von Donnersmarck The Lives of Others BeforeWeDieFilms.com

#1081 The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (2006)

The Lives of Others is a brilliant feat of storytelling that portrays the necessity of artistic subversiveness in the face of political horror, specifically that of undermining the figurative and literal prisons of the Berlin Wall. In the story,  Stasi Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler is tasked with spying on the playwright Georg Dreyman. The film shows the various ways in which Dreyman as the enemy shifts in Wiesler’s mind, eventually leading him to make some difficult choices in understanding who exactly is a definitive enemy of the state. Stellar performances accompany a strong script examining the limits of human devotion to a cause that, regardless of rational understanding of its effects on the individual, can turn even the most practical participant into a monster.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lives_of_Others

Garrett

I am certainly not alone in thinking the most beautiful part of the film is its turning point. A memorable moment when Wiesler, alone in his dreary hovel of an observation deck, listens to Sonate vom Guten Menschen and his character changes for the remainder of the film – an exceptional moment in the story as well as in Ulrich Mühe’s striking performance in the film. This moment – a quiet one that seems to balance the weight of everything the film holds on its thematic and emotional scales – highlight the beautiful and subtle stresses that hum underneath every moment of the piece. I found this truly captivating film all the more powerful in the context of a period piece with a lot of connections to a book I am working on. This beautiful film presents many of my intellectual turn-ons, not the least of which is its portrayal of being an artist examining the struggle of creating what is beautiful, what is right, and what is acceptable in a society embracing more and more totalitarian and suppressive behavior.

Ulrich Mühe’s performance is absolutely unforgettable.

 Jennifer

This movie presents a really interesting perspective of history that I was only slightly aware of. This story sincerely puts the politics of East and West Berlin into the context of everyday lives. It was incredible for someone to write a script that focuses on the ordinary lives of the people living in this way, and what they are willing to do to shed light on their living conditions.

The twist that occurs with Wiesler as a character was great. At the beginning, it is easy to really hate him. But when he has that big character change in the middle, I came to feel sorry for him – almost more than the protagonists. He is a great character because of the range of emotions that we can understand, and the way the character develops in the story is simply fascinating.

I also enjoyed the epilogue at the end. We get to see what happened to some of the characters years later, and it is refreshing to find this in such a political and dangerous story. The sections with the file disclosures and the book with the dedication at the bookstore both lent a beautiful afterword to a great film.

In a way, this film has a lot to say about today. No matter how different our beliefs are, political and otherwise, it’s clear we have many more similarities than we have differences among us when we distill humanity down to its core experience. This is the most beautiful lesson of the film.

#797 Moonstruck (1987)

Moonstruck is a romantic comedy from 1987 that seems to have defined the genre itself. The film follows the magical misadventures of a lonely widow trying to find her place in love as she wanders around her small Italian community. Cher and Nicholas Cage’s performances are captivating as they bring warmth and heart to this well-paced script. It is a classic, uplifting cultural family comedy steeped in long traditions of love and marriage while playing with the mystical unknowns of the heart.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moonstruck

Garrett

I remember seeing this film when I was young and not entirely understanding all the eye-rolling and hubbub of adults in love. Now that I am an adult, I look back at my young self and I understand love and relationships in a different way, but still found myself asking, seriously guys, what is it about this movie?

This piece is a middle of the road romantic comedy with performances that I could frankly swap out with any number of other actors in any number of other romantic comedies. The script is ironclad, however, and I sincerely felt as though the great writing carried the performances. I think that this is one of the first films that we look at when we think of the genre itself, so it carries the weight of all of the romantic comedies that have come after it that rely on its structure, pacing, themes, motifs, and tropes. So essentially, I know I can’t go back and watch this film as an adult in 1987, but today with my experience I felt like it was only an okay film based on the many others I have seen. If one considers it the modern vanguard for the entire genre, then I can easily accept that it deserves some of the praise it received.

Roger Ebert ironically referred to other reviewers of the film as downplaying it as a “madcap ethnic comedy.” He then examines the piece in terms of its great qualities of being a simple, well-executed romance. Truthfully, I think that watching it in hindsight and not in the context of the year it came out takes a lot away from the film. In 2017, is it funny? I didn’t find myself laughing out loud at it and much of the funny bits seemed dated or strangely ethno-family-centric in the context of the film in a way that I have absolutely no familiarity with. In 2017, was it romantic? A little… but I wasn’t always convinced. The script is strong, but the execution seems like the piece remains in a fantasy 1987 rather than a relatable reality. Sure, that’s the job of a movie, but I wonder if I would have been convinced better if we hadn’t been reminded so often and so blatantly by the writers and director that this love was so magical and mystical. Don’t tell me, make me believe it. Sure, I sat through it and enjoyed its sparkle, but it still felt pretty dated and flat to me. Maybe I’m just cynical… Strike that, I’m pretty darn cynical.

