Michael Haneke – Das Schloß AKA The Castle (1997)

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It was just a matter of time before Michael Haneke and Franz Kafka crossed paths. The Castle, the Austrian filmmaker’s made-for-TV version of the Czech writer’s famous unfinished novel, promises an intriguing meeting between these two dedicated misanthropes, yet despite the overlapping bleakness of their worldviews, the film is notable mostly as an example of how somebody can follow a work to the letter and still miss its essence. K. (Ulrich Mühe) comes in from the cold, summoned by the mysterious officials at “the Castle” to an isolated village for a position as land surveyor; instead he finds himself reluctantly engaged to forlorn barmaid Frieda (Susanne Lothar), saddled with a couple of dolts (Felix Eitner and Frank Giering) for assistants, and trudging in circles in the snow, helplessly trying to unscramble the tortuous snafu that’s made him “superfluous and in everybody’s way.” Haneke’s last Austrian picture before his departure to France and richer, less offensive films (The Time of the Wolf, Caché), The Castle is something of a companion piece to the director’s deplorable, hectoring Funny Games, even bringing back the earlier film’s tormented couple for another round of inexplicable distress. Continue reading

Leos Carax – Les amants du Pont-Neuf AKA The Lovers on the Bridge (1991)

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Leos Carax’s story of two homeless bums and their relationship is built around these contradictions and tensions that make the film a struggle to grasp. It’s a warm, beautiful and intimate film, but it’s also filled with harsh, repulsive imagery and a protagonist who is so rampantly selfish he makes spats of the film hard to watch as this almost naïve and childlike relationship is filled with dark, abusive undertones. Continue reading

Claire Denis – Nénette et Boni AKA Nenette and Boni (1996)

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Teenage siblings Nenette and Boni were raised apart as a result of their parents’ divorce. Their mother, who doted on her son Boni, has died. He works for an interesting couple as a pizza baker, and is surprised and enraged when his younger sister, having run away from boarding school, suddenly turns up. There’s a problem that they must confront. Continue reading

Gaspar Noé – Sodomites (1998)

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Iconoclastic indie filmmaker Gaspar Noe is as soft-spoken as his films are abrasive. The force behind the short film “Carne” (1991) and “I Stand Alone” (1998) — two visually explosive and delectably warped odes to the ordinary madness of a misunderstood horse butcher — Noe writes, directs, produces, shoots and edits films so distinctive that his films have already developed cult followings.

As part of a French government initiative to promote the use of condoms through graphic depictions of their proper use, Noe made the short “Sodomites” and handled camera duties on Hadzihalilovic’s “Good Boys Use Condoms.” Continue reading

Takeshi Kitano – Hana-bi AKA Fireworks (1997)

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“Hana-bi” is the highly acclaimed drama from and with Takeshi Kitano. In this film Kitano In a very honest way, also works up and reflects about his own inner life after his motorcycle accident that nearly cost him his life. So, it’s no big surprise that he implemented certain aspects of his character in the main lead as he did in Horibe.

With tranquil pictures and on a subtle level Kitano creates a story, that revolves around loneliness, isolation, guilt, love and grief. Very Kitano-like the almost poetically meditative looking pictures are interrupted by sudden bursts of violence. However, this just serves the purpose to imbue the story with the necessary amount of authenticity. Continue reading

Ming-liang Tsai – Qing shao nian nuo zha AKA Rebels of the Neon God (1992)

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On a raining evening at a nondescript telephone booth in Taipei, two petty criminals, Ah-tze (Chen Chao-jung) and his friend Ah-ping (Jen Chang-bin) drill through the lock of the public telephone and steal the contents of the collection box. In another part of the city, an unmotivated and distracted student named Hsiao-Kang (Lee Kang-sheng) encounters a cockroach in his room, stabs the insect with the point of his compass, and tosses its dead carcass into the turbulent wind, only to find the seemingly tenacious vermin resurface on the other side of his window. In a quintessential, understatedly amusing scene, Hsiao-Kang unsuccessfully attempts to swat the insect, crashes his palm through the window, and calmly walks into the bathroom to dress his injured hand, amidst the perplexed and inquisitive gaze of his father (Tien Miao) and mother (Lu Hsiao-Ling). Continue reading

Jean-Claude Rousseau – La vallée close AKA The Enclosed Valley (1995)

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My films are like that: in a room, but looking out onto an open sky. I can’t really say it except to repeat that Bresson note, ‘that without a thing changing, everything is different.’ The film exists. The fiction is set up, and we believe in it. The justness of the agreement leads us to believe it, because everything plays equally at being a sign. That’s the arrangement of the elements. It’s an act of faith. La vallée close is just this: elements treated above all as if in a documentary that, without being changed, portray the story and reveal between them the elements of fiction. But above all seen as they are, insignificant. And then in the relations they set up, they can satisfy our desire for a story. – Jean-Claude Rousseau Continue reading