Joshua Oppenheimer – The Entire History of the Louisiana Purchase (1998)

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“In Louisiana Purchase I wanted to examine the whole question of historical memory, the making of history…”
— Joshua Oppenheimer

The Entire History of the Louisiana Purchase is an imaginative and innovative film essay which combines faux and real documentary with lyrical fiction to paint a monstrous yet beautiful portrait of America at the end of the millennium. With unflinching originality, the film meditates humorously on faith, myth, scapegoats, the idea of the alien, the end of the world, and the beginnings of redemption…. Oppenheimer’s monstrous yet charming ‘history of my country’ is written by a poet, sweet and dark, joyous as the wet rats who save themselves from drowning in the film’s last sequence…. It opens a genre of film as revelatory and intelligent dream, stimulant of social memory, and means for re-examining the relationship between fact and fiction, historical truth and social myth.
– Dusan Makavejev, May 1997 Continue reading

Joshua Oppenheimer & Nish Saran – Hugh (1996)

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Hugh is the earliest demonstration of Oppenheimer’s key thesis that hate and extremism are not necessarily disruptive forces – they can be thoroughly bedded into society. The titular subject is an elderly man who makes furniture, teaches children to play the piano and is hailed by his friends as one of the most generous people you’ll ever meet. He also goes into town with his car plastered in sandwich boards and preaches about how homosexuality will destroy civilisation…
Hugh is ten minutes long, but has the complexity and nuance of a feature film, and as a bonus is shot in gorgeous high-contrast black-and-white reminiscent of Marc Singer’s excellent 2000 documentary cult classic Dark Days.
– Graham Williamson 2016 Continue reading

Jaco Van Dormael – Toto le héros aka Toto The Hero (1991)

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Synopsis:
Thomas and Alfred were born around the same time; a fire in the nursery had nurses scrambling to save the newborns. Because he felt that he deserved Alfred’s good fortune at being born into a wealthy family, Thomas conceives the idea that he and Alfred were switched at birth, and he can’t help seeing that his unhappiness should be Alfred’s, from the loss of his sister to his inability to have a relationship with the woman Evelyne. So, as his life is ending, he formulates a plan of revenge against his bitter enemy, his lifetime adversary, the man who stole his existence. Continue reading

Wiktor Grodecki – Telo bez duse AKA Body Without Soul (1996)

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An unflinching portrait of life on the post-Communist streets of Prague where young men find it all too easy to pick up extra money as porno models and hustlers. Their clients consist largely of German, Swiss, and Dutch tourists in search of cheap sex – and for additional income they make pornos on the side. Along the way they are ripped off, abused, and degraded until they simply wear out. Continue reading

Julian Benedikt & Andreas Morell – Blue Note – A Story of Modern Jazz (1997)

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The artists list on this DVD reads like a Who’s Who of the best international jazz musicians of all times. It features Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins — musicians whose names have become synonymous with the great Jazz Age in the 1950s and 60s. With Carlos Santana, Cassandra Wilson and André Previn and jazz experts like Joachim Ernst Berendt and Bertrand Tavernier, the list of interviewees and artists on this DVD becomes encyclopaedic. But how many people have heard of Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff, to whom we owe the recorded memory of our Jazz legends? These two Jewish Germans emigrated from Nazi Germany to New York in 1939 and promoted Jazz Music, which at the time had received little serious attention from mainstream America. Without money or connections and speaking little English, the two men began to record practically unknown musicians, following their own taste and judgement, and thus establishing the legendary Blue Note label. Continue reading

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