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:

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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. :)

Concrete Night.

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As a teacher, I often have to deal with teenagers. Whenever I do, I always turn into this annoying advice-producing machine that shoots words of wisdom and tries to save innocent souls. Based on my experience, teenagers can be split into two groups: the ones that pretend not to hear any advice given by adults, and the ones who do listen but always contradict. Now, after watching the Finnish movie Concrete Night (2013) by Pirjo Honkasalo, I know there is also a third group: the teens who do listen and even follow the advice they’re given with a caveat: the advice they take was given by the wrong people.

Imagine a night that changes you forever. The kind of dank and sweaty darkness which hunts for your innocence. The night that turns from tranquil and predictable into a sleep-stealing moster. This is indeed the titular Concrete Night. I wish the English translation used the more definitive word ‘ultimate’ in the title, for it is so final and fatal, that the word ‘concrete’ just doesn’t do it justice. Indeed, if life and death ever made an agreement about the rules of their co-existence, this night would be the deal-breaker.

Meet Simo (Johannes Brotherus), the protagonist. He is just a teenager, but with a not-so-adolescent softness and tenderness (come on, we all know how annoying these little bastards can be). His family situation is far from perfect, but Simo has a warm heart and a selfless spirit. He’s joyful and full of hope, even living in a dump with his unreliable and childish single mother and his trouble-making, shady-looking brother.

But, then, Simo is JUST a teenager. He still struggles with finding his identity and is confused by right-or-wrong dilemmas. Simo feels restless, so he turns to his older brother Ilkka (Jari Virman) for advice. Ilkka is not only about to start his prison sentence, but also has a head full of fun and useful life facts. Simo follows Ilkka during the night and gets some rather obscure and weird advice from him. The older brother says, for example, that, all women like to be hit, and that one day scorpions will rule the world and feast on human remains. Simo might laugh hearing all this pseudo-wisdom, but by the end of the night his innocence will be long gone and the darkness will enter his soft heart.

Simo walks around the city, smoking and drinking, with rain falling on his youthful face. He sees a familiar-looking photographer and follows him into the apartment. One of my favourite scenes in the movie is when Simo poses in front of the camera. He’s supposed to show youth in its purest essence: a vulnerable, sensitive innocence. But Simo is no longer young, and the protographer’s attempts to place a big garland on the boy’s head trigger a violence nobody could ever anticipate.

What makes the film worth seeing isn’t just the fascinating and rather surreal plot with dark city corners and surreal creatures. It’s also the photography. In Concrete Night, light is not just a tool – it becomes one of the main characters. It can be creepy and full of murky shadows, or violent with a sharp and penetrating brightness. It moves the film into a whole new level of visual experience – where you, as a viewer, feel like a part of this disturbing surrealistic plot, and you weep inside that goodness doesn’t conquer the evil and that Simo’s path towards emotional maturity cannot be turned back.


You’ll enjoy this movie if:

  1. a) you believe cities are alive – they breathe, bite or kiss just like other living creatures.
  2. b) you enjoy books by William S. Burroughs or Franz Kafka. They create similar images as the ones seen in the movie.
  3. c) you’re a visual moviegoer. There is no way you won’t appreciate the stark beauty of light and shadow in the cinematography.

Concrete-Poster-500x288Title: Concrete Night (Betoniyö)

Year: 2013

Directed by: Pirjo Honkansalo

Written by: Pirjo Honkansalo

Country: Finland

Genre: Drama

Trailer:

Silent wedding.

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I recently asked a few of my 4-year-old students what the perfect place would mean to them. Little girls kept talking about puffy princess dresses, chocolate and how they would like to ride ponies all the time (isn’t that the most stereotypical response ever?). Boys’ answers were more varied–full of jungle animals, rubber boats, action figures and high-speed trains. One boy said he would like to see everything in purple; one girl that she would like to hear music at every single Parisian crosswalk.

Anyways, it was fascinating to listen to my students talking about their dream worlds. I don’t remember my ideas from when I was little, but I’m sure it would have something to do with those cheesy Japanese cartoons that were so popular in Poland in the 1990s.

Such dreams, ladies and gentlemen, have inspired a Story (with a capital S)–a ‘once-upon-a-time’ tale about an idyllic land of milk and honey. Silent Wedding (2008) by Horatiu Malaele seems like a serenade to bygone times that have passed forever. It’s a warm, funny, bittersweet story filled with hedonism and free-living characters. People have sex, drink, fight, reconcile, dance, run around the fields, scream and sleep against picturesque backdrops. Not that far from them, there is HISTORY happening, with the Communist party and comrade Joseph Stalin on top. But people can still enjoy good vodka or visit the circus.

There are, however, certain rules. One of them is, ‘If you sleep with her, you have to marry her,’ respected by Tata Grigore (Victor Rebengiuc), who insists on consecrating the romance between his daughter Mara (Meda Victor) and Iancu (Alexandru Potoceanu). But the wedding plans conincide with Stalin’s death, which brought with it a ban on all celebration. Tata Grigore comes up with a clever solution: everyone can do what they wish, but they need to remain silent. We then see beautifully ludicrous scenes of the band ‘almost’ playing, people ‘almost talking’ and the young couple ‘almost dancing’. This scene is also a culmination of characters’ absurd attempts to ignore the outside world.

But, this outside world cannot be ignored and it eventually tracks them down. The characters, though cheerful and full of life, turn out to be tragic victims of the system, or, maybe, more generally, of the evil side of human nature. This story, despite its initial sweetness, leaves behind a bitter taste. It is, indeed, a ‘hymn’ to the utopian past–the past my grandparents talked about, full of neighbourly dancing parties. Or the past of my parents, visiting every corner of the city without fear of being assaulted. Silent Wedding is a visually beautiful tribute to nature and the simple pleasures of yesteryear.

You’ll enjoy this movie if:

  1. a) you consider yourself a bit of a hedonist (even if you wouldn’t admit it).
  2. b) you sometimes wish you were a little kid again, or that you’d been born earlier in time. (Or both.)
  3. c) you don’t care about historical accuracy. Stalin died in March and the events in the movie are clearly happening during the summer. Thus, we can safely conclude that the comrade’s death is only a vague excuse to give story a tragic twist.

SilentWeddingPoster1Title: Silent Wedding (Nunta mută)

Year: 2008

Directed by: Horatiu Malaele

Written by: Adrian Lustig, Horatiu Malaele

Country: Romania

Genre:  Comedy- drama


Trailer: