Archive for the Foreign Category

The Great Beauty

Posted in Drama, Foreign with tags on January 5, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Great Beauty photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe Great Beauty is director Paolo Sorrentino’s ode to finding the beauty in one’s own existence. The production reunites the filmmaker with his frequent lead star (and muse) Toni Servillo in a character study. We’re presented a contemporary version of Rome through the eyes of Jep Gambardella. The aging bon vivant once wrote a masterpiece novel in his twenties. However he hasn’t written anything of note in the 40 years since. Now the well dressed playboy has retired to infrequently writing cultural columns, and is living the good life in an incredible apartment overlooking the Coliseum.

There is a euphoria to the party scenes that is captivating. Rome is a stunning backdrop——the cathedrals, the museums, the amphitheaters. I’d almost defy any filmmaker to make an ugly movie here. These stately monuments of the old world contrast with the vacuous people of the new world. Jep is cultured, intelligent and parties until dawn nearly every night with the country’s well-to-do. Their lives an intoxicating mix of celebration, superficiality and emptiness. We first meet Jep as he’s celebrating his 65th birthday. He experiences reality as an observer lamenting his current situation. He’s searching for that intangible revelation. The script contrasts Jep’s despondency with the enthusiastic zeal of party revelers. The opening soirée is a dazzling mélange of music and merriment. It presents an energy that is palpable.

There’s little substance, only style to this beautiful looking film. I suppose that’s the point. It’s not about narrative thrust, but more of a feeling, a vibe. The plot is just a running account of what Jep sees and says during his often surreal urban wanderings. He surrounds himself with various oddballs: a nun with two crooked teeth, a clever stripper, a self-described “dwarf”. We see a young girl unhappily creating avant-garde paintings by throwing herself at a canvas in front of an audience. Through wisecracks and cynical smirks, Jep breezes through life. “The best people in Rome are the tourists” he offers casually. You’re meant to hang on his every word, but he’s a bit self involved. Occasionally he says something great. He tells a pretentious performance artist exactly what he thinks of her work and it’s refreshingly pragmatic. Unfortunately his lamentations put him in a melancholy state. Of course he doesn’t have any real problems and that lack of conflict tugs at your brain throughout the 142 minutes. For the most part, The Great Beauty is more of an art house feast for the eyes than the mind.

The Past

Posted in Drama, Foreign, Mystery with tags on December 29, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The Past photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgThe incredible promise that Director Asghar Farhadi demonstrated with 2011’s A Separation has proven to be no fluke with his subsequent follow-up, The Past. He recounts human behavior with the precision of an absolute master. The plot is artfully straightforward. Four years after separating from his ex-wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo), an Iranian man from Tehran named Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), arrives in Paris to finalize his divorce. Marie has 2 daughters from her previous marriage and is currently in a relationship with Samir (Tahar Rahim), an Arab man. Samir’s wife is in a coma and he has a son with her. Director Farhadi’s understanding of the human heart makes the sentimentality of modern movies look like ersatz emotion. The Past is ambitious in its desire to portray human feeling so honestly. It’s ironic because this is about the façades that people put up to mask their genuine desires.

The Past is an intensely intimate drama concerning 3 key people: Marie, Samir, and Ahmad. As was the case with A Separation, everyone’s point of view is displayed. No one is a villain. We tend to identify with ex-husband Ahmad since that is the person through which most of the action is filtered. However each character has their own merits. Bernice Bejo is quite moving as mother Marie. She is a sympathetic, maternal presence that is immediately affecting. She has two daughters from an even earlier marriage before Ahmad. One is a little girl, the other a 16 year old. Bejo portrays an intelligent woman that seems to have everything in order. Then the cracks begin to show. Older daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet) has the warmest regard for her former step dad. The bond with her mother is strained because Lucie disapproves of her mother’s current boyfriend Samir. You’ll find yourself vacillating between the various characters trying to decide whose side you’re truly on. What originally appears as the picture of accord, is a woman gently unraveling at the seams.

