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Would you like to write a review of a non-English-language film?
Contact Christine or the Film Review Editor for your language (see the Editorial Staff page for contact information).

Note to teachers: Keep in mind that the purpose of these reviews is to acquaint foreign language teachers with films of interest. Although some of the films may be appropriate in the FL classroom, please do not consider showing them to your students without viewing them first yourself.


July 2011

French: My Night at Maud’s; Claire’s Knee
Spanish: El secreto de sus ojos

FRENCH
Moral Tales Series
My Night at Maud’s; Claire’s Knee
Director: Eric Rohmer

“My Night at Maud's” and “Claire's Knee” are both in Eric Rohmer’s Moral Tales series.

“My Night at Maud’s” is shot in black and white (deliberately, not because of cost) and takes place in the part of France that was home to scientist and religious writer Blaise Pascal.  He is well known for Pascal's wager: that it is more rational to bet on God and eternal life than not.

Pascal's wager is being discussed by two old friends who meet after fourteen years: the narrator (an unnamed Catholic engineer) and Vidal, a Communist professor of philosophy.  The other characters are Maud, a friend/lover of Vidal from an old masonic family, and Francoise, a Catholic biology student.  This sounds like the film is "ideological" but I think Rohmer would deny this and I agree with him. It is more about how their beliefs influence (or fail to influence) these four people. 

In “Claire's Knee,” an engaged French diplomat is vacationing (sans fiancée) by the seaside and meets an old platonic friend, Aurora, a writer who is staying with a woman and her sixteen-year-old daughter, Laura.  Laura's step-sister, Claire, later comes as well.  Aurora tries to manipulate matters and Jerome (the diplomat) first falls for Laura and then Claire.

All this is done in a very witty way and we see the foibles and contradictions endemic to human nature.  Both the narrator of Maud and Jerome, for example, claim they rely on chance to a great degree, yet we see this is not so. 

In Rohmer’s world (like the real one) people deceive others and often engage in self-deception.  Rohmer is remarkably fecund in creating characters and examining them.
- Recommended by Shmuel Ben-Gad, Gelman Library, the George Washington University.

SPANISH
secreto-ojosEl secreto de sus ojos (Argentina: 2009)
Director: Juan José Campanella
Language: Español (con sutitulos en inglés y español)
Run time: 129 minutos
Actors: Soledad Villamil y Ricardo Darín


Un caso sin resolver (o caso abierto) es el tema de la novela que Benjamín Espósito, jubilado de la policía, está escribiendo.  Se trata de un caso que investigaron él, su asistente y su jefa, pero que nunca resolvieron satisfactoriamente.  El caso fue la violación y homicidio de una mujer recién casada.  Encontraron a unos hombres sospechosos, pero habían cosas que no cuadraban, preguntas sin respuestas, y un presentimiento de que el asesino era otra persona.  Por fin, detienen al presunto culpable y lo condenan, pero el juez lo deja libre.  A traves de su novela, Benjamín vive de nuevo el caso y quiere compartir sus escritos con su jefe y con el esposo de la victima.  Su asistente muere por causa de esta investigación, por lo que Benjamín ya no cuenta con él.  La trama tiene un fin totalmente inesperado.  Como se puede ver por los premios que ganó, es una película que vale la pena ver.

No es para niños.  Tiene una clasificación "R" por que hay escenas de violencia y desnudez.  De todos modos es una película de primera clase.  En 2010 ganó tres de los premios sobresalientes en el mundo de la cinematografía: el Óscar por La Mejor Película en una lengua no inglés, el premio Goya por la Mejor Actriz de Revelación, ypor la Mejor Película Hispanoamericana. 

English version

A cold case is the base of a novel that Benjamín Espósito, retired homicide detective, is writing.  The case was solved, but never to his satisfaction, not that of his partner or his boss.  The case was the rape and murder of a recently married woman.  They arrest two men, but the pieces don’t quite fit together, there are unanswered questions, and a true sense that they are not the murders.   So they are let free.  Finally, another person is arrested and convicted, but the judge lets him go free.  Through writing his novel, Benjamín relives the caso and wants to share his writings with his boss and the husband of the victim.  His partner died during the investigation, so Benjamín can’t talk with him about the case.  The plot twists and turns, effectively obscuring the principal theme, but it arrives at the end with a surprising scene.  As can be seen by the awards it won, this is a film that is truly worth seeing.

With an R rating, the scenes of rape, violence, nudity, and swearing are not for children.  However, it is a truly first class movie.  In 2010 it wone three of the most outstanding awards in the world of cinematography: the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, the Goya for Best New Actress and the Goya for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film.
-Recommended by Spanish Film Review Editor, Sheila Cockey


June 2011

French: Les Rendevous de Paris
Italian: Dieci Inverni (Ten Winters)

FRENCH

rdv-paris

Les Rendevous de Paris
Director: Eric Rohmer
Year: 1996
Run time: 94 minutes
Language: French
Country: France

I recently saw Eric Rohmer’s collection of three short films, “Les Rendezvous de Paris," at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Chance (or is it fate?) plays a large role in the lives of college students in the first two films. 
In “The 7 p.m. rendezvous,” the question arises as to whether the man is being faithful or not. This short film encapsulates many of Rohmer's themes and also much of his sensibility. "Les bancs de Paris" involves a would-be couple.  She has not quite broken with her lover but wanders the city with a potential new one. 
The first film ends somewhat ambiguously, even incompletely, and is echoed by the painter in the third tale who says a painting should tell a story but not completely. The second ends less ambiguously. 
The third, "Mère et Enfant, 1907," is about a randy artist who meets a Swedish interior design student and a recently married Swiss woman.  The latter is the most mysterious woman I have seen Rohmer depict.  The nexus of art and lust in this one is quietly hilarious.

  • Recommended by Shmuel Ben-Gad, The George Washington University

 

ITALIAN

dieci

Dieci Inverni  (Ten Winters)
Director:  Valerio Mieli
Year:  2009
Run time:  99 minutes
Language: Italian 
Country: Italy
Awards: David for best new director
Availability: Amazon (Italian only)

Dieci Inverni

An English translation follows

Valerio Mieli, dopo avere scritto il romanzo “Dieci Inverni”, esordisce con successo come regista proponendone la versione cinematografica.   Si tratta di un film romantico ambientato a Venezia che racconta la crescita emotiva di due ragazzi nell’arco di 10 anni.  I paesaggi invernali incessanti fanno da  sfondo e simboleggiano il self-control emotivo dei protagonisti.  Il gelo ghiaccia l’espressione delle emozioni e li porta ad accettare passivamente e a turno i rifiuti dell’altro.  Questa tensione fa talmente immedesimare lo spettatore da spingerlo a voler gridare: “Non stare lì impassibile, dillo......”  È un film attraente e stimolante per la sua mancanza di convenzionalità. 

Camilla lascia il suo paese d’origine per andare a studiare all’università di Venezia e durante l’ultima parte del viaggio nella laguna, su un vaporetto, incontra Silvestro anche lui studente.  Quando lei scende, lui la segue, perde a sua volta l’ultimo vaporetto e lei pietosamente lo accoglie nella sua casa e nell’unico letto.  Così comincia una conoscenza che durante gli anni mostra una vasta gamma di sentimenti però raramente sentiti contemporaneamente da tutti e due.  Questa relazione si contrappone nettamente al tema di “amore a prima vista” caratteristico di molti film romantici.  Si passa attraverso l’attrazione, il riserbo, la simpatia, la paura, l’indifferenza, l’amicizia, e la presunzione e finalmente si giunge ad un sentimento d’amore corrisposto e maturo solo alla fine dei 10 anni.

Venezia non è quella delle cartoline asettiche di Piazza San Marco, ma quella più realistica del degrado ecologico, sempre romantica ed interessante, ma con i canali inquinati e le mura delle case in rovina per l’umidità.  Le scene sono sempre girate d’inverno in gran parte a Venezia ed a Mosca, dove Camilla si reca per studiare teatro, mentre Silvestro, senza una direzione precisa, perde tempo con gli amici dell’università.  Le 10 scene invernali riprendono puntualmente come la vita dei due si sviluppa durante gli anni.

Siamo attirati da questa tortuosa relazione e soffriamo con loro le incomprensioni delle cose taciute o semplicemente dette per reazione.  La paura della propria vulnerabilità nell’esporsi all’altro è palpabile. Nelle complesse relazioni moderne molto dipende dalla tempestività di saper sfruttare l’occasione giusta al momento opportuno.  Troppo spesso le amicizie e le infatuazioni sono di breve durata, e ci si separa per incontrarsi di nuovo, anni dopo, e  ricominciare a vedersi.  Nell’eterna ricerca della propria metà, non saper prendere al volo certe occasioni vuole dire rimanere soli e  mettersi da capo alla ricerca. 

Il regista ci conduce abilmente attraverso lo sviluppo di questa intricata relazione senza mai calcare la mano.  Alla fine ne usciamo soddisfatti dell’evoluzione e maturazione raggiunte dai protagonisti.

  • Recommended by Carlo Mignani, Italian Language Film Review Editor

 

English version

Valerio Mieli, after writing the novel “Ten Winters”, makes his debut successfully as a director with his cinematic version.  It is a romantic movie set in Venice that depicts the emotional growth of two young adults during a ten-year period.  The endless winter landscapes form the background and symbolize the emotional self-control of the characters.  The ice freezes the expression of sentiments and leads them to accept passively the other’s rejections.  This tension urges the viewer to identify with the characters so much that he wants to shout: “don’t stand idle, say it …!”.  The lack of convention makes it an engaging and stimulating movie.

Camilla (Isabella Ragonese) leaves her town to go to study at the University of Venice and during the last part of the trip in the lagoon, on a vaporetto, meets Silvestro (Michele Riondino), a student himself.  When she gets off, he follows her, misses the last boat out of the island and mercifully she invites him home and lets him share the only bed available.  So starts an acquaintance that during the years shows the entire spectrum of feelings, but rarely felt by both at the same time.  This relationship contrasts sharply with the “love at first sight” theme, dear to so many romantic movies.  They go through attraction, reserve, liking, fear, indifference, friendship and conceit and finally they reach a reciprocal and mature loving relationship only at the end of 10 years.

Venice is not the one represented by the aseptic postcards of Piazza San Marco, but the one more realistic, with the ecological degrade, always romantic and interesting but with the polluted canals and the walls of the homes ruined by the humidity.  The scenes are always set in winter, mostly in Venice and Moscow where Camilla goes to study theater, while Silvestro wanders aimlessly with his university friends.  The ten yearly winter scenes invariably depict how their life journey develops.

We are drawn by this tortuous relationship, we suffer with them their misunderstanding of things not said or simply said as a reaction.  Fear of exposing one’s vulnerability to the other is palpable.  In complex modern relationships a lot depends on timing, to take advantage of the right occasion at the right moment.  Too often friendship and infatuations are short-lived, one splits to meet again years later and to start to see each other again.  In the eternal search for one’s own soul mate, not being able to seize the moment means to remain alone and to start the search all over again.

The director takes us through the journey of this intimate relationship with magical balance.  At the end we come out satisfied with the evolution and maturity reached by the characters.

 


April - May 2011

Norwegian: Døden er et kjærtegn (Death is a Caress)
Spanish: Sin Nombre

NORWEGIAN

Døden er et kjærtegn (Death is a Caress)
Director: Edith Carlmar
1949

Norwegian Language
This film was the first of four films by the Norwegian Edith Carlmar shown recently at the National Gallery in Washington, DC.  It was made in 1949 and is a frank film about a tumultuous relationship (first adulterous, later wedded) of a wealthy woman and an automobile mechanic.  Stylistically, the director sometimes has a series of images imposed upon another. This is effective the first time but becomes pretentious afterwards.  The story itself is engaging enough and the sensibility is certainly not what we think of as Hollywoodish, though it partakes somewhat of the Hollywood film noir of the time.
Recommended by Shmuel Ben-Gad, The George Washington University

SPANISH

Sin Nombre,  2009
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Spanish with English Subtitles, 96 minutes
R for violence, language and some sexual content
Winner of many awards, including 2 Sundance Film Festival Awards

An English version follows the Spanish

sinnombreProvocando pensamientos de la inmigración, las bandas o pandillas, la pobreza, la familia, y la desesperación, «Sin nombre» junta todos los temas en el cuento de una familia hondureña y una banda urbana.  Padre, Tío, e Hija…salen de casa, pasan por México, rumbo a Estados Unidos donde quieren llegar a Nueva Jersey donde viven familiares.  Su transporte es aborde los carros del tren, pero arriba no adentro, con otra gente que viajan ilegalmente al norte.  Se encuentran con un Joven que está huyendo de su banda porque ha decidido dejar atrás la vida así.  La banda llega al tren para robar a los pasajeros ilegales y el líder trata de violar a la Hija.  El Joven mata al líder y de allí en adelante todos están envueltos en la búsqueda de la banda por el Joven.  Los sucursales de la banda tienen su papel en la caza también y muestran la influencia extendida de la banda.  El Joven y la Hija salen del tren en busca de más seguridad y continúan su viaje hacia la frontera con los Estados Unidos.  Allí, reencuentran con la familia para la etapa final del viaje.

Esta película ilustra sin lugar a dudas como las bandas reclutan a los niños y el increíble poder e influencia que la banda ejerce sobre los miembros.  Se ilustra la pobreza con toda la fealdad y desesperanza.  Después de ver esta película, tengo una idea más clara de la desesperación que les obliga que salgan de su patria en busca de una mejor vida.  De veras, es lúgubre, triste, y violenta, pero también tiene momentos de esperanza y casi de alegría.  Yo espero que los mensajes poderosos que están contenidos en «Sin nombre» encuentran un público más amplio y grande.

English version

Provoking thoughts about immigration, gangs, poverty, family, and desperation, “Sin nombre” brings all of these themes together in the stories of a Honduran family and an urban gang.  Father, Uncle, Daughter…leave their home and make their way through Mexico to the US where they hope to end up with family in New Jersey.  Their means of transportation is atop the freight trains, with many other people trying to make their way north.  They encounter a Young Man who is fleeing the long arm of his gang, whom he has decided to leave behind.  The gang appears to rob the illegal passengers and the gang leader starts to rape the Daughter.  The Young Man kills him and the hunt is on; the gang contacts all of their outlying chapters and everyone searches for him.  The Daughter and former gangster leave the train because it is not safe and continue to move toward the Mexico-US border, where they reunite with the train passengers for the final stage of their trip. 

