Archive for the ‘Cannes 2016’ Category

Personal Shopper (2016) **** Bfi player

Director: Olivier Assayas

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Nora vonWaltstätten, Anders Danielsen Lie | 101mins | Fantasy drama | France

Paris has always had a sinister side inspiring Poe’s Murders in The Rue Morgue and Balzac’s Pere Goriot, a story of social realism set near the Pierre Lachaise Cemetery: French literature is redolent with macabre stories conjured up by the dark side of the capital. So it seems somehow feels fitting that Olivier Assayas should add other chilling chapter to this spectrally charged city with his ghost-themed story PERSONAL SHOPPER.

The film is creepy, charismatic and as quirkily inventive as the director’s typical fare but his first ever ghost story. And Kristen Stewart is the star shimmering in a sombrely subtle turn that is as dark as its subject matter. She plays the unlikely named Maureen Cartwright, a 27 year old American girl who is bored with life and living out a meaningingless few months as a personal shopper to bitchy German media figure Kyra (Nora vonWaltstätten), while mourning the death of her twin brother Lewis.

Paris is the capital of the fashion world and Assayas works this elegantly into the plot as Maureen glides through a series of glitzy ateliers garnering hand-styled garments for her boss along with jewelled accoutrements from Chanel and Cartier. This is a job that fills Maureen with ennui as she considers herself worthy of better things and idly sketches the days away researching a yen for the supernatural and the psychic experiments of Victor Hugo and the avant garde Swedish artist Hilma af Klint.

On the sly, she guiltily slips into Kyra’s couturier gowns and fetishistic footwear before pleasuring herself on Kyra’s bed during her trips abroad. Kristen Stewart brings a gamine insouciant sensuality to her role that feels both menacing and intriguing in its sexual ambivalence.

Maureen is also developing her psychic skills in trying to contact her brother Lewis who died of a congenital heart condition in a dreary nearby fin de siecle mansion where they both grew up. Spending several spooky nights there a ghostly presence is felt as Maureen whispers inaudibly in scenes that are genuinely scary and entirely plausible given the undercurrent of glowering spitefulness that vibes through the increasingly dark narrative. This leads us to believe that Maureen is herself conjuring up the devil’s work. Olivier Assayas’s wickedly inventive vision is one of his most exciting this far. But there’s always 2021 to look forward to. MT

ON Bfi Player | Best Director for Olivier Assayas Cannes 2016

Harmonium (2016) | Fuchi Ni Tatsu **** Mubi

Dir.: Koji Fukada | Cast: Mariko Tsutsui, Kanji Furutacki, Momone Shinokawa, Taiga, Tadnubo Asano | Japan | 120 min.

The habitual genteel family set-up is turned upside down in Koji Fukada’s noir thriller Harmonium where a Japanese home becomes an unsettling place fraught with underlying guilt from  which resurfaces when a strange figure from the past disrupts the domestic harmony of one small family.

The Japanese title Fuchi Ni Tatsu alludes to the edgy atmosphere that envelopes the lives of Toshio (Furutacki) a regular church-goer who runs a small engineering workshop from home where he lives with his wife Akie (Tsutsui) and young daughter Hotaru (Shinokawa).

Life is fairly uneventful, Hotaru is learning to play the harmonium, her musical talent eclipsed by her pretentious and argumentative nature. But when Toshio takes pity on a old friend Yasaka (Asano) who has just been released from jail for committing murder, not only employing him, but also giving him a room in his house, the story takes a sinister turn for the worst.

The reason for Toshio’s generosity appears to stem from their collaboration in the murder, but Yasaka initially seems to have turned over a new leaf, making himself an affable guest, even offering to help Hotaru with her music studies. Can a leopard ever change his spots? This is the premise on which the narrative unfolds. And without giving too much away, it seems –  as ever – that this is unlikely.

What makes Harmonium so remarkable is that all the adult protagonists are terrible ordinary, banal even: there is no whiff of any sculduggery, just smalltime folk going through the daily grind – we see Toshio toiling in his workshop and Akie sewing – they only speak to each other at mealtimes; Toshio seems totally detached from the other members of his family, and has more in common with Yasaka, his guilt for having avoided prison appears to be his only emotion.

DoP Ken’ichi Negishi’s camera closes in on the characters, underlining their isolation from each other. This is a tense and cleverly misleading thriller with some impressive performances, particularly from Tsutsui who feels betrayed by the men, and yet helpless in her attempts at making her daughter’s life meaningful. A clinical study of the banality of evil. AS

NOW ON MUBI

Toni Erdmann (2016) **** Mubi

Director: Maren Ade| Cast: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Huller, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Putter | 142min | Comedy | Germany

This quirky and hilarious satire from German  filmmaker Maren Ade is a European arthouse  classic that celebrates the intergenerational gap with humour rather than strife.

Maren Ade explores whether comedy is the right way to fix family issues – or whether we should just try to be more sympathetic and understanding. In a film that runs just short of three hours, she achieves a blend of situational comedy, embarrassing incidents, pervy sex scenes and even a good old German nudist party in the style of Ulrich Seidl or even Aki Kaurismaki .

TONI ERDMANN‘s hero is Austrian: Peter Simonichek plays Winifried, a divorced music teacher who loves playing inappropriate practical jokes on his friends but his latest pranks involve his adult daughter Ines  (Sandra Hüller). We first meet Winifried in the throes of arranging a surprise musical tribute to an old colleague’s retirement. But not everyone likes surprises or to be part of this harmless fun, least of all his serious-minded daughter who has to be at the top of her game as management consultant in the competitive macho world of Romania. When she realises her father has been up to his tricks in a bid to poke fun at her childless state and perceived loneliness, it’s already too late to block his impromptu visit in Bucharest, after the death of his dog Willi leaves him footloose and a bit down in the dumps.

As a little girl she loved his tomfoolery, but his casual arrival at her offices in fancy dress, makes her extremely irritated. Rejecting his bid to offer fatherly appreciation, Winifried then starts to behave like a stalker, popping up at Ines’ dinner dates pretending to be his alter ego ‘Toni Erdmann’ complete with wig and grotesque false teeth which he claims are from cosmetic dentistry “I wanted something different – fiercer”.

Only a woman can appreciate the intricacies of life in the competitive corporate world where women are supposed to “go on shopping trips” when they travel with their CEO husbands. Rather than hanging with the guys after work, poor Ines is forced to show the women round the shops while the men ‘kick back’ over drinks. Extremely galling. At one point she tells her boss “if I was a feminist, I wouldn’t tolerate guys like you”. Ade’s script is really spot on, brilliantly manipulating this father daughter relationship and drawing some subtle and intricately-played performances from Simonischek and Huller, who start as polar opposites in their frosty stand-off but gradually grow more sympathetic and human during the course of the film. Beneath Winifried’s silliness lies a heart of gold, he appreciates the real world but has withdrawn from it to reflect  and his daughter emerges to be far more caring and worldly than he gives her credit for.

Winifried’s old dog Willi sets the furry leitmotive for rest of the film, and he pops up in various shaggy wigs and even a full blown Bulgarian scarecrow outfit. The irony comes from the way Ines intuitively manages her difficult colleagues and local friends; her secretary Anca is the only sympathetic female character and there are some really poignant scenes at the end where Ines and her father finally let their guards down to acknowledge that blood really is thicker than water. MT

NOW ON MUBI  | WINNER OF THE FIPRESCI AWARD CANNES 2016

Risk (2016/17) ***

Director: Laura Poitras | 87min | Documentary | France 

Citizenfour director Laura Poitras offers this close-up and personal portrait of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange which was five years in the making and has been updated since its Directors’ Fortnight premiere at Cannes 2016. Yet it still feels unfinished as events surrounding its subject matter continue to evolve.

Gaining access to the powerhouse where Julien Assange works with his ‘team’ composed of  girlfriend Sarah Harrison and mouthy WikiLeaks technology geek Jacob Appelbaum, we see Assange rocking a range of diverse disguises from orange hair and coloured contacts to a goatee beard and beany hat, he cuts a slippery rather glib figure capable of wriggling out of situation. Despite his pasty and porcine features, he’s also very keen on himself and holds forth in long monologues of self-righteous, albeit articulate, blether that does nothing to make us warm to his rather sinister brand of ‘charm’.

Not only has Assange has been charged with spying by the United States and has a number of rape charges against him running in Sweden, he offers classified information to the world, and has his (clearly besotted) girlfriend attempt to call up Hillary warning her of with an imminent ’emergency’ situation while sitting comfortably in the privacy of his Norfolk mansion.

Everything falls into place when we see him interacting with his doting mother, who clearly encouraged his self-belief at an early age and groomed his to become the smarmy individual he is today, particularly where women are concerned. His frequent asides to ‘Laura’ feel as if he is on intimate terms with the director and almost a protagonist here rather than a detached observer, but his condescending approach to Sarah Harrison is grist to the mill. Her deferential respect of his perceived power is particularly noticeable when she rehearses a speech in front of him while he chips in with instructions and grooms her for public speaking.

Poitras follows members of Assange’s team as they go about their business in a self-congratulatory way enlightening the poorly informed about information that has been stolen from them. In Egypt there is a coruscating take-down by Appelbaum of various tech companies such as TE Data and Nokia that supported the Mubarak regime, by blocking or censoring the internet during the Arab Spring. The Wikileaks team feel like the information campaign equivalent of Greenpeace.

Poitras divides her documentary into bizarre chapters introduced in roman numerals, that bear no apparent relevance to the actual content in an expose that gradually morphs into a a personal profile of the man himself. The only person who cuts him down to size is Lady Gaga in an ill-advised (from his point of view) interview with the star during his time in the Ecuadorian Embassy.

So despite all the ground-work and updates, there’s nothing really revealing in this mildly hagiographic portrayal. What the documentary does convey to the outsider is that Julian Assange emerges as a decidedly slippery character who has a way with women (including the director), but whether he deserves to still be in captivity is certainly questionable. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON PRIME VIDEO

 

After the Storm (2016) | Bluray release

Director| Writer: Kore-Eda Hirokazu | 117min | Drama | Japan | Cast: Hiroshi Abe, Yoko Maki, Taiyo Yoshizawa, Satomi Kobayashi. Cert tbc, 120 mins.

There are some really witty and perceptive moments in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s AFTER THE STORM, this is one of his more underplayed and subtle films that celebrates the comforting simplicity of everyday family life. Lighter and less sentimental than I Wish (2011), Like Father, Like Son (2013) and Our Little Sister (2015), this is a genial film with a gentle feelgood vibe as it explores the inter-generational conflict without ever being hard-egded or judgemental in doing so.

Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) is having a difficult time of being a son and a father. A failed writer and budding private detective in Kiyose (Kore-eda’s home town) he feels unfulfilled with his role as a voyeur in other people’s marriages and is working on another book. An expert gambler, most of his cash goes on feeding this habit and we’re led to believe it was responsible for his marriage breakdown to Kyoko (Yoko Maki), and jeopardising payments to his young son Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa).

Mourning the recent death of his father, Ryota frequently goes home to his canny old mother   Yoshiko (Kilin Kiki), from whom he steals lottery tickets and food whilst hoping to build bridges towards a closer relationship. The storm of the title is actually the 23rd typhoon to hit Tokyo in 2016 and it’s gradually making its presence known in nearby Tokyo. This act of God means that Ryota will have to spend the night with his mother with his ex-wife and son and sparks the beginnings of a poignant family rapprochment that is both humorous and delicately sad.

This is a well-crafted domestic drama where some of the comedy focuses on food preparation with surprising authenticity. It one scene Ryota attempts to eat his mother’s home made sorbet: “this has a refrigerator smell” – Japan may be a different cuisine and culture, but this well-observed  comment will be familiar to everyone. MT|

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY FROM 19 FEBRUARY

The Death of Louis XIV (2016)| bluray release

Director: Albert Serra Writers: Thierry Lounas | Cast: Jean-Pierre Leaud, Bernard Belin, Philippe Crespeau, Filipe Duarte, Irene Silvagni | 110min | Biopic Drama | France\Spain

Dying very slowly is always going to be a painful affair, especially in the 18th Century. The lack of medical knowledge and the quackery of charlatan doctors, not to mention the absence of pain relief, clearly made the final hours of life unbearable even for the privileged Roi de Soleil (1638-1715).

French New Wave veteran Jean-Pierre Léaud gives a performance of subtle dignity as Louis XIV in Catalan director Albert Serra’s painterly and well-paced portrait that captivates and mesmerises for just under two hours, despite its length and almost entire confinement to the interior of the King’s rooms in Versailles.

Crafted in the same luminescence as his Locarno Golden Leopard Winner The Story of My Death that explored an encounter between Casanova and Dracula, Albert Serra this time casts professional actors instead of newcomers and the result is a drama that resonates and delights both visually and emotionally..

We first meet the Bourbon King taking in the mellow pleasures of late summer in the grounds of the palace of Versailles in a scene that oozes balmy fruitfulness in the gentle Autumn  breeze. Already suffering from gangrene in his leg he is confined to a creaky wheelchair that travels at a snail’s pace like the remainder of the film – and none the worse for it.

Retiring to his boudoir after a brief glimpse of court where he flourishes a feathered hat at the ladies in recognition of their invitation to a soirée – which he declines – clearly proves he is  much loved and admired amongst his female côtérie. Although the rest of the film takes place in the confines of his bed chamber it never once feels claustrophobic or unpleasant despite the sight of his gangrenous leg and his numerous attempts to imbibe his favourite ‘Vin d’Alicante’ and biscotti. Louis cuts a fragile but endearing and rather kindly figure, if a little cantankerous late at night when he demands water – but only to be served in his crystal glass – and one who commands respect and even sympathy in final hours of suffering.

Serra manages to evoke the majesty of his legendary opulence with just a few props and trinkets obviating the need for a large budget and or a vast cast and crew. But there is still no doubt as to the power Louis commands from his court and personal advisers who are seen clapping when the king does manage to down the odd grape or two after several weeks of illness, that seem to indicate a reprise especially when he orders a ‘chicken chaud froid’ shortly before slipping away.

Louis continues to reign from the comfort of his lacy underpinnings with the assistance of his physician, Fagon (Patrick D’Assumcao), and priest Le Tellier (Jacques Henric), who crowd around his bed. Clearly they compete for the King’s praise and like many great men he exerts power over them with his waning authority still sparking imperiousness with moments of touching vulnerability as he struggles to maintain control.

Sumptuously mounted and richly textured this is a film to savour and enjoy, and its finest moment is undoubtedly when a magnificent Mozart mass plays on the soundtrack as Louis listens in all his finery. Long live the King!. MT .

NOW OUT ON Bluray

 

The Graduation | Le Concours (2016)

Dir.: Claire Simon | Documentary | France 2016, 115′

The leading film school in the birthplace of the Seventh Art has always come under immense scrutiny: this has not changed since the prestigious IDHEC (Institute des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques), whose famous students include Alain Resnais, Louis Malle and Theo Angelopoulos, was re-constituted and renamed La Femis (Fondation Européenne Pour les Métiers de l’Image et du Son) around 1987. Today’s younger generation of filmmakers, who finished the four year course in the old Pathé studios in Montmartre are numerous: François Ozon, Claire Denis, Arnaud Desplechin, Céline Sciamma, Sophie Filliers and Rebecca Zlotowski are just a few of the La Femis’ successes.

