Archive for the ‘German Films’ Category

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THE EDGE OF HEAVEN (Auf der anderen Seite) (2008)

March 1, 2009

Edge of Heaven Review

edge-of-heaven-screenshot

Matt: Four and a half stars

Length: 122min

Précis: Moving, humanistic film intertwining three stories between Turkey and Germany.

Review by Matt:

The Edge of Heaven is a beautiful film of deep humanism; a treat for the eyes, mind and heart. Writer/director Fatih Akin (Head On) explores the dramatic intertwining of six multigenerational characters across Germany and Turkey. Painting a broad canvas, Akin broaches big issues like death, politics and cultural separation. Despite this grand schema, it is the subtleties in the characters and relationships that make this a poignant and edifying experience.

In Germany, Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz), a widowed Turkish immigrant, starts a relationship with a Turkish prostitute, Yeter (Nursel Köse). Tragedy leads Ali’s son (Baki Davrak) to Turkey, just as Yeter’s dissident daughter (Nurgül Yesilçay) flees to Germany. She finds sanctuary with spirited, middle-class Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska), and her cautious mother (Hanna Schygulla), before events again propel them apart. Akin’s precise script barely wastes a word as it seamlessly weaves the narrative and thematic strands. His meditative directing lets the stellar performances shine. We’re easily immersed in these characters’ life-changing journeys.

Edge of Heaven mostly avoids the contrivance that often encumbers films with interlocking narratives. Here, coincidence separates our protagonists as much as it unites them and mystical fate is overshadowed by tenderness, forgiveness and other human qualities; the kinds that overcome distance, tragedy and folly to bring us all closer together.

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MONGOL (2008)

August 31, 2008

Mongol Review


Matt:

Length: 126min

Taglines:
Greatness comes to those who take it.
The untold story of Genghis Khan’s rise to power.
Don’t despise a weak cub, it can appear the son of a tiger.

Précis: Epic story dramatizing the early life of Genghis Khan with a loving – possibly revisionist – touch.

Review by Matt:

A nominee at 2007’s Academy Awards for ‘best foreign picture’, Mongol dramatizes the little-known early life of the infamous Mongol, Genghis Khan.  Despite focusing on one of history’s most famous warlords, Mongol isn’t really a boy’s battle film. It’s more of an epic drama, glued together by a Wuthering-Heights-strength love story. Russian writer/director Sergei Bodrov constructs a noticeably rosy perspective of his subject. His story follows the young Genghis – better known then as Temudjin – through what could be called his “constantly trapped in stocks and tortured” period.  For the most part it’s easy to cheer for this rugged and mistreated hero. It’s only when you remember that the story conveniently halts just before that whole touchy “slaughtering and raping half the world” chapter, that some of the characterisation seems a little awry.

Temudjin is barely nine when he first meets the stocks. His father, the tribal leader, is assassinated, ancient Mongolian style (tribal leaders should really know not to accept a horse-milkshake from their enemy). The tribe’s subordinates refuse to accept that little Temudjin will inherit the throne. So it’s into the stocks for him, and some other scallywag Mongol unjustly becomes the Khan. It’s the first of a series of struggles and indignities faced by baby Genghis. He fights to rescue his kidnapped beloved bride. He fights with, and against, his blood-brother, Prince Jamukha, in a number of blood-spurting battles. He is imprisoned and enslaved by his many enemies. You start to see why Temudjin grew into a vengeful warrior, declaring that “Mongols need laws and I will make them obey even if I have to kill half of them”. And still, in between it all, he finds time to be Mongolia’s number one dad, and go picnicking with his family.

Mongol looks amazing and authentic, with its hoards of extras, unique cultural quirks, and its lavish North Asian scenery. The performances are fine – Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano exudes a fiery intensity to fill Temudjin’s war-mongering boots. Non-actor Mongol Khulan Chuluun, is impressive as his stoic wife, Borte. Chinese actor Honglei Sun also infuses Prince Jamukha with a sense of wild-eyed Mongolian zaniness. All the imprisonment makes for occasional lulls, but add in the love story, tribal politics, and regular thunderous horse-filled battles and Mongol just manages to remain entertaining for its two-hour length.

Really what weighs it down is the requirement that we limit our mental engagement, else things seem a bit unconvincing or jarring. Aspects of the plot are underwritten, especially the supernatural intrusions of mysterious Mongolian gods. Most of all though, Bodrov’s portrait of Genghis as a Mel Gibson style, family-loving hero, makes you wonder just how the family bond will hold up during the years of raping and killing that are just around the corner. Bodrov will have to solve that one, as he’s set to continue the tale of hero-Genghis in two upcoming sequels.

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THE LIVES OF OTHERS / DAS LEBEN DER ANDEREN (2006)

August 27, 2007

The Lives of Others / Das Leben Der Anderen review
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Matt: 5 Stars
Tracy:
Four Stars

Length: 137min

Tagline:

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, East Germany’s secret police listened to your secrets.

Review by Matt:

The Lives of Others is an astounding film by first-time director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. It is set in 1980’s East Berlin – a very bleak place. The Berlin Wall still divides Germany into East and West. East Germany’s notorious secret police – the Stasi – monitors citizens in its declared quest to “know everything” and to uncover and eliminate any subversive threats to its “socialist paradise”.

Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is an experienced and dedicated Stasi officer. He is a true believer. When he is assigned to spy on playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), Wiesler sets about the task with humourless efficiency. With the audio bugs installed, he nestles in a hidden niche of Dreyman’s building and listens covertly to the lives of the writer and his actress girlfriend, Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck), expecting to uncover something seditious.

What he does discover is that the close experience with the lives of these people has an effect on him. Much about the couple’s life contrasts to the austerity of Wiesler’s own life – the touching frailty of their romance, the presence of art and music. As he listens from his spy-nest, Wiesler unexpectedly finds himself tempted to use his privileged position to intrude into the lives of those he is supposed to be observing.

The resulting story is drama at its best. It unfolds like a thrilling novel. Georg is actually not one to rock the boat, unlike some of his dissident colleagues. But during the period of surveillance, tragedy jolts him into considering a subversive plot to expose some of the egregious truth about this Orwellian state. A perilous move. Christa-Maria is also in danger, coerced into a secret romance with the exploitative and swine-like Minister Hempf. And while Wiesler listens to it all, behind his inexpressive face he is pondering his own relationship with this authoritarian world. The audience, as the privileged, omniscient voyeur, nervously watches the fateful interconnections between the characters, as each minute sinks them further into the Stasi’s hazardous mire. The Lives of Others relentlessly builds a high-tension political and moral drama that turns our stomachs and spins our moral compasses. As is common, the tension was enough for Tracy to flee the room, missing some of the crucial moments.

Von Donnersmarck pulls us smartly through his finely written plot without any needless flashiness. The authentic characters splash colour into the drab totalitarian landscape. They’re thoughtful and complex, and brought to life by superior acting, so that we’re unavoidably drawn into their universe. Mühe is an especially riveting Stasi drone. From this foundation, the film eventually delivers us to what must be one of the most meaningful and moving conclusions in cinema.

The Lives of Others is not just a picture of life under the Stasi. It is a film about human nature, its depth, and its potential range of morality. It gives us much to contemplate about people and their decisions, decency and wickedness, creativity and relationships. It is precise and intelligent, thrilling, moving, and brilliantly scripted and acted. Like good art should, it will leave you with profound feelings that will linger long after the credits have rolled. It did for me – and I think that this is a rare five star film.