Duchesse of Langeais 7

Very stylish, very cinematic, very Balzac-ian – not that I know what that means. The characters were absurd, but serious and wore such beautiful clothes. The story was all about love. The languor was overwhelming. It was all so French. Gerard Depardieu’s son looked just as you would expect. I rather enjoyed it on its own terms, once I figured those out. But I quite understood why others in my family might not feel the same.

The Kite Runner 8.5

A beautiful film made from a beautiful book. The characters were fully developed as real people, and the conflicts that arose, and drove the story, came from conflicting personalities running into each other. Amir was who he was, not a bad person, but because of his weakness he hurt another. The figure who held the movie together was the father, Baba. It was not just real people, but real places – Afghanistan and California – that added texture and depth.

Amal 8.5

This is what a film festival film should be: a tender, but by no means whitewashed, look at a foreign culture and a heartwarming story with a satisfying twist at the end. The director said he hoped it would make me want to visit India, but that was furthest from my mind after watching 90 minutes of people arguing over the smallest trivia, cheating and abusing each other, not to mention stealing and killing. The general pestilence was there to contrast the goodness of our hero, Amal Kumar, who was saintly without being at all annoying. The story built inexorably, clue upon clue, to a happy ending. We knew it had to be. But when it wasn’t, we were given an alternate, unexpected ending that was even more rewarding, that made us ask, What truly makes us happy?

Mongol 6

Supposedly this tells the “back story” of Genghis Khan – his slave years before he ruled half the known world. It shows him moving from one attempted assassination to the next, with followers falling by the wayside each time. Nowhere do we see what would seem to be more important: how we found warriors to surround him after these calamities. The opening shots of a 12th-century Asian city and the early scenes of the Mongolian steppes are gorgeous; the second half of the film struck me as stupid. In essence, this was little different from a Steven Segal movie; we just tend to give its lack of subtleties slack because it comes from Kazakhstan.

The Band’s Visit 8

People meeting people from different cultures, totally by chance; who adapts how; who learns what – these are the themes of this totally pleasant, low-budget charmer.  You wouldn’t be surprised if many of these people had never seen a film, let alone been in one.  The Israeli restaurant owner Dina is unable to seduce the Egyptian orchestra leader Tewfiq, but no one is hurt, and Khaled is there to help out. Does this film try to suggest that Israelis and Arabs could get along, if you could only get the politicians out of the way?