White kid with single parent is kicked out of his expensive prep school for disciplinary reasons and finds himself at public school, where he wants desperately to be popular so he takes to doing semi-illegal things and ends the movie a hero. Meanwhile, an adult and semi-father-figure to the kid expresses his depression and disconnection by hanging out at the pool behind his house and looking sad. Prison is involved, the school bully is fought then befriended, Cat Stevens songs are heard… but enough about Rushmore, I’m supposed to be writing about Charlie Bartlett! I don’t really want to, though – I wanna write about House and Wavelength and Fantomas instead, so I’ll keep this short.
Pretty good movie… kid becomes the psychotherapist of his whole school, prescribing drugs he gets from his own analyst after finding out you can get high off Ritalin. His dad is not dead but in prison, Charlie ashamed doesn’t walk to talk about/to him. RD Jr. is like a dull cross between Bill Murray in Rushmore and the principal in Ferris Bueller, but a good and sympathetic character. Hope Davis is actually better than Downey as Charlie’s crazy/spacey mother. Charlie has a crush on the principal’s daughter, and consults one kid into attempted suicide before he’s caught. Principal is fired (and ends up with a happier job as a teacher) after students (only slightly provoked by Charlie) trash the school as a protest against cameras in the student lounge.
Jonathan Rosenbaum compares it not to Rushmore but to Pump Up The Volume and Mumford. “Charlie Bartlett might not be as bold as its predecessor. Yet given how politically gutless most teen movies have become, it may provoke audiences as much as [Pump Up The Volume] did 18 years ago. I’ve lost count of the number of times its opening has been delayed since I first saw it last July, so clearly it has somebody worried that its defiant spirit will cut into its profitability—which is entirely to its credit.”
Not very Herzogian – the great man doesn’t interject any commentary of his own, letting his narrator (journalist Michael Goldsmith) do all the leading and interviewing, and not cutting away when Goldsmith follows up interview subjects’ stories of being imprisoned and tortured for years by order of Central African Republic dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa with Goldsmith’s own oft-repeated story (“you know, I was imprisoned for a month myself”). Gives the feeling that it is the journalist’s film and Herzog is a director-for-hire, which is probably not true. The movie does, after all, end with a caged monkey smoking a cigarette, which isn’t a typical way to end a journalistic interview-doc. And it opens with Herzog himself reading a letter from Goldsmith over beautiful, otherworldly shots of migrating crabs. It’s just the bulk of the film in between those animal bookends that seems kind of typical.
Bokassa, fallen dictator:
Bokassa himself seems sadly typical – a military leader of an African country who took over the government, becoming more corrupt, horrible and bizarre as his rule progressed. We talk with a couple of his (many) wives and some kids, including one who was involved in a fraud/mistaken-identity comedy which led to her having a sister with the same name who got married on the same day as her.
Goldsmith survived torture and imprisonment in Central Africa, and returned safely from Liberia (where he had gone missing at the time of this film’s completion), only to die of a hemorrhage in late ’90, shortly before the film premiered.
Fascinating movie. I think Katy liked it too, though we were both a bit upset after she vetoed my triple-feature short-doc selection at the last damned minute.
Won best screenplay at Cannes, nominated for the golden palm. I was startled to recognize the lead guy from Werckmeister Harmonies as the German bookshop owner. Didn’t notice that his aunt Tunde in Werckmeister played Mrs. Straub, through I knew she looked familiar so I should’ve figured that out.
Well shot, edited, scored, etc., with no real attention-grabbing technical aspects. VERY well written and acted – focus here is on story and character. One of those interweaving-narratives things, but not annoyingly so. Emotional human story, multilayered, examining freedom and moral decisions and parent/child relationships, but subtly. When Ayten is spit upon by her former comrades as she abandons their cause in prison to go home with her girlfriend’s mother, there’s just that moment to think about later, not a whole conversation about the relative importance of family, love, freedom and politics. It’s a moral tale.
Prostitute Yeter Öztürk is estranged mother to young rebel Ayten. Ali Aksu is father to German professor Nejat. Susanne Staub is mother to student Lotte. The parents are all widow(er)s, the kids all unattached, until Ayten, in hiding after a political rally gone bad, stays with Lotte and they fall in love. Ali “rescues” Yeter from her prostitute life, but later he drunkenly strikes her, she dies and he goes to prison. Nejat disowns his father and moves from Germany back to Turkey, settling in Istanbul to find Ayten, tell her about her mother’s death and offer to fund her studies. Those two never connect, even though Lotte (and eventually her mother) stays with Nejat. All of the characters end up staying with each other, and not counting Ali’s attempted ownership of Yeter, it’s all out of love, compassion, generosity. Ali is the worst of the six, but he’s not a monster, and the film ends with Nejat (and us) going to Ali’s hometown to reconcile with him as Lotte’s mother Susanne works on forming a bond with her murdered daughter’s lover Ayten. Ayten is abandoning her rebel cause, which has good values at heart but also had an obsession with guns and violent protest that indirectly led to Lotte’s death, so you feel that Ayten is doing the better, more human thing by leaving, that by living her life (with or without new mother-figure Susanne) and holding onto her values she can do far more good than she could imprisoned in solidarity. Ends on such a spiritual high that it made my face hurt from wanting to cry. A beautiful movie, rivaling Paranoid Park as the best thing I’ve seen in theaters this year.