Monday, 29 June 2009


I’m on a roll, having seen my third excellent film in a row in a year which had previously not been very inspiring (and I’ve said enough about the summer blockbusters).

Katyn tells the true story of the massacre of Polish military officers during WWII. The story is told in original ways and from various viewpoints but is nonetheless what I would call a great old-fashioned epic with brilliant acting and amazing cinematography. The director is Andrzej Wajda, whose father died in the massacre, which makes it all the more amazing that this powerful drama is not at all sentimental. Wajda is one of the most influential filmmakers in Poland and yet I have never seen anything he made. Obviously that was a mistake. At the age of 83, he is still capable of making what may be my favourite film of the year thus far. Note: While not having seen Wajda’s films, I have seen the results of some of his influence, having seen all of Kieslowski’s films (Kieslowski is one of my favourite European directors).

At its heart, Katyn is about truth-telling, about exposing one piece of the true history of a nation which suffered so much in the last century and whose people were constantly forced to bury the truth, or to re-remember the truth in an Orwellian sense. For me, such truth-telling is, like humanization, one of the most important roles film can play in our time. When it is done with the almost flawless craft of Katyn, we have filmmaking at its finest. And when the nation involved is one which is part of my ancestral history both in terms of location and blood (ancestors named Sawatzky), it is particularly meaningful. **** My mug is held up high.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Looking for Eric

Ken Loach is one of UK’s best filmmakers and once again he has made a gem. In a summer full of thoughtless action and comedy flicks, it’s so nice to have something intelligent and beautifully acted to watch. By turns sad and funny, dark and genuinely heart-warming, Looking for Eric is a very different kind of film that suggests there may be something redeeming about being a British football fan (even a Manchester United fan). It’s the story of one man’s difficult journey out of years of depression and it is full of quiet wisdom. North Americans may not get a chance to see this, but if you can, don’t miss it. This will almost certainly make my top ten films of the year. **** My mug is way up for the second film in a row.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Anything For Her

While the masses are chowing down on Hollywood junk food like Terminator Salvation, Night at the Museum 2 and Angels & Demons, the really good films are being made here in Europe and being watched by only a few – those who prefer great acting, tight direction, intelligent thought-provoking screenplays, and real atmosphere to brainless action and silly humour.

Let the Right One In (made in Sweden; photo on right), which I saw last week, had all of the good qualities mentioned above. But it is an incredibly dark (in every way) horror film about 12-year old kids. I’m not a big fan of horror or films about kids, so this will not rank among my favourites of the year, but there is no question that this is a brilliant film and far better than what’s coming out of Hollywood.

Anything For Her, directed by Fred CavayĆ©, also has all of the good qualities listed above. It’s a French thriller unlike any thriller I have ever seen (what a huge compliment right there). What do you do if you’re an ordinary school teacher whose wife has been sentenced to twenty years in prison for a murder she did not commit and you have exhausted all avenues of appeal and are left taking care of the two-year-old son and worrying about a suicidal wife. I can almost see myself doing exactly what Julien (played magnificently by Vincent Lindon) does, contemplating sacrificing everything that we mean by a decent settled life in order to save his wife. This film works best as a drama rather than a thriller and has my favourite dramatic scene of the year in it, but the thriller part works for me as well (though it’s really quite implausible and there is one very violent scene). With a series of coincidences constantly helping or hindering him, it plays out like some kind of war in heaven and the tension is non-stop, with some great suspense near the end. Unlike the many other implausible films I have seen this year, I generally felt that it was the protagonist, not the film, that was being stupid.

Anything For Her is a fairly short film and yet only feels rushed near the end (when it’s supposed to feel rushed). It has time to give us a real sense of Julien’s desperation as well as the family dynamics which play a key underlying role in the film. It’s an example of what thrillers and films in general can be if they are not aimed primarily at fifteen-year-old boys.

Anything For Her is so far my favourite film made in 2009. Finally, finally a film that did not disappoint me (as almost everything else I have seen this year has done). **** My mug is up.