Nov 18, 2011 Eurasia. Almanya, Piercing 1, Kevin Hart Laugh at my Pain, EU and Reelasian Film Festivals
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.
Last week, I talked about movies East Asia. (The Reelasian Film Festival is still going on North of Toronto, with movies showing this weekend in Thornhill.) And the EU festival of European films opened last night. But if you look at any map, and you look for Asia, you’ll find this massive body, this huge slab taking up most of the space. And you’ll find there is no Asia, there is no Europe, it’s a made-up concept. There’s just one huge continent. It’s Eurasian. There are cultural differences, for sure, but the geographical distinctions are dubious at best.
So, this week I’m talking about a European movie where so-called Asians (from Anatolia) immigrate to Germany; an animated film from China, filled with western icons — McDonalds, BMWs — that are out of most people’s budgets; and a film from the US, which is basically about… well America of course.
Dir: Liu Jian
This is an animated film from China, released a few years back that played at ReelAsian, but has taken on a new resonance.
It takes place in around 2008, when Wall Street was crashing, the real estate bubble had burst, and Obama had been swept into office in a tidal wave of hope that he would fix some of the things that Bush and Cheney had been allowed to ruin. Meanwhile, in China, the economy there was feeling the ripple effect of the recession in the U.S.
But this animated film deals with how it affected two regular guys, two buddies in Southern China who hang out at night in their dark hoodies: Da Hong has long hair, Zhang has a scar near his eye. They hang out, chain smoking cigarettes, as they try to come up with some way of making a bit of money. But they’re stymied at every turn, by the greedy businessmen and the corrupt police al around them.
Zhang gets beaten up by a security guard at the place he works. But instead of an apology he loses his job. So he gives up on his urban ambitions and decides to take the train back to his village. But just before he catches the train, he sees an old lady, a victim of a hit and run. So he calls an ambulance, takes her to a hospital, and waits to make sure she’s OK. But guess what? Her daughter’s a nasty cop who blames Zhang for the accident – why else would someone help a stranger unless they were guilty of a crime.
He gets beaten up by the cops, and bad turns to worse as he and his friends get dragged into a complex, corrupt bribery scam involving his ex-boss.
Some of you may have heard about the sad story of a little girl, Yueyue, in China who was run over and left to die and then ignored by a dozen passersby, before someone tried to save her. People wondered, how could this happen? But in this movie, they deal with the consequences that good Samaritans have to bear when faced with a culture rife with low-level corruption.
What’s especially interesting about Piercing 1 is it’s look. The director, Liu Jian, an artist, uses a rough, dark two-dimensional animation style, combined with a sort of a Beavis and Butthead lay-out, with the two guys trading profanities in their very funny conversations about their dismal lives, combined with the dark intrigue of street crime. Piercing gives a seldom-seen look at the left-behind in Southern China.
The EU Film Festival is on now in downtown Toronto. It’s a unique festival for a few reasons. First, it’s sponsored by all the different European consulates, each of which who each show one movie from that country. So you get to see movies in the original Czech, and Polish, Danish and Spanish, not just in English. The second thing is – they have some interesting Q&As to go with some of the movies. There’s one that looks great on the 19th, on how to do an international co-production, by Michael Dobbin, the producer of the Hungary-Slovenia-Canada co-production called the Maiden Danced to Death. And the third thing? The movies are all free! Just show up – I recommend 45 minutes early – and wait for a free ticket at the Royal.
I’m just going to talk about one movie today:
Dir: Yasemin Samdereli
Three generations of a German family gather to hear an announcement. The Grandfather Huseyin (Vedat Erincin), has been picked to give a speech before the Chancellor Andrea Merkel, because he was the millionth (well, millionth plus one) immigrant back in the 60’s when Germany let in guest workers. But his grandson, Cenk (Rafael Koossouris) can’t speak a word of Turkish. In school, the kids tease him because he doesn’t know anything about his “Heimat”, his ancestral homeland.
So his sister Canan tells him their family history. The movie jumps back and forth between the 60’s and the present day, where the Grandpa decides to take everyone back to Turkey – some for the first time — for the fall vacations.
This is a very endearing movie, with the feel of Amelie – nostalgic, but not kitschy. It’s a German movie, but completely from the points of view of the German- Turkish family as they struggle to understand a new culture, language and life. Some funny scenes where one son thinks the Germans worship a dead guy and practice cannibalism at Mass each Sunday. The Grandfather is afraid they’ll soon be wearing dirndls and lederhosen and eating pork knuckles if they take on citizenship. And none of them can understand that strange, lilting Bavarian accent at first – it’s not the German they were expecting. But the movie shows the gradual assimilation, with a shift in cultural attitudes, intermarriage, and changes in the German Melting Pot.
I liked this movie a lot (except for a little bit of cornball near the end with slo-motion laughter and tears – uggh!) and it leaves you with a good feeling. Good acting, good story, a simple, well-made movie.
Dir: Leslie Small and Tim Story
This is a stand-up comedy movie about and starring Kevin Hart, a short, African-American funny man. This movie’s in three parts. The first section, and most boring part, is just him showing life in the neighbourhood of Phillie where he grew up. His cheese steaks, his school, his home, and his homies. Strictly for fans. If it was TV, I’d change the channel. The second part — most of the movie — is of a stand-up performance before a huge audience, where he talks about his parents, school, church, weddings, funerals, middle-class money troubles– pretty M.O.R. stuff, just a little bit funny. Like his aunt who pretend-faints at any dramatic junction at Church or his father who goes commando under his sweatpants. Only some laughs, as he imitates the characters.
But he’s really on his game in the middle, when he starts talking about sex, and when he gets into the physical performance he’s really good at. So he jumps around the stage, he’s on the floor, he attacking a chair, he’s doing the hula-hoop, he’s letting his mic mimic how he pictured his father when he was a little kid. He tells about his inner thoughts when he’s on the dancefloor in a club. He totally owns the crowd during that part.
And then the third part, his skit comedy, has its ups and downs, very slow to start… but he eventually gets into a very funny scene – (during an imitation of Reservoir Dogs), where he gets distracted from robbing the bank by a flirty but demanding bank teller.
Laugh at my Pain has it’s good parts and its boring parts, but it’s always fun to see stand up on the big screen.
Laugh at my Pain opens today, check your local listings; Almanya, Welcome to Germany is playing at the EU Film Festival – running all week, check listings on eutorontofilmfest.ca; and Piercing 1 played at reelasian Film Festival. Go to reelasian.com and try to catch Buddha Mountain – a great movie from China about three disaffected youth who find common ground with an angry and depressed Peking Opera singer — in Thornhill if you missed it last week.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining . com.