During the long time of not writing I at least had some time of watching a couple of movies (actually every day 1, on weekends even more). So in order to avoid making the blog look like a movies-review-only site, I’m going to put the films in a specific category.
This time it’s drama (in the broad sense, with some comedic elements in some of the movies).
Die Familie mit dem umgekehrten Düsenantrieb
(original title: Gyakufunsha kazoku) (Japan 1984)
Yes, I already wrote a review for that Japanese craziness, but when I watched it I wasn’t really in the condition to appreciate it that much (after all, no sleeping and around 10 movies is not the best prerequisite to enjoy it). Of course the absurd situations and weird humor are all there and for the first time you just don’t know what to make of this film. But then after revisiting it, like with surreal movies in general, it’s not that crazy or weird to the extreme. There’s always the underlying sense of subtle criticism on society and especially family values. Now admittedly a family going crazy and trying to kill themselvesis a bit over the top, but is it really that far from the truth?
The underlying problem is (not to sound like a movie critic, but it’s true anyway) that people can’t really be together for a long period of time WITHOUT some space and time for themselves. This is not only true for family, but for human relationships in general (talking about “distance makes the heart go fonder” or something like that). So in this case what I really liked about the movie and what I think doesn’t make it a “trash movie” as it’s known for is: There are all these individual family members who need to be by themselves sometimes in order to make the whole family work. It sounds a bit paradox at first, but that’s the main problem of the family condition: You can’t force people into the family (as they say “you can choose your friends, but not your family), it’s a growing process.
Happiness (USA 1998)
A great independent film about family members who live their separate lives and have their own problems, and unlike so many other films they don’t really come together at the end and help each other. The title itself is ironic, because you don’t get any happy people in this movie. A paedophile father and husband? A guy who can only talk to women by making obscene phone calls? There are some more hopeless characters (even though some of them find some kind of redemption or consolidation towards the end).
What made the movie so good was the mixture between humor and drama, even though the former one might make some people offended. As in the paedophile father who imagines himself walking through the park and starting to shoot people who are at their picnic or other happy activities. The humor is one of the blackest I’ve seen since “Four Lions”, although you can’t compare those two. The underlying tone of social pressure and ultimate failure made this, for me at least, on par with “American Beauty”. Breaking away from the social constraints, destroying false fronts and showing people with a smile on their face aren’t that content or happy with their lives.
Especially the episodes with a 50-60-year old woman whose marriage is on the brink of non-existent makes you think how much the institution is actually worth. Do people grow naturally apart, does it make any sense to keep the impression up that you’re happy?
Storytelling (USA 2001)
Another movie by the director of “Happiness”: Todd Solondz. It might not work in the same way as the more or less independent episodic structure of his former film, but the humor, characters and stories are definitely worth the time to watch it. Maybe dividing the flick into two parts (fiction and non-fiction) wasn’t the best idea the director had, because the first one stands a bit on its own with only one episode. Anyway, the first part about a creative writing teacher having sexual encounters with his female students can be a considered a bit clichéd (even if it happens), it worked. I got the impression that it was actually done to make fun of critics themselves. When one of the students, after being “raped” as she puts it (though he gave her consent, which was a bit weird), writes a story about her experience and reads it in front of the class, all the people criticize it for being unrealistic and clichéd, using big academic words. I thought this was quite a good example of how clichéd life actually is.
Now the second part of the movie was more about family life, with one documentary filmer (who didn’t do much in his life before and was more like a loser than anything else) trying to capture the life of highschool students. He desperately tries to get into one “loser”‘s head to find out what could motivate things like the Littleton Massacre. The humor is obviously there when he uses big words and fancy camera angles to make his film shots more artistic, but in the end it’s all on the surface. The real problems run deep down in the family and the individual’s self-expression, i.e. the father (played by John Goodman) forcing his son to sign up for college without knowing what his son wants. It doesn’t only show the workings in the family, but also how much pressure society puts on the individual, destroying his personality in order to live up to someone else’s expectations.
Das Weiße Band (Germany 2009)
I knew there was a big fuss about this movie, but with German movies I’ve always a bit careful, especially with Michael Haneke who, I think, did some interesting movies like the original “Funny Games”, but also some boring crap ones like “The Piano Player”. Now all the praise this movie got didn’t make me more interested, but less. Still if you put aside critics’ opinions and ask other people, it’s different. So you try it, which I did.
It is without a doubt a very good film. An exceptional one? I don’t think so. Maybe it’s Haneke’s “precisision” which some critics praise which I find at some points a bit too much (like the camera positioned in front of a door behind which the beating up of children by their father happens) or the amateur acting. But let’s not get picky. What is most important about this film is the way hypocrisy and violence in a small town/village community is shown. It might not be something completely new or original (I found Lars von Trier’s “Dogville” a bit more involving), but it succeeds in showing how false fronts are kept up in Germany as well (then later, as the movie takes place before WWII, resulting in nazi Germany), together with the cold and violent hand which fathers use to “educate” their children. It’s not an easy film (like all of Haneke’s work) with no real storytelling, but like “Tony”, it doesn’t need to have any suspense, as it works on other levels.