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Entries in Germany (16)

Sunday
Oct052014

NYFF: Beloved Sisters

"...and that is why you should nominate us for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars."Our NYFF coverage continues with Nathaniel learning a 'don't procrastinate lesson'

This will be brief though the movie is not. IMDb lists the running time of Beloved Sisters, a fine new costume drama, as 138 minutes. The version that screened this past week at NYFF was 170 minutes long or nearly three hours. I do not know which version AMPAS  foreign language film committee will be screening but as soon as I find out I'll share. I do know this: a 170 minute long movie in which you can't read any of your notes (due to scribbling on the same line repeatedly in the dark) should be written up immediately and not left to swiss cheese memory. 

Beloved Sisters is a true(ish) story about sisters Charlotte (Henriette Confurius) and Caroline (Hannah Herzprung) and the talented man they fall for (Florian Stetter as Friedrich Schiller). The sisters are the best of friends but for financial reasons they have to part; Their mother widowed, Caroline marries for money to help support her family. As the movie begins, Charlotte is now old enough to be shopped around town... excuse me "introduced into high society" as well. Though Charlotte is lovely and (mostly) obedient, she doesn't have the right temperament to acclimate to stuffy society events, aristocratic mores, and arranged marriages. Instead she wants to marry the penniless poet Schiller who will eventually become famous, hence the interest in making a movie about this at all over 225 years later. Her mother, in need of money, doesn't approve.

Soon married Caroline is also in love with Friedrich but, in stark contract to most love triangles, the sisters are happy to share him. One near-drowning which ends with Friedrich scandalously naked and warmed by the sisters sets this odd triangle on its two-decade course. Since history is not at all explicit about what went down between Schiller and the sisters he became so close to, there are many theories and Dominik Graf's film fills in the blanks with a kind of lush romanticism that wouldn't be out of place in a swoony romance novel albeit one without the bodice ripping salaciousness. The film is interested, though not heavily invested in the life of the mind and rather timid about sex actually. This doesn't feel like a misstep exactly since Charlotte's ideas of romance is naive and youthful and the character arcs largely involve the three of them accepting the compromises and difficulties of marriages and friendship.

Though many of the details of the film have slipped by me two weeks later (blame a month of constant film festivalling, not the movie itself) I still remember evocative production design from rich wallpaper to a the delapidated ruins of a family house,  and the wonderfully complicit reading of letters directly to camera. Most of all I remember the first half (which flies by) when love is new and all consuming. Beloved Sisters feels more ordinary the longer it plays, unfortunately, but the first half has a charming youthful idealism and a firm grasp on illicit if modest thrills that come from soulmate devotion, and secretive infatuations like a Heavenly Creatures without the blood spattering psychosis.

Previous NYFF Reviews here. Oscar submission charts here
16 Foreign Oscar Submissions Reviewed:  ArgentinaAustraliaBelgiumBrazilCanadaCuba,FranceGermanyIcelandLatviaMauritaniaNorwayPolandPortugalSweden and Venezuela

Friday
Sep192014

Foreign Film Oscar Watch: 43 Submissions and Counting!

With the expected announcements today from Belgium (Two Days One Night) and Canada (Mommy), forty-three countries have already announced their Oscar submissions which means we have 2/3rds of the list already (It's usually around 65-70 films). Okay, technically we have 42 at this writing but Canada will have announced by the time you read this (I'm offline for a few hours travelling hence publishing without that news) which we hope is the incredible Mommy. Every submission chart has been updated to reflect all the recent announcements.

I'm illustrating this news update with the striking poster from Colombia's entry Mateo which is about a teenager who is asked by his crime boss Uncle to infiltrate a local theater group and tell him everything about their political activities...

I haven't seen the film but from the looks of the poster he's enjoying his time with theater friends and might not want to betray them. Thus, DRAMA to come.

Of the 43 official submissions I have seen only five and I'd rank them in this order (links go to reviews or capsules if they exist here already):

  1. Force Majeure (Sweden)
  2. Mommy (Canada)
  3. Ida (Poland)
    the top three are basically tied. the number will change depending on my mood - they're all deeply impressive
  4. Beloved Sisters (Germany) - review next week
  5. 1001 Grams (Norway) 

But I've seen another handful of assumed submissions or viable threats for submission that we're still waiting on official word about... 

And now an amusing coincidence!
Both Germany's submission (Beloved Sisters) and Greece's submission (Little England) which appear side by side on the alphabetical chart are dramas about two sisters in love with the same man! I haven't seen the Greek film but in the German entry the sisters are totally okay with sharing. Or at least they plan to be in this feverish plunge into three hours of hopeless romanticism. It opens in the US on December 24th.

a very memorable scene from Germany's "Beloved Sisters"

Here are the charts. Explore and share with friend!

