“This might sound strange, but the whole social infrastructure is slowly crumbling.”

This could be a companion piece to Collapse – it’s another monologue/interview with a lone man about how fragile and doomed our economic system is. Filmed evocatively in the empty office spaces of an abandoned bank, Rainer Voss was a top investment banker, now washed up and telling all about the operations, the personalities, the daily work life, the lies they told to their customers and themselves.

“Is deregulation to blame? No. Was it a prerequisite? Yes.”

He also discusses his family life, and sounds like a terrible dad. For the first half I thought his scarf was a fashion statement, then I realized it’s winter and the empty building is unheated. This movie sounds dry from a description, but people like me who are sure that society as we know it is dying, but not sure how it’s gonna go down, ought to find it gripping

“What I want is to live in a way that suits me.”

A philosophical movie starring Kim Min-hee, who has become my favorite actress at playing drunk. Part one is a half hour long and set in Germany, actress Younghee hanging out with a friend (Young-hwa Seo, Hill of Freedom‘s letter-reader) – turns out the actress is fleeing Seoul after an affair gone bad. They go music shopping, then eat pasta at Mark Peranson’s house (with a La Chinoise poster in the kitchen). In the dreamlike final scene, Younghee is left on the beach at night alone for just a minute then is seen being carried away unconscious, presumably by the stalker we’d previously seen walking at them It Follows-style.

Part two opens with the lights coming up at a movie theater and no mention of the beach incident. She has returned to her hometown in Korea and meets up with some old friends, first at a coffee shop some of them run, then for a dinner party. First there’s Hae-hyo Kwon (the prickly guy in part one of In Another Country) then meek Jae-yeong Jeong (main dude in Right Now, Wrong Then). She’s staying at a fancy hotel with friend Seon-mi Song (The Day He Arrives), who decides to be Younghee’s assistant. Younghee is taking a break from her career and daily routines, evaluating her life, but doesn’t seem to be doing too badly – rumors are the director she recently broke up with is worse off. Back at the beach alone, not quite at night but perhaps the early evening, she dreams a meeting with the director (I think he’s the professor from Oki’s Movie) after his crew stumbles across her, and he wants to read her a book passage about love with the crew sitting awkwardly around.

The stalker from part one reappears as a window washer:

It’s a good Hong movie, probably not my favorite, but viewers who follow his personal news were mostly stunned that he made this Kim Min-hee movie about the aftermath of a scandalous affair with a film director right after getting caught having a scandalous affair with Kim Min-hee.

Right before True/False I watched a few knotty films that I’m having trouble writing about. This was the most alluring of the bunch, and though The Challenge played last year’s fest, and The Disaster Artist is a feature about real people making a feature, and Wormwood is a semi-doc with reenactment footage about the impossibility of knowing real truth, somehow Western is the one that I feel best exemplifies the spirit of the month. It’s a fiction film with non-actors, delicately balancing a mix of tones and ideas, usually beautiful and unaccountably tense though there’s not much action (reminded me of La Ciénaga in that regard).

Meinhard is a quiet mustache guy on a German work crew on a job in Bulgaria. His compatriots spend their downtime drinking and harassing the locals, while M. spends time alone, finds a horse and rides it into town, and over the next few weeks drifts ever closer to the locals, particularly horse owner and local business bigwig Adrian. Negotiations and conflict over the treatment of local women, shipments of stone, use of water, and the horse, most of which come down to German foreman Vincent on one side, and Adrian’s group on the other with M. floating between.

But much of the movie is quiet and peaceful, a highlight being the easygoing conversations Meinhard has in town with people who don’t know each others’ languages:
“I lost a brother.”
“You’re saying something sad.”

Meinhard:

Adrian:

Also a reference by the Germans to being back in the country after 70 years – that would be Bulgaria’s alliance with the nazis… a scene of tough guys around a campfire remarking on the softness of one’s hair… and already the second movie I’ve seen this year with Bulgarian folk dancing. Played Cannes UCR with the Cantet, the Kurosawa, the Amalric, the Rasoulof.

Andrew Chan in Cinema Scope called it “a subtle variation on the western’s themes of individuality, community, and male aggression, using these timeless tropes to frame the cultural fissures in modern-day Europe.” Grisebach, from the interview:

I was happy when I found this premise of German construction workers living in a foreign country, because I felt that then I had something more ambivalent. I am always afraid when something is too direct — I don’t trust it anymore. For me it’s not easy to say that something is like this or like that. I was really interested in how xenophobia exists between the lines, how it isn’t so direct, and how this contrasts with the official ways of telling history in Germany.

Interesting and (obviously) expertly made and acted drama following U.S. lawyer Donovan hired to defend captured Russian spy Abel in American courts. He gets behind the job more than his bosses expected and is later talked into helping negotiate a trade: his client for an American spy the Russians captured, and possibly also for a student who found himself on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall.

I got mostly a Spielberg/Hanks flavor from it, but Sam Adams caught some good Coen Bros. screenplay moments:

Donovan’s first scene in Bridge of Spies shows him haggling with another lawyer over an insurance settlement – a strangely protracted exchange that bears the mark of the Coens’ habit of falling in love with their own dialogue. But the skirmish between them is linguistic as well as legal: Donovan’s opponent keeps referring to the driver of the car that crashed and injured five men as “your guy”, and Donovan keeps demurring: “We are talking about a guy who’s insured by my client. He’s not my guy.” The issue of whether Abel is or is not “his guy” is later raised in court, and it hangs over the rest of the movie. Is Donovan simply a lawyer doing his appointed duty, or has he actually begun to understand how the world looks from Abel’s point of view?

Now Playing: a Billy Wilder comedy set in West Berlin, the blacklist-busting Spartacus,
British horror with German director, and 1962 West German murder mystery based on British novel:

Appearances by Alan Alda and Amy Ryan. Mark Rylance won an oscar for playing the passive and unflappable captured spy, whose signature line whenever asked why he’s not worrying is “would it help?” Adam Nayman’s Cinema Scope writeup, which I’m too tired to type up here, gets to the bottom of some of my ambivalent feelings about the story and the cold war atmosphere.

Oscar for best actress, obviously, and also seven more (director, cinematography, supporting for Joel Grey) but picture went to The Godfather. I don’t know Liza Minnelli from much – just this and Arrested Development – but she’s perfect in both. The movie though, eh, not my favorite nazi musical. Could’ve stood to be more musical, blurrier and more insane a la All That Jazz (I guess Fosse hadn’t had his drug-addled breakdown yet).

Brash dancer Minnelli gets a new roommate, closeted scholar Michael York. Both roomies have affairs with wealthy Max (Helmut Griem of The Damned and Les rendez-vous d’Anna) and help to hook up two of York’s English students (Fritz Wepper of The Bridge and Marisa Berenson, wife of Barry Lyndon). The nazi stuff is less foregrounded than I would’ve thought – they’re slowly going from a violent street cult to the dominant political party in the background of a story full of sympathetic gays and Jews. Fun times while they lasted, though. Interesting to watch this right before Phoenix, eliding the whole war in between.

Had to see this since I also just watched Obsession, another semi-remake of Vertigo. Nina Hoss (star of Petzold’s Barbara and Jerichow), of a rich family, escaped the holocaust but is presumed dead. She has actually had reconstructive facial surgery and looks like a different person, but still obsesses over her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld of Beloved Sisters and The Pasta Detectives) even though he may have saved himself by giving her up to the nazis.

Most of the movie is the tension of wondering how she could be so stupid to return to Johnny, leading to the very satisfying ending when she reveals her true self, thus claiming her family’s fortune while rejecting Johnny, who has been a slimeball the entire movie.

Petzold also made my second-favorite of the Dreileben trilogy (what’s Dominik Graf up to these days?). The final film by late cowriter Harun Farocki – my only previous experience with him was an essay film better talked about than watched.

A. Nayman:

What’s remarkable about Phoenix is how its Farockian didacticism – the fact that Nelly would rather try to reclaim her place and her identity in a German society that tried to exterminate her rather than go with Lene to settle in Palestine – is blended into its drama so that it becomes a film of ideas that is also a film of emotions.

Kinda impossible to describe this movie or why it’s so great. Because of the title the viewer pays close attention to the often-seen family cat, which isn’t all that strange. The family isn’t strange either, gathering for a large meal, mostly appearing without being given names or specific relations. The movie is strange, though, with its easygoing, playful and pleasant nature, and sudden bursts of string music and unusual cutting/framing sometimes making me expect intrigue.

Dissolve calls it “a beautiful, mysterious, beguiling cinematic doodle, and an absolute master class in mise-en-scène, unfolding in odd, fragmented frames and precisely choreographed movement within those frames,” and Mike D’Angelo calls it “the rare film that offers a new way of looking at the everyday world.” Zurcher’s first film, actually his student film, begun at a workshop with Bela Tarr.

J. Kiang:

Unlike many puzzles that tease solutions but never deliver, here the film becomes more engaging as time goes on, so that by the end our attention was unexpectedly rapt. .. In this mini-universe that refers only to itself (imagine a non-creepy Dogtooth), it’s the viewer who’s the weirdo, trying to apply patterns that simply don’t fit, onto a system that abides by its own unseen logic instead.

M. Sicinski’s commentary in Cinema Scope is the best I’ve found.

A visual inventory of various key objects… goes quite a ways toward explaining Zürcher’s somewhat mysterious title. The interlude is not just a clarification, as if one were needed at this point, that objects in and of themselves are the true subjects of The Strange Little Cat (another point of contact with Tati, Bresson, and Ozu); it also represents a clearing of the decks of human dominance, so that we can witness something we might call “feline time.” The cat sees these things, but they have no meaning for her. Rather, they are both foreign (pure entities with no known use value) and absolutely familiar (part of her “turf”).

Funny that I’d watch this a couple days after The Tenant, not knowing of their connections. Both are made by Polish directors who started by working under Andrzej Wajda, both star Isabelle Adjani, involve protagonists living in apartments away from their native countries, and don’t seem like horror movies at all until they go nuts in the second half.

Sam Neill (same year he played Damien in Omen 3) returns to wife Adjani (a couple years after Herzog’s Nosferatu) in divided Berlin after a long time away on a spy job (he gets paid in wads of cash). It’s a rocky homecoming, and there’s much yelling around their son Bob, but each claims to have been faithful – until Adjani’s friend Marjie (Fassbinder star Margit Carstensen) delights in telling Neill that Adjani has another man, Heinrich (Heinz Bennent of The Last Metro and The Serpent’s Egg), an annoying new-age super-self-confident dude whose mother (Johanna Hofer of Above Suspicion and A Farewell to Arms) supports the affair (Heinrich also has a wife and kid we never see). Screaming fights ensue (“If I’d known [Heinrich] existed in this world I’d have never had Bob with you”), Adjani acts more erratic and Neill acts more obsessed (he reverse-lookups Heinrich’s address in the white pages), and I’m worried that this won’t be a horror movie at all, but a relationship drama that says women are shrews who tear apart marriages with their selfish desires (Zulawski was inspired by his own bitter divorce).

Not a good sign for your relationship when you sit at different tables:

Heinrich vs. Neill:

But then! Neill hires a private eye (who is terribly obvious when tailing people) to follow his wife and it turns out she’s staying in a third apartment, a place Heinrich doesn’t know about, and he spins bouncing off the walls when he finds out. Investigating further (by walking right in), the detective is killed by a psychic demon, followed a few scenes later by his partner (huh, a sympathetic gay character in 1981). Yes, Adjani is cheating on both men with a Scanner tentacle-demon, and there’s a pod-person connection when Neill meets his son’s schoolteacher who is the spitting image of his wife but with green glowing eyes.

Adjani takes care of the detective’s partner:

Trouble in the subway:

Neill becomes crazily thrilled by all this, gives Heinrich the demon-apartment address then kills Heinrich himself in a bathroom when the demon doesn’t finish him off. He later blows up the apartment, stabs Marjie for good measure, provokes the cops (I don’t understand how he thought ramming their cars with a taxi would end well) and plots to escape with Adjani, but she has plans of her own, finally (amidst a police shootout) revealing her new glowing-green-eyed Sam Neill pod person (“I wanted to show it to you. It is finished now”), who escapes the shootout.

Bloody Sam Neill driving a motorcycle through Berlin screaming:

Banned in the UK, though Adjani won best actress in France (over Huppert, Ardant and Deneuve) and it was nominated at Cannes the year Wajda’s Man of Iron won. I liked this an awful lot, and am looking for more Zulawski movies (Third Part of the Night, The Devil and On The Silver Globe sound good).

Silly setup becomes more serious as it goes along. Jean Arthur (post-semi-retirement, in her second-to-last film role) is a buttoned-up U.S. Representative (from Iowa) visiting wrecked post-war Berlin to assess the morale (and morals) of the occupying troops. John Lund (of High Society) is a shady Iowan captain with a sharpie-drawn mustache who is playing the black market, drinking at nightclubs and covering for his girlfriend Marlene Dietrich. So soon after WWII, we know even the cynical Wilder won’t let Dietrich off the hook after Jean is shown films of her cavorting with Hitler himself. So Jean enlists Lund in her undercover operation to discover which American troop is covering for Dietrich. He’s now attempting to protect himself and his girl from the no-nonsense Arthur, so he pretends to fall in love with her as a distraction.

Dietrich sings “The Ruins of Berlin” (I know the Dex Romweber version), and man are the ruins impressive. There’s hardly a non-bombed-out building seen in the opening aerial shots and the scattered location shots from the ground. The contemporary NY Times review calls Lund “disarmingly shameless.” For some guy I’ve never heard of playing against two of my favorite actresses, he comes off surprisingly well.

Bright Lights says Wilder pitched the film’s concept as propaganda to the U.S. military in Germany, describing “an entertainment film with Rita Hayworth or Ingrid Bergman… with Gary Cooper if you wish… and with a love story — only with a very special love story, cleverly devised to sell us a few ideological items.” The military found the finished film unsuitable to be shown in Germany, believing that a movie which stars a morally compromised U.S. soldier sleeping with an eroticized nazi mightn’t be in their best interest.