September 23rd, 2015 — 5:31am
LABYRINTH OF LIES
To us, one of the most important and memorable aspects of this outstanding film is that the current generation of German filmmakers and the people related to this industry, have decided to make this movie the 2015 entry from Germany to the Oscars for best foreign film. Doing this also reflects the monumental theme of this movie, which is the responsibility of the German people for Auschwitz and the Holocaust.
The story is based on actual events and follows a young German prosecutor (Alexander Fehling) in Frankfurt, Germany in the early 1960s as he becomes aware that identifiable people now living in Germany were responsible for murder in the Auschwitz Camp during World War II. Although the Nuremberg trials, which occurred shortly after World War II nearly 20 years previously, were monumental in the prosecution of members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany who participated in the Holocaust and other war crimes, those trials were carried out by the victorious allies. In the film, which depicts a true story, we see, probably for the first time ever, a government trying to prosecute its own former soldiers. The question of who was guilty and was there any family spared having a war criminal among them is raised. As one of the characters states, the only innocent people were those who weren’t born yet or who were small children when all these events happened.
It matters very little that the main focus is on Johann Radmann who is the prosecutor played magnificently by Alexander Fehling, who was in reality a composite of three prosecutors in real life. All the characters in the movie are true to life and very believable. One of them, Fritz Bauer, played by the famous German actor, Gert Voss, has a famous legal institute now named in his honor. One of the buildings where the archival records were being searched in the film is the actual location of where the well kept records of the Nazi regime are now stored for historical examination.
Director/writer Giulio Ricciarelli has been very thoughtful in his choices, so as not to make the movie a recapitulation or a reenactment of the horrors of the Holocaust. Rather, he puts the focus on the impact on the people living in post-war Germany. One interesting point that was made very clear was that most of the German people at the time, depicted in the film, did not know about Auschwitz nor did they want to know about it.
We were reminded that our recent personal observations have shown that most contemporary Germans no longer deny their history. This was very clear to us in our recent visit to Berlin, where we saw the names of displaced Jews embedded in plaques on the sidewalks in front of their former houses. We also visited the very complete and well-done Holocaust museum as well as many other points of remembrance. This film clearly created an honest reflection of German history, which was not known to most of us. It was a powerful and beautifully done work of fact, emotion and importance. (2015)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Foreign, History, Uncategorized
November 14th, 2014 — 6:00am
The Imitation Game- sp The Turing Test is a method that is supposed to help determine if artificial intelligence built into a modern computer is indistinguishable from the human mind. There was only an indirect subtle reference to this test in this movie, which however, was all about the complicated yet very human mind of Alan Turing. This is a Bio-Pic with a screenplay by Graham Moore adapted from a biography by Andrew Hughes as well as other books written about this man. It is produced by Graham Moore, Nina Grossman and Teddy Schwarzman who shepherded it through a few incarnations where it was almost made by a major studio but ultimately ended up as an independent production in the hands of the Norwegian film director Morten Tyldum (known for The Headhunters) starring Benedict Cumberbatch who plays Alan Turing. The movie dramatically reminds us of horrendous threat of Nazi Germany to the world during WWII and introduces us to the team led by Turing that is working in Bletchley Park in England trying to break the German Enigma code which could give the allies the edge to win the war. One of the team members is a woman by the name of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) whose great intelligence stands out and gets the attention of the leader who becomes very close to her. Alan Turing is shown to us as a brilliant young man with a personality often shown to be associated with Asperger’s Syndrome. It turns out Turing also is homosexual which he had to keep as a deep secret as during those times because it was a crime itself punished at best with chemicals (hormonal castration). Mixed into the film is a touch of espionage where you least expected it to be. Breaking the Nazi code would mean the saving of millions of lives and the defeat of Germany. Yet it must be a gigantic secret because if it were known, the Germans might change the code. Recounting how all of this done was a great cinematic accomplishment led by a sensitive, nuanced and multilayered performance by Cumberbatch who is certain to receive an Oscar nomination for best actor. In addition to Knightley there are excellent supporting performances by Mathew Goode (who may be recognized as recently playing The Good Wife’s opposing attorney in that TV series), Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear and Charles Dance. In the end this is the story of a tragic hero who saved many millions of lives and who is probably the father or the grandfather of the modern day computer but yet was never truly appreciated during his life. This movie, which was made by a dedicated team that wanted to rectify this situation, deserves to be credited as one of the outstanding movies of the year (2014)
2 comments » | 5 Stars, Biography, Drama, History
September 3rd, 2013 — 5:07pm
