Archive for the ‘Cannes 2014’ Category

The Salt of the Earth (2014) **** Mubi

wimDir: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado |Writer: Wim Wenders/Juliano Ribeiro Salgado | Doc Biography, 110′

This biopic of famous Brazilian photographer and philanthropist, Sabastiao Salgado, manages to be both illuminating and moving. Directed (and narrated) by Wim Wenders (pictured left at the Cannes premiere) and Salgado’s son Juliano, what starts as an harrowing and dramatic set of photographs from Africa and beyond, soon becomes a narrative with a truly inspiring and heart-warming conclusion, adding real weight to the story of this fascinating and creatively-driven man, now in his seventies.

From war zones in Ruanda and Bosnia to the deepest Amazon, the often shocking images show tremendous compassion, and a desire to connect with his subject-matter. As is often the case for the creatively committed, Salgado’s son Juliano received little attention as a child as the photographer  travelled the World, while his wife Leilia, archived and published his works, setting up exhibitions from home and organising financing and funding. There are shades of the late Michael Glawogger to his searingly shocking images and a touch of the David Attenborough to his work with his animals. A peerless tribute to humanity and the animal kingdom. MT.


The Blue Room (2014) | La Chambre Bleue

923195_727151780639094_8184037258253821718_nDirector: Mathieu Amalric | Crime Romance | France | 76min 

Mathieu Amalric bases his directorial debut, in which he also stars, on a 1964 crime thriller from Belgian detective Simenon. Lushly erotic, highly stylised and superbly shot on the Academy format by the capable Christophe Beaucarne, it will please the art house circuit with its skilful performances and clever fractured narrative. After making love to his mistress Esther (a sinuous Stephanie Cléau) in the eponymous blue room, tractor magnate Julien (Amalric) goes home to his lovely wife (Léa Drucker) and daughter. The story jumps forward to show him being cross-examined by a local magistrate (a masterful Laurent Poitrenaux) as it transpires that his affair with Esther is not as simple and compartmentalised as has hoped for. As the story flips backwards and forward further clues gradually emerge, fleshing out the storyline but at leaving the details as shady as Esther’s background. The Blue Room is a workable and sophisticated piece of cinema that offers good entertainment, but many critics questioned why it premiered in the Un Certain Regard sidebar at Cannes on its release. Those in the know will realise it was due to Amalric’s close relationship with the festival. Bijoux, smart and entertaining – it’s certainly a film to be proud of.  MT


Journey to the Shore (2015) | Dual format release

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Cast: Eri Fukatsu, Tadanobu Asano, Masao Komatsu, Yu Aoi, Akira Emoto, Nozomi Muraoka, Tetsuya Chiba, Kaoru Okunuki, Masaaki Akahori, Daiki Fujino, Kana Matsumoto

128min | Fantasy drama | Japan

Best known for his horror outings, Japanese auteur Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s JOURNEY TO THE SHORE is slow cinema par excellence. This meandering romantic fantasy sees a young widow reunited with her husband’s ghost three years after his death, echoing the 1990 cult outing Ghost.

This type of ghost is well known classic in Japan and has long-existed in Japanese kwaidan (horror) films but also in Shakespeare. In JOURNEY TO THE SHORE a completely new form of death appears. The figure here is different from the usual ghosts. Carried away by a temporary death (or physical death), Yosuke will remain in the world for three more years allowing him to prepare for his spiritual death. A certain Karma comes back into these meetings between as the couple as they delicately explore the unfinished business of their married life in a spiritual limbo that shifts backwards and forwards between the living world and the afterlife. And although this premise appears captivating at first and sets off with the best of intentions, JOURNEY TO THE SHORE is gradually becalmed by its rather dull pacing as sentimental tedium engulfs the shady interiors where the supernatural story mostly unfolds.

Loosely based on a novel by Kazumi Yumoto, the films opens with a scene that is re-worked quite movingly later in the story, and showing Mizuki teaching piano to one her pupils, a young girl whose mother blames Mizuki’s lack of enthusiasm for her daughter’s musicial ineptitude. Mizuki is clearly depressed and shortly after this episode, her dead husband Yusuke (Tadanobu Asano) makes the first of his haunting visits, three years after his death. The first time he appears, she listens quietly, hardly perturbed by his homecoming (and looking so well into the bargain), he describes his death by drowning. The following morning, she wakes up and discovers her husband is still there. Promising to show her “beautiful places,”, the two then embark on a journey to meet the circle of people who have become part of his afterlife in the intervening years.

There is the newspaper seller  (Masao Komatsu); the owners of a dumpling restaurant (Nozomi Muraoka, Tetsuya Chiba), whose daughter died some years earlier; and a nice old man (Akira Emoto) whose daughter-in-law (Kaoru Okunuki) has fallen on hard times, losing both her husband and her mind. It emerges that Mizuki’s husband has become a philanthropic teacher since his ‘death’.

There appears to be a pattern here whereby the living are somehow released by these undead people when they eventually find peace in the shadowy afterlife. And this is where we are introduced again to the piano student playingwith much more feeling  than she did before. And in the final scenes, when Yusuke’s journey is almost over, he eventually reaches a kind of karmic reunion with his placid wife. JOURNEY TO THE SHORE is a lovingly-crafted musing on death and the afterlife, hampered by the lack of convincing chemistry between the leads who, although impressive in their rather underwritten roles, fail to set the night on fire as a happily married couple and leaving us unmoved by their suffering or by their redemption.

JOURNEY TO THE SHORE tries to be mysterious and intriguing but its failure to achieve this arises largely out of the torpor of its narrative flow that lacks conviction and dramatic punch, coming over as winsome rather than emotionally involving. MT


P’tit Quinquin (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Bruno Dumont

Cast: Alane Delhaye, Lucy Caron, Bernhard Provost, Philippe Jore, Philippe Penvion, Lisa Hartmann, Cindy Lonquet;

200min  France 2014  Comedy Drama

Having left his sensationalist and violently misogynist early period (Humanite/Twenty-nine Palms) behind, Bruno Dumont, former lecturer of Greek and German philosophy, has set most of his work in the region near Calais, where he was born. Seen as the heir to Bresson, his topics always are discourses about death and the same can be said about P’tit Quinquin.

Apart from the format (a four part TV series, which can be watched as well in its totality) what is most surprising, is Dumont’s use of humour, however dark it sometimes becomes. Set in rural Picardy at his birthplace of Bailleul, P’tit Quinquin is seen through the eyes of the title hero, played with great vigour and enjoyment by Alane Delhage, a non-professional actor like the rest of the cast. The young adolescent is nearly always accompanied by his girlfriend Eve (Caron), the two playing a loving couple like the leads in a school play. On the opposite side is the other “pair”, Commandant Van der Weyden (Provost), a detective with a manic tic, and his side-kick, Lt. Carpentier (Jore), the former send to the small town and its surrounding villages to clear a murder. Unfortunately for hopeless policemen, the longer they stay, the more murders happen, until Van der Weyden has to confess that they are confronted by an evil serial killer.

The first victim, a Mme. Lebleu, whose corpse, cut into small parts, is found in the belly of a cow. Since cows are not carnivores, Carpentier deducts rightly, that the animal is suffering from mad cow disease. Soon the detectives discover that the dead woman had a lover, a certain M. Bhiri, whose is missing, and found murdered soon after. The main suspect, M. Lebleu, shares the same fate as his unfaithful wife, and Van der Weyden begins to see an apocalyptic picture developing. The next victim (this time a suicide) is a young Arab student, who fancies Eve’s older sister Aurelia (Hartmann), a local celebrity who aims to sing on TV. But the young man is driven to despair, when Aurelia’s friend Jennifer calls him “a monkey, who should go back to Africa”. Aurelia, covering up for her girl friend, is the next victim of the killer, and eaten by pigs. When the policemen find out that Quinquin’s father has kept it secret that the first murder victim was his brother’s wife, he becomes the prime suspect, before another unfaithful wife, Mme. Campin (Longuet) is found murdered at the beach…..

Dumont uncovers a society, where life is full of contradictions. Beneath seemingly benign normality – nothing is as it seems to be: the priest laughs during a funeral, the local band makes a mockery of Bastille Day, Carpentier is more interested in stunt driving with his police car than in solving the case, whilst his boss nearly falls of a horse and rambles on about the similarities of women, horses and paintings by Rubens. And meanwhile Quinquin throws firecrackers where ever he finds a target.

Needless to say, Dumont was not aiming for a “who-done-it”, but a tableau of human frailty. Guillaume Deffontaines, who photographed Dumont’s last film Camille Claudel 1915, uses widescreen successfully to integrate the landscape with the actors, achieving a pastoral idyll, betrayed by the viciousness and heartlessness of the protagonists. The first sequel is titled “La bête humaine”, easily the description of what is to follow. AS


A Girl At My Door (2014)

Dir: July Jung

Cast: Doona Bae, Sae-rom Kim Sae-byak Song

119min   Korean Drama   Subtitles

Set in a remote corner of countryside Korea, July Jung’s simple narrative centres on Young-nam (Doona Bae), a young Police Chief, seconded to the small community after misdemeanours in the capital Seoul. There she takes charge of the rowdy locals and drunks.  One family is particularly troublesome: the father brutalises his young daughter Dohee, encouraged by his batty mother who rides around on a truck. But when Young-nam takes Dohee under her wing, the problems start for the dysfunctional teenager. Caught between her own dodgy reputation with the Force and the mental instability of her protegee, Young-nam fights for her own professional survival in an environment that on the surface appears calm but is full of quirky surprises and unexpected pitfalls. July Jung’s subtle drama is embued with its own brand of gently subversive humour and affecting performances from Doona Bae and Sea-rom Kim in the central roles. MT


Timbuktu (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Abderrahmane Sissako

Cast: Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulov Kiki, Layla Walet Mohamed, Mehdi Ag Mohamed

France/Mauritania 2014, 97 min.

Abderrahme Sissako (Bamako) has created a film that appears to be a contradiction in terms: Timbuktu’s harsh political storyline unfolds in images of poetic realism.

Set in Mali in 2012, under the control of fundamentalist jihadists, this is the tale of the destruction of a family. Kidane (Ahmed) lives peacefully with his wife Satima (Kiki), his daughter Toya (L.W. Mohamed) and his young shepherd Issan (M.A. Mohamed) in the dunes near Timbuktu, where jihadists terrorise the population: Music, dancing and even football are forbidden – some youngsters get around the latter decree by playing with an imagined ball. The local Imam is able to throws the armed jihadists out of the Moschee, but apart from this he too is powerless. One day, a fisherman kills one of Kidane’s prized cattle called ‘GPS’, as it accidentally wanders into fishing nets during grazing. Kidane is so upset at this trivial slaughter that he threatens him with a gun, which goes off accidentally, killing the fisherman. The family demand retribution, and the ‘fundamental jihadists whose medieval garb and laws belie their obsession with mobile phones, video cameras and expensive cars, are only too happy to apply the maximal penalty against Kidane. After all, they have just punished a woman to eighty lashes because she was listening to music in a room with a male singer.

TIMBUKTU‘s dreamy images are in stark contrast to the inhuman terror of the jihadist regime they portray: nature seems to be unaffected by the harsh cruelty of men. Humans and animals alike flee from the hunters, who use their cars to capture their prey. The jihadists, like their German fascist predecessors in Europe in the 40s, love to document their crimes: instead of the pen, they use their video cameras for this endeavour, which they see as heroism. Their misogyny is boundless, but Sissako shows that it is just the other side of their repressed lust, which manifests themselves in condoning ‘ancient customs’, where the rape of a virgin is considered a legitimate marriage. Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulov Kiki and Layla Walet Mohamed give subtle performances of great intensity, but the images of the shimmering, glittering landscape are most impressive: Sissako’s message is clear: nature’s beauty will always survive human cruelty. AS


The Salt of the Earth (2014) | CÉSAR 2015 Winner Best Documentary

wimDirector: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado

Writer: Wim Wenders/Juliano Ribeiro Salgado

110min  Documentary Biography

A biopic of famous Brazilian photographer and philanthropist, Sabastiao Salgado, manages to be both illuminating and moving. Directed (and narrated) by Wim Wenders and Salgado’s son Juliano, what starts as an harrowing and dramatic set of photographs from Africa and beyond, soon becomes a story with a truly inspiring and heart-warming conclusion, adding real weight to the simple story about this fascinating and creatively-driven man, now 70. From war zones in Ruanda and Bosnia to the deepest Amazon, his often shocking images show tremendous compassion and a desire to connect with his subject-matter. As is often the case, his son Juliano, received little attention as a child as Salgado travelled the World, while his wife Leilia, archived and published his works; setting up exhibitions from home and organising financing and funding. There are shades of the late Michael Glawogger to his searingly shocking images and a touch of the David Attenborough to his work with his animals. A peerless tribute to humanity and the animal kingdom. MT.


The Wonders | Le Meraviglie (2014) | Grand Prix Cannes 2014

safe_image.phpWriter/Director: Alice Rohrwacher

Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Monica Bellucci, Maria Alexandra Lungu, Sam Louwyck, Sabine Timoteo, Agnese Graziani

100min   Drama   Italian with subtitles


Writer/Director Alice Rohrwacher’s debut feature Corpo Celeste was a delicate coming-of-age drama that had a brief outing in London cinemas in 2011, introducing us this new director. She returns with THE WONDERS another wistful but sure-footed rites of passage tale of an enigmatic family of bee-keepers, eking out a living in challenging circumstances in rural Tuscany. This time our heroine is 13-year-old Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu), the eldest of four daughters who work hard in this cottage industry, helping their father with the hives and honey bottling.

Rohrwacher’s restrained, impressionist approach creates a vague feeling of suspense that allows our imagination to wander and luxuriate in this magical story. A palpable tension is felt amongst the sisters as they carefully spin the honey and decant it into plastic buckets and jars without losing any of the precious nectar in the process. They tiptoe round round their cantankerous father who lives in the fear that colony collapse disorder or contamination with ruin the family’s future. Gelsomina absorbs all this angst at a time where she is also growing up and finding her feet as a young woman and the second in command of the business, and all the responsibilities involved.  Out of the blue, the police entrust the family with a teenage boy delinquent who needs rehabilitation into the community. They are then asked to take part in a TV competition for local farmers to enter their produce – Gelsomina develops a teenage crush for the glamorous presenter in the shape of Monica Bellucci – who dazzles the impressionable girls. The preparations are fun but nerve-wracking involving national dress in local Etruscan costumes. Rohracher’s bitter-sweet depiction of teenage awakening is brought to life by Pina cinematographer, Hélène Louvart who beautifully captures the young girls’ dreams and anxieties while growing up in the country. THE WONDERS is naive, surreal and absolutely enchanting. MT


Still the Water (2014)

Director: Naomi Kawase

Cast: Niijrô Muramaki, Jun Yoshinaga, Miyuki Matsuda, Makiko Watanabe,

121min  Drama     Japan

Set on the subtropical Amami Island off the South coast of Japan, there’s a blissful serenity to Naomi Kawase’s tender tale of love, ancient traditions and the healing power of nature that connects to a global narrative of survival for small communities all over the world.

