Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Foreign Film Oscars from the 1980s (Part 1)

This is the second in a series of five blog posts dedicated to the 2013 '31 Days of Oscar Blogathon' hosted by the blogging divas Kellee (of Outspoken and Freckled), Paula (of Paula's Cinema Club) and Aurora (of Once Upon a Screen).

(For a complete summary of what I'm writing about, check out this post.)

Post 1: Foreign Film Oscars from the 1950s

So, we've made it through some of the Oscar awarded foreign language films of the 1950s, now lets move forward to the glorious 1980s!  (They're glorious to me because this was the decade of my high school and college there's that.)  This is when I first started watching foreign films, so some of the films in this post (and the next, Part 2) hold special places in my heart as my eyes were opened to the wonderful world of foreign films.

Alexander in a contemplative mood

I've only seen this film once before, and it was some time ago, so this will be the toughest to write about.  However, it's an Ingmar Bergman film...and in general I love his work.  (The dream sequence at the beginning of Wild Strawberries is like no other...well perhaps only Fellini could top it for its surrealistic properties.)  You've got to love slow pacing here as the 'shorter' version of this film is 188 minutes.  The longer version is 312 minutes, nearly five was originally made as a four-part miniseries for television.

Basic plot:
Fanny and Alexander are children in a wealthy family in Sweden.  Their father dies and their mother remarries a cruel and cold bishop.  Eventually the children escape from the prison that is the bishop's house.  In the end, the children's pregnant mother escapes too, after drugging the bishop (who dies later.)  And the film ends on a happy note with the Christening of the mother's new child.

Great scenes:
  • The Christmas party at the beginning of the film is a nice scene...everything in the house is so lush and refined, and they're all having a great time.
  • Edvard's Aunt running through the house, nightgown ablaze...that's a haunting image

Why it's a great film:
  • It's a Bergman film...that's all that really needs to be said here...however...
  • The acting is excellent
  • It's a sumptuous period piece (set at the beginning of the 20th century)

If you like this film, also consider:

Dinner guests

This is the very first foreign film I ever saw.  It was at a friend's house in the late 1980s and I was curious as to how much different this film was from films made in the US.  (At that time, popular films in the US were things like Road House, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, etc.)

It took me a while to realize just how different this film was from others I had seen.  This film had more of an emphasis on character development (vs. the more American plot-driven films.)  When you get to learn a lot about the characters, you care about them and that makes for a more enjoyable film-watching experience (in my opinion.)  The pace was slower than American films...there was less dialog and there were spaces of silence (vs. American films non-stop talk, explosions, SFX.)

Basic plot:
A war refugee from Paris (Babette), acts as cook and homemaker for two elderly spinster sisters in a remote village in Denmark.  Every year, she renews her lottery ticket from France and one day she wins the 10,000 franc payout.  She spends the entire sum on one grand banquet for the two sisters and their friends.  Unbeknownst to them, Babette was a master chef at high-end Parisian restaurant when she lived in France.

Great scenes:
  • The big payoff scene in this film is when Babette returns to the small village (after going to France for preparations) and cooks a grand meal for her friends.  The sisters and their friends have never eaten like this, not even close.  Because they were raised by a very pious father they agree to eat the meal, but not to delight in it or comment on it.  However as the meal unfolds, they struggle to contain themselves.

Why it's a great film:
  • It opened the doors to many more great 'foodie' films (see list below)
  • Babette's sacrificial love is truly heartwarming...she decides to blow it all on her friends, meaning she will have to remain in the village with them, unable to afford a return to France.

If you like this film, also consider:

Jean Bonnet studying music


Basic plot:
During WWII in occupied France, we find a Catholic boarding school for boys.  Some of the boys are Jewish are being 'hidden' from Nazis at the boarding school among the other children (the headmaster is in on it.)  One of the boys (Julien) begins to realize that these three Jewish kids are different and befriends one of them (Jean Bonnet.) At the end of the film Gestapo officers raid the school and the three Jewish boys are found and taken away.  Later we learn in a voice-over that the three children and the headmaster all died in concentration camps.

Great scenes:
  • Most of the film focuses on the day-to-day life of the children in the boarding school.  Meals, chapel, classes, carousing.
  • During a scavenger hunt/mock military exercise the two boys get separated from the rest of the school and end up lost in the woods. Eventually a Nazi patrol finds them and Jean Bonnet instinctively runs.
  • Julien invites Jean to a fancy restaurant with his mother and brother.  At the restaurant a table of Nazi's is dining next to them. A minor ruckus is stirred up when some French military (German sympathizers, the Milice) attempt to kick a Jewish diner out of the restaurant.
  • The final scenes are heartbreaking as armed Nazis remove Julien, the other Jewish boys and the headmaster and cart them off. Heartbroken, the children call out, "Au revoir, mon père!" Père Jean responds, "Au revoir, les enfants! À bientôt!"

Why it's a great film:
  • It's an autobiographical film...this really happened to the director (portrayed by the Julien character.)
  • There is this undercurrent of danger all throughout the film.  We know what's going on, then watch as Julien finds out, then we're fearing for Jean's capture throughout the film.  Threats loom around every corner: air raids, armed militia at the school, Nazis, etc.
  • We've seen the development of a friendship between Julien and Jean and it immediately comes to an end.
  • It's a harsh loss of innocence/coming-of-age film where kids are faced with the real life and death consequences of keeping a secret.

Coming up in the next post, a second post on Oscar-worthy films of the 1980s...there's just so many good ones!

No comments:

Post a Comment