ALONE IN BERLIN ***1/2
The first image of this riveting film is a powerful anti-war message – a closeup of the innocent face of a young soldier – shot dead in battle during WWII. No blood, no mutilation, just a beautiful face of youth, cut down in its bloom. German or French – no matter – it shows simply the tragedy and futility of war.
Then the camera pans up to the sky and the swaying trees above him, which he can no longer see, somewhat reminiscent of the haunting shots of the classic Russian war film, “The Cranes are Flying”.
That is the end of a life, but the story really begins in Berlin, when the parents get an official telegram about the boy’s death. They are crushed, each in their own way, not being able to even console each other. Here is where the magnificence of Emma Thompson’s and Brendan Gleeson’s (as the German parents) understated yet deeply-felt acting takes hold of our senses. These are Oscar-worthy performances.
As they go on about their daily lives, against a background of powerful images showing the oppressive mood of the time in the capital city, an urge to retaliate for the loss grows within them, gradually bringing them closer together. For the husband has decided to convey his pain and disillusion by writing and distributing postcards to the general public. Postcards left on stairs in buildings and in public areas, urging citizens to turn against a murderous regime.
Since the cards become more numerous as weeks and months go by, the police and the Gestapo become involved in trying to find the source. This is where the always excellent German actor, Daniel Brühl (“Goodbye Lenin”, “Inglorious Bastards”) steps in as a wily police inspector. He is dedicated, persistent, but also a decent man, as this moving tale turns into a gripping cat-and-mouse game.
Vincent Perez, actor (remember him as Catherine Deneuve’s handsome lover in “Indochine”?), producer, photographer and director here, has superbly recreated the real lives of Otto and Elise Hampel, a working-class couple, adapted from the 1947 German novel by Hans Fallada, which they inspired. The cosmopolitan, German/Spanish Perez (born and raised in Lausanne) directs with authority, using muted, almost greyish light to convey the somber mood of those war years. One can see his photographer’s eye in many of the shots, while the delicacy of Alexandre Desplat’s musical score enhances the poignancy of the story.
For those who ask why not in German with German actors in the main roles, the superb duo of Thompson and Gleeson could not be surpassed, and English adds to the universality of the film’s theme, which is resistance to tyranny. It also allows this true story to transcend borders. Here is a film not to miss!
A MAN CALLED OVE (Mr. Ove) ***1/2 (vo Swedish)
How do the Nordics do it? They take stories about seemingly cold people and turn them slowly into humans who do have a heart buried somewhere deep inside them. It seems all that’s needed is a discreet script, understated acting and strong direction to find the key to those dormant emotions, often with touches of dark humour.
Easier said than done, but those Northerners have become masters of the genre, as with the hilarious Norwegian film “Kraftidioten” or the Icelandic “Of Horses and Men”, “Rams” and “Virgin Mountain”. All are superb in their treatment of crusty characters with tender souls, without descending into clichéd pathos.
This latest from Swedish director Hannes Holm is such a one – about a grumpy, self-righteous man who has lost his sunny, loving wife to cancer. He terrorizes his meticulous housing complex with strict rules, only letting his guard down during his daily conversations with his wife at her graveside.
Rolf Lassgard plays Ove’s character to perfection – crotchety, silly, amusing and heartbreaking. And the relationships that are portrayed – father/son, husband/wife, child/adult, and the neighborhood characters – are all priceless, with gentle comprehension for a troubled man. The warm, pregnant neighbor from Iran, played by Bahar Pars, is especially effective in bringing out the best in Ove.
Here is an unforgettable film that will make you chuckle with a lump in your throat.
(Showing at the Grutli in Geneva)
MADEMOISELLE (THE HANDMAIDEN) *** (vo Japanese, Korean)
Sumptuous. That’s the one word that best describes this beautifully filmed Korean tale, which is also ultra-erotic, intriguing and feminist. Simply put, it is a complicated plot set in the 1930s to cheat a young Japanese heiress of her life and wealth by two conspiring Koreans, one her sweet handmaiden, the other a fake Count, playing her suitor. But things do not evolve as planned.
The renowned Korean director Chan-wook Park (“Oldboy”) brought his latest film to Cannes where it was highly praised, picking up an award for artistic direction, plus multiple awards in various international film festivals.
Be warned, or tempted – the love scenes between the two women are quite explicit.
PARADISE – (vo Farsi)
Wrong title, of course trying to be ironic. Make sure you miss this drab, sorry tale about a sullen young Iranian woman who just wants to change jobs. The director shows Tehran in an ugly light, with scenes of nothingness and a lack of any real humanity. Iran is not like that. As a dissident, Panahi got it right in his many award-winning films, with talent, warmth and humor, completely lacking here.
Superb **** Very Good *** Good ** Mediocre * Miserable – no stars
Neptune Ravar Ingwersen reviews film extensively for publications in Switzerland. She views 4 to 8 films a week and her aim is to sort the wheat from the chaff for readers.