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Sunday, 26 March 2017

The Surprise of "The Surprise" (2015)

It's been a hectic weekend filled with enjoyable celebrations, delaying my regular Friday blog until today. Then there was the problem of deciding which movie to spotlight.

Usually if I go to the cinema to watch a film, whether repertory or modern release, that movie gets pride of place. However I note that an outing to the National Film Theatre at the start of the month got buried when I decided to review "Elle" instead. The movie in question was "Dernier Atout" (1942) from reliable director Jacques Becker. Folks, this Vichy-era potboiler was so forgettable that I needed to remind myself a few minutes ago what in fact it was about. And please don't ask me why we chose to book tickets for it in the first place. It's a contemporary crime melodrama set in a fictitious South American country, since of course there was no crime whatsoever in German-occupied France at the time. Pierre Renoir (son of the artist and older brother of the director) plays a slimy crook out to retrieve the fortune stolen from him by an erstwhile colleague. There's a murder and a lot of business over a string of pearls which may or may not be genuine. And since the senior policemen are all buffoons, the crime is investigated by a pair of new graduates from the police academy, assisted by their jolly mates. The only trouble is that they all looked as if they were pushing forty... Hugely forgettable.

I have written previously that not all foreign films are worth the effort of seeking them out, although fortunately many of them are; and it is a rule of Patty's thumb to watch as many foreign-language movies as possible in search of the occasional gem. Looking back at the other foreign films that I have seen since the beginning of March, it's very much the traditional parsons egg. From my film diary I can report that I have seen the Belgian flick "2 Days, One Night" a worthy effort from the Dardennes, starring Marion Cotillard trying to get her job back and her colleagues wanting to keep their bonus if she is laid off. Yawn! Then there was "The Cow and I", a French movie from 1959 starring the ever droll Fernandel as a prisoner of war in Germany trying to get back to France with a cow in tow as a disguise; quite sweet but sufficiently long that it became a shaggy-cow story. On Netflix I caught up with "The Clouds of Sils Maria" (2014) for which Kristen Stewart won a Cesar award -- why, I can't begin to imagine -- since she didn't even attempt to speak French in this French-made movie starring Juliette Binoche, and the film itself was really nothing special. I also finally saw "Ida" the Polish foreign film winner from a few years ago where a novice nun discovers that she is really Jewish...absorbing, but her flawed and dissolute aunt was the more interesting character, as they strove to discover what had become of her parents during the Holocaust.

I'm not done yet! I also watched "The Tale of Tsar Saltan", a colourful Russian animation from 1984 of the classic fairy tale (and I have the older live-action version languishing in my backlog of movies to view). And while strictly not a foreign film, since America-made and largely in English, the 2016 documentary "The Lovers and the Despot" tells a fascinating saga of the abduction of a famous South Korean actress and her director-husband to North Korea to create more kudos for dictator and film-buff Kim, with plenty of subtitled Korean talking heads.

As I have mentioned before Sky Cinema is currently gifting its subscribers a new foreign film premiere every Wednesday. This month I started watching but gave up on French flick "Summertime" (2015) with Cecille de France establishing her lesbian credentials during a 'summer of love' and "Game On" (2016) a largely sung Polish tale of a street artist forsaking her dreams to look after her family who are about to be evicted. It is meant to be cheery but it struck me as dreary. That's two movies whose ends will never be seen by yours truly.

"The Commune" (2016) is a watchable but ultimately depressing film about a rich, hipster couple who decide to turn their large villa into an experiment in living with other like-minded folk (who largely came across as a bunch of freeloaders). Everything is more or less hunky-dory until the husband decides that his mistress should move in as well.

Finally there was one more than pleasant surprise, a Dutch movie from 2015 actually called "The Surprise". Written and directed by Mike van Dien, it is his first feature film in eighteen years since his Oscar-winning "Character" (1997). It's an Wes Anderson-esque fable of a wealthy youngish man who feels he has nothing to live for when his overbearing but beloved mother dies. His own pathetic attempts at suicide having failed, he contacts a covert organisation that arranges a speedy dispatch for rich clients eager to shuck off the mortal coil. He chooses the option for his death to come when least expected, and returns to his sprawling fairy-tale estate to dismiss the servants and to await the end. However to his dismay and amazement he begins to fall in  love with a young lady he encountered in the coffin-choosing room, despite clients being forbidden to fraternize. He now wants to cancel the contracts on his beloved and himself, but that too is against the rules according to the company's head honcho, English actor Henry Goodman and his goon-like gang of sons. Goodman is the only player known to me in the otherwise Dutch cast, but they all are splendid, especially the rather moving sub-plot of the estate's old-faithful head gardener who yearns to join his recently deceased wife.  Despite the black subject matter, this movie is indeed a rather jolly and ultimately satisfying confection. Recommended.
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