Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Misfortunates - The Shittines of Things

If you could redeem your childhood halfway through your life with your conscience intact and everything else retracted, would you really want to celebrate what you’ve savored all your life and relive them all one by one, moment by precious moment? More interestingly, would you with just your scarred conscience, try and alter the course of your future to spawn a better you in the future? Or would you rather face the future unknown, that lies ahead of you and let fate take its vehement course? People talk about childhood memories like they were filled with confetti showers, picture-perfect memories festooned with innocence and simpler days with all the time in the world to think about nothing, with every disposable resource at your command, to fulfill the one purpose that the world existed at your feet: you. If you now reflect upon your past with that sort of fondness you find inexplicable, were you honestly aware of how dear those moments really were when you were actually living them? And would you be reflecting on what you are today, twenty years from now with the same amount of relish that you bestow upon your childhood? Why then do we find it so hard to see our present in the same light as we would from a mere filament of memory? Definitely, memory is no equal a substitute for reality. Or maybe, that’s what memories are for, archiving ourselves, a multi-hued reconciliation statement that stands testimony to what we are today, whatever they may represent. Questions and answers such as these appear like soap bubbles in air, while you watch the life of Gunther Strobbe unfold from the past into what he is today: a frustrated author sitting at a table holding a publisher’s letter of regret, regret at not finding his work interesting enough to publish, regret at not finding his life interesting; because it’s a templated apology for sending off his own autobiography into the trash. And with that, Gunther knows his whole life has come a full circle: from a childhood carved out of a garbage dump to a trash-can containing his whole life, documented. What has brought him to this abhorring point in his life? What is it that makes his life-story lying in a trash-can look ironic? Let’s roll back a decade. Kenneth Vanbaeden is Gunther, 13. Welcome to the Strobbes. Here’s your mug of beer. Let’s listen to that Roy Orbison tape, please.
The Strobbes aren’t exactly nice people to live with, especially for a maturing boy like Gunther. His uncles Beefcake, Koen and Petrol seemingly have little or no purpose in their lives, apart from drinking enough beer everyday to turn their bodies into huge, live alcohol faucets; and engaging in bizarre community activities that culminate in,.. well what else but more beer and stupor-style-sex.
The Strobbes live for the moment. Time is never a quantifiable aspect of their lives, rather it’s a mere constance of proportion within which they simply exist. They’ve all landed back at their aged mother’s spare hearth due to their particular problems: blackout drinking, compulsive gambling, non-stop whoring and chronic fighting. Not exactly solid-citizen types and certainly no role-models for Gunther. Gunther’s mother had long since abandoned the family because of his father, Marcel who being the eldest among the Strobbe brothers is the booziest of the lot, quite literally an ashtray inside a beer-bucket type, perpetually drunk and smelling of sweat, urine and vomit. He makes even his rowdy siblings look cultured and sober. Gunther himself barely fourteen, has taken up alcohol ages ago. He shares his room with his uncle who has sex on the floor next to his bed and who feeds him beer for breakfast. You can’t but help becoming increasingly worried at the moral peril this boy lives in. Gunther faces the brunt of the social life outside his home and at school, where a wider society fails to see in him, a boy in need of help and shuns him aside as one among his uncles and the rowdy gang of misnomers. His one honest attempt at gaining the trust of a friend is thwarted when the parents disallow the frienship for fear of bad influences from a Strobbe.
It is to be understood that child welfare services have tried to extract the boy from such living conditions, with dire results that had involved a lot of violence. The Strobbes believe that their home, small as it is, is one of the best places for Gunther to grow up in. Now, this is not fraught without sufficient reasons. Uncouth and nasty as they are, the Strobbes are one fiercely loyal, tight-knight family, whose love for each other remains genuine, in spite of the fact that it is horribly flawed. They are proud of their family, whatever there is to feel proud of, and stress the importance of some sort of a heritage within their hippie-lifestyle. Gunther loves them for all they are, and this is what makes it all the more harder for him to break free. The only sane member of the household is the Grandma, (whose character is unfortunately not detailed upon, leaving much to the speculation of the viewer) who sees the paradox in Gunther’s affection for the family. And so with her help, it isn’t long before the boy decides to take things into his hands and leaves home for boarding school, after violent and emotional moments in the house.
A few years from when we first see him as the failed author, Gunther has now become a respected novelist who’s well into his fifth book. But he still doesn’t want to let go of his family, and at the same time, he feels furious for having been deprived of so much, that has made him the mess he is today. His girlfriend’s pregnancy makes him scared of the responsibility, one that awaits him when the baby comes. He feels that the baby will turn into something worse than what he is today, being raised by one such as himself with a scarred conscience. The grandma is now in a home for the aged, with Asperger’s syndrome. His father and uncle Beefcake are no more, having drunken themselves to death. Petrol and Koen still haven’t lost their ways, beer bottles in hand. It takes a lot to reach back into your past with an eraser in your hand. But whether our Gunther is emotionally strong to break free to be the father that he has learnt not to be is to be seen and applauded in this rare gem out of the frugal platter of movies that Belgium manages to offer every year.
The cinematography is a revelation. If all you’ve ever seen of Belgium are from movies like In Bruges, JCVD, Dominique Deruddere’s Everybody’s Famous!, Lucas Belvaux’s films and L’Iceberg, don’t jump molten-eyed into that vacation plane before you watch this gritty, grimy version. Rubens Impens has sculpted a landscape out of filth and gloom in true cinema verité style, with a balanced, artful use of color and texture. The dreary existence of people’s lives disturb you. The Strobbes seem like the only ones with a laughter-vein within them. Residential neighborhoods feel eerie and closeted. The predominant public have an air of perpetual, stubborn joblessness about them. Everyone displays a profile of dejection. People don’t talk freely. Courtesy is rationed. I’m not well versed with history lessons, but was there some kind of civil disturbance at that time (70’s-80’s), I wonder..
And here’s that soundtrack you could die to lay your hands on, if you’re a seventies fan of rock music. Jeff Neve’s original compositions are a delight. And what could be crazier than seeing three grown men, drunk up to their red noses, crying and bleating to Rob Orbinson performing “Pretty Woman” on the telly?
The heavy essence of nondoctrinance and reckless, stagnant lifestyles along with depressing themes of decay shouldn’t keep you away from a charming movie such as this one. You’d only feel sad and puzzled as to why the Strobbes had never thought of becoming full-bloom hippies, which would atleast give a clear non-conformist foundation for Gunther to build upon, rather than to coerce their fun into societal violence. And it’s even sadder because none of this is mere fiction.

