Settle in for some European film gems

By Denny and Carson Parish Take One, Take Two

As you read this column, my writing partner is tramping around Europe visiting five different countries. A high point will be hiking in the Austrian Alps.

We thought it would be an appropriate time to write about our passion for European films. Yes — there are subtitles, but the variety and quality of these films are second to none.

Take One

It’d be nearly impossible for me to attempt any sort of survey of European cinema, solely because it’s such an integral part of my film education. So I’ll pick three that stand out in my mind at the present moment. There’s no doubt a column in two weeks would be different.

“Il Posto” (1961) is a strange, devastating portrait of a young boy “climbing the ranks” at a meaningless job. Ermanno Olmi’s tiny gem is the preeminent example of Italian Neorealism, a genre that continues to influence the Hollywood pictures we see today. Drawing heavily on seminal Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini, Olmi details the minutiae of a 9-to-5 clerical job and the dehumanizing effects on his coworkers, all of whom have experienced the same trial-by-boredom that he is living through. The final moments of the film, a victory (?), could not be more bitter and tinged with despair. A great film about breaking free, if that’s possible.

A dazzling film, set in post-war Vienna, is Carol Reed’s film noir, “The Third Man”(1949). Joseph Cotten stars as Holly Martins, in Vienna to see a friend about a job (Orson Welles in an iconic performance as Harry Lime), only to learn that Lime is dead upon arrival… but, of course, that’s just the start of the story. Filled with crackling performances and spellbindingly shot in black & white by Robert Krasker in Vienna’s rain-slicked cobblestone streets, “The Third Man” stands the test of time and never disappoints. Welles would soon become unrecognizable in more ways than one, but it’s a pleasure to watch him at the top of his form. The “zither” (a stringed instrument) based score received international acclaim.

“Berlin Alexanderplatz” (1980), herculean, 16-hour epic (that’s not a typo, is Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s crowning achievement. Adapted from Alfred Döblin’s 1929 novel of the same name, it’s a characteristic work of the German Weimar Republic. Fassbinder, filming decades later, has all the benefit of post-war hindsight, and infuses the protagonist, Franz Biberkopf (played by menacing Günter Lamprecht) with all the tension that plays out in the country in the years to come, with absolutely tragic and cataclysmic consequences. Originally broadcast as a miniseries in West Germany, the film was shown theatrically in the states over a few select evenings upon its release. Much of the series is melodramatic, until the outrageous, hyper-modern finale, which continues to be one of the most surreal moments of cinema history.

Take Two

My love of Italian cinema begins and ends with “Cinema Paradiso” (1988). Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, along with the Golden Globe and BAFTA (British Oscar) for Best Picture, it is a coming of age story of a young boy and an aging film projectionist in a small village in post-WWII Sicily. The village’s movie theater is the social hub for its residents. But before anyone can watch the movies, the local priest must preview the offering and have the projectionist physically cut all kissing segments or any scenes that imply a hint of sex. The film is funny and heartwarming with an ending that is … wow. Giuseppe Tornatore directed, with a brilliant score by Ennio Morricone (“The Good, the Bad & the Ugly”).

In my career, I was taught that in committing a crime a hundred things can go wrong. If you’re a genius you might identify 90 of those mistakes. That leaves 10 you didn’t think of. And are you a genius? If not, crime doesn’t pay. The proof is found in the French film noir “Elevator to the Gallows” (1958) from director Louis Malle. French acting legends, Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet are lovers planning the perfect murder of her inattentive husband. But there are a couple of small details that have been overlooked. The film includes an innovative soundtrack by lustrous American jazz artist Miles Davis.

Four desperate European men in a small South American country are hired to transport, by truck, cases of nitroglycerin on jungle and mountainous back roads to an oil rig fire. One bump or misstep may result in … This is the basis for director Henri-Georges Clouzet’s thrilling classic “The Wages of Fear” (1953) Winner of the Golden Bear (Berlin Film Festival), the Palme d’Or (Cannes Film Festival) and the BAFTA for Best Non-English Film (Note – the Academy Awards did not recognize Best Foreign Films till 1956). Remade as “Sorcerer” in 1977 by William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection).

(This column is written jointly by a baby boomer, Denny Parish, and a millennial, Carson Parish, who also happen to be father and son.)