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has a knack for extracting fervid passion from our everyday lives. His talent for constructing a fascinating tale from a deceptively simple scenario is nothing less than genius. He starts with routine domestic problems. Then offers an endlessly compelling saga with unflinching honesty. The criteria by which we judge human drama has been elevated. It sets the new emotional high bar by which all other movies must now aspire. Director Asghar Farhadi presents the narrative unencumbered by elaborate devices. Sans music, costumes, special effects, flashbacks, nonlinear storytelling and other stylistic flourishes, he strips the production bare and serves it up to an audience for perusal. Much of the true feeling that percolates beneath the surface is evident not from dialogue, but from body language and gestures. The chronicle considers how we put up walls that impede effective communication. Once again, you think you know the story. As it unfolds, layers are exposed. As developments are revealed we’re drawn deeper into their crumbling relationships. Then the daughter reveals something that threatens to change everything. This is humanity and you cannot look away.

Blue Is the Warmest Color

Posted in Drama, Foreign, Romance with tags on December 11, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Blue Is the Warmest Color photo starrating-4stars.jpgAdèle is a girl in secondary school. She yearns for romance, but her desires are complicated by conflicting feelings. Egged on by the inane chatter of her high school friends, Adèle goes out with a good looking schoolboy who is attracted to her. On the way to their date, she spies a young mysterious blue haired woman with her arms around another girl. They lock glances. Adèle and Thomas date briefly and although he is taken with her, she breaks up with him. Adèle later meets Emma, the woman she spied earlier. They embark on a relationship.

Blue Is the Warmest Color was originally titled The Life of Adèle – Chapters 1 & 2. Somehow that seems more appropriate.  At 3 hours, the movie is like two halves: the original movie and then its sequel pushed together to form two episodes in the life. The first half is what causes two people to fall in love. The second, is what drives them apart. Throughout it all, emotions run the gamut from joy and excitement to melancholia and pain. The drama is such a fully realized portrait, that even after the extreme length, you still might be curious what’s next for Adèle. What happens to her in Chapter 3?

At the film’s heart are two stunning performances. Léa Seydoux is Emma. The French actress is recognized for both French (Farewell, My Queen) and American (Inglorious Basterds, Robin Hood, Midnight in Paris) productions alike. Adèle is played with uncompromising credibility by newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos. As the star, she anchors the drama with her work. Since she shares the same name as her character and this is her first major role, I am impulsively tempted to conclude she is merely playing herself. Yet even that would require the skills of a great thespian given what she does here. She presents a teenager that is nearly flawless in its honesty. The achievement never translates as acting. She just is.

Director Abdellatif Kechiche allows scenarios to play far beyond a normal duration. In most cases, this is a good thing because it heightens the experience that this is reality. The interactions drift and percolate like authentic dialogue. They deceptively feel improvised because of their utter veracity. Yet the script is too focused to truly believe that. They highlight the process of learning about someone and slowly getting to understand them. As a whole the picture attempts to portray every facet of a relationship. The film has most famously drawn publicity for its lovemaking scenes. A sequence in and of itself can shock sensibilities. Their desire culminates in extended scenes of intimacy that do push accepted boundaries. This is an unedited, unembarrassed and sensual expression. Admittedly, the director does a disservice at making them so graphic. Their explicitness tends to overshadow the sensitivity of the rest of the narrative which depicts their association with a much tender approach.

Blue Is the Warmest Color was awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes, its highest honor. For the first time ever the prize was also officially bestowed to two actors as well: Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. That just shows how intrinsic they are to the success of the picture. It presents a relationship in unexpurgated detail – an unbridled 3 hours. Normally that would be a barrier in engaging the attention, but the plot never seems dull. Director Abdellatif Kechiche lets a scene gradually unfold. The script has a natural rhythm. The conversations take their time in the way genuine people would interact with long pauses and the awkwardness of dialogue that isn’t perfected. That permits a candor that is determined in being explicit with feeling. This has courted controversy for its sexual depictions. It could be argued that they are a physical manifestation of the intimacy we’ve already seen on an intellectual level. The director has nevertheless made a dubious choice which is ultimately a misstep. Evaluated as an overall account, however, those minutes constitute a very small part. Most of the story has a delicate beauty of real life and raw emotion that has rarely been presented so honestly.

