Lights! Camera! Euro-Action!

Film

Because of my connections to various organisations I’ve always been able to see a lot of the world cinema that doesn’t open in local overseas arthouses. These are the bread-and-butter indigenous movies that fill Saturday night screens and are likely to be regional, certainly not intended for international exhibition.

A few years back, ‘Welcome To The Sticks’, a comedy about two opposing French regions, became such a massive hit that it spawned versions in other countries. Likewise the Italian comedy ‘Perfect Strangers’ was remade in Spain and France.

Thanks to the global film shutdown, Netflix has been showing crime and fantasy films that don’t usually get overseas showings. To see how different these are from Hollywood B-movies like ‘Fast & Furious’ or ‘Angels & Demons’ (despite their expanded budgets and big stars, the films of Mr Dan Brown will only ever be B-movies), try ‘Earth and Blood’, in which a dying sawmill owner and his deaf daughter discover a car filled with drugs hidden on their property on the eve of its sale. Or ‘Eye for an Eye’, with the formidably-eyebrowed Luis Tosar, in which a kindly care home nurse finds himself in charge of an elderly crime lord faking bad health to stay out of jail.

In neither of these can you tell if there’ll be the remote likelihood of a happy ending because they have a relatable reality to them. When Tosar starts to take revenge on his patient, armed with a formidable array of medical equipment, we fear the worst but are still wrong-footed. And in one of these the ending is so unbelievably bleak that no Hollywood executive would ever have read to the bottom of the page, let alone filmed it.

The Baztan Trilogy by Dolores Redondo (best author name ever) may have been a bestselling series of crime novels in 35 countries but it still makes a cheesy set of films. Located in Basque territory (where it never, ever stops raining), ‘The Invisible Guardian’ and ‘The Legacy of the Bones feature a heavily pregnant cop solving serial killings with bizarre, vaguely supernatural trappings (genuine local Basque legends, severed infants’ arms, cults, hidden shrines). The third film’s arrival has been delayed by the pandemic. Naturally, these killings (an awful lot in a depopulated region) are related to our heroine’s own lurid personal history, yet she’s not taken off the case for a conflict of interest even though her own mother is involved.

The scriptwriters don’t so much present events before you as machine-gun them onto the screen, hurtling from autopsy to crime scene to confrontation-in-an-abandoned-hospital within seconds.

Many of these stories feel like domestic nightmares. In ‘The Occupant’, a hard-pressed businessman is forced to downsize, losing his family’s glamorous apartment to an up-and-coming couple, younger, sexier and wealthier – as he had once been. When he manipulates the new owner, capsizing his career in order to get back his old home, the wheels quickly come off his plan…

The French made a similar film in which an apartment which owes its value to a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower loses its main asset when a building across the street is erected. French, German and Spanish filmmakers recognise that from these seeds of domestic strife are thrillers born, because we all extrapolate worst-case scenarios from minor upsets. Even SF, horror and time travel movies like ‘The Mirage’, ‘[Rec]’ and ‘The Bar’ (above) base their premises on everyday occurrences. 

There’s a lesson to take away from this. Crime fiction needs to establish a credible scenario before leaping into the unknown. All of the above films can be found streaming at the moment.

4 comments on “Lights! Camera! Euro-Action!”

  1. Derek J. Lewis says:

    Since watching costa gavras ‘compartiment tueurs’ on BBC2 over 40 years ago i’ve been a fan of the French ‘flic’. One of my favourites of the last 20 years is Canet’s version of Harlan Coben’s ‘Tell no one’ from 2006. An ordinary US suburban thriller given real flair. Worth a go

  2. SteveB says:

    This Basque thing sounds a bit like Crimson Rivers
    I think I‘ll give it a try
    I like films where it rains a lot

  3. snowy says:

    The key problem with Euro-films is knowing that they exist, without people to lead the way.

    One trick is to keep an eye on the various festivals, where one can find the more interesting pieces. Eg. from the OffScreen list:

    “ABOUT ENDLESSNESS

    Acclaimed Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson (“A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence”) presents us with a series of deadpan and sometimes absurd vignettes that convey both the tragicomedy of the human condition and the visual poetry of everyday existence. From a girl clasping the hand of her lover for the first time, to a father holding the body of his dead son in his arms, it’s a visionary experience that will touch the emotions as well as the intellect.

    SAMURAI MARATHON

    In 1853, with a US fleet anchored off the coast of Japan, a local warlord responds to the threat of attack by ordering his men to get fit by running a marathon. The UK-born director of “Candyman” turns out a madly entertaining jidaigeki incorporating spies, swordplay and, less traditionally, music by Philip Glass.

    EVER AFTER

    Each time you think zombies are all played out, along comes another film to show there’s life in the undead yet. In this German graphic novel adaptation, a mostly female cast and crew stirs fairytale imagery, ecological motifs and folk-horror elements into a fresh spin on the obligatory flesh-ripping carnage.

    SWALLOW

    Get your gag reflex ready as a young wife (Haley Bennett) rebels against her controlling husband and his rich family by swallowing a variety of small household items. The struggle against psychological abuse and suffocatingly tasteful décor makes for disturbing and audacious body horror with a feminist slant.

    KOKO-DI KOKO-DA

    A bereaved couple tries to patch up their ailing relationship by going on a camping trip into the forest, only to fall victim to a trio of nightmarish carnival characters in this Swedish folk-horror fantasy. Sinister nursery rhymes, shadow puppets and children’s toys add up to the grimmest of fairytales.

    JESUS SHOWS YOU THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY

    Two CIA agents get more than they bargain for when they plug their brains into social media to combat a Russian computer virus called “Stalin”. Miguel Llansó’s lo-tech retro-SF action-comedy is a glorious multi-level mindfuck of Philip K. Dick, Afrofuturism and giant houseflies; filmed in Ethiopia, Estonia, and Spain.

    MOPE

    Two losers calling themselves “The Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker of Porn” try to make it in Hollywood’s adult entertainment industry. This controversial dramatisation of real-life events starts out as a laugh-out-loud guide to the porn business, but the second half turns tragic.

    BLIND SPOT

    Jean-Christophe Folly gives a fearless (and often fearlessly naked) performance as a troubled Parisian in a dead-end job who can become invisible, but keeps his ability a secret – until, one day, he finds he can no longer control it. This affecting social realist fable explores the downside of having a superpower.

    JALLIKATTU

    An escaped buffalo wreaks havoc in an Indian village, stirring up primal instincts in the menfolk as they compete to catch the beast. This study of toxic testosterone at its most unhinged pelts you with astonishing music and imagery on its way towards an unforgettably hellish climax.

    LES PARTICULES

    The Large Hadron Collider wields eerie influence over Pierre-André and his classmates in a small town on the Franco-Swiss border. And then one of them vanishes… In Blaise Harrison’s feature debut, credibly aimless teenagers wrestle with the mysteries of science, ominous landscape and a sense of foreboding.

    DOGS DON’T WEAR PANTS

    A cardiologist, emotionally paralysed since the tragic death of his wife, strays into the orbit of a dominatrix, whose extreme BDSM skills help him come to terms with his bereavement. Deadpan Finnish humour and genuine emotions help make the sometimes wince-making consensual torture go down a treat.”

    The only problem then is to find them on any platform.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    There are a few in there I would actually like to see. And yes, I doubt I would be able to find them. There are so many interesting things galloping in front of my mind that I have to restrict myself to occasionally reaching out to grab and live with what I catch.

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