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Frau Ella (2013)
Wilhelm Meister meets Berliner Schnauzte
Annoying situation comedy that tries to cross Goethe with Bertrand Blier and fails. Here's the story in brief: a young Berliner learns from a dying woman who rejected her GI suitor (read post-WWII Germany) that he must acknowledge his bastard son with his German girlfriend (read Germany post-Unification) while on a voyage of discovery to France (read Germany's experience with the EU). If this sounds didactic it is. I suppose it's part of a grand literary tradition: Goethe's Bildungsroman was just as dull.
To be avoided. I only watched it because I was stuck on a flight from China where every other option was in Mandarin.
Tout ce que tu possèdes (2012)
SPOILER ALERT: INTERPRETATION FOLLOWS
This film is slow and subtle. Ostensibly a character study, the film is really an allegory for Quebecit's inward, alienated present, its relations to the rest of Canada, its sad and difficult past, and most important, its painful recognition that its choices threaten to destroy any chance it might have at a future.
I particularly liked the lead actor. Taciturn and lumbering, Patrick Drolet embodies wasted potential. Sensitive in his work but farouche in company, Drolet conveys as much through omission as he does through actionthe emotion he feels but refuses to express, the poetry he imagines but cannot write, the decisions he understands but fails to take. Émond's direction is everything he is not.
The film also alludes cleverly to literature. Balzac's "Lost Illusions" is the most obvious parallel as a story of squandered talent, but I also caught references to Racine's "Phèdre" (who won't dirty her hands) and Goethe's "Wilhelm Meister" (who slowly comes to acknowledge his responsibilities). In this line, Émond is the Turgenev of Quebec: critical in analysis but generous in sympathy.
Simple and predictable
I've seen quite a few decent Asian movies. This isn't one. The plot is obvious. The characters are flat and silly. There's pointless yelling substituting for emotion. The setting is unconvincing. There's little tension or fear. The score is generic. The shots are crude. And the simple karmic ghost story does little justice either to the genre of horror or war. If you want something creepy and interesting, try Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Cure" (1997), or if you prefer something Korean, "Spider Forest" (2004). "R-Point" was a tremendous disappointment, especially considering the raves other IMDb posters have been giving it. I can only surmise that these reviewers have suffered the same fate as the characters in "R-Point": creeping insanity or supernatural possession. I'd say that's a case of revenge of "Ringu."
Yang Yang (2009)
Another brilliant Taiwanese allegory
I almost missed seeing this movie at a recent film festival because the organizers didn't classify it as Chinese. That is essentially what "Yang Yang" is about: the problem of Taiwanese identity. Other Taiwanese directors have wrestled with this theme, for example, Hou Hsiao-hsien in "Three Times" and "Millenium Mambo," or Tsai Ming-liang in "The Hole" and "What Time Is It There?" or Yee Chih-yen in "Blue Gate Crossing," or even Ang Lee in "Lust, Caution," and, if you squint at it, "The Hulk." Like these movies, "Yang Yang" portrays a set of trials that are so immediate and insoluble, and shot at such unpleasant proximity, that my first reaction was to try to distance myself from what I was seeing. But the acting is so good, and the symbolism is so intelligent, and the story is so universal, that "Yang Yang" made me realize that Taiwan's problems are everybody's problems, and instead of dragging through a typical Bildungsroman I left the theater exalted. 9/10. With haunting music by Lim Giong.
I thought "Crank" was silly enough to be fun, and for that I was willing to suspend my irritation at "Gamer"'s thefts from "Rollerball," "Running Man," "Strange Days," and other dystopian B movies with the rationalization that a film about simulated realities was obviously alluding to the other examples of the genre. But "Gamer" isn't even this self-aware. What starts as a meditation on Hegel's master/slave dialectic degenerates into Marcusian conspiracies of how capitalism is equivalent to pornography and from there into the even more primitive territory of the Puritan hatred of sin. It is as if the writers of the film felt that rolling the clock back through variants of American cultural critique all the way to the Colonial era was somehow the best way for their viewers to feel what it must be like for evil nanocells to take over their minds. It didn't work. "Gamer" is just dumb. Oh, and what happened to color? Does everything have to look like you're about to pass out?
