Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ill Met by Moonlight

Night Ambush / Kenraali katoaa / Generalen kidnappad. GB 1957. PC: The Rank Organisation [J.  Arthur Rank n.c.]. P+D+SC: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger [The Archers n.c.] – based on the book of memoirs by W. Stanley Moss (1950, in Finnish by Tapio Hiisivaara / Tammi, 1951). DP: Christopher Challis – b&w – VistaVision – 1,85:1 (IMDb) – even better in 1,66:1. AD: Alex Vetchinsky. FX: Bill Warrington. Cost: Nandi Routh. Makeup: Paul Rabiger. M: Mikis Theodorakis. S: Charles Knott, Gordon K. McCallum (sound recordists), Archie Ludski (sound editor). ED: Arthur Stevens. C: Dirk Bogarde (Major Patrick Leigh-Fermor or ΦΙΛΕΔΕΜ), Marius Goring (Major General Heinrich Kreipe), David Oxley (Captain W. Stanley Moss), Dimitri Andreas / Demetri Andreas (Niko), Cyril Cusack (Sandy), Laurence Payne (Manoli), Wolfe Morris (George), Michael Gough (Andoni Zoidakis), John Cairney (Elias), Brian Worth (Stratis Saviolkis), Christopher Lee (a German officer at the dentist's). Helsinki premiere: 24.5.1957 Metropol, distributed by: Parvisfilmi Oy, Finnish/Swedish subtitles by Liisa Ahti – VET 46730 – K12 – 104 min
    A vintage KAVI 35 mm print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Powell and Pressburger), 23 April 2015.
    The title is from Shakespeare: Oberon: "Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania." (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 2, Scene 1).

The last film of the Archers belongs to the double set of war movies made by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger for J. Arthur Rank. The first was in Technicolor, this one is in black and white.

Ill Met by Moonlight is a film about gentlemen's war, in continuation to The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. The expression "a nightmare of horror" is heard at the start to describe the Nazi occupation of Crete, but nothing we see confirms this.

It is a true story about the kidnapping of General Kreipe, the commander of the German occupation forces at Crete. There has even been a non-fiction reconstruction of that adventure with Kreipe himself among the participants.

Shot on Mediterranean locations on the Riviera the film impresses with the black and white outdoors cinematography by Christopher Challis. The landscape is magnificent, and protective of its native inhabitants, including the resistance fighters hiding in the mountains. In the philosophy of the landscape, in the sense of the sublime, there is a continuity with Powell's films starting with The Edge of the World and including A Canterbury Tale and I Know Where I'm Going by Powell and Pressburger. Ill Met by Moonlight belongs to the realistic current of the duo.

The phases of the Moon are a visual refrain in the film.

There is also a sense of the fairytale and myth, starting with the title from A Midsummer Night's Dream and the motto from Ulysses. On Crete we stay on Mount Ida, home of the Cave of Zeus. Minos and Ariadne are evoked.

Ill Met by Moonlight is a well made war adventure film full of suspenseful moments but directed with a laid back, relaxed approach. The actors are all good but a sense of urgency is missing from this cinematic reconstruction.

The last film of the Archers was the first film of Mikis Theodorakis, already providing a warm and exhilarating score.

The vintage print shows proudly the patina of age and gives a good impression of the original VistaVision cinematography.  IMDb claims the aspect ratio is 1,85:1 but it looks much better in 1,66:1. Both would be correct within the VistaVision projection practice.


Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt / Hannah Arendt. DE / LU / FR / IL 2012. PC: Heimatfilm GmbH + Co KG (Köln). P: Bettina Brokemper, Johannes Rexin. D: Margarethe von Trotta. SC: Pamela Katz, Margarethe von Trotta. DP: Caroline Champetier – camera: Red Epic – release format: 2K DCP, 16:9. Vintage footage: original videotape from the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem (1961). PD: Volker Schäfer (Szenenbild). AD: Anja Fromm. SD: Barbara Hartwich, Oliver Koch. Drawings: Petra Maria Wirth. Cost: Frauke Firl (Kostüme), Sarah Wüthrich (Garderobe). Makeup: Astrid Weber, Nadia Homri, Antje Bockeloh. M: André Mergenthaler. S: Greg Vittore – Dolby SRD. ED: Bettina Böhler. Casting: Susanne Ritter. C: Barbara Sukowa (Hannah Arendt), Axel Milberg (Heinrich Blücher), Janet McTeer (Mary McCarthy), Julia Jentsch (Lotte Köhler), Ulrich Noethen (Hans Jonas), Michael Degen (Kurt Blumenfeld), Nicholas Woodeson (William Shawn), Victoria Trauttmansdorff (Charlotte Beradt), Klaus Pohl (Martin Heidegger), Friederike Becht (young Hannah Arendt), Fridolin Meinl (young Hans Jonas), Harvey Friedman (Thomas Miller), Megan Gay (Frances Wells), Joel Kirby (Lionel Abel), Sascha Ley (Lore Jonas). Dreharbeiten: 16.10.–17.12.2011 Cologne and its surroundings, Luxemburg, Israel, New York. Original in German (and English and Hebrew). Telecast in Finland: 22.10.2014 Yle Teema – S – 113 min
    A Goethe Institut 35 mm print with English subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Margarethe von Trotta, student screening), 8 April 2015

