Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Few Cinematic Recommendations

Since Friday, I've been attending Film-Neu, a German-language film festival. I have been deeply impressed as to how uniformly excellent each of the screened movies has been. Several of them represent their country's official selection in competition for the upcoming Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Ordinarily I would have never gotten the chance to see any of these in a cinema, which makes me even more grateful to see them screened before my very eyes.

American cinema is so obsessed with spectacle and profit that it could never make films this quirky and unusual. What they lack in funding they make up for in quality. Some think that money alone makes a movie, but I've always found that the reverse is true. Paradoxically, it seems that the greater the budget, the more the end result is cheapened. And having said that, I recommend each of these.

1. Jerichow

A German soldier, recently dishonorably discharged from service in Afghanistan (and as a result completely broke) lucks into a job simply by being in the right place at the right time. His employer, an unstable alcoholic, has recently has his driver's license suspended for frequent DUIs. A Turk by birth, the man owns a variety of Chinese food restaurants across the area and thus due to the nature of the business needs to be shuttled back and forth by car to check inventory and collect proceeds from each store. His wife, a beautiful, but troubled woman, ends up falling for the sullen newcomer. Their clandestine relationship intensifies to the point that plans are made to kill the husband, make the crime look like an accident, and then collect the insurance money. However, unforeseen complications arise.

2. Football Underground

A documentary lamenting the ridiculously restrictive extremes of Iran's repressive government. A German women's soccer team expresses a desire to play a game with the Iranian women's national team, which nonsensically practices for competition but never actually plays a game against an opponent. Organizers of the event run up against unexplained and completely needless delays, problems getting visas, massive problems locating sponsorship, and other frustrating roadblocks like even attaining an adequate site for the match to be held. Eventually the game is played, but a scheduled rematch is canceled at the last minute because the Ahmadinejad regime mysteriously forbids the Iranian women's team to play again.

3. Revanche

A middle-aged, low-level hood carries on a relationship with a beautiful, young Ukranian prostitute. He works to maintain the facilities at a brothel, performing a variety of odd jobs for the head pimp. Unsurprisingly, he works at the same brothel as does his girlfriend, where it is implied that they both met. One day, tired of seeing his girlfriend abused by sadistic clients he concocts an impulsive scheme to rob a bank, whereby the both of them will live off the proceeds and not have to work. The robbery goes off without a hitch until the very end. In the process of making his getaway--the girl seated in the front passenger side next to him--the duo happen across a cop. Unsuccessful in detaining the suspect, the police officer attempts to shoot out the tires of the rapidly accelerating car, intending to apprehending them both. Unfortunately he aims too high, missing the market altogther, and kills the girl with a stray bullet.

As part of the plan, the criminal ditches the car and heads for his grandfather's farm, intent on hiding out there, where his whereabouts and true identity will be completely unknown to the police. By sheer coincidence, the farm happens to be not very far away to the residence of the accidental murderer--- the cop, as well as his wife. It seems that the couple have been trying desperately to have a child, but as we find out later, apparently something is wrong with him, not her. The criminal's grandfather attends the same church as the cop's wife, so in an desire to be kind and charitable, the wife has taken to routinely shuttle the old man back and forth to run errands or to attend service on Sunday morning. While on the farm, she happens across the criminal, who has committed himself to performing grueling manual farm labor as penitence for his sins. Ignorant of his identity and equally ignorant of the connection between he and her husband, she makes a pass at him, hoping he'll come by her house later that night to consummate her desire (and more importantly, ensure her pregnancy).

From that point onward, things grow curiouser and curiouser.

4. Der Freund (The Friend)

A beautiful, but troubled young singer-songwriter attracts the attention of a shy, socially awkward college student. After hearing her perform at a trendy venue, he makes painfully self-conscious overtures to get to know her as she walks off stage between sets and orders a drink. At first, she blows him off. Later, however, he encounters her by chance at a random bar. This time she is more receptive to his presence, and asks him point-blank if he would like to pretend to be her boyfriend. Stunned, the boy asks why. "Just because," she says, and provides a vague response that leaves him even more confused.

Five days later she commits suicide. It appears that her rationale in asking him to play this role was to deflect worry from her family, who realize full well that she has a history of emotional problems, and constantly worry for her health. Ignorant of all of this and particularly ingnorant of what she has done, he calls her cell phone number a few days later, and her sister picks up instead. The sister quickly passes the phone over to her mother who asks him if he is, in fact, the deceased girl's boyfriend--a figure which she had recently talked about but never elaborated much upon. Fulfilling his obligation to the deceased girl, he answers in the affirmative. The mother then asks the boy if he will help the family prepare for the funeral arrangements.

In the process of this draining endeavor, the boy finds out more about the recently departed girl and her occasionally dysfunctional family dynamics then he would have even dreamed.


Lisa said...

Dang. I'm having to make a list of movies to see since we don't get anything remotely independent here.

And hey! doesn't that actress look familiar. ;-D

Mauigirl said...

I'll have to try to get some of these. We always like the independent and foreign films. I haven't seen many from Germany though.

I will never forget "Das Boot" though - the one about the submarine? It was in German with subtitles. What a riveting movie that was, and what a devastating ending.