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Salvador (Puig Antich) (2006)
The cruelty of one of Europe's last dictatorships
I was lucky to get into a screening of "Salvador" at a German film festival and saw it with English subtitles. This movie transports us back in time to the era of the Spanish Franco dictatorship. Yet, it's not so much a history lesson as a universal plea against death penalty one of the most powerful ones that I've ever seen in cinema. The film tells the story of Salvador Puig Antich, one of the last political prisoners to be murdered by the Franco regime in 1974. Salvador certainly isn't an innocent victim. He is an anarchist involved in armed bank robberies and when they finally catch him, a policeman dies in a shootout. However, he never receives a fair trial and the method of execution they apply for him is nothing short of barbaric. The garrotte, once a standard device for execution in Spain, resembles a medieval torture instrument where the delinquent is strangled with an iron collar. Salvador's execution is shown in the movie, but it isn't done in a sensationalist way. Much more haunting to watch is the period before it happens the desperate tries to save Salvador's life by his lawyer and the last visits by his sisters. It's largely thanks to the protagonist that the film works so well on the emotional level. Daniel Brühl, one of the finest actors working in Europe today, is wonderful when it comes to convey the feelings of the doomed young prisoner. He says more with only a look or a small raise of an eyebrow than many an actor could with a long speech. The scenes when Salvador realizes that he'll be facing death, when he bids farewell to his sisters and first sees the murderous machine are especially powerful and exquisitely acted. By then, of course, you'll be in tears already, like the rest of the cinema.
To cast Daniel Brühl (who is half Spanish and speaks the language perfectly) as Salvador certainly was a brilliant coup by director Manuel Huerga. The star of such German gems as "Good Bye Lenin!" and "The Edukators" here makes a triumphant debut in Spanish cinema. After this performance, even more doors should be open for him throughout Europe. The rest of the cast is also very good, especially Leonardo Sbaraglia as the prison guard who gradually develops something like a friendship with Salvador. If you get the chance, go and see this movie. And bring tissues!
Vidas privadas (2001)
Young man loves older woman
Okay, this might not be the best of all Latin American movies, and it certainly doesn't have the most plausible of all plots (much has been said about it already). But, let's be honest about this: I appreciate every opportunity to see the acting of Cecilia Roth and Gael Garcia Bernal, and here they are both brilliant. Gael, especially, as the boy-man who falls in love with the mysterious woman behind the wall, delivers a heartbreakingly vulnerable performance. To see him break down in the end when Carmen's secret is revealed, made me suffer with him. Cecilia, too, is pure gold, and her scenes together with Gael crackle with erotic tension. Carmen, who is unable to lead normal sexual relationships after the trauma of imprisonment and torture under the Argentinian dictatorship, needs other people to audibly perform sexual acts to get some satisfaction herself. She likes to listen to hired couples from an adjacent room but usually remains invisible herself. The first thing that strikes her about young Gustavo is his voice on an answer machine. Since the owner of said answer machine is a friend who runs a model agency and provides her with "performers", she chooses Gustavo to be her next visitor. First she listens to him having sex with a girl, then she wants him to come alone and read dirty novels to her. Their mutual interest grows and, eventually, the middleaged woman and the 22 year old man fall in love with each other. However, their happiness is doomed. Something they don't know about each other (or does Carmen know?) is bound to surface, and a tragedy of Greek dimensions unfolds when it does. I'm quite certain that, in the future, only hard core Gael and Cecilia fans will bother to check out this dimly lit curiosity. Count myself one of them. The DVD (Spanish with English subtitles) is not one to stumble across in your usual video store. All the more, I'm glad to own it now, and I'll certainly watch it again. To see (and hear!) Gael Garcia Bernal lie on a bed, reading erotic fiction to his invisible client, was worth the money alone
Gosh! I'm happy that I caught this one before it disappears out of German art-house cinemas, although, I have a feeling that the movie will move on to cult status, at least in Bavaria. Little Sebastian is a typical rascal, living in the Bavarian mountains with his dad an brother. His mother died when he was born, and one of these days, his older brother, in a fury, accuses him of killing their mom. Sebastian takes this very seriously and seeks a way to achieve redemption for his sin(s). The knowledge of being the cause of his mother's death (hitherto they had told him she died in an accident) mortifies him and he has only one goal: he must become immortal in order to avoid purgatory. He seeks help from adults, but the regulars at his fathers pub who are occasionally rehearsing an all male amateur dramatic performance there in the back room, aren't of help really. There suggestion: in order to become immortal he has to reproduce and to achieve this, ask a decent female to shag with him. Little does he know what that means, and so there he goes, asking his pretty teacher whether she would care to... The turbulence ensuing is nothing short of hilarious, and the actors' thick Bavarian accents are half the fun. In the end, Sebastian will provide a frail old lady on the verge of death with a last joyous moment, he will find a partner in crime in a pretty class mate, he will save a life, and he will find a get his dad a new love. Watch this movie while you can on the big screen or get the DVD as soon as it comes out. I laughed and cried at the cinema.
