Every year, the American greeting card and Christmas movie producer Hallmark pours dozens of Christmas movies upon the viewer. This Christmas there will be forty. They do this via the streaming services, which in turn use the Hallmark model to make even more similar Christmas films. This type of seasonal movie is actually a disguised American romcom with a layer of snow, where the main characters are almost without exception in a red and a green Christmas sweater on the posters. Standard story: man (or woman) leaves the big (bad) city to (re)discover the traditional values and love of yesteryear in a romantic setting (often wintry Vermont). Signature title: We wish you a married Christmas. The Hallmark movies are a deeply conservative ode to a mythic version of America, and it’s no surprise to call them that tinkling bellsvariant of Make America Great Again to see. To get the real Christmas feeling, you have to go somewhere else.
So better watch
Claus (2019, on Netflix), Sergio Pablos’ fantastic Spanish animated film that puts its own spin on the origins of Christmas. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature, narrowly losing to Pixar’s Toy Story 4. In the old-fashioned, hand-drawn film, a postman exiled to the far north meets the hermit Klaus, a toymaker turned away from the world. Together they invent Christmas as we know it today, including the reindeer, the helpers and the warm feeling in your heart. An instant classic, available on Netflix.
We’d like to talk a little about Netflix’s search function. The search function, yes. And we don’t mean the endless attempts to scroll back and forth on the website to find something new and original among the suggestions in the menu, which is controlled by your own mediocre algorithm. Just type something like ‘arthouse’ or ‘Cannes’ or ‘classic Italian’ in the search field and a world opens up that gives access to more than seven thousand productions currently on Netflix Netherlands.
This includes films from the huge archive of StudioCanal (part of Canal Plus), which as one of the largest film archives in the world has more than six thousand titles in stock. Many of these are sourced from legendary European film studios now defunct, such as Dino de Laurentiis’ Italian production house Cinematografica and the Ealing studios in London. That explains why there are hundreds of European films on Netflix from the fifties and sixties (restored and subtitled). And then maybe not the titles that are still called ‘classic’, the Fellini’s so to speak, but the films that were the big crowd pullers of their time. Then dive in commedia all’Italiana, where the greatest filmmakers, from Vittorio de Sica to Dino Risi, excelled. And how phenomenal Italy and the Italians looked at that time.
As post-war Italy became more prosperous, so did the satires. take The umbrella (The parasol or in English Weekend, Italian style) by Italian comedy king Dino Risi, from 1965. The wife of an academic can be found all summer in the cheerful and colorful seaside resort of Rimini, while her husband has a dull, gray job in the city. At the weekend he visits his wife and tries to hide for two days in the colorful world of beach fun, cocktails and beauty contests. The comic effect is mainly achieved here because any attempt by our hero to have a quiet weekend is spectacularly undermined. Think of it as a crossover of sorts La dolce vita and The White Lotus Season 2.
Every year the series panel chooses from de Volkskrant from an overwhelming selection a list of the year’s ten best series. In the top ten entries this year, a total of more than sixty series were named, from a collection of an estimated five hundred new titles or seasons released annually. We sometimes miss something, we just want to say. Which series deserved a better fate?
Pachinko (Apple TV Plus) is one of the most beautifully produced series of the year, based on the family chronicle of the same name by the American-Korean writer Min Jin Lee. She describes a family history, with the entire turbulent 20th century as a background. In family history, the family’s relationship with the rest of the world is the constant theme. From the Japanese occupation of Korea to the situation of Koreans in Japan, to a Japanese-Korean businessman who is slowly losing his identity in today’s Wall Street. At the center of the eight-part series and in the family that flies in all directions is the character Kim Sunja (played by several actresses of different ages). Pachinko also shows that the Korean film and series industry is among the best in the world; as strong in intimate scenes as in the great movements of history. With a strong innovation in the subtitles: different colors for Japanese and Korean, to indicate to our untrained ears exactly what role language plays in holding and letting go of identity.
Is there still a musical world star without his own documentary about the front and behind the scenes and long and winding road to the top? It doesn’t hurt to pick up a filmmaker from the first spark of inspiration. take Coldplay: A head full of dreams (2018), where the fun lies in following the band from the local pubs to the stadiums of the world. Also in Miss Americana (2020), about Taylor Swift, we see her jump on stage with the conviction of a child. And Billie Eilish: The world is a little blurry (2021) is a documentary that captures the exact moment the extremely talented teenager breaks through social media from his bedroom (with an equally talented brother as composer and producer).
Music moment in 2022
One of the musical moments of the year: Lizzo playing the more than two-hundred-year-old crystal flute that once belonged to US President James Madison at the Library of Congress. From the new music documentary Love, Lizzo (HBO Max) we know that she became America’s most famous flutist thanks to being the conductor of the school orchestra. She gave her a whistle at the beginning of the school year before she ever blew a note on it. Doug Pray’s documentary follows Lizzo behind the scenes of her latest tour and provides an overview of her remarkable musical career using archival footage.
Lizzo herself is involved in the film through her own production company Lizzobangers, because it will no longer happen for this generation of (female) superstars to release their own material. Doesn’t take it away Love, Lizzo is a fine documentary, if only because you spend time in the presence of a charismatic, extremely talented musician who has successfully tried to overturn some of the established values of the music industry. And recognizable too. Take the moment when, overcome with heartbreak, she asks her stylist to put on Harry Styles and tears from the first bars of her favorite song – comparable to the moment when Billie Eilish meets her idol Justin Bieber in her documentary and doesn’t know where she should look for it.