The Global Appeal of Blockbusters

Movie poster courtesy of comicbookmovie.com

Movie poster courtesy of comicbookmovie.com

This past weekend, Avengers: Age of Ultron had its much-anticipated North American opening. Box office experts predicted that Age of Ultron, the sequel to the wildly popular Avengers release in 2012, would exceed the $207 million that its predecessor made in its opening weekend. With the results in, it is official: it didn’t break the record, but the studio shouldn’t be too worried. Age of Ultron almost earned its entire budget back before its US release with countries around the world screening the film a week in advance.

Age of Ultron’s domestic opening weekend brought in an estimated $191 million, a full sixteen million under its first entry, and thirty million under the prediction. This comes as a surprise because the first sequel to a large franchise almost always surpasses the first in terms of opening weekends. To put things in perspective, Transformers 2 improved on Transformers by $40 million, Catching Fire made $6 million more than Hunger Games, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest brought in a whopping $90 million more than the first in the series.

Picture courtesy of destructoid.com

Picture courtesy of destructoid.com

There’s no mystery to why sequels make more money. Audiences are familiar with the characters and the story, and are eager to see what happens next with characters that they are already invested in. Studio executives take full advantage of marketing campaigns so that the next entry can appear to be bigger and better. This strategy was in full swing for Age of Ultron, but even with its massive opening, it failed to meet the original’s $200 million-plus number.

While the North American box office may be plateauing, the rest of the world is certainly not taking a break. As of right now, 70% of ticket sales for Ultron have come from outside of the US. Global audiences have taken quite the liking to US blockbusters; last year’s Transformers made only $245 million overall in the US, but passed $1 billion thanks to international markets. The strength of these numbers indicates a trend in modern film production: moviegoers around the globe are willing to sacrifice well written characters and dialogue for explosive, high octane action sequences with little thought involved. Movies like Transformers play especially well for those who don’t speak English as a first language. With less complicated story and dialogue to follow, audiences can simply enjoy the movie without missing important plot points or misunderstanding dialogue.

This brings up a much talked about concern over the current state of the film industry. This summer’s movie line up consists of a large number of sequels and spinoffs, which forces one to ask: Is our film industry running out of creativity? Is it more business-savvy to cater to international crowds at the expense of quality storytelling?

Avengers: Age of Ultron is almost guaranteed to gross over $1 billion overseas (it already has $400 million in foreign receipts), and Avengers: Infinity War (Part 1 and 2) is scheduled for release in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

French Immersion: My Happy Place

Sometimes when my anxiety is a little too much to handle, I take a moment to close my eyes and go back to my happy place. A place of sweet grass, mosquito spray, and deep blue waters. A place of growth, frustration, and empathy. A place of culture, education, and silliness. A place of tears from laughter, singing, and always dancing. A place of being free. A place of being 100% myself. A place of finding the sun in the hearts of children. A place I never ever want to leave. Lac du Bois.

The main building of Lac du Bois, "Paris", photo by Jean François

The main building of Lac du Bois, “Paris”, photo by Jean François

Lac du Bois is a summer camp in Bemidji, Minnesota. It’s part of Concordia Language Villages, which is a larger program that has 15 villages (campsites) set up around the lakes of Minnesota. Each village has its own language and the buildings within each site are designed with authentic architecture from countries that predominantly speak that language.

Concordia Language Villages sign, photo from google.com

Concordia Language Villages sign, photo from google.com

The goal of these camps is to teach language through immersion as well as prepare young people for responsible citizenship in global communities.

Each summer, all of the camps come together to interact at an event called “International Day.” At International Day, each camp sets up a booth serving foods from countries of their language or has games set up for others to play that are native to countries that speak their language. They even have a “World Cup,” where each camp forms a soccer team and they all compete.

International Day 2014, photo by Julia Schaller

International Day 2014, photo by Julia Schaller

Lac du Bois is the French language village, and is one of the greatest places on Earth.

I first went to Lac du Bois when I was 11 years old. My family heard about the camp through friends of my parents, and my parents both decided it would be a good opportunity for my sister and I. My parents enrolled my sister and I up for a two week, overnight session. We all drove up to Minnesota together and when we pulled our car up to the camp, a counselor greeted us at the window of the car and spoke exclusively in French.

It was terrifying! My dad had taught me some french when I was really young, and my parents put my sister and I in French classes when we were growing up, but I was not ready for complete sentences or even answering questions.

After my parents left, I was hopeless. I had nothing to hide behind and there was no longer someone to speak to the counselors for me. I felt naked and embarrassed. The first night was rough.

Throughout the second day, I bonded with girls in my cabin and from around camp and from then on, I was in my happy place. I learned more about french language and culture in those two weeks than I had ever before in my life. I made lasting friendships. I laughed until I cried, and I cried on the last night with my cabin-mates wrapped in my arms.

