The Best of 2017: International Films Part II

The Best of 2017International FilmsPart II

Missed Part I? Look no further. Now here’s more:

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Paradise Now (2005) Hany Abu-Assad
FilmStruck (1:30)

Earlier this year, while looking at several titles for an International Film project at the library, I decided on Paradise Now, a film that follows two Palestinian men, Said (Kais Nashif) and Khaled (Ali Suliman). Said and Khaled have been friends for years and have now been recruited to carry out suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. The films focuses on how this decision will effect the rest of their lives as well as those of their families and friends.

I can only imagine the difficulties and pressures that were associated with making this film. Director Hany Abu-Assad said in an interview with the Telegraph that “If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t do it again. It’s not worth endangering your life for a movie.” Paradise Now was the first Palestinian film nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. (It won the Golden Globe and several other awards.) It is a powerful film, but not without controversy. I will refer you to the Wikipedia article as a starting point if you want to know more about it. I hope you’ll see the film for yourself.

The Trap (aka Klopka) (2007) Srdan Golubović
Amazon streaming (1:46)

If you’re a fan of film noir – and especially neo-noir – you’ve seen this plot before, or maybe one like it. A man named Mladen (Nebojsa Glogovac) and his wife Maridja (Natasa Ninkovic) and their young son Nemanja (Marko Djurovic) have a pretty good life until they find out that Nemanja needs an operation for his terminal heart condition. The operation will cost 26,000 Euros, which Mladen and his wife could never afford. In desperation they place an ad in the newspaper and soon Mladen is approached by a man who will give him the money, but only if Mladen assassinates another man.

The story may seem familiar but it gets a fresh treatment, mainly from being set in a post-Milošević Serbia where the country began to see an ever-increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots. Golubović also makes some very interesting transitions between scenes, transitions subtle enough not to bring attention to themselves, but still impressive. Critics have stated that some of the film’s coincidences are too much to stomach, but I didn’t see it that way at all. I found The Trap to be a solid, gripping neo noir with excellent performances, especially from Glogovac. It’s still streaming on Amazon right now, so don’t miss it.

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Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953) Jacques Tati
Filmstruck (1:27)

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PlayTime (1967) Jacques Tati
Filmstruck (2:04)

Both films previously discussed here

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Max and the Junkmen (1971) Claude Sautet
Filmstruck (1:50)

I first heard of this film from The Magic Lantern, an excellent podcast about movies.  I was delighted to find the film playing on Filmstruck, where you can find it right now. (UPDATE: This movie is no longer on Flimstruck.) Michel Piccoli plays Max, an ex-judge who becomes a police inspector in Paris. Frustrated with the rise of bank robbers in the city, Max hopes to compel a group of low-grade criminals to rob a bank so that he can catch them in the act. In order to do so, he’s got to find a way to convince the gang’s leader (Bernard Fresson) that a bank robbery is a good idea. How does he do this? By hiring the leader’s prostitute girlfriend Lily (Romy Schneider), not for sex, but for companionship, slowly earning her confidence (and, of course, that of the gang). Although it sounds completely untenable, the plan is brilliant. Yet the film is more about the characters of Max and Lily than the execution of the robbery. An amazing film. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll want to see it again.

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Kagemusha (1980) Akira Kurosawa
Criterion Blu-ray (3:00)

The word kagemusha can be translated “shadow warrior” or “political decoy,” both of which are appropriate here. Set in 16th century Japan, the leader of a powerful clan discovers a low-life criminal who looks exactly like him. The possibilities are just too good to ignore. This criminal can impersonate the clan’s lord, especially when it’s discovered that the lord is dying. That’s a very simplistic set-up of an epic film that’s a visual feast for the eyes. If you watch the Criterion Blu-ray, be sure to check out the extras and learn about how the film probably never would’ve been made without the help of George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola.

