TIFF: “Volver” and “Winter Journey”

I was never a fan of Penelope Cruz. The few roles that I had seen her in didn’t convince me and I was unsure of where the superlatives describing her came from. After seeing “Volver” I think I’m having a change of heart. Cruz is outstanding, really gorgeous, and superlative-worthy. Her character is the movie. Everything else seems secondary.

Volver Cruz

As great as the movie was, the unfortunate thing about the screening was that we (my sister and I) were stuck beside a pair of PLAITs. People Laughing at Inopportune Times. It was so distracting. They laughed at a funeral procession. They laughed during a shocking plot point. And they laughed at a bowl of soup. Seriously. It was a transition shot between two scenes. The whole of the screen was an overhead view of an empty bowl. Soup was poured into it. They laughed. I would not like to eat dinner with these people.

Winter Journey“, as the director put it, is about a very German topic, depression. It is also the first film that I know of to feature a 419 Scam as a key plot point. When the contents of the letter were being read out loud for the first time on screen, I chuckled a little (quietly and to myself. I’m not like those people!) as the image of one of the scammers with a loaf of bread on his head (419 eaters) came to my mind. My mind sometimes operates like this. Unfortunately, there was nothing like this in the movie.

In the movie, the depressive, manic and bitter old man — acted intensely and believably over-the-top by Josef Bierbichler — is scammed. As a last act, he travels to Africa with his interpreter in search of his money. The one thing that stood out in this film is how the camera was used as a complement to Bierbichler’s acting. When the character was going through a manic session, the camera was frenetically editted shaky cam, moving out of focus and off-frame. When the character was lucid, the camera was fixed with intermittent wide shots of the frigid German terrain and the hot African landscape interrupting the scenes. It was almost a little too self-concious.

As a side note, Winter Journey co-starred the great and charming Sibel Kekilli, who had her (er, non-porn) start in the oft-mentioned and the-inbetween favourite Gegen die Wand.

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