Conflict, revolution and violence abound in the fall lineup at the Oak Street Cinema, kicking off today with a special, free sneak preview of 2008 Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee The Baader Meinhof Complex. Friday will see the launch of the regular schedule with a weeklong run of the political thriller Fifty Dead Men Walking.
Why the return to a full schedule? Minnesota Film Arts has been awarded a grant of $14,086 by the Minnesota State Arts Board. The grant will give an important boost to MFA’s fall programming at the Oak St. Cinema, according to program coordinator Ryan Oestreich.
“The grant, although helpful, is relatively small,” says Oestreich, who spent the last week in Telluride, Colorado attending the film festival in the remote mountain community. Ticket sales, by comparison, generate important income for the organization and help keep it afloat.
“At the same time,” he says, “we are always seeking out sponsorship and grant money in order to expand our programming, bring in visiting filmmakers and reach an ever broader audience.” MFA will continue to pursue small and large grants for their regular programming as well as sponsorship opportunities in support of the 2010 Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF).
MFA’s current board is devoting “a good amount of time and energy” to securing more significant grants and sponsorships in support of the organization’s future, says Oestreich. MFA has spent the last three years laboring under some “serious financial constraints.”
“We are beginning to surface,” he says. MFA has received funding from the State Arts Board in the past, but during the struggles of the past three years they were awarded no major grants.
They have, in recent years, received a number of small grants and sponsorships—mostly in support of festival programming. Funders have included the University of Minnesota, which supports the MSPIFF programming every year; the American Scandinavian Foundation enabled MFA to fly in Nils Gaup from Norway to present his new film, The Kautokeino Rebellion; the Spanish Ministry has provided a grant to bring in new Spanish films; and local businesses provide sponsorship support for MSPIFF each year.
Baader Meinhof Complex
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10 (free)
Complex is the key word here. This film, though well-paced even at a dense two-and-a-half hours, almost requires multiple viewings—but I’d be happy to live in the film’s wonderfully detailed recreated history several times over.
The film spans the decade from 1967 to 1977 in Germany, as the country is clutching at its still-flimsy democracy. Bomb attacks, shootings, and other internal terroristic threats add to the mounting dread. Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu), Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) join together to fight what they believe to be a new face of fascism: American imperialism supported by the German establishment, many of whom have a Nazi past. They form the group which lends the film its title.
Not only are they all radicalized children of the Nazi generation, but they also live a hippie-like existence, getting off on killing and other acts of mayhem while at same time enjoying a life of celebrity and sexual freedom (in one memorable scene, complete with beautiful naked women carrying machine guns, a character even goes so far as to say that fucking is the same as shooting).
All of the performances are wonderful. The cast is practically a who’s who of modern German cinema. Bruno Ganz (Hitler in Downfall), Martina Gedeck (Lives of Others), Moritz Bleibtreu (The Experiment), Nadja Uhl (Cherry Blossoms) and Alexandra Maria Lara (Downfall) are all terrific. My new discovery here, and my new cinematic crush is Johanna Wokalek as Ensslin. She’s smart, tough, and beautiful, overflowing with sex appeal.
Baader Meinhof Complex is many things, none of them boring. Confusing, perhaps, but anyone with knowledge of the events will be satisfied with the amount of detail and accuracy director Uli Edel (Last Exit to Brooklyn) renders in the film. Those like me who know very little about the group and this particular time period, will be thrilled by this not-at-all dry history lesson. Edel damn near makes an action movie out of this. Think Steven Spielberg’s excellent Munich crossed with last year’s great, epic crime film Gomorrah.
BMC is visually assured, exciting, and treats the audience with respect. It’s also another example why the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars is always filled with better, more challenging, and richer films than most of the other categories. BMC is at times overwhelming and difficult to follow, but never boring; Edel expects you either to know about this history or be willing to seek out it out before or after. He could’ve pared down the story to a more basic plotline, but that’s the kind of thing a lesser filmmaker would do. Edel crams enough information in the film to fill a Dumpster. Don’t be intimidated by it, though. Instead just go with it, let the film wash over you, and I can’t imagine you won’t be compelled. The film opens this Friday exclusively at the Uptown, but be the first to see it on the big screen at the Oak Street.
Fifty Dead Men Walking
I wish I had more to say, and just as positive as above, about this film. Alas, it’s almost everything BMC isn’t. That is, it’s conventional, overly-familiar and downright cheesy at times.
Fifty Dead Men Walking tells a true story…hold on! Not so fast: we are told before the credits that several scenes and events have been changed to protect the innocent. So where does that leave the audience? Probably left guessing whether or not this part is true or that part is false instead of paying attention to the story.
The movie is set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, amid the Irish Republican Army conflict with British troops at the height of the 1988 “Troubles.” This era was covered with much more skill and artistry by British artist-turned-filmmaker Steve McQueen in the brutal and excellent Hunger, which played at the Walker last Spring. (McQueen’s short video Running Thunder is currently on display at the Walker.) 50DMW tells the kind of true story of an Irish Catholic named Martin McGartland (Jim Sturgess, from the putrid, laughable Across the Universe).
McGartland agrees to work as an undercover informant for the British Army. During the Troubles, McGartland goes undercover within the IRA, even though he agrees with some of the IRA’s beliefs but does not like the violence. He reports to Fergus (Ben Kingsley, in a pretty bad wig…perhaps he bought it at the same place Nic Cage shops?), who also develops a bond with his agent, but we never understand why.
Canadian director Kari Skogland (The Stone Angel) is a skilled filmmaker, able to cut together scenes that visually make sense, but the film has no guts. No lifeblood. Each scene follows the next, often leaping through time (something Skogland struggles with here) to get to another action set piece or torture scene. The film looks good, is well-made in all, but feels constructed on a cookie-cutter assembly line.
I lost track how many films this reminded me of, and not in a good way. Almost every scene is derivative of something done much better. Casino, American Gangster (which I’m not too crazy about either), and Syriana are but a few. Skoglund models the film after something the Dardenne brothers would make, if it was spliced together and mutated with British director Shane Meadows’s work. That model and visual style is tired in world cinema, it’s time to move on.
None of it really worked for me, some of which I have to say falls on Sturgess as well. I’ve yet to see what the big deal is about this guy. He’s good-looking and fills the frame quite nicely, even though he’s rocking a really bad 80s mustache and haircut throughout. But this role requires a man, not a boy, and unfortunately Sturgess ain’t the former. He tries to act tough, but it’s as bad as Elijah Wood pretending to be a soccer hooligan in Green Street Hooligans (yep, you read that correctly).
In the end, before the credits roll, we are given a twist that I didn’t care about. What’s worse, though, is that all the seemingly endless title cards giving information on where people are today and what McGartland’s efforts added up to are far more interesting than the preceding film.
Erik McClanahan (email@example.com) is a freelance film journalist and critic in Minneapolis. He is co-host of KFAI’s Movie Talk.
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