5 Films Based on Remarkable True Stories

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and there are many interesting films of this or last year which are based on true stories, including Mank, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, Tesla, Hillbilly Elegy, The Dig and The Mauritanian. Crime and war films are often inspired by real stories (Catch Me If You Can [2002], The Pianist [2002]) and I previously compiled a list of 25 “Must-See” Biographical Films (see also my related list of 5 Great Films About Adventurers Based on Real Stories). Below are five films which were based on, or inspired by, real stories which, in turn, are simply remarkable.

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I. The Sound of Music [1965]

The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummermight have been a book and a theatrical musical once, but it was also based on an incredible true story. In her memoir titled The Story of the Trapp Family Singers [1949], Maria von Trapp tells the story of her family who originally came from Salzburg, Austria, but who were then forced to cross borders and emigrate to America to escape Nazi persecutions in Europe.

Even though the true story was dramatized substantially for the film, it remained true in essence. So, in reality, a young woman from a religious background did come to work in the Trapp family, but not as a governess, but as a tutor to one of the children (who were in reality ten in number, not seven as in the film). Georg von Trapp was the father in the family, and Maria (as this was the name of the woman/the author) came to love the children first (and only then the father) (source). Georg, who was in reality a much kinder person than in the film, did marry Maria, and the family eventually travelled to Italy and America, and not to Switzerland as in the film. The Sound of Music is also not the only film to be based on Maria von Trapp’s memoir. Previously, Wolfgang Liebeneiner directed a German film The Trapp Family [1956], which was also based on The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.

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Short Animation: My Love (2006)

Since my previous post was about Russian animations, I thought I would share this 2006 animation coming from Russia. My Love, based on a novella A Love Story [1927] by Ivan Shmelyov, tells of a sixteen year-old boy’s sexual awakening one summer in the nineteenth-century Russia. Longing for a “spiritual union” and “pure love”, the boy becomes torn between a young and pretty servant girl Pasha and an older and richer woman living next door. There are themes in this beautiful animation of the innocence of first love and the dangers of pursuing unreachable ideals. The animation comes from Aleksandr Petrov, previously known for The Old Man and the Sea [1999], and uses the same wondrous paint-on-glass-technique. Aleksandr Petrov’s work especially shines in the presentation of images that fuse reality and fantasy.

3 Russian “Fairy Tale” Animations

Previously I made this list where I talked about some Russian winter animations, so today I thought I would talk about other examples from the Russian/Soviet animation history. The three animations below were all made by the Soyuzmultfilm Studio between 1947 and 1964, and are good examples of animations made for children in the USSR that are based on fairy tales.

I. The Scarlet Flower [1952]

This animation is based on a story of 1858 by Sergei Aksakov who, in turn, re-worked the tale of Beauty and the Beast . In The Scarlet Flower, three daughters of one wealthy merchant request from their father overseas presents. The eldest daughter wants a diamond tiara, the middle daughter – a mirror that only shows the beauty of a person looking in it, and the youngest, Nastenka, says that she wants the Scarlet Flower. The father gets the presents for his two daughters in his travels, and the present for Nastenka he picks in the surroundings of one strange, enchanted castle. The hidden master of the castle is so angry at the father for taking the Scarlet Flower that he demands that the father sends one of his daughters to him.

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5 Films That Were So Evidently Influenced by Andrei Tarkovsky

All art, of course, is intellectual, but for me, all the arts, and cinema even more so, must above all be emotional and act upon the heart.” (Andrei Tarkovsky)

Andrei Tarkovsky (1932 – 1986) was a Soviet director and screenwriter known for his cinematic masterpieces, including Solaris [1972], Stalker [1979] and his debut Ivan’s Childhood [1962]. He inspired generations of film-makers, and Steven Dillon, a film historian, even went so far as to say that “much of subsequent film” was influenced by Tarkovsky’s work. Always favouring long takes, Tarkovsky belonged to a group of film-makers (for example, others are Robert Bresson (Pickpocket [1959]) and Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story [1953])),that explored spirituality, the transcendental and the metaphysical on film, often focusing on morality or religion, and sometimes employing certain very vivid imagery to convey that. A list of films that were inspired by Tarkovsky’s work in some way or another will probably be never ending, but here I would like to focus on just five of them. Another thing to note is that Andrei Tarkovsky himself drew influence from such directors as Ingmar Bergman, Luis Buñuel and Akira Kurosawa, and this list is not to disparage any of the films listed, which are very good, but to simply draw similarities with Tarkovsky’s work and style.

I. Melancholia [2011] by Lars von Trier

Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is a work of beauty. Sublime and thought-provoking, Melancholia focuses on one well-to-do family that starts getting to grips with the fact that the end of the world may be near. Another planet is on the collision course with Earth and members of this family, who have a straining relationship with each other, respond differently to the news. Tarkovsky’s influence (including almost his entire filmography) can be seen or felt in almost every other shot of Lars von Trier’s 2011 work.

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Recently Watched: Films: Dark Waters (2019) & Thank You for Smoking (2005)

Dark Waters (2019)

Directed by Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven [2002], Carol [2015]) and based on a magazine article that tells of a true story of one corporate lawyer who challenged a multi-billion chemical empire, Dark Waters focuses on Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) who travels to his home town in West Virginia to discover evidence of gross environmental damage caused by a huge corporation, DuPont. His neighbour’s cattle is dying, water is turning dark and people have health problems in the area. Bilott picks up a Tennant case, thinking it will be over in a matter of months, but the case snowballs over the years as more horrific secrets are uncovered. The concerned lawyer, who is always supported by his wife Sarah (Anne Hathaway), is passionately searching for answers and explanations as the corporation first refuses to admit responsibility and then makes it difficult for numerous victims to seek justice and restitution.

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David Lynch: “Rabbits” (2002)

Rabbits is a series of short surreal films with the overall running time of forty minutes. It features three humanoid rabbits (two female and one male) in one single room. They sit on a sofa, enter and go out of the room, talk to each other and recite poetry. Through eerie music, rabbits’ nonsensical dialogue and strange visions, the viewers may discern that something truly unsettling has happened, is happening or is about to happen. Rabbits is a good example of a minimalist experimental short which uses the lightning, music and the theme of inexplicability to create feelings of uneasiness and barely perceivable fright. Here, inexplicability is key. Uneasiness lies in the inexplicability. Watching the film, the viewers may start pondering: “what is that?”, “what is happening?”, “what is the meaning of all this?” The meaning just about escapes us, even though we definitely sense that the three rabbits are being terrorised by something. The precise cause of what is going remains unclear and the underlying fear is transmitted to us through the specific “trigger words and phrases”, including “coincidence”, “a man in a green suit”, “I hear someone”, “It was red”, “We’re not going anywhere” and “I’m going to find out one day”. These words and phrases stand for some hidden distress. David Lynch proves once again that inexplicability and strangeness alone will sustain the interest.

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Out to Sea: Kramer’s Ship of Fools (1965) & Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944)

I. Ship of Fools (1965)

When I think of the things I have seen on this ship. The stupid cruelties. The vanities. We talk about values? There’re no values. The dung we base our lives on…We are the intelligent, civilized people who carry out orders we are given. No matter what they may be. Our biggest mission in life is to avoid being fools. And we wind up being the biggest fools of all” (Dr Wilhelm Schumann in Ship of Fools).

Based on a novel by Katherine Anne Porter, Ship of Fools tells of a passenger ship sailing from Mexico and bound for Germany. On board, the people are from all walks of life and classes, from a Countess (played by Simone Signoret) who lost everything to desperate Spanish farm workers. They are also one artistic couple having a serious relationship trouble, a middle-aged Nazi sympathiser, an aging southern belle (played by Vivien Leigh), who is in search of “something”, and a troupe of Spanish dancers, among others. The film focuses on each of those in turn, taking rounds, and could be said to represent a series of “film vignettes”, rather than a straightforward plot moving to one cinematic climax. Directed by Stanley Kramer (Look Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)), who always promoted films with important social issues, Ship of Fools is distinguished by its unusual presentation, incredible cast, and the acting of Simone Signoret and Oskar Werner.

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10 Films Directed by Women

Today (8th of March) is the International Women’s Day, and I think it is perfect time to celebrate female directors and their achievements. Therefore, I am taking this opportunity to present 10 films by 9 great female directors which I previously reviewed on this website. There is a lot of talent when it comes to women directors, and I am glad that this year the following women are receiving their recognition: Regina King (One Night in Miami), Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) and Kelly Reichardt (First Cow). Some of my favourite female directors also include Jane Campion, Claire Denis and Sofia Coppola, and I previously made posts on Maya Deren and Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here). This year, I am also planning to draw attention to the following female directors on my blog: Penny Marshall, Chinonye Chukwu (Clemency) and Lucile Hadžihalilović (Evolution).

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10 Great Films Based on Plays

Did you know that classic film Casablanca [1942] was based on an unproduced play titled Everybody Comes to Rick’s? by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison?; or that film Moonlight [2016] was based on another unproduced play titled Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney? Many a great film first originated in a play, and because of this origin, these films often rely much on performances and have certain “intimacy” to them not found in other films. I previously reviewed such plays-turned-films as Prelude to a Kiss [1992], Carnage [2011], It’s Only The End of the World [2016], Marjorie Prime [2017] and Una [2017], and other notable films in this category include Seventh Heaven [1937], Brief Encounter [1945], Steel Magnolias [1989], Glengarry Glen Ross [1992], Meet Joe Black [1998], Closer [2004], Doubt [2008] and August: Osage County [2013]. Below are ten great films that first originated in plays (excluding Shakespearean adaptations).

I. The Seventh Seal [1957]

Play: Trämålning (Wood Painting) [1954] by Ingmar Bergman

This well-known masterpiece of a film by Ingmar Bergman stems from a one-act play by Bergman himself. He wrote a play titled Trämålning (Wood Painting) and it was initially supposed to be a play to be performed by students. In the story, the country is suffering because of the Black Death pandemic and a young Knight with his Squire have just returned from the Crusades. The land is in panic, and, unwittingly, the Knight joins a wagon of travelling performers. Death is also their follower, challenging the Knight to a play of chess. What will be the outcome? Philosophical, visually-striking and full of symbolism, The Seventh Seal is an uncanny portrayal of the Middle Ages and an iconic film in the history of cinema.