Pt. 1 Afghanistan through Ethiopia - 14 official submissions thus far
Pt. 2 Finland through Panama - 18 official submissions thus far including the first ever submission from Panama called Invasión
Pt. 3 Peru through Vietnam  -11 submissions thus far

Thursday
Sep112014

TIFF Quickies: 1001 Grams, Sand Dollars, Labyrinth of Lies

Nathaniel's adventures in Toronto. Day whichever.

Three more quick takes on Norway's Oscar submission, a LGBT romance of sorts in the Dominican Republic and a surprisingly intense film from Germany that I hadn't heard of before arriving.

Bent Hamer directs Ane Dahl Trop in the Norwegian Oscar submission "1001 Grams"

1001 GRAMS
How much does a soul weigh? I don’t mean to bring up painful memories of 21 Grams, but everything in 1001 Grams must be effortfully measured. Lab technician Marie is just such a meticulous woman, in charge of the official Norwegian kilo, which is to be weighed and calibrated in Paris at an annual seminar to ensure that all countries kilos are the same or else: chaos! Though the oddity of this international standards milieu suggests a comedy, what we get is stonefaced drama... or possibly comedy so dry, I needed a humidifier in the room to get it. Bent Hamer, who directed two previous Norwegian Oscar submisssions O'Horten and Kitchen Stories (neither won nominations), so precisely calibrates this new film that every image feels carefully storyboarded. There's a gorgeous balance of stark blues and bright whites and he often abandons our lonely protagonist in silhouette in dark sparsely furnished apartments. Even Marie’s car, an cute electric thing, fits the color schemes. When Marie and her colleagues take smoke breaks at work the images are so strictly shot that the actors seem like mice stopped for a moment to think (?) in a narrow stretch of  bureaucratic maze. Marie is so controlled that she can’t even express her grief when her father dies, and the actress Ane Dahl Torp, doing fine if limited work by the nature of the role, has to squeeze all Marie's hurt into tiny hollow syllables like “takk” (thank you) when people wonder how she’s doing. It’s a solid movie but unfortunately its strength, that crafted precision, is also its weakness. There’s so much time spent establishing how regimented, monotonous and empty Marie’s life is that the film turns into a dull laborious watch. Things eventually begin to change for Marie when she meets a bird-loving Frenchmen at a business seminar but the actual drama is so backloaded that it's tough to make it to the final stretch. Slightly touching in an unusually low key way, but it’s a complete mystery as to why Norway chose it as their Oscar submission over the daring and hypnotic Blind (Sundance review) which was also in the running. C+

Yanet Mojica and Geraldine Chaplin star in "Sand Dollars"

SAND DOLLARS
Wealthy septuagenarian Frenchwoman Anne (Geraldine Chaplin) is wiling away her twilight years on a private beach of the Dominican Republic. There’s little to tether her to France, her only child being estranged, and she’s fallen in love with a young local girl named Noeli (Yanet Mojica) though she knows almost nothing about her. Money is often exchanged though Noeli is neither, strictly speaking, a prostitute nor a kept girl. This intimate and relatively stable relationship (two years and counting) begins to crack when Anne wants to take Noeli back to Paris with her permanently. Sand Dollars hits its encomic colonialism, class disparity, and exploitation notes relatively indelicately  -- there's no mistaking the themes -- but the odd connections between its characters are, in contrast, delicately observed. Noeli's true feelings are hard to read, but she is both an attentive lover and shameless about requests for money. Little details begin to accumulate like the way Anne's mascara clumps always look like she's crying even when she's happy, how Noeli dances both for self pleasure and with awareness of the practical value of her body, the way that even when Noeli's boyfriend  looks away he's weighing the presence of "the old lady". The film gets under your skin especially with the complications of actual affection where only a business transaction would be easier for everyone. A minor film but sensitively delivered and blissfully short (80 minutes) in keeping with its slim story. B/B-

LABYRINTH OF LIES
For the first reel or two of this postwar German drama, I wondered why they’d cast such a handsome but blank lead actor (Alexander Fehling) as the protagonist Johann Radmann. Radmann is an ambitious young lawyer who, somewhat on a whim, takes an interest in unpunished war crimes and former Nazis teaching school children that a local activist reporter has clued him in to. But the initial empty suit impression is a false one. At a party early in the film the reporter tells his bohemian friends that they have to encourage Radmann until his flicker of humanity turns to a raging fire. It’s meant as a ‘loosen up’ joke, and very smartly delivered as an offhand remark rather than foreshadowing. But this is exactly what happens in this impressive debut feature from Giulio Ricciarelli. Fehling's performances, very well modulated, grows more and more intense as the new case shifts from curiousity to a detective-like fascination and then full blown righteous vendetta with Fehling's blown out eyes and angrier voice dramatizing that he hasn't slept in weeks, and that his daydreams are all nightmares. The story is fascinating, detailing the widespread ignorance about The Holocaust in Germany just one generation after the war. Auschwitz, for example, the chief subject of the investigation, is a place most young Germans the lawyers talks to have never heard of. Labyrinth of Lies is glossily made (perhaps too glossy?), well acted, and moving with a constant throughline of the need for survivors to tell their stories and for people to understand their own country's history and face their own demons.