Spiritual, intense and occasionally a tad pretentious in tone, very much in the vein of her previous outing, The Mourning Forest, Kawase explores how the cycles of nature are central to our existence and must be respected throughout our lives. Sumptuously captured on the widescreen and on intimate close-ups by Yutaka Yamazaki (I Wish), particularly magnificent are the aerial panoramas of lush jungles, turbulent sea-swells and the skylines of Tokyo.

Life and death coexist against the backdrop of everyday events and first love for teenager Kyoko (Jun Yoshinaga) and the ‘boy next door’ Kaito (Niijrô Muramaki), who is moody, awkward and emotionally less aware. Kaito’s father works as a tattooist  and is divorced from his mother, a cook. Kyoko’s mother is slowly dying but her spiritual training as a shamen has prepared her to deal with the pain in a dignified and elegant way. In the midst of all this – a dead body floats on to the beach one morning after a heavy tropical storm. There is a vague connection between the drowned man and Kaito’s mother, although Kawase never really clarifies this in her otherworldly-style narrative. Clearly, the trauma affects Kaito’s ability to bond physically with Kyoko.

Exotic and surreal, the sea and verdant scenery has a hypnotic effect, lulling our senses with its gentle piano score and some island ‘Full-Moon’ dances performed by Kyoko and her extended family. Animals, however, do not get the same respect as Nature’s other creatures, and there are two highly graffic scenes of goats being slaughtered that seem to conflict the otherwise spiritual narrative flow. MT



Queen and Country (2014)

Dir/Writer: John Boorman

Cast: David Thewlis, Richard E Grant, Tamsin Egerton, Callum Turner, Percy Hapgood, Sinead Cusack, David Hayman.

UK  Postwar Drama

John Boorman’s follow-up to his wartime drama Hope and Glory is a gently rousing and entertaining family drama which will please the arthouse crowd and mainstream audiences alike. It offers a rites of passage snapshot of a golden era that seemed so important then, but now is just a cherished memory of fifties England with pretty frocks, cream teas, ginger beer and walks into the sunset.

After a scary childhood in London’s Blitiz, it’s 1952 and Bill has reached the tender age of 19 and is discovering girls and the joys of National Service. Britain has survived the War but is now entering an age of enlightenment where the younger generation have put away their flags and are challenging the new order and starting to think for themselves, or trying to. With rebellion in the air, and a new Queen (almost) on the throne, Bill (Callum Turner) is starting to question his allegiance to the Army: he could be sent to Korea or Kenya or he could just end up in a quiet backwater managing civilians. So in the comfort of his Home Counties mock tudor family home, he is very much an innocent young guy who has no experience of the real world or, indeed, the opposite sex.

Boorman’s faintly autobiographical piece evokes this post-war atmosphere with the verve and whimsy of ‘Five Go Mad in Dorset’. Mum is lovingly played by Sinead Cusack (her previous ‘dalliance’ with a neighbour acknowledged only by a knowing wave), Dad is a ‘pipe and slippers’ David Hayman. Bill’s best friend Percy is a subversive Caleb Landry Jones and the Sergeant-Major in the Barracks is brilliantly fleshed out ‘Dad’s Army-style’ by the reliable David Thewlis. In the absence of any real action, and certainly no ‘active service’ Bill and Percy play the usual insubordinate pranks on the Sergeant-Majors. Bill’s new love, Ophelia, is the elegant and luminous Tamsin Egerton who manages both f’emme fatale’ and ‘girl next door’ charm and could even be the making of him. Queen And Country is a gloriously upbeat message of innocence echoing all the sentiment of the Empire! God Bless John Boorman. MT



Mommy (2014) | dvd blu

10903909_1550750168496369_6539403438326329238_oDirector: Xavier Dolan

Cast: Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clément, Patrick Huard

139min  Drama  Canadian/French

The prolific outpourings of Canadian wild child Xavier Dolan continue here with a searingly emotional mother/son melodrama that way outstays its welcome at over two hours. MOMMY is a reverse thrust of his debut J’Ai Tué Ma Mère that had the young Dolan at odds with his mother (made when he was only 20). Here it’s Mummy that’s mean and ready to kill but with love as the weapon.

Based on a plotline relating to Canadian Juvenile Law in an imagined near future in Quebec, raunchy single mother – played by regular collaborator Anne Dorval – decides to take her ADHD-suffering teenage son out of the place that was treating him for delinquency. In order to avoid more draconian institutionalisation, she elects to work from home, compromising her cleaning job, to care for him ‘inhouse’. Diane loves her only son Steve with a passion in this gut-wrenching saga that plays out in a series of expletive-ridden exchanges and violent outbursts. Needy and attention-seeking Steve resents her interactions with other males but their lives are changed collectively and individually by two neighbours. The first is Paul, who is sexually attracted to Diane as he tries to help Steve through the complex legal arena. Kyla (Suzanne Clément), the second, is a lonely married mother on sabbatical while she deals with her own emotional issues, and the trio engage in a co-dependent friendship, that is particularly beneficial to Steve, with some unexpected consequences for all concerned.

Filmed in an aspect ratio that makes the screen “portrait” shaped – intended by Dolan to enhance the restricted outlooks of its protagonists – MOMMY feels at times over-intimate and ‘in yer face’ with its close-ups, occasionally making you desperate to gain arms length from its brilliantly visceral yet uncomfortable perspective. At times poignantly funny, this is a chaotic drama and Antoine Olivier Pilon’s turn as Steve is dynamite – if you can take it, this is cinema at its most raw. MT



Girlhood (2014)

Director: Céline Sciamma

Cast: Karidja Toure, Asse Sylla, Cyril Mendy, Idrissa Diabate

France 2014, 113 min.

After Water Lilies and Tomboy, GIRLHOOD is Céline Sciamma’s third portrait of female adolescence. The heroine Marieme (Toure) lives on an estate in Saint-Dénis, a Parisian suburb – it being France this is not just an ‘estate’, but an HLM (Habitation è Loyer Modéré), or rent-controlled housing; but the high-rise blocks are just a dump for everyone who cannot pay the exorbitant Paris rentals. Her brother (Mendy) is a brute who pushes her around, and her mother, who works as a hotel cleaning lady, has dumped her youngest daughter on Marieme. No wonder that Marieme’s grades are not up to standard and she has to choose a vocational course – which she hates. Closed in on all sides, Marieme meets three older girls, who hang out and look rather menacing. Lady (Sylla) is the leader of the pack, Fily and Adiatou are her obedient sidekicks. The mini-gang has recently lost the forth member to motherhood, and Marieme joins, at first, rather reluctantly. But after a night in a hotel, gorging themselves on pizza and trying on all the beautiful clothes they have nicked in Paris, the quartet is reborn.

The strict hierarchy of the girls is threatened when Lady looses a fight with another girl, and Marieme takes the victor on and defeats her, cutting off her bra like a trophy. But Marieme’s life is still in limbo: her boyfriend Ismael (Diabate) wants to marry her – but early motherhood is not on Marieme’s agenda; the leader of a gang makes her sell drugs before she stops before getting caught – but any real professional outlook is dim. Sciamma leaves GIRLHOOD open-ended: Marieme wondering, like the audience, what to do with a life, which has dealt her such a hopeless starting position.

Violence dominates GIRLHOOD, mostly male-instigated, but Lady (whose real name is Sophia) and even Marieme herself, resort to it when pushed. And yes, they do enjoy it – at least a little. In the opening scene an all-female American Football match sets the tone for what is to follow: these girls and young women are no shrinking violets. Architecture too is brutalist: The high-rise blocks look like awesome spaceships, where aliens might lurk behind the often blacked-out windows. “You can kill people with housing as well as with an axe”, said the Berlin journalist Zille in the 1920s – and this was as true as it is today. The camera is vey innovative in finding new angles to follow the fast moving action, always contrasting with intimate close-ups. But most brilliant are the actors, particularly Karidja Toure, who carries the film, which sags a little bit here and there, not justifying a near two hours running time. AS


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The Salvation (2014)

Director: Kristian Levring

Writers: Anders Thomas Jensen

Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Mikael Persbrandt, Douglas Henshall, Jonathan Pryce

92mins  | Drama | Western | Denmark/US

I first discovered this burnished beauty smouldering in the out-of-competition section last year at Cannes: It’s always gratifying to see a great film that hasn’t had any buzz, pre-festival, and THE SALVATION was one of those outings – but with Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green what could possibly go wrong? Suffice to say, we’ve certainly found the next Clint Eastwood in Mads, who rocks a similar look in this Danish-styled Once Upon a Time in the West, from Dogma director, Kristian Levring. Mads plays Jon, a former soldier who immigrated to America after the Danish-German war in 1864. With his gung-ho swagger and just enough buttoned-up anger to keep the action taut and macho throughout. This glowering, sun-burnt saga also has echoes of High Noon, but was actually shot in South Africa by award-winning lenser Jens Schlosser.

When Jon’s wife and son are brutally killed on their arrival from Denmark; the modest, law-abiding outsider turns hurt into hatred, by taking the outlaw’s life in return, and in the process unleashed the fury of a notorious gang leader, Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), driving him to seek retribution. His own wife, Eva Green seethes in a stunning speechless part (as Princess), rendered mute by an Indian’s weapon. With a zippy running time of 92 minutes, this is a slick and enjoyable ride through the Wild West of the 1870s: The Danish angle works well with the xenophobic locals of that era, bringing a fresh new angle to the evergreen theme of transmigration. MT


Viggo Mortensen | Interview | Jauja

FullSizeRender-2FILMUFORIA spoke to Viggo Mortensen about his role in Lisandro Alonso’s existential drama JAUJA, which won the FIPRESCI prize at Cannes 2014.

Viggo Mortensen (VM): JAUJA sounded like a good story and knowing that it would be told by Lisandro Alonso, I knew that it would be very unique. I’d seen some of his movies before accepting the role and I thought that the ingredients of it, at least at the start – a father goes looking in Indian territory for his adolescent daughter – was a classic start to an adventure story. And the fact that it would be shot by Lisandro Alonso and Timo Salminen, the cinematographer, I knew it would have a special look and a very original treatment of the landscape and the people within it. So it just seemed like the kind of movie I’d go and see.

Lisandro said in an interview that he wanted to pull you into a labyrinth that you couldn’t escape from…

VM: I didn’t think of it that way. It’s not so much the landscape or the events that happen – the landscape is the landscape, the things that happen that my character can’t explain or can’t find a logical answer to, the way the movie veers out of linear time, the changes in landscapes, the mystery of where his daughter’s gone, some of the things he hears and sees. I’m drawn to those things, I’m drawn to stories that challenge your way of thinking, that make you wake up in the middle of the night and question everything, your preconceived ideas about how life works, how you behave, what your attitudes are about everything and that’s something that I really enjoyed, just in reading the script but also as we were doing it, I thought that was an important thing and if he’s imprisoned it’s not by exterior things, it’s by his own preconceived notions. You know, he puts on his uniform which always worked in Denmark, let’s say, that’s the way he would deal with the situation and he goes out looking and he’s always – even the first conversation you see him have with this Argentine military officer, he’s asking lots of questions, he wants to know what things are called, what is the sequence of events, when can I expect to see this happen. He has, I guess, a Northern European perspective or world view and he tries to impose that, even if it’s he’s not aware that he’s doing it all the time, he’s imposing that on him, in a place and in situations where it doesn’t really work. But he stubbornly keeps doing it, as we tend to do. ‘There must be a reason for this, I’m going to stubbornly find out.’ So he’s probably imprisoned by his own limitations, not so much by the landscape. The trap is within himself, or within his own mind.

jauja-e1427038551462I understand you were involved with the music in the film? Can you talk about that?

VM: This is Lisandro’s fifth movie and he did a lot of new things here. I mentioned the cinematographer, who looked at the landscape and lit it in a way that was very different from the way the type of Argentine cinematographer Lisandro had worked with before would have done. But it’s also the first time that he worked with professional actors. The script, for him, is sort of wordy – you know there’s not a lot of dialogue in the movie, but there’s more dialogue in this movie probably than there is in all four previous movies put together. Music, he’s never had a conventional music soundtrack before. If you’ve heard any music in his previous movies it would have been because it would have happened organically, coming out of radio or something. It was something that he tried – we were already part way through shooting and he said, ‘I think that that scene is one of the more important ones, I mean there’s a lot of entering and coming out of dreams, a lot of transitions in the movie. It takes seeing it two or three times before you see all of these moments from the first scene where the daughter sort of grabs my arm once I give her the answer she wants about getting a dog. She closes her eyes and never opens them again for the rest of the scene and I think that’s the first dream and by the end of the story you don’t know if we’re being dreamed or if the characters are all dreams or if it’s the dog’s dream or the girl’s dream. In a way, it doesn’t matter, it’s just what it stimulates when you’re watching it. But the music was something that he decided, ‘That transition is important, that night where he falls asleep under the stars, holding the daughter’s toy soldier because the next day he wakes up and the landscape, the weather, everything is changed, everything is different and he doesn’t realize at that point that he starts charging out – maybe he never fully realizes it in this story. But time has changed, also. So he thought it was important to help that transition with music?, which surprised me, because I knew he didn’t usually do that. And I said, ‘Well, what kind of music? I mean we have limitations and we don’t have any budget – what are we going to do?’ He said, ‘Well, it doesn’t have to be period – I’d rather it wasn’t period specific music’, but he described something with guitar, something that was lyrical and had a certain feel. And so I said, ‘Well, I have worked with and known for many years a very good guitar player named Buckethead, he’s a genius really and we’d record a lot of things, sometimes they have a lyrical quality that sounds like what you’re describing, I can send you some of these tracks and see what you think’. I didn’t think any more of it and then he said, ‘Well, I like this one a lot, I want to use this one, it’s perfect in terms of the time it lasts for that section. And then he said, ‘I like this other one too, because it has a circular structure that would work at the end, that would fit, actually, with the credits really well and it would mirror what’s happening with the story’ and I said, ‘Great, fine’. So that’s how that happened, it was unexpected, I would have never imagined I was going to be providing music for a movie – music is something I do for fun. I mean, I take it seriously, but this was never something I would have thought of, especially on a movie like this.

You have a producer credit on the film too. Has that creative influence that you’ve had over the film, affected the way you’ve performed on camera too, or the way you think about the film?

