Directors:

Lasse Hallström, Michael Haneke, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Hal Hartley, Howard Hawks, Todd Haynes, Monte Hellman, Werner Herzog, Alfred Hitchcock, Hong Sang-soo, Christophe Honoré, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Danièle Huillet,  John Huston

 

 

Hackford, Taylor

 

allmovie ((( Taylor Hackford > Overview )))  bio from Hal Erickson

American producer/director Taylor Hackford was hired by a Los Angeles TV station after his two-year hitch in the Peace Corps. On his own, he created New Visions Productions, which he eventually merged into the New Century Company before giving up producing to concentrate on directing. He won an Academy Award in 1978 for Teenage Father, a short-subject elaboration of a TV news story on which he'd previously worked. Hackford's first feature was The Idolmaker (1980), a jaundiced recreation of the "Philadelphia school" of '50s rock & roll; he later returned to the rarefied world of vintage rock in his Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba and his revelatory documentary Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (both 1987). He also directed Dolores Claiborne (1995), the Al Pacino vehicle The Devil's Advocate (1997), and edited the boxing documentary When We Were Kings (1996). Though Hackford has toted up some impressive credits over his career, few of his films have matched the audience appeal or box-office bankability of his biggest hit, 1982's An Officer and a Gentleman. Hackford married British actress Helen Mirren in 1997, whom he had lived with since 1986.

Helen Mirren Appreciation Society  brief bio, including his wedding to Helen Mirren here:  Helen Mirren Appreciation Society

 

Filmbug Profile

 

What is Enlightenment? Interview   Who Is Satan? article and interview by Carter Phipps

 

Hackford, Taylor  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They

 

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN

USA  (124 mi)  1982

 

Time Out

 

Pace all those swooning fans of gorgeous Gere, but Hackford's hymn to rampant individualism in Reagan's America is an exploitative no-no. While the immaculately garbed and coiffed hero goes through the paces of training under a sadistic black (natch) sergeant to be a US Navy pilot (we all find it admirable to want to drop bombs and kill, don't we?), he discovers that self is the sole person worth bothering about, and that women are really only after men for their status and money. Macho, materialistic, and pro-militarist, it's an objectionable little number made all the more insidious by the way Hackford pulls the strings and turns it into a heart-chilling weepie.

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Dale Dobson)

 

An Officer and a Gentleman stars Richard Gere as Zack Mayo, a talented but selfish young man who enters the Navy's Officer Candidate School to become a pilot. Under the tutelage of his tough drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr.), Mayo learns discipline, leadership and compassion, forming a relationship with local girl Paula Pokrifki (Debra Winger) along the way.

To a great extent, this is standard-issue romantic melodrama—boy meets girl, boy grows up, boy gets girl—Set against a patently Hollywood-ized military training environment. The development of Gere's character is predictably inspirational, from a rough boyhood (an absent military officer of a father, early loss of his mother), to his determined, record-setting performance in the Officer program, to his acceptance of responsibility and a love he scarcely recognized. A subplot involving his classmate Sid (David Keith), whose storyline after dropping out of the program only to be rejected by his pilot-chasing girlfriend Lynette (Lisa Blount), is so heavy-handed as to be almost comical, as is some of the exposition early in the film.

Where
An Officer and a Gentleman succeeds, almost in spite of itself, is in its casting and performances. Richard Gere as Mayo finds a balance between the character's inner pain and outer bravado that actually works, and even though we all know what's going to happen, his character's growth is still interesting onscreen. Debra Winger does fine work in an underwritten part, communicating a great deal with her eyes and expressions where the script shortchanges her linewise. And Louis Gossett, Jr.'s breakout, Academy Award®-winning turn as Sergeant Foley is consistently riveting—his drill instructor is abrasive and demanding, but visibly human underneath, allowing him to be a tough but fair motivator, not a two-dimensional villain. David Keith and Lisa Blount play their roles with conviction, though they're not given much to work with, and the film benefits from a strong supporting cast, including David Caruso, Harold Sylvester and Lisa Eilbacher as Mayo's classmates, all of whom register as individuals and lend a credible ensemble feel to the film. Grace Zabriskie appears in a small role as Paula's mother, upping the film's coolness factor by her very presence.

In the end,
An Officer and a Gentleman is still a predictable early-1980's melodrama, trotting out the conventional plot elements so we can all feel upbeat as the credits roll and the pop single kicks in on the soundtrack. But director Taylor Hackford leads his talented cast with a sure hand, finding more substance in the telling than the tale would seem to merit. A guilty pleasure, perhaps, but a pleasure nonetheless.

 

filmcritic.com  Pete Croatto

Most articles about the state of American movies in the 1980s feature writers bitching and moaning about how the era was built on sequels and action-packed, plot-deprived blockbusters. They may have a point. Independent films really didn't become relevant (again) until sex, lies, and videotape, which was released in 1989. Miramax was still growing.

Something good did come out of the decade: a slew of great date movies. Not surprisingly, there was a formula to it. The typical woman would get a love story usually featuring a hunky, emotionally lost male lead. The typical man would get a macho storyline featuring slapstick, sports, violence, or male bonding. Sometimes he got to see bare breasts. It all led to movies that didn't require three days of negotiation: Hoosiers, Witness, Field of Dreams, Tootsie, Say Anything (for the music geek subset), and the John Hughes stuff for the teens.

All of those movies worked because they were entertaining and they went beyond the parts of the equation. One such movie has been re-released on DVD, Taylor Hackford's An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), and the timing couldn't be better. I can't remember the last good, to use the popular definition, date movie. This one takes place in and around a Navy officer training school in Washington State, where Zack Mayo (Richard Gere) has decided to break away from his philandering, alcoholic dad (Robert Loggia). Given Zack's pedigree and the demands of the program -- the candidates drop out like Britney Spears at a geography bee -- it's a long haul. It becomes more so when Zack starts a romance with Paula (Debra Winger), a young factory worker who wants more than a blue-collar lifestyle.

Paula could easily trap Zack through pregnancy, a tactic used by other "Puget debs." He's fighting a case of love-and-leave 'em genetics. Plus, he's only in the Pacific Northwest for 13 weeks. Screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart smartly toys with the relationship, having it go back and forth with the characters' burgeoning maturity. You're never quite sure what's going on: the love may last or tradition may undercut it. Gere and Winger are terrific despite the fact they reportedly got along like Cain and Abel. (Note: Winger didn't have nice things to say about Hackford, either.)

Two supporting actors stand out: David Keith as Zack's training school buddy, whose discovery of his true self comes at the worst possible time, and Louis Gossett Jr., who deservedly won an Academy Award for his performance and then did nothing of note afterwards. As the school's drill sergeant, he challenges, insults, and bends Zack to the point of breaking. Both Keith and Gossett play pivotal roles as they help Zack (Keith as the best friend archetype; Gossett as the stoic father figure) become a man.

Zack's time with Paula and his time in officer training lead to a coming of age story featuring adults. And it works because -- like most good romantic comedies -- the emotions on display aren't false. There's a familiarity to these characters and their roles that goes beyond the Hollywood trappings. Its famous ending may be hokey, but in a movie this honest, it couldn't feel more right.

The DVD includes a commentary track, a retrospective featurette, and a handful of additional featurettes about the making of the film.

DVDTalk [Paul Mavis]

DVD Verdict (Dan Mancini)

 

An Officer And A Gentleman  Male Bonding and Self-Abuse, by Jon Lewis from Jump Cut

 

DVDProfiles.com [Steve Rogers]

 

Walter Frith

 

Apollo Movie Guide [Brian Webster]

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

Read the New York Times Review »  Janet Maslin

 

DVDBeaver [Yunda Eddie Feng]

 

RAY                                                                B                     85

USA  (152)  2004

 

Certainly better than the Billie Holiday portrait in LADY SINGS THE BLUES, here we have the Ray Charles story, a project that began while Charles was still alive, but unfortunately, he died before the film was completed.  However, Jamie Foxx is brilliant in his physical mannerisms, seamlessly lip synching about 25 songs to the unmistakable voice of Ray Charles, while also capturing the essence of this complicated man.  The film starts out like gangbusters, hitting the road at 17 with the Lowell Fulsom band, mixed with early flashbacks of his childhood, which is filled with some terrible memories before he became blind at the age of 7.  The energy of the early years is not contrived, but is bursting with the joy of making music and being around other musicians, sharing a common love.  Gradually, the love includes womanizing, eventually a heroin addiction, but also includes a marriage to an honest, outspoken country girl who provides him with a home and family while he’s off on the road, always touring somewhere. 

 

While sharp as a tack in the ways of business, he was the first to own his own record masters, and understanding the public’s music interest better than those in the industry, he mixed genres that had never been done before, blues and jazz, gospel and rhythm and blues, as well as country, showing a perfectionism of true genius.  Charles’ personal life on the other hand was a mess, which is intertwined here with the dirty corruption of the music industry as well as the continuing segregated concert practices of the Jim Crow South, where they spent much of their time touring.  The film fizzles out at the end, as he kicks his heroin habit, and bam – the film is over, hardly what happened in real life, as he had another twenty or thirty years of his life that remained untold. 

 

But the Ray Charles music is the engine that runs this film, which is so supremely powerful that it renders much of the rest of the film as truly secondary, despite the terrific performances all around, especially Sharon Warren as his mother, Kerry Washington as his wife, and Regina King as Margie Hendricks, one of the original Raylettes, the one that belts out the unforgettable cries of “Baby” on the gospel and rhythm and blues anthem, “The Right Time.”  I had the feeling this might work really well as a play, as it aspires to the best of what August Wilson tries to do, defining people in their time through language and music, and while the musical set pieces come alive, literally bursting off the screen, the rest of the film, particularly his contact with the white record producers and his ultimate break with Atlantic records, fails to match the intimate language needed to balance that raw power.  Instead it deteriorates late in the film into a series of musical montages with very little substantive dialogue.

 

Ray   Sam Davies from Sight and Sound

Florida, 1948. Seventeen-year-old Ray Charles Robinson (Jamie Foxx) boards a Greyhound bus to Seattle, where a job as a nightclub pianist awaits him. He soon discovers he is being taken advantage of and escapes through a contract with Jack Lauderdale's Swingtime Records, using the name Ray Charles. As a lonely touring musician, haunted by memories of his brother's tragic drowning, he turns to heroin.

Atlantic Records picks Charles up and label bosses Ahmet Ertegun (Curtis Armstrong) and Jerry Wexler (Richard Schiff) nurture him into America's _pre-eminent jazz and R&B musician. He meets and marries Della Bea (Kerry Washington), but though they start a family he continues to use heroin and seduces his co-vocalist Mary Ann Fisher (Aunjanue Ellis). Teenage vocal trio The Cookies are redubbed The Raelettes, and while on the road with Charles, their leader Margie Hendricks (Regina King) replaces Mary Ann in his affections. When rival label ABC/Paramount offers a deal Atlantic cannot match, Charles abandons Ertegun and Wexler.

Armed with unprecedented wealth and clout, he makes an abrupt musical departure, eschewing the raw mix of gospel, blues and R&B which has made his name for country music. The risk pays off with further commercial success, but when Charles refuses to play lucrative segregated shows in Georgia, his principled stand sees him banned from performing in the state. Caught in possession of heroin on a flight from Montreal to Boston, Charles faces federal charges and personal ruin. An emotional showdown with the long-suffering Della Bea leads Charles to undergo rehab and he emerges emotionally as well as physically rehabilitated, freed of the burden of guilt and grief over his brother's death.

Review

Ray clearly and self-consciously aligns itself with a Hollywood sub-genre of films chronicling the lives of black cultural icons, and like Angela Bassett as Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do with It, or Will Smith in the lead role of Ali, Jamie Foxx is bound to receive Oscar consideration. Of course, playing a troubled genius ticks another box beloved of the Academy but, cynicism aside, Foxx's performance is superb in its naturalism and meticulous in its attention to detail. Charles' vocal and physical mannerisms are carefully observed and caricature is eschewed. Without a Charles of this quality, Ray would risk being an unexceptional, if dutiful, contribution to the genre.

Director Taylor Hackford (who filmed Chuck Berry's 60th birthday concert film Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll! before making polished studio dramas such as Dolores Claiborne and The Devil's Advocate) lets the story tell itself, trusting Foxx to bring some charisma and drive to a very familiar format. James L. White's debut screenplay seems to embrace the clichés and broad strokes of biopic form: sound engineers exchange knowing smirks of congratulation as future number ones are laid down; headlines stud the film as historical shorthand; after Charles' move into country music, his manager marvels "You were right again, Ray - they did love it!" Adversity is conquered and the human spirit triumphs. The film's colouring is suitably bold, particularly in the saturated greenery and red earth of Charles' Georgia childhood. There's also a deliberate emphasis on atmosphere, conveyed through the chiaroscuro of natural lighting and smoke, in jazz clubs and hotel rooms.

The element that unsettles the film's otherwise slick and accomplished surface is Ray's memory of his brother's drowning, recalled in fragments whenever the hero is threatened by fear, loneliness or betrayal. Charles recoils as the suitcase he is packing is suddenly filled not with clothes but water and a child's arm; a corridor seems flooded and his reaching hands brush a still foot. These sequences have an economy missed by the bulk of the film, conveying the sensory uncertainty of blindness and the metaphoric seeping of Charles' haunted unconscious. By contrast Charles' heroin addiction is treated almost perfunctorily; in this sense, Ray supports Charles' assertion that it did not hamper his creativity or productivity but it produces a somewhat artificial crisis and resolution within the narrative arc, imposed presumably by the lack of incident in Charles' career after 1966. Interestingly, it does touch on the contractual specifics of Charles' success - interesting because his nous in negotiating favourable deals and claiming ownership of his own master tapes is part of an important narrative within black musical history, from the exploitations of Elvis' black songwriters to the canny franchising of today's rap moguls, who turn their musical identities into consumer brands of all descriptions.

Charles' music of course plays a major role, and Hackford and White seek to write it in as organically as possible. The furious argument that terminates the affair with Margie Hendricks occurs during a rehearsal of Hit the Road Jack and segues immediately into a vicious live performance. The music provides the most straightforward pleasure in an enjoyable and straightforward film, especially when heard through the full sound system of a cinema.   

Hackman, Gene – actor

 

Gene Hackman: Royal Rapscallion   Andrew Collins from Sight and Sound

He was already past his youth when Bonnie and Clyde established his name but Gene Hackman became a byword for all that was authentic about the explosive new American cinema of the late 60s and 70s

Hadjithomas, Joana and Khalil Jorgeige

 

I WANT TO SEE (Je Veux Voir)

Lebanon  France  (75 mi)  2008

 

Je Veux Voir (I Want To See)  Howard Feinstein at Cannes from Screendaily

The idea here is surreal: make something akin to a documentary with French icon Catherine Deneuve and well-known Lebanese artist/actor Rabih Mroue making a day trip by car from Beirut to the ruins in South Lebanon left over from the Israeli incursion in 2006. The film-making couple of Hadjithomas and Joreige, who proved their imaginative skills with the 2005 Lebanese-set fiction A Perfect Day, succeeded in making it happen. And brilliantly.

These politically-engaged Lebanese co-directors have broken new ground in the documentary/fiction fusion debate, and not only with their dream cast. Once word gets out that Je Veux Voir is such an original work, it will find playdates large and small across the globe. Deneuve's participation will of course give it a boost.

In the film Deneuve is in Beirut for a glamorous gala, but insists "Je veux voir" ("I want to see") the carnage wrought against innocent civilians in Israel 's pursuit of members of Hezbollah in the summer of 2006."I feel it's impossible to stay on the fringe," she adds. She means it. This is not the classic Hollywood scenario of an up-and-coming star meeting with a facilitator to find the right charity for his or her marketing image. It rings with sincerity and curiosity.

So Hadjithomas and Joreige, who know firsthand the sites Deneuve and Mroue will visit, arrange for a meeting – it is captured on camera - and the two embark on a surprisingly gorgeous two-hour drive to southern Lebanon in time to return to her appointed engagement.

To their credit, the directors are not didactic. The two passengers talk about life and seat belts and Belle De Jour: It almost seems normal. They establish a comfortable intimacy without overdoing it. Occasionally something they encounter will ruffle their feathers: buildings destroyed during the Civil War, low-flying Israeli airplanes, but more than anything, their destination – where there are no exhausted images of homes without roofs, gutted roads, because it is it is all gone.

We see the film crew only occasionally, and that is as it should be. Deneuve does not play the star, although Lebanese men do line up to stare at her. The only false note follows an ellipsis to the gala, where Deneuve eagerly awaits Mroue's presence. Something here smacks of movie fiction, as if a romance might develop out of their shared compassion. Whether it does or not, the actress looks beautiful, but not so beautiful that she overshadows such an important film. This one is for the history books.

Alissa Simon  at Cannes from Variety

What becomes a legend most? Surely not being a figurehead in a self-consciously arty pseudo docu-cum-road movie. Still, Catherine Deneuve's iconic presence lends some commercial appeal to "I Want to See," third feature from Lebanese helmers Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige ("Around the Pink House," "Perfect Day"). An uneasy mix of scripted scenario, improvisation and surprising reality, pic professes to want to show destruction wrought during Lebanon's 2006 summer war through the French star's eyes, but seems more concerned with capturing her image as she's trundled about. Fests and Euro tube constitute best market.

Lacking the immediacy of Philippe Aractingi's somewhat similar and more compelling "Under the Bombs," which filmed, in part, during the fighting, "I Want to See" was shot in late 2006. It's structured as a single day's excursion, although in reality filmed over a week.

The helmers' favorite actor Rabih Mroue drives Deneuve south from Beirut through his heavily hit home village of Bint El Jbeil to the border with Israel. Filmmakers (and Deneuve's impressively buff bodyguard) follow closely behind, occasionally inserting themselves into the action while commenting on the dangers and difficulties they face.

Lensing concentrates more on twosome in the car then what's outside. Seeming somewhat uncomfortable, Deneuve makes banal conversation about chaos of Lebanese traffic, hastily fastening her seat belt and repeatedly bidding Mroue to do the same.

Strongest images show a beach site where the rubble from ruined buildings winds up. A striking vision of swirling dust clouds, red trucks, yellow bulldozers, and the blue Mediterranean turning to rust, it makes palpable the broken country disappearing into the sea.

Most interesting moments appear unplanned, such as when an Israeli fighter jet roars overhead at a low altitude, causing Deneuve to jump in her seat. Better yet, Mroue becomes so preoccupied reciting Deneuve's monologue from "Belle du jour" in Arabic, that he accidentally turns onto a road that might be mined, creating intense distress all around.

Mostly as stiff as her perfectly coifed hair, a tired-looking Deneuve appears as if she feels every bump in the road. In contrast, Mroue, is a warm and sympathetic presence, articulate in French and Arabic, as he negotiates the hazardous highways.

Tech credits are pro, although d.p. Julien Hirsch's penchant for shooting reflections through the car's windshield becomes irritating, as does portentous electronica score.

Hadzihalilovic, Lucile
 
INNOCENCE

Belgium  France  Great Britain  (115 mi)  2004

 

Innocence   Jonathan Romney from Sight and Sound

Lucile Hadzihalilovic was until recently best known as the partner and collaborator of Gaspar Noé. But, as I told a colleague recently, her much-awaited debut feature 'Innocence' - which has just won the new director's prize at San Sebastian - has little in common with Noé's work. "What's it about, then?" asked my colleague. "People having picnics in a forest?" Oddly enough, that's exactly what it's about, and nearly all its characters are little girls in pristine white frocks.

Hadzihalilovic - who co-edited Noé's 1998 'Seul contre tous' - showed in her 1996 medium-length film 'La Bouche de Jean-Pierre' (shot by Noé) that she was fascinated by the traumatised perspective of a child's-eye view: that film was about child abuse in a claustrophobic apartment block. The entirely different 'Innocence' bears some marks of the Noé connection in its ruthless establishment of a distinctive style and its play on the viewer's anxious expectations. The overall mood of uncanniness leads us from the start to expect a horror film of sorts; and that's perhaps what it is, but certainly not of the kind we anticipate.

Hadzihalilovic creates a totally self-enclosed imaginative universe, quite literally as her setting is a walled domain with no obviously accessible exit to a known outside world. Based on a story by Frank Wedekind (1864-1918), German theatre's great investigator of sexuality ('Pandora's Box', 'Spring Awakening'), the film unfolds in a girls' boarding school - a collection of houses scattered around a forest - apparently at the start of the 20th century. Each house is home to a group of girls of different ages, and the film begins with the smallest novice arriving, apparently delivered in a wooden coffin.

The new girl's housemates initiate her into a strict but benign world in which there is little adult intervention save for the supervision of two young teachers (Hélène de Fougerolles, Marion Cotillard). Daily life is a pleasant round of lessons, swimming parties and bucolic leisure. But each night the oldest girl in each house makes her way through the dark forest to the main building, the scene of rituals we can only guess at from glimpses of a maze of tunnels filled with ominous rumblings.

Hadzihalilovic's riskiest move in 'Innocence' is to use imagery that at first glance appears to belong to paedophile fantasy. But it soon becomes clear that what in one era immediately suggests sexual taboo is used in another to signify a denial of sexuality: the white frocks in this archaic world connote a fetishised ideal of purity. While investigating the nature and socially conditioned origins of female sexual knowledge, Hadzihalilovic plays with an image that advertises an absence of sexual knowledge. What makes 'Innocence' so unsettling is that everything is in the eye of the beholder - and the beholder's perspective is at once that of the too-knowing present-day adult and of the girls themselves, who perceive the world around them as an infinitely fascinating mystery.

The film draws to uncanny effect on the language of childhood dreams, alluding to fears of adulthood and death. Hadzihalilovic's vision of a republic of little girls may evoke the sexualised imagery of artists such as Hans Bellmer, Balthus and Walerian Borowczyk, but the film also - as shot by Benoît Debie, DoP on Noé's 'Irréversible' - echoes the mise en scène of French photographer Bernard Faucon, whose 1980s 'Les Grandes Vacances' series set shop mannequins of teenage boys in bizarre, ritualistic tableaux vivants. For British viewers especially, 'Innocence' will recall tales of all-female schooling, from 'Mädchen in Uniform' to 'Malory Towers', though its gothic atmosphere brings it closer to Angela Carter than Angela Brazil.

A surreal and unexpectedly euphoric climax makes it clear what 'Innocence' is really about - and the eerie richness of Hadzihalilovic's filmic language, including a chilling use of sound, means nothing can be easily reduced to straightforward allegory. With dazzling performances from a largely pre-pubescent ensemble cast, 'Innocence' is without doubt the most disconcerting French debut of the year.

INNOCENCE   Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion

If French cinema remains the strongest in Europe, both commercially and aesthetically, part of the reason may be the number of female directors working there. “Innocence” is the latest in a string of memorable debut films by French women.

In the U.S., the indie dream of making a splash at Sundance, getting picked up by a major distributor, and launching a career has been almost exclusively male. Of course, many women have the same goals; they just have far more difficulty achieving them. It’s hard to imagine an American counterpart to Claire Denis. A woman wanting to make a film like “Beau Travail” would probably have to make it on DV for a $50,000 budget, and she would be unlikely to go on working regularly. The one film by an American woman to make a splash this year, Miranda July’s “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” exemplifies some of current indie cinema’s worst qualities, especially a rote quirkiness. It seems influenced by Todd Solondz’s “Happiness” but waters down its misanthropy to the point where the characters seem encased in protective bubbles.

Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s “Innocence” has been made in an entirely different world—like Denis’ films, it is unique, enigmatic, and visionary.

“Innocence” is based on an 1888 novella by Frank Wedekind entitled “Mine-Haha, or the Corporal Education of Young Girls.” The film opens with a rumbling sound and a series of puzzling images. Eventually, a coffin is transferred through a passageway. It arrives in a house, leading to the “birth” of a nearly naked six-year-old girl, Iris (Zoé Auclair). She’s just entered a strange, isolated boarding school, peopled entirely by young girls; the oldest are just about to enter puberty. They live together in five houses and study dance, gymnastics, and biology. In some respects, it’s liberating for the girls to live apart from adults, but rebellion has lifelong consequences. Anyone who tries escaping from the school will be forced to remain there as a servant, while the others eventually get to leave. Every night, Bianca (Bérangere Haubruge) puzzles the other girls by leaving the house to go to a secret meeting.

At a Q&A after a screening of “Innocence” at the Walter Reade’s “Rendezvous with French Cinema” last spring, an audience member asked whether the film is set in the future. He pointed to several lines referring to evolution, particularly “tomorrow’s children will doubtless be very different,” as evidence. Hadzihalilovic said that she intended to set it in the ‘60s. While an otherworldly ambiance runs through it, “Innocence” takes place in a dingy, slightly run-down universe. The use of natural light makes interiors look rather dim. On the other hand, the forest exteriors are stunning.

The girls dance to crackly albums played on a turntable, not CDs. The soundtrack uses music sparingly––we rarely hear it unless characters are listening to records on-screen. In place of a score, the distant sound of a train and a large clock’s metronome tick-tock are omni-present

The first 75 pages of Kazuo Ishiguro’s recent novel “Never Let Me Go” are so similar to “Innocence” that the writer must have drawn on Wedekind’s novella. However, Ishiguro eventually explains his narrative with a sci-fi conceit, while Hadzihalilovic avoids such devices. “Innocence” isn’t a horror film, but it often plays like one, even though nothing particularly dangerous happens. One other film has been inspired by Wedekind—Italian director Dario Argento’s 1977 “Suspiria,” set at a boarding school that turns out to be a witch’s lair. Argento reveled in gore, loud music, and blazing colors, while “Innocence” strives for subtlety. Nevertheless, its final half hour feels close to “Suspiria,” especially in its depiction of girls ferreting out a world’s hidden dangers and literal secret passages.

Hadzihalilovic films water like Robert Mapplethorpe photographed flowers. Her images of it carry a near-fetishistic charge, especially when she uses extreme close-ups that turn into abstract compositions. “Innocence” begins and ends in water. Rather than a conventional character arc, it’s a story about how a girl gets from an isolated brook to a public fountain. When it was recently released in Britain, several critics suggested that it might inadvertently appeal to pedophiles. However, Hadzihalilovic scrupulously keeps sexuality off-screen; sensual impulses pop up in the film in other forms.

As an outline, “Innocence” might sound like a pat metaphor for childhood. As an experience, it’s genuinely uncanny. Despite the story’s strangeness, the child actors give quite believable, spontaneous-seeming performances that counter its dreamlike feel. However, Hadzihalilovic explains little and resolves nothing. She expresses a worldview derived from the way children often see life—as a maze of mysterious rules and regions from which they’re excluded—while hinting that the film’s story is a Freudian prelude to something much larger and darker.

“Innocence” relies a bit too heavily on creepy portent alone to sustain the viewer’s interest for almost two hours. Otherwise, it stands alone among recent cinema, French, female-directed or otherwise, for its ability to create a beautiful, resonant private world.

School For Scandal   Jonathan Romney from Sight and Sound

Dealing with an all-girls' boarding school located in the middle of a dense forest, Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Innocence is like Enid Blyton re-written by Kafka

Haggis, Paul
 

Paul Haggis Publicly Renounces Scientology  Verena von Pfetten from Air America, October 26, 2009

 

Paul Haggis on Scientology: 'Morally reprehensible'   Patrick Goldstein from The LA Times blog, October 27, 2009

 

CRASH                                                          C                     75
USA  (107 mi)  2005

 

An exasperatingly clichéd film that overly accentuates an intentionally turbulent world of racial tensions in Los Angeles by exploiting the use of racial stereotypes, pitting one race against another, and then sitting back and watching what happens, using the imagery of a violent car crash which both begins and ends this film, like the myth of Sisyphus, expected to reoccur over and over again ad infinitum.  But this is all too simplistic, and the dialogue is so predictably obnoxious and lame that within minutes I had the urge to walk out of the theater.  There is nothing in this film that we haven’t seen before and it never rises above the intentional set ups of a mediocre made for television movie, much of it resembling typically condescending, thoroughly manipulative sitcoms, despite a top notch cast that includes Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Ryan Philippe, and Thandie Newton, as well as an overly hysterical Sandra Bullock. 
 
Matt Dillon as a corrupt cop and Thandie Newton as his targeted victim have what amounts to bookend scenes, provocative behavior on the opposite ends of the moral spectrum.  Critics love the dramatic moment where Dillon, who was previously seen patting down Newton, abusively feeling her private areas while making racist taunts of Thandie Newton’s husband, then later rescues her from a burning car about to explode.  For me, however, there were two memorable scenes, one where a locksmith comes home at night and tucks his daughter, who is afraid hiding under her bed, under the covers by telling her a story about an invisible necklace that will offer her protection, and another near the end of the film, a quiet, wordless sequence where Don Cheadle returns to the scene of the crime and snow begins to fall in Los Angeles.  But the rest is all a cops and robber movie revealing a dilemma when each individual goes bad, an indicator how each can have such a negative, unseen consequence on innocent lives, not to mention their own.  People are seen here as battering rams of bad taste, each eventually crashing into another, which leads where?  Like this movie is going to set anyone straight?  The way that people marginalize others, putting them completely off the radar screen, may be an accurate reflection of life in Los Angeles, but this has such a contrived, cynical view of human nature, creating automatic caricatures of racial strife rather than allowing any real life to breathe out of this film. 
 
Despite winning an Academy award, this is a film that embarrassingly foreshadows its every move, where one would need to be watching with blinders on not to know what was coming, that instead of allowing events to unfold naturally, the film instead tells the viewer what to think and feel at every moment, literally patting themselves on the back along the way in a pretentious display of multi-cultural liberalized arrogance disguised as good will.  The extremeness of each position shown is so artificially contrived in the way this is written, without an ounce of naturalness, that it actually trivializes the seriousness of the subject matter.  As a result, this is a largely heartless film with no spontaneity or sense of authenticity, as every move is forced and subject to an almost mathematical symmetry, the kind that exists only in the world of storybooks, where for every good there is an equal amount of bad, and for every bad there is an equal amount of good.  What we have here is a stalemate of contrived intentions.  

 

Crash  David Denby from the New Yorker

 

A brazenly alive and heartbreaking film about the rage and foolishness of intolerance—the mutual abrasions of white, black, Latino, Middle Eastern, and Asian citizens in the great and strange city of Los Angeles. The movie starts off with separate vignettes in which the characters run afoul of each other, say things better left unsaid, and get into terrible trouble. Later, they cross paths again, sometimes in bizarre coincidences that feel exactly right; some of these scenes play out at the edge of insanity, where contentiousness spills over into tragedy or farce. The furiously candid screenplay was written by Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco, and the picture was directed by Haggis, who, in his first time out as director, demonstrates an amazing skill with actors. Don Cheadle, as a withdrawn, melancholy police detective, is the star, and the other players include Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton as an upper-class African-American couple, Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock as an L.A. district attorney and his bitchy wife, Chris (Ludacris) Bridges and Larenz Tate as carjackers, Matt Dillon and Ryan Phillippe as cops, and Shaun Toub as an Iranian shopkeeper who thinks everyone is out to cheat him. The gentle electronic score is by Mark Isham. 

 

Manohla Dargis - New York Times

How did “Crash,” a somewhat obvious, over-the-top, contrived drama, score so many nominations and now come to be considered as a possible dark horse for best picture?       —Danny, Austin, TX

There are a few obvious reasons why “Crash” connected with the Academy. First, Los Angeles, where most of Academy members live, is a profoundly segregated city, so any movie that makes it seem like its white, black, Asian and Latino inhabitants are constantly tripping over one another has appeal. If nothing else it makes Los Angeles seem as cosmopolitan as, well, New York or at least the Upper West Side. Second, no matter how many times the camera picks out Oprah Winfrey on Oscar night, the Academy is super white. Third, the Academy is, at least in general terms, socially liberal. You see where I’m going, right? What could better soothe the troubled brow of the Academy’s collective white conscious than a movie that says sometimes black men really are muggers (so don’t worry if you engage in racial profiling); your Latina maid really, really loves you (so don’t worry about paying her less than minimum wage); even white racists (even white racist cops) can love their black brothers or at least their hot black sisters; and all answers are basically simple, so don’t even think about politics, policy, the lingering effects of Proposition 13 and Governor Arnold. This is a consummate Hollywood fantasy, no matter how nominally independent the financing and release. I also think it helped the film’s cause that its distributor sent out more than 130,000 DVD's to the industry, ensuring easy viewing.

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH                                   B-                    81
USA  (124 mi)  2007  ‘Scope

Another Haggis vehicle, a man who more than anyone else in the business (even Spielberg) utilizes force-fed, contrived situations, writing about things being more than what they seem, exploring dual meanings in the interconnectedness of things.  So of course, this is a film about one thing, a mysterious murder investigation involving an army unit along with unfolding secrets about combat stress and how this affects our society at large, but it’s really a metaphor for the current war in Iraq and how our nation conceals the returning dead bodies from the public as well as the extent of the injuries and maladjustments effecting the survivors over there.  So what the filmmaker is trying to tell us is about what unintended consequences this war is causing, creating a new mutative breed of soldier, one who has become so dehumanized in order to survive the daily trauma in Iraq that he’s grown beyond immoral into a state of being amoral.  And in order to show that Hollywood cares, there’s a few names of organizations and websites over the end credits that help deal with the effects of combat stress and post-traumatic stress disorders, like viewers are going to be jotting down these websites to visit once they get home, apparently incapable of googling these illnesses or agencies on their own.  Just this credit sequence alone reveals a lot about what the filmmaker wants us to think about this movie.  On the other hand, perhaps it’s just a sign of the times similar to the blatant plugs at the end of environmental documentaries.  Everyone has a stake in telling us what to think and believe these days, like we’re fodder for the advertising corporations.  Haggis has never been shy in that regard. 

Haggis may have bit off more then he can chew here as most of us don’t like being told how to feel about this war, particularly since we’re so sick of the government’s mouthpieces spewing their fantasies about fighting for a democracy and making the world a better place.  In this film, the uncannily brilliant Tommy Lee Jones (Has this man ever given anything less than a brilliant performance?) plays Hank Deerfield, the father of a reportedly missing AWOL Iraqi war veteran who turns up dead and dismembered not far from the Fort Rudd US army base in New Mexico where he’s stationed after returning from a tour of duty, never notifying his family that he’d returned.  The film explores the father’s journey to the army base to find out some answers, but when he’s stonewalled by the locals, including both the army and a police detective played by Charleze Theron, both sides continually haggling over jurisdictional issues, he takes matters into his own hands and eventually leads his own investigation.  It doesn’t hurt that he is a long-retired sergeant in the army military police himself.  In the process, his views on the war and what constitutes patriotism undergoes a thorough transformation, leading him to believe that those soldiers, our soldiers, are in dire need of someone’s help.  Jones tries to provide that help for his son, whose own behavior grows more and more complicit in his own crime the more we learn about him, but he arrives too late.  The impact of this tragedy is in nearly every shot of this film, not the least of which is a final photo at the end of the end credits, but also etched onto every crevice of Jones’s world weary face. The scars of his soul represent that of a mournful nation, as his dilemma is ours, a fact this actor makes painfully clear with another astonishing, award-worthy performance.  

There’s an interesting use of blurred, nearly unwatchable video imagery here, as Deerfield’s son filmed combat situations in Iraq on his cell phone, almost like trophy pieces, which the father discovers by decoding the heat corrupted image files from his son’s cell phone, which play repeatedly throughout the film like a modern day version of BLOW UP, as Deerfield is continually seen scrutinizing what scrambled images remain.  At the same time, Theron, who blew him off initially, sympathizes with the man when the graphic horror of his son’s death comes to light, eventually partnering with him to try to unravel the clues.  In the most amusing scene of the film, after having him over for dinner to make amends, Deerfield is asked by Theron to read her son a bedtime story, and can be seen silently thumbing through a copy of C.S. Lewis’s fantasy story The Chronicles of Narnia as the boy grows impatient under the covers, reminding him that it’s customary to read “out loud,” but Deerfield tosses the book aside claiming he can’t make any sense out of it and instead decides to tell him the origins of his name David, which comes from the Biblical story of David and Goliath, each representatives of the Israelites and the Philistines, both positioned high atop mountains separated by the valley of Elah.  This story, of course, comes to signify much more, magnified by its use as the title of the film.  We are forced to decide whether our nation has taken on the role of the lumbering giant Goliath, threatening the potential David’s of this earth.

The actual police procedural search to uncover what happened is intriguing, as the details of the murder are doled out in slow order, seemingly covered up by the son’s own unit for some mysterious reason.  Jones’s use of whisky with soldiers is equivalent to truth serum as he searches for answers, never really getting any, finding only small pieces of the puzzle.  Between Jones and Theron, one or the other is in nearly every shot and both are seen as the real professionals surrounded by a sea of incompetents, where authorities hide behind a blur of prejudice, rumors and red tape.  It’s an odd way of separating the universe, or the good guys from the bad, simply by writing noble heroes surrounded by wretched caricatures for people to play.  Even top billed Susan Sarandon, rock solid as always, was underwritten and underutilized, as she was actually onscreen for all of 5 minutes or so, probably filming her part in two days tops.  One can see how easy it is to pile on the negatives here, but the actual film experience itself is feeling what Tommy Lee Jones feels, sharing his pain, which is considerable, matching what families across America must feel about the oddly twisted circumstances the army offers about their missing or dead or now psychologically challenged children.  The line that keeps reverberating is Theron’s simple acknowledgement, “You’re a good father,” which again has multiple ramifications.  There’s a lot of information here, much of it useful, but hardly anything in this film just happens without the filmmaker later drumming into our heads what it all means, almost with a mathematical certainty.  So in the end this turns out to be just another Paul Haggis flick, whose imprint is all over everything he does.  It’s amazing how his unsubtle approach ruins his own pictures, as this would otherwise be pretty mesmerizing, as it’s a terrific subject matter based on a real life incident and Tommy Lee Jones is nothing less than superb.  This one actually has something to say, but it’s the way he says it that’s troubling.  Who doesn't love a good murder mystery?  Add an army cover up and who wouldn't want to see how Jones, or John Wayne before him, could ride into Dodge and clean up the mess? A word of warning, it's dour and nearly entirely humorless, which is totally in keeping with Jones's character.  

User reviews from imdb Author: Tony43 from Los Angeles

The big movies about the Vietnam war -- Apocalypse Now, Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket -- didn't reach the screen until about five years after the war ended. But movies dealing with Iraq and terrorism are cropping up all over even as this war still rages.

What exactly that means is hard to know, but it would seem to indicate that no matter which side of the issue they come down on, the filmmakers are willing to risk alienating about half the potential audience in an America more polarized today than at any point in our history.

"In the Valley of Elah" treads lightly on the politics for most of the movie, concentrating on the unfolding mystery of what happened to a young soldier who vanishes shortly after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq. Looking for answers are his father, a former sergeant in the Army's Criminal Investigation Division, and a young female civilian detective, who gets involved in the case, gets bounced off in a jurisdictional dispute, but winds up back on the case when its determined the crime took place off military property.

While director Paul Haggis gets uniformly good performances out of all the characters, the movie belongs to Tommy Lee Jones as the grieving father and Charlize Theron as the determined detective. Both turn in outstanding performances. Jones shines, playing a man who has spent his life holding in his emotions and can't change now, even as his world falls apart. Theron radiates strength as a woman trying to survive in a sexist police department where all her male colleagues are certain she slept her way into her detective's job. That is somewhat important to the story, because the movie provides a look into the lower class white community that provides the bulk of the recruits in the all volunteer army.

None of this really deals with the politics of the war, though, and it is not until the very end of the film that politics come into play, and even there, it is handled with great care. The message is more about the kind of war America finds itself fighting today and what that type of combat does to the men who engage in it. Unlike world wars one and two, Vietnam and Iraq are not wars between easily recognized enemies. We are not battling the Germans or the Japanese. In both Nam and Iraq, Americans find it is difficult to tell friend from foe. That means they often must make snap decisions that sometimes determine whether they themselves live or die. Needless to say, their decisions also determine the fate of the people in the sights of their weapons..

"In the Valley of Elah" does an excellent job of showing that post traumatic stress syndrome is not an oddity, but rather a growing problem in an army of young men whose job requires them to be quick on the trigger.

Every American should see this movie and then think long and hard about it.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer [Sean Axmaker]

Paul Haggis doesn't lack for ambition. He tackled no less than the state of race and class in America with his high-minded, Oscar-winning social drama "Crash." Subtlety is another matter. Despite the Oscar win, I find "Crash" equal parts affecting and insufferable, a film where the human drama is swamped by overreaching commentary and glib irony.

The subject of his sophomore feature as a director, "In the Valley of Elah," is no less ambitious -- the psychological toll of the Iraq war on the American soldiers ground down by unending tours and stop-loss extensions -- but he's more focused and his storytelling more honed. And it doesn't hurt to have Tommy Lee Jones driving the film with a beautifully realized performance.

Jones plays Hank Deerfield a taciturn father, husband and long-retired Army MP whose patriotism and ingrained respect for the military becomes secondary to paternal duty when his soldier son goes AWOL after his latest tour of duty in Iraq.

Though inspired by a true events, Haggis structures the drama as a classic detective story with Deerfield as the lone investigator seeking the truth in the face of resistance. Jones plays it stripped to the bone -- he's a man on a single-minded quest, and his responses are primal.

Charlize Theron is his only ally through the slapdash investigation and jurisdictional tug of war. It's a nice turn by Theron but the role is eclipsed by Jones' performance.

Haggis drops exclamation points after his symbolic gestures, but in the rush to drive home his message on the confused mission in Iraq he offers a queasy revisionism that all but denies the legacy of Vietnam. Considering Deerfield is a Vietnam vet, it feels doubly false.

"Elah" works better when Haggis lets the story tell itself: in the tensions between the civilian and military cops brushing up against each other in an arid Texas town, the eloquence of the climactic interrogation, and the weary odyssey of Deerfield to find peace in truth.

filmcritic.com (Chris Barsanti)

Although Paul Haggis' gut-punch of a story, In the Valley of Elah, is the first truly great narrative film about the Iraq War, it only spends a total of maybe five minutes there. The rest of the time, Elah is back in the U.S., dealing with all the stomach-churning consequences of what the country has sent young men over the sea to do. For this war story, combat -- that terrifying adrenaline high that changes many soldiers forever -- would be a distraction. The film comes at the war elliptically, immersing viewers in a world of soldiers, veterans, military bases, and civilian hangers-on, where President Bush is always pontificating from a nearby radio or television and everyone gets their check, directly or indirectly, from the Pentagon.

Elah is set in late 2004, when previously pro-war segments of the population started seeing cracks in the official flag-waving rhetoric, and ugly rumors started flying about what was actually going on Over There. Haggis' hard-boiled script -- closely based on Mark Boal's harsh, eye-opening article, "Death and Dishonor," published in Playboy in 2004 -- takes the form not of a war film but of a mystery, hiding its disquieting revelations in a familiar structure. Retired military policeman Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) finds out that his son Mike (Jonathan Tucker, from Haggis' short-lived TV show The Black Donnellys), currently serving in Iraq, went AWOL not long after coming home on R&R. Having already lost his other son to combat in Afghanistan, and convinced he's getting some sort of runaround from the army, Hank hops in his winded old pickup and heads to Mike's base looking for answers.

The structure of what follows could be taken straight from most any televised crime dramas. There's an onion-skin unlayering of truths about Mike and his squad, parsed out with an extra lashing of drama by the slow decoding of some mysterious combat-scene videos recorded on a cell phone Hank finds in Mike's room. The mood is appropriately somber, but leavened with the occasionally stab at humor. We even have a local detective, a tough but vulnerable single mom (played in a straightforward manner by a slightly too-glamorous Charlize Theron) looking to prove herself, to grudgingly help Hank out. The villains are not so clearly defined here, though, with everyone keeping quiet about everything happening in Iraq and the spiritual toll it's taking on the men coming back.

Haggis has come a long way as a filmmaker since 2004's Crash, learning to keep his more sprawling and melodramatic impulses under control; with the possible exception of the portentous title, taken from the Biblical valley where David faced off with Goliath. His script sticks close to the source article, keeping many of its most vivid details of military life, holding fictional additions to a minimum, and focusing on telling the same tough truths about war and soldiers. Even the police investigation scenes feel fresh and original.

There's hardly any fat in Elah, nearly every scene is snapped off with clipped professionalism by a crisply-performing cast and a director who seems to have learned a few tricks from his frequent collaborator in tough minimalism, Clint Eastwood (for whom this film was originally a vehicle). Roger Deakins' wintry, bleached-out cinematography neatly matches Jones' scraped-dry delivery and the generally bleak and unsentimental tone. Needless to say, Jones does titanic work here as the proud, working-class vet with his neatly creased slacks and courteous demeanor who begins to crack as the awful truth becomes clear. His final act in this achingly sad film is one of the most poignant expressions of betrayed patriotism ever to hit American theaters.

PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs)

The Army has not released Iraqi casualty reports, but it’s estimated as many as 100 enemy died during this exchange, and bodies were reported to be “piled in the streets.” The hours following the initial gunfight saw such carnage that the men of B Company were calling ambush alley “the midtown massacre.”
—Mark Boal, “Death and Dishonor”

“Freedom is on the march, and we’re safer because of it.” As soon as you hear President Bush on a background TV, during the first moments of In the Valley of Elah, you’ll likely guess what’s at issue. If you don’t know precisely that he first made this pronouncement in September 2004, you understand its use here is ironic. Punctuated throughout by similar bits of commentary and rhetoric, the movie takes the Iraq war as a point of departure, tracing the costs of war both physical and emotional, in Iraq and back home. In fact, the film submits, no one is “safer because of it.”

The most obvious and metaphorical victim is Mike Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker), a young soldier just back from Iraq. At film’s start, his father Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), a Vietnam war vet and retired MP, gets word from Fort Rudd that Mike’s gone AWOL. Sure that his son would never run off without a reason, Hank hops in his pickup truck and drives straight through to New Mexico from Tennessee. On arriving in the desert, he learns that Mike is in fact murdered, stabbed 42 times and left by the side of a road late at night. Because the body was found between military and local police jurisdictions, questions come up as to who should investigate. The Army wants the case, the cops don’t much care. But Hank does. And so the movie becomes his investigation—into the murder, the military, and masculinity.

Based on Mark Boal’s “Death and Dishonor,” which first appeared in May 2004’s Playboy magazine, Paul Haggis’ follow-up film to the over-awarded Crash posits Hank as an old-school man of honor, both punished and revered for his traditional “values.” Like Crash, it overstates banal points and overlooks more disturbing insights. It layers blame and guilt upon grief and loss, but reaches exasperatingly superficial conclusions. While the film presents a raft of sad and thoughtful characters—from Hank to his despondent wife Joan (Susan Sarandon) to Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron), the hardworking single mom detective who takes up Mike’s case—it remains fixed on its initial assumptions, that the war makes monsters of young men (and the focus here is specifically men, mostly white), then abandons them.

Indeed, the film reveals varieties of abandonment, as means of meeting or avoiding responsibility: a young woman who fears her boyfriend is dismissed by the police; Emily’s young son doesn’t know his father; and Hank leaves Joan to her worry and sorrow back home. Their phone calls are devastating. She sobs and he, also heartbroken, can offer no comfort except to promise to solve the case. Like many a movie hero before him, Hank asserts that if he can only set right what seems askew, he will have done his duty and reset his little piece of the universe. Even if he knows this isn’t what Joan needs, it’s what he needs, to be a man in the most efficient, self-defining, and uncompromising sense.

Almost immediately, Hank confronts disorder extending far beyond the brutal murder. Stealing Mike’s cell phone from his bunk at Fort Rudd, Hank discovers fragmented footage from Baghdad. Hoping for clues to what went wrong for Mike, he enlists the help of a local tech, never named (Rick Gonzalez), who works on the deciphering on his off hours, sending Hank reconstructed bits by email. That these missives arrive irregularly (and also conveniently, when Hank’s quest needs narrative prodding) makes them seem at once crucial and random. What they reveal, little by little, is what you have already guessed: Mike saw and committed atrocities in Iraq. And he was horrified.

It becomes clear in flashbacks that Mike tried to contact Hank while still in country, and his father rebuffed him by phone, essentially urging him to man up. This peek into Hank’s brittle psyche fits with the brief glimpses of his marriage (Joan blames Hank for Mike’s decision to enlist), jarring his concept of paternal and patriotic obligations. Hank’s pursuit of his “truth” is complicated and nuanced by Jones’ singular intensity (a close-up of his deeply creased face does more emotional work than pages of dialogue), but still, he is quite obviously part of the problem, a true believer.

Hank is eventually pushed to question himself, though not by the usual obstructions, the New Mexico cops (whose captain [Josh Brolin] looks shady for the two minutes he’s on screen) and the MPs, headed by Lt. Kirklander (Jason Patric), trying to smooth over what he sees as a burgeoning PR crisis. Hank is instead moved by Emily, herself harassed by the men in her squad precisely because she is a woman. Where the soldiers discuss the excitement of combat and the male detectives share a measure of cynicism, Emily repeatedly appears isolated and lonely, framed in doorways or against the wide New Mexican sky, not “safe” at all. When Hank tells her she can’t understand what it’s like to be part of a unit because she’s never “been to war,” you’ve already seen that she daily faces another kind of trauma at the hands of her so-called unit. Where Hank trusts in the loyalty of masculine, combat-forged company, she sees rupture, competition, and cruelty.

If this difference is instructive, Elah does less well in considering the racism beneath the surface of the “unit.” As Elah focuses on its underdog against the giant storyline (the title taken from the site where David slew Goliath), Hank is shocked to see his son’s malice against “hajiis” in Iraq. And he can’t see his own abuses of a Mexican American soldier he deems “Chico.”

When at last, Hank has a heart-heart minute with the young man, Private Ortiez (Victor Wolf), their faces are turned away from one another, Ortiez’s bruised following a recent run-in with Hank. As the camera frames them as near-mirror images, Hank is suddenly less different from Ortiez than he thinks. The private remembers being in Iraq and wanting only to come home. Now, he says softly, he only wants to go back. While many movie-style military men have voiced this desire, here it seems tragic. The horrors of the war have changed his sense of time and self, he no longer feels “at home” anywhere. And now you see that Hank has never been home either, never at ease with Joan or Mike, that his sense of order is artificial and dissonant. The close shot of Ortiez’s expression, sad and self-knowing, is more effective than the rest of the film’s point-pounding.