    The book to the film:
    Hannah Arendt. Ihr Denken veränderte die Welt. Das Buch zum Film von Margarethe von Trotta. Hrsg. Martin Wiebel. München, Zürich: Piper, 2013, 252 pages.
    Texts by Franziska Augstein, Martin Wiebel, Margarethe von Trotta, Pam Katz, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Ernst Vollrath, Bettina Brokemper, Hannah Arendt interviewed by Joachim Fest, Barbara Sukowa, Klaus Pohl, Volker Schaefer, Jerome Kohn, Rainer Schimpf, and Bettina Stangneth. Excerpts from the screenplay. 

I watched Hannah Arendt at our morning student screening before Margarethe von Trotta's afternoon lecture and Q&A on Rosa Luxemburg, Hildegard von Bingen, and Hannah Arendt. In the evening there was a regular screening of Hannah Arendt and a subsequent Q&A.

The film was an even better opening to our Margarethe von Trotta retrospective than we had realized, representative of so many of her key concerns and characteristics.

A major continuity in her oeuvre has been an honest confrontation with the German history of the past century. To this quest Hannah Arendt brings a new contribution of an aching and disturbing complexity.

Intellectual biography is popular in today's cinema, as in the high profile Academy Award nominated films on Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing. They are commendable attempts to present difficult ideas to a general audience. Hannah Arendt is also a thrilling film, with the difference that the determination to focus on the ideas of the protagonist is on a completely different level than in the Hawking and Turing biopics. Hannah Arendt is a drama of standing up to one's convictions. It is a film that not only popularizes but also contributes on a profound level to the discussion of Arendt's still alarming insights in the Eichmann trial.

Margarethe von Trotta prefers a protagonist who is a woman of courage, controversial, even a rebel.

There are several important relationships in the film: Hannah and Heinrich (husband), Hannah and Lotte Köhler (assistant), Hannah and Hans Jonas (a long-term friendship broken after the Eichmann articles), Hannah and Kurt Blumenfeld (in Israel), and Hannah and William Shawn (The New Yorker). But the deepest relationship, the true core, is that of Hannah and Mary McCarthy.

A focus on a female bond - sisterhood, friendship - is a characteristic for von Trotta. (She has even filmed Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters as Amore e paura with Fanny Ardant, Greta Scacchi, and Valeria Golino). The most memorable performances here are those by Barbara Sukowa and Janet McTeer. There is a sense of urgency in them.

A further von Trotta hallmark is a formidable presence of an architecture of power. Here the most relevant architecture of power (Auschwitz) remains invisible. Major settings are the Jerusalem courthouse of Eichmann's trial and the university lecture hall of the final voluntary "trial" of Hannah Arendt herself as she gives her remarkable defense speech against her critics.

Forceful and characteristic is here also von Trotta's mise-en-scène and composition. I had happened to visit a Vilhelm Hammershøi exhibition at the Amos Anderson Art Museum and felt an affinity between certain von Trotta images and Hammershøi's compelling compositions of dark clad women with their backs turned to us.

Von Trotta has talent with the documentary insert. In Die bleierne Zeit the two sisters as schoolgirls get to see Night and Fog. Here the documentary inserts are the televised records of the Adolf Eichmann trials. Von Trotta's major casting decision was that all other characters are conveyed by actors but Adolf Eichmann is seen in actual documented footage only.

Margarethe von Trotta was in great form in her lecture and the Q&A sessions. There was not enough time for all the questions. One remark I wanted to make but had no time to is: In your films women are strong and men not so strong. This is not a piece of criticism. There is more than a fair share of strong roles for men in the cinema, even entire genres are male-dominated. You have made an engrossing contribution to correct the balance.

On Adolf Eichmann there is an excellent documentary film by Erwin Leiser which would deserve to be better known: Eichmann und das dritte Reich.