal, spur der steine, tim burton.


Comment by g: User icon

Do TV shows count, especially those that are full feature length movies in disguise? I mean, I recently saw Fassbinder’s ‘Berlin Alexanderplast’ and ‘The Wire’-Season 5. Both were utterly brilliant. Better than most movies I saw this year. But, if I have to choose,,,: ‘Boy A’, ‘Choke’, ‘Eden Lake’ ‘Rec’, ‘Gomorrah’, ‘Il Divo’, ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days’, ‘Assembly’, ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’, ‘La Zona’ and ‘Redacted’. I think some of those movies are pre-2008.

January 5, 2009, 12:02

Comment by ssp: User icon

Thanks for the list, looks like I’ve been missing out on a lot. Of those I only saw Before the Devil Knows You’re dead and I’ve earmarked Gomorrah already. (And I think I resolved not even to try watching ‘Rec’ because it’s not my genre.

I must have given up sufficiently on television that I never even heard about The Wire before.

January 5, 2009, 14:36

Comment by g: User icon

I must have given up sufficiently on television that I never even heard about The Wire before.

That’s good, your mind is unsullied by the copious amounts of tedious coverage and commentary about the show.

I started watching the show by accident, it was on the box and I was bored one day. It was, in fact, the first episode of the first season and I was smitten. Then, about three years and three seasons later, a slew of ink was spilled about how great the show is. It led to this cult of, “I watched ‘The Wire’, it’s great, the best show ever…” Then, a few months after that I noticed puff-piece interviews with actors and celebrities in which the “stars” dropped a few hints that they’re watching The Wire and that “it’s great”. It felt insincere, the idea of watching the show became a motif of one’s taste, an advert that said, “hey, look at me, I’m hip, I watch the ‘bestest show on the TeeVee’”.

Anyway, 5 seasons, a lot to see and it is worth it.

January 5, 2009, 15:00

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