VM: I hope not. I don’t think so. I mean every movie that I do, I always try to do my job. There’s nothing wrong with just preparing your lines, showing up, doing them and leaving and maybe having no interest in what anyone else is doing. But for me, from my way of doing things, I can’t help but be interested in what other people are doing. As a photographer, I’m interested in what the cinematographer does, how he lights, how he frames shots. I’m interested in the director’s point of view. I’m trying to help him get across his vision, basically and I like to work with other actors and see what happens. I’m interested in the costumes, I’m interested in all aspects of it. As a producer I have more of, I guess, an established or a legal right to intercede in the filmmaker’s behalf, to protect his vision, which is what I’m trying to do anyway, I think, as a collaborator. Just practical things like, ‘Well, let’s make sure that the subtitles are correct, and they have to be right, whether it’s in Spanish or French or Danish. The poster – I just want the director to be happy and have the movie he wants, to be able to shoot it the way he wants, to be able to edit it the way he wants, and present it the way he sees it. That’s all that’s about, but it doesn’t really affect the way I perform.

Jauja-300x219 copyWere you involved in the location shooting?

VM: I wasn’t involved with that. Lisandro sent me pictures during his scouting period – he drove thousands and thousands of miles, all over the country, looking for these places and he was very careful about selecting them. It was interesting to see his process, discarding some and finally settling on others. But those were his choices, and good ones, I think.

Did the location shooting present any particular challenges?

VM: I suppose just comfort, but the group of people that made this movie, including me, it wasn’t a big deal to not have internet or not have phone service, or in some cases a hotel or something. It was part of the story and we knew that going in because of the remote areas we were filming in. I mean, logistics, yeah, getting equipment to certain places sometimes was tricky but we travelled light, we had one camera, I guess we had a small crew, so we made it work.

You touched on the multi-lingual nature of the movie previously. I don’t know if American-Danish is something you agree with as a label, but whether you appreciate that sort of cross-cultural mismatch between different people in the film.

VM: Well I was raised in Argentina and some people there mistakenly think I’m an Argentine actor. I guess you could say I’m an Argentine actor – I’ve been in two Argentine movies, speaking Spanish, in this case with a Danish accent. I don’t know – I may be more drawn to stories that have to do with that, but I’m not conscious of it. I don’t look at the budget or the language or the nationality, or even the genre of the movie when I’m looking for work or hoping something finds me. It’s really if it’s a story I think is interesting. you know I mean I was also in a movie that will be coming out soon called Far From Men, which is a movie that was shot in North Africa in French in Arabic and that’s not something I was setting out to do or would have ever expected I’d do but it’s a great story and I want to be part of it.

Can I just quickly ask about Timo (the cinematographer), because I’ve seen you talk about his Finnish sense of humor and some of the jokes that he pulled that you appreciated.

JAUJA_2 copyVM: At the start, I mean Argentines, generally speaking, there’s all kinds of people, just like there are everywhere. And every country in the world these days, especially Europe or almost anywhere is made up of all kinds of sensibilities and languages and points of view and races, even though if you listen to Marie Le Pen or UKIP or something you’d think that wasn’t true, but it is true, whether they like it or not. So generally speaking, I think that the crew, the first few days they were not sure what to make of him and Lisandro even asked me, ‘Is there something wrong with him? I said, No’, he said, ‘Why is he so sad?’ and I said, ‘He’s not sad, he’s just Finnish’. He was just, you know, standing by the sea, looking at the sky. I guess then I looked at it in terms of Argentines would more say what’s on their mind and there’s a different kind of energy and he was very still and very quiet. He didn’t hardly speak at all. He’s very efficient, doing his job, but to me he was just a guy from Finland looking at the sea, waiting for the Argentines to get their shit together so he could shoot the scene. That was all that was going on, there was nothing else going on. And even the first few days, occasionally he would say something and I might be the only person that might laugh, because they wouldn’t even realise he was telling a joke because he was so dry but after a few days they understood each other perfectly and it was great, it was a great combination and it was great to see their interaction and what can happen when you have an open mind. Both on his side and on their side, it was a really good experience for everyone.

What’s your perception of the film, now that it’s on release?

VM: I thought it would be an interesting movie but it turned out better than I could have hoped. And the reception, the reaction to it, particularly from critics who usually would only write about more mainstream type movies, in North America and Europe and elsewhere, has been incredibly positive. I think it’s maybe the best, overall the best reviewed movie I’ve ever been in, including maybe even Lord of the Rings and the Cronenberg movies. It’s incredible. I’m really pleased, but I am, to be honest, surprised. I didn’t expect that. When we showed the movie at Cannes, I felt it would probably go over well there, I didn’t know that the movie would win the Firpresci Prize for Best Movie and all that. In that place I thought, well, yeah, he’s been there before and this is probably a movie that’s a little more accessible and it probably will do well. But beyond that, at the time, I said to him, ‘Well, you know, when it’s shown in North America and Great Britain, other places, you may get savaged by the critics. They may just say, ‘Well, this is nonsense, I don’t know what’s going on here, I don’t understand anything, it’s too slow, etc, etc’. And that’s not been the case. Almost always it’s been well reviewed, by all kinds of newspapers.

Has your own understanding of what the film’s about evolved, from first reading the script to acting in it and now seeing the final film?

VM: I’m still working it out. I’m still working out what the movie’s about [laughs]. And I like those kinds of stories. I like those kinds of directors who tell a story or make something that provokes questions but resists answering the questions. I think Cronenberg is that way as well. I like artists that do that, whether they be poets or painters or musicians or film directors. Each time I’ve seen the movie I’ve seen another layer, usually some other aspect to it. Usually having to do with dreams that start and end with sleep, one dream tying into another until you’re not sure who’s dream it really is. I mean that, you get the first time, but you get it in a more detailed way with each viewing, I find, at least that’s been my experience. I’ve been really pleased – it’s much richer than I expected and I think Lisandrom would say the same thing, that things happen just because he’s was open to allowing them to happen, contributions to be made and chance to play a role. It’s a movie that has a much greater impact and many more layers to it than he would have imagined. I would bet that he would agree with that.

How does working with a director like Lisandro compare with working with Cronenberg?

VM: Not so different. I mean David Cronenberg, on a technical level and a story-telling level is doing something that’s different, but they’re very similar in the sense that they’re calm, friendly presences on the set, they’re not authoritarian, they’re not intolerant. They’re both very secure as people, so that you never get the sense from them that they have this insecure need to make sure everyone is aware at all times, especially in the media, but the crew as well, that every idea, every thing that’s happening is their idea and they control all aspects of the storytelling. They’re more secure than most directors, they’re open to contributions, they’re open to chance playing a role they don’t need to claim authorship of every aspect of what’s going on during the shoot and in the final product. So I find them to be very similar in that regard.

safe_image-1.phpSpeaking of Cronenberg, did you enjoy naked wrestling in Eastern Promises as much certain sections of your audience did?

VM: (Laughs). It was pretty uncomfortable, not just the idea of being naked, it was being thrown around on hard tiles. It would probably have been more comfortable if they could have had it be as warm as it should have been, because otherwise there would have been steam on the camera and we wouldn’t have been able to film very well. But no, it was just a scene that had particular physical challenges just to get through it and do the choreography right and obviously since there wasn’t clothing, you couldn’t wear padding and stuff, that was just the nature of it. So it wasn’t enjoyable in that sense, what what was enjoyable, like with any scene, is if the shots worked, and in that case of that particular scene, it was especially enjoyable if the shot worked, because it meant you don’t have to do it again [laughs]. Normally, I’ll do as many takes as you want, I like the process, but with that it was like, ‘Huh, I’m glad we got that, let’s move on’.

Do you have plans to work with Cronenberg again?

VM: Nothing specific, but we always talk about wanting to, so hopefully something will happen.

Is there a particular part you’ve always wanted to play or a dream project you’ve always wanted to get off the ground?

VM: There’s a couple of stories – I’ve written two scripts, I’m writing a third one now and one of those scripts I hope to some day direct. I have ideas for other stories that I think could make movies, but I don’t have one burning ambition in terms of a story or a particular character or anything like that. The same goes for acting – there isn’t a role that I’ve always wanted to play in the theatre or I’ve always wanted to make a movie about. As I say, I kind of try to see what comes my way and I try to pick things that I think I’d like to see, in part because it’s just more fun and then it’s easier to speak with you guys afterwards if it’s something I like, rather than having to find clever ways to avoid talking about something that I know is not very interesting. And also because it just takes a long time if you do it properly. Whether it’s an independent movie or even a very well planned big budget movie that has a start date and a release date and all things are known beforehand, it still takes a long time to prepare something well, to shoot it well and to promote it, so it might as well be something you really find interesting, you know, that you’re not just trying to convince journalists that you find it interesting, but that you actually like.

So, quoting from the film, what is it that makes life function and move forward?

VM: I don’t know. As my character says, I don’t know. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth asking the question. It’s like saying what makes a perfect movie? Well, there is no way possible to make a perfect movie, it doesn’t exist, there is no such thing as perfect. But striving to make a perfect movie or to even describe what a perfect movie might be – which is also impossible, I think – is worth the effort. It’s like, why do you get out of bed and why do you even bother to brush your teeth or say hello to anyone? And some people opt out, some people commit suicide or otherwise check out, because they don’t feel it’s worthwhile. Why do we read a book? Why do we go to the movies? Why do we ask questions? Why do we answer questions? Because for some reason, we’re curious. We want to know. And some people get very upset when they start to realise as they grow up that there’s a lot of questions, most of them that don’t have definitive answers and that can be very unsettling. But it’s just a process. So I don’t know and I don’t mind not knowing, but I’m still going to keep trying to find out.

Jauja_Lisandro_AlonsoYou mentioned theatre and obviously Brits are very fond of Danish actors. Would you consider returning to the stage?

VM: Yeah, I’d like to. The last thing I did was in Spain, an Ariel Dorfman play, and I enjoyed the sensation. And I’ve also done some poetry readings, I did one recently there, so that the live audience, the fear and overcoming that fear and connecting with a live audience is a really great feeling and I like that so yeah, sure, I’d like to.

You mentioned the Camus adaptation, Far From Men, earlier. Can you say a little more about what drew you to that?

VM: It’s a great story. He’s one of the writers I most admire, for his art, for his writing, but also his ideas and his stance, his humanist stance. I’ve always admired him or I’ve admired him for a long time and this story – it’s a very short story of his that David Oelhoffen, the writer-director expanded on, but in a very clever way and very true to Camus’ spirit. I liked it as an adventure story, as a relationship story, but I also found it valuable in terms of the thoughts it stimulates about what’s happening now, particularly in the Middle East, but everywhere. How do you get past extremism? In the case of this story, two men who seem so different, so much so that you can’t really see any way that they could be friends, an Arab and a man of European descent, and yet somehow, by going through some difficult experiences together, they do – not in some corny movie way but in a very organic, believable way they come to have some understanding. It doesn’t mean it’s unconditional love between them, but there is an understanding, there’s a rapprochement, there’s a coming together that happens emotionally, mentally between these two people that I thought was a really good story, worth telling and an important story for our times. And I think the director did a really good job with it.

You mentioned your poetry reading and it reminded me that on April Fool’s Day in 2006, you released a CD with your son. I was wondering if that was like a tradition in your family? Do you do April Fool’s jokes in your family?

VM: No, not necessarily. Once in a while, prank calls and so forth. April first has two connotations for me and the one that you are probably are not aware of is more important to me than the actual April Fool’s idea. On April first 1908, a football club named San Lorenzo was established in Argentina and that’s the team I grew up with as a child. So April first, that’s what I think of first.

Speaking of football, I gather you’re a big sports fan in general…

VM: I like to watch sports, particularly I like to watch football, hockey too, in the sense that I think there’s something dramatically interesting about what’s going on. What happens when your back is up against the wall, which I think is the foundation of any interesting drama. What happens when ordinary people are put into extraordinary situations. You know, when you see comebacks like what happened in Paris playing against Chelsea recently, that was a great drama. Watching that, if you like football, that was like watching a great dramatic, intense movie. That game, just because Mourinho’s tactic was, ‘No matter what happens, I cannot lose’ – he was playing not to lose and the other team had nothing to lose and they had ten men instead of eleven. It looked like there was no way that they could win it, but there was something compelling about that drama and the opposing tactics, so yeah, the tactical approaches of each coach. they were dramatically interesting and the combination of the two made for great drama. It doesn’t always work out that way, that the team that really is trying to play attractive attacking football wins. You know, life isn’t fair and sports aren’t fair and it doesn’t work that way, but every once in a while a fairy tale happens before your eyes and it’s fun to watch.

Have you considered playing a footballer in a movie?

VM: No, I’m probably too old to do that at this point anyway. I think it’s a difficult thing to make a good movie about, because there’s so much going on. There’s 22 players, 20 of them are moving constantly, and each move they make, each step they take or each change of direction is for some reason, tactically. It’s a really hard thing to make even an interactive video about. To make a movie about outside of playing has been done okay, I thought The Damned United was interesting, it was pretty good. But I think it’s very difficult to make a compelling drama about what you see. If you’re in a stadium, or watching on TV, it’s difficult to make a movie because there’s so much going on, so much being thought of, and if you’re not used to watching it, you don’t see most of that stuff anyway, but if you’re really into it, you see all that going on and how could you possibly film all that? Why does that guy go here? Why does that guy go there? Or why is that guy angry at the other player because he didn’t go there? There’s so much going on, which is why it’s so great to watch. Matthew Turner.


Jauja (2014)

JAUJA_2 copyDirector: Lisandro Alonso

Writers: Lisandro Alonso/Fabian Casas

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Ghita Norby, Viilbjork Mallin Agger, Adrian Fondari

108min   Argentina/Denmark and others | Danish with subtitles.

Argentinian director Lisandro Alonso has become synonymous with the ‘slow cinema’ movement. His previous works, though mysterious, have been anchored in realism but here he drifts into full-on fantasy, ‘creating an original imaginary world with a landscape of passion and inner truth’. And there is certainly something fantastic and otherworldly about JAUJA despite its elegant historical context. The film is also in Danish, Mortensen’s native language.

In 1882, Viggo Mortensen’s troubled Danish captain casts around wearily in a shifting seascape of Patagonia where he is leading an expedition to discover Jauja – an mythical Argentinian ‘El Dorado’. Dinesen is worried for the safety of his teenage daughter (Agger) amongst his troupe of randy South American soldiers and bewildered by the rumours of a savage local tribe of ‘Coconut Heads’ who are also looking for the ‘paradise’. Meanwhile his daughter has a mind of her own and abducts a young soldier who she later seduces in the long grass.  After a long and poetic introductory sequence where the camera is mostly fixed on the vast and wild panorama, Dinesen wanders off on horseback across the wilderness with its magical starry skies and incandescent daylight. He loses his horse after a lethal encounter with the tribe and then discovers a wise old woman (Norby) in a cave by a salty spring who introduces a shift in register to folklore and legend which transports us gradually back to Europe for a startling denouement. MT


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Force Majeure (2014) Bfi Player

Dir: Ruben Östlund | Cast: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Kristofer Hivju, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren | 120mins  Sweden/Drama

The working title for Ruben Östlund”s avalanche drama was originally Tourist but FORCE MAJEURE injects a more sinister and bewildering feeling into this cold-hearted psychological thriller that follows in the wake of an ‘act of God’. Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) is a family man on a skiing holiday with his wife and kids who puts his own safety before that of his vulnerable family when disaster strikes.

