Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Top Films for 2011

Five films stand out for me this year. Some were not technically made in 2011 but they had me riveted, informed and in some cases, deeply unsettled.

1. Adam Resurrected

Based on a novel by one of Israel's top writers, Yoram Kaniuk, Adam Resurrected stars Jeff Goldblum as Adam Stein, a Holocaust survivor with a disturbing secret. During his incarceration in a concentration camp, he was allowed to live on the condition that he entertain a Nazi commandant by pretending to be his dog and walk on all fours.

This film is brutally honest in its dealing with the subject of human debasement, psychological survival and the manner in which cognitive dissonance can deeply unsettle us and drive our behavior. Adam's inner conflict, that of remaining a dog or becoming 'human' again and therefore dealing with his shame and emotional pain, comes to the fore after the war.

It is while practicing his unusual skills as mind reader and pseudo-psychiatrist and himself a patient at a mental hospital that Adam meets a little boy, also a WWII victim. This boy believes that he is a dog and presumably no one can help him. Adam Resurrected is a film I strongly recommend if you are not afraid of complex human themes and have some interest in psychology. Both Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe give excellent performances as always. I love this film.

2. Hors La Loi

Roschdy Zem in Hors La Loi

Not your typical gangster film. Hors La Loi is actually a historical drama more or less depicting the life of Abdel Kader, leader of the Algerian Independence movement in France. It follows the life of three Algerian brothers, Messaoud, Abdelkader and Said, who, confronted with the injustices of French involvement in Algeria and later, with the poor treatment of Algerian immigrants in France, set out to make a difference for themselves and for the impoverished immigrant community.

An informative, captivating story which resonates strongly with social issues still facing France today. I enjoyed the dynamic between the three brothers and the outstanding overall cast. And if, like me, you have a soft spot for Roschdy Zem, this one is for you. He literally sizzles as the silent glassy-eyed, Messaoud.

3. La Rafle

France's shameful WWII secret. Under Vichy rule and faced with a Nazi quota requirement, the French gendarmes round up 13000 Jews into Paris' Velodrome d'Hiver. This cycling arena, right in the middle of Paris is specially sealed for its new ghetto purpose.

This is yet another story of what humans do to one another other and where outgroup prejudice can lead if left unchecked. Google "Vel d'Hiv", or watch this film but either way, do not be naively misled into believing that your own government would fully care for you during a wartime occupation. In the Vel d'Hiv, during their 3-5 days captivity, the 10000 French Jews are subjected to appalling conditions at the peak of the summer heat; no toilets, food or water. Only limited medical facilities are provided by the Red Cross and this is obviously not enough for those rounded up forcibly from their hospital bed. Outside, it was later reported that neighbours of the velodrome experienced foul smells emanating from the newly locked building.

From the velodrome to the death camps of Auschwitz, we follow the plight of several families and real life survivor Joseph Weismann. I would not watch this film again but I strongly recommend it for its revelatory effort. Strong performances from Jean Reno (who is mostly underutilised) and Melanie Laurent.

4. Insidious

This low budget horror was declared the most successful film of the year in terms of ROI. James Wan's horror film has just the right balance of mystery, paranormal, dream archetypes and bedroom settings to strike a chord with the dreamer in most viewers, making them dread falling asleep at night and wish they'd never seen this film. But yeah, a strong horror production that haunted me for days afterwards.

5. Gainsbourg: a Heroic Life

Why does Gainsbourg score with hot women? Find out...

Finally, something funny and light-hearted for a change. After all, I am not all about brooding-over-human-suffering-and-injustice. It seems there is also a hedonist spark in there...

What with sex kitten Brigitte Bardot, the smouldering Juliette Greco, gamine Jane Birkin, Dali's dark and curvaceous muse, and Gainsbourg's last wife, the sizzling Bambou (who is played by none other than sexy Mylene Jampanoi), there is much to feast on in this entertaining biopic about one of France's most celebrated and controversial musicians.

But what distinguishes Gainsbourg from the average biopic formula is the appeal to the child in each one us. From the very beginning, Gainsbourg's larger than life alter-ego makes recurring appearances through an ever smoking dandy-like, animated caricature whose relationship with the artist drives him inasmuch at it limits him. This elongated, long nosed figure has enough panache to charm and inspire; for viewers, it provides an enchanting and heart-warming conception of Gainsbourg's complexity as an artist. This film will delight your senses and make you wish you lived in Gainsbourg's time.

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