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 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

Foreign Favourites Series: Le Concert

Such a terrific standard has been set so far with the Foreign Favourites series, and we are lucky enough to have it extended with an impressive entry by the funky Theflimculb. If you’re not already familiar with her site, do pop on over. She has the latest films reviewed in a neat style, has set up a literary spin-off site called The Book Gloop and is a big Beatles fan. No excuses, people. Leconcert film poster

Le Concert 

In 2009 Romanian born director and writer Radu Mihaileanu (The Train, Live and Become) offered up his homage to Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto in the form of Le Concert. The film is set is both Moscow and Paris and features Russian and French spoken language.

Le Concert is the story of Andrei Filipov (Alexei Guskov), a once renowned, now disgraced conductor, who, in his role as cleaner at the Bolshoi Theatre, intercepts an invitation for the celebrated Bolshoi orchestra to perform a one-off concert at the Chatalet Theatre, Paris. Unable to ignore a crazed idea that has taken residence in his mind, Andrei – at the encouragement of his chain smoking and adoring wife (Anna Kamenkova) – sets about rounding up his former orchestra. With the re-assembled musicians collected from a variety of down-and-out situations and depraved occupations across the city, Andrei intends to imitate the real Bolshoi orchestra and perform the one piece that was denied him some 30 years earlier when he was humiliated on stage by the KGB. But that’s not all, Andrei has a request for the Chatalet director; the orchestra will not perform unless accompanied by French violinist Anne-Marie Jacquet (Melanie Laurent, you may know her as ‘the face of Jewish vengeance’ in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds). As the film progresses, spotlights appear over several backstories; it becomes clear why Andrei was dismissed, and also why he so fervently requires the accompaniment of Anne-Marie.

Despite its classical music focus and bilingual dialogue, Le Concert, is far from highbrow. It is, in essence, a good, old-fashioned farcical comedy. At the time of its release the film was treated harshly by critics who claimed it was too full of unlikely happenings (a frankly ludicrous reason to dislike a film). Yes, there are moments when viewers must loosen their grips on reality. In one scene, the orchestra members queue up in Moscow airport to collect their forged passports and visas from a merry band of gypsies. Whilst security guards offer a cursory glance their way, no further action is taken. This is not the Russia we see in the current media, but this is a comedy, it’s OK for it to stretch the realms of possibility. For the most part, Le Concert, is a raucous and vodka-fuelled rampage in Paris. It shamelessly adheres to stereotypes – the drunk and tardy Russians, the straight-faced and serious French – but it does so with warmth and affection.

Le Concert still

And Mihaileanu has a trick up his sleeve. For all those watching and rolling their eyes as wrinkled Russians sell caviar from suitcases and the communists raise their red flag to an empty auditorium, Mihaileanu reserves the closing minutes of the film for something different. As the orchestra, in their borrowed suits and ill-fitting shoes, take to the stage for their all-or-nothing deception with Andrei at the helm, Mihaileanu lets the music take over. The solo violin cuts cleanly through the comedy, the concerto builds to a crescendo leaving all the rough-and-ready clowning around behind. Here, sentiment takes centre stage, as conductor and violinist lead the orchestra through one of Tchaikovsky’s finest. Time slips backward, shifting to thirty years earlier, and we see Andrei as he once was, and Anne-Marie’s story (told with the aid of a regrettably dicey looking wig) is brought to a close. The final moments are powerful and they linger for some time after the credits roll.

Overall: Le Concert has its flaws, I admit. It does require its audience to let go of expectations and perhaps not take life too seriously for a while. But it also has a heart, it tells a story, and, if nothing else, it showcases a piece of music that I challenge anyone not to fall in love with.

Rating: 4/5

One of the reasons I set up the series was to discover new and exciting films so my thanks again to Theflimculb. I’ve never heard of Le Concert before but am very curious after such an intriguing premise and positive write-up.

Foreign Favourites Series: Das Leben Des Anderen (2006)

I’ve been delighted at the way my Foreign Favourites series has taken off, and the great standard that has been set by everyone so far. Today’s entry is the very cool Abbi at Where the Wild Things Are, whose site has a neat mix of film reviews and quirky top 10 lists, and sharing delicious recipes (and photos) and writing projects. I’ve been a fan of her site for quite a while now.

The Lives of Others film poster

Das Leben ders Anderen – The Lives of Others (2006)

It’s East Berlin in 1984 and Stasi Agent Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is a skilled interrogator and dedicated member of the Secret Police, who not only works and an investigator but also trains new agents.

After attending the theatre with his friend and more senior colleague, Oberstleutnant Anton Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur), Wiesler suggests that the writer of the play, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) might be someone they should keep an eye on – a sentiment shared by Grubitz’s boss, Minister Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme), who happens to want Dreyman’s beautiful actress girlfriend, Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck) for himself.

Grubitz puts Wiesler on the case and he sets about bugging Dreyman and Christa-Maria’s flat and spending his days and nights listening in on them and their artist friends, because surely if the Minster thinks that Dreyman is up to something, he must be. But as Wiesler starts to uncover the real motivations for the Minister’s scrutiny and becomes ever more fascinated with Dreyman he starts to question himself and his motivations, leading him down a road that will ultimately put all of their lives in jeopardy… because in a country where Big Brother is always watching, anyone could be an enemy of the state.

Wiesler knew it was essential to the GDR's survival to get citizens on board young, but this new partner was a joke!

Wiesler knew it was essential to the GDR’s survival to get citizens on board young, but this new partner was a joke!

There has been a lot of positive buzz around this German thriller since it came out and I have to say that I completely agree with it. Not only are Wiesler, Dreyman and Christa-Maria complex and well-developed characters that it’s easy to become invested in, but Wiesler’s crisis of conscience and confidence in the system he has believed in unquestioningly is an awakening anyone can identify with. Mühe gives a skilled and subtle performance playing a character with such a range of emotions as he has extremely limited dialogue and both Koch and Gedeck are more than competent.

Writer/director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck does an outstanding job of creating a bleak, muted colour palette that reflects the constraints that the GDR places on its residents, preventing them from exploring their creativity and uniqueness which makes it even more impressive The Lives of Others has some seriously nail-biting moments, which kept me at the edge of my seat for its 137 minute run time.

Very highly recommended. 5/5

My thanks to Abbi for such a good review. I saw it when it came out at the cinema and echo her thoughts. It really is a magnificent film and a great selection for the series.

Foreign Favourites Series: Jagten (The Hunt)

Time for another addition to the Foreign Favourites series, as the very awesome Caragale has sent in her contribution.  I’ve long been a big fan of her blog and am always commenting on her articles and nominating her for awards. Not only does she write fantastic film and TV reviews, but she’s one of the most supportive and engaging bloggers around, and you should definitely head over there as soon as you read her review.

Foreign Favourites: The Hunt (Jagten)

The Hunt film poster

Gosh darn you, Alex Raphael, for snatching this idea up before me!!!

Kidding. Well, mostly. 😉

I think this is a great idea for a series—so great that, as you may have gathered, I considered doing it for my own blog. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I have seen very few foreign films. I often neglect the many wonderful films outside of my own English-speaking bubble, and this was just the push I needed to check out a film I’ve wanted to watch for some time: The Hunt (or “Jagten” in Danish). So here we go! Thanks so much, Alex, for letting me participate!

The Hunt (2012)

 The Hunt 1

Synopsis: “A teacher lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son’s custody. His life slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by an innocent little lie.” –www.imdb.com

What I liked:

  • Mads Mikkelsen. His performance as the protagonist, Lucas, is wonderful. And it’s nice to see Mikkelsen as a good guy! Outside of this film, I have seen him in two roles: Bond villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale (2008) and Dr. Hannibal Lecter in NBC’s awesome Hannibal series. He’s great in both, but not exactly the kind of person you root for. In The Hunt, you feel for his character—a genuinely good man—and just want things to turn out okay.
  • The community. Lucas’s town is immediately introduced as a small, friendly, fun-loving place where everyone knows everyone. It’s a town that’s pretty easy to imagine—which is why it’s so easy to imagine one little lie getting blown out of proportion. In places like this, word spreads like wildfire.
  • Lasse Fogelstrøm. He plays Lucas’s son, Marcus, and he delivers.
  • Lucas’s dog, Fanny. She has a pretty funny reaction to any mention of Lucas’s ex-wife, and she’s also at the center of one of the most dramatic moments of the film. Basically, a cute doggy is never a bad addition to a plot.
  • There’s a sudden, terrifying moment in Lucas’s house that you will probably not see coming, and it’s a tense, well-done scene.
  • The last minute or so of the film. I don’t want to give anything away, but for awhile I didn’t know if I was going to like the ending—it didn’t seem very realistic. But that last moment of the film puts things into perspective in a big way.

The Hunt 2

What I didn’t like:

  • Lucas’s semi-girlfriend, Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport). The budding relationship seems rushed—mostly due to how very forward Nadja is. I could get over that if Nadja were pivotal to the story, but ultimately she doesn’t seem to serve much of a purpose. Not much of a purpose other than “let’s have our main character bang a hot lady,” that is.
  • As I said, this is a small town, so it’s easy to see how things get blown out of proportion—especially when the topic involves the well-being of children. However, there’s almost no buildup before the entire town turns on Lucas. Literally, one day he has all his friends, the next he has no one. I find it fairly unbelievable that all of his friends would go against him so quickly—and without even asking any questions. Speaking of questions…
  • The teacher who first hears about the alleged incident between Lucas and a young girl pretty much heads her own investigation. Isn’t this the kind of thing that would immediately be turned over to the police?
  • Though overall I’d say the film is very well-done, there are a few scenes that seem slightly over-the-top—particularly a scene in the grocery store and, to a lesser degree, a scene in the church. They weren’t bad scenes, but there were times when I had to pause and think, “Is that really how this character would react?”

the hunt 3

To Sum It Up: The Hunt is a film that tackles pedophilia—an extremely sensitive, grim subject—in a gripping and heartbreaking way. Lucas is innocent, and we pity him, yet we also feel for the townspeople who are so fiercely protective of their children and so devastated by the idea that anything like this could happen. It’s well-written, well-performed, and, in my opinion, well worth a view. But prepare yourself. It reveals an ugly side of humanity that might leave you a little unsettled.

My Grade: A-

My thanks to Caragale again for her fab review. I have yet to have the pleasure of seeing this film but after such a positive review, I’m definitely going to have to. And I can definitely recommend Hannibal too. It’s a superb, though very dark, show.