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Film Review: 2007 Foreign Language Films, The Counterfeiters plus The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, La Vie en Rose, 80th Oscars

roadskater's picture
Part of my brief sabbatical from the web and internet for a few days was due to immersion in the movies of 2007 prior to the Oscars. I know. That's exactly what they planned. I don't do this every year, and life often dictates otherwise, but this year the timing was right for a bit of a tech break and soul refurbishment before getting back to inner workings of websites and documents. I thought I'd share one skater's thoughts on some of the movies, including how I voted unofficially on my last ballot before the Oscars show, and what some of my favorites were and why. In this article, I'll cover the Foreign Language Film and Makeup awards, touching on Actress in a Leading Role, Cinematography, and Director(s) as well. [One brief note: "La Vie en Rose" (the story of Edith Piaf), is a newer title for the earlier "La Môme"; "The Counterfeiters," previously "The Counterfeiter," is the USA/CAN name for the "Die Fälscher"; and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is the English title for "La Scaphandre et le Papillon."] This year I saw at least a few minutes of all of the foreign movies entered, and all of most of them at least once. In addition, I'm including here two great non-English language films that garnered other nominations: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and La Vie en Rose. Unfortunately, I didn't get to preview an English-subtitled version of "12" (Russian), so I only watched parts of that movie, I admit. I'll get back to watching "12" with subtitles later, but I saw enough to feel it was not the winner. That's my excuse. Since I'm not a member of the Academy, tracking down some of these films where I live took a bit of work. For "Katyn" (Polish), I had access to a Polish subtitled version, but the only way I could understand the movie was by converting Russian subtitles via Google Translate (which doesn't do Polish as far as I could tell) and syncing them with Subtitle Workshop into enough English that I could follow the basic details of the movie. I tried some Polish-English translation sites and searched for sub files to read in English but up to Oscar time I found none. Having said all of this, while "Katyn" is a powerful movie, I never quite felt that extra spark of wow, though I did feel an enormous heavy weight of sorrow in the sound of diesel earth-moving machines echoing in the remote woods. As for "Mongol," I could only find a less than perfect print of that, but I was able to watch all of it too. I found it's cinematography to be excellent, of the epic sort, and some of the characters interesting and compelling, but again, I felt it was a good but not great movie. I thought it needed editing as much as anything, and it reminded me of "Dances With Wolves" in that respect. What was there was fine, sometimes really good, but perhaps there was too much lingering and perhaps repetition. It was interesting, though, so I'll probably watch it again when I can see a better version. "Beaufort" was engaging and at times tense to watch. The scene with the dog and the bomb specialist taking turns looking for bomb trip wires was arresting. I also learned about some aspects of a particular time in Israeli military history, but it felt like a play rather than a movie. The confined space was important because these soldiers were definitely confined in space, time, politics and many ways. I appreciated the particular struggle of these soldiers to defend something they were about to surrender some unknown time soon, but it didn't reach the level of a great film for me on one viewing. I am glad I saw it, and it is definitely worth watching for almost anyone, especially as a way of examining the past as a way of thinking about the present. So it came down to three movies for me that I might have wanted to win, and two of those ("La Vie En Rose" and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly") could not. For some reason, these wonderful films were not included in our choices for Foreign Language Film. Perhaps someone thought they should be considered only in the main Best Picture category. "La Vie En Rose" is a definite must see, and I voted for Marion Cotillard to win, and was honestly thrilled when she did. I had very little idea of what an accomplishment her performance was and how incredibly the makeup artists had helped transformed before I saw photos and video of the actress in the days leading up to the awards. Amazing! I cheered loudly at the great happy surprise of her winning (though I thought Cate Blanchett had another sublime performance as Bob Dylan in "I'm Not There"), and Cotillard's acceptance was nothing less than joyous. How great it is that the voters in the Academy recognized the brilliance of her acting in a foreign language film not nominated for Best Picture or Foreign Language Film. It was the rare great performance, great vote, and great acceptance that made for a totally fun moment at the Oscars. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" would have been my pick for Best Picture had it been available as a choice, but I picked "Michael Clayton" (as the best "Hollywood" film) or "No Country for Old Men" (my the other alternative, which did win). For me, though, "Diving Bell" is the movie I'd most want others to see. I always ask myself if I would want to read a film's subtitles out loud to someone if they were willing to watch it and could not really read the subs too well, and "Diving Bell is a definite yes. (A strange criterion, I know.) I didn't expect much from "Diving Bell," but it was clear from the opening flickering and blurred moments that I would be cinematographically inserted into the position of awakening from a seizure and slowly realizing I could not speak or, mostly, even move. The main character was in the presence of pretty nurses and about the only thing he was able to do, literally, was wink and drool, or rather blink his only uncovered eye and drool. But through his perseverance and the patience and diligence of others, this winking became his alphabet. For all who have never really thought much about what being completely at the whim of hospital workers and even passers by might be like, this film presents many great examples...pleasant and exasperating. Most alarming were the decisions made by others about the television in his room without even thinking about it, and the hours it might take for any help to arrive with that circumstance. There may not be a best acting or supporting performance here, though the shaving scene with Max von Sydow is a moment of movie history as far as I am concerned. (I could not help remembering his wonderful scenes in "Hannah and Her Sisters," especially the brilliant frustrated epiphany in his soliloquy about television, and the subsequent fearful deciphering of Leigh's tortured blushes after she, his only connection to the world, returns home no longer needing him.) In "Diving Bell," there's plenty of danger of falling into over-sentimentality, but this film, after all, records an enormous almost athletic feat of teamwork, intelligence and emotion, so how could one help that. I think it is one of the top attitude-adjustment films of all time, and I look forward to going back to it regularly. Having it so good, and regrouping from losing it all by deciding to create or document something for the world and as a record of one's existence, these themes strike resonant strings for many. "Diving Bell" was nominated and I voted for it to win for Cinematography and Best Director, but felt it unlikely to win. I had thought "Atonement" might win for Cinematography, especially with the technically and visually brilliant tracking shot once the soldiers arrive on the beach to return home ("There Will Be Blood" won). And I felt that "No Country" (which won) had the best chance at Best Director(s) if my pick couldn't win. In "Diving Bell," focus, field of view, framing, frame dropping and perspective are among the many devices bringing us into the head and mind and life of this man of the good life. We go through the remembering, the revelation that only helplessness can bring, the unfolding of how he had lived a sweet life of pleasure fully, and his reexperiencing, reevaluating, regretting, and relearning who are really our lovers and friends and collaborators, and who he is, afterward, giving him an even deeper and entirely unexpected understanding of his favorite book, and comfort in the form of a red and white lighthouse. The absence of "La Vie" and "Diving Bell" from the Foreign Language Film choices left the sparkling "The Counterfeiters" as my easy pick among the official entries, which I both hoped and believed would win. This story of Jewish prisoners in World War II who were especially skilled artists...engravers, printers, ink forumlators and papermakers...working for the German war effort has so many interesting contradictions and implications it would be good for the ideas alone. But "The Counterfeiters" shines in its scenery and art direction, acting, costumes, music, cinematography, direction and in almost every aspect of film-making. It is an intriguing and savory pleasure like a blend of coffee and chocolate that leaves you tasting the balance of bitter and sweet and focusing on that balance until it melts away undecided. It gives us brief moments of pondering the notion of pulling for the bad guys (or the even worse guys, perhaps), and puts us in the dilemma as we watch: What is right, to survive for a cause or to die for it? What would I do as one of the prisoners, or as a relatively powerful but ultimately subservient officer in a cause found to be fraught with horrors and ultimately doomed to fail? So much of "The Counterfeiters" is actually fun, fascinating and intelligent, one wonders why more movies can't be so engaging and real. I love the part where a woman says to an artist that he could make a lot of money selling his art, and he replies in effect that he would rather skip that step and just make the money itself literally. The movie holds together to the end, even as it might have surrendered to relief, as we come out and face some harsh rays of reality after this highwire achievement of survival and sacrifice and pragmatism and greed. And what do you do after all this, after all? Along with "Diving Bell" and "La Vie," "The Counterfeiters" is not just a great foreign language film...it's a great film, on the order of the equally fascinating and improbable truth of "Europa, Europa," several years ago. With at least three memorable and enduring movies, it was a great year for foreign language films, indeed.

