1 hour 54 minutes
In 1940, Viviane Denvert (played by Isabelle Adjani) is a fickle, self-promoting film star who enlists her childhood friend, Frédéric Auger (Grégori Derangère), to extract herself from a compromising situation. As war creeps upon France, Auger finds himself behind bars for Viviane’s crime, but in the confusion of battle he manages to escape with the seasoned ne’erdowell Raoul (Yvan Attal). All of Paris is fleeing the German advance, and on the train to Bordeaux the two come across physics student Camille (Virginie Ledoyen) who helps them reach the western city by car when the train is stopped on the line.
In Bordeaux we come across government minister Jean-Étienne Beaufort, Viviane’s lover whom she uses to get Frédéric out of a sticky situation resulting from her own manipulation of him. Meanwhile, with all of Paris in Bordeaux, Viviane comes across another ex-paramour, Alex Winckler (Peter Coyote), keeping an unnatural interest in the affairs of the government, while the physics student Camille and her mentor Professor Kopolski are harbouring an important cargo they are determined must not fall into the hands of the Germans.
For fear of spoilers, that is all I will say about the plot, but it all comes packaged in a score by Gabriel Yared, better known for his scoring of ‘The English Patient’, ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’, and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s ‘Das Leben der Anderen’. The film was nominated for eight César awards in 2004 — best costumes, best director, best editing, best film, best original score, best sound editing, best supporting actor, and best writing — while it won three Césars that year for photography, best set design, and, for Grégori Derangère, best promising actor.
In reverse chronological order, from the most recently viewed backwards.
|Ne touchez pas la hache (2007, France) — Based on Balzac’s La Duchesse de Langeais. I think we need more films set in Restoration France, but this one often fell flat.|
|Män som hatar kvinnor (2009, Sweden) — A journalist has six months to investigate the strange murder of a girl from the island estate of a prominent family. A very good mystery, though I had to fast-forward multiple times due to graphicness. Released in the U.S. as ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ instead of ‘Men Who Hate Women’.|
|The Night of the Generals (1967, Great Britain-France) — A quality production depicting the quest of a German officer to obtain justice in arresting a sociopathic general for the murder of a Polish prostitute. Omar Sharif, Peter O’Toole, Philippe Noiret, Christopher Plummer, Charles Gray, and Tom Courtenay.|
|Three Days of the Condor (1975, U.S.A.) — A literary analyst at a CIA front organisation returns to the office from lunch to find all his colleagues shot dead. Robert Redford and Max von Sydow.|
|Le combat dans l’île (1962, France) — A right-wing extremist thinks he’s assassinated a prominent left-wing extremist but soon finds not all is as it appears. Romy Schneider plays the woman caught between the would-be murderer and his typographer friend.|
|À bout de souffle (1960, France) — A rather lame romanticisation of a cop-murderer and his exploits from Jean-Luc Godard. Paris in the 1950s looks great though.|
|Defence of the Realm (1985, Great Britain) — A newspaper exposes a Member of Parliament as a potential spy, but it turns out the story is much more complicated than first appearances would have it. Starring Gabriel Byrne, Ian Bannen, Greta Scacchi, Denholm Elliott, Bill Paterson, and Robbie Coltrane.|
|A Few Days in September (2006, France) — An intriguing spy drama set in the days leading up to September 11th, a French spy (Juliette Binoche) is minding the grown children of an old ex-C.I.A. agent (Nick Nolte) pursued by a psychotic assasin (John Torturro).|
|50 Dead Men Walking (2008, Great Britain-U.S.A.-Canada) — Based on the story of terrorist-turned-informer Martin McGartland, with Ben Kingsley playing his RUC handler.|
|The Red Baron (2008, Germany) — A very light handling of an interesting historical character man. Everyone dresses well, but Joseph Fiennes as Billy Bishop, the Red Baron’s nemesis, is the least convincing fighter ace in history.|
|Ondskan (2003, Sweden) — A surprisingly good film in the boarding-school resistance-to-bullies category with a few twists, only slightly tinged by the socialism of the author of the novel on which it’s based.|
|L’Heure d’été (2008, France) — Three siblings deal with their mother’s estate.|
|Sink the Bismarck! (1960, Great Britain) — Cracking naval tale. A classic of the World War II genre.|
|The Count of Monte Cristo (2002, U.S.A.) — Significant changes from the plot of the book besides the usual compression of the story line mar this film. Just not as worthwhile as the lavishly done 1998 French mini-series.|
|On the Waterfront (1954, U.S.A.) — A priest tries to convince a mob lackey to testify against his bosses to challenge their murderous and abusive control of the waterfront. Particularly intriguing as the director was brave enough to challenge Hollywood communists in the 1950s.|
|Paris (2008, France) — The interweaving lives of a handful of Parisians. I will see any film that has Juliette Binoche or Mélanie Laurent in it, and this film has both. Also with François Cluzet (of “Ne le dis à personne/Tell No One”) and Albert Dupontel.|
|Mon Oncle (1958, France) — Jacques Tati’s first colour film, Monsieur Hulot continues to struggle with the postwar infatuation with modern architecture and consumerism. On its release it was condemned for its obviously reactionary world-view, but has since become a cult favourite.|
|Le Petit Lieutenant (2005, France) — A young police recruit from the provinces joins a Parisian precinct and investigates a murder alongside his female unit commander, a recovering alcoholic.|
|Les rivières pourpres (2000, France) — Jean Reno plays a police detective sent to a small university town in the Alps to investigate a brutal murder. Meanwhile, another detective (played by Vincent Kassel) looks into the desecration of the grave of a young girl. The plots soon become intertwined in an intriguing fashion. This film failed to live up to its potential (the university aspect could have been developed further) but is still a decent cop flick.|
|Buongiorno, notte (2003, Italy) — The kidnapping of Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades.|
|Flammen & Citronen (2008, Denmark) — Another good Scandinavian World-War-II resistance movie, alongside Norway’s “Max Manus” of the same year. (Previously covered here). Mads Mikkelsen (the Bond villain in “Casino Royale”) plays ‘Citronen’.|
|Kontroll (2003, Hungary) — The ticket collectors of the Budapest Metro worry about a series of mysterious platform deaths. Varies between the comic, the thrilling, and the tiresome.|
|L’homme du train (2002, France) — A man steps off a train planning to rob a bank, but strikes up a friendship with a retired poetry teacher. Jean Rochefort and Johnny Hallyday are a surprisingly good pairing.|
|Advise and Consent (1962, U.S.A.) — The Senate must either approve or reject the President’s nomination for Secretary of State, but plots and intrigues are afoot. Otto Preminger does Washington, and does it well.|
|The International (2009, U.S.A.-Germany-Great Britain) — A cracking conspiracy thriller staring Clive Owen as a stubborn Interpol investigator and Naomi Watts as a Manhattan Assistant D.A. Includes a fun shoot-out in the Guggenheim.|
|Banlieue 13 (2004, France) — Parkour-heavy action film set in a Parisian crime ghetto of the near-future.|
|Il divo (2008, Italy) — Biographical film of the seven-time Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti. Toni Servillo’s portrayal of the main character, however, crosses the line into caricature.|
|Strajk – Die Heldin von Danzig (2006, Germany-Poland) — A German film in Polish about the hardest-working employee at the Gdansk shipyards who finally takes a stand against the horrendous working conditions under the Communist regime.|
While innocently playing billiards in a friend’s basement towards the later years of my school days, I was inexplicably forced to endure the latter portion of an episode of the HBO television series “Sex and the City”. The show centers on four middle-aged women who refuse to settle down and lead reasonable, ordered lives but instead involve themselves in ever more flippant affairs and commit ever greater sins against their own dignity. It would be a welcome warning to women were it not for the obvious fact that the show’s intent is to glorify the sad, pitiable existence lived out by the four main characters.
The show originated from a column of the same name in the New York Observer, and after the success of the television series, a cinematic continuation was filmed, followed by a more recent sequel.
Brendan O’Neill, a liberal atheist if ever there was one, has written a superb commentary on the second “Sex and the City” film, claiming that this “execrable” movie “offers an accidentally fascinating insight into the crisis of American values”. Click here to read O’Neill thoughts on the film and its sad reflection of today’s America, and say a little prayer that no-one really leads lives as self-centered, sad, and just plain pitiable as the characters involved.
Various sources have brought to light the new film “Lourdes” by the Austrian director Jessica Hausner. The film depicts the pilgrimage to Lourdes of a non-particularly religious woman (played by Sylvie Testud) suffering from Mutiple Sclerosis who is healed of her illness. The film by a non-believing director has met with both praise and suspicion from Catholic quarters, and has been compared, at least stylistically, to the work of Michael Haneke (whose latest, “The White Ribbon” is currently showing in New York). Latest to weigh in is the Catholic Herald‘s indispensable Anna Arco, who writes:
I saw it as an exercise in theodicy where God loses. In a quiet dispassionate way, Jessica Hausner, the film’s Austrian director, paints a bleak picture of a world where fate is a blind, arbitrary force and human beings clutch at the straws of faith, half-truths in their cowardly despair. The suffering are not healed, human nature is selfish and the problem of pain is not solved. God can’t exist because he isn’t fair. Christianity offers a web of half-truths obscuring a nihilistic reality.
