The Seventh Circle

A Hetedik Kör (The Seventh Circle) (2009) – [rate 3.5]

On my festival voting ticket, I scored this movie a whole point below it’s value, at least as I perceived it. The main reason being that this isn’t really a fantastical movie at all, unless you feel that any movie involving religious influence deserves that label. I’m not quite that cynical yet. Nor do I think that anything fictional deserves the label ‘fantastical’.

It’s a tale of a group of early teen friends in a small Hungarian village. All is well for these kids doing typical kid stuff, until a red haired, limping boy arrives on the scene, apparently out of nowhere. His influence on the children slowly turns the story to an inevitable conclusion and you’ll have a hard time hoping for the best, especially if you know that the seventh circle of hell is reserved for the violent against others, self, God and nature.

So, even though I felt it was a bit of out place at this particular festival, I would still recommend you go and see it if you like intense psychological drama without gore against a backdrop of catholicism.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009) – [rate 4.5]

I love movies by writers and directors that aren’t just creating movies, but who are shaping an oeuvre – a coherent body of work that stands out from the crowd. Lynch, Cronenberg, Scorcese, Herzog and many more share this trait. Although it’s less obvious in the case of Terry Gilliam, after seeing his movies I do always feel he belongs in their ranks.

I suppose that Gilliam is not as clear cut (some would say obvious) as Cronenberg – who always explores the separation between reality and the absence thereof and often has the protagonist crossing the line in any way imaginable. In Existenz, the characters take place in an incredibly realistic virtual reality game that has a virtual game inside it and soon you start to doubt whether you know what is ‘actual reality’. In Dead Ringers, twin gyneacologists spiral out of a carefully balanced reality in which each has to see himself and see himself see him. Both living and observing their lives, they don’t like what they see. And you can go on, all his movies are about different perspectives or definitions of reality.

Gilliam is more like Lynch, in that he’s very true to a particular style and his stories are set in the everyday world. But they focus on characters that seem to live in this world, but aren’t a part of it at all. The world is their habitat, but their universe is Gilliam’s/Lynch’s fantasy and in their case, different rules apply. But where Lynch is paradoxical, dark, moody and a bit too weird for most tastes, Gilliam is more charming, enchanted, humorous and sooner silly than weird.

The Imaginarium is a typical Gilliam movie. Nothing is coincidental, but a lot of it doesn’t make sense if you look at it too closely. If you just allow the movie to carry you where it wants to take you, whilst observing the scenery, you can often deduce some of the inspiration for many of the details with hindsight. And if you take that approach to his movies, you won’t be distracted by plot holes or strange incongruities.

In the Imaginarium, you can complain about the wagon changing size and form between scenes, you can be annoyed by the unclear changes in apparent motivation of the characters, you can comment on differences in acting style between scenes, but does it really matter? The movie is not perfect, but it is unique and it casts a spell with a specific Gilliam signature – and I love to be enchanted by this old Python.

A final thing I like about Gilliam – or the way he presents himself and his work – is the serendipity and synchronicity of his enterprises. Whatever goes wrong with his movies and whatever personal problems he runs into in his career, it all appears to serve some purpose or affect his work in some mysterious way. The loss of Heath Ledger is tragic and surely some films in the future would have been better with him performing a key role, but for the Imaginarium it’s almost a blessing in disguise – and I do hope I don’t offend with that remark. It necessitates the performances of Depp, Law and Farrell as stand-ins for Ledger in the scenes beyond the mirror of Doctor Parnassus, but this works out so well, Gilliam couldn’t have imagined it better.

Le Scaphandre et le Papillon

Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (2007) – [rate 5]

(The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)

A celebration of life and a reflection on mortality, this movie is a powerful testament to the story-telling potential of film. Although I’m sure the book would be an equally – if not more – powerful statement of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s will to live, the movie puts you in a place and state of mind that is hard to achieve in any other way. The soundtrack is subtle but powerful. The camera work is disruptive and disorienting but it sweeps you along and helps to put you in the place of the protagonist, played by Mathieu Amalric [IMDb].

