Archive for the ‘Competitions’ Category

Winter Boy – Le Lyceen (2022) Toronto Film Festival 2022

Dir/wri: Christophe Honore | Cast: Juliette Binoche, Christophe Honore, Xavier Giannoli, Vincent Lacoste, Paul Kircher | France, Drama 122′

Juliette Binoche stars alongside Christophe Honore, who writes, directs and appears briefly in this tender stream of consciousness confessional that explores their teenage son’s tentative sexual awakening in a wintery Chambery on the foothills of Mont Blanc.

Told from the perspective of Lucas (Kircher) a breezy, upbeat opening scene sees father (Honore) and son motoring along a country road only to find themselves careening into the middle of a field, narrowly involved in a collision with another vehicle. And this near accident sets the febrile tone for the tragedy that will follow as the whole family implodes into anguish in facing a very different future to the one they all had in mind.

Always wearing its heart on its stylish sleeve in a beautifully nuanced way Honore’s emotionally honest film is at times difficult to watch as the heartbroken Lucas suffers an extreme reaction to his loss. But this also seems to crystallise his decision to start a sexual relationship with his friend Oscar, and a night of passionate lovemaking follows before Lucas leaves for a week in Paris with his artist brother Quentin (Lacoste), who shares a swanky flat with Lilio.

Paris is a new and radical world for the provincial teenager and Lucas is caught up in the excitement of discovery, but is also very much in awe of his brother who is busy preparing for his first exhibition. Using the city as a playground to flex his muscles in newfound sexual freedom, Lucas is also surprised to discover his puppyish unbridled appeal is much in demand with older and more sophisticated men. And this naivety does not always go down well with Lilio and certainly not with Quentin who sends him packing back to his mother after he oversteps the mark, complaining Lucas’ unbridled behaviour is disrespectful at a time of family grief. Everything comes together in a graceful denouement that sees Isabelle and her family finally seeing a light at the end of their tunnel of grief. MT

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | 8 -18 SEPTEMBER 2022

Fledglings (2022) Locarno Film Festival 2022

 

Dir.: Lidia Duda; Documentary with Zosia, Oskar, Kinga; Poland 2022, 82 min.

A specialist boarding school in Poland explores how blind and visually impaired the children gain strength and confidence from supporting each other in Lidia Duda’s surprisingly stylish first feature that serves as a warm tribute to both staff and patients.

Zosia, Oskar and Kinga are barely out of nappies when they find themselves separated from their parents and in the care of Ewa, a strict but gentle nurse who is only satisfied when they do their best to interact in the new surroundings. Oskar is learning to play the piano but Zosia is still finding her feet away from the family home. On a speaker-phone she listens to her mother wishing her ‘sweet deams’. Sensitive to noise, Zosia finds the other kids challenging, particularly Oskar who shouts a lot.

Surrounded by toys and learning aids – the swings turn out to be difficult to master – the children also use a sort of typewriter with buttons for every letter, to learn to write. Zosia is more concerned with her mother who: “has to work, she could not come to visit, she has to earn money”. Zosia pleads with Oskar not to clap “you can clap after school, but otherwise you’ll get us expelled. You have to learn not to sleep in class”. Suddenly, Zosia is alone with no friends to play with: “I need a hug”. she cries. But despite Oskar pushing her Zosia admits that she does like him.

In this religious institution the children are taught that “God loves us all”. Oskar seems to respond, telling Zosia he loves her, but she is not so sure of him and really just wants to see her parents, desperate for them to visit: “I am in a bad mood today. I miss Kinga and Dad”. At a meeting for the whole school, Zosia is chosen to recite a poem by a well-known author. The results are impressive. But the day after her uncle and aunt finally managed to visit, Zosia complains: “Yesterday I had a bad day, a really tough day.”

Zosia finally learns to play the piano, and she and Oskar enjoy a role-play with teddy bears, the kids pretend to be doctors curing them. One bear is told he has to stay in bed for three years (!). After recovering from a emergency visit to hospital, Kinga’s birthday provides a welcome break for the kids with Oskar accompanying the celebrations on the piano, Zosia touching his shoulder gently as he turns to stroke her face.

These children are forced to grow up early – and relying on verbal communication has made them advanced for their age where speech is concerned in a world that will remain a mystery to them forever, in many ways. As a result their role-plays become very complex and mature. With sensitive black-and-white images from DoPs Wojciech Staron and Zuzanna Zachara, Fledgings is endearing but never sentimental in showing that the struggle for a non-visual identity is tough but enormously satisfying. An impressive first feature and a special achievement in every way. AS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE LOCARNO 2022 

Fashion Reimagined (2022) Tribeca Film Festival 2022

Dir: Becky Hutner | Doc, 92′

Every now and again comes a really eye-opening documentary and one that changes your mind about our impact on the world we live in.

And Fashion Reimagined is one of those films. Not a particularly interest-sparking title, so you may flip over it, particularly if fashion is not your thing. Becky Hutner, who directed and produced it, raises the profile of one of the most wasteful and polluting industries today: that of fashion.

Fresh-faced designer Amy Powney is the rising star in the London fashion scene and the woman who has pioneered a sustainable way forward with her cult label Mother of Pearl . English country girl Amy grew up with a passion for drawing and soon discovered the devastating environmental impact of her industry on the globe. On winning the coveted Vogue award for the Best Young Designer of the Year (2017), which comes with a big cash prize, she decided to put the money towards creating a sustainable collection from field to finished garment, and in doing so transform her entire business.

The film follows her often tortuous progress in pioneering a way forward. But her personal revolution soon led to a ground-breaking societal change. The collection made its premiere at London Fashion Week in 2018 under the name “No Frills.” The mission was to make No Frills an organic, traceable line of clothing that uses minimal water and chemicals, is socially responsible, and considers animal welfare, particularly the painful process of ‘mulesing’ where sheep are mutilated to prevent infection, just for the benefit of the wool trade.

You may never think twice about buying fast fashion on the Highstreet or online – perhaps a few summer outfits from Zara or teeshirts and jeans from Uniqlo or The Gap. What could be simpler? Yet the garment trade has one of the most destructive carbon imprints with its wasteful use of water and poisoning toxic chemicals. And not to mention the mountains of used clothes that end up in landfill clogging our landscape even further.

Amy’s journey to source wool and cotton from ‘ethical’ was not easy. With her business partner Chloe, she travelled to Pedro Otegui’s family farm in Uruguay, known for its impeccable animal welfare and traceable products to the origin, and to Isko: a denim mill in Turkey certified by the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS). Denim is one of the pernicious products in its use of water and chemicals. And this segment is arguably the most revealing a part of the documentary and also adds an interesting travelogue spin.

Amy soon realised she had a lot to learn about how the garment industry operates: it’s not just about sourcing, carding and spinning from one location: the raw material travels thousands of miles from start to finish, once again taking its toll on the planet, not to mention the plants and animals involved. English wool is not as soft – nor as white – as that sourced in Uruguay, for example, and this gives the film its educational slant, not to mention some magnificent scenery and some dramatic tension in the process.

Eventually Amy pulls through with a fabulous collection, and plaudits from fashion luminaries such as Katharine Hamnett, the UK’s first sustainable designer, who provides an opportunity to talk about the reinvention of the fashion industry during London Fashion Week, providing a hopeful trigger for change in the industry and some real interest from buyers around the world. With her label Mother of Pearl, Amy has pathed a way forward for a kinder industry and less waste and agony for animals and the environment. So time to think twice when we next head to the High Street for that shirt that may be chucked away after a year to make space for yet another new set of clothes for this season. MT

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2022

 

Breaking the Ice (2022) TriBeCa 2022

Dir.: Clara Stern; Cast: Alina Schaller, Judith Altenberger, Tobias Resch, Wolfgang Böck, Pia Herzegger; Austria 2022, 102 min.

This tour-de-force of family dysfunction and first love on the ice rink is the latest in a recent crop of films about ‘women in sport’ but lacks the slick delivery and emotional punch of Charlene Favier’s skiing thriller Slalom or even The Novice which looked at the loneliness of competitive rowing.

Austrian writer director Clara Stern certainly makes a promising start but a lack of structure makes it difficult to keep up with the main character’s changing moods, the high octane world of Women’s Ice Hockey giving the whole undertaking a sensationalist quality and contributing to the overall unevenness.

Playing ice hockey as captain of the Dragon’s team is how Mira (Schaller) handles the stress of running the family vineyard with her mother (Herzegger), after the tragedy of her grandmother’s death with her brother Paul (Resch) at the wheel. Meanwhile her grandfather (Böck) is sliding into dementia and Paul has left home in disgrace.

Paul’s sudden reappearance during a critical match involving the “Dragon’s sends Mira into overdrive. He starts playing the fool forcing her to leave the rink at a critical moment and she ends up being stripped on her captaincy after a severe reprimand from the team’s coach. Mira is told to pull herself together, to forget her family troubles and give all for the team in the forthcoming national final between the ‘Dragons’ and the ‘Lakers’.

A challenge from another player Theresa (Altenberger), is the spark that ignites an unexpected attraction from her team player Theresa who is driven by the desire to succeed professionally and wants to be selected for a try-out with the National Women’s Hockey League of the USA. Tensions rise between the women before the start of a game, Mira and Theresa creating mayhem in the dressing room.

BREAKING THE ICE is not as progressive as it thinks it is, despite a lesbian twist. Aesthetically very conventional – the sporting sequences following the same pattern as male features of the sub-genre – and are overloaded with conflict. Stereotyping the main female protagonists does not help either, and the simplistic solutions offered are too close to the usual mainstream features to be convincing. We are not particularly drawn to any of the characters and Schaller fails to bring out the humanity in Mira despite the conflict she faces.  Stern is simply is not up to the task of marshalling the strings of the narrative together to a satisfying conclusion.AS

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Casablanca Beats (2021)

Dir/Wri.: Nabil Ayouch, Cast: Anas Basbousi, Ismail Adouab, Amina Kannan, Meriem Nekkach, Nouhaila Arif, Zineb Boujemaa, Samah Barigou, Abdelilah Basbousi, Maha Menan, Mehdi Razzouk, Marwa Kniniche, Soufiane Belali, Zineb Boujemaa; Morocco/France 2021, 101 min.

French-Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch is no stranger to controversy: His feature Much Loved about prostitution in his home country was banned, and Horses of God is a sober fictionalisation of the the suicide bombing that killed 33 people in Sidi Moumen, a deprived neighbourhood in Casablanca.

Ayoch has returned to Sidi Moumen with CASABLANCA BEATS, the first Moroccan feature in competition at Cannes since 1962. An uplifting story of local teenagers, uses rap and hip hop to hit back at the male-dominated set-up, and the religious bigotry that condones it. All actors are playing out their own lives with Anas Basbousi being the central character. Basbousi is a rapper, who founded the ‘Positive School’ in a cultural centre in Sidi Moumen where he clashes with the leader who feels his progressive style of music will alienate the centre from the rest of the community. In real life, Ayouch was instrumental in setting up the cultural Centre ‘Les Etoiles’ in Sidi Moumen back in 2014, together with author Mahi Binebine, on whose novel ‘Les Etoiles de Sidi Moumen’ Horses of God was based.

“Hip hop is an art form”, exclaims Anas, but not everyone shares his enthusiasm. It certainly proves to be a divisive art form, particularly for the parents of teenager Maha Menan who protest “Not for us”, as they drag their daughter out of the centre. Meriem Nekkach’s brother even tries to prevent her visits. But her counter attack makes things clear: “For you, women are slaves/It makes me sick/For you, being a man, means dominating us/look at our mother in chains/never had a voice, and never complained. While all this is happening the male religious enforcers (known at The “Beards”) patrol the streets extolling the teachings of the Quran: “Everything that lures us from God’s path is a sin”.

But the dance craze is refusing to back down. More centres along the lines of the Sidi Moumen “Positive School”, have now been stablished in Morocco, and Casablanca Beats’ main dancers, Ismail and Mehdi have now turned semi-professional. The film comes to a head with the long anticipated ‘big concert’, which should have won over hearts and minds – but ends in a violent confrontation with the “Beards” and their supporters, leaving Anas’ future in the balance.

This effervescent feature fizzes with fun thanks to the lively camerawork of Amine Messadi and Virginie Surdej. Casablanca Beats is not simply a North African version of the Bronx or Paris sub-culture, but an indigenous approach to rap/hip hop artists, defined by the fighting spirit of a youth rising up against a repressive and often violent parental and authoritarian regime. In true Middle Eastern style Casablanca Beats is a feisty but fervent hymn to music, life and love. AS

IN CINEMAS AND ON CURZON HOME  FROM FRIDAY 29 APRIL 2022

Cannes Film Festival 2022 – Programme additions

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL will celebrate its 75th Anniversary with a line-up featuring four previous Palme d’Or winning directors, three features by women, and nothing – one again – from the United Kingdom. That said, it’s a glittering programme featuring all the usual suspects plus a few new faces on the block. Tehran born Ali Abbasi was last in Cannes with his darkly dystopian troll fantasy Border, his latest Holy Spider is an Iranian-set religious-themed crime thriller, the detail is still under wraps.

Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi always turns up trumps – either behind the camera or infront of it – here she has her first shot at the main competition directing a drama about the trials and tribulations of pioneering a creative path in life seen through the prism of Nanterre’s famous acting school Les Amandiers. Canada’s David Cronenberg has never won the main prize but bagged the Special Jury prize back in 2004 with his contraversial 1996 thriller CrashCrimes of the Future, starring Viggo Mortensen and Kristen Stewart, will see him return to the Cannes line-up for the 7th time.

The Belgian Dardennes Brothers are now a legend in their own lunchtime with their left-leaning politically charged social dramas and Tori and Lokita is the latest in a long line of Cannes winners that started with Rosetta and The Child winning the main prize in 1999 and 2005 respectively. Claire Denis is arguably one of France’s most successful women filmmakers with a long career spanning back to her first short film in 1971 and continued with stylish arthouse fare such as Beau Travail and more recently sci-fi hit High Life. and comedy Let the Sunshine In both with Juliette Binoche. She has already bagged a Silver Bear at Berlinale this year for her love triangle drama Fire. The Stars at Noon based on a novel by Denis Johnson, is another romantic drama this time set during Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution where Margot Qualley and Joe Alwyn play the leading roles.

Arnaud Desplechin is a classical veteran of CANNES FILM FESTIVAL and made the competition line-up with Deception in 2021 and again with Oh Mercy in 2019. His latest feature will be his seventh attempt to win the coveted Golden Palme: Brother and Sister stars Marion Cotillard and Melville Poupard in a domestic drama that sees the two siblings brought together again at the death of their parents, after a long-standing feud.

A drama about a ballet dancer catapulted Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont to the international recognition as the Camera d’Or winner in 2018. Girl won three awards at Cannes for its delicate depiction of teenage gender dysphoria while Close centres on an intense friendship between two teenage boys. The sparkling Brooklyn set ’80’s thriller We Own the Night was James Grey’s first foray into the competition back in 2007. His fourth entry Armageddon Time takes him back again to New York of the era, and stars Anne Hathaway and Anthony Hopkins in a coming of age story about growing up in Queens.

Broker is another child-centred story from Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-Eda (Like Father, Like Son) his sensitive domestic dramas deal with the intricacies of family dynamics where kids are concerned. Now competing in Cannes for the eighth time, Hirokazu won the Palme d’Or in 2018 for his darkly amusing satire Shoplifters. South Korean star Bae Doona leads in this unusual story that centres on a ‘baby box’ facility where passers by can leave their unwanted children.

Nostalgia, Mario Martone’s follow-up to his biopic of Neopolitan theatre legend Eduardo Scarpetta, is another project co-written by his wife Ippolita Di Majo. He previously competed at Cannes with l‘Amore Molesto back in 1995, based on another novel by Elena Ferrante of The Lost Daughter fame.

Cristian Mungiu – in competition this year with RMN – is known for his hardcore social realist dramas: his 2007 Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days tackled illegal abortion in 1980s Romania, he took a more nuanced approach to a lesbian relationship between two nuns in a convent in Beyond the Hills which won Best Screenplay in 2012.  Contrary to its title, director Ruben Ostlund’s latest Cannes hopeful, Triangle of Sadness, (below) is a dark comedy that sees two models at the crossroads of their career. The Swedish director divided Cannes critics with his ambivalent satire Force Majeure that scooped the Jury Prize at Un Certain Regard in 2015, and the Palme d’Or for The Square two years later. Starring Woody Harrelson and Oliver Ford Davies this promises to be another off-field outing for the provactive filmmaker.

South Korean maverick Park Chan-wook scandalised Cannes audiences with his rebarbative revenge thriller Old Boy seizing the Grand Jury prize back in 2004. He stormed back five years later with a stylish vampire outing Thirst grabbing another Jury Prize. The sensually sumptuous Handmaiden followed in 2016. And this year he is back again going for the jugular (?) with Decision to Leave a detective mystery thriller set in the mountains of South Korea.

2022 is set to be American auteuse Kelly Reichardt’s defining moment: with a feature Showing Up in the main competition line-up – her fourth collaboration with Michelle Williams – and a Special Tribute at this summer’s Locarno Film Festival she is one of the most individual of directors with her richly resonant fare. Set in Portland, Oregon her follow up to First Cow centres on an artist preparing for a life-changing exhibition. Iranian director Saeed Roustaee rose to fame in 2016 with his award-winning debut Life and a Day. His first film in competition is Leila’s Brothers.

Fares Fares (The Nile Hilton Incident) and Mohammad Bakri are the stars of Boy from Heaven Egyptian filmmaker Tarik Salee’s Cannes Festival debut, it sees the death of the main Imam in Cairo’s prestigious university lead to a bitter battle for overall control. Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov won the Francois Chalais award for his impressive 2016 feature The Student  Two years later he was prevented from attending Cannes with Leto, a musical paean to the Leningrad Rock scene of the 1980s that would win the Best Soundtrack Award 2018, and Petrov’s Flu followed in 2021. Abandoning his disgraced homeland, Serebreninikov is now living in Berlin where he wrote and directed his latest lyrical drama Tchaïkovski’s Wife. 

This year’s festival welcomes Polish Greats director Jerzy Skolimovski back into the competition line-up with the enigmatically titled EO. His comedy King, Queen and Knave was in the competition line-up back in 1972, he then took the Grand Jury Prize with Alan Bates starrer The Shout six years later, and won Best Screenplay for Moonlighting in 1982. Success is the Best Revenge went home empty- handed from the competition in 1984, as did his Torrents of Spring five years later. His latest feature, a contemporary adaptation of Robert Bresson’s 1966 cult classic Au hasard Balthazar a road movie that begins in a Polish circus and ends in a slaughter house for its tragic star, a donkey. EO is described in the blurb as “a panopticon of human behaviour towards a defenceless animal, a suggestive picture of social relations and cultural exchanges taking place in the modern world”. We wish him the best of luck!

There are three late additions to the programme announced on 14th April. Catalan auteur Albert Serra is known for his audacious often provocative highly individual but always sublime fare. His latest feature follows on the heels of the exquisitely niche drama Liberte that bagged the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 2019. Starring Benoit Magimel and Sergi Lopez (Harry He’s Here to Help) Torment on the Isles sees politics clash with a coup de foudre for a crisis-ridden novelist and an ambassador on the steamy island of Bora Bora.

Sophomore director Leonor Seraille’s moves from her directorial debut and Golden Camera winner Jeune Femme to the main competition with Un Petit Frere. Father/son buddy movies are always popular with the (male) critics and Belgian directors Charlotte Vandermeersch, Felix Van Groeningen have found another winning formula along these lines with their Palme d’Or hopeful The Eight Mountains set in Italy’s Aosta mountains. MT

PALME D’OR COMPETITION

Holy Spider Ali Abbasi
Les Amandiers  Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi
Crimes of the Future – David Cronenberg
Tori et Lokita Jean-Pierre et Luc Dardenne
Stars at noon Claire Denis
Frère et sœur Arnaud Desplechin
Close Lukas Dhont
Armageddon Time  James Gray
Broker Hirokazu Kore-Eda
Nostalgia  Mario Martone
RMN  Cristian Mungiu
Triangle of Sadness – Ruben Östlund
Decision to leave  Park Chan-Wook
Showing up Kelly Reichardt
Leila’s brothers  Saeed Roustaee
Boy from Heaven Tarik Saleh
Tchaïkovski’s Wife Kirill Serebrennikov
Eo Jerzy Skolimowski

The Eight Mountains Charlotte Vandermeersch, Felix Van Groeningen
Un Petit Frere Léonor Serraille
Torment sur les Îles Albert Serra Spain

OUT OF COMPETITION  :

Top Gun 2 : Maverick  Joseph Kosinski
Elvis  Baz Luhrmann
Novembre Cédric Jimenez
Three thousand years of longing George Miller
Mascarade de Nicolas Bedos

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 17 – 29 May 2022 

The Eclipse (2022) CPH:DOX 2022 | Winner Dox:Award 2022

Dir.: Natasa Urban; Documentary; Norway 2022, 110 min.

A memoire of war-torn Serbia seems even more relevant in the light of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine. What happened in Yugoslavia is clearly not an isolated case: peace in Europe is much more fragile than we thought.

Natasa Urban – who has now settled in Norway – chronicles her memoire of war-torn Serbia between the two last eclipses, 1960 and 1999. A whole country vanished, being replaced after genocide and war by new states, based purely on ethnic composition – a result only made possible by brutal ethnic cleansing.

For the Yugoslavian-born documentarian, it was a reason to dissociate herself from her country. Serbia was the principal, if not the only, aggressor during the civil wars which cost over one hundred thousand lives, and one million refugees – all in the name of ethnic cleansing. Becoming a filmmaker in 2005 was not enough for Urban, she, like thousands others, left Serbia for exile “not only to change our existence, but to become some other people; this tells a lot about the country we left, and the sate of identity we tried to relinquish”.

ECLIPSE works on two levels: there is her father’s diary, retracing his steps to the  family’s previous homes where, in the end, he loads everything, including the ‘kitchen sink’ on the top of his car and leaves the heavily controlled militia zone. The other strand consists of Urban’s diary of interviews with family and friends in what is now Serbia.

Aunt Branislava has some tales to tell: Neighbour Dara dragged every postman through the door of her house, to do what you’d expect… On a more serious note, Branislava tells stories about militia soldiers who enjoyed killing animals sadistically. And when war broke out, they played football with the heads of their enemies. Slobodan Milosevic still loved violence after being elected president with a two-third’s majority; tanks killed demonstrators on the streets of Belgrade. And after the citizens of Vukovar voted to be part of Croatia in August 1991, Milosevic destroyed the city after a prolonged siege. The same city which had been praised for the high number of marriages between Serbs and Croats.

The clerics of the Serbian Orthodox Church put oil on the flames campaigning for a Greater Serbia: “Wherever there are Serbian graves, there should be Serbian land”. One of Urban’s aunts claims that on the day, the state of Croatia was recognised by the world community: “Good luck to them, if they want it so much”. Her work colleagues got angry, shouting “Fuck you”, you are a Romanian minority, if you are not happy here, go to Romania. This is Serbia.” Even the aunt’s boss remained silent. In Novi Sad, Urban meets a girlfriend whose Croatian father had been beaten up in Vukovar by Serbians, because he was married to a Serbian woman. In the POW camp, both sides beat him up.

Nothing remains any more of the POW camp near Vukovar. People came in 1992 and transported the camp’s bricks to their own dwellings, to build extensions. There was even a weekend army: Bosnian Serbs, the ‘Chetniks’, who came to Bosnia over the weekend to share in the spoils of war. The director’s family meanwhile hiked up the mountains. “When we descended, we learned that Kraiina had fallen”. Natasa’s Dad is still questioning what went on. “I cannot understand why our troops had to kill in Srebenica.” Natasa, could not believe what she heard: “Dad, they killed over 8000 people in two days.” Natasa’s brother Igor never slept during the bombardments. Only when the empty planes returned could he fall asleep. His only link to the outside was the news on TV. But the NATO planes destroyed the nearby TV tower. He begged his parents to let him go to Vukovar, but they refused.

The last chapter is the titular solar eclipse of 11.8.1999. Serbian TV and media had warned the population to stay inside because the solar radiation was particularly harmful during the eclipse. Having planted this paranoia, the streets were deserted and people literally locked themselves in.

DoP Ivan Markovic follows both the travels of father and daughter with clear images of the impressive landscapes, and the citizens’ ruined souls. Natasa is asked by relatives “why couldn’t you say something good about Serbia, like mentioning the beautiful Obedska swamps or the Laguna book store”

Meanwhile, since 2012, Serbia has been ruled by former allies of Milosevic, who died three years before the trial verdict in Den Hague was passed. “This new circle of nationalism stops the painful process of the Serbian public addressing its involvement in the war crimes”. AS

WINNER DOX:AWARD CPH:DOX COPENHAGEN DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL 2022

They Made us the Night (2021) CPH:DOX 2022

Wri/Dir: Antonio Hernandez | Doc, with the Salinas Tellos | Mexico, 66′

Stories from Latin America continue to entrance not least this dreamy wonderful work of art marked by its lush tropical settings and fluid camerawork. It follows a Mexican family through their everyday life to reestablish themselves in Oaxaca on the Pacific Ocean after their lives were destroyed by Cyclone Dolores back in 1974. 

Animals are as much part of these people’s life as their fellow humans. And the Salinas Tello family are no different. We see young son Adonis talking to their livestock and pets and even riding the billy goat. Catholic by religion the Salinas Tello are Afro-Mestizo, a mixture of African, Native and European, and are fiercely proud of maintaining their identity through oral traditions involving bouts of intense communication, singing and chanting marked by ‘tonales’ (animal spirit links), devils and cyclones all in Spanish, their native language . Preparations are underway for a patronal celebration in the village, and, inevitably the family pig is slaughtered. Adonis asks questions but strangely gets few answers on this occasion. The band starts rehearsals complete with hornets, trombones and other wind and percussion instruments along with exotic costumes and bizarre masks drawing on local myths and folklore.

Antonio Hernandez achieves a perfect balance between Alonso Maranon’s sumptuous visuals, an exotic and often sinister soundscape created by Luis Ortega, along with the endless discussions to convey the togetherness of this cohesive, tight knit community where voluble dialogue seems to be the key to survival and wellbeing. MT

SCREENING DURING CPH:DOX | FIPRESCI WINNER GUADALAJARA FESTIVAL 2021

 

A Taste of Whale (2022) CPH:DOX 2022

Dir: Vincent Kelner | Doc 85′

The Faroe Islands archipelago is one of the safest places in the world, but not for its community of whales. Each summer several hundreds of pilot whales, members of the dolphin family, are slaughtered in the green fjords to provide food for the islanders. In his feature debut French TV director Vincent Kelner uncovers some surprising angles in exploring this emotive practice known locally as the ‘Grind’.

Jens Mortan Rasmussen has eaten whale meat for most of his life and feels privileged to have grown up in the Faroe Islands: there are no big cities and surrounded by vast open landscapes he enjoys the ability to source his own food from nature. We first see him slicing through a massive chunk of whale meat proud that he has killed the animal himself – one of the 60-90 whales he has so far slaughtered to feed his family. Trying to do it as quickly and as humanely as possible he sees no difference between killing whales, sheep, or battery chickens – who suffer the worst conditions during their short lives – for subsistence. And put this way, he certainly seems to make a point.

Since the 16th century, whale meat and blubber has been a traditional form of nourishment in these remote Danish islands, and most Faroese grow up eating the rich source of protein several times a week. But the islanders do not kill or eat larger whales, and even push them to safety if they stray into more shallow waters, and we see Rasmussen actively helping out when some of the large whales become stranded due to sonar difficulties. Runi Nielsen claim to film the slaughter so that study slaughter methods and try to improve on them.

Faroe Islanders are fiercely protective of their language, culture and history and take great exception to any interference in their way of life, especially from the Sea Shepherd activists who feel passionately opposed to whale slaughter: predominantly vegetarians and vegans, they are actively opposed to animal slaughter, not only in the Faroes but everywhere else in the world. They believe pilot whales to be sentient and sophisticated beings capable of referential communication, and should be allowed to roam free under animals rights protection believe the mammals. Their presence on the islands is a viewed as a menace by the Faroese who claim their new improved methods of slaughter are so much less cruel than they used to be, with improved weapons and less damaging fishing hooks. The islanders feel there is a lack of integrity in the way their country is being portrayed as knee deep in the blood of whales while elsewhere animals are routinely slaughtered humanely (or not, in the case of Halal). A spokesperson for the Shepherds feel that Faroes, a self-governing archipelago, and part of the Kingdom of Denmark, benefit from free trade agreement with the European Union, although they chose to remain outside so they could maintain control of their fisheries, and indulge in whale killing, which is actually illegal in the rest of Europe. Other animal rights organisations are also joining the defence of whales. Maybe it’s the way the whales are rounded up and hunted down ‘en masse’ in a blood-bath massacre that is so upsetting to outsiders.

Scientist Pal Weihe points out that whales are the top of the ocean’s food chain and their health is reflected in the state of the ocean’s polluted water. He claims that the pilot whales also contain high levels of toxic chemicals particularly ethyl mercury and this, according to recent studies, has had a detrimental affect on the brains of the islands’ children. The Islanders are not recommended to eat more that 250 grams of ‘Grind’ per month and startling evidence seems to point to an end to the practice of whale hunting, if not now, certainly very soon. For the time being whalers continue to eat poisoned meat as an act of tradition despite clear indications that it their health.

With its striking visual imagery and breathtaking widescreen images of this remote part of the world A Taste of Whale serves both as an ethnological portrait of a community in flux and informative look at the way animal cruelty is viewed as the world moves towards sustainable practices. Kelner presents a balanced portrait of a controversial topic and the final moments of the film are really hard to watch if you are opposed to animal cruelty.MT

NOW SCREENING AT CPH:DOX 2022

The Treasure of His Youth (2021) CPH:DOX 2022

Dir.: Bruce Weber; Documentary with Paolo di Paolo; Silvia di Paolo, Marina Cicogna, Bernardo Bertolucci, Pier Paolo Pasolini; USA 2021, 109 min.

US director/co-writer Bruce Weber (Let’s Get Lost) re-discovers one of Italy’s most influential photographers: Paolo di Paolo, born in the small town of Larino, in 1925. He photographed all the stars of Italian post-war cinema from 1949 and 1968: Anna Magnani, Marcello Mastroianni, Sophie Loren, Gina Lollobrigida and Pier Paolo Pasolini, to name but a few. But had it not been for Giuseppe Casetti, the owner of the Maldoror bookshop in Rome, Paolo’s archive would have never seen the light of the day, let alone two major exhibitions.

Paolo di Paolo, vivacious as ever in his mid 90s, still has the train ticket from Larino to Rome where he would study philosophy, his “escape” back in 1949. Growing up during twenty years of Fascism such luminaries as Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway had also escaped him until then, along with US music. Joining ‘Il Mondo’, a magazine founded by Mario Pannunzio in 1950, he fell in love with the camera, in this case a ‘Leica’. Pannunzio was an excessively intellectual editor-in-chief, his staff joked that the magazine had more authors than readers.

For Pannunzio, photos told a story, they were an autonomous narrative. The magazine became the training ground for great photographers, every shot had to be “like a piece of theatre”. Paolo’s coterie included the filmmaker Roberto Rossellini and the writer Alberto Moravia. Actress Anna Magnani, whose son had polio, set di Paolo a strict set of rules for their sessions. Pier Paolo Pasolini became a close friend, his photo of the director at the tomb of Gramsci is one of the iconic images of Italian political history. There is a visit to di Paolo’s old friend, the film producer Marina Cicogna, who produced, among others, Bunuel’s Belle de Jour and Pasolini’s Teorema. Cicogna, who lived for over twenty years with the actor Florinda Bolkan, recounts how Pasolini was well aware of the ‘death wish’, before his murder in Ostia. The poet and director was deeply religious, and could not accept his homosexuality in this context. Bernardo Bertolucci reminisces about first meeting Pasolini on a Sunday afternoon at his parent’s front door. He took Pasolini for a thief and locked him out before telling his father he had a guest. Both filmmakers look back with laughter at the memory.

Silvia, ii Paolo’s daughter, now looks after her father’s archive and runs his life, freely admitting how difficult he can be. She sets up a Zoom call with fellow photographer Tony Vaccaro, from the same generation, who grew up in small-town Pennsylvania, becoming a war photographer, before later settling for fashion photography. “The smell of our homes is still in our nostrils” comments Di Paolo.

The end is impromptu and not at all what Weber had in mind: di Paolo gains access to the backstage photography at the Valentino Couture fashion show in Paris’ Place Vendome. The 94-year climbs onto a step ladder to take photos, feeling invigorated by the experience he expresses a desire to live in Paris: He was back in the saddle after given up in 1968 when ‘Il Mondo’ was forced into liquidation and TV took over the newspaper media agenda, di Paolo turning his attention back to philosophy and history.

Treasure is a rhapsody in black and white: somehow di Paolo’s photos and the archive images from TV and newsreel fail to coalesce aesthetically with DoP Theodore Stanley’s own shots in the trip back to Larino. But the film clips from the “Golden Age” of Italian cinema round up a bravado lesson in film history. Exciting and informative. AS

NOW SCREENING DURING COPENHAGEN DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Bernstein’s Wall (2021) TriBeCa 2021

Dir: Douglas Tirola | Wrs: Leonard Bernstein, Douglas Tirola | US Doc, 101′

“the artist can change the world but he can’t necessarily do it through his art” 

Leonard Bernstein became a household name for his ground-swelling score of modern Broadway classic Westside Story. In those days to be a twenty-something Jewish immigrant conductor was unheard of. But Bernstein was determined to bring music to the mainstream and it was this democratisation of his craft and the arts in general that made him his place in history.

Bernstein came from a non-musical background in Boston. His father – whom he described as a cold, authoritarian tyrant  escaped Italy on an ocean-liner and settled in Brooklyn to ply his trade as a fishmonger.

Directed by Douglas Tirola and narrated by the composer himself in modulated engaging tones, Bernstein’s story unfolds in a didactic but fascinating way, enlivened by a wealth of personal photos and archive films – and of course, audio footage in a rich musical score. In these vivid scenes Bernstein comes across as an inquiring free-thinker, his lustrous dark curls framing an opened-faced sensual masculine beauty that only got better as the years rolled by.

Cultural ambassador, artist, teacher, and philosopher, the musician’s gift to the world was his ability to bring classics to everyday audiences who would mostly see his prodigious passionate outpourings on the television during the 1950s when he was known for his CBS arts series Omnibus in 1954.

Although classically trained Bernstein developed an eclectic interest in all kinds of music, jazz and opera blurring the lines between class and culture sealing his reputation as an iconic figure whose talent would unify, engage and entertain.

Training at Tanglewood, Bernstein would soon gravitate from Boston to New York where he took to the conductor’s podium with ease and aplomb wafting aside his radical background with charismatic determination, thanks to his supportive mentors Serge Koussevitsky and Aaron Copland.

Romantically it was plain-sailing for the affable family-orientated conductor who fell for Chilean American actress Felicia Montealegre, snippets from their early love letters rendered in graceful black and white graphics. Soon he had a son and a daughter and needed to support them all. From modest beginnings in Carnegie Hall, The New York Philharmonic beckoned in 1958.

Bernstein’s way of engaging his audience was to give a rousing introduction to his dynamic stage performances – offering an entente cordiale in Russia, or laced with a political agenda at home – but always brimming with a febrile physicality as his quivering body conveyed his excitement and passion for music via the orchestra to the audience: “music keeps me glued to life even when I’m depressed”.

Tirola adds political and social footnotes. Felicia, a keen pianist and obedient fifties wife, saying all the right things, yet clearly sharing her husband with another muse, music itself. But also a burgeoning yen for men – an episode which is discretely conveyed in those same black and white graphics. And Felicia admits his confused sexuality clouded their marriage of 27 years although it was undoubtedly happy and fulfilling for a time, his homosexuality is never explored.

Politics and leftist activism takes centre stage during the Kennedy years as Bernstein increasingly warms to his role as conductor for social change, using his reputation and art to promote peace, equality and racial harmony. In Alabama he is seen joining fellow jazz musicians in a peace rally, and visiting Jerusalem to give a rousing speech on the Mount of Olives. And there snaps from his well-publicised and misinterpreted soiree in support of the civil liberties for the Black Panther party – leading to Tom Wolfe’s coining the derogatory phrase “radical chic”. This all caused a vicious backlash on the Bernsteins and a storm of critical hailstones in 1970 his subversive stance drawing suspicion from Richard Nixon.

The film coming to a satisfactory close with footage of Bernstein conducting the Ninth Symphony in East Berlin in 1989 as part of the celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. To mark that reunification, he rewrote part of Friedrich Schiller’s text for the “Ode to Joy” movement, and had the choir substitute the German word for “freedom” in place of “joy.”

Tirola’s warm but not hagiographic approach allows for an enjoyable and immersive look back at the conductor’s fascinating life. Of his own musical choices Bernstein talks glowingly of Beethoven although his West Side Story work is almost entirely absent, apart from a few visuals. We are left with the impression of a genius but never a showman, a true artist absorbed and taken over by his obsession – a true conductor if ever there was one – music was the lightening bolt that set Bernstein’s life on fire. MT

Tribeca Film Festival | JUNE 2021

 

 

A Man and A Camera 2021 | CPH:DOX 2021

Dir.: Guido Hendrikx; Documentary; Netherlands 2021, 64 min,

“What are you doing here? Why are you filming me?” is exactly the reaction you’d expect if you rang someone’s doorbell and randomly pointed a camera at them without any permission. But this uncontrived candid camera approach also throws up some unexpected results.

But this exactly what Dutch director Guido Hendrikx did in his observational documentary that sees him wandering around a small, unnamed town in the Netherlands, candid camera at the ready when doors are opened. The film also works as a fascinating exploration of front doors, many of them works of art.

The reactions of the homeowners in not unexpected. One person threatens quite reasonably to trash his camera, another one attempts it un successfully. Somebody wants to know “is there a deeper meaning” – apparently not. The man with the camera is told by one rather stoic man, who lets him into his house, where he carries on filming, ” he should be aware that the police may take an interest in him, you know, there are group chats, and one may get frightened”. His grandchildren are certainly not afraid.

In the town square we watch two female police officers looking at their mobiles, but no action is taken. Another couple lets him into their home and he keeps filming, whilst coffee is prepared. Gradually people let him into their homes, and their hearts as the film becomes a surprising arm’s length confessional: The wife tells him “I’ll only work for another three weeks, then it’s over. I’ve worked for the same employer 31 years. My husband was laid off two years ago, because of his age, that’s not nice, is it?” But when she goes into the kitchen, she tells her husband: “Keep an eye on him, yes”.

Soon our cameraman is becoming part of the wallpaper for several of his subjects, gaining their confidence as he inveigles himself into their lives. The soon to be pensioners are a case in point. The grandfather is also unfazed by the filming, asks the filming guest to “Leave me a note if you go, and tell me why you were here”. Left alone, the cameraman films the family leaving as Leonard Cohen’s ‘Going Home’ ends a rather enigmatic feature.

At heart we are all social animals in the right conditions. A Man and A Camera is another example of how people often accept unconfrontational intrusion in their lives, taking things a step further than their voluntarily offerings shared on social media. This uninvited guest here offers an opportunity for people to unburden themselves, a non-religious confessional, almost, once a level of trust has been established. Given the placid, unquestioning nature this unsolicited interloper, people are only to happy to let him into their lives. Hendrikx observational film makes insightful impact as an informal social study. He observes and we observe too – no questions asked, or explanations needed. AS

SCREENING AT CPH:DOX | 21 April – May 2021

CPH:DOX | DOX:AWARD – Main Competition

Minari (2021)

Dir/Wri: Lee Isaac Chung | Cast: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Yuh-Jung Youn, Alan S. Kim, Will Patton, Noel Kate Cho | Drama

Lee Isaac Chung’s endearing portrait of a Korean-American family, Minari won the hearts and minds at this year’s Sundance, taking home both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award, and Yuh-Jung Youn went on to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

The pace is gentle and upbeat as Chung unspools his autobiographical immigrant story – mostly in English- that feels real in its depiction of rural American in the 1980s (filmed in Oklahoma) then quite a difference place than the albeit modern Korea of his birth. Brimming with warmth and a touch of nostalgia, this is a universal experience of adjustment but the details are personal, imbued with the Korean sense of humour, and always delivered with a lightness of touch.

Originally starting off in California, farming-minded father Jacob (Steven Yeun) decides that the wide open spaces of Arkansas may be a better option for his family of four — mother Monica (Yeri Han), daughter Soonj (Noel Kate Cho) and son David (Alan S. Kim) — and they soon settle into a prefab with fifty acres in the hope of building up  a small-holding. With this idea in mind, Jacob and Monica take a job in the agricultural sector separating male and female baby chicks (or “chicken sexing”).

Monica is the only one who finds this new life a strain, the kids are only too happy to amuse themselves with plenty of land to play on. Grandma’s arrival helps to lighten things up providing a welcome buffer zone between Monica and Jacob – who are now barely talking – and helping with the kids who are the focus with their cheeky antics and naturalistic performances.

Jacob teams up for company with the local Bible-fearing eccentric (Will Patton) who spends a great deal of his time channeling Jesus, dragging a full-sized wooden cross along the main road. Feeling back-footed in his attempts thus far in providing for the family, Jacob’s business hunch finally shows signs of potentially coming good. But dramatic heft and gentle tension is provided when little David is in need of emergency medical treatment. No NHS to help here in the wilds of rural America. And although Minari doesn’t come through with a satisfactory conclusion to all the issues it raises, charisma and a real feelgood factor carries it through, along with winning performances from an impressive cast. MT

Now on release nationwide from 17th May | Oscar Winning for Best Supporting Actress: Yuh-Jung Youn |  Glasgow Film Festival 2021

 

 

 

 

Wild Indian (2020) Sundance Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Lyle Mitchell Corbine jr.; Cast: Michael Greueyes, Chaske spencer, Julian Gopal, Scott Haze, Kate Bosworth, Jesse Eisenberg; USA 2021, 90 min.

1980s Wisconsin provides the setting for this atmospheric thriller that sees two Native American teenagers brought together by a murderous secret. In his first feature competing in this year’s Sundance Film Festival Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr writes, co-produces and directs the intriguing stand-alone narratives that somehow fail to come together as a satisfying whole.

Makwa (Haze) and Teddo (Gopal) are outsiders who spend their afternoons kicking around the neighbourhood where their own parents are struggling to give them a proper home. Makwa’s father is so abusive he has to invent excuses for the bruises he is always covered in. One afternoon in the woods Makwa accidentally shoots a fellow student with a gun, that was lying around at home. Teddo is appalled, but helps his friend to bury the body.

Decades later in 2019, Makwa (Greyeyes) – now calling himself Michael – is a successful accountant in LA, married to the attractive Greta (Bosworth) with a son, Francis, Greta soon giving birth to a second baby. Teddo, on the other hand, has spent most of the last twenty-five years in jail. He blames his ‘bad luck’ on the trauma he suffered helping his friend cover up the murder. Michael is still drawn to violence, choking a sex worker, and threatening the victim’s relative to be quiet, attacking her in hospital. His well-paid lawyer gets him off any charges, police are uninterested in solving the case. But when Teddo fetches up at Michael’s house intent on revenge, there is an ugly and tragic incident.

Nothing tangible connects these two scenarios, Mitchell Corbine leaving the plot underwritten and leaving viewers to grapple in the dark: we have no idea how Makwa/Michael became so successful, or Teddo turned to a life of crime – somehow the trauma of the dead student is left unresolved. Micheal has a curious rapport with his right-hand man (Eisenberg is terribly underused): Michael asking his subservient underling about his haircut amongst other issues.

DoP Eli Born shows two worlds in complete contrast, the LA glitter is wildly overdone. Nice idea to bookend the feature with mythological images and poetry from the canon of the native Americans, but there are too many unanswered questions in this oblique but well-meaning debut. AS

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 28 JANUARY – 7 FEBRUARY 2021

 

Bebia: a Mon Seul Desir (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir.: Juja Dobrachkous; Cast: Anastasia Davidson, Anushka Andronikashvili, Anastasia Chanturaia, Guliko Gurgenidze; UK/Georgia 2020, 113 min.

This first feature film from Russian born Juja Dobrachkous is a visually stylish and evocative drama tracing three generations of Georgian women with a timelessness reminiscent of classical Russian cinema.

Ariadna (Davidson) works as a model in Tbilisi and is still suffering from her traumatic experiences at boarding school and the female influences in her life. The sudden death of her grandmother Bebia (Gurgenidze) forces her to confront the past returning to the village where she grew up, at odds with her both the women, particularly her mother (Chanturia).

When she finally gets to the village Ariadna realises nothing has changed as far as her mother concerned – she is in the throes of a second divorce, having driven Ariadna’s father away. Tradition dictates that as the youngest member of her grandmother’s family, Ariadna must now unite Bebia’s soul (she died in the hospital) with her home 25 kilometres away, by means of a connecting thread. Dato, the village elder, explains to Ariadna how to go about her task, asking Temo (Gurgenidze) to accompany her on the trip. But for some reason the two don’t get on, Ariadna accusing him of pushing his luck, despite his rather calming presence during their eventful journey to fix the thread.

Turbulent storms enliven their exhausting journey and presents challenges, mirroring their emotional conflict, particularly when a violent storm sees Ariadna fighting to save the barn where she and Temo take shelter. It soon emerges that Temo has had his own share of family difficulties, having run away from home after finding out out his mother was raped by a local bandit; his father, the country’s attorney general, failing to bring charges fearing for his own position: “In the end, I hated them both equally” claims Temo.

Rather than presenting village life as a calming retreat from the big city, the rural setting merely brings back bad memories for Ariadna, Georgia’s rugged countryside serving as a metaphor for her troubled past, as she reflects on her life in Tbilisi wondering why on earth she is going back to place that only brought trouble: “This is the 21st century, why am I doing this?”

Ariadna is annoyed to find out she has inherited her grandmother’s house “I do not want the house, as I did not want her dresses as a child, or her fine stockings, I became a model to prove that I was beautiful, and that she was wrong.” After the wake, she tells Temo that it was all a delusion: “The train cut the thread. We did it all for nothing, Bebia’s soul is lost”. But worse is to come when she discovers her mother has fallen ill.

DoP Veronica Solovyeva’s magic black-and-white images, full of poetry, yearning and loss, save the often nebulous feature from being an “atmospheric” pretence, making great use of light and shadow with subtle chiaroscuro camerawork.

Dobrachkous’ narrative is strong on detail, but leaves us too often in the dark as to its thematic concerns. The sequences from the boarding school, wonderfull as they are, do not really explain why Ariadne suffered, or how she got a nasty injury on her arm. The nonlinear narrative muddies the story, making us feel an even more urgent need for structure. The ensemble acting is wonderful,  Davidson always finding the right tone of disquiet with her family and herself in this graceful study of matriarchal discontent. AS

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | 6 February 2021

Curfew (2020)

Dir.: Amir Ramses; Cast: Elham Shahin, Amina Khalil, Ahmed Magdy, Kamel El Basha; Egypt 2020, 96 min.

In this impressive domestic drama that won the main prize at this year’s Cairo Film Festival, Egyptian writer/director Amir Ramses takes on one of the biggest taboos in the Arab world: paedophilia. Flashbacks relating to the crime are coy but nevertheless disturbing considering the perpetrator is a senior member of his family, Ramses finding just the right balance to get his message across without upsetting the censors. s great to see veteran actor Elham Shahin back on the screen again, after so long,

Set in the autumn of 2013, the story revolves around an extended family in Cairo. Faten (Shahin) leaves prison after twenty years, having served time for the murder of her husband. Rumours say it was a ‘crime passionnel’ over her love affair with Yahia (El Basha), who – still lives – in the same apartment block – but the real motive has never surfaced.

Meanwhile, her embittered daughter Layla (Khalil) in waiting for her at the prison entrance with her husband Hassan (Magdy), a doctor in the local hospital. Layla has only visited her mother once in prison and is deeply resentful about her taking her father away from her. A local curfew makes it impossible for the former teacher to escape to her home in the country but she has her granddaughter Donia for company, and she also reconnects with Selma, Hassan’s niece. But Donia and Faten cross the line and reveal an unpalatable secret with tragic repercussions for all concerned.

Hassan is shown as an example of a progressive Arab man, Ramses  criticising working conditions for women: the nurses have only one way of promotion: a recommendation of a doctor – for which they have to pay with sex. His decision to stage most of the drama in domestic environments gives the feature an Ozuesque quality in its unity of space and time. The Curfew avoids sentimentality and dramatic overkill, finding a way to raise the profile of a society repressed by a cult of poisoned masculinity, camouflaging itself as religion. AS

THE CURFEW WON THE CAIRO FILM FESTIVAL‘s Golden Pyramid Award, along with BEST ACTRESS for Ilham Shaheen 2020

Muranow (2020) **** Jerusalem Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Chen Shelach; Documentary; Israel 2020, 70 min.

This haunting documentary debut from Isreal’s Chen Shelach, explores the traumatic past and present of Warsaw’s Muranow, once home to 200,000 Polish Jews before their lives were destroyed in the ghetto, the largest in the nation state that was ‘Greater Germany’. The vast majority were deported to Treblinka death camp where they were murdered in broad daylight.

