Welcome to What We’re Watching, a new segment on The Backyard where we will be discussing the latest TV shows and movies that our writers have been watching.
Film is not only entertainment, but also an important medium of expression with the power to captivate and influence our cultural perception of the chaos surrounding us. So, we’ve brought in our resident resident film snob (ahem… expert) Tony Amato to share with us what he has been watching recently. If you can put up with his spicy hot takes and pretentious demeanor, he might just turn you on to your next favorite Netflix gem:
A preemptive warning: all of these films/shows and shows are not in English. I know many people will instantly skip on these recommendations because of this. If you decide to choose this fate, just know I’m judging you through the computer screen.
Many people argue that reading subtitles distracts you from the movie since you need to read the words. I, however, argue that watching a foreign language film with subtitles actually makes you pay more attention. If you could understand the language spoken in the film, I would bet a million dollars that you would also be scrolling on Twitter, Instagram, or playing 2048 (you know who you are) while the movie is on because you think that you can be on your phone and still listen to what’s going on in the movie. Occasionally you will look up from the movie and say “wait, what just happened” and your friend (me) will have to explain the thing you missed.
If you can’t speak the language in the film that you’re watching, then you have to read the goddamn subtitles. And reading the subtitles while scrolling on social media is hard. Believe me- I’ve tried. If you venture to watch one of these foreign language films and get a little bit outside of your cinematic comfort zone, you might actually put your phone down, read the subtitles, and truly absorb the film with all that it has to offer.
K, done with my mini-rant, onto the recommendations.
Cold War (2018):
Directed by Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski, Cold War is a film that takes place in Soviet Poland during, you guessed it, the Cold War. The story follows Zula and Wiktor, two lovers who find themselves separated and then united again constantly caused by forces both external and those of their own doing.
Set in black in white, these movie oozes of nostalgia. The soundtrack to this movie is diegetic, which means the characters experience any songs played in the film. There is no difference from what the audience hears and what the characters hear. From smooth jazz, to Stalinist propaganda, to Polish folk songs, this movie presents a soundtrack that you will not forget. Depending on the situation of the characters, you are able to see how the political influences of the locations the characters are in affect the soundtrack and their relationship.
The romance between Viktor and Zula is so natural. I found myself smiling and smirking watching them flirt and talk. As you’ll see in the movie, they have a yo-yo relationships that has high highs and low lows. The film tries to stretch and test if true love can really beat location, politics, and time. Overall it was a great 1.5 hours at the theaters and I highly recommend it.
Where to watch: Still in select theaters
One take. This movie is 2.5 hours long and is done in one take. No cuts, no edits. Sebastian Schipper might have pulled off one of the most insanely technical films while also keeping that low budget – raw feel. Set in Berlin, Victoria is a woman who moved to the city recently from Spain, and while at a nightclub one night, meets a group of local lads and gets entangled into their mischief.
The plot may sound cliche, but the tension in this movie is palpable, and for good reason. After Schipper presented his idea for the film to the studio heads, they agreed to finance his film with some stipulations. First, there needed to be a cut version of the film that involved longer takes (around 10-20 minutes). Second, the film had 3 shots at getting it in one take. In an interview, Schipper described the cut version of the film as being stale. So, they attempted to execute his original vision for the film, and shoot the entire movie in one single take.
The first take was apparently boring since the actors were more reserved due to fear of making a mistake. The second attempt was to hectic as the actors tried to compensate for the timidity of the first by being crazy. With one take left in the budget, Schipper sat the actors down and made it clear that the whole budget was on line. I guess that did the trick. The actors displayed a wide range of emotions, they were playful, relaxed, and then immediately went into survival mode and tensed up. On top of it all, the soundtrack is amazing, and fits perfectly with the rollercoaster of emotions displayed throughout the movie. I recommend to not even watch the trailer since it spoils a little bit, go into the experience not knowing anything, just like Victoria.
Where to watch: Kanopy.com, a free streaming service if you sign up with your library or student ID card.
Babylon Berlin (2017):
Do you like vice squad detectives, period pieces, Trotskyite revolutionaries, backstabbing romances, cabaret, hedonism, and political intrigue? Then do I have the show for you.
Babylon Berlin takes place in the Weimar Republic (Germany) in the late 20’s early 30’s just before Hitler’s party took power. It follows vice detective Gereon Rath and an ambitious Charlotte Ritter who cunningly makes her way through the ranks of the Berlin police department. As one German critic put it, NAZI’s didnt just fall from the sky, there were real life forces at play in 20’s Germany that set the stage for the NAZI’s to take power.
Fresh from a defeat in WWI, a civil war, and humiliating war reparations, you will see how Germany was a pressure cooker for political infighting and ripe for extremism to take hold. “The greatest star of the whole series is the city of Berlin”. Not many people know this but Berlin was considered the most progressive city in the world before the NAZIs took power. After the civil war ended and the royalty abdicated its power, there was a sense of release in Germany. No more did people have to worship royalty and accept the existing power structures, you could make up your own rules. Thus lead to the cabaret, the orgies, the absinthe fueled, flapper induced era that is Weimar Berlin. From subplots of Communist infighting, to German political power players and syndicate crime groups vying for influence over the police department, this show does not disappoint.
Where to watch: Netflix