Truth on Film: Columbia’s True/False Festival

March 5-8, 2015. Photo from

March 5-8, 2015. Logo from

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

Berlin School Films: Counterculture in Film



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.



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).



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.


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.



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.


 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.


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.

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.

12: Modern Day Russian Propaganda or a Cultural Exposé?

Nikita Mikhalkov’s 12 (2007) is a Russian film in which a group of 12 jurors must decide the fate of an 18-year old Chechen boy (Apti Magamaev) accused of murdering his Russian stepfather, a military officer. The film, an adaptation of Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957), holds much of the same characteristics as the latter: each of the 12 men come in with their own biases and prejudices and must come to a unanimous decision before being allowed to leave the room. In 12, however, the men aren’t stuffed into a cramped juror room; instead, the jurors are placed in a dilapidated school gymnasium that’s conveniently near the courthouse. The crumbling state of the gym is meant to symbolize Russia’s crumbling and failing infrastructure.

Like the film’s older cousin, 11 men immediately come to the conclusion that the boy is guilty (without viewing or attempting to debunk any of the prosecution’s evidence) and one man, not knowing whether the boy is truly guilty or not, votes not guilty because he realizes that this is someone’s life they have in their hands and they need to ponder more about their decision before they decide to convict him.


The film’s cover, courtesy of IMDB

In the film, the twelve men represent the different types of Russian men–there’s the racist and anti-Semitic cabbie, a surgeon from the Caucasus, a Harvard-educated television producer, an elderly Jewish intellectual, a musician, a cemetery manager, and others. Each of them share a bit from their personal lives with the group, thus allowing the viewer to understand more about them as a person. Throughout the film, we get bits and pieces of the Chechen boy’s war-torn life–from him growing up with his mother and father and learning the art of the lezginka (a traditional Chechen dance) to attempting to survive in an abandoned basement alone after his family was murdered.

The movie is highly emotional and keeps you planted in your seat right from the start. Each man tells his own sad tale: one shares how he blames himself for his son’s suicide, another tells the men how his business scams the mourning families of the deceased out of thousands of Rubles, etc. These intertwine with the boy’s story, even though we barely hear him actually speak throughout the whole film.

Structurally, the film is spectacular. The actors’ performances are mesmerizing and the cinematography is beautiful.

However, I do have one huge issue with this film: it completely misrepresents Russian-Chechen relations and is undoubtedly “Pro-Putin.”

It seems extremely likely to me that the beginning of the film would have been the same in real life–that is, that 11/12 of the men deemed the boy guilty from the very start just because he is a Chechen. It comes as no surprise that the cabbie regards the boy as  “a stinking Chechen dog.” However, *spoiler alert* the men slowly debunk the prosecution’s evidence and unanimously decide that the boy is not guilty. But, knowing that the boy will most likely die as soon as he gets out of jail because he will go looking for his stepfather’s murderer, one of the jurors wants to keep him in jail in order to keep the boy alive.

After discussing this with the rest of the jurors, this same man decides that he will help the boy by basically adopting him. He waits for the boy outside of the jail and tells him that he will help him find whoever killed his stepfather.

This is highly unrealistic.


Along with directing and co-writing the film, Nikita Mikhalkov (center) is also the head juror that ends up adopting the boy in the end

Russians and Chechens have long had their problems with each other and Mikhalkov’s portrayal of the kind and open-minded Russians is simply impractical. Tensions between the two cultures are still high and many Russians are still very racist toward Chechens.

That didn’t stop Russians and film critics worldwide from eating this film up. 12 has a 78% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes from the critics and an 84% approval rating from the viewers. Even Putin said that the film “brought a tear to the eye.”

Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman even marks the film as “heavy-handed.”

With that being said, I think Mikhalkov touches on a lot of contemporary Russian issues (example: pointing out the crumbling Russian infrastructure).

I think it would do the film an injustice to fully praise it or condemn it. Regardless of the perhaps too forgiving portrayal of Russians, Mikhalkov perfectly exposes Russian stereotypes and shows the viewers a side to Russia that many never get to experience for themselves (let alone know even existed).

Additionally, regardless of the negative things I’ve said about the film, it is one that I’ve had in my possession for about 4 years and one that I watch fairly regularly, especially if I want to get a good cry in.




The Island: Unique, Yet Strangely Familiar

The Monastery

The Monastery where most of the action of “The Island” takes place.

Pavel Lungin’s The Island or in Russian: Oстров (2006) is the tale of a Russian holy man named Anatoly (Petyr Mamonov) who works as the stoker at a monastery on an unidentified and barren Northern Russian coast.  The movie begins with Anatoly and his commanding officer Tikhon (younger version played by Aleksei Zelensky) working aboard a Soviet coal barge during World War II.  The Germans capture their ship and give Anatoly two options: either shoot his commander or be shot.  In a fit of cowardice Anatoly shoots Tikhon, who falls overboard.  The Nazis then leave Anatoly to die on a nearby island, but a small cloister of monks rescue him and he lives with them for the remainder of the movie.

Thirty years later Anatoly has converted and still lives with the monks, but does not live in the prescribed monastic lifestyle.  He sleeps in the coal, never bathes, and constantly works with laypeople from around the region – giving prophecies, healing people, and performing exorcisms.  Despite this, his guilty conscience consumes him, driving him nearly to madness and forcing him to row out and pray alone on an abandoned island near the monastery.

While this does not seem like a recipe for excitement: with just a single setting, muted colors, dim lighting, and several middle aged men living together, the film manages to combine an intense psychological drama with a truly inspiring story of faith and forgiveness into a masterpiece of cinema.  Indeed, the film has won several  awards including “Best film” at the 2006 Moscow Premiere festival, “Best film” at the 2007 Chinese Golden Eagle Awards, and “Best picture” at Russia’s most prestigious award ceremony, the Nika Awards in 2007.

Petyr Mamonov

Petyr Mamonov as Father Anatoly

Of course, the film has some highly religious themes and seems to really resonate with Christians of all denominations including this Catholic blogger, The Rad Trad, who praises the film’s portrayal of a “fool for Christ”; however, I believe the film’s brilliance lies in the universality of its message and the outstanding performances of the actors.  Petyr Mamonov (a truly remarkable artist, here is a good article about him) provides a blend of ridiculous humor and serious dialogue in his performance as Father Anatoly, without which the film likely would not have worked at all.  Supporting actors include Viktor Sukhorukov and Dmitrii Diuzhev, famous for their roles in the Russian gangster films Brother (1997) and Brother 2 (2000).

The Island presents all the ironies of the nominally atheist Soviet state along with those of Christianity in a way which any viewer can understand, and does it all without dragging the plot or getting too preachy.  I highly recommend it even to those who don’t know Russian, its subtle beauty and award winning performances by the actors are well worth seeing for anyone.  Best of all, the film can be found with English subtitles for free on Youtube.




Throwback Thursday: Mädchen in Uniform

If The Police had been around a few decades earlier, their hit “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” would have made an excellent theme song for the 1958 German-language film Mädchen in Uniform. As in the song, Mädchen in Uniform deals with a “young teacher” who’s “the subject of schoolgirl fantasies”—but with a twist. While the film’s plot does indeed involve a schoolgirl, the teacher she’s lusting after is, as it turns out, a woman.

Set in 1910 at a Prussian all-girls’ Catholic boarding school, Mädchen in Uniform—a remake of the 1931 film of the same name—is centered around the relationship that develops between new pupil Manuela and her teacher, Fräulein von Bernburg. The headmistress of the school and her cronies run a tight ship—after all, the girls are expected to grow up to be the mothers of soldiers, as our dear Senior Superior points out when her monocle-wielding sidekick says the students have been complaining of hunger. Indeed, Fräulein von Bernburg is the only teacher who shows any affection or nurturing to the students in her care. Manuela, whose mother has recently died, clings to this affection, developing an obsession with the Fräulein. One night, after having a little too much alcoholic punch at the Senior Superior’s birthday party, Manuela declares her love for von Bernburg to the rest of the school and scandal ensues . . .

I won’t spoil the ending—let’s just say the film ends on, well, not the most satisfying of notes, but certainly on a less depressing note than Loving Annabelle, Katherine Brooks’ 2006 modernized, English-language take on Mädchen in Uniform. But more on that in a minute.

