Autumn Sonata.

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They say that parents don’t understand their children. Take Tomasz, my father. Every time I’m home, he spoils me with sitcom evenings and adrenalin-free beer nights. I comply, and we end up spending our time blinking at the bright TV screen, laughing at cheap jokes, speaking in Polish slang, and forgetting all about grammar. However, if I should dare to refuse, my dad bites his index finger as if to say, “Beware Aga, you’re starting to annoy the hell out of me.” Yet, oddly enough and defying all logic, things end up in the same place no matter which choice I make…and that’s in a fight. And, once everything is said and done, we’ll eat ice cream. Together. In total silence.

“One must learn how to live. I practice every day,” says Eva (Liv Ullman), one of the main characters in the 1978 film Autumn Sonata, directed by Ingmar Bergman. Eva has a point. We need to practice living, nay, coexisting, especially with our parents. I don’t need to tell you that this is easier said than done, especially if you have a mother like Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman). From the moment of her appearance in the movie, she is an intense presence, so powerful it seems to fill up space itself. Charlotte is a famous pianist (a profession that requires fire), very attractive and incredibly self-centered. As the viewer, we can see it reflected in her sway, as she strolls around the house in red dresses and exaggerated gestures.

The tangible tension between mother and daughter grows throughout the film. The culmination of this silent conflict reaches its peak one night as the conversation is sparked off:

– Eva, you do like me, don’t you?

– You are my mother.

– That’s one way of answering.

The talk between Charlotte and Eva reveals all their hidden outrages and regrets. “To you I was a doll you played with when you had time,” exclaims an exasperated Eva, and we feel her pain. We are exposed to the family’s raw past, the daughter’s crippling insecurities, the mother’s unfulfilled dreams. Slowly, the audience watches the gap between Eva and Charlotte shrink smaller and smaller. A collective hope flits before our faces, the quintessential “everything will change, and this time, things will be different.”. But Bergman fools us until the very end; we see that there are no definite changes, no breakthroughs, just a release of emotion by women who are so tired they can’t bring themselves to adjust. Despite deep conversations, shifts in the balance of power, and placing blame on each other, Charlotte and Eva, come full circle back to the same positions they started in.

Ingmar Bergman manages to show one more thing in Autumn Sonata: the difference between men and women’s relationships. Family or not, women talk. Men prefer physical action. Bergman is a genius, as he was able to create a film based entirely on words, yet still comprising physical action that does anything but bore its viewers. Autumn Sonata is, indeed, a perfectly balanced family saga.

People say that parents don’t understand their children. “Is my grief your secret pleasure?” I asked my dad that very question recently, quoting Eva, and he rolled his eyes. He passed me the remote control and went to the store to get our favorite ice cream. And then we ate it. Together. In total silence.


You will enjoy this movie if:

  1. a) you’re not a psychopath. Basing on research psychopaths need extreme experiences in order to feel excitement. If so, I don’t think nearly 90-minute mother- daughter dialogue will get you there.
  2. b) you socialize in a specific way. Whenever around your close friends, at some point you start talking about your childhoods and the way they differed from one another. Note: doesn’t matter if you generally idealize or criticize this period of time.
  3. c) you love family sagas.

Title: Autumn Sonata (Höstsonaten)

autumn sonata posterYear: 1978

Directed by: Ingmar Bergman

Written by: Ingmar Bergman

Country: Sweden

Genre: Drama

 

Trailer:

 

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Beyond the hills.

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In 2007 I went to Kazimierz Dolny, a beautiful tiny town in the south of Poland. Between 2005 and 2007, it was home to a series of dark and mysterious events which took place in the town monastery. The congregation of Betanki, led by a nun called Jadwiga Ligocka, attracted attention of the Vatican authorities, because, having been dismissed by the Polish curia, Sister Jadwiga convinced the other nuns to protest against the Roman Catholic Church. They decided to contradict the authorities, barricaded the entrances to the monastery, and locked themselves behind the closed doors.

In the ensuing days and weeks, strange rumours started to spread all around Poland. The Betanki were said to believe they could read minds and predict revolutionary changes in the Church’s near future. On TV, there were also reports of ecstatic dances, flagellations and nudity. Father Roman Komaryczko, the only man at the monastery at the time, claimed to be a spiritual leader showing the nuns the most direct path to salvation, which was to let him lie on top of them and kiss them.

