Two movies which for some reasons I never caught in the cinema but happened to watch this last week:

Grand Budapest Hotel: is as great as both audience reaction and critics promised. Ralph Fiennes in a rare comedy (well, tragicomedy) role is fabulous and clearly has great fun as the metrosexual Monsieur Gustave, the young actor playing young Zero Mustafa is the perfect deadpan straight man (well, boy) to him, lots of famous actors (sometimes behind tons of make up) in cameos, and I bet Adrien Brody whom I've mostly seen playing soulful sensitive types enjoyed hamming it up as Dimitri the evil nephew. Director Wes Anderson delivers a visual feast, of course, and goes for a novel-istic narrative structure that's almost a parody of same (girl brings classic book to statue of author who in second flashback is shown writing the book narrating how in the third flashback he met the man who told him the story which in the fourth flashback within a flashback turns out to be the gist of the movie - but that structure works with the artificiality/enhanced realism/what have you the movie exudes. It also gleefully ticks of tropes - murder mystery! Caper! Escape from prison! - and between the stylish madness throws in some nostalgia for a lost past that never was, as is verbally acknowledged, and none too subtle arrival of fascism as the not too background threat in the end.

The credits claim this was inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, but to me - and I love some of Zweig's books - this had more of an Ernst Lubitsch feeling, even To be or not to be, honestly. (The writer in the second and third flashback level is made up to look a lot like Zweig, though.) Which is a compliment.

Rush: I'm not a Formula 1 or car racing in general fan, and so I knew only the bare minimum of the incidents portrayed in the movie - to wit, I knew that Niki Lauda - rl spoiler!  ), but no more, and I'd never heard of James Hunt. Otoh I saw that this one was written by Peter Morgan, he of the Blair trilogy and Frost/Nixon fame, specializing in two character stories, and it was starring Chris "Thor" Hemsworth and our own Daniel Brühl, so I thought, why not?

(BTW, this is another movie where the German - or maybe European, I wouldn't know - poster is notably different from the international/US one. The US one I saw online has Hemsworthin the foreground and a blurred version of Brühl in the background. The German one has them both equally clear on the same level. Given that the movie itself treats them both as main characters, with neither being put in the antagonist position, and that Brühl-as-Lauda opens and closes the movie with his narration, so if anyone is a bit more equal than equal, it's him, the prominence of Hemsworth in the international posters is clearly marketing of name value over actual story content.)

Morgan's talent for writing entertaining flawed duos does indeed come through and makes the movie accessible for non-car racing fans like yours truly, together with the acting - Brühl does a great job as Lauda, all focus and disdain for politeness, and Hemsworth does the hedonistic playboy with self destructive streak thing well -, the 1970s setting means 1970s fashion (though thankfully neither main character ever tries that very 70s thing, a Pornstache), and lo and behold, everyone who speaks German actually is a native user of the language, so no weird accent attempts and weirder pronounciation. (If you want to be really nitpicky, Brühl isn't Austrian which Niki Lauda very much is, but I think Brühl does a great job speaking English with an Austrian, not German accent - yes, there's a big difference to our ears! -, and his few lines in German do sound Austrian.) I also can't help but make comparisons to Morgan's earlier efforts in scripting real life duos:

The Deal: Gordon Brown and Tony Blair: both get about the same screentime, but the narrative sympathy is a bit more with Brown, and I'd say he's the pov character, if there's one.

The Queen: Tony Blair and, well, the Queen: same screentime, narrative sympathy given to both main characters, both are also pov characters.

The Special Relationship: Tony Blair and Bill Clinton: Blair gets more screen time and also the main pov, but he's also moving into self deluded character territory by the end of that one, with the narrative giving Clinton, not Blair, the final accurate message.

Frost/Nixon: actually, this one starts with multiple povs - of Frost's staff more than of Frost, because "is tv gadfly Frost up to handling Nixon?" Is part of the suspense, and that works better with Frost as well as Nixon is seen from the outside - but as the story moves on, we're narrowing into Frost's own pov. While Nixon gets ample screentime, I don't think the narrative ever positions us into his pov. Again, "will Frost get Nixon to crack?" Being part of the suspense wouldn't allow that.

Rush: equal screen time and pov to Lauda and Hunt - Hunt gets a few voice overs within the movie as well, just not the opening and closing ones. Neither man is painted as the better racer or person (they're both prone to refer to the other as "asshole", and the audience can see why every time), though I will say in terms of movie heroics, spoiler for aftermath of famous incident ). Since there are no politics involved, the stakes are our characters' lives which they wilfully endanger on a regular basis, so of course the movie asks what type of a person chooses this type of job, and manages to make the audience care for the two results of that question, warts and all.
selenak: (Sternennacht - Lefaym)
( Jul. 23rd, 2016 06:57 am)
You've probably heard by now what happened in Munich last night. I wasn't anywhere near the Olympiazentrum, I'm in the mountains an hour form Munich right now and in another part of Germany tomorrow, so I did what most people outside Munich did - follow the news and social media in between texting friends to check on them.

Incidentally: re: social media, the people managing the twitter account for the Munich police did a great job (as they've done last year when the refugees from Hungary arrived), reporting what happened, explaining as far as they knew, providing people with landlines and coordinating efforts from helpers. (Not just in German but also in English and French, and Turkish.) Also, the press officer, Marcus da Gloria Martins, who had to do the press conferences, became everyone's instant hero for refusing to be drawn into baiting and insinuating questions, staying calm, and projecting gravitas. (This is him.) Given that wild rumors had several shootings happen all over Munich (not true), and that for hours it wasn't clear whether it was one shooter or several, up to three (it was one), having someone providing information who refused to speculate and stuck to the facts while also communicating, not shutting people's questions down, was really a good thing.

