Thursday, 18 December 2014

End of the year

Over the past couple of months, life in general has conspired to stop me watching as many films as I would have liked. Luckily, I have 2 weeks off over Christmas, and I already have a few German films lined up: Goodbye, Lenin! (not exactly obscure, but very good) and two that I bought in Germany earlier this year: Jesus liebt mich (no subtitles) and Fack ju Göhte (available with subtitles).

Of the films I’ve watched this year, there were none that I truly didn’t enjoy. I did find my mind wandering during Museum Hours, but I probably wasn’t in the mood for it. I think my favourite from 2014 has to be Cherry Blossoms.

Away from the films themselves, my discovery of the year has to be German Films Quarterly. With any luck, I might have enough time over Christmas to catch up on previous issues!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Film #27: Feuchtgebiete / Wetlands

Released: 2013 
Directed by: David Wnendt 

This weekend, I watched a film that hasn’t yet been released with subtitles, but apparently will be soon. Based on the novel by Charlotte Roche (translated into English by Tim Mohr), Wetlands is definitely not for the faint-hearted. 

The plot is fairly basic: 18-year-old Helen (Carla Juri) is admitted to hospital after doing herself an intimate injury with a razor. While recovering from her operation, she becomes infatuated with one of the hospital wardens, recounts her psychologically damaging childhood and explains her philosophy on life: personal hygiene is overrated, and all sexual activities and illegal drugs are worth trying at least once. 

Accordingly, the film is very explicit in its sex, nudity and drug-taking. Having read the book a few years ago, I knew roughly what to expect. Many readers accused the book of having no literary merit and being designed simply to shock. Due to its visual nature, I personally found the film more shocking than the book. A couple of sections made me feel queasy, and one moment in particular really made me wince. 

It’s tempting to dismiss the film – as many people did the book – of merely aiming to provoke a disgusted reaction. But there are hints throughout of why Helen acts this way, and some of the scenes involving her mother are more shocking than any of her sexual proclivities. Carla Juri does a great job of conveying this blend of brashness and vulnerability. Ultimately, all this sexually confident extrovert wants is for her divorced parents to reconcile. 

Wetlands will definitely prove divisive among audiences, and I wouldn’t recommend watching it while eating, but it’s an interesting attempt at what many may have considered an unfilmable novel.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Film #26: Wer früher stirbt ist länger tot

Directed by: Marcus H. Rosenmüller
Released: 2006
English title (IMDb): Grave Decisions 
Literal translation of title: The sooner you die, the longer you’re dead 

For a slight change, this week I watched a film that is not yet available with English subtitles. And to be honest, even if you speak German, you may still need subtitles! The Bavarian dialect in this film is so strong that the only way I could understand it was by reading the “standard German”. If you can understand it, I really think this film is worth seeking out for its mix of broad comedy and tragedy.

Upon learning that his mother died giving birth to him, young Sebastian becomes obsessed with mortality – keeping his mother’s memory alive, what will happen to him when he does die and how to become immortal. Along the way, he tries to reanimate a dead rabbit, helps an old woman to fly and casts a love spell. But the amusement is punctuated by sadness – his father’s grief, the loneliness that can develop in an unhappy marriage – and genuine peril for Sebastian himself.

The film also has a strong visual element: Sebastian begins to dream of the Last Judgement as he becomes convinced that he is a murderer and his imagination takes flight. What I really liked about the film was the way it deftly combines childhood and death with a result that is heart-warming and heart-breaking in equal measure. It’s a real shame that this has not been released with English subtitles, but hopefully that will change at some point.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Film #25: The Door (15)

Directed by: Anno Saul
Released: 2009
Original title: Die Tür (The Door)

Lately all the German films I’ve been watching seem to have been quite serious, so this time I thought I’d go for something a bit more fantastical. The Door features Mads Mikkelsen as David, an artist with an eye for the ladies. Unfortunately, while he is enjoying himself with an attractive neighbour, his young daughter bangs her head and drowns.

Cut to five years later: David is a mess and he and his wife have separated. Seemingly by chance, he discovers a door to a tunnel that takes him to a parallel universe running five years behind his actual life. Coincidentally, he appears through the door at precisely the time his daughter is due to drown. After saving her life, he is confronted by his former self. So what does he do? Kill himself, of course. He quickly assumes the role of the husband he knows he should have been, but his daughter is not convinced and his wife begins to wonder when he had a personality transplant.

He soon discovers that he is not the only one to have made this transition, and the others have no desire to see their cosy little existence disrupted. Things inevitably escalate until his wife happens upon two of her friends being murdered by their doppelgängers. Ultimately, David has to decide whose happiness is more important – his or his daughter’s.

What bothered me most about this film is Mads Mikkelsen – not his performance, but trying to figure out whether he was actually speaking German or had been dubbed. I think it must have been the latter, because at times his (supposed) voice seemed completely out of sync with the movements of his mouth. This might not bother other people but it really started to annoy me. Aside from this, The Door is an enjoyable enough romp that won’t tax your brain too much, although things do get a bit ridiculous towards the end.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Film #24: Museum Hours (12)

Directed by: Jem Cohen 
Released: 2013 

My TV has finally been fixed and returned to me, so I actually have a way to watch films again! This one is only about one third German to two thirds English, but I think it still qualifies. 

Ostensibly, Museum Hours is about a Canadian woman (Mary Margaret O’Hara) who travels to Vienna when her cousin falls into a coma. Trying to fill her days, she begins to spend lots of time in the city’s art museum and befriends Johann (Bobby Sommer), one of the guards, who introduces her to the city. However, Museum Hours is not just a regular narrative, but also a travelogue and a lecture on art – sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit (one scene puts the viewer in the middle of a guest lecture in the museum). Much of the film takes place in Johann’s head, as he spends his days observing the visitors and ruminating on the meaning of art and its role in our lives. 

In fact, practically every scene in the film could be a work of art in its own right – sometimes the actors are so still that you can’t be certain whether you are looking at a painting or a scene of action. In addition, the director often follows a still of a painting with a still of the modern world. And this, I suspect, is where the film will divide the audience.  

Some people will probably hate it for stealing two hours of their life, while others will adore its quiet, contemplative observations of the beauty in the everyday world (for examples of both, have a look at the IMDb reviews). I have to admit that I found my mind drifting a couple of times, but on the whole I enjoyed it. There’s no denying that the film is beautifully shot and I found myself smiling without realising it, usually when listening to Johann’s thoughts.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Film #23: Requiem (12)

Released: 2006
Directed by: Hans-Christian Schmid

This film is (loosely) based on the story of Anneliese Michel, a German woman who died in 1976 from malnourishment and exhaustion following several dozen exorcisms. Her parents and the priests involved were charged with negligent homicide. Although the opening of Requiem clearly states that the characters are in no way based on the real people involved, it does raise some interesting questions.

Michaela (Sandra Hüller) is determined to go to university. Held back in school for medical reasons, she finally feels ready to leave, despite her mother’s determination to keep her at home. As far as she knows she is epileptic, although she knows that various doctors have given her this diagnosis simply because they have no other ideas.

At first everything seems to be going fine – she makes friends, gets a boyfriend and does well in her studies. But one day, she begins to see faces and hear voices. Coming from a deeply religious background, she is horrified when she is unable to pray or to touch a rosary or crucifix. Seeking the advice of her local priests does no good. One dismisses her story as nonsense, while the other gets it into his head that she must be possessed. Gradually, she and her parents begin to agree with him, and she agrees to undergo an exorcism. 

Sandra Hüller received several awards for her performance, and rightly so. Her character veers from gentle and quiet one minute to screaming and raving the next. What you take away from the film may depend on your religious beliefs. You could say that their faith makes Michaela and her family dismissive of the benefits of medicine and leaves no room for scientific inquiry. The film also illustrates how little was, and still is, known and understood about mental disorders. Perhaps she really is epileptic, or perhaps it is something else. The film cannot answer this, but what it can do is show the dangers of ignorance and misdiagnosis.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Subtitling or Dubbing: Any Thoughts?

I spent much of last week at the Sheffield Doc/Fest, watching some brilliant documentaries and listening to representatives from the international film and TV industry. Of all the interesting things I heard, one idea particularly stuck in my mind. At a panel session with commissioners from television channels all over the world, the suggestion was made that filmmakers should seriously consider dubbing, rather than subtitling, any foreign-language content in their work. Why? Because studies have shown that a large proportion of viewers will go online using their tablet, smartphone or computer while watching TV, and therefore won’t be able to understand what is being said because they won’t be looking at the screen.

Maybe I’m being old fashioned, but I find that a little depressing. Have our concentration spans become so short that we can’t concentrate on one thing for an hour or even 30 minutes? Granted, we are talking about television here, not cinema. Woe betide anyone who tries to play with their phone in a cinema screen if I’m there – I’m English, I know how to give a stern and disapproving look!

I know that, as a linguist, I’m probably biased. I love listening to languages I don’t understand, plus I find it incredibly distracting if the sounds coming from the screen don’t match the movements of the speaker’s mouth. When I lived in Germany and would occasionally watch UK or US films dubbed into German, I’d find myself trying to lip read the English rather than just listen to the German. But do the general public really care either way? Is it only linguists who get worked up about this sort of thing? I’d love to hear what you think!

Friday, 30 May 2014

Film #22: Cherry Blossoms (15)

Released: 2008
Directed by: Doris Dörrie
Original Title: Kirschblüten (Cherry Blossoms)

 After going so long without blogging, I feel like I should write a really long review, but – like 'Yella' (#19) – this is a film that is best viewed knowing as little as possible about the plot.

Essentially, the film is about a retirement-age couple, Rudi (Elmar Wepper) and Trudi (Hannelore Elsner) confronting their mortality, how little they know their (now adult) children and the fact that they may not be together forever. If you like your cinema fast-paced, then this is definitely not for you. If, however, you’re looking for something that is subtle, moving and a little oddball, then you should give it a try. 

Much of the film takes place in Japan, emphasising how different it is from small-town Germany and how finding yourself alone for the first time in decades can seem like a foreign country. Personally, the main thing I took away from the film was this: if there is something you desperately want to do, or somewhere you desperately want to go, then don't keep telling yourself (or let others convince you) that you have all the time in the world to do it. One day, that time will run out.