Observant lovers of film will know director Susanne Bier won a Golden Globe for best foreign language film on the 16th January for her most recent effort “In A Better World” (2010) and was nominated for an Oscar a few days ago in the same category. So I thought I’d review a couple of her previous films, which are favourites of mine. Open Hearts, and next week After the wedding (2006). Another highlight from her career is the film “Brothers”(2004) (a US remake was made in 2009).
Open Hearts is a Dogme 95 film from Denmark. Some people don’t like this kind of filmmaking with handheld cameras, like a home video. The advantage of this style is that you are in somebody’s actual kitchen, not a set. The filmmakers according to the dogma rules are not allowed to build another kitchen or change the bathroom. One of the goals of Dogme 95 was to return to the traditional values of story, acting and theme. One of their arguments was that you could make a good film without being dependent on special effects or a big budget. You can read the ten Dogme 95 rules here.
The environment is very realistic in Open Hearts, almost like real life. Some call it a fly-on-the-wall documentary look. Actually, Open Hearts broke a few of the Dogme rules, using fake blood and use of camera equipment. I guess you can argue the rules could be self-restricting as well.
I think Susanne Bier is the 2nd best director from Denmark, Lars Von Trier has my vote as top director from that country. Both directors have reached an international audience and have sustained a high level of releases. You may notice Bier is uncredited as the director on this occasion, I’m unsure why this is.
Open Hearts, or in Danish Elsker dig for evigt (translated: love you forever) has very good performances, especially Mads Mikkelsen impressed me. The story about infidelity and family is powerful and universal. It’s also about what happens to a person who at the beginning of the film becomes paralyzed, and how this character and his loved ones deal with this situation.
You could add Open Hearts to a sub-genre of films such as The Sea Inside (2004), or Who’s Life Is It Anyway? (1981), both of which I thought were ok, but not quite as good.
I wondered about the credits sequence and the use of lighting, which illuminates the characters. On the DVD, it’s explained by Bier that heat sensitive cameras were utilized, she wanted an X-ray of humans.
I think this is probably also the agenda of the movie, wanting to understand and get under the skin of normal people. Bier explains in an interview, “that things just happen. There is no moralizing at the end” We the audience are left to contemplate the actions of each character, it treats the viewer as an adult by refraining from a bow-wrapped ending.
I haven’t see anybody else in the blogosphere review Open Hearts, which is a pity, as it’s Susanne Bier’s highest rated movie at rottentomatoes with 96%. As a reviewer on RT puts it: “A small-scale domestic drama with large-scale feeling”.
After a while, I forgot it was a Dogme 95 film, probably my favourite of these.
Really enjoyed this novel, which has an interesting concept. Will be added to my favourite books! Could be the best writer you’ve never heard of! Don’t be put off by the title, there is no physical torture on display, only mental. I love the artwork on the front cover, you don’t see something that original and imaginative too often.
Without giving too much away, the 265 page story is about Vincent, an aspiring writer. Harlan Eiffler, an ex-musician, who is disgusted by shallow entertainment, poses as Vincent’s manager, and nurtures his career. Harlan works for New Renaissance, an experimental organization, who emphasize artistic quality over commerce. Harlan is requested to secretly manipulate Vincent’s life and cause him to suffer, so that he will always have inspiration to create art. It’s easy to care about the deceived main character Vincent, but at the same time could the manipulating really be worth it and what about free will? Is the best art born from pain?
I kind of agree with the author Joey Goebel that there is way too much brainless entertainment being forced upon us these days, and his comments on celebrity are intriguing. This book was hard to put down, and will probably appeal to people who like myself enjoy alternative /independent / original material, and mostly loath formulaic mainstream entertainment. He puts into words something we have all questioned at one time or another. For example, are we making the right choices when it comes to what we consume?
The novel has some good music and film references to look out for. For example we get to hear what each character’s favourite musician, TV-show and movie is. The book also contains some funny dialogue and bizarre anecdotes, such as Shirley Temple taking anti-growth hormones! The overall atmosphere and style is fairly similar to Chuck Palahniuk, of FIGHT CLUB fame. Torture the artist is also provocative and controversial, but isn’t as violent.
Joey Goebel is fairly obscure, but a talented and uncompromising American author. Torture the Artist I think deserves a wider audience and more recognition, which is why I am recommending it.
This is a dark love story about obsessive love. Initially, I debated whether to read the novel instead, which is a classic, and regarded as W. Somerset Maugham’s autobiographical masterpiece. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Of Human Bondage (1915) as #66 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. But when I saw it was 736 pages, I had second thoughts, this would take days to read, even though the language apparently is simple. Couldn’t I get the same story from the movie, I wondered?
The 1964 film was poorly received on release, but I also heard it was the nuanced performance of Mildred played by Kim Novak, that author W. Somerset Maugham was most satisfied with. It came out a year before Maugham’s death. In contrast, some reviewers regard Bette Davis’s 1934 over-the-top Mildred as one-dimensional, and lacking the kindness that would make Philip fall for her in the first place. The acting was pretty wooden by the main character Philip played by Laurence Harvey, but I still enjoyed watching.
The story is a timeless character study of unrequited, destructive, and obsessive love. About Philip, a failed artist now medical student who doesn’t know when to quit when it comes to Mildred, the promiscuous waitress. She is callous, manipulative, unreliable and constantly uses him and cheats on him, but still he doesn’t get the message. They are two different to be a couple. It’s painful to watch how he secretly suffers and can’t move on. Mildred doesn’t really deserve his attention and love. You could question, who is damaging whom? Some claim Mildred doesn't want to purposely hurt men, but simply doesn't know how to behave better.
