I could recommend the Czech feature Alois Nebel (screening again at the Siskel Film Center’s European Union Film Festival tomorrow at 8 PM) for its distinctive animation, which recalls early rotoscoping experiments as well as Bob Sabiston’s more recent work on Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. But I most enjoyed the film for its primary setting, a small railway station somewhere in the woods of the Czech Republic. At turns peaceful and ominous, it seems a perfect fit for the title character, a train dispatcher frozen in time by his memories of World War II atrocities. In fact, I found the train station more interesting the character.
Writing about Neighboring Sounds last month, J.R. Jones praised the Brazilian drama for its “sure grasp of how people try to define—and are more often defined by—the spaces they inhabit.” That movie builds on a fully realized sense of place to say something universal, but what of those films that simply take you somewhere new without saying anything? More than any other medium, cinema excels at providing spectators with flashes of what it’s like to live in another place. With a few shots, any competent filmmaker can capture the tenor of a town’s working life, traffic, diners, or alleys—areas of life you don’t learn about from travel guides or international news.