New York Magazine (David Edelstein)

 

indieWIRE   Chris Wisniewski from Reverse Shot

 

The Arizona Republic   Bill Goodykoontz

 

The New Yorker (David Denby)

 

The Valley of Elah is much, much better than The Hurt Locker  zunguzungu May 17, 2009

 

Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]

 

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

 

Monsters and Critics [Brittany Sims]

 

Between Productions [Robert Cashill]

 

Salon.com [Stephanie Zacharek]

 

Slate (Dana Stevens)

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Nathan Rabin]

 

Reel.com [Pam Grady]

 

James Berardinelli's ReelViews

 

eFilmCritic.com (Peter Sobczynski)

 

Film Journal International (Doris Toumarkine)

 

Austin Chronicle [Josh Rosenblatt]

 

Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan)

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  A.O. Scott

 
Haigh, Andrew
 
WEEKEND                                                               B+                   91

Great Britain  (97 mi)  2011                   Official site

 

When I’m alone, I’m happy being gay.                       —Russell (Tom Cullen)

 

Shot in 16 days with a crew of just 15 people, this is one of the best low budget indie gay films in years, about as authentic a portrait of being gay as you’re going to find, intelligently written by the British director where none of the dialogue feels forced, feeling like something out of the Mumblecore vein, where over the course of a few days two guys spend time together and eventually fall in love.  Meeting in a bar, a one-night stand turns into something more, complicated by the fact one of them is leaving for America the next day and is not expected to ever come back.  Perhaps the most predominate theme is one of solitary isolation, the feeling of always being alone, even in family events, parties, work, public places, friendships, and most love affairs, where more than half end up going their separate ways, like ships passing in the night.  Tom Cullen is superb as Russell, an unpretentious, soft-spoken guy in his twenties living in the tenement housing projects where the sterile atmosphere outside is gray and drab, pictured frequently in near still shots.  However the view from his 14th floor window seems to brighten the mood in his apartment so he doesn’t feel so restricted and confined inside such close quarters, as Russell appears used to spending time there alone.  But he’s a free spirit, seen drinking and getting high with family and straight friends after a Friday evening dinner together, then cruising a gay club afterwards where just the decibel level alone is enough to knock your ears off, where everything is about the look, exploring your territory, zeroing in on your prey, where he wordlessly finds Glenn (Chris New), stumbling home together for drunken sex before they really only discover one another the next day when they actually have a chance to talk and get to know each another. 

 

What’s immediately clear is this is no Gus Van Sant film, as these guys aren’t models or pretty boys, but just ordinary looking guys with inquisitive minds, where their conversations and sexual experiences together feel comfortable and authentic, where their views on sex are immediately fleshed out, as Glenn is an artist who enjoys recording the voices of his lovers the next morning, asking whether the reality meets their anticipated expectations, suggesting how one approaches an affair is like a blank canvas, where what you end up with may not be what you wished for initially, but how you deal with the difference reveals what kind of person you are.  Russell is shy and embarrassed to talk about such intimate details, while Glenn is developing his thesis that gay people never talk about sex in public because they’re too ashamed.  Russell is out, but not with everybody, where he doesn’t have the fierce determination of Glenn who’s determined to talk loud and graphically about sex as often as possible around straight people, but has no illusions about his art project of a series of morning after voices.  “No one is going to come and see it because it’s about gay sex.  So the gays’ll only come to see some cock and they’ll be disappointed, and the straights won’t come because, well, it’s got nothing to do with their world.  They’ll go and see pictures of refugees, or murder or rape, but gay sex, fuck off.”  It’s hard not to be drawn to these guys because conventionality about sexual preference is thrown out the window, as this is candidly refreshing stuff about whether or not people are happy enough. 

 

Glenn has to acknowledge, however, that he’s running off to Portland, Oregon to take an art class, but if interested, they can keep seeing each other until it’s time to go, inviting him to a bar that evening for a gathering of many of his friends.  The color scheme of reds and yellows are beautifully blended together in their initial encounters, with closely observed cinematography by Urszula Pontikos, who’s fond of a repeated high overhead shot of Glen leaving the building, walking alone, a stark image of singularity.  Russell works as a lifeguard at a local pool, another example of how isolated people can become in public places, and how only a daring few have the nerve to show affection.  The party is at a straight bar (because it’s more fun!), where Glenn can hold court about his neverending sexual adventures, but the two of them hit the streets and scamper off into the night.  These guys are not bashful about plying themselves with all manner of drugs and alcohol, yet they endearingly struggle to get real, to talk about things that matter, where what the other guy feels makes a difference.  While never evolving into the profound depths of novelistic complexity, these guys simply enjoy spending time together where it’s obvious they’re having an effect on each other, while offscreen the filmmaker allows the sound of catcalls or hate speech to occasionally interrupt moments of intimacy, like an everyday reality.  The writer/director also edits this film with minimalist simplicity, a beautifully conceived day-in-the-life film where there’s not a false step anywhere in the movie, including the choice indie music from James Edward Barker, including John Grant’s “I Wanna Go to Marz” John Grant - I Wanna Go To Marz  YouTube (3:57) which plays over the closing credits, where there’s nothing searingly dramatic or theatrically contrived other than the fact that everything in this quietly registering low key film rings true. 

 

Review: Weekend - Reviews - Boston Phoenix  Gerald Peary

This appealing gay-themed drama, written and directed with intelligence by Andrew Haigh, is a British cousin to the American mumblecore movement, as two twentysomething guys meet, have sex, talk, have more sex, have much more chat, and get closer and closer over a long weekend. Russell (Tom Cullen) is a lifeguard who is private about his sexuality. Glen (Chris New) is an art student who talks loudly and in graphic detail about what he does in bed, especially around straight people. Their time together is sweet without being sentimental, and they certainly don't meet cute, checking each other out at a gay-bar urinal.

New York Magazine [David Edelstein]

In Andrew Haigh’s gentle and incisive Weekend, two British gay men—Russell (Tom Cullen), an awkward, semi-closeted lifeguard, and Glen (Chris New), a cheeky artist—meet in a club, have sex, and then talk, graphically, about the sex they had, and what they thought when they first saw each other, and why Russell is uncomfortable being out, and Glen’s art project, in which gay men talk about sex, that he thinks no one will come to see: not gays because there won’t be any visible cock, not straights because “it’s got nothing to do with their world.” And just when you’re squirming and thinking there might be a little too much navel-gazing here for one film, the men’s easy intimacy begins to seem like a respite, a time-out from a world in which sex talk is either giggly and salacious or nonexistent. Haigh mixes long shots of high rises, of people held apart by their apartments, with loose, warm scenes of Russell and Glen coming out of themselves. Will they stay together? I hate to damage so fragile a work with overpraise, but, gay or straight, if you don’t see yourself in this movie, you need to get a life.

Village Voice [Eric Hynes]

Naturalistic without being ineloquent, heartfelt yet unsentimental, Weekend is the rarest of birds: a movie romance that rings true. After spending an evening with his domesticated straight friends, Russell (Tom Cullen) goes dancing and then home with the object of his desire. But before they can part on customarily awkward morning-after terms, Glen (Chris New) whips out a tape recorder and asks Russell to narrate the night’s events, from first sight to last sigh. Jump-started by Glen’s impersonal art project, they begin a free-form, increasingly intimate dialogue, exchanging ideas, confessions, and come-ons. Per the title, there’s a proscribed duration to what transpires, but we’re so hooked on the moment that the shape of the affair never plays as structure. Veteran editor Andrew Haigh proves adept at scripting characters with full, compelling personalities, facilitating fearless and beguiling performances from his two young leads, and working with DP Urszula Pontikos to devise a visual scheme that’s both organic and evocative. Perhaps the loveliest film to ever show a jizzed belly, Weekend manages to have universal appeal without muting its gayness. It’s a film in which love and sex aren’t fetish objects but negotiable aspects in a developing relationship. Each man has his limits and is only more appealing for having the wherewithal to know and accept what they are.

Time Out New York [Keith Ulhich]

Love is not necessarily forever. For lifeguard Russell (Cullen) and artist Glen (New)—two gay Britons who have a life-changing weekend tête-à-tête—a couple of days will do. Following a brief prologue, in which a clearly discontented Russell attends a party thrown by some straight friends, writer-director Andrew Haigh’s gentle wisp of a film is quick to get the duo together. They meet late at night in a strobe-lit bar, the pounding music drowning out their dialogue so we’re focused entirely on furtive glances and inebriated body movements (a gorgeous, hypnotic sequence). Glen doesn’t even seem that interested in Russell, and we only find out how they ended up together in bed during some morning hangover chat (it involves a diminutive nuisance hilariously nicknamed “the Hobbit”).

From there, Weekend settles into an intentionally minor-key groove, caught somewhere between bracingly direct honesty and cringingly mumbly pretense. Russell and Glen fuck, take walks and have some drug-addled talk about gay issues ranging from media representation to coming out. And after Glen reveals he’s going to be leaving for the U.S. come Monday, what started as a one-night stand becomes a short-term long-term relationship of the Brief Encounter kind. Cullen and New have an easy chemistry, and their modest good looks are a nice riposte to queer cinema’s tendency to favor the smooth, the muscled and the pillow-lipped. But the consistently hushed palette proves so enervating—even the teary-eyed climax barely rises above a whisper—that Haigh’s good-natured and amiable effort ultimately lapses into inconsequence.

Weekend Review. Movie Reviews - Film - Time Out London  Ben Walters

Andrew Haigh’s 2009 film ‘Greek Pete’ wasn’t the sort of directing debut you’d automatically expect from someone whose CV largely comprised editing work on studio pictures such as ‘Shanghai Knights’ and ‘Hannibal Rising’. Its story of contemporary London rent boys – their charm and sex lives, their fraught relationships, their attempts to make it big – fell somewhere between documentary and drama, drawing on reality without wholly forsaking the tools of fiction.

With ‘Weekend’, Haigh builds tremendously on his debut’s intriguing if frustrating promise. His new film is an engaging and moving romance with its head screwed on and, like its predecessor, a film that mines digital video’s peculiar tendency to blur lines between performative registers; the characters in ‘Weekend’ might not acknowledge the camera as those in ‘Greek Pete’ did, but they do probe the idea of the self as an act of performance.

The story is set in a mid-sized town, unnamed in the film, and takes place over a 48-hour period. Easygoing, open-hearted lifeguard Russell (Tom Cullen) meets outspoken, sharp-tongued Glen (Chris New), an aspiring artist, at a club on a Friday night. Over the following couple of days, they hang out, talk, have sex, eat, party and possibly fall in love. More or less a two-hander shot in chronological sequence, the result is an elegant and affecting miniature, the slow-burning intensity of its central relationship expressed through potent performances and marshalled through smart framing and lean editing. The chemistry between Cullen and New is made credible not only through intimacy and humour but also curiosity and frustration. Haigh’s filmmaking, meanwhile, demonstrates an editor’s sense of economy and pace but also faith in long takes and moments of quiet.

For all its humour, this is not exactly meet-cute territory: Russell and Glen spend as much time mulling normative behaviour and social conventions as making goo-goo eyes. Serious without being solemn, their encounter prompts questions about the pay-off between gay rights and queer questioning – broadly, assimilation and its discontents. There’s a shrewd sense here of the personal and intellectual challenges facing a generation that grew up after Section 28 – perhaps after ‘Queer as Folk’ – with basic battles for legal recognition won but more insidious forms of alienation very much alive. But the film is of more than niche appeal; sexy, provocative, engrossing and occasionally ornery, it should appeal to anyone whose curiosity about someone new has provoked them to question their own identity.

JWR [S. James Wegg]

Writer/director Andrew Haigh has lovingly crafted a deeply intimate film that looks and feels like theatre at its best.

With just two main characters and minimal set changes, it’s left to the actors to carry the production and deliver Haigh’s bounty of insights into man-to-man relationships that easily spill over into the predominantly straight world.

Tom Cullen gives a superb performance as Russell. The “happy enough” orphan is blessed with loyal friends, cute-as-can be goddaughter and regular work as a lifeguard (framing him in front of the “Deep End” sign is just one example of subliminal, visual underscoring; the sparse use of music adds even more weight to the impact of the dialogues). (Still, John Grant’s “Marz”—reserved for the closing credits—is a welcome tonic to all that came before.) Cullen’s transition from a queer man who can only be himself at home to a menace to bigots (largely off camera, but their presence is felt), able to show his real feelings in public places, is a marvel of nuance and grit. If only so many of the important moments weren’t fuelled by copious amounts of drugs and alcohol, which could be construed as the “mask that dare not be removed.”

Russell’s sudden love interest begins as a pick-up in Nottingham’s Propaganda Bar. A furtive look in the men’s room soon leads to a barely remembered sleepover with a surprise awakening. Glen (Chris New devours the wide-ranging role with equal amounts of in-your-face queer and desperately seeking self through solitude) promptly cues up his portable tape recorder and asks his new bed mate to recount last night’s romp.

At this juncture, the film is eerily reminiscent of Claude Pérès’ Unfaithful: two strangers meet up for sex and agree to film the entire night’s activities (cross-reference below). Fortunately, Haigh soon abandons the narrative prop and goes about his extremely skilful business of mixing scenes of growing lust with pillow talk that deftly rounds out the protagonists’ hopes, fears and frailties.

Before long the elephant in the room emerges: “I’m leaving tomorrow,” confesses Glen after their second steamy/thoughtful encounter. But it’s not for a weekend in the country, the young artist is heading to Portland, Oregon for a two-year course to fine-tune his craft (and abandon his “noose around my neck” friends).

Much is made of the ability for a new relationship to begin as a blank canvas where both parties can—initially—project an extremely limited edition of who they are. That notion is expertly contrasted with just how much longtime friends really know about each other. Where Glen likes to interview his partners (for a vague art project/installation somewhere down the road), Russell opts for journaling—especially mindful of chronicling various coming out stories. Those twin threads intersect for a wonderful climax when the parentless protector of lives is offered a surrogate father to come out to. Anyone who has ever been on either side of those telling moments won’t forget that intimate scene anytime soon.

Living on the 14th floor, the camera (beautifully rendered by Urszula Pontikos—the three tub shots add silent punctuation as Russell cleanses himself prior to leaving the security of his domain) captures a trio of views from on high as Glen heads back to his unsatisfactory existence, having just found something fleetingly special.

Filmmaking as sensitive as this is exceedingly rare these days. See it with a friend or partner of any persuasion: everyone will come away richer and, perhaps, wiser than before.

Slant Magazine [Eric Henderson]

 

SBS Film [Michelle Orange]

 

IC Places [Chris Knipp]

 

Weekend | Film | Movie Review | The A.V. Club  Alison Willmore

 

FilmFracture: What's Your Time Worth? [Kristen Sales]

 

Filmcritic.com  Chris Barsanti 

 

Andrew Haigh's Weekend: Sex, No Lies & Audiotape - Time Magazine  Mary Pols

 

Phil on Film [Philip Concannon]

 

Cinema de Merde [Scott Telek]

 

jdbrecords [Jeffery Berg]

 

IndieWire [Eric Kohn]

 

Film-Forward.com [Kent Turner]

 

Smells Like Screen Spirit [Don Simpson]

 

The Film Pilgrim [Jodie Hatley]

 

NextToTheAisle [Jamie Garwood]

 

DustinPutman.com [Dustin Putman]

 

The Film Stage [John Fink]

 

DFW.com [Christopher Kelly]

 

Weekend — Inside Movies Since 1920 - Box Office Magazine  Kate Erbland

 

Film Monthly.com – Weekend (2011)  LaSonya Thompson

 

Screen Comment [Lita Robinson]

 

Cinema Blend [Matt Patches]

 

Reeling Reviews [Robin Clifford, Laura Clifford]

 

EFilmCritic [Jay Seaver]

 

Weekend review | Screenjabber  Charles Whitting

 

HeyUGuys [Jamie Neish]

 

Movie Moxie [Shannon Ridler]

 

Weekend - Entertainment Weekly  Lisa Schwarzbaum

 

Variety [Joe Leydon]

 

SXSW 2011: Andrew Haigh is an emerging talent destined to become the main event   Catherine Shoard from The Guardian, March 21, 2011

 

Peter Bradshaw's review  The Guardian, November 3, 2011

 

Philip French's review  The Observer, November 5, 2011

 

Weekend's a three-day wonder  Charles Grant from The Guardian, November 8, 2011

 

Weekend - Boston.com  Wesley Morris from The Boston Globe

 

TGIF: 'Weekend' worth watching - BostonHerald.com  Stephen Schaefer

 

Critic Review for Weekend (2011/II) on washingtonpost.com  Michael O’Sullivan

 

'Weekend' review: The thing about ... - TwinCities.com-Pioneer Press  Chris Hewitt

 

Austin Chronicle [James Renovitch]

 

'Weekend' review: Testing boundaries  David Wiegand from The SF Chronicle

 

Movie review: 'Weekend' - Los Angeles Times  Kenneth Turan

 

Weekend :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews

 

Movie Review - 'Weekend' - 'Weekend,' Directed by Andrew Haigh ...  A.O. Scott from The New York Times

 
Hallström, Lasse

 

All-Movie Guide   Rebecca Flint Marx

 

One of Sweden's most renowned directors, Lasse Hallström is best known to international audiences as the maker of such poignant but resolutely unsentimental coming-of-age films as My Life as a Dog and What's Eating Gilbert Grape. The son of an amateur filmmaker, Hallström was born in Stockholm on June 2, 1946. He began his professional career in high school when, with the assistance of a group of friends, he made a short film about some school mates who had formed a band. The film was shown on Swedish television, and after graduating high school, Hallström went on to do more work for television. His Shall We Dance? was aired in 1969, while The Love Seeker (1972) was Sweden's entry at the Montreux Television Festival. The following year, Hallström's Shall We Go to My or to Your Place or Each Go Home Alone?, a televised film about Swedish youth, was so well received that he was able to make his feature film directorial debut.
 
Hallström made his debut with the romantic drama En Kille och en tjej (A Guy and a Gal) in 1975. Two years later, he focused his lens on one of Sweden's most famous exports in ABBA - The Movie. He subsequently made a number of romantic comedies, but it was not until 1985, with Mitt Liv Sond Hund (My Life as a Dog), that Hallström had his international breakthrough. A bona fide art-house hit, My Life was the touching and wholly un-patronizing coming-of-age story of a young boy sent to live with relatives when his terminally ill mother can no longer care for him. The film earned a score of international honors, including the Best Foreign Film Golden Globe and New York Film Critics Circle award, and Hallström received Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
 
Following the success of My Life as a Dog, Hallström remained in Sweden, making children's films. In 1991, he came to the U.S. and made his stateside debut with Once Around. A romantic comedy starring Holly Hunter and Richard Dreyfuss, it enjoyed a favorable reception. Two years later, the director's international reputation was further solidified with the film that many regard as one of his best, What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Another unsentimental coming-of-age story, it was centered around the travails of the title character (played by Johnny Depp), a young man longing for change from his mundane everyday existence. It featured strong performances all around, particularly from Depp and a then-unknown Leonardo DiCaprio, who earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for his portrayal of Gilbert's retarded younger brother.
 
Hallström's follow-up to Gilbert, Something to Talk About (1995), returned him to the realm of romantic comedy. Starring Julia Roberts as a woman bent on getting revenge on her philandering husband (Dennis Quaid), it earned a less enthusiastic reception than Hallström's previous film, but still managed to be fairly successful. The director did not make another film for four years; when he re-emerged, it was with an adaptation of John Irving's The Cider House Rules. Featuring a script by the author, it starred Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, and Michael Caine, the latter playing his first ever American-accented role as a kindly doctor and occasional abortionist. The following year Hallstrom scored yet another art-house hit with the romantic comedy drama Chocolat, the tale of a small-town candy maker who shakes up her community by staying open on Sundays earned numerous award nominations including four Golden Globe Nominations and five Oscar nominations. Hallstrom's pace showed no signs of lagging with the release of The Shipping News in 2001, and though the film may have not been as universally adored as his previous few films it nevertheless earned positive critical notice and earned a healthy keep at art-house box-offices.
 
Keeping the drama personal for his next film, An Unfinished Life, audiences eagerly awaited the tale of a down-on-her-luck woman (Jennifer Lopez who moves in with her estranged father in law (Robert Redford) in order to ensure her daughter a safe and sheltered upbringing.
 
Since 1994, Hallström has been married to actress Lena Olin, with whom he has a daughter.

 

The Unofficial Website

 

Filmbug  biography

 

Film Reference  profile by Robin Wood

 

Hallström, Lasse  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They

 

ABBA:  THE MOVIE

Sweden  Australia  (96 mi)  1977  ‘Scope

 

Time Out

Unashamed and supremely slick commercial for the group, maintaining a gentle air of self-parody while at the same time being a celebration of all the various apparatuses which make a merchandising phenomenon like ABBA possible. The narrative, without which the film would mostly consist of footage of the band on stage, follows ABBA through an Australian tour pursued by a Sydney deejay. If the idea's spread a bit thin, it's occasionally handled with a humour and panache worthy of Dick Lester's Beatles' movies or ABBA's own Phil Spector/Brian Wilson- inspired studio craftsmanship.

All Movie Guide [Donald Guarisco]

This surprisingly inspired concert documentary is much more than the throwaway quickie one might expect. In fact, ABBA: The Movie functions both as a fun concert movie and a nifty time capsule thanks to some inspired filmmaking. The film's wraparound device of a reporter stalking ABBA might seem fairly stale in concept, but it works here because the script underplays this element, choosing to focus on the real-life hassles the character would deal instead of placing him in a series of contrived slapstick moments (the moments with him recording and editing down his on-the-street interviews are particularly interesting). It's also worth noting that Robert Hughes delivers a surprisingly wry performance as the Disc Jockey that manages to deliver plenty of humor without lapsing into mugging or overtly broad gesticulation. However, the heart of any concert film must lie in its musical numbers, and ABBA: The Movie delivers this element in spades: director Lasse Hallström and cinematographer Paul Onorato capture each song with a variety of angles and flashy moves that Hallström has deftly edited into fast-moving bursts of music and image that anticipate the programming that would soon fill MTV. They also periodically intercut these performances with other moments to ironic effect, the best example being all the shots of ABBA merchandise and vendors that are cut into the performance of "Money, Money, Money." In front of the camera, ABBA deliver their songs with big, bright smiles and plenty of gusto as a string of relentlessly screaming audiences whoop it up. ABBA fans should be especially happy with the film's musical content because it includes both familiar hits like "Dancing Queen" and lesser-known fan favorites like "Eagle." In short, ABBA: The Movie is a slick, fast-paced treat for the group's fans and a fine way for novices to experience this internationally popular group at the height of their fame.

Turner Classic Movies   Pablo Kjolseth

A November 10, 2004 CNN post declared that ABBA, the Swedish pop superstars that disbanded in 1981, would not be getting together for a 30th year re-union. The article also noted that "Four years ago they turned down an offer of $1 billion to re-form" and quoted singer Bjorn Ulvaeus as saying "Just look at our videos - That energy, that drive, that enthusiasm. You just wouldn't see that anymore if the four of us got on stage today. It's just not there." Those willing to take Bjorn up on the challenge of watching ABBA videos will notice one name behind most of these promo clips; Lasse Hallström, the Swedish director behind such films as My Life as a Dog (1985), What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), and The Shipping News (2001), among others, including an early feature called ABBA: The Movie (1977).

ABBA: The Movie is a playful concoction that mixes actual concert footage of ABBA performing around Australia in March of 1977 with a thin narrative that follows a disc jockey by the name of Ashley (played by Robert Hughes, who later worked in various Australian TV shows) working against the clock to secure an interview with the band. Ashley's desperation is fueled by the fact that his job is at stake, and also due to his efforts being repeatedly foiled. Most viewers will probably find the interludes with the persistent disc jockey an irritation and an unnecessary distraction, but it does serve the purpose of providing a medium by which some superficial information about the band and their success can be relayed to the novice.

The film does a few interesting things, beginning with a cramped flat presentation which introduces us to Ashley that is soon thereafter stretched open to reveal a Panavision wide-screen format to introduce ABBA - preceding a similar motif by Douglas Trumbull, used in Brainstorm (1983), where he would switch between different film formats to punch up desired moments. There is also an abundant use of the splitscreen, made popular in Woodstock (1970), and there are even some fantasy and dream sequences tossed in for good measure. While these attempts to spice up the proceedings will do little to convince non-fans that ABBA could rise above a bland stage show that was carried mostly by pleasant vocals and, secondly, by some measure of gloss and frilly white costumes, the overall effect does serve to pump up the seventies time-capsule vibe that saw ABBA at the peak of its career.

ABBA is an acronym derived from the first names of its members Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Agnetha and Bjorn were married in July of 1971 (divorced 1979), while Benny and Anni-Frid were married in October of 1978 (and divorced in 1981). Their initial collaboration began in 1970 with a cabaret act called Festfolk (a word whose double-meaning could be interpreted as either "party people" or "engaged couples"). As the group climbed its way up the ladder and changed its name a few other times it finally got to the 1973 Swedish selections for the Eurovision Song Contest, where their song "Ring Ring" garnered third place. The next year they officially took on ABBA as their name and their song "Waterloo" took them all the way to the Eurovision finals. According to "ABBA - The Site," a good internet repository for band info, "ABBA was also the name of a Swedish canned fish company, which luckily agreed to lending their name to a pop group. The Eurovision Song Contest on April 6, 1974 turned out to be the most famous moment in ABBA history, when the group won the international juries over with 'Waterloo'. " And the rest, as they say, is history.

Aside from the concert footage and back-stage snippets afforded by the film, ABBA fans have another reason to seek out this particular film according to another website titled "The Secret Guide to ABBA: The Movie":

Many ABBA books over the years (starting with ABBA for the Record in 1980) have listed three mysterious instrumental songs that are supposed to be heard in ABBA - The Movie , 'Johan pa snippen', 'Polkan gar', and 'Stoned'. They have often been described as "traditional" tunes¿ 'Johan pa snippen' is the Swedish "polka" tune played in the backstage dressing room¿ 'Polkan gar' is heard very quietly in the background of the very next scene¿ 'Stoned' is heard very quietly during the scene when ABBA are in the hotel room (in "Perth") reading the reviews of the Sydney concert.

The above excerpt puts "Perth" in quotes due to obvious liberties taken while filming the tour. Liberties that included only shooting Agnetha above the neck for most of the film (due to a pregnancy) or strategically obscured newspaper headlines trying to hide the headline "AGNETHA'S BOTTOM TOPS DULL SHOW." Such cynicism is surely easily shrugged off by the kind of avid fan base that sold over 26 million copies of the 1992 compilation CD titled ABBA Gold and that also recently helped make Mama Mia! (based on ABBA songs) one of Broadway's most popular shows. Similarly, while ABBA: The Movie won't make converts out of nonbelievers, it does capture a moment of seventies innocence in amber and is sure to please fans looking for a dose of clean and upbeat music.

eFilmCritic.com   spoken (or written) like a true ABBA aficionado

 

DVD Times [Noel Megahey]

 

CineScene.com [Pat Padua]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Stephen Groenewegen)

 

Channel 4 Film

 

MY LIFE AS A DOG

Sweden  (101 mi)  1985

 

Time Out

This charming, bitter-sweet evocation of childhood is something of a minor gem. Set in the Sweden of the 1950s, it describes the 400 blows suffered by a resourceful, twitchy and energetic 12-year-old boy who is farmed out to country relatives when his antics and demands for attention prove too much for his ailing mother. Hallström nurtures from his young star (Glanzelius) a performance of remarkable range and maturity, presenting a poignant picture of youthful tenacity struggling to come to terms with disappointments and events that may be beyond his comprehension, but which he manages to negotiate with his quirky, open-eyed optimism intact. Witty, touching and perceptive as he contrasts the rural village and its strange but generous-hearted eccentrics with the harsher realities of the city, Hallström makes it a seamless mix of tragedy and humour.

filmcritic.com  David Bezanson

My Life as a Dog is a nostalgic slice of the life of a child in welfare-state Sweden in the 1950s. Young Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius) is slightly quiet, slightly troubled, slightly mischievous -- pretty much a typical kid. He has always been close to his mother (Anki Liden, in a very good performance). But now she is dying of TB. So he is sent away to the country to live with his likeable uncle Gunnar (the equally likeable Tomas von Brömssen) in Smaland, amongst a cast of crazy Swedish townspeople and a new bunch of kids.

For some reason, during the 1980s many European directors finally became interested in making technically competent and emotionally involving films -- for the first time. My Life as a Dog is a transitional work in the evolution of continental cinema -- there are still moments of home-movie sloppiness, slow-paced nostalgia, and self-indulgent pseudo-profundity, and enough sex gags to satisfy European audiences. But Lasse Hallström’s film also contains insight, humor, intelligence, and warmth, and his direction is graceful and effective.

Unfortunately, this film brought Hallström international fame and he now directs big-screen adaptations of atrociously bad American fiction (John Irving’s The Cider House Rules and Annie Proulx’s awful The Shipping News).

There are some very nice moments of depth and verisimilitude in this movie -- especially the kids’ fights and games, and the jousting between sexually precocious girls over the oblivious Ingemar. Some things about the movie are a little confusing, like the ending, but life is confusing when you’re a kid. By the end of the movie, you care enough about the characters to want a sequel, even though life probably goes on predictably for them in Smaland.

Like most European films, My Life as a Dog also contains some very bizarre scenes, in which Ingemar barks like a dog and Uncle Gunnar crawls around on the floor trying to bite his wife’s clothes off. Like Falco records, these scenes are a reminder that -- in spite of their moral self-righteousness and two millennia of civilization -- Europeans are still a strange and degenerate people. (P.S. As a French-American, I can say that.) But films like My Life as a Dog give cause for hope.

Turner Classic Movies [Sean Axmaker]

 

One of the greatest and most sensitive films about children and the turbulence of childhood, My Life as a Dog (1985), Lasse Hallstrom's adaptation of Reidar Jonsson's autobiographical novel, was a break-out film for the director. The story of a 12-year-old boy sent to a rural Swedish village full of amiable eccentrics while his seriously ailing mother attempts to convalesce had universal echoes and it became both a local and international hit. It earned Hallstrom Oscar® nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay (shared with author Jonsson and two other writers), a Golden Globe award for Best Foreign-Language Film, and entrée to Hollywood, where Hallstrom eventually became a favored in-house director for classy Miramax Oscar®-bait productions like The Cider House Rules (1999) and The Shipping News (2001). None of those films approach the simple joy and poignant pain of My Life as a Dog, a drama that tempers the flights of childhood idyll with an undercurrent of guilt and unease as the puppyish boy blames himself for his mother's declining condition.

Eleven-year-old Anton Glanzelius, a non-actor in one of his only major roles, is an adorable puppy of a spirited kid as Ingemar, a sweetly eccentric boy with a creative sense of mischief that has a tendency to spiral out of control. Father is conspicuously and inexplicably absent (Ingemar's explanation, that he's busy at the equator loading bananas into boats, is fanciful at best) and frail, ailing mother is dying of tuberculosis. Ingemar is a sweetheart but he's also a handful and his antics, often instigated by his equally unrestrained older brother, have a tendency to reduce mom to a screaming, sobbing wreck. In need of peace, she has the boys split up and Ingemar is sent to stay with his goofy uncle and joyously tolerant aunt in one of the cutely offbeat little villages that thrive in European films. This is a place where a bedridden old man has Ingemar secretly read to him from a lingerie catalogue, a maverick sculptor puts erotic touches on the pitchers produced by the local glassworks, a buxom blonde beauty drafts Ingemar to chaperone while she poses nude for the same sculptor, and a soccer-playing tomboy poses as a boy (and the boys go along with the charade). "I have an affinity for eccentrics and outsiders, and portraying them and not being judgmental," Hallstrom admitted in an interview with London's Guardian. Ingemar, who has what can only be described as a drinking problem (for some inexplicable reason, he is physically incapable of lifting a drinking glass to his mouth in public without sloshing the liquid everywhere) and has a tendency to drop to all fours and bark like a dog, is strangely at home here.

Hallstrom was one of the first directors to make his name in the music video world, directing practically every music video for Abba as well as their big screen debut, ABBA: The Movie (1977), and he established his film credentials with a series of autobiographical television films directed from his own original scripts.
My Life as a Dog was his first adaptation of another author's work and he collaborated with author Reidar Jonsson who based the novel on his own childhood; he grew up with a mother who suffered from tuberculosis and terrible fits of violence, but Hallstrom found his own personal connection. "I related to it much more than I realized as I was making the film," reflected Hallstrom in a 2002 interview. "My mom was a writer and needed a lot of that privacy and I do recall that feeling of that closed door, that typewriter that you heard from the other side of the door. I can relate to being shut out like that." Hallstrom was 13 years old in 1959, the year in which the novel is set, and his recollections of the culture and texture of the period helps color Ingemar's experience.

The metaphorical dog of the title is most obviously Laika, the dog that the Russian space program sent up into space in a Sputnik. As Ingemar sees it, the helpless canine was imprisoned in a capsule and sent orbiting around the Earth to die, alone, of starvation, sacrificed to human progress. Closer to home, he distresses over his own beloved pooch, who was kenneled back home when he was sent away (never to be seen again), and has a tendency to bark with unrestrained exuberance when he gets overexcited. It's pure childish play, but it also keeps him from having to expose the feelings and fears bubbling under his alert eyes and adorable smile. For all the joy and laughter in his uncle's home, for all the adventures of his summer of discovery and his winter of acceptance, he's plagued by guilt and unease, terrified that he's responsible for his mother's death. That's a lot of responsibility to be heaped on a 12-year-old boy facing constant rejection as he's shuttled from home to home and Hallstrom never lets us forget the big emotional weight this little boy carries. "I've been lucky compared to others," muses Ingemar in a reflective monologue played out against a view of the night sky, as if he's peering up for a glimpse of Laiki. "You have to compare so you can get a distance on things."

Hallstrom's subsequent Swedish productions – The Children of Bullerby Village (1986) and its sequel, More About the Children of Bullerby Village (1987) – were sweet juvenile productions that continued in the vein of childhood, but without the depth of emotion and bittersweet ache of
My Life as a Dog. Nevertheless, Hollywood was already beckoning. His first American, the offbeat romantic comedy Once Around (1991) and the troubled family drama What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), are more in tune with the subtlety of feeling and the complicated emotional conflicts at the heart of this career-making film. Hallstrom balances the pleasures and pain of Ingemar's life beautifully: the ephemeral joys of everyday events, the curiosity and mystery of sex and attraction, the confusion of growing up, the helplessness of being a kid in a grown-up world, the fear of abandonment, the comfort of being accepted into a community, and the possibilities that every new day brings.

 

Goatdog's Movies [Michael W. Phillips Jr.]

 

DVD Times  Anthony Nield

 

not coming to a theater near you (Rumsey Taylor)

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Jeff Ulmer)

 

Camera Journal [Paul Sutton]  nice use of photos

 

PopMatters  David Sanjek

 

The QNetwork Film Desk [James Kendrick]

 

Edwin Jahiel

 

Movie Reviews UK  Damian Cannon

 

Turner Classic Movies   Paul Tatara

 

DVD Talk (Matthew Millheiser)

 

DVD Savant (Lee Broughton)

 

Washington Post [Desson Howe]

 

Washington Post [Hal Hinson]

 

The New York Times (Vincent Canby)

 

DVDBeaver.com - Graphic Review [Gary W. Tooze]

 

ONCE AROUND

USA  (115 mi)  1991

 

All Movie Guide [Michael Hastings]

Swedish director Lasse Hallström's first American picture met with a generally tepid reception from audiences and critics, but it's worth another look in retrospect. Once Around is of a piece with the director's shaggy, gently satirical portraits of tightly knit families and the forces that threaten to break them apart. The plot -- vulnerable Renata Bella (Holly Hunter) takes up with a smarmy condo salesman (Richard Dreyfuss) who alienates the rest of her clan -- is the stuff of television melodrama, but Hallström seizes on the script's ethnic clashes and meandering dialogue to craft a messier, more authentic vision of a proud American family. Despite the two performers' conspicuous lack of chemistry in 1989's Always, here they complement each other well. The over-animated Dreyfuss is used to good effect, as his impulsive, eccentric outbursts are played for tension as opposed to punchlines; it becomes understandable that Hunter's slightly manic Renata would be smitten with him.

Edward Copeland on Film

 
Dogs can't fulfill their dreams so humans have to do it for them. So goes a Lithuanian proverb that Sam Sharpe likes to recite in Once Around, the American film debut of Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom (My Life as a Dog). Richard Dreyfuss stars as Sam and everyone knows someone like him. He'd do anything for you, but perhaps with ulterior motives. He's as lovable as he is obnoxious and he always has to be "on." He is his own caricature and feels compelled to be the center of attention. In Hallstrom's film, Sam captures the attention of Renata Belle (Holly Hunter) and tries to woo her family as he has her. Renata meets Sam at a real estate seminar, a new business she's pursuing in hopes of healing from her breakup with her boyfriend Rob (Griffin Dunne in an amusing cameo).

Sam masterminded the condominium ploy, demonstrated in a dead-on parody of those half-hour infomercials that inundate the TV airwaves in the wee hours of the morning. Don't be confused into thinking that Once Around exists solely as comedy, because it's much more than that. It takes moviegoers on a life-affirming journey through the lives of a family that teeters between reality and fantasy. Some critics complain that Once Around has an inconsistent tone, that characters -- particularly Sam -- seem realistic one moment, a broad caricature the next. This isn't a weakness -- it's a plus. These dynamic characters, like most real people, seldom stay in the same mood for years. Once Around dares to show these characters in different modes and it deserves applause for that. The performances make the film work on that level. In addition to Dreyfuss and Hunter's work (despite her iffy Boston accent), strong performances come from Danny Aiello, Laura San Giacomo and Gena Rowlands as Renata's family. Aiello gives his usual strong performance as Joe Bella, Renata's concerned father who lives for family and distrusts outsiders. San Giacomo shines as Renata's younger, newly-wed sister. Perhaps the strongest kudos deserve to go to Gena Rowlands' underplayed elegance as Marilyn, Joe's wife. A no-nonsense woman, she usually spots a problem quickly and keeps it in perspective. However, she babies Renata, her oldest daughter and at times seems too intent on being seen as perfect. Malia Scotch Marmo's script consistently rings true with surprises that feel right without being manipulative. It equally balances humor and tension, chaos with calm. Hallstrom keeps the shifting tones of the film moving within the circular motif he follows. Rings and circles and round objects constantly pop up in the visual field and finally it hits home what Once Around aims at being about. This movie is about change and the life cycle itself. In the end, Once Around presents one of the most moving depictions of this classic subject in a long time.
 

Movie Vault [Arturo Garcia Lasca]

 

Washington Post [John F. Kelly]

 

Washington Post [Rita Kempley]

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

The New York Times (Janet Maslin)

 

WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE                  A                     95

USA  (118 mi)  1993

 

"We're not going anywhere!"

 

In a small town setting that feels a million miles from anywhere where time has passed this community by decades ago, a big box grocery store called Food Land has opened up by the interstate drawing people away from what was once their downtown charm.  Endora, Iowa is the place, but the opening and closing sequences may as well be a tribute to Jacques Demy’s THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT (1967), where people from all over the country driving their shiny silver trailer homes ride past in their annual caravan of people on the move, all traveling from nameless destinations heading somewhere else, not even bothering for a pit stop.  But the spectacle seeing the line of vehicles kicking up a cloud of dust as they rumble through the outskirts of town may as well be a traveling circus passing through carrying elephants and giraffes, as it’s likely the most exciting event that happens all year long, until it happens again the next year.  Adapted by the novelist Peter Hedges for the movie, this is a highly imaginative yet delicate story that suggests big box Wal-Mart’s in their rush for profits are sucking the very souls out of the people who inhabit small rural communities.  This is a veritable ensemble of fresh talent that comes alive onscreen, resembling the emotional realism expressed from the small town characters in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971), but what’s unique here is the dysfunctional nature of the family, something akin to Jane Campion’s SWEETIE (1989), where familiarity with what we might otherwise find discomforting and even grotesque breeds tolerance and compassion.  The director’s non-judgmental tone allows the audience room the breathe as they experience these wonderfully crafted characters, whose humor and self-doubts and ultimately their appreciation for one another resemble our own lives, even if the circumstances are not the same.  

 

A young Leonardo DiCaprio plays Arnie, just days away from his 18th birthday, but a brain damaged boy who’s stuck with the mind of a young four or five-year old child, completely innocent and free, unaware of worldly dangers, but also unable to take care of himself, needing constant supervision or he’s liable to wander off and get lost.  Johnny Depp plays his big brother Gilbert Grape, a warm, gentle soul who has a tendency to retreat from life, a guy in his twenties with his hands full, as he’s expected to support his family all by himself while also looking after Arnie 24 hours a day.  Darlene Cates is his mother Bonnie, but she’s so overweight at 500 pounds that she hasn’t left the house in seven years, literally fixed to the couch.  Gilbert’s two younger sisters are Amy (Laura Harrington), the dutiful older sister who tirelessly and selflessly is at her mother’s side, while Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt) is still in the thralls of being a self-centered teenager.  DiCaprio is completely authentic throughout, charming us with his youthful playfulness, where his physical mannerisms and emotional world are astoundingly realistic, but as the title suggests, the story is more about Gilbert, who due to no fault of his own bears the burden of responsibility, and has from an early age, so much so that his own childhood was all but snatched from him, as he’s had to shoulder such a heavy load while working at the town grocery store, much like George Bailey in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946).  But unlike the love that George Bailey was fortunate to have all his life, Gilbert’s family has been all about necessity, leaving him in an uneventful town with no place to go and with little opportunity for personal growth. 

 

But rather than dwell on these hardships, the film accentuates humor and personal eccentricities, especially Arnie’s charming innocence, yet also the relentless aggravation this causes Gilbert as he continually has to sacrifice his own life to keep rescuing Arnie from his daily round of mishaps and troubles, where all he wants to do is play all the time, even as he continually exposes himself to greater dangers simply out of a playful curiosity.  He’s the kind of kid that would wander out into the middle of a country highway, arms waving furiously in a greeting of friendship, but then get run over by an unsuspecting driver.  Gilbert’s life is an established routine, a steady dose of the same, nothing out of the ordinary, yet his closeness to his brother, who he fiercely protects, and the experiences they share together are like none other, so from an audience’s point of view, these are startlingly unique and offer a different opening into a complex set of emotions.  When Becky (an adorable Juliette Lewis), a young girl passing through with the caravan who’s grandmother’s car is stalled and in need of an engine part that must be ordered, this offers Gilbert an adventure of a different kind, one that has him completely perplexed, where his mind is literally elsewhere all the time, especially considering she’ll be leaving soon.  The beauty of this film is the heartfelt attention to what one might call Truman Capote short story detail and the brilliantly constructed characters, all of whom matter, where each is somehow an extension of Gilbert, and in turn ourselves, stuck in the same dreary place while the world seems to pass them by, but the road beyond leads somewhere, and life is nothing if not a personal journey down that road, where each one of us has to find his or her own way.  What makes this so unconventional is not the degree of dysfunction, but the startling originality on display and the devotion to the idea that we are living in a world where all people matter.  Perhaps no one realizes this better than those isolated in rural communities with limited options, where one might be dazzled by what it must be like in movies or magazines or somewhere else down the road, before coming to the realization that home is really our own sense of purpose and the freedom to determine what is right for ourselves rather than having it forced upon us. 

 

Time Out review

 

Hallström's finally struck a chord with the Americans, though it's much the same cocktail of whimsy and worry, the eccentric and the banal, that he's been mixing all along. The frustrated Gilbert (Depp) lives at home in Endora, Iowa, with his two younger sisters, his mentally disabled brother Arnie (DiCaprio), and his sofa-crushing 600lb mother (Cates). Deep in a Midwestern rut, Gilbert holds down a job at the local store, maintains a bored affair with housewife Betty Carver (Steenburgen), and tries to keep Arnie out of trouble, but his patience is running out - it's only when he meets teen traveller Becky (Lewis) that he can really take stock. Cute adolescent poetry with a sentimental kick.

 

Exclaim! dvd review [Special Collector's Edition]  Ian Mackenzie

For a screenplay with relatively little dialogue, there’s a lot going on in this portrait of small town America and its requisite angst. Obesity, mental illness, death, corporate destruction of rural businesses and the burden of family all figure prominently in Peter Hedges’ screenplay (adapted from his novel). And while the themes tend toward the universal, they are anchored to a small, broken family and their unique struggles. The main reason to revisit this 1993 gem on DVD, however, is in watching the film’s handful of terrific performances. Leonardo DiCaprio is uncanny as the mentally handicapped Arnie Grape — compare this performance to his recent Howard Hughes role in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (and the uneven work in between) for a persuasive case that this is America’s most impressive young film actor. For the role of the obese “Momma,” director Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat) cast amateur Darlene Cates. It’s an incredibly affecting performance (the word “brave” seems apt but patronising) and it provides the raw core that the film revolves around. There are more strong performances — John C. Reilly, Mary Steenburgen, Juliette Lewis and Johnny Depp as the title character — and all of them bring depth and humanity to their flawed characters. The one clear miss is the criminally underused Crispin Glover in his dispensable supporting role. The DVD contains three recently made “making of” featurettes, with many of the film’s actors looking back with a tangible fondness for the project. These extras are insightful and emotive in their own way and well worth the 20 or so minutes they comprise. Hearing Depp, in full The Pirates of the Caribbean production hair, lauding DiCaprio’s performance and the “dashing young man he has become today” is a graceful example of professional camaraderie. Also included are a writer/director commentary and the original theatrical trailer.

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Joel Cunningham) dvd review [Special Edition]

Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) is trapped in the small town of Endora, Iowa: trapped by his obligations to his mentally-impaired younger brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio); by his mindless job as a stock boy at the local grocer; by his awkward affair with a local mother (Mary Steenburgen), and most of all, by his mother, a once-beautiful woman who is likewise trapped—she weighs 500 pounds, and hasn't left the house in seven years.

Depp has always gravitated towards oddball characters (he's a favorite of director Tim Burton, an oddball in his own right), and Gilbert is similarly alienated from his surroundings. He's fiercely protective of Arnie, but resents his role, and tires of constantly bailing him out of trouble (Arnie has a tendency to climb the town water-tower when no one is looking). Of course, he's not alone—Endora is populated with a variety of small-town weirdos. Gilbert's best friends, Tucker (John C. Reilly) and Bobby (the always slightly-off Crispin Glover), have their own peculiarities. Tucker's goal in life is to become manager at the newly opened Burger Barn, and Bobby is an under-worked undertaker always on the lookout for a new client ("I haven't seen your mother in a while, how's she doing?" he asks a neighbor, hopefully). But Gilbert is the only one who seems unfulfilled with life.

Everything changes, as things often do, when a stranger rolls into town. This time, it is Becky (Lewis), a young woman as idealistic as Gilbert is cynical, who begins a timid romance with the dissatisfied young man. She opens his eyes to the world around him, disrupts a routine that might have gone on for years. It's not a monumental change, or an easy solution to Gilbert's problems. But she sees the simple beauty of Gilbert's life, and of his brother Arnie. Gilbert, so long asleep, finally awakens to meet his present and contemplate a future he didn't think he had.

Johnny Depp is a fine young actor, and he's perfect for Gilbert; he hits just the right notes of gentleness and angst. Leonardo DiCaprio, in a performance that deserved to earn him the fame that Titanic eventually did, gives the most convincing performance as a mentally-impaired person since Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. He never goes for the obvious, loveable, clichéd "dunce with a heart of gold." His Arnie is equally endearing and exasperating, and it's clear why Gilbert is so devoted to him (and why he drives everyone so crazy). The real standout, though, is newcomer Darlene Cates as Gilbert's mom. She manages to inject humanity into a role that could've been one-note. Yes, she's fat, but she's also human, more than a simple freak show, and once again we see both why she is so difficult for Gilbert to live with and why he sticks around.

Lasse Hallstrom has gained notoriety is recent years for his annual Miramax best-picture bid (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat), and his craft is on display in this picture as well. He balances the routine, the dramatic, and the bleakly comic without faltering. Peter Hedges, adapting from his own novel, has crafted an elegant slice-of-life screenplay, one without a traditional, forced narrative. At the end, nothing has changed and everything has, and we've done little more than spend a few hours getting to know a unique cast of characters.

Less a standard, plot-driven film, and more a series of poignant vignettes on the allure and frustration of small town life, What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a touching character piece that deserves to be seen.

Scott Renshaw

Tone alone cannot sustain a film, but it can go a long way. If I can find myself lost in the time and place of a story, it scores immediate style points. When that tone is backed up by an outstanding story and great acting, the effect can be described best by an adjective I do not use lightly: "literary." WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE? is such a film. It's a rich, memorable and stunningly acted story of desire colliding with responsibility, staged in a manner which many viewers might find too prosaic, but which insinuated itself into my imagination with its confidence.

Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) is a young man living in rural Endora, Iowa, facing incredible responsibilities. As the man of the house since his father's suicide, Gilbert must support the family by working at the local grocery store. He also must watch over his mentally handicapped brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and help care for his extremely overweight mother (Darlene Cates). Gilbert seems destined to spend the rest of his life in the small town until the arrival in Endora of Becky (Juliette Lewis), a free spirit passing through with her grandmother when their truck breaks down. As he spends time with Becky, Gilbert begins to think about all the things he is missing. Slowly his resentment builds, until he realizes that he can no longer live his entire life for other people.

Director Lasse Hallstrom (MY LIFE AS A DOG) and legendary cinematographer Sven Nykvist create a magnificent visual backdrop for Peter Hedges' screenplay, based on his own novel. Endora is a town on the edge of the world represented by the giant FoodMart, a tiny insular community where everyone knows everyone else. The midwestern sunsets and sprawling fields are beautifully photographed, and the atmosphere of the town is intensely real. Minor characters, like Crispin Glover as the town's mortician, are vividly realized, and there are echoes of THE LAST PICTURE SHOW in Mary Steenburgen's desperately unhappy housewife. One of the most perfectly realized scenes focuses on the grand opening of a burger franchise, attended by the entire town and accompanied by the off-key high school band. Not a single note in the depiction of Endora rang false.

The same can be said of the character of Gilbert. It's testimony to the precision involved in his creation that he came together completely with one perfectly placed line, when Becky responds to Gilbert's description of his father with, "I knew someone like that once." Gilbert is a man harboring an ever-growing bitterness about where he finds himself in life, a bitterness which reveals itself in moments of surprising cruelty. In one scene, he allows local children to look at his mother through their window, displaying her like a side show attraction. His entire life seems to be mocked by Arnie's repeated chants of, "We're not going anywhere," but instead of expressing his dissatisfaction he lets his anger simmer, and it becomes clear that he is following in his father's footsteps in this regard. Johnny Depp expertly demonstrates the tension central to Gilbert by playing everything below the surface, but he never gives in to one-dimensional blankness or simply regurgitates his naif roles in BENNY & JOON and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.

Depp's performance is overshadowed, however, by Leonardo DiCaprio's astonishing Oscar-nominated supporting work as Arnie. He puts to shame such big name actors as John Malkovich and Dustin Hoffman, whose mentally challenged characters never seemed completely real. DiCaprio is perfect to the last twitch and squeal, and anyone who has ever spent time with mentally challenged kids will be hard-pressed to spot a flaw. Darlene Cates, a first-time actor, brings real pain to her scenes as Gilbert's tortured mother, and Laura Harrington and Mary Kate Schellhardt are solid as Gilbert's sisters. Only Juliette Lewis doesn't quite click, playing a critical role with her now familiar dopey drone and too little genuine spark. GILBERT GRAPE does seem to drift into its conclusion, but it never lost me. Thanks to a lovingly created setting and a marvelous cast, this 1993 release proves well worth the wait.