The Wind Rises

Posted in Animation, Drama, Foreign with tags on December 11, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The Wind Rises photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgYoung Jiro fantasizes about being a pilot. But the boy’s nearsightedness makes that impossible. Instead he joins a major Japanese engineering company in 1927 and starts designing airplanes to satiate his desires. The Wind Rises is a fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi, the creator of the Mitsubishi A5M and its famous successor, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Both fighter planes were used by Japan during World War II. When Jiro is focused on designing aircraft and pursuing his dreams, the movie is an uplifting portrait of a man with a purpose. Jiro is motivated by his idol, Italian aviation pioneer Giovanni Caproni who appears to him in hallucinations. These anecdotes help flesh out a character that remains somewhat enigmatic. The narrative later finds our protagonist consumed by his devotion for Naoko, the woman who would become his wife. Their relationship is less captivating. What starts as a fascinating chronicle of a visionary sort of falters in its gooey love story of a romance affected by the onset of tuberculosis. There are still many beautiful images that highlight this graceful presentation of flight.

Hayao Miyazaki has announced that this is his final film. The 72 year old director is a legend in the world of Japanese animation. He was largely unknown in the West until Princess Mononoke was released in 1999. Then came Spirited Away which won the Academy Award for Best Animated feature of 2002. Both were breathtaking fantasies filled with magic and mystical creatures. This is Miyazaki’s first to be inspired by an actual figure. Intertwined into the plot are historical events leading up to Japan’s entry into WWII. The Wind Rises is not dependent on supernatural elements like Hayao Miyazaki’s other works. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of gorgeous visuals. A simple sequence of Jiro contemplating the path of a paper plane as it takes to the sky is hypnotic. The spectacle of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 is a stunning feat of both sight and sound. Throughout it all, Jiro remains the picture of a pacifist. History buffs might pause at the placid portrayal of the guy responsible for the very machines that kamikaze fighters would use to kill people. Although never really addressed, the depiction implies that his nonviolent passions were exploited by the military.

The Wind Rises is a fitting swan song for legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki. With its slow pace and developing love story, the drama almost comes across like a live action film. Despite some lighthearted vignettes, the tone is decidedly serious. In that respect, the production is not aimed at children. Its deliberate pace and extreme length do tend to tax viewers who are not already devotees of anime. However there is a lot to recommend about The Wind Rises. Its poetic style and luminous imagery are beyond compare. Additionally the careful attention to an authentic time and place makes this unique amongst the stridently hip, modern anachronisms found in most cartoons of today. I appreciated its history of real events like the Great Depression and the rise of fascism woven into a rosy reflection of an innovator captivated by airplanes and flight. It’s all gorgeously hand drawn in the anime style so fans of Studio Ghibli will most definitely be in heaven. The imaginative production is clearly the lovingly crafted work of a talented director driven by passion.

Wadjda

Posted in Drama, Foreign with tags on October 23, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Wadjda photo starrating-4stars.jpgSaudi Arabia has no movie theaters. Clerics oppose public screenings because they encourage mingling of the sexes. Small wonder that it has taken until 2013 to get Wadjda, the first feature shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. In a country where a film industry is virtually absent, this fact alone would make its existence commendable. However this is also the first feature-length picture made by a female Saudi. That makes it an extraordinary accomplishment even before a single frame is viewed. Although I’m happy to proclaim that the production is a laudatory achievement in its own right.

Wadjda is a 10-year-old Saudi girl from the capital city of Riyadh. She lives there with her mother (Reem Abdullah). She has a father (Sultan Al Assaf) as well, but her relationship with him is confusing. We grow to understand he is seeking a second wife, which is why he is seldom at home. Wadjda watches the boys ride their bikes in and around town. She yearns to own her own cycle. Every day on the way to school she passes by a store where she spies one beautiful new bike for sale. She longs to buy the expensive vehicle and race against her friend Abdullah, a boy from the neighborhood. This is Wadjda’s effort to raise the money.

