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|SHADOWS ARTHOUSE FILMS 04|
On this page: THE EDUKATORS | LOVE IN THOUGHTS
PIZZA | THE 7TH DAY | TROPICAL MALADY
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|THE EDUKATORS [Die Fetten Jahre Sind Vorbei]|
The Edukators are a pair of anti-globalisation activists, Jan and Peter (Bruhl and Erceg), who break into rich people's homes and move all things around, leaving notes saying: "Your days of plenty are numbered" or "You have too much money". Peter's girlfriend Jule (Jentsch) participates in the street protests but doesn't know about this late-night activity. While Peter hasn't a clue that she and Jan are attracted to each other. Then when one break-in goes wrong, the three of them end up with a hostage (Klaussner) who's a bundle of surprises.
Director Weingartner maintains a hard, edgy production design that adds an urgent and desperate tone. Handheld camera and stark lighting add to the suspense, especially during some unbearably tense sequences. Meanwhile, the script gets us on the side of the three antiheroes, then throws us into a mind-bogglingly difficult situation with them. When the action shifts gears to a peaceful mountainside hideout, we're caught as unaware as the characters themselves.
Bruhl (Good Bye Lenin) continues to deliver on his promise as one of Europe's best young actors; Jan is caught in a double-whammy--in love with his best friend's girl and also now guilty of kidnapping! The script handles these two strands very cleverly, as the love triangle worms its way into the thriller in a provocative, cautionary way. We haven't a clue what might happen next, besides the knowledge that it can't end well.
What's most intelligent is the way the script links its themes. With her overwhelming debt, Jule is as much a sweatshop worker as the people she's trying to rescue. Who is the worse oppressor--a kidnapper or a company owner who's bleeding society dry? It does get rather preachy and long, but with such strong material we stay gripped. And in the end, the film (like the documentary The Corporation) is a wake-up call that a revolution is coming. [15 themes, language, sexuality] 27.Oct.04 lff
|LOVE IN THOUGHTS [Was Nützt die Liebe in Gedanken]|
Paul and Gunther (Gruhl and Diehl) are school buddies visiting Gunther's country manor for the weekend. The shy, virginal Paul is in love with Gunther's sister Hilde (Muhe), who refuses to fall for anyone but quite likes the cook Hans (Lindhardt), who happens to also be the object of the sexually overt Gunther's affections. While the parents are away, Paul and Gunther throw a party and make a pact to commit suicide ... and take Hilde and Hans with them.
We know from the beginning that something horrible happens, because the film opens with Paul being interrogated by the police. This clumsy framing devise is soon forgotten as the film unfurls its 1920s lushness with sun-drenched settings, poetic imagery and faces loaded with suppressed longings. The title comes from a poem about how useless love is if it only exists in thoughts. It's all a bit overly romantic, really, especially with several anachronistic production mistakes, the worst of which is the casting of 21st century 20-somethings as 1920s teens, who then agonise about sex almost as annoyingly as those Dawson's Creek kids.
That said, the film is an intriguing twist on the "our parents are away so let's throw a wild party" genre, as the revellers indulge in joyriding, naked swims, fortune telling, alcohol, gunplay, brawling and of course sex. The fact that everyone is barking up the wrong tree, as it were, adds some genuine pathos to the film, even though the plot is a bit over-constructed. But director von Borries develops a nicely rhythmic tone that keeps us interested, with moments of movingly raw emotion here and there. But by the time the scale of the actual tragedy is revealed, we don't really care what's happened. [15 themes, language, violence, sexuality] 29.Oct.04 lff
Cara-Ethyl (Sparks) is the "Weird Girl" at school, named for both Fame's Irene Cara and I Love Lucy's Ethyl Mertz, overweight and far too intelligent for the other kids. She's spending her 18th birthday alone with her mother (Hagerty) when the pizza guy Matt (Embry) offers her a brief escape. At 30 Matt is too old to be delivering pizza, but he gets away with it due to his cool dude exterior. Through the night, Matt introduces Cara to everything her mother has protected her from. And then some.