Movieline Magazine dvd review  Michael Atkinson

Few recent films have had as little a chance at finding an audience as What's Eating Gilbert Grape--a small-town "bittersweet comedy" with a thoughtful story and a title that could make a diabetic's teeth ache. Having Johnny Depp as the star helped, as did the eventual Oscar nomination for Leonardo DiCaprio, but still Gilbert Grape had a long row to hoe at the box office. It's a shame, because to my mind it's one of 1993's best movies and something of a quiet miracle--as with live people, you're never sure how any of its characters will behave. The Grapes are as authentic, and as flat-out weird, as any real family I know.

The director is Lasse Hallstroem, whose My Life as a Dog and Once Around are both just as intoxicated with offbeat everydayness. In all of Hallstroem's movies you get a clear sense that the members of a family or community have actually known each other for a long, long time--look at movies like Six Degrees of Separation, Household Saints or Damage if you think that's easy.

Here are some of the Grapes's oddities: Dad committed suicide years before, and the 500-pound Mom (Darlene Cates) hasn't left their collapsing house since she became obese; Gilbert (Depp), easily the sanest person in town, works at the local grocery store, dallies with banana-bread housewife Mary Steenburgen, and works hard at keeping his wacko clan (which includes two sisters) together and happy. And then there's Gilbert's brother, Arnie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Arnie is the center of the Grape cyclone, a mentally retarded teenager who finds trouble like a fly finds dogshit. Keeping Arnie happy and clean is a full-time job, and one Gilbert begins to resent once he strikes up a romance with free-spirit Juliette Lewis, who's passing through town.

DiCaprio, who also won acclaim in last year's This Boy's Life, does the best retarded character I've ever seen in a movie. He does what Dustin Hoffman thought he was doing in Rain Man. I know what I'm talking about, too; my 30-year-old brother was born brain-injured/autistic, and I've been around the mentally handicapped my whole life. As you'd expect, few things piss me off more than movies that can't tell an authentic "special" person from Jerry Lewis--and most can't. DiCaprio is so faultless in his portrayal, especially his stunted body language, that it's easy to forget he's normal. Arnie's not just a handicap, he's a whole character, with a life story you can read in every grin.

In the same way that Arnie is not a fake, tearjerking geek, What's Eating Gilbert Grape is far from a congenital-defect-of-the-week soaper. It regards the whole town with the same genuine affection and healthy sense of humor it holds for Arnie. Unlike most movie locales, the town is full of people who speak in natural cadences and say unpredictable things. Supporting cast members like Steenburgen, who plays a scatterbrained adultress, Kevin Tighe, a bursting-at-the-seams insurance salesman, and Crispin Glover, a content, philosophical mortician, all give uniformly terrific performances. Darlene Cates, a first-time actress whose girth landed her on "Sally Jessy Raphael," delivers a sensitive portrayal of a woman who knows she's spinning out of control. Depp handles the complex and mild-mannered Gilbert beautifully and calmly. Even the often-annoying Lewis is surprisingly relaxed and believable as the wandering love child.

Grape is a strange movie with its own rhythms. The simplest scenes--swimming in a pond, watching a fast-food franchise open, visiting a new supermarket--are fresh, funny and touching. Hardly the kind of movie America takes to with any great gusto, What's Eating Gilbert Grape could easily be overlooked a second time on the video store shelves, and that would be a shame as well. (Yeah, while sleepwalks like The Pelican Brief fly like cheap beer on Saint Patrick's Day.) Gilbert Grape can renew your faith in a movie's ability to be recognizably human. It may seem like a small movie, but it's as big as your neighborhood.

Digesting Gilbert Grape  Gloria Cahill interviews novelist Peter Hedges and actress Darlene Cates from Radiance magazine online, Spring 1995

 

Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick)

 

VideoVista   Debbie Moon

 

James Berardinelli's ReelViews

 

DVD Verdict  Patrick Naugle

 

Eye for Film (Angus Wolfe Murray) review [4.5/5]

 

The Digital Bits dvd review  Greg Suarez

 

Brilliant Observations on 1173 Films [Clayton Trapp]

 

Film Freak Central Review [Travis Mackenzie Hoover]

 

filmcritic.com eats with Gilbert Grape  Christopher Null

 

DVD Verdict (Brendan Babish) dvd review [Special Collector's Edition]

 

DVD Talk (Preston Jones) dvd review [4/5] [Special Collector's Edition]

 

Movie-Vault.com (Arturo García Lasca) review

 

eFilmCritic.com (Chris Wilson)

 

allmovie ((( What's Eating Gilbert Grape > Overview )))  Brian J. Dillard

 

Entertainment Weekly review [B-]  Owen Gleiberman

 

Variety (Todd McCarthy) review

 

Austin Chronicle (Marc Savlov)

 

Washington Post [Hal Hinson]

 

Washington Post [Desson Howe]

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

The New York Times (Janet Maslin)

 

What's Eating Gilbert Grape - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Leonardo Dicaprio - Whats eating Gilbert Grape  YouTube (1:55)

 

What's Eating Gilbert Grape News Story  (2:08)  local Iowa news channel segment on the movie

 

1993: What's Eating Gilbert Grape Trailer HQ  Trailer (2:10)

 

Recut Trailer - What's Eating Gilbert Grape  (2:04)

 

What's Eating Gilbert Grape - Story of my Life Take 2!  (3:55)

 

What is you watching? #1: What's Eating Gilbert Grape?  (5:05)

 

Gilbert Grape-Why  (5:26)

 

Gilbert Grape (characters)  (9:51)  actors talk with the director about the movie

 

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT

USA  (106 mi)  1995

 

Tucson Weekly [Zachary Woodruff]

From the screenwriter who gave us Thelma & Louise comes this insightful yet directionless tale of a Southern wife (Julia Roberts) who has to re-think her life when she learns her husband (Dennis Quaid) has been having several affairs. Crisp direction by Lasse Hallestrom, warmly vibrant cinematography and a handful of fun performances (by Kyra Sedgwick, Robert Duvall and Gene Rowlands) keep the film enjoyable long after the story has lost sight of a point. And Roberts is surprisingly good--after years of limited performances in dumb roles, she really seems to be blossoming.

Time Out

After a couple of false starts, Lasse Hallström appears to have found a niche for himself in Hollywood as a purveyor of eccentric character pieces; mellow-dramas with class. Working here from a choice script by Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise), he's fashioned a gently caustic soap about adultery, parenthood and independence. Roberts is Grace Bichon, wife, mother, daughter and manager at the family's award-winning stables - not necessarily in that order. Grace has allowed herself to drift into the absent-minded inertia expected of a respectable Southern woman. She's shocked to find out that husband Eddie (Quaid) has been fooling around, but disappointed when the folks (Duvall and Rowlands) try to talk her back into the fold. Only her sister (Sedgwick, very plausible) understands, planting her knee firmly in Eddie's groin. Although the film-makers ill-advisedly saddle themselves with a brattish kid with a speech impediment and a corny-as-Kelloggs show jumping finale, for the most part this is a pleasing, polished affair, honest enough to steer a compassionate middle course without succumbing to caricature or conservative sentimentality.

Austin Chronicle (Alison Macor)

In this film by Swedish director Hallstrom (My Life as a Dog, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) , a family is laid bare, warts and all, and made to seem ideal, ugly, weak, and strong all at the same time. Screenwriter Callie (Thelma & Louise). Khouri's dialogue contains some sweet surprises. Just when you think you've got a handle on Grace (Roberts), a young Southern wife estranged from her philandering husband Eddie (Quaid), she utters some line that reveals a little more depth than is at first apparent. Grace spends the movie trying to address her emotions and needs. Battling not only her husband but her domineering, horse-breeding father (expertly played by Duvall), Grace struggles against expectations and years of tradition to pinpoint her own goals. Roberts and Quaid work well together onscreen. The luminous Gena Rowlands, Sedgwick, and Aull round out a well-chosen cast. And the inimitable cinematography of Sven Nykvist captures all of the natural beauty of South Carolina and Georgia. Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this film is its lack of tidy closure. As in life, compromises are reached and battles continue. The characters react to one another with love, anger, subtle manipulation, and generosity. While the film does have its overwrought moments and Southern clichés, Something to Talk About is a pleasant surprise amidst a summer of big hype and little payoff.

Linda Lopez McAlister (c/o inforM Women's Studies)

 

Prof. Edwin Jahiel

 

James Berardinelli's ReelViews

 

Washington Post [Hal Hinson]

 

Washington Post [Desson Howe]

 

Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan)

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

The New York Times (Janet Maslin)

 

CIDER HOUSE RULES                                         A-                    93

USA  (125 mi)  1999  ‘Scope

 

The Cider House Rules  Anthony Lane from the New Yorker

 

The director Lasse Hallström has come to specialize in grownup movies about kids and teen-agers, especially of the luckless variety. This new picture, adapted by John Irving from his own novel, teems with scores of the little beggars; the tale begins at a snowbound orphanage in Maine, where Dr. Larch (Michael Caine) tends to the bodies and souls of the unwanted, even extending his skills to an illegal abortion practice. His protégé is Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire), who is set to follow in Larch's footsteps until those of Candy (Charlize Theron) appear. Homer departs for the wide world, where he learns about apples and sex, in that order. As an older and wiser man, he returns to his destiny, although the getting of that wisdom has been oddly unengaging. The orphan scenes have an imaginative solidity that fades as the film proceeds, and you can't work out whether the gruelling social issues, like incest and abortion, are the subject of the movie or simply ballast. As apple movies go, this one lacks a core. 

 

Nashville Scene [Noel Murray]

 

Director Lasse Hallstrom's thoughtful adaptation of John Irving's The Cider House Rules has been accused of being "pro-choice," and if the accusers are talking about the right to safe and legal abortion, then Hallstrom's film is guilty as charged. But abortion (as an alternative to unwanted children) is only one theme that Hallstrom illuminates from Irving's rich text. The Cider House Rules could be more rightly described as a film about the pain of choice--about what we're supposed to do with all our free will.
 
Tobey Maguire stars as Homer Wells, a passive, cheerful adult orphan who learns obstetrics and gynecology from his institutional guardian Dr. Larch (played by Michael Caine). Troubled by the doctor's constant rule-bending and law-breaking (including serving as an abortionist), Homer leaves the orphanage to work at an orchard, following a whim and a glimpse of a lovely apple-picker named Candy (Charlize Theron). At the apple orchard--no small biblical symbolism there--Homer learns that his fear of making bad moral choices has led him to do nothing in the face of evil. And inaction is itself a choice.
 
Hallstrom--who made two of the best sleepers of the '90s, Once Around and What's Eating Gilbert Grape?--worked from Irving's own script, and it's hard to imagine who could've done a better job. Hallstrom's understated naturalism combines with stellar performances across the board, especially by the amiable Maguire, and by Delroy Lindo as the troubled (and troubling) boss of a migrant worker team. The film is so sunny and soft that it's not until after the closing credits--while the viewer tries to make sense of a too-ambiguous ending--that the deft layering of potent religious metaphors begins to weigh heavily.
 
What holds The Cider House Rules back is the virtual impossibility of filming Irving's quirky plot twists. A couple of whopper revelations late in the story shatter the mood, no matter how hard Hallstrom and his cast fight to sustain it. (The same problem plagued George Roy Hill's otherwise fine adaptation of Irving's The World According to Garp).
 
But despite the rough road, the film's breathtaking demonstrations of how theoretical problems resonate in the real world are never less than invigorating. Hallstrom and Irving bite to the core of our sins; as the creed says, it's about what we have done, and what we have left undone.

 

The Cider House Rules   Peter Matthews from Sight and Sound

Maine, 1943. Abandoned by his parents in infancy, Homer Wells grows up at St Clouds orphanage. Unofficially trained in obstetrics by resident doctor Wilbur Larch, Homer helps deliver unwanted babies, but refuses to assist at the illegal abortions Larch does at St Clouds.

One day, fighter pilot Wally Worthington and his pregnant girlfriend Candy Kendall show up for a termination. After the operation, Homer impulsively decides to leave with the couple. He is hired as an apple picker at the orchard run by Wally's mother in a nearby coastal town. Wally ships off to war, and Homer gets acquainted with the farm's migrant workers, including crew boss Mr Rose and his daughter Rose Rose. In Wally's absence, Homer and Candy fall in love. The governors of St Clouds want to replace Larch with a more orthodox physician. Hoping Homer will succeed him, Larch trumps up a phoney medical career for him, but Homer declines the post to stay with Candy.

Rose Rose confesses to Candy she's pregnant by her own father. Homer performs an abortion assisted by Mr Rose, who later kills himself. News arrives that Wally was shot down over Burma and is now paralysed. Candy elects to take care of him and ends the affair with Homer. Larch dies from an overdose of ether. Homer returns to St Clouds, where he is joyfully greeted by the orphans.

Review

If you never quite got over Annie and long for another batch of whimsically forlorn moppets, make haste to The Cider House Rules. It's true the orphans here don't sing or dance, but they compensate by occasioning more syrupy bathos than the screen has witnessed in decades. Just for starters, there's an irresistible tyke named Curly, who delivers the plaintive refrain "I'm the best!" whenever browsers drop round the asylum. Then there's Fuzzy, confined to an oxygen tent and gasping his last with a heart-tugging blatancy that would have embarrassed Little Nell. Clearly John Irving, who adapted the script from his mammoth 1985 novel, intends a cunning pastiche of Victorian sentimentality - he wants to kid the clichés and reactivate them at the same time. The shamelessness works to the extent that you can't help choking up a little even while you're giggling. But such are the twists of the author's baroque imagination that the orphanage doubles as an undercover abortion clinic - and what's bizarre about the movie is how it grafts greeting-card schmaltz on to a muckraking liberal agenda.

The fusion is broadly reminiscent of Dickens, and there are scattered hints that Irving fancies himself the heir apparent. Every night before bedtime, embattled pro-choicer Dr Wilbur Larch reads to the enraptured tots another installment from David Copperfield. Pretty soon, Homer Wells, who decides against performing abortions himself, is caught up in his own thrilling Bildungsroman. Eventually required to perform an illegal abortion on an incest victim, our priggish hero learns abstract moral codes don't answer to the messiness of human reality.

At least I guess that's what the story is about, since once Homer enters the big wide world, the film becomes a masterpiece of dithering. Crammed with picaresque incident, quirky caricature, conceits and philosophising, the book is an unwieldy juggernaut that rolls along on pure pop energy. It must have been a bitch to condense, and Irving strains to locate a functional dramatic arc somewhere inside his loose, baggy monster. The screen version devolves into a parade of amorphous scenes that drift by without gathering emotional weight. Practically Teflon-coated, the movie raises a raft of momentous issues that refuse to stick. Not just abortion, but sexual abuse, race relations and women's independence get floated at sundry times, each theme limping off apologetically in turn. Even the titular rules are so hazily signposted their ultimate defiance holds scarcely any symbolic resonance.

There may be an additional reason for the curious lack of focus. As he proved in My Life as a Dog and What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Lasse Hallström has a wry, delicate touch - and that's exactly wrong for a hard-sell contraption like The Cider House Rules. The director's sensitivity here serves merely to undercut the book's aggressive showmanship, leaving little more than a texture of undifferentiated blandness. What's probably needed is the outré stylisation that Tony Richardson brought to Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire or the commercial zing of George Roy Hill's approach to The World According to Garp. As it stands, the unholy marriage of two disparate sensibilities ends up cancelling out the movie. 

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CHOCOLAT                                                             B+                   92

USA  Great Britain  (121 mi)  2000

 

A whimsical little story resembling the tone, but not the fast-paced frenetic camerawork of AMELIE (2001), where strange goings on in a small conservative French town change with the arrival of some newcomers, Juliette Binoche and Victoire Thivosol (from 1996’s PONETTE), Vianne and Anouk, a mother and daughter in red hoods who appear as if by apparition carried in on a northern wind.  Immediately their presence changes the dynamic of the all-Catholic town, where everybody knows everybody else’s business, and where Alfred Molina as the Comte de Reynaud, the mayor, is the voice of morality as well as the biggest busy body in town representing centuries of rules and repression, spreading gossip and ill rumors when needed, controlling his town by the content of the Sunday sermons, which he rewrites and revises from week to week.   His stern secretary, Caroline, (Carrie-Ann Moss), admires his strict principles, but wouldn’t dare show even an ounce of affection, which seems to be the overall mood of the town.  Vianne uses a centuries old family recipe to open a chocolatiere in the main town square directly across from the church, which the mayor takes as a personal affront, as if a shot across the bow from Satan himself, especially since she doesn’t go to church and since it opened during the week of Lent.  Despite his avowed threats to close her down, she befriends most everyone in town.  

 

The brilliant ensemble cast makes this amusingly lightweight, especially the use of secondary characters, where Anouk’s world of children and imaginary playthings intersect with reality, while also dealing with some rather weighty issues, like spouse abuse, moral conformism, elderly care, family banishment, and xenophobia.  Judi Dench is delightful as the grumpy, free speaking grandmother who refuses to be sent to an old folk’s home, despite the constant nagging from her daughter Caroline, who forbids her son Luc (Aurèlien Parent Koenig) to see her, believing she’s a bad influence.  Lena Olin as Josephine is getting the snot beat out of her by the local barkeep, Serge (Peter Stormare), a guy who believes he owns his wife.  Another couple looks like they haven’t touched one another for years, a lonely man walks his 14-year old dog, while a triad of old women walk everywhere together, one of whom is none other than Leslie Caron.  Vianne conspires to bring people together by freedom of choice, offering them some of her finest chocolates, which she uses as an elixir of love, working a little supernatural magic in this otherwise sleepy community.  Reynaud feels like his family has already run the Huguenots out of town centuries ago, so why not a woman who runs a chocolatiere?  Everyone is allowed to somehow transcend their initial character. 

 

Dench, especially, steals nearly every scene she’s in, as her quick witted use of language is simply unsurpassed, and though shot on location in France and England, using a variety of French actors, the film is surprisingly shot in English.  When Johnny Depp arrives with a group of bohemians called river rats traveling down the river by boats, the town wants nothing to do with them, believing they are Godless creatures.  But Depp and Binoche have a good deal of chemistry together, both feel very much at ease, which is pretty much the point, to enjoy life while you can and not get too concerned with all the things in life that you feel you’re supposed to do.  The film loses a bit of its quirky originality near the end, slowing down, feeling overly contrived, making sure all the loose ends fit together, but what it really feels like is that it stops taking chances with the characters.  Much of this is presented like a bedtime story with a “Once upon a time” into, using a child narration, where the film is entirely a what if scenario.  There’s a brief story within a story scenario that reveals the family history, but it’s fairly tame with an exotic touch, and like the general tone of the movie, it’s more suggestive than real. 

 

The overall contempt of “Hollywood” Hallström by many in the indie community of three films in a row starting with CIDER HOUSE RULES (1999), is unwarranted, in my view, as they believe he’s overly moralistic, contemptuous, saccharinely sweet, and highly overrated, especially come Academy Award time when his films get a big financial boost.  I just find that he uses exquisite locations, excellent ensemble casts, and some unusual character and story development instead of camera theatrics, which a lot of indie lovers like.  Delroy Lindo’s character in CIDER HOUSE RULES, for instance, is startlingly original, especially in contrast to the lovably eccentric Michael Caine.  Dench is superb in this film, while the contrast between Depp and Molina is pretty close to comic farce, but both represent legitimate trains of thought, while the locations in THE SHIPPING NEWS (2001), once again featuring Judi Dench, are nothing short of phenomenal.  I love the fact that in CHOCOLAT, Hallström utilizes the exceptional talents of a young Victoire Thivisol who deserves to be seen right alongside the ageless beauty of Leslie Caron.    

 

Time Out

The 1950s. Lent in the Gascony village of Lansquenet. A red-hooded woman (Binoche) and child (Thivosol) boldly set about converting the old bakery into a chocolate shop which offers delights so tempting that hyper-conservative mayor Reynaud (Molina), fearing for the moral and religious health of the villagers, determines to eject her from the community. Well, what with Vianne's witchlike knowledge of their hearts' desires, the effrontery of her fashionable dress, her friendship with the despised 'river rats', led by handsome, Irish-accented Roux (Depp), she does stir some dangerous emotions in this backwater. Even so, the villagers rally to her life-affirming cause. From the start, Hallström's soft adaptation of Joanne Harris's popular novel-cum-magical fable smoothly proceeds to construct a 'feminist' parable about the role of courage, support and pleasure in personal transformation. But, however excellent the performances, their relevance is diminished by the historical bubble in which they're situated. Roger Pratt's 'period' cinematography preserves the whole in aspic.

Movie ram-blings (Ram Samudrala) review

Chocolat is a clever movie about what it means to question traditional or dogmatic beliefs.

The film focuses on the traditions in the small rural French town of Lansquenet-sous-Tanne. Here, the Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), the mayor, is the supreme arbiter of morals. Like his predecessors before him, he takes the view that morality is preserved by resisting change, instead of encouraging people to think for themselves about what is right and wrong.

Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) are veritable flies in Reynaud's ointment when they set up a chocolate shop in his little town during Lent. A iconoclast herself, Vianne ends up tempting the others in the town who would question Reynaud's ways and ends up being a positive influence for the abused Josephine Muscat (Lena Olin), the lonely Armande Voizin (Judi Dench), and the mischaracterised river rat, Roux (Johnny Depp). However, her crusade also has its own toll on Anouk's development when it turns out that Vianne herself has a set of traditions that she blindly follows.

The cinematography and pacing are very good and pangs of desire for something sweet are sure to be felt seeing the delicacies prepared by Vianne. The story is told effectively by creating an aura of enchantment in the way Vianne works: Is she just offering chocolate or is there something more? The actors do an amazing job and give Chocolat its sweetness.

A lot of religion is based on the notion that something pleasurable must be wrong. Chocolat makes the point that something as good as chocolate can't be bad. Or perhaps it can be, but that choice should be left to individuals since consuming it doesn't cause harm to others. This is a message I wholly endorse, since I reject tradition for the sake of tradition. In fact, I believe that anything that doesn't cause harm to others shouldn't be considered wrong. While this is subjective, it is clear in the case of the traditions targeted by Chocolat that not only does ignoring tradition not cause harm, but that following it can be harmful.

Austin Chronicle (Marjorie Baumgarten) review [2.5/5]

Like its title implies, Chocolat tastes good in the moment but leaves behind little nutritional substance. This English-language movie is set in a provincial French village in 1959 and deals with the pressing question of whether the seductive and mysterious powers of chocolate can soothe the priggish tendencies of the local townsfolk— and during Lent, no less. Lasse Hallström, the director of My Life as a Dog, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, and last year’s The Cider House Rules, has a recurring affinity for stories about small-town eccentrics, and Chocolat also falls into this category. The movie has almost a fairy-tale quality that sets it apart from the demands of strict realism and also packages a tidy moral lesson made easy to swallow by its lush chocolate coating.

Beautifully cast, the performances are all delectable, especially that of lead Juliette Binoche. However, the characters are all bogged down with traits that telegraph their entire personalities in a matter of seconds and leave little to further discovery as the film progresses. It begins as Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter Anouk, attired in two red hooded capes, arrive in the sleepy village of Lansquenet and rent a storefront and the living space above it. Vianne opens a chocolaterie filled with irresistible confections of her own making, based on secret recipes handed down to her from her mother.

Vianne has a mysterious knack for being able to guess each person’s favorite chocolate treat, and also makes no secret of her never-married status. Her behavior and her temptations are the whispered buzz of the town. Appetites become aroused and desires piqued. The order of traditional life in the village soon becomes threatened. A crotchety old woman melts her armor with a bite of chocolate, the new parish priest resists the sanctimonious piety of the all-controlling local nobleman (Alfred Molina), another man works up the courage to ask out the town’s career widow (Leslie Caron, in a practically wordless performance), and a long-suffering woman finds solace in Vianne’s kitchen. But when a group of riverboat vagabonds (led by the dreamily seductive Johnny Depp) dock, the town is whipped into a frenzy of xenophobic fervor. Can chocolate save the day? Do you have to ask?

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THE SHIPPING NEWS                                          B+                   91

USA  (111 mi)  2001  ‘Scope

 

Time Out

There's a significant scene in Hallström's adaptation of E Annie Proulx's bestseller. Friends of an eccentric English adventurer (Ifans) gather on the rugged Newfoundland shore for an all night party to mark his imminent departure, and boozily destroy his boat while he looks stoically on. Tough love. This is the close, windswept ancestral home - full of cruel ironies, ghostly secrets, inherited superstitions and harsh realities - to which the timorous Quoyle (Spacey) returns, child in tow, formidable aunt (Dench) in support, after the traumatising death of his wild, selfish wife (Blanchett). The task facing Hallström is credibly to chart the course Quoyle takes from mouse to man, under the hardening inclemency of this environment. The movie has its frontiersman pleasures. It's fun to see the gradual refurbishment of the Quoyles' exposed 'salt-box' family house, as its ghouls and harboured secrets are whitewashed with the industry of new life. But Quoyle's early moral victories are hard to take unless you forget the docile no-hoper Spacey presents in his New York incarnation. Holding his head sideways like a little boy as he's kissed by fellow outsider Wavey (Moore), he takes 'low key' close to the edge of self-consciousness. Still, he generally succeeds. So does the director, but it's a pretty, shallow victory.

Slant Magazine  Ed Gonzalez

The best thing than can be said about Lasse Hallström's The Shipping News is that it's considerably less brow-beating than The Cider House Rules and Chocolat. Robert Nelson Jacobs is loyal to E. Annie Proulx's original text: Petal (Cate Blanchett) still can't make an Alabama Slammer; hubbie Quoyle (Kevin Spacey) is the poster child for the pussy-whipped; and closeted skeletons are raring to cut loose. The film's first quarter is virtually unwatchable. Proulx's hell-fire harpy Petal is transformed into a gum-smacking student of the Marisa Tomei My Cousin Vinny kind. The once ghoulish witch takes the town by slut-storm while the pathetic Quoyle stays home with their baby Bunny. Spacey can do pathetic—usually intentional—but Hallström's Quoyle is nothing more than a child who confuses sex for love. Seemingly stripped of Proulx's sad stoicism, Quoyle is now a mere victim to Hallström's heavy-handed water imagery. Silly special-effects morphing give way to egregious flashbacks that set up Quoyle's hydrophobia (his father was an unconventional swimming instructor). Petal goes to sleep with the angels, Aunt Agnis (Judi Dench) comes to town and Quoyle decides to find his family roots in Newfoundland. Hallström is best when quirky; there's a sweet-natured, matter-of-fact humanism to the film's more oddball scenarios. Quoyle snags a job as a reporter at the local newspaper, The Gammy Bird, covering the shipping news. Ghoulish discoveries (a headless body, its rolling head) are played for laughs while the film's learning lessons are never ham-fisted. Hallström's characters are helpless and disconnected; all are in need of human contact though victims to a land that seems to portend only death. Hallström deftly free-floats between his stories: Quoyle moves up the occupational ladder; finds love with Wavey (Julianne Moore), mother of a mentally-challenged Harry Potter; and a creepy uncle blabbermouths the Quoyle past. Agnis is a relatively loose cannon, a shining example of Hallström's awkward jitterbug between the quirky and flat-out melodramatic. When skeletons fall out of their closets, explanatory flashbacks become difficult to swallow. Hallström is an obvious visualist. Quoyle's computer screensaver is underwater-themed while car accidents turn into bloody Petal spottings. The score and accents conjure images of Leprechauns searching for Enya and her Lucky Charms but Hallström's rendering of place and time is quaint and evocative even if the film, as a whole, moves at the speed of a glacial ice flow.

Washington Post [Rita Kempley]

 
"The Shipping News" moves at a glacial pace, thawing as gradually as its protagonist, a middle-aged loser who has been frozen in fear since his abusive childhood. This strangely hypnotic adaptation of E. Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel chronicles his brooding journey toward self-recovery.
 
Although there are rays of hope, the melancholy drama takes on the characteristics of the story's chilly setting of Newfoundland, island of weathered faces and blustery skies. Director Lasse Hallstrom captures the landscape's stark, stormy beauty as well as its impact on its people.
 
Quoyle (Kevin Spacey), a hapless city boy, is a descendant of the pirates who first raided and then settled the Atlantic island. His ancestors' blood still burned in his battering father's veins and, though less brightly, in his own. Ultimately he will learn that he inherited strength and determination enough to rebuild his world.
 
The movie opens with a quick synopsis of Quoyle's résumé of underachievement, culminating in his current post as an inker with a daily newspaper in Upstate New York. He has accepted his uneventful routine, even wallowed in it, when the brazen, tarty Petal (Cate Blanchett) bursts into his life, and Quoyle is smitten by this man-eating hothouse flower. They are married, she becomes pregnant with a daughter, Bunny, and after the delivery, she takes up with a series of lovers.
 
When she is killed in a car accident, Quoyle and Bunny, now 6, are rescued by his flinty aunt Agnis Hamm (reliable Judi Dench), who drags them with her to Newfoundland, their ancestral home. The battered family house still perches above the sea cliffs, though surely it would have blown away had it not been anchored there by braids of thick, creaking cables.
 
Bunny's psychic talents, or maybe only her imagination, are fueled by the noises of the house settling in for the night. On stormy nights, the cables seem to moan in pain. And the place is haunted by the family's perverse past – and, if Bunny is right, by a ghost and his white dog. Apparently psychic powers come with the territory, encouraged by the Zen rhythms of the fishing village of Killick-Claw.
 
Though his only newspaper experience involves the presses, Quoyle is hired to write a shipping column for the local newspaper. His quirky colleagues quickly hone his writing skills, such as they are, and with each article, Quoyle grows a little bit taller.
 
There's also love on the horizon – a widowed schoolteacher, Wavey Prouse (Julianne Moore in a sweet performance). Initially they are drawn together by mutual loss, though their relationship becomes more complex and conflicted as their hesitant courtship progresses.
 
Moore and Spacey's affair doesn't throw off a lot of heat. That's okay, because they have been hurt before, and they have to trust before they can love. Blanchett, on the other hand, is as steamy as a sauna, and what a convincing witch she makes, too. She, along with Pete Postlethwaite, Scott Glenn and Rhys Ifans as newspapermen, adds a splash of fun to the proceedings.
 
Spacey, with his plodding gait and apologetic air, doesn't bring Quoyle to life. He resuscitates him, teaches him to stand up straighter and look other people in the eye. It's a solid performance, if a stolid one, and the same can be said for the movie.
 
Hallstrom, who previously directed Oscar nominees "Chocolat" and "The Cider House Rules," has carved a niche for himself adapting small-town family dramas. He ably brings the communities to life, though this film has neither the tastiness of the one nor the bite of the other. For better or worse, it smells of salt air, squid burgers and fishing boats. It's worth seeing at the very least because it is so different from standard Hollywood fare.

 

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WHITE ZOMBIE

USA  (69 mi)  1932

 

Time Out

A dream-like encounter between Gothic romance and 'primitive' mythology, with an American innocent (Bellamy) plucked from her wedding feast and consigned to walk with the Haitian living dead by voodoo master Lugosi. Halperin shoots this poetic melodrama as trance; insinuating ideas and images of possession, defloration, and necrophilia into a perfectly stylised design, with the atmospherics conjuring echoes of countless resonant fairytales. The unique result constitutes a virtual bridge between classic Universal horror and the later Val Lewton productions.

DVDTalk's Review by John Sinnott

 

White Zombie is a small, poverty row film that was shot in 11 days for a mere $50,000 in 1932. Staring Bela Lugosi (in his first roll following the success of Dracula ,) it was the very first movie about zombies, and is now remembered as a classic.
 
The movie concerns two young lovers, Madeleine (Madge Bellamy) and Neil (John Harron) who have arrived on the island of Haiti to be married. Monsieur Beaumont (Robert Frazer) has offered to let them use his plantation for their wedding, but Beaumont has ulterior motives. He has fallen in love with Madeleine, and is hoping to steal her away. When that does not work, he turns to Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi.) Legendre is the owner of a sugar plantation, and voodoo master. Murder informs Beaumont that there is only one way to possess the fair Madeleine, and that is to turn her into a lifeless zombie. Aghast, Beaumont at first refuses to allow it, but the thought of his love marring another is too much for him, and he makes a bargain with Murder.
 
Coming at the beginning of the sound era, White Zombie has the look and feel of a silent picture. That's actually a good thing. When sound came to the movies, most directors filled their scenes with dialog, even when none was needed. White Zombie does not do that. There are many scenes where director Victor Halperin lets the atmosphere and action carry the scene, with little or no talking. The scene where Legendre carves Madeleine's image out of wax and then melts it is much enhanced because of it's lack of dialog. The sugar mill manned entirely with zombies is another eerie scene where little is spoken.
 
One thing that was lost from films in the early days of sound was camera movement. Used to great effect in silent pictures the advent of sound saw directors locking the camera down and shooting mostly medium and long shots. (They were afraid that the microphone would pick up the sound of the camera moving.) Halperin did not seem to fear that. In one scene where Neil is talking with a friend, Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn) the camera starts out stationary, then moves out and circles the entire room and ends up near where it started. Not just that shot, but all of the cinematography in this film is absolutely wonderful. Each shot is crafted to give the movie a spooky atmosphere. Shadows and close-ups are used as are super impositions and matte shots, creating many images the stay in you mind long after the film ends.
 
That is not to say the movie is perfect. The pacing is rather slow, with many scenes lasting longer than the ought to. It is has more melodrama than most horror movies, even those of the 30's. The acting on the whole is not of a high quality. Madge Bellamy acts like a zombie even before she is turned into one. She shows little emotion during any part of the film, and John Harron is never convincing as the groom. The picture is redeemed by the wonderful acting of Bela Lugosi. He really steals the picture as the evil Murder Legendre. His hand movements and facial expressions broadcast his evil intent perfectly. He is even better here than he was in Dracula. Lugosi's best performance of his career.

Roan has included some great extras on this disc. First, there is a trailer from the 1952 re-release of the film. Then, there is a full length commentary provided by Gary Don Rhodes, the author of White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film. The commentary is insightful and for the most part interesting, even though many of the things he points out are fairly obvious, many are not. (Watch for the "dead" man holding his nose as he is thrown into a river.)

There is also a 1932 short Intimate Interviews. This is a scripted "interview" where a female reporter goes to Lugosi's house to talk to him, and ends up running away scared due to Lugosi's spooky nature. An entertaining novelty even if it doesn't provide any insight into Bela Lugosi.

The final extra is an excerpt from a 50's television show, or possibly a news segment Ship's Reporter. A reporter interviews Bela (a real interview this time!) as he arrives in New York after spending some time in England. The most interesting extra on the disc, this shows Bela after his star has faded, yet still hopeful of making a comeback.

Though rather slow at points, White Zombie is a good film. Bela Lugosi at his prime, more than makes up for the other actors, and the wonderful camera work and composition make this enjoyable to watch. Having this movie presented with a clean print is reason enough to buy this disc, but the extras make this DVD one that belongs in every classic horror collection.

 

Turner Classic Movies   Jeff Stafford

 

Following his sucess in Dracula (1931) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), Bela Lugosi surprised some of his film industry colleagues by agreeing to star in White Zombie (1932), a low-budget production which exploited the country's current interest in voodoo. The Halperin Brothers, who produced White Zombie, were independents with no proven track record in Hollywood and they offered Lugosi a low salary for a week's work on the film (Reports vary on the actual salary, ranging from $500 to $5,000). Why Lugosi agreed to this arrangement is open to speculation. Perhaps he didn't want to turn down another leading role, as he did for the part of the monster in Frankenstein, a role that made Boris Karloff a star and his chief rival in the horror genre. Perhaps he simply couldn't turn down any offer of work or money. Whatever the case, White Zombie is one of Bela Lugosi's most distinctive roles and one that captures his mysterious, hypnotic allure.

As Murder Legendre, Lugosi is evil personified. He plays the owner of a sugar mill in Haiti who controls an army of zombie workers. When he becomes enarmored of a young bride-to-be (Madge Bellamy) who is visiting a neighboring estate, Legendre resorts to black magic to make her his own. The apparent model for this role and his dramatic interpretation of Count Dracula was a character Lugosi had portrayed in his first German film, Slave of a Foreign Will (Sklaven Fremdes Willens) in 1919. In it, he played a hypnotist with the mesmerizing power of Svengali.

Long considered the first Hollywood production to feature zombies,
White Zombie was inspired by The Magic Island, William B. Seabrook's 1929 book on Haitian voodoo. The Halperin Brothers (Victor directed, Edward produced) also borrowed elements from Kenneth Webb's 1932 New York stage play, Zombie. (In fact, Webb tried, unsuccessfully, to sue the brothers for copyright infringement.) Besides the coup of casting Lugosi in the lead, the Halperin Brothers also hoped to revive the career of former silent star Madge Bellamy in the role of the female lead, Madeline Short.

The film was shot on the RKO-Pathe lot in Culver City and at Universal City. One of the sets from Cecil B. DeMille's epic, The King of Kings (1927), was used for Legendre's mountaintop veranda and castle interiors were assembled from parts of the Dracula and Frankenstein sets. The creepy zombie makeup was devised by Carl Axcelle and Jack Pierce of Universal who transformed Boris Karloff into The Mummy (1933) and other famous monsters. Another unique contribution was the innovative use of music arranged by silent picture maestro Abe Meyer. Some terrifically weird effects are achieved using native drumming, chants, and natural sounds. Even a Spanish jota composed by Xavier Cugat is used for one haunting sequence where John Harron (Neil Parker) pursues an apparition that looks like his bride.

The critics were particularly hard on
White Zombie during its initial release and found it embarrassingly outdated and old-fashioned by current standards, citing the silent-era style of acting and Victorian era dialogue as examples. Seen today, White Zombie has the look of a gothic fairytale and can be viewed as a precursor to the works of Val Lewton with its heavy emphasis on atmosphere and sound. What most people don't realize is how much creative control Lugosi had over the project. His co-star, Clarence Muse, later stated that Lugosi rewrote, restaged and even directed some scenes making it unclear how much of the finished film reflects his influence.

 

And You Call Yourself a Scientist!

 

Cold Fusion Video Reviews (Nathan Shumate)

 

White Zombie   White Zombie, Haitian Horror, by Tony Williams from Jump Cut

 

Goatdog's Movies [Michael W. Phillips, Jr.]  also seen here under code name Kairo:  Classic-Horror

 

Mondo Digital

 

Best-Horror-Movies.com  Zombie Master Lee Roberts, calling it arguably the first zombie film

 

Cinescape  Steve Biodrowski

 

Cinepassion.org  Fernando F. Croce

 

Cinema de Merde

 

Hamer, Bent

 

KITCHEN STORIES

Norway  Sweden  (95 mi)  2004

 

Kitchen Stories  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

A sturdy work of Scandinavian craftsmanship worthy of being projected on the far wall of an IKEA showroom, and not just because of its household-related subject matter.  Like the basic shape of an ironing board or a dinette set, Kitchen Stories feels vaguely inevitable.  It plunges into certain intellectual strains (male stoicism as a barrier to bonding; uptight Swedes vs. laid-back Norwegians; the postwar interest in domestic science; the quixotic hilarity of Taylorization; the collapse of the observer / observed dichotomy as the end of modernist anthropology) and fully commits to them, braiding them through to their logical conclusions.  Part of why this relative predictability feels comforting rather than irksome is Hamer's strong visual sense.  Compositions are unerring, adopting the static high and low vantage points dictated by the story, with minimal fuss.  This, combined with a color palette borrowed from Oster and West Bend (taupe, almond, and especially avocado), give the impression of a lovingly assembled light comedy gently mocking its own antiseptic organization.  (For contrast, as you watch the film, you can imagine what a skull-thumping megalomaniac like Terry Gilliam would have done with the material, and heave a sigh of relief as Hamer refrains from slapping you silly.)

FACTOTUM                                                 A-                    93

USA  Norway  Germany  Sweden  France  (94 mi)  2005

 

If you’re going to try, go all the way. 

There is no other feeling like that.

You will be alone with the gods,

and the nights will flame with fire.

You will ride life straight to perfect laughter.

It’s the only good fight there is.  

Charles Bukowski, excerpt from his 1992 poem Roll the Dice

 

The film is about fucking and drinking

 

There is an alluring Norweigan influence to this slow, perfectly paced, moody autobiographical adaptation of the life of Charles Bukowski based on his 1975 novel by the same name, a man whose sole desire seemed to be to stay drunk all the time, but who also had a strange fascination with words that kept bubbling out of his head, writing two or three short stories a week at one point, sending them off to would-be publishers (the Black Sparrow Press and The New Yorker) despite never hearing from them, supporting himself by finding a multitude of menial, dead-end odd jobs (Factotum – a man who performs many jobs) that held little interest, some that did not even last a day, the kind that blue collar workers and day laborers around the world are forced to take every day in order to survive, but here they provide a pay check to buy a drink.  Shot largely in a bleak, factory district of Minneapolis/St.Paul, there’s a terrific scene where he’s ordered not to smoke on the job, then immediately pulls out a cigarette and blows smoke out a window, where the camera pulls back until eventually Bukowski is a tiny speck in a vast expanse of brick and industrial waste.  Matt Dillon plays Bukowski (whose parents moved to Los Angeles from Germany when he was age 3), as a man with inner confidence and a quiet swagger, yet he narrates in a calm, steady tone, always shown at a very leisurely pace, at times barely able to get up off the barstool, mumbling, always polite, never as a man possessed, instead as a man who knows what lies within, who has utter faith in his abilities.  At one point, when reflecting on moments when doubts enter his head about his ability to write, all he has to do is read somebody else’s writing and he has no more doubts.

 

Lili Taylor is exceptional as his drunken girl friend, matching him drink for drink, who is completely in love with this unpretentious lowlife who does nothing but lay around and screw her up to 4 times a day.  After a few lucky runs at the race track, he starts dressing in style and buying more expensive booze, but she finds him a shell of his former self, a complete phony that has lost all appeal for her, as she prefers lowlifes, the lower the better.  There’s a wonderful scene as they both awake one at a time in the morning, each separately wretches in the toilet, he immediately grabs a beer, she a cigarette, and within this realm of shifting orientation, with a minimum of words, they inexplicably separate.  Penniless, spending his last dollar buying a drink for a girl in a bar (Marisa Tomei in her first onscreen nudity), she leads him to a temporary alcoholic promised land, where the drinks and lodging are all on the house, paid for by a sugar daddy who has younger lady interests to keep him company.  This vision of happiness is a temporary oasis, a mirage in a lifetime of facing up to the hauntingly grim realities that lie under each and every phony facade.  This is a film that exposes life on the edges, where he even returns home at one point, where mom shovels out a meal, but dad thinks he’s a worthless swine, so Bukowski offers to take dad out for a few cocktails, but he admits he’s looking to find a “piece of ass,” whereupon he’s thrown out on his ass, a wonderful scene that acknowledges how far he’s come from the world of decency.  He hooks up again with Taylor, but they shortly realize why they split up, and they soon meander off again into their wretchedly pitiful lives. 

 

There’s a highly personalized allure to this film, beautifully photographed by John Christian Rosenlund, capturing the poetic beauty of being alone with your thoughts in a dingy bar, with mesmerizing music by Kristen Asbjørnsen that couldn’t possibly sound more like solitude, where we come to accept the languorous pace of the film as a natural extension of  Bukowski’s imagination, which edges forward in small cinematic portraits, like sketches, offering precise language and details, much like the exquisite flavor of short stories, made more powerfully intense by the superlative performances of the 3 major players who are always inviting, who continually add a measure of interest and authenticity to the material.  By the end of the film, as Bukowski is a solitary customer watching a stripper in a surreal neon-lit landscape, you have a feel for the dreary ennui, for days that extend into nights, which could easily pass into an endless haze that stretches to infinity.   

 

Time Out London review  Geoff Andrew

 

The first English-language feature from Norwegian writer-director Bent Hamer may be an unlikely follow-up to ‘Kitchen Stories’, but it’s no less wise, warm and wonderful. An updated adaptation of Charles Bukowski’s novel, it centres on a terrific, possibly career-best performance from Matt Dillon as Bukowski’s largely autobiographical hero Henry Chinaski, a slob of a man who’s hired and fired from one undemanding job after another because of his inability to focus long on anything but bouts of boozing, gambling and sex with women as libidinous and devoted to hooch as himself. Between times he occasionally works on becoming a writer – he’s forever sending short stories to publishers, and equally often receiving rejection notes – but mostly he’s in a bar, in a brawl, at the track or in the sack with dames as different and determined as Jan (Lili Taylor) and Laura (Marisa Tomei).

The first half of Hamer’s film is near-perfect: the dry visual and verbal gags, the unsentimental acknowledgement of life’s hardships and injustices, the tender generosity to characters are all virtues in themselves, but also ensure an unusually pleasing fidelity to the peculiar spirit of Bukowski’s writing and world-view. Appropriately, the movie’s blessed with a real love of language, evident not only in some deliciously absurd dialogue (an interviewer asks Chinaski, ‘Why do you want to work in a pickle factory?’), but also in the protagonist’s reflective voice-over. And though the second half has minor flaws (the strangely brisk curtailment of the fling with Laura, for example), it’s still marvellously funny and perceptive. The interplay between Dillon and Taylor really comes into its own here, and the narrative, hitherto so wondrously laidback as to feel a little episodic, begins to tighten into something vaguely resembling a manifesto illustrating Chinaski’s existential desire to go all the way. The film may be more modest in its ambitions – but achieves just as much anyway. Just terrific.

 

filmcritic.com (Jay Antani) review [3.5/5]

While Bent Hamer's Factotum isn't equal to the source material, it's a must-see for all of us fascinated by Charles Bukowski, by his persona as much as his words. Adapted from the namesake novel by Hamer and Jim Stark, Factotum's central character is Henry Chinaski, Bukowski's fictional alter ego who, like its author, is a shambling, hard-drinking writer, slumming away at odd jobs, quartering in hole-in-the-wall apartments, while he scrawls away at poems and stories every chance he gets.

To watch Matt Dillon personify Chinaski/Bukowski is thrilling: At least from outward appearance, the actor has nailed the role, and, at times, he seems to be channeling Bukowski from the grave. It's an eerie simulacrum: Dillon skulks about the screen, slouch-shouldered, sporting a scruffy beard, a mane of combed-back hair, wearing the short-sleeves and slacks that was Bukowski's standard wardrobe, regarding the world with hangdog eyes and a jaw jutting outward in a subtle show of defiance.

Equally arresting is the always-fantastic Lili Taylor, playing Chinaski's on-again, off-again girlfriend, Jan. She's his kindred spirit, which means the two get along best with a jug of wine between them. As Jan, Taylor projects a mannish energy. Wearing a perpetual sneer, keeping her frayed hair and shoulders tossed back, she enters any room like she's spoiling for a fight. Jan is also fiercely possessive of Chinaski and panics whenever any windfall threatens their low-rent, booze-sodden lifestyle. She's also the only person who can push the bearish Chinaski's buttons. When they break up, their trails lead back to each other and entwine, as before, then wind apart again, exactly like twin DNA strands.

Chinaski's search for work and his rocky relationship with Jan form Factotum's nominal narrative thread. No sooner does Chinaski land a job that he gets bored with it or chafes under the authority of white-collar boobs, and leaves. He hates them so much -- in the same way he hates his father (as one scene implies) -- that he defies their authority in ways both direct and passive-aggressive: After one boss, finding him at a local dive instead of on the job, fires him, Chinaski calmly replies by offering him a drink. Midway through Factotum, we get a romantic interlude of sorts involving Laura (Marisa Tomei), a gold-digging floozy. Laura's got her hands in the pockets of a moneyed, European eccentric (Didier Flamand) who offers wayward women asylum in his morgue-like home. Chinaski's sojourn with Laura and her ilk takes Factotum into outer David Lynch territory, and, somehow, we're glad when Chinaski breaks free of them and returns to his sunnier, native habitat of the urban jungle.

Like Post Office and Ham on Rye, Factotum is ultimately a chronicle of its author's anxious, unconquerable desire to write, to transcribe his toils, obsessions, and pains into the stuff of art. Beneath Bukowski's reticent surface, fires raged -- stoked by the man's angry, lustful, transgressive emotions. Words plucked from those fires were then hammered into shape and branded onto the page. It's that smoldering quality in the prose that missing in Stark and Hamer's handling -- the contradiction between the inner and outer dimensions of the writer. Rather than finding an expressive style that rendered the world as grotesquely as Chinaski sees it, a style to counterpoint the character's calm, composed exterior, the material settles for a safe, neutered approach. This Factotum is more eager and willing to put Bukowski's words in prettily composed frames. Hamer and Stark only get the outlines of Chinaski's life right -- the hand-to-mouth living and boozing in which all that spiritually sustains the writer are the hours spent hunched over his notepad with a ballpoint pen. Finally, Dillon and Taylor are the sources of Factotum's vitriol and sharpness. They seem willing to delve where Hamer's direction dare not go.

Chicago Reader [J.R. Jones]

 

stylusmagazine.com (Chris Panzner) review

 

DVD Talk - Theatrical [Jamie S. Rich]

 

Movie House Commentary  Johnny Web and Tuna

 

Film Freak Central review  Walter Chaw

 

The New Yorker (Anthony Lane) review

 

sneersnipe (David Perilli) review

 

culturevulture.net, Choices for the Cognoscenti review  Les Wright

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [2.5/4]

 

Jigsaw Lounge [Neil Young] Leeds Film Festival report

 

Reel.com review [3/4]  James Emanuel Shapiro

 

eFilmCritic.com (Scott Weinberg) review [4/5]

 

Pajiba (Dustin Rowles) review

 

Cinepassion.org  Fernando F. Croce

 

Slant Magazine review  Jeremiah Kipp

 

The Village Voice [Melissa Levine]

 

DVD Verdict (Dan Mancini) dvd review

 

MovieMartyr.com [Jeremy Heilman]

 

Edward Copeland on Film

 

Boston Globe review [2.5/4]  Ty Burr

 

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

 

Seattle Post-Intelligencer review  Sean Axmaker

 

Austin Chronicle (Marc Savlov) review [4/5]

 

San Francisco Chronicle [Mick LaSalle]

 

Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review

 

RogerEbert.com (Jim Emerson) review [2.5/4]

 

The New York Times (Manohla Dargis) review

 

O’HORTEN

Norway  (90 mi)  2008

 

O' Horten  Mike Goodridge at Cannes from Screendaily

Bent Hamer's unique blend of absurdist humour and aching melancholy has never worked better than in O' Horten, an arthouse charmer which should duplicate a similar sales and distribution pattern to his last Norwegian film Kitchen Stories (2003) and win over a new legion of specialised fans.

Hamer, who scored a minor international ripple with his first English language venture Factotum in 2005, is nevertheless more comfortable working in his native Norwegian and employing his wonderfully deadpan sense of comedy which is somewhere between Aki Kaurismaki and Monty Python.

Central to O'Horten's success is Bard Owe, a veteran Norwegian actor based in Copenhagen who has worked with everyone from Carl Theodor Dreyer to Lars Von Trier (most memorably as Dr Bondo in The Kingdom series). Owe plays Odd Horten, a 67 year-old train driver and engineer who has spent his life on the railways and is facing retirement.

