Riphagen: The Untouchable

 

This film, entitled Riphagen: The Untouchable is the story of one Andries Riphagen. As the film begins we met Dries, as he is called by some, accompanied by another man. They arrive at a home in Amsterdam in The Netherlands. It is some time in 1944.

They ask the homeowners if they are hiding any Jews. When an older woman is discovered behind a false wall, Riphagen (played by Jeroen van Koningsbrugge) tells her can help her. She will have to turn over all her valuables in exchange for a safe passage out of Amsterdam. She says she has no valuables.

But Riphagen finds a packet of diamonds hidden in her hair. He promises to return all of her jewels and diamonds after the war. He will need to take about 10 of the diamonds to satisfy the Germans who think that he is indeed working for them.

He tells this woman and other Jews that he is working with the Dutch Resistance and he can get them safely out of Amsterdam.

So, we are faced with this question: Is Riphagen a hero, or is he a traitor to his fellow Dutch people. Said another way is Riphagen an Oscar Schindler or is he something else?

This film was originally a three-part tv mini-series. Netflix thought that these three parts could be merged and made into a film. So you can see it with a Netflix streaming account.

I watched this film for the premise seemed intriguing. I’ve been to Amsterdam, and loved the place; so seeing it again was an idea I couldn’t resist. Of course Amsterdam in 1944 would not be the same as the Amsterdam where I spent some time in 2015.

Obviously, the Amsterdam in the film is not the one I remember from a year and half ago. In fact I watched for about 45 minutes before seeing even a hint of a canal. Maybe that is because a good portion of the film was shot in the Dutch city Utrecht which has an older and more historical look to it whereas Amsterdam has a much more modern look. Having said that, I can state that the topic of the film is a familiar topic – The Holocaust – albeit this story is told from a different angle and from a different perspective.

I must say that Jeroen van Koningsbrugge about whom you might say appears in this film as a version of the 70″s and 80’s actor Telly Savalas in appearance, gives a more than credible performance as the anti-Schindler.

As for the rest of the cast, I knew none of them, but found most them excellent with one exception – the character of Wim Sanders as played by Michel Sluysmans.

The two-hour plus film has a good crisp look to it. There’s not a preponderance of night scenes, or rain-drenched, or foggy scenes either.

The costume designer has done a wonderful job in recreating both the men and women suits and dresses of the time.

Also for the record, the automobiles used gave the definite sense of Europe in the 40’s as we saw both German and French cars.

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Copenhagen Cops – The Department Q Trilogy

So over the long Thanksgiving weekend, I think we had just one day when the Mouth that Roared (DJT) was thankfully silent. Taking advantage of that fact, I concentrated my efforts at watching a scruffy detective out of Copenhagen, Denmark, and his partner, solve three cases.

The series which I watched on the Netflix streaming service, is actually three two-hour films. Collectively the series is called Department Q – Trilogy. But the reality is that these films were produced in 2013, 2014, and the most recent in 2016.

The first is called The Keeper of Lost Causes (in Danish Kvinden i buret). Detective Carl Mørk is just back from an extended leave. He had been recuperating from something. Mørk is a smart, even a brilliant cop, but not one given to either following orders, or being a team player. His vices include being a heavy smoker and a drinker. He’s unkempt, and that’s being generous or kind.

He doesn’t shave (or likely bathe) very often and to say that the complete package of Homicide Detective Carl Mørk is distinctly an unpleasant person seems more than apt.

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Anyway, he and his partner are on a stake out when they determine that their suspect is in the building in front of them. They are ordered to hold their positions and wait for back-up to arrive. But Mørk, played by Nikolaj Lie Kaas, isn’t about to sit there waiting. Against the orders issued and his partner’s reservations, they enter the building.

Shots are fired, and the partner is shot resulting in a serious wound. He lives but he may never walk again.

Mørk’s superiors are not happy. Not only did Mørk disobey direct orders, but now, no one is willing to work with him. So he’s removed from the Homicide Division. They demote him down to Department Q, a previously non-existent department. His task is to go through twenty years of  unsolved cold cases. In short, he’s been sent to the ‘Siberia’ of police posts anywhere in the world. Cold cases barely registers above evidence locker in most police departments. Solving the cases is not what the brass wanted. They wanted Mørk and company to simply clear the cases. The task is to close three cases a week with a written report.  In short make no waves.

