Silver City (Australia, 1984)

Directed by Sophia Turkiewicz

Written by Thomas Keneally and Sophia Turkiewicz

If you're a fan of foreign films, then you do not want to miss this Australian gem! In the 1940's, thousands of war weary refugees began landing on Australia's shores in the diligent campaign by the Australian government to increase the nation's population and industrial capacity. Among these refugees are Nina (Gosia Dobrowolska) from Poland, arriving with the intent of marrying an Australian ex-serviceman she had been corresponding with. Arriving on the same boat are Julian (Ivar Kants), a fellow Pole and aspiring lawyer, and his wife (Anna Jemison) and seven year old son. Through their struggles and hardships, and trials and tribulations of living in the crowded refugee camp, Julian and Nina find themselves drawn toward each other and must struggle to overcome the past that haunts them. A winner of 11 Australian Academy Award nominations, including best picture, this film takes the viewer on a journey through a little known chapter of Australian history, and is sure to become a favorite of connoisseurs of expertly made, and superbly directed (Sophia Turkiewicz) drama. Excellent!

~ James Upton Briscoe, Mobile, Alabama, USA

After World War II, 4,000 Polish families came to Australia. They were Jews, Fascists, anti-Communists, and others dispossessed. In a large hostel, where even married men and women were housed in separate barracks, the adults lived for two years while they worked off the government's payment of their passage. Even though he is married to Anna and has a son, Julian falls in love with Nina and she with him. As they and others face the new situations and prejudices that await immigrants and as they take on aspects of Australian culture, old-country values reassert themselves. Julian decides what to do about love and family, and Nina must find a way to move on.

The Conductor (``Dyrygent'', Poland, 1979)

Directed by Andrzej Wajda

Written by Andrzej Kijowski

Marta (Krystyna Janda), a violinist in a provincial Polish orchestra, whose husband, Adam Pietryk (Andrzej Seweryn) is the director of the ensemble, on a visit to the US ties up with the world- renowned symphony conductor John Lasocki (John Gielgud). As it turns out he was once in love with violinist's mother. Lasocki, a slightly unstable hypochondriac, returns to Poland to lead the provincial orchestra. He also tries to revive old love affair using the violinist as a surrogate of her mother. Her husband is resentful of the conductor for both personal and professional reasons. In the end the violinist sees her husband in his true, ambitious light and leaves him.
Upto a Certain Point (``Hasta Cierto Punto'', Cuba, 1984)

Directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea

Written by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Serafín Qiñones


Like the best of post-revolutionary Cuban cinema - this film also carries the spirit of experimentation and rebellion. A barbed look at sex and class in post-revolutionary Cuba, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea's Up to a Certain Point is something of a tribute to and continuation of Sara Gómez's One Way or Another, a film Alea help complete after Gómez's untimely death. It concerns self-deluded Oscar (Oscar Alvarez), a successful playwright married to an actress. Oscar is at work on his first screenplay, on the lingering presence of Latin-style machismo in progressive, supposedly egalitarian Cuba. To research the subject, he begins conducting interviews with male and female workers at the Havana docks - and finds himself falling in love with liberated Lina (Mirta Ibarra), a beautiful young dockworker. When Oscar and Lina embark on an affair, it quickly becomes apparent that, under his liberated veneer, Oscar is pretty much mired in tired old machismo himself. The drama is intercut with actual video interviews with Cuban workers, one of whom declares that women should be free, "up to a certain point"; Alea saves his sharpest barbs for quasi- bourgeois intellectuals and bohemians like Oscar (and like Alea himself), with their preconceived notions about the proletariat.  "[This film] chronicles the confused, troubled romance between a middle-aged screenwriter and the female dockworker picked to be the subject of his next film. The lingering presence of Latin-style machismo in post-revolutionary Cuban society has been treated extensively in recent Cuban films, but what distinguishes Up To A Certain Point is the class dimension that Gutierrez Alea gives to this problem. Rarely, if ever, have the distinctions between Cubans - in terms of education, self-awareness, and even material comforts - been so candidly depicted. As in his earlier films Gutierrez Alea brings a dynamic, visceral approach to his material, endowing it with a startling immediacy. Up To A Certain Point hovers between a pointed social critique and a general lament for the human condition." - Richard Peña

The Survivors (``Los Sobrevivientes'', Cuba, 1979)

Directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea

Dedicated to Luis Buñuel, and recalling the great surrealist's The Exterminating Angel, this rarely-seen, darkly comic allegory from Cuban master Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, , traces the fate of one aristocratic family in the aftermath of Castro's revolution. The Orozco clan is shocked by the turn of events, but doesn't believe that the new political situation will last. While their wealthy friends flee to the United States, they decide to wait things out, holed up in their mansion and isolated from the chaos outside. As years pass and their food stocks diminishes, they cling stubbornly to their discreet charm of their outdated bourgeoisie ways, but gradually regress through ever-more primitive forms of social order, from capitalism to feudalism to slavery to savagery and worse. "Events take an ever more grotesque turn, with plentiful moments of black humour. . . Survivors is a carefully thought out metaphor in which nothing is left to chance. . . [and] is close to Buñuel's idiosyncrasy" (Variety). Cast: Enrique Santisteban, Reinaldo Miravalles, Germán Pinelli, Ana Viña.

Parting of the Ways (``Lejanía'', Cuba, 1985)

Written and Directed by Jesús Díaz

A rare public Cuban reflection on exile and the pain of separation, Parting of the Ways tells the story of a family split betwen Miami and Havana. A mother returns to Havana from the USA for a visit bearing gifts, but her taste for American acquisitiveness alienates her son whom she had left ten years ago when he was sixteen. Susana's arrival in Havana forces her son Ronaldo to examine his memories of his mother and the personal and political distance between them. The ensuing psychological confrontations offer a sensitive analysis of the lejania, the distance or separation among members of the same family, created by the Cuban revolution. Director Díaz (1941-2002) was a notable Cuban novelist; he later defected after his script for the Cuban movie Alice in Wondertown, a satire of Castro and Cuba, earned harsh condemnation from government cultural authorities. Diaz lived in Madrid from 1996 upto his death on May 2, 2002.

The Ascent (``Voskhozhdeniye'', USSR, 1976)

Directed by Larisa Shepitko

Written by Vasili Bykov  (novel "Sotnikov"), Yuri Klepikov and Larisa Shepitko

A gruelling account of partisans' struggles in German-occupied Belarus in 1942 against the Nazi occupation forces - going well beyond conventional heroics with its depiction of a Russian collaborator and its extensive use of Christian imagery. Two Soviet partisans, Sotnikov (Boris Plotnikov) and Rybak (Vladimir Gostyukhin), depart their starving band on a short march to a nearby farm to get supplies. The Germans have reached the farm first, so the pair must go on a journey deep into occupied territory, a voyage that will also take them deep into their souls. They are captured by the Germans and along with a number of local villagers, they are sentenced to die. Sotnikov's gradual transformation into a Christ-like figure during his captivity culminates in his dying with such overwhelming dignity, such grace, that no one present is unmoved, and the flame of resistance is successfully transferred to several of those who observe his death. This spiritual giant of a man also outfaces a despicable Russian schoolteacher from the area, who is an active collaborator with the Germans. Director Shepitko's promising career was brutally curtailed by her death in a car crash in 1979. Born in Artemovsk, Ukraine, in 1938, she studied and began her cinematographic career in Ukraine, and she found her homeland to be an inexhaustible source of inner power and inspiration. The Belarusian writer, Vasili Bykov (now living in Finland), was nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998.