Sabotage-nf– (aka The Secret Agent) We received this DVD in package of items at a charity event. Sometime later, my 9 1/2 year old grandson and I were looking for a movie to watch together and he chose this black and White 1936 Alfred Hitchcock classic. Even a few years before the official start of World War II the British were wary of secret hostile actions towards their country by Germany. There is Mr. Veloc (Oscar Homolka), an owner of a movie theatre who is really a German spy. He sets off a secret bomb that only temporarily disrupts the electricity in London. His wife (Sylvia Sidney) who works in the movie theatre is completely unsuspecting of her husband’s devious role and doesn’t want to give refunds to the movie patrons saying the electricity failure was an act of God. Ted (John Loder), a secret Scotland Yard detective, suspects foul play by Mr Veloc and goes undercover working in a fruit stand next to the movie theatre. Mr. Veloc, hiding his secret intentions, counteracts his wife and orders refunds to be given. He then plans the planting of a more sinister bomb to another movie theatre secretly hidden among movie reels to be delivered by his wife’s kid brother (Desmond Tester). This young courier has a certain amount of time to deliver the package. His curiosity in events along his journey through the bustling city means that the bomb could go off while this likeable young man is in transit. Hitchcock, of course builds up the tension showing the time and events until there is a premature explosion. The screenplay based on the novel The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad also allows Hitchcock to use all the tricks at his disposal to grip the audience with fear and concern as there is a murder in the story as well as a love theme. Scary music suggesting something terrible and devious is about to happen is skillfully used by this great Director. Things never turn out as you expect. The movie might be classified as film noir as it is mostly dark (and grainy) but it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Certainly not one of the best of the movies from the director who was known as “ The Master of Suspense “ but one which any film aficionado would probably enjoy. If you chose to seek this one out, remember that Hitchcock was known for making cameo appearances in his films. He appears at the 9 minutes mark in this one, right after the lights go back on and before the lady shuts the kiosk window. Wearing coat and hat, he walks from center screen to the (viewer’s) left, leaning back and looking upwards. That is Hitchcock ! (1936)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Thriller
December 13th, 2012 — 8:20am
Barbara- sp This is the 2012 entry from Germany in the Oscar race for best foreign film. It is a throwback to the 1980s and a view of East Germany a little less than 10 years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story revolves around Barbara (Nina Hoss) a doctor who has been sent to the boonies ( a small hospital in the countryside of East Germany.) Her wish and her goal is to escape from this oppressive country and she has a plan to do it. However, she is constantly under the watchful scrutiny of the secret police as well as that of her colleague Andre (Ronald Fehrfeld).
She also has a keen awareness of the hardship and cruelty which the government causes the people around her especially a few of the young patients at her hospital who we have a chance to meet. This is the 5th movie that Nina Hoss has made with Director Christian Pelzold and the most successful one in Germany. Hoss’ intense depiction of the emotions of her character is done with few words. The storyline is slow to develop but the suspense and the drama are very well done. (2012)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign
March 9th, 2012 — 12:54am
The Harmonists – nf This German film with English subtitles was originally titled the Comedic Harmonists which is the name of one of the most famous vocal groups to ever perform in Germany. This film is the story of how Harry Frommermann, (Ulrich Noethen) originally pulled together this sextet in Germany during the depression from 4 other talented singers and a piano player who were barely getting by in those hard times. They rehearsed for many months honing their style of syncopated but soothing harmony mostly choosing popular classics frequently with humorous lyrics. They became immensely popular in Germany. The story line shows how they came together as a group and also depicts some of their romantic connections. This is all based on a true story and the music that we hear is the actual music of the Comedic Harmonists of the 1930s. However as we all know something else was going on in Germany during this period. Harry Frommermann and two other members of this group were Jewish. As we follow the now successful group and perhaps identify with their joy in realizing their hopes and dreams, we also begin to appreciate what was happening all around them. Some of the scenes remind us of the denial of so many proud older German Jews who couldn’t accept that they were slowly but surely being rejected by their beloved country. The Harmonists briefly perform in the United States and Harry has a conflict whether he should return to Germany. Each time we read a book or see a movie about this period of history we develop an iota more of insight into the plight of the Jewish people of that time and also of what can happen to any of us (Jews or not) when people are led to hate one group or another. The power of music to tap into our emotions no doubt will help to embed this piece of history and this film into the viewers psyche. (1997)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign, Musical
March 8th, 2011 — 8:23pm
For My Father- nf– This Israeli-German co-produced movie in Hebrew with sub titles gives us a thought provoking storyline as we see early in the film, a young Arab (probably a Palestinian) by the name of Tarek (Shredi Dabarin) is smuggled into Tel Aviv wearing an explosive vest. on a suicide mission. He is angry at the Jews and is ready to die . There is a subplot how he can save his father’s honor by going through with this deed and his father might be killed if he doesn’t. He grits his teeth and pushes the button but there is “ wardrobe malfunction”. There is a faulty switch so he enters an electrical repair shop and orders a new part but it won’t be ready for two days (since the next day is Shabbat). He meets some nice Israelis who treat him well and have their own tales of pain and alienation including a beautiful girl Karen (Hil Yalon). There are phone calls back and forth to his parents who don’t know what he is about to do as well as calls from his handlers, who once his switch is replaced, want him to find a crowded street and get on with it. They also have the option to remotely push the button but they would rather he find the right spot to do it. What will he do? Then there is the finale. On one hand this movie is simple straightforward and predictable but on the other hand, each character and situation reflects the human tragedy of the Middle East conflict on both sides. This is not a pro-Israel movie. Rather you come away appreciating some of the motivations and angst of each of the characters whom me meet here. The film holds your attention and forces you to confront all the ambiguities. Hopefully there will be an Arab made movie that tries to do the same thing. (2008)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama
September 8th, 2010 — 2:30am
* * * * *
John Rabe – sp – Most American have either never heard about the Rape of Nanking or certainly know very little about it. Probably almost nobody in this country has heard of John Rabe. This German film tells the true story this man who felt he was a loyal Nazi working for Hitler and his government in Nanking as the Director the German Industrial Siemens factory, when the Japanese decided to invade China in 1937. This ultimately brings the Japanese forces led by a relative of the Emperor to Nanking. Rabe found himself having to take actions and make decisions which would effect the lives of over 200,000 Chinese. This is a personal drama, a war story with thousands of extras, an accurate history lesson founded on diaries and the book, The Good Man of Nanking as well as an extremely well done movie which will keep you on the edge of your seat for more than two hours. There is a seamless blend of brutal scenes with touching human moments interspersed with black and white authentic newsreels which reminds you although this is a fascinating story, it is reflecting all too true events. Usually when we see a World War II movie showing the murder of prisoners and civilians, it is the Germans who are doing the killing. However this time it is the Japanese who are murdering the Chinese. In one unforgettable ironic scene, Rabe is outraged at acts of the Japanese who are, of course, allies of the Germans. Therefore he sends a fruitless telegram to Hitler asking and expecting him to insist that the Japanese stop murdering innocent people. Ulrich Tukur plays Rabe and won the equivalent of the German Academy Award as did the movie. American actor Steve Buscemi superbly plays Dr. Robert Wilson the American doctor who actually founded the hospital in Nanking and worked very closely with Rabe. The screenwriter and Director is Florian Gallenberger who took a couple of years researching and writing the movie. He told us of the conflicts that he had with the Chinese government during the preparatory phase of the movie. You should see this movie in your local theatres if you can. However, if you end up watching it on Netflix, hopefully there will be a director’s narrative or interviews with Florian Gallenberger. Despite his relative young age he was a major player in this very large endeavor. He is extremely articulate in English, his second language and relates a fascinating account of the making of this movie. (2010)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Drama, Foreign, War
September 6th, 2010 — 8:03am
* * *
North Face – sp – If you are at all interested in mountain climbing – dangerous mountain climbing, or if you think you might want to learn more about risk taking mountain climbing this movie is for you. This is an award winning German film with English subtitles, set in Germany in 1936. The government has encouraged German mountain climbers to show the world how brave and strong they are by climbing this most difficult mountain. The chilling (and we do mean ice cold and freezing) attempt to do this feat is the main plot of this film. It is based on a true story. Most of it, including all the life and death parts of the movie, are based on known facts of an actual occurrence. One of the guests at our film course was a young alpine mountain climber who not only had heard of the actual events shown but verified that all the situations on the mountain , pitfalls and climbing techniques with pitons and ropes etc were quite authentic. This was a period piece nicely depicting the lavish hotel setting at the base of the mountain. However, most of the two hours and one minute of this film take place in the outside bitter cold. We also learned that this movie is in the tradition of some great German mountain climbing movies which we haven’t seen. While we were caught up with the suspense and adventure, we did feel there was too much time up there in the mountain with snow continually falling or alternating between flakes to avalanches. The movie was very skillfully done. The story line was interesting and painful, but wasn’t complex and stimulating enough for all we had to bear in watching it. (2010)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Action, Foreign, Sport
January 16th, 2010 — 1:58am
* * * * *
The Lives of Others – nf – When this movie was first showing in local theaters we both recall thinking that despite good reviews , it was probably going to be a very dreary film about listening in to people’s conversations, so we skipped it. We now see how wrong we were, as we were very riveted to this sensitive historical drama set in East Germany during the mid 1980s. It is the story of the surveillance by the secret police of a successful playwright and his actress girlfriend. There is an opportunity to see conflict, change and growth in the main characters, particularly in that of the most committed officer who is secretly spying on this couple for the government and comes to understand them. The movie reflects the oppression that so many people endured during this time, as well as exposing some of the hypocritical motives of the people who persecuted them. It is suspenseful yet evokes emotion and has a subtle and near perfect ending. The actors are excellent veteran German actors and the playwright and Director is East German Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who made his debut feature film with this movie which won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The Netflix DVD has a not to be missed interview with this relatively young director which highlights the research and great thoughtfulness which went into the script, casting, music and production of this outstanding, authentic movie. The movie is in German with subtitles. (2007)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Foreign