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Elle (2016) Paul Verhoeven
DVD – library (2:10)

Previously discussed here

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Close-Up (1990) Abbas Kiarostami
Filmstruck (1:40)

Is Hossain Sabzian an actor, a cinephile, a pathological liar, or all three? On a public bus in Northern Tehran, Sabzian tells the woman sitting next to him that he is the famous Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. She tells him that her sons are interested in film, so Sabzian visits their home several times to gain funding for his next project, in which he will use them as actors and their home as a location. Of course, it’s all a ruse.

Close-Up is a fascinating film for several reasons: Kiarostami’s story is a recreation of an actual story using the real-life people involved. It is and isn’t a documentary, but since the real players are involved, you’re not really sure whether or not the events happened just as Kiarostami filmed them. The scenes come across as authentic, in-the-moment scenes, especially the mesmerizing trial. This is cinéma vérité at its finest, an amazing film I certainly want to see again.

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Les Grandes Manoeuvres (1955) René Clair
Filmstruck (1:47)

“Love, we are your slaves.”

I probably would not have discovered this film on my own, but I was listening to a Film Comment podcast focusing on Robert Mitchum in which one of my favorite writers, Imogen Sara Smith, mentioned the film and how much she enjoyed it.

Les Grandes Manoeuvres is an early 20th century costume drama/romance (with definite elements of comedy) starring Gérard Philipe as Armand de la Verne, a lieutenant in the French cavalry stationed in a provincial town before the outbreak of World War I. Armand is quite the womanizer, so confident in his abilities that he bets he can successfully seduce a woman determined by lot. The woman whose number comes up, a Parisian divorcée named Marie-Louise Rivière (Michèle Morgan), already has a suitor, the very respectable Victor Duverger (Jean Desailly) and has no interest whatsoever in Armand. Or does she? The film is delightful on many levels and (Hello, Criterion!) would make a spectacular Blu-ray. The film also features Brigitte Bardot in one of her early film appearances.

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Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) Chantal Akerman
Filmstruck (3:22)

A woman washing dishes and peeling potatoes for three and a half hours? Well, there’s much more to it than that. Jeanne Dielman is an amazing film I can’t even begin to talk about just yet. I certainly want to see it again and reflect upon it at length; it deserves such treatment. Needless to say, a huge thank you goes out to The Magic Lantern podcast for bringing this film to my attention.

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Rocco and His Brothers (1960) Luchino Visconti
Eureka! Masters of Cinema Blu-ray (UK, Region B) (2:58)

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that this is my first Visconti film, but I’m so glad I finally saw it. Rocco and His Brothers is a tremendous epic drama of a family from Luciana (Southern Italy) moving to Milano (Northern Italy). The family centers around the widow Rosaria (Katina Paxinou) and her five sons as they try to integrate themselves into their new lives. At first the film seems to be the saga of a family desperate for a new and better life, but it turns into something else. This film deserves an extended review, one that I’m unprepared to give just now. If you have a chance to see it, do so. All of the performances are excellent, especially French superstar Alain Delon as Rocco. Again, more on this film later. It’s a powerhouse. (A domestic release is available only on DVD from Image Entertainment and is a bit pricey at $30. Another reason to buy a region-free Blu-ray player for the Eureka! Masters of Cinema Region B Blu-ray.)

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Touchez Pas au Grisbi (1954) Jacques Becker
Noir City DC, AFI Silver (1:34)

French cinema legend Jean Gabin and René Dary play two gangsters well past their prime attempting one last heist. The film also stars Jeanne Moreau and Lino Ventura and had a profound influence on Jean-Pierre Melville. Having missed this one during the latter half of Noir City 15 in San Francisco, I was delighted to finally see it. You should too.

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Two Men in Manhattan (Deux hommes dans Manhattan) (1959) Jean-Pierre Melville
Kanopy streaming (1:25)

Previously discussed here

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Suspiria (1977) Dario Argento
Netflix (1:40)

Suspiria (and Italian giallo films in general) have always been a blind spot for me. Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was – as far as I know – my first giallo film. All I can say about this film – the strange adventure of a young American girl (Jessica Harper) at a German ballet school – is that I was visually blown away, so much so that I probably overlooked several elements of the story. I’ll definitely need a re-watch (and maybe even a crash course on giallo films) in my near future.

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