Thursday, August 23, 2007

Foreign into Fall: Part I

For a person who's film interest lean towards contemporary film and the academy awards, some times my film history has major gaps. And so in this "quiet before the storm" period before Hollywood roles out it's critical potentials in full force, now is the perfect time to give myself a little education.

Edward Copeland has created an opportunity for film bloggers to nominate and create a list of the top 25 non-English language feature films. Having the opportunity to submit my nominees along with others, the nomination list turned out with these 122 films making the cut. So I decided earlier in the week I'd get busy and try to catch as many of these films before the September 16th deadline in order to produce a better and strong top 25.

Here's some thougths on the first films I've tackled.

Play Time (1967) directed by Jacques Tati
This delightful film falls into the category of "appreciation" more than "entertainment." The film is so unique as it's wide-angled scenes go phrenologically through a futuristic day in a glass-building-fillled France were Monsieur Hulot and a group of American tourist continue to bump shoulders with each other in a very idiosyncratic and funny (funny-smile, not funny-ha-ha) world.

There seems to be a lot of statements and thoughts that seem to sneak out of the film about technology, the future, and loss of genuine human interaction as a result of advancement. Many of the scenes reminded me of futuristic images from Terry Gilliam's Brazil (recently mentioned here), and yet Play Time is not negative or dooms-day-ish, rather it's light and playful in nature.

I loved this classic French New Wave film, that I had not yet made time to watch until now. The story is a simple character study of a young boy (often regarded as part-autobiography of director Truffaunt). The young kid is certainly far from angelic, but his chaotic and inconsistent home life only aids in his deviant behavior that leads him to getting in trouble at school, home, and eventually with the law.

The plot, story, acting, and style of this film were all enjoyable, and I think that as a film it tells a valuable modern message about a mother who is too pre-occupied with her own desires to be a good mother, who as a result has an adverse effect on her son, who's basically unwanted.

Wings of Desire (1987) directed by Wim Wenders
(France/West Germany)
They say this film inspired City of Angels, but to say that purely doesn't recognize that this film is far more about art than about plot. The film follows two angels who can hear the thoughts of other people, and offer than comfort and influence by their presence. But similarly to Pleasantville, these angels live in a black and white world where for centuries they have missed out on true human experience. One of the angels, Damiel (Bruno Ganz) unsatisfied with his Angelic life begins to develop a love connection with a trapeze artists, and for her sacrifices his immortality.
The movie is very artful, infusing the screenplay with the words of Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, and making a number of thoughts about Germany, past, present and future. While I was not particularly fond of this film, my favorite part were the scenes where Peter Falk played himself as an American film star with his own angelic past.


Jamie Dawn said...

I haven't seen any of these films. The truth is, the only subtitled films I've seen in the last year were ones my daughter chose that were made in India.
The 400 Blows sounds like it would be very sad.
Enjoy watching more foreign movies!!!

Sam Brooks said...

Out of those films, I believe only The 400 Blows is on my top 25. I thoroughly enjoyed the others, though. Very nice reviews, too!

Fox said...

I like what you said about "Playtime". I find that movie so endlessly watchable. It's charming even when it's kind of sedated.

Out Of Jersey said...

Those are three films I have yet to see. I remember watching My Life As a Dog as a kid and thinking that it was the stupidest movie ever. I'm sure I'd feel differently now.

Paula said...

Wings of Desire is one of my favourite films, but it's not about plot, like you said. It's about thinking and pondering.

My suggestion for the next film you review would be "Tampopo". It is a hilarious look at the Japanese obsession with food. It's really funny!

Terence Towles Canote said...

The 400 Blows will certainly be on my list. Of course, my favourite foreign film of all time is also my favourite movie of all time--The Seven Samurai.

kat said...

Cinema Paradiso is one of my favorite movies of all time, hands down. And if you don't get a little sniffly at the end, you've got a heart of stone.

RC said...

