Saturday, February 4, 2012


A large group of men huddle outdoors as their union representative, Michel (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) calls out names drawn from a box.  He pulls his own name, thus joining the ranks of those laid off from working at the docks.  His brother-in-law Raoul (Gérard Meylan) asks if Michel is "crazy" for including himself in the drawing, while Michel's wife, Marie-Claire (Ariane Ascaride) comments that it's hard sometimes to live with a "hero."  These differing reactions describe the central tension of Robert Guédiguian's The Snows of Kilimanjaro, a meditation on how our values hold up when tested.

Essentially, it is Michel and Marie-Claire's faith in their own social status that is at stake in the film.  Shortly after entering into early retirement, the couple is robbed at gunpoint by Christophe (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), one of the workers whose name Michel had pulled during the layoffs.  When Christophe is apprehended by the police, Michel confronts the younger man about what he has done.  Instead of showing remorse, Christophe shocks Michel by challenging the comforts he will enjoy as a middle class pensioner, contrasting the safety net afforded Michel with the complete lack of security the other laid off men have available to them.

Though the scene between Christophe and Michel is brief, the debate rages on throughout the film as Michel and Marie-Claire are treated to a variety of opinions on the matter from friends, family and the police.  For their part, they seem more interested in direct action, coming to the aid of Christophe's young brothers, pausing only once to discuss the strain between the socialist views they've held and the class position they occupy.

It's a film anchored by the performances, especially the work of Darroussin, whose quiet expressiveness modulates masterfully between growing humiliation and graceful acceptance.  Even when the plot veers towards becoming an apologist piece, his solid presence offers the viewer something to embrace.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro will screen for the public at Cinemagic on Feb. 11th at 6pm and at the Lloyd Mall 6 on Feb. 13th at 8:45pm  A final screening will occur on Feb. 16th at the Lake Twin Cinema at 8:30pm.

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Based on audience reaction during Wednesday's press screening for Almanya: Welcome to Germany, it's going to be really popular with this year's festival goers.  The film details the lives of a large Turkish family living in Germany.  Hüseyin (Vedat Erincin plays him in the present, Fahri Ögün Yardim is the younger version) and Fatma (Lilay Huser presently, Demet Gül in the past) left Turkey to participate in the "economic miracle" of the 1960s, when workers of the world flocked to find employment in the city centers of Germany.

40+ years later, Hüseyin and Fatma are officially becoming German citizens.  This doesn't rest too well with Hüseyin, who secretly purchases a home back in Turkey, springing the news on his family as they gather for a celebratory dinner.  He insists, to much protest from his family, that they join him in a journey to fix up the house during the upcoming holidays.

Almanya is a film that unfolds across two time periods.  The story of Hüseyin and Fatma's past is explained to Cenk (Rafael Koussouris), the youngest member of the clan, by his cousin Canan (Aylin Tezel).  Director Yasemin Samdereli allows the tale to flit between reality and light surreality, often without warning.  This works extremely well in the first half of the film, like in the very funny scene where Hüseyin and Fatma finalize their German citizenship and immediately have a pork-rich dinner thrust upon them.  The recurring sequences involving their son Muhamed's (Ercan Karacayli in the present, Kaan Aydogdu as the younger version) Coca-Cola obsession lean the hardest on the use of the surreal, yielding some of my favorite moments in the film.

The light mood does not prevail for the entire film, though, as the third act transition feels more manipulative than authentic.  While the move to a more serious set of circumstances is entirely appropriate, the manner in which it is orchestrated plays out much more by the numbers than anything that preceded it.  As I hinted at the beginning of this post, this didn't seem to faze those in the audience on Wednesday, and while it might not bother everybody, it did bug me.

Overall, Almanya is a good film with an incredibly charismatic cast of characters that will likely please a lot of PIFF attendees (expect laughter and clapping).  I just wish it could have taken a more honest route to its conclusion, without relying on emotional gerrymandering.

Almanya: Welcome to Germany will screen for the public at the Whitsell Auditorium on Feb. 10th at 6pm, the Lloyd Mall 6 on Feb. 11th at 3:15pm and 8:30pm  A final screening will occur on Feb. 12th at the Lake Twin Cinema at 8pm.

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