“Nowhere in Africa” Review

Nowhere in Africa (2001)

When I heard about The Home Sweet Home Blogathon, I knew I had to participate. Homes and families have always been such an important theme in films, and it is one of my favourite topics. I previously talked about the meaning of homes in my post “Housing Films: 99 Homes (2014) and House of Sand and Fog (2003)”, and this is another opportunity to focus on families in films, the loyalty that binds them together despite hardships they endure. Directed by Caroline Link, Nowhere in Africa is a German-language film and a winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It is perfect for this blogathon because it focuses on a family reunion and separation, on familial misunderstandings and hope, as well as on finding home in a new place. It is based on a memoir by Stefanie Zweig that tells of a life of one Jewish family that had to emigrate to Kenya in 1938 because of Nazi persecutions in their native Germany. The family, mother Jettel (Juliane Kohler), father Walter (Merab Ninidze) and their small daughter Regina (Lea Kurka), settle on a farm and soon make friends with their cook Owuor (Sidede Onyulo). They initially have very few ideas of what really lies in store for them on the new soil. This film, which has beautiful production design and a feel of a real life lived daily, is something much more than one’s usual story of a new settler or a story of the WWII told from a perspective of someone living in Africa. The adaptation is a touching tale of a family enduring frightful separations and hopeful reunions through the years, staying true to their family bond despite immense hardships. It is a film about the meaning of home and identity, an important story to tell about the need to welcome and to cherish people’s differences.

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“Soul” Review

Soul (2020)

This new animation comes from the creators of Inside Out (2015), and is about a music teacher and aspiring jazz pianist, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) who dies by falling into New York City’s manhole. He begins his journey in the world “beyond” (“The Great Before”) and his reluctant companion becomes a yet-unborn soul called “22”. As it turns out, the two have much to teach each other about life, death and human destiny. Soul is best when it is rooted in simplicity, heart-warmness and quiet moments. It certainly loses some of its coherence and has many undercooked ideas, as well as mixed messages, when it tries to present the world of “The Great Before”. Nevertheless, the overall effect is that of one lovely animation, with one lovable character at its centre, which portrays New York City and the jazz scene beautifully. Soul has many redeeming elements, and those messages in the story that finally do get through effectively to the audience make it a wonderful cinematic experience overall.

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“Death of a Cyclist” Review

Death of a Cyclist (Muerte de un ciclista) (1955) 

Death of a Cyclist is a Spanish-language film that was the winner of the FIPRESCI Award at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Juan Antonio Bardem (Main Street (1956)), this social realist film tells of a couple of secret, privileged lovers residing in Madrid who are involved in a hit-and-run accident involving a cyclist. Afraid that their illicit affair will be known to everybody, María José de Castro (Lucia Bosè) and Juan Fernandez Soler (Alberto Closas) failed to stop and help a cyclist who they accidentally hit in their sports car. What follows is a dangerous game of trying to guess who knows what and who can use that information against whom. Parallel to this, Juan Soler, a university instructor, goes through some kind of an existential crisis which leads to surprising results. Death of a Cyclist is one intriguing thriller with Hitchcockian elements. There is plenty in the film on the topic of class divide and the faults of the upper class. Although frustrating at times with a questionable ending, Death of a Cyclist also benefits from nuanced directing which brings out the best in this story about crime and attempts at redemption.

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“I, Daniel Blake” Review

I, Daniel Blake (2016)

Winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake is a kind of film whose theme of the individual vs. the system, brutal honesty and underlying power make it a compulsory watch for everyone. The story centres on Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a 59-year old widowed carpenter living in the UK, who is forced to rely on the benefits system (welfare system) to support himself after his doctor diagnosed him with heart problems. What follows is his experience being part of that system where a person is just a number and where there is little place for basic human understanding and compassion. All this may sound mundane and even dull, but the film is anything but that. Under Loach’s nuanced direction, we follow Blake as he makes friends with a single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) and does everything in his power to make his own and others’ lives bearable. The true power of this gentle, realistic film that displays the kindness of others and human hope, lies in showing ordinary people struggling on a daily basis against the system that is paradoxically designed to keep them in the same miserable place.

