Category Archives: historical

Valhalla Rising * Nicolas Winding Refn (2009)

The first time I heard of this film I asumed that it would be yet another Viking spectacle with a thin story making a bad history lesson. Later I heard that this is not the case. Indeed, “Valhalla Rising” is far from being a Viking epic, in fact, I wonder why this film is so well-known. Is it because the director (Nicholas “Bronson” Refn) or did the director manage to get a big promotion budget or a large distributor? In any case, “Valhalla Rising” is an extremely slow, very minimalistic and a pretty dark film. There are almost no conversations, nothing much really happens, but when something does happen, Refn created pretty damn violent (but not very explicit) scenes. Especially the first chapter may cause some people to refrain from continue to watch. We follow a one-eyed traveller (a reference to Odin?) who eventually sets out with a group of Christian converts to find the Holy Land. Some overly popular ideas about Vikings (actually the people concerned seem to have been Saxons, or at least, inhabitents of the British isle) and whatever there is of a story is not too strong, but the film has a nice, dark atmosphere. Unfortunately also in that perspective it is not entirely convincing which overall makes the film just nice. Something different for sure, especially when you (also) expect a Viking spectacle.

Hunger * Steve McQueen (2008)

What do you do when you only read mediocre films reviewed here? You send in a few suggestions! Unfortunately I cannot rate this film higher than any of the recently reviewed.
“Hunger” is a very slow and minimalistic film about IRA members in a British prison. Inhumanely treated, humiliated and severly beaten in a couple of violent scenes, we mostly follow Bobby Sands who as a final act of resistance organises a hunger strike. The film is shot in long, silent scenes without much conversation. All talking seems to be reserved for a long and great discussion of Sands with an Irish priest in which the entire story is given. “Hunger” is a grim and good film (the shifting/double perspective is well done and the camera work is good), but in my eyes not a masterpiece and thus I give it a:

Taking Woodstock * Ang Lee (2009)

Jake is a young man who lives in New York and makes his living as a designer. In the summer he goes to his parents to help them with their trailer park, conduct local politics and organise a music and arts festival. When the permit for a festival in a neighbouring village is withdrawn, Jake figures that he might be able to make some money for his parents when he puts that festival under his own flag. He does not realise the scale of that “Woodstock festival”, not even when an old schoolmate (the organiser) comes flying in with a helicopter. Soon it becomes clear that this will not be a festival for 5.000 people like Jake expected.
“Taking Woodstock” shows the amount of money that went around in the festival, the slyness and professionalism of the organisers, but mostly the impact on the small town when half a million hippies start to gather in and around the festival area. Almost nothing about the music, nor of the festival itself, but all about the direct surroundings with Jake’s parents realising the goldmine, the neighbours forseeing the problems and weird characters trying to help Jake or themselves. “Taking Woodstock” is a very amusing film with a different look on the most famous chapter of music history.

Il Divo * Paolo Sorrentino (2008)

Il DivoI was convinced that not that long ago I watched a great Italian film about the maffia hunter Giovani Falcone, but I cannot find my review, nor the film in the IMdB. In any case, “Il Divo” (“the star”) is about Italian politics in the 1970 in which Giulio Andreotti was in power and in which Falcone was killed. In “the extraordinary life of Giulio Andreotti” Andreotti is portrayed as a completely corrupt politician not shying extreme violence in the beginning and as an timid, but frightening person towards the end. Especially the first part of the film is sublime with great camera-work, montage and music. However the film is based on actual events, there are so many characters, liaisons, conspiracies, etc. that I had a hard time following the film. In fact, I need to watch it again should I want to try to give a summary of the story. “Il Divo” has a very good atmosphere and the director did a great job setting an atmosphere that possibly also surrounded Andreotti.

Good Night, and Good Luck * George Clooney (2005)

Good Night, and Good LuckSo what does Clooney have with 50’ies films about early television and the communist-craze? In “Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind” he made these elements into a thriller, this time we get a very slow drama. Showing the power of media and the crazyness of the exposure of communists, “Good Night, and Good Luck” follows TV showhost Edward Murrow who makes critical shows about some powerfull men and their ways. Of course things are not made easy for him. Being a nice peek into a strange time in the USA, “Good Night…” as a film is too slow and not very exciting. The filming is good, the acting is good, but inspite of that, the result is not all that good.

Elizabeth: the golden age * Shekhar Kapur (2007)

Elizabeth: the golden ageThe first Elizabeth (“the virgin queen” 1998) is one of my all time favourite films (but apparently older than my writing of film reviews). I had seen the box of this film several times, but I thought it was just a rerelease or something. It turns out that almost 10 years after the original film, a sequel was made with almost the same crew! Apparently it has been a while since I saw the first one, since watching “the golden age” does not really bring back memories. The first one blew me away with its dark epic about the violent struggle between Catholics and Protestants. I do not even know “the golden age” is supposed to play before or after “the virgin queen” or perhaps it is another look at the same period. The story goes that since Elizabeth I (Protestant) remains childless, her cousin Mary Stuart (Catholic) is used by Spain to overthrow Elizabeth. War is waged.
“The golden age” is another great history lesson, but as a film it does not reach the level of “the virgin queen”. This could be because the novelty is gone or perhaps because “the virgin queen” is darker. “The golden age” is still a top class film though and a must-see if you like the first film.

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex * Uli Edel (2008)

After a nice opening scene on a German nude beach follows a very violence report of an outrageous knockdown of a student protest against the visit of the Shah of Iran to Germany in 1967. This smack in the face seems to make clear how some of these students radicalised into the extreme left terrorist group Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Fraction, RAF). The next thing you know is that young men and women are prepared to go very far for their “revolution” against capitalism, the American war in Vietnam, the occupation of Palestine by Israel (helped by the Americans), etc. The group gets bigger and bigger and more and more insane and megalomanic, especially when the main people (including Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin) land in jail. In the beginning of the film, the group is linked to the French and Chinese student protests of 1968, Che Guevara, etc., lateron members of the group align with Palestine militants and a connection is even made with the 1972 Munich Olympics where the Israelian Olympic team was massacred. Edel portays the bombings, shootouts, abductions, etc. in all their violence and here and there you will see how the people from the RAF thought about certain things. You do not get to see how Edel stands in the discussion, since his film seems to go back and forth between ‘pro’ and ‘con’.
Uli Edel manages to loosen emotions, from disgust and anger for the police actions in the opening scene to disgust and anger for the vastly out of every proportion actions of the RAF. The film is harsch and heavy, the only points of light come in scarce funny scenes and some female nudity. Like “Waltz With Bashir“, this is a good film, but not a nice watch. An apparently objective view on a forgotten recent phase in history. Perhaps this film can even put the fear for Muslim terrorism in some perspective. Just one generation ago, people from our own ranks were just as mad (the idea of using a plane was already present in RAF circles). The RAF perhaps did not want to kill civilians while some parties nowadays do, but the number of actions was much larger. And are the reasons for these ideas and actions then and now not for quite the same reasons? Shouldn’t that finally make us think? “Der Baader Meinhof Komplex” shows one character who suggests to not only fight the result, but also think about the cause. Maybe this grim lesson in history could prove to be very actual.
By the way, “Die Bleierne Zeit” which I recently reviewed puts a fictionalised magnifying glass on a small part of the story.

Die Bleierne Zeit * Margarethe von Trotta (1981)

My girlfriends colleagues pulled this DVD out of some arthouse section of a local DVD shop for her birthday, most likely having no idea what the film is about. Funny enough it is about the Rote Armee Fraktion, just like “Der Baader Meinhof Komplex” that recently premiered. That is to say: according to the box of “Time Of Lead”, it is about Gudrun Ensslin “one of the key figures of the Baader Meinhof group”, but when I would not have read the box, but only watched the film, I would not have known that.

“Die Bleierne Zeit” “fictionalized” the events and follows Juliane, an idealistic woman and journalist who appears to have feminist and far leftish ideas. Her apparently quiet life is every now and then interrupted by a woman called Marianne (her character is based on Gudrun Ensslin), a woman that proves to be radical, selfish woman without taking much notion of Juliane having different ideas than herself. Juliane and Marianne turn out to be sisters and the film shows a lot of scenes that are flashbacks, but this is not always clear. Marianne is radical enough to land in jail for having had something to do with bombs. However the film shows how both Juliane and Marianne were in their early days pushed to the far left of the political spectrum, the film does not show what their ideas exactly are, what the revolution stands for that Marianne fights in, not even what it is exactly that she did that put her in jail. The film had its premiere only four years after a tragic event that is also in this film and which might or might not have spelled the end of the Baader Meinhof group. This leads me to the idea that when the film was made and shown, it was for the audience that knew all about the Rote Armee Fraktion, its actions and its ideology and that the film shows the story behind some of the RAF’s members without having to give information about the RAF itself. As for an unknowing viewer 27 years later, I see a film which tells a story, but leaves out all the essential information. I cannot place the film in any perspective and therefor it is just a drama about two women with a strong bond and similar ideas but very opposital in the implementation of them. “Die Bleierne Zeit” is not a boring watch, but people from outside Germany and/or not having read the newspapers of the time will need something to place the story in. Perhaps the film “Der Baader Meinhof Komplex” is such a film and when you saw that one, “Die Bleierne Zeit” will work better.

The Mahabharata * Peter Brook * 1990

A masterpiece directed by a true master of theatre (Peter Brook)
Based on an classic Indian epic, Peter Brook & his international team have created masterpiece film. Peter Brook captures not only the story/plot but conveys the nuances & philosophies within this Indian epic. It is amazing that Mr. Brook captures the essence of the characters even in the “stylized” filming. If I am not mistaken, the full version is nine hours long. Nonetheless, it captivates the audience. Peter Brook is a great director. Excellent!!!

This is what it says at the IMDb page of this film. I just pulled it from the shelve at the DVD rental, interested to see if the gigantic Hindu epic would fit in a 164 minutes film. Reading the quote, the film is again a shortened version of a TV-series (which apparently also has a 9 and a 5 hour version). The film is alright story-wise. Slightly confusing is the fact that Gods and men are all just men and rather quickly is jumped from the world above to the world below. Furtunately I have read my share about Hindu mythology, so most of the time when I hear a name, I know what the film is talking about. It looks like Brook stayed quite closely to the actual story, so this film/series works well if you want to get a rough scetch of the Mahabharata.
As for the film itself, in my eyes it is far from a “masterpiece film”. The acting is silly, the dialogues boring and the English pronounciation awfull (which is in a way a good thing, since at least mostly indigenous actors were used). These harsch words do not mean that this is a terrible film. I had to get used a little to the 90’ies overall appearance, but the story and the way the text is dealt with, still make this a nice viewing experience, especially from an educational viewpoint.
-2.5-

Girl with a Pearl Earring * Peter Webber * 2003

This film ‘aged’ a lot faster than I thought! I remember it being released and figured that I wanted to see it some time, so, five years later I did. I suppose you already know that a whole story is spun around the famous image of “Het meisje met de parel” as Vermeer named his painting. In the film the young working maid Griet comes to work for Johannes Vermeer who was a renowned painter while alive. With his work he supports his wife, ever growing amount of children, his mother and some workers and all in a rather big house. When he is captured by the beauty of his new working maid, he lets her help him painting and eventually paints herself to the big dislike of his wife. The events seem a little far-fetched to me, but the film has a nice atmosphere, setting and good acting, which makes the film a nice drama playing in times past.
-2.5-