Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara: Catherine’s sister, known as a singer) is called from Montreal to Austria for being her cousin-in-a-coma’s closest relative. Not having any conscious friends in town and without much expendable travel money, she hangs out extensively in an art museum, where she meets guard Johann. They start to meet outside the museum in his off hours too, though unusually, the movie never becomes a romance.

Cohen:

The audience has been conditioned to automatically think this will be a love story … But the cinema I care most about is about the drive toward the everyday, how we actually do live, how we feel, about things that actually happen. People love the fairy tale, but that’s not what happens here. It’s weird that there aren’t more movies about friendship.

Sometimes we linger quietly in the museum or around the city of Vienna – slowly, rhythmically edited slideshows of miniature scenes. Johann sometimes narrates, says his favorite is the Bruegel room, and we get a long sidetrack following a tour guide discussing Bruegel’s paintings with tourists, including the painting that was meticulously recreated in The Mill and the Cross. We see reality emulating the paintings when the museum attendees are portrayed as nude as some of the painting subjects they’re admiring, and I assumed that was a one-off quirk. But there’s a moment early on which I think lets us in on a prime Cohen concern: Johann is scrutinizing a Bruegel, seeing previously unnoticed details, and we cut from stray garbage on the ground of the painting’s scene to stray garbage on the ground in a nearby park, with equal attention paid to each. The movie ends with Johann’s museum-style narration of a humble windowboxed street scene, and other scenes nearby, art criticism of the everyday world… “and one begins to wonder what the main subject is.”

Cohen is, of course, the director of Benjamin Smoke, which I bought on DVD a decade ago and have never watched. He’s a music scene guy – the film was exec produced by Guy Picciotto and Patti Smith, and…

Adam Cook:

It sounds like a terribly dry and academic exploration (and there is even an art history lesson halfway through) but there is a great warmth and intimacy here reflected in the human connections and ephemeral details that surround the characters … Any film that encourages an audience to engage with the world, seeing both the cities we live in and their transient beauty anew, without resorting to manipulative sentiment must be applauded.

We watched these on Mondays (“Before Mondays”) in January.

Before Sunrise (1995)

Celine and Jesse meet on a train, talk for a while, and he convinces her to disembark in Vienna and spend the day with him before his flight out. They ride the trains and buses, go record shopping, visit a cemetery, church and carnival (feat. The Third Man ferris wheel), talk to fortune teller, poet and theater guys, hang out in bars, cafes and plazas then end up in the park with a bottle of wine. Next morning at the train station, plans to meet again in six months. Standard, unadorned romance-movie setup. Nothing new here. But so, so perfect in the dialogue and details. Linklater won best director in Berlin.

Before Sunset (2004)

Carefully maintained real-time structure – only about one edit where I felt time might’ve elapsed, and then no more than a minute. It also shuts out all side characters once the main couple meets again at Jesse’s book event (right after readers succeed in getting him to admit that the girl he’s written about really exists). Conversation starts with reminiscing and explaining why they didn’t meet six months after last time, gradually turns more personal, revealing their dissatisfaction with current relationships, leading to one of my favorite-ever movie endings: Jesse, who parted with Celine last time to catch a plane, not making that mistake again.

Before Midnight (2013)

No more happy reunions – they’ve been together since the last movie and now have twin girls. Jesse is concerned about his son growing up with his mom a continent away and feels out Celine on the idea of moving there, which sparks a massive, movie-length argument that felt almost too real for Katy to handle. At least they’re in a new country, at the end of a writing retreat in Greece, but there’s little time for sightseeing. The first section of the movie has them in conversation with friends (including Athina Rachel Tsangari), a nice way of bouncing our main couple’s middle-aged ideas on love and romance off other couples of different ages.

Impressive revenge flick, building slowly to an excellent conclusion. Mostly static camera, no music at all, but these things don’t call attention to themselves like they do in, say, In Vanda’s Room, because of the propulsive drama.

Alex, a mustache ‘n sideburns-wearing ex-con who’s not as tough as he acts (according to his boss, who runs a brothel) has a secret love affair with Ukranian prostitute Tamara. Things are heating up, both of them are in debt and her boss is trying to move her to an apartment to cater to politicians and others who consider themselves too important to visit a brothel. When the boss hires a guy to beat up Tamara it’s the last straw, and Alex scoops her up to leave town, stopping in the small town where his grandfather lives to rob a bank he’d “staked out” (located an alley as an escape route, not very careful planning). But a cop notices the car and asks questions, then shoots as Alex drives away, killing Tamara.

Thus begins the revenge portion. The cop, Robert, is depressed over the death and only gets worse as he gets suspended from work while they investigate the shooting. They’ve got no leads, so Alex is safe, stays in town chopping wood for his grandfather and plotting how to kill Robert, eventually having an affair with the cop’s wife and deciding not to kill the guy after all. Oh and the wife has been trying to get pregnant but can’t manage with Robert, so guess what happens. Kinda sounds cheesy when you write it down, but I liked it an awful lot.