His existence is one of comfortable old routines – he devotedly feeds the birds in his apartment, he owns a boat which he has always refused to sell, he regularly goes to see a lady friend Mrs Thogersen (Norby) on one of his train stop-offs. He visits his senile old mother, a former ski-jumper, in a retirement home, lamenting the fact that he was too afraid to jump himself in his youth.

But his calm life is unsettled the moment he retires. At his retirement party, he is locked out of his friend's apartment, climbs up a scaffold and walks into the house of a young family where he falls asleep keeping a young boy company.

When he decides to sell his boat to his friend Flo (Floberg), he goes out to Olso airport where Flo works, but gets lost and ends up smoking his pipe on a runway. When he gets locked in at the local swimming pool, he loses his shoes and ends up walking home in stolen red high-heeled boots.

On the same night, as he strides along the snowy streets of Oslo in his heels, he meets an aging man called Trygve Sissener (Skjonberg) lying on the sidewalk and accompanies him home. The oddball Sissener serves him drinks and suggests that he takes Horten out blindfold driving the following morning. Sure enough, Sissener covers his eyes at the wheel but then pulls over and dies.

Left with Sissener's dog and a newfound desire to live life to the full, Horten decides to attempt the ski jump that would make his mother proud.

Underneath the whackiness and crisp visual imagery runs a vein of wistful sadness which infuses all Hamer's works. In this case, the sorrow derives from Horten's quest for identity once his professional career is at an end, the onset of old age and death.

But even a lovely scene in a shop when he finds out that his friend and lifelong tobacconist has died is peppered with laughs. Hamer can never quite plumb the depths, his natural optimism shining through in the ending and in some laugh-out-loud sequences like the railway engineers' choo-choo song chanted in tribute at Horten's retirement party or the chef being ejected from a restaurant while Horten and the other patrons look on unfazed.

Hamer, Robert

 

KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS

Great Britain  (106 mi)  1949

 

BFI Screen Online  Mark Duguid

Louis is shunned by his family, the noble and snobbish d'Ascoynes, as a result of his mother's marriage to a foreign commoner. After his mother's death, Louis becomes determined to inherit the family title, even if he has to murder his entire family in the process.  Show full synopsis

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) was the only Ealing comedy directed by Robert Hamer, and the critical and commercial highpoint of Hamer's troubled but often brilliant career. Adapted by Hamer and John Dighton from Israel Rank, a relatively little-known (but not as obscure as some have claimed) Edwardian novel by Roy Horniman, the film brilliantly taps a rich vein of black humour largely neglected in British films since Hitchcock.

Alec Guinness's attention-grabbing performance - as all eight members of the doomed aristocratic d'Ascoyne family - tends to overshadow the masterful playing of Dennis Price as the frustrated lower middle-class Louis Mazzini (and, briefly, as Louis's father), who coolly murders his way to the dukedom denied him by the D'Ascoynes' snobbery and rejection of his mother. Similarly impressive is Joan Greenwood as Sibella, whose self-serving deviousness matches Louis's own.

The story is narrated in flashback by Louis, in a letter written from his prison cell. Far from undermining the visual storytelling, the conceit shows us the world as Louis sees it, with detached self-justification, allowing us to share the joy of each successive murder, while not blinding us to Louis's own callousness.

Hamer later listed among his aims, "that of using the English language, which I love, in a more varied and, to me, more interesting way than I had previously had the chance of doing in a film", and Kind Hearts abounds with clever wordplay and literary allusion. Louis' wry comment, after puncturing Lady Agatha d'Ascoyne's hot-air balloon, wittily appropriates Longfellow: "I shot an arrow in the air / She fell to earth in Berkeley Square." Elsewhere, the film alludes to Shakespeare, Chaucer and Tennyson, whose lines "Kind hearts are more than coronets / And simple faith than Norman blood" provide its title.

The film has barely dated, despite being the only period piece among the Ealing comedies, thanks to its cynical wit, its radical criticism of England's stifling class system, the subtle eroticism of Louis and Sibella's relationship and the brilliantly ambiguous ending (which was too much for the American censor, who demanded changes).

Although Ealing boss Michael Balcon later listed the film among his favourites, his attitude at the time was apparently more hostile, and Hamer was denied the chance to follow up with a long-cherished project set in the West Indies. He directed only one more film at Ealing, the disappointing His Excellency (1952).

Robert Hamer: Kind Hearts and Coronets  Derek Malcolm from the Guardian

 

Of all those involved with the British film industry in the 40s and 50s, Robert Hamer was perhaps the most intelligent and talented. He was arguably Ealing Studios' brightest star, yet his career was short and ultimately tragic. He made his directing debut in 1945 and died largely unfulfilled at the age of 52 in 1963. His descent into alcoholism was one of the great tragedies of cinema. But at least it could be said that he made one masterpiece. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) is not only one of the best British films, but also one of the most extraordinary black comedies cinema has known.
 
To call it an Ealing comedy is really a misnomer. Kind Hearts was much cooler, darker and more aware of sexual irony than most of the genre.
 
Hamer wanted to do three things: make a film that was totally different from what had gone before, use the English language in a more interesting way, and pay as little regard as possible to moral conventions. People have said that his style was a combination of Wildean wit and the pessimism of such post-war French directors as Marcel Carné.
 
That he succeeded, in spite of working for the puritanical Michael Balcon, was a minor miracle. Another was that the film was a success, making the reputation of Alec Guinness, confirming that of Dennis Price and reaching the status of a classic that could be viewed simply as funny and clever entertainment if its serious undertones were ignored.
 
It is revived so often that it seems hardly necessary to detail the plot, most of it told in flashback. Price plays Louis Mancini, condemned to hang for a murder of which he is innocent, and writing his memoirs about all those he actually committed. His mother had been disowned by her aristocratic family for marrying a singer and left to live in poverty.
 
Louis vows vengeance and slowly eliminates those who stand between him and the dukedom he is deter mined to claim for her sake. In doing so he becomes as cold and calculating as the horrid d'Ascoyne family itself. But the film's major trick was to have Guinness playing every one of them.
 
Guinness's performance is a tour de force. Nine characters in one film has to be, and most of them are a superb mixture of disguise and parodic vigour. But Price's Louis ought not to be underestimated. A homosexual at a time when it was virtually impossible to admit it, he put a whole slice of himself into his performance.
 
Hamer worked against all the rules. He allowed the suppressed passion of the story full rein, getting near a particularly English kind of eroticism. His ambiguous feelings about the family life Balcon espoused were made clear. And all the time, he let people laugh as if he were merely making a well-honed comedy.
 
It seems almost unbelievable that Hamer's career went downhill after this. Perhaps Kind Hearts was a giant fluke. But there is little doubt English good taste closed in on Hamer and most of British cinema until the 60s reignited the spirit of revolt.

 

 by Philip Kemp  Ealing’s Shadow Side, Criterion essay

 

The Film Journal (Simon Justice)

 

Turner Classic Movies   Felicia Feaster

 

Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]

 

Britmovie

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

 

DVD Verdict [Steve Evans] - Criterion Collection

 

Reel.com DVD review [Ken Dubois]  Criterion Edition

 

DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson)   Criterion Edition, also seen here:  Turner Classic Movies

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Mark Zimmer)   Criterion Edition

 

The QNetwork Film Desk [James Kendrick]

 

Epinions [metalluk]

 

filmcritic.com  David Bezanson

 

DVD Talk - Criterion Collection [Preston Jones]

 

DVD Savant [Glenn Erickson]   The Alec Guinness 5-DVD Collection

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Keith Phipps]  The Alec Guinness 5-DVD Collection

 

DVD Verdict - The Alec Guinness Collection   Barrie Maxwell

 

Reel.com DVD review [Mary Kalin-Casey]  The Alec Guinness 5-DVD Collection

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

The New York Times (Bosley Crowther)

 

DVDBeaver.com [Gary W. Tooze]

 

Hamilton, Tanya

 

NIGHT CATCHES US                                            B                     86

USA  (90 mi)  2010        Official site

 

Mama’s in the kitchen feeding the entire neighborhood.         —Iris (Jamara Griffin)

 

This plays out like a movie of the week Black Panther melodrama, a nostalgic-tinged reminder of the Panther presence in black urban neighborhoods in the late 60’s to middle 70’s, now a faded and distant memory that a few of the former participants rarely if ever speak of any more.  The lingering memories, however, hover over this picture like a dark cloud.  Using original black and white archival footage of the Black Panthers, including images of Fred Hampton and Bobby Seale, these serve as a reminder of the hopes and aspirations of blacks no longer being intimidated by police brutality which typically reserved its harshest treatment for the black community.  The whole gist of the story is told like the return of the prodigal son, where Anthony Mackie as Marcus, a former Panther, returns after a mysterious four year absence to Philadelphia in 1976 for his father’s funeral.  His brother, a devout Muslim, immediately treats him like an outsider who has abandoned his righteous place in the family, and basically thinks of him as a non-entity, and is already in the process of selling the family home, giving Marcus an ultimatum to move out as soon as possible.  Simultaneously, a young 9-year old girl Iris (Jamara Griffin) grows curious about a family photograph showing her mother Patricia, Kerry Washington, another former Panther member alongside several other Panthers, in particular the man next to her deceased father, as she’s seen him recently parked nearby in his car.  Iris spends a good deal of her time on the front porch where the people are constantly passing by, but she senses something different about this man. 

 

Marcus actually pays them a visit, where Patricia has continued to stay active with community organizing and is the face of the always needed legal defense funds, an everpresent force in getting people out of jail for minor or trumped up charges with the police, a common occurrence in black neighborhoods.  And in turn, Patricia invites Marcus to a pot luck backyard fundraiser, where his presence causes a commotion, as people who were apparently happy that he was gone are not thrilled to see him back.  A neighborhood thug even spray paints the word “snitch” on his car, as word on the street is that he snitched to the FBI, which got Patricia’s husband shot, where the mythology is that he took a good many cops with him.  Of interest is the discovery of a Black Panther comic book which portrays the police as pigs, where Panthers are routinely attacking the pigs.  Patricia has a mentally challenged 19-year old cousin Jimmy (Amari Cheatom) who idolizes the comic book perception and continues to preach black nationalism and “offing the pigs” even after Marcus informs him the comics were printed by the FBI and were intended to incite violence in order to justify a heavy police response, which was basically to shoot first and leave no prisoners.  This complex police informer mythology continues to plague the community to this day.  This film doesn’t examine the historical roots of the problem, which is entrenched in an era of police corruption protecting its hold on a white majority police force, just acknowledges its existence in the black community, creating a fictional story using this history as a backdrop, where the period funk music by the Roots is nothing less than revelatory, especially the use of Syl Johnson’s anguishing lament “Is It Because I’m Black” (7:40 on YouTube).

 

Though it’s not mentioned in the film, those in Chicago are well aware of what happened to Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Chicago Black Panther Party, who on a tip from an informant was assassinated by a morning police raid into his apartment, where according to a forensics report, 99 bullets were found entering the apartment from the outside, while only 1 bullet was ever fired from inside, hardly the barrage reported by the police to justify their actions.  All police officers were exonerated, while the FBI informant, William O'Neal, later committed suicide after his court testimony admitting his involvement in setting up the raid, actually placing a barbiturate in Hampton’s Kool-Aid so he would not awake in the morning.  Anyone with any knowledge of the police treatment of Panthers is aware of similar stories, where in Philadelphia, police commissioner Frank Rizzo raided the offices of the Philadelphia Panther Party, and later as Mayor evicted a house of black nationalists known as MOVE, an action escalating into violence.  Despite his heavy handed and racially divisive police tactics, he had a statue built for him, like Rocky, which stands in front of the Municipal Services Building in Philadelphia Center City. 

 

This racially divided history where truth rarely finds the light of day still conjures up ghosts of the dead, where few speak for those original dreams and ideals which quickly got lost, misrepresented, and demonized when a new era of law and order was ushered in.  One’s view about the Panthers still seems to depend on which side you’re on, which makes a film like this get zero financial backing, so few will ever see it.  If truth be told, however, despite the presence of the rare archival Panther footage, this film does not match the sparks and intensity of the times, or examine its turbulence, but instead builds a quiet and somber story which reflects the vacuum left in the wake of the Panthers, an era of confusion and disillusionment where black males in particular get caught up in gangs and having to fight over every piece of turf and every last crumb in their ravaged neighborhoods, all too often resorting to crime, hopelessly thinking the odds are stacked against them so this is the only means left to survive.  The thought of getting out for better schools and better neighborhoods in the suburbs becomes just as appealing to blacks as whites, so the connection to one’s neighborhood is tenuous and filled with uncertainty, which is certainly the mindset of the film.  It’s basically a rekindled love story where the performances are adequate at best, with the exception of Anthony Mackie who is riveting throughout, always a standout performer, and here he is wise beyond his years, showing maturity and restraint, but also taking responsibility for his present day actions even as those around him harbor grudges and continue to repudiate him for what they perceive as the tragic mistakes of the past.  

 

Chicago Reader  Andrea Gronvall

Deliberately paced and artfully framed, this pensive drama about an African-American community takes place in Philadelphia in 1976, four years after the police have gunned down a cop-killing Black Panther. His widow (Kerry Washington), a lawyer and activist, has moved beyond her past extremism, and when an old flame suspected of being an informant (Anthony Mackie) resurfaces, both their lives are threatened. The two leads are excellent, but as Washington's unstable, impressionable cousin, stage actor Amari Cheatom telegraphs with his every movement the tragedy to come. Tanya Hamilton directed her own script, and though her ending leaves loose ends dangling, the movie is refreshing for its seriousness and originality.

TimeOut Chicago  Joshua Land

The past 40 years are littered with films about the travails of ex-radicals, the vast majority of them white and at least middle-class. Set in Philadelphia in the summer of 1976, Night Catches Us reminds us that the stakes were always higher in the inner city. The story centers on a group of former Black Panthers including Marcus (Mackie), recently returned to the city to bury his father following a mysterious four-year absence, and Patricia (Washington), now continuing the struggle by other means as a defense lawyer while raising her daughter, Iris (Griffin)—who’s just getting old enough to wonder what exactly happened to her father, another Panther, killed by the police under clouded circumstances.

Sober but never despairing and smart enough to know that retrenching isn’t the same as giving in, Night Catches Us is ultimately about how life tempers the heightened ambitions—and emotions—of youth. The film is appropriately small in scale, playing out largely in one-on-one encounters between the characters—the getting-to-know-each-other scenes featuring Mackie and Griffin are especially fine. Periodic flashbacks intercut black-and-white footage of ’60s-era protests, sealing off the world of grand political action from the everyday concerns of the characters. First-timer Hamilton directs with a great eye for the details of ’70s décor and gets some help from a terrific funk-soul score by the Roots.

Chicago Tribune [Michael Phillips]

Surely the gentlest American film ever made about home-grown revolutionaries, writer-director Tanya Hamilton's "Night Catches Us" is not long (88 minutes), but its rhythm forces audiences to pay attention to what its superb actors express non-verbally, and to measure the weight of the characters' past lives. In other words it is not a commercial picture. It is merely a good one.

The flag-strewn iconography of the nation's bicentennial year, 1976, establishes the atmosphere for this North Philadelphia-set story. Anthony Mackie, the still water at the center of "The Hurt Locker," plays the mysterious Marcus, a former Black Panther who has been away (for a while we don't know where, or why) for four years. He has returned to the old neighborhood for his father's funeral; his brother (Tariq Trotter of the Philadelphia band The Roots), now a Muslim, says he's no longer welcome. Before long someone spray-paints the word "SNITCH" on Marcus' black Cadillac.

The film explains that label in due course. Hamilton fixes most of her narrative on Patricia (Kerry Washington, never better, more beautiful or more relaxed), herself an ex-Panther, now a civil-rights attorney raising a 10-year-old daughter. Marcus and Patricia share a history, and as "Night" fills us in regarding the specific relationships between the characters, the film becomes an supple portrait of a community.

Mackie's one of the shrewdest actors in movies today, and while his character is dangerously recessive in dramatic terms, Mackie and Washington make the most of their courtship dance. Hamilton's location work presents a neighborhood out of time, still unsteady from the shock of the 1960s. Racist cops have their version of "keeping the peace"; the residents, meanwhile, have other ideas. Hamilton's script is not quite up to her visual sense, but this is a strong calling card of a feature, photographed by David Tumblety. I'd see it again for the shot of the fireflies in the grass, while the lights of a squad car flash in the background and the slow trudge of a cop's feet is captured in the foreground.

Night Catches Us  Jeffrey M. Anderson from Cumbustible Celluloid

Tanya Hamilton makes her feature writing and directing debut with this exceptional character study; it veers perilously close to message mongering and smugness, but instead it focuses on some surprising character traits. Anthony Mackie plays Marcus Washington, who suddenly returns home to 1976 Philadelphia after some mysterious time away, for his father's funeral.

It's a rough-and-tumble time, with the remains of the Black Panther movement still evident in the streets. Marcus tries to fix up the family home in exchange for a place to sleep, but his brother wants nothing to do with him. Instead he ends up staying with an old flame, Patricia Wilson (Kerry Washington), a do-gooder with the habit of taking in stray souls.

Of course, there's a secret, shameful history here, and Hamilton keeps it from us until the third act, as a good screenwriter should. But when the scene comes, it's powerful... not because of the content, but because Marcus and Patricia simply tell their story to Patricia's daughter Iris (Jamara Griffin). Trying to explain their motivations, the politics and the times to a youngster, makes the tale all the more dramatic.

Arguably, Washington has never had a better role, and she comes across all the more sensual for it; Mackie likewise proves himself one of the top actors of his generation for his willingness to play Marcus as defensive. He has the opportunity to engage in several fights and skirmishes, but he often shuts down, leaving a strange, unfinished quality. He has his reasons, of course, but it's still a brave move for an actor to play such a non-heroic role. (Washington and Mackie both previously appeared in Spike Lee's awful She Hate Me; this is a huge step up.)

Hamilton includes the Black Panther lore as a backdrop, but also manages to portray its good and noble side, as well as its mutated, bad, angry side. Meanwhile, characters run the gamut from ne'er-do-wells who pick up cans for a living, to well-to-do African American white collars. If Hamilton had enjoyed a bit more room to stretch out her themes, this could have been even better, but it's an excellent achievement for its ability to weave so many complex themes and shades of gray with such poise.

Village Voice  Melissa Anderson

Writer-director Tanya Hamilton’s striking debut is the rare recent American-independent film that goes beyond the private dramas of its protagonists, imagining them as players in broader historical moments. Set in the Germantown section of Philadelphia in the summer of 1976, Night Catches Us examines the failed hopes of ’60s liberation struggles through former Black Panthers Patricia (Kerry Washington), now a lawyer, and Marcus (Anthony Mackie, mesmerizing as always), returning to Philly after a mysterious four-year absence. Interspersing snippets of iconic Black Panther footage from the docs Murder of Fred Hampton, Off the Pig, and Mayday, though resolutely opposed to easy nostalgia (unlike Mario Van Peebles’s 1995 film Panther), Hamilton considers the near-impossibility of disentangling the personal from the political.

As the film opens, Jimmy Carter’s campaign promises are heard on the radio. Nine-year-old Iris (an impressive Jamara Griffin) observes the world from her porch, filling the hours of another unstructured summer day, the season’s shifts in light and texture beautifully captured by Hamilton, who trained as a painter at Cooper Union, and cinematographer David Tumblety. (The film’s expert look is matched by the Roots’ hypnotic, propulsive original score.) Her life nothing but commitments to others, Iris's mother, Patricia, a dedicated community activist, grows disenchanted with her older, squarer boyfriend, also an attorney; contends with her troubled 19-year-old, can-collecting cousin, Jimmy (Amari Cheatom); and faces Iris’s persistent questions about what really happened to her father, Neal, a Panther who was killed by the police when she was eight months old. A few streets away, Neal's old friend, Marcus, returns with nothing but an overstuffed duffel, bickering with his Muslim brother over their recently deceased reverend father and the fate of the family home.

Patricia and Marcus have been guarding for nearly a decade the secret of what really happened the night of Neal’s death: “We don’t talk about the past. It’s too painful,” Patricia reminds him. But the neighborhood’s former Panthers, led by bar owner Dwayne (Jamie Hector, joined by fellow Wire alum Wendell Pierce as a corrupt detective in a strong supporting cast), continue to believe that Marcus snitched to the police about Neal’s involvement in an earlier cop killing.

Dwayne and his pals still favor the uniform of black-male militancy: berets, leather jackets, and vests—attire that seems, in the bicentennial summer, outmoded, desperate, and empty. Yet a misinformed next generation, represented by Jimmy, will mimic the Panthers' get-ups and bravado, lionize their history, and fetishize their violence.

Refusing to romanticize Black Power, Hamilton chooses the riskier path of examining its emotional and political fallout. The bullet holes and bloodstains that Iris uncovers after peeling away a strip of wallpaper at home suggest that her father died not as a martyr for the cause but as yet another senseless casualty in an endless conflict, with police harassment of African-Americans by the nearly all-white Philly force still continuing in ’76. Jimmy’s parroting of black macho, in turn, leads only to more spilled blood.

“They’re all around us—ghosts,” Iris mournfully admits to Marcus, who’s come back home to make amends with his own phantom menaces. In doing so, he and Patricia will act on long simmering desires in an effort to leave the bloody past behind. But the more important relationship is the one between Marcus, a soldier disillusioned by the struggle but not without hope, and Iris, a wise, melancholic child whose innocence has been protected by her mother’s necessary lies. Tenuously forming a bond with Iris while watching Popeye cartoons, Marcus is the first adult to honor her wish for answers—and to seek her out when she’s hurting the most. Theirs is the most touching adult-child relationship in a film this year, with Marcus’s temporary surrogate fatherhood a model of manhood far more complex than the rock-hard Panthers Jimmy is so desperate to emulate.

Smells Like Screen Spirit [Don Simpson]

 

PopMatters [Chris Barsanti]

 

REVIEW: For Better and Worse, Night Catches Us Lives a Little Too ...  Michelle Orange from Movieline

 

Night Catches Us | Film | Movie Review | The A.V. Club  Sam Adams

 

Salon.com  Andrew O’Hehir

 

NPR  Mark Jenkins

 

Filmleaf [Chris Knipp]  also seen here:  IC Places [Chris Knipp]

 

Black Swan, I Love You Phillip Morris, Night Catches Us | Film ...  Joe Morgenstern from The Wall Street Journal

 

Slant Magazine  Nick Schager

 

Night Catches Us — Inside Movies Since 1920  Pam Grady from Box Office magazine

 

Film Threat   Mark Fulton

 

Rolling Stone  Peter Travers

 

NIGHT CATCHES US  Facets Multi Media

 

Film-Forward.com  Kent Turner

 

Black Panther Party Profiled In 'Night Catches Us'   Michel Martin interviews the director for NPR, Dec. 2, 2010  Audio version (17:22)

 

NPR: filmmaker interview  December 7, 2010  Audio version (17:29)

 

Variety Reviews - Night Catches Us - Film Reviews - - Review by ...  John Anderson

 

A deft debut film, set in the Phila. of '76 - Philly.com  Carrie Rickey from the Philadelphia Inquirer

 

San Francisco Chronicle [Mick LaSalle]

 

Movie review: 'Night Catches Us' - Los Angeles Times  Kenneth Turan

 

Chicago Sun-Times [Roger Ebert]

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  A.O. Scott

 

Frank Rizzo - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Fred Hampton - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

"The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago ...  Democracy Now, December 4, 2009

 

Hamilton, William and Edward Killy

 

SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE                            C-                    67

USA  (80 mi)  1935

 

I’m not a reasonable person. I’m a woman and I’m tired and I’m nervous, and I want to cry.  —Mary Norton (Margaret Callahan) 

 

A fairly routine whodunit story about a writer seeking the quiet refuge of a hotel that is closed for the winter, urged on by a bet with the hotel owner that he can’t write a novel in 24 hours, that is interesting only because this is the origin of the real Baldpate Inn in Estes Park, Colorado (www.baldpateinn.com), which opened in 1917, an old-fashioned inn at the foot of the Rocky Mountains that is now home of the world’s largest key collection, the website claims over 20,000, where customers are urged to donate some of their own keys to add to the collection, which now takes up an entire room.  The mystery novel The Seven Keys to Baldpate was among the most popular novels of its day, written by Earl Derr Biggers in 1913 long before he invented his most famous character, Chinese detective Charlie Chan, which led subsequently to seven movies, and interestingly enough seven years before women were given the right to vote.  Almost the entire film takes place inside a 2-story hotel, with a centrally located staircase off the main lobby, but also a secret staircase as well, along with hidden rooms.  While supposedly given the “only key” to the hotel, mystery writer Billy Magee (Gene Raymond) discovers a host of mystery guests that secretly arrive with their own keys, each one adding to the intrigue and allure of an ongoing mystery, as all are interested in the $200,000 hidden in the hotel safe. 

 

One by one, Magee politely introduces himself to each of the new arrivals, supposedly seven in all, that range from gangsters, girl friends, ghostly groundskeepers, to women in distress, all seeking something and all suspicious of everyone else’s motives.  While there is never even a hint that this might all be a staged diversion by the publishers to guarantee they’ll win the bet, Magee appears to be the only one capable of maintaining any coherency about what’s going on, as otherwise clues are flying fast and furious.  Adapted from the George M. Cohan play, the dialogue is rapid and oftentimes comic, used mostly to advance the plot which includes shootings and people jumping out windows, while the characters are overly stereotyped, especially the dumb gangsters, and the acting is abhorrent, with Raymond, who seems to speak with a foreign accent, always tilting his head like a puppy dog whenever something important registers.  No one in the entire cast stands out except a brief early appearance by Walter Brennan as a desk clerk at the train station.  There’s absolutely no directional flair exhibited whatsoever in this fairly standard and mediocre rendition of a house detective mystery, as there’s no building of any suspense and no expression of any fear or terror.  It’s all too nonchalant, though one does appreciate the director’s love of characters peeking through ice frosted windows.  By the time the police actually arrive on the scene, more bumbling even than the gangsters, they have a hard time finding the supposed missing corpse, but everything wraps up quickly and cleanly in about two minutes time, showing little more complexity than if this was a Silent era film.   

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: the_bernie (the_bernie@tx.rr.com)

There are several film versions of this George M. Cohan play based on a novel by Earl Derr Biggers the writer of Charlie Chan novels.

I only read part of the book but this play starts out with much of the book thrown in. as we see a lady (Margaret Callahan) crying in the waiting room and being discussed by a male passenger (Gene Raymond) and the station agent (Walter Brennan.) The story is of a writer who picks Baldpate Inn, a quiet place, closed for the winter, as an ideal place for writing a quick novel. He is given the "only key" to the Inn. The film slowly unfolds and makes you wonder why you are watching. Soon it picks up the pace as we find "Seven Keys to Baldpate" and discover who has them both the characters and the familiar actors of the time. It takes time getting used to the cavalier attitude of the writer.

Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings  Dave Sindelar

A writer moves into Baldpate Inn to wirte a novel under the belief he has the only key to the establishment. However, when several other people show up (including gangsters, women and a professor), he realizes that there are several keys. He then gets embroiled in a struggle over a big wad of money.

I suppose I could complain about how many versions of this story are out there, but this is only the second one I've seen; compare than to "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", of which I've seen at least nine versions to date. Also, since the story is only marginally fantastic (in this one, a decidedly non-ectoplasmic hermit is the "ghost" haunting the house, and he does precious little of that), most reference books omit them. I've already seen the 1929 version, and even though i don't remember it very well, I get the impression that this version makes a number of changes to the story. Its play version by George M. Cohan must have been phenomenally successful to have this many versions of it made, but I suspect that its magic doesn't quite translate to the screen; it's only mildly funny at best, and the fact that the wise-guy writer refuses to be frightened by anything somewhat short-circuits its ability to build much in the way of suspense. Ultimately, it's a somewhat confusing rehash of "old dark house" mystery elements. Still, the movie is enlivened by some fun performances including Henry Travers as the misogynistic ghost/hermit and a cameo by Walter Brennan as a station agent. It's only a matter of time before the other versions show up in this series as well.

User reviews  from imdb Author: F Gwynplaine MacIntyre from Minffordd, North Wales

George M Cohan's success as a songwriter and performer has obscured the fact that he also wrote or co-wrote many plays, most of which were very successful in their day. But Cohan's plays have dated badly. He relied heavily on one very contrived device. Most of Cohan's plays feature a wide assortment of very old-fashioned stock characters, contrasted with a wise-cracking slang-slinging protagonist (often played by Cohan himself) who speaks directly to the audience, and who comments on the stiffness of all the other characters in the cast.

'Seven Keys to Baldpate', which Cohan adapted from a novel by Earl Derr Biggers -- now remembered as the creator of Charlie Chan -- is the only Cohan play which is still revived with any frequency. Even this one is squeaky and creaky. The story has been filmed (to date) *seven* times under its original title, with some disguised remakes such as 'House of Long Shadows' and Gene Wilder's wretched 'Haunted Honeymoon' (which ripped off its one and only funny gag from the unjustly obscure comedy 'Murder, He Says').

This 1935 edition is probably the best film version, which isn't saying much. It modernises the material somewhat, deviating significantly from Cohan's original play. Gene Raymond portrays a novelist who comes to the old abandoned Baldpate Inn so as to get some peace and quiet while he writes a novel. He expects to be left alone because he possesses the one and only key to Baldpate ... so nobody else can get in. But then a succession of oddball characters show up, each one weirder than the last ... and each one possesses what he or she claims is the one and only key to Baldpate.

There's a 'surprise' ending that's quite obvious, especially if you've seen 'Haunted Honeymoon'. The best performance in this 1935 movie is by Henry Travers, as a crusty hermit who's misogynistic with it, and who is busy writing a manuscript denouncing womankind. 'Hey, mister!' he shouts, interrupting just as Gene Raymond is about to smooch bland leading lady Margaret Callahan. 'If I start a sentence with the word 'women', do I *hafta* use a capital W?' That's a typical example of the weak humour on offer here.

Cohan's original play ended with a startling piece of meta-fiction, a coup de theatre in which we learn that the events we've just witnessed are actually the contents of the novelist's manuscript, which he has already written. It would have been an improvement if this 1935 film version had attempted something like that, instead of the flat obvious ending which this movie has. I'll rate it 3 out of 10, mostly for its fine cast of supporting actors.

User reviews  from imdb Author: tedg (tedg@FilmsFolded.com) from Virginia Beach

 

Movie Mirror (spoilers included)  Sanderson Beck

 

Seven Keys to Baldpate (1935) - Overview - TCM.com

 

At the RKO Albee. - Movies - New York Times  T.M.P.

 

Hammer, Barbara

 

Films of Barbara Hammer   Jacquelyn Zita from Jump Cut

 

Lesbian Feminism, editorial   Doug Eisenstark, John Hess, Chuck Kleinhans, and Peter Steven from Jump Cut

 

Recent work of Barbara Hammer  Claudia Gorbman reviews Hammer’s 1980’s films from Jump Cut

 

DYKETACTICS

USA  (4 mi)  1974

 

User reviews from imdb Author: Kieran Kenney from California

Barbara Hammer, one of the most powerful voices in independant lesbian cinema, crafted this home-movie-like production with her friends in 1974. Nearly thirty years later, it's still wonderfully entertaining, if not as shocking as it was when it was first shown.

I'm very glad I got to see it. It's the same energetic, frisky, dykie stuff that I assume it always was, brought togeather with a lot of humor and tenderness. Soundtrack includes the les-folk classics "Loving a Woman" and "Any Woman Can Be A Lesbian."

DOUBLE STRENGTH

USA  (20 mi)  1978 

 

WOMEN I LOVE

USA  1979

 

Women I Love and Double Strength   Lesbian Cinema and Romantic Love, by Andrea Weiss from Jump Cut  

Barbara Hammer and her work have contributed significantly to the growing field of lesbian cinema. Yet as much as there is a need for more lesbian filmmakers and films, so is there the need for a lesbian feminist criticism that continually demands more of each work. Without a challenging forum on lesbian art, the work will lack vitality, urgency, and clarity.

Both intentionally and naively, Barbara Hammer rejects the major developments of film history, aesthetics, and theory on the basis of the patriarchal values they reflect. She instead opts for what she would like to be an intuitive, feminine, and emotional approach to film, with an emphasis on subjective content rather than on structure and form. Yet ironically, while Barbara rejects film theory as masculine and "left brained," for some reason she does not reject traditional oppressive notions of romantic love (1), on which her films' content is based.

Within the literary tradition of Romanticism, the validity of emotion and subjective experience overshadows formal concerns. "Good" Romantic poetry according to Wordsworth was defined as the spontaneous overflow of feeling. Nature imagery became the primary poetic subject, and woman, the traditional Muse, was usually objectified as a passive flower.(2)

In Barbara Hammer's WOMEN I LOVE, a series of lesbian relationships is depicted by natural environments. In the style of Judy Chicago's central core imagery, each lover is compared with a colorful flower, or a fruit or vegetable peeling open from its core in animated pixilation. It's become fashionable for women's bodies to be represented by pieces of fruit, not too differently from how it once was fashionable (and still is) to compare women with pieces of meat. Basically though, these images are more tiresome to me than they are objectifying.

Using double-exposure, out-of-date stock, and what Barbara names country vegetable garden living without cultural distractions, the relationships are portrayed with a strong sense of the romantic. The lovers' identities are never presented; rather the women are objectified and idealized. The film form tells us much about "lesbian lifestyle." But this information is rooted in the weaknesses of both the film and the lifestyle. The relationships are clearly delineated (with black leader), yet the traces of one relationship's failure are repeated in the next. Rather than progression, Barbara sets up a system of displacements. This is the basic problem of a lesbian lifestyle based on romantic love and its consequence, serial monogamy. Likewise, the film is linear, lacking both visual depth and the understanding of the past that would enable it to move forward.

Far more successful is Barbara Hammer's newer film, DOUBLE STRENGTH. The film intelligently explores new sound-image and image-image relations as it acknowledges and confronts the old problems of woman-to-woman relationships (specifically one between the filmmaker and a trapeze artist). The film parallels the different stages of the relationship, offering abstract views on the rewards of a longterm love while the actual communication between the two women is in process of breaking down. All the audio and visual clues for the demise are strong: busy signals and voices that say the number is disconnected, still photographs expressing rage, dissonant chords, a pulsating black-and-white face of one lover as a shocking backdrop for the movements of the other. Yet each time I've seen the film, audiences have stated that they missed all these signs, had no idea that the relationship was deteriorating. This response can be attributed to the film's inability to break down the romanticism that permeates it.

In DOUBLE STRENGTH, the lovers' idealization of each other is both moving and disturbing. The voice-over narration in the beginning of the film is filled with story-book fantasies of love and the "you-complete — me/I-complete-you" syndrome. Toward the end of the voice-over narration, we find that the relationship in real time is only two months old. Yet so much attention is given to this section (and because it is so visually engrossing), we come to mistake the early fantasy for the actual relationship. Then the relationship's decline, when perceived at all, is perceived as the other, tragic side of the same romantic picture.

Not only during the Romantic period of the 19th century but throughout all Western culture, the male artist has called upon and romanticized the female Muse. From Plato to Jung to Stan Brakhage, the Muse has played the role of servant and angel in men's imaginations. Set off against the artist as the Other, the anima, the traditional Muse is passive, distanced, and cloaked in fantasy. Barbara Hammer is not alone in adopting the masculine romanticized view of woman. Even Emily Dickinson, unaware of a female/ lesbian tradition but in shrewd recognition of the literary and artistic significance of her love for women, identified with the male romantic view:

"We remind Susan (3) we love her. Unimportant fact, though Dante didn't think so, nor Swift, nor Mirabeau."

Yet it is improbable that Susan Dickinson became for Emily what the traditional female Muse, Beatrice, Stella, or Sophie, signifies for men, although such an assumption raises new questions about women and creative process. Women's lives, specifically lesbians' lives, are too interwoven for the kind of objectification male writers and artists enjoy. It is time that lesbians/ women stopped shaping our visions of ourselves on men's literary and artistic conventions.

Notes:

1. By this I refer not (directly) to a political analysis of romantic love and its role in the institutions of the family and heterosexuality, but to the literary traditions of romantic love and Romanticism, so eloquently espoused by such poets as Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, and Coleridge.

2. Especially true in the "Lucy Poems" of Wordsworth, who, incidentally, borrowed freely and verbatim from the diaries of his loving sister Dorothy, his servant and his Muse, who devoted her life to serving his genius.

3. Susan Gilbert Dickinson, Emily's brother's wife, was the subject and recipient of many of Emily's love poems and love letters. This quotation is from one such letter.

SNOW JOB

USA  1986

 

User reviews from imdb Author: teleboy from Atlanta, GA

Hammer combines MTV-style quick cut montage with text and sound bites for an unconventional and highly stylized documentary on the media's treatment of AIDS in the early years of the epidemic. The experimental format is the most interesting aspect of the piece, forgoing traditional documentary voice-over and linear structure for the disconnected juxstaposition of multi-media archival material to communicate it's message. With this technique, it effectively mirrors the expanding media landscape of the time, a pre-internet barrage of sound bites and video snippets, a scattergun blast of infotainment and an indictment of the mainstream press's early reaction to the growing AIDS crisis.

NITRATE KISSES

USA  67 mi)  1992

 

PopcornQ Review  Randy Turoff

 
Taking the updraft on the current wave of lesbian archivism, Barbara Hammer does in film what Lillian Faderman did in her book Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers. She presents a narrative history of queer life (including an extensive gay male section) from the `20s to the voices of people beginning to speak for themselves against the backdrop of queer cultural history.
 
In this nonlinear film, Hammer makes a point of showing how history comes from fragments which are left to us to interpret. She holds to the theory that this approach comes closer to the truth of life, which is experienced in disjointed images, symbols, and processes that only verge on being meaningful after we assign meaning to them. She knows how nonnarrative film makes most people uncomfortable, and this film seems more than her others to take her audience into consideration. She is, after all, working on creating a collective, rather than a personal, vision of queer cultural history.
 
The impulse to archive begins with a quotation from Adrienne Rich, who warns us that whatever is left out, ignored, or censored about a people will become not merely unspoken, but unspeakable. Hammer underscores her project as an attempt to uncover hidden history with a view toward a future that will give credence to queers and which will exhibit a strong lesbian visibility. Artifacts live longer than the people who create them, and works of art, like films, continue to have a life of their own through time.
 
Hammer interweaves images from the past and the present in a viable way. Traveling to Willa Cather's final resting place, we see a monument erected to her, and hear a tour guide speaking about the house where she wrote and lived. Not once is her lesbianism mentioned. Before her death, Cather and her female lover burned all of her letters. She didn't want anything of her personal life to be revealed. And so, except for the work of the lesbian decoders, Cather would have remained invisible as a lesbian role model. Since not all lesbians are writers or artists, lesbian visibility is often perpetuated through oral history and a shared secret iconography. Hammer shows us the icons, and the people in her film speak about the preliberation days and the decoys involved in living "in the life."
 
Since sexuality is a major defining characteristic of a lesbian identity, Hammer doesn't shirk in presenting this reality. Unlike other cultural documentaries, Hammer displays graphic sex in her film. The sex she shows is not run-of-the-mill titillation. Her first sex partners are old lesbians, quite wrinkled and beyond the prime. They tongue-kiss, caress, and then go full boogie with cunnilingus and manual penetration. It's something we don't often see on screen. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen it on screen.
 
While searching through archives for her film, Hammer came across a large number of outtakes from the 35mm nitrate film, Lot in Sodom (1933), which now has the distinction of being the first queer film made in America. Most of the men in it were filmed seductively, either naked or in posing straps, or in very effeminate drag. Hammer uses lots of footage from this film, and she intercuts it with present-day erotic scenes of lovemaking between a black/white young male couple. While the narrator explains the Hollywood Film Code 1934-1961, which prohibited same-sex eroticism and outlawed miscegenation, we see the white guy putting a condom over his partner's erect cock.
 
Nitrate Kisses continues unveiling transgressions with political bravado. There is a quotation from Pat Califia about denied eroticism. We hear a woman with a heavy German accent speaking about lesbians held in World War II concentration camps. The few accounts we have, she says, come from straight women who have written about the two types of lesbianism in the camps. There was the "disgusting" kind: physical sex between those who were seen as criminals, prostitutes, asocial perverts. And then there was the idealistic kind between Jewish women and political types, which was seen to be "orderly," platonic. Essentially, there are no accounts by lesbians themselves of life in the camps, and so it remains as a hidden history. On screen, between shots of rubble and steel gratings, we see two dykes making love, one with a leather harness strap on, penetrating her companion. A voice speaks about how fluid sexual categories are and how no specific sexual identity should be denied.
 
The film ends with a reflection of Barbara Hammer, with her camera in hand, looking through a window and waving at two punk lesbians who've just been having sex. The last words are from a speech given at the Lesbian History Archives about how lesbians have shared a long history of discrimination by the various medial establishments which have used arguments of "biology" to prove that we're less than human. "Never again," is the message.

 

TENDER FICTIONS

USA  (58 mi)  1996

Variety.com [Emanuel Levy]

Considering the rich, interesting life she has lived, Barbara Hammer's new, highly personal documentary, "Tender Fictions," is a frustrating experience, a densely textured film that doesn't especially illuminate the artist or the woman. This one-hour collage of sounds, images and quotations is best suited for gay and lesbian festivals.

A subjective memoir about what it has meant to be a lesbian-feminist filmmaker in the U.S. over the past three decades, docu juxtaposes autobiographical material about Hammer's conservative, middle-class background with observations on the emergence of a candidly politicized artist.

Born into a Jewish Ukrainian family, the loquacious Hammer was almost predetermined to pursue a showbiz career, encouraged by her mother to take dance and elocution lessons during the Depression, and introduced by her grandmother, who worked as a cook for Lillian Gish in Hollywood, to D.W. Griffith.

The sequence detailing her marriage and subsequent coming out in the '70s is interesting, capturing the fermenting political milieu that fostered anti-establishment protests by, among others, feminist and gay liberation movements.

But there is too much narration, which is not always revelatory, and quotes from intellectuals on the order of Roland Barthes and Audre Lordes are often interwoven into the personal narrative in a rather arbitrary manner, giving the work a disjointed feel. Stylistically, the film relies heavily on montage of brief images and sounds that creates a busily thick texture but undercuts its emotional resonance. Pic isn't boring, but is exhausting and not much fun to watch.

HISTORY LESSONS

USA  (65 mi)  2000

 

The Village Voice [Jessica Winter]

Starting off by envisioning Eleanor Roosevelt as the honored guest at a pioneering lesbian-rights conference, Barbara Hammer's collage of homophilic pre-Stonewall imagery, History Lessons, decodes its footage through cut-and-paste juxtaposition and knowingly clumsy, Forrest Gump-like synching. The spirit of cheeky subversion is dampened and soon snuffed out by glib repetition—here Hammer betrays a tiresome attachment to cross-cutting ladyporn with antiquated educational filmstrips, to no real end but snarky giggles.

PopcornQ   Brandon Judell

 

Barbara Hammer, who's responsible for "Superdyke Meets Madame X" (1978) and "No No Nooky T.V." (1987), has returned to theaters with an often very funny documentary you might as well label a "revolutionary comedy."
 
What this in-your-face filmmaker has done is take historical newsreel footage, music, and vintage lesbian porn and cut it into a hard-hitting, visually enchanting, clitorally stimulating art piece that makes you think every woman who ever walked down an American avenue was a dyke, a potential dyke, or just damned wished she could be a dyke.
 
To get her celluloid thesis off to a striking start, Hammer doctors a speech to make you think Eleanor Roosevelt is holding a meeting for same-sex rights. Then there's footage of military women washing their hair and cooking in their army helmets, lady golfers putting, gymnasts leaping, and lots of gals just getting down and dirty. Yes, there's even some feisty majorette baton action.
 
Consequently, the whole film, which happily includes ample footage of women of color, is a constant hoot except for two episodes that Hammer seems to have shot herself. In one, a gaggle of women dressed as men and their honeys are being photographed by a tabloid magazine, and in another a doctor is measuring a butch and a femme to see if their physical attributes predict their sexuality. These are great popcorn buying moments or junctures to make-out during if you're not alone.
 
Otherwise, the wry Hammer is consistently on target, aggressively uprooting the word "invisible" from any phrase that deals with "lesbians." As she herself has noted: "Anyone can be left out of history. I am compelled to reveal and celebrate marginalized peoples who stories have not been told." She succeeds here valiantly -- and wickedly.

Film Threat  Merle Bertrand

There's good news and bad news about veteran filmmaker Barbara Hammer's "History Lessons." The good news is, the film is full of what my colleague Anthony Miele might refer to as, "hot lesbian chicks." (Oh, grow up. I bet Ms. Hammer would agree.) The bad news is, most of these "chicks" are long-since dead.

"History Lessons," you see, is an experimental documentary comprised primarily of archival lesbian-oriented footage dating back to the days of Edison and Melies. If nothing else, this is an impressive collection of stuff. Clips of vintage lesbian melodramas, sepia-tinged peep show loops, and tacky lesbian adult films all combine with other, not necessarily lesbian oriented items such as military propaganda films, sports clips, and sex-education films from the 1950s.

Hammer also mixes in some vintage erotic lesbian artwork, photos from exploitative tabloid articles, and the covers of adult paperback novels. Occasionally, she alters her imagery, over-dubbing audio on an Eleanor Roosevelt speech, for example; nicely comic touches that combine with the overall context of the film to plant the subliminal message that all women have at least a touch of lesbianism at their core. Once Hammer plants this seed, the audience fills in the blanks, giving a humorous double-entendre to even the most innocent comment in a military film.

The end result is an offbeat look at lesbianism prior to the Stonewall uprising. This film is at its strongest when it depicts, not only the sexism rampant in "Leave It To Beaver"-era America, but the paranoia bordering on hysteria concerning lesbianism and other "unnatural" such behavior. Had it stuck to its archival footage to drive this theme home a little more forcefully, it would have been a much stronger film. As it is, Hammer stages and shoots scenes, including one long and tedious gangster tangent that completely disrupts her film's flow. Such sequences muddy the waters on a film that has little natural story arc to begin with.

Lacking this central driving theme, one tends to tune out the movie after a while; the novelty of watching vintage lesbian footage just for the sake of watching eventually wears off. This underscores the idea that there is such a concept as too much of a good thing.

Even cool lesbian chicks.

filmcritic.com takes its History Lessons  Rachel Gordon

History Lessons gives a unique glimpse into the background of lesbian relations -- by putting it through a historical lens. It effectively dispels any idea that being a lesbian is some kind of trend that emerged from Stonewall, as some of its footage dates back 50 years or more. And more than most films that deal with the subject of lesbianism, this film brightly takes into account the fact that there is more than one form of women sleeping with her own gender.

Some of the images are shockingly graphic, but they also force the viewer to accept how natural it is for women to enjoy one another. From displaying fully-clothed women frolicking during the war effort to showing oral sex acts, Barbara Hammer wisely chooses to look at the subject from every angle. It’s not about empowering women or degrading them, but simply cataloging the wide variety of lesbians and their behaviors.

That’s not to say that History doesn’t have a general feeling of inner female power. In shot after shot we see women doing what they want and enjoying themselves. When they are hindered, it is by some laughably naïve, intruding character that has no real impact on their lives. So even when the world at large becomes a challenge, they find strength and enjoyment in one another. Just like heterosexual women, they endure and find a way to live life to the fullest.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of archival footage, sometimes the images have too much of a scrappy, thrown-together look. And when these old reels get repeated, the result is not as effective. Another difficulty, especially for a film with a documentary feel, is that there is no rhyme or reason to how or when scenes are placed together. There are no datelines provided, so we don't really understand if any progress has been made. It’s impossible to guess why one scene follows another. Though just over an hour in length, stylings like this make the viewing experience feel longer. The basic premise of the film is ever-present, instead of building to any kind of climax.

Still, History is also an intelligent, satirical presentation of how misdirected the media is in defining lesbians. Often the music and sarcastic narration are more interesting than the pictures they are matched to. The altered historical voices provide enjoyable commentary instead of spouting some moralistic, heavy-hitting speech about injustice. It’s a clear, unique voice that allows you to think for yourself, and even sometimes laugh in the face of sadness.

Film Journal International (Doris Toumarkine)

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Dave Kehr

 

RESISTING PARADISE

USA  France  (90 mi)  2003

 

Variety.com [Dennis Harvey]

Given an artist residency grant in 1999, noted U.S. experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer intended to make a film about the famous Southern France-on-the-Mediterranean light that inspired so many great painters. But war's breakout in Kosovo instead turned her attention to political matters, resulting in a docu more concerned with refugees and Resistance fighters in this area of Southern France during WWII, as well as the role of art and artists under enemy occupation. Somewhat peculiar mix of personal and historical inquiry makes for an intriguing, absorbing hybrid that's especially apt for Jewish fests and intellectually adventuresome educational tube slots.

Principal thread is the correspondence between contemporary painting giants Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse, which as excerpted here paints a portrait of the celebrated artist as apolitical, self-absorbed and oblivious to all save the inconveniences wrought by distasteful "war and politics." Matisse's closest relatives felt differently: His wife, son and daughter Marguerite risked their lives in service of the Resistance, with Marguerite narrowly avoiding a concentration camp.

Stories of German antifascist Lisa Fittko, French mayoral secretary Marie-Ange Allibert (who helped Jews get false identity cards) and brilliant philosopher Walter Benjamin's unsuccessful attempt to flee Nazi Europe (he committed suicide in 1940 Spain) are woven in via survivor interviews and archival materials.

Asking how war effects the creation of art, not to mention the artist's own social responsibility, Hammer -- whose films have frequently spoken more specifically from her roots in '70s radical lesbian feminism -- clearly has scant sympathy for those who abstain from taking a stand under crisis. Her view doesn't permit acknowledgement that much great art is apolitical -- and many great artists have, for better or worse, been incapable of seeing past their own obsessive art and ego.

Seemingly tenuous connection between various themes is granted strong stylistic unification by helmer's imaginative deployment of layered multiple images, occasional impressionistic animation and brief staged sequences using actors as historical figures.

LOVER OTHER

aka:  The Story of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore

USA  (55 mi)  2006

 

Variety.com [Ronnie Scheib]

 

Veteran experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer's newest docu, "Lover Other: The Story of Claude Cahun and Marvel Moore," focuses on two Jewish stepsisters living together as lovers, artists and resisters on the Channel Islands off of Normandy during the German Occupation. Intermingling the surrealist photographic self-portraits of Cahun, texts and illustrations by Moore, interviews with their contemporaries and accounts of the stepsisters' arrest and trial, docu shows their jointly created lesbian identity, lifestyle and activism. Weaving together more hooks than a drunken angler, docu could lure the entire spectrum of specialized fests.
 
