Nói (Nói albínói)
He can solve a Rubik's cube in less than two minutes. He sleeps like the dead, especially in class. He bobs his head to reggae and can break into just about anything, or even beat you at a complex board game in the first move. His name is NÃ³i (TÃ³mas Lemarquis) and in his Icelandic small town locals can't figure out if he's the village idiot or an undiscovered wonder kid.
Yes, I've chosen to review another coming of age film. Like Louis Malle, I think it's a common source of intrigue for me, though I hope you'll discover that, aside from my personal interest, the genre is the best way to learn about the nuances of youth across the world. This is the first and only Nordic film that I've seen that is not based in the city or in the distant past, which I'm sure is more cutting edge. The director kept things interesting by being simple and yet very potent. Unlike directors who attempt to jazz things up and shoot in the more industrial mainland of nations, NÃ³i is set in the outskirts and follows its albino outcast through his uneventful and yet mesmerizing adventures. Even though the film is fairly slow and doesn't have a wide array of events, it is more alive and present that some of the sappy over-stimulating dramas that we're used to. Its pathos and grim humor stand as excellent examples of everything that should be in the work of an up and coming filmmaker.Continue Reading
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Watching my first Romanian film called for a background of Romanian history, which I will impose on you shortly. It is very important, especially when watching foreign films, to have a sense of context within history. If you know that there will be a controversial or historical aspect breached within the film, I suggest you find out what constituted it. This will not only enrich your experience (not to mention free education), but it will allow you to not ask intellectual questions that are brought up while watching the movie. In short, you'll be able to suspend disbelief better.
According to my research - which is not entirely reliable because it's solely Internet based - Romania's pro-life policies became radical while the communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu was president. In efforts to raise Romania's low birthrate, several extreme measures were put into effect. The legal age for a woman to marry was lowered to 15. Men and women, regardless of whether they were single or married, were taxed between 10-20% of their income if they remained childless after they were in their mid-20s. Married couples were questioned about their sex life if they had not had children yet, and those with children received a "family allowance" from the government for each child. Contraceptives were no longer manufactured or imported, and of course abortion became illegal, with only a few rare cases allowed. Miscarriages were investigated, and illegal abortions led to a prison sentence, both for the expecting mother and the doctor or person performing it.Continue Reading
I Stand Alone
Impressions are the one thing we all have in common. Like an instinct for other animals, we need them to stay alert. For instance, how do you know what pain is? Some say that the memory of something such as pain comes from your first experience or impression of it. A child, let's say, only needs to touch a hot stone once before they are aware that it would not be wise to do so again. I Stand Alone was not a cinematic experience for me, but a real and dangerous impression. I've thought of it often over the years, especially with its successor, Irreversible, being talked about and vomited over so heavily (apparently there is a frequency in the soundtrack that induces nausea). And now a new film by Gaspar Noé is in theaters, and within me there is an urge to both rush to the theater and to stay far away from it. I've heard that Noé's new film is not as grizzly as the others, but that is not what I am worried about. While watching I Stand Alone I lost myself. I saw the world, not as a woman or youth, but with the perspective of a bitter, old, incestuous man. The lead character (I dare not call him a protagonist), is so overpowering and steadfast in his ugliness that you cannot help but see things his way. When the film is over, you'll shake your head and repeat to yourself that no soul is this hideous. The fact that you are uncertain is more unsettling than any amount of gore that could ever be pumped into a movie.
Compared to Taxi Driver for its narration, violence, and themes of justice being taken into the hands of a working class maniac, it is also considered the anti-Amélie. Devoid of the previously established harmonies in French cinema, it still boasts the same beautiful cinematography and nostalgic storytelling techniques that were used to exhaustion before it. Were it intentional (and we'll never know if it was), it could be seen as mockery. I enjoyed Amélie as much as the next person, but with cinematic techniques, certain things can be stretched only so far.Continue Reading
The Battle Of Algiers
Banned in France for five years, The Battle Of Algiers is the best pro-terrorism film ever made (yep, even better than V For Vendetta). Led by Ennio Morricone’s thrilling score, who wouldn’t root for those poor, but heroic Algerians in their struggle against the creepy militant imperialistic French? Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do to get all those pretentious cafes out of the Casbah. Told about ten years after the actual war, director Gillo Pontecorvo has crafted the definition of a "docu-drama," so well done it’s often mistaken for an actual documentary. Shot in grainy black & white in the actual locations of the real life events, Pontecorvo notes in the opening titles that not one foot of newsreel footage was used.
