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Comparing Common Denominators
by Marinell Haegelin

If not the plot, what could an animation, documentary, and feature film have in common?

Exceptionally creative storyline interpretations and compelling executions.

Sébastien Laudenbach directs his adaptation of DAS MÄDCHEN OHNE HÄNDE, an unfamiliar Brothers Grimm tale. THE GIRL WITHOUT HANDS (La Jeune Fille Sans Mains) is exquisitely illustrated using fresh, atypical stylistic techniques, discerning, minimalist instrumental music, and extensive sound design. A poor miller makes a pact with the devil without checking the details. Unbeknownst, their innocent daughter—personifying goodness—was in the apple tree at the time. Shiny gold flows into their lives erasing hardships; they delay the fiend for three years. Still, payment’s due. And, the devil wears many guises. Confronting the miller after felling the tree, a final deal’s struck. “My loss, and my path.”

The girl walks away into a new life meeting the goddess of water, her prince and happiness, war, revenge and accusations, kindness, the river and reunion coming full circle. Easily a pro-feminist film, the girl’s incorruptible in-/outwardly morality ripens, conquering evil. In his first feature, illustrator and award winning shorts director Laudenbach’s poetic harmony imbues the animation’s handcrafted layers. The expressive, original color-washes suggestive lines and exciting, invigorating brushwork are mysterious, inspirational. Potent, pure color is reminiscent of Matisse, the aesthetic drawings of Japanese art. Combined with 2D computerization it delivers a visual treat for discerning animation buffs.

Writer-director Ralf Pleger’s documentary stylistically matches the flamboyance of its protagonist. Narcissa Florence Foster, born to wealth in Pennsylvania, by age seven loved performing publicly. Lacking ability as a violinist, she’s forbidden practicing at home. As retribution for her father’s controlling stinginess, the young socialite elopes in 1855, leaving Dr. Jenkins a year later; around 1900 she heads to New York City. Laced with reenactments beginning with a 1944 interview on the eve of her Carnegie Hall debut, American opera singer Joyce diDonato giftedly plays Florence in DIE FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS STORY (The Florence Foster Jenkins Story).

Supporting/mood-setting archival footage, an historian, musicologist, architect, archivist, acquaintances, her accompanist Cosmé McMoon’s 1954 radio interview—“ instead of laughing, (audiences) burst in to salvos of clapping, etcetera, so (they) could laugh” and Bayfield’s second wife convey, “It’s a damn good story.” In 1909, Florence meets 16-years younger St. Clair Bayfield, a British actor. Their sadomasochist relationship cum common-law marriage lasts until her 1944 death. A handsome escort, he lends respectability to her career, which she earnestly pursues after her father’s death that year, i.e. trust beneficiary. Joining numerous N.Y. social clubs is an avenue to presenting, and starring in lavish tableaux vivants in eye-catching costume popular with N.Y. moneyed. Private vocal recitals follow in 1912—she’s oblivious to her pitch—singing “respectable” soprano opera. Next: Carnegie Hall. Pleger and editor Frank Tschöke have assembled a hybrid-documentary, i.e., a very clever, creative, and sophisticated mixes of style applications complete with complementary camerawork, and set designs. Achieving a distinct place in opera, the film is a brilliant counterpart to Florence, “a genius in her own time.”

Discovering one’s true potential solving problems in tight, potentially explosive situations is the upshot of this animated journey. Writers-directors Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth’s outstanding narrative, KING OF THE BELGIANS, is an imaginative exemplum. The Fates, tempted, intervene: erupting political conflict in Belgian coincides with a solar storm and Icelandic volcanic activity. King Nicolas (Peter van den Begin), interrupting a state visit in Istanbul, desperately wants to return and save his country. Turkey’s air travel and communications are paralyzed; stranded, His Majesty works on a speech. Meanwhile, the wily Brit videographer documenting the trip hatches an escape plan. He offers folk singers a music video as a bribe; king and entourage—in Balkan Siren drag—board the bus. Welcome to the real world.

Their cross-countries return trip includes: Driving escapades and border antics, impersonations, unanticipated old friends, skinny-dipping and truthfulness accompanied by matching, lively music – Bolero, Ode to Spring, etcetera. Everybody shirks encumbrances traveling incommunicado; Nicolas discovers, “I feel alive.” By the time the outside world catches up to them transformations are comprehensive, creating a sagacious sovereign. This agile cross-genre incorporates outstanding acting, and production values, while balancing laugh-out-loud scenes with clever dramatic satire.

Celebrate filmmakers who seek innovative and creative avenues to tell good stories that inspire, promote stimulating discussion, and entertain.