Wednesday, 28 December 2016

A film review, "Toni Erdmann" [2016 Germany, Romania]

Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek in "Toni Erdmann" (2016) Peter Simonischek as "Toni Erdmann" (2016)
Sandra Hüller in "Toni Erdmann" (2016) Sandra Hüller in "Toni Erdmann" (2016)

Maren Ade's oddball comedy "Toni Erdmann" is a uniquely German attempt at highlighting the need for reinforcing familial bonds even while pursuing hectic lifestyles and careers. The film wryly focuses on a father-daughter relationship weathering changes in their individual circumstances.

Ines (Sandra Hüller) is a high flying thirty-something corporate strategist whose work often takes her abroad on various assignments. Serious about her career, she allows little time for herself, let alone her parents in her hometown, which she occasionally 'passes through' only during important family events. Her eccentric father Winfried (Peter Simonischek), in the hope of reigniting their bond, springs a surprise by visiting Ines in Romania where she's presently working.

Ines puts him up in her apartment out of a sense of duty and drags him along to her official meetings and dinners, presumably to keep him company, but it doesn't work out too well due to Winfried's innate spontaneity and frankness. He leaves after an argument, but reenters her life soon enough in the form of 'Toni Erdmann', his even more forthright and practical-joking alter ego.

While Ines is no stranger to Winfried's ridiculous wig and false teeth wearing 'Toni', she plays along since she doesn't have to feel embarrassed while introducing him as her father. However, with each squabbling encounter that they have, Ines begins to loosen up, and the bond, frayed since she left home many years ago to pursue a career, gets stronger, first with 'Toni', and eventually also with Winfried...

A father's bond with his daughter is always special in normal relationships, but sometimes even they require a bit of work in a hectic world. Ms. Ade gets this point across in a delightful way that's not only refreshing, but also heartwarming and full of festive spirit. For an unusually long German film, it is a breezy and charming little family drama that's Highly Recommended Viewing..! Blu-ray Link


The Nudity: Sandra Hüller, Ingrid Bisu, and Thomas Loibl
In one of the absurd comedy sequences in the film, an impatient and socially awkward Ines, frustrated with the ill-fitting dress for her birthday house party, gets rid of it to answer the door, but soon gets annoyed with her American guest and tells her that it is supposed to be naked party - a 'team bonding' session among work colleagues, essentially forcing her to leave. Her colleague and occasional lover is turned away for the same reason - while she initially regrets her action, she also feels liberated. Her Romanian intern Anca (Ingrid Bisu) and boss Gerald (Thomas Loibl) upon instruction, duly oblige by entering the flat in the nude, and they're briefly interrupted by Winfried dressed in a Bulgarian folk mask. Ines recognises her father through the mask and follows him when he leaves.

Sandra Hüller, Ingrid Bisu, and Thomas Loibl from the German comedy, "Toni Erdmann" (2016)

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

A brief film review: "To xypnima tis anoixis" [2015 Greece]

Constantine Giannaris is known for films focusing on the disenfranchised and dispossessed of urban Athens, often portraying his characters in ultra-realistic documentary style footage. His drama, "To xypnima tis anoixis" [Eng. Title: Spring Awakening] follows a similar vein in that it is set against the backdrop of post-austerity, riot-prone, present-day Athens with all its social issues.

A scene from "Spring Awakening" (2015) A scene from "Spring Awakening" (2015)
Daphne Patakia and Konstantinos Elmatzioglou in "Spring Awakening" (2015, Greece) Daphne Patakia in "Spring Awakening" aka "To xypnima tis anoixis" (2015)

The film begins at the police station where five teenagers are handcuffed and brought in for questioning. Part of a newly formed 'armed gang', they were found at the scene of a horrific crime where a couple and their two children were murdered in cold blood.

Interviews with investigating officers offer us a glimpse into the group members' individual attitudes, their family backgrounds, and social status. Coming from various backgrounds, we note that they could easily represent a cross section of Athenian society itself. The one thing they seem to have in common however is a collective hatred for any kind of 'authority', whether from domineering parents or law enforcement agencies.

Two among them - Alexandros (Konstantinos Elmatzioglou) and Ioanna (Daphne Patakia) are in a sexual relationship, but after they join the gang, things get a bit hazy because of a range of issues occupying Alexandro's mind, not least his killing of a cop who was about to arrest two of the gang members following a robbery. When the five attempt a second robbery, it goes horribly wrong after egos clash and latent hates surface between members and the hapless victims...

The director seems to be questioning the society that Greece had become, its prospects for the future - particularly the young who're usually the most affected, and the growing xenophobia amongst a population that feels let down even by friendly countries. While it is well made using largely new faces, one wonders if the screenplay could've been tightened up a little, especially since similar themed films are also the trend everywhere from Mexico to Russia. They may well be a sign of the times in which we're living, but from what I could glean from the DVD's subtitles, the nonlinear narrative could've been more effectively contextualised. The performance of Daphne Patakia playing Ioanna is nevertheless memorable. Recommended Viewing!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Daphne Patakia, Marlene Kaminsky, and Adrian Frieling
Daphne Patakia appears nude in a number of scenes, and one of them is surprisingly explicit when her character masturbates in bed. There is also brief nudity in a scene that involves a German couple interrupted by the gang while making love.

Scenes of Daphne Patakia from Constantine Giannaris's film, "To xypnima tis anoixis" aka "Spring Awakening" (2015, Greece).


Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Irina Vilkova from "Eyo zvali Mumu" [Russia 2016]

I haven't had the chance to see any of Vladimir Mirzoev's work until his recent drama, "Eyo zvali Mumu" [Eng. Title: They Called Her Mumu]. The only reason I came upon this one was because it was shared on Vimeo recently.

Irina Vilkova in "They called her Mumu" (2016) Irina Vilkova in "They called her Mumu" (2016)

But since I had to watch it without subtitles, the significance (or otherwise) of the film completely evaded me, so I'll restrict my observations to the barest of details, and of course, the rather liberally sprinkled scenes of nudity. The offbeat film is supposedly based on a real-life social media personality who went by the name of Katya Mumu. In the film, Mumu (Irina Vilkova) is employed 'informally' by the Russian secret services for an undercover operation to discredit some prominent political opposition figures.

Mumu seduces and has affairs with their subjects with the intent of exposing and defaming them through social media, apparently with tacit approval even from her family members. But the freedom-loving rebel inside her resurfaces after a while, and she tries to break free from her employers's diktats. The film ends with her running away after starting a fire in her apartment. The film is well-produced even with a low-budget, has a cool soundtrack, and is also humorous in places. Perhaps the film should be Recommended Viewing - for those who could follow Russian.

Vimeo Link


The Nudity: Irina Vilkova and Irina Butanaeva
There are at least six scenes that feature nudity from Irina Vilkova who plays the central character 'Mumu' - some of which are also funny in a very 'Russian' way. Irina Butanaeva plays a maid/assistant and appears partially nude during a scene with one of Mumu's 'boyfriends'.

Irina Vilkova and Irina Butanaeva nude in the film, "They Called Her Mumu" (Russia, 2016).


Wednesday, 7 December 2016

A brief film review: "I, Olga Hepnarova" [2016 Czech Rep., Poland]

Michalina Olszanska in "I, Olga" (2016) Klára Melísková and Michalina Olszanska from "I, Olga" (2016)
Michalina Olszanska in "I, Olga Hepnarova" (2016) Michalina Olszanska and Marika Soposká from "I, Olga Hepnarova" (2016)
A scene in "I, Olga" (2016) Michalina Olszanska from "I, Olga Hepnarova" (2016)

Petr Kazda and Tomás Weinreb make a memorable directorial feature film debut with their biopic, "I, Olga" [Orig. Title: Já, Olga Hepnarová]. Olga Hepnarová was the last woman to be executed in Czechoslovakia in 1975 after she was found guilty of intentionally causing the death of eight elderly people and injuring several others by running them over with her truck. the film tries to explore events in Olga's life that may have contributed to her desire to 'seek revenge' on society in general.

We follow troubled teen Olga (Michalina Olszanska) from the day of her attempted suicide, when her mother (Klára Melísková) remarks coldly after bringing her back from the hospital, "To commit suicide you need a strong will, something you certainly don’t have". Olga, we're led to believe, has felt alienated even while growing up in an educated middle class household.

Olga's sense of alienation is reinforced during her spell in institutions where she's bullied and abused by others, even if some of her woes might have been brought upon by herself in pushing away people who may have even wanted to help her. Unable to hold down a job, she ends up working as a truck driver, and secretly nurtures a hatred towards a society seemingly unsympathetic to her suffering.

At twenty, Olga is a confused young woman even unsure of her sexuality and likens herself to a sexual cripple - she begins a lesbian affair and falls in love with co-worker Jitka (Marika Soposká), even though the latter is in a long-term relationship with another woman. She subsequently has casual relations with other women and men, but never tries to work on a long-term relationship with any of them. But some of them nevertheless remain with her until the end.

Two thirds of the film is thus dedicated to constructing Olga's confused, discontented character and her world, and until then it works well as a drama on its own. It's the final third of the film, covering events after she ploughs through a group of elderly people waiting at a tram stop that it falters slightly. We don't 'study' Olga any longer and are merely presented facts during and after her trial, in which she defiantly but unconvincingly proclaims death penalty on society itself, whose 'bestiality' she had allegedly been a victim of. It's as if the directors themselves didn't want to have an opinion about Olga's actions, but somehow want us to empathise with her.

This is partly because even though Ms. Olszanska gives an impressive performance as the confused and angry Olga, she doesn't convincingly come across as a psychopath; a geeky rebel going through a goth phase perhaps, but certainly not a scheming mass murderer (she's far too cute-looking and that doesn't help either). But then again, may be the world wasn't ready for Olga too and didn't quite know how to deal with her, who knows. However, despite these minor flaws, the film is well made and shows a lot of promise for the director duo. It also boasts impressive black and white cinematography, with some scenes as exquisitely framed as in a Frantisek Vlácil film. An imperfect gem, but Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Michalina Olszanska, Marika Soposká, and Malwina Turek
The film features two lesbian sex scenes of a fairly frank nature with nudity. The scenes may be justified for establishing Olga's self-proclaimed sexual ambiguity. There's also a scene where Olga flashes at a night club for perhaps the same reason.

Michalina Olszanska, Marika Soposká, and Malwina Turek in "I, Olga" [2016]