Monday, September 1, 2008

Monday Movie Day Reviews: Angels and Counterfeiters

Here are two German films that are both excellent in their own unique ways:

Wings of Desire (1987): Ethereal and fluid in tone, this poetic film perfectly fits the creative-redemptive framework that I try to view movies through. Two angels hover over Berlin, watching and listening to the human activity below. They walk amongst people unnoticed--except by a few small children, who seem to detect their presence--observing what God has created in humanity. They can hear people's thoughts and detect their emotions, moving from an aging Holocaust victim to a famous American actor (Peter Falk playing himself, and it's his best performance) to a lonely trapeze artist. One angel is growing increasingly tired of simply observing. He finds himself falling in love with the beautiful trapeze artist and desires to experience life with her as a human being.

This film could tell its entire story in a matter of a few minutes, but that's not what it's about. For the first half, there is no plot really to speak of, no concrete story or crisis to overcome. It's much more about being than about doing, about the simple-yet-beautiful experiences in human existence that make life worth living. The cinematography is like something I've never seen before, with the camera seemingly floating anywhere it pleases. Flying from building to building, hovering from person to person, it actually feels like you're flying for much of the film. Director Wim Wenders also makes a stark contrast between the angels' and humans' view of the world. The angels see the world in a grainy sepia tone, colorless and dark. When the point of view switches to the humans, the world is seen in color, vibrant and full of possibility. The excellent cinematography is perfectly paired with the poetic script--listening in on people's thoughts has never been so eloquent! While the script could be seen as too poetic by some, I found that it perfectly fit the being tone of the film. It's a wonderful film that inspired the American remake, City of Angels. Having seen and enjoyed both films, Wings of Desire is more for the film enthusiast.

The Counterfeiters (2007): Winner of last year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, The Counterfeiters is a WWII film based on a true story. Salomon "Sally" Sorowitz is the best counterfeiter in Europe, creating passports and currency for numerous countries. When he's caught by the Germans and put into a concentration camp, it seems like it's the end. But the Germans take him and a selection of Jews with certain skills--bankers, printers, artists--and put them to work on the largest counterfeiting operation ever done. The Nazis plan on forging the British pound and American dollar, then flooding the Allies' with phony currency, sinking their economy and funding the Nazi war effort. Led by Salomon, the team of Jews is given luxury after luxury, placed separately from the other detainees, given good food, and even have their own ping pong table, all while creating fake currency for the Nazis. The film raises a number of ethical questions--should the Jews create the money in order to stay alive, but possibly contribute to the Nazis war effort? Or should they sabotage the operation, risking their expendable lives in the process? Salomon has always stayed alive by adapting to any situation he finds himself in, but it's difficult to adapt when so much is at stake. The film's characters are complex, especially Salomon and the Nazi leader Herzog. Both are men trying to stay alive through adaptation and compromise; but where are the moral boundaries and principles when one compromises everything just to keep oneself alive? I found it to be a fascinating film--it made me tear up in a powerful scene near the end--about making moral choices in the most difficult of situations.

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