a man in period costume leans over to ask "Would you care to die with me?"
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Amour Fou, or: Romantic Romantics

This week is brought to you by aristocratic dogs, Romantic poetry, and rich people who hate democracy and paying taxes.  Period drama + social commentary?  I’m in.

The Film:

Amour Fou

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

A German Romantic poet just wants to find a nice young woman who will agree to die with him.  Not a euphemism.

The Uncondensed Version:

The setting is early 19th century Berlin, and a small group of aristocrats are all abuzz that a famous Romantic poet will soon be in their midst.  This poet is Heinrich von Kleist, melancholy, melodramatic pursuer of love who fancies himself extremely attuned to the emotional states of others.  Or rather, desperate to find a kindred spirit to enter into a murder-suicide pact with him.  Whoa, dude.  You’ve got to start out with some polite small talk first.

a man faces two women in period costume and speaks the words "You think you want to live, but in fact you want to die"
No, Mrs. Vogel, I expect you to DIE.

Heinrich’s ideal partner is his cousin Marie, but she’s not ready to die young for love.  Go figure.

A rather distant second arrives in the form of Henriette, the wife of one of Heinrich’s acquaintances.  Based on my limited experiences with 19th century period dramas, apparently the only form of entertainment was standing around someone’s drawing room while a member of your crowd signs and/or plays the piano.  If this was really what a good time looked like back in the day, no wonder Heinrich wanted to blow his brains out.  (Sorry.  Ish.)  My rather roundabout point here is that Henriette has a nice singing voice and likes Heinrich’s poetry, both of which are qualities he admires immensely.

Meanwhile, with the French Revolution fresh in the minds of German aristocrats, the topic on everyone’s mind is the horror of taxes, democracy, and rights for peasants.  Heinrich is in favor of being free and doomed—no surprise there.

A man and woman walk a slight distance apart in a field surrounded by trees. Both are wearing hats.
Do you think anyone’s noticed that I only have one hat?

After getting to know Henriette for maybe a week or so, Heinrich decides to make his rather unconventional proposal to die with him instead of living with her husband, daughter, and mother.  Henriette rejects him but seems interested in the idea, even though his speech comes complete with unconvincing logic about the nature of love and absence of real love in Henriette’s life.  Because it’s not real love unless you’d kill yourself and/or others…?  Sorry, romantic ballads of the ‘80s, but I’m not buying it.

Rather conveniently for Heinrich, Henriette becomes seriously ill shortly after all of this.  After receiving a total BS diagnosis of a “spiritual ailment,” it’s eventually clear that she has an inoperable tumor that is killing her.  Finally ready to die with Heinrich, Henriette asks if his offer still stands and he changes his goddamn mind because he doesn’t think her motives are pure enough.  For fuck’s sake, dude.

It should be mentioned that Henriette’s husband is quite sweet through all of this.  He basically tells her to leave him for another man if that will make her happy in her last days, and he never stops trying to find a trendy cure in Paris.

a man and woman in period costume are seated together at a table, facing each other
To be fair, it’s pretty easy to look like the sane/normal one when you’re the one who did NOT propose a murder-suicide pact.

You can easily look up the true story if you want to know what happens in the end.  I’ll give you a hint:  it’s not a particularly happy one.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I thought this would be a comedy for some reason…and there is the occasional bleakly funny scenario, but it’s overall a serious, melancholy film.  I like the completely unromantic take on Romanticism and unsentimental period drama this is.  Heinrich was the absolute worst, and I couldn’t help realize this must have been exactly what it was like to talk to me as a teenager.  I do like the Romantics, but it’s difficult to imagine them doing anything even remotely ordinary if they were thinking about love, death, and King Arthur’s court as much as they did in their poetry.

There’s no sense that the filmmakers approve of the romantic determination to live fast, die young.  It’s actually quite pathetic to die so young for love, and it doesn’t feel like it’s truly an act of love to ask that of another person.

It also seems pretty absurd that Heinrich feels he’s taking control of his life by ending it, which is highlighted in a moment when he struggles with a gun that’s out of bullets.  Henriette’s decision to die is based on avoiding a prolonged painful death, but it’s clear from the beginning no one is going to find a peaceful death by slowly sailing off into the mist like it’s LOTR (sorry/not sorry, Christa).  Death is death, and it’s not going to be pretty no matter how it happens.

