Quick takes on Little Big Women and other foreign films

I just recently watched a few films from celebrated Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. In a weird twist of fate, my first film up today comes from director Andrei Konchalovsky, who was the screenwriter for Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood and Andrei Rublev. Dear Comrades! tells a fictional biography around the real-world events of the Novocherkassk massacre. In early June, 1962, Lyuda Syomina is a single mother taking care of her father and her daughter Yuliya. As a member of the Communist party and on the city council, Lyuda is afforded luxuries that most do not have; she is able to get food when others are facing lowered rations and increased prices. When prices on meat and dairy go up, while at the same time wages at the factory (the big employer for this city) go down, there is a strike by the workers, which includes Yuliva. The powers that be cannot let news of a strike get out, so they clamp down on the city with a big military presence, which gets ugly fast. The KGB officers shoot on the unarmed civilians, leading to a frantic day where Lyuda cannot find her daughter. Lyuda must reconcile her love of party vs her love of family, and the film lets it play out as she grapples with that choice. Shown in stark black and white with a great old classic feel, it is a harsh look at an event that many of us in the west (myself included) were probably never aware. Good movie. ★★★½

Little Big Women comes from Taiwan, and focuses on the Lin family. Shoying is the 70 year old matriarch, who is a true rags to riches story and runs a successful restaurant. She has 3 adult daughters: eldest Yu is a successful doctor, married and with Shoying’s only grandchild, Clementine; Ching is a dance teacher and independent woman, divorced; and youngest Jiajia has been groomed to take over the family business. There are already cracks in the family, lots of secrets that each doesn’t want to share with each other, when the kids’ father, Shoying’s estranged husband, dies. He hasn’t been around for 20 years, but Shoying insists on having his funeral in their town, rather than in Taipei where he’s been living all these years with his mistress, Meilin. Jjiajia has met Meilin, it was she who was at the man’s side when he died in the hospital, but she is hesitant to approach Shoying about allowing Meilin at the funeral. As the youngest, Jiajia is the only one who doesn’t remember a time when their dad lived with them, and she’s never really heard why he left or why the rest of the family hates him so much. Through short flashbacks, we see some of the events that got the family to where it is today. The film is about the secrets families keep, and the shame that can come from bottling up past transgressions and refusing to let past hurts go. Like a lot of east Asia films, it is a deep and introspective film, and beautifully done. Any family with skeletons in the closet can relate to what the characters are going through, and it is easy to see how a single decision can have generational consequences. A perfect film in my opinion. ★★★★★

Staying in Asia but moving over to Korea, we get Space Sweepers, and yes, the movie is as ridiculous as the title, but don’t let that keep you from watching it. This is a high flying space adventure taking place in the year 2092. The Earth has become a polluted wasteland, and the wealthy are living in a space colony awaiting resettlement on Mars, which is going to be terraformed to become a “new” Earth. The poor however are struggling to make ends make, and the film focuses on one such group, who are scrapping by, by scrapping. Space sweepers are workers who comb the orbit of Earth for old junk, like dead satellites, floating rocket boosters, etc., and turn it in for scrap. The sweeper ship Victory has a crew of 4 misfits: a pilot who is looking for the body of his dead daughter floating in space, a captain willing to do anything to make a buck, a tatted up engineer/tech with a sordid past, and a sentient robot with dreams of getting human skin to become an android. Their latest find is a junk ship, but it has a stowaway, a young girl who is wanted by the authorities. The news says she’s an android which has been rigged with a bomb in her insides, put there by a terrorist organization known as the Black Fox. However, our crew sees that she is not a robot, and is just a girl, and as the movie develops, of course we find out the good guys are necessarily so, and neither are the bad guys. This movie features amazingly good effects right up there with the best space films of today; it is edge-of-your-seat action through nearly the entire ride. Outlandish? Yes. Unsteady acting? Yes. Cheesy dialogue at times? Yes. Implausible (even for sci-fi)? Yes. Hell of a lot of fun? YES. Not going to wow the critics, but man, this is a fun movie. ★★★★

Next we head to the arctic north, with Red Dot coming out of Sweden. A tried-and-true triller about a couple being hunted by some evil people in snowy forests. David and Nadja are a young couple going through a rough patch, and decide to try to go on a weekend camping trip to reconnect. On the way to the remote area, they run into some rough looking country boys fresh off a hunting trip of their own, and David hits their parked truck in a gas station, before pulling away without talking to them about it. They see them again that night while staying at a hotel on the outskirts, and the next day, they have graffiti on their car and it has been keyed. David and Nadja drive off, madder than hell, and see the boys’ truck again at a rest stop. Nadja jumps out, keys their truck in return, and jumps back in her car to escape. That night, the “red dot” comes for them, in the form on a laser scope on a hunting rifle. This film has every cliche you’d expect from this genre: a dead dog, a pregnant girl (Nadja), a frozen lake to traverse, etc. It is a passable 90 minutes, but that’s about it. No new territory here, and while the ending tries to play “gotcha,” it has fallen flat long before then. It has its moments, but nothing that is lasting. ★★½

Layla Majnun hails from Indonesia, and is a new version of a classic 7th century Arabic tale about star crossed lovers. Layla is an independent free thinking woman, a college graduate, author, and teacher, but she is getting a bit old to be single in her religion and culture. She agrees to marry Ibnu, a man from a wealthy background who has a political future. Shortly after, Layla travels to Azerbaijan to teach for 2 weeks, a life-long goal of hers, and there she meats Samir. Samir has been infatuated with Layla for a couple years, having read her book; it was he who arranged to get her to his home country of Azerbaijan. He woos her for the first half of the film and she is definitely falling for him, but she refuses to go against her pledge to marry Ibnu. All this cheesy movie is is an Indonesian Lifetime movie. Sappy story, inconceivable plot twists, dastardly villains, and pretty actors who couldn’t act their way out of a box. Mildly heartwarming, but by the end of the 2 hours, I had more eye rolls than tugs at the heart strings. A very silly film, no A’s for effort around here. ★½

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