Two really good films that I enjoyed hugely the past week - I did not expect this but I am facing facts and I am now a Daniel Brühl fan. Rush (2013) dir. Ron Howard
Set during the 1976 Formula One season, the movie follows the rivalry between British driver James Hunt and Austrian Niki Lauda. As the season starts, the already existing rivalry is deepened as Lauda pulls ahead in the scores, and Hunt is disqualified for his car not meeting contest parameters. At the race at the German Grand Prix, which is raced despite the dangerous heavy rains, Lauda's car catches fire, and Lauda sustains third-degree burns and is rushed to the hospital. After six weeks, he returns to race in the Italian Grand Prix and comes fourth, while Hunt fails to finish. The championship comes down to the final race in Japan, where Hunt wins the championship over Lauda by a bare point.
Despite my complete disinterest in driving and racing, this was really engrossing. Hunt and Lauda are extremely different personalities - Hunt is brash, aggressive, and emotionally somewhat unstable, using his willingness to take deadly risks on the track to squeeze out victories; Lauda is technically focused and keeps a tight rein on his non-racing activities, and isn't as emotionally tied to the racing. But they're both two men who do, at the highest level, an extremely dangerous sport. At this point, out of the 25 drivers that enter the season, about two die every year.
They're both extremely good drivers and interestingly, their origin stories, defying their families, is very similar. The rivalry is really excellent, and really powers the film - they start off antagonistic and angry, well before they are Formula One, as the movie opens when they race in the lower divisions. I found Hemsworth to be OK - I've enjoyed him in other things like the MCU and the Men in Black reboot, even though that wasn't as well received - but he wasn't as compelling, maybe because in this film, Brühl's performance blew Hemsworth's out of the water. His character arc has so much good stuff in it, and Brühl plays it all so well. There's never any question of technical competence in driving for both of them, they're both exceptional drivers. Lauda defies his grandfather, who cuts him off after Lauda refuses to join the family business, and he buys his way onto a Formula One team. He immediately irritates some on the team by criticizing the car and proposing changes, which do in fact make the car a lot faster. Hunt tries to get at Lauda mentally, but Lauda doesn't care - he has pretty unshakable confidence in his skills as a driver and no amount of insults about his face is going to change that. Lauda has a very understated courtship and then marriage (in contrast to Hunt's very showy wedding, incidentally) and during his honeymoon, has a gorgeous vulnerable moment as he says to his new wife that happiness now gives him something to lose. Then the accident happens, and he's in so much pain with the burns, but he struggles and returns to the track pretty much as soon as he possibly could. The whole range was just so so well done, and I can't believe how much I cared! I could barely watch the hospital stuff, and the mix of determination, fear, etc as he returned to racing was hugely good and amazing to watch. I personally think there was a lot of meat to Hunt's story as well, and he's clearly meant to be top billing/the main - there is his hasty marriage to Miller, its subsequent ugly dissolution, the way Hunt is doing this insanely risky sport to prove a point and that he starts falling apart when he doesn't have a team to race with. Despite plenty of time and plenty of not-literal racy segments (we see his butt in the first 10 mins I think), it just can't hold a candle to Brühl. Just a phenomenal performance.
Specific scenes I loved:
*Lauda meeting Marlene (his wife). After being admittedly an asshole to a fellow driver, who had invited him to a party out of pity, the door is closed in his face and he asks Marlene, who is leaving, for a lift to the nearest train station. While she's driving them, he tells her all the ways her car needs fixing, she replies it's fine and just got a service, scene cuts to them standing on the roadway next to her broken-down car. They are picked up by a couple guys who recognize Lauda and are massively excited to have him drive their car. Marlene doesn't believe he's a F1 driver because he drives like an old man, but when she asks, he does indeed drive like a fiend. Oh, I'm explaining this badly. But here's a clip.
To say this scene hit my thing for competence + hidden competence is putting it extremely mildly. This is the good stuff. I loved it so much.
*After Lauda returns to racing after his accident, his burn scars/graft are very visible as they're all over his head. At the press conference, he deal with all the questions pretty directly (IRL Lauda was apparently famously very blunt), and one reporter decides to dig and asks him how Lauda's wife feels and if his marriage will survive. Lauda tells him off and ends the press conference; and Hunt, who was also at the table, later corners the reporter and punches him in the face a few times, and tells the reporter to ask his
wife if he likes his new appearance. That rivalry with the respect and a dash of protectiveness, that's also some damn good stuff. Then Hunt quietly closes the door on the reporter and doesn't mention it to anyone. It's definitely partly coming from the feelings of guilt - at the German Grand Prix, as they meet about whether or not to race in the dangerous conditions, Lauda tries to get the racers to call off the race - he's willing to risk death every race, but only to a certain degree, and this exceeds it massively. But Hunt opposes him, and sways the room by calling Lauda (and by extension anyone who agrees with him) a coward, not a good driver, etc. Good Bye, Lenin! (2003) dir. Wolfgang Becker
Alex Kerner, a young man living in East Germany, sees his mother have a heart attack and go into a coma just as the Berlin Wall begins to fall. She is in a coma for eight months, and sleeps through a huge chunk of the reunification. When she awakes, the doctor warns Alex that any shock might cause another heart attack, potentially fatal. His mother was a very active member and supporter of the DDR, and Alex resolves to bring his mother home from the hospital and make sure she doesn't learn of the last eight months' changes - to create a world from her bedroom of a still-standing East Germany.
It's definitely a drama with some poignant, cute, funny moments, and it's the characters that again really carry the movie. First - Alex, dear god, I'm not sure he could be cuter. He tries his utmost to take care of his mother, and make sure that she doesn't know about the collapse of the communist regime, even though East Berlin is rapidly changing in every way. Since his mother is bedridden, it's theoretically possible. He retrieves the old furniture to transform the bedroom back to the way it was, tries to find the old foods (now no longer stocked - he resorts to buying jars of pickles that are being imported and dumping them into jars with old labels, or pouring coffee grounds into old foil packets), and with his friend Denis, films news segments that explain the inevitable slips that his mother sees, like gigantic banners of Coca-Cola being hung outside her window. For her birthday, he rounds up his some of his mother's old colleagues, some of whom are pretty depressed, as well as some young kids to perform as "Pioneers". He tries really, really hard. It's both extremely sweet and also sad/absurd, and the tension between the two, and the risk of a relapse hanging over the whole film, really give the film a good weight.
There is a great deal going on around this main narrative, too. His sister Ariane is more willing to move on, and thinks that they should tell their mother, though Alex convinces her to go along with the charade; she gets a job at Burger King, starts dating the manager there, starts dressing in western fashions and adjusting to the new life. And to be fair, Alex does, too; Alex starts dating the nurse who was helping his mother in the hospital, crosses the border to see what it's like on the other side, gets a new job setting up satellite dishes which can receive in other broadcasts, especially for national soccer. His girlfriend Lara feels uneasy about the whole thing and thinks that he should tell his mother the truth too.
One thing that I especially enjoyed about the movie is that despite the voiceover, which I thought was employed to great effect, and the narration being solidly Alex's point of view, the camera certainly filmed a more omniscient point of view. There's a lot that's just quietly shown and not said. Alex is so determined to protect his mother and make sure she doesn't come to harm - the scenes with him and his mother are done so well, and you can see how much he cares about her. But with the camera's ability to show what's going on, I think there's also a fair amount of underlying guilt that's driving Alex. Despite his mother's support for the communist regime, Alex is taking part in one of the demonstrations on the fateful night, and it's the sight of her son amongst the protestors that causes her to collapse. Not only that, but Alex sees
her see him and then watches her crumple, and can't go and help her because he's being taken away forcibly by the police. Then the doctors tell him that CPR happened very late and that's why she's in a coma for so long and her prognosis is so bad. Alex never actually says anything about it, neither in the dialogue nor the narration, but the implication is pretty clear.
Then there is the plot about his father. The movie opens as Alex and Ariane are young kids. Their dad leaves, and both of them believe that he's left them for his West German girlfriend, and they never hear from him again; agents come to question his mother about his sympathies, connections, etc, and she explodes at them and then is taken ill for awhile. Much later in the movie she tells her children that it was a lie and that they originally planned in haste to leave, him first, she to follow, when a sudden opportunity came up, but that while he left, she was afraid that they would take both of her children away, and couldn't do it - and that she regrets the decision the most. She hid the letters that their father sent. Again there's the implication that her strong support for the regime was to counter the suspicion thrown on them by her husband leaving for West Germany, and to make sure that Alex and Ariane wouldn't be taken away from her, but it's never stated outright.
There are just so many good scenes. Personally, I actually cried a little at the scene when Alex, knowing his mother is dying, goes to find his father. He arrives at his father's house while a party is going on in the back. His father doesn't recognize him at first, sitting on the couch with his little step-siblings. The moment when Alex sees his father, a decade on, when his father realizes, there's very limited dialogue but the impact was so good and so painful. But truly, the whole film was so good, it's so hard to write this review because I just kind of want to go over the entire movie scene by scene and talk about what I liked about everything. I also really enjoyed the cinematography - some judicious sped up parts, many of the lovely shots like the one where Alex and Lara (his girlfriend) climb up the broken-up apartment building and sit with their legs hanging off the edge of the wall-less floor and look out over the city, the way the passage of time is depicted wordlessly sometimes (especially in the hospital at the end).
The movie closes with Alex reflecting that he doesn't regret doing it, that he is glad his mother never found out and was able to pass away without knowing the real way that the DDR fell (though he doesn't know about Lara trying to explain). During the last days of her illness, he concocts a story about how the wall falls, except in a way he calls a proper send off, instead of the ragged way it happened in real life; he realizes that his memories of the old regime are tinted with nostalgia and that they will forever be associated with his mother. It was a really poignant moment in a film full of really good emotional beats.
On a last note, this was also released in 2003, and I can't deal with how young Brühl looks. Genuinely occasionally so adorable I had to pause here and there to recover. I went trawling for some images/gifsets and sadly, because it came out a good decade before tumblr was a thing, there isn't a huge backlog of gifsets (wahh). However, I submit some photos for your consideration:
A gifset, for as long as it might last, since tumblr's links break so fast: https://fuckyeahbruhl-blog.tumblr.com/post/75479240528