Exit Marrakech.

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When I was nineteen, I believed that gender was nothing more than a social construct. The physical, psychological, and social differences between men and women didn’t matter to me, despite the fact that these differences are obvious and undeniable. These ideas led me to adopt many feminist beliefs…and they also led me to several club parties where I stood in front of the women’s toilet asking the other girls in line to break the rules and use the men’s one. Ah, youth. Regardless of the implications of my actions and their actual effect on other people’s lives, I still believe in equality…an equality that has nothing to do with women no longer doing dishes and men refusing to help with heavy bags. Equality runs deeper than the actions behind them. I don’t care so much about deeds – I care about the state of mind of the people carrying them out, however vague that might sound.

Now, to a movie which made me very angry (for no apparent reason, on first glance). It’s a fairy tale-like father and son story about a journey, both literal and figurative. Caroline Link’s German ‘Exit Marrakech’ blinks and shines like fake-gold souvenirs you get at tourist stands. From a narrative standpoint, it’s light and spectator-friendly. It offers short-lasting comfort and easily accessible joy. It’s got loveable characters, including a slightly juvenile, incredibly talented father and his son, who, in a search for his own path, takes a crazy journey with a Moroccan prostitute. His father, previously absent in the teenager’s life, travels through beautiful landscapes and wide open spaces in order to find his son. This shared adventure changes both of them. They manage to find a path to reconciliation, and even the over-protective and slightly jealous mother cannot destroy it.

Everything is so easy, so heartwarming and so one-dimensional. Of course, Ben (Samuel Schneider) yells at his father Heinrich (Ulrich Tukur), smokes pot in front of him, and fools around with a prostitute. His father’s absent- minded observation of his child’s struggles is even somehow understandable and relatable. But then the pace speeds up, one thing leads to another, and in the last scene we see a perfect family picture taken on the Moroccan beach. Ben’s mother is conspicuously absent, of course, because she, as the unifying element of their infamous past, needs to get into a car and drive away. There is no room for her in this parade of forgiveness. She’s simply too real.

The reason why this movie got on my nerves so much isn’t the banality of the story. What I could accept in ‘My bike’ (which I wrote about last week), starts to annoy me in ‘Exit Marrakech’. It’s yet another road film about the mental journey towards maturity and a male-oriented generation gap. I’m pissed off because I don’t understand. I don’t get why Link, a female director, couldn’t make a movie about a mother and her daughter, thus offering a female perspective on this familiar story trope. Why couldn’t the girl run off with a warm-hearted male escort? Why couldn’t her mother drive through bleak, deserted places to find her child? Why, in cinema, do mother-daughter dilemnas always tend towards the negative, while men get to sunbathe and listen to the calming sound of the moving sea, even in movies made by women?

In the moments like this, I feel nineteen again. And for that I’m grateful, because it’s good to feel this ideological anger sometimes. Those impulses don’t have much of an impact, though, since ‘Exit Marrakech’ still tempts us with beautiful pictures that feed our desire for striking visuals. It also tricks us with one of life’s simple truths: it’s better to follow the pattern than to contradict it, even when it comes to a very universal story about the battle between parents and their children.

You’ll like this movie if:

  1. You’re primarily looking for pretty visuals without a great deal of thought-provoking substance.
  2. You don’t mind trivial, even cliched cinematic choices.
  3. You have never, at any stage of your life, considered yourself a feminist.

Poster-ENGLISHTitle: Exit Marrakech

Year: 2013

Directed by: Caroline Link

Written by: Caroline Link

Country: Germany

Genre: Drama


Trailer:

My father’s bike.

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Picture this: a grainy photo of a man and a child trudging up to the top of a ski slope. The man to keep his balance while grasping the hand of the little boy next to him. The boy struggles to keep pace, all the while goofing off, grinning cheekily at the camera. Us, the viewers, can make out a small smile on the older man’s face, even though the rest of it is blurry. It is obvious that the boy is nothing but trouble. The older man is my grandpa, the boy is my father, and this black-and-white glimpse into the past was taken in the early 1960s.

My dad has always said that even though my grandpa frequently took him on holiday, they never really got along. There was no real communication; my grandpa had his own world locked behind a door of masculine stoicism and my dad, despite looking, never found the key to open it.

Now, picture this: you want to create a film about the inner workings of the masculine mind. A film so sentimental you’ll use classical and jazz music; clichéd, yes, but eternal. A film so sentimental that you search for only the best actors to portray believable, occasionally volatile characters. Perhaps a road movie, universal in its familiar symbolism…so familiar that it could use a children’s bicycle.

