COMPLEX SITUATIONS: Reviews of the Baader Meinhof Complex and Paris

This will continue my love affair with foreign films with reviews of two more movies, The Baader Meinhof Complex and Paris.

The Baader Meinhof Complex is the last movie I needed to see in order to fill in the best foreign language film nominees for the 2008 Oscars. TMBC (as I affectionately call it) is an exciting and exhilarating movie that you can’t stop watching. Whatever else you might say about it, you can’t say it’s boring. But at the same time, though based on a true story, once I was through watching it, I had more questions than answers. As the credits took to the screen, I realized I still wasn’t sure who the Complex was or what they were trying to do, or more accurately, what their short terms goals were in trying to achieve their long term goals. Because of this, the most engaging character was Horst Herold, the head of the German police force, the man brought in to bring them down (portrayed by the great Bruno Ganz who also played Adolf Hitler in Downfall—coincidence or conspiracy, you be the judge). Herold didn’t just want to arrest the Complex, he wanted to get rid of the root causes of their existence. Since no one else agreed with him, today with have this film. One does feel for Harold. After all, if the screenwriters Bernd Eichinger and Uli Edel (who also directed) couldn’t help us understand what it was all about, it’s a bit hard to believe that Herold could fare much better. At times it feels like a final round of Wheel of Fortune in which the audience has been given the most commonly used letters and vowels, but must now guess a few more and hope to get enough to figure out the final phrase. The best known here of the actors in the U.S. is probably Moritz (Run, Lola, Run; The Experiment; The Walker—the last as Woody Harrelson’s lover) Bleibtreu. He plays the racist, chauvinistic Andreas Baader as if he were the schoolyard bully who thought he was entitled to everyone’s lunch money and couldn’t understand why everyone else didn’t agree with him. He’s very good. All the actors are. In the end, you can’t help but wonder whether the whole thing worked better for a German audience who may have been better able to fill in the blanks more easily that someone in the U.S., in the same way we might be able to fill in the blanks about a movie about the Kent State shootings. But whatever the movie’s faults, it is highly entertaining.

Paris is a series of several different stories about people living in Paris that sort of, kind of, but never really, and certainly never convincingly, interlock. The most successful of the several story lines is the one with Romain Duris, he of the odd chest hair and the perpetual sneer that even a goatee can’t fully hide. Duris is one of the finest young French actors today, the male Audrey Tautou (I call him that because he is an ingénue and is in every other French film these days—he’s even played a young Moliere while Tautou has played a young Coco Chanel). Duris plays a dancer with a Follies Bergere looking type show who develops a heart condition that will kill him if he’s unable to get a transplant. Juliette Binoche, one of the more amazing French actors, plays his sister who moves in with her children in order to take care of them (it’s wonderful seeing these two together). The other stories, with some of the more recognizable French characters actors these days, all have their moments, but are never as interesting or dramatically satisfying as the one with Duris (who achieves true pathos in his final scene). The others also all wear out their welcome long before they should; they keep on going and going like the Energizer Bunny and become just as annoying. The screenplay, by the director Cedric Klapisch, known for the much more enjoyable While the Cat’s Away and L’auberge espagnol, often feels like a movie based on a book of short stories which the screenwriter is desperately trying to weave together into a satisfying whole (can you say Short Cuts). But it never completely works.

Reviews of Perestroika, Tokyo! and Paris 36

Perestroika is the new film directed by Slava Tsukerman who made the cult film Liquid Sky in 1982 and hasn’t done many films since. It’s about a physicist (Sam Robards) who left Russia under Communist rule and returned years later after the USSR fell. His marriage is in a shambles, he drinks too much and he has writer’s block in his efforts to use physics to prove the existence of God. There are some interesting scenes comparing pre- and post-Communist life (a few excellent ones where his colleagues all publicly and vociferously denounce him for his desire to immigrate then turn up at his apartment a couple of days later to celebrate his birthday as if nothing of any significance had happened) and Robards and Ally Sheedy are excellent, though most of the other actors are hampered by the dubbing. But the film fails to connect emotionally, possibly because when all is said and done, though the author wants you to think it’s about a man’s existential impasse, it’s really just a Philip Roth type story where you’re supposed to feel sorry for the central character because four women are after him.
Tokyo! (to distinguish it from Tokyo; or Tokyo :-)) is an omnibus film made up of three shorts. The first called Interior Design, written and directed by Michel Gondry, is about a woman who turns into a chair because she has lost her purpose in life. It has some interesting moments, but it’s hard to tell what the moral of the story is. The second film, Merde, written and directed by Leos Carax, is about…I have no idea; try as I might, I can’t remember a single thing about it. The third, Shaking Tokyo, written and directed by Joon-ho Bong (who did The Host) is the most satisfying. It’s about a compulsive obsessive agoraphobe who one day meets the eyes of a female pizza delivery person and falls in love. He finally takes his first step out of his home in years, only to find out that everybody else has become agoraphobic. It’s filled with creepy scenes in the tradition of many Asian horror films where the effects are suggested rather than CGI’d.

Paris 36 is not Children of Paradise, though at times it seems to try to be. It’s also not 42nd Street, which is also resembles at times. It’s not really a lot of anything except a mish mash of plots from a lot of different films. It starts out well enough, but about a third of the way, it all starts derailing. There’s no real logic to much of it and it all seems rather haphazard, as if the authors Christophe Barratier (who also directed), Pierre Philippe, and Julien Rappeneau were making it up as they went along. This is perhaps one of the few times a movie would be improved by reading a book on screenwriting.