The institution is unique in the sense that there are no lecturers: all courses are taught by active members of the film industry. And the over-subscribed entrance examinations (500 applicants competed for just six places of the directing classes), which are the subject of this documentary, are also conducted by these same professionals. Director/DoP Claire Simon (Gare du Nord) has taken time off her teaching duties at La Femis, to chronicle the hazardous process. The contest (the English title Graduation is misleading) starts with part one, when the hopeful students from virtually all walks of life, no qualifications are needed; start with a three hour written test. The panel of professionals fight hard, everyone has favourites, and often, the grades for an applicant (1-20) differ enormously, sometimes into double figures. Simon brings a touch of humour to the proceedings, showing two examiners talking about the wishful outcome of the tests which aim to be politically correct: eight women, seven men, one Asian, one black, one from North Africa and two from a modest background should be included in the selection. And they should come from all over France, not just  Paris.

Stage two of the examination process consists of interviews and practical tests. Screen-writing candidates are given one sentence from which they have to develop a narrative. Afterwards they have to ‘defend’ their script in front of a panel of two. Future directors are given a script, a crew and a studio, and have to justify their work to a panel. At last, the lucky survivors are grilled by a ‘jury’ of six, for the final cut. The main issue arising from the selection process is always the same: how do you select talent?. Because opinions differ so much, discussions are often irrational. After the interview of a particular director’s course applicant, some members of the panel – among them the directors Laetitia Masson (A Vendre) and Olivier Du Castel (Theo & Hugo) – criticised the young male candidate for being uncommunicative and “weird”. Others defended him arguing that Dreyer and Cronenberg must have been certainly weird at the age of eighteen. It should be also mentioned that La Femis does not only run courses for the original filmmaking subjects like directing, set design etc,, but also for Continuity, Distribution and Cinema management.

LE CONCOURS is a fascinating portrait of judging the creative process: the arguments may not always be rational, but the result of the selection process justifies the often chaotic and contradictive proceedings. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 15 SEPTEMBER 2017

The Girl for Recife (2016) | Bluray release

Writer-director: Kleber Mendonca Filho

Cast: Sonia Braga, Julia Bernat, Humberto Carrao, Paula De Renor, Maeve Jinkings

140min | Drama | Brazil

Brazilian writer and director Kleber Mendonca Filho rose to fame with his debut Neighbouring Sounds. His second feature is a feisty character study that again takes place in a Recife apartment building and stars the famous Brazilian actress Sonia Braga.

Clara is an elegant and single-minded woman (Braga) and the only resident left in an upmarket seaside apartment in the coastal town in North Eastern Brazil. In flashback we see her surrounded by an extended family celebrating her recovery from breast cancer and madly in love with her husband, who has long since died.  The developers want her out that they can refurbish the block and offer an attractive price. But Clare has no intention of leaving.

THE GIRL FOR RECIFE feels like a classic throw-back to boom times of the ’70s and there are faint echoes of Sebastian Lelio’s Santiago-set Gloria to this light-footed family drama. Intimate in scale and languorous in pacing, the story is driven forward by the verve and charisma of Braga’s prima donna performance – in the best possible way. Clara is a retired journalist and still firing on all cylinders when she comes up against a young and hungry developer, Diego (Humberto Carrao), who has plans to make some money out of the building, offering her well in excess of the market price but Clara is a lady not for moving as her home means everything to her with its nostalgic links to the past. She has clearly not lost her mojo where men are concerned and this is shown in rather awkward scenes where she seduces a much younger man and also manages to meet someone of her own age in a nightclub.

Once can’t help feeling the director is slightly in awe of Braga’s Clara (and Braga herself) as she hold centre stage in every scene sometimes misjudging the extent of her popularity and considerable craftiness. Meanwhile, she continues to fight the last stand against the developers with the support of her longterm cleaning woman in scenes that not only give Diego a run for his money but also seemingly the Brazilian government. AQUARIUS is a watchable and more gently amusing than Filho’s ambitious Sounds, but nevertheless serious in its message, although overlong in its running time. MT

NOW ON BLURAY|DVD | COURTESY OF ARROW ACADEMY 

Slack Bay (2016) |Ma Loute

Director/Writer: Bruno Dumont

Cast: Juliette Binoche, Fabrice Luchini, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Jean Luc Vincent, Brandon Lavieville, Cyril Riguax

122min | Comedy | France

After success with P’tit Quinquin, Bruno Dumont is back with comedy of a different kind, an absurdist often grotesque turn of the 20th century melodrama which combines moments of poetic realism and is certain to divide audiences with its quirky brand of charm.

On a swampy coastal stretch of Britany a rotund police inspector (Cyril Rigaux) is investigating a spate of ‘mysterious’ disappearances possibly connected to a carnivorous local fisherman and his family of four kids, the eldest of whom is the titular Ma Loute (Brandon Lavieville). The arrival of the Van Peteghem family from Tourcoing signals the start of the summer holidays as the mannered aristrocratic family gain their family seat – a strangely 1930s style cement contruction called The Tymphonium – amid cries of euphoria over every aspect of local nature and particularly the splendid views. They are soon joined by Andre’s cousin Aude (a gloriously over the top Juliette Binoche), her cross-dressing son Billie (Raph) and her cousin or possibly second cousin as they seem to be an interbred  lot – apparently quite common amongst the ‘grand old families of Northern France’ –  which would explain the weird paternity that later emerges in the final scenes.

This is a charismatic and inventive curio of a film which will either delight you with its quirky humour and performances or send you home underwhelmed. The humour is very French and the best part is undeniably Guillaume Deffontaines’ perfect lensing and the magnificent seascapes which echo and re-create the lush vibrancy of those of Manet, Monet and Cezanne. Costume-wise too this is a sumptuous affair with perfect attention to detail both in the domestic settings on the resplendent beaches making this a visual feast not to be missed. Performances too are really outstanding. Fabrice Luchini ponces about with a contorted limp; Juliette Binoche faints and swoons with delight and horror and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi is simply graceful and restrained with an expression of discrete ecstacy that often dissolves in tender tears. It would be a shame to spoil the entire plot which reveals itself with delicous coyness. Suffice to say, there’s no director like Dumont for creating such a fabulous stillness and sense of place in his glowing compositions of the Brittany scenery and his deftness for combining period touches with elegant framing and a sense of magic and delicate poetry even in the more mordid aspects of this inspired comedy drama. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 16 JUNE 2017

 

 

From the Land of the Moon | Mal de Pierres (2016)

Director: Nicole Garcia   Writers: Nicole Garcia, Jacques Fieschi, based on a novel by Milena Agus

Cast: Marion Cotillard, Louis Garrel, Alex Brendemuhl, Brigitte Rouan, Victoire Du Bois, Aloise Sauvage, Daniel Para, Jihwan Kim, Victor Quilichini

Marion Cotillard is back with another intense character study that haunts this otrtured love story. In actor turned filmmaker Nicole Garcia’s eighth film FROM THE LAND OF THE MOON  she plays Gabrielle a woman from a bourgeois background who is desperate to find fulfilment in romantic love. Based on a best seller by Italian writer Milena Agus, the story opens in 1950s France where Gabrielle is driving her family to distraction with her violent and quixotic temperament. Fortunately beauty and money are on her side in an era where arranged marriages were still commonplace, so her mother organises a match with a penniless but decent Spanish builder, Jose (Alex Brendemuhl from Wakolda), who knuckles down to taking Gabrielle respectably off their hands and making an honest Catholic woman of her. From the outset, Gabrielle makes it clear that she will not be having sex with Jose and he takes this calmly knowing full well that his bedroom skills could potentially change her mind on the subject.

And Jose’s straightforward, kind and stable nature soon calms Gabrielle’s flighty temperament and emerges as one of the more  sympathetic characters in the film and a counterpoint to Gabrielle’s selfish and wayward character. Garcia and Jacques Fieschi’s script also emphasises Gabrielle’s desperate need of sexual fulfilment as we seen her standing in the cool river on a hot day trying to achieve the same sexual relief as men did during the war with the use of bromide. Obviously this is a sotry that will draw comparisons with Madame Bovary, although Gabrielle is not constrained by her social, moral or religious scruples and her husband is kind and supportive. After a miscarriage, Jose sends her off to an expensive Swiss clinic for treatment and once again her febrile sexual imagination gets the better of her. Here she meet Louis Garrel as the dashing lieutenant Andre Sauvage and is immediately smitten, especially as his keyboard skills playing Tchaikovsky are to become a leitmotif for the piece in the whimsical closing scenes.

Cotillard’s is the driving force behind this visually ravishing drama. She illuminates every scene with her serene beauty and elegance instilling calm and grace despite her brooding unhappiness which morphs into euphoria when she meets Sauvage. As  Gabrielle, she struggles to find contentment upsetting everyone else into the bargain with her toxic personality and meanness. This is a fabulously crafted classic drama that is both absorbing and intensely enjoyable. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 8 JUNE 2017

The Last Face (2016)

Director: Sean Penn

Cast: Charlize Theron, Olivier Bardem, Jean Reno

117min | Action Drama | US

Actor turned director Sean Penn brought his well-crafted but empty action film to the competition line-up in Cannes Film Festival. Many booed and there was slow clapping. Charlize Theron leads and partly narrates this wartorn saga which has not yet been picked up leaving us in no doubt at to its popularity in the harsh world of the film market where the best films are either pre-sold or snapped up within minutes of their press screening in a voraciously competitive marketplace, where the Hollywood eye is on the money. And this is a Hollywood-style movie.

Unspooling in just under two hours THE LAST FACE throw us into the harsh realities of civil war in Africa where Theron plays well-respected Doctor Wren Petersen who divides her time between her office at the UN Human Rights Department and the killing fields of Liberia where the love of her life Dr Love (Javier Bardem) slaves overtime to patch up and save broken bodies in his work for a NGO relief agency. With its melodramatic score and bleeding heart overtones THE LAST FACE is the last word in worthiness with a capital W. That these high-minded and privileged white people should be seen falling in love while they dedicate their lives to ‘poor black people’ is a premise that is both condescending and hackneyed and explicit references to female injuries, rape and pillage (“she was ripped from her vagina to her anus and yet she’s still dancing) feel both crass and strangely misogynistic, reducing women to the level of animal specimens and robbing them of the little dignity they undoubtedly deserve in this humiliating scenario where refugees merely exist to serve the narrative as the inevitable casualities of war, rather than real people with backstories.

Javier Bardem and Jean Reno give their utmost along with a quality ensemble cast, but there is nevertheless an undertow of male superiority in the film’s blatant denegration of Dr Petersens’s character which comes in the opening scenes where, in voiceover, she admits to being the daughter of a man who desperately wanted a male heir, and never felt she existed until endorsed by the love of a ‘good’ man. Whatever happens next brings nothing original to the party and the patent lack of interest in this overblown gorefest – that poses as entertainment – should send Penn sculttling back to the drawing board for some new ideas. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 12 MAY 2017

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki (2016)

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is Finnish filmmaker’s Juho Kuosmanen’s dynamite debut, a black and white retro-flic based on the true story of the Finnish boxer Olli Mäki and his 1962 championship match against the American featherweight champion Davey Moore (who died shortly afterwards). As much a poignant love story as a raw and visceral sketch of pre-match preparation involving gruelling training sessions, this impressive debut also reflects the quiet pensive moments in the run-up to Maki’s happiest day in August 17th, 1962, as he determines what he really wants out of life.

With hand held camera in high contrast 16mm and cinema verite style the film captures the febrile intensity and gruelling pain of day to day match preparation for the legendary episode in Finnish sporting history and the euphoric national pride and excitement of a country on the crest of international sporting fame.

As the unassuming amateur boxer, known as the “Baker of Kokkola”, trains for his first world class fight he is also falling in love with Raija, a local country girl (Oona Airola), and their romance blossoms distracting him but also grounding him as to his true ambitions while he competes in the world of professional boxing amid the glamour, bright lights, sponsors and press.

Kuosmanen also captures the contrast between the sophistication of Helsinki’s elite and the wholesome country folk, the art nouveau splendour of the maritime capital and the open skies of the countryside where vast pine forests and lakes provide a lush setting for the romantic scenes and spartan training hours, in and out of wooden saunas and snowy woods.The film’s grainy black and white freshness and glowing fervour capture our imagination and conveys the heart-pumping joy of first love and thr the simplicity of the sixties when sport was simply about talent. Peter von Bagh would be proud. MT

OUT ON 21 APRIL 2017.| Winner Prix Un Certain Regard

 

The Transfiguration (2016)

Director/Writer: Michael O’Shea

Cast: Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Aaron Clifton Moten

97min | Drama | US

Eric Ruffin (Nature Calls) plays a dark horse called Milo in Michael O’Shea’s pseudo vampire flick that premiered at Un Certain Regard Cannes side-bar last year. This low-budget indie follows the teenage African-American orphan in his freewheeling daily grind in a story that generates a palpable tension but never seems to know where it’s going.

Although O’Shea splatters his downbeat narrative with numerous vampire tropes in this impressive first feature that takes place in the backwaters and beaches of New York’s Rockaway Boulevard, the horror element is lowkey and is most distinguished by the atmosphere of alienation and loneliness generating in a desolate urban milieu.

Grieving Milo lives a solitary existence with his brother Lewis (Aaron Clifton Moten) in a flat they once shared with their mother who appears, in flashbacks, to have commited suicide. Plagued by a crew of gangland heavies, who call him ‘the freak’ on account of his tiny stature, Milo strikes up a tentative friendship with a white girl called Sophie (Chloe Levine) who moves into his housing block but who we later see being abused by the gang in nearby grassy wasteland.

With his vacant stare, Milo strikes a melancholy figure tramping silently through the streets, clearly still traumatised by his mother’s death and withdrawing into himself while attempting to build an impenetrable poker-faced facade to the outside world. In his bedroom he watches youtube footage of animals being slaughtered and has also experimented with drinking the blood of solitary warefarers who approach him in the subway, although there is no rhyme or reason to these desultory and unprovoked attacks.

Although it feels as if Milo’s budding romantic relationship with Sophie is heading the same way as that of Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One, with roles reversed: the slightly older girl’s affection for him appears to act as a calmative influence on Milo and he soon backs off emotionally, freezing Sophie out of his life for her own salvation and ultimately his own tragic demise. THE TRANSFIGURATION eschews schlockiness to focus on building a potent sense of malevolent stillness ably assisted by a droning occasional electronic score composed by Margaret Chardiet. This is a promising debut from Michael O’Shea and his young cast but the dread of the enigmatic early scenes never really transmutes into anything meaningful. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard) 12-22 MAY 2016 

The Handmaiden (2016) | Agassi

Director: Park Chan-wook

Cast: Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong, Kim Hae-sook

Writers: Chung Seo-kyung, Park Chan-wook, Novel by Sarah Waters

The Handmaiden (Agassi) is a sumptuously mounted and kinky erotic love story set in the 1930s Orient. Neatly sidestepping tawdriness the writer take the original text and flip it over into a tale of three parts, told from differing viewpoints that gradually morph into the realms of fantasy in a challenging re-telling.

