Tuesday, August 29, 2006


For once, some comedy based on the War.


A charming tragicomedy about a young man's tireless efforts to spare his ailing mother some unfortunate news about the Berlin Wall, Good Bye, Lenin! was more than a hit movie when released in its native Germany last year. Instead, it snowballed into a cultural phenomenon. Germany's reunification was popularly perceived as a triumph of vibrant Western capitalism over feeble Eastern socialism. But the psychological impact on the former citizens of the German Democratic Republic went largely overlooked. These people were expected to forget 40 years of dogma overnight and do so with a Coke and a smile. As director Wolfgang Becker says, "Just imagine your life changing completely from one day to the next and nobody asks if it is okay for you."

Alex (Daniel Brühl) and Ariane (Maria Simon) live with their mother, Christiane (Katrin Sass), in East Berlin. Single since her husband defected a decade before, Christiane is a passionate socialist who ardently believes in the GDR's promises of equality. A heart attack puts Christiane in a coma days before the Wall comes down. As she sleeps for eight months, her kids adapt to the new economy: Alex begins selling satellite dishes while Ariane trades in her drab lifestyle for a Burger King uniform and a West Berliner boyfriend. Though her children are relieved when Christiane wakes up, the doctor tells them that a sudden shock could provoke another heart attack. Alex essentially recreates the GDR for his mother, going so far as to create fake news broadcasts that continue to trumpet capitalism's imminent collapse.

Good Bye, Lenin!'s often hilarious but essentially melancholy tale of a family getting trampled by the march of history struck a chord with German viewers and commentators, most of whom are just beginning to get some perspective on the shotgun wedding that occurred between the two Germanys 14 years ago. "For some reason, it became a big media thing in Germany," says Becker in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. "There was a big wave of what they called 'Ostalgia' -- the word is a combination of nostalgia and 'Ost,' which means east. Every television station now has a retro show about the GDR and things like this."

A veteran television and film director who co-founded Berlin's X-Filme production company with Tom Tykwer, Becker is understandably pleased that Good Bye, Lenin! has been so successful in countries where it has not sparked social debates. It won six awards at the European Film Awards and has outgrossed Tykwer's Run Lola Run to become the most internationally successful German film ever. Healthy per-screen averages in the first weeks of its US release suggest that Good Bye, Lenin!'s success will be repeated over here.

With a sparkling score by Yann Tiersen (Amélie) and a careful balance of whimsy and pathos, Becker's film is very engaging. Though lightweight as a political satire, Good Bye, Lenin! manages the tricky task of generating sympathy for the citizens while ridiculing the state. "The people who had to live in the GDR are something completely different than the system of the GDR," says Becker. "I think it was right that the GDR broke down because it was a perversion of the socialist ideal. For the word 'democratic' to be in GDR was just ridiculous. They took it seriously in the beginning but forgot it very fast. But people like Christiane always remembered the good intentions and were hoping the politics would come back. And the government kept telling people, 'Socialism is the superior system, even if you can't see that right now. Just wait another 10 years.' It's like the Catholic church saying, 'It's very bad on Earth but if you come to Heaven, everything will improve... as long as you do what we say.'"

What Good Bye, Lenin! mocks is not Christiane's faith but the system that demanded it. Alex's well-intentioned but absurd conspiracy to dupe his mother reveals how deeply he was influenced by that system as well. An equal-opportunity satirist, Becker -- a West German native who has lived in Berlin since 1974 -- also pokes fun at the inane consumerism of his half of the country.

Nevertheless, the director insists that his film "is not a matter of systems. It's just that there were a lot of interesting, intelligent people and good characters living in the GDR. And they have a right to have their positive memories, even if these memories come from a country and a time of dictatorship. It's not good to tell people they lived their lives in vain only because they had the bad luck to live under the wrong circumstances."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Au Sud des Nuages

Adrien (Bernard Verley) embarks on a trip of his life after spending a full seventy years in the cold, comfortable lonliness of the swiss alps. This follows his adieu to his cows after his wife, Marie died too. He is initially accompanied by some of his village friends - Leon, Willy and Lucien Prolong. Things look set for a wonderful trip, when Roger, Leon's nephew - a nit-wit who is more of an irritation than company and a know-all busybody, with a whole array of travelling aids with him - joins them. Slowly the other three leave Adrien and Roger and go back home. Adrien, inspite of his fits of anger at Roger slowly learns to manage with him. The trip is by now, almost over from the swiss alps, to germany, to russia, china, and now mongolia. Roger encounters a young woman ,Odma (a mongoilan) who needs help and protection in the train from someone who had tried to harm her. Ultimately, he falls in love with her. Truly, madly, deeply in love, Roger dosen't let go of his love even after she disembarks from the train and follows her without Adrien's knowledge. Disgusted and worried at the same time, Adrien tracks him down (with the help of Odma's photograph which she had given him), only to find that Roger has given himself so completely to Odma that he had decided to marry her and live in the small hamlet in Mongolia. Thus we are left with the only member of the initial group of five who completes the trip by reaching the chinese bull-fight festival. Adrien also keeps remembering his wife at times, in his effort to forget her on the trip. Only at the end does he speak out about the pain he suffers. How you feel about this story and about its main character will probably depend on where you come from. While some of the background and people are uniquely Swiss, the stoicism of the hero is known in many other parts of the world, mountains as well as prairies; any place where men (and women)live alone, in rural isolation, proud of their independence yet suffering from a deep loneliness that they can't even articulate to themselves. I would like to add that this is neither a depressing film nor a slow one -- the journey moves swiftly, there are many humorous and poignant moments, and at 85 minutes, you find yourself getting to China almost too soon. And if the end is more allegorical than realistic, it has a poetic quality that I found touching and memorable.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