Part of the extraordinary flowering of avant-garde art in Paris in the '20s, the self-styled Claude and Marcel virtually interiorized that milieu in their villa on the isle of Jersey. Though they were certainly judged to be eccentric, what with Claude's shaved head and Marcel's masculine attire, the stepsisters seemed to have been accepted by the locals, and even to have enjoyed a certain cachet, later enhanced by their anti-Nazi activities.
 
Though many Jews on the Islands were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, the stepsisters were largely left alone, for reasons that Hammer never fully makes clear.
 
But, this uneasy tolerance stopped cold once the duo started writing subversive, often illustrated pamphlets in German and Croatian encouraging the Axis soldiers to mutiny.
 
The sisters were condemned to death by the Gestapo, a sentence later commuted through the intervention of the local authorities. Liberated in 1945, Cahun never fully recovered and died in 1954, almost two decades before her partner/sister.
 
In "Lover," Hammer reprises the question of the artist's political role posed in her 2003 "Resisting Paradise," also about French artists during the Occupation, but here she gives it photographic (and lesbian) specificity.
 
The context of the war provides pic with a satisfying dramatic curve, as former fellow-resisters, neighbors and cellmates fondly bear witness to the pair's courage and uniqueness. But, it is the women's artwork (only some of which survived the Nazis' confiscatory ravages) that gives shape to Hammer's more lyrical imagery.
 
Cahun's startling black-and-white still photography, shown straight on or fancifully kaleidoscopic, dominates the film, strangely echoed in segments of a thinly disguised autobiographical text written by Moore and performed by look-alike actors Kathleen Chalfant and Marty Pottenger.
 

Hammer, Lance

 

BALLAST                                                                 B                     89       

USA (96 mi)  2008  ‘Scope

 

The only film seen so far with the director present, this is a small, minimalist film shot in the Mississippi Delta that depicts the hardships of rural life for a group of blacks living next door to one another, but at times barely speak to one another.  Two brothers live in the blue house, former radio deejays who now operate a run down gas station/mini mart, while a single mother and teenage son live in the green house, separated only by a light at the top of a tall pole that shines on each house at night.  One of the brothers is the child’s father, but the mother wants to keep him at an arm’s distance, believing he’s a terrible influence on her son James (JimMyron Ross) who has all but dropped out of school due to the prevalence of drugs and constant fighting.  James is a hard-headed kid who listens to no one and can be seen bolting out the door from time to time whenever his mother calls for him.  His life is a prototype of many other kids from the area who drop out early or find school a complete waste of time, so they sit around with nothing to do and eventually wind up in trouble.  In James’s case, hard as it is for him to believe, people are thankfully paying attention to him, even during the worst of times.    

 

Using a non-professional black cast from the region, the white director indicated he would only show them the day’s script on the day of shooting, that otherwise he kept the script completely to himself.  His aim was believability and regional authenticity, including elements of dire poverty, the beauty of the landscape, any regional dialect they use, all creating what was primarily designed to be a feature length tone poem.  Narrative content (which is barely there) is considered secondary to emotional content, which is intensely thrust upon the audience from the outset of the film.  There isn’t a single musical note anywhere to speak of, so natural sound or a shift to complete silence adds a hushed element to this film which refuses to sentimentalize or overdramatize the bleak elements that comprise this world.  The performances are surprisingly powerful, though slow in developing, where the pace of the film may be infuriorating to some, yet despite a few hysterics, there’s a distinguishable note of calm throughout this picture that’s hard to resist. Shot on real locations by cinematographer Lol Crawley, the Christmas season has rarely felt this brutally harsh, but to the director’s credit, the wintry atmosphere and the ghostly lives depicted here are the real deal. 

 

George Christensen at Cannes:

 

It was a stark contrast to "Ballast," an American independent whose African American cast in a small southern town all looked as if they could have been playing themselves, and with passion.  A 40 year old guy who has just lost his twin brother and business partner to suicide can't find the will to get up and tend to their business--a small gas station and market.  He doesnt even care when his brother's 11 year old son comes around with a gun demanding money for his crack habit.  The boy's mother loses her job when she is beat up by the drug dealers her son owes money to.  These three lost souls struggle to get their lives back on track.

BALLAST  Ken Rudolph

This is a wide screen, but mostly hand-held and rudimentary American indie film which is a contemporary slice-of-life story of a struggling, broken African-American family unit in the Mississippi delta.  It starts with a suicide, and an attempted suicide by thirty-something identical twin shop owner men, and then tells the meandering story of the ex-girlfriend and teenage, crack addicted son of one of them.  The film is strongly reminiscent of a much better film, David Gordon Green's George Washington, and has the same deliberate pacing and impoverishment of that film, though not the superb beauty of the director's vision.  Apparently this film won the director and cameraman prize at Sundance; but for the life of me I don't know why.  It was so unremittingly depressing and despairing, so choppy and unsatisfying technically, that I left the theater feeling I was totally movied out for the day.

Jigsaw Lounge [Neil Young] Berlin Film Festival 2008

Low-key, no-frills American "indie" is quiet to the point of occasional inaudibility, but repays the close attention it demands. It's a notably well-observed tale of family dysfunction, set in a notably bleak and flat corner of the Mississippi delta - the colour-palette a thing of greys, cobalts, dunnish, brackish browns. The travails of cash-strapped African-Americans are all too seldom tackled in any kind of US cinema at the moment, though the family in question in Ballast are, as joint owners of a small (if struggling) roadside business, hardly representative of the wider socio-economic issues which the film tries to deal with. Nevertheless, writer-director Hammer executes proceedings with a steady, serious, absorbing austerity that's entirely appropriate for the stoic doggedness displayed by his characters, eliciting believable performances from his small cast, and it's also to his credit that he carefully avoids the kind of melodramatic denouement which often mars this kind of fare.

Time Out New York (Joshua Rothkopf) review [4/6]

We’ve seen the Deep South onscreen before, in caricature (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), stridency (Mississippi Burning) and gauzy loveliness (Undertow). But boy, don’t it look blue in Lance Hammer’s subtle Ballast? Literally: Hammer’s indie, shot on the cheap in rural Mississippi during wintertime, has the denatured feel of bruised Bergman—rainy, depressed and lacking the merest hint of orangey sunlight. You might say an apocalypse has happened here, and you wouldn’t be wrong: Lawrence (Smith), a shopkeeper, shivers in the dimness of his trailer, unable to function, his twin brother a suicide in the next room.

Darius’s death, perhaps of a broken heart, sends echoes throughout the rest of Ballast, which balances its welcome strain of healing against the presence of ghosts. Lawrence, who tries to take his own life, is roused from his post-hospital stupor by a friendly neighbor who cooks him a steak, then by a gun-waving teen (Ross, extraordinary) pinned in by tense circumstances. The boy, James, is actually Lawrence’s nephew; his mother, Marlee (Riggs), is a former drug addict and hard worker who has only difficult memories of Darius. Gang activities loiter on the periphery of the movie, as do workplace indignities; front and center is desperation and real-world poverty.

So it comes as a gift, one of Ballast’s most praiseworthy, that these three characters grow together in ways that are totally unsentimental. There is virtue in industriousness: in the rituals of the store, the stocking of shelves, the keeping of hours. If anything holds Hammer’s slice of life back, it’s that the movie is just getting started when things cut to black. Young James hasn’t made his stand yet, nor have Marlee and Lawrence gotten beyond a tenable peace. But Ballast has a potential that few Sundance movies even approach.

Movies into Film.com (N.P. Thompson) review

Lance Hammer’s Ballast, gorgeously photographed in the blue mists of a Mississippi Delta winter, put me in mind of Jeff Nichols’s Shotgun Stories. Both films were shot in the Deep South, in corners rarely, if ever, explored by movies, and both owe so much to the landscape. (In fact, I would have been happier with Shotgun Stories had Nichols included more Malick-esque shots of rural east Arkansas and less of the feuding brothers—a topic for another occasion.) Both take as their subject violence within families and those tentative first steps toward healing. And both films—I say this with the ear of a Georgian—get the Southern accents, without exaggeration, exactly right.

Ballast, although flawlessly acted, isn’t a great movie; it’s a singularly idiosyncratic vision of life in and around Canton, Mississippi, and that’s enough, in these impoverished days, to make a film worth seeing. Near the end, Lawrence (Micheal J. Smith, Sr.), who begins the movie in a catatonic state and glacially reemerges into humanity, stands outside a one-room shack that once housed a radio station, the lettering on its façade, “RADIO 960 KC,” still visible against the peeling paint. The place—and the memory of the place from an earlier time—clearly means something to him. I hadn’t any notion of what, but the acting by Smith and the direction by Hammer are rich in implication.

The cinematographer Lol Crawley deservedly won a prize at Sundance this year. He achieves a number of superb wide-angle shots of frond-topped marshes and of azure twilights crisscrossed by the dark silhouettes of spindly tree trunks and finger-thin branches—an atmosphere no less lovely for being slightly forbidding and forlorn. Yet my favorite moment, visually, belongs to a sensuous aerial vertical over a pink/fuchsia carpet: Juneau, a beautiful wolfhound, lies outstretched on the left; on the right, lies James (JimMyron Ross), a troubled little punk with a history of holding at least one relative of his at gunpoint. In this moment, James serenely, gently strokes Juneau’s fur. The color and texture of the dog’s whitish coat against the shaggy carpet, and the ebony skin, the youthfulness of James, the way their reclined figures are positioned opposite each other along the full length of the frame—it’s a transcendent image of peace. (Unlike the poor, snake-bitten canine in Shotgun Stories, this Juneau is no one’s victim.)

Hammer’s screenplay realistically delves into family bitterness, into the “fucked-up kind of love,” one character accuses another of proliferating. As Marlee, the loving and initially unsuspecting mother of James (she tucks her gun-toting, drug addict pre-teen into bed with such tenderness), Tarra Riggs shows tremendous range. She makes Marlee’s rage—and the character’s need to get beyond it—palpable. And I’m awed by how skillfully Hammer and the actors portray Lawrence and James’s relationship changing over time, an unsentimental journey from the brutal to somewhere better. Hammer stumbles a bit on the subject of how James quits drugs after his money sources dry up—how the boy eases off smoking whatever was in his pipe is left unaddressed.

Even so, the low-key black people in Hammer’s film are real blacks—a (welcome) far cry from the glib, hyperbolic caricatures who overpopulate Craig Brewer, Tyler Perry, Denzel Washington, and Wayans Brothers movies.

The Village Voice [Elena Oumano]

Unhurried rhythms and spare, beautifully composed shots infuse Lance Hammer's Ballast with the sweet, dark melancholy of a Delta blues. This remarkable, unfailingly intelligent debut film, rooted in the Mississippi Delta's vanishing way of life, tells of the fall-out from one man's suicide on three people.

Ballast doesn't portray the sensual Delta of popular imagination, the one drenched in sunshine and teeming with fecundity and song. Instead, the film's haunting tableaus of loss and healing are photographed against a wintry gray sky that casts a chill, bluish pall over the endless vista of bare, resting fields. Ballast's opening alternates between James (JimMyron Ross), a 12-year-old African-American boy roaming the vast flatscape, and Lawrence (Micheal J. Smith Sr.), a big, stony-faced man sitting in his small, dark house, frozen with grief. In a typically evocative shot, James approaches a dense flock of migrating geese as it lifts off, crowding the air with beating wings and honking cries. Like the trains that periodically race by, the flock is only passing through, but the middle-aged Lawrence, James, and his valiant, struggling mom, Marlee (Tarra Riggs), are trapped, each one in a bubble of increasingly desperate loneliness.

Whether wandering outside, planted in front of his TV, or attending a school we never see (but that is evidently plagued by violence and adult indifference), James is alone and in trouble. He makes drug runs for a group of older teens to support his burgeoning coke habit and is fascinated with guns. His loving mother slaves in a night-time cleaning job and is too anxious and exhausted to see the clues. James owes the gang money, and soon mother and son take refuge with Lawrence, whom Marlee hates with an old and bitter passion.

The conflicts, truths, and, ultimately, grace and dignity that bind these three together are brought to authentic life, without Hollywood-style exaggeration, through the quiet little miracles of performance that Hammer coaxes from his non-actors, especially the heartrending Riggs—and all save one are Delta residents that he found through local community centers and churches.

This writer-director is also bravely unafraid of silence—at least human silence—for his images are continuously awash in the sounds of the wintertime Delta: the wind, the rain, the wet crunch of boots on bare, sodden ground. Hammer cleaves to the stripped-down reality of Dogma filmmaking, but there's no theoretical preciousness to drag down Ballast's clear, spare lyricism or muddy the pleasures of its ambiguities. British cinematographer Lol Crawley moves his camera so intuitively within this world that, at times, it seems to express the consciousness of the viewer. And Hammer's artful jump cuts between scenes, as well as the film's abrupt ending, create just enough tension to draw you in, but leave just enough mystery to let you create your own understanding of what's happening between Lawrence, James, and Marlee, and to form your own insights into the psyches of these people trying to survive with their souls intact.

The film's characters aren't the only ones confronting challenges: The sky continues to cave in for independent American filmmakers trying to survive with their financing intact. Ballast won several festival prizes this year, including the Sundance awards for cinematography and dramatic directing, and was snapped up for distribution by IFC Films. But even this supposedly plum arrangement would've required Hammer to forfeit the rights to his film for 20 years, with no guarantee of recouping his expenses. So, instead, he's distributing Ballast on his own—theater by theater, town by town. Like his fictional characters, he's doing it for himself.

Salon.com [Andrew O'Hehir]

 

indieWire[Anthony Kaufman]

 

The House Next Door [Zachary Wigon]

 

SpoutBlog [Karina Longworth]

 

ShortEnd Magazine [Noralil Ryan Fores]

 

The New York Sun (S. James Snyder) review

 

PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review

 

Cinematical (James Rocchi) review  also see here:   interview with Lance Hammer

 

Reel.com review [3/4]  Chris Cabin, also seen here:  filmcritic.com (Chris Cabin) review [4/5]

 

Screen International review  David D’Arcy at Sundance from Screendaily

 

Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]

 

Film Threat, Hollywood's Indie Voice review [4.5/5]  Jeremy C. Fox

 

CompuServe (Harvey S. Karten) review

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

The Hollywood Reporter review  Kirk Honeycutt

 

Variety.com [Robert Koehler]

 

The New York Times review  Manohla Dargis  

 

Hamri, Sanaa

 

SOMETHING NEW                                     B+                   90

USA  (100 mi)  2005

 

A film that has coined the new phrase for interracial love, no longer “Jungle Fever,” but now called “Something New.” Formulaic, but ultimately successful look at a segment of black society rarely taken seriously, the urban professional class, that has knowledge, style and money, but the difficulty, just like anyone else, to make good decisions in love.  The film resembles LADY CHATTERLY’S LOVER, instead showing the upper crust of black society, replacing the hard-core sex with romantic notions of love, where in this film a beautiful overworked black woman dabbles with her salt-of-the-earth white landscaper.  This is an interesting take on an age-old problem, but with a twist.  Financially successful black men have historically had white women on their arms, instead of black women.  In this story, the financially successful black woman, beautifully personified by the immensely appealing Sanaa Lathan, a fast rising star and soon to be partner in a prestigious all-white law firm, is set up by a friend on a blind date with a white guy (Simon Baker), a disastrous awkward moment in an impersonalized crowded Starbucks that comes back to haunt her later when she realizes she rejected the man she has just hired to be her back yard landscaper for her newly purchased first home. Talk about awkward moments. 

 

Despite the fact we know where this is going, and the film never establishes anything new style-wise, it is basically a retread in the movie of the week formula, there is actually some interesting material to digest here, which is presented naturally within the storyline, with terrific performances by the entire crew.  The film effectively shows the conflict within her soul at the thought of dating outside the black race, and the considerable pressures amounted on top of the already existing pressures reserved exclusively for black women.  Her family dynamic, where she is torn at the thought of not pleasing her parents, the community pressure for a black woman to stand by black men, expressed at a comedy club where she is accompanied by a white guy, the object of several sharp scornful jokes, the work pressure, having to work that much harder than the others to prove herself worthy, having her work double checked, leaving her always feeling inadequate in the eyes of her customers and her employer, and the failure to find the man of her dreams, that perfect guy that she’s been looking for since childhood.  In her dreams, it never “looked” like a white guy.  So this film effectively shows her constant inner turmoil, such as how defensive and hurt she becomes when someone comments on her hair, but in particular, when witnessing a black modern dance performance, accompanied by her family, projecting her own thoughts onto the dancers interpretation of black on black love.    

 

What works is the guys she finds aren’t perfect, despite being good-looking, ultra nice and considerate guys.  They screw up in ways that make perfect sense, and aren’t at all beyond what most of us would do.  So the film doesn’t exaggerate into stereotypes, at least not the main performances, which are kept smart and all-too real, especially a scene in a grocery store where the young lovers have an exposed moment where they clearly aren’t on the same page, but no one really crosses the line of bad taste, it’s all kept extremely respectful of the characters.  This continues in the next phase where she has a brief fling with Blair Underwood, the perfect black guy, good looking, successful, rich, very polite and well-spoken, but there’s no sizzle between them.  Everything comes together in an old-fashioned cotillion dance, ultra formal, where she’s initially ashamed to bring a white guy, as he doesn’t fit society’s image, so she flirts with the idea of a successful black guy, the right guy to be seen with, where they have everything more in common, but she’s again undermined and taken for granted in a wonderful moment, a single moment, that ends their relationship.  The film can be silly, but also dead on when it comes to societal pressures, some artificially placed, and some our own.  These are barriers that we are all faced with sooner or later, and in mixed race company, the objection is immediate, where “only the strong survive.”   

 

Handke, Peter

 

THE LEFT-HANDED WOMAN                 A                     95

Germany  (119 mi)  1978

 

adapted from his own novel, a gorgeous, remarkably beautiful film, with a haunting performance by Edith Cleaver

 

Channel 4 Film

Wenders produced this film, and his bleak outlook on life is very much in evidence here. It is directed by Handke, also one of Germany's finest authors, who turns in a wonderfully crafted and intellectually flawless work. Wenders would only match it with Wings of Desire, which was co-written by Handke. Clever is the wife who tells her husband Ganz to leave; he obliges, setting off on a journey of discovery on her behalf. It sheds new light on each and every aspect of her existence. Not much happens here, but the quiet inner voyage is perfectly judged.

Chicago Reader (Dave Kehr)

 
Peter Handke's 1977 film of his novel is a remarkably assured work for a first-time director, shot with almost no dialogue and relying on concise, enigmatic, and sometimes sinister vignettes to tell its story of a housewife (Edith Clever in a brilliantly minimalist performance) leaving her husband and grasping at selfhood. It's An Unmarried Woman as it might have been filmed by Yasujiro Ozu (who is duly credited in a brief hommage sequence), finding a metaphysical thrust in images that seem placid on the surface but contain an inexpressible tension. The photography is by Robby Müller, Wim Wenders's right-hand man, who creates expressionist effects out of deceptively natural lighting. With Bruno Ganz and, in a funny, small bit, Gerard Depardieu. In German with subtitles. 113 min.

 

User comments  from imdb Author: robert burton from United Kingdom

Peter Handke was best known as a novelist,playwright and screenwriter of many of Wenders' early films (he went on to write "Wings of desire" nine years later) when he made this,his debut feature. Few novelists make the transition to director easily but this film is remarkably assured for a first effort. Edith Clever, the German actress who starred very memorably for Eric Rohmer as "The Marquise of O" plays the housewife who one day announces that she wants a divorce from her husband. No reasons or explanations are ever given; the viewer can only speculate about her state of mind as the film proceeds in a series of beautifully shot, reflective scenes photographed by Wenders' usual cameraman Robby Mueller. The static camera-work and long takes are reminiscent of Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu.

Time Out

 

A train shatters the stillness of a Paris suburb, leaves a puddle on the station platform quivering with some unsolicited, mysterious, moving energy. This Romantic metaphor is at the very centre of Handke's grave, laconic film, produced by Wim Wenders, which begins where The American Friend left off: in the ringing void of Roissy airport. Here, the Woman (Edith Clever, superb in the role) meets her husband (Ganz) and, for no apparent reason, rejects him in favour of a solitary voyage through her own private void. In her house, with her child, the film records a double flight of escape and exploration, her rediscovery of the world, her relocation of body, home and landscape. This emotional labour makes its own economy: silence, an edge of solemnity, an overwhelming painterly grace. Self-effacement is made the paradoxical means of self-discovery, and the film becomes a hymn to a woman's liberating private growth, a moving, deceptively fragile contemplation of a world almost beyond words.

 

User comments  from imdb Author: emgasulla

Of the many films by Peter Handke (either alone or with his partner Wim Wenders) this may be the most appealing. It is also not recommended for modern viewers accustomed to Hollywood's rhythm -it is long, slow paced and even difficult to follow sometimes. I strongly recommend viewers to read the book too, although they may not find too many additional clues there, for Handke's style is to reflect the character's actions rather than their thoughts (which, by the way, should be the perfect cinematic approach). Some people have wasted their time especulating about the woman's reasons to divorce her husband: the french essayist Gilles Lipovetsky even said that her "lack of good reasons" is a sign of modern life's emptiness. In fact, we can not say she does not have reasons: only we are not allowed to see them on the screen. One might even think that Handke himself did not care to build the woman's inner thoughts (and if he did, he sure did not share them with us). The movie, and the book, are about communication between us, or at least this is one of its possible readings. Do we really know what is on other people's mind, even people real close to us? The answer is no: we can only talk of what they tell us, or what we might hint, but how many times had we been completely wrong about somebody? The movie defies the usual assumption of an omniscient camera: the woman would not share her thoughts with the viewers, and this leaves us with a sense of discomfort. We feel compelled to find motivations that are just not there. Just the fact that the movie makes us think about it would be enough to qualify it as a masterpiece.

Books on German film   New German Film: The Displaced Image by Timothy Corrigan (213 pages) and West German Film in the Course of Time by Eric Rentschler (260 pages), reviewed by Jan Mouton from Jump Cut, February 1988

Handler, Mario

 

MESTIZO                                                                  79                    C+

Venezuela  Cuba  (82 mi)  1988

 

While this is a Venezuelan film shot in the late 80’s, it feels more like a 60’s film, an era of more radical experimentation, where due to the repressive and conservative element of the 50’s, the content of many 60’s films often explodes off the screen, where sex is more freely expressed and nakedness exposed unlike any other era.  But this film, something of a raw and sensationalist adaptation of the modernist Venezuelan novel El Mestizo José Vargas (1942) by Guillermo Meneses that attempts to graphically express the prevalent influence of racial discrimination, unfortunately ends up unintentionally expressing an egregiously misogynous view of women, which may actually be a worse crime.  Feminist social development is slow in coming to the machismo based Latn American societies where men exclusively control the ruling power, though women's presence in politics has grown steadily over the last decade, with Brazil and Chile electing female Presidents, where in the past five years, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Trinidad and Tobago have also elected women leaders.  Today Latin America has four of the world's 19 female heads of state, and while gender equity is key to achieving social justice, none of the women were elected on a feminist platform, and their inclusion in politics has not led to policy proposals advocating women’s issues.  MESTIZO, unfortunately, while radical on one front, is regressive on another, as its characterization of women is deplorable, where literally every female character is viewed as a willing seductress or whore, where women are entirely defined by having an insatiable sexual appetite, which despite an attempt to express an unbalanced power dynamic more likely reflects the male fantasy view.  This unreality affects one’s view overall, as it taints any other serious social comment the film may offer. 

 

Part of the continuing story of the effects of slavery, this film reflects the colonial mentality where white landowners once proudly owned black slaves, a view that hasn’t evolved in the modern era.  The title and subject of the film refer to mulatto people of mixed race, where historically landowners and rulers of power have been exclusively white, though they typically have sexual relations with the black subservient class, often with the domestic help they hire, so when white aristocrats produce dark-skinned babies, these children have a curse on their heads, as they’re not perceived as white.  This film follows one such child, José Ramon Vargas (Marcos Moreno), the illegitimate son of a wealthy white landowner Don Aquiles Vargas (Aldo Tulian) and a poor black fisherwoman, Cruz Guaregua (Zezé Motta).  While the father can be seen beating his mistress once he learns she’s carrying his child, he can also be seen swearing and cursing at everything this mestizo child represents in his eyes, a stain on white civilization and a mixture of “Indians, blacks, whores, and bums!”  The film advances 18 years where Don Aquiles has raised his son strictly within white society, and while José Ramon has aspirations to be a poet, inspired by his layabout Uncle Ramon, his father scoffs at that sissy stuff and insists that he learn to be a man and hold a respectable job.  When his father takes him by the hand and drops him off at the door of a young black girl in a brothel, it’s supposed to be his introduction to sex, but José Ramon is too naïve to understand.  In his determined quest to civilize his young son, he takes him to the courthouse and places him under the care of the Judge (Omar Gonzalo), another mestizo who has risen to a position of authority and respectability.  In a modernist expression of theater of the absurd, José Ramon learns to be civilized while prisoners are dragged to the back of the courthouse and soundly beaten and tortured, where their disturbing offscreen cries are routinely ignored by the judge, as all the court employees display this same air of nonchalance.   

 

The Judge’s peculiar fascination with José Ramon is to first get him stinking drunk in a bar before taking him home and proudly introducing him to his voluptuous white wife Gregorina (Nancy González), who allows herself to be seduced for pleasure as the impotent Judge lecherously watches.  Afterwards, despite the apparent awkwardness, José Ramon goes back for more, away from the prowling eyes of the Judge, becoming helplessly driven by his sexual appetite, where Gregorina is more than willing, so long as her lovers are black.  Easily the most pronounced effect is the offscreen use of sound, simulating wild jungle animals and the screeching and wailing sound of her pet parrot, all accentuating the animalistic aspect of what we’re watching.  In an extended sequence that plays out more like fantasy than reality, Gregorina, along with 3 other culturally privileged white girlfriends. spend the night on the beach having sex with mestizo men, where this system of racial sexual exploitation literally defines the status quo, so long as no one upsets the balance.  José Ramon becomes so enraptured, however, that he falls in love, proposing they run away together, which, of course, Gregorina refuses, as she has all she wants at her fingertips.  When Don Aquiles gets word, he chastises the kid for failing to find a (white) civilized and reputable path, as he instructed, and for instead falling victim to his (black) lustful desires.  Afraid and thoroughly disappointed, José Ramon runs off to the fishing community with his mother, where he’s despised and immediately disowned as an unwelcome outsider, seen as an over-privileged white boy taking food out of the mouths of those that need it, becoming even further discouraged when he discovers that the only way his mother was able to buy her house was sleeping with rich white clients.  Using an attractive black housemaid to sexually lure him back to his father’s home, Don Aquiles decides his future lies elsewhere, sending him off to Caracas to study law.  Thoroughly disillusioned by the moral and racial hypocrisy of both worlds, where in each José Ramon is viewed as damaged goods, ominous city sounds dance in his restless head as he embarks upon his uncertain future.   

 

The 11th Annual CHICAGO AFRICAN DIASPORA FILM FESTIVAL  Facets Multi Media

 

The action takes place in a village on the Venezuelan coast, a place of fishermen and big haciendas. Jose Ramon, son of a white aristocrat and a humble black fisher-women, is trying to define his own identity while dealing with social and sexual conflicts, power, culture, the law, and the impossible relationship he has with both his parents. Based on the novel El Mestizo Jose Vargas by Guillermo Meneses.

 

User reviews from imdb Author: zetes from Saint Paul, MN

It begins with a scene without context, and then proceeds for a good quarter of an hour somewhat randomly, but then it pulls itself together and ends up being very good. Actually, I now have an inkling that, if I were to see it again, those opening 20 minutes or so would seem a lot better and the film would be nearly a masterpiece.

Mestizo (a word that I don't remember ever being defined, by the way) is a Venezuelan film about the son of a wealthy, white man and a poor black woman whose people are fishermen. This boy is named Jose Ramon, and he lives in an extremely confusing society. He is brought up as a white man, though he is visibly mulatto. The aristocratic community, with whom his father is trying to assimilate him, does not entirely trust him. Later in the film, when he tries to live amongst the community of black fishermen, they trust him even less.

SPOILERS: Eventually, Jose's boss, a judge, leads his wife, Gregorina, into sleeping with Jose, which arouses the judge. This is Jose's first sexual experience, and from that point on sex runs his life. He believes that he loves Gregorina, and he convinces her and three other white women, daughters and wives of rich, white men, to take a boat ride with him and another black man. The sequence in the boat, where the six of them play a game where they similize the moon convinced me that the film was very good; it's a brilliantly edited sequence.

Soon, Jose figures out that Gregorina and the other white women were only slumming. And because he took his relationship with her so far, his boss fires him. His father, who wants to mold him into a respectable aristocrat despite his African roots, verbally assaults him over the affair. Jose runs away to his mother, who also kicks him out of the fishing village when he allows the other fishermen to rip off his share of the profits. He does this, obviously, because he has never needed money. Now he does, and he won't take it. His mother is offended that her son is just a chump, and that he is treating the fisherman's life as only a game.

With both of his potential homes off limits, he becomes a homeless man on the beach. It's an idyllic life, but he misses people, well, more specifically, sex with women. In the film's most amusing scene, he builds a woman out of sand. When the scene opens, you see Jose resting in the sun, but there's an odd lump of sand closer to the camera with some bits of driftwood or seaweed on top of it. Then Jose begins to caress the sand, and we realize that he has sculpted a woman (we only see it from the hips down). He has used driftwood and seaweed as pubic hair! He brushes his hand and fingers over the faux crotch, but he sharply pulls his hand off of it. The pubes fall off, and under them is a crippled tarantula, pushing itself along with its few working legs. It is a spectacular scene, lasting only a minute, if even that long.

Eventually, he is convinced to come home (by sex), and his father apologizes. He has planned to send Jose to Caracas (I can't remember the name of their town (maybe it's Mestizo!), but it's a rather small fishing village) to learn law. Before Jose leaves, he visits his mother, who also forgives him and wishes him good luck. As he stands on the ship to Caracas (which is contrasted with the small fisherman's boat that he has used so often elsewhere in the film, including the preceding scene), his racial conflict has been solved: he is now a white man, in a white suit and smoking a cigar. He tips a black man for helping him. But the solution has rough edges: he begins to hear the sounds of the city in his head, and they disturb him greatly. We end with this notion.

END SPOILER: The style and rhythm of the film is akin to French New Wave films, which means it's quite choppy. Some shots are on and off so quickly that they never have time to register, which is a problem a few times during the film. The acting is exquisite. Marcos Moreno plays Jose Ramon Vargas to perfection, and everyone else is as good. The direction, by Mario Handler, is quite good, especially during the boat ride I mentioned and the sex scenes that follow it. Perhaps someday others will have a chance to see it. I implore you to do so. I myself really want to see it once more, to see if the beginning was as bad as I perceived it to be. My guess is that the previous film that I had watched, the awful Natal da Portelo from Brazil, was still influencing my mind for the first 20 or 30 minutes of Mestizo, because I had a lot of the same criticisms. To think, I nearly left the theater (it was a double feature) after Natal da Portelo ended! Thank God I was too lazy to get up off my butt! I give it a 9/10.

The 25-year-old Mestizo: the freshest movie in town  Ben Sachs from The Reader

Last year the African Diaspora Film Festival presented two important rediscoveries, Lionel Rogosin's quasi-documentary Come Back, Africa (1959) and the Dutch-Surinamese coproduction One People (1976). This year the major rediscovery of the fest is the Venezuelan feature Mestizo, which screens tomorrow at Facets at 6:30 PM. The movie was made in 1988, but it feels like a lost film of the 1960s. Director Mario Handler employs a playful, exploratory style to consider complex political ideas, a strategy reminiscent of the late-60s films of Jean-Luc Godard (La Chinoise) and Glauber Rocha (Terra em Transe); as in near-contemporaneous films by Dusan Makavejev (W.R. Mysteries of the Organism) or Nagisa Oshima (Sing a Song of Sex), he employs frank sexual content to political effect, presenting sexual relationships to characterize power dynamics in society at large.

Not surprisingly, Handler entered filmmaking in the mid-60s, directing a series of verite-style documentaries about marginalized people. These films were rather contentious in Handler's native Uruguay—he claims to have been harassed for years by government authorities before he left the country around 1970. For a few years he produced television in Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile (briefly crossing paths with the young Raul Ruiz) before settling in Venezuela in 1973. He directed or codirected a few movies there before returning to TV production in the 80s, working mainly on political documentaries. Mestizo was the only narrative film he directed in that decade (as well as his last one to date); the confidence and overall authority of the filmmaking suggests the movie had been gestating within him for some time.

The film is an adaptation of the novel El Mestizo José Vargas, whose author, Guillermo Meneses, is considered one of the first modern Venezuelan writers. The hero is the illegitimate son of a white colonial administrator and a black woman who lives in his rural district; the story centers on his struggle to reconcile his split identity upon entering adulthood. Handler introduces this struggle in no subtle terms. Mestizo opens to intense symphonic music and a handheld shot of the administrator, Don Aquiles, beating his black mistress. He's just found out she's carrying his child. Cut to Don Aquiles holding his newborn son on a turbulent beach, crying out at the society the boy's been born into. "Damn mixture of Indians, blacks, whores, and bums!" he says of the native population, defining his son as an embodiment of everything respectable society loathes. The style here is sensationalist with a purpose, illustrating the brutality at the root of the national culture.

Moments later, another hard cut brings us 18 years into the future. Don Aquiles has raised the boy as his own—which is to say, as white—within elite colonial society. José Ramon wants to become a poet, but his father wants him to be "respectable." He gets the boy a job as secretary to a district judge, a Mestizo who has risen to a position of colonial authority. The introduction of the judge is one of the film's most New Wavish moments, a Brechtian tableau about the nature of power. A little man with Trotsky glasses and a thick, well-groomed mustache that conveys desperation to be taken seriously, the judge is a caricature of power. "Human beings must be governed," he recites to José Ramon while pacing his office. "The subconscious, the loss of will, passions which take control of our instincts must be governed by our authority, which is conscious, legitimate, repressive, and corrective." Offscreen, a prisoner howls in pain as interrogators torture him.

Naturally, the judge is impotent—he derives sexual pleasure exclusively from watching other men ravish his beautiful wife. José Ramon soon discovers that a big part of his job is assisting his boss in such a manner. There's a snag to the arrangement, though. The wife, who's white, enjoys the transgression only if her paramours are black. And so, the Mestizo's rise in white society depends on exploiting the parts of his self (black, whore, bum) that his father always wanted to suppress.

In the film's lengthy centerpiece, the judge's wife and three of her girlfriends spend a night on the beach to carry out their extramarital affairs with Mestizo men. (This part of the movie anticipates Ulrich Seidl's recent Paradise: Love in its sexual relationships between privileged white women and underprivileged native men. It arrives at the same discomforting insight: that a society based on exploitation still allows the exploited to experience moments of genuine pleasure, provided they work within the system rather than against it.) José Ramon and the judge's wife have such great sex that he believes she's fallen in love with him. He proposes the next day that she run away with him, but she refuses. To make matters worse, Don Aquiles threatens to disown him when he finds out about the affair. (He's most upset that José Ramon submitted to the desires of that "half-breed judge.")

Disgusted with the hypocrisy of white society, José Ramon leaves town and goes to live with his mother in her beachside village. Predictably he can't relate to any of the poor fishermen in her community, and they in turn view him with suspicion. He discovers that the natives are no more principled than the whites he left behind; his mother freely admits that she built her house and sponsored community projects with the money she earned by sleeping with wealthy white men. Handler foreshadows this revelation in earlier parts of the movie, cutting to shots of José Ramon entering the village when he experiences a rude awakening at home.

Though the source novel was published in 1942, it's hard to tell when Mestizo takes place. Handler makes almost no effort to ground the movie in a particular period, suggesting that its conflicts are timeless. As a result, it doesn't feel particularly like a movie of the 1980s either. Impassioned filmmaking like this has a way of staying young.

Hanefjord, Per

 

THE HIDDEN CHILD (Tyskungen)                    B-                    81

Sweden  Germany  (105 mi)  2013 

 

Some footprints can never be erased.

 

Ever since the death of Swedish author Stieg Larsson in 2004, a highly regarded journalist known for investigating right-wing extremism, author of the immensely popular Millennium series that was published posthumously, and the first author to sell a million electronic copies on Amazon’s Kindle, Nordic literature has become extremely popular around the world.  Larsson’s heir apparent is Swedish crime-writer Camilla Läckberg, who has become the best-selling author in Sweden, whose work has been translated into more than thirty languages, including Tyskungen (The Hidden Child), first published in 2007, translated into English in 2011.  Swedish television is planning on turning Läckberg’s series of novels into twelve films, known as The Fjällbacka Murders, with two for general release, and ten 90-minute made-for-TV films, all featuring the same lead actors taking place in and around the Swedish town of Fjällbacka, (1,280 × 472 pixels), the author’s birthplace.  Tyskungen (The Hidden Child) is the first of a series of six episodes that were shot in 2011 and released on DVD (Camilla Läckberg - THE FJÄLLBACKA MURDERS | dvd) in October 2013, but the filming stopped when director Daniel Lind Lagerlöf disappeared in late 2011 while scouting out a film location for the third episode, where it’s believed he fell off a cliff just north of the village.  When he was presumed dead, Rickard Petrelius assumed the new director duties of episodes #3 and #4 of the TV series, while Per Hanefjord, in his first feature film, was chosen to direct the first of the intended international releases.  The Season One made-for-TV lineup looks like this:

 

Fjällbackamorden morden 1 - Tyskungen (The Hidden Child)  (105 mi)  2013  d:  Per Hanefjord, originally aired October 9, 2013
Fjällbackamorden 2 - Havet ger, Havet tar (The Sea Gives, The Sea Takes)  (88 mi)  2013  d:  Marcus Olsson, originally aired September 22, 2013
Fjällbackamorden 3 - Strandridaren (The Coast Rider)  (88 mi)  2013  d:  Rickard Petrelius, originally aired September 22, 2013
Fjällbackamorden 4 - Ljusets Drottning (The Queen of LIghts)  (89 mi)  2013  d:  Rickard Petrelius, originally aired September 29, 2013 
Fjällbackamorden 5 - Vänner för livet (Friends for Life)  (90 mi)  2013  d:  Richard Holm, originally aired January 2, 2013  
Fjällbackamorden 6 - I betraktarens öga (In the Eye of the Beholder)  (88 mi)  2012  d:  Jörgen Bergmark, originally aired September 29, 2013   

 

Claudia Galli stars as successful author Erica Falck, who has just recently given birth and whose parents are killed afterwards in a tragic car accident.  A few weeks later she’s moved into her parent’s home along with her husband Patrik Hedström (Richard Ulfsäter), when she’s suddenly surprised by a mysterious man in her home, Göran (Björn Andersson), claiming they have the same mother.  His awkward intrusion may be the actions of a stalker, a rabid fan, so she asks him to leave.  However, when the man is subsequently murdered a few days later, Erica starts taking his claim seriously, especially when her husband, a local police officer, confirms the DNA is a match.  So she starts making inquiries, delving headlong into an investigation of her family past where she’s forced to unravel mysteries that date back to World War II.  She begins by exploring her mother’s belongings, going through her diary, finding old newspaper clippings, searching for any evidence of having a brother, and interviewing several of her mother’s old friends mentioned in the journal.  What she does turn up is a Nazi medallion, consulting a local World War II historian who claims they were quite common in the region.  But as several bodies begin to pile up, all friends of her mother, the deaths suggest unfinished business connected to her mother’s past.  The intersection of her own investigation and her husband’s policework creates internal conflict, as her husband is worried about her safety, wondering if she could be next, and also doesn’t need police evidence compromised by her snooping around.  In most detective stories, the police may drive the investigation, but not here, as the focus of the entire film is on Erica and her discoveries, where the viewer is drawn into her search, which probes her own interior world as well, where undiscovered mysteries of the past continually haunt the present.    

 

While the film opens with a great deal of promise, given a sleek look and excellent production design, using a film-within-a film technique with flashback sequences back to her mother’s youth where a band of friends help each other survive during the war, but it is ultimately undone by an unending series of convoluted plot twists, each one more preposterous than the last, where it all gets so ridiculous after awhile that we hardly care anymore who did what or why.  While this may work in the novel, adding an underlying historical tension through a kind of memory play of the characters Erica interviews, but in the film all the twists and turns interrupt any rhythm or flow and have the effect of slowing everything down to a dead crawl, literally taking all the suspense out of the film.  The movie exposes hidden secrets, suggesting Norwegian collaborators assisted the Nazi’s in running the Grini concentration camp, while also suggesting there were Nazi infiltrators passing themselves off as regular citizens, some of whom collected information from within Grini while pretending to be fellow prisoners.  In this way, the Gestapo identified the leaders of the resistance movement, who were shipped off to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany.  When all of this plays out, however, suggesting there may still be a collaborator in their midst, someone with designs on keeping the truth hidden, rather than amping up the tension by unraveling the clues, it becomes all too predictable, told in a fragmented narrative structure where the secondary characters are never fleshed out but are only used in the advancement of the story.  That’s the real disappointment in the film, especially coming from a novel, as there’s barely any hint of character development, while history is used more for exploitive purposes than a natural part of the story, never really establishing any emotional connection to the past.  The most glaring deficiency is the copycat similarity to the Stieg Larsson movies, especially the historical treatment of Nazi’s in the midst, where the storyline follows the investigations of a journalist who is uncovering dark secrets of the past.  The success of the Millennium series movies, which were also made-for-Swedish TV, was largely due to the novelesque detail of integrating an ugly part of history into a detective thriller along with extraordinary lead performances, where tension literally fills the air.  Here there is wonderful use of local scenery, but the direction lacks the flair to bring any energy and life to this drama, making it a safe and stereotyped movie that actually feels much longer than it is, where there are no harrowing scenes, instead becoming a rather conventional whodunit that won’t surprise anybody. 

 

The Hidden Child at Gene Siskel Film Center , Chicago on The   Marty Rubin

With Claudia Galli, Richard Ulfsäter THE HIDDEN CHILD is the first film adapted from the work of mystery writer Camilla Läckberg, who outsells Stieg Larsson in their native Sweden. Erica Falck, a best-selling author married to a policeman, has just had her first baby when her parents (in a hair-raising scene) are killed in an auto accident. Soon afterward, a man shows up claiming to be Erica’s half-brother and is found murdered a few days later. Discovering her mother’s diary, Erica follows an increasingly dangerous trail that points toward a 1943 gathering of Nazi collaborators, some of whom are still very much alive. Stunningly photographed in coastal locations, Per Hanefjord’s film weaves multiple perspectives and different time-frames into an intricate web that keeps us guessing up to the very end. In Swedish , Norwegian, German, and English with English subtitles. DCP digital courtesy of the Swedish Film Institute.

THE HIDDEN CHILD | Filmuforia

The Nordic thriller is turning out to be one of Sweden’s finest exports and THE HIDDEN CHILD is no exception. Based on a true story  adapted from Camilla Läckberg’s Fjällbacka novels, this is Swedish helmer Per Hanefjord’s second feature finely shot in the bleak seascape of  Västra Götelands Iän. Marek Wieser’s atmospheric widescreen visuals and strong performances from leads Claudia Galli Concha (Erica) and Jan Malmsjo (Axel) will appeal to fans of ‘Borgen’ and ‘Wallander’.

It opens with a cosy family scene where young writer Erica Falck has just given birth to her first child surrounded by her policer officer husband Patrick and loving parents. Minutes later they are killed in a tragic car crash leaving the couple free to move into their Ikea-furnished home with its attractive seaside setting.  But not everything in this garden is rosy:  a middle-aged man named Göran turns up claiming to be her brother. Erica later discovers a Nazi medallion in the attic, along with wartime newspaper cuttings prompting her to investigate her mother’s mysterious past and a group of wartime friends who may have also been enemies.

Per Hanefjord’s good-looking but sombre thriller moves along as speedily as a SAAB; almost losing control of its pacing but confidently handling a fractured narrative told from various viewpoints with well-crafted wartime flashbacks punctuated by Magnus Jarlbo’s suspenseful, original score.

Enfused with popular themes of Nazism and the Holocaust, THE HIDDEN CHILD is a gripping and immersive insight into Swedish and Norwegian wartime history and the concentration camps of Grini and Sachsenhausen, set against the life of a modern couple in current-day Sweden. MT

The Hidden Child - Nordic Film Festival | www.filmjuice.comww  Dan Clay

Though the likes of Apt Pupil and The Debt are keen to hint that the most ordinary seeming of people could be former Nazi war criminals, that hasn’t stopped others from pursuing the same theme. This time, Swedish screenwriter and director Per Hanefjord brings Camilla Läckberg’s novel to life, hinting that the most troubling of secrets can emerge after you’ve gone.

When her parents are killed in a car crash, author and new mother herself Erica (Claudia Galli) gets a visit from a man claiming to be her brother. When he’s murdered not long after she discovers her mother’s diary, some Nazi memorabilia and secrets which had been kept hidden away for decades.

It’s only as Erica begins to investigate her mother’s past and a group of friends she associated with back then, that some of those friends, now aged start turning up dead. Clearly something that happened in the past has repercussions for the present.

A shame then that this rather workmanlike thriller never really intrigues or excites as much as its premise might suggest. Saddled with a frankly humourless and dull lead, The Hidden Child never leaps off the screen in much the same manner as Ron Howard’s lengthy and expository Da Vinci Code.

The plot may zip between the present and the past (helpfully signposted with a sun-kissed brown sepia-like haze) but too often it sags, only coming to life when another character and potential lead kicks the bucket in Erica’s presence. Why no-one suspects her then remains a mystery of course; although Jessica Fletcher, Morse and co all evaded suspicion for their ‘grim reaper’ presence too.

So while all the pieces of a decent murder-mystery are there – including a suitably grey-palette Nordic landscape – and the performances generally solid, Hanefjord’s rather pedestrian pacing means that come the finale we’ve either lost track of who we’re rooting for or the desire to find out who did it and why anyway.

My Movie Reviews: My Review: The Hidden Child (5/10)  Esteban Gonzalez

The Hidden Child is a Swedish film directed by Per Hanefjord based on Camilla Lackberg's 2007 best selling crime novel. It is actually Lackberg's fifth novel in the series based on Erika Falck and Patrik Hedstrom's crime investigations in their native Swedish town of Fjallbacka. I have personally never read any of these novels, but the tone and style of the film reminded me a lot of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy because they both try to uncover a crime that occurred several decades ago. The story and the mystery worked well, but the major problem I had with this film had to do with the characters that had no depth to them whatsoever. Every character was simply introduced to move the story forward and even the main character had no personal trait other than that of a detective. The story was gripping and engaging, but the characters I could care less for. The Hidden Child is a decent film, but one that I wouldn't recommend.

When Erika's (Claudia Galli Concha) parents pass away after a tragic car accident, a mysterious man shows up at their home claiming to be Erika's half-brother. Erika's mother never mentioned anything about having another son, so she doesn't believe him and asks him to leave. The next day the man is found dead in his hotel room and Erika decides to investigate more about her mother's past. She discovers her journal and finds some secrets about her past. Patrik (Richard Ulfsater), Erika's husband, is a police officer who confirms the DNA results that in fact this man was Erika's half-brother. Together they begin trying to find leads as to who might have murdered this man, and Erika begins by interviewing some of her mother's old friends that she mentioned in her journal. While the investigation continues several bodies begin to pile up as everything seems to be connected to her mother's past during the Second World War. Apparently someone is trying to keep the past hidden in the dark and doesn't want Erika to uncover the past. 

Claudia Galli gives a strong lead performance despite not having much to work with. She simply does her detective work without any distinct personality and gets the story moving forward in a rather fast pace. The film is told in flashbacks through the memory of the characters she interviews. The rest of the characters are all pretty much flat as well and there is nothing memorable about them. The story is gripping and engaging, but the characters are far from it. Half way through the film it becomes rather predictable as to how the mystery is going to unfold so that was a bit of  letdown. The scenery in this film was quite beautiful as it was filmed almost entirely on location. This could have been a better film if the characters were given some more depth and not just introduced to move along the story.

The Hidden Child | Peace & Love Film Festival

 

Thrill Me Softly [Stefan Hedmark]

 

THE HIDDEN CHILD presented by Nordic Film Festival (UK)

 

Fjallbacka, Sweden: The quiet town that inspired Camilla Lackber  Steve Vickers from The Washington Post, June 1, 2012

 

The Hidden Child - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Camilla Läckberg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Fjällbacka Murders - Wikipedia

 

Haneke, Michael

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]  (excerpt) 

There's no better filmmaker in the world than Michael Haneke—no one more rigorous, no one more provocative, and certainly no one more in command of an audience's emotions—yet for these very reasons, respect and gravitas haven't always been forthcoming. A prude among sensualists on the film-festival circuit, Haneke is an unsparing moralist who dares to criticize viewers while offering them a singularly unpleasant moviegoing experience. His recent hit Caché may be his most accessible work to date, perhaps because its mysteries are more conventionally inviting, but even it left behind a residue of shock and puzzlement. More common are films like The Seventh Continent, Benny's Video, 71 Fragments Of A Chronology Of Chance, and Funny Games, four disquieting early efforts about the atrocities that occur when people become detached from their own humanity. (edit. –this entire article may be seen below under 71 FRAGMENTS)

Haneke, Michael  from World Cinema

Austrian director and scriptwriter. A stage director, scriptwriter and director of television films since 1970, Haneke emerged in the 1990s as Austrian cinema's most significant talent internationally, with his bleak but compelling vision of the end of civilization. He made his mark early on with a number of television films which portray isolated individuals and understated relationships in a style reminiscent of Robert Bresson—such as Sperrmüll (1976), Lemminge (1979, two parts) and Wer war Edgar Allen? (1984). In 1989, he introduced a new aesthetic paradigm in Austrian cinema with his first feature Der Siebte Kontinent / The Seventh Continent (1989), which depicts with relentless logic the journey to collective suicide of a middle-class Viennese family. It was followed by Benny's Video (1992) and 71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls (1994), forming a trilogy around the theme of narcissism, abjection and the coldness of personal contacts in the age of video, and portraying—through a disciplined, sparse style—what he has called "my country's emotional glaciation." 

— Andrea Lang, Encylopedia of European Cinema

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

Michael Haneke likes to see you squirm. The Austrian cineaste's Caché (Hidden) was a surprise art-house hit earlier this year, and it's a textbook demonstration of Haneke's skills. The story of a haughty TV intellectual (Daniel Auteuil) who is terrorized by a series of surveillance videotapes, the movie expertly manipulates the audience's uncertainty. From the first shot onward, it's hard, and sometimes impossible, to tell if we're watching an ordinary scene or one of Auteuil's tapes, and so we often don't know how we're supposed to react to what we're watching. Are we supposed to imagine Auteuil and his wife (Juliette Binoche, in an appalling series of sack dresses) somewhere outside the frame, looking on with mounting horror as they realize how much of their life has been observed unawares? Or are we supposed to assume our habitual position, looking on unobserved, guiltlessly?

