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Kuma: The Second Wife Review


Excellent

A sensitive drama about a hidden subculture, this film is sometimes difficult to watch as its naturalistic approach reveals chilling details about a Turkish family living in Austria. The melodramatic script sometimes feels like it's tackling too many issues at once, but by taking such a personal approach the filmmakers help us experience the events ourselves.

The story begins in a dusty Turkish village, where a lively wedding feels eerily strained. The bride is 19-year-old Ayse (Akkaya), who is calmed by her new mother-in-law Fatma (Koldas) before her marriage to handsome young Hasan (Muslu). Then she travels back home with them to Vienna, where the truth comes out: she is actually a second wife for Fatma's middle-aged husband Mustafa (Erincin), chosen by Fatma to replace her because she is dying of cancer and needs someone to care for their young children. But older daughter Kezban (Imak) feels insulted that her mother brought in an outsider. Especially when Ayse gets pregnant.

Like Ayse, we have some trouble making sense of the extended family she encounters in Austria, including aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbours and Fatma and Mustafa's adult children, who have children of their own. But this bustling atmosphere creates a vivid sense of community in shops and homes, hidden from view. And the key cast members are terrific at creating rounded characters who register strongly. Koldas is especially vivid, as we watch the engagingly unpredictable Fatma shift from warm compassion to ruthless discipline. And Muslu gives Hasan an engaging emotional life all his own, especially as we start to understand why he agreed to this fake marriage long before the script reveals the reason.

Continue reading: Kuma: The Second Wife Review

Funny Games (1997) Review


OK
What happened to the good old fashioned insane killer? Where did he go? Can we get him back? Hell, it can even be a she these days. Come on, people, aren't you a little tired of being told "everything is OK?" Earlier this year, Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects had a family of murdering hillbillies that slashed and mutilated without rhyme or reason: They just liked it and, sometimes, it served a purpose. But we weren't given a real reason, and it made it all the more chilling. Think of the recent films that have been short of classic because of worn-out explanations; it really is heartbreaking (best example: Mark Romanek's One Hour Photo). Truth be told, you have to look at a movie like Michael Haneke's Funny Games and question what you think about cruelty, brutality, and safety, with stories like these running around.

So, everyone needs eggs, regardless of the cholesterol scares in the country. It is this need that brings Paul (Arno Frisch) and Peter (Frank Giering) to the summer home of a well-to-do couple and their son. Peter, a shy, young man, asks for a few eggs and is given them, but he drops them by accident. This continues to happen until Anna (Susanne Lothar), the wife, gets frustrated and asks him to leave. Then Peter enters, with the homicidal swagger of Frank Sinatra playing Hannibal Lecter. Peter thinks Anna is being rude to his friend and demands more eggs. What happens next? Details shouldn't be discussed further, but Peter and Paul put Anna, her husband Georg (Ulrich Mühe), and their son Georgie (Stefan Clapczynski) through a series of games that range from perverse to blood-curdling.

Continue reading: Funny Games (1997) Review

Caché Review


Weak
A low-rent setup for two penthouse-level thespians, Michael Haneke's Caché is somehow rigorous yet formless, absolutely exacting in its procedure, yet seemingly bereft of intent and meaning, scrupulously acted for not much reason at all. Derived from the same nervous Parisian bourgeois milieu as writer/director Haneke's Code Unknown but quite a bit more tightly-packed, it's a thriller wrapped inside a moral lesson and presented with the glassy omnipotence of the true voyeur.

The story owes a debt on some level to that greatest of cinematic voyeurs, Hitchcock, whose corpulent presence seems constantly in the filmmaker's mind. Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil plays Anne and Georges Laurent, a perfectly respectable married example of the modern Paris intelligentsia. She works for a publisher where she can set her own hours, while he hosts a literary TV talk show. They have a nice little flat and a nice son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky). This is all filled in later, however, as the first thing we see is a static shot of the Laurent household which turns out to be a videotape Anne and Georges are watching which had been left on their doorstep with no explanation. Someone simply set up a videocamera across from their flat and filmed it for hours on end. Things escalate, of course, with tapes mysteriously appearing, soon with childlike drawings attached, of a face spitting blood, a chicken getting its head cut off. Someone starts calling for Georges, sending the tapes to his work, sending the notes to Pierrot at school. And there is no demand, no message, no anything but the constant surveillance and the feeling (soon proven) that the watcher knows more than the Laurents would like about themselves and their past, especially Georges'.

Continue reading: Caché Review

Benny's Video Review


Grim
It's long been a staple of psychological profiling and often debated furiously, but the assumption that violent movies actually make people violent has some merit. How could it not, to some degree? I can remember very clearly stepping out of Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles in high school and hoping, praying, that someone would try to jump me on the way back to my car so I could get into some sort of kung fu fight. Sure, it would have been geeky, spastic kung fu, and, sure, I would have been beaten senseless, but I was just so pumped up I would've taken on Jet Li. The question isn't does violence inspire violence. The question is: To what extent? Where does that influence end?

We're bombarded almost daily with disturbing news snippets about teens run amok, filming their attacks gloatingly and enjoying them at parties. Forget Girls Gone Wild, nowadays it's Teens Gone Wilding. Is this the end result of a violent movie culture? Bad parenting? Terrible genetics? All of the above? If I watched Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles enough times (I know, I know, it's a PG movie with puppets, but still...) would I be transformed into the sociopathic killer at the heart of Michael Haneke's Benny's Video?

Continue reading: Benny's Video Review

The Time of the Wolf Review


OK
What is it about French filmmakers and the word "wolf?" This is the second French film in three years to ostensibly cover the lupine species... even though it doesn't really.

Director Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher) offers a tantalizing setup this go-round, yet he ultimately does nothing with it. Here's the gist: A family arrives at their vacation house under suspicious (and weirdly hazy) circumstances, only to find squatters living inside. Soon Haneke reveals that some (unexplained) apocalyptic event has transpired, scattering people across the countryside. What happens when people try to survive a nuclear winter (or thereabouts)? Does soceity break down or does it rebuild?

Continue reading: The Time of the Wolf Review

Caché Review


Weak
A low-rent setup for two penthouse-level thespians, Michael Haneke's Caché is somehow rigorous yet formless, absolutely exacting in its procedure, yet seemingly bereft of intent and meaning, scrupulously acted for not much reason at all. Derived from the same nervous Parisian bourgeois milieu as writer/director Haneke's Code Unknown but quite a bit more tightly-packed, it's a thriller wrapped inside a moral lesson and presented with the glassy omnipotence of the true voyeur.

The story owes a debt on some level to that greatest of cinematic voyeurs, Hitchcock, whose corpulent presence seems constantly in the filmmaker's mind. Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil plays Anne and Georges Laurent, a perfectly respectable married example of the modern Paris intelligentsia. She works for a publisher where she can set her own hours, while he hosts a literary TV talk show. They have a nice little flat and a nice son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky). This is all filled in later, however, as the first thing we see is a static shot of the Laurent household which turns out to be a videotape Anne and Georges are watching which had been left on their doorstep with no explanation. Someone simply set up a videocamera across from their flat and filmed it for hours on end. Things escalate, of course, with tapes mysteriously appearing, soon with childlike drawings attached, of a face spitting blood, a chicken getting its head cut off. Someone starts calling for Georges, sending the tapes to his work, sending the notes to Pierrot at school. And there is no demand, no message, no anything but the constant surveillance and the feeling (soon proven) that the watcher knows more than the Laurents would like about themselves and their past, especially Georges'.

Continue reading: Caché Review

Funny Games Review


OK
What happened to the good old fashioned insane killer? Where did he go? Can we get him back? Hell, it can even be a she these days. Come on, people, aren't you a little tired of being told "everything is OK?" Earlier this year, Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects had a family of murdering hillbillies that slashed and mutilated without rhyme or reason: They just liked it and, sometimes, it served a purpose. But we weren't given a real reason, and it made it all the more chilling. Think of the recent films that have been short of classic because of worn-out explanations; it really is heartbreaking (best example: Mark Romanek's One Hour Photo). Truth be told, you have to look at a movie like Michael Haneke's Funny Games and question what you think about cruelty, brutality, and safety, with stories like these running around.

So, everyone needs eggs, regardless of the cholesterol scares in the country. It is this need that brings Paul (Arno Frisch) and Peter (Frank Giering) to the summer home of a well-to-do couple and their son. Peter, a shy, young man, asks for a few eggs and is given them, but he drops them by accident. This continues to happen until Anna (Susanne Lothar), the wife, gets frustrated and asks him to leave. Then Peter enters, with the homicidal swagger of Frank Sinatra playing Hannibal Lecter. Peter thinks Anna is being rude to his friend and demands more eggs. What happens next? Details shouldn't be discussed further, but Peter and Paul put Anna, her husband Georg (Ulrich Mühe), and their son Georgie (Stefan Clapczynski) through a series of games that range from perverse to blood-curdling.

Continue reading: Funny Games Review

Hommage à Noir Review


Good
Beautiful, dialogue-free documentary about Africa. Potential tourists advised to watch. Others may be lulled into a snooze.

The Piano Teacher Review


Excellent
Older innocence collides with youthful wisdom in this slow-moving but consistently impressive and unsettling look at spinsterhood. A startlingly bland-featured Isabelle Huppert stars as the title role, a woman so tied to her obsessive mother that she has grown up with unnaturally hindered emotional reactions.

At just over two hours long, one might assume that the inner turmoil would take exhausting eye strain to build, but writer/director Michael Haneke (from a novel by Elfriede Jelinek) craftily structures a detailed, deeply disturbing environment in the first five minutes. As Professor Kohut (Huppert) comes home late one night, her mother (Annie Girardot) violently searches her purse to gain some intelligence about what she's up to. A middle-aged woman forced to answer to a parent is enough, but Haneke takes this dysfunction a step further by concentrating on physical interaction. It's far more powerful to see these two women smacking each other than giving one another the stereotypical guilt-ridden lectures other family dramas often fall back on.

Continue reading: The Piano Teacher Review

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