Extremely embarrassing photo of my cabin, Lac du Bois 2008

Extremely embarrassing photo of my cabin, Lac du Bois 2008

I then went back to camp for the next four summers. My fifth summer, I went to Lac du Bois for a month as part of their “Credit” program, which earned me high school French credit. They say that one will learn more French in one month at Lac du Bois than potentially a whole year in school (hence why they offer the credit program). They were right.

Language immersion is said to be the best way to learn a language and culture, and it is 100% true. I spoke more French at Lac du Bois than a full year of French class in public school. I was forced to use the language to communicate, since the camp was total immersion.

The counselors are only allowed to speak in the target language, and even the food is francophone authentic. Counselors and villagers come from all over the world. There are always counselors and villagers from the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia, Canada, and India, as well as other countries.

Villagers are put into classic summer camp activities like canoeing or soccer, but they are also put into language learning groups. These language learning groups focus on a francophone region or time period and are more education based (but always include crafting, dancing, and interactive games).

Activité Canoé, Lac du Bois 2012

Activité Canoé, Lac du Bois 2012

The entire camp is sort of one big simulation. The counselors put on a show for the villagers, and it’s the most fun show I’ve ever been a part of. There is continuous dancing, multiple skits every day, and songs about everything (even about baguettes at dinner!).

Last year I applied to be a counselor, and I got the job. I went back to my favorite place in the world for my 6th summer, and had the time of my life. This time, I was the one required to speak exclusively in French and I was the one teaching others about francophone cultures and about the language. I was the one helping villagers cope with their frustration and homesickness. I was the one teaching the songs and dances. And, the amount I learned about other countries and French language, was way more than I ever thought.

Journée Sénégal, Lac du Bois 2014

Journée Sénégal, Lac du Bois 2014

In an article posted in the New York Times, author Sindya N. Bhanoo discussed how language immersion is more beneficial than learning through a formal classroom setting. In a study in the journal PloS One, scientists tested the brain patterns of subjects who learned a language through immersion vs. in a classroom. The tests showed that the subjects who learned the language through immersion had the full brain patterns of a native speaker, while the subjects who learned the language in a formal classroom setting did not.

The camps of Concordia Language Villages are hands-down the best way to learn a language. Being fully immersed in anything is the best way to learn, empathize, and adapt to it. Even a two week program makes a difference.

The lake of Lac du Bois, photo by Alyson Kriz

The lake of Lac du Bois, photo by Alyson Kriz

In the middle of the woods by the lakes of Minnesota lies little villages that change the way people see the world. These programs really do cultivate global leaders, global thinkers, and peaceful communities.

Truth on Film: Columbia’s True/False Festival

March 5-8, 2015. Photo from truefalse.org

March 5-8, 2015. Logo from truefalse.org

The True/False Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri is a documentary festival that is respected and celebrated for numerous justifiable reasons. Taking place this year from March 5-8, Filmmakers and critics praise the festival for its effective programming and advertising, audiences love the vibrant atmosphere, and the city benefits immensely from the influx in business. Personally, I’ve had the pleasure of calling Columbia home for the last four years, granting me access to one of the world’s most unique film festivals. However, there might be one aspect of the festival that trumps the visible, local flourish. Films at True/False bring attention to current global issues that might otherwise be accessible only through the lens of the media. True/False prides itself on its documentary programming, streamlining urgent topics that demand a reaction.

One such film in this year’s roster is Maidan, a film by Sergei Loznitsa. The film documents aggressive protests that took place from 2013-2014 in and around Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the central square of Kiev, Ukraine. The film utilizes participatory journalism techniques in order to place the viewer among the front lines of revolution, forcing anyone who sees it to come out talking about the situation in Eastern Europe.

A film that counteracts this urgency is the patient unfolding of a Russian girl’s life in Hanna Polak’s Something Better to Come (Yula’s Dream). This documentary employs the revolutionary concept of extreme production lengths, documenting the life of a girl from age 10 to 24. The film explores adolescence and coming-of-age on the outskirts of urban Russia, a bit outside the reach of the ever-present government.

Moderated conversations with featured filmmakers are another intriguing draw of the festival. One such conversation is titled “Living Rough”, which explores the moral ambiguity of filming and gathering information in dangerous situations or locations. The director of Something Better to Come, Hanna Polak, is one of the featured guests in this discussion.

True/False is quickly becoming a routine stop on the film festival circuit, and its popularity justly matches its acclaim. The documentary emphasis places True/False in a special category of film festivals; the crowd in attendance includes enthusiastic filmmakers and cinephiles that seek truth through real-world subjects. This mutual appreciation for intimate portraits and forward thinking brings festival goers together as a unique, progressive community.