As the new DVDs of his first four features demonstrate, Haneke has been putting audiences uncomfortably face to face with such questions since the very beginning. In Benny's Video (1992), a teenage boy obsessed with horror movies and video equipment passionlessly murders a young girl while the camera looks on unblinking, while Funny Games (1997) follows an even more horrific crime with an unbroken, practically unending shot, in which the surviving victims of a horrific home invasion limp to their feet and wail out their grief. These are things no sane person would wish to see, and yet it's impossible to tear yourself away.

If Haneke can't be said to make horror movies, it's only because he rigorously rids his movies of the escape valves that make butchery easy to watch; there's no self-referential humor, little or no musical score, and none of the Pavlovian editing that pushes our reponses this way and that. Make no mistake: Haneke wants to manipulate our emotions. He just doesn't want to get caught doing it.

The Seventh Continent (1989), Haneke's first theatrical feature, is a formidable, assured and chilling depiction of middle-class anomie. The director's desire to alienate audience from subject couldn't be more plain: It's nearly 10 minutes before we get the first identifiable glimpse of any of the characters' faces. Instead, Haneke carves disassociated tableaux from their daily routine: hands working a coffeemaker or cereal spilling into a bowl. The effect is at once mundane and unbearably intense, an unbroken rhythm that becomes dizzyingly uncomfortable. (Sustained rhythm is critical to Haneke's art, so if you're watching these at home, I suggest turning off the phone and hiding the remote.) Moving forward a year, Haneke repeats the same events, and repeats them again, until the family's explosive response to their circle of tedium starts to seem like a natural conclusion.

Boredom produces equally violent results in Benny's Video, in which a teenage boy murders a young girl with a pig-killing gun because he wants "to see what it feels like." Again, Haneke keeps his distance. The central murder is filmed at a double remove, with a stationary camera focused on a video monitor, although Haneke encourages us to use our imagination. Benny confidently proclaims that movie violence is only "ketchup and plastic," but Haneke's largely bloodless approach (at least, until after the fact) is far more wrenching.

Still, the worst is yet to come. Funny Games is utterly brutal and entirely unnerving, the story of a family (as always, the statutory minimum of two parents and a single child) are held hostage by two soft-spoken, well-kept psychopaths (one of whom played the young murderer in Benny's Video). The two young men, who go by the names of various pop culture duos (Beavis and Butt-head, Tom and Jerry) insinuate their way into the family's lakefront house, and promptly shatter the father's leg with a golf club. What follows is nearly an hour of excruciating physical and psychological torture, culminating in the most devastating act in any of Haneke's films.

Unfortunately, Haneke squanders the blistering intensity of the movie's climax on a protracted final act. The killers start to address the audience, and the movie, which up to now has been Haneke's most conventionally suspenseful, consumes itself in a fit of self-referential smugness. The movie actively starts to attack its audience, as if to say, "What kind of asshole is still watching this thing?" Haneke himself seems to think there's something wrong with people who don't walk out. "Those who watch this movie until the end are the ones who need it," he says in an interview on the DVD.

The trouble with Haneke is that as biting (or, at least, as vicious) as his critiques of bourgeois complacency can be, he rarely turns that criticism on himself. There's no "we" in his movies, and when he tries to force one, as in the collective patchwork 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994), the result is an abstract jigsaw puzzle whose pieces never fit together. Haneke is happy to exploit his audience's fascination with violence, and its desire to rationalize compulsive behavior, but he rarely seems to confront his own longings. It's why he could so blithely dismiss the question of who sent Caché's mysterious videotapes, leaving only an easy-to-miss hint that poses more questions than it answers. To him, it's all a game, and any sucker who plays deserves what he gets.

More Than a Master of Everyday Horror  Bronwyn Jones from the High Hat

 

The French call Michael Haneke “Le Cineaste d’Horreur Ordinaire”: the master of everyday horror. While this is true in a large sense, it fails to capture the nuances of his work. Many people would compare him to discomfort-inducing filmmakers like Lars von Trier, whose subversion of film conventions to provoke and often anger the audience seems quite like Haneke’s attempts in movies like Funny Games and Benny’s Videos. However, Haneke’s targets tend to be more complex than von Trier’s (at least until von Trier’s Dogville), and have not gone for a blithe deconstruction of easy targets. Rather, what makes Haneke’s films compelling but disturbing are their deconstruction of societal mores and politesse. He pulls back the curtain on these tropes and allows us to see what really holds them up and what we really think. In a world where rebellion and taboo have become clichés and, worse yet, marketing terms, Haneke shows us what honest rebellion and taboo-breaking really mean and what the consequences of those acts really are. He avoids the easy road of complete and utter cynicism seen in many films today.
Lately, Haneke has become an even more complex thinker in his films. As a director, he is similar to Polanski in the way he allows his films to unfold seductively, naturally and smoothly. He allows his actors to carry the most difficult emotional aspects, and recently, in films like The Piano Teacher and The Time of The Wolf, Isabelle Huppert has become his muse.
 
At the same time, he experiments with conventions to make a cogent point. In Funny Games, a family is under siege from a couple of boys who want to kill them for fun. When the mother shoots one of her attackers, the act is immediately undercut by the other attacker, who grabs a TV remote and “rewinds” the film we’re watching, giving himself a chance to reorder events and reclaim the upper hand. He overpowers her and continues his torture of her and her family, taking any sense of comfort and relief away from the audience. It’s one of Haneke’s cruelest moments; he inflicts a taste of the family’s torture on the audience not through the violence, which in his films is always off-screen, but through the sense of emotional horrors that the protagonists are suffering. Why do these boys decide to torture and kill this particular family? The irrationality is terrifying. The viewer, like the family, is at the mercy of the senseless.
 
In The Piano Teacher, Isabelle Huppert plays a Viennese piano instructor who has emotionally repressed herself to the extent that only the most violent and abusive acts can bring an emotional response out of her. She embarks on a disastrous relationship with a student. While the novel on which this film is a critique of the Viennese middle class and the class structure in Austria as a whole, Haneke, as in many of his films, avoids the political and remains focused on the emotional. He recognizes that emotions drive the body politic rather than the other way around. As a result, The Piano Teacher is less a suspense or horror show than it is an expression of humanity desperately screaming out to be recognized. When it is not, it is destroyed.
 
Code Inconnu (“Code Unknown”) is his most sociological picture. Where his other films remained within the personal, this film critiques Western European society as racist and unfulfilling. Lives intersect and move in and out of each other, almost anonymously, but the film asks whether, separated from the travails of its eastern and southern neighbors by the luck of rich capitalism and relative stability, Western Europeans can afford to live deeply inside Fortress Europe. The infidels have already arrived. Even the liberal, tolerant and open Juliette Binoche is forced to face her own demons when attacked by Arab youths on the Metro.
 
The code that is unknown is the code not spoken, one that drives our differences and similarities: the lack of acknowledgement of basic humanity in others. In other words, we hide behind societal mores, politesse and manners rather than confront realities. When Binoche’s character’s husband returns home from covering the conflict in Kosovo, he cannot feel comfortable anymore, because all he sees now are the hypocrisies of Western society. His dip into a torn-down society has spoiled him in a sense, because humanity and reality are all explicit and upfront. Life in a state of chaos is about the basics and it has a thrill, a sense of meaning and purpose. His life in Paris has no such purpose; it is all hidden by lies.
 
The Time of The Wolf is Haneke’s latest film, and it continues his development as an observer of the political upon the personal. A horrible event has happened, but the movie never shows exactly what it is. A family goes to their country retreat and finds another family living there; the patriarch of the interlopers holds a gun upon them. From this premise, Haneke imposes a complete societal breakdown and a stripping away of all that keeps us rational. He asks whether we can keep our humanity under such circumstances, and what kind of humanity can emerge. As society is being destroyed, all of its demons, specifically class and racism, rise up again — even though rationally, at this point, they no longer matter. Clearly, these events are not new, and societal implosions of the kind that Haneke depicts happen every day in many countries (though usually not in the West), but, at the same time, senseless acts of kindness occur as well. It is Haneke’s most optimistic film, even if it seems to be advocating a kind of complete destruction of society in order to rebuild something that is fair and honest.
 
It’s this sense of optimism that keeps Haneke from falling into the all too familiar role of the cynical filmmaker, merely breaking the dishes for the sound of it. He truly loves his characters, despite how flawed or predatory they may be, and imbues them with strength and beauty, giving them all a complexity and depth that belies their faults and allows the audience to appreciate the complete character even more.
 
Ultimately, Haneke’s message comes down to this: in The Time of The Wolf, a young girl writes a letter to her dead father, communicating her hopes, dreams, loneliness, and fears in the midst of what can only be described as hell. Her letter carries such emotional clarity and beauty that the viewer knows the gorgeous fullness of the human spirit will rise above the senseless, irrational and baser parts of ourselves.

 

All-Movie Guide  Jason Buchanan

 

Do the Right Thing: The Films of Michael Haneke  Maximilian Le Cain from Senses of Cinema

 

Michael Haneke   Mattias Frey from Senses of Cinema

 

Central Europe Review Article  De-Icing the Emotions, by Andrew J. Horton, October 26, 1998

 

Funny Games   Stefan Herrmann, December 7, 2001

 

Kinoeye | Vol 4.01, 8 Mar 2004 | Michael Haneke  The Films and Philosophy of Michael Haneke from Kinoeye, March 8, 2004

 

the current state of Austrian cinema Trouble in the Hothouse, by Christoph Huber from Fipresci magazine, November 2006

 

Films of Michael Haneke: the utopia of fear   Justin Vicari from Jump Cut, Winter 2006

 

Minister of Fear  Michael Haneke has built a career out of making violent movies with an unexpected victim — the audience, by John Wray from The New York Times, September 23, 2007

 

Haneke, Michael  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They

 

indieWIRE Interview  by Scott Foundas, December 4, 2001

The world that is known  Christopher Sharrett interviews Haneke from Kinoeye, March 8, 2004

Bright Lights Film Journal Interview (2005   by Karin Badt, November 2005

Uncut Haneke   Alexander Horwath interview from Film Comment, November/December 2009

Ranked 22nd on The Guardian's 2004 List of the World's 40 Best Directors

THE SEVENTH CONTINENT (Der Siebente Kontinent)

Austria  (90 mi)  1989

 

Talking Pictures [Howard Schumann]

"For what possible end to these wastes where true light never was, nor any upright thing, nor any true foundation, but only these leaning things, forever lapsing and crumbling away, beneath a sky without memory of morning or hope of night."  Samuel Beckett

Arguably, no greater cinematic interpreter of alienation exists in the world today than Austrian director Michael Haneke. Haneke shows us characters whose response to the world around them has deadened, people who have forgotten how to feel, how to love, how to care. The Seventh Continent, the first film of the trilogy that, with Benny's Video (1992) and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994), depicts what Haneke has called "my country's emotional glaciation." Based on a true story of the disintegration of a middle class Austrian family, the film has little plot, only incident and observation. Divided into three parts and shot in episodic fragments, as in his 2002 film Code Unknown, each fragment is tenuously connected by fadeouts in which scenes start and end abruptly. A mood of banality is established early in an extended sequence in which a car moves through a car wash showing all the details of detergent sprays, high-pressure washers, and rotating brushes. At the end of the car wash is a travel poster beckoning tourists to visit Australia with a peaceful scene of sand and water, a motif that is repeated periodically during the film.

The Schobers, husband George (Dieter Berner), wife Anna (Birgit Doll), and daughter Eva (Leni Tanzer), are the happily married family living next door. George is an engineer and Anna an optician. Eva is a bright child of about eight with deep, expressive eyes. The family moves through their morning ritual with precision -- brushing their teeth, feeding the fish, and eating breakfast with little conversation or emotional interaction. The camera avoids their faces, focusing on mundane objects such as a bowl of cereal, an alarm clock, a fish tank, a package of congealed broccoli. This preoccupation with objects underscores the lack of connection between the characters and the things they have acquired. We get our first hint that something is not right when Eva pretends to her teacher that she has lost her eyesight. Anna questions her about the incident, promising not to harm her if she tells the truth but, when Eva admits to the lie, suddenly slaps her across the face ignoring the fact that she is a very troubled little girl. It is from here that the cracks begin to widen. 

Depicting ritualistic actions like counting of money at a supermarket, the distractions of television, the meaninglessness of work, the film reflects the powerlessness and isolation of people in modern society. Haneke chronicles a family enslaved to the structures they have created, operating in a morass of emotional vacuity. The first hour may seem slow but it builds considerable tension until it reaches a shattering climax. Little by little the family disengages. George quits his job and writes letters to his parents hinting of something dark about to happen. In the absence of a spiritual core, without the possibility of meaningful action, the family sinks deeper into an abyss, unraveling and discarding the tightly woven structures of their life. Similar in theme to Todd Haynes' 1995 film Safe but with three times the power, The Seventh Continent is a ruthlessly intelligent film that burns its way into your psyche, leaving an indelible mark that will forever haunt your dreams. 

Cinematic Reflections (Derek Smith)

SPOILER WARNING: Important events occurring in the third act will be mentioned in this review.  In this case, I don't feel that knowing the outcome beforehand would, in any way, effect how one views the film, but if you'd rather not know, please do not read until after seeing it.

Michael Haneke's debut film The Seventh Continent, the first of his "emotional glaciation" trilogy,  is a stunning examination of the effects of emotional isolation and the inability to communicate in the modern age.  Here Haneke focuses on the family unit, using a true story he read in a newspaper about a families group suicide as the springboard for his structuralist study of modernity.  The opening shot of the man and his wife sitting still and silent in their car as it passes through an automated car wash is one of the film's many recurring images of cleansing and routine.  For the first 10 minutes or so, we see no character's face straight-on as they are either obscured or framed to show only arms and torsos.  The effect of this technique, reminiscent of Robert Bresson (one of Haneke's major influences), is disorienting at first, but is extremely effective at presenting the characters as the sum total of their routines and interactions with technology.  It's a cold and clinical approach that strips the characters of all individuality outside of their actions and while this doesn't present "the whole story", the film's first act manages to inform us about the process of dehumanization that eventually leads to the horrific finale without explicitly trying to explain it.

The Bressonian style is incredibly effective in forming abstractions in the domestic space, where freedom to roam or congregate with the family is eliminated and people are confined to areas where they perform their daily tasks.  Haneke isolates these instances of repetition throughout, both in the home and in the couple's respective workplaces, in order to stress their tyranny not in one instance, but of the pattern over the course of time.  The framing of segmented bodies suggests a constant detachment while performing these actions - everything from feeding fish to making coffee and eating dinner takes on a similar quality to the automated car wash.  Existence for this family consists of numerous involuntary, yet seemingly necessary actions, that despite their efforts to reform and escape after their daughter pretending to be blind at school brings about an unwelcome fit of self-reflectivity, they find destruction to be their only logical route.  Just as their inability to cope with modern living is expressed by the cumulative dehumanization of senseless repetition and routine, their demise occurs in the same frighteningly methodical way.  It is here, in the final act, that it becomes truly sickening that the events are based on an actual occurrence.  The husband quits his job and after removing all of their money from the bank, they begin destroying everything they own.  The destruction of possessions is clearly a catharsis for the family - less so for the daughter who seems to perform her tasks as an automaton out of pure duty to obey her parents, until she lets out one final shriek when she finds her fish flopping helplessly on the floor - but also a form of rebellion against the restrictions of their bourgeois life.  Haneke has said that the image of all their cash being flushed down the toilet was one of the parts which most disturbed audiences upon it's release and it still remains potent today.  Such an action can only be seen as a blatant attack on the moral bankruptcy (no pun intended) of the capitalist system and more than food, water and air, money is the crucial element of survival in the modern world.  By highlighting the horror of seeing the family destroy their home and possessions, the value society places on material things is stressed to the point that these actions are nearly as disturbing as the suicides themselves.  The objective approach to the story helps to avoid any preachiness, yet the cumulative effect of the film, especially the gut-wrenching final act, is one that is nothing short of frightening.

Life, or something like it  Adam Bingham from Kinoeye

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

 

Senses of Cinema [Christopher Sharrett]

 

Not Coming to a Theater Near You [Ian Johnston]

 

Slant Magazine [Fernando F. Croce]

 

Reel.com DVD review [Pam Grady]

 

DVD Outsider  Slarek

 

DVD Times  Noel Megahey

 

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

 

The Seventh Continent   Acquarello from Strictly Film School 

 

ispitonyourmovie.com

 

The New York Times (Caryn James)

 

BENNY’S VIDEO

Austria  Switzerland  (105 mi)  1992
 
Chicago Reader (Jonathan Rosenbaum)
 
People seem divided by the second film (1992) in Michael Haneke's deadpan, low-key Austrian trilogy (after The Seventh Continent, before 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance), about affectless contemporary violence. Some consider it an essential document of our time, while others (myself included) regard it as a letdown after its predecessor--overly familiar in its themes, though still somewhat potent in its depiction of an alienated 14-year-old boy from a well-to-do family who's preoccupied with video technology and winds up commiting a monstrous act. In some ways, the portrait of his parents is even more chilling. In German with subtitles. 105 min.
 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Chuck Aliaga)

One of the more difficult directors to fully grasp, Michael Haneke, is, nevertheless, one of the most interesting auteurs in the international film circuit. His most recent movies (The Piano Teacher, Caché) have really put him on the map, in a global sense, but it's his earlier works where the filmmaker truly shines. Beginning with his first feature, The Seventh Continent, Haneke has given us some of the most haunting moments on film. His unique, meticulously paced films can be very difficult to sit through, as they often feature extremely realistic, brutal imagery. 1992's Benny's Video, only Haneke's second feature, is no different, and raised the bar for what he could accomplish.

It's a stirring portrait of the title character (Arno Frisch), a young boy who spends most of his time watching his enormous, very odd videotape collection. One video features a pig being killed by an electroshock gun. Benny can't get enough of this footage, slowing it down to watch the pig's final moments over and over again. He also frequents the local video store, where he invites an unnamed girl (Ingrid Stassner) back to his place. While the two are getting to know each other (and Benny's video collection), they decide to take a closer look at the same electroshock gun that felled the pig. If what I've told you about the director made any impression, you won't be surprised that it doesn't go well from there.

The above only describes about the first 20 minutes, but any further plot description would give away far too much. Haneke's intimate filmmaking style practically has us in the room with Benny at all times, experiencing the dramatic turn that his life takes right along with him. Again, this is extremely tough material to experience, even in the comfort of your living room, but those of us who have been around the bend with Michael Haneke before know what we're getting ourselves into.

While not as downright shocking as many of the moments in Haneke's brilliant Funny Games, the critical event near the beginning will stay with the viewer long after the credits have rolled. Much of this sequence takes place out of frame, but what we can see comes via Benny's video camera, and what we hear is even more unsettling. The consequences of this event, as well as the viewer's memories of its specifics, resonate throughout the rest of the story. Part of Haneke's genius is his ability to place such a powerful, life-changing event at the beginning of the film, when such a thing is usually reserved for the finale, or, at the latest, the half-way point. Where many filmmakers would have struggled to make the rest of their film competent, let alone entertaining, Benny's Video gets better as it goes on, becoming a tight study in potential madness and the lengths that parents will go to for their children.

A young Arno Frisch (one of the intruders in Funny Games) is well beyond his years as Benny. It's amazing how a role requiring so little dialogue can be so powerful, especially from such a youngster. While Benny's parents, played by Angela Winkler and Ulrich Mühe, stay mostly in the background and are arguably part of the protagonist's underlying problem, they eventually play a huge part in the story's outcome. Winkler plays vulnerable and motherly as well as any top-notch Hollywood actress, while Mühe takes his white collar character and turns convention on its head. I'm eager to see if Haneke has done it again with Caché, but after his masterpiece, Funny Games, Benny's Video runs a close second in his amazing body of work.

Slant Magazine [Eric Henderson]

Benny's Video is a smug, contemptuous, passive-aggressive attack on the dehumanizing effects of media, without even the common decency to offer shrill sensationalism to punch up its subsequently feckless, reactionary, pomo assertions. Benny is a young, slate-faced neo-Nazi-to-be who checks out at least one violent video from the corner rental outlet every day. The desk in his room (in his parents' swank high-rise condo) is so completely covered with a makeshift video-editing bay that he does his homework lying in bed while blankly watching Hollywood carnage. His favorite video, though, is a nasty piece of piggy snuff he shot himself while on holiday with his parents at their country ranch: a jumpy one-shot affair in which farmhands lead a hog out into the open and terminate it with what seems to be a .30 caliber pellet gun.

Maybe it's the cold-blooded efficiency of the slaughter that appeals to Benny and causes him to hypnotically rewind the footage over and over again, and maybe it's the blunt force of the murder instrument that gives him a case of sticky fingers, but eventually the time comes for him to film a sequel. Having no pigs available back in the city, he invites a pudgy, pink young girl he often spies frequenting the video store up to his room, trains the camera on a master shot and shows her the losing end of the tube-shaped gun's barrel. Haneke films the scene as he subsequently would most of Caché and The Time of the Wolf, both infinitely more intriguing films that tiptoe tipsily along the eschatological line between nihilism and a liberating sort of insane hope. That is to say, he films it with the sort of poker face that Jonathan Rosenbaum once wrote about observing in Brian De Palma as he watched an audience ride out Dressed to Kill's museum chase scene. It's a face that keeps its composure even as it all but gushes, "My, aren't we amused!" (Preferably in the voice of latter day Vincent Price, with "aren't" coming out as two syllables.)

I know that I wrestle with the question of being amused against being abused constantly when trying to reconcile my affection for the likes of De Palma (or, more to the point, Cannibal Holocaust), but Haneke's early works, climaxing with the utterly reprehensible albeit cathartic Funny Games, deploy both amusement and abuse in one-two fashion, usually at the precise moment where a little bit of the opposite effect would've gone a long way. What the fuck are we supposed to do with a polemical screed against the numbing effects of violence-saturated media that insistently keeps its captive audience as numb as its characters? Are they expected to learn from Benny's example? Probably not. More than likely they're expected to empathize with Benny's shell-shocked parents as they attempt to clean up their pathological son's mess. Which, in the film's final scenes, reveals Haneke's undiluted bad faith in anyone stupid enough to take Benny's Video seriously. My advice to those up for the challenge is to repeatedly knock on your own skull and exclaim, "Think, McFly, think!" Otherwise risk a thousand paper cuts from the binding of Haneke's antiseptic dissertation.

Effects of the real  Brigitte Peucker from Kinoeye

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

 

DVD Times  Noel Megahey

 

DVD Talk (Svet Atanasov)

 

DVD Outsider  Slarek

 

Reel.com DVD review [Ken Dubois]

 

Cinematic Reflections (Derek Smith)

 

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

 

Benny's Video   Acquarello from Strictly Film School 

 

VideoVista   Paul Higson

 

The New York Times (Stephen Holden)

 

71 FRAGMENTS OF A CHRONOLOGY OF CHANCE

Austria  Germany  (96 mi)  1994

 

Time Out

As cool, cerebral and painstaking as Haneke's earlier Benny's Video, this fragmented account of numerous events leading up to or loosely linked with a seemingly motiveless murder never really gets very far beyond images of alienation, anxiety and frustration, but thanks to its awareness of how time's very passing affects us, the film weaves a persuasively hypnotic spell. Oddly, the structure, which unexpectedly makes for considerable suspense, suggests not chance but destiny, while the final news collage is a corrosive statement on how even the most extraordinary events are packaged and trivialised by the media.

The Village Voice [Michael Atkinson]

A hot property since the success of Caché, Austrian director Michael Haneke enjoys a retro buttering up at Anthology, where this 1994 assault gets its long-lost U.S. theatrical release. (Kino DVD'd it and three other earlier Hanekes this year.) A weave narrative foreshadowing of the magisterial Code Unknown, 71 Frags states flat-out that it will culminate with an impromptu public massacre (based, like other Haneke scenarios, on a news item). The movie's structure is not coyly serendipitous, but mercilessly and unironically matter-of-fact—we glimpse, in simple setups bookended by blackouts, a couple attempting a disastrous adoption, an old pensioner resigning himself to an empty life, a refugee boy surviving on the street, sallow parents coping with a sick infant, a student buying a stolen gun. (As with Caché, the world's televised news haunts the background.) The film's Endsville, when we reach it, is almost an anticlimax, thanks to the masterfully orchestrated ensemble acting and the countless dramatic mini-explosions unleashed along the way.

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

There's no better filmmaker in the world than Michael Haneke—no one more rigorous, no one more provocative, and certainly no one more in command of an audience's emotions—yet for these very reasons, respect and gravitas haven't always been forthcoming. A prude among sensualists on the film-festival circuit, Haneke is an unsparing moralist who dares to criticize viewers while offering them a singularly unpleasant moviegoing experience. His recent hit Caché may be his most accessible work to date, perhaps because its mysteries are more conventionally inviting, but even it left behind a residue of shock and puzzlement. More common are films like The Seventh Continent, Benny's Video, 71 Fragments Of A Chronology Of Chance, and Funny Games, four disquieting early efforts about the atrocities that occur when people become detached from their own humanity.

New to DVD, the first three comprise Haneke's so-called "glaciation trilogy." Each one negotiates the fine line between civilization and barbarism, which is breached when society's rules break down. Inspired by a true story, Haneke's frighteningly assured 1989 film-feature debut The Seventh Continent deals with the deterioration of an average middle-class family by focusing obsessively on mundane life details. As images and actions start repeating themselves, it becomes clear to the family (and to us) that their lives are little more than a collection of routines, without joy or meaning. The conclusion they reach is better left as a surprise, but suffice to say, the third act shifts gears completely.

Haneke's schoolmarm tendencies come to the surface in 1992's Benny's Video, which implicates the media for desensitizing people to violence. The film opens with home video of a pig getting shot by a butcher's gun, perhaps the most cherished footage in the sizeable collection of teenager Arno Frisch. What follows when Frisch shows the tape to an unknown girl isn't terribly surprising, but the unexpected aftermath deepens what might have been a Joe Lieberman speech writ large. The trilogy's conclusion, 1994's 71 Fragments, doesn't quite fit the "glaciation" theme, but it does show Haneke's willingness to experiment with the form and challenge the way audiences receive information. Though basically a warm-up to 2000's superior Code Unknown, the film's radical deconstruction of various narrative strands questions the way such information is delivered and received.

Though not officially part of the trilogy, 1998's Funny Games could be its summation; it's a masterful home-invasion thriller that's designed to drive people out of the theater. Failing that, it punishes them for staying. Haneke's relentlessly sadistic story of a bourgeois family tormented by two young psychos goes to extreme lengths to take the sensationalism out of violence. It succeeds by being deeply unsatisfying.

Senses of Cinema  Adam Bingham

 

Not Coming to a Theater Near You [Ian Johnston]

 

DVD Times  Noel Magahey

 

Slant Magazine [Fernando F. Croce]

 

Reel.com DVD review [Pam Grady]

 

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

 

VideoVista      Jonathan McCalmont

 

DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson)

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Manohla Dargis

 

FUNNY GAMES                                          A                     95

Austria  (108 mi)  1997

 

A gruesome, punishing, sadistic and brutal film about 2 merciless psychopaths, Peter and Paul, Frank Giering and Arno Frisch, who have nothing better to do than torture a middle class family, toying with them, ultimately murdering them for sport, hideously ugly to watch, but provocative to think about as the filmmaker is questioning the audience’s motives with direct asides to the audience, potentially changing the outcome, rewinding the film, and making it even more gruesome.  No happy ending here, the enjoyment of this film begins only when it ends.  No matter how many films you’ll see in a lifetime, this one is unforgettable. 

 

Filmed by Fassbinder cameraman Jürgen Jürges, this is a film that wears the viewer down initially with the nauseatingly precise use of controlled tone and language, forcing a safe, comfortable wealthy white family at random to be victimized by a pair of overly apologetic, excessively polite home invaders in white gloves playing what they characterize as a “funny game” on them, a series of random acts of violence that couldn’t be more sadistically cruel.  Designed to make the audience uncomfortable and expose the true nature of violence, Haneke uses a static camera, the most essential living room shot is held for ten minutes, also natural sound to heighten the tension and dread.  The relentless psychological torture using words is only the introductory course, however, where in the original, as opposed to the American remake, the cruel preciseness of the Germanic language associated with demonic Nazi atrocities actually feeds into the horror, as eventually horrible brutality awaits each of them, as the invaders through punishment and pain require strict and absolute obedience, subject to a blitzkrieg assault of instant pain and horrors for violating the rules. 

 

This is a completely unsettling and unnerving movie, reducing one’s nerve to mush, leaving one quivering with dread at having to endure this unique piece of what feels like live theater, where at brief moments, the audience is put on notice that this is just a game, no one really gets hurt, it’s only a film, as one of the invaders speaks directly to the audience, beginning with a wink, but eventually testing our willingness to be done with this nightmare, to simply put an end to it, no matter the cost, thinking for a single moment that we might be spared.  But of course, the audience doesn’t really have a say, we are just being tested before the punishment continues even more viciously brutal than before.  That’s all part of the game, which forces us to sit passively as we helplessly witness the insanity of unrelenting terror, where no one is rescued until the film is over.  This film stands alone in the provocateur department, as Haneke is returning in spades to American theaters what it willingly exports around the world as mindless Hollywood entertainment.  No one could possibly enjoy the experience without also hating being victimized by the game, but no one is likely to forget this film either, as it will remain imprinted in the deep recesses of our consciousness, which makes it an essential work. 

TIFF 2005: Days Five And Six  more Scott Tobias from the Onion

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a Michael Haneke film in a theater. The film was Funny Games, an unsparing critique of movie violence in the form of a sadistic home invasion thriller. It was shown in front of a huge audience at the Miami Film Festival, which functions a lot like the New York Film Festival in that only a select two dozen or so films are chosen and screened at the Gusman Center, a venue with a seating capacity of well over 1,500. After spending much of the film watching two young men torture a bourgeois family held captive in a lakehouse, there’s a moment when it appears that the tables have finally turned—as thriller conventions dictate—and the audience let out a burst of applause, relieved that this unbearable tension had been relieved. Then, just as the applause died down, Haneke completely pulls out the rug, and the audience gasped in unison, as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of the room.

City Pages, Minneapolis/St. Paul    Rob Nelson

One of the things that you said, which I've used in different interviews because it was so right on the money, was that as a film-maker, when you deal with violence, you're actually penalized for doing a good job.  Quentin Tarantino to Brian De Palma, 1994

Tarantino's words are true enough: To criticize a horror film such as the family-under-siege thriller Funny Games for making you sick is in some way to acknowledge its achievement. Conversely, the comic-book carnage of Con Air et al. too rarely comes under our attack for failing to disturb--the implication being that scenes of nameless, faceless hordes being mowed down video-game-style simply represent the natural business of slam-bang entertainment delivered in good taste. In fact, according to Austrian director Michael Haneke, it's precisely this anesthetizing depiction of horror by Hollywood that inspired him to stage his raw, brutal, unbelievably grueling Funny Games. "I would like the audience to view violence differently," he declared at a press conference in Cannes. Suffice it to say Haneke succeeds on that count--which, in the post-Natural Born Killers era, is no small feat. Among its many distinctions, Funny Games provides a measure of just how much it takes to shock and appall us these days.

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

At last year's Cannes Film Festival, Austrian auteur Michael Haneke introduced his relentlessly cruel but brilliantly conceived and executed Funny Games as an "anti-Tarantino film." Given Haneke's similar penchant for long takes, off-screen violence, and sadism, this statement is essentially bogus, except to imply that his brutality is meant to punish the audience, not to entertain it. An affluent young family, expecting a nice vacation in its lakeside summer home, is instead subjected to a night of torture and humiliation at the hands of two politely demented neo-Nazi types. When asked why they're doing it, the suave leader responds, "Why not?" The airtight simplicity of Funny Games' set-up is echoed in the purity of its style, as Haneke uses a static camera (one shot is held for 10 minutes) and natural sound to casually heighten the tension and dread. Rather than engage in the satisfying tension/payoff cycles of most modern horror films, Funny Games joins Last House On The Left, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer in a disturbing sub-genre designed to expose the true nature of violence. Haneke implicates everyone but himself: The sadists are presumably desensitized by the media (they call each other Beavis and Butt-Head); the victims' symbols of wealth (golf clubs, a cell phone, a high-tech security system) are turned against them; and, most pointedly, the audience is indicted for its bloodlust. There's perversity in paying admission to get harshly scolded, and Funny Games is not for the squeamish, but this may be one time to step up and take the licking you deserve.

Funny Games (Michael Haneke, 1997)  Eric Henderson from When Canses Were Classeled

Funny Games, a tightly wound Teutonic exercise in sadism from Michael Haneke in which a sterilized, rich, single-child family finds their home invaded by two pranksters-cum-murderers who place a bet they won’t survive twelve hours, is like Lars Von Trier at his least controlled trying to fashion a Marxist grindhouse homage. And, no matter how many times Haneke winks at the camera through his deviant protagonists-by-proxy, it has no more to say about the audience’s relationship to the on-screen violence and emotional abuse than the two separate previews slapped together to sell Fight for Your Life: one of them stressing valiance (the one aimed at white audiences) and the other stressing salty-quipped retribution (the one aimed at black audiences, for whom that particular piece-of-shit film was helpfully re-titled I Hate Your Guts). In fact, at its deluded molten cortex, Funny Games (probably inadvertently) encourages the same brand of fascination with cheap social rifts (at the expense of its loftier aims of self-reflectivity, et al), only to pull the rug out from under the intelligentsia. It succeeds in inciting anger and forcing viewers to consider their own relationship to violence, but it makes the fatal error of assuming that audiences, like the central affluent family unit, are too privileged and comfortable to be either capable of or considerate enough to be initiated into a class dialogue without someone sticking a gun into their puckerhole. This is an obscene suggestion, and one which reveals a complete lack of faith in audiences of any stripe other than utter, nerve-fried nihilists, much less the sort of understandable, healthy bad faith to be found in something like Cannibal Holocaust or Dogville. Because Haneke’s bourgeoisie-crashing crusaders aren’t particularly intelligent, nor are their games particularly funny, any sort of social significance to their otherwise aimless brutality ends up getting sabotaged, skewing all concern against their representation of the supposed underclass’s rage (embodied, here, by the two assailants’ status as disaffected youths… not to mention, given all that queerish lip-pursing from the more dominant of the two, their latent hetero-cidal bent). Like the onslaught of cruel parlor games the family, particularly the wife, have to endure -- “which would you rather lose, your son or your husband?” type stuff -- Funny Games is frustrating, effective in its streamlined shock quotient and, in the end, adds little to your understanding of cinematic violence other than maybe the desire to return to the naiveté of cheap kicks rather than have to suffer through another half-baked dissertation.

De-icing the emotions  Andrew J. Horton from Kinoeye

When a director announces "I wish you a disturbing evening" before the showing of his latest film, you probably are not in for an easy ride. If he says it with cheerful abandon, you have all the more reason to take him seriously, or so discovered Londoners attending the recent retrospective of five films by the controversial existentialist director Michael Haneke, part of the Festival of Central European Culture.

Haneke, who studied philosophy at Vienna University, talks about his films using long barely translatable German words that make you wonder if discussing his work in English is at all possible: Entfremdung (alienation from oneself), emotionale Vergletscherung (emotional glaciation) and Entwirklichung (reality losing its sense of realness).

Behind these fearsome expressions, Haneke's films are very immediate and comprehensible, although by no means simplistic. He is concerned with a society that no longer knows how to love - or for that matter how to hate. His films are an attempt to resharpen our feelings and responses to the world around us, which have been blunted, especially by the media. Rejecting standard conventions of timing , build up of suspense and logical plotting, he is not worried about inducing boredom, irritation and frustration. Haneke repeatedly draws us into the cinematic medium, as any film seeks to do, but then breaks the illusion to show us how we have been seduced and tricked, and what willing accomplices to it we were.

Although he had been writing television scripts since 1974, Haneke first hit cinema screens in 1989 with part one of his trilogy on "emotional glaciation," Der Siebente Kontinent (The Seventh Continent, 1989). This leisurely but intricate study, inspired by the real-life suicide of a middle-class Viennese family, immediately established Haneke as a unique director. The critic Alexander Howarth has suggested that the film should bear the subtitle "How strict thinking, writing and viewing found how to love each other." The trilogy, which followed with Benny's Video (1992) and 71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls (71 Fragments in a Chronology of Chance, 1994), is permeated with a crushing absence of passion. Apologies are monotonously murmured unmeant, a man's "I love you" is addressed more to his beer than his wife and a father's reproaches to his son for murdering a girl are little different from those for staying up too late. This makes bleak viewing, but Haneke insists he is an optimist. "The people who make entertainment movies are the pessimists," he explains, "the optimist tries to shake people out of their apathy."

His latest film, Funny Games (1997), sees a return to form, and it will, if nothing else, do much to bolster Haneke's notoriety. Whilst Hollywood is spending millions of dollars on marauding aliens, city-sized dinosaurs and icebergs to convey fear and terror, Haneke has realised that the people from the house next door who drop in for some eggs can do the job far more effectively. Especially if they bet that by nine o'clock the following morning their hosts will all be dead. Such is the case when two charming lads, Peter and Paul, pop over to sadistically torture and psychologically terrorise a family for what could well prove to be their last twelve hours alive - unless they can escape. Why all the needless brutality? It turns out the well-mannered funsters have an altruistic urge to provide the cinema audience, who they address directly, with what they have come to see in the film - mindless violence.

As the duo try to entertain us by playing their games with the family, Haneke plays games with us in order to awaken us to the senselessness of the increasing lust audiences have for blood on the cinema screens. He builds up tension and then destroys it. He gives us what we want and then takes it away. He pulls us out of our comfortable cinema seats and forces us to recognise our role as protagonists in the film and de facto initiators of the bloodshed. The ultimate object is to restore to violence its real properties, as opposed to its cinematic ones, and to faithfully represent the very real suffering and distress that actual violence causes.

The focus is therefore far more on the after-effects than the actions themselves, which, with one deliberate exception, are not shown. Haneke skilfully lets us create the violence in our own minds, and stresses the agony, terror and humiliation through unimportant actions, a device he used so well in his trilogy. Doubtless many will disapprove of Haneke using violence to criticise violence (as censors in several countries have), but he sees no other way. In a post-screening discussion with a rather vocal audience, he expressed his reservations about the efficacy of Wim Wenders's The End of Violence, which just talked about the subject.

Funny Games is a genuinely shocking and discomforting film. In shattering preconceptions and by confronting you with your darker, more bloodthirsty nature as a cinema viewer, it goes much further than other films tackling the issue of violence, such as Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. This is not a film to be easily dismissed, particularly since it is currently making its way around Europe and could well be appearing at a cinema near you shortly. I, too, wish you a disturbing evening.

"What are you looking at and why?"  Tarja Laine from Kinoeye

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

 

Funny Games   Stefan Herrmann, December 7, 2001

 

Funny Games   Chris Justice from Senses of Cinema

 

Reverse Shot [Nick Pinkerton]

 

DVD Times  Noel Megahey

 

Chicago Reader (Lisa Alspector)

 

Deep Focus (Bryant Frazer)

 

Jigsaw Lounge (Neil Young)

 

Films of Michael Haneke: the utopia of fear   Justin Vicari from Jump Cut, Winter 2006

 

Cinepinion [Henry Stewart]

 

DVDActive [Scott McKenzie]

 

ToxicUniverse.com (Mike Bracken)   also seen here:  CultureCartel.com (Mike Bracken)

 

The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review  Richard Scheib

 

Reverse Shot [Adam Nayman]

 

Classic-Horror  Rob Wrigley

 

Not Coming to a Theater Near You [Rumsey Taylor]

 

Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]

 

Nitrate Online (Capsule)  Eddie Cockrell

 

MovieMartyr.com  Jeremy Heilman

 

filmcritic.com (Chris Cabin)

 

DVD Talk (Svet Atanasov)

 

Film Journal International (David Bartholomew)

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Rich Rosell)

 

Austin Chronicle [Marc Savlov]

 

The Boston Phoenix   Peg Aloi

 

New York Times (registration req'd)   Stephen Holden

 

THE CASTLE (Das Schloß) – made for TV

Germany  Austria  (123 mi)  1997


User reviews from imdb Author: vicentiugarbacea from Bucharest, Romania

Michael Haneke illustrates Franz Kafka's manuscript for the novel bearing the same name, in his film 'Das Schloss'. We can call it a cinematic rendition of the plot. The film begins with the scene of K. entering the door of the inn, which commences with the still image of a mountain village posted on the door. Consequently the film ends unexpectedly in the middle of a scene which presents K. walking to the horse stables waiting to find Gerstäcker's mother reading. It's like you read a text and you stop where it stops. This illusion is perfectly staged by Haneke.

However, it is a film and not a novel. You cannot control the point where you would like to stop. You cannot read again a paragraph; everything is rendered linearly, in a narrative form. Basically, in this instance the film as a medium encompasses the novel. It would feel inappropriate to say just that about this film.

What is remarkable in Haneke's work is the way he recreates the absurd universe of Franz Kafka: by using long static shots, lack of conversation, abrupt ending of scenes and arranging all narrative elements to express in every moment a state of insecure and temporary state of facts.

The image is outstanding in terms of expressiveness, at least. There are lots of nuances of blue and brown and the light is used very carefully to create special types of dark settings resembling Rembrandt's paintings.

The actors' performance must be highly credited, especially in the case of Ulrich Mühe and Sussane Lothar who are playing K. and Frieda, respectively.

If making films is about relying on other artistic forms, especially on the novel and if you believe in the concepts of mimetic and cathartic art, then at least you have to come up with something outstanding in these terms. Michael Haneke manages to do this because his very own approach of film-making.

DVD Times  Noel Megahey

Made for Austrian television in 1997 - the same year that he would make his feature Funny Games - Michael Haneke’s adaptation of Franz Kafka’s ‘Das Schloss’ sees the director working with adapted material that chimes entirely with a personal worldview we have come to know from films like The Seventh Continent, Code Unknown and Hidden (Caché), depicting individuals buckling under the increasingly cold and uncaring mechanical progress of modern society. Using many of the same actors who feature in Funny Games, it presents an intriguing parallel to the director’s breakthrough feature film.

Kafka’s unfinished novel ‘Das Schloss’, follows the activity of one such alienated individual trying to make sense of the innumerable and unfathomable levels of bureaucracy to find his own place and position in the world. K. (Ulrich Mühe) arrives in the village that surrounds the Castle as a stranger. Finding an inn, he is unable to obtain a room, but the innkeeper allows him to sleep on a mattress in the parlour of the bar. His intrusion is seen as unwelcome and Schwarzer, the son of the under-Castellan, challenges him, regarding him as a vagabond. A quick call however reveals that K. has been engaged by the Castle as a Land  Surveyor.

K.’s assistants Jeremias and Artur (Felix Eitner and Frank Giering) arrive the next day, but rather than assist K., who finds them indistinguishable, the incompetent duo, arriving without his apparatus, seem to hamper his every attempt to make contact with the Castle, and always seem to be following him around. Even when K. attempts to gain the influence of Frieda (Susanne Lothar), a barmaid who tells him she is the mistress of a prominent Castle official called Klamm, the hapless duo spy on him as he makes love to her behind the bar.

As a consequence, Frieda loses her position at the Herrenhof bar, and K., under pressure from his landlady, finds he has no option but to support her while he tries to find out what work he has been engaged by the Castle to carry out. Those instructions never seem to arrive, and indeed the Castle continually refuses, via letters and messages that Klamm’s assistant Barnabas (André Eisermann) communicates to K., to allow him entrance to the Castle. Frustrated, K. finds out from the Superintendent that the summoning of a Land Surveyor was an administrative error, and his services are no longer required. As no-one however is in a position to confirm his appointment or admit the error, K. finds himself in a curious position of having status but no position. With no other option – particularly as he is under pressure from Frieda and his landlady - K. accepts a lowly position as a janitor at the local school. His troubles with various women continually distract him from his task, and any attempt to approach and appeal to the Castle continue to be met with indifference, obstinacy and bodded down in bureaucratic red-tape.

As would be expected from the director at this point in his career, Haneke’s now familiar style is appropriate to the subject, adopting a neutral approach marked out by jump cuts to black screens. The gaps however are not Kafka’s - The Castle is perhaps the writer’s most fluid and consistent work, and only incomplete in that it never reached a conclusion. Haneke however makes use of his trademark method here rather to cut back on the length of certain scenes, excising a number of minor characters and reducing others - the landlady’s role is greatly reduced and it removes many of her and K.’s cross-purpose confrontations - but it matches the curious elliptical rhythms and the dreamlike passing of immeasurable periods of time in Kafka’s novel. Haneke of course fully exploits the fact that the novel is open and unfinished – as most of his own films are – taking pleasure in bringing the film to an unexpected conclusion as the end of the manuscript, even though it is not the one (again featuring the landlady) that finishes the novel. Haneke’s way of showing K. attempting to make headway against the constant grind of the machinery of bureaucracy and the petty social hierarchy, is to show him trudging repeatedly back and forth through the snow and howling winds, often in the dark – waiting for the smallest scrap of information or news from the Castle, that they have need of him or at least recognition of him.

It’s a perfectly adequate way to depict Kafka’s struggle of the individual to find their place in society, but it’s also a failure, as is any attempt to capture the essence of Kafka on the screen. The best any director can do with Kafka’s absurd, nightmarish and unfilmable works is find elements from them to incorporate into their own worldview - as in Soderbergh’s fun-but-missing-the-point Kafka – or vice-versa, as in Orson Welles’ ambitious, often impressive, but ultimately doomed adaptation and re-writing of The Trial. Haneke’s adaptation of The Castle is more literal and faithful to Kafka than either of those films, but he never makes it come alive or personal in the way that he can usually lift a storyline off the screen and into your own life. A narrator is used to maintain some of the authorial musings on the characters and their behaviour, but more often Haneke depicts events with neutrality and lack of comment, which allows him to capture Kafka’s sense of the absurdity of social behaviour, but fails to capture the complexity of the characters’ deeper striving for belonging and spiritual meaning. Haneke would achieve this element of humanity much more successfully in Time Of The Wolf, but, perhaps through the necessity of adaptation and simplification for television, he fails to do so here.

CODE UNKNOWN                                      A-                    94       

aka:  Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys

France  Germany  Romania  (117 mi)  2000
 
An intense, ravishingly beautiful film, a mixed, cross cultural integration of personal experiences that is unlike any other film seen this year, using, in my view, completely original cinematic methods, as the director's style here is to film, with utter clarity and a brilliant sense of being exact and concise, what appears to be random sequences, incomplete fragments from people's lives that, without any explanation at all, produces such a depth of emotion from an audience that is forced to unseal the secret to this madness. 

In Review: Best of the Decade  Marc Raymond from One One Four, November 19, 2009 (excerpt)

Another strong contender for director of the decade is Haneke, with CACHE (2005), his recent Cannes winner THE WHITE RIBBON (2009), and perhaps his most underrated work, 2000’s CODE UNKNOWN. This is Haneke’s first film in France following his career in Austria, and it is a remarkable study of the contemporary French society. It is similar in some ways to one of my least favorite films of the decade, Paul Haggis’s Oscar-winning CRASH (2005), and shows how a talented director can shape material that could be completely mishandled into a work that is both formally adventurous and politically uncompromising. Like most of Haneke, it is very bleak, but there is less overt moralizing than some of his other films, and Haneke seems more invested in his characters than usual. The best film of arguably the greatest European auteur since Robert Bresson.

The Village Voice [Jessica Winter]
 
Austrian director Michael Haneke is a ruthless anthropologist of domestic nihilism, but his first French-language feature, Code Unknown, is also his most humane. It's less eager to implicate the audience in its exhibitions of motiveless savagery—as with the amiable psychopath's to-camera asides in Funny Games—and more inclined to arrange ordinary people not as isolated terrorist cells but as a frail, knotty web held together by selfish interdependence and clashing grievances. A bravura tracking shot establishes the fragile latticework of Code Unknown's universe: A sullen white youth (Alexandre Hamidi) tosses a crumpled bakery bag into a beggar woman's lap, setting off a volatile chain reaction—a streetside scuffle, the arrest of well-meaning African French teacher of deaf children (Ona Lu Yenke), and the deportation of the woman, a Romanian refugee (Luminita Gheorghiu).
 
The film then branches off into the multiform narrative of its subtitle, Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys, centering on yet another miserable Hanekean couple named Anne and Georges (Juliette Binoche and Thierry Neuvic). They work as actress and war photographer—fitting on-screen vocations for a director so endlessly fixated on questions of representation and translation. This obsession arguably becomes self-interrogatory in Code Unknown, since Anne is glimpsed shooting scenes that could be outtakes from several of Haneke's earlier, crueller outings. Here it's Binoche's naked, disbelieving face staring into the camera as an unseen actor intones, "I have nothing against you . . . I merely want to watch you die." Then the screen goes black, and another world within the world takes hold: a bittersweet homecoming to Romania, a crying mother in a Parisian apartment, a ghastly series of stills from the Kosovo war. Code Unknown is Haneke's most expansive and, oddly, hopeful work—not a gaze into the void, but a fierce attempt to scramble out of it.
 
Jigsaw Lounge (Neil Young) : "conscience and consequence"

When exactly? You can’t quite remember. You add it all up, there is always something missing somewhere. A few seconds unaccounted for. A missing factor in any equation. The invisible mould of what is not that inexorably determines what is…

William S Burroughs

Code Unknown – Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys is a bit of a mouthful. ‘Conscience and consequence’ would perhaps be a more economic alternative, with its appropriately Jane Austen-ish air. Because, like so many 19th-century novels, Code Unknown is essentially an attempt to extend the circumference of its audience’s sympathy, with a special focus on a slightly over-sensitive artistic youngish female: here, actress Anne (Binoche). But Haneke’s techniques are aggressively modern: his film is as much a product of Jean-Luc Godard as George Eliot. There is a narrative, and there are stories, but they exist only as fragments, and the audience must work to piece them together – these are ‘incomplete tales,’ according to the subtitle. And, as the main title indicates, the film deliberately aims to be difficult, impenetrable: perhaps, even, indecipherable.

Haneke’s last picture, 1997’s Funny Games, was a darkly comic masterpiece of excruciating claustrophobia: with Code Unknown, he widens his canvas, aiming for nothing less than a panoramic snapshot of Europe today. He takes an apparently innocuous, everyday event, then traces the ripples of consequence that spread out over time and space. An intriguing idea - although it doesn’t quite come off, this is still a very original, absorbing kind of near miss.

On a Paris street, actress Anne (Binoche) buys a sandwich for Jean, the young brother of her boyfriend Georges (Neuvic), a war photographer away in Kosovo. After he’s finished eating, Jean casually drops the paper bag in the lap of  Maria (Georghiu), a street beggar, outraging passer-by Amadou (Yenke), who demands an apology from Jean. The ensuing scuffle attracts the attention of the police: Amadou is arrested,  Maria deported to Romania. The narrative follows each of the characters and stories, switching between Paris, rural France, Romania, and even further afield.