But luck saves the day (or fate, in his case) and once the threatening snow cloud has transformed into a harmless puff of ice, Tomas goes back to eat humble pie (or Baked Alaska?) having blown his marriage and betrayed his children. His ego gets in the way and he can’t admit his cowardice, even when good judgement prevails.

Ruben Östlund is a pastmaster of the moral drama. His previous film Play concerned a group of black immigrants who mugged some white kids while the disaffected adults looked on, afraid to report the crime lest being accused of racism. Here, Tomas puts his safety first, albeit in the heat of the moment. But this behaviour is not unusual in the scheme of things: Many men put their businesses or their own interests before those of their wives and families – it’s a natural human response want to safeguard the ability to provide. They end up losing their marriages and often their liveliehoods as a result – Ostlund has cleverly transposed this situation into an exciting and tense tragedy reaping dramatic rewards – but the family survive. Wives can often get over cowardice, if they feel their husband’s remorse. Here, Tomas’s wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), could forgive if only Tomas could admit his human failing, but his pride stands in the way. Tomas is caught between the avalanche of his male ego and that is what rampantly ends up destroying all he holds dear.

Fredrik Wenzel and Fred Arne Wergeland capture the magnificent natural landscape, both beautiful and hostile – showing the mountains as a fabulous natural force of nature and a dangerous, untamed wilderness, much the same as ‘male’ at its core. In Force Majeure, the real terror starts after nature has calmed down. Kristofer Hivju puts in a brave attempt to stick up for his friend but this all feels disingenuous in the scheme of things. It’s an uncomfortable film that forces us to contemplate our own behaviour. The children (newcomers Clara and Vincent Wettergren) watch silently as the family implodes. No justification can wash away this avalanche of guilt, no matter how strong the sun shines in the aftermath. MT


Foxcatcher (2014) | DVD release

image007Dir.: Bennett Miller; Cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave; USA 2014, 135 min.

This is the story of a very rich man in his fifties, who fell in love with young athletes. His relationships with them oscillated between his repressed lust for them and his wish to emulate their youth, beauty and strength. Unable to fulfil either of his goals, he finally couldn’t look at them anymore  – he smashed the fake mirror.

Bennett Miller (Capote) directs with rigour and style, portraying John Eleuthere du Pont (1938-2010) as an ambiguous, vain, and lonely man, living in the shadow of his overpowering mother, Jean Liseter du Pont (Redgrave), who bred race horses on an 800 acre estate. She lived to be 91, and after her death in 1988, her son and heir to the du Pont business empire, one of the biggest chemical mega-corporations, renamed the Liseter estate “Foxcatcher” and turned it into a training centre for Olympic athletes, mainly wrestlers.

Two years earlier, John (Carell) had met Mark Schultz (Channing), Olympic wrestling champion at the LA games in 1984, who lived in poverty. Du Pont invited him to live on the estate with him, and became his coach. Mark won the World Championship in France in 1987, but their relationship deteriorated, after du Pont was able to convince Mark’s older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo is superb), an-ex wrestler and coach, to live and work with him on “Foxcatcher”. Dave was Mark’s father figure, the two of them were abandoned early on in life by their parents. Du Pont, jealous of their close relationship, was able to separate the two, but even this was not good enough for him…

Carell’s Du Pont is a rather obnoxious, sad old man, slightly built and anything but athletic, he becomes a veteran wrestler in his fifties, buying his victories probably with bribes. When his mother, by now in a wheel chair, sees him touching the young wrestlers in the gymnasium, laying on his belly, pretending to teach them moves, but only interested in groping them, she leaves disgusted. For her, John has come down in the world – and she lets him feel it, in the way that only Redgrave can. In an unguarded moment, he tells Mark, that his only friend til his mid teens was the son of the family chauffeur – until he found out that his mother paid him to be nice to her son.

Carrel is breath-taking brilliant as the mean snake, paying for his emotional needs to be met. Channing’s Mark is an open book, full of good intentions, but only able to solve conflicts with aggression – against others or himself. Ruffalo’s older brother is the most mature of the triangle, he just wants to do the best for his family, always able to see the best in others. Camera : the panorama shots over the sheer endless estate are as beautiful, as the shots in the gymnasium are oppressive: evoking a palpable odour of stale sweat. FOXCATCHER is a mesmerising psychological thriller about a man who didn’t get love as a child and couldn’t buy it with all his wealth as an adult. AS

Now out On DVD

Amour Fou (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Jessica Hausner

Cast: Birte Schnoeink, Christian Friedel, Sandra Hueller, Stephan Grossmann, Barbara Schnitzler

Austria/Luxembourg/Germany 2014, 98 min.

AMOUR FOU opens in 1811, in with a painterly image of a Berlin intellectual household listening to Mozart’s “Das Veilchen”, performed by a professional singer. This is a typical setting for the classic “Hausmusik” (musical salon) chez Friedrich (Grossmann) and Henrietta (Schnoeink) Vogel and their twelve-year old daughter Pauline. Significantly, one of their guests is the poet and playwright Heinrich von Kleist (Friedel). The latter is in love with death and has already asked his cousin Marie (Hueller) to ‘die with him’ as a expression of their mutual feelings; Hausner implying that she is not the first to be asked this question. Henrietta, who appears a contented and modest mother and wife, is next in line, and she vehemently denies any interest in a suicide pact. Later on, she falls ill; what seems to be at first just a psychosomatic symptom, turns out be terminal cancer, and von Kleist seems to have found a companion to die with at last. But the couple’s first try falls due von Kleist’s boorish and petty behaviour, before the poet makes a second attempt to inveigle Henrietta at the “Kleine Wannsee” into to his pathetic scheme, near Potsdam on November 11th 1811.

Hausner portrays von Kleist not very sympathetically: he comes over as egocentric and not at all romantic or even physically appealing. After Henrietta’s illness is diagnosed, von Kleist rejects her wish for a suicide pact and tries his luck again with the much more upper class Marie, who rejects him again as she is now betrothed to a Frenchman. Left with no alternative, Heinrich returns, apologetic, to Henrietta. Friedrich Vogel seems to be a much better person, really in love with his wife, even though he treats her (as was common at the time) like an infant daughter. The most unpleasant person in the Vogel household is certainly Henrietta’s mother, a bitter and resentful person, who seems to dislike everyone.

Hausner (Lourdes) succeeds not only in revealing Heinrich as a manipulator, she also indirectly answers a question many asked after WWII: how could such a culture-loving nation like Germany commit so many crimes against humanity. The answer can be found in AMOUR FOU, and in historical figures like von Kleist himself. Right after listening to Mozart, the discussion at the table turns to the new Prussian tax laws which, according to Friedrich Vogel, a government official, will set the peasants free as with taxation comes more freedom. The undemocratic argument at the middle class table was “one cannot give the lower classes the freedom to do what they wish, since they are not capable of making decisions”.

Whilst cultural appreciation went hand in hand with reactionary arguments at this level of society, on a higher level, the togetherness of culture and aggression led to continuous wars: Frederick the Great, who played many instruments, among them the flute to a semi-professional level, led the most bloody wars of his period, including the Seven-Year war (1756-1763). He was not by chance the idol of Adolf Hitler. And one should not forget that Heinrich von Kleist himself spend the years between 1792 and 1799 in the Prussian army, seeing action in the “Rhine” campaign and leaving with the rank of a lieutenant. Hausner shows clearly, that all characters in her narrative have an emotional deficit, and that von Kleist’s false romanticism is really a death wish, accompanied by the need to murder somebody else in the process. There is a direct line from von Kleist’s Wagnerian dream of destruction and self-destruction, to Ucicky’s U-boot film Morgenrot (premiered not accidently on the 2.2.1933) and his hero declaring: “We Germans might not know how to live but we certainly know how to die”.

Hausner sets AMOUR FOU in expertly-framed and sumptuously-lit tableaux, showing distance and analytical endeavour and giving us a formal yet exquisitely pleasurable impression of looking at pictures in an exhibition. Schnoeink’s Henrietta is vulnerable, but still caring. All the men, including the doctor who treats her, suffer from a total lack of empathy; Friedel’s von Kleist leading the field. The set design and general aesthetic underline the lack of any sensual enjoyment in life: the bedroom of the Vogel’s looking like a luxury prison cell. AMOUR FOU is a brilliant portrait of a society unable to be in touch with emotions or any kind of sensuality. The relationship between von Kleist and Henrietta is symbolic: there is no passion or love, just a quiet resignation and a desire for death.


Snow in Paradise (2014)

Director: Andrew Hulme

Writers: Martin Askew, Andrew Hulme

Cast: Frederick Schmidt, Martin Askew, David Spinx, Aymen Hamdouchi

118min  UK  Thriller

In Hoxton, two young men have formed a friendship across the cultural divide Dave (Frederick Schmidt) and his friend Tariq (Aymen Hamdouchi) are wide-boys on a small scale, working for Dave’s notorious East End family.

This gutsy gangland Britflick is the screen debut of Andrew Hulme, better known for his work editing Lucky Number SlevinThe American and The Imposter. SNOW IN PARADISE stands out for its portrayal of an increasingly gentrified East End where the old school crims are slowly being pushed aside by upmarket media types who would rather sip organic beer than chomp bacon sandwiches in the local greasy spoon and a Muslim ‘bruvverhood’ who spend their time preaching peace in the local Mosque.

The film is loosely based on the life of Martin Askew, who co-wrote the script and stars as arch villain “Uncle Jimmy”, a gangland hoodlum. Holding Dave in his thrall with a mesmerising presence, he offers Dave a chance to make some real money with a drug deal – a step up from his usual petty crime. Dave takes the unwitting Tariq along but events turn sour when Tariq goes missing causing Dave’s private demons, coke and crystal meth, to resurface in his life, clouding his vision as he gradually descends into a murky underworld caught between the false bonhommie of “Uncle Mickey” and his rival, the venal “Uncle Jimmy” (David Spinx). His desperate search for his friend eventually leads him to Tariq’s Mosque, where he is welcomed by the faux sincerity of Amjad (Ashley Chin).

As gangland Britflicks go, SNOW is a gripping and watchable thriller and certainly a cut above the rest but the problem lies with the character of Dave. Good-looking and cockily self-assured, he certainly cuts a confident dash in the opening sequences but then completely falls apart on Tariq’s disappearance, despite sexual and emotional support from his girlfriend Teresa, whom he openly adores despite her sideline in sexual favours. Sceptical and almost derisory at first about the power of Islam, Dave then appears to openly embrace the faith without a by-your-leave, making his character both implausible as a hardened petty criminal and a born-again, enlightened soul. All this is viewed through a trippy haze of stylised visual flourishes and a hypnotic soundtrack that occasionally serve to blunt the narrative rather than sharpen what could be a brilliantly hard-nosed thriller with some really first class acting, particularly from Askew, David Spinx and Frederick Schimidt in the volatile lead.  With a little more focus on Dave’s religious conversion (be it to Islam, Buddism, Christianity or any Faith) and what it actually means and stands for in the scheme of things, this cracking debut could have been a good deal more convincing. As it stands, SNOW IN PARADISE is nevertheless a worthwhile contribution to the British gangland genre making Andrew Hulme a directing force to be reckoned with. MT


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Mr Turner (2014) | DVD blu release

MR_TURNER_still_2 copyMr Turner | Best Actor – Timothy Spall | Cannes 2014 | Biopic |149mins

Director: Mike Leigh

Cast: Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Joshua Maguire

Mike Leigh’s ambitious biopic of J M W Turner’s last twenty years serves as a worthy and painterly tribute to a national treasure. In a performance of some complexity, Timothy Spall portrays the ‘painter of light’ as a romantic gruffalo with a heart of gold but a curious style of love-making. The film opens in 1826 in a magnificent Dutch landscape where Turner is visiting to develop the impressionist style of his later years. A solid British cast works to the ‘Leigh family method’ fleshing out contempo social history: At the Royal Academy we meet arch rivals John Constable (a haughty James Fleet) and other Leigh ‘staples’ (Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen). At home in his studio, Dorothy Atkinson plays his obliging house-keeper, a willing recipient of his sexual abuse. All are carefully worked into the narrative along with a humorous vignette from Joshua Maguire as a geeky live-wire John Ruskin. In Margate, Turner finds peace amd contentment with a local landlady (a luminous Marion Bailey). Victorian England is very much a character, proudly flying the flag of the Empire at its peak but Leigh, in a apposite twist, is keen to underline that Turner left his works to the Nation and not the homes of the rich Victorian industrialists who had funded him. Although this is a departure from his usual subject matter; in casting his usual collaborators it all feels very ‘Mike Leigh’. MT


MR TURNER IS now on DVD blu

Maps to the Stars (2014) | DVD blu release

Director: David Cronenberg

Writer: Bruce Wagner

Cast: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, Olivia Williams, Evan Bird

101min Canada   Drama

MAPS TO THE STARS is a bitter and snarky LA-set satire with Cronenburg’s classic brutal flourishes and scripter Bruce Wagner’s witty one-liners mostly delivered by John Cusack as a self-centred, self-help guru, Dr Stafford Weiss. Julianne Moore works her wonders as a hard-bitten, neurotic bitch Havana Segrand, relentlessly chasing fame and celebrity in a performance that won her Best Actress at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

In Hollywood, the Weiss family live in a bland, modernist house  – Dr Stafford’s books have made him a fortune, and his odious wife Cristina (Olivia Williams) spends her time over-parenting their thirteen-year old son, Benjie (Evan Bird), an obnoxious and self-possessed child star. Their estranged daughter Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) has recently been released from a psychiatric hospital after setting fire to the family home. Agatha is now back in circulation as Segrand’s PA and desperately seeking a reconciliation with the family who understandably disowned her. She’s also in a liaison with Robert Pattinson, who mumbles his way through as a wannabe star cum chauffeur. Segrand

This is Film Noir at its bleakest and most weird and, apart from the odd stab of humour, should carry a Government Health Warning: two hours in the presence of this spiteful smorgasbord of characters who parade their sordid lives before us like human incarnations of the World’s Most Venomous Creatures could well send you into detox therapy. As we gradually we sink with them into their sad morass of selfdom, Cronenberg’s signature frigid interiors and unfriendly locations complete a cool-lensed picture of Hell. If this is contempo LA, then take my advice and catch the first plane home. MT



Leviathan (2014)

Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev | Writers: Andrei Zvyagintsev, Oleg Negin | Cast: Aleksei Serebyakov, Elana Lyadova, Roman Madyanov, Vladimir Vdovichenkov | Russia Drama |141min

Small, large, small, large: that’s the pattern of canvas sizes on which Andrei Zvyagintsev seems to be working. The Russian filmmaker’s tight debut feature THE RETURN (2003) was followed by sprawling sophomore effort THE BANISHMENT (2007), while taut masterpiece ELENA (2011) is succeeded now by suitably named LEVIATHAN, his most ambitious work to date. Taking its inspiration from the Book of Job, Zvyagintsev and co-scriptwriter Oleg Negin’s big, bleak statement on contemporary Russia won the Best Screenplay prize at Cannes, and held a capacity audience rapt for its 141 minutes this week at the 14th edition of T-Mobile New Horizons in Wrocław, Poland.

