Stroszek (1977)

Stroszek_poster

Werner Herzog makes extraordinary films, doesn’t he? And here’s a road movie to beat the band. Bruno (Bruno S., Kaspar Hauser) has just been released from prison following a drunken episode. His problems all relate to having been brought up in Nazi-run institutions. His dwarf neighbour Scheitz (Clemens Scheitz) has kept his myna bird and flat, complete with piano. Music has saved his life but he can’t earn a living from singing in the streets. He falls for prostitute Eva (Eva Mattes, more familiar from her work with Fassbinder) but she needs to escape local thugs and she works extra to get them all the money to leave Berlin and go to the United States, where Scheitz’s nephew runs a garage in rural Wisconsin. Things start badly when Stroszek’s myna bird is confiscated on arrival.  It’s tough to earn a living and the bank closes in on Eva and Stroszek’s home so she has to whore herself again and they split up. Stroszek compares the American way of life to that which he experienced  under the Nazis – spiritual abuse. When his home is publicly auctioned he takes a truck and ultimately abandons it in Fort Tomahawk, running it in ever-decreasing circles, as he looks at a display of performing chickens and armed police arrive… This tragicomic look at the life of three apparent eccentrics is actually a startling dissection of what passes for human existence, in all its pathetic banality,underscored by the muzakal interpretation of By the Time I Get to Phoenix (James Last, vielleicht?!) It’s a portrait of the US that doesn’t enhance one’s views of prospects outside the metropolis and Herzog captures the utter degradation of poverty in a land without pity.

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The Visitor (2007)

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I didn’t have high hopes for this given the premise:  admittedly I thought it would be the cinematic equivalent of Coldplay (dire, boring, unimaginative and not for anyone who loves music. I digress.) I forgot that it was written and directed by Tom McCarthy, responsible for The Station Agent and Spotlight. Richard Jenkins is Walter, the widowed college professor whose life is in a rut and he leaves Connecticut to attend a conference in NYC where to his astonishment he finds a foreign couple living in his apartment. Syrian Tarek and his Senegalese wife Zainab have been there for 2 months. He changes his mind about throwing them out and they form a grudging friendship – Zainab is suspicious while Tarek teaches him to play the bongos. When Tarek is randomly arrested in the subway, Walter hires an immigration lawyer.  He has to break the bad news to Tarek’s mother –  she arrives unannounced from Michigan, surprised at Tarek’s wife – she’s so black! she declares – and reluctantly stays in the apartment, to which Walter returns super-fast after clearing up business back at his house. This is low-key, mild, yes, but utterly involving due to some good characterisation in the writing and performing. It is not kind about the US and the way it treats its guests – not exactly unfamiliar territory to anyone even just going on a week-long holiday with Visa – both kinds! – in their sweaty paws  (the basement in JFK, anyone?!) … This creeps up on you, a rare, adult treat.

 

Brooklyn (2015)

Brooklyn poster

Nostalgia was a recognised illness, starting out as extreme homesickness amongst soldiers at war in Europe four centuries ago.  The last acknowledged afflictee was in World War 1. Homesickness dominates the first part of this film when smalltown Irish girl Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) leaves class-ridden Enniscorthy in 1952 courtesy of an offer made to establish a new life in New York city by a benign priest friend of her golfing accountant sister Rose. Ronan’s wonderful performance is the still centre of an incredibly simple story and it is hard to see how the film would survive its broad strokes without her. The pace is slower than we are accustomed to these days, assisting with the attenuation of her role. We read a lot of ourselves into her own silent reactions, rather like we would to Garbo. She gradually becomes accustomed to her new life and when a tragedy takes her home she secretly marries her Italian beau before departing. She then attracts the kind of rugger bugger that wouldn’t have given her a second glance before. Then the reality of her home town’s spitefulness hits her and she leaves again – this time for good. And that is that.