Sarah Waters’ original novel Fingersmith tells the story of a girl who leaves poverty in Victorian England using her skills as an expert pickpocket to gain fame and fortune, eventually getting her comeuppance at the hands of a wealthy swindler after serving in the household of a Japanese heiress. We first get a glimpse of young Sookee (played by newcomer Kim Tae-ri) in the slums where she grew up surrounded by unwanted babies. Korea is under Japanese rule and she is sent to the mansion of Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong), a black-tongued old man who specialises in book dealing. It soon becomes clear that she is to be the maid of his niece, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee – Right Now, Wrong Then). In truth, Sookee is a crafty petty thief sent by a pimp-style gangster called The Count (Ha Jung-woo) to help him marry the young heiress and gain control of her fortune. This is all revealed in a series of fast-moving scenes while we’re still reading the subtitles. Hideko seems to be a naive, virginal orphan who knows nothing of the real world outside her sheltered kingdom. But it soon emerges that her nonce of an uncle has groomed her from childhood to be his companion after driving her aunt (Moon So-ri) insane and later hanging herself from a cherry tree and haunting the mansion. But the Count suddenly appears presenting himself as a putative suitor from a noble family who is to add value to Kouzuki’s book collection with illustrations.

There is great deal of languorous heavy petting here between both men and women in scenes reminiscent of the Marquis de Sade’s “Crimes of Love” and this is all cleverly achieved by filming the sequences from different angles. The denouement is a complex affair in this lavish epic which is mostly filmed in the dark interiors of the mansion, although it occasionally breaks out in to some glorious surroundings of a nearby lake and shimmering landscapes. A real arthouse treat that needs to be seen again to fully appreciate the intricate plotting. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 14 APRIL 2017

 

 

Graduation | Bacalaureat (2016) | DVD release

Dir.: Cristian Mungiu |  Cast: Adrian Titieni, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Lia Bugnar, Malina Manovici, Vlad Ivanov, Petre Ciubotaru | Romania 2016, 128min.

Director/writer Cristian Mungiu’s third film, which won him the Best Director’s Prize at Cannes last year, is a bleak picture of contemporary Romania where the dark shadow of the Ceausescu still haunts those who grew up during a regime.

Dr. Romeo Aldea (Titieni) wants to make sure that his daughter Eliza (Dragus) leaves Romania as soon as possible for a scholarship at a British university. He and his wife Magda (Bugnar) returned to the country from the West in 1991, after the fall of Stalinism, but Aldea has no illusions about the place: living in the city of Cluj and working at the local hospital he is part of a system where bribery , cheating and corruption is a matter of survival. When Eliza is sexually attacked the day before the final examines, she fights off the attacker but injures her arm, which is put in plaster. But the real wounds are psychological: Eliza does not really want to leave for London, she is in love with her boyfriend, a motorbike fanatic, doubling at night as a DJ. Needless to say, that he is seen as very unsuitable husband material by Romeo. Since Eliza needs an average ‘A’ for the results to gain her scholarship, Dr. Aldea is afraid that the incident and the arm injury will put her grades at risk and so hatches a plan to ensure her success but those involved are not as loyal as he hoped, sending his world into meltdown.

This is all as sombre as it sounds with DoP Tudor Vladimir Panduru’s washed-out colours infusing every scene with bleakness, and long, mournful travelling shots in the streets and the run-down estates show the decay. But the real poverty is not just much visible in the environment, but in the souls of the represented by Dr. Aldea. Graduation is, in spite of its length, absorbing with ensemble acting of the highest standard.

Dr. Aldea emerges as a selfish victim, sacrificing himself for goals that are not shared by those around him. He disregards his daughter, belittles her boyfriend, betrays his wife. He sees himself as the loser, but not the perpetrator. GRADUATION is a fascinating indictment of contempo Romania locked in the past, still run by the ‘players’ of the establishment rather than ordinary people. Justifying every move as love for his daughter (who is just a pawn in his strategy), he is very much like the great majority of Romanians ((and many parents of the era), who failed to find a new spiritual beginning after the end of the dictatorship. AS

OUT ON DVD 15 MAY 2017 | REVIEWED AT CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2016 

It’s only the End of the World | BFI FLARE Film Festival

Director: Xavier Dolan Writer: Xavier Dolan based on a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce

97min | Drama | Canada

At 27, Canadian maverick Xavier Dolan has made six good features in eight years. So eventually there had to be an exception and it premiered here at Cannes Film Festival in the main competition.

Innovative and always inventive Dolan’s films all driven by a passionate energy and incredible insight as he strives for unusual angles and plot twists in his ambitious narratives and impressive visual style. But here’s the kicker, IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD is not his original source material and that is possible why it’s his least enjoyable feature to date.

Beautifully shot with some outstanding climaxes and lows, the drama is adapted for the screen by Jean-Luc Lagarce with some intense turns from its French cast: Gaspard Ulliel (making his second appearance at the festival this year) plays  Louis, a gay man returning home to his family after over a decade, to reveal his terminal illness and to deal with another thorny issue: “the illusion that I am the master of my life,” which he explains in an opening voiceover.

His dominating mother Martine (Nathalie Baye); his mixed up sister Suzanne (Léa Seydoux); and older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel), who brings his delightful wife (Marion Cotillard, in an underutilized role), to meet Louis for the first time in his return home after 12 years absence. Antoine is the antagonistic link is the otherwise delighted family circle, and he reacts with Cassel’s trademark belligerence which is intolerable in the car scene where is driving Louis to see his childhood home.

Intimate in setting yet far-reaching in its scope and resonance, those familiar with family disarray will find the film disturbing and disruptive but it never feels claustrophobic despite its domestic confines thanks to Dolan’s visual inventiveness, clever lighting techniques and use of occasional flashbacks to a golden past that fills Louis with nostalgia. Along with Marion Cotillard’s character, Louis emerges the most sympathetic character: softly-spoken and placcid, his eyes well up frequently at the heart-breaking scenario which all feels so familiar to his past strife and his quiet disappointment and hurt is palpably expressed in a subtle facial expressions. Realising he is better off on his own he abruptly leaves. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | COMPETITION ENTRY

 

The Salesman (2016) | Cannes Winner: Best script and Actor

Director/Script: Asghar Farhadi | Drama | Iran | 127min

Asghar Farhadi is best known for his enigmatic drama A Separation (2011). This was a film that impressed the arthouse crowd with its slowburn intensity gradually building to a shocking final. About Elly (2009) followed with slightly less acclaim and The Salesman fits comfortably into the Farhadi groove. It’s a good film but not a great one. Starring the same lead as his Fireworks Wednesday (2006) the superb Taraneh Alidoosti, it explores a similar premise and now universal theme: that something familiar and safe is now fraught with uncertainty and the resulting chaos provides the testing ground for the protagonist’s integrity, or lack of it.

There’s an artificial and rather forced quality to The Salesman, a tale of Tehrani bourgeoisie: Rana (Alidoosti) is a housewife and Emad (Shahab Hosseini who won Best Actor) teaches at the University. They both enjoy the theatre and have joined an acting group staging Arthur Miller’s ‘American Dream’ play Death of a Salesman when the film opens. Emad gets the lead part of failed salesman Willy Loman and Rana – his wife -Linda. But events are waylaid by an horrific structural collapse at the couple’s apartment block and they are forced to move out into alternative accommodation, provided by another member of their group. The previous occupier has been involved with some unsavoury characters who swing by regularly at all hours of the day and night. And one day Rana accidently opens the door to one such individual. This paves the way for some startling unpleasantness as Farhardi mixes scenes from the American play with the couple’s sombre reality. The normally restrained Emad starts to take on a rather self-congratulatory grandiosity as his masculinity is challenged, much as Willy Loman’s salesmanship is when he fails in his sales efforts- the similarities emerge between the two man, albeit in a rather fatuous way in the final twist.

Although The Salesman has possibly more mainstream appeal it lacks the subtle quality of A Separation. That said, this is an intelligent and watchable drama that provides a great deal to reflect on, winning the Best Script award at Cannes Film Festival 2016. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | Winner Best Script and Best Actor

 

Personal Shopper (2016) | Cannes 2016 | Best Director 2016

Director: Olivier Assayas

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Nora vonWaltstätten, Anders Danielsen Lie

101mins | Fantasy drama | France

Paris has always had a sinister side inspiring Poe’s Murders in The Rue Morgue and Balzac’s Pere Goriot, a story of social realism set near the Pierre Lachaise Cemetery: French literature is redolent with macabre stories conjured up by the dark side of the capital. So it seems somehow feels fitting that Olivier Assayas should add other chilling chapter to this spectrally charged city with his ghost-themed story PERSONAL SHOPPER.

The film is creepy, charismatic and as quirkily inventive as Olivier Assayas who has explored differnet genres in his consummate career but never a ghost story. And Kristen Stewart its star shimmers here in a sombrely subtle turns that is as dark as its subject matter. She plays the unlikely named Maureen Cartwright, a 27 year old American girl who is bored with life and living out a meaningingless few months as a personal shopper to bitchy German media figure Kyra (Nora vonWaltstätten), while she mourns the death of her twin brother Lewis.

Paris is the capital of the fashion world and Assayas works this elegantly into the plot as Maureen glides through a series of glitzy ateliers garnering hand-styled garments for her boss and jewelled accoutrements from Chanel and Cartier. This is work that fills Maureen with ennui as she considers herself worthy of better things and idly sketches and researches her yen for the supernatural and the psychic experiments of Victor Hugo and the avant garde Swedish artist Hilma af Klint. On the sly, she guiltily slips into Kyra’s couturier gowns and fetishistic footwear before pleasuring herself on Kyra’s bed during her trips abroad. Kristen Stewart brings a gamine insouciant sensuality to her role that feels both menacing and intriguing in its sexual ambivalence.

Maureen is also developing her psychic skills in trying to contact her brother Lewis who died of a congenital heart condition in a dreary nearby fin de siecle mansion where they both grew up. Spending several spooky nights there a ghostly presence is felt as Maureen whispers inaudibly in scenes that are genuinely scary and entirely plausible given the undercurrent of glowering spitefulness that vibes through the increasingly dark narrative. This leads us to believe that Maureen is herself conjuring up the devil’s work. Olivier Assayas’s wickedly inventive vision is the most exciting thing so far at Cannes 2016. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE 17 March | CANNES FIL FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | Best Director for Olivier Assayas

Elle (2016) |

Dir: Paul Verhoeven | Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Anne Consigny, Laurent Lafitte | Drama | 130min |

Dutch auteur Paul Verhoeven’s first French-language feature came to the Cannes Competition with magnificent Isabelle Huppert in a star turn that has just won her a Golden Globe for Best Actress. Slick and seductive, when it isn’t being violent in its glossy arthouse depiction of rape and twisted mysogyny, this is an upbeat, almost chipper tale of contemporary life, piqued with mordant humour. But what else would you expect from a director who brought us Basic Instinct and Showgirls?

ELLE features several strong female characters who are well-equipped to deal with their lives with sophistication and a certain élan. Wittily adapted from Betty Blue writer Philippe Djian’s novelIa, Isabelle Huppert plays Michele Blanc, a sexy and savvy businesswoman who is stylish and perfectly in control of her faculties. A leader in her field of video games, she deals with a masked intruder, who rapes her viciously in her sumptuous Parisian house, by bouncing back with disdain and aplomb – despite some serious injuries – not least to her self esteem. Brushing herself down and disposing of her elegant black decolté she gets back to work immediately with a mission to uncover her assailant. But the incident has sparked a surprising change in the way she responds sexually to the men around her. In the Cannes Film Festival press conference, the cast and directors refused to be drawn into a discussions concerning the controversial implications of the rape scenes. Ms Huppert said her character responded in a way that served the film’s narrative, and the work was purely fiction.

Verhoeven keeps the tension taut throughout the film’s running time – just proud of two hours. And the suspects are diverse but don’t intrude into the other themes of this intelligent comedy thriller. There is her suave neighbour Patrick (Laurent Lafitte) a banker whose marriage to his devout Catholic wife (Virginie Efira) provides some grounds for humour; ex husband Richard (Charles Berling), a wannabe novelist; Robert (Christian Berkel), the husband of her best friend and business partner, Anna (Anne Consigny) who both have sexual dalliances with her during the course of this entertaining drama – even her petulant son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet), who is dating Josie (Alice Isaac) a minx with whom he is expecting another man’s child, falls under the spotlight.

Perversely, the film’s comedy surfaces from incidents that could be perceived as troubling or negative in misogynist terms, yet the female leads respond with such self-possession and insight that the rape brings out greater weaknesses in the male characters rather than the female ones and Michele choses to pluck success and inner strength from the jaws of possible failure. This is very much a French film with its exuberant family crises, sexual complexity in the way the sparky characters treat each other with an attitude that many many consider rude or offensive.

Visually the film is a delight with Isabelle Huppert sporting a sumptuous couture wardrobe ranging from classy elegance to  raunchy vamp. Academy award winner Anne Dudley’s original score pumps up the suspense adds gravitas but never detracting from the provocative atmosphere. MT

ON RELEASE AT PICTURESHOUSE FROM 10 MARCH 2017 | PREMIERED CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016

The Student (2016) (M)Uchenik

Dir.: Kirill Serebrennikov

Cast: Pyotr Skvortsov, Victoria Isakova, Julia Aug, Nikolai Roschin, Svetlana Bragarnik; Russia 2016, 118 min.

Kirill Serebrennikov’s adaptation of the stage play by German playwright Marius von Mayenburg is set in contemporary Russia, creating a vicious intellectual discourse of clashing ideologies and religious fanaticism.

Whilst Muchenik means ‘martyr’ in Russia, ‘uchenik’ translates into student – since this wordplay would not be understood outside Russia, the English title Student was chosen. But Serebrennikov’s anti-hero Venya Yuzhin (Skvortsov) is exactly the amalgamation of the two: a martyr in his own and in the eyes of the worldwide anti-enlightenment movement; a student for teachers, who educate in believing in a rational world and the importance of tolerance.

Attending secondary school in Kaliningrad Oblast, Venya is an angry pupil: his first hate object is his divorced mother Inga (Aug), who is holding down three jobs to survive. Venya attacks her with his rabid bible quotes (one of hundreds, annotated on screen), calling her a whore for leaving the father, who abused her. Inga wails: “I wish he collected stamps or jerked off all the time”. At school, Venya, afraid of his sexual orientation, rages against the girls, wearing bikinis in the swimming pool. The reactionary head teacher Stukalina (Bragarnik) even tries to accommodate Venya: she asks the PE teacher to have the girls wear one-piece bathing suits. But Venya is far from finished: he wears a gorilla outfit (shades of Karel Reisz’ 1966 British New Wave film Morgan!) in an Economy lesson, arguing against the need for industrialisation, because it does not confirm with the demands of St. John in the bible.

