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Archive for the ‘Foreign Films’ Category


Cinema Paradiso is a film lover’s favorite. Filmed in Sicily in the late 1980s, Giuseppe Tornatore captures the early life of a currently renowned Italian film director.

In the opening scene, the camera pans into a darkened, posh, high rise apartment. Salvatore di Vita has just returned from a long day of filming. As he enters into his bedroom, his girlfriend tells him that his mother recently called. Vita finds out that someone named Alfredo has just passed away. This conjures up intense memories that are centered in childhood. It also invokes thoughts that are centered in possessing a sense of place.

Audiences learn that Vita has not returned to his hometown in Sicily for thirty years. However, the coastal village of Giancaldo, Sicily embodies the true “sense of place” for him. Memories of innocence and wonderment are preserved in Giancaldo. Vita feels compelled to return and pay his respects to Alfredo.

Throughout the film, Tornatore utilizes flashbacks to tell a story about the early beginnings of a gifted artist. Toto (Vita’s nickname), a witty six-year old, is living in a poverty-stricken, war-torn village during the recent years after the Second World War. This young boy finds solace at the village cinema. Here he can forget about his troubles and pretend he’s an Indian while watching a Hollywood Western or laugh all the way through a Charlie Chaplin film. Since Toto spends so much of his time at the cinema, Alfredo, the projectionist, decides to hire him as his helper. While helping to change film reels and editing films to cut out the “inappropriate parts”, Toto earnestly feeds his passion for films and learns the practices and techniques of film-making.

As the years pass by, Toto continues to work at the cinema. One day a young Northern Italian woman catches his eye. Toto is enamored with Elena. They begin a passionate relationship but unfortunately Elena’s family has to move again. Toto tries to write to Elena but all of his letters go unanswered. Toto leaves for military duty and returns to find Alfredo advising him to leave Giancoldo and never to return. Alfredo has always served as Toto’s surrogate father. Always listening to Alfredo’s advice, Toto leaves with the intention never to return. (Alfredo advises him to do this because he knows that his dream of becoming a film maker will never come true if he stays in Sicily).

Vita returns to attend Alfredo’s funeral. His mother hands him a box that Alfredo kept and intended to give him after he passed away. What he finds inside are clippings from thousands of films. Knowing how much Toto wanted to see the entire film without edits, Alfredo assembled a large film reel of the on-screen kiss scenes that were cut out. This is a very emotional scene because we see Vita’s childhood wonderment come alive again. As he watches each scene, his eyes become wide and his face lights as if he was six years old again. He is reminded of the joys of film making.

The musical score to this film is very moving. Ennio Morricone, who also did The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; The Mission; and Lolita superbly weaves wistful music with a coming-of-age storyline. The ending scene is so powerful that I cry every time.

I will leave you with a clip of the musical theme from the film.

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Werner Herzog’s epic 1972 film, chronicles a historical time period in the Peruvian Andes Mountains. Sixteenth century Spanish conquistadors slowly make their way down the treacherous narrow mountain paths to find El Dorado – the City of Gold (the aerial filming is amazing). Although they claim and hold on to the belief that they are only there to “Christianize” the “savages,” it becomes apparent through the ruthless and crazed leadership of Aguirre, that they are out to get as much land and slaves as they can.

Journal reflections that were kept by a Spanish monk, who was on the voyage, are read throughout the film to narrate the events of the expedition and the descent of one man’s psyche. Aguirre kills off the leader of the conquest and appoints another solider as King. No longer is the group heeding to the commands of the Spanish crown; instead they are in search of El Dorado for themselves. As Aguirre’s faculties diminish and his men starve to death, natives kill each member of the expedition by bow and arrow. What happens to Aguirre is worth watching to the end.

Audience members are taken on a journey through lush jungles that are filled with defending natives and quiet, still, Amazonian River waters. Filming in a gripping documentary style Herzog encouraged the actors to improvise and react to their situations. Klaus Kinski who plays Aguirre is very convincing, probably because he was a little off his rocker in actuality. It has been said that during filming, Kinski would shoot bullets into actor’s tents and have continual temper tantrums. Kinski at one point threatened to leave the film but Herzog became so upset with this that he threatened to kill Kinski and then himself.

Aguirre: The Wrath of God is a cult classic. Herzog’s definitive dream-like imagery is utilized beautifully throughout the film. Francis Ford Coppola was very much inspired by Herzog’s work when he created Apocalypse Now. When viewing both films one will recognize right away similar filming and story-line comparisons. Furthermore, one will find a comparison between two brilliant actors (Brando and Kinski) who happened to be very demanding.

Another cult classic that is German produced and stars another Kinski is the film Paris, Texas. Klaus Kinski’s daughter Nastassja Kinski stars in this powerfully haunting film. Expansive scenes of desolate deserts coupled with a poignant musical score by Ry Cooder makes for an excellent movie event!

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Have you ever had the experience where a film, a novel, a piece of music, or a painting triggered a momentous effect in your life? Did it change the way you think? Did it change you? For Robert Kennedy, the existential literary works of Albert Camus changed his viewpoints on capital punishment. For Jackson Pollock, the psychoanalytical writings of Carl Jung influenced the painter to create a new style later termed abstract expressionism. For me, Walden, by Henry David Thoreau opened up a world guided in the ideas of simplicity and spirituality found in nature. “Let us first be as simple and well as Nature ourselves, dispel the clouds which hang over our brows, and take up a little life into our pores. Do not stay to be an overseer of the poor, but endeavor to become one of the worthies of the world.” – Walden, Henry David Thoreau

As a child, I always loved playing in the woods and going for hikes, but until I read Walden, I did not truly appreciate and see the beauty of nature and what it has to offer. A forest, a pond, a meadow serve as places of refuge. Here in these natural spaces, one can slow down and listen to their inner self. One can gather thoughts, meditate, or simply just take in the sights and sounds that surround them. For me, the natural world is a place where I can rejuvenate, heal, pray, and find answers. Ironically in the reclusive act of a solitary hike, I find myself loving humanity more through the discovery of the natural world.

Walden has left a strong, indescribable presence which lingers in the depths of my subconscious. It surfaces from time to time and when it does, it consciously and subconsciously leads me to my Walden Pond.

So how does this reflection relate to films? Well, it doesn’t. But I did this for a reason. After quietly observing the sun rise and cast its rays between tall Sycamores and flowering Oak trees, I felt a need to voice my appreciation and concern. Across the world societies are forgetting that there is nothing more beautiful and wondrous than nature. Children are becoming isolated from the natural world and are lacking exposure to its wonders. Yes, one can see a film where there is a gorgeous scene of a waterfall in a South American jungle or a distant snow capped mountain in Nepal but that hardly compares to the real thing.

However, films can inspire us to actively seek that place of beauty. Last week, Angela discussed how the film A Month by the Lake inspired her to see the luminous views of Lake Como. Although Walden will always serve as my guide and source of inspiration, I have found some foreign films that capture exquisite and stunning scenes of natural spaces that encourage me to go and visit.

La Belle Noiseuse, Claire’s Knee, Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle, and To Be and To Have – Four films that portray the whimsical French countryside.

The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, and The Passion Anna – Three Ingmar Bergman films, where scenes of high coastal cliffs and flat desolate landscapes reflect the character’s personas.

Aguirre: The Wraith of God – Werner Herzog’s odyssey through the ancient Peruvian mountains.

This week, instead of suggesting a film to see, I suggest you go out and visit some natural places that inspire you!
“You only need sit still long enough in some attractive spot in the woods that all its inhabitants may exhibit themselves to you by turns.”- Walden, Henry David Thoreau

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This 1988 French Academy Award Winning Foreign Film documents the rise and fall of a determined yet forgotten artist.

