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 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: 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: Vivre Sa Vie

Anna at Film Grimoire is a great film blogger and so I was delighted she agreed to take part in my Foreign Favourites series. I’ve long been a fan of her extremely detailed reviews, her focus on cinematography and the love she has for a lot of the more obscurer films from different eras. It’s definitely worth a read of her site.

Vivre Sa Vie (To Live Her Life)

Vivre Sa Vie Film Cover

Starring the unforgettable Anna Karina, Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie (1962) is a film firmly set within the context of French New Wave cinema. Nana (Karina) is a beautiful young woman who leaves her husband and son, hoping to become an actress. Finding herself unsuccessful, she works in a record shop in Paris, but desperately needs some cash. Nana chooses to become a prostitute on the streets in order to make money fast. This film, structured into twelve acts, follows the minutiae of her life as she negotiates her newfound profession.

Anna Karina absolutely shines in this film. From the very beginning, where we see the profiles of her face as the credits roll, she is captivating. As the viewer, it’s difficult to take your eyes away from her since her performance is so hypnotic and nuanced. The camera also never strays away from her for too long, and she is on camera for the majority of the film. One particular scene where she is incredibly impressive is the famous moment when Nana chooses to see The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) in the cinema. Watching Karina’s silent emotion and fragility on clear display is so moving. As St Joan is soundlessly sentenced to death at the stake, we’re forced to make the connection between her and Nana and their separate plights as women – particularly by the film’s conclusion.

Vivre Sa Vie, translated as “To Live Her Life”, is structured into twelve acts or tableaus, which are numbered and described via title cards. The descriptions are fairly vague, and can note both events and characters. Structuring a film in this manner can be read a couple of ways. It could be done in order to present Nana’s life like a chapter book; to ensure that viewers are primed for the information they’re about to learn. On the other hand, it could be perceived in a more cold, clinical manner – like a shopping list of experiences to cross off as they occur. For me, the title cards seemed to organise Nana’s descent into the world of prostitution in such a way that it seemed scientific, like a categorisation of the flora and fauna found in an environment. Which isn’t a bad thing, as after reading some of the title cards I was excited to see the events that were mentioned.

Tears picture

Apart from the famous cinema scene, there were a number of other moments that I very much enjoyed. There is one scene in a café, where Nana is speaking with a potential pimp – the camera pans from one angle of their faces, to another, showing Nana’s face from many angles in order to show the exact effect of their conversation on her. The camera pans to and fro as they speak with each other, and sometimes obscures both of their faces entirely. Godard is known for his camera tricks, and using a style such as this in the context of a ‘business arrangement’ was very interesting. Additionally, after this scene, there is a gun fight in the street outside the café. As we hear gunshots, the camera pans across the café in quick cuts to the sound of the shots. This is so innovative and put a very unique spin on the situation at hand. My description does it no justice at all – the film’s direction is flawless, and understandably so, since Godard is a genius.

Vivre Sa Vie must also be praised for its brutal honesty. Films of the French New Wave are known for their frank gaze on human life and existential issues, and this is no exception. This film confronts the issue of prostitution and views it from a human perspective. There is no glamorous portrayal of the industry here, nor is there a clichéd downfall of a pretty young girl into substance addiction and self-destructive behaviour. Nana just needs to make some money, and ends up not entirely hating her new profession. The film is, as mentioned, brutally honest about prostitution, and there is one whole act where the post-war French prostitution laws are examined in exhaustive detail. As Nana adjusts her own perception of her situation, we learn all about the rules and regulations of working in Paris. Scenes such as this confront the issues head on rather than skirting around the more controversial aspects.

I chose to watch Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie for this amazing foreign films blogathon because I hadn’t seen it before, and this was the perfect opportunity to discover something new. Anna Karina’s raw humanity, Godard’s amazing direction and style, and an insightful and bold script, make Vivre Sa Vie a film that will be sticking in my mind for a long time. If you haven’t seen this one before, I would highly recommend giving it a watch.

4.5/5
Watch the trailer here.

My thanks again to Anna for participating, and for such an excellent review. I’ve seen a few Godard films but never this one, so it will be added to my ever-growing list of foreign gems I need to see.

 

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: Hearat Shulayim (Footnote)

(Spins the roulette wheel). And it’s time for another entry to the Foreign Favourites series. Today’s participant is the very prolific film critic Movierob who has a really neat collection of movie reviews that I really recommend you check out. You’ll be adding to the list of films you need to see in no time!

Footnote film poster

Hearat Shulayim (Footnote)

“[to a student] I will tell you something that my father told me once: Your work has many things correct and many things innovative. Unfortunately, the innovative things are not correct and the correct things are not innovative.” – Uriel Shkolnik

Number of Times Seen – 2 (6 Jan 2012 and 5 Mar 2014)

Brief Synopsis – A father and son who are rival academic research professors in a top Israeli university are pitted against one another when one of them is awarded the top Israeli academic prize.  This rivalry brings forth the true nature of their troubled relationship.

My Take on it – Not many movies focus so clearly on Academia and the brilliant men and women who are ensconced within that particular world.  This is one of the best ever done from their perspective.

I know that this is true since my real job actually touches upon this particular world and I know first hand how that world works.  The world of Academia is usually viewed by many as an elitist world with people not very sympathetic about much besides themselves and the fields they work in.  This is true in many cases, but not in all of them.

Outdoors pic

The director and writer of this movie, Joseph Cedar, also understands this world firsthand since he is the son of a noted Biology Professor at the very same University that this movie takes place in.  I’m sure that Cedar’s father and colleagues contributed much to the ideas behind this movie.

