While you already know about how I’m a fan of Asian cinema (despite now suffering from dumbed-down US remakes – I’m aghast about Park Chan-wook‘s Oldboy having an English remake produced; why can’t people learn to read subtitles?), I think Europe does create some special and interesting films. I’ll just discuss three at present.
Das Experiment (2001)
I find it hard to watch violent films but if it has a good reputation, I’ll suffer the viewing experience. This was loosely based on the Stanford Prison Experiment conducted in 1971. For a fortnight, 20 volunteer male participants are hired to play prisoners and guards. The “prisoners” are locked up and have to follow and obey basic rules while the “guards” are told to keep order without using physical violence. Everybody is free to quit when they want and forfeit payment. In the beginning, both groups are insecure but as arguments come up, those with more power in their hands show off their authority by becoming high-handed with it. Meanwhile down-on-his-luck journalist Tarek who volunteered as a participant to write his experiences as an inmate realises as events go down that the experiment is going down a terrifying path it was never intended to take.
This is a great German doco-film about power and its effect on the holder. While the outcome is predictable, what is interesting is the characterisation. It is a conventional tale in the sense of the cat-and-mouse game but is interesting enough to keep you watching to the end.
Patrik, age 1.5 (2008)
The plot is based on this: Göran and Sven (Gustaf Skarsgård and Torkel Petersson) are a happily married gay couple who have moved into an idyllic new suburb with white picket fence front yards and are anxious to adopt a baby. However, no foreign country is willing to give a child to a gay couple and suitable Swedish babies are difficult to find. They are overjoyed upon hearing that an orphaned 18-month old baby is available for adoption but are shocked when their baby Patrik turns out to be a 15-year old homophobic delinquent (Thomas Ljungman) merely due to a misprint in the adoption documents. Given this is the initial premise, it’s not too hard to figure out the ending will turn out for the best ultimately after the new family battle each other’s differing opinions and the prejudices of their neighbours.
What really makes the film is the acting. The three family members are very strong in their portrayal of their relationship with each other given the backgrounds they have come from. Göran is very nurturing and loving while Sven struggles as he has an ex-wife and daughter and is much more masculine than his partner and has his own prejudices in regards to Patrik who tends to comes across as less tough than we expect. It is also admirable that the family seems like an average family going through the trials brought on by life and avoids all cliche references to gay stereotypes.
Cinema Paradiso (1989)
This Italian film which is set in a small Italian village could almost be interpreted as a love letter to the cinema. It mainly dwells on the relationship between the cinema projectionist Alfredo and young Toto. We follow Toto on his incredible life’s journey as he works on his dreams coming true after being encouraged to follow his dreams by Alfredo. Interspersed with this is the portrayal of the development of cinema in a way that’s almost paying homage to the form. I’m not very big on art house but this if you can tolerate the sentimentality is a majestic watching experience especially due to the music by Ennio Morricone.
This is a very simple and straightforward movie, with no big name stars, on the pursuit of a dream vocation by a boy who works on making his aspiration to be a film director a reality, which chronicles his tragedies and triumphs along the way. There are no grand gestures or flourishes here with special effects but Cinema Paradiso still captivated me just with its raw emotions and feelings with its depiction of fulfillment and loss. This film has several stunning scenes with an ending that is a joy to watch and is almost a masterpiece because of its simplicity and message of love.