Month: July 2006

La Boîte noire

18455543La Boîte noire

Richard Berry :: France :: 2005 :: 1h30

Tearing down a coastal lane, Arthur flies out of the bend only to open his eyes again in hospital. While he was out cold, his unconscious spoke, revealing his hidden self as an emotional Pandora’s box. In a dreamy, confused state he battles absurdity to unravel a lingering, youthful trauma.

Visually stunning and cut at video-clip speed, you are in for quite a rush of a film. Oscillating between captivating and horrific, “The Black Box” is really well made. There are countless little examples of beautiful attention to detail scattered around. No doubt because of this attention to detail, the imperfections reveal themselves as well, but they are forgivable. But not all missteps are.

Most importantly, the story-line is not good enough. The film can get away with a somewhat flimsy story for a good hour because of the captivating presentation, but towards the end, it is almost impossible not to be disappointed by the simplistic wrap-up. A real shame, considering the effort which went into this production. Do not hesitate to watch it none the less, as you will be rewarded with plenty an attentive detail and good use of imagery with the unfortunately paranoid José Garcia stuck in the middle.


La Raison du plus faible

18653822La Raison du plus faible

Lucas Belvaux :: France, Belgium :: 2005 :: 1h56

Labourers drama set in the depressing Liege, where the poverty induces the back-against-the-wall sentiment and the characters see no other alternative but to tackle it at the choking point: crime might not pay, but alternative of labour is scarce, dehumanising and near futile. A hold-up plan is made, and the men pass the threshold of no-return. The have-not‘s will steal from the have‘s in a naive entrepreneurial solution.

A slow social drama aimed at reminding us that although Belgium tops many a statistical chart in the economic press as one of the richest countries on earth, it is none the less rooted in the Dickens poverty era. A theme so endlessly addressed, it would not surprise me if by now many believed Belgium to be the last European country still struggling with the ugly beginnings of the industrial revolution. Compare this image with Daens (Stijn Coninx, Belgium, 1993) set in 1890 and you can content yourself that child labour has been abolished, but the country did not get much further than that. Life is ugly, crude, violent and short.

In cinema, the national image is endlessly tarnished by mostly commentaries from expatriated Belgian film makers. Even in a social thriller, it is possible to show the nation and its people from a more positive angle. It is not an image of hopelessness, like a rich versus poor Roman stand-off, which brings about change. A little recognition for the achievements of the nation would be more than welcome, as would the showing of the considerably more complex -and thankfully more joyful- social fabric. Points may be granted here for character analysis and development, but the overall pessimism and negativity do more harm than good. Perhaps Mr Belvaux should spend a little less time in flashy Paris and a little more in his native Belgium to balance out the score.

Le Voyage en Arménie

18616483Le Voyage en Arménie

Robert Guédiguian :: France :: 2006 :: 2h05

Anna, a tough 40-something cardiologist from Marseille, diagnoses her father’s weak heart as being in need of an operation. Disinterested in his condition, he leaves for his native Armenia. Anna follows suit to try to convince him of action, but, predictably, is won over with an understanding of her hidden origins.

The movie watches like a first visit introductory to Yerevan, Armenia, as the movie takes you around showing you different characters, scenes of this ancient culture now in state of anarchistic neon renovation. It is as if you are Anna, discovering your roots. You get to see a mixture of predictable social class contrasts -which travelers always seem to find fascinating about a foreign country- and a panoply of mob types with body guards, well-willing people, and crooks. The script illustrates the famous hospitality, the ‘I want to leave’, the national pride and so forth.

What was particularly striking, were the characters of Anna and her father which were -perhaps surprisingly- well worked out. Of course the story-line is somewhat thin, but none the less it is sufficient to convincingly take you around. If you overlook some overly simplistic attempts at humor and hastily closed story-lines, you are left which a mini-emotional vacation into Noah’s biblical resting place, the ancient southern Caucasus. We may not all discover our roots amongst these ancient people, but we are now offered a window gaze.

  • Diaphana Distribution
  • Les Etats-Unis d’Albert

    18654510Les Etats-Unis d’Albert

    André Forcier :: Canada :: 2005 :: 1h28

    Young aspiring actor wanting to replace Valentino in the late 1920s, takes the cross country train from Montreal to Los Angeles to realize his dream. Unwillingly, he takes along the ghost of his love-sick veteran actress teacher. He meets the girl of his dreams on the train, a young mormon feminist, but fortune has a little more in store for him. A curious, theatrical, absurd plot filmed with a capable cast.

    The challenge of the script has been well developed in the scenery, keeping up the tone, but there are some hiccups. The movie is funny, but not really, and naively superficial, despite being well filled. I admire the courage shown in taking on the project and it was enjoyable to watch, but none the less it misses that little bit extra which blends reality with absurdity to make it almost credible. Best served with a glass of wine, if that is not considered too outlandish for your local cinema.

