April 12th, 2017 — 7:57pm
The Kindergarten Teacher (In Hebrew with English Subtitles)- nf
The premise of this film is that an Israeli kindergarten teacher (Sarit Larry) discovers that Yoav (Avi Shnaidman), one of her five-year-old students has a propensity for writing poetry that is far beyond his years. She herself is somewhat of a poet and becomes very pro-occupied with the poems that emerged from her young student. We get a glimpse of her life. She is married with two grown children, one of whom is just made an officer in the Israeli army. We detect the restlessness in this teacher and an instability in her life, as she seems uncertain of her love life, sexuality and her life in general. She is also becoming obsessed with the young poet and writes down all his poems and then even tries to have him participate in a forum for poets to recite their work. The kindergarten teacher seems to be troubled and searching and the young child seems bewildered but still able to spout the thoughtful poetry.
The whole idea of the film seems so preposterous that it became difficult for us to really understand it. We even considered that perhaps something was lost in the translation. However interestingly, after the film concluded, there was a segment on the Netflix DVD in which the screenwriter and director Nadav Lapid was interviewed about the film. He shared with the audience that he as a child that age had the same ability to come forth with adult poetry about the life around him, an ability that he lost when he got older. Obviously, being a filmmaker became his way of exploring life, its complications and vicissitudes. In the end, we concluded that the film maker found a unique way of showing us his view that the world is not a safe place for sensitive souls. (2014)
Comment » | 2 Stars, Drama, Foreign
April 7th, 2017 — 5:03am
The Fool (In Russian with English Subtitles) -nf
This very interesting and engrossing film is a terrible indictment of life in Russia under Vladimir Putin.
Dima Nikitin (Artyom Bystrov) is a plumber who works for the government. Early in the film, we learned that he, like his father is an honest man who doesn’t engage in the usual stealing, bribes, and corruption that commonly occurs in the work environment in Russia. He then finds himself called to a large apartment house in the evening because of a broken water pipe. He quickly realizes that this building is severely damaged and is on the verge of imminent collapse which could be fatal to the 800 men, women, and children who live there. Mr. Nikitin attempts to contact his absent supervisor. When he is unsuccessful in doing that he then arranges an emergency meeting with the mayor who is being celebrated at a gathering with many other city officials that evening. It becomes apparent that money which had been allotted for previous repairs and modernization of this old building was diverted to various city officials. In fact there is a web of siphoning off money for rebuilding and repairs which includes all levels of this small city government. There are no funds for repairs or for temporarily housing the 800 residents of this doomed building which is expected to collapse within 24 hours. We soon realize that we are learning how in Russia and in Russian society, government officials pass around government funds at the expense of the masses. We understand what awaits the fate for an individual with a conscience who feels that this is wrong.
Could there be corruption in some real estate projects in the United States? Of course there could be and we read about occasional government officials being tried and sent to jail for such activities. However, this movie spotlights the pervasive corrupt fabric of Russian society and government. It was interesting to read several comments and reviews of this film by Russians who affirmed the validity of the dark picture of Russia painted by this movie.
This film is an outstanding cinematic accomplishment by Yuri Bykov who is the screen writer and director. This film certainly would have deserved the consideration for being nominated as a best foreign film from Russia of that year. Needless to say the Russians bypassed this movie for that honor. (2014)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign
March 17th, 2017 — 6:30am
4.1 Miles– (short documentary film (in Greek with subtitles) –
This is the first short documentary film, which we have reviewed on this blog. Larry Hott a well-known documentary film director and movie critic and our cousin suggested that we view it and we were blown away by the impact that it had on us. It is a relatively simple 22-minute film made by Daphne Matzaraki and her team. There were no special effects or fancy camera work. In fact most of the shots seemed to be with a hand held camera , perhaps difficult because at times they took place on rolling small coast guard boat at sea.
The main subject of the film is Kyriakos Papdopoulous a dedicated coast guard captain of a boat that comes out of the small Greek island of Lesbos that is 4.1 miles away from Turkey where hundreds if not thousands of men, women and children are fleeing for their lives, mostly originally from Syria.
The movie doesn’t attempt to explain the refugee crisis, the circumstances that have killed their friends and relatives, why they aren’t welcome in Turkey or other countries. Rather it focuses on the somewhat tortured soul of this captain who with his small crew takes his shift on the open sea to save these refugees who are in their small rafts and sometimes in the rough water of the Agean Sea. We see the agony on the face of the rescuer and in the people he is trying to save. We see the fear and tears in the children and their parents as they are pulled on board the rescue boat. We get a view of the attempts to resuscitate drowned and nearly drowned children.
