Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Deutsch-Kino-Love 1

Dear Blogosphere,

Happy New Year! You know I really love German cinema. My obsession really peaked over the Christmas holidays when I packed 4 classics in (I've legally downloaded number 5). Herewith Review 1 of 2 featuring the famous Berlin films, Das Leben der Anderen (2006) and Goodbye Lenin (2003)

Das Leben der Anderen (2006)

This film was given to me as a birthday present and is the most poetic cinematically of the German films I’ve seen to date. Watching it encouraged a conversation as to the definition of ‘Arthouse Cinema’ – the conclusions: ‘Arthouse’ often has negative connotations of plotlessness but beauty in the form & cinematography.

DLDA, however, had plenty of plot. It is the story of a young writer/ director in Berlin in the 1980’s and the man who spies on him for the government, their interrelationship and how it changes them both. Both characters go through a gentle but eventually radical development shaped by their circumstances and experiences. I was impressed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's handling of such a recent political issue, avoiding overdramatisation or too bold a line between 'goody' and 'bady'. The story made me think about identity, the role of art in subversion, love and the strength of an individual. Cinematically Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, was quite radical in his casting decisions; choosing Ulrich Mühe to play a Stasi informant when he himself had been monitored in the 1980’s. Life since 1980 has obviously moved on in Berlin, the producers commented that finding a place to film in Berlin, without cars was really difficult. 

The brilliance of DLDA was recognised by several awarding bodies, and not kooky ones either! The film made €814,337 in its opening weekend in Germany alone. It secured 7 Lolas (German film awards), was nominated for a Golden Globe and won an Oscar in 2006. Plus did I mention it is beautifully shot.
 See it.
The English subtitles are plenty good enough.

Good Bye Lenin! (2003)

When I mentioned I was surveying German cinema one comment was recurrent, ‘Watch Good Bye Lenin!’. So I did. I ordered it online and dutifully waited for the disk. It’s a comedy about a young guy, Alex, whose mother is very sensitive to shocks (it seems to send her into a coma) and very devoted to socialism. When Alex gets into political trouble his Mum goes into a coma, whilst she's out of the picture the Berlin wall and all that she stands for falls. When she recovers Alex tries to recreate socialist East Berlin in her bedroom, believing it will save her from death, with hilarious consequences.

Compared to the intricate beauty of DLDA, Good Bye Lenin! is a heavy-footed romp of hilarity. It did make me laugh and I enjoyed the developing romance between the male lead and his mother’s nurse. I thought adding actual footage from the collapse of the wall was also a nice touch and it did bring home what a world changing year 1990 must have been. My ears also pricked up when I heard an identical music sample to that from French film Amelie (turns out the soundtracks share a composer). 

Other than that it left me fairly unmoved. Sorry. Luckily for those who do love it I’ve been outvoted; it won 8 Lolas, a César and a Goya, and was even nominated for a BAFTA. Maybe I just let my funny bone at home…

So in conclusion, 2 deservedly good films, for 2 different moods, set in 2 different decades. Take your pick! I'll be back with a review of Miracle of Bern and Barefoot next time!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

10 things I learned from Pocahontas

I've been reliving my youth watching Pocahontas. Here are my top 10 tips...

1.       If you think a tree is talking to you; you’re not hallucinating, its probably your hilarious Grandma.

2.       You can definitely trust the man who stops you leaving when you say you feel uncomfortable, he probably ‘has a good soul’.

3.       You can also trust the man who says your house needs improving, your society civilising and calls you a savage to your face.

4.       If his hair isn’t shoulder length he’s not even up for consideration.

5.       Men don’t really have nipples. In real life they’re just drawn on!

6.       Kissing always leads to trouble.

7.       The only thing stronger than weapons is anger. Or you know guns.

8.       Even your best friend will try to blackmail you, and will probably dob you in. Your friendly neighbourhood hummingbird on the other hand is a keeper.

9.       You can use a compass to find your destiny. And there’s no magnetic North in Native America.

10.    A pretty necklace makes everything alright.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Belfast: Borough of Barriers and Boats

Happy New Year everyone! To celebrate the turning of the years I thought I’d do pot-luck with my local airport – I went off to Belfast for 48 hours. It was a good time, although the weather didn’t really allow for much wild adventuring; I spent a lot of time contemplating barriers and boats.


