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We’re still alive!
Back with more reviews soon!
Thanks for your continued patience,
Director: Uli Edel
Screenplay: Bernd Eichinger, Uli Edel, Stefan Aust (Book)
Early last year, a German friend of mine was going through a list of German films that I needed to see. As he finished up his list, I couldn’t help but noticing that one film in particular – one film that had found its way into both the Oscar and BAFTA nominations for best foreign film that year – was missing. “What about The Baader Meinhof Complex?” I asked. His brow instantly furrowed and his mouth twisted up as though I had just forced him to eat something particularly foul. “It’s shit,” he hissed, “Stay away from it. Don’t even watch it.” So adamant about me not seeing the film was he, that I actually did stay away from it. Until now. After deciding that it finally was time to make my own mind up about it all, I sought out Der Baader Meinhof Komplex and gave it a chance.
In the early 1970’s, a group of radical, left wing, militant German activists known as the RAF (Red Army Faction) or more commonly, The Baader-Meinhof Group, was formed. Espousing Marxist-Leninist beliefs and a desire to overthrow what they believed to be a fascist German state, the group was responsible for numerous bombings, 34 murders and various bank robberies. With that little taste of background, I’ve officially provided just as much, if not slightly more information about the group than the entire film does in its 150 minute running time.
Due to director Uli Edel’s desire to place the group’s actions over any actual insight into even one of its members, the film plays out as little more than a repetitive series of violent episodes. Edel seems to feel that the film somehow moves at a better momentum with an entire host of zero/one dimensional characters. Yes it’s clear that these people will sacrifice everything in order to pursue their revolutionary goals, but why? Who are these people? What leads a horde of middle class German twenty-somethings to wage war on the state in 1970? (I’m assuming that it’s 1970 because one of the film’s most persistently annoying aspects is the lack of any sort of titles, leaving the viewer clueless as to specific dates, times and locations.)
As the film progresses, the characters become increasingly indistinguishable from one another – an intentional attempt at illustrating the suffocating homogeny of the group, perhaps, but monotonous all the same. Bombs go off, guns are fired and group members are either arrested or killed without so much as a modicum of effort rendered toward showcasing more than just Rebellion. To be completely honest, none of these characters really even seemed to like one another much, which is odd considering that their goals appeared to be one and the same.
The film does have its share of interesting and dare I say intriguing moments, but what tension or excitement these build up is quickly diluted by repeating the same processes again and again without any further insight into what’s actually taking place. The great German actress Martina Gedeck’s portrayal of Ulrike Meinhof comes the closest to a protagonist as the film has to offer, but Meinhof as an upper class, socially conscious journalist who leaves her adulterous husband is hardly enough to justify her joining the ranks of the RAF. In the end we’re left with zero understanding of the issues that surrounded the RAF and because of this, a trip to Wikipedia would be a more productive means of trying to come to terms with these people than 150 minutes of ‘splosions ever could be.
Director: Danny Leiner
Screenplay: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg
I make it a firm habit never to muck about with the sort of filmmaking that produces work such as Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. However, since the film’s release in 2004, that title, that ridiculously languid title has echoed from the depths of my cerebellum. Now, some six years later, I’ve given in. Well, to be honest, in the end it wasn’t the title that got me to see the film. It was the realization that the film concerned two grown men living together.
It’s not that Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle is a good film or a bad film. Such a classification is irrelevant. Rather, the film is utter perfection as a case study of homoeroticism in the contemporary “buddy” comedy.
The “story” of Harold and Kumar involves marijuana and cheeseburgers, with the former barely being edged out by the latter as king. A tremendous quest for cheeseburgers then ensues. From a superficial view point, this is simply two good friends desperate to obtain their favourite meal. But scratch the surface almost effortlessly and what’s buried beneath is crystal clear.
Seen from this perspective, meat and its bewitching allure drives the film as surely as does a libido. In layman’s terms, Harold and Kumar’s quest is a quest for meat, and plenty of it.
So reverential is this meat in fact, that once Harold and Kumar get it, it proves to be the cure for all the problems the boys face with regards to women, bullies or any other conflict that life can throw at them. They’ve stuffed themselves with meat and their hunger has been sated. By the film’s end, both a symbolic as well as a physical penetration has occured in the lads, changing their views on everything and making them realize that their true strength was in them all along and that surprise, surprise, it was hiding.
Still, although the film unearths the great depth of sexual attractions and feelings that Harold and Kumar share toward one another, it tries (in vain) to poke fun at the honest emotions behind what bonds Harold and Kumar. Harold, for example, coming home after a difficult day at work to find Kumar trimming his pubic hair with a set of Harold’s scissors. Kumar licking Harold’s face in order to “revive” him. These sorts of dalliances into the arena of male courting patterns are to be perceived as little more than silly notions of homosexuality between two ostensibly very heterosexual men. In reality, this practice determines that not only are there feelings between these two friends, but also just how tender of a bond those feelings are. For its part, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle soundly fails at dispelling any sort of male intimacy by mocking it. For goodness sake, there’s even a giant penis cut into a wheat field, seen by the pair as they sail by, snuggled up together in a hang glider.
Yet, what quite possibly persists in most endearing me to this film is that below its crack-up of homosexuality, there truly exists a soul. Down beneath the frivolous surface it shines: a world where men form alliances that aren’t broken by women and where alliances with their brethren elevate them to phenomenal plains of ecstasy. Plains of ecstasy, I might add, that came solely from a slab of beef inserted betwixt two pillowy soft buns.
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