Fatih Akin, Turkish-German director with international acclaim, has a reputation. His background as the child of Turkish immigrants is irrefutably ingrained into his films, which work through a headstrong voice that continuously offers a refreshing perspective in the overwhelmingly white realm of contemporary German auteur cinema. His cinema is angry and often more focused on its morally ambiguous character’s journey than the ever-present politics of their situation. This is an approach that doesn’t always work out: 2017’s In The Fade slightly stumbles when it shifts from a political testimony of judicial failure to personal revenge tale, but it’s nonetheless fascinating to watch how Akin’s clings to this kind of storytelling and attempts to dissect the personal implications of the political.
He continues this narrative attempt with his newest film, The Golden Glove, an adaptation of a novel based on a real-life case, and sparked controversy in the 2019’s Berlinale competition as a result. Critics of national and international outlets harshly criticized the unflinchingly graphic story of serial killer Fritz Honka, who centers the films politically loaded narrative and whose violent acts against women leave a deep feeling of unease and disgust in the viewer’s gut. It’s absolutely legitimate criticism, but busy festival schedules and a perhaps biased (and understandable) attitude against the serial killer narrative might have blocked out the film’s qualities as a rich and engaging study of the marks of psychological violence that the wars of the 20th century left on German society.
Continue reading “‘The Golden Glove’ is a fascinating tapestry of decay”
The old Greeks had some of the most striking and illustrative ways of explaining the world. In their cosmos, titans, gods and men were constantly engaging in a great struggle that bore one tragedy after the next. These myths were boosted by the genius of great writers such as Homer, Hesiod and Apollonios, who captured the brutal and absorbing tales vividly on paper and thus enabled them to be preserved. It’s pretty common that Greek mythology is used as point of reference in art, which makes sense, given that it shaped Western art in more than just a few ways. It additionally poses some sort of archaic, self contained and detailed otherworld, grappling with human conflicts in a fascinating manner, even though obviously outdated.
So it isn’t completely innovative that Austrian director and screenwriter Wolfgang Fischer intentionally uses the implications of his sophomore feature’s title, Styx —the stream and deity which separates the land of the living and the land of the dead in the realm of Greek mythology —to create a subtextual tension that illustrates the film’s stakes. The film follows the journey of Rike, a middle-aged Austrian woman and doctor, who sets out on a lone journey to an island in the middle of the Atlantic and eventually encounters an overloaded and critically damaged refugee ship, whose appearance puts an end to her carefree adventure.
Continue reading “‘Styx’ starts as a stunning and mystifying tapestry, but ends up as a letdown”
It feels as something has been missing from big studio films in recent memory, at least when you ask general audiences. The kind of archaic, action-heavy and pathos-ridden blockbusters that usually draw many to the theatre, seem to have lost their appeal. In the exact moment where the cinema as an institution has gained a major rival in the form of streaming services, the films that usually gel so well on the big screen, with their opulent production design and their often CG-supported visual grandeur, seem have lost contact to their potential audiences, no matter how visually inventive or audacious they are. Some of these films get a push in the case of a positive critical reception or massive marketing campaigns, but in general, new franchises are hit hard at the box office. Recent examples are plenty and to be fair, many of these films are forgettable. But even films that truly stand out have to take major losses in their cinema runs.
One example is Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow (2014), an action film with a star-studded cast, a talented crew and stellar reviews. It concisely mixed genre conventions into big entertainment — but despite the quality on display and the accessibility in the film’s storytelling, the general public wasn’t interested in seeing it. And while they didn’t get away with a positive critic’s consensus, flopped films such as the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending (2015) and Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) have gained a community of fans, who admire them for their courage to be original in their vision of spectacle and who prevent their names from being forgotten in the flash flood of the contemporary blockbuster landscape. It’s a slightly different story with Mortal Engines — but not all too different.
Mortal Engines (2018) – directed by Christian Rivers, all right reserved to © Universal Pictures
The base setup of the film is one that seems to be, in theory, a safe bet: produced and co-written by Peter Jackson, who used to be the biggest name of the industry in relation to the type of filmmaking in question, Mortal Engines somehow managed to completely bomb at the box office. It is actually quite a shame, because the film keeps its promise of – big – and manages to possess much more vigor and excitement than the average blockbuster film.
