My reading has gone down a little bit of late, but last week I went on a movie-binge. I have wanted to watch these movies for a while now and I am glad that I finally got around to watching them. Here are the movies and what I think about them.
All That Matters is Past (Norwegian : Uskyld) directed by Sara Johnsen
The story goes like this. A man who is taking a walk in the woods discovers two men lying dead near to each other. There is a woman lying near to them and she seems to be alive, but only barely. It looks like the two men probably killed each other. He alerts the police. The police take the woman to the hospital. When she is in a position to speak, they interview her. She tells them her story. It turns out to be a haunting tale filled with tender moments, sibling rivalry, passionate love and evil.
I loved the movie. It covers many interesting themes – a triangle love story, the contrast between the simple life in the woods, being at one with nature, and the cacophony of the city, sibling rivalry and jealousy, evil and violence, illegal immigration. I have to say though that the screenplay is a yo-yo at times – it tries squeezing in too many things at times and at other times doesn’t give enough depth and detail to some of the elements of the story which require them. For example, the illegal immigration part doesn’t hang well with the rest of the movie, though it might be an important social theme in Norway. Also, the villain is kind at times and it is not clear why he is good and bad at the same time, though that aspect makes his character quite interesting. Also the story shows the heroine having a baby, but her life with her baby is left unsaid and left to the imagination. However, inspite of these, the film is beautifully sculpted scene by scene. We can feel the director’s and cinematographer’s love for their art in every scene. There are some violent moments which are difficult to watch. There is a scene in which the heroine gives birth to her baby – it is not air-brushed like it is done normally, but it is messy, beautiful and hard to watch. The director Sara Johnsen hasn’t shied away from showing the world as it is. Maria Bonnevie gives a haunting, sensitive, brilliant performance as the poetry teacher who abandons everything and leaves the city to go and live in the woods with her childhood sweetheart. One of my favourite actress discoveries of the year. I want to see more of her movies now. I think this is the second Norwegian movie I have seen ever, and I think Norwegian movies are awesome. I will be keeping an eye out for movies of Sara Johnsen and Maria Bonnevie.
Must Have Been Love (Norwegian : En Som Deg) directed By Eirik Svensson
The story told in ‘Must Have Been Love’ happens in four different cities – Istanbul, Oslo, Hensinki and Berlin. Three girlfriends are in Istanbul on a holiday. One late night, one of them, our heroine Kaisa, goes out to get some snacks and a drink from the next door grocery store. When she gets back she realizes that she has forgotten her key and she is locked out. Any amount of shouting doesn’t wake her friends up. While she is sitting on the stairs and sipping her cold drink, three tourists who are staying next door come out. They ask her whether they can help her and when she tells them her problem, they help her with their mobile phone and she uses it and tries calling her friends. When she is still not able to wake them up, the neighbours tell her that she can stay at their place for the night. The next day morning our heroine Kaisa goes back to her place to be with her friends. The three women and the three men next door stray into their respective balconies and before long start having a conversation. It turns out that the girls are from Finland while the men are from Norway. One thing leads to another and they decide to meet that night for dinner at the men’s place. During and after dinner there are sparks flying between Kaisa and one of the guys, Jacob. But she asks him a personal question and things turn awkward and the night doesn’t end well. The next day the men have vacated their place. The story now moves to Oslo. Kaisa is there now and she is a dance teacher. She doesn’t have any friends there and life is lonely. One day while grocery shopping, she sees Jacob. Jacob seems to have a moustache though. When she tries having a conversation she discovers that this is not Jacob. This guy’s name is Andreas. But they strike up a conversation, and later go to a café and have dinner. They keep in touch and they have dates and there is mutual attraction, though Andreas seems to be uncomfortable expressing his affection in physical ways – even a simple touch is hard for him to take. At some point, Kaisa and Andreas become a couple and when Kaisa moves back to Helsinki, Andreas moves with her. But things don’t go well because they have different personalities. And one day Kaisa stumbles upon Jacob. And the sparks start flying again. To find out what happens after that, you have to see the movie.
When I first started watching the movie, I wasn’t sure about the story happening in four cities. When I was younger I would have loved that – a love story happening in four exotic cities – what is not to like? But these days, I don’t really care about the names of locations (how does it matter whether a story happens in Venice or Paris or Timbuktu?) but what I care about is the plot, the dialogue, the way the characters evolve, the way the scenes are sculpted. So I was worried about the four-city thing here. But I needn’t have. Because at a fundamental level, the movie tells a beautiful love story – about how a chance meeting leads to attraction which in turn leads to love and to the challenges that surround it which sometimes lead to a breakup till a new dawn shines. In many ways this movie reminded me of Alain de Botton’s beautiful novel ‘Essays in Love’ and a movie which had a similar theme, ‘500 Days of Summer’. Pamela Tola delivers a charming performance as Kaisa and carries the movie on her back. I would love to watch more movies of hers. Most of the movie happens in the evening or in grey afternoons or when it is raining – I don’t know whether Norway and Finland are always like that. The movie has been listed as a Norwegian movie, and I found that classification interesting. Because most of the dialogue happens in English! Kaisa is Finnish and Jacob and Andreas are Norwegian and so Kaisa talks to them in English. Also we see the story mostly from Kaisa’s point of view. Norwegian plays only a minor part in the story.
