Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My Log 399 Jan 8 2013: A collection of films I have seen recently, and that I can recommend as worth watching

Danny Huston as Stryker in X-Men Origins: Wolv...
Danny Huston  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Français : Gérard Depardieu au festival de Cannes
Français : Gérard Depardieu au festival de Cannes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Michael Haneke Français : Michael Han...
English: Michael Haneke Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Jean-Louis TRINTIGNANT, french Actor & Comedien
Jean-Louis TRINTIGNANT, french Actor & Comedien (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Fabrice Luchini, French actor Françai...
English: Fabrice Luchini, French actor Français hoto credit: Wikipedia)
Chiwetel Ejiofor at the premiere of Redbelt at...
Chiwetel Ejiofor at the premiere of Redbelt at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia
In recent weeks I have been watching a lot of movies, most of them by logging on to Netflix, which is offering so many good movies at the minimal cost of less than $8 a month, that I spend quite a lot of time scolling through their offerings before being able to make up my mind which one I want to see.

Some of the best movies I have seen have not been what I would call enertaining. I am thinking here particularly of two French offerings, one called Amour directed by Michael Haneke, which tells the beautifully-acted but harrowing tale of two elderly people, musicians, one of whom, the wife, played with extraordinary veracity by  85-year-old Emanuelle Riva, unfortunately declines into an illness that looks very much like what we have come to know as Alzheimer’s disease.
The husband, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, is a model of patience as he watches his wife become virtually unrecognizable, and he adjusts his own pattern of life to what is inevitable --- he has to look after her. He betrays impatience only when outsiders, like his daughter, come in and airily criticize things he may or may not have done, to which his understandable response is that they might like to undertake the job themselves, at which point they hastily withdraw. This movie has a tragic denounement; I can hardly call it an ending, because in fact, after a dramatic event which surely must have had legal repercussions, nothing further happens. The movie just fades out, but even this lack of a satisfactory ending did not prevent this movie from gathering almost every award on offer, including the Academy Award for best foreign picture in 2012. Although this is a French-language film, it was in fact a French, German and Austrian co-production.
The second French film that provides a powerful, though slightly unpleasant experience is called The Kreutzer Sonata, directed by Bernard Rose, and based on a short novel by Leo Tolstoy. It is basically a study of the unreasonable jealousy of a husband who resents his wife’s musical partnership with a vioinist, with, as  often happens in real life in such situations, tragic results. The actors here are Danny Huston, with whom Rose has previously worked on a couple of films, and Elizabeth Rohm as the wronged wife. I say it was a sightly unpleasant experience, because to watch jealousy at work is a terrible thing and this movie plumbs the depths of this terrible emotion.
A third French offering that I personally liked, although I have heard negative criticisms of it was called My Afternoons with Marguerite. It is a very simple story of a shambling middle-aging man, played by Gerard Depardieu, scraping up an acquaintance with a 95-year-old woman whom he meets on a park bench almost every day, and comes to care for. It is a rather strange meeting, the Depardieu character having little learning and few skills, but plenty of goodwill, while the old woman is a retired scientist well versed in books and information.  At first she reads to him but later as her eyesight declines, he begins to read to her, and when she is forced out of her comfortable old folks’ home, her new friend rushes to find her and rescue her from the poor class of home into which uncaring relatives have consigned her.
Perhaps the most enjoyable of these four French films however, Bicycling with Moliere  was delightful not only for a stellar acting performance by veteran actor Fabrice Luchini, but for the magnificent settings, superbly photographed, of the Ile de Reh, a small island off the west coast of France, a few mies north of the Gironde estuary, to which place a famous old actor, played by Luchini, had retired after tiring of his profession.  His uncle had left him a slightly dilapidated house into which he had fitted like a comfortable glove. Routinely he burned any scripts sent to him, and when  Lambert Wilson, playing a famous leading actor in a soap opera, comes to visit him, the contrast between the two actors could not have been greater.  The matinee actor, who had worked with the older man years before, wanted to perusade his friend to return to the stage in a play by Moliere, Le Misanthrope.
At first reluctant to even think about it, the older man finally agrees to readings of the play (which he knew almost by heart anyway), both tantalysing the younger man with the possibility that he might agree, and then reducing the idea to farce. The younger man had a scheme to have them alternate the roles, something the older man never agreed to, not quite at least, and as one reviewer said, the film shows this effort of the two actors to come to a decision without tearing each other to pieces. The dialogue, written by Phillipe Le Guay, the director, was sparkling, amusing and enthralling to watch as the two got into repeated sparring matches.
But just when the visitor thought he had the old man in the bag,  he capriciously announced he would never agree to share the role,  insisted on being the star, and if his visitor didn’t like it, he could lump it.  A beautiful film enhanced by the splendid scenery of the island --- perhap not so much the scenery, as the texture of the buildings, lovingly photographed and lingered over.
Another film that can hardy be described as entertaining is 12 Years as a Slave, which seems set to mop up at the Academy Awards in March. This ia a magnificent story about a black man, born free and living in New York, who is kidnapped and taken into slavery, from which he is unable to escape for12 years. It is based on an autobiographical book by a man to whom this actually happened. And the scenes of how he was treated leave the audience in no doubt as to the cruelty, indeed, the utter brutality of the slave system as it operated to form the foundation of the United States economy.  The film has been directed by Steve McQueen with an intensity that cannot surprise anyone who saw his previous epic on the imprisonment and death of the Irish prisoner Bobby Sands.  Its star Chiwetel Ejiofor, a British actor of Nigerian parentage, certainly filled the screen: when it was over I felt I had been dragged through a gooseberry bush, so compelling was its story.
I should also mention a couple of  good documentaries: Orchestra Of exiles records the tenacious determination of Bronslaw Huberman, a leading Jewish musician from before the last world war, who conceived the apparently impossible idea of gathering the best Jewish musicians n the world into an orchestra in Israel, as much as a demonstration of defiance of the lunatic ideas of
Adolf Hitler, as in an effort to save them all from the gas chambers.  The second notable documentary was called Sins of My Father, dealing with the successful effort of the son of Mexican drug czar Pablo Escobar to contact, as a gesture of reconciation, the sons of some of his most important victims

In a third categoy I must mention a Kazakstan film Tulpan, more like a documentary than a feature film, but telling a story of unrequited love of a young man in search of a wife on the unforgiving steppes of that country. Quite unlike any movie I have ever seen, it nevertheess had the grip and feel of real life about it.
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