Location

Oscar Awards at Kodak Theater
6801 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, California
United States
34° 6' 6.264" N, 118° 20' 24.6012" W

Comments

eebee's picture

A life-altering Oscar season

You pretty much said it all, Roadskater. And not that I'm any authority, but die Fälscher, le Scaphandre et le Papillon, and No Country for Old Men raised my movie-viewing bar. About a quarter of the way through No Country I realized I was watching another Coen Brothers' creation, and set myself up for a certain kind of ending, but was happy to have that expectation dashed. That is the scariest haircut in history.

The movie 'taglines' on imdb.com are usually pretty pointless, but the one for die Fälscher (the Counterfeiters) sums up the feel of the entire movie: It takes a clever man to make money, it takes a genius to stay alive.

Le Scaphandre et le Papillon literally changed my outlook on life. I just got the book from the library - and I never read movies. Why do I want to read it so badly? What more could it possibly say in its roughly 200,000 characters? What would any of us have to say when communicating purely through eye blinks at about 2 minutes per word? Johnny Depp was supposed to play the lead role but thankfully had other scheduling conflicts. I needed to see this true story portrayed through unfamiliar faces - although French actor and director Mathieu Amalric, who played the lead role, bears a striking resemblance to Roman Polanski. According to his Wikipedia info, his Mother comes from the same Polish town as Roman Polanski. Hmmm. And Elvis Polanski (Roman's son - and what a great name!) played the young Jean-Dominique Bauby. They all have very catchy faces. One of the nurses played by Marie Josée Croze is a dead ringer for Naomi Watts. This movie touches on many versions of hell, represented by the ironies and oblivion of every day human behavior.

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