Europa Europa (1990)

Europa Europa
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Writer: Agnieszka Holland
Based on: Solomon Perel‘s autobiography Ich war Hitlerjunge Salomon
Cast: Marco Hofschneider, André Wilms, Ashley Wanninger, Klaus Abramowsky, Delphine Forest, René Hofschneider, Julie Delpy, Hanns Zischler, Martin Maria Blau, Bernhard Howe, Klaus Kowatsch, Holger Kunkel, Halina Labonarska
Seen on: 19.8.2021

Content Note: holocaust, anti-semitism, fascism, sexualized violence

Plot:
Solomon (Marco Hofschneider), called Sally, lives with his Jewish family in Germany, but with the rise of the Nazis, the situation becomes ever more dangerous for them. After his sister is killed, the remaining family makes its way to Poland, hoping to be safe there. When the Nazis come to Poland, too, Sally becomes separated from the rest of his family. He first finds shelter in a Russian school, but after the Nazis catch up with him there, too, he doesn’t have many options left. When he finds himself face to face with German soldiers, he tells them that he is a “Volksdeutscher”, member of a German minortiy in Poland, and since his language skills prove him to be a valuable interpreter, he is taken in. But it’s not that easy to pretend that he isn’t Jewish.

Europa Europa gives us an important perspective on World War 2 – one on what it could mean to simply survive, and how hard even the “lucky” persecuted people had it. It’s a really memorable film with a memorable protagonist.

The film poster showing Solomon (Marco Hofschneider) leaning over Leni (Julie Delpy) to kiss her.
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Minari (2020)

Minari
Director: Lee Isaac Chung
Writer: Lee Isaac Chung
Cast: Alan S. Kim, Yeri Han, Noel Cho, Steven Yeun, Yuh-Jung Youn, Will Patton
Seen on: 10.8.2021

Content Note: child abuse, (critical treatment of) racism

Plot:
Jacob (Steven Yeun) has always dreamed of owning a farm, and finally he and his wife Monica (Yeri Han) have saved up enough to buy a plot of land. Much to Monica’s surprise, the land is much bigger and much more rural than she expected, their house nothing more but a trailer. But what’s done is done, and they and their children David (Alan S. Kim) and Anne (Noel Cho) move in. While Jacob throws himself into farming, Monica is not convinced about the success of his endeavor.

Minari is a beautiful, intimate and very soft film that is sure to find a way into your heart. I really adored it.

The film poster showing David (Alan S. Kim) walking over a field with a stick in his hand. A mural of the US-American flag can be seen on the background.
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Dream Horse (2020)

Dream Horse
Director: Euros Lyn
Writer: Neil McKay
Cast: Toni Collette, Damian Lewis, Owen Teale, Alan David, Lynda Baron, Karl Johnson, Steffan Rhodri, Rhys ap William, Carwyn Glyn, Siân Phillips, Joanna Page, Peter Davison, Katherine Jenkins, Clare Balding
Seen on: 27.7.2021

Plot:
Jan (Toni Collette) works two jobs – as a supermarket cashier and as a bartender – and barely keeps herself and her husband Brian (Owen Teale), a former vet who can’t work anymore, afloat. Her life seems nothing but work with no perspective of that changing. When she hears a bar patron, bookkeeper Howard (Damian Lewis), talking about being part of a syndicate – a group of people who owned a race horse together – she gets an idea. She will raise a race horse herself – with the help of the people in the village.

Dream Horse proves that movie formulas have evolved for a reason – and that if you follow them well enough, the resulting film will deliver exactly what is expected of it. Will anything come as a suprise here? No. But you will be entertained by every expected turn nonetheless.

The film poster showing a race horse, with Jan (Toni Collette), Brian (Owen Teale) and Howard (Damian Lewis) and the rest of the people from the village cheering in the background.
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Persepolis (2007)

Persepolis
Director: Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
Writer: Vincent Paronnaud
Based on: Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical comic
Cast: Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux, Catherine Deneuve, Simon Abkarian, Gabrielle Lopes Benites, François Jerosme, Tilly Mandelbrot
Seen on: 24.5.2021

Plot:
Marji (Gabrielle Lopes Benites) is precocious and rather wild girl. She grows up with her parents (Catherine Deneuve, Simon Abkarian) and her grandmother (Danielle Darrieux) in Tehran. Her family is political – a fact that has gotten her uncle Anoush (François Jerosme) into prison already. With the Islamic Revolution, things become even more difficult for them. Finally her parents decide to send Marji – now a teenager and called Marjane (Chiara Mastroianni) – to Austria for her own safety. But being an Iranian girl in Austria isn’t much easier than being one in Iran.

Persepolis has been on my radar for a while now, and I’m not sure why I never watched it until now (probably a case of me wanting to read the comic this is based on first, but I never did). Anyhow, I watched it now and it really was very good.

The film poster showing Marjane, her chin in her hand. Behind her is a bubble that shows her family - mother, father, uncle and grandmother standing around a sofa on which she sits as a child.
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Cézanne et moi [Cezanne and I] (2016)

Cézanne et moi
Director: Danièle Thompson
Writer: Danièle Thompson
Cast: Guillaume Canet, Guillaume Gallienne, Alice Pol, Déborah François, Pierre Yvon, Sabine Azéma, Gérard Meylan, Laurent Stocker, Isabelle Candelier
Seen on: 25.4.2021

Content Note: sexism, misogyny

Plot:
Émile Zola (Guillaume Canet) and Paul Cézanne (Guillaume Gallienne) have known each other since they were children. But as they grew older, they grew apart from each other. But now Cézanne has come to visit Zola and both are excited to see each other again. Once they get to talking, though, tensions between the two become obvious: Zola wrote a novel that draws on their life and Cézanne is unhappy with how he was portrayed in it. As both reflect on their relationship with each other, their lives and their women, it is unclear whether they can move past that tension and the very different way their lives developed.

Oh boy, Cézanne et moi was an absolutely boring movie. It moves slowly and spends most of its time dwelling on the sexism and misogyny those two men exhibit, while still wanting us to like them. That equation doesn’t work, nor does the film.

The film poster showing Émile Zola (Guillaume Canet) and Paul Cézanne (Guillaume Gallienne) walking through a landscape that looks like it was painted by Cézanne.
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Êxtase [Ecstasy] (2020)

Êxtase
Director: Moara Passoni
Writer: David Barker, Fernando Epstein, Moara Passoni
Cast: Victória Maranho, Gigi Paladino, Alice Valares
Part of: this human world Film Festival
Seen on: 6.12.2020

Content Note: anorexia

“Plot”:
A young girl, soon woman (Victória Maranho), tries to find her place in the world. But there is not much she can control – except what she eats or doesn’t eat.

Êxtase is a deeply personal and very in-depth look at the world through the eyes of an anorectic girl, somewhere between fiction and documentary and far from the usual clichés of just “thinking that she is too fat”.

The film poster showing a young woman (Victoria Maranho) laying sideways on the floor. Only her head can be seen in a circular blue cutout over a white background.
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Skin (2018)

Skin
Director: Guy Nattiv
Writer: Guy Nattiv
Cast: Jamie Bell, Danielle Macdonald, Daniel Henshall, Bill Camp, Louisa Krause, Zoe Margaret Colletti, Kylie Rogers, Colbi Gannett, Mike Colter, Vera Farmiga, Mary Stuart Masterson
Seen on: 23.10.2019

Content Note: (critical treamtent of) fascism, racism

Plot:
Bryon Widner (Jamie Bell) has basically grown up in the neonazi scene and is one of the bigger players in his area. He is really committed to the cause – covered in tattoos from head to toe that make his allegiance visible for everyone, and taking part in more than one act of violence against marginalized communities. But when Bryon meets Julie (Danielle Macdonald) and her three daughters, his desire to quit the neonazi scene grows. The scene isn’t willing to let him go that easily, though.

Skin tackles a difficult topic and tries to do so with complexity, but doesn’t always do it justice. The great cast makes up for a lot, though.

The film poster showing Bryon (Jamie Bell), his face covered in tattoos.
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Blinded by the Light (2019)

Blinded by the Light
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Writer: Sarfraz Manzoor, Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges
Based on: Sarfaz Manzoor’s memoir Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll
Cast: Viveik Kalra, Aaron Phagura, Nell Williams, Dean-Charles Chapman, Kulvinder Ghir, Nikita Mehta, Meera Ganatra, Tara Divina, Rob Brydon, David Hayman, Hayley Atwell
Seen on: 28.8.2019

Content Note: (critical treatment of) classism, racism

Plot:
It’s 1987 in England and Javed (Viveik Kalra) doesn’t really know where he belongs. He feels stifled in his family, especially by his father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir), but also doesn’t feel like he has that much in common anymore with his childhood friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman), although he still writes lyrics for Matt’s band. When Javed starts a new school, he finds new friends though – activist-hearted Eliza (Nell Williams) and Roops (Aaron Phagura), the only other British-Asian kid in school. Roops introduces Javed to Bruce Springsteen – an eye-opening experience for Javed that changes everything for him.

Blinded by the Light is a really nice film that manages to combine a light-hearted coming-of-age story with serious issues like classism and racism without short-selling either. Sometimes it’s a little too conventional, but I enjoyed it.

The film poster showing Javed (Viveik Kalra) mid-jump in front of a orange-and-white striped background, reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA album cover.
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Tolkien (2019)

Tolkien
Director: Dome Karukoski
Writer: David Gleeson, Stephen Beresford
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Patrick Gibson, Anthony Boyle, Tom Glynn-Carney, Craig Roberts, Harry Gilby, Albie Marber, Ty Tennant, Adam Bregman, Mimi Keene, Colm Meaney, Laura Donnelly, Derek Jacobi
Seen on: 15.7.2019

Plot:
John R. R. Tolkien (Harry Gilby) grows up poor and his mother (Laura Donnelly) dies early, so he and his brother get placed into foster care by Father Francis (Colm Meaney). They end up with a rich older woman who also fosters Edith (Mimi Keene) and John and Edith become good friends. The foster place also gives John the chance to attend a prestigious school where he shows great promise and becomes fast friends with Robert (Albie Marber), Christopher (Ty Tennant) and Geoffrey (Adam Bregman). Even after they grow up and attend different universities, John (Nicholas Hoult) remains friends with them (Patrick Gibson, Anthony Boyle, Tom Glynn-Carney). But World War I changes their plans.

Tolkien suffers from a very, very bad script that gives us no real insight into who Tolkien may have been, or even tells its story in a competent manner.

The film poster showing J. R. R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult). Superimposed over his chest are two warriors fighting on horseback.
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Rocketman (2019)

Rocketman
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Writer: Lee Hall
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, Steven Mackintosh, Tom Bennett, Matthew Illesley, Kit Connor, Tate Donovan, Ophelia Lovibond, Harriet Walter, Stephen Graham
Seen on: 11.6.2019

Content Note: (critical treatment of) homomisia

Plot:
Elton John (Taron Egerton) has reached a low point. Now he is in a rehab facility, trying to get better. Part of that is trying to piece together how he got to where he is now. So he reflects on his childhood as Reggie with his parents (Bryce Dallas Howard, Steven Mackintosh) and his grandmother (Gemma Jones), how he discovered music for himself and with his cooperation with Bernie (Jamie Bell), and how he meets producer John (Richard Madden). Especially his complicated relationship with John that makes Elton come to grips with his homosexuality, but also causes him a lot of pain.

Rocketman is not the best film you will ever see, but it is a really good one, with a great lead and awesome music.

The film poster showing Elton John (Taron Egerton) in a feather costume and huge glasses on stage in a stadium, playing the piano in full rock mode.
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