Melding the domestic and the social, the personal and the political, LEVIATHAN tells the northwest Russia-set tale of vodka-swigging Kolya (Aleksei Serebryakov), whose beautiful inherited beachside home – shared with his younger wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova) and his son from a previous marriage Roma (Sergei Pokhodaev) – is under threat when the corrupt local mayor Vadim (Roman Madyanov) purchases the surrounding land. Kolya enlists good pal Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), a lawyer from Moscow, who arrives in town to scare Vadim off with some canny research of his own, and to rekindle a sexual fling with Lilya.

To say any more is to ruin Zvyagintsev’s most narratively complex work to date. What makes this tremendous film so rewarding, however, is the director’s retention of previously employed ambiguities, which he puts to use in an unprecedently expansive storytelling style. As such, the Russian, who for many has been a kind of successor to Tarkovsky (claims and comparisons that appear now to be unhelpfully lazy), is pushing the boat out here into new territory not unlike how Nuri Bilge Ceylan did with ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA – which ranks alongside Zvyagintsev’s ELENA as one of this decade’s best films.

LEVIATHAN now surely joins such ranks. Before anything else are the familiar strengths. Regular cinematographer Mikhail Krichman shoots with a reliance on the natural light of northwest Russia’s late summer/early autumn, giving the whole thing a pallet at once unhealthily under-lit and richly blue. Elena Lyadova, a less central performer in ELENA, is here elevated to key player: in her, Zvyagintsev has found an actress whose hardened beauty betrays all the hurt and disappointment that an ordinary life down on the lower rungs can bring. In so much as a glance here, she conveys a woman caught between the rock of an unhappy marriage and the unbearably hard place of a doomed affair. Philip Glass’s music also returns: ‘The Ruins’, from his 1983 opera Akhnaten, bookends proceedings over sequences of harsh, foreboding cliff faces and crashing, ominous waves.

Does the film overreach? Though such passages as that just mentioned are vivid and gripping in themselves, they do suggest a director who’s possibly too eager to imbue his work with an air of thematic significance. All the more refreshing, then, that the film is also Zvyagintsev’s funniest by far. Never settling for any one simple tonal register, it at times reaching levels of black satire, most notably in its early depictions of Vadim the mayor, a shark in a small pond whose office boasts a framed portrait of Putin, to whose shady Machiavellianism he palpably aspires (other framed leaders, from Lenin to Gorbachev, feature in another scene). As Vadim, Madyanov steals the show, resembling a fluffy teddy bear dowsed in vodka one moment and a ruthless, no-nonsense brute the next.

In a key scene, this cartoonishly disgusting villain seeks sympathy from the church – and comes away with an unspoken blessing to destroy the lives of ordinary and largely decent folk. And, on the beach not far from the domestic space eventually demolished with brutally undiscerning abandon by a bulldozer, is to be found an avatar of Russia today: the sad, giant skeleton of a beached whale. MICHAEL PATTISON

NOW ON DVD/Blu from


Adieu au Langage 3D | DVD/blu

Dir.: Jean-Luc Godard; Cast: Heloise Godet, Kamel Abdeli; France 2014, 70 min.

The old provocateur is back: JLG is 83, but still out to re-invent cinema as we know it. This time, his main challenge is to subvert 3D into his universe of chaos, quotes and role-plays. And a dog, no less than the master’s very own Roxy Mieville, is the co-star. Before we get too carried away by the master’s latest innovations, let us not forget that some of the great ‘revolutionary’ ideas came about by chance: his famous editing style, which made his debut Breathless so wonderfully new and vibrant, was the result of his producer wanting the original two hour version cut. JLG, instead of taking whole scenes out, as it was the norm in those days, simply cut his scenes, leaving a more open ending to many of them. And how much did we admire actors reading ‘political’ news from the newspapers of the day – like in Bande à Part. Only to be told by DOP Raoul Coutard, that JLG did not have enough script material to shoot the daily quota asked for by the producer – and simply improvised by said readings. Just to remind us all that what we might admire today as just another sign of greatness, may well have had a much more down to earth origin.

Having said his ADIEU TO LANGUAGE is full of verve, and not so overloaded with quotes and allusions as Film Socialism; it is in a way a return to the “old’ Godard of the 60s. To start with, a couple (and a dog) are the centrepiece, we even get a sort of a narrative: they are discussing, fighting, mostly naked and trying their best to look like the couple in Une Femme Mariée, not only because she is married and he is single, but even their playfulness camouflages deep unrest. Their dog Roxy steals the show often, and Godard, not overly fond of humans, pays the mutt the compliment “the dog is the only creature, who loves others more than himself”.

We get the usual quotes, Aragon, Faulkner and Sartre among them, and see old movie clips (Peck and Gardner in Kilemandjaro and Miriam Hopkins in Jekyll & Hyde); JLG’s own costume drama – Mary Shelly is writing “Frankenstein” at Lake Geneva and lots of music by Schoenberg. There are witty (but ultimately empty) remarks like “Solzenitsyn did not need Google’ or “Those lacking imagination take refuge in reality”. And when we deconstruct the title, we end up with “Ah God” and “Oh Language” – very clever indeed!

But he main assault is saved for the visuals. Apart from the usual multiple video formats, colour saturated HD and grainy video shots; JLG ‘invents’ his own 3D version, where we get different images for each eye, the third dimension making the 2D version look like old fashioned theatre backdrops, the superimpositions such creating another dimension. These images of the background create another film all together, Godard showing the chaos we live out in our visual double world, where the pictures, words and feelings don’t go together any more. The many fragmentations of modern life have rarely been shown so impressively on image, sound and context level.

GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE proves that JLG still wants to do things his own way – he’d rather show a dog’s view of the world: barking mad he might be, but there is nobody else left who dares. AS

DVD/Blu released December 2014

Winter Sleep | Kis Uykusu (2014)

Dir.: Nuri Bilge Ceylan; Cast: Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sözen, Demet Akbao; Turkey/ France/Germany, 2014, 196 min.

Set deep in the mountain region of Cappadocia in Anatolia, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme D’Or Winner is, in spite of its considerable length, a dense and often very confrontational portrait of human fallibility. Even though it takes place inside a claustrophobic hotel, the outdoor scenes are riveting, set against the background of the majestic mountains.

Men are usually out of touch in all of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films, and in WINTER SLEEP, his new anti-hero Aydin (Bilginer) is no exception. An ex-actor, he owns and runs a hotel, but his real (inherited) wealth is derived from rentals and businesses in the nearby villages. Aydin sees himself as an enlightened feudal lord; mostly spending his days in the hotel, where he writes a daily column for the local newspaper, leaving the dirty work to his right-hand man Hydayet, his lawyers and the bailiffs. He is therefore shocked, when Ilyas, a small boy, throws a stone into the side window of his jeep. It later emerges that his father, Ismail, has been visited by the bailiffs for unpaid rent. In an absurdly degrading scene, Hamdi, Ilyas’ uncle and the local iman, brings the child to Aydin’s hotel, were he has to kiss “the master’s” hand in the presence of Aydin’s much younger wife Nihal (Sözen).

At home, where Aydin lives with Nihal and his recently divorced sister Necla (Akbao), he again presents himself as somebody he is not: the tolerant intellectual, man of the world, writing an history of the Turkish theatre, and letting the women get on with their lives – which is obviously not as important or interesting as his. The reality is, that Nihal lived for many years in fear of him, and even now, he tries to interfere in her charity work, treating her like a teacher would treat a not particularly clever child. His passive-aggressive behaviour towards his sister, the only person brave enough to tell him the truth (“I wish my threshold of self-deception was as low as yours”), culminates in him accusing her of failing to prevent her ex-husband’s alcoholism. Whilst he is benevolent and generous to the few hotel guests, he treats the women with arrogance and utter impudence.

Doubtless, Ceylan pays homage to Bergman and Bresson: in the long, vicious arguments between Aydin and his wife/sister, the camera catches the protagonists in shot/contra-shot movement, the close-ups showing the hurt on the faces of the women, and Aydin’s sarcastic smile. In choosing Schubert’s piano sonata no. 20, which Bresson used in Au hazard Balthazar, Ceylan connects not only Nihal’s treatment by Aydin to the French master, but also shows the wild horses of the region; one of them, Aydin, in a more generous mood, frees, so it can return to the wild.

In the last hour, changes are signaled, when Aydin decides to go to Istanbul for the winter, only to change his mind, landing himself and his wife in unconnected situations, which serve as a showdown for both of them. The widescreen camera catches the wintry landscape in panorama shots, as well the equally cold relationships inside the hotel. Bilginer’s Aydin is a wonderful study of a heartless tyrant, who tries to fool everyone, but only succeeds in being more and more isolated. Sözen’s Nihal is vulnerable, but she tries to fight her husband, even if he just chuckles, when called “selfish and spiteful”. Akbao’s sister is angry and alone, since she does not take Nihals’ side, instead she starts longing for her ex-husband, even he seems to be agreeable than her brother. Ceylan’s intensity never lets up, leaving WINTER SLEEP as an unforgettable chronicle of human psychological warfare, in the midst of a magnificent winter landscape. AS


Saint Laurent (2014) Tribute to Gaspard Ulliel

Director: Bertrand Bonnello | Cast: Lea Seydoux, Gaspard Ulliel, Louis Garrel, Aymeline Valade, Brady Corbet | France Biopic

Bertrand Bonnello presents his sinuously sensual portrait of YSL that focuses on the designer’s early years. Although a great deal longer than Jalil Lespert’s version, it doesn’t really illuminate more of the designer’s life but centres on his sexuality to the apparent disproval of Pierre Bergé for reasons that will emerge on viewing. Gaspard Ulliel gives a far more complex portrait than Pierre Neney’s elegant but sterile take on YSL (although the latter was superb); Ulliel’s starry allure also has more to offer female audiences coupled with the additional frisson of Louis Garrel as his lover, Lea Seydoux as Loulou de la Falaise and Betty Catroux (Aymeline Valade). There’s an inspired midway montage where the screen splits to offer salient events ‘du jour’ as the YSL key looks are parading on the seventies catwalk. This serves as a brilliant counterpoint to social history as much as a slight dig at the ephemeral nature of the fashion world. Bonnello captures the zeitgeist of the seventies and the heady world of pristine couture that ushered in the more relaxed prey-a-porter era. YSL’s languorous and luxurious styling; darkly exotic designs; femme fatale models (Helmut Newton-style); louche living both in Paris and Morocco, and, of course, his descent into drugs are all encapsulated in this dreamy drama. Ulliel’s performance is vulnerable and coltish; always delicate but supremely sexual. Bergé gets short shrift here, with Jeremie Renier hardly getting a look-in and there is much less focus on the business-side apart from a protracted scene with a US Financier (Brady Corbet) that feels out of place. Louis Garrel gives an awkward performance as his lover, Jacques de Bascher, looking more like a German stormbamführer than his aristocratic and dominant beau. The only other slight flaw in Bonnello’s biopic is his decision to cast Helmut Belger as the ageing YSL, in a badly voice-synced, and ill-advised jump forward. Otherwise, this is a visual treat that won Best Costumes at the Cesar awards. MT


Two Days, One Night (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Cast: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Pili Groyne, Simon Caudry

Belgium/France/Italy 2014, 95 min.

The Dardennes brothers began their filmmaking activities in the late seventies and have hugged the limelight at Cannes since their Palme d’Or win with Rosetta in 1999. Success continued with wins at Cannes for Le Fils in 2002, L’Enfant in 2005, Le Silence de Lorna in 2008 and Le Gamin au Velo in 2001 but this year they were not so lucky with Two Days, One Night.

It stars Marion Cotillard as Sandra, who has been off work with depression. When she returns to her workplace in small company producing solar panels, Dumont, the owner, gives his staff an ultimatum: they can either get their 1000 Euro bonus, with the result that Sandra will be sacked (since the foreman Jean-Marc has decided that the production line can work without her), or they sacrifice their bonus and Sandra can keep her job. Apart from two close friends of Sandra, the fourteen others vote for their bonus. Since Jean-Marc has wrongly informed the workers, that one of them will be sacked, if they vote for Sandra to keep her job, Dumont gives Sandra a last chance: she has the weekend to convince the majority of her co-workers to change their mind for the new ballot on Monday morning.

Sandra is anything but a heroine: she pops her anti-depressants like candy, permanently attacks her supportive husband Manu (Rongione), oscillating between self-pity and passive-aggressive behaviour, she is often her worst enemy. The Dardenne brothers show that victims of society, like Sandra (and her colleges) are not nice, simpering waifs who suffer in resplendent silence, but show their hurt in an unpleasant, sometimes obnoxious way. But there is a reason: Sandra and Manu know that without Sandra’s salary, they will fall down the social ladder unable to pay their mortgage, and have to go back to social housing. A fate they would like to avoid, particularly for their two young children.

In spite of herself, Sandra gets through to some of her co-workers on her weekend odyssey around the local houses, where every encounter is a small story in itself: one worker breaks down in tears, ashamed of himself that he voted for his bonus, even though Sandra had saved his job in the past. Another starts a violent fight with a college, who is open to Sandra’s argument and a wife leaves her abusive husband, because he wants to use the bonus money for a patio. A Black worker is equally afraid of God and his foreman at work, suffering from his dithering. But in the end they are all put in this position by the management: the choice they have to make is inhuman and nobody should be made to make an inhuman choice, according to Jean-Luc and Pierre Dardenne.

Even though this is the first time that the brothers have worked with a real star, a brilliant Cotillard, they have spurned a Hollywood like happy-end. Instead we get another measured, sober but not at all depressing solution. Apart from Cotillard, the camera (who follows her every subtle emotional nuance) is as always the ‘star’ of a Dardenne film: un-intrusive, non-judgmental but chronicling nevertheless every detail. Somehow the directors avoid repetitiveness and the Belgian hinterland is not shown as an uniform downtrodden landscape of no-hopers, but a vibrant place of struggle. TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT is a hopeful, against-the-odds message, like the hero in De Sica’s Umberto D, Sandra often stumbles, but always regains her dignity to go another step further. AS

Coming soon on DVD

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Dearest (Qin Ai De) (2014) | BFI London Film Festival

Dir.: Peter Ho-Sun Chan; Cast: Huang Bo, Zhao Wei, Hao Dei; China/Hong Kong 2014, 130 min.

