historical

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-

Beowulf & Grendel * Sturla Gunnarson * 2005

For a long time I have wanted to read the oldest English poem, the famous epic called “Beowulf”, but all the time I had other things to read and never came to it. Maybe because of that new Beowulf film with Angelina Jolie and Anthony Hopkins I remembered to buy a copy of the booklet. So I got one of those cheap Penguin books in modern English and started to finally read the story. Then a friend said that besides the sci-fi version of 1999 with Christopher Lambert and the upcoming Hollywood version, there is also a good film version. I think I knew “Beowulf & Grendel”, but I always have second thoughts about such films, especially when the box says: “in the style of Lord of the Rings and King Arthur”, which is probably the reason that I never bought it. The extra push made me invest the enormous amous of € 5,- and eventually watch this classic version of the classic epic.

The film begins with Grendel as a child, the first thing in which the film differs from the book. There are much more differences. To make the film more interesting, both the Geats and the Danes are still pagan, while the Beowulf epic is very Christian. Added is a Celtic missionary who Christianises the troops. Also added is a young “witch”. The fight with Grendel is stretched out beyond belief, shorter is the fight with Grendel’s mother and totally left out the fight with “the Worm”. What I think is a bad case, is that king Hrothgar has been turned into a weary old man with a grudge, while in the book he is a respectable king with a big problem. His luxery hall is turned into “some beer hall”. That for how strict the actual text is followed.
The film itself is a mediocre adventure with pagan warriors and too human monsters (I already wonder how Angelina Jolie is going to eat a man in two bites in the upcoming version). The atmosphere is alright, the setting magnificent. The comparisons on the box are not really typical, I would rather compare the film with “The 13th Warrior” or so. In any case, nice, but not great.
-2-

Perfume * Tom Tykwer * 2007

I saw this film (in German) in a room with a few hundred “Grufties” during the 2007 edition of the Wave Gotik Treffen in Leipzig. Not that this has anything to do with the film, but I thought it would be nice to mention.
Tom Tykwer, the many-sided director of Lola Rennt, Heaven, Der Krieger und die Kaisering, this time comes with a historical drama around a boy with a magnificent sense of smell. After a wretched youth he becomes student with a perfume-maker and becomes obsessed with the pursuit to capture the scent of a woman.
“Perfume: the story of a murderer” is a nice historical drama which gives a nice insight in the fabrication of perfumes, has a nice sence of humour and good acting. The beginning and especially the end are much overdone though, both in filming (the beginning) and the story (the end). For the rest a nice watch.
-2.5-

Wagner (series) * Tony Palmer * 1983

There are many old TV-series available on DVD for low prices nowadays, most of them I never heard off. Here we have a very nice series about the famous composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883). You cannot ‘use’ these series to become acquinted with his work, because they are purely about the man. As a revolutionary for a united Germany, Wagner had to flee Dresden. Besides being unwanted in his own country, he is a gravely ununderstood musical artist so he mostly lives his life in poverty or on somebody elses money (he did have admirers). In these series you can see an arrogant man caring for noone but himself and his art, traveling ‘from hither to dither’ to try and bring his work to an audience chosen by himself and presented the way he wanted. His attitude brings him almost nothing but resistance and his is not able to do the things he intends to do. During the series you do get to know why the very Christian Wagner wrote ‘pagan’ operas and learn a bit about the writing process of some of his most famous works, but you only get glimpses of practises of plays of them. So, don’t watch these series for the music, but to learn a bit about the man behind it. With this in mind, Wagner is a nice series about an interesting person.

V For Vendetta * James McTeige * 2005

It is the year 2020. The United States no longer exist after a serious (biological) war. The situation in the former USA was misused by a British politician who managed to establish a totalitarian dictatorship holding the middle between the ‘Orwellian’ world of 1984, the Nazi reign of Germany and the communistic terror in the far East. One man who has seriously suffered the worst part of society is up for revenge and uses “the fifth of November” as a “day to remember”. “V For Vendetta” opens with the story of the miniseries “Gunpowder, Treason & Plot” that I recently reviewed. Guy Fawkes planned to blow up the parliament in which the tiranical James (VI of Scotland and I of England) reigns on 5 November 1605. “V” plans on doing the same. 20 Years of preparation and then his campaign of terror begins. He blows up the famous statue of Justitia and anounces a revolution on next years 5 November. In the proces our masked Hugo Weaving (agent Smith in the Matrix films) falls in love with Evey (Nathalie Portman) who eventually becomes his pupil.
V For Vendetta is based on a comic with the same name that was published between 1982 and 1985. The film is the debut of director McTeige. McTeige was assistant director of the Matrix films and the brother Wachowski have put a major stamp on McTeige’s debut. The film is shot originally, has major variation in speed (from extremely fast action scenes to long monologues by “V”), great settings and unorthodox lighting. The atmosphere is nicely bizar, but the message is clear and harsch and also very timely, which is the reason why the film was delayed. All sorts of paralells can be drawn and the film gives enough to think about, which can concern the film itself, but also it’s message about present day society (definately the goal of “V”!). A very nice watch for sure.

