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Here are some “Random Recommendations” well worth seeing:

WALTZ WITH BASHIR (Directed by Ari Folman) – Israeli director Ari Folman’s animated documentary chronicles the nightmarish memories of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Winner of the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, it was also nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Animation is used here to great effect in exploring the complexities of meaning amid the horrors of war, and the long-term consequences on a soldier’s psyche. Folman’s decision to forgo animation at the end, letting the final desperate, blood-soaked footage speak for itself is doubly powerful. This is a brilliant and important work of art that transcends mere historical documentation.

ESCAPE FROM SOBIBOR (Directed by Jack Gold) – Based on the only successful concentration camp uprising of World War II. Sobibor was one of three camps, along with Belzec and Treblinka during the first half of the war, whose main responsibility was to eliminate as many “undesirables” as possible. It was one of the first camps to incorporate gas chambers as a method of systematic killing. 300 prisoners died during the uprising, but another 300 managed to actually escape to freedom. Rutger Hauer, Alan Arkin, and Joanna Pacula all give great performances.

TURTLES CAN FLY (Directed by Bahman Ghobadi) – An extraordinary Kurdish film in which war is seen through the eyes of children. The action takes place in a small Kurdish town just before the Iraq war where orphaned children survive by collecting mines and shells to sell to the UN forces. Powerful, haunting, and ultimately heartbreaking, it reveals a world we have no real conception of in America. From the talented director of “A Time For Drunken Horses” and “Marooned in Iraq”.

THE AMERICAN FRIEND (Directed by Wim Wenders) – Based on Patricia Highsmiths novel “Ripley’s Game”, The American Friend stars Dennis Hopper and Bruno Ganz. Maintaining an aura of mystery, as opposed to generating any conventional suspense, German director Wim Wenders has created a thriller without thrills, yet it’s remarkably stylish and atmospheric. Pivotal supporting roles are played by the great American directors Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller.

DO YOU REMEMBER DOLLY BELL? (Directed by Emir Kusturica) – From the Yugoslavian director who brought us “Underground” and “Time of the Gypsies” comes this tale set in 1960’s Sarajevo about a young man’s coming of age under Tito’s regime – as European socialism and the western influence of rock’n’roll and fashion threatened to overthrow the established power structures of traditional customs and communism. The plot follows the fortunes of a schoolboy nicknamed Dino who, while providing a hiding place for a prostitute, “Dolly Bell”, has his world turned upside down as he falls in love with her.

MAYA LIN: A STRONG CLEAR VISION (Directed by Freida Lee Mock) – For anyone who hasn’t seen this emotionally affecting Oscar Winning Documentary about the young Yale architecture student who won the anonymous competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. you’re missing out big time! The documentary chronicles the controversy over Lin’s design, and the barely concealed racism and sexism that permeated the debate over what is now considered one of the greatest war memorials ever built. The sensitive, spiritual nature of Lin’s creative process is revealed in the deeply moving reactions of the veterans as they experience the finished design for the first time. A must-see documentary.

FISTS IN THE POCKET (Directed by Marco Bellochio) – Italian director Bellochio was only 25 years old when he stunned moviegoers and critics with his debut film, a dark, subversive, beautifully spare work that’s scathing in it’s indictment of bourgeois family values. Lou castel plays the homicidal, epileptic middle brother in a highly dysfunctional family. Sarcastic, sadistic, and at times grotesquely amusing, this is definitely a love it or hate it kind of movie. Still considered by many to be Bellochio’s masterpiece – viewers should be advised to proceed with caution.

BETTY BLUE (Directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix) – Nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar this passionate look at mad love stars gap-toothed, voluptuous Beatrice Dalle, in her film debut, as Betty, a woman whose sense of abandon and wild mood swings frequently turn pathological. Jean-Hughes Anglade is the failed writer who loves her, but is forced to watch helplessly as she slowly descends into an unnerving, heartbreaking madness. With it’s frank depiction of nudity and sex, and a magnificent music score by Gabriel Yared, Betty Blue is a singularly unique (and very french) film experience.

DEVILS ON THE DOORSTEP (Directed by Jian Wen) – Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, and banned in China, Jian Wen’s ravishingly photographed ant-war epic is set in 1945 in a Japanese occupied rural Chinese village. A peasant is compelled at gunpoint to shelter two prisoners. One is a captured Japanese soldier who wants to be killed, the other his Chinese interpreter who wants to live. As the days turn into months the villagers keep their guests hidden from the Japanese forces while deciding whether or not to execute them. A plan to exchange the two men for grain leads to a harrowing and devastating climax. With it’s mixture of farce, black comedy, and grim violence, Devils on the Doorstep is one of the best, but least known of contemporary Chinese films.

FACE TO FACE (Directed by Ingmar Bergman) – Bergman’s gut-wrenching drama stars Liv Ullman as a successful psychiatrist who, despite her professional abilities, suffers from profound depression. On the brink of a nervous breakdown, she is haunted by disturbing images and emotions from her past. Desperate to escape her depression she has an affair with a fellow doctor (Erland Josephson). This only worsens her condition as she strugles to maintain her grasp on reality. Liv Ullman’s devastating performance and Ingmar Bergman’s direction earned Oscar nominations.

LA GRANDE BOUFFE (Marco Ferreri) – A great quartet of European actors: Marcello Mastroianni, Philip Noiret, Ugo Tognazzi, and Michel Piccoli play four successful middle-aged men who lock themselves in a villa to reflect on their unfulfilled lives, and to satisfy every lustful desire they can think of. Director Marco Ferreri’s film is a decadent and depraved masterpiece. Both bizarre and scandalous. it’s guaranteed to be unlike any film you’ve ever seen. An added bonus is just getting to watch these four actors interact, the only time all four appeared in the same film.

FISH TANK (Andrea Arnold) – British director Andrea Arnold (Red Road) won the Cannes Jury Prize for this film about a 15 year-old girl who lives with her mother and sister in the depressed housing projects of Essex. Her adolescent conflicts and emerging sexuality reach a boiling point when her mother’s sexy new boyfriend (Michael Fassbender) enters the picture. Like previous British films of “social realism” (Mike Leigh, Ken Loach) Arnold invests her characters with a sympathetic, poetic sensibility.


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