Other EU

Duel au Sommet


Philipp Stölzl :: Germany, Switzerland, Austria :: 2008 :: 2h

Two young provincial army recruits in an early Nazi Germany, are challenged to climb up the Eiger. The mountain had never before been successfully scaled from the north face (Nordwand) and it would have been the perfect introduction for the showcase 1936 Nazi Olympic games in Berlin. While the propaganda machine waits in a five star hotel next to the mountain, the competing teams go up.

The advancement of the climbers Toni (Benno Fürmann) and Andreas (Florian Lukas) dangling from the icy rock is cut-up with scenes from the extravagant hotel down below, where we also find Toni’s childhood love Luise (Johanna Wokalek), as the aspiring (photo-) journalist. She is there with her Berlin boss, who oscillates from charming to Nazi and back again throughout the film. The contrast between the ostentatious luxury of the hotel life and the harshness of the mountain works beautifully, most of the time, although the real strength of the film is mountain photography.

Not only is the daunting steepness of mountain wall impressively portrayed, the unpredictability of its ascent is too. The men against the elements, with their frozen woollen mittens and home-made pegs give a taste of realism to mountain-climbing. The movie gives a taste of the excitement and immense difficulty of climbing, even if here it is enveloped in an air of rashness.

Bizarrely enough, for this day and age, the story has the feel of a Nazi propaganda film. The film is dominated by the heroism of the climbers. The subtle difference is perhaps that one of the two, Toni, is not in it for the glory but for the love of climbing. But even if they are not both climbing for their medal from Hitler, it is their courage and “noble savage” spirit which shines – not only doing their national duty of serving the Führer in his army but also having that unbreakable masculine outdoor courage in which the party prides itself.

When they accept the challenge, going to Switzerland by bicycle (700km!), we are shown two other teams which conclude that the weather conditions make the trek up impossible. It is curious that different teams of experienced climbers would have such divergent opinions on whether or not you can go up, but there you have it. It could have been dismissed as a tension builder, if it was not that the two teams which considered it reckless were the French and Italian teams, and those which considered it feasible were the German and Austrian teams. And then we discover that the Austrians are bungling amateurs. It all sounds painfully like a Nazi plot, but there is one other message which finally leaves the after-taste as you walk out: the futility of the pursuit of glory.

In the end, Duel au Sommet is about a mountain and a group of climbers. And it is there where the film excels. If you’re ready for icy rock and avalanches, you can not get much closer to the climbers than in this one. But be warned, the tip of your couch will seem like too close to the edge.



Nous, les Vivants

Du levande

Roy Andersson :: Sweden, France, Germany :: 2007 :: 1h34

A fluid succession of minimalist static-camera scenes exposing the human condition in an abstracted Swedish city. The scenes do not make up a coherent story-line, but rather combine to show different sides to our existence. And that existence is not a particularly joyful one. It is Nordic-ally absurd. Theatrically comical. But mostly, we are portrayed as painfully selfish and self-centred. There are many characters, but after an introduction you will never know if you will see them again. Perhaps they will even talk to you if they come back, or some of them come back as side-characters in someone else’s scene. Dream and reality alternate indistinguishably in Andersson’s sterile pale green-beige modernist world.

To take the opening scene: A man is sleeping on a couch in an office, his back turned to us. We hear a train ride by outside. Nothing happens. We have the time to look around the room. The colours have all faded into what will be the film’s dominant beige. Everything looks as if it has been drawn with colour pencils, especially the dreary urban view from the open window. Some confusion installs itself in us, when we realise the table must be real, but the computer on his desk could actually be drawn on. Our confusion takes us to the opposite wall, where we prophetically find a  reproduction of Picasso’s Don Quichotte.

Just as we are developing our taste for the absurd, we notice that the sound of the passing train must be related to the blowing of the curtains. But is the train then passing through the street? The proximity of the sound and the view from the window do not seem to coincide. Is this even possible? But as we are wondering about the correlation, all of a sudden, the man on the couch wakes up startled by a dream. The bolding, moustached man is out of breath. Visibly distressed, he tells us that he had had a nightmare. He dreamt that bombers were coming.

From one scene to another, we are taught a lesson in humility before life, as a plea for a little more understanding for our fellow human beings. We are obliged to take our lives as it is presented to us, which is filled with imperfections as is so poignantly expressed in a scene of a woman praying for the forgiveness of others. But the sins of those which make up our society are not only exceptionally well identified, but also so many that the priest is obliged to get her to stop so that he can up close the church for the night! As you will have understood, this is a gem of a film. Make sure you are ready for it so that you can grant it the attention it deserves. It is one of those films which can change your life.


Eden a l’ouest

Eden a l'ouestEden is west

Costa-Gavras :: France, Greece :: 2008 :: 1h50

Elias, played by the Italian actor Riccardo Scamarcio, leaves his country in a search for a better life. Full of hope, he finds himself on a large container ship filled with others fleeing wars or famine on the same voyage across the Mediterranean. The container ship is covered with huge sails to keep out prying eyes of over-flying security forces, heading for the fortress of Europe. Inside the hull, a timeless sun shines through on their faces, the open blue sea all around them. They are on the voyage of their lifetime, one which takes place today, but echos a Greek myth. Elias is heading for Paris, with an old language manual which he has been studying for a year in his back pocket.