    The Devil’s Rejects

    18653689The Devil’s Rejects

    Rob Zombie :: USA :: 2005 :: 1h34

    Sadistic, 70s violent road movie following a sherif out on a murderous rampage revenge against the mass murdering Firefly family. A horror movie where the emphasis lies more on sadism than on blood and gore, and where the continuity serves only that purpose. Visually well made with old-style variations in filming. But the question remains, do you really want to watch one and a half hours of swearing and torture-inspired violence?

    Un été à Berlin

    18651757Sommer von Balkon

    Andreas Dresen :: Germany :: 2005 :: 1h45

    Two women, Katrin and Nike, live in the same building. Katrin on the ground floor with her young son, and Nike all the way up with a flowered balcony. It is on the balcony that the women eat and drink together and wonder about the love in their lives. It may be summer on the balcony, but their hearts are far from being content, and, they wonder, maybe they will never be.

    The relationship between the women, as neighbours, friends and rivals is well worked out. But watching them, in all their normality, is a tedious affair. Katrin is still too broken by the break-up of her marriage to be able to really set her sights on someone else, or really get her life in order – the depressingly bureaucratic society around her does not fare her currently unstable situation well. Her son, equally frustrated in the beginnings of love, is little consolation, leading her to the bottle.

    The somewhat trashy Nike is so desperate to love that she works her way into more lonely spheres instead of constructing a real future. Through her work -she admirably takes care of senior citizens- she is reminded of the importance of love through the stories told, but can not seem to grasp them in her own life.

    So there they are, in their run-down building in a run-down city. The German capital is portrayed as an ugly, impoverished desolate place which is best avoided, with a people-as-means culture to top it off. If you want to learn a little about the German psyche, then you are bound to find some hail in this picture. But then you could also consider looking elsewhere, this is not a joyous or uplifting tale. The humour is as sparse as the beauty – the amateuristic photography does not help either, but you could argue that it helps the image of realism. But personally, I’d recommend to see what else is playing … (in German)

    Adam’s Apples

    18616334Adams æbler

    Anders-Thomas Jensen :: Denmark :: 2004 :: 1h34

    Adam, a misfit neo-nazi is sentenced to spend three months at naive priest Ivan’s parish in the countryside. Obliged to set himself a mission by the priest, Adam says he will bake a cake with the priest’s prized apple tree. A curious and absurd harsh-colored script ensues, with a dark, dark humor looming over. Because of the quantity of Christian symbolism which is used seemingly arbitrarily, it is hard to discern meaning in the absurdity. Perhaps the image of crows (symbol of death) eating up the Church’s apple tree (knowledge) should be indication enough that there is no wisdom to be found in the absurdity… None the less, there is a conscious effort of Mr Jensen invite the viewer to try, a challenge I will here accept.

    (SPOILER – attempted analysis ensues)

    The mission taken on by hate-monger Adam is the gaining of knowledge (the baking of the apple pie from the wisdom tree). It’s completion is jeopardized by divine intervention. None the less, Adam is re-invigorated in the face of this adversity to achieve his goal. He is presented, again by divine intervention, with the book of Job.

    For those who need reminding, in the book of Job, the pious Job was tested time and time again (by Satan), stripping him of all he cherished in life, to see if he would renounce his faith. Job’s faith withstood any challenge posed. Eventually, God restored the good fortune of Job. If this tale is to have a direct parallel in the movie, who would it be?

    The Sinner: Adam is removed from his life of violence into the Parish garden. His primitive reactions (brute force) no longer have the same effect, rendering them useless. He discovers a moderation in evil through the adversity, without a concrete change of heart. If the devil was taunting him, it could only be through irrationality, but even there I think that would be taking it too far. From evil to moderate with flashes of kindness is mild as far as transformations go. There is not much of a link between Adam and Job. Let us try to see if he can serve as a pawn for the priest.

    The priest: Ivan is surrounded by misfortune and evil. He recognizes it as a challenge set by the devil (as if he was Job), but he lives with it by obliterating it from his experience instantaneously (even if it slaps him in the face by the hand of Adam). But Ivan has neither the faith, nor the right attitude towards his misfortune to be able to consider himself as Job. His surreal care-free attitude to life, blocks out the very suffering which would be testing him. He does, however, get some solace, when one grave misfortune miraculously cancels out another. Also, his existence brings about some good into the world (not really the case for Job), although the providence of his condition seems to bring it about rather than his conscious effort. The priest’s misfortunes are not restored nor compensated for, further removing the parallels with the book of Job.

    As none of the side characters fit into the mold of Job either, we must be expected not to take it too literally. That view would be supported by the lightning destruction of the apple tree after it had been eaten bare. Without the tree of knowledge, without a guiding priest, without a hate-mongering fascist, we are still left with drunks and crooks. Beyond good and evil, there is still kindness possible, in an, admittedly, absurd world without direction.

    A curious and enigmatic movie which invites to reflection, but it is not at all certain where that leads us. Try for yourself, or just watch for the dark, dark humor. (in Danish)