Monday, November 15, 2010

Polyglot Cinema - Italian Bureaucrats, French Police, Japanese Chefs, Swedish Cyberpunks and American Spies

For six consecutive days in November, I watched films in six different languages.

Without Pity and The Overcoat in Italian at the PFA, Madhumati in Hindi at the Castro, 36 Quai des Ofrèvres in French at the Roxie, The Chef of South Polar in Japanese at the Viz, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest in Swedish at the Embarcadero and Red in English at the Balboa.

Without Pity and The Overcoat were part of the PFA's Italian Neorealism series which I write about next month.


36 Quai des Ofrèvres starring Daniel Auteuil and Gérard Depardieu; French with subtitles; (2004)
The Chef of the South Polar; Japanese with subtitles; (2009) - Official Website
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest starring Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace; directed by Daniel Alfredson; Swedish with subtitles; (2009) - Official Website
Red starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich; with Mary-Louise Parker, Richard Dreyfuss and Karl Urban; (2010) - Official Website


One of my favorite French films starred Daniel Auteuil and Gérard Depardieu. It was a comedy set in a condom factory called The Closet (2001). 36 Quai des Ofrèvres is a much different film. It's a thriller about two dirty cops vying for the Paris Chief of Police spot. Daniel Auteuil, who is small of stature and whose screen persona seemed milquetoast, plays a hard charging, ass kicking cop who reminded me of Vic Mackey from The Shield. Gérard Depardieu's character is more of a political animal although he is mixed up with gangsters and an alcoholic to boot. Leo Vrinks (Auteuil) allows himself to get mixed up in a murder. He remains silent in exchange for information about a gang of robbers that are sticking up armored cars. Denis Klein (Depardieu) uncovers Vrinks' involvement and uses it to convict Vrinks and get the top job.

The second half of the film is a cat and mouse game between Klein (who killed Vrinks' wife) and Vrinks (who is seeking revenge upon being released from prison). To detail the plot too much would ruin the film. Beyond the twist and turns, this gritty policier features strong performance from the entire cast. I can't really single one actor out as exceptional or horrible when compared to the rest of the cast.

As an aside, there is a scene where a prostitute is beat up in a bar/brothel. I think that exact same set (or actual location) was used in Mesrine.


The Chef of South Polar which appears to be a grammatically incorrect translation of Japanese memoir written by Jun Nishimura. Nishimura was a Japanese Coast Guard cook who was assigned to Dome Fuji, a research station in middle of Antarctica. The film focuses on the idiosyncrasies of the 8 man team and the stress placed on them due to the harsh environment, isolation and separation from the families and civilization.

Decidedly Japanese in tone, the film mines strange situations for humor and pathos. Of course, isolated in Antarctica means that strange situations aren't strange within that context. I found the film unfocused and meandering although it had its moments. The ensemble cast did a nice job mining the essence of each character despite the manifest zaniness.


The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is the final film in the Millennium trilogy. The previous two films were The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire. Those films were action/thriller movies featuring the petite Noomi Rapace as Lisabeth Salander, a spitfire cyberpunk and Michael Nyqvist as Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading muckraker.

In The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Salander spends most of the film convalescing in a hospital after being shot several times at the end of The Girl Who Played with Fire. When released from the hospital, she is held in jail while awaiting trial for the attempted murder of her estranged father. Blomkvist investigates Salander's life and uncovers a national security scandal which is the root of Salander's misery and fury.

Some people disliked The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest because of the lack of action but it was my favorite installment. Rapace vividly portrays Salander's vulnerability and protective mechanisms which seemed incompatible in the first two films but becomes understandable as events unfold in Hornet's Nest.


Red is a mainstream action film starring Bruce Willis which received good reviews. It's a comedy about aging assassins. I found the comedy flat and the action sequences too extravagant for the comedy it was trying to play against. Helen Mirren as a former MI6 operative and Brian Cox as a former KGB spy stood out. Karl Urban in the thankless role as the up-and-comer trying to bring down the over-the-hill gang makes the most of his role. The talents of Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker and John Malkovich seemed wasted in their Willis' case, I'm not so sure if they are wasted or were never present. Morgan Freeman is always Morgan Freeman now. He brings mature and weary dignity too all his roles now whether he is playing a washed up boxer (Million Dollar Baby), Nelson Mandela (Invictus) or Batman's majordomo.

No comments: