Best Foreign Language Film

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

The Broken Circle Breakdown
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Dirk Impens).
Watched August 19, 2014.

This film, with all of its positives and negatives, pulled at my heartstrings.  It is told in a non-linear style, which adds a bit to its mystery and builds up, rather than tears down the relationships within the film.  It is a foreign film based in the Flemish city of Ghent in Belgium.

Elise (Veerle Baetens), a realist religious tattoo artist, and Didier (Johan Heldenbergh), a blue grass romantic atheist, fall in love pretty much at first sight.  Their intense, passionate love is communicated very well through mostly images versus dialogue.  When it turns out that Elise has quite the voice, she joins the band and the film is regularly populated by their folksy bluegrass renditions of old American classics.  This is probably my favorite part of the film–I downloaded the soundtrack immediately after the end credits.

Within months Elise falls pregnant.  Their love blossoms and grows.  The filmmakers show a little bit of their daughter Maybelle’s (Nell Cattrysse) youngest years, but at still a very young age they find out that she has cancer.  This puts their love to an extreme test and becomes a downward spiral that might be hard to get out of.

I really enjoyed the color grading and story telling in this film.  There are certain scenes that were perhaps a little too long and really pound their point into the audience.  It is also guilty of melodrama.  I liked the way the filmmakers chose to tell the story of their love–how it started and especially its highs.  They also tell Maybelle’s story very well.  Like the love story, they communicate her illness with a lot of imagery and song and not as much dialogue.  Perhaps I liked this because it is a foreign film so there were fewer captions to read, but really I think it is because of the artistry.

When things begin to spiral is when the film slows down and has a much more linear time quality.  While this portion of the film is powerful and climactic, its style changed and became darker and less etherial.  We are pulled with the couple into their moments of despair, whether in the quietness of their own home or while on stage performing for an audience.  Their glass bubble shattered the moment little Maybelle got sick and they both feel like they will never be whole again.

Like I said, the story is pretty melodramatic from start to finish.  The filmmaker’s didn’t seem to attempt a fiercely realistic story.  Perhaps that is a strength.  I think at some point I will watch the film again, but it will probably be more for the music than it will be for the story as a whole.  I liked the characters.  I rooted for them and could relate to them.  I liked their story in the beginning.  It was simple and romantic, although I wondered how on earth they could pay for everything.  I liked when the melodrama was punctuated by full performances.

If you like this type of music, I would definitely recommend the film to you.  If you don’t like the music, make sure you like dramatic stories before you add this film to your list.

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The Hunt (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

The Hunt (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Denmark).
Watched May 12, 2014

Sometimes kids lie, and if we operate under the notion that they are forever truthful, a lot of bad and evil can happen because of it.

What starts out as a simple character study of a decent man who has recently been divorced but sees things start to come around, suddenly becomes  a terrifying exploration of human nature and an interesting glimpse into a side of an issue we rarely take time to consider.

Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is currently working at a daycare.  He is excellent with the kids and has a very sweet relationship with his best friend’s daughter Klara (Annika Wedderkopp).  He hangs out with the children’s parents at night and goes hunting on the weekends.  His friends all worry about him, being lonely in his house, but the custody battle for his son seems to be going positively.  Suddenly, however, a crush gone wrong leads Klara to tell a lie that could end Lucas’ life… pretty literally.

Klara tells the daycare owner that Lucas exposed himself to her, and you can imagine that the story and accusations gain momentum from there.  We as the audience are pretty sure from the beginning that Lucas is innocent and we know what damage this can do, but Klara is a young girl who doesn’t understand the power of this kind of lie.  We watch as slowly, the whole town seems to turn against him.  The people who are on his side are impressive displays of unconditional love but they also trust in the knowledge that Lucas is who they think he is.  Klara’s father grapples with a host of intense emotions–the protective nature of a father and the disbelief that his best friend is that kind of man.

Mikkelsen is, without a doubt, the driving force behind the success of this film.  He won best actor at Cannes Film Festival.  His character slinks through the next weeks and months, having not been charged because of a lack of evidence, but is refused business and common decency from the community around him.  The film at its core explores the nature of “false guilt.”  He is treated as more than a criminal.  He receives threats, is beaten, and even church members don’t want to see him in their services.  Mikkelsen’s acting is superb.  He uses “subtle control of his face and voice [to convey] the inner turmoil of a man who is being forced to feel guilty about a crime that never happened” (Roger Ebert).

