Vozvrashcheniye (The Return)

This is an intense story about two sons who have grown up without a father. One day their father suddenly appears, and he wants to take them with him on a short holiday to go fishing. While they are on their way, the orginal plan changes. Father has to do some kind of job somewhere, of which the details don’t become very clear. In the meantime, father teaches the boys some tough lessons of life, like always keep an eye on your belongings and stick to agreements.

But his methods are so unorthodox that you wonder what he wants to achieve, and the sons starts to hate their so-called father more and more. The climax follows on a desert island, where father has to dig up some package. Many questions are not answered, like the reasons behind his harsh lessons and why he suddenly showed up.

These matters stay vague, but the superior acting of father and sons can almost be called unique. The desolate images of the deserted landscape, the razorsharp recordings of rainshowers and the marvellous natural acting of the three protagonists keep you tightened to your seat.

Squint your eyes

This Polish director (who can be compared to the Dutch Alex van Warmerdam) has made an unusually intriguing comedy about, well about nothing actually. The story deals with an ‘unemployed man’, who lives on a big farm, where he is surrounded by other jobless people and more or less lunatics. He lives a peaceful life, filled with a drinking a lot and being lazy. Now and then he does an effort to get a job again, but bureaucracy is dominating Poland, which leads to absurd situations.
One day the ten year-old daughter of his sister comes around, asking for shelter because of conflicts at home. Her family tries everything to get her back, but without success.
A black, absurd comedy in bureaucratic Poland. The acting is very enjoyable and the film contains enough original ideas.

Rhinoceros Eyes

Aaron Woodley’s film is a bizarre fairytale about a boy named Chep. He works in a storage depot for movie attributes. One day a beautiful lady comes round to ask for some props. In the blink of an eye Chep falls in love and he begins to mix reality and fantasy. He is prepared to do anything the lady asks for, no matter how peculiar her demands may be….
This highly original story is situated somewhere between a horror tale, a comedy and a love-story. It balances on Hollywood-cliches, it contains some very good jokes and at times it is even scary, and the filming is always sharp. This movie is a recommendation for people who appreciate Donnie Darko and the work of David Cronenberg. A fresh debut of a young Canadian filmmaker.

Baise-moi

When a dvd has various words like ‘explicit’, ‘shocking’ or ‘uncensored’ on the cover, I can’t take it too serious. But I remember that it aroused some media attention too when it was showing in smaller film theatres a few years back. It’s indeed a rough film, made by two female directors. Two girls are living in a violent neighbourhood, where drugs, rape and beating up are common practices. They don’t seem to have much perspective to escape from that, nor do they try so. Bad fate brings them together and they start a wild trip. What follows is in form a classic roadmovie of two girls on the run. Perhaps this makes you think of ‘Thelma & Louise’, but ‘Natural Born Killers’ is closer to the truth.

A story of two girls with guns who act like machines. ‘Baise-moi’ is a cold and grim movie, almost devoid of feelings or morals. The girls fuck, kill and destroy for no other reason than because they can. The sex is as explicit as in a porn movie, the violence is more bloody than in a Tarantino movie. Sex and violence are constantly alternated. You wonder why this movie was made. Was it a ‘provocation’? Is it an attempt to show what people are able to when they get the chance? Anyway, popular violent movies like ‘Bad Boys’ or ‘Kill bill’ don’t seem to cause so much controversion, though they are just as bloody. It it because there is no humour in ‘Base-moi’? Because the sex scenes are so explicit (for strange reasons sex is a bigger taboo than violence)? Because the girls do their deeds without clear reasons, even with growing pleasure? Because the film leaves you with a very empty feeling?
The one thing I’m sure of is that I liked the energetic (French) music.

Good Bye, Lenin!

‘Good Bye, Lenin!’ attracted millions of Germans to the cinema. They were of course appealed by the themes taken from recent German history: the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the demise of the German Democratic Republic, the unification of the two Germany’s. These developments went very fast, and in no time complete households were westernized. Eastern German products, institutions and values were gone in the blink of an eye. In recent years feelings of nostalgia are growing. Was really everything that bad in those days? Was it a good thing to throw away all our eastern belongings and souvenirs? This movie reflects the growing ‘Ostalgia’. People from both eastern and western Germany can relate to ‘Good bye, Lenin!’, though there was also some criticism. Some people found that the sometimes bitter historical truth is covered under a blanket of sweet nostalgia.

