Archive for May 25th, 2010

by Joel Bocko

#66 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series counting down the most acclaimed films of the previous decade.

Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is a top Stasi agent, not the kind whose flashy skills and pride draw attention to himself, but the kind who quietly and methodically does his job, never questions authority, and seems to actually believe in the principles he operates under – or at least has never given them enough thought to really object. Then again, it’s hard to tell; the very reticence which makes him an ideal snoop and a hard-to-read interrogator means that we can’t quite be sure what’s going on in his mind: is he a loyal soldier, or merely someone who knows his place? German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s debut film, the 2006 winner for Best Foreign Film, The Lives of Others is about Wiesler’s slipping grasp on his own stoic rigidity, internal and consequentially external as well. The suggestive title conflates state-sanctioned snooping with sympathetic voyeurism, and indeed as Mühe spies on a bourgeois artist couple, playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), his impassive surveillance gives way to emotional involvement – eventually one will have to give in to the other. Village Voice critic J. Hoberman has astutely noted the similarity to Wim Wenders’ seminal Wall- era Wings of Desire, writing, “No less than Bruno Ganz’s empathetic seraphim, Wiesler longs to be human.” Indeed, after listening in on a robust lovemaking session, Wiesler orders himself a home visit from a busy (and buxom) prostitute; though perhaps physically satisfying, it doesn’t quite scratch the spiritual itch Wiesler has been developing. Perhaps more telling is an encounter on an elevator just prior. A little boy, bouncing a ball casually asks Wiesler if he’s “really Stasi”; asked if he knows what this even means, the boy inadvertently informs on his father’s bilious characterization of the secret police. “What is the name of your f-” Wiesler stops himself, and pauses: “…of your ball?” The little boy chuckles and runs off, not knowing how close he came to turning the old man in. And Wiesler probably wonders what possessed him to show mercy, a quality he may not even have realized was within his power until now.


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by Allan Fish

(Senegal/France 2004 124m) DVD1/2

Protection, protection

p  Ousmane Sembene  d/w  Ousmane Sembene  ph  Dominique Gentil  ed  Abdelattif Raiss  m  Boncana Naiga  art  Joseph Kpobly

Fatoumata Koulibaly (Collé Gallo Ardo Sy), Maimouna Hélène Diarra (Hadjatou), Salimata Traore (Amasatou), Dominique Zeida (Mercenaire), Mah Compaore (Doyenne des Exciseuses), Aminata Dao (Alima Ba), Rasmane Ouedraogo (Ciré Bathily), Bakaramoto Sanogo (Abdou), Ousmane Konaté (Amath Bathily), Modibo Sangaré (Balla Bathily),

It was back in the 1960s when Ousmane Sembene first came to prominence with his seminal work Black Girl.  For over forty years, in spite of the talents of Youssef Chahine, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Shadi Abdelsalam and Souleymane Cissé, he remains the one director on the African continent referred to as great.  Moolaadé was his thirteenth and last film, and he was 81 when it came out.  One has to admit that one would be hard-pressed to think of a better film directed by a octagenarian, and yet is it a truly great film?

            In truth, it probably falls just short, and yet at the same time it has a power to it that is rare in these most shallow of times.  Many critics have fallen over themselves to praise it in desperate hope of seeming to be supportive of future directors from this long cinematically-undiscovered continent, and some of his earlier films – such as Xala and Guelwaar – though fine, are not as great as his devotees would have you believe.  As with Iranian cinema, often the simplicity of the tale is both its greatest virtue and its greatest drawback.  And just as with that country, if one had to choose one film to represent this continent, you could do no better than pick this, for various reasons described above, but also because it truly does make you think, a commodity now all too rare. (more…)

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