Thursday, November 11, 2010

Friday Night Film Class

Alternative Cinema Series -- Fall 2010 VIU
Organized by and notes supplied by 
Shirley Goldberg and Ron Bonham

Sept 24: Boats Out of Watermelon Rinds 2004, Turkey, Ahmet Ulucay, director.
Charming and comical film about the power of amateur spirit and imagination. Recep, a teen-aged boy who is apprenticed to the local Happy Watermelon Man, and his best friend Mehmet, apprenticed to a not-so-happy barber, are enamoured of the cinema. Collecting old, discarded film reels, they try to show them through a homemade projector in a community that lacks electricity!! Recep also has a fantasy about dating a rather uppity town-girl on his way to becoming a successful filmmaker!! Shot with a digital camera, Boats is a simple, amateur-feeling film very in tune with its subject matter. Winner of Best Turkish Film of the year, it has the wonders of small town rhythms that have beguiled audiences world-wide.

Ron Bonham said here was 2 of his favourite things: film and Turkey and told of his travels through the country and sketched some of the themes: regional cultural differences, rural/urban tensions. Much is made by a customer who samples watermelons and says he'll be back to buy some (he doesn't) as to their origin within Turkey. He'd much preferred they came from another district nevermind it's pointed out to him by the Happy Watermelon Man (his happiness fades as the film progresses) that "it's all the same country". There's a scene of clandestine walnut eating by the young lovely that Recep loves that should come with a "restricted" warning. Tasty.

Oct 1: Revanche 2008, Austria, Gotz Spielmann, director.
Delicious revenge thriller, filmed with consummate skill and precision. Alex, an ex-con, gets caught up in a botched robbery. Determined to escape, he retreats to his grandfather's farmhouse, only to find that the cop, Robert, who intervened in the robbery, lives with his wife close by. The desaturated colours, the sound of the axe as Alex splits wood on the farm, and Alex's uncertain motives and tortured soul add up to a very uneasy tension. What, if any, is the course of his revenge? But when we enter into Robert's life and his disturbed character and his troubled marriage, Revanche takes up twists and turns which transform the thriller into a complex, unpredictable moral tale. Multiple award winner, Berlin Festival.

"You know what your problem is?" Alex's gangster boss says. "You're too soft. You think you're tough but you're not." Alex is his own worst enemy and you should look away from his train wreck but you just can't. Similarly Robert the cop is far too sensitive for police work and he's not man enough for the misses either... Great performance by Ursula Strauss. She delivers more than what's on the page (and there's lots on the page). You have to buy into her actions and the motives for them and you do happily. No music soundtrack. Ambient sound of leaves rustling and wood chopping and long reflective scenes left standing just long enough to create a powerful atmosphere. Similarities with themes in Stephen Frear's 2002 Dirty Pretty Things. Audrey Tautou, Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Oct 8: The White Ribbon 2009, Austria/Germany/France/Italy, Michael Haneke, director.
Palme d'Or winner! In a puritanical, patriarchal village in Northern Germany on the eve of World War One, a series of unexplained incidents -- some accidental, some clearly acts of malice take place. As the young village schoolteacher narrates the story years later in a mock legendary mode, we gradually sense the climate of fear and suspicion that the not so innocent, tow headed children and their often appalling parents inhabit. A.O. Scott of the New York Times calls it "a veritable theme park of patriarchal abuse" -- replete with guilt, envy, repression, secrecy and hostility. In contrast to the grim culture, the cinematography is in ravishing,  hyperreal black and white. We may never find answers to the questions raised by the incidents that unfold, but we are encouraged to draw a connection to what happens in Germany two decades later.

What a twisted gothic wee thing this is. Long black Calvinist overcoats and dresses in rural village suffocating under the cold eye of the Baron land-owner filmed in a dream-like black and white. A very dark study of tensions erupting from just below the surface of repression and abuse in Calvinist Northern Germany. Portents of Nazism and later the Baader Meinhof urban guerrillas of the the 1970s and 80s.

Oct 15: Mother 2009, South Korea, Joon-Ho Bong, director.
A powerful drama about a mother's determination to nurture and protect her son in a hostile world. Mother, a quiet and relentless dynamo, turns detective when her 28 year old son, Do-Jun, a young man of marginal intelligence, is implicated in a murder. Mother (who remains nameless, defined only by her role) is a poor, powerless herb seller, so she must do all the leg work herself. Driven partially by guilt stemming from an early incident with Do-Jun, she must find out who committed the murder. Did he do it or not? Directed by Bong (The Host), this film, full of deception and revelation, is handled with consummate control and artistry. Multiple award-winner, including Best Film at Asian Film Fest 2008. Some violence!

Tinny and contrived everything telegraphed. Big concept little magic. Mechanical acting. The instructors were on about how closely the story board drawings matched the final filmed scenes a la Hitchcock ... that's nice. Dude wanted to be a cartoonist/graphic novel-ist. That's nice. 

Oct 22: The Country Teacher 2008, Czech Republic, Bohdan Slama, director.
Award winner at Stockholm and Czech Lions Festivals. The Country Teacher follows the story of Petr, a quiet distant man who leaves Prague to teach natural science at a country school, leaving a secret behind. Befriending Marie and her university-aged son, Lada, Petr helps out with farm chores. As Marie becomes increasingly attracted to Petr, Petr becomes increasingly attracted to Lada, who is, in turn, deeply involved with girlfriend problems!! A subtle, well-acted film, The Country Teacher reveals interesting, even disturbing, dilemmas as Petr tries to find his place in the world given his character and sexual orientation. 

Skipped class. JT visiting and the day spent touring the Cowichan Valley from Maple Bay and Cowichan Bay on the east coast of the island across to Shawnigan Lake and Cobble Hill. Stopped to talk to First Nations guys lined up on a bridge over the Cowichan River. They were fishing for salmon using spears. Seriously. If I understand it right there are some First Nations only fisheries where they can't use rod and hook and net. Very friendly young chap explained how it worked and he had what was I think the only fish caught that day. Sockeye run is over and this was a chinook(?) The 2004 Godfrey Bonell Pinot Noir sampled at the winery and a bottle made it back home. Home for pizza via the Crow & Gate.

Oct 29: The Baader-Meinhof Complex 2009, Germany/France/Czech Republic, Uli Edel, director.
A pulsing, fictional recreation of Germany in the 70s with the radicalized children of the Nazi generation, whose curdled idealism led to bank robberies, bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations . Amid a huge cast, the standouts are Andreas Baader, the hipster who really got off on nihilistic violence; Gudrun Esslin, the zealot; Ulrike Meinhof, the respected journalist who took the existential plunge; and Horst Herold (the incomprable Bruno Ganz), the top law enforcement officer who brings sanity to the whole issue of dealing with terrorism. Yes, the story contains violence, but it is also a fascinating, insightful, and must-see episode of history that many of use remember vividly.

Contains the 2 most important elements of the formula that makes a great movie: bare naked ladies and lots of stuff blowing up. Two and a half hours but moves along at a pretty good pace.  It tells this history in -- as the notes supplied suggest -- a balanced and objective way. The discussion after the film from both the instructors and the audience members however insisted on romanticizing these middle class narcissistic sociopathic brats ("No, Donny, there's no threat here... these people are just nihilists", says Walter in The Big Lebowski.) Lineage to Al Qaeda, says Shirley. Blow up the newspapers would be a good place to start says Ron. The Republic of Ireland wouldn't exist today if it wasn't for a brutal, violent urban guerrilla warfare against the British. Not all that many people killed here though relative to deaths in Palestine, Viet Nam, etc. Therefore we should sympathise apparently.