I first became aware of the ‘Troubles’ in 1996; I was 7, my Dad was going to London and the IRA had just bombed Canary Wharf. All I understood was, ‘the Irish are angry with us; and that’s why there are no bins’ but still a fairly nuanced understanding for a 7 year old. Then in Year 7 I read a book about a Romeo-and-Juliet-style couple split by the Trouble  centred around the Falls Road. I remember being struck by the story and storing it away somewhere for later use.

Shankhill Road

Later I studied ‘Archaeology of Modern Conflict’ at UCL;  we thought about wall murals and how these can be expressions of identity in civil war contexts. I decided I’d get a closer look and, much to my parents consternation, made a b-line for the Shankhill Estate. Shankhill is a protestant estate with much evidence of said on display. Union flags festoon the streets and there are lots of murals celebrating the centenary of the ‘Covenant’ (when the government in Belfast voted to stay with the UK in 1912). The established ‘Shankhill murals’ are  in the middle of a normal housing estate where normal people live. I saw no trouble while I was there, the only other people around were Shoreditch archetypes, all woollens and digi-SLRs; taking great interest in the repaint peace project and arty photos of the murals; apparently in summer the place is awash with tourists and the bus tours make good money. I walked down Cupar Way which reminded me of the Berlin wall, all arty and ‘give peace a chance’ but still rather substantial; and then onto Falls Road – the Catholic equivalent of Shankhill – Bobby Sands took a fairly central role here and I saw no tourists. 

Cupar Way

On both sides of the wall there was a roaring trade in memorials and a rhetoric of martyrdom. One mural in Shankhill represented nicely some of the thoughts I was having, ‘nothing about us, without us, is for us’; it was painted by someone who lives in Shankhill, for whom that landscape isn’t a fascinating museum dedicated to a dark and mysterious past. The murals are painted on the walls of homes in a living district, I bought a pasty from the sandwich shop, I sent a parcel from a post office in a queue of people waiting for their pensions. No-one wants to live in a goldfish bowl and be gawked at by tourists. Do we have any right to heritage-ise people’s living environment, and if so for what cause? And is it ethical to paint over memorials in the name of peace?

Shankhill Road
Cupar Way


On my second day I ventured to the ‘Titanic Quarter’; a modernised dock which took my head straight to Dusseldorf and Hamburg where similar regeneration projects have taken place. It’s really modern and features a shopping centre, museums, cafes and art works. On the way I stopped at the Belfast Barge – a thoroughly impressive, although poorly advertised museum. It’s free and it’s on board a boat – what’s not to love! Ok, what I really appreciated about the barge was how many ways it made its point – dressing up clothes, more information in drawers, DVD and touch screen features, testimonials and models – and the clever use it made of the limited space available. I even had a go at hammering in a rivet!

Belfast Barge

I decided to give the newly opened ‘Titanic Experience’ a miss on the advice of a fellow hostel user; ‘you pay £13 and then you can’t touch anything, it’s all lights and sounds and stuff’. Instead I walked an extra half a mile to the ‘authentic Titanic experience’ at the Pump House and Finishing Dock complete with real life tour guide AKA an actor seeking employment. I spent an hour being told many interesting tales of the Titanic’s creation and thought the physical impact of standing inside a giant concrete dry-dock was quite substantial. All the advertising for the Pump House was around it being the ‘authentic’ museum, what did that mean? Authentic because the boat actually rested there for 2 days, authentic because you can actually see and touch things that touched the Titanic? All the time conveniently ignoring the reality that some 2,000 other ships also passed through the same dock. Not sure, but there is something about being able to physically ‘touch’ the past which registers in a different part of my brain and is expected by the audience when they visit a ‘museum’,  that the ‘entertainment experience’ of ultra-modern museums doesn’t touch…plus it was half the price of the other one!


My holiday wasn’t a constant sociology exercise; honourable mentions also go to Ulster Museum (an amazingly in-depth history of Belfast and a lovely collection of butterflies), Maggie May’s café (cheap milkshakes bigger than tankards) and Belfast YHA (which was my accommodation for the trip). Looks like I got back just on time too. See you soon for some foreign film reviews.