A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Edge Of Heaven

I'm a film fan but, I must admit, I'm not a big fan of commercial, American blockbuster movies and the Hollywood star system. Of course, there are many, many American films and film directors I love. Midnight Cowboy. Taxi Driver. Five Easy Pieces. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. John Ford. Orson Welles. David Lynch. Michael Moore. But, given a choice, I'd much rather watch more understated, low-budget European film, which is so far removed from Hollywood's sentimental, melodramatic glitz and glamour. I really don't want to seem snobbish or pretentious, highbrow or high-minded. I just prefer the restrained 'realism' of European cinema to the majority of today's Hollywood movies, which I often find gratuitously violent, cynically manipulative, unadventurously 'safe', ruthlessly commercial, and overtly escapist and unrealistic.

The fact is: I'm an arthouse man. Show me a film with dazzling 'special effects', or a genre film, whether horror, SF, thriller or costume drama - and I can get quickly bored. But give me a slow-moving Tarkovsky - when a camera may pan round a room in a single take for five minutes - or an obscure Czech film about a pigeon-breeding stationmaster, an unorthodox film of Berlin low-life shot in grainy black and white or a surrealistic Cocteau or Bunuel, and I'm hooked. I don't want to be all serious and 'arty' about it, but I just don't like going to movies (or reading books for that matter) for mere escapism or light entertainment (not that I'm looking down on escapism and light entertainment - far from it). I want to be enlightened, stimulated, educated, provoked, transformed; I want to learn something about how we live and survive in this difficult, crazy world; I want to experience real people with real problems and real emotions; I want all the glorious chaos and inconsistency and beauty and horror of real life turned into meaningful art. That's what I want in a good film or a good book. I don't want Terminator or Joan Collins, Gladiator or Jackie Collins. If I sound like a prig, than so be it!

My love of arthouse cinema originated way back in my teens and early twenties, when I watched movies a lot, perhaps several a week. My greatest passion then was for the French 'New Wave' directors: Chabrol, Godard, Rohmer - and, above all, Truffaut. The 400 Blows, Shoot The Piano Player, Jules and Jim, Fahrenheit 451, Stolen Kisses, Day For Night, The Man Who Loved Women - I could watch these films again and again. I was also completely overwhelmed by the bleak, truthful, existentialist films of Ingmar Bergman - one of our greatest European movie makers - and his hugely talented cameraman, Sven Nykvist. Nowadays I hardly ever go to the cinema, but I do watch DVDs and the odd TV film.

A couple of nights ago I saw the 2007 German-Turkish film Edge Of Heaven (Auf Der Anderen Seite in its original German title) directed by Fatih Akin, a brilliant young German film director of Turkish descent. It's a great piece of film making. The lives of six fascinating characters - some Turkish, some German - are intertwined in a complex but engrossing story set against an unsettling backdrop of German-Turkish culture and politics. I won't give a summary of the plot - you can read about it here - but I really do want to recommend this film, which contains some very fine examples of restrained, unsensational, 'realistic' acting. 

One of the characters is played by the very fine German screen actress Hanna Schygulla, who appeared in many of the films made by the controversial German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder - including Berlin Alexanderplatz, The Marriage Of Maria Braun and his masterpiece, Effi Briest.


litehiker said...

I assume you have discovered the marvellous Heimat (dir. Edgar Reiz)? In my view, it doesn't get better than this.

Phoenix C. said...

I'm very different in my taste in films - unabashed escapism and humour for me! Don't know why - maybe I've always used the medium as a way to relax rather than to stimulate thought. I prefer short TV rather than films - unless for the social occasion of going to the cinema. The Big Bang Theory series is my ultimate favourite - Sheldon my screen hero :)

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, 'Heimat' - and 'Berlin Alexanderplatz' - two of TV's filmic masterpieces.

Phoenix - my wife would tell me I'm a total fraud if she'd read the stuff I've just written here. 'What about all the rubbish you watch on TV?' she'd ask, incredulously.

George said...

Well said, Robert, and I agree with every word, especially regarding American films. I have long had a preference for European films, for exactly the same reasons that you enumerate. I will order "The Edge of Heaven" immediately. It looks interesting. Thanks for the recommendation.

Bonnie said...

Robert, I could not agree with you more. Will keep an eye out for 'the edge of heaven' - loving edges as I do. :-)

Bouncing Bertie said...

What a shame that these days one is often thought a 'prig' for preferring thoughtful and intelligent filmmaking. And thanks for the review of 'The Edge of Heaven'. Given what you have written today about your tastes in films, I am keen to see 'The Edge of Heaven' too.

Friko said...

what's wrong with being high-minded, high-brow. They are NOT synonymous with pretentious, dear walker. If being an arthouse man is who you are, then that is all you are. I get so cross about people in this country who feel they must apologise for having definite tastes and preferences.

Come on, be elitist, man! what's priggish about making a choice? When I posted on elitism recently I had LOADS of people coming out in favour.

Oh dear, I DO get cross easily. I also get cross enough to right in capital letters. Now there's priggish!

The Solitary Walker said...

I just LOVED your capital letters AND your indignation, Friko! You are quite right. I really MUSTN'T be afraid of insulting Arnold Schwarzenegger or Pamela Anderson in future! Dammit, I'll come out of the closet right now, and admit I listen to Radio 3 not Radio 1, read The Guardian not The Sunday Sport, and would never buy a bottle of the wine from the Co-op! Gosh, I feel so much better now!

Thanks everyone for your comments!

Val said...

my movie taste gets narrower too - cant take gratuitous violence, cheezy scripts and acting, and so much seems like propaganda - so we dont have to think too much? no show me a beautiful landscape and great storyline and i will be rivetted; love to learn about new places in the world and how life is there.

Friko you are so funny but i agree entirely :)

mostly i prefer the blogosphere to pulp tv

keep walking SW !

Dominic Rivron said...

Perhaps the knack in the arts is to be "highbrow" without other people noticing.
Can't say I've ever been an arthouse cinema fan - although I really really like Werner Herzog and have a soft spot for Powell Pressburger films.
Much prefer spaceships and big explosions myself (although the Star Wars saga leaves me cold)- most recently, the JJ Abrahams Star Trek movie did it for me.

Ruth said...

I'll chime in with hearty agreement about American blockbusters. Absolutely no interest, although I did enjoy Harry Potter.

Good film making, with restraint, especially with good writing, is what I need, in any genre. Thankfully there are more and more independent American film makers who are following their own hearts, that are attached to the European greats who have gone before. They don't have to worry quite so much about what will sell, and who must be cast to sell it (I mean, really? Robert Downey Jr as Sherlock Holmes??).

I'll remember this post as I rearrange my Netflix queue. I seriously need to watch these films, which I hear about again and again but haven't seen.

I'd like to see the film you recommend here, partly because I lived in Istanbul 3 years. Most Turkish films are incredibly sad. You know, the Turks were thrilled when "Love Boat" came to Turkey, because the endings were always happy!