This movie illustrates beyond any doubt how young children are recruited into gangs and the extreme power and influence the gang has over each of its members.  Poverty is illustrated in all of its ugliness and hopelessness.  After viewing this move, I have a much clearer picture of the desperation that compels people to leave their homeland in search of a better life.  It is indeed gloomy, sad, and violent, but it has moments of hope and almost happiness.  I hope the powerful messages contained in “Sin nombre” find a wider audience.
Recommended by Sheila W. Cockey, Spanish Language Film Review Editor


March 2011

German: Im toten Winkel: Hitlers Sekretarin (Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary)
Italian: Niente Paura: Come siamo come eravamo e le canzoni di Luciano Ligabue
Spanish: Biutiful

German

Im toten Winkel: Hitlers Sekretärin (Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary)
Directors: André Heller, Othmar Schmiderer
Release date: 2003
Run time: 90 minutes
Language: German (subtitles in English, French and Spanish)
Country: Austria

English translation follows the German version
Einen alten Damenkopf vor einer stehenden Kamera zu zeigen, ist wohl das visuell langweiligste, was man einer Klasse auf einer DVD vorführen könnte, jedoch kommt es hier auf die Stimme und Person an, der sie gehört: Traudl Junge als persönliche Sekretärin des Führers, eine der letzten lebenden Augenzeugen vom Untergang des Dritten Reichs. Angefangen als Typistin im Reichskanzlei und befördert zur persönlichen Sekretärin des Führers zieht sie mit einer Crew von anderen Sekretärinnen in den innigsten Kreis des Reiches ein, alle dem bekanntlichen Nachtwandler Hitler jederzeit dienstbereit. Als naïve Zweiundzwangzigjährige teilt sie die meisten Mahlzeiten mit ihrem Chef, dem Mann, den sie für einen freundlichen alten Vegetarier und eine Vaterfigur hält, der Geschäftliches beim Speisen verabscheut und daher die Gesellschaft seiner weiblichen Angestellten bevorzugt. Sie ist auch da, um die letzten Tage des Dritten Reiches als Augenzeugin zu erleben: den Galgenhumor im Bunker als die Rote Armee avanciert; Hitlers wütende Pläne zum Gegenschlag; seine Hochzeit mit Eva Braun. Ihr diktiert Hitler sein letztes Testament, während andere die Hochzeit feiern, gefolgt von ihrer Verabschiedung vom Personal vor ihrem Freitod. Trotz ihres unmittelbaren Kontakts zum innigsten Kreis der NS-Staatsmacht behauptet Junge nichts von den Greuelakten des Reiches gewusst zu haben, da sie an allem zu nah dran war, im sogenannten "toten Winkel" wo ihr die Wirklichkeit der Lage vorenthalten war. Ob ihr dies zu glauben ist, bleibt dem Zuschauer überlassen, aber diese Geschichte und diese Stimme—als eine der allerletzten Augenzeugen zu den Geschehnissen im Führerhauptquartier in Berlin—gilt zweifellos als faszinierendes historisches Dokument. Junges Erinnerungen, hier kurz vor ihrem Tod im Jahre 2002 gefilmt, dienten als historische Grundlage für den Spielfilm Der Untergang (Downfall, 2004), die visuell spanndende Abhandlung von Hitlers letzten Tagen in Berlin, in der Traudl Junge eine Schlüsselfigur darstellt.
--Empfohlen von J. Douglas Guy, Beverly High School, Beverly, MA & Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill, MA

English version
The talking head of an old lady in front of a stationary camera is probably the most visually boring DVD a teacher could show a class, but here it depends on the voice and the person it belongs to: Traudl Junge, one of the last surviving witnesses to the collapse of the Third Reich as one of Hitler’s personal secretaries. Rising from a typing pool in the Reichskanzlei to the rank of personal secretary to the Führer, she moves into the inner sanctum of the Third Reich with a crew of other secretaries, all of them on call 24/7 for the notoriously night-owlish Hitler. Coming to the Führer’s bunker as a naïve 22 year old, she shares most meals with her boss, the person she considers to be a kindly old vegetarian and father figure who hates to talk shop over meals and prefers the company of the women in his employ. She is there to witness the last days of the Third Reich: the gallows humor of the bunker as Russian troops advance on Berlin, Hitler’s mad plans to counterattack, Hitler’s marriage to Eva Braun. She takes dictation of Hitler’s last will and testament while others celebrate the wedding, and then hears their farewells to the staff before they commit suicide. Despite the immediacy of her contact to the highest circles of Nazi authority, Junge claims not to have known about the atrocities of the Third Reich, stating that she was too close to the source of power, caught "im toten Winkel" ("in the blind spot") that prevented her from seeing the reality of the situation. Viewers have to decide the plausibility of her claim, but her story and her voice—that of one of the very last eyewitnesses to the events in the Führer’s bunker in Berlin—is unquestionably a fascinating historical document. Filmed shortly before her death in 2002, Junge’s recollections here served as the historical basis for the feature film Der Untergang (The Downfall, 2004), the bracing visual account of Hitler’s last days in Berlin in which Traudl Junge plays a key character.
--submitted by J. Douglas Guy, Beverly High School, Beverly, MA & Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill, MA

Italian

Niente Paura: Come siamo come eravamo e le canzoni di Luciano Ligabue, 2010
Director: Piergiorgio Gay
Run Time: 90 minutes
Co-production of Lumiere & Co e BIM Distribuzione in collaboration with Fondazione Smemoranda e Riservarossa

This is a very difficult film to classify. It should probably be classified as a documentary although it doesn’t follow a straight line as documentaries usually do. The thread that ties it together, that gives it continuity, is the singer Luciano Ligabue whose songs provoke deep thinking.

Ligabue sings in front of huge crowds that are wildly enthusiastic. Many individuals - artists, thinkers, politicians, scientists, citizens – reflect on Italy focusing on the singer’s themes. They comment on how Italians were in the past and how Italians are today. They consider ethics, society, politics, racism, the crisis of political parties, the Mafia, individual rights, massacres. It is a moving and fascinating glimpse of the heart of Italy today.
- Recommended by Christine Foster Meloni, Culture Club Editor

Spanish

Biutiful (2010)
Actors: Javier Bardem, Maricel Alvarez, & Hanaa Bouchaib
Director: Alejandro González Iñarritu
Rated R
Nominated for 2 Oscars in 2011
In Spanish with English subtitles

English translation of review follows the Spanish original
Desesperadamente tratando de proveer una buena vida a sus hijos, Uxbal vive al borde de la legalidad, al borde de la vida y la muerte, al borde de la esperanza y la desperación. Tiene una conección especial con las almas de los muertos y puede ayudarles encontrar la paz. Si pudiera encontrat aquella paz para si mismo. Es un hombre que facilita conecciones: obreros ilegales con trabajos, drogas con traficantes, los vivos con los muertos. Por esta conecciones cuida a su familia y a sus amigos. Pero, ¿quién va a cuidarle? Al fin de todo, no puede calmar su alma que sigue vagando en busca de soluciones para que pueda continuar en paz. La película no es tan deprimiente como parece. Hay niños encantadores quienes están expuestos a mucho más que deben ser expuestos, pero los manejan bastante bien. Hay cariño entre el padre y sus hijos. Hay simpatía para los obreros ilegales. Como Uxbal, Javier Bardem presenta su normal actuación increíble, desde lenguaje corporal, a la expresión del rostro, hasta ojos que comunican. Es una película poderosa que trata de asuntos importantes del día. No se la pierde.

English
Scrambling to provide for his two children, Uxbal lives on the edge of legality, on the edge of life and death, on the edge of hope and dispair. He has a special connection with the souls of the dead and can help them come to peace with their wandering. If only he could find that peace for himself. He’s a man who makes connections: illegal workers with jobs, drugs with dealers, the living with the dead. Through those connections he takes care of his family and his friends. But, who is there to take care of him? In the end, he cannot still his own soul as it roams and searches for solutions so he can move on peacefully. The movie is not nearly as depressing as it sounds. There are sweet children, exposed to far too many adult issues but handling them well. There is tenderness between father and children. There is sympathy for the illegal workers. As Uxbal Javier Bardem presents his usual astonishing performance, from body language, to facial expression, to eyes that communicate. This is a powerful film about important issues of the day. It is not to be missed.
- Recommended by Spanish Language Film Review Editor, Sheila W. Cockey


February 2011

French: Huit Femmes (Eight Women)
German: Friendship
Italian: La Terra Trema
Norwegian: Vinterkyss (Kissed by Winter)
Spanish: Mataharis

French

huitfemmesHuit Femmes
France, 2001
Director: François Ozon
Run time: 111 minutes
Language: French

Bien que les huit femmes du film Huit Femmes ne disent jamais qu’elles soupçonnent les autres, le réalisateur (François Ozon) nous fait soupçonner toutes. Quand Gaby (Catherine Deneuve) rentre chez elle avec sa fille Suzon (Virginie Ledoyen) pour les vacances de Noël aux années cinquante, une des bonnes (Louise, jouée par Emmanuelle Béart) trouve Marcel, le mari de Gaby, mort. En trouvant que l’assassin a coupé les fils de téléphone et de voiture, les femmes se rendent compte qu’elles sont isolées chez elles par la neige et, de plus, que l’assassin est entre elles. Elles ont toutes quelque chose qu’elles ne veulent pas découvris, et des alliances qu’elles ne veulent pas tromper. En partageant leurs secrets entre les chansons, on entrevoit comment chaque femme a pu le tuer. Par exemple, Gaby, femme de la maison, vient de lui dire la veille qu’elle le quitte pour un autre homme et Suzon est enceinte par lui. Après avoir fait la connaissance de chaque femme, le spectateur voit que chacune l’a tué figurativement. Finalement Catherine révèle que les femmes étaient trompées ; la morte était un jeu parce que Catherine a vue que chaque femme utiliser Marcel la veille, et il en a eu marre. Catherine ouvre sa porte pour montrer que Marcel est vivant et il se tue.
-Recommended by Beckie Bray

German

Friendship!
Germany, 2009
Director: Markus Goller
Main Actors: Matthias Schweighöfer (Tom), Friedrich Mücke (Veit), Alicja Bachleda (Zoey)
Run time: 104 minutes
Currently only available as Region 2 DVD
Language: German (with German subtitles)

An English version follows the German language review
Berlin im Jahre 1989: Die Welt schaut zu, als die Mauer fällt, und ganz Berlin wird eine einzige Party. Der junge Ossi Veit schafft es mit seinem Kumpel Tom bis Berlin und überredet ihn auf der Stelle, das Begrüssungsgeld zu benutzen, um ihn zum echten Westen zu begleiten: nämlich in die U.S.A. Veit zielt auf San Franzisko, obwohl keiner der beiden Geld hat oder Englisch kann mit Ausnahme des Wortes “friendship.” Veit erzählt ihm aber nicht die ganze Wahrheit. In Wirklichkeit will er seinem Vater auf die Spur kommen, einem DDR-Flüchtling, der in Veits Kindheit die Familie in Stich gelassen hat und sich jetzt nur noch mit einer jährlichen Postkarte zum Geburtstag meldet. Ihr Geld reicht nur bis nach New York, und dort fängt für die beiden ein transkontinentales Abenteuer an, das sie in Verbindung mit verschiedenen warmherzigen Amerikanern bringt und mehr als genug unterhaltende Situationen bietet, um die Handlung voranzutreiben. Liebe, Las Vegas, Cheerleaders, Hoffnung und bittere Realität spielen alle eine Rolle in diesem Road Movie mit zwei sympathischen beinahe postkommunistischen Ossi-Hauptfiguren. Sehr empfehlenswert, obwohl für Verwendung in der Schule gewisse Sex- und Drogenszenen vorsichtig vermieden werden sollen.
Empfohlen von J. Douglas Guy, Beverly High School, Beverly, MA

English version
Berlin 1989: The world sees the Wall crumble and all of Berlin turns into one big party. After getting to Berlin, young East German Veit convinces his buddy Tom to use their Begrüssungsgeld to go all the way west: to the U.S.A. Veit is set on getting all the way to San Francisco, even though neither of them has any money or knows any English except for “friendship.” But Veit is not telling the whole truth. In reality he wants to track down his father, an East German escapee who abandoned the family in his childhood and whose only contact is an annual postcard from San Francisco on his birthday. With only enough money to fly to New York City, the two start a cross-country adventure that brings them in contact with many warm-hearted Americans and offers more than enough entertaining situations to keep the plot constantly moving. Love, Las Vegas, cheerleaders, hope and sobering reality all find their way into this road movie with two appealing almost-post-Communist protagonists. Highly recommended, although some scenes with drugs and sex will need to be avoided for high school viewing.
Recommended by J. Douglas Guy, Beverly High School, Beverly, MA

Italian

terratremaLa Terra Trema, 1948
Director: Luchino Visconti
Run time: 160 minutes
Language: Italian

La Terra Trema, directed by the legendary Luchino Visconti, was one of the most acclaimed films of Neorealism.
The film is set in 1947 in a fishing village near Catania in Sicily. The lot of the fishermen is hard. They live in poverty as they have been exploited for generations by the local middlemen. At last one of the young fisherman decides to rebel. He mortgages his house to buy his own fishing boat so that he won’t have to work for the wholesalers anymore. He hopes in vain for support from his fellow fishermen. He goes it alone and the outcome is not a happy one.
Recommended by Christine F. Meloni, Culture Club Editor

Norwegian

vinterkissVinterkyss (Kissed by Winter)
Norway, 2005
Director: Sara Johnsen
Actors: Annika Hallin (Victoria), Kristoffer Joner (Kai)
Run time: 84 minutes
Language: Norwegian (available with English subtitles)
Availability: Netflix.com

This is a heart-wrenching film about Victoria, a doctor who suddenly loses her young son to an illness and consequently loses control of her life, overwhelmed by feelings of guilt.  In the depths of despair, the grieving mother leaves her husband, her job, and her city and takes a job in a medical clinic in a remote area of the country. Soon after her arrival there, she simultaneously becomes involved in the police investigation of an Arab teen-ager’s death and in an affair with Kai, the prime suspect in the case. Annika Hallin is superb as Victoria.
- Recommended by Christine F. Meloni, Culture Club Editor



Spanish

Mataharis (2007)
100 min  Comedy/Drama;  Sin Clasificación
Director: Icíar Bollaín
Estrellas: Najwa Nimri, Tristán Ulloa, María Vázquez

mataharisAn English translation follows the Spanish version

Tres detectives, mujeres que trabajan por una agencia en Madrid, resuelven una multitud de casos que tienen reflejos de la vida propia de cada una.  El dueño de la agencia es un típico hombre de negocios que tiene una buena empresa que está al cúspide de ganar fama e importancia internacional.  Los dos esposos tienen empleo bastante responsable que les paga bien, pero las esposas elijan trabajar para ganar una identidad individual.

Inés no está casada ni tiene pareja, pero durante su misión clandestina en la empresa internacional empieza algo entre ella y uno de los sospechos que ella está investigando.  Carmen no le da cuenta de que no hay nada en su matrimonio; ella habla con las plantas, no con su esposo.  Eva acaba de regresar a trabajar despues de dar luz a su segundo hijo, y descubre que había otra mujer en la vida de su esposo.  Por todas partes hay cuestiones de confianza: empleador/empleado, esposo/esposa, jefe/trabajador.  Pues, entre los casos que luchan para resolver, luchan para resolver la vida también.

