Sonntag, 27. April 2014

Die andere Heimat- Chronik einer Sehnsucht (Home from Home)

"Die andere Heimat- Chronik einer Sehnsucht (Home from Home)" is a 4-hour black-and-white German movie about the life of a group of villagers set in the 1840's. Honestly, anyone who's paid to sit through it should be given a medal.

Apart from the rather wonderful last 60 minutes, the preceding 170 do feel punishingly long, primarily because the film sticks in large part to an incident-based structure that doesn't allow any organic narrative to unfold. We see the good people of a secluded settlement go about their farming, smithing chores, drink and dance festivities in many scenes, and they do present a detailed, persuasive recreation of the pre-industrialized quotidian of the 19th century. But something that connects the dots and drives the plot remains elusive. Plenty of fuses are lit on an emotional level as well, with births, deaths, stolen love and dashed dreams all in play, but they're seldom embedded in a calculated context that would give them more lasting resonance. In the strong final act, things do fall into place and the scale of a proper family epos could be felt, but whether that justifies the whole gigantic, insufficiently edited undertaking might still be debatable.

Writer/director Edgar Reitz's old-school, gung ho approach on this film is admirable but not necessarily winning. The technical achievements he oversees are easy to appreciate though. The cinematography is often dashing in its sprawling strokes and nimble motion. The music, ranging from chirpy to haunting in its varied tone, is very effective. Lead actor Jan Dieter Schneider is commendable as the daydreaming narrator pining for a new world, even though there's something irredeemably modern about his features that could be visually distracting.

Donnerstag, 24. April 2014

한공주 (Han Gong-ju)

It's nice, refreshing almost, to see a movie so firmly set in the ordinary, frustrating everyday and so completely invested in the struggles of the flesh and blood as the Korean drama "한공주 (Han Gong-ju)". But this feature film debut from writer/director Lee Su-jin has problems keeping things in focus, even though what it's trying to tell is a relatively straightforward story.

Thematically, there's one too many subplots about the various people the title character meets after she's been transferred to another high school to start anew. These tidbits round out a more realistic picture of a young adult confused by the diverse fates around her, but they rarely go anywhere and serve mostly to water down the central storyline, which is actually dynamite enough all by itself. Tonally the movie also loses more than it gains from the mix of emotions these added side notes bring. It keeps you on your toes with the unexpected shifts in gears but can't properly build that necessary final blow on all these distractions.

The camerawork is impressive. Fluid in movement and expressive in composition, it also knows the trick to be truly invisible and delves right into the most intimate moments the characters experience without ever appearing intrusive. Lead actress Chun Woo-hee is fine if not outstanding as the new girl in class with an unspeakable past. She's convincing in her individual portrayals of uncertainty, hurt, suspicion, or just being young. But viewed in light of the secret later revealed about her role, the performance suddenly becomes not quite so seamless after all.

Dienstag, 22. April 2014


How can it be that I've only just seen Korean director Bong Joon-ho's sci-fi masterpiece "Snowpiercer"?

No, it's not a perfect movie. But it's ambitious, momentous, surprising, inventive, comical, political, bleak, horrific, gritty, wacky, micro-cosmic, Tilda-licious, thought-provoking, eye-popping, pulse-quickening, hair-raising, high-concept-meets-genre, survival-drama-on-steroids. It's effing amazing.

Donnerstag, 3. April 2014


Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski's "Ida", about a young Jewish nun going on a trip with her free-spirited aunt to find the grave of their murdered family, is a small but fine character study/ mood piece that sadly doesn't amount to more. Starting off rather like a straight, mildly amusing odd-couple road movie, it soon reveals itself to be not quite the harmless vanilla as subjects of holocaust, religion, identity, choice and temptation emerge. However, partly due to its light 80-min length and more because of the directorial decision to keep a cool distance from the volatility of the situations, the film dealing with all these life and death issues often feels oversimplified, strangely insubstantial. So in the third act, when shock waves are sent by unexpected turns of events, the emotional blow they pack is not much beyond that of a genuine sigh.

Still, in presenting two vastly different female characters each vivid and mysterious in her own way, the film provides plenty of quietly poignant moments where one gets to witness facets of humanity, unadorned and fascinating. And aesthetically, the film is an absolute winner. Exquisite, sometimes unconventional compositions and textured, era-specific production design synchronize with the patiently observant lens in perfect harmony to yield images that are striking in their beauty and evocative in their tone. Black-and-white photography is not automatically interesting (take that, "Nebraska"!), but with the right visual concept in place and all the supporting elements aligned, it can make snow, smoke, a stain, a shoe look so glorious and forlorn it's a precious, precious thing.