Blondie (Swedish) directed by Jesper Ganslandt
Three daughters visit their mother’s home for her seventieth birthday. The eldest daughter is married and has two children. She seems to be the good daughter – takes care of her husband and children, has a good job, brings up her children well with a combination of discipline and love. The middle one is a model in Milan and is single. She seems to be the wild one. The youngest daughter is the one who is ignored like little ones are in every home. When the daughters arrive one after the other, things are nice at the beginning. Then the past comes back to haunt the family – old wounds open up, the daughters are at each other’s throats, the mother doesn’t seem to be the benevolent seventy year old that we assume her to be, the eldest daughter isn’t the Ms.Goody shoes that we assume her to be (she is having an affair on the side), the middle daughter, the wild one, has hidden depths. The birthday party starts well and ends awkwardly and badly, the mother suddenly has a stroke the next day and the daughters come together to support each other and their mother. After that the story goes on to a predictable but a nice and beautiful ending.
There are many stories about family reunions where things go bad and Swedish director Jesper Ganslandt gives his own version of it here. Carolina Gynning plays the role of the middle daughter and she delivers a flawless performance. Though she has done many TV programs and as a model has been a public personality for a while, it is difficult to believe that this is just her second film – she acts like a veteran. Helena af Sandeberg as the eldest daughter who tries to balance the roles of daughter, mother, sister and wife while at the same time trying to get her share of happiness while being part of a complicated family – well, she shines brilliantly. There is a scene towards the end of the movie where the three sisters are sitting in a bar having a drink and a smoke and talking about old times – the fun things they did and the mean things they did to each other and sharing secrets – that was my favourite scene from the movie. I will be watching this movie again – atleast for that beautiful scene.
Lore (German) directed by Cate Shortland
The place is Germany and the time is towards the end of the Second World War. Lore is a teenage girl who has a younger sister, two even younger brothers who are twins, and a baby brother. Her father is a high-level Nazi officer and her mother supports the Nazi cause. Lore has been brought up to believe that the Nazi philosophy is great and Hitler is awesome and should be loved unconditionally and Jews are bad and dirty and shouldn’t be touched. One day her dad comes back home and tells the family that they have to pack and leave. Behind Lore’s back he shoots the family dog. Lore is shocked. They move to a house in the Black Forest, in the middle of nowhere. And her dad leaves home. One day Lore’s mom packs some of her things. She tells Lore that the Fuhrer is dead and she is going to be put in a camp. She tells Lore that she is responsible for her brothers and sisters now. She gives her money and all her jewels and tells her to take her siblings and go to her grandmother’s place near Hamburg. She then walks out of the house never to be seen again. Lore tries managing things by getting food from neighbours after paying them, but before long the neighbours turn hostile. Lore decides to take her sister and brothers on the long trek. On route they meet many different kinds of people, most of them poor and struggling for food. Some of them are nice, most of them aren’t. A young man tries to kiss her but she rebuffs him. And he starts following her and her siblings. They get stopped by an American army truck. They are outside during curfew time and it is hard for Lore to give a proper explanation. The young man comes to their rescue and says that he is their brother and they have lost their papers. He then shows his papers and it looks like he is Jewish. He then goes along with them and though Lore is uncomfortable with him, her siblings warm up to him and the young man becomes part of the extended family. Does this unlikely family manage to cross those hundreds of miles to their grandmother’s place? Is the young man Thomas really who he claims to be? You have to watch the movie to find out.
‘Lore’ is probably one of my most favourite movies from recent times. The scenes are sculpted beautifully, the story is gripping and makes us want to find out what happens next. The way every one’s of Lore’s beliefs instilled by her parents are challenged by what she sees on the ground and how the realization of the truth dawns on her is beautifully depicted. The acting throughout the movie is understated and wonderful. Saskia Rosendahl as Lore, delivers a stunning and brilliant performance. She was just nineteen years old when she did this movie and it is so hard to believe that. I can’t wait to see more movies by this talented young girl.
An interesting tidbit about the movie is that though the topic is German and the actresses and actors are all German, and the characters speak in German, the movie is Australian. I have seen this happen with European movies – French movies made by Belgian and Austrian directors – but I have never seen a German movie made by an Australian director. Interesting!
‘Lore’ is a movie that I will be definitely watching again. I am surprised that it didn’t win more awards.
Our Children (French : A Perdre La Raison) directed by Joachim Lafosse
Before I started watching ‘A Perdre La Raison’, I had a premonition. I had a premonition that things won’t go well. I had a premonition that I will be depressed in the end. And I was right. Murielle and Mounir love each other. Murielle is French while Mounir is Moroccan. They decide to get married. Mounir was brought to France by Andre who is a doctor. Andre helps him with his expenses and even offers him a job. Mounir lives with him in the same house. After Murielle and Mounir get married, Andre offers to pay for their honeymoon as a wedding present. Mounir then suggests that Andre should come with them. It is awkward. And things keep getting worse after that. The three of them live together in the same house. And it looks like Andre is in charge. Mounir is in a hurry to have children and Murielle gives birth to a daughter. Then she gets pregnant again and it is a daughter again. It seems that Mounir wants a boy. After three daughters, finally a son is born. Mounir doesn’t help much with the upbringing of the children leaving everything to Murielle. She finds it very hard to handle four children alongwith her job as a teacher. Andre helps out with the children, but Murielle doesn’t want that. She suggests to Mounir that they move out of Andre’s house and Mounir oscillates on that. When he suggests it to Andre, Andre explodes with anger. All these things makes Murielle feel that she is walled in her house and there is no escape. Gradually her emotional health plummets and she decides to do the unthinkable.
‘A Perdre La Raison’ is a devastating portrait of a young, cheerful woman whose emotional health plummets because of circumstances beyond her control and when every attempt she makes to make situation more bearable is thwarted by others how she opts to do the unthinkable. It is a movie which is difficult to watch and when I discovered that it was based on a real story, it made my heart ache. Emilie Dequenne as Murielle delivers a haunting, sensitive and flawless performance. I am not sure I will watch this movie again though. It made me depressed. I will however be looking forward to watching more movies by Emilie Dequenne.
Black Book (Dutch : Zwartboek) directed by Paul Verhoeven
When I discovered that ‘Black Book’ was directed by Paul Verhoeven, I wasn’t sure whether I should watch it now. Verhoeven directed the (in)famous ‘Basic Instinct’ and so I wasn’t sure what kind of movie ‘Black Book’ was. (Verhoeven has also directed hits like ‘Robocop’, ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Hollow Man’, but still…) Well, after I started watching ‘Black Book’ I realized that I shouldn’t have worried.
It is the year 1956. Some North American tourists who have come on a visit to Israel. A woman who has come with her husband tells him that she is going to take some pictures. They are in a kibbutz right then and she somehow gets into a school and takes a picture of a teacher teaching her students. The teacher objects in Hebrew saying that she is intruding in her class, when the tourist recognizes her. She asks her whether she is Dutch and whether her name is Ellis. The teacher Ellis recognizes the tourist as her old friend Ronnie from the war years and they have a long conversation. After her friend leaves, Ellis goes to the beach, sits down and thinks about her past.
Before the Second World War Ellis was called Rachel. Rachel is a young Jewish woman who is a famous radio singer. But after the Second World War starts and Holland is occupied by the Nazis, she is in hiding and survives because of the kindness of neighbours. One day the house she lives in is bombed and she is saved by a young man in the nick of time. He takes her to his home and helps her. One day a car arrives at their place in the evening. A man gets out and warns Rachel and her friend that the Germans are looking for them. She realizes that he might be part of the resistance and asks him for help. He tells her to pack her things and come to a particular place. She gets money and valuables from a friend of her father’s and goes to the appointed meeting place. She finds her parents and brother there and she is delighted. The stranger who is part of the resistance helps them all board a boat and he leaves. The boat is supposed to take them across the lake away from German occupied territory to the liberated part of Holland. But midway through a Nazi boat catches up with them and everyone is gunned down. Rachel survives. But Rachel sees the face of the Nazi officer who is responsible and that image is seared in her mind. By a series of events, Rachel gets in touch with resistance. They help her in getting a new identity as Ellis, offer her work in their soup kitchen and when the time comes they offer her work as a spy to spy on the German officers.
Well, I can tell the whole story here, but I am not going to. Events move at a fast pace, there are some interesting new characters who come up, the supposedly bad guys have hidden depths, the good guys are not all they seem to be, there are some unexpected surprises in the end and a shocking revelation which is too hard to digest and the movie seems to end in a nice note, but then there are fighter planes flying above in the air again.
‘Black Book’ is a fast-paced gripping war movie, in which the story is told in the old-fashioned way. There is style, there is romance, there is gripping action, there is suspense, there are unexpected surprises and a shocking revelation in the end. The movie doesn’t shy away from war happenings – good people are killed, likeable characters get executed and some really nasty things happen in the end, about which I cannot even write about here. But overall, it is a stylish, cool movie which keeps us glued to our seats. One of the things I liked about the movie was the moral relativity – some of the supposed bad guys have more to them than meets the eye, and some of the good guys aren’t as good as we think them to be. The story also has a classic finish – all the loose ends at tied up in the end and just when we think that things are going to be peaceful from now on, the story tells us that war never ends. Carice van Houten delivers a charming performance as Rachel / Ellis, always holding her head high, always finding a way out of any tricky situation, keeping her good humour and beautiful smile intact and always keeping up her positive attitude – it is so infectious to watch and her enthusiasm and good humour rubs off on us.
When I finished watching the movie, I was happy and I was on a high – which always means that the movie was fantastic. ‘Black Book’ was voted by the Dutch public as the best Dutch film ever and I can see why. It is definitely one of my favourite movies and I will be definitely watching it again. Paul Verhoeven – well, as Optimus Prime says in ‘Transformers’ about humans, there is more to him than meets the eye :)