Idiots and Angels (2008, Bill Plympton). Friday, March 29, 6 P.M., Zrinyi 14, room 412.

Idiots and Angels (2009)

Directed by Bill Plympton
English, 78 min.


Angel is a selfish, abusive, morally bankrupt man who hangs out as his local bar, berating the other patrons. One day, Angel mysteriously wakes up with a pair of wings on his back. The wings make him do good deeds, contrary to his nature. He desperately tries to rid himself of the good wings, but eventually finds himself fighting those who view the wings as their ticket to fame and fortune. (


Le roi de coeur (King of Hearts). Friday, March 22, 6 P.M., Zrinyi 14, room 412.

Le roi de coeur (King of Hearts), 1966

Directed by Philippe de Broca
French with English subtitles, 102 min.

During the latter part of World War I, Private Charles Plumpick is chosen to go into the French town of Marville and disconnect a bomb that the German army has planted. However, Charles is chased by some Germans and finds himself holed up at the local insane asylum, where the inmates are convinced that he is the “King of Hearts.” Feeling obligated to help the inmates, Charles attempts to lead them out of town, but they are afraid to leave and frolic about the streets in gay costumes. Will Charles be able to deactivate the bomb in time and save his newfound friends?


Preminger’s “Anatomy of a Murder”


US, the early 1950s. A messy war is fought in the Korean peninsula under a constant threat of escalation. Communism is confronted at home, too. There are, for example, popular warnings about the dangers of ‘brainwashing’. New York psychiatrist Meerloo calls it ‘menticide‘. Not only is psychology able to detect pathologies in surprising (i.e. all) places; it can produce them when used as a weapon of ideological war. And it’s not only war prisoners – as seen in some soldiers captured in Korea – that can be ‘converted’; all citizens are vulnerable. Anybody can be made insane.

But what counts as insane when one draws the line, that is, in legal terms? When, for example, is someone to be judged responsible for her/his deeds, and when should insanity be a legitimate legal defense? Up to the 1950s, a century old legislation prescribed that the litmus test was the ability to tell right from wrong, and to resist one’s impulses. Things change in 1954, when judge David Bazelon decides, in Durham v. United States, to take into account the progress (or status?) of psychological sciences by requiring juries to make decisions based on expert testimony. Matters of right and wrong become supposedly clearer scientific matters of health, disease and defect.

Not long before this change, but already in changing times, in 1952, an army officer enters a Michigan bar and shoots the owner. In court, he claims that the victim raped his wife. His attorney, John Voelker, goes for the insanity defense. Temporary insanity led to an irresistible impulse to kill the alleged rapist. The strategy works, the officer goes home a free man. The views of experts invited to testify already play a great role in the court decision.

In 1958, Voelker, under the pen name Robert Traver, publishes a novel based on the case: Anatomy of a Murder. His views on expert psychiatric testimony turn out to be rather caustic. Here is the character based on the officer Voelker defended:

“Well, we can’t prove insanity without a medical expert, you tell me. Yet you and I have already decided I was insane, we know that we’re going to plead insanity – you tell me it’s the only legal defense I’ve got. And even I can see that now. In other words you a mere lawyer and I a dumb soldier have between us decided that I was medically and legally insane. Having decided that, we must now go out and shop around for a medical expert to confirm our settled conclusion.” (cf. M. Staub – Madness is Civilization, p.101)

One year later, in 1959, Otto Preminger turns Anatomy of a Murder into a film less concerned with the relation between law and psychiatric expertise, but which nonetheless manages to provoke by its liberties of language. Duke Ellington, who can also be seen in the film, is responsible for the soundtrack.

Malle’s “Le feu follet” (1963): Friday, March 1


In the autumn of 1929, Jacques Rigaut, a lesser star of the surrealist and dadaist galaxies, and an addict, shoots a bullet in his heart. His friend, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, who at that time wasn’t yet seduced by Hitler, dedicates to him a number of his writings. Among these, Le feu follet (Will O’ The Wisp), published in 1931.

Having made Zazie, director Louis Malle travels at the beginning of the 1960s to Algeria with plans to shoot a political film. That film is never made. When Malle returns to France, he reads Drieu La Rochelle’s Feu follet. Without, perhaps, sharing his humors, Malle, like the main character of the book, is around 30 (about to turn 30, in fact) and not exactly at peace with himself. He starts working on an adaptation of the novel. (A second one will be made decades later by Joachim Trier – Oslo, 31. august.)

The result is the 1963 Feu follet (The Fire Within). A portrait of the noonday demon, melancholia. And, for Malle, a cathartic film, biographical in the sense of a conceptual portrait, capturing the overpowering gravitational pull that defines the character’s existence and leaving aside accidental resemblance. What resemblance there was – for example, Maurice Ronet, the lead actor, wore Malle’s clothes and handled Malle’s own pistol – remained behind closed doors.

For Ronet, it was one of his major roles, maybe the performance of his life, literally – he had no need to act the mix of charm and crushing alcoholic sadness. Delon, Belmondo and Plummer, dandies and writers were considered at times for the part. Mere speculation, but with Ronet it seems that Malle did find what the title of the book – and of the film – asked for. His very gestures seem touched by that foolish fire, the ignis fatuus, that draws travelers to their perdition, and which will curb, eventually, every human path.

Le havre (Aki Kaurismäki, 2011). Friday, January 25, 6 P.M., Zrinyi 14, room 412.

Le havre (Finland-France, 2011)

Directed by Aki Kaurismäki
French with English subtitles, 93 min.

Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre is something of a comeback for the Finnish filmmaker. His warmhearted comedy of underdog working-class solidarity is made with a mixed Finnish-French-Senegalese cast in the French port city Le Havre. The film envisions a new, post-communist international—it might have been made for the IWW, if not the occupants of Zuccotti Park. The movie’s pointedly named protagonist Marcel Marx (André Wilms) is a middle-aged shoe-shine boy with a weathered, noble profile, an upstanding wife Arletty (Kaurismäki favorite Kati Outinen), a faithful dog (named Laïka after the pioneering canine cosmonaut), a natural belief in fraternité, and a mystical sense of calling. Marcel’s opportunity for comradely action comes when he meets a young Senegalese boy (Blondin Miguel), who was separated from his stowaway family en route to London and is being sought by the French authorities as an illegal alien.

However downbeat, Kaurismäki’s films have always shown a strong sentimental streak, and Le Havre’s ending is contrived to give the audience exactly what it wants, without irony—and, providing minds are engaged along with feelings, they’ll know it. “The loveliest dream bears like a blemish its difference from reality, the awareness that what it grants is mere illusion,” Theodor Adorno wrote of Kafka’s Amerika—an immigrant saga that Kaurismäki pointedly cites in the movie. So too this evocation of Europe’s refugee problem; Le Havre is utopian precisely because it shows everything as it is not. (The Village Voice, J. Hoberman)


Academic lives

For the next three weeks we have chosen three movies that capture, in a broad sense, different aspects of the academic life.  The distinct perspective found in each of the films could provide one with a glance on how generally human concerns fit the coordinates of a life dedicated to knowledge and research. The topics will go from a story about rivalry and academic success, to a humorous perspective on writing and literature, and, finally, to the intertwining of personal drama with the teaching activity.

Here are the films. All screenings will take place in Zrinyi 14, room 412, at 18:00.

November 16th: Hearat Shulayim (Footnote), 2011, Israel

Directed by Joseph Cedar. 103 min.


The story of a great rivalry between a father and son, both eccentric professors in the Talmud department of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The son has an addictive dependency on the embrace and accolades that the establishment provides, while his father is a stubborn purist with a fear and profound revulsion for what the establishment stands for, yet beneath his contempt lies a desperate thirst for some kind of recognition. The Israel Prize, Israel’s most prestigious national award, is the jewel that brings these two to a final, bitter confrontation. (imdb)

November 23: Wonder Boys (2000)

Directed by Curtis Hanson. 107 min


In this comedy, a middle-aged man juggles his problems with women, literature, and a career, while a younger man chases the artifact of his dreams. Pittsburgh college professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) is currently single following his divorce from his third wife; after publishing an acclaimed first novel, Grady has been working on a follow-up, but he’s been sidelined by a severe case of writer’s block. Grady has more than his writing career to think about; his affair with one of the (married) chancellors at the University of Pittsburgh (Frances McDormand), has resulted in her pregnancy, while Hannah (Katie Holmes), a student boarding at Grady’s house, has developed a crush on him. While Grady is obsessed with his book, one of his students (Tobey Maguire) has an obsession of his own: finding a jacket once owned by Marilyn Monroe. (

November 30th: A single man (2009)

Directed by Tom Ford. 99 min.


George Falconer (Colin Firth) feels lost. Not only is he still grieving the death of his longtime companion, Jim (Matthew Goode), but he’s also a Brit teaching English at a California college. He’s so distraught with heartbreak that he’s decided to kill himself, and proceeds to get all his affairs in order while carrying on with what otherwise would be a normal day. (


Mary and Max (November 9th, 18:00)

This week we decided to screen an animation film, Mary and Max.

Mary and Max, 2009

Directed by Adam Elliot

92 minutes

A tale of friendship between two unlikely pen pals: Mary, a lonely, eight-year-old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne, and Max, a forty-four-year old, severely obese man living in New York. (imdb)

Friday, November 9th, 6 pm

Zrinyi 14/room 412

The Philm Club aims at screening and discussing movies that raise philosophically relevant issues in accessible as well as entertaining ways.