Jennifer

I’m not really sure what the hype is about, either. Worth the watch, if only for a baby-faced Nicholas Cage wearing next to nothing in the hot, sweaty bakery…. makin’ the bread. My favorite part of the movie were the scenes with Cher’s extended family, her parents, her aunts, uncles, and grandparents. There is some sharp dialogue with great timing there. I also enjoyed the great appearances of our favorite eighties hair and costumes. Cher’s makeover scene before they go to see Carmen is worth the price of admission alone. It’s a cute movie, and I would tell my friends to see it if they haven’t… But I wouldn’t buy a copy and sit down and watch it again like I would with similar comedies like Groundhog Day or You’ve Got Mail. It’s simply a little too dated and doesn’t hold up like many other movies that are even many more decades old. I felt like this one fell into too narrow of a niche, and unlike My Big Fat Greek Wedding that was heavily steeped in the use of family, romance, and comedy, this one’s specificity seemed to detract from its staying power.

Poelvoorde, Belvaux, Bonzel Man Bites Dog BeforeWeDieFilms.com

#885 Man Bites Dog (C’est arrivé près de chez vous / It Happened in Your Neighborhood) (1992)

With a $33,000 budget (or as the creators in the Criterion interviews indicate, zero budget that they supplemented by asking friends and family for money in between shoots every three weeks), Man Bites Dog is an edgy genre-busting film from three Belgian filmmakers shot while they were still in college studying the craft. The first film on our list officially rated NC-17 and banned in several nations, this movie is violent, misogynistic, racist, degrading, gruesome, explicit,…..and absolutely hilarious. This black comedy balances two worlds – the world of funny upbeat satire in the style of Spinal Tap and completely shocking “bleak criticism of our desire to watch everyday live tilt out of balance” (Mathijs). The self-awareness of the piece blurs the line between fiction and reality so well that their metafictive narrative’s characters carry their names, they refer to borrowing the money to make the film in character, and at one point their murders reach to the bizarre level of our protagonists murdering a new documentary team documenting their documentary team documenting their murders while other murderers are fighting over victims with them during a shootout in a dim and dilapidated building. The result is something unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Not for the weak-stomached or anyone who can’t recognize postmodern humor and satire when they see it.

We watched Man Bites Dog on Criterion DVD #165.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_Bites_Dog_(film)

Garrett

I absolutely loved this film from beginning to end. I didn’t know what to expect going into it, and only read internet material and the liner notes from the box prior to Mathjis’ essay in Schneider. Was it a horror film? A mockumentary? A comedy? A political and artistic statement about film? About our consumer culture as a whole? What was this film?

Honestly, it is all of the above, and more.

I loved this film. I laughed (almost) the entire way through. With a lively energy, the three creators of this film have made something unlike anything else in cinema – a self-reflective mockumentary that dances between horror and black comedy like nothing else. Where many films attempt this in a manner that is approachable by audiences in a way that is bankable, the three independent filmmakers responsible for this movie have taken a literal budget of no money and outlined and cobbled together a script and a film that not only tells an interesting and engaging story with characters and performances that are believable and fun (not to mention breaking the fourth wall and production standards the entire time in their use of the crew, their own names, and a variety of other tricks throughout), but makes a heavy and effective statement on cinema  and audience itself. The people watching the very film we are watching as we watch it are just as important to their story and thesis as their product. This culminates in amazingly well-executed hilarious, but black moments such as the birthday dinner party, and hilarious setups that turn into terrifying and disgusting black moments, such as the rape and murder sequence. No taboo is off limits in this film, from rape to infanticide, and perhaps what is most intriguing about this film is how it was made in such expert hands when the filmmakers were so poor and so new to the craft.

This film can certainly get into the ring with the works of Christopher Guest and Quentin Tarentino and hold its own – even more so considering its execution of cinéma vérité , satire, humor, violence, horror, and politics are not only effective approaches to the early years of a genre but that it almost does it better than most of the films I have seen of its kind.