Wadjda does more than just tell a compelling story. It is a cultural record. We learn women cannot vote, laugh outdoors, or even be seen by men unless covered. Women are pressured to wear a full-length black covering called an abaya. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. Rights are dictated and defined by Sunni Islam and tribal customs. Yes, director Haifaa al-Mansour’s work is politically charged, but not in the way you think. It’s refreshingly subtle. It merely presents society without comment. The viewer is freely allowed to criticize or support what they see. To western audiences unfamiliar with such customs, they will seem intolerable, but the production surprisingly feels charming and light. Credit young actress Waad Mohammed who plays our titular heroine. She embodies sweetness and grace with just a smidge of tomboy. Needless to say, the idea of a little girl riding a bike is something frowned upon here as it is seen as detrimental to a girl’s virtue.

Writer-director Haifaa Al-Mansour does the impossible. She has produced a film in a country with no film industry to speak of. Add that she is female in a community where women are forbidden to publicly interact with unrelated men. Wadjda is fascinating because it does two things brilliantly. One, it offers a gripping narrative of a captivating character. Secondly it also serves as a document of Saudi society. The director even fashions a climactic Koran recital contest as an edge-of-your-seat nail-biter. We get an expert’s view from the inside. The presentation of culture was a real eye opener for this critic. The strict moral codes might be described as oppressive, yet the milieu never reads that way. Joyful, effervescent and uplifting, this is about the triumph of the human spirit. How one rebellious little girl deals with her innocent desire to simply own a bike. Saudis can still watch movies via satellite, DVD and video in the privacy of their own homes. Perhaps one day they will be able to see this in a cinema. You however don’t have that problem. Please exercise that right and see this film.

The Hunt

Posted in Drama, Foreign with tags on August 7, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The Hunt photo starrating-4stars.jpgThe avant-garde filmmaking movement known as Dogme 95 was started in 1995 by Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. Their goal was to focus filmmaking techniques on actual story and performances and eschew expensive special effects. Perhaps The Hunt doesn’t adhere to the strict guidelines of a Dogme film, nevertheless, the emphasis on stark reality and raw human emotion is undeniably present.

In this account a beloved day care worker is wrongly accused of sexual abuse by one of his students. Mads Mikkelsen is Lucas, a teacher who is well liked and has many good friends in the tight close-knit community. The rising star won Best Actor at Cannes in 2012 for his understated work here. Recently divorced, he divides his time between his job and taking care of his teenaged son. Due to a recent school closure he is currently working as a kindergarten assistant to Grethe, another teacher. Then one day a disturbing remark is made to Grethe by one of the kids at the school, a little girl portrayed by incredibly natural young actress Annika Wedderkopp.

Virtually every single scene is compelling. The Hunt creates several vignettes in which the characters deal with each situation as it presents itself. An inquiry between an investigator and a student is a textbook example of how NOT to lead an interrogation. Leading questions and false assumptions exist in abundance. An outburst at the Christmas Eve church service is another slack-jawed moment. But the acting is never given to histrionics. The Hunt shows remarkable restraint when detailing this miscarriage of justice. However at times the tension can be a bit frustrating. You keep wanting Lucas to proclaim his innocence more vehemently. His passivity is aggravating. A altercation in a grocery store is admittedly fascinating, but it is also a display in unwise behavior. Lucas, just step outside and call the police already!

The drama that unfolds is an emotional gut-wrenching slow burn exercise in how an investigation is handled in the worst way possible. We know immediately he is blameless so “did he?” or “didn‘t he?” questions are squelched from the start. In this way we side with Lucas and share in his degradation as he becomes the town outcast. Yet the events are never sensationalized. The director allows the audience to carefully examine how a lie becomes the truth. The script constructs a situation that slowly builds into a realistic tragedy of horrific proportions. Misinterpreted remarks and group hysteria are the recipe of this meticulously constructed screenplay. Co-written by director Vinterberg with Tobias Lindholm, the saga deals with similar themes found in Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible and its depiction of the Salem Witch trials of the 17th century.  Sometimes the rush to judgment would rather deem a person guilty until proven innocent. It’s a cautionary tale that could’ve been set anywhere, including here in the U.S. True to the difficult nature of the film, even the ending suggests more problems are on the horizon. Uncomfortable viewing at its best.

