Gate to Heaven
is a German comedy dealing with a serious subject: the hardships immigrants to Germany, legal and illegal alike, must endure before they're even allowed to leave the airport, if they don't get deported first.
Alexej (Valeri Nikolayev, credited as Valera Nikolaev), an illegal refugee from Russia who would like to one day be a pilot, escapes from the immigrant detention facility, for all intents and purposes a prison, at Frankfurt International Airport
(EDDF) with the aid of a map provided by Dak (Miki Manojlovic), a corrupt airport employee who uses illegal immigrants as baggage handlers, and other menial jobs, for a year before providing them with forged papers for a new life in Germany, and houses them underground, in a cramped recess between several pipes that isn't too comfortable but gives the immigrants a lot of places to hide.
Nisha (Masumi Makhija) is a legal immigrant from India working in the airport on the cleaning staff. She dreams of being a stewardess, and sneaks aboard empty airliners at night to dress up and roleplay, attending to imaginary passengers' every need. Fortunately for Nisha, she has a high-level airline employee, Joachim Nowak (Udo Kier), interested in doing everything he can do to accomplish her dream... but is his interest in her purely platonic.
One night, Alexej sneaks aboard an empty, or so he thinks, South African Airways 747-400 in order to pretend to be a pilot, not being aware that he's not the only one on board playing make-believe and he becomes enamored by the brief glimpse he gets of Nisha and seeks her out, mistakenly believing her to be one of the SAA crew and not just a simple maintenance lady, though he catches up with her soon enough and the two of them have a series of pleasant but all too brief interludes, indulging in their shared penchant for airline-related "cosplay". The two of them grow closer, however we find out that Nisha is in Germany to escape her abusive husband and he's about to regain custody of their son, so her top priority is to earn enough money so that the bribe-loving Dak and his associate in India can grease enough palms on flight crews and in immigration for Asis. But, when the situation becomes more complicated, can Alexej save the day or will Nisha be forced to submit to Nowak in exchange for his assistance?
This is a very odd little film. It's mostly grounded in reality; while Viktor, the Tom Hanks character, was stuck in the bright-and-shiny and fast food concession and duty-free shopping filled world of The Terminal
(which was also a very good movie; I'm not knocking it), Gate to Heaven
mainly shows the seedier, stark, utilitarian underbelly of the airport not meant for the eyes of tourists where the absolute bottom rung of the airport employee food chain toil, unappreciated by the passengers literally above their heads. The Frankfurt Airport detention centre
is portrayed as being a very dreary place; in retrospect, I'm surprised that Frankfurt Airport cooperated with the filmmakers to the extent that they did, since it portrays their treatment of refugee seekers in a less-than-flattering light.
However, there are a few fantasy sequences very much rooted in Bollywood musicals, and, to make this version of Frankfurt airport extra surreal, the entire movie was shot in English, which was probably the only practical way to shoot a movie with an international cast such as this for whom English is likely a common second language, and also is advantageous to sell it on the International market. However, it is odd to hear Germans speaking English to one another in a German film, and one of my weird little pet peeves having to do with continental European movies shot in English is evident in this film: foreign newscasters in countries outside of the Anglosphere delivering the national news in English. I had the same problem with Louis Leterrier and Corey Yuen's The Transporter
; I can suspend my disbelief and pretend that a Russian submarine crew is speaking to each other in Russian even if I'm hearing English, but foreign newscasts delivered by a famous newscaster, in this case, Dagmar Berghoff
, in accented English just takes me out of the film entirely for a minute or two. Even if the Star Trek
universal translator rule, "Don't ask why they're speaking English", applies everywhere else in a film, I think newscasts should be in the local language with subtitles.
Since director Veit Helmer (Tuvalu
) shot this at an actual airport and not a huge soundstage like Steven Spielberg did with the aforementioned The Terminal
, he was able to do a lot with a relatively small budget. None of the locations in this film really looks or feels like a set, which is a definite plus for me; one of my few problems with the reimagined Dawn of the Dead
from earlier this year is that the way the stores were arranged didn't seem quite realistic, since the interiors were a lavish set, while, in the original Dawn of the Dead
, George Romero didn't have any money for sets so he just shot at the real-life Monroeville Mall near Pittsburgh. The airport here, like the mall in the 1978 Dawn of the Dead
, feels real because it is real. Udo Kier informed us during the question-and-answer session following the presentation of this film that, due to the threat of terrorism, some FBI field agents in Germany had to screen the entire cast to clear them to shoot behind security lines at Frankfurt International, though security screenings are standard for anyone who works beyond the metal detectors at any major airport around the world.
While the general premise of this film might sound like another culture clash comedy like Bend It Like Beckham
, the characters in this film are all separated from their cultures and families and they are forced to form bonds with people from other continents by focusing on what they have in common with each other.
My only real problem with with this film was a very deus ex machina
ending with several very convenient coincidences, but the film, while dealing with weighty subject matter, rarely takes itself all that serious save for a couple of tragicomic scenes, so it's not too inappropriate.
All in all, Gate to Heaven
is a sweet, breezy, fun little film that puts a human face the often unhappy situation of refugees to Germany while refraining from getting overly political and heavy-handed. Hopefully, this film will soon get a distributor for North America and get a successful limited run like Run, Lola, Run
(Interview from 2003 with director Veit Helmer, which includes a good glimpse at one of the musical sequences.
N.B. I'll add the non-movie part of the report tomorrow.
HERE'S AN INTERESTING, OBSCURE, PIECE OF ANIME HISTORY.
Yesterday, Mayukh, some teenaged guy somewhere whose hobby seems to bothering me on AIM asking me if know about every obscure anime or manga ever produced (just kidding; I enjoy looking up stuff for him)
asked me about something called Daicon
from GAINAX, the studio responsible for Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water
, Neon Genesis Evangelion
, and FLCL
, among other things, and he gave me this link to Anime New Network's Encyclopedia's entry on Daicon
I told him I hadn't heard of it and I was wondering if it was a new GAINAX production, so I did a Google search for "Daicon" and found this French site, which has both Daicon shorts in fairly high-quality Real Video format
(high quality by Real video standards, at least). It turned out that these aren't anything "new" from GAINAX. Quite the contrary; they're the first things GAINAX ever did together, back when they weren't a professional studio but just anime fans, and they were done for the Japan National Sci-Fi Convention, which, when it's held in Osaka, is called "Daicon". They're the opening animations for the 20th and 22nd such events, held in 1981 and 1983, and they led to GAINAX becoming a proper studio and doing the film Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise
(which I didn't care much for, but that's neither here nor there).
The first one seemed a bit familiar, with a girl running with a cup of water to feed her radish ("daikon" is also Japanese for "radish"
) and fighting a bunch of Zaku and other Gundam
-type mechs. It seemed like something I had seen before, but there was something missing. The second one had the missing bit: the now grown-up girl, in a Playboy bunny-type outfit, fighting Darth Vader with Stormtroopers watching in the background and she flies like Silver Surfer on her magic sword while dozens of other anime and American sci-fi characters appear in cameos over the course of four minutes and twenty-three seconds, all set to the strains of Electric Light Orchestra
. Sylvio showed that clip a couple of times during breaks at the old Fanimation-Animania/Animate/Animé Central club over at Université de Montréal.
As much as it's from GAINAX
, and probably a direct precursor to their Otaku no Video
(which I've never gotten around to seeing), if you take the two shorts together, it reminds me very much of the classic anime comedy film, Project A-Ko
(which both clips predate), with a young-but-powerful girl fighting a bunch of mechas in the first half, and one of those maniacally-paced "everything but the kitchen sink" sequences with a rapidly changing perspective that you find a lot in 1980s anime comedy feature films, like the aerial sequence in Project A-Ko
when she's hopscotching across the missiles, or the scene at the beginning of Urusei Yatsura: Only You
, when Mendou's entire military-like security forces scramble to deliver that one letter to him. They just don't have sequences like that in anime anymore, it seems. They have a dynamic perspective in those sort of sequences, but the animation itself is less fluid than the "camera" wants to be, making the transition between "shots" very jumpy, but, somehow, that made it cheesy-yet-exciting. Anime films today have much smoother animation for dynamic camera shots, which are often largely computer-animated, so the anarchic "jumpiness" that gave those sorts of sequences a lot of their appeal just isn't there anymore, which I think is a shame.
Here's the official GAINAX Daicon page
, which they only have in Japanese, and you can download an MPEG version of the second one from this sub-page
(EDIT: It's just the parts of the clip that don't violate anyone else's copyrights, so no Darth Vader, no Alien, and no ELO music).
EDIT: Somehow I neglected to mention that they're directed by Hideaki Anno. And the lead character designer is Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, but they don't look much at all like his later designs in Nadia
and Neon Genesis Evangelion
WHY I DON'T ENABLE THE "COMMENTS" FUNCTION...
Besides the fact that, if anyone has anything important they want to tell me about one of my posts, they can take two seconds to type one of the three e-mail addresses I give at the side into their e-mail or webmail applications.
From Bloggers Suffer Burnout by Daniel Terdiman, Wired
"In the days following the U.S. invasion of Iraq last year, a new blog called Whiskey Bar quickly became a popular online destination for opponents of the war. The site's author, who ran the site as a virtual bar with himself as the bartender, encouraged visitors to share their views on the topic at hand.
Over the last six months or so, however, a surge in traffic has transformed Whiskey Bar into something more like a jam-packed nightclub than the cozy neighborhood watering hole the site's owner, known as Billmon, had originally envisioned. His postings often generated hundreds of comments, each of which he moderated.
But running the website soon became a dominant activity in his day, and on June 28, Billmon announced: "Last call." Whiskey Bar would no longer accept comments.
"You've only got so many hours in the day, and like most bloggers, I've got a full-time day job, and something had to give," Billmon said. "In the end, monitoring comments on my blog was becoming a progressively larger part of my blogging time, and I just got to the point where I wasn't able to keep up with it."
Still, cutting readers out of the conversation was a disappointing solution for Billmon, a former journalist who relished the kind of feedback newspaper reporters rarely get.
"When I started out, I really wanted (Whiskey Bar) to be very interactive," Billmon said. "That's one of the most exciting things about blogging, that ability to have dialogue with your readers.""
Not that I agree with the guy's politics, and had never heard of his blog prior to this article, but his example does make a valid point... opening yourself up to comments can be too much work, if you care at all about moderating. I suppose this blog doesn't get the amount of traffic where moderation of comments would be that much of a chore, but, still, I'm lazy and that's more work than I care to do.
And interactivity is overrated; I put up this blog so that the "world" can know what I think, and, to be blunt, I'm not all that concerned with what other people think about what I think and I'm not that much of a debater, so, if anyone doesn't like what I say and feels that strongly, they can write an e-mail, like I said before, or they can denounce me in their own blog (free publicity for me, heh heh).
As for getting burned out in general, I was for much of last spring and summer, maily for personal reasons too complicated and private to get into, and, also, because I think, prior to the burnout, that I was trying too hard to make this another "warblog" when I rarely had anything particularly original to add, not that my support for American intervention in the Middle East has diminished any nor do I think the war in Iraq was a mistake, just that I don't feel like writing about it much anymore if I can't say something new. As for politics in general, the past couple of weeks I have been feeling melancholy about the election results, both in this riding and nationally, and also it's summer and there's a lot going on here in Montreal that isn't politcial and all th big summer movies and my attention span for anything political this time of year is extremely short.
In other news, we may be moving to Ottawa soon, since it will be easier for my parents and I to find jobs there. I'll miss Montreal a lot, and also Pincourt, even if it isn't the most exciting bedroom community in the world, but we need some new source of income urgently and our French just isn't up to snuff and, since three of the four Brandon children (meaning everyone except myself) are living independently of our parents, we can sell this house and move somewhere half the size without too much pain. Hopefully, I will finally have my driver's license and I'll make monthly trips to Montreal to get French manga from Renaud-Bray
, though I'm aware that they do have a reasonable selection at the Ottawa Chapters near the Rideau Centre. And the nice thing you can say about Ottawa is "At least it's not Toronto". Nothing's written in stone yet, though.