Karl Baumgartner

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The Light Thief Review


Excellent
This beautifully made fable from Kyrgyzstan tackles big themes in its story about the encounter between poor villagers and rich big-city businessmen trying to change their way of life. But the story remains intimate and often very funny.

In a small Kyrgyz village, the cheeky electrician (Arym Kubat) is simply called "Mr Light", and he's often in trouble for helping people get free electricity off the national grid. When he's drunk, he confesses to his friend Mansur (Toichubaev) that he wishes he and wife Bermet (Abazova) had a son instead of four lively daughters. And when rich businessman Bezkat (Sulaimanov) arrives, buying up land saying he wants to improve village life, he gives Mr Light a great job. But is Bezkat as nice as he seems?

Continue reading: The Light Thief Review

Tulpan Review


Excellent
A thoroughly charming slice of life from an isolated part of the world, this film features situations that are recognisable simply because the people involved are so realistic. It's also remarkably warm and funny.

Asa (Kuchinchirekov) is a young guy just out of his naval service and wanting to settle down with a wife and a flock of sheep on the remote steppes of Kazakhstan. He's living with his sister (Yeslyamova) and her husband (Besikbasov), and the only eligible girl nearby is Tulpan. But her parents (Nurzhanbayev and Khalykulova) are fiercely protective, so Asa tries everything to get through to her. Meanwhile, he's busy caring for sheep that are struggling to find enough grass to stay healthy.

Continue reading: Tulpan Review

O' Horten Review


Very Good
Norwegian filmmaker Bent Hamer is nothing if not an individualist. Slow and sly, his films focus on the common man in such an offbeat and challenging way that it's clear he has as little regard for commercial gain as he has for cinematic spectacle. That is to say, his minimalist world is an acquired taste. My conversion came about with his more than quirky Kitchen Stories of 2003.

Hamer builds his central characters around the minutest details of a man's routine, and he loves characters who have sealed themselves into a life of stolid isolation. Here, 67-year-old train engineer Odd Horten (Baard Owe) is placed by the auteur in an Oslo apartment a few yards from the city streetcar that whips by in blurred frenzy outside his window, a sudden and loud contrast to the undisruptable quiet within.

Continue reading: O' Horten Review

Tulpan Review


Excellent
Sporting a pair of ears that might make Dumbo jealous, we first meet Asa (Askhat Kuchinchirekov) on his way to meet his would-be bride and her parents. Dressed in his pressed Navy outfit, he speaks of his future with starry eyes and feet untethered to the ground, unlike his gruff brother-in-law and lifetime sheep-herder Ondas (Ondas Besikbasov) and very much like his buffoonish friend Boni (Tolepbergen Baisakalov). The bride refuses, citing his enormous ears. The young bride's name is Tulpan, which translates to tulip and gives this marvelous, utterly unclassifiable comedic object its title.

The very setting of Sergei Dvortsevoy's film, his first narrative feature, is meant to polarize and isolate. Living in a shared yurt with his sister (Samal Esljamova) and Ondas, Asa sets into a hazy depression as Ondas continually demeans his admittedly inept attempts at sheep-herding and winning Tulpan's heart. Filming in southern Kazakhstan, Dvortsevoy's home-country, the director submerges the viewer in the empty space of Betpak Dala and the rituals and day-to-days of its inhabitants, "inhabitants" which are relegated to Asa's family and Tulpan's.

Continue reading: Tulpan Review

Underground Review


Very Good
Emir Kusturica evokes Fellini and Jeunet in his epic Underground, which (in a greatly simplified nutshell) tells the story of a group of Yugoslavian weapons manufacturers who hide in a bomb cellar during World War II, only to come up decades later to find Yugoslavia in an entirely new situation (that of the 1990s). Kusturica creates memorable characters and puts them in increasingly surreal scenarios, but he's awfully long-winded in the storytelling. Trim an hour off this beast and you've got a masterpiece.

Black Cat, White Cat Review


Good
Odd little (though very long) Yugoslavian film has a gaggle of small-time hustlers and crooks coming together over a botched heist and the wedding that is the result of said heist (don't ask). Often funny, but more often feels like you're missing an inside joke somewhere.

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The Stratosphere Girl Review


Good
Matthias X. Oberg has some weird ideas. But you knew he was avant-garde because his middle initial is X.

The Stratosphere Girl is about that rarified subculture of young white women (preferably blonde) who live in Tokyo and work as "hostesses" in upscale nightclubs. It's a fine line between waitress and hooker, and its a world in which Angela (newcomer Chloé Winkel) finds herself thrown.

Continue reading: The Stratosphere Girl Review

Mostly Martha Review


Excellent
If you're like me, a sucker for a good old fashion romance and someone who shamelessly loves to eat, then Mostly Martha offers all the perfect ingredients to more than satisfy your appetite. With a succulent array of gourmet meals constantly paraded across the screen, the film teases the taste buds with humor as tender as sautéed veal and romance as flavorful as aged wine, making for a hearty but appropriately low calorie love story.

First-time director Sandra Nettlebeck introduces Martha (Martina Gedeck) as an obsessive-compulsive chef at a chic restaurant in Hamburg, Germany, with no friends, no love interest, and no life other than an unparalleled knowledge of cuisine and the ability to cook any gourmet meal to perfection. As expected from an against-all-odds love story, Martha embodies the typically cinematic diamond-in-the-rough protagonist combining talent and beauty yet faced with a fatal flaw that plunges her into misery. Touted by her boss as "the second best chef in the city," she appears haughty and overly obsessed with "cooking by the book." In fact, in all her culinary glory she forgets that despite her impressive skills, the customer is always right. It becomes clear that Martha's manic tendencies must be overcome in order for her to gain personal fulfillment.

Continue reading: Mostly Martha Review

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Karl Baumgartner Movies

The Light Thief Movie Review

The Light Thief Movie Review

This beautifully made fable from Kyrgyzstan tackles big themes in its story about the encounter...

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