Whether he is a masterful actor, or whether the scenario and the voice-over are just sublime, I’m not sure. But he manages to get a strong character across that belies the fact that we only get a few minutes of this man on his feet and about. Most of the movie you see the main character paralyzed, unable to move more than his eyelid and yet you feel for him and with him.

It’s a true work of art and it needs nothing more and nothing needs to be taken away. That’s not to say everyone will like it, but I doubt there is a lot of room for improvement in terms of anything this movie could be. It takes you on an emotional roller coaster and left me unsure about how I would deal with a situation like his. It’s a true story, so calling it unrealistic is unfair. But it’s hard to imagine taking such incredibly bad odds so well. And yet the film manages to get across how this might be possible. Wonderful.

With Basquiat and Berlin already on his list of completed work, I can’t wait to see what Julian Schnabel‘s [IMDb] next movie Miral [Vimeo] will turn out to be, apart from highly current – as it deals with the Israel / Palestine situation.

Das Weisse Band

Das Weisse Band (2009) – [rate 4]

(- Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte; – A German children’s tale)

Interesting movie about the effect of following a specific (very strict) set of rules, particularly those of early 20th century German protestants in a small village. Under the patriarchical rule of a nobleman, a reverend and a schoolteacher and through the compliance of many other men in the village, the youths seem to fill a niche and form a shady movement that causes all sorts of social disturbance and excutes mob justice.

It’s a slow moving story, where detail matters but it’s engaging and time flew by as I watched it. It keeps you on your toes, not in the last place because Michael Haneke has a style of story-telling in which he leaves a lot unsaid. Das Weisse Band is more explicit in its story-telling than his recent Caché for example, but the viewer is still left the task of deciding what actually happened. Even the movie itself is not necessarily a truthful account, as it’s the story of the voice-over telling of events that he didn’t even witness himself in many cases.

Whether the story in anyway explains the rise of national socialism, the start of the first and second world war or any other events that follow is something left up to the viewer too. Personally, I feel it only – very clearly – shows a complex social mechanism play out, as it may have in many villages in early 20th century Germany. Some of it is very recognizable, more so if you’ve ever lived in a small village for a long period (I grew up in one).

This is certainly one of the more engaging movies I’ve seen in 2009, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Also, I feel it could have done without a few threads in the story, so I arrive at a respectable 4/5.

Fear Me Not

Fear Me Not (Den Du Frygter, 2008) – [rate 3.5]

I didn’t score this movie as well at the festival, for a simple reason: it’s not really a fantastic film. Sure enough, it’s about the world as we perceive it and how our perception of it shapes our reality. But isn’t any drama with an intro-spective main character? You could compare this one to Special, but that one has a fantastic theme to itself, even if you take the drugs and their effects out of the equation. Fear me Not doesn’t but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. Quite the opposite in fact, it’s engaging, well-paced and has a cool style about it that reminded me of Haneke movies.

The story is kept small and plays out in few locations, with a focus on the characters and their changing situation. A good story about grief and growth, this one is recommended for anyone with a taste for gloomy scandinavian drama.

Il y a longtemps que je t’aime

Il y a longtemps que je t’aime (2008) – [rate 3]

This was a good watch and I enjoyed it, but the story didn’t really speak to me in that special way your favourite movies do. I think part of it were just the characters that were a bit hard to identify with, but what caught my eye most – in a negative sense – was the directing of the actors in some scenes. Continue reading Il y a longtemps que je t’aime

Thank you for Smoking

IMDb Logo Thank You for Smoking (2005) [rate 4]

This movie is about as good as it could have been and the only reason it’s short of the 5/5 mark are some details. Although it may be intentional, it seems strange not to have anyone smoke in a movie about Big Tobacco and it’s (evil?) marketing techniques. If it’s intentional, I would have expected the creators of Thank You for Smoking to play a little more with the idea. The only suggestion of smoking in the entire movie is the blueish tint of the air in some locations. The main character smokes, but this only becomes clear because of him grabbing a pack of cigs that happens to be empty when he does (in anotherwise great scene). Continue reading Thank you for Smoking