Mørk is assigned a partner, a detective named Assad, played by Fares Fares, who you may have seen in Safe House, Zero Dark Thirty, and will soon be seen in the upcoming Star Wars film – Rogue One. While Mørk considers that he has been both demoted and tossed aside, Assad sees it as a promotion because he had been stamping paperwork at the train depot. Assad is a Muslim and has no personal life to speak of. He eats at the same diner every day of the week.

So to finish the set up – The Keeper of Lost Causes is about a politician who disappeared after boarding a ferry. They, the detectives who handled the original investigation have called it a suicide. But Mørk is not convinced. Check out the trailer for The Keeper of Lost Causes:

The second film is called The Absent One (in Danish – Fasandræberne). This one is about some murders in an exclusive and expensive private school. The belief is that a certain student witnessed a pair of murders of some students at this school. There’s another school of thought that this ‘witness’ also took part in these killings. By the way, this female student apparently has been missing since 1994. Seems like another lost cause doesn’t it?

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Fever

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For there to be a crime, there has to be a personal reason, a personal motive. But if it happens by chance…

From this textual opening we then see the feet of two people quickly heading down the steps of a Montparnasse (Paris) apartment building. They hit the street, and the camera tracks up from their feet and they appear to be a tad nervous. But they start to walk off calmly.

There’s a small collision with a young woman coming from the opposite direction. She drops her bag, and one of the young men, without realizing it, drops a single black woolen glove.

She turns to look at them, and one of them the boys looks back at her twice before they rush off.

We next see these two young men, actually they are high school students – in the school cafeteria.

I know why you’re scared. You’re scared you’ll dream about her.
Aren’t you?
She was just a whore.

This is the opening few minutes of a 2014 French film, directed by Raphael Neal, that has just been released here in the US. I mean the DVD has been released by Artspoitation Films, a Philadelphia based outfit headed by Ray Murray.

Without seeing anything of the event, we will come to learn that these two high-schoolers have murdered a woman. Also we will see nothing involving the police search for the killers beyond some newspaper headlines, a quick shot or two of uniformed cops on the street,  and some conversations by local shop-keepers.

For a film about a murder that is quite unusual. As you can see, in the film’s poster at the top, the tagline reads: They executed the perfect crime…until they got away with it.

But there’s the rub. Knowing they ‘ve gotten away with crime, how do they deal with that? Will they go back to being teenagers in high school with all the stresses and anxieties that go with that territory. Or will they be influenced by external factors that have nothing to do with the crime such as a frank talk with one of the boy’s grandfathers that ties in with what they have on their plate in their high school philosophy class.

I hear your questions:

What about the grandfather? And what are they studying in that class? And your third question – what about the woman who saw them on the street and picked up the dropped glove?

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Here’s a major hint – a book written by Hannah Arendt, a controversial book – Eichmann in Jerusalem: The Banality of Evil is the philosophy course topic.

Here’s a second major hint – the infamous French collaborator Maurice Papon.

Martin is the blond in the light jacket. Pierre is the boy in the dark clothes.

Martin is the blond in the light jacket. Pierre is the boy in the dark clothes.

The boys are Damien (Martin Loisillon) and Pierre (Pierre Moure). They’re not particularly special. They are just rich kids in an elite high school. The woman who collides with them and finds and keeps the glove is called Zoe (Julie-Marie Parmentier).

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Disorder/Maryland: Day 2 at the 2016 Sarasota Film Festival

Day 2 at the Sarasota Film Festival was Saturday April 2nd. The feature film tonight was from France, and in France, the film was called Maryland – which was the name of a grand estate villa located in the south of France near Antibes.

For American consumption, the title was changed to Disorder, and technically speaking, the film had nothing to do with our own state of Maryland, so a new title was created for the American market to help avoid confusion.

Written and directed by Alice Winocour, the film stars Matthias Schoenaerts, who you likely have seen in such films as Rust and Bone, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Drop, and The Danish Girl. His co-star is Diane Kruger who was the inscrutable Sonya Cross in the US TV version of The Bridge.

Schoenaerts plays Vincent, a French soldier (he served in Afghanistan) who is currently home in the south of France and is being treated for PTSD. He’s on certain meds and is a somewhat alienated combat veteran who has found it difficult back at home.

Between missions, or until Vincent is cleared to return to action, he and this group of French soldiers are free to pick up free-lance security work. Vincent gets a call and is more than eager to serve in a security detail for a huge party at this estate called Maryland. The state is owned by a Lebanese called Imad Whalid.

Diane Kruger plays Whalid’s wife Jessie.

Okay as the film gets up some speed (and it takes a while), we get the impression that Vincent knows what he’s doing, has sharp instincts, and is quite likely to be excellent is a security detail.

This particular assignment will be using a five man security detail. Whalid is hosting a huge soiree and the terms tres chic definitely fit. Security will cover the grounds, the front gate, and various points within the house itself in a kind of revolving manner.

While we don’t see much of the party, we know that there are many moguls, ministers, and other movers and shakers in attendance. Most of the time we are either trailing Vincent or seeing what he sees in a standard point-of-view perspective. Plus there’s the eaves-dropping, intentional or otherwise, that we (and Vincent) overhear.

Vincent is edgy and effective, and yet he seems both scary and serious. People arrive who are not on the guest list provided to security. But a phone call, possibly to Whalid, gets them in. We overhear bits and pieces or snippets of conversations. We watch as groups of men splinter off to the sides, away from the main ebb and flow of the party, to talk; and seemingly they’re aware of being overheard, and don’t wish to be.

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Occupied – A Norwegian Geo-Political Thriller Airing on Netflix

Occupied is set in Norway in the not distant future. The main thrust of the story of this 10 episode series is that the Norwegians have elected an environmentalist who heads up the Green Party as the Prime Minster. This followed in the wake of a series of events:

1) Turmoil in the Middle East has compromised oil production.
2) The USA has achieved energy independence and has said adios to NATO.
3) A catastrophic Hurricane has devastated Norway.
4) Europe is in an energy crisis.

The newly elected Norwegian PM, Jesper Berg, has shut down all fossil fuel production. The country will no longer use oil as an energy source. Instead, thorium, a nuclear-based energy product will be used.

This sets off panic in the EU (European Union). And shortly after the opening ceremonies at Norway’s spanking brand new thorium plant, the Prime Minister is kidnapped and spirited away in a helicopter.

The PM’s bodyguard, Hans Martin Djupvik, chases the helicopter in a police car.

Okay, that is the bare bones opening. We will come to learn that the EU, in conjunction with the Russians, want the PM to capitulate and return to fossil fuel energy.

And to help him decide, the Russians promise a ‘soft’ occupation at least until the oil production is resumed, and if not, Norway will then face a full-scale invasion.

Berg, played by Henrik Mestad, as the Prime Minster is between a rock and hard-place. His country is on the wrong side of the EU, The US has withdrawn from NATO, and little Norway, with no support from former allies, would stand no chance against the superior Russian military if it came down to war.

I’ve completed all 10 episodes of this series which is screening on Netflix here in the USA, Australia, India, and Canada. The series has also been sold to the UK, Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. As expected, Russia was none too happy about this TV series.

But here’s the rub. This is not simply the good guys vs the bad guys. If anything, the Russian ambassador to Norway, Irina Sidorova (played by Ingeborga Dapkunaite) comes off as a rational, fair-minded, and nearly sympathetic figure.

The Norwegian PM is somewhat of a more complex figure. He is indeed a patriotic Norwegian, but his countrymen do not all see him that way. They think his capitulation to the Russian demands, is both disloyal, if not traitorous, as well as misguided.

So a resistance movement called Free Norway comes into play.

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Youth: Day Four at the Twin Cities Film Festival

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In my last review (Brooklyn) I posed a question: Who says size matters? I was referencing a small film with a huge heart. Here in Youth, the latest opus from Paolo Sorrentino, we have a film on a grand scale, a big film but without a heart.

Sorrentino, as he did in his last film, The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza), once again riffs on his favorite themes: Age and the Hollowness and Emptiness of Success.

Here, Michael Caine plays a retired composer and symphony conductor Fred Ballinger, and Harvey Keitel plays his best bud,

Mick Boyle, a famous Hollywood film director. They are set up in one of those elegant Swiss Alpine Hotels/Spas where you’re pampered beyond belief.