The Battle Of Algiers was released in the United States as the war in Vietnam was making many Americans sympathetic to the victims of colonialists. The film had a massive impact and scored awards all over the world. It would win the prestigious Silver Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival and strangely, for technical reasons, it would be nominated in 1967 for the Best Foreign Film Oscar and two years later it would get nominated for Best Director and for Best Screenplay (I’m not sure if any other film has received three Oscar nominations in two different years, two years apart).Continue Reading
Stroszek is the story of a man living in a world where he doesn't fit in. The film’s lead character, Stroszek, is a 45-year old German street musician who lacks the common everyday living and social skills that it takes to get by in life. At the beginning of the film Stroszek is released from prison after serving time for flagrancy and public drunkenness. With his new found freedom he goes straight into a bar and orders a beer. This is where we first meet another social misfit and friend of Stroszek, the prostitute Eva. As Stroszek adjusts to his new life he begins to encounter the harshness of the outside world. Eva’s pimp begins to terrorize and abuse her for what appears to be the mere fun of it. Stroszek, Eva, and Stroszek’s senile neighbor Scheitz, unable to defend themselves, decide to leave the country and sail to America, the land of opportunity.
With the promise of work and a place to live the three of them make their way to Wisconsin to live with a long lost relative of Scheitz. The journey is exciting and promising as they arrive in New York City, and their arrival in Wisconsin is even more joyous. Stroszek gets a job working in a mechanics’ garage, Eva gets a job as a waitress at a local truck stop, and with a loan from the bank they buy a deluxe mobile home with all the modern amenities. All is happy in the world for the moment, but Stroszek soon begins to worry when bank payments they can’t afford start coming in. The situation then goes from bad to worse for Stroszek who eventually reaches the end of his rope in a dingy diner located on a small Indian Reservation. This is where the film reaches it emotional and bizarre conclusion.Continue Reading
Filmed over the course of three summers in Austria, this is one of the rare films that uses weather as a means to accentuate emotions. It is therefore what I consider to be "cold cinema." I coined the term to apply to a filmmaking technique that is not "warm" - or rather, one that doesn’t pull at your heartstrings or target a certain emotion from a general audience. I don't even think that cold cinema expects an audience but, when found, it always seems to leave a lasting impression.
The key to this kind of movie is the emphasis on characters and secondary elements of the story, such as weather. Foreign films tend to use this technique a lot, and for a while films like There Will Be Blood and Doubt were sort of recent American equivalents. They are movies that demand no particular response, and therefore every viewer takes away something different. Many of them don't have soundtracks. I think it's a wonderful technique because it forces you to figure out why you were impressed with or disliked a movie. Dog Days is an introductory accomplishment for Seidl (Import/Export, Models) and is a marvelous example of the roles we take on as human beings, and the conditions that make some of us exercise power over others. Figuring out that this is what the film meant to me was far more rewarding than having a definite interpretation.Continue Reading
Have you ever anticipated something, like a promotion at your job, and then done something irresponsible? You know, spend money recklessly or boast about your new status. And then, the promotion doesn’t go through and you've not only exposed an ugly side of yourself, but because of the money and support you wasted, you find that you're in a terrible situation. This is where this film begins.
Lilya (Oksana Akinshina) is a teenager in Soviet Russia who has a bit of good news to share amongst her small group of friends. Her mother met a Russian-American on an internet dating website and he has arranged to have her and Lilya accompany him to the States. So Lilya prances around her squalid town rubbing this good news in everyone's face. She behaves as if nothing matters now that she is escaping the bleak future that most of her peers will meet. Just as she has packed her things and made a complete fool of herself, her mother informs her that she and her new boyfriend will be going without her. She makes a shaky promise to send for her after they are settled. Though Lilya is only a teenager, she knows the feeling of being abandoned quite well. After her mother leaves, she must say goodbye to her former comforts and experience the same hardships as everyone else.Continue Reading
City Of God
Carrying the torch for Brazilian cinema and then running ten miles with it, lugging it into the new century, Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund’s epic masterpiece, City Of God, still stands as one of the best films of the 21st century so far. Picking up the torch from Hector Babenco’s 1981 film, Pixote, another film about children in Brazil’s crime-ridden ghettos, City Of God deserves ranking with the best of epic crime cinema. A shallow, but apt comparison may be a kiddie Godfellas with the razzmatazz style of Boogie Nights.