Rehearsals for War (``Teatro di Guerra'', Italy, 1999)

Written and Directed by Mario Martone

A thoughtful and multi-layered work about a poor Neapolitan theatre company preparing to stage a solidarity performance of Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes (an ancient classic set during a civil war and city siege) in Sarajevo in 1994, three years into the Bosnian war. Leo, a young actor and the film's main character, conceived of the project in response to a friendship with a Bosnian director he had met before the war.
The rehearsals take place in a run-down theatre in Naples' Spanish Quarter where the everyday life of the locals and the rehearsals constantly intersect. Poverty, unemployment, neighbourhood disputes, police harassment and the activities of small-time gangsters intertwine with the work of the actors. The passion of the dedicated young actors, willing to risk their lives or careers in the dangerous plan to perform in the midst of the war, is contrasted with the complacency of the Civic Theatre, an established and well-funded theatre company in the city.
Short of funds, Leo is forced to turn to the Civic Theatre and its cynical director in order to keep his production alive. The Civic's director agrees to help Leo if he allows Sara Cataldi, a well-known star, to perform in the play and thus release her from an expensive contractual arrangement with the Civic Theatre.
As the date approaches for the Bosnian performance, the district where rehearsals have been taking place becomes embroiled in its own conflict, with a murder and the eruption of a bloody struggle between local gangs over who will control the area. Leo also learns that a grenade has killed his friend in Sarajevo and that Seven Against Thebes cannot go ahead in Bosnia. The film ends with the Civic Theatre company celebrating its latest performance and wondering whatever happened to Leo's company.
Mario Martone, who has 20-year career in Italian theatre, is the founder of Falso Movimento, Italy's best-known avant-garde performing group. He assembled the film from footage shot during rehearsals of his 1995 stage production of the Aeschylus classic, together with scripted scenes filmed two years later in Naple's Spanish Quarter.

Wag the Dog (USA, 1997)

Directed by Barry Levinson

Written by David Mamet and Hilary Henkin, based on the novel by Larry Beinhart


You must have heard the story of how Belgrade Television showed this film the day that the bombing of Serbia (ordered by President Clinton) got underway. Indeed, its a classic case of life following art - and how reality can often supersede fiction in absurdity. If real people were not being actually killed in Serbia by those bombs, you can even say that real life was more ludicrous than what this movie tried to portray. Before Belgrade, this movie was only a satire about how much media manipulations actually control the world's "best democracy"; after Belgrade, I don't know what to think - it has hit the mark too close for comfort.
The story of a Washington spin-doctor (played by Robert de Niro) and a Hollywood movie producer (played by Dustin Hoffman) get together on the eve of the US Presidential elections and fabricate a war in Albania to cover up Presidential sex scandal is now too well-known to be worth repeating here. The choice of Albania as the site of the fictitious war might have seemed divineky inspired at that time (I mean, as far as most Americans were concerned, Albiania was so remote it probably wasn't even in the same planet) - but just two years later it seemed like a bad joke. I saw the entire movie only in 2001, long after the events; and I kept thinking how someone who has watched this film could still have taken the excuses for bombing Serbia at face value. This is not the first critique of how media control has totally subverted democracy; for a long time Noam Chomsky has tried to tell us how the mass media manufactures consent in a seemingly democratic setup. But Chomsky has had only a limited audience comapred to what this film must have reached. And yet, it didn't make the slightest change; the Oligarchs still control our collective minds with impunity. As for me, I have certainly become much more skeptical about mass media coverages of "atrocities" and "evil regimes".
Unfortunately, Levinson (in my humble opinion) hasn't really lived upto the potential he showed in this film. After watching The Sphere I felt that Levinson never really made up his mind about whether he wanted to make a Sci-Fi action flick or an European-style arthouse movie. As a result, it failed to work as either. Rain Man was nice to watch but it isn't really a "great" film. Dustin Hoffman is one of the greatest American actors of all time - but then we all knew that already, didn't we !

Empire of the Sun (USA, 1999)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Written by Tom Stoppard, based on the novel by J. G. Ballard

I don't like Spielberg movies in general; but this one bent all my expectations. Not surprisingly perhaps, it is one of the most under-rated of Spielberg movies being so atypical of his usual style of "stun 'em with special effects" (Jaws, Jurassic Park) or "deluge 'em with sentimental melodrama" (ET, Saving Private Ryan). It starts with one of the most poignant beginnings I have ever seen in a film - a coffin floating away in a Chinese funeral ceremony with accompanying choral music. The story is more or less faithful to Ballard's novel (which is again an atypical book from a primarily SF writer).