Kon-Tiki

Posted in Action, Adventure, Biography, Drama, Foreign with tags on May 23, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Kon-Tiki photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgKon-Tiki, the Inca god of Sun and storm, was the name of the balsa-wood raft used by Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl. The primitive vessel was instrumental in his 1947 expedition across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands. The purpose was to show that the South American people could have settled Polynesia in the pre-Columbian era using only the simple materials and technologies available to them at the time. I kept thinking that just because they could doesn’t necessarily mean they did but that’s never addressed. Incidentally most anthropologists now believe they did not but that‘s another discussion entirely. There’s no denying that Heyerdahl was a brave and admirable trailblazer who basically just wanted to prove that you couldn’t rule the possibility out. Their mission was presented in a non fictional account in 1950 that actually won the Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature the following year. Now it’s been made into a historical drama, which was subsequently nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Amour received the award).

Kon-Tiki is a pleasant but very conventional movie. The plot is mostly made of the 4,300 nautical mile-journey from Peru to Polynesia aboard a flimsy raft. Heyerdahl is a tall blonde tanned Norwegian. His staff is also made up of the same, well four Norwegians and a Swede, but they all posses the same handsomely pale features, indistinguishable from each other. These characters are really generic. That even includes the intrepid star who should’ve been more exciting. Over three months, the team’s scientific voyage is met with a few small setbacks but it’s largely uneventful. Oh there’s storms, a shark gets on the boat, a whale almost topples the raft. Those developments are gripping so those moments engage. The cinematography is pretty too. But more often than not, the action focuses on the humans. Unfortunately their humdrum conversations are boring. The occasional infighting amongst the team does not a film make.

No

Posted in Drama, Foreign, History with tags on March 5, 2013 by Mark Hobin

NO movie photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgChile’s very first nominee for Best Foreign Language Film is a political drama about the country’s national referendum held in 1988. The plebiscite concerned whether Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet should extend his rule for another eight-years in office. The vote is simply ‘Yes’ in favor of the idea and ‘No’ for anything else. René Saavedra, an adman played by Gael García Bernal, joins the fight against Pinochet. Saavedra eschews exposing the abuses of the dictator’s regime in his commercials. His revolutionary concept is to pitch the ‘no vote’ much in the same way that he advertises soft drinks. Instead of fear mongering he wants to use catchy jingles, happy people, and rainbows to incite people to come out and make their voice heard.

Director Pablo Larraín shoots the production like a documentary. He utilizes U-matic video tape, the kind used by newscasts in the 80s, to give the film the look from that era. At times it’s a bit too grubby as the production almost looks ugly.  He doesn’t even utilize widescreen so news footage from 1988 is interspersed with fresh material. It’s integrated so perfectly I often didn’t notice the difference. He even showcases actual anti-Pinochet commercials with new scenes of them shooting the ad. The clips are full of people dancing and clapping urging the viewer to vote “No” in cheerful song. These displays are surprisingly light, particularly when contrasted with the reality of Pinochet’s administration. The unexpected lighthearted tone is part of the film’s brilliance but it’s also the way it contrasts with an underlying climate of terror.

No largely succeeds because it makes us understand and care.  Naturally the choice of whether one would want a tyrannical dictator in power seems like an obvious decision. However when that dictator controls the media and every other aspect of society, one’s ability to vote freely is encumbered for fear of retribution. This is especially clear when it comes to Saavedra’s relationship with his young son Simón.  Saavedra starts experiencing escalating threats from pro-Pinochet forces as his ‘No’ ads grow in popularity. Afraid for his child’s life, he leaves Simón in the custody of his estranged wife. The stakes are high. The script really resonates when it exposes just how much danger surrounds this election. It allows us to identify with any country trying to break free from a totalitarian state. It also makes us value and appreciate what a blessing free elections truly are.

Fist of Legend

Posted in Action, Drama, Foreign, Martial Arts with tags on January 26, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Fist of Legend photo starrating-3stars.jpgFist of Legend is a Hong Kong action film set in Shanghai in 1937 when the city was occupied by Japanese forces. Chen Zhen (Jet Li) learns that his Chinese martial arts teacher Huo Yuanjia has died in a battle with a Japanese fighter. Distraught he leaves for China immediately to avenge his death. Upon arriving he beats Ryoichi Akutagawa, the man responsible, with such ease, he suspects foul play and this prompts an investigation that leads to, what else? More combat. This is a 1994 remake of 1972′s Fist of Fury, which starred Bruce Lee.

Fist of Legend is really highlighted by some impressive fights that favor realism over wire-driven choreography. However the plot is still your standard issue mix of escalating racial tensions between the Japanese and Chinese, differing methods of rival martial arts schools, and good old fashioned revenge. This barely made a dent in Hong Kong’s box office when it was first released. I didn’t find the story to be particularly revolutionary but connoisseurs of the genre have since labeled this as one of the greatest martial arts pictures of all time. It certainly paved the way for Jet Li’s launch into Western cinema. The bouts are admittedly pretty spectacular. One especially exciting scene occurs when Jet Li visits the Japanese dojo to challenge the assailant who killed his master teacher. His many students attempt to stop him but Jet Li’s talent proves too formidable and he defeats the entire class, even taking a moment to tie his shoes in the process. Later Jet Li challenges a surprisingly sympathetic Japanese Karate Master in a field…blindfolded. And finally there’s the climatic battle where he goes against General Fujita, the Supreme Killer. Any one of these would be an incredible set piece, but taken together it’s a lot of bang for your buck. If a martial arts film is judged by the quality of its fight scenes then Fist of Legend is worth checking out.

Blu-ray Notes: In the original multi-lingual movie, Cantonese and Japanese is spoken by different actors. Unfortunately there is no original language option. All 3 audio choices on the Blu-ray are dubbed: Cantonese, Mandarin or English. You’re going to get weird synchronization issues regardless of which version you chose. I can’t speak for the Chinese options, but the English voiceovers are hopelessly wooden and unnaturally stilted. I found Cantonese with English subtitles to be the most acceptable.

Amour

Posted in Drama, Foreign, Romance with tags on January 11, 2013 by Mark Hobin

AmourPhotobucketAn austere, unflinching portrait of an elderly Parisian husband and wife facing the difficulties that precipitate aging.  Becoming older is the subject of this heartfelt film – specifically the physical and mental breakdown of a man’s spouse as she falls ill. The script treats the issue with sensitivity and there is a surprising warmth to a chronicle with which director Michael Haneke is usually not associated. But the filmmaker, whose oeuvre was described by one author as a “cinema of cruelty”, hasn’t really changed that much. Sentimental accounts are not his bag and true to his sensibilities, there are aspects that highlight this as a drama done in his quintessential style.

Georges and Anne are retired music teachers in their 80s.  They’re attending a recital of one of their previous students near the beginning of the picture. When they return home, they discover they have been robbed. The minutiae of their conversation informs us that they have a comfortable ease with each other that only a long-time married couple would have. The next morning as they’re sitting down to breakfast, Anne begins staring off into space and doesn’t respond to his questions. Georges is concerned and he arranges for her to see a doctor. He determines she requires surgery. It isn’t successful once completed. This all happens in the first 15 minutes. As the narrative develops her capabilities slowly deteriorate over an extended time span. We are essentially confined to their apartment. With the exception of a few scenes featuring their daughter played by Isabelle Huppert, these two carry the entire movie. The action is claustrophobic and agonizing. At one point about halfway through, he’s getting ready for bed for the night. There’s a knock at the door. Let’s just say what happens next is a good example of one of those intense moments.

At the heart of Amour are two engaging performances that are tantamount to our connection to this story. Jean-Louis Trintignant is an internationally recognized French film star with films darting back as early as 1956. Anyone who has ever seen A Man and a Woman will remember him in his 30s. Ditto Emmanuelle Riva who starred in Hiroshima, mon amour back in 1959. As Georges and Anne These two actors are essential to our “enjoyment” of this production. I use quotes because enjoy is such a strong word.  The actors are warm and genuine, but the mood is chilly and remote. The central couple are equally genial and sweet. They could be our grandparents. We are drawn into their plight because we care about them. Once you do, there is no turning back as you descend a path of gradually building despair. Haneke’s traditional use of extremely long static takes is particularly effective here. They present the developments as real life, without artifice. There’s no score, another Haneke attribute. These qualities lull the audience into a state of depression. It is startlingly unsentimental. The lack of visual or audio cues is refreshing in it’s presentation of an idea often manipulated with such indicators. This is Haneke’s version of a disease-of-the-week TV movie. It’s not a reassuring portrayal, but it is sobering and honest.

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