Mój rower, or My Father’s Bike (2012) is a Piotr Trzaskalski film about men, that both men and women will appreciate. This classic road film is an allegorical story about growing up, but in a style lacking gratuitous action. The audience finds itself somewhere in rural Poland, following three main characters who are driving in the countryside. They’re not enjoying themselves; there’s an invisible, impermeable wall between the three generations of men in the car: a grandfather Włodek (played by Michał Urbaniak), Włodek’s son (Artur Żmijewski) and Włodek’s grandson (Krzysztof Chodorowski).

They are driven along by the car’s spinning wheels and by a mission–the three of them are looking for the woman who betrayed them all: Włodek’s wife, who has left him. Włodek is an undeniable drunk whose real talent lays in playing the clarinet. Throughout the film, the trio faces a whole host of obstacles: fights, reconciliations, and finally, a sort of peace. Sort of.

Men in this film embody the stereotypes of what it is to be essentially male, not only in Poland, but in the world over. They drink vodka, go fishing, swim in lakes, have confrontations…all in an attempt to cover up the mutual grievances that haunt them. Like real men, we can see their frustrations, anger, and ruthlessness. In the end, as in most road movies, we see hard-won harmony, acceptance, and communication. Michał Urbaniak received the prize for Best Actor at the Tallin Film Festival in Estonia. Commenting on the jury’s choice he said: “I promised to be honest.” And he was. Honest as hell.

My grandpa was honest, too. He passed away nearly four years ago, indirectly ensuring the door that separated him with my father would never be unlocked. However, that grainy photo still lingers. Despite the blurry visages, and the intimate history of the men in my family, the smiles still stand prominent, unfading. So maybe that’s all it takes? Maybe family support is built on the laughs we share while hiking up the hill?

You’ll enjoy this movie if:

1. you don’t care much about the Bechdel test   (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test).

2. you liked Shrek and/or Up (both about the characters transformations and their ‘roads’ towards emotional maturity).

3. you find drunken conversations in movies hilarious…no matter how hard you try not to.

my bikeTitle: My father’s bike (Mój rower)

Year: 2012

Directed by: Piotr Trzaskalski

Written by:  Piotr Trzaskalski, Wojciech Lepianka

Country: Poland

Genre: Drama / Comedy


Trailer:

Black cat, White cat.

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Oh my God, you haven’t seen it? – don’t you just hate hearing that? It happens to me from time to time, especially when someone mentions a Hollywood blockbuster everybody’s making a big fuss about. I remember that in 1998 Armageddon came on screen and I promised myself that I would watch it when people stop jabbering about the ‘Don’t wanna miss a thing’ song. To be honest, I don’t think I have seen the entire movie to this day. But recently I have mentioned Emir Kusturica’s Black cat, white cat (released in the same year as Armageddon!) to my boyfriend and, to my suprise, he had no idea what I was talking about. And since he’s very important to me and since he’s also a film person, I felt that I want this note to be partially my gift to him. I apologise in advance for those who have seen the movie, since my choice for this week’s note might seem pretty obvious. And for those people who haven’t seen it – see the opening question.

When I first saw Black cat, white cat, I decided very deeply that Emir Kusturica’s going to be my husband one day and we’ll have cute half- Serbian, half- Polish babies. Not being able to fulfill this dream means that I at least promised to be the most faithful fan of his cinematography; the kind of admirer that wants the music from his movies to be played on my funeral. Every film of his is an invitation to a crazy world of adventure, where sacrum is mixed with profanum and various genres blend, forming a galaxy of visual and emotional experiences.

Welcome to Emir Kusturica’s world!. If you want to reproduce the conditions at home, you’ll need:

– bodyguards with green hair,

– ‘Maradona’ yelp being used as a cheer,

– sinking washing machines,

– pigs that a ridden on,

– porn bits being animals copulating,

– cameras hidden in geraniums,

– the mafia boss who looks like a dummy,

– a beat-up jeep used as a wheelchair,

– money being used as a fan,

– geese that are more numerous than people.

Let’s not forget the dialogues with lines like: ‘If you can’t solve the problem with money, solve it with a lot of money’ or ‘What abour your soul? Our parents are watching from above. They can’t see anything, it’s clouded’. Black cat white cat is a tale about love and hate, brotherhood and lack of equality, about loveable characters living in absurd circumstances. There’s Zare (Florijan Ajdini) who’s in love with Ida (Branka Katić). He cannot marry her because his father Matko (Bajram Severdžan), being a lousy swindler who got cheated on by a big local scum Dadan (Srdjan Todorović), to pay off the debt promised his son to Dadan’s sister. Zare and his grandad (Zabit Memedov) search for a way out of this miserable situation. The older comes out with a wonderful idea – he’ll die just before the wedding. His passing starts a parade of unexpected events that result in Dadan’s unfortunate outhouse accident. The plot is fast- paced, surprising and filled with Balkan music that enhances the feeling of absurdity. That life needs to be celebrated and death is just a temporary inconvenience. This fresh approach to a comedy seen as taking the plot with a pinch of salt makes Black cat, white cat full of vibrancy and positive energy. Some say that the world presented in the film is the result of Kusturica’s vivid imagination. I don’t see why this wouldn’t work to the film’s advantage. This movie is not a character study that offers insight to the heart of the human nature. It’s a warm, colourful, musical break we can give our mind from broken washing machines, dying plants and other dumb parts of our lives that fill up our days to the overbrim.

I hope that next time I mention Black cat, White cat to someone, the reaction won’t include eyes- rolling and sarcastic comments about my cinematographic taste. I really hope someone will say: ‘you know, this comedy was so much better that all of Sandra Bullock movies’. Or, I mean, better that at least one of them.

You’ll enjoy this movie if:

  1. You’re looking for something funny, warm and light. Like you’re having a bad day and want to forget about what has happened at work or with your partner.
  2. You feel music as an important part of a film production and should be put on a pedestal.
  3. You like Monty Python’s sketches. Some of the scenes in Black cat, white cat remind me of a vibe in And now for something completely different.

black cat white cat

Title: Black cat, white cat (Crna mačka, beli mačor)

Year: 1998

Directed by: Emir Kusturica

Written by:  Emir Kusturica, Gordan Mihić

Country:  France, Germany, FR Yugoslavia

Genre: Comedy

Trailer:

Love steaks.

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My grandmother was always very picky and turned down every suitor. They were either too short, their jackets didn’t fit properly, their smiles were crooked, or they just didn’t have enough charisma. She ended up marrying an average-looking mama’s boy who wasn’t capable of meeting responsibilities…but hey, at least he had a sailboat! And this was, supposedly, a really big deal for my grandma; she agreed to marry the guy, gave birth to two girls, and led the charmed life of a suburban Polish housewife. Then, one day, she just up and left the house, taking my aunt and mom with her, adn never came back. This was in the 1950s in what was still a very catholic and coservative country, so you can safely conclude that my grandma is pretty badass.

Now, 50 years later, she never talks about her ex-husband. She wiped his face from her memory together with their common belongings and family photographs. Grandma officially kept his surname, but always uses her maiden name to introduce herself.

I often wonder what went wrong between those two. Was it just the facade of the sailboat and the fancy parties my grandmother fell for? Or did they have too much? Maybe the whole relationship was too intense and draining…my mom once told me that she remembers her parents throwing plates and cutlery at each other. But, come on, my mom was two when my grandmother took her hand and left the family house, so her memories can’t really be trusted. Maybe there was just so much tension between my grandparents that even the sailboat couldn’t fix their marriage.

I’ve got a love-hate relationship with romantic film stories. I appreciate them for their comforting predictability, but they are usually just too cheesy and obvious. But, hey, I’ve finally found a love story that is fresh and full of energy. Go and see Love Steaks (2013) by Jakob Lass, a very funny and light story about how the opposites attract, and how love yanks us out of our comfort zones.

The story is, on the surface, pretty stereotypical. We’ve got a familiar location (a luxurious hotel) for two characters who are as different from one another as you can imagine. The guy, Clemens (Franz Rogowski) is a shy, nature-oriented, peace-searching masseur who likes to play with his clients’ body energies, abstains from alcohol, and performs primitive African rituals. Lara (Lana Cooper) is a hotel cook with alcoholic tendencies and a super-cheerful attitude towards life. Together, Lana and Clemens perform ritualistic immolations of an abandoned boat (not a sailboat, but close enough), and generally push each other’s buttons.

What makes the story so great is its energy, rawness and immediacy (like the titular ‘steaks’). Lass hired two professional actors but put them in a hotel environment with real staff. He also gave the actors just a sequence of scenes to follow, but generally depended on the improvisation and creativity of the crew. The result is original, believable and funny. I’m telling you: throw out all the Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Aniston swags and order Love Steaks instead.

You’ll enjoy this movie if:

  1. romantic comedies usually make you throw up in your mouth…but you still watch them from time to time.
  2. you’re strangely drawn to New Age types and to people who live over the edge…and you want to watch these two types have a head-on collision
  3. you enjoy bittersweet humour with just enough sugar to satisfy your sweet tooth, but also with a pinch of salt to prevent nausea.

love steaksTitle: Love Steaks

Year: 2013

Country: Germany

Directed by: Jakob Lass

Written by: Jakob Lass, Ines Schiller, Timon Schaeppi, Nico Woche

Genre: Mumblecore Romcom

 

Trailer:

PS Sorry I was late this week. My brother came to Paris for a visit. So I just focused on entertaining him for a bit. :)