Lo normal es un caso de persona perdida o de matrimonio infiel, pero ahora tienen un contrato con una empresa internacional que tiene que ver con el robo, el corto de costos, y el tratamiento de los obreros.  Va a definir el futuro de la agencia.  Siguen con otros casos: una mujer infiel, un viejo que quiere encontrar a la novia de su juventud, un esposo infiel, mientras persiguen las respuestas para el contrato “de Austurias.”

La música y la cámara hacen mejor una película que ya es muy buena.  El guión y la actuación le trae dentro de la trama y empieza a sentir por los personajes y los dilemas que se enfrentan.  Con los subtítulos en inglés (también los hay en español), es fácil ver, aún para alguien que no entiende el español.

English version
Mataharis (2007)
100 min  Comedy/Drama;  not rated
Director: Icíar Bollaín
Stars: Najwa Nimri, Tristán Ulloa, María Vázquez

Three detectives, women who work for an agency in Madrid, solve a variety of cases that reflect the life of each of them.  The owner of the agency is a typical man who has a business about to gain fame and international importance.  The two husbands are well-employed, but the wives choose to work to gain their own individual identity.

Inés is neither married nor in a relationship, but during her undercover job at the international company something starts between her and one of the suspects she is investigating.  Carmen does not realize that her marriage is empty; she talks to the plants, not to her husband.  Eva has just returned to work after giving birth to her second child, and she discovers that once upon a time there was another woman in her husband’s life.  Everywhere there are issues of trust: employer/employee, husband/wife, boss/worker.  So along with struggling to solve cases, each struggles to resolve her own life.

The normal case is a missing person or marriage infidelity, but now they have a contract with an international company that has to do with theft, cost cutting, and the treatment of workers.  It will define the future of the company.  They continue with their other cases: an unfaithful wife, an elderly man who wants to find the love of his youth, an unfaithful husband, while they pursue the answers for the big contract.

The music and camera improve an already very good movie.  The script and acting draw the viewer into the plot and one begins to feel for the characters and the dilemmas in which they find themselves.  With English subtitles (it also has Spanish subtitles), it is easy to watch and understand, even for someone who does not understand Spanish.
- Recommended by Sheila W. Cockey, Spanish Film Review Editor


January 2011

French: Un long dimanche de fiançailles
Italian: Saturno contro
Spanish: Bienvenido, Mister Marshall

French

Un long dimanche de fiançailles (a Very Long Engagement), 2004
Run Time: 133 minutes
Language: French
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Stars: audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel and Jodie Foster

Une histoire honteuse de l’amour, la guerre, et l’espoir Un long dimanche de fiançailles ne raconte pas un joli conte des préparations d’une grande fête de mariage, mais la séparation entre deux amants. après la relation heureuse de l’enfance, Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) devient soldat à 19 ans et il va à la frontière pour combattre contre les allemands. Le film commence par raconter la cruauté de la guerre et la mort imminente de Manech, un des cinq soldats qui ont été trouvés coupables et envoyés à ‘no man’s land’ pour leur punition – des condamnés à mort. La vedette, audrey Tautou, est la fiancée, Mathilde, qui croit que Manech n’est pas mort; alors elle recherche chaque piste possible. Bien que l’on ait vu l’histoire de Manech, on le voit d’un œil nouveau avec les indices trouvées par Mathilde on regarde ses recherches et les flashbacks des événements qu’elle devient sont arrivés à son fiancé. Physiquement faible mais spirituellement forte, elle doit engager des hommes pour l’aider à trouver son fiancé. Ils trouvent des personnages ébranlés, les chemins labyrinthiques, et les histoires mélangées. Malgré les indications qu’il est mort, Mathilde trouve les traces, comme les lettres MMM (Manech aime Mathilde), qui lui donne de l’espoir. aux derniers moments du film, elle rend visite à un de ses amis qui dénoue quelques détails pour qu’elle puisse trouver Manech, qui l’a oublié.
- Recommended by Béckie Bray

Italian

Saturno Contro (Saturn in Opposition), 2007
Director: Ferzan Ozpetek
Run time: 106 min.
Language: Italian (with subtitles in English)
Country: Italy
awards: 6 David nominations, one winner for best supporting actress

Italian version
Questo è un film delicato su come l’amicizia e l’amore aiutino a superare qualsiasi ostacolo, e, essendo sviluppato sottotono, rappresenta per la cinematografia italiana una novità. Non è facile, in un mondo eterosessuale, fare un film che includa personaggi omosessuali. Per avere successo il regista deve considerare non solo il grado di accettazione esistente nella società, ma evitando cliché e volgarità, deve muoversi con destrezza nella sua esposizione. Il regista, Ferzan Ozpetek di origine turca e naturalizzato italiano, di proposito ci fa vedere quanto l’orientamento sessuale sia irrilevante quando trattiamo di sentimenti di profonda amicizia. Mentre ci apriamo per conoscere veramente gente "diversa" infatti i nostri preconcetti e pregiudizi scompaiono o almeno dovrebbero.
Il gruppo di amici che Davide (Pierfrancesco Favino), uno scrittore, si è creato durante gli anni è affiatato e vario. I suoi componenti si conoscono da molto tempo, passano spesso le vacanze insieme, e si incontrano frequentemente. Davide vive felicemente con il compagno Lorenzo (Luca argento), con lui ha un conto in banca in comune e sono entrambi proprietari dell’appartamento in cui vivono. Compongono il gruppo anche 2 coppie eterosessuali, una ragazza e paio di gay non accoppiati.
La relazione matura tra Davide e Lorenzo è in netto contrasto con quella di antonio ( Stefano accorsi) e angelica (Marguerite Buy) che nonostante due figli è sull’orlo della separazione perché lui ha perso la testa dietro un’altra donna (Isabella Ferrari). Durante una delle solite cene a cui tutti partecipano, Lorenzo si sente male, sviene, ed è ricoverato all’ospedale in condizioni critiche. Nei giorni successivi gli amici si trovano spesso fuori la sua camera per sapere notizie; non c’è bisogno di parlare, ma la preoccupazione e lo sgomento sono palpabili.
La vicenda scuote emozionalmente il gruppo. Si accendono improvvisi litigi, affiorano alla luce vecchi rancori e vengono dette cose taciute da troppo tempo. Tuttavia questo gruppo di amici è d’accordo su una cosa. In questo delicato momento nessuno vuole lasciare solo Davide e non trovandolo, decidono di andarlo a cercare. Si è rifugiato nella sua seconda casa al Circeo, un paesino sul mare a sud di Roma, dove tutti passano la notte in sistemazioni precarie. In questa atmosfera, forzati dalla vicinanza fisica e nello spazio di 24 ore, i vari personaggi sviluppano una catartica riunione che raggiunge il suo apice e il suo fine.
Emerge una rappresentazione moderna del gay life che non è né di condanna né di propaganda, ma accettata come una parte naturale del vivere. Il film tocca anche molto delicatamente alcune tematiche abbastanza attuali negli USa come il matrimonio gay e i diritti del partner che sopravvive.

English version
This is a delicate movie on how friendship and love help to overcome every obstacle. It is also understated and in this sense represents a novelty for the Italian cinema. It is not easy, in a heterosexual world, to make a movie including homosexual characters. To be successful the director has to consider not only the degree of acceptance present in the society, but avoiding cliché and vulgarity, has to move with dexterity in his exposition. The director Ferzan Ozpetek, who is of Turkish origin and a naturalized Italian, intentionally shows us how sexual orientation is irrelevant when we deal with feelings of deep friendship. While we open up to know truly "different" people, in fact our preconceptions and prejudices disappear or at least they should. The group of friends that Davide (Pierfrancesco Favino), a writer, created during the years is close and varied. Its members have known each other for a long time, often spend their vacations together and meet frequently. Davide lives happily with his companion Lorenzo (Luca argento) with whom he has a joint bank account and they are co-owners of the apartment where they live. Two heterosexual couples, a girl, and a couple of unattached gays complete the group. The mature relationship between Davide and Lorenzo is in sharp contrast with that of antonio (Stefano accorsi) and angelica (Marguerite Buy) who, even with 2 children, are near separating because he lost his head for another woman (Isabella Ferrari). During one of the usual dinners where everybody participates, Lorenzo faints and is rushed to the hospital where he is diagnosed in critical condition. During the following days this group of friends gathers often outside his room to have news; there is no need to talk, but the preoccupation and consternation are palpable. The event shakes up the group emotionally. Sudden quarrels start, old grudges come to the surface and things not said for many years spring up. However, this group of friends agrees on one thing. In this delicate moment nobody wants to leave Davide alone, and since they can’t find him, they decide to look for him. He took refuge in his second home at Circeo, a small town on the sea south of Rome, where all spend the night in temporary accommodations. In this atmosphere, forced by the physical proximity and in only 24 hours, the various characters develop a cathartic reunion that reaches its apex and its end. a modern representation of gay life emerges which is neither condemning nor propagandizing but accepted as a natural part of life. The movie touches also very delicately on some themes current in the US such as gay marriage and the rights of the surviving partner.

Spanish

Bienvenido, Mister Marshall, 1953
Run Time: 95 minutes
Spanish with English subtitles
Director: Luis García Berlanga
Narrator: Fernando Rey

English Version
Using the 1950’s Marshall Plan as the back-drop for the film, director Luis García Berlanga, presents us with a typical small, rural, out of the way Spanish village. The residents here pass their days working their farms, and doing their best to survive. One day, the future brightens for the village in the form of news that representtives of the Marshall Plan will be visiting the village because it is one of a list that might receive funds.
Fun, funny, heart-warming, and poignant, the film opens the hearts and minds of the villagers as they prepare for the impending visit. Wanting to out-do all the neighboring villages, they finally contract with an empresario who manages a famous andalusian (flamenco) singer. His solution is to re-fit the north-central Spanish village into a southern andalusian village, complete with white-washed houses and appropriate dress. The mayor, an elderly deaf man, prepares a list of one thing each villager wants from the Marshall Plan, which results in a range of items from the practical, through the impossible, to the improbably. The night before the big day, we witness the dreams of some of the more prominent villagers. Stereotypes are solidified here, with a wonderful spoof of a Western bar brawl, a take on the savageness of the indians at the time of the conquest, to mention just two of them.
The characters are well-developed and have a truthfulness to them in their typical roles: school teacher, hidalgo, mayor, village priest, farmer, town crier, nosey old maids. The town is the typical rural village with a fountain in the center of the village square, narrow streets, and local bar/restaurant. Time has stopped in this village, but it will catch up soon. Dreams are built, dreams that will last and inspire the dreamers to build a better future.
although not rated, this film contains nothing to cause concern. It would be a good link to american or European History when those classes are studying US international policy and The Marshall Plan. Trivia: Winner of the 1953 Cannes Film Festival International Prize (Comedy Film) and Special Mention for the screen play.
- Recommended by Sheila Cockey, Spanish Film Review Editor

Spanish version
Con el Plan Marshall de los 1950’s como fondo de esta película, el director Luis García Berlanga nos presenta con un aldea tipica: rural y fuera del camino. La gente aquí pasan los días trabajando en la granja, y haciendo lo mejor para sobrevivir. Un día, el futuro se hace más brillante para la aldea en forma de las noticias que representativos del Plan Marshall van a visitar la aldea porque es una que está en la lista de posibles para recibir fondos del plan.
Divertida, chistosa, alentadora, y conmovedora, la pelíca abre el corazón y la mente de la gente mientras preparan para la inminente visita. Deseando sobrepasar las aldeas vecinas, contratan con un impresario quien es mánager de una famosa cantante andaluza. Su solución es re-crear el pueblo, que está en el norte-centro de España, como un pueblo de andalucía, con pintura de cal, vestuario tradicional y todo. El alcalde, un anciano sordo, prepara una lista de cada persona y la única cosa que quiere recibir del Plan, la que resulta de lo práctico, por lo imposible, hasta lo improbable. La víspera de la visita vemos los sueños de unos de lo más prominentes ciudadanos de la aldea. Estos sueños se solidifican los estereotipos, con una parodía maravillosa de una pelea típica de cantina, una perspectiva sobre los indígenas durante la conquista, para mencionar algunos.
Los personajes son muy bien desarrollados y tienen una veracidad en sus papeles típicos: la maestra, el hidalgo, el alcalde, el cura, el granjero, el pergonero, y las solteronas entrometidas. La aldea es la típica aldea rural con una fuente en el centro de la plaza, calles angostas, y una cantina/café. El tiempo ha parado para esta aldea, pero va a ponerse al día muy pronto. Construyen sueños, sueños que durarán e inspirarán a los soñadores a edificar un mejor futuro.
aunque la película no tiene clasificación para edades, no hay nada que causa preocupación. Será un buen enlace a los estudios de historia americana en la época pos-guerra de los 1950 y el Plan Marshall.
Trivialidades: Ganador del 1953 Cannes Film Festival International Price (comedia) y Mención Honorífica para el guión.