Mädchen has long been hailed as a lesbian classic, and this movie is rife with homoerotic vibes. Several students have seemingly romantic relationships with one another, everyone has all the feels for von Bernburg, and none of this is presented as being at all out of the ordinary. However, while Manuela’s affections for Fräulein von Bernburg are of a romantic nature, von Bernburg’s affections for Manuela seem more maternal than anything else—and as this review of the 1931 version of the film points out, the theme of women loving women (which again, is completely normalized in the film) seems to actually be secondary to the film’s overarching commentary on the expression/repression of emotion and affection.Loving Annabelle

Which brings me back to Loving Annabelle. Although it gets its basic storyline from Mädchen, it places far more emphasis on the theme of sexual identity—specifically, the navigating of same-sex desires in a hetero-normative environment. In this case, the feelings between Simone, the teacher, and her student, Annabelle, are mutual and decidedly sexual. (As After Ellen’s review of the film points out, though, the sexual relationship between Simone and Annabelle brings up the issue of Annabelle’s age—although we don’t know exactly how old she is, she’s definitely a teenager and possibly still underage.)

All in all, if you’re in the market for a good queer film, both movies have their merits. Mädchen in Uniform offsets Manuela’s plight with lots of comic relief (the students are all kinds of hilarious, and did I mention there’s a monocle? Just beware, the English subtitles are not always the most accurate). Loving Annabelle is very sensual, but brace yourself for all the long, anguished gazes of inward turmoil and torturous lust.

*At the time of this posting, both Loving Annabelle and the 1958 version of Mädchen in Uniform are available on Netflix, and the 1931 version can be found on the YouTube. For my German-speaking readers out there, you can find a cool German-language comparison of both film versions and the book (yes, there’s a book!) here and a German-language review of Loving Annabelle here.

Femen in Film

Featured at Columbia’s very own True/False Film Fest this past weekend, Kitty Green’s recent documentary Ukraine is Not a Brothel  interviews the people behind the feminist protest group Femen. Originally based in Ukraine, Femen has gained international notoriety for the fact that its members protest with their messages displayed on their breasts. (Insert obligatory NSFW warning for the trailer below here.)

It might surprise you to know that Femen’s protest methods were once quite orthodox, and their original protests were aimed at the prostitution and trafficking of Ukrainian women (hence the title of the film). In the film, members explain that nobody paid attention to their message when they protested conventionally, but everybody paid attention when they started painting it on their breasts. They also see toplessness as a way of protesting the exploitation of the female body, an explanation that many people find contradictory and/or incompatible with feminist principles  (in fact, blogger Mona Chollet  of Le Monde diplomatique refers to their brand of feminism as “fast-food feminism“).


It might also surprise you to know that one of the original masterminds behind Femen is a man. His name is Viktor Svyatski, and his interview in the film is, er, interesting, to say the least—he comes across as both exploitative and yet oddly aware of the ironic nature of his (former) role as “patriarch” of the group. Inna Shevchenko of Femen France reveals that she moved the group’s base from Ukraine to France two years ago in part to loosen Femen from his control and in part to avoid political persecution in Ukraine.

Going back to the subject of the True/False festival, Inna Shevchenko actually appeared in person for a Q&A with director Kitty Green after the screening that I attended. Unfortunately, I was only able to stay a few minutes before having to run to catch another film, but I did see them walking by on the street later (my one and only claim to fame). If you were in the same boat as me and/or want to find out more about how the documentary was filmed, I highly suggest checking out this interview of Green from the British website Female First.

For more information on Femen’s mission in the group’s own words, check out their English-language website here or their (now-defunct, but still potentially interesting) Russian-language blog here. If you haven’t seen Ukraine is Not a Brothel (or if you have and are interested in something that runs along the same vein), I also recommend taking a look at “The femen phenomenon” by Reuters blogger Gleb Garanich.



French Cinema Delivers Again…Or Does It?

There seems to be a surplus of great French movies these days, and guess what… I have one more!

Rust and Bone, or its French title, De Rouille et d’os, is about an unlikely couple who fall in love after Ali, a Belgian fighter (Matthais Schoenaerts) moves himself and his son in with his sister.  Along the way, he meets Stephanie (Marion Coutillard), a Killer Whale trainer, and the two fall in love.  The plot takes a tear-jerking turn after a tragic accident causes Stephanie to lose both of her legs, which in turn only enhances the amour the two have for each other.

Sounds like a good movie to me and audiences appear to have the same reaction:








Three of many positive receptions of “Rust and Bone” via Twitter.










The film even took away the “best film” prize at the London Film Festival.  Tack that up on France’s recent slew of cinema accolades.

