Posts Tagged ‘German Film Month’

Maybe We Belong Together

November 3, 2007

Love Is Colder Than Death

Love Is Colder Than Death
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
1969

lakelia says:

I really have no idea why this film bears its title. There was love, in one or two of the many senses that people use that word, and there was death, more than once, and throughout the story there was definitely coldness. But I couldn’t say why these ideas are strung together this way in the title.

This film, the first one I’ve seen of Fassbinder’s, didn’t offer me much in the way of plot, or dialogue, or ideas. I found the story to be rather boring. Maybe the handful of examples (or has it just been one or two?) I’ve already seen of the they-dabble-in-crime-and-then-go-overboard-and-then-they-pay story have pretty much sated my appetite for the genre.

I did find Fassbinder’s stylistic touches to be interesting, though. From the first scene on, I was struck by the way that the film seemed like a play. There was a series of simple sets, each scene staying put on its own, without much change in camera angle. There was absolutely no blood, despite the numerous gunshot wounds. There were many long holds of close-ups on faces, before or after the character spoke. That touch of directing was probably the one thing I found most unique and interesting about the film – although I can’t say it held my interest very long. Of course, I can get caught up in just about any story while I’m reading or watching it, I am still very much enjoying listening to German and picking up a familiar word or phrase here and there, and it will be interesting to have seen this early film when we see more of Fassbinder, so it wasn’t all for naught.

lakelia’s rating: 3 Stars

bakinakwa says:

Another leftover from German Film Month, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s debut full-length feature also happens to be my first taste of the work of the famed director.  In all honesty, beyond name recognition and the fact that he is considered by many to be one of the greatest German directors, I didn’t know much about him going in.  After seeing Love Is Colder Than Death, I still don’t, but now I do know I’m interested to find out.

Despite the fact that Love Is Colder Than Death is a thoroughly unexceptional film, it at least introduces the elements of his œuvre.  Or, more accurately, what I suppose will be the elements of his œuvre: alienation, oppression, yearning and violence.  In short, everything that makes life great.  Right?  Throw in some sexual tension, some homoerotic undertones, a few unintentionally comic action sequences and a strong attempt at social criticism and we’ve got an ambitious picture on our hands.  I do like it, but Fassbinder’s first attempt comes across primarily as undeveloped.  Love Is Colder Than Death works best when taken more as a collection of unrelated vignettes: Bruno and the woman on the train, Bruno and Franz cruising the streets of Munich and, the crown jewel, Johanna and Bruno shopping (and shoplifting) at the supermarkt.  When the film chases the plot, it’s just another story about three misfits rebelling without a snowball’s chance in hell of getting out alive.

On the plus side, Hanna Schygulla is a pleasure to watch throughout, with or without her blouse.  Humor seeps in through surprising ways: the thrice-fooled attendant at the glasses counter and the secret deal made over pinball, to name two examples.  Also, several of the longer shots, such as the one of the three protagonists ambling down a deserted road, cast visual spells and strike emotional chords at the same time.  In the scene I mentioned in the supermarkt, the camera’s eye follows Johanna and Bruno around the store in one long shot that rises above the plateau the rest of the film exists on.  To me it symbolizes both the sterile infrastructure the three main characters are unwittingly lashing out against as well as the tremendous potential for alienation in the modern world, eloquently conjured by the untold distance between Johanna and Bruno even as they stroll the aisles side by side.  For my money, it’s the highlight of the film.

Other than that, I would consider myself more intrigued than impressed.  It’s easy to see without looking too hard that Fassbinder had the potential for greatness from the beginning.  Word of mouth says he subsequently lived up to it, so I guess that leaves me looking forward to discovering what the world already knows.  If this is what Fassbinder is all about I can see myself getting into it.  I’m alone too.  Maybe we belong together?

bakinakwa’s rating: 3.5 Stars

Be Happy Something’s Happening

November 2, 2007

Schultze Gets The Blues

Schultze Gets The Blues
Directed by Michael Schorr
2003

bakinakwa says: 

One thing lakelia and I did this summer was visit family in Germany.  We declared the month before we left German Film Month and limited our viewing to films that we thought might help to prepare us for German language and culture.  Films like Downfall and Good Bye Lenin!, among many others.  Schultze Gets The Blues was a film we intended to watch during German Film Month but, for whatever reason, we didn’t get to it before trip-time.  It’s too bad too because Schultze, more than any other film we did see, paints a straightforward portrait of the German countryside and its inhabitants, circa these days.  Of course, I only know that now, having experienced it firsthand.  In that way, I suppose seeing it after our return also worked out quite nicely.

I wouldn’t be telling the full truth if I didn’t admit that I expected something more from the film.  I attribute this to the huge splash the film made on my radar in 2005 when it finally received limited release in the United States.  At the time it felt like everywhere I turned there was Schultze with a rave review or, later, on a year-end list.  My experience with Schultze is proof positive that expectations serve no purpose quite so well as spoiling an otherwise pure reaction.  That reaction with Schultze was one of delight.  The concept, the characters, the acting, the music – I’d say everything about this film is endearing, perhaps to a fault, but certainly not in any way that takes away from its appeal. Horst Krause in the lead role is the definition of one-dimensionally charming. When he hears that new sound on the radio for the first time and cocks his head, he’s laugh-out-loud funny in the least familiar way.  He is completely watchable and relatable and by the end of the film I felt more than a little attached to him, yet his demise didn’t evoke sadness in me so much as acceptance spiked with confusion, and that’s with it being completely unexpected.