On a personal level, Venya is only to keen to kiss an attractive female student, and he also tries to heal a limping co-student, putting his hand on his deformed leg. Confronted by the orthodox priest (Roschin), Venya accuses him of lacking fighting spirit “unlike the martyrs of the Jihad, who want to die for their cause”. But Venya’s main enemy is the biology teacher Elena (Isakova), whose views on contraception and evolution he challenges. Again, Stukalina gives in, asking Elena to “find a tolerable mixture of scientific and religious ideology”. Venya has, in vain, asked his handicapped friend to manipulate the brakes of Elena’s motor Scooter, and clobbers him with a rock when the boy tries to kiss him. In a final confrontation, Stukalina takes sides, when Venya accuses Elena “to have fondled him”: she agrees with the priest, that Elena’s worldview is governed by her being Jewish.

The real monster of Student is not Venya, but Stukalina, whose far right-wing views on feminism, Judaism and homosexuality were the norm in Stalinist Russia. She is very much at home in Putin’s Russia, as intrinsic a nationalist state like the old USSR.

DOP Vladislav Opelyant’s visuals are breath-taking: his looping long shots set the antagonists on their confrontations. The images of Venya’s and Inga’s flat are symbolically divided: her living room is full of ungainly figurines, the walls covered with gruesome wallpaper; his ‘prison’ room is dark and spartan: the wallpaper ripped off, the windows closed with planks. Laibach’s pounding “God is God” is adequate good choice for an anthem: Serebrennikov shows a Russia of oppressive puritanism where hate is becoming institutionalised – again. AS/MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 3RD MARCH 2017 | REVIEWED AT CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 |

Toni Erdmann (2016) |

Director: Maren Ade

Cast: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Huller, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Putter

142min | Comedy | Germany

Following in the wake of some quirky and enjoyable comedies at Cannes Film Festival this year was German filmmaker Maren Ade’s TONI ERDMANN, a European arthouse drama that celebrates the intergenerational gap between parents and children with humour rather than strife.

Maren Ade explores whether comedy is the right way to fix family issues or whether we should just try to be more sympathetic and understanding. In a film that runs just short of three hours, she achieves a blend of situational comedy, embarrassing incidents, pervy sex scenes and even a good old German nudist party in the style of an Ulrich Seidl film.

And in fact TONI ERDMANN‘s hero is Austrian: Peter Simonichek plays Winifried, a divorced German music teacher who loves playing inappropriate practical jokes on his friends and colleagues, with whoopee cushions and the like. We first meet Winifried in the throes of arranging a surprise musical tribute to an old colleague’s retirement. But not everyone likes surprises or to be part of this harmless fun, least of all his serious-minded daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller), a top management consultant in Romania. When she realises that her father has been up to his tricks in a bid to poke fun at her childless state and perceived loneliness, it’s already too late to block his impromptu visit in Bucharest, after the death of his dog Willi leaves him footloose and a bit down in the dumps. As a little girl she loved his pranks, but his casual arrival at her offices in fancy dress, makes her extremely irritated. Rejecting his bid to offer fatherly appreciation, Winifried then starts to behave like a stalker, popping up at Ines’ dinner dates pretending to be his alter ego ‘Toni Erdmann’ complete with wig and grotesque false teeth which he claims are from cosmetic dentistry “I wanted something different – fiercer”.

Only a woman can appreciate the intricacies of life in the competitive corporate world where women are supposed to “go on shopping trips” when they travel with their CEO husbands. Rather than hanging with the guys after work, poor Ines is forced to show the women round the shops while the men ‘kick back’ over drinks. Extremely galling! At one point she tells her boss “if I was a feminist, I wouldn’t tolerate guys like you”. Ade’s script is really spot on, brilliantly manipulating this father daughter relationship and drawing some subtle and intricately-played performances from Simonischek and Huller, who start as polar opposites in their frosty stand-off but gradually grow more sympathetic and human during the course of the film. Beneath Winifried’s silliness lies a heart of gold, he appreciates the real world but has withdrawn from it to reflect  and his daughter emerges to be far more caring and worldly than he gives her credit for.

Winifried’s old dog Willi sets the furry leitmotive for rest of the film, and he pops up in various shaggy wigs and even a full blown Bulgarian scarecrow outfit. The irony comes from the way Ines intuitively manages her difficult colleagues and local friends; her secretary Anca is the only sympathetic female character and there are some really poignant scenes at the end where Ines and her father finally let their guards down to acknowledge that blood really is thicker than water. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 12-22 MAY 2016 | WINNER OF THE FIPRESCI AWARD 2016

Gimme Danger (2016) | Bluray release

Dir: Jim Jarmusch | With Iggy Pop, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, James Williamson, Steve Mackay, Mike Watt, Kathy Asheton, Danny Fields |Doc | US | 108min

You might expect Jarmusch’s portrait of wild child Iggy Pop to be idiosyncratic; but it is also witty, inventive and affectionate in showing how Pop’s rock band The Stooges went on to influence popular music in the four decades that have followed his often shambolic rise to fame with a brand of music that burst onto the scene in mid-sixties Michigan. On stage Iggy Pop bops and writhes around, occasionally lurching forward into the crowd like a king cobra on cocaine, but in private he is an articulate and engaging raconteur who flashes a row of even white teeth with every outrageous revelation as he wriggles around on a Louis XV gold chair in his yellow caravan. Clearly Pop’s a maverick in the music star firmament: “I don’t wanna be part of the punk crowd, the glam crowd or the TV crowd, I just wanna be”.

A long term friend of Pop, Jarmusch enlivens GIMME DANGER (lyrics from the 1973 album, Raw Power) with collages and witty animations (by James Kerr) depicting vignettes from the band’s history and these are restlessly interwoven into the narrative that zips along with photos and archive footage of Iggy and the band that go to make up this entertaining and meaty biopic, dedicated to band members who are no longer alive. Born in Muskegon, Michigan 1947, James Newell Osterberg Jr was an indulged child allowed to play his drum kit in the main room of the trailer where he grew up and eventually took over the main bedroom in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Jarmusch focuses his film on the rise and early demise of the band from the late 1960s until the mid 1970s and the Bowie association (under British manager Tony DeFries) and then follows through with the Stooges’ ‘reunification’ in 2003 until their recognition in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.

His own musical influences number R&B blues singer Bo Diddley and he irreverently disses the 1960s flower power era as being a corporate set-up. Talking heads joining the commentary are his original guitarist James Williamson who returned to the band after a 30-year career in Silicon Valley and whose intricate playing style Pop describes as “like somebody’s just let a police drug dog into your house – he goes everywhere”. There is also Stooges’ manager Danny Fields who signed the band to Elektra Records; Ron and Scott Asheton, Mike Watt and Steve Mackay.

Drugs were an inevitable part of the band’s decline but this is acknowledged in a cursory fashion and Pop is clearly much more interested in talking about musical styles and jazz and blues influences that informed his creativity. His shirtlessness is down to Yul Brynner in The Ten Commandments and there is a hilarious and well-chosen clip showing the actor flirting with Anne Baxter from 1956.

Live performances are evidence of Pop’s sheer joie de vivre that often leaves his band members playing alone as he throws himself at the mercy of the crowd during hits “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, I Got a Right and “T.V. Eye” and there are also moments with the Sex Pistols, The Ramones and the Buzzcocks who were influenced by the wildfire force of nature that is Iggy Pop. MT

OUT ON DVD \ BLURAY FROM 16 JANUARY 2017 | COURTESY OF DOGWOOF | AMAZON.CO.UK

 

 

Heritage of Love (2016) Geroy | Russian Film Week 2016)

Dir.: Yuriy Vasilev | Cast: Dima Bilan, Swetlana Ivanova, Jurgita Jurkuta, Alexandr Baluev | Russia | 96 min.

Some films are difficult to take seriously – and Yuriy Vasilev’s Heritage of Love, starring the Eurovision Song Contest winner Dima Bilan, falls into this category. A hotchpotch of advertising show reels make up the narrative – by Natalya Doroshjevic and Olga Pogodina-Kuzmina – so phony, that even Leni Riefenstahl would have asked for a re-write, probably resulting in a turgid melodrama.

Set a hundred years apart, this ‘eternal’ love story plays out between Andrey (Bilan) and Vera (Ivanova) in 20th century and the present day. We first meet the doomed couple near St. Petersburg in 1914, when princess Vera hangs out in a tree near the royal palace, chided first by her sister – for jumping out of the tree; then later by her mother, who wipes a speck of grass from her face, calling her “dirty as a street urchin”. The little tear-away is very much Daddy’s darling, and her father has just bought a new car, a Russo-Bolt, which will feature again in the film’s contemporary setting of Paris. After some officers re-enact the William-Tell scene with a hapless private on the estate of the Royals, captain Kulikov arrives just in time to admire Vera dancing happily in the water fountains and hear about the outbreak of the First World War.

Later, when the war seems to be lost, and the October Revolution is around the corner, the perfidious Tershenko (Baluev), a suspicious merchant, upsets the aristocrats (Vera is working as a nurse in a very clean field hospital), with talks of their deserved doom. He is in love with Vera’s sister Irina (Jurkute), but she looks down on the “shopkeeper”, who confesses ”you are the meaning of my life”. This meets with derision with Irina’s response  “I hate you” – leaving him rather on the spot.

Meanwhile, Andrey has joined the White Army fighting the Reds, were he succumbs to a bullet, sacrificing himself for a superior. Those still interested (and able to tolerate the creaky performances) should know that the evil Tershenko-look-a-like bribes Andrey, and sends the him to contemporary Paris in order to swindle a Russian duchess (sic) out of a Russo-Bolt, which is priceless. Andrey meets Vera, when the she causes a flowerpot to drop from her balcony onto his head….

Heritage of Love was shown at the Marche du Film at Cannes this year. We learn from press releases that “industry professionals warmly received the film; some wept whilst watching”. We are also informed, that Dima Bilan “arrived in Cannes for the theme party on board a yacht”. He cheerfully greeted those attending the ‘premiere’ aboard the yacht, which was designed in the style of the movie: characters’ costumes (incl. blue Bilan’s uniform, memorable from the movie) and seamen’s caps sporting the words “The Heritage Of Love” (this is the international name of the picture), as songs of Dima Bilan ringing out through the festivities, accompanied by French wines – the reception was a success!” Shame about the film. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 2 DECEMBER 2016 | RUSSIAN FILM WEEK UNTIL 4 DECEMBER 2016

The Unknown Girl (2016) | La Fille Inconnue | Cannes Film Festival | In competition 2016

Directors: The Dardennes Brothers

Cast: Adèle Hanael | Jeremie Renier | Olivier Gourmet | Fabrizio Rongione |

117min | Belgium | Drama

One wonders if the Dardennes brothers are still living in the real world with this low-key Belgian crime drama which feels stuck in the 1970s. It follows the daily life of a young GP who makes round the clock personal visits to her patients and harshly admonishes her practice intern for his lack of emotional detachment before reacting with guilt and tearful outbursts when a total stranger calls at the surgery after hours, and subsequently winds up dead.

The Dardennes’ 10th feature is a slow-burning procedural drama set in modern Liège where a solid cast perform a dreary tale of social realism amid unremitting gloom. This is not the Belgian city of frothy chocolate drinks and buttery waffles, but one of drugs and the dejected.

Hanael plays the bossy and humourless Jenny who takes great care of her patients but comes up against her intern Julien who decides to leave the medical world for good after a mild contretemps with Adèle Hanael’s good doctor. Matters take a turn for the worst when the police arrive to investigate the death of a young black girl who attempted to gain access to the surgery, just as it is closing (we feel her pain). Jenny is fraught with guilt at the incident and turns passive aggressive on several of her patients as she begins a freelance investigation into the possible murder.

For the first part of the two hour running time the film unspools in intimate close-up shots in the confines of the surgery and various domestic locations – as Jenny attempts to juggle her worthy medical activities (examining her patients’ seeping wounds, foot ulcers, stools and vomiting)- but eventually the ‘murder investigation’ takes complete hold of her and widens out into the environs of a wintery Liège where she is unable to let go of the stranger’s destiny for a predictable conclusion in the Dardennes’ trademark elliptical style.

The Dardennes Brothers have a legendary history of social realist filmmaking with successes at Cannes Film Festival winning the Palme D’Or for The Child and Rosetta and gongs for The Kid with a Bike, The Silence of Lorna amongst others. This is their least enjoyable film to date, but will no doubt appeal to ardent fans of their particular pared-down brand of realism. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | IN COMPETITION

http://www.festival-cannes.com/en/web-tv/trailer/la-fille-inconnue#vid=1112

 

Tour de France (2016) | Mallorca International Film Festival 2016

 

 

After Love | l’Economie du Couple (2016)

Dir: Joachim Lafosse

Cast: Berenice Bejo, Cedric Kahn, Marthe Keller, Jade Soentjens, Margaux Soentjens

100min | Belgium | Drama

Berenice Bejo stars in another tale of marital discord this time partnering with Cedric Kahn in Joachim Lafosse’s slick but uneven exploration of emotional unravelling.

In The Past (2014), she played the sequestered wife of an Iranian business man, while Childhood of a Leader (2016) saw her trapped in the home of Liam Cunningham’s fascist politician. Belgian auteur Lafosse is himself no stranger to the theme of claustrophobia which engulfs the characters in Private Property (2006), Private Lessons (2008) and Our Children (2012).

As the camera follows the couple through their elegant one floor living quarters AFTER LOVE touches on a few raw nerves but mostly highlights the sheer desperation of wanting to move on from a situation that has run its term. Only the very wealthy can just ‘up sticks and run’, and Lafosse and his co-writers home in on this stifling aftermath when the ties that bind uncomfortably start to strangle the past and, crucially, suffocate the future, as one party refuses to let go.

The set-up is all too familiar: Marie (Bejo) is happily living in the flat with her twin girls (Jade and Margaux Soentjens), but wants rid of their father, Boris (Kahn), who is firmly staying put until he gets his share of the equity for a sale that simply isn’t happening. An architect and designer, he’s added value to the place. And now he is unemployed. Frustration, humiliation and barely concealing anger follows in spades as he becomes the elephant in the room in several scenes, particularly during a dinner party.

The relationship breakdown has also broken Marie and Boris, whose characters are slowly imploding with the sheer stress of it all. And this is not helped by Marie’s mother (Martha Keller) who contributes to her psychological pain, that tracks back to the past in uncomfortable ways. Most effective in its early scenes, AFTER LOVE shows how the flat becomes a toxic prison in a storyline riddled with slow-burning tension, that gradually dissipates in the final scenes that resorts to legalese.  A must see if you’ve experienced marital breakdown. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 28 OCTOBER 2016 | CANNES REVIEW

 

I, Daniel Blake (2016) | Cannes Film Festival | Palme d’Or Winner | 2016

Director: Ken Loach. Writer: Brian Laverty  DoP: Robbie Ryan

Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Briana Shann, Dylan Philip Mckiernan

100mins | Drama | UK

It seems appropriate that a British auteur with his own particular brand of social realism should still return at 80, to a Film Festival that, at 69, still prides itself with being about the art of film rather than just the money. THE CANNES COMPETITION line-up is still gloriously auteur-driven; but you may never get to see these arthouse films at your local cinema- apart from the Palme d’Or winner, naturellement. That’s why Woody Allen, a treasured regular at Cannes still brings Red Carpet glitz and the big crowds. His festival opener Cafe Society (out of Competition) is a romantic comedy and social satire of America in the 1930s, will definitely be coming to a cinema near you.

But back to Ken Loach and this latest film that arrives a decade after he won the Palme d’Or for The Wind That Shakes the Barley and two years after he brought Jimmy’s Hall to Cannes. This is a story about an decent man, another auteur, but this time one who crafts wood, and suddenly finds himself in his fifties having to fall back on the Welfare State due to a heart attack, after years of self-employment as a joiner. His life of using his hands comes to an abrupt halt – “I can build you a house, but I can’t use a computer” –  and he feels demoralised and smoulders with quiet desperation at having to deal with the social services and a grim breed of people called ‘medical professionals’ and’ decision-makers’ instead of his regular normal customers in his Newcastle home.

Loach works with his regular co-writer Paul Laverty in this bleak but trenchant indictment of  the British Welfare System where Daniel Blake, a Geordie, is played by stand-up comedian Dave Johns. The only score is that stalwart of ‘on-hold phone lines – The Four Seasons –  but the dialogue is humorous and fraught with Geordie expressions.

Blake is a self-reliant bloke but soon he is smouldering with resentment at the humiliating situation of having to sign on for benefits having been warned by his doctor about retuning to work. Loach often offers a didactic approach which is occasionally moving and sparked with fierce humour, although the support characters often feel typecast into the nasty government types versus the compassionate underdogs. When Daniel sees a young mother (Hayley Squires) of two being denied basic support for missing her appointment slot, an unlikely friendship develops and he offers to help with the kids and odds jobs around her council flat. Although the mother’s story occasionally veers into the realms of mawkish melodrama, Daniel emerges as the hero, a truly likeable bloke mourning the death of his wife as he deals with the Kafkaesque absurdity of form-filling red tape that most of us will thoroughly identify with. Although the finale feels rather uncharacteristic in the light of Daniel’s previous sensible attitude it will certainly appeal to those who have reached the end of their tether with bureaucracy or share Loach’s signature political affiliations. It will no doubt be Jeremy Corbyn’s film of the year.

So six months down the line, after a revisit, I’m still with Robbie Collin on his Daily Telegraph review: “the award (Palme d’Or) sat awkwardly with a few critics, including myself, who felt the film’s determination to more or less frogmarch its audience around to its way of thinking felt less like the stuff of great cinema than the party political broadcast – although doubtlessly Loach and his long-time collaborator, the screenwriter Paul Laverty, would respond that right now, explicitly partisan left-wing politics is exactly what cinema needs.” MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | Winner Palme d’Or

Versus  copyIn celebration of Ken Loach’s 80th Birthday in June 2016, Dogwoof and the BFI support a film by British documentarian Louise Osmund: VERSUS: The Life and Films of Ken Loach | 

 

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American Honey (2016) | Cannes Film Festival | Jury Prize 2016

Director: Andrea Arnold

Cast: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBoeuf, Arielle Holmes, Corey McCaul Lombardi

142mins | drama | US

Andrea Arnold’s US debut is a runaway road movie that follows fiesty newcomer Sasha Lane across America’s Midwest with a crowd of defiant drifters trying to sell something that nobody really wants on a journey that never comes to much but rambles enjoyably on its way. Drawing parallels with Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park there are also echoes here of Larry Clark’s loose brand of sexuality in the partying and free-wheeling fun that goes on as the band bond with Shia LaBeouf adding his own brand of charisma. Although there are some magical moments with Jake (Shia LaBeouf), adding his own brand of charisma to the road show as head of sales in a drama that drifts along dreamily often in a drunken haze.

This is fun for the first hour but only two other characters stand out: surfer dude Corey (McCaul Lombardi), and ditzy Pagan (Arielle Holmes in a similar role to her character in Heaven Knows What). The tone is upbeat and rebellious in this melange of meandering and amorphously linked encounters, but for its scant three hour running time it lacks dramatic torque for the most part working best as a euphoric mood piece where the romance between Star and LeBoeuf is the slow peddling driving force.

The visuals are vibrant and sensual whether on the widescreen or in the more intimate spaces of the van and motel rooms and Arnold never judges her characters letting them glide on in the glory and occasionally more soberly in this (for them) memorable story with its eclectic musical moments from Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’, and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s “Careless Love,”. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016

Hell or High Water (2016)

Dir: David Mackenzie. Writer: Taylor Sheridan | Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine | 102min | UK/US | Crime Drama

HELL OR HIGH WATER is a rangy arthouse western with a witty political undercurrent courtesy of actor turned writer Taylor Sheridan who wrote Sicario. British director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) continues to impress with a Texas-set heist led by a laconic Jeff Bridges (with an undecipherable Texan drawl) And Texas is looking a bit tired round the edges as brothers Toby and Tanner (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) embark on the dodgy business of robbing banks. The humour sparks from their cynical repartee as they go through the motions of petty crime for paltry financial gain.

Toby and Tanner get down to business early in the morning so as to steal a march on the banking staff before they are really geared up for the day. This is a high-risk business, and they only take small amounts of untraceable bills so it’s not worth the bank’s while pursuing charges. Toby, a divorcé, was very much the apple of his mother’s eye and the sole beneficiary of her will, leaving him in control of a family property on oil land which he has signed over to his kids in trust. The bank heists have become a way of life rather than a desperate need, but he still goes through the motions to support his brother Tanner, a career criminal who got nothing in the Will, so there is a kind of irony in the plotline that spikes the dark humour.

Meanwhile, the Texas Ranger Marcus (Bridges) has his eye firmly fixed on their trail through his Wayfarer sunglasses. His partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) is a Native American and they share an affectionate relationship – this is the kind of film that doesn’t pull its punches – with some politically incorrect racial jibing – in the best possible taste. Marcus is on the verge of retiring but reticent to throw in the towel knowing that not much else awaits him but the inevitable, and the two of them  mooch around town checking in at the same old diner where the feisty old local waitress would certainly give them the cold shoulder if they went too far off the main menu selection by ordering the trout like some out-of-towner did back in 1987.

Nominated for a fistful of Oscars this is an upbeat crime thriller with some vicious dust-ups and convincing action scenes between Marcus, Toby and Tanner that feel at home in the sun-baked landscape of New Mexico and Arizona. MT

ON NETFLIX

Cafe Society (2016) | Cannes 2016

13227243_1104471159573819_1339233737504469676_o copyDirector|Writer: Woody Allen

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, Jesse Eisenberg, Kelly Rohrbach, Anna Camp, Steve Carrell, Parker Posey, Corey Stoll, Judy Davis, Paul Schneider, Ken Stott

96min | Comedy Drama | US

CAFE SOCIETY satirises showbiz and gangsterland America during the 1930s, all wrapped up in a bittersweet romantic love story for a young New Yorker seeking his fortune in Hollywood.

The tone is upbeat and the musical choices spot on as Woody Allen’s latest film opens the 69th Cannes Film Festival with a clever cocktail of razzmatazz and auteur-driven artistry. Sunlit and softly-focused, CAFE SOCIETY blends the hilarious humour of Small Time Crooks, the gorgeous sunsets of Manhattan, the wittiness of Annie Hall and romantic tenderness Husbands and Wives and whizzes it all into a 5-star cocktail where Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart spark like dynamite as young lovers Vonnie and Bobby who meet when the naive Jewish ingenue arrives at the offices of his uncle Phil, a big studio executive in Hollywood, where he fetches up jobless and friendless after leaving New York.

After Bobby turns down the advances of a first time hooker, also in Hollywood to make her name, a tender romance blossoms when Uncle Phil asks Vonnie to show Bobby the sights. It slowly emerges that Uncle Phil also has his finger in this romantic pie, promising to leave his wife Karen for the young brunette, in an on off affair that is celebrated when Vonnie, star struck by Phil’s power play, gives him a signed letter from Valentino for their one year paper anniversary. Meanwhile in New York, Allen plays up the other side of America where Bobby’s classic Jewish mother (a perfectly tart Shae D’Iyn) is keeping the homefires burning, in bitter disgruntlement with her loser of a husband (Ken Stott) “you don’t even have a Jewish head”, and her other son Ben (Corey Stoll), a financially dodgy nightclub owner who deep-sixes his rivals in liquid cement.

Splicing this tender but tragic love story with swipes at the Hollywood machine – “you wouldn’t know me –  I’m a writer”, and his beloved Jewish roots – “when a Jew cooks something it’s always over-done to get rid of the bacteria” – CAFE SOCIETY also offers some sublime musical choices from the vintage jazz world (often performed live) in what is Woody’s wittiest and most incisive film in a long time. Lensed by the thrice Oscar winning DoP Vittorio Storaro, this is a gorgeous film to look at as well as an enjoyable one to watch and the ups and downs of the romantic underpull keep things nicely taut in its modest running time. Jesse Eisenberg comes into his own as Allen’s alter ego, morphing seemlessly from a tentative “deer in the headlights” to a shrewd businessman but decent and disillusioned lover and Kristen Stewart is both vulnerable and alluring as the cunning love interest with her eye to the main chance. Steve Carrell is commanding as the power-punching megalith weakened by the lure of love. At 80 Woody Allen offers a happy ending in a story where the bad get their comeuppance, successful men make the best lovers, and clever women know the difference between the two. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016

Valley of Love (2016) |

Dir.: Guillaume Nicloux

Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Gerard Depardieu

France/Belgium 2015, 91 min.

Several decades after after appearing together in Maurice Pialat’s Loulou, Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu are reunited in Guilluame Nicloux’s VALLEY OF LOVE, where they play a long divorced middle-aged couple, trying to come to terms with the death of their adult son Michael, who committed suicide.

Whilst Huppert and Depardieu have gone from strength to strength in their careers, not only in France, the director has struggled since his debut with Les Enfants Volant in 1991. Guillaume Nicloux’s twelve feature films – among them a remake of Rivette’s La Religieuse, also starring Isabelle Huppert – vary in style and content, but always seem to fall short; never fulfilling the director’s great potential. With VALLEY OF LOVE Nicloux has finally realised his ambitions as scriptwriter and director: a contemporary parable of spirituality, very much in the way of Robert Bresson.

A long tracking shot of Isabelle (Huppert) opens the films, the camera follows her patiently through a resort in the Eastern Californian desert. Later she meets Gerard (Depardieu), who turns out to be her long divorced ex-husband. Both are uneasy, after all, they have come here for a ‘meeting’ with their son Michael, who committed suicide a few months previously, but who has written letters to both his parents agreeing to meet them – albeit briefly – in one of seven spots in Death Valley, as described in the letters. The two have not been very attentive parents: sending him to boarding school at a very young age, and after his 18th birthday have lost contact more or less altogether – Isabelle even missing his funeral. Michael was gay, and his mother is more concerned whether he had Aids, than the reason for his suicide.

Wiry, passive-aggressive Isabelle is seemingly the total opposite of her saggy-bodied ex-spouse, who is fond of banal small-talk and avoidance. But somehow, they not only end up in bed together, but find a common language, their old emotional bonds surfacing – even though they have nothing in common anymore. But they visit the Death Valley rendezvous, as instructed, Gerard suffering particularly in the overbearing heat. They mourn their own lives more than the loss of their son: new partners and children have obviously not satisfied them any more than their own relationship: Isabelle is separating from her husband, and Gerard is distraught about his fragmented life, having been diagnosed with cancer of the bladder. He wants to see a consultant for a second opinion, leaving a day earlier than asked for by Michael – something Isabelle fights vigorously. There is a spooky nighttime scene on the tennis court, when Gerard is visited by a ghost – David Lynch would have been proud of it. But the way Nicloux introduces some spiritual healing for this dreadfully ordinary and self-obsessed couple, is truly amazing.

DoP Christophe Offenstein creates serene widescreen images, dwarfing the main protagonists in the desert and towering mountains. Charles Ives’ mournful, a-tonal music underlining the couple’s struggle to come to terms with their own lives as well as the loss of their son. Huppert and Depardieu are always caustic to the point: she answers his statement “I got fat” with a dismissive “Whatever makes you happy”. The ethereal paradise they can’t grasp at first, finally allows them a view beyond the boxed-in existence they call reality and Nicloux ends with a glimmer of hope – like with Bresson, you don’t have to be exceptional to be chosen. AS.

 

An | Sweet Bean (2015)

Director: Naomi Kawase | Cast: Kirin Kiki, Masatoshi Nagase | Japan | Drama | 113min

Naomi Kawase’s light domestic fare was served up at Cannes Un Certain Regard sidebar in 2015. Adapted from Durian Sukegawa’s novel, AN is a freewheeling ode to the elderly that is tasteful and modest in its ambitions and intimate in its scale. It focuses on an old lady in her late seventies who is a dab hand at cooking, and particularly at making a sweet red bean paste that sandwiches together the pancakes that are called dorayaki in her native Japan. AN won’t frighten the horses and is the sort of film you might enjoy on a Sunday afternoon with your great aunt or grandmother, or a small child. The message here seems to be that life is not only enjoyable in the slow lane, but there is much to be gained by looking and listening and savouring that often gets left out, to our detriment, in the busy modern world.

Tokue, played by veteran actress Kirin Kiki (also seen in Still the Water) applies for a job in the local dorayaki shop run by  soulful manager Sentaro, played calmly by Masatoshi Nagase (Mystery Train) Despite a rejection on the grounds of her age, Sentaro then hires Tokue on the strength of her cooking skills and lives to sees his business really take off with her help and support. The dramatic punch comes when it emerges that Tokue has suffered a form of Hansen’s disease (leprosy) and this sets the cat amongst the pigeons in the close-knit community. Kawase’s subtle narrative points at a life of harmony; mindfulness is very much the way to go. Delicate visuals of blossoming cherry trees link this idea to the healing power of nature but sometimes AN verges on the twee, outstaying its polite welcome with a discrete yawn, even for old ladies and tiny kids. Others might find it a charming way to relax and learn to make these delicate pancakes. MT

AVAILABLE ON VOD 5 AUGUST 2016 AND THEREAFTER ON DUAL FORMAT BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF FILM

The Neon Demon (2016) | Cannes Film Festival 2016 review

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Cast: Elle Fanning, Keanu Reeves, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendriks, Jena Malone, Karl Glusman

110min | Thriller | US

In his coruscating takedown of the fashion industry in contempo Los Angeles Nicolas Winding Refn’s Palme D’Or hopeful THE NEON DEMON epitomises the competitive resentment women feel for one another in this cat eat cat world.