Washed ashore on a Greek beach, he is awoken by a beach ball bouncing off him. A little further on, behind the rocks, he sees a group of naked tourists splashing in the water. He throws them the ball. Now what? He does the only thing he can to get out of there: he takes off his clothes. The absurdity of being in hiding, completed exposed! The question of how he will pull it off is running through both Elias’ and, very soon, our minds. It is the beginning of our voyage through his eyes, feeling the fear of being caught out at every step. The director Costa-Gavras puts us into an extreme version of Europe, one reminiscent of Le Couperet, where the wealthy rule and the others are oppressed or left to their devices. The holiday camp were he arrives is the perfect metaphor for the Europe we will see: it is a beautiful garden of Eden, a perfect world of plenty with luscious plants, food, drink and company. It is inhabited by the multilingual lucky few and surrounded by hidden walls guarded by men with dogs.

One of the curious moments in the film, is when he is offered an opportunity, a real opportunity for a simple but happy life, a little corner of paradise. But he does not take it. He follows his dream to the magical city. But why? Because he knows that even with hard work he will never make much of himself there? If you get going, do you want the prize to match the risk?

As Elias journeys through the continent to get to the City of Light, he passes through the immigrant work camps around a recycle plant, he meets Gypsies and the homeless. He meets kind people and those which just want to abuse him. Although Elias is a very strong character, it is difficult to obtain approval or respect from others in the miserable state of being an illegal alien, the weight of the stares of the others reduce him to the unwanted outsider. Throughout the relay of characters we are introduced to, some pop up again, others never do. We are taken along for the ride with Elias, we know no more or less than he does. It would be a shame to lift out all the different characters, as that is one of the great charms of this mythical road movie. It should also be mentioned that some beautiful images are bestowed on us: one of my favorites, is when he is walking in the country side as a traveller might do in the middle-ages, and steps over some rail lines – a TGV shoots by at over 300km/h in a near miss. Shocked he quickly jumps over the other rails, and another  one shoots by in the opposite direction! Elias is never really a part of modernity, rather he  just wonders through it. He is not really a part of anything, but time and time again, he could be.

But the modernity we see – that great European prison run like a police state – how true is that? And is it fair to talk about Europe as a rich people’s playground at the expense of the rest? A playground which needs to be protected from external bodies, such as Elias? As in Le Couperet, the film suggests that wealth is not created by people (through the creation of added value) but rather it is something which exists, which is controlled and distributed by an elite. If that was so, it would be ‘necessary’ to keep intruders out, or at least down, to keep the status quo. Culturally, France has longtime had this idea haunting them. Stretching out the idea into a possible social future could bring about such a world as the one portrayed here. The catch is, this idea which lingers is a mythical one, which is not really true. The history of Europe, or France, is a history of migration, for economic or political reasons. Times of affluence attract more people creating powerful countries. Increasing wealth is not attained only through cost reduction, as is suggested in the film, but innovation, vision, risk, luck and hard work produce it too. Immigration brings in intellectuals and an entrepreneurial spirit. The vision of Europe given here is dystopian, from a human perspective, and a reminder for us to question our vision on our political and economic future to choose the one which corresponds to our expectations of progress and values of human dignity.

I loved following Elias’ one man voyage into the unknown and highly recommend it. Take the social absurdism out with you into the café afterwards for a good analysis. As you see a world which is so close to your own, yet different, it is one of those films where you walk out seeing a different world around you. A world in which every other person could be a threat or a blessing to you. Don’t miss out.


12h08 à l’est de Bucarest

A Fost sau n-a fost ?

Corneliu Porumboiu :: Romania :: 2006 :: 1h29

Up in Bucarest the demonstrations in front of the national TV station had led to the ex-dictator Ceausescu’s attempted escape from the country at eight minutes pas twelve. Sixteen years later, locked into the boredom of a little town, the local TV station decides to ask itself the question if they actually participated in the revolution of their country. All the characters in this little town are all preoccupied with other matters, and it seems as if there are only two candidates who actually demonstrated in front of the town hall on that particular day. But even that is still left to debate…

A curious, funny and slow movie which, from a very original perspective, analyses the role of side-lined characters in History. The entire movie comes together as a poem making a single point, while wrapped up in the portrayal of the slow, somewhat curious lives of the characters. The lack of speed may put you off, but also allows you to see better. Seriously consider walking in.


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Joao Pedro Rodrigues :: Portugal :: 2004 :: 1h41

Rui loses the love of his life in a car accident and Odete throws out her boyfriend in a fit of disappointment. Two seemingly unrelated stories cross-over through a desire pulling Odete into the life of the mourning Rui. At an unbearably slow pace we are dragged through the murky psychological state of a desperate Rui and an uncontrollable Odete. Her blatant disregard for the emotions of others, leads us (slowly, slowly) to the predictable transformation. No doubt the whole movie was made with the final scene in mind, a scene which must rate as one of the most ridiculous images to have made it into cinema. A story which shows the supremacy of love (Rui’s) but has it all obliterated in a few seconds before the bell rings. But then again, as the names roll up, you can content yourself that yours is not up there with them…