Still: people are dead, killed in the city where I live. Within a week of the axe murderer in the train from Würzburg (which I often take). And a friend of mine, who is working in an organization devoted to helping underage refugees, says they're getting vile hatemail now. (Which has also been reported in the news.) These are terrible times we live in. Which reminds me of something Tolkien wrote:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
selenak: (Borgias by Andrivete)
( Jul. 22nd, 2016 09:10 am)
The History Exchange 2016 has gone live!

I received an intense, vivid poem on Artemsia Gentileschi, portrayed, as is only fit, through her paintings. I think it's accessible even if you're not familiar with Artemsia's work and history: In the days of Jael

This is a small exchange - 15 works all in all, so I hastily started to devour it. Here are two stories I found outstanding so far:

What dreams may come: Akhenaten, the Heretic Pharao, grows into himself. Poetic and terse at the same time, drawing a great portrait in short space.

i have cut a ribbon of skin from another man's body: Olympias encounters Zeus four times throughout her life. Olympias in historical fiction tends to be invariably described through her son's or her son's companions' eyes, and with the son in question being Alexander the Great, that's not so surprising. But it makes it all the more welcome to see a take on her from her own pov, in the centre of her own story, and one that uses the myth of Zeus as Alexander's father in a really creative way.

As for my own story, I think, as always, it's a bit obvious, but have a guess anyway!
And I've finished the marathon now. Overall, I still love the series as a whole (miniseries? first season?), with some tiny nitpicks, which, however, fit with the very conscious 1980s atmosphere.

Haven't you read Stephen King? )
selenak: (The Americans by Tinny)
( Jul. 18th, 2016 09:07 am)
Determinedly non-political entry, since the times, they keep getting dreadfull-er: when I lived through the 80s as a teenager, I never expected to feel so nostalgic about them. But I've started to watch Stranger Things on Netflix, and wow, does it ever hit those unexpected buttons. Also, based on the first two episodes, it's a wondrous crossover of Stephen King tropes and Steven Spielberg visuals.

(Key difference between the Steves of the 80s: while in E.T., the sequence where Elliot's home is invaded by white decontamination suit wearing government officials is viscerally scary, in the end said officials aren't depicted as evil but benevolent. They really want to help E.T. (and Elliot). Meanwhile, in a Stephen King novels, you can rely on such types being really truly evil, and probably co-responsible for the horror of the day in the first place. So far, Stranger Things, despite paying visual homage to E.T. like no one's business, seems to be on the King end on the spectrum, content wise.)

And speaking of the 80s - the most joyful thing when this year's Emmy nominations were released for me was that The Americans finally got five of those, including best actor and best actress, best drama and best writing. My loyalties are slightly split because Better Call Saul also got nominated for best drama, writing and best leading actor, but much as I love Jimmy & friends, I think overall I'm rooting for Team Undercover Spies here, comrades.

Also, the BCS nominations frustrate me a bit because not only they're leaving out Rhea Seaborn, whose season the second one was, for supporting actress, but pick Jonathan Banks as Mike over Michael McKean as Chuck for supporting actor. Call me crazy, but I think acting nominations shouldn't be about which character is more beloved or likeable. Chuck does some awful things in s2. Micheal McKean also gets a hell of a lot acting to do and layers to sell (what he pulls off in the last two episodes of s2 especially!), while there's no s2 equivalent to s1's grand Mike vehicle, Five-O, and while Jonathan Banks continues to do his solid stoic supporting act superbly, he didn't do anything we hadn't seen before in several seasons of Breaking Bad and now Better Call Saul.

Mind you, the perennial favorite Game of Thrones illustrates that likeability trumping acting thing in this years' nominations as well. Yes, Peter Dinklage is awesome in general, but in this season Tyrion didn't have much to do. And Emilia Clarke over Sophie Turner, seriously? Must be the dragons. Lena Headey, otoh: deserved. And because they didn't nominate Alison Wright for best supporting actress in a drama series in The Americans or Rhea Seaborn for Better Call Saul, see above though perhaps it was because she went from supporting to virtual co-lead in s2, I can even root for her.

Next goal: get the Emmy crowd to watch Black Sails. Considering they've kept nominating Downton Abbey long beyond its expiration age, they're bound to be Maggie Smith fans, so pointing out her kid is doing amazing things as the lead could help...
Well, what can I say about the new season line-up the tv show British Politics presented yesterday? At least Larry retains his cabinet position. (Seriously, read that entry I just linked. The Larry tale is probably the best thing to come out of this week.)

As for one of last season's chief villains making a comeback in a supporting role after (prematurely, sigh) we all assumed he'd been written out: I can't decide whether it's a cunning ploy to punish him ("you broke it, you can't run away, face the music and become hated trying to fix it the way the rest of us will") or Theresa May's idea of comedy relief. I mean, it's not like Boris Johnson's greatest hit list of diplomatic efforts is a carefully kept secret. I must admit, I can't wait for the crossover episode with the horror show "Turkish Politics", because if ever two people deserve each other, these two people are Erdogan and Johnson. (Otoh, in the interest of not starting yet another war in the Middle East, might be wise to keep him away from Iraq.)

I note that Johnson won't be negotiating anything Brexit related and that another guy who got the newly created cabinet post of "Brexit Minister" will. This proves that May isn't deliberately trying to to make things worse for Britain, at least? I also note that the headline in today's FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of our leading pappers) is "May begs Germany and France for more time", which isn't how her press office phrased it to the local media, I'm sure.

Meanwhile, not just our politicians but those around the globe are still wondering whether this is all a big joke this morning...
selenak: (Dragon by Roxicons)
( Jul. 12th, 2016 09:33 am)
In some respects an improvement over the first season, in others getting things worse. Visuals are still gorgeous, which is of course one big reason to watch.

