Film Review : Elephant (2003)

IMDB Score – 7.2
Rotten Tomato Score – 72%

Cannes Film Festival Awards
Palme d’Or
Best Director

Directed By – Gus Van Sant
Starring – Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson, and Elias McConnell

Several ordinary high school students go through their daily routine as two others prepare for something more malevolent.

I was in school when Columbine happened. I remember getting nightmares and daydreaming during the day what I would do if such an event occurred. I researched the event non stop in order to be prepared if anything like that happened to me. It got to the point where I knew the names of the victims and where they died. I knew the time table of events. I could probably walk through that high school right now and find my way around. I was that frightened by that event. I became obsessed with my fears. I got a lot of those feelings back when I viewed this film.

As much as I was disturbed to the core by this film, I ended up loving every second of it. I’m not a big Gus Van Sant fan but this is one of those films that transcends the rest of his work. It’s one of the most realistic yet absolutely surrealistic views of high school I have ever seen. Van Sant decides to ditch traditional narrative and story telling and instead decides to following his actors as they go through their every day life in high school. I’m so glad he decided to film this way because it makes the impact of what everybody knows is going to happen even more terrifying. Long takes following students down hallways and into lunchrooms puts the viewer right back into those four years. While the school is ultimately different than my own high school, the feeling and tone of the scenes hit a chord with me. I was a happy neutral in high school. I was friends with the popular kids and friends with the freaks. I’ve seen my share of bullying just as our main shooter Alex endured in the beginning of the film. It’s terrifying to know that not only my school, but any school could have an event like this. It was eye opening.

I loved the long shots. I loved the minimal score that really only included Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, No. 2 Moonlight. It’s really the perfect piece of music to brings the subtle tension leading up to the climax to life. It was like feeding off my fears and is probably one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen. It was damn near perfect. The fact that in won the Palme d’Or at Cannes is evident that this is a highly important film and should be viewed by as many as possible to fully understand these school shootings. I can exhale now.


Film Review : The White Ribbon (2009)

IMDB Score – 7.7
Rotten Tomato Score – 85%

Academy Award Nominations
Best Cinematography
Best Foreign Language Film

Winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival

Directed By – Michael Haneke
Starring – Christian Friedel, Leonie Benesch, Ulrich Tukur, Ursina Lardi, and Burghart Klaußner

Strange events happen in a small village in the north of Germany during the years just before World War I, which seem to be ritual punishment. The abused and suppressed children of the villagers seem to be at the heart of this mystery.

If I were to name five of my favorite directors living today, Michael Haneke would not only be on that list but would be near the top. Cache is one of my favorite films of all time and I enjoyed his recent film Amour. He’s notorious for being extremely bleak and brutal in his portrayals of life but in that creates some of the most beautiful films modern cinema has ever seen. He tackled sexuality in The Piano Teacher, Alzheimer’s disease in Amour, and even torture in both versions of Funny Games. He is literally a director that makes people both fascinated and dreadful to enter a theater for two hours. This is why I love him. I love being moved and poked and prodded for a response whether good or bad. I love that he almost always leaves his viewers with more questions than answers. Lastly, I often fall in love with his camerawork. His work requires repeat viewings and while I have only sat through The White Ribbon once, I’m sure I’ll be seeing it again.

Filmed in black and white as if to automatically distance the viewer from any sort of emotional attachment to these characters. The rosy and lush countryside of Germany is now transformed into a bleak landscape reminiscent of Bela Tarr’s The Turin Horse. This is ultimately a much easier view than Tarr’s work but that is saying something all together. This is not an easy watch. Events start to unfold from the get go as the town doctor is thrown from his horse due to wire being strung across two trees. The mystery of the event only begins a series of strange occurrences that take place over the rest of the film.

Haneke is famous for his static shots where he lets the viewer play voyeur over the scene. While his technique is not used as much as his previous films we are still treated to long takes of this small German village operating as its inhabitants go about their daily lives. You really get a sense of how certain events can spread like the plague to other villagers when you live in such a small town. The children, who are really the main focus of the theme lash out and get the full force of their parents as we are treated to a view of a generation which will soon grow up to be some of the most evil people in history, the Nazis. These kids are ages five through fourteen in 1913. Do the math.

The White Ribbon ended up being a character study of how foul people can be and how witnesses of such events can keep their mouths closed for so long. The symbolism of Nazi Germany is a subtle, under the skin type affair that ties this film in a horrible bow. I highly recommend this film to people who can stomach slow burns and realistic yet disturbing events.


Film Review : The Piano Teacher (2001)

IMDB Score – 7.3
RT Score – 73%

Best Actor Cannes Film Festival – Benoît Magimel
Best Actress Cannes Film Festival – Isabelle Huppert
Grand Prize of the Jury Cannes Film Festival – Michael Haneke

Okay, so I have been watching a lot of very difficult films lately. This is the third film by Michael Haneke that I have seen now after really liking Code Unknown and considering Cache is one of my favorite films ever. This however was definitely the most difficult to watch based on how grim and depressing the protagonist. Isabelle Huppert plays a gifted piano professor and scholar who has a dark secret…masochism. The movie follows this development as she meets and befriends a student. The film is a serious character study as we are shown some disturbing realities on how people live and deal with their problems. Masochism is a problem by the way. It isn’t a fetish. It isn’t normal. That is some deranged shit brought on by serious childhood trauma. This is obviously just my opinion but when you watch Huppert’s character go through these motions you can’t help but feel sick and sad for somebody so f’ed up in the head. Haneke crafts a haunting film but leaves, as normal for him, so many unanswered questions. It’s a brutal film slowly drained of human emotion which is ironic because there is so much beautiful music in this film. I appreciated it for what it was and Huppert was just, well, amazing really. I just didn’t really take to the subject matter and really wanted to the film to end as soon as possible.


Film Review : Farewell My Concubine (1993)

IMDB Score: 7.8
RT Score : 88%

Oscar Nominee for Best Cinematography
Oscar Nominee for Best Foreign Language Film
Palme d’Or Winner at Cannes Film Festival

A very strange and long movie about two stage brothers as they ascend the steps to stardom in the Chinese opera circuit and encounter love and government opposition along the way. The film is gorgeously shot and acted but I just couldn’t get into the story as much as I thought I should given its credentials. I think I just find that part of Asian culture too strange for my tastes. It’s a very well made film though full of backstabbing, political conflict, subtle homosexuality, and a very fitting yet tragic ending. If you can sit through the three hours and like these sort of dramas, I’d say go for it.


Film Review : Election (1999)

IMDB Score : 7.3
RT Score : 92%

I’ve always been a fan of Alexander Payne. The Descendents and Sideways were very enjoyable and while George Clooney got recognized for his work by the academy, Paul Giamatti got robbed of a nomination. His performance in Sideways was fantastic. I recently read that Payne’s newest film Nebraska got a great response at the Cannes Film Festival and that Bruce Dern won best actor. I’m looking forward to that. That being said you’re not going to find those pivotal acting performances in this film. Election isn’t that kind of movie. It is a very dark comedy about high school that gets by on its wit and satire. I enjoyed it but not as much as Payne’s later work. Matthew Broderick plays a good down on his luck and ultimately bad person but it’s the characters surrounding him that make the film. It’s a film that brought on by these characters, sheds light on political and moral corruption, effects of seduction, and fucking blatant adultery. Like I said, it’s dark. Also, I’m glad Chris Klein is no longer really working. He never worked in the first place. He’s so bad. YOU ARE AWFUL SIR.