I saw this out at Havelock North on Monday 10th January at the 5.30 p.m session. It is a film I have been looking forward to commenting on in the short life of this blog. Why? Because it is the first foreign language film I have reviewed so far. And also I want to stress what I stated in my 'Aims of this blog'. Namely that good films don't necessarily come from Hollywood alone just because it is the biggest show around.
This film is such a good example of this point. It is German and I haven't seen a huge number of German films. (The most memorable being, for me, Der Welle, The Wave). It is beautifully filmed in black and white to give it the feel of a Germany on the cusp of The Great War. The thing I like about about foreign language films is it gives a snapshot into other countries national characters, histories, customs, etc.
This film is no different. It is an era of strictness, authority, and discipline that is so associated with, but not exclusive, to Prussia. It's authenticity of early 20th century Germany is striking. The costumes, the uprightness of the characters, the atmosphere, just feel right. Too often an historical film is killed by not getting these basics right. A good script and acting cannot cover for this alone.
The other more basic reason I like foreign films is hearing the languages. I have a personal interest in German history so it is useful and of interest to hear the spoken language. It is so often a mystery to me why so many people have an aversion to foreign films. They state they can't stand the sub-titles.
I find this a poor excuse, I can read them and follow the screen action at the same time. But I think it is a deeper rooted problem than that. I feel it is a case of xenophobia. I have talked to many patrons after a foreign film and feel the real problem as a whole is people aren't open minded of other cultures. This is a very 'German' film, and unless you have an open mind, or interest in Germany, then it's 'German-ness' would allude most patrons.
As stated, this is the funamental reason I really enjoy foreign films. They give an insight into another country that, unless you can speak the lanuage, or have been there, an English language film or book just cannot deliver. I really wish people would make the effort for as I constantly say, some of the very best films I've ever seen are foreign. The beautifully made Spanish film Pan's Labyrinth is a good example, and one of my most favorite films.
Whilst authentic in feel and beautifully filmed it isn't a pleasant film. There is a father who is sexually abusing his 14 year old daughter. Unike the horrific, in your face rape scenes in the superb 'Precious', this abuse is much more subtle, and more alluded to than actually seen. It is more disturbing for being so. It also has a father who is the village preacher and his harsh discipline of his children, particularly a son who is playing with himself isn't exactly fun viewing. But this is the film's central theme. It isn't a nice, fuzzy, warm, feel good film. Quite the opposite. The content and its realism is meant to unsettle the viewer.
I highly recommend this film. While it isn't pleasant viewing such things do go on in our communities and shoudn't be ignored. The black and white cinematogragphy is just stunning and worth seeing for that alone. My one and only complaint about this film is its length. It is far too long and somewhat glacial and ponderous because of it. Some good editing would have fixed that without taking anything away from the film as a whole. But besides the unfortunate and unnecessary length this is film making at its very best.