Spoilery ramblings )

All in all: still no must-tv, and in parts groanworthy, but I liked enough about it to marathon the entire season, and will probably watch a third, if it will be made.
selenak: (Peggy Carter by Misbegotten)
( Jul. 11th, 2016 08:33 pm)
Seems that British Politics show I mentioned a week or so ago has written half of their leads out (and all of those pushing for that unbelievable potline). briefly tried to promote a new female villain but then settled on making the lead one of the former minor supporting characters, also female.

Meanwhile, the flashback episodes are still going on. If you want to catch up:

The Chilcot Report, Digested Edition (because it's better to laugh than to cry)

On that note, fanfic from a recently cancelled show, Agent Carter:

Il diavolo rosa: Nonna Manfredi versus Bernard the Flamingo. It's the showdown of the century!
Penny Dreadful:

Who the hell can see forever: I spent the majority of s3 being furious with Victor Frankenstein, but that doesn't mean lack of interest. In this story, he confronts, in the aftermath of Big Show End Event, both what he's done and what he's almost done. Moreover, this while being a Victor pov is also an ensemble story, so we see the other characters through his eyes respond to Big Show End Event and try to continue their lives after this. Superb character voices all around. If there had been a season 4 after Spoilery Event, which of course there couldn't have been, this is pretty much how I could see it go.

Immortality: the Creatures meet again. Lily and John Clare/Caliban encounter each other post show and realise they share more than resurrection by Victor. It's exactly the type of non-romantic, but very human exchange I wanted to read.

Star Wars:

By the Lies that I Have Loved (and actions I have hated): Obi-Wan in the months post RotS in the desert, trying (without much success) to come to terms with Recent Events. Intense and messed up, and the way Obi-Wan's Anakin memories (of him as a child, as a teenager, as an adult) are now irrevocably mixed up with the Anakin-as-Vader present, and his vain attempts to divide the two, are drawn expertly.
This one is a crossover between Kieron Gillan's Darth Vader comics (issues 13 - 15), which I've reviewed here, and Jason Aaron's main Star Wars comics, which I haven't read at all, though still easy enough to follow what's going on. Still, the crossover aspect makes it less satisfying than the previous issues, to me, mainly for two reasons:

Vaguely spoilery talk ensues )

Now I'm looking forward to the next installment when we're back to non-crossover territory, because I want more Aphra (aka the character whose fate isn't predetermined by the movies) than could be provided when our OT heroes take the spotlight.
Reading about the Chilcot Report brings oh so many things to mind. On the (dimly) bright side, after the last ten days highlighted the dysfunctionality of British politics, the mere existence of a) the comission, and b) the report now delivered is a reminder that the U.K. does have a political tradition and understanding of responsibility to be proud of. Because I didn't see Obama ordering such an investigation on to the Bush administration's decision making re: the Iraq War, did you? And I don't think any future president (of either party) ever will; I think Dubya will live out his life without even the minor inconvenience of two or so days public shaming Blair is currently going through before the news cycle moves on. That shoe thrown at him ages ago when he showed up in Iraq was as close as we'll ever get.

Now I've heard some reminders about hindsight being 20/20, but as not only the report points out, no hindsight was necessary. Blair had people in his own cabinet who pointed out the insanity and wrongness of it all. And resigned as a matter of principle. (So very different from a certain bunch who resigned AFTER creating disaster in the last few days.) Robin Cook's resignation speech (in fulll, all eleven minutes of it) is worth listening to again; and here is Clare Short's letter Blair, pointing out that "the consequences of us continuing to be vague about the detail of future arrangements are very serious. We risk putting our armed forces and our civil servants in a situation where they are complicit with breaches of international law. We risk antagonising Arab opinion across the region and jeapordising the prospects of progress with MEPP. And we risk the UK's own international reputation." No kidding, Ma'am.

Of Blair's own letters and memos written at the time, the one currently most quoted is the "I'll be with you, whatever" note to Bush written full eight months before the Iraq Invasion. Sounding for all the world as if he thinks he's Sam going to Mordor with Frodo. And the thing is, he probably does think that (though a less Frodo-like person than W. is hardly imaginable). When he published his memoirs, I browsed through them and among all the usual self justifying hogwash, the starry eyed treatment the US and its leaders get really stood out. Tony Blair in his memoirs about US Presidents, summed up and only slightly paraphrased: "I love America. To prove it, I'll use as many clichés as possible when talking about it. Frontier spirit, vision, leadership, leadership, leadership, vision vision vision. Now, about those guys at the top: 1.) Bill. Bill is brilliant and charming and I fell for him immediately. And damm it if he didn't seduce me all over again in Blackpool 2003 even though I was already in a happy relationship with George by then. Also? He weathered that impeachment thing and left office with an approval rating of more than 60%, unlike me, hmph. 2.) George. Stop calling George stupid, you meanies! A stupid man would never become the American president. Always knowing right from wrong is intelligence, too, and George ALWAYS knows the right thing to do! Plus he's really manly and tough and decisive. 3.) Obama. I met him! He's as brilliant as Bill and as tough and manly as George. And I'm sure he didn't mean it when he said not so nice things about George's Iraq policy."

Power loves power, of course, but the impression I have with Blair is that it's a bit more than that with the US; Peter Morgan was on to something with the last installment of his Blair trilogy. Meanwhile, one of our politicians quipped: "The Special Relationship - so special only the Brits knows it exists." Seriously though, there are more than enough examples in British-American post war history of wars where they WEREN'T on each other's side (Suez, Vietnam, Falkland) that this idea that to maintain a good British-American relationship Britain would have to unconditionally support the US strikes me as a unique-to-Blair interpretation. In his most recent sorry-not-sorry press conference, he mentioned he always believed that Britain needed to have a strong relationship with both the US and Europe. Currently it has neither. ("Back to the end of the queue" was how Obama put it, didn't he?) While the Tories (and Rupert Murdoch) certainly carry a lot of blame for that, a case can be made that Blair's behavior re: Iraq did his share.

