All 4 entries tagged Competition

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November 10, 2008

Trois Couleurs: Bleu

5 out of 5 stars

Spielberg or Kieslowski?                           By Sam Magrath

Juliette Binoche’s career path could have turned out quite differently from the way it has. In 1993 she was faced with a tough but enviable choice. Steven Spielberg had offered her the lead female role in his blockbuster, Jurassic Park. Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski had Binoche in mind for the first in his Three Colours trilogy, which was to be entitled Blue. Few actors turn Spielberg down; Binoche proved the exception. After reading the script for Jurassic Park, which, it would be an understatement to say, is a little lacking in the characterisation department, Binoche memorably remarked that all the good roles in the film had already been allocated – to the dinosaurs. She chose to make Blue, which said a lot about the kind of artist she wanted to be and the kind of films she wanted to make; she could so easily have become a Hollywood darling, making blockbusters and cashing in huge cheques. True, she has made the occasional foray into Hollywood (The English Patient, Dan in Real Life), but, in the fifteen years since Blue, she has worked overwhelmingly with auteurs and visionary directors on challenging, European pictures, bringing her unique intelligence and sensibility to all of them.

Kieslowski’s Three Colours: Blue is one such film and was awarded the Golden Lion at Venice. Binoche plays Julie, a woman who has just lost her husband and only child in a car accident. Overwhelmed by grief, she attempts to kill herself, but she realises she cannot go through with it. Even in the darkest hour of her suffering the urge to live is too strong; even the rawest grief is better than the numbness of death.

Three Colours: Blue is a profound, vivid and affecting study of Julie’s grief over the next few months. Indeed, many scenes in the film are difficult to watch. The opening credits have barely finished rolling when one such moment occurs. Julie is in hospital and still too weak to attend her family’s funeral so must watch via television. Alone, she breaks down. The camera never lets up in its study of her grief as it incessantly tracks her face in a close-up shot until she breaks into tears. Such is the level of her suffering that, at times, it feels almost voyeuristic to watch and intrude upon this women’s personal grief.

Julie abandons the home full of memories in which she lived with her family and moves to Paris in an attempt to deal with her grief. The reasons for the move are twofold, as she later explains to her mother:”I don’t want any possessions, any friends, any love. Those are all traps.” By moving to Paris she can concentrate fully on her grief and cut herself off from humanity. She also wants to punish herself for living when those closest to her have died. But no one can survive without human contact, and Julie’s emotional journey to where she learns to be open again is an inspiring one.

As magnificent as Binoche is in the film, Blue belongs equally to its director, Kieslowski, whose innovative and highly stylized direction will not be to everyone’s taste. He rewrites the rules of modern cinema by fading the screen to black during highly charged moments and breaking the film's linear rhythm. All this heightens the emotional intensity of the scene. It is a risky move, but one which Kieslowski pulls off with considerable verve. And despite dealing with such an emotive subject matter, he never lets the film slip in sentimentality or endorses easy answers to impossible problems.

Like all films, Blue is not without certain minor weaknesses. At one point the plot goes off on a tangent and our heroine manages to find herself coming to the aid of a neighbour who works in a strip joint. The realism of the film is, fortunately, not broken, but it feels like an unnecessary scene and the nudity is gratuitous. Moreover, Julie’s reaction when she discovers her husband was not the angel she thought he was strains slightly at credibility. But perhaps the greatest difficulty is that Binoche’s performance is just too good. Let me explain: Blue is the first in a trilogy and it is so affecting that it undermines the films which follow it. In my view, Kieslowski did not match it with his next two efforts. Julie Delpy and Irène Jacobs – two very fine actresses – cannot bring the raw emotionality to their parts that Juliette Binoche did. It’s a small, perhaps pernickety criticism, but a criticism nonetheless.

However, we shouldn’t dwell on the negative. Kieslowski died in 1996 and was a true auteur of European cinema; thankfully, Juliette Binoche is alive and well and continues to make films. (If you like the Three Colours trilogy and Juliette Binoche, then try Michael Haneke’s Hidden.) What’s more, Blue was a truly European production, funded by Polish, Swiss and French money, which epitomises the co-operation, intelligence, creativity and general excellence that exists in European cinema. Let’s hope Hollywood doesn’t try to remake the Three Colours Trilogy. It would be a soppy mess. And they might try to add dinosaurs.

(Available in the TRC!)

October 30, 2008

Ensemble, c'est tout

Movie image
Ensemble, c'est tout
3 out of 5 stars

Claude Berri’s 2007 Ensemble, c’est tout is a predictable, yet charming, romantic French work of fiction based on Anna Gavalda’s novel which goes by the same title.

Audrey Tautou (Amélie) plays the role of Camille, an endearing but feisty young cleaner, at odds with her family and living alone in a cold under-roof room. Her encounter with a neighbour (Philibert, played by Laurent Stocker) leads to her being taken in by him when she falls ill. Things are, of course, not so simple when she comes face to face with Philibert’s angry, handsome, Casanova-type, over-worked and under-paid housemate, Franck (Guillaume Canet, Jeux d’enfants). Franck does however have his soft-side which we witness in his attitude towards his grandmother (played by the exceptional Françoise Bertin) for whom he would do anything.
The personality clash between Camille (Tautou) and Franck (Canet) progresses, predictably, into a story of romance which runs parallel to the issues raised by the declining health of Franck’s grandmother. The four protagonists complement each other in an odd way, creating a whole unit in which they are all stronger than as individuals.

