Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wednesday at EUFF - Day 7

Wednesday, November 10, 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


6:00 PM

Heaven’s Heart (2008)


Original Title: Himlens Hjärta

Country: Sweden

Category: Drama

Director: Simon Staho

Principal Cast: Mikael Persbrandt, Lena Endre, Maria Lundqvist.


Awards: 2009 – Guldbagge Awards: Best Supporting Actress

Length: 95 mins


Lars and Susanna have been married for twenty years. They love each other dearly and together they have created a secure, happy life with well-paid jobs, a large house, two cars and a daughter who is about to move away from home. Life has turned out just as happily and comfortably for Susanna’s best friend Ann and her husband Ulf, who will also shortly be celebrating their twentieth wedding anniversary. One evening when the two couples are having dinner together, Susanna tells the others about an adulterous colleague. The story provokes strong reactions that cause a dramatic showdown among the two couples - and turns their lives and marriages upside down.long time ago: respect, pride, self-confidence, and a renewed zest for life. A stripped down, four character chamber drama that ventures into familiar territory with a decidedly cool head, Simon Staho’s Heaven’s Heart details a marital breakup with nuance and insight. Focusing entirely on two middle-aged, married couples as they confront adulterous impulses, the film begins with an extended dinner party sequence that firmly sets both the tone and the plot. Very quickly, the austere, minimalist world of Heaven’s Heart becomes a battleground over the meaning of marriage.

    Initially the film recalls Scenes From a Marriage, as it dissects its characters’ slow decline as they move from the point where they seem made for each other to the point where you marvel that they’ve managed to stay together for years. Here, though, existential concerns are so downplayed that comparisons to Bergman aren’t especially apt. More accurately, Heaven’s Heart feels like Liv Ullman’s Faithless. No particularly weighty themes are present to distract from the topic at hand. Instead Staho opts to recount the dissolution of the marriage in exacting detail, focusing on minute psychological shifts and moral betrayals.



7:45 PM

Lisbon Story  (1994)


Original Title: Lisbon Story

Country: Germany

Category: Documentary

Director: Wim Wenders

Principal Cast : Rüdiger Vogler, Patrick Bauchau, Teresa Salgueiro, Manuel de Oliveira, Vasco Sequeira, Ricardo Colares.

Length : 105 mins


The director Friedrich Monroe has trouble with finishing a silent black and white movie about the Portuguese capital, Lisbon. He calls his friend, the sound engineer Phillip Winter, for help. As Winter arrives in Lisbon weeks later, Monroe has disappeared but has left the unfinished film behind. Winter decides to stay because he is fascinated by the city and the Portuguese singer Teresa, and he starts to record the sound for the film. At the same time Monroe cruises through the city with a camcorder and tries to catch unseen pictures. Later they meet and Winter convinces Monroe to finish the film.

Wikipedia: Lisbon Story is partially a sequel to Wenders' 1982 film, The State of Things. The fictitious movie director in the previous film, Friedrich Munro, reappears, again played by Patrick Bauchau. In Lisbon Story Friedrich has moved to Lisbon, Portugal (the country in which The State of Things was set). The principal character, Philip Winter (Rüdiger Vogler), a sound engineer, receives a postcard invitation from Friedrich to come to Lisbon to record sounds of the capital city for one of his films. This sets in motion a mysterious Wendersian quest. Lisbon Story features performance of Madredeus, an internationally famous Portuguese folk music group, and a cameo by Manoel de Oliveira, who by this point was already the oldest living active film director.

9:45 PM

Little Girl Blue (2007)


Original Title: Tajnosti

Country: Czech Republic

Category: Drama comedy

Director: Alice Nellis

Principal Cast: Iva Bittová, Karel Roden, Martha Issová, Ivan Franěk, Miloslav König.

Awards: 2008 - Golden Kingfisher; Pilsen Film Festival: Best Film

2008 - Bronze Rosa Camuna

2009 - won three Czech Lions for Best Czech Film

            Best Cinematography (Ramūnas Greičius)

Length: 93 mins


Julie’s got it all: a well-behaved daughter, an attractive lover and the work as a translator that she does for her own enjoyment since she is supported by her successful and nurturing husband. When furnishing her dream home, however, she comes to the realization that there is something desperately lacking: a piano. Thus she leaves the security of her daily routine – on a seemingly senseless pilgrimage with a painful dilemma lurking at its end. At stake are the past and the future of her real relationships and values.

