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Recent Movies: The Book Thief; A Field in England; Liv and Ingmar

April 5, 2014

Recent Movies

The Book Thief

Based on the novel by Markus Zusak, the story centres around a twelve-year-old German girl (Sophie Nélisse) who is taken in by middle-aged foster parents just before World War II.  Her new parents (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) are poor like other families in the neighbourhood.  They also go along with Nazi antics out of survival even though their hearts and actions go in the other direction despite the danger this could cause them.

“The Book Thief” is a German/American collaboration.  It is mostly in English (substituting for German) with German spoken during Nazi anthems and speeches.

For the most part, this is a fine drama.  It has a good heart; it is certainly well acted; and the production sets and music do a fine job in recreating another time and place – one that is very familiar to avid moviegoers.

There are weakness that lessen the film’s overall effect, however.  The part of the story that is referenced via the title seems a bit off and out of place at times.  There is also a really absurd scene of a mother barging into a school classroom that seems to make no sense at all.  While the musical score by John Williams is good, it tends to be used to lighten the otherwise difficult subject matter.  Similarly, the film is narrated by a character known as Death.  This might have worked well in the book; but in the film version, there are mixed results.

In being placed in the movie genre known as “Holocaust/World War II Drama”, ‘The Book Thief” is inevitably compared to some of the best films in history.  It doesn’t fully meet the difficult challenge though it does have its merits.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * 1/2

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A Field in England

During the English civil war in the 17th century, five characters are thrown together as they are separated from the main action.  One of the characters is possibly Satan who torments the other four.

Had I not read some reviews of this film, I would not have been able to write the above paragraph.  For the most part, I had no idea what the hell was going in this movie.

There were occasional moments of humour.  The black-and-white cinematography beautifully captured the titular location especially during windy days.  There was nice music and some moments of abstract hallucinations were well done.  However, with occasional moments of sadistic savagery plus the fact that this movie was so lacking in focus and direction, I would have to call it an “art film” where, in this case, the term is used as an insult rather than a compliment.

Rating:   * 1/2

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Liv and Ingmar

This documentary covers the intimate relationship between two members of one of the greatest movie collaborations in film history:  Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann and Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.  Their connection lasted forty-two years until Bergman’s death in 2007.  They had also been romantically involved for six of those years.  The film is a co-production of Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Much of the film is narrated (in English) by Ullmann who was in her early seventies at the time.  The references to the relationship is interjected with some of the Bergman/Ullmann films (in Swedish) in which it is apparent that the male actors were playing as a stand-in for Bergman.

Together, these two great artists made twelve movies together most of which were made during that magnificent period that began in the mid-1960s and continued through the 1970s.  Their best works included “Cries and Whispers”, “Scenes from a Marriage”, “Face to Face”, and “Persona”.  In reference to the last paragraph in the previous review (for “A Field in England”), calling these movies “art films” is definitely a compliment rather than an insult.

Director Dheeraj Akolkar blends everything in this documentary beautifully: the old film clips, the use of music, using beautiful scenery of locations that reflect the past relationship, and mostly that of Ullmann herself as narrator and subject.

It’s very challenging for one speaker to hold an audience’s attention for so long.  But Ullmann’s soulfulness shows as much as a narrator and interviewee as it did during her great acting career.  Her honest reflections on the various stages of a volatile relationship are riveting.

Rating:   * * * 1/2

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One Comment
  1. Thank you Dennis; now I am looking forward to watching this film.

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