Waltz with Bashir (2008) dir: Ari Folman

A kind of illustrated documentary. And it’s getting loads of plaudits (which it deserves) so I’ll be brief.

The director Ari Folman, who had been in the Israeli army in the early 80s asks: “What is it that I can’t remember when I was posted to the Lebanon? What did I do there?  What did I see?  Why do I remember… nothing?”

So he begins his personal journey, interviewing friends and comrades who were there, during this Lebanon War, trying to piece it all together from memories, dreams and hallucinations. Searching for the truth.

Although the animation itself is not slick in its movement compared to, say a Pixar movie, it is beautiful and captivating, and has a dreamlike quality. The evocative imagery draws you into a world that would be distressing to watch if you were to see it for real.

So hats off to David Polonsky who did 80% of the illustrations and Yoni Goodman, the animation director (and their respective teams). Max Richter’s electronic score works a treat too.

I would pretty much say that it is essential viewing. A vivid and moving piece of work.

Having seen the film, I had to go google chunks of it to know more about this recent world history.

If films could change the world….

Baader Meinhof Complex (2008) dir: Uli Edel

I vaguely knew of the name ‘Baader Meinhof’ as a kid, and sort of (incorrectly) thought of it as a German version of the IRA. This film goes into incredible detail on the origins of the terrorist group Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF) in the late 1960s, founded by a number of young German men and woman, two of whom were ‘Andreas Baader’ and a well known journalist, ‘Ulrike Meinhof’. The film indicates, that initially, the RAF were thought to have the support of 1 in 4 Germans, 7 million people.

Fascinating and absorbing, the film documents the story of the RAF (or the Baader Meinhof Group as they were referred to in the press) and their activities through to the late 1970s – with the backdrop of unresolved conflict in the Middle East (between Palestinians and Israelis) and the US invasion of Vietnam.  Watching the film, it was horrifying at how little some things have changed in the world.

Yet some things seemed so different. There is a striking scene where the RAF have gone to a terrorist training camp in the Middle East. Not only does the group refuse to be segregated into men and women, as is the Islamic custom, but the women sunbathe naked at the camp – in front of the Arab men who are also training there. It’s easy to forget that the politics of this period (of our parents and grandparents) was also about female sexual emancipation.

I notice that some critics have described it as an action movie. It’s not. It is graphically violent, but that’s because the historical events it covers were violent. Death and murder from a hail of bullets is not some pretty glorified slow-mo here.

The story is told in a bleak and dispassionate manner and on a large scale, (there are several impressive sequences), and I found it to be utterly compelling with uniformly superb performances from all the cast.

Serial Lover (1998) dir: James Huth

OK. Bit of a rule breaker here. This is an old film, so I’m not going to do this often. But it was great! And you won’t have heard of it. And I’ve got a bit of time on my hands (but that’s another story).

Picture the scene:

I had to get up really early on a cold Saturday October morning to go to a seminar. It was heaving down with rain and I was grumpy. So me and these 5 other people sat down in this huge empty auditorium – 9.00am – in these uncomfortable metal chairs. The kind that are always dug out from the room marked ‘Pain’ at these sort of events. Then an announcement comes on: “Before the seminar we’d like to show you this French film.”

“God noooooo!” I’m thinking. “I’m just not in the mood for some arty farty boring subtitled film.”

(I was a bit of an idiot in those days when it came to subtitles and foreign language films. And I had no hot chocolate on me to soothe my sorrows.)

What’s more the film didn’t start off too hot neither.

35ish Claire (Michèle Laroque) has decided she needs to settle down and get married, but she’s single. She doesn’t have a boyfriend. Her biological clock is ticking.

This didn’t sound like a good setup, I knew where this was going: it was a one way trip to La Boredom. But it’s shot nicely so I’ll hang in there.

But then Claire has three male friends and she’s going to pick one to marry.

I’m shuffling in my bum-numbing seat and thinking about blowing the seminar entirely. God it’s cold in here.

So she invites them over for dinner and…

…accidentally kills them all – one by one – in entirely believable and ingenious ways.

This was now laugh out loud black comedy.  Coen brothers territory but funnier. All six of us in the audience are trying not to choke.

And it just got funnier:

After she’s killed two of her friends, and failed to hide the bodies properly, her last remaining friend discovers whats been occurring and panics. He shuts himself in her bedroom, and pushes the end of a bookcase against the door. Maybe he can save himself from this apparently deranged and psychotic woman?

He sits down, and leans back against the other end of the bookcase to keep the door from opening.

She’s banging on the door “It was an accident! I didn’t mean to kill them!…. Both times!” Or words to that affect (and in French).  I can’t remember exactly.

On top of the bookcase is an ice-skate.

Claire’s banging on the door, blokey is on the floor freaked out.

Bang, bang, bang goes the door against the bookcase.

Snick!

The ice-skate falls and embeds itself in the guy’s skull. But he’s alive – that’s not fatal.

“Are you ok?” Claire calls out from the other side of the door, now that her friend has gone quiet.

Thump, thump, thump as the door rattles against the bookcase. Very slowly Claire’s bowling ball, which we now learn she keeps on the top shelf, gently rolls off and…WHAP! Smacks the top of that ice-skate – with dire consequences.

Of course there’s no way I can do this scene justice, but the film was an absolute delight. I mean I’m banging on about it now and it was like 10 years ago when I saw it! It came out in France, during the 1998 World Cup staged where?  France. So no one went to see it. And it’s been released on DVD in Germany.

As far as I am aware, that is it.

At one time Sean Penn had the remake rights but I don’t know if that is still the case.  I met James Huth once and even he didn’t have a copy of the film.  James is doing OK though, one of his more recent films (which I haven’t seen) ‘The Brice Man’ was No. 2 in the French box office for 2005 – after Star Wars: the something or other.

If you happen to have a copy, with English subtitles, please let me know.  I’d love to see it again.

Blindness (2008) dir: Fernando Meirelles

It’s a shame that in the USA no one went to see this film.  Unlike ‘I Am Legend’ which was a glossy action orientated apocalyptic film (with a big star) –  ‘Blindness’ is just plain dark, grim and gritty.  A realistic portrait of how quickly humanity can fall, and the fragility of our civilization.

In a city where everyone else is going blind (a bright milky white blindness),  Julianne Moore plays one of the few who for some reason remains unaffected. When her newly blinded husband is carted off to an isolated ‘prison’, she goes with him. As the building begins to overflow with more and more quarantined, frightened and newly blinded people – it isn’t long before they begin fighting amongst themselves, wallowing around in shit and basically living in total despair.

Whilst those afflicted with this new blindness are in some ways sheltered from the full horror of their surroundings, Julianne Moore’s character can see it all.  The decay, the bodies and the filth.

I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how faithful the film is to it, but the way many of the characters treat each other is all too believable.  There are also some impressive (and I’m guessing) non CGI created city sequences where the pockets of humanity wander hopelessly around deserted streets and smashed up cars looking for food.

So pretty bleak, but a fascinating watch with some very interesting camerawork and terrific performances from all the cast.

The ending? Hmmm.

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