The Wall (Die Wand) (2012)
Director: Julian Pölsler
This is an intriguing, mysterious, and unnerving meditation on loneliness and alienation. An art-house film that may not be to everyone’s liking, this top-notch drama features fantastic choreography and views of the Austrian Alps, as well as a great performance by Martina Gedeck. The plot: a woman visiting some friends in the Alps suddenly discovers that she is cut off from the rest of the world. And when I say “cut off,” I mean literally cut off. There is some kind of deflection barrier or “force field” that encases the area around her cottage from which there is no escape.
The rest of the film chronicles how she deals with this terrifying predicament. Taking care of various animals, raising vegetables, and going on hikes, she apparently reaches some kind of inner enlightenment that enables her to deal with the situation. All of this is told with a very deft touch by director Julian Pölsler. The lack of a clear resolution at the end of the film left me a bit disappointed, but maybe that was the director’s intention: some mental states have no firm resolution, and simply have to be endured until something better comes along.
The Tiger (2015)
Director: Park Hoon-Jung
This is a South Korean period drama that is something of a welcome novelty. Blending myth, historical drama, and CGI graphics, The Tiger does not fit into any easily definable category. And this is a good thing for film-goers looking for something unusual. The plot: in occupied Korea of the 1920s, the Japanese colonial authorities are paying bounties for the killing of the last remaining tigers to walk the land. Local hunters care more about feeding their families than about species conservation, so they join in too. Everyone is focused on bagging a legendary one-eyed tiger that kills anyone sent against it.
One old hunter (played by Choi Min-Shik) knows more about the tiger than anyone else, but hesitates to go after him. As the story unfolds, we find out that the old man and the tiger share much in common. There are some elements of melodrama here, but they never detract from the pacing or thrust of the action. Part allegory, part Asian fable, and part action film, The Tiger is one of those pleasant discoveries that we don’t often get to make in the movies. The CGI scenes are very well done: we get the sense that this is not just a tiger, but some monstrous force of nature sent to avenge the crimes of man. This is great old-school entertainment.
The Silence (2013)
Director: Baran Bo Odar
A serious, cerebral German crime drama with a focus on the psychological and emotional motivations of the characters. The plot: in the 1980s, a young girl is brutally murdered in a filed by a twisted child killer. The killer’s friend watches and does nothing. The killer is never brought to justice due to lack of evidence. Twenty years or so later, another similar crime happens in the same place. The police begin an extensive manhunt that seems to bring them ever closer to revealing the connection between the two cases. This sets in motion a final sequence of events that may–or may not–lead to the capture of the sadistic offender.
It takes a director of consummate skill to handle subject matter of this gravity. But Baran Bo Odar and his cast do exactly this. The story is told with a deadpan directness that takes some time to get used to; and perhaps that is the best way to handle material as unsettling as this. But there is no violence here, and no cheap plays at exploitation. The tension and horror come from showing the motivations, methods, and inner compulsions of disturbed individuals. A mature crime drama–some would say dark and disturbing–for thinking individuals that should not be missed by anyone devoted to the genre. The ending is a shocker.
Less Than Zero (1987)
Director: Marek Kanievska
Yes, I know, I’m winding the clock back a bit for this last review. But believe it or not, I had never seen this one before. I had not missed much; now I know why this was a bit of a cliche even when it came out back in ’87. Sadly, what may once have seemed like an edgy exploration of the pathology of drug abuse now looks like a weepy TV melodrama. The plot: young guy returns home from college to find out his best friend Julian (Robert Downey Jr.) and ex-girlfriend (Jamie Gertz) are using cocaine. It soon becomes apparent that Julian is a full-blown addict.
Instead of forcing their friend Julian to enter rehab, the other characters in the movie whine about how awful he looks, wring their hands in shame at his predicament, and do similarly ineffective things. Meanwhile Julian hits rock bottom. Beverly Hills looks rotten to the bone, and the decades that followed 1987 did little to dispel this impression. See this one not for the plot or the acting (although Downey does his usual great job), but for the great ’80s soundtrack, the electric and pastel colors, and the hedonistic feel. Even James Spader has a deliciously sinister role here, with his patented “evil yuppie” persona that he does better than anyone else. A period classic in the same way that Saturday Night Fever encapsulated the 1970s.