Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Note: Times have been revised to reflect the EU’s current thinking, but based on past experience, you might be wise to give each time after the first film of the evening an additional 10 or 20 minutes earlier starting time.
Title/Original Title/Country/Category/Director/Length/Festival Synopsis/My Comments
Original Title: Tréfa
Director: Péter Gárdos
Principal Cast : Tamás Lengyel, Lóránd Váta.
Awards: 2009 - Budapest Hungarian Film Week
Best Director: Péter Gárdos
2009 - Ourense International Independent Film Festival, Special Mention
Length: 94 mins
It is 1912. In a small town's parish school run by priests, the pupils are overcome by a strangely overwhelming rowdiness, leading them to come up with outrageous pranks. The school welcomes a new teacher, Father Weigl, who is aghast at his colleagues' liberal approach to the excessively bad behavior of the teenage pupils. Father Zoltán, the former master, pays less and less attention to the events taking place all around him. His younger brother, deafened in a boxing match, was on his way to Boston for surgery at Father Zoltán's urging. The brother was aboard the Titanic, which collided with an iceberg. The official report on the injured and casualties is yet to be released.
Thomat: I found it an ugly film badly plotted. A case study to prove that no human being should be placed in complete control of another human being, because the worst in human nature is sure to come out.
All Movie Guide, Mark Deming: Doubt and discipline run headlong into one another in this period drama from Hungarian director Péter Gárdos. It's 1912, war looms on the horizon, and Father Zoltán, a priest who is one of the masters at a boy's boarding school, is struggling with doubt as he questions his faith. Zoltán is also edgy as he waits to learn if his brother, who was a passenger on the Titanic, died during the ship's disastrous maiden voyage. Zoltán is dealing with an especially troublesome group of new students, many of whom have become fond of playing practical jokes on one another as well as the staff, with misfit classmate Szebeni receiving more than his share of abuse. Father Weigl is a new member of the faculty who has been hired to teach physical education; Weigl is a stern taskmaster who tolerates no disrespect from the boys, and when he decides that the mischief at the school has gone too far, he deals with his charges with an iron hand. However, Weigl's determination to punish the youngsters goes too far, with disturbing consequences. Tréfa (aka Prank) received its North American premiere at the 2009 Chicago International Film Festival.
Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl (2009)
Original Title: Singularidades de uma Rapariga Loura
Category: Comedy drama
Director: Manoel de Oliveira
Principle Cast: Ricardo trepa, Catarina Wallenstein, Díogo Dória, Júlia Buísel, Leonor Silveira, Filipe Vargas, Miguel Seabra, Rogério Samora.
Length: 64 mins
Portuguese elder statesman Manoel de Oliveira has been making films since 1931. The 101-year-old’s latest is a comic miniature on the perils of old-fashioned courtship. Delivered as an irate remembrance from the seat of a train, the story describes the lengths to which pretty boy Marcário goes to woo the sultry maiden who throws him come-hither looks from a window opposite his office. Devoting himself to winning her, in the face of obstacles financial, familial, and practical, he finally achieves his goal, only to discover an unexpected "singularity" of his fiancée’s character.
UK Telegraph, Time Robey: You’ve got to admire the sheer stamina of the 101-year-old Portuguese auteur Manoel de Oliveira, here adapting a short story by his compatriot Eça de Queiroz.
This is very visibly an old man’s film — the camera barely moves, and conversations unfold with characters sitting right next to each other, to minimise shooting and editing. The effect is disconcerting, sometimes intentionally so.
Ricardo Trêpa stars as a young accountant whose infatuation with the girl across the street (Catarina Wallenstein) brings about his ruin.
It’s a curious, elliptical little film about people cocooned in their own romantic notions: at barely over an hour, the lethargic pace is easy to live with.
Draft Dodgers / Réfractaire (2009)
Original Title: Réfractaire
Category: Historical drama
Director: Nicolas Steil
Principle Cast: Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, Thierry van Werveke, Marianne Basler, Swann Arlaud, Carlo Brandt
Length: 100 mins
François is 21 years old and lives in Luxembourg, which has just been annexed by Nazi Germany. His father, who has collaborated with the Nazi regime, forces him to attend a German university. François decides to commit his first act of disobedience, however, and leaves the institution that teaches racial hatred. But now he faces a fateful decision: should he allow himself to be pressed into the army in order to fight the Allies on the Russian front, or should he hide as a deserter in a mine, where he will spend long months in the cold and damp without light or sun?
IMDb synopsis: May 1944. A young man just out of college returns to his hometown in Luxembourg. Refusing to fight on the German side, he chooses a clandestine life and joins other deserters in an abandoned mine.
Luxembourg's official submission to 82nd Academy Award's Foreign Language film in 2010.
