Monday, November 18, 2013

Heist of the Highest Order

In the Shadows (2010) - Arslan
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Arslan's foray into genre exercise is perhaps one of the tightest heist film that would make Michael Mann blush. There is nothing remarkable about the plot: A criminal gets out of the jail. He regroups and plans another job with his former associates. His old boss and a corrupt cop are on his trail, and that sets up for various confrontations.

It's not 'what' that's important in In the Shadows, it's 'how'. The mechanics of procedural takes a precedent- getting unregistered guns, counting money, getting rid of the bodies and simple wait-in-the-corners-until-bad-guys-approach-then-shoot set ups, not one moment of the film is wasted. Arslan's treatment of locations is also impeccably economical and has an almost documentary feel to it. It's the empty parking lot, non-descriptive hotel rooms and corridors and gas stations off the freeway, not some recognizable landmarks. But the still shots of those places provide the sense of real and concreteness against the characters who are constantly in motion. People are speaking German but our aptly named protagonist Trojan (Mišel Matičević), with his broad lion face, doesn't come across as a German. In this economical climate, even the heist money is modest- 600,000 euros.

Arslan, a German-Turkish filmmaker who has made a point early in his career not to repeat what he's done previously, makes a sly turn with In the Shadows. At the onset, In The Shadows might not be the best film to represent him as one of filmmakers of the tenuous Berlin School. Although not politically as blunt as fellow filmmaker Petzold in his films, Arslan acknowledges in his (whatever the genre might be) the influx of immigrants which Germany had never experienced before in its history.

In the Shadows plays part of MoMA Film Series The Berlin School: Films from the Berliner Schule Nov.20 through Dec.6. Please visit MoMA website for details.

I Confess

I am Guilty (2005) - Hochhäusler
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Fragmented, distant and elliptical, Hochhäusler's I am Guilty aka Falscher Bekenner (False Confessor) is a deeply disturbing film that stays with you for a long time after viewing. It tells a story of Armin (Constantin Von Jascheroff), an aimless teen from a middle-class household, who might be a terrorist in the making. He seems to be into mechanics and has a fascination for mechanical objects but not much else. Being a third son in a German household, therefore exempt from the mandatory military service isn't really helping him to get a headstart in life by any means. Because his concerned parents' constant nagging, Armin goes to job interviews only to get rejected, one after another. He lacks enthusiasm, focus, social skills, qualification...everything. The interviewers absurd questions and methods are as troubling as Armin's withdrawal. There is no discernible human quality to the process.

The film keeps things as lucid as possible. Did Armin actually committed the arson in his neighborhood? Is he engaging in some dark sexual activities in the public bathroom at night? The thing is, because of Hochhäusler's precise, impeccable direction, you can't dismiss the boy's lethargic behavior as shallow characterization. His troubled inner life, however hidden, beckons more of your attention.

Hochhäusler, a former critic turned filmmaker, says that this loss of identity theme in his as well as many other films of the Berlin School is not particularly limited to reflect the post-Wall German society. He sites that many of these German compatriots see themselves as cosmopolitan and get their influences from filmmakers from other parts of the world. With that in mind I feel there is an unspoken fraternity with Armin and all the young protagonists on the periphery of society with identity problems in so-called 'skipped generation' of wayward youth films around the world (films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Gus Van Sant and current Greek cinema immediately come to mind).

I am Guilty plays part of MoMA Film Series The Berlin School: Films from the Berliner Schule Nov.20 through Dec.6. Please visit MoMA website for details.

Suspended State

Bungalow (2002) - Köhler
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A teenage soldier Paul (Lennie Burmeister) deserts his squad at a roadside gas station and comes back home. His parents are on holiday in Italy, so the house is empty. Things get complicated when his older brother Max (Devid Striesow, Yella, Three, The Heart is a Dark Forest) shows up with his pretty Danish actress girlfriend, Lene (Trine Dyrholm). They are on the way to Munich because Lene is about to star in a low grade German Sci-fi flick. They leave in two days. It's quite obvious that the brothers don't get along. Paul lies about his AWOL status and develops an unhealthy obsession with Lene. Stooped, sulking and completely inept in human interactions, Paul is not just another lost, wayward youth. There is something more dangerous hidden in his unmotivated actions. There is something missing in him.

The post-Wall Germany's collective identity crisis and its angst is demonstrated by an unexplained, ominous explosion in the middle of the film, as our characters watch the plume of smoke rising in the distance from the roof of the house in their quiet suburban town. No one knows what exactly happened. Everyone has their own theories and no one believes the news media. Everyone remains suspicious and on guard. Bungalow does an amazing job at showing the German society treading dangerous, unforeseen territory in the new millennium.

Bungalow plays part of MoMA Film Series The Berlin School: Films from the Berliner Schule Nov.20 through Dec.6. Please visit MoMA website for details.