Sunday, June 6, 2021

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Why 1985?

1972 is barely cold, but we forge ahead with the films of 1985! So why 1985? I blame Juan Carlos Ojano and his podcast The One-Inch Barrier.

The One-Inch Barrier takes a look at the Academy Awards' Best International Feature category, known through 2018 as Best Foreign Language Film. Its name is derived from one of Bong Joon-ho's acceptance speeches, in which he said he hoped more people would take to watching films in other languages and not be put off by the "one-inch barrier" of subtitles. The podcast's host Carlos takes that idea and runs with it; every episode, he and a guest watch and discuss the five nominees of a given year, some of them readily available, some of them hard-to-track-down rarities, a good many of them forgotten - yesterday's Oscar nominee is today's footnote.

Carlos asked me to guest for the episode concerning 1985 back in February, which featured this lineup:
Angry Harvest, West Germany
dir: Agnieszka Holland
pr: Artur Brauner / Klaus Riemer
scr: Paul Hengge & Agnieszka Holland
cin: Jozef Ort-Snep

It's World War II, and a poor peasant has become a wealthy landowner thanks to the confiscation of property formerly owned by Jews. He finds a woman, who has leaped from a train bound for the camps, in the woods and "rescues" her, his initial safekeeping devolving into sexual slavery as he keeps her locked up and rapes her at will. It's a depressing movie, well-mounted by director Holland, but god, I'm never going to watch it again.

Colonel Redl, Hungary
dir: István Szabó
pr: Manfred Durniok
scr: István Szabó and Péter Dobai
cin: Lajos Koltai

Charts the rise and fall of the blankly ambitious Colonel Redl in the Austro-Hungarian empire, whose devotees have no idea that it's about to be upended by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. A film about a homosexual, yet one whose own queerness is so curiously muted, except when it isn't, that many scenes feel, I don't know, confusing. Despite some of my misgivings, though, it is the most gorgeous movie here (hey, hey, Koltai!), and in the ensuing months, I've thought about it more than many of the others. So maybe it's good, even great!

The Official Story, Argentina
dir: Luis Puenzo
pr: Marcelo Piñeyro
scr: Aída Bortnik / Luis Puenzo
cin: Félix Monti

A woman begins to realize that her beloved adopted daughter may only be hers because the real parents were "disappeared" during the recently-ended military dictatorship. The only film to be nominated for a competitive Oscar - Best Original Screenplay - lead actress Norma Aleandro was also named Best Actress by the New York Film Critics Circle. It is a great movie, a devastating but not humorless one. Aleandro is great; so are Chunchuna Villafañe, Patricio Contreras and Héctor Alterio. Similar subject is also covered in a Best Documentary nominee of the same year, The Mothers of Plaza del Mayo, about the organization of women who gather daily to demand information about their disappeared family; same organization is spotlighted in this film.

Three Men and a Cradle, France
dir/scr: Coline Serreau
pr: Jean-François Lepetit
cin: Jean-Jacques Bouhon / Jean-Yves Escoffier

You've seen Three Men and a Baby, you know the plot: three bachelors wind up raising a child, at first reluctantly, then embracing the unusual family they've formed. Meanwhile, some kind of drug plot, but that's whatever. It's a treat to see how each guy warms to the role of father: in one scene, one of them acts put-upon at having to take care of the kid, only to immediately go into baby talk and warmth as soon as his roommates leave the house. Wholesome!

When Father Was Away on Business, Yugoslavia
dir: Emir Kusturica
pr: Mirza Pasic
scr: Abdulah Sidran
cin: Vilko Filac

The "business" of the title is a reference to prison, where an adulterous family patriarch is sent after making a careless comment about a cartoon regarding the recent tension between Yugoslavia's Tito and the USSR's Stalin. The film is told from the point of view of the son Malik, and so includes details of growing up such as first love and subsequent heartbreak, school contests, sleepwalking, and general tomfoolery with friends. The film opens with its best illustration of the political turmoil of the period and place, as one character sings Mexican songs so that even his humming cannot be interpreted as a political stance. Right up there with films like Hope and Glory and The 400 Blows, a coming-of-age film with solid performances and fine plotting.

Again, you can listen to the full episode here, but I was very sleep-deprived when we recorded, so...forgive me. Anyway, that's what started me on this journey that we'll be continuing over the next month.

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