Foreign Film Review Round-Up

With this post I will be catching up on some of the foreign films from 2014 that will likely be in contention at the 87th annual Academy Awards. I try to see as many films as I can each year and write reviews for the most relevant, but unfortunately foreign films often fall by the wayside due to their limited availability as well as the general amount of media available. And so, it is in the doldrums of January that I hope to play a little catch-up and deliver some quick thoughts on some of the more notable films from around the world.

Two Days, One Night

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne

Stars: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rogione, Catherine Salée

If Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's (The Kid with a Bike) latest film says anything it is in reinforcing the well-worn idea that everyone has a story. At a brisk hour and a half the Dardenne brothers have written and directed a film that not only gives Marion Cotillard a platform for a meek and quiet lead performance, but they've also opened the flood gates for empathy and examining how selfish or caring individuals can be. This is, of course, all based around what the individuals can lose or gain from the given circumstances and in the case of Sandra (Cotillard), a young Belgian mother, it is that of discovering her co-workers have opted for a significant pay bonus in exchange for her dismissal. In only one weekend she is forced to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she might keep her job. More than having lost her job though, Sandra suffers from something of a deeper depression. She is hesitant to even approach these people she apparently works alongside on a daily basis as there is a stilted nature to the interactions she knows she has to have despite genuinely not wanting to ask them for a favor putting them in as difficult a position as she's been placed. It is a burden that strains, but more it is the mentality of Sandra that is most important that we understand otherwise the film wouldn't work. I suspect this is why Cotillard is receiving such rave reviews because just as Sandra feels an insurmountable amount of empathy for her co-workers we need to feel the same amount of sympathy for our protagonist and Cotillard is able to command that with her performance. What Two Days, One Night does best is tap into the basic human element of what we, as a human race, will do-the lengths we'll got to- in order to make each others stories as pleasant as possible. It naturally touches on what we won't do depending on the extent of how it will effect our own lives and in the end if what is done is what we can manage while still keeping ourselves in mind or simply enough to feel good with ourselves. The premise the Dardenne's employ allows us to see a wide spectrum of humanity and while it is an interesting and fine enough film it is just that with little more to lend it an exceptional tone other than maybe Cotillard's performance, but even that feels minimally appropriate for the small story being told.


Director: Ruben Östlund

Stars: Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Kristofer Hivju 

Director Ruben Östlund enjoys his long takes and his pensive tone while matching his tension-filled imagery with Antonio Vivaldi's orchestral pieces to occasionally flare up said tension for extra effect. He would like you to think he's minimal in his scenarios and in his filmmaking techniques, but what he is doing is letting the naturalism of his writing breathe. In both the composition and the final edit that connects its scenes, Force Majeure is strikingly bare yet rarely not complex. It is a string of conversations around one incident that happens near the beginning of the film and how a split decision causes a ripple effect in the lives of a seemingly average family. Composed of dad Tomas (Kuhnke), mother Ebba (Kongsli) and children Harry (Vincent Wettergren) and Vera (Clara Wettergren) the family is on vacation at a ski resort when they come face to face with the traumatic event of thinking they are about to be wiped out by an avalanche. This horrific incident shakes the family dynamic in unexpected ways in that it doesn't simply allow for the members to appreciate one another to a greater degree, but rather the reaction of the patriarch leads Ebba to question everything she previously held true about her status in not only their relationship, but the world at large. Force Majeure is a study not only in family dynamics, but in gender roles and what is expected of a man in his relationships and in his heroics as compared to a woman and what masculinity actually means, if anything, when measured under the stress of a crisis. While the crux of Östlund's film comes early and the expected heated arguments follow, it is the pointed dialogue that breaks through the cultural barrier and really entraps us in the tense exchanges taking place. Some have referred to this as a dark comedy, but much like my favorite film of the year, Calvary, this doesn't so much play out with a wicked sense of humor (though there are a few laughs here and there) as it does with a kind of regret-tinged nature that feels more honest than humorous. There is inherent humor in the human psyche and that comes through as what Östlund is examining is essentially the psychodrama of the moral dilemmas that come to the surface in light of one mans disappointing decision. Force Majeure isn't exactly entertaining or enlightening even, but it is consistently interesting and plays on its ability to tap into the small details of its themes to great effect.


Coming Soon: Ida

Coming Eventually (Hopefully): Leviathan, Mommy

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