At the most recent terrorist bombing in Bagdhad a few days ago, about 200 people died. Not much reporting on this one; violent death in Iraq is so commonplace by now that it only gets a few lines internationally. I don't think many Iraquis will care about the Chilcot report at this point.
selenak: (Black Sails by Violateraindrop)
( Jul. 5th, 2016 09:04 pm)
Black Sails:

The Prince in the High Tower: charming fairy tale AU. I can so see everyone mentioned in these roles.


Who only stand and wait: Edwin Jarvis, as summarized by Vision. There are a very few stories who make use of the Jarvis - JARVIS - Vision connection, and this one does so in a unique way.

Deep Space 9:

War Songs: lovely DS9 ensemble story; aw, DS9.
selenak: (Branagh by Dear_Prudence)
( Jun. 30th, 2016 03:53 pm)
Let's face it, the producers/headwriters of this show called "British Politics" have finally lost it. They suck. There's such a thing as shades of grey characterisation and flawed characters, sure, but they still need to be believable. Look, we'd have gotten the point about how that lame Francis Urquart wannabe, Boris Johnson, just was after power already. But leading a breaking Europe campaign so he could be PM, with the plan being that the vote doesn't actually go through, that's already over the top. Now his face at the first public appearance when the vote actually went Breaking Europe, that said it all, that was good tv. However, him quitting the resulting Tory leadership contest because he really doesn't want to deal with the resulting mess, that's just too much of a caricature.

Speaking of caricatures: what's with the Michael Gove characterisation? He already was set up to defy belief with his stanning for World War I and blaming WWI's bad public image on Blackadder, while being minister for education, no less. Did we really need that "we don't need no stinking experts" appearance? That's just a lame imitation of the main villain in the overseas spin-off. Cut it down, please.

But where the show has really lost the plot is this: downer episodes of apocalyptic dimensions are all very well, but then we need someone to rally. Where's the subsequent episode where the Labour people use the golden opportunity to denounce the government party who is responsible for the unholy mess? Where's the part where one of them, preferably the head of the party, uses departing villain Cameron's first appearance in Parliament after the Brexitocalypse to eviscerate him and the party he represents verbally? Instead, you give us Labour busy eviscarating itself, all of them screaming at each other how vile they were, no one giving an airtime minute of criticism directed at the Tories. And when Cameron - CAMERON - tells the supposed head of the good guys that he needs to quit, there's not even the teensiest weensiest reminder on the part of our hero that if Cameron had quit ages ago and had devoted himself to the joys of necroporkophilia in private, the current mess might not be happening at all. Nor does anyone else point this is out. Too busy with the infighting. I suspect the scriptwriter of this episode to be a secret Tory itching to spread the incompetent leftists stereotype, except for the part where the conservatives are made to look just as incompetent, and craven to boot. (Again: Boris' disappearance act.)

In conclusion: fire those writers and producers. And the cast as well. This show needs a complete overhaul.
And two movies in French:

Nous Trois Our Rien, directed by Kheiron: autobiographical movie about the director's father and mother, in which he also acts and plays his father, Hibat, who first was an activist against the Shah - which got him 7 years in prison and plenty of torture -, and then against Khomeini & Co., at which point he and his wife Fereshteh left the country. They end up in the Parisian Banlieues in which they manage, through a decade of hard social work, turn one of the most dangerous and neglected suburbs into a thriving multicultural community (which posts of the fewest votes for Front National anywhere in the department, as the director told us in the Q & A later.

Despite being set in Persia/Iran for two thirds, the movie is entirely in French, and while I'm shamefully rusty, I got some of the jokes before the subtitles told me. This movie manages to include some deadly serious subjects (oppression in two different regimes, resistance, torture, exile) and yet be a really funny comedy without belittling the enormity of what happens. It's also a family story, and Habit's wife, Fereshtre, is the opposite of the looking-in-fear-at-her-man cliché of wifes of rebels (who aren't depicted as gun-totting warriors). (She also gets a job as a social worker before he does. For that matter, Habit is also the opposite of a lot of clichés about rebels and revolutionaries. He's not angry and ranting and smashing things in frustration, but soft spoken, witty yet unrelenting. When he refuses to eat the cake the prisoners are offered at the Shah's birthday, which gets him months of isolation cell and beatings, he does so without big rethorical fanfares. He just does it. (Incidentally, the Shah shows up in this movie, as a comedy dictator. Khomeini, otoh, is presented via newsclips instead of being played by an actor.) And when Habit and Fereshtre have crossed the mountains from Iran to Turkey and turn around to look at their country for the last time, it's a big moment, but not because there is a speech; Kheiron as an actor trusts himself and his fellow actress Leila Bekhti to get across what they feel.

Because of the anti-immigration, anti-multicultural feeling on the rise in so many countries in and out of Europe right now, such a film - which ends, among other things, as an example of what the papers deem "successful integration"; Habit and Fereshtre have become part of a new community, which itself consists of many immigrants or descendants of same, of Arab and Morrocan origin - is more than timely, as one woman in the audience observed when during the Q & A she stood up to thank the director for this. But even in a better time, it would be a film worth watching. The humor and the affection the characters have for each other pulls you through the hardships, and the result is something I definitely hope will be released soon over here.

La Mort de Louis XIV, directed by Albert Serra: this, otoh, is a movie I probably won't watch again. Not because it was bad, mind: it was superbly photographed and acted, and I get the philosophical point: the process of dying in old age, which hits the most powerful man of his era just the same (only not, as a poor man would not get dozens of doctors and servants), the fantastic palace he built for himself reduced to a chamber that starts to stink of his gangrene leg. Legendary French actor Jean-Pierre Léaud returned to the screen for this movie, and there is that meta dimension you always get when an old man and living legend who could die at any point plays an old man dying (who also was legendary in a different way). But still, this draaaaaaags so much. Which is part of the point, I get it. But it doesn't make it easier to watch for me. I love my share of "slow" movies. This isn't one of them.

