European Films: Good, Bad, and Ugly

I’m happy to report that Europe is full of lousy films. I feel like this is a real breakthrough, considering all the really good films they used to make, back in the day of Truffaut, Godard, Bunuel, Bergman, Antonioni, and of course Fellini.  Where would Woody Allen be today without them?  Don’t answer that. 

This new mediocrity might not have been obvious from the generally favorable reviews of the European films I review here. That comes from my major flaw as a critic: I don’t like to criticize. I could be wrong, after all. So I tend to review movies that I like. I’ve noticed that most film reviewers like to trash the films they review, while most music reviewers tend to be supportive. Hmmm, I wonder what that means, when most films are corporate-sponsored mega-budget monsters, while many musicians struggle to eat; but I digress…

Some of the European movies that I’ve seen recently but declined to review include ‘The Jewish Cardinal’, a true story about a Jewish convert to Christianity who became cardinal while never renouncing his Judaism. And then there’s ‘Ida’ with a similar theme, about an adopted child and nun-to-be who only finds out at the last minute that she is Jewish by birth, so she falls in love just for the Hell of it, oh well. Sounds like Central Europe still has some issues left over from WWII.

Or then there’s ‘Ragnarok’, apparently based on a Viking folk tale, in which dinosaurs come to life, something of a Swedish ‘Jurassic Park’, if you will, but without the same level of special effect. Ho hum.  Even worse is ‘Blood Glacier’, where not only does the eponymous glacier bleed, but the Europeans involved are dubbed with American accents. Aren’t you supposed to at least dub in the accent of the language which is being dubbed? I thought that’s de rigueur; bottom line: it’s unwatchable, for me, at least.

So it seems while we were learning to make quirky indie films from the Europeans, they were learning how to make crappy action films from us—too bad. But that’s what you get when the hundred-plus other countries in the world, all with film industries, decide to make their own indies. And that they do, with mixed results, of course, but generally good, from countries including Afghanistan, Thailand, and Mexico, in addition to the traditional non-US, non-European stalwarts of India and Japan.

Then there’s the Iranian film “Manuscripts Don’t Burn’, which is probably one of the most depressing films I’ve ever seen, about the censorship of the press in Iran. All Iran-bashing aside, there is something so deep and dark in this culture that Islam must be the attempt to cheer it up. The Zoroastrians that preceded it leave carcasses to the vultures for ‘cleaning’ and burial to this day, you know.

The fact that Iranians are our linguistic third cousins means that at some point the collective subconscious must have divided and the optimists went north while the pessimists stayed south, with all the lifestyle details that that entails in the modern world. Nevertheless they do have a significant artistic and literary history, including films.  But this one’s tough to watch.  Oh, well. I continue my search for quality films around the world. Stay tuned.

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