Slow Film 8

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.

A Most Wanted Man (2014)


Based on the novel “A Most Wanted Man” by John le Carré

Directed by Anton Corbijn
Screenplay by Andrew Bovell

Philip Seymour Hoffman
Rachel McAdams
Willem Dafoe
Robin Wright
Grigoriy Dobrygin
Homayoun Ershadi
Nina Hoss
Daniel Brühl

A Most Wanted Man is an espionage thriller based on the novel of the same name by John le Carré. It is advertised as an espionage thriller, but it is as much a psychological examination of a man attempting to redeem himself and his team from previous failures as it is an espionage thriller. The result is a clash of interests and control. As in any good thriller the result is more than the main characters have bargained for.

The story follows Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his covert government team. Their role is to cultivate contacts in Hamburg’s refugee community who may have ties to Islamic terrorist organizations; in the hope that these contact will lead them to terrorist kingpins.

The film begins with Bachmann and his team as they follow Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a political refugee from Chechnya who has been tortured by Russian security forces, when he illegally enters Hamburg, Germany. Karpov is not the typical young man looking for a “cause”. Karpov’s father was Russian and his mother was Chechen. Karpov’s father (now dead) was a ruthless Russian army officer and criminal, who before his death deposited millions of dollars in a Hamburg bank for his son Issa Karpov. All Issa has to do is go to the banker, Thomas Brue (William Dafoe) and get it. But Issa has mixed feelings about doing this. He is a devout Muslim and he struggles with the question of whether it is moral for him to accept the money of an evil man. In the process of deciding what to do Issa Karpov friend’s help him find an immigration lawyer, Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), who in turn begins the process of getting him asylum.

Bachmann’s team has also been tracking the activities of a local, respected, Muslim philanthropist, Dr. Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), who the team suspects of funneling a portion of his legitimate funds to Al Qaeda, though at the outset of the film the team has been unable to prove this.

A high ranking German security official Deiter Mohr (Rainer Bock) and an American CIA official Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) both learn of Bachmann’s investigations and take intense interest in it. The methods of each of the groups are at odds. Bachmann is interested in watching suspects and using informants to get terrorists higher and higher up the chain. Bachmann wants to protect the gullible people who are caught up in the terrorist plots of others. On the other hand, Mohr and Sullivan appear single-minded, and interested in merely capturing suspects, regardless of guilt or future usefulness.

As the story unfolds more of the interconnections of Dr. Abdullah’s support of terrorist groups becomes apparent. Bachmann’s team is able to turn the immigration lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) and the banker who laundered the dirty money of Karpov’s father to their cause, using some promises, seduction, and threats. As a result Richter convinces Issa Karpov it would be proper to donate the funds to Abdullah’s humanitarian organization. It is Backman’s hope that he will catch Abdullah rerouting some of the funds to a shipping company acting as a front for al-Qaeda.

Bachmann then plans to confront Dr. Abdullah with this proof of guilt to in turn recruit Dr. Abdullah to help Bachman and his team ensnare those higher up in the terrorist organization. The plan is approved by the interior minister, the CIA official, and all concerned. What unfolds at the climax of the film is where espionage and psychological drama come together with devastating results.


A Most Wanted Man was the last of Hoffman’s films to be released before his death. His performance in it is superb.

In English.

For other reviews of this film see:
Pluggedin and The New York Times


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.

For more interpretations of this fascinating film see:
The Wall Street Journal, Roger Ebert, and Brandy Dean.


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

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