Celebrating Great Films

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others#52 at time of writing.

I saw this film for the second time today, and I think I appreciated it even more than before. It portrays a sense of claustrophobia and paranoia, corruption and injustice, with perfectly judged subtlety. An absolute triumph for Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's directorial debut. Bittersweet and moving.

The story is set in East Germany in (appropriately) 1984. Captain Wiesler, an agent of the secret police, conducts surveillance on a writer and his lover and gradually finds himself becoming absorbed by their lives.

The actor playing Captain Wiesler, Ulrich Mühe (who sadly died shortly after the film was released), was once the subject of Stasi surveillance himself, and his story mirrors that of the film to an eerie degree. While the film itself is fictional, it is real enough to make you think.

I watched it today with my Film Club at work, and one of my colleagues was particularly affected by it. She lived in Iran before the 1978 revolution, and she remembers the feeling of constantly being watched and judged. She remembers having to whisper in her own home if she wanted to say something that might be interpreted as subversive. She remembers finding forbidden material (a book in English, a countrywide rail map) that someone must have dropped because they thought they were being followed - or perhaps an unfriendly neighbour left it there to frame her family?

I wonder what I would do if I found myself trapped in a society in which I could get arrested merely for owning a book.

Much more worryingly, I wonder if I already live in that society?

Since the various Terrorism Acts in the UK, it is now illegal for me to photograph a policeman. I can be detained for 28 days without charge - indefinitely if I was a foreigner (which, with dual nationality, arguably I am).

And I'm constantly being tracked by five million CCTV cameras, credit card transactions, my Oyster card, NHS patient records, mobile phone triangulation, licence plate recognition cameras, shop RFID tags, Internet cookies, Google, Facebook, and no doubt lots else. (Wow, looking up all those references has made me even more paranoid.)

Yes. Makes you think.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Let the Right One In

Let the Right One In#192 at time of writing.

I'm not big on vampire movies. But this is a little vampire movie. Not a little movie, you understand, but a little vampire.

On the face of it, the story is simple: Bullied pre-teen boy falls for outcast pre-teen girl - but she ain't no ordinary girl.

The atmosphere and the actors, particularly the child actors, elevate this film into something both tender and horrifying. It's a love story, a coming-of-age story, and a frighteningly bare horror story.

It's satisfying to see a film once in a while that Hollywood couldn't possibly have made. Grubby, sexualised children? Not since The Exorcist. Ooh, me Hays Code is itchin'...

Makes me want to see more Swedish films. What else is on the list? Seventh Seal no doubt... hold on a sec while I have a look... aha, Wild Strawberries as well. Both of those are from the 50s. Well, Swedish cinema, welcome back.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Gran Torino

Gran Torino#77 at time of writing.

Violence begets violence. And casual racism makes you a hero.

I have a feeling I'm not going to be entirely fair on this film.

Don't get me wrong, it's good, I liked it. But it's too flawed to be so high on the Top 250. It's as subtle as a breeze block wrapped in silk. The acting is occasionally shaky (although not from Clint Eastwood). It's stuck between parable and realism in a way that niggles at my suspension of disbelief.

But the characters are cool, the dialogue is witty, the story is simple and compelling. So maybe I'm being unfair, but this gets a solid seven out of ten for me - and no film would get into my personal Top 250 without at least a high eight.

Entertaining? Yes. Makes you think? A little. All-time great? Nah.