This movie has just received the Bavarian Film Award as best picture. Congratulations Marcus H. Rosenmüller!
What a crime!
Having grown up in Germany (and in Bavaria) I of course knew from the beginning that this story was not going to end happily. And still, it hit me like a hammer when Sophie, her brother and their friend Christoph were sentenced to death for what you would call a bagatelle! The scene where Sophie says goodbye to her parents is truly heartbreaking. Her death is brutal and devastating. What a brave, daring and intelligent young woman she was! And what a waste, what a crime to kill her! Julia Jentsch in the lead role is amazing. Pride, conviction, suppressed feelings and belligerence it is all in her face, although she hardly turns a hair when questioned by Mohr. Julia is surely one of the most accomplished actresses of her age. She gained fame as a stage-actress in Germany long before appearing in movies such as the wonderful "The Edukators". I will definitely run to see every new film she decides to appear in. Kudos also to Fabian Hinrichs who is Hans Scholl and Florian Stetter who is Christoph Probst in "Sophie Scholl - Die Letzten Tage". They are totally believable in their roles. Just great. With young actors as these, one doesn't have to worry about the future of German cinema. I hope this important and well made film will get the Oscar it is nominated for. It certainly is one of the best foreign language films of the year. Don't miss it!
Sommer vorm Balkon (2005)
Nike and Katrin are friends. One of them is an old people's nurse, the other has a son but no job. Chances to find work again are small. The two women live in the same house in East Berlin. Nike's apartment has a balcony. There they sit in the evenings and chat, discuss life and drink. They drink a lot, actually. Sometimes Katrin gets back to her own apartment only when her son Max has to leave for school in the morning. Their regular "sittings" come to a temporary stop when Nike picks up Ronald, a dim-witted trucker who moves in with her. He is not a man of words but obviously does an okay job in bed. For Katrin his presence is a nuisance. One evening, after she had an argument with Nike, she drinks just the bit too much and ends up in Hospital having to finally recognize that one of her problems, if not her major problem, is alcohol. Life goes on. And on. "Sommer vorm Balkon" is about ordinary people who lead ordinary lives and do ordinary things, and yet it is special. The gentleness and love with which director Andreas Dresen portrays his heroines really makes one care for them. The characters, though going through some unpleasant experiences, never lose their grace. On the contrary, you really come to admire these brave women. The depiction of the social milieu they live in is meticulous with special attention to all the little absurdities and droll details of daily life. Especially the scenes where Nike visits her elderly "customers" are hilarious and touching at the same time. Nadja Uhl as the saucy matter-of-fact Berlin girl with a striking preference for very tight clothes is fantastic. So is Inka Friedrich as the sometimes lonely and desperate jobless single mother. Congratulations to the director for these terrific leads! "Sommer vorm Balkon" is surely not a movie for everybody (there is pretty much no "action"), and as part of the humor comes from the thick Berlin accents, maybe only Germans will be able to fully appreciate it. I loved it, and to everybody with a taste for movies that make you laugh and cry and think about your own life, I highly recommend it.
Der Krieger und die Kaiserin (2000)
Why did it take me so long to get this film on DVD?? It has beautiful pictures, a truly original script, a perfect cast and it was shot by one of the most talented cameramen alive: Frank Griebe. I have considered director/writer/composer Tom Tykwer to be a genius ever since I first saw his "Deadly Maria" which was, I suppose, one of his very first films and already starred Joachim Krol who is Walter in "The Princess and the Warrior". Tykwer never stops to surprise me and he has an infallible feeling for "real" characters. I loved the fast paced "Run Lona Run" and his amazing "Wintersleepers". The "Princess and the Warrior" is again completely different. Very touching, very thought provoking and utterly humane. Franka Potente and Benno Fürmann are brilliant here. This movie is definitely a must see for everybody with a taste for intelligent film-making. Personally, I can't wait to see Tom Tykwer's "The Perfume" next year which will star amongst others Ben Wishaw, Alan Rickman and Dustin Hofmann.