Happy Feminist February?

Would Christa travel to the countryside with this one under false pretenses or repeatedly back away from serious commitments to it?  Find out by reading her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Phoenix, or: A Miraculously Creepier Version of Pygmalion

Christa and I were unanimously decided the lead in Barbara, Nina Hoss, was the highlight of the film.  Since this week’s film is essentially a cast reunion in a suspenseful film noir war drama, we are absolutely in.

The Film:

Phoenix

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

After facial reconstruction surgery changes her appearance, a Holocaust survivor sets out to find her husband, the man who may have turned her in.

The Uncondensed Version:

Our film opens as two women cross back into the German border immediately following WWII.  The driver, Lene, explains her passenger, who rests semi-unconscious and covered in bandages, is a survivor from the camps.  After being seriously wounded by a shot to the face, Nelly is returning to Berlin for facial reconstruction surgery.

Nelly learns she can afford this expensive surgery only because of a large inheritance left to her as the only surviving member of her family.  Though the results of the surgery will be quite impressive, her face will no longer be the one she knows.  In a beautifully shot scene, Nelly sees her new face for the first time reflected in a broken mirror in the bombed ruins of her former home.  “I no longer exist,” she says without emotion.  Her desire to recapture what was lost contrasts sharply with Lene’s conviction that creating a new future in Israel is the only option for them.

A woman looks at her reflection in broken shards of glass on the groud.
Chills, man.

Before the war, Nelly was a singer of some renown.  Unlike Lene, she never really considered herself Jewish and feels no connection to the new Jewish state.  Nelly also dreams of reuniting with her husband, Johnny, which Lene dismisses.  As it turns out, Johnny was arrested days before Nelly…then released as soon as she was arrested.  This is straight out of Hitchcock and would’ve had me running a mile from this shady dude.  However, Lene keeps this information hidden for a while…along with the fact that Johnny filed for divorce before Nelly’s arrest.

Two women embrace in a living room.
A true friend will help you obtain a visa and give you a revolver as a gift.

Nelly, oblivious to all of this, becomes determined to track down her husband and live together as the devoted couple once again.

When Nelly finds Johnny, he’s working at a shady AF night club, called—guess what—the Phoenix.  Conveniently, her face is different enough to dodge recognition, though she still bears some resemblance to her former self.  This gives Johnny the idea to bring Nelly, now known as Esther, in on his scheme to claim his supposedly dead wife’s inheritance.  They will split the money if they can pull off this scam, which seems like a great idea to Nelly…mostly so she can prove once and for all Johnny really loved her.  IDK, I feel like knowing your husband has a scheme to collect your inheritance because he thinks you’re dead is a major tip-off…?  But Nelly has a more trusting nature than that and wants to believe in her husband and the possibility of a return to a normal life.

A man with a moustache stands looking at a woman whose face he holds in his hand.
I won’t get mad–tell me your honest opinion about the ‘stache.

While Esther trains to be Nelly, she isn’t allowed to leave Johnny’s apartment.  It’s quite a twisted version of Pygmalion, with Johnny’s insistence that Nelly will dress glamorously and remain unchanged by her experience as a Holocaust survivor creating a bitter irony.  He chillingly reassures her that what may have happened in the camps won’t matter as no one will ask about them.  In a scene that’s almost funny but not quite, Johnny calls off the scheme when he decides no one will ever believe she’s the real Nelly.

However, Esther convinces him to keep going when she quickly masters Nelly’s handwriting.  She tries to draw as much information from Johnny as possible, but he’s extremely reluctant to talk about the past.  A sudden, dramatic complication arrives in the form of Lene finally revealing the truth about the divorce to Nelly.

The revelation leads to an incredibly final scene that unfolds painfully and heartbreakingly clearly.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Despite all of the melodramatic film noir elements (facial reconstructive surgery, a sketchy night club, an inheritance scheme, a case of mistaken identity), this film takes quite a realistic approach to betrayal and the lasting impact of war.  The ending of the movie is haunting and understated in spite of the enormity of the revelation.  Partly because it’s not a surprise to the audience, but also because it’s much more ambiguous than a revenge plot or a dramatic noir ending.  It becomes clear Johnny will never see a dime of Nelly’s inheritance, but will he be punished for his role in Nelly’s harrowing experiences as a Holocaust survivor, and does he even feel the slightest remorse about it?