Videos courtesy of youtube.com

Vaginas connect cultures, end violence

Vagina.

I know, it’s a scary word, right? But why? Why are we all scared of a body part? Think of how bizarre it would be if people reacted the same way to the word “elbow” as they do to the word “vagina.” The funniest part to me is that even women are afraid of the word. It seems as though every time I say the word “vagina,” I’m given a startled look/blush followed by a “shh!” and by biological WOMEN: humans who have and see and touch and are connected to their own vagina every day. It’s sad that some women have this sort of “vagina-shame”, but it’s not their fault, really. It is the society we were all born into.

There are strong social constructs that cause words like “vagina” to be taboo. Luckily, there are people worldwide deconstructing these constructs and dismantling the oppressive systems that control our daily lives and dialogues. One such woman is Eve Ensler.

Eve Ensler, photo from vday.org

Eve Ensler is a feminist, activist, and playwright queen. Her best known play is “The Vagina Monologues,” written in 1996. The play is a collection of monologues that tell stories or experiences of a woman or multiple women. These monologues range from funny and uplifting stories about body positivity, women loving or discovering their own vaginas, love, menstruation, and, in contrast, incredibly heavy and raw stories of sexual violence, female genital mutilation, and abuse.

The first time I saw “The Vagina Monologues” was almost exactly a year ago today. The production was hyped all over campus, especially in the social justice organizations I was in. I was a freshman in college (at the University of Missouri) and I had no idea what “The Vagina Monologues” was, but I went because what’s more intriguing than a play all about vaginas???

Photo courtesy of MU Vagina Monologues

 

It was incredible. I laughed and cried and I was shaken by how important stories can be. In the two hour span of the show I learned more about women’s bodies, cultural customs of women, intimate partner violence, and feminine experience than I ever could have imagined. My sentiment after watching the production was something along the lines of “Wow. I have a vagina. And I rock!”

Now, one year later, I am preparing to perform in “The Vagina Monologues.” I knew before joining the cast that “The Vagina Monologues” was a production to raise money for local organizations to help end violence against women and girls, BUT I didn’t know that it was an actual international movement.

V-Day movement logo, photo from vday.org

 “The Vagina Monologues” is only a part in the V-Day movement, a movement that creates events and performances to raise money and awareness for violence against women and girls including rape, sex slavery, incest, and genital mutilation. The V-Day movement and “The Vagina Monologues” are an international movement that is increasingly spreading across the world. The production of “The Vagina Monologues” has been translated into over 48 languages and performed in over 140 countries. In Brussels in 2012, nine members of the European Parliament even  performed “The Vagina Monologues” as well as danced on February 14th to help raise awareness of the V-Day movement.

A crucial role in being a part of “The Vagina Monologues” cast is education and awareness of women’s issues and body positivity (loving your body as it is). Being a part of the production and getting to hear various monologues really reinforces the importance of storytelling and human experience. Women are treated differently and oppressed differently in each culture. The monologues give a heart-wrenching sneak-peak into the lives and truth of women’s experiences. Not only that, but the monologues provide a unique perspective of women’s lives in various cultures and parts of the world.

Throughout the process of being a performer of “The Vagina Monologues,” I have become one with my monologue.  I will be reading from the monologue called “The Vagina Workshop,” which is about a woman who discovers and falls in love with her vagina in a workshop. It’s truly inspiring to me how one woman’s story could hold so much weight and meaning into my life. What’s more, I think of how many women have also been affected by the same monologue throughout the years of thousands and performances, and it’s astonishing.

These monologues don’t just hold value for those watching and/or listening, they hold the same, if not more, for those performing. I am forever changed because of my experience of seeing and being in the production of “The Vagina Monologues.”

And that is something to blog about.

Berlin School Films: Counterculture in Film

Flickr/Tekke

Flickr/Tekke

Last winter I came to the brilliant conclusion that I would take a 4000 level Film Studies course in the Spring. One might say oh that sounds like fun, what do you know about film studies? Not a thing, but since it is a course on German cinema it is relevant to my studies. There was definitely a learning curve on the film studies part, but after taking the class I can say I have gained a new perspective in viewing films.

Flickr/MorBCN

Flickr/MorBCN

The professor warned us at the beginning of the semester that the second half of the class would be focused on Berlin School Films, and that these were difficult to watch. If I had to use one word to describe the Berlin School style of film making, it would be counterculture. These films were indeed difficult to watch, but not because of gore, violence, or ideology. These films were so hard to watch because of the nothing they most often showed. The Berlin School is more of a school of thought than it is a school, but many of the directors that are categorized into the Berlin School style attended the German Film and Television Academy Berlin (DFFB).

