The movies selected for review are the choice of the reviewer. Depending on your source for DVDs, they may or may not be available that particular week, so you may want to clip the SOFA CINEMA column for future reference. Suggestions for DVD titles are welcome. Enjoy the movies.
SOFA CINEMA's author is enjoying kayaking the waterways of the beautiful Northwest during the month of August and is taking this wonderful opportunity to recommend a handful of memorable films you might have missed the first time around. Enjoy!
TRAVEL THE WORLD - NO COST AIRFARES
THE NETHERLANDS: "Antonia's Line"
You think you live in a small town? Antonia returns home with her daughter, Thérèse in tow after years away and relays to the young girl stories about the occupants of each home they pass. There are wonderfully colorful characters (like scholarly Crooked Finger and Mad Madonna) from Antonia's past that evolve into parts of her future. Farming on the outskirts of the village, she manages to keep her distance from small town pettiness and politics and over the years gathers an extended family around an always enlarging picnic table.
Filmed in Belgium, "Antonia's Line" (the English title referencing her family tree) is written and directed by Marleen Gorris who cast Willeke van Ammelrody as Antonia. These two names are most probably unrecognizable in the United States but worthy of mention because of the level of excellence they achieved in this film.
Spanning four generations of women (five, if you count a brief, but humorous death scene by Antonia's mother), the film's characters are so distinct, so well-developed that you may feel a part of the family tree. At the very least, it would be nice to be invited to the picnic table.
"Antonia's Line" won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1996. The movie is funny, touching, poignant, thoughtful and much more. Don't miss it.
CHINA: "King of Masks"
Why wait until your son or daughter is a sophomore in college and comes home to preach the virtues of foreign films? First of all, you already know the perspective of filmmakers from other parts of the world differ distinctly from "Westerners" and that their efforts not only entertain, but educate. Second, the labor of reading sub-titles under non-English tracks is a mere inconvenience measured against the wealth of fresh ideas, new talent, worldly exposure a non-studio, independent foreign film might offer.
Why this exposé? "King of Masks." This Chinese movie falls into the category of HIDDEN GEM and FOREIGN FILM and viewing it is the perfect opportunity for youngsters (third grade and up, or younger if they are particularly precocious) to experience the world of filmmaking beyond our borders.
Wang Bianlian is an aging street magician known as the King of Masks. An old man, he is a master of a fascinating dying art that will disappear if he does not find an heir with whom to share his secrets. A famous entertainer in Chinese opera admires his work and offers to include him in his performance, but Wang is a troubadour and dedicated to his art and performing in the street. Married early in life, his wife left him and took his young son long ago, so he searches for a child to adopt. Given the time and custom, adopting a girl would not do.
The movie is set in China in the 1930s when it was possible to adopt a child for a few dollars. The relationship between "Grandpa" and the child he affectionately calls "Doggie" is the heart and soul of this movie. The outcome of their travails is not as predictable as one might imagine and it demonstrates that courage, loyalty and compassion can come in very small packages.
"King of Masks" probably was not intended as a children's picture. Unrated, yet suitable for all ages, you don't have to watch this movie with children to enjoy it. But it doesn't hurt.
ITALY: "Il Postino"
Mario struggles to express himself. Living on a remote island in Italy, he longs for something more in life than the life of a fisherman that his father pursued. A timely exile from Chile of poet Pablo Neruda to a villa high in the hills creates an opening for a part-time postman - "Il Postino."
Delivering Neruda's mail provides Mario with not only a distinct purpose in life but the opportunity to interact with the poet. At first reticent about approaching Neruda, Mario soon quotes poetry to him and eventually tells him he would like to be a poet as well. He even engages Neruda in his pursuit of the village beauty who he fell in love with at first sight.
Director Michael Radford seamlessly weaves the lives of the humble peasant, the famous poet and the village people on the island. The charming musical soundtrack by Luis Bacalov (available on CD) will transport you back to the island and the spirit of Mario anytime.
Pour a glass of vino and watch "Il Postino" demonstrate the depth of love and passion and friendship that crosses all social barriers if one opens one's heart.
Rebecca Redshaw worked in the film industry in Los Angeles for 25 years. A novelist and playwright, she has published in numerous magazines and newspapers in addition to teaching fiction. She is the Arts & Entertainment critic for the international entertainment Web site NotesFromHollywood.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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