But Muranow also tells another tale: of the Jewish uprising that took the ghetto by storm – and of those who live there today, still  traumatised by the ghosts and demons of their past – but who still deny their fellow citizens collaboration with the Germans.

And the ghosts and demons are still very much alive, according to one flat dweller whose refurbished property adjoins the Muranow cemetery. She claims no one will drink her tap water because the ground below the pipes still contains traces of Jews who lost their lives in the tragic years between 1938-1945.

Only two of buildings have survived the war and Muranow’s subsequent urban regeneration: One houses the Warsaw University’s Psychology department which once was the SS HQ. The other is St. Anne’s Church, where the SS hid paintings and other valuables looted from Jewish homes. Researcher Mattan Steffi contrasts old archive films and photos with today’s modern version of Muranow. The current Polish inhabitants of the quarter are well aware of this gruesome and guilt-ridden past. When interviewed they hide behind lame excuses – even though one of them moved out to Gdansk for two years on account of the ‘ghost’ in his flat – whom he Christened Rachella. Another woman bought a Menora, to fight off the ghosts “from a lost civilisation”. The existence of the ghetto is a taboo subject in schools.

The modern worlds collides too: A Lebanese baker tells about his family’s flight from the Middle-East war zone to Warsaw – and is shocked to learn that he’s actually living on the Nazi genocide victims’ bones.

Then there are the young Zionists from Israel, who visit the bunker where the Jewish Uprising’s victims committed suicide. They are proud of their slaughtered ancestors “you died with pride, so we can fight with pride for Israel”. A commentator is rather forgiving of this failed analogy: “Young people always need a story with a Happy-End.” The Polish authorities work hard to create an image, picturing Jews and Poles as victims of the Nazis alongside each other.

There are demonstrations in Muranow, but these only show how the Holocaust has been hijacked for a new Polish Nationalism: “Poland for Poles only” sing these neo-fascist on Muranow’s highway and byways. Meanwhile bookshops stock titles such as “Zombie Jews Living in the Underground”. Muranow’s new residents are often “sad about what happened to the Jews, but not so sad as to move away” – many still benefit from this Jewish legacy, and live in fear of the Jewish returning to reclaim their land and property.

One collective tries to recreate the Muranow old town with the help of 3D films, creating parallel versions of the old and the new. One writer is making a film about this Ghetto between 1940 and 1945 using a German 16 mm camera dating back to 1935. Mattan Steffi ‘feels’ the bodies under the pavement. The director and writer claim the guy ” is crazy in the head” – but are proud of his obsession with the past nonetheless.

With DoP and producer Micha Livne delivering stunning images of the old and the new, this is a perfect passion project. The saddest point is perhaps the Poles collective denial of what happened. It seems they’ve learnt nothing from history. People never learn. The ghosts and demons are possibly their own projections of a guilty conscience. No one can escape their history – no matter how hard they try.  AS

JERUSALEM FILM FESTIVAL 2020

 

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

Rotterdam Film Festival 2021 – a hybrid two-parter

 

The 50th celebration of Rotterdam Film Festival (IFFR) will take place in two parts, kicking off in the first week of February followed a physical event from June 2-6, 2021,

A light-hearted comedy opener seems fitting for this special edition: Anders Thomas Jensen’s Riders of Justice  stars Mads Mikkelsen and Nicolaj Lie Kaas. The first week of the festival is dedicated to The Tiger Competition this year feature 16 titles (a larger competition line-up for the future) , Big Screen Competition and its Ammodo Tiger Shorts and Limelight sections which will see 60 titles taking part. Other talent in competition includes Benoît Jacquot, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Mosese, Dea Kulumbegashvili and Nicolás Jaar.

The Tiger Competition winner will be announced on 7 February by a (virtual) jury headed this year by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese joining IDFA’s artistic director Orwa Nyrabia, visual artist and filmmaker Hala Elkoussy, critic Helena van der Meulen and film producer Ilse Hughan.

Taking over from IFFR’s artistic director Beyro Beyer, Vanja Kaludjercic has faced a challenging year where filmmakers “have gone above and beyond to complete works in challenging circumstances, and there has been no shortage of great films looking for a home at IFFR”.

Once again the selection aims to ‘encapsulate IFFR’s spirit as a platform for the discovery of visions that pique our curiosity and capture our imagination. The sheer determination of these striking new voices is exhilarating, and I’m proud that we can bring an outstanding selection to our film-loving audiences in new ways that captivate the collective spirit.”

This is reflected in the one-off festival re-design in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which is expected to keep much of Europe under full or partial lockdown in the early months of 2021. In a very welcome move, IFFR has awarded US director First Cow director Kelly Reichardt the festival’s honorary Robby Müller Award named after the late Dutch cinematographer and granted to a filmmaker who has ”created authentic, credible and emotionally striking visual language throughout their work”. The festival has been a platform for her features Old Joy, Meek’s Cutoff and Wendy And Lucy. 

TIGER COMPETITION |  1-7 FEBRUARY 2021

Agate Mousse (Lebanon) world premiere
Dir. Selim Mourad

Bebia, à mon seul désir (Georgia, UK) world premiere
Dir. Juja Dobrachkous

Bipolar (China) world premiere
Dir. Queena Li

Black Medusa (Tunisia) world premire
Dir. ismaël, Youssef Chebbi

A Corsican Summer (France) world premiere
Dir. Pascal Tagnat

The Edge of Daybreak (Thailand/Switzerland) world premiere
Dir. Taiki Sakpisit

Feast (Netherlands) world premiere
Dir. Tim Leyendekker

Friends and Strangers (Australia) world premiere
Dir. James Vaughan

Gritt (Norway) international premiere
Dir, Itonje Søimer Guttormsen

Landscapes of Resistance (Serbia/Germany/France) world premiere
Dir. Marta Popivoda

Liborio (Dominican Republic/Puerto Rico/Qatar) world premiere
Dir. Nino Martínez Sosa

Looking for Venera ( Kosovo/Macedonia) world premiere
Dir. Norika Sefa, 2021

Madalena
Dir. Madiano Marcheti

Mayday (US) international premiere
Dir, Karen Cinorre

Mighty Flash (Spain) world premiere
Dir. Ainhoa Rodríguez

BIG SCREEN Competition

Archipel (Canada) world premiere
Dir. Félix Dufour-Laperrière

Aristocrats (Japan) international premiere
Dir. Sode Yukiko

As We Like It (Taiwan) world premiere
Dir. Chen Hung-i & Muni Wei.

Aurora (Costa Rica, Mexico) world premiere
Dir. Paz Fábrega

Carro Rei (Brazil) world premiere
Dir. Renata Pinheiro

The Cemil Show (Turkey) world premiere
Dir. Bariş Sarhan

Drifting (Hong Kong) world premiere
Dir. Li Jun

The Harbour (India), world premiere
Dir. Rajeev Ravi

The Last Farmer (India) world premiere
Dir. M. Manikandan

Lone Wolf (Australia) world premiere
Dir. Jonathan Ogilvie

The North Wind (Russia) world premiere
Dir. Renata Litvinova

El perro que no calla (Argentina) European premiere
Dir. Ana Katz

Sexual Drive (Japan) world premiere
Dir. Yoshida Kota

Les Sorcières de l’Orient (France) world premiere
Dir. Julien Faraut

The Year Before the War (Latvia) world premiere
Dir. Dāvis Sīmanis

Limelight (World Premieres)

Dead & Beautiful (Netherlands, Taiwan) world premiere
Dir. David Verbeek

Mitra (Netherlands) world premiere
Dir. Kaweh Modiri

IFFR | 1-7 FEBRUARY | 2-6 JUNE 2021

 

Ivana the Terrible (2019) Locarno

Dir.: Ivana Mladenovic; Cast: Ivanka Mladenovic, Gordana Mladenovic, Modrae Mladenovic, Kosta Mladenovic, Luca Gramic, Anca Pop, Andrei Dinescu; Serbia/Romania 2019, 86 min.

Director/co-writer Ivana Mkadenovic (Soldiers: Story from Ferentari) describes her latest, a fictional autobiography, or docu-fiction hybrid is very much in the vein of this year’s IDFA winner Radiograph of a Family although far more satirical in nature. The past and the present collide in Kladovo, Serbia, near the border to Romania, where Ivana also ‘stars’ as a histrionic millennial jilted by her Romanian lover and suffering the after-affects of PTSD. Her family, friends and former lovers play the other roles.

We first meet Ivana on a train going back home to Serbia for the summer, where we get to experience just how terrible she really is. Freed from her work commitments, she accepts the mayor’s invitation to become the face of a local music festival, and finds herself the latest citizen to be honoured with an award acknowledging the bond of friendship between Serbia and Romania. It just so happens that the Trajan (Friendship) Bridge over the Danube connecting Serbia and Romania, and where Tito and Ceausescu once famously met, is also in Kladovo, on the Serbian side, adding all sorts of bilateral connotations to the narrative, along with the generational conflicts.

Far from triumphant, Ivana’s return puts the cat amongst the pigeons on all front , escalated by her fragile state of mind. To make matters even worse (or somehow better, as it turns out), Ivana’s relationship with a much younger guy is soon the talk of the town (the general consensus being that she should settle down and start a family), but this gossip soon confers a kind of celebrity status on the petulant woman, her erratic behaviour becoming par for the course. Her behaviour certainly challenges social stereotypes in the traditional community. And the arrival of Ivana’s friend (portrayed by Romanian-Canadian singer-songwriter Anca Pop – to whose memory the film is dedicated) is a another game-changer, further enhancing her bad-girl status in the village, and there is much consternation among the old-fashioned local womenfolk when an offer to have their private parts form the basis of a local sculpture is not well-received, to say the least.

Eventually Ivana gets a lift with Anca and Andrei back to Bucharest, stopping on the way to listen to some poets reading on the Friendship bridge. Another dimension to this (un)happy merry-go-round comes in the shape of a story from the Second World War when over a thousand Jews came to Kladovo where they were to be escorted by boat to the safety of Palestine. But the ship never came, and the Jews lost their lives during the ensuing Nazi occupation of the town. MT

ARTEKINO | PREMIERED AT LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL

Cat in the Wall (2019) Locarno

Dir: Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova | Drama | 

Award-winning Bulgarian duo Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova are no strangers to controversy. Their popular award-winning documentary Uncle Tony, Three Fools and the Secret Service was widely condemned by the authorities for exposing the corrupt totalitarian regime in their homeland.

Undeterred, they have pushed on with another potential firecracker in the shape of Cat in the Wall, this time based on real events in a Peckham council estate as experienced by a professional Bulgarian single mother trying to make it in London. This English-language sink-estate drama playfully deals with inflammatory themes such a Brexit, gentrification and the pitfalls of home-owning through the endearing tale of a wayward cat who also reserves his right to roam into pastures new.

Atanasova plays the main character Irina, an architect who has bought and renovated a council flat in a Peckham Estate where she lives with her young son Jojo (Orlin Asenov) and her brother Vlado (Angel Genov), a well-qualified historian who has turned his hand to installing Satellite dishes. Hoping to leave the corrupt post-communist set-up in Bulgaria to start a new life in Britain she soon discovers the grim reality of ‘playing the game’ in Britain.

Naturalistic performances from a cast of non-pros and experienced thesps and a refreshing script are the strengths of this light-hearted bit of social realism, piqued by dark humour. Utterly refusing to cow-tow to the usual Loachian style of Tory-bashing, this film still exposes some uncomfortable truths in a storyline that builds quite a head of steam and some set-tos that make it tense but also thoroughly grounded in reality. Unsurprisingly it never got a release in Britain.

Irina, Vlado and Jojo inject a much-needed breath of fresh air into a hackneyed scenario, where they uncover the usual set-backs to living in social housing – the urine-drenched lift is a classic example. But soon they find themselves face to face with a ginger tabby cat, and after adopting it for Jojo they are soon accused of animal theft by a neighbouring family.

As an educated immigrant who is well-placed to comment on Bulgaria and Brexit-Britain, Irina comes across as sympathetic and thoroughly likeable, eking out an existence that sees her pitching for architectural schemes while supplementing her meagre salary with bar work. Meanwhile she notices how most of her neighbours are living on generous state benefits that make finding paid work nonsensical.

“I didn’t come here to be a leech,” says the politically-savvy Irina who may well prove unpopular with diehard socialists in the audience. The recent words of Trump also echo: ‘if she doesn’t like it she can go back home”. And then there is her little son Jojo who is trying to make the best of his rather isolated existence as an immigrant child with no local friends, but who thinks he has found one in Goldie.

The directors maintain their distance, serving up all this ‘near the bone controversy’ with such a lightness of touch that it is difficult to take offence in a social satire that mostly feels even-handed. The character of Irina’s neighbour Camilla is a case in point. Played by veteran actress Camilla Godard she brings a gentleness to her part as a drug-smoking depressive who, it later emerges, bought the cat as a present for her special needs granddaughter, another example of the more hapless denizens of the estate. And while we feel for Camilla she also conveys an ambivalence that somehow cuts both ways. We can sympathise but also condemn her. Cat in the Wall is a clever and highly enjoyable drama that really shines a light on some shadowy issues in the home we now call post-Brexit ‘broken Britain’. At least we have our ‘Sovereignty’ despite losing our freedom of movement. Full marks to Irina and those pioneers like her, she will be sorely missed. MT

NOW FREE TO WATCH ON ARTEKINO | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL premiere

Spiral (2020) Bergamo Film Meeting 2021

Dir.: Cecília Felméri | Cast: Bogdan Dumitrache, Diana Magdolena Kiss, Alexandra Borbely, Theodora Uhrik; Hungary/Romania 2020, 93 min.

This first feature film by Romanian born writer/director Cecília Felméri is a moody character study about a lake somehow taking on the humans living nearby. Part poetic realism, part nightmare thriller, Spiral is enigmatic and beguiling, haunted by a macabre curse. It echoes the theme in Romanian folklore and literature of purification by fire.

Bence (Dumitrache) is an introverted character whose emotions run as deep as his lakeside dwelling in Szödliget where he lives in a comfortable wooden house with girlfriend Janka (Kiss), trying to make a living as a fish farmer. Lost in his solitary world the lake tethers him like an eerie umbilical cord his father having disappeared nearby long ago without a trace. Nourishing and caring for his prize fish provides him with a strange solace – they voraciously gobble up dead rabbits to birds. But his relationship with teacher Janka is fraught: there is a sexual connection but somehow Bence remains unreachable, lost in a perpetual reverie. Budapest beckons for Janka but Bence is keen to put down roots in their bucolic countryside dwelling, where the only internet connection lies deep in the heart of the lake.

Winter approaches and with it comes tragedy in the icebound lake with its chilly secrets. Bence finds himself alone again with only his ‘piranha-like catfish’ for company and random visits from his aunt (Uhrik) who is told that Janka “simply left” – but we know otherwise. Then government inspector Nora (Borbely) arrives to help him with an application for a grant. The two fall for each other and once again the physical is satisfying Bence then busing her away, convinced that the death of his cat is due to the lake casting a hex on everything he cares about. In a spooky twist Nora develops a penchant for his catfish finding them particularly tasty, possibly due to their rich diet. When his aunt finds with a buyer for the farm, Bence will have to make a decision: does he let the lake win?

Silence and subtle musical choices add to the eerie serenity of the piece which plays out appropriately to Mozart’s Miserere mei Deus. DoP Reder György constructs a magical twilight atmosphere where the lake plays a passive-aggressive entity. What starts as a romantic idyll, soon becomes nightmarish for Bence, haunted by the ghosts of the past. Bogdan plays him captivatingly, his morose enigmatic suggestiveness constantly open to interpretation. In her sophomore feature Felméri directs with confidence, never crossing the line to anything overstated – her subtle approach is rare in a beginner and leaves us guessing and ruminating throughout the film and for a long time afterwards. AS

NOW AT BERGAMO FILM MEETING | Awards at WARSAW FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | THESSALONIKI 2020

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

The Exit of the Trains (2020) DocLisboa

Dir: Radu Jude, Adrian Cioflânca | Doc, România 175′

Screening as part of the So Many Stories Left Untold strand in DOCLISBOA’s 18th Edition (14-20 January, 2021), this essay film directed by Radu Jude and first timer Adrian Cioflânca makes use of extensive archive material to reflect on the Romanian genocide of June 26th, 1941, in the town of Iasi, near the Moldovan border. It’s a gruelling testament to man’s inhumanity towards his neighbour, and makes for grim viewing not least for its rather overlong treatment.

The pogrom lasted four days and wiped out most of its  Jewish male population. Although occupying German forces had a hand in the tragedy the main perpetrators were actually locals who looted their Jewish neighbours’ property after killing them.

Jude opts for a similar, minimalistic style to his 2017 essay film Dead Nation  to chronicle this sudden outbreak of wartime ethnic cleansing. Playing out as ‘an exhibition of the dead’, a voice-over commentary by relatives or neighbours of the victims accompanies the grim images. There are also witness reports of the few who survived. The final segment shares an array of photos of the pogrom itself, shown in chronological order.

The heat of that June morning in 1941 was in stark contrast to the chilling events that would unfold in the Eastern Romanian town. Jewish citizens were assembled in front of the police station where they were beaten and kicked, some were shot. Later the perpetrators sent women and children home,  deporting the men in airtight cattle trains (150 per sealed waggon) to Podulloaiei, or Targu Frumos, whence the few survivors were taken to the labour camp of Ialomita.

The witnesses reflect on their next-door neighbours’ role in the genocide, their focus was to steal from the victims, stripping them of their flats, jewellery and money, having already exhorted money for failing to fulfil clemency appeals. Some of the photos are gruesome: particularly the face of a Mr. Lehrer, who was slaughtered right in front of his shop. One women was ordered by the authorities to pay a military duty for her soldier son, even though he had been killed. She was forced to sell her only means of livelihood – a Singer sewing machine. Most of the victims died of asphyxiation: “He died of his injuries and lack of air”. It’s a chilling mantra that resonates with the mass suffering going on today.

Survivors talk about the hours endured with the bodies of the dead or dying, before any escape was possible. The trains were transformed into mortuaries and some of the images are particularly harrowing. Finally, we see a photo of a ‘normal’ passenger train which stopped during the mayhem. It shows the carriages with bodies bundled together, like wood or bricks, before a mass burning – only a few were buried in the Jewish cemetery of Targu Frumos.

The Exit of the Trains is far more than a mere documentary: it is a witness report of how humans suddenly lose their humanity and descend into depravity. What sort of people put petrol into water bottles, then charge inflated prices to revel in the pain and slow death of their captives. AS

DOCLISBOA | 2021 | SO MANY STORIES LEFT UNTOLD | Berlinale 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epicentro (2020)

Dir.: Hubert Sauper; Documentary with Leonelis ArangoSalas, Annielys Pelladito Zaldivar, Janet Pena Semunat, Hans Helmut Ludwig, Oona Castilla Chaplin; Austria/France 2020, 108 min.

This new documentary portrait of Cuba from Oscar nominated Hubert Sauper explores the post-Castro era pairing everyday life with an essay on the power and myth-making in cinema. Through his conversation with children, a sex worker and an actress, he shows a Cuba still dependent on tourism, even though some of the values are contrary to the revolutionary movement of “26th of July”.

Ten year-old Leonelis Arango Salas is the star of the show: she explained the 1902 “Tafft Agreement”, which gave the USA the use of the naval base of Guantanamo (!), one of over 900 military bases worldwide, where the American flag is raised, including the Moon. She also elaborates on the sinking of the battleship USS Maine by the Spanish – in reality, the ship sunk because of an explosion in the boiler room but the US used the incident to shoot reels of film showing their soldiers killing Spanish troops who had occupied Cuba for centuries. The boy also shows us the sinking of the ‘Maine’, restaged in a bath tub with lots of cigar smoke. Theodore Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders”, soldiers who fought on behalf of USA in the Cuban War of Independence, were very much ‘Trojan’ horses only interested in replacing the Spanish. And the cinema covered the myth: Media Tycoon Randolph Hearts (on whom the hero of Citizen Kane was modelled) wrote to Roosevelt: “You furnish the war, we furnish the information”.

A sex worker is, not surprisingly extremely disillusioned, regales us with the revelation that all US presidents look the same, be it T. Roosevelt or Trump: “Faces of people who like war and wealth.” Tourists come here for sex, men or women: “Gringas come here looking for black dicks”. And in her own experience, sex workers are just like slave: “I am a piece of meat, when they say do it doggy-style, I go “wow wow”. But she still wants to go to Disneyland and meet Brad Pitt.

In one of the few modern malls, Leonelis and her friends admire a pencil, costing over 2000 US dollars. Her hospital worker grandmother earns just four dollars a week. Even with Sauper’s help, they cannot calculate how long she would have to work to buy this simple writing instrument. Hans Helmut Ludwig, a middle aged tourist from Bavaria, visits a ballet school where he claims the free tuition is very professional. He compares Cuba today with a theatre set: tourists come to participate in a parallel universe full of illusions which will soon disappear. A utopia, never realised.

A street fight between a young girl and her mother is a brutal spectacle. Later we see mother and daughter watching Chaplin in The Great Dictator. “This is my grandfather” the girl tells Sauper. “You are Hitler’s granddaughter?” The girl can not stop giggling: “I am Charlie’s granddaughter”. Her mother, Oona Castilla Chaplin looks calm and collected as she accompanies her daughter and friends on the guitar,.

Epicentro is about reality and film, utopia and dystopia, and the American dream, with its “corrupted ideals and success forged in lies”. Like Robert Altman’s’ Buffalo Bill and the Indians, the truth is not welcome, particularly during the 200 year celebrations. Sauper hits hard, as he did in We Come as Friends when the Sudanese people complain “even the Moon belongs to the white man”. Maintaining a freewheeling and detached approach during his conversations on home-grown politics, the message is clear: Havana is anything but its translation: Heaven. AS

SUNDANCE GRAND JURY PRIZE WINNER | WORLD CINEMA

The Father | Bashtata (2019) Oscars 2021 | Glasgow Film Festival 2021

Dir: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Vlachanov | Bulgaria Drama 87′

The Father is the third collaboration for Bulgarian auteurs Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov. This superbly scripted psychological drama follows in the wake of The Lesson (2014) and Glory (2016/7) and explores a son’s attempts to rescue his father from the hands of an unscrupulous psychic healer.

Fraught with darkly piquant humour this comedy will resonate with anyone experiencing similar issues with their own ageing parents, the judicious mixture of farce and satire intertwining to deliver an enjoyable watch while skewering the situation down to a tee.

The Father in question is a dreadful dominating demon. Vasil (Ivan Savov) has no respect for his respectable married middle-aged son Pavel (an appealing Ivan Barnev) who is almost diminished to a blithering idiot in his presence, despite being a successful businessman.

During his wife Valentina’s funeral, Vasil behaves in a disgraceful manner by asking Pavel to take some final photographs of his mother’s corpse in its coffin. When Pavel refuses, Vassil berates him in front of the assembled mourners and insists on doing it himself, belittling Pavel in the process, who later deletes the macabre snaps.

But it doesn’t end there. Vasil becomes obsessed with the idea that his wife is trying to contact him from beyond the grave (by mobile) and decides to consult with a local medium, Dr Ruvi, involving Pavel in the process. Pavel feels responsible for his father, while not liking him terribly much: thoughts of getting back to his wife and business are subsumed by those of guilt; somehow he feels drawn into Vasil’s web of madness, unable to extricate himself from the parental ties that bind. Very much in the same vein as Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, Vasil exerts the same vulnerable power as Bruce Dern’s paternal figure. Clearly Vasil needs protecting from the strange requests made by Ruvi, but in helping him, Pavel takes on an irritating and undignified mission.

Pavel is also consumed by latent anger and constantly back-footed by his father’s unreasonable demands. Meanwhile Vasil become more and more absurd and desperate – the interplay between the two men providing a rich vein of humour. This entertaining two-hander (we never actually meet Ruvi or Pavel’s wife) cleverly sees Pavel emerging as the ultimate hero of the piece, Grozeva and Valchanov adding plenty of textural grist to the duo’s convincingly volatile relationship. MT

NOW SCREENING AT GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL ONLINE | THE FATHER IS BULGARIA’S OFFICIAL ENTRY TO THE OSCARS 2021

CRYSTAL GLOBE WINNER | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Queen of Hearts (2019) ****

Dir.: May el-Toukhy; Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Magnus Kepper, Gustav Lindt, Liv Esmar Dannemann, Silja Esmar Dannemann; Sweden/Denmark 2018, 127 min.

May el-Toukhy (Long Story Short, Cairo) has made a name for herself on Danish radio and TV with the series Borgen. Her third feature is a chilling portrait of the Nordic bourgeoisie. Set in an almost perfect environment, Trine Dyrholm shimmers as an elegant working wife and mother acting out a tragedy which is as heartless as avoidable. The complex narrative is structured like a thriller: guilt, lust and power dominate the proceedings.

Anne (Dyrholm), a counsellor for abused minors, and her doctor husband Magnus (Kepper) live with their blond/blue-eyed twins Frida and Fanny (Liv and Silja Esmar Dannemann) in a fabulous modernist house surrounded by woods. But the couple are living a lie: Anne is a control freak, and Magnus too keen on his work. The twins are clearly an afterthought and make up the perfect façade, but they are emotionally neglected. Then Gustav (Lindt), Magnus’s son from his first, failed marriage, joins the household. He has been excluded from school and thrown of the house by his mother – he is a godsend for Magnus, to assuage his guilt. All goes well at the beginning, the twins are thrilled with their new brother, who gives them lots of attention and reads them bed stories. But Anne is overcome by lust for the young man, and kicks off a passionate sexual relationship with Gustav, right in the family home. But her passion does not last long; eventually her intellect takes over and she ends the relationship abruptly. On an outing with his father, Gustav tells all, and Magnus confronts Anne – who plays the innocent victim. All very convincing. Magnus actually believes his son instinctively, but fears the consequences.  And it’s easier for him to send his son away. Gustav confronts Anne at her work place, but she shuts him down with the words: ”Who will be believed, you or me?” Gustav make a last ditch attempt during the Christmas holidays. But the drawbridge is up and it all ends with a family outing, everyone dressed in black.

Gustav is by no means idealised: he is a nasty piece of work who really wants to ruin the family. But that does not alter the fact that he is a minor, and Anne has taken advantage of him. Yes, he consented, but a minor who consents is still – in the eyes of the law -a victim. Nobody knows that better than Anne. But the truth would ruin her reputation.

This is a slick and enjoyable arthouse drama complimented by its stylish visual aesthetic. Jon Ekstrand’s eerie score – a mixture of late Janacek and early Schnittke – fits perfectly in a saga of icy, calculating relationships.

Queen of Hearts is available to stream and on Prime Video

Carmilla (2019) **

Dir/scr. Emily Harris. UK. 2019. 95 mins.

This exquisite-looking atmospheric drama based on Sheridan Le Fanu’s female vampire tale is a blood-drained version of the original spine chiller.

‘Carmilla’ pre-dates Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ by nearly three decades yet remains a more obscure affair lurking behind the more famous ‘Uncle Silas’. And this film version is a pale rider compared to the 1871 novel that chronicles the dwindling life of teenage Lara (Hannah Rae) whose impromptu house guest (an exotic Devrim Lingnau) arrives in a mysterious carriage. Carmilla eventually outstays her welcome – not not by drinking Lara’s cellar dry – but draining her hostess’s blood and reducing her to a bedridden cypher.

Women of that era were destined to be seen and not heard, and this is the fate of Lara whose increasingly demure behaviour fails to alarm her family. In her first film, Emily Harris stays faithful to the supernatural powers of the book but fails to convey the sinuous terror instilled by Sheridan Le Fanu’s novel. Carmilla is a fable fraught with sullen and brooding characters, but most of the support cast here just seem lacklustre. Never mind a splash of blood, Harris could have added a jolt of life by reanimating the novel’s spectacular opening carriage scene, adding some vital backstory and dramatic heft as a counterpoint to the languorous aftermath in the claustrophobic interiors of the remote country pile where the Gothic tale unfolds.  

DoP Michael Wood conjures up summery English scenery and lowkey candlelit interiors that set the perfect scene for a sapphic ‘love story’ to be delicately evoked by the bewitched duo. Shame then that Harris fails to breathe life into this rather wan thriller that feels as lethargic as the lovers themselves . MT

NOW IN CINEMAS | 16 OCTOBER 2020

 

Cheaters (1930) **** Bfi London Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Paulette McDonagh; Cast: Marie Lorraine (Isabel NcDonagh), Arthur Greenaway, John Faulkner, Joseph Bambach; Australia 1930, 94 min. 

Australia’s Paulette McDonagh (1901-1978) was a pioneer of the silent film era. Working with her sisters Phyllis (art direction) and Isabel, who stars here as Marie Lorraine, Paulette was a victim of the emerging sound film. The Cheaters was shot as a silent movie, McDonagh writing and editing. Later it was partly re-shot with sound-on-disc and the result was disappointing. Paulette would only direct one more feature film, Two minute silence in 1933.

After embezzling a small sum to help his sick wife, clerk Michael Marsh (Greenaway) begs his superior John Travers (Faulkner) not to involve the police. But his pleas fall on deaf ears. Travers is a self-righteous cold fish and Travers ends up in jail, with his wife dying.

Travers goes on to forge a criminal empire. Paula Marsh (Lorraine), supposedly his daughter, heads up many of the heists, her alluring beauty coming in useful for duping the victims. But somehow her heart is not in it, and we soon discover she is not even Marsh’s real daughter. After falling in love with Lee Travers, son of Michael, she is on the verge of leaving her ‘father’, before he tells her the truth. Nothing stands in the way of a happy-end for the lovers, and Marsh, hunted down by the police in his castle, commits suicide by taking poison.

Surprisingly, there are many parallels here with Fritz Lang’s Mabuse series. although the setting is far less sinister setting.  Marsh’ castle and his army of helpers are very comparable with  Lang’s silent feature, revenge being a strong motive in both cases. Marsh is just as deranged as his German counterpart Mabuse, only his  love for Paula brings out the humanity in him.

McDonagh’s art direction is marvellous, the castle rooms are particularly full of brooding horror, DoP Jack Fletcher makes the most of this with his fine camerawork. Paulette McDonagh was a very talented director, but soon the Australian market fell victim to the Hollywood talkies. This restauration gives us a taste of what could have been a stellar career for Paulette McDonagh. AS

BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2020 

Hope Gap (2019) **

Dir/Wri: William Nicholson | Cast: Annette Bening, Bill Nighy, Josh O’Connor | UK Drama 100′

William Nicholson’S second feature sees a hopelessly miscast Annette Bening struggle as a literary-minded English wife whose marriage is on the rocks. Bill Nighy plays her reserved husband, in his usual diffident style, more concerned for his work than his crumbling relationship.

Clearly Bening is there to sell the film to the US, but she never feels real in this maudlinly stagey affair with its flawed structure and awkward characters. Nicholson is such a brilliant writer, Oscar-nominated for Shadowlands and Gladiator but he needed a more complex and punchy counterpart to play against Nighy, who can suck the air out of any situation, and one who could have breathed life into some deft dialogue, rather than simply just reciting the lines. Nicholson reduced us to tears in Shadowlands but here we don’t care about any of his characters. Hope Bay mostly feels trite and generic, lacking in emotional depth.

Set in East Sussex, it sees Nighy’s Edward leaving his wife (Grace) of nearly thirty years. Their grown-up son Jamie (Josh O’Connor) is caught in the crossfire. Predictably, Edward is leaving because he can’t be the husband he thinks Grace wants – lame excuse – and is tired of trying, and of her complaining. All Grace wants is a little more reassurance that they’re “on a path together”. But clearly they’re not. Edward has been invited to walk away with someone else, someone more pliant and undemanding. Somehow Nicholson fails to mine the rich dramatic potential here in a drama that entirely lacks any dramatic sparkle. The only dynamism is in the widescreen wonder of soaring cliffs and magnificent views across the Seaford bay.

Edward announces he’s leaving Grace before we’ve even invested in their lives together, or got to know and feel for them as a couple divided by their respective points of view. Most of the film sees Grace moping about on the cliffs, or nagging Jamie about his own love life – or lack of it – and joining some bogus telephone helpline. No self-respecting counselling service would take on a person going through emotional trauma so the storyline isn’t even authentic. And rather than empathising with Grace’s perspective on her marriage failure, and appreciating Edward’s cowardice and his own viewpoint, we are simply left with a nagging woman, and a man who has been tempted by a new love. “It’s all contactless nowadays, Dad” says Jamie when Edward tries to buy him an ice cream. “You got it there” Edward retorts – and that telling phrase sums the film up. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 28 AUGUST 2020

 

Venice Film Festival 2020

The first physical film festival since Coronavirus VENICE returns to its origins with a bracingly auteurist competition line-up that shines the spotlight on Arthouse masters and brazen new talent From Europe, Asia and South America.

Championing female filmmakers and fraught with exciting news films from veterans Lav Diaz, Fred Wiseman, Andrey Konchalovsky, Orson Welles and Amos Gitai the 77th Venice Film will take place on the Lido from September 2-12.

Among the regular auteurs selected are Chloe Zhao (Nomadland),  Nicole Garcia (Lovers),  Michel Franco (Nuevo Orden), Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Wife Of A Spy), Malgorzata Szumowska (Never Gonna Snow Again, co-dircted by Michal Englert) and Gianfranco Rosi with his latest documentary Notturno

Buzz-worthy British films include Roger Michell’s The Duke, with Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren; and Luke Holland documentary Final Account, both playing out of competition. The Critics’ Week selection also includes The Book of Vision starring Britain’s Charles Dance and Uberto Pasolini’s Nowhere Special starring James Norton and produced by a UK/Romania/Italian team.

The festival opens with Daniele Luchetti’s Lacci, the first Italian film to open the celebrations fr quite some time. Festival director Alberto Barbera describes it as: “an anatomy of a married couple’s problematic coexistence, as they struggle with infidelity, emotional blackmail, suffering and guilt, with an added mystery that is not revealed until the end. Supported by an outstanding cast, the film is also a sign of the promising phase in Italian cinema today, continuing the positive trend seen in recent years, which the quality of the films invited to Venice this year will surely confirm.”

Competition

Nomadland (US) (above) | Dir. Chloe Zhao

Frances McDormand (Three Billboards) embarks on a road journey across America in the latest from The Rider director Chloe Zhao

Quo Vadis, Aida? | Dir. Jasmila Zbanic

And Tomorrow The Entire World (Ger-Fr) | Dir. Julia Von Heinz

The Disciple (India) | Dir. Chaitanya Tamhane

Never Gonna Snow Again (Pol-Ger) | Dir. Malgorzata Szumowska, Michal Englert

Notturno (It-Fr-Ger) | Dir. Gianfranco Rosi

Gianfranco Rosi poignant love letter to Lampedusa (Fire at Sea) won him an armful of awards including the Golden Bear at Berlinale 2016. He is back in Venice, where he won the Golden Lion in 2013, this time turning his documentary camera on Syria.

Padrenostro (It) | Dir. Claudio Noce

Miss Marx (It-Bel) | Dir. Susanna Nicchiarelli

Italy’s Susanna Nicchiarelli won the Orizzonti Award in 2017 for her dazzling drama Nico 1988

Now in the main competition with an all star British cast she explore the life of Eleanor Marx daughter of the infamous Carl.

Pieces Of A Woman (Can-Hun) | Dir. Kornel Mandruczo

In his first English language film the Hungarian director who made his name with White Dog explores the emotional journey of a woman who has lost her child.

Sun Children (Iran) | Dir. Majid Majidi

The Tehran based director has already won plaudits for best script, production design and film for his latest drama that tackles the subject of child labour.

Wife Of A Spy (Jap) | Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa

A Japanese wife is saddled with the sins of her husband in this painterly portrait set in 1940s Japan from Kiyoshi Kurasawa (Creepy).

Dear Comrades (Rus) | Dir. Andrey Konchalovsky

The Russian director known for Postman’s White Nights (2014) and Paradise (2016) returns to Venice with his latest, a political drama based on real events in Novocherkassk 1962 when Soviet troops seeking to cover up mass labour strikes opened fire on workers and one in particular Lyudmila (Yuliya Vysotskaya).

Laila In Haifa (Isr-Fr) | Dir. Amos Gitai

Lovers (Fr) | Dir. Nicole Garcia

Pierre Niney, Stacy Martin and Benoit Magimel star in this Noirish Parisian drama that sees a woman fall for her ex while on holiday with her husband.

Nuevo Orden (Mex-Fr) | Dir. Michel Franco

Franco loves exploring the psychology behind human relationships as he does here again in this latest that sees a high-society wedding gatecrashed by unwelcome guests.

The World To Come (US) | Dir. Mona Fastvold

Physical and emotional privation gives rise to a surprising love story in Norwegian filmmaker Mona Fastvold’s drama set in an US East Coast frontier town during the 1850s.

Le Sorelle Macaluso (It) | Dir. Emma Dante

In Between Dying (Az-US) | Dir. Hilal Baydarov

Out Of Competition – Drama

Lacci (It) – Opening Film | Dir. Daniele Luchetti

Mosquito State (Pol) | Dir. Filip Jan Rymsza

Night In Paradise (S Kor) | Dir. Park Hoon-Jung

The Duke (UK) | Dir. Roger Michell

Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren lead a cast of Fionn Whitehead, Matthew Goode, Anna Maxwell Martin for this British drama based on the theft of Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London in 1961.

Assandira (It) | Dir. Salvatore Mereu

Love After Love (China) | Dir. Ann Hui

Mandibules (Fr-Bel) | Dir. Quentin Dupieux

Lasciami Andare (It) – Closing Film | Dir. Stafano Mordini

The Human Voice (approximately 30’) is a loose adaptation of the original stage play by Jean Cocteau, directed by Pedro Almodóvar and featuring Tilda Swinton as ‘the voice’. It tells the story of a jilted woman (Swinton), hoping her lover will get in touch. This is Pedro Almodóvar’s first time shooting in English. Alberto Iglesias composed the score.

One Night in Miami by Regina King

Set on the night of February 25, 1964, the story follows a young Cassius Clay (before he became Muhammad Ali) on the night her defeated Sonny Liston to win the title of World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. Clay – unable to stay on at the venue because of Jim Crow-era segregation laws – instead spends the night at the Hampton House Motel in one of Miami’s historically black neighbourhoods, celebrating with three of his closest friends: activist Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke and football star Jim Brown. The next morning, the four men emerge determined to define a new world for themselves and their people. In One Night in Miami, Kemp Powers explores what happened during these pivotal hours through the dynamic relationship between the four men and the way their friendship, paired with their shared struggles, fueled their path to becoming the civil rights icons they are today.

Out Of Competition – Documentaries

Sportin’ Life (It) | Dir. Abel Ferrara

Crazy, Not Insane (US) | Dir. Alex Gibney

Greta (Swe) | Dir. Nathan Grossman

Salvatore – Shoemaker of Dreams (It) | Dir. Luca Guadagnino

Final Account (UK) | Dir. Luke Holland

Looking at the other side of the coin, Holland cobbles together interviews from those Nazis who perpetrated the Holocaust.

La Verita Su La Dolce Vita (It) | Dir. Giuseppe Pedersoli

Molecole (It) | Dir. Andrea Segre

Paolo Conte, Via Con Me (It) | Dir. Giorgio Verdelli

Narciso Em Ferias (Bra) | Dirs. Renato Terra, Ricardo Calil

Hopper/Welles (USA) | Dir. Orson Welles

Yes, another documentary about Orson Welles – can there ever be too many? This unscripted one captures a conversation between the maverick multi-talented Welles and the ingenu filmmaker Hopper that took place in 1971 over dinner, shooting the breeze over politics, personal issues and, or course, filmmaking. Made available courtesy of The Other Side of the Wind (Venice 2018) producer Filip Jan Rymsza.

City Hall (USA) | Dir. Frederick Wiseman

Out Of Competition – Special Screenings

Princesse Europe (Fra) | Dir. Camille Lotteau

30 Monedas – episode 1 (Spa) – series | Dir. Alex De La Iglesia

Orizzonti

Apples (Greece-Pol-Slovenia) – Opening Film | Dir. Christos Nikou

La Troisième Guerre (Fra) | Dir. Giovanni Aloi

Milestone (India) | Dir. Ivan Ayr

The Wasteland (Iran) | Dir. Ahmad Bahrami

The Man Who Sold His Skin | Dir. Kaouther Ben Hania

I Predatori (It) | Dir. Pietro Castellitto

Mainstream (USA) | Dir. Gia Coppola

Genus Pan (Phil) | Dir. Lav Diaz

Zanka Contact (Fr-Mor-Bel) | Dir. Ismael El Iraki

Guerra E Pace (It-Switz) | Dirs. Martina Parenti, Massimo D’Anolfi

La Buit Des Rois (Ivory Coast-Fr-Can) | Dir. Philippe Lacote

The Furnace (Aus) | Dir. Roderick Mackay

Careless Crime (Iran) | Dir. Shahram Mokri

Gaza Mon Amour | Dirs. Tarzan Nasser, Arab Nasser

Selva Tragica (Mex-Fr-Ger) | Dir. Yulene Olaizola

Nowhere Special (It-Rom-UK) | Dir. Uberto Pasolini

Listen (UK-Port) | Dir. Ana Rocha De Sousa

The Best Is Yet To Come (China) | Dir. Wang Jing

Yellow Cat (Kazakhstan-Fr) | Dir. Adilkhan Yerzhanov

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 SEPTEMBER

Giornate degli Autori | Venice Days 2020

Venice Days is back from 2 – 12 September this year. Live on the Lido at the famous Villa Degli Autori 
DAYS OF COURAGE is the sentiment expressing this year’s celebration. Ten new films from all over the world will compete for the main prize of the 17th edition running from 2 -12 until September. The closing film will be Saint-Narcisse presented by Canadian maverick Bruce LaBruce. The focus of this year’s Cinema of Inclusivity is Italy’s own Liliana Cavani who was nominated for the Golden Lion back in 1968 with her film Galileo. Here is a selection of this year’s competing films.
MAMA – set in rural China during the final decade of 20th century this first feature from Li Dongmei is a mature and sober drama.
200 METRES – the wall between Palestine and Israel is the focus of Ameen Nayfeh’s drama that stars leading Arab star. Ali Suliman.
 
KITOBOY – So many remarkable stories are coming out of Ukraine and this debut from Philipp Yuryev is the latest, set in a whaling community.
SPACCAPIETRE – in the Southern Italian region of Puglia a family tragedy with human repercussions gradually plays out in the De Serio brothers’ drama.
 
HONEY CIGAR  Algeria is the setting for this sensuous debut drama from Kamir Aïnouz, the sister of the well-known Brazilian filmmaker Karim Aïnouz).
RESIDUE Merawi Geriman’s moving first film echoes the recent racial tensions Stateside.
 
MY TENDER MATADOR – following his extraordinary performance in Theo Court’s White on White (Venice 2019) Alfredo Castro lends his talents to Rodrigo Sepúlveda’s queer love story set during the time of Pinochet in Santiago de Chile.
VENICE DAYS | GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI 2-12 SEPTEMBER 2020

Krabi 2562 (2019) *** Bfi Player

Dir: Ben Rivers, Anocha Suwichakornpong | Experimental, Drama | UK 97 minutes

Krabi is not just an exotic beach location in Thailand where you can ‘get a massage”, as a one banal Western couple found out. In this offbeat cinema vérité experiment Ben Rivers joins fellow director Anocha Suwichakornpong to explore the landscape and stories within the wider community of this well-known beauty spot rich in Mangrove forests, limestone cliffs and offshore islands. 

The meditative often mysterious drama works chronologically, ethnologically and socially, the atmospheric use of sound – whether ambient or man-made – captures and distils the often eerie enigmatic essence of the place in a specific moment in time where the pre-historic, the recent past and the contemporary world collide. Tonally, Rivers conjures up that same resonant serenity and offbeat humour often associated with the Far East in a story that feels very much like that of Hong Sang-soo’s humorous In Another Country (2012). 

A Thai filmmaker arrives in the area to research locations. She is escorted by a guide offering insight into local folklore and a chance to discover the area’s more undiscovered corners: remote caves where they come across a wild-haired shaman in a loin-cloth, stoking his glowing campfire. Bizarrely, a film shoot is also taking place nearby jolting us back into reality as the scantily clad actor clocks the shaman, Rivers contrasts this with her trip to the highly commercialised shopping area where every type of cuisine is on offer. Deep in the lush rainforest we meet an octogenarian who has lived his entire life in a wooden house. The farmstead is also home to a humpback pig and cockerels. The news that Krabi has a Biennale of its own plays out against the background of gently flowing water as a group of rowers glides by gigantic cliffs. Another black and white scene features enormous shells and skeletons in a depths of a coastal cave giving the piece at atavistic twist.

It soon turns out that the location scouting filmmaker is researching the town’s cinema that has been shut since 1981; a banner announcing the latest releases “Comming soon!” – is a dusty testament to a cinematic past where screenings ran for 24 hours a day, and were packed full. But her presence seems to be a concern only to the local police, as bats and flocks of birds flit past the ghostlike temples of spiritualism and commerce, and dusk falls in this dreamy backwater. Langourously the strands come together to exert an unsettling pull over us as we muse over this fascinating but rather enigmatic trail of events. Intriguing nonetheless. MT

BFI PLAYER from 20 JULY 2020 | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 |  7 -17 AUGUST 2019

Let it Burn | Dis a era due me via Chorar (2019) *** Mubi

Dir.: Maira Bühler; Documentary; Brazil 2019, 81 min.

In her remarkable documentary Brazilian filmmaker Maira Bühler follows the residents of a hotel turned hostel for crack addicts trying to put their lives together again.

The original title Tell Her That She Saw Me Cry is actually much more suitable. What we are really dealing with here is a domestic drama about lost souls whose emotions are so raw that they can only be released in forceful, often self harming, ways often counterproductive to their recovery. In 28 rooms on 7 floors, 107 residents live out their grim existence in the centre of Sao Paulo. Not that we see very much of Brazil’s capital – only the noise of passing trains reminds us of the vast metropolis outside and the brutal streets where hope was decimated long ago for these hapless inhabitants in their lost ark of social abandonment. But at least a den of iniquity is preferable to the jungle outside.

A trade mark of today’s Brazilian documentary style is the obsession with detail combined with an objectivity that captures an out-pouring of emotions often frightening to witness. A man shouts into his phone, desperately declaring his love for a woman who might not even be listening – but his cri de coeur is at the same time proof of him being alive. A lonely woman in a deserted dormitory waits for a lover who might never return. The longing for company is what keeps the majority of the tenants alive. The camera searches out the human links and reveals little groups clinging on to each other for survival. An aching love song reminds us what this is all about: love, however fleeting, is vital for survival.

The social gulf between film crew and their subjects is enormous. But when the crew has installed a tripod in the lift and starts filming, one woman reveals to the director that she is completed uneducated. But even though there is an uncomfortable feeling of voyeurism, the woman never prevents the camera from intruding into her misery. The strength of the film is that it allows ambiguity to develop without letting fragility and vulnerability mask the gradual humanisation. Sadly, this last chance saloon of salvation has now been shut down as part of the cutbacks in psychiatric support instigated by President Bolsonaro’s far right government. AS

SCREENING DURING SHEFFIELD DOC FESTIVAL 2019

 

Locarno Film Festival 2020 | Films After Tomorrow

Artistic Director Lilli Hinstin and the Locarno Festival selection film committee today released a shortlist of twenty full length features that will receive support for their teams who were forced to stop working due to Covid. The lucky winners will receive finance going forward.

The eclectic line-up mixes leading artists on the festival circuit, as well as emerging talents, and includes award-winning directors such as Lucrecia Martel/Zama, Lav Dias/The Woman Who Left, Miguel Gomes/Arabian Nights and Lisandro Alonso/Jauja . And their films will be judged on 15 August by a panel of filmmakers to be announced in early July 2020. As usual the edgy, pioneering spirit which has always been the hallmarks of Locarno is alive and kicking in all of these projects.

Chocobar by Lucrecia Martel – Argentina/USA/The Netherlands

Cidade;Campo by Juliana Rojas – Brazil –

De Humani Corporis Fabrica (The Fabric of the Human Body) Verena Paravel/Lucien Castaing-Taylor – France/USA

Eureka by Lisandro Alonso – France/Germany/Portugal/Mexico/Argentina – Produced by: Luxbox: Fiorella Moretti and Hédi Zardi, Komplizen, Rosa Filmes, Mr. Woo, 4L

Human Flowers of Flesh by Helena Wittmann – Germany/France

I Come From Ikotun by WANG Bing – France/China

Kapag Wala Nang Mga Alon (When The Waves Are Gone) by Lav Diaz

Nowhere Near by Miko Revereza – Philippines/Mexico/USA

Petite Solange (Little Solange) by Axelle Ropert – France

Selvajaria (Savagery) by Miguel Gomes – Portugal/France/Brazil/China/Greece

These are the 10 projects from Switzerland:

Azor by Andreas Fontana – Switzerland/Argentina/France

Ein Stück Himmel (A Piece of Sky) by Michael Koch

Far West by Pierre-François Sauter

A Flower in the Mouth by Eric Baudelaire

L’Afrique des femmes by Mohammed Soudani

Les Histoires d’amour de Liv S. by Anna Luif – Switzerland

LUX by Raphaël Dubach and Mateo Ybarra – Switzerland

Olga by Elie Grappe – Switzerland/France

Unrueh (Unrest) by Cyril Schäublin – Switzerland

Zahorí by Marí Alessandrini

FILMS AFTER TOMORROW | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2020

Gagarine (2020)

Dir.: Fanny Liatard, Jérémy Trouilh; Cast: Alseni Bathily, Lyna Khoudri, Jamil McCraven, Farida Rahouadj, Finnegan Oldfield; France 2020, 97 min.

The world’s first Space traveller Yuri Gagarin gives his name to this impressive debut from Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh. Cité Gagarine, a housing estate in the Parisian suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine, had a less illustrious time of things than its namesake, and has now been almost totally demolished along with other buildings of the HLM (habitation à Loyer Modéré), once home to many thousands.

This long version of the directors’ 2015 short starts with a newsreel showing Mr Gagarin (1934-1968), when he visited the site in 1963, enjoying a rapturous welcome from the tenants. Fast forward to 2019, and our new hero teenager Youri (effervescent newcomer Bathily) has not quite come to terms with losing his longterm home. His parents have long left the nest: his mother is now living with a new partner and baby. So his only close tie is with friend of the family Fari (Rahouadj) who will soon leave for pastures new in the South of France. That leaves Youri’s friend and sidekick Houssam (McCraven) and of course Diana (Khoudri), a teenager from a nearby Roma settlement, who shares Youri’s passion for Space travel.

When engineers from the council declare the block of flats unfit for habitation, Youri is determined to save his home, constructing an elaborate space shuttle within its walls. A solar eclipse is the ‘last hurrah’ before the old block is to be detonated. After a valedictory night of passion, Diana goes on her way, Youri agreeing to take care of the dog, renaming it Laika. Everything is now set for the great detonation, and the former residents assemble outside for the final time. Suddenly, a coordinated light show flashes from their former home. Diana and Houssam realise Youri must still be hiding inside in some outlandish act of denial.   

This French film is a revitalising tonic after so much drab British sink estate realism: Yes, bad things happen, but there is always love, and dreams. Even the drug dealer (Oldfield) is not the “bad guy” sent by central casting, but a rather disturbed young man with suicidal tendencies.

Youri’s escapist new ‘home’ is a marvel of imagination and gives DoP Victor Seguin the basis for imaginative ‘space travel’ in Youri’s parallel world. And there’s astringent humour here too: Diana having to help her acrophobic lover up the ladder to the command unit. Ever the optimist, Youri sums it all up with his starry-eyed observation “we are neighbours with the moon”.

Gagarine gives us hope at the end of the rainbow that stretches beyond our day-to-day tunnel of trauma, to infinity and beyond. Youri shows we all have the power to re-create another universe, however parlous our life may be. Far from idealising poverty, Gagarine is proof that escapism offers redemption – we just need to explore our own imagination for salvation in these unworldly times.

NOW IM CINEMAS NATIONWIDE | CANNES COMPETITION SELECTION |  2020     

A White, White Day | Hvítur, Hvítur Dagur 2019 ****

Dir: Hlynur Palmason | Iceland, Drama 90′

Hlynur Palmason follows his debut feature Winter Brothers with this stark portrait of rugged masculinity in the face of bereavement. Grimly buttoned up against the wild landscapes of his remote Icelandic homeland, Ingimundur (Sigurdsson) resolutely refuses to give in mentally and physically to the grinding grief that engulfs him after the death of his beloved wife.

The seasons pass in a series of long takes picturing the house Ingimundur is rebuilding with support of his young granddaughter Salka (Ida Mekkin Hlynsdottir in her stunning debut). His wife, a local teacher, has lost her life in a car accident and the vehicle swerves over the foggy mountainside road in the opening scene.

Ex-policeman Ingimundur is used to dealing with similar incidents and their effect on broken families but when it involves his own he carries on in disbelief as gradually the enigmatic scenario surrounding her death falls into place; whether a crime has been committed or her whether her death was accidental remains in the air as this dour and gruelling feature plays out. Sigurdsson gives a gritty performance tempered by the tenderness he feels for his granddaughter: it’s almost as if he’s channelling all the love he had for his wife into the little girl, and she soaks it up with wide-eyed innocence and an insight beyond her years.

Palmason suffuses his story with allusions to Icelandic culture and mythology and these are shared through storytelling: the craggy-faced grandfather passing on cherished folklore through bedtime stories complete with all the actions. And meanwhile the house takes shape around them, satisfyingly providing a new beginning with stunning views over the scenic countryside and sea where Ingimundur fishes for wild salmon. He also plays football and this is where he catches sight of a man he doesn’t recognise but who has appeared in a cache of his wife’s photos. Ingimundur shares his fears about a possible affair with one of his drinking pals. And the subject of female infidelity is broached with a shrugging nonchalance on the part of his friend. But Ingimundur’s fears take shape in an irrationally violent chain of events, sparked by jealousy, revenge and desperation in a tense and surprising finale which once again showcases Palmason’s inventive imagination for telling a yarn. MT

ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS from June 26, 2020

Influence (2020) *** Sheffield Doc Fest 2020

Dir/Wri: Richard Poplak, Diana Neille. Doc, With: Tim Bell, Ron Leagas, John Hegarty, Phumzile van Damme, Nigel Oakes, Mark Hollingsworth, David Wynne-Morgan, Marianne Thamm, Sergio Bitar, Ascanio Cavallo, Pablo Zalaquett, José Antonio Kast Rist, Ralph Mathekga, FW de Klerk, Stanley Greenberg, Chester Crocker, Ketso Gordhan, Johann Kriegler, Andile Mngxitama, Alex Goldfarb, Paul Bell, Meirion Jones, Haider Jraidan, Joel Harding, Kirsten Fontenrose, Francis Ingham | Doc, 107′

The late advertising and PR supremo Timothy John Leigh Bell is the subject of this brisk and enjoyable documentary that soon sinks under a weight of detail. South African journalists Richard Poplak and Diana Neille use a clever framing device that sees Bell being interviewed for a radio station as the discussion widen out enlivened by archive footage and ample talking heads – but there’s just too much to take in for those unfamiliar with the territory.

If only Sir Tim Bell could have written the script. He comes across an uncomplicated and amusingly laconic character, glancing amiably over horn-rimmed glasses, cigarette permanently on the go, a man who you’d want on your side. And whose biggest coup in the early days of his career at Saatchi & Saatchi was working on the “Labour Isn’t Working” campaign that helped Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher win the 1979  general election. Bell and his associates soon worked out that winning elections and campaigns of all kinds is not down to ‘luck’ but a scientific skillset that interprets how the audience will respond, therefore creating a workable weapon: “It wasn’t about what you said, it was all about the audience”. And this is one of Bell’s most salient legacies.

He co-founded PR company Bell Pottinger in 1988, and was later famous for frosting up the relationship between the West and Putin through a simple but telling hospital bed ‘photo of the poisoned Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko. This establishes the truth that a picture is worth a thousand words. But that’s far from end of the story.

The exposé jumps around quite a bit eventually spinning off in all directions intoxicated by the complexities of the task it takes on. After dealing with Bell’s work on British politics, the thrust moves on to South Africa to explore Bell Pottinger’s role in unethically firing up racial unrest under President Jacob Zuma, influenced by the Gupta family. Bell Pottinger was hired to dispel and change the mood there and cocked it all up. Ironically a grass roots social media campaign in South Africa reacted against the influence of the British PR film. The resulting fallout led to the company filing for bankruptcy and Bell resigned in 2018.

The self-made spin doctor spins his own image with his direct approach to dealings, possessing the confidence and clarity of vision that many of us envy and even admire. He was paid to put a positive facade on the profiles of nefarious characters – amongst them Saudi arms dealers and autocrats such as General Pinochet – but his success in the end contributed to his own downfall. Barristers represent arch criminals everyday and get off Scott free. But when the press and public rise up against you your days are numbered. Ironically Sir Tim was foisted by his own petard – despite being brilliant at the task he took on.

Bell – filmed here before his death in August 2019 – puts up a good argument and a plausible one, and some of his arguments are plausible. But the directors have taken on more than they can chew. In the end their forensic approach encumbers their attempts to make a digest about the fascinating times we live in. We are left with an unpalatable fact: Perception is increasingly more important than the truth. MT

SCREENING AT SHEFFIELD DOC FESTIVAL 2020 | NOW ONLINE.

 

 

 

 

An Ordinary Country | Zwyczajmy Kraj (2019) **** Krakow Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Tomasza Wolskiego; Documentary, Poland 2019, 53 min.

Polish writer/director Tomasza Wolskiego (Gold Fish) has created a devastating and filmic portrait of the work of the Stalinist Security Services and the Citizen’s Militia in Poland in the 1970s and 80s.

Enriched by found footage from the agencies, it paints a sombre snapshot of everyday life: we are not talking here about people being victimised or wanting to overthrow the system – far from it, the sins are purely those of the flesh brought on by their persecution complex and neurosis.

The footage, shot in black-and-white, bears witness to state operatives busy recording and arresting with a self-importance associated with some massive nationwide conspiracy. This paranoia  is transferred to ordinary people inducing misplaced feelings of guilty, and even shame for crimes not even contemplated. Hunter and hunted often look the same, particularly when the agents try to turn their victims into informers – in 1989 the number of officers in the two services was 24 000, the number of informers 90, 000. In a way, this was like a pandemic, slowly eating up more and more of the population. 

The pathetic nature of it all is best seen in the case of an ordinary house wife whose husband works for Ocean Sailing, and is accused of illegal dealings in foreign currency. Whilst the woman is interrogated, another officer tapes the conversation, his co-worker trying to trip the woman up: he wants to know the exact price she paid for a radio, a washing machine, a vacuum cleaner and a fridge. Not getting anywhere, he switches his focus the price of meat, the number of loaves of bread, the amount of butter and margarine consumed. He then announces pompously that conversation is being recorded “and will be used as evidence in the case of prosecution.” Switching tack, he asks her how much her husband earns. Did he have a foreign exchange supplement? How much? When the woman pleads ignorance, the interrogator gets indignant: “Come on, you are a house wife, you know the figures”. Finally, he gets to the main question: “How much did you get for the blouses?”. When the woman insists she has no need for blouses because she has everything at home, he gives up for the moment: “You sold nothing and have everything at home. Fine. Thank you”. 

Then there is the case of diplomat caught in flagrant for two-timing his wife. Polaroid photos of crumpled bed sheets are brought out to indicate “intimate purposes”. The officers record their conversation with the diplomat in his flat, the kitchen door is plastered with pornographic images, under the bed old “Playboy” and lesbian magazines. “But we come here to you like friends. If you are with us, we will take care of you. We’ll take care of everything, to keep you safe. From your wife in particular. We should make a deal. We are aware of your contacts in Germany and America. They are looking for links to Solidarnosc. Help for help. We close your case” After promising not to ruin his career but make it flourish, the deal is struck.: “I, the undersigned will help the Polish Special Service. I will keep this fact strictly confidential”. Then: “Put a dot there, and start with a capital letter”. Afterwards he is released with a final warning: “We do punish ignorance.”  

The overall impression is that of great sadness: more or less innocent people are coerced into becoming informers, or face long prison sentences for minor offences. But the real culprits are not the men or women, phoning relatives abroad for haemorrhoid medication because the shelves are empty in Poland, but a State who treats its citizens as criminals, for simply wanting to survive.

This is a paradise for Kafkaesque officers, who spend their days denying others the smallest of pleasure in this grey morass of officialdom. Meanwhile, faceless bureaucrats at the top let loose an army of petty policemen, posing as a ‘service for the people’. Ironically these weasels are as much victims as those they persecute, denying others a soul, having lost their own. AS

KRAKOW FILM FESTIVAL | BEST FILM NATIONAL COMPETITION 2020 

My Mother | Mia Madre **** | Mubi

Director: Nanni Moretti | Cast: Margherita Buy, John Turturro, Giulia Lazzarini, Nanni Moretti, Beatrice Mancini, Stefano Abbati, Enrico Ianniello | 106min  Italian/US  Drama

Nanni Moretti returns to his autobiographical style of The Son’s Room, for this family drama Mia Madre. This is not just a bittersweet tale of an old woman gradually slipping off her mortal coil surrounded by her son (Moretti) and daughter (Buy) in a Rome hospital. Wry humour and confrontation are injected into a story which explores the relationship between a director who is making a film while her mother is dying in hospital. Margherita Buy plays the director and John Turturro, her leading man.

Although Mia Madre lacks the gut-wrenching emotion of his Palme D’Or winner, The Son’s Room, this is another beautifully-evoked family story that brings subtly-nuanced intimacy, maturity and humour to the everlasting theme of grief and loss.  Nanni draws from his own life story and the piece is very close to home: Moretti lost his own mother while filming Habemus Papam. Essentially a four-hander, Buy is brilliantly cast here as an anxious, highly sensitive and driven professional who finds herself dealing with a teenage daughter while also moving out of her boyfriend’s flat. But the more she tries to be objective the more her filmmaking and her personal life collide. Moretti is understated as her brother Giovanni, in a laid back role that sees him languishing in the quiet resignation of his mother’s final hours. Margherita Buy is gentle yet gloriously neurotic as she describes her film about industrial conditions as “full of energy and hope” to her sceptical mother Ada (the veteran stage actress Giulia Lazzarini) who, despite the physical fragility of age, has clearly still retained her marbles and incisiveness of days as a teacher, in a full and well-rounded life that’s drawing to a satisfactory close. By contrast Margherita’s life is full of uncertainty, doubt, trauma that feels very real today.

John Turturro plays her lead actor in her film – an American ‘star’ Barry Huggins, who lightens the constant hospital visits and high octane emotion with his scatty take as a factory owner tasked with mass redundancies, while also struggling with his own demons as an actor. Full of insight and restraint, Mia Madre provides surprisingly enjoyable, grown-up entertainment. MT

NOW ON MUBI

Take Me Somewhere Nice (2019) *** MUBI

Dir: Ewa Sendijarevic | Drama | 91′

In her impressive debut feature, Ewa Sendijarevic takes a fresh and playfully cinematic approach to this semi-autobiographical expression of ‘positive experience of loneliness’ for the average multi-cultural person. To put it more simply, her central character Alma has grown up in Holland from Bosnian parentage and returns there to visit her father for the first time, with the gaze of an alien. Although this theme has been done before, most recently in a radical way by Jonathan Glazer in his mystery thriller Under The Skin, Take Me Somewhere Nice is a much more down to earth affair, enriched by its stunning visual approach and minimal dialogue. Alma is an Alice in Wonderland like character who goes on a Kafkaesque journey to visit her origins. She is accompanied by her cousin and his best friend, both from Bosnia, both unemployed and just as “care free” as Alma herself.

This triangle of characters represents a West-East European power balance between the privileged, and those left behind; the bitter and the opportunistic, the ones who would like to join the West and the ones who actively turn their back to it. This tension between the three bright young things occasionally becomes recklessly sexual, at other times gently attempts to forge a meaningful connection. Each frame completes the brightly coloured jigsaw of Alma’s eventful story, and even when it ventures into darker themes – a road kill incident and beach attack – still feels hopeful and energetic, in contrast to the clichéd portrayals of migrant misery and put-upon womanhood in the beleaguered Balkans.

Sometimes Sendijarevic inverts expectations, making us uncomfortable in a Brechtian way, and more acutely aware of traditional approaches the buzzy subject matter. TAKE ME SOMEWHERE NICE is also a film about using our contact with nature and the animal kingdom to celebrate being alive and being present in our world, wherever we lay our hats. Spirited performances and a lively colour palette make this journey fun and highly watchable. Sendijarevic believes in the Romantic – and laudable – idea that in “the moments we spend alone, preferably in nature, we can connect to our true selves in a spectacular way”. a sentiment that holds true now more that ever. A delightedly inventive and lively first feature. MT

NOW ON MUBI from 21 MAY 2020 | THE SPECIAL JURY AWARD WINNER | ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2019 |

 

The Whistlers (2019)

Dir/Wri: Corneliu Porumboiu | Cast: Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Rodica Lazar, Antonio Buil, Agusti Villaronga, Sabin Tambrea, George Pisterneanu | Thriller, 97′

This Noirish Romanian arthouse thriller is not the first to use whistling as a vital part of its storyline. Last year’s Locarno Critics’ prize winner Sibel showed how vital this ancient style of communication is in isolated parts of the World. And La Gomera is one of them. The craggy hideaway in the Canaries is where a dark and sinuous double-crossing drama plays out. It also travels to the Romanian capital Bucharest, and Singapore. Swinging backwards and forwards in time tense The Whistlers is a rather forboding film with a retro feeling of the Sixties and another saturnine performance from Porumboiu’s regular Vlad Ivanov (who appearing in Tegnap and Sunset).

He is Cristi, a detective under surveillance from his colleagues who is rapidly finds out that this special language from local Spanish-speaking gangsters can keep him under the radar. Porumboiu’s clever lighting techniques and a ravishing score of modern classics and operatic arias keeps the action pumping to a surprising finale.

You may find the plot rather complicated and the crooks hard to identify (I did), but basically it goes as follows: Vast wads of illegal euros are being laundered in a mattress factory outside Bucharest whence they’re transported to the crime ring in Spain and Venezuela. The factory owner and middle-man is a petty criminal called Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea) and his girlfriend Gilda (Catrinel Marlon) seduces Cristi in the sexually-charged opening sequence (which takes us back to Basic Instinct). Meanwhile Zsolt’s boss Paco (Agusti Villaronga) instructs another honcho Kiko (Antonio Buil) to teach Cristi the whistling lingo. The place is riddled with surveillance cameras and no one can really be trusted in this edgy atmosphere of uncertainty so the arcane hissing comes in handy as a form of covert communication.

Meanwhile, Cristi’s sidekick Alin (George Pisterneanu) and their boss Magda (Rodica Lazar) make up the Police contingent. All these characters are out for themselves. La Gomera takes a leading role   with its inaccessible stony beaches, crystal waters and dense wooded hillsides. The final coda in Singapore doesn’t quite dovetail into the film and has a whiff of being added just to spice things up for the glamorous reveal in a light show taking place at the Gardens by the Bay.

In true noir style The Whistlers is not a long film and slips down easily – there are no deep messages here – despite its rather intractable plot. An ambitious and intriguing addition to the Romanian filmmaker’s oeuvre. MT

ON CURZON WORLD FROM FRIDAY 8 MAY 2020

 

 

A Russian Youth (2019) *** on Mubi

Wri/Dir: Alexander Zolotukhin, Russian, 72 min | with: Vladimir Korolev, Mikhail Buturlov, Artem Leshik, Danil Tyabin, Sergey Goncharenko, Filipp Dyachkov

A poetic and lyrical First World War trench memoir set to a live orchestra playing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 Op. 30 (1909) and Symphonic Dances Op. 45 (1940).

A Russian Youth sees its freckled hero blithely setting out for the ‘Great War’. But the pastural romance of the early scenes soon gives way to the terrors of trench warfare. Our vulnerable hero loses his accordion, and then his sight. But his keenness to continue the battle keeps him at the front and deployed to listen out for enemy planes at the giant metal pipes that form a kind of early-warning system. Talk about using the difficulty!

Capturing the evocative poignance of Wilfrid Owen’s poetry, especially his keen ear for sound and his instinct for the modulating of rhythm, this small gem certainly conveys the “pity of war”. Its faded images transport us back to the greatest tragedy of the early 20th century: life would never be the same again. But there’s also a stylised, abstract quality to the grainy sepia-tinted footage. The camera follows the febrile action with an atmospheric, jerky quality, so reminiscent of the age. Cutting away frequently from the action slightly spoils the narrative flow of this delicate fragment of yesteryear, re-ignited by contemporary relevance. MT

NOW ON MUBI

Ema (2019) ** Curzon World

Cast: Mariana Di Girolamo, Gael Garcia Bernal, Paola Giannini, Santiago Cabrera, Cristian Suarez, Catalina Saavedra

Director: Pablo Larrain | Drama Chile 102’

Music is the only star of Pablo Larrain’s story of parental irresponsibility that unfolds amidst the cool vibes of seaside Valparaiso. This South American idyll is also home to the pumping sounds of the reggaetón dance world that is only authentic element of this glib story. 

Back in the present after his lush 1960s drama Jackie, Larrain casts newcomer Mariana Di Girolamo and a reliable Gael Garcia Bernal as a couple who clash due to their immaturity and lack of life experience when juggling their artistic collaboration with a desire to have a child.

Taking on such an emotive theme exposes Larrain’s ineptitude in handling the delicate subject matter, and questions whether he has personally been affected by the issues involved – clearly not, otherwise he would have have given it more thoughtful treatment.  And although he brings his edgy cinematic talents to the party, the experiment fails. Ema is a drama that is neither engaging nor convincingly performed, even Gael Garcia Bernal cannot inject any depth to his character, apart from his incendiary outburst at Ema and her dancing troupe.

After a dynamic opening sequence featuring a massive fire at a traffic lights junctions, the film scatterguns into a series of stilted episodes as Larrain attempts to establish the storyline using the rhythm of his pulsating score as the driving factor. It’s a clever idea that fails in a drama that never gains a satisfying momentum.

Ema (Di Girolamo) is a bleached blond dancer in her early twenties who has recently adopted a 7 year old orphan from Columbia, named Polo (Cristian Suarez), because her choreographer husband Gaston (Bernal) has been declared infertile. Coming from a troubled start in life Polo soon becomes too much of a handful for his naive parents and sets their home on fire, leaving Ema’s sister with facial injuries.

So back Polo goes into the system, Ema and Gaston bemoaning their loss as if the boy was a psychopathic pet rabbit, with Ema blithely declaring she’ll ‘pick another one’, laying the blame squarely at Gaston’s feet. Gaston is the less irritating of the two but even his star-power fails to makes this rewarding or meaningful, remaining cold and distant throughout. And the visually arresting dance sequences and pumping vibes just feel incongruous, somehow reducing this to a trivial soap opera, rather than offering tonal relief from the couple’s fraught situation. A simpering social worker (Catalina Saavedra) who had pulled strings to get the couple a child, just adds to the woeful mistreatment. Is this an inditement on Chilean youth, a lowkey expose on the perils of adoption, or a novel way of raising awareness of reggaeton, either way, it does feel mildly offensive. Larrain’s co-writer Guillermo Calderon did some brilliant work on The Club and Neruda so hopefully this is just a bum note for this duo. MT

NOW ON DIGITAL RELEASE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL Review 2019 

A Machine to Live In (2020) **** Visions du Reel

Dirs: Yoni Goldstein, Meredith Zielke | Doc, United States, 87′

It was the French architect Le Corbusier who coined the phrase ‘A Machine to Live In’ to describe his own designs. Now a new film about Brasilia explores the human angle of living in a city: this vast, manmade capital of Brazil, its capital city since 1960, built in a thousand days. They describe their work as a “sci-fi providing a complex portrait of life, poetry, and myth set against the backdrop of the space-age city of Brasília and a flourishing landscape of UFO cults and transcendental spaces.

Chiefly designed by Oscar Niemayer, and laid out in the shape of an airplane, its wings the wide avenues flanking a massive park, the cockpit is Praca dos Tres Poderes, named for the three branches of government surrounding it. Brasilia is a city that offers extraordinary cinematic potential, not only in its utopian architecture but also its functionality. But there are downsides to the modern buildings.

Chicago-based filmmakers Yoni Goldstein and Meredith Zielke (Jettisoned, Natural Life) have created a mystical portrait this modern metropolis, carved out from the jungle, its architecture full of glimmering white, featureless obloids that invite the most adventurous theories. Looking like a set made for SF adventure, the filmmakers do capture its surreal splendour by being shooting in widescreen 4K RED RAW.

Re-inactions and quotes from Niemeyer; the Jewish writer Clarice Lispector – who interviewed the architect – Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin; and Cult founder Tia Neiva are woven into a hallucinatory landscape that could have spun off from an asteroid between Jupiter and Mars. The footage mixes old fashioned technologies and state of the art aesthetics such as gimbals, drones, helicopters, 3D LIDAR scanning and geospatial mapping. “The camera perspective will mechanically rotate, spin and float among the architecture as if it were itself an alien craft – or, perhaps, the mind’s eye of an architect”.

Clarice Lispector (1920-1977) writes: “Brasilia is an altered state of consciousness; a pseudo hallucinatory perception; a complex, vivid dream like images – sometimes with halos around light, leading to a loss of vision. And: “Brasilia is artificial: it is the image of my insomnia, it is haunted; it is an abstract city.” Part of this read to students in Esperanto. When Gagarin visited Brasilia he said: “I feel as if I stepped on the surface of another planet, not earth.” No wonder the followers of Tia Neiva (1926-1985), ride their Hell’s Angels bikes around, since Neiva’s cult Vale do Amanhecer (Dawn Valley) is very much alive, as are the memories of Neiva herself, who came to fame as the first female truck driver in Brazil. 

Zielke speaks of “building a cosmology of signs, fragments of literary and historical texts work their way into interviews, fictive tableaux, featuring temporal architectural sculptures situate themselves in ‘real scenes’ and historical encounters are enacted by participants in the film. voice-overs are doubled to reveal multiple identities and captions are manipulated to reveal multiple perspectives.” 

Then there are moments of pure surrealism: A white horse wanders into a parking lot. The face of current Brazilian president Bolsonaro appears on the body of Niemeyer. The crew has visited Brasilia every summer for eight years to gather footage, establishing connections with local groups. This makes the hybrid feature very personal. During an interview, Zielke said, that they collected enough material for three films. Even though, the information presented is overwhelming to say the least. 

DoP Andrew Benz’ images are unique: Looking like a Martian outpost, Brasilia is defined by massive concrete domes, swooping aluminium spires, pyramids and super-blocks, which seem to repeat themselves ad absurdum. A dazzling as a trip on LSD, A Machine to live in is a mixture of nightmares, making Science Fiction look rather banal in comparison ordinary.AS

Yoni Goldstein and Meredith Zielke are award-winning international filmmakers, cinematographers, and editors. Goldstein and Zielke work collaboratively on social documentary projects: from examining hybridized healing practices in the Northern Andes (La Curación), to children in American prisons (Natural Life), to critical explorations of history and somatic memory (The Jettisoned). Their films have been presented internationally across several major festivals, conferences, and classrooms. Goldstein and Zielke’s work as directors and cinematographers has been selected and awarded at the Cannes Film Festival, the Festival Black Movie de Genève, the Ann Arbor Film Festival, the Hot Springs Documentary Festival, the Festival International du Film Ethnographique du Québec, the Festival International du Documentaire et Rencontres sur la Biodiversité et les Peuples, Hot Docs Digital Doc Shop, Globians Doc Fest Berlin, and many others. AS

STREAMING DURING VISIONS DU REEL | April – May 2020

Trailer | A Machine to Live In | Yoni Goldstein, Meredith Zielke

Tony Driver (2019) *** Visions du Reel 2020

Dir.: Ascanio Petrini; Documentary with Tony Driver; Mexico/Italy 2019, 73 min.

Another Travis Bickle comes to life here in this documentary debut from Ascanio Petrini. Playing out with all the pomp of a Hollywood movie, it tells the story an Italian immigrant who reached his promised land of America as a child, only to be sent home after a life of petty crime and misdemeanour.

Pasquale was born in Bari in 1963, and emigrated with his family in 1972 to Chicago. There he became Tony, marrying Susan and having two children. After the break-up of their marriage in 1999, Tony joined his sister in Yuma, Arizona, where he re-invented himself as a taxi driver under the name of Travis Bickle. Money was short and he moonlighted as a ‘guide’, helping Mexican’s to cross the border. In 2012, an arrested led to the discovery that he had no American Citizenship, he had just kept renewing his Green Card for the past forty odd years. The authorities gave him a choice: imprisonment in Arizona, or expulsion from the country of his dreams. He chose the latter, ending up in the Adriatic town of Polignano a Mare.

There is not really much documentary in this feature, more a re-telling of Tony’s story – and his overriding desire to get back to the US and shed his Pasquale identity for good. There are a few secondary characters of note, such as the priest Gaetano. The film crosses the limits of documentary more than once: there is a scene where Tony phones his sister in Yuma, and we see both heads talking. But it fits in well with the bizarre story of a man who is by all intents and purposes, an American, but has to live like an Italian – at least until 2022 when he is legally allowed to re-enter the country. Tony does not belong to a country with laws – his America is that made of the movies. In a way, he has been written out the script. His memories are framed in shots belong to the cinema of Hollywood. The colours could be from any Wenders movie shot in the US – after all, the German director was also a foreigner who tried to become an American. Suddenly, we are in a Mexican border town, where Tony buys the outfit for his illegal re-entry. A taxi brings him near to the border wall, a much tougher cross than eight years earlier. There are mention of immigrants making the US great, and then Tony runs towards what can only be a chimera, accompanied by Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land. 

Tony Driver is an absurdist dream: a fusion of two personalities which are artificially divided: Tony being the hero of his own movie, in denial about the reality of a situation he will fall victim to all over again. There are also shades here of The Last Picture Show, even though DoP Mario Bucci’s have more contrast than the washed-out black-and white photography of the Bogdanovich feature. But we know who will be the loser in this cinema vs. reality race – Tony is a latter day Wile. E Coyote. AS

VISIONS DU REEL 2020  

The Calm after the Storm **** | Visions du Reel 2020

Dir.: Mercedes Gaviria Jaramillo; Documentary with Victor Gaviria, Marcela Jaramillo; Columbia 2020, 72min.

Colombian filmmaker Mercedes Gaviria Jaramillo confronts her childhood and her famous filmmaker father, Victor, in her documentary debut which she scripted, filmed and co-edited.

Mercedes worked as her father’s assistance during the shooting of his final film La Mujer del Animal (The wife of the Animal). Gaviria senior is the only Columbian director whose films have been shown at Cannes Film Festival.

Mercedes Gaviria Jaramillo always wanted to get out of the shadow of her famous father: in spite the pleas of her mother, she studied film at Buenos Aires, and worked there after graduation as sound designer. But the pull of the family proved too strong, when she agreed to assist her father in his latest feature La mujer de Animal (2016). On her return to her home, she finds that her mother Marcela, an anthropologist, has left her room untouched, which comforts Mercedes. The Calm is actually two films in one: there are the sequences of shooting La mujer, and the home videos her father shot of her, her brother Matias and mother Marcela. And then there is the diary of her mother, for her yet unborn daughter. “It sounds, like I was her only confidant”. Victor is known for his realism, and using non-professional actors. The story of La mujer is of Marguerita, who lives in the neighbourhood, but does not want to give an interview to Mercedes: Marguerita, who had been kidnapped and raped by “the animal’ at eightenn, is fearful, that the actor, who portraits her tormentor, might bring back the bad spirit of him, even though he died long ago. Marguerita’s role is taken by Natalia Polo, a nursing assistant, who gives up her job, to concentrate on filming. Tito, a bus driver will feature as the villain. It is obvious, that Mercedes is horrified of the rape scene between the main protagonists, whilst her father is directing with calm, taking about the size of the lenses he will use in the next shot. Natalia is often found crying, and Victor sends her away from the set. Mercedes: “Marguerita’s suffering rekindles in every woman’s body”. It rains during the first six days of shooting, and cast and crew get ill – apart from Victor. Next is another violent scene, a sex orgy, where sex workers are brutally raped and beaten. Victor uses real sex workers from Berrio Park, and the lads are from the tough neighbourhood. Mercedes has to close her eyes, but keeps listening. When Mercedes is alone with her mother, she wants to ask her about the diary. “I want her to take my fear away, talking to her. But she only asks, if the catering at the set is ok. I just answer it – to calm her”. In an old home video, we watch Mercedes, called Mechi, being bullied by her father into writing a story for school. Mechi refused, telling him, that a scorpion has bitten her. From her mother’s diary: “Only twenty days left until your birth. You are going to have a very special dad. Even if we have our problems, as you will find out soon. He is very sensitive, always meeting lots of people when he is not with us, because other people need him too. I hope you are optimistic, I was not. You give me strength  to keep on fighting for our love. I loved your father too much, I am always afraid of losing him, you can’t live like this”.  The principal photography for La mujer is over, and Victor discusses with his daughter, that he was well aware of the fact, that the cast used Clonazepam with alcohol, to get over the trauma of acting. “The mixture is so strong, you don’t remember the next day what you have done at all”. From the home videos we learn, that the Tooth Fairy is called ‘Perez the Mouse’ in Columbia – but young Mercedes is not fooled: “Its not true, its Mom and Dad who give me the presents.”. Merceds tries in vain to talk with her mother about the diary. “What would she say to me? That living with a man is not easy. But life must go on”. Thinking back to the shoot and her father: “He finds it easier to direct violent scenes, than to direct Natalia.” Her brother Matias, Mercedes films an ugly spat between macho father and son, is generally not fond of being filmed: “Life has to be lived, before its being filmed”. And a last thoughts about the rape scene:” The contradiction of filming a rape scene being the privileged gender. And a film set full of men. Yes, talk about gender violence in a country suffering from a war.”

Never didactic, the director tries always to keep distance, but it is not easy to keep the distance with your family. A calm, but moving reflexion on gender and filmmaking. AS

VISIONS DU REEL ONLINE 25 APRIL           

Wolves at the Borders (2020) *** Visions du Reel 2020

Dir: Martin Pav | Doc, Czech Republic 78′

Wolves are back in the Czech Republic. And their return is causing ructions in the rural population. In his no holds barred look at the social history of man’s relationship with beast, filmmaker Martin Pav examines whether wolves still have a place in a world where drought and climate change is already wreaking havoc on the farmers particularly the vast forested areas of the Czech Republic. Wolves are, at least, a threat that can be controlled.

From an ecological point of view wolves have as much right to exist as humans, but as a voracious predator of livestock, and humans too – if given a chance, they are posing a serious threat now that their numbers are once again growing.

Not everyone is in agreement over how to tackle the wolf issue. Jan Sefc, a livestock farmer, shows how his flock of sheep is being depleted by wolves, as he throws a armful of maimed dead lambs into a rubbish bin. The wolves don’t eat the new borns, they just maul them to death, adding insult to the injuries inflicted. The problem is how to protect them. How do you build a shelter for 3000 sheep? And they don’t only kill lambs and sheep, deer are being heavily predated. “Tt’s like having a pedophile in a kindergarten” he says. For now he manages to keep the wolves at bay by monitoring the area in his truck, but he can’t be there all the time. Mayor Tomas Havrlant supports his view and is determined to gain the support of the government in this growing concern.

But conservationist Jiri Malik takes a different view, and is more concerned with water conservation in the region, seeing drought as the main enemy of farming and food production. He argues water is key to the survival of crops and the next generation. He is working on ways to improve irrigation.

Wolves have been predators in the Czech Republic since the Benedictines first arrived in the 13th century with the motto: “Pray and Work” (Ora et Labora). Records tell of attacks on humans, and the Monks civilising effects allowed the local population to protect themselves with barriers at a time when folklore was dominated by tales of wolves, synonymous with the Devil. The only punishment back then was to be cast out into the wilderness. Gradually wolves were almost entirely exterminated by the mid-18th century.

But they soon found their way back. In Czechia and neighbouring Poland and Slovakia wolves were still being culled up until the 1970s, when they were shot during the hunting season, and still harboured a fear of humans. These legendary beasts can grow to six feet tall, and now, like the foxes in the Britain, they have started to challenge man. Their population is growing again and the farmers are angry. So the Mayor has decided to file a suit against the State to gain protection for the farmers and the local economy, and encourage young people to stay in the region.

Jiri Malik feels that anything that encourages beauty, diversity, stability of an ecosystem: such as wolves, is good. Anything that goes the other way, is bad. Why don’t the farmers guard their sheep, like shepherds did in ancient times?. And this is very much the view of small-holder Lenka Stihlova who takes the wolves side of the dilemma arguing for a modus Vivendi with the animals.

With its sinister occasional score of strings and measuring detached approach, Wolves at the Borders presents a convincing case for each side in this age-old endeavour: how to live in harmony with the animal kingdom. MT

VISIONS du REEL 2020 | STREAMING

 

 

 

Off the Road (2020) Visions du Reel ***

Dir: Jose Permar | DoP Ernest Trujillo | Mexico Doc 76′

Mexican filmmaker Jose Permar takes a shoestring budget and makes a ingenious and cinematic western style documentary set in the bone dry beauty of Mexico’s largest desert region, The Baja. This is a story about a race, a group of musicians and a community clinging to both in order to survive.

The Baja 1000 is the biggest off-road motorsport race in the world that each year brings life into this remote desert community along with three flamboyant musicians Rigo, Davis and Paco, three who celebrate the car rally with a classic guitar beat set by the “corridos”, epic lyrics singing the praises of local heroes.

Their stunning costumes and sultry style add a shot of zinging colour to the suede and khaki dustiness of the desert scenery, puncturing the cacti-strewn landscape with their exuberant songs. . Since 1966, this far flung world looks forward to the roaring caravans of the Baja 1000. And José Permar makes a delightful tribute to the event that sees families gathering together to enjoy the music and the excitement of the race.

But the musicians are not just bystanders there to entertain, they also take part. Rigo has customised the family car to join the race and Davis is an avid enthusiast and onetime driver, now retired from the track. Meanwhile Paco is a young journalist seeking to secure the passage of the cars.

Filmed during the year preceding the Baja 1000, Off The Road is a western that borrows from the codes of a musical to depict, with distance and empathy, individuals relegated to the gateway of the North American El Dorado, who seem to replay their destiny every year via this ephemeral mechanical epic.

VISIONS DU REEL 2020 | APRIL – MAY 2020 STREAMING

Mimaroğlu: Robinson of Manhattan Island (2020) **** Visions du Reel 2020

Dir.: Serdar Kökceoglu; Documentary with Ilhan Mimaroglu, Güngör Batum, Rüstem Batum; Turkey/USA 20219, 76 min.

Serdar Kökceoglu is a composer and filmmaker whose first feature is a vivid portrait of fellow Turkish composer, filmmaker and artist Ilhan Mimaroğlu (1926-2012), a leading composer of electronic music.

Structured in three chapters and using a dreamlike soundscape and evocative visual style the documentary recounts how Mimaroğlu emigrated from Turkey to the USA in 1959, spending the rest of his life in Manhattan as a composer and all-round artist. Mimaroğlu gradually develops into a diary of contemporary music-making in Manhattan in the late twentieth century. But equally important was his relationship with his wife Güngör Batum, whom he married in 1959 back in Istanbul. Both were idiosyncratic in their life style, but, as she said “We were like one person”.

After finishing law school at Istanbul University in 1949, Mimaroğlu had already made his name as a music critic. Later awarded a Rockefeller Foundation grant, he went on to study musicology under Paul Henry Lang at Columbia University. He would also work for the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Centre with Edgard Varese and Vladimir Ussachevsky. For Mimaroğlu,, cinema and music were one and the same, his compositions were “like collages, similar to editing a film”.

One of the highlights were his collaboration with Fellini for Satyricon. Working at Atlantic Records in the 1970ies, with Freddie Hubbard and Charles Mingus among others. Mimaroğlu founded his own label, Finnadar Records. German electronic visionary Karl-Heinz Stockhausen was one of his heroes, as was Jean Dubffet, who published Mimaroğlu’s own jazz compositions like ‘Tract A: A composition of Agitprop Music for Electromagnetic Tape’. Under his own record label, he met pianist concert pianist Idil Biret in 1972, the two of them working together for ten years, producing nine albums. After Finnadar Records folded in the 1980s, the composer stepped away from music and focused on street photography and films.

Mimaroğlu was always aware of status near the margins: “I am a composer, that’s one suicide. On top of it I am contemporary composer. And a composer of electronic music – and I compose political music.” He never wanted to go to a conservatoire in Turkey, “because they might teach me the wrong things”. And even in New York, he was critical of the places of higher learning: “University is a self-serving institution. This whole country, being the graveyard of culture, its universities being its mausoleums.” For him, music was alive, he collected tapes for sleeping from sounds of daily life. He compared himself to a preacher in the Sahara, nobody listening to him. “Even if they do, they fail to figure out what I was talking about”. He made a short film about people walking in slow-motion into a mall, past a poster which he had created, showing the MacDonald’s label with the inscription “Mc Lenin”. Like his friend and music critic David Toop said “his records were almost like Graffiti, that’s why he later became interested in Street Photography – the absolute immediacy.” And music writer Evin Ilyasoglu gave the feature its title” I think, he was mad, that people did not understand him. The Robinson of Manhattan. That’s why he was so pessimistic.” He felt that everyone was out to shoot contemporary composers. “Don’t shoot us, we are just innocent bystanders. When I am confronted with Mozart and Elvis, the question is, whom do I shoot first, its a matter of priority: Business or pleasure. And: “Do you think that I am paranoid in this respect? If so, there is a reason for it: Strauss Elvis, Mozart, all in the same bag”.   

The third chapter concentrates on Güngör Batum, who had to branch out into business during her husband’s middle age, “becoming a left-wing artist and a business woman at the same time”. She was shattered at his death, living in denial of it for the rest of her life. “Shortly after losing him, I thought I could only manage the world with a new perspective. Because we had been really close, supported each other in every way. I had to work out how to live without him. The hardest period of my life”. Her son Rüstem, whom she left behind when she left the USA, talks abut the couple’s relationship:” When my mother had guests, Ilhan would just come into the room for a moment, would not greet anybody and leave the room. He was an anti-social person. I could not bond with him, only our relationship with cinema kept us going. He watched some films ten times. They were the polar opposites. He always lived in an apartment at Columbia university, where he always returned for the night.” After having spent many years on the balcony of her NYC apartment, Güngör Batum re-emigrated to Istanbul, reconstructing her life out of memories. In Istanbul she talked to friends about “Ilhan coming soon to join her in Turkey. “Than we can all meet together”. As Rüstem said, his mother had a way of deny certain occurrences in her life. So, for her it was “like living still with him, but by myself.”  

With wonderful archive material, partly shot by the composer himself, this a real art history lesson. DoP Levent Türkan avoids too many Talking Heads, and concentrates Instead on conjuring up a palpable Cinematic essence of the man. A truly unique documentary about music and relationships, with Mimaroğlu having the last word: Old composers never die. They just turn into index cards”.   AS

Burning Lights International Competition | ON VISIONS DU REEL | NYON SWITZERLAND | APRIL- MAY 2020

John Waters | Birthday Tribute

John Waters was born in 1946 into a well-to-do Catholic family in Baltimore where he was educated privately. But his life’s work was to be far from ‘ordinary’.  Nowadays he enjoys cult status in a flourishing 50 year film career that attracts more and more attention, although his last film was made over ten years ago. A Dirty Shame (2004) was not altogether a critical success and was almost a failure at the box-office. Clearly his unusual, offbeat persona attracts his growing fanbase – cineastes who enjoy his ability to shock, appall and repulse. He famously once said “you have to do work that doesn’t just appeal to your mother”. So even his mother must be special. 

From an early early age Waters was obsessed with violence and gore and formed deep attachments to a group of friends who would play the characters in his filmic fantasies. The most enduring of these was Glenn Milstead, later known as Divine, who also became his muse, appearing most famously in Multiple Maniacs, and gaining the nickname Prince of Puke. He started directing before he was 20 years old, making Hag in a Black Leather Jacket (1964) and Roman Candles (1966), two short films that also marked the beginning of his partnership with Milstead, who first starred in Mondo Trasho (1969). His breakthrough came in 1972 with Pink Flamingos, a trash manifesto that defined his style, followed by Female Trouble (1974) and Desperate Living (1977). He achieved mainstream success in 1988 with Hairspray, his last collaboration with Divine, who died shortly after filming. He subsequently directed Johnny Depp in Cry-Baby (1990) and made Serial Mom (1994), a blend of his original provocative vision and the genre of political satire. After various stints as an actor, he returned behind the camera with Pecker (1998) and Cecil B. Demented (2000), the latter staring Melanie Griffith and Maggie Gyllenhaal. A Dirty Shame was yet another confirmation of his interest in defying traditional values.

So he provokes and disgusts and doesn’t seem to give a damn, and that’s probably while he is also so popular, particularly as his oeuvre is so difficult to access on DVD, Blu-ray or VOD, and this is clearly one of its biggest draws, human nature being what it is..

In recognition of his edgy, subversiveness and creative eclecticism LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 72nd edition is this year awarding his a PARDO D’ONORE, a retrospective that promises to be ‘irreverent, awkward, desecrating, and irresistible’. The American director, screenwriter and actor will be the star of the screenings of A Dirty Shame and Female Trouble, and the audience will be able to literally smell his films: Polyester will be shown in Odorama – one of the first “olfactory cinema” experiences – exactly as it was in 1981, with scratch cards handed out to viewers before the screening. The audience will have the opportunity to discuss these elements during the customary chat with the filmmaker at Spazio Forum, which is scheduled for the last day of the Festival, August 17. 

John Waters selected King Vidor’s Show People (1928) to open Locarno72 last year, with music by Philippe Béran’s Orchestra della Svizzera italiana. Says Waters: “Any movie that pokes fun at Hollywood, that mocks Gloria Swanson’s first films, that features Marion Davies (the most famous “official mistress” in history), that is directed by King Vidor (I’m especially fond of Beyond the Forest and Stella Dallas), that has cameos by Louella Parsons, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, cannot be altogether bad. In fact, it sounds perfect to me.”

John Waters | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 7-17 AUGUST 2019

Transit (2018) **** Curzon Home Cinema

Dir/Writer: Christian Petzold | Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese | Drama | Ger |

Christian Petzold’s tale of love during wartime captivates with a romantic allure that feels timeless yet very much rooted in the 1940s. Unlike his 2014 drama Phoenix, this is a more ephemeral film – a noirish mystery thriller with modern credentials that imagines a believable yet imaginary scenario: there are no guns or soldiers on parade and the costumes are ‘classic’: don’t expect a clear cut finale because TRANSIT captures the essence of transience: we’re never quite sure of what will happen next.

Franz Rogowski – Europe’s answer to Joaquin Phoenix – gives a charistmatic tour de force as German refugee Georg who is escaping the Nazis in Marseille with another escapee, a writer called Weidel who dies on route. Taking his papers, which include a manuscript and a letter from an Embassy assuring him a visa, Georg has secured an identity and an escape route – but his plans are soon to change when a mysterious woman crosses his path and the two become linked by a extraordinary twist of fate.

Petzold fleshes out his sinuous storyline with some convincing characters: there’s a conductor on his way to Caracas, a Jewish woman who is stuck with her employers’ two dogs and the enigmatic Marie (Petzold’s latest Paula Beer), who is searching for her husband. Georg becomes obsessed by Marie but cannot reveal the truth of is own identity which must remain a mystery to her. This intoxicating love affair thrives on this sense of enigma and shadowplay.

The starving wartime Europeans escaping their homelands for a new beginning feel very much like today’s refugees, looking for a stable existence in this saraband for lost souls, who may even just be fleeing from themselves in a time of uncertainty. Franz Rogowski (the interloper in Happy End) shares a potent onscreen chemistry with Paula Beer’s beguiling Marie. This is a moving, memorable and thematically rich addition to Christian Petzold’s war-themes tales: Phoenix; Barbara and Jerichow  . MT

NOW ON CURZON HOME CINEMA | BERLINALE 2018

Calm with Horses (2019) ****

Dir: Nick Rowland | Wri: Joe Murtagh | Cast: Cosmo Jarvis, Barry Keoghan, Niamh Algar, Ned Dennehy, David Wilmot, Kiljan Moroney 

This ultra violent Irish crime thriller is a tale of love lost and vehement revenge that starts well but shoots itself in the foot slightly with a smaltzy ending. The wafer thin plot is a lowkey version of Mean Streets bulked out by shed-loads of atmosphere and a seething central performance by Cosmo Jarvis as an addled ex-boxer stuck between raising his son and serving as a mob enforcer for the dreaded Devers family. The drug-dealing Devers are a fearful bunch of thugs and interpersonal skills are parlous.

Calm with Horses is Nick Rowland’s feature debut adapted by Joe Murtagh from a selection of stories by Irish author Colin Barrett. The terrific Irish cast are what makes this so compelling: all seasoned pros you wouldn’t want to meet on a dark night, or even a sunny day, for that matter. Douglas Armstrong (Jarvis) is a dim-witted explosive henchman for drug-runner Dymphna (a nose-picking Keoghan) and his family, headed by the monstrous Paudi (veteran Ned Dennehy), for whom loyalty is the watchword. ‘Arm’ also has an autistic son from his ex Ursula (Niamh Algar) who wants him to help finance the boy’s education. They’re a heavy-drinking, snooker-playing mob who speed around this remote rural backwater of Ireland. It’s the sort of  downtrodden place where an abandoned settee is left rotting in the High Street.

The title refers to a nearby horse-training farm where Ursula’s boyfriend Rob (Welsh) is teaching the boy to ride, but Calm With Horses works best in the scenes involving the Devers family and their sculduggery. Efforts to make this into a love story revolving around Arm and Ursula fall flat, that’s for another film, and thus the final misjudged scene takes the sting out the thriller’s tail. Rowland sets up a superb showcase showdown in a country house deep in the wilds, but then spoils it all by turning it into a sob story. But for those who like a happy ending of sorts this is an impressive start to a promising career. MT

UK & Irish Digital release available on a broad range of VOD platforms including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Sky Store, Virgin Movies, Talk Talk, BT TV, Curzon Home Cinema, BFI Player, Rakuten TV and Volta  from 27th April 2020.

2020

 

Bitter Love (2020) *** CPH:DOX 2020

Dir. Jerzy Sladkowski. Poland/Finland/Sweden. 2020. 86 mins.

Russian couples pack their emotional baggage for a romantic voyage on the Volga in this entertaining but tonally offbeat curio from Polish filmmaker Jerzy Slodkowski (Don Juan).

Essentially a series of disparate encounters between its often disillusioned characters, Bitter Love tests the temperature of love in contemporary Russia and finds it either troubled or rather buttoned down, particularly where the men are concerned. The women are full of disillusionment but remain chipper and ever-hopeful of redressing the emotional balance or finding love again, even though the past has often given them a kick in the teeth, on the feelings front.

Sailing down the languorous waters of Russia’s most famous river aboard the appropriately named ‘Maxim Gorky’ riverboat, this upbeat documentary is as realist as it can be in scoping out romantic possibilities for a shipload of modern Russians, from all ages and walks of life, who we first meet setting off a cloud of coloured balloons each containing an ardent wish.

In the singletons corner there is Oksana (or Xenia) a middle-aged disillusioned romantic who shares her woes with Yura a bulked-up bodyguard type who actually turns out to be a bit of a softie, strumming his guitar and crooning like a troubadour. There is also petite Yulya who makes a bid for taller, older mate but soon has second thoughts.

Not all are footloose and fancy-free: it falls to an earnest young singer and her pianist playmate to set the tone musically with their classical accompaniment. Meanwhile, another older couple in a longterm relationship, Sacha and Lyuba, are clearly entering troubled waters – and even the odd set-too – threatening to rock the boat, both literally and metaphorically, but also adding a spark of humour to this river-bound odyssey of lost souls.

Apart from an interlude on dry land, or sand – as it turns out to be – this is a mostly close-up affair that pictures its protagonists in restaurant tete-a-tetes or in the intimacy of their cabins, but there’s a stagey artifice to these encounters that somehow doesn’t make them ring true, despite their earnestness. Compelling stuff nevertheless. MT

CPH:DOX 2020 | ONLINE IN CERTAIN TERRITORIES

Portrait of a Lady on fire (2019) **** Curzon Home Cinema

Dir: Céline Sciamma | Adèle Haenel, Noemie Merlant | Drama, France 120′
Sciamma is back with a enigmatic and delicate drama that glows like a jewel box in its pristine settings yet feels pure and confident at the same time. Turning her camera from the contemporary (Girlhood and Tomboy) she also shows a talent for classical fare in this latest drama set in a chateau in 18th-century Brittany. Here a member of the Italian upper classes (Valeria Golino) has commissioned a portrait of her daughter Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) so she can marry her off to a wealthy suitor abroad.
Rather than risk a male painter becoming too close to her convent-educated offspring, the mother invites artist Marianne (Noémie Merlant) to be her companion, and she arrives at the seaside location in a boat rowing, almost losing her prepared canvasses during the journey. What develops is a tentative friendship between the women that slowly grows into something more ardent. Intimate glances and long walks lead to candlelit evenings where passion burns over their needlework and literary discussions. Or is Héloïse imagining things?
Isolation is to important as it distances their story from the rest of the world. Sciamma relies on the hush of the sea and some subtle sound design, instead of a formal score. Soon the portrait painting becomes secondary to the girls’ relationship. All this is handled with a lightness of touch and the utmost decorum. And the painting sessions turn from taciturn encounters to warmer and more meaningful tetes a tetes. There are shades of Choderlos de Laclos here and the sensuality is undeniable. A faint eeriness comes into play when Marianne has repeated visions of Héloïse in her white wedding dress – luminous for a while, she then disappears. We’re used to seeing lesbian love affairs in the present day so this hark back to the 18th century is refreshing and entrancing. And their mesmerising on screen chemistry gives the film a life of its own. MT
NOW ON RELEASE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 14-25 MAY 2019 | Winner: Best Screenplay

A Fish Swimming Upside Down (2020) ** Berlinale 2020

Dir.: Eliza Petkova; Cast:  Nina Schwabe, Theo Trebs, Henning Kober, Anna Manolova, Marton Nagy; Germany 2019, 108 min.

In her second film for Berlinale Bulgarian filmmaker Eliza Petkova tries her best to be enigmatic – flirting with Hitchcock’s Rebecca – but ends up with a creaky Oedipus-themed story where she shows no empathy for her characters who swim round like fish caught in an aquarium. Hitchcock would have admired her detached voyeurism – but nothing else.

The focus is femme fatale Andrea (Schwabe) just moved into a stylish house in Berlin  to live with boyfriend Philipp (Kober) and his Down’s syndrome son Martin (Trebs), whose mother has died suddenly in her sleep. Philipp is desperate to move on from the past but teenager Martin seems to resent Andrea called her the “fish swimming upside down”, for her habit of moving round on her stomach. When Philipp is away on a business trip Andrea moves into Martin’s bed. Meanwhile, housekeeper Nadeshda (Manolova) plays a suitable Mrs. Danvers, witnessing the couple’s sexual shenanigans until she written out of the script, and the house, Martin accusing her of pilfering. His deepening obsession for Andrea even sees his accusing his friend Jens (Nagy) of sleeping with Andrea when the three of them go on a trip to Sächsische Schweiz that ends in tears.

Petkova lacks experience in her direction and this shows particularly in the few action scenes which as as awkward as the title suggests. DoP Constanze Schmitt creates a summery feeling with her suffused palette of colours, as if life has seeped out of the characters and their environment. Enigma is always welcome, but Petkova over-complicates the narrative, leaving us perplexed to the very end. Petkova is clearly talented, but her inability to decide what sort of a film she wants to create becomes the stumbling block here.  The actors, particularly Schwabe, are over-extended, and have to fall back on silent-film gesturing. Overall, A Fish feels like a failure, albeit an honourable one. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | FEBRUARY 2020 

       

  

Goddess of the Fireflies | La Déesse des Mouches à feu (2020) Berlinale Generation

Dir.: Anais Barbeau-Lavalette; Cast: Kelly Depeault, Caroline Neron, Normand d’Amour, Eleonore Loiselle, Robin L’Houmeau, Antoine Desrouches, Marine Johnson; Canada 2020, 105 min.

Canadian director Anais Barbeau-Lavalette and writer Catherine Leger have adapted Genevieve Pettersen’s novel for the screen. But despite their best efforts to bring something fresh to a teenage addiction story the result is lacklustre despite a spirited central performance from Canadian actress Kelly Depeault.

Catherine (Depeault) comes from a dysfunctional middle-class background not helped by the usual competitive boyfriend problems at her co-ed school. On her sixteenth birthday a vicious fight breaks out between her divorced parents (Neron/D’Amour) and Catherine takes refuge in the woods where her gang of friends are heavily into mescaline. She dabbles with the drug and also drifts into more promiscuous behaviour, sleeping with Pascal (Desrochers) who was dating her friend Melanie (Johnson), and then the guitar playing Keven (L’Houmeau) who makes love to her in an overlong cringeworthy scene. The story gradually unravels in a series of tragic events that lead to an unconvincing denouement for all concerned. Lively visuals from DoP Jonathan Decoste convey the high-energy febrility of this lost and emotionally volatile youth. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | 20 FEBRUARY – 1 MARCH 2020

       

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Goddess of the Fireflies | La Déesse des Mouches à feu (2020) Berlinale Generation

Dir.: Anais Barbeau-Lafalette; Cast: Kelly Depeault, Caroline Neron, Normand d’Amour, Eleonore Loiselle, Robin L’Houmeau, Antoine Desrouches, Marine Johnson; Canada 2020, 105 min.

Canadian director Anais Barbeau-Lafalette and writer Catherine Leger have adapted Genevieve Pettersen’s novel for the screen. But despite their best efforts to bring something fresh to a teenage addiction story the result is lacklustre despite a spirited central performance from Canadian actress Kelly Depeault.

Catherine (Depeault) comes from a dysfunctional middle-class background not helped by the usual competitive boyfriend problems at her co-ed school. On her sixteenth birthday a vicious fight breaks out between her divorced parents (Neron/D’Amour) and Catherine takes refuge in the woods where her gang of friends are heavily into mescaline. She dabbles with the drug and also drifts into more promiscuous behaviour, sleeping with Pascal (Desrochers) who was dating her friend Melanie (Johnson), and then the guitar playing Keven (L’Houmeau) who makes love to her in an overlong cringeworthy scene. The story gradually unravels in a series of tragic events that lead to an unconvincing denouement for all concerned. Lively visuals from DoP Jonathan Decoste convey the high-energy febrility of this lost and emotionally volatile youth. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | 20 FEBRUARY – 1 MARCH 2020

       

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Glasgow Film Festival 2020 | 26 February – 8 March 2020

Glasgow is Scotland’s creative capital. Famed for its Art Nouveau architecture and home to the Scottish Ballet, Scottish Opera and National Theatre of Scotland, the Clyde-side metropolis throbs with artistic vibes and plays host to one of the UK’s leading annual film festivals. Across 12 days GIFF2020 will screen 9 World premieres, 10 European premieres, and 102 UK premieres.

There will be a chance to see World premieres of Sulphur & White, and Flint, Anthony Baxter’s water-themed follow-up to You’ve Been Trumped Too. And fresh from the international film festival circuit is Justin Kurzel’s latest thriller The True History of the Kelly Gang, award-winning Spanish Western Luz, The Flower of Evil, and Igor Tuveri’s stylish 5 is the Perfect Number adapted from his graphic novel and featuring Italian megastar Toni Servillo (The Great Beauty).  

Documentary wise: Ebs Burnough’s The Capote Tapes takes us back through the archives to revisit the iconic American novelist, while Nanni Moretti’s Santiago, Italia (left) explores the Italian role in rescuing exiles out of Chile after Pinochet’s Coup d’Etat.  Michael Paszt tells a story definitely stranger than fiction in his feature documentary Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro, which follows a professional wrestler juggling dual roles of running Lucha Libre AAA in Mexico and parenting his teenage daughter. Meanwhile Billie aims to be the definitive documentary on Lady Day herself, featuring never-before-seen interviews with those who knew one of the world’s greatest jazz singers

Classic films to look out for are Tarkovsky’s sinister masterpiece Stalker (1979) and Richard Fleischer’s cult Sci-fi thriller Soylent Green (1973) starring Charlton Heston and Edward G Robinson. There is also a chance to revisit two classics directed by women: Dorothy Arzner’s 1932 comedy Merrily We Go to Hell and Nietzchka Keene’s Bjork-starring fantasy fable The Juniper Tree (1990). Both shot in luminous black and white.

Women filmmakers will be also championed in Mark Cousins’ 2018 epic homage to the history of female talent: Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema. This groundbreaking 14-hour documentary is narrated by Tilda Swinton and Jane Fonda and takes place in five instalments (main pic). And celebrated photographer Susan Wood will talk about her life behind the camera in Susan Wood: A life in Pictures (left).

The festival will open and close with UK premieres of films directed by women – Alice Winocour’s Proxima starring Eva Green as an astronaut preparing for a mission to the International Space Station and Beanie Feldstein’s star turn in the big screen adaptation of Caitlin Moran’s blockbusting memoir How to Build a Girl, directed by Coky Giedroyc.

Glasgow Film Festival closes on International Women’s Day with a celebratory showcase of female talent – with every film screened either directed or written by a woman or starring a female lead.

Glasgow Film Festival | 28 FEBRUARY – 8 MARCH 2020

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Mr Jones (2021) Ukrainian Relief

Dir: Agnieszka Holland | Cast: James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard, Joseph Mawle, Fenella Woolgar, Kenneth Cranham, Celyn Jones, Krzysztof Pieczyński, Michalina Olszańska, Patricia Volny | Poland, United Kingdom, Ukraine 2019 | Cinematography: Tomasz Naumiuk, Editing: Michał Czarnecki | Music: Antoni Komasa-Łazarkiewicz | 141′

This riveting romp through Russian history follows a young Welsh journalist who ventured into the Soviet Union in 1933 to discover the sinister background to Stalin’s Communist regime. Stalin was feeding Moscow while millions of Ukrainians were dying of famine due to forced state control of their farms and food. Andrea Chalupa has been developing the script for 14 years, conflating the story with that of Animal Farm, based on her own book: Orwell and the Refugees: The Untold Story of Animal Farm.

The man in question is Gareth Jones (Norton), a respected attache of Lloyd George (Cranham) who sets off for Moscow where he comes up against pro-Stalin press supremo and Pulitzer prize-winner Walter Duranty (a cold-eyed Sarsgaard) tasked with keeping the famine under wraps from the World.

During his stay, Duranty invites Jones to luxuriate in the excesses of the State budget, but the Welsh gentleman gracefully declines, preferring the intellectual stimulation of one Ada Brooks, a journalist for the New York Times, and in thrall to Duranty. Against advice from all sides, Jones then makes a perilous journey south and nearly dies himself of hunger- and Holland makes this second act a gruelling one to impress upon us the suffering endured by the rural population, women and children. Jones then exposes the story to the World, via Randolph Heart, putting Sarsgaard’s nose out of joint. But tragedy is to follow – as it often does when Russian secrets are shared.

Holland’s ambitious attempt to pull the various strands together leaves a subplot showing Orwell writing Animal Farm slightly adrift, and the use of montage to invigorate the various train journeys is rather hammy. But the entertainment factor rides over the structural imperfections and superb performances make this a really entertaining romp. Norton is simply brilliant as Jones, a decent and persevering professional gifted with integrity and a pioneering spirit. Kirby also shines as the conflicted woman at the centre of the furore. In thrall to Duranty, she shuts down Jones’ romantic advances, unable to develop them, despite their chemistry. There is great support from Fenella Woolgard; Kenneth Cranham does Lloyd George with a charming Welsh accent; and Sarsgaard seethes with shifty antagonism tempered by a veneer of supercilious charm.

Shot in Poland, Scotland (not Wales) and in original locations in the snowbound Ukraine, the homecoming scenes in Barry with Jones and his father are particularly poignant. Chulapa’s script and dialogue shows an acute English sensibility. It’s a mammoth achievement. Agnieszka Holland works with her Polish craftsman to make this a thoroughly engrossing experience which flashes by despite a running time of over two hours. MT

LONDON SOUTH BANK UNIVERSITY HOSTS SPECIAL FILM SCREENING FOR MR JONES  | TO HELP RAISE FUNDS FOR UKRAINIAN RELIEF  |TUESDAY 10TH MAY | 5:45 FOR 6:05PM START | LSBU KEYWORTH CENTRE  KEYWORTH STREET LONDON SE1 6LN

Yalda (2019) **** Sundance 2020

Dir/scr: Massoud Bakhshi. Iran, France, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg. 2019. 89 mins

Women are much maligned in Iran’s sternly patriarchal society. Writer and director Massoud Bakhshi uses one woman’s story to shed light on this deeply misogynist culture that has taken the nation further and further back in time from the more enlightened days of the Shah back in the 1970s.  Cutting his teeth in 2014 with A Respectable Family, this second feature is a tensely slick affair that uses melodrama to heighten the film’s stark thematic concerns of life and death.

In Tehran festivities for the winter celebration of Yalda are in full swing lighting up a capital that looks, to all intents and purposes, like any other modern metropolis. The focus narrows into the confined space of a TV studio where Maryam (Sadaf Asgari) arrives in handcuffs to appear in a popular reality show called ’Joy Of Forgiveness’ that also includes literary readings and music.

Maryam has been sentenced to death for the murder of her much older husband Nasser. But the good news is that the family have it in their power to forgive her and make way for a reprieve. Nasser’s daughter Mona (Behnaz Jafari) used to be her best friend. But tonight Mona will decide Maryam’s fate on live television. The film plays out almost like a TV trial, Maryam pleading her case and hoping to persuade Mona to let her go free. Bakhshi mines the rich dramatic potential of the subject to great affect, leaving us shaken and stirred as the story moves towards its febrile finale.

Performances are strong from a really impressive female cast. Asgari makes for a convincingly uneasy Maryam contrasting with the steely calm of Behnaz Jafari’s Mona. We are reminded that men clearly have the upper hand in Iran, but that women can also be each other’s enemies all over the world. MT

Sundance Film Festival 2020 | 23 JANUARY – 1 FEBRUARY 2020

 

Berlinale 2020 | Competition titles Announced

Carlo Chatrian announced his first Berlinale competition line-up describing it “quite dark’ with a glittering array of “earth-shattering, and intimate stories” to screen from 20 until 1 March 2020.

The 70th edition opens with French Canadian director Philippe Falardeau’s My Salinger YearThe  film depicts the small New York City literary world of the 1990s with humour and verve. Sigourney Weaver, the three times Oscar nominee plays the author’s literary agent, based on a memoir by Joanna Rakoff portrayed by Emmy-winning Margaret Qualley (daughter of Andie MacDowell).

This year’s slate of Golden Bear hopefuls features heavyweight regulars and prodigious female directing talent in the shape of Orlando’s Sally Potter, who brings a story of existential angst starring Javier Bardem and his onscreen daughter Elle Fanning; Berlinale regular Kelly Reichardt with her latest, a period drama First Cow that has Toby Jones wondering around the countryside (as he did in By Ourselves). Then there is Swiss duo Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond who direct Nina Hoss in My Little Sister; Argentina’s Natalia Meta with The Intruder and finally from the US Eliza Hittman with Never, Rarely Sometimes, Always. The prolific Hong Sang-soo is back with The Woman Who Ran featuring his current muse Kim Minhee. Berlinale heavyweights Benoit Delepine, Philippe Garel, Malaysia’s Tsai Ming-Liang, and Cambodia’s Rithy Pan will also be in town.

Elsewhere in the programme there is documentary graces the line-up programme includes 18 films from 18 countries with 16 world premieres as well as one documentary form.
The line-up of the Berlinale Specials features Vanessa Lapa’s documentary about the Nazi architect’s time in the US; Speer goes to Hollywood. . Four more titles have been confirmed. You can find these films following the list of the Competition.

Competition

Berlin Alexanderplatz
Germany / Netherlands
by Burhan Qurbani
with Welket Bungué, Jella Haase, Albrecht Schuch, Joachim Król, Annabelle Mandeng, Nils Verkooijen, Richard Fouofié Djimeli
World premiere

DAU. Natasha
Germany / Ukraine / United Kingdom / Russian Federation
by Ilya Khrzhanovskiy, Jekaterina Oertel
with Natalia Berezhnaya, Olga Shkabarnya, Vladimir Azhippo, Alexei Blinov, Luc Bigé
World premiere

Domangchin yeoja (The Woman Who Ran)
Republic of Korea
by Hong Sangsoo
with Kim Minhee, Seo Younghwa, Song Seonmi, Kim Saebyuk, Lee Eunmi, Kwon Haehyo, Shin Seokho, Ha Seongguk
World premiere

Effacer l’historique (Delete History)
France / Belgium
by Benoît Delépine, Gustave Kervern
with Blanche Gardin, Denis Podalydès, Corinne Masiero
World premiere

El prófugo (The Intruder)
Argentina / Mexico
by Natalia Meta
with Érica Rivas, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Daniel Hendler, Cecilia Roth, Guillermo Arengo, Agustín Rittano, Mirta Busnelli
World premiere

Favolacce (Bad Tales)
Italy / Switzerland
by Damiano & Fabio D’’Innocenzo
with Elio Germano, Barbara Chichiarelli, Lino Musella, Gabriel Montesi, Max Malatesta
World premiere

First Cow
USA
by Kelly Reichardt
with John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, Scott Shepherd, Gary Farmer, Lily Gladstone
International premiere

Irradiés (Irradiated)
France / Cambodia
by Rithy Panh
World premiere / Documentary form

Le sel des larmes (The Salt of Tears)
France / Switzerland
by Philippe Garrel
with Logann Antuofermo, Oulaya Amamra, André Wilms, Louise Chevillotte, Souheila Yacoub
World premiere

Never Rarely Sometimes Always
USA
by Eliza Hittman
with Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, Sharon Van Etten
International premiere

Rizi (Days)
Taiwan
by Tsai Ming-Liang
with Lee Kang-Sheng, Anong Houngheuangsy
World premiere

The Roads Not Taken
United Kingdom
by Sally Potter
with Javier Bardem, Elle Fanning, Salma Hayek, Laura Linney
World premiere

Schwesterlein (My Little Sister)
Switzerland
by Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond
with Nina Hoss, Lars Eidinger, Marthe Keller, Jens Albinus, Thomas Ostermeier, Linne-Lu Lungershausen, Noah Tscharland, Isabelle Caillat, Moritz Gottwald, Urs Jucker
World premiere

Sheytan vojud nadarad (There Is No Evil)
Germany / Czech Republic / Iran
by Mohammad Rasoulof
World premiere

Siberia
Italy / Germany / Mexico
by Abel Ferrara
with Willem Dafoe, Dounia Sichov, Simon McBurney, Cristina Chiriac
World premiere

Todos os mortos (All the Dead Ones)
Brazil / France
by Caetano Gotardo, Marco Dutra
with Mawusi Tulani, Clarissa Kiste, Carolina Bianchi, Thaia Perez, Alaíde Costa, Leonor Silveira, Agyei Augusto, Rogério Brito, Thomás Aquino, Andrea Marquee
World premiere

Undine
Germany / France
by Christian Petzold
with Paula Beer, Franz Rogowski, Maryam Zaree, Jacob Matschenz
World premiere

Volevo nascondermi (Hidden Away)
Italy
by Giorgio Diritti
with Elio Germano
World premiere

Berlinale Special

“This section provides a platform for films that captivate a wide audience. We call them ‘moving images’ because they move audiences with their expressiveness and their brilliant and courageous performers. The gala premieres fulfil the desire for the stars, glitz and glamour that is part of every big festival. Berlinale Series offers an insight into new forms of storytelling while Berlinale Special presents itself as a forum for debate and discussion and builds bridges between the audience and cinema,” comments Carlo Chatrian, Artistic Director of the Berlinale.
The following four films complete the programme of this year’s Berlinale Special. In total, 20 films from 19 countries, among them 15 world premieres, will be shown in the section.

Berlinale Special Gala at Berlinale Palast

Onward
USA
by Dan Scanlon
with the voices of Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia-Louis Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez, Kyle Bornheimer, Lena Waithe, Ali Wong
International premiere / Animation

Berlinale Special Gala at Friedrichstadt-Palast

Curveball
Germany
by Johannes Naber
with Sebastian Blomberg, Dar Salim, Virginia Kull, Michael Wittenborn, Thorsten Merten, Franziska Brandmeier
World premiere

Berlinale Special at Haus der Berliner Festspiele

DAU. Degeneratsia (DAU. Degeneration)
Germany / Ukraine / United Kingdom / Russian Federation
by Ilya Khrzhanovskiy, Ilya Permyakov
World premiere / Documentary form

Speer Goes to Hollywood
Israel
by Vanessa Lapa
World premiere / Documentary form

BERLINALE 2020 | 20-29 FEBRUARY 2020

 

Eden (2020) ***** Rotterdam Film Festival 2020

Dir: Ágnes Kocsis | Cast: Lana Baric, Daan Stuyven | 153′ Drama, Hungary

Ágnes Kocsis is now a forbidable figure in European arthouse film. Her 2006 debut Fresh Air won a FIPRESCI prize and her second Pol Adrienn (2010) went on to win awards across the board. Eden is her formally austere and thematically rich character driven third feature that explores the main preoccupations of our modern world: loneliness and immune hyper-sensitivity.

Éva suffers from both. And she’s allergic to just about everything, so living in a bubble becomes a fact of life to avoid toxic shock, breathing difficulties and possibly even death. To venture outside her starkly decorated high-rise apartment in Budapest she must don a space suit.  Éva’s days are spent in a local clinic with doctors experimenting on her, and these scenes are gruelling and quite upsetting to watch. Mate Toth Widemon’s luminous camerawork also captures the silent stillness of the desert where Éva undergoes light therapy in an isolated glass igloo.

Ágnes Kocsis sets out to explore the complexities of mind over matter and the ambiguities of  contemporary living, suspended between sustainability and emptiness. Essentially a three hander – with support from a range of convincing minor characters – the plot revolves around Eva, her brother and András. The illness started after she collapsed on a bus, and now middle-aged Eva is dangerously ill, her immune system in total collapse. Her sole contact with the world is her brother Gyuri, who brings her food and keeps her company. But he has his own issues. This situation changes when András enters her life – a specialised psychiatrist, he will represent her in a court case about whether her condition is caused by pollution, or whether her mental state is so fragile that she herself is the cause of her allergies. Is she sick, or is the world making her ill? Or is her loneliness the root cause of her malaise.

Eden often echoes the bracing quality and otherworldliness of Tarkovsky, Lucile Hadzihalilovic and Bela Tarr (who was also involved in the film’s production). And although it is often difficult to engage with and requires a certain perseverance with its obtuse characters and hard-edged, blue-tinged interiors, what gradually dawns through Kocsis’ textured characterisation is that Andras and Eva are forming a meaningful bond that could potentially be the start of love.

Lana Balic plays Eva as a poignantly troubled soul who is suffering, lonely and alienated. She collects baby turtles and her pastime of twisting bits of wire to make angular sculptures is one that inevitably leads to further pain, and even draws blood from her delicate fingers. Baric has the soulful eyes and tortured, pointed face of a medieval martyr, or even a saint from a painting by Carlo Crivelli. Yet she imbues Eva with quiet dignity, and we feel for her. This is a film full of anguish: apart from the awful scenes in the clinic, birds often collide into the glass windows of Eva’s home, dropping to certain death below. But there are also beautiful light-filled images as spring arrives in Budapest to soften the sorrowful scenario.

The relationship between Éva and András becomes more intimate, and her condition seems to improve. He encourages her neighbour upstairs to play his piano: Chopin of course. But the romantic tones of Lucio Dalla’s ‘Il Cielo’ are what really sets the night on fire in this mournful piece, and the ballad plays out through the bittersweet, heart-breaking finale. The final scene is one of the most extraordinary you’ll see this year. And watch out for the post credit ‘sting’. MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020 

Merry Christmas, Yiwu (2020) **** Merry Christmas, Yiwu (2020)

Dir: Mladen Kovacevic | Doc, Serbia, Sweden, France, Germany, Belgium, Qatar | 94’

China has cashed in on Christmas. In this socialist pre-dominantly non-Christian superpower  capitalism reigns in a city just south of Shanghai. Yiwu is best known for its Christmas-related merchandise. And that’s a tall figure –  accounting for 90% of the domestic output of festive fare, and around 70% of the world’s total. As early as May the industrial heartlands pound with preparations for the Christmas season amid strong demand from all over the globe.

Mladen Kovacevic focuses on the smaller more intimate story: that of the workers caught up in the still relatively new Chinese Dream. In his first full length documentary feature the Serbian filmmaker has no trouble in making this a cinematic experience – the bright colours and sparkly decorations providing a striking visual foreground to the subdued underlying narrative. Behind the tinsel and pizazz there are more serious issues at play. The workers producing these goods are under pressure to perform. Despite rising wages offering them the ability to have the latest smart phones they are still forced to work long hours in airless conditions returning to their meagre lodgings at night where they miss friends and family left behind in their rural hometowns. The dream of wealth in the prosperous new China is a distant one. the truth is a different story.

Keeping dialogue to a minimum the film shares the stark reality of the human story at its core: and we feel increasingly sympathetic of these stressed individuals who try to smile and think positively despite the gruelling workload as they choke back traces of glitter and dehydrate beneath the harsh overhead lighting. Work has become the family, their colleagues are their new sisters and brothers and they joke and share their lives far away from home and ask each other: “what is celebrated on Christmas”.

Kovacevic then explores the other side of the coin. The bosses who have built a fortune from this risky business venture with a view to exploring new markets through cross-border e-shopping platforms, adapting the decorations to suit the cultural sensibilities of the overseas clients in Russia, South America, and Europe. They too have made sacrifices, rarely seeing their families living miles away. They are conscious of the gruelling work load placed on staff but are keenly aware they must not push them too hard. There are 470,000 market dealers in Yiwu. Merry Christmas, Yiwu presents the reality of modern China: a thriving capitalist nation enveloped within the iron claws of modern day communism. MT

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | Bright Future Main Programme

 

 

 

Rotterdam Film Festival 2020

In his final year as creative director Bero Beyer recently announced the 2020 line-up for the 49th International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) including the 10 films selected for the Tiger Competition. Known for its edgy arthouse bias, this year’s film include Kim Yong-hoon’s South Korean crime drama Beasts Clawing at Straws; Arun Karthick’s Nasir, a portrait of theHindu-nationalist province of Tamil Nadu; and Jorge Thielen Armand’s drama La fortaleza, set in the jungles of Venezuela.

The festival also features the Big Screen Competition and the revamped Bright Future Competition, the fifth theme programme Ordinary Heroes and a special screening of David Cronenberg’s Crash (1996) with a live musical score by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. The festival opens on the 22 January 2020 with Joao Nuno Pinto’s period drama Mosquito, exploring a Portuguese soldier’s adventures in Mozambique during the First World War, and close on 2 February with Marielle Heller’s Oscar contender A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood that revisits the popular children’s television personality Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) through his meeting with skeptical journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys).

The Tiger competition will be judged by a panel composed of Dutch-Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now), Visions du Réel artistic director Emilie Bujès, South Korea-born American filmmaker Kogonada (Columbus), Dutch filmmaker Sacha Polak (Dirty God) and Indonesian artist Hafiz Rancajale.

The Big Screen Competition features nine films including Danish filmmaker Malou Reymann’s A Perfectly Normal Family; Eden from Hungarian filmmaker Ágnes Kocsis (who made Pál Adrienn) and Argentinian auteur Marco Berger’s El cazador (Young Hunter) which stars End of Century’s Juan Barberini

The Bright Future Competition, comprising a selection of 15 feature-length debuts, includes Liang Ming’s Pingyao film festival award-winning Wisdom Tooth, and feature debuts from Russian filmmaker Artem Aisagaliev’s (Babai) and Bolivian Diego Mondaca’s Chaco.

The 49th International Film Festival Rotterdam | 22 January – 2 February 2020

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Images from the Tiger Competition selection

Tiger Competition

Beyer said: all the films in Tiger Competition radiate a strong sense of personal urgency and cinematic relevance, fuelled by boundary-pushing directorial visions.”

All films selected for Tiger Competition 2020:

El año del descubrimiento, Luis López Carrasco, 2020, Spain/Switzerland, world premiere

Beasts Clawing at Straws, Kim Yonghoon, 2020, South Korea, world premiere

The Cloud in Her Room, Zheng Lu Xinyuan, 2020, France/China, world premiere

Desterro, Maria Clara Escobar, 2020, Brazil/Portugal/Argentina, world premiere

Drama Girl, Vincent Boy Kars, 2020, Netherlands, world premiere

La fortaleza, Jorge Thielen Armand, 2020, Venezuela/France/Netherlands/Colombia, world premiere

Kala azar, Janis Rafa, 2020, Netherlands/Greece, world premiere

Nasir, Arun Karthick, 2020, India/Netherlands, world premiere

Piedra sola, Alejandro Telemaco Tarraf, 2020, Argentina/Mexico/Qatar/UK, world premiere

Si yo fuera el invierno mismo, Jazmín López, 2020, Argentina, world premiere

The Tiger jury consists of Dutch-Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad, artistic director of Visions du Réel Emilie Bujès, South Korean-born American filmmaker Kogonada, Dutch filmmaker Sacha Polak and Indonesian artist, curator and filmmaker Hafiz Rancajale.

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Images from the Big Screen Competition selection

Big Screen Competition

The Big Screen Competition, part of IFFR’s Voices section, features nine films which, according to IFFR programmers, deserve to hit the big screen after the festival. A jury consisting of five audience members picks the winner of the VPRO Big Screen Award. This film gets a guaranteed theatrical release in the Netherlands and will be broadcast on Dutch TV by VPRO and NPO.

All films selected for Big Screen Competition 2020:

El cazador, Marco Berger, 2020, Argentina, world premiere

Eden, Ágnes Kocsis, 2020, Hungary/Romania, world premiere

Énorme, Sophie Letourneur, 2019, France, international premiere

The Evening Hour, Braden King, 2020, USA, international premiere

Fanny Lye Deliver’d, Thomas Clay, 2019, UK/Germany, international premiere

Mosquito, João Nuno Pinto, 2020, Portugal/France/Brazil, world premiere

A Perfectly Normal Family, Malou Reymann, 2020, Denmark,world premiere

Synapses, Chang Tso-chi, 2019, Taiwan, international premiere

A Yellow Animal, Felipe Bragança, 2020, Brazil/Portugal/Mozambique, world premiere

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Images from the Bright Future Competition selection

Bright Future Competition

The Bright Future Competition comprises a selection of 15 feature-length film debuts, screening in world or international premiere. IFFR’s competition for first-time filmmakers presents a variety of innovative, cutting-edge and promising discoveries from all over the world. The Bright Future Award is chosen by a jury of three film professionals.

All films selected for Bright Future Competition 2020:

Babai, Artem Aisagaliev, 2020, Russia/USA, world premiere

Chaco, Diego Mondaca, 2020, Bolivia/Argentina, world premiere

Los fantasmas, Sebastián Lojo, 2020, Guatemala/Argentina, world premiere

Fellwechselzeit, Sabrina Mertens, 2020, Germany, international premiere

For the Time Being, Salka Tiziana, 2020, Germany/Spain/Switzerland, international premiere

I Blame Society, Gillian Wallace Horvat, 2020, USA, world premiere

Moving On, Yoon Dan-bi, 2019, South Korea, international premiere

My Mexican Bretzel, Nuria Giménez Lorang, 2019, Spain, international premiere

Ofrenda, Juan María Mónaco Cagni, 2020, Argentina, world premiere

Panquiaco, Ana Elena Tejera, 2020, Panama, world premiere

A Rifle and a Bag, Isabella Rinaldi/Cristina Hanes/Arya Rothe, 2020, India, world premiere

Sebastian springt über Geländer, Ceylan-Alejandro Ataman-Checa, 2020, Germany, world premiere

The Trouble with Nature, Illum Jacobi, 2020, Denmark/France, world premiere

Truth or Consequences, Hannah Jayanti, 2020, USA, world premiere

Wisdom Tooth, Liang Ming, 2019, China, international premiere

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | 22 JANUARY – 2 FEBRUARY 

The Distinguished Citizen (2016) ****

Dirs: Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn | 118min | Comedy Drama | Argentina

When an Argentinian Nobel prize winner returns to the village of his birth he discovers a lawless Wild West, or has he just become “over-civilised”.

This pithy premise underpins the latest from Argentinian directors Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn. It stars Oscar Martinez (of Paulina and Wild Tales fame) as the world-weary and emotionally avoidant author Daniel Mantovani, who returns to a remote village about six hours drive from Buenos Aires, to accept a medal. Having left there many years ago, he never felt the impetus to go back having made a successful writing career in Europe where he lives in palatial splendour in the lush hills of Barcelona’s Tibidabo.

Written by Gaston’s brother Andres Duprat, THE DISTINGUISHED CITIZEN is a tightly-scripted, insightful and often hilarious satire with echoes of Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll’s 2004 comedy Whisky with similar themes of parochial pettiness and cultural awareness. The tone is always light but touches upon some dark home truths. The elegant framing and architectural sensibilities makes this a visual pleasure, Maria Eugenia Sueiro’s interiors reflecting a faded seventies aesthetic.

The film opens as Daniel is delivering a trenchant rebuke at the acceptance ceremony mocking the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm. Fast forward five years and he is on the plane to BA where a taste of his future tribulations arrives when his airport taxi driver breaks down in a field, hours from Salas, forcing him to spend the night in the middle of nowhere round a campfire lit with one of the pages from his recent novel. The following morning that same book comes in handy as lavatory paper – and we all realise where things are going.

The narrative unspools in five parts – for no specific reason – as Daniel goes back in time to a homespun and unsophisticated community stuck in the past. This motley crew respond entirely inappropriately treating him like a local soap star rather than an intellectual introvert. He bumps into his old girlfriend Irene (Andrea Frigerio) who is now married to his butch friend Antonio (Dady Brieva), a mean dancer and an even meaner game hunter – a talent that plays out in Daniel’s hasty departure in the final scenes. The film centres on the small-town mentality that really rears its ugly head as the story develops, the inhabitants gradually turning the writer from hailed hero to vilified outsider in their collective mean-spiritedness.

This is an enjoyable and intelligent piece of cinema, dark and deadpan situational comedy arises out of bizarre encounters and bitter ironies (much in the same vein as those of the recent Toni Erdmann). The film leaves us with some memorable maxims to reflect on. “making things simple is an artistic kindness” is a choice takeaway from the role and often poignant indie gem . MT

Argentinian Film Season: El ciudadano ilustre (The Distinguished Citizen) (2016)

WINNER COPA VOLPE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016 | BEST ACTOR | OSCAR MARTINEZ

 

A Hidden Life (2019) ***

Dir|Wri: Terrence Malick | Cast: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Michael Nyqvist, Matthias Schoenaerts, Bruno Ganz, Karl Markovics, Franz Rogowski | US Drama 173′

Terrence Malick brings his tenth feature to Cannes with a reputation in the balance. Although appreciated by a small cadre of Malickians, his post-Tree of Life output even his defenders seem to agree needs defending.

So is A Hidden Life a return to form, or is it another stage in a sad decline. Well, the truth is: a bit of both. It tells the true story of conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) and his wife Fani, played by Valerie Pachner, who lived in St. Radegund, an Austrian farming community. Beautiful mountains form a backdrop, an idyll just as the tropical islands did prior to the hostilities of The Thin Red Line. But war is approaching fast with Hitler, a native of the same region, glowering from newsreel footage and ripping through first France and then into Austria. At this point, Franz decides that he cannot swear an oath of allegiance to a man he views as the antiChrist. How he comes to this conclusion is unclear as Malick’s typically syllopsistic style means we never see him read a newspaper or watch any of the newsreels we see.

Everyone in the village tries to persuade Franz against his decision from the ultra-nationalistic mayor to the well-meaning priest. Again the gaps in the narrative made by the relentless moving fluttering from one beautiful image to another means that we weirdly never hear Jews mentioned, despite the fact that anti-Semitism was rife.  Hitler wasn’t some exceptional monster. His hatred and xenophobia and anti-Semitism were a product of his Austrian upbringing. This was by no means exclusive to Austria or Germany, but there was a particular virulence which made the message of National Socialism resonate. But according to Malick everyone just wanted to cut grass and drink beer.

Franz’s rebellion is religious and almost anti-political. And again Malick’s style favours this approach. There are no dialogues in Terrence Malick’s cinema and it is almost impossible to talk about politics without allowing people to actually talk. We have a series of monologues directed at characters which typically take place in the context of some photogenic meandering. The letters which form the bulk of the voiceover (yes, there’s voiceover) simply reiterate much of what we’re seeing on screen. But again I never felt that above a lot of PDAs there isn’t much of a relationship between Franz and Fani. They say they love each other a lot, but again they don’t argue and frankly I don’t trust a couple that doesn’t argue from time to time. They also have three extremely pretty daughters, Franz’s mother, who frequently looks pitiable against a white washed wall and Fani’s spinster sister living with them.

A film with no scenes is way too long at three hours. Joerg Widmer’s camera peers into faces with a distracting lack of respect for personal space before zooming off to look for something else to be interested in. Again, the absence of the conventional blocking of scenes means that often actors are left to wander like non-player characters in a mid-90s video game. And the decision to make the film bilingual with the Nazis speaking German and the protagonists English is a ludicrous one. How can you aim to be daring as filmmaker on one hand and then submit to such a lazy Hollywood convention? And one with such damaging effect on your political position.

But again, what political position? I respect the true story behind this but Malick seems to want the whole of the second world war and the moral universe to hang in the balance here. Franz is held up as an exemplar – something like Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Joan of Arc – but I couldn’t help but think of him as something of a von Trapp. His refusal to say the oath – he is offered the chance to work in a non-combat capacity – feels petty in the face of the unnamed Holocaust which is going on at exactly the same time.

Ultimately, Malick has made another technically beautiful film, with a gorgeous soundtrack and wonderful photography, that is at the same time unable or unwilling to engage with its subject. In always trying to go for the glory, he seems to miss what it is that makes us essentially human. We talk to each other. John Bleasdale

ON RELEASE FROM 17 JANUARY 2020

Alva – White (2019) ***

Dir.: Ico Costa; Cast: Henrique Bonacho; Portugal 2018, 98 min.

Renowned Portuguese short-film director Ico Costa creates an impressive first feature which he also wrote. It tells the story of Henrique Bonacho who has been abandoned by family and driven delirious, punishing the ones he held responsible. 

We first meet Henrique (a very intense Henrique Bonacho) as a shepherd, living in a dilapidated  hovel in the mountains. Uncommunicative, he also looks unkempt and lost. We later learn that his wife Vitoria and his two daughters have left him. Driving into the local village he kills a woman psychologist and puts her male college into a coma, punishing the people he holds responsible for the break-up of his family. He then threatens Vitoria’s mother, demanding to see his daughters. When she calls the police, he flees into the mountains where he cannot live with with the unbearable isolation for long and, so he soon returns to his home. This time he decides to put on his best clothes: a beautiful white suit. But Henrique’s problems are not over.

Alva plays out in an elliptical way, the title stands for Henrique’s re-birth: the white suit representing the old, unspoiled self. In between he looks more like a hunted animal than a human. DoP Hugo Azevedo makes imaginative use of the wild woods and mountains crafting glorious images as a hideout for the fugitive. The colours in town are more subdued, the streets become a labyrinth for Henrique. Only at the end, when he has found his place again, do we get some sunlight. But there is a powerful impression that this happy-end will not last forever. Alva is a study in loss, and eventual redemption. A small gem told in a minimalist cinematic language, with a towering performance by Bonacho. AS

NOW AT AT THE ICA LONDON

Aquarela (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir: Viktor Kossakovsky | Doc | UK | 89’

A picture tells a thousands words when it comes to climate change. And this new eco doc on the subject literally drenches us in water in its mission to drive the point home. Aquarela is  the aquatic version of Jeff Orlowski’s remarkable Chasing Ice (2012).  delivering its vital message with any dire warnings or preachy dialogue. 

Russian filmmaker Viktor Kossakovsky has shot hours of footage aiming, in a structureless but gloriously visual way, to portray the global tragedy of climate change. His vehement eco doc demonstrates how the havoc caused by the melting ice-cap in the Arctic Circle  cascades down to provoke events in Siberia’s Lake Baikal; Angel Falls in Venezuela and tornado strewn California, as nature and humanity clash in a monstrous eco-war. Put simply: while man is slowly destroying nature, the planet is hellbent on destroying us.

Cinematographer Ben Bernhard works with the latest high-tech stabilisation equipment and waterproof cameras at a rate of 96 frames per second, and these HD images record the gushing, cascading floods of glaciers, magnificent ice mountains, crashing icebergs, crumbling glaciers, tumbling waterfalls and fierce waves that mercilessly bring to mind Nicholas Monsarrat’s novel The Cruel Sea. 

Accompanied by a pounding electronic score that lends a certain chaotic gravitas, there are moments that will remain seared to the memory. The film would work more effectively with a clearer narrative arc and tighter editing despite its slim running time And although some of the sequences are over-played –  this is an engaging and informative film. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Tlamess (2019) *** Best Director | Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir: Ala Eddine Slim |Cast: Abdullah Miniawy, Souhir Ben Amara, Khaled Ben Aissa Tunisia/France |121′.

Tunisian director Ala Eddine Slim follows his striking cult debut The Last of Us with another visually alluring reverie that is rather too opaque for its own good. Verging on the biblical, it once again contemplates themes of isolation and our relationship with nature. The evocative storyline focuses on a loner caught up in the wanderlust of his desert surroundings in a atmospheric soundscape created by Oiseaux Tempete with mesmerising art direction from Malek Gnaoui and  imaginative camerawork by Amine Messadi.

S (Miniawy) is a lieutenant in the army. State terrorism is the order of the day and we witness a brutal suicide. After hearing about the death of his mother S is overcome by grief and absconds from his army service to go  home, becoming Tunisia’s most wanted man. S soon meets the newly pregnant F (Amara), a bored and unhappy housewife left alone in luxury surroundings while her rich husband gads off around the world. The relationship develops into something more, F enjoying the wilderness much more than her pampered home.

The pair communicate only with their eyes, these extreme close-ups inscribed with Arabic are an expression of intimacy, the motives being fear, desperation and a new found equilibrium on F’s part. The monolith in the forest is a nod to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Full Metal Jacket is also quoted in the military scenes. Slim uses extreme contrasts: light and dark, sound and silence, open spaces versus claustrophobia, tradition collides with modernity Many of the protagonists are mute, Slim drawing much from silent cinema, the characters whirl through time and space in this hostile terrain. Tlamess is a visual triumph, leaving the audience much room for interpretation.

Marrakech Film Festival 2019 | WINNER BEST DIRECTOR 

The Two Popes (2019) *****

Dir: Fernando Meirelles | Wri: Anthony McCarten | Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins | Drama, Brazil 125′

Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins add weight and sophistication to this soigné and sumptuously mounted tale of Papal spirituality and responsibility. As the two great minds on the opposite ends of the spiritual debate they chew over and elegantly digest Anthony McCarten’s witty and thoughtful script that imagines the conservative Pope Benedict (Hopkins) paving the way for the liberal Pope Francis (Pryce) to forge a new future for the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI quotes from Plato when he makes his unprecedented decision to abdicate into order to guide Pope Francis into his vacant chair: “Those who don’t want to lead are the best leaders”. Yet the pontiffs couldn’t be more different, Francis is a warm, generous and garrulous soul who enjoys football and travelling to visit his vast congregations. Benedict is a detached and fastidious intellectual who dines alone and plays classical music on the papal piano.

The two are first seen meeting for a private tete a tete in the peaceful gardens of the Castel Gandolpho – and we are transported there by Cesar Charlone’s impressive widescreen camerawork that also captures the intimate spaces and vast crowd scenes in this thoughtful and and surprisingly moving drama.

They discuss world poverty, the migrant crisis and climate change and these are skilfully woven into black and white flashbacks picturing Pope Francis as a young Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio (played convincingly by Juan Minujin), who found himself receiving the calling just before his intention to marry.

Hopkins is steely and often vituperative as Benedict. He stresses their crucial conflicts and is dour in his discussions – although he occasionally lightens up with acerbic one liners: “It’s a German joke. It doesn’t have to be funny.” Pryce adopts an gentle, over-awed expression and sometimes appears back-footed as Francis, and we genuinely warm to him – this is Oscar level stuff.

And we see him journeying to the backstreets of Lima and Lampedusa, cooking in soup kitchens and visiting the needy and poverty-stricken. At this point Meirelles delves into striking archive footage of mid 1970s Chile showing the desperation on the streets when people where disappearing during the Coup d’Etat.

Eventually the two reach a common agreement cleverly conceived in the spry and intelligent script. And Benedict gradually shows the silver lining to his heart of stone as a really warm friendship develops. Hopkins gives luminous and considered performance full of quiet integrity in fitting with the Pontiff’s perceived wisdom. After all, these are two players at the zenith of their game – and it shows – in this highly enjoyable and inspirational piece of filmmaking. Let’s hope God approves. MT

COMING TO NETFLIX

 

 

 

The Nightingale (2018) ****

Dir. Jennifer Kent. Australia. 2018. 136′

Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent is best known for her chiller The Babadook. Here she turns her camera to focus on Australia’s colonial history with the premise: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”.

Nightingale is a sprawling and furious foray into the wilds Tasmania fuelled by a passion of a woman driven to defend her honour to the utmost. Aisling Franciosi brings vehemence and a surreal luminance as the central character Clare. And while Nightingale is certainly impassioned, lushly mounted and ambitious, it often gets waylaid by plotwists on the narrative front: from the outset the outcome is more or less predictable, although its odyssey into the heart of Australia’s colonial darkness certainly has us gasping for breath.

Anyone would be enraged if not extremely distraught to be subjected to gang rape and the killing of their baby and partner. And this is exactly what happens to Clare, forcing her to embark on a perilous and highly-charged quest for revenge taking as her guide a single-minded young aboriginal man. Their journey into the dark heart of Tasmania will be a perilous and eventful experience – and an extremely gruelling one for the audience. But what is undoubtedly a great premise for an epic saga, gets far too excited and over-heated plot-wise for its own good under Kent’s direction. And that’s a shame. Ultimately though, The Nightingale is a respectable auteurist enterprise.

Back in 1825, Tasmania was known as Van Diemen’s Land and that is where the young Irish woman fetches up after a career of what is now euphemistically known as stealing ‘to survive’. As a servant to the British occupying forces she is married to another ex-convict Aidan (Michael Sheasby), and has a tiny baby. But the man who has saved her – commanding officer Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin) – also fancies his chances with her and after she perform the titular Irish folk song to entertain the troops one night, he calls her to his quarters where he brutally rapes her. But it doesn’t end there, and by the end of the evening her entire family is dead, and Clare is determined to get her own back on the feckless man and his vicious collaborators Sergeant Ruse (Damon Herriman) and Ensign Jago (Harry Greenwood), following them to a their new posting in the town of Launceston, where Hawkins hopes to get a promotion.

Aboriginal Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) is not keen on the idea of accompanying a young white woman, but the oddly-matched couple eventually set off through the dense forest, their spirited exchanges fuelling what is otherwise a predicable journey. Their accompanying animals will invariably come off worst, along with their English overlords, who are invariably depicted as the same one-dimentional arch villains we will soon meet in Black 47 (2018). 

