The Bridge, directed by Bjorn Stein and Charlotte Sieling
(In Swedish, with English subtitles)
Øresund Bridge connects Denmark to Sweden. When a body of a woman is found precisely on the center of the bridge's span, investigators from both countries must become involved in solving the crime. But what seems to be the body of one woman turns out to be that of two, cut and connected in the middle. And the killings don't stop there. A Truth Terrorist has surfaced, claiming to be committing crimes to draw attention to various social injustices, carrying out one horrific crime following another. This grisly and gripping Danish/Swedish television series has gone through a couple of hugely popular seasons, with Danish inspector Martin Rohde and the peculiar Swedish inspector Saga Norén handling the various cases. Join them, if you dare. Charlotte Sieling co-directed the excellent Danish TV series Borgen. Bjorn Stein was a co-director of Storm, Underworld: Awakening, and 6 Souls, all owned by HCPL.
The German Doctor, directed by Lucía Puenzo
(In Spanish, with English subtitles)
Lilith, bright-eyed and energetic but small for her age, lives with her parents Enzo and Eva, along with her siblings, in Patagonia in 1960. Then her family moves to a hotel owned and managed by Eva's parents. While they are there, a physician of German extraction insinuates himself into the family, quietly doing some sort of research and eyeing Lilith all the time. We might not be certain just who he is or what he is up to, but the fact that a large population of German immigrants has also settled in the region, some of whom are undergoing drastic plastic surgery, might give us a clue or two. Lilith is so fascinating to Dr. Gregor, with her unnaturally short stature, that he offers advice on her growth performance. While Enzo becomes alarmed at Dr. Gregor's persistent attention, Eva seems to have fallen under his spell, willingly cooperating when he proposes some little experiments on Lilith to help her grow. When it becomes clear that Eva is now pregnant with twins, we can see Dr. Gregor practically salivating over that little detail. Becoming increasingly creepy as the story progresses, the film broadens to reveal even more evil present in those isolated forests bordering the southernmost Andes. While not a horror movie, it may as well be, based on fact as it is.
Gervaise, directed by René Clément
(In French, with English subtitles)
Years ago, I had read the novel L'assommoir by Emile Zola on which this movie is based, so I knew how this older classic film would turn out. And if you are familiar with the novels of Zola, you will no doubt guess correctly that our title character Gervaise has a tough time of it in 19th century France. Gervaise and her useless lover Lantier live in Paris, where she works as a washerwoman and he lounges about, until he deserts her and their two little boys. Alone, she uses her wits and wisdom to build up her own successful if modest business. After marrying a roofer, the steady Coupeau, she seems to be on her way to a secure life, until Coupeau falls off a roof and damages himself permanently. To ease his chronic pain, he turns to alcohol, an even speedier road to downfall. From then on, Gervaise struggles against the odds to keep her and her little family from plunging into dire poverty, much as it is still today for the working poor. This older classic has been in the library system for a while, but it is worth bringing it to your attention, should you wish to continue to view more Clément DVDs owned by HCPL. Clément also directed Forbidden Games, Purple Noon, and The Damned (reviewed in the October 2014 issue of the newsletter).
Ida, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
(In Polish, with English subtitles)
Ida is a novice, just days away from taking her final vows in a Polish convent in 1962. But Mother Superior insists that she first meet her aunt, whom she did not even know existed. Wanda Gruz is, in contrast, a high-level judge in the Communist government's court system. She is also a chain-smoking, heavy drinking woman, who does not mind engaging in a one-night stand with a stranger. But Wanda also holds secrets close to her heart, not the least of which is that Ida is Jewish, orphaned near the end of the war and then given to the convent for rearing. Wanda wants Ida to travel with her to the Polish countryside to find out just what happened to Ida's parents when they went into hiding and Wanda slipped off to fight the Nazis in the resistance. More than that, Wanda wants further truths uncovered, as sorrowful as they may be. And so the film grows into a mystery as well as a road movie. It is also a pronounced study in contrasts, as the serene Ida pairs with the restless and tortured Wanda. Filmed beautifully in black and white, the soft greys lend an otherworldly air to this brilliant movie.