Its subject matter clearly indicates that this is not a thriller about wallflowers or the faint-hearted. A phenomenal central performance from Elle Fanning leads a cast of international acting talent categorised by punchy female characters with two standout male roles for Alessandro Nivola and Keanu Reeves. Scripted by Winding Refn and co-writers Mary Laws and Polly Stenham, this mannered often bitchy exposé is driven forward by its blindingly magnetic visual style and a pounding electronic soundtrack from Cliff Martinez (Drive).

When 16 year old Jessie (Elle Fanning) arrives in LA from her native Georgia she cuts a seemingly demure and homespun figure amid the blare and bright lights of  LA’s modelling fraternity. Jessie is no strinking violet, but up against the hard-bitten competition she has a ‘deer in the headlights’ quality which is much sought-after by the agency heads and photographers and soon catches the eye of Alessandro Nivola’s cliquey fashion designer wannabe actor. Beauty isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. You’ve got something that other women would kill for – natural beauty”. His words will eventually bear poisonous fruit although Refn fails to delivery a satisfyingly convincing outcome for his underwritten heroine.

There are scenes in this shocking often erotic thriller that audiences will find objectionable. Elle Fanning carries through her character’s naive personality with a subtlety that connects us to the hard-edged world where most sink in the mire. The themes of vampirism and cannibalism at times feel far-fetched and outlandish but make this fantasy somehow plausible in this fake community where evil lurks in every character, a manifestation of fear of failing and losing face – quite literally.

Refn’s visionary visual style that aligns him with Jonathan Glazer in Under the Skin where unspoken scenes project us into the realms of mystery and even terror and once again, he is driven by the power of electronic sound which tinkles and throbs by turns. This is an LA inhabited by real and metaphorical vampires who ‘feed off’ their victims with a creepy and hateful fascination showcased by Klaus Kinski in Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) and Gary Oldman’s Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).

There are some impressive performances from Christina Hendricks’ model booker and , Jena Malone’s lesbian make-up artist Ruby. Jesse’s rivals Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote) seethe with poorly disguised malice in some of the most viturperative lines their vacuous characters have ever uttered, spitting venom on Jesse’s meteoric rise to acceptance amongst the male designers and photographers. Alessandro Nivola is stunningly persuasive as a cruelly narcissistic fashion designer who has models parade in front of him in their underwear before callously dismissing them. The only character who plays it straight is Jesse’s decent boyfriend (Karl Glusman) who is cast aside when he cramps her style. As despite her lack of redemption, Fanning is nonetheless our conduit into this sunny world of lost souls floundering on the dark side that Refn conjures up with conviction and aplomb leaving us without a Hollywood happy ending in the true style of Polanski. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

 

Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016) |Cannes Film Festival Directors’ Fortnight 2016

Director: Anurag Kashyap  Writers: Anurag Kashyap, Vasan Bala

Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Vicky Kaushal, Sobhita Dhulipala

Writer-director Anurag Kashyap is best known outside India for his dazzling gangster saga Gangs of Wasseypur that took the LFF by storm in 2012. His latest crossover outing is an arthouse thriller with a Bollywood signature premiering at Cannes Film Festival’s auteur side-bar Directors’ Fortnight.

RAMAN RAGHAV spins the common perception that criminals and cops have sociopathic tendancies in common. Stained by a violent misogynist streak, this is a nevertheless a strangely captivating story not least for its sizzling snapshot of modern Mumbai – a city that seethes with a sleepless outdoor population making it an ideal setting for a crime thriller. Taking its name from an infamous ’60s serial killer Raman Raghav, who killed 41 people on the streets Mumbai, this violent and rambunctiously rowdy film is fuelled by a pulsating energy and punctuated by Ram Sampath’s electronic score. With violence aplenty but hardly any gore, the director inculcates an atmosphere of palpable fear from the opening scene where we first set eyes on our narcissistic abusive anti-hero Raman (Nawazuddin Siddiqui in ferocious form). But he is not the only character wielding a weapon – a bloodied car-jack that he drags along behind him noisily – Detective Raghav, investigating the crimes, has a licence to kill that is equally illicit.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui carries the film with glaring eyes and a gleeful disassociation from the terror wreaked in his brutal killing spree: murdering just for the pleasure of it, indiscriminately and abundantly as a reflex action. Siddiqui’s greedy smile and peacock preening make him a hateful criminal as Raman in total contrast to his portrayal of a lowly office clerk in The Lunchbox, this is more in the style of Sonu Duggal in Miss Lovely.

Vicky Kaushal, who played the romantic teenager in last year’s Un Certain Regard entry Masaan, is also a nasty piece of work here as the gorgeously handsome Raghav Singh Ubbi, a coke-snorting detective who terrorises his girlfriend Simmy (Sobhita Dhuliwala in a poorly underwritten role) and arrives on the crime scene before heading off for another fix. Discovering that his pusher has been murdered, his reflex action is to take out an intruder and snaffle a package of drugs, firmly establishing him as another villian rather than the hero of the piece in the audiences’ eyes. Although he rises to the occasion, Kaushal doesn’t quite muster the requisite charisma or grist for the part.

The killing rampage goes on bruised by vibrant bursts of Bollywood-style electronic vibes as the terrible two slither in and out of each other’s clutches. Both men are killers in a crime wave that showcases the inner workings of the city with an authenticity that seems grittier and more visceral than the Mumbai of Slumdog Millionaire yet with a striking psychedelic aesthetic that makes it wicked to watch, the only thing lacking here is some strong female guts. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | UN CERTAIN REGARD

 

 

 

 

Pericles the Black (2016) | Un Certain Regard 2016

Director: Stefano Mordini

Cast: Riccardo Scamarcio, Marina Fois, Valentina Acca

104min | Thriller | Italy

Stefano Mordini’s noirish thriller has Riccardo Scamarcio as a hard-bitten hitman on the run from the Camorra in Belgium. Based on the ’90s novel by Giuseppe Ferrandino and adapted for the screen by Francesca Marciano this is the one of the best crime dramas showing in the Un Certain Regard strand at Cannes this year.

It probes the seething underworld of the ultra-violent Belgian branch of the Camorra where a low-life from the coalface of the organisation comes up against his boss and is forced to leave his Brussels home and flee to Calais to avoid death.

And nobody seethes like Bari-born Riccardo Scamarcio in a role that suits his brooding sensuality and superb acting chops – he switches from seedy serial killer to suave seducer in the flick of a bag of coins – his preferred method of coshing his victims. Narrated in a voice-over by Pericle (Scamarcio), who is under the control of Don Luigi Pizza (Gigio Morra) a small-time gangster who transferred his operation from Naples to Brussels in the aim of taking over pizzerias for as little as he can, Mordini’s film feels alienating and melancholy. Any resistance from the pizzeria owners leads to a bash over the head from Pericle. But when Don Luigi falls out with a local priest, Pericle – sent is punish him – finds he has a witness in the shape of a female camorra boss, Signorinella, and in order to cover up his attack on the priest he has to kill her.

In Scamarcio’s hands Pericle is a likeable rogue who is adept at avoiding danger and skilled at getting on with strangers. Homeless and friendless when he gets to Calais he charms a sales assistant (Marina Fois) into offering him bed and board in a slightly meaningless subplot. But soon it’s time to move on and meet his destiny as the tension builds for the cold-blooded finale. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY | UN CERTAIN REGARD

 

 

 

 

Ma’ Rosa (2016) | Cannes Film Festival 2016 | In Competition

Director/Writer: Brillante Mendoza

Cast: Jaclyn Jones, Julio Diaz | 110min | Drama | Philippines

The Filipino director Brillante Mendoza returns to the social unease of midtown Manila that was so flagrantly protrayed in his 2009 drama Kinatay as a world of police corruption, dissociative violence and hopelessness where ordinary people labour under the authority of the powers that be. Ma’Rosa (Jaclyn Jones) is a shopkeeper and mother of four with her husband Nestor (Julio Diaz) who also runs a sideline in drugs to make ends meet – although they hardly ever do – in this stark slice of social realism told in the style of a docu-drama.

Eventually the police arrive and arrest the couple demanding to know their substance supplier and to pay a heavy fine or go to prison as drug traffickers. Ma’Rosa is forced to go back to the drawing board and her kids out on the street to beg, steal or borrow the money to keep the voracious cops at bay. This is a desperate drama that plays out as a gritty study of resourcefulness and instinct for survival in the crowded streets of the capital as the kids come up with demoralising ways to save their parents with the knowledge that their only future is just more of the same.

Ma’Rosa is a lucid and well-crafted piece of cinema that nevertheless fails to engage with the hearts and minds of its characters, keeping us alienated but in no doubt as to their plight at the end of the day. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | IN COMPETITION

 

 

Julieta (2016)

Writer| Director: Pedro Almodovar     Stories: Alice Munro

Cast: Emma Suarez, Adrian Ugarte, Dario Grandinetti, Rossy de Palma

110min | Drama | Spain

JULIETA, which screens at the 69th Cannes Film Festival, is Almodovar’s fifth Palme D’Or hopeful since he started wooing the coveted trophy back in 1999 with All about My Mother; winning Best Director. Volver (2006) went on to garner Best Script and Best Actress; in 2009 Broken Embraces came away empty-handed from the competition;, in 2011 The Skin I Live In bagged him the Youth Award and his festival opener in 2004 was Bad Education.

His latest, and certainly his most ambitious film to date, is a peripatetic melodrama loosely based on three tales by Canadian Nobel prize winner Alice Munro about motherhood and loss suffered by its central character Julieta played by Adriana Ugarte and Emma Suarez – in youth and in middle age respectively. Men are merely sidekicks in this sorrowlful saga that pulls out all the stops in its Palme D’Or quest: referencing Almodovar’s highbrow cultural credentials : a sweeping orchestral score from Alberto Iglesias that vigorously drives the narrative forward, capable performances from an all-Spanish cast embracing stars and newcomers; atmospheric and unusual Spanish locations, tributes to Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith and even classic works of art from the Prado, amongst other flourishes. But the watchword here is melodrama: after the frivolity of I’m So Excited, JULIETA plays out like a Greek tragedy: its tortured heroine teaches Greek language and culture, falls spectacularly in love, gives birth to a cherished daughter and goes on to suffer tragic loss. But the often ambiguous narrative stumbles over plotholes and implausibilities, making so many demands on its audience that by the end one feels exhausted, overwhelmed and even perplexed. With the best of intentions, Almodovar has thrown all his tricks into the mix and come up with a meaty but passionless potboiler. That’s not to say JULIETA is a flop, but it feels rushed and urgent – despite its generous running time – rather than well-paced and satisfying. And Julieta is the only fleshed out character in a cast that is, for the most part, underwritten and one-dimensional, merely existing to serve its heroine.

The film takes the form of a story within a story that opens in contempo Madrid. Julieta is in her fifties and planning a move to Portugal with her partner Lorenzo, when a chance encounter with an old friend brings her surprise news of a recent meeting with her daughter Antia and her three children, whom she bumped into during the holidays. Only afterwards does it emerge that her only Antia, her only daughter, is no longer a part of Julieta’s life, having disappeared in her late teens. But once she discovers that Antia is still alive and aware that she herself lives in Madrid, Julieta is devastated. Canclling her plans to move to Portugal with Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti from Talk to Her), she moves back into the old flat where she raised Antia, in Madrid’s Barrio Gotico.

Closeted in Antia’s childhood home, she spills out her emotions in a desperate letter to her daughter, as the film’s narrative gradually fragments into flashbacks informing us of the past; the ’80s see a young Julieta with punkish hair and wacky earrings taking a romantic train journey that ends in torrid sex with a tousled-haired married fisherman called Xoan (Daniel Grau). As they make love a wild buck symbolically canters past their carriage in the swirling snow.

Some time later, in another of the film’s extraordinary coincidences, Julieta chances upon Xoan’s Belle Epoch seaside villa in Galicia when he just happens to be at his wife’s funeral. His hostile housekeeper (Rossy de Palma rocking a grey Afro wig) petulantly serves coffee but Xoan’s is overjoyed to welcome Julieta their daughter – cue more torrid sex. Ava (Inma Cuesta), another ex-lover who channels her unrequited love for Xoan into weird neolithic priapic figurines, becomes Antia’s confidante, while the contented couple raise their daughter by the stormy sea in scenes reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Marnie superbly captured in DoP Jean-Claude Larrieu’s luminous visuals.

A sejourn with Julieta’s parents in their country farm provides further family background but only to sadly inform us that her garden gnome-like father (Joaquin Notario) has taken up with a Moroccan peasant girl, while her mother shrivels away in a locked bedroom. Returning to the seaside, more tragedy awaits Julieta amidst heavy weather, echoing one of the film’s various leitmotifs.

Antia’s growing years are variously played by Ariadna Matin, Priscilla Delgado and Blanca Pares, but she never really gains depth as the character who, we are led to believe, has such a momumental impact on her emotionally broken mother. And In the final dénouement, Julieta appears shocked as a reaction to her own shattered ego  and narcissistic expectations, rather than as a result of a passionate and intense love for her only daughter. This leaves us feeling underwhelmed and rather irritated with her as on once again, the doting Lorenzo is wheeled into place with a tray of tea and sympathy for the self-pitying Julieta, who clutches on to him for self-serving supoort rather than in a re-awakening of love and passion. Ultimately JULIETA is a film that has been so indulged with cult references, stylistic embellishments and tributes that it often feels unwieldy and hollow overstaying its welcome despite a reasonable running time. That said, its certainly worth a watch for its Hitchcockian overtones. MT

 

 

Money Monster (2016) | Cannes Film Festival 2016

Director: Jodie Foster

Cast: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell

98min | Thriller | US

There is no point in being serious about Jodie Foster’s latest film Money Monster which plays at Cannes – out of competition. It comes under the genre of ‘silly thriller’ and for its 98 minutes running time provides a blast of vacuous energy that will sell some popcorn and a few laughs.

Julia Roberts plays a stressed out TV producer who has to manage her frolicsome financial presenter: Lee Gates, played by George Clooney, as he delivers a TV show called Money Monster intended as a dumbed down commentary on the stock market trends. Fired by cheap charisma and wearing the sort of hat you might see on St Patrick’s Day he delivers the financial news as if he has kissed the blarney stone.

But the news he brings on the day in question refers to a company Lee hot-tipped as being worth investing in. This financial derivatives trading company has just recorded losses of $800 million and taken down the savings of the kind of people who trusted Lee’s glib advice, including a truck driver called Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) who appears on set holding Lee at gunpoint. Kyle wants as apology and forced Lee to wear a Semtex vest until he can get to the bottom of this Wall Street crisis.

Hardly the thriller to ruffle most peoples’ feathers this may delivers a few bolts of mild tension to the faint-hearted or infirm. In short, MONEY MONSTER delivers nothing new and does so in a crass way that feels as if it its slipped into the wrong decade where the far superior Broadcast News or even Margin Call were screening. Worse still, the film fails in its attempt to address or even challenge the financial system.