Nightingale triumphs as a robust cocktail of female oppression interwoven with anti-colonial overtones and laced with a folkloric twist (not to mention the Gaelic and the Palawi kani banter). Clare’s rendition of the ballad ‘Nightingale’ and other melodies is tunefully mellow in stark contrast to the ultra-brutal violence that eventually becomes as tedious as the repetitive plot reversals, and have the same affect as commercial breaks in subtracting dramatic heft from what could have been a succinct and infinitely more immersive historical drama, despite the rather trite denouement.

Along with terrific performances from the lead duo, Radek Ladczuk’s camerawork does Nightingale proud – all those vigorously verdant forests and burgeoning bushes giving way to the vibrant lushness of the Tasmanian widescreen landscapes. The Nightingale is a worthwhile exploration of a lesser known, but horrific episode in Antipodean colonial history. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 29 NOVEMBER 2019

Shooting the Mafia (2019) ***

Director: Kim Longinotto | With: Letizia Battaglia, Maria Chiara Di Trepani, Santi Caleca, Eduardo Rebulla, Franco Zecchin, Roberto Timperi | UK, 94′

Kim Longinotto chronicles the work of the very much alive photojournalist Letizia Battaglia in this moving but rather hagiographic affair. 

A Sicilian to the core, Battaglia has a visceral connection with Palermo where the Mafia was particularly active during the 1970s and ’80s. Her keen eye for a poignant picture captures everyday life in the impoverished capital. But she is best known for her photos of the Mafia’s brutality and, crucially, the affect it had on the victims concerned. Shocking snapshots reveal dead women and children bathed in their own blood; the startling aftermath of a street shooting, the victim’s wife tortured in agony at the scene of the crime. The documentary particularly highlights those fighting for justice, retribution and an end to the reign of terror: Judge Giovanni Falcone and his successor Paolo Borsellino who both lost their lives.

English documentarian Kim Longinotto won the World Cinema Directing Award at Sundance 2015 for Dreamcatcher her illuminating film on prostitution in Chicago. Clearly she is impressed with Battaglia, now 83,  who comes across as confident, hard-bitten and down to earth. Pink-haired and smoking her way through her story Shooting the Mafia is enlivened by TV footage, archival material and her own photographs. The film culminates with the important Mafia trial in 1986. The judge Giovanni Falcone was blown to bits in 1992. She talks of his fearless honesty and dedication. In some ways he is the hero of the piece.

Battaglia’s early life took place behind closed doors, her highly protective father shielding her jealously from the gaze of his friends and associates. This was quite normal back then. And so was an incident where a man exposed himself to her, leaving her bewildered and bemused. She married at 16 to the first man who asked, and had two daughters. Her story is interwoven with clips from Italian films the ’50s starring a blond Silvana Magnano, adding an upbeat vibe to an otherwise depressing tale of poverty, corruption and violence. Divorced in 1971, Battaglia fell into journalism, preferring to take photos rather than write for the liberal newspaper L’Ora. Her job was her life and she gradually worked her way through a series of impressionable – often much younger – lovers attracted by her earthy nonchalance and solid sense of self.  Two men, in particular, take part as her long term partners, both of them photographers who worked alongside her. And these men seem to feature more heavily in her world than her family: “I could talk about it but I don’t want to,”

There’s an impression that photography was a given rather than an ambition, almost as a default position due to her being employed by the paper. Mafia violence was an everyday occurrence in Palermo and someone had to go and record it for the paper. Although competently captured, there’s no evidence of any aesthetic behind the pictures. Indeed, she soon drifted from journalism and into politics as a Green Party local councillor, which is where she came across Giovanni Falcone. She felt too connected to the killing to take photos after his death, but this is the only time she discusses the equivocal nature of the photographer’s role. Her only relevant comment is personal: “When I look at my photos, I just see blood, blood, blood.”

The sensationalist nature of the subject matter is clearly the compulsion here. We experience a certain detachment to the photos of Mafia killings, and this is due in part to our familiarity with a theme that is so much a part of cinema history, with films like Goodfellas, The Godfather and Once Upon a Time in America. The most affecting segments of the film are those featuring the real victims and particularly the clip where the wife of one of Falcone’s bodyguards breaks down during the funeral. That said, this is a surface affair that often lets the peripheral life of its protagonist dominate the important nature of her work. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | PANORAMA

 

 

 

Marriage Story (2019) ****

Dir.: Noah Baumbach, Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Azly Robertson, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta;ion, the running time USA 2019, 135 min.
Writer/director Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) has produced his version of Scenes from a Marriage, mostly funny, but in the end veering of into something altogether more sinister. The stellar cast keeps us engaged for over two hours in what seems like an overindulgence on Baumbach’s part, especially as the film will end up on Netflix – making it even less likely to sustain an audience.
Nicole (Johansson) and Charlie (Driver) have been married for a decade and have a son, Henry (Robertson), who is at pre-school age. Charlie is the director of an avantgarde, off-Broadway theater group, Nicole his star. For a long time she wanted to direct herself, but is always thwarted by the narcissistic and overbearing Charlie, who likes to control her life like the classic patriarch men often are. The son is spoilt and even gets presents for going to the bathroom.
When Nicole finds out Charlie has slept with a colleague, the dam bursts and she goes for a divorce, taking Henry to her family home in LA. Before Nicole met Charlie, she had success as a mainstream actor, and she takes up her professional life in the same circles. At first, Charlie does not take his wife seriously, hoping that “she will come to her senses”. It soon dawns on him he will lose her, and also his son. Soon they are both getting legal advice. Nicole engages the fiery Nora Fanshaw (Dern), who makes Charlie go back to his first choice lawyer (Liotta), who is equally as expensive and as dirty as his female counterpart.
Despite the heavy subject matter, Baumbach brings a lightness of touch in the form of witty one-liners and slapstick. One scene takes place in Charlie’s LA flat, where he tries to prove to the state evaluator that he and Henry are happy. But there are darker moments, and the tone grows more hysterical – and soon sparks fly.
DoP Robbie Ryan turns out the usual cliched images of New York and LA. Hollywood’s town is a colourful circus, unlike sober, intellectual NY. Baumbach is skilled in this kind of territory – it’s clearly a subject he knows well, and lays bear the subtle nuances that lead to the end of love. Although he brings nothing particularly new to the party. This has a richer texture than his previous films, as he reworks and embellishes an already rich tapestry of replays in this sub-genre with its universal appeal. The Randy Newman score is unobtrusive, but effective. Performance wise this is a winner. Marriage Story is a tale we all know too well. AS
NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL  REVIEW 2019

Marrakech Film Festival 2019 | Competition and Special Screenings

British actress Tilda Swinton will preside over this year’s jury at Marrakech Film Festival. At the 18th Moroccan celebration she will be joined by French director Rebecca Zlotowski, British director Andrea Arnold, Franco-Italian actress Chiara Mastroianni and five male jurors: Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho, Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt, Afghan writer and director Atiq Rahimi, Australian director David Michôd, and Moroccan director Ali Essafi. 

Films in competition for the Étoile d’Or de Marrakech are as follows:

BABYTEETH / Australia | Shannon Murphy
Starring Eliza Scanlen, Toby Wallace, Emily Barclay, Eugene Gilfedder, Essie Davis, Ben Mendelsohn 

BOMBAY ROSE / India/Fr/Qatar | Gitanjali Rao
Starring Cyli Khare, Amit Deondi, Gargi Shitole, Makrand Deshpande 

THE FEVER | Brazil | Maya Da-Rin
Starring Regis Myrupu, Rosa Peixoto 

LAST VISIT  `| Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan(Akher Ziyara) /Saudi Arabia
 Starring Osama Alqess, Abdullah Alfahad, Fahad Alghariri, Mousaed Khaled, Ghazi Hamad 

LYNN + LUCY/UK | Fyzal Boulifa
Starring Roxanne Scrimshaw, Nichola Burley 

MAMONGA /Serbia | Stefan Malešević
Starring Marta Bjelica, Dražen Pavlović,  Nabi Tang, Vuk Janošević 

MICKEY AND THE BEAR /USA | Annabelle Attanasio
Starring Camila Morrone, James Badge Dale, Calvin Demba, Ben Rosenfield, Rebecca Henderson 

MOSAIC PORTRAIT | (Ma Sai Ke Shao Nu) / China
By Zhai Yixiang
Starring Wang Yanhui, Wang Chuanjun, Zhang Tongxi, Chen Di, Xie Lixun, Liu Yiying, Ke Limu 

NAFI’S FATHER (Baamum Nafi) / Senegal | Mamadou Dia
Starring Alassane Sy, Saïkou Lô, Aïcha Talla, Penda Sy, Mamadou Bayo Sarr, Alassane Ndoye 

SCATTERED NIGHT  | (Heut-eo-jin Bam) / South Korea
By Lee Jih-young, Kim Sol
Starring Moon Seun-ga, Choi Jun-woo, Kim Hye- young, Lim Ho 

SOLE / Italia, Poland | Carlo Sironi
Starring Sandra Drzymalska, Claudio Segaluscio, Bario, Barbara Ronchi, Bruno Buzzi 

TLAMESS / Tunisia, France | Ala Eddine Slim
Starring Abdullah Miniawy, Souhir Ben Amara, Khaled Ben Aïssa 

THE UNKNOWN SAINT (Sid El-Majhoul) / Morocco, France
By Alaa Eddine Aljem
Starring Younes Bouab, Salah Bensalah, Bouchaib Essamak, Mohamed Naimane, Anas El Baz, Hassan Ben Bdida, Abdelghani Kitab, Ahmed Yaab, Ahmed Yarziz 

VALLEY OF SOULS  | (Tantas Almas) / Colombia, Belgium, Brazil, France
By Nicolás Rincón Gille
Starring Arley de Jesús Carvallido Lobo  

ADAM / Morocco, France, Belgium | Maryam Touzani
Starring Lubna Azabal, Nisrin Erradi, Douae Belkhaouda, Aziz Hattab, Hasna Tamtaoui 

THE IRISHMAN / USA | Martin Scorsese
Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin 

IT MUST BE HEAVEN / Elia Suleiman
Starring Elia Suleiman, Tarik Kopti, Kareem Ghneim, George Khleifi, Raiïa Haiïdar, Gael García Bernal 

KNIVES OUT / USA | Rian Johnson
Starring Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer 

MARRIAGE STORY / USA | Noah Baumbach
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Merritt Wever, Azhy Robertson 

RAS EL SANA / Egypt | By Sakr
Starring Eyad Nassar, Ahmed Malek, Sherine Reda, Engy El Mokaddem, Ali Kassem 

NOURA’S DREAM | (Noura Tahlam) / Tunisia, France |  Hinde Boujemaa
Starring Hend Sabri, Lotfi Abdelli, Hakim Boumsaoudi, Imen Cherif, Saif Dhrif, Jamel Sassi 

There will also be a special selection of GALA Screenings 

ALL THIS VICTORY | Ahmad Ghossein – This Lebanese war drama won the Audience Award at this year’s Venice Critics’ Week

A SON | (Bik N’Ish) / Tunisia, France, Lebanon, Qatar | Mehdi M. Barsaoui
Starring Sami Bouajila, Najla Ben Abdallah, Youssef Khemiri, Noomen Hamda, Qasim Rawane, Slah Msaddak, Mohamed Ali Ben Jemaa 

SOUTH TERMINAL  | (Terminal Sud) / France | Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche
Starring Ramzy Bedia, Amel Brahim-Djelloul, Slimane Dazi, Salim Ameur-Zaïmeche, Nabil Djedouani 

STATE FUNERAL  | (Gosurdarstvennye Pohony) /  Ned/Lith  | Sergei Loznitsa | Doc

TALKING ABOUT TREES  | (Al-Hadith ’An Al-Ashjar) / France, Sudan, Germany, Chad, Qatar | Suhaib Gasmelbari | Doc 

WORKFORCE  | (Mano De Obra) / Mexico
By David Zonana
Starring Luis Alberti, Hugo Mendoza, Jonathan Sanchez, Horacio Celestino, Francisco Díaz 

(Jidar Al-Sawt) /LEBANON | By Ahmad Ghossein
Starring Karam Ghossein, Adel Chahine, Boutros Rouhana, Issam Bou, Khaled, Sahar Minkara, Flavia Juska Bechara 

IF ONLY  | (Magari) / Italy, France
By Ginevra Elkann
Starring Riccardo Scamarcio, Alba Rohrwacher, Ettore Giustiniani, Oro de Commarque, Millo Roussel, Celine Sallette, Brett Gelman 

MOFFIE / South Africa | Oliver Hermanus
Starring Kai Luke Brummer, Ryan de Villiers, Matthew Vey, Stefan Vermaak, Hilton Pelser 

NO. 7 CHERRY LANE | (Ji Yuan Tai Qi Hao) / Hong Kong, China | Yonfan
Starring Sylvia Chang, Zhao Wei, Alex Lam, Kelly Yao, Teresa Chung, Jiang Wen-li, Nathalie Duplessis 

OUR LADY OF THE NILE  | (Notre-Dame du Nil) / France, Belgium, Rwanda | Atiq Rahimi
Starring Santa Amanda Mugabekazi, Albina Sydney Kirenga, Angel Uwamahoro, Clariella Bizimana, Belinda Rubango Simbi, Pascal Greggory 

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 

UK Jewish Film Festival 2019

UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2019 TAKES PLACE 6 NOVEMBER – 21 NOVEMBER 2019 ACROSS CENTRAL LONDON VENUES AND 20 TOWNS AND CITIES ACROSS ENGLAND

UK Jewish Film is delighted to announce the 23rd UK Jewish Film Festival, which will run from 6th – 21st November at 15 cinemas across London. A UK tour of festival highlights to 20 towns and cities across England, Scotland and Wales will run until 12th December.

This year’s programme, comprising 96 films, plus Q&As and discussions with directors, actors, politicians, journalists and others, is the largest Jewish film festival programme in the world. The film programme includes 8 world premieres, 1 European premiere, 40 UK premieres, and films from 24 countries, including 23 films from the UK.

The diverse range of films in this year’s programme includes Oscar tipped satire from Fox Searchlight Pictures Jojo Rabbit which will be the Closing Night Gala along with the Centrepiece Gala being The Operative which stars Martin Freeman and Diane Kruger which will receive its UK premiere at the festival.

Further highlights include Synonyms which was awarded the Golden Bear at this years Berlin International Film Festival, documentary The Human Factor which is directed by Oscar nominated documentarian Dror Moreh and Israeli filmmaker Itay Tal’s intense portrait of motherly obsession God of the Piano. Meanwhile Norwegian teenager Esther finds herself caught up in the Nazi occupation in Ross Clarke’s award-winning drama The Birdcatcher

A documentary strand includes Amos Gitai’s  A Tramway in Jerusalem and Advocate a look at the life and work of Jewish-Israeli lawyer Lea Tsemel who has represented political prisoners for nearly 50 years.

There will also be a chance to revisit a some cult classics such as the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man, When Harry Met Sally and even Fiddler on the Roof!

Festival tickets can be purchased via the UK Jewish Film website here:
https://ukjewishfilm.org/festival/uk-jewish-film-festival-2019/

 

Campo (2018) ***

Dir: Tiago Hespanha | Doc, Portugal 106′

At first a vast expanse of verdant pasture seems a bucolic paradise buzzing with bees, grazing sheep and deer. But appearances can be deceptive. Only a handful of people live here under strictly controlled conditions – for reasons that soon become obvious. At first Bees go on making honey and the lambing season also seems oblivious to the combative nature surrounding them. This is Alcochete, home to Europe’s largest military base, on the outskirts of Lisbon.

Clearly this place is not the rural idyll it appears to be. Quite to the contrary. Soldiers are  preparing for active combat:Bombs explode, shots ring out across the fields, and troops undergo mock incursions, often with fake blood. And their impact on the local environment gradually starts to take hold. Bees are dying, not in their hives, but because they cannot get back to them. Something in the atmosphere is adversely affecting their ability to navigate. Ironically, scientists have finding a way to create man-made bees who are capable of joining the war effort, and being used in combat missions. At the same time, a sheep is found dying, unable to give birth to her stillborn lamb. This is also seems counterintuitive to what nature originally intended when the gods looks down from the starry obsidian skies and created humanity in all its entirety.

Bringing his architectural sense of framing, lighting and visual awareness,  Hespanha directs a documentary feature with thematic concerns that feel atavistic yet totally contemporary in exploring the origins of the word ‘campo’. Often abstract and abstruse, Campo is nevertheless a spell-binding and often mundane film that contemplates the transcendental wonder of the universe and nature while also considering the baseness of man’s inhumanity towards his fellow man. Etymologically speaking ‘Campo’ is both a simple field (in Italian) and a perilous battlefield: the Campus Martius was an area of Rome dedicated to Mars, the God of War, who was parodoxically also the patron of agriculture. So this natural breeding ground where flora and fauna innocently thrive and procreate is also a place of warfare and death. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 1ST NOVEMBER 2019 |  PREMIERE Cinéma du Réel 15 – 24 MARCH 2019 | PARIS.

Non-Fiction | Doubles Vies (2018) ***

Dir.: Olivier Assayas; Cast: Guillaume Canet, Juliette Binoche, Vincent Macaigne, Norah Hamzawi, Christa Theret, Pascal Gregory, France 2018, 107 min.

One of France’s most inventive and diverse directors returns to the theme of alienation  with a classically styled drama set in contemporary Paris. Non-Fiction analyses the detached charm of the intellectual bourgeoisie, seem through the lives of two middle-age couples who are losing their place in the sun thanks to the digital age. Knowledge and experience is replaced more and more by market strategies; and personal relationships turn out to be as fraught as the digitalisation of culture.

Alain (Canet), editor-in-chief of a successful publishing house is meeting one of his writers, Leonard (Macaigne) over a rejection lunch. Alain will not be publishing his new book. The reasons are purely commercial, but the situation is made more difficult by their family friendship. In the end, Alain has to spell it out, and Leonard, looking very much like his younger, unkempt student self, in contrast to the well-groomed Alain, takes it badly. At home he complains to his over-worked wife Valerie (Hamzawi), PA to a leading politician engaged in an election battle. When the couples meet later on, nothing is said about the rejection, instead everyone is ganging up against against Valerie – who is in fact the only likeable protagonist – for her engagement in politics. They all believe in the future of e-books and the power of algorithms. But their world will soon crumble: Alain is summoned to Marc-Antoine (Gregory) the owner of the publishing company, who nonchalantly admits to selling up, putting Alain out of a job. Alain’s young lover and colleague, the even more ambitious Laure (Theret) is leaving him to take up a post in London. Luckily Alain is unaware that his wife Selena (Binoche), a TV actress, has long been involved with Leonard – who has a penchant for writing for including his private life in his book – and not always well-disguised, at that.

On the surface, this is a verbal war, rich in dialogue where Adorno and Lampedusa are quoted, but beneath the intellectual surface lies growing insecurity. Alain over-estimates his power, he is totally unaware that he is a play-ball of forces he cannot control. Selena, trying to put some gloss on her mediocre career, will soon live under the threat of Leonard’s next book, whilst Leonard himself is still playing around like a teenager, not wanting to adjust to reality – even though he confesses his affair eventually, he really does not deserve his faithful but self-focused wife. 

Non-Fiction can sometimes feel overly verbose, Assayas keeps up our interest by involving the audience in his protagonists’ subterfuge. Apart from Valerie, everybody is an out and out opportunist, trying to hide behind ideas which have completely lost their meaning for them: they have become slaves of ratings and sales figures. The only humour is self-inflicted and involuntarily. The betrayals are in the end self-betrayals, but these people are too far gone to distinguish between feelings and façade: they only believe in perception. The polished aesthetics are workmanlike with a grainy indie feel that seems to suit this bookish study of greed and lust. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 18 OCTOBER 2019

 

Gösta (2019) **** LFF 2019

Dir.: Lucas Moodysson; Cast: Vilhelm Blomgren, Mattias Silvell, Clara Christiansson Drake, Amy Deassismont, Nidhal Fares, Elisabet Carlsson; Sweden 2019, 120′.

This cinema version of four episodes of twelve-parter for Nordic HBO is a satirical look at modern life and its ups and downs. Written and directed by Swedish cult star Lucas Moodysson who describes it as “a mix of comedy and Dostoevsky” it explores the existential angst of Gösta, a rather insecure 28 year old child psychologist, who is always trying to prove to himself that he’s a better person than anybody else. His ideas collide with real life and real people, and the outcome is usually chaotic.

Gösta (Blomgren) has moved from Stockholm to rural Smaland (where Moodysson grew up), and lives in a rather dilapidated hut with an outdoor shower. He is sheltering Hussein (Fares) who is seeking asylum. But their modest abode soon becomes rather crowded: Gösta’s father (Silvell), a loafer, whose hippy days are long over, has been thrown out by his current girlfriend, and then there is Saga (Christiansson Drake), Gösta’s former patient, who at 18, is not eligible for his support any more. Gösta is always in competition with himself to be a goody-two-shoes, has invited her to live with him. Later a talentless but enthusiastic young composer, along with Gösta’s artist mother, will crowd the place even more. Hussein moves into the attic, unable to bear the noisy arguments any more.

Gösta’a main problem is his love life: girlfriend Melissa Deasismont) is so overwhelmed by his understanding nature (he is foremost a psychologist and not a human being), she keeps called off the relationship. Needless to say Gösta makes an  understanding bedfellow, and when Melissa asks him to be harsher, he puts on two old socks. Then there is Lotta (Carlsson), his co-worker, who is so distraught Gösta ends up in bed with her to keep the peace – although he desperately wants to be faithful to Melissa. But when ‘Papa’ gets a huge German shepherd dog, even the patient Gösta protests.

For Gösta life is psychological journey undertaken with a series of apposite random quotes. But he is unable to help anybody – let alone himself, because he approaches every problem with a textbook. When asks one of his patients to spray can an offensive order on a wall, he reveals his own emotionally immaturity – his adjustment to life is regulated by what he has read and memorised. But he has no feeling for real love, people are just objects he wants to make happy – often make others miserable in the meantime.   

DoP Ellinor Hallin has caught the world of this regressive crew in wonderful images, which show a deep nostalgia for the Sixties; and her close-ups are heart-breaking. With Gösta, Moodysson has created a human fossil, which feels uncomfortable in the contemporary, and whose pseudo-altruism is just a cover for indecision and cowardice, camouflaged as learned suffering. But he is only in love with the idea of love – not a real person. Entertaining and provocative. AS

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 2-13 OCTOBER 2019 | NORDIC HBO        

  

The Voice | Glas 2019 **** Busan Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Ognjen Svilicic; Cast: Franco Jakovcevic, Belma Salkunic Mia Petricevic, Klara, Mucci; Croatia/Macedonia/ Serbia 2019, 80 min.

Five years after his award-winning feature debut These Are the Rules, Croatian filmmaker Ognjen Svilicic is back at Busan competing in one of Asia’s top festivals with this restrained portrait of rebellion and religious dogma in today’s Eastern Europe.

The rebel in question is teenager Goran (Jakovcevic) who has been sent to a religious boarding school by his single mother who hopes her only child will been given a Catholic eduction and a new group of friends outside the confines of his sheltered upbringing.

Svilicic handles his theme with great sensitivity showing how Goran’s background has not prepared him for the real world, let alone sharing a room with his rowdy mates. And although the staff seem tolerant at first, Goran is immediately marked as a ‘non-believer’ after he volunteers to play Joseph in a play about the conception and birth of Jesus, refusing to fall in with the traditional concept of the virgin birth, or to apologise for the disruption caused by his failure to accept this most basic credo of Catholicism. It appears Goran doesn’t even believe in God, which immediately sets him at odds with the staff and pupils despite their own inability to explain or fathom out the virgin birth.

The next point of confrontation comes when Goran supports a march in favour of the legalisation of abortion. He is pilloried by the enraged head mistress. But Goran defends the women, and, as a punishment, none of the students is allowed to eat dinner until Goran has retracted his viewpoint. Naturally, he is ostracised by the kids, one of whom boys beats him up. Goran runs off, throwing a rock at the statue of the Virgin Mary in front of the school, and decapitating it. Again, he fails to not apologise, and faints during in an interrogation.

After the headmistress reads an apostolic letter, talking about “the invasion of of Europe from the east”, Goran discusses his opposition with Mirela, a fellow student, who seems to have sympathy for him. At an outing, Goran swims far out into the sea, and has to be rescued by a boat. But Goran holds his ground, repeating his original protest, and leaving the school play after his replacement in the role of Joseph, utters the lines which the intransigent teen objected to in the first place.

Although Svilicic adopts a didactic approach to the narrative, he never simplifies the situation. Crucially, the majority of the students do not seen to believe much more than Goran in the preached dogma: they are more interested in video games and porn than religious education. They pick on Goran, because he makes them feels guilty for their own lack of engagement. DoP Marinko Marinkic’s limpid camerawork shows Goran’s growing isolation at a school where even the chapel has disco lighting. AS

World Premiere | BUSAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 5 October 2019

https://vimeo.com/360637567

 

 

 

Cold Case Hammerskjold (2019) **** LFF 2019

Dir.: Mads Brügger, Documentary; Denmark/Norway/Sweden/Belgium 2019, 128 min.

Director/writer Mads Brügger (The Red Chapel) took six years to research the events leading up to the death of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld on 18th of September 1961, near Zambia’s Ndala airport, hen part of Rhodesia. Brügger and his co-researcher Göran Björndahl literally dug into the cover-up, because even at the time of the ‘accident’ many voices, who talked about ‘murder’ not ‘accident’, were repressed. They claimed that Hammarskjöld’s aircraft was shot down by a fighter jet.

The Secretary General was on his way to a meeting with Moïse Tshombe, the rebel leader of the Katanga province, which had split from the newly formed Republic of Congo. Hammarskjöld wanted to broker a peace deal in the civil war, but Tshombe was just a puppet in the hands of the Belgium Union Minière du Haut Katanga, which was unwilling to give up the profits from the gold, diamond and uranium-rich country they had ruled for many decades. The Secretary General of the UN had made many enemies, not only in Belgium, but also in the UK and the USA, claiming “that Africa was a happy hunting ground for national interests”. During the research, the director came across the name of Jan van Risseghem, a Belgium mercenary who led the assassination mission code named “Celeste”. He planned to put a bomb in the plane, but when the explosion failed to materialised, a fighter jet shot Hammarskjöld’s plane down. A few survivors who witnessed the crash, all agree about the existence of a second plane.

Most of the material unearthed was connected with the South African spy agency South African Institute for Maritime Research (SAIMR), led by the white supremacist Keith Maxwell, who always dressed in white, with a tricorne hat and sword. SAIMR had up to 5000 employees, and was connected to the CIA, which explains the Ace of Spades playing card found on the body of Secretary General (the calling card of the CIA, but also a well known sign of danger). Maxwell was also responsible for “research” into Aids, his black victims injected with a serum intended to cure Aids. The details of the 1990 murder of Dagmar Feil, a marine biologist who worked for SAIMIR, but wanted to go public, is also part of the ‘confession’ of former SAIMR agent Alexander Jones, who seemed happy to go into details. “People are greedy. They want what other’s have. But they don’t want to pay for it”. His testimony also gives credence to the “second plane” theory, since he knew all the conspirators. Since his interview with Brügger, Jones is living at an undisclosed address.

The filmmaker has employed two black, female secretaries, Clarinah Mfengo and Saphir Wenzi Mabanza, who not only type furiously, but give Brügger ideas how to progress, and voice the interest of black people in this plot, where white men were victim and perpetrators.

The crashed airplane is still buried some four meters underground, and Brügger and his team had to stop digging it out after a few day’s work, the absolute proof of the assassination is still to be discovered, but few of those who have seen this documentary will question the theory. And even long after Tshombe’s removal, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other states of the region still suffer today, having endured civil wars for decades. AS

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL |2019

 

 

Matthias and Maxime (2019) ***

Dir: Xavier Dolan |

French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan directed his first film in 2009 at the age of just 20. He was back at Cannes this year with a coming of drama, set again in Montreal where a young man at the cusp of his working life is stuck at home looking after his abusive addict of a mother. He also has a facial blemish that saps his confidence. At a friend’s garrulous get-together Matthew finds himself play-acting a gay role with a young lawyer Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas), who is in a committed relationship and a settled career, albeit a boring one. Sparks fly. Although the two have met before in their childhood, clearly things have moved on and the chemistry between them is now palpable. But the path to love never runs smoothly.

The camerawork is all close up and personal. And in common with Dolan’s dialogue-heavy previous films (It’s only the End of the World) there is that shouty, rowdy restless vibe that some might find objectionable while to others  this tender playfulness will be intoxicating. The performances are strong and convincing across the board and genuinely heartfelt, and once again Dolan is in the thick of it all – as Maxime. MT

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL |  2-13 OCTOBER 2019

 

 

A Certain Kind of Silence (2019) **** Raindance Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Michal Hogenauer; Cast: Eliska Krenkova, Jacob Jutte, Monic Hendrickx, Roeland Fernhout, Jiri Rendl, Matthis Ijgosse; Czecj Republic/The Netherlands/Latvia 2019, 95 min.

This stylish Czech thriller centres on a secretive religious sect known as the Twelve Tribes. It is the impressive feature debut of Czech filmmaker Michal Hogenauer who offers up a cleverly crafted piece of evil in the guise of a domestic drama filmed in the forested stillness of suburban Riga, beside the Daugava river.

Eliska Krenkova plays Mia a young au pair who has emigrated from Prague to work in the pristine household of a formal professional couple (Hendrickx and Fernhout) who have one precocious little son, Sebastian (Jutte). Their house is immaculate, sterile even and Mia is not encouraged to become familiar with the parents or the boy. And although she stands her ground and refuses to be intimidated by their frigid demeanour, she soon becomes more and more worn down. Hogenauer employs a clever plot device that adds suspense and intrigue as the story plays out, by intercutting the action with scenes of Mia being interrogated by a faceless authority, presumably the police. It’s as if a crime has already been committed.

Sebastian is being trained to become a professional tennis player, and his parents take his progress very seriously. Their controlling behaviour also extends to Mia – who is actually called Mishka until they force her to accept a new nickname, just to add to her discombobulation. Mia’s presence is also required at unsettling social get-togethers (which turn out to be cult meetings) where she meets and becomes involved with a new boyfriend (Ijgosse). Soon the plucky and confident Mia finds herself drawn into a strange and sinister set-up where the gaslighting couple coerce her into doing things against her will, as they manipulate her mind. They force her into beating Sebastian, who eventually stabs Mia in retaliation. The flesh-wound is not life-threatening, but Sebastian is suddenly replaced by Daniel (Rendl), who wears a five-digit number on his back – we have already witnessed that Sebastian’s school is Number 23, and the school bus, which takes the children ‘off piste’ to school in a mystery destination. DoP Gregg Telussa captures the clinical atmosphere in the house with slickness doing justice to Laura Dislere’s immaculate set design, a paradise for those with OCD. All this is amplified by Filip Misek’s minimalist sound design which echoes something Philip Glass might compose. Hogenauer directs with great sensibility, never going over the top, by showing this ghastly utopian reality with restraint and admirable rigour. AS

The Twelve Tribes is a new religious movement founded by Gene Spriggs and was originally founded in Tennessee with the aim of raising 144,000 pure boys, so that Jesus can return to Earth. The children are corporally punished when showing emotion, playing or committing a disobedience. A raid in September liberated over 40 children from the organisation, who also run youth hostels, farms and restaurants. 

RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL | LONDON | 18 – 29 September 2019 

 

White on White (2019)

Dir/Wri. Théo Court.   Spain/Chile/France/Germany. Drama. 1oo’.

South America’s Tierra del Fuego is the setting for this weirdly compelling drama telling an equally unsettling story against the background of colonialist brutality in late 19th century Chile.

Anchored by a magnetic performance from one of Chile’s leading acting talents Alfredo Castro (Rojo) this is an enigmatic film with suitably ambiguous characters. Castro plays Pedro, a photographer hired by a wealthy landowner to record his impending nuptials. But what starts as a seemingly straightforward gig soon develops into something sinister and otherworld as he finds himself drawn into a nightmarish scenario from which escape seems increasingly unlikely.

In his follow-up to Ocaso Théo Court takes us to the brink with a slow-burning mystery that chases its tale to the point of bewilderment, José Alayón’s striking widescreen cinematography capture the bleak snow-swept landscapes forming a chilling backdrop to this disquieting story  in the remotest corner of the Earth.

After painstakingly setting up his camera to photograph the timid pre-teen bride Sara (Ether Vega) in a series of alluring poses that hint at salaciousness. Pedro is then forced to languish in an isolated cabin awaiting further instructions from Mr Porter, an increasingly evasive employe, who never actually appears. The contrast between this vast wilderness and the claustrophobic interiors and oppressive characters is the crux of this fascinating film which keeps us in suspense until a shocking finale.

Co-scripting with Samuel M. Delgado, Court vaguely hints at arthouse paedophilia in his characterisation of Pedro, a man who has possibly overstepped the mark in his growing obsession for an innocent bride. You could also say he was just an artist keen to do his best in fulfilling his creative brief, but there’s something unsavoury about it all.

White on White makes an uncomfortable watch during these slightly scabrous portrait scenes. Things become even more questionable when Pedro persuades Sara’s governess Aurora (Lola Rubio) to bring the girl for another photo session at dawn. And what follows is worse. From being a respectable outsider, Pedro gradually becomes trapped in this dystopian community of ranchers who have been tasked by the absentee landowner to build an encampment and enslave the Indigenous Selkham people. Pedro eventually finds himself engaged in a more sinister commission, that of immortalising their massacres for posterity at this ‘important time in history’, as Porter describes it.

Although the Selkham people are naturally horrified, Mr Porter believes his civilising influence is somehow an act of heroism. And the final scene contrasts the absurdity of Pedro’s obsession with the compositing his shot with the vile nature of his subject matter. White on White shares a common vein with Lucrecia Martel’s Zama, and there are also echoes of Juaja here in the surreal and scary backwater that refuses to yield its exotic power to the misguided marauders in its midst. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 30 JUNE 2021 | ORIZZONTI PRIZE Winner BEST DIRECTOR | FIPRESCI PRIZE 2019

 

Atlantis (2019) **** Venice Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Valentyn Vasyanovych; Cast: Andriy Rymaruk, Liudmyla Bileka. Sergiy Katya; USA/Ukraine 2019, 104 min.

This third feature by Ukranian director/writer DoP Valentyn Vasyanovych (Kredens) is a bleak dystopian fable set in contemporary Eastern Ukraine, where anti-hero Sergiy battles not only his PTSD, but also a poisoned environment – literally and figuratively.

Atlantis is a difficult film to watch, and remains seared to the memory as it plays out mostly without dialogue, the roaming camera telling us all we need to know. Vasyanovych avoids sentimentality, his courageous protagonists having to face up to a hellish existence which is not of their own making.

This apocalyptic thriller opens with five male holograms dancing around menacingly. Cut to a reality, and a war-ravaged landscape where the rivers have been poisoned by the Russians. Sergiy (Rymaruk) and his friend Ivan (Katya) work in a smelting furnace which is soon to close. Ivan is so depressed with the futility of his existence he jumps into the burning steel lava. Sergiy, feeling guilty about his friend’s death later burns himself with a hot iron in his decrepit studio room. Atlantis shows how the deep bonds of love and homeland can help us to endure the most appalling situations, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

After the factory is shut, Sergiy takes as job as a driver for a mobile water tank, providing fresh supplies for soldiers and state employees. He is warned it will take several decades to clear the unexploded mines but things look up when he meets para-medic Katya (Bileka) who is helping to identify the many corpses still littering the countryside. Her car has broken down, and Sergiy tows her vehicle to the nearest town where we witness an exhumation performed by two pathologists. The whole scene is one of the most difficult of the entire feature, the medics going painstakingly about their business painstakingly detailing the decaying bodies. Surprisingly (or not), Sergiy is not particularly hungry afterwards, buy while Katya tucks into her food, he offers to help her on his weeks off. This work is not for the faint-hearted and she has to help him to get over the shock of the gruesome finds. Another stroke of luck comes when he saves the life of a woman who tuns out to be an ecologist for a worldwide organisation, and offers him a job abroad, “to start a new life”. But however gruelling, he prefers working with Katya, and when their vehicle breaks down, the camera zooms in from the outside through the torrents of rain, showing two deeply affected people who slowly fall for each other, their feelings an antidote to the horror of war. Vasyanovich leaves us to draw our own conclusions about this deeply affecting but enigmatic feature: “This is like a reservation for people like us, it would be hard to live anywhere else.” AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 28 – 7 August 2019

     

London Film Festival 2019

The 63rd edition of the London Film Festival takes place in various venues across the city. The celebration opens on the 3rd of October with THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD and closes on the 13th with Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited drama THE IRISHMAN which will go to Netflix after a brief run on the big screen.

In a year where 60 percent of the films are directed or co-directed by women, the Official Competition line-up includes the following titles

THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 3-13 OCTOBER 2019

Psykosia (2019) Undiscovered festival gems

Dir.: Marie Grahto Sorensen | Cast: Lisa Carlehed, Victoria Carmen Sonne, Trine Dyrholm, Bebiane Ivalo Kreutzmann; Denmark/Finland 2019, 87 min.

Danish director/co-writer Marie Grahto had great success with her medium-length films, particularly Teenland. Her first feature film Psykosia, is an enigmatic story set in a psychiatric ward, where the limits of patient/doctor relationships are tested to the full.

When middle-aged Viktoria (Carlehed) enters a psychiatric institution ran by Dr. Anna Klein (Dyrholm) to help with a particular case, we can’t help finding the environment and the relationship between the two odd. The whole place has a distinct mid-twentieth century twist making it feel like a place lost in time.

Viktoria is a researcher specialising in suicide, but she has no clinical experience so it’s surprising that Dr. Klein employs her at all. The only patient Viktoria will look after is a teenage girl, Jenny Lilith (Viktoria Carmen Sonne of Holiday fame), who has a history of suicide attempts, and so far has allowed none of the therapists to come close to her.

Jenny is close to another patient, Zarah (Kreutzmann), the two of them have been hospitalised together on numerous occasions, and they even end up sharing a bath, the water turning red after Jenny slashed her arm. Jenny tells Viktoria “death is purity, in death you are free”. Their therapeutic sessions have also helped the women to bond, but one gets the impression this is due to transference, Viktoria trying to get to Jenny via self-disclosure, mentioning her own strict upbringing.

In a chapel, next to an enormous abandoned church, Viktoria tells Jenny “that psychoanalysis is a form of art, like this chapel. After Viktoria tries to hang herself on several occasions, claiming her thoughts of suicide “can be a comfort, keeping you alive”.

When Zarah commits suicide, Dr. Klein asks Viktoria to tell Jenny the truth, but the former is unwilling, not wanting to risk the therapeutic progress she has made with her patient. Dr. Klein, looking out of the window like a threatening Super-Ego, seems to will Viktoria to make the announcement, just before the denouncement of the mysterious conundrum.

There are many coded clues to what is going on here: Jenny’s full name is Lilith, a wanton woman in Jewish mythology; Anna Klein is an amalgamation of Anna Freud and Melanie Klein, founder and rivals of theories in child development. And certainly the closeness and identification between Viktoria and Jenny is a play on transference, used by analysts to get close to patients – but leaving them often helpless when patients use counter-transference to draw the analyst in.

Subtle and nuanced performances from a strong female cast, DoP Catherine Pattinama Coleman (part of an all-women crew) using her long takes in the institutional corridors to mesmerising effect, recalling the atmosphere in Kubrick’s The Shining. Music by Schubert (Der Leiermann) and the Francoise Hardy song Il est trop loin’ help to create an atmosphere of utter bewilderment, where the borders between reality and spirituality, patients and analysts are not the only things breaking down. Sheer genius. Shame the film is still waiting for a UK release. AS

PREMIERED Venice Film Festival 2019

Cat in the Wall (2019) **** Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir: Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova | Drama | 

Award-winning Bulgarian duo Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova are no strangers to controversy. Their popular award-winning documentary Uncle Tony, Three Fools and the Secret Service was widely condemned by the authorities for exposing the corrupt totalitarian regime in their homeland.

Undeterred, they have pushed on with another potential firecracker in the shape of Cat in the Wall, based on real events in a Peckham council estate as experienced by a professional Bulgarian single mother trying to make it in London. This English-language sink-estate drama playfully deals with inflammatory themes such a Brexit, gentrification and the pitfalls of home-owning through the endearing tale of a wayward cat who also reserves his right to roam into pastures new.

Irina Atanasova plays the main character Irina, an architect who has bought and renovated a council flat in a Peckham Estate where she lives with her young son Jojo (Orlin Asenov) and her brother Vlado (Angel Genov) a well-qualified historian who has turned his hand to installing Satellite dishes. Hoping to leave  the corrupt post communist set-up in Bulgaria to start a new life in Britain she soon discovers the grim reality of Britain.

Naturalistic performances from a cast of non-pros and experienced thespians and a refreshing script are the strengths of this light-hearted bit of social realism, piqued by dark humour. Utterly refusing to cow-tow to the usual Loachian style of Tory-bashing this film still exposes some uncomfortable truths in a storyline that builds quite a head of steam and some set-tos that make it tense but also thoroughly grounded in reality.

Irina, Vlado and Jojo inject a much-needed breath of fresh air into a hackneyed scenario, where they uncover the usual set-backs to living social housing – the urine-drenched lift is a classic example. But soon they find themselves face to face with a ginger tabby cat, but altering adopting for Jojo they are soon accused of animal theft by a neighbouring family.

As an educated immigrant who is well placed to comment on the Bulgaria and Brexit-Britain, Irina comes across as a sympathetic and thoroughly likeable, eking out an existence that sees her pitching for architectural schemes while supplementing her meagre salary with bar work. Meanwhile she notices how most of her neighbours are living on generous state benefits that make finding paid work nonsensical.

“I didn’t come here to be a leech,” says the politically-savvy Irina who may well prove unpopular with diehard socialists in the audience. The recent words of Trump also echo: ‘if she doesn’t like it she can go back home”. And then there is her little son Jojo who is trying to make the best of his rather isolated existence as an immigrant child with no local friends, who thinks he has found one in Goldie.

The directors maintain their distance, serving up all this near the bone controversy with such a lightness of touch that it is difficult to take offence in a social satire that mostly feels even-handed. The character of Irina’s neighbour Camilla is a case in point. Played by veteran actress Camilla Godard she brings a gentleness to her part as a drug-smoking depressive who, it later emerges, bought the cat as a present for her special needs granddaughter, another example of the more hapless denizens of the estate. And while we feel for Camilla she also conveys an ambivalence that somehow cuts both ways. We can sympathise but also condemn her. Cat in the Wall is a clever and highly enjoyable drama that really shines a light on some shadowy issues in the home we call ‘broken Britain’ . MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

Technoboss (2019) Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir: Joao Nicolau | Miguel Lobo Antunes | Portugal/France | Drama 112mins

Joao Nicolau’s musical bittersweet tragedy could be described as the sentimental swan song of a technophobe – quite literally. It witnesses the slow death of a salesman, but this Willy Loman is defiantly not going to give up without a struggle. Luis Rovisco (Lobo Antunes) is an endearing old buffer who is nearing retirement after dedicating his life to one company. His marriage is over so a paperback book keeps him company on lonely nights on the road, when he’s not bursting into impromptu bouts of song at every opportunity.

Naturally, he suffers the usual aches and pains of late middle age. And rather like Victor Meldrew he finds technology challenging to say the least: bank codes and car-parking barriers often get the better of him. But he’s no fool when it comes to dealing with old-fashioned paperwork and his verbal dexterity and negotiating skills serve him well and could run rings around many a digital native when it comes to servicing his clients.

Newcomer Miguel Lobo Antunes throws himself into the role with gusto and is totally unselfconscious in this inventive musical hybrid – which takes a bit of getting used to, and may not appeal to everyone with its slightly 1970s look. Although the film is overlong, Nicolau’s characterisation keeps us engaged because Luis feels like a real person – he may even be someone you know. His natural joie de vivre and charisma is infectious as the story wears on, Luis embodying the ideal salesman with his positive manner. And when he meets up again with a previous flame in the shape of a rather reluctant Lucinda (Luisa Cruz), who works in one of his regular haunts romance may even be on the cards again: If he can close any sale, let’s hope it’s this one. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | COMPETITION | 7 -17 AUGUST 2019

 

Maternal | Hogar (2019) Locarno Film Festival 2019 | Special Mention

Dir: Maura Delpero | With Lidya Liberman, Agustina Malale, Isabella Cilia, Alan Rivas, Livia Fernan, Marta Lubos, Renata Palminiello | Italy, Argentina | 91′

There are so many worthwhile features coming out of South America at the moment, particularly by women filmmakers, and Maternal is just one of them making its debut here at Locarno. With a cast of newcomers and a predominantely female crew, Delpero delicately explores the importance of secure start in life, and shows how this need not necessarily come from the birth mother.

Elegantly framed and quietly moving, Maura Delpero’s female centric story revolves around a group of frustrated teenage mums Lu and Fati who live in the calm confines of a religious shelter in Buenos Aires where novice Sister Paola has recently arrived from Rome to take her final vows.

Delpero quickly establishes the contrast between the lives of the nuns and their unruly counterparts who live upstairs. While the ‘morally loose’ girls have clearly fallen on hard times, and are unable to support their kids on their own, the nuns avoid judging them but are by now means easygoing, spending their time quietly in prayer, providing a stable environment where the kids can be looked after and given a Christian start in life. Pregnant Fati tries to keep herself to herself in the room she shares with the promiscuous tattooed Lu who has clearly gone off the rails and shows little interest in her adorable little daughter Nina. The other girls are vulgar, rowdy and competitive and although they are allowed to let off steam at ‘party nights’, they often come to blows which each other, to the exasperation of the nuns.

A bond soon develops between Nina and Paola who steps into to fill the maternal vacuum left by Lu’s absence – she is more interested in sexual exploits outside the Convent and leaves one night. Nina is very much in need of love and attention and a unsettling atmosphere gradually develops as she grows more attached to Sister Paola – now ordained – who has a moral obligation to stay neutral, particularly as Lu resents the growing closeness between the nun and her daughter when she returns.

As the story reaches its stunning denouement Delpero relies less and less on dialogue eliciting convincing naturalistic performances from her largely inexperienced cast. And the final scenes play out with extraordinary serenity given the brooding tension, as once again Sister Paola is put to the test. MT

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7 -17 AUGUST 2019  | SPECIAL MENTION AWARD

Instinct (2019) Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir: Halina Reijn | Cast: Carice van Houten, Marwan Kenzari, Betty Schuurman, Marie-Mae van Zuilen, Pieter Embrechts, Ariane Schluter, Maria Kraakman, Tamar van den Dop, Robert de Hoog, Juda Goslinga | Holland, Psychodrama 103′

In this vicious prison drama a hospital psychiatrist and a violent rapist score points off each other – but who is chasing whom? Not an original idea but a brilliant riff on sexual in a film holds you in its uncomfortable grasp and positively radiates their palpable chemistry right through to the fizzing finale. But crucially there is nothing titillating about what happens between them and many will find what happens between them difficult to watch.

In her debut the Dutch theatre actor turned director takes on a tricky theme – and it doesn’t always work out. Although we are led to believe that Nicoline has fallen for Idris (Kenzari), clearly the feelings are mutual, and the criminal has had a lifetime to hone his abusive skills, but animal attraction shoots from the hip, rather than the intellect.

It all kicks off when Nicoline (van Houten), a rather blasé prison therapist at the top of her game, arrives at the squeaky clean seaside internment centre to deal with the transitional parole of a convicted sex offender. Although she’s keen to get on with the assignment, you get the impression there is a void in her personal life: during the induction interview her gaze drifts off in the direction of a travel poster. Clearly she’s looking for something beyond her work – but what?

Sexual sparks fly when she meets her patient Idris. Maintaining a professional approach is clearly going to be difficult in the face of this potent attraction. It doesn’t help that her only bedfellow is her mother (Schurmann), who insists on sleeping with her when she stays over in the luxury flat Nicoline occupies alone. She’s a bit too touchy feely for comfort.

Idris (Kenzari) is a mercurial character, his cheeky grin belying a nasty temper. And Nicoline tunes into this and disagrees with the other staff about the merit of his impending release back into the community. In the stark and clinical rooms where the patient and doctor meet, Reijn relies on body language and atmosphere rather than dialogue to drive the intriguing narrative forward. But what little dialogue there is – crafted by writer Esther Gerritsen – works well. And Idris’ lines expertly written lines also convey the psychological buttons he is used to pushing to get the right reactions from Nicoline. Clearly he wants her, but he wants to punish her too, and his machievellian style is learned behaviour from childhood. We find out nothing of his past, or the exact nature of his crimes, Reijn focusing on the here and now in this intimately-drawn games of wits and wiles.

Kenzari has an easier role than van Houten and he plays it convincingly. For her, it’s more of a complex role, and one that requires a great deal of subtlety, yet the subtext of her emotional arc is easy to understand. She needs to internalise her feelings, yet keep them brewing under the surface, and van Houten does this with instinct. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | VARIETY PIAZZA GRANDE AWARD

 

The Candidate | El Reino (2018) **

Dir.: Rodrigo Sorogoyen; Cast: Antonio de la Torre, Barbara Lennie; Spain/France 2018, 121 min.

Even Antonio de la Torre can’t save this far-fetched, fast-talking made for TV crime thriller that eventually runs out of steam due to its outlandish lack of credibility. As the reprobate politician Manuel Lopez-Vidal, he tries to cover up for the embezzlement of a party college, but the fraud soon turns out to be just the tip of the iceberg – Lopez-Vidal himself has siphoned off much more public funding than anyone else in the party, and he’s soon unceremoniously dropped by his cronies. Sending his wife and daughter off to Canada, he invests their money to pay for information which will incriminate his party’s upper echelons. With his family out of the way, he then takes up with  an old flame, TV reporter Monica Lopez (Lennie), and takes it upon himself to do the dirty work, including murder. When he finally has all the proof of his party’s criminal involvement, he is interviewed by Lopez live on television, still trying to come across as the gentleman he never was. Sadly, The Realm is a story which has been told many times before and better, and the resonance with Scorsese’s Goodfellas is clear from the start. De La Torre is at his reptilian best as the arch villain, but we can’t quite see his fat-cat politician suddenly turning into an action man, and all the other characters are one-dimensional. Overall, The Realm is nothing more than an unremarkable B-picture, dressed up with slick production values.  AS

In cinemas and on HD from 2 August 2019

The Chambermaid (2018) ****

Dir: Lila Alviles | Cartol | Drama | Mexico | 90′

The Chambermaid plays the same thematic tune as two other festival winners this Summer: Golden Lion winner Roma and In A Distant Land which won the Golden Leopard at Locarno. They highlight the isolated and lonely lives of ordinary working people, often migrants – in this case, a Mexican national whose job in the capital detaches her from her loved ones. There is a distinct chilly humour to this acutely observed feature debut from Mexican actress, filmmaker and opera director Lila Alviles. It follows the daily grind of a hotel worker in one of the Mexico City’s 5 star hotels. Cartol (La Tirisia) plays Eve with infinite grace and good humour – in one astonishing scene she stands for seemingly ages outside a lift during one of those awkward silences – catching a hotel guest’s eye several times with an expression that speaks volumes.

Pristinely executed in the zen-like interiors of this palace of interior design, the film pictures an upmarket public as they often are behind the closed door of their luxury suites: ill-mannered, demanding and crude. Bereft of their clothes they also take leave of their humanity – never mind their courtesy. This is social politics laid bare. The Chambermaid also examines the crafty interactions between the low-level workers themselves: the cunning soft sales techniques of her colleague in the laundry who is trying to supplement her low-paid job by selling hand cream and Tupperware. Or just trying to con her into sharing the latest fad – in this case, a gadget that delivers a shock to stimulate a feel-good rush of endorphin. Like a some ghastly face to face equivalent of FarmVille.

The Chambermaid is set in Mexico City’s Presidente Intercontinental. Eve is hard-working and diligent, but if she tries harder she’ll be allocated the stratospheric, newly refurbished 42nd floor with views to die for and even infinity pools. Pinning her hopes on the promotion, she improves her efficiency but to no avail. The only bonus here is in the lost property cupboard. In one of her rooms Eve has found a red dress and hopes to take it home, if the owner doesn’t claim it. But her gruelling schedule leaves no time to be with her child, let alone meet a partner. Outwardly timid, Eve shows her true colours in one scene involving a window cleaner who has taken a shine to her – along with his windows. Eve acknowledges him at a distance. Her reaction is plausible – a little light relief in a sea of sameness. But Alviles restrains herself and keeps this convincing.

Stunningly captured by Carlos Rossini’s creative camerawork, this sealed and sanitised world has a strange beauty. Loosely based on the book Hotel, by Sophie Calle, The Chambermaid is a contemplative but well-paced cinema verité piece that resonates with a powerful message from both sides of the equation. Eve’s humdrum existence is piqued by moments of insight that show her in a different light as she endure the indignities of her role with calm forbearance and subdued silence. The magnificent skyscapes are hers to see but never to enjoy in her closeted existence, locked in an eternal bubble with no respite, until the final scene where the ambient sounds of exotic birdsong replace the refrigerated buzz of musak and air-conditioning.  MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Tenzo (2019) **** FID Marseille 2019

Dir.: Katsuya Tomita; Documentary with Chiken Kawaguchi, Ryugyo Kurashima; Japan 2019, 59 min.

Director/co-writer Katsuya Tomita (Bangkok Nights) finances his films from his sideline as a truck-driver although this seems counter intuitive to his latest – a portrait of two Zen Buddhist monks who have immersed themselves into community life after the Tsunami and Fukushima disasters.

In Zen temples, there are six prestigious posts – cooking, care, hospitality, attentiveness towards others and, more generally, the issue of community. Tenzo is the name of the position given to the person responsible for meals and Tomita film echoes this with is chapters named after flavours: “spicy”, “sweet” etc. The post incumbant must also teach important aspects of the doctrine.

The monks are called Chiken and Ryugyo. Both of them were deeply affected by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, and both of them decided to spend their lives serving their fellow countrymen and women. Chiken, teaches culinary practice as an art of living and devotes some of his time to working on a suicide prevention hotline. The other, Ryugyo, supports the earthquake victims in his own modest but very practical way.

But life in Japan has changed fundamentally since the Tsunami and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophes. Chiken and Ryyugyo are trying to follow the teachings of Dogen, who was the Dojo of the Soto Buddhist school. Dogen saw himself as a vessel of Buddha’s teaching, which should be practised every day for twenty-four hours. He asked his students to answer the question what is the best way to live this short life. Every second is precious. Eating meals is another way to practise Buddha’s teaching. But so is washing your face and going to the toilet. According to Dogen everything we do in life can teach us something. So he devised the titular Tenzo regimes, including an outline for the monk’s meal duties. Chiken lives now in a temple in Yamanashi and offers cooking classes, after having learned the importance of food, since his son Hiro has suffered from many food allergies. He is in charge of daily ceremonies, but also runs a suicide hotline. Ryugyo is working mainly as a construction worker, helping the community in Fukushima to rebuilt their lives after the twin disasters.     

The images of DoPs Takuma Fuuruya and Masahiro Mukoyama are ludic and transparent, like Dogen’s teachings. The lighting in the temple sequences is remarkable and otherworldly. On the other hand, the realism of the everyday life Chiken and Ryugyo are facing now is shown in all its hardship. Tenzo is surreal yet socially relevant, a small gem. AS

FID MARSEILLE | 9 -15 JULY 2019

The Last Autumn | Sidasta Haustio (2019) Bergamo Film Meeting

Dir.: Yrsa Roca Fannberg; Documentary with Ulfare Eyjolfsson, Oddny Snjolang Bordardottir; Iceland 2019, 78 min.

Icelandic writer/director Yrsa Roca Fannberg follows Salome with this thematically related story set in the Icelandic arctic ocean village of Norourfjordur where a couple are getting ready to sell their sheep. This is their last autumn on the farmland they have occupied all their lives, and their daughter and grandchildren, who live in Reykjavik, come and pay their final farewells.

The black and white footage of the opening sequences reflects their contented past, the rough landscape and the sea, making an imposing background where humans are dwarfed by mother nature. Soon we switch to colour and intimate domestic interiors where Ulfar and Oddny are listening to a radio broadcast about the ecological tragedy that led to the entire population of Iceland being evacuated to Denmark after a volcano eruption during the18th century.

The old sheep dog Loppa watches Ulfar bottle-feed two lambs. Later, he drives out to sea in his fishing boat coming back with a decent catch, then cutting wood to repair the barn wall – even though he knows very well that there will be no more sheep to shelter there. His daughter arrives on a small plane and they reminisce about the barn repairs: “It is beautiful to sustain life, even if it is not for yourself”.

This honest existence has been the mainstay of their lives together, but eventually the day arrives for them to round up the sheep. Loppa, his master and some other farmers go into the mountains to collect the animals, about 75 of them, herd them into the barn, and then huge travel containers. Ulfar seems to live in the past, his only contact with the outside world is the radio which brings news of those who have recently passed away. Afterwards Ulfar gives his granddaughter a ride on the tractor regaling her with an old fairy tale about Vera, a woman who fell down the cliffs.

Focusing on long panoramic panning shots, and connecting with the narrative of surviving communities and rural existence this is a melancholic journey. Carlos Vasquez’ images focus on the close interaction of humans and nature, showing that animals are far more intelligent than we often give them credit for. The relationship between Ulfare and his dog is particularly close. Dialogue is sparing reflecting the importance of action and reflection rather than ideas. Fannberg handles this slow-burner with care and patience, every shot has a function – an enchanting portrait of another disappearing world. AS

BERGAMO FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | KARLOVY VARY 2019 PREMIERE

In Fabric (2018) ****

Writer/Director: Peter Strickland | Cast: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Gwendoline Christie, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Julian Barratt, Leo Bill, Fatma Mohamed, Richard Bremmer | Horror | UK | 118′

Peter Strickland follow-up to his lesbian frolic The Duke of Burgundy is a sinister 1970s sartorial satire which gets sillier the more it wears on. This fourth bizarre entry is another of those richly entertaining and quirkily fascinating films we’ve come to expect from the British director, now at the top of his game.

A dress is the antiheroine of IN FABRIC. Vampishly voluptuous in scarlet silk and satin, it is a garment to die for, and that is both a blessing and a curse for those who slip it on. For the dress in question possesses strange qualities that no-one can vanquish, because no-one is clever enough to interpret its power. This dense but simply plotted Giallo-inspired erotic thriller conjures up dread, horror and even disgust through its inventive visual aesthetic, and a signature atmospheric soundtrack that recalls Berberian Sound Studio and channels the bizarre human obsessions of sales shopping and stag nights.

It all starts in Dentley & Soper’s fashion emporium back in the day where the January sales were a post Christmas bonanza. In a choppy collage of archive photos of garish retro ad campaigns, Strickland quickly establishes the furore of price slashes and the adrenaline rush of queue barging – the public baying for bargains in anticipation of the fray, long before couch-based internet shopping saw daily discounts.

Marianne Jean-Baptiste plays 50 year old Sheila who’s back on the dating scene, through the small ads – fraught with weirdos, even back then. Sheila is sick and tired of her teenage son’s in-house love-ins with Gwendoline Christie’s woman twice his age, so under the spiky guidance of a crinoline sporting sales woman (Fatma Mohamed speaking in Romanian-accented riddles) she is tempted and then urged to buy ‘the dress’.

Although her date is a disaster, strange things start to happen to Sheila once she gets the red dress which takes on a slinky life of its own, hovering over her bed at night and causing her washing machine to self-combust. The garment’s next owner (Leo Bill) gets to wear it at his stag party, and the next morning his irritating wife (Hayley Squires) takes a fancy to it too and rapidly develops a skin rash. Meanwhile, in the backroom after hours, Fatma Mohamed turns weird and witchy, wearing a wig and wickedly caressing her shop mannequins to the erotic delight of the Dracula-like manager Mr Lundy (Richard Bremmer). The humour lies in the contrast between the banal and the bizarrely erotic – or just plain weird. Images of sumptuously stewing peppers in Sheila’s kitchen give way to those of sexy underwear in her son’s bedroom; Julian Barratt’s hilarious turn as Sheila’s boss is as cliched as Fatma Mohamed’s grotesque Victorian vendeuse is uncanny.

The sad hope that a mere garment will satisfy in our human need to be loved and unique (and if not, recycled to the next person) is echoed in the film’s themes of obsession, superficiality and consumerism. Sidse Babett Knudsen, the submissive lover in The Duke of Burgundy, is revealed as the dress’s original owner, who modelling the garment in the shop’s catalogue, under the lofty spiel: “ambassadorial function dress, canapé conversation” – a promise that aspires more to James Bond rather than the Thames Valley. But by the time the victims begin to realise that the dress is damned, it’s already too late. And as much as we aspire to creating a good impression, we’re also guilty of judging a book by its cover. Meanwhile Peter Strickland will be saying at the Q&A: “the film means nothing, I was just having a bit of fun”. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 28 JUNE 2019

Karlovy Vary Film Festival | 28 June – 6 July 2019

Set in the peaceful charm of the former Bohemia, Karlovy Vary was once known as Marienbad. The annual Film Festival is one of the oldest and most prestigious in the World dating back to 1946. It is backed by the Ministry of Culture and hosted by the Grand Hotel Pupp. But most of the screenings take place in the Brutalist concrete Hotel Thermal which has now become somewhat of an iconic tribute to the country’s years under Communism. 

The 54th edition has unveiled the first competition titles in the Official Selection, East of the West and Documentary sections. Twelve films with compete for coveted Crystal Globe – 10 world premieres and two international premieres.

Cambodian-born, UK director Hong Khaou will be there to present his follow-up to the rather delicate LGBTQ drama  debut Lilting, (2014). Monsoon stars Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) whose return to Vietnam is a stressful homecoming. Chinese director Zhai Yixiange’s Mosaic Portrait also joins the line-up along with a psychological drama Lara from German director Jan Ole Gerster and Martha Stephens’ black and white coming of age 1960s-set drama To the Stars. Slovenia’s Damjan Kozole, who won Best Director 2016 for Nightlife, returns with Half-Sister; and the competition also features a Chilean comedy Sci-fi from Felipe Ríos The Man From The Future and a Spanish drama from Jonas Trueba’s August Virgin. Patrick is the first film from Belgium’s Tim Mielants in a comedy drama starring Jan Bijvoet (Embrace of the Serpent). Turkey’s Kivanc Sezer’s La Belle Indifference adds more fun to the competition line-up.

OFFICIAL SELECTION – COMPETITION

The Father (Bul-Gre) – World premiere
Director: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov

Patrick / Patrick (Bel) – World premiere
Director: Tim Mielants

The Man from the Future (Chi) – World premiere
Director: Felipe Ríos

La Belle Indifference (Tur) – World premiere
Director: Kıvanç Sezer

Lara (Ger) – World premiere
Director: Jan Ole Gerster

Mosaic Portrait (Chi) – World premiere
Director: Yixiang Zhai

Monsoon (UK) – World premiere
Director: Hong Khaou

Let There Be Light (Slo-Cze) – World premiere
Director: Marko Škop

Ode to Nothing (Phi) – International premiere
Director: Dwein Baltazar

Half-Sister (Slo-Mac-Ser-Cro) – World premiere
Director: Damjan Kozole

To the Stars (USA) – International premiere
Director: Martha Stephens

The August Virgin (Spa) – World premiere
Director: Jonás Trueba

EAST OF THE WEST

The East of the West brings the creme de la creme of East European films to the wooded Czech town and its usually very strong with some promising debut. This year opens with a Kosovan feature debut from Lendita Zeqiraj. Highlights this year include Ukrainian director Antonio Lukich’s  My Thoughts Are Silent, Kosovo director Lendita Zeqiraj’s female centric drama, Aga’s House, and Serhat Karassian’s Turkish prison drama, Passed by Censor.

Last Visit (Sau) – World premiere
Director: Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan

Arrest (Rom) – International premiere
Director: Andrei Cohn

The Bull (Rus) – International premiere
Director: Boris Akopov

Passed by Censor (Tur) – International premiere
Director: Serhat Karaaslan

Silent Days (Slo-Cze) – World premiere
Director: Pavol Pekarčík

Mamonga (Ser-Bos-Mon) – World premiere
Director: Stefan Malešević

My Thoughts Are Silent (Ukr) – World premiere
Director: Antonio Lukich

Nova Lituania (Lit) – World premiere
Director: Karolis Kaupinis

Aga’s House (Kos-Cro-Fra-Alb) – World premiere
Director: Lendita Zeqiraj

Scandinavian Silence (Est-Fra-Bel) – European premiere
Director: Martti Helde

A Certain Kind of Silence (Cze-Net-Lat) – World premiere
Director: Michal Hogenauer

Zizotek (Gre) – World premiere
Director: Vardis Marinakis

DOCUMENTARY FILMS – COMPETITION

The 11-strong documentary strand features eight world premieres. Highlights will include Spoon (of the plastic variety) from Latvian filmmaker Laila Pakalnina; Over The Hills from award-winning Czech documentarian Martin Mareček (Solar Eclipse). and Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11 with archive footage from Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong.

17 Blocks (USA) – European premiere
Director: Davy Rothbart

Apollo 11 (USA) – Czech premiere
Director: Todd Douglas Miller

The Fading Village (China) – World premiere
Director: Liu Feifang

Over the Hills (Cze) – World premiere
Director: Martin Mareček

Up to Down (Ita) – World premiere
Director: Nazareno Manuel Nicoletti

In the Arms of Morpheus (Net) – World premiere
Director: Marc Schmidt

Spoon (Lat, Nor, Lit) – World premiere
Director: Laila Pakalniņa

Confucian Dream (Chi) – European premiere
Director: Mijie Li

Projectionist (Ukr-Pol) – World premiere
Director: Yuriy Shylov

The Last Autumn (Ice) – World premiere
Director: Yrsa Roca Fannberg

Immortal (Est-Lat) – World premiere
Director: Ksenia Okhapkina

Official Selection – Out of Competition

Mystify: Michael Hutchence (Aus) – European premiere
Director: Richard Lowenstein

Old-Timers (Cze) – World premiere
Director: Martin Dušek, Ondřej Provazník

The True Adventures of Wolfboy (USA) – World premiere
Director: Martin Krejčí

Special Events

The Sleepers (Cze) – World premiere
Director: Ivan Zachariáš

Forman vs. Forman (Cze-Fra)
Director: Helena Třeštíková, Jakub Hejna

Jiří Suchý – Tackling Life with Ease (Cze) – World premiere
Director: Olga Sommerová

The Downfall of the Secluded Berhof (Cze)
Director: Jiří Svoboda

Karlovy Vary INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 28 JUNE – 7 JULY 2019 

Lillian (2019) **** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Andreas Horvath; Cast: Patrycja Planik, Chris Shaw, Albert Lee; Austria 2019, 130 min.

Austrian filmmaker Andreas Horvath (Earth’s Golden Playground) has restaged the journey of the real Lillian Alling, who in 1926/27 tried to walk all the way from New York to her homeland country Russia. Debutant Patrycja Planik plays the gritty modern day heroine, who crosses the sub-continent without saying a single word.

We meet Patrycja, a woman in her early thirties, when she gives her photos to an ‘adult’ film producer, who declines the offer. “These are photos for modelling, we do hard core, your visa has run out and you don’t speak English”. In the background we see graphic examples of his trade, they could be straight out of one the documentaries of the feature’s producer Ulrich Seidl. “Go back to Russia” is the producers advise, and Patrycja takes him by his word. She breaks into a house near New York, finds a map and a huge jar with cheese balls, and sets off for her journey across he USA and Canada. When her shoes are ruined in a stream, she steals a pair from one of the many flea markets she visits, as well as from an abandoned laundrette. She sleeps in dilapidated houses and odd dwellings on the way.  She even manages to bed down in drainage pipes and under viaducts, greeted in the morning by stray cats. Scavenging for food, she steals a watermelon and eats pizza from a garbage can, and joins the kids in picking up sweets from the 4th of July parade. Hardly anybody bothers her: she looks so needy and poor, nearly always flying under the radar.

There are two encounters which are stand out: In Iowa she accosted by an elderly would-be rapist (Shaw), who chases her in vain across a corn field. Alone again, she steals a scarecrow’s shirt. In Nebraska, a sheriff (Lee) picks her up for vagrancy and treats her like a hardened criminal: she has to put her hands on the hood of his car, whilst he searches the meagre content of her bag. Later he relents, even giving her his warm sheriff’s jacket. This is the only kindness she ever experiences, before he drives her to the boundary of his county.

Whilst the landscape is breath-taking beautifully, Trump’s heartland seems emotionally dead. Somehow time has stood still in the mid-Fifties of the last century. Most people have fled to the cities, the remainers adamant to keep to the lifestyle of the era long gone by. We watch a parody of a rodeo, and a demolition derby with cars who were unfit to drive even a century ago. There are lots of religious slogans everywhere: “Smile, your Mum chose life” or “Where is your family?”. Instead of mobiles, old-fashioned two-way walky-talkies are still en vogue. After a hail storm, which she survives in an ambulant toilet, Patrycja again freshens her wardrobe up in a cloth donation bank.

Her journey comes to an end at the Yuka river, were she tries in vain to drag a canoe into the river, to continue her journey. This enigmatic ending works well with an allegoric story about men and whales: we never find out who Patrycja really is, there is no background, just a very very determined young woman, bashing on again and again with a spirited resistance to nature and everyone she meets: untouched through her ordeal, like a woman who fell from the sky.

Horvath’s photography is always dazzling, accompanied by a sparse musical score to replace the dialogue, which never materialises. Lillian is a triumph of a spirited, enigmatic women, wandering through a society, where emotions and ideas have long died.  AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | QUINZAINE DES REALISATEURS

 

 

It Must Be Heaven (2019)

Dir/Wri: Elia Suleiman | Cast: Elia Suleiman, Tarik Kopti, George Khleifi, Nael Kanj, Gregoire Colin, Vincent Maraval, Stephen McHattie, Gael Garcia Bernal | Comedy 97′

Best known for Chronicle of a Disappearance (2009), and Divine Intervention (2002) actor and filmmaker Elia Suleiman uses a blend of burlesque and sobriety in this droll observational comedy set in his native Nazareth, Paris and New York.

There is no narrative to speak of here, just a series of amusing vignettes plucked from everyday life epitomising the sheer ridiculousness of the ‘new normal’ in our increasingly paranoid world.

The common threads that run through this calming rather meditative feature focus on police harassment and surveillance, and weird behaviour of the general public. It’s a less stylised version of Roy Anderson’s cinema style. As the serene star of the show Suleiman conveys all this with a lightness of touch and elegant framing that brings out the life’s banality in all its glory.

The opening scene in Nazareth follows a solemn Easter procession of Orthodox faithful towards a some sacred wooden doors that are supposed to open at the priest’s command. Sadly, the people on the receiving end decide not to play ball, and we watch the priest give them merry hell from the other entrance, removing his mitre to facilitate his angry tirade. .

Arriving in Paris, Elia gawps at the beautiful girls from the safety of a pavement cafe. Having coffee the next day, police arrive and measure the place up, to make sure it conforms to government guidelines. Thankfully it does, and they depart poker-faced. On the way back to his apartment, a strange muscle-man stares at him disconcertingly in the metro, before performing a regular routine with a beer can. Back in his apartment, Elia looks out of the window to see three police officers inspecting a parked car, their choreographed movements on ridiculous electric scooters, are a recurring comedy motif throughout.

The next day, Elia runs into two Japanese tourists who ask if he’s ‘Brigitte”. Although this seems an innocent question on their part, the irony of the situation is clearly lost in translation, and they interpret his walking quietly away with bewilderment.

One of the best scenes involves a meeting with a film producer that is both polite, euphemistic and ironic – given the situation. Elia then runs into his friend Gael Garcia Bernal, played by the Mexican star himself. But his attempts to introduce Elia to a female producer ends abruptly: “It’s a comedy about peace in the Middle East,” says Bernal. “That’s already funny,” she replies without really thinking. In New York the mood turns more hostile. Everyone seems to be carrying guns, even the women. His Palestinian identity is greeted with either genuine amusement, or hostile suspicion.

This cinematic gem works it lowkey magic, Sofian El Fani’s widescreen camera allowing us to take in the big picture, on a global scale in pastel long takes. Uncluttered by trivia, the message is even more meaningful, Suleiman’s simple yet resonant musings are a joy to behold. MT

NOW ON RELEASE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | FIPRESCI PRIZE WINNER | MAY 2019

Once in Trubchevsk (2019) ** Un Certain Regard | Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir: Larisa Sadilova | Comedy Drama | Russia 80′

In her chronicle of life in a Russian village Larisa Sadilova has tried to integrate ethnographical elements with a predictable story of marital discontent. The result is rather a lightweight comedy drama that sits uncomfortably in its wonderful rural setting, trivialising the community’s more interesting past.

Feint echoes of Andrey Konchalovsky’s impressive village drama Postman’s White Nights (2014) rapidly fade away within the opening scenes – this is a beast of a different colour, and not nearly as resonant or memorable.

The story unfolds during a year in Trubchevsk on Russia’s Western border with Europe, known for its Jewish craftsmen who fled or were massacred in 1941, along with the old and mentally ill. Buxom blond knitwear designer Anna (Kristina Schneider) is unhappily married to Yura (Yury Kisilyov) with a young daughter. She relies on hitchhiking in passing vehicles to ply her trade in the nearby towns. One day she jumps aboard her neighbour’s lorry and one thing leads to another.

This a place full of gossip and bored housewives. But Anna (Kristina Schneider) manages to keep her affair undercover for a time. Her long distance truck driver lover (Egor Barinov) keeps promising to leave his wife Tamara (Maria Semyonova) and their son, but hopes he can have his cake and eat it (“everything will work out”), so they find somewhere to conduct the affair, renting an idyllic wooden house from an old lady who shares stories of how she dealt with her own difficult marriage and this provides a source of humour in the otherwise facile story: (“keep your mouth full of water, then you won’t say too much”).

Anna’s unsuspecting husband believes that away on work trip to Moscow, but when her lover’s truck breaks down, events come to a head. Sadilova exposes the sad nativity of some marital affairs. Consumed with their lust for each other, the two haven’t really thought things through. The only wise women are the village elders who at least have the upper hand in the family, the younger ones are spirited but lack the independence to really follow their dreams, and they still pander to the males, making them rather sad and unfulfilled.

All this plays out against a far more important story, Trubchevsk’s preparations to mark the 75th anniversary of the town’s liberation from the Nazis. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | UN CERTAIN REGARD 2019

 

 

 

 

 

The Wild Goose Lake (2019) *** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir: Diao Yinan | Cast: Hu Ge, Gwei Lun Mei, Laio Fan, Wan Quian, Qi Dao, Huang Jue, Zheng Meihuizi, Zhang Yicong, Chen Yongzhong | China 113′

Chinese writer-director Diao Yinan’s long-awaited follow up to Berlinale winner Black Coal, Thin Ice is a beautiful and beguiling crime caper that somehow fails to deliver the thrills it promises, rather like the bathing beauties who seduce and tease on the murky shores of the Wild Goose Lake of its setting.

This enjoyable and elegantly styled noir thriller is certainly awash with wonderful set-pieces and exquisite visual moments which skilfully echo China’s gilded past and leave us in no doubt of its contempo criminality and territory wars. The enigmatic plot involves a sinuous gangster Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge) on the run from his own mob and the local police, one of whom he shot by accident in a frenzy-fuelled bike escapade along the lake, near the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Sashaying between various timeframes The Wild Goose Lake follows Zenong as he meets up with  with Liu Aiai (Gwei Lun Mei/Black Coal, Thin Ice) one of the bathing beauties (sex workers) who works for his boss, and may have been sent to help him. But the police have also set a ransom on his head so Liu Aiai may be tempted to turn him in.

The two chase through narrow streets and backwaters, Zenong on the run from everybody, including his shop worker wife Yang Shujun (Wan Qian), and Liu Aiai pursuing him in a chase that turns out also to be fuelled by lust. Eventually she catches up with him in a languorous lakeside scene where Zenong is lounging in a becalmed boat, bleeding profusely from his wounds. She seduces him and spits his semen out into the water, from then on the two are close allies. Swinging through the backstreets and side alleys, Dong Jinsong’s fast-moving camerawork skilfully captures the neon drenched ambiance. One scene features dancers rocking to the 70s disco hit “Rasputin” their LED-lit trainers adding a jewel-like dimension to the night setting.

But these are Noirish nights and there’s no happy ending in sight for the lovers as they rush from scene to scene. The Wild Goose Lake is at heart a wild and beautiful goose chase between the cops, the crooks, a gangster on the run and his femme fatale. But when did Noir thrillers ever have a happy ending? MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | IN COMPETITION 14-25 MAY 2019

 

The Orphanage (2019) **** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Sharbanoo Sadat; Cast: Quodrattolah Quadri,  Ahmed Fayaz Osmani, Hasibukkah Rasooli, Eshanullah Kharoti, Anwar Hashimi, Asadullah Kabiri; Den/Ger/France/ Lux/Afghanistan 2019, 90 min. 

Writer/director Sharbanoo Sadat (29) won the Quinzaine Main Prize in 2016 for her debut feature Wolf and Sheep, as well as CICAE-Festival Award for “most daring feature”. Born in Tehran, she grew up in a remote village in Afghanistan, that forms the setting of her feature debut, after studying documentary filmmaking in Kabul; The Orphanage is part of a planned quintology based on the diaries of her friend Anwar Hashimi.

Kabul 1989 is under Soviet rule, but teen-cousins Qudrat (Quadri) and Fayaz (Osmani are not really that worried about politics. Qudrat, a Bollywood fan, dreams about becoming a famous actor and the boys make some money selling scalped cinema tickets. Finally, their luck runs out and they land up in a Russian orphanage. There they immediately turn their attentions to the girls in their class, and even the female teachers. Instead of listening to the teacher, Qudrat dreams himself into the role of a heroic lover impressing his beautiful girlfriend – no other than the girl sitting in front of him in class. In his dorm, Fayaz is “christened” ‘Redhead’ by Eshan (Kharoti), the main bully on the block. Meanwhile Eshan’s best friend Asad (Kabiri) steals a new T-shirt and shoes from a much younger boy. The two are then confronted by the supervisor (Hashimi), who stands up for the younger boys. Love-sick Qudrat meanwhile somehow gets into the Deputy Headmistress’s bedroom, while she is asleep. The whole orphanage then heads off to Moscow, to spend time with a ‘Pioneer’ Group. The main focus of the trip is to interest the boys in Soviet ideology by visiting Lenin’s Tomb. But the kids are much more interested in the Pioneer girls. After their return to Kabul, Hasib (Rasoli) and some of his friends find an overturned Soviet tank. They steal bullets, Hasib has a tragic accident when of them explodes. Fayaz comes down with a mystery illness, and is transferred to a psychiatric ward, where he eventually recovers. Eshan challenges one of the younger boys to a chess game, but turns violent when he loses, and the antics eventually come to a head and Eshan is expelled. When the Mujahidin advance on Kabul, Hashimi asks the boys to burn all written material in the courtyard. An impressive finale sees Qudrat again in “cinema mode”, this time in a musical, singing “Death is our Lover”, whilst defending Hashimi from the violent Islamic State soldiers.

Shooting in Tajikistan, DoP Virginie Surdej is able to turn Sadat’s overflowing imagination into stunning images. Qudrat’s wonderfully anarchic “cinema stunts” are brilliant, and the interactions of the boys with their Russian teachers is equally impressive in their subtlety. The ensemble cast is convincing, and Sadat’s untamed approach is a refreshing change from the calculated story-telling in so many films nowadays. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Quinzaine des Réalisateurs 2019

                           

Le Daim (Deerskin) 2019

Dir: Quentin Dupieux | Cast: Jean Dujardin, Adêle Haenel, Albert Delpy, Pierre Commé | Comedy Drama, France 77′

The apparel doth oft proclaim the man, says Polonius and the apparel in Quentin Dupieux’s new film Deerskin doth certainly proclaim Jean Dujardin’s Georges pretty oft.  We first meet Georges in that typical midnight-of-the-soul location: a motorway service station. He is feeling a sudden contempt for his corduroy jacket, trying to stuff it down the toilet. Apparently in the immediate aftermath of a marital breakdown, Georges splurges a huge sum on a second hand 100% deerskin jacket with tassels. Not since Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread has a man been so taken with a sartorial item. Georges’ new jacket is tight for him and weird, and yet he’s so excited about being the height of what he calls “killer style”.

Holing up in a remote mountain hotel, Georges starts to film his jacket with a camcorder (thrown in as part of the jacket deal) and hold conversations with the garment with Dujardin doing both voices. On one level, Georges seems like a pitiable middle-aged man in the midst of a crisis: his bank account is frozen; his wife tells him he no longer exists and he even resorts to eating out of a bin. And yet Georges is armoured by his own delusions which quickly turn psychotic. Befriending a local bartender Denise (the ubiquitous Adêle Haenel), he convinces her he is making a film, which gels with her own ambition to be an editor. But the filmmaking pose is only a way toward securing his more ambitious goal – a dream he vocally shares with his jacket – of eliminating all other jackets; and therefore all other jacket wearers.

It is testament to Dupieux’s skill and the utter commitment of his two leads that Georges madness somehow feels grounded in an ordinary world. And yet it’s a world of ordinary madness. There are no police around and no consequences to the violence, even though Georges doesn’t seem to be hiding the bodies. In fact, he’s filming the killings and Denise is onboard, enthused enough by the footage to start financing the movie herself. Albeit occasionally dense – he doesn’t seem to understand computers – Georges has a fiendish talent for improvisation and the same could be said of the film. Its twists and turns, its toying with expectation, keep the shuttlecock of lunacy airborne long enough for Georges to get himself kitted out with more deerskin products and the movie to turn in some hilarious moments of violence.

Although more recently seen as a straight dramatic actor Haenel has proven comedy chops and she makes Denise both a credible foil and accomplice to Georges. But the power of the movie comes with Dujardin’s performance, which is detailed and astute, comic and unnerving. Dujardin shows Georges to be a vain preening man – he asks women in a bar if they were talking about his jacket – who demands attention and insecurely needs to be the boss. It’s like he’s playing American Psycho via David Brent.

The film is a portrait of toxic masculinity weirdly stripped of its most common denominator: misogyny. Georges doesn’t care for anyone except himself and his jacket. Deerskin is a reductio ad absurdum of male obsession and vanity and it is all done in “Killer Style”.  John Bleasdale

NOW IN CINEMAS | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Quinzaine des Réalisateurs

Solo (2019) *** ACID at Cannes 2019

Dir: Artemio Benki | Doc France/Czech Rep/Arg/Austria

Psychologists have identified strong links between creativity and mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and even schizophrenia. Some of our most famous writers, artists and musicians have suffered from mental instability: Virginia Woolf was dogged by depression, Ernest Hemingway committed suicide after treatment, Robert Schumann died in a mental home and even Steven Fry admitted to bi-polar when he famously walked away from a role on the London stage.

Producer and director Artemio Benki explores mental affliction in his serene and sensitive documentary screening in the ACID sidebar at Cannes this year. Solo centres on Martín P. a young Argentinean piano virtuoso and composer who has been receiving treatment for his breakdown four years ago as a patient in the controversial psychiatric hospital of El Borda, the largest and most noted of its kind in Latin America. As a child Martin was hailed a musical genius and went on to be the most talented composer of his generation. But for the past four year he has been struggling to get back to the concert stage while composing his latest work Enfermaria. Solo tells his unique yet relatable story, his fight with creativity and his obsession with being the best in a world where perfection and talent require confidence and persistence to thrive. Martin’s essential focus is to find that safe place between ‘insanity’ and ‘normality’ so he can move on and develop his career and his life. MT

SCREENING IN ACID Sidebar | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019

 

Heroes Don’t Die (2019) **** Semaine de la Critique 2019

Dir.: Aude Léa Rapin; Cast: Couzinè Haenel, Antonia Buresi, Jonathan Couzinè, Hasija Boric, Vesna Stilinovic; France, Belgium, Bosnia Herzegovina 2019, 85 min.

Aude Léa Rapin’s feature debut drama is certainly a unique undertaking. Led by a terrific performance from Adele Haenel (The Unknown Girl) it explores re-incarnation, hope and forgiveness to deliver a passionate conclusion amid the emotional ruins of war.

The films opens with Joachim (Jo) (Couzinè) bursting into the Parisian apartment of his filmmaker friend Alice (Haenel), to report that he might be the reincarnation of a solider who died in Bosnia in August 1983 –  Joachim’s own birthday. Or at least that’s what he has just been told by a man on the street corner. It soon emerges that Alice has spent a long time looking into the aftermath of the Balkan crisis which led to the breakup of Yugoslavia. But she’s not convinced about Joachim’s claims, or his ‘nightmares’ about his military past. Jo is adamant that these are no ordinary bad dreams. So Alice packs her filmmaking equipment and sets off with her sound designer Antonia (Buresi) to Sarajevo, hoping to find a basis for Jo’s former identity as Zoran Tadic, only to discover that the tragedy is by no means over.

On entering the suburbs, they find the mass graves of the victims, with new bodies buried in small coffins – the identifications of victims still going on – often more than 8000 civilians were killed per day. Alice accuses Jo of having made it all up, but then she remembers that a cardiologist did say that Jo could die at any moment after his 35th birthday due to a chronic heart condition. They meet one of Alice’s former sources who takes them to the – now – dilapidated bob sleigh track, used at the Sarajevo Olympics in 1984. They learn, that the track was once the frontline between the two war factions. Later they meet Hajra (Boric), another of Alice’s acquaintances from her war time reporting. And soon she discovers that a beekeeper living on the outskirts of the town of Brutonac, had a husband called Zoran Tadic, who was a soldier in the war. Here the finale is both devastating and breath-taking.

This is a moody, enigmatic drama touched by eternal sadness and Haenel keeps it all together as the deus ex machina of this experiment in poetry, essay and history lesson all rolled in to one. In the end, the audience has to decide if re-incarnation is simple a device for escaping from our sins.AS

SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019      

Go Where You Look! Falling off Snow Mountain (2019) Directors’ Fortnight 2019

Dirs: Laurie Anderson, Hsin-Chien Huang Virtual Reality Creation | US/China

Anderson and Hsin-Chien collaborate in three virtual reality installations presented together for the very first time at this year’s  Quinzaine.

If you’ve not experienced virtual reality it really is a transformative experience: Rather like diving you enter a whole new world, but with VR you can’t actually see your body during the process.

Laurie Anderson is a musician, filmmaker, writer, digital arts creative pioneer and, ultimately, a storyteller in the broadest sense. She discovered VR only recently and her new way of exploring narrative territories is a good way to start. New media artist Hsin-Chien Huang, who has a background in in art, design, and digital entertainment. His VR collaboration with Laurie Anderson was awarded the Best VR Experience in at Venice Film Festival in 2017. But they first worked together in 1995 on the CD-ROM Puppet Motel. 

AloftChalkroom and To the Moon, are three poetically linked and complementary pieces presented together, and each lasting around fifteen minutes. The sensory, poetic and technological dimensions of these three pieces are tightly intertwined and and considerably amplify our cinematic experience, and this one takes place in Le Suquet morgue, just to add a  surreal twist to the proceedings.

Rocking a very soigné Issy Miyake rigout, Anderson explains that there are no cameras or lenses involved in Go Where You Look and it all feels very physical and interactive, as the audience very much influence the outcome of each tour. You sit on a stool, pop on a headset and the show takes off. 

ALOFT is the nearest thing to experiencing a place crash – in the most serene way possible. As the sole passenger in the airline you begin to notice some shafts of light appearing in the ceiling and floor near the cockpit. Gradually the plane starts to fall apart, in a gentle way. Suddenly you’re floating in your seat towards what looks like a town with to connected rivers. The black box floats by, and soon other objects come into view and float by as you head towards a luminous vortex. If you grab them with your gloves paws, Laurie’s voice then tells a story. There’s a lily, a mobile ‘phone and a lump of coal. If you snatch the coal it turns out to be Mars and soon you’re hovering above the Martian landscape. A typewriter appears and you can write your name as the letters floats high up into the black stratosphere. Other experiences include a placid lake. Your hands soon turn into horses legs. 

TO THE MOON uses images and tropes from Greek mythology, literature, science, sci fi space mo- vies and politics to create an imaginary and dark new moon, and a more formal narrative structure. During the 15-minute VR experience, you take off from Earth and soar up towards the blackness which then becomes the surface of the Moon. The eeriest thing is being able to see Earth revolving with Europe stretching before you. You can then climb a lunar mountain before returning – eventually – to Earth, your two handsets guiding you forward, or even speeding you up. You see the Constellations, the Great Bear etc evaporating before your eyes. In Snow Mountain you actually climb the mountain before your virtual body dramatically tumbles away into deep space, Laurie Anderson’s voice chanting about not knowing where we all came from. In the Donkey Ride you the viewer trot along on the back of a donkey through the lunar landscape. Eventually you float up and away into a universe of stars that begins to explode like fireworks.

Certainly different and worth experiencing. Maybe one day virtual reality will be able to re-create experiences that are more personalised. For example you could embark on a world tour, or even be united with a long lost lover or a a friend of family member who has passed on. MT

QUINZAINE | 15 -24 May 2019 | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019  

 

Float like a Butterfly (2018) ***

Dir: Carmel Winters | Drama | Ireland | 104′

Carmel Winters second feature is a poetic and gorgeously redolent coming of age drama set in the Emerald Isle of the 1960s where a young Irish Traveller has to contend with the death of her mother and an abusive father as she follows her dream of becoming a boxer like her idol Muhammad Ali.

Hazel Doupe gives a stunning performance as tomboy Hazel whose daily life in a wooden caravan with her younger brother and wayfarer father Michael (Dara Devaney) is fraught with altercations not only with the local Garda but also members of this feisty family and their old-fashioned attitudes towards gender roles that hamper her own natural pugilist talents.

With its universal themes Float Like A Butterfly has the rare quality of being utterly relevant today and yet quaintly traditional, its placid pacing capturing the slow-burning essence of a bygone era. Auteuse Carmel Winters’ writing and directing has a distinct lightness of touch which brings both gentleness and integrity to her storytelling. This is a drama that glows with the lush beauty of its verdant Irish setting untrammelled by time and enlivened by stirring folk music, suddenly catching fire in its final denouement. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE from 10 May 2019 | FIPRESCI PRIZE Winner | TIFF 2019

Madeline’s Madeline **** (2018)

Dir: Josephine Decker | US | 90′ | Drama | Cast: Miranda July, Molly Parker, Helena Howard

Josephine Decker’s inventive, impressionistic dramas – Butter on the Latch (2013) /Though Wast Mild and Lovely (2014) are an acquired taste but one that marks her out as a distinctive female voice on the American indie circuit. And here she is at Berlinale again with a multi-layered mother and daughter tale that is probably her best feature so far. With a stunning central performance from newcomer Helena Howard and a dash of cinematic chutzpah that sends this soaring, Madeline’s Madeline is a thing of beauty, intoxicating to watch, compellingly chaotic and with a potently emotional storyline. It’s probably best described as a experimental drama set in an experimental theatre run by Evangeline (Molly Parker), who, at one point says to protege Madeline: “In all chaos there is a cosmos. In all disorder a secret order.” In other words, “there’s a method in the madness; a predictability to every unpredictability”. And this seemingly obtuse truism really sums up this most original of features.

Howard’s Madeline is an often precocious but highly gifted performer teenager and who is clearly on the spectrum but we are never quite sure of what mental condition or how much it affects her. Hospital visits are mentioned and medication is involved, and mother Regina (Miranda July) and daughter clearly have issues with each other. Evangeline has spotted the 16 year old’s talent to entertain, and is also nurturing and exploiting it, and the trio’s relationship becomes increasingly complex and unpredictable. Ashley Connor’s roving camera is all over the place creating a fluid feeling that is enjoyable, but also disorientating as Madeline becomes more and more powerful in this ingenious female ménage à trois. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 10 May 2019

 

Sundance London 2019 | 30 May – 2 June 2019

Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival brings a selection of films to London, screening at at PICTUREHOUSE CENTRAL from 30 MAY – 2 JUNE 2019. Here is a selection of the features and documentaries scheduled:

THE LAST TREE/ United Kingdom (Director/Screenwriter: Shola Amoo) – Femi is a British boy of Nigerian heritage who, after a happy childhood in rural Lincolnshire, moves to inner London to live with his mum. Struggling with the unfamiliar culture and values of his new environment, teenage Femi has to figure out which path to adulthood he wants to take CAST: Sam Adewunmi, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Denise Black, Tai Golding, Nicholas Pinnock 

LATE NIGHT U.S.A. (Director: Nisha Ganatra, Screenwriter: Mindy Kaling) – Legendary late-night talk show host’s world is turned upside down when she hires her only female staff writer. Originally intended to smooth over diversity concerns, her decision has unexpectedly hilarious consequences as the two women separated by culture and generation are united by their love of a biting punchline. Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Paul Walter Hauser, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan

THE NIGHTINGALE Australia (Director/Screenwriter: Jennifer Kent) – 1825. Clare, a young Irish convictwoman, chases a British officer through the Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of Aboriginal tracker Billy, who is marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past. Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Ewen Leslie

HAIL SATAN? U.S.A. (Director: Penny Lane) – A look at the intersection of religion and activism, tracing the rise of The Satanic Temple: only six years old and already one of the most controversial religious movements in American history. The Temple is calling for a Satanic revolution to save the nation’s soul. But are they for real? 

THE FAREWELL U.S.A., China (Director/Screenwriter: Lulu Wang) – A headstrong Chinese-American woman returns to China when her beloved grandmother is given a terminal diagnosis. Billi struggles with her family’s decision to keep grandma in the dark about her own illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time.  CAST: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo

THE DEATH OF DICK LONG U.S.A. (Director: Daniel Scheinert, Screenwriter: Billy Chew) – Dick died last night, and Zeke and Earl don’t want anybody finding out how. That’s too bad though, cause news travels fast in small-town Alabama. CAST: Michael Abbott Jr., Virginia Newcomb, Andre Hyland, Sarah Baker, Jess Weixler 

CORPORATE ANIMALS U.S.A. (Director: Patrick Brice, Screenwriter: Sam Bain) – Disaster strikes when the egotistical CEO of an edible cutlery company leads her long-suffering staff on a corporate team- building trip in New Mexico. Trapped underground, this mismatched and disgruntled group must pull together to survive. CAST: Demi Moore, Ed Helms, Jessica Williams, Karan Soni

ASK DR RUTH  U.S.A. (Director: Ryan White) – A documentary portrait chronicling the incredible life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a Holocaust survivor who became America’s most famous sex therapist. As her 90th birthday approaches, Dr. Ruth revisits her painful past and her career at the forefront of the sexual revolution. 

THE BRINK U.S.A. (Director: Alison Klayman) – Now unconstrained by an official White House post, Steve Bannon is free to peddle influence as a perceived kingmaker with a direct line to the President. As self-appointed leader of the “populist movement,” he travels around the U.S. and the world spreading his hard-line anti-immigration message

Tickets on sale Tuesday 23 April; priority booking from Friday 19 April

Find out more at picturehouses.com/sundance

 

Cannes 2019 – Final additions…

COMPETITION SCREENINGS 

Thierry Fremaux hinted that there may be final additions to the official line-up and here they are – with his comments.

Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood – Quentin Tarantino (2 hrs 45)

“We were afraid the film would not be ready, as it wouldn’t be ready until late July, but Quentin Tarantino, who has not left the editing room in four months, is a real, loyal and punctual child of Cannes! He’ll definitely be at Cannes this year, as he was  Inglourious Basterds,  – 25 years after the Palme d’or for Pulp Fiction – with a finished film screened in 35mm and his cast in tow (Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt). His film is a love letter to the Hollywood of his childhood, a rock music tour of 1969, and an ode to cinema as a whole.

He added: “In addition to thanking Quentin and his crew for spending days and nights in the editing room, the Festival wants to give special thanks to the teams at Sony Pictures, who made all of this possible.”

Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo by Abdellatif Kechiche (4 hrs)

French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche returns to Cannes with the Intermezzo of Mektoub, my Love six years after his Palme d’or with La Vie d’Adèle (Blue Is the Warmest Color). The groundwork for this saga storytelling and extraordinary portrait of French youth in the 90s was laid in his Canto Uno, and it will be a pleasure to see its cast again.”

MIDNIGHT SCREENING

Lux Æterna by Gaspar Noé (50 min)

“Two actresses, Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg, are on a film set telling stories about witches – but that’s not all. Lux Æterna is also an essay on cinema, the love of film, and on-set hysterics. It’s a brilliant fast-paced medium-length film for Gaspar Noé’s return – an unexpected one until recently – to the Official Selection, for a film that the Selection Committee watched at the last minute and which will be shown in a Midnight Screening as hyped as it is mysterious.”

UN CERTAIN REGARD

La famosa invasione degli orsi in Sicilia by Lorenzo Mattotti (1 hr 22)

“Adapted from Dino Buzzati’s children’s book, this animated film by illustrator and comic book author Lorenzo Mattotti is a visual extravaganza, whose graphic ingenuity and colour work will delight much wider audiences than the fans of the Italian master. With Italian voices by Toni Servillo, Antonio Albanese, and Andrea Camilleri, and French voices by Leïla Bekthi, Arthur Dupont, and Jean-Claude Carrière. Like the other Un Certain Regard film in animation Les Hirondelles de Kaboul (The Swallows of Kabul) by Zabou Breitman and Eléa Gobbé-Mevellec, La famosa invasione degli orsi in Sicilia will also be competing next June at the acclaimed Annecy International Animated Film Festival.”

Odnazhdy v Trubchevske by Larissa Sadilova (1h30)

“Russian filmmaker Larissa Sadilova, who already directed six features, hadn’t shot a film in several years. She is back with this “chronicle from the village of Troubtchevsk”, evoking the feelings of love in the contemporary Russian countryside, shooting characters played by her formidable actors with refined direction and a gentle eye. Women aspirations, their patience, the courage that has to be displayed towards an always illusory emancipation, desire, frustration, and a certain sense of immemorial fatalism are all examined, acutely and without weight. It will be the first time the Festival de Cannes welcomes Larissa Sadilova.”

