Thursday, 25 July 2013

Film #10: Hell (15)

Released: 2011
Directed by: Tim Fehlbaum
Original title: Hell (Bright)

In the very near future, global warming has stripped the Earth of almost all its moisture and natural resources, leaving the remaining population to battle each other and nature in equal measure. Marie (Hannah Herzsprung), her sister Leonie (Lisa Vicari) and boyfriend Phillip (Lars Eidinger) are making their way to the mountains, the most promising source of water and shelter from the blistering heat. After joining forces with a mysterious stranger, they fall prey to a group of mercenaries and have to tap into their most savage instincts to survive.

I prefer my horrors psychological rather than graphic, so I’m glad some things were left to the imagination rather than being shown in all their blood-stained glory. The visuals can be quite an assault on the eyes – night-time and indoor scenes are sometimes almost too dark to make out, while daytime and outdoor scenes are so bleached and arid that you almost find yourself squinting along with the characters. 

The choice of title proves very apt (although I can’t say whether the wordplay was deliberate) – in German, it refers to the unrelenting glare of the sun, while in English it conveys the descent into horror experienced by the protagonists. A mixture of dystopian horror and “gorenography” (although not as graphic as films such as Saw or Hostel), Hell doesn’t really offer anything new, but is entertaining nonetheless.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Film #9: The Wall (12A)

Released: 2013
Directed by: Julian Pölsler
Original title: Die Wand (The Wall)

There are plenty of films depicting sole survivors of natural disasters, (often unexplained) global events or horrendous accidents, but normally they take the form of Tom Hanks talking to a ball in Cast Away, or Will Smith doing topless press-ups in I Am Legend. Here, we have Martina Gedeck trekking the Austrian mountains in a philosophical One Woman and Her Dog.

Spending time with two of her friends at their hunting lodge in the forest, our (unnamed) protagonist stays behind with their dog, Lynx, when they decide to head into the nearby town. When they haven’t returned by the next morning, she decides to go and find them. Unfortunately, an invisible wall has seemingly appeared overnight that prevents her from leaving the area. Whilst no explanation is given, it’s definitely not a figment of her imagination, and the only people she can see appear to be frozen in time (dead?) on the other side.

Told in flashback as she records her attempts to come to terms with her situation and learn how to live off the land, this is an interesting but odd film. Not a great deal actually happens, although this makes the occasional flash of action more startling. The diary is a means to maintain her sanity, and as she spends more and more time in the company of animals - particularly the dog, who acts as a great foil to his new mistress - she comes to question what it means to be human, and what she is prepared to do to survive. 

Ultimately we know nothing about Gedeck’s character, and the formal language used in the narration maintains a certain distance between the character and the audience. After all, we’re on the other side of the wall, aren’t we?

The Wall was released on 5th July and may still be showing in selected cinemas.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Films #7 and #8: Big Girls Don't Cry and Summer Storm

Big Girls Don’t Cry                                             
Released: 2002                                                
Directed by: Maria von Heland                         
Original title: Groβe Mädchen Weinen Nicht (Big Girls Don’t Cry)

Summer Storm
Released: 2004
Directed by: Marco Kreuzpaintner
Original title: Sommersturm (Summer Storm)

Both of these films depict young people discovering who they really are and coming to realise that things are never black and white. While Big Girls Don’t Cry focuses on the repercussions of an escalating campaign of revenge, Summer Storm follows a group of teenagers struggling with their sexual feelings.

In Big Girls Don’t Cry, best friends Kati (Anna Maria Mühe) and Steffi (Karolina Herfurth) discover that Steffi’s father is having an affair, and set out to get revenge by targeting the other woman’s daughter, Tessa, an aspiring singer. After their initial efforts prove unsuccessful, they step things up by sending Tessa to a pornographer, telling her he's actually a record producer. As events unfold, Steffi's behaviour becomes more and more extreme, and it is Kati - who initially seems the more rebellious and promiscuous of the two, with a much unhappier home life - who starts to question the wisdom of their actions and whether their friendship will last the distance.

The plot itself is pretty melodramatic, but the characters are perhaps a little more nuanced than you might find in an equivalent Hollywood movie. The scene in which Tessa visits the pornographer flips in an instance from mildly embarrassing to absolutely terrifying. All in all a fairly standard - but well-acted - teen drama.

Summer Storm focuses on the friendship between Tobi (Robert Stadtlober) and Achim (Kostja Ullmann), stars of the local rowing team. While Achim is waiting to take his relationship with his girlfriend, Sandra, to the next level, Tobi is confused by his feelings for both his good friend and for Anke, a member of the girls’ rowing team. Things come to a head when both teams head to the countryside to train alongside several other clubs, including the “Queerstrokes”, a team populated entirely by gay men. While Tobi finds himself identifying with them and becoming increasingly attracted to one of their number, other members of his team react with abject horror. 

There are stereotypes and clichés on both sides – the heterosexual man who believes that gay men must automatically be attracted to him, to the camp, limp-wristed homosexual – but the characters themselves recognise and mock these ideas. As well as dealing with the difficulties of ‘coming out’, the film also addresses the worries of heterosexual teenagers on the brink of losing their virginity. Sandra is in a stable relationship but insecure about her body, while Anke struggles to read the signs she seems to be receiving from Tobi, and eventually it is she who encourages him to be true to himself. 

There is plenty of humour to be found here, and a special mention should go to Robert Stadtlober's great delivery of the most challenging role. Summer Storm is by far the better of the two films I've covered today.