Tuesday 21 April 2009

Hillsborough (1996) - ickleReview (HD)

Made-for-TV dramatized documentary about the Hillsborough stadium disaster on Saturday 15 April 1989 in which 96 Liverpool Football Club fans were crushed to death on the terraces at the Leppings Lane end of the Sheffield Wednesday football ground. Jimmy McGovern's script follows a number of the victims' families before and after the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. The first half of the film reconstructs some of the events on match day; the second half documents the effect of the disaster on the families and the proceedings of the inquest up to 1991. The drama is based on fact using court transcripts and eye-witness reports.

The film is heavily critical of the police's management of the crowd problems at the game and of their insensitive treatment of the families in the aftermath. Chief Superintendent David Duckinfield is portrayed in a particularly bad light, seemingly out of his depth and unable to respond quickly enough to the over-filled pens behind the goal at the Leppings Lane end, which he witnessed from the police control tower and on television monitors.

McGovern alleges that the police tried to cover up their incompetence by asking officers not to note down what they had seen on the day in their notebooks. They also tried to shift the blame on to the fans by asking the relatives how much they thought the victims had had to drink when they entered the ground. A number of policemen thought the crowd trouble was caused by rival fans fighting each other rather than poor crowd management by the police as too many fans were forced down the tunnel into the two central pens behind the goal.

There is no attempt to place the Hillsborough tragedy in its wider context within the state of football in 1989. Throughout the 1970s and 80s there had been a number of football disasters in which violent fans were partly to blame, most notably the Heysel stadium disaster before the European Cup Final between Liverpool and Juventus in Belgium on 29 May 1985. Although that narrow focus biases the tone of this film, it was obviously not the aim of the filmmakers, who instead portray on the effect that Hillsborough had on the families of the victims.

Nugget: an important polemic about a terrible event. The cast includes Ricky Tomlinson and Christopher Eccleston.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Good Bye Lenin! (2003) - ickleReview (HD)

Image source: Filmmuseum Potsdam.

German film with subtitles set in 1989 in East Berlin. Shortly before the Wall comes down, a mother suffers a heart attack and goes into a coma. By the time she wakes up, the Wall has fallen and East and West Germany are being reintegrated. Her grown-up son and daughter undertake a massive ruse to pretend that nothing has changed in case the shock of the news gives the mother another heart attack and kills her.

A touching film with a neat perspective on the fall of the Berlin Wall. Lightly comic without being over-sentimental. Shows the old East Germany with affectionate but not blinkered nostalgia. We are prepared to suspend our sense of the implausibility of maintaining the charade for so long.

Nugget: enjoyable reflection on the differences between life in the old East and West Germany.

Thursday 9 April 2009

Afghan Star (2009) - ickleReview (TV)

A Channel 4 True Stories documentary about the popular TV singing contest in Afghanistan - their version of Pop Idol or The X-Factor. From 1996-2001 singing, dancying, music, and TV were banned in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. After the founding of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in 2001, the people were allowed to listen to music again. Tolo TV produce a singing talent contest, which taps into this explosion of musical expression. The show has none of the polish of the British and American versions. Contestants sing Afghan traditional and popular songs and any kind of dancing is still deemed too risky in the Islamic cultural code, so most of them sing standing still with their hands by their sides.

2,000 people take part in the show with regional auditions then being narrowed down to a final ten. There are only three women contestants, two of whom make the final seven and are profiled by the filmmakers, who follow a couple of the male contestants, too.

The show introduces much of the Afghan population to participatory democracy as viewers are allowed to vote for their favourites by text message on their mobile phones. Supporters also campaign for their favourites like political canvassers, handing out flyers, putting up posters, and trying to get out the vote.

Some of the contestants preach a message of national unity and supporters breach traditional tribal and regional loyalties. One of the women causes a scandal by dancing to her final song after being voted off the show, letting her headscarf slip. Her improper conduct (under the rules of Islam) puts her life in danger.

Nugget: an interesting perspective on a complex country. A little slow-moving in parts. It won the two awards at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Monday 6 April 2009

Kolja (aka Kolya) (1996) - ickleReview (DVD)

Czech film about Frantisek Louka (Zdenek Sverák) a cello player who is only allowed to play at funerals after he was banned from the Philarmonia. Struggling to make enough money, he agrees to a fake marriage with a Russian woman so that she can obtain Czech papers and he can earn enough money for a Trabant and to pay off some of his debts. Shortly after the wedding, the Russian woman runs away to her lover in Germany, leaving her son in Prague with her grandmother. When the grandmother dies after a stroke, the little boy, Kolja (Andrei Chalimon), is left for Louka to look after.

Louka is a ladies' man, previously unmarried and with no intention of settling down or starting a family. His music takes priority, along with a string of younger female lovers. All this changes when he has to think of Kolja before himself. The little boy only speaks Russian, but gradually picks up a few words of Czech.

This beautifully shot film is set in Prague on the eve of the 1989 Velvet Revolution. There are a couple of startling incidental shots featuring a bird of prey and a red squirrel in the foreground of basic continuity sequences of Louka travelling in his Trabant. The opening few minutes introduces the viewer to Louka with subtle touches - playing the cello in church in plain clothes and in socks with holes in the toes, boiling a kettle during a performance, using his bow to lift the skirt of the solo soprano from behind. He is a talented musician but is frequently late to his jobs playing at funerals all over the city since he has to use public transport. There is light, delicate humour throughout, mainly thanks to Sverák's endearing performance as Louka.

Nugget: won the 1997 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Heart-warming fun without being overly schmaltzy.