Bungalow

Bungalow

The Berlin School Films that I saw during the class were Bungalow directed by Ulrich Köhler, Milchwald (This Very Moment) by Christoph Hochhäusler, Yella and Barbara both by Christian Petzold, Sehnsucht (Longing) by Valeska Grisebach, and Der Räuber (The Robber) by Benjamin Heisenberg.

Aesthetics

Flickr/Jonathan Kos-Read

One of the major things the Berlin School Films focus on is aesthetics, and the sounds and images in the films are meticulously planned. The films are known for long camera shots, weird camera angles, lack of non-diegetic sounds, lack of a typical storyline, ambiguous endings, focus on the negative space, unattached characters, focus on landscapes, and ambiguous images.

This Very Moment

This Very Moment

Milchwald, Sehnsucht, and Barbara are all loosely based on other stories. Milchwald is considered to resemble Hansel and Gretel, and is a story about a step-mother who loses her husband’s children. It follows the timelines of the lonely step-mother, and that of the children trying to get back home. Sehnsucht is a Romeo and Juliet type story, and at the end a scene is shown of children discussing the tale and relating it to Romeo and Juliet. The movie is about a man who is struggling with the love for his wife and his mistress, although he is not really attached to one or the other. Barbara is considered to be Petzold’s remake of the award winning The Lives of Others, a movie about life in East Germany before the fall of the wall.

Flickr/muckster

Flickr/muckster

My favorite movie from this genre of films is Yella. The first time I watched this film I was not very impressed. A plus for the movie was that it stepped out of the Berlin School norm and had a storyline. Yella is a film that deals with the East-West issues in Germany after unification. It follows the tale of a women who leaves her life, in what was formerly East Germany, to find success. I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone that might not have seen it yet, so that is all I’ll say on the plot. This movie definitely has to be viewed more than once or twice to fully appreciate it though. There are many minor nuances in the movie that might be difficult to catch on the first viewing. Petzold’s focus on aesthetics in this film is almost unbelievable. The depth he went to in creating this film is quite amazing. He focuses on such little details, that in some cases have so much meaning, and that is what makes this film so intriguing.

Movie Poster

Thimfilm and Zorro Film

If anyone out there is brave enough to venture into the world of Berlin School Films, I would highly Film Posterrecommend watching Yella first. I would also recommend Barbara and Der Räuber. Although this style of film can seem rather boring at first, these three films follow a storyline, which make them easier to follow. Like Yella these movies often require more than one viewing to understand the meanings. Also, when approaching this genre the viewer will have to step out of the world of Hollywood cinema. A great thing about the Berlin School Films is that they make the viewer have to come to their own conclusions, instead of leading them in a single intended direction. Their are many more movies that fit into the Berlin School genre, but of the ones I discussed, I would not recommend Bungalow or Sehnsucht. To me these films go along with no purpose, and the main characters are painfully unattached from the world. These are typical traits of Berlin School style, but in my opinion these movies are just “l’art pour l’art” (art for art’s sake). Go forth though, if you dare, and make your own opinions on these films. They open the mind and offer a different viewing experience, than that which we know in Hollywood.

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“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Delivers

Even if you don’t know the names of actors, you will certainly recognize many faces in The Grand Budapest Hotel, which premiered February 6th at the Berlin International Film Festival and made its way to the US in March. In Wes Anderson’s latest film, the director/writer loads up on familiar faces once again, including big names like Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, and Edward Norton, just to name a few. Having big-name casts in Wes’s previous films did not always translate into a successful movie, though. This time, however, the quirky Wes Anderson pulls it all together. Check out the picture of the cast and see how many actors you recognize.

gbh

 The ‘Budapest’, filmed in Germany, mainly takes place in 1930s Europe on the brink of World War II. Anderson based his film on the works of Jewish novelist Stefan Zweig, who fled Austria when Hitler came to power in 1934. Anderson never portrays soldiers as Nazis with the “SS” emblem; rather, he cleverly replaces it with “ZZ”. The film does not focus explicitly on the brutal effects of war. Instead, Anderson seems to focus on the civility that remained within the Grand Budapest Hotel before the war. Here’s a profound quote from the movie: “You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, f*** it.”

In some dream within a dream, within a dream Inception fashion, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a story, within a story, within another story, but don’t worry, it’s not nearly as mind-bending as Inception. In short, the story follows M. Gustave H., the hotel concierge, and his quest for the rightful ownership of a painting bequeathed to him by a frequent visitor at the Grand Budapest Hotel. Along the way, Gustave is wrongly accused of murder, escapes from prison, flees from the police, and more in Anderson’s love-story, detective comedy.

the-grand-budapest-hotel-uk-quad-poster

Visually, The Grand Budapest Hotel is gorgeous. The attention to detail and colorful sets capture a distinctly nostalgic feel. The movie’s soundtrack, composed by Alexandre Desplat, lends itself perfectly to the classical, charming environment. Structurally, I have to say that this is Wes Anderson’s best work. Unlike some of his previous works, ‘Budapest’ moves along seamlessly and lacks the sluggishness of some of his other works (I’m looking at you, The Life Aquatic). The cast has so many famous actors that Anderson has to limit certain actors to meager roles. I wished some actors, especially Owen Wilson and Bill Murray, received more than cameo roles, but every actor’s appearance brought a smile to my face and garnered an audible, “Ah, I can’t believe he/she is in it this, too!” from the audience. Anderson’s witty dialogue reads like a well-written novel and provides hilarious one-liners.

