Sunday, July 1, 2007

Jason watches "The Rape of Europa", "La Vie En Rose", and "Paprika"

Yesterday was my day of catching up on movies I specifically skipped during the SF International Film Festival because I knew they'd be coming out in general release eventually. It was also a day to hang out in one of my favorite theaters--the Camera 12 in San Jose. A 12 screen multiplex that plays a mix of Hollywood blockbusters and independent movies (their 7 screen theater at the Pruneyard in Campbell does the same, and often plays more indie films). What I really like about them (and I assume this is intentional) is that unlike all other multiplexes, they actually schedule their movies so that it's easy to see multiple movies. Most multiplexes will try to time it so movies start a half hour before the neighboring screens let out, so you can't hop from movie to movie. Or at the very least, you have to hunt to find movies that are well timed to hop. But at the Cameras movies are well timed so that when you get out of one, there are several movies about to start. I appreciate it so much that I don't hop--I buy tickets for every movie. Outside of film festivals (and they host Cinequest, and have from the beginning), it's my favorite place to spend all day at the movies.

Okay, so on to the actual movies. First up was the documentary "The Rape of Europa", yet another WWII documentary. But the odd twist here is that it looks at the Nazi regime and the destruction of WWII from the point of view of the great works of art that were lost, stolen, or destroyed. It's a little unsettling, at first, to watch a documentary about Nazis that doesn't say much about the millions and millions who were murdered. But looking at Hitler's and Goering's obsession with art--collecting masterpieces, destroying "objectionable" art, or returning works by Germans to the fatherland--shows them as not just homicidal maniacs, but ludicrous, ridiculous wannabe-sophisticates. Many no the story of how Hitler was an aspiring painter, but rejected from art school and so went on to try to take over the world. As a result, he bore an incredible grudge against modern art (and the Jewish teachers at the school that rejected him). To his final days, he was still planning his grand museum in his hometown of Linz, to showcase good German art. Art collecting became such a required passion for Nazis that during the holocaust, if you were targeted and owned a great work of art, it could buy your life. When the US entered the war, on orders from FDR they brought a handful of art experts--the Monument Men--to discover, protect, and catalogue works of art as best as they could. There's more in this movie--such as the continuing search for lost masterpieces, ongoing legal battles to settle who's the rightful owner of certain pieces, etc. The film is replete with archival footage and meticulous research (based on the book by Lynn Nicholas), sometimes to the point of exhaustion. I'm sure an art major could get a lot more out of this movie, but they still keep it on a level where novices can at least grasp the importance.

Next up was "La Vie En Rose", the sprawling (2 hours, 20 minutes) epic biopic of the life of Edith Piaf, the great french singer. Well, I can sum it up in much less time than that. She had a hard life, which she made up for by living hard. Then she died kinda young (just before her 48th birthday). The movie jumps around a lot in time, but is anchored by a terrific performance by Marion Cotillard and some great music. The movie, and her story, was kind of fascinating, but not really 140 minutes fascinating. I didn't know much about her going in, and I knew considerably more coming out, but like they say in the movie, Americans don't just get her. I feel like this would be a treat for people who are already fans of her, but doesn't bring very much to people who aren't (or who don't know her). I was left with the feeling that yes, she had a very hard life and her music both reflected that and rescued her from it. But there was just a taste of the music, not enough for me to 'get' her. I'm left with the lesson that I should be a fan, or else I'm uncultured. And maybe if I do listen to more of her music and become a fan, the movie will have accomplished its mission. But hell, she sings in French, and I don't have time to learn French! As an aside, being a cinephile and one who seeks out the strange, for me the song "La Vie En Rose" still reminds me of the dark French romantic comedy "Love Me if You Dare".

And finally, there was the anime mind-fuck dreamscape "Paprika" (not to be confused with the 1991 Tinto Brass erotic movie of the same name, or it's 1995 Joe D'amato sequel/remake, "Anal Paprika". Okay, I'm getting off topic). No, this is the Satoshi Kon anime epic that nearly indescribable. But I'll take a crack at it--it's beautiful, exciting, and utterly surreal. There's a machine that lets you enter other people's dreams, and you never know if what you're seeing is real or a dream. An evil master is trying to take over everyone's dreams, and the researchers who invented the machine must stop him (with the help of a detective). There's also a heavy thread of movie references and cinephilia. It's a movie about movies, and about making dreams real. Which is what movies--especially movies like this--are all about.

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