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DVD quick takes

I’m back on a foreign film binge. In case you’ve wondered, the years listed are when the film was released, not when the particular DVD came out.

Brothers (2004) 4.5/5

Just when you think this Danish film is all too predictable and you know just where it’s going, director Susanne Bier turns things upside down. The movie contrasts older brother Michael Lundberg, an upstanding Danish army major, with his ne’er-do-well younger brother, Jannik. Jannik is released from prison the day before Michael is to leave for Afghanistan as part of the UN military force there. A life shattering event in Afghanistan not only changes the brothers but forever impacts all three generations of the Lundberg family. The film is well-deserving of the many awards it earned, including the audience award in World Cinema at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Devils on the Doorstep (2000) 4/5

It’s hard to beat American director Steven Soderbergh’s description of this Chinese film as one that goes from shockingly funny to shocking. In the closing days of 1944, Ma Dasan, a Chinese peasant played wonderfully by the film’s director, Jiang Wen, is forced at gunpoint in the middle of the night to take custody of two prisoners, a Japanese soldier and his Chinese translator. He is told to care for the prisoners until the anonymous captor returns for them on New Year’s. When the captor does not return and the days turn into months, Ma Dasan and his small village face the question of what to do with the prisoners, particularly given the fact a Japanese blockhouse overlooks the village. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2000, the film is in black and white except for just a few minutes and to discuss those minutes would spoil its effect. Although a bit long for my taste (the DVD version clocks in at more than two and a quarter hours, compared to nearly three hours at Cannes), there’s no doubt Jiang Wen is a tremendous filmmaker.

This Man Must Die (1969) 2.5/5

When a young boy is killed by a hit and run driver, his father embarks on a quest to track down the driver and kill him. That is the basic plot of this film by French New Wave director Claude Chabrol. While the filmmaking lend itself to the exploration of tragedy and the score is intriguing, the film’s viewpoint is almost too removed. It’s often hard to find a reason to really care about any of the characters, including the bereaved father. While Chabrol builds tension very well at various points, he seems to skim over various aspects of the characters and parts of the story.

American motion pictures are written by the half-educated for the half-witted.

Irish critic St. John Greer Ervine, New York Mirror, June 6, 1963

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