Category Archives: Foreign Language

Nobody Knows (2004)

Wow! This review is two months overdue. I was burned out by watching crappy movies and having to writer about them. It was exhausting. I am slowly getting back to the swing of things. I read an article about 10 Criminally Overlooked Movies You Should See Now from Anomalous Material at the end of May. There were some movies that I have seen and watch they would watch more. I heard about Nobody Knows when I listened to the Cinebanter podcast about it. Hearing Castor’s recommendation, I wanted to check it out from the library. I’m glad I did.

Yûya Yagira was the youngest actor to win the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal of Akira Fukushima. He is the eldest of four siblings when his mother, Keiko (You) has to move to a new apartment. The catch is that she has to pretend that she has one child. So, the two have to smuggle Yuki (Momoko Shimizu) and Shigeru (Hiei Kimura) in suitcases into the apartment and have another sibling, Kyoko (Ayu Kitaura) come in by train.

When the family is all together, Keiko has to explain to the little ones that they cannot leave the apartment or make any noises to expose them. None of the kids go to school, so that would not be a problem. Akira looks after his siblings like the father figure. He buys the groceries for his family so they could eat something.

One day, Keiko leaves a note for Akira saying that she had to leave to work in another town, but has left plenty for the kids to live off for a while. Akira does visit his father, but he has another life that is separate from theirs. He cannot help them. Keiko is gone for a month before she returns before Christmas with presents for everyone. The reunion doesn’t last long when Keiko leaves again with no explanation.

The kids think that their mother is coming back. When the weeks turn into months, they realize that their mother is not coming back to them. They have to survive on their own. Akira is left being the primary caregiver to his little brother and sisters. This is a heavy burden for Akira. When he meets a neighborhood girl named Saki (Hanae Kan), things becomes even more complicated.

I was glad that I saw this movie, because this shows a side of life that is rarely seen or portrayed onscreen. I read that this movie is based on true life events. The depths of despair that these kids have to go through is unbearable. How could a mother be so thoughtless and uncaring over her own children? It makes you question how come people would walk away from their responsibility as a parent? It boggles the mind. I don’t have children. There are plenty of couples out there who want children and not being able to have them and people would have them and they throw them away like trash.

Judgment: This movie made me question would you do in the same situation.

Rating: 8.5/10

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Rashômon (1950)

No one tells a lie after he’s said he’s going to tell one.

— Commoner

I do not know that many Kurosawa’s movies. I have only seen Seven Samurai and have reviewed as part of the LAMB in the Director’s Chair spotlight a while ago. I wanted to see more of Kurosawa’s film because I enjoyed Seven Samurai very much. I wanted the #8o Film of All Time on IMDb, Rashomon. It was nominated for Best Art Direction, but it won an Honorary Award for Foreign Language Film, not the competitive Oscar. It was expected to be blown away, but I felt cheated.

The story takes place in the ruined temple of Rashômon where is a torrential rainstorm. A Commoner (Kichijirô Ueda) seeks refuse from the rain. He sees the Priest (Minoru Chiaki) and the Woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) look visibly distraught. The Commoner asks the men what is disturbing them. The Woodcutter tells him about a terrible that happened in the middle of woods on top of the mountain.

He recounts finding a woman’s hat in a tree branch, then a samurai’s cap, a piece of rope and finally the samurai’s body. He goes to the police. The Woodcutter tells his account to the trial of the bandit, Tajômaru (Toshirô Mifune).

Tajômaru tells his tale when the Policeman (Daisuke Katô) arrested in the woods after the murder. Tajômaru tells why he did what he did, because he wanted to capture the wife, Masako (Machiko Kyô) of her husband, Takehiro Kanazawa (Masayuki Mori), but not kill him. Tajômaru ties up husband to a nearby tree. Masako tries to stab Tajômaru with her pearl inlay. He forces himself upon her. Afterwards, Masako says that he dies or her husband.

The Woodcutter thinks that the story is a lie. The movie gives three other versions of the story. One of them is true, but which one.

The movie’s plot was not what I was expecting. Granted, I went into this completely blind. The premise seemed silly to me. I have to watch an hour and half of people counted stories from different perspectives. That’s it. I felt cheated. I thought it was going to be an epic movie, but it was very quiet and subdued. I didn’t care for it. I started and stopped it at least three times, because I was not invested in the story.

Judgment: The theme is interesting, but the rest is not.

