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Entries in Kon-Tiki (4)

Thursday
Apr252013

Some thoughts on the language barrier

For some people who live in the United States, this weekend will be their first opportunity to see Norway’s 2012 Best Foreign Language Film nominee Kon-Tiki in a movie theater. Sort of. In point of fact, nobody in the United States, not this weekend nor during the film’s limited roll-out, is going to see the film nominated for that Oscar, unless it’s because they’ve imported the unsubtitled DVD from Europe. Because the version of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg’s movie playing in the States is a combination of footage from the “real” version that played in Norway, with dialogue sequences re-shot in English. It is, literally, a different movie, with the exact same plot and shot setups.

(The New York Times had a nifty little demonstration of the two versions a couple of weeks back)

We’re not here to rip apart the Weinstein Company for releasing that version (though seriously, it’s pretty dumb – the audience for Kon-Tiki in English is certainly not significantly larger than the audience for the original version), but to consider the greater questions it raises about watching foreign language movies in the first place. I assume that you, like me, are at least a little bit offended by this bit of Anglophonic pandering, and would all things considered, rather see Kon-Tiki in its original version, and the question I ask both you and myself is: why?

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Feb232013

Talking "Amour" on CNN

Look how happy I was guaranteeing Ralitsa that Michael Haneke is going to win an Oscar tomorrow on CNN International's World Report! 

I will always discuss Best Foreign Film if people will listen. Also, I desperately had to pee. 

VIDEO AFTER THE JUMP

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Jan062013

Drowning in Oscary Waters All Over the World

It's less than 4 days until we're drowning in it! I was called to task a bit for the tsunami image from The Impossible that greeted my first "days until" Oscar nominations post a week ago. I understand the charge of insensitivity and I'll admit it was a weird judgment call. But I have been feeling not just metaphorically deluged. There is so much literal fear or water / drowning on screens this film season. Have any of you noticed? It didn't hit me at first since it's not a particularly visceral fear for me... I've always loved the water.

Let's recount each dive in this year...

If Steven Soderbergh had filmed Life of Pi this would be the entire color palette!

  • Beasts of the Southern Wild -for Hushpuppy drowning is the end of the world, hurricanes as apocalypse. Those shots of drowned animals and her thoughts about them having no daddies? Heartbreaking. 
  • The Impossible - tells a true story of survival from the 2004 Thai tsunami. I still think it odd that it's visual effects and makeup did not make the finalists list for Oscars.
  • Skyfall -Adele's killer theme song kicks in just as James Bond plunges into the water, presumably to rest in a watery grave... or at least to sink into the trippy watery grave visuals of the opening credits
  • Oslo August 31st - this critical darling drama about an addict in recovery basically begins with the protagonist going all Virginia Woolf by loading his pockets with rocks and walking out into the water
  • Life of Pi - at the center of an ungainly expository drama, is a miniature visual masterpiece about a shipwreck and a tiger and boy sharing a boat alone in the vastness of the ocean
  • Jeff Who Lives at Home - stacks its coincidences one on top of the other to lead to a drowning rescue scene
  • The Dark Knight Rises -- death by exile (SPOILER) exile being an icy watery grave
  • Rise of the Guardians -- begins with an icy drowning
  • Moonrise Kingdom features a big storm and flood
  • Amour - has flooding but in which context we shouldn't say
  • Rust & Bone - Marion Cotillard loses her legs in a killer whale accident in France's Sea World and there is also a drowning terror sequence
  • Zero Dark Thirty -the waterboarding torture sequence is what keeps everyone talking though it's a tiny part of the movie. But still: horrific.

 

Last night, the Film Society at Lincoln Center showed two of the foreign language finalists (sort of*), Iceland's The Deep and Norway's Kon-Tiki, a double bill that was the equivalent of being tossed into the deep-end of this reccurrent theme. Both are true stories about men surviving the unsurvivable on ocean journeys. 

Iceland's Oscar entry The Deep comes from Baltasar Kormakur (of 101 Rejkvjavik, Hafid/The Sea, and Contraband fame). It's both poetically moody and crudely matter of fact somehow. It's steeped in the inky blackness you'd expect from an ocean story at night. (I'm so pleased my screener didn't work because I can't imagine being able to see it at all outside of the movie theater). Hell, even before we hit the water we're in Iceland at night so you can image the darkness. We follow a group of fishermen around as they drink and drink prior to their next voyage. The awful shipwreck occurs relatively early into the movie and for such a simple reason it's surprising that any fishermen live to die from old age. The drowning sequences were, for me, horrific in their calmness, like watching people casually negated as the darkness envelops them. The Deep unfortunately loses its frost-bitten footing  post-ocean trauma when there's a surprising amount of the movie left and we move into a sort of barely there invegistave procedura. But I appreciated The Deep for being very Icelandic (memories of volcanic eruption and a harsh life on the inky sea inform the drama throughout) and as a sort of shoestring non-magical-realist counterpoint to Life of Pi when a fat man begins to converse with a seagull, his only company.

Thor Heyerdhal (the real version) and Thor Heyerdahl (the movie version) played by Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen Norway's entry Kon-Tiki dramatizes the once very famous balsa wood raft ocean voyage of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl. I say 'once' because two of my friends in their 20s that I spoke to about the movie had no idea who he was or that it was a true story. I knew the whole story from childhood since my parents had a thing for National Geographic magazines (we had a huge collection) and PBS documentaries -- I think I must have even seen Heyerdahl's self-mythologizing Oscar winning doc Kon-Tiki as a child at some point since the story was so familiar.