George Clooney brings solid star quality to Lee who ends up being a good guy and one of surprising integrity given his headwear and along with Julia Robert’s reliable turn as the authentic professional character. MONEY MONSTER is fun and throwaway and just the right film for a throwaway night out with popcorn. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | OUT OF COMPETITION | NATIONWIDE FROM 27 May

 

Paterson (2016) |

Writer/Director: Jim Jarmusch

Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani | Drama | US | 118min

Jim Jarmusch’s Palme d’Or Cannes competition entry could be described as ‘cuddly and serene’. PATERSON has Adam Driver as the eponymous New Jersey bus conductor who cherishes pretensions as a poet. The tone is upbeat, the pacing languid in a film that plays out as a meditation on untapped creative potential.

Unremarkably, Paterson lives an ordinary and cosseted existence in a town called Paterson with his pleasant Iranian-American wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and his daily duties involve walking his English bulldog, Marvin, and taking a leisurely beer at a bar while he shoots the breeze with the locals. Does he write those musings for the London Underground, one may ask? Potentially he might, for he treasures his notebook where he scribbles down lines of poignant poetry (they are, in fact, the work of the 73-year-old Oklahoma-born poet Ron Padgett.) but he quails away from publishing them as, for Paterson, these words are a private diary. Many secret writers often blog away on the internet all day with no conscious realisation that their words could potentially go viral, read by millions, but imagine they are tucking thoughts away in the ‘soi-disant’ anonymity of the web. In some ways Jarmusch has found another way of linking his narrative to contempo audiences through through this cosy tale that is influenced by 1950s pre-counterculture.

Jarmusch pictures Paterson and Laura’s life as idyllic and stress-free. Laura is a homemaker with artistic qualities that involve plastering the interior of their place in geometric patterns.The story follows the course of one week where events are slowly repeated in a pleasant clockwork routine in this simple linear narrative that mimics a well-scanned piece of poetry. A paean to a peaceful existence, this is a film that dwells in the ordinary and in the agreeable symmetry of a life well-lived but one that never pushes the boundaries. And in our rushed and aspirational society there is a great deal to be said for both. MT

PATERSON NOW ON RELEASE AT THE GATE CINEMA AND PICTUREHOUSES

REVIEWED AT CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 May 2016

Loving (2016) | Cannes Film Festival | Competition 2016

Writer/Director: Jeff Nichols

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga

121min | biopic drama | US

Hot on the heels of his mystery drama Midnight Special Jeff Nichols was back at Cannes Film Festival this year with a superbly crafted biopic of the interacial couple who rocked the headlines in 1950s Virginia for marrying against state laws.

Richard Perry Loving is played by a very white Joel Edgerton (his hair dyed blond) and Mildred Perry by the Irish Ethiopian actress Ruth Negga (Iona) in a classicly told linear narrative where Nichols rapidly skteches out the genesis of their early courtship, Mildred’s pregnancy and their subsequent nuptuals.  This is all, of course, against highly illegal and after spending a night in prison Mildred is bailed out by her father.

Nichols adopts a candid sombre approach to his re-telling as the couple are advised by their lawyer to leave the state for 25 years or risk further imprisonment. Images of close family and security are the keynotes in this painterly picture which makes atmospheric use of the lush surrounding scenery that glows with fifties wholesomeness and a regularly occuring leitmotif of a wheelbarrow full of cement leaves us replete with the cheesy earthyness of their worthy plight.  Many may muse over the perceived awfulness of having to move with your loved up spouse and growing pregnancy to a reasonable flat  in DC. But the fact remains that they are fighting a cause that feels unjust and inhuman.

Set against the backdrop of the American Civil Rights movement, the couple’s love story plays out as a convincing one – Edgerton plays Perry as mildly pugnacious and insular, Mildred the more visonary of the two, is a subtle turn for Negga which she plays with sunny dignity. A couple of clever young Jewish lawyers work hard for them ‘pro bono’ taking the case to the supreme court through thick and thin. Although the stakes are high, Nichols never gives an impression that they are villified or pressurised in any way as they move to a picturesque wooden house in the middle of wheat fields with their three growing children and Mildred plays the (outwardly) contented housewife. A little more strife and an undercurrent of pain and desperation would have served the story better as the course of justice is portrayed as pretty much of a breeze from start to finish -which clearly it was not – leaving little tension or moving moments in a drama totally devoid of any drama. A worthy and important biopic that fails to make us feel the couple’s undeniable pain. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016

 

Un Homme et Une Femme (1966) | Cannes Film Festival Classics 2016

Dir.: Claude Lelouch; Cast: Anouk Aimee, Jean-Louis Trintignant

France 1966 | 102 min | drama

Claude Lelouch (*1937) has so far 59 credits as a director. But before and after Un Homme et une Femme, his sixth film, he has never accomplished an outstanding work; even the sequel, A Man and a Woman: 20 years Later, was a disappointment.

Lelouch will be always measured against this seemingly one hit wonder – even though his oeuvre cannot be totally overlooked. All his life, he was the proxy for Hollywood films; the anti-thesis to the Nouvelle Vague and critics and filmmakers (with the exception of François Truffaut) in his own country never forgave him for this.

At a boarding school in Deauville, two parents, both widowed, meet: Anne Gauthier (Aimée), mother of seven year-old Françoise mourns the loss of her husband, a stuntman, who had a fatal accident on set. The racing driver Jean-Louis Duroc (Trintignant), whose son Antoine is abut the same age as Françoise, lost his wife when she committed suicide, after an accident at Le Mans left him in a coma. Both adults agree that their relationship is a friendship but they gradually lose their obsessions with their dead spouses, Anne after much hesitation, and, encouraged by their children find a way to reconcile their past with a future together.

Un Homme et Une Femme is that simple. Without frills and hardly any budget: after one month of pre-production; shot with only three weeks of principal photography followed by three weeks in the editing suite, Lelouch had to rely on the emotional impact of his leading couple, and, being his own DoP, his astonishing images: a mix of 8, 16 and 35 mm cameras, and an equally originally combination of black-and-white, colour and sepia-tinged colour grading. The result is a dazzling intimacy where the rowling camera translates the rollercoaster feelings of the lovers, against their will, into a spectacular obsessive romantic pictorial broadsheet. Carried by the music of Francis Lai, Un Homme et Une femme is the ultimate romantic obsession: images, like the one of the couple meeting in the station, are part of film’s potent chemistry and history.

But Lelouch’s masterpiece has still some detractors, mainly male ones, who call it – unjustly – kitsch. The lines between the genders are drawn: after a private screening for President De Gaulle and his wife Simone, she was left in tears, whilst the general wanted to know the breed of the dog on the beach. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016

The Dancer (2016) | Cannes Film Festival 2016 | Un Certain Regard

Wirter|Director: Stephanie Di Giusto

Cast: Soko, Gaspard Ulliel, Lily-Rose Depp, Francois Damiens, William Houston, Melanie Thierry

108min | Drama Biopic | France

THE DANCER is the story of Belle Epoque dancer Loie Fuller (1892-1928) who rose to fame at the Folies Bergères and became the protégé and rival of the more famous Isadora Duncan. The debut feature of filmmaker writer Stephanie Di Giusto, the film plays in the Un Certain Regard side-bar of the Cannes this year, more for its distinctively auteurish look and feel (as the strand suggests) than for the rigour of its narrative or performances. Don’t expect to find out more about either of these famous women as the focus here is on atmosphere, visual allure (dreamily lensed by Irreversible and Enter the Void’s Benöit Debie) and turn of the century styling and costumes.

Told as a linear narrative, it stars composer Soko – in the central role of Marie-Louise Fuller, who we first meet during a rodeo where he father Ruben (Denis Menochet) is a professional rider who is killed off early on in the proceedings. Fuller’s artistic leanings are illustrated in her sketch pad drawings and secretly rehearsals of Salome. She has a mane of dark hair but is stocky and rather gauche until, that is, she sets sail for her mother’s home in the Temperance Hostel for Women in Brooklyn and auditions for a part in a play, where she uses her ill-fitting skirt to her advantage during a sartorial mishap and ends up inventing her stock in trade – a strange swirling dance requiring metres of fabirc (not unlike that of the Whirling Dervishes). Yes, this dance catches on when she turns up at the Folies Bergères for audition, and snaffles none other than soigné French aristocrat Louis Dorsay (Gaspard Ulliel) who appears to be looking for a strong and emotionally unavailable woman, having just divorced his wife. And Louis Dorsay is a gift horse of the highest order who not only allows Loie the run of his fabulous villa and estate to rehearse her own team of dancers, but also appears to fall deeply in love and dotes on her every whim, despite their obvious physical incompatibility.

When Isadora Duncan arrives from San Francisco, in the shape of the comely but ultimately bland Lily Rose Depp, whose dancing scenes are deftly edited to make it look as if she’s dancing – it’s actually a stand-in. Things take a momentary turn for the worse, as Duncan appears to adore Loie to her face, but behind the scenes emerges as a manipulative minx with a few tricks up her tutu. Although Soko manages an affecting performance in the final scenes, THE DANCER is enjoyable while it lasts, but ultimately as forgettable as candyfloss. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 12 -22 MAY 2016

 

 

 

 

Exile (2016) Cannes Film Festival 2016

Director: Rithy Panh

77min | Documentary | France

Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh is critically acclaimed for his documentaries that explore and focus on the aftermath of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. And he speaks with authoritaty: his family were expelled from Phnom Penh in 1975 by the Khmer Rouge. One after another, his father, mother, sisters and nephews died of starvation or exhaustion, as they were held in a remote labor camp in rural Cambodia.

His latest doc aptly entitled EXILE offers more footage from the past and pre-revolution Cambodia but nothing new to the present with the filmed imaginings of a solo man in exile eeking out his existence and going through the motions as he sombrely survives day to day in a pre-fab wooden hut, as he drinks rainwater and forages for insects roasted on an open flame. These are deftly intercut and invigorated with 35ml original footage of lively news cuttings and musical recordings of his beloved country during the ’60s and early ’70s, all illuminated by his initially poetic but ultimately tedious musings on a voiceover narrative. While his plight and suffering is noble and courageous, Panh’s fascinating archive footage is the only worthwhile takeaway here. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 12-22 MAY 2016

 

 

Rester Vertical (2016) | Cannes 2016 Competition

Director|Writer: Alain Guiraudie

Cast: Damien Bonnard, Christian Bouillette, Laure Calamy, India Hair, Raphael Thierry

100min | Drama | France

After winning Best Director in Cannes Festival’s Un Certain Regard sidebar in 2013, for his intriguing thriller Stranger By the Lake, Alain Guiraudie is back in the main competition line-up with another eventful drama entitled STAYING VERTICAL which is set in the wild and wolf-inhabited plateaux of the Southern Massif Central and shares the same dark and absurdist humour as his 2009 outing The King of Escape.

STAYING VERTICAL is also similarly charming and queer oddity, in bost senses of the word that follows its dorkish but likeable hero Leo (Damien Bonnard) an itinerant screenwriter who chances upon a single-mother and shepherd Marie (India Hair), while researching his writing. What starts as a bucolic love story in the farm she shares with her father, the rough-handed ogre-like Jean-Louis (Raphael Thiry), leads to the two fathering a child but Marie soon leaves for pastures new when she realises Leo has no future, leaving her with the baby.

Leo feels fulfilled with this outcome but Guiraudie has more quirky surprises in store for us in the shape of a strange local couple, Yoan (Basile Meilleurat) who he tries to invite for an audition on account of his wolfish looks – and a crabby old man, Marcel (Christian Bouillette), who seems obsessed with talking about anal sex. There’s a feeling that Leo is bisexual but this seems an option he’s prepared to explore rather than a serious predilection. However, he does draw the line when approached by Marie’s father more from the associative perspective rather than the sexual one. And this power of suggestion seeps through Guiraudie’s narrative for most of the film’s modest running time providing both a rich and seductive vein of dark humour and a ruminative meditation for the audience. As in The King of Hearts, all the male characters here share an amorphous sexuality which is both appealing and freaky due to their associative and binding ties, as they are all fathers or father figures.

As the title STAYING VERTICAL suggests, this is a film about coping with what life throws in your direction and particularly in this remote part of France, it explores a poor community who is forced to get along and make the best of things in often challenging circumstances. Once again it also flags up the narrative of sexuality being a fluid and moveable feast where comfort and support is often more imperative than erotic desire and the often graffic sex that takes place is functional rather than glamorised.

Despite its tonal uneveness, Guiraudie’s film contains some powerful political and societal themes. There are moments of wild beauty in the winding roads and bleak hillsides of this unexplored part of France and to reflect this remoteness, Guiraudie occasionally wanders into poetic scenes where Leo visits an alternative healer (Laure Calamy) and shocking ones where he is robbed by the same homeless people who he has helped during his visit to a nearby port. The theme of wolves recurs again and again throughout the film.  At first, they ravage the sheep including Marie’s treasured sheepdog and they appear again at the end of the film bringing a satisfying feeling of closure and a chance for redemption for Leo, who up to now emerges as somewhat of a loser, albeit a kind-hearted one, representing a feeling that men are the lost lambs of contempo society: in their quest to be connected with their emotions, they have ceased to fulfill their expectations as the strong protectors of the fold. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016

 

 

Sieranevada (2016) | Cannes Competition 2016

Writer|Director: Cristi Puiu

Cast: Mimi Branescu, Mirela Apostu, Eugenia Bosanceanu, Ana Ciontea, Ilona Brezoianu

123min | Drama | Romania | France | Bosnia

Almost all of Romanian director Cristi Puiu’s films belong to slow cinema and a New Wave movement called meta cinema: and SIERANEVADA, his Palme D’Or hopeful here at the 69th Edition of Cannes Film Festival is no different. In a similar vein to The Death of Mr Lazarescu, this is a rich and rewarding drama that plays out as its protagonists take each moment as it comes during the lengthy pre-prandial preceedings. Intimate in scale yet far-reaching in its implications, the director’s fifth feature explores differing opinions during a family get together to commemorate the death of a patriarch (his father) which occurred the previous year. In Bucharest Lary (Branescu) is at the peak of his professional career as a neurologist,  just home from a business trip to deal with the assembled family and the arrival of the priest.

Lary’s mother sexagenarian Nasu Mirica (Dana Dogaru) invites the extended family to the small apartment which she shared with her late husband, Emil. The event starts with the usual smalltalk and bickering and the dialogue is sharp and dilatory, in common with other Romanian New Wave filmmakers such as Corneliu Porumboiu, Radu Jude and Razvan Radulescu (the latter also co-wrote Mr Lazarescu).

This is a meal that never gets started as the narrative grows more complex as a philandering husband (Sorin Medelini) arrives in a cloud of shame followed by Cami (Ilona Brezoianu) with a friend who is already drunk and ten or so members of the clan. Discussions run from the 9/11 conspiracy theories to Communism with Lary and Laura making us feel very much part of the scene thanks to cinematographer Barbu Balasoiu’s eye level camerawork that glides and darts from face to face and room to room of the crampted apartment as political, moral or religious views are tailored and compromised depending on which family group they belong to and has ultimately forged their identity from birth. It’s an occasion where Lary learn a great deal about himself and changing attitudes and perceptions of him from all concerned.