Rating: 5/10

Jules and Jim (1962)

After I was impressed by a viewing of François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, I wanted to watch another one of his films. The Criterion Collection of his film, Jules and Jim was on the shelf and I thought that I might pick it up. At first that I thought the movie was going to be about a couple called Jules and Jim, but I was wrong.

The movie that the story of Jules (Oskar Werner), an Austrian transplant and his extremely close friendship with his Parisian friend, Jim (Henri Serre) before World War I. They have always been together. Jim has a long affair with Gilberte (Vanna Urbino) who is madly in love with him, but he cannot return the favor.

The dynamics of their friendship changes when the headstrong, Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) comes into their lives. they are stuck that she looks like a sculpture that they were both drawn to while viewing slides at their friend, Albert’s (Boris Bassiak) place.

They become fast friends. Jules is developing feelings for Catherine. The trio buys a house where they could all live. Jules wants to marry Catherine. To complicate things further, Jim begins to have feelings for Catherine as well. World War I happens and they lose touch with each other until after the war where Jules and Catherine are married with a daughter, Sabine (Sabine Haudepin).

Jim learns that Catherine is not happy with her marriage to Jules and wants a way out. Maybe Jim is her only chance of true happiness.

The movie is interesting. It’s mostly about two friends who are in love with the same woman. You think it would rip their friendship apart, but it doesn’t. You have this woman who is unsure about what or who she wants in her life. Catherine was a progressive woman who will not be pigeonholed into the typical housewife role like many others.

I was not at all interested in the story. It went back and forth for almost two hours. I started to get bored with the movie after a certain point. When it over, I felt nothing.

Judgment: I could only recommend this to a Truffaut fan.

Rating: 6/10

Yesterday (2004)

Powerless to change the past . . . She lived to change the future.

To close out the SIL Festival, I wanted to watched the only movie in history to nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Made for TV Movie, Yesterday. I didn’t know that much about the movie. I heard a summary for the movie and I was intrigued to see it.

During blistering South African summer, a young Zulu woman named Yesterday (Leleti Khumalo) is walking two hours from her village of Roohiek to Kromdraai with her daughter, Beauty (Lihle Mvelase) by her side.

She has had a serious cough for a while and she wanted it check out by the Doctor (Camilla Walker). Being the only doctor in miles, there is a long line to see the Doctor and she is eventually turned away. she had to wait a week to come back to the Doctor.

Yesterday waits toiling through farmland near her house until she nearly collapses. She goes back to the clinic a little earlier, but she is turned away again for being in the long line. Frustrated, she tries to satay strong for her daughter by fetching water from the communal water pump and wait for the day that her husband, John (Kenneth Khambula) to come back from a mining assignment in Johannesburg.

One day, Yesterday passes out in the doorway of her house and is take to a Sagoma to check out. A Sagoma is a kind of witch doctor. She tells Yesterday that she is holding on to some residual anger that is causing her systems. Yesterday doesn’t feel that she is angry at all.

A local Teacher (Harriet Lenabe) Yesterday has befriended gives her the money to take a taxi to the clinic so she would be the one of first in line. When she is finally examined by the Doctor, the Doctor wants to take her blood. On a follow-up visit, Yesterday receives the devastating news that she is HIV+. She has been faithful to her husband. How could she get the virus? It is now her mission to find her husband.

Being that this is the first Zulu full-length feature is  a pleasant surprise for me. I never thought that this woman who cannot read or write could be stricken with the virus that would eventually kill her. During the course of the movie, the movie becomes like The Scarlet Letter, but Yesterday wants to fight to survive. I applaud her for her courage.

Judgment: This is a great story that you wish that this disease would be gone from our lives.

Rating: 8.5/10

Black Book (2007)

Does it never end?

— Ellis de Vries

Cinebanter did a show on Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book back in 2007. I thought they were talking about the Brittany Murphy movie, Little Black Book. I didn’t know that much about the film except that it’s German, has Nazis in it. I thought it was that movie that set off the YouTube meme with Hitler reacting to dumb shit, but that was Downfall. I need to see it. Anyway, back to the movie, I really enjoyed the movie.

A young Jewish woman named Rachel Steinn (Carice van Houten) is hiding out at a family barn in Nazi occupied Holland. A bomber blows up the home when she is swimming at a nearby lake. A young man, Rob (Michiel Huisman) helps her escape from the Germans to a hide out spot.