Hold up!  What’s this?




Two tweets calling for a Boycott of “Rust and Bones” for animal rights purposes via Twitter.









Boycott?  How can a film that will be nominated for an Oscar be boycotted?

It’s a little confusing to me why someone would boycott a fictional movie, but doing some good ol’ fashioned research led me right to the heart of the problem.  It appears that animal rights organizations such as Animal Defenders International (ADI) believe that filming confined Killer Whales translates to condoning their captivity as stated by ADI’s chief executive, Jan Creamer:

We are dismayed that the director, Jacques Audiard, gave his approval to the incarceration of orcas by using performing animals in the film.

Valid point, Ms. Creamer, but does a boycott of this film accomplish some goal?  For me, when I think of the word “boycott” juxtaposed with the word “film,” it brings back memories of my high school days when firebrand Christians protested  The Da Vinci Code. Boycotts like these don’t deter me from seeing the film.  Whether or not I choose to investigate more about the issues surrounding film controversies, the snubbing of a it makes me want to see the movie all the more.

But just to clear my conscience (I am an animal lover, by the way) I chose to dive deeper into my search.  According to SeaWorld, hunting and harassing Killer Whales is illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).  Under this Act I found the following section to be particularly interesting:

The MMPA does allow for certain exceptions: native subsistence hunting; taking marine mammals for research, education, and public display; and taking restricted numbers of marine mammals incidentally in the course of fishing operations.

Okay, I understand native subsistence hunting, research, education, but the fourth criterion, “public display,” is a little unsettling to me.  I can understand how captive marine mammals for the sole purposes of human entertainment would cause Jan Creamer and other animal rights activists to see red.  Even Marion Coutillard expressed a discomfort with interacting with the detained dolphins:

I’ve always had a repulsion going in a place where animals are in captivity.

Like I said, the whole situation makes me a bit uncomfortable, which makes the whole boycotting issue a bit difficult.  Here are some other opinions from an article in The Telegraph:


Responses concerning animal rights issues in “Rust and Bone” via The Telegraph.






















These people bring up some reasonable points, but does this film still have a glimmer of hope left in it?  Yes.  Yes it does.

Rust and Bone seemed to resonate with at least one individual on a profound level.  Stuart Holt, from the Limbless Association, was interviewed by The Guardian about how well Coutillard embodied an individual who has lost a limb.  As an amputee, he believes the film and Coutillard did an excellent job depicting the emotional turmoil that follows an amputation.

Based entirely off of the receptions of its audiences, there seems to be a lot of hope in this film.  It has only been available for American viewership since the 2nd of November, but I can guarantee that I will see it soon.  I know, perhaps I am a terrible person for wanting to watch a movie with captive Killer Whales, but Stuart Holt’s personal anecdote makes up for at least some of my folly.  Oh, as well as the constant high remarks coming in from Twitter.  Check out what people are saying when you search “Rust and Bone” on Twitter.  You’ll probably want to see it too.


France at The Oscars

There’s no bigger red-carpet event than The Oscars. The celebrities, the paparazzi, the gowns – it is the annual apex of all things Hollywood. However, this year, Hollywood should brace itself for a bit of a French invasion because some of the biggest films of 2011 feature this other red, white and blue country. Although the official nominees won’t be announced until January 24 (the Oscar ceremony is on February 26), the following four films are giving France a leading role on the predicted playbill.

The Artist Although the beautiful, black and white film is set in old Hollywood, the  star French director and actors are making this film one of the most talked about films of the year both in France and the U.S. Jean DuJardin (who is NOT dead, as rumors earlier this year suggested) won Best Actor at Cannes for his leading male role in the film, and the director, Michel Hazanavius, is married to the leading lady, Berenice Bejo. The film is about the decline of male film star in light of a rising actress, and even though it is silent, tout le monde is talking about The Artist.

Hugo Who would have thought that Martin Scorsese, the film king of intensely human drama, would ever produce something in animation? Well, he did, 3D and all, and it’s causing quite a stir. Based on Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the action-packed, fantastical film follows a young boy’s adventures through a train station in Paris in the 1930s. Big-name stars such as Jude Law and Sacha Baron Cohen have lent their voices to the project, and despite its PG, takeyourkidstothismovie rating, it has received rave reviews. The New York Times said, “There is something poignant and paradoxical about Mr. Scorsese’s honoring a film pioneer in digital (and in 3-D, no less), yet these moving pictures belong to the same land of dreams that Méliès once explored, left for a time and entered once again through the love of the audience.” Looks like Scorsese added another masterpiece to his list.

