Sunday, March 25, 2007

ratings and foreign films

generally speaking, my film ratings (see the left hand panel) have a standard deviation (SD) somewhere in the neighborhood of 1. that is, if we were to imagine the scale on a visual plane, each rating would occupy a small range of space rather than a precise point. for example, i rated syriana a 13, but it's really more of a 12 to 14. this may seem entirely too subjective, but an SD of 1 is actually rather small. indeed, i'm suggesting that if you gathered 17 andrews on a movie review panel, they would independently arrive at ratings within the same two-point range.

i suppose this is something of an intuitive (or imaginary) science, and unfortunately, the SD of 1 isn't entirely uniform. sometimes i am charitable in my ratings and can't imagine a particular film moving in any direction but down (e.g., elf and snakes on a plane); sometimes i nail a rating and can't imagine the film moving at all (e.g., flight plan and v for vendetta); and sometimes i peg a film at the lower point of its range where it seems possible only to rise (e.g., searching for bobby fischer and the three burials of mequiades estrada).

if you're thinking that this two-paragraph digression is overkill, you may be right. however, i'm preparing to rate four foreign films, and i'm finding it difficult to fit them snugly in the scale. i'm finding that they may belong to that latter category of films which are assigned a rating that is at the lower end of their possible scope of ratings. here are the four films:

tsotsi (thug)
a 9 on the 17 point scale
#9 on christianity today's 2006 critic's choice awards
2005 academy award for best foreign language film

tsotsi has received a great deal of acclaim. it's certainly a redemptive film, but i felt that there were some significant gaps in character development and that the director telegraphed a few too many of his passes. moreover, like many foreign films, perhaps there was something lost in the translation--i strongly preferred the director's short film the storekeeper, which managed to tell a 20-minute story without a single subtitle (that is, there were no words).

le fils (the son)
an 11 on the 17 point scale
#7 on christianity today's 2003 top ten list
2002 cannes film festival best actor

l'enfant (the child)
a 12 on the 17 point scale
#2 on christianity today's 2006 critic's choice awards
2005 cannes film festival golden palm award

these films were directed by jean-pierre and luc dardenne, a pair of belgian brothers. when i watched the films, i didn't realize they were shot by the same directors, so i walked away from the films thinking, "gosh, these french [sic] films have a surprisingly similar style. apparently the french [sic] are the modern masters of cinematographic silence."

indeed, both films limit their dialogue to the bare essentials. instead, the camera is trained on on the actors as they awkwardly go about the business of life. much of the plot is spent watching the actors think, and this works rather effectively. it's a refreshing change of pace to see films that reject the fast-pace and visual effects of hollywood. however, the films also seem to take this measured pacing to an absurd end. it can be slow going, especially when the camera has us craning our necks to watch a driver from the back seat or when we must watch the most ridiculous moped chase in the history of cinema (although, i suppose that there aren't many big-screen moped chases).

sophie scholl: the final days
a 12 on the 17 point scale
#6 on christianity today's 2006 critic's choice awards
2005 academy award nominee for best foreign language film

this is an enlightening look at the german resistance to hitler's nazi empire. it's an interesting true story that features one of the most inspirational protagonists of the 21st century. the film is anchored by a tense intellectual debate between sophie scholl, the aforementioned heroine, and her nazi captor. i highly recommend the film to those interested in history and questions of right and wrong, however the film's cinematography style seemed rather juvenile. as i watched the film, it sometimes felt like a channel 9 special.

andrew david. "movies" greenwood, wa.