The Grand Budapest Hotel won’t have you pondering the meaning of life or anything like that; the movie doesn’t intend to delve too far beneath its surface. ‘Budapest’ does what it set out to do: entertain with memorable characters and spectacular visuals. I give it an 8.5 out of 10.

Banlieue 13: Ultimatum

The Only Sequel That Should Ever Have Been Made

Out of all the movies I’ve seen in my life, there has never been a sequel I liked more than the original.

I may have liked the third movie better than the original, but never the second movie. Sequels always seemed forced to me. Why did they have to create another story when the first one ended so nicely?

That was before I saw Banlieue 13: Ultimatum, the sequel to Banlieue 13.

Banlieue 13: Ultimatum

Banlieue 13 is French and translates to District 13. It is set in the future during a time when a district of Paris becomes too violent and is walled off from the rest of the city. Inside the walls of District 13 crime is everywhere, and even the police cannot create order. A drug lord named Taha controls everything.

The first movie sets up the conflict between the separate worlds through the two main characters. Leïto, played by David Belle, was born inside District 13 and is fighting to stop crime with his bare hands. From outside the walls of District 13, Captain Damien Tomaso, played by Cyril Raffaelli, is also fighting to stop crime, but on the side of the police.

In Banlieue 13: Ultimatum, District 13 is now under attack by five different gangs fighting for control of the district. Something happens and it seems like one of the gangs killed some police officers without provocation. This quickly escalates and the President of France is forced to make a drastic decision on whether or not to wipe out District 13 for good. You’ll have to watch to find out what happens.

The second film did a much better job of showing the interactions between the different groups and the city outside the segregated District 13. It showed nuances of how people deal differently with conflict and what can happen if there is no order in a society. This makes the story line more intricate and separates it from your typical action movie.

Besides a storyline that has more depth to it than most movies in its genre, the Banlieue 13 series incorporates Parkour, an extreme sport that only uses the human body, partially invented by one of the stars, David Belle. The term Parkour, comes from the French word Parcours, which means course.

The idea of Parkour is to get from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible. To do this, you use the momentum of your body and the obstacles around you. Check out this awesome example to get an idea of what it looks like in action.

You can see how David Belle utilizes walls, stairs and anything around him to give him momentum and get him to where he wants to go.

These movies were written and produced by Luc Besson, a French director, writer, and producer. He’s worked on films including Taken, Taxi, The Transporter and The Fifth Element.  Besson comes from an interesting background with little knowledge of “classic films” or formal cinematographic schooling. He was denied from French Film school after citing “Scorsese, Spielberg and Milos Forman” as his favorite directors. The blog, Film Art Point writes,

Considered by some as the most American of French film directors; his films are stylish modern society insight, often dealing with contemporary themes – absence of family, frequent violence and unusual emotional relations; his childlike heroes come from social margins or imagined worlds.

You can tell these are Luc Besson films due to the visual style, high action, and interesting take on our expectations of the characters’ motivations.

If you enjoy fast paced action, an interesting storyline, and don’t mind reading subtitles then you should check out the Banlieue 13 movies. You can watch them on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Feel free to comment to let me know if you liked Banlieue 13, or the sequel Banlieue 13: Ultimatum better.

A Film to Make You Stop and Think

Scarlett Johnasson’s most serious film to date is currently running its course in art house cinemas across the country. While some have criticised Under The Skin as being boring or not giving enough answers, I found it kept me on the edge of my seat and caused me to truly think once it was over.

If you already plan on seeing the film, please pause here and continue reading after you’ve seen it, as I do not want to sway your opinion. Also, there is a rape scene in the film, so do consider this your trigger warning. If you don’t plan on seeing it, let me tell you what it’s about, so the next time you’re having coffee with some intellectuals, you can pretend you saw a real horror film. Or maybe you’ll want to see it for yourself. The film is based on the book, by the same title, written by Michael Faber.

In Under The Skin, Johansson plays a strange woman who drives around a Scottish city in a cargo van all day pretending to be lost until she finds a man with few personal relationships, lures him back to her house which her sexuality, and traps him in a black murky pool where he slowly dies, after undressing to have sex with her.