Camille Claudel was not only an exceptionally gifted sculptor but was Auguste Rodin’s muse and lover. Audiences get a rare glimpse into the secretive life of a woman who was intelligent, strong, complex, and passionate. We learn about her early years struggling as a young artist rummaging for materials and creating sculpture casts of half naked men. This was a very novel and brave practice during this time, considering she was a woman living during the nineteenth century.

Auguste Rodin recognizes her unique talent and hires her to work in his workshop. The two fall in love and Rodin sets up a place for Claudel. Unfortunately, the relationship is doomed from the start considering Rodin will not leave Rose Beuret. Claudel begins to become disenchanted with Rodin not only because he is unwilling to leave his partner but also because he will not construct some of his own work. Although he would come up with the ideas, he made his many hired hands do the actual work. At times he would simply put a signature on the finished product, sort of like Salvador Dali, and she despised how he would wine and dine with the wealthy social elites.

Claudel was the true bohemian artist. Living a meager existence, what kept her going was the inspiration and need to create. Although she hates Rodin, she cannot let him go. Her thoughts are constantly centered on him and it comes out through her sculptures. Scenes of heartache, longing, and despair are produced. What is evoked is energy, passion, simplicity, purity, and gracefulness. Because of the break-up, Claudel begins to unravel emotionally, physically, and psychologically. Living in squalor with several dozen cats, she spends her days drinking and neglecting her art work. Fortunately, an art dealer still has faith in her and her artistic abilities and sets up a solo exhibit. Attendees of the exhibit are not ready to handle the beautifully emotional sculptures, nor can they accept such an eccentric woman. They begin to mercilessly gossip about her personal life and critique her pieces. At the end of the night no piece is sold. They are not ready for Camille Claudel.

Having to always justify her way of life and love for creating, Claudel’s mother can never accept this idea. Seeing that her mental faculties are deteriorating and her assets are dwindling Claudel’s mother takes the initiative and has her daughter committed. Sadly, Claudel spends the rest of her thirty years of existence in a mental asylum.

This is a very powerful film not only because audience members visually have the chance to see a woman who defied all odds but also because of the great emotional impact it has. Isabelle Adjani’s performance is incredible. She brings to life a mythical woman who’s genius unfortunately is under appreciated and at times forgotten. It makes one wonder if it was Claudel who influenced Rodin or if Rodin influenced Claudel?


Rodin (Left)
Claudel (Right)

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For those of you who are wondering where you can view foreign films, there are two great little cinemas located in the area.

The Neon located on E. 5th St. in Dayton showcases foreign films, Dayton produced films, documentaries, and independent films. They have two theatres and a terrific snake bar that has everything from Boston Stoker Coffee to specialty bakery items. The Oregon District is right down the street from the Neon. On a warm spring night, you can check out the neat galleries in the Oregon District, have dinner at Thai 9 (delicious Thai restaurant in the Oregon District), and then check out a film at the Neon. To learn more about the Neon check out their website: http://www.neonmovies.com/
There is a film that is now playing at The Neon titled Of Gods and Men. It sounds fascinating!

The Little Art Theatre located on Xenia Avenue in Yellow Springs is a quaint traditional movie-house. Like The Neon, they showcase foreign films, independent films, documentaries, and classic Hollywood films. They have one theatre and a snake bar that offers gourmet chocolates and homemade pastries. The Little Art Theatre offers unique specials such as Brunch and a Movie and Dinner and a Movie. One can purchase a meal at the Winds Cafe or Sunrise Cafe. These two restaurants offer creative, eclectic, delicious meals. Located in the center of Yellow Springs, one can have brunch at the Winds, check out a film, and then window shop. There is a fantastic Peruvian shop that sells Peruvian folk art. If you’re not into window shopping I suggest biking the Little Miami Scenic Trail. It’s peaceful and breathtaking to see all of the flowers and trees that are in bloom. To learn more about The Little Art Theatre here is their website: http://www.littleart.com/

Check out The Neon and The Little Art Theatre, trust me you won’t be disappointed. We need to support our local businesses!

