Foreign films

Film Review: High and Low (1963)

High and Low (1963)
[Tengoku to jigoku]
directed by Akira Kurosawa
Frames in this review are taken from the Criterion DVD released in 1998.

This is a series of two articles.  The second article compares this film with its source material, Ed McBain’s detective novel King’s Ransom.


Akira Kurosawa is often mentioned in film critique as a Japanese director who was too Western to be successful in his own country.  This might seem strange, for his best-known works are largely set in Medieval Japan — Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Yojimbo.  Some of them are based on works of Shakespeare, but the the settings are unmistakably Japanese and the themes are surely universal.  In addition, several of his samurai adventures were later remade into Hollywood or spaghetti westerns, but you can’t blame that on him.

High and Low, one of his less well-known films, supplies an explanation.  Although it is set in bustling Tokyo, the film’s atmosphere comes practically right out of film noir Los Angeles.  There are beachfront locations, remote hideaways, kidnapping plots, corporate power plays over a company that makes women’s high heels, and even little kids playing with cowboy hats and toy revolvers!  What's more, the film is based on an American crime novel, Ed McBain's King's Ransom.  Shakespeare in a Japanese setting is high art, but adapting an American detective thriller?!

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Film Review: La Cage aux Folles (1978)

La Cage Aux Folles (1978)
directed by Edouard Molinaro
Frames in this review are taken from the MGM DVD release in 2001.

It's a funny thing, but humor doesn't translate very well across generations. Bob Hope's wisecracks come across today as merely pleasant banter, and many movies thought riotously funny in their day are now merely bizarre. For example, the James Bond spoof Casino Royale is simply incomprehensible).

But La Cage Aux Folles remains humorous today, despite having the additional hurdle of being a Franco-Italian co-production, with the dialog in French and many roles acted by Italians. Admittedly, the film has lost some of its sparkle in the three decades that have passed, and indeed, most films involving homosexuality would probably feel dated today. But that favorite device of situational comedies, the dinner meeting between the parents of young lovers, manages to packs so much misadventure into a short time span that it easily redeems any missteps.

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Film Review: The Double Life of Veronique (1991)

La Double Vie de Véronique (1991)
aka The Double Life of Veronique
directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Frames in this review are taken from the Criterion Collection DVD.

 

France has long served as a haven for Polish expatriates.  In music there’s Frédéric Chopin, in chemistry there’s Marie Curie, and in film there’s Krzysztof Kieslowski.  Indeed, Kieslowski would pay tribute to two centuries of Franco-Polish friendship in his Three Colors trilogy: Blue, White, and Red, from the three colors of the French flag.  Despite the grand conception of the trilogy, the individual films remain intimate, each focusing on the personal connection made between two individuals.

The Double Life of Veronique goes farther.  The two people here are connected in a far deeper way, for they are two instances of the same young woman: Weronika in Poland, and Véronique in France.  Both are played by French actress Irène Jacob.  (Duality is a common theme in Kieslowski films: the posthumously-produced Heaven would follow two unrelated people who are spiritual twins, one male and one female.)

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Film Review: Woman in the Moon (1929)

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Frau im Mond (1929)
(Woman in the Moon)

directed by Fritz Lang

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Woman in the Moon (Frau im Mond) is one of Fritz Lang’s forgotten films. Never finding the critical acclaim that other Lang pictures did, this film has mostly been relegated to the annals of historical rocketry films, sandwiched between Georges Méliès' whimsical A Trip to the Moon and the post-V2, pre-Sputnik Destination Moonalt, penned by science-fiction great Robert Heinlein. Woman in the Moon is perhaps best-known for having popularized the 3-2-1-liftoff countdown.

[...] The viewer runs through the whole sequence of emotions that accompanied the Apollo moonshots of the 1960s and 1970s: thrill in anticipation of the launch, wonder at weightlessness, and wistfulness as the pioneers watch the earth grow smaller.

Watching Woman in the Moon is likely to send shivers up the spine of the space enthusiast. The science depicted in the film has an impressive pedigree — the technical sections are attributed to Dr. Hermann Oberth, the father of German rocketry and mentor of Dr. Werner von Braun, creator of the V-2 ballistic missile and later head of the Saturn rocket program.

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