Johansson’s character, who by the way, is unnamed in the film, seems to have an alien perspective of humanity. Throughout the film she is followed by a man on a motor cycle who disposes of evidence that the men Johansson’s character preys on even existed.

One of the men being trapped by Johansson.

One of the men being trapped by Johansson.

The turning point in the film comes when Johansson preys on a disfigured young man who has never even had a girlfriend. After trapping her in the black pool like the other men, a sense of reluctance and reflection overcomes her and she sets him free, only to be killed by the motor cyclist. Johansson, in the meantime, runs away, presumably to avoid being killed by the motor cyclist. Her identity as an alien being is perpetuated to the viewer when she chokes and spits out a bite of chocolate cake at a restaurant. She’s then taken in by a man she meets on a bus, but runs into the forrest after he tries to have sex with her. What follows is an attempted rape of Johansson’s character, who we then discover is not actually human. Or is she?

Johansson in the woods in Scotland

Johansson in the woods in Scotland

In reflecting on the film, I found a great deal of meaning in it; more than any film I’ve seen in several years (and I see about 100 films per year). On surface it’s a weird, if not horrific film, whose soundtrack and plot are almost on par with Kubrick’s The Shining. But dig deep and the film tells us what it means to be human. The first half of the film illustrates, specifically to men, what it’s like to be raped. The second half then shows how women are treated like objects by men in our society. The end, as well as a handful of moments throughout the film, show us how anyone can be made to feel alien and question their own identity.

If you did see the film and are still confused on the plot, Alex Jones actually explains it pretty well (despite seemingly like a Rush Limbaugh style commentator):

iO9’s Charlie Jane Anders blogged about her interview with director Jonathan Glazer. Apparently the public scenes of the film were really shot in public and secretly so that people wouldn’t notice. While the men Johansson did abduct were actors, there were interactions with men she didn’t abduct, and Glazer said those were surprisingly hard to get:

“Scarlett Johansson pulls up, [and] in you get… some were suspicious. Some were wary. Some were frightened. You see a whole range of complexity of how men do respond to that scenario.”

Anna Beddeley blogging for the UK site The Spectator makes a good point about how certain aspects of the film are hard to follow:

“In the film, Scarlett tricks the men back to her house on the promise of sex, and does a striptease while her victim unknowingly wades into a dark pool. It is very stylised and lovely to watch, but you have no idea what the point of it all is, apart from an excuse to see Scarlett’s bum. There is a fine line between ambiguity and laziness.”

I, however, disagree with Beddeley’s assertion that Glazer is being lazy with the ambiguity. As I stated earlier, I think the film is meant to make you think about the role women play in society. It is not meant to make you think about sexy aliens coming to eat you, which is why Glazer takes that detail out of the film.

Staplerfahrer Klaus – A Film Review

Germans are stereotypically known for their coldness and lack of emotion – specifically a complete inability to feel humor or partake in any sort of amusement.  The Germans do this entirely intentionally and for good reason. How else should they be capable of such economic success? Or such technical and industrial prowess? They combine their clinical practicality with efficient training. The German film industry has been harnessed to become an effective tool for training the German worker to be safely productive.

One such film has gained widespread notoriety for its realistic portrayal of a specific profession – forklift driving. Staplerfahrer Klaus – Der erste Arbeitstag is such an effective training film that it has won numerous awards including: Best Short at the German Film Critics Association Awards, First Prize at the Day of the German Short Film, Best Short Film at Fantasia Film Festival, as well as Audience Award for Best Short Film and Special Prize of the European Broadcasters Jury at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film (although safety should be no fantasy), and more.

In the interest of promoting public safety, it has been made freely available on the internet (with English subtitles!):

Klaus is a Gabelstaplerfahrer [fork+stacker+driver] who is new to his profession. Astute English-speaking readers will note that the English noun “stapler” describes a tool used for stacking together papers in the same way that the German verb “stapeln” and its associated noun “der Stapler” describe a the action of stacking items in general, as well as the tool  or entity used for such a purpose. “Gabel” and “fork” do not share any etymological ties due to their differing ancestry in High German and Latin respectively. “Gabelstaplerfahrer” is shortened within the title of the film to “Staplerfahrer” [only stacker+driver] for the purposes of brevity.

While on the job, he encounters a number of situations which are used to demonstrate the safe operation of forklifts to viewers. These situations include the correct use of lanes to avoid accidents, securing loads correctly to prevent damages due to falling objects, and the operation of forklift equipment around pedestrians in an industrial setting.