Plays again Wednesday night!

Ceskatelevize: Julie, a translator, has just moved into a new house with her successful husband Richard and teenage daughter Cecilie. Their life is supposed to be that of the perfect happy family. When she hears that her favourite singer has died Julie has the sudden realization that her life is not what she wants it to be. Acting on an impulse she decides to buy a piano, and en route her life changes completely. But first she has to resolve her past and present if she is to start the new life she desires.

In this film about the various shapes of love, the role of Julie is an acting comeback for the singer and violin player Iva Bittova. Alice Nellis' previous film Some Secrets garnered international acclaim and awards, including The New Director's Prize at San Sebastian (2002), The Golden Ard for best film at the Paris Film Festival (2003), and the Czech Golden Lion for best screenplay (2003).






More on:


Heaven’s Heart (2008)

Sweden, Drama


Variety, Alissa Simon:

Two bourgeois Swedish couples find a dinner-party discussion about adultery leads to serious repercussions in Danish drector Simon Staho's Heaven's Heart. Intense four-hander with an all-star cast plays like an update of Ingmar Bergman's Scenes From a Marriage, laced with Harold Pinter's Betrayal and a soupcon of Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Raw emotion, fearless performances and stylized cinematography, with tightly framed closeups of the characters talking directly to the audience, mark film as prime festival fare.


At their divorce hearing, Lars (Mikael Persbrandt) and Susanna (Lena Endre) sit, somewhat shell-shocked, in front of an offscreen judge (Ingemar Carlehed). Yarn then flashes back nine months, as the couple welcomes their married friends Ulf (Jakob Eklund) and Ann (Maria Lundqvist) to their home for dinner.


As the women prepare the meal, the men discuss their sex lives. Neither has been unfaithful to his wife in nearly 20 years of marriage; Ulf admits to thinking about it, while Lars denies ever having entertained the thought. In the kitchen, the women share a similar conversation, with Ann confessing she no longer wants to sleep with her husband.


Over dinner, talk turns to Lars' doctor colleague, who left his wife and children for a much younger woman. The needling dialogue (penned by Staho and longtime writing partner Peter Asmussen) hits a nerve middle-aged couples will relate to: What's more important, passion or security? When Susanna and Ulf defend the man, their surprised partners feel a sliver of fear that unruly passion might one day disrupt their own relationships.

Playing out over a series of kitchen conversations, living-room confessions, contrasting bedroom scenes and progressively tense dinners, the couples' relationships become increasingly fraught with lies and hypocrisy. Discovery of the erring partners' betrayal is inevitable, but the suspense of when and how it will come about makes for compelling viewing.


Working with Staho for a fourth time, the excellent Persbrandt embodies a sensitive, almost milquetoast character quite unlike anything he's essayed before.


Spitfire Endre, seemingly without makeup, brings out every nuance of a woman who knows her worth and feels the pain of being doubly deceived. Lundqvist has more trouble shading her role, but Eklund is entirely convincing.  



Lisbon Story  (1994)

Germany/ Portugal, Drama/ Music.


Deep Focus, Bryant Frazer: "Film soundman travels to Portugal to add soundtrack to silent film, finds director has vanished, wanders streets with mic and tape deck, chases mosquito, listens to music, talks to children, expounds on the nature of cinema."


And that, in a nutshell, is Lisbon Story, the 1994 film from director Wim Wenders, who cut his teeth as one standard bearer of the "new German cinema" that flourished in the 1970s and early 1980s. The film is so low-key that in an arid summer of things that go pop, bang, rumble and woosh, it's absolutely refreshing on its own terms.


Wenders regular Rudiger Vogler plays Philip Winter, seen in the first reel driving across Europe to help salvage a film that his director friend Friedrich has been shooting in Lisbon with an old hand-cranked silent film camera. On his arrival at Friedrich's house, Philip finds not the director but instead a passle of children carrying video cameras everywhere they go. He also stumbles across a recording session by Portuguese group Madredeus (playing themselves), who are also contributing to the unfinished film. Philip spends much of his time hunched over a Movieola looking at Friedrich's raw footage and then hitting the streets to record ambient sound on location. Back at the house, he sleeps in Friedrich's bed and reads animatedly to himself from the director's library of books (notably poetry by Lisbon native Fernando Pessoa).