I sat down all excited to see the most expensive Norwegian movie ever made about one of the most famous Norwegians who ever lived about a story I knew and was immediately disappointed when everyone began speaking in English -- even in scenes set in Norway or between an entire cast of Norwegians (and one Swede). We definitely got off on the wrong foot this movie and I. As it turns out the filmmakers shot each scene twice, once in Norwegian and once in English and the version that's hitting Stateside theaters is, in fact, NOT the Oscar-competing film but it's English-language doppelganger. So most of us will never get to see the film that Oscar voters saw.

I came for a Norwegian adventure movie and got a strange hybrid film that seemed like a big budget Disney movie that had appropriated a foreign story. Maybe the acting was better in its native tongue? There was something about the coloring book simplistic character arcs and super accessible Movie-Movieness that made this very true story feel artificial, negating much of its power. As eye candy, though, the movie is really something, with the amazing beauty of both the Ocean and towheaded shirtless Norwegians exploited throughout. (And just like The Deep it makes an interesting counterpoint to Life of Pi . As in Ang Lee's picture there are scenes featuring bioluminscent marine biology, violent animal deaths, and mass flying fish suicides on a boat). C+

Friday
Dec212012

Foreign Film Oscar Finalists Offer Surprises and a Cold Snap

Each year, while I struggle to keep up with the foreign film submission charts and my sisyphean effort to find screenings or screeners of the 50 to 70+ films each year, Oscar's Foreign Film Nominating Committe cuts me off at the knees in my efforts. They always axe the bulk of the submissions and narrow the field to nine just as I've begun to make headway. Each year, I struggle to understand why nine? Ten (or more) would surely be easier to take for the finalists who did not find themselves Oscar nominated the following month. They could content themselves with a 50/50 chance, and consider it a toss of the coin misfortune rather than 'Nah, we don't like you so much!' 

"Kon Tiki", Norway's most expensive movie ever, is an epic adventure about explorer Thor Heyerdal. The Weinstein Co will handle US distribution.

The finalists, a surprisingly chilly bunch whether through auteur sensibility or subject matter (Austria, Canada, Romania) or actual wintry or wet physical temperatures (Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland) are...

  • Austria, "Amour," Michael Haneke, director; REVIEWED
  • Canada, "War Witch," Kim Nguyen, director;
  • Chile, "No," Pablo Larraín, director; REVIEWED
  • Denmark, "A Royal Affair," Nikolaj Arcel, director;
  • France, "The Intouchables," Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, directors;
  • Iceland, "The Deep," Baltasar Kormákur, director;
  • Norway, "Kon-Tiki," Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, directors;
  • Romania, "Beyond the Hills," Cristian Mungiu, director; REVIEWED
  • Switzerland, "Sister," Ursula Meier, director

Oscar Season Giveth
We knew that short of a voting catastrophe, Amour -- winner of numerous scrolls, plaques, and "you're great!" knicknacks --  would be here and perhaps need only fend off France's global hit for the gold. But I'm personally most thrilled for the delightfully ugly Chilean entry No which seemed like a longer shot than it turned out to be. (I had predicted it as a finalist but I admit that that was more wishful thinking than savvy prophesy!) Voters tend to favor traditionally "beautiful" movies in this category but No purposely goes for a cruddier VHS-inspired look and that aesthetic decision turns out to be super effective in the film's seamlessly well edited mix of acted and found footage from the Chilean political upheaval. As a Scandinavian Nut (my ancestry is Danish and I speak very broken Norwegian) I'm always happy to see those countries in the mix. I haven't yet seen Kon-Tiki but A Royal Affair is a fine costume piece that starts out deceptively traditional only to reveal itself in the telling as a surprisingly resonant political drama. That said, it's modern resonance is deeply  nfortunate. Tis a pity that we still have to fight the wars that should have been won from The Enlightenment centuries ago! But no, the rich are still preying on the poor, and still using shamelessly self-serving deceit and distortion to insure that a great many normal civilians keep buying into the system that oppresses them in favor of wealthy parasites -- just check out what Boehner and the GOP are up to every day!

Oscar Season Taketh Away
I personally loved The Philippine entry Bwakaw which is no longer in the running. I knew it was a more modest effort than they usually go for but I hoped its well modulated character study about a senior citizen and his beloved dog would melt their hearts. I had also hoped to see Spain's clever Snow White riff Blancanieves in the mix in the off chance that I could find a way to propose to Macarena Garcia and/or Sergio Dorado at an Oscar function (kidding! but they are beautiful) or be able to discuss silent films at the Oscars for the second year running (not kidding!).

The most high profile omissions are surely festival noise-makers Caesar Must Die from Italy, Fill the Void from Israel, and Barbara from Germany -- all three countries are frequent Oscar fixtures. The snub for the Golden Lion winner Piéta from South Korea isn't as surprising since Oscar is weirdly resistant to Asian cinema if the names Akira Kurosawa or Ang Lee aren't prominent in the credits.

How are you feeling about the Foreign Finalists and which do you think we'll be nominated? [SEE THE UPDATED CHART