Posts Tagged ‘Best Foreign Film’

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”: Effective…but Great?

January 22, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

***There are minor spoilers throughout as this turned out to be more of a critique than a review.***

I’ve come to a conclusion over my limited years of movie viewing that there can be a difference, albeit a very abstract one, between a great movie and an effective movie. Both categories share similar qualities which makes it difficult to tell them apart sometimes. They share the skillful touch of a true craftsman, an absorbing musical score, lush visuals and fine performances, but in the end sometimes even the greatest movies lack in their effectiveness and vice versa effective movies aren’t always great ones.

For a great movie to be ineffective, the third act sometimes fizzles away, or it could simply be that certain elements don’t gel so the emotional connection is lost. A great movie might play more to the intellectual side of the viewer, relying on the audience to fill in the banks, consider this years Charlie Wilson’s War or perhaps There Will Be Blood (great movies, but effective only to a point.) On the other hand an effective movie will through the use of certain creative techniques force you to feel what the main character is going through. Sometimes the method used can be tedious, other times overwhelming and many times exhausting, but when done well can envelope you into the mindset of it’s protagonist. Of course when these two elements are combined you have an Oscar winning film…(right?) I would say Zodiac and No Country for Old Men fit into this category.

Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is an incredibly effective film, but I would argue against its true greatness. It follows the life of former Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) between the moment he wakes up from a coma to find that the only part of his body he can move is his left eye (called lock-in syndrome) to the publication of his book which the movie is based on.

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“Persepolis”: And the resistance dies quietly…

January 1, 2008

Persepolis

There are images in Persepolis that hold the emotional weight which most movies can’t force out of me in two hours. There’s haunting images, images of joy, of fear, sadness, hatred, beauty and because the imagery is so strong – it’s a black and white graphic novel style animation that accentuates the emotional struggle by exaggerating human characteristics, nuns that move around like snakes is a particular joy to watch (the image above) – and with this strong surrealistic style it heightens the feeling of what it’s like to have the country you grew up in┬átaken away from you and controlled by religious fanatics who are more power hungry than righteous. Then being uprooted from your suddenly morphing home and sent to another country where as hard as you try you can’t relate and the roots of your own life never quite break into the soil. This movie begs the question, who are we if where we come from has been taken away from us?

Marjane is the young girl in question and Iran is the country. What did I know about Iran other than what reporters bark at me and what our own religious fundamentalists would like us to believe. Iran is a bad place, right? Where their idea of God is skewed, right? And everyone there is exactly the same in their beliefs, right? Isn’t that the same way of thinking that allows terrorists to attack our country? Aren’t we religious zealots to them? I’m sure our own government doesn’t mind that the general public views the rest of the world under a simplified light, it allows them to go to war whenever they feel like it. What Persepolis does is add perspective. And it does it through the eyes of that young woman Marjane.

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“4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days”: The Scariest Kind of Horror Film

December 26, 2007

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

The title is far scarier and problematic than it suggests, and like most films of its nature the people who need to see it won’t. Let me write it again (to get it out of my system)… 4 Months, 3 weeks, 2 day is a film by Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, and it’s gnawing away at me. Sometimes a person has to write to get it out of their system, this is one such time. I walked into the movie theatre this evening wanting to experience something different and I got my wish bestowed upon me times three. All that I knew of the film was the title from a few best of year lists, and the fact that its now up for a Golden Globe and will more than likely be up for an Oscar.

Now the question is as it always is, how do I unfold the story to you without ruining the experience in the way I experienced it? So I’m not going to give you a synopsis of the story because the psychology of the film works better if you don’t know going into it and while the film focuses on one particular event and the aftermath of it it’s not what the movie is about. This film unfolds like a first person story – one of the only films that I’ve seen work as a first person film – and to feel the confusion and exacerbation that Otilia is going through for her friend Gabriela, it helps not to know what the event is. The first twenty minutes is a daunting task as we play catch up to our two young women preparing for something though for what we’re not sure. This movie is in the details so pay careful attention to the small things Gabriella focuses on and thinks are important. When you understand everything, think back on these things and you’ll end up shaking your head in dismay. She’s a girl in a woman’s body, able to experience things as a woman, but unable to maturely handle the responsibility and repercussions of her actions. Otilia is a pushover but she’s dependable, dependable to a fault. She’s the character we end up following around through the preparations and the reason why we’re kept in the dark is so that our own frustrations are amplified to match her frustrations, but once we do get the idea we’re taken through every emotion she goes through, as she’s going through it. The camera follows Otilia’s shadowy figure through streets allowing us to feel like we’re walking the streets. We jump when she jumps, we get nervous when she does – is that guy following her or is he just going the same way? She is invited to sit around a cramped dinner table while she anxiously awaits the opportunity to excuse herself, and we wait along just as anxiously. This isn’t done with the use of music, or with tricky editing, but letting the camera sit opposite Otilia with everyone crammed into the edges of the frame. There are no cuts. And we wait, and wait, until we hear the phone ring. She wants to get it, but can’t…how can a person answer someone else’s phone? She’s too kind to excuse herself, we would be too kind to excuse ourselves, so we wait it out, nodding our head to the polite chatter and answering questions we’ve been asked a million times before, we have to. Layers upon layers build, and we sit, getting more and more anxious. Waiting for the worst to happen.

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