Tag Archives: FBTop100

FBTop100 #92: Amelie

This post is part of a project to watch the Film Bloggers’ 100 Favorite Non-English Films.


France 2001; dir: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
starring: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz
screened 4/6/08; DVD

Previous Viewing Experience: I’ve seen this at least four times, but most of them were pretty soon after it came out on DVD, so it’s probably been four or five years.  Wow, that makes me feel old.

Previous Reactions: I pretty much fell in love with this movie when I first saw it (hence the seeing it again so often so soon).  The colors, the music, the quirk, the charm.  Mostly the colors, if I’m honest.

Brief Synopsis: Amelie Poulain lives and works in Montmartre, but doesn’t connect very deeply with other people.  When she finds a long-lost box of toys and successfully finds the overjoyed owner, she decides to do random acts of kindness (and meanness, in one case) – one of which may lead to romance if she doesn’t chicken out first.

Response:  Interesting reaction this time. I’m still charmed by the film, and for all the same reasons as before. But I found myself also a little disappointed at its obviousness. Which I think is a function of having seen several Krzysztof Kieslowski films over the past year. Jeunet’s use of vibrant color seems directly borrowed from Kieslowski’s later films (the French ones), and since the cinematography is one of my favorite things about both Amelie and Kieslowski’s work, I couldn’t help comparing them in my head. And Kieslowski is better. Amelie’s problem is that she’s afraid of connecting meaningfully with other people. That’s why she spends more time pulling pranks and tricking everyone else in the story (whether for their good or ill) rather than concentrate on her own life.  Ultimately, that’s why she constructs elaborate schemes and false identities that keep her in contact with yet also distanced from Bobo. And that’s great, it’s a fine storyline. But then Jeunet introduces a brittle painter who can’t quite capture one girl’s expression in the Renoir he’s copying. Why? Because she’s in a group of people and yet not connected to them. Over and over the fact that this girl and Amelie are the same is reiterated. Over and over the painter explicitly pushes Amelie to take the risk, to open herself up to others. Again, not a bad thing in and of itself, but Kieslowski takes a similar storyline of people who have cut themselves off from the world emotionally in Red and carries it out with much greater subtlety and ambiguity. Perhaps that’s why Amelie is #92 on this list and Red is down at #39.

I still love Amelie, don’t get me wrong. It’s delightful, and it remains one of the two or three best introductions to foreign films for the subtitle-phobic. But it’s a gateway drug to world cinema, and if you like it, move on to the harder stuff.

Overall Rating: Well Above Average

FBTop100 #93: The Blue Angel

This post is part of a project to watch the Film Bloggers’ 100 Favorite Non-English Films.


Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel)
Germany 1931; dir: Josef von Sternberg
starring: Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich
screened 7/5/08; New Beverly Cinema

Previous Viewing Experience: Never seen it, nor anything else directed by von Sternberg or starring Jannings, though I’ve seen several later Dietrich films.

Knowledge Before Viewing: In a meta sense, I’m aware that von Sternberg and Dietrich are a well-known actress-director team, and that Dietrich made waves for her masculin costuming in this and/or her other films with him. More specifically, I know the basic story has something to do with a straight-laced professor who gets angry at his students for lusting after a sexy showgirl, but then he feels a bit differently once he actually sees said showgirl. I’m not looking forward to this one too terribly much. It sounds like an offputting combination of dirty old man lechery and moralizing. Add in early sound era awkwardness, and yeah. Sorta ambivalent. Hopefully seeing it in a theatre (fortuitous timing on the New Beverly’s part!) will help.

Brief Synopsis: My pre-viewing synopsis is fairly close, actually. The Professor (Jannings) finds his students sneaking off to the local cabaret, but when he goes there to catch them at it, he ends up falling for Lola Lola (Dietrich) himself. She encourages him and eventually they marry. But when the show goes back on the road, he’s reduced to performing clown parts to earn his keep and stay with her.