They think that they are safe when a dark figure tracks them down, Van Gein (Peter Blok) to warn them that the Gestapo will find them if they do not go into hiding. Rachel realizes that the man is part of the Dutch Resistance. They want to be a part of the resistance. Rachel needs money from her family’s attorney, W.B. Smaal (Dolf de Vries) to smuggle into liberated territory with her family.

When the family is reunited, there is an ambush by SS officers who kill every one aboard except Rachel would dives into the lake to safety. Bent on revenge, Rachel going by the name of Ellis de Vries joins the Dutch Resistance lead by Gerben Kuipers (Derek de Lint) with his son, Tim (Ronald Armbrust), Hans (Thom Hoffman), Kees (Frank Lammers), Joop (Matthias Schoenaerts), Maarten (Xander Straat) and Theo (Johnny de Mol).

After months of working at the soup kitchen the Resistance is based in, she has the chance to infiltrate the Gestapo high command by posing as a former singer wanting to take a secretary job to Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch). She has to seduce the secrets out of him. Soon, she realizes that the line between professional and personal blur as she has to make a choice of which side is she on.

This movie is based on true events. I don’t know how much of it actually happened, but it seems like the movie was trying to hard to be compelling with endless amounts of twists and turns. It was like the same way Crash did for me. It had to deal with people who you thought were good turn out to be bad and vice versa. The movie was over two and half hours long. It was too much for me.

I did enjoy the actors especially Carice van Houten as the heroine. She reminded of Christina Aguilera in her “Ain’t No Other Man” phase. It was nice to see Sebastian, Thom and Carice smolder on-screen.

Judgment: A woman scorned story that needed to trim the plot twist fat.

Rating: 7.5/10

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Will I be with You tonight in Paradise?

— Joan of Arc

Here is another movie that would suggested by Michael Vox from the Cinebanter podcast, the #211 Film of All-Time on IMDb, Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. I am familiar with Dreyer after reviewing one of his previous films, Vampyr for 1001 Film Club. I heard about the story of how the original cut of the movie was banned then burned in a fire and this movie was found in a mental institution. I am so glad that it was found.

The Passion of Joan of Arc is a silent film that was restored from footage found the Norwegian mental institution and was released in 1985. The movie dramatized the trail of the young martyr, Joan of Arc (Maria Falconetti) where she was charged with heresy.

She is called to a tribunal of judges to discuss her intentions. As you can see when watching the movie, she is not the figure we know from the history books, but a young woman in her late teens doing a mission from God to save France from the English.

During the line of questioning, she reveals that St. Michael appeared to her to give her the mission she must do. Dress like a man to prepare for the incoming battle ahead to save her eternal soul.

The judges want Joan to confess her sins so she could be saved from burning at the stake. They would go to any means to ensure that this young woman who cannot read or write would confess her sins. The judges believe that she is a soldier of the Devil instead of God. As you know from history, you know what happens in the end.

I was shocked about the footage that was recovered. It does not feel like a movie from 1920s. The digital transfer of the print was remarkable to say the least. The score that accompanied the movie was so moving.

I have to say that Falconetti as Joan of Arc was a sight to behold. She had this deranged look in her eyes, but it was effective. She was a crying mess during the movie, but you felt her pain. Those eyes told a lot without hearing what the actors had to say. Wow.

My rule of thumb for watching silent movies is to watch in the daytime. I did with this movie, but when you have no dialogue, reading subtitles and a haunting operatic score, you have the tendency of drifting off. The movie was only 1 1/2 hours long, but it felt like it was five hours long.

Judgment: This movie is a sight to behold to say the least.

Rating: 8.5/10

Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963)

Enough of symbolism and these escapist themes of purity and innocence.

— Guido

I have always wanted to see a Federico Fellini movie. I tried to watch La Dolce Vita, but it turned out to be a bad copy of the movie and I had to scrap the viewing of that movie. I hope to get back to that particular movie soon. The next movie that every film fans rave over is the #188 Movie of All-Time on IMDb, 8 1/2. This is inspiration of the musical, Nine, which I reviewed in 2009 that I liked. The two-time Academy winning film has been given a lot of unwanted praise in my opinion.

Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) is a down and out director that trying to start his creative juices before his next production doesn’t go down the toilet. The production is already underway without a script or a concept of what the end product is going to be.

Guido has driven himself sick with debilitating headaches. He tries to get inspiration for the people around him like his friend,  Mario Mezzabotta (Mario Pisu), his younger girlfriend, Gloria Morin (Barbara Steele). Nothing is coming to his mind. Guido’s screenwriter is pulling his hair out to extract Guido’s thoughts into paper. Guido’s daydreams are a menageries of Catholic imagery, man kites and random women from his life pop in.

Guido’s mistress, Carla (Sandra Milo) comes to town to give Guido some inspiration for his next big screen hit. Their late night romps are not helping matters. To make matters worse, Guido wants to have his wife, Luisa (Anouk Aimée) to come to the set. He wanted to start the fireworks, but his life is going down in shambles. He has no way of getting out of the mess that he is in.

This film is so different from Nine, because Nine simplified the story and made it coherent. There were some positives that I liked in the movie with the relationship between Guido and Luisa. The movie felt like a Greek tragedy to me. Guido’s life is a production and everybody has to play their part in it.

I felt that the film was all dubbed. Nobody’s mouths were matching up to the words. Even thought I was reading the translation, I felt distracted from the non-sych of the actors mouths. Also, Guido’s daydreams were very random and cluttered. It was an assault to the eyes.

Judgment: Just because a movie is over twenty years old and in another language doesn’t mean that it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Rating: 6/10

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

I decided to stop pitying myself. Other than my eye, two things aren’t paralyzed, my imagination and my memory.

— Jean-Dominique Bauby

I have wanted to watch Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly for years, but I have not had the chance to watch until I saw it at the local library. The #220 Movie of All-Time on IMDb was nominated for four Oscars including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. I was so happy that I watched this film.

Based on the book of the same name, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly recounts the harrowing story of French Elle editor, Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) who was living the life when he is suddenly struck by a massive stroke. He wakes up after a three-week coma in a hospital in Bereck-sur-Mer. The audience could hear Jean-Do talking, but he does not realize that he cannot speak or move anything on his body, except his left eye.

Most of the movie is shown at Jean-Do’s perspective. Very first person. The audience could connect with the lead character this way and gets a taste of his new state of being. His personal doctor Lepage (Patrick Chesnais) discusses with him that he had a cerebrovascular episode that rendered him a vegetable except for blinking in his left eye, otherwise called “Locked-In Syndrome.”

The staff starts the rehabilitation program to help him regain some range of motion. You notice more and more that Jean-Do is always internally flirting with his female speech therapist, Henriette Roi (Marie-Josée Croze). He communicates with blinking once for “yes” and two for “no”, which progresses to Henriette teaching the alphabet in order of frequently used.

Jean-Do does not want to live with Locked-in Syndrome. He wants to die. He has momentary glimpses of his former life being the toast of the town, having a family with his companion, Céline (Emmanuelle Seigner) and being in love with his mistress, Inès (Agathe de La Fontaine). He recounts his many regrets and missed opportunities in his life. Jean-Do wants to tell his story. He decided to dictate his memoirs through Claude (Anne Consigny) one letter at a time.

I cannot imagine anybody except for an artist like Schnabel to make this movie happen. He paints a picture of sorrow, heartbreak, regret, but ultimately it is hopeful. No matters what life throws at you, you can overcome all obstacles. This speaks to the determination of Jean-Do, who did not want to exist, he wanted to leave his mark on life.

The cinematography transfixes the audience to the mindset of Jean-Do, to experience what he is experiencing. It was a great piece of cinema to gaze upon. You would think that hearing the alphabet being repeated a million times would annoy the hell out of you, but it didn’t.

Judgment: This is a perfect example of art imitating life.

Rating: 9/10

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been on the news lately with the trilogy by deceased author, Steig Larsson is getting a lot of buzz with David Fincher is talking about remaking it. The movie was released last year in Sweden and got a small release here before it was released on DVD recently. I actually bought the paperback version of the book and haven’t cracked it open before I saw the film. I should read the book to get a better sense of the story.

The film is split up to two sections that would eventually intersect. One side of the story deals with a watchdog journalist from Millennium magazine, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) that is sentenced to three months imprisonment for slandering the name of slimy industrialist, Hans-Erik Wennerström (Stefan Sauk). Mikael accused him fraud and selling illegal firearms. The magazine and he has to pay damages to him. He resigns from the magazine to take the heat off them. His name is on the news everywhere.

The other side of the story is the actual girl with the dragon tattoo, a hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). She works for Milton Security to do a background check on Mikael. What secret is he hiding? She thinks that he was framed with false information by his anonymous source. She is a troubled woman with her violent behavior in her past. She requires a guardian to take charge of her decisions. Her new guardian, Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson) takes his power too far.

Dirch Frode (Ingvar Hirdwall) contacts Mikael on behalf of Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) to come to his residence. Mikael reluctantly accepts the invitation. Henrik wants to have his investigative skills to solve the disappearance of his niece, Harriet, who disappeared in 1966 under mysterious circumstances. They are very close. Henrik is obsessed with finding justice for Harriet when every year on his birthday he gets a flower portrait that was Harriet’s thing. Henrik believes that someone in his immediate family had something to do with her disappearance. He wants to find out whom.

Mikael decides before he has to begin his sentence to take up the cold case. He has to be reminded that Harriet was his babysitter back at the time that she disappeared. Mikael moves into Henrik’s gust house and begins work on the available materials that were a part of the investigation from Gustav Morell (Björn Granath). The more that he hammers away at solving the puzzle, secrets begin to unravel.

Not being familiar with the story or reading a single page of the movie, I was unsure about this movie. The movie is long. Over two and half hours in Swedish could be daunting. The first half of the movie was packed with exposition, strange interactions with Lisbeth and the guardian and staring at the black and white photo of Harriet close-up. To be honest, I got kinda bored with it. The tone seemed off. I believe when the two plotlines come together, I started getting into the movie more.

I’m not saying that this is greatest movie ever. The cold case aspect of the movie was nice, but it was predictable about who did the deed. Being a mystery buff, it was easy to discern who would capable of doing the deed.

The original title of the book was supposed to be “The Men Who Hate Women”. I could understand that why that had to be changed, because a title like that would not have sold or be a successful trilogy. There are some brutal scenes of rape, S&M, misogyny and all that sort. This movie is not for the squeamish. After watching this movie, it makes me want to read the book to put the pieces together that I missed watching this movie. I got confused in some parts.

Judgment: I cannot outright recommend this movie for everyone. Be cautious with this one.

Rating: ***1/2

The 400 Blows (1959)

Now, Doinel, go get some water and erase those insanities, or I’ll make you lick the wall, my friend.

— Petite Feuille

People have been urging me to watch François Truffaut’s film, The 400 Blows, which is currently the #225 Film of All-Time on IMDb. Apparently, Truffaut was instrumental in the French New Wave movement where the characters felt genuine and not manufactured. Not having any earthly idea what the movie was about. I was surprised that Turner Classic Movies was showing it. It was my lucky day. I watched this movie in the early morning hours. I was quite impressed with it.

The story follows a troubled young man named Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) living in a small Parisian apartment with his exacerbated mother, Gilberte (Claire Maurier) and his easy-going father, Julien (Albert Rémy). Trouble seems to find its way to Antoine when his teacher, Petite Feuille aka Sourpuss (Guy Decomble) catches him with a pin-up calendar in his hands. He is made an example when he had to stand in the corner while his classmates enjoy recess. He scribbles a phrase on the classroom walls, which gets him in more trouble.

Gilberte is always short with Antoine, because of his bad behavior in school. She has to be a mother, a cook and be able to work a part time job all at the same time. Julien tries to inject some humor in their gloomy situation. Antoine has to sleep in a cot next to the kitchen.

The next day, Antoine is late for school when his schoolmate, René (Patrick Auffay) tells him to skip school with him. He decides to tagalong on a day venture, which cumulated with catching his mother kissing another man out on the street. Asked what he had done that day, Antoine told his father a lie. He never told him about his mother. Later that night, his mother leaves word that she will be working late and doesn’t come home until Antoine’s bedtime. The parents get into a screaming match about something unrelated.

Another schoolmate blows the whistle on Antoine’s lie when he knocks on the door the next morning. Unbeknownst to Antoine, he let another lie spill out about a death in the family. His parents swap personalities all of sudden, but that does not deter Antoine from falling into a downward spiral.

At first, I thought this movie was about the boy growing up as a petty thief. After the movie was over, I come to realize that this movie is part of a series of five films that followed Antoine Doniel throughout his life young life. I’m getting the itch to see what happens next to Antoine. I’m not saying that the movie is a masterpiece, but it was certainly a ride that I will never forget.

Judgment: If you are unfamiliar with Truffaut, this is a good place to start.

Rating: ****

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