The Lives of Others = Das Leben der Anderen (2006)
A gripping portrayal of East Berlin, The Lives of Others reveals what happens to a society when its citizens are under constant surveillance. Hauptmann, a playwright, has escaped the pervasive spying that’s afflicted most of his friends. This changes when his girlfriend (a famous actress) draws the attention of a party big shot. Hauptmann can no longer remain detached from the events unfolding around him. The agent assigned to conduct the surveillance also finds himself questioning his loyalty to the state.
The film won the 2007 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, plus many other awards. Check out reviews from Roger Ebert and The New York Times for more information.
In German with English subtitles.
Spotlight: 1930s Germany
If you have just finished reading In the Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson’s portrait of Germany as the Nazis rise to power and influence), you might like one of the following movie depictions of the same time and place.
Cabaret (1972) is the popular musical starring Liza Minelli as the original “good time girl” who is oblivious to the changes happening around her. Based on The Berlin Stories of Christopher Isherwood.
Three Comrades (1938) is a poignant story of the love between fragile Margaret Sullavan and Robert Taylor. Taylor’s other two comrades are Franchot Tone and Robert Young. Young, politically active, runs into trouble with the pro-Nazi marchers in the streets.
Mephisto (1981) is a German language movie with Klaus Maria Brandauer, as an actor who sells his soul to the devil in order to keep working in Nazi-era Germany.
The Harmonists (1997) is based on the true story of a successful German singing group that was forced to disband in 1934 because three of its members were Jewish.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) R
I found this to be a fascinatingly complex tale of suspense, but then I didn’t read the book.
It is the story of a computer hacker with a troubled past and a crusading journalist who become the dynamic duo in this Swedish film version of Stieg Larsson’s first suspense novel. The two main characters, each intriguing in their own way, initially occupy separate story lines that converge only because she’s hired to spy on him. The well plotted story becomes a thriller as it takes its time unlocking one mystery only to uncover another.
Be aware that there are some disturbing scenes of violence which can be difficult to view. You have time to watch this film and compare it with the English version arriving in theaters in December.
Mother of Mine (2005)
This Finnish/Swedish film directed by Klaus Härö received good reviews from the Finnish press and several awards internationally.
Mother of Mine is based on a novel by Heikki Hietamies. During the Winter War (which began with a Soviet offensive on November 30, 1939 — three months after the start of World War II) Eero, like many Finnish children, is sent to Sweden as a refugee. He is forever conflicted because he feels his own mother abandoned him and his adoptive mother has a hard time accepting him.
Spotlight: Stieg Larsson Films
Get your money’s worth with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. These must-see foreign movies capture the essence of Stieg Larsson’s “best of the bestselling books.” After thoroughly enjoying the Millennium Trilogy, I thoroughly enjoyed the movies. If you have read the books, the subtitles highlight the dialogue making it easier to follow. My only regret is there will not be another book/movie in this series.
Did you know? An American version of the film is in the works starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) R
If you read the bestselling book, you must see the Swedish movie! It follows the story line closely and gives us a glimpse into journalist Mikael Blomkvist’s search for Harriet Vanger. She disappeared more than forty years ago when she was 16 years old. Her family assumed she was murdered, but her Uncle Henrik Vanger doesn’t believe it and asks for Blomkvist’s help. He enlists the young computer hacker Lisabeth Salander to work with him. Lisabeth’s background is opened for a peek at a young girl on her own who is tortured mentally and physically by her court appointed guardian. She does fight back, which makes you cheer for her despite her bizarre characteristics. The story has twists and turns and you will not draw a deep breath until the very end! Don’t miss it.
I’ve Loved You So Long (2008) PG-13
This is a poignant tale about a woman, Juliette, (Kristin Scott Thomas) who is released from prison after fifteen years and goes to live with her younger sister, Léa, and her family. In the beginning of the film, Juliette is guarded, stiff, and unemotional. People are uncomfortable around her when they learn about the crime she was convicted of. Gradually the real Juliette emerges.
Thomas was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance. The English Patient was another excellent film she starred in.
In French with English subtitles or dubbed in English.
The Pope’s Toliet = El Bano del Papa (2007)
A poignant film about the poverty ridden residents of Melo, Uruguay, who spend what little they have to capitalize on the thousands of tourists they believe will swarm Melo to see Pope John Paul II. Beto is the film’s principal character. He makes his living bicycling into Brazil to smuggle goods back to Melo shopkeepers. Beto hatches the most grandiose money making scheme of all—to build an indoor toilet for the anticipated crowds. Using his wife’s pin money for their daughter’s education, Beto builds his toilet. The crowds never arrive, and the residents of Melo are left poorer than before. The film is based on Pope John Paul II’s 1988 visit to Melo in which only three hundred visitors arrived out of the predicted thousands.
In Spanish with English subtitles.
Bread & Tulips = Pane e tulipani (2000) PG-13
Bread & Tulips is a charming and quirky Italian film about an overlooked housewife who impulsively vacations to Venice and, with the help of a wonderful cast of supporting characters, finds herself. Part comedy, part romance, part fairy tale, this colorful film will leave you smiling!
In Italian with English subtitles.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) PG-13
A truly amazing film about the human spirit. The scenery is beautiful and the filming extraordinary. Jean Bauby, the French editor of Elle magazine, suffers a stroke and suffers from “locked-in” syndrome. He is trapped in his own body (which is useless) but his mind still functions normally. He is paralyzed except for his left eye. By blinking one letter at a time, with the help of his caregiver, he writes a memoir.
Based on Bauby’s 1997 memoir of the same name. Check out the Salon.com article to find out which parts of the movie are based in fact.
In French with English subtitles.