Why does this film leave one wanting more? Many will point to the pacing, which I’m sure tugged/will tug at the boundaries of the attention spans of US critics and audiences, but that wasn’t a drawback for me. Nor was the relative lack of dialogue. To wit, I read the entire script in less than five minutes, but that is no matter. No, for me Schultze disappoints for the same reason it appeals: it’s quite content to tell its simple story about the last days of a quiet, charming musician. Nothing more, nothing less. Schorr directed this film armed with the knowledge that not all lives flare out or rise to dramatic, do-you-have-any-last-words heights in their final moments. Some just stop. That’s true, and Schultze never comes off as complacent in that truth, but nor does it offer much reason to ponder that truth for much longer than the first half hour after the film ends.

There is one area in which the film succeeds unconditionally though, and that is as an aural experience. Shots of landscape and sky are accompanied by crisp, clear sounds that build until finally their cause is revealed. Minimal background is used allowing the real sounds of the story to be heard.  Ordinary sounds, from breathing, eating, walking, the wind and lawnmowers, to the sound of bicycle tires on road to, of course, Schultze’s accordion are given the utmost opportunity to make their presence felt in a natural, honest way. The main reason it’s remarkable is because other films don’t sound like this; they muck it up with expensive schlock (an oxymoron, I know) and unnecessary noise. I applaud this film for having the ears to forgo all that.  To a lesser extent than it succeeds on an aural level the film also succeeds visually: the shots of Schultze cruising the swamps (or are they marshes?) are a real feast for the eyes.

I must add, nothing Schultze plays or is exposed to in Texas sounds like the blues so much as it does Zydeco, which basically defeats the purpose of the film’s double entendre title.  Indeed, the jambalaya he prepares and most of the music used in the film support the idea that the title was chosen more for its catchiness than for its accuracy.  Anyone coming to the film expecting to see Schultze sing or play the blues will be left hanging.  Other than that, Schultze Gets The Blues is a-okay in my book.

bakinakwa’s rating: 3.5 Stars

lakelia says:

I think that when people are in an unfamiliar setting, attempting to communicate in a foreign language, there’s a childlike quality about them. I’m thinking of a few recent examples – myself, for one, arriving in Munich this summer with maybe a few more words in German than Schultze had in English, some tourists who tried to get directions from the driver of a bus I was on a few weeks ago, and Schultze himself, lucking out that “zupa-markt” sounds reasonably close to “supermarket.” Between the lack of vocabulary, the inability to have or understand nuanced conversation, especially jokes, and the earnest hope for understanding, a definite vulnerability, even innocence, comes through. This foreign lostness accounts for some of Schultze’s charm in the latter portion of the movie, but the truth is he was endearing in Germany too. The sight of him sitting in the garden near his little gnome, coughing intermittently; the expression on his face when he went back for the second and third time to hear the alarming music coming out of the radio; the way he listened obediently to the televised instructions for cooking jambalaya; and his bewilderment and self-consciousness at his newfound musical passion – all made quiet Schultze lovable from the beginning.

So it happened that as the credits to Schultze Gets the Blues started rolling, I felt saddened, a little bereft, vaguely indignant. It seemed something had been tugged suddenly away from me, a small and recent treasure that I was quickly growing very fond of. Now it was disappearing without even a just farewell. No resolution. But, no particular lack of one either. Schultze ended the way it was throughout – bare, simple, and slow, with no more or less meaning than all of our everyday experiences.

Schultze was strikingly lifelike. Great emotional and psychological events took mundane forms, and no explanation followed. Generic moments of daily life got the same cinematic treatment as Schultze’s wordless, troubled turning of his father’s picture to face the wall. The ending could be said to have been foreshadowed, or not – sometimes a cough or a radio program about what happens to coal miners’ lungs indicate something about the future, and sometimes they don’t. I know I didn’t expect it. Schultze seemed utterly realistic, and yet it was also fantastical. His meandering through the marshes had the quality of a mythological journey, from the unexplained appearance of a boat to the revolving cast of characters he came upon and asked for aid. These last few days – or weeks, or however long it was – of Schultze’s story were like a dreamy tangent from his former life. Fascinated by a foreign music, hampered by familial and cultural expectations, with an unprecedented amount of time on his hands and some supportive long-time friends, Schultze drifted away to another world, struggled silently with his memories and creativity and self-consciousness, wandered, and departed.

Some might leave this slow-paced film like most of Schultze’s acquaintances walked away in the final scene – chatting, distracted, already moving on; but I felt more like Schultze’s two closest friends, who hung back, trying to let it sink in.

 

lakelia’s rating: 4 Stars