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Not your usual WWII survival documentary
I had zero prejudice, except the usual distaste for Hitler era cutesy stories. But I was not expecting the reaction I had either - I know plenty about that time and few revelations, few viewpoints surprise me anymore. Despite some gray areas I noticed, which gave birth to 2-3 questions in my mind during the film, which were skipped over by the filmmakers or maybe lost in the cutting room, Surviving Hitler is a very tightly knit film, poignantly told, and entirely devoid of hatred, glorification, guilt or vindictiveness so often expressed by the contemporary filmmakers, who take on this subject matter or even Holocaust era survivors, of either side. It is also, thank God, not preachy, it's just as an objective documentary should be - objective. It is a very well told story of one uncommon family's uncommon survival of unique circumstances in Hitler's Berlin. Jutta, whose story and archival footage this is, has the matter-of-fact recollection of those tragic times, has told the story many times before, and makes none of the on-camera dramatic pretenses. She is as fascinating to watch as her unique story is to learn and I cried in the end knowing all ends well, after all. I think that very few people of her background have recorded their stories for posterity, and I can only wonder why Jutta has waited this long. But I am glad that it's told now, while she is still living. The period footage from DC archives used in the film is excellent and supports and even carries Jutta's story in many places. The re-enactments, as well executed as they were, I would have preferred to do away with, but they did not diminish the overall impact the film had on me. I hope Surviving Hitler wins an award or two or three - it is very deserving.
Everything Is Illuminated (2005)
Great writing, great direction, great title. It's a must see movie.
The finely intricate balance of tragedy and humor this movie delivered, while focusing on a series of sensitive subject matters -- is its ultimate success. And, I hope, longevity.
The superb play of all actors is without doubt the result of superb direction. The essence of the deplorable existence and degradation and degeneration of the young in the modern day Ukraine is revealed as expertly, as if the writer and the director came from that world, which they have not. It is absolutely an initiated insider's look-see. It is simply like it is. And like it was The main theme, powerful as should always remain, is never exploited, like in so many lesser films. It is not overly dramatized or diminished by the grotesque and cynicism the director used to drive some of the point home. And this only his directorial debut! One scene toward the end, however, more particularly a question asked in that scene, slightly, but only slightly, goes overboard.
The dialogue is fantastic, but the Russian parts lost some flavor, and gained some inadvertent distortions, due to translator's lack of skill or inadequate comprehension of both languages. But still that is negligible.
Overall, this film makes the subject of genocide that took place in Ukraine during WWII, and all the genocides, vivid and important for the currently living descendants
and other concerned humans. They are still finding hitherto unknown mass WWII graves in Ukraine. There was simply no one left alive to come searching
And then, of course, there's Gogol Bordello sound, and Eugene's singing. Maybe the world has not come to appreciate that just yet, but Madonna surely does
Kostya and Mouse (2006)
He could and should have been a Nobel Prize winner...
A deliciously unappetizing look at Konstantin Kuzminsky (Kostya) who is, undeniably, the ultimate wasted linguistic genius of his Motherland during his generation. Some day, after Kostya is gone, there may follow the well-deserved acclaim and accolades to his life's work --the odorless laurels of after-death recognition and respect; but not while Kostya the "persona" -- is still able to speak! That would never do for our society! Russia, as a rule, loves to reward the dead! The living Kostya will remain the outcast genius in the world ruled by mainstream mediocrity. His story is worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy. My favorite of the film is Mouse, a humble gentle soul, who, despite the Bohemian chaos that constitutes Kostya's irrational existence, loves him so unconditionally -- my only wish is that the director somehow twist their story into commercially successful romantic tragedy/comedy,so that Kostya and Mouse move to a better home and use hired help to clean it regularly and Mouse can learn to luxuriate.
The Russian Van Gough
You do not need to be a connoisseur of things Russian to appreciate this film, but you will especially like it if you are still in search of that ever elusive comprehension of the "Russian Soul" the ultimate mix of the struggles that comprise one human lifetime in a wrong place at the wrong time. Vasily (Vasya) Sitnikov's paintings and drawings at least those that survived him, speak less of his asserted insanity and much more of his unique perception of reality and his unfortunate burden having been born in the USSR. The film about Vasya's absurd life and his exceptional art, which you'll most likely never see otherwise,discovers this largely unknown, but MAGICAL painter for those of us who appreciate discoveries at any age in any form.