Pixote

Dir: Hector Babenco, 1981. Starring: Fernando Ramos de Silva, Marília Pêra. Foreign.

While there are about a hundred reasons why this is one of my top five favorite films, it is one of those underground gems that might never be discovered. For this reason alone, it is difficult to choose which aspects of it to praise. So instead of simply stating why you should hunt down this particular movie, I’d like to cross-reference other Brazilian films from the same time. Hopefully this will inspire others to get a glimpse of a few rarities that are amazing, but unfortunately only on VHS or very hard to come by. Surely the most popular films from Brazil, made with much better technology, are Elite Squad and City of God. While these still attract a lot of attention, their popularity has not unearthed any sort of general fascination with the cinema of Brazil’s past.

Brazilian films, in general, have always fascinated me. Many of them deal with poverty, violence, political exposure and, oddly enough, satires. Bye Bye Brazil is another from the ‘80s that is definitely worth seeing. When I think of these two films, the style of them can be compared to a blend of Jordorowsky (particularly Santa Sangre), Fellini (La Strada) and David Lynch, more so in the line of haunting characters and the use of color. The early cinema of Brazil suffered from financial setbacks and were made on the lowest of budgets. Yet, the aforementioned films were made in the peak of Brazil’s cinematic exploration. The financial crisis of the nation explains the lack of archives and preservation of films done decades earlier. Brazil also imports a large amount of films from America and other countries, which blows most of the low budget ones out of the water—assuming they even make it into the theater.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Dec 8, 2010 3:21pm

Lilya 4-Ever

Dir: Lukas Moodysson, 2002. Starring: Oksana Akinshina, Artiom Bogucharskij. Foreign/Imports.

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.

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Edythe Smith
Dec 1, 2010 12:30pm

Dog Days

Dir: Ulrich Seidl, 2001. Starring: M. Hofstätter, E. Finsches, F. Weisz, C. Martini, V. Rathbone, C. Jirku. Foreign.

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.

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Edythe Smith
Nov 10, 2010 2:18pm

Stroszek

Dir: Werner Herzog, 1977. Starring Bruno S., Eva Mattes, Clemens Scheitz. Foreign.

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.

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Posted by:
Eric Kench
Nov 3, 2010 2:11pm

The Battle Of Algiers

Dir: Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966. Starring: Brahim Hadjadj, Jean Martin, Saadi Yacef. Imports/Foreign.

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).

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Oct 27, 2010 3:53pm

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

Dir: Cristian Mungiu, 2007. Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Alexandru Potocean. Foreign.

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.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Oct 8, 2010 2:43pm

I Stand Alone

Dir. Gaspar Noé, 1998. Starring: Philippe Nahon, Blandine Lenoir, Frankie Pain. Foreign.

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.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Oct 8, 2010 12:36pm

Nói (Nói albínói)

Dir: Dagur Kari, 2003. Starring: Tomas Lemarquis, Prostur Leo Gunnarsson, Elin Hansdottir. Foreign.

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 Nói (Tómas 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, Nói 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.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Aug 5, 2010 4:38pm

I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar (J'entends plus la guitare)

Dir: Philippe Garrel, 1991. Starring: Benoit Regent, Johanna ter Steege, Yann Collette, Brigitte Sy. Foreign.

Criterion released a DVD titled Philippe Garrel X 2, in which a restored copy of this film is officially released. Zeitgeist Films and The Film Desk have worked to present this collection simply because they, and others among certain film circles in France, think that Garrel's work has been widely overlooked, with the exception of Regular Lovers, which stars his son, Louis Garrel (The Dreamers)—an actor whose popularity reaches well beyond France. As a post-New Wave director, I think Garrel was trying to produce a film that cannot and will not function as entertainment, but rather a crippling and sensational piece of art. I'd say that he succeeded, but the poetic and lyrical dialogue of his characters speaks for itself.

The film is, in fact, an ode to Garrel's destructive ten-year relationship with the highly celebrated German singer, Nico. Gerard (Benoît Régent), in a sense, is Garrel and Marianne (Johanna ter Steege) is his girlfriend. Their relationship is indescribable, though they attempt, along with their close friend Martin (Yann Collette), to both define it in terms of love and happiness. Gerard defines love as something to live for, and thus something you can die of when it runs out. It is his "love conquers all" rational that irritates his girlfriend the most. Marianne believes that love is everything you can't say, and a million other things—that happiness is simply the fear of being unhappy again. And Martin, their unsocial and awkward friend who is a painter, thinks that sometimes you can be too close to a person to actually see them in their entirely. For him, one cannot reason out or prove love. Like religion, you either believe in it or you don't, but in the end, the issue is merely subjective.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jul 26, 2010 6:48pm

Nénette et Boni

Dir: Claire Denis, 1996. Starring: Alice Houri, Grégoire Colin, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Vincent Gallo. Foreign.

Sublime and well-stylized, Nénette et Boni is like being trapped in the mind and lucid dreams of a French teenage boy in present day. Obviously one cannot think of male youth in France as one exact personality, so to help get a better understanding of Boni, let’s just say that he meets the equivalent of a "bro" here in the States. Boni (Grégoire Colin) is obsessed with the macho lifestyle that has been heavily influenced by current American hip-hop. He shares the general ode to womanizing, nice things, rough sex, and especially the overall "I do as I please" sort of moral. He lives in his deceased mother's house and is out of contact with his father, who moved away with his younger sister Nénette after their parents’ divorce. During the day he operates a pizza truck and spends every moment of his free time fantasizing about a married woman (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) who runs local bakery with her husband (Vincent Gallo).

Nénette (Alice Houri) is his estranged sister who has recently run away from her boarding school. As a minor with nowhere to go, she returns to her childhood home only to greet her disgruntled and immature brother with disdain. He agrees to let her hide out in the home only because she confesses that she is carrying a child, but he consistently bullies her and threatens to send her back to their father, comically nicknamed "Mr. Light Bright" for owning a decorative lighting store, which Boni vandalizes on occasion. But throughout their re-acquaintance, new tensions are added by their father who wants Nénette to return home when he discovers that Boni is hiding her in his ex-wife’s home. So here an odd allegiance takes place between them, fueled both by their mutual hatred for their father and the new marriage-like domestic roles that they've taken on.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
May 24, 2010 6:33pm
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