Through both his direction and the script, Christopher gives his characters enough heart to make them engaging despite their know-it-all attitudes. Both Cara and Matt are smart and stubborn, but it's their naivete and insecurities that make them lovable. Sparks and Embry play them extremely well, helping us see beyond the superficial stereotypes that have defined them all their lives. On the other hand, the side characters struggle to emerge from their pigeonholes--the literally blind single mother (Hagerty), the womanising flatmate (Kern), the bratty young boss (Roman), the snotty popular girl (Dziena), the power-mad doorman (Friedlander), the angry hooker (Shor), and so on. But at least they're performed energetically.
Thematically, the film is an intriguing examination of the fragility of self-image. It's quite a cynical and sad film underneath it all, but this is somewhat lost amid Cara's one-night education in everything that's vulgar and illicit. Rude humour is everywhere, as are opportunities for Cara to embarrass herself. Everyone is trying so hard to live up to some sort of warped expectation that they're never able to be themselves. This serious undercurrent makes the film well worth seeing, even if it feels rather slight and superficial. [12 themes, innuendo, language, drugs] 25.Oct.04 lff
|THE 7TH DAY [El 7º Día]|
The war between the Jimenez and Fuentes families started with an ill-fated love affair, and the subsequent vengeance left family members dead and incarcerated. Three decades later, the teenage Isabel Jimenez (Cobo) has grown up with the feud as a fact of her life, with occasional flare-ups between her parents (Garcia and Ramon) and the Fuentes siblings (Abril, Diego and Gomez). But even as a new wave of violence threatens to erupt, she has other things to think about, such as her crush on the village bad boy (Vila).
Saura directs the story skilfully, with sun-drenched cinematography that strikingly captures the colours and textures of this agricultural community while hinting at the revenge festering beneath the surface. As usual, Saura's characters break into song frequently; it's not a musical, but it beautifully shows how important music is in everyday Spanish culture, vividly demonstrating their energy and passions.
Meanwhile, Loriga's screenplay builds the tension to almost unbearable levels of all-consuming bitterness, while normal life continues as well. Even though the Fuentes family is the nominal villain here (from Isabel's point of view), even their rough existence gets some sympathy. They're the outcasts, so no wonder they go so mad! Abril is almost unrecognisable as the leader of this pack. And the actors wonderfully bring the village to life--extended family members and colourful locals alike.
The title refers to the day of creation when God rested, which Isabel notes is when the most horrible things happen. The film's climax is shockingly powerful--emotional and terrifying as years of resentment and frustration boil over. While the story is involving and moving, it's told in a surprisingly matter-of-fact way that refuses to find a lesson amid the tragedy. We have to discover that ourselves. [12 themes, violence, language] 25.Oct.04
The first half is a gentle coming together between the soldier Keng (Lomnoi) and the country boy Tong (Kaewbuadee). They strike up a quick and warmly spirited friendship, but it takes Keng awhile to convince Tong that he has romance in mind. This is a spiritual, not sexual, courtship--gentle, funny and rather sweetly tenuous. Then the film shifts to another spiritual pursuit, in which a soldier hikes through a dark forest to catch the spirit of a tattooed (but otherwise naked) shaman who shape-shifts into a tiger and kills livestock. And the shaman's courting the soldier as well.
Local mythology plays an important part in this story, and the writer-director includes both on-screen and voice-over narration to help us along. The two halves can stand alone; they're linked only by the mystical pursuit both strands feature. Or perhaps it's two ways of telling the exact same story!
Even if we're not quite sure what's happening on screen, or why, the film is completely mesmerising. The cinematography is shadowy and textured, reaching out and grabbing the light wherever it finds some. And when the stories travel deep into the woods, the film develops a luxuriant fairy tale feel. Meanwhile, the characters' faces are strong and telling; even with very little dialog we can read thoughts and motives through each person's physicality.
All of this lingers long in our minds after we leave the cinema--it's a deeply affecting film, even though watching it isn't terribly easy. Weerasethakul is challenging us with his unique vision, and it's rather heavy going at times. Some sections feel pretentious and indulgent--extended takes that go on longer than strictly necessary, segments that seem to throw the narrative flow into disarray, a refusal to make clear sense for us foreigners! But then, the filmmaker's rejection of the expected is also his greatest strength. [PG themes, nudity] 24.Oct.04 lff
© 2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall