In Bloom was not the movie I intended to see: That would have been Happy Families, the second film by the team of “Nina and Simon,” or Georgian writer/director Nana Ekvtimishvili and her German partner, Simon Gross. Happy Families is playing in Paris, in Georgian, with French subtitles. And so, it seemed, that In Bloom might be the better place to begin.
If there’s a single line of spoken dialogue in The Tribe, I don’t remember it: We are in the world of the tribe, a snowier version of whichever island was visited by Piggy, Ralph and the rest in Lord of the Flies. The difference here is that the setting is Ukrainian — the film was shot, if not explicitly set, in Kiev — and the schoolboys are deaf. The film seems in no meaningful way about deafness per se, but it is both interesting and informative to observe how the deaf actors communicate with each other: the back-slaps and jostling and demands for attention. (When you can’t scream, you push.) Watch as well during the melée scene, the busy activity in the background as the crowd of extras communicate their observations with their hands: There’s something uncanny about the physical makeup of the scene until you realize that the pale fluttering in the background is the movement of the actors’ hands.
I’ve never been to Turkey, and so have little to add to the debate over whether the heroines of Mustang (and their wild, luxurious hair) fight a fight common to its young women, at least those raised in its Black Sea villages, far from the cosmopolitan mores of Istanbul: I must believe critics like this one, who helpfully retitled the film “Five French Girls Walk Into an Antaolian Village.” (I can say, with total assurance, that their souls may be Turkish, but the girls’ hair is without doubt Parisian.) Under these circumstances, then, I think it is fair to treat the film as allegory, or fairy tale (as it would surely not be the first fairy tale to be as sunlit as it is, as dark-hearted as it is.) As allegory, as a fairy tale about freedom, as a faraway Rocky for teenage girls, it is wonderful. I loved this movie.
As part of working on my book, I’ve been re-watching a few of my favorite movies about love: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Weekend (the U.K. one, not the French one), and Before Sunset, among them. The one I love most is Blue Is the Warmest Color. I am writing about it today because I realized I wanted to officially declare it my movie of France. I won’t summarize the plot beyond its most basic points: Two women fall in love. Complications ensue. I loved it when I first saw it, because I thought it was remarkably clear-eyed about a certain kind of love. I believe that with love, although we have a spectrum of choices, most relationships of some duration fall into one of two categories: relationships of convenience and true, crazy, harrowing love. This film, obviously, is about the latter.
I have a vested interest in stories about the Netherlands during World War II, since I spend many of my days thinking about nothing but. (Well, that, and if I have enough chocolate in my house to get through the evening without going to the grocery store.) I do believe that it is an outlier in a very particular way: Ask people if they know any stories of the Nazi occupation of Holland, and they’ll likely say no—at least, that’s what the people I know tend to say. Ask, then, if they’ve read Anne Frank’s diary—perhaps the most famous text to survive, or, in fact, about the war, and, of course, a never-to-be-equaled story of the Nazi occupation of Holland—and—well, if they had good teachers in high school, the answer is definitely yes. That occupation is somehow both universally known and universally unknown.
There are, presumably, moviegoers out there who sat through Blue Valentine and left the theater saying to themselves: Well, that was great—but how much better would it have been if in addition to the failing relationship, their kid was terribly, perhaps mortally, ill? For those people, we have Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium’s nomination for the best foreign-language film Oscar in 2013.
Leviathan is a tragedy, about what unfolds when a corrupt government seizes a man’s home. I hate watching a tragedy. Not because they are sad but because they are inevitable, and you spend most of the movie, or play, or book, only waiting to see how the tragedy plays out: what crisis of mistaken identity will lead to the wrong person’s death, or Bubbles kills Sherrod, or whatever. But see, that second one is a bad example, because Bubbles killing Sherrod was shocking and unexpected, which was why The Wire was so incredible. Most movie tragedies, it’s like watching someone push a baby out onto a just-frozen-over lake: You’re only waiting for everything to go through the ice.
So I’m doing this thing where I’m trying to watch one movie from every country but I got sort of carried away with Poland and watched three. I had barely seen any of Eastern Europe until I did this thing where I drove from London to Mongolia. It is easier to get to Mongolia from London if you drive through Eastern Europe, so we did—or at least through Prague, where we were going to spend the night in a parking garage but ended up at a hotel instead. A few years after that, I spent 36 hours in Budapest. In October, I went to Ukraine for fashion week, and it was amazing. But I still haven’t seen nearly as much of it as I would like. I was reminded of this last year, when I went on a series of dates with a Polish engineer who was very cool and who would cry when we watched “The Pianist,” which seems like a very Eastern European thing to do.
Two things in particular I noticed about Omar, which was Palestine’s nomination for the best foreign language Oscar last year: 1: I’ve never been to Palestine. The closest I’ve come to seeing it in the past is another Palestinian Oscar-nominated film: 5 Broken Cameras. (You may remember this from the Veep joke if you haven’t seen it, but you should see it, and Veep, too.) Threads of the tragedy in that film were Shakespearean in nature—and now, looking back, remind me quite a bit of Leviathan, the Russian film about surviving a corrupt state. Some of that is here in Omar, as well, named for the main character, a baker who pursues militancy as a means to push back against the occupation, but also, chiefly, as a way to ingratiate himself to his secret girlfriend’s brother. If 5 Broken Cameras was a historical tragedy, Omar is a romantic one.
I am properly obsessed with In the Crosswind. Let me back up, and discuss this film in a manner even more circuitous than usual. Before I decided to watch a movie from every country, I decided to read a book from every country. (In fact, I came up with the former while slogging through Anna Karenina, my Russia book.) The first book I read was the book-of-the-month for the Around the World in 80 Books group on Goodreads: Purge, by Sofi Oksanen. It dealt with the aftereffects of the Soviet devastation of the Baltic States—specifically Estonia—during World War II. Now, I am not an uneducated person. I can name a significant number of the presidents, I know the capital of Mongolia, and I am aware of many horrible things. I was not, though, aware of this catastrophe until I read this book—and then, in continuing to read authors from the Baltics, realized that Joseph Stalin’s deportations were their defining event of the 20th century—particularly for the tens of thousands of citizens who were removed from their native lands and …
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