The film by Wolfgang Becker (who also made ‘Das Leben is eine Baustelle’ – 1989) is also highly succesful in other countries that perceive the subject matter with more distance. It’s a further proof that German cinema is in a heyday period, with the success of for example Tom Tykwer (‘Lola rennt’), though far too few German movies reach the Dutch cinema’s. The combination of very comic and deeply tragic elements give ‘Good bye, Lenin!’ an universal appeal. And of course the great basic idea behind the story.

Alex Kerner (21), who works as a tv-repairman, is no great admirer of the DDR-regime. One day he even participates in a demonstration, which is eneded with force by the police. His mother witnesses how Alex is taken away. She gets a heart attack and falls into a deep coma. When she wakes up 8 months later, many things have changed. The wall is gone, people are moving to the west, Coca-Cola is invading the former DDR and the D-Mark is the symbol of the new belief.

There is one problem. The doctors tell Alex that his mother must rest and not get any excitement. But she was deeply attached to the old regime, and the news that the DDR is history would come as a great shock. What follows are hilarious scenes in which Alex and his sister pretend that nothing has happened. In their appartment they put their old socialist furniture back in place, get their old clothes back from the second-hand store and desperately try to find the old brands of food. Which is not so easy when their mother asks fro the good old ‘Spreewald Gurken’…

Thier masquerade gets more and more complicated and over the top. When mother wants to watch television they show her videotapes of old news broadcasts, ‘they were always the same anyhow’. Finally they even start to produce their own new bulletins, in typical DDR-style, which is absolutely hilarious. What started as a well-meant way to protect their mother, now begins to lead its own life…

All these scenes are made with a lot of humour and nice visual elements, with some referencs to classic movies. The actors play natural and convincing. I was charmed by the Russian actress Chulpan Khamatova, who plays Lara, Alex’s girlfriend. Yann Tiersen composed the fine soundtrack, with dramatic minimal classical music, a little less cheerful than his music for ‘Amelie’.

I love the irony in re-making the news, which itself was already a twisted view of reality. In the end mother also has a secret to reveal, so no one seems to be telling the truth anymore… I also like the returning ‘kosmonaut-theme’, formerly a symbol of communist achievements, which gives added depth to the film. Though the film is characterized by absurd comedy and melancholic humour and nostalgia, some critical notes can be found nevertheless about both sides of the wall. In the final voice-over a relative view on the DDR and socialism can be heard: wasn’t it meant as a positive way for people to live together? ‘Good bye, Lenin!’ is not a true political or historical movie though, but a remarkable family history with a warm atmosphere.

Rosenstrasse

Today was the yearly Kristallnacht commemoration in Amsterdam. This year more people than usual came to this memorial for the 1938 nightmarish events. This may be caused by the recent Dutch media attention for increased anti-semitism, especially under Islamic school children. I did not realize that it was a memorial day when I visited ‘Rosenstrasse’ It is the third movie I visited this year with the prosecution of Jews as a theme, after ‘The Pianist’ and ‘De Tweeling’. Perhaps I found these movies more impressive, but ‘Rosenstrasse’ is also a moving film.

It deals with the true story of this Berlin street, which I visited a few years ago. In a building here Jewish men were imprisoned who were married with German (‘Aryan’) women. The men who were involved in these ‘mixed marriages’ were not directly send to the prisoner camps. Most of their women spent many hours in the street outside of the building, opposing the regime, trying to get a sign of life or news about the fate of their men and ultimately to get them out.

In the movie Hannah, a girl from America travels to Berlin to try to find out more about the past of her Jewish mother Ruth, who finds it too difficult to tell her daughter what happened.. Hannah finds the 90-year old Lena Fischer, whose husband was imprisoned in the Rosenstrasse. In that time Lena also took care of young Ruth, whose own parents were missing. Lena tells Hannah all about the events that happened in the Rosenstrasse. With the help of many flash-backs the story is re-created, which enables Hannah to understand her mother better.

