Films viewed in 2011

Archive for the ‘Foreign Language’ Category

494. 8 1/2

In Foreign Language on August 20, 2012 at 11:51 AM

Dir. Frederico Fellini

A harried movie director retreats into his memories and fantasies.


Tricky business this film reviewing 50 years after the fact. Frederico Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963) is still widely regarded as a cinematic masterpiece after creating a small firestorm on its release, winning two Oscars along the way. The visuals remain striking and bizarre, and the overall atmosphere manages to capture the chaos of an artistic mind desperately grasping for both creative and sexual releases. But I couldn’t help feeling like more context was required for piecing together this poetic puzzle. The title may refer to the number of times you need to see it before the whole thing really clicks.


459. Elite Squad: The Enemy Within

In Foreign Language on January 27, 2012 at 4:46 PM

Dir. José Padilha

After a prison riot, former-Captain Nascimento, is swept into a bloody political dispute that involves government officials and paramilitary groups.


In the same way the brilliant TV series The Wire compounds the scope of society’s interwoven complications every season, so too does Elite Squad: The Enemy Within. Expanding from the first Elite Squad’s police barracks and favelas to the chambers of power, prisons and higher learning, José Padilha’s follow-up might have a broader reach, but still manages to narrow-in on the action with devastating effect. The film will raise your hopes and heartbeat, right before shooting them down and picking you back up again. This Brazilian emotional rollercoaster should not be missed.

458. Elite Squad

In Foreign Language on January 27, 2012 at 4:23 PM

Dir. José Padilha

1997, Captain Nascimento has to find his successor while trying to take down drug dealers and criminals before the Pope comes to Brazil.


City of God raised the bar for what a great gangster film could look and feel like. Elite Squad shares a writer and the setting of that masterpiece to create another bang-up action film that’s easy to love. Director José Padilha takes an uncompromising look at the other side of the coin to prove sometimes executing the law is as dirty as breaking it.  Mark Ruffalo look-a-alike Wagner Moura has sensitive eyes that always seem ready to betray his fearless leadership, but the most compelling story belongs to his two newest recruits and their attempts to sort their way through the grueling tests they endure everyday to fight for what they believe is right.

449. Z

In Foreign Language on January 25, 2012 at 9:36 AM

Dir. Costa-Garvas

Following the murder of a prominent leftist, an investigator tries to uncover the truth while government officials attempt to cover up their roles.


Political thrillers don’t get much better than Costa-Garvas’ Z. Although loosely based on a real-life Greek assassination from 1963, the film is set in a nameless Mediterranean city to better capture the general sprit of revolution rampant in the 60s.  The resulting French-Algerian film has a similar energy to The Battle of Algiers, but framed around a more conventional story and common cinematographic style.  But that’s about the only way to apply the words “conventional” and “common” to this otherwise pulse-pounding and thought-provoking thriller.

438. Outside the Law

In Foreign Language on January 9, 2012 at 10:07 PM

Dir. Rachid Bouchareb

A drama about the Algerian struggle for independence from France after WWII.


Imagine if Al Capone, Malcom X and Fidel Castro had all been brothers.  That may have been the creative inspiration for Rachid Bouchareb’s Outside the Law – a French gangster epic that has the additional benefit of wading through the muddled moral grounds of the colonial war in Algeria that washed on the shores of France. Class and cultural warfare is personified by the three Arab brothers who, almost too conveniently, represent the opposing ideals in conflict. The benefit, of course, is that we’re able to easily follow the stories as they shift through generations and transformations, always on an impressive and exciting scale. Makes a great, but unfair, double-bill with the unbeatable and unrepeatable masterwork The Battle of Algiers.

437. The Battle of Algiers

In Foreign Language on January 9, 2012 at 4:55 PM

Dir. Gillo Pontecorvo

An account of the bloodiest revolution in modern history.


The Battle of Algiers is so powerful, so incredible, and so realistic that the filmmakers actually felt compelled to put a disclaimer stating that “not one foot of newsreel or documentary film has been used.”  The thousands of rioting people in the streets, the bombings in public places and the entire visual approach still have a devastating effect on the unsuspecting viewer. Particularly effective is the time stamps and episodic storytelling that weave together the conflict and portray both sides as being vicious and indiscriminant in their brutality. Without question, Gillo Pontecorvo crafted one of the most exciting and important works in modern cinema.

436. La vie en rose

In Foreign Language on January 9, 2012 at 4:23 PM

Dir. Olivier Duhan

The life story of legendary French singer Edith Piaf.


Even as a French speaker, I probably would have been among those “ignorant Americans” who at first, didn’t “get” Edith Piaf. Olivier Dahan’s beautiful biography La vie en rose does a fantastic job of introducing this cultural icon to the uninformed and setting up her compelling appeal to the masses.  Marion Cotillard sings for her supper and earns every scene she appears, fleshing out the complexity of a disturbed diva who accomplished great things. There is also a stylized single for a climax that might be the most emotionally rewarding long take I’ve ever seen.


401. Lapland Odyssey

In Foreign Language on November 25, 2011 at 4:17 PM

Dir. Dome Karukoski

Everything changes for 15yr old Mia when her mum brings home a new boyfriend.


Finnish filmmaker Dome Karukoski opens Lapland Odyssey with a breathtaking shot on an icy landscape and explains how five generations of suicidal men have hung from this lonely tree.  Such a strong, funny and poetic opening deserved a more intelligent story. Instead, we get Euro hosers driving around trying to make enough money to buy a digibox to appease a testy girlfriend. The journey is not without joys, including a sexy encounter with a Swedish swimsuit team, and finds the most comedic mileage out of a sleazy secondary character attempting to seduce the hero’s lover. Like many road movies, however, the isolated incidents are too often detours to a final destination, which in this case only leaves the audience hanging.

400. Stricken

In Foreign Language on November 25, 2011 at 3:59 PM

Dir. Reinout Oerlemans

A philandering advertising executive tries to reorganize his life when his wife is diagnosed with cancer.


Your first instinct might be to give Barry Atsma the award for Worst Husband of the Year when you read about the plot to Reinout Oerlemans’ Stricken. Watching the man repeatedly cheat on his beautiful cancer ridden wife during the film doesn’t exactly change that, but there is a strange beauty to another side of his fidelity. Gorgeous cinematography helps to romanticize the story, but the film also successfully navigates to complications of a truly adult situation without ever feeling manipulative. I therefore found myself caring when we thought I shouldn’t, loving when I thought I should hate and crying when I said I wasn’t.

399. Protektor

In Foreign Language on November 25, 2011 at 3:33 PM

Dir. Marek Najbrt

A Czech journalist joins a Prague radio station that broadcasts Nazi propaganda in order to protect his Jewish wife.


There are no shortage of World War II stories to tell, but director Marek Najbrt does a great job dealing with the passive resistance and subversion of Eastern Europe. Before concentration camps, the confinement and condemnation of the Jewish population is nicely personified through Jana Plodkovà’s story, and her acts of defiance modeling in front of “No Jews Allowed” signs endear us to her struggle and strength. There’s much more ambiguity around her Nazi Party mouth-piece husband, Marek Daniel, which builds solid tension throughout. The artistic ending, largely void of dialogue or overwrought conclusions, provides emotional resolution without letting bad decisions go unpunished.