Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Barbara, or: There’s a Lot of Good Hair in East Germany

New year, new tag: Jillian & Christa’s Great Blog Collab 2016! In approximately 6 weeks, the collab will be 1 year old! Sniffle. I’m so proud of you, blog collab.

My goal was to start out J&CGBC with a bang, but I may have inadvertently picked a whimper.  I TRIED, okay?!

The Film:

Barbara

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

The titular character, a doctor in 1980s East Germany, arrives in a small town for mysterious reasons. Hint: it has to do with communism.

The Uncondensed Version:

As Barbara arrives in the small East German town, it becomes clear that there are 2 types of people here: those who are friendly and interested, and those who irrationally hate Barbara for being a stranger. There is actually really only one person in the former category: the doctor with really nice hair who smokes. But it’s 1980s East Germany, so all of the doctors smoke.

a man in a doctor's lab coat stands by a window, looking out
[Insert inappropriate doctor joke here]
One of the other doctors says Barbara doesn’t have many friends since her incarceration. Incarceration—say what??? Do tell us more.

So the next day, Good Hair Doctor continues to make friendly gestures while Barbara remains aloof. This is how their relationship goes for most of the film.

a woman in a car faces forward with hair in a neatly arranged bun
Riding in cars with good hair, all around.

After work, the landlady introduces herself and says she has to show Barbara the cellar right then and there. Possibly because of our recent-ish viewing of Rosemary’s Baby, this scene freaked me the fuck OUT. DON’T TALK TO ANY OF YOUR NEIGHBORS EVER, BARBARA.

a woman stands at the doorway of a dimly lit basement
NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO.

Anyway…this doesn’t end with the birth of Satan’s baby, so my fears all came to naught. Barbara sort of bicycles around a lot and looks mysterious.

There is some sort of exchange Barbara participates in every week or so in which she receives quite a lot of money in exchange for leaving some unknown parcel hidden by a cross in the middle of nowhere. She also meets up with her lover, some blonde guy who is not as attractive as the other doctor and likes to have sex outside. The two are planning to go West together soon.

However, complications arise because it’s East Germany. Barbara spends a lot of time discussing a Rembrandt painting with the doctor. More’s the point, she gets to know a teenager who is pregnant and at risk of having her baby taken by the government. Plus she’ll end up in a communist extermination camp—probably not the most fun ever.

Barbara FINALLY makes out with Good Hair Doctor just before she prepares to leave for the West, but it’s kind of a “meh” scene.  They do ride bicycles together, though, which is pretty damn adorable.

Okay, I sort of wasn’t paying the most attention ever at this point b/c I was also shopping for end tables at the same time. I think I’ve settled on round nesting end tables.

The point is, there is growing tension between Barbara’s plan to escape East Germany and her attachment to the town and its people. And by “people” I mean literally just the two mentioned above, as everyone else in the town is kind of terrible.  But still with hair so good it’s unreal.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I probably should’ve given this one more attention, but end tables are important. This is one I’d been meaning to watch for a while, and when Christa told me this was on several lists of feminist films, it sealed the deal. However, plot. I could’ve stood a bit more.

On the bright side, I think Bertha Mason enjoyed this week’s film.

a cat watches a tv screen that shows a person walking through a field
Either that or the fuzzy blanket. But let’s say it was the film, shall we?

Does Christa think this one is worth being sent to a communist extermination camp for?  Find out by reading her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Kolya, or: I’m Czeching You Out

First pick of foreign film-athon! This one is Kolya, Czech film and winner of the Foreign Language Oscar in 1996. A well-deserved win? Mmmmmmm…we’ll see. I’m sure the fabulous Christa has many thoughts about this too!

The Film:

Kolya

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

A curmudgeonly old cellist must take care of his Russian wife’s child after she ditches for West Germany.

The Trailer:

The Uncondensed Version:

Based on the trailer and the emotional, cloud-watching from an airplane at the beginning, I expected this movie to break my heart. And it did…it just took a long time. A reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally fucking long time.

Basically, the setup is that Louka is a grumpy old man who plays cello with a quartet, mostly for funerals. Though he used to play with the philharmonic, Louka now performs odd jobs, like restoring headstones because he’s been blacklisted for Communist reasons (I think?). He is also a full-time creep, whether to the woman singing with the quartet, women he tutors, or random young women on the street. I think we’re supposed to take away from this that he’s lonely…but seriously, if you’re going to be that creepy, you shouldn’t be shocked when women stay as far away from you as possible.

A man leans toward a woman in bed, telling her "Music means celibacy."
{Insert eye roll HERE}

So anyway…this is the gross version of The Concert (which is an excellent film AND stars Mélanie Laurent). That is until Louka’s friend offers him a way to make quick money: marry this young Russian lady who doesn’t want to get deported. Louka is super fucking skeptical at first, but ultimately agrees as the money will allow him to buy a new car. And in Soviet Czechoslovakia, “new” means “rust-free.” GUYS.

It takes almost 40 minutes for the ENTIRE PREMISE OF THE MOVIE to happen, but it’s pretty great when it does. The Russian lady’s son, Kolya, shows up on Louka’s doorstep as she suddenly left to be with her boyfriend in West Germany. Louka does his best to take care of the kid, but is at heart a bit of a grump. To be fair, the kid is kind of an asshole and won’t even take his hand to cross the street. SAFETY, kid.

An elderly man reads a magazine in bed as a child sleeps on the other end. He tells the child "Stop snivelling and sleep. One night won't kill you."
Really relating to Louka at this moment.

Louka pretty much decides to continue as usual with things like giving cello lessons and being really shady. I’m sorry, but what do women find attractive about this dude??? He looks like the Czech Hemingway.

One of Louka’s last attempts to pawn the kid off on someone else fails when Kolya’s grandmother dies. So we get some different montages of really cute days out, honestly, and Louka being nice. Like he buys 5 tickets to a Russian movie so Kolya can see it. And he even speaks broken Russian over a loudspeaker in order to find Kolya when he gets lost in the subway. Now when Louka is calling women late at night, he’s asking if they can read the kid a story in Russian.

An elderly man looks at a young boy, saying "I'll probably keep him.'"
One of many heart-slaying moments.

It turns out Kolya doesn’t know when his birthday is, so Louka invents one and gives him a violin. Everything is going just swimmingly, so of course this is when the social services office shows up regarding his claim from months before.

Not sure I’m selling this one particularly well, but the ending will rip your heart out and stomp all over it unless you are made of STONE. If you make it there.

The Critique:

The emotional moments of this film were so fucking successful, though it really doesn’t take much to overload my feelings right now. Let’s be generous and say it’s not me, it’s the film.

HOWEVER, if we hadn’t been watching for the blog, though, I probably would have given up way earlier and missed out on the emotional payoff. Louka was just such a fucking creep, and he didn’t really change that much through the course of the film. I expected the movie to focus a lot more on the evolution of the relationship between Louka and Kolya, but the growth was really just a series of montages (I need to stop using that word because now I have “Montage” from Team America stuck in my head). There were a lot of angry tirades about the Russians, the Czech government, and Communism in general. It had the warm fuzzies and political indignation of Billy Elliot, but I was totally lacking the context of what the hell was going on in the Czech Republic at the time.

A man crouches in front of a young boy, telling him "You're expansionists!"
Pretty sure you’re not really clearing anything up there, Louka.

Maybe if you’re less of a philistine or a better world citizen than I you will like this film.

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther 3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Honestly, that is a rather arbitrary rating because I’m not sure how to feel about this movie.  When it was good, it was excellent…and when it was bad it was so damn directionless.

See what Christa thought here!