Category Archives: arthouse

Youth * Paolo Sorrentino (2015)

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Like with the last reviewed title of Sorrentino, this latest film is a pompous and pretentious drama. “Youth” is very much in this Sorrentino style and as with “La Grande Bellezza” it is well-done, but not entirely my type of film.

We mostly follow two old men who celebrate their holidays in a luxery resort in Switzerland as they have done for decades. Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is a retired orchestra director and Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) an aged, but still active film director. The two talk about getting old, the pains that come with that phase of live and of course they look back at their lives. This is done with amusing dialoges and in the settings of the extreme luxery of their Swiss hotel. There are other guests as well of course. Ballinger’s daughter is also his manager, even though he thinks his carreer is done with. Boyle is still working on a film which he supposes to be his last one.

Sorrentino again uses long shots, lengthy dialogues, nudity and portrays the enstrangement and solitude of some of the characters in a melancholic and yet lightly humorous fashion. This makes “Youth” comparable to his previous title, but also for example a film like “American Beauty”.

Birdman * Alejandro González Iñárritu (2014)

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A fine film indeed! I expected a bit of a weird drama and “Birdman” indeed is a bit of a weird drama, but not as weird as the poster and trailer suggest or perhaps just differently and more subtlely.

Riggan is an actor who made fame with the pompous Hollywood comic-scifi franchise Birdman. We find him later in life running a theatre in the hip theatre scene of New York trying to perform the play of his life. Things do not entirely go as planned especially not when Mike comes aboard.

Birdman appears to not only be Riggan’s old movie-character and Riggan also is not an ordinary man thus the film has nicely surreal elements from the beginning. The film is shot with flying cameras and threatre-like drama so both in form and content “Birdman” is certainly a film to see.

The Grand Budapest Hotel * Wes Anderson (2014)

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This highly acclaimed film was not too high on my wishlist, but my girlfriend already saw it and thought that I should too. It is a nice film indeed.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” has a bit of the atmosphere of “Amélie“; slightly absurdistically surrealistic, both romantic and somewhat tragic and with colourfull stages and weird characters and situations.

A writer goes to the gone-glory Grand Budapest Hotel where he meets the owner. This owner tells him the story of how he came to possess the hotel. A weird story about the “legendary concierge” Gustave H. unfolds. This extremely distiguished gentleman seems to be the main reason for the rich and famous to come to the hotel. When a customer of his dies and leaves Gustave a priceless painting, the family of the deceased opens all cabinets to prevent the concierge from obtaining the most valuable item of the legacy. Gustave and his favourite bellboy try to clear Gustave’s name.

The film contains a range of famous actors in unlikely roles which certainly adds to the amusement of the film. For the rest, it is a film for people like light, but ‘high brow’ comedy and the slightly surrealistic films like those of Jeanne-Pierre Jeunet or Paul Thomas Andersson.

The Tree Of Life * Terrence Malick (2011)

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“The Tree Of Life” is what you can call a “difficult film”. It is extremely “artsy fartsy” and thus probably not for everyone. The film opens with some pretty heavy scenes about a family that lost their oldest son. The family is very religious and some three quarters of an hour follow in which the parents wonder how God could have done such a thing. Malick comes with very long earth and space documentary scenes, the purpose of which is not entirely clear to me. Does Malick try to set the death of the boy against the grandeur and magnitude of Creation? After much amazing imaginary, the film turns back to being a film and we learn about the history of the family. Malick keeps using a minimalistic approach with long stretched scenes and little dialogue.
I guess “The Tree Of Life” is a ‘love it or hate it’. I find the approach daring, perhaps overdone, but why should every film be the same? Interesting for sure. Not much of a ‘feeling good’ film, but what the heck?

La Piel Que Habito * Pedro Almodóvar (2011)

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Presented as a thriller comes the latest Almodóvar which seems to get most attention because Antonio Banderas plays the mayor part. Banderas is Robert Ledgard, a leading plastic surgeon with operation rooms inside his house. In his private place Ledgard does experiments many of his colleagues disapprove of. Things get even more weird in the actual story which is actually but a variant of one of the oldest horror stories. The film jumps back and forth in time to present the unlikely story. I cannot say that “The Skin I Live In” is a very original or even a good film. In a way it is a horror story in an arthouse cloth and it is not like the acting is bad or the film boring, but it is but an arthouse film.