Italian: La Sconosciuta (The Unknown Woman)
Swedish: Mitt Liv Som Hund (My Life as a Dog)

ITALIAN
unknown_womanLa Sconosciuta (The Unknown Woman), 2006
Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Run time: 118 minutes
Language: Italian (available with English subtitles)
Country: Italy
Rating: R

This is definitely not a film I would show to my students, not even at the university level. Knowing very little about it, I had ordered it for myself from Netflix because the director was Giuseppe Tornatore and his Cinema Paradiso is one of my favorite Italian films. La Sconosciuta is very different from Cinema Paradiso. I found it very hard to watch as it involves a young woman from Ukraine who gets mixed up in Italy’s sex trade and it contains violence. I prefer my films without any form of violence. While I frequently felt like hitting the Stop button on my DVD player, I kept watching it because I wanted to find out what happened in the end to Irina, a very tormented and unfortunate woman. The film has moments of great suspense and great emotion as Irina escapes from her sordid life and tries to start anew. But she has a strong motivation to find out “the truth” about an Italian family and she succeeds in obtaining a job as the family’s nanny. Then her former captor, however, tracks her down and tries his best to ruin her life again. It is a film that makes you think and makes you feel. It is one that you will most likely remember.
- Recommended by Christine Foster Meloni, Culture Club Editor

SWEDISH
Mitt Liv Som Hund (My Life as a Dog), 1985
Director: Lasse Hallström
Run time: 101 minutes
Language: Swedish (available with English subtitles)
Country: Sweden

I had seen this film many years ago, probably when it first came out, but I decided to see it again. And I liked it just as much as the first time I saw it. 12-year-old Ingmar finds himself in a very sad situation. His mother is terminally ill so she cannot care for him and his brother properly. His father works abroad and so he too is unavailable to care for his children. Ingmar, therefore, is understandably very unhappy and very confused about life. It is decided that he should be sent away to spend the summer with his uncle. There are many rather strange individuals living in his uncle’s town, but they help Ingmar find some happiness in his otherwise bleak existence. What really keeps him going is the thought that he is better off than Laika, the first dog to go into space.
- Recommended by Christine Foster Meloni, Culture Club Editor


November 2010

French: Rue Cases-nègres
Spanish: Cinco Amigas

FRENCH
Rue Cases-Nègres (Sugarcane Alley), 1983
Director: Euzhan Palcy
Run Time: 103 minutes
Language: French

This very famous film was based on the late Joseph Zobel’s 1951 autobiographical novel; Zobel is the character José in the film, and the adult Zobel has a bit part in the film honoring his consulting role in the adaptation of the tales of his childhood. With certain changes for the sake of dramatic impact (José’s mother is dead rather than working and living in Fort-de-France), Palcy remains faithful to the book in her vision of the rites of passage of the young Zobel, this brilliant student who will escape the prison of poverty of the blacks working the cane fields of Martinique in the 1930s, when the island was still a French colony. From our contemporary perspective of 2009, many things have evolved: Martinique has been a French state since 1946, and a Region since 1974. Preeminent black voices like Aimé Césaire, Patrick Chamoiseau, Edouard Glissant have structured and articulated the modern identity of the former African slaves sent to the Antilles. Martinique now has a university, thanks to the efforts of Césaire, who served for several decades as mayor of Fort-de-France. José belongs to a group of children whom Palcy introduces in their black shack alley at the beginning of summer vacation. Already in certain comments and gestures we can see that José, although popular with the other children, is not one of them. He defends his grandmother’s space as sacred; the others in the group will never in fact have his opportunities or his success, which will be guaranteed by the fierce determination of gramma M’an Tine and the wisdom of old Médouze. José will build his own new world though going to school, acing the entrance exam to the high school in Fort-de-France, and by rebelling against the negative examples of blacks enslaved by their own weaknesses and prejudices and the abuses of the white Békés. Madame Léonce, Honorine, Flora, Carmen, Léopold, Tortilla offer a virtual catalogue of wrong responses to subjugation. José’s rebellion and escape through his persistance, honor and intellectual brilliance offer a modern metaphore of the original liberation of the black slaves of Martinique in the spring of 1848, thanks to the abolitionist Victor Schoelcher, and a sterling example of the ongoing struggle to free themselves from the deplorable inhuman and unjust conditions that still obtain in the black shack alleys of the world, not only in 1930, and in 1983, but today.
- Recommended by Rebecca Pauley, French Film Review Editor

SPANISH
Cinco Amigas5amigas
Argentina, 2003
Director: Tomás Yankelevich
Actrices: Las cinco del grupo “Bandana”
95 minutos
Audencia: jóvenes que les gusta la música argentina pop En español con subtítulos en inglés
Disponible en Amazon.com

Un documentario basado en la historia y la creación de la banda argentina “Bandana” que tuvo mucha popularidad durante los años 2001-2004. Las cinco chicas, de distintas personalidades, orígenes, formación, y experiencias, cantan simplemente porque no pueden entender la vida sin cantar, sin música. Cada chica llega al club donde se estrena músicos no-profesionales, por diferentes razones, pero al fin y al cabo se forman como conjunto. Rumbo al conjunto hay varios dificultades que tienen que superar, incluyendo el robo de una guitarra, un “Lothario” que engaña a las chicas, familias que no aprueban lo que hacen, y otros problemas. Todo se presenta con un buen humor, con buena música, y con el sentido de lo verdadero.
-Recomendado por Sheila Cockey

English Version
Cinco Amigas
Argentina, 2003
Director: Tomás Yankelevich
Actresses: The five members of the group “Bandana”
95 minutes
Audience: teens who like (Argentine) pop music
In Spanish with English subtitles
Available on amazon.com

A documentary based on the history and creation of the Argentine girl band “Bandana” that was very popular during 2001-2004. The five girls, with distinct personalities, origins, training, and experiences, sing simply because they canno understand life without singing and music. Each girl arrives at a club where amateur night draws them, for different reasons. Finally they decide to form their own group. On the way to forming the group they run across a variety of problems, including the theft of a guitar, a Lothario who cheats on his girlfriends, families who do not approve of what they are doing, and other problems. All is presented with a good sense of humor, good music, and a sense of veracity.
- Recommended by Sheila Cockey, Spanish Film Review Editor

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July 2010

Chinese: The Last Emperor
French: Etre et Avoir
Italian: Caterina va in citta’
Spanish: Todos estamos invitados

We are still looking for contributors to write reviews of German-language films. We always welcome reviews of films in other languages as well. Contact Christine.

Chinese

The Last Emperor (1987)
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Run Time: 163 minutes
Language: Chinese

This film won the Academy Award for Best Movie in 1987. It also won the award for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound, and Best Writing (adapted screenplay).
This movie is about the life of Puyi, the last emperor of China. Puyi's autobiography was the basis for the screenplay of this movie. It starts with Puyi's re-entry into China as a prisoner and war criminal in the 1950s. Puyi is accused of helping the Japanese with their invasion of China. Puyi attempts to kill himself but is stopped by a prison guard. This triggers Puyi's flashback to when he was first named emperor at the age of two. The rest of the plot is a mix of flashbacks explaining Puyi's upbringing in the Forbidden City and his present-day life in prison. The movie covers several periods of Puyi's life including the chaotic period of the early Chinese Republic, his ousting of the dishonest eunuchs, his desire to emulate aspects of western culture, his Japanese-supported reign of Manchukuo, and his capture by the Russian Army.
The film ends with Puyi working as a gardener. He is clearly now a humble man who no longer sees himself as an emperor. The movie poignantly shows how far Puyi has fallen by showing him buying a ticket to explore the Forbidden City, where he was raised for over 18 years, as a tourist.
- Recommended by Angela Livengood, Free Lance Contributor

French

Etre et Avoir  (To Be and to Have) (2002)
Director: Nicolas Philibert  
Language: French
Run Time: 104 minutes

Philibert made this charming documentary in the Auvergne, at St. Etienne sur Usson in the Puy-de-Dôme, with the support of the Ministère de l’Education Nationale of the Conseil Régional de l’Auvergne. The teacher, Georges Lopez, has a class of children of many ages of elementary school, a true one room village school. The children include Océane, Guillaume, Johann, Marie, Jojo (who is slow), Nathalie, Jonathan, Alizé, Axel, Jessie, and Laura. The classroom is like an oasis in a severe snowy winter landscape full of wind and fog. Numerous class activities include a traditional dictation, whose topic stands in ironic contrast to the context. Philibert constructs the life of Lopez and the students through closeups and sequences in and out of the classroom, giving us a sense of the profound isolation of their world. The title offers a philosophical reflection on being and possessing and the limits of the latter. The film alternates between home and family as the seasons evolve. Lopez is far more than a teacher; he is the psychologist and arbitrator, negotiator, and friend for all his students. Especially Julien and Olivier, the most aggressive, pose a challenge. The students get no support, moral or intellectual, from their peasant parents who have other pressing problems and tasks. In the classroom stands a globe of the world and a tank with pet turtles, recalling an ancient mythological image of the world on the back of a turtle, affirming that you can move the world with slow patience.

Interwoven into the images in counterpoint of the classroom and the village is an extended interview with Lopez, wherein he talks of his own family origins of mixed race and the years that he has invested in this job in the middle of nowhere. There are also two outings, one in a bus to visit the regional middle school where the oldest children will go the following year, and the other in the train for a picnic. Then again in counterpoint, the new young future students visit the school and of course are awed by the whole scene. And the cycle of the seasons thus resumes, with the exception that Lopez, who is retiring, must say farewell to his classroom and his home of 25 years, and to the companionship of all these children.
- Recommended by Rebecca Pauley, French Language Film Review Editor

Italian

Title: Caterina va in città
Director:  Paolo Virzì
Year:  2005
Run time: 
106 min.
Language:
Italian (with subtitles in English)
Country:
Italy
Availability:  netflix.com, amazon.com

Italian version

Il film è raccontato dal punto di vista di Caterina, e il regista Virzì si pone come l’erede del famoso filone della commedia all’italiana.  Giancarlo (Sergio Castellito), insegnante di scuole superiori e aspirante scrittore, abita con la sua famiglia da molti anni in un piccolo paesino sulla costa tirrenica.  Ottenuto finalmente il trasferimento a Roma, la famiglia va a vivere nella casa ereditata dai nonni. Giancarlo iscrive la figlia Caterina (Alice Teghil), che fa la terza media, in una scuola frequentata dalla “Roma bene”, da ragazze i cui padri sono registi, sottosegretari, magistrati, ecc. con lo scopo di usare questi contatti per la sua ascesa sociale.

Qualsiasi tredicenne dopo un trasferimento della famiglia avrebbe difficoltà ad inserirsi nel nuovo ambiente e la ragazza si trova per di più a dover colmare il gap culturale tra paese e città' e a sopportare le pressioni psicologiche del padre. Caterina è una ragazza semplice e non ha l’aggressività e la sofisticazione delle sue coetanee cittadine.  È così catapultata “nell’arena del Colosseo ”, nell’alta società romana, dove appena alcune parole dette fuori posto ti possono far bollare come “non accettabile”. Le sue compagne di classe sono divise in 2 cricche.  Una rappresentativa del potere e del consumismo è capitanata dalla figlia di un esponente di Alleanza Nazionale mentre l’altra è capeggiata dalla figlia di un regista che rappresenta le idee e la cultura.  Caterina è sballottata tra questi due mondi, dove pero’ i genitori di entrambi i campi lasciano fare ai figli tutto quello che vogliono, e dove anche ragazzi di 13 anni hanno inservienti alle loro feste.  Il regista dipinge bene il suo smarrimento provocato da scelte forzate nel nuovo ambiente e accentuato dall’anonimato della grande città.

Mentre molti, in Italia scappano il caos, il traffico, l’inquinamento e i pericoli delle giungle d’asfalto e cemento per la pace di cittadine fatte più a misura d’uomo, Giancarlo si muove in senso contrario.  Ora sta a Roma e non esita ad usare anche i genitori delle amiche della figlia per cercare di dare notorietà al suo manoscritto, magari farne fare un film.  La moglie Agata (Marguerite Buy) sopporta con pazienza le sempre più strampalate esternazioni del marito, che è sull’orlo di un esaurimento nervoso per il suo mancato riconoscimento.  Sentendosi completamente trascurata comincia ad amoreggiare con un suo vecchio amico d’infanzia, scuotendo ancora di più la loro relazione.
- Recommended by Carlo Mignani, Italian Language Film Review Co-Editor

English version

The movie is narrated from the point of view of Caterina by the director Virzì, an heir of the famous genre of the “commedia all’italiana.”  Giancarlo (Sergio Castellito), high school teacher and aspiring writer has been living with his family for many years in a small town on the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Finally having obtained the transfer to Rome, the family goes to live in the house inherited from the grandparents.  Giancarlo registers his daughter, who is in the last year of junior high, in a school attended by the “Roma bene”, the offspring of important people, like directors, undersecretaries, magistrates, etc. with the purpose of using these contacts for his social ascent.

Any 13-year-old, after a move of the family would have difficulties integrating into the new environment and moreover the girl has to overcome the cultural gap between small town and city, and to withstand the psychological pressures of her father.  Caterina is a simple girl and she does not have the sophistication and aggressiveness of her city peers.  So she is catapulted “into the arena of the Coliseum,” of Roman high society, where just a few wrong words can mark you as “not acceptable.”  Her classmates are divided in 2 cliques.  One, representing power and consumerism, is headed by the daughter of a rightist politician, and the other is headed by the daughter of a film director representing ideas and culture.  Caterina is tossed between those two worlds, where, however, the parents of both camps let their sons and daughters do whatever they please and where even 13-year-old kids have servants at their parties.  The director depicts well her confusion provoked by the forced choices in the new environment, heightened by the anonymity of the big city.

While many in Italy escape the chaos, the traffic, the pollution and the dangers of the jungles of asphalt and concrete for the peace of smaller towns made more on a human scale, Giancarlo is going in the opposite direction.  Now he’s in Rome and does not hesitate to use even the parents of the friends of his daughter to try to publicize his manuscript, maybe to make a movie out of it.  The wife Agata (Marguerite Buy) patiently puts up with the obsessive outbursts of her husband who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown for the lack of recognition.  Feeling completely neglected, she starts to flirt with one of his old friends, shaking even more their relationship.
- Recommended by Carlo Mignani, Italian Language Film Review Co-Editor

Spanish

Todos estamos invitados
Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón (Director)
Spain 2008; Spanish, Basque (subtitled)
Violence, sex, language

TodosSpanish version

Otra película sobre la ETA y el afecto que tiene en la vida de la gente que vive en y alrededor de Donostia-San Sebastián.  Yo la reseño, no por el contenido político, un poco por el paisaje urbano, sino más como una introducción a las Sociedades Gastronómicas que son tan populares en la región.

Las Sociedades Gastronómicas son clubes para cocinar y comer, cuyos miembros son por la mayor parte hombres, aunque ahora hay algunos clubes que aceptan a las mujeres.  Los miembros crean el menú, hacen las compras, preparan, sirven, comen, y hacen el aseo después de la cena.  La película tiene vistazos de esta tradición cultural que resulten bien como una entrada a la cocina regional del País Vasco.  Hay buen kilometraje de hacer la compra en el mercado, sobre todo por el pescado, tan bien como conversación sobre las variedades de pescado que se sirve y dónde se lo compraron.  En las escenas en la cocina, se puede ver la técnica para cocinar, y tomas de la mesa muestran cómo se sirve la comida.

La trama de la película se trata de un ataque realizado por la ETA, y cómo algunas personas reaccionan al evento.  Los varios lados de la situación se revelan, sobre todo por los miembros de la Sociedad Gastronómica Vasca, quienes representan los distintos puntos de vista.

Rodado en Donostia-San Sebastián, Guipúzcoa, y otros lugares en el País Vasco, esta película de 80 minutos provee una introducción a la ETA, a la cocina vasca, y a las varias tradiciones incluyendo los clubes de gastronomía y la tamboreada (la fiesta del santo patrón), por las relaciones que se desarrollan entre los personajes principales.
- Recommended by Sheila Cockey, Spanish Language Film Review Editor

English version

This is another film about the Basque Separatist Movement and the affect is has on the lives of individuals who live in and around Donostia-San Sebastián.  I review it, not for the political content, somewhat for the cityscapes, but more as an introduction to the Gastronomic Societies that are so popular in the region.

Gastronomic Societies are essentially cooking and eating clubs, whose members are men, although some clubs are now admitting women.  They devise the menu, shop, prepare, serve, eat, and clean up the entire meal.  The movie has glimpses of this cultural tradition that work well as a springboard to the regional cuisine of the Basque area.   There is good footage of shopping in the market, especially for fish, as well as some discussion about the type of fish being served and where it was bought.  Scenes in the kitchen give a glimpse of cooking techniques, and shots of the table show the food as it is served.

The plot of the movie deals with an attack carried out by the ETA, and how various people react to the event.  Various sides of the situation are revealed, especially through the members of the Basque Gastronomic Society, who happen to represent all sides of the subject.