When I went to see this monastery, all I found were barred doors and windows covered with bed sheets. But the silence was penetrating and I wanted to leave the place at once. I can’t quite explain what was in this heavy, dusty air. I felt that staring at this building wouldn’t bring anything but trouble. I left, but to this day, the thought of this monastery gives me chills.

Around the same time, in Romania’s Tanacu monastery, a mentally ill nun was killed during an exorcism performed by a priest called Daniel Petre Corogeanu. The autopsy found that the nun died of dehydration, lack of oxygen and exhaustion, and had been tied with chains and left without food for several days. The case was widely publicized in the Romanian media. Writer Tatiana Niculescu Bran published in 2006 a novel Deadly Confession, which portrayed the events which took place at the Tanacu monastery. The book served as the basis for Beyond the Hills, a 2012 Cristian Mungiu movie which was awarded the Best Screenplay Golden Palm at the 2012 Cannes festival.

This film is agonizing, mysterious and highly symbolic. It grabs the viewer’s heart and doesn’t let go. The titular hills are like the Betanki’s white sheet curtains; they are a closed door. They are the proverbial rug under which you sweep your deepest, darkest secrets.

This closed monastic door has several ‘rooms’ behind it. In the first one, we can see two girls. They’re the main characters – Alina (Cristina Flutur) and Voichita (Cosmina Stratan). They seem to have been close once, and now Alina wants to squeeze their common past to nurture the present. But Voichita has changed. Not only has she found refuge in God, but she also considers her fellow nuns and the priest to be her family. She seems at peace, reconciled with the world. At first, we, as viewers, feel that Alina wants to somehow destroy this sweet little paradise. Their friendship is mysterious and disturbing, both sexually tense and girlishly innocent.

Then we’ve got a second room. It’s filled with the priest’s spirited voice and the nuns’ admonitions. It is a spiritual place full of faith and confidence in the convent’s wisdom. When Alina starts showing the first signs of insanity, the atmosphere in this room grows tense and contentious, and everybody struggles to recover its initial order.

And then we’ve got the last room. It’s the smallest, the darkest, and the most frightening. It’s the place where exorcisms are performed on Alina. It’s the heart of darkness that beats slowly and shows the views a simple truth: what sometimes seems to be liberating actually enslaves us. Did Alina die because of the priest and nuns’ conscious decision? Was it due to their subconscious need to get rid of the evil? Was it out of fear of the unknown?

This film raises questions and doesn’t give many answers. But it’s a wonderful beginning of a true conversation about the relativity of good and evil, and about religiousness, which, according to the director, is sometimes evil on its own.


You’ll enjoy this movie if:

  1. You know nothing about the Tanacu case and already want to buy Deadly Confession.
  2. You find this fascinating: http://www.canada.com/story.html?id=3d091048-5392-483a-a8c1-0d57a9f0c4f1 .
  3. You’re religious or not, but you doubt, question, and aren’t afraid of mysteries that offer no easy explanations.

Beyond_the_Hills

Title: Beyond the hills (După dealuri)

Year: 2012

Directed by: Cristian Mungiu

Written by: Cristian Mungiu

Produced by: Cristian Mungiu

 

 

Trailer:

Finsterworld.

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A couple of weeks ago I sent out a request to my family and friends. I asked them to tell me what it means, in their opinion, to be Polish. Curiously, hardly anyone responded. My normally eloquent and slightly argumentative social circle lost its collective tongue. My brother was the only person who actually responded. He talked about the importance of cultivating Polish traditions and that was pretty much it.
I wasn’t exactly surprised by the lack of response. To be honest, I had a hard time answering that question myself. Should I focus on our history and tradition? Should I demonstrate my profound knowledge of the nation’s stereotypical traits? Or should I make it easy for myself and just describe my friends and family? “What does it mean to be Polish?” is a kind of faux-pas question that makes people uncomfortable. Maybe we tend to avoid the big words and empty phrases that such a question forces us to use. Maybe we just can’t pinpoint our nation’s essence.

So I went online. My search for answers got me several results. Apparently you’re Polish if:

1. Your body tolerates significantly more alcohol than other nations representatives’,

2. You know the song: ‘Siekiera, motyka…’ by heart, regardless of your age. (Translated into English, the lyrics go something like: ‘Axe, hoe, two balloons, Hitler lost his underpants…’),

3. You have a Polish flag and always wash it on its own.

Not really helpful, is it?

