Foreign & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video ">

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

(Photo: The Film Society of Lincoln Center/Strand Releasing)

10th Annual Film Comment Selects
February 20–March 5, 2009


What does rape look like in war? Can a victim even feel love for the perpetrator? While the world today points a horrified finger at rape as a tool of war in Bosnia and the Congo, A Woman in Berlin frankly looks back to the spring of 1945 when the Russians entered the bombed-out city as conquering heroes out for revengethen companionship. Its source is the anonymous, forthright diary published in the 1950’s to shock and scorn in East Germany, a country under pressure to praise the liberators, and reprinted after the author’s death in 2001 to a more sympathetic readership.

This searing film is one of the 19 local premieres from first-timers to touted directors (including Kathryn Bigelow and Philippe Garrel) championed by the editors of the bi-monthly Film Comment magazine of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. (The following films were screened to the press.)

Extraordinarily, director Max Färberböck, in adapting the diary, creates complex, three-dimensional men and women, Germans and Russians, who are each victims of political propaganda and the horrors of a brutal, total war. The diarist (Nina Hoss of Yella) realizes that with her multilingual skills she can negotiate some strategic protection for her and her neighbors, providing a modicum of carnal consent and material benefits during the weeks of sexual assaults.

As the war grinds to an end, the Russians gradually differentiate into individual, lonely men with their own war stories and dreams, particularly swaggering Roman Gribkov as the shrewd Captain Anatol and the charismatic Yevgeni Sidikhin (a TV star in Russia) as the multi-layered Major Andrej. Strand Releasing is planning theatrical distribution later this year of this striking addition to the continuing reexamination of the official story of World War II in the movies.

Brendan Gleeson & Kim Cattrall (Photo: The Film Society of Lincoln Center/Outsider Pictures)
John Boorman re-teams with actor Brendan Gleeson on their home turf, this time with Gleeson as both a white-collar criminal and his doppelganger in The Tiger’s Tail, a cross between The Prince and the Pauper and Sullivan’s Travels. More upwardly mobile than his thieving good old boy in Boorman’s The General, Gleeson’s Liam O’Leary is a ruthless real estate developer with a gorgeous, bejeweled wife (Kim Cattrall with an adequate Irish brogue) and a hectoring Communist son, Connor (Gleeson’s son Briain). So it seems at first that the appearance of
O’Leary’s double could be a figment of his conscience haunting him. But there’s no doubt about the corporeal existence of the Other from the terrified look of Sinéad Cusack, keeper of a family secret.

O’Leary’s fall from the top of the corrupt Dublin business world to the bottom of a homeless shelter and asylum would seem exaggerated if the current economic crisis wasn’t scratching at the theater door. The timely social commentary constantly playing out in the background makes O’Leary’s self-realization more convincing. Though made in Ireland three years ago, the world recession has made this suspenseful film bitingly relevant beyond the local problems of the maiming of “The Celtic Tiger,” as the roaring Irish economy was once called, and Outsider Pictures may yet distribute it more widely.

In The Mugger, the respectable older man in the suit hanging around outside private schools in Buenos Aires almost looks like he fits in, and his familiarity with the schools and their routines is almost reassuring. But Arturo Goetz’s mesmerizing performance turns on a dime over the course of one morning, changing from pleasant to ruthless, wily, desperate, and even bored. As his shocking actions belie his appearance, we look for cues to excuse his criminal behavior. While the titular character’s motives and coincidental details leave a few head-scratching holes for viewers to argue about, debut Argentinean writer/director Pablo Fendrik keeps ratcheting up the tension. Cinematographer Cobi Migliora‘s exciting camera work recalls the real-time anxiety in the Filipino thriller Cavite.

(Photo: The Film Society of Lincoln Center/Michael Almereyda)
Michael Almereyda’s Paradise sure looks, at first, like just a collection of random home movies from
years of wandering through more than 20 cities around the United States and the world. (Almereyda keeps subtitling it a “Work in Progress” at various screening over the years). But as an experienced director of feature films (Hamlet 2000) and documentaries (This So-Called Disaster), his unique eye is gradually revealed. He doesn’t look at what the tourists, shoppers, performers, mourners, lightning bug hunters, and more are looking athe’s looking at them, and he remains steadily focused on their intense stares. Adorable children are a particular focus of the 33 sequences, and he holds his gaze on them only as long as a child’s attention span. Long afterwards, his images will haunt your perceptions of everyday life, let alone make you squirm while looking at anyone else’s woefully inadequate smiling-at-the-camera home movies in comparison. Nora Lee Mandel
February 20, 2009




Archive of Previous Reviews

Contact us