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Babusya (2003)
9 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
How could the old Russia have raised the new Russians?, 30 May 2004

This is a made-for-HDTV film, and it shows. The cinematography itself is not great either, and the acting and direction are highly uneven (The title role is admirably played by Nina Shubina, but most of the cast is non-professional.) Put that down to the cost of getting the film made at all.

Story background -- The film takes place in the Archangelsk region. After raising her family, Tosia raised her daughter Vera's four children while she and her husband were off working on the trains on two-week shifts. The grandchildren are raised, Tosia has sold her house and given them the proceeds, and lives with Vera and her husband. For a tragic reason, she's sent off to her widowed younger sister's, in a village. The sister breaks a hip and her daughter Lysa, a successful TV journalist, tries to put Granny (Babusya) up with her cousins (Tosia's grandchildren). She essentially fails.

The object of the film, however, is not this story which, as others have noted, in one form or another is an ageless classic. Rather, it is the contrast between what may be called "old Russians", still centered on their village (mostly women and mostly old), and what the film calls "new Russians", the younger generation busy making it in the city, and which in ten or fifteen years has managed to perfectly learn to look out for numero uno. (Or perfectly unlearn humanity, as one "old Russian", Oleg (?), puts it to a new Russian.)

The hardest blows aimed at Granny occur in her absence, addressed to Lysa, who in a sense stands for the audience. Lysa explains to Oleg that "the new Russians are the masters of *that* world". Oleg answers, "Are you sure you're part of *this* world, then?"

The "old Russians'" daily life is carefully depicted. The film will interest those who are attracted by this depiction, and only then by the contrast with the "new Russian" class.

8 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Limited contents urgently conveyed., 30 November 2002

I agree with most of the points made here about Bloody Sunday by people who liked it, but these points are my main reason for not liking it. The film is made for TV and adopts what Janyeap quite rightly a "faux documentary" format. That is, the color is dull and cold, and the contrast high. Cuts are frequent, and so are camera movements. Everything is framed close. You need an Irish ear to get all the dialogue. (No, the shots aren't jerky, except on purpose to underline "high" moments.) All that could be accepted, if it did not also impose the point of view of on-the-spot news shooting. There is no background at all, only the simplest dynamics, linear development and no real center, just disorder, urgency, emotion.

If you come into the film with the belief that one unit of the Royal British Army went on a nice Sunday duck shoot at a peaceful march, and got thirteen Catholics dead, and good reports all around due to the efficient propaganda system in place (and now a fine life in retirement), well, you will learn practically nothing from the film - only perhaps the point, made near the end, that this was the IRA's greatest battle, killing the civil rights movement and bringing hundreds of recruits. Perhaps it was, if you take "battle" to indicate a rate of death per hour.

If you don't agree with the preamble in the last paragraph, then, as several postings here show, the film will not convince you one wit. The best that can be said about it is that it's a nice memorial intended for those who agree with the preamble, quite well made in its way. Still, whether you want to sit through a 107-minute memorial depends on your feelings for TV news shoots.

The Son (2002)
9 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Stay away!, 11 November 2002

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a made-for-TV movie with the attendant dismal image quality, and even tighter framing than TV requires. Worse, it is entirely shot in shoulder cam, using long cuts, so watching this on a big screen is like watching the waves from a rocking ship at sea. It physically makes you sick. The framing and shoulder cam are stylistic flourishes, they add no expressiveness and save no money. Likewise the constant tightness of space. Likewise, and worse still, the jump cuts that make fast action impossible to follow, and the quick pans and camera movements, turning physical moves into a soup of blurs. Moviemaking 201 for Masochist Viewers. More of the same: The Dardennes spend the thirty first minutes showing us their one central character, Olivier, working hard at furtively observing someone, we don't know whom or how many of them. Then, ba-dang, the Dardennes reveal that his target is the 16-year old who, five or six years before, murdered his young son, and has now been released to the vocational rehab school where Olivier works.