Cosmopolis * David Cronenberg (2012)

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The new Cronenberg is not your average film. Not very typical for Cronenberg either! Even though it is a strange book turned into film, it is nothing like “Naked Lunch” or similar films. “Cosmopolis” is a slightly surrealistic ride of the young yup Eric Packer. This absurdly rich 28 year old made his fortune with speculating the market (I think). In the entire film we follow him crossing Manhatten in his stretched limo. The film is very minimalistic in story and acting, sometimes becoming annoying. The opening scene sets the tone. Eric tells his head of security that he wants a haircut way across Manhattan even if that means crossing through a city that welcomes the president, is filled with anti-capitalist protestors and with a thread on Eric’s life. During the ride Eric welcomes several employees in his limo with whom he has lengthy philosophical discussions about capitalism and modern life. A few times he gets out and the intellectual but hollow discussions continue. Imagine a very slow pace (the traffic is jammed, the film has an according pace) and a few weird habbits of the extremely wealthy and you might have a faint idea of what this film is like. “Cosmopolis” is certainly a film that I have to see again at some point. As of now, I am tossed between finding it annoying (but that is probably on purpose) and finding it inventive. When it was finished, I did not have a bad feeling about it. Now, some time later, I mostly remember what I did not like, rather than what I did. I guess the overall atmosphere and the uniqueness of the film makes my opinion positive. Nope, not an easy film.

Small Town Murder Songs * Ed Gass-Donnelly (2010)

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What a great film. The title refers to three main elements of the film. In a small town, a murder is committed. The small town is a very religious, remote community and the film is layered with Biblical quotes and religious singing. Often the music replaces the sound of the film which is very well done. It certainly gives the film a great and slightly surrealistic atmosphere. What adds to this is the very slow pace of the film. Long shots before something happens, not too much dialogue. The story is mainly about Walter, a local police officer with a past that keeps catching up with him, in particular during the investigation of his first murder case. This does not really make the film a thriller, it is more a drama with thriller elements. I love a film in which music is used in such a way that it intensifies the film and “Small Town Murder Songs” is definately one of them.

The Artist * Michel Hazanavicius (2011)

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When I heard about this film when it was just out, I was immediately interested to see it. Then came all the prices and attention and my interest went down somewhat. Meanwhile the film was no longer shown in the cinemas either (weird actually). A very small local cinema announced this film just before last week’s Oscars and we got ourselves tickets. Well, “The Artist” is a wonderfull film and justly receives all the praise that it does. “The Artist” begins as a silent film about the silent film, shooting the audience, the orchestra that plays the music, the screen and the actors and producer who are watching from the back of the screen. The main actor is Georges Valentin, the absolute hero of the big screen, the most famous man in the world. Accidentally Georges bumps into Peppy Miller who is blunt enough to obtain a role in Valentin’s new film without having a shred of experience in acting. Peppy’s beauty is one of the carrying elements of the “The Artist”, just as she quickly becomes so of the films she plays in. Then the “talkie” is invented, the film with sound. Valentin is against it, Peppy Miller’s star keeps rising as she naturally gears up to the next hot thing. Valentin’s fame goes down and Miller tries to hold him on track. Thus a ‘romantic comedy’ unfolds.
“The Artist” is also filmographically interesting. The film within the film that becomes the film itself; wide camera angles with a lot happening in different parts of the screen; the 1930’ies atmosphere; subtle jokes with the silent and “talkie” film; and there is of course the famous dog. Wonderfull stages, a perfect melancholic, romantic atmosphere, old fashioned close-ups, beautiful cars. Of course there are also a few things negative to say, but just let me conclude that “The Artist” may be a large-audience film, it is very original and very well executed.

Kan Door Huid Heen * Esther Rots (2009)

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After a traumatic experience, Marieke flees to a nomansland in a far corner of the Netherlands, buying a ruin in the province of Zeeland. Isolated, Marieke’s fear starts to grow into schizophrenia. In her debut film Esther Rots gives a pressing peek into the mind of a troubled young woman. An experimental score makes rumbling noises when the thoughts in Marieke’s head no longer lead anywhere and several thoughts constantly run through eachother. Also Marieke’s mood changes constantly, from open and happy to violently angry and especially to unfounded fear. The self-help chatboxes that she visits in her dark hours do not help either. “Kan Door Huid Heen” (literally ‘can go through skin’) is an interesting debut that suddenly ends and leaves a lot to be interpreted by the viewer.

