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Thursday, 25 February 2010

'Films Not in the English Language'

When one watches as many films as I seem to do, it is a safe bet that many of them will be foreign-language movies. I must confess that I personally love watching subtitled films (and will even opt for subtitles on English-speaking movies where available), since it saves having to ask every so often "What did he say?" as yet another 'actor' mumbles his lines -- an increasing problem nowadays.

However this is not to suggest for one minute that so-called foreign movies are always better than English-language ones, although this is frequently the case. Believe you me, there are some pretty awful, pointless, and depressing flicks out there, even if their foreignness gives the initial impression of their being better- made. As an exercise in futility, let's consider the eight foreign films I've watched in the last fortnight. Oddly enough these have all been European movies and six of them were French (thank you CineMoi for five of them), where normally there might well have been some Far Eastern films in the mix:

L'Ange Noir (1994): Sylvie Vartan gives an amazing performance as a femme fatale married to long-suffering Michel Piccoli. She is being investigated for shooting a crook whom she claims has attacked her. She receives her poetic comeuppance from her plain largely ignored daughter. Much better and more involving than I would have believed possible.

Je vous trouve tres beau (2006): A rather sweet movie where widowed farmer Michel Blanc travels to Romania and brings back Medeea Marinescu to work alongside him, pretending to his friends and family that she is a distant relative fobbed off on him. He falls in love but is too shy to verbalise this and he is prepared to sacrifice everything for the self-involved young gold-digger. The title refers to the standard phrase used by perspective Romanian brides to the generally unattractive men that they view as meal-tickets to lift them out of their poverty.

Adua e le Compagne (1961): When the Italian brothels are closed down, prostitute Simone Signoret and her friends, including Emmanuelle Riva and Sandra Milo, decide to open a country restaurant, intending to eventually continue their "business" in the upstairs rooms. However their police records are against them and they need a 'respectable' businessman to obtain the necessary permits (against an exorbitant kick-back). As the restaurant becomes successful and as potential love interests appear, they really, really would like to go straight. No such luck and a truly depressing bottomline.

Summer Hours (2008): This movie from director Olivier Assayas seems to be attracting rave reviews and I'll be damned if I see why. Siblings Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, and Jeromie Renier decide to sell their art-laden family home after the death of their mother (Edith Scob -- the amazing daughter in "Les yeux sans visage" for the movie-buffs amongst you), since their various life-styles have taken them in different directions and they can not envision that their own children might have welcomed their keeping it. Nicely photographed and certainly well-acted, but all rather pointless.

Yella (2007): This German film won its lead actress Nina Hoss a silver bear at the Berlin Film Festival, but what a disappointing movie. As one watched her leaving her abusive husband and trying to find a living in a big city, one couldn't help but guess that all was not as it appeared, especially since she never changed her clothes and continually fugued. While it was all watchable enough as the story progressed, the 'shock' ending came as no surprise whatsoever, made virtually no sense in terms of what had come before, and couldn't even claim to be original.

Mademoiselle (2001): This was another pleasant enough but rather empty movie, where businesswoman/wife/mother Sandrine Bonnaire gets involved with Jacques Gamblin and his troupe of impromptu actors before returning to her regulated life.

Burnt Out (2006): This is the English title for the rather lengthier French one and the movie is so unmemorable that I didn't realise until halfway through that I had seen it previously within the last year! Wage slave Olivier Gourmet (always a very proficient actor) gets the hump when his best friend and co-worker commits suicide; he blames the company and may or may not be responsible for the car accident that kills his boss. Everyone assumes that he is guilty and the movie goes boringly on from there.

Un Honnete Commercant (2002): This translates literally as 'An Honest Dealer', but the film's English title is mystifyingly "Step by Step". Benoit Verhaert plays an overworked tax inspector who becomes a ruthless money launderer and probable drug dealer after he discovers his wife en flagrante. He works alongside his new mentor Philippe Noiret and virtually the entire film shows his being questioned by the police concerning a recent multiple murder. His cat-and-mouse exchanges with the police officers do not quite add up to worthwhile viewing and one is no wiser of his position or future at the film's end.

I think what I am getting at is that one never knows just where the rewards will come when watching such films. For every gem, there are usually a high proportion of 'not too bads', and the frequent 'what was that in aid of?' But that won't stop me!
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