From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch: At the movies: ‘The Others,’ ‘The Princess and the Warrior’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Oct. 25, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

I recently overheard a Seattle film student at Eastern Washington University telling classmates how much he enjoyed Tom Tykwer’s new film The Princess and the Warrior. He said he had seen it two or three times already and hoped to see it again.

In early October I made the journey up to the Newport Cinemas to check out this new German film. Tykwer is well remembered by many for his ground-breaking Run Lola Run of two years ago (IR 8/19/99).

Franka Potente, who with red-orange hair played the runner Lola so well, is back — with blonde hair — playing Sessi, a psychiatric nurse in a castle-like hospital outside the German city of Wuppertal.

This romantic-thriller is a story of true love. It is especially fascinating because the viewer is never sure where it is going. From a magnificent opening shot of another castle-like building high above the North Sea we follow a letter through the postal system, addressed to Sessi. In that letter Sessi is asked by a dear friend to go to the bank and get something from a safe-deposit box. On the way to the bank with a blind patient she is taking for a walk, Sessi finds herself in a dramatic moment hit by a truck and near death. A young thief who has been running from the police and probably was a cause of the accident comes back to the scene. He even goes under the truck. There he realizes that Sessi is having great difficulty breathing. He rushes out into the crowd and finds a straw that Sessi’s blind friend has in a drink. Slowly and delicately he saves Sessi’s life with a pen knife and the straw. This is a memorable scene that for me was difficult to watch.

Months later Sessi has recovered. She returns to the hospital and fears that her life has been irrevocably changed. She seeks her savior. She finally discovers his name is Bodo (Benno Furmann). But he does not want to see her. He exhibits great physical violence and anger. But in dreams and by her intuition Sessi continues to seek to find him and know him.

Finally she goes to the bank to pick up whatever is in the safe-deposit box for her friend. There she finds herself in the middle of a major robbery that her beloved Bodo is involved in. From there on we follow Sessi and Bodo through twists and turns to some sense of a fairy tale conclusion. On the way we experience incredible filmmaking that sometimes does draw attention to itself. We experience surrealism that can be beautiful but also confusing.

I am easily pulled into a film that has unusual filmmaking joined to a thriller theme with some theological and philosophical questions thrown in. The Princess and the Warrior is a film that pushes the envelope on coincidences. It downplays free will and asks if life made up almost entirely of serendipitous actions. The ending has lots to wonder about.

Franka Potente gives a haunting performance that makes her potentially one of the great actresses of our time. The cinematography by Rank Griebe is breathtaking. Thirty-five-year- old Tom Tykwer shows he is a writer-director we should keep our eyes on.

If you as an adult want to take some risks, can live with subtitles, and want to talk about a film after you have seen it, The Princess and the Warrior is for you.

The Princess and the Warrior is rated R for disturbing images, language, and some sexual content. It has not been rated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting.

*****

Nicole Kidman’s new film, The Others, has been out since mid-August and has proved to be very popular at the box office. When I finally saw it a few weeks ago I honestly found myself wondering why it has been so popular.

It takes about an hour to get to the supposedly scary stuff. People in the row in front of me kept pushing the button on their watches to see what time it was. It must be one of the darkest movies every filmed. The characters all whisper most of the time, so you have to strain to hear. The trick ending is less than satisfying.

Nicole Kidman plays a repressed Catholic mother named Grace, living in a large Victorian home on one of the Channel islands off the coast of England in 1945. She has two children around age 8 and 10 who are supposed to have a rare disease of the skin that requires they never be in sunlight. So the curtains of the home must be closed if the children are anywhere near.

Early on three Irish servants come to help run the house. They are to make sure doors to each room are locked and curtains are always closed for the safety of the children.

In the darkened rooms Grace teaches her children a strict and scary form of Catholicism. Her daughter is being prepared for First Communion. We learn, among other things, there are four levels of hell. In the process we see Grace does not live up to her name and has adopted a rigid and controlling form of religious law. The rosary is thrown in as a magic totem to hold on to tightly when one is frightened.

The children hold up quite well with their dark form of Catholicism. They ask questions when they are alone that any precocious child or adult might ask in 2001.

Grace begins to hear strange noises and a piano that plays with no one present, even when it is locked up. Her daughter tells her she sees a family in their home who have a young boy named Victor. This causes Grace to clamp down on the children even more than before. The servants obviously seem to know a lot more about the situation in the house than Grace does.

The story plods along slowly and finally we see Grace find her long-lost husband in the woods. He has been on the continent fighting the Germans. He seems to have trouble relating to Grace and acts very strange. Eventually, after a long and tortured plot, we get to a scene where Grace daughter has a reaction to her white First Communion outfit. Also, it seems strange that when the daughter goes in to see her Dad the curtains are open and the deadly light that is suppose to cause horrible skin problem falls all over her and she seems okay.

At the end there is about a 10-minute ending that twists things all around. This must be what audiences are finding attractive in a Sixth Sense sort of way.

The Others is written and directed by the Spanish film maker Alejandro Amenabor. He does a serviceable job. Nicole Kidman plays the repressed mother with icy terror. The supporting actors are all good when you can see them lurking in the shadows of the Victorian house on the foggy island.

The Others is rated PG-13, with frightening moments. Personally, I think most young people under 13 would be bored. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates The Others A-3 — for adults.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and is the Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane.)


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