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“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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Recently Watched: Films: The Servant (1963), A Kiss Before Dying (1956) & Isle of the Dead (1945)

I. The Servant (1963)

Directed by Joseph Losey, The Servant is considered by some to be one of the finest British films. It tells of Tony (James Fox), a flamboyant member of the upper class, who has just moved in to his central London residence after a period spent in Africa. He immediately hires a man-servant for himself, demure, respectful and knowledgeable Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde). Hugo not only knows how to cook and take care of a house, but he is also an expert interior decorator and has been a gentleman’s servant for many notable Lordships. This tale of a friction between the upstairs and the downstairs reaches the zenith of tension when Hugo introduces “his sister” (Sarah Miles) to the household and when Tony’s own fiancée (Susan Stewart) decides to make the house her own dominion. The Servant works delightfully as a satire on class differences and servitude, showing a thin line that often separates usefulness from a nuisance, and kindness from submissiveness. This tale of hidden corruption has a frightening change of dynamics.

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The Animation Tag

I got an idea for this post through winst0lfportal and his animation tag post. Borrowing some questions from it, I created my own tag. I love animations, and am a supporter and promoter of international animations (see my previous posts on Russian, French, Chinese and Japanese animations).

1. Favourite Disney animation?

Beauty and the Beast” (1991).

2. Favourite non-Disney animation?

It is tempting to say “Spirited Away” (2001), but I have a soft spot for “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004) and would like to make one day an in-depth comparison between it and “Beauty and the Beast” (1991) (a fun one since both are based on other source materials). I also love the works of Satoshi Kon and Makoto Shinkai.

3. Criminally-underseen animation you recommend to everyone?

The Illusionist” (2010) is a lovely, heart-warming animation from Sylvain Chomet (“Les triplettes de Belleville” (2003)). In “The Illusionist”, a French illusionist finds himself unemployed and travels to Scotland. There, he meets a young girl and their destinies collide.

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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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Alternative Film Posters

I would like to wish all my followers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! (Let 2021 be a happier and less stressful year for all of us!) Below I am presenting some of my favourite alternative film posters, which also includes a poster to Home Alone, a quintessential Christmas film. See also my previous posts – Minimalist” Film Posters and Movie Directors’ Styles Reinterpreted As Architecture. Do you like “film art”? What are your favourite alternative film posters?

I. The “House Architecture” Posters

These are some of my favourite alternative film posters and they often get quite intricate. They work best when a story in a film revolves around one house, but also when there are “layers” to a film story, as in the case of Inception below.

Inception by Chris Skinner
Home Alone by Adam Simpson
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3 Most Underappreciated Songs in Animation

I. You Know Better Than Ifrom Joseph: King of Dreams [2000]

This song, written by John Bucchino and performed by David Campbell, is from the straight-to-video animated film Joseph: King of Dreams. The song is inspirational and feels very personal. It is sung by Joseph when he finds himself near to despair and at the lowest point in his life. He has to start from the very beginning again and build his life anew. The faith and trust in God enable him to do that. The animation is often compared negatively to the great animation The Prince of Egypt [1998], but the comparison is a bit unjust and Joseph: King of Dream should stand on its own as that that has many strong points, including the amazing dream sequences and this wonderful song.

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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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Recently Watched: Films: Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Quiz Show (1994) & Close-Up (1990)

I. Raise the Red Lantern (1991)

Chinese director Zhang Yimou tells in his film, which is based on the novel Wives and Concubines by Su Tong, the story of a beautiful nineteen-year-old ex-university student Songlian (Gong Li) who decides to become a concubine in the 1920s China. After her decision, Songlian finds herself in the palace of “red lanterns” which has “four houses” for her husband’s four mistresses. She soon gets acquainted with the elderly and indifferent first Mistress, with the friendly and seemingly happy second Mistress and with the still young and beautiful, but jealous third Mistress. All is well, or is it? The palace’s strange, centuries-old traditions and customs first bewilder Songlian and then force her most shameful qualities out, as her husband randomly shifts the power between the four houses. Songlian soon finds herself in a miniature society and under the patriarchal dominance which she has never imagined to exist, with her husband employing arbitrary and complex policies of rewards and punishments to keep the mistresses in line. In this dangerous game, Songlian realises that she must learn to handle not only the three previous jealous Mistresses, but also her hostile maid Yan’er and the realisation of a lifetime imprisonment. Raise the Red Lantern is a psychologically-intriguing film about one oppressive world where the competition for power, hopelessness, despair and the weight of guilt all mingle as the palace changes people and makes them into forms it desires and the master has planned in advance. With the exquisitely beautiful cinematography (by Zgao Fei), Raise the Red Lantern is one of the most important films of the 1990s. 10/10  

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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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