The entire film is simply one span of very bad filming of uninterpretable expressions and movements, paced by a few such ba-dang moments. Later, ba-dang, Olivier is forced to reveal to his ex-wife that he's taking the killer under his wing and, understandably, she faints into his arms. Final part - Olivier tells the murderer he's the father of his victim (about whom the punk couldn't care less). Punk runs away. Lots of obscure chasing across a wood lot. Olivier gets punk under him and his hands around punk's neck (the way the punk killed his son). Olivier releases punk. Punk runs again. Punk comes back. Ba-dang-dang, end credits, thank the Lord.

Most of the interesting stuff in life can't be filmed. Here, we have an unlikely psychological development in a man who seldom talks and automatically lies when he does, about a punk who talks even less and automatically evades when he does. There was no film to be made of that, and the Dardennes chose to make their non-film visually crummy. I saw only one film of the Dardennes' before, The Promise, which I found superb and extremely memorable. I would not have imagined that the authors would ever do anything as bad as this. As far as I can see, the positive impression others have had come from the Rorschach effect.

Amen. (2002)
5 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Costa-Gavras should not have shot this film., 18 July 2002

All but one of the previous commenters here, including the earliest, Baybars, chose to delve into the Vatican's responsibility, as they were free to. This is historical background to the film, and the debate is historical or religious. But what about the film itself as a film?

Amen shows how much Costa-Gavras is a maker of action films. He needs action to hold his script together, to direct his main actors and to construct his shots. Well, as Baybars points out, the topic here is conscience (Gerstein's and Fontana's) and process (in the Vatican and, for that matter, in the SS). Centering on action distracts from the topics that justify the film -- not to mention that this leaves the action script with the minor problem that all viewers know the ending full well: nothing happened to stop the death camps.

Thinking Amen had been shot in French, I saw it in French. I don't know how it was shot, but the French was obviously dubbed, and one minor line was left undubbed -- in English. So, perhaps it sounds a bit more real in English, who knows? What I found is that, after the first sequence showing the elimination of retarded Aryans, the film almost never manages to seem German. Think of the current K-19 with Harrison Ford as a Russian naval officer. It felt made-for-TV. Germany is the locale of about 85% of the film. The rest is in the Vatican. I have no experience there, but the Vatican shots to my eye looked thoroughly stagey, much worse than the German parts. I hate this in a historical film. People are not supposed to be walking on stage to play a scene, they're supposed to be observed leading their daily life in their daily way.

As for the staging -- An action film needs action, and Costa-Gavras fills the film with actions to shoot. But what the film is about is something the viewer should chew on, a matter of reflection, not action. Gerstein weighing the fact that if, as is likely, he is found to have betrayed a major secret, his family will be gone to the ovens too. Not Gerstein playing the world's most external father on occasional trips home. The whole atmosphere of Götterdamerung (post-Stalingrad) under which much of the Shoah occurred, not one scene where Gerstein's superior, the Doctor, inquires whether G has been fixing for an exit through the Vatican, then a second one where the Doctor makes use of that exit (to Argentina -- and this is authentic). Etc. The film needed 50% fewer scenes, but scenes twice as long.

As for Fontana, the young Jesuit Vatican diplomat -- The film is very good at showing how every religious superior he faces clearly tells him it's no use bringing coals to Newcastle, or news of the elimination of the Jews of Europe to the Holy Father. At best, it would be a challenge for a film to make Fontana's insistence believable. Costa-Gavras doesn't seem to have even felt there was a challenge; he needed a second protagonist the audience could root for. Well, the audience could, if the audience could believe in Fontana for longer than 200 seconds.

I could go on -- for instance, the famous shots of full and empty cattle cars rolling through winter's countryside are wasted through cinematic insensivity. But you get the point. If Costa-Gavras was a deeper film-maker, he would have realised he's not Spielberg, and that Spielberg in Schindler's List had the insight to choose a far simpler and more direct topic than that of The Deputy. This simply wasn't the place to do Z Redux.

13 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Amélie Poulain in the classroom, 9 April 2002

La mystérieuse Mademoiselle C. for mbdb

PhR 9-4-02

Amélie Poulain in the classroom

Mademoiselle C. is a wonderful children's film (2nd to 7th grade), without fancy digital work and without a massive budget, so the scenes look real, not Disney-squeaky-clean-and-cute. It's so well done adults will enjoy it as much, as soon as they accept it *is* a children's film. Teens? I don't know.

