One of the most troubling outgrowths of the wave of Europe-wide civil unrest at the tail-end of the 1960s was the emergance in Germany of the Red Army Faction, the notorious Baader-Meinhof Gang. Urban terrorists (with PLO support) they committed a string of bank robberies, bombings and kidnappings across the country in protest against US imperialism in Vietnam, capitalist pigs in general and other international bugbears of hardline socialism. They were also young and sexy, with great clothes and an alarming amount of popular support in a deeply disaffected nation whose younger generations still bristled with incoherent self-loathing for the sins of their fathers.
The Baader-Meinhof Complex (d. Uli Edel) has caused a bit of a fuss at home, therefore, for it is the film of their story. But it is not a film of judgement: the group did, after all, have a good and passionately upheld point, but which they made through acts of violence that increasingly claimed the lives of those, outside the specific context of the capitalist hegemony, who would generally be termed innocents. So they remain both freedom fighters and terrorists, passionate young idealists for whom “guns make things more fun”. The lack of judgement is not the film’s problem: it is packed with a fantastic amount of detail, with seamlessly incorporated contemporary footage, and the drop in momentum once the leaders begin a five-year incarceration is unavoidable.
But perhaps because it does cover so much ground, and because it steadfastly refuses to pass judgement, it seems to lack something in incisiveness (and is certainly overlong, at 2½ hours); the thrilling glamorisation of noble ideals expressed through violent action is not as unsettling as it should be, but the consolations lie in good performances all round (especially Bruno Ganz as the astucious chief of police), deft construction, and the fact that those crazy kids were just so damned cool and sexy.
Fans of Inuit movies will not be disappointed by Toronto prize-winner Before Tomorrow (Le Jour devant lendemain) by debutantes Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Madeline Ivalu. But The Savage Innocents this is not: an old woman and her grandson find themselves stranded on the tundra one summer, and that’s pretty much it. The gentle depiction of their relationship rolls along at a glacier pace, to a backdrop of stunning land, sea and skyscapes, whilst ample time and attention is paid to the traditional ways of life and the harsh necessities of survival in the desolate Arctic waste. Predictably enough, it’s lumbered with a very second-hand echo-laden new-agey score, and a truly atrocious theme song (“Why Must We Die?”), but if one can take contemplative pleasure in the gentle glow of the blubber-lamp light, the sense of slowed-down time on top of the world, and the ancient continuity both of tradition and the spirit, it is a very seductive experience. Oh, and there’s some fantastically cute husky puppies.
Not really “incredible”, as the volunteer who introduced it would have us believe, Maria Larsson’s Everlasting Moments (Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick) was still very lovely. It follows the adult life of a working class wife and (constantly reproducing) mother in Sweden from 1907 onwards as she intermittently indulges a chance-acquired obsession with photography, whilst putting up with a stupid drunken jailbird husband; it has archetypal “foreign film” written all over it, complete with quiet passion, impeccable period detail and musing voice-over narration from the eldest daughter. It takes its sweet time (2½ hours) about things, winds up with an irksome inconsequentially and I was hoping for a much more obsessive film, à la Kieslowski’s Amator; but Maria Heiskanen’s winning central performance is a fine example of restrained modulation, a still-born love affair is beautifully touching, and there are some truly wonderful moments on the magic of photography to make a cinephile weep. The Swedish interiors are super and there is also, as one would hope, some strikingly beautiful cinematography, executed in part by director Jan Troell, including an unhappy young girl walking out across a frozen lake, vanishing eerily like a print left in the developing tray too long.
Set in New Zealand, largely around a Sikh restaurant, Apron Strings has been sold as a touching multicultural comedy drama about mothers, life lessons and Indian food. The first is true enough; the second amounts to “it’s all a matter of give and take”; and the third is completely wasted even as a bog-standard metaphor or bonding ritual (there’s barely even any food porn). The best thing that can be said of it is that it means well, and that it occasionally manages some convincing inter-generational family dynamics. It’s also thuddingly, painfully obvious from start to finish, with a script of staggering simple-mindedness, and some of the most shockingly poor lead performances I can ever recall seeing. Audience verdicts range from “truly wonderful” via “mediocre at best” to “tedious piece of shit”. You can guess the majority view.
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