Archive for the Foreign Language Category

The Brand New Testament

Posted in Comedy, Fantasy, Foreign Language with tags on December 1, 2017 by Mark Walker


Director: Jaco Van Dormael.
Screenplay: Jaco Van Dormael, Thomas Gunzig.
Starring: Benoît Poelvorde, Pili Groyne, Catherine Denueve, Yolande Moreau, François Damiens, Serge Larivière, Laura Verlinden, Didier De Neck, Marco Lorenzini, Romain Gelin, Anna Tenta, Johan Heldenbergh, David Murgia.

“Law 1522: If one day you fall in love with a woman there’s a great chance you will not spend your life with her”

Although not exactly a household name, I’ve been a huge fan of Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael for some time. Unfortunately, he has only made a handful of films, though, and there is often long periods inbetween. That said, when one arrives it’s always worth the wait and you are guaranteed something a little a different and often very imaginative and inventive. His latest in The Brand New Testament, once again, delivers on that expectation.  Continue reading

Advertisements

Marshland

Posted in Crime, Drama, Foreign Language, Mystery, thriller with tags on November 19, 2017 by Mark Walker


Director: Alberto Rodriguez.
Screenplay: Rafael Cobos, Alberto Rodriguez.
Starring: Javier Gutiérrez, Raúl Alévaro, Antonio de la Torre, Nerea Barros, Salva Reina, Jesús Castro, Manolo Solo.

“This place swallows you up”

In 2014, just before he won a leading Actor Oscar, Matthew McConnaughey was at the height of one of the biggest career turnarounds. It was a time that became gleefully known as the “McConnaisance” and one of the major projects that he was involved in was HBO’s television series, True Detective. It’s a surprise then that more people didn’t pay attention to Alberto Rodriguez’s Spanish thriller, Marshland. That said, it was a huge hit in its native Spain and while it made a brief arrival on the film circuit with many critics lavishing praise on it, it still seemed to disappear fairly quickly. It’s a shame as this is a dark, murder mystery that’s thoroughly deserving of a wider audience and shares many similarities with the aforementioned TV show.  Continue reading

Le Samouraï

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

20131217-141325.jpg

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.

20131219-111146.jpg

Continue reading

Waltz With Bashir * * * * 1/2

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

20120110-150127.jpg

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.

20120215-181143.jpg

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

20130719-113359.jpg

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.

20130719-113424.jpg

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

20130616-103623.jpg

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

20130616-103652.jpg

The Secret In Their Eyes * * * * 1/2

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

20130504-171456.jpg
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

20130504-171646.jpg