Maybe it's also a matter of wrong expectations: after the short summary in the program, I expected to see scheming courtiers while Louis is dying, and scheming courtiers in Versailles usually are very entertaining. But no; you only have some rivalries between doctors (and the main doctor, Fagon, versus the main valet who seems to never get to sleep as he has to be on call for Louis through the agonizingly slow days of dying all the time), but no power plays, and very little verbal fencing. (In fact I can remember only one such exchange. "As for the Doctors of the Sorbonne, I think Monsieur de Moliere has described them perfectly." "This is not the time to quote Molier, Dr. Fagon!") Verbally, it's more a competition between different actors of in how many different intonations - pleading, cajoling, pitying, fearing, etc. - the word "Sire" can be pronounced. Which is great for half an hour, but not two. The one point which got my imagination going was when Louis ordered papers from his father's day burned after having looked at them one last time. Clearly, these were letters between Aramis and his mother proving Louis' paternity.

One more, I get the point about death. But, you know: I Claudius, the tv version, did it more elegantly in five minutes, in the death of Augustus sequence, with Brian Blessed doing probably his finest acting entirely silent, the camera unrelentingly staying on his face while Livia tells him, off screen but very present through her voice, her version of the truth for the first time.

In conclusion: maybe watch it on a long intercontinental flight when you need to fall a sleep in a very cultural way.
Kästner und der kleine Dienstag (Erich Kästner and Little Tuesday), directed by Wolfgang Murnberger: movie which gets around the biopic conundrum (i.e. if you film the entire life of a person, it usually comes across as a checklist of edited highlights, as worthy and dull or what not) the usual way, by choosing a limited time to cover, and one particular relationship to focus on. In this case, the time is 1929 - 1945, and the relationship is the one that develops between Erich Kästner (self and most of the German reading world would list him among their favourite writers any time; and not just the German reading world, [profile] abigail_n once told me he was the only German author who chose to remain in Germany during the Third Reich who still got published in Israel post WWII and ever after) and Hans Löhr. Who is Hans Löhr? In 1929, he was an eight years old boy who read Emil and the Detectives, wrote an enthusiastic fan letter to the author, then met him, ended up playing Little Tuesday in the movie version the UFA produced in 1931 (early sound movie, scripted by one Billie (sic, he didn't change the spelling until making it to the US) Wilder). Hans Löhr and Kästner remained in contact until Löhr died.

Now, had this relationship happened in any other era, it simply would have been a not quite father and son, mentor/protegé type of story, with the added factor of making one realise it couldn't happen today because an adult man befriending a child immediately invokes suspicion. But it started in the last years of the Weimar Republic, and then took place in the vilest dictatorship we had in this country. And the questions whether you can survive inside the system with your moral integrity, and what it does to you to grow up in such a system, are of course a big part of the story. Erich Kästner during the course of the film goes from young vibrant and successful Weimar Republic era writer, still more famous for his political sharp tongued poetry than anything else (though Emil and the Detectives changes this radically), always ready with a witty come back, to the haunted grey figure at the end of the war who is completely silent in the last scene. The question "why don't you leave?" is asked repeatedly - until 1939, when leaving or not isn't an option any more - and Kästner has different answers: at first he doesn't believe Hitler will last, then he wants to be a witness from the inside (he made lots of notes, some of which survive, for a novel about the Third Reich which was to be his big justirfication for staying, something he said couldn't be written from the outside, but in the end he never wrote it), there's also his mother (Kästner was a proud self declared Mother's Boy whose "Letters to Muttchen" filled whole volumes), and lastly he also names fear and laziness. The movie leaves him this ambiguity, not settling on just one or the other. One of the most important supporting characters, Erich Ohse, a cartoonist who illustrated Kästner's novels and poetry, like him remained in Germany (and was allowed to continue to work under a pseudonym, until he was denounced and arrested for expressing anti Nazi opinions, and committed suicide in his cell), once has a conversation with Kästner where he says, about both of them: "You can't say clean in a pigsty, Erich."

Kästner stays, sees his books burned in front of him - he was probably the only German author whose books were among those burned in 1933 who witnessed it -, isn't allowed to publish anymore officially (inofficiallly, he worked as a script doctor and in one famous case wrote an entire script under a pseudonym - the movie Münchhausen, plus he also lived from the sales of his books outside of Germany). There is a visual running thread from the start of the movie, when an overcrowded café where Kästner often hangs out is bursting with people (signal to audience we're in Weimar Germany: not just the music but also same sex couples in the crowd), and through the movie we keep returning to the café with fewer and fewer people until it's just Kästner and the waiter. If this sounds all very depressing, I'm selling the energy of the movie short. Like I said, it focuses on the relationship between Kästner and Hans Löhr, which means a lot of comedy early on, as Kästner, like many a successful writer of children's books, isn't actually keen on or used to interacting with real children but otoh devoted fan Hans (his initial fan letter even comes with chocolate for his new favourite author!) is so incredibly endearing (and persistent) he gets around that.

