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Den röda vargen (2012)
Gritty, believable characters - real life problems
As a woman, it's especially fun to watch this program. Annika is so fearless and yet so believable a character. There's a twist to the usual family dynamic in that Annika is the more workaholic and absent parent and her poor, long-suffering (and extremely hot) husband is often stuck home with the kids, or lying languidly shirtless in bed waiting for her just as she has to go out and investigate a tip.
All of the acting is wonderful and the direction very natural. One gets completely sucked into the plot and the pathos. You see how Annika steels herself from being impacted from most of it, and yet some cases really get to her. The Kvallpresse newsroom has its amusing cast of characters, from the tubby, barking and be-jowled news chief, to the lovable and mannish old socialist Berit, to the smarmy young toady Patrik.
Some of the crimes are pretty grisly so this series is not suitable for children. I've read reviews elsewhere in which men complain about having to hear about Annika's family life (also with Irene Huss, another Swedish crime solver I love) so this may be more something women and those interested in women's lives would enjoy.
Saint Joan (1957)
Actually it is that bad.
I hesitate to call this film terrible or dreadful or awful as it inspires neither terror, nor dread, nor awe. Babyface Jean Seberg carries less gravitas than Tinkerbell, and is simply unbelievable as a woman who could lead an army. She exudes no power, no inspiration, not even any intelligence. The entire production is painfully stilted. This is a pity, since I do like the play, and Preminger and Seberg have both undertaken much more successful enterprises.
That some people are evaluating this film based on their finding it a validation of their religious beliefs has no bearing on its quality as a work of cinema. If you want to see the best Joan of Arc film, see Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc. If you want to see Shaw's Saint Joan, see it in a local repertory theater.
Nueve reinas (2000)
Nine Stars for Nine Queens - Another Argentinian Gem
If you ever need a reminder that you can make a class A film on a shoe-string budget, rent Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens), a marvelous, gripping, and often very funny drama about the culture of con-men and those whom they con. I'm not sure what the budget of this film was, and I'm sure the very professional and excellent actors and crew were well-paid, but my point is that the story-line and direction are what make this film, and the actors are so well-cast that it all comes off without a hitch. Unlike some con-movies, the whole thing is believable and I had a hard time finding holes in the plausibility post-facto. Leticia Bredice, who played a vulnerable, sexpot-victim in _Cenizas del Paraiso_, plays *quite* an impressively different character here. Ricardo Darin and Gaston Pauls are fascinating and marvelous. I'll let you decide for yourselves whether there's any transcendent message in this film, but even without, it's some serious fun.
Diarios de motocicleta (2004)
Boring and self-congratulatory. Where's the Che-risma?
After the hoopla-hype for this film, I was expecting something really moving and worthy of the historical impact of Che Guevara. While the scenes of the countryside and the mountains were beautiful, and the encounters with people mostly believable, I had a very hard time believing the change in the main characters. Mostly, I didn't believe the star, Gael Garcia Bernal, who seemed way too callow and charismatically inconsequential to handle this role. Throughout the film I kept wishing that the fellow who was playing Alberto Granada, Rodrigo de la Serna, were playing Ernesto.
Throughout the film Che and Alberto meet, cheat, eat, dance, and heal the sick. Many scenes are moving, and effectively convey Guevara's sympathy for the indigent, as well as his evolving image of a "just", mestizo pan-America. Nowhere do we get a glimpse of the fire and organizational skill (never mind the charisma) that would propel Che Guevara to revolutionary super-stardom. This is a fault both in the screenplay and in the casting.
Much of the film is superficial, with the final, overly long black-and-white takes of the ostensibly miserable proletarians (the clown-eyed drunk with the horse was WAY over the top) sploshing the icing on this ridiculously over-hyped and often boring travelogue-torta. Someone could and should do better with this material. Also, Robert Redford needs to brush his hair.
Tres pájaros (2002)
Good acting, problematic storyline
Gustavo (Daniel Kuznicka) is a young, go-getter businessman from Buenos Aires. He listens to a motivational recording in his car that compares the successful businessman to a jungle animal who knows what he wants and goes for it. Unfortunately for Gustavo, his jungle behavior, impulsive and self-serving, manages to consistently conflict with what it actually takes to be successful. He is late to meetings, shows impatience and rudeness when dealing with people who could help him, and throws things away in sudden bursts of anger when frustrated. He takes up with Mariela (Isabel Achaval), an adorable but dangerous and callow prostitute, for no other reason than his jungle-instinct commands him. Unfortunately for me, this was the most interesting conflict of the film, and the film's outcome was not believable in the context of Gustavo's character. There was no evolution of his character that would suggest a change, although perhaps the message is that his jungle-morality does ultimately lead to being left in the jungle to fend for himself. Somehow, I don't think that's what the director was aiming for though. Mariela's character, cute, sexy and pathetic as she was, did not convey the sort of depth that would change a man, or even make him forgive her for ruining his life, unless his vision of what makes life worth living had changed. The film does not develop the characters well enough to support that interpretation though.
La historia oficial (1985)
Overcoming the banality of evil, corruption in adoption
La Historia Official is a well-made film about awakening from passive complicity in evil, in this case, forced adoption. The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo were and are an inspiration to those who struggle to uncover and resist abuses in adoption practices, be they the enslaved Irish women of the Magdalen laundries or the many indigenous peoples who had children forcibly removed from homes to be adopted by whites. Most of adoption does not involve abduction, but to turn a blind eye to the fact that it does exist, is to be passively complicit, as was the protagonist in this film.
The scene in which the teacher realizes that tremendous evil has indeed been perpetrated, and that she may very well be the beneficiary of such evil, is staggering. Norma Aleandro is a talented enough actress that we believe her initial rejection of this revelation, and her gradual evolution from passive cohort to courageous seeker of the truth.
Caballos salvajes (1995)
More about personal than institutional corruption
Corruption exists on many levels. While Argentine cinema is certainly full of films about exposing institutional corruption, what makes Caballos Selvajes so moving is its focus on the personal choices of individuals in contributing to or avoiding corruption. The decision a young banker instinctively makes when confronting a life, death and money situation sets him on a path which irrevocably veers him away from becoming like his corrupt boss at the bank. Likewise that of an ambitious young journalist contrasts him sharply with his calculating and corrupt boss at the network.
Protecting human life, human expression, human freedom, and the truth is a theme which runs through this film. The consequences of making choices based on these priorities are often not easy, and that is reflected in the outcomes for these characters. The wild horses of this film are a metaphor for human freedom, and what must be done to insure their freedom, an example of hard but worthwhile sacrifice.
Cenizas del paraíso (1997)
Beautifully acted crime-thriller with plenty of surprises
Cenizas del Paraiso is an aptly-named crime-thriller with just the right amount of intrigue, romance, action and pathos. Besides the compelling direction and excellent acting, I was especially impressed by how the story insinuated certain disturbing circumstances without being soap-opera vulgar about them. The story and direction suggest an even more intriguing backstory than is overtly presented. Hector Alterio is an amazingly versatile and charismatic actor and I would see any film of his.
Regarding the previous reviewer's comment on Argentine cinema being used primarily as a political tool, among the Argentine films I've seen, many have little or no political themes. Cenizas del Paraiso does indeed involve economic and political corruption and how it can infect other institutions. In any case, one would hope that any country with a history of horrendous political and human rights abuses would evolve to the point where the arts and press are free enough to expose and alert the people to the dangers of such abuses. American cinema produces and exports films about corruption in America; it is a testimony to the existence of democracy in Argentina that it is able to do so about Argentina. That said, this film is primarily a psychological crime drama with a subplot which includes corruption.