That is it !. Nothing more and nothing less. The net result of this 22 minute film is a slap in the face. Although nominated for an Oscar as we indicated, this is not a complicated movie that delves into the refugee crisis and gives us insight into the political intricacies of this universal issue which includes the current politics in our country. It should bring out each of our humanity which must play a role in all our actions and decisions (2016).
Click here to view film https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000004674545/41-miles.html
Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Foreign
February 24th, 2017 — 11:17pm
This movie is Australia’s entry in the Oscar race for best foreign film of the year. It made the final cut for the top five and the winner will be chosen in four days from when this is being written. It is a very well done film that would stand on its own well deserved merits. However, in a post screening discussion after we met the team that made the film and learned about the unusual manner in which they embarked on this project, we especially appreciate it as a valuable gem.
Tanna is a small island in the South Pacific, basically untainted by modern civilization. There is no electricity. The people wear their native garb made up of straw and other vegetation. They usually are bare-breasted with the men wearing “penis sheaths”. They speak their native language and are illiterate. There are several tribes on the island and they have often interacted with each other, sometimes not always in a friendly manner.
The filmmakers knew of the existence of these people and made contact with one native, JJ Nako, who must have spent time off the island as he uniquely spoke English quite well. The film crew spent four months on the island bringing solar energy for their equipment. Initially, they did not have any script and explored the lifestyle and customs of the people. They then learned about one event that occurred 30 years previously when a young woman was expected to marry a man from a nearby tribe in order to make peace about some conflicts between them. She, however, had found a young man in her own tribe that she loved and they did not want to carry out the orders of their elders and the tribe leader. The filmmakers decided that this story would be the plot of the movie and they enlisted the entire tribe to participate in this film with several members having major roles in the story. The participants spoke their native language and English subtitles were provided in the final product. The indigenous people were interested in showing the outside world about their tribe and the history. The story turned out to be another version of Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story, with all the poignancy and drama of those classics. The incident took place 30 years previously and actually led to the change in tribal customs. So now, while still living in a very traditional manner, these people do have “love marriages” because of what happened in this event.
The native music and songs are part of the film as well as an underlying appropriate score by Antony Partos. There is a very large, beautiful, bubbling volcano which is part of the makeup of the island and was used magnificently by cinematographer Bentley Dean. Credit of course goes to the directors Bentley Dean and Martin Butler who crafted and directed this unusual film.
The filmmakers obviously made a wonderful connection with the inhabitants of this island. The natives and their performance and participation in this movie demonstrated that their love of history and culture must be very intense as their acting was very believable and realistic. Whether or not it wins an Oscar for best foreign film, this movie deserves to be seen. (2017)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama, Foreign
February 16th, 2017 — 5:23am
Everybody Loves Somebody
This movie would probably belong in the romantic-comedy genre. However, it is much more, as it is a delightful and thoughtful look at relationships and love.
Clara (Karla Souza), a single Los Angeles obstetrician, is planning to attend her parent’s 40th anniversary of being together who are celebrating it, by getting married! At the wedding Clara reconnects with Daniel (Jose Maria Yazpik) a former boyfriend of years ago who drops by after being away with Doctors Without Borders. Their old chemistry seems ignited but so are memories of his inability to make a commitment. Then there is Asher (Ben O’Toole), an Australian born new friend of Clara’s who is a pediatrician and knows something about commitment as he was married nine years until he became a widower. The complex feelings between all these couples including Clara’s sister and her husband are quite intense, palpable and interesting.
Writer director Catalina Aguilar Mastretta has magnificently captured these universal conflicts, emotions and attractions. Therapists and non-therapists alike will appreciate these psychological and real-life issues depicted in this film.
However, there is another aspect of this movie which gives it important significance, especially in today’s political and social climate. The film is bilingual and bicultural! Clara’s parents are Mexican and live in Ensenada. Clara, her parents and her sister as well as Daniel speaks Spanish as their first language and Asher although from Australia is able to speak it also. They also all speak perfect English. The storyline moves seamlessly back and forth across the border between Ensenada and Los Angeles. All the characters comfortably speak Spanish and English at various times throughout the movie and subtitles are provided as needed. The appropriate set of titles will be furnished depending on which side of the border the film is being shown. We suspect that this movie has the potential to be a big hit in both English and Spanish speaking locations throughout the world. (2017)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Comedy, Foreign, Romance
February 9th, 2017 — 6:31pm
Mr. Gaga- A True Story of Love and Dance -sp
If you are a fan and lover of cutting-edge modern dance, you will be mesmerized by this foreign documentary film( in English) of the story of Israeli choreographer and dancer, Odar Naharin. His passion and dedication to dance, and his travels from Israel to New York and back to Israel, as well as the development of the special “Gaga” movement that he originated is a fascinating story. In a post-screening discussion, Director Tomer Heymann, who produced the film with his brother, Barak Heymann and Diana Holtzman, shared the several year adventure that he took to make this movie. He told how he tracked down childhood footage of Naharin, along with interviews of some of the icons in modern dance.