China’s social woes have been evoked by many films of late. This years Berlinale winner Black Coal, Thin Ice was a recent example of how the hurried introduction of capitalism is costing lives, loosening family ties and setting ordinary citizens against each other in the ruthless pursuit of material gain. Peter Ho Sun’s DEAREST deals with a particular macabre excess of Chinas’ neo-capitalism: organised child abduction.

Ho-Sun (Comrades, Almost a Love Story) takes his time introducing the main protagonists in this subtle and delicately told story of three harrowing abduction experiences: Tian (Bo) runs a small shop cum internet-café in Shenzen, he is looking after his little son Pengpeng, having gained custody, since his divorced wife Lu (Dei) was deemed an unsuitable mother by the courts. But it is Tian who is responsible for his son running away, chasing after his mother’s car after she dropped him off after her visiting day. Tian and Lu reunite, trying to find the boy. They discover that the kidnapping of children is a lucrative business in China, run by many organised groups. A huge number of bereft parents have founded support groups where they meet to console each other and travel all over the country when an abduction group is caught by the police, showing the criminals pictures of their children, asking (mostly in vain) if they have seen them. The leader of the support group, Tian and Lu join is helpful but his wife is near breaking point, looking for their son for over six years. Finally the couple ask for a death certificate for their son (under China’s “One Child per Family”  they need this to have another child). Eventually they track down their son Pengpen 13 hours by train away from Shenzen. His “mother” Li ((Wei), literally fights them as they scramble away with the child. It turns out, that Li’s husband has not only abducted Pengpeng, but also a little girl, brought up as Pengpeng’s sister but their struggle is far from over.

The most interesting part of DEAREST is the second of the well-crafted narratives with an unexpected twist in the tale. Shot on the widescreen, bleached-out visuals show squalor everywhere with an atmosphere of pervading desperation as civilisation breaks down into an amoral dystopia: Tian looses his shop whilst still looking for his son because the owner of the building has increased the rent. Li has to sleep with a stranger and work for a lawyer, trying to get her ‘daughter’ back. Lu’s new husband leaves her after she has found her son again, because he does not want to support Pengpeng. The organised child abducting groups are only the tip of the iceberg: this is a society self-destructing in the greedy pursuit of even the smallest profit. Zhao Wei’s Li is particularly impressive in this human, passionate but never sentimental portrait of an emotional wilderness, ruled by inhuman greed and soulless bureaucracy. AS

LFF Mon 13, 14.45. VUE5, TUE 14.10. 18.15 CINE LUMIERE


Italian film | London Film Festival 2014

At this year’s LONDON FILM FESTIVAL Alice Rohrwacher presents her Cannes-award-winning drama THE WONDERS. Sister Alba Rohrwacher, joins her as star of both THE WONDERS and HUNGRY HEARTS, that won her Best Actress at Venice Film Festival. Other Venice winners, Directors Saverio Costanzo (HUNGRY HEARTS) and Ivano De Matteo (THE DINNER) will also grace the Red Carpet for the festival.

LEOPARDI (Il Giovane Favoloso) by Mario Martone Il_giovane_favoloso_4-Elio_Germano,Michele_Riondino,Anna_Mouglalis-_Mario_Spada

Mario Martone (Amore Molesto) takes on the crippled 18th Century literarary genius, Giacome Leopardi, in this ambitious but rather worthy biopic. Sumptuously set in the verdant countryside of Tuscany and The Marche it stars Elio Germano (A Magnificent Haunting) as the lonely poet and child prodigy who struggles to break into fashionable circles despite a disciplinarian father and poor health. Leopardi did not score heavily on the romantic front, unlike Lord Byron, who, despite his club foot, enjoyed a great deal of erotic attention from the opposite sex; Ippolita di Majo’s screenplay dabbles with some of his female fantasies in the shape of a young illiterate girl who dies early on and a ravishing Florentine countess, played superbly by Anna Mouglalis who lights up this otherwise rather dry biopic with her charm and elegance. Sadly she falls for his more good-looking and glamorous friend Antonio Ranieri (Michele Rondino). The only aborted action he has between the sheets is with a Naples prostitute, but this episode ends cruelly in humiliation. As the drama progresses to Rome and Naples, it opens out visually with some magnificent landscapes of southern Italy and further opportunities to discover Leopardi’s moving poetry and learn about his ideas as a philosopher. This is an ambitious and watchable film and Elio Germano gives a strong and convincing performance as a tortured artist wracked with pain and mental anguish who was wiser of the human condition than his elders gave him credit for: “People are ridiculous only when they try or seem to be that which they are not”.


BLACK SOULS (Anime Nere) by Francesco Munzi

Dubbed as the new Gomorrah in some circles, Francesco Munzi’s mafia family drama purrs with tension, taking the brutal Mafioso world to the rustic villages of the Calabrian foothills at the southern tip of Italy. This is the heartland of the ‘ndrangheta, the biggest and furthest-reaching mafia group in Italy, far stronger than the Comorrah and the Sicilian mafia, but more secretive and rarely infiltrated by outsiders. It’s because the group is made up of family units that the ‘ndrangheta are so tight, but it also means that entrance to the group for descendants is tacitly obligatory. If you don’t want ‘in’, you’re asking for trouble. That’s the case with Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane), a farmer whose brothers are long-standing members of the Carbone clan; he instead tends to his farmland of goats on the slopes of the Apennine Mountains. His son Leo (Giuseppe Fumo), however, is eager to join a group where he’ll gain respect, and in an age where Italian youngsters are frequently downtrodden by unemployment, this is something he is eager to commit to. His uncle Luigi (Marco Leonardi), a drug dealer who travels Europe, takes Leo under his wing, but after an altercation between Leo and a rival clan, events spiral to take the apparently peaceful town to gang war.

This is a slower, more composed film than Gomorrah, and doesn’t have that film’s electric socio-political edge. Instead, it works as a family drama that simmers with personal tragedy and works up to a powerful, gripping finale. Sumptuously filmed in the village of Africo, often said to be the home of the ‘ndrangheta, and with the peninsula’s craggy dialect, it convinces as a place where the state, the police, and perhaps conventional morality have trouble accessing. Among a cast of non-actors and professionals, Fumo, plucked from hundreds of local kids, is remarkable in his debut role as Leo, saying little but carrying a primordial terror with every retort at his disillusioned father. Munzi’s script, co-written with Fabrizio Ruggirello, starts the film in Amsterdam and Milan, and perhaps could have done with setting the film more tightly in the insular ‘ndrangheta communities. Here it feels like there’s no escape, where every aspect of life is dominated by the mafia. The organisation helps local politicians gain election, bars and shops have to obtain ‘protection’ by one of the clans, and respect to members is non-negotiable. But that blinkered view of the world is also this family’s downfall, as the cracks in the foundations make the whole house fall down.


THE WONDERS (Le Meraviglie) by Alice Rohrwacher – GRAND PRIX, CANNES 2014

The follow up to her acclaimed debut Corpo Celeste, The Wonders, 33-year-old Alice Rohrwacher, won the Grand Prix at Cannes this year. Set in her native Italy, the film explores the impact of a stranger upon a dysfunctionally hermetic family living in the Umbrian countryside where they cultivate delicious wild honey from their native bees. As with Corpo Celeste, the film focuses on a young girl’s coming of age. This delicate and gently tragic coming of age tale is told with tenderness and respect to the traditions of a country where communities still live from the land, threatened by the ever-increasing presence of “Heath and Safety”. A magical narrative with some touching performances from Alba Rohrwacher and a star turn from Monica Bellucci.

Hungry_Hearts_6HUNGRY HEARTS by Saverio Costanzo


Severio Costanzo’s Venice ‘Best Actor and Actress” winner, Jude (Adam Driver) and Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) proved divisive amongst critics’ circles.  It’s a weird and quirky drama that’s not quite a thriller but feels it ought to be. It centres on a couple who remain cloistered in their apartment after the birth of the baby boy. Mina, who has been anorexic during the pregnancy, is also germo-phobic and does not want to leave, or take the baby outside. Well cast in the role, Rohrwacher, makes for a subtely unhinged Mina while American, Adam Driver’s, feels somewhat out of place as Jude. With the help of a social worker, he more or less kidnaps his son, who goes to live with his mother (Maxwell) in the countryside outside New York. But Mina does not give up, she tries to regain custody of her son, and after Jude hits her, she manages to regain custody. The desperate grandmother can only think of a very radical solution. Half way through the film, the fish-eye lense is introduced, turning the narrative even more into a real life horror story. Mina is a frail and emaciated creature, just skin and bones, a fanatical gleam in her eyes. Jude is geeky and ambivalent – for much of the film, he tries to mediate between Mina and reality. His mother is made of much sterner stuff, and does not fall for Mina’s passive-aggressive schemes. However harsh the denouement appears, it’s clear that somebody had to make a stand – and Jude was much too feeble to be this person. Despite a weak script with gaping potholes, the superb cast handle the action masterfully. Not a film for the faint-hearted, but a convincing story of ordinary madness

I nostri ragazzi 4 - Giovanna MezzogiornoTHE DINNER (I Nostri Ragazzi) by Ivano De Matteo,

Another Venice Film Festival Winner, THE DINNER is very much a family-focused drama. Two brothers, Massimo (Gassman), a doctor and Paolo (Cascio), a glib lawyer, meet regularly with their wives, whilst their teenage children Benedetta and Michele go to parties together. The adults actually despise each other: Massimo is self-congratulatory, looking down on his more down-to-earth brother and trying to bend the law in favour of his clients. No love is lost between the women either: Massimo’s wife Clara (Mezzogiorno), a practical hands-on woman, finds the fashion-conscious Sofia (Bobulova) rather trivial, despite her responsibility for Benedetta, whose mother died very young.

But of the blue, the parents find out that their kids have killed a homeless woman, apparently just for fun. All but Paolo, want to cover up the crime so as not to destroy their future. But when Paolo insists on handing the pair over to the police, Massimo reacts with violence. Ivano de Matteo delivers a moral, character-driven fable, with some unexpected twists. These are, by no means, the people we thought they were to begin with: Massimo starts out as the moral apostle, doing good in his profession, full of love for mankind (apart from his brother and his wife). Paolo is only interested in success, the means do not matter to him. But when it comes to the crunch, he is the only one to ask for justice – the other man wants to cover up for the children. Nowadays, over-protection of kids in the middle classes is the norm; parents buy (or cheat) to get their “mini-me’s” a good place in life (this author being no exception); trying to resolve all problems for them; making them dependent on the older generation; often forgetting to teach responsibility and self-reliance. Sure, the outcome is not often so cruel as in this fictional case, but the root of Benedetta and Michele’s coldness lies in their own upbringing. The cast is brilliant, the camera vividly tracks the protagonists in a concrete jungle, or in their work places. The adults seem always on the run; the teenagers indolent. A very gloomy but perceptive indictment on a social class who, on superficial appearances, seems to have everything.



Charlie’s Country (2013) | BFI London Film Festival

Dir.: Rolf de Heer; Cast: David Gulpilil, Peter Djigirr, Luke Ford; Australia 2014, 108 min

David Gulpilil won Best Actor ‘Un Certain Regard’ at Cannes this year for his portrayal of Charlie. Its his third collaboration with helmer, Rolf de Heer, after The Tracker and Ten Canoes, but this time, Gulpilil also co-wrote the script, making CHARLIE’S COUNTRY more personal, and autobiographical. Charlie, a ‘blackfella’ lives in Arnhem Land community, another name for reservation. Alcohol here is strictly forbidden, so is the possession of “deadly” weapons. Charlie and his friend Pete (Djigirr) are guilty on both counts, losing not only their weapons (spear and gun), but also the buffalo they have shot. Because Charlie can’t stomach much of the white men’s food, this incident is particularly vexing for him: he had helped the police, led by the friendly but strict Luke (Ford), to find white lawbreakers – in return for nothing. As a result, Charlie decides to leave the community for a life in the wild. Initially all goes well; he catches fish and enjoys his freedom. But torrential rainstorms affect his already damaged lungs and Pete assists in getting him to a Darwin hospital. There he meets another Aboriginal from Arnhem, who is dying. Charlie discharges himself and meets some “long grassers”, homeless Aborigines, who drink and smoke, living homeless in the parks of the city. When the police arrive to arrest them Charlie takes a shovel and smashes the windshield of their car. Sentenced to time in prison, he returns to Arnhem after his release, to teach the young Aborigine boys to dance – something Charlie did himself in front of the Queen at the opening of the Sydney Opera House.

This is a film about identity: Gulpilil, the most famous Aboriginal face on screen since he appeared as a 16year-old in Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout, is very hard on himself because the prison sequence here is autobiographical. Gulpilil does not shrink away from his own failings, he is adamant to be held responsible for his actions. His face alone, seemingly cut in stone, speaks volumes. Proud and melancholic at the same time, it tells about the long struggle for cultural identity in a country  taken away from Aborigines by White settlers, who proudly consider themselves superior to Gulpilil and his fellow men and women. But his sense of identity is unbroken, even in prison he is neither cowed or intimidated. This is not only a film about ethnographical issues, but a poem, when spoken in Gulpilil’s own language, Yolngu. CHARLIE’S COUNTRY is a testament to permanent resistance, not glorious at all, but David Gulpilil is still walking tall. AS

LFF 9.10. 21.00 NFT1 11.10. 15.00 OWE1 and then on general release



Dir.: Andre Téchiné

Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Guillaume Canet, Adele Haenel, Judith Chemla

France 2014, 116 min.

Sometimes the subject matter defeats even the best directors: Andre Téchiné is a veteran of French cinema and his emotional dramas have almost always delivered something special. But this time milieu and protagonists have defeated him: based a real events (every director should see this as a red light), his story of love and death in seventies Cote d’Azur is tacky and superficial.

Catherine Deneuve gives a rather flat performance as Renée Le Roux, fighting a battle with a gangster, Fratoni, who wants to take control of her Casino in Nice. But when her recently divorced daughter Agnès (Haenel) appears on the scene and falls in love with her mother’s close advisor, the attorney Maurice Angelet (Canet), Le Roux quickly appoints another righthand man; whereupon Angelet turns against her, making Agnès vote against her mother in a shareholders meeting.  Shortly afterwards Agnes disappears in mysterious circumstances. What follows is a tale of double-crossing and intrigue that sees the case re-opened at Le Roux’s behest thirty years later, although without conclusion.

The emotional fallout of the rich in this luxurious environment of the Cote d’Azur is hard to stomach, as they ham their way through this character study of unspooling of trust, love and betrayal.. The general lack of subtlety makes for a claustrophobic drama resembling “Dallas” on occasion. Worst of all, Téchiné seems to have no distance from the class he is portraying – one can only imagine what Chabrol would have made of the same scenario. Despite the magnificent settings, this is a banal and trite melodrama, lacking in contrast or any interest for general audiences outside France. AS


LFF: 8.10. 18.00 NT1, 9.10. 20.45. Cine Lumiere, 11.10. 15.00 VUE5

Alleluia (2014) -Frightfest 21-25 August 2014

Director: Fabrice Du Welz

Cast: Laurent Lucas,  Lola Duenas,  Helena Noguerra

90min  Belgium  Psycho drama

Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz’s spiky and unsettling indie feature was one of the best thrillers to come out of Cannes this year, screening in the Directors’ Fortnight strand. His previous outings Calvaire and Vinyan have both been adaptations of other films: Calvaire of Deliverance and Vinyan (loosely) of Apocalypse Now. And ALLELUIA bases itself on the US hit The Honeymoon Killers and a news event that shocked America in the late forties (the story of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez).

Guaranteed to put you off online dating forever, ALLELUIA is anointed with flourishes of weird brilliance that give real insight into the disturbed minds of his outwardly straightforward protagonists: Gloria and Michel who are people we might easily meet on a dating site. But when we see the Michel (Laurent Lucas) lighting a candle to summon his powers of seduction for his next victim, and Gloria (Lola Duenas) giving a delightful rendition of a self-composed song before sawing off her rival’s ankle, it’s clear that these two are broken individuals who should carry a public health warning on their teeshirts. But it’s the sensual overload of Manu Dacosse’s imaginatively suggestive cinematography, Vincent Cahay’s score and Emmanuel de Bossieu’s sound effects that hint at so much more, collaborating to make this a warped psychological drama soaked in horror and a potent winner for the art house circuit.

In the Belgian morgue where she works, Gloria is having an ordinary day, washing down the body of a corpse, an early hint that she’s comfortable with death and morbidity. A single parent: she’s lonely and looking for someone to share her life with.  Online, she meets Michel (Laurent Lucas), an inveterate womanizer and professional hustler but also an impeccable gentleman; quietly spoken and masculine with good looks and a way with words. Their chemistry is instant and palpable. During a romantic dinner, the camera views them in sensual soft focus with the emphasis on soundbites of Gloria’s sighs.  Rose-tinted images of Gloria in the afterglow of love-making are all that’s needed to convince us that she’s loved-up and smitten. The next day they go about their business, but something clicks in the minds of these two that is unleashed once they are drawn into the  emotional relationship. Gloria has somethings deeper and darker in mind for Michael: she wants to possess him. When she discovers that Michel inveigles women into his life for money, she decides to become his accomplice rather than risk losing him. It is clear Michel is a damaged, but clearly adept with words that he is able to make anyone believe anything he wants them to.

Fabrice Du Welz’s narrative focuses on this dynamic: two purportedly ordinary people bringing their toxic pasts to bear on their unsuspecting romantic victims. We do not know Gloria’s past but for Michel: his doting mother – who used him for sex when none was available with men her own age – seems to be the catalyst for the obsessional devotion he thrives on from his maternal role model: his brian is hard-wired to pleasuring older women and extracting their money. In her lust to possess Michel, Gloria offers him the ultimate ‘have you cake and eat it’ scenario: agreeing to put up with his philandering, even offering to aide and abet him; on condition that he continues their sexual relationship. The segments (‘Acts’) that follow are entitled: ‘Marguerite and Michel, ‘Gabriella and Solange’; each track Michel’s romantic seductions of wealthy and lonely women. Marguerite (Edith le Merdy – who he marries) is told that Gloria is Michel’s close sister; Gabriella (Anne-Marie Loop), an elderly Catholic charity worker, is also seduced and finally Solange (Helena Noguerra) who is an elegant, fresher-looking, younger version of Gloria, with a country house and vintage Jaguar to tempt him. Michel bonds with the little innocent girl in Solange, further angering Gloria. He seems genuinely happy although he tricks Gloria into believing that he is not sleeping with her rival, so as to further their complicity, making Gloria believe she is ‘in control.’  Each of these romances is threatened by Gloria’s insane jealously and demanding nature and Michel acquiesces to her demands that feed the dynamic he shared with his mother.

Increasingly desperate measures are required to satisfy Gloria’s obsession. Gloria has as strong a pull on Michel as he has on her. Duenas is superbly cast as the broken and raddled bunny-boiler Gloria, with her explosions of violent temper erupting unpredictably, exposing not only her desperate neediness but also her psychopathic tendencies: of the two, Gloria is the most evil. As Michel, Lucas has the good looks and flashing eyes of a lothario and the sexy, seedy quality that Gabriel Byrne does so well. ALLELUIA is the perfect psychological thriller ‘de nos jours’ showing how sometimes love and passion can really be ‘to die for’.  MT


Cannes 2014 – Winners and those disappointments

So the 67th Cannes Film Festival has drawn to a close and the prizes awarded – here are some of the more interesting titles that found their way to the Red Carpet this year:

PALME D’OR WINNER – WINTER SLEEP (Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan/Turkey)

Undoubtedly a masterpiece in the true sense of the word – Winter Sleep is also at 196 minutes, one of the longest films ever to have won the Palme d’Or.  In a nutshell the plot of this quietly subversive and distinctly feminist drama surrounds a male mid-lifer who is gently seething in the privilege afforded by his Turkish male domain. The domain in question is a small hotel in Anatolia which he runs with his young wife Nihal and sister Necla who is smarting from her recent divorce.  Bilge Ceylan’s previous outing Once Upon a Time in Anatolia was baked in burning summer, Winter Sleep returns to a subject-matter and bleak and snowy landscape of DISTANT (2002).  Ceylan’s wife co-wrote the screenplay, adding a valuable female perspective.

leviathan 4BEST SCREENPLAY – Andrey Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin for LEVIATHAN/Russia

Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan gives a damning dressing-down to the authorities in this scathing social commentary of contemporary Russia that has universal appeal and relevance echoing Checkhov and even the Bible.  The film’s lead is Kolia (Alexie Serebriakov) whose family home and livelihood is threatened by the local mayor, who wants to evict him. Gradually he meets his destiny among the corrupting influences of power and money in this coruscating and brilliantly ambitious exposé of Russian contemporary society.  A star turn.

MR_TURNER_still_2 copyBEST ACTOR – Timothy Spall for MR TURNER (Director: Mike Leigh/UK)

Taking Mike Leigh’s ‘method’ to the extreme, Timothy Spall plays J M W Turner as a grunting, romantic grufflalo in late middle age in this magnificent, contemplative and painterly portrait of the 19th Century British artist who was known for his use of light in painting. He explores Turner’s life, works and contemporaries (Constable; Ruskin (a witty Joshua McGuire); Sir John Soane) and his predilection for a bohemian life neglecting his wife and children, abusing his housekeeper (a superb Dorothy Atkinson) and eventually finding love with his seaside landlady (Marion Bailey).  Rich and rewarding.

1480593_723817070972565_4774663937620943740_nBEST ACTRESS – Julianne Moore for MAPS TO THE STARS (Director: David Cronenberg/Canada)

MAPS TO THE STARS a bitter and snarky LA-set satire with the classic Cronenberg brutal flourishes and scripter Bruce Wagner’s witty one-liners mostly delivered by John Cusack. Julianne Moore works her wonders as a hard-bitten, neurotic actress Havana Segrand, relentlessly chasing fame and celebrity.  Robert Pattinson mumbles his way through as a wannabe star cum chauffeur and Mia Wasikowska plays a damaged young PA (to Segrand) who returns to Hollywood to seek reconciliation with the family who disowned her.

1510643_725798274107778_400950190347352490_nGRAND PRIX WINNER – THE WONDERS (Director: Alice Rohrwacher/Italy)

Alice Rohrwacher’s debut feature Corpo Celeste was a delicate coming-of-age drama that had a brief outing in London cinemas in 2011. With THE WONDERS, she returns with another wistful and touching story about an enigmatic family of bee-keepers, eking out a living in challenging circumstances in rural Italy.  This time our heroine is 13-year-old Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu). Rohrwacher’s restrained, impressionist approach creates a vague feeling of suspense that allows our imagination to wander and luxuriate at this magical story.

UN CERTAIN REGARD – WHITE GOD (Director: Kornel Mundruczó/Hungary)

Feher_Isten_Kornel_MundruczoWHITE GOD imagines a Budapest where vengeful street dogs rise up and hold sway as a metaphor, quite literally, for the underdog in society. But this is neither a straight horror story nor a film a for kids but an stylish and well-told drama that centres on teenage classical musician Lili and her rescue dog Hagen who went on to win the coveted “Palme Dog” award competing with Jean-Luc Godard’s clever mutt (in Goodbye to Language 3D) and Saint Laurent‘s pug who dies from an accidental overdose.


Capote helmer Bennett Miller only has four full-length titles to his name but he has managed to shine both in documentary and drama and won Best Director this year for FOXCATCHER – an accomplished and nuanced piece based on the true story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz,  demonstrating the masterful control he has both of his narrative and his cast and crew.

adieuJURY PRIZE – Jean-Luc Godard’s GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE and Xavier Dolan’s MOMMY (shared)

Mommy is a raw, exuberant yet intimate study of a love-hate relationship between a mother and her ADHD-suffering son and fifth feature from Canadian wild-child Xavier Dolan (Tom at the Farm), who is still only 25!.  Regular collaborator Anne Dorval gives a dynamite performance as Diane Despres, a 46-year-old widow who finds salvation when her enigmatic neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clément) comes the rescue in raising Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon). Unfortunately, 83-year-old Jean-Luc didn’t turn up to the screening of his Jury prize winner – a 70-minute collage-style  mishmash affair of an affair which grabs the attention with its fragments of meaning and shades of philosophy.  None the wiser: neither were we. Perhaps he can be forgiven: his 116th outing is a certainly a challenge.


After the stylish silent film The Artist, Michel Hazanavicious returns with Annette Benning and Berenice Bejo for THE SEARCH: a bleak and terribly worthy Chechnya-themed doc-drama that will have you nodding off in no time at all.


Hearthrob Ryan Gosling may be a fabulous actor but a talented director/writer he ain’t; at least not according to his debut flop LOST RIVER – very much style over substance, it follows a single mum and her son lost in a Detroit underworld and ‘borrows’ loosely (and I mean, very loosely) from Lynch, Malick and Winding Refn. Saoirse Ronan, Eva Mendes and Christina Hendricks star.

TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT is another slice of social realism from Double Palme d’Or winners the Dardennes brothers. A sort of Belgian ‘EastEnders’, it stars Marion Cotillard as a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown and redundancy but she is the only really good thing about this ordinary drama.


Accomplished director, Atom Egoyan has had some near misses of late and THE CAPTIVE  joins the queue. After a promising start this bland abduction ‘thriller’ simply lacks thrills and fails as a straightforward drama despite the considerable talents of Ryan Reynolds as a father whose child is kidnapped from his jeep while he’s shopping. The crims responsible feel implausible and cartoonish and the plot creaks as heavily as a Canadian mountain hideaway in January. Michael Danna’s original score is so insistent is drowns out any momentary eeriness. Meredith Taylor 












Cannes 2014 | Daily Dairy

CANNES 2014 WINNERS  Meredith Taylor follows the festival day by day:


photoMr Turner (2014) **** In Competition

Mike Leigh ambitious biopic of J M W Turner’s middle age serves as a worthy and painterly tribute to Turner. In a performance of some complexity, Timothy Spall portrays the ‘painter of light’ as a romantic gruffalo with a heart of gold but a curious style of love-making. The film opens in 1826 with a magnificent shot of a Dutch landscape where Turner is visiting for inspiration and work.He returns to his Chelsea home run my his father and housekeeper Hannah (a sensitive Dorothy Atkinson) where the business of painting goes on as the cast work to their usual Leigh ‘method’. At the Royal Academy we meet his rivals John Constable (James Fleet) and his wealthy Patron and other Leigh staples (Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen) are all carefully worked into the narrative along with a humorous vignette from Joshua Maguire as John Ruskin. In Margate, Turner falls for a local landlady (Marion Bailey). Victorian England is very much as character, proudly flying the flag of the Empire is at its peak but Leigh is a pains to underlines that Turner left his works to the Nation and not the homes of wealthy Victorian industrialists. Although this is a departure from his usual subject matter, in casting his usual collaborators, it all feels very ‘Mike Leigh’.


923195_727151780639094_8184037258253821718_nThe Blue Room (2014) *** (La Chambre Bleue) Un Certain Regard 

Mathieu Almalric bases his directorial debut in which he also stars, on a 1964 crime thriller from Belgian detective Simenon. Lushly erotic and superbly shot on the Academy format (square) by the capable Christophe Beaucarne, it will please the art house circuit with its subtle performances and fractured narrative style. After making love to his mistress Esther (a sinuous Stephanie Cleau) in the eponymous blue room, tractor magnate Julien goes home to his lovely wife and daughter. The story jumps forward to show him being cross-examined by a local magistrate (an masterful Laurent Poitrenaux) as it transpires that his affair with Esther is not as simple as compartmentalised as he thought. As the story goes back and forward further clues gradually emerge, fleshing out the storyline but at leaving the details as shady as Esther’s background. The Blue Room is a workable and stylish piece of cinema that offers good entertainment, but many critics are questioning why it’s playing here in Un Certain Regard.  MT


10153927_723817000972572_4351406467583198709_nSAINT LAURENT (2014) *** Competition

Bertrand Bonnello presents his sinuously sensual portrait of YSL that focuses on his early years. Although a great deal longer than Jalil Lespert’s version earlier this year, it doesn’t really illuminate more of the designer’s life but centres on his sexuality; to the apparent disproval of Pierre Bergé for reasons that will emerge on viewing. Gaspart Ulliel gives a far more complex portrait than Pierre Neney’s elegant but sterile take on YSL (although the latter was superb); Ulliel’s starry allure also has more to offer female audiences coupled with the additional thrust of Louis Garrel as his lover, Lea Seydoux as Loulou de la Falaise and Betty Catroux (Model Aymeline Valade).  There’s an inspired midway montage where the screen splits to offer salient events ‘du jour’ as the YSL key looks are parading on the catwalk.  This serves as a brilliant counterpoint to social history as much as a slight dig at the ephemeral nature of the fashion world.  Bonnello captures the zeitgeist of the seventies and this heady world of pristine couture that ushered the more relaxed prey-a-porter. YSL’s languorous and luxurious styling, darkly exotic designs, femme fatale models (Helmut Newton-style), louche living both in Paris and Morocco, and, of course, his descent into drugs. Ulliel’s performance is vulnerable; almost delicate but supremely sexual. Bergé gets short shrift here, with Jeremie Renier hardly getting a look-in and there is much less focus on the business-side apart from a protracted scene with a US Financier (Brady Corbet) that feels out of place.  Louis Garrel gives an awkward performance as his lover, Jacques de Bascher, looking more like a German stormbamführer than his aristocrat (dominant) lover.  The only other poor idea is an ageing Helmut Belger, who appears in vignette at the end (as YSL), in a badly voice-synced, ill-advised jump forward. Otherwise, this is a mesmerising watch. MT


Jauja_Lisandro_AlonsoJAUJA (2013) *** Un Certain Regard

JAUJA (Land of Plenty) is a philosophical, existential drama, almost as enigmatic as the mythical Argentinian place it claims to represent – an Argentinian ‘El Dorado’. Lisandro Alonso has wisely chosen Viggo Mortensen to play the role of a tortured Danish 19th army captain travelling across the country with his teenage daughter (Viilbjork Mallin Agger) and a collection of soldiers who speak Spanish, purportedly out to destroy the Zuluagas – a lethal tribe of natives who are nick-named “Coconut Heads”.  Stumbling around the countryside, he grows increasingly uneasy for the safety of his daughter, who has plans of her own and soon disappears with one of the young soldiers, the captain takes off on horseback to find her across a wild and perilous landscape where his brushes with the Zuluagas are eerie and lethal. A   change of tone midway signals a descent into fantasy time-warp bringing the narrative back to Denmark in a surprising but rather beautiful ending.  Finnish photographer Timo Salminen captures this magical story in long takes, sumptuously lit so each is a work of art and Mortensen flexes his musical talents in the original score.


photoSALT OF THE EARTH (2014) ***** Un Certain Regard

A biopic of famous Brazilian photographer and philanthropist, Sabastiao Salgado, manages to be both illuminating and moving. The doc is directed (and narrated) by Wim Wenders and Salgado’s son Juliano and what starts as an harrowing and dramatic set of photographs from Africa and beyond, soon becomes a story with a truly inspiring and heart-warming conclusion, adding real weight to a simple story about this fascinating and driven man, now 70. From war zones in Ruanda and Bosnia to the deepest Amazon, his pictures show tremendous compassion and a desire to connect to his subject-matter. As is often the case, his son Juliano, received less attention as Salgado travelled the World, while his wife Leilia, archived and published his works; setting up exhibitions from home.  There are shades of the late Michael Glawogger to his searingly shocking images and a touch of the Richard Attenborough to his work with his animals. A peerless tribute to humanity and the animal kingdom. MT.


Landscape_144973THE CASANOVA VARIATIONS (2014) ***  Market

John Malkovich is well-suited to the role of maverick 18th century serial seducer Giacomo Casanova. Long-term collaborater Michael Sturminger has cast him in this strange but rather enjoyable ‘chamber-opera in a musical biopic’ where he reminisces about his misspent youth, to a rousing Mozart score.  His accent has echoes of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s in the recent Nymphomaniac (maybe they shared the voice coach) but his presence is more irascible than coaxing: admittedly he’s reached the end of his life and is angrily desperate rather than sensual about the game of love here. His previous dalliances are recorded in flashback with well-known operatic vignettes and arias sung and played by professional singers.  The combination of a rousing Mozart score and dp André Szankowski (The Mysteries of Lisbon) are what ultimately makes this a visually ravishing and highly entertaining, if slightly bizarre, piece of filmmaking.  MT

Site_Fantasia_Wang_ChaoFANTASIA (2014) **  Un Certain Regard

Another piece of social realism from China, lamenting the rapid consumerism that has left the country with an array of social problems.  Fairly dour in tone and bland in narrative, director Wang Chao, takes a typical working class family and proceeds to tell us of their sad and miserable life.  After opening in buoyant mood with the family enjoying tea, it soon emerges that the father (Zhang Xu) is suffering from leukaemia;  the mother (Su Su), a former dancer, is now struggling to make ends meet as a newsagent and suffering the indignity of her daughter’s (Jian Renzi) emerging sexuality, allowing her hand to turn her hand to high class escorting, rather than hard graft, to help pay the medical bills. The son (lin) is bullied at school and his work is suffering: It’s all pretty grim for the commoner still in China, contrary to what they would have us believe.  A change in tone signals hope in the form of a chance (and rather whimsical) encounter for the son with a couple who live on a barge on the vast river banks.  Falling for the girl, and aiding the trumpeter (incongruously playing ‘Oh Sole Mio’) in acts of petty criminality, there is brief glimmer that things may become intriguing. But there are no surprises or twists here; only sad reality. MT


Feher_Isten_Kornel_MundruczoWHITE GOD **** Un Certain Regard WINNER

Hungarian director, Kornél Mundruczó’s art house thriller has a ‘Pied Piper of Hamlin’ theme.  This enigmatic parable could also be classified as Horror, given its bizarre and brutal elements. Dogs, or more correctly, mutts are the stars of the story which opens with a little girl cycling through the streets of Budapest, followed by a pack of wild dogs. From Alsations to Labradors, Rottweilers and even little terriers, WHITE GOD brings to mind The Incredible Journey with a more sinister twist.  These dogs are clearly well-trained and Hungarians (Magyars have a reputation for their handling skills with horses and this clearly extends to the canine species).  It transpires that Lilli (Zsofia Psotta) the girl on the bike, has adopted a large street dog called Hagen, and tries to bring him to spend the weekend with her abattoir manager father in his rather upmarket flat.  Street dogs are not popular in Hungary and this does not go down well with him or the neighbours, and Hagen is despatched to a shelter awaiting certain death.  But he escapes into the hands of an unscrupulous dealer who grooms him for dog fights transforming the intelligent and gentle Hagen into a scary, vicious hound of the Baskervilles.  And this is when our parable emerges as, quite literally, a tale of the ‘underdog’ rising up and claiming his rightful place in society.  Uniting with the other street dogs of the Hungarian capital, these canines start a massive revolution that is both visually inventive and suspenseful.  WHITE GOD is a unique and really captivating piece of filmmaking. MT

salvationDAY TEN


It’s always gratifying to see a great film that hasn’t had much buzz pre-festival. THE SALVATION was one of those outings: a welcome surprise but with Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green what could go wrong?  Well, we’ve certainly found the next Clint Eastwood here in Christian Levring’s Danish-American Western. As Jon, a former soldier who immigrated to America after the Danish-German war in 1864, Mads has just the right look and smouldering buttoned-up anger to keep the action taut and macho throughout this glowering, sun-burnished saga shot by lenser Jens Schlosser in South Africa and with echoes of High Noon.  When Jon’s wife and son join him in the lawless West, they are brutally killed; the modest, law-abiding outsider Mads turns hurt into hatred, by taking the outlaw’s life in return.

Eva Green seethes in a speechless part (as Princess) rendered mute by an Indian’s weapon and married to the Colonel (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who heads up the villainous Delarue Family, and seeks revenge on Mads for the killing of his outlaw brother. With a zippy running time of 89 minutes, this is a slick and highly enjoyable ride through the Wild West and the Danish angle works a treat with the xenophobic locals.  MT


accr-jury-cannes-LMThierry Fremaux and his colleagues have selected and distilled this heady cocktail of international titles (chosen from 1800 submissions) to delight us at CANNES 2014 and what an intoxicating list it looks to be!

The Competition Jury is headed by Jane Campion and the Un Certain Regard Jury president this year is Pablo Trapero (right)


photoAdieu au langage (Jean-Luc Godard)

The Captive (Atom Egoyan)

Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas)

Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller)

The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones)
Jimmy’s Hall (Ken Loach)
La Meraviglie (Alice Rohrwacher)
Leviathan (Andrei Zvyagintsev)
Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg)
Mommy (Xavier Dolan)
Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh)
Saint Laurent (Bertrand Bonello)
The Search (Michel Hazanavicius)
Still the Water (Naomi Kawase)
Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
Wild Tales (Damian Szifron)
Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

Coming Home (Zhang Yimou)
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Les Gens du Monde (Yves Jeuland)

Amour fou (Jessica Hausner)
Bird People (Pascale Ferran)
The Blue Room (Mathieu Amalric)
Charlie’s Country (Rolf de Heer)
Dohee-ya (July Jung)
Eleanor Rigby (Ned Benson)
Fantasia (Wang Chao)
Harcheck mi headro (Keren Yedaya)
Hermosa juventud (Jaime Rosales)
Incompresa (Asia Argento)
JaujaJauja (Lisandro Alonso)
Lost River (Ryan Gosling)
Party Girl (Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis) (OPENER)
Run (Philippe Lacote)
The Salt of the Earth (Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado)
Snow in Paradise (Andrew Hulme)
Titli (Kanu Behl)
Tourist (Ruben Ostlund)


The Rover (David Michod)
The Salvation (Kristian Levring)
The Target (Yoon Hong-seung)

The Bridges of Sarajevo (various)
Eau argentee (Mohammed Ossama)
Maidan (Sergei Loznitsa)
Red Army (Polsky Gabe)
Caricaturistes – Fantassins de la democratie (Stephanie Valloatto)



The Directors’ Fortnight programme features new releases and some cult classics;



Faire: L’amour (Djinn Carrénard)


Darker Than Midnight (Sebastiano Riso)

The Tribe (Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy)

It Follows (David Robert Mitchell)

Gente de bien (Franco Lolli)

When Animals Dream (Jonas Alexander Arnby)

Hope (Boris Lojkine)

Self Made (Shira Geffen)


Hippocrates (Thomas Lilti)




Cherchez la Femme at Cannes 2014

This year’s 67th Festival de Cannes features nine films directed by women but only two compete in the official competition for the coveted PALME D’OR.  Here’s the low down.

I N   C O M P E T I T I O N


Naomi Kawase – FUTATSUME NO MADO (Still the Water)

Something of a Cannes veteran, Japanese filmmaker Kawase not only served alongside Steven Spielberg on the festival’s 2013 Jury, but back in 1997 she became the youngest winner of the festival’s Caméra d’Or award for her debut fiction film, Suzaku. More recently, The Mourning Forest picked up the festival’s Grand Prix in 2007, and Hanezu premiered in competition in 2011. Perhaps this time she’ll take the top prize. Her fiction work is typically informed by her beginnings in documentary, and Still the Water is described as being a ‘romance’. 1510643_725798274107778_400950190347352490_n

Alice Rohrwacher – LE MERAVIGLIE (The Wonders)

The follow up to her acclaimed debut Corpo celeste, The Wonders sees 33-year-old Rohrwacher return to Cannes, moving from the Directors’ Fortnight to the Official Competition. Set in her native Italy, the film explores the impact of a stranger upon a dysfunctionally hermetic family living in the Umbrian countryside. As with Corpo Celeste, the film focuses on a young girl’s coming of age. The sole Italian film in the Official Competition, The Wonders stars Monica Bellucci alongside the director’s sister, Alba Rohrwacher.

U N   C E R T A I N   R É G A R D section

Keren Yedaya – LOIN DE SON ABSENCE (That Lovely Girl)

Another director who is no stranger to the Croisette, Israeli Yedaya won the Caméra d’Or for her debut Or (My Treasure) in 2004, before returning with her sophomore effort Jaffa in 2009. The film tells the story of an incestuous relationship between a 60-year-old father and his 22-year-old daughter. Cannes director Thierry Frémaux has stated that the film will ‘spark controversy’, and it is adapted from a 2010 book by Israeli author and poet Efrat Yerushalmi (aka Shez).

Jessica Hausner – AMOUR FOU

Five years after Lourdes, Hausner’s excellently complex exploration of faith, the Austrian filmmaker’s fourth feature will premiere in Un Certain Régard. A period biopic set in early 19th Century Berlin, the film concerns the tragic relationship forged between the Romantic dramatist Heinrich von Kleist and his terminally ill lover Henriette Vogel. Hausner has spoken about the detailed research undertaken for the project, and the influence of Vermeer’s paintings upon the visual style of the film.

July Jung – DOHEE-YA (A Girl at my Door)

Also playing in Un Certain Régard is A Girl at my Door, the debut film from South Korean filmmaker July Jung. The story concerns the obsessive feelings a young girl develops for a policewoman who attempts to save her from her abusive father. Jung has previously gained acclaim on the festival circuit with her imaginatively-titled short films A Dog-Came Into My Flash (2010) and A Man Under the Influenza (2007).

Marie Amachoukeli and Claire Burger – PARTY GIRL

The opening film of Un Certain Régard, Party Girl is the debut feature of co-directors Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis. If that sounds like a lot of directors for a single film, the trio collaborated previously on the short film Forbach (2008), which they co-wrote (according to IMDb, Burger also directed, Theis also starred, and Amachoukeli also served as additional editor). The film screened at Cannes and won the Grand Prize at the International Short Film Festival Clermont-Ferrand in 2009. Party Girl centres on an aging nightclub hostess who decides to settle down, loosely based on Theis’ mother. All of the actors in the film are non-professionals.

Asia Argento – Incomprensa (Misunderstood)

Incomprensa, Argento’s third film behind the camera, is freely drawn from her own childhood experiences. The daughter of giallo director Dario Argento and his star Daria Nicolodi (who collaborated together on such classics as Suspiria), Asia has previously spoken of her formative years as being drenched in loneliness and depression, going as far as saying that she only became an actress to attract attention from her father. The film plays in Un Certain Regard, and stars Charlotte Gainsbourg as a Nicolodi-like figure.


Pascale Ferran – Bird People

Long in the works, Pascale Ferran’s belated follow up to 2006’s Lady Chatterley plays in Un Certain Regard, after having originally been touted for screening at Cannes in 2013 (ultimately, it wasn’t finished in time). The film concerns an American engineer (played by Josh Charles) who abandons his old life in order to start afresh in Paris. Intriguingly, the film is said to also contain supernatural elements.


Stéphanie Valloatto – CARICATURISTES – FANTASSINS DE LA DÉMOCRATIE (Cartoonists – Foot Soldiers of Democracy)

Playing in the Special Screenings of ‘Un Certain Régard’, Stéphanie Valloatto’s debut film is a documentary portrait of twelve political cartoonists from around the world, featuring artists from France, Tunisia, Russia, America, Burkina Faso, China, Algeria, Ivory Coast, Venezuela, Israel and Palestine. Valloatto’s one prior credit as director is a 2011 episode of the television documentary series Empreintes. Meredith Taylor 



Ilo Ilo (2013)

Director: Anthony Chen

99min  Singapore  Drama

An effecting debut drama from this Singaporean filmmaker, sees a couple struggling to make ends meet during the economic crisis of the late nineties.  Their troublesome ten-year-old son Jiale (Koh Jia Ler) is a handful and the Filipina nanny hired to take care of him makes matters worse. Chen cleverly crafts his characters making them believable and authentic but not always appealing: Jiale and his mother (Hwee Leng) are strong-willed but Chen makes no attempt gloss over their defects, whilst allowing us to see their humanity. Moments of warm humour and compassion peep through the stresses and strains of normal family life in a story with universal appeal. MT


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