Saturday, May 13, 2006

You ain't from around here, are ya?

The last couple of days, I've had a chance to do one of my favorite things: watch foreign films. While there's no substitute for enjoying the unspoken subtexts and multiple meanings of a clever film in one's native language, in the same way a clever foreign film gives you insight into not only the movie-maker's mind, but into the culture of the movie-maker as well.

The first film I saw was (T)raumschiff Surprise,"* a German film that I bought on DVD for Argotnaut as a birthday present. From the trailers that Argotnaut watched on the Internet, I thought "Surprise" was a comedy that was marketed as the gay German "Star Trek." Three actors dressed as Kirk, Spock and Scotty minced about on the transporter and slapped each others' bottoms. Think Gene Roddenberry channeled through Mel Brooks and John Waters.

As such, I wasn't expecting much from the movie other than a few silly fag jokes and production values on a par with "Xena: Warrior Princess." Boy was I wrong. The movie is actually more like a protoplasmic collision of "Star Trek," all the "Star Wars" movies, "Back to the Future" and the "X-Files." Production values were on a par with the "Star Trek" movies rather than the TV series, with full-on space battles and some really nice effects. It was truly a surprise in being well written, well acted and stunningly photographed. And what did I learn about German culture? Well, not a lot, I guess, other than the fact that even when they're kidding around, European film-makers have a lot more respect for character and plot in their comedies than most American film-makers do. I'm sure they have their share of Rob Schneider comedies, but this was light years beyond that.

The second film I saw was "Night Watch" at the beloved Laurelhurst Theater. Holy crap what a nutty film!

Another protoplasmic collision, this time between "The Matrix," "Blade" and "Gorky Park," "Night Watch" is a Russian film that had as its chief unusual feature an unsparingly crappy background of rundown modern day Moscow. As a review in the New York Post so aptly put it, '"Night Watch" may be derivative of American movies, but when our ideas ooze out of the dank Russian filter they're weirder, crazier, grimier. Most crud can only dream of being as cruddy as Russian crud, so even the garbage wafting through the breeze in front of what appears to be Joe Stalin's idea of a luxury apartment building clocks you right in the spine.'

Even though "Night Watch" was subtitled in English and "(T)raumschiff" wasn't, the latter made a lot more sense. But "Night Watch" was a crazy cool flick. And what did I learn about Russian culture? Well, I think it's gonna take them a while to get over the subconscious dread and widespread, ramshackle decay wrought by Communism. It might look romantic on film, but I doubt it's that way when you have to live in it.

Now the only question is, do I go back to Laurelhurst tomorrow and watch the French film "Cache?" All signs point to yes!

*By the way, "Raum schiff" is a "space ship," while "Traum schiff" is a "dream ship." Thus, "(T)raum schiff" is a pun. So now you get the only pun that I was able to catch!


Tavia Rowan said...

Even Russian comedy literature is grim and grimy.

Andrew said...

I seem to remember a "Cheers" episode where one of the gags dealt with a Russian poem that described a bunch of misery and ended..."and the dog is dead. At least this winter, we eat."

Tavia Rowan said...

I was thinking of Gogol's work. You laugh, then the next day, you start to think.... and months later, you're still thinking about it, but instead of laughing, you say to yourself, "that was so depressing, and too real." The guy's a major talent. And for those who don't read Russian, it translates to English well.

argotnaut said...

German fairy tales always end with "And if they haven't died, then they're still living today."