I think I’ve been overusing the word ‘amazing,’ so I’m all out of descriptors for two of the foreign film screeners I’ve seen recently: Never Look Away, from Germany and Capernaum from Lebanon. Now, I have many more films to watch before I can be a fair voter, but I can tell you how much these films impressed me.

Never Look Away is so rich in its characters and its amazing plotting (I know, I said it again) that you CAN’T look away. It’s a masterwork written and directed by F. H. Von Donnersmark, who also wrote and directed one of my all time favorite films: The Lives of Others. (“All time favorites” takes on some extra weight when you realize that I’m 77 and have been watching movies since I was five when my mom would walk my brother and me to the neighborhood movie house on the south side of Chicago in the 1940s. We’d go there twice a week, whenever the movie changed. It was always during the day, and not just a way for her to have a break and get out of the apartment. It was her time to dream, and she loved the movies and where they took her.)

Never Look Away moves from Nazi Germany all the way up through the sixties, but you never lose the connection between past and present: a little girl who grows to a young woman, a little boy who grows up to meet this girl, each of these characters molded by events that have moved through their lives like magnets, pulling them closer and….

I wouldn’t dare spoil a moment of this with more description. It is so deep and so artfully done.

Capernaum is a film that moves off the screen and reaches out to hold you in its grip and never lets go, and it leaves you changed. It feels as if you’ve been transported to Lebanon, to the areas of poverty and chaos (Capernaum is Lebanese for ‘chaos’) and you’re there, watching as all unfolds in front of you, every moment feeling undeniably real. How did the director (and co-writer) Nadine Labaki, find these actors? The boy of twelve (twelve!) who has not one false second on the screen — he lets you discover the awful parenting and the street life that is damaging and darkening his existence, and he’s aware, aware of all it, smart and deep enough to understand what’s happening to him and still, amid his depression and sometimes wild anger, able to love.

Labaki has said that each of the actors were chosen because sometime in their life they had lived up close with these conditions and these people, the undocumented, always hiding from authorities, the parents whose children are looked on as ways to make money, the users, always ready with a lie, a trap.

The passage of this boy, Zain, is our focus, and his life. It is a map through a kind of hell that exits in many bombed and broken places, for too many people, and yet there is law within the chaos, and the boy decides he will use the law, he will sue his parents – for giving him life, sue them so they will stop having more children to throw away.

I can’t help it. This is an AMAZING film.

(While you’re here take a look at A Family of Writers and see what we’re up to. Thank you.)

Copyright Gerald DiPego 2015-2017