Foreign film review

Two recent releases: A Very Long Engagement and Born into Brothels
The recent French film, A Very Long Engagement, is another winner for Andrey Tautou. The film has some of the most intense and realistic war scenes since Saving Private Ryan. It also has a love story at its center, but it is told without the saccharine sentimentality which easily could have plagued the film. Like other French films, it has sumptuous cinematography and that quirky storytelling pace which is so characteristic of contemporary French cinema. I recommend it, though one should watch Amelie beforehand if this is your first Tautou experience.

Last year's Oscar winner for best documentary went to Born into Brothels, which technically is not a foreign film. However, since it is set in Calcutta, India, most of the film is subtitled. I cannot recommend this documentary highly enough. Christians especially need to see this; only the most selfish and complacent Christians would see the film and not feel a strong pull toward overseas ministry. The film chronicles the lives of several children born to prostitute mothers in the red-light district around Calcutta. Their lives are radically changed when a Western woman decides to give these children cameras and teach them how to be photographers. And this is not child's play with cameras; it is serious artistic work. Her efforts go beyond education. She also gets them into schools in order to alter their whole lives, giving them a future outside of prostitution and poverty. These children are brilliant, but it's the concern and attention that this woman demonstrates which is so compelling for those of us who live privileged lives. Please, see this film.

Two classic films: Fanny & Alexander and The Battle of Algiers
Fanny & Alexander is Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece; it is a work of artistic genius. Bergman is, in my opinion, the greatest director who's ever lived (followed closely by Kurosawa and Kieslowski). This film is autobiographical in nature, and was Bergman's final theatrical release. Fanny & Alexander brings together most of Bergman's most important themes and motifs: the nature of art and aesthetics, the presence and hiddenness of God, human identity, family relationships (both reconciled and broken), and the problem of good and evil in the world. Without a doubt, this film ranks in the top three of all time, in my opinion.

The Battle of Algiers, released in 1967, is the most relevant political film for our difficult age. Directed by an Italian, the story concerns the pivotal events in the late 1950s and early '60s in Algeria between the French colonialists and Arab natives. France colonized the country and divided Algiers, the capital, between the European Quarter and the Arab section, essentially polarizing the nation between the powerful Europeans and the seemingly helpful Arabs. But then the latter felt the deep desire for freedom -- and massive violence ensues. One of the virtues of this is that it does not vilify any one side. The Arabs are not presented as MLK like saints who simply want freedom; nor are the French presented as ruthless colonialists who are evil through and through. Later, when the French paratroopers are called in to handle the situation, their tactics are presented from all angles. The film is astonishingly relevant for a number of reasons: (1) the conflict with Muslims is in itself a question we discuss regularly today; (2) acts of terrorism are carefully dealt with; (3) the French army's use of torture interrogation is more relevant than anyone could have guessed back then; and (4) the issue of colonialism itself is not a dead issue. I think one needs to ask: Is it possible to colonize democracy? When Iraq isn't demanding democracy, is it possibly colonization to impose it?

Two more suggestions for those who want good foreign cinema: City of God and The Barbarian Invasions
No comment. Just watch them!

Comments

timcoe said…
honestly, if you want to 'get' jeunet, you can't take Amelie as his seminal work. all the looming feminist imagery of City of Lost Children and Delicatessen are pretty much gone. hell, even Alien: Resurrection had more of his standard themes than did Amelie.
D.W. Congdon said…
I was actually focusing on Tautou rather than Jeunet in my post, but only because I do not have enough exposure to Jeunet's works. Taking your perspective, what you say is probably true -- of course I didn't say Amelie was his seminal work. Nevertheless, if I am going to recommend a French film to the general public, it's going to be Amelie. (I might toss in Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy as well, though it's somewhat homeless in terms of a country of origin.)
timcoe said…
i was just talking, really.