Having lived many years in Jerusalem myself, I am quite familiar with many of the locations seen in this movie.  It was nice to see the characters appear in many of those familiar places.

I actually have two other personal connections to this movie:  The first is that my wife and Cedar actually grew up in the same neighborhood and their families somewhat knew each other.  Apparently they made a nice impression on Cedar since in one particular scene, one of the characters lists off numerous surnames, one of which is my wife’s maiden name which isn’t the most common name.  🙂

Touching pic

The second connection is that a few of Cedar’s friends, who themselves are academics and now young Professors have cameos in one of the first scenes.  Two of them are acquaintances of mine via my job and whenever I see them, I kid them about their careers as famous movie stars.  In addition, one scene even mentions my own place of work.

Now that you have some background on Cedar, you can see how this movie is so personal to him.

What must make it even more personal for him is the father-son relationship depicted here.  Both of the main characters; Shlomo Bar-Aba (the father) and Lior Ashkenazi (the son) are excellent.  They play men who never really got along because of their differences, but still respect each other both academically and personally.  I don’t presume to know anything about Cedar’s relationship with his father per se, but the way these characters were written proves that he has a deep understanding of the workings of a strong father-son relationship even when they don’t always get along.

Reflective poses

Many of you may not recognize Ashkenazi, but he also plays the cop in Big Bad Wolves (2013) {yes, it’s him, take away the beard}.

The conflicted emotions felt by all the characters is done exceptionally well and we can see how human each of them are below the surface no matter the situations.

Ultimately, this is a story about a father-son relationship where neither of them is willing to outright profess to the other his love, respect and understanding of the other.

This movie was nominated for Best Foreign Film in 2012, but it lost the award to A Separation. It also won Best Screenplay at Cannes.

I love the movie poster at the top of this post because it is also an optical illusion.  Depending on how you look at it, you will see either two men’s faces facing each other or an ancient broken challis.  This shows the dichotomy of this movie; the personal relationship between two men and their love for the academic study of ancient texts which they both have devoted their lives to doing.

Bottom Line – Excellent look at father-son relationships while showing what it really means to love and respect one another no matter their differences.  Highly recommended!

Rating – Oscar Worthy

Thanks so much Movierob for such a cool review of such a distinct-sounding film. What an amazing connection to your real-life too. It’s a great reminder of how films can connect. And bonus points for introducing me to the film poster.

Foreign Favourites series: Volver

Time for another addition to the Foreign favourites series with impressive film reviewer Amy at Oh! That Film Blog. I haven’t been following her for long, but her thorough, detailed and incisive reviews are well written and really worth checking out.

Volver film poster

Volver

Directed By: Pedro Almodóvar
Year of Release: 2006
Language: Spanish
Country of Release: Spain

Synopsis:

Family secrets come to the forefront for a group of women spanning three generations of a somewhat estranged Spanish family. The death of a beloved aunt and the discovery of a tragic crime forces the ladies to confront the past, leading to shocking revelations and unexpected connections.

Volver bench

My Opinion:

Volver, meaning ‘to return’ in Spanish, is a film that necessitates both the physical and emotional revisiting of hidden truths and obstacles planted throughout the life of protagonist Raimunda, played by director Pedro Almodóvar’s personal muse Penélope Cruz. Rather than be the brief and chaotic spark of a film as she is in Vicky Christina Barcelona, or even Nine, Cruz anchors this ‘tragicomedy’ in what one would call the straight role, acting instead as a magnet that one by one pulls an entire cast of whimsical, quirky characters in to the narrative. These include Lola Dueñas as her introverted and put upon Vicky Christina Barcelona, Blanca Portilla as the shaven headed, cannabis smoking neighbour Agustina and María Isabel Díaz as a larger than life but friendly neighbourhood prostitute Regina.

Though appearing to live separate and disassociated lives, the characters soon become inextricably linked to one another when Raimunda’s aunt dies in the same week that her husband Paco commits an act that leaves the family torn apart for good. Left to deal with the fallout of both events, Raimunda enlists the help of her family and friends and the drama begins to unfold as themes such as murder, incest, adultery and betrayal are all covered. Serious subject matters no doubt, but do not be tricked in to thinking that Volver is a depressing or heavy film. It seems to be a trademark of Pedro Almodóvar to be able to create a joyous experience from elements so maudlin and dark of those already mentioned, and this film is certainly not exception to the rule. Cutting through the weight of the film’s core themes is wry humour that rivals the best of British sarcasm. Some class it as Almodóvar ‘light’, and it is certainly less carnal in comparison than his other work, but this leaves room for a much more delicate touch and gentle progression. The film however, is undoubtedly recognisable as part of the director’s catalogue, incorporating his typical use of vibrant colour and at times overzealous score, bearing fitting resemblance in parts to the melodramatic telenovelas of South America and other Spanish speaking countries.

Ultimately, beneath the melodrama and outlandish narrative details, Volver is a film that celebrates the resilience of women. It celebrates their capacity for survival, it celebrates their commitment to a cause and it celebrates the actresses who portray such characters. Penélope Cruz has never been so engaging and impressive as she is here, verified by her Academy Award nomination in 2006 for Best Actress, and the group of performers that support her along the way are talented enough to each be leads themselves. The film is quintessentially and deliciously Spanish, from the quirky religious superstitions of the village outside of Madrid to the portrayals of unashamedly overbearing matriarchs, it will entertain and win the hearts of all, not just those, like myself, who have a Spanish family of their own to compare it to.

VOLVER

Final Verdict: A

My thanks to Amy for her review. I’ve seen some Pedro Almodovar films but not this one. After such a positive review, I’ll have to add it to the list.