Archive for the Foreign Language Category

Le Samouraï

Posted in Crime, Film-Noir, Foreign Language, thriller with tags on December 19, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Jean-Pierre Melville.
Screenplay: Jean-Pierre Melville.
Starring: Alain Delon, Nathalie Delon, François Périer, Cathy Rosier, Jacques Leroy, Jean-Pierre Posier, Catherine Jourdan.

There is no greater solitude than a samurai’s, unless it is that of a tiger in the jungle…perhaps…

When a film is revered as a classic of world cinema by viewers and critics alike, it’s only so long before you have to check it out for yourself. In the case of Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samouraï”, I did just that, and I didn’t regret it for a minute. It’s entirely understandable why this policier features on many people’s lists of favourites.

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Waltz With Bashir * * * * 1/2

Posted in Animation, Foreign Language, War with tags on September 8, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ari Folman.
Screenplay: Ari Folman.
Voices: Ari Folman, Ron Ben-Yishai, Ronny Dayag, Shmuel Frenkel, Zahava Solomon, Ori Sivan, Dror Harazi.

The Israel & Palestine conflict never makes an easy topic for discussion and tends to bring passionate opinions to the surface. As a result, it’s difficult for anyone approaching the subject. Here, however, we are given a film that wisely doesn’t address the politics of the conflict, choosing instead to focus more on the atrocity and brutality of war.

On realising he has no memory of serving in the Israeli Army during the First Lebanon War in 1982, Ari Folman tracks down his old buddies to hear their stories of the conflict, and try to solve the mystery of his own psychological blindspot.

Thanks in large to it’s strikingly powerful artwork, this is a documentary that’s one of the most original of it’s kind. It consists of a serious of investigative interviews with director and war veteran Folman and his comrades who served with him during the conflict. Like the stories they relate, the interviews are also included in the animation and had this been done otherwise this may not have held our interest as much as it does. It helps bind the film into a coherent and visually stunning experience. Having served as an Israeli soldier, Folman wisely doesn’t justify his actions – if anything he abhors them. As he pieces the stories together, the revelation of his deep rooted memories are harrowing and it’s no wonder he developed temporary amnesia. He psychologically blocked his memories due to the atrocities and sheer brutality of the massacre – that he was involved in – of Palestinian men, women and children. Despite, this heavy subject matter, amidst the backdrop of war and barbarism, there are still many scenes of such power and surreal beauty.

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Deservedly Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language film, this is a provocative, gruesome and visually stunning movie, that captures an eerie and haunting feel throughout. Within it’s shocking delivery, it carries a very important anti-war message while echoing the work of Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” or Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”. Absolutely superb and quite unlike anything you’ll have seen before.

Mark Walker

The Hunt * * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Foreign Language with tags on July 19, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Thomas Vinterberg.
Screenplay: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm.
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelsteøm, Susse Wold, Alexandra Rapaport, Anne Louise Hassing, Lars Ranthe, Sebastian Bull Sarning.

There have been a number of films that have addressed the harrowing nature of child abuse; “The Woodsman” is one where Kevin Bacon’s character – just released from prison – admits his guilt, leaving the audience in an almost impossible position in showing any sympathy, whereby John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” left the audience questioning the guilt of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s afflicted priest throughout it’s entirety. This time, Thomas Vinterberg tackles the issue from the point of view of the innocently accused.

Mild mannered, nursery school teacher, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), lives in a small village where he leads a simple life. However, one of his young pupils accuses him of inappropriate behaviour and his life is thrown into turmoil by all around him as he struggles to prove his innocence.

