9 posts categorized "German Cinema"

June 01, 2016

TONI ERDMANN — CANNES 2016

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

Toni-erdmannCannes, France —German comedy are two words that don’t typically go together. However, Maren Ade’s Cannes competition film “Toni Erdmann” is that rare bird.

The title character is the practical joker alter ego of Peter Simonischek's Winfried Conrad, a father so intent on helping his corporate pawn of a daughter Ines break out of her mind-numb rut that he follows her to Bucharest where she works for an oil company. Outsourcing jobs is her game.

Sandra Huller gives a wonderfully poker-faced performance as Ines, while Simonischek's parlor-game habit of taking out his dentures, wears out its welcome early on.

At over three-hours long, "Toni Erdmann" loses its comic steam long before its clunky resolution comes to fruition. Toni_erdmann

“Toni Erdmann” captured the groupthink of a swath of corporate film critics who think it to be the best competition entry so far. Naturally, they are wrong. The laughs ebb and flow through an overlong movie whose shallow dramatic arc is a disappointment. There are some great laughs and chuckles, but “Toni Erdmann” doesn’t hold a candle to “I, Daniel Blake.”

Not Rated. 162 mins.

2 Stars

Cannes 69 Complete from Cole Smithey on Vimeo.

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

PATREON BUTTON

Cozy Cole

June 11, 2015

THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

ColeSmithey.comBrecht meets Douglas Sirk and Joseph Mankiewicz (“All About Eve”) in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s delectable adaptation of his five-act stageplay, an exploration of a lesbian triangle of role-switching polarities between dominance and submission.

There’s a pinch of Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Blvd” thrown in for good measure.

Screen Shot 2022-04-17 at 10.45.23 PM

Repurposing his play’s original cast, Fassbender takes advantage of his skilled actors’ mastery of their tightly scripted roles.

Margit Carstensen works a high-wire act of emotional overreaching as the title character whose fetid teardrop of remorse is the result of her inability to master her ego and confused desires. Working in an image system of shadows, mirrors, and foreground objects, Fassbinder’s formal compositions convey the thin line between beauty and failure.

Screen Shot 2022-04-17 at 10.41.14 PM

It is winter in a remote German chalet in Bremen. The central narrative follows the haughty Petra Von Kant, a diva fashion designer of cottage-industry repute. A huge reproduction of Nicolas Poussin’s “Midas and Bacchus” hangs on the wall beside Petra’s bed. Nude costume mannequins stand at odd angles as a silent chorus of frozen female observers.

Screen Shot 2022-04-17 at 10.41.25 PM

Marlene (Irm Hermann) is Petra’s loyal live-in slave (admirer, secretary, maid, seamstress, and unacknowledged designer). Marlene is a true submissive. She never speaks a word, focusing her devotion to Petra via her domestic work like a nun sworn to silence. Petra likes to slow dance with Marlene to The Platters’ “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”

ColeSmithey

Fassbinder tears a page from the book of his Southern Gothic comrade Tennessee Williams with a credit sequence featuring two cats sitting on a staircase. The “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” allusion subtly primes us for the clawing, scratching, and biting to follow.

Screen Shot 2022-04-17 at 10.41.00 PM

Petra awakens in her prominently positioned bed to Marlene raising the blinds. Marlene’s upturned nose, cherry-kissed lips, and coiffed red hair accentuate Irm Herhmann’s poised portrayal, which conveys much of Fassbinder’s theme-rich subtext through body language. The film has the trancelike tone of a dance performance. Marlene brings Petra a glass of orange juice on a tray while her mistress puts on airs with her mother over the telephone. Petra is a neo-Gothic tyrant. She dons a brunette wig to go with her fur-lined robe.

Screen Shot 2022-04-17 at 10.49.24 PM

A discussion with Petra’s visiting cousin Sidonie (Katrin Schaake), about Sidonie’s recent divorce, exposes similarities about the women’s various troubles with men. Petra has been married twice; one husband died, the other left. Secretly, even to herself, Petra longs to live as a submissive. But she can’t see the forest for the trees.