The film is directed by Margarethe von Trotta, who made a couple of films before, including ‘Das Versprechen’, which I liked a lot. ‘Rosenstrasse’ is a German-Dutch co-production, and various well-known Dutch actors take part, including Thekla Reuten and Fedja van Hu?t. There’s also a small role for Jan Decleir. There are a few narrative lines in the story: the search of Hannah for more information about her mother; the events full of tension which Lena Fischer experienced in the Rosenstrasse; and on a more general level the courageous women demanding for the release of their men. As I said, it’s a sentimental film, for which you need tissues within reach. But it’s hard to tell a story about this period which is not moving, so I expect that ‘Rosenstrasse’ is not the last film to deal with this subject matter…

Spirited Away

Animation is growing up and is becoming more interesting day by day. Especially in Japan, where the highly aggressive and rather rude manga is developing into a mature form of art, with attractive animation both for adults and children.

One of the better directors from Japan is Hayo Miyazaki. After ‘Princess Mononoke’ and ‘Ghost in the shell’ he now brings us ‘Spirited Away’. ‘Spirited Away’ is a very lovely designed artful fairytale about a 10-year old girl, who ends up in a bathhouse, where humans have been transformed into animals. The longer she stays there, the more she understands about the strange surroundings in which she is lost. A film with wonderful surreallistic scenes, which make me think of the masterly comic books of Francois Schuiten now and then.

Cidade de Deus (City of God)

A confronting portrait of present-day Brazil, told from inside a slum neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro (the City of God). The main character describes in a kind of voice-over how his friends turned from small thiefs, who were relatively symphathetic, into unscrupulous drug bosses who slaughter their competitors without mercy. The director sketches the story almost casual, but the aggression and the sorrow are real. The sledgehammer blow of this different, ultraviolent world leaves you behind beaten…

The Virgin Suicides

Last year I already read the book by Jeffrey Euginedes, this week I finally saw the film of Sofia Coppola. ‘The Virgin Suicides’ was the debut for the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola. I found it an enjoyable movie, as far as you can use that term for such a tragic story. Very well done is the portrayal of the oppressive atmosphere in which the four sisters are raised, with a very stiff, religious mother and a submissive father. Very dreadful is the scene in which the girls are allowed to have a birthday party for the first time. The shy boys from the neighbourhood, who have a secret obsession for the girls, are allowed to visit. The boys & girls don’t know what to talk about, so they focus all their attention on their fruit drinks…

After the first girl jumps out of the window the film gets a more grim character. The girls are kept indoors and the boys only catch glimpses of them. Slowly the film moves towards the dramatic climax. The overall atmosphere is a bit hazy and mysterious, and like in the book mysteries are not solved. An unorthodox story, displayed in a moody, subtle manner which keeps you wondering…

The Commitments

Around 1991 ‘The Commitments’ was one of the first movies I ever saw in the local film theatre. Now, a dozen years later, it still looked fresh when I watched it on tv. It’s one of my favourite music movies, directed by Alan Parker (Fame!). The opening scenes show vivid images of the poorer parts of Dublins, reminding me a bit of ‘Angela’s Ashes’ or the books of Dickens. But ‘The Commitments’ turns out to be much more cheerful, though not devoid of dramatic elements. The story resembles the later movie ‘The Full Monty’ a little. Only this time the working-class characters do not form a group of strippers, but an Irish soul group. Yes, ‘Irish soul’, an expression which lived on after the movie. In fact there is still is a Commitments band giving concerts, and various cd’s have been released.

Jimmy Rabbitte is determined to form a new and successful pop group. Hilarious audition scenes follow. Finally a band is put together, with a rich variety of characters. According to Jimmy’s logic ‘The Commitments’ must choose soul as their musical style: ‘the Irish are the blacks of Europe. Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. North Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin’. One of the members is star leadsinger Deco Cuffe (Andrew Strong), who was discovered while singing completely drunk at a wedding party. Another nice character is veteran Joey ‘The Lips’ Fagan, whose trumpet is sent by God and who claims to have jammed with all the legends in the 60’s. Despite his religious nature he has affairs with all three female background singers.

With a lot of humour this film tells the story of the rapid rise and fall of the peculiar group. Jimmy does his best to keep the group together, but the members are constantly fighting backstage with one another. Though I don’t have a special interest in soul music, I found myself singing along with the songs towards the end of the movie… An entertaining and energetic film, only the ending gives a little quick and unfinished impression.