By Fazil (at
To read the original article, click here

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Soul Kitchen

Director Faith Akin is often called one of the most important contemporary German directors to have emerged in recent years. Soul Kitchen is Akin' highly anticipated first attempt at a genuine comedy. So far Akin has been has been more involved in the fields of drama and romance. In a recent interview he revealed he was curious to explore a more varied range of film genres which sounds like an interesting plan. In venice this year, the film was celebrated by the audiences and scored the special jury price.

The story revolves around a restaurant/club called Soul Kitchen and the troublesome life of its respectful owner Zinos. He has to overcome many struggles involving his girlfriend, his brother and the authorities. The film is set in the heart of the diverse northern German city of Hamburg, the home turf of the two scribes Faith Akin and Adam Bousdoukos.

The makers of the film call it a new take on the idea of the "Heimatfilm" - a rather preconceived loose genre which basically defines a film to have been made in the makers home country and dealing with issues relating to home and identity.

Akin described how he studied classical sketches by Charlie Chaplin and also looked at his method of working. A simple "joke" that comes off easy and natural on screen had been reworked over and over. For some of the scenes Akin admittedly said he had to shoot 30 takes before it felt right. This made him doubt his own abilities but in the end let him grow as a filmmaker and as an individual.

The result is a stellar solid performance by the entire cast. Many jokes and payoffs will unfortunately and without a doubt get lost in translation but still the timing and heartblood of the actors will still capture anyone's attention.