Accordian lover Hauser with Robert’s wife Susi:

A rarely moving camera, and zero music. The brothel meister was in Fassbinder’s Querelle, otherwise cast and crew are unknown to me. The combination of the young cop and the lead guy’s relationship with his decrepit father reminded me in flashes of Hunger, and the backlit wood-chopping scenes recalled flashbacks in Cache.

Criterion scares up comparisons to Kieslowski, Antonioni and Bergman in reviews.

A. White:

Although Revanche is Spielmann’s first film to be released in the United States, it is actually his fifth overall, so his style and tone come to us fully developed. He began his career as a playwright, yet Revanche is thoroughly cinematic in story, look, and pace.

Spielmann’s arrival on the American film scene is exciting for the way Revanche opposes the contemporary trend toward dark pessimism with a vision that contemplates light and, conditionally, belief. At one point, a repentant character is asked, “What would your God say?” and she answers, “He’d understand.”

White quotes the director: “Loneliness is probably an inextricable part of our modern lives, and yet I consider it an illusion. We always think of ourselves as being separate from the world, and in this way we deceive ourselves. This separation is just an invention of our imagination; in many ways, we are constantly and directly interwoven in a larger whole. Loneliness is an attribute of our limited awareness, not of life itself.”

I read very little about this, conscious of spoilers, but certain things, as with Antichrist, were unavoidably overheard (or given away in the trailer). So I knew it was set near the start of WWI and that the evil children in the trailer represent the birth of fascism, but I didn’t realize how subtly that point is made. There are unexplained events, the children increasingly seem responsible, then some major characters disappear and the narrator leaves town, with no ends neatly tied up.

Two things for sure: it’s an excellent movie and the camerawork (DP Christian Berger, his fifth with Haneke) is perfect, beating Cache by a mile. Apparently was shot digitally, in color, then post-processed. Very classic feel to the entire production, except to the acting, especially of the children, which is better than anything from the WWI or WWII eras (sorry, Wild Boys of the Road). Won awards almost everywhere (the BAFTAs preferred A Prophet and oscars preferred something from Argentina), beating out Basterds, Antichrist and Wild Grass at Cannes.

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Interesting to have a non-omniscient narrator, schoolteacher Christian Friedel, who goes on long sidetracks from the town mysteries to chase after a girl, nanny of the baron’s young twins. Town authority figures are painted as corrupt. The doctor (Rainer Bock, small role in Inglorious Basterds) is abusive and perverse to his daughter and to his girlfriend (Susanne Lothar, lead in Funny Games). The pastor (Burghart Klaussner, was just in The Reader) is a tyrannical father. The baron (Ulrich Tukur, The Lives of Others) exercises his power to throw families into poverty at will. The children don’t exhibit the usual responses of sullenness, fighting and petty power games, but band together to commit acts of planned vengeance, terrifying the town. Their crimes go officially undiscovered and unpunished at the end, Haneke’s point, I suppose, being that they grew into fascists and nazis.

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There is, of course, an absolute ton written about this movie already. The Times says “it lacks the intellectual and emotional nuance that would make this largely joyless world come to life,” but that’s just the common criticism that Haneke’s films are cold and unfeeling, which applies less to this film than to his others so I don’t see the point in bringing it up.

Indiewire: “With this detailed exploration of anonymous retribution, Haneke returns to the haunting terrain he last explored in Cache, although in this case, the retribution expands from a personal level to a larger critique of religious zealotry. … However, these events remain notably off-screen. Absence in The White Ribbon is the quality that makes it a harrowing work of art, rather than a historical soap opera.”

Salon: “It definitely can’t be reduced to a fable about the roots of fascism. The White Ribbon is a dense account of childhood, courtship, family and class relations in a painfully repressed and repressive society, which seems to channel both early Ingmar Bergman and the Bad Seed/Children of the Corn evil-tot tradition.”

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Haneke:

The film opens with the narrator saying, “I’m not sure if the story I’m about to tell you corresponds to what actually took place. I can only remember it dimly. I know a lot of the events only through hearsay.” So both those elements, then, raise mistrust in the audience as to the accuracy of what they’re going to be seeing, and the reality of what they’re going to be seeing. Both the black-and-white and the use of a narrator lead the audience to see the film as an artifact, and not as something that claims to be an accurate depiction of reality.

It’s only in mainstream cinema that films explain everything, and claim to have answers for anything that happens. In reality, we know so little about what happens. It’s far more productive for me to confront the audience with a complex reality that mirrors the contradictory nature of human experience.

I remember with my first film that was shown in Cannes, The Seventh Continent, there was a screening and afterward we had a discussion. The first question came from a woman who stood up and asked, “Is life in Austria as awful as that?” She didn’t want to accept the difficult questions being raised in the film, so she tried to limit them to a specific place and say, “That’s not my problem.” You could make the same mistake with this film, if you see it as only being about a specific period.

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Wow. I wasn’t prepared for anything this intense and realistic. Shaky follow-cam, extreme high and low-angle shots, extreme closeups and even the strap-on camera from Pi illustrate the adventures of a psycho killer released from prison and anxious to kill again. The filmmaker follows our man closely, obsessively – even the music is with him, speeding up intensely as he escapes from a failed abduction, then lowering tempo as his pace slows.

