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December Movies At Saigon’s Alternative Film Venues

The Christmas holidays are fast approaching but our alternative film venues have more in store for you than just Christmassy-flicks. Philosophy in cinema, the first Saudi Arabian film in history and a journey through the lives of musicians and bands highlight this month’s programme.

8th December @ (documentary) 6pm & (film) 8 pm - The Cube

Amadeus (USA 1984) + From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China (USA 1981)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart sits among the world’s masters of music. This is no news now nor it was in the 80s when Czech-born, American-naturalised director Milos Forman asked playwright Peter Shaffer to adapt his stage play into a feature film. In fact, this multi-award winning biopic (including eight Oscars) is not merely an account of the Austrian composer’s life and musical achievements. Forman has a knack for bringing to the big screen stories of controversial figures who rise against the establishment and of rebellious characters fighting against narrow-mindedness and bigotry (The People vs. Larry Flynt and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). Forman’s Amadeus is as much an homage to the complexity of the man behind some of the greatest pieces of classical music in human history, as well as an investigation into the dynamics between unconventional creativity (Mozart) and the egotism of the power elite (the Imperial Viennese court).

Winner for Best Documentary at the Oscars in 1981, From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China follows acclaimed Russian violinist and composer Isaac Stern during a tour in China in 1979. Stern was one the first foreigners officially invited to enter the country and to collaborate with the China Central Symphony Society and its musicians. Among other things, the documentary shows the impact that the Cultural Revolution of Mao had on Chinese musicians and how it affected their creativity at various stages of their lives.


10th December @ 8 pm – deciBel Lounge

Wadjda (Saudi Arabia/Germany)

The first Saudi Arabian film (and by a female filmmaker nonetheless), Wadjda is a powerful, charming and heartfelt film. It narrates the story of a 10-year-old girl, Wadjda (played by Waad Mohammed), who enters a Koran’s competition in order to raise funds to buy a bike so that she can race against her friend Abdullah (played by Abdullrahman Al Gohani). Girls are not allowed to ride bikes in the Kingdom for fear that they might accidentally lose their virginity and director-screenwriter Haifaa Al-Mansour elegantly uses this simple story of a strong-willed young girl to convey the complex situation of women in a patriarchal and controlling society like that in Saudi Arabia.


11th December @ 8 pm – Saigon Outcast

The Truman Show (USA 1998)

Jim Carrey is Truman Burbank, an ordinary man that lives a perfect and uneventful existence. Too perfect, in fact. What Truman does not know is that his entire world and the people in it are a fabrication. Since his birth, Truman’s life has been broadcast 24/7 through thousands of hidden cameras.

References to Big Brother (the TV show, not the novel) and the many other reality shows that clos our channels are obvious, but what Australian director Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society, Master and Commander) has done with The Truman Show is to deal with deeper philosophical and existential questions in a very approachable manner. Are we (the audience) like God that can control another human beings’ existence and dictate his/her destiny? What does our society’s obsession for scrutinising and judging other individuals’ activities tell us about our morality and about how we choose to fill our time? And finally, is it worth to sacrifice our free will for a safe and comfortable existence?

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15th December @ (documentary) 6pm + (film) 8 pm – The Cube

24 Hour Party People (UK 2002) + End of the Century (2003 USA)

During the 70s and early 80s, a cultural and musical revolution started to surface in the underground world of music, leading to the birth of punk music. 24 Hour Party People revolves around TV presenter, founder of Factory Records and co-owner of the club Hacienda in Manchester (UK), Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan). Though many anecdotes present in Michael Winterbottom’s film are exaggerations or speculations, 24 Hour is based on real events but moreover, it is the closest that the audience will get to feel what it was like to live and breathe the excitement of musical innovation, freedom and anarchy that filled the underground music community in Manchester. Factory label represented (Wilson did not bind his musicians through exclusive contracts) Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays (the film’s title is taken from one of their songs), a Certain Ratio and The Durutti Column. In the background are also the Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols and Simply Red.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic, in Queens, New York to be precise, a small, four-piece band that was set to change forever the impact of punk rock music in the US and in the UK forever was born: the Ramones. While the Stooges were probably the pioneers of the genre (the Ramones confirmed that the Iggy Pop’s band had a huge influence on them), the Ramones captured the essence of punk, both musically and in the band’s life. Despite having toured uninterrupted for around 22 years and having inspired the Sex Pistols, the band never really achieved the commercial success it deserved. The documentary End of the Century is a comprehensive account of the story of the Ramones.


17th December @ 8 pm – deciBel Lounge

Elf (USA 2003)

To dive into the Christmas mood, the regular audience at deciBel has chosen to watch Jon Favreau’s Elf. This was one of the first attempts behind the camera by the now renownd director of Ironman 1,2 and 3 and Chef. Elf is a classic Christmas film, it is packed with funny moments. It has an original take on the Santa fairy-tale and it succeeds in pleasing both children and adults. Will Farell plays Buddy, a normal size human being who is ‘adopted’ by Santa and raised as an elf. Once Buddy discovers the truth about his origins and decides to head back to Earth to discover his true parenting.


18th December @ 8 pm – Saigon Outcast

Stranger than Fiction (USA 2006)

Worth watching for Emma Thompson’s performance alone, Stranger than Fiction is a surreal, funny and moving film, with a thoughtful dose of philosophical questions.

What if you discovered that you were a living character of an ongoing novel? How much is an artist willing to sacrifice for the love of his/her art?

Will Farrell is Harold Crick, a passionless, ordinary man who leads an equally monotonous existence until one day when he starts hearing a voice narrating his every movement.

Realising that he is not in control of his life, Harold sets out to discover who the master of his destiny is. Thompson and Dustin Hoffmann deliver some of the amusing and hilarious scenes in the film.


22nd December @ 8pm - The Cube

La Vie en Rose (France 2007)

It takes some courage to bring to the silver screen the life of the most iconic singer to ever come out of France. The fragile Edith Piaf possessed a distinguishable, dramatic and evocative voice that still reverberates internationally. Olivier Dahan takes the audience from the beginning of Piaf’s life in Normandy all the way through her music career and tragic love affairs. The great success of the film is due to the outstanding Marion Cotillard who was rightly rewarded with an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for her performance.


25th December @ 8pm - Saigon Outcast

Die Hard (USA 1988)

Before studios went on delivering unnecessary sequels, Die Hard occupied the throne of action films. The film established Bruce Willis as a Hollywood super-star and it gave us one of the most memorable and intimidating villain in celluloid: Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber.

Officer John McClane is taken to task when his wife and co-workers are held hostage in a Los Angeles skyscraper during a Christmas party by a group of terrorists.

This is definitely another way to depict Christmas in cinema.

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