Tuesday, 17 April 2007

The Lives of Others


What an absolutely fantastic film! It’s the first film I have seen since I put together my top ten films of 2006 which should have been in that list. In fact, I think it would have come in at number two! I have mentioned elsewhere on the blog how rare it is for me to give four stars to any film. This film gets four stars without any hesitation. The reason? It is as close to perfect as films get these days.

The acting is impeccable throughout (by everyone concerned), the cinematography is amazing, the settings always provide exactly the right feel (East Germany in 1984), the screenplay is extremely intelligent and tight, the editing is flawless; it’s like watching a work of art that falls into the masterpiece category. And much of the film is about the role of art, and people, in challenging or collaborating with the unjust and oppressive systems in our societies.

Given the incredible critical praise for Pan’s Labyrinth, I was wondering how this film could have won the day at the Academy Awards. Now I know; The Lives of Others leaves Pan’s Labyrinth in the dust. It is one of the very best films ever to come out of Germany.

More I need not say here. Go out and watch this film as soon as you can and we can talk about the endless array of fascinating characters in this film and how they tried to survive in a totalitarian world. Unfortunately, there is much here that transfers too easily to our own supposedly democratic societies in 2007.

A mug of Colombia’s very finest straight up! ****

Friday, 6 April 2007

Reign Over Me

When I first started watching, I thought this was a one of a kind film I'd have to write about on its own. A serious comedy (is that a new genre? - I just heard it used to describe an upcoming film - The Savages) about two guys breaking through their isolation - not exactly typical movie fare. Then I realised that there is a close cousin to this release in the old Robin Williams/Jeff Bridges film, The Fisher King. Both movies are largely set in the context of empty urban nights. Both have a traumatized man (played by a comic actor) making an important connection with a lonely man. Both are not good for teaching on PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as they are very atypical and extreme responses. However, as I haven't seen The Fisher King in a long while, I'll limit my commentary to Reign Over Me.

Reign Over Me is the more serious of the two, and for this reason draws the viewer in on a more intimate level. I might as well say right from the start where my frustration is with this movie - they focused too much on the wrong story. There is the broken loneliness of the man who lost his family and the paradoxical loneliness of the man with the lovely family. Did the filmmakers not see that the second story is the more important one to tell here?

Certainly the key is the meeting of the two stories and the two characters. And this meeting is done very well. Great mis-steps on both parts. Mutual caring mixed with hesitations. Slowly developing intimacy in the typical male style of being free of much intimate talk.

But then the film gives in to the temptation of going for the bigger drama and loses the time and energy to deal well with what I have just described as the more important story. It's the story of the lonely guy with the perfect family that has so much real potential. That part of the story seems to be dealt with in a few quickly tossed-in scenes that just do not satisfy.

One can only blame a movie so much for lost potential, though, and overall it was a great movie. The therapist (who probably shouldn't have been made to be a psychiatrist as her therapy style was not very typical of that modality) is well-played by Liv Tyler. This therapist was good but not perfect, which is just as it should be. (One day a movie will be made which actually shows a good marriage counsellor, but I digress - it has long been a pet peeve of mine that Walter's and marriage counsellors are both consistently ill-treated in films. Just look for it if you've never noticed that before.) And the judge played by Donald Sutherland - sure, he's on a power trip but you gotta love him.

I thought their might be more hints of God's presence in this movie with it's title, but nothing apparent. But the music at least plays a strong role.

Good movie - should be seen and talked about. Definitely worth ***+