falderal : a moving images blog

Archive for November, 2009

Love And Savagery ; 2009

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Posted by Maddy

Director: John N. Smith
Actors: Allan Hawco, Sarah Greene
Country: Canada, Ireland

A Newfie rock enthusiast walks into a bar in Ireland in 1969. He falls in love with the local waitress who unfortunately is destined to be a nun. Their relationship shakes up the sediment that the town is resting on. Ba domp domp. All joking aside the new film Love and Savagery, an Irish/Canadian collaboration is nothing more than a series of clichés and tropes making the film void of any sort of punch as my punchline.
The film, based upon the novel of the same name by Des Walsh is an attempt at a star crossed love story but ends up lumbering along predictably. Charismatic Canadian poet and rock nut Michael (Allan Hawco) travels to Ireland to trace his roots and view the vast foray of limestone that surrounds the scenery of the small town he’s staying in. There he meets, and quickly falls for the sweet barmaid at his inn Cathleen (Sarah Greene). The two quickly bond, including one instance when she asks why his accent is so like hers and he responds “my people are from here” reinforcing their deep instant connection. Unfortunately Cathleen is destined to be a nun and Michael’s intervention is causing antagonism amongst the town folk. The two gaze at each other across the landscape longingly while Michael does his best to avoid being beat up by the locals. The film progresses predictably: Cathleen is pressured by her friends and family, Michael is persistent, the two go off to an island together which causes tongues to wag, something awful happens and the two are driven apart.

It is astounding how formulaic this film is. Michael’s best friend shows up at some point, who is as jolly, bearded and rotund as they come. Cathleen’s stern uncle glowers at her for her decisions not understand what she is feeling. The wise Mother Superior watches sagely the doomed romance in front of her, advising when she can. The pressures of religion and society versus that of true love are what keep these two kids and the film going. Cathleen cannot be with him due to a promise she made to her dying mother and Michael gives her very little credit for her religious choices, constantly coming when he’s not supposed to. It is difficult to vouch for their sincerity, but that might be the immediate connection they have and the series of clichés they use to describe their feelings for one another – at one instance Cathleen describes him as someone she has felt that “she has known for a very long time.”

John N. Smith certainly has an eye for scenery as his camera pans across the vast Irish landscape, which is later mirrored in the shores of Newfoundland. Outside of that the film is generic and often forced, though that might be due to what little interesting material they all had to work with. The film flirts with elements that could cause some interest – the relationships of Newfoundlanders and the Irish in contrast to Canada and England, tensions between desire and faith, any ancient Celtic tradition involving rocks all of which are skirted for the oldest love story and certainly the most over done. The film is certainly competent and is far from any sort of cinematic disaster, but is so dull and trite that one wonders what the point of it all was. The poet interacts with a creature that can never be his and ends up becoming inspired, only to remain in sadness by the end. One can only wish that the film had its own unrequited love in order to have inspired it to be marginally interesting. This film is as dull as the rocks the characters walk on and features a love story treaded on by too many leaving the surface smooth and thoroughly dull.

An Education ; 2009

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Posted by Maddy

Director: Lone Scherfig
Actors: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams.
Country: United Kingdom

It is becoming more and more rare to not only find a film that has a smart, intelligent female character as the lead, but one who is an active agent in the narrative. An Education, adapted by Nick Hornby from Lynn Barber’s memoir of the same name, is a film that does just that. This time capsule to 1960s suburban London is coming of age tale is one that tells a familiar story, but does so as un-Hollywood as it can.

Sixteen year old Jenny (newcomer Carey Mulligan) is an overachieving cellist who is pressured by her parents into spending all her time working towards getting into the university of their dreams, Oxford. Jenny, in her suburban existence, desires culture – specifically that of the French variety. Whether it’s listening to Juliette Greco records instead of studying for Latin, or dropping the French phrase whenever she can, Jenny is someone who is always demonstrating her knowledge, but craves finding it elsewhere. Luckily for her she finds it in the much older David (Peter Sarsgaard), who quickly sweeps her off her feet and charms her hard nosed, albeit well meaning, parents. It ends up, not surprisingly, that the life of David and his friends are not as perfect as they appear to be and Jenny must end up making some morally culpable decisions. It’s difficult not to when the trio, including David, his friends the charming Danny (Dominic Cooper) and Danny’s well meaning though psychologically unemployed girlfriend Helen (Rosamund Pike), do everything they can to make Jenny feel smart and special. She gets caught up in the games that adults play, but never lets herself get completely lost. Things go from morally grey to worse by the end of the film, leaving Jenny far from the position she imagined herself in.

