Films you may have missed.
Brief reviews of films that are subtle and thought provoking – in short, food for thought.
All films reviewed are available at the Portsmouth Public Library.
Burnt by the Sun (1994)
Director and Writer: Nikita Mikhalkov
Nikita Mikhalkov as Sergei Petrovich Kotov
Ingeborga Dapkounaite as Maroussia (Kotov’s young wife)
Nadia Mikhalkov as Nadia
Oleg Menchikov as Dmitri (aka Mitya)
Burnt By the Sun has the all the qualities of a Russian novel: an idyllic and pastoral landscape, the cheerfulness of the rural countryside, and a couple deeply in love with a child they adore surrounded by family and friends. The story takes place in Stalinist Russia in 1936, and below the surface a great deal is erupting. The main character, Colonel Sergei Kotov (Nikita Mikhalkov), is an old Bolshevik hero, serene in his semi-retirement.
One day an unknown visitor comes, whose real identity is quickly revealed in a humorous way. He is Dmitri, a handsome younger man, who, 13 years ago, was a former lover of Kotov’s wife, Maroussia. The possibility of domestic unease is quickly obvious. And yet there is more to this unease – Dmitri has another purpose which slowly becomes apparent throughout the movie and ends in a cataclysm for all involved. One point of note: the opening of the film portrays the final act of Dmitri (also known as Mitya), which is the final act of this film, though it comes at the beginning. The reason for his behavior is clear once you’ve seen the rest of the film.
If the actors and the director are not familiar to you, be assured, the film is superb. Burnt By the Sun is based on historical events.
The film is in Russian with English subtitles.
Within the Whirlwind (2009)
Director: Marleen Gorris
Screenplay: Nancy Larson
Emily Watson as Evgenia Ginzburg
Pam Ferris as Genia’s mother
Ian Hart as Beylin
Ben Miller as Krasny
Ulrich Tukur as Dr. Anton Walter
Within the Whirlwind is a film based on the life of Evgenia Ginzburg, who was a dedicated communist with a husband and two sons, was living in a nice apartment in Moscow in 1934. But like many in the USSR at that time she was swept up in Stalin’s purges and was convicted of anti-Soviet agitation and sentenced to 10 years in a Soviet concentration camp.
Ultimately she lost everything including her husband and children. In the camp she meets Dr. Anton Walter (Ulrich Tukur). He is a German political prisoner who is a doctor in the camp. Her life changes as she helps the doctor treat other prisoners. It is a harrowing story of perseverance in the face of continued assault through political torment and harsh physical surroundings.
Euginea Ginsburg (1906- 1977) spent about 18 years in Soviet prisons. She was “rehabilitated” in 1955 and wrote a memoir about her experience, “Journey into the Whirlwind,” which she finished in 1967. It was smuggled to the west in that year and published in Italy and Germany.
The film is in English.
Director: Edward Hall
Screenplay: William Boyd
Restless is a mystery/espionage two-part made-for-TV film. Its dramatic moments are evenly paced throughout. You are never quite relieved from the minor-key insecurity that flows through the film.
The film opens with a daughter, Ruth Gilmartin (Michelle Dockery), driving to her mother’s house. She finds her mother, Sally (Charlotte Rampling), in the backyard inexplicably scanning the tree line beyond the broad fields for possible intruders.
In a moment of a complete disbelief Ruth discovers that her mother, Sally, is in fact Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian refugee who became a British agent during World War II and for a few years lived a life of intrigue and danger. Now, Sally/Eva fears, the chickens that were hatched during her days in the secret service have come home to roost and are perhaps watching her from the nearby woods.
The story shuttles between present and past. It is 1939 and the young Eva (Hayley Atwell) is at first oblivious to her brother’s involvement in anti-Nazi agitation. But early in the film Eva’s brother is killed in Paris. His violent death, along with the considerable pressure put on her by Lucas Romer (Rufus Sewell), an English agent, is the motivation for her agreeing to become a spy.
From then on the story mostly focuses on young Eva, who shows intrepid delight in her newfound skills, even while she is often overwhelmed by situations she never imagined.
In the end the double spies are found out and there is some justice. Even so, when the story ends, Eva/Sally is not completely reassured.
Restless is a well done spy thriller, with no high speed chase scenes or over-the-top action. It is based on William Boyd’s novel Restless. William Boyd was also the screen writer for this film.
For more about this film see:
The LA Times Review
The Woman in the Dunes (1964)
Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara
Screenplay: Kobo Abe
Cast: Eiji Okada and Kyōko Kishida
There are at least two ways to think of Woman in the Dunes: 1) as a straight forward version of a romantic Gothic, a la Japanese sensibility, or 2) as a look at life’s challenges. For all its simplicity, it is a rich film inviting many interpretations.
The story is simple: an amateur entomologist from Tokyo goes out to a sandy beach to look for rare insects, in the hope he will find an as-yet-unclassified insect. While searching he ruminates on the rolls people in contemporary society are required to play; it is a passing thought as he watches insects scamper through the sand.
He stays too late to catch transportation back to Tokyo where he lives. Local villagers invite him to stay the night with a woman who lives at the bottom of a sand pit in a shack. In the morning as he gets ready to leave, he discovers that the rope ladder he used to get into the pit has been removed.
Somewhat like the insects he has captured, he is trapped. The villagers demand that he help the woman shovel sand into boxes that will ultimately be sold to a cement company. But it is a poor quality sand that will result in concrete that is defective.
The teacher tries over and over again to escape. How he copes with this situation now that his world has shrunk dramatically to a mere sand pit is the core of the story. The woman who lives in the dunes has to cope with his outbursts and tries to help him understand his situation. She and the villagers need him, for different reasons.
The interaction between the teacher and the woman are at times combative and at times sensual – it is a long road. Finally her loneliness and his frustration entwine. The villagers, the woman, and the teacher all interact in a circle of control and need.
Everything in this film, including the photography (which is quite sensual), presents questions about the choices we make and what we accept as a result of those choices. Questions about cultural differences between city and rural life, freedom, and acceptance are to be grappled with after the film is over.
The film was directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara in collaboration with novelist Kobo Abe, adapted from Mr. Abe’s novel of the same name. Mr Abe wrote the screen play for the movie version.
In Japanese with English subtitles.
Slow Film is a blog series by Bob Miller, assistant librarian at PPL: lover of film, music, fiction and non-fiction. If you have suggestions for something that should be included in a future blog post, email him at email@example.com.