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

Chicuarotes by Gael García Bernal (1 hr 35)

“A full-fledged member of Mexico’s exceptionally talented generation, a first-rate actor in films by Iñárritu and Cuarón, Gael García Bernal, along with Diego Luna, is a devotee of Cannes, where he was on the Jury in 2014. Chicuarotes is the actor’s second feature film where he takes a deep dive into Mexican society with a story about teenagers that is an affectionate portrayal, continuing in Mexican cinema’s tradition to pay homage to its eternal country, film after film.”

La Cordillera de los sueños by Patricio Guzmán (1 hr 24)

“Patricio Guzmán left Chile more than 40 years ago when the military dictatorship took over the democratically-elected government, but he never stopped thinking about a country, a culture, and a place on the map that he never forgot. After covering the North in Nostalgia for the Light and the South in The Pearl Button, his shots get up-close with what he calls “the vast revealing backbone of Chile’s past and recent history.” La Cordillera de los sueños is a visual poem, an historical inquiry, a cinematographic essay, and magnificent personal exercise in soul-searching.”

Ice on Fire by Leila Conners (1 hr 38)

“In 2007, Leila Conners screened The 11th Hour at Cannes, a hard-hitting documentary about climate change produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. The Festival screens conflict documentaries as part of a strong and proud tradition, like it also did with An Inconvenient Truth by Davis Guggenheim, which won an Oscar and earned Al Gore a Nobel Peace Prize. Twelve years later as the alarm bells are still multiplying all around the world (and more!), Leila Conners and Leonardo DiCaprio teamed up again on the same topic to make a film with an eloquent title: Ice on Fire. ”

5B by Dan Krauss (1 hr 33)

“In the 1980s, only a number and letter were used to designate a ward at San Francisco General Hospital, the first in the country to treat patients with AIDS. While a portion of society saw these patients as pariahs, the male and female caregivers in 5B chose a different route. This film is their story.

Directed by Dan Krauss, 5B is a film about a past that questions our present. It will be distributed in the United States, all around the world, and in France, which in October will be hosting the world conference for all fund-raisers donating money over the next three years to fight HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. U2 singer Bono has been a fervent champion of the cause – and of this film, which he will be coming to Cannes to support.”

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 14 – 25 MAY 2019 

November (2017) ****

Dir/Writer: Rainer Sarnet | Cast: Rea Lest, Jorgen Liik, Arvo Kukumagi, Katariina Unt, Taavi Eelmaa, Dieter Laser, Jette Loona Hermanis | Fantasy Horror | 115′

Rainer Sarnet’s wickedly weird adaptation of an Estonian folklore infused fairy tale is flawed but enthralling and full of magic moments of ethereal black&white beauty.

This is a film that wears its Baltic credentials proudly on its delicate fashioned sleeve – set in the deepest, creepiest snowbound forest in a remote region it features the Devil, ghosts and all kinds of mysterious and often mischievious characters. Adapted from Andrus Kivirahk’s best-seller ‘Rehepapp’, NOVEMBER is an endlessly fascinating film that has you gawping in terror and disbelief despite its rather enigmatic narrative that scratches at the edges of horror, fantasy and dark comedy. At it’s core NOVEMBER is a love story based on the premise of human survival in hard times.

The inhabitants of a distant Estonian village desperately eek out a living in frosty and threadbare poverty. The fantasy element strikes fearfully from the opening sequence that pictures a spiky mechanical creature flies through the air and into a stable where a slumbering calf is transfixed with fear as the creature, called a ‘Kratt’, lassoos it with a sturdy steel chain, transporting it through the night sky and into the barn of a nearby farm. And this is how the inhabitants survive by robbing and cheating each other with their supernatural robotic aids.

In this legendary land of dour and often demonic doings where characters often come back from the dead to join the living, young Liina (Rea Lest) is hoping to marry her sweetheart Hans (Jorgen Liik) while desperately avoiding the clutches of a gruesome farmer. Meanwhile Hans is in thrall to a newcomer to the village in the shape of a gorgeous German baroness (Jette Loona Hermanis), whose beauty is unrivalled and unsullied by hardship. But there’s a secret going on with both these women, and caught in a love triangle, they seek out magical ways to capture the hearts of the one the desire.

The only criticism here is that NOVEMBER is chockfull of strange and outlandish characters that fail to serve the central narrative robbing the drama of much of its delicious tension and often detracting from Sarnet’s dark humour. There’s simple too much going on. But Jacaszek sinister score provides just the right note of chilling concern to keep us waiting, and fearing that there may not be a happy ending. NOVEMBER is an arthouse gem that begs to be seen, along with Sarnet’s 2011 adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. MT 

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MONTAGE | https://amzn.to/2CiMCB3

BEST FILM; RIGA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2017  | BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2017

 

Cannes Film Festival –

Thierry Frémaux (now general delegate) has unveiled the 2019 official selection. And this year’s Cannes looks to be a glittering number with plenty of real stars gracing the Croisette (Elton John, Isabelle Huppert, Tilda Swinton and Claude Lelouch), four female filmmakers in the main Competition line-up which strikes a good balance of well known auteurs and new filmmakers – and some promising British Films: Dexter Fletcher’s biopic Rocketman; Asif Kapadia new documentary about his hero Diego Maradona, and another dose of dour social realism from Ken Loach. Cannes and Netflix are still at loggerheads – in the best possible way – but where would Cannes be without a little controversy to hit to headlines…

The four Palme d’Or hopefuls directed by women are— Mati Diop’s Atlantique (she was memorable in Simon Killer);Jessica Hausner’s Sci-fi-ish debut Little Joe stars Ben Whishaw and Emily Beecham in a story set in the world of genetic engineering (left); Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire (with its all female cast) and Justine Triet’s Sibyl a psychotherapist themed drama which has distinct echoes of Ozon‘s l’Amant Double. Infact, 13 of the 51 filmmakers (about 25%) are women. And Thierry intends to continue with the trend.

Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won the festival’s directing prize for Babel in 2006 will head up the jury. This year’s official poster (above) pays tribute to the director Agnès Varda, who died last month at age 90, and features an image from her final film La Pointe Courte. And for the first time ever, the opening film Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die will also play in competition. Styled as a zombie comedy is has a superb cast: Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloë Sevigny and Tilda Swinton.

Also in the main competition is Pedro Almodovar with Pain and Glory described as a fictionalised auto-biopic. He’s be nominated before but never won the Palme so it would be a feather in the Oscar winner’s cap. Canadian Xavier Dolan is back with a Quebec-set drama Matthias and Maxime. Il Traditore is Marco Bellocchio’s drama about Tommaso Buscetta the first mafia informant in 1980’s Sicily. Ira Sachs’s Frankie is set in the bewitching town of Sintra which will add another dimension to the story starring festival doyenne Isabelle Huppert along with Brendan Gleeson, Marisa Tomei, Greg Kinnear and Jérémie Renier. Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu tries his hand at comedy with The Whistlers which unites him once again with Vlad Ivanov (Hier and Sunset). Ladj Ly is the only first time filmmaker on the comp list and he brings a drama expanded from his 2017 short entitled Les Miserables about the Seine-Saint-Denis anti-crime brigade. Veteran favourites The Dardennes Brothers will be there will Muslim-themed Young Ahmed. Malick’s A Hidden Life (aka Radegund) explores the life of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian conscientious objector to the Third Reich who was executed in 1943 and contains final performances from Michael Nqyvist and Bruno Ganz, sadly no longer with us.

Other directors returning to competition include Oh Mercy, a Roubaix-set crime drama from Arnaud Desplechin and a family drama from South Korea’s Bong Joon-ho (Okja). And Cannes regular Kleber Mendonça Filho co-directs his latest (with Juliano Dornelle), a horror film entitled Bacurau.

Un Certain Regard sidebar has films from Catalan auteur Albert Serra – Liberté – and The Wild Goose Lake, a Chinese thriller by Diao Yinan (Black Coal, Thin Ice). Bruno Dumont’s follow up to Maid of Orleans story Jeannette (2017) is simply called Joan of Arc. 

And where would Cannes be without the megastars of the Riviera? Double Oscar-winning Claude Lelouch claimed the Palme d’Or back in 1966 with the iconic Un Homme et Une Femme. And he follows this up with the same classic duo in The Best Years of a Life (Out of Competition) uniting Jean-Louis Trintignant with Anouk Aimée. Veteran heavyweights Abel Ferrara and Werner Herzog also join the party.

TV-wise there will be a chance to sample Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s 10-parter  Too Old to Die Young. Venice started the TV-streaming service trend, and Cannes has now joined the bandwagon.

Thierry Frémaux left the press conference with his usual cheeky promise that other titles will soon be announced. And everyone was excited to hear that these could include Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood exploring the final years of the Golden Era with a starry line-up of Al Pacino, Leonard DiCaprio, Dakota Fanning and Margot Robbie.

For the time being no Netflix films will be included in the Palme d’Or competition, indeed the streaming giant does not have a film ready in time to be presented this year. Martin Scorsese has declared that special affects have delayed his entry of The Irishman which was very much on the cards for Thierry Frémaux and Pierre Lescure, and will now most likely appear at Venice.

Other regulars and possible contenders are Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat, the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems and the latest from Noah Baumach and Ad Astra from James Gray. So watch this space. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 14 -25 MAY 2019

Jury

Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Elle Fanning

Maimouna N’Diaye

Kelly Reichardt

Alice Rohracher

Enki Bilal

Robin Campillo

Yorgo Lanthimos

Pawel Pawlikowski

 

Kiruna – A Brand New World (2019) Vision du Reel 2019

Dir.: Greta Stocklassova; Cast: Timo Vilgats, Abdal Rahman Josef, Maja Jannock Björnström; Czech Republic 2019, 87 min.

The first feature documentary by Czech writer/director Greta Stocklassova is emotional, but well-structured: a work-in-progress report on the Swedish town of Kiruna, 200 km above the arctic circle, which is being moved three km to the east. The 17,000 inhabitants of the 2840 sq/mile city have very different reactions to the move. 

Kiruna has lived off its mining industry, but finally it it has caught up with it: The LKAB company is moving Kiruna because the ground underneath is about to give way. The project of relocation will last until 2100; the movement of zone 4 now under work, will be finished by 2033. We watch houses being transported on huge lorries: classic buildings of all sorts will be saved this way.

In the Philosophy Club we meet Timo Vilgats, an elderly gentleman, a sort of town historian. He is appalled by the relocation, filming the ruins of his house with his mobile and pointing out out where the rooms in the house had been, where his children were born and grew up. Others take the move in their stride: a woman the same age as Vilgats sits down with a planner and tells her where she wants to have the plugs in her new home.

Meanwhile, in the home for asylum seekers, Abdal Rahman Josef is waiting for an interview which will decide his future: he is from Yemen, and his life would be in danger if he was to be sent back. Abdal complains about being left behind, whilst others are processed much quicker. In the end he is granted asylum and tells a fellow immigrant he is looking after his career and does not want to have a girl friend. Maja Jannok Björnström, seventeen years old, is finishing High School. Her school reports are good and, at an interview about her professional choice, she tells the interviewer “ I will always be a Sami”, perfecting the language of her ancestors, and wearing traditional costumes. Samis are still under threat, hate crimes against them are common. At the graduation ceremony, the last one held at the old Town Hall, Maja is just one happy student, like the rest. Meanwhile, at a meeting with the developers of the new town, Vilgats talks at length about the destruction of the old – but others, even the older ones, contradict him, and hope for the best. In the end, we see Vilgats with his dog wandering along the fence, the demarcation line between the old and the new town: deep fog fits his melancholy mood.

DoP Stanislav Adam uses his images to show the beauty of the old and the new. Like the director he is impartial, finding little incidents, like the detonation of yet another part of the old town, directed by the finger tip of a shy young boy who presses the button to show that planning might not solve everything. There is an input for the community, however limited. AS

VISIONS DU REEL | 5 -13 APRIL 2019

Fugue | Fuga (2018) Kinoteka 2021

Dir: Agnieska  Smoczynska | Cast: Gabriela Muskała, Łukasz Simlat, Małgorzata Buczkowska, Zbigniew Waleryś, Halina Rasiakówna, Piotr Skiba, Iwo Rajski | Poland/Czech Republic/Sweden 2018, 100 min.

Agnieszka Smoczynska re-unites with DoP Jacub Kijowski and actor Malgorzata Buczkowska who together made The Lure an international success. In Fugue, they are joined by writer Gabriela Muskala, who also  plays the lead role of Kinga, a woman suffering from severe post-traumatic amnesia.

We first meet Kinga staggering onto the platform of a station where she promptly collapses, having urinated infront in full view of the other passengers. Clearly she has lost her mind, and spends the next two years in a psychiatric ward in a Warsaw hospital, where she makes a brief appearance on TV, in the hope that someone might identify her. And they do. She is soon re-united with her husband Krystzof (Simlat) and four-year old son Daniel. Her name is Alicja, but strangely, no one appears happy to have her back, least of all Daniel. The only thing she is sure of is her credit card PIN number she and immediately makes an application for a new Identity Card. Her mysterious family friend Ewa (Buczkowska) is clearly so much more that than this, but Smoczynska keeps her cards close to her chest, revealing little in this enigmatic but captivating mystery drama. Eventually Alicja starts to re-adjust to home life with her husband, but a sudden accident in their car seems to trigger   Alicja’s memory and gradually a whole picture slowly develops of their life before the train incident. It emerges that her husband had successfully divorced her and wanted sole custody of Daniel.

In her follow up to The Lure, Smoczynska offers another convoluted and enigmatic drama: there are moments of supernatural evidence, where Alicja’s home environment appears completely alien to her. Particularly the green bathroom looks eerily like a fish tank (drawing comparisons with The Shining’s Room 237). The country house has a weird and haunted feel to it, and Alicja seems to be a prisoner within its walls, he family and even her son treating her with hostile suspicion.

Fugue is an allegorical story of a woman who is unsure of her position in the world, retreating from motherhood, and drifting between various states of being. Gabriela Muskala gives a brilliant tour de force in the leading role of this unique and beguiling Polish arthouse drama. AS.

KINOTEKA 2021 | Premiered during UN CERTAIN REGARD | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 8-19 MAY 2018

The Sisters Brothers (2018) ****

Dir: Jacques Audiard | Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, John C Reilly, Riz Ahmed, Jake Gyllenhaal | Western | 120’

The Sisters Brothers is a whip-cracking Gold Rush buddy movie that mines a rich vein of gold-plated themes from greed and fatherly dysfunction to the impact of industrialisation on the Mid-West delivered courtesy of Thomas Bidegain’s witty co-adaptation of Patrick Dewitt’s novel.

Jacques Audiard won the Palme d’Or in 2015 with Dheepan. The Sisters Brothers couldn’t be more different. Essentially a feelgood Western for the thinking man, this textured character-piece trots along briskly in 1850s Oregon where the brothers make their entrance in an impressive opening scene lit only by gunshots in the pitch black dusky night. Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly exude a fiery chemistry as the siblings ensuring there’s never a dull moment drama-wise. They play hired assassins pursuing two gold diggers – Gyllenhaal and Ahmed with a new prospecting trick up their sleeves – on behalf of their tricky boss The Commodore.

 The wide-open spaces of ‘Oregon’ are surprisingly lush thanks to the Romanian/Spanish settings and the campfires glow with some good-looking night-time scenes and sparky shootouts.

Joaquin Phoenix and Riz Ahmed add a twist of psychological angst to John C Reilly’s swaggering all American style and the European sensibilities of the directing team make this an invigorating addition to the genre, while those who appreciate the classic style of John Ford and Sergio Leone will go home with a few entertaining nuggets. MT 

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE from 5 April 2019  VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | Winner Best Director 2018

Lizzie (2018) **** | Bfi Flare 2019

“Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.”

Dir: Craig William Mcneill | Bryce Kass | Cast: Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart | Drama | US

The story of Lizzie Borden has always fascinated with its macabre murder story that over time has spawned numerous TV series the best starred Elizabeth Montgomery as the New England axe murderer who was tried and acquitted in 1893 of slaughtering her father and stepmother. This claustrophobic domestic drama directed by Craig William Macneill from a script by Bryce Kass, persuades us that it was actually due to her gender that she was let off: the jury couldn’t believe a well-heeled gentlewoman could do such a thing. But there are many downsides to being Ms Borden in the late 19th century. LIZZIE not only imagines an intriguing and plausible lesbian twist to proceedings, it also reveals how her draconian and misogynist  father was partly responsible for his own demise by dominating her, serially raping her housekeeper (Kristen Stewart is mesmerisingly glum) and then leaving her repugnantly obnoxious uncle (Denis O’Hare) in charge of her inheritance. No wonder Mr Borden got wacked.

Kass adopts a fractured narrative that opens in the aftermath to the twin murder, then traces back to reveal a story that informs the final scenes. And although this is a traditionally-crafted and rather bland-looking affair, its slowly draws you in to its compelling storyline mainly due to the brilliance of its international cast. We have Chloë Sevigny in the leading role: an unmarried, wilful but sympathetic pigeon-fancier. She gives a commandingly confident performance and we really feel for her because of the calm and intelligent way she handles herself, never giving in to histrionics or melodrama, despite suffering from epilepsy – quite the opposite – in the final denouement she appears unaffected by what she has done. She warms immediately to Kristen Stewart’s Irish housemaid Bridget who is respectful and diffident, tolerating Mr Borden’s nighttime visits with sombre forbearance. Their lesbian chemistry is convincing but quite why the filmmakers contrived it is questionable. There’s scant evidence that the real Lizzie was a lesbian, but due to being closeted away it’s quite possible that it was the only sexual outlet available, and the two are clearly very protective of one another. Ruth Shaw has a small role as Lizzie’s dour stepmother, but she makes a decent go of it.

There’s a dark wittiness to Sevigny’s brushes with the menacingly pompous Mr Borden (Jamie Sheridan), and their intellectual sparring makes us root for her, as he emerges a brutish coward rather than a family man of integrity with one of the “biggest fortunes in New England”. And although Stewart seethes with a quiet rage, Sevigny excels in a more difficult role, exerting a calm allure as the troubled Lizzie.

Although the ending is hardly a mystery, the film maintains an powerful air of suspense as it moves to the inescapable finale, adding another dimension to this true crime story, by attempting to examine the whys and wherefores. LIZZIE is certainly harrowing to watch, and although we don’t see the murders, we hear them as the violence provides a much-needed cathartic release after all the injustice that’s been witnessed. A sad and rather mournful drama that certainly bring greater understanding to this almost mythical episode of American social history. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 14 DECEMBER 2018

Out of Blue (2018) ****

Dir.: Carol Morley; Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Mamie Gummer. Toby Jones, Jonathan Majors, James Caan, Jackie Weaver; US/UK 2018, 110 min.

Carol Morley (Dreams of a Life) is a British auteur who brings so much more to her films that just the narrative. Her screen version of Martin Amis’ novel Night Train is a genre hybrid– noir in this case – and existentialism. Out of Blue is as enigmatic as its title and New Orleans is the shadowy setting where detective Mike Hoolihan (Patricia Clarkson) investigates the murder of astrophysicist Jennifer Rockwell (Gummer).

Rockwell is found dead in a planetarium where she’d given a speech the day before about Black Holes. Early clues lead to two main-suspects: Ian Strammi (Toby Jones) manager of the site, and Duncan Reynold (Majors), Rockwell’s lover and co-worker. But Hoolihan feels instinctively that the solution to the crime will lead her back into the past where Space will offer clues. A recovering alcoholic with a captivating cat (who steals many a scene) Mike nevertheless loses it completely when cornered by her own past, and performs a drunken semi-striptease on a bar table. Rockwell’s parents are also involved: Colonel Tom (Caan) – who may or may not be the suspect of a past murder spree – and her mother Miriam (Weaver), who has her own dark guilt complex, are not helping Hoolihan, neither are Rockwell’s twin brothers. When the tragedy unravels, more questions emerge, and even physical identities start to look questionable: as Jennifer says in her final lecture “our nose and our hands may not be from the same galaxy”.

The film’s main characters’ identities seem to emanate from a different past, and nothing fits any more. Out of Blue is very much Nicolas Roeg territory: his son Luc is also a producer. Morley’s narrative leads gradually leads us ‘out of this world’, where Rockwell felt much more at home than on this planet – never mind her rather dysfunctional family set-up. And Hoolihan herself is hiding behind her policeman’s (sic) mask, denying both gender and past. DoP Conrad W. Hall’s images play on tones of the colour blue: we race through the film like the night train of Martin Amis’ novel (on which it is loosely based): from the night sky to the cream receptacle found at the crime scene, and the murky metallic-grey of crimes past, everything leads to the indigo blue of cosmic Black Holes.

Morley is clearly interested in the who-done-it, but she also asks questions about human nature; and all her protagonists have something significant to hide. And she never lets them get away with it – the raison d’être of their life (or death) is always more important than the circumstances of the discoveries. To paraphrase the feature title: Blue is the new Noir. The director never gives in or compromises: the existential ‘why’ is her reason for filmmaking, the result may not be to everyone’s taste, but it satisfies an audience hungry for answers outside our immediate Universe. AS

IN ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 29 MARCH 2019 

At Eternity’s Gate (2018) Netflix

Dir: Julian Schnabel | Cast: Willem Defoe, Oscar Isaac | US Drama | 111’

Julian Schnabel’s training as an artist informs another of his portraits of creativity like Basquiat, Reinaldo Arenas and Jean Dominique Bauby. With At Eternity’s Gate he turns his camera on the tragedy of Vincent van Gogh with this luminous vision of the artist’s final days in Provence.

There have been many broad brush insights into the painter’s troubled life recorders on the big screen; the most recent, Loving Vincent (2017) attempted a living painted drama of the Dutchman, while Van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing (2015) explored the prodigious correspondence with his brother Theo. The reason to see this one is Willem Dafoe’s fabulous fleshing out of the artist in his febrile, sun-drenched final days after the breakdown of his fraught friendship with Gauguin (an unremarkable Oscar Isaac).

Schnabel captures the glowering intensity of Van Gogh’s desperate descent in paranoia but also portrays the artist as a gentle introvert who was as much misunderstood as maligned by the petit parochialism of his Provençal neighbours.

Benoit Delhomme’s hand-held camera hovers around feverishly and vivid yellow predominates. Intense and intimate close-ups pan out into flaming widescreen vistas vibrating in the summer heat. The worst element is Tatiana Lisovskaya’s screeching score that will make you run for the exit. It over-eggs the already over-baked picture of dismay and despair..

Jean Claude Carriere writes with Schnabel and Louise Kugelberg (the latter also his co-editor) to sketch out the broad strokes of the narrative which opens in Paris in the late 1880s where van Gogh is an already an outsider amongst the Artistes Independents du jour. His financier and brother Theo (a well-cast Rupert Friend) cannot sell his avant-garde works, Vincent opining: “God made me a painter for people who are not born yet”. Only Gauguin appreciates his talent but the two are incompatible as housemates. 

“Go south, Vincent,” Gauguin tells him when van Gogh complains of rainy skies and fog, whereupon he moves to Arles where he discovers his yen for landscapes which glow and shimmer in the heat as Delhomme’s visuals capture the textures of roots, earth, leaves as well as the soft windswept pastures. We feel for Vincent when a schoolteacher (Anne Consigny) openly mocks his work in front of her kids, and after a violent outburst he is sent away from the town, admitting his fear of going mad – but it could be that he just hates people and prefers solitude, which is understandable amongst these cackling idiots.

With Gauguin he enjoys a companionable time until success takes him to Paris whereupon van Gogh starts to unravel emotionally with the famous ear incident. A doctor (Vladimir Consigny) suggests some therapy, that merely confines the artist to a straitjacket. Ironically this comes at the same time as an influential Paris art critic praises his work as uniquely sensual. Meanwhile a priest (Mads Mikkelsen in thoughtful mode) damns his vision and calls his work ugly. 

This sensuous re-imagining of the artist’s final days belongs to Dafoe whose craggy features and piercing blue eyes convey a lost and melancholy soul whose  sensitivity and artistic genius have now made him a household name . MT

NOW ON NETFLIX. TRAILER courtesy of Curzon Cinemas | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 Winner Best Actor: Willem Dafoe

3 Faces (2018) ****

Dir: Jafar Panahi | Drama | 100’

Even though Jafar Panahi’s latest 3 FACES tries to challenge Iran’s massive macho culture with a feminist film, the feeling that remains after the curtain has fallen is of a deeply ingrained male-dominated society where women are still quietly championing the male of the species, while giving lip service to feminism. 

Jafar Panahi was unable to leave Iran to present his thoughtful drama which was made on a shoestring, and none the worse for it, beautifully reflecting the arid mountain landscapes of the Turkish-Azeri speaking area of Iran, where he drives, as himself, with actor Benhaz Jafari, trying to find the girl, Marziyeh Rezaie, who appears to have killed herself in mobile footage witnessed in the film’s histrionic opening scene, and sent to Mrs Jafari the night before.

The title refers to three women, actresses from pre revolution Iran, the present and the future. With 3 FACES Panahi hopes to deliver a feminist message to encourage women to be positive about their choices. The modern world challenges traditions in this rural backwater where men are virile and women remain behind close doors. When the pair arrive in the mountain village, it soon emerges that the girl was actually crying wolf. But she is distraught that her family have forbidden her from taking up a place at a prestigious conservatory in Tehran, and she apologises profusely to Mrs Jafahi for the upset caused.

The tone is solicitous and rather worthy, and we are then treated to various local twee vignettes that demonstrate male supremacy and female submission. What works best here is the footage of farm stock, being herded, and the plight of a prize bull who has collapsed on the road while on his way to inseminate a load of horny heiffers. Once again this demonstrates how grateful females should be to exist in the world of male strength and virility.

Meanwhile back to young Marziyeh who has been forced into an engagement to dampen down hopes of an acting career (“we don’t want any entertainers here”). The third face, former actress, dancer Shahrazade, active during the Shah Pahlavi’s reign, now lives alone in a tiny hut outside the village never gets any screen time. Apparently bitter and twisted, she is now a reclusive artist who is pictured the following morning painting in a distant field. 

There is a great deal to enjoy in all the performances: Panahi is laid back and louche as the soigne man from the big city; Behnaz Jafari (A House Built on Water) is an impulsive emotional woman with a hot temper that quickly gives way to tactile warmth. Little Rezaie is a sparky, confident girl who wears her heart on her sleeve. This is a captivating little film that glows with an upbeat message of hope. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 29 MARCH 2019 | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | JOINT BEST SCRIPT WINNER  2018

 

A Decent Man | Un Om La Locul Lui (2018) *** | Bergamo Film Meeting

Dir.: Hadrian Marcu; Cast: Madalina Constantin, Bogdan Dumitrache, Arda Gales; Romania 2018,93 min.

Hadrian Marcu’s debut feature sees a man very much out of his depth emotionally when it comes to women, and especially the two women in his life. Somehow this guy finds himself in an impossible situation and retreats into the background, hoping that the women take charge. Marcu cleverly shows how  professional women often end up drawing the short straw in their emotional choices.

Based on a novel by Petru Cimpuescu, this is a classic example of how men can be highly competent in the workplace but fall apart when it comes to their private lives. And the main character does just that. And this being Romania it’s unlikely to end well. Petru, an engineer, has got involved with two women: Laura (Gales) is a doctor and pregnant with his child, and Sonia (Constantin) is the wife of his colleague who dies when the car they are travelling in goes off the road, in the film’s early scenes. Feeling stressed out and guilty Petru puts Sonia first. Soon enough, nurses in the hospital inform Laura of Petru’s infidelity, and she throws him out of her flat. Clueless and adrift, Petru hides behind Sonja, hoping for the best.

This is a very confident debut by Marcu, who never lets the action get out of hand, avoiding sentimentality as well as histrionic scenes. Dumitrache is ideal for the role of the rather hesitant Petru, who cannot do right for doing wrong. Yes, he is decent, but his emotional intelligence is limited, he wants to have his cake and eat it. When confronted by Laura, he is like a little boy who wants the teacher to let him off failing his exam. The genders seem to live a very segregated life in contemporary Romania: Petru enjoys the company of co-workers, but when he is with Laura or Sonja, or even his mother, he becomes emasculated and insecure, avoiding conflict. keeping the women apart, compartmentalising their existence, living a double life, which crashes down, when Laura learns the truth. But he has still not learnt from his mistakes, and hopes that the decision will be made for him.

DoP Adrian Silisteanu uses a handheld camera for intimate effect, keeping close to the protagonists. Even their homes tell the storyline: Petru lives in a mess; whilst Laura is a proper homemaker – even though her work is as challenging as his is. Overall, it seems Marcu has re-invented the sub-genre of male malaise, but his careful detailing and string construction of the narrative arc marks him out to be a filmaker with a future. AS

WINNER | BEST DIRECTOR | BERGAMO FILM MEETING 9-17 MARCH 2019

 

Under the Silver Lake (2018) **

Dir: David Robert Mitchell | Cast; Sibongile Miambo, Riley Keough, Jimmy Sampson, Andrew Garfield | Fantasy Comedy  | US |

David Robert Mitchell rose to international fame with his breakout horror hit It Follows which showed at Cannes several years ago. His latest is a trippy fantasy neonoir dream with the same feel and disturbing undertones as David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive but none of the brilliance, and far too much indulgent navel-gazing. What carries you through the druggy hotch potch of wacky vignettes is Andrew Garfield’s captivating turn as a down on his luck LA creative, who resorts to voyeurism and sexual shadow-play as his mind wanders lazily through the backwaters of LA’s Silver-Lake area. But after a promising opening the film’s fascinating potential disintegrates into an incoherent and sprawling mindfuck punctuated by Hollywood references. There is far too much unfocused creativity gushing from Mitchell’s gifted pen in UNDER THE SILVER LAKE, and it ends in a messy gloopthis time. That said, he’s certainly a filmmaker worth watching out for. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 15 MARCH 2019

 

Oscar Foreign Language Academy Awards 2019

Nine films were on the short list for the coveted Academy Awards Foreign Language title at the end of last year: Some are well known (COLD WAR, CAPERNAUM, SHOPLIFTERS) but AYKA comes from a country where there is hardly any structure let alone financing available for filmmakers, so Kazakhstan’s entry should be particularly applauded.

Denmark: The Guilty (Gustav Möller)

Möller’s feature debut premiered at Sundance in January 2018, winning the audience award in the world cinema dramatic competition. The entire film takes place in the claustrophobic confines of a Copenhagen emergency services station, where a former police officer (Jakob Cedergren) has to deal with gruelling telephone calls from a kidnapped woman.

Germany: Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

von Donnersmarck is very well thought of in German cinema circles and has a previously won in the category back in 2007 for his Cold War spy thriller The Lives Of Others. His latest sees an art student involved in a difficult situation at his college. We reviewed the film at Venice where it premiered in August 2018.

Poland: Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski)

Pawlikowski’s film opened in Cannes Competition in 2018 and won him a best director prize. Searingly beautiful, it chronicles a love story between two people from different walks of life, set against the backdrop of the Cold War in the 1950s in various cities in Europe. Pawlikowski has previously won this award back in 2015 for his war-themed drama Ida – but his multi-faceted films have been arthouse staples since he started out in the 1980s with his TV fare (Open Space and From Moscow to Pietuschki in 1990), his first feature was The Stringer (1998).

Colombia: Birds Of Passage (Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra)

An arthouse title that explores the narco-trafficking industry and its profound effects on Columbian society. Gallego and Guerra’s film opened Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 2018 but their breakout success was with Embrace Of The Serpent (with Guerra directing, Gallego producing).

Mexico: ROMA (Alfonso Cuarón)

WINNER ACADEMY AWARDS 2019

Cuarón’s latest is a semi-autobiographical take on his own Mexico City upbringing, focusing on a middle-class family and their live-in housekeeper. With so many interesting stories coming out of Mexico, this is Cuarón’s first nomination in the category, although he has been nominated for six Oscars previously, winning best director and best editing for Gravity in 2014.

Japan: Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

Kore-eda’s cheeky story of a family living on on its uppers won the Palme d’Or in 2018.

Kazakhstan: Ayka (Sergey Dvortsevoy)

Living in abject poverty in Moscow, a young Kyrgyz woman tries to survive after abandoning her newborn, to return to her job. It premiered in the official Competition at Cannes in 2018.

Lebanon: Capernaüm (Nadine Labaki)

After her lively social drama Caramel, Labaki’s Cannes 2018 Competition entry is a more heavyweight but enjoyable story for its humanity and insight. Shot on the streets of Beirut using non-professional actors, the story follows the fate of a precocious but endearing 12 year-old boy who takes his parents to court.

South Korea: Burning (Lee Chang-dong)

Lee’s Cannes Competition title was the favourite amongst the critics at Cannes last year. It’s a psychological thriller but also a subtle love story based on Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning.

THE AWARDS TOOK PLACE in Los Angeles on 24 February 2019 

Foxtrot (2017) ****

Dir: Samuel Maoz |Drama | Israel, Germany, France, Switzerland / 113’ | cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler, Yonatan Shiray

A grieving father experiences the absurd circumstances around the death of his son, in this latest critical reflection on military culture from Israeli filmmaker Samuel Maoz (Lebanon). Foxtrot is a story of bereavement and denial of guilt, played against the background of a middle-class Jewish family in Tel-Aviv.
Michael Feldman (Ashkenazi) and his wife Dafne (Adler) live in a spacious, expensively decorated apartment in the midst of the capital. When they learn of the death of their soldier son Jonathan (Shiray), Dafne faints, whilst her husband is cold and aggressive, even kicking the family dog, who wants to console him. When it later transpires that Jonathan is alive after all, Michael still behaves like a psychotic, showing no relief that his son is coming home. He insults his wife, daughter, brother and army officers, and insists on seeing his son again. With the help of a general, Jonathan is whisked away from a road block where he and three others soldiers has just shot four innocent Palestinians in their car; the young soldiers mistaking an empty beer can for a grenade.
The general who orders Jonathan’s release is also in charge of the “cleaning-up” operation: the Palestinian car is literally buried by a bulldozer: Jonathan’s final sketch, which ends up on the wall of his parent’s apartment, shows the operation. Later his mother will interpret the drawing as herself (the car) being swept away by her bulldozing husband. Which, in a way is true, since Michael is hiding a terrible secret from his family: when he was an officer in the army, he was guilty of causing the death of many of his men, causing him to remain emotionally detached from his family, and letting his frustration out on Max, the dog, who suffers from internal bleeding from his master’s frequent kickimg. But Michael is not able or willing to come clean – only a late and tragic twist will allow him him to confess his guilty secret to his wife.
The Feldman’s are representative of many Israeli families in a country at war for nearly 70 years. “This is war, and shit happens in war” says the general to the soldiers after the incident. Moaz captures the absurdity of this permanent conflict in amusing scenes at the roadblock, mixing phantasy with reality, and contrasting the hell of war, with the Feldman’s  sombre family dwelling: both existing in a parallel universe that has seemingly nothing in common. But it is the denial of emotional connection to those at home that forces Israeli soldiers to keep on killing and being killed. This schizophrenic situation has gone on for so long that it is seen as the new normal. Foxtrot is a passionate appeal to a whole country, to put an end to the situation. Samuel Maoz’s debut feature, Lebanon (which won the Golden Lion at the 2009 Venice Film Festival), was set during the 1982 Lebanon War, and shot almost entirely inside of a tank. Foxtrot, his second feature, steps away from that fevered claustrophobia to tell another maddening story of war and conflict, but this one on a much broader canvas. AS

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Capernaum (2018)***

Dir: Nadine Labaki | Drama | 105’

Nadine Labaki sprung to fame with her delightfully upbeat debut Caramel, set around a women’s hair salon in Beirut Set. Here she casts non-professional actors in a politically themed fable that sees a child resorting to the strong arms of the law.

This multi-awarded Oscar hopeful has the same warm, stylish look as her previous two features but is a much more accomplished film that puts a watchable spin on dour social realism although it does not quite reach the heights of perfection as the script resorts to disingenuous pandering in the slack final section. Subject-wise we are back to Daniel Blake territory although this is a much better crafted film than the one that bagged Ken Loach the top  Cannes award several years ago and CAPERNAUM does not bludgeon the life out of your with its agitprop hammer. There are similarities too with Slumdog Millionaire in its upbeat fervour powered by cute and captivating performances from its newcomer children.

Labaki structures her film round a trial, although this is not a courtroom procedural and most of the action is set in the chaotic streets or in cramped interiors where 12 year old Zain (Zain Al Rafeea), who looks more like 8, is already serving a prison sentence for stabbing, is now suing his parents for bringing him into the world. One of several siblings, his parents never registered his birth. Despite cocky indignation and a bristling sense of entitlement to his rights, he is a likeable kid who lives with his parents Souad (Kawthar Al Haddad) and Selim (Fadi Kamel Youssef). Rather than school, he goes out to sell fruit juice in the market, where he also collects tramadol which the family grind into clothes-washing water which is then passed to Zain’s prison-serving elder brother. Although these circumstances are all quite startling to Western viewers, they are sadly run of the mill for millions all over the world. But medication here in the Lebanon seems to be free at the point of collection, a fact which is difficult to believe.

After his younger sister Sahar is sold in marriage by his parents. Zain runs away and comes across Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw), an Ethiopian cleaner who is in Lebanon illegally. He offers to look after her toddler while she is at  work but she later disappears leaving the two to fend for themselves in what turns out to be quite an adventure.

This is a watchable drama with some endearing turns from the ensemble kiddy cast who conjure up an intoxicating chemistry considering their lack of experience. But the star of the piece is Rafeea as the cheekily adamant Zain, a tribute to kids everywhere who feel life has dealt them an unfair start, and who set out to put matters right. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE from 22 February | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | Jury Prize Winner 2018

 

Grâce à Dieu (2019) **** Berlinale 2019 | Silver Bear Grand Jury prize

Dir/Wri: Francois Ozon | Cast: Melvil Poupaud, Denis Menochet, Swann Arlaud, Eric Caravaca, François Marthouret, Aurelie Petit, Amelie Daure, Bernard Verley | Drama, France 137′

François Ozon is known for his satirical wit and his relaxed views on sexuality. His Grand Jury Silver Bear winner By the Grace of God takes on the theme of abuse in the Catholic church and its affects on three men. But no matter how hard-hitting their experiences may be there is always a flinty glint of Ozon’s brand of dry humour peeping though to light the dark clouds of its heroes’ despair.

Grâce à Dieu is based on the real case of Father Bernard Preynat who in 2016 was charged with sexually assaulting around 70 boys in Lyon, François Ozon portrays the victims as mature men but reveals the lifelong wounds they have sustained. At the same time, the film criticises the church’s silence on paedophilia and asks about its complicity. As of January 2019, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin is standing trial for ‘non-denunciation of sexual aggression’.

Ozon casts three actors at the top of their game to play the trio: Melvil Poupaud is Alexandre a wealthy Lyonnais banker who has found success with his wife Marie (Petit) and five kids. He appears to be the one least damaged by the Preyan but when it emerges the priest is still working with kids, Alexandre decides to risk jeopardising his own settled existence and blow the whistle. His parents never gave credence to his feeling back in the day, and are still making light of them, but he goes ahead with a difficult confession to the Catholic authorities. It then turns out that happily married François is the next victim, and Dénis Menochet is less cautious about his confessions, bringing his explosive emotional potential to the part. Perhaps the worst affected is Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud) who claims his whole life has been traumatised by what happened, making it difficult for him to deal parent’s divorce and destroying his ability to connect emotionally with women, and this is played out in some incendiary scenes with his partner (Daure). Gradually others join the cause and we learn how each is struggling with their private demons while creating the self-help organisation ‘La Parole Libérée’ (The Liberated Word) is just the first step.

Some of the confessions are explicit and we’re never quite sure how far Ozon tipping the balance between salaciousness and pure honesty. This is also noticeable with reference to Lyon’s gourmet traditions and fine wine and there are frequent allusions to food which is considered as important as upsetting matter in hand when the men meet up, often leading to amusing non-sequiturs: (“anymore quiche anyone”?).

The magnificent Basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière dominates the impressive opening scene as the Cardinal Barbarin hoists a golden cross over the city, almost as a blessing for what is to come in this meaty, affecting and enjoyable saga that richly chronicles a true story whose implications and repercussions are still unfolding in the present. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019 | COMPETITION.

 

 

 

Systeme K (2019) **** Berlinale 2019

Dir/Wri/DoP: Renaud Barret | Doc | French, 94 min

The ‘Satan of Light’ is up to his tricks in the dusty streets of Kinshasa. Kids run away at the sight of horned head and ghastly grimace. 

Award-winning documentarian Renaud Barret (Victoire Terminus) records his encounters with Kinshasa’s street artists who entertain, shock and delight passers by with their quirky brand of street art using anything they can lay their hands on. This quirky and compelling film explores the very nature of creativity and ponders: Where does art begin? And where does it end?”

Known as Freddy, Béni, Kongo Astronaute, Strombo, Majesktik, Kokoko! and Geraldine among others, these people are creating sculptures, paintings, performances and installations in public spaces. Their work is not dissimilar to that found in the Tate or Saatchi galleries of London or MOMA, New York. They have yet to capture the attention of the international art world, but its only a matter of time. Their resourcefulness and passion to create is staggering to behold and reflects an extraordinary will to survive and a restless exuberance that is visually arresting and commendable, one of them explains: “living in Kinshasa is a performance in itself”

Materials include disused bullet cases, plastic waste, electronic scrap, smoke, monkey skulls, wax, blood, machetes and even their own bodies. This is not art for art’s sake but ground-breaking, urgent and politically satirical. Their themes are relevant, important and contemporary: exploitation, the privatisation of water, personal and national trauma and also, as a constant, the fascinating history of the Congo. 

Mastering his hand-held camera to brilliant effect in a stylish tour de force Barret shows us Kinshasa, a poverty-stricken metropolis where art is an unaffordable luxury and the location of a passionate and vibrant subculture claiming the city as its stage.

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 

Out Stealing Horses (2019) *** Berlinale 2019

Dir/Wri: Hans Petter Moland | Cast: Stellan Skarsgard, Bjorn Floberg, Tobias Santelmann, Jon Ranes, Danica Curcic | Norway, Drama, 122′

Stellan Skarsgard has retired to the Norwegian woods after the death of his wife, when the past comes back to visit him in Hans Petter Moland’s overwrought but enjoyable coming of age drama that revolves around a circle of guilt.

Nature and breathtaking-taking landscapes dominate a tale that opens in the small cosy cabin where Trond spends his days reflecting on the past and the fragility of memory and loss. Leavened with gentle humour this complex and evocative story sashays back and forth from the 1940s until 1999, adapted from a novel by renowned Norwegian writer Per Pettersen.

Trond’s rural idyll soon ends when he comes across his neighbour Lars (Bjorn Floberg), and he  recognises him from his youth. In flashback the teenage Trond (Jon Ranes) is spending the summer with his timber merchant father (Tobias Santelmann) in another remote part of the woods. Trond also strikes up a friendship with a troubled boy called Jon (Sjur Vatne Brean) who feels responsible for the death of his young brother, killed in a freak accident the previous day. His adolescent curiosity provides the subtext for a sexual awakening that permeates this visually stunning film. And this comes to a head when he meets Jon’s mother (Danica Curcic) at the family funeral, and later at a local event. But his fantasies are interrupted when he discovers, to his chagrin, that his father is having a full blown affair with Jon’s mother, and has been since the two were in the resistance movement together. Another tragedy then takes place during a logging session on the river. Moving the freshly cut timber downstream to be sold in Sweden, Jon’s father is badly injured. From thereon the two men’s animosity towards each other seethes in a drama more interested in atmosphere and surroundings than in creating a dramatic and suspenseful storyline.

Trond is the only character whose arc feels developed and convincing. And Skarsgard and Ranes really flesh out his character in a meaningful way, both bringing a brooding  intensity to this thoughtful but troubled man. The scenes they inhabit are meaningful, the rest if just pretty pictures for over two hours. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | SILVER BEAR FOR OUTSTANDING ARTISTIC ACHIEVEMENT 2019

 

 

Buoyancy (2019) *** Berlinale 2019

Dir.: Rodd Rathjen; Cast: Sarm Heng, Thanawut Kasro, Mony Ros; Australia 2019, 94 min

Rodd Rathjen’s feature debut has a worthy but not always convincing narrative. A teenage boy from Cambodia tries to find work in Thailand, but ends up being one of 200,000 boys from South- East Asia to ‘contribute’ six billion $ for unpaid work in the fishing industry of Thailand. More often than not, they will never see their homeland again.

Fourteen year-old Chakra (Heng) slaves away in the rice fields with his father and brother Kravaan, who is being groomed as the heir. Chakra only wants to find a girl friend, but is rejected because of his low social status. Fed up with the whole set-up he finally snaps and travels with smugglers to Thailand.  There he will have to work a month for free, to pay for the cost of the transport. But on the ramshackle trawler, where the catch is substandard seafare (to be processed into dog food), Chakra soon find out this is a life sentence of hard work. One of his fellow workers tells Chakra they “they are already” dead. The ship’s captain, Rom Ron (Kasro) and his second in command punish the crew mercilessly for any disobedience, and bind them in chains, before throwing them into the sea. Chakra’s neighbour, who is losing his mind, is bound with ropes and thrown into the water, whilst the captain brutally manhandles Chakra at the so the propellers catch Kea. More tragedy will follow.

Rathjen keeps strictly to a one-to-one realism, and DoP Michael Latham catches the doomed atmosphere on the trailer in moody images. But somehow the ending undermines what has been said before, leaving the audience with a muted reaction. MT

BERLINALE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

A Tale of Three Sisters (2019) *** Berlinale 2019

Wri/Dir: Emin Alper | Cast: Cemre Ebuzziya, Ece Yuksel, Helin Kandemir, Kayhan Acikgoz, Mufit Kayacan, Kubilay Tuncer, Hilmi Ozcelik, Basak Kivilcim Ertanoglu | Turkish, 108’

A tale of Three Sisters seems like a step backwards for Emin Alper who started his career with the outstanding psychodrama Beyond the Hill. Frenzy followed promisingly, an Istanbul set story of political turmoil.

This folkloric family fable sees him back in another rural part of Turkey, in an Anatolian mountainside village cut off from the modern world. Here three daughters are trying to escape to the capital Ankara, but are thwarted by their poor skillset and the domineering men in their lives.

Almost like a Grimm’s fairy tale the feature is imbued with a mythical quality tethered in old world customs and beliefs. There is even a village idiot who somersaults down the valley with a macabre grin – and teeth to match. But the lack of a gripping storyline sees the film rambling on for nearly two hours without a strong dramatic arc to keep us engaged.

Life goes on as it always has in this village unable to learn by its mistakes. The men drink coffee while the women look after the home. The eldest sister Reyhan (Cemre Ebuzziya) has just had a baby boy and is married to Veysal (Kayhan Acikgoz), a superstitious, embittered loser who we first meet tending his sheep on a cold winter’s night. He soon abandons the herd when confronted by two men looking to buy the fold. And his cowardly nature is the key to the second of the film’s minor tragedies unfolding in the underwhelming finale. Death, birth and illiteracy are the main setbacks for women in this patriarchal set up

Havva (Helin Kandemir), the youngest, and the middle sister Nurhan (Ece Yuksel) seem unable to be trusted with kids and have been dismissed from their care-giving jobs in Ankara by wealthy urbanite Mr Necati (Kubilay Tuncer) who controls everyone’s lot in the village. They have taken part in the Bessemer tradition whereby girls from poor families go to wealthier ones. But due to State changes these girls often never get away again and are abandoned forever in old world poverty. Their kindly widowed father, Sevket (Mufit Kayacan), is determined to find the girls other positions although they are semi-illiterate. 

Before going back to Ankara, Necati enjoys an hilltop raki picnic with Sevket and the village chief. But an unfortunate contretemps develops with Veysal ending in a punch up. Angered and resentful, the herder goes home where he also upsets Reyhan with tragic consequences.

Shot on the widescreen the magical mountain panoramas dominate along with the hostile terrain and climate. DoP Emre Erkmen works wonders with the glowing interiors where dramatic colours compliment the girls’ heightened emotions echoed in the lilting tunes of folk singers and a tremulous violin score. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | COMPETITION

Ghost Town Anthology (2019) **** Berlinale 2019 | Interview

Dir/Wri: Denis Côté | Fantasy Drama | Canada, 97′

Auteur Denis Côté explores the aftermath of tragedy in remotest Quebec where the supernatural coalesces with the everyday lives of a blighted rural community.

Well known for his off-piste forays into Canadian backwaters Ghost Town most reassembles his Locarno Golden Leopard winner Curling (2010). There are also tonal echoes of his debut Drifting States, and even Xavier Dolan’s Tom a la Ferme, which was visited by a similar existential angst. Cote bases his story on the novel by Laurence Olivier, who also co-wrote the script. Silence reigns throughout the film apart from an occasional droning sound which adds to the doleful sense of gloom.

Ghost Town Anthology is an unremittingly bleak affair scratching at the edges of horror but settling instead for a mournful mood throughout; its dysfunctional characters stuck in the icy grip of inertia. When Simon Dubé drives his car at full throttle into a wall of cement, the entire population clings together, while a vortex of wind and snow rages through their flatlands home of Irénee-les-Neiges, a place of 200 odd people.

