Guest Series: Closely Watched Trains

Since starting my Foreign Favourites, I’ve been delighted with the standard, analysis and range of genres, styles and nationalities covered. So it’s great news that I have another addition from the Norfolk-based Beetley Pete who in his charming blog shares his thoughts about his life in eastern England, including his interest in photography, his dog Ollie and the rural nature around him. Here are his thoughts on Czech film, Closely Watched Trains (1966).

Closely Watched Trains Film Poster

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Foreign Favourites: The Chaser

That Moment In is an awesome website run by David and Adam with fab reviews and insight on films. Since finding it recently, I’ve not been able to stay away. I really do recommend you head on down. But before you check them out, I recommend you read David’s entry into my Foreign Favourites series. 

The Chaser film poster

Quick summary: A cash-strapped pimp and former police detective draws upon the skills of his old job to track down his missing stable of prostitutes (IMDB).

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Foreign Favourite Series: The White Ribbon (2009)

When I set up the Foreign Favourites series, I never intended it for any person contributing to have more than one film. It seemed easier that way. No films would overlap and I know how all busy you all are. But after being blown away by how great your reviews were and discussing the idea with a few of you, I’ve decided to extend it to two or more films. To get us all started off again, here is Cindy with The White Ribbon. You can find her previous effort here

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Foreign Favourites series: Battle Royale

I’ve been keen to get my friend Neel involved in my Foreign Favourites film series, ever since he set up his Dohabitation blog. Like the guy himself, the blog is funny entertaining and very colourful, and tells of his adventures since moving to Doha. Definitely worth heading over. Without any further ado, here are his thoughts on disturbing thriller Battle Royale.

Battle Royale film poster

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Foreign Favourites: Stranger by the Lake

Time for another entry to the Foreign Favourites series thanks to the very awesome Wendell at Dell on Movies. You should definitely pop over. Wendell has a perceptive and detailed way of writing and has plenty of fantastic features and blogathons. Here is his take on the French thriller/drama Stranger by the Lake.

stranger-by-lake-movie-poster

Directed by Alain Guiraudie.
2013. Not Rated, 97 minutes.
Pierre Deladonchamps
Patrick d’Assumcao
Christophe Pauo
Jerome Chappatte
Mathieu Vervisch
Gilbert Traina
Emmanuel Daumas

Quick Synopsis: (IMDB)

Summertime. A cruising spot for men, tucked away on the shores of a lake. Franck falls in love with Michel. An attractive, potent and lethally dangerous man. Franck knows this, but wants to live out his passion anyway.

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Foreign Favourites: Nowhere in Africa

It’s been a while since we had an entry to my Foreign Favourites series, but Cindy Bruchman has happily entered the fray with a review of a very intriguing sounding film. She has a fantastic site filled with great analysis of films and books that is definitely worth a detailed look. Here’s her take on the award-winning German film Nowhere in Africa.

Nowhere in Africa film poster

Quick Synopsis: (IMDB)

A Jewish family in Germany emigrate short before the Second World War. They move to Kenya to start running a farm, but not all members of the family come to an arrangement with their new life.

Nowhere in Africa film still

Escaping the Nazi regime in 1938, a Jewish family become farmers in remote Kenya. Walter Redlich is a judge and his wife Jettel is fond of her comfortable life-style and resents her barren life. Their five-year-old daughter, Regina, is an inquisitive girl who adapts to the culture of Kenya and a Christian boarding school. Half of the narrative focuses on a girl growing up and the other half focuses on the strained marriage of Walter and Regina.

The film’s strength rests on the acting and the unique plot. Actress Juliane Köhler plays the complicated Jettel Redlich with sophistication. Swaying with coldness and frustration and tenderness, as was her portrayal as Eva Braun in Downfall (2004), in Nowhere in Africa, Juliane Köhler is convincing. A marriage of compromise and frustration with secrets and resolution, it is a worth your time to watch the evolution of their marriage.

Add a parallel plot that twines through the starving marriage to their daughter, Regina. Her friendship with farm cook, Owuor, counter-balances the marriage with heartwarming richness. Owuor functions as nanny and bridge between Europe and Kenyan lifestyles. For Regina, who might have well as been transplanted to Mars as Kenya, Owuor is indispensable as the consistent element, the North Star of her universe. As a coming-of-age story for Regina and Jettel (Mom’s more a child than her daughter) grow up and handle their plight with satisfying enlightenment. Poor Walter Redlich, played by Merab Ninidze, who endures his tempestuous wife and worries about his parents left in Nazi Germany. Cheers to female director and writer Caroline Link for creating a fine film. Did you see in 2008, A Year Ago in Winter? 

Nowhere in Africa still from film

Final Grade: 8/10

My thanks again to Cindy for participating. I’ve seen quite a few German films, and this one sounds like one I definitely need to see and add to a future quiz. Would be fun to read the book too I imagine. 

Foreign Favourites: The Raid: Redemption

There have been all kinds of benefits to doing the Foreign Favourites series. There has been a fantastic reviews of films, the opportunity to show off some fantastic reviewers and even more inspiration to see more great films.  I haven’t been aware of Adam of Consumed by Film for too long but his site is awesome. Detailed film reviews, TV features, topical film commentary and his quotation of Ferris Bueller in his About Page is a very persuasive argument as to why you should check his site out

Before I get going, I’d like to offer my many thanks to Alex for letting me be a part of his terrific Foreign Favourites film series. There have been some really excellent reads so far. The Raid 2: Berandal is out April 11th buds!

The Raid film poster

Quick Synopsis: A group of highly skilled SWAT officers find themselves on the brink of disaster as they attempt to dethrone a viscous drug lord whose towering apartment block offers no easy escape.

Director: Gareth Evans

Release Date: March 23rd

Genre: Action; Crime; Thriller

Starring: Iko Uwais

Wallop! Bellows the word most commonly enunciated throughout The Raid, only it is heard via the unconventional method of inch-perfectly choreographed war. A blazing tussle between two factions: the police and the drug mules. It’s that simple, that effective. Gareth Evans, supported along the way by the wilful hands and feet of Iko Uwais, juxtaposes elegance and violence in an outing that laughs in the face of subtlety before delivering a swift head-kick. To say it’s not a film for everyone is untrue

– you won’t know that until the credits roll and by then you’ll probably be hooked.

After a substantial period of underworld dominance overseen atop an apartment block, crime leader Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy) is about to meet a twenty-man police squad in a battle where there mightn’t even be one victor. Guided by his trusted sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim) and their superior lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), inexperienced officer Rama (Iko Uwais) soon finds himself in a tower of trouble as he must hammer his way towards the target but also survive wave after wave of right and left-hand men. He’s got a pregnant wife to get home to after all.

I’m about as well-versed in martial arts as Rama is at conquering high-rise buildings, but with the efforts of The Raid firmly embedded in mind, that ought to change. If it gets any better than this then must get pretty darn good indeed. Director Gareth Evans lays down his early markers, the only necessities of knowledge – youthful hero, expecting spouse, contained setting, despicable villain – and we’re off. It’s a B (for brilliant) setup and even though the plot is minimal, one absolutely does exist and exists in exactly the volume required. This isn’t Citizen Kane, nor does the film want to be never mind attempt. Instead, Evans displays a blank canvas ready to host hard-hitting action. Forget Cowboys and Indians in the Towering Inferno, Rama makes the John McClane of Die Hard look like the John McClane of A Good Day to Die Hard.

Iko Uwais does a tremendous job as the lead, full of energy and bearing a likeable ambience that you gravitate towards through an array of extraordinary manoeuvres. Others to look out for include Yayan Ruhian as Mad Dog who is rabid, merciless and full of bone-crunching bite (it’s all in the name) and Donny Alamsyah as Andi, another pawn in the explosive chess game. Bad guy Tama is played by Ray Sahetapy, and he carries out that particular shtick well. His drug lord is presented as a maniacal presence early on, cold-blooded and awaiting severe comeuppance.

The Raid is not a film to be admired for the characters it parades though. Rather, direction and operation and cinematography should rightfully take the plaudits here. There is no let up from the get-go – moments of stalemate and silence are packed full of tension where every sinew appears to be poised on the edge of destruction (weapons wielded, hands gripping, muscles tightening, in the United Kingdom, so here’s my review of The Raid to tickle the taste, 2012 (Indonesia); April 13th veins popping, eyes rippled). The substance is in the action, and it is the action that bolsters these intentionally peripheral characters. In an odd way the film plays like an extravagantly barbarous dance that demands applause upon concluding each sequence. Although shrouded in an air of violence, proceedings see actors move gracefully as they ascend and descend the structure. The choreography is purposeful but also hints at moments of foreshadowing, keeping us on our toes. An uncommon injection of sly humour does the same, oddly chiming well with the blunt overtone (“Where did he come from?”).

The camera work carried out by both Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono is a treat; inventive as it follows our warriors down holes, and absorbing through the use of slow-motion shots that emphasise the struggle and the pain felt by all. Encouraged by a score that fluctuates between an electronic beat and static grunge, The Raid is often reminiscent of a video game: Rama is always pitted against one enemy at a time when five coming at him simultaneously would probably get the job done. Then again, there’s hardly any strive for realism. One fight scene towards the conclusion rages on at a highly intense pace for a welcomed eternity, utterly riveting and admirable executed – if Darth Maul was that good, Attack of the Clones onwards would’ve looked a heck of a lot different.

A proud genre film that valiantly trumpets bruising bouts and painful punches, The Raid may well lack that bit of character development to oomph it that extra notch dramatically. Dramatic attainment is a particular aim far removed from Gareth Evans’ radar though, and this is about as good a one-dimensional Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em you’ll see. Rama is on the rampage, and he’s taking the martial arts movie to a whole new level… or thirty.

The Raid Redemption action shot

Rating: 4/5

My thanks to Adam for such a really cool review of a film I’ve been meaning to see for ages.  Looks full of wonderful action, stunts and a terrific baddie. I really do need to get onto it quick with the second film out. My sis is a huge fan of the film so she’ll be very keen to see what you think of The Raid 2.

 

Foreign Favourites series: La Haine

Since This is Spinal Tap, the number 11 has always had a special significance, so it’s great that Zoe from The Sporadic Chronicles of a Beginner Blogger is such a cool blogger. She is very welcome to the Foreign Favourites series Her site is a great mixture of film and book reviews, conjunctive articles and quirky Top 10 lists guest posts. I really do recommend you head on over.

So Alex has been hosting this Foreign Favourites segment, and I keep meaning to get involved and life keeps getting in the way. But never fear, I am here now. First off, I have not seen a lot of foreign films – mostly because I don’t get many recommendations and such. I wanted to be a part of Alex’s feature, but Cara had already unceremoniously usurped the honours of The Hunt, so I had to start looking. Alex recommended this and I got onto it as soon as possible. There is a bit that can be said about the film, and I know that I cannot say more nor do it more justice than has been done over the years, but I will see what I can do.

la haine movie poster

“It’s about a society on its way down. And as it falls, it keeps telling itself: “So far so good… So far so good… So far so good.” It’s not how you fall that matters. It’s how you land.

The film follows three young men and their time spent in the French suburban “ghetto,” over a span of twenty-four hours. Vinz, a Jew, Saïd, an Arab, and Hubert, a black boxer, have grown up in these French suburbs where high levels of diversity coupled with the racist and oppressive police force have raised tensions to a critical breaking point. During the riots that took place a night before, a police officer lost his handgun in the ensuing madness, only to leave it for Vinz to find. Now, with a newfound means to gain the respect he deserves, Vinz vows to kill a cop if his friend Abdel dies in the hospital, due the beating he received while in police custody. (IMDB)

la haine friends

Who made you a preacher? You know what’s right and wrong?

I would score La Haine a 7/10. It was a good film, though I am not a fan of the French language, I was more concerned with seeing what would happen. La Haine is a slow film that progresses at a steady pace, and this feels like a flaw when you start but rapidly changes when you realise that the more the setting and pace is the way it is the more you feel as though you are experiencing the day with the three main characters, Vinz (Vincent Cassel), Hubert (Hubert Koundé) and Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui).

There is the issue of a cop having lost a gun in one of the riots, and it soon becomes evident that Vinz is in possession of it. Vincent Cassel was fantastic in this role, and it was nice to see him in his comfort zone and his native tongue. The way that the three deal with their friend being in hospital is very different. Hubert may live in the projects and all, but he will not let it define him, and he will not slip into the ways of poverty and the projects as most people staying there will. Vinz has decided that if their friend Abdel (Abdel Ahmed Ghili) dies, he will kill a cop. Saïd does not have much to say about this, though Hubert is rather strongly opinionated as to Vinz’s plan. For the duration of the movie you follow the three young men around on their day’s mission, watching them argue, have conversations, get a good look at life in the projects, and ultimately to the realisations that all three the men will make during the day. The day seems more active and action packed than usual, though the three are to embrace it. It seems that what you see on television is very simple to picture doing but not so much so when having to implement it, as is seen later with Vinz and a skinhead.

Overall, this movie felt terribly long because it was slow paced, but was not a bad watch and gives you a very good look at how life is lived in the projects, and how people perceive things differently. I thoroughly enjoyed how the movie was shot in black and white and the camera work, though there was other stuff that annoyed me (pointless conversations and aimless dawdling – though as I said this all ties in rather well with what is being depicted).

Thanks again to Zoe for her fine review on such a provocative film. I liked it more than you did but it is always worth hearing the viewpoint of others, especially when so well thought-out and considered.

Foreign Favourites: Lilya 4-Ever

I wasn’t expecting to add any more to my Foreign Favourites series, but when Robbinsrealm Blog got in touch I just had to let him in. In fact, there’s really no reason to close it off. So if anyone is reading this and wants to write an entry of a film that hasn’t already been covered and keeps to the other basic rules listed, I’d be happy to put it up.

I’ve put Robbinrealm Blog’s review below. If you haven’t already checked out his very impressive site, you really should. It’s got loads of intelligent and thoughtful reviews and articles, including recent ones on House of Cards and the career of Mexican golden boy Alfonso Cuarón.

Lilya 4-Ever film poster

Synopsis: Swedish director Lukas Moodysson’s third movie, “Lilya 4-Ever,” concerns itself with its title character, Lilya, played in an emotionally impactful way by Russian actress, Oksana Akinshina. Hungry and living in poverty, thanks to her mother’s abandonment, Lilya resorts to selling her body for money. During one of her outings, she meets Andrei, who comes across as nice guy, a man, who she believes to be her ticket out of her current situation, but appearances can be deceiving.

After creating substantial buzz as a new sensation in the world of Swedish film with “Show Me Love,” and “Together,” on August 23, 2002, director Lukas Moodysson premiered his third movie “Lilya 4-Ever” in Sweden. Afterward, the film began making its way around the festival circuit beginning with Italy on August 30, 2002 at the Venice Film Festival; it would go on to be nominated in ten different festivals and took home awards from: the Gijon International Film Festival in Spain; the Guldbagge Awards and Stockholm Film Festival, both of which took place in Sweden; and the Rouen Nordic Film Festival in France.

The title character of Lilya is portrayed magnificently by Russian actress Oksana Akinshina, whose emotionally impactful performance exhibits tremendous range. Her character is a blending of unbending toughness, vulnerability, and school girl innocence whose emotions run the gamut from intermittent moments of ecstasy to disconsolate sadness. As an aside, Akinshina did not speak any English or Swedish and director Moodysson didn’t speak Russian. As a result, in order to communicate with his lead during the making of the film, he had to hire an interpreter. The film’s dialogue is almost entirely in Russian with a few words in both English and Swedish interspersed throughout the movie.

Lilya 4-Ever image 1

At the start of the film, Lilya is running through the streets, both bloody and bruised, the heavy metal song “Mein Herz Brennt” by the German group “Rammstein” is blaring. Where is she running to? Is she escaping some monster the likes of which we would see in a horror film? Is she running from a human being with monster-like qualities that has caused her injuries? We as viewers don’t yet know the answers to those questions. At the end of her run, she is standing on a bridge overlooking a freeway. Will she jump and end her existence? Is she merely contemplating a way to escape? Again, as with the previous questions, the viewer is left to speculate as to what the outcome will be. Instead, we are taken, via flashback, to the start of the events that lead the sixteen year old to the moment in time the film opens up with.

We soon come to learn that Lilya was living in utter squalor in her dreary Estonian town, thanks to her mother; a mother who seemed to care more about her own self-preservation than that of her daughter. She has abandoned Lilya by taking off to live in America with a Russian man she met on a dating website. Even though Lilya begs and pleads to join the couple, during one of the film’s many heart-wrenching scenes, she is rejected by her mother (Lyubov Agapova) and forced to travel life’s path devoid of adult guidance, except for her mean Aunt Anna (Liliya Shinkaryova), who removes her from the decent apartment she was residing in with her mother and moves her into a disgusting slum to fend for herself.

Lilya’s only friend is a lonely boy named Volodya (Artyom Bogucharskiy) who has been kicked out of his home by his abusive father, who the viewer only gets a quick glimpse of. Initially, he has a crush on the older teenager and tries to kiss her, an advance she playfully rejects. The boy’s feelings, however, quickly give way to care and concern that transcend adolescent hormones and develop into a genuine friendship. In one of several memorable scenes that stand out, which speaks to the depravity of Lilya’s and Volodya’s situation and the lengths the two will go to in order to escape the reality of their lives, the two resort to sniffing glue, which allows both characters to feel happiness, albeit for a short time frame.

Lilya 4-ever image 2

Having no money to purchase food or pay the electric bill, coupled with her aunt’s unwillingness and inability to help, Lilya is forced to use the only commodity she feels she has available to herself, her body. She travels by train to a disco where she knows there will be men all too willing to pay for a sexual encounter with someone her age. While walking home from the disco one evening she meets Andrei (Pavel Ponomaryov). He comes across as one of the world’s nice guys. He lets her know that he’s not looking for sex; he only wants to be her friend. While the attractive Andrei might fool Lilya, he no doubt will raise the radar of most viewers, who will view his actions as those of someone with ulterior motives. Volodya isn’t taken in by Andrei’s actions and comes right out and voices his opinion, which falls on deaf ears. Sadly, after just a short courtship, Lilya’s naïveté places her in a position where she is more than willing to follow Andrei to Sweden, where he has promised her not only a job, but his continued love and support.

Wasting no time Andrei secures a fake passport for Lilya and sends her on her way. She is, for the first time, a bit taken aback because she was under the impression that they were flying to Sweden together. But, out-of-the-blue, an illness has taken hold of one of his family members and he must join Lilya later. Accepting Andrei’s story, she boards the plane without him and is excited to get to Sweden where she is anticipating a dramatic change for the better in her life. When she arrives in Sweden, you probably guessed it, there is no wonderful job waiting for her. It was all a ruse to lure her there in order to force her into a life of prostitution working for a vile human being named Witek (Tomasz Neuman).

From that moment forward director Moodysson does not hold back, he lets loose a series of clips of men of various ages having their way with the young girl. The viewer is shown things from her perspective. The only solace that is granted to her is when Volodya appears to her in a dream to explain the importance behind the words that she carved into a bench – Lilya 4 Ever – from which the movie got its title. Is he coming to Lilya in her dream state to remind her of the power behind the words she wrote? Does he want to caution her about giving up because she still can reach for higher aspirations if she can break free from the hell on earth that she is currently imprisoned in?

In closing, this film is 109 minutes of masterful cinema that, while certainly not for everyone, should be appreciated by even the most jaded of people and harshest of film critics. I would imagine the film’s detractors would argue that what weakens the movie is that a viewer doesn’t have to put much thought into the inevitability of where Lilya’s life choices will lead her. That is a fair enough criticism to make, but, it does not for a minute lessen the burgeoning emotional power with which the film takes hold of viewers from the outset and makes them care about the title character.

Overall: In “Lilya 4-Ever,” director Moodysson is able to capture the metaphoric death of innocence by utilizing the harsh reality of the global sex trade whose victims are primarily young women from impoverished backgrounds. These are the women who, like Lilya, will most likely fall victim to anyone who offers them the slightest hope of escaping their economic woes and their seemingly hopeless circumstances. Although I will usually express my own opinions as to how well done or worthwhile I feel something I am reviewing is, I never employ a grading system of any kind in my reviews, but if I were to give a number grade for a film, this one would garner a 9.5 out of 10

My thanks to RobbinsRealm Blog for his wonderfully detailed review. I haven’t seen Lilya 4-Ever, but it does sound an extremely powerful film that will leave a strong impression, so very much worth seeing. 

Foreign Favourites Series: Le Dîner de Cons – Dinner of Fools / The Dinner Game (1998)

There have been eight entries to my Foreign Favourites series,  and I’ve been delighted with the standard shown and the range of films covered both geographically and thematically. My thanks to Caragale, FilmnerdblogFilm GrimoireJ James, Movierob, Oh! That Film Blog, Theflimculb and Where the Wild Things Are. If you haven’t read them, I really do recommend reading both their impressive reviews and their site overall. 

A little later than intended, here is my review for French film Le Dîner de Cons. Please feel free as always to offer your thoughts.

 Le Dîner de Cons – Dinner for Fools / The Dinner Game (1998)

Le Dîner de Cons film poster

Many of us have a party trick. We can perform magic, mimic a celebrity or flex our bodies certain ways. But what if the party was a trick in itself? Something this delightful French comedy explores with a wonderful mix of hilarity, character development and social insight.

Adapted and directed from his own play of the same name, Francis Veber’s script tells the story of a group of wealthy businessmen who each have to bring along the biggest fool they could find to their weekly dinner party. These guests are never told the true reason for their invite but instead are unwittingly providing the entertainment. The person who invites the biggest fool is later voted the winner for finding the “Champion idiot”.

So when successful publisher Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte) hears of François Pignon (Jacques Villeret), the dull but ridiculously enthusiastic miniature matchstick maker of famous landmarks, he is thrilled. And as Pignon is an employee of the Finance Ministry, there is a sense of ironic pleasure for the tax-dodging Brochant.

Le Dîner de Cons scene

But things start to go awry when Brochant hurts his back playing golf at his country club and struggles to even stand up. Despite this, he still clings to the hope of going, as he is convinced success is all but assured. His beautiful wife Christine (Alexandra Vandernoot) is unsympathetic to his discomfort as she knows the purpose of the dinner. From his patronising attitude towards the simple-minded Pignon, the injured Brochant is now left fully dependent on him, subtly creating a power shift. It is one Brochant struggles to stop as he is trying to keep his wife happy, placate his mistress, trying to hide his valuables from Pignon and resolve issues with an old friend. In the midst of a flailing romantic triangle, will Brochant be able to maintain his secrets from the increasingly suspicious Pignon as it all threatens to end in disaster?

There is so much glory in English theatre, it is easy to forget just what creative treasures there are outside of the traditional works. This gem of a French film is a case in point. A wonderfully unique premise that is filled with farcical comedy as well as brilliantly sharp lines. Throw in two characters well outside of their comfort zone trying to best adapt to the situation, supported by a distinctive set of supporting characters who shed light on the character’s behaviour, and you have a riotous ensemble of comic brilliance. At the 1999 César Awards, the French national film awards, Le Dîner de Cons won three awards from six nominations. Though disappointingly losing out for its script, it did win for Best Film, and for its two main stars, Lhermitte and Villeret.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a film adapted from a play, the directing is more functional than unspectacular, but it is one of the funniest films you will ever see. Brilliant from start to finish, the events unfurl with energy and verve, and you really do care about the characters. This short, 80-minute film is guaranteed to make you laugh whatever mood you are in. Though you might end up suspicious the next time you’re invited to a dinner party…

Overall: A for awesome