Miss Arco recently spoke with the director, and the interview will be published in the next Catholic Herald. (more…)
This is a perfectly charming film. “La Grande Séduction” comically celebrates the dignity of work and the assault on the human character that inevitably results from reliance upon government welfare for survival. The inhabitants of the small fishing village of Ste-Marie-La-Mauderne have refused to abandon their homes after the collapse of fishing, but lack the resident doctor a potential investor requires in order to build his factory in the town. “La Grande Séduction” (released in Anglophone cinemas as “Seducing Dr. Lewis”) depicts the efforts of prominent townsfolk to unite and persuade the arrogant city-slicker Dr. Lewis to sign up as doctor for their little corner of the world.
Fans of “Local Hero” or “Waking Ned Devine” will find the theme familiar, but with a remote corner of maritime Quebec substituting for the Celtic hinterlands of the British Isles. If anything, the film allows the viewer an opportunity to hear that charming Québécois back-country accent. There are also elements that will grate somewhat the prudish tendencies of Anglos like us, but one must make allowances for the Latin temperament that survives in la Nouvelle-France and the other Romance realms.
Overall, a celebration of place, work, and community, and an interesting exploration of the conflict between artificiality and authenticity.
“There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows,” says Sherlock Holmes in The Greek Interpreter. “Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger’s Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. My brother was one of the founders, and I have myself found it a very soothing atmosphere.” (more…)
WHEN I WROTE about the Danish film “Flammen et Citronen” in July, I mentioned that it’s not very often that a big-budget period film comes out of Scandinavia, but that recently there’ve been not just one, but two. Readers may have been wondering about the other film which remained unmentioned. I caught the single showing of “Max Manus” during Norwegian Film Week (actually a fortnight) at Scandinavia House on Park Avenue here in New York. This was undoubtedly one of the best films I’ve seen all year, vying with “The Baader-Meinhof Complex” for the top position.
The film begins with newspaper headlines showing the increasingly precipitous situation in Europe from the beginning of the Great Depression onwards. Germany’s economy is ruined and inflation is rampant, Hitler rises to power, Hitler and Stalin invade and divide Poland, Great Britain and France declare war on Germany, and finally Stalin invades Finland. The eponymous hero of our film, Max Manus, is Norwegian but volunteers to fight for Finland when it is invaded by its Nazi-aligned totalitarian neighbour the Soviet Union in the Winter War of 1939-1940. (more…)
THE LIFE OF Saint Hildegard von Bingen — the Benedictine nun, writer, scientist, physician, and poet perhaps best known as a composer — has been brought to the screen in a new German-produced film. “Vision – Aus dem Leben der Hildegard von Bingen” was released in Germany & Austria in September and may receive a wider European release in 2010. From the voluntary confinement of the cloister, this woman corresponded with the Emperors Lothair II and Frederick Barbarossa, the popes Eugene III and Anastasius IV, the great patron of art Abbot Suger, and of course the great Cistercian reformer St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Hildegard was authorised to go on four preaching tours, and her Ordo Virtutum was the first allegorical morality play of the medieval period. She even invented a demi-language, Lingua Ignota (“unknown language”), and created an alternative alphabet in which to write it. (more…)
IT’S NOT VERY OFTEN that a big-budget period film comes out of Scandinavia, but recently there’ve been not one, but two. Here mentioned is the Danish film “Flammen & Citronen”, an action-drama based on the Second World War actions of Bent Faurschou-Hviid (nicknamed “Flame”) and Jørgen Haagen Schmith (“Citron”). Faurschou-Hviid and Schmith were members of the Holder Danske group, a Danish resistance organization primarily composed of Danes who had previously fought for Finland against the Soviet Union in the Winter War of 1939-1940. (more…)
When it comes to newspapers, the visual element is all-important to an extent that shockingly few in the powerful parts of the industry comprehend. In the county of Westchester — my home turf — there is a monopoly when it comes to the newspaper as a means of local information delivery, and that monopoly belongs to the Gannett chain. Gannett newspapers are among the ugliest in the country, but then most American newspapers are abominations when it comes to design. The glory days of newspapers were, of course, the 1920s & 30s, and Stephen Fry’s film “Bright Young Things” — a rejigged dramatisation of Waugh’s Vile Bodies — highlights, as many Waughvian tales do, newspapers as a central plot instrument.