The most refreshing part of the film is the agency that Jenny takes. She willing gets involved with a group of people who are far from “the right” people her parents wish her to be with. She knowingly participates in deceiving her parents, in participating in criminal activities, in jeopardizing her chances at Oxford. Every action she takes is done consciously and she is as responsible to what happens to her as is every other character. The humanity of the film, which stems from it staying loyal to the memoir and not delving into familiar Hollywood tropes, makes certain that no character is entirely guilty or entirely innocent. With this un-Hollywood quality of the film Jenny is not a clueless heroine being swept away by a sinister older man, but an intelligent, mature young woman who makes a mistake but saves herself in the end. Mulligan shines here, able to be both self assured and vulnerable, able to play off the series of contradictions that make her character so authentic.

Winner for Best Cinematography and the Audience Choice Award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival Lone Scherfig’s An Education is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted but primarily one of the most authentic portrayals of a young woman on screen.

The Class ; 2008

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Posted by Maddy

Director: Laurent Cantet
Actors: François Bégaudeau, Agame Malembo-Emene, Angélica Sancio, Boubacar Toure
Country: France

Films about teachers too often fall into treacherous territory. Cheesy, shumltzy, and clichéd are some of the most appropriate terms for any film involving a teacher (usually white) inspiring students (usually of a visible minority). The teacher then convinces the kids to get out of their terrible situation, to be inspired by school, to become everything they can be while having insightful conversations that challenges and makes the audience think. All of which fall under the category of “unwatchable.”

The Class, this years’ Palme D’Or winner, escapes all such tropes. Set in one of the tougher neighbourhoods of France, the film follows the teacher Marin and his French class, a diverse group from the ages of 13-15. Keeping the story simple, The Class follows this classroom for a year. The job of teaching these kids is far from rewarding. They’re rude, they talk back, they question authority and do as much as they can to disrupt what is being taught to them. Each of these altercations, some of which are self improving and others are self destructive, build up tension in this film. Whether with his students, the students with each other or with their parents, Marin takes in his stride, rarely letting these confrontations get to him. The film does not show the personal lives of the students or the teachers – almost everything that happens takes place within the classroom. The tension mounts until the climax of the film involves an argument between Marin and his students which quickly spins out of control. After watching everything that has built up to it, it puts the audience in a place where it can sympathize with both Marin and his students despite Marin doing something grossly unprofessional.

The Class, whose original title directly translates into Between The Walls, gives a fly on the wall perspective of what happens in this classroom. Each student is someone who could have been in your French class and the arguments they have, including one over the imperfect subjective could be part of a documentary rather than a feature film. Since the film remains within the walls of the classroom, the audience never knows why Marin and the students act like this, their background, their personal stories. Marin assigned each student at the beginning of the film to do a self portrait and this assignment is all the audience, as well as Marin, get to know about these students. The minimalist concept is captivating and the film is incredibly well written. The films overall message is left ambiguous – are the faltering students victims of an indifferent system, is Marin not doing everything he could, or is this simply the way it is, is never made clear. Perhaps the arc of Marin, who forgives those who makes mistakes and is forgiven for his own, is the only real moral message of the film.

Like most Palme D’Or winners of recent years, The Class is well made, well acted and well written, but far from outstanding. Most likely to be a critical and art house favourite of 2008/2009 this well composed film is overall forgettable. Still, by keeping it simple and realistic, The Class manages to outshine most of the films in its tired genre.

The Pool ; 2009

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Posted by Maddy

Director: Chris Smith
Actors: Jhangir Badshah, Venkatesh Chavan, Ayesha Mohan, Nana Patekar
Country: U.S.A.

As much as I don’t wish to compare this film to the hit of 2008 Slumdog Millionaire it’s hard not to draw comparisons. This film focusing on lower class Indians is another example of India viewed from the eyes of a foreigner. Chris White, an American filmmaker, tells a story of a foreign land, in the foreign land and in a foreign language. But this film is much quieter than its successful counterpart and manages to tell a better story without the overt glamour of Slumdog.

