A scene from the German comedy Guys and Balls.
In Friday's blog, NPR movie reviewer Bob Mondello wrote about United 93. But he actually had prepared three other reviews... which were inadvertently eaten by Ken Rudin's dog! But we've restored them here, through the miracle of modern technology.
Water - A paragraph at the beginning of the film (which is set in India in the 1930s) says that when a husband dies, his wife is expected to live out the rest of her life in mourning, separated from society. As the paragraph fades, we see a cheerful, uncomprehending 7-year-old girl kicking her feet on the back of a cart carrying the relatives who've recently joined her in an arranged marriage to a much older husband who is clearly dying. A scene later, she's being dropped off in a cloister, where she's expected to beg on the streets to help support a dictatorial mother-hen who was also widowed as a child, and who sees no reason anyone else should live a happier life than she has. Wateris the third installment in director Deepa Mehta's terrific series illuminating the lives of women in Indian society. The other films are Earth (about families torn apart by religious divisions) and Fire (about sisters-in-law who love each other more than they love their husbands). As sad and resonant as Water is, by comparison with those pictures, it's downright cheerful.
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu - It feels like Kafka, but the inspiration for this award-winner at Cannes was apparently a pair of E.R.'s - French director Eric Rohmer, and the popular TV hospital show. Romanian director Cristi Puiu chronicles the last night of the title character, who wakes up with a headache and a stomachache, self-medicates for much of the day with alcohol, then calls an ambulance. His next few hours are spent being shunted from hospital to hospital by an exhausted but conscientious nurse who tries to be his guardian angel as he slips slowly into a coma. There's a good deal of incidental humor, but it's the indelible portrait of a health system as hell that you'll take home with you. As doctors spar, and ignore, and deflect him to other doctors, everything in Romania's hospitals seems to move in such slow motion, even your HMO will start to look good.
Guys and Balls - The title captures this German picture's central joke just about right. It's a brisk sports comedy about a baker's son who's kicked off his local soccer team when his teammates find out he's gay. He loses his father's support when word gets around, moves in with his sister, and decides to start a rival all-gay team to win back a little of the respect he's lost. The cinematography is deft (an opening bit with the baker's kids sending flour flying all over the bakery is gorgeous), and while stereotypes abound — some of the hero's new teammates are mincing queens, others leather toughs — most of the types get tweaked in amusing ways. It becomes pretty conventional in the end, but for a while, it's a real romp.