Vinterberg sets his protagonist’s motivations from the off-set. He’s a humble man who is active in the community and seems to have a solid network of friends and a close relationship with his teenage son. To embody this kindhearted soul, Vinterberg chooses wisely in Mads Mikkelsen – who won best actor for the role at Cannes in 2012. Mikkelsen is the type of actor who, having such a unique physical appearance, can perform many different characters. He made a great Bond villain in “Casino Royale” and now confirms that he can completely win you over in a gentler role. He exudes an appealing demeanour that has you fully affectionate towards him and it’s this very affection that has you infuriated at the witch-hunt and complete injustice and turmoil he has to endure. The problem is, there are no bad people in this film. It’s layered and nuanced so well, that even those that choose to abandon and ostracise him are only doing what they believe to be right. As an insider, the audience are privy to all the information and it makes it easy to not just understand Lucas’ plight but to also identify with the shock and grievances that his friends and family have towards him. Quite simply, it’s a film that tears you in many different directions and refuses to let go.
The nature or subject matter of it, may originally put some people off but I can confirm that nothing here is uncomfortably or exploitatively dealt with. It’s entirely honest and innocent and that’s the very thing that it demands the utmost respect for. Vinterberg doesn’t balk from depicting human nature in a cruel or victimised fashion but he cleverly shows restraint in his approach, allowing the actors to deliver the realism and the dangers involved in condemnation through ambiguous gossip.

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A gripping and emotionally draining, social drama that manages to be both provocative and empathetic. Proof, once again, that the Scandinavian output of cinema is at the top of it’s game right now.

Mark Walker

Potiche * * * 1/2

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Foreign Language with tags on June 16, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: François Ozon.
Screenplay: François Ozon.
Starring: Catherine Denueve, Gerard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Jérémie Rénier, Karin Viard, Judith Godrèche, Sergi López.

French performers Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu are two household names in their native France but will also be familiar with English language filmgoers. Basically, they’ve been around and have delivered an incalculable amount of great performances throughout their careers. This is a film that brings them both together (although not for the first time) and serves as a reminder of how skilful and commanding they are on screen.

Suzanne Pujol (Catherine Denueve) is a “Potiche” – a decorative, trophy wife – who runs a household, while her husband Robert (Fabrice Luchini) runs the family umbrella factory and philanders with his secretary. A workers strike breaks out which leads to Robert having a heart attack and while he recuperates, Suzanne reluctantly takes control of the family business with her two adult children. However, Suzanne is more shrewd and clever than given credit for and she manages to regain the trust of the workers and turn the fortunes of the business around while steadily gaining respect from numerous corners of society including Maurice Babin (Gerard Depardieu), the influential Mayor.

It takes a little time to work up to “Potiche” as it’s very dialogue driven. So much so, that it’s quite difficult to keep up with the subtitles and it’s constant stream of verbal exchanges. However, it’s confidently handled and when it does get going it throws in many facets of an individuals life and the complexities and challenges that life throws at us all.
Where it’s strengths lie is in it’s perfectly pitched commentary on the struggle that women faced throughout the 1970’s in order to achieve the same equality as men. Denueve’s Suzanne Pujol is the perfect embodiment of a woman hanging up her apron and reclaiming her respect and dignity. It also shows a balance between the strength and vulnerability involved in such a time; on the surface, Suzanne is seen as weak yet she grows in confidence and even considers divorcing her husband. Meanwhile, her daughter Joëlle (Judith Godrèche) is seen as strong and independent yet ultimately can’t bear to be alone. One of the few decent male figures is Suzanne’s son, Laurent (Jérémie Rénier). He’s a prominent supporting character and even though he’s male and serves as his mothers rock, he seems to carry a certain femininity. This is one of the many clever little devices that provide this film with an astute commentary of the politics and the cognitive shift between the sexes during the 1970’s.
The only issue I had was the pacing; despite the wonderful story, quirky humour and solid performances, it fails to completely hold your attention. This is a small gripe but still one that I couldn’t ignore. If it delivered itself with a bit more urgency, then this would have been top class.

A subtly handled little dramatic comedy that manages to incorporate many facets of life and has a sumptuous rendering of the 70’s era. It could have been tighter, but it’s still a lot of fun.

Mark Walker

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The Secret In Their Eyes * * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Foreign Language, Mystery, thriller with tags on May 4, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Juan José Campanella.
Screenplay: Eduardo Sacheri, Juan José Campanella.
Starring: Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamil, Guillermo Francella, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, José Luis Gioia, Carla Quevedo.

The 2010 Academy Awards category for Best Foreign Language film contained some strong contenders with the likes of Jacques Audiard’s “A Prophet” and Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon“; two films that could easily have laid claim to the award. However, it was this film that crept up from under their noses and took the Oscar. Whether or nor you pay any credence to the Oscars is neither here nor there as there’s no doubt that this is solid and absorbing filmmaking.

In 1999, retired criminal justice officer Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darìn) decides to write a novel about a murder case that he investigated in 1974. He decides to visit his old colleague Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil) to talk it over. The case had repercussions for everyone involved but Benjamin didn’t realise the direct effect it had on him or his deep, suppressed feelings for Irene.

With a title like “The Secret In Their Eyes“, this film states it’s intentions and stands by them. Director Juan José Campanella lingers long on shots and wisely focuses on the eyes of his performers. For a film that’s predominately dialogue driven, the abundance of close-up’s add another dimension where the eyes speak a thousand words. It’s a great technique that conveys a myriad of hidden meanings in the relationship between the two main characters, Benjamin and Irene. However, this relationship is not entirely apparent from the off-set. It’s only when the film’s layers are revealed that this comes to the surface, as in the meantime you’re too preoccupied with it’s murder-mystery plot developments. This mystery progresses into a manhunt, while taking time to explore the judicial system and political corruption that was rife in Argentina in 1970’s. It’s during this, that Campanella takes advantage of the thriller element in the story, delivery an absolutely astounding and very skilfully handled tracking shot through a football stadium, leading to an impressively assembled chase sequence. Just how they managed to do it is beyond me and needs to be seen to be believed. There are many moments of intensity when it matters (including a nerve-racking elevator moment that’s hard to forget) but it also knows how to ground itself and that’s were the performances come in; Ricardo Darin is a charismatic presence who more than holds your interest with unshakable ideals and a strong moral compass, while Soledad Villamil delivers a strong and reserved show. It’s the chemistry between these two wonderful actors that play a big part in the film’s, effortless, tonal shifts. It’s also not without humour or tragedy which is provided by Guillermo Francella as Benjamin’s alcoholic, but loyal and reliable colleague, Pablo.
Quite simply, it’s easy to see why this film took the Oscar, it’s has a bit of everything; a sharp and involving script that pays great attention to detail; skilful direction; rich cinematography and natural, committed performances.

A complex tapestry about life, love and chances rued, that’s built around the constructs of a thriller. It excels in everything it challenges and that’s exactly where it’s strengths lie.

Mark Walker

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Amour * * * * *

Posted in Drama, Foreign Language with tags on February 28, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Michael Haneke.
Screenplay: Michael Haneke.
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, Alexandre Tharaud, William Shimell, Ramón Agirre, Rita Blanco.

Danish director Bille August was the only director to win back-to-back Palme d’Or awards at the Cannes Film Festival (in 1988 & 1992) with his film’s “Pelle The Conqueror” and “The Best Intentions“. That was, until Austrian director Michael Haneke recently equalled that achievement. His first came in 2009 with “The White Ribbon” and he done it again in 2012 with this deeply emotional and profound film that’s been heralded by many as a masterpiece.

Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are couple of retired music teachers who have been married a long time and are now enjoying life in their eighties. One morning at breakfast, Anne displays some unusual behaviour and becomes momentarily distant without any memory of doing so. It’s transpires that she has suffered a stroke which leads to symptoms of dementia. Georges takes on her care but the very close relationship this couple once shared, is put to it’s greatest test.