Response: I wound up liking this a lot more than I initially expected to. One of my favorite films it probably won’t ever be, but it was definitely worthwhile at least seeing once to experience such a young Marlene Dietrich. She’s absolutely delightful from start to finish (outside of, perhaps, a few scenes near the end where she gets to be quite the little bitch). The story is far more focused on the Professor, though, and his fall from esteemed academic and community leader to pathetic joke after he marries Lola. And this being to some degree a Gemran Expressionist film, his decline gets a little on the overwrought side at times. I did particularly like the recurring bird imagery – both the Professor and Lola keep birds, linking them before they’re, um, linked, and an early shot of a dead bird provides a foreshadowing glimpse of how this is all going to work out. In terms of moralizing, the message is apparently “don’t marry flighty showgirls much younger than you because it’ll ruin your life.” Which, actually, is probably good advice.

Overall Rating: Above Average

FB100: #94 – Orpheus

This post is part of a project to watch the Film Bloggers’ 100 Favorite Non-English Films.

Orpheus screencap

France 1950; dir: Jean Cocteau
starring: Jean Marais, María Casares, Maria Déa, François Périer
screened 3/1/08, Criterion DVD

“The death of a poet requires a sacrifice to make him immortal.”

Unrelated to Orpheus, but a milestone nonetheless, this is the 500th post on this blog. Woohoo! Okay, back to the business at hand.

Previous Viewing Experience: Have never seen it before.

Knowledge Before Viewing: I know absolutely nothing about the story; but it forms a sort of trilogy with two other Cocteau films, Blood of a Poet and The Testament of Orpheus. I have actually seen Blood of a Poet, but a LONG time ago, and I mostly didn’t get it because it’s on the surrealist side. But I’m looking forward to Orpheus (despite the appearance of having put it off for, like two months), at least in part because Cocteau’s La belle et la bête is one of my all-time favorite films.

Brief Synopsis: Orpheus, a poet in post-war France, finds himself caught up with Death in the visage of a beautiful woman and her minions. When Death takes his wife Euridyce, Orpheus follows them into the underworld–but is it really Euridyce he desires, or is it Death herself?

Initial Viewing Response: Jean Cocteau was as much a poet as a filmmaker, and his films are poetic to their very core. The acting, writing, narration, music, visuals, and effects all come together to create a heightened mood — not realistic in any normal use of the word, but hyperreal. Or you could say surreal, I suppose, though Orpheus is much more closely aligned with the fairy-tale mood of La belle et la bête than the surrealism of Blood of a Poet. Although I should probably rewatch Blood of a Poet because I could be misremembering it horribly (in fact, I tend to get it mixed up in my head with Buñuel’s Un chien andalou, which may be a disservice to both of the films).

In any case, as you may have guessed, the story transplants and modifies the Greek Orpheus myth, in which the poet/musician spent so much time with his music that he ignored his wife, Euridyce. When she died, he went into the underworld to get her, and Hades allowed Euridyce to return to life with Orpheus on the condition that Orpheus could not look at her until they reached the world of the living. Impatient, Orpheus turned to look at her as they came near the exit of the underworld, and she was reclaimed by Hades. In Cocteau’s version (which may be another version of the myth, I’m not sure), the stipulation said that he could never look at her again, ever. And in any case, by that time, Orpheus was too infatuated with Death to be much interested in Eurydice at all. Another layer is added by the character of Herteubise, Death’s chauffeur and messenger, who falls in love with Eurydice while Orpheus is obsession over Death.

I won’t say I completely understand the film (did Death change her mind somewhere in the middle about what she wanted, or was the entire thing an elaborate plot on her part to balance Orpheus’s poetic obsessions with his domestic life?), but it was mesmerizing and beautiful to watch. And if you don’t know by now, I might as well say: I appreciate films more for the experience I have while watching them and the images they engrave on my consciousness than for pretty much anything else, and usually, the more ambiguous the point of the film, the more beautiful I find it. Cocteau’s special effects are simple and obvious, but they’re some how much more effective (and affective) than more elaborate, realistic effects would have been. Orpheus’s difficulty walking in the no-man’s land between the two worlds, the double-exposures revealing Death’s entry into this world and the glimpses of the other through mirrors, the filmed-backwards shots of Orpheus putting on the underworld gloves which suggest that time may not be working as we expect–all are clearly heightened, obvious effects, but they fit in perfectly with the poetic tone of the film.

