Foreign May: Day 10, 11, and 12

May 10th: Summer Hours

Besides Juliette Binoche, who I always adore, my favorite thing about Summer Hours was the lack of conflict. Three siblings are trying to decide how to divide up their recently deceased mother’s art collection. Some of it has to be donated – tax reasons – some of it has to be sold, some people want to keep some things, others want to keep everything just the way it is. There is a potential for overblown arguments – bringing up horrible memories from the past that explain who exactly everyone is and why they think the way they do – but the film never goes there. Instead, we get a tiny little movie about memories and how they’re passed on through objects. Where do the memories go when the objects are no longer there? Is it really possible to keep someone’s memory alive when all of their material possessions are lost? How might oral history contribute? How are the pieces we walk quickly by in museums embedded with outside meaning and can they retain that meaning?

May 11th: A Tale of Two Sisters

Today I was telling Scott how I like my horror either smart or dumb but not in between. A Tale of Two Sisters was somewhere in between. It sure was psychologically thrilling, but takes some cheap turns (as only movies that start in an asylum can) and ends up in a flashback that is disturbing but cliche. Asian horror is hard for me. There’s lots of this:

And not enough this:

May 11th: The Lives of Others

It’s hard to think of what to say about this film. Besides a poorly placed freeze frame at the end of an otherwise serious political thriller, I can find nothing to complain about. I think the most accurate term would be “tight.” This movie was tight. Every hair on every head seemed perfectly placed and thought through. I loved the lead actor Ulrich Muhe (aka: Kevin Spacey) who never made what seemed like a fairly typical Orwellian government man seem cliche. His character spends most of the film listening to headphones, and yet his full character arc is clear.

Unlike Summer Hours, this movie isn’t quiet at all, and yet most scenes consist of intimate bedroom conversations listened to by the government. I think this tense stillness is what makes The Lives of Others so thrilling whereas explosions and murder desensitize us in other films.

May 12th: The Battle of Algiers

I’m trying to keep these reviews short since I watched a lot over the past couple days. Almost all the movies we’ve watched so far have been excellent, but this one just seems over the top amazing. That’s right. You will rarely hear me say that word (I hope), but The Battle of Algiers is amazing. Brian already wrote about it here.

May 12th: My Neighbor Totoro

I’ve seen this movie three times now. The first was at my weirdo younger cousins’ house. They didn’t have TV in their house (weirdos) so they had a bunch of weirdo movies, and this was one of them. Animation always kind of weirded me out as a kid, and this one was really over the top (weird). Then I watched it about 10 years later and realized how magical and warm and fuzzy it is. This viewing was no different. But make sure to watch Totoro in the original Japanese. The voice work of the little girls is miles above the Fannings’ in the Disney version.

7 Comments

Filed under Movie Marathons, Whitney

7 responses to “Foreign May: Day 10, 11, and 12

  1. It really doesn’t get much better than *Battle of Algiers*. It’s hard to imagine any film dealing with those fraught issues better than it does.

    I’m glad to see you liked *Summer Hours* too, that was one of my favorite movies last year. You pinpoint one of the things I especially liked about it, how it doesn’t get into the silly melodrama that almost seems obligatory considering its premise. Instead, it’s quiet, and delicate, and gently pokes at these characters rather than trying to dig up their pasts in an overt way. And beneath the deceptively simple surface, it’s subtly dealing with memory, and the relationships between generations, and the worth of objects and art (personal vs. commercial), and so much else. One of my favorite aspects of it was its complete refusal to indulge in judging of the younger generation, the kind of “kids these days don’t understand” grumpiness that wouldn’t be too surprising in a movie about this subject. Instead, the finale is this graceful ode to youthful exuberance, and in the midst of it the young girl experiences a sense of loss and nostalgia for her dead grandmother, a sadness about the necessity of moving on, and it’s such a wonderful ending. This movie made me really want to explore Assayas further.

    • Very well put. The ending was wonderful. I loved the squeamishness at seeing the kids with their stereo and basketball and how that’s turned into an innocence towards generational progress.

      I haven’t seen any of Assayas’ other work – with the exception of his short film in Paris, I love you, which I don’t remember. I’ll be checking out more of his stuff, too. You’ll have to let me know what you think.

  2. i saw totoro a couple months ago and loved it. there’s this melancholy about that i love.

    and battle of algiers, that is amazing.

    • I felt that melancholy, too, and when we read the trivia on IMDB, it made sense. It was double billed with Grave of the Fireflies and it was semi-autobiographical. Miyazaki’s mother spent a large part of his youth in the hospital. He said that it would have been too hard to make a movie about two boys (him and his brother) so he had to use girl characters.

      • that’s interesting. i like, in totoro, how in the fantasy parts — totoro and the cat bus and so on — that kind of fear of the unknown and sadness doesn’t disappear. it’s not an escape but rather a way of coping

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