It's sort of a sequel to Wenders' 1983 The State of Things (which starred Bauchau as a director named Friedrich who traveled to Los Angeles to hunt down his producer), but it shares thematic elements with 1991's Until the End of the World (in which Vogler portrayed a private investigator also named Philip Winter). Like The State of Things, Lisbon Story is a personal examination of the filmmaking process. And like Until the End of the World, it's an affirmation of the power of the film image (equated, I believe, with imagination, or "dreams") and a refutation of the seductive idea that video images -- the ultimate "verite," perhaps -- can somehow show us truth. When Winter catches up with Friedrich, he finds that his director friend has lost the faith, discarding his movie camera in favor of a fleet of video cameras that record candid pictures of the city at nominal cost, and that can therefore be deployed at random to capture a "pure" image, unspoiled from being looked upon by human eyes. It then falls on Winter to mount an amiable defense of the act of filmmaking itself, lest Friedrich be forever lost to the world of cinema.

Wenders' wide-eyed fascination with locations continues -- Lisbon Story is a mesmerizing portrait of the Portuguese capital, just as Wings of Desire memorialized a divided Berlin, or Paris, Texas showed us the American west through a European's eyes. There's something hypnotic about Wenders' directorial style, and especially his way with imagery. No matter how trite his dialogue, or how strained his situations, it's enough to simply gaze upon a Wenders film, and I can gaze over and over again.


The script, however, could have used some work. Wenders had the help of a poet, Peter Handke, when crafting his still-gorgeous Wings of Desire. (The less said about purported non-sequel Faraway, So Close, the better.) Australian novelist Peter Carey was on-hand to help make something resembling a narrative out of the sprawling and problematic Until the End of the World. But on Lisbon Story, Wenders is the sole credited screenwriter, and it seems that his dialogue suffers accordingly. For example, when Philip takes a house key from the lovely singer from Madredeus, he asks her, "Is this the key to your heart, as well?" It's charming in part because it's clumsy, but it's unbecoming of a film that's mostly assured in its imagery and purpose. A certain heavy-handedness is on display in long scenes where Philip stretches out in bed, leafing through Friedrich's books and carrying on an imaginary conversation with him. Later, his characters embark on an all-too-literal discussion of the nature of moving images. All in all, Lisbon Story too often violates the cherished literary rule of "show, don't tell." Wenders could hardly be more sincere, or more likable, but the dime-store film theory is unnecessary in a movie that works best when it's least aware of itself.



Little Girl Blue / Tajnosti (2007) Over the past few years, Czech filmmakers seem to be making films about relationships. There is an obvious move away from  social and political themes, even in comparison with the films of the 1990s. Tajnosti deals with what seems to be a banal topic of marital infidelity, with the theme of boredom in a relationship between husband and wife who used to be close to each other. Yet the film seems quite exceptional – because of the way in which the director has approached her narrative. There is a subtle and effective coordination of the actors´ performances, camera, editing and music. As a result, the film is really absorbing: there are scenes of absolute magic.

Tajnosti takes place in a modern, cosmopolitan Prague in the second half of the 2000s. First, the film creates the impression that the director deliberately builds up an image of an Americanised, contemporary Western metropolis (viz. the images of  busy motorways, modern architecture, hectic city life).  In a way, Tajnosti  is an almost “unCzech”. It is an international, cosmopolitan film. The director may be arguing that almost twenty years after the fall of communism her country has lost its subtler national characteristics. This certainly seems to be the case when we look at the Czech Republic  from the point of view of upper middle class life which the film depicts. It almost feels that this could be a French film.


Julie, a middle-aged wife of a rich businessman, realises that her life has no meaning. The heroine is played by the well-known Czech singer   Iva Bittová. She has created a convincing portrait of a shy, polite woman who tends to avoid attention and who keeps her emotions in check. She would probably want to scream, although, as an intelligent person she is aware that that would solve nothing. Julie´s husband seems to be  a workaholic, but he is, in fact, being unfaithful to his wife. For many months, there is no close contact between Julie and her husband. It is very similar with Julie´s relationship to her matter-of-fact, sensible seventeen-year-old daughter who still lives with her parents, but she has her own life. The husband and the daughter are used to the fact that the wife is very self-effacing. When one morning  she sees on television that the American jazz singer  Nina Simone has died, she is suddenly struck by an awareness of mortality. Julie remembers how as a child, she played the piano, and says at breakfast that she wants to buy one. Her husband and her daughter look at her as though she has gone mad.


