January 2020, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour – Make Them Laugh

THE DEVIL’S BROTHER/FRA DIAVOLO, 1933

“Make them laugh!” – The Lumière brothers seemingly already made this appeal their own: the first laugh in film history can be seen in the short sketch L’arroseur arrosé from 1895. Now, 125 years later, cinema has diversified and amplified, declined and manipulated, laughter, run through all its possible categories and pushed it in infinite different directions. We no longer just laugh at comedies – pars pro toto, one can mention here the classical "comic relief", when tension, fear or grief, all these emotions, reach a highpoint and suddenly dissolve in a moment of laughter. Apart from films by and starring great comics, the program also turns its attention to the apparent (no less amusing) byways of film history and all the many variations of the laugh, whether it stems from liberation or unease, bursts out from the throat or ends up sticking there, or comes across as uncontrollable or cryptic.

RADIO NO JIKAN (Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald, Koki Mitani, Japan 1997, 1. & 5.1.) Shortly before the live radio play “The Women of Fate” is about to be broadcast, the voice actress playing the leading role demands that her character’s name be changed to Mary Jane. Panic ensues, for the foreign name turns the story entirely on its head. Surprising turns of events that take place while the program is on air subsequently transform the melodrama about a dissolving marriage into a wild action story. RADIO NO JIKAN is a hilarious comedy in which the vanities of the actors of a harmless radio play morph into a hysterical series of Japanese-American entanglements.

TSISPERI MTEBI ANU DAUJEREBELI AMBAVI (Blue Mountains aka An Unbelievable Story, Eldar Shengelaya, USSR/Georgia 1983, 2. & 13.1.) At a dilapidated publishing house in Tbilisi, the editors are too busy playing chess or weaving a web of intrigues to read manuscripts. This is the socialist idyll a young employee encounters when he turns up with his manuscript. Eventually, a committee meets to discuss it but it turns out no-one has read it. Each person just agrees with the previous speaker - advice has to be sought. This satire about the bureaucracy, philistinism, laziness and inefficiency of socialism becomes increasingly repetitive and ritualistic, culminating as an absurd and surreal parable.

RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea 2015, 3. & 19.1.) A man and a woman meet. Their relationship seems promising at first, but then there seem to be more and more misunderstandings and false notes. A second attempt - Hong Sang-soo stops his film halfway and starts again - is more successful, resulting in a very different kind of communication thanks to small adjustments and variations. The film dissects human shortcomings, grotesque misjudgments and disastrous conversations with comic ease.

LA VIE DE BOHÈME (Aki Kaurismäki, F/G/Finland 1992, 4. & 9.1.) Life as an artist for the three protagonists is not the most pleasurable of experiences: The writer Marcel can neither pay his rent, nor can he find a publisher, Albanian painter Rodolfo loses first his wallet and then his visa, and while Irish composer Schaunard does at least have a roof over his head, his only possession is an out-of-tune piano. This melancholy setting can only be met with friendship, love and numerous small diversions that happily quote film history, which function as islands of laconicism, humor, and laughter within the melodrama, both for the characters of the film and the viewers.

MAN ON THE MOON (Miloš Forman,USA/GB/G/J 1999, 7. & 14.1.) The US comedian Andy Kaufman polarized audiences in the 1970s. They were both enthralled and perturbed by his songs and parodies because it was difficult to tell the difference between what was serious or not. A show in which he wrestled women made him the “man they love to hate” and spelled the end of his career. He died of cancer at the age of 35, with some believing that had staged his own death as a hoax. “There is no better way of paying tribute to the legacy of Andy Kaufman, who is (was) widely forgotten, than to confront people with this film, just as people were confronted with the Man on the Moon himself when he was alive. To accomplish this, an exceptionally gifted performer was needed for a difficult role and there is no doubt that Forman found one in Jim Carrey.” (Andreas Ungerböck)

PREBROYAVANE NA DIVITE ZAYTSI (The Hare Census, Eduard Zahariev, Bulgaria 1973, 8.1.) Wonderfully subversive, bitingly sarcastic, banned for a period in Bulgaria before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and a cult film since the 1990s: A representative of the municipal authority has set his sights on the wild hares that live in and around the Bulgarian hamlet of Yugla. As part of cataloguing the “national wealth”, they are also supposed to counted, or that’s what the orders from above say at least and they’re supposed to be carried out immediately. Even as everyday life in the village falls apart, all the men are ordered to go into the surrounding cabbage fields with nets. The grotesque pointlessness of self-perpetuating socialist bureaucracy ends with an open-air banquet, heavy liquor and one single answer to all the insanity: any amount of laughter both on and off screen.

