DVD Review – How I Ended This Summer


There lived a certain man/In Russia long ago...

(special thanks to Film Movement for providing me with a screener!)

Ah, Russia. Land of vodka, cold weather, dour poets, cold weather, beautiful women who turn into withered peasants seemingly overnight an very freaking cold weather. You ever wonder why they sold Alaska to us? Because who needed even more cold land?
This latest release from Film Movement takes place on a remote island in the far North Eastern part of Russia. The island is home to a small weather monitoring station maned long-term by Sergei and short-term by Pasha. Sergei is a man in his fifties who seems to be made of rock and Pasha looks like your basic graduate student living on the tundra to accumulate life experience. That they are not a great match is something of a given.

One day Sergei receives word his wife and young son are flying to a nearby area to meet him. He’s cheerful after this news and decides to go out fishing for a day. While he’s gone, Pasha receives unhappy news that comes as no surprise to anyone who has seen a movie before. This news would be devastating to Sergei, so Pasha tries to hide it, first out of an effort to spare the man’s feelings, and then out of simple fear. Needless to say, he’s not able to keep this news secret forever and soon things take an unpleasant turn…

This was a very good movie. I’ve not seen much Russian cinema, basically only this and Russian Ark, but I really liked it. The director did a very good job of showing the coldness, isolation and uncertainty on an island where at any minute you can be eaten by a polar bear or freeze or starve.

I do feel that the director could have trimmed 10 – 15 minutes of shots from the film and tightened it up considerably. There’s a shot that takes about three minutes that’s nothing of a man walking into a gradually clearing fogbank, and while that was great for setting the scene, it did go on a bit. And while there were certain things in the film that I didn’t really understand (like the presence of a large, radiation emitting device that doesn’t really get explained), I still really enjoyed the movie.

Like I said, I haven’t seen much Russian cinema, but if much of it is like this, it sounds like I have a lot of catching up to. A really great film!

Advertisements

DVD Review – Alamar


(special thanks to Film Movement for providing me with a screener!)

So I’ll admit: I didn’t get this movie. I didn’t know if it was a drama or a documentary. It has elements of both, but doesn’t really gel as either, and in general just did not work for me.

Alamar tells the story of a single father whose five-year-old son comes to visit him at the sea-side before leaving for a new life in Rome with his mother. The man, along with his own father, shows the boy what life is like for him, taking him fishing, teaching him to snorkel, showing him how to prepare and cook fish and helping him to slightly tame a beautiful white bird.

There’s an awful lot to like in this movie. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous and is wonderfully photographed. There’s also some great touching moments between the father and son. It’s also interesting to see just how these people live their somewhat subsistence existence in the waters off the coast of Mexico.

But there’s also a great deal about this movie that just does not work. There’s several long, rather dull stretches where just about nothing happens. We’re treated to a very long scene right at the beginning that’s nothing but the father holding his son as they ride on a boat together with the camera on them the entire time. Yes, it’s good to establish their relationship and all, but the shot is held for way, way too long, and it’s just one of several odd choices in the movie. Then there’s the fact that it seems to be an odd mix between drama and documentary, and doesn’t really work as a good example of either.

I felt so distanced from what was happening on screen that the only time I really connected is during a very wonderful scene where the father and son are taming a bird they’ve found. If the rest of the movie had been as well done as that one scene, I would have liked it more. As it were, I just was left completely disinterested in this film.

== SHORT FILM ==

This month’s short film is “No Corros Tanto” from Spain. It’s a five minute piece done with sand animation. It’s basically a music video and it looks just amazing! The music is good and the animation flows really well along with it. I was very impressed and wished that it had been longer, and I can’t think of too many better compliments for a short film than that!

DVD Review – Troubled Water


Troubled indeed.

(special thanks to Film Movement for providing me a screener!)

Troubled Water is a masterpiece of sad, vaguely depressing, film making where in the end there’s no real uplifting message and not a lot of resolution and very few answers. Will it surprise you if I tell you it’s a Scandinavian movie?

The movie tells the tale of Jan Thomas Hansen, recently released from prison after being convicted of the murder of a young boy. He’s always maintained his innocence and blamed a cohort, of whom we see basically nothing.

Out of prison he gets a job working as an organist at a church. He’s quite good and starts a shy, tentative relationship with Anna, the church priest. He also becomes quite fond of her young son, Jens and starts spending time around him…

Meanwhile, Agnes, the mother of the murdered boy, has a parallel story where we see her and her husband and two adopted daughters getting ready to move to Denmark. She’s on what appears to be a school field trip to a church and while there notices a suspiciously familiar organist.

Soon all her memories of the events surrounding the death of her child come up to the front of her mind (“I can’t drink hot chocolate anymore,” she confesses at one point, remembering that she’d been buying hot chocolate for her son when the boy was taken). Initially she just notices the man, makes some vague platitudes about him and wants to move on, but quickly becomes obsessed, especially once she seems him hanging around a young boy…

The movie is about several things. It’s about crime and punishment. It’s about guilt and how it can consume you from within. It’s about a lonely woman and a shy man finding each other. It’s about shattered parents trying to move on.

It’s also about forgiveness, and how you should forgive people who have wronged you not for their sake, but for your own, so that you can move on with your life.

It’s also a movie that is, at times, quite literally soaked in symbolism. Baptism, rivers, swimming pools and all things wet play a huge role in the film (ironically as I type that, I’m being spattered with water from a leak in the roof).

Certain plot elements of the movie were predictable, but the events that followed after took some directions I didn’t expect, and at no point did the film feel forced or unreal. It pulls at the heartstrings, true, but it earns those pulls and does not get them through cheap manipulation, and that’s a mark of a good film.

== SHORT SUBJECT ==

This month’s short subject is The Kolaborator, a jolly romp through recent Serbian/Bosnian history. It centers around Goran, a soccer player who winds up being on a Serbian death squad, traveling the countryside, helping to murder innocent civilians, including children. As he goes about his missions he eventually runs into the soccer coach and things get a little tense.

The movie is nicely filmed, though the washed out colors in the murder scenes are a bit schmaltzy. Also, there doesn’t seem to be much the movie is saying other than, “Genocide! Boy, that sucks, eh?” Still, it was interesting and worth seeing.