War Horse In Steven Spielberg’s newest flick, he combines a few of the most popular movie categories – horse movie, war drama and love story – into one super-film of epic proportions. A young man’s horse gets shipped to France in WWI, so he hops across the pond and enters the war-stricken territory, too. Apparently, it’s an incredibly compelling tale; you won’t be able to judge for yourself until the film hits theaters on Christmas Day.

Midnight in Paris Woody Allen likes to travel. He’s recently branched away from his usual setting of NYC and made films in Barcelona and London, but in his latest – and one of his all-time greatest – films, he focuses his lenses on the streets of Paris. With an all-star cast of Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Kurt Fuller, the film jumps tirelessly between modern day Paris and the city as it was in the roaring 20s. The likes of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway come to life for Owen Wilson’s quirky, confused character, as he time travels back to the dimly lit bars and glamorous dance halls of Montmarte in its bohemian glory. As humorous as it is visually captivating, Paris has never performed better than under the direction of Woody.

Here’s a question to ponder: after all of the ill-feelings the U.S. has had toward France in recent years (for instance, the “Freedom Fries” debacle), what does it say about our culture that France is now making a big splash in one of our most popular forms of entertainment? Is popular culture becoming a means of diplomacy? Will Americans be forever fascinated by French culture?

Here’s a less thought-provoking question: which French-centric flick is worthy of a trophy? Only time will time. In the meantime, sit back, relax, and enjoy some of France’s finest on the big screen.

Bringing Bollywood To Berlin

“I’m just happy to be in Berlin. I love it. If you told me to stand up on a tourist bus and dance, I would do it.”

So says Shah Rukh Khan, India’s most popular living celebrity export. “King Khan”, as he is lovingly known, is an Indian actor whose main stage is the Bollywood scene in India. Yes, that is Bollywood, but don’t go looking to the hills of India for a BOLLYWOOD sign. Based in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, Bollywood is the umbrella term used to describe the entertainment industry that produces Indian radio programs, films, theater productions and media. In a nutshell, Bollywood is the Hollywood of India. Bollywood films are narratively on par with western and Hollywood produced films, yet there are a few differences. The first and most obvious difference is the amount of singing and dancing in Bollywood productions.

The second is the melodramatic and emotional tone of many of the Bollywood productions. This is not to say that Hollywood produced films or western films do not contain high emotional narratives. Indeed, because of the amount of whimsy and singing and dancing in Indian films, it has been argued that western films are more realistic because of their reliance on a more serious approach to film and to character portrayal. However, Bollywood films do focus on very serious emotional struggles between their characters, i.e. a father tells his son “Tum mera baita nahi hai! (You are not my son)” and lightning crashes outside. You might think western audiences wouldn’t care for this brand of film-making, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Indian director and producer Yash Chopra had this to say about the German premiere of his movie Veer Zara (A Love Legend):

“I was worried that Germans wouldn’t hang around for three and a half hours; that they would be bored and walk out. But everybody stayed till the end and had tears in their eyes, they were so moved. Such is the power of emotions.” source:

It seems that Germans are drawn to the style of Bollywood films because they are a far cry stylistically from the films that are being produced in Germany and the rest of Europe. Bollywood films make no apologies about their obvious use of sound and situation and lighting to produce an emotional affect on the audience. When you think of obvious plot twists or over-the-top scenarios, you probably think of cheaply made science fiction movies or D-grade horror flicks.

Shah Rukh Khan, Bringing The World Of India To You ©

Germans – and Russians also, I found out from a friend – like Bollywood films. Maybe it is because Germans are typically seen as cold, or standoffish, or rudely stalwart that they have been so taken with the whimsical charm of Bollywood films? Or maybe it’s because of Shah Rukh Khan’s washboard abs? Either way, Europeans want to see Bollywood flicks. But the popularity of Bollywood films in Europe is maintained and nurtured mostly by the non-resident Indians who have moved to Europe and Germany looking for jobs and opportunities. Theaters premiere high-budget Bollywood films, and satellite networks beam Bollywood across Europe from India without missing a beat, or note.