Director, Péter Gárdos: The key inspiration came from the atmosphere of the novella itself. The daunting, claustrophobic mood that Kosztolanyi used to portray the everyday life of the small town priest-led boarding school. Prank basically originates from the same period as The Confusions of Young Torless by Musil (This is one of my favourite novels).
I could also mention a series of other great works from that age including School at the Frontier by Geza Ottlik or Lord of the Flies by Golding. These works were more of less written around the same subject matter, namely children, adolescents, almost adults finding themselves in extreme circumstances. As a result of the tremendous pressure they are put under, most adolescent children, their social behavior and human dynamics start working in a very new and different way. There is a completely new set of rules. We realized why we are so much intrigued by the whole subject of Kosztolanyi's novella. We believe he actually planted a seed for the world literature with his Trefa resulting in numerous pieces on the topic. Not to mention the fact that certain current incidents in Hungary actually made our mission almost embarrassingly contemporary considering all the recent and growing number of adolescent violence in schools. Including unfortunate homicides. Without a doubt, these above mentioned episodes have their own society-related explanations open for analysis. Nevertheless, they also share a deep-rooted common psychological motivation that had to be just as much present in schools one hundred years ago as it is now, these modern days. With our movie we set off in hopes of exposing and explaining the psychological reasons and motivation behind such events.
The Hungarian Quarterly: Péter Gárdos refrains from giving a direct answer, but the depiction of the boys given by the first 90 minutes of Prank shows them as sometimes nasty, but still likeable. On the other hand it is glaringly obvious what sort of insolence is growing inside them. The boy characters are acted magnificently. Especially well done are the three children we see most of: the shy top-of- the-class student, the dissolute card sharp and the sentimental adventurer. Gárdos would be unable to deny his affection for them and his knack for working with them. The opening shots of the first day of the school year—displays of well-scrubbed knees, socks already slipping down legs, trousers held up with string, freckles, games of stone-paper-scissors, feverish anticipation—show that Gárdos is on the boys’ side, against the teaching staff. And there is no straight path that leads from the shining eyes and enthusiasm on the faces of the good teachers (which does not hold the boys back from wishing clouts around the ears for the same teachers), from brave manifestations of solidarity and a sense of justice, even from the customary japes and leg-pulling stunts (shoelaces tied together, hidden spectacles, a bucket of cold water balanced on the door) to sadistic torture and bloody violence. One simply has to accept that we do not have answers for everything; we cannot understand everything, particularly about ourselves.
Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl / Singularidades de uma Rapariga Loura (2009)
Portugal/ Spain/ France, Drama/ Romance. Generally favorable reviews: 72 out of 100
Parallax View: At over one hundred years old, Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliviera is the world’s oldest active filmmaker, and the last twenty years have not only been his most prolific period, but his most artistically satisfying. This miniature of a feature film, based on a short story by Eça de Queirós, is an almost abstract tale of obsessive love, enormous personal sacrifice and an almost capricious twist of irrational emotional reflex. Ricardo Trêpa stars as the young man who tells his story to a stranger on a train: the odyssey of an unambitious accountant smitten with a young beauty (Catarina Wallenstein) who lives across the street from his office window. Forbidden by his uncle to marry, he sets out to make his fortune and win her hand. It’s kind of like a grown-up fairy tale with a deadpan humor and a wry irony.
For all the dialogue (it’s framed as a kind of confession told to a stranger on a train) it has the patience of a silent film, with long, still shots observing the characters until they reveal themselves through the smallest of telling action or the slightest emotional reaction to ripple across their face. Cinema’s grand old director has become a master of miniatures and this is a perfectly executed short story, slight yet delightfully told with minimalist direction and imagery and a very European sensibility.
Ozus’ World, Dennis Schwartz: The 100-year-old prolific Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira ("Oporto of my Childhood"/"The Uncertainty Principle"/"A Talking Picture") latest is a bizarre arty film that like a Buñuel film plays with our sensibilities in odd ways. In this case, the playful director tells us to be wary of blind love. It's based on a story by Portugal's great 19th century realist writer Eça de Queiroz, who died in 1900.
A nervous, well-dressed, handsome young man from Lisbon, Marcário (Ricardo Trêpa, de Oliveira's grandson), is on a long train ride to the coastal town of Algarve and decides to pass the time by telling the obliging stranger sitting next to him (Leonor Silveira, the director's longtime muse) his tale of woe and why he's in such an agitated state that his haughty benefactor Uncle Francisco (Diogo Doria) sent him away on a vacation. In flashback we hear that Marcário works in his Uncle Francisco's downtown upscale fabric store as an accountant. While working in the upstairs office one day, Marcário spots by the open window from an apartment building across the street a sultry young blonde named Luisa (Catarina Wallenstein). She is fanning herself with an exotic Chinese fan, which excites his imagination. The accountant manages to get a mutual acquaintance to introduce him to Luisa at the salon of a wealthy notary. Marcário courts the enigmatic beauty and asks his uncle permission to marry her. Permission is not granted and the suitor is angrily told that if he marries her he will lose his job and be disinherited.