A reflection of the uniqueness and originality of Naharin is not only demonstrated in the design and movement of his work, but also in the journey that he has taken during his 64 years. His interest in movement dates back to his youth and also his time in the Israeli army during the Yom Kippur War (a leg injury prevented him from directly being in combat).
Naharin came to New York and studied simultaneously at the Julliard and the American Ballet Theater (an unheard of accomplishment). He was then accepted by Martha Graham into the most prestigious modern dance company in the world. Actual video footage of Graham talking about this young protégé is shown. Despite this tremendous opportunity and the recognition of his skills, he did not feel comfortable continuing to study in the United States and decided he wanted to form his own ballet company in Israel. By that time, he had met his wife-to-be, a beautiful Asian dancer, Mari Kajiwara, with whom he fell in love at first sight and arranged a meeting with her. She was the first non-black dancer accepted into the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. They came to Israel to direct the Batsheva Dance Company.
There are many more trials and tribulations, happy moments and great sadness, some of which are shared with us in this film. At the time of Israel’s 50th anniversary, when his dance company was to be one of the featured cultural events, there erupted a controversy about the various simple costumes of Israeli army undergarments that his dancers were to wear.
As riveting as is the unusual storyline about this unusual man, the real attraction of this film is the dance that explodes on the screen. Mixed with some very interesting footage of a young Naharin, most of the movie shows beautifully photographed dancers from all different angles doing the amazing movements that this man has pioneered during his lifetime. The film opens in Los Angeles this week at the Laemmle Monica Theater and at Lincoln Center in New York City. Hopefully, the showing will expand to other theatres so many more people can enjoy this unique story and dance experience. (2017)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Foreign
February 6th, 2017 — 11:02pm
This is a French film with subtitles, directed by veteran Dutch film maker Paul Verhoeven and stars Isabelle Huppert who has already received a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar nomination for her outstanding performance in this movie.
The film opens with a violent rape by an intruder and the story progresses as a whodunit, combined with a study of the main character in a backdrop of modern French society where sexual affairs are part of the landscape. Ms. Huppert plays the CEO of a video game company which is in the process of producing a cartoonish, violent, sexualized game. She interacts with her ex-husband (Charles Berling) and his girlfriend. She also has an interesting discussion with her mother (Judith Magre) who seems quite botoxed and is having an affair with a younger lover. The mother wants her daughter to visit her father who is serving a life sentence for brutal murders 30 years before, which left his young daughter stained with blood as photographs show of this gruesome event. There is the good looking married neighbor (Laurent Lafitte) to whom she is strangely attracted. There is also intrigue involved with the people who work for her company and the main character’s continued pre-occupation with the horrible rape that she experienced.
As the story unfolds, the viewer cannot help but be gripped by the complicated relationships. The more than two hours it takes to set up the story went by quite quickly. However, putting together all the pieces of the puzzle and the subtle psychodynamics, leave lots of rooms for speculation. The screenplay by David Birke, based on the novel by Philip Dijan gave us a thrilling, complicated story but we needed a couple of hours over dinner with friends to try to piece everything together.(2017)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, Mystery
December 8th, 2016 — 5:14am
Land Of Mine
We just had the opportunity to see Denmark’s entry for the Academy Award for best foreign film this year and we met the writer/director, Martin Zandvliet and one of the producers, Mikael Rieks. This is a very well-done movie, but what stands out about the film is learning a previously little-known aspect concerning World War II and the unique ethical dilemma which the film spotlights.
Towards the end of World War II, the Germans anticipated an Allied invasion of their occupation of Europe and thought it would likely occur on the shores of Denmark which would give the Allies the shortest distance to Berlin. The Germans planted hundreds of thousands of explosive mines on the beaches of Denmark. Of course, instead, the Allies successfully invaded at Normandy. Once the war was over, the Danes were faced with a dilemma of how to go about the dangerous task of removing these deadly explosive mines. They chose to use thousands of German prisoners of war, many of whom were young teenage soldiers who had beenconscripted into the German army towards the end of the war in a desperate attempt to fight off the Allies.
So now the Danes were forcing these mostly young prisoners of war to learn how to do the dangerous task of defusing the enormous number of mines on the coastline. You also may want to consider if there is a valid question whether such forced life-threatening labor is against the treaties signed at the Geneva Convention.
So if this movie accomplished nothing else but to highlight this fascinating ethical dilemma, it would deserve to be seen. However, the production did this in a very personal and dramatic fashion. Most of the movie focused on a group of about a dozen German prisoners of war, most of whom appear to be young teenagers, perhaps as young as 15 or 16 who are under the command of a Danish soldier Sergeant Rasmussen (Roland Moller). Most viewers who appreciate the inhumane treatment to millions of people by the Nazi invaders of course might understand the initial harsh treatment by the sergeant of his captors as he trained and forced them to undertake the mine-clearing task.
However, the added dimension of this drama being played out on the screen was the viewers’ empathy for these young prisoners of war who shared dreams and aspirations of returning home to their families. Not surprising, the Danish sergeant himself, begins to understand his young prisoners and even care about them.
So our emotions are stirred up as we appreciate a great conflict and we can identify with the characters on the screen. There is drama, tension, and excellent photography by Camilla Hjelm Knudsen who is the wife of the director/screenwriter. We come away with a little more insight into history and human nature which adds up to a very good film. (2016)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign, War
August 12th, 2016 — 7:12am
The People vs. Fritz Bauer-sp
The title of this movie is ironic since Fritz Bauer (Burghart Klaussner) was an Attorney General in the 1950s in postwar Germany whose job was to prosecute war criminals on behalf of the people of Germany. He gets wind of the fact that the most notorious war criminal, Adolf Eichmann, was hiding in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This film is the story of Bauer’s determination to bring Eichmann to justice despite the resistance of many of his countrymen who were government officials and many may have been Nazis or Nazi sympathizers.
If you have traveled to Germany in modern times you know that so many of contemporary Germans have owned up to their country’s role in attempting to destroy the Jewish people in the 1940s. During our trip to Berlin, we saw many memorials including a very moving Holocaust museum. Director and screenwriter, Lars Kraume and producer, Thomas Kufus are among the many contemporary German filmmakers who are continuing to explore this subject with their work.
This film not only told an important historical story, but also provided an in-depth look at the character and personality of the two main subjects of this film. There is great drama, tension, suspense and human interest. The cast is made up of well-known German actors and the German film community has bestowed numerous nominations and several of its highest film awards to them. The movie is distributed in the United States by Cohen Media Group, who have a history of selecting many outstanding foreign films to be shown in the US. The release date in NY and LA is August 19th. We highly recommend that you see this movie. (2016)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History
February 24th, 2016 — 6:34am
The Wave- sp
This film was the entry from Norway for the Best Foreign Film for the Academy Awards. It shows a beautiful community with magnificent fjords, mountains surrounding a body of water. It looks like a lovely place to live or visit. But much like Southern California, they have had natural disasters in the past which eventually can happen again. In this case, instead of an eventual earthquake, it can be an avalanche of a crumbling mountain, which would fill the water and create the inevitable rising up of a tremendous mountain of water or a tsunami. The possibility of such a disaster is constantly monitored so people can be warned if it should be about to happen. This is the setting for this film and the dramatic build-up of tension as we meet some of the people who are monitoring the possibility of a tsunami and we will also meet the family of one of them. This part of the film could not have been done better.
The movie is directed by Roar Uthaug, who participated in writing the story and the screenplay with Martin Sundland, and John Kare Raake. The main character is Kristian who is played by Kristoffer Joner.
You are on the edge of your seat even though you are pretty sure what is going to happen. You just don’t know exactly how it’s going to go down and how it will impact the characters that you have met. When things eventually break loose, the special effects are outstanding. We have a combination of horrific things happening and in the midst of it, among the many frightened people, are the characters that we care about.
So far so good, but then we realized that the plot is becoming thin and unbelievable. No matter how good and realistic the special effects may be, when the story becomes a “fairy tale” the movie loses a great deal of its credibility and becomes almost laughable. In retrospect, the characters were stereotypical with very little complexity. Yes, it is scary and we live in earthquake country so it reminded us that you never know if the next disaster is around the corner. But that is really all the movie was able to do. (2016)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, Thriller