This particular time, Ballinger’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz)  has arranged for the trip,

Lena: You’ll be getting the best of care. Sauna, Massage, and daily check ups by the doctors to get you back in shape.
Fred: At my age, getting into shape is a waste of time…

At this time, Lena is also in a relationship with Mick’s son Julian, who is about to walk out of the relationship. Fortunately for Lena, she’s already in a place that can help with depression as well as being good for one’s body.

So Mick and Fred spend their days walking through lush Alpine meadows,

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La Rafle

This location, in the above photo, is one of the most beloved places to visit in Paris. This photo is taken from the esplanade of the Jardin du Trocadero,  with the Palais du Chaillot being unseen and behind. This beautiful place overlooks the park, the water basin, and fountains. and provides a superb view looking towards the Eiffel Tower. Most people who come to Paris, arrive here at one point or another. I know I did in 1998, 2003, and more recently. in 2013.

As did these members of the German High Command, and among them was Adolf Hitler. The date of his visit was June 23rd, 1942.

The film La Rafle chooses to begin with archival film footage of Hitler and his staff as they took in some of the best known Paris landmarks, then drove on some of the most famous of thoroughfares in Paris. You are struck by the near complete absence of people, traffic, and everything that makes a city look and feel alive.

No doubt orders were given to keep people off these streets so as to not impair these sightseers.

The French title, La Rafle translates to English as The Roundup. Written and directed by Rose Bosch, this is a 2010 film about the roundup of 13,000 Jews in Paris, within 48 hours in the summer of 1942. Led by Marshal Petain and Pierre Laval, the French Vichy government struck a deal with Hitler in 1940. Germany would occupy northern and western France, including the Atlantic Coast. The Germans would also occupy Paris rather than destroy it. The rest of France would be called Free France.

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The Blue Room aka La Chambre Bleue

Below is Julien Gahyde, played by Mathieu Amalric. He’s a married man with a child, and he lives in southwest France, near the coast. He owns a John Deere Farm Equipment dealership.

This is Delphine Gahyde, played by Lea Drucker. She is Julien’s wife. She is basically a homemaker.

Julien and Delphine have a big house out in the country. They dote on their daughter, Suzanne, and all three have the look and appearance of a happy family.

We will see them enjoying a vacation to a beach resort, and at another time of year – their home is decorated for the Christmas season, and we take note that Julien is happy to drive his daughter to school in the mornings.

So for all intents and purposes, they are a happy family.

This is where we first meet Julien.

It is a hotel room. And this is where the film begins. Julien is having a delightful afternoon. As is his partner. She is Esther Despierre, played by Stephanie Cleau. She is the local pharmacist’s wife.

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Viva la Liberta aka Long Live Freedom

For about as long as they’ve been making movies, there has been an attraction to stories involving imposters – be they simple look-a-likes or twins, one person steps away or is removed from his place of authority or power, and before you can think too hard or too long, he’s been replaced by someone meant to convey that all is as it should be. Everything is ok – it’s all good.

In many of these films, like Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, or Richard Dreyfuss in Moon Over Parador, or Kevin Klein in Dave, and even The Marx Brothers in Duck Soup (the famous mirror scene), the purpose is humor and often it is broad humor. But humor sometimes has a point to make.

Humor often wields the sharp end of the stick; and so we have parodies, and satires all meant as social commentary, or attempting to deliver a specific social or political message. Such a film is Long Live Freedom, or as it was called in Italy, Viva La Liberta.

Released in 2013, the film begins as we meet the head of the Italy’s Opposition Party, one Enrico Oliveri. He’s the head of the party, and once upon a time, he might have been considered as the party’s favorite son, and a candidate for the office of the Prime Minster of Italy.

But his party has fallen out of favor, and Enrico’s personal stock has fallen even further. His own party hasn’t any confidence in him. At an important conference he speaks dully, and he is heckled unmercifully by a shouting protestor. Enrico’s staff thinks this protestor was a plant by the unnamed ‘they’.

But the reality is that Enrico lacks passion, and fires no longer burn in his belly. He might not be a hack, but he is a burn-out. But this particular burn-out can read the handwriting on the wall, as well as take note of the howling of the newspaper columns, and hear the growing noise made by the talking heads on TV.

So not wanting to, and unable to take it any more – he vanishes into the wind. Not even his personal advisor, or press secretary, Andrea Bottini (played by Valerio Mastandrea – above), is told. The reality is that Enrico is driven to Paris and he is going to stay in hiding at the home of a former lover, Danielle, played by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi.

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