Ilo Ilo, directed by Anthony Chen
(In Mandarin, with English subtitles)
At first, I thought this movie might be another Yi Yi, but, alas, it is not humorously poignant, taking instead a serious look at a middle class family in Singapore in 1997, on the edge of falling apart as the family finances falter. Hwee Leng is a besieged, pregnant, working mother, whose incorrigible son Jiale is constantly in trouble at school. Her husband Teck has lost his job and a lot of money besides on the falling stock market, all of which is unbeknownst to Hwee Leng. When the family hires sweet-natured Teresa to mind the household chores as well as Jiale, Hwee Leng thinks matters will right themselves. But with so much going on under her nose, if out of her sight, things just don't seem to be getting better. Increasingly, the story shifts to Teresa, a Filipino immigrant in desperate need of money to send back home for the care of her own little child. How she and Jiale eventually bond is touching in its long, painful process, but effective and moving.
The Last of the Unjust, directed by Claude Lanzmann
(In French, with English subtitles)
Director Claude Lanzmann, best known for his monumental documentary Shoah, brings us now a close look at Benjamin Murmelstein, one of the members of the Jewish Council at Theresienstadt, that mock Jewish ghetto near Prague, used by the Germans to show the world that actually the displaced and uprooted Jews of Europe were living quite well in spa-like locations. But Murmelstein provides another side to that story, narrated in a series of interviews in 1975 with a much younger Lanzmann. As an Elder on the Jewish Council of Theresienstadt, he was one of only two Jews allowed in the presence of Adolf Eichmann, and his insight into Eichmann contrasts sharply with Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil." How he survived it all is a miracle in itself, but his survival brings with it the suspicion that he was greatly at fault in matters of the fate of Theresienstadt's captive inhabitants. This documentary is long, well over three hours, but it is packed with intense dialogue and moving documentary footage from that horrible era. Lanzmann allows Murmelstein to talk and share his memories and his perspective on persons, places, and events that will bring you to the edge of a nightmare that you can only pray will never happen again.
The Suspect, directed by Sin-Yeon
(In Korean, with English subtitles)
Dong-chul has already had a rough time of it, finding defection from North Korea his only option after a painful betrayal some time preceding the film's present action. Now his current South Korean employer has been murdered, and it is up to Dong-chul to complete a mission his dying employer bestowed upon him in his last moments of life. More than that, he has been wrongfully accused of that very murder. The key to it all is in the eyglasses the old man gave to him before he died. Now Dong-chul's task is multi-fold. He needs to find the secret information necessary to prove his innocence; he needs to learn what happened to his family still in North Korea; he must determine the importance and significance of the information he is tracking down; and finally, he wants revenge. This movie promises lots of action scenes, with car chases, the usual blow-'em-up incidents, and much hand-to-hand combat. Something for almost everyone…
Tabu, directed by Miguel Gomes
(In Portuguese, with English subtitles)
This is the sort of movie that marks just how foreign a foreign film can be. It is a story within a story, one we see first-hand, the other narrated for us by one of the characters. The link between the stories seems weak at first glance, but the two are connected. Pilar is a woman whose frail, elderly neighbor Aurora is sinking. Her health is tenuous at best, and her only companion is Santa, her patient and kind maid. As Aurora slips closer to death, she urges Pilar and Santa to find Gian Luca, someone from her past. When they do find him, he also is ailing but is well enough to meet them and tell them a story, that of Aurora and him many years ago in a lush, steamy Portuguese colony in Africa. Here we find ourselves in the heart of the movie, but it is done in pure storytelling format, with Gian Luca narrating in a voice-over to a black-and-white tale of the illicit love affair between Aurora, married to a wealthy landowner in the colony, and Gian Luca, who is a friend passing through, until he sees Aurora and decides to linger a while. So this is a story told from the memory of an elderly man about his perception of something that happened many years earlier in a land on the verge of revolution. He and his lover are themselves moving temptingly close to a revolution of their own, as their affair deepens and the rules of society shift and loosen to accommodate their forbidden love.
We Are the Best, directed by Lukas Moodysson
(In Swedish, with English subtitles)
Sweden in the early 1980's, when this story takes place, probably feels like the nexus of rebellion to kids like Klara and Bobo, best friends forever, who are working out how to wear their nonconformity for the greatest effect. Right now it's punk, goth, heavy metal – definitely outsider stuff in their middle school. When the clueless staff of the local youth center won't let them practice music, they decide to form a band, although neither can play an instrument. No matter – Klara takes the bass guitar and Bobo gets the drums, the only two instruments available at the center. Then they ask their classmate Hedvig to join them. The trouble is Hedvig is a devout Christian, but she's also an outsider and, better yet, she can play a guitar, I mean, really play it well. That's all they need to get started. More than the band though, the film focuses on the three girls and their home lives, their interactions with parents and with friends. It is a funny, poignant tribute to teens finding themselves in what seems to be an alien world, this thing called adulthood.
Against the Wild
American Horror Story Season 3
Bates Motel Season 2
Edge of Tomorrow
Million Dollar Arm
My Dog the Champion
Sleeping Beauty (Diamond Edition)
Vikings Season 2
When Calls the Heart: a telling silence
When Calls the Heart: lost & found
When Calls the Heart: the dance
The Foreign Films New to View newsletter is a monthly publication designed to keep you up to date on some of HCPL's latest foreign films on DVD. The selections in this newsletter are just a sample of the rich variety of films available to you through your library. Use the sign-up box above to have this newsletter sent directly to your e-mail every month, with new, recommended movies for you to view. See the Foreign Films New to View Archive for selections from back issues: http://blogs.hcplonline.org/avblog/index.php/category/foreign-films/.
Bullett Raja, directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia
(In Hindi, with English subtitles)
With a running time of well over two hours, one should expect a lot of action in this buddy film about gangsters and corruption in India. Raja is our very cool eponymous hero, who befriends Rudra at a wedding during a shootout, yes, a shootout. From there, the two take off, blasting guns and fighting corruption or engaging in corruption, whichever – I must admit that I lost track during the movie. Then along comes Mitaali, beautiful and flirty, who falls for our hero. Does he have room in his heart for a woman, with all that buddy loyalty thing going on? I'm not sure, although does it really matter? Great fun and, yes, lots of action. Dhulia also directed Paan Singh Tomar, a Bollywood drama owned by HCPL.
The Damned, directed by René Clément
(In French, with English subtitles)
If you like war movies, this older film is a gem. Just as Berlin is falling in 1945, only days before Hitler will commit suicide, several Nazi officials and collaborators flee in a submarine from Oslo, headed for South America, where they will set up an on-going front to the war. A quirk of fate thrusts an innocent French physician on board as well, who is there just to care for the ill and then to be disposed of when this gang of thugs reaches its destination. The movie was filmed almost entirely in the sub, and not surprisingly the form of the movie enhances the content, as tensions mount, submerged hatreds boil to the surface, and the pressures of the cramped quarters along with pent up rage and bitterness exlode. The film includes historical footage from the war, which adds to the grim story, and its gritty black-and-white cinematography reflects the darkness of the characters. HCPL has a number of DVDs directed by René Clément, including Forbidden Games, Gervaise, and Purple Noon.
The French Minister, directed by Bertrand Tavernier
(In French, with English subtitles)
Pity poor Arthur Vlaminck, the new speech writer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, working directly under the Foreign Minister himself, the stately, imposing Alexandre Taillard de Worms. Alexandre is given to abstractions when he articulates his thoughts but would prefer that his speech writer capture his ideas and make them concrete, no small task considering that his ideas can be summed up in language such as, "Legitimacy! Unity! Efficacy!" Huh? On the Foreign Minister's commando team of writers, researchers, and attachés, Arthur has an ally in the person of calm and collected Claude Maupas, a kind of spin doctor/permanent secretary. One gets the sense that Claude has seen it all and been through it all before. He can offer Arthur some advice and even consoling words, but it is Arthur who must wade through Alexandre's abstractions to more concrete substance. If you favor subtlety and wit in your comedies, this is for you. Tavernier also directed The Clockmaker and The Princess of Montpensier, owned by HCPL.
Manakamana, directed by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez
(In Nepalese, with English subtitles)
One of the most fascinating documentaries I've seen this year, Manakamana is a film for those with discerning tastes. The premise is simple: film subjects on their ride in a gondola lift up and down a mountain in Nepal as they visit a temple to the goddess Bhagwati. They are confined passengers for about eight or nine minutes on this breathtaking journey over ravines and forests and up the steep slopes, as a stationary camera films them during the ride. Sometimes the people talk; sometimes they are silent; sometimes they remark on the view or the shortness now of this once-long journey, sometimes they eat ice cream. They laugh, they talk, they look in wonder at the sights below. We the viewers are granted the privilege of riding with them, observing their expressions, listening to their comments or their silence, hearing the whisper of the mountain wind, seeing with the passengers the changes in the landscape below as the modern world encroaches on what used to be their known world. The slow pace may not be for everyone, but for those of us who long for a few moments of quiet thought, this is a movie for us.
The Missing Picture, directed by Rithy Panh
(In French, with English subtitles)
This is a most unusual and striking documentary, not just because of the compelling story it depicts but also because of the format. Rithy Panh created clay figures, not animated as in claymation but used in a stationary setting to create dioramas to tell the story, set by set, scene by scene, of his family's sufferings under the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the 1970's. Almost childlike in form, the figures nevertheless draw our sympathy and prick our conscience that the world did not do more to end this brutal reign of terror sooner. The director intersperses his dioramas with propaganda footage from the Cambodian archives, allowing us to see the real-life faces of the people of a sad nation during that nightmare of Cambodian history.
The Rocket, directed by Kim Mordaunt
(In Thai, with English subtitles)
Ahlo, a Laotian boy, from his inauspicious birth through his first ten years, seems to be trailed by bad luck. His very birth as a twin is itself a sign of bad luck, as even his twin brother is born dead. His mother defies tradition and keeps the remaining live infant, despite strong, persuasive arguments from his grandmother. As Ahlo grows, he does indeed seem to bring bad luck to his family and community. Or maybe he just happens to be in the wrong village, designated for destruction when a new dam is built, at the wrong time. Once his family makes the mandatory move to a dismal camp for all the displaced citizens, the struggles begin anew. But Rocket is a hopeful movie, even funny at times, as Ahlo grows into a lively and creative child, bent on misadventure and occasional rebellion, but ultimately a good kid. His challenge is to find a way to get enough money for his family to buy some farmland and start afresh. One way is to enter the annual rocket contest in a nearby village to see if he can win the grand prize. With the help of a former collaborator with the U. S. Army, and with lots of daring-do, he risks all to produce a frighteningly effective rocket, all for the love of his family.
Sister, directed by Ursula Meier
(In French, with English subtitles)
We have to keep in mind that 12-year-old Simon and his older sister Louise are just two kids, alone in the world, trying to survive. Then we can sympathize with Simon, the little thief, who spends his days stealing expensive ski equipment from the prosperous tourists on the slopes of the western Alps. Sometimes Louise works; more often than not she quits her jobs in anger over some slight or other, so Simon's job as a thief is what really keeps them alive. He steals food from backpacks, skis from unsuspecting tourists, and just about anything else he can lift. Occasionally he is caught and suffers a beating or a severe scolding. Occasionally Louise leaves him to spend time with one boyfriend or another. But always the two of them are in great need, barely knowing how to take care of themselves or each other. As despairing as all of this sounds – a movie about the invisible poor – it does contain a ray of hope that the two will survive to adulthood and live a better life than what is there for them now. Ursula Meier also directed Home, owned by HCPL
Two Lives, directed by George Maas and Judith Kaufmann
(In Norwegian and German, with English subtitles)
Katrine is a woman living in Norway in the early 1990's, happily married to the handsome Bjarte, an intrigal part of an intergenerational family, with daughter, grandchild, and mother. Although her origins are full of sorrow, she is brimming with joy now. Her mother was part of the Nazi Lebensborn program in the 1930's that focused on producing children with Germans in an effort to create a master race. Katrine's mother's relationship with a German officer was a love match, but Katrine was still taken away as a baby by the Nazis and raised in Germany. Well after the war, she escaped from East Germany and made her way back to Norway, found her mother, and started her life. But something is amiss and always has been. Katrine may not be who she appears to be after all. She travels periodically to East Germany, disguises herself with a wig and sunglasses, and checks files in dark government basements. She meets unsavory Stasi types, and she flashes back to a chase in the Norwegian woods years ago that seems to be a key to a dark past. A story of spies and identity theft, Two Lives holds mystery and intrigue for viewers. Co-director Judith Kaufmann also directed Vivere, owned by HCPL.
When I Saw You, directed by Annemarie Jacir
(In Arabic, with English subtitles)
After the Six-Day War in Palestine, thousands of Palestinians found themselves in Jordanian refugee camps, separated from family, community, and land. The young Tarek and his mother Ghaydaa are two of those many faces. Tarek's father departed in another convoy and is now hopelessly lost to them. His mother is willing to wait for her husband, searching every newly arrived truck of refugees, but Tarek is determined to make his way back to his home. This is the story of his journey. He sets off on his own, with his mother not far behind, frantically searching for him. The story may be soft on the Palestinian militias, whom Tarek meets on his journey, but I think we are seeing them more through Tarek's childish eyes. When his mother catches up with him, she also finds refuge in the mountain militia camp, but their stay there is only temporary, as Tarek heads for the border, Ghaydaa right behind him, the view of their homeland within grasp.
To view past editions of the newsletter, see Foreign Films Archives.