Either way, Bollywood has sung and danced its way into the European mainstream on the heels of non-resident Indians living in Europe. We’ll have to wait and see if “King Khan” can continue to satisfy Europe with his next film DON-2, which has begun filming in Berlin.

[ Note: I wanted to call attention to the idea of the celebrity status of Khan presenting Bollywood to the rest of the world. The famous Bollywood style of Indian film-making has been around for decades, yet it is Khan and his films that have become the reflex for most Europeans when thinking about Bollywood films. Hence, his mug (dashing, isn’t it?) appearing numerous times in this article. ]

Press PLAY


Studying a foreign language can sometimes make you feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle.  Sifting through endless lists of vocabulary, reading lengthy paragraphs out loud, and, if you’re learning German, trying to pronounce a succession of words that all read like “onomatopoeia-expialidocious.”  An integral part of learning a new language is to immerse yourself in hearing the language. For instance, listening to how someone annunciates their words helps you understand the difference between please step aside and move!

If you’re not so keen on listening to either Podcasts or news broadcasts in a foreign language, there is a solution: watching foreign films.  Films with dialogue recorded in your language of study are a great resource for hearing how that language is spoken.  Warning: DO NOT flaunt the fact that you’re only watching foreign films or listening to foreign broadcasts.  This quote, taken from the website Stuff White People Like I think pretty much sums up how “obnoxious” that kind of elitist posturing can be:

In order to reach this level of fluency and obnoxiousness, white people believe they must put themselves into a local immersion.  This means a promise to watch only Spanish language TV, listen only to Spanish language radio, read Marquez in his native tongue, and watch foreign films with the subtitles turned off.  There are some instances of white people doing this for almost a week!

Recently, I had the opportunity to revisit a German film titled Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) with my German language class. Das Leben der Anderen was released to critical acclaim in 2007, winning the Academy Award that year for Best Foreign Language Film and snagging quite a few Deutscher Filmpreis Adwards.  Personally, this is one of the best movies I have ever seen.  If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor; rent the DVD, make some tea, read up on the GDR and the Stasi, and press PLAY.  Here is the official trailer for the film to whet your appetite.

As I thought about the state of German films, I began to wonder what type of movies Germans are seeing when they go to the cinema.  It came as a slight surprise to me that a majority of the films listed for a handful of cinemas in Berlin were Hollywood blockbuster films.  I guess no matter what country you travel to, you can be sure that Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich will be there blowing things to pieces.

There is an organization named German Films Marketing + GmbH that promotes German films for worldwide viewing and distribution.  German Films, as it is known on its website, together with the Goethe-Institut, bring German films to the rest of the world.  The Goethe-Institut is an institution whose goal is to promote the learning of German around the world and to facilitate communication between Germany and other nations.  They have institutions in many countries such as Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, Serbia, Spain, Italy, and the list goes on.  German Films recently selected the film that would compete for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards on Feb. 27, 2011.  The independently appointed expert jury selected a film titled Die Fremde (When We Leave).  Trailer and short explanation below.

The jury on its decision: “WHEN WE LEAVE is an extraordinarily well written, atmospherically precise and moving film with outstanding acting performances. The film deals in a highly dramatic and subtle way with the struggle of a young German-Turkish mother for her self-determination in two value systems.”

On a local note of interest, the Ragtag Cinema in Columbia, Missouri hosts an annual screening of foreign films for two months out of the year called the Passport Series.  I recently went to the screening of the Maren Ade directed German film Alle Anderen (Everyone Else)Alle Anderen follows Gitti and Chris as they vacation in the Sardinia region of Italy.  Birgit Minichmayr, the Austrian actress who plays Gitti in Alle Anderen, won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 59th Berlin International Film Festival 2009.  Since I don’t want to give away too much, I’ll just say this: if you enjoy movies about the ups and downs of being in a relationship with someone, think  Closer or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, you should queue up Alle Anderen in your Netflix.  Check out the trailer below (I couldn’t find a trailer with English subtitles.)

And finally, maybe because I am, in fact, a “white person”, the goal of my foreign film watching experience is to be able to watch a German film without needing subtitles.  Until then, I’ll take my foreign films crisp, well-produced, and with a side of English.


Mögen Sie Filme?