There are a lot of things to think about; many quotes and ideas could be followed down philosophical rabbit trails, from the quote I used about about the immortality of a poet depending on a sacrifice (isn’t it in some ways true that poets must die before they can live forever–very few great artists are recognized as such during their life), to the connection of mirrors with death (Herteubise suggests that every time we look in a mirror, we see death). The problem with thinking TOO much about the film is that I’m not sure it makes logical sense, at least not in our normal definition of left-brained, linear logic. The motivations of Death and Orpheus aren’t aways clear (much less so than the more realist Herteubise and Euridyce, which is actually probably intentional now that I think of it), nor is the process for moving between the two worlds. Yet it somehow manages to make mystical sense, if you don’t try to impose propositional logic onto it.

Reflective Response: I think I’m going to ditch the reflective responses. A few days isn’t enough time to process these films, so the experiment in comparing immediate to reflective responses was flawed in theory.


FB100: #95 – Run Lola Run

This post is part of a project to watch the Film Bloggers’ 100 Favorite Non-English Films. See my progress here.

Run Lola Run (Lola Rennt)
Germany 1998; dir: Tom Tykwer
starring: Franka Potente, Moritz Bliebtreu
screened 1/28/08, DVD

“I wish I was a heartbeat that never comes to rest.”

Previous Viewing Experience: Oh, golly. This will be the fifth time I’ve seen this film. Guess you know I like it, eh? (Although I’ve seen Citizen Kane as many times, and I don’t particularly like it…)

Knowledge Before Viewing: This is one of my all-time favorite films, but I haven’t really written anything about it. So it’ll be interesting to see it with the intention of writing about it. The response will still likely be “OMG, I love this movie so much!!!!11!” Oh well. I honestly can’t remember what I’d heard about it before watching it the first time, or what my expectations were. But I’m sure they were exceeded.

Previous Reactions: I’ve never reviewed it before, but my rating on it is “Superior,” no question. It’s number 3 on my Best Films of 1999 list (it opened in the US in 1999, though it released in Germany in ’98), and 1999 was a VERY good year for movies. Run Lola Run is one of two foreign films I use to bait people who say they don’t like foreign films (the other is Amelie, at #92 on this list). So far I’ve never shown it to anyone who didn’t love it; it taps into the MTV generation’s love of quick editing and techno-rock music (one of the best soundtracks to drive to, by the way), but also manages a surprising amount of depth in both story and narrative technique. I’m just glad to have an excuse to watch it again. :)

Brief Synopsis: Lola’s boyfriend Manni has lost a bag containing 100,000 marks which belongs to a local crime lord; she has twenty minutes to somehow get enough money to bail him out of the situation. Her attempt to get the money is repeated three times, with slight variations.

Response: Have I mentioned that I love this movie? Yeah, still do. On a philosophic level, it’s a fascinating inquiry into the nature of time, the efficacy of human action, and the mutability of fate. Each time through, there are slight differences: the first time, Lola might nearly run into a woman with a baby stroller, the second time, she does run into her. We’re shown in a rapid series of stills what happens to the woman afterwards: the first time, she loses her child to child services and steals another, the second she wins the lottery. There are several of these “and then” sequences for various people Lola encounters, and each one shows a different outcome. It’s tempting to imagine a cause-effect relation between Lola’s encounters with them and their futures, but I’m not sure that’s right; these are coincidental moments of little or no consequence–it could be a case of the butterfly effect (small actions have large consequences and the slight changes lead to radically different ends), but I think it’s simply that each person has a multitude of possible futures, and the film doesn’t necessarily comment on the degree of interrelation between chance and human action. It’s definitely a postmodern film, and the idea of multiple branching futures is found in a lot of postmodern narratives–compare it to certain sections of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and If on a winter’s night a traveler, for example, or Jorge Luis Borges’s Labyrinths.

[This video is of the third time through the sequence]

The idea of multiple futures is backed up obviously by the tripartite structure, in which the first two attempts to save Manni fail, and Lola decides to try again–and does! The opening sequence, before we meet Manni and Lola, suggests that we’re playing a game which, like football (er, soccer), has established rules–the ball is round, the game lasts ninety minutes. Those are the constraints we’re given in the world we’re about to enter. But Lola doesn’t play by the established rules. And neither does this film, in all the best ways. Stylistically, Tykwer pulls every trick he can find: There are animated segments (which are just cool anyway, but also highlight the constructedness and artificiality of the story we’re watching), black and white sections, nearly frame-by-frame montages, long tracking shots, interspersed stills, jump cuts, handheld shots, split-screen (eat your heart out, 24), you name it. You’d think with all that he wouldn’t have time for much else, but there’s an entire subplot about Lola’s father and his mistress which surprises me every time with its depth, despite its sum total of probably four minutes on screen.

