Monday, September 30, 2013

Paradise: Hope (2013)

Paradise: Hope (2013)
Director: Ulrich Seidl
Country: Austria
Runtime: 100 min 

Her mother goes off to Kenya in search of beach boys willing to provide her with amorous services. Her staunchly Catholic aunt is absorbed in house-to-house evangelism. Thus, thirteen-year-old Melanie spends the holidays in a diet camp in the Austrian mountains. In between physical training and nutritional counselling, nightly pillow fights and a secret bout of binge drinking at the local disco, she falls in love with the doctor and camp director, who is forty years her senior. Melanie uses all her seductive wiles to win him over …
In the third part of his 'paradise' trilogy - following Paradies: Liebe and Paradies: Glaube - Ulrich Seidl pits the deep-seated human desire for love and security against harsh reality. From the sterile surroundings of the diet camp, Seidl filters impeccably pristine, minimalist images in which any hint of sensuality, passion or anarchy would appear to be a complete anathema. And yet Paradies: Hoffnung is the most tender of the three ‘paradise’ films, for his young protagonists bear within them a spark of hope that love is not just an illusion, but can be an honest and powerful emotion.

Hannah Arendt (2012)

Hannah Arendt (2012)
Director: Margarethe von Trotta
Country: Germany
Runtime: 113 min

Hannah Arendt is an interesting movie based on the true controversy caused by the report written by Arendt on the Eichmann trial. The movie by Margarethe Von Trotta offers a different perspective on World War II. One that is rarely approached: the post-Holocaust trials. Hannah Arendt was a Jewish great thinker who covered the trial of the SS Eichmann for The New Yorker. After she published her report, she was accused of defending Eichmann when she stated that the Jewish leaders certainly played a role in the deportation of so many Jews and that the SS officer was simply a piece of a much more complex puzzle. I think you'd be better off checking background information on Arendt and her work and this specific trial to perfectly understand the film. The movie also lacks some clarification about the characters and their relationships. For those reasons, I find it a bit elitist and not easy to reach. But I definitely like how the plot focuses on Arendt's personal struggle to respect her philosophical impartiality and freedom of speech. She's stuck into the battle between her thoughts and people's judgment. I believe the screenplay could have dug a bit deeper into Arendt's self-struggle and loneliness as this topic of the banality of evil will remain her life-long philosophical and inexhaustible well. I especially appreciated how the archive footage and audio files are perfectly inserted on screen. The director used several languages switching from Hebrew to English or German with touches of French. It surely makes the story true to the immigrant universe. This movie has an undeniable quality to it but I expected much more from such a topic that could have been examined to its fullest. I was hoping for more insight on being a public figure and having to justify your every opinion as well as being treated as a renegade by your own people, friends, and family.

The Fifth Season (2012)

The Fifth Season (2012)
Directors: Peter Brosens, Jessica Woodworth
Country: Belgium
Runtime: 93 min

Winter, spring, summer, autumn...and then? La cinquiememe saison (The Fifth Season) is an apocalyptic tale which does not need to make use of extraterrestrial aliens or natural catastrophes to impress the viewer. Humans and nature have a very fragile connection - what if nature suddenly decided to cut this connection?

Set in a little rural village in the Ardennes, the inhabitants are preparing for the local feast to celebrate the end of the winter. But something goes wrong: the fire that was supposed to light up the bonfire refuses to burn, a bad omen for the whole community. We do not see the end coming at first but season after season we gradually witness a slow but implacable process of decay: the crops do not grow, the animals become sterile, people fall ill and the trees collapse. The two young protagonists Alice and Thomas, the outsider Pol and his paraplegic son, and all the others can do nothing other than be spectators to this silent disaster.

La cinquieme saison cleverly mixes ancient peasant beliefs with contemporary fears such as the collapse of the natural world. It is a powerful viewing experience, perhaps because of the intimacy of the environment in which it happens. Protagonists and viewers alike are utterly powerless in front of such drastic changes. It is a slow death and, even though it is not set in a famous city like most catastrophe films, the film suggests that the same process is happening everywhere in the world.

The cinematography is outstanding: each single frame could be a magnificent photo and actors, props and sets are all arranged with extreme attention to composition and perspective. Like puppets in the hands of destiny, humans are helpless and nature, being non-human, has no pity. Bleached out colours highlight this little world in decay. Dying trees and vast empty crops surround the village as reminders of the imminent end. We are given a little hope when a man from some other village drives there, symbolically selling plastic "flowers of hope" - but it is an illusion. To say more would give too much of the film away, however.

The directors Brosens and Woodworth created and excellent work of spectacular photographic beauty, detailing archetypical fears of men vs nature in which there is no space for hopeful illusions. A distressing film but a unique cinematic experience that gives food for thought and employs a great cast.