The relationship also keeps shifting. At first Kästner is indulgent; directly after the Third Reich has started and Hans' best buddy, being half Jewish, finds himself derided by their teacher while Hans' sister joins the Jungvolk (she's still too young for the BDM at this point), Kästner tries to provide some moral counterpoints; still later, when Hans, who is played by two different actors by virtue of necessity in this movie (and may I say: very well cast, because the boy and young man who plays Hans as a teenager/very young adult really look like one could turn into the other, and both have excellent chemistry with Florian David Fitz who plays Kästner) has grown up some more, it's he who provides the moral challenges - didn't Kästner tell him through his books that standing by and doing nothing is as bad as joining the harm? (It's also, among many other things, a growing up, seeing your idol as a flawed human tale.) It's a getting estranged, finding each other again tale. And one which inevitably ends up in tragedy. As I saidin an earlier entry, all but two of the children playing in the first movie version of Emil and the Detectives died in World War II. Hans gets drafted. In the Q & A afterwards, the producers, asked about reality versus fiction, said they made some changes to the timeline, the most noticable being the point of Hans' death, which in reality already happened in 1942 but in the movie not until 1945 so it can coincide with the end of the war. The very last images of the movie are clips from the 1931 Emil and the Detectives, so we see the real Hans Löhr, and then the image of all the children joyfully running overlaid with the lettering tha tall but two died in the war, which after spending the last one and a half hour with Hans is gut wrenching enough to make cry, and I knew it was coming.

Now, this is a low budget movie. Which means no big sweeping spectacle shots: you get bombed Berlin via people sitting in a bomb shelter and later via Kästner watching the ruins of the house he used to live in, not via the whole city panorma. It also is low key in another fashion, and I suppose you could accuse it of pulling punches, though for me what they did worked, to wit: the fact that we don't see Hans as a soldier other than briefly ducking shots. (As opposed to shooting people.) The reason why I wouldn't agree that it was evading the fact that Hans, as a soldier of the Wehrmacht in the East, couldn't be other than a participant in a genocidal war is that earlier there's a conversation between Kästner and Hans where they talk about the rumors that there are atrocities in the East, and decide on a code sentence Hans is supposed to write to his mother if he finds this to be true. (Because obviously all mail is censored.) And the next time Kästner visits Mrs. Löhr, and she shows him Hans' letter, the sentence is there, underlined three times. Which in all its implication is mirrored on Kästner's face.

Also, the insidiousness of non stop hate propagadanda - a very contemporary topic, alas! - is addressed a lot by the movie; I already mentioned Hans' teacher (and believe me, what he says in class really was every day). One key sequence, for example: Kästner and Hans listen to the first Joe Louis versus Max Schmeling fight (the one Schmeling won) on the radio. To them, being Max Schmeling fans, this is a joyful occasion; he was already 30 and thought to be on the decline, not likely to win against the much younger Louis. The next morning, however, at school, the teacher recontextualizes the fight as Aryan superiority winning over a "negro", and the realisation that there is really no area untouched by hate propaganda now hits home all over again.

I've seen a lot of movies and tv shows include the book burning, but they usually get the books in question wrong (Christopher and his Kind), or they leave it at the point of "this is barbarism having arrived", with the character witnessing the burning usually a concerned foreigner. The way this movie uses it is different, both because they get the books right (and Kästner's adult novel Fabian isn't the first to be burned, either), because Kästner is actually there, and because of the conversation he has with the other Erich, Erich Ohse, later about it. One: he points it it wasn't SS men who threw the books into the fire, it were students. "Our hope for tomorrow." And secondly: "I was there, and I did nothing. I said nothing. This is how it's going to work. Some who act, and the rest of us standing by frozen."

Again: this doesn't just have historical relevance, and more's the pity.

On a more light hearted note: things that would be edited out if this was a US movie: Kästner's chain smoking (he's hardly without a cigarette in this movie, which is true to reality), and his casual sexuality (multiple relationships early on, including one with a married woman). BTW, of course Hans who informes him that "we are divorced" hopes Kästner will marry his mother early on, but Mrs. Löhr refresingly isn't interested (Kästner isn't, either), and is a rounded character who gets to make a lot of good points. (For example, early in the Third Reich, that it's all very well for Kästner to talk to her son about pacifism etc., but Kästner can leave Germany whenever he wants to, whereas they, being a working class family, can't afford it.

Accents: Hans' best friend Wolfi Stern speaks Berliner German like a pro (or a native, which him being a kid I suspect he is, though the teenage actor later also does it), as do most of the other kids. Otoh, Florian David Fitz is doesn't even attempt to have a go at the slight touch of Saxonian Kästner had, and his voice sounds different (he's a tenor, whereas Kästner was a bariton getting only deeper through the years), but he's so good in the part that you don't mind, and this isn't about impersonation anyway.

Allusions to Kästner's works: plenty, obviously: Emil and the Detectives is a touchstone, but also Pünktchen and Anton and Das Fliegende Klassenzimmer. At one point, Kästner has the idea for Das doppelte Lottchen somewhat prematurely and bounces it off Hans, but never mind. The script also found a way to include several of the poems, and put them to great use - Die andere Möglichkeit and Kennst Du das Land, Wo Die Kanonen Blühen? especially.

Movie-wise, two scenes of the 1931 Emil are re-acted so the kid who plays Hans is in them, and like I said, we see the original clips later on at the very end of the film; there's also a clip of Münchhausen, which Kästner watches in the cinema when British bombs arrive. Billy Wilder as a young man shows up only silently during the Emil premiere celebration (you only know it's him if you've seen photographs of Wilder at that age), but he's referred to earlier as the script writer; the movie avoids Wilder and Kästner having had a typical scriptwriter of adaption versus novelist who has never been adapted before clash, since it hasn't got anything to do with the Kästner and Hans Löhr story. We see a lot of Erich Ohse's cartoons, both the Weimar era ones and the later "father and son" series he published under the pseudonym of e.o. plauen. And a great example of how the film uses the comic to set up the tragic: early on, when Emil just got published, Kästner charms a bookseller into putting it in the frontal display of her store's window, replacing the Heinrich Mann (not Thomas!) novel which was there before. Twenty minutes into the movie later, that same Heinrich Mann novel precedes Kästner's in being thrown into the fire.

