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"Evil, pure evil"

July 1, 2005

That’s what Erik’s headmaster calls him when he expels him from school in the Oscar-nominated film Evil, set in 1950’s Sweden.
Like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, and with more than a touch of Holden Caulfield and James Dean, Erik can’t abide injustice and won’t take disrespect from anyone.

After being expelled because of his discipline problem, Erik is accepted into an elite private boys’ school. It’s his last chance to get a school leaving certificate and his mother has sacrificed a lot to get him there, so he’s determined to stay out of trouble.

But it’s difficult: discipline at the school is kept by a council of older boys, a right bunch of petty gauleiters who terrorise the younger boys while the teachers turn a blind eye, in a deliberate analogy of Sweden’s cosy relationship with Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Erik’s trouble starts when he refuses to submit. But he can’t fight back, as this will mean instant expulsion, and he can’t stand the thought of hurting his mother. So he takes it as long as he has to, until he eventually cracks and takes on the whole system. “These sort of people have to be resisted”, he says. It’s a film with a powerful and compelling anti-fascist message, finding the roots of fascism in any kind of injustice and bullying. Ultimately the message is a little diluted though by Erik’s macho determination to take on the system on his own. To me, individual resistance to fascism leads to martyrdom; collective resistance defeats it. Still, really stirring, and one of the best films I have seen this year.

Best film of all, though, is The Edukators, Starring Daniel Bruhl, who we last saw in the poignant Goodbye, Lenin. In this film he plays an anarchist who, with his friends, tries to awaken the conscience of the rich by breaking into their homes and rearranging their furniture (!), and leaving notes explaining their iniquities. But things go horribly wrong when they ‘accidentally’ kidnap a rich businessman who turns out to have been a student revolutionary in the 1968 uprising. As they hold him hostage, their discussions show that politics is a much more complex thing than a simple us and them, and that the process of ‘selling out’ is long, complex and insidious. The film is a powerful affirmation of passion and belief, in the importance of believing you can make a difference. Particularly memorable is the scene in which Gruhl’s character liberates his friend’s girlfriend from the chains of debt simply by changing her perspective. “Every heart is a revolutionary cell”, he paints on the wall of her flat, thus forfeiting her deposit as they go out and get drunk. Slightly reminiscent of Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, this one packs a real punch and opens the heart to the need to believe change is possible. It also contains a haunting version of the song Hallelujah, sung by Jeff Buckley: “I hear there was a secret chord/ that David played to please the Lord…”.

Dealing with similar subject matter, but on a slightly less elemental level, is What to do in Case of Fire. It’s about an anarchist cell living in a squat in Kreuzberg, Berlin, in the 80s. They plant a bomb in a building that only goes off 16 years later. Suddenly, the police are looking for them. By this time, they have drifted apart into different lives: one is a yuppy ad executive, another is a mother, while a third is, in the words of the cop who arrests him “the last of the anti-fascist Mohicans”. The film deals with how ideals change with time and circumstances, and what holds people together. Really brilliant.

Also brilliant, in a dark and claustrophic way, is Downfall, the story of the last few weeks in Hitler’s bunker, as Berlin falls to the approaching Russians and Hitler moves further and further away from reality, still claiming that the Third Reich will prevail and that he is being betrayed at every turn. Bruno Ganz as Hitler is brilliant. A welcome addition to the list of films showing a realistic, rather than heroic, view of war.

Still sombre but on a less serious note, Sin City is perhaps the best comic book adaptation I have seen, though the dark and brooding Batman Begins, with it’s compelling storyline and character development, comes close. Sin City is visually striking, as it is filmed in a monochrome silver and black, broken only by flashes of colour that only highlight the overall bleakness of this noir world where it is always raining, and always night – a bit like Scotland in winter. Despite the over the top comic storyline, the film manages a strange, wounded pathos as it’s damaged and damaging characters lurch towards their dark redemptions. “It’s great when you friends show up with lots of guns.”

If you enjoy the black humour of the inhabitants of Royston Vasey, then League of Gentleman’s Apocalypse is well-worth seeing. The inhabitants of the bleak village on the moors, where visitors never leave (“We didn’t burn him!”) have to escape into the real world to force their creators to write more stories about them, otherwise they will cease to exist. They lose some of their menace when taken out of their millieu, but it’s still an absolute delight. Definitely a local film, for local people, and far superior to the disappointing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is little more than a slightly better budgetted remake of the TV series. Watch out for Tub’s brown fish sandwiches.

Avoid at all costs Mr and Mrs Smith; the less said the better. Only the Americans could conceive of a romantic comedy with ultra violence, as if there’s something funny about shooting a lot of people. It makes me think of Holywood’s role in manufacturing consent for violence by inuring audiences to it. Also ultraviolent, but well worth seeing for the oblique comment it makes on reality TV, is the amazing Japanese Batale Royale, available on DVD. It’s about a reality TV show where school kids have to duel to the death on an island. Kind of like Series 7: The Contender meets A Clockwork Orange.

Millions, Danny Boyle’s first family film, was excellent. It’s about a little saint-obsessed boy, Damien, who prays to God for money. One day a bag of pound notes falls from the sky (actually ditched by robbers after a heist). Damien tries to give the money to the poor but finds it’s not that easy.

A have also seen House of Wax, which is perfectally competent and well-made as far as slasher films go, though it’s not a genre I like. The final scene is excellent.

I walked out of the latest Star Wars, Revenge of the Sith, after only half an hour, making it the only one I haven’t seen. I am not mad about the series but I generally enjoy them. This was so incredibly tedious, all talking, like watching headshots of politicians explaining the need for funding cuts. I’d rather go stare at the washing machine going around.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. ian permalink
    July 2, 2005 10:31 pm

    Well, seeing as the only film of the lot showing in sunny Cape Town is Mr and Mrs Smith… Ah, this is so depressing. I mean the Labia is showing Madagascar, for fuck’s sake.

  2. Walton permalink
    July 5, 2005 1:00 pm

    At least you know what to see if they ever do make it out your way. Edinburgh has the most amazing independent cinemas – what the Labia can only dream of being. I should post you a programme – you’d knash your teeth.

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