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Saturday, December 08, 2007

DVDs: Foreign Affairs

Lately, I've watched a number of good-to-great foreign films on DVD. Most were made in 2006.

The best, by far, was "The Lives of Others" (Das Leben der Anderen), a German film that was recognized earlier this year at the Academy Awards as the Best Foreign Language Film of 2006.

The film is set in the mid-1980s in East Germany. The state begins surveillance of a writer, heretofore known for his fealty to socialism. I don't want to reveal much about the terrific plot or ending, but I will note that the spying turns out to involve personal passions and leads to private rebellion. It is a great film and offers a brief discussion of the kinds of torture so often practiced in the war on terror.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw "Letters from Iwo Jima," which was Clint Eastwood's Japanese-language film about the World War II battle for the island. It was very good, but not without flaws. The most sympathetic Japanese military leaders all spent time in the U.S. earlier in their lives. Hmmmm.

"Black Book" ("Zwartboek") is Dutch film released in 2006, directed by Paul Verhoeven. This film is set during World War II and tells the story of a young Jewish woman's personal struggles against the Nazis. The plot includes a number of interesting twists, which I will not reveal. The director has traveled some distance from "Robo Cop," "Total Recall," "Basic Instinct," and "Showgirls," though he does find a problematic way to humiliate his beautiful heroine.

"The Valet" (La Doublure) is a light comedy about a parking attendant who becomes involved with a supermodel thanks to her rich married lover's need to deceive his spouse. As I wrote last month, "I would recommend it to anyone who occasionally enjoys French farce."

If you are in the mood for something a bit more suspenseful, view the old French heist film "Rififi" ("Du rififi chez les hommes"). I finally saw it a few weeks ago. One very long silent sequence is a classic piece of cinema. Who needs subtitles in a film that includes half an hour of uninterrupted robbery?

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