Where to watch: not at all yet. It's not been released. But the house was packed, and we gave it a tremendous applause. And I think I'll visit Kästner's grave here in Munich again soon.
Yes, "Slash" as in slash of fanfiction fame. As in, it's an entire movie about two teens who write same and deal with the whole coming of age, discovering their sexuality thing at the same time. This could have gone wrong in so many ways, but I'm happy to report the resulting movie does NOT ridicule fandom, either the writing or the non-writing part of same; instead, it's lilke Galaxy Quest to Sci Fi, specifically Trek fandom, laughing with the fans, not at them, and taking them seriously as characters. And when was the last time you saw a comedy focused on a male teenager who is attracted to both men and women and whom the movie refuses to label or put into a neat category? Or a movie about teenagers that treats writing (and writing fanfiction, not poetry) like genre movies otherwise treat dancing or singing or acting? A movie in which an explanation of what "curtain fic" means receives an adorable emotional pay off by the end?

"Slash" is directed and scripted by Clay Lifford, who was there for the Q & A afterwards and cheerfully confessed to having been in fandom all his life, and it shows. (Doesn't mean EVERY bit of the movie feels dead-on; Lifford said he wrote the quoted fanfiction for the movie, and it shows, too, which isn't a problem early because beginner stories certainly often read like this, but at one point there's a "best of" live reading at a convention, and there the quoted example certainly would never make it that far.) Like I said, the whole thing feels like a love declaration, though not an over the top one; while fandom and the fanfiction writing community by and large are presented as positive and a great space for creative people, there is also the inevitable competitive feeling and the self righteous bully to be found specializing in tearing down fellow fans.

Spoilery observations and descriptions under the cut )

I could go on about how this movie is my favourite of the festival so far for hours, but I won't, and will just include one more running gag: Julia brings up that the Brontes wrote fanfiction early on (the Angria and Gondal tales), and Neil finds that information repeatedly useful, not least when being told off by a girl who says she only reads real literature. (He even gets the Duke of Wellington/Napoleon pairing right, though not the Bronte sister - it was Charlotte - and brother Branwell -, not Emily, who turned Wellington and Napoleon into Zamorna and Northangerland, respectively.) Still, icon chosen in honor of that running gag.

In conclusion: if this movie is shown anywhere near you, go watch! The website is here.
Still dazed and in misery due to, as EU president of parliament Martin Schulz put it, an entire continent taken hostage by an inner Tory party dispute, I embraced the chance at escapism via the international Munich Film Festival. Via, you know, movies dealing with such uplifiting topics as military dictatorship, paranoia, police violence, and so forth.

Not, but really, the two movies I saw yesterday were certainly compelling.

Orestes: directed by Rodrigo Siqueira: a Brazilian movie that is fiendishly difficult to categorize. The quick summary in the film festival catalogue made it sound like a modern day adaption of the Greek myth of the title, but then the lady introducing the movie called it a documentary. So which was it, I wondered, as the movie started, and as it turned out, it was both. How so?

Rodrigo Siqueira uses as a modern day adaption of the story of Orestes, specifically, the trial that concludes the Oresteia by Aischylos, as a framing device to interview and act out psychodrama/therapy with real victims of violence - violence by the state in the past (a lot of the movie deals with the still unacknowledged murders and torture during the military dictatorship of the 1970s, and n the present (police shooting down people despite having the option not to, otoh school children getting shot by criminal). The modern Orestes does never appear in the movie; he and the trial which is conducted by a real state and a real defense attorney are the only parts that are fictional. (So the director said in the Q & A later.)

Quite how the story of Orestes got adapted tells you immediately something about the focus: modern present day Orestes no longer kiled his mother to avenge his father, he killed his father to avenge his mother. (The gender reversal, of course, immediately also eliminates one of the biggest things to stick in the throat if you're reading or watching The Kindly Ones, i.e. the concluding drama of the Oresteia, to wit, Athena's argument that fathers should count more than mothers in terms of child loyalty.) The context in which his father killed his mother is specifically political and tied to recent Brazilian history: he was a goverment spy, she was an activist/militant in the group he infiltrated. The arguments in the trial are very political, too: for example, the state attorney says there's no way Orestes killling his father was spontanous because Orestes had to dwell on this for 37 years while the state refused to do anything but grant amnesty to all murderers and torturers of the military dictatorship.

But like I said, this is only the framing narration, or if you like the skeleton, and the meant of the movie are the true stories.The one with the most obvious parallel to the adapted myth is that of Nasaindy, whose mother, Soledad, was killed (pregnant) by a government spy in her movement she had an affair with. Because the guy in question already knew her when they were trained in Cuba, when Soledad was with Nasaindy's father, another fellow militant who died, and because no photos of the father exist (at least no complete ones, Nasaindy has one where you can see male hands holding her which she thinks were his), she did/does wonder the inevitable: whether her mother's murderer (currently alive and well, there's a YouTube clip played with him in his blithe "ah well, saved democracy from the domino effect, didn't I?" smugness that's chilling) wasn't also her father.

Then there's Eliana, whose son, a drug addict, was gunned down, despite not having carried a weapon. Eliana is black, and in one of the movie's most uncomfortable, disturbing scenes, she's paired up with another member of the group, Sandra (white), who advocates the return of the death penalty to Brazil and represents the parents of children gunned down by criminals. Sandra going from "I respect your grief as a mother" to "but could your son have had a weapon? And between a criminal and the police, who is supposed to die? What's a cop supposed to do, get shot?" to openly admitting she wants cops to shoot suspected criminals is hair-raising. Another member of the therapy/interview/psychodrama group, btw, is an ex-cop who says that you are trained with alternate, non-lethal methods of dealing with criminals, but because using guns and shooting people is an option not going to have negative repercussions for you afterwards, in 90%, you go for the gun.

And then there's the victim of 1970s police torture, going to the actual cells where he was given electroshocks; he's also the one to find the YouTube clip of the same guy who is responsible with the death of Naisandy's mother. He's almost unbelievable zen when talking about all of this, except in the end, when after discussing the Orestes case, Naisandy, the group therapist and the director enact how they think a confrontation between Naisandy and her mother's killer would go, which is when José Roberto (the torture victim) loses it.

