Pope Francis: A Man of His Word (2018)

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Direction: Wim Wenders
Country: Switzerland / Germany / other

Perceiving the turbulent times we’re living today is not an easy task and master documentarian Wim Wenders (Pina; The Salt of the Earth) felt the urgency of spreading Pope Francis’ noble ideals and message. He did it in a simple yet compelling way in Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, a documentary where the pontiff’s inspirational words of wisdom echo like bombs in our deaf ears.

This pope, the first to choose the name Francis, lives according to the humble ways of his inspirer, St. Francis of Assisi. He talks about the problems of the modern world without avoiding any sensitive matter. No wonder he points out wealth as the bigger temptation of the church and politicians, naming it God’s highest antagonist. Instead of wasting time dividing religions, he calls brother to every man, at the same time that shows a deep understanding of their choices, paths, and milieus.

Amidst the serious and thoughtful considerations about unemployment, deliberate onslaughts against Mother Earth, pedophilia in the church, gender equality, immigration, and the importance of listening to what others have to say, the pope still finds the courage to throw in funny lines about husband-wife relationships and coping with mothers-in-law. With an overt smile, he makes reference to a prayer for good humor by St. Thomas More. He is so charismatic and unequivocal in his sayings that I could be seated a couple more hours and listen to his recommendations.

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Wenders opted for a type of interview in which he concedes the pope enough space to talk directly to the camera, emulating a face-to-face interaction with us, the viewers. Even if his direction feels more competent than brilliant, he deserves credit for making sure the film progresses with no topic redundancy or unnecessary delays. A pertinent parallelism with the life of St. Francis is made, and for this purpose, black-and-white images are exhibited in a classic style.

The true star here is the pope himself, not only a man of his word, but also a man of impressive openness, humbleness, and fearlessness when speaking the embarrassing truth. He delivers the real message. Words that could help us save the planet, be better persons, and pull us out of this shameful idolatry of money and apathy in the face of injustice.

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Those Who Are Fine (2018)

Directed by Cyril Schäublin
Country: Switzerland

Cyril Schäublin’s feature debut, “Those Who Are Fine”, renders a scam story involving elderly women as preys in today’s Internet world. Following four short films, the young Swiss director imagines a female call center employee who tricks a few grandmothers using a false quest for urgent financial help as she pretends to be their granddaughters.

Alice Turli (Sarah Stauffer) is one of the 'inhumane' call center representatives at Everywhere Switzerland, an Internet service provider that offers up one of the most competitive prices in the market. She is a lonesome girl who takes advantage of her job to obtain extra information from wealthy elderly targets. In addition to questions like “how fast is your Internet connection” or “how often do you use the Internet”, Alice queries about their date of birth, bank account type, and approximate current balance. We follow her scamming the good-willing Mrs. Oberli (Margot Gödrös), who, despite the bank’s laborious security procedures, was more than happy to withdraw 50 thousand francs for her granddaughter. A meet up is scheduled, but instead of the latter is Alice who shows up to receive the money, exhibiting a mix of satisfaction, underestimation, and contempt in her face. 

Schäublin uses the camera in a curious way, opting for sharp close-ups, medium-long shots with half-body characters occupying only one side of the frame, and a few high-angles where she captures the austerity of the streets, the urban architecture and busy traffic in the unattractive outskirts of Zurich.

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Intertwining with Alice’s path, we hear conversations among a group of policemen assigned to carry out security checks at certain locations of the city. The topics of their conversation include Internet speeds and prices, health insurance, and movies, whose titles nobody remembers. Ironically, one of them croons Elton John’s ‘Your Song’, and in a different occasion, another one interrogates and frisks Alice, whose fraudulent ways needed another type of strategy to be unmasked. 

The guileful, achingly unemotional swindler opens a bank account with a large sum of dishonestly-earned money. That doesn’t weigh a bit in her conscience. In this aspect, debutant actor Sarah Stauffer was perfect, emulating the imperturbability of her character through a casual acting style. But because the more money you have, the more you want, Alice has no plans to stop and approaches her next victim, a senile woman living in a dementia caregiver center.

The drama relies on an interesting idea that never develops into something completely satisfactory. Regardless of a possible posterior connection, many scenes feel derivative, lost in redundant dialogues that drag the story to its limits. Even the finale promised tension but ended up wrapped in a melancholic apathy. Drowned in passwords, codes, and missing film titles, “Those Who Are Fine” runs at slow speeds and only intermittently connects. It would have easily been a more stimulating short film than a feature.

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Sister (2012)

Sister (2012)
Directed by: Ursula Meier
Country: Switzerland / France

Review: After "Home" (2008), “Sister” is another impressive movie directed by the Swiss-French Ursula Meier, revealing a well-designed story and compelling performances. Set in the Swiss Alps, it unveils the sad reality of a kid who sells stolen skis to make some money. That money often goes to his careless older sister with whom he has a relationship that will make you confused at first. In fact, the reality is very different from what we were imagining, with surprises popping up slowly but in perfect time to make it work throughout the steady rhythm of the story. “Sister” sticks in your head and will make you ruminate about rejection, exploitation and unwanted burdens in similar relationships. The final scene shows how much these two people are apart from each other. “Sister” hits the target, confirming Ursula Meier as a creative writer and influential contemporary filmmaker.
Relevant awards: Berlin; Athens.

The Foster Boy (2011)

Directed by: Markus Imboden
Country: Switzerland

Plot: Until after WWII, approximately 100,000 children were placed as cheap labor to work on Swiss farms.
Review: Nicely photographed, “The Foster Boy” will make the Swiss movie industry proud. A family, living in a mountain farm, shelters kids from poor families in change of help and some monthly amount of money. The movie concentrates in very different types of abusing endured by these kids, who had lost everything in their lives. The exception is Max and his passion for playing accordion, which will give him strength to go on dreaming with a better life. This is the kind of movie that you can’t help being involved with and be indignant. Every single performance was crucial to attain a honorable result. Not to be missed.
Relevant awards: Best actor (Swiss film prize).

Home (2008)

Realizado por: Ursula Meier
País: Suíça

Uma família vive numa casa isolada, perto de um troço de auto-estrada desactivado há muitos anos. Quando este troço finalmente é aberto, toda a família vai ficar perturbada, tendo de lidar com o barulho dos automóveis que passam, com o perigo de atravessamento (única possibilidade de saída da casa) e com a falta de privacidade no seu pátio. Sofrendo de frequentes insónias e alterados emocionalmente, optam por tapar todas as janelas com blocos, ao ponto de quase sufocar. A actriz Isabelle Huppert, para não variar, tem um magnífico desempenho. Uma agradável surpresa!