"She's gone. And the present is trivia, which I scribble down as f@$#*ng notes"
If I told you the entire plot of this film it really wouldn't matter as it is an exquisite paean to the subjectivity of memory and therefore is in itself ambiguous; the ‘truth' of it is up to you. You come out of the cinema questioning yourself, your memories, your truths. Nothing in this film is as it seems, and yet paradoxically everything is as it seems. We see everything through Guy Pearce's characters' (Lenny) eyes, unfortunately he has no short-term memory so cannot form new memories. He would have already forgotten the first sentence of this review. He lives in snapshots of life; his only form of memory is his Polaroid camera, just like in the excellent German film Wintersleepers; also (partly) about a short-term memory disorder.

In this film Lenny takes snapshots to remember who people are, where he now lives, his car, everything. As you can imagine this is perfect for paranoia, suspicion, uncertainty, confusion, and betrayal. And that's exactly what you get in extreme doses. The difference between this film and Wintersleepers however is that Memento is entirely from Lenny's perspective. This therefore creates an imaginative, creatively unsurpassable film. The film begins where it should end, so far so trite, but here's the beauty, we, like Guy Pearce, learn in fragments what's going on. It is therefore perfect for those who love to second guess what's going to happen, who did what, who's doing what and why. The beauty of this film though is that my interpretation could be so different from yours, and neither of us could be sure whose interpretation is the right one; if there is a right one at all. Nothing is certain, nothing is clear. Another beauty of this film is the way it is filmed and edited. Pieces are shown a number of times with no real linear link between them, just like it would be if we ourselves had a memory disorder, and then they are cut up and edited next to things that happen either before or after it. It's just like holding ten different and linearly distinct Polaroids in your hand and having a short-term memory disorder. Excellent.

I'm not even sure if watching it again will make things any less ambiguous, but then who cares? The ambiguity is what makes this a great film, if it wasn't so cut up, or from Lenny's perspective it would be both very short and trite; and lacking in tension, suspense and interest. But as it stands it has all three, isn't trite and says so much about humanity. Oh, and the plot? It really doesn't matter, all you need to know is that everything about this film is indicative of the subjectivity of memory, of our experiences and interpretations of all that happens to us. Nothing will seem as black and white as it did beforehand. It will make you question every memory you have, almost as much as possessing a psychology degree, as I do! So, go and see it: be confused, acknowledge the frailty of all you know to be true, and then imagine the freedom of actually being Lenny, and then the horror of having nothing, nothing but the reliance of a pen and a Polaroid camera to know who you are.

Incredible, riveting and powerful. What else could I say? This movie has all of the qualities of classic film noir as well as the magnitude of an original, unique concept that has been tried and tired before but works here.
Guy Pearce has been underrated for years (just think back now to Priscilla and can you believe this is the same guy) and finally might get the recognition here that was at least well-deserved of him back for LA Confidential. Powerful perfomances, well developed story with suspensful buildup of what our main character pieces together little by little makes this a must see.


Young Edgar, called Sweetie by his mother, lives on a beautiful French estate with extensive gardens. His father is a successful film producer, his mother is at a bit of a loose end. Edgar is not very interested in his parents, only in the garden. With Lucas, the estate's gardener, he tends the flowers that bloom abundantly, disguising the aridity of the family's relationships.

Lili, Sweetie's mother, has decided to adopt a third-world child. She tells Edgar this the day before she and husband Hughes depart to Peru to pick up the infant. Hughes is hoping that a five year old Incan will behave more like a son than the garden-obsessed, hot-headed Edgar. Unable to understand his son, Hughes has fallen into the habit of beating him mercilessly, leaving Sweetie with the garden, his doctor, Lucas, occasionally his mother, and Roger Hannin, the famous French actor and long-time ally.

When Lili and Hughes arrive home with Anibal, Sweetie is less than impressed at 'the Incan' as he refers to him. But Anibal has hidden strengths and weaknesses, both of which will form bonds between the boys.

Anibal is filled with the sort of moments that Oprah would approve of, from the growing relationship between the two boys to the positive (although not always ethical) older role models provided by Lucas, the doctor and Roger. Set mostly at the family's beautifully designed home, the brittle interaction between plant-loving Sweetie and money-loving Hughes is played out in the set. Hughes and his film friends stay close to the house and pool, looking at the natural world's beauty, but distant from it. More interested in money and prestige than his children, Hughes cannot understand the need for nurturing that comes instinctively to Sweetie. His inability to relate to his children leads to rejection, and near-tragedy.

The child actors are very well chosen, playing children as children, without the post-modern dialogue often put into the mouths of babes by American film makers. Edgar is as bratty as a 10 year old should be. Little Anibal's asthma attacks are even more terrifying since he is portrayed by a child so small that he looks as though the ragged breaths might break him in two. The adults too fit their roles with grace and aplomb, Roger Hannin seems to be on the edge of fulfilling every Gallic stereotype out of a sense of fun before becoming a person as well as a famous actor.

It's not the deepest of films, but there is a great charm that extends well beyond the scenery. I was about to go to bed when I happened to see the opening credits, by the end I was happy to have missed the sleep.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Quynh Anh ft. Marc Lavoine - J'espère

A really awesome video i saw recently. Of course es ist auf französisch. Allez-y, regardez-le et signalez vos commentaires!