The film is distinctly actor focused.  There appears to be little fuss about setting up shots and most everything is hand held.  This keeps the film on a smaller scale.  It pulls into the actors and really shows the emotions on their face.  In a sense, this a great choice because the film is so incredibly character driven.  On the other hand, it limits the narrative a bit and leaves much less symbolism and depth.  Sure, a close up can convey the feeling of being “trapped,” but if most of the film is in close ups, the camera work gets stale.  That is the only reason I gave this film four stars instead of five.  Otherwise it is a complete knock out.

I would recommend this film to almost anyone.  Rest assured, you will feel a lot of emotions while viewing this film but I would really consider it worth your time.

War Witch (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

War Witch (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Canada, Kim Nguyen).
Watched April 21, 2014.

This year’s thought provoking war film comes from Canada, but they leave their polite compassion at the door in bringing War Witch to the screen.

 

Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is a young African girl whose small village is attacked by the rebel army.  She is forced to kill her parents and then follow the rest of the kids she has grown up with into a war of the jungle.  They are handed heavy assault rifles and drink “magic milk” (which is probably high in alcohol content, among other things) before going to fight.  When Komona sees what she calls ghosts who communicate the hidden location of those they are fighting against, her leaders take notice and she is promoted to the status of War Witch.  This is less of a privilege and more of a very precarious position–war witches don’t last long.  Their job is to keep their group safe so that they win.

 

Back at camp, the girls are sexualized objects among the men.  Knowing this, the Magicien (Serge Kanyinda), an albino who creates talismans, has fallen in love with the leader’s War Witch and after drinking the magic milk, he convinces her to run away with him and get married.  She tells him what her father always said–that if he wants to marry her he has to bring her a white rooster, which according the film is incredibly rare and hard to find.  They hide out at Magicien’s uncle’s house, and in perhaps an interesting twist, the uncle’s name is The Butcher (Ralph Prosper) and he is the kindest character in the film.

 

Not willing to lose his War Witch, the Grand Tigre Royal (Mizinga Mwinga) who leads the rebel army, comes after her.  It is not long after that Komona finds herself pregnant and still haunted by ghosts–specifically the ghosts of her dead parents.  In an attempt to finally put the ghosts to rest, Komona must do something drastic for both herself and her baby.

 

The film is not just about the reality behind child soldiers in Africa, but it is more deeply about family and loneliness.  In a very powerful scene, Komona gives birth alone, at the side of a river, and rises above it.  She shows strength beyond her fourteen years, but that is because the loss of her family and her circumstances have forced her to grow up too quickly.  She shoulders more burdens than even the men who would claim her, and yet she still comes out on top.  Her parents, as is evidenced very clearly, are always with her and she carries that guilt every day.  She knows she could die any day, but she is not willing to stop fighting for herself and for her family.

 

Despite the content, the filming style is very still for most of the film.  It shows Komona’s world in a very frank, matter of fact way.  It becomes chaotic when they consume the magic milk, but otherwise we become accustomed to small people caring big guns and fighting for their lives.  We get to see a glimpse into the horror of child soldiers kidnapped from their homes, but we also see the hope and the love that others are still willing to offer despite what human beings are capable of doing to one another.

 

War Witch was not my favorite film.  It is surprisingly slow, despite having a phenomenal story.  It is about Komona and her experiences and we see very little of what the other kids experience.  In that way, the story was very narrow, but that is perhaps because so much happens to her that other side stories would become too heavy for the narrative.  I got a little bored while watching it, but I found the ghosts property creepy, I bit my nails a lot, and was stunned when Komona gave birth to a healthy baby at the side of a river and then continued to paddle down stream like nothing had even happened.  I can’t really place my finger on what I disliked.  It was slow, and quiet, and perhaps too calm for what was happening.

 

It is an intense film, and for that reason I do not recommend it for everyone.  If my review, or the trailer piques your interest, then by all means you should see the film.

A Royal Affair (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Royal Affair (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Nikolaj Arcel).
Watched March 18, 2014.