Here’s a film that has it all: naval battles, mutiny, revolution, civil war, brave men, beautiful women, sin, sacrifice, and betrayal on multiple levels. But “Admiral” («Адмиралъ»), which opened in Russia this month, is notable for another reason: this is the first major film depicting the tsarist White Russians as the good guys to receive at least part of its funding from the Russian government. The eponymous hero of the film is Alexander Kolchak, the naval commander and polar explorer who later led part of the White Army fighting the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War.
“Alexander: Battle of the Neva”
Follow your dreams! It may sound like a Hollywood cliché, but what’s a fourteen-year-old orphaned Sorb peasant to do? Currently showing in German cinemas, “Krabat” is the first film version of Otfried Preußler’s 1971 novel of an old Sorbian tale whose eponymous protagonist is a beggar boy in the eastern Saxony of the early 1700s. Krabat is plagued by dreams of an old watermill outside the tiny hamlet of Schwarzkollm, which seems to be operational though farmers never bring grain to be milled.
Fritz Lang’s «Metropolis» was one of the most groundbreaking films of the silent era, and so the news that scenes previously lost have been rediscovered is most welcome. While «Metropolis» is one of those films that is perhaps best appreciated if only viewed once, I certainly look forward to a restored version being released in the next few years.
Still, my favorite of Fritz Lang’s works remains the classic «M», a sound film released in 1931, a few years into the talkie era. Peter Lorre is at his best in the starring role, and of course with Lang at the helm, «M» is expertly shot. Those whistled notes from Peer Gynt are never the same again after seeing this film!
New Spain never looked so good as in the 2004 film of Thornton Wilder’s novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey. This is no doubt partly because it wasn’t filmed in New Spain but in Old Spain (specifically in Toledo and Málaga).
[I came across this piece by Taki whilst trawling through the Cusack archives, and I thought now would be the appropriate time to share it.]
By Taki Theodoracopulos (The Spectator, 22 April 2006)
Do any of you remember a film called The Blue Max? It is about a German flying squadron during the first world war. A working-class German soldier manages to escape trench warfare by joining up with lots of aristocratic Prussian flyers who see jousting in the sky as a form of sport, rather than combat. Eager for fame and glory — 20 confirmed kills earns one the ‘Blue Max’, the highest decoration the Fatherland can bestow — the prole shoots down a defenceless British pilot whose gunner is dead. His squadron leader is appalled. ‘This is not warfare,’ he tells the arriviste. ‘It’s murder.’
I know it’s only a film, and a Hollywood one at that, but jousting in the air was a chivalric endeavour back then, with pilots who crash-landed behind enemy lines being treated as honoured guests before being interned for the duration. The man who embodied all the chivalric virtues was, of course, Manfred von Richthofen, whose family had been ennobled by Frederick the Great in the 1740s. When Baron Richthofen became a fighter pilot in the late summer of 1916, it was still only 13 years since the first flight of Orville Wright. The technique of applying air power to warfare was barely understood. One looped-the-loop, and pilots who managed to shoot down enemy aircraft and survive were regarded as heroes and quickly accumulated chestfuls of medals. When the Red Baron (his plane was painted a dark red, hence the nickname) died on 21 April 1918, the Times for 23 April devoted one third of a column to England’s fallen enemy, remarking that ‘all our airmen concede that Richthofen was a great pilot and a fine fighting man’.
By the time of his death, the Red Baron had notched up 80 victories, a record, with the leading French ace, René Fonck, claiming to have shot down 157 German aircraft, but only 75 being confirmed. (Rather French, that.) Needless to say, the mystery surrounding Richthofen’s death added to his legend. No one knows for sure who shot him down, or even if the bullet which killed him came from the ground. The English who found his body treated it with all the ceremony they would have accorded one of their own. An honour guard escorted the corpse to his own lines and British pilots overflew and dipped their wings. Those were the days. Out of 8 million men of his generation who died in that useless war, Richthofen’s is among the few names which will most likely be remembered by the general public on the 200th anniversary of his death.
His brother Lothar and his cousin Wolfram (who bombed Stalingrad 25 years later, and was one of Hitler’s favourites) flew alongside the baron, establishing a tradition for excellence and gallantry in the Luftwaffe. The second world war saw great heroics by German pilots, starting with Hans Ulrich Rudel, with something like 400 Stalin tanks to his credit, Adolf Galland, Erich Hartmann, who shot down 352 Soviet aircraft in the course of 1,500 missions, and Walter Novotny, with 250 Soviet aircraft in fewer than 450 missions.
