Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Capsule reviews 1/19/11

Today a couple of Quick looks at some films that were nominated for the best Foreign Language Oscar but didn't win

Baader-Mienhoff Complex
Mostly straight forward look at the terrorist group known officially known as the Red Army Faction but is best known as the Baader Meinhoff Gang thanks to press coverage. Actually the film follows the story of the group from its founding in the wake of several events in 1967 until the death in prison of the initial group of members during about the period that was known as The German Autumn in 1977(the organization lasted a further 21 years). A very good very gripping film the film sheds a great deal of light on the group and their activities For me the group was something frequently mentioned in the news but nothing I actually knew anything about until I saw this film. One thing I read on line about the film said that in Germany the film had the effect of deflating the public perception of the group as anti-heroes and revealed them to be misguided slackers (if you think about it, they were slackers since they talked a great deal but didn't do as much as other groups. the leaders spending a great deal of time in prison). While I don't find it to be a great film it is one I like a great deal. I have to say that I found after I read about the group after seeing the film that I liked it more. The film definitely plays better the more you know about the group and what was going on in Germany at the time they were operating. What I found interesting is that when coupled with the recent miniseries Carlos is that I really got the sense that the life of a terrorist is really kind of pointless. its sitting around talking extreme politics with no practical application followed by stints of getting pissed off because the police are hunting you down for blowing things up. What a bunch of misguided morons. Definitely worth a look

From the director of Barber of Siberia comes a version of 12 Angry Men set in Russia. Instead of a boy and a knife its a Chechen boy who kills his step father. The film is pretty much exactly the same, it's 12 men in a room, in this case a gym converted to a jury room, talking about the case that they are deciding, though with the political implications of one of the Russian wars looming over everything. As someone who doesn't like the original film version of the story I found this film to be a revelation. The rigid structure of the Sydney Lumet film was restructured into something less formal. To be certain everyone follows similar paths with some expected character arcs, it takes a while before you can pick out who is going to be which character, which is nice since it makes clear that the film is an expansion of the original tale not a simple retread. What floored me was that the first time I saw the film I did so with out subtitles. I had picked up the film in New York before the US DVD release in a Russian store and had been told it had subtitles. When I got home I found it didn't. Being too lazy to go back into the city I decided to tough it out and just watch it. Strangely I got into it. The story isn't far off from the original that you can't follow what is happening. Also the fact that the actors involved are some of the best working in Russia today helps to put the whole thing over. To be certain I got more on the second time through with subtitles but the fact that I could watch and understand with out speaking a word of Russian says a great deal. A great film.

Four Months Three Weeks and Two Days (2007)
This one I'm cheating on, because it wasn't nominated for an Oscar. Actually this film caused a minor firestorm because it was received with such love and affection by the critical and film community in the US that the controversy sparked a change of sorts in the Oscar voting. The film is a small little gem from Romania about what happens when a woman decides to get an abortion during the bad old days of the communists. Told in long takes we watch as the women go to a hotel to wait for the abortionist and what happens after that. Its not sensationalistic, it just sort of is. Its a warts and all slice of life about the back alley ways that women have to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. The film also shows us the society where this sort of thing happens when the friend of the woman having the abortion leaves to meet her own boyfriend and she is ignored and abused. Its a harrowing little film. Is it the greatest thing since sliced bread? No. I wouldn't have put it on my best of the year list (though I will be perfectly honest and say that the controversy surrounding the film created an unbelievable hype and expectation that was impossible to live up to.) It is a damn fine drama that is oddly chilling in it's matter of factness.

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