Interesting political allegory
The allusions to "The Postman Always Rings Twice" are obvious and don't need to be discussed. What interested me was the political allegory of this movie. It reminded me of Fassbinder. In the same way that "The Marriage of Maria Braun" is an allegory of Germany up to Unification, this is too, only in a more abstract way.
One character = East Germany
One character = West Germany
One character = The United States.
Watch the movie and fill in the blanks.
The American character is clearestgenerous but inept, suspicious of his charges, unappreciated, cheated, ultimately beside the point.
The ending isn't Fassbinder, but it's close.
Tung mung kei yun (2005)
Another intelligent allegory from Andy Lau
I was expecting this to be a lightweight comedy but was pleasantly surprised by the subtext of this movie, which used the themes of maturation and family to address larger issues of Hong Kong's modernization and its relationship with Mainland China and the West.
In this respect, "Wait Till You're Older" resembles "Infernal Affairs," another film that uses a standard narrative to hint at larger issues. It is not quite at the same level of sophistication in either plot or metaphor, but it is a much deeper movie than one might be led to believe.
I don't think that I have to spell out the two sets of relationships here. They become quite obvious to the viewer with a little reflection.
Le feu follet (1963)
I've been trying hard to appreciate this genre of French film. In all honesty, it's hard. It would be easy to write it off as humorless, pretentious nonsenselines like "I felt with my heart, not with my hands" might have gotten Malle somewhere in at lame party, but they aren't the sort of thing one ever wants to hear in a theater.
The best I can do is interpret the film politically. The main character is intellectual France and his friends are the rich old guard. Intellectual France went on a bender and wasted its youth; in this it was condescended to by a corrupt and smug class of prigs and losers; now intellectual France has lost the will to live, despite its American-financed cure. This seems to suggest the Vichy past as the bender, America as the unwanted wife, and the perpetuation of corruption into the postwar period as the old guard under De Gaulle. It's not necessary to take the film's Existentialism at face value: French intellectuals should feel horrible after collaborating with Nazi occupiers. This isn't some metaphysical conundrum.
Read this way, the film foretells the death of French culture. There's something to this. The Citroën DS was a high point unless you are really into fast trains and breeder reactors and molecular biology, things that shouldn't be overlooked as great French postwar achievements. But with regard to what most people understand as culture, which means the humanities, France went into a hopeless and irreversible slump in the 60s, blow-hards like Goddard and BHL notwithstanding. Ronet is a charismatic actor, but he's got nothing on Depardieu, the half-educated gang-rapist most French found easier to live with than this postwar generation of spoiled and humorless weaklings.
La sirène du Mississipi (1969)
I'm trying to find something of value here. The best I can muster is that Truffaut wanted to make a movie as tedious, painful, puerile, annoying, illogical, and brainless as the experience of being in love. If that was his goal, then he succeeded, but the solution to his exercise is really a drag to watch.
There is one scene that screams for a spoof: Belmondo compares the features of Deneuve's face to the features in a landscape . All I could think the whole time was "glacier," "ice floe," "two lonely fishermen wearing Army surplus on a frozen lake in Minnesota."
The only other point of interest was the resurrection of Buffoon's theory of climatic determinism. The tropics are presented as paradise, and things get progressively worse as they get colder, hell being Calvinist French Switzerland. That was kind of funny.
Ching yan (2008)
Chilling political commentary
This is the best Hong Kong cop thriller I have seen since "Infernal Affairs" and "Triad Election." All three films suggest critiques of Mainland China's relationship to Hong Kong chilling enough to raise them to a level of art. I expect a remake soon, although I don't think it will be as good as "The Departed."
For those with no interest or awareness in contemporary Chinese politics, "Beast Stalker" works perfectly well as a thriller. But with a little reflection many contemporary Chinese films like this can be decoded as profound commentaries on the current situation in China every bit as trenchant as Sixth Generation dramas. This is a golden age of Chinese cinema. Don't underestimate what you see.