Screen Shot 2022-04-17 at 10.41.38 PM

Sidonie says: “It’s the exception that proves the rule.” Petra glimpses her desires when she falls for the seduction con of a Karin (Hanna Schygulla), a young married Australian woman on vacation. Marlene types constantly on a manual typewriter during the film’s centerpiece sequence of seduction between Karin and Petra. Fassbinder uses the sound of the typewriter keys as a musical counterpoint to the would-be lovers’ conversation that runs the gambit to Marlene’s describing how her father and mother died.

Screen Shot 2022-04-17 at 10.47.06 PM

Their relationship puts Petra in a vulnerable state that allows Karin to humiliate her. For a moment the women live out their ideal sexual fantasy. The price of the experience will cost Petra Von Kant everything that she has.

Not Rated. 124 mins.

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

March 11, 2015

M — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon


ColeSmithey.comFritz Lang’s first sound picture represented a breakthrough for modern cinema on many levels. A precursor to the serial killer and policier genres, “M” is first and foremost a suspense thriller made all the more gripping because the identity of the killer is revealed in the first act. How the killer is caught, and what happens to him when he is, sets up the film’s socially driven dilemma. A seething atmosphere of brutality hangs over the entire picture.

Screen Shot 2022-04-17 at 3.03.49 PM

In the role that led to his success in Hollywood, Peter Lore plays Hans Beckert, an orally fixated serial killer of children. At the time of its filming Lorre was an accomplished stage actor, famous in Germany for his performances in Bertolt Brecht’s plays. His portrayal in “M” was so persuasive that it typecast him for the rest of his career.

Screen Shot 2022-04-17 at 3.03.57 PM

Lorre’s elusive predator uses candy and balloons to lure kids who are murdered off-screen in a crime-riddled Berlin on the brink of succumbing to the Nazi seizure of power. The tireless fiend obsessively whistles a line from Henrik Ibsen’s Norwegian play “Peer Gynt.” The musical motif acts as a cue when another murder is about to take place.

Through a glass darkly: reflections on M and its descendents | The Big  Picture Magazine

Lorre’s adopted persona is a man/child seemingly physically and mentally deformed by the culture he is trapped in. Fritz Lang’s expressively layered image system of shadows and reflections resonates in the film’s title, a letter, which can be read the same backwards, as well as forwards. In one memorable scene Becker makes cruel faces with the help of his fingers in a mirror that reflects how he imagines society views him.

Screen Shot 2022-04-17 at 3.04.05 PM

Although filmed on indoor soundstages, the picture’s dynamic visual style juxtaposes detailed aspects of daily German reality to give the film a naturalistic feel. A newsstand holds a plethora of newspapers available to a public driven mad by the lingering effects of World War I and the local killer who robs them regularly of their children. A blind beggar only pretends to be sight-deprived.

Screen Shot 2022-04-17 at 3.04.14 PM

Lang populates the film with variously unappealing character actors. Exaggerated camera angles add to the tension. We see behind the scenes of an impotent police investigation that makes use of state-of-the-art techniques like fingerprints. The projected image of a fingerprint on a police precinct screen captivates the audience.  

Screen Shot 2022-04-17 at 3.04.21 PM

During the short years since World War I, Berlin’s criminals and police held equal sway for their potential to effect quickly orchestrated militarized actions. It is ironic that underground criminals succeed in capturing the murderer before hearing his explanation for his cruel deeds in front of a kangaroo court. Even though Nazi leaders such as Joseph Goebbels believed “M” to be a pro-capital punishment film, the picture puts more trust in the humanity of the German people than it does in the authoritarian establishment. Its suspense hangs in the air long after the movie is over.  

M-knife

Not Rated. 99 mins. 

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

Featured Video

SMART NEW MEDIA® Custom Videos

COLE SMITHEY’S MOVIE WEEK

COLE SMITHEY’S CLASSIC CINEMA

Throwback Thursday


Podcast Series