This ‘mosaic’ technique is often popular among ambitious directors, as it gives them carte blanche to chuck in pretty much anything they feel like, especially when, as here, their theme is the mysterious impenetrability of everyday life, and how hard it is for modern, isolated invididuals to communicate. There are times when Haneke strays into the trap of self-indulgence, and it’s up to Binoche to hold things together. She’s seldom looked so unglamorous on screen, but, if anything this emphasises her appeal – her vulnerability warms up an otherwise chilly, though always fascinating, cinematic exercise.

Code Unknown  Richard Falcon from Sight and Sound

Paris, the present. Anne (Juliette Binoche), an actress, meets Jean (Alexandre Hamidi), the younger brother of her war-photographer boyfriend Georges (Thierry Neuvic). Jean has run away from his father's farm and asks her for the new entry code to her apartment; he then discards a crumpled paper bag into the lap of Maria (Luminita Gheorghiu), a Romanian illegal immigrant who is begging on the street. Amadou (Ona Lu Yenke), a teacher of deaf children, remonstrates with him. In the ensuing scuffle, policemen arrest Maria and Amadou. Maria is deported. Amadou's West African mother expresses her grief at the treatment of her son. Anne performs a scene from the thriller she is filming, in which she is imprisoned in a soundproof room by a killer.

Georges returns from Kosovo, where he has been photographing atrocities. In Romania, Maria returns to her husband Dragos (Bob Nicolescu) and her family, with whom she moves into a small flat. She is ashamed of having had to beg in Paris, although she did send money home. Jean disappears from his father's farm. His father responds by killing his livestock, telling Anne and Georges that he is unable to run the farm without Jean's help. Anne hears sounds of distress coming from an adjoining apartment but is unsure what to do. She confronts an elderly neighbour who, she believes, pushed a note through her door purporting to be from an abused child in the other apartment; the old woman denies it. Antagonised by Georges' inability to settle, Anne starts a scene with him in a supermarket, claiming that she aborted their child while he was away. Georges surreptitiously photographs passengers on the Métro. Maria pays to be smuggled back to Paris. Anne, travelling home on the Métro, is tormented by an Arab youth who spits in her face before being challenged by a middle-aged Arab man. As Maria starts to beg on the street, Georges finds the code to the apartment changed and Amadou's students perform a piece for massed drums.

Review

"Morality," Cahiers du cinéma critic Luc Moullet famously said in 1959,"is a question of tracking shots." Michael Haneke's first — predominantly- French-language film begins with an exquisitely realised nine-minute tracking shot initially following Juliette Binoche's Anne as she walks along the street. Were this not a Haneke film, it would be tempting to view these opening moments as a homage to the nouvelle vague film-makers' fondness for long-take sequences that juxtapose a beautiful actress with a Parisian boulevard caught in real time. But as in Haneke's earlier 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance and The Seventh Continent, both of which introduce the fragmented, episodic narrative structure employed in Code Unknown, Haneke is concerned here with philosophical first principles rather than referentiality. As this sequence-shot bears witness to the sudden street incident that links the disparate experiences of Maria (a Romanian immigrant), Amadou (the son of West African refugees), Anne, and Jean (the brother of Anne's boyfriend Georges), the film offers the first of a number of scenes which use the multicultural public spaces of Paris, not for their fashionability (Haneke points out he could as easily have filmed his script in London) but as a laboratory for testing the relationship between representation and reality. The results confirm Haneke's reputation as one of cinema's most accomplished moralists.

Both Benny's Video and Funny Games tended to didacticism and indulged Haneke's perverse modernist desire to punish us for our collusion with the commodified- and thus, for Haneke at least, mendacious- narrative certainties of dominant cinema. Code Unknown, on the other hand, furthers Haneke's project of countering what he sees as the degradation of our sense of the real by modulating with true virtuosity between various realisms. The opening sequence is by turns manipulative- stoking our indignation at the policemen's casually insensitive and implicitly racist handling of the confrontation between Jean and Amadou- and naturalistic, artfully thwarting our desire to reach easy judgement. In a later sequence in the Métro, a static camera observes in neutral long shot- again with an unbroken take- as Anne is tormented by an aggressive Arab youth who, incensed by her lack of reaction to his unprovoked taunts, spits in her face. In between the film presents us with fragments- interspersed with Brechtian fades and sudden Godardian sound edits- which turn on the difficulty of relating in a moral fashion to others in a world in which any communication seems fraught with the dangers of victimisation. Anne, while ironing, turns down the television when she hears screams coming from another apartment and this too is left unexplained and unresolved. Alongside this quotidian malaise are the characters' attempts to achieve contact through dissimulation, such as when Anne challenges her elderly neighbour, who may or may not have written a letter purporting to be from an abused child in the adjoining apartment, or when Anne, during an argument with Georges, claims- we don't know whether it's true or not- to have aborted his child when he was in Kosovo. Georges' own subterfuge, his surreptitious photographing of people on the Métro- a form of surveillance that leads to a marvellous montage of portraits (the work of war photographer Luc Delahaye)- further complicates the film's insistent thematic build-up around responsibility to others and the unbridgeable glacial distance between people.

As Haneke has suggested in interviews, all of this would merely be a reiteration of various modernist clichés about the impossibility of communication were the film not to comprise one superb sequence after another. Rather than dryly demonstrating a thesis, each scene conveys a deeply affecting sense of authenticity and immediacy. The performance of the deglamorised- but still luminescent- Juliette Binoche, whose approach to Haneke initiated the film, contributes immeasurably to the success of Code Unknown. A sequence from the film she is shooting (she plays an actress), in which she is interrogated- one of two startling scenes that reveal Haneke's grasp of the strength of our desire to be manipulated (the other- at first deliberately confusing levels of reality - involves a toddler crawling on the edge of a tall building)- is a masterclass in close-up acting. That amid all these heavy-duty moral/aesthetic preoccupations Haneke manages to offer powerfully understated images of the lot of economic migrants- Maria's silent deportation and return to Paris- adds to the sense of Code Unknown as a major achievement. Orchestrating his long takes, his superb use of off-screen space and chilly long shots, Haneke sets about if not reinventing, then reinvigorating a non-naive realism for the 21st century. In the process, he gives us the most intellectually stimulating and emotionally provocative piece of European cinema of recent times. 

Locked out!  Andrew James Horton from Kinoeye

Austrian film was having something of a quiet life, bumbling along and not being watched by too many people, when suddenly in 1997 Michael Haneke's film Funny Games convinced people that watchable Austrian cinema was not perhaps an oxymoron after all.

And suddenly not only was a new star of European cinema born but a whole country's film industry was given a new wave of optimism. Turning to Haneke's previous works, film buffs found a richly philosophical oeuvre, tackling some of the most compelling moral questions of our day in a noticeably filmic form.

Now that Haneke has grabbed hold of international attention, he clearly wants to keep it, and his film Code inconnu: Récit incomplet de divers voyages (Code Unknown: Incomplete tales of several journeys, 2000) again tackles a Big Question in the framework of a consciously art house film. Instead of just merely tackling the problems of Austrian society, here he takes on a wider theme to match the new scale of his audience—immigration in a multicultural Europe—and shifts the action away from his favoured middle-class Austrian settings to a famously cosmopolitan environment: Paris.

Diverging threads

In contrast to Funny Games, Code inconnu consists of a fragmented mosaic of only semi-related events (or in more blunt terms: it has little or no plot). It tracks a group of people linked by one chance encounter: an argument on a street corner which blows up when an young man, Jean, contemptuously throws a screwed-up piece of paper at a woman who is begging on a street corner. From this one point, the characters' lives follow—as the subtitle alludes to—different paths.

Anne is trying to make it as a film actress while her boyfriend, Georges, tries to make sense of his profession as a photographer (we are presented first with his stark images of war, taken in Kosovo, and then with an arresting series of shots taken of unsuspecting passengers on the Paris Metro). Georges' brother, Jean, is meanwhile trying to escape from the influence of his father who wants him to take over the family farming business.

Maria, the Romanian beggar at whom Jean callously discards his rubbish, is caught without papers and deported. Back at home she boasts she had a good job as a teacher in Paris and, unphased by the ignominy of the experiences she has gone through, pays money to be smuggled back into fortress Europe again.

The other main protagonist is Amadou, an angry young man of African origin, whom we meet when he takes offence at Jean's treatment of Maria. Aside from this street fight, we see him talking to a friend explaining who his father arrived in France and also to his younger sister, who is deaf, in sign language about why their father left.

Finally, these paths converge again for the film's ending, with its prosaic action dramatically set against drumming music being played by the children at the deaf school where Amadou teaches.

In a mirror of the film's main opening sequence, Georges arrives at Anne's flat to find that he no longer knows the security code (presumably the source of the film's title) and is thus denied entry to the sanctuary he requires—a metaphor for the film's wider concerns. Meanwhile, Maria is back on her old street corner.

Alienating fragmentation

Code inconnu is in some ways related to the third film of Haneke's "emotional glaciation" trilogy, 71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls (71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, 1994) which also uses a dislocated mosaic structure to link characters to a single event (a motiveless killing spree in a Vienna bank by a disaffected student). The return to this style is intriguing. 71 Fragmente is by far the least successful of Haneke's trilogy, not in box office terms but in its ability to challenge us intellectually.

It is hardly surprising, then, that the criticisms that could be levelled at 71 Fragmente also resonate with Code inconnu. Both are horribly dry exercises in intellectualism and lack what might be termed the "intellectually visceral" quality of Funny Games or the second of Haneke's trilogy, Benny's Video (1992), both of which challenge our gut instincts rather than our most abstract thoughts. Moreover, Haneke seems so wrapped up in the formal qualities of Code inconnu that the very human message he is trying to give out is totally lost.

Even discounting this alienating factor, the film somehow fails to work, it sitting uncomfortably in the shadow of 71 Fragmente trying hard not to look like a derivative work. "I'm playing with the public, and I make them fall into all kinds of traps and show them they've fallen into the trap," the director explained in the May edition of Sight and Sound.

But this is Haneke's sixth feature film, and he is running out of mechanisms to force us to question the power of film as a medium. He resorts to tactics that are now seemingly commonplace in his films, such as suddenly cutting off the dialogue mid-sentence. Even worse, he employs techniques that are universally clichéd, such as showing the making of a film within the film we are watching and trying to confuse us as to which level we are looking at. This, quite frankly, is old hat.

Pulling apart the definitions

Putting aside such concerns over form, however, the way Haneke pieces together his mosaic with steadfast neutrality is remarkable. Time and time again he seeks to present something as "truth" and then undermine it. His philosophical aims (Haneke studied philosophy at university) are to force us to question first the reality we see in the film and—rather more ambitiously—the reality we see around us. In one scene, Anne and Georges have an argument. To force her lover's position, Anne tells him she is pregnant, but then denies it. We have no way of knowing which version is true.

As such, Haneke has no answers to give us on immigration or multiculturalism. He merely urges us to question the reality of the issues around it. In this he does, perhaps, have a major point. Immigration is largely a seen as a subject for political debate and a topic that dominates newspaper headlines. Rarely do we stop to consider the stories of the people behind the statistics, who they are and how the single word "immigrant" describes a multitude of experiences.

If there is anything positive Haneke's film can achieve it should be to force us to abandon our predefined and narrow definitions of "immigration" and "multiculturalism" and make us find meaning for them again based on what we see, not on what newspapers tell us. "What matters is the end result," Georges tells us in one of his monologues, and that could be a kind of motto for the film, urging us to look at each situation anew and not fall into the trap of placing things in predefined pigeon holes.

But curiously, if anything, the film's analysis of the lack of community and communication in multicultural Paris seems to have had the opposite of the intended effect. In France, at least, the film has attracted the admiration of the right, as opposed to the usual left-wing gang who admire Haneke's brand of philosophy. Perhaps all this explains why Haneke's most recent film La pianiste (The Piano Teacher, 2001), which just last week scooped three awards at Cannes (including the Grand Prix), returns to the visceral style that characterised Funny Games. Indeed, the director seems to have gone from one wild extreme to the other, and La pianiste has been criticised for being pornographic, degrading and too reliant on excessive violence. It will be interesting to see distributors wrestle with the conflicting desires to appease public good taste by keeping the film off our screens and to make loads of loot by cashing in on a major prize.

Doubtless, in the meantime, Code inconnu will receive something of a boost from its successor's fame (Code inconnu opened in the UK on 25 May) and some punters will be attracted merely by the presence of art house pin-up Juliette Binoche in the cast list. However, it is unlikely that the film itself is going to turning much of the cinema- going public into a new wave of Haneke fans.

Code inconnu: Récit incomplete de divers voyages   Darragh O'Donohue from Senses of Cinema, January 2005

 

Films of Michael Haneke: the utopia of fear   Justin Vicari from Jump Cut, Winter 2006

 

DVD Times  Noel Megahey

 

Code Unknown  Scott Tobias essay from The Onion A.V. Club, June 4, 2009

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]  March 29, 2002

 

Slant Magazine  Ed Gonzalez

 

CineScene.com (Howard Schumann)

 

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

 

Looking Closer (Stef Loy)

 

CountingDown review [Daniel Baig]

 

Film Journal International (Erica Abeel)

 

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

 

filmcritic.com (Jeremiah Kipp)

 

MovieMartyr.com  Jeremy Heilman

 

Kamera.co.uk   Ben McCann

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Jon Danziger)

 
Code Inconnu   Acquarello from Strictly Film School 

 

Chicago Tribune [Michael Wilmington]

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Anita Gates

 

DVDBeaver.com - Review [Donald Brown]

    

THE PIANO TEACHER                             A-                    93

Austria  France  Germany  (131 mi)  2001

 

I hesitate to say too much about this Michael Haneke film, as I don't want to spoil it for those that haven't seen it, suffice it to say, Isabelle Huppert is superb, it's a treat to watch the film just for her performance, it reminded me in so many ways of Jeanne Dielman, but I have to mention my absolute favorite scene, this is really for Kirk's benefit, as this was the Kubrickian moment in this film.  The opening third of the film is filled with classical music segues and yes, it helps if you are familiar with the music, as it is of the most excruciatingly personal musical context and Haneke brilliantly bridges the music's text to the themes of the film, it's all very high brow, in my view, but then my scene which changes the entire film - the stern piano teacher is performing an ensemble piece, the slow Andante movement from Schubert's Piano Trio # 2, the exact same music that Kubrick featured in BARRY LYNDON, it was mesmerizing and so haunting, unquestionably powerful in Kubrick's hands, and so it appears to be in this film, again, it's all so serious and so austere, she is briefly scolded by the cellist for not paying strict attention, so they start again to play, but a la Kubrick, the music continues on into the next scene where she is simply walking through crowded streets, totally oblivious to the world around her, just the opposite of the heightened sensitized listening mode needed to play a Schubert Trio, which is exquisitely classical in structure, supremely crafted, instead she is lost in her own world, bumping into people, completely awkward and out of control, just like a regular geek, all this is well and good, but then you see she has entered a porn shop, mind you, this luscious music is continuing to play and all around her she is surrounded by porn magazines featuring shaved pussies, endowed breasts with clamps and chains attached to the nipples, until it leads to her own personal viewing pleasure...

 

I have to say, I was guffawing out loud at this moment, I couldn't believe how funny and yet how perfectly constructed this scene was, it totally changed the entire structure of the film... 

 
Washington Post [Ann Hornaday]
 
Isabelle Huppert delivers a taut, quietly explosive performance in "The Piano Teacher," Michael Haneke's harrowing cinematic portrait of a woman coming unhinged.
 
Erika Kohut (Huppert) lives with her domineering mother (Annie Girardot) in Vienna, where she teaches piano at a conservatory. The locale is not accidental: As we observe Erika's tangled relationship with her mother lead to furtive and increasingly destructive acts of self-loathing and rage, "The Piano Teacher" seems less like a fictional story than a tour through Freud's forgotten files.
 
Erika lives a life of severity and control, but underneath she seethes with transgressive passions: Standing like a well-groomed martinet over her students, she seems to be willing them to fail. As she begins to explore the dark side of her sexuality (sex shops, self-mutilation, a dangerous affair with a young musician), her exploits take on the desperation of a woman trying to expunge desire altogether.
 
In the tradition of "Repulsion," "Belle de Jour" and "Looking for Mr. Goodbar," "The Piano Teacher" creates a hermetic, frightening world, and Huppert delivers a courageous performance as the woman around whom it ultimately falls apart.
 
The last major film Michael Haneke directed was "Funny Games," a study of claustrophobia and sadism that was thoroughly unlikable but proved a fitting prelude to "The Piano Teacher." Haneke, who adapted this film from Elfriede Jelinek's novel, has clearly mastered the art of balancing on the knife edge between carefully structured drama and terrifying chaos. What's more, he's a compassionate chronicler of Erika's suffering, which begins by expressing itself in small acts of rebellion and ends in a final, inevitably tragic gesture.
 
Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

Arriving just weeks after the Philadelphia debut of Michael Haneke’s multifaceted Code Unknown, The Piano Teacher shows a less expansive side of the Austrian filmmaker. Where Code flung its tendrils in numerous directions, The Piano Teacher is an almost monolithically focused character study. Erika (Isabelle Huppert) is a piano teacher whose method of instruction is equal parts musical exaction and psychological intimidation. Students whose resolve weakens aren’t punished so much as destroyed. Erika lives at home with her mother and seems to have little time or patience for men, until the wealthy, fair-haired Walter (Benoît Magimel) comes into her life. Unaccustomed to not having his way, Walter hears Erika play at a private recital, and is possessed. She looks on him like a pup, disdaining his facile understanding of Schubert, his easy good looks. She returns home, to the repressive mother (Annie Girardot) who shreds the pretty clothes she brings home, and perches on the side of the bathtub, gingerly applying a razor to her nether regions while her mother prepares dinner in the next room.

The Piano Teacher is full of such moments of deadpan brutality, but Haneke never resorts to mere voyeurism. Huppert drains the comedy out of her role, even at moments where a lesser actor would wink at the camera; when a stranger bumps into her in a mall, Huppert waits a moment before wiping at the point of contact, not allowing the gesture to develop into a tic. When she counsels a student to play a passage as if it represents "the obstinacy of the complacent middle-class," there's no irony in her voice, no remove from the moment. The Piano Teacher feels too narrowly focused, as oppressively narrowed as the characters it depicts. There's a certain integrity in that approach, but a certain narcissism as well, as if turning the audience's stomach were an end in its own right. The Piano Teacher's remove is what gives it strength, but it's also what makes it uncomfortable to watch. We never get close enough to the characters to do more than stare.

Jigsaw Lounge [Neil Young]

Arretez ce cinema!” snaps imperious piano-teacher Erika Kohut (Huppert) as a student dissolves into tears:  the subtitles render this innocuously as ‘stop blubbing,’ but it’s quite obvious that Haneke has other interpretations  of ‘cinema’ in mind. After Funny Games and Code Unknown, this is another daunting journey into his relentlessly psychological school of movie-making: and ‘school’ is the word. The film is full of instructions as Erika lays down the law in class, and it’s clear that most of these apply to us as well, diktats from an unseen, even higher force – Haneke himself: “Do you have an ear for what coldness is?” enquires the Anne Robinson of the Viennese music world, and by the end audiences may feel frozen, but also invigorated. Erika praises Schubert because his range runs “from scream to whisper, not from loud to soft,” and it’s refreshing to encounter similar stark extremities in the cinema, even if such a direct assault sometimes feels like we’re being pummelled in the face.

A fate which awaits Erika herself, as she enters into an intense, destructive relationship with her student Walter Klemmer (Magimel). If ‘relationship’ is the right word… the passion between them is all jagged edges, sharp advances and retreats, they come into each other’s orbits and are soon locked in a fatal circuit of compulsion and repulsion: cold as magnets, and with about as much free will. As in Bunuel’s Belle de Jour, highbrow bourgeois veneers abruptly crack to reveal bizarre, disturbing emotions: Erika, who spends her life in charge of her students, needs to be dominated in the bedroom, a need which appals the easy-going, down-to-earth Walter. He’s a science student specialising in ‘low voltage’ (les courants faibles), and it’s as if he’s from a different species, carefree and impulsive, his feet on the ground. While she succumbs to (inherited) mental disintegration, he gets on with the opposite, ice hockey, enabling Haneke to include a marvellous throwaway moment when his team-mates boorishly displace ice-dancers whose time on the rink is up.

A case-study in repression, Erika lives at home with her nosy mother (Girardot), and the first scene shows them arguing, the word ‘cage’ mentioned twice in as many minutes, signalling a series of closed doors, locks, shuttered windows (as in two current Austria-set nightmares, Dog Days and Lovely Rita, and radical moviemakers should now perhaps try to present the country in a positive light.) Erika’s liberation lies in degradation – she casually mutilates her own genitals with a razor-blade, sniffs the tissues left in porn-cinema cubicles, spies on couples in a drive-in cinema before pissing on the ground. The film is full of these casual, disorientingly strange moments, and the camera doesn’t help us much – it moves, but maintains a distance so we can’t quite work out exactly what’s going on. Despite the Vienna setting, all the characters speak French and with the exception of the central trio (whose character-names are overtly non-Gallic), this is achieved through dubbing, a conspicuous and overt distancing device.

Huppert doesn’t give much away, either - Haneke holds on Huppert’s face, which seems to register the tiniest gradations of feeling: pleasure and disgust flashing across the transparent mask of her features. As with Ellen Burstyn in Requiem For A Dream, we worry for the actress’s mental and physical health – Funny Games survivor Lothar pops up as a student’s mother, reminding us how Haneke likes to put his performers, characters and audiences thtough it.  Late on, Walter’s disgust overcomes his fascination and he delivers the beating Erika thought she craved, and as she sits, bruised and broken on the floor, Huppert somehow runs an almost imperceptible frisson through her whole body. This is the justification of the coldness, the distance, the reserve: when it’s shattered, the resulting fragments are all the sharper. The cumulative effect is uncomfortable but electric: it’s impossible to obey Erika’s desperate cries of ‘Don’t look, don’t look’ as she vomits up Walter’s semen after a bout of oral sex. It’s a plea to Walter, to herself, to us, and to Haneke. But the camera does not move.

Piano Teacher, The  Tony Rayns from Sight and Sound

Pushing 40 and unmarried, Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert) teaches piano at the Vienna Conservatoire and is often hard on her pupils. She lives in a relationship of mutual dependence with her domineering mother (Annie Girardot), who wanted her to be a concert pianist; her father is dying in a mental hospital. After hours, while her mother waits for her to come home, Erika visits porno shops and cruises a drive-in cinema to spy on couples having sex in their cars; alone in her bathroom, she mutilates her genitals with a razor blade.

Pushing 30, pianist and ice-hockey enthusiast Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel) sets his heart on Erika after seeing her play at a private salon. Despite her hostility, he is accepted as a student in the Conservatoire. When Erika runs to the toilet after maiming the hands of hated pupil Anna Schober (Anna Sigalevitch) by concealing broken glass in her coat pocket, Walter follows her and comes close to raping her. Asserting control, Erika says that they can have a relationship if he obeys the instructions she will give him in a letter.

Soon after, Walter follows Erika home and barges into her bedroom. Erika forces him to read her letter, which contains a list of extreme masochistic demands, and Walter leaves in disgust. Erika tries to apologise by throwing herself at him after an ice-hockey game; he insults and abuses her. He turns up at her flat, locks her mother in the bedroom and batters and rapes Erika. Next day Erika takes a kitchen knife to a concert by Conservatoire students (where she is to stand in for Anna). After seeing Walter with friends, she stabs herself in one shoulder and, unnoticed, leaves.

Review

Elfriede Jelinek's grimly brilliant novel Die Klavierspielerin was published in 1983, long before Jörg Haider's rise in Austrian politics. Narrated in short, urgent sentences in the present tense, the book explores the neuroses of a deeply repressed middle-aged woman on a fast ride to self-destruction. Explores, but declines to explain. According to Michael Haneke, it was precisely the absence of psychological justification that drew him to the book.

Many of the specifics of protagonist Erika Kohut's plight (the specialisation in Schubert and Schumann, the cruel treatment of pupils, the invasion of the men-only porno subculture, the inculcated lack of self-esteem, the underlying need to be wounded) suggest the book should be read as feminist: it's an extremist vision of what it means to lack social, sexual and cultural power. But by making the character a Conservatoire teacher and relating her agony to her feelings for great composers, Jelinek broadens her attack to Austria itself. Using the structures of the 'high culture' industry as a cipher for the state, the novel sees Kohut's masochism as the product of a clearly fascistic system.

Haneke has filmed the text with near-total fidelity, streamlining the sequence of events here, transposing a location there. (The scene in which Kohut urinates in excitement while spying on a copulating couple has been moved from the Prater park to a drive-in cinema, for no obvious reason.) The director prides himself on his objectivity, and so it's a little surprising that some of his aesthetic choices point towards editorial comment. The interpolated top-shots of male hands on the piano keyboard (first in the credits sequence, then later when Kohut delivers her letter of sexual demands to an admirer) insist portentously on a metaphorical dimension. And the audio overlaps of classical music at the beginning and end of Kohut's first visit to the sex shop work too hard to link culture and pornography - unless, of course, they're just reaching for a facile irony. Mostly, though, Haneke is happy to maintain his usual studiously neutral stylistic equanimity in the face of all the bourgeois horror.

To make such an ultra-faithful adaptation of the book in 2001 implies an intention to skewer Haider's Austria, but the film has almost none of the impact of Jelinek's novel - largely because it stars Isabelle Huppert. This is no reflection on Huppert's thespian talents; her aptitude for playing defeated women in Euro art movies has not been in doubt since The Lacemaker (1977), and here she certainly manages to get inside Kohut's self-destructive neuroses, even if her put-downs of hapless pupils have something of the Anne Robinson about them. But her presence makes it impossible to suspend disbelief: it turns what should be a harrowing journey to the end of the night into a parade of perversities which seems increasingly gratuitous and absurd, like some chilly, intellectual rethink of a Ken Russell biopic. To watch Huppert slice her (unseen) labia with a razor blade, sniff used tissues from the bin in a porno-video booth and perform fellatio interruptus in a public toilet has less to do with understanding Kohut than it does with being invited to applaud an actress for her 'daring'. (The performance was duly rewarded by a Cannes jury, itself heavy with 'great actresses'.)

Set in a Vienna where everyone speaks French, this is as much a quintessential Euro art movie as the average Hollywood movie is a commercial entertainment - which perhaps explains why it's too 'nasty' in exactly the same way as, say, Almost Famous is too 'nice'. The conspicuously humourless Haneke started working with stars only in Code Unknown, one film ago, and hasn't yet found a credible way to reconcile his determinedly dark-side view of humanity with his new-found need to attract the mass arthouse audience. He scores in the pairing of Huppert with Annie Girardot as her monstrous mother (their early scenes together sketch a frighteningly plausible symbiotic relationship), but cannot solve the script problem which requires her admirer Klemmer to turn from a promising Schoenberg virtuoso into a woman-battering rapist virtually overnight. And he's defeated by the challenge of making the broken glass/hand-maiming incident convincing physically, never mind psychologically. Overall, the film misses the brilliance of Jelinek's novel by some way. It settles for being merely grim.

The horror of the middle class  Christopher Sharrett from Kinoeye

 

The Village Voice [J. Hoberman]

 

Nitrate Online [Paula Nechak]

 

The Nation [Stuart Klawans]

 

Between Action and Repression: The Piano Teacher  Nina Hutchison from Senses of Cinema, April 2003

 

Bright Lights Film Journal (Maria van Dijk)  April 2002

 

Bright Lights Film Journal (John Champagne)   April 2002

 

Films of Michael Haneke: the utopia of fear   Justin Vicari from Jump Cut, Winter 2006

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

 

PopMatters  Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece

 

 THE PIANO TEACHER  Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion

 

DVD Times  Noel Megahey

 

Slant Magazine  Ed Gonzalez

 

Camera Eye  Evan Pulgino

 

Images (David Gurevich)

 

d+kaz. Intelligent Movie Reviews (Daniel Kasman)

 

Reel.com [Rod Armstrong]

 

Cinepinion [Henry Stewart]

 

Film Journal International (Kevin Lally)

 

Salon (Jeff Stark)

 

MovieMartyr.com - The Piano Teacher  Jeremy Heilman

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Jon Danziger)

 

TheWorldJournal.com  Frank Ochieng

 

Guardian/Observer

 

Washington Post [Desson Howe]

 

Chicago Tribune [Michael Wilmington]

 

Austin Chronicle (Marjorie Baumgarten)

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Stephen Holden

 

DVDBeaver.com - Full Graphic Review [Gary W. Tooze]

 

TIME OF THE WOLF

France  Austria  Germany  (114 mi)  2003

 

Raging Bull [Mike Lorefice]

Haneke's films are often an attempt to bring a subject constantly exploited by Fear TV (the news) and put the audience into the situation so they actually contemplate it (rather than "that's awful, honey can you pass the butter.") This uncompromising highly provocative film looks at dehumanization and alienation caused by an apocalypse. It's one of Haneke's most successful because the spare minimalist style coincides with what's happened to the characters, what they thought of as life has vanished and all that's left are the very basics. All the contrived backstories and most of the expected scenes are eliminated, leaving formerly spoiled people trying to pass the time and secure the essentials. The film shows the erosion of man because while the have nots can function in this situation since it's more or less been their whole life, the haves are simply lost without their security blankets of money and technology. But perhaps more importantly they are lost without all the stuff that distracts everyone from having to interact with one another. Most films exploit desperate situations focusing on man at his most base, and while obviously there are some awful deeds, they don't get in the way of Haneke's focus on the loss of the self as seen through the lack of privacy. The close quarters don't lead to any more intimacy, but rather they squash the characters ability to be themselves, making passing the time arguably the hardest part of survival. Credible performances across the board from a fine cast including Isabelle Huppert, Olivier Gourmet, and Beatrice Dalle.

Bright Lights Film Journal [Robert Keser]

In the opening moments of Time of the Wolf (Le Temps du Loup), a family arrives at their country cottage only to have their world of bourgeois security destroyed by a single shock cut and a single gunshot that kills the father. Some unspecified and unspoken darkness has fallen over the world (“Don’t you really know what’s going on, or are you just stupid?” asks the killer), allowing Austrian auteur Michael Haneke to pull at the skin of civilization that covers the western world, stripping it of electricity to plunge the characters into the same hellish conditions that prevail in postwar Iraq or much of the third world. Forced into a makeshift existence to survive in a new post-apocalyptic wolf-age, the mother (Isabelle Huppert) leads her two children in quest of safety and relief through the menacing backwater (she keeps asking about the city, seeking other urban dwellers). Enclosed in primal darkness and silence, they are reduced to primitively burning clumps of hay for some transient, flickering light or traveling by the light of bonfires that consume carcasses of cattle and sheep, dead from contaminated water. In images that are precise but not airless, cinematographer Jürgen Jürges — collaborator with Fassbinder and Wenders, as well as Haneke (Code Unknown) — provides memorably striking visuals: the pitch-black night stretches across the widescreen, extending the darkness of the theater onto the screen, relieved only when torches proceed along the top of the screen, or day dawns with an almost impenetrable veil of white smoke shrouding the countryside. With no power, movement ceases (even a bicycle has become useless: there is nowhere to go), and technology appears like the privilege it is for most of the world. Never romanticizing the mother’s emotional responses (in fact, others criticize her), Haneke soon shifts the film’s center away from the nominal star to the children, both in highly sensitive performances, and then outward to peripheral characters, probing at the human capacity for violence, until all humanity seems to be on trial. In extremis, people cannot help but reveal their essence as human beings, but thieves and control freaks have also survived, as have class divisions and bigotry. With dualities of dark and light, living and dead, Haneke’s cinema of anxiety builds an austere atmosphere of sensory deprivation where a few bars of music sound unbearably precious, yet for once this most unnerving director allows that charity and sacrifice are also realities. When the father’s presence resurfaces, suggesting a challenge to the finality of death, the finale mounts toward a gesture of hope and generosity from one stranger to another, before the powerfully enigmatic final tracking shot (but be forewarned that several animal deaths are depicted).

The Village Voice [Michael Atkinson]

An inspired and uncompromised experiment in apocalyptic anxiety, Michael Haneke's Time of the Wolf is conceived as a headlong rush into the unknown, and so the less prior knowledge you have of its content and textures, the more the film will grip you like a waking dream. How to compel audiences to witness this desperate scald without bludgeoning it with hype? Stop here, and go in unsullied. Few films you'll see this year will shake your timbers as rigorously.

As in Haneke's offensively high-handed earlier film Funny Games, Wolf begins with a family trip gone suddenly predatory. Confronting a rifle-brandishing family squatting in their vacation home, the movie's nuclear unit (led by mom Isabelle Huppert) is immediately sundered and heads into the countryside, looking for help it never finds. (Haneke's title is from the Elder Edda, referring to the chaos leading up to the Ragnarok.) "You really don't know what's going on?" spits one unhelpful villager, and panic sets in for protagonists and audience alike.

Starving, frayed, and tripping into a night that swallows them whole (summoning a pitch-black Blair Witch affect broken only by the appearance of distant torches or bonfires), Huppert and her two children suddenly inhabit a poisoned-water, carrion-strewn landscape on the edge of social anarchy. It's achieved economically—we see only what real flames will show us. By the time we glimpse the first pyre of burning cows, the characters are already hurrying past it. Eventually, a teenage scavenger (Hakim Taleb) leads them to an abandoned train depot, where a helter-skelter capitalist commune has been erected by a primeval lout (Olivier Gourmet), and where the family fades into a burgeoning crowd that must buy drinking water from armed vendors on horseback.

The film is unrelentingly visceral but decontextualized—the unspecified period and locale have been boiled down to the survivalist essentials. And as much as it smacks, in its broad strokes, of post-apocalyptic sci-fi (shades of Cornel Wilde's neglected No Blade of Grass), the more immediate evocation is of post-revolution third-world famine-states, to which a globalized and disaffected Europe may be closer than it thinks. Resonances fly effortlessly, everything has a metaphoric payload, and Haneke's incisive visual choices keep our concerns front and center.

World cinema's premier doyenne of emotional damage, Huppert just does not fuck around—her fierce Mother Courage hugs the scary gray zone between maternal devotion and mercenary self-preservation. Her angry gaze is wielded like a flamethrower. But as the film progresses, Huppert's mom becomes lost in the contentious struggle to reformulate some kind of primitive social fabric, and Time of the Wolf is allowed to roam and refocus, rather beautifully, on any of the other dozens of survivors, including the children. As streamlined and despairing as it is, Haneke's movie shifts its priorities from the self to the many, and the penultimate tableau is an unpredictable vision of love in the ruins.

It seems clear now that the sophomorically confrontational early films that made Haneke a festival name were in fact juvenilia, and that with Code Unknown, The Piano Teacher, and Time of the Wolf, the ice-cool Austrian has found a new dignity and respect for his audience's vulnerability. In today's digital bog of empty light and marketing deceptions, this is what early-millennium Euro art-film masterpieces feel like—lean, qualmish, abstracted to the point of parable but as grounded as a gravedigging.

The Boston Phoenix [Chris Fujiwara]

Michael Haneke’s film is a war between two looks: one that sees nothing and says nothing and one that seeks to make meaning out of disorder. The first look is that of Anne (Isabelle Huppert) at her young son, Ben (Lucas Biscombe), as the latter huddles over the little grave he’s building for his parakeet, a fresh victim of the unnamed calamity that has turned rural France — and, one presumes, everyplace else — into a land of lawlessness, disease, and scarcity. Averting her gaze, Anne goes to the door of the barn where she and her two children have taken shelter and looks outside. It’s right after this moment that Ben goes missing, as if his disappearance were a response to his mother’s inability to see him. The second look is that of Eva (Anaïs Demoustier), Anne’s daughter, at a runaway youth (Hakim Taleb) who has taken to thieving and scavenging in order to survive. Eva’s circumspection and compassion will make it possible for the boy to renew a contact with humanity that he has lost.
 
Haneke’s refusal to give details about the catastrophe that has occurred, or many hints about what national, political, and social structures are in place, if any, has a few obvious advantages. These are clearest in the opening scenes. The family arrive at their country house as if for a normal vacation; the first signs that anything unusual has happened in the outside world appear only after Anne’s husband has been shot dead by a squatter and she and her children have ventured into town in a vain search for help. The logic of the images says that the father’s death has triggered the general collapse (instead of, as is objectively the case, being the consequence of it). This way of dramatizing the situation tightens our identification with Eva and Ben, whose perceptions and responses will shape our response to the narrative.
 
The vagueness of the post-apocalyptic background becomes a liability when Anne, Eva, and Ben reach a railroad station where numerous refugees have come in hope of rescue. The featureless waiting room, the disparate types thrown together, the uncertainty over whether a train will ever come and whether its arrival will do any good — all these are so many allegorical temptations signifying that Haneke is in danger of giving in to a stagy, conventional imagination of disaster. The interplay among the refugees sometimes comes off as schematic: a low point is reached with the scenes devoted to the very Bergmanesque sado-masochistic couple played by Béatrice Dalle and Patrice Chéreau (the latter best known as a director of film and opera).

 

That Le temps du loup retains its power to disturb after the action has settled in and around the train station is perhaps a testimony to Haneke’s interest in exploring disaster not as an artistic end in itself but as a metaphor for betrayal. Anne’s failure to meet her children’s emotional and spiritual needs isn’t just a symptom of social collapse — it is the collapse. (The movie Le temps du loup most resembles is Bergman’s Shame, in which global disaster is ambiguously linked to a bickering couple; it also has a more remote affinity with Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice.) Haneke likes to harrow the audience by unleashing horror on the soundtrack while keeping the image bland. In one shot, a grieving mother howls and cries while the camera stays on a group of legs disappearing around an improvised funeral. Haneke has the construction of such reticent, disagreeable tableaux down to a science.
 
Filmed in Cinemascope, Le temps du loup is probably Haneke’s best visual achievement to date and a considerable advance over the stifling, undistinguished elegance of his two previous films, Code inconnu/Code Unknown and La pianiste/The Piano Teacher. In Le temps du loup, the wide screen allows him to make piercing visual statements that are both concise and expressive: Anne is a blur in the left background as she tells her daughter not to forget that she loves her. And the crepuscular light that becomes the film’s signature is truly remarkable: a blue-black half-light in which faces get revealed only when you concentrate on them. Such light is perfect for a film whose main theme is the struggle for clarity.
 

Long night's journey into day  Adam Bingham from Kinoeye

 

Reverse Shot    Andrew Tracy

 

Reverse Shot    J. Holden M.S. White

 

The Time of the Wolf   Bill Blick from Senses of Cinema

 

PopMatters   Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

 

DVD Times  Noel Megahey

 

Jigsaw Lounge [Neil Young]

 

Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]

 

d+kaz . intelligent movie reviews (Daniel Kasman)

 

Cinescene [Chris Knipp]

 

10kbullets  John White

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Rich Rosell)

 

not coming to a theater near you (Matt Bailey)

 

Film Journal International (Maria Garcia)

 

Milk Plus: A Discussion of Film  Daniel

 

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

 

Reel.com DVD review [Rudy Joggerst]

 

Cinepassion  Fernando F. Croce

 

Twitch  Canfield

 

Movie Martyr (Jeremy Heilman)

 

Strictly Film School [French Cinema 2004 notes]  Acquarello

 

DVD Talk (Holly E. Ordway)

 

Guardian/Observer

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  A.O. Scott

 

Los Angeles Times [Manohla Dargis]

 

DVDBeaver.com - Review [Nick Wrigley]

 

CACHÉ (HIDDEN)                                      A                     96

Austria  (117 mi)  2005

 

Image 7 of 16

Image 7 of 16

Perhaps not on the same level as, but in the same manner as Dreyer, Ozu, Bresson, or Tarkovsky, Haneke's formalistic execution is so flawless and precise that he disciplines the audience to reconfigure their conceptual vision of film, using a cinema by reduction, reducing what’s shown onscreen to only the barest minimum, employing subtlety to an extreme degree.  An appropriate title for this film, which is an elegantly filmed, internationally implicating whodunnit that offers so few clues that by the end of the film, the viewer is required to return to all the scenes of the crime and come up with their best explanation.  That, ultimately, is the power of this film, that it so purposefully motivates the viewer to think for themselves in trying to figure this out.  Opening with a static shot overlooking a street into a facing apartment, we sit there awhile, as if in a state of pause, and reflect on what we see.  I kept looking for Raymond Burr with a suitcase in a window, or leaning more towards the Clue factor, searching for the butler, with a kitchen knife, in the dining room.  This simply sets the stage for what follows, as it emphasizes how the viewer might approach the practice of watching carefully.  The residents of that apartment, Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche, both working professionals with a moody, yet intelligent teenage son, have received a video tape that simply watches their home over an extended period of time.  This sends them into a series of questions, such as who or why, and how?  Their life continues pretty much as it did before, until they receive even more specific video tapes from someone who has personal access to their lives, who is in fact spying on them, but again, they do not know who or why.  When they go to the police, since no direct threat has been made on their lives, the police refuse to intervene.  However their nerves begin to fray, which is expressed by Auteuil stepping out into the street and nearly getting his head taken off by a speeding cyclist, yelling out “You dickhead!” The cyclist, who is black, stops to confront Auteuil about the nature of his offensive comments. 

 

Auteuil’s apartment is the picture of wealth and comfort, spacious, with an entire wall lined with books, in the center a giant TV screen.  He works as a television literary reviewer, where we see him working to edit out much of the dense, analytical discussion in favor of the more incendiary views sure to heighten the ratings.  Auteuil has a hunch who the culprit may be, but he refuses to share it with his wife, claiming it is irrelevant, which sends her into a rage, an internalized shock and awe, completely disgusted with him, unable to believe he doesn’t include her and what could potentially happen to her as relevant.  Through a series of dreams and personal conversations, we learn more about Auteuil’s childhood, that an Algerian family lived and worked at his parent’s country estate when he was age 6, and they had a child about his age.  At that time a historical event took place when Algeria, then a colony of France, was fighting France for its independence, an event known as Black Night on October 17, 1961, when residents of an Algerian neighborhood in Paris were rounded up and 200 of them drowned mysteriously in the Seine River, which included both parents of the Algerian family living with Auteuil.  The family decided to adopt the orphaned Algerian boy, but Auteuil was jealous of all the attention he received, and devised a plan to get rid of him.  It is this boy, now a grown man, Majid, that Auteuil suspects of getting his revenge.

 

Interspersed with this information, we see an international television news report about the current war in Iraq, as people of Arabic descent are rounded up and arrested, many of them tortured or killed, events that have become so commonplace that they are ignored, hardly stirring up any emotions any more, events that seem to mirror the historic events in Paris some 40 years earlier.  No one in the film ever questions the war.  And while its presence is felt, in particular the methodology of war, which certainly includes surveillance techniques, Italy, France, England, and the United States, a coalition of the willing, seem to be a gang of majority white citizens rounding up and attacking largely Arabic citizens, with the invading nations showing little or no regard to any cultural understanding or respect, or any regard to the consequences of their actions when so many innocents are implicated, harmed, or even killed by these methods.  Instead this aggression is fueled by ammunitions and raw military power.  Auteuil, living as comfortably as he does, feels no guilt or responsibility for either his own complicity with the eventual eviction of a 6-year old Algerian kid from his home, or with the unfolding international events.  In fact, if Auteuil is to represent the behavior of the privileged, he’s not interested in learning the truth about any of these events, which he’d just as soon ignore and forget, as he’s too busy placing the blame on others, devising ways to threaten them, anything to avoid any personal responsibility.  Similarly, this is how news coverage is received in the United States, as we hear from only one side, never from the Iraqi or Arabic point of view, which keeps the truth of the current occupation “hidden” from unsuspecting viewers who, like Auteuil, feel no guilt or responsibility. 

 

What we are asked to do is question the validity of media information and our own understanding of how we view ourselves in relationship to others, how quickly do we implicate others, how easily are we ourselves manipulated, how long do we live in denial and fail to implicate our own actions?   This just scratches the surface of some of the unanswered questions of the film.  As we learn Auteuil lied to his parents, blaming an innocent Algerian boy, it is significant no one listed to or believed the Algerian kid.  Only the white kid was believed.  This theme continues into adulthood, as Auteuil refuses to listen to or believe what Majid or his son in the film are telling him, instead he’s quick to blame and threaten both of them.  Majid, on the other hand, takes a differing view, which is cinematically shocking, in what may culturally be a noble and dignified act.  The pain and suffering of all those involved are unintended consequences, something the United States military calls “collateral damage.”  We never learn who initiated the surveillance, but the final shot of the film running over the credits reveals the sons of the two antagonists talking on the steps of their school, speaking comfortably and relaxed in a non-threatening manner, which at least opens up the possibility that they acted together.  Majid’s son, in a confrontation with Auteuil, declares he didn’t make or send the tapes, but no one asked if he knew who did. 

 

The most likely culprit, at initial viewing, acting with the knowledge and complicity of Majid’s son, who may be ashamed and disgraced by what he perceives as his own father’s submissive emasculation, which may have unexpectedly led to his own surprising actions, is Auteuil’s own son, who may be equally pissed with his parents for a number of possible reasons, only his displeasure with his mother is even hinted at in the film, nothing else is revealed about either son.  It’s all speculation suggesting the sins of the fathers are twistingly revisited into the sins of the sons, but certainly Auteuil’s son has the means and opportunity, and similar to Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, based on the color of his skin, no one suspects him.  For that matter, what about Auteuil himself, in an attempt to expunge his guilt about his past?  On the other hand, this may be, if you will, a mindfuck of a film, as Haneke may simply leave this an open question without resolution.  Initially, not knowing who sent the tapes, I found this to be an optimistic ending, as the parental animosity seemed to be replaced by a kind of accepting friendship of the sons.  Naahhh, this is a Haneke film, how can you trust optimism?  Perhaps living with unanswered questions is the way it has to be, as contemporary society so often misjudges or misunderstands the information it already has at its disposal, and governments have grown so used to lying, concealing, even fabricating information, all have contributed to the disastrous consequences that reflect the world situation today.  

 

James Ryan in Wrapped in Plastic, but changing the words David Lynch and Mulholland Drive to Michael Haneke and Caché:  Rather than asking the standard “What” questions (What is happening in this movie?  What does it mean?), it may be more helpful to address “How” questions:  How does Caché create a sense of disorientation in its audience?  How does Haneke make incoherence so compelling? How are each of the narrative elements in this film working to create a particular cinematic effect?   

 

Caché (Hidden)  Anthony Lane from the New Yorker

 

The latest attempt on the part of the Austrian director Michael Haneke to disturb our peace. As with "Code Unknown," the story takes place in Paris and stars Juliette Binoche, whose blend of suavity and panic seems ideal for Haneke's purposes. This time, she plays Anne, whose husband, Georges (Daniel Auteuil), is a talk-show host; in the opening minutes, they receive a videotape that suggests that their lives are being scrutinized by a spy. As the fear of being watched intensifies, so the secrets of Georges's past come to light, and the movie, thanks to a gentle and dismaying performance by Maurice Bénichou, as Georges's childhood acquaintance, turns into a pitiless probing of France's colonialist hangover. Some people will find it horribly harsh, especially toward the complacent Georges, and a little prior knowledge of modern French history might be useful; on its own terms, though, the film, not least in the creepiness of its open ending, remains an efficient wrecker of nerves. In French. 

 

Reviews roundup   Peter Bradshaw at Cannes for the Guardian

 

The big prize odds are perceptibly shortening for Austrian director Michael Haneke's metaphysical psycho-drama Hidden, which was profoundly unsettling and superbly filmed, punching home a stiletto-stab of fear. The title has a double edge. There's a secret in the life of successful Paris TV presenter Daniel Auteuil, who is also plagued by a vengeful stalker with a hidden camera who sends him intimate "surveillance" videos of his daily life. Static two-hour films of the street outside his apartment come along with crude and shocking daubs of a boy covered in blood. But the police can do nothing without an overt violent threat, and an angry and terrified Auteuil becomes convinced that a childhood act of cruelty, long repressed, has come back to haunt him. The performances from Auteuil and Juliette Binoche as his wife are outstanding, and Haneke's icy compositional brilliance is quite unrivalled at Cannes.

 

CINEASTE  Christopher Sharrett writes at length one of the best Haneke reviews (excerpt)

 

Michael Haneke's latest film Hidden, as its evocative title suggests, is concerned with suppression—in this case, the suppression of history. Hidden and Time of the Wolf (2002), Haneke's previous film which focused on the easy collapse of a tenuous social order in the aftermath of an unnamed apocalyptic event, are meant to be viewed as the filmmaker's ‘post-9/11' works. As many nations—especially the U.S. in the wake of September, 2001—ask ‘Why us?' Hidden suggests that such questions are either naïve or disingenuous, rooted in the profound denial of moral responsibility related to colonialism. An adept student of psychology, Haneke produces in Hidden a work that rescues the belief of the personal as political from overused banality—doing so through a microcosmic representation of the political unconscious of the colonialist, imperialist mindset.

 

FILM REVIEWS; Anxiety and Turbulence Permeate 3 Films at Cannes  Manohla Dargis from the New York Times

CANNES, France, May 15 - The 58th Cannes International Film Festival started on Wednesday, but for some of its attendees the event began in earnest three days later with the premiere of Michael Haneke's "Caché" ("Hidden"), the first important film to show in competition. One of the most vital filmmakers working today, the German-born Mr. Haneke has been at the festival seven times before, including with his most recent films, "Code Unknown," "The Piano Teacher" and "The Time of the Wolf." All are meaty, complex works and all but "The Piano Teacher," which features deviant sex and an unplugged Isabelle Huppert, received negligible attention in the United States.

It's too early to tell when and if "Caché" will make it to American art houses, partly because its willfully unglamorous subject is violence as it plays out in the field of memory and the culture of fear. Set in Paris sometime around yesterday, the film stars Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche as professional intellectuals, self-professed "bobos," who come undone after they begin receiving anonymous packages containing drawings and surveillance videotapes. The drawings, rendered in crude strokes, are of a child with blood streaming from its mouth and a butchered chicken. The videos are far more unsettling because what is under surveillance, at least in the first tape, is the married couple's home. From the street, this bourgeois sanctuary looks positively banal; under surveillance, it assumes the appearance of guilt.

Who is guilty and why are the essential questions at the heart of this gripping moral thriller. A political film in which the characters discuss actual politics only briefly, "Caché" addresses the most urgent of issues - including terrorism both as an abstraction, as the monster under the bed, and as palpable reality. Mostly, though, this is about the return of the repressed. In one of the film's most powerful scenes, Mr. Haneke places a television showing images of routine violence in the Middle East - jostling crowds, bloodied bodies - in the center of the frame while the couple enters a perfectly calibrated, increasingly hysterical argument about their son. There, in their haute bohemian living room, surrounded by books and art, this enlightened couple retreat into a primal cave.

Mr. Haneke offers no palliatives in "Caché," which earns its power not only through its subject, but also through its pervasive ambiguity. Hours after the first press screening, critics continued to argue over its enigmatic last image, which may offer a clue as to who sent the videotapes. (My guess is that the videotapes were not shot or sent by anyone; rather, they simply exist, ontologically, as evidence.)