To pick a bone, however…even though a lot of the dramatic tension comes from the audience knowing the truth about Johnny quite early on, it still would’ve saved SO MUCH goddamn time if Lene had just fucking told Nelly what she knew to begin with.  I wonder if Lene suspected Nelly wouldn’t believe her or possibly she didn’t want to break her heart completely with that knowledge?  Either way, the revelation that your friend’s husband turned her into the authorities (presumably to die) seems like a pretty important detail to share.

It’s also really painful to watch Nelly blindly ignore the facts for so long, but it does make a degree of sense as acknowledging the truth means accepting that it’s no longer possible to return to the life she had before the war.

Nina Hoss is incredible in this and, as Christa noted, bears almost no resemblance to the character she played in Barbara.  And not because the actress went method and really had facial reconstructive surgery.  As far as I know.

Would my blog wife run an inheritance scam with this one or walk away slowly and deliberately?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Look Who’s Back (Hint: Not Slim Shady)

This week’s film is our last feature of April’s Blog Free or Die Hard series.  I’ve been so intrigued ever since the book, Er ist wieder da, became a bestseller.  A satirical novel, it imagines Hitler’s return to Germany in the present and follows its citizens’ reactions to his ideology.

I confess I stopped reading the book, in part because I didn’t want all of my work colleagues to suspect me of being a neo-Nazi.  I know—I’ve become that person who hasn’t read the book but watched the movie.

The Film:

Look Who’s Back

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

In this mockumentary-style film, Adolf Hitler returns to modern day Germany and enjoys (unintended) success as a comedian.

The Uncondensed Version:

As mentioned above, the film follows Hitler, who has seemingly pulled a Rip Van Winkle when he wakes unchanged in 2014.  Instead of being revered, Hitler is astonished that no one pays him the proper respect, preferring rather to selfie with him.  It doesn’t take long for Hitler to become disgusted with the current state of Germany and draw the conclusion that democracy has failed.  Somewhat unexpectedly, he identifies most strongly with the Green party, which makes an increasing amount of sense when you think about the fanaticism of vegans.

A man in Nazi military uniform with Hitler moustaches poses for a selfie with a smiling woman. He asks, "What...what is that?"
Not on team iPhone, apparently.

Meanwhile, at a commercial TV station, Katja Bellini has just gotten the big promotion her colleague Sensenbrink fully expected would be his.  In a moment of rage, Sensenbrink fires relatively innocent bystander Sawatzki for a poorly timed comment.  These men are too emotional for leadership positions.  Suddenly out of a job, Sawatzki (which is, ahem, very close to being an anagram for a certain Nazi symbol) is looking for a big scoop.  I WONDER what story he’ll find…

Sadly, Sawatzki’s big idea is just touring the country with Hitler and filming their exploits.  I feel this kind of thing has been done before and isn’t especially noteworthy?  However, what’s remarkable to Sawatzki is how spot-on the impression is and Hitler’s talent for ad-libbing (that was a weird phrase to write).

A man speaks to a blonde woman, telling her "Let us save Germany together."
Definition, please.

Hitler and Sawatzki go around Germany with surprisingly mixed results.  I felt most conflicted when I identified with Hitler’s annoyance at reality TV programs.  Most of them are objectively bad, though.

It gets a bit too real when some Germans speak with Hitler about the immigrant problem, the government that doesn’t represent their interests, and some fucking insane football hooligans beat the shit out of someone who doesn’t support Germany.  Hitler starts blowing up on social media and getting a scary number of followers.

A man who looks like Hitler makes an entrance on a set, introduced with the line "Give a warm welcome to...Adolf Hitler!"
Basically never ok to utter this sentence.

All of this brings Hitler to Bellini’s attention, and she’s impressed with his supposed comedy routine.  She gives him the chance to appear on a live sketch show, where he starts improvising rather than following the cue cards.

At first the audience thinks Hitler’s routine is funny, but at a certain point the applause becomes genuine and the audience finds many of his ideas appealing.  The tried and true method of telling everyone the country is going to shit and only he has the answers works wonders and he goes viral.  (Many of the words he utters have honestly come out of Trump’s [Drumpf] mouth.)

A man who has Hitler's hairstyle and moustache tells another man, "To make Germany great again, and secure the survival of the Germans."
For real, though, “Who Said It: Hitler or Trump?” MUST be a Buzzfeed quiz.