 

Fortunately, there’s a movie that invites us to go on a metaphorical trip into the nation’s heart. It’s about Germany, not Poland, but in my opinion, this ‘road’ is universal. The country’s heart can be soft and warm, but it is also bitter and full of downbeat sentiments. ‘There are no role models in Germany, no one people could identify with,’ says Dominik (Leonard Scheicher). He also adds that the one person everyone associates his country with is Adolf Hitler (with underpants this time, I assume). Think about it – it’s true, right? And Hitler wasn’t even originally German.

The movie I’m talking about is Finsterworld (2013) by Frauke Finsterwalder. It not only questions the ‘qualities’ of Germany as a nation, but it also casts doubts on the possibility of making meaningful human connections anywhere in the country (or, perhaps, anywhere in the world).

It isn’t a film about criticizing Germans and focusing on their flaws. We feel warmth and goodness in most of the characters; we empathize with their struggles to reach out and emotionally bond with each other. But, for many reasons, the characters fail. Maybe it’s the fact that they are simply too different.

We have a powerfully built police officer who, in his hunt for a bit of gaiety, dresses up as a giant bear. We also meet his girlfriend, a frustrated filmmaker who simply cannot find a good topic for a movie. We encounter a neurotic pedicurist who bakes his favourite client’s hard skin bits into cookies. We also meet a group of blasé teenagers heading to a concentration camp for a field trip. They all create not only a surreal parade of unfulfilled wishes, but also a complicated network of social quasi-connections.

All characters are colourful and loveable. Or, at least, most of them are, with the possible exception of Max (played by Jakub Gierszal), who comes across as a spoiled brat throughout the movie. But even he, in the very end, turns out to be a victim of his parents’ emotional elusiveness. The Finsterworld people desperately want to form some kind of human connection, but it’s always too late or not good enough. As a result, people get bitter and can connect only by complaining about their German identity.

This pessimistic story is served on a colourful plate of well-written dialogue and extraordinary characters. Whether you’re German, Polish or something else: don’t choke while you consume it. Cherish this film, because it is, indeed, both, a visual and emotional feast.


You’ll enjoy this movie if:

a) you enjoy surreal and bizarre visual experiences, and you are able to look through this superficially attractive facade to see hidden truths about human condition.

b) no matter how much you deny it or lie to yourself about it, you are a pessimist. But a good-hearted one.

c) You <3 Jakub Gierszal. At risk of sounding like an immature groupie, I’m stating here that I love my men whatever they look like as long as they look like Gierszal. Not to mention that he is so ‘IT’ in Polish cinema at the moment.

Finsterworld-PosterTitle: Finsterworld

Year: 2013

Directed by: Frauke Finsterwalder

Written by: Frauke Finsterwalder, Christian Kracht

Produced by: Tobias Walker, Philipp Worm

Trailer: http://vimeo.com/87070717 (you can watch it on this website).

Stockholm.

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How to spot a jerk:

  1. Look for the guy with beady eyes, searching for girls who blink nervously, smack their lips, or cross their arms. He looks a bit like an old Nokia 3310 ‘Snake’ addict playing a game – except he has no mobile phone in his hand.
  2. The guy has some kind of a crazy hobby. He either goes to no-music silent parties, knits Premiere League clubs official scarves, or collects sand from every beach he’s been to. And he explains it by saying, that he’s ‘kind of a geek’.
  3. He might be very handsome, but is generally on the average. But he’s also so charismatic that everybody around him seems convinced that floppy arms are better while making love or sausage-shaped toes indeed help while running long distances.
  4. He overuses adjectives and underuses pronouns. He will call you ‘gorgeous’, ‘seductive’, ‘sexy’ or ‘charming’, but he will never say ‘we’ or even ‘I’ in relation to ‘you’.
  5. He’s like a vampire – very real, hot-blooded at night, but in the morning he dissapears, leaving a body mark on the bedsheets or an abandoned leather jacket with red lining.

And there is always this fast-flowing boy-girl conversation that leaves the latter with a sweet taste of connection and long-lasting bond. For the viewers, it feels like watching a tennis match, with the balls being passed right about the net, with great serves, outstanding smatches and breathtaking volleys. If you enjoy love sports, you should see Stockholm (2013) by Rodrigo Sorogoyen.

He (Javier Pereira) is, essentially, a jerk. She (Aura Garrido) has big sad eyes of a cervine and fragile-looking porcelain skin. They meet at a party, where he confesses love at first sight. She discourages him, but he doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. We watch a sparkling conversation filled with big words and high notes, and we end up believing that these two have managed to find each other in this sea full of human algae and dirty lies. Their conversation does seem theatrical, though, and a little scripted, as if they have both abandoned their ambiguities and decided to fully accept the roles assigned. The first part of the movie is essentially filled with words, full of charm and wit.