Continue reading “‘Mortal Engines’ Slaps — But No One Wants to See It”
German sneak previews can be fun. You pay a fixed amount of money for a ticket and get to see a movie ahead of its official theatrical release. The actual gag of that concept is that you obviously never know which movie will play, and while it’s possible to narrow down the possibilities based on upcoming releases, there’ll still be a broad range of films that have a chance to be shown. In conclusion: It’s as likely for a studio comedy to screen as a Cannes competitor — quality, genre and degree of audience compatibility are completely variable factors. The only right way to play this game is to leave your expectations under the doormat. Additionally it doesn’t hurt to bring someone with you. Since the surprise and the challenge to keep an open mind is injected into the premise, it doesn’t even need to be someone who is much of a cinephile — either way, the event is even more fun in the presence of good company.
It happened to be that just a few days before Christmas, I found myself in one of these sneak previews. The German release of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme D’Or winner Shoplifters was imminent, so a sweet tingle of hopeful delusions swelled right before the screening and was restlessly shattered as it became clear, that the movie shown was going to be Instant Family, a Mark Wahlberg/Rose Byrne-led comedy about an American middle-class couple adopting three children after finding their lives in a dry spell. On first glance, it sounds like an appalling, class-insensitive expression of a white-savior narrative, one that is still so widely accepted that it would hardly come as a shock if the film turned out to be exactly that. The actual shock came gradually with the realization that the film doesn’t only possess truly effective comedy in realms of absurdity I had never expected, but also manages to pull off a surprisingly sensitive dig at its narrative, which never goes the route of the melodramatic and offensive hell I feared.
Continue reading “‘Instant Family’ is Hilarious and Has Its Heart In The Right Spot”
Jim Cumming follows a lot of people on Twitter. In fact, as I’m writing this, about twenty-two thousand of them. I am not one of them, but a good friend of mine is, who decided to visit me over the course of the Film Festival Cologne. He told me about a very short, likeable social media interaction with Cummings and his interest in the now fully-fledged feature film Thunder Road after seeing its short film prototype of the same name – a brilliant one-take tour de force. Sure, I had heard about the film’s buzz from Sundance, but the consideration to actually go see it after spotting it on the festival lineup, came only by then. American independent filmmaking is tough, but Cummings found his own way to spread the word by actively sending out screeners and interacting with people. It’s likely a lot of work, but it paid off. And it did not pay off for a letdown – from a cinematic standpoint, Thunder Road is an impeccably crafted standout of recent American independent film.
Continue reading “Film Festival Cologne ‘18 Review: ‘Thunder Road’”
Selva walks down a hallway in a permanent shift of horror and disbelief that makes her both scream and laugh. She finally ends up at a peaceful wall painting of a forest lit in warm daylight. She is struck by it for a second, then bends back her body to scream into the void. Played by a truly unchained Sofia Boutella who finally gets to showcase her entire range of artistic expression, Selva is a dance choreographer, who agreed to train a small circle of students assembled in a remote school building for some sort of winter dance camp. It seems barely hours prior that she was less existentially disturbed and in possession of severely more chill. The same counts for the rest of the now completely deranged group of dancers.
Continue reading “‘Climax’ Is the Most Well-Adjusted Shot of Acid Gaspar Noé Has Ever Rammed into Your Eyeballs”
In perhaps the most striking scene of Claire Denis’ debut Chocolat, we see Proteé – the “houseboy” of a French civil servant in the colonialized Cameroon of the late 50’s – working on a generator in a small hut. After a while, he notices that someone is observing him. It’s France, the infant daughter of the civil servant. There is a somewhat hard emotion palpable in the air. France asks Proteé if one of the parts of the machine is hot. Without stirring an emotion, the man presses his hand on a tube. France tries to do the same but cries out as she realizes the tube is in fact incredibly hot, and leaves her hand burned. Proteé’s hand is burned to a much more severe degree, but he doesn’t flinch. He just looks at her. There is nothing more to say. He leaves into the night and never comes back.
This scene is a crucial component to understanding Claire Denis’ cinema, which has separated itself from the majority of European auteur cinema and moves on its very own heady and uncompromising path.
Continue reading “Female Director Spotlight: Claire Denis Doesn’t Show Us the War, but the Aftermath”