At the start of the movie, the introduction lettering quickly sums up the Oresteia and ends with telling the audience that the end of the Oresteia was possibly the first time in Western Culture when the "eye for an eye" principle was abandoned in favor of mercy, that this was a major step of civilisation. Which the movie also believes, but it also questions the cost if there are no repercussions at all for murder. And of course you don't have to go to Brazil to find a society where victims have to live with the perpetrators thereafter, so this hit home in so many ways for the audience. In the Q & A later, there was repeated praise from audience members for the fact the movie also includes present day violence, instead of exclusively 1970s cases, and the director pessimistically said: "We're going backwards right now. Backwards."

Brazil and so many other states, alas, which brings me to the next movie, the festival's sole Turkish contribution.

Frenzy (original title Abluka), directed by Emin Alper: has nothing to do with the late Hitchcock movie of the same name, though I think he might have liked this one. Here, too, the director was available for a Q & A afterwards, during which he observed that while he got the funding for this movie a few years ago partly from the Turkish cultural ministery back when he applied, he doubts he'd get it now, and concluded after the last question with an appeal: "We are sliding into a horrible dictatorship day by day. Tell Merkel to stop negotiating with Erdogan."

What the movie is about: Kadir is released from prison (what he was in prison for originally, we're never told) upon probation after almost two decades. He's given the task of joining a unit that investigates waste bins in Istanbul for bombs or remains of bomb making. His younger brother Ahmet, whom he last saw when Ahmet was 7, has a job which is just as much a comment on present and future: Ahmet is part of a team that's supposed to shoot wild dogs. Two thirds in, after we've seen lots of dog shooting - not really, btw, we see the guys shoot and we see dead dogs afterwards, we don't see fake dying of dogs) one of the movie's few openly satiric sequences, there is a news clip on tv where a state official goes on about the slander of evil foreign media claiming Turkey deals with its wild dog problem by shooting them, no, they're just tranquilized and then brought to loving animal shelters conforming to EU standards. Cue clip of cheerful animal shelter. (Obvious symbolism is obvious.)

To me, the movie felt a bit Terry Gilliam-esque, but not in a derivative way: it's dark both in the sense that most scenes are set at night and in terms of content, of the dystopia it is set in, but also full of black humor, until it isn't: Ahmet ends up secretly adopting one of the dogs he's supposed to shoot and hinding, hiding it at his house, which is the source of funny scenes but also Ahmet's paranoia spinning out of control (every time Kadir checks on him he thinks it's the police). Same with Kadir's plot: he's earnest in trying to help against the terrorist threat - and there's the occasional bomb explosion heard ever closer to where our heroes live to remind us it's not just the state making this up -, but also check points and soldiers driving throughout the city. Since Kadir is prone to project and imagine, what with having been in prison for years, the couple (friends of Ahmet's) in which house he ends up living quickly go from being objects of fantasy (especially the wife, Meral, whom he suspects of having an affair with Ahmet - she doesn't - mainly because he fancies her himself) to objects of dread (when they disappear and Ahmet, due to the hidden dog plot, never answers the door, Kadir thinks his hosts are really terrorists who have taken Ahmet hostage). And Kadir's paranoia spins out of control, too. In the case of both brothers, the movie makes the cas that it's the direct result of the conditions they live in, the climate of fear. The structur of the film is challenging; it starts linear but then keeps going back and thro as we keep changing perspectives between Kadir and Ahmet, which also means going back and thro in time (first we see what happens with one brother, then we go back and see what happened with the other), and there are increasing fantasy/dream sequences as their fears build up. This contributes to the surreal feeling and the way you're sucked into this world as a watcher, increasingly unable to discern what's real and what isn't as well.

A minor aspect that's different from not just Gilliam or Hitchcock but most "Western" movie storytelling: the way Meral is presented. Because, as I said, Kadir massively projects into her, both desire and fear, I think most movies would dwell on her figure and attractiveness, but while she's played by a pretty actress, this doesn't happen here. The camera doesn't treat her differently than it does her husband. When Kadir has burned his hand and she patches him up because she's nice, this is obviously a major moment for him, but not for Meral, and there's no sense of lingering on the brief physical contact. I suppose the fact that Meral doesn't wear a headscarf and at one point puts her hair in a clip in front of Kadir could be read as erotic if you're from, say, Saudi Arabia, but most Turkish origin women I've met don't wear headscarfs, especially from Istanbul, so.

The movie never specifies an era - could be set in the past (the director said when he first had the idea, around 2005-ish when Turkey was in a relatively peaceful era, he was thinking of the 1990s, but by the time the movie got actually made and finished it looked prophetic/commenting the present), present or future - and it avoids commenting just who the terrorists are. It just shows us a few people who aren't, but by the end of the movie have been classified as such by the state to cover up its collosal blunders, which is a statement by itself.

As with the previous movie: what it depicts is by no means singular to Turkey. Which makes it even more viscerally effective.
Bigoty and xenophobia won, and we all lost. I'm sorry for my British friends, but frankly, I'm horrified on account of what this means to the rest of us in Europe.
Okay, so it wasn't very reddish in my part of the world, but it was a beautiful sight to behold as it rose over the Tegernsee. Which is why you get a pic spam. (Also it distracts me from Brexit fears. On twitter, there was for a while the hashtag #hugaBrit; I did, [personal profile] londonkds, when he was visiting. I also dragged him around the Tegernsee, poor guy, but then, that's the kind of sinister thing we Germans subject our visitors from Albion to. Since I can't you drag around the lake as well, oh list/circle, have some pictures, as I am off to the city of Leipzig in Saxonia tomorrow.

 photo 20160620_213909_zpsv86pwutt.jpg
Watch the moon rise )


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