Not again? Yes, again. It’s only been a month since we did this, but the current dearth of multiplex openings – one (1) new film a week for the past couple of weeks – obliges us yet again to turn to the small screen (which is where all the action is anyway). Just to make things interesting, though, today’s half-dozen ‘DVD alternatives’ are all in a language other than English, skimming through the top layer of recent world cinema.
The foreign-language caveat makes the title even more of a misnomer – because many of these films have not, to my knowledge, been released on DVD yet, at least not the kind of DVD you can buy from Amazon.com (it doesn’t really help when e.g. Hungarian films come out in Hungary). Still, given the wealth of options available these days – I can say no more! – for eager viewers trying to get hold of a movie, it seems fairly useful to make a list anyway. You can always pester your local DVD club (if any) to look out for them.
In no particular order:
JUST THE WIND. We mentioned Hungarian films, and here’s one right here – though in fact its characters are Roma, gypsy families in a Hungarian village. Racist attacks are being carried out; families are being murdered, and no-one knows who might be next. Sounds like a tract on Racial Tolerance waiting to happen – but director Benedek Fliegauf has other ideas, putting his camera vertiginously close to the characters (especially a teenage girl and her brother) and keeping the tension tight as a drum. A thriller where every sound might be the prelude to carnage – or, of course, might be ‘just the wind’ – and every moment is potentially explosive. Shown very briefly in Cyprus (one non-commercial screening in Nicosia a few months ago), but I think it’s fair to say most people missed it.
EVERYBODY IN OUR FAMILY. From Hungary to Romania, something of a world-cinema hotspot at the moment. Romanian films are essentially theatrical, their main virtues lying in finely-honed dialogue, flawless performances and elaborate staging (the last two suggesting weeks of intensive rehearsal). The first half of Radu Jude’s family drama sets up our hero – a youngish divorced man who’s a bit devious, and a bit of a jerk. He goes to his ex-wife’s apartment to take his 5-year-old daughter on a day out. The girl’s been ill, and his wife’s new boyfriend thinks she should stay home. Our hero waits for the wife to come back. He gets impatient. He starts to argue. Words escalate into insults, then shoving, then violence. The police are called. The entire second half – simultaneously absurd and horrifying – is a tour de force of staging and movement.
DORMANT BEAUTY. Italian director Marco Bellocchio has been making films since the 1960s – but has hit his peak in the 21st century, at an age when most people think about retirement. Like My Mother’s Smile a few years ago, this is an Issue movie – euthanasia, in this case – done in a fervent operatic style that dispels any thought of didacticism, built around the real-life case of Eluana Englaro whose right-to-die controversy stirred Italy a couple of years ago. Various stories intertwine – including Isabelle Huppert as an actress who’s devoted her life to her catatonic son – Bellocchio working with small eruptions and a sense of lives impinging on each other. Hypnotically good.
IN ANOTHER COUNTRY. Isabelle Huppert again, but this time in an unfamiliar context: the films of Hong Sang-soo, the South Korean director whose prolific output is one of the joys of world cinema. Three stories, all of them starring Ms. Huppert, though really three variations on the same story: French tourist in Korea, visiting a seaside village, meeting assorted people including a hilarious lifeguard (“If you swim … I will protect you!”). The point seems obscure, but maybe the point is that nothing really changes – “Have you changed since you were a child?” asks a monk, and our heroine admits that she hasn’t – Life being essentially rudderless; fortunately, it’s also airy and funny. “I will protect you!”
NEIGHBOURING SOUNDS. Crossing the Pacific from Korea to Brazil – and this singular, ingenious movie, widely acclaimed as the best Brazilian film in decades. The setting is a block of flats in a rich Recife neighbourhood, where the tenants bring in private security to protect against a spate of petty crime. What follows is two hours of atmospheric smoulder, with ghosts lurking everywhere and unspoken tensions stalking the characters – especially the owners of the block, a rich ageing patriarch and his sons. Not exactly a thriller, but unnerving and superbly controlled.
IN THE HOUSE. The great Fabrice Luchini as a supercilious French professor who despairs of his high-school class – at least till he reads an essay by a 16-year-old boy, and his adventures in the house (and family) of another 16-year-old boy… This is a story about storytelling, and a playfully coded gay romance (even the teacher’s name, ‘Germain Germain’, echoes Lolita), elegantly turned by director Francois Ozon – and of course we’re cheating slightly because it’s been shown on the big screen in Cyprus, at the recent Cyprus Film Days festival, but I thought I’d end on a hopeful note. Local cinemas aren’t known for their overlap with world cinema, but it seems the twain can meet occasionally. If not … well, there’s always DVD.