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Liebe nach Noten (1947)
Swing band battle in one of the last Nazi-made films
What makes this film an interesting one, is the fact that it belongs to the category of 'Überlaufer' or 'Turncoat' films - 60 or so films that were shot during the last year of the Nazi regime, but released only after the war. Some were approved for release during the summer of 1945 by the Nazi censorship; some were forbidden. Most, however, were either in the editing or post production stage and were completed once the dust had settled and film industry resumed its work.
In other words - Liebe nach Noten (Love According to Notes) was all but finished by the time the Third Reich fell in May 1945 and thus had the possibility to start anew after the war - in 1947, as 'Du bist Musik für mich' ('You're my music'). Needless to say that it's a harmless musical comedy (with some refreshingly feminist undertones) and, as most of the musical comedies of the Nazi era, have no political connotations whatsoever. Actually, the title song 'Your house is on my way home' was released already during the war as an appetizer, recorded by the famed Willy Berking big band (instrumental version).
Otherwise, the film is moderately entertaining. The story is only so-so; there are no real stars aside from Rudolf Prack - future beauty Sonja Ziemann is only 18 and too cute to be taken seriously; Olly Holzmann who had a brief career during the war is seen in her last role; super elegant Elfe Gerhart never became a star of greater magnitude. The real star is the music by Michael Jary: well played by on screen bands, very well recorded and very well filmed. If you want to hear (and see) German swing orchestras of the Nazi era - to be more precise, a battle between a male and a female orchestra - you would enjoy that film very much.
Band Waggon (1940)
Special interest value mostly
Arthur Askey's films must have a lot of sentimental value, but his comedy hasn't aged well. In fact, he's very irritating in most of his films. What makes The Band Waggon interesting, is the only opportunity to see the greatest British dance band leader Jack Hylton and his orchestra in their only screen performance. It's a pity they didn't do more films. The songs aren't great hits, but solid good material. The other thing that makes this film interesting is its fascination with the television. It's one of the very first films, where TV is the leading character. Sure, the process is shown in a fantastic manner which is very far from the reality, but it's great fun to watch the final sequence. The overblown showstopper Melody Maker Man - dozens of performers busting their arses while the only member of the audience fails to utterly notice the goings-on around him - is an often used gimmick, but very funny indeed. Be sure to watch the proper DVD release and not a bootleg copy.
Glück bei Frauen (1944)
Mishmash with some class
Nothing with Heester in it can be utterly bad. But even his luminous presence doesn't redeem every feature. Luck With Ladies is mediocre, marred by the story line, which takes off well but turns into a hopeless mishmash that comes off as plain ludicrous, making you wish Jopie would finally start singing. He is sporting a nice beard, which is quite unusual and makes him appear strangely modern and sexy. His acting shows moments of relaxed brilliance; as for his singing he doesn't have much do show (two musical numbers and no real hit songs). Herta Mayen in her first starring role does what most of the pretty German actresses of the era did: makes a frantic effort to look unbearably cute. She succeeds. Otherwise she is very charming, sings well and moves with grace, but one can understand why she didn't become quite the A-level star and why she disappeared from the screen just a few years later.
The film is nicely shot and well directed, the mandatory grand finale is a typical showstopper with scantily clad girls and sailors; both Heesters and Mayen look especially charming. It's a pity, that the writers did such a poor job and that the composer was unable to turn out some good hits - it's one of the very few Heesters films that didn't feature a top ten hit of the year.
Sag' die Wahrheit (1946)
Total escapism to no-man's dreamland
This film needs to be seen in context. Usually this is said about the films of the Nazi period - but this time we need to be honest enough to realize, that this film was made in a country, which had just lost the war and which was living under occupation (occupations, to be more precise). Hardly plausible, that the majority of the Germans considered the events of 1945 'a liberation'. It was an utter defeat and the film industry, which had been functioning until the very end of the Third Reich (the filming in Prag continued even after Berlin had fallen), had come to a total halt.
On October 15, 1946, Die Mörder sind unter uns, (Murderers Among Us) premiered in the Soviet sector. This is a film that deals with the guilt of the German people. On December 20, the Western cinema made it's debut with Sag die Wahrheit. This cinematic reply couldn't have been more different - this film is as far from reality of 1946 as can be. We see beautiful people wining and dining in unbearable elegance, solving their love problems, displaying the latest fashions. It's a direct descendant to the Nazi cinema, which created a carefree alternative reality that was designed to offer the viewers 90 minutes of oblivion.
Of course, the roots of this film lay in the Nazi cinema: the director had begun filming that particular script in early 1945. With a different cast, the film was shot until the morning of April 26, 1945, as the Soviets stormed the Tempelhof studios and the power cables were cut. Reportedly the leading lady, Hertha Feiler (the half Jewish wife of the leading man, Heinz Rühmann), was repeatedly raped in front of her husband. These were the last feet of footage, shot in the Third Reich (not counting Prag productions). After the war, the project was taken up again, with Weiss again directing, but with major replacements in the cast (Rühmann was banned for a while and couldn't do any film work). Actually, only minor roles were recreated - Ingrid Lutz and Else Reval appear to be recast. Could it be that some scenes have been filmed already in the spring of 1945? It's an interesting point, but then there are many films called 'Überläufer' or 'defectors' which were begun in the Nazi era and finished after the war, thus creating a strange cinematic bridge between two very different worlds.