And odd is the operative word. After the crash a handful of kids play around the wreckage, wearing masks reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s Scream. They are the recurring human motif throughout the film, their identity revealed in the finale. At the funeral chirpy mayor Diane Smallwood (Diane Lavallée) fronts up vehemently despite the mood of despair, determined to raise the morale of her townsfolk with a firm belief in allegiance. “my door is always open”. But in vain. Angered by an offer of bereavement support from the local council, she reacts with thinly veiled hostility when the Muslim therapist arrives in the shape of Yasmina (Sharon Ibgui).

Simon leaves behind a family of three: his mother Gisele (Josee Deschenes) and father Romuald (Jean-Michel Anctil) are numbed by the grief and gradually go their own separate ways, suffering in silence. Simon’s look-a-like brother Jimmy (Robert Naylor) is left in state of shock. A coy George and Mildred style couple – Louise (Jocelyne Zucco) and Richard (Normand Carriere) – offer tea and sympathy to timid live-alone single Adele (Shelley Duvall lookalike Larissa Corriveau) who Richard describes as “a few lightbulbs short of a chandelier”. But her fears seem valid enough: she heard thuds and whispering voices in their house, and ends up suspended by own disbelief. Pierre (Hubert Proulx) owns the village bar and wants to keep his partner happy by offering to do up a dilapidated house at the end of the street, until they discover it was the scene of a brutal murder years earlier. And soon the regular appearances of random figures in the gloaming seem to point to the existence of ghosts from the past. A handheld camera conveys the unstable nature of the experience, but also the ephemeral quality of life.

Jimmy actually sees Simon at close quarters by the ice hockey pitch. Yet he has visited his embalmed body in its temporary morgue, awaiting burial, come the thaw. Romuald picks up a hitchhiker who bears a striking resemblance to his son. Adele also sees one of the masked children surrounded by static figures in the distance. There’s nothing baleful or malevolent about these people, lending them further credibility in the scheme of things. And their low key presence seems to lend credence to the Christian belief that the dead are always amongst us. Despite the bleakness that’s a comforting takeaway. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | IN COMPETITION

 

 

 

 

Hellhole (2019) **** Berlinale 2019

Dir.: Bas Devos; Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Willy Thomas, Hamza Belarbi, Lubna Azabal, Mieke de Grotte; Belgium/Netherlands 2019, 87 min.

Bas Devos is back with another hybrid feature, a vision of urban anxiety and alienation. The feature works as an installation where actors represent Brussels’ lost souls, very much like his 2014 Berlinale winner Violet. 

Inspired by the Brussels’ subway bombings of March 2016 Devos shows us a world out of synch. Often the images break down totally: we get a black screen. Other intervals include long shots of the skies. We watch young immigrants from the Middle East, at school and playing football. “Brussels is called the Jihadi capital of Europe. It would be better to bombard us”. One of the youngsters is Mehdi (Belarbi). He lives with his parents and two younger siblings on a council estate. His older black sheep of the family Ahmed Ahmed puts him in a no-win situation: stealing their grandmother’s jewellery, so he can pay his debts. Mehdi resists. Another bewildered soul Samira (Azabal) makes the only spoken statement of the entire feature the rest are elliptical images: “Violence for me used to be pixels on TV, now I can feel that I can touch it”.  

Meanwhile, Wannes is in a permanent state of angst, unable to get hold of his son Boris, a fighter pilot stationed in the Middle East. He tries to reach him via Skype, but the connection always breaks down. In the Mall, the brutalist architecture and cement walls close in on the shoppers creating a claustrophobic hell. Wannes has a sister, Els (de Grotte), whose husband is dying. The doctor alleviates his last hours of life. The siblings share an unspoken closeness. But closer still is his German Shepherd, who sleeps on his bed. 

Alba (Rohrwacher) is convincing as a vulnerable woman with an eating disorder. Working as a translator with the EU, she is having a break from her fiancée who lives in Rome. Alba picks up a one-night stand on a strobe-lighted dance floor, and sends him away after sex. She knows her fiancée will do the same. When she has faints at work, the fear of something sinister leads her to ask Wannes for advice, but is not convinced she has brain tumour. “The internet says so”. 

It turns out that Mehdi couldn’t find the jewellery – or at least that’s what he tells Ahmed in the Mall. He sits down depressed as two armed soldiers tell him to “keep his backpack close to his body”. At the end Wannes gets a long message from Boris explaining his job: “All images are stored and filed away. There is nothing more to it”. The camera circles a fight plane, like a commercial.

Hellhole unfurls in the city’s drab interiors. Often we get still photos – humans, seem secondary, mostly talking behind glass, in disjointed conversations. Breath-taking and original, Hellhole is like the portrait of a space station, run by aliens, as humans become more and more impersonal. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019

 

Monsters (2019) *** Berlinale | Forum 2019

Dir: Marius Olteanu | Drama, Romania

In a digitalised age of social media reality and perception drift further and further apart. In his feature debut Romanian writer-director Marius Olteanu challenges our perceptions by questioning the gap between who we really our and the persona we project onto others. It’s a fascinating and timely premise and one that Olteanu treats cinematically and quite inventively in this often claustrophobic drama that follows a married couple during 24 hours in the capital Bucharest. It also explores the clash between traditional social values in this predominantly Catholic country and individual needs, particularly sexual desires. And the increasing intolerance of minorities.

Dana and Arthur are a popular couple who have been together for almost 10 years. Yet individually they struggle with their inner demons and have few close friends. It’s almost as if they can only function by keeping up a strict facade of togetherness when what they really want is something quite different. And accepting this with tolerance and understanding might actually be a greater form of love than that defined by sexual expression.

Using the academy ratio and filming in intimate close-up, often from the confines of tight spaces, such as the taxi where Dana spends the night while Arthur wanders around the city and pursues various encounters, this is a drama that focuses closely on its lead characters and doesn’t let them get away from their own, often uncomfortable feelings of angst, frustration, ennui and even coiled paranoia. Structured in three parts: one focuses on Dana, one on Arthur and the third examines their joint dynamic. The first two parts play out on the same night, when the couple, avoid going home, preferring to spend the night in the company of strangers. Dana goes to the length of paying a taxi driver to stay with her in the car for the night, while Arthur wanders around the city and decides to meet a man through a dating app. However, the following day, as much as they have tried to avoid it, they must now face reality. There is a voyeurish quality to this arresting first feature that allows us space for our minds to wonder what is means to love and to be free to explore and find satisfaction, while quietly contemplating a couple in a crisis of their own in  contemporary Romania. MT

BERLINALE 2019 | Forum Section | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

Mektoub my Love: Canto Uno (2017) ***

Dir; Abdellatif Kechiche (France, Italy, 180’, o.v. French s/t English/Italian) starring Shaïn Boumedine, Ophélie Bau, Salim Kechiouche, Lou Luttiau, Alexia Chardard, Hafsia Herzi

Scripted by regular collaborator Ghalya Lacroix, Abdellatif Kecihiche’s follow-up to Blue is the Warmest Colour is a big-screen version of François Begaudeau’s novel. It doesn’t warrant its three hour running time, and few filmmakers would have got away with such a sparse narrative: but somehow Kechiche succeeds, always re-inventing the plot, keeping the audience on board with hypnotic images – helped by the moody mellow camerawork of DoP Marco Graziaplena.

Kechiche returns to  Sête, where he filmed The Secret of the Grain, for this sensuous celebration of sex and food. Amin (Boumedine), a young scriptwriter from Paris, arrives in the Languedoc fishing town to join his large family who run a restaurant. He visits his friend Ophélie (Bau), whose husband is serving the French navy which does not prevent her from indulging in a passionate affair with Toni (Kechiouche), one of Amin’s family. Amin himself is very reserved, preferring the company of girls like Charlotte (Charchard), who are committed to a relationship. Amine’s mother, played by the director’s sister, always reminds him to go out to the beach. Amin follows her advice, falls in love with Jasmine (Luttiau), but is too shy to make headways, whilst Toni takes what he gets – which is lot, to the chagrin of Ophélie. Whilst his friends – Tony again in the forefront – are celebrating lust and alcohol in a nightclub, Amin photographs the birth of two lambs.

The critics at Venice have all remarked how Kechiche (again) sees women from a man’s perspective, which is fine; but they forget that in many scenes women prefer their own gender when dancing and flirting, and are geting on perfectly well without men. Mektoub, meaning destiny – or thereabouts, is certainly not on the same level as Blue, but it celebrates youth, summer, food and sex; and has in Amin, a very convincing counterpart to Toni’s always-ready stud. Mektoub is like a self-indulgent extended holiday: it could be edited down to a long luxurious weekend break, without losing out on the positive benefits. A perfect Valentine film – or maybe not. AS

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS from 16 FEBRUARY 2019

Hormigas (2019) **** Berlinale 2019 | Forum

THE AWAKENING OF THE ANTS (EL DESPERTAR DE LAS HORMIGAS)

Dir.: Antonella Sudasassi Furnis; Cast: Daniela Valenciano, Leynar Gomez, Isabella Moscoso, Avril Alpizar, Kyrsia Rodriguez, Carolina Fernandez; Costa Rica 2018, 94 min.

Antonella Sudasassi Furnis has embellished her short film El Despertar de las Hormigas exploring the gradual emancipation of a seamstress who lives with her blokeish husband and two daughters in small town Costa Rica where the family is everything.

There’s pressure on all sides for Isabel (Valenciano) to have a third child – husband Alcides (Gomez) and his domineering mother talk of nothing else at a family gathering. But Isabel has enough on her plate: daughters Valerie (Moscoso) and Nicole (Alpizar) are demanding, and since Alcides is not much help, Isabel has to cater single-handedly for their needs. Then there is granny, who takes off with children one day, without letting Isabel know. She is livid, but Alcides sides with his mother: she only means well and wants to help. Still under the maternal cosh, Alcides is not a great provider: his casual work doesn’t  feed the family, and only Isabel’s skills with the sewing machine makes it possible for them to survive. Nevertheless, Alcides wants a son (sic!) and dreams about building a house for them all, despite not enough enough for the bare essentials. He life revolves around a macho group of men: when Isabel watches him playing football with relatives at another family event, she might as well be watching her own son. Best friend and client Mireya (Fernandez) is on the pill, because her doctor told her it would sort out her gynaecological problems. So Isabela follows suit, without telling Alcides. After a vivid dream where she runs her own business, she decides to make some changes.

Most interesting here are the family dynamics: and it’s the other women who are constantly on at Isabel to Isabel is procreate. Women are socially competitive, and vying with each other for children and wealth. But the couple’s sex life is dire: Isabel prefers to masturbate whilst her husband sleeps next to her, and when she is having sex with him, she looks at the ceiling, waiting for him to finish. Her great love – for the moment – is dealing with fabrics and designs, hoping to one day run her own shop.

DoP Andres Campos lets the camera follow Isabel every step, she is at the centre of every colourful scene, the panning shots capturing her very basis surroundings and transforming them into something special, a she dreams about her future. This might be a simple story, but the director has created a passionate and intense portrait of a young woman trying to break away from a suffocating family life. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

The Golden Glove (2019) * Berlinale

Dir: Fatih Akin | Drama | Germany, 2019 | 102’

There are brief echoes of Reiner Werner Fassbinder’s Fear Eats the Soul in opening scene of The Golden Glove. This schlocky sortie into the squalid life of a serial killer also brings to mind Ulli Lommel’s cult thriller The Tenderness of Wolves. But that’s where the comparison ends. These films offered another string to their bow. Akin’s thriller just revels in its own ghastliness, descending into drab drama territory and a desolate world of grim bars and pick-up joints where in 1970s West Germany, Fritz Honka was a voracious sexual predator, butchering his victims at will.

Chilling it is not, nor remotely terrifying. The true story plays out as a pointlessly gory procedural recording each death with sensationalist fervour. Blood, gore, body parts and disgusting lavatories – you’ll laugh and shake your head at the mindless depravity of it all. 

Rather than explore the psychological profile of this demon, Akin just pedantically pictures the gruesome daily grind of Fritz Honka, a Hamburg serial killer who kept dismembered body parts of prostitutes in his attic flat in the red light district of St Pauli. When visitors complained of the smell, Honka blamed his Greek Gästarbeiter family that lived downstairs “and didn’t work”. There’s no attempt to humanise the murderer or to probe his inner life or backstory. Honka remains a cypher from beginning to end.

This is a film that doesn’t serve anyone – least of all its victims. It takes a swipe at racism but forgets to finger misogyny – championing ageism into the bargain. Obviously you’ll see it as Warner Brothers have snapped it up. But as the credits roll, the films suddenly turns sentimental offering up poignant portraits of the real women who died – as if suddenly coming to its senses to do the right thing and garner self-righteous respect. We go home without understanding, clarification or even sympathy, other than for those who died. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea (2019) *** Berlinale 2019

Dir: Syllas Tzoumerkas | Cast: Angeliki Papoulia, Youda Boudali, Hristos Passalis, Argyris Xafis | Drama | Greec | 120′

There is a sisterhood in Greece, according to Tzoumerkas. This hysterically overwrought melodrama takes place in a swampy eel-farming backwater in the west of Greece, where two woman live out their own personal trauma. Elisabeth is an alcoholic single-parent police chief, Rita (co-writer Boudali) is the subdued soul sister of a local ‘rock star’. They are brought together after the tragic death of a lounge singer. Worn out and world-weary Elisabeth is neverless as sharp as a nail. Drinking heavily she smokes like a chimney throughout this lagubrious eel-themed affair.

Rita’s bullying brother Manolis (Hristos Passalis) is a slippery eel of another kind. He runs a nightclub where he uses her as a hostess to deal drugs through his establishment. Close to his mother he is also a pampered narcissist with dreams of international stardom. But his mistake is also to mock Mesalonghi in a song he sings at the club one night.

And it all ends in tears on the beach in the small hours. But not before bizarre bacchanalian orgies involving drugs, drinks and multiple orgasms enjoyed by Manolis and his friends. Rita is sadly drawn into this dysfunctional debacle and somehow Elisabeth tunes into her pain and decides to help her in the intense finale. Heavy stuff. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

Öndög (2019) **** Berlinale 2019

Dir: Wang Quan’an | Cast: Dulamjav Enkhtaivan, Aorigeletu, Norovsambuu Batmunkh, Gangtemuer Arild | Mongolia 2019, 100′

Wang Quan’an has been developing his astonishing cinematic style since his Golden Bear success with Tuya’s Marriage in 2007. This slow-burning detective eco-thriller also plays out as a love story for the wide open spaces of Mongolia; for the animals that roam there and the people caught between their traditional rural existence and the birth of the digital age and growing industrialisation.

Öndög is a visual masterpiece that glows and mesmerises. Each frame a jewel box of resplendent colours and wild scenery in a tale touched with the same cheeky humour as his previous films, and enriched with inventive compositions: a dromedary appears like a burning alien set against a campfire in the obsidian darkness, a peasant woman on horseback shares her landscape with the far distant funnels of a factory, puffing smoke into the gloaming. The narrative, too, is compelling but the characters never take themselves, or their existence, too seriously, as we learn through their spare but insightful views on live in this distant outpost.

A naked woman is found dead in the middle of nowhere, in the Mongolian steppe. Overnight, a young and inexperienced policeman has to secure the crime scene. Since he is not familiar with the dangers on site, a local herder is sent to guard him and the body. This determined woman is known locally as a ‘dinosaur’ for her single status approaching her mid thirties. But she’s no fool and can handle a rifle – and scare away wolves from harming her herd: “Hunting is instinctive” we are told in the opening scene where the police car creeps slowly through a curtain of corn, the only traffic a herd of wild horses. The woman herder lights a fire and offers alcohol to the young policeman to keep him warm, and they grow closer. This is a vast, exotic and remote place but the habits and motivations are no different from our Western ones. Especially for the women. Öndög is a unique tale full of comic and awesome scenes  and surprising twists and turns; it also handles existential themes in an offhand but ravishing way. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019 | COMPETITION

Sundance Film Festival | Award and Winners 2019

Sundance announced its awards last night after ten extraordinary days of the latest independent cinema. Taking place each January in Park City, snowy Utah, the festival is the premier showcase for U.S. and international independent film, presenting dramatic and documentary feature-length films from emerging and established artists, innovative short films, filmmaker forums. The Festival brings together the most original storytellers known to mankind. In his closing speech President and Founder Robert Redford commented: “At this critical moment, it’s more necessary than ever to support independent voices, to watch and listen to the stories they tell.” Over half the films shown were directed by women and 23 prizes were awarded across the board including one film from a director identifying as LGBTQI+

This year’s jurors, invited in recognition of their accomplishments in the arts were Desiree Akhavan, Damien Chazelle, Dennis Lim, Phyllis Nagy, Tessa Thompson, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Yance Ford, Rachel Grady, Jeff Orlowski, Alissa Wilkinson, Jane Campion, Charles Gillibert, Ciro Guerra, Maite Alberdi, Nico Marzano, Véréna Paravel, Young Jean Lee, Carter Smith, Sheila Vand, and Laurie Anderson.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary/China | Dirs: Nanfu Wang/Jialing Zhang,

 photo by Nanfu Wang.

ONE CHILD NATION After becoming a mother, a filmmaker uncovers the untold history of China’s one-child policy and the generations of parents and children forever shaped by this social experiment.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic/USA | Dir/Wri Chinonye Chukwu

 

photo by Eric Branco

CLEMENCY: Years of carrying out death row executions have taken a toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams. As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill. Cast: Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff, Wendell Pierce, Richard Gunn, Danielle Brooks.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary: Dirs: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov | Macedonia

HONEYLAND – When nomadic beekeepers break Honeyland’s basic rule (take half of the honey, but leave half to the bees), the last female bee hunter in Europe must save the bees and restore natural balance.

The Souvenir| photo by Agatha A. Nitecka.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic | UK | Dir/wri: Joanna Hogg

THE SOUVENIR: A shy film student begins finding her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man. She defies her protective mother and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship which comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams. Cast: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton.

The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, | USA  Dir: Rachel Lears:

KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE — A young bartender in the Bronx, a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia, a grieving mother in Nevada and a registered nurse in Missouri build a movement of insurgent candidates challenging powerful incumbents in Congress. One of their races will become the most shocking political upset in recent American history. Cast: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic, U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Paul Downs

BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON — A woman living in New York takes control of her life – one city block at a time. Cast: Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lil Rel Howery, Micah Stock, Alice Lee.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary/Austria: Dir: Richard Ladkan

SEA OF SHADOWS/Austria – The vaquita, the world’s smallest whale, is near extinction as its habitat is destroyed by Mexican cartels and Chinese mafia, who harvest the swim bladder of the totoaba fish, the “cocaine of the sea.” Environmental activists, Mexican navy and undercover investigators are fighting back against this illegal multimillion-dollar business.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic/Denmark Dir: May el-Toukhy

QUEEN OF HEARTS — A woman jeopardises both her career and her family when she seduces her teenage stepson and is forced to make an irreversible decision with fatal consequences. Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Gustav Lindh, Magnus Krepper.

 

The Audience Award: NEXT, Alex Rivera, Cristina Ibarra

THE INFILTRATORS / U.S.A. (Directors: , Screenwriters: — A rag-tag group of undocumented youth – Dreamers – deliberately get detained by Border Patrol in order to infiltrate a shadowy, for-profit detention center. Cast: Maynor Alvarado, Manuel Uriza, Chelsea Rendon, Juan Gabriel Pareja, Vik Sahay.

The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary | USA Dirs: Steven Bognar and Julia

AMERICAN FACTORY  — In post-industrial Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring two thousand blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.

The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic U.S.A. Dirs: Joe Talbot, Screenwriters: Joe Talbot,

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO — Jimmie Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont, Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary NOR | Dir: Mads Brüggerwas

 photo by Tore Vollan.

Cold Case Hammarskjöld / Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium — Danish director Mads Brügger and Swedish private investigator Göran Bjorkdahl are trying to solve the mysterious death of Dag Hammarskjold. As their investigation closes in, they discover a crime far worse than killing the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic | Spain (Dir/Wri: Lucía Garibaldi,

THE SHARKS / Uruguay, Argentina – While a rumour about the presence of sharks in a small beach town distracts residents, 15-year-old Rosina begins to feel an instinct to shorten the distance between her body and Joselo’s. Cast: Romina Bentancur, Federico Morosini, Fabián Arenillas, Valeria Lois, Antonella Aquistapache.

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic USA | Dir: Pippa Blanco

SHARE— After discovering a disturbing video from a night she doesn’t remember, sixteen-year-old Mandy must try to figure out what happened and how to navigate the escalating fallout. Cast: Rhianne Barreto, Charlie Plummer, Poorna Jagannathan, J.C. MacKenzie, Nick Galitzine, Lovie Simone.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Moral Urgency| USA | Dir: Jacqueline Olive

ALWAYS IN SEASON — When 17-year-old Lennon Lacy is found hanging from a swing set in rural North Carolina in 2014, his mother’s search for justice and reconciliation begins as the trauma of more than a century of lynching African Americans bleeds into the present.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Emerging Filmmaker USA : Liza Mandelup

JAWLINE — The film follows 16-year-old Austyn Tester, a rising star in the live-broadcast ecosystem who built his following on wide-eyed optimism and teen girl lust, as he tries to escape a dead-end life in rural Tennessee.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing USA : Todd Douglas Miller

APOLLO 11 — A purely archival reconstruction of humanity’s first trip to another world, featuring never-before-seen 70mm footage and never-before-heard audio from the mission.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography | U.S.A. Dir: Luke Lorentzen

MIDNIGHT FAMILY / Mexico/DOC — In Mexico City’s wealthiest neighbourhoods, the Ochoa family runs a private ambulance, competing with other for-profit EMTs for patients in need of urgent help. As they try to make a living in this cutthroat industry, they struggle to keep their financial needs from compromising the people in their care.

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019

Transnistra (2019) | **** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Anna Eborn | Doc, 93′

There’s a breezy insouciance to this slice of realism set in the tiny unrecognised state of Transnistra, which split from Moldova after the civil war in 1992. Atmospherically shot on gritty 16mm, it follows a group of close friends and their emotional ups and downs from the sultry days of summer to the bitterly cold winter. Technically the country doesn’t exist at all and that mood uncertainty is conveyed by Anna Eborn’s freewheeling approach to her narrative and a seductive occasional score of woozy jazz tunes and ambient sounds that convey a feeling of surreal dispossession. Far from the buzz of modern life and social media, they shoot the breeze and hang out amid crumbling Soviet buildings. You get the impression the Transnistrans don’t really care what happens now or in the future, beyond their secluded bubble, as long as they can enjoy life in this peaceful softly wooded wedge of land on the Black Sea south of Ukraine and North East of Romania.

There’s a still strong Soviet vibe to the infrastructure and Transnistra has its own police force, currency and army. And they make proud soldiers as we see them graduating from military school to the sounds of a full band and stage appearance, and there are congratulations all round. Russian is their language and the red and green flag sports a sickle but that’s as far as it goes. Eborn’s watchable, un-judgemental fourth feature portrays a happy little ‘country’ content to jog along proudly for as long as it can. And after all, love is still love wherever you are in the world. MT

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | 23 Jan – 3 Feb 2019 | VPRO BIG SCREEN WINNER

 

An Impossible Love (2018) ****

Dir.: Catherine Corsini; Cast: Virginie Efira, Niels Schneider, Jehnny Beth, Estelle Lescure; Belgium/France 2018, 135 min.

Best known for her Lesbian drama La Belle Saison director/writer Catherine Corsini’s screen adaptation of Christine Angot’s novel plays out like an historical thesis on feminism. Starting in the late 1950s in the small French town of Chateauroux, Corsini tells the story of a brief but passionate love affair that turns into a long-term war between Rachel and Niels. Their daughter Chantal will suffer tragically from her father’s contempt for her mother.

When Rachel (Efira), a clerk, meets the upper-middle class Niels (Schneider) they are attracted to each other. But it soon becomes clear he’s just interested in sex, while Rachel is an incurable romantic and falls for the “man of the world”. Niels leaves her, making it clear he’s not interested in marriage. But when Rachel gives birth to a daughter, Chantal (who is played by four actors during the film), Niels refuses paternity, so Rachel has to settle for “father unknown”, which hurts her much more than being left behind with Chantal. The two adults barely talk, but Niels tells Rachel en-passant, that he has married a wealthy German woman “who will look after him”. By the time Chantal (Lescure) reaches adolescence, the picture has changed with alarming consequences for all concerned.

An Impossible Love is sometimes heartbreaking. Rachel has such low self-esteem from the beginning, she does not ask anything for herself: she does not expect Niels to ever recognise her as an equal. But she hopes that her daughter will have a better life, if she can persuade Niels to give her his name. She is well aware how disturbed Chantal is after her frequent visits to her father a teenager, but she is adamant not to rock the boat.  

DoP Jeanne Lapoirie, who worked with Corsini on La Belle Saison, has gracefully recreated the atmosphere of the 1950s and early 1960s, when women were (the supposed) passive victims of men. The images show Rachel seemingly living in a “pink world with fluffy clouds”, in which she surrenders he whole identity to Niels. The latter is cold and manipulative, always yearning for his ‘freedom’, committed only to his own progress. If one compares Rachel with the adult Chantal, one sees the difference. Progress, so Corsini, has been made, but at what cost:  since Chantal had to carry the burden of her mother’s lack of self-esteem. Even though sometimes over-didactic, Corsini achieves her goal of showing the long, ongoing struggle for emancipation.  AS 

NOW SHOWING at http://Curzoncinemas.com and selected arthouse venues | Previewed at BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018

https://youtu.be/B-2QL8tjP2I

   

Hail Satan! (2019) *** Rotterdam Film Festival 2019

Dir: Penny Lane | US, Doc 95′

Satanism is gaining ground, but don’t panic. Penny Lane’s drôle but disappointing documentary will explain why. According to her findings, the old Devil we can come to know and love has actually been foisted by his own petard. His cult has been hijacked by a motley crew of rather ordinary people who just want to get together and counter the mainstream forces they see dominating America. No harm done. Counterbalancing  is certainly a reasonable idea, but not a compelling premise for a a full length feature documentary. 

Satanists have chosen the rather apt name of The Satanic Temple (TST for short) to represent their cause – and simply because no one else had chosen this title, they checked on the internet, and it was available. And their main man and co-founder really looks the part too with his glazed right eye and shifty expression: Lucien Greaves – not his real name – works jolly hard for the organisation as its spokesperson, ensconced in the black-painted wooden clad house (straight out of the film Halloween) in Salem Massachusetts. Some of the other supporters look rather weird too in their Gothic garb and horned headgear, but that’s about as scary as it gets. And they don’t have much to say for themselves  either, beyond criticising the people they vehemently oppose.

But doesn’t a religion have to have conviction, spirituality, beliefs and customs that transcend mere civic duty?. Amongst their seven tenets the Satanists list: compassion, a struggle for justice, and ‘the inviolability of the body’. But this doctrine could easily apply to the Girl Guides.

And Lane’s documentary certainly doesn’t make us quake in our boots over these so-called Satanists. Mild fascination turns gradually to boredom as Hail Satan! plays out, running round in ever decreasing circles in its effort to get to the crux of the organisation. What TST purports to represent seems ill-defined, but its certainly anti-establishment. The thrust of their activity is clearly to oppose government efforts to establish religious totems such as a granite structure listing the The Ten Commandments in front of a state house, and to erect their own idol which is a metallic figure called Behemoth.

But once we discover that name Satan is just a facade for TST’s rather pointless activities – such as attending ‘unbaptisms’ – and it adherents are just a bunch of average punters with nothing salacious or particularly macabre about them (except their black garb) the whole documentary starts to feel quite tedious. And the fact that they feature regularly on Fox News spinning endless ‘Satanic’ narratives won’t have a novelty value forever. On their website they maintain: We acknowledge blasphemy is a legitimate expression of personal independence from counter-productive traditional norms”. Isn’t this just the same as supporting free speech?. And there’s nothing evil about that.

There’s nothing even o suggest that Satanism is a religion. Ok, it doesn’t espouse violence or evil. Infact it doesn’t really espouse anything cogent at all, apart from being a force for decency and liberalism, and a mealy-mouthed opposition to the mainstream. But behind their black hoods and wicked headgear, there is little talk of faith, spirituality or even morality. Infact there’s no talk of anything other than their smug feeling of hiding behind something that actually doesn’t represent them at all. So their whole existence is misleading. But it’s gathering ground. Their numbers swell day by day, and you might even find yourself joining them one day. But make no mistake. If you’re drawn to this film in the hope of experiencing of something dark and dastardly, you will leave feeling disappointed. At the end of the day, these Satanists are just a bunch of small-town do-gooders.  MT

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Chèche Lavi (2019) *** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Sam Ellison, 2019, Mexico/Haiti/USA, world premiere

A poetic and peaceful paean to Haitians seeking a better life, Sam Ellison gloriously colourful images tell a story we already know but in a zingingly positive and honest way. Low on dialogue but long on musical interludes Chèche Lavi offers its characters a chance to tell their tale while we listen and enjoy the scenery and creatively composed shots of the laborious odyssey via Brazil and Peru, in order finally to ride into Mexico in the cargo hold of a truck. Hoping for a new life in the USA, but then there’s the wall.

Director Sam Ellison cut his teeth as a cinematographer of narrative fiction, and his film’s meticulously constructed visual language – formal compositions, long takes, and long silences – draws from that experience. This appealing style draws us into the emotional world of Robens and James as they embark on their borderland adventure, deepening our understanding of their trails. Gradually they cease to feel inaccessibly foreign.

Haiti and Haitian immigrants, specifically, are often singled out as undesirable in crude and racist attacks. And Ellison has tried to push back against this ideological climate with his calm and placid approach that avoids “headline” sensationalism as the protagonists go about their journey.

French and Portuguese speaking Haitian refugees Robens and James naively dreamed of utopia. They come up against unpleasant surprises, but Sam Ellison quails away from the horror of displacement. His portrait sees two likeable young men adopt a philosophical approach to their journey, always looking on the bright side despite their sense of disappointment and resignation. Getting what you want was never going to be easy. And we feel for them. Ellison’s humane but detached approach honours this timeless yet topical theme. Chèche Lavi is a documentary that works like a narrative art-house feature, and looks like one too.

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | BRIGHT FUTURES | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019

 

Une Jeunesse Dorée (2019) *** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Eva Ionesco | Drama,

Writer-director Eva Ionesco made her debut in Roman Polanski’s horrifying drama The Tenant in 1976. Since then she has made her way into directing. Her second feature is an enjoyable if hollow semi-autobiographical hark back to her disco days at one of Paris’ most legendary nightspots in the late 1970s.

The Palace nightclub was synonymous with stylish couture from Karl Lagerfeld, St Laurent and Missoni. It was also the time of Human League, Grace Jones and Brian Ferry, And this where our young impoverished heroine Rose (Galatea Bellugi) comes to dance with her artist boyfriend Michel (Lukas Ionesco). Both are looking to make their name in the world, and finance the rest of their lives. And this is where they run into decadent ‘beau-monde’ duo Lucile (Isabelle Huppert) and Hubert (Melvil Poupaud), in their fifties and eager for new experiences. Fired up by a cocktail of youth, cash and charisma, the couples feed off each other in an orgy – both literal and metaphorical – of coke and champagne-fuelled sexual encounters – decked out in the latest couture – and Isabelle Huppert is as sexy as her much younger counterpart Bellugi. After rocking the dance floor they all repair back in a Jaguar to Lucile’s soigné chateau in a the country where the young ones are eager for money and contacts, while the older pair paw them with unwanted sexual advances, to spice up their flagging libidos. 

This retro drama is very much a family affair, and it makes for an entertaining drama, if rather glib in its louche emptiness and threadbare script. Ionesco deftly captures the Seventies zeitgeist, but narrative-wise the drama plays out with no surprises. And while Huppert holds court with her sterling support, Poupard also holds sway with his graceful nonchalance, the young two providing alluring eye candy as the doomed and clingy lovers, caught between a desire to succeed and a need to be loved. 

Une Jeunesse Dorée feels slightly overlong at just under two hours, but despite the flagging plot line, expert camerawork comes courtesy of Claire Denis regular Agnès Godard, and there are cossies to die for including ubiquitous sequins and floor length furs from the designers Jurgen Doering and Marie Beltrami. The girls lie back lustfully in Agent Provocateur lingerie and Huppert even flashes her tits and utters outré lines such as: “Hubert has a very beautiful penis, and he knows how to use it”. Now that’s a showstopper, if ever there was one. MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 23 JAN – 3 FEB 2019

X&Y (2019) **** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir.: Anna Odell; Cast: Anna Odell, Mikhael Persbrandt, Shanti Roney, Thure Lindhardt, Trine Dyrholm, Sofie Grabol, Jens Albinus, Vera Vitali, Per Ragnar, Ville Virtanen; Sweden/Denmark 2018, 112 min.

Artist and filmmaker Anna Odell (The Reunion), the enfant terrible of the Nordic film scene, is back with a new feature. X & Y is a star studded ensemble peace, which explores hidden female/male identities. Odell came to prominence in 2009 with her student project Unknown Woman, 2009-349701:  in a life performance in Stockholm, she acted out her psychotic breakdown and suicide. She was later fined for this, but insisted it was not about her own experience in the Swedish Mental Health system, but an attack on the power structures within the institutions. 

X & Y is tamer in comparison, even though structure and topic are extremely (thought) provoking. Odell plays a female director who fancies macho film star Mikhael Persbrandt, who has just published a memoir in which he tackles his image. Odell has chosen three actors for herself and Persbrandt, to play the alternative personalities of the lead couple: Grabol (brilliant as always), Albinus and Vitali act out Odell’s alternate personalities, whilst Roney, Lindhardt and Dyrholm (matching Grabol’s performance) are the alter egos of Persbrandt. Two psychologists, Ragnar and Virtanen try to help the octet come to terms with Odell’s cryptic and basic script.

Odell, to give her credit, holds her own in a star studded cast. After the opening chapter, in where Odell and Persbrandt get close up and personal, the Alter-Egos take over, and start attacking or lusting after their counterparts. Best are the scenes when the leading couple is represented by a different gender actor, showing that the ambivalence of feelings like jealousy, dominance and sexual obsession are not as gender specific as one might think. In the play, Odell is always behind with the script, infuriating her cast. The actors sleep in two groups, and Odell, who has manufactured a frisky animal costume for herself, becomes sexually aggressive with the trio in her bed. Finally, at a re-union month later, it turns out she is pregnant with an “art-child”, obviously drawing on her recent experience of giving birth. Odell, always the provocateur, stated in an interview that, “she is looking forward to introducing her own child to Lars van Trier, who is also the product of an artistic relationship”. 

 X & Y is provocative, but stays inside a concept: every person has three identities: the self, the one we would like to be, and the way we are seen by others. These identities often differ often, and Odell works it out without shrinking from exposing herself. A great ensemble helps, as well as DoP Daniel Takacs, whose images range from distant froideur to aggressive close-ups. Odell’s temper tantrums still are still hard to take, but she is more much reflective now, without having lost the talent to excite.

SCREENING AT ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 23 Jan – 3 Feb   

The Best of Dorien B (2019) *** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Anke Blonde | Cast: Kim Strauwaerts, Dirk van Dijk, Peter De Graef | Belgium, Drama | 106’

Anke Blonde’s contemporary portrait of loneliness in a seemingly busy and successful life will be familiar. And THE BEST OF DORIEN B’s subdued aesthetic and slow pace reflect a deep-felt dissatisfaction within its heroine’s  humdrum existence in an ordinary town in Belgium. Viewed from the outside wife and mother Dorien has everything to live for: a loving husband, three healthy boys and a vocation she always dreamed of: caring for animals in a busy veterinary practice. 

So what’s missing? A real connection. It feels like everyone is projecting their own needs onto her capable shoulders. But Dorien just plods on oblivious. With no-one to confide in while she soaks up the draining negativity of her parent’s emerging marriage crisis and her vet husband’s previous infidelity with a colleague – which seems to be far from over – she soldiers on. In her deft feature debut, the Belgian director reveals the deep cracks in a perfect facade. And then Dorien’s world crashes down. And from this personal crisis comes an epiphany moment for the former wildchild to bring the focus back firmly to her own hopes and dreams. This thoughtful comedy drama with its sensitive nuanced performances – particularly from lead Kim Snauwaert – plays its serious side lightly but makes a firm point: that sometimes we need to be selfish in order to keep on supporting those whose depend on us. Playing to packed audiences in Rotterdam’s Big Screen Competition line-up it certainly seem to strike a chord.  MT

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | BIG SCREEN COMPETITION | 23 Jan-3 Feb 2019

Dirty God (2019) ** Rotterdam Film Festival 2019

Dir: Sasha Polak | Cast: Vicky Knight, Eliza Brady-Girard, Rebecca Stone, Jake Wheeldon | Drama | 104′

Londoner Jade has to come to terms with being disfigured by her partner in this English languages debut of filmmaker Sacha Polak. Dirty God is uncompromising – but somewhat blurs the boundaries between openness and voyeurism.

This is the astonishing debut for Vicky Knight who who suffered scars from burning as a child, and acts with great passion. We see her emerging from hospital, her face and upper brutally scarred by the acid, she returns to the East London council estate, where her mother Lisa (Kelly) is waiting with Jade’s daughter (Brady- Girard), who is driven to tears when her mother tries to cuddle her. And Polak’s non British status allows her to see things from refreshing angle in contrast to the usual sink estate realism and this also gives her character a sense of vulnerability and verve that feels convincing despite the film’s narrative flaws and the weak support cast. The resonance with Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank is clearly felt, but Polak’s film has an upbeat sense of hope and a more refreshing visual allure despite its downbeat setting.

Jade’s mother Katherine Kelly) works from home turning around stolen luxury items. She is also supported, up to a point, by her best friend. Jade’s ex is awaiting arrest for the assault on her, an act that has clearly reduced her potential to be an accomplished and sexually attractive woman. And Jade suffers from nightmares in which her ex sports a crow’s suit. Clearly the scars are psychological as well as physical

DoP Ruben Impens is unsparing, showing every detail, although some of the dream sequences are clunky. But this is clearly newcomer Knight film and she carries it with passion and honesty, raising the question: when does honesty becomes an embarrassment? After all, Knight is a real victim, but a feature film is still a work of fiction. It is not easy to decide where do come down in this argument. At best, the ambiguity is open to interpretation, with the audience making up their minds. AS

FROM 7 JUNE 2019 NATIONWIDE

 

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The Man Who Surprised Everyone (2018) **** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Natasha Merkulova, Aleksey Chupov | Cast: Evgeniy Tsiganov, Natalya Kudryashowa, Yuriy Kuznetsov, Vasiliy Popov, Pavel Maykov, Aleksey Filimonov, Elena Voronchikhina, Maksim Vitorgan | Drama | Russia Estonia France | 105’

Russian directing duo Natasha Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov tackle a thorny subject with deftness in this classically styled and  surprisingly moving arthouse drama that had its premiere in the Orizzonti sidebar at Venice Film Festival 2018

LGBT issues are still viewed with hostility back home in Russia but the leads are completely convincing in their subtlely nuanced and solemn portrayal of a modern couple coping with extremely challenging conditions in a remote rural outpost.

Egor is a respectable family man who we first meet navigating his boat along the Siberian Taiga where he works as a forest ranger looking out for poachers. He and his wife Natalia are expecting their second child when Egor discovers he has terminal cancer but keeps his wife in the dark about his imminent death. But this is not the only secret the thoughtful middle-aged man harbours, and the filmmakers gradually draw us in establishing the couple’s joint and several feelings of joy for her, and mounting grief and unease for him: Egor must bear alone the double burden of his cancer trauma and his nascent sexual yearnings that will certainly require his wife’s forbearance. When he tells Natasha she persuades Egor to seek further help in looking for a cure. But no traditional medicine or shamanic magic can save him. Finally, left with no other option, he makes a desperate attempt to escape the reality of his death by channelling his feelings into self-identifying as a woman with initial alarm to his close community, followed by anger, disbelief and acceptance by Natasha, and we feel for both of them. His family and the local society now have to accept his new self.

Moody rain-soaked settings and subdued interiors add to the feeling of angst and quiet desperation as the couple struggle on trapped by poverty and Natasha’s ageing and ailing father in a scenario that will be feel familiar to many.

This is a grim and provocatively complex tale that needs clever handling and one that could have gone severely awry with disastrous consequences without the skill of a competent directing team. But instead clever scripting, skilful handling of the complex issues at stake and sensitive performances make for an absorbing feature and one with considerable dramatic heft as we wait for the startling denouement that requires a certain leap of faith but one that feels plausible and satisfying in the circumstances.MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Berlinale Competition films announced | Berlinale 2019

The full competition line-up and special films for this year’s Berlinale have now been announced. The festival opens with Lone Scherfig’s THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS and runs from the 7th February until the 17th. 

Vying for the Golden Bear, there are three Asian films: Zhang Yimou’s One Second, (China) Farewell My Son Wang by Xiaoshuai (China) and Öndög by Wang Quan’an (Mongolia). From Canada, festival regular Denis Côté wiIl bring his latest drama Ghost Town Anthology Israeli director Nadav Lapid brings his world premiere: Synonyms. The rest are from all over Europe. 

There are 20 world premieres this year in Berlin, and 16 films vying for the Golden Bear of which 6 are directed by women.

BERLINALE GOLDER BEAR – hopefuls and Competition films:

The Kindness of Strangers by Lone Scherfig (Denmark / Canada / Sweden / Germany / France) – Opening film. Andrea Riseborough, Caleb Landry Jones and Bill Nighy star in Scherfig’s 20th film exploring the lives of four people in crisis.

The Ground beneath My Feet, by Marie Kreutzer (Austria)

Kreutzer’s first film The Fatherless won her an honourable mention at Berlinale 2011. Her latest drama follows a high powered woman has everything under control until a tragic event forces her life to unravel.

So Long, My Son (Di jiu tian chang) by Wang Xiaoshuai (People’s Republic of China). Once again the social and economic changes in China from the 1980s until the present day are pulled into the spotlight through the experience of two couples.

Elisa y Marcela (Elisa & Marcela) by Isabel Coixet (Spain), The first recorded lesbian marriage is the subject of this black and white biopic from Catalan director Isabel Coixet.

The Golden Glove, Der Goldene HandschuhFatih Akin was born and grew up in Germany from Turkish parentage. His first literary adaptation is a crime thriller that traces back to Hamburg in the 1970s where a rampant serial killer was at large. (Germany / France) God

Exists, Her Name is Petrunya, (Gospod postoi, imeto i’ e Petrunija)  by Teona Strugar. The  male population of a Macedonian seaside town is scandalised when a young local woman decides to enact a traditionally men-only religious ceremony, but Petrunya holds her own in this unusual drama from award-winning director Teona Strugar Mitevska. Brings to mind Sworn Virgin. (Macedonia / Belgium / Slovenia / Croatia / France)

Grâce à Dieu (By the Grace of God) by François Ozon (France). French provocateur Ozon is back in Berlin with this portrait of three men who decide to challenge a Catholic priest who abused them many years previously.

I Was at Home, But by Angela Schanelec (Germany / Serbia). Franz Rogowski is the star of this Germany drama that revolves around a teenager whose brief disappearance changes the lives of his local community.

A Tale of Three Sisters (Kız Kardeşler)by Emin Alper (Turkey / Germany / Netherlands / Greece). The knock-on affects of unsuccessful adoption is the thorny theme of this drama from Emin Alper, whose award-winning, incendiary thrillers Frenzy and Beyond the Hill have delighted previous Venice and Berlinale festival-goers.

Mr. Jones by Agnieszka Holland (Poland / United Kingdom / Ukraine). Two years ago Polish director Holland won the Silver Bear with her eco-drama Spoor. She’s back in the competition line-up with a thriller about the Welsh journalist who broke the news to the Western media about the 1930s famine in the Soviet Union. Vanessa Kirby, James Norton and Peter Sarsgaard star.

Öndög by Wang Quan’an (Mongolia). Wang Quan’an is no newcomer to Berlinale. In 2010 he  won the Silver Bear for his drama Apart Together, and the Golden Bear for Tuya’s Marriage in 2006.

La paranza dei bambini (Piranhas) by Claudio Giovannesi (Italy). A gang of teenage boys terrorise the streets of Naples in this thriller based on Robert Saviano’s novel Gomorrah.

Répertoire des villes disparues (Ghost Town Anthology) by Denis Côté (Canada). It’s always a pleasure to see Denis Côté’s films – this inventive Canadian maverick was last in town with Boris Without Beatrice. Here he’s back with a fantasy drama set in the aftermath of a tragic incident in a small isolated town

Synonymes (Synonyms) by Nadav Lapid (France / Israel / Germany), with Tom Mercier, Quentin Dolmaire, Louise Chevillotte. Lapid follows his 2014 drama The Kindergarten Teacher with a story about a young Israeli man who absconds to Paris with his trusty dictionary as companion.

Systemsprenger (System Crasher) by Nora Fingscheidt (Germany) a drama focusing on an unruly kid who terrorises everyone around her, not least the child protection services.

Ut og stjæle hester (Out Stealing Horses) by Hans Petter Moland (Norway / Sweden / Denmark). Moland brought his politically incorrect thriller In Order of Disappearance to Berlin in 2014. His latest, Out Stealing Horses also stars Stellan Skargard as a grieving widow whose past comes to the present when he moves out to the depths of the Scandinavian countryside.

Yi miao zhong (One Second) by Zhang Yimou (Red Sorghum) People’s Republic of China ). Always extravagant and visually alluring, Zhang Yimou’s stylish films win awards across the board. Fresh from Venice 2018 and the Golden Horse Festival where his latest Shadow won the top prize. He tries his luck again at Berlinale 2019 with this story that sees a film buff befriending a homeless female.

Berlinale Special at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele

Peter Lindbergh – Women Stories – Documentary
Germany
by Jean Michel Vecchiet (Vies et morts d’Andy Warhol, Basquiat, une vie, 6 juin 1944, ils étaient les premiers)
World premiere

Berlinale Special Gala at the Friedrichstadt-Palast

Photograph
India / Germany / USA
by Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox, Our Souls at Night, The Sense of an Ending)
with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Farrukh Jaffar, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Vijay Raaz, Jim Sarbh, Akash Sinha, Saharsh Kumar Shukla
European premiere

You Only Live Once  – Die Toten Hosen – Tour 2018 Documentary – World Premiere
Germany
by Cordula Kablitz-Post and concert director Paul Dugdale (Taylor Swift)

In Competition – Out of Competition

L’adieu à la nuit (Farewell to the Night) by André Téchiné (France / Germany) – Out of competition with Catherine Deneuve, Kacey Mottet Klein.
Amazing Grace realised by Alan Elliott (USA) From 1970s Warner footage – Documentary, out of competition

Marighella by Wagner Moura (Brazil) – Out of competition

The Operative by Yuval Adler (Germany / Israel / France / USA) – Out of competition

Varda par Agnès (Varda by Agnès) by Agnès Varda (France) – Documentary, out of competition

Vice by Adam McKay (USA) – Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry – Out of competition

Berlinale Special films:

ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky (Canada) – Documentary
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by Chiwetel Ejiofor (United Kingdom)
Brecht by Heinrich Breloer (Germany / Austria)
Celle que vous croyez (Who You Think I Am) by Safy Nebbou (France)
Es hätte schlimmer kommen können – Mario Adorf (It Could Have Been Worse – Mario Adorf) von Dominik Wessely (Germany) – Documentary
Gully Boy by Zoya Akhtar (India)
Lampenfieber (Kids in the Spotlight) by Alice Agneskirchner (Germany) – Documentary
El Norte (The North) by Gregory Nava (USA 1984)
Peter Lindbergh – Women Stories by Jean Michel Vecchiet (Germany) – Documentary
Photograph by Ritesh Batra (India / Germany / USA)
Watergate – Or: How We Learned to Stop an Out of Control President by Charles Ferguson (USA) – Documentary
Weil du nur einmal lebst – Die Toten Hosen auf Tour (You Only Live Once – Die Toten Hosen on Tour) by Cordula Kablitz-Post, concert director Paul Dugdale (Germany) – Documentary

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019 

Rotterdam Film Festival | 23 January – 3 February 2019

Rotterdam is one of the largest shipping ports in Europe and forms part of the prosperous oil-trading triangle known as ARA, along with Amsterdam and Antwerp. Rotterdam is the cradle of Modernism from the 1930s onwards and although it was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War (apart from the iconic Sonneveld House Museum which still remains, built in the Nieuwe Bouwen style). The vibrant Dutch city takes pride in its Avant garde and Art Nouveau architecture and buildings such as the Cube House (left), Kunsthal Museum and the Erasmusbrug Bridge (below) making it a magnet for design lovers – and cineastes alike.

This year’s Rotterdam Film Festival takes place from 23 January until the 3rd February with the latest World premieres running alongside 4 sections entitled Bright Future, Voices, Deep Focus and Perspectives – and a cutting-edge arts programme to add a cultural dimension to the 10 days, and this year includes SLEEPCINEMAHOTEL a one off project by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and never before seen outtakes from Sergei Parajanov’s masterpiece The Colour of Pomegranates (196

The 2019 jury comprises Chilean filmmaker and artist Alfredo Jaar; Daniela Michel, festival director of Morelia Film Festival; Katriel Schory, former director of the Israel Film Fund; Pimpaka Towira, Thai filmmaker/producer and programme director of Singapore Film Festival; