This is what happens when I put off writing reviews. It took a while to remember the first scene in War of the Dead when Nazi officials are chatteling hostage soldiers to a bunker somewhere along the Finland-Russia border. They resist but when the chemical starts working, their eyes turn white. Chilling scene. Too bad the movie goes to pot after that. Cue Andrew Tiernan, plays soldier Martin Stone, with a permanent Clint Eastwood-esque scowl to convince the audience that he’s American. Along with a troop of Finnish soldiers, he’s on a mission to destroy said bunker. But when the night falls on this strange wooded area, Nazi zombies fly out of the trees, this ridiculously violent entrance fulfilling the “of the dead” part of the title.
I also got the feeling of Schadenfreude in knowing that the Finns actually sided with the Germans during the Second World War. That explains what the cute Finnish soldier and his Russian counterpart didn’t get along in this movie.
- Vote here for your favourite war movie (calgaryherald.com)
I stole this idea from Nathaniel Rogers. These are screen caps of the twentieth minute and tenth second of movies.
Boring story, the screen caps in this post are from movies from my hard drive. This hard drive used to be in my first laptop until, distracted from Pabst Blue Ribbon, I accidentally poured beer on it. I watched these movies are from my college years, when I learned how much I love movies and that I chose the wrong major. (No not really. Are you kidding? I’d rather have hung out with nerdy English majors and rich Art History majors than snobby film majors.)
Their decontextualized oppression linked to IBM, possible from the World War II era.
After telling someone tha smooking is not Islamic, he looks for someone in a maze.
“Happy.” “So happy.” They open the door, joining the crowd of the upper class, waiting.
“Goodbye, little yellow bird…”
He tries to brush her off. “Alcohol rub. Cologne.”
“You’re lying. I can always tell.”
It’s hard doing damage control for a rogue employee “I don’t have all the information yet.”
After the car explosion. “Go on.” “What do you mean…”
We can hear his wife groan. He reads the book to research his new client, for tourism.
After a flashback of bile spreading through a body. “But we’re gonna do this without firin’…”
“They can always get somebody else.” Machines roar.
This series for me turned into a context of which movie collection of mine is cooler. I might have given this post an unfair advantage by being nostalgic, but it’s your call.
I downloaded Black Book, watching the first five minutes, a meditative look on a couple on a docked sailboat looking out to their doom. Four years later, Adam Nayman introduced the movie at the Free Friday Films, accurately calling it ‘tasteless and irreverent,’ making me give him a look that I hope didn’t seem disrespectful.
Director Paul Verhoeven was talking about this film on TV, mentioning Franken (Waldemar Kobus), the ruthless SS, a character apparently softened because he’s also a voracious lover who plays the piano. No, not really.
Carice van Houten isn’t the world’s most beautiful woman, although I thought she was between the time I saw Valkyrie and the time I saw this film. In Valkyrie her eyes pop like a German Vivien Leigh, leaving an immeasurable impression despite that bit part. This movie hides her real beauty behind different hair colours, which makes sense with the disguises used by her Jewish character Rachel/Ellis, a singer turned spy for the Dutch Resistance. Her face looks skinnier here too. And why would I be looking at her face if she’s naked for a few scenes?
She and Verhoeven make interesting choices with Ellis, who isn’t trying to hide her disgust or aloofness within the presence of the SS she eventually pretends to work for, funny because those same SS have a hand in shooting down her family. She’s not your typical heroine who has a poker face until the last minute. She occasionally throws up, yells and cries. She tells the truth to her mission subject turned boss turned lover Muntze (Sebastian Koch), and pulls herself together.
This movie is full of ambushes and escapes in a war on an occupied home front, with so many plot twists that I worried for Ellis’ well-being. Is she strong enough to withstand the forces against her? It also makes us wonder about but believe the characters’ changing allegiances, especially with Ellis’ chemistry with Muntze. It also covers, although obscenely, the hypocrisies, sadism and racism of people fighting on both sides. Every character has a sin, and with the solidly flowing revelations and plot twists, I couldn’t look away.
A Film Unfinished documents the story of three mysterious reels found in the mountains of a then East German film archive. These reels bear the title ‘Das Ghetto,’ a propaganda film of the Warsaw ghetto that captures the daily lives of the Jews living there. It also show the wide gap between rich and poor Jews and tries to create a strained relationship between those two groups.
What clarifies the truth within these images is a reenactment of a testimony by one of the German filmmakers documenting the footage – Willy Wist, who admits to how systematic the Nazis were.
Another way to shed light into the footage are a handful of elderly Jews who were children in the ghetto years who watch the footage and debunk it. They talk about the inflation and deflation of certain truths into arranged narratives. They clarify that the comfortable dining rooms are owned by twenty or so Jews who were a small part of the thousands who would eat the flowers shown in the footage. In reality, one family had a room, twenty families to a house, the ghettos overcrowded. How The Nazi filmmakers have brought in geese and champagne from the outside to film a banquet scene. But really, only a few can afford what the Germans allowed – horse meat. Children who have smuggled food into the ghetto are shot. Or how one’s mother would wear a colourful coat, keeping her ‘dignity’ despite her hunger. Or disdainfully laugh at a hilariously inaccurate funeral procession scene and circumcision scene.
What’s surprising, however, is how these lies became a bit like the truth. An elder would talk about decent people who would throw their dead family members on the street, one corpse every few meters. The German filmmakers have herded and instructed Jewish passers-by to walk by these corpses, making them look unsympathetic and callous against their own neighbours. This indifference became a way of life, an elder says, a way to keep one’s sanity.
Pardon the ‘final thought,’ and this isn’t the message of the film but what I got from it. Ignoring the homeless and their pleas – guilty as charged here. Letting ourselves be misinformed about people from other races and religions. There are traces of Nazis’ behaviour today.
- Film: Review: A Film Unfinished (avclub.com)
Saw this at the TIFF Cinematheque as part of their Pasolini retrospective. Apparently I would have stayed longer in the theatre for 25 more minutes if the Cinematheque had the premiere version. It’s either in Criterion, on the internets, or is lost ‘forever.’
The movie isn’t porn. It isn’t titillating, unless having a two second glimpse of 16-year old flaccid penis gets you off, which is, good for you I guess. Four men, the Duke, the Bishop, the Magistrate and the President sign a book of rules, shepherd eighteen adolescent boys and girls into a mansion and degrade them sexually. There isn’t the contact nor intimacy nor should I say, intensity of ‘normal’ sexual activities. The adolescents are ‘taught’ sexual acts and are told that that’s their purpose. They have to please these four men and their pleasure isn’t a reward. And they eat shit and they get sliced in the forehead. If you were expecting something else, sigh on you.
It’s funny how I can’t show any nudity or sexual acts to a 20 year old in the screen caps – I won’t anyway – but it would probably have been OK to show the same 20 year old with a gun on his head. Or his tongue cut off.
This movie is Pasolini’s critique of fascism in Italy, but I’ll get back to more on that. While the men are examining one of the potential girls, the Magistrate asks her if he will prefer them to the nuns in the convent, the gamine answers that she doesn’t know that yet. This might look like overreading, but a madam transfers the innocent child from one oppressive system to another, a typical problem in ‘modern’ Europe when religious absolute monarchies are overthrown by totalitarian regimes like that in Italy. Depending on your judgment of the girl’s fortune, she wasn’t chosen because of a missing tooth. The nuns already turned her into damaged goods.
Again, critique of Fascist Italy, and conspiracy theories suggest the Neo-Fascist P2 killed Pasolini. That was repeated by my friend’s friend outside the theatre at the end of the film, who likened the mansion in Salo to the 9 billion secret prisons being built in Canada at this moment – his opinion, not mine. The fact that Fascism ruled in more than one country in Europe, and that threat constantly pops up made the film more resonant to me. And that I couldn’t like the inane blindness and heteronormative stance of Amarcord, a movie made near the same time about the same earlier period, after watching Salo. Although it’s not a great one or a favourite, it’s essential.
However, Michael Haneke names this one of his ten favourite films. Obviously.
Two scenes in Akira Kurosawa’s swan song Madadayo say it all, and in a way the latter scene repeats the same message as the former. The first scene of the film shows the Sensei, a German professor, appearing behind a blue door and entering a classroom. He stands in a platform most Westernized classrooms are equipped with. He announces his retirement from teaching. The whole class tells him that he will always be their Sensei, stands to show their allegiance to him. He pulls a handkerchief and dries his tears.
The second scene is Sensei’s first Madadayo banquet, in a German beer hall, a party held with the constraints of postwar finances. He drinks a glass of beer as big as his arms. His former students perform some curious, culturally esoteric ritual where they ask him if he’s ready – to die – and his frail old voice confidently bellows, “Madadayo,” meaning not yet.
Both scenes show the Sensei towering over his students, then seamlessly make him short and meek and humble within five minutes or less. He’s a great man, raised by his status, but he’s human and relatable. Kurosawa’s always shown masculinity as a contest but he refreshingly shows manliness as gentle and civilized. There’s still the war context and the Westernization of Japan. None of the men in the movie are shown literally fighting, but the Sensei is defiant and has successfully taught that defiance to his students.
Also, it’s a story about a man and his cat, if you’re willing to endure something like that. As a character study, it’s difficult for Madadayo to become a great film. His students repeatedly call him “a lump of gold without impurities,” which may be applied to this film. It’s no bracelet, but you’d be a fool to dismiss its beauty.