The first week of 2011 has been fantastic on the movie watching front. I’ve seen a whole pile of foreign films, and pretty much enjoyed them all. There’s some interesting stuff here.
Arn: The Knight Templar – Dir. Peter Flinth. Writ. Hans Gunnarsson. Based on the novels by Jan Guillou. Stars Joakim Natterqvist, Sofia Helin, and Stellan Skarsgard. Sweden, 2007.
Thanks to Caroline for her recommendation to watch this movie! It was an excellent crusade movie, medieval drama, and love story. It follows the escapades of Arn, the son of a Swedish nobleman (who, true to the time, is as glamorous as a hard working farmer can be). After falling in love with his lovely neighbor Cecilia, who is promised to another man, things go epically wrong for Arn. He is excommunicated from the Catholic church and banished into the ranks of the Templar Knights to serve in the crusades for 20 years. Cecilia is tossed into a nunnery for a similarly lengthy sentence. While she is tormented by a particularly nasty nun, he is fighting to remain alive while maintaining his dignity, and his (gratifyingly) open mind. The movie is lavish, with many characters and settings, and it is believable in all its gritty detail. The battle scenes are brutal, the love scenes are tender. If you’re in the mood for a nearly 3 hour sweep of medieval costumes and locals, definitely watch this.
The Fifth Element – Writ. & Dir. Luc Besson. Stars Bruce Willis, Mila Jovovich, and Gary Oldman. France, 1997.
I’ve been meaning to watch this forever, and I’m glad I finally got around to it. A sci-fi extravaganza that is awesome in its visual scope and a bit puzzling in its plot lines, The Fifth Element is a whole lot of fun. The basic story of a great evil coming to wipe out all goodness left in the world, and the plucky and destiny driven heroes who save the day, is amped up a decimal or two by outrageous settings and costumes and the most bizarre side-kicks and villains. A great cast (with crazy performances from Ian Holm and Chris Tucker, in addition to the package listed above) rounds out a hilarious and whacked vision of future life.
District B13 – Dir. Pierre Morel. Writ. Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri. Stars Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, and Tony D’Amario. France, 2004.
After watching The Fifth Element, I was scanning the Netflix instant play options and noticed that it’s director, Luc Besson, was involved in District B13. In a Paris of 2010 where the worst of the violent ghettos have been walled off from the rest of the city, a good punk and a good cop join forces to take down a vicious crime lord, while simultaneously stopping a stray bomb from going off and blowing the entire ghetto to kingdom come. The energetic and highly skilled stars of the movie are both stunt men, trained in martial arts and Parkour. While the storyline is fairly ho hum and the acting is a little weak, there is no denying the bolts of adrenaline that ricochet out of the screen when these guys get going – whether they are fighting or simply running away, they do it with insane athletic style which is just exciting enough to make up for what else the movie lacks.
Let the Right One In – Dir. Tomas Alfredson. Writ. John Ajvide Lindqvist. Stars Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson. Sweden, 2008.
I don’t venture into the horror realms very often, but I had heard a lot of interesting things about this film. In the bright daylight of late morning I attempted it, and was glad that I did. This is not your average vampire movie. 12-year old Oskar is being bullied at school, and doesn’t seem to have any friends until a strange girl moves in next door. He is immediately drawn to her, and a friendship develops, in spite of her odd aversion to light and food, and the rash of ugly murders that begin to take place in the surrounding snowy suburbs. As Oskar gets closer to the truth he must decide exactly what sins love can forgive. The movie is mesmerizingly slow, with long quiet shots. Both Kare Hedebrant as Oskar and Lina Leandersson as Eli are fantastic. The choice of when to show gruesome details and when to hid them in shadow is particularly unsettling, and the creepiness is confounded by the sweetness of lonely hearts finding companionship. And yet by the end I questioned even that sweetness, perplexed by a subtle suspicion that there was more going on beneath the surface. I liked that the movie gave me time to really consider the circumstances, and did not try to lead me to any particular conclusion. A well crafted and strange movie.
The Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner – Writ. & Dir. Werner Herzog. Stars Walter Steiner. West Germany, 1974.
Before this I had only seen some of Herzog’s fictional work. This documentary about ski flyer and woodcarver Walter Steiner was quite interesting. Ski flying, to my understanding, is bigger and badder ski jumping, and Steiner was a champion. The film followed him through a competition where he was challenged to break records for distance. A ramp and jump had been built that he felt was too dangerous for a flyer of his immense skill, and even as he landed (and crashed through) the longest jumps in history, he knew that he had reached the limits of what men and skis could do. His love of flying and his quiet, stoic nature are compelling, and the incredible footage of ski jumps and some of the intense crashes makes for riveting watching. Some of the slow motion shots of a ski flyer in flight, set to haunting music, are really exquisite. Not my favorite Herzog, but a good introduction to his documentary work.
The Jackal of Nahueltoro – Writ. & Dir. Miguel Littin. Stars Nelson Villagra. Chile, 1969.
The Miguel Littin thread! This movie retold the true story of a poor, uneducated man who in a drunken stupor murdered a mother and her five children. After being sent to prison for this hideous crime, he learned to read and became a Catholic and picked up skills in basket weaving and guitar making. He faced his eventual death sentence with dignity and remorse. The story as Littin tells it draws out a complex sympathy for Jose, who was given the short straw from day one. With its documentary style and handheld camera work, I got the feeling that I was being presented the facts as they were. While questions were raised – could Jose’s death by the Chilean state also be called murder, if such a government and society could stand to see a child raised to become like him? – no specific answers were given. Visually the movie had some very interesting parts, with the actual murder scene being the most peculiar and unsettling. Overall I was intrigued by Littin’s work, and I would be interested in seeing more, if I ever find any.
What have you been watching in this first week of 2011?