Amusing, complicated and opaque, SIERANEVADA develops Mr Lazarescu further but most of the characters and their backstories are not fully explored – despite its generous running time. Enjoyable though if you fancy a afternoon of Romanian cultural enlightenment in the company of one of the best Romanian New Wave directors currently on the scene. MT

 

La Quinzaine des Realisateurs| Directors’ Fortnight 2016 | Latest World Premieres

DivinesThe Directors’ Fortnight is a Cannes side-bar with a focus on auteur driven drama and documentary features that runs in parallel to the Cannes Film Festival. It was started in 1969 by the French Directors Guild after the events of May 1968 resulted in cancellation of the Cannes festival as an act of solidarity with striking workers.

logo_quinzaine_int_whiteThe Directors’ Fortnight showcases a programme of shorts and feature films and documentaries worldwide.

Divines (2016) | Drama | France | World Premiere

Uda Benyamina comes to Cannes with her debut feature, a drama exploring themes of power and success through the story of a young girl who sets off on a religious pilgrimage but meets love along the way.

Dog Eat Dog (2016) | Crime Drama | US | 

Carved from a lifetime of experiences that runs the gamut from incarceration to liberation, Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog  is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by American crime writer Edward Bunker (Runaway Train) who also started a criminal career before making it big in the movies. This Ohio set action drama stars Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Matthew Cook as recidivists who need to hit one more jackpot before they retire.


Fais de beaux reves (c) Simone Martinetto 3Fai Bei Sogni | Sweet Dreams (2016) | Drama | France | Italy |World Premiere

Berenice Bejo (The Artist) and Valerio Mastandrea star in Marco Bellocchio’s latest drama  based on Massimo Gramellini’s 2012 Best Seller exploring a man’s emotional insecurity brought on by his mother’s early death. With award-winning cinematographer Daniele Cipri on board this promises to be a visual treat.

L’Economie du Couple (2016) | Drama | France Belgium | World Premiere

Joachim Lafosse (Our Children) returns to Cannes with this Brussels-set contempo drama that stars Berenice Bejo and Cedric Kahn as a separating couple with kids, forced to cohabit their beloved marital home due to financial difficulties.

Fiore (2016) | Flower | Drama | Italy | World Premiere

Daphne is in a juvenile detention centre, serving time for robbery, when she falls for another inmate Josh. Their love feeds on exchanged glances and snatched conversations in Claudio Giovannesi’s drama about forbidden love and a strength of feeling that threatens to violate the law.

SEQ 21, J4, Cours de natation Samir et Agathe

SEQ 21, J4, Cours de natation Samir et Agathe

The Aquatic Effect | L’Effet Aquatique (2016) | Drama | France | Iceland | World Premiere

The final feature of France Icelandic writer and documentarian Solveig Anspach (who sadly died of cancer in 2015). No stranger to Cannes, her film Stormy Weather was screened in the Un Certain Regard section in 2003, and she won the Piazza Grande Award at Locarno for Back Soon in 2008. The Aquatic Effect is a drama that has Samir Guesmi and Florence Loiret Caille.

La_Pazza_Gioia_04_(c)PAOLO CIRIELLILa Pazza Gioa | Like Crazy (2016) | Comedy | France | Italy| World Premiere 

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi joins Paolo Virzi for their second collaboration, a comedy, in which she plays mental patient who strikes up a friendship with a woman from a completely different background (Michaela Ramazzotti) while being treated in a Tuscan mental home during the Summer holidays (right).

Les Vies de Thérèse | Documentary | France | World Premiere 

Filmed here at her own request by director Sebastian Lifschitz, are the final days in the life of militant feministe, actress and lesbian Therese Clerc, who died in February 2016. She also took part in his 2012 documentary Les Invisibles, which explored the lives and difficulties of older lesbians and gays in French society.

Ma Vie de Courgette | My Life as a Courgette  (2016) | Animation | World Premiere 

Based on Gilles Paris’ book on the same name, this gorgeously animated family drama is scripted by Girlhood director Celine Sciamma and set in the French Alps.

MeanDreams_TheKissMean Dreams (2016) | Thriller | Canada | World Premiere

Canadian filmmaker Nathan Morlando (Gangster) makes his Cannes debut with a thriller set in Northern Ontario and starring Sophie Nelisse and Josh Wiggins.

Mercenaire photo 3Mercenaire (2016) | Drama | France | World Premiere 

In his coming of age directorial debut, Sacha Wolff stars alongside newcomer Toki Pilioko, when they take off to play rugby in a big city on the other side of the World, and discover that manhood comes without compromises.

image1Neruda (2016) | Biopic Drama | Arg, Chile, Spain | World Premiere

Gael Garcia Bernal and Alfredo Castro again join forces with Pablo Larrain and his scripter Guillermo Calderon (No) in a biopic that explores the Nobel-prize winning poet’s time as a political fugitive in Chile during the 1940s.

Poesia_Sin_Fin_1_©Pascale Montandon_JodorowskPoesia sin Fin | Endless Poetry (2016) | Fantasy Drama | Chile | World Premiere

Chilean Maverick Alejandro Jodowovsky is back in Cannes with another fabulous family affair. Endless Poetry stars his sons Brontis and Adan and is filmed by multi-award winning DoP Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love).

Raman_Raghav_1Raman Raghav (2015) | Thriller | India | World Premiere

Vicky Kaushal was the star turn of last year’s Un Certain Regard romantic drama Massan. He returns to Cannes in Anurag Kashyap’s thriller that follows the exploits of the notorious 1960s Bombay serial killer Raman Raghav, played by Bollywood star Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Siddiqui also starred in Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) an epic drama charting the deadly inter-generational blood feuds that once took place in the city of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.

Risk_Film Still Julian Assange_Courtesy of Praxis FilmsRisk (2016) | Documentary | Germany | US 

Writer, director and activist Julian Assange has certainly captured the imagination of journalists and filmmakers with his political antics; Alex Gibney –We Steal Secrets – being one of them. Here he forms the subject of American filmmaker Laura Poitras’ latest documentary Risk that takes place in Britain (left).

DSC_7087

Tour de France (2016) | Drama | France | World Premiere

An unlikely friendship develops between an ageing art lover Serge (Gérard Depardieu) and young rapper Far’Hook, when they are forced together on a coastal journey from Northern France to Marseilles on the trail of 18th Century maritime painter Joseph Vernet, in this usual comedy drama from French director Rachid Djaidani.

Two Lovers and a Bear (2016) | Drama | Canada | World Premiere 

Kim Nguyen’s romantic drama has Dane DeHaan (Life) and Tatiana Maslany as lovers who form a spiritual bond in the remote town of Nunavut, in the Canadian North Pole (below left).

TLB_Still_17_credit_photo_max_filmsWolf and  Sheep (2016) | Drama | Denmark | World Premiere

With a cast of newcomers, Shahbanoo Sadat tells a tale about a mountain farming community in northern Cashmire and their belief in a legendary wolf with the soul of a woman.

LA QUINZAINE | DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT | TAKES PLACE DURING THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 12 – 22 MAY 2016 

 

The Arabian Nights III | As Mil e Uma Nottes | The Enchanted One

Director: Miguel Gomes | Cast: Christa Alfaiate, Chico Chapas, Americo Silva; Portugal/France/Ger/Switz |125 min.

In part of three of his trilogy The Arabian Nights, entitled The Enchanted One, Portuguese writer and director Miguel Gomes finally moves Scheherazade (Alfaiate) into the centre of this modern retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, set in a a contemporary Portugal haunted by economic decline. Part III consists of three fables that are more interconnected than in the previous section – The Desolate One.

Scheherazade’s own story is told in the outrageously sumptuous Chateau d’If (against the background of high-rise blocks in working class Marseille). The magnificent setting is further enhanced by DoP Mukdeeprom’s resplendent visuals that picture a costume drama that feels more of a f’ilm-in-a-film’ than the previous segments. Scheherazade’s father, the Grand Vizier (Silva) is kitted out in full Ali Baba regalia complete with bulbous headgear. Frightened that his daughter will run out of stories and finally lose her life, he is also lost in nostalgia for his much-loved wife, now dead; and the images of the two women intermingle in his mind. This clearly artificial and theatrical episode echoes Gomes’ Murnau take in Tabu, but it lacks focus, failing somehow to fit into the whole canon.

Leading to the second segment ‘Baghdad Archipelago’, where Scheherazade meets the paddle man (Charloto), who has 200 children, and Elvis, a robber cum street dancer, Gomes suddenly switches to a Godard mode, where multiple texts overload the attention capacity of the audience, particularly the section with subtitles. Inserts like: “From the wishes and fears of men, stories are born” seem clever, but do not add much value. Most of The Enchanted One is taken up by the 80 minute final segment “Chorus of the Chaffiniches” (shot by Lisa Persson), starring again Chico Chapas (Simao in Part II), as a birdsong expert and bird trapper. These bird trappers are mostly unemployed men, and when we one caught in a net meant for the birds, the symbolism is clear. The story of a Chinese girl, told in voice-over, who came to Portugal at the time of the depression, adds a further layer of melancholia to the trilogy’s ending. Still shrouded in enigma and inconclusive, The Enchanted One somehow loses his way, subtracting rather than adding to the whole trilogy.

The structure of Arabian Nights is obviously the main attraction; the narrative, however inventive at times, would not have carried 381 minutes. Gomes has fused Buñuel’s satire, Brechtian allegories and phantasy elements not unlike Fernando Birri in his South American poetic realism. The stylistic variations, sometimes disperse and are often overwhelming, but Mukdeeprom’s images give the Arabian Nights its unique look, and a visual coherence. Whilst the opulence of Arabian Nights is obviously part of its strength, Gomes might have overreached himself a little. He is strongest in the ethnographic chapters, when he shows serous interest in the lives of real people. His choice of popular music, from Rod Stewart to Lionel Ritchie, underlines this argument: his journey between Italian Neorealism and South American Poetic Realism is strongest, when he chooses a pictorial approach. AS

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE IN SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 6 MAY 2016

 

 

 

69th Cannes Film Festival 2016 – preview

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The 69th Cannes Film Festival presents its most ambitious and diverse selection yet with a Jury presided by Australian Director George Miller (Mad Max); Arnaud DESPLECHIN (Director, Writer – France); Kirsten DUNST; Valeria GOLINO; Mads MIKKELSEN; László NEMES (Director); Vanessa PARADIS; Katayoon SHAHABI (Producer – Iran); Donald SUTHERLAND (Actor – Canada).

Woody Allen’s glitzy festival opener CAFE SOCIETY, starring Kristen Stewart, hits the Croisette on May 11 for a ten day competition line-up with other Hollywood regulars such as Steven Spielberg with his screen version of Roald Dahl’s The BFG (out of competion), Sean Penn with THE LAST FACE starring Charlize Theron and George Clooney in Jodie Foster’s financial thriller MONEY MONSTER.

The American auteurs will also be there to celebrate: Jim Jarmusch with a double bill of GIMME DANGER, an in-depth music biopic with Iggy Pop and PATERSON starring an eclectic pairing of Golshifteh Farahani and Adam Driver and Jeff Nichols with his interracial drama LOVING, based on a polemical legal case that rocked America in the ’50s.

90Palme D’Or Veterans, Ken Loach, who celebrates his 80th birthday this year, will be back to cut through the glamour of the Croisette with some stark British social realism in I, DANIEL BLAKE and the Dardennes Brothers with THE UNKNOWN GIRL about a patient who refuses live-saving surgery and the doctor who sets out to investigate why.

Almodóvar’s JULIETA (right) has already opened in Spain to mixed reviews. His most ambitious film to date travels round Spain to tell a tale Hickcockian tale of motherhood and loss adapted from three interrelated short stories by Canadian author Alice Munro from her collection Runaway.

This year Britain has not one but two films in competition: Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank) brings AMERICAN HONEY, that follows a group of teenage workers across America starring Shia LaBoeuf and newcomer Sasha Lane.

In 2014 Xavier Dolan transfixed male audiences with his award-winning saga of sons and mothers: Mommy. Never to be left out of the fun, the 27-year old Canadian maverick is back with two of France’s most happening stars Marion Cotillard and Lea Seydoux in a film that sounds as exciting as his track record: IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD

louteFrance is the best represented country but their well-known directors are inventively exploring different genres this year: Bruno Dumont brings an old-fashioned Normandy-set seaside comedy starring Juliette Binoche and Fabrice Luchini MA LOUTE, (left) in contrast to his usual menacing dramas. Alain Guiraudie, who shocked and delighted with his gay thriller The Stranger by the Lake, this year brings a more mainstream drama RESTER VERTICAL. After Cannes 2014 success with Clouds of Sils Maria, Kristen Stewart also leads in arthouse filmmaker Olivier Assayas’ PERSONAL SHOPPER: a ghost story set in Paris – offering her two goes on the Red Carpet. Marion Cotillard also stars in Nicole Garcia’s literary screen adaptation MAL DE PIERRES, which has echoes of the classic Madame Bovary and follows a wilful married woman who falls for another man. Let’s see if she can add a twist of magic to this regular plotline.

Paul Verhoeven is a director best known for Basic Instinct and Showgirls. His latest drama ELLE stars the doyenne of Cannes Isabelle Huppert in a drama whose plotline sounds not dissimilar to Catherine Breillat’s 2013 film Abuse of Weakness but her co-star here is Christophe Lambert of Highlander fame.

neonDanish director Nicolas Winding Refn last dipped his toe in the Riviera rave-up with the spectacular Only God Forgives in 2013. The fabulous thriller starred Kristen Scott Thomas in a standout role but the film had a mixed reception. He’s back with THE NEON DEMON about a model who arrives in LA and discovers vampire and cannibals at play in the city’s fashion world.

The Romanians will there in force with Cristi Puiu’s family saga SIERANAVADA and Palme D’Or winner Cristian Mungiu brings another family-themed drama entitled BACALAUREAT. Germany is also back after a long break on the Croisette, this year in competition with Maren Ade’s intriguingly entitled TONI ERDMANN, that concerns a troubled father and daughter reunion.

Korean auteur Park Chan-Wook has reimagined Sarah Waters’ popular Victorian novel Fingersmith into modern day Korea in HANDMAIDEN

Philippino filmmaker Brillante Mendoza once rocked the Croisette with his thriller Kinatay which never got a release in Britain, possibly due to its shocking violence. Last year he was awarded Special Mention by the Ecumenical Jury for his sensitive portrayal of Philippino suffering for his feature Taklub. This year he’s back with with MA’ ROSA a drama in Tagalog. At last but not least, Brazilian director Kleber Mendonca Filho, best known for his drama Neighbouring Sounds, brings another drama about flat life to Cannes: AQUARIUS is the story of critic and last remaining resident of an Art Deco building acquired by the developers. Determined not to leave until her death, sounds like this is going to be an intriguing and tense study about who we are and where we belong in time. MT

THE 69TH CANNES INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 11 – 22 MAY 2016 

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