Friday, January 22, 2010

Film review: The Grocer's Son & Lives of Others

If you liked "The Visitor" and "Station Agent" be sure to see "The Grocer's Son". Although it may not be as complexly satisfying, it has rewards all its own, especially the depiction of and love for rural France and the elderly who have stayed behind in its small towns. Director Éric Guirado prepared by spending 18 months filming portraits of traveling tradesmen and their customers in Corsica, the Pyrenees and the Alps. (I, for one, would love to see that those film portraits.) The story of a prodigal son returning to help care for the family business is a familiar one, but lead Nicolas Cazalé gives a nuanced performance that escapes the mudlin complimented by a strong supporting cast most notably Jeanne Goupil as his mother and Liliane Rovère as the prickly and dry-humored customer with whom he must make peace.

"The Lives of Others" the 2006 debut film by writer director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck starring East German actor Ulrich Mühe is simply one of the best films I've ever seen. A strong storyline, impeccable pacing and cinematography, subtle accumulation of detail and superb acting deliver a suspenseful tale of life in a police/informer state - illustrating how in even the most oppressive societies individuals have free will which they can, and do, use - both for good and for ill. It's a demanding subject and the film ends by takes the easy way out by giving redemption when it would've been more in keeping with the overall tenor of the film (and the reality of East Germany) to show how hard any counter-government action would be even for Stasi employees - themselves closely watched and seldom if ever working alone. As Anna Funder, the author of a book about the Stasi, "...what is more likely to save us from going down the wrong path again is recognising how human beings can be trained and forced into faceless systems of oppression, in which conscience is extinguished." However this point of view is not entirely absent for, as LA Times move critic Kenneth Turan points out this film, "convincingly demonstrates that when done right, moral and political quandaries can be the most intensely dramatic dilemmas of all." The Lives of Others proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt and thus lays groundwork for more of such necessary and artistically sublime projects.

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