The author Maugham had a stammer, which was likely translated into Philip’s self-conscious clubfoot. Philip Carey feels doomed, always to fail, in life and in love. I didn’t think this aspect worked too well in the movie, he is a fairly handsome guy, why would his foot bother him so much? Probably the novel portrays this more realistically and in more detail through descriptions of his inner thoughts. Still, a good movie, if you don’t have the patience to read the superior novel.
Fans of the book will no doubt be more critical than I have been. Coming to the story with fresh eyes probably adds to the interest.
Although, if you have gone through a similar ordeal to Philip, then it might be a painful viewing experience!
According to sources, the phrase "of human bondage" comes from the title of a section of Baruch Spinoza's "Ethics"(1677), and refers to the philosopher's claim that feelings and passions tend to interfere with a person's reason and intentions. Emotions enslave people if they are not careful, said Spinoza, no matter what they want to do with their lives.
The story “Of human bondage” has been called “a beacon of light by which the wanderer may be guided”. Author Maugham does his best to pass on his life lessons. Perhaps Philip was his own worst enemy?
(I had never even heard of her until recently. Honestly, I wasn’t too sure if this was a man or a woman! A folk/acoustic release boycottingtrends had on his top 10 albums of 2010, I agree that the album 'How I Learned to See in the Dark' holds up well to repeat listening. Talented songwriter, lyrics such as: “I think the whole world needs a shoeshine” or “I spent the day forgetting the dream that woke me up". Although her words are not sung very clearly, it has to be said, which perhaps she could work on)
Great Expectations is part of the criterion DVD collection. I thought the overall atmosphere worked very well in black-and-white. Guy Green winning an Oscar for best cinematography, and the film also winning an academy award for best art direction-set decoration I guess says it all! I felt transported back in times to the 1800s. This is probably the most faithful adaptation you are likely to find, the 1998 version was a re-imagining in comparison.
To be honest I liked the film more than Charles Dickens’ book from 1860, the novel being 500 pages was very long, and full of details I didn’t think drove the story forward. The language was also pretty heavy going and dated, while David Lean’s adaptation in my opinion made the dialogue more relatable for our generation. The ending of the film probably was a little rushed and too simplistic, and could have been better.
The rest of my review below contains spoilers. You have been warned!
The young boy Pip lives with his guardians Mrs Joe and Joe the blacksmith, Pip helps a convict at the beginning of the story giving him some bread. He later visits Miss Havisham’s gated house several times and befriends her daughter Estella. Miss Havisham was abandoned by her husband years ago on her wedding day, she now lives behind drawn curtains, and has adopted Estella to take revenge on all men.
As a 14-year-old, Pip goes into the blacksmith trade. Pip would like to be a gentleman and not common and poor. His wish is granted, at one point, Pip inherits some money, but he doesn’t know the benefactor. A lawyer says that he has money coming or "great expectations". Pip changes his lifestyle and goes to live in London. Great Expectations is a tale of self-discovery, a boy's journey in life from childhood to adulthood.
The title is interesting, the reader/watcher obviously has great expectations of what will happen in the story, this is one aspect of the title. I guess we all, like Pip, have great expectations as children of living a meaningful life in the future, which is a reason why the story is timeless.
Pip’s guardian Mrs Joe was in her refusal to see anything at all in Pip, an obstacle to great expectations. Pip had potential. There is an expectation about the re-emergence of the past in the future, Pip feels guilty he has suddenly got all the inherited money, does he deserve it? He hasn’t earned the money, so doesn’t feel exactly comfortable with it. He is a poor man in a rich mans clothes. Pip has great expectations of becoming a gentleman and then being able to marry the wealthy Estella. Will she only want him, if he is wealthy? I guess you could say the upper class also have great expectations for him to follow a certain path now he has come into money.
His inheritance is like the lottery, surprising, and his secret benefactor is in a way controlling his path in life. Pip is not in control. Pip becomes selfish in London and is ashamed of his family. So, you see, it’s also about how access to money can corrupt the soul. Dickens tried to study the effect of inheritance on a human being. Due to the inheritance, there are great expectations, instead of moderate expectations. This added pressure can’t be easy to handle for Pip.
I’ve read one of the messages might be that we sometimes try hard to impress people who don't care about us rather than treasure those who really do. And it’s not the contents of your wallet that counts, but your strength of character that defines you. Pip's biggest fault is probably that he counts too much on what he does not already have (expectations), and values too little that which he does have. Perhaps there is a little bit of Wizard of Oz psychology mixed in there, Pip is probably searching for things that he already has.
Wealth doesn’t necessarily imply high moral virtue is another message. As in most of Dickens body of work, there is a plea for the less privileged members of society, and a critical look at the upper class.
I think the story is about the unpredictability of life, how we let ourselves be influenced by other people. Others make you who you are, and words can destroy a person, as in the case of Miss. Havisham and her marriage, or restore someone’s belief in the goodness of human beings, as in the case of Pip’s good deed towards Magwitch the convict at the start of the story. How goodness can rub off and lead to more kindness. And how cruelty encourages more cruelty.
It was hard for me to like the book, easy for me to enjoy the 1946 movie. According to Roger Ebert, it has been called the greatest of all the Dickens films.