Akin makes use of a couple of his "regulars": Adam Bousdoukos, Moritz Bleibtreu and the great Birol Ünel but also introduces fresh unknown blood with the two female leads Lucia Faust and Nadine Krüger.

Having just seen another film recently I noticed myself how well this film is balanced out in comparison. There is a rhythm, a beat or a harmony. The soundtrack and editing allow the plot to flow organically and let the narrative play out smoothly. Interestingly Akin once mentioned that since "Gegen die Wand" (Head On, 2004) he is inspired by the songs used in his films in a visual way and sets out a soundtrack before the filming is finished.

The film marks Akin's first shot at wider levels of improvisation. Normally, he said in an interview with a German radio station, he has the script all planned out in detail; all the actors know what their dialogues are and maybe one or two things get changed, with feedback from the people on set but this time a lot of things were left undone on purpose to grow naturally out of the situations.

What I personally enjoyed a lot about Soul Kitchen is the way in which the film addresses its urban environment. Akin took a chance to shoot in a wide range of locations, many of which such the club "Mojo" have since closed down. It attempts to capture the spirit of the city at a point in time and successfully tells an emotional, personal story.

Recommended to anyone with a passion for fresh, clever and funny stories of life and the city.


When his girlfriend is murdered during a bank robbery escape attempt, former convict Alex vows to take revenge on the man who pulled the trigger. Vengeance seems to make perfect sense until he meets his target face-to-face.

'Revanche' is a film that holds its cards close to its chest. Just when you think you have the story pinned in the first half-hour, all hell breaks loose and the film takes a wholly unexpected turn. It is a film that not only challenges you to predict what comes next, but one that forces you to decide whether revenge ever makes sense, to confront feelings of anguish and make decisions you can live with. In the character of Alex, we have a man used to dealing with the rougher side of humanity, which has hardened him in order to survive. The loss of his girlfriend Tamara robs him of the only time he allows himself to be someone else, at peace with the world. Into this world comes the unassuming presence of Robert, a policeman committed to serving the public, yet whom has never faced the hardest part of the job: taking a life. When Robert is confronted by this reality, it is then that we truly learn who he is. This, ultimately, is what the film is about - throwing ordinary people into life's darkest waters and seeing whether or not they will swim back into the light. Writer and director Götz Spielmann presents the viewer with a very compelling drama, which, through its cast of identifiably real characters, engages the viewer throughout. The lines may be drawn between those who feel wronged, but at no time is it ever easy for the viewer to take sides.

This perhaps explains the film's pacing and choice of photography. The basic storyline as described could very easily apply to a fast-paced Hollywood blockbuster, trading humanity and intelligence for cliché and car chases. Yet in the truer world of grocery shopping and household chores, moments of high drama are spaced apart by long periods of calm inactivity, leaving people to brood into the small hours over the choices they have made - the perfect environment within which feelings of revenge and misery can blossom. 'Revanche' is paced in such a way, with the principal characters having to tend to family and the ordinary demands of life while barely holding themselves together over the losses they have suffered. Yet these are their only opportunities to heal and come to terms with their pain. Spielmann accentuates these sequences with often picturesque long shots within which silence reigns and the magnitude of the suffering seems to pale into comparison with the enormity of the surrounding world.

Johannes Krisch, who some IMDb readers have intriguingly compared to Robert Carlysle, is well-cast as the hardened Alex. He not only looks the part, but conveys just the right mix of softness within a wary, battle-worn shell. Andreas Lust, as Robert, expertly portrays the policeman whose life collapses beneath him, propelling him into a world of anguish and self-doubt. Credit also goes to Johannes Thanheiser as Alex's grandfather, a man for whom life is much the same each day, yet this is no reason to complain, and Ursula Strauss as Susanne, who, as Robert's wife, must balance her role as supporter in difficult times with her needs as a woman.

Ultimately, the film leaves the viewer to tie up the loose ends, inviting comment on the drama that has unfolded. This is definitely a strong effort from all concerned, and a very mature approach to what easily could have been a simplistic action snuff piece. It's art imitating life with frankness and honesty, and worthwhile viewing.