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things * Asia Argento (2004)

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“The Heart…” is a heavy drama about a boy Jeremiah, who was born to a 16-something mother and given up for adoption. The film opens when Jeremiah’s biologcal mother Sarah picks up her son from the foster parents. Sarah is about the lowest-of-the-low. However pretty when she wants to, she is an antisocial drinking and dug-using young woman. She convinces Jeremiah that he is better off with her, but the situation does not last too long. Jeremiah is thrown back and forth from his mother and completely opposital foster families. Trying to blend in as well as he can, Jeremiah always lands into the most woefull situations. “The Heart…” is not an overly dramatic tearjerker, it is heavier than that. Not a feel-good movie, but one that you might want to watch some time if you like raw drama.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done * Werner Herzog (2009)

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“David Lynch presents”… I do not think I ever saw a film of Herzog and I immediately admit that the name of Lynch was the primary reason to watch this film. I was not disappointed! This film has obvious Lynchian elements, such as minimalistic dialogues, silences, a suppressed kind of dark humour, weird characters and well-used music. Yet, “My Son My Son…” is not a dark film. Actually, it is shot in weird, bright colours (or is that due to our new LED tv?) After a trip to Peru with some hippie friends, Brad returns with God in his head. Dillusionary he takes matters in his own hand drastically and we come into the story when Brad already has a murder on his name and two hostages in his house. The film is basically the police trying to understand the situation and in flashbacks we see the story of Brad who slowly looses his mind. The film has a great, slightly surrealistic atmosphere with strange, but well-working Spanish music (Peruan?), some threatening scenes and some good experimentations. An interesting film!

Kûki Ningyô * Hirokazu Koreeda (2009)

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“Air Doll” is “a modern fairy tale for adults” and is about a blow-up sex-doll that has a heart (or a soul according to the box). When her buyer is at home, Nozomi acts like a doll, when he is not, she likes to dress herself up and eventually even leaves the house and get a job. The film does not have a whole lot of credibility. When Hideo has his way with her, Nozomi cracks like plastic, but when she has herself treated in a beauty-salon, nobody notices anything and the other way around, Hideo does not notice that Nozomi looks incredibily real. The story that develops is slightly too sweet. Nozomi meets people and in her innocence thinks to learn about the world. Moving like Pinoccio, but dressed in short skirts, Nozomi steals the hearts of but a few. Koreeda uses the doll with a heart to tell us something about the emptiness of modern life, summerised in a beautiful poem that Nozomi learns from an old man (unfortunately I cannot find the poem). The atmosphere is of the very little surrealistic kind and comes accross well sometimes and less good in other scenes. However the film is not boring, I find the 7.1 on IMdB and all the attention for this film is bit overrating.

Κυνόδοντας * Giorgos Lanthimos (2009)

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“Kynodontas” (“Dogtooth”) is a very strange Greek film with absurdistic drama that could have come from Scandinavia. A man tries to prevent his two daughters and son to become infected with the outside world by keeping them separated in his house with large garden far away from the civilised world. He tries to control their entire life by giving them exercises, language lessons (with strange explanations of words), medical education, etc. Naturally the children are not quite ‘normal’ which results in some nicely suppressed humorous scenes, especially when the outside world comes creeping in inspite of the man’s efforts. The film is very slow and raises a lot of questions that are not answered. In fact, the film ends as suddenly as it begins and just when things start to become interesting. If you want a film which gives you a nice, clean story, this one will not be for you. When you want to have a look at a strange psychological experiment, “Kynodontas” could be something.

The Limits Of Control * Jim Jarmusch (2009)

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The new Jarmusch is a very slow, minimalistic film in which we follow a pokerface “lone man” who is sent back and forth through Spain receiving all kinds of instructions, the purpose of which eludes the viewer. The “lone man” meets a range of strange people starting (semi-)intellectual monologues about a variety of subjects. These short talks are about the only talking you will hear in this film. The “lone man” seems to have his way to work out the clues he gets, but also here the viewer remains in the dark. You get it, “The Limits Of Control” is not your average film. Much in it does not seem to make any sense and until the end it is completely unclear what the goal of it all is. Jarmusch uses some quite obvious symbolism to give more (non-)clues, perhaps only to further confuse you. All in all an interesting film, with a typical ‘guitarscapes’ soundtrack, but not really a great one.

Black Swan * Darren Aronofsky (2010)

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Aronofsky again made a very different film than he did before. This time we follow the beautiful but undesirable ballet dancer Nina (Natalie Portman). Nina is too much focussed on perfection and ‘doing well’, pushed in that direction by her overly protective mother. When the top cheographer Tomas (Vincent Cassel!!) choses her for both major parts in his new Swanlake, Nina has to develop passion to get that part right. Tomas tries the hard way, but Nina is also helped by Lily. That is to say, in the highly competative world of ballet Lily’s intentions are not clear. Because of all the pressure Nina starts to loose her mind giving Aronofsky the room for some gruely scenes. Yes this is the entire story in a nutshell, but when you followed the director, you will know that the atmosphere of the film is the reason to watch it. Regarding that atmosphere I must conclude that “Black Swan” is the least of Aronofsky’s films. There were hardly any gooseflesh scenes. The film is again great, but did not give me the feeling of any of Aronofsky’s other films. Perhaps that is why this film seems to have given the director a new audience. We saw the film in a room full of elderly people, who may see the winks to his earlier films.