Since premiering in Cannes, where it won the Palme d'Or, Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon has been on a roll. Headed to the Toronto and New Yorkfilm festivals, it's just picked up the International Federation of Film Critics' (FIPRESCI) Grand Prix 2009 and has been selected as Germany's entry in the race for the Foreign Language Oscar. Hold it right there, interrupt Vienna-based papers Der Standard and Die Presse: Couldn't - and shouldn't - The White Ribbon be Austria's entry?
The answer, it turns out, is, yes, as a matter of fact, it "could." "Should," though, is another can of worms. First, the "could." Veit Heiduschka, one of the film's co-producers, and an Austrian, tells Der Standard that, according to the Academy's rules, both Germany and Austria are qualified to stake a claim to the film, which is, technically, a German-Austrian-French-Italian co-production. It's a matter of "first come, first serve," grumbles Werner Müller, head of Austria's Association of Audiovisual and Film Industry, to Die Presse - using the English phrase, by the way. The Austrians are scheduled to select their entry this coming Tuesday; the Germans beat them to it on Wednesday.
Der Standard puts the blame on Sony Pictures Classics, which is distributing the film in the US: "Since Austria's been nominated twice (The Counterfeiters, Revanche), the hope is that they'll stand a better chance with a German nomination." Sony has applied pressure "out of commercial calculation." The argument's a bit hazy, considering that The Counterfeiters, which, as it happens, could also have been selected by either Austria or Germany, did, in fact, win the Oscar last year - for Austria. Martin Schweighofer, head of the Austrian Film Commission: "I'm not happy about it, but we have to accept it. The unfortunate situation arises from the Academy's elastic rules, but with regard to certain critical aspects, the film is an Austrian one."
One of those critical aspects, on the one hand, is, of course, Michael Haneke. While he was born in Munich, he grew up in Austria, speaks an Austrian dialect and is widely considered an Austrian filmmaker. In Robert von Dassanowsky's "New Austrian Film" primer at GreenCine, for example, he's discussed right alongside Barbara Albert, Ulrich Seidl, Stefan Ruzowitzky and Michael Glawogger. On the other hand, The White Ribbon was filmed in Germany, is set in Germany - a village in the north in around 1913 and 1914, more precisely - and is widely interpreted as a premonitions-of-the-Third-Reich sort of story.
That last aspect makes the comments spewing after Die Welt's report on the German selection all the more chilling - or amusing, depending on how seriously you take the threat posed by nationalist right-wingers in Europe. "Historia": "Only someone who knows nothing of history would claim that Austrians aren't Germans." "krebstakis": "Historia, how right you are. Not for nothing did German emperors reside in Vienna for hundreds of years, and right up to Austerlitz, 'Ostarici' was a member of the German Union." "sk2": "Oh, sheesh, here they come crawling out from their holes again, the German culturalists and hobby Nazis..." And they're off.
You follow a gaggle of film journalists, critics and bloggers on Twitter and not only do you get a sense of what direction their reviews of movies being released weeks down the line will be taking, but you also pick up on who makes for an easy or difficult, helpful or unpleasant interview. Patton Oswalt, evidently, is one hell of a good time, so let's start off this Friday's roundup of films opening this weekend with those interviews: Mr Beaks (AICN), Molly Eichel (Philadelphia City Paper), Aaron Hillis (IFC), Dave Itzkoff (New York Times), Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York), Eric Spitznagel (Vanity Fair), Ryan Stewart (Suicide Girls) and Scott Tobias (AV Club).
As for the film at hand, "The Onion Movie and The Wrestler screenwriter Robert Siegel's directorial debut, Big Fan, is yet another hackneyed take on the sports-fan subgenre," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in Reverse Shot. More from Manohla Dargis (NYT), who finds this an "agreeably low-key and modest film," David Fear (TONY), Brandon Harris, Jesse Hassenger (L), Noel Murray (AV Club), Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly), Vadim Rizov (Voice) and Nick Schager (Slant). For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Siegel "about the personal nature of Big Fan, his transition from topical satire to movies, and his very unusual introduction to Star Wars." Siegel once edited The Onion and, at the AV Club, he introduces two paintings of baseball players he painted many years ago.
At the Edge of the World is "an intrepid record of modern-day piracy and the high-stakes battle between commerce and ecological survival," writes Jeannette Catsoulis. "[T]his strikingly humane film may function as a prequel to Animal Planet's Whale Wars but is light years ahead in visual clarity and narrative ambition." Also in the NYT, John Anderson talks with the makers about the making. More from Elena Oumano (Voice), Nick Schager (Slant), S James Snyder (TONY) and Scott Tobias (AV Club).
"A game of movie-release chicken will play out this weekend as Warner Bros and Weinstein Co open competing horror flicks The Final Destination and Halloween II." Ben Fritz reports for the Los Angeles Times.
"With an array of gory mayhem only marginally enhanced by 3D and a plot as developed as a text message, The Final Destination may finally sound the death knell for New Line's near-immortal horror franchise," writes Jordan Mintzer in Variety. Dennis Lim on the series: "With these high-concept neo-slashers, which are freed from all but the most elementary requirements of plot and character, lowbrow horror attains - depending on how you look at it - a brute functionality or an elegant purity."
"Documentarian Ondi Timoner lends her credulity and camera to swollen, damaged egos who believe themselves to be visionaries," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "We Live in Public documents 10 years in the life of dot-com multimillionaire-cum-installation artist Josh Harris, a clammy-looking loaf with none of the schizo firing-synapse spark that made musician Anton Newcombe a suitable study for her 2004 DiG!." More from Manohla Dargis (NYT), David Fear (TONY), Noel Murray (AV Club) and Henry Stewart (L).
Pedro Almodóvar's Broken Embraces opens in the UK today and Time Out London's got a package that includes its 4-out-5-star review and interviews with Almodóvar and Penélope Cruz. As I've noted often here, the film premiered in Cannes, will screen in Toronto and will close the New York Film Festival. Yesterday, we posted a video interview with Almodóvar. Today's round of reviews: Robert Barry (Quietus), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Ryan Gilbey (New Statesman), Tim Robey (Telegraph) and Neil Young.
Updates, 29/8: "With its unremittingly bleak humor and eagerness to plumb the depths of fanboy abjection, Big Fan seems destined for a future in the cult canon," argues Dana Stevens in Slate. "Like many movies in that canon, it's ungainly, imperfect, a bit too self-serious - but so sincere you can't help rooting for it anyway."
"Wherever your sympathies lie, At the Edge of the World is a terrifically exciting yarn, full of appealing and sometimes exasperating characters and breathtaking, daredevil cinematography," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir.
The horror, the horror. Final Destination: Simon Abrams (Slant), Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT) and Tasha Robinson (AV Club). Halloween II: Mike Hale (NYT), Keith Phipps (AV Club) and Nick Schager (Slant).
Online listening tip. At GreenCine Daily, Aaron Hillis talks with Rob Zombie.