Germany was the first country to ever try its own soldiers for war crimes and if there is a significant mark against the film it's that this is, frankly, an impossible story to squeeze into a 122 minutes motion picture. It's implications are so vast and though the movie has many fine scenes and is appropriately sober about the psychic turmoil of survivors and the need to understand your nation's own character and face your own personal demons, it also wants to be a detective story and a romance. Labyrinth is sometimes so swift that some of the developlments and results feel convenient rather than desperately produced or are brushed off so quickly that they matter less in retrospect. I rarely ask for movies to be longer but this one could have used Zodiac's willingness to chase loose ends and run on for at least another half hour or so. B/B+ 

Alexander Fehling loses himself in horrific documentation of World War II

Also at TIFF
A Little Chaos
The New Girlfriend
Wild
The Gate, Cub, The Farewell Party and Behavior
The Theory of Everything and Imitation Game
Foxcatcher and Song of the Sea
The Last Five Years
Wild Tales and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Force Majeure, Life in a Fishbowl and Out of Nature
Mommy
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
Charlie's Country

Wednesday
Aug272014

Foreign Film Oscar Watch: Denmark, Germany, Venezuela, Nepal

The trickle of foreign film submission info has become and soon it will be a flood. Over the new few days I'll be filling out a lot more of the foreign language submission charts which are written by me and my multi-lingual friend A.D. who knows so much about foreign cinema in so many atypical places he sometimes makes my head spin. But before all that charty speculation a handful of actual news items. 

Jhola from Nepal

New Official Submissions
Jhola is the official submission from Nepal. Nepal enjoyed one previous nomination in this category for Caravan (1999) but they haven't submitted regularly. Jhola is a period piece about the Nepali society custom of the wife having to set herself on fire when her husband dies and go with him. Horrific! Actress Kanchi Garima Panta is said to be very good in the lead role.

Beloved Sisters was announced today to represent Germany. Germany is always a threat in this category since the country has enjoyed 18 nominations and 3 wins. German films were most popular with Oscar during the Aughts (6 nominations and 2 wins) but despite coming close on those new January 'finalist' lists, they haven't been nominated since Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon (2009) which surely would have won its category had Amour preceded it rather than followed it.

But I'm getting sidetracked with stats. Dominik Graf's Beloved Sister is a romantic love triangle (menage a trois) between the poet Friedrich Schiller and two sisters. The film premiered at Berlinale early this year. Useless trivia: Graf's partner is the director Caroline Link who won the Oscar for Germany for Nowhere in Africa and was also nominated for Beyond Silence.

Narrowing It Down
Denmark, a major powerhouse in this particular category with 10 nominations and 3 wins, is choosing between three films: Niels Arden Oplev's 70's feature Speed Walking set just after pornography was legalized and focused, as I understand it on a confused teenager who loses his mother; Pernille Fischer Christensen's Someone You Love about a singer/songwriter (Mikael Persbrandt who starred in the Danish Oscar winner In a Better World and is in The Hobbit films as well) returning to his homeland to record a new album; and Nils Malmros' semiautobiographical Sorrow and Joy, based on that time his wife, um, killed their child. Yikes.

Denmark won't choose between them until September 18th but both Oplev and Malmros have been selected before, Oplev for Worlds Apart (2008) and Malmros, an important figure in Danish cinema though he's not prolific, for both Boys (1977) and Barbara (1997) respectively. (Oplev, it's probably worth noting, directed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009) starring Noomi Rapace.) None of those submissions were nominated.

Venezuela has also narrowed it down to a few films but the battle is said to be between Libertador and Bad Hair. You may recall that I saw Bad Hair (Pelo Malo) at the Tribeca Film Festival and I really loved it so obviously that's the one I'm rooting for. I'm not sure if Oscar would respond well but it's brilliantly judged, very subtle, racially though-provoking and gay themed. A.D. thinks that given Venezuela's political climate it'll probably be Libertador which would be a more traditional choice as its a historical war drama about Simon Bolivar who fought over 100 battles in South America. It stars Venezuela's most high profile international star Édgar Ramírez who had such a huge breakthrough a few years back with the miniseries/super long movie Carlos (2010)

Previously Announced Submissions
We've already discussed Poland's amazing film Ida a few times (it seems like a shoo-in but you never know with this category). Other announced submissions include two profile Cannes breakout in Hungary's White God and Turkey's Winter Sleep. And Romania chose The Japanese Dog.

