Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

03 December 2014

Two in Black and White

Another foreign film shot entirely in black and white? In fact, aside from Ida, I've seen two others like this recently.

Jan Ole Gerster's A Coffee in Berlin, originally released in Germany as Oh Boy, is a beautiful character study with a gorgeous central performance by actor Tom Schilling. The film is very funny with a kind of running joke about not ever being able to get a simple cup of coffee. The real topic of the film is disaffection and the difficulties of deciding what to do with one's life. The main character Niko is a confused young man, but the movie itself looks at the people in his world with growing alarm. Niko's world is populated with strange people, most of whom are incredibly unhappy.

But A Coffee in Berlin is an enormously pleasurable experience, filled with funny moments and tiny bits of wisdom. It is a clever, intriguing comedy-drama that also manages to assess "success" as it is sold to the young by those who have "achieved" it.

Jan Troell's Dom över Död Man, released in the U.S. as The Last Sentence, struck me as much less successful. I don't think I was particularly exhausted when I went to watch Troell's film or not, but I came away from it thinking that even though I like slow films, Troell's films are often much too slow for me. Troell is interested in the slow burn, but The Last Sentence is a film that, for me, never actually went anywhere. The main character is a man who is writing against the Nazis in pre-war and then in wartime Sweden.

The man has lots of enemies, of course, but Dom över Död Man is less about his railings against Hitler and his anti-Semitism than it is about his affair with the woman who owns his newspaper, the way this slowly kills his wife, and the ways that he deals with his mistress and his mistress's husband. All of this is complex and sad. And it has everything to do with getting very old and losing interest in everything in which one thought one had an interest, but it ends up not being all that, well, interesting. I was annoyed by this old man and his inability to see how much he was hurting everyone, and I was annoyed by the fact that all of this only seemed to make him suffer more. And I suppose this is the way of Swedish cinema, but I found The Last Sentence a difficult slog.