Filmed in Donostia-San Sebastián, Guipúzcoa, and other locales throughout the País Vasco, this 80-minute movie provides an introduction to the ETA, to Basque cuisine, and to various traditions including the gastronomy clubs and the tamborrada (celebration of the patron saint), through the relationships that develop between and among the lead characters.
- Recommended by Sheila Cockey, Spanish Language Film Review Editor

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June 2010

Chinese: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
French: Rue Cases-Nègres (Sugarcane Alley)
Italian: The Magic of Fellini
Italian: The Last Victory
Spanish: El Crimen Ferpecto (2004)

Chinese

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Director: Ang Lee
Run Time: 120 minutes
Won Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, and Best Art Direction-Set Direction.

This film is set during the Qing Dynasty. Li Mu Bai is a warrior who is an excellent Wudang swordsman. He has decided to give up and leave behind his warrior life. Therefore, has decided to give away his sword, the Green Destiny, to his friend, Sir Te in Peking. He asks his friend Yu Shu-lien, a female warrior, to accompany the sword to Peking. Li Mu Bai and Shu-lien clearly have feelings for each other, but have never acted on them due to a tragedy in their past. The night that the sword is given Sir Te, it is stolen. From here begins a story of love, revenge and duty.This movie contains two loves stories. First, is the unrequited and calm love between Li Mu Bai and Shu-lien. Then there is the fiery love between Jiao Long, the mysterious daughter of an aristocratic family, and Lo, a bandit. They first met when Lo and his fellow bandits stole from Jiao Long and her family. Although the two share a passion for each other, they are separated by class and can never be together.

This is a also a movie about revenge. Throughout the film, Li Mu Bai searches for Jade Fox, the woman who murdered his master.

Importantly, the strongest theme in the movie is that of duty. While all of these characters yearn for a different life, they are bound by their duties to their families, society, or themselves to stay on their designated paths.
- Recommended by Angela Livengood

French

Rue Cases-Nègres (Sugarcane Alley)
Euzhan Palcy
1983

This very famous film was based on the late Joseph Zobel’s 1951 autobiographical novel; Zobel is the character José in the film, and the adult Zobel has a bit part in the film honoring his consulting role in the adaptation of the tales of his childhood. With certain changes for the sake of dramatic impact (José’s mother is dead rather than working and living in Fort-de-France), Palcy remains faithful to the book in her vision of the rites of passage of the young Zobel, this brilliant student who will escape the prison of poverty of the blacks working the cane fields of Martinique in the 1930s, when the island was still a French colony. From our contemporary perspective of 2009, many things have evolved: Martinique has been a French state since 1946, and a Region since 1974. Preeminent black voices like Aimé Césaire, Patrick Chamoiseau, Edouard Glissant have structured and articulated the modern identity of the former African slaves sent to the Antilles. Martinique now has a university, thanks to the efforts of Césaire, who served for several decades as mayor of Fort-de-France. José belongs to a group of children whom Palcy introduces in their black shack alley at the beginning of summer vacation. Already in certain comments and gestures we can see that José, although popular with the other children, is not one of them. He defends his grandmother’s space as sacred; the others in the group will never in fact have his opportunities or his success, which will be guaranteed by the fierce determination of gramma M’an Tine and the wisdom of old Médouze. José will build his own new world though going to school, acing the entrance exam to the high school in Fort-de-France, and by rebelling against the negative examples of blacks enslaved by their own weaknesses and prejudices and the abuses of the white Békés. Madame Léonce, Honorine, Flora, Carmen, Léopold, Tortilla offer a virtual catalogue of wrong responses to subjugation. José’s rebellion and escape through his persistance, honor and intellectual brilliance offer a modern metaphore of the original liberation of the black slaves of Martinique in the spring of 1848, thanks to the abolitionist Victor Schoelcher, and a sterling example of the ongoing struggle to free themselves from the deplorable inhuman and unjust conditions that still obtain in the black shack alleys of the world, not only in 1930, and in 1983, but today.
- Recommended by Rebecca Pauley, French Film Review Editor

Italian

The Magic of Fellini
Director: Carmen Piccini
Year: 2002
Run time: 55 min.
Language: English and Italian (with subtitles in English)
Country: Italy
Availability: amazon.com, netflix.com

Italian version

Il regista Carmen Piccini in circa un’ora esplora il lavoro e la personalità di Federico Fellini, uno dei più grandi registi del XX secolo. La sua attività cineasta fu premiata nel 1993 con un Oscar alla carriera dopo avere ricevuto ben 4 Oscar per i miglior film straniero. Una lunga lista di celebrità sono intervistate e ognuna aggiunge un tassello alla sua personalita’ e al suo modo di concepire i film:

Anita Ekberg, Marcello Mastroianni, Anthony Quinn, Claudia Cardinale, Martin Scorsese, Roberto Benigni, Woody Allen, Charlotte Chandler, Donald Sutherland, Lina Wertmuller, Giuseppe Tornatore, Paul Mazursky, Nicola Piovani, Nino Rota, Ettore Scola. Quando così tanta gente del cinema ci racconta le esperienze e le impressioni avute con il regista, ne usciamo fuori con la sicurezza di avere capito l’uomo e il genio. Beh, sarebbe più esatto dire cominciare a capire il genio!

Maestro dell’immaginario e dell’improvvisazione, tuttavia aveva un’idea piuttosto precisa delle scene che voleva nei suoi film, spesso molto precisa. Non voleva imporre ai suoi attori una struttura rigida, un copione da seguire, ma preferiva dare indicazioni e lasciare le scene evolversi secondo il loro istinto artistico. Tutto filava a meraviglia quando c’era un’intesa profonda tra il regista e l’attore, come nel caso di Marcello Mastroianni che è stato protagonista di moltissimi dei suoi film. L’attore intuiva quello che il regista aveva in mente.

Sorgevano pero’ enormi problemi quando un attore non poteva fare a meno di un copione, e non riusciva ad intuire le esigenze del regista. Donald Sutherland ricorda come durante la lavorazione del film Casanova pronunciava numeri in italiano mentre si concentrava sulle esigenze del carattere che stava impersonando. Il dialogo sarebbe stato aggiunto dopo durante l’editing. Un’attrice americana che non riusciva a adeguarsi, il cui nome è stato opportunamente omesso, ha pianto per la maggior parte del tempo della lavorazione del film. Le interviste sono intercalate con le migliori scene dei film del maestro che hanno vinto premi in tutto il mondo. Il film è per circa il 40% in inglese e il resto in italiano con sottotitoli.

English Translation

Director Carmen Piccini, in about one hour, explores the work and personality of Federico Fellini, one of the most important film directors of the 20th century. His activity in the movie industry was rewarded in 1993 with a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, after having received 4 Oscars for best foreign movie. A long list of celebrities are interviewed and each one adds a facet to his personality and his way of conceiving a movie: Anita Ekberg, Marcello Mastroianni, Anthony Quinn, Claudia Cardinale, Martin Scorsese, Roberto Benigni, Woody Allen, Charlotte Chandler, Donald Sutherland, Lina Wertmuller, Giuseppe Tornatore, Paul Mazursky, Nicola Piovani, Nino Rota, Ettore Scola. When so many people in the movie industry tell us their experiences and their impressions of the director, we come away with the certainty of knowing the man and the genius. Well, it would be more exact to say we start to understand the genius.
Maestro of imagination and improvisation, he had however a rather precise idea of the scenes that he wanted in his movies, often very precise. He did not want to impose a rigid structure for his actors, to follow a script, but he preferred to give guidelines and let the scene evolve according to their artistic instinct. Everything was working perfectly when there was a deep understanding between the director and the actor, as with Marcello Mastroianni, who played the main character of many of his movies. The actor was able to foresee what the director had in mind.
Huge problems, however, arose when an actor absolutely needed a script and he could not foresee the demands of the filmmaker. Donald Sutherland remembers how, during the making of the movie Casanova, he was pronouncing numbers in Italian while concentrating on portraying the character. The dialogue would be added later during the editing. An American actress who was not able to adapt, whose name was conveniently omitted, cried for most of the making of the movie. The interviews are interspersed with the best scenes of his movies that won awards all over the world. The movie is about 40% in English and the rest in Italian with subtitles.
- Recommended by Carlo Mignani, Italian Film Review Editor

The Last Victory
Director: Jan Appel
Year: 2004
Run time: 88 min.
Language: Italian (with subtitles in English)
Country: Netherlands
Awards: 1 win, 2 nominations (European)
Availability: amazon.com, netflix.com

Italian version

victoryÈ un documentario che coglie il crescendo dell’atmosfera delle settimane che precedono il Palio di Siena, e descrive l’evento stesso del 2 luglio 2003. Il Palio, una corsa di cavalli montati senza sella tra i rappresentanti delle diverse contrade, viene realizzato nella piazza centrale del paese, e non è un evento riesumato per scopi turistici. Si è tenuto ininterrottamente dal 1644 e diversi regolamenti antichissimi sono ancora in vigore. Il regista olandese Jan Appel ci mostra la vita della contrada della Civetta che, dal lontano 1979 non vince. Una giovane donna, un ex consigliere di contrada, un’anziana signora e diversi giovani ci fanno partecipi delle forti emozioni che i senesi provano le 2 volte all’anno in cui si svolge questa competizione. Sono messi in luce le speranze, le rivalità, i meccanismi della festa e in particolare è evidenziata l’attesa che porta al fatidico giorno e l’atmosfera festosa delle cene all’aperto nelle strade e nelle piazze.
L’impatto emotivo che il palio ha per gli abitanti delle contrade è ben sintetizzato nelle parole di un commerciante del posto, pero’ proveniente da un’altra regione: “Ma questi sono matti.” Il Palio per la popolazione di Siena non è solo una manifestazione storica che rievoca tradizioni medioevali, ma il risultato di diverse organizzazioni che coinvolgono i vari strati della popolazione dell’intera città tutto l’anno. Rappresenta un caso limite del campanilismo italiano che dal medioevo in poi ha posto città contro città. La contrada è un punto di riferimento e di appartenenza vivamente sentito che contrasta con l’omogeneizzazione del mondo moderno e soprattutto con l’anonimato e l’alienazione delle grandi città.

Le 17 contrade sono quartieri cittadini e originariamente ognuno di loro formava un battaglione per la difesa della città. Le origini militari sono ovvie, ma è stata la saggezza degli antenati di Siena a canalizzare l’aggressività naturale dei cittadini verso il Palio. Un evento in cui la fortuna, l’abilità, l’organizzazione, e non semplicemente la ricchezza delle singole contrade, sono determinanti. Infatti la civetta è una delle più ricche. Ci sono 17 contrade e solo 10 cavalli possono partecipare alla gara. Sette, perché non hanno partecipato l’anno precedente. Le altre 3 tirate a sorte tra le 10 rimanenti. Anche i cavalli sono selezionati e accuditi dall’intera città e assegnati a sorte alle diverse contrade solo 4 giorni prima della gara.
Questa civilissima regione già terra della civiltà etrusca, e poi culla del Rinascimento è stata con il Gran Ducato di Toscana il primo stato nel mondo ad abolire la pena di morte nel 1786.

English Translation

The Last Victory
This is a documentary that captures the crescendo of the atmosphere of the weeks preceding the Palio di Siena and describes the event itself on July 2, 2003. The Palio, a bareback horse race by the representatives of the various contrade, or neighborhoods, is held in the main square of the town and is not an event put on for tourist purposes. It has been held continuously since 1644 and several very ancient regulations are still currently in force. The Dutch director Jan Appel shows us the life of the contrada Civetta (owl), which has not won since 1979. A young lady, an ex-member of the contrada council, an older lady and several young people share the strong emotions the Sienese feel the 2 times a year when the race is held: July 2nd and August 16th. The hopes, the rivalries, the mechanisms of the holiday, the festive atmosphere of the dinner in the open in the street and squares, and the way the waiting that leads to the fateful day is lived, are brought to light.

The emotional impact that the Palio has for the inhabitants of the contrade is well synthesized in the words of a local storekeeper who came from another region: “These people are crazy!” The Palio for the Siena population is not only an historical event that recalls medieval traditions, but the result of various organizations that involve the different strata of the population all year around. It represents an extreme case of the Italian campanilismo, the exaggerated attachment to the customs and traditions of one’s own town which, from the Middle Ages on, set city against city. The contrada is a point of reference and of belonging strongly felt that contrasts with the homogenization of the modern world and especially with the anonymity and alienation of the big cities.

The 17 contrade are city neighborhoods and originally each one formed a battalion for the defense of the city. The military origins are obvious, but it has been the wisdom of the Sienese forebears to channel the natural aggressiveness of the citizens toward the Palio, an event in which luck, ability, organization and not simply wealth of the individual contrade are decisive. In fact, the Civetta is one of the richest. There are 17 contrade, but only 10 can participate in the race. Seven because they did not participate the previous year, the other 3 are drawn by lot among the remaining 10. Even the horses are selected and taken care of by the entire city and assigned by chance to the various contrade only 4 days before the race.
This very civilized region, already land of the advanced Etruscan civilization and the birthplace of the Renaissance, was, with the Gran Ducato of Tuscany, the first state in the world to abolish the death penalty in 1786.
- Recommended by Carlo Mignani, Italian Film Review Editor

Spanish

El Crimen Ferpecto (2004)
Director: Álex de la Iglesia
Reparto: Guillermo Toledo, Mónica Cevera, Luis Varela, Enrique Villén, Fernando Tejero, Javier Gutiérrez
105 minutos, sin calificación
Nominada por 6 Goyas

crimen¿Cómo se define el mejor vendedor de ropa? Guillermo, quien trabaja en un gran almacén en Madrid, es ambicioso y tiene un afán por las mujeres. Cree que es muy elegante y guapo, y sueña con vivir la vida que refleja su auto-imagen. Su meta es ser el director/jefe de su sección del almacén, ropa elegante para mujeres y hombres, pero tiene un rival. Ellos siempre están tratando de impresionar más a los gerentes por ser el campeón de los vendedores. Las dependientes siempre salen por parte de Guillermo. El rival muere en un accidente bastante raro. Una de las dependientes, Lourdes, es la única testigo al accidente y amenaza con incriminar a Guillermo. Por chantaje, Guillermo llega a ser el amante, el marido, casi el esclavo de Lourdes. Aunque parece ser una película macabra, la verdad es que es bastante chistosa, con escenas buenas de vender y comprar, de la vida familiar a la mesa, y de excursiones al parque de atracciones. ¡La cabeza verde del rival es algo impresionante!

