Women of Dakar

There is a gigantic supertower in Dakar, Senegal, and it is almost complete, and the men who work construction there soon have to find other jobs, especially because they haven’t seen their wages for the last three months, but work is scarce, so most of them will pay their passage on a boat for Europe. One of them is Souleiman, and he falls for a young woman named Ada, who is promised to a rich guy named Omar. Next day, word on the street is that Souleiman has left. There is that memorable scene where the women are wearing their best dresses and go to the beach hut where they hang out – and there are no men. Many of them are gone, and most of the women already know they will stay behind. Continue reading

The Rear View Mirror – L’écume des jours (1947)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Boris Vian was a polymath, a writer, actor and inventor, but he is most remembered nowadays for his novel L’écume des jours (literal translation: froth of days), published in 1947. To say that it is a weird read is an understatement: there are eels clogging water pipes and peeking out of faucets, only coming out of there if you lure them out with pineapple. There are naked men lying on mounds of earth hatching gun parts, a job for the war effort that cannot be done by women because their breasts make even body warmth distribution impossible. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Continue reading

The Rear View Mirror: My Cousin Rachel (1951)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Daphne du Maurier’s novel My Cousin Rachel, published in 1951, seems to exist in the spot where the universes of Jane Austen and Agatha Christie touch. On the one hand, the tone of the book is well-mannered, and its characters are not allowed to flat-out say what they passionately would like to say, but have to hide behind the mores of the era. On the other hand, someone dies, and another character is in danger to meet the same fate, so whodunnit? Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

What an endearing mess of a movie. Creature from the Black Lagoon is one of the oldest movies I’ve seen that starts with the Big Bang, then creation, then Darwinism (leaving out millenium-long chunks of natural history, but never mind), only to violate that premise five minutes later. There are fossilized limbs of a sea creature that very much look like the arm and hand of its descendant, so its physical shape has not changed in the least.

Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: The Visit (1956)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

If you grow up around here in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, you will be confronted with the oeuvre of one Friedrich Dürrenmatt, if you want to or not, at some point during your school years. You might read some of his shorts, like The Tunnel (1952), or one of his crime novels, such as The Judge and His Hangman (1950, made into a 1975 film directed by Maximilian Schell and starring Jon Voight, Robert Shaw, Jacqueline Bisset and Martin Ritt). There is Max Frisch with his questions about identity, but it’s Fritz who has a slight advantage of seeing his plays performed in front of droves of school classes.

Continue reading

At War, at Play

The first half hour of Alejandro Landes’ debut feature Monos contains some of the most beautiful images of any movie released this year. We are somewhere in Latin or South America, so high up that the clouds seem lower than the silhouettes of the child soldiers. There are red-burning clouds trying to scale the jungle-green mountaintops; there are lush meadows and old abandoned fortifications. There is a war, but we know less about it than even the eight teenagers in their rag-tag, mismatched dirty uniforms. Continue reading

How to Quit

I’ve heard it said that the majority of neo-nazis and other members of extreme right-wing associations contemplate suicide at least once in their lives because subconsciously, they sense that their world-view is wrong. In Guy Nattiv’s Skin, Bryon Widner (Jamie Bell) is at this point. He is a member of the Vinlanders Social Club, not a social club at all, led by Fred ‘Hammer’ Krager (an unrecognizable Bill Camp), a stern father figure who is married to Shareen (Vera Farmiga), who actively tells everyone that they can call her Mum. It’s a bunch of people who have nowhere else to go, socially as well as economically, and they are just happy that there is someone who takes care of them and gives them things to do, no matter how vile or poisonous their chores are. The VSC is a family for people who never had a proper family. It would be a huge mistake to think that Fred and Shareen are in any way dumb or ridiculous. They provide food and shelter for strays and manipulate them into becoming white supremacists. They are not above murder, so be warned. The more they clash with their preceived enemies, the more they come alive, and the more dangerous they are. Continue reading

Other People’s Music

It’s possible to have great fun in a predictable formula movie. My daughter and me went to see Yesterday, about a luckless singer who has a road accident and wakes up in a world without the Beatles songbook. It slowly dawns on poor Jack that he is the only one who remembers the Fab Four. Screenplay by Richard Curtis, directed by Danny Boyle. That’s a pretty snazzy premise, innit? We went during a sweltering hot day, the movie theater was cool, and it was the tiniest viewing room in our city. “It’s just like a movie theater people would have at home,” she exclaimed. We were the only ones sitting there, and so we sang along to all the tunes. Great fun. Continue reading

Burying the Lead

Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer fails for me (and maybe for me only) on a mere technicality. Consider Nicole Kidman’s character, a police detective by the name of Erin Bell. She walks as if she is in constant pain, or medicated, or both. There are flashbacks with her partner and later boyfriend Chris, where she looks younger and healthy. It’s just that it is implied that she has to take drugs and/or alcohol in order to infiltrate the bank heist crew run by Silas (Toby Kebbell). There are only very few scenes, and very late in the movie, that really let us know what it cost Erin to stay in Silas’ crew. What drungs did she have to take in order to keep her disguise? And what about Chris? And her lower jaw seems wired or dislocated – is that from the car crash she produced herself long ago? We just don’t know. And it’s Erin Bell’s face that the whole movie rotates around. On the whole, Destroyer raises far more questions that it answers. Continue reading

Slow Deaths in the Sun

The situation for movie theaters in my hometown is dire. The inner city places are closing up one after the other because the rent is said to be too expensive for the two chains, Kitag and Quinnie. The Capitol, where I saw Return of the King, is boarded up. So is the Gotthard, where I once took a girl who was way out of my league on a date. The Jura triplex is closed, the City triplex is a provisory pub, the Royal has reopened as a vegan burger restaurant. The Splendid, the only inner city theater still showing undubbed blockbusters in 2D, is said to close soon. Instead, soulless multiplexes have sprung up at the edge of town where it is cumbersome to get to by public transport. Their viewing rooms are bigger, so the small number of viewers seems even more lost. They are run by companies that have profit as their priority, not fine movie-making programmed along a common theme or name for an appreciative or even regular audience. Granted, Pathé is a movie production and distribution company, but their multiplex is just as anonymous as that by Swisscom, the national number one telecommunications company. I only go to either of them when I have to, for instance when I want to see Jordan Peele’s Us in its original language.

Continue reading