The Counterfeit Traitor (1962)

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Writer/producer/director George Seaton’s penchant for realism and drama-documentary style gets a full airing here in an adaptation of Alexander Klein’s titular nonfiction book. The great (and prematurely aged – he was 44 and looks 64 at least) William Holden plays the American born oil man Eric Erickson, resident in Sweden and doing his usual cross-border deals – including with Germany – who is blackmailed into espionage for the Allies in the form of the smirking Hugh Griffith. In Germany he becomes involved with a religiously inclined agent Marianne Moellendorf (Lilli Palmer) who ends up being found out in a confessional, and Erickson then struggles to escape Berlin after betrayal by his friend’s son, a member of the Hitler Youth. This morality tale is long and engrossing and Holden gets the opportunity to play a whole range of emotions under Seaton’s careful direction. The camerawork (by Jean Bourgoin) is mostly static in keeping with this realistic mode but there are some great shots of the rubble of Berlin and the encounter in the church confession box is particularly well staged. It’s great to see these post-war cities in colour, another boon to an involving story. And the startling Klaus Kinski is key to the conclusion. If you ever want the dogs that torment you to take a walk on the wild side well away from you, try a combo of blood and cocaine. It’s amazing what tips you pick up in movies. Co-written by Charles Grenzbach.

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We Are the Best! (2013)

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Lukas Moodysson makes interesting films and prior to this one approached his stories about children with apprehension as to how they would wind up – victimised by the adults supposedly responsible for their care, growing up too soon, exposed to sex and drugs and hedonism and fecklessness. His wife wrote the graphic novel on which this is based. Two girls, Klara (cute), Bobo (not) in a Stockholm school in the 1980s who are more or less outcasts with short hairdos,  are fans of punk years after it’s dead. They start a band but can’t play. They get together with a good girl (Hedvig) who happens to be a talented guitarist and whose contribution makes them think they might get somewhere. Well … what’s most striking about the world of the story is the misery of their home lives, all to a greater or lesser degree dysfunctional, in cramped apartments where a treat is crisp crackers and water. (It’s a cultural thing, I know.) Their song (they only have one) is hopeless and they can’t play and then – yup, you guessed it – a boy comes between them. When they get the opportunity to play at a Christmas concert they elicit the predictable jeers and are booted offstage. And the youth counsellors accompanying them tell them they are the worst. Our girls disagree. Perhaps the best thing about this is the naturalistic writing and performing, the exploration of the lives of children who have horrible homes (Bobo’s mother is as trampy as you like), Hedvig’s is a single-parent home and Klara’s messy home life is a bit too cool for school – but it’s apartment living, public, intimate, awful and one feels Bobo’s secret despair about her mother’s sexual escapades. Not a film to inspire architectural envy but good on childhood friendship, awkwardness and the punk credo of self-belief despite clear evidence to the contrary – that they are singularly lacking in any musicianship whatsoever.