Beside the reasonable budget, there are two main reasons the film works so well. First, it rests on the shoulders of its Amélie Poulain, Mademoiselle Charlotte, and Marie-Chantal Perron is fully up to the task. This is one big bet that fully comes through.

Second, the script was written by Dominique Demers, a children's book writer, and, instead of removing material, she shoehorned two of her books into it. The success of this second big bet rests on the shoulders of Demers and the director, Ciupka. The result is that no second is wasted, every scene barely has the time to say what it has to say and then something else interesting comes on the screen.

This means that the film weaves many threads together, each of which is an interesting story in itself. One such thread shows what happens in a single-child family when the mother has had a stroke and remains in a long-term-care hospital paralyzed and unable to speak (but almost). That thread takes up about five minutes of the film through a dozen scenes or so, and is so well done it's worth the price of admission. A one-second shot, for instance, shows the gratitude in the father's eyes when he glances sideways at his daughter's first love, who's coming in with emotional support where, up to that point, the girl looked to him for everything.

The main story tells how a substitute teacher turns around a sixth-grade class which the principal is set on treating as a hopeless case. (He's a megalomaniac and gets his just deserts.) The best point comes at the end when Mademoiselle C. makes herself scarce because the kids should just trust themselves, they've discovered how.

The film's greatest flaw is in its messages. "Smoking is bad" is said exactly the way we all know the message won't go through. "Reading is a door to new worlds", the main message, is said just right, only... how can you say that to kids today and not mention Harry Potter as the demonstration? (Which the producers obviously can't because the copyright belongs to the Unfriendly Giant, AOL-Time-Warner.)

Depending on age or attention, children may or may not catch on to the many threads, but it doesn't matter, they'll catch on to as many as they need to have a great time and lots to remember.

Tanguy (2001)
12 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Candy for boomers with stick-at-home kids. Extremely entertaining., 23 March 2002

Tanguy Guetz is the single child of boomer parents (represented in a way far different from the buttoned-down standard model of US movies, but probably a whole lot closer to the American boomers who'll actually see the movie). At 28, Tanguy is staying home with his parents, and intends to go on staying home for a year or two, because he's extremely comfortable there, never has to pick up anything or handle any bills, and lives with the two people he loves most. The feeling of comfort is definitely not mutual.

But, as his parents mobilize for a get-out-of-here campaign, they meet the perfect stonewall. Tanguy is a major specialist of traditional Chinese thought, and he faces everything with an equanimity that a hundred-year-old sage would envy. The one-sided war escalates to the point where Tanguy sues his parents for bed and board, and wins. Eventually, he does fly off for a long stay in Beijing, and then, of course, the parents discover what it means to be the sandwich generation: Tanguy's grandmother breaks a hip.

The blows are softened by the fact that the Guetz are quite well off. Else the movie would cut too close to the bone to be the uproarious farce that it is. The main actors, Eric Berger (Tanguy) and Sabine Azéma (his mother) play their characters with contagious fun.

5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
A beautiful subject, beautifully delivered, but not for a feature film, 26 January 2002

This is a superbly played, superbly framed film about a very interesting idea. It is simply three times too long. The film follows an aging actor, Gilbert Valence (Michel Piccoli), from the moment he learns his wife, their only child and her husband died in a car accident, to the moment he suddenly turns old.

Valence, who is either shown or heard in every scene, has very few words to say except when playing, first in Ionesco's Le Roi se meurt, then in the Tempest (both in French) and last while shooting a film in English, Joyce's Ulysses. That last role ends with the title words, I'm going back home, when Valence simply walks out rather than deal with his failure to master Joyce's words while keeping the wanted character and pacing.

The remaining minutes show him walking in a Paris suburb, from the studio to his home, while mumbling his role in English. This gives us the time to realize that all the while, since his wife's death, he's been sticking close to home, going through the well-known daily habits of his life, and equally well-known roles. Only the short appearance in Ulysses would have taken him into new territory. Turning old is choosing not to go outside the life one knows. In Valence's case, it's rather not going outside of what is left of his life, once the most important people in it have been killed.