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This 1969 French film captures a revolutionary time in history. Based on true events that happened in Greece in the 1960s, Z portrays the dueling worlds of politically left minded students and laborers who are against the Vietnam War and the power of the ruling class and the ruling class, right-wing traditionalists.

As new ideas and beliefs are starting to develop across the United States and Europe new political figures began to emerge. During this time in Greece a leftist pacifist was gaining popularity and the ruling figures in the military dictatorship did not care for his non-traditional positions and views.

After giving a political speech in a hall in the center of town, the leftist senator is hit over the head by a bigoted thug. As his family and friends fear for his life, the government, police, and military worry that if he dies we will be turned into a martyr. As the film progresses it becomes apparent that the members of the powerful ruling class are not interested in finding the culprits. Instead of investigating into the crime, they spend their time examining all of the senator’s campaign workers and manipulating witnesses to make the assassination look like a drunk driving accident. Cover-ups, lies, violence, and persuasion are all utilized by several different departments of the ruling class to cover up a murder. <

As the magistrate begins to investigate into the incident it becomes evident that the senator was not killed by a drunk driver but was hit over the head with a weapon. The magistrate and a photojournalist uncover enough evidence to charge the right-wing aggressors who committed the crime and four high-ranking military officers.

However it is up to you to see what happened in the end. Will justice be served or will the militaristic government prevail?

What I love about this film and The French Connection is the documentary style that both films exhibit. In a gritty, realistic approach this makes the film truly authentic and honest. The compelling elements of flashbacks and close-ups help to maturely develop the film into an intriguing experience for the viewer.

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Ok, I know this blog is supposed to be about foreign films but I wanted to discuss in this reflection about the major influence that Italian Neo-Realism and French New Wave had on American Cinema in the 1960s and 1970s.

American New Wave Cinema is considered the Hollywood Renaissance. As European art films began circulating in America, American directors (Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, and William Friedkin) recognized and appreciated the neo-realism style of Fellini and the documentary style of Godard. What was produced was an era of artistically creative films that were grounded in filming on location, working with a low budget, and centering on non-main stream issues and themes.

A brilliant example of American New Wave Cinema is The French Connection. Filmed on location in the New York streets of the Lower East Side and the borough of Brooklyn, Friedkin (the director) exhibits a storyline captured in a gritty documentary style. Based on a true story, narcotic detectives, “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider) begin to unravel a smuggling heroin operation that starts in the French port city of Marseilles. The wealthy drug-lord Charnier (Fernando Rey) plans to bring his large supply of heroin across the Atlantic. As he arrives in the port of New York, “Popeye” and “Cloudy” are already aware of his arrival.

A few weeks before this, Popeye and Cloudy are at a bar when they observe Sal Boca and his wife Angie entertaining some Mafia members who are involved in narcotics. They begin to follow and observe the actions of the suspicious couple. By wire-tapping their modest luncheonette, the two detectives find out that a significant supply of heroin will soon be arriving on the streets of New York.

What follows after Charnier arrives are restless stake-outs, nail-biting car chases, and gripping on-foot tailing pursuits.

I cannot end this reflection without discussing the car chase scene.
Often hailed as one of the greatest car chase scenes in film history, viewers are taken on a riveting, intense ride along the streets of Brooklyn. After hijacking a civilian’s car, Popeye anxiously and earnestly follows the elevated train that one of Charnier’s partners has gotten on to. Swerving to miss pedestrians and recklessly accelerating the gas to catch up with the train, Popeye finally is able to trap the criminal as the train collides at a halting stop. Weakened and injured by the collision, the criminal staggers out only to be shot at point-blank by Popeye.

Here is a clip from the scene:

The French Connection reminds me of the 1969 political thriller Z. In my next reflection, I will discuss this French language film that captures a government organized scheme that is centered on assassinating a leftist political figure.

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