Meanwhile, Sensenbrink is trying to discredit Hitler in order to steal Bellini’s job, but nothing seems to do the trick.  What will it take to stop Hitler—or is history doomed to repeat itself?

The Rating:

This film is very interested in Hitler’s legacy on German politics and, by extension, world politics.  Its title is Look Who’s Back, but it implies that Hitler never really left the world stage.  The effects of fascist, xenophobic hate groups have lingered, though they sometimes disguise themselves behind smiles and charisma.  Look Who’s Back doesn’t shy away from drawing a correlation between Hitler and groups opposed to immigrants, Muslims, refugees, and outsiders.  It encourages viewers to examine this relationship rather than bury it.

Although it’s a satire, a lot of the humor is derived from physical comedy, and it gets a bit didactic at the end and sort of shakes its finger at the audience (there was a pretty great parody of that famous rant scene in Downfall, though).  I don’t dispute that certain political groups are in need of a bit of shaming, but it did feel a bit condescending at times.  That being said, it does make the film much darker and more thought-provoking than I’d anticipated.

But sometimes you just want to laugh at Hitler.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Would Christa go on a cross-country tour with this one or kill it with fire?  Find out in her review here!

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

Wetlands, or: Yes, That’s a Euphemism

So happy to be back to Jillian & Christa’s Great Blog Collab 2015 after a short break!

This week’s film is Christa’s pick, Wetlands. Click here for her post. Or don’t. I don’t really have the authority to tell you how to live.

I’m shaking up the format a teensy bit and just letting my thoughts flow because that’s what I’ve been doing anyway, right? At times way more freely than you ever wanted them to.

The Film:

Wetlands

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

I really love the Netflix summary for this one. “She’s lewd, and her hygiene habits are…unconventional. Shaving a personal area becomes a blessing in disguise.”

The Uncondensed Version:

Our film follows Helen, German teen with hemorrhoids, a fairly dysfunctional relationship with her parents, and a very sexually curious mind. She also rocks the tomboy/pseudo-grunge look, successfully achieving the much desired appearance of giving zero fucks without looking homeless unlike uh…this blogger.

a teenage girl wearing a baggy sweater and messy hairstyle stands outside
Not fair.

I’m going to stop right here and warn you that Helen is a fantastic character and it’s really fun to see her grow…but this movie is gross. It’s really, really gross. Like one of her acts of rebellion against her mother’s obsession with personal hygiene is to rub herself on absolutely filthy public toilet seats. I mean, public restrooms don’t really bother me, but there are multiple times that one scene from Trainspotting seems tame.

So anyway…when our film opens, Helen’s main interest (besides sex) is getting her divorced parents back together. She quickly makes friends with her new neighbor, Corinna, even though she’ s convinced her mom will decide to move the family soon.

Helen gets an unexpected opportunity to get her parents together when she has a shaving accident that really hurts to think about. I can’t, you guys. It happens when she gives her ass a shave. I need to move on from this topic.

As a result of her injury, Helen needs surgery and an extended hospital stay. It’s not all bad as she has a sexy nurse taking care of her. Seriously, he looks like a fucking Backstreet Boy.

close up of a man with blonde hair wearing white scrubs
Backstreet’s back, alright?

The point here is that Helen tries repeatedly to get her parents to the hospital at the same time, but they refuse to cooperate. She hangs out with the nurse a lot and tries to shock him with the story of this time she went to a brothel and had sex with a prostitute.

To be honest, the plot kind of fell apart at this point with a lot of flashforward/flashback, a pretty insane drug trip, and scenes that attempted to out-gross each other.

If you decide to watch this film, I think you will be watching at least partially for the shock value, so I will say no more. Suffice it to say there’s a reason Helen acts the way she does.

close up of a middle-aged woman speaking to her daughter, telling her "Don't trust anybody. Not even your parents."
REALLY, THOUGH.

And you should do yourself a favor and not eat pizza while you watch this movie.

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther 4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Mostly because I wish I had been half as cool as Helen as a teen. The plot structure is…loose, and many scenes are not for the faint hearted. Sperm pizza, you guys. Sorry, I did spoil it. I CAN’T CARRY THE WEIGHT OF THAT SCENE BY MYSELF.

See if Christa handled it better by reading her post here!