El Crimen Ferpecto (2004)
Director: Álex de la Iglesia
Cast: Guillermo Toledo, Mónica Cevera, Luis Varela, Enrique Villén, Fernando Tejero, Javier Gutiérrez
105 minutos, not rated
Nominated for 6 Goyas

How does one define the best clothing salesperson? Guillermo, who works in one of the big department stores in Madrid, is ambitious and has an attraction for women. He believes he is elegant and handsome, and he dreams about living the life that would reflect his image of himself. His goal is to be floor manager of his section, men’s and women’s clothing, but he has a rival. The two of them are continuously trying to out-do each other to impress their bosses, so they can become the champion salesperson. The sales clerks, all women, always come out on the side of Guillermo. His rival meets with a bizarre and deadly accident. One of the clerks, Lourdes, is the only witness to the accident and she threatens to incriminate Guillermo. Through blackmail, Guillermo ends up being her lover, her husband, and almost her slave. Although this appears to be a macabre film, the truth is that it is quite funny, with great scenes about buying and selling, about families around the dinner table, and about outings to the amusement park. The green head of his rival is really quite impressive!
- Recommended by Sheila Cockey, Spanish Language Film Review Editor

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May 2010

Chinese: Hero
French: Ponette
Italian: L’Ultimo Bacio (The Last Kiss)
Russian: Школа (School)
Spanish: ¿Y tú quién eres? 

German Teachers: Please consider sending us reviews of German language films!

Chinese

Hero (2002)
Director: Yimou Zhang
Run Time: 99 minutes

This movie won seven Hong Kong Film Awards in 2003, including Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound. The movie was also nominated for seven other awards, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Song, and Best Director. In addition, it was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 2003 Academy Awards.
Set in ancient China, the plot takes place during the time when the six provinces of a future China are warring against each other. The King of Qin is winning a bloody war against the other five provinces. Many people have attempted to murder the King. The three most infamous would-be assassins are named Flying Snow, Broken Sword, and Long Sky. At the beginning of the movie, the audience learns that a prefect from a small city has managed to kill all three people. The prefect was not given a name by his parents so he is called No Name. The movie starts with him telling the King the story of how he killed these three people.
This movie is beautifully filmed. Colors and scenery play a huge role in this film as does the art of calligraphy. Although the story is historical fiction, it is a good way to spark interest in and discussion of Chinese history.
- Recommended by Angela Livengood, Free Lance Contributor to the Culture Club

French

Ponette 
Jacques Doillon
1996         

Looking at the cast of this quasi experimental film, one notices the overlap of names of the young actors and their characters, a conjunction of identity which telescopes the distance between fact and fiction, life and art. The entire film was made at the school of Saint-Auban-sur-l’Ouvèze. Nine people were involved in the casting; five professional actors helped with the rehearsals of the children, and there was a psychiatrist on the set. All to offset the opening premise and scene of the death of the mother in a car accident. Ponette survives the accident but not the loss of her mother; she withdraws into a fantasy dream world to protect her shattered spirit like the cast protects her broken arm. The rest of the film follows her journey away from this irrevocable, incomprehensible and terrifying loss.

Her professional father hides in his job and sends her to her aunt Claire and her cousins Matiaz and Delphine, with only her favorite doll Yoyotte and his watch as talisman totems to protect her fragile ego. Claire and her children offer love and affection but obviously they cannot reach her. Her attempts to rejoin her mother in heaven frighten the others and the spectators, who fear her imminent suicide. The closeups of the faces of the children explore the sensitive dreamlike quality of their world. Ponette pursues a monologue of rigid logic leading to madness. Claire tries to console her by telling her of the resurrection, only to realize that Ponette is going to wait for her mother to return, in a sort of cargo cult persistance, like the natives in the jungle waiting for the plane to return. She even tries to fly, tries to change into a bat as she gazes into the mirror. We watch as she teaches Matiaz to pray, and the film takes on numerous echoes of Jeux interdits. Ponette becomes a figure of fable, as she wanders at night outdoors with her doll and her teddy bear. She tries magic at the fountain, with the phrase ta li ta koom. In pure primitive ritual, she repeats it three times, picks up a feather, oak leaves and a pine cone, as though she were a Druid priestess. Rite primitif, répété trois fois, puis ramasse une plume, des feuilles de chêne et une pomme de pin. Of course the father returns to try to put an end to this mystical odyssey, and she seems to slowly accept the society of other children when they go to a summer camp in the country, in conversations that touch on adult topics of great moment: sexuality, family, religion, race.

The group of children try to purge her of her grief and alienation, even closing her in a dumpster. The children talk of death, murder, suicide and dying, and give Ponette magic candy to take to her mother’s grave. Their attempts to deal with her situation are truly remarkable.

Ponette dreams vividly of her mother and takes off at night into the woods, walking up a hill to the grave. Here is a very strong reference to Victor Hugo’s poem “Demain dès l’aube” where he vows a journey overland on foot to his dead daughter’s grave. Ponette puts flowers on the grave and calls to her mother. Here the film crosses into magic realism, as the mother appears (played ironically by Marie Trintignant who was murdered by her lover in 2003). Ponette confesses to stealing the flowers from another grave. Her mother comforts her and encourages her to live, to move beyond her grief, to cherish her memories, and gives Ponette her thick red sweater. And as in a myth, when Ponette turns around, her mother is gone. But the magic has worked; when her father comes, she affirms, “She told me to learn how to be happy.” In this ultimate wisdom lie references to other fabular magic encounters from films like Le Petit Prince or Ghost or City of Angels. And this very subtly religious film offers the final theme of transcending death with faith and love.

Italian

L’Ultimo Bacio
Director:  Gabriele Muccino
2001
Run time:  115 min.
Language: Italian (with subtitles in English)
Country: Italy

Awards:  5 David awards, Sundance audience award

Italian version

bacioÈ un film di Gabriele Muccino centrato sulla figura di Carlo (Stefano Accorsi) e i suoi amici che, avvicinandosi ai 30 anni, devono decidere se adeguarsi alle norme sociali, mettere su famiglia o seguitare la vita da scapoli.  Questa generazione non ha la certezza dei padri che avevano la strada da seguire ben delineata.  Come negli USA, dove un matrimonio su 2 finisce in divorzio, anche in Italia assistiamo alla crisi delle relazioni fisse, le coppie preferiscono semplicemente vivere insieme, fanno meno figli e divorziano e si separano molto più frequentemente di quanto avvenisse fino a venti anni fa.

Carlo vive da 3 anni con Giulia (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) che ora è incinta, e dice che ne era innamorato, ma il suo amore si è affievolito.  Ad un matrimonio di un suo amico incontra Francesca, una ragazza di diciotto anni, con la quale ha una relazione passionale.  Giulia se ne accorge e la coppia entra in crisi. 

Il film mostra le varie scelte che le coppie moderne si trovano a fare, troppo spesso sotto l’intensificarsi delle emozioni e dei contrasti, che solo 1 o 2 generazioni fa sarebbero state più facilmente elaborate per la presenza di un’altra persona più matura in famiglia.  Non c’è dubbio che l’istituzione stessa del matrimonio sia sotto pressione, non possiamo tornare indietro, ma da un punto di vista antropologico la famiglia nucleare è un’invenzione moderna. Il regista dipinge bene il bisogno di trovare qualche cosa che ecciti in continuazione, le fantasie e delusioni d’amore, le incomprensioni, l’ansia di fare le scelte giuste, ma soprattutto la paura di essere inscatolati in una vita ripetitiva e con la persona sbagliata. 

L’ultimo bacio è uno di quelli passionali che Carlo dà alla 18enne Francesca dopo una notte insieme.  Sotto i continui stimoli emotivi, psicologici e sensuali cui siamo tutti sottoposti nel mondo moderno, molti ancora resistono, mettono su famiglia, si sposano e restano insieme.  “Non è quello che hai sempre sognato?” Pero’ non sembrano esserne sicuri. 

English Translation

The film by Gabriele Muccino centers on Carlo (Stefano Accorsi) and his friends who, approaching their 30’s, have to decide whether to adapt to the social norms, set up family or continue the bachelor life. This generation does not have the certainty of their fathers who had a well defined road to follow.  Like in the US where one out of two marriages ends in divorce, also in Italy we witness the crisis of fixed relationships, couples prefer just to live together, they have fewer kids and separate much more frequently than just 20 years ago.

Carlo has been living for 3 years with Giulia (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) who is pregnant, says that he was in love with her, but his love now is weakened.  At the wedding reception of one of his friends he meets Francesca an 18 year old girl with whom he has a passionate relationship.  Giulia realizes it and the couple enters in crisis.

The movie shows the many choices that modern couples have to make, too often seized by the intensified emotions of the moment, the escalation of arguments, that just 1 or 2 generations ago would have been eased by the presence of another more mature person in the family.  There is no doubt that the institution of marriage itself is under pressure, we cannot go back, but, from an anthropological point of view the nuclear family is a modern invention.  Muccino depicts well the need to find something continually exciting, the dreams and delusions of love, the misunderstandings, the anxiety to make the right choices, but especially the fear of being boxed into a repetitive life and with the wrong person.

The last kiss is a passionate one that Carlo gives to the young Francesca after a night spent together.  Under the continuous emotional, psychological and sensual stimuli to which we are all exposed in the modern world, many still resist, set up family, get married and stay together.  “Isn’t it what you always dream about?”  But they do not always seem sure. 

Recommended by Carlo Mignani, Italian Language Film Review Editor

Russian

Школа (School), 2010.
Director: Valériya Gai Germánika (b. 1984)
Country: Russia
Language: Russian
Availability:
TV series shown on Russia’s Channel One. Online at Channel One and at the Skhola series homepage.

Teachers: Take School off the air! Russian Duma Head Says Schools Need a Positive Image. TV’s School Causes Problems in Teens, Shrinks Say.  Putin Says Case Against School Is Overblown.

With headlines like that you have to wonder what the fuss over Channel One’s new series Shkóla (School) is all about. Shot in docudrama style, Shkola follows the lives of the students and teachers in a what had been an exemplary high school class. But things deteriorate quickly when the lead teacher suffers a stroke, and the class falls into the hands of a dragon lady — not that she doesn't have reason to breathe fire. Each of the main characters is, well, a character, from the rebellious instigator to the class femme fatale to the overprotected teacher's granddaughter. While the situations are overblown (some viewers howl that one never really sees used condoms and needles in school garbage cans), the acting is refreshingly understated.

American students of Russian may find the adolescent in-talk a bit hard to follow. But plot summaries, available on both official and fan sites, ease the way. If it were to be shown on American television, the series would probably be rated TV-14. As of this writing, Channel One has aired most of the planned 60 episodes of the series.

-- Recommended by Richard Robin, Russian Language Film Review Editor

Spanish

¿Y tú quién eres?  (2007)
Director: Antonio Mercero
Ricardo (grandfather): Manuel Alexandre
Ana (granddaughter): Cristina Brondo
Fernando (friend): Monti Castiñeiras
Rating: 7 and above
90 minutes
English Subtitles

Spanish version

y tuTres generaciones de la familia viven en Madrid y hacen vacaciones en San Sebastián (Donostia).  El abuelo (Ricardo) empieza a olvidar cosas y es evidente que está en las primeras etapas de Alzheimer.  Los padres están ocupadísimos con sus carreras.  Los hijos siguen la vida de los jóvenes.  La hija estudia diligentemente para sus exámenes de notaria.   Es verano y la hora para hacer planes para ir a vacaciones.  Pero, nadie dice nada, hasta una noche mientras están cenando sin el abuelo.  Los padres anuncian que en vez de llevar al abuelo con ellos, van a instalarle en una residencia.

En la residencia, Ricardo conoce a un grupo de amigos con quien pasa el tiempo felizmente.  Uno de estos amigos tiene una imaginación grande que resulta en aventuras divertidas y chistosas, unas que causan preocupación para la familia.  La hija, Ana, le visita cada día y tiene una revelación en lo que quiere hacer con su futuro.  Resulta una conversación bastante difícil con sus padres, pero permanece firme en su decisión de cambiar carreras.

El asunto es uno muy corriente hoy en día y la enfermedad es una que toca a casi todo el mundo de una forma u otra.  En el contexto de esta película, nos sentimos la aprehensión y la confusión de Antonio, el amor que la familia tiene, y las varias maneras en que cada persona se acerca a la situación. La actuación causa que el público se sienta que participe en los eventos directamente.  Con un reparto mezclado de actores conocidos y nuevos, y cinematografía excelente, se puede sentir un participante en el drama y estar dentro del paisaje y en las ubicaciones del rodaje.  ¡Ojo!  ¡Se necesita un par de pañuelos!

English translation

Three generations live together in Madrid and vacation in San Sebastián (Donostia).  The Grandfather (Ricardo) is beginning to forget things and it becomes more and more evident that he is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  The parents are busy with their carreers, the boys are busy with their lives, and the daughter is submerged in her studies to pass her Notary’s exam.   It is summer and time to make plans for their vacation.  However, nobody is saying anything … until one night at dinner when Ricardo is not eating with them.  The parents announce that instead of taking Ricardo with them to San Sebastián they have made arrangements for him to spend the time in a residence.

Once moved into the residence, Ricardo meets a group of friends with whom he happily passes the time.  One of these friends has a huge imagination that results in a variety of funny, and fun, escapades, some of which worry the family a bit.  Ana, the daughter, visits her grandfather every day and has a change of heart about what she wants to do with her future.  This change of mind results in a difficult conversation with her parents, but she stands firm in her decision to change career paths.

The subject of Alzheimer’s is a very popular and important one today and it is an illness that touches nearly everyone in one way or another .  In the context of the movie, we sense Antonio’s fear and confusion, the love the family has for him, and the various ways in which each person deals with the situation.  The acting makes the viewers feel as though they are participating directly in the events.  With a mixed cast of well-known and new actors, and excellent cinematography, one becomes part of the drama, feels as though they are actually in the location where the filming took place.  Watch out!  You will need a few Kleenex to watch this!
- Recommended by Sheila Cockey, Spanish Language Film Review Editor

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April 2010

Chinese: Da hong deng long gao gao gua
French: Toto le héros
Italian: Uno Bianca
Spanish: Bella 
 

CHINESE
 

Da hong deng long gao gao gua (Raise the red lantern),1991
Director: Yimou Zhang
Run time: 125 minutes
Language: Chinese  

RaiseSet in 1920s China, the movie tells the story of a young girl, Songlian, who becomes the 4th wife of a wealthy man. Upon arrival to the house, Songlian learns of the tradition of the red lantern. Every night the husband (referred to as the master) chooses the wife with whom he will spend the night. Red lanterns are raised at that wife's house. She is given special treatment by the servants and gets to choose the meals for the following day. This tradition forces the wives to compete and scheme to gain the husband's favor.

This movie is a good segue to a discussion on the importance and meanings of traditions and customs in Chinese culture. Also, it can lead to discussion on the women's role in Chinese society as it is the female characters who are the focus of the movie. The husband is only seen from a distance to symbolize his emotional distance from his wives.
- Recommended by Angela Livengood, Free Lance Contributor 

FRENCH 

Toto le héros, 1991

Director: Jaco van Dormael 
Language : French     
      
TotoVan Dormael wrote and directed this oneiric surrealist fabular film of lifelong jealousy, of Toto envious of Alfred, a sinister parody of the bourgeois paradise of the 1950s. The stately grandiose music soundtrack by Pierre van Dormael contrasts the popular song “Boum” by Charles Trenet. The fragmented chronology is a mirror of the broken lives and personalities of the film. This film is part of the phenomenon of European television co-productions which has taken over the film industry due to financial necessities and cultural cooperation. Following the casting is complicated by the fact that Thomas and Alfred have three characters: child, adult and old man, and there is a strong resemblance between Alice and Evelyne which is central to the illusory script. It is also a film about betrayal, about dreams and about freedom. 

It is definitely possible to find echoes in this film of other childhood fantasy tales, like Home Alone from 1990 or Cinéma Paradiso from 1989, a film with another heroic tragic Toto. Our film opens on an image affirming its fragmented nature, a window broken by a bullet and a shot of a dead body, then reverts to the very beginning of the story with another classic thematic of the babies exchanged at birth (in a burning hospital). We understand that Thomas has been trying all his life to knock off his rival Alfred (whose father is not only Thomas’s father’s boss but their arrogant rich next-door neighbor). The heroics of the title are simply the fantasies of a bitter old man, a black humor inversion of comic book feats. 

Toto also has an absent father who is a commercial cargo pilot. Tragedy strikes soon after the birth of the baby brother Célestin (a Down syndrome child), as the father dies in a storm over the English Channel while delivering orange marmalade to a customer for Alfred’s father. His mother, mad with grief, announces the family revenge by slapping Alfred in front of his parents. 

The next series of surreal sequences present Toto as an adult secret agent, then further disarray with the death and funeral of his mother, where we are introduced to the grown character of Célestin. Then we return to their childhood, to the death of his sister Alice as she tries to burn down Alfred’s house, reprising the theme of fire that returns throughout the film. The spectator is confused by the interweaving of the three ages of the characters and the cutting from dream to action. The oneiric fantasy capacities of film are exploited to the max in this mélange of memories, imaginings and dreams, giving the film a cubist surrealist structure like that of Buñuel’s masterpieces from the 1970s. 

The Home Alone sequence is triggered by the departure of the mother with Célestin to see the father’s plane they have found in England. Thomas and Alice remain alone in the house, hidden, pursuing a dangerous fantasy bordering on incest. After a series of scenes of rage, jealousy, competition and assassination, Alice dies when the gas can she carries next door to the Kant’s garage blows up in a sort of child suburban terrorist plot gone wrong. 

We are beginning to understand that the entire film is about the old insane Thomas in his rest home, remembering/imagining/dreaming of a life that never was. The voice of the old Thomas reads a Verlaine poem, “Le rêve d’une femme que j’aime” (Romances et paroles), intercut in montage with more shots from Alfred’s autopsy. 

The themes of death mingled with the elemental thematic of earth, fire, water and air continue throughout the film. Both Thomas and Alfred have carried a lifelong passion for the dead Alice, and Alfred has once again trumped Thomas, by marrying the adult lookalike Evelyne Deschamps. Thomas imagines multiple scenes of him abducting Evelyne and killing Alfred, but fails to take her away in a missed rendezvous. As Thomas and Alfred meet face to face at the end of their lives, Alfred reveals that ironically he has envied Thomas all his life. In his last face to face with the inevitable passage of time, Thomas meets the aged Evelyne, only to learn that she has remarried after leaving Alfred. 

Thomas’s last act of usurping the life of his rival Afred is to put on his clothes and die in his place, knowing that underworld hit men are out to kill him. It is this scene of fire and water that opened the film. It also references in homage a number of classic films and adages: Jean Renoir’s 1939 Rules of the Game (La Règle du jeu) or Antonioni’s 1975 The Passenger, or Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night. Between the rose, the bell jar, the telephone, we have a series of homages to Beauty and the Beast, The Little Prince and Dial M for Murder. In the clock chiming, of course, lies the Hemingway For Whom the Bell Tolls, from the adage “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” And of course Vertigo in the figure of Evelyne. Thomas makes his final curtain call in this oneiric melodrama as he falls dead into the fountain wrapped in the red curtain he grabbed as he fell. We see his funeral, as he passes into the fire of the crematorium, and his laughing ashes as they are scattered to the winds from an airplane, with his triumphant cry, “At last, I can fly!” Thus throughout this broken modernist surreal spatial temporal digenesis runs the primary thematic of the dangers of imposture and the fragile ambiguity of identity. 
- Recommended by Rebecca Pauley, French Language Film Review Editor 

ITALIAN 

Uno Bianca, 2001
Director:  Michele Soavi 
Run time: 200 minutes (2 DVDs) 
Language: Italian (with subtitles in English) 
Country: Italy
 

Italian version 
UnoIl film si basa su fatti realmente accaduti nell’area compresa tra Pesaro, Rimini e Bologna.  Dal 1987 fin all’autunno 1994 la banda dell’Uno bianca commette 103 crimini uccidendo 24 persone e ferendone 114.  Il regista riesce a creare una forte identificazione con il personaggio principale e grazie al ritmo degli eventi, al suo stile immaginativo, alla qualità degli attori e alla forte componente psicologica, nonostante duri 3 ore, non c’è un momento noioso.  È un film fatto per la TV italiana, chiaramente superiore a molte grandi produzioni delle TV americane, viene in 2 CD e può riempire tranquillamente 2 serate.  

Il titolo del film prende il nome dal tipo d’auto generalmente usata da questi criminali, la Fiat Uno, in quel tempo molto diffusa, facile da rubare e per questo difficile da individuare.  La banda comincia la sua attività rapinando di notte i caselli lungo le autostrade, ma ben presto prende di mira supermercati, uffici postali, banche e ricatta uomini d’affari.  I criminali non esitano a sparare non appena incontrano la minima resistenza.  Numerose sono le vittime appartenenti alle forze dell’ordine tra le quali anche una pattuglia dei Carabinieri in normale perlustrazione.  Ognuno dei militari è finito con un colpo alla nuca. 

È evidente che i criminali non hanno i minimi scrupoli e sono esperti nell’uso delle armi,  pero’ i bottini sono modesti.  Nonostante i numerosi sforzi della polizia nell’intervenire rapidamente ed isolare l’area con posti di blocco, subito dopo le rapine, i delinquenti riescono sempre a dileguarsi senza lasciare tracce.  Le indagini seguono diverse piste, sono anche influenzate e sviate da decisioni politiche e infine date ad un gruppo di magistrati di Roma.  Sono tuttavia due poliziotti locali, di Rimini, a seguire la pista giusta.  I due amici si completano a vicenda.  Rocco va in strada, cerca di parlare con la gente per fare emergere ogni possibile indizio, mentre Valerio mette i dati ottenuti in un computer, e li analizza.  La pace della vita cittadina e la serenità nei periodi di riposo, quando sulla spiaggia restaurano una vecchia barca, contrasta nettamente con la spietatezza dei crimini che devono risolvere.  L’impresa è al di sopra delle loro possibilità?  Grazie ad alcune brillanti deduzioni, riescono ad intuire dove avverranno le prossime rapine.  Ne seguono diversi colpi di scena che portano all’arresto dell’intera banda composta da cittadini al di sopra di ogni sospetto.  

English Translation 

The movie is based on a true story that unfolds in the area between Pesaro, Rimini and Bologna.  From 1987 until the fall of 1994, the gang of the Uno Bianca commits 103 crimes, killing 24 people and wounding 114.  The director succeeds in creating a strong identification with the leading actor and, thanks to the rhythm of events, his imaginative style, the quality of the actors and the strong psychological component, even though it lasts 3 hours, there are no boring moments. Made for Italian TV, it is clearly superior to most big budget productions of American TV, it comes in 2 DVDs, and can easily fill 2 evenings. 

The movie is named after the kind of car usually used by these criminals, the FIAT Uno, at the time very popular, easy to steal and consequently difficult to identify.  The gang starts by robbing tollbooths along the highways at night, but soon aims at supermarkets, post offices, banks and blackmailing businessmen.   The criminals do not hesitate to shoot at the least resistance.  Many policemen are also assassinated including a squad of carabinieri (military police) on patrol, where each is finished off with a shot to the head. 

It is evident that the criminals have no scruples and are arms experts, but the loot is modest.  Even though the police make every effort in intervening quickly and isolating the areas by sealing off the streets right after the crimes, the perpetrators always disappear without a trace.  The investigation follows several leads, but, influenced and diverted by political decisions, it is finally given to a group of magistrates of Rome.  Nevertheless, two local policemen of Rimini continue following the right clues.  The two friends complement each other; Rocco goes to the streets, tries to speak with the people to dig up every possible lead, while Valerio feeds the data into a computer and analyzes them.  The peaceful small town life and the serenity of their off hours, on a beach restoring an old boat, sharply contrast with the cruelty of the crimes that they have to solve.  Is the task beyond their capabilities?  Thanks to a few brilliant deductions, they foresee where the next robberies will take place.  Several twists follow that bring the capture of the entire band composed of citizens above suspicion.   
- Recommended by Carlo Mignani, Italian Language Film Review Editor 

SPANISH 

Bella, 2006
Eduardo Verástegui and Tammy Blanchard
Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 91 minutes
Country: Mexico
Language: English/Spanish
 

Spanish version

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Se puede pasar una hora y media haciendo una gran variedad de cosas, pero mirando Bella es una de las mejores.  Chistosa y emocionante, esta película entretenida sigue un día en la vida de los personajes principales, José y Nina.  Hay momentos de humor, de tristeza, de conflicto, de amor familiar, y de dudas por los cuales nos conocemos a ellos.  Vemos episodios en el pasado que han formado a las personas que son ahora, y participamos en las dudas que tienen hoy y las posibles soluciones.  José jugaba al fútbol como profesional y estaba para firmar un contrato con Real Madrid cuando su vida tomó otra dirección que le trajo a Nueva York.  Nina es una joven camarera neoyorquina que lucha para sobrevivir y encontrar lo que quiere hacer con su vida cuando se enfrenta con una situación que va a definir su futuro.   

El color es lo que me impresionó  más en esta película.  Rico en rojos, amarillos, y azules, definidos por el sol y la comida, nos da un sentido de calentura y amenaza a la vez.  La actuación es muy creíble y transporta al público sutilmente a la vida de la película.  Aún la actuación de los personajes menores es como personas verdaderas, con expresiones fabulosas en la cara.  Hay una gran variedad de música, de rancheras y salsa hasta rock y baladas, que dan un fondo cultural al guión y la escenografía.   

Hay mucho contenido cultural, como la música y la comida, pero lo más importante es el foco en los valores de la familia latina.  El diálogo es una mezcla de inglés y español, con subtítulos en inglés cuando sean necesarias, pues esta película es accesible a todas audiencias.  Se la recomiendo con toda corazón. 

English Translation
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What a wonderful way to spend an hour and a half!  Bella, funny and sad while remaining entertaining, follows a day in the life of José and Nina.  There are moments of humor, sadness, conflict, family love, and doubts that allow us to get to know these two characters.  The viewer sees how events in their diverse pasts have shaped them into the people they are now, and participates in the doubts they have today and their possible solutions.  José was a professional soccer player who was just about to sign a contract to play for Real Madrid when his life took another direction that brought him to New York.  Nina is from New York, young waitress fighting to survive and find a direction for her life when she is confronted with a situation that will define her future. 

Color is what impressed me most in this movie.  Rich in reds, yellows, and blues, defined by the sun and food, it at once gives a sense of both warmth and menace.  The very believable acting transports the viewer subtly into the life of the movie.  Even the acting of the minor characters is as if they were real people, all of them having wonderful facial expressions.  There is a huge variety of music, everything from rancheras and salsa to rock and ballads, which provide a strong cultural foundation for the script and the setting.   

There is a lot of cultural content, including music and food, but a wonderful focus on the Latin American family.  The dialog is a mixture of English and Spanish, with English subtitles when they are necessary, making this movie easily accessible, and very enjoyable, to all audiences.  
- Recommended by Sheila Cockey, Spanish Language Film Review Editor

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March 2010

Academy Award Nominations
French: Le Grand Chemin

Academy Award Nominations

The following films were nominated for the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film:
• “Ajami” Israel
• “La Teta Asustada” (The Milk of Sorrow) Peru
• “Un Prophète” (Prophet) France
• “El Secreto de Sus Ojos” (The Secret in Their Eyes) Argentina
“Das Weisse Band” (The White Ribbon) Germany
And the winner was …. El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes)!

You will find a review of “Das Weisse Band” in the Culture Club. We would welcome reviews of the other nominees or your comments about these films. Send them to Christine.

French

Le Grand Chemin (Grand Highway, also Paradise), 1987
Director: Jean-Loup Hubert
Language: French
Country: France
Run time: 104 minutes

Le Grand Chemin

This autobiographic tale of childhood set in the village of Rouans near Nantes was written and directed by Hubert. It stars Anémone as Marcelle Lucas and Richard Bohringer as her husband Pélo, both of whom received Césars for their performance. The boy Louis is played by Hubert’s own son Antoine, the scamp Martine by Vanessa Guedj. The film is set in July of 1958, but appropriately has only oblique scattered references to political events of the day, namely the Algerian War.

The film focuses rather on poignant lyric rites of passage, a symbolic voyage of discovery to the heart of solitude, fear and compassion. Beginning with the future birth of Louis’s young sibling (his single mother Claire is entrusting him to a friend while she has her baby), which stands in polar opposition to the earlier loss of Marcelle and Pélo’s stillborn infant Jean-Pierre, the film explores abandonment and acceptance, marriage and lovemaking, going off to war, friendship. The sacrilegious games played by Martine and Louis, on the farm, at church, in the cemetery, during funerals, recreate those of Jeux Interdits. One also finds numerous connections to the first of the Martine children’s books, Martine à la ferme (Martine on the Farm), which features Martine, Louis and Jean-Pierre, and which was published initially in July 1949 (the date of the still birth of Jean-Pierre in the film) and reprinted in 1983 (the initial date of Hubert’s project).

The film’s opening scene is a classic: the bus stop on the highway, passengers getting off, a pregnant woman and child. The bus sets the geographic scene for us; it says “Nantes, St Brevin, Port St. Père, Rouans.” The extended absence of Louis’s father, a waiter in Nice, is later revealed by an empty postcard. Claire with no support at home is leaving Louis with her friend Marcelle, perhaps unaware that Marcelle’s husband Pélo is a nasty depressed alcoholic. He displays in fact his total lack of hospitable charm while helping them to the house with their luggage. The first shots of the village include all the essential elements: the priest, the café, the well, the cemetery, the church. Poor Louis’s initiation to country living is to watch Marcelle kill and skin a rabbit. He rebels by feeding the remaining rabbits the best green beans from the garden, a true “écolo” before his time.

Martine is the total tomboy, a year and a half older than Louis and three lifetimes wiser. She will dominate his summer, starting from her secret outpost in the big tree behind the house from which they can spy on the entire village, a metaphor for the film camera and the spectators. The two kids watch funerals, the illicit lovemaking of her older sister Solange and her soldier boyfriend Simon, all the town’s activities. Lyric nostalgic music reinforces the dynamic of conflicting moods in the film. Louis victimized by Martine’s pranks reinforces his role as an emotional victim of life.

And Louis is not the only victim. Pélo leaves the house every night to go drinking at the corner bar with the gravedigger Hippolyte (about five literary references in the scene and names), trying to bury his pain and warm his cold heart with alcohol. Hippolyte has lost his wife; Pélo his son. Louis sleeps in the grandmother’s bedroom, and is perennially terrified by the sounds of the night, several of which are made by Pélo and Hippolyte who do a mean owl and wolf imitation. Meanwhile Marcelle sleeps in the empty crib of their dead baby in a room that she keeps locked.

Louis gets a bath in the kitchen, a baptism, like that of the night when he cried during the storm. And Marcelle takes him to church where he finds Martine sitting barefoot on the steps, with her skirt pulled up, playing dice, like a little gypsy. Louis’s suffering multiplies when he has to pick out dinner at the butcher shop and declares that he prefers fish (another Christ image). Every detail of daily family life in this film carries meaning. We see Marcelle at her sewing machine; Pélo is listening to the Tour de France on the radio; Louis feeds the rabbits from a little wooden cart, a sacred object originally made for Jean-Pierre and on loan to Louis.

Louis and Martine both have absent fathers. Louis is afraid of everything: the dark, blood, Marcelle’s pranks, and Pélo, whom we see in his workshop making a boat (he also makes coffins for a living). Marcelle is the quintessential rural housewife, plucking chickens with her fellow villagers. Louis slowly warms to Pélo, this sad Christlike carpenter figure, and Pélo gives him the toy cart he had made for his dead son.

There are several scenes of death in the film: old Rose whom we always see alone at the cemetery, who lost her husband and son in a drowning in the Loire. Martine and Louis spy on the funeral processions, and Pélo makes his coffins. Louis sees Marcelle at the cemetery one day and after she leaves approaches the tomb she was visiting, to find inscribed on it: Jean-Pierre Lucas, died 1949, nine years before, the loss that plunged Marcelle and Pélo into anguish. We see Pélo getting drunk, fighting with Marcelle when she brings him home from the bar in a wheelbarrow, going mad, trashing the house and raping his wife.

Louis and Pélo cement their growing friendship by going fishing; on the outing they cross a demented old woman named Marie, trailing her days catch of frogs and accompanied by her dog. In her addled state she thinks that Louis is Jean-Pierre come to life. Like the mythological figure Charon, Pélo rows their boat across the river Styx, and recounts intimate details of his earlier sex life with Marcelle to Louis, who finally asks about Jean-Pierre. Pélo and Louis are seen listening to the day’s results of the Tour de France on the radio, an effect of historic realism and authenticity.

Martine, offering endless moments of baroque comedy, invites Louis into her garden of Eden to eat apples, then offers to show him her “thing.” And she finally tells the truth about Jean-Pierre who died being born and nearly killed Marcelle as well.

In the first of the two most important sequences, Martine and Louis climb to the roof of the church and walk to the cross, which the terrified Louis embraces. Later, when Louis is traumatized by the discovery that his own father is never coming home, he runs away after freeing all the rabbits. They find him on the church roof with a rabbit in his arms. Pélo comes to save him in the film’s most dramatic sequence. Relieved to not have lost another boy child, Marcelle and Pélo put Louis between them in bed, as a palimpsest of their own dead son who would have been the same age. Liberated by the shock, they return to normalcy; Marcelle cleans and straightens Jean-Pierre’s old room, and Pélo tries to repair the rocking horse he trashed. Having had her baby, a boy, Claire returns to take Louis home; Simon goes off to war in Algeria with great apprehension. Martine first hides, then comes out to embrace Louis goodbye. And finally Pèlo also hugs him. Marcelle accompanies them to the bus on the highway and returns home soaked from a sudden rain, a sort of baptism. We see her and Pélo at last reunited in love in his workshop, saved by the intervention of Louis in their anguished lives.

- Recommended by Rebecca Pauly, French Language Film Review Co-Editor

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February 2010

French: Argent de poche (Small Change)
German: Absolute Giganten
Italian: Ricordati di me
Spanish: Planta 4a 

French 

Argent de poche (Small Change), 1976
Director: François Truffant
Language: French
Country: France
Run time: 104 minutes 

ArgentThis next Truffaut film was made almost as a lab experiment about children, with the kids from a village deep in provincial France, Thiers in the Puy-de-Dôme, in two grades of elementary school. There are preschool age children as well, especially little Gregory who is but two and a half. The scenes with the independent and adventuresome Gregory are remarkable for Truffaut’s ability to elicit a performance from a mere toddler. One of the two most dramatic sequences in the film is Gregory’s horrifying leap from the window of the apartment building (obviously staged with a dummy) and the stunned relief of the villagers and the audience to discover that he is unharmed by the fall. And then there is Sylvie, who is fed by the village. When her police inspector father and her chic mother refuse to let her take a ratty beloved pocketbook with her to a restaurant, she stays home alone, and picking up her father’s megaphone, announces her plight to the entire apartment building. In Europe they used to call these square buildings with the open courtyard “poor man’s television” because you could see so many melodramas unfolding behind the windows of the other apartments. Here the other dwellers respond to Sylvie’s demand for food with a clever pulley and basket. Patrick, madly in love with the mother of his friend Laurent, takes on the responsibilities of caring for a disabled father (the child really is father of the man in this case). And finally there is Julien (an echo of Antoine Doinel and a name used for other Truffaut characters), an abused child living in abject poverty who is rescued by the authorities after a school physical reveals the extent of his bruises and scars. Ironically it is the police inspector who is charged with his rescue, having just abandoned his own daughter in a fit of pique. The closing sequence is sincere and moving; the teacher who declares his moral credo to the world, of absolute responsibility and love for the children, regardless of their circumstances or conduct.
-Recommended by Rebecca Pauley, French Language Film Review Co-Editor

German 

Absolute Giganten, 2001 
Director: Sebastian Schipper 
Language: German 
Country: Germany
Run Time: 82 minutes
Actors: Frank Giering as Floyd, Florian Lukas as Rico, Antoine Monot as Walter 

AbsoluteWhile not exactly fresh out of the oven, having been made in 2001, the German film "Absolute Giganten" is so great for teen learners of German that I cannot recommend it highly enough.  So here's a quick synopsis: 

In the film "Absolute Giganten," Rico, Floyd and Walter consider themselves "die besten Freunde der Welt" (the best friends in the world), but Floyd unravels their bond of friendship by announcing he's leaving Hamburg for the sailor's life--tomorrow morning.  Working class guys with nothing but dreams, hearts of gold and each other, the three decide to spend one last day and all-nighter together in the Hamburg they know best.  In the process of having fun, they make one dumb mistake after another, 
proving Floyd's decision to strike out on his own was the right one. 

Appropriateness for high school:  with the exception of one sexually suggestive scene in a bar bathroom, the film is otherwise devoid of sex, drugs or gratuitous violence, but does portray a young teen  girl ODing on alcohol and ending up in the hospital.  

Appropriateness for college: A-OK.  
General themes:  guy stuff--shyness with girls, soccer, cars, foosball, betting, junk food, discos and bars.  Particularly for boys heading off for college -- or already in college --I think the film has a great message about the importance of friendship vs. the need to take control of one's own adult life and make better choices. 
- Recommended by J. Douglas Guy, Beverly Public Schools, Beverly, MA 

Italian 

Ricordati di me (Remember me my love), 2003
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Run time:125 minutes 
Language: Italian (with subtitles in English) 
Country: Italy  
Awards:  10 nominations for  David di Donatello awards
Availability:  yes 

English version below 

RicordatiIl giovane regista romano Gabriele Muccino ritrae l’ambiente che conosce meglio, quello di una tipica famiglia romana composta di padre, madre, una  figlia 17enne e un figlio 19enne, con la quale molti avranno timore ad identificarsi. La determinazione della figlia Valentina (Nicoletta Romanoff) a sfondare a tutti i costi nel campo televisivo sprigiona i sogni frustrati degli altri membri. 

Sono proprio le persone più vicine a noi, le più care, spesso a non credere al nostro potenziale, a non sostenerci e ad uccidere le nostre aspirazioni con la loro indifferenza.  A volte, più o meno inconsciamente, addirittura per non perdere il controllo nella relazione o per semplice egoismo.  Si va avanti presi dalla frenesia della vita moderna, ci parliamo, ma non ci ascoltiamo.

 La madre Giulia (Laura Morante) aveva studiato recitazione e voleva fare l’attrice ma aveva abbandonato l’idea per mettersi a fare l’insegnante e tirare su una famiglia.  Carlo (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), funzionario di una compagnia d’investimenti, sognava di fare lo scrittore, ma sono anni che non si decide a scrivere il capitolo finale del suo unico libro.  Carlo incontra una vecchia fiamma che apprezza il suo libro e con cui riallaccia una relazione.  Giulia anche ottiene una parte in una piccola rappresentazione teatrale dove è sostenuta e valorizzata dal regista.   Il figlio Paolo (Silvio Muccino), alla soglia della maturità scolastica, è alla ricerca di se stesso e dietro una ragazza che non lo corrisponde.  Anche lui, pur non sapendo ancora come, sulle orme della sorella ripete le parole della madre:” Un giorno faro’ vedere che valgo più di tutti voi”. 

I vari membri di questa famiglia disfunzionale si parlano, ma troppo spesso strillano e non si ascoltano, si prendono per scontati e vanno ognuno per conto proprio.  Tuttavia, dopo un grave incidente di uno dei membri, riescono a stare uniti e a sostenersi a vicenda.  Sarà veramente una nuova famiglia o torneranno le cose come prima? 
- Recommended by Carlo Mignani, Italian Film Review Editor 

English version 

The young Roman director, Gabriele Muccino, depicts the environment that he knows best, that of a typical Roman family, composed of a father, mother, a 17 year old daughter and a 19 year old son, with whom many will fear to identify.  The determination of the young daughter Valentina (Nicoletta Romanoff) to make it at all costs in the TV industry releases the frustrated dreams of the other members.

The very people closest and dearest to us are often the ones to not believe in our potential, to not support us and to kill our aspirations with their indifference.  At times, more or less consciously, to not lose control in the relationship or for pure egoism.  One goes on, taken by the frenzy of modern life, we speak to each other, but do not really listen.

The mother Giulia (Laura Morante) studied acting and wanted to become an actress, but she abandoned the idea to teach and to raise a family.  Carlo (Fabio Ventivoglio), an executive of an investment company, dreamed of becoming a writer, but it’s been years and he still hasn’t finished the final chapter of his only book.  He meets an old flame that appreciates his book, they start to read it together and reestablish a relationship.  Giulia gains a small part in a play where she is supported and appreciated by the director.  The son Paolo (Silvio Muccino), near the “maturità,” his high school degree, is trying to find himself and pines for a girl who is not interested.  Paolo, not even knowing yet how, in the footsteps of his sister, repeats the words of their mother:  “One day I’ll show that I am worth more than you all.”

The various members of this dysfunctional family speak to each other, but too often shout, do not listen, take each other for granted and everyone is on his own.  Still, after a grave accident of one of the members, they are able to stay united and to support each other.  Will this be a new family or will things go back to the way they were? 
- Recommended by Carlo Mignani, Italian Film Review Editor

Spanish 

Planta 4a
Run time: 100 minutes
Director: Antonio Mercero
Rating:  NR, contains scenes with the strong language of teenage goys, and one scene of suggestive sexuality
Language: Spanish; without subtitles
Cast: Juan José Ballesta, Luis Ángel Priego, Gorka Moreno, Alejandro Zafra, Marco Martinez
Awards: Nominated for a Goya in 2004 for Best Film; winner of various other awards 

English version below 

Planta 4Hay varias sociedades y culturas en nuestro mundo, y es raro asignar estos conceptos al hospital, pero éste es exactamente lo que ocurre en Planta 4ª, esta película maravillosa, seria, y chistosa.  La gente que puebla la película son jóvenes de unos quince años que principalmente sufren del cáncer, y los empleados del hospital que los rodean.  Los jóvenes pasan sus días en varios tratamientos y pruebas, haciendo las cosas que los jóvenes saludables hacen, pero también forman un grupo que se apoyan los unos a los otros por medio del cariño, los deportes, y el humor.  Pasan las tardes jugando al baloncesto en el patio, las noches en carreras por los corredores del hospital en sus sillas de ruedas.  Llaman a las enfermeras a la medianoche para pedir una pizza.  Hay momentos bastante serios también cuando hablan de la primera cirugía, de cuando uno de ellos se mejora lo suficiente para volver a casa con su familia.  La amistad entre uno de los jóvenes y una chica que está internada en el piso psiquiátrico es particularmente conmovedora.   

Con un asunto tan difícil como el cáncer, yo tenía mucho miedo de ver esta película, pero la verdad es que la película hace más fácil entender el sufrimiento, las dudas, las ansiedades, los temores, y las felicidades por lo que pasa a un paciente del cáncer cada día.  La presentación por parte del escritor Albert Espinosa, del director Antonio Mercero, y de todos los actores comparte una sensitividad sensible y abre una ventana a una cultura triste y humorosa a la vez.  El éxito de esta película está debido a la lengua del humor. 

Con la excepción de una escena de sugerencia sexual, y el uso apropiado de palabras fuertes, esta película es apropiada para cualquier edad, aunque creo que los niños no la entiendan bien.  La recomiendo sin reservaciones. 

English version 

A marvelous, serious, and funny film, Planta 4ª takes place in a hospital cancer ward and aptly represents the culture and societies that co-exist there amid the sadness, anxiety, and happiness inherent in such a locale.  The people who live so vibrantly in the film are primarily a group of 15-year-olds and the medical teams that work with them.  We see these young people going through their daily routines of various therapies, endless tests, and idle hours filled with the things healthy teenagers do.  A mutually supportive group forms that is filled with caring, sports, and humor.  They spend their afternoons playing basketball in the patio, nights racing their wheel chairs through the hallways of the hospital, ordering pizza from the nurses, and talking.  There are serious moments as well in which we share their fears over surgery, their melancholic joy when one of them improves enough to go home to be with family.  The friendship that develops between one of the cancer patients and a girl on the psychiatric ward is especially moving. 

I must admit that I was hesitant to see this movie when the opportunity was first offered to me, because cancer is such a difficult topic to deal with artistically. The truth is that this movie makes it easy to understand the suffering, doubts, anxieties, fears, and joys cancer patients experience each and every day.  This presentation by the writer Albert Espinosa, the director Antonio Mercero, and the cast of characters shares a tangible sensitivity and opens a window on a sad culture that can be filled with humor.  The success of this film is due to the language of humor. 

With the exception of one sexually suggestive scene, and the appropriate use of strong language, this movie is appropriate for all ages, although I doubt that younger children will understand it very well.  I recommend it without reservation. 
- Recommended by Sheila Cockey, Film Review Editor

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