My favourite is, of course, Prince Heinrich Sayn-Wittgenstein, whose heroics overshadowed the rest, and whose plane was shot down at the very, very end of the war in Schonhausen, the Bismarck home. Wittgenstein had his crew bail out first but was unconscious when he hit the ground. He had been hit while in the cockpit. By the end of the war he had become such an ace and legend he could do what he pleased. He once flew a combat mission with a raincoat over his dinner jacket. A few days before he had been to Hitler’s headquarters to receive the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross. He told the beautiful Missie Vassiltchikov on the telephone, ‘Ich war bei unserem Liebling’ (I have been to see our darling) and added how surprised he was his handgun had not been removed before he entered ‘the Presence’. Heinrich would have loved to have bumped him off, but by then Germany was ruined and the prince died three days later. Hitler had many heroic pilots grounded towards the end, but Wittgenstein, being noble, was kept flying.
Why am I bringing all this up in the year of Our Lord 2006? As I told you last week, while down in Palm Beach, a friend of mine, Richard Johnson, tied the knot with Sessa von Richthofen, and I flew down a group of friends for three days of non-stop celebrations. The couple exchanged vows on an 80-year-old river boat which plies its trade in the inland waterway which crisscrosses Florida. My speech went down great, but then some ghastly paparazzo by the name of Harry Benson went around complaining about it. Never to me, needless to say, otherwise one more kill would have been added to the Richthofen legend.
“Der Rote Baron” is showing in den deutschen Kinopalästen as we speak, but the motion picture was not actually meant for a German audience: this is but part of the clever ruse. The film was actually made in English and then dubbed back into German by the mostly Allemanic cast.
Having convinced us of their peaceful intentions through more than a half-century of “Guys, we really messed up circa 1933-1945”, the obvious intent is to swamp the English-speaking world with a film depicting the charming gentlemen fighters of the first weltkreig in order to disarm us as they prepare for their dastardly plans.
Why, as we speak, Georg Friedrich von Preussen is polishing his pickelhaube and dusting off his feather cap in preparation for this latest Prussian plot for world domination. While the Western world worried itself sick over global Islamism and the Chinese threat, little did we know that a swelling irredentism was brewing deep within the hearts of every Berliner; a tear developing in the eye at the mere mention of Tsingtao; a soul in mourning for the loss of Tanganyika. How naïve we were not to realize that all those bright young Germans spending their gap year teaching smiling Herero natives in Namibia were actually forward units of intelligence-gatherers yearning for the return of Ketmanshoop and Swakopmund to the Germanic fold.
Well, the trailer for the film adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel “Brideshead Revisited” is out, and the film is slated for a summer release here in the States. (Trailer | Official Site). Waugh fans can but lament that, whereas Waugh said the book was essentially about “the operation of divine grace”, the screenwriter of this adaptation openly admitted that the script “turns God into a villain”.
Rather than being bold and creating a genuine work of cinematic art to match the novel, they’ve decided to take the easy and conformist route and do a God-hating rompy flick. (Because we can’t have too many of those!). A shame, of course, but entirely predictable. Shall we at least have a look at the cast?
No, this isn’t a photograph of the latest Norumbega staff meeting, it’s a publicity shot from the upcoming United Artists film, “Valkyrie”. The film tells the story of Claus Philipp Maria Schenck von Stauffenberg, the heroic German Catholic noble who was the mastermind behind the July 20 plot against Hitler. Needless to say, there has been much anticipation over this film, especially since the lead role went to Tom Cruise, who has never quite got the knack of acting. Like Jeremy Irons, he seems to believe that completely different characters require little or no change in performance, but is mysteriously still making films nonetheless. (Cruise at least has the excuse of being a Scientologist to explain his success… what’s Jeremy Irons’s?).
Despite the poor choice of Mr. Cruise play Count Stauffenberg, the rest of the cast includes some pretty inspired choices. Playing Countess Nina von Stauffenberg is Carice von Houten (above), whom you will remember from “Zwartboek”. She’s joined by fellow “Zwartboek” actor Christian Berkel (top photo, seated far left), who played the evil General Kaütner in the Dutch film, the character responsible for the downfall of the good German, General Müntze, who was played by Sebastian Koch (better known for his role in the hit “Das Leben der Anderen”) who (pause for breath) actually played Count Stauffenberg himself in a 2004 German television production called “Stauffenberg”. Speaking of downfalls, Berkel (we’re back to him now) also played a nasty Nazi in the 2004 film “Downfall” depicting the last few days in Hitler’s bunker. [Correction: Berkel actually played Dr. Ernst-Günter Schenck, one of the good guys.] Some more of the cast…