Frida

A lovely movie about the stirring life of the artist Frida Kahlo. “Frida” is designed in a sublime manner by play director Julie Taymor. She manages to portray the spectacular and dramatic biography of Friday with exotic spheric scenery and dazzling colourful images of Mexico. Absolute a pleasure for the eye.

Salma Hayek delivers an excellent performance as Frida Kahlo. Her opponent Alfred Molina (the painter Diego Riviera) has been casted perfectly. The animation of the Quay Brothers gives the film the finishing touch and creates a surreal atmosphere. The same mood which is clearly expressed by Frida Kahlo’s paintings.

Japon

The highly original first movie from Carlos Reygadas. It tells the story of a painter who is fed up with his life. He travels to a canyon in Mexico (which is filmed breathtakingly beautiful) to commit suicide. His last stop is a shed, where he stays temporarily. This shelter is supplied by an old woman (played brilliantly by the Mexican actress Magdalene Flores), who gives him bit by bit the courage to continue his life.

“Japon” is made in the style of Tarkovsy, but from an interesting perspective, by making the movie give the impression of a documentary. The acting is realistisc and the handling of the camera can be called experimental. For the true film connaisseur, who is not waiting for extreme special effects or action, a true must.

Lichter

When it comes to money you can’t trust anyone. And the grass is always greener on the other side. That seem to be the main themes of ‘Lichter’, a movie directed by Hans-Christian Schmid, a succesful young German director. ‘Lichter’ consists of various episodes, with different characters, all with their own dreams. Each story has to do with the contrasts between Germany and Poland, separated only by the river Oder, and the desire for happiness and fortune. You see a couple of young smugglers, who take a lot of risk importing cigarettes from Poland to Germany, but who have to pay a price. Or an unsuccesful businessman, who tries without much luck to prevent his mattress shop from failure, despite the woman who unselfishly tries to support him. A poor Polish taxidriver, who promises optimistically to earn enough money to buy a nice dress for the communion ceremony of his daughter. And a grouop of people from Ukraine, who want to enter Germany and put their faith in the hands of various people who claim that they can bring them safely across the border. Further you have a German interpreter who wants to help Russian fugitives, and a young architect who hopes to be succesful but experiences the side-effects.

There are many losers in this melancholic movie, who have to pay for their good trust. This is a moving movie about people. People who want to do good and others who want to exploit them. An intelligent movie with a lot of depth and drama. You keep on hoping for good luck for the characters you symphatize with, but in the end they stay behind in the cold. Especially the taxidriver and the Ukranian refugees win your pity, but even they, like all the characters in the film, are unpredictable. There are also many unexpected turns in the film, which is full of absurdity.

A special notice deserves the music: The Notwist created the complete soundtrack, with melancholic music based on piano, strings and minimal electronics, full of tension. I really hope that this movie will be shown outside of Germany, it’s certainly recommended, though you may leave the cinema with a somewhat bitter feeling about the condition humaine.

Tan de Repente

I saw ‘Tan de Repente’ in a German cinema, where the title was translated as ‘Aus heiterem Himmel’. Luckily the Spanish-spoken film was not synchronized, but subtitled. The film is shot in black & white, which is very fitting for this rather surreal, somewhat vague existential roadmovie. The main character is Marcia, who works in a lingerie-store in Buenos Aires, where she shows a great sense of duty, while her colleague is only busy polishing her nails. Marcia does not make a very happy impression, she leads a monotonous life, she can’t except a broken relationship and she has a complex about her overweight.

One day she is addressed by two lesbian punkgirls, Mao and Lenin, who lead a rather loose life, stealing everything they want. Mao says that she wants to have sex with Marcia, who is shocked by that proposal. Mao and Lenin try to break her will and finally convince her, well more or less kidnap her to come along with them. They steal a taxi and bring Marcia to the sea, which she has never seen before. Then they hitchhike further, until they end up in a small traditional village, where Lenin’s old aunt has a house. Here various relations develop between the three girls and the inhabitants of the house where they are staying, everything registered by the camera in a very realistic manner.
It’s an intriguing and unconventional tragi-comedy. ‘Tan de repente’ is a little minimal, with not much dialogue and without a clear ending, but worthwhile.