As German classic comedies go, this is not a bad film. It's basically a witty farce and I am sure that the audience loved it - nothing and no-one speaks of defeat, of poverty, of fear or miserly. There are no ruins, no shortage of anything. For the viewer, it must have been a trip into the past - if only a very recent past. The official reviews, however, trashed the film completely. A new era had begun; the German cinema was supposed to lead the way with a sharp social commentary, not make its entrance with a banal comedy of manners. "These people are country clubbing and flirting to jazz music, and none of them seem to know, what honest work is," one critic wrote.
The cast is very likable and it's a pity, that it's not a musical comedy: almost everyone in the cast, notably the ladies (Ingeborg von Kusserow, Sonja Ziemann, Ingrid Lutz, Mady Rahl) as well as Gustav Fröhlich had several hit records to their names throughout their career.
Tell The Truth becomes a double entendre: it was as impossible to say certain things in 1946, as it had been between 1933-45. I admire the courage of the filmmakers to produce something that is so obviously turning its back to the reality that it becomes a loud social commentary in itself.
Maske in Blau (1943)
Worth for musical moments - don't expect much more.
This films falls short of being a classic wartime musical. Clara Tabody proves to be quite apt, but - nothing more than a 'poor man's Marika Rökk'. Indeed - they are both Hungarian, they look alike, they sing and dance in a similar vein. Nevertheless, Tabody lacks the star charisma that Rökk possesses; she also doesn't get quite the same treatment as Rökk did in her best wartime musicals. Tabody sometimes comes across as a bit awkward - her dance movements, especially, are often quite embarrassing, lacking in grace and femininity. She is often weirdly overdressed, never appearing classy and elegant but rather somewhat messy. The film isn't bad, but it's far from being good. There are some sparkling musical moments - the jam sessions in the hotel courtyard (musicians playing from the hotel windows) and in the night club, and the way they slide into singing. The final 'Mexican' revue is quite well done - and quite boldly, compared to the US musicals of the era, where you had to hide the navel of a female right into the 1950s. Yet, after watching this film, you feel somewhat sorry for Tabody - she was a 'might-have-been' even before her ambition wasn't fully realized.
Quite a fresh and interesting quickie.
Whatever the artistic qualities of this film, I have to say that it has (at least) one redeeming point: it is a very interesting watch. One can only wander, what it would look like, had the director secured a hollywoodian budget for this project where poverty is occasionally visible, even though well masked. It is quite lynchian and just like with most every Lynch film, you find yourself enjoying the going-ons immensely, yet at the same time being deeply afraid that the ending will fail to produce a satisfactory solution. In this case, the film doesn't just end in coitus interruptus (a technique that makes Lynch very irritating) but does offer an 'instant satisfaction', that unrolls during the last 1 minute or so. Yet, as with all things instant, after the first rapture has evaporated, the whole thing seems somewhat silly and artificial. Nevertheless, the film captivated me, kept me guessing and was a very good way to spend 1,5 hours.
Tango Kabaree (2001)
Biopic with a twist
This is a highly interesting and alternative way to stage a biopic of a still living person, using her in the title role. What could easily have turned into a mockery or a rather tacky Joan Rivers-like "Me Me Me" outpouring, has successfully emerged into an entertaining and informative piece of surreal filmmaking, which conveys the life and emotions of the subject (Miss Samulin) to the viewer effortlessly, albeit in a somewhat dangerous and to many tastes sacrilegious fashion. I know Miss Samulin to be an eternal, almost immortal beauty, the toast of every party, the embodiment of vitality and charm; now I also know her to be a very sensitive actress and a brave woman to expose some of the dramatic and tragic aspects of her life to the public without any sentimentalism, sometimes in the dressing of grotesque. The film is a Fellini-like journey into the subconscious alternative reality; I have no idea how this would work, if one wouldn't know, that instead of being a witty mockumentary, it is an actual cinematic portrait of a real woman. Perhaps it would work even better.