Altogether, Ensemble, c’est tout is enjoyable, fun and romantic, but remains an anticipated story which is not intellectually stimulating.

October 23, 2008

Goodbye Lenin! – Crossing the borders

Movie image
Goodbye Lenin!
5 out of 5 stars

Goodbye Lenin! is a rare anomaly in film, a German-language comedy that successfully transferred to the mainstream English-language cinema; appropriate, considering the clash of cultures depicted in the film itself. Wolfgang Becker’s sophomore film as writer and director is a masterpiece of cultural commentary, blending nostalgia and satire while viewing one of the 20th century’s defining political moments through a human story that is both heartbreaking and hilarious.

Christiane Kerner (Katrin Sass) is a model Socialist citizen living in East Berlin, who devotes her time to writing letters and galvanising her community in support of the DDR. On the eve of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, however, she sees her son Alex (Daniel Bruhl) taking part in an anti-communist protest and collapses, falling into a coma and missing the entire reunification process. When she awakes, Alex and sister Ariane (Maria Simon) are warned that any shocks may trigger a heart attack, and Alex therefore commits himself to pretending that the Wall never fell down, which becomes increasingly difficult as Western culture increasingly encroaches on reunified Berlin…..

From this (admittedly rather unlikely) premise, Becker constructs a narrative that, through this family, recreates the thrill and upheaval of post-reunification Germany. With a bittersweet taste we see Ariane starting work at Burger King, Coca-Cola banners being plastered over apartment blocks and a group of wide-eyed East Germans watching American porn as the Western world gradually eradicates the distinctive culture of the East, causing comic trouble for Alex as his recovering mother requests specific favourite brands of pickles. Yet the encroaching homogenisation of the nation is largely welcomed, and a genuine celebratory feel is created as the unified German football team progress through the 1990 world cup, with East and West German citizens celebrating together. The famously poignant scene in which Alex’s mother finally leaves their flat and witnesses the changes in all their glory as a statue of Lenin is flown past best encapsulates the extent of the cultural change sweeping the country (see the clip below).

Rather than ram history down the throats of its audience, however, the strength of Goodbye Lenin! is in the way it creates a tapestry of everyday life, with glimpses of the major events rather than front row seats. Much of the action takes place in the closed-off apartments of ordinary people, focussing on the changes in their day to day lives. The enormity of reunification is taken for granted; it is the people who lived through it that we are asked to empathise with; and its central character is one of the most human protagonists one could hope to meet.

Alex inadvertently echoes the tactics of the DDR itself, attempting to protect his mother by disguising her from uncomfortable truths, and the lengths he goes to (including recording fake TV news reports with his work colleague) form much of the film’s comedy. Yet, through this, Alex starts creating his own fantasy version of history, in which socialism prevails over capitalism and eventually welcomes in and subsumes the West. Bruhl is wonderful in a role that combines ingenuity with pathos; his repeated slipping into fantasy is as much to protect himself as his mother, he hurt by the abandonment of the family by his father years ago. This is Alex’s story throughout, and Bruhl brings great feeling to the joys and pains of first love, of responsibility at a young age, of the overwhelming love for his mother that pushes the rest of his relationships to breaking point. In a final heartbreaking moment, Alex’s long-suffering girlfriend reveals the entire plot to his mother in exasperation; yet she, realising what he has done for her, doesn’t give away that she knows and plays along, realising that the charade is as much for him as for her. This final unspoken act of motherly love, just before her death, provides the closure he needs.

Becker’s script expertly treads a line between condemnation of and nostalgia for socialism, refusing to align the film to either viewpoint and taking a somewhat simplistic view of the politics, but ultimately the political aspect is unimportant next to his humanist concern with the people affected by the transition. Underscored by Yann Tiersen's evocative music, Goodbye Lenin! is a film about love and loss, with the situation of the country a backdrop to the relatively simple story of a young man and his mother. Its historicity is specific, but its resonance is universal.

June 11, 2008

TRC Film Review Competition

Win a £50 Amazon voucher by writing a review of any non-English language film and posting it on our brand new TRC blog:

Is there a film that you LOVE, or a film that you absolutely HATE? A film that stirs up any sort of EMOTION in you, be it WONDERMENT or REPULSION? We want to know!

You can add screen-grabs or clips from the film*; we welcome BURSTS of VISUAL CREATIVITY that will convince us of your judgement, and you can visit the TRC for technical help.

The competition ends at the end of term, so get reviewing and bag yourself
FIFTY POUNDS to spend at Amazon*!

The competition winner will be announced by October 31st 2008.

The competition will be judged by staff and students from the TRC and the Languages departments.

The clips should contain no more than an insubstantial part

*At present, a £50 Amazon voucher would get you all of the following: Kassowitz's La Haine, Almodovar's Volver, Cinema Paradiso, Donnersmark's The Lives of Others, The Italian Job, Halloween, and, if you're that way inclined, the Gavin and Stacey boxset.

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