Vercingétorix * Jacques Dorfmann * 2001

druids

I bought this film with the title “Druids” and I wondered what this title was all about. The original title is much more suiting, because this film is not about Druids, but about the man who made the Celtic tribes come together and fight their Roman oppressors. I was surprised to see that this film is already from 2001. I figured that after the succes of “Gladiator” and similar films, any historical thing that can be used to make films with massive fighting-scenes would be grabbed in order to try to make ‘the new Gladiator’. I must say that I do like the fact that filmmakers take interesting facts from history and try to make a (more or less) correct reproduction thereof. The subject of this film has my particular interest, so…
Christopher Lambert is the ugly Vercingétorix and Dorfmann shows how he grows up, lives with the Romans and tries to make the Celts one army force instead of separate clans fighting eachother. All this is well done and however the film is by far no new Gladiator, it is very enjoyable and I think a bit educational as well.

Tristan & Isolde * Kevin Reynolds * 2006

This classic medieval love-story is put in a Hollywood coat to appeal to the masses. The original story is altered a bit, which is a pitty. For the rest this film is an entertaining medieval costume warrior film about an impossible love between two people. Tristan is pushed back and forth between his love for Isolde and his loyalty to his king. Isolde can only obey her father. On the background plays the struggle between the tribes in Brittain who try to be united in order to stand stronger against the Irish invaders. Alright.

Titus * Julie Taymor * 1999

I had never heard of this film before I saw it in the videostore. The back had a promising description. A bizare horror-comedy playing in Roman times with ritual murders. Some of this description is true!

“Titus” is a revision of an early play by William Shakespeare that deals with the Roman conquerer Titus. For this film Taymor has put the Romans in a more modern time. Classical costumes, but driving both horse-and- carriage and motor-cycles. The language seems to be in the original text from the play, old english. The story tells the time when the Romans just reconquered Rome from the Goths and they are in doubt who will be the new Emperor. Titus (Antony Hopkins) is a respected old legionaire who persuades the council to choose the rather effeminate Saturninus (Alan Cumming). After this, things are rapidly going downward for Titus. He looses appearance, his sons, one hand and his daughter is brutely mutilated by the two sons (Alarbus (Raz Degan) and Chiron played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers who we know of “Ghormenghast”) of the queen of Goths (Jessica Lange) who married Saturninus. Titus appeared to go insane, but not so.

“Titus” isn’t really a horror, nor a thriller, but also not hilariously funny. Of course the setting, stages, stories, etc. are quite humerous and this mostly resulted in a pretty bizare film. It is almost three hours long, but this could have easily been one less in my opinion. Overall I found it unexpectedly strange and quite amusing to watch. Not your everyday movie indeed and also not really for the larger audience. Another weird Shakespeare play put to film, holding the middle between Baz Luhrman’s “Romeo + Juliet” (1996) and Peter Greenaway’s “Prospero’s Books” (1991).

Le Roi Danse * Gérard Corbiau * 2000

After Corbiau’s great “Farinelli” years ago I heard about this film. It did great at filmfestivals around the world and seems to have been ‘touring’ for four years. It even came back in the cinemas for a short while recently, but I didn’t get to see it. Four years after it first came out, it is finally available on (rental) DVD, or did I just miss it for too long? Well then, where “Farinelli” is already a complete bombastic and wonderfully detailed film about classical music in the Renaissance, “Le Roi Danse” tops it. The story is about king Louis XIV who loved to dance (the title means “the king dances”). Louis XIV is of course the ‘sunking’ who had Versailles built. You don’t get to see much of his reign and politics. You get a picture of a king who saw himself as a god on earth and also quite sturdy, being in the game of dance and play. He had the Italian composer Lully and the French playwriter Molière working for him making the newest kinds of music. In the beginning this is something like musical hearplay with ballet, but around the end of the film opera blows over from Italy. Really a great film to watch with stunning stages, great costumes, great playing and a great atmosphere. Also (I expect) historically just and therefor can be put in line with a film like “Elizabeth”, entertaining and docile. Being a film about music in times passed, you may compare it to “Amadeus”; “Le Roi Danse” may be even better. Get to see it if you are into historical / musical films and if you haven’t seen “Farinelli – il castrato” yet, get to see it too!

Ring Of The Nibelungs * Uli Edel * 2004

the curse of the ring

It doesn’t happen very often that I see a film of which I have read the book, but this film is based on the “Nibelungenlied” and the “Völsungensaga” (from the poetic Edda). The story of Sigurd/Siegfried the dragonslayer. The box says that both epics were the bases of Wagner’s “Ring Des Nibelungen” operas (correct) and the “Lord Of The Rings” trilogy (maybe one or two ideas). This two episode series (2x 1,5 hour) is only loosely based on the sagas. It is no boring watch, but since I know the stories I frequently get the idea that something is wrong / different. Also the story ends a bit too early. The clash between the old and new (Christian) faith is stressed quite a bit and since the story of based on the old, this film of couse shows something of our prechristian past which comes nicely in the raising interest herein.