Tuesday, May 21, 2013

30 Countries Parts 23 - 25 (Festen/Sonbahar/Indigenes)

Festen (1998) Dir. Thomas Vinterberg

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Part 23 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Danish origin as per its listing on imdb.

It's fifteen years since I first heard of the Dogme '95 movement and ten years since I studied the first group of films and the two major players involved in drafting the manifesto, von Trier and Vinterberg, and yet somehow viewing Festen has eluded me until now.

Festen is quite clearly the best film made under the guidelines, not just for the visceral nature of the storytelling but the way Vinterberg made the obstructions, the restrictions, the vow of chastity work for his film. It seems like all other Dogme directors actively sought out loopholes but Vinterberg embraced the challenge and it shows in the quality of the finished product.

A celebration of 60 years of a man's life brings his family together at their large country estate and a shock announcement causes conflict is essentially the entire premise but what you get is so much more. Incredibly raw performances not diffused or heightened through the tools and tricks of the industry combined with the handheld cameras create a real sense of being a guest at this awful party whilst the content itself holds a mirror up to Danish society in a more subtle way than von Trier's Idioterne but it is no less shocking than a retard gang bang.

Sonbahar (2008) Dir. Özcan Alper

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Part 24 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Turkish origin as per its listing on imdb.

Another piece of wonderful minimalist cinema (I'm nothing if not consistent) this time from a Turkish filmmaker making his debut feature. Yusuf, a political prisoner, is released from jail on health grounds and returns to the tiny village community he grew up in.

As you might expect from that premise this is a film with a political message which is at times forced upon the viewer, a distraction from the contemplative mood of the piece as Yusuf comes to terms with everything he gave up for his ideals, his new found freedom, his mortality and his struggle to reintegrate with village life.

Packed with beautiful vistas and long moody takes without dialogue it is the use of ambient noise, or at times a lack of, that most impressed and so the occasionally invasive use of melodramatic music only served to irritate rather than accentuate the moment.

The sub story of his connection with a young boy and a prostitute are pretty standard narrative devices but never feel arbitrary, which in itself is impressive but the emotional arc they guide you through places them as some of the more impressive uses of the trope I have seen.

Quality low budget world cinema from a strong new voice worth keeping an eye on.

This film can be found on two great letterboxd lists for the discerning viewer looking to try something new: Take 100: The Future of Cinema and Looking for Something to Watch.

Indigenes (2006) Dir. Rachid Bouchareb

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Part 25 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Algerian origin as per its listing on imdb.

Indigenes: Colonial African soldiers who fought for France in World War II.

With a similar structure to Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One Rachid Bouchareb's Oscar nominated war movie is less a statement on the folly of war but a political picture about the mistreatment of these Indigenes by the French. It's the same old racist story told again and again and it does get any less galling, each injustice feels as fresh and offensive as if it was the first time and it is that power that caused a policy change by the French government in 2006 after President Chirac saw the movie.

Yep. It took 60 years and this movie to make the French do what was right. But let's not judge them too harshly, the Americans forced racial segregation in the racially enlightened countries wherever their troops were stationed during this war.

The overly political nature of the film detracts from the usual power of the futility of war stance a great war movie will have but there are plenty of your typical explosions and gun fights to keep war enthusiasts happy.


  1. Festen has been on my watchlist for a while, and I've had an unwatched copy of Indigenes for a couple of years. I need to get to them, and I'm adding Sonbahar to my watchlist.

    1. Is it because it's a war movie? That's definitely the reason I avoided watching Indigenes. Of course it was Oscar nominated so you'll have to watch it at some point for your project right?

      I hope you get as much out of Sonbahar as I did. I seem to be inundating you with films for your watchlist so perhaps you shouldn't check out those two lists I included in the review or it might do irreparable damage.

    2. It's probably because it's a foreign war film that's two hours long, so I keep skipping it. My current project is just Best Picture nominees, but I do want to work on the Foreign Language Film winners (then the nominees) at some point.

      Haha. Yeah, I always add more films when I visit blogs. It's a hazard, but a welcome one.