Movie Review – Wings of Desire

Wings of Desire (1987)
Written by Wim Wenders, Peter Handke, & Richard Reitinger
Directed by Wim Wenders

In the late 1980s, the city of Berlin was divided, split down the center by the construction of the Berlin Wall by the Soviets in 1961. This wall served as a physical representation of the ideological rift that existed in the world during the Cold War. While Wings of Desire is not about this wall, it is ever-present in the background, a reminder that West Berlin was once part of a whole and in 1987 a fragment. Our first scene puts the audience above the city, through the eyes of the angel, that is the film’s protagonist. We see the complexity and beauty of this place through the perspective of one who loves it and the people dearly.

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Movie Review – Son of Saul

Son of Saul (2015)
Written & Directed by László Nemes

In the midst of the obscene and the profane does it make sense to eke out some small piece of the sacred? What value do rituals and beliefs have when confronted when the horrific abomination of humanity’s darkest hour? Do we need to shield these artifacts of faith, these dying flames from decimation? First-time feature director László Nemes chooses to film the story with an impressionistic style, almost every single scene so tightly focused on Saul, a Hungarian Jew imprisoned at Auschwitz. The background is nearly abstracted in nearly every scene, our protagonist being shoved along through a seemingly never-ending series of atrocities against humanity. Saul reaches out clinging to a practically useless ritual as a means to disconnect from what is happening around and to him.

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Movie Review – Phoenix

Phoenix (2014)
Written Christian Petzold & Harun Farocki
Directed by Christian Petzold

The post-World War II period in Germany has proven to, when used as a setting, provide some of the most atmospheric and rich stories in cinema. You have this sliver of time after the defeat of the Nazis and before the nation was cleaved in half by the Cold War where society was attempting to redefine its identity in the wake of cultural horrors. There were survivors of the Holocaust re-entering Berlin, some with a desire to move past what that had experienced and others never forgetting which of their neighbors betrayed their trust. This is the landscape of mature, nuanced thrillers where each interaction can be dealt with a delicate touch, and shocking reveals are as gentle as a feather yet devastate people to their cores.

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Movie Review – Morris From America

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Morris From America (2016)
Written & Directed by Chad Hartigan

morris-from-america-1-courtesy_of_a24

13-year-old Morris is an African-American young man living in Germany. His dad is a soccer coach, former player, and his mom passed away a few years prior. Morris did not grow up in Germany, and he is having trouble adjusting to the different culture. His Germany teacher, Inka, suggests he spend time at a community center practicing his language skills and meeting kids his age. Morris reluctantly agrees and immediately becomes infatuated with Katrin, an older girl who teasingly befriends him. Morris doesn’t seem to be meshing with the culture around him, despite his best efforts to explore and absorb. His father also struggles in determining where the line between discipline and freedom lies for his son.

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TV Review – Dark

Dark (2017, Netflix)
Written by Baran bo Odar, Jantje Friese, Martin Behnke, Ronny Schalk, and Marc O. Seng
Directed by Baran bo Odar

dark netflix

In 2019, a local teenager goes missing in the small town of Winden, Germany. Police officer Ulrich Nielsen is reminded of his own brother’s unsolved disappearance in 1986 and keeps promising the parents he will find their son. Then Ulrich’s youngest, Mikkel vanishes in the night and the next morning turns up the body of a third boy, dressed out of the 1980s. Meanwhile, Jonas Kahnwald is dealing the suicide of his father two months prior. He returns to school but finds the girl he liked is dating his best friend. Police Charlotte Doppler senses history repeating itself with not only the disappearances but also flocks of birds falling from the sky dead, just like they did in 1986. As characters travel down this winding path of secrets and mysteries, they uncover a profound and shocking truth about Winden that transcends the laws of time and space.

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Movie Review – Toni Erdmann

Toni Erdmann (2016, dir. Maren Ade)

toni-erdmann

German music teacher Winfried Conradi is happy in his simple life, playing oddball pranks that no one actually falls for and just create awkward moments. His favorite prop is a pair of novelty teeth he wears and fails to get a laugh out of anyone. His daughter, Ines, is a business consultant working out of Bucharest, Romania currently trying to outsource labor for the oil industry. Winfried decides to surprise her with a visit and discover she not the sort of person he hoped she’d become. Ines has been consumed by her work and adopted a very corporate philosophy through every aspect of her life. The trip goes south when Ines sleeps through a meeting with a client because he father wanted her to get her rest. He retreats back to Germany and Ines goes about trying to salvage things on her end. But then man in a tangled messy wig and novelty teeth pops up calling himself Toni Erdmann. He claims to be a life coach and looks a hell of a lot like Ines’ father.

Toni Erdmann is being referred to as a comedy, but it does everything it can to defy many audiences’ expectations of what makes a film comedy. The traditionally set up and pay off formula for gags is not present. Scenes open without any clear sense of where we are going, and sometimes we get a pin on some moment. Other times the scene just ends, and we move onto the next one. This is all very intentional and not the sign of poor writing. Rather this is a deliberate subversion and makes the film a representation of everything Winfried is trying to do to his daughter. There are some scenes where he pulls the omnipresent novelty teeth from his pocket, pops them in his mouth, begins to play out a bit, and just as quickly slumps his shoulders, and the teeth go back in the pocket. He perpetually seems to be met with incredulity by Ines and her associates. An incidental laugh will occasionally occur but never for the reasons Winfried intends.

Ines is forever frustrated by her father and focuses on gaining the respect she believes she deserves in her very male dominated profession. Her adherence to stepping in line with Western capitalism elicits a quandary from her father about her humanity. That comes at a very tense moment and acts as the crux on which the film flips. She has tolerated him to this point but after this she tells him he must leave. Later, her boss labels her a feminist as he goes on about the direction he believes their business proposal should take. Ines replies “I’m not a feminist, or I wouldn’t tolerate guys like you.” This is less a commentary on a feminism than it is the way in which the world she finds herself is systematically erasing a sense of self. Every decision she makes is calculated based on the effect it will have on her career interests. Winfried seems to believe he can save her through his shtick and that eventually her shell will crack.

Toni Erdmann is a long film, just short of three hours. This is also a part of the subversion. Jokes are meant to be punchy and quick. The film, like Winfried, lingers longer than we expect it to. The awkwardness increases and we wonder when this nuisance will just move along. We also see Ines as the pestered working parent and Winfried as the obnoxious child fawning for attention. Through all of this subversion and intentional annoyance, there is a genuinely real story about parent and child trying and failing to reconnect. It’s a situation many of us have faced as we get older and find ourselves distanced physically, emotionally, and ideologically. Even the way the film brings about it’s “happy ending” doesn’t follow the conceits you would expect to see. Toni Erdmann is a truly bizarre but fantastic film that earns the “it’s not for everyone” motto.

Board Game Review – Die Macher

die-macher

After a recent session with our local roleplay group, my friend Jason remarked that he was looking to get four additional players to play a game he’d purchased recently. The game was Die Macher, one I’d never heard of, but he explained was about German parliamentary politics. The game is notoriously complicated and he was chomping at the bit to play. While these types of games are not necessarily my forte, I nevertheless agreed to give it a try. Maybe it would be fun?

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