A Royal Affair is one of those films where I forget that I am reading subtitles.  The story was so engaging, the characters so interesting, and the plot so twisted that I was unable to look away.  I certainly love a good period piece and this nomination from Denmark was excellent.

 

It is the true story of an English princess, Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) who marries the Danish King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) who, it becomes apparent very quickly, is a little insane.  He is childish, jealous, and completely obsessed with sex and prostitutes.  It doesn’t take long for Caroline to despise him and after she gives him a son she refuses to allow him into her bed.

 

When Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) becomes the royal physician, everything changes.  He and the queen fall in love and together with a persuaded king who thinks himself an actor, they take command of the kingdom and begin a revolution.  This revolution historically influenced the future of Europe.

 

All of the characters and their motivations are deep and well portrayed.  Although Caroline’s anger toward her husband seemed a little extreme to me, and her affair with the doctor was very risky, her motivations are well explained and in a narrative as a letter to her children she tells how she found herself in that position.

 

The costumes, palaces, countryside, and town life are all incredible.  If the film is lacking in one area, it is that it spends so much time with the aristocracy discussing the poverty of its people that we actually see very little of how wretched the subjects were and how much they were in need of a revolution.  The censorship was so real that even the queen could not read whatever she wanted, but how else did it negatively affect the people?  Besides this, however, there is very little else in the film that falls short of amazing.

 

If you’re a lover of period pieces, this is definitely one that I would recommend.

No (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

No (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Pablo Larraín).
Watched February 6, 2014.

  

No is an interesting contribution to this year’s foreign language films.  In the beginning I was not a fan.  It is a Chilean film about the 1988 referendum and the ad executives who produce the campaigns to defeat Augusto Pinochet.  It is shot, produced, and directed as if it was all actually done in 1988, complete with 4:3 aspect ratio and obsessive lens flares that over expose the frame constantly.  Perhaps the thing that took the most getting used to was the jump cuts.

Jumps cuts are cuts used in editing.  There is no transition between clips, but one clip right up against the next, often different locations and potentially different characters in each scene.  Usually, in film editing, even if they use jump cuts they will insert clips to imply time has passed or that we have moved to a different place.  In the beginning of No, the campaign is trying to talk René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) into directing the TV spots, while his boss is trying to talk him out of it.  With little to no back story or understanding of the Chilean political climate, we are thrown into these scenes edited back to back to back, often only a few seconds long.

If the rest of the film was like the beginning, I might not have made it through.  As an editor and lover of story, I could not be grabbed by the dialogue that I could not understand and the conversation that I could not keep up with simply because of the editing.  Things turned around pretty quickly, however, and while they still employed the same type of editing throughout the film, it slowed down and eventually used some traditional timeline tactics and only occasionally used their chaotic use of jump cuts to better effect.

The No campaign is granted fifteen minutes of airtime a day, while the Yes campaign receives the rest of the time.  René spends much of his time convincing those around him that they need a jingle and a focus on happiness instead of the fear and hatred that they all feel in their hearts.  General Pinochet has allowed the election mostly because of international pressure, and after his long time in office, he has instilled a lot of fear in his people of disappearances, exiles, and deaths.  The No campaign is innovative, current, and employs a lot of commercial tactics from the west, including the Coca Cola versus Pepsi commercials that were airing at the time.  They use a lot of humor and symbols associated with happiness.  The Yes campaign eventually begins to adopt the same tactics.

While there is a lot of fear and some vandalism, René and his associates stay relatively safe from political backlash.  We follow the majority of the process, right up until the election.  René is stoic and unemotional the majority of the time.  He rides a skateboard which implies both that he is young but also that he is clinging to youth and innocence.  Despite his differing views from his employer, his boss protects him and advises him against becoming tangled in the wrong side of politics.  Once it is all said and done, they are both still on the same side–that of supporting each others’ artistry.

There is a lot to love about No and one of those things is that they took the risk of not shooting everything in HD.  It is old and gritty and dark.  Some characters are quiet observers while others are passionate orators.  There is family drama and love.  If you are okay with reading subtitles and can make it through the first half hour, this is actually a pretty good film.  It is straightforward and almost one-note, but perhaps that is the film’s strength.  It does not try to throw in any plot twists, but carries you along with René to discover what it means to be a political activist in Chile in 1988.