The Pool is about the “room boy” Venkatesh, an eighteen year old from a small rural town trying to make a living without having any education. He cleans hotel rooms and sells plastic bags with the help of his friend Jhangir, who is in the same situation as him. Jhangir is a realist compared to Venkatesh and chides him for spending his free time perched in a mango tree overlooking the property of a rich family. This family, consisting of a father and a daughter, spend their time in the backyard but never in the pool, much to Venkatesh’s puzzlement. Venkatesh manages to get a job working for the family and while working in the vicinity of his desire learns about the troubled family and gets an opportunity to leave his lifestyle for a better one.

The simple cinematography and on location shooting gives the film a realistic feel. Though fiction, one can understand that there are thousands of Venkatesh’s and Jhangir’s all trying to make a living out of nothing. Not necessarily a sad film, it has its bitter sweet ending, but the films’ stark realism highlights a situation that is certainly not desperate but a problem none the less. The real triumph of the film is in its story telling. An underlying story of the film is the story of the family Venkatesh works for. A father lives with his daughter away from the big city for reasons unknown. The daughter, a rebellious teenager has a strained relationship with her father. In two sentences, the first by the father and the second by the daughter manage to explain not only why they don’t go swimming in the pool, but why their relationship is so strained and even give a light to what had happened before hand. Very little of what happened is made explicit and it is up to the audience to fill in the gaps. Yet this low key style of story telling is the highlight of the film.
Subtle, quiet and thoughtful The Pool shows a side of India that wouldn’t be seen from Bollywood. In the spirit of the quiet American indie films that have been popular over the last ten years The Pool is about normal people with normal lives. The authenticity of not only the story but the actors, for many of whom it was their first film, manages to make this film resonate more than it should. Nothing extraordinary, but good filmmaking none the less, The Pool demonstrates how what is left unsaid is the best way to say it.

Eine Berliner Romanze ; 1956

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Director: Gerhard Klein
Actors: Annekathrin Bürger, Ulrich Thein, Uwe-Jens Pape, Erika Dunkelman, Marga Legal, Erich Franz
Country: East Germany

Before November 9th ends where I am, I have to post at least one entry that has to do with the Berlin wall… or at least about East and West Germany. I chose Eine Berliner Romanze, although the film was made before the wall itself was built.

It is a lovely film, but I feel like I would have gotten so much more if I knew the historical context and understood the ending. The English DEFA website says that Hans (Thein) gets a job in the GDR, but I didn’t think that was all that clear. Maybe it just went over my head? Maybe it was simply implied since he goes to the east with Uschi (Bürger) when she tells him that he is invited for dinner, thus there is a happy ending for both of them. There is a bittersweet note to all this because even though this couple is happy, another character does say that sooner or later, it won’t be easy for the couple to meet. The building of the wall is implied although it isn’t specific to the wall because the character knows that the tension between the Soviet bloc and the Western bloc is growing.

What I liked about this film was that it’s a simple story yet it gives an insight to what Berlin was like during the division. People could walk in and out of the different sectors and there didn’t seem to be discrimination towards the East Berliners since the West German shops accepted GDR’s currency. The two boys who fall for Uschi do not discriminate her for being an East Berliner and are more than eager to court her.

So is this film propagandistic? I would say yes and no. Uschi wants to get away from her drab life in the east and says that she wants to go to the west where everything is modern and exciting. Yet in the end, Uschi brings Hans to the east rather than the film ending on a middle ground or Uschi successfully running away to the west. The film also shows West Germany’s supposed economic boom in a bad light because we see Hans going to multiple places yet not succeeding in getting a job. I am planning to post about Alexander Kluge’s Abschied von gestern, which I think is somewhat similar to aspects of Einer Berliner Romanze. Both films don’t show the idealized view of either sides of Germany by portraying both sides having their own problems. But then again, I suppose any film can be deemed as propaganda when they portray their own country in a positive light *shrugs*.
While the ending is simple and cute, does it really mean anything? I guess film scholars can go on and on about what this film could mean except I am scared that I will overanalyze this film. I just need to be more sure about myself! And I definitely need to rewatch this film to clear up the ending and to read more about life in East and West Germany, particular in Berlin.

I highly recommend this film because it’s not like what you would imagine a film to be from a socialist country. It’s cute, it’s sweet, but it also has moments that give you an insight into what life was like back then or even before (such as Uschi’s comment about the thing she was eating “not being the same”, which I thought was a poke to Germany pre-East/West split). It’s a great way to start watching East German films because it goes against the stereotypes of “communist/socialist” films and shows that East German films have similarities with the films from the west.

IMDb Link: Eine Berliner Romanze
Where to buy: DEFA Film Library