Based on a novel by Paulo Lins, spanning from the '60s through the early '80s, City Of God tells the story of the drug wars in the urban sprawl around Rio de Janeiro. Apparently based on the real life story of a Brazilian photographer named Wilson Rodriguez - here renamed Rocket (and acted well by Alexandre Rodrigues) - the story moves back and forth in time as we follow Rocket and the different young people he gets involved with over the years. Growing up in a more rural slum, Rocket’s brother Goose and his little crime posse get involved with a botched motel robbery that turns into a murder massacre when an 11-year old psycho named Li’l Dice gets his hand on a gun. Trying to escape with his girlfriend, Goose’s partner Shaggy is killed by the "shoot first" cops, while Goose is killed by Li’l Dice.Continue Reading
“The Clown is a mirror in which men see a grotesque, crooked, goofy image of themselves. It's the shadow within us. It will always be there.” — Federico Fellini The Clowns is Fellini's way of breathing life back into the circus. At once whimsical and sad, the lifestyle and acts of it are thought to be near extinction. Surely in America, France, and Italy, the lifestyle of a carny and the pleasures of the circus have dwindled. Fellini revisits a boyhood experience of seeing the circus come to town and being one of the few who were disturbed by the clowns featured there. He compared them to real people in his village: bums, alcholoics, and perverts who dress in rags and had terrible grins on their faces. Their dopey and mischievous demeanor reminded him, as a child, of the worst mankind had to offer. But as an adult, the director was given the chance to direct a film for television. The idea to do something for television intrigued him because he knew nothing about it and it posed a challenge. He gathered a team and explored France and Italy, filming a movie that is as much of a document about the art of the circus as it is a semi-autobiographical divergence into a world breached within almost all of his feature films.
Pulled by what the director deems to be a purely “subjective” and “emotion” attachment to filmmaking, The Clowns is considerably different than his other films, yet plays with the same familiar themes. Presenting the circus as a unique experience full of characters that mirror and mask the tragic and comical aspects of life, the movie is a great feat based on the thoroughness of this exploration alone. However, the movie goes deeper into the depressing and realistic side of traveling acts, as was done in one of my favorite of his films, La Strada. It also exposed the mystery behind every detail of circus acts, down to the development of costumes. My favorite among these is the story behind the White Clowns, known to most from their appearances in pantomimes and more regal circuses. Their embellished and extravagant costumes, supposedly designed by either the clowns' wives or fashion designers, brings a sort of avant-garde runway appeal to their beauty.Continue Reading
What is the message behind films that intertwine unrelated characters? Where does the relevancy of “six degrees of separation” show itself in such a story? There is a vast difference between the various methods in which this plot is used. Some directors, like Quentin Tarantino, used it for suspense. In Pulp Fiction, characters met at random intervals and changed the course of the action, or in some cases sequences were jumbled so that suspense and interest could be built. Many foreign films, including AmÃ©lie, Dog Days, and AlmodÃ³var's Bad Education present this technique as something cathartic and full of important lessons in love and life. There seems to be a touch of destiny leading characters to their fate, and thus these are a statement on humanity and inevitability. The effect can be either beautiful or hopeless, but they all have one thing in common: they rely on the presence of a person or series of people to start the chain of events.
Carnage is different in that respect. While it does open with a bullfighter in Spain, it is not his presence that begins the action. Facing him in the ring is a bull with a secret. It appears normal, but was born half-blind. This rare trait gives the beast an advantage. His adversary in the ring cannot notice that it's different until they've begun. All probability and familiarity with its movement is absent. The skill and experience of the fighter is no match for a bull that doesn't fit a general pedigree, and the man is struck by the beast. But the fighter was brave and very skilled; the bull suffered several blows and ultimately bled to death. Its body is butchered and, according to custom, certain parts are given to the fighter. Others are more valuable and sold around the world. The bull's limbs and bones are shipped to Belgium, France, and Spain until they find suitable markets. The people who take a part of the bull end up finding pain, redemption, death, and in some cases, each other.Continue Reading