This is almost the whole story of the film. Tajnosti hardly tells you anything else. The film just sensitively follows the behaviour of the heroine who is trying to deal with an unpleasant feeling that life is passing her by. She feels, although she cannot express this in words, that things are not right. It is only when relationships which used to function in the past break down that you realise that things which used to seem simple are in reality much more complex and maybe they are unmanageable. And one keeps making mistakes: "I wish I didn´t need to feel ashamed," complains Julie tearfully to a young musician friend at the end of the film.  Julie was always taken for granted in the past. She fulfilled the stereotypical role of housewife and mother. In the film, we see her awakening as an independent human being.

The heroine is trying to set her life right because it feels out of joint. The desire to purchase a piano is the expression of a – vague – wish to to return clarity, satisfaction and self-esteem.


Right at the beginning of the film Julie tells her lover, an actor named Karel, that she doesn´t want to see him any more. She is unhappy with a relationship on the side. She doesn´t tell him that she is pregnant, although Karel would have welcomed the news: he wants her to leave her husband and live with him.

Nothing else seems to be happening in the film – yet everything takes place there. When trying to purchase her piano, Julie makes the acquaintance of a young talented pianist, who has inherited a shop selling musical instruments from his grandfather and, as he says, has brought it to ruin in three months. (Later on, the young man appears to cast doubt on this statement, so we do not really know what bothers him.  His problems seem to be complex. This is what makes the film interesting. Julie and the young  musician become very close. This is because they seem to have the same  inarticulate quarrel with the world.  The scenes with Julie and the young musicians are very moving.


Just when Julie is about to admit to her husband that she has been unfaithful to him, he is the one who admits to her that he has had a sexual relationship with his secretary. He says he feels guilty and doesn´t know what to do. Yet the husband is no typical Czech male chauvinist pig – after his confession, he goes out of his way to make it up to Julie. There are several well-meaning attempts of the protagonists to become emotionally close. This may or may not work in the end – the film remains open-ended. What is certain is that Julie has emancipated herself – she will never again assume the role of a subordinate wife.  The husband has purchased a new, fancy high-tech flat; yet Julie moves back to their old flat, where she gives instructions that her new piano should be delivered. Her husband comes into the old flat with bags full of food, wanting to make dinner. Julie gives him the untrasound scan of her unborn child.  This is – or isn´t it? an admission of infidelity on her part. It is not clear whether the child is her husband´s or Karel´s. It is not clear whether Julie will have an  abortion and whether she will return to her husband.


Alice Nellis concentrates on human relationships. She shows all the good things that a family experiences when the children are small. She confronts the happy past with the unsatisfactory present – and gives a sensitive testimony about the human condition, without even the hint of a happy end.


Prague is shown in this film to be an affluent, pleasant, picturesque and comfortable metropolis because it is viewed from the point of view of the upper middle classes for whom money is no object. It looks as though Prague is now practically owned by these people – money can buy them anything. Hostility of passers-by seems to be the only remaining feature of contemporary Czech society. Almost everyone in the film is aggressive to any person they meet. Later, this hostility may turn into friendship and compassion, but the hostile attitude to everyone around seems to be the automatic attitude. The only person who is not automatically suspicious of his environment is the down-and-out on the tram who, in a friendly gesture warns Julie that a ticket inspector is about to pounce on her. Maybe, the film argues, that the down-and-out is a down-and-out because he is wary of people around him and is not capable of defending his own interests by assuming that everyone is against him.


The city of Prague, as it is depicted in this film, is extremely lively. Things are going on everywhere around Julie. She is just passively witnessing them, driving around in her car. They are in contrast with her own life with seems barren. Julie´s vision of the city she lives in is of course subjective, as is everyone´s vision. This is shown  when Julie takes a taxi and the lady taxi driver says that her dog had died and since then she keeps  seeing people going out with dogs everywhere –as the film then demonstrates.


Unlike in the films made in the communist era, the feeling that things are no right does not stem from social conditions, but comes from within the individual. Stylised dance becomes a metaphor for alienation – whenever Julie watches life passing by.

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