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"The Fifth Horseman is Fear" was released in 1964 in B&W, and though it was supposed to be a movie about the oppression under Nazi rule in Czechoslovakia during WW II, it was more of an indictment against the oppressive Communist regime of the period.
The movie centers around Dr Braun [Miroslav Hajek],an old Jewish doctor who has been forbidden to practice medicine in Prague under Nazi rule. Instead, he works as a clerk, tasked with the cataloguing confiscated Jewish property such as furniture etc. He lives in an apartment building where he shuns human contact out of fear of being denounced, and his only solace is his violin. The other inhabitants of the building also exhibit symptoms of extreme oppression - a discontented housewife occupies herself with mindless retail therapy, and old woman veers on the edge of madness, fearing the seizure of her pets, and many others who all seem to be exhibiting similar symptoms of paranoia.
Things get even stranger when Dr Braun finds himself having to care for a wounded partisan, concealing him in his own apartment complex as he tries his level best to procure morphine for the wounded man, roaming about the city, experiencing surrealistic events.
As mentioned earlier, this movie may seem like the portrayal of people's fears under the Nazis in Prague, but it is in fact more of an allegory about the suppression of freedom under the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. Some of the anachronisms noted in this movie attest to this.
On the whole, this is an excellent movie and I was glad that it was made available on DVD. But, there is an important scene that has been deleted on this DVD - that of the SS brothel scene. The good doctor wanders around the brothel, encountering strange people, all the while searching for the elusive morphine. The scene has lots of nudity portrayed, but I still wonder why this was censored on the DVD, given that TCM showed the movie in its unexpurgated version? I do hope future releases of this Czech masterpiece will have the film in its entirety. As for special features, there is an onscreen intro by Andrew Horton, a cinenotes collectible booklet, and a scene selection feature.
I read and reviewed Sarah's Key three years ago, a book I consider one of my favorite reads. The novel dealt with two time frames, the past during the Holocaust in 1942 France, and the present. The past centers around a 10 year old Jewish girl Sarah Strazynski who is forced to go to the Velodrome d'Hiver with her mother and father, innocently leaving behind her 4 year old brother Michel locked in a secret cupboard with the assurance that she would return to let him out when it was safe. The present revolves around writer Julia, a transplanted American married to a Frenchman, who becomes consumed by the Vel d'Hiv incident, where thousands of Jewish families were rounded up and forcibly kept in the Velodrome d'Hiver before being deported to various camps, with many sent to death camps such as Auschwitz.
In the movie, Julia Tezac is a journalist who becomes obsessed with the story of the deported Jews, especially after she makes the discovery that her husband's family's apartment formerly belonged to a Jewish family by the name of Strazynski, and the tragic story of Sarah slowly unfolds. There is a little variation regarding the story in the present, as in the movie, Julia's strained relationship with her husband is caused by her refusal to terminate her pregnancy (the couple also has an older teen daughter).
Kristin Scott-Thomas who also happens to be one of my favorite actors (check out her memorable performance in I've Loved You So Long, does an amazing job in her role as the relentless journalist in pursuit of the truth. Just as author de Rosnay portrays in the novel, Scott-Thomas deftly handles her role as a writer who realizes that the pursuit of truth can not only bring about pain and disrupt people's lives, but also provide catharsis and hope for the future.
Sarah's Key is a sad story, portraying how one life can be so dramatically altered due to tragic circumstances. It is a story of the Holocaust, yet also a very human drama that conveys all the burden of memory and emotional baggage that follows one through life, and how this in turn affects others through relationships and by association. I wept when I read the book, and I cried as I watched this movie to its conclusion, and was happy that this was one of those rare occasions when the movie did the book justice.
Having read and loved Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle), I was looking forward to watching the movie adaptation. I missed the theatrical run, and so waited patiently for it come out on DVD. Unfortunately, this is a terrible adaptation of a heartbreakingly beautiful work, taking too many artistic liberties, and butchering the story in such a manner as to render it incomprehensible to those who read and loved the book. If you watch this movie without having read the book, then it might appeal on some level, but to those who savored the detailed descriptions of traditions in 19th century China, and the close bond between the two central characters, i.e. Snow Flower and Lily, this movie seems such an aberration and I truly felt let down.
The movie takes a different approach than the novel in that it has two parallel story lines - one set in the present featuring two young women who are kindred spirits, but whose friendship is eventually strained by conflicting ideas regarding relationships, lifestyle, etc. On the same day that she receives news that she has a job opportunity in New York, Nina (Li BingBing) receives news that her estranged best friend, Sophia (Gianna Jun) has been in an accident and is in hospital. As Nina goes through Sophia's things at the hospital, she comes across a manuscript, parts of a story of two women in 19th century China, whose friendship mirror Nina and Sophia's own close bond.
The trouble is that this parallel storyline does not work - by dividing the story up into two disparate timelines, not much time is spent in developing the central characters. The most affected here is the story in the present - viewers are given brief glimpses of Nina and Sophia bonding over music etc. but their friendship is meant to be an unbreakable bond and this is not credibly portrayed. The story of the two laotongs or "old sames" (sort of like sisters of the heart) set in 19th century China is much more credibly portrayed, ironically played by the same actresses playing the parts of Nina and Sophia in the present.
Lily and Snow Flower are the laotongs, coming from two very different social classes. The poorer of the two, Lily, has her feet bound to perfection under the supervision of a zealous mother. The scenes of foot binding are rather uncomfortable to watch, but they are nowhere near as gruesome as the graphic descriptions provided by Ms. See in her novel. Lily's perfect lotus bud feet eventually garner her a very advantageous marriage, but poor Snow Flower ends up being married off to a butcher despite her rich beginnings.
In the novel, readers are given a deep insight into the secret language of women, i.e. nushu which provides an intimate glimpse into the lives of women in 19th century China (historically nushu was the language used by the women of the Yao ethnic minority). Reading between the lines, readers get the idea that it is Snow Flower who has a more interesting sex life than Lily, but in the movie, viewers get a brief glimpse of this, not through nushu, but of Lily playing peeping tom. It just completely put me off - such short cuts when it was completely unnecessary, not to mention detracting from the very essence of the novel.
Then there's the disaster in the form of Aussie actor Hugh Jackman (it begs the question, why did he stoop to such a role in the first place?). Any actor could have played his role, but I guess the filmmakers thought they could get the movie more exposure with a star presence? Jackman plays Sophia's on-off lover and his most 'memorable' scene here is him serenading Sophia at a party and indulging in some serious liplocking. Sigh...need I continue?
Final verdict - fans of the novel should steer away from this disaster of an adaptation, and those who haven't read the book will probably not miss much, though I'd recommend the book over the movie anytime.