But, then, morning comes and everything changes. She is still porcelain-skinned, but also appears to have some mysterious mental problem we know no details of. He’s distant, cold, unwelcoming. They continue their game, but this time there are no rules to follow and no scripts to rely on. He wants to kick her out of the apartment, she refuses to go, they fight and engage in a brutal control-seeking clash where everyone wants to have the last word.

And, then, everything goes quiet. The culminant scene is very ascetic, free of colourful dialogue and wordy energy flow. Its minimalistic power leaves you speechless, too. It’s a bit as if the director played tricks on you: an initially light love story turns into a deep meditation about the dangers of physical attraction.

So what do I know? Maybe it’s not that easy to spot a jerk, after all. Or maybe, it doesn’t matter. There will always be people who fall for this illusion of uniqueness and these tricks people play, whether we are talking about real life, or simply just a movie.


You’ll enjoy this movie if:

a) you believe in soulmates, but can accept that things aren’t always what they seem at first glance.

b) you enjoy looking at objectively attractive people. I’m sorry, but both Aura and Javier are just a real pleasure for the eye.

c) you don’t mind movies that piss you off, whether we are talking about the title tricks or about the sudden twists in the plot.


 

stockholmTitle: Stockholm

Year: 2012

Directed by: Rodrigo Sorogoyen

Written by: Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Isabel Peña

Produced by:    Alberto Del Campo, Eduardo Villanueva, Borja Soler, Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Omar A. Razzak

Trailer:

Loves of a Blonde.

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According to INSEE, there are approximately 2,5 million people living in Paris, 51% of whom are female. In the 25-29 age group, 93,000 women considered themselves single, as compared to 98,000 unattached men of a similar age. If you are female, and happen to be marriage-minded, Paris might be the place for you. That’s right, ladies: in Paris, it is officially safe to say that there are more fish in the sea.

But, obviously, not every fish is to our liking, and not every fish likes to be caught, which makes the husband hunt more tricky. In general, France is very proud of its public assistance and social services. I wonder if world leaders would ever consider helping their citizens to find their soul mate. Is that too crazy? If I can get a free state-sponsored gynecological examination, why can’t I get sent a few phone numbers of men who the state thinks would be perfect for me? What would be the result if Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, watched Milos Forman’s movie, Loves of a Blonde?

Let me explain. In Loves of a Blonde (1965), one of the most well-known Czechoslovak “New Wave” movies, a factory manager decides that his employees, overwhelmingly women, need to be helped in search for love. So, he organizes a party, invites all his female employees, and brings a group of men to them. He gives everyone alcohol, hires a band and then strolls among the crowd, hoping for the best. The men aren’t at all the best pick of the crop – balding and sweaty, borderline alcoholic, grinning while quickly hiding their wedding rings in their pockets. But most girls don’t seem to see it – they lighten up when someone asks them to dance and get hysterical if they are ignored.

The girls are easy to please, gullible and, honestly, quite stupid. Andula (Hana Brejchová), the titular blonde, is incredibly naive. When she meets Milda (Vladimír Pucholt), a young pianist from Prague, she falls for him and starts imagining their future together. Her actions then are all about Milda, Milda oriented and driven. Andula then travels to Prague to reunite with her love. When she arrives, she is an unexpected guest who puts everyone in an uncomfortable position. The whole situation culminates and resolves itself an absurd conversation between Milda and his parents, held in the middle of the night as they all try to sleep on a double bed.

The film starts with a conversation between Andula and her friend; they talk about boys and admire our female protagonist’s ring, a gift from one of the admirers. Coming around full circle, the last scene is also a conversation, and we see Andula lying to her friend about the visit in Prague: everything went wonderful, Milda’s parents were lovely and she really enjoyed herself.

We, the audience, know the truth, even if we wish we didn’t. Ultimately, we realize that those two conversations are story frames and they put the whole plot in overarching brackets, showing us that everything was an illusion twisted by the characters feelings. Andula is not an exceptionally insecure character, she is real. And in our search for love we are all like Andula at times. This makes Loves of a Blonde a complete cinematic package: a bittersweet, tender and sarcastic mockumentary, reflecting the viewers’ feelings like a mirror. Clearly with such high emotional stakes, I think it conclusively shows that love lives are a bit too complicated for social services to take care of. Which is a deep shame, as I am blonde too.


You’ll enjoy this movie if:

a) you have a keen eye for the classics.

b) you like absurdity and irony in cinema…and you’re also able to spot them.

c) you find people who believe in the concept of a „one true love” both cute and naive. And while you might mock them, you’re also kind of jealous.


 

936full-the-loves-of-a-blonde-posterTitle: Loves of a Blonde aka A Blonde in Love (Lásky jedné plavovlásky)

Year: 1965

Directed by: Miloš Forman

Written by: Miloš Forman, Jaroslav Papoušek

Produced by: Doro Vlado Hreljanović, Rudolf Hájek

 

 

Excerpt:

Of horses and men.

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I’m an at-arm’s-length animal lover, which means that even though I enjoy cute YouTube pet videos, I feel very uncomfortable in the presence of actual fauna. The only animals I give the benefit of the doubt are non-snarling dogs, and even this still depends on the hound’s breed. A couple of weeks ago, I was having a picnic with a group of friends on the banks of the Seine when we noticed a group of cute ducklings with their parents. Everyone’s ooh-and-aaah reactions made my stay-away attitude even more ridiculous than usual. What can I say – I enjoy living things as long as they are ONLY digitally present in my proximity.

It’s even worse with horses, since they are big and unpredictable, they bite and kick, and their sex organs are very much out of my visual comfort zone. For the longest time I’ve had a dream about going horseback riding through Mongolia. The only problem is that I’ve only actually sat on a horse maybe three times in my life, and it always ended in a state of panic.

This means that I can only fully appreciate the beauty of mares and stallions when they are presented on a screen. Of Horses and Men (2013) by Benedikt Erlingsson is a cosy and ascetic Icelandic/German portrait of the equine traits in people and human ones in horses. The movie’s narration embraces the variety of action packages, starting with the slow contemplative walk through the absurd dark-humoured trot and ending at an almost unbearable video gallop. The movie plot is absurd, original and somehow exotic, showing the rural routine of isolated Icelandic valley inhabitants and their horses. It’s the place of interspecies harmony, and life-and-death interleaving. Interactions of men and horses are full of harsh love and tender interdependence.

Of Horses and Men is a story of love, envy, and rivalry, but all of these somehow happen in the background, giving prority to the animal-related relationships. Beautiful landscapes and cosy shots can be appreciated both by escapists and down-to-earth admasses, though this movie is clearly not a blockbuster.

So, we spend 90 minutes watching the absurd mare-stallion coituses, extreme frost-attributable killings and insane alcohol-fuelled hunts. I admit, Of Horses and Men might be too much for very sensitive horse lovers, as it shows these animals being abused in a variety of situations. Certain scenes might shock the viewer but, in my opinion, we need to look at the movie as a whole and maintain a healthy distance from the film events. If we do, we will fully appreciate the beauty of this film’s simplicity.

Of Horses and Men is also just so funny. I remember the whole cinema laughing very loudly; I love these moments of human connection in the theatre when everybody, unable to control their laughter, is drying their eyes and wiping their noses. It’s a kind of humour that won’t speak to everyone – you need to be in a specific, absurd kind of mood; you also need to be able to take the animal-human relationships with a pinch of salt.

There is one scene in the movie that was a bit much, even for me. This scene shows a young Spanish man who, put in an extreme situation, chooses to sacrifise the horse’s life in order to survive. I don’t want to give any details, but, just, be prepared for a bit of a shock here.

Despite all these little too-many-and-too-much bits, it’s not a surprise to me that Of Horses and Men was believed to become a Foregn Language Oscar candidate. However, the rather conservative jury didn’t fully appreciate this edgy and slightly naturalistic film. But for us, the tired spectators of the destruction of nature in the cities, it is refreshing to see something so inspired by wildlife.


You’ll enjoy this movie if:

a) you tend to react calmly to nature films that show scenes with animals guts.

b) you’re a lover of the absurd and you’re prepared to see a movie that might be slightly out of your cinematic comfort zone.

c)  you’ve been to Iceland and loved it, or you’d really like to go one day. This film is just sooo… consistent with Icelandic mentality.


 

Title: Of horses and men (Hross í oss)        of_horses_men

Year: 2013

Directed by: Benedikt Erlingsson

Written by: Benedikt Erlingsson

Produced by: Friðrik Þór Friðriksson

 

 

Trailer: