Monday, January 12, 2009

Some more good foreign films

When I’m not able to be on the road, I like to watch foreign films to get a glimpse of faraway places. I try to note the worthwhile ones I come across here. Below are two more to add to the list.

Since Otar Left is a film from contemporary Georgia. It does a great job of portraying the details of daily life in a post-Communist society – so much so that I missed the minivan buses, the thick doors with peeling paint, even the electrical and water outages. Three generations of women live together in a Tbilisi apartment, awaiting letters and phone calls from Otar, their son/brother/uncle, who has gone to France to work illegally in construction. When something happens to Otar, the younger two women decide to lie to Otar’s mother.

I think it’s most worth watching for the images of Georgia and for the insight it provides into a family dependent on foreign remittances and longing for better opportunities. Esther Gorintin’s performance as Otar’s mother is also amazing for a 90-year-old actress (who was a former dental assistant). I’ve been seeing some inspiring examples of older actresses lately. One is 81-year-old Estelle Parsons, starring as an evil matriach in Broadway’s August: Osage County. Another is Gorintin.

A Soldier’s Ballad is a 1959 movie from the Soviet Union. This might make you expect patriotic fervor and a chaste, lovely view of life. Surprisingly, that’s not what you’ll find at all and it makes this film unique.

The main character is allowed a six-day leaving from fighting at the front after he (somewhat unrealistically) destroys two tanks. He has two days to travel home, two days to fix his mother’s leaking roof, and two days to return. The trip home ends up taking longer than two days though, as he travels across Russia and meets up with people affected in various ways by the war. I watched it twice, once with the English subtitles and once without. It’s a rare film I enjoy repeating, but this one is touching and very nicely done.

The interview that accompanies the DVD is not as well done, but is interesting only to hear the nationalist jingoism in the exchange, especially from the American side.

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