Do you enjoy watching movies?  A simple question, but the follow-up question to a yes answer can lead you into a great number of situations; “What is your favorite movie?”, “Do you like French New-Wave films?”, “Do you find German Expressionist films from the 1920s pretentious?”  Some people are serious about movies, some are not.  The people who really enjoy cinema are usually very hip to film festivals that take place all over the world, and to the films that are being shown and judged.

Somebody somewhere watches movies only on reel film.

Somewhere there is a guy who only watches movies on reel film. Copyright: Flickr Creative Commons

We all have that friend who tells us about that independent movie you’ve never heard of that just won the Cannes award for Best Original Screenplay.  Film festivals have become a very important venue for independent films, as it is a first chance for many of the films to be introduced to international audiences.

I am what you may call a purveyor of films that I find interesting.  I keep my finger on the pulse to keep up with movies the best I can, and I watch films from specific time periods that typified a certain type of cinema (French New-Wave, Blaxploitation, Arthouse, etc.), but I am not a Filmcyclopedia (possibly invented word, possibly awaiting patent rights).  I did, however, become very intrigued by something I saw the other day online, and due to this, I may just spend the next few weeks of my life watching and learning all that I can about German and foreign films at the moment.  What I saw was a news headline saying that Isabella Rossellini, daughter of Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman and star of David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” and “Wild at Heart”, will be the president of the jury at the 61st Berlinale Film Festival taking place in Berlin, February 10-20, 2011!  I know what you’re thinking… Green Porno, right?  Yeah, me too.

Isabella Rossellini, Animal Lover

Isabella Rossellini, Animal Lover Copyright: Sundance Channel

There are quite a few film festivals every year: Cannes, Berlin International Film Festival, Sundance, and the annual True/False Film Festival that takes place in Columbia, Missouri every March.  Locally know as simply True/False, the festival welcomes independent and amateur documentary movies to share the silver screen with bigger name titles and other independently made movies that have been nationally recognized.  Though True/False takes place in my city of residence,  I am drawn more to the happenings of the Berlinale Festival.  First off, I am studying German culture and language, so it is a given that a German film festival would catch my eye.  Secondly, it is inspiring that this massive celebration and critique of film and film culture takes place in the bustling capital of Germany.

Here’s the plan: I am going to make a valiant attempt to watch all of the films that are contenders for awards at the Berlinale in February 2011.  Tall order of business?  Maybe, but I experience watching great films on par with having great conversation,  always worthwhile, and always better with friends.

P.S. If you’ve seen it, but you’re still reading this, thank you, but go watch Green Porno, done by the lovely Isabella Rossellini.  Oh, and it is definitely SFW (safe for work), unless you work for an exterminator… or safari hunter.

Funding World War II

And the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film of 2007 goes to…

The Counterfeiters or Die Fälscher

If you are not a fan of foreign language films, this could be your chance to open up to a new type of film genre.

Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, it was the first ever Austrian film to receive an Academy Award.

The film was based on a memoir by Adolf Burger, a Jewish typographer, who was imprisoned in 1942 for forging birth certificates to save Jews from being deported.

The movie is a fictitious account of the Nazi plan, Operation Bernhard, which was designed to flood the British Economy with counterfeited British bank notes.

The movie is based on the actual life of, Salomon Smolianoff, a Russian counterfeiter, who survived the Holocaust and was a part of Operation Bernhard. During the counterfeit operation Burger befriended Smolianoff and later based his memoirs on their time working for the Nazis. For the film, the character was renamed Salomon “Sally” Sorowitsch and was played by Austrian actor, Karl Markovics.

Opening up to new movies, especially foreign films is a great way to learn about another culture. It is very interesting to watch a movie about the Holocaust made from the accounts of real people. How are American Holocaust films different from European directed and acted films? To me the film seems more real and draws the viewer in more. This movie delivers on all levels and it can be enjoyed by anyone, even someone who prefers a more Hollywood action packed movie.

The film shows the internal struggle of a man who wants to save his own life, but knows that by doing so he is hurting others. For Sorowitsch, he knows by helping to produce the false bills he is aiding the Nazis, but by complying with their demands he can stay alive.

Including the Academy Awards, the film has won other awards in such venues as the Berlin Film Festival and the German Film Awards.

It is really refreshing to watch a movie that is simple and at the same time larger than life. Exploring European films is very exciting, and it is always fun to get away from the same old Hollywood movies

Interview with Adolf Burger