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“Tekkonkinkreet” (“Treasure Town”) Mini-Review

Tekkonkinkreet (2006)

Based on a manga Tekkon kinkurito (1993) by Taiyo Matsumoto, Treasure Town is a breathtakingly-beautiful animation about two orphaned boys: street-wise and brave Kuro (Black), and lovable and innocent Shiro (White). Street-raised Yin and Yang of the cruel world around them, the boys defend their only home – the “lost city”, the “city of myth”, the Treasure Town. First their opponents are simply rival gangs, but they soon notice the encroachment of a much more powerful enemy: the yakuza. Members of the notorious Japanese mafia have certain drastic, commercial designs on the city, and the duo of brothers feel that they cannot just give away their decrepit town full of wonder, their small, bizarre universe, their home. This colourful, sometimes violent, but grimly-realistic, animation packs inside much commentary on social issues relevant to Japan, and has both, a touching emotional core (the brotherly love) and a clever structure and plot.

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Documentary: “Tell Me Who I Am”

Tell Me Who I Am (2019)

Any film or documentary that centres on identical twins and their relationship is fascinating in its own right, but if that film or documentary also involves the case of total amnesia, dark secrets and completely buried past, then it becomes one of the most interesting ever filmed (at least for me). Tell Me Who I Am is based on a memoir of the same name by twins Alex and Marcus Lewis, and Joanna Hodgkin, and tells the real story of Alex Lewis, who lost all his memories when he was involved in a motorcycle accident at the age of 18. From that age onwards, Alex had to rely on his identical twin brother Marcus to tell him everything – from how to tie his shoelaces and ride his bicycle to who he was and what were the relationships inside his family. As time passes in the story, however, Alex starts to doubt that Marcus tells him everything. Tell Me Who I Am is too brutal in its portrayal of the truth and distressing because of the subject matter, but it is also a fearless exploration of our reliance on memory that is always an important element dictating our sense of identity and our relationships with others. The documentary presents a powerful and often fragile relationship between two identical brothers torn apart by a dark family secret.

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The World War II Blogathon: Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

Maddy from Maddy Loves Her Classic Films and Jay from Cinema Essentials are hosting The World War II Blogathon, and I am happy to participate (check out film reviews from Day 1 here). Some of the world’s best films were about the World War II and events related to it, including Schindler’s List (1993), Life is Beautiful (1997) and The Pianist (2002). This time, I am talking about Clint Eastwood’s Japanese-language film Letters from Iwo Jima, a film which Eastwood produced after his patriotic Flags of Our Fathers (2006). Both of these films depict the Battle of Iwo Jima, in which the US army landed on the island of Iwo Jima and battled with the Japanese in 1945.

Letters from

Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

Letters from Iwo Jima does not merely portray another battle in the World War II. When US army (navy and marine corps) landed on the island of Iwo Jima (an island of immense strategic importance) on 19 February 1945 (after air bombardment prior to that), they thought the battle would last five days, but it lasted for over a month. It has been called the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific, and the Japanese, under the command of fearless General Kuribayashi (played by Ken Watanabe) demonstrated unexpected smartness (tunnels, strategy, etc.) and courage. All the odds were against the Japanese in this battle, but, looking at the fierceness of the battle, as well as the number of American casualties, one may even assume the opposite. Masterfully directed and brilliantly acted, Letters from Iwo Jima showcases compellingly the horrors of the Battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective, the desperate situation in which Japanese soldiers found themselves in, and the instances of both good and evil found on both sides of the battle. Also, coming from an American director in particular, Letters from Iwo Jima could also be said to be a very special film: a respectful one that honours another culture, tradition and point of view to the point of being completely “selfless” and “compassionate” in its purpose. In many ways, this is an anti-war film that underlines our common humanity no matter on which side of a war we find ourselves at any given time. We are all humans with an innate need for happiness, peace and understanding. Given the above, Letters from Iwo Jima is not merely a film that makes a powerful statement – the film is a powerful statement in itself.  Continue reading “The World War II Blogathon: Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)”

“Housing” Films: “99 Homes” & “House of Sand and Fog”

99 Homes Poster99 Homes (2014)

This film is set in the background of the 2008 housing crisis in the US when many Americans lost their homes. Andrew Garfield (Silence (2016)) is Dennis Nash, a single father, who loses his home to the bank and has a chance to get it back if he starts working for a real estate broker (Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water (2017)) who is “responsible” for his misfortune. Directed by Ramin Bahrani, who dedicated the movie to film critic Roger Ebert, the film is a great “housing” drama elevated by the performance from Michael Shannon. 99 Homes explores interesting moral dilemmas and issues, and is so powerful that could rightly be claimed as one of the best films of the year 2014.

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The Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon: Pickpocket (1959)

greatest1Debbie at Moon in Gemini is hosting The Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon, which is a fabulous idea since it is an opportunity for everyone to discover or re-discover classic and “must-see” films, or even find hidden gems. I have chosen to write on Robert Bresson’s “Pickpocket” because it is considered one of the greatest of films (at least in some circles). It is a definite achievement of Robert Bresson, an acclaimed film director, and the film is ranked as one of the greatest films by the Sight & Sound magazine (the 2012 poll). Moreover, Roger Ebert, the late popular film critic, once included it in his “Great Movies” list. And, “Pickpocketis great, just not in a conventional way. This is because Bresson is a French director who practices some form of austerity in his films, and his films do have a minimalistic quality, even though all the philosophical observations in his movies more than make up for the understated presentation or plot. 

Pickpocket Poster Pickpocket (1959)

This film is Bresson’s debut as a scriptwriter for his movie, but it is also fair to say that he was in some way adapting Dostoevsky’s novel “Crime and Punishment” (1866) to make this film because “Pickpocket” more or less follows the stages of Dostoevsky’s novel and has similar characters. Like in the classic novel, Bresson is preoccupied with fear, guilt and redemption in his story as we follow Michel (Martin LaSalle), a recently released thief, who struggles to get back to his “job”. Michel is reclusive and apathetic, but he does make friends with Jeanne (Marika Green), a young woman and his mother’s neighbour, and has a friend called Jacques. Bresson conveys to the screen the intrigue of the trade which is called pick-pocketing, as well as its dangerous, claustrophobic and lonely nature. What works best in the film is the portrayal of Michel as a societal outsider who tries inwardly to come to light and good. The main character becomes quite sympathetic, maybe even more sympathetic than in “Crime Punishment”, because the crimes of Michel are less horrendous than the murders of Raskolnikov.  Continue reading “The Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon: Pickpocket (1959)”

The 4th Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon: Dial M for Murder (1954)

banner-5Virginie at The Wonderful World of Cinema and Emily at The Flapper Dame are hosting The 4th Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon to honour Grace Kelly, the icon of beauty and elegance. She was a terrific actress, who worked most notably with Alfred Hitchcock (see “Rear Window” (1954) and “To Catch a Thief” (1955)). In “Dial M for Murder“, Kelly is Margot Wendice, the wealthy wife of an ex professional tennis player Tony Wendice, played by Ray Milland. She is to become the centre of the plot whereby the husband hires a hitman to kill the wife. Kelly’s character (that wonderful lady in red, and then in blue) comes off as a beautiful, brave and stoic woman who wants personal happiness, and would have stolen the show completely if not for the intricate, clever and psychologically-interesting plot and the cunning personality of Tony Wendice, played brilliantly by Milland.  

Dial M for MurderDial M for Murder (1954)

You know you are in for a treat when a film you are about to see is made by Alfred Hitchcock, and “Dial M for Murder” does not deviate from this rule. In the midst of it is a cleverly-constructed plot whose entangling may cause some to pause and ponder. Hitchcock is basing his movie on a screenplay by Frederick Knott and is concerned with the proving of guilt, rather than with the usual whodunit mystery. “Dial M for Murder” starts with the blackmail and the deceit by the wife of her husband, but it ends in an unexpected area. The interesting thing about this movie is that we know from the beginning who is the (attempted) murderer, and we follow every step to the conclusion, but we are still in for some surprises. Initially that is because the murder of Margot, as planned by her husband Tony, does not exactly go according to plan. Continue reading “The 4th Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon: Dial M for Murder (1954)”