One Hour Photo

A fine movie by Mark Romanek, who previously worked a lot on videoclips. He made the clips of ‘Closer’ and ‘The Perfect Drug’ for Nine Inch Nails, amongst others. The story tells about Sy the Photoguy (Robin Williams). Sy is employee of a large company called the Savemarket. For many years now he works at their one-hour photo developing lab. One day he meets the Yorkin family, who have many of their photos developed there. Sy is getting an obsessive interest in this family. He makes double prints of their photos, so he can hang them at home. He starts to see himself as the protector and family friend of Nina and Jake Yorkin (mother and son). Naturally he is shocked when he develops photos which show that father Yorkin is having a secret affair with one of Sy’s other customers. Meanwhile Savemarket notices that Sy is making too many costs, and they keep a sharp eye on him…

The film is wonderfully designed, you can see that clip directors are strong at settings and the visual side. ‘One Hour Photo’ buils up slowly to a thrilling predictable and unavoidable climax. Robin Williams plays a particularly strong role as Sy, he plays the slightly pathetic guy in a very refrained manner, making you get some pity besides contempt for the poor guy.

Adaptation

‘Adaptation’ is the second movie by Spike Jonze, after ‘Being John Malkovich’. It has one of the most original and funniest opening scenes I know: protagonist Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicholas Cage) enters the set of ‘Being John Malkovich’ and is brutally sent away by the director.

Then a film starts which is almost impossible to review, because it is an ingenious story, about an ambitious screenwriter, who works on an adaptation of a book called ‘The Orchid Thief’. A meeting with the writer of the book, Suzanne (Meryl Streep), influences him to adjust the script and he becomes a part of his own script, something which becomes very credible in the skilled hands of Spike Jonze. And as if this wasn’t complicated enough, the protagonist has an identical twin brother called Donald (a magnificent double role of Nicholas Cage), who is also working on a script, one that lives up to all Hollywood cliches.

The smart thing about the film is that the two scripts also get intertwined. In this way ‘Adaptation’ becomes not only the quest of an ambitious script writer who gets stuck in the script he has to adapt, but halfway it gets also exciting thriller elements.

24 Hour Party People

An entertaining film about the music scene in Manchester, and more precisely about Factory Records and the people surrounding the label. First of all labelboss Tony (Anthony) Wilson, who combines the realization of his musical dreams with a job as reporter for local tv station Granada. He is also the all-knowing narrator of the story, which he does with a lot of (self-)irony. Intertexual references are constantly made, such as “this scene will probably be cut out, and be included on the dvd only”. In his own words, Wilson was ‘post-modern before it was modern’. The musical history focuses on two periods and two protagonists. At the end of the 70’s, when Wilson organizes his first concerts and Factory is erected, Ian Curtis is the central figure. You follow the rise Joy Division, until the tragic suicide of Curtis.

Shortly after the funeral Wilsons marriage also breaks up, so the future doesn’t look very bright for him (and Factory). Sometimes an unexpected success occurs, like New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’, the best selling 12 inch record of all-time. Due to the extravagant sleeve the label doesn’t earn anything though… Meanwhile Wilson has started a new project: ‘The Hacienda’, a ultra-modern nightclub. At first only a handful visitors show up. But then, almost a decade later, the second Manchester wave follows. Suddenly this grey industrial city is the place to be, with the right music, the right people and the right drugs. Also for the first time DJ’s become stars. It’s the birth of rave culture, with people dancing to the sounds of the Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets and the Happy Mondays. On this last band the film focuses during the second part of the movie. And more in particular on frontman Shaun Ryder, according to Wilson ‘the greatest poet since Yeats’, but portrayed as an unreliable junkie.

Finally we watch the decline of Factory and The Hacienda, through lack of income (the rave audience doesn’t drink, only the drug dealers make money), drugs and shooting incidents in the club, too much spending (a 30.0000 pound table) and costly unendless recording sessions on exotic islands (New Order, Happy Mondays). The Hacienda had to be sold and Factory was bought by London Records, which was complicated by the fact that there were no formal contracts with any of the artists at all! Wilson later started a Hacienda 2, without much success, and nowadays still earns his living working for Granada TV.