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Erwin Leder (Das Boot, Taxidermia) is amazing, creepy as “the psychopath.” There’s no arguing with that noun – all he thought about in prison was killing, and all he sees around him are potential victims. His beautiful plans of glorious murder come off disgusting and clumsy, as he runs around a wealthy household eventually murdering a mother and her daughter and disabled son, caught because of a car accident a half hour later with the bodies in the trunk. All of this is captured in real-time, with the psycho’s thoughts and plans audible (and hardly any spoken dialogue – none of the hostage-screaming to which we’re accustomed). It’s one of the most impressive feats I’ve seen in a serial-killer movie – the movie being engrossing and accomplished without imparting any of its glory to the killer himself, who remains a vile embarrassment.

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IMDB’s trivia insinuates that director Kargl does not exist, and is a pseudonym for award-winning writer/cinematographer Zbigniew Rybczynski, but an online interview with Kargl reveals that he only made one feaure, went deeply into debt, then directed commercials for years. So this is a one-off movie, and it’s uniquely wonderful (well, if getting inside the head of a psycho killer and watching him work is your idea of wonderful).

Starring a broooadly overacting, hammy but kinda charismatic Maurice Chevalier as an Austrian lieutenant. Movie opens with a tailor knocking on Maurice’s door vainly attempting to collect on his bill (a year later, Maurice would star in Love Me Tonight as a tailor vainly attempting to collect on an aristocrat’s bill). Nobody answers, and immediately after he walks off, a young girl approaches the door, gives the secret knock and is let in. Yes, there’s actual sex in this movie – offscreen, but it’s acknowledged. It’s that Pre-Code Hollywood that TCM always salivates over before showing tame, dull movies like The Divorcee.

Maurice, a naughty lieutenant:
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The movie is, as promised, a musical comedy (two genres which encourage broad acting) as well as a romantic drama, and the late 20’s/early 30’s had their share of hugely broad comedy performances in film, so in context Maurice is pretty alright. And he’s got kind of a charming, roguish smile on nearly all the time… sucked me in after about ten minutes. Katy disagrees, but liked the movie despite Maurice.

Maurice joins his friend Max to act as wingman so nervous, married Max can pick up a hot young violinist at the concert, but Maurice falls for the girl (Franzi) and takes her home himself, with some sexy banter about which meals they’ll enjoy together (ahem, breakfast).

Max, left, is Charles Ruggles, the viscount in Love Me Tonight, also in Trouble In Paradise. Chevalier was a big star from 1929-36 – then IMDB says he was falsely accused of being a nazi collaborator and his acting career was derailed for a buncha years, with a big comeback in Gigi in ’58.
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Claudette Colbert (Franzi) was later Cecil B. DeMille’s Cleopatra, also starred in It Happened One Night, Midnight, and The Palm Beach Story.
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The young lovers have a good thing going, but flirting in public brings disaster, when Austrian soldier Maurice winks at Franzi across a street just as the coach carrying the king and princess of Flausenthurm drives between them. The wink and the princess’s appalled reaction are photographed and published in the paper, causing an international scandal, but everyone settles down when Maurice explains that he was overcome by the princess’s beauty and is bullied into agreeing to marry her. So M. is off to Flausenthurm, but won’t sleep with his royal bride, preferring to step out on the town. The moody king gets over the inferiority complex he had in Austria, is now smitten with Maurice and tells his daughter not to worry, playing checkers with her every night as a sad substitute for marital sex.

Princess Miriam Hopkins = Savannah-born star of Trouble in Paradise, who won an Oscar a few years later then didn’t do a whole lot of movies I’ve heard of. King George Barbier was in a ton of stuff through the 40’s, including The Milky Way and The Merry Widow.
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The movie is a musical, but I don’t remember most of the songs or even where they occur, except climactic number “Jazz Up Your Lingerie.” You see, Maurice still loves the loose, free, totally modern Franzi, and he still has not-too-secret affairs with her since her violin group is on tour in Flausenthurm. So one day Princess Anna sorta kidnaps Franzi to ask her advice… Franzi helps Anna out, giving up on her man with the great line: “You mustn’t worry about me. I knew it all the time. Girls who start with breakfast don’t usually stay for supper.”

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During the music number, Anna’s frumpy clothes all turn magically into hot things, she learns to smoke and play jazz on the piano, and when Maurice comes home he can not believe his eyes. She takes him to the bedroom and wordlessly suggests a game of checkers, but he keeps tossing the board away… finally tosses it onto the bed, and just look at the expressions on their faces:

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Everyone who sees it today comments on the sexual freeness, but the original New York Times review in 1931 didn’t mention any of that, called it a “highly successful production” with “charming” music and “splendid” performances, and spoiled the entire plot.

J. Weinman: “The Smiling Lieutenant is based on Oscar Straus’s Viennese operetta A Waltz Dream, though Lubitsch relegated all the operetta’s songs to background music and had Straus write a few new songs in a more modern style. As he usually did when adapting a play or an operetta, Lubitsch kept the basic outline of the story but changed everything else.”