Friday, April 17, 2009

Movies #48 - #50: Subtitles!

As you may have already noticed, I've recently eschewed the chronological approach to reviewing these and have instead, at least until I get caught up, adopted a more thematic approach. Previous themes have been "crappy set of movies reviewed #1" and "crappy set of movies reviewed #2". Today's theme could conceivably fall under one of two categories. The obvious choice is "foreign language movies," but they could just as easily fall under "super amazing awesome movies." Yes, after a long list of mediocre Hollywood films, leave it to Sweden, Romania and France to raise the average score significantly.

#48 - Let the Right One In (2008)

Let the Right One In is a Swedish vampire film---set in 1982---which offers up many of the standard elements one would expect in a horror film. There's some blood and gore, some scare, some suspense. But unlike a standard Hollywood vampire movie, those elements are really just there as window dressing for a unique take on the genre. The core relationship is between a 12-year-old boy who gets routinely bullied and dreams of revenge against his agitators, and that of a 12-year-old female vampire...though she's been 12 for quite awhile. It's a relationship that's sweet at its core, but one cloaked in utter darkness. It's rare when something can be seen as equally beautiful and disturbing, and this is one such case.
Not everything in the movie works. A subplot with a few of the neighbors felt jarringly idiotic in comparison to everything else, and some of the antics of the school bullies are a bit overplayed and cliche. But these are, ultimately, mild criticisms when you look at the work as a whole. Without giving any of the movie's secrets away, and there are a few, I'll simply say that the ending is perfect...and yet it also made me perfectly uncomfortable. I would hope it would be almost impossible for anyone to watch this and not have some conflicted feelings about the ending. I'm still thinking about it. Tell me, is anyone still thinking about Twilight? I didn't think so.

#49 - The Class (2008)
Let's get the accolades out of the way first. This French film was an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, it won the Golden Palm at Cannes, and it won Best Foreign picture at The Independent Spirit Awards and The Image Awards, and it has a 100% approval rating by the top critics at Rotten Tomatoes.'s all very much deserved. Hands down, there has never been a better movie made about the teaching experience than The Class. Although it has the distinct feel of a documentary, The Class is a scripted drama written by the film's star Francois Begaudeau, adapted from a book he wrote about his own teaching experience.
Everything feels completely authentic and natural in The Class, and the acting, especially by the students, appears effortless. Although the students are French and come from a rough, multicultural neighborhood, this classroom could just as easily be in the Bronx or any other urban school setting. Watching The Class is somewhat like watching reality television, except it doesn't feel as neatly edited as what you'd see on a television show. Weirdly, it feels less scripted. The drama isn't fabricated. The conflicts aren't overblown. The sweetness isn't saccharine. And the heroism of the teachers and the administration is perfectly understated...unlike, say, Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds...the antithesis of The Class. I've not seen a better film in quite some time.

#50 - 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)
If your ideal date movie is about a back-alley abortion during the mid 1980's in dark and gloomy Romania, boy, have I got a film for you! With long takes, often from a set camera position, and with scenes naturally lit (washed out), this isn't quite Speed Racer. It is, however, a compelling movie experience. Yes, some of the scenes go on for too long---especially a 10 minute scene in which a dinner is filmed from a static position and in medium close-up of the main character. I'd say I got the director's intention on that after the first four or five minutes. But there is a voyeuristic quality to the filmmaking which is not at all perverse, but rather quite intense.

Some scenes are intentionally dull and routine, just as life is more often than not. Much like The Class, nothing here seems faked for effect...even though there are some truly harrowing moments. And while a woman's attempt to arrange an illegal abortion is the central plot of the movie, the movie is really about female empowerment...and how communist states, in particular, end up oppressing women more so than men. You don't have to be pro-choice to appreciate this film. In the end, it's just not about that. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a classic art house film, but one without all the usual pretension.

Let the Right One In 8/10

The Class 10/10

4 Month, 3 Weeks and 2 Days 8/10


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