I’m not one for giving away spoilers but that decision is taken out of my hands straight away by Michael Haneke. He gives us an opening scene of firemen breaking down an apartment door to find the deceased body of an elderly woman lying on her bed with flower arrangements around her. Following this – in bold letters – the seemingly contradictory title of the film is displayed; “Amour” – or the English translation; “Love“. It’s a powerful opening and from the off-set Haneke shows his confidence by delivering the ending at the very beginning. However, it’s the journey up to this point that’s the real story behind this film.
When we are introduced to our protagonists, Georges and Anne, we are given a glimpse into their daily lives and how familiar and comfortable they are in each others company. It’s obvious that they’ve shared a lot of time together but it’s also this sense of realism that packs the real punch, when the health of Anne rapidly deteriorates.
Set, almost entirely, within the couples’ household, Haneke uses the space and setting masterfully. It’s subtly done but on slightly closer inspection you can see that the house is in slight disrepair much like the failing health of this elderly couple. Despite time being against these people in their twilight years, time also seems to slow right down in their home. Haneke builds slowly and refuses to be rushed. He lingers long on shots and reactions and refuses to use any form of a music score to manipulate or force you to feel. What you witness is raw and uncompromising and rarely is such reality and authenticity captured on screen.
This a profound and honest exploration of mortality and the nature of ageing; the loneliness involved and the humiliation and inability to maintain dignity. It’s heartbreaking to witness the deterioration of an individual and the performance of the Oscar nominated, veteran French actress, Emmanuelle Riva is an astounding piece of acting. Trintignant also puts in some very fine work as the loving husband who finds himself out of his depth and his frustration begins to show in his level of care and compassion.
As is normally the case in Haneke’s film’s, all is not plain sailing. There’s a depth and ambiguity involved. The couples’ relationship with their daughter seems distant and strained and there’s a recurring, symbolic, appearance of a pigeon that keeps entering the household. On the surface, it would seem that this film is simply an honest commentary of flailing health and fading memories but it also operates at a depth beyond this.

A deserved Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film. This is sensitive, emotional and deeply involving filmmaking which tackles a part of life that’s rarely touched upon. It’s a beautiful piece of work but also the most devastating love story you’re likely to see.

Mark Walker

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Goodbye Lenin! * * * * *

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Foreign Language with tags on June 17, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Wolfgang Becker.
Screenplay: Wolfgang Becker, Bernd Lichtenberg.
Starring: Daniel Brühl, Katrin Sass, Chulpan Khamatova, Maria Simon, Florian Lukas, Alexander Beyer, Burghart Klaussner.

Directors Lars von Trier from Denmark, Pedro Almodovar from Spain, Michael Haneke from Germany, Guillermo del Toro from Mexico and most recently Tomas Alfredson from Sweden are a handful of director’s from across the globe that have cemented a fervent following worldwide. These are a notable bunch (and there are many others), so why is it then, that after this little gem of a film from 2003 that German director Wolfgang Becker hasn’t made more of name for himself? If this film is anything to go by, he certainly deserves more recognition.

In 1989, East German teenager Alex (Daniel Brühl) feels liberated when the Berlin Wall comes down. His mother, however, is a staunch Communist, who would balk at the thought of westernisation. Just before the collapse of the wall, she has a heart attack and falls into a coma. When she awakens 8 month later and Germany now reunited as a country, Alex along with his older sister are advised by doctors to protect her fragile condition from any form of stress. As a result, they fabricate news bulletins and information to dupe their recuperating mother into believing German reunification never actually happened.

With a music score by Yann Tiersen, who done the wonderful soundtrack to the 2001 French film “Amelie“, you’d be forgiven for having similar feelings to that film while watching this. It’s not just the music that they have in common though. They also share an inventive and highly original approach. This may not contain the fantasy elements of “Amelie” but it’s delivered with such an offbeat creativity that it could hold it’s own against (another notable director) Jean-Pierre Juenet’s aforementioned delight. It has a great mix of humour and pathos with scenes of such tragic sadness combined with a wonderful lightness of touch and sharp observational humour. Despite the title of the film and the political setting of the story, this is essentially a coming-of-tale and less of a commentary on the demise of communism in East Germany. The fall of the Berlin wall serves only as a backdrop to the maturing of the young protagonist. So as not to ostracise his audience writer/director Becker wisely and cleverly, doesn’t side with either East German communism or West German capitalism but instead, skilfully crafts a bittersweet satire and nostalgic tale of life from both sides of the country. He’s also helped immeasurably by two emotionally understated performances from his lead actors; Daniel Bruhl and Katrin Saas.

I was aware of this film when it was released but it should never have taken me as long as it has to get around to viewing it. Now, I’m just glad and hope that others don’t make the same mistake of ignoring this profound and poignant pleasure.

Mark Walker

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