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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Two excellent movies

Today, I would like to introduce the movies I mentioned in my last post. Both of them deal with young boys, who have a special gift and who try, each in his own way, to fulfill a dream.

Vitus is a Swiss film about a gifted young boy born into a middle-class family, who is not only the best student in his class with an extraordinary high IQ but a talented pianist. His proud parents do everything to further his talents. But Vitus, a lonely boy, wants nothing more than being a normal kid. Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat wrote an excellent review of the film. The young actors who play Vitus at different ages are wonderful. Bruno Ganz, one of my favorite Swiss actors, does a great job as grandfather.

Bruno Ganz started his career as actor in the theater. His stage background is visible in all his performances. He is an excellent character actor and one of his most famous roles is as Hitler in the movie Downfall (German: Der Untergang). What struck me most about his performance is the fact that he was able to portray Hitler as a human being, not an abstraction of Evil, as we tend to think of him. What we witness is the slow deterioration of a sick, misguided, and deeply troubled man.

Vitus is a wonderful mix of the real and the magical. It's a movie with a lot of heart. Available on DVD in German with English subtitles, at

The second movie, Billy Elliot, takes place in a small coal mining town in the north of England, far away from the middle-class Swiss background of Vitus. The protagonist is again a young boy who has a dream that couldn’t be any more at odds with his working-class background and his macho environment.

Here is an editorial review by Philip Kemp at Amazon:
“Foursquare in the gritty-but-heartwarming tradition of Brassed Off and The Full Monty comes Billy Elliot, the first film from noted British theatrical director Stephen Daldry. The setting is County Durham in 1984, and things "up north" are even grimmer than usual: the miners' strike is in full rancorous swing, and 11-year-old Billy's dad and older brother, miners both, are on the picket lines. Billy's got problems of his own. His dad has scraped together the fees to send him to boxing lessons, but Billy has discovered a different aptitude: a genius for ballet dancing. Since admitting to such an activity is tantamount, in this fiercely macho culture, to holding up a sign reading "I Am Gay," Billy keeps it quiet. But his teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters, wearily undaunted), thinks he should audition for ballet school in London. Family ructions are inevitable.

Daldry's film sidesteps some of the politics, both sexual and otherwise, but scores with its laconic dialogue (credit to screenwriter Lee Hall) and a cracking performance from newcomer Jamie Bell as Billy. His powerhouse dance routines, more Gene Kelly than Nureyev, carry an irresistible sense of exhilaration and self-discovery. Among a flawless supporting cast, Stuart Wells stands out as Billy's sweet gay friend Michael. And if the miners' strike serves largely as background color, the brief episode when visored and truncheon-wielding cops rampage through neat little terraced houses captures one of the most spiteful episodes in recent British history.” Philip Kemp

This is the kind of movie, you can watch many times. The very last scene always sends shivers down my back.

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