Hidden (Cache)  Allan Hunter in Cannes from Screendaily

 

So, who made the tapes? Does it matter? How long can you escape the grip of a guilty conscience? Does no bad deed go unseen or unpunished? Those are just some of the questions that audiences are left to ponder by the new Michael Haneke film. The fact that Hidden refuses to reveal all of its secrets means that they are likely to remain engaged and intrigued by it long after the final credits have rolled. Following the sensationalistic subject matter of The Piano Teacher and the murky obscurity of The Time Of The Wolf, this is Haneke close to his best with the kind of intense, unsettling reflection on guilt, trust and paranoia that should play to the top of his arthouse potential. In certain European territories (France and Austria at least), the combination of Haneke, the stars and the film should also achieve mainstream success although this may be curtailed by its essentially enigmatic nature.
 
Modern technology has allowed the possibility for more closely scrutinized lives than ever before, an issue that has fascinated Haneke since the days of Benny’s Video (1992). He returns to it in Hidden as television presenter Georges (Auteuil) and his wife Anne (Binoche) receive a package with a video tape that contains covertly filmed images of their home and the street where the live. The audience is implicit in the gaze of the video camera and Haneke lingers on this quiet city street with such an intensity that your imagination begins to take over and suggest all kinds of unhealthy possibilities. Could it be the act of an unbalanced fan? A schoolboy prank by their 12 year-old son Pierrot (Makedonsky)? A sense of menace is palpable within the first few minutes and all Haneke has asked is that the audience observe and think. He doesn’t lead in any particular direction.
 
The videos keep coming and become personal, including footage of the house where Georges grew up. They come wrapped in drawings of a chicken’s head sprayed with blood. Postcards are delivered with the same images. Anonymous telephone calls are received. There is no real crime, just an intent to unsettle, and so the police are not interested in pursuing the matter. Georges feels he cannot let it go and we begin to realise it has some connection to an incident in his childhood.
 
On one level Hidden operates as a detective story with Georges determined to get to the truth of the matter and convinced that all his assumptions are leading him on the right path. On a much more interesting level, it lays bare the soul of this particular family unit and how they all react to the pressures put upon them. Georges becomes short-tempered and secretive, keeping his thoughts to himself. Anne begins to see a different side to the husband she thought she knew. Pierrot suspects his mother of some kind of infidelity. Their suspicions are often encouraged by different video tapes revealing new information to them that has been concealed by someone they trusted. Rock solid performances by all the actors keep the focus on the family and Auteuil might even be a Festival Best Actor contender for his portrayal of a man whose anger and righteousness seems to cast aside any self doubt or moral quandaries. There becomes something blinkered and monstrous about his refusal to see the other possibilities in his story.
 
A visit to Georges’s mother (Girardot) and his former boyhood friend Majid (Benichou) convince Georges that he knows exactly what is happening and brief glimpses of the past allow the audience a sense of the events that seem to have returned to haunt him. A master at controlling mood and emotion, Haneke shows such precision in his pacing and imagery that the audience is in the palm of his hand. One moment in the latter stages of the narrative is so sudden and shocking that is takes the breathe away with a force that no scary movie could hope to match.
 
Some audiences may be frustrated by Haneke’s refusal to offer a complete explanation for what has just happened but that could only disappoint. The point is what it has done to the people concerned. Can Georges simply take a couple of sleeping pills and wake up feeling better. Will Anne look very differently at the man sitting across the dinner table from her? Is the covert surveillance continuing? Questions to be discussed in the hours and days after the film has been seen. Questions that should stimulate strong word of mouth.

 

Movie Reviews and Movie Critics - NSFC  Daniel Vancini

Hidden throughout Caché is the sense that you should be watching every moment in this film closely, just as the protagonists are themselves being watched by someone unknown. Georges and Anne Laurent’s (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) enviable lives are terrorized by the sudden arrival on their doorstep of a videotaped recording of their Parisian townhouse. It’s nothing but a long, unedited shot of the façade of their house, but it’s disturbing nonetheless. Soon another arrives, this time of the farmhouse Georges grew up in, and then another of a car driving down a suburban street, and a walk down a hallway to a low-rent apartment. Again the videos are benign but unsettling. Then the mystery becomes more threatening when they receive gruesome postcards depicting child-like drawings of bloody, dead stick figures. Georges believes he knows who the culprit is, but for reasons all his own refuses to let his wife in on the secret. Clearly more is hidden here than just the identity of their stalker. In Caché, writer and director Michael Haneke skillfully, methodically pulls back multiple layers of deception, like new skin being pulled off an old wound, he masterfully fuses elements of his predecessors to create a film that is haunting and memorable. There is Bergman's fascination with the complexity of relationships, the suspense and lurking danger of Hitchcock, and the unique cinematic sensibility of Antonioni. In fact, the provocative final shot is practically a tribute to The Passenger--a lot of people will want to rewatch it many times to see what they can find in it (if, after watching it, you are still unsatisfied with the resolution, then watch the interview with Haneke in the DVD's special features for his insights). It's a film of great effect and intrigue. There are no easy resolutions, and the answers given in this mystery will only lead to more questions.

CACHE   Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion

Michael Haneke’s never come across a genre he didn’t want to implode—family melodrama in “The Seventh Continent” and “The Piano Teacher,” horror in “Funny Games,” science fiction in “Time of the Wolf.” With “Caché,” he’s made a thriller that retains all the form’s tension while offering little of its satisfactions and catharsis. Its mysteries start with surveillance tapes sent to TV host Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and spiral out from there, taking in his past and France’s troubled history with its former Arab colonies.

Post-film conversations about who sent the tapes—watch the final shot very carefully—are inevitable, but Haneke makes one do a lot of work for tenuous, ambiguous conclusions. Georges, who hosts a literary chat show called “La Table Ronde,” lives with his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche), an editor, and their teenage son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky.) Their complacency is disrupted by the arrival of the anonymous videotapes, depicting lengthy, static views of their house. Many of the tapes are accompanied by childlike drawings of bloody figures. The police refuse to do anything, since Georges’ family faces no physical threat. Eventually, Georges receives clues that lead him to a figure from his past, but this causes him to descend into mistrust and paranoia.

Haneke has a love/hate relationship with genre. He synthesizes the thriller with the art film brilliantly in “Caché.” If he’s often critical of his chosen forms, he’s clearly done his homework and can mimic them extremely well. As for television, where he toiled for 15 years, his suspicion verges on phobia—in “The Seventh Continent” and “Funny Games,” it’s essentially a villain. Ironically, Georges—a man who makes his living being filmed—is horribly frightened by surreptitious videotaping. However, the film pivots around control of the gaze. Georges’ fear is a product of the young looking critically at the middle-aged and Arabs looking back at Europeans. In “Caché,” it’s a given that filmmaking is an act of aggression.

Although Haneke, who’s originally from Austria, now works mostly in France, there’s still something stern and archetypically Germanic about his films. He has a great eye for set pieces condensing the maximum amount of dread into the minimum amount of space. The lighting and cinematography are precise, stylish, and as sterile as an Ikea showroom. His tendency to film long scenes in one take—“Funny Games” includes one ten-minute shot—only makes them tenser. “Caché” includes the most nerve-wracking elevator ride ever filmed, even though its characters’ only danger is mental.

The greatest achievement of “Caché” is turning an ordinary part of cinema’s grammar—the establishing shot—into an image of horror. This begins with the very first scene, in which the unusual shot length and lack of camera movement are eventually revealed to be surveillance video. The anonymous taper favors similar shots of Georges’ house. Soon, one comes to suspect that every establishing shot, peaceful as it may be, is part of his plan—until context establishes that it’s not.

Haneke’s mix of moralism and sadism can be off-putting. “Funny Games” castigates its audience for indulging violent fantasies that he, after all, thought up. The one really flawed scene in “Caché” depicts a young boy killing a chicken. Edited for maximum shock value, it’s a moment more befitting ‘70s exploitation schlock than the rest of the film. Oddly, Haneke, who’s often reticent about killing fictional people on-screen—preferring to suggest violence through sound design—has few qualms about genuine animal slaughter, which happens in three of his films. On the other hand, the other sadistic indulgence of “Caché” is far more justifiable—one of the year’s most powerful and disturbing scenes, it’s sure to have the entire audience cringing in unison.

Before “Caché,” “Code Unknown” was Haneke’s most overtly political film. Gentle compared to the rest of the work, but still deeply pessimistic, it seemed both anti-conservative and anti-liberal. The central metaphor of “Caché” can be taken many different ways. Some observers have seen it as a reflection on 9/11, although the film refers specifically to a 1961 massacre of Algerians by French police. News footage of Iraq, which Georges and Anne mostly ignore, plays as background noise as well. Georges’ generation may be doomed to live out a legacy of racism, guilt, and worse, but the film holds out the possibility that their children might have another destiny. Ultimately, I’m not sure that it matters who sent Georges the tapes; their impact on him and his family is far more crucial.

If “Caché” is Haneke’s masterpiece, that’s largely because its ellipses offer something more than a passive-aggressive means of manipulating the audience. At long last, it suggests the possibility of escaping from the submerged doom central to his vision of middle-class European life. Amazingly, it manages to do so without forcing this interpretation on us—diluting the devastating 1-2-3 punch of the final scenes, in which Georges essentially sinks into hell—or making vanquishing racism look easy.

Secrets, Lies & Videotape   Catherine Wheatley from Sight and Sound

 

The paranoid universe of Michael Haneke  Paul Arthur from Film Comment

 

Reverse Shot [Adam Nayman]

 

Slant Magazine [Joe McGovern]

 

The Nation (Stuart Klawans)

 

Not Coming to a Theater Near You [Chiranjit Goswami]

 

The Village Voice [Michael Atkinson]

 

The Village Voice [David Ng]

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

 

DVD Times  Noel Megahey

 

indieWire [Michael Joshua Rowin]  with responses from Nick Pinkerton and Jeannette Catsoulis from Reverse Shot

 

Jigsaw Lounge [Neil Young] Leeds Film Festival report

 

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

 

World Socialist Web Site  David Walsh

 

eFilmCritic.com (Peter Sobczynski)

 

europeanfilms.net  Boyd van Hoeij

 

Cinepassion.org  Fernando F. Croce

 

CineScene [Howard Schumann]

 

d+kaz . intelligent movie reviews [Daniel Kasman]

 

DVD Talk (Svet Atanasov)

 

filmcritic.com (Chris Barsanti)

 

Reel.com DVD review [Ken Dubois]

 

PopMatters  Cynthia Fuchs

 

stylusmagazine.com (Jake Meaney)

 

MovieMartyr.com [Jeremy Heilman]

 

Twitch  Kurt

 

eFilmCritic.com (William Goss)

 

The New York Times > International Herald Tribune > Movies > The ...

Joan Dupont, film critic for the International Herald Tribune, looks at actress Juliette Binoche for the New York Times

 

New York Press (Armond White)  probably the singlemost negative review

 

Salon.com [Andrew O'Hehir]

 

James Berardinelli's ReelViews

 

DVD Verdict [Joe Armenio]

 

10kbullets  John White

 

Bright Lights Film Journal [Robert Keser]

 

2005 NYFF: Caché  Acquarello from Strictly Film School

 

Guardian/Observer

 

Chicago Tribune [Michael Wilmington]

 

Los Angeles Times (Kevin Thomas)

 

Austin Chronicle (Marjorie Baumgarten)

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

New York Times (registration req'd)

 

DVDBeaver.com [Gary W. Tooze]

 

FUNNY GAMES U.S.                                              B+                   92

Great Britain  USA  France  Austria  (107 mi)  2007

 

Still a gruesome, punishing, sadistic and brutal film about 2 merciless sadists who have nothing better to do than torture a middle class family, toying with them, ultimately murdering them for sport, hideously ugly to watch, but provocative to think about as the filmmaker is questioning the audience’s motives with direct asides to the audience, potentially changing the outcome, rewinding the film, and making it even more gruesome.  No happy ending here, the enjoyment of this film begins only when it ends.  No matter how many films you’ll see in a lifetime, this one is unforgettable. 

 

While not a shot-for-shot remake like van Sant’s PSYCHO (1998), this is indeed a frighteningly similar update of Haneke’s earlier film, despite changing the locale from Austria to a lovely lakeside summer home in Long Island, New York using English-speaking actors.  This is a film that wears the viewer down initially with the nauseatingly precise use of controlled tone and language, forcing a safe, comfortable wealthy white family at random to be victimized by a pair of overly apologetic, excessively polite home invaders in white gloves playing what they characterize as a “funny game” on them, a series of random acts of violence which couldn’t be more sadistically cruel.  The relentless psychological torture using words is only the introductory course, where in the original, the cruel preciseness of the Germanic language associated with demonic Nazi atricities actually feeds into the horror, while here transferred into English to stand for recent American atrocities in Iraq, using NASCAR TV footage much like Fassbinder used the coverage of the World Cup soccer championship in THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN (1979), we feel like we’re retreading into familiar territory, as eventually horrible brutality awaits each of them, as the invaders through punishment and pain require strict and absolute obedience, subject to a blitzkrieg assault of instant pain and horrors for violating the rules. 

 

This is a completely unsettling and unnerving movie, reducing one’s nerve to mush, leaving one quivering with dread at having to endure this unique piece of what feels like live theater, where at brief moments, the audience is put on notice that this is just a game, no one really gets hurt, it’s only a film, as one of the invaders speaks directly to the audience, beginning with a wink, but eventually testing our willingness to be done with this nightmare, to simply put an end to it, no matter the cost, thinking for a single moment that we might be spared.  But of course, the audience doesn’t really have a say, we are just being tested before the punishment continues even more viciously brutal than before.  That’s all part of the game, which forces us to sit passively as we helplessly witness the insanity of unrelenting terror.  Like the earlier version, no one is rescued until the film is over.  This film stands alone in the provocateur department.  Haneke is returning in spades to American theaters what it willingly exports around the world as mindless Hollywood entertainment.  No one could possibly enjoy the experience without also hating being victimized by the game, but no one is likely to forget this film either, it will remain imprinted in the deep recesses of our consciousness, which makes it an essential work, though I prefer the more nasty German version filmed by Fassbinder cameraman Jürgen Jürges, which is the original and features smarmier, more repulsively ingratiating invaders in my view.

 

The Onion A.V. Club   Scott Tobias

 
Michael Haneke's nearly shot-for-shot English-language remake of his 1997 Austrian thriller Funny Games has to be one of the most perverse experiments in cinema history—more so even than Gus Van Sant's Psycho, which at least had the advantage of updating a film that people consider fondly. Haneke's film, by contrast, doesn't play the audience like a piano so much as rap its fingers for touching the keys; his tone is deliberately aggressive, confrontational, and scolding, and many of the critics, festival-goers, and arthouse audiences who saw Funny Games in '97 responded with equivalent outrage and contempt. A chilly and extraordinarily controlled treatise on film violence, Funny Games punishes the audience for its casual bloodlust by giving it all the sickening torture and mayhem it could possibly desire. Neat trick, that.
 
Leaving aside the "whys" for a moment, Haneke (Caché, The Piano Teacher) has captured lightning in a bottle once again; even with a new cast, a new language, and a decade's distance from the original, the film's hostile brilliance has not been muted by this uncanny facsimile. The home invasion premise is simple and deliberately banal: A bourgeois family of three—Naomi Watts and Tim Roth are husband and wife, and Devin Gearhart plays their preteen son—travel to a lakeside summer home for vacation. Two polite young men in white gloves, played by Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet, infiltrate their house and proceed to torture them through a series of "games" that are about as much fun as Anton Chigurh's coin-flips.
 
So why did Haneke remake his perfectly nasty thriller in English? And why now? Haneke always intended Funny Games as a rebuke to American films specifically, since Hollywood is the primary purveyor of violence-as-entertainment worldwide, and he now has a chance to insult them in much larger numbers. And what could be a timelier theme in our post-9/11 world than Americans complicit in torture? Or a family made more vulnerable by its excessive security measures? While it wouldn't be unfair to tag Haneke as a sadist condemning sadism, his rigorous and harrowing use of offscreen violence keeps the hypocrisy to a minimum. Funny Games feeds off of hatred like a monster, and as it storms American theaters, it stands to generate enough ill will to light up the Vegas strip.

 

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

Given that Michael Haneke has been making the same movie for his entire career, it’s fitting that his latest is a shot-for-shot English-language redo of his 1997 meta-shocker Funny Games (technically dubbed Funny Games U.S.). Consequently, there’s nothing new here for the initiated, as the Austrian director’s stateside debut is a thoroughly unnecessary photocopy of its expectation-upending predecessor, from its cruel punishment of the bourgeois (Haneke’s favorite whipping post), to its self-conscious references to its own artificiality, to its tsk-tsk commentary on depictions of – and audience hunger for – cinematic violence. At their lakeside vacation home, wealthy Anna (Naomi Watts), husband George (Tim Roth), and son Georgie (Devon Gearhart) are tormented by two polite, nondescript intruders in white shirts and gloves (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) who call each other pop culture-relevant names (Peter and Paul, Tom and Jerry, Beavis and Butthead) and like to tell their captors things like “You shouldn’t forget the importance of entertainment.” The two villains want to play head games with their prisoners before killing them, while Haneke wants to play an elaborate deconstructionist game, the main objective being to condemn viewers for seeking thrills, excitement, pleasure from the sight of horrific death and reassuring, cathartic heroism.

He does this by denying a view on his story’s murders (and Watts’ nude body) and – in an infamous last-act twist – by allowing Pitt to “rewind” the story so that Anna’s revenge is annulled. Yet such stunts don’t change the proceedings’ belligerently hectoring tone, nor the impression that Haneke is a hypocrite who wants to censure anyone who likes fictionalized cruelty but nonetheless takes great pleasure in punishing his innocent upper-class protagonists for being too comfortable and happy in their luxurious, behind-driveway-gates lives. The image of a blood-splattered TV showing NASCAR (see? Americans love death-as-sport!) and a final discussion in which Pitt and Corbet state that film and reality are indistinguishable (because both can be seen) prove further articulations of the auteur’s tired concerns, while Pitt occasionally breaks the fourth wall as a means of implicating artists and consumers for the proliferation of frivolous filmic mayhem. Watts delivers as wrenching a performance as the lecture-before-drama material will allow, especially during a protracted take in a chaotic living room that also confirms Haneke’s icy technical prowess. But as the opening God’s Eye view of the victims’ car elucidates, Anna and company aren’t characters so much as just pawns in the director’s moralizing, grandstanding critique. Call him the high priest of Finger-Wagging Cinema.

The Village Voice [J. Hoberman]

That the play must please is the most obvious truism in show business. But what about those aggressive modern works designed to affront the audience? The surrealist chestnut, Un Chien Andalou, was probably the first movie so conceived; it remains one of the successful because its 16 minutes of baffling insult are pithy, inventive, and comic. Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke's Funny Games—a scene for scene, if not word for word, remake of the director's 1997 German-language film, also called Funny Games—is none of these.

Briefly described, Funny Games presents the ultimate bourgeois nightmare. A picture-perfect family retreats to their comfortable, gated, lakeside house and, before there's even time to restock the fridge, find themselves beset by a pair of clownish trespassers. Dressed in tennis whites, the lads swiftly evolve from innocuous preppies to annoying pests to gleeful psychopaths, holding the family captive and torturing them, presumably for our delectation. As Haneke makes clear in his press notes, Funny Games was always intended for an American audience: "It is a reaction to a certain American Cinema, its violence, its naïveté, the way [it] toys with human beings."

Right on! Funny Games is not without a certain artistry. An image of one captor idly channel-surfing with his lissome captive bound and gagged on a couch beside the large-screen television set has the bored depravity of an Eric Fischl bedroom painting. But for all the laughs it pretends to laugh, Haneke's movie is essentially founded on the programmatic denial of catharsis. "I want the spectator to think," he's been quoted as saying—although with regard to Funny Games, his hope seems as touchingly utopian as the notion that an illiterate might teach people to read. (In any case, the American audience whom Haneke seeks to address is less apt to see Funny Games as a critique of dominant cinema than an argument for personal handguns.)

As enacted by Tim Roth, little Devon Gearhart, and especially co-executive producer Naomi Watts, the family's suffering seems naturalistic enough. They are recognizable people, while their scarifying captors (in this version, Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) are deliberate ciphers who anticipate the implacably murderous, Oscar-winning joker created by Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men. As suggested by their cartoon nicknames (Tom and Jerry, Beavis and Butt-head), their white Mickey Mouse gloves, and the fun they have inventing motives for their inexplicable antics—not to mention their occasional asides to the audience—Haneke's villains are blatant textual effects. (As a strict exponent of unpleasure, however, Haneke will permit none of the narrative thrills the Coens provide in their funny games.)

Everything is calculated. Self-consciously manipulating conventions more or less invented by D.W. Griffith in the days of the nickelodeon, Funny Games is what a German might call a "devilish trick," or schelmenstreich. But, unlike other prankster showmen—the names Lars von Trier and Carlos Reygadas cavort to mind—Haneke is pretty much a humorless pedant. I did admire his adaptation of The Piano Teacher, thanks largely to Isabelle Huppert's bravura performance, although, reading Elfriede Jelinek's novel, I was surprised to discover that it was actually comic. Thus, Das Funnygame is a very severe schelmenstreich. The movie's early emphasis on the family's innocent, time-killing competitions is preparation for the joyless sport Haneke will have with the spectator.

Without ever acknowledging his own sadism, Haneke self-righteously lays his aesthetic and moral cards on the table. The use of music—largely a blast of John Zorn neo-punk noise—is anything but subliminal. The violence is all imaginary, a factor of clever editing, precise camera placement, and the power of suggestion. Moreover, its sickening escalation is rigorously based on the host family's lack of "manners." The wife loses her temper with the visitors well before anything bad really happens; her husband strikes the first blow; their child fires the first shot. Everything is, of course, returned in spades.

Perhaps these victims deserve their fate. One of the movie's persistent ironies is that the family is a victim of their insistence on bourgeois property rights. Their own toys are inevitably turned against them as weapons: More than once, they are trapped by their own fancy security system. Funny Games is nothing if not a punitive movie—and once Herr Haneke gets you to admit your own bloodlust, he's got you.

Funny Games is ultimately about forcing the viewer to confront his or her expectations. Would you enjoy seeing a terrified, helpless, half-naked woman? (The remake's major concession to the American market is a long scene of Naomi Watts hopping around in her underwear; in the original, the wife is clothed.) Are you getting bored? Isn't it about time for something to happen? Do you want to see the worm turn? Or simply wish the movie would end? Professional obligations required that I endure it, but there's no reason why you should.

Cineaste  Robert Koehler

The arrival of Michael Haneke's English-language remake of his baldly provocative 1997 film, Funny Games, is like the reboot of a computer that downloads all sorts of (cultural) software. The program titles might run from "Why Re-Do Exactly What's Already Been Done?" to "The Moral Responsibility of the American Moviegoer in the New Century," leading on to fun ones like "The Chasm Between the Film Critic and the Filmgoer." Precisely because Haneke conceived of his original and his nearly exact duplicate not as genre movies but as critiques of genre, and as polemical vessels for a nest of issues rather than as what he's termed a "consumable" entertainment, the new film is best addressed not in terms of whether it actually works on screen, but as an object that spews out ideas—and in terms of whether the ideas convince. This use of a film as topic-machine rather than as a drama or a slasher movie remains as controversial and dubious in the view of some critics now (see Derek Elley's Variety review from the 2007 London Film Festival) as it was when the original Austrian Funny Games premiered to a violently split crowd in Cannes, and it suggests that much of the forthcoming critical response—especially among the clusters of North American critics who've never seen the original, and perhaps know Haneke only previously from Caché —will repeat a similar complaint: A violent horror-thriller about two young effete killers systematically torturing and killing a family must first provide catharsis, and then, only secondarily (if at all), address moral and cultural issues.

As in the old Funny Games, the remake centers on the happy family of Anna (Naomi Watts), George (Tim Roth), and their young son Georgie (Devon Gearhart), vacationing at their lakeside summer home, when two young men, Paul (Michael Pitt) and Peter (Brady Corbet)—whose only outward sign of suspicion is that they're wearing white cotton gloves—are introduced to them by neighbors. From here, the two men deploy a seemingly innocent ruse to enter the home and proceed to slowly terrorize the family. Originally conceived as an American horror show which Haneke, for practical reasons, had to set in Austria, the new version brings things back home as it were, exactly replicating the 1997 version, down to the physical layout of the house, the color schemes, props, and even the various day and nighttime light tones in exterior shots. Among other things, this proves for certain that—whether he uses the great cinematographer Jurgen Jurges (for the 1997 version) or the great Darius Khondji (for the new film)—Haneke is fundamentally his own cinematographer exercising considerable control over the entire look of his films.

Much had been made, in 1997, of Haneke's deliberately upturning the notion of what genre is supposed to do. By forcing audiences through cleverly surreptitious devices and shock moments to confront their own implicit bloodlust and manipulated desire for revenge against evil depicted on screen, he was effectively putting on trial a whole corral of movies that use violence to titillate and emotionally cleanse. But what was at least as important was Haneke's interest in alienating the audience against the movie itself and in foregrounding issues inside the Trojan Horse of thriller conventions. This was by far the most "Germanic" aspect of Funny Games—the Brechtian tradition of commenting on the drama itself, the direct confrontation with the audience by characters—not in a Shakespearean aside as a third party overhearing the conversation or as a friend being confessed to, but as an outside party who may either want to join in on the mayhem or, as a potential opponent, who must be convinced. When Paul, the brains of the pair, looks back to the audience with a wink in one scene or with a question in another ("You're on their side, aren't you?"), Brecht's alienation effect is in full force, alternating between collusion and confrontation.

It's also worth noting in this regard that the original Funny Games was read differently based on critics' national/cultural origins. Many European and English-language critics expressed mild forms of outrage along with admiration, but generally set their criticism against the backdrop of the American slasher movie that the film was subverting. Almost alone, Austrian critics (with their easy access to the Austro-German genre), cited the attempts of Funny Games to undermine the "heimat" film and its extolling of home-based bourgeois values. Although this is certainly valid, and brings up a theme of the paradoxes of critical response I'll discuss later, it does not lessen Haneke's primary mission from the start against the American brand of exploitation—and the moral matter of the human consequences of violence inflicted by one character (good or evil) on another. And because of this, it works to answer the hypothetical question, "Why Re-Do It?" Haneke all along imagined and intended Funny Games as an American-produced film set in America involving American characters. Funny Games U.S. is, then in fact, the film that Haneke had ideally and initially devised.

The moral challenges that both films pose remain the same, while the context and purposes have changed. Given the films he made after 1997, I had presumed that Haneke had privately determined that he had failed with the original Funny Games—that he concluded his techniques for forcing the audience out of their comfort zones to examine their roles as consumers and, even more radically, his techniques for opening up the possibility that audiences could collude with the killers, were simply beyond the pale. (The film's most notorious example of this is the much-discussed scene when Anna, the mother, shoots Paul's partner Peter with a rifle, followed by Paul's frantically finding the TV remote control to rewind the scene in order to make things go his way—thus tripping up an audience who had found themselves rooting for a murder.) It seemed reasonable to assume that the wide-ranging survey of European disquiet represented by Code Unknown and the observation of human beings surviving in the wake of civilization's collapse in Time of the Wolf were two means for Haneke to get beyond the facile gamesmanship of his previous cause célèbre. I had also perhaps been engaging in my own game, which was to project my extreme disappointment with the 1997 film as pushing things so far as to invite the audience to join in on the murdering itself—that Haneke's original purpose was so undone in the thrill of the act of moviemaking that Paul's contact with the viewer was more than that—it had become an alliance, capped by a closing shot that seemed to seal a complicity between viewers and the Paul-Peter team. But for Haneke to actually revisit Funny Games—and not just revisit, but remake it down to a virtual duplicate shot for shot—indicated that this assumption, this projection, was wrong, and that something else was going on. And it was this: Funny Games from its title on, had to be in English.

It can't be overstated that the effect of hearing what is essentially the same film over again (that reboot effect), now, in one's native language utterly transforms the experience of the film itself. This goes far beyond a possibly greater emotional identification with stars like Watts (whose Anna is more sexualized this time) and Roth (whose George is more emotionally vulnerable than Ulrich Muhe's characterization in the original), or a familiarity with past dark performances by Pitt, who has a peculiar gift for sliding inside the minds of nefarious young men with outsized and disturbed intellects. While a non-German listener could at least detect the unctuous irony in the voice of Arno Frisch (who played Paul in the original), there's an entirely greater, more chilling and infinitely funnier impact for the English ear when hearing the same lines delivered by Pitt, or for that matter by Corbet as Peter, who will always be remembered for his disarming explanation of the torture "games" themselves to Anna, George, and Georgie: "You shouldn't forget the importance of entertainment." For a film designed primarily as a visual analysis of how the urges for violence are shared by characters and audiences alike—and as a rebuke to the audience for not recognizing this point—the impact of words in the new Funny Games is unexpectedly overwhelming and creates a manifestly American filter through which all else flows.

Of course, this is felt only by those who've seen the original, which leaves out the vast majority of the new film's viewers; there's been a boomlet for the original in North America among those who've caught up with the film on DVD, either in Koch Lorber's release or in Kino's subsequent repackaging, which includes a Haneke interview with critic Serge Toubiana. There's no doubt that this helped convince Warner Independent Pictures (along with producing partner Celluloid Dreams) to finance the remake, a business decision exactly along the lines of other Hollywood remakes of recent Asian extreme home-video hits like The Ring (which, in a case of trivia and coincidence gone wild, featured Naomi Watts as star in an English-language redo by the original's director). Put aside this small audience sliver, and the transformational linguistic effect of the new Funny Games will be lost on almost all who now see it.

This leads to some new speculations, and new concerns. Since Funny Games has been restored to its originally intended form in English and in an American setting (Long Island, to be precise)—a form to match its action and ideas—it begs the general question regarding what's missed in the translation when an English-language critic listens to a non-English language film (assuming, for these purposes, that the critic is a dummy in the other language).

Is it possible that critics, and audiences, can be fooled by films not in their native language? Naturally, this applies across all languages, but the framework for the issue is always going to be subjectively based in one's own tongue. Taken a step further, there's the even more subjective effect of how a foreign language sounds to one's ear; while some friends and acquaintances hate the sound of German, for instance, and thus will always have a core problem cozying up to any German film, others adore the language's aural textures and music. It may even be possible that some English-speaking fans of the Austrian Funny Games may feel that the new version is missing some edge, especially with Pitt's English, since they may associate German with evil Nazis and how the language has long been satirized in (especially) the U.S.

But another concern with the new Funny Games (which Haneke originally wanted to title Funny Games U.S.—the title that was on the high-definition video print I saw last September) has nothing to do with linguistics. Haneke discusses whether, at the end of his video interview with Toubiana, the unexpected popularity of the original Funny Games on DVD might mean that the film is becoming, perversely, too popular; or at least, more popular than Haneke ever wished a critique of consumerism would be. Is Funny Games, he wonders, becoming just another consumer entertainment? Is it destined to be viewed as just another Naomi Watts chiller? Has Warner Independent guaranteed this with its ad poster featuring Watts's big head, with the obvious device of appealing to Ring fans? Is the trailer—viewable all over the Web—a kind of con job, since it's nothing more than your basic teaser for a slasher-thriller? Precisely by remaking his film in America, with an American studio indie division, has Haneke unavoidably played right into the studio's game of peddling consumer products? And with all of this in play, as the film is framed and marketed for the North American public, are the expectations and sets of responses to Funny Games certain to widen the gap between the manner in which audiences and critics see movies in general, with Haneke's film as a prime example?

All of this and more is not only possible, but certain. The arguably courageous attempt by Haneke to effectively smuggle his polemical work of antigenre into the commercial mainstream of American movies is almost certain to be undone by the very forces he has openly despised, and perhaps no amount of critical explication will reverse it since the movie—by its position inside a genre that it nevertheless wants to subvert—is being sold as something that it's not. Apart from the sheer merits of the film—and they are considerable, not only in the ways in which Haneke has brilliantly succeeded in reframing his original work, but in the manner in which his control of the medium has reached awesome heights—that control ends once the film is flung out into the marketplace, where the new Funny Games will doubtless be gobbled up and spat out. And Haneke should probably have seen this coming. As the film's ad line says: "You must admit, you brought this on yourself."

The New Yorker (Anthony Lane)

 

Fangoria   Sarah Walker

 

TheMovieBoy Review [Dustin Putman]

 

Slate (Dana Stevens)   

 

Chicago Reader (J.R. Jones)

 

Siffblog [Kathy Fennessy]

 

Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]

 

Screen International   Ed Lawrenson

 

Colonel's Crypt  Col. Scott W. Perry

 

Eat My Brains LFF Review  David Hall

 

FEARnet [Scott Weinberg] 

 

In the Dark [Eric D. Snider]

 

EvilDread.com  Mark Hodgson

 

Salon.com [Andrew O'Hehir]

 

CompuServe (Harvey S. Karten)

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli)

 

Cinematical (James Rocchi)

 

FirstShowing.net [Alex Billington]

 

Black Hole Reviews

 

Edward Copeland on Film

 

Newsblaze [Prairie Miller]

 

Variety.com [Derek Elley]

 

Austin Chronicle [Marc Savlov]

 

Chicago Tribune (Michael Phillips)

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert)   site editor Jim Emerson gives it half a star

 

THE WHITE RIBBON (Das Weiße Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte)                           B+                        92                   

aka:  The White Ribbon – A German Children’s Story

France  Germany  Austria  Italy  (145 mi)  2009

 

The general feeling is that this is not like anything else Haneke has ever done, as it doesn’t have the punishing individual guilt associated with his other works and it brings children more prominently into the foreground, though it certainly examines the skeletons in the closet of the human race as if trying to peer into our Darwinian roots of evil.  While CACHÉ (2005) plays upon the collective guilt of a nation, using the present to comment upon racial injustices of the past, here he conjures up the past to reflect upon a country’s impending future, which is another way at taking a look at history before it happened.  The director does this by examining symptoms of communal guilt, denial, and random acts of violence, all leading to a societal breakdown, feeling much more narratively accessible, though completely austere, almost as if it was a Bergman Scandinavian chamber drama on the absence of God, like in his 60's WINTER LIGHT (1963) or THE PASSION OF ANNA (1969) stage.  Using a restrained and achingly slow pace, it has the comforting feel of a bedtime story with a malicious streak as a narrator describes a prequel to WWI in a typical rural town in northern Germany that thrives on its cohesive community structure which becomes a mirage, like a house of straw, where the foundation is discovered to be rotten to the core, where children are beaten or cruelly molested, women are humiliated by the pompous arrogance of loathsome men, and where an unseen cruelty creeps into the lives of virtually everyone. 

 

From the outset, the film is narrated by an elderly man (Ernst Jacobi) who we soon discover is one of the introductory characters, a school teacher (Christian Friedel) who comes from another village, but interestingly, he begins his story by saying it may not actually be true, but he is recalling the bizarre events in the village in order to “clarify things that happened in our country” afterward, which is certainly a comment on both history and memory, each subject to individualized recollections that have a tendency to reflect how we want to remember things.  Because of the prevalence of a narrator throughout, this is reminiscent of Fassbinder narrating his own novelesque EFFI BRIEST (1974) or John Hurt’s biting sarcasm in von Trier’s brutally disturbing DOGVILLE (2003), each exposing characters trapped in the social convention of the 19th and 20th centuries respectively, where society’s alleged good intentions end up suffocating the inhabitants, as defined by Fassbinder’s alternate title:  “Effi Briest, or Many who have an idea of their possibilities and needs nevertheless accept the prevailing order in the way they act, and thereby strengthen and confirm it absolutely.”  In this way, while this story is a tale of ordinary German citizens, Haneke uses a claustrophobic atmosphere of brutal oppression to sow the seeds of what is to become Nazism.  He does this by examining not just the prevailing authority figures, but also the behind-the-scenes behavior of their own children, many of whom will one day be called upon to fight for the Third Reich. 

 

There are a series of unexplained catastrophes that suddenly affect the residents of the village, where certain individuals are apparently targeted for acts of malicious violence, as if sending a message, yet these acts speak for themselves, as there are no follow up repercussions except more retaliatory acts.  No one is arrested and the crimes are nearly forgotten, instead, life goes on with the village inhabitants barely even acknowledging the events.  In this way, with societies turning a blind eye, atrocities are allowed to continue.  Due to the slowly evolving chamber structure of the story, moving from family to family, where what the audience sees is a slowly evolving moral void, much of it through the harsh recriminations of the utterly intolerant local pastor (Burghart Klaussner), a Protestant fundamentalist who forces his children to wear shameful white ribbons as armbands (like the Jewish star or the Nazi armbands) to remind disobedient children of innocence and purity, a man who would be right at home in the bleak Bergman dramas, where the subject might be a crisis in faith, but here it’s more a collective community absence of moral responsibility, given a completely austere look by the black and white imagery shot by Christian Berger, which was interestingly initially shot in color with much of the interiors bathed in candlelight or kerosene lamps.   

 

Leave it to Haneke to unveil a continuing series of mysteries, none of which is ever explained, like a riding accident intentionally caused, a work accident which leads to acts of retribution, suicide, and humiliating acts of violence inflicted against children, a barn burning and eventually a beastly attack on a good-natured retarded child that may leave him blind, each strange event affecting the next, yet each remaining elusively out of rational comprehension.  The sheer meanness of the adults is as exasperating as the secretive, near cultish behavior of the children, who may be behind some or all of these events.  But instead of finding out what really happened, it remains the subject of rumors and gossip and eventually family lore.  The schoolteacher himself, who also doubles as the church choirmaster, and his virginal fiancé (Leonie Benesch) 14-years his junior, are an innocent couple unscathed by the macabre evil that surrounds them, and represent a vein of hope in a wicked world imploding in its own self-destruction, eventually leading to WWI and beyond.  It's a fascinating film, though perhaps not one of Haneke’s most provocative, as it tends to be simplistic in its personification of evil, where societies refuse to stand up to their own home grown cruelties.   Actually, I kept thinking of America during the Bush years allowing the perpetuation of torture with so little public outcry, especially from elected officials, so Haneke doesn't really nail the German history angle, leaving it instead vague and ambiguous.  

 

Sukhdev Sandhu  at Cannes from The Daily Telegraph

The White Ribbon, by Michael Haneke, would make for a fine if chilly television series. Set in a starchy German rural community just before WW1, it is a fascinating mystery drama about a baronial estate suddenly beset by strange incidents: a doctor is felled by tripwire; a retarded boy is nearly blinded.

The white ribbon of the title symbolizes an innocence that has now been lost. Suddenly, every relationship in this once regulated environment comes up for critical examination. The authority dubiously wielded by doctors, pastors and aristocrats is undermined; their hypocrisy giving way to even more malevolent forces. Shot in lustrous black-and-white, and illuminated by many adroitly parsed performances, this is — by Haneke’s normally icy standards - a surprisingly affecting forensic study of social breakdown.

The White Ribbon : The New Yorker   Anthony Lane

Even those who have resisted—or, indeed, recoiled from—the work of Michael Haneke may find themselves drawn into the calm and complicated tale that he tells in his latest film. We find ourselves in a village in northern, Protestant Germany, a year before the outbreak of the First World War, and there, with only the briefest of excursions to the world beyond, we stay. We also come to know, or think we know, the home lives of its leading citizens, including the local baron (Ulrich Tukur), the pastor (Burghart Klaussner), the doctor (Rainer Bock), and his frightened housekeeper (Susanne Lothar). More baffling are the lives of their various children, who are the victims of, and, we increasingly suspect, the possible culprits in, a series of mysterious crimes. This being a Haneke project, no case is thoroughly solved, and the air of threat that looms over the population is never dispelled; we can readily imagine, in fact, that its malignity might endure for years to come—perhaps to the verge of another war. The film, however, should not be read as a plain parable of incipient Nazism; the warning that it issues, about the fallout of social repression, is a universal one, and the manner of its delivery is disarmingly graceful. The monochrome imagery is not just jewel-sharp but, unusually for Haneke, touched with moments of loveliness and hints of peace, as in the subplot of a schoolteacher (Christian Friedel) and his beloved (Leonie Benesch). You expect harm to befall them, like a plague, but, for once, it stays its hand. In German.

The Guardian at Cannes 2009 (Peter Bradshaw) review [4/5]  May 22, 2009

With this new film, Michael Haneke returns to his classic themes of guilt, denial and violence as the mysterious symptom of mass dysfunction. The White Ribbon is a period film set in a secluded northern German village on the eve of the first world war, shot in a pellucid monochrome, impeccably acted, and directed with this film-maker's icily exact rigour and severity.

An isolated community is shaken by unpleasant, inexplicable events: a razor trip-wire fells the local doctor on his horse, and he is badly injured. The landowning baron's son is found, bound and whipped. A boy with Down's syndrome is horribly abused. The white ribbon of the title is a badge of mortification: the pastor's children must wear it as a reminder of their sinful state and need for purity. But of course it is effectively the symbol of the retaliatory violence to come.

Like Haneke's earlier film Hidden, this is to some degree about the return of the repressed. Unlike that movie, however, The White Ribbon is not about the repercussions of a single buried event, but a continuous diseased process, in which those without power - children and disenfranchised adults - are in a permanent state of futile rebellion against authority, expressed in spiteful acts of anonymous nastiness; these trigger spasms of fear in both the community and their masters, who respond by redoubling their resented discipline. And so the unhappy process goes on. The outbreak of war, with its promise of larger violence, is to provide a distraction without which the village's petty hell would simply have gone on for ever.

Some viewers may be intrigued, or exasperated, that no clear culprit is ever unmasked. And yet the perpetrators' identities are not so hard to guess, and this open-endedness has the unfinished quality of real life. The White Ribbon has an absolute confidence and mastery of its own cinematic language, and the performances Haneke elicits from his first-rate cast, particularly the children, are eerily perfect.

Dave Calhoun  at Cannes from Time Out London, May 21, 2009  (link no longer available, replaced by version dated November 12, 2009 – see below)

For quite some time at the beginning of Michael Haneke’s latest film, which is a two-and-a-half hour parable of political and social ideas set entirely in a north German village in 1913 and 1914, you wonder what you’re watching, how its disparate parts hang together and what it all might mean. More than ever, the playful, challenging, sometimes shocking director of ‘Hidden’, ‘Funny Games’ and ‘Time of the Wolf’ solidly resists answering the ‘what’s it all about?’ question and makes you work hard to make sense of what you’re seeing. As in ‘Code Unknown’, he resists focusing on one story or a limited number of characters and instead offers a wide, rich canvas of people and experiences linked only by the fact that they are neighbours and increasingly all subject to a burgeoning threat from within.

The hard work pays off. Once the film comes to a close, you might be asking the same questions as early on: why are we watching these people? Why do they behave as they do? Who is behind a series of crimes they suffer? But, by then, you’ve been presented with a portrait of a place that is so rich, so detailed and so full of telling relationships and behaviour that you feel you have gained an understanding of the very essence of these people. And don’t forget the red herring – the ‘who is sending the tapes’ question – that was posed but never answered by ‘Hidden’. Once again, Haneke uses a mystery to trigger ideas about far greater issues than the surface of his story might suggest.

As a series of brief episodes and incidences pile up – many of them domestic scenes – we move from family to family, pastor to doctor, teacher to steward, nanny to schoolboy. But something is upsetting the natural order of this peaceful village: the local doctor is injured when his horse trips over a wire wound between two posts. No one knows who’s responsible, but it’s clearly sabotage. Some time later, a farmer’s wife dies in an accident at a sawmill; the son of the Baron is assaulted; the doctor’s four-year-old child goes missing and is found, half-dressed, on the road.

All this is presented with a visual austerity that reflects the unsmiling, Protestant values of this small community that hangs on to feudal ties: the Baron (Ulrich Tukur) and his family are still the centre of this small, enclosed universe and after harvest everyone gathers at his home to celebrate in much the same way as they gather together in the church for religious festivals. The appearance is of a rural village in harmony with itself. The classical, still, black-and-white look of the film recalls Dreyer’s ‘Ordet’ (another portrait of a northern European Protestant village where the inexplicable is upsetting the apple cart), while there’s a hint of Clouzot’s ‘Le Corbeau’ in the film’s suggestion of a sickness at the heart of a small community.

Haneke pays great attention to the details of family relationships, especially those between parents and children, suggesting, perhaps, that this is the root of these people’s values and ways of behaving. The pastor demands that two of his children wear a white ribbon, to denote purity, after they arrive home late one night. The same pastor tells his son off for masturbating in terrifying, God-fearing language and demands that his hands are tied to his bed at night. The doctor’s small son finds his father alone with his elder, teenage sister late at night and we can only assume abuse. Many of the men exploit their power with physical or verbal violence: the doctor tells his secret partner, the midwife, that she’s ‘flabby, messy and has bad breath’ and no longer wants anything to do with her. Repression and anger in the household has its effect on the younger generation too: angered by punishment and reproach, the pastor’s daughter kills his budgie by plunging scissors into its body. Not all the characters are reprehensible, even if many of them are monsters once indoors. We spend some time with the affable local schoolteacher, also the film’s narrator, who spends the year-long period of this film trying to secure the engagement of the Baron’s family nanny, an innocent, nervous 17 year old.

The voice of the narrator is the voice of the schoolteacher as an elderly man, telling this story from the point of view of the 1950s perhaps, certainly after the events of World War Two, we can assume. He tells us that what we’re watching may be true and may be helpful in explaining what came later. As this is the eve of great change in Germany – the beginning of World War One, the sunset on German imperial power and the onset of enormous political and social disruption leading to National Socialism – we must assume that Haneke is delivering ideas on the German national character, a charcter that partly led to a people supporting the government of Hitler.

The exact nature of this national character is left to us to decide, but surely the words of the Baron’s wife, when she decides she wants to leave this village for good, are a strong hint. She tells her husband that she’s sick of a place dominated by ‘apathy, malice, envy and acts of revenge’ – four attributes that would surely be at the heart of any account of Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s. It is typical of Haneke, though, that he makes such strong suggestions so indirectly and purely through the sheer brilliant, precise power of his characterisations and superb conjuring up of an astonishing sense of time and place.

Independent.co.uk [Jonathan Romney]  November 15, 2009

When you watch the films of Austrian director Michael Haneke, you're not so much looking at a screen as gazing into a mirror, and a pretty forbidding one. You the viewer, with your cultural assumptions, are always Haneke's real focus, the target of his critique. You're not merely involved in the story but implicated. It's a bit like finding yourself the subject of a police investigation

So his new film ought, in theory, to offer us some relief from Haneke's punishing scrutiny. This year's Palme d'Or winner in Cannes, The White Ribbon is a film about another time and (unless you're German) another place. Set in 1913, it is partly a philosophical detective story, partly an archaeology of modern German society, examining a generation of children who, two decades on, would prove a very baleful force indeed.

Haneke's setting is a village where order seems absolute, timeless and unquestioned. Authority is embodied by the local baron (Ulrich Tukur) and enforced morally by the pastor (Burghart Klaussner). There are farm workers who know their place, and an educated bourgeoisie that keeps the social wheels turning: teacher, doctor, midwife, identified only by their functions.

The story begins with a dramatic event: the village doctor is riding home when a concealed wire sends him and his horse flying. It's the first of several ominous incidents that suggest cracks opening up in this small world: a worker is killed, a fire breaks out, a child goes missing .... Someone is responsible but, this being a Haneke film, we are invited to read these happenings as symbolic – as obscure symptoms of a malaise that the characters cannot perceive, bound as they are by the assumptions of a society blindly staggering towards extinction.

In one sense, it seems clear what's going on: the village children, eerily impassive, are surely involved, but how and why? Meanwhile, the adult order is shown to be moribund and corrupt. In a deeply disturbing scene, the doctor (Rainer Bock) calmly plies his mistress (Haneke regular Susanne Lothar) with humiliations. The pastor's house particularly is the domain of repression. When his children misbehave they must wear a shaming white ribbon to remind them of innocence. Yet adult frailty runs the gamut from hypocrisy to certain vices that, to be honest, make you feel that Haneke is making his point a little too bluntly.

Superbly and sparely acted, The White Ribbon is a remarkable achievement. It reads like a sprawling modernist novel with its extensive cast, dense narrative and systematic refusal to answer questions. Shot in black and white by Christian Berger, its comprehensively detailed evocation is modelled on the photography of August Sander, the great chronicler of early 20th-century Germany. Every aspect of the world re-created feels intensely real, from the sunlit fields to the severe parlours, from the farmers' felt hats to the actors' authentic-looking period physiognomies. But it's an enclosed, stifling universe: interiors and landscapes are shot to look unnaturally static, the drama unfolding in a frozen, almost embalmed universe.

There is, unusually for Haneke, a degree of lightness, even hope, notably embodied by the young teacher (Christian Friedel), a moon-faced, ineffectual figure who narrates the story retrospectively, as an old man. The film's gentler aspects derive from his shy courtship of a young governess (Leonie Benesch).

But if there's a question mark sewn into the film's fabric, it appears in the teacher's opening voice-over, as he introduces the tale that he has pieced together years later, and that he feels will "clarify" subsequent events. In other words, expect an unreliable narrative, distorted by retrospect.

But does this enigmatic chronicle really clarify later history? To say that The White Ribbon offers an explanatory account of the origins of Nazism would surely be reductive. It's up to us to decide what the film is about, or what speculative direction it's prompt-ing us in. But I'm not convinced that, for all its suggestive intricacy, it quite yields the depths that it promises.

Even so, it's hard not to be fascinated by the loose ends of this Ribbon. For example, besides the badge of shame imposed on the children, could the "weisse Band" of the German title also be the bandage wrapped, late in the film, around the eyes of an injured child? A key theme is blindness: the society portrayed is ruinously unaware of its own imminent collapse, and here Haneke, as usual, puts us on the spot. Hindsight might allow us to feel superior to these people who can't see the 20th century coming. But Haneke surely wants us to ask ourselves whether we're really all that clear-sighted about our own historical moment.

If, ultimately, I find The White Ribbon hard to embrace with undiluted enthusiasm, it's because of its very mastery, which can make Haneke's films feel as airless as the worlds he depicts. His severity and formal perfectionism are at once Olympian and oddly old-fashioned: for a director often considered something of an avant-gardist, Haneke's artistic confidence and philosophical authority make him something like the Tolstoy of contemporary art cinema. But without doubt The White Ribbon is one of the few really serious and adult films of this year.

One has to concede, however reluctantly, that it is a masterpiece – although my worry is that that is precisely what Haneke intends it to be.

Fascism, Repression and ‘The White Ribbon’  Stuart Klawans from The New York Times, November 1, 2009
 
not coming to a theater near you (Leo Goldsmith) review
 
Village Voice (J. Hoberman) review  also seen here:  Certainty and a Sure Hand Behind The White Ribbon's Unsolved Mystery 
 
SBS Film (Mary Colbert)
 
The House Next Door [Lauren Wissot]
 
The White Ribbon: Poisonous Seeds of Hitler's Germany  Mary Corliss from Time magazine, May 2009
 
Cannes 2009: Portrait of a Small Town on the Eve of World War I in Austria ("White Ribbon," Haneke)