The only other major speaking role belongs to Valence's agent, Georges (Antoine Chappey). Unfortunately, it is marred by an absence of those concrete details that convince the viewer that this is not sketch for a character, but a living human being. One scene, for instance, has Valence refuse a TV role which Georges is pushing because of the money involved, but Georges only gets to call it "lots", without giving even an approximation.

That deficiency in realistic detail mars other aspects of the film too. However, John Malkovich, playing the American film director, breaks through, he is quite convincing. My suspicion is that he wrote his own lines.

Even if the deficiency were fixed, though, Oliveira would still only have material for thirty minutes. His own failure is in not facing up to that. But Piccoli's playing is sublime, and the wordless showing of Valence's implicit choices through well-framed moments, is also a lesson in filming.

The Tunnel (2001)
18 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
A near-perfect film, will still yield lessons on four watchings, 27 October 2001

This is an exceptionally well-built film with a subject more than worth the effort, well delimited and well illuminated. Teaches a lot, by showing, not saying. Truly beyond praise.

Der Tunnel illustrates how it felt to live in East Germany in the years before the Wall was built, how it felt once it was built, and the terrible determination of some people who escaped in the first few days, to make their escape serve others in East Berlin by trying to bring them to the West, even if the attempt should cost them their own lives. The film's primary power lies there, in the testimony value of each of its frames.

I lived for a few months in Germany less than four years after the events shown, within a walk from the East German border. I visited East Berlin several times and traipsed (illegally) into East Germany once. Der Tunnel shows truths I would never have found the words to explain, and shows them in a way anyone can feel, if perhaps by watching the film more than once. Another film that is instructive on some of the same topics is Volker Schlondorf's semi-fictional Legends of Rita, well worth watching after Der Tunnel. (Legends of Rita takes place in the last years before the Wall fell, more than 20 years later.)

One note. In Der Tunnel, the more people are compromised by the East German regime, the more they invoke their conscience and their deep-felt personal opinions. (You might call this the Lutheran variant of Stalinism.) This occurs equally in Legends, except that in the latter the character who is totally "political consciousness"-driven is the West German Rote-Armee protagonist, who does nothing but meaningless murders until she escapes to the East and, there, is kept under control. So, in Legend, the various East German security people come off better with their "conscience" than does the truly-awful protagonist. In Der Tunnel, they don't come out as well. As for the diggers, they never talk about conscience or opinion at all. That they will do everything in their power to save their loved ones from the regime is simply obvious to all and never discussed.

A second note. The only non-East-German involved in the digging is an American undercover operative. Despite working, no doubt, under the same constraints as his opposite numbers, he shows as much determination as any of the other diggers, and perhaps even more courage.

Concerning Marcel's ending query -- The Colonel stops at the border sign because doing anything beyond the sign would lead to major diplomatic embarrassments, and naturally to demotion or worse for him. He certainly can't kill all the witnesses (and has no intention of doing so). This is the same mechanics that explain why the American operative, after being caught in the East by the Colonel's services, is only detained for a spate of days, with no torture nor bad treatment except cold and isolation, and then released. (He carefully avoided engaging in anything like espionage.) These rules were known to all at the time (self included).

Dark Eyes (1987)
7 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
A vapid middle-aged Italian crosses paths with an earnest young Russian woman, 6 September 2001

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

An Italian who cannot afford to take anything seriously (as by now he is little more than an ornament in the life of his countess wife) meets a young, married Russian woman at a spa, where she is alone (and living on short funds). Not meaning to, he causes her to fall in love with him (rather than simply to bed him, as would be the usage at the spa). He realizes this when she returns to Russia and her husband. He then sets out on the one serious undertaking of his life, meeting her again in Russia. For her part, she has realized that he could only be what he is, and in any case she lives as a correct married lady. So the enterprise leads to nothing -- except that the Italian loses the taste for standing for his wife's husband, and winds up, appropriately, as a waiter on a ferry. Extremely memorable.