The earnest but foolish lad chooses to ask the temptress to marry him anyway, but can't get work and therefore holds off the wedding until he gets out of his financial mess. Desperate to get money, Marcário takes some kind of unnamed risky business proposition to fly to the volcanic islands in faraway Cape Verde in the hopes of raising enough money to be on his own. When after a series of adventures that has Marcário lose the fortune he gained in Cape Verde, the uncle softens his position towards his nephew and the marriage is about to take place. But the couple go shopping for a wedding ring, and Marcário discovers his bride-to-be is a compulsive shoplifter and ditches her.
It's a mesmerizing, charming and disturbing morality tale of doomed love, where the pompous romantic protagonist is longing for love with a beautiful woman he does not know at all and will suffer dearly from unrequited love because his passions blind him to reality.
Oliveira throws out warnings about love at first sight, as he shows the inexperienced young man has no clue on how to distinguish lust from love.
It's a beautifully crafted visual film that for the sake of art throws in a harp recital of a Debussy arabesque (courtesy of Ana Paula Miranda) and the reading of the Portuguese poet Pessoa's poem by the actor Luís Miguel Cintra at the notary's salon, along with the symbolic meanings of a lost poker chip during a poker game and someone upset about losing their hat. Oliveira playfully blends together art and commerce, showing how the world is driven by money-making, theft and foolish notions (as the eccentricities of the title comes about from society, as well as from the blonde-haired girl). It's a timeless film that's grounded in the formalities of the past and its bustling modern times seem oddly archaic, giving the film an out of this world look. It strangely takes us on a voyeuristic ride through the director's rarefied world and shows us a stark Lisbon that could be framed like a Georges de La Tour painting.
Draft Dodger / Réfractaire (2009)
Luxembourg/ Switzerland, Drama
When the Nazis annex Luxembourg, François must make a choice: either be conscripted and fight the Allies on the Russian front, or become a draft dodger living underground. This gritty psychological drama depicts a world in which his fascist father and shackled nation are weapons in a war for his identity.
The Director, Nicholas Steil: I have often asked myself what choices I would have made in wartime.
It is more comfortable to see oneself as a hero than as a collaborator or even as a torturer. I think you have to answer this question with a lot of humility and that a good part of it depends on the aforementioned equation.
I happen to be from a small, young country not even 2 centuries old, where the Second World War triggered a lot of dilemmas. Luxembourg was annexed by Germany and became an integral part of the Reich. This dark period of history nearly generated a depersonalization of Luxembourg.
The Resistance in Luxembourg became really effective and efficient from the moment where the Nazis made the mistake to attack its youth and thus any sign of hope. A large number of young Luxembourgers were 'forcibly enrolled' and sent to the Russian front. They only had two choices: shoot the Allies or desert at their own risk, hiding until the end of the war. Those who chose the latter option became 'draft dodgers' by the established order, accepting the underlying risks.
The Resistance organized hideouts that varied from dropped ceilings to church towers and especially parts of iron-mines that weren't worked in anymore. Another concern was that the close family of draft dodgers were systematically deported.... A real dilemma where they were stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea without any hope of getting out.
So this is the question that is put to the audience: what would you have done if you were this young man whose basic equation is admittedly complex but unites negative as well as positive elements. Coming from a difficult family background, the main character is looking for his identity as he is at risk of being objectified, just like the whole country. The choices that he will make are going to enable his change and what you could call a heroic behavior, using this tarnished word in the most cautious way possible.
I would like the audience to join young François on this initiatory trip so they can follow his emotions and his evolution very closely. In this context, the mise-en-scène will give priority to a mix of subjective vistas (i.e. the camera sees through the eyes of François) and vistas that are in perspective, which will allow us to 'elevate' ourselves enough to analyze the course of things.
The symbolism of the imprisonment which represents this troubled time and the need for the characters to choose between two evils is embodied here by the following:
• the mine that will be organic, the tunnels that run through it, being the blood vessels that carry or shelter the human beings who are fighting for their future;
• the cellar of the old distillery, a magical haven of pleasure but also a hellhole where fear is taking over;
• the night that reflects the Manichean forces at work through the expressionist aspect it confers on human beings and on things.
It is not only an imprisonment of the body but also of the spirit. Unfortunately, in François' case, he will only be able to free his spirit and his body will be sacrificed to war and its madness.