Saturday
Jul262014

NewFest: "Futuro Beach" and "Gerontophilia"

This double feature review was originally printed in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad

Help, he’s drowning! In good movies so don’t rush to the rescue. Both the opening and closing night films of this week’s satisfying NewFest (July 24th-29th), NYC's annual LGBT film festival in partnership with OutFest, begin with a drowning. Both drownings become romantic catalysts for the lifeguard, but the films couldn’t be more different in tone or purpose so it’s surely a coincidence. NewFest got the order right, opening with the dramatic punch and ending with a sweet drive into the sunset.

In the Brazilian/German film FUTURO BEACH, which opened the annual LGBT film festival Thursday night, two tourists are hit by violent waves. Lifeguards rush in to save them but only one survives. Donato (Wagner Moura) shaken up by losing his first swimmer, seeks out the survivor's friend, a sporty motorbike enthusiast named Konrad (Clemens Schick) to explain the process for dealing with the body. Soon they're angrily rutting, caught up in the disorienting and wrenching drama. Their hookup appears destined to burn bright and die quick due to its emotionally disconnected start and its rapid and frank visual presentation -- English language cinema still lags far behind European cinema in its depictions of sex; the full frontal here is presented as if it’s no big deal.

[More...]

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Friday
May162014

"Alone in Berlin" and Back on Marquees

Few things gave greater pleasure last year than the reemergence of Emma Thompson on the film scene, shoe chucking, Annie-scripting, Mary Poppins writing, and all. I'm not sure who or what convinced Emma that it was time to reclaim her place in the cinema but I thank them profusely and ever so much.

While she didn't receive the expected Oscar nomination for Saving Mr Banks, despite carrying it on her very capable film-elevating shoulders, her next project looks super promising so we hope it picks up interest in the Cannes market.

If all goes according to plan she'll play one half of a married couple who defy Nazis in Alone in Berlin. The true story is based on the book "Alone in Berlin" by Hans Fallada. The plot premise goes like so...

Berlin, 1940, and the city is filled with fear. At the house on 55 Jablonski Strasse, its various occupants try to live under Nazi rule in their different ways: the bullying Hitler loyalists the Persickes, the retired judge Fromm and the unassuming couple Otto and Anna Quangel. Then the Quangels receive the news that their beloved son has been killed fighting in France. Shocked out of their quiet existence, they begin a silent campaign of defiance, and a deadly game of cat and mouse develops between the Quangels and the ambitious Gestapo inspector Escherich...

With Emma leading a drama we're in good hands but the rest of the cast makes it doubly enticing. Actor turned director Vincent Perez (Queen Margot) has also enlisted Mark Rylance, in many ways the reigning god of the stage, as Emma's husband.

Rylance in the sexually explicit Intimacy (2001) his last bigscreen leading man gig, and in "Jerusalem" for which he won all theater awards ever created a few years ago

He's rarely onscreen though if you've seen Intimacy (2001) or Angels and Insects (1995) you'll remember him. Hollywood's favorite youngish German Daniel Brühl (Rush, Inglourious Basterds) is also on board and we assume he is the key baddie Escherich.

Sounds promising, yes?

Emma with Terry Gilliam at a film premiere last monthEmma Thompson just turned 55 and though the fiftysomething years tend to be the leanest for actresses (too old, under Hollywood logic, to lead movies and too young for the juicy "old lady" roles) but maybe Emma's people realized that Dench (79), Redgrave (77), Mirren (68), and Smith (79) aren't getting any younger. Thompson is their natural successor for that whole swath of character types and Thompson doesn't seem to have much competition in the realm of aging British divas that virtually everyone loves. Tilda Swinton (53, after all, is her own special case and weirdly ageless, never young even when she actually was or old now unless the makeup artists are having Budapest prosthetic fun with her). Thompson's main competition for these future roles was surely Kristin Scott Thomas (54) but she's planning that vanishing act now. American actresses not named Streep have it much much rougher than their British counterparts once they hit their fifties so it would be wise for that generation of stars (Bening, Moore, Linney, Clarkson, Hunter, Tomei) or any that have already all but vanished who'd like to return (Allen, Pfeiffer, Davis, McDormand) to start honing their plummiest British accents. 

Sunday
Apr272014

Tribeca: Three Bizarro Twin Gay Films

Tribeca wraps tonight but we're still writing. Here's your host Nathaniel on three LGBT offerings. Portions of this piece were originally published in his column at Towleroad

The Tribeca Film Festival, founded in 2002 at least in part to help revitalize the Tribeca neighborhood after 9/11, has migrated and grown over the years; in 2014 I saw almost everything in Chelsea. An apt location because there seemed to be a lot of gay movies. Here are three, the first two of which seem like warring fraternal twins and the other which may or may not have psychotic doppleganger issues.

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