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Friday, 4 December 2015

Some pretty so-so foreign films

Last week I mentioned 'worthy' foreign films and perhaps I should explain what I mean by this. Generally speaking I will watch any non-English language movie that is broadcast -- whether on terrestrial or satellite television -- since I assume opportunities for seeing such films are naturally more limited than those for the latest blockbuster. I have never been put off by the prospect of reading subtitles, even if these don't always quite convey the meaning of the words being spoken.  And yes, over the years I have viewed a wonderful assortment of foreign delights. I have also watched a number of foreign movies which fall short of actually being entertaining, but which make me feel a slightly better person for having watched them. These are the flicks that I label 'worthy'. However, if truth be told, I have also seen a number of -- to put no better description upon them -- boring movies.

I will of course continue to pursue my search for gems among the dross, but could really do without so many of the 'so-so' movies that come my way. In the last few weeks I have seen five foreign films which have made me wonder why the broadcasters in question decided that these would be movies really worth the time: stand up and bow BBC4 and to a lesser extent FilmFour. These are the films in question:

"A Tale of Samurai Cooking - A True Love Story" (2013):  A Japanese period piece where the second son wants to pursue his martial training; however, on the death of his older brother, his top-chef father insists that he maintain the family tradition and honour as a 'kitchen samurai'. A marriage is arranged with a headstrong divorcee (i.e. a 'ruined' woman) who has a great sense of taste. Reluctantly he learns from her and we get to watch loads of vegetables being artfully prepared -- for two hours!

"Beyond the Hills" (2012); This Romanian flick from director Cristian Mungiu, who gave us the lauded "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days" back in 2007 clocks in at two and a half hours. Orphaned girlfriends from childhood go their separate ways when they are cast out of the institutional home, with one becoming a nun and the other living a wild life in Germany. The latter travels back to Romania to try to get her BFF to come away with her; the nuns, however, decide that she is violent and possessed, ultimately killing her with their misguided attempts at exorcism.

"The Deep" (2012): The director Baltasar Kormakur made some well-regarded policiers in his native Iceland before moving on to Hollywood with the current release "Everest". However this earlier film relates the true story of the sole survivor of a fishing-boat shipwreck. Our hero, against all odds, manages to swim ashore rather than freeze to death in the icy waters. Everyone wonders why he alone survived and finally decide it is because he is fat!

"Me and You" (2012): This is the first movie from respected director Bernardo Bertolucci since "Dreamers" (2003), and is a true disappointment. Our 14-year old hero (a singularly offputtingly acned youngster) is a misanthrope, avoiding all social situations. He tells his mother that he is going on a school ski trip, but uses the money to buy supplies and to hide out in the basement of his apartment building for the week in question. He also buys an ant farm to watch -- that's pretty off-putting as well. But his older half-sister finds him and decides to go cold-turkey from drugs, vomiting all over his meant-to-be private space. OK, they begin to bond and try to get each other to promise that they will turn over a new leaf. It's not going to happen...

"West" (2013): This German film set in the paranoid 70s follows the fortunes of an unmarried mother and her slightly precocious son who defect from East Germany, hoping to find a new and better life in the West. The refugee centre where they are housed is some many miles away from her dreams for their future. Just as in the repressive East, American interrogators continuously question her about her supposedly dead lover who may have been a Stasi agent, and her growing paranoia threatens to destroy everything. All very well-acted but really pretty depressing.

To be fair, each of the above films had a few moments making them a potentially worthwhile watch. That's more than can be said for "Movie 43" (2013) which I also saw recently. This series of vignettes has to be one of the biggest wastes ever of a large and generally A-list cast in pursuit of bad taste. I wish I could erase from my mind the image of Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman on a blind date where she is appalled by the swollen testicles hanging down from his neck. I kid you not...

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