And there’s so much more I could probably talk about, but those are the main things that impress me every time. It’s just so enjoyable to watch, so well-structured as a narrative, and so fascinating as a philosophical exercise–and there are so few movies that manage to be all three, and in less than 90 minutes, too.

(Since I’ve seen this many times before, I opted not to include two responses; the response above can be considered a reflective response as well as an immediately-after-viewing response.)

Picspam!: Haven’t been able to do this on the last several, because I can’t screencap videos. Yay for DVDs! And movies I want to take the time to screencap.

FB100: #96 – The Exterminating Angel

This post is part of a project to watch the Film Bloggers’ 100 Favorite Non-English Films. See my progress here. Note: I have skipped #97 on the list, Satantango, because I have been unable to get it to watch and decided to move on. When I have the opportunity to see it, I will.

The Exterminating Angel

The Exterminating Angel
Mexico 1962; dir: Luis Buñuel
starring: Enrique Rambal, Lucy Gallardo, Claudio Brook
screened 1/9/08; VHS

“The best explanation of the film is that, from the standpoint of pure reason, there is no explanation.” – title card

Previous Viewing Experience: I have seen this once before, in June 2006.

Previous Reactions: The first time I saw this, I knew to expect something surreal and weird, because I’d already seen a couple of other Buñuel films; I got pretty much what I was expecting. While I found it a bit slow the first time through, I also found it compelling. I rated it Above Average then.

Brief Synopsis: A group of upperclass dinner guests find themselves unable to leave the drawing room after dinner, held there by an overwhelming apathy and inability to act. Meanwhile, the police and family members have gathered outside the house, unable to enter.

Response: I didn’t find it at all slow or repetitive this time. I was impressed by the strength of the plotting, especially since there’s really so little story to plot. It’s done with remarkable economy without sacrificing any depth, and the last sequence is the perfect cap off, bringing us full-circle and beyond. The film is a scathing attack on the privileged classes, really–a sort of counterpart to Buñuel’s later The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, except instead of a dinner party which can’t get started, The Exterminating Angel is about one that won’t end. I wasn’t as attuned to the surrealists’ hatred of the upperclass the first time I saw this, so I didn’t note with as much care the almost constant distinction being made between the upperclass guests and the servants, who all had an inexplicable desire to leave before the party started, and did so. Throughout the film, the guests make disparaging remarks about lower classes: “I think persons of the lower classes are less sensitive to pain. Have you ever seen a wounded bull? Absolutely numb.” Being confined in the drawing room for days and weeks, they experience what they imagine as the living conditions of the lower classes (though whether they realize the connection is unclear)–as the host of the party, one of the more level-headed in the group, puts it: “What I have hated since my youth, coarseness, violence, filth, are now our constant companions.”

It all becomes very Lord of the Flies-ish by the end, as they turn on each other. It’s much easier to blame someone else for unpleasant conditions rather than do something about it yourself. And this is, finally, their ultimately failure. They fail to act. They lack the willpower. And the most interesting thing is that they know they do! When Nobile, the host, says they need to work up a supreme amount of willpower and all leave the room together, rather than take his advice, they start blaming him for causing the whole problem by inviting them; eventually, they blame their absent families for not rescuing them. The other level-head, the doctor, at one point tells the now nearly barbaric guests that their behavior “is unworthy of us. Gentlemen, don’t forget your breeding.” But that’s the point. Their upperclass status isn’t going to help them in this situation, and it is in fact their apathetic, sophisticated, actionless aristocratic tendencies that threaten to destroy them.

(Since I’ve seen this before and remembered it pretty well, I opted not to include two responses; the response above can be considered a reflective response as well as an immediately-after-viewing response. I said my previous rating was Above Average; after this viewing, I re-evaulate that to Well Above Average. Give it a few more viewings, especially as I see more Bunuel films to add to the conversation, and it may quite easily move higher–especially if I can see a better print.)