WORST CASE SCENARIO (Franz Müller, G 2014, 15. & 17.1.) An introspective work about the cinema and one of the funniest German films of recent years: The director’s worse-case scenario comes true when he is shooting a comedy during Euro 2012 in Poland. First, he falls out with his producer who retracts the agreed funding, then the costume designer whom he split up with six weeks ago turns out to be pregnant, the first actors leave and the Polish amateur actors don’t speak German. “This is a meta summer comedy that is as light as a feather, a largely improvised film about improvisation, carried off by a wonderful cast, where professionals such as Samuel Dinzi and Eva Löbau who have worked with Till Schweiger and Tarantino, play side by side with amateur actors.” (Lukas Foerster)

SAFETY LAST! (Fred Newmeyer, Sam Taylor, USA 1923, 18.1., on piano: Eunice Martins) Harold Lloyd’s most famous comedy: Full of ambition, the country boy Harold moves to the big city. He’s hoping for professional success so that he can marry his girlfriend as soon as possible. When she announces her visit, he devises a spectacular advertising stunt, which means that he will have to climb a skyscraper, which he ends up doing in a scene full of slapstick that is both hilarious and breathtaking.

LES AVENTURES DE RABBI JACOB (The Mad Adventures Of Rabbi Jacob, Gérard Oury, F/I 1973, 21. & 24.1.) The power-hungry businessman Victor Pivert (Louis de Funès) is a racist and xenophobic bigot. He fires his Jewish driver Salomon after he refuses to work because Shabbat has begun. He ends up having to drive to his daughter’s wedding himself and at the same time he gets caught up in a political intrigue, which ends up with him dressing up as a rabbi to escape both the police and a group of Arab secret service men. This was the fourth and last film that Gérard Oury and Louis de Funès made together and also the pinnacle of their cooperation: It is a fast-paced comedy of mistaken identities, full of slapstick, with a seemingly endless arsenal of gags and a lead actor who is fantastic as he races crazily through the film.

THE PRODUCERS (Mel Brooks, USA 1968, 22. & 25.1.) Max Bialystock is an unsuccessful Broadway producer, but thanks to the shy and nervous accountant Leo Blum he stumbles on what he thinks is a foolproof money-making scheme: With the help of a few good-natured investors - all older women who believe Bialystock is in love with them - they will make more money from a flop than a hit. When their musical - “Springtime for Hitler” – turns out to be a surprise success, they face new problems. A garish and larger than life satire where everything and everyone can be laughed about.

THE DEVIL’S BROTHER/FRA DIAVOLO (Hal Roach, Charles Rogers, USA 1933, 16. & 30.1.) In 19th century Italy, the two vagabonds Stanlio and Ollio are robbed by highwaymen. After a few failed attempts to rob people themselves, they encounter the notorious outlaw Fra Diavolo, who deigns to engage them. In Stan Laurel’s opinion, this version of the eponymous opera was the best feature-length film that he and Oliver Hardy ever made. It features his legendary finger wiggle, the Kneesy, Earsy, Nosey routine and the film’s showpiece, an orgy of laughter in a wine cellar. No film offers better proof that laughter is infectious.

Monkey Business (Howard Hawks, USA 1952, 28. & 31.1.) Professor Barnaby Fulton (Cary Grant) is trying to develop an elixir of youth. He is so involved in his work that he barely pays attention to his surroundings. When one of his test chimps escapes from its cage, it mixes the chemicals in a random way and dumps them in the water supply. The concoction is far more effective than anything the professor, a hitherto sober scientist, has made so far and it transforms his life and that of his  wife (Ginger Rogers) and secretary (Marilyn Monroe). In one of his funniest films, Howard Hawks combined elements of the screwball comedy with infantile humor and criticism of the cult of youth and rejuvenating cures, resulting in a turbulent and unhinged farce.

DIE BERGKATZE (The Wild Cat, Ernst Lubitsch, G 1921, 29.1., on piano: Eunice Martins) The lieutenant and seducer Alexis is burgled by a spirited robber’s daughter Rischka (Pola Negri) in the snowy mountains. Humiliated, he and his soldiers decide to fight but soon he and Rischka have fallen in love. An irreverent satire about militarism and slavish obedience full of visual wit and originality. (hjf/mg)

arsenal cinema: Federico & Marcello – The films of Federico Fellini starring Marcello Mastroianni

07:30 pm Cinema 1


La dolce vita

La dolce vita Federico Fellini I/F 1960
With Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimée, Anita Ekberg,
Yvonne Furneaux, Alain Cuny, Nico, Lex Barker, Laura Betti
35 mm OV/EnS 174 min

arsenal cinema: Magical History Tour – Make Them Laugh

08:00 pm Cinema 2


Monkey Business

Monkey Business Howard Hawks USA 1952
With Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Charles Coburn, Marilyn Monroe
35 mm OV 97 min