The film takes you through all the events in a high tempo. Especially the start is very blurry and fragmented, which fits the punk era well. It all begins with a legendary Sex Pistols concert in Manchester. Virtually all 42 visitors (including Simply Red Mick Hucknall!) will later (try to) make it in the music business. At high speed various bands are introduced, to give a quick overview of the scene. I think it will make the film more attractive if you are familiar with names as The Buzzcocks or A Certain Ratio. Later the namedropping decreases, and the film concentrates on a few characters. Mentionable figures are designer Peter Saville, who always seems to finish his innovative work too late, and producer Martin Hannet, who is fat, drunken, demanding and obstinate. All people in the movie are more or less portrayed as charicatures, so don’t expect any deep revelations or motivations.

The first half of the film is more documentary-like. Narrator Wilson gives comments, while reconstructions are alternated with real archive footage. For instance Anton Corbijn’s great video for ‘Atmosphere’ is shown in the movie, after Curtis’ death. The second part more resembles a movie, with longer scenes and stories and less mixing of media. Funny are the scenes in which Wilson is active as tv reporter. Despite his claims that he is a serious journalist with a degree, he gets increasingly stupid jobs to do.

If you expect a serious rockumentary you may find it rather shallow. But if you want an entertaining film about your favourite music heroes you will be amused. All in all a pleasant mixture of facts and legends. And good music of course, I still have the two tracks of the final credits in my head: Happy Mondays ’24 Hour Party People’ and New Orders’ ‘Here to stay’.

Morvern Callar

I already wanted to see this movie on the Edinburgh festival last summer, but it was sold out then. Not so this time, there were only five other people in the cinema, though I saw it in its first week in Utrecht. But it was a Wednesday early afternoon, and it was very bad weather. From start to finish Morvern Callar, based on a cult novel by Alan Warner, is an unusual movie. It is the second movie by Lynne Ramsay (I have’t seen her first and praised movie Ratcatcher). The plot is fairly easy to tell though. The boyfriend of Morvern Callar has committed suicide with Christmas. Amongst the things he left her are a finished manuscript for a novel. In his farewell note he asks her to send it to a publisher. She does so, but changes his name on the cover into her own. Of course the publisher is highly interested in meeting this gifted young writer… Morvern never tells anyone her friend has died, and gets rid of his body.

Besides this fairly simple thriller-like story, the movie is not very straightforward. The start of the film is frustratingly slow. Morvern Callar (wonderfully played by Samantha Morton) is a mysterious character, who does not speak much. Morvern seems to live in a dreamworld, and acts rather cold and apathic. She seems to be fed up with her life in an isolated Scottish village and her job in a supermarket. With the money that her friend left her she goes on holiday to Spain with a female friend, Lanna. What follows is sort of a psychedelic road trip. After a while Morvern apparently gets fed up with the teenage party beach resort where they were hanging out. She travels further to more quiet places, leaving Lanna behind, who does not enjoy herself between the sun, sand and cactuses. Later Morvern returns home, and finds a big cheque of the publisher. She asks her friend to quit her job and to come with her on another journey, but she doesn’t want to. She is happy in the little village where she has her friends and family, while Morvern apparently feels the need to escape from, yes from what really? Everyday routine? The memory of her boyfriend? Or is it just that the grass seems to be greener on the other side?

Many scenes are deliberately vague and psychedelic. Still you get a feeling of emotional intensity. There is a big contrast between the grey Scotland and the colourful Spanish landscape. Some black humour lies beneath the surface, but only very subtle. The music plays an important role in the movie. Her boyfriend left Morvern a tape with music he compiled for her, from Velvet Underground to Can, from Nancy Sinatra to Boards of Canada. There are some nice scenes in which Morvers listens to the music on her walkman. Especially nice is the one in which she is listening to her own music in the middle of a crowded disco. At times the movie is very silent, with only a few sounds which are very enlarged, like the flickering lights of the Christmas tree in the opening scene… Other scenes have overwhelming music from the tape, including Aphex Twin (there is a soundtrack available from Warp Records). An intriguing and vague film, with a mysterious main character, which you want to understand.

Lilja 4-Ever

‘Mein Herz brennt!’ This film has no gradual introduction, but you get Rammstein directly thrown at you at loud volume. You see a young girl in bad condition, running desperately in a western European landscape of busy motorways. You get the impression that there is no way out. Then she stops at a bridge, staring down at cars rushing by at the busy road below…

The running girl and the loud energetic music makes me thinks of ‘Lola rennt’, the movie of Tom Tykwer. But that’s a very light, cheerful movie compared with ‘Lilja 4-Ever’, the third movie of Lukas Moodysson. Earlier he had quite some success with ‘Fucking Amal’ and ‘Together’, two films which I enjoyed a lot. In these films comedy and tragedy were alternated, but in his newest creation there is not much to laugh about. Just as in his previous films, children again play an important role. The main character is Lilja (Oksana Akinshina), a 16-year old girl. She is often in the company of Voladja (Artyom Bogucharsky), a boy who is two years younger.