The film manages to convey all the necessary safety information required for prudent forklift operation in its short, eight minute length. The actors’ performances are compelling, and they ensure that the film’s training content is conveyed in a professional and businesslike manner. One reviewer calls it “klasse”, German for “brilliant” and stemming from the Latin “classis.” (The English word “brilliant” comes from the Greek “βήρυλλος”, but this goes back much farther via Sanskrit “वैडूर्य,” [pronounced “vaidurya“] to Dravidian, and comes ultimately from the name of the city Velur – which is now modern day Belur.) There is a Facebook page for the film, as well as a fanclub, and even a page for our friend Klaus, if you find yourself interested!

More information can also be found at the film’s IMDB page.

History Redux Indeed

If you haven’t read Rachel Alvord’s interview with Dagmar Bazzoni, you can do so here. Bazzoni was born in Austria in 1943 and has some very interesting thoughts on World War 2 and Putin to share. I read through it a few times and the Putin-to-Hitler comparisons reminded me of a movie I saw a few years ago, The Wave (‘Die Welle’ auf Deutsch [Available on Netflix!])

Directed by Dennis Gansel, The Wave is a modern German take on a social experiment that took place in Palo Alto in 1967. Jürgen Vogel plays Herr Wenger, the German stand-in for high school teacher Ron Jones, the man behind the myth. Jones explains in his personal account:

“We were studying Nazi Germany and in the middle of a lecture I was interrupted by the question. How could the German populace claim ignorance of the slaughter of the Jewish people? How could the townspeople, railroad conductors, teachers, doctors, claim they knew nothing about concentration camps and human carnage? How can people who were neighbors and maybe even friends of the Jewish citizen say they weren’t there when it happened? It was a good question. I didn’t know the answer. In as such, as there were several months still to go in the school year and I was already at World War II, I decided to take a week and explore the question.”

The results of this experiment were astounding. Ordinary high school students transformed into the very image of fascism we all know. In the space of a week they became a close-knit secret community, fostered along by slogans like “Strength Through Discipline,” “Strength Through Community,” and “Strength Through Action.” Each day Jones pushed the students a little bit closer to a fuller manifestation of Nazi Germany. Just as the students had fully adopted this new mindset, Ron Jones / “Herr Wenger” do the unthinkable…

The Wave

Herr Wenger addresses his converts

I’ll let you explore how it ends but the crux of the story is riveting. Essentially the experiment shows how easily people can be blindly convinced into detestable acts. It also answers the question to how Germans could willfully claim ignorance of the Nazi acts or even go so far as to deny them. Jones sums up the explanation his students were reticent to believe:

“If our enactment of the Fascist mentality is complete, not one of you will ever admit to being at this final Third Wave rally. Like the Germans, you will have trouble admitting to yourself that you come this far. You will not allow your friends and parents to know that you were willing to give up individual freedom and power for the dictates of order and unseen leaders. You can’t admit to being manipulated. Being a follower. To accepting the Third Wave as a way of life. You won’t admit to participating in this madness. You will keep this day and this rally a secret. It’s a secret I shall share with you.”

 

The teacher discusses autocracy

Doesn’t Herr Wenger bear an odd resemblance to Putin?

The similarities between these movements and Putin are arguable to say the least. Our class, especially the session led by Ulrike Langer (a German news foreign correspondent) last week, and Rachel’s interview raised some discussion of Putin’s following in Russia, and this film is a great visual tool for understanding the possibilities of such a radical following.

How the Edukators Taught Me

The Edukators: Die Fetten Jahre Sind Vorbei (2004) directed by Hans Weingartner

The chances are overwhelming that you’re not Burghart Klaussner. I’m also willing to bet you’ve never come home to burglars rearranging your furniture as a form of political discourse.  In ‘The Edukators,’ a 2004 Palme d’Or nominee at the Cannes Film Festival, you can see just that in a sneakily riveting indie flick.

Two of the first German actors with whom I ever became familiar were Daniel Brühl (Private Friedrich Zöller in Inglorious Basterds) and Burghart Klaussner (from Goodbye Lenin! and Yella), and together they form a divisive duo atop this cast. Brühl plays Jan, a left-leaning revolutionary bent on sending the rich capitalists a message. He and his friend Peter (played by Stipe Erceg) break into wealthy homes and rearrange furniture before leaving notes like, “Your days of plenty are over” or simply, “You have too much money.” That second one is cheesy I know, but imagine seeing that plastered across your wall while all your furniture stands in the corner in a magnificent heap. The attack on their sense of security is the most powerful.

"You have too much money. - The Edukators"

“You have too much money. – The Edukators”

Their string of successful break-ins comes to a stop though when Hardenberg, played by the unshakable Burghart Klaussner, catches them in the act. The plot turns noticeably darker in this scene when Jan has to incapacitate Hardenberg until they figure out their next step.

Jule and Hardenberg meet again.

Jule and Hardenberg meet again.

I’ll leave some plot to the imagination, but what follows is the crux of the film, as the Edukators and Hardenberg have a series of long, in-depth conversations about the differences between the rich and poor in a capitalist society, something to which all Germans had to adjust following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Much like a lot of recent literature, the film tells of a struggle to maintain one’s identity in a changing world.