@jamie...the list i'm pulling from actually really doesn't have any Indian films on it. I love the 2002 film Monsoon Wedding...that's a really enjoyable modern Indian film. I love it.

@brooke...yea, 400 blows will probably be on my top 25 too come the end of this expiriment.

@fox...yae, i showed some clips of Play Time to my wife, they were certainly more enjoyable the 2nd time around...they had a quick magical quality.

@the cubical be honest, i'm not super impressed with hallstroms 'my life as a dog' although i really enjoy hallstrom's work.

@paula, any idea idea how to get my hands on's not available on netflix or at my local library. i like films about food so now my interest is grabbed.

@mercurie and kat - i'm going to try to get at seven samarai and cinema paradiso in the next couple weeks...stay tuned and tune in with your thoughts when i do.

Anonymous said...

Tampopo is available through Blockbuster Total Access. So, my suggestion is that you shell out some more bucks, and subscribe to all available on-line movie sources.

jasdye said...

7 samurai is one of my top twenty or so films (it's probably the most beautiful Westerns, at least to my knowledge). and i've been meaning to watch wender's piece for the longest, just haven't got around to it.

out of curiosity, what are some of the other, non-Oscar-leaning foreign-language movies you're slated to watch, rc?

weepingsam said...

@jamie...the list i'm pulling from actually really doesn't have any Indian films on it. I love the 2002 film Monsoon Wedding...that's a really enjoyable modern Indian film. I love it.

There was a lot of lamentation that Satyajit Ray didn't make the list, though several films were nominated - that's a good place to start. If you can find the Apu trilogy, they are must-see films - I think they are out of print, though they've been in print, so they might turn up somewhere (same with Tampopo - there might be used or remaindered copies around...) The other Ray films on Netflix are worth seeing - Charulata might be the best...

As for others (I should have just answered when you asked me at my blog, but I went off on my own hobby horse...) - if you haven't seen the Ozu films, you have to see the Ozu films. If you haven't seen Pasolini's Gospel of Matthew, you should - it stands to reason that a gay communist atheist would make the best religious film ever, mostly by staying closer to the text than anyone else. And L'Atalante - a 30s French film that directly inspired the 60s filmmakers. (And Zero for Conduct, which somehow didn't get three votes.) For the rest - you really can't miss picking from the list...

From the longer list - I'd check out the Olmi films (I think Il Posto & I Fidanzati were named) - similar tone to Truffaut, Tati, quiet, understated humor... there are quite a few of his films on Netflix, any of them are worth seeing.

jasdye said...

i counted. i saw ten percent of the movies (heavily on the action side) on the list.

i'm jealous; it looks like fun. good luck.

Jeff Reed said...

RC, this is friggin awesome. 400 blows is an awesome film. I found myself laughing hysterically when the kids bike gets stolen. Oh wait, was that supposed to be a sad moment? As for the other film, come on, Columbo is an angel? Really. Who woulda thunk it. I would actually buy this on DVD if I could find it (I have 400 blows already... which got quite a comotion from my mother when she saw it, but for other, let's say mistaken, reasons).

Wim Wenders is my hero...

RC said...

@weepingsam...i haven't seen the longer list? where is this posted? should watch some of these films too...share your thoughts and such.

@jeff...the title is a little troubling i looked up why in the world it was called that and it's a literal translation of some French phrase. I guess that's the danger of one nations expressions being translated.

weepingsam said...

The full list of films that got at least one vote is posted deep down in the comments of the original announcement of the nominations. The 122 nominees are a good cross section of what people like - the long list, though, opens up a whole bunch of interesting niche films to go with them.

Joanna Arcieri said...

I love love love "Play Time". I fortunately saw "Play Time" on a big screen and that made it absolutely fantastic. "The 400 Blows" is also great and I've been meaning to see "Wings of Desire" forever.

RC said...

@ weepingsam, thanks for pointing out the longer list.

@ cinefille, I bet Play Time on a big screen is an experience. I'd love to see Playtime on IMAX.