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Simply superb
24 December 2004
What can one say? This is what (television) drama should be. I saw the first Heimat when it was broadcast in the Netherlands in 1985, shortly after it was released in Germany. I was stunned. It seems that every decade one or two television productions excel, and this was without a shred of a doubt the eighties' highlight. When the second Heimat was shown on Dutch television in two marathon sessions (it runs for over 25 hours in all) I sort of locked myself in, and never regretted it.

I cannot begin to describe what Heimat is about. It's an epos. It's European history of the twentieth century on a small scale, literally. It's 'roman fleuve' and yet it's not. It's your family, that sometimes you wished wasn't there (and for good reasons) and then you're glad to meet again. It's all the human frailty and without the excuses. It *is* the human condition. And it only helps that it is beautifully shot, that the actors put on a superb show, that the music at times is haunting.

Now, on the verge of having the third series shown on TV, the first Heimat is finally available on DVD (with the other two series promised for the next few months). And although I saw most of it about twenty years ago, it is like coming home again and meeting your boyhood friends, those favourite aunts, that dear old uncle - what was wrong with him, again?

If you are looking for action, a thrilling plot, romance in a grand manner, wonderful CGI, and be done before dinner, don't look at Heimat. But if your willing to submerge yourself, to be engulfed by a very good story, to get really, I mean really, well acquainted with characters - well, I'm not in for commercial breaks, but go out and get it!
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Leonardo (2003)
For once, no old man-with-a-beard
23 June 2003
This is a documentary of the kind the BBC (or British tv) is rightly praised: knowledge combined with drama. The series depicts the life of Leonardo from early boyhood to his death (and even after). And for once, Leonardo is not shown as the old man with a beard as we all seem to know him. After all, even Leonardo must have been young. We see him, travelling through Italy, fighting against sometimes mighty opponents and against ignorance. Although the acting is bordering on the dramatic at times, the overall atmosphere is very good, giving you a true feeling of a society rising from the middle ages.

The dramatic scenes are interwoven with academic commentary. What's more, in each of the three 60-minute parts the crew tries to recreate and/or analyse one of Leonardo's marvels. Why are his drawings and paintings so special? Would his underwater-suit have worked? Or his tank, or his hang-glider?

This is one of those documentaries of which one can only hope it will appear on dvd. In the meantime, you might want to check out the BBC web site dedicated to the series.
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Hamlet (1996)
Branagh or Shakespeare?
8 October 2000
This is one of the greatest performances I ever saw. But is it Shakespeare?

Other commentators hint on Shakespeare's intentions. The fact is: there are none. The text (as any Shakespeare text) does not give much more than sparse directions. Most, if not all, is left to the director's fantasy. Is Hamlet a dark brooding character? Shakespeare never said so, nor anything to the contrary. It's all in the performer's mind, the viewer's mind, the reader's mind; in the end, it's all down to interpretation. Over the years, Hamlet has been played as a stubborn ruler-to-be, a worrying youth, a psychological case, and so on. There's no telling what Shakespeare intended, and there's no way, either, to know how he would have it performed.

There are no stage directions. Some authors produce more hints than lines, and Shakespeare is not among them. Hamlet is set in Denmark, but it is a Denmark that never existed. It might be a trick, to be able to comment on the actual England, or it might simply be any setting that would do. Again, there's no telling as Shakespeare himself never had anything to write on it (he might have had something to say, but nobody took the trouble to record it). Hence, directors over time were at liberty. And thus, Hamlet was performed at a medieval castle, any contemporary place of power, or simply a stage with nothing more than a few props. Richard Loncraine set Richard III in a would-be pre-war fascist England, and never the worse for the dialogues. We simply don't know what Shakespeare really wanted.

What we do know is that Hamlet contains much of everything: philosophy, action, wit, contemplation. So does Branagh's adaptation. There is criticism on the cameos. Actually, it has been suggested that Polonius' line "I did enact Julius Caesar" (act III, scene 2) simply was written for the actor performing as the Roman general in an earlier stage production of the play by that name, as an in-joke for the contemporary public. So much for Shakespeare.

Seeing this film, I was never bored, I had laughs, and, actually, was moved at times. Given that the actors kept to the original lines, there are not many plays that could achieve that, in any adaptation. This one did.
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