Wir sind die Nacht (2010)
A Satisfactory Suck
As a film, it's a nice one. As a genre - a modern vampire - flick, it might easily deserve a full tenner. It's one of the most intelligent, mature (no pun intended on the ladies, who have had about 300 years to ripe), technically apt movies about the life of a vampire in the modern world. The story might be only so-so, but the solid actors, the production values, the direction and the overall classy look of the outcome more than compensates for the (very slight) shortcomings of the structure. Basically a lesbian love (or lust) story, it never gets sappy or lame, whether dealing with girl-on-girl or straight passion. It's quite different from American vamp flicks (True Blood bares similarities in the overall mood), especially those vamp flicks, which pretend to be European. Wie sind die Nacht is a solid piece of good entertainment without most of the clichés of a traditional 'I suck your blood' romp. It's a vampire film, which never once mentions the word 'vampire'. My only negative complaint would be the appearance of Charlotte (the utterly gorgeous Jennifer Ulrich): why do we always assume, that a vampire sort of gets stuck to the fashion of the era he/she was actually young in? Look at Tom Cruise in The Vampire Chronicles: the guy has been around for - what? 250 years? And he NEVER gets tired of ruffs, laces and buckled shoes? Never once ventures to try out jeans, fishnet shirts, disco boots, zoot suits --- no?! I mean come on! - a vampire, if anyone, should be willing to always change its appearance, for the sake of sheer boredom! Yet, Charlotte, who was made a vampire in 1923, never outgrows the Charleston dress, even though she is a remarkably pretty dish. Hard to believe. But hey, the ladies have killed off all the male vampires in the world, so they may very well wear what ever they desire. Enjoyable!
Les rois maudits (2005)
Les Miniseries Maudites
Just sat through the 5 films of this series, about 7,5 hours in total. I have to say I left the seat with mixed emotions. The stuff itself is interesting, the dialog well written. But there is a lot to tip the scales to the negative. When I say the production is cheap, I don't mean it's done on a shoestring budget: on the contrary. There are lavish production numbers, gigantic sets, and probably Gerard Depardieu's fee for a typical 10 minute walkover, designed to save a mediocre film, is stellar in itself. I'm thinking more of the emotional and stylistic poverty that flies in your face every now and then. It's a total mishmash of intentions: the writers seem to have striven towards a historically correct, serious drama (as far as I understand it's a pretty close remake of an early 70s series). The casting director has herded together an international cast of actors with very different styles and abilities. There are good, insightful performances, such as given by Tchéky Karyo and Julie Gayet; then there are cheesy, dubbed, but enjoyable performances (Luca Barbareschi); and finally there are totally atrocious, bad, plain wrong performances such as Jeanne Balibar's Béatrice d'Hirson, who walks and talks like a heavily painted, booze soaked 1940s film noir tramp, dresses like Lady GaGa and at one point even wears yellow rubber gloves in a laboratory (in the year of our good Lord 1315). There's a limit to everything.
Towering over everyone is the great immortal Jeanne Moreau, who probably couldn't care less who she has to act against and tear to pieces (yes, it's a blood sport up there) and is engaged solely in giving a tour de force performance to forever silence all other actresses around her. No wonder the director(s) found this Sodom and Gomorrah of great personalities unmanageable, so he (they) just didn't give a damn and instead of a flowing narrative gave us a random selection of scenes and episodes. Everything is lit in a cheap (yes, I've said it), sharp, colorful giallo light, making it Eurotrash at the best and a made-for-cable quickie at the worst. Only this quickie lasts for hours on end.
The cherry on the top is the art direction. It's absolutely impossible to grasp the intentions of the dress, make up and set departments. The costumes are a mix of Mad Max and Xena with an occasional "period gown" thrown in to add to the confusion. I already mentioned the yellow rubber gloves and sexy latex leotards worn by Miss Balibar. It gets worse as the series progress. Jeanne Moreau gets to change her outfits almost in the middle of her scenes. In her glossy glamour dresses, shoulder pads, Ascot hats, wearing heavy modern lipstick and beauty pageant hairdos, she looks like an eighties transvestite, but nobody seems to notice or object to that. It seems many of the actresses just walk to the set with whatever they had on. The illusion keeps chattering, if ever there was one.
The sets... where do I begin? Sure, they had the money. Perhaps the producers were afraid that a historical epic wouldn't sell well enough, so a set design genius was brought in to "update" the Gothic world. Obviously heavily influenced by the Riddic Chronicles, the action seems to take place in a gigantic space ship. Unless it takes place outdoors. In that case it seems to take place on Venus, since in every single outdoor shot there is a superimposed 3D heaven with supernova effects, bright red / blue / green / purple clouds and a wind speed of at least 600 MpH. There is also a very interesting scene where they build a Gothic cathedral. If you watch carefully, you'll learn, that they actually built top-down.
Watch it, enjoy it, be blown away. Not quite what it could have been, but never a dull moment.
Fresh and original
Just saw this film on the Horror and Fantasy Festival in Haapsalu, Estonia. This is a remarkably warm, funny and well executed film and Ragnhildur Steinunn Jónsdóttir does very good work in her feature film debut as the brainless bimbo, who suddenly faces the need to earn her own living and gets a job as a salesgirl in nerd universe. It's beautifully shot and edited; the actors are very likable and the storyline is interesting and fresh. The film is funny without overly trying to be so and sweet without being cute. This is fun for both adults and children. Heartily recommended. Congratulations to everyone involved.