Final note… I did a little research afterward and totally remember downloading a video of Bill Gates being hit in the face with a cream pie when I was a freshman in college. I remember reading that it was the work of a subversive filmmaker, and thinking it was a hilarious statement against capitalism and absolute power. Since then, Gates has retired and dedicated his life to giving his money away to great causes… Within ten years of this event, that man, Rémy Nicolas Lucien Belvaux, committed suicide at the age of thirty-nine. It is just now that I am seeing something he has created for the first time, and find myself mourning in retrospect for a young artist who sincerely had a sense of humor in wanting to bring light to changing the world for good. Today, nearing thirty-nine, I appreciate what he was able to accomplish in this lifetime and wish I could have experienced more of his work – no matter how hilariously disgusting and shocking it was. Sometimes this is precisely the kind of subversive message our world needs; Belvaux’s work is precisely the kind of art that excites me.

Jennifer

Well. This takes a page out of the “Weekend” playbook.  At first, it seems almost like a comedy about a sadistic killer and the hapless film crew making a documentary on his actions. As the film progresses, the crew gets more and more involved in the “dirty work.” To me, this movie seems like a commentary on media, violence, and the viewer. What level of horrifying violence is too much? Where is the line between entertainment and horror? To me, this film’s  commentary on violence in mass media and our apathy towards it is about as strong as you can get.

I won’t say I enjoyed watching this movie and I will not watch it again. I can, however, appreciate the contribution that this film has made.

#4 Les Vampires (1915)

Les Vampires is a ten-part French serial that, clocking in at 440 minutes total, took us about 20 nights to watch in little spurts between February 4 and March 20. January and February were some slow months because of Louis Feuillade’s serial film, but for some reason, we felt relaxed, calm, and familiar when we watched this super long work in these little digestible chunks.

We watched the complete Change Before Going’s edition of Les Vampires on YouTube as it is in the public domain. The only complaint we had was the lack of soundtrack in this edition, and it is curious to wonder what the program is usually presented with. Of course, we were spoiled by Air’s scoring of Voyage Dans La Lune. So, we tossed Pandora on and listen to some of my favorite Frech music, namely my Coeur De Pirate station – sure, it was probably terribly inauthentic, but it was something.

Les Vampires is an interesting film, “much like the detective story and the haunted house thriller (and) creates a sturdy-looking world of bourgeois order while also undermining it…porous with trap doors, secret panels, (and) massive fireplaces that serve as thoroughfares for assassins and thieves” (Rubin). While you can’t expect any actual Vampires in this flick, the seedy criminal underbelly of Paris crawling with thieves, murderers, crooked cops and judges, and ne’er a face to trust, traveling through this world with Phillipe Guerande and his bumbling protean fellow Mazamette is a lot of fun. The attractive mastermind behind all of this, Musidora’s Irma Vep, easily holds the entirety of this series together just beyond the grasp of the law. Les Vampires is a little silent story in a crooked funhouse world, perfect before bedtime.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Vampires

Jennifer

This was an interesting introduction to the very beginnings of cinema.  Like A Trip to the Moon, this film is a funny little mixture of theater and motion pictures.  The characters were well developed, and during several scenes, Garrett and I were shocked or delighted with the twists and turns of the plot.

The series is long.  Like, not just “boy, this is a long movie” – long, like, we watched it over weeks. It’s a silent film so most of the storytelling is through character’s nuances and actions. Also, I may have thought there were real vampires in this movie for way too long and wondered when they were going to show up…

Very happy we watched this!  If you can’t commit to the whole series, even one “chapter” is worth a view.

Garrett

I loved this movie. It was huge, long, spooky, silly, and at times a little hard to follow what they were trying to do. But by the end, it was a familiar comfort to turn it back on and venture back into this crooked, spooky little piece. I enjoyed brewing some tea, getting some biscuits ready, and sitting down for a new installment. Of course, Les Vampires has nothing on today’s sitting down and bingeing on a series by a long shot, but the silence requires an attentive patience and appreciation of stage theater and pantomime to get through. Once you get beyond that, waiting for someone new to pop out of a cabinet or a fireplace becomes an enjoyable and exciting prospect. There were so many criminals swimming around everywhere. Allegiances to characters you can trust shift from scene to scene until a few gestures become recognizable under a shifting costume (I can’t express how many times I found myself saying, “ohhhhhh, here’s Mazamette again, trying to pay his kids’ tuition, the poor guy,” so of course, he’s who I channel in the photo – in typical terrible Mazamette disguise).

A fun film that definitely laid the groundwork for film storytelling in many future films. I was really curious about how this was rolled out in theaters. I think I would be the first in line to see the newest installment and watch the week’s cartoons and newsreels alongside it. The sets, theatrics, and pantomime performances are quite revolutionary for the time, and I enjoyed every night I spent with Les Vampires. With clear influences on Hitchcock, Lang, Brecht, and films like M, The Threepenny Opera, and a host of others, this piece defined the thriller for legions of directors and audiences for at least the next hundred years.

LobsterFantastic mashup Graphic BeforeWeDieFilms.com

The Lobster and Captain Fantastic (2016)

We’ve watched two films over the past month that we felt were some serious contenders for the next edition of Schneider’s book. Even if they aren’t, we thought they were worth giving a little recognition for their stellar quality and storytelling.

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC

Captain Fantastic is an independent film written and directed by Matt Ross and stars Virgo Mortensen, Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn, and Steve Zahn in a story about a large, extreme left-wing family living off the land in the middle of the woods. We learn that Ben’s (Mortensen’s) wife Leslie, often hospitalized for bipolar disorder and impulsive behavior, has been living away from the family in normal society. A series of unfortunate circumstances surrounding her illness forces the family to follow, and learn the many ways in which their choices have adversely affected their family’s ability to function in the real world regardless of the fact that the children have significantly more knowledge and insight than their normal American peers. They have to face some tough realities about their future if they intend to survive.

This film actually came as a recommendation. After attending an amazing lecture by Noam Chomsky, one of my (Garrett’s) colleagues suggested we see it for a great gag about the prolific intellectual. What we ended up getting was a film that was as entertaining as it was touching. It covers a wide swath of themes that highlight how complicated modern life is when trying to do the most good for the world and our children. Modern living with any kind of independent philosophy and intellect is difficult, especially when our desires and interests for our children and the world clash with a society largely content with loafing. Still, compromises must be made to do the most good and be a part of a family. This film features some great writing and excellent performances, most notably Viggo Mortensen’s Oscar-nominated performance as a father who must make some major sacrifices in order to bring closure and progress to his children.

Definitely worth seeing, if only to make sure you remember to mark December 7th on the calendar every year so you don’t forget to decorate the yurt.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_Fantastic_(film)

THE LOBSTER

The Lobster is one of those amazing international collaboration films where some brilliant minds come together and make a piece unlike any other. Premiering at Cannes in 2015 (winning the Jury Prize), this black comedy by Efthimis Filippou and Yorgos Lathimos stars Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Winshaw, and John C. Reilly in a film about modern relationships. Farrell enters a world where people must go to a special hotel if they’re single. He has forty-five days to find a partner. If he doesn’t, he will be transformed into an animal of his choosing (a lobster) where he’s free to find a lobster mate. The clock is set in the opening minutes, and the ensuing violence and turbulent relationships carry Farrell into a world of apprehension, emotional turmoil, existential confusion, and social intrigue.

In many ways, this film is unclassifiable. It’s hilarious, it’s terrifying, it’s sad, it’s exciting, and it is sincerely something that we are absolutely thirsty for in a cinematic experience. This film says so very much about our modern lives and asks a lot of deeply troubling questions. Who do we spend our time with? Why does our society dictate that our lives need to be completely fulfilled by one other human being? Why must the rest of the world be shut out? Why is this the apex? We found ourselves thinking about the implications of the story long after watching it. Something completely necessary in a film like this (is it a science fiction? Horror?) with rules of its own little universe, is that it requires a rock solid script and perfect execution of performance and writing for the audience to believe it. The lobster’s stellar writing and excellent ensemble cast have it, and it was an incredible experience. It is certainly a horror film, but instead of the bloody variety, it turns the mirror on us and lampoons modern love, the promises never delivered, the boredom, and the terrifying knowledge that perhaps the only option besides being a crustacean at the bottom of the cold sea is the ‘red intercourse.’ We’ll let you figure out what that means when you watch it.

An excellent, excellent film.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lobster

 

 

Bergman Through A Glass Darkly BeforeWeDieFilms.com

#393 Through A Glass Darkly (Såsom i en spegel) (1961)

Cracks in a family gathering emerge over the span of twenty-four hours in Bergman’s Through A Glass Darkly. A family descends on an island for a vacation. Unwanted gifts are unwrapped, and a father leaves a picnic to break down in an isolated room. This relatively simple tale examines the desperation surrounding the effects of mental illness on a family. An “immaculately wrought drama…allows nothing to dilute the force of its emotional and philosophical thrust” in a film that is simple, stark, striking, and even terrifying at times (Andrew). A masterpiece of existential confusion.

We watched Through A Glass Darkly on Criterion DVD (#209).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Through_a_Glass_Darkly_(film)

Jennifer

A surprisingly small cast and sparse setting deliver an emotionally powerful and honest portrayal of mental illness. For me, this film reminded me a great deal of Splendor In The Grass, even though this film predates it. Both of these films capture a unique brand of hysteria and its effects on the day to day lives of family and friends who love the victim. Even though the film was shot entirely in black and white with English subtitles, this did not detract from the universal experience of loving someone who is suffering.

Garrett

An absolutely beautiful film that would work just as effectively on a stage as it does on the screen. Having a lot of firsthand experience helplessly witnessing loved ones suffering from the effects of mental illness as it transforms their persona in terrifying swings, I found a lot of beautiful accuracy of the pain and frustration that this film portrays. This helplessness is incredibly and beautifully rendered in both the literal and figurative aspects of this film, from the simple script to the striking sets around the island. As the terrifying reveal approaches to present the extent of Karin’s illness (impressively captured in Harriet Andersson’s performance), we feel as drained and exhausted as the men in her life who care about her. This film was hard to watch at times, but certainly captures the “silence of God” that Bergman set out to bring to the screen in his story (Andrew).

#500 Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Clocking in at the exact halfway point of Schneider’s original 1001, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby is the French-Polish director’s first Hollywood film and one of four of his films on the list. Mia Farrow’s performance as a soon-to-be mother careening toward uncertainty is utterly spectacular, switching her audience’s belief of whether she is suffering severe pre-partum paranoia, a reasonable distrust and crumbling allegiance of friends and family, or the terrifying question as to whether the Dali-esque rape sequence was a dream or reality.

This film’s early horror genre is in amazing hands with Polanksi’s interpretation of the pulpy book, “weaving together…(a) taut, focused, building sense of dread…(still keeping audiences of today) in awe of (his) detail, his rhythm and pacing, his skill with his actors, and the fine script he adapted for the screen” (). A magnificent flick that features Ruth Gordon in her much-too-delayed Oscar-Winning role as Best Supporting Actress, Rosemary’s Baby is a film that by all standards shouldn’t hold up today, and yet does so with such energy and gusto that it can only be credited to Polanski’s vision and its striking observation of the horrors and uncertainty of the mysteries of even the most perfect modern pregnancy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosemary%27s_Baby_(film)

This is also officially the first time one of our regular posts has been able to crossover with Movie Posters By Me! Check out Episode 18 below…

Jennifer

Well… I am very glad I didn’t watch this movie while I was pregnant. In my opinion, this movie is pretty perfect from start to finish.  There is a slow but steady build up of dread that compelled me to watch more as the feeling of more and more bad terrible things are coming. The genius of this movie, besides its remarkable actors, is a breathless waiting for the “gotcha” part. At so many different points I was positive something terrible was going to happen – but didn’t.  Most of the movie leaves one to guess about what is and is not real or imagined. Who is sinister? Who is pretending? How much of it is in Rosemary’s head?  The last 20 minutes of the movie are a perfect roller coaster dive of action and revelation.  After watching it, I realized how perfectly every little moment of the film is – so many things I barely noticed at first ended up being significant to the ending of the film. The location and the mood of the movie are perfect, with Rosemary’s apartment itself established in the very first scene of the movie as being that significant prison that the atmosphere of the piece as a whole rests upon. A great film.

Garrett

I really enjoyed Rosemary’s baby. I am not one to get scared by any paranormal entities at all, especially those surrounding religion, but what sets this film apart from much of the hype that surrounds those tropes is the fact that Polanski has directed a film that puts its weight on questioning the pregnant-hysteria of his protagonist, the structure of her social and emotional support systems, and almost in hindsight, the possibility that this is the child of some horrific devil-entity. I think Polanski did an incredible job in structure and execution, the various surreal scenes being edited in such a way that they generally didn’t feel as ridiculous as I am sure they could have been in any less capable hands. When it got to the end, in my opinion, the reveal was a little disappointing for me, however, I can easily blame that for my brand of 2017 skepticism. Still, from dialogue to editing, camera work to performances, it is easy to understand what makes this film have such staying power – and for something made in the late sixties to early seventies, it is easy for something like this to age poorly. This is certainly credited to Polanski’s adept filmmaking. Finally, just as Jenn mentioned, there was a point where we turned to each other and said, “imagine what it would have been like to watch this pregnant?” Mine was at the line where the doctor told her not to read any books and talk to any friends about her pregnancy. If there is anything I can say that this film nails the most (and I sincerely mean this without any irony or the hyperbole the film clearly contains), it is the confusing, complicated, bizarre, troubling, and terrifying process of modern pregnancy… for everyone involved.