Jan and Hardenberg realize their similarities.

Jan and Hardenberg realize their similarities.

It’s hard to see past the glaring holes in the revolutionaries’ plan, wherein they have no idea how society would function if their plans actually succeeded, but I found at the heart of the film a more important lesson.

*Spoiler Alert* (even though you’re going to keep reading anyway)

As the four protagonists live and converse in the wooded mountains of Austria, Hardenberg goes through a brief transformation where he relates his own youth to that of the Edukators. It turns out he was the spitting image of their ‘free love, anti-establishment’ ways, until he grew up and adopted capitalism in order to pay the bills. At a closer look though, I watched the characters realize that their struggle was not so important as the fact that they fought proactively to establish their identity. It’s a good message for post-Wall Germans and viewers alike, that although society may not play itself out as we’d hope, it’s nonetheless important to struggle for our own place and identity.

This place seems like a good one to find my identity...

Peter and Hardenberg discuss their takes on identity in the picturesque Austrian Alps

The final scene is a bit discouraging, as it turns out Hardenberg has re-assumed his capitalist ways, and turns the kidnappers in to the police. They’re fortunately one step ahead and have already left the country by the time the police arrive. The final note bears an ominous message that really drives home the anti-capitalist sentiment of the film: “Some people never change.”

"Some people never change."

“Manche Menschen ändern sich nie.”

The viewer is left to ponder his or her own opinions but Weingartner presents an intelligible, well-constructed argument against capitalism that at the very least makes the viewer step back and wonder, and I believe that to be a vital aspect to spinning a good yarn.

 

 

 

Check out the movie’s interactive website here and the review written by Joe Yang from ‘Foreign-Films-For-You’

All pictures courtesy of Echte Tunus from his blog.

 

Winning International Cinema’s Beauty Contest

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Photo from Janus Films

The most beautiful films are always, in my opinion, the most thought provoking and tend to only do well on the art house cinema circuit. Think films like Melancholia from the controversial director Lars Von Trier, the enchanting yet, at times depressing, Bill Cunningham New York, or the quirky Werner Herzog‘s Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The most beautiful film of this category got its due at this year’s Academy Awards where Italian director Paolo Sorrentino‘s La Grande Bellezza (English translation: The Great Beauty) won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

On the surface, the film is about Jep Gambardella, a society writer (played by Toni Servillo) turning 65 and reflecting on his lifetime living among the intellectual and powerful of the beautiful city of Rome. He considers himself the king of “the High Life” as he attends and comments on grand parties, theatre, and watches performance art. He does this while rubbing elbows with Catholic clergy, famous authors and actors, and important members of political parties. The film alternates between Jep dealing with growing old, his flashbacks to when he was young, and him doling out witty attacks on people who he believes to be utterly non-sensical.

But below the surface the film really reflects on the lines between vanity and beauty; truth and belief; honesty and reputation. The film simultaneously tells us that we need to enjoy the small (and great) beauties in life while not getting too big for our britches.

The film features the best soundtrack you’ve ever heard paired to a film. Not to mention stunning visuals of some of Rome’s lesser known features and the way the city blends with nature.  The film is full of art from sculptures, clothes, buildings, performances, writings, and plays, to a flock of flamingo’s who stop on the main character’s balcony during their migration.

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Photo from Janus Films

In December, Sorrentino sat down with the Guardian to talk about the film. He said that it was a commentary on Italian society and the film’s main character is meant to express Sorrentino’s own feelings:

“There is a precise correspondence between him and me. The way he feels about people and the heart and parties are very close to me. I am not usually a guy that goes to parties, but many of his ideas are exactly mine.”

Despite being a film that critiques Italian culture, there was much excitement in Italy when the film won its Golden Globe. La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno quoted Rome’s Mayor as saying that

“The triumph of The Great Beauty at the Golden Globes is a source of deep pride for our country and in particular Rome, portrayed in all its extraordinary charm, despite its contradictions”

There was a great blog from Serena at Transparent.com who actually polled a handful of her Italian friends who has seen the film and was kind enough to translate their answers. The answers varied from people loving the film, to being confused by it, to thinking it was overly critical of Italy. The general consensus, though; it was beautiful, but “too long!”

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Photo from Janus Films

My suggestion: make yourself a dry gin martini or grab a crisp bottle of Chardonnay and make an evening out of watching the most beautiful film you’ll ever see. Whether you buy Sorrentino’s critique of Italy or not, you’ll definitely end the evening with a sense of cinematic satisfaction.

The Great Beauty can be streamed from Amazon or downloaded on iTunes. Though if you have the opportunity to see it at a theatre, it is an absolute MUST.