The second scene, accompanied by uptempo dance music, brings us to an anonymous Russian village, a desolate grey area full of decaying blocks of flats. We see Lilja being deserted by her mother, who leaves with her new friend to America, the promised land. Lilja is told that she may follow later, and that her mother will write and call her in the meantime. But of course she never hears from her mother again, who even recounces her motherhood over Lilja. An aunt will take care of Lilja, but she only snaps up the nice parental appartment, and sends Lija to a miserable small flat, with hardly any money. She does not have much to do, and hangs around a bit with Voldaja, who is also thrown out often by his parents. Sometimes they are terrorized by teenage boys in the grim neighbourhood. Together they fantasize about a better life, and fill their time sniffing glue and drinking cheap alcohol.

When her financial condition becomes critical, Lilja is forced to sell her body to older rich men in the city. On one of her trips to a nightclub she meets Andrej. He is very different from all the other men she meets, being kind and helpful, and she falls in love with his charms. Andrei asks her to come with him to Sweden. He offers her a better life, with a good job and a nice house. She decides to grab this chance, which seems to good to be true. Unfortunately there is no possibility for Volodja to come with her, and he stays behind on his own.

The opening scene already betrayed that the film won’t have a happy ending. And indeed, the worst is still to come, the intentions of Andrej turn out to be not that charitable…
An impressive movie, that is very grim and dark. Innocence and fairytales can’t win it from the cruel world of profit and exploitation. The only comfort that the film offers is in the after-life scenes with angels. The young actors are very good, playing in a very natural manner. The filming is very realistic, a bit documentary-like. The sometimes loud music fit the images very well, sometimes alternated with very silent moments. ‘Lilja 4-Ever’ is a slap in your face, and sadly based on reality…

Magdalene Sisters, The

This film won the ‘Golden Lion’ at the Filmfestival of Venice. Don’t watch it when you want a feel-good movie! The Magdalene Sisters is a grim, realistic portrayal of the life in the Irish catholic convents of the ‘Sisters of Mercy’. It is inspired by a Channel 4 documentary of a few years ago, which first brought this subject matter to the attention of the general public. Young girls were brought here who for some reason were regarded as ‘sinners’ and now have to do penance. In the movie, which is situated in Dublin in 1964, you follow a few young girls, each struggling with the harsh daily convent life. They have to live extremely sober, with strict discipline and hard labour in the laundry, under tyrannic guard of the sisters, who seem to enjoy their power (and the money they make with the laundry).

No contact with the outside world is allowed. Of course a perfect environment for abuses, like the sexual favours that the priest demands of a simple-minded girl. When this practice comes to the light she is sent to a mental hospital. Of course the girls want to get out of this medieval nightmare, especially Bernadette, who shows a lot of fighting spirit… The escape scene is perhaps a bit too incredible.

The story would be perfect for an overly moral or sentimental story, but it does not fall into this trap. This is partly due to the naturalistic style and fragmentary, claustrophobic way of filming. Perhaps the contrast between the tortured girls and the evil nuns is a bit cliche, but perhaps not far from the truth. There even are some comic scenes in the film, which are very welcome amongst the grim events. The young actresses are also very good. To make the story less predictable main character Bernadette (played by the lovely Nora-Jane Noone) is rather selfish and not very sympathetic. Furthermore I liked the somewhat distorted classical music.

The fact that the film is based on true events, gives it an extra dimension. My only irritation: in the credits is stated that the characters are entirely fictitious, but nevertheless you get epilogues at the end stating what happened to the girls in their later lives (She now lives in London, married and divorced three times etc..). But what is true is that no less than 30.000 girls have been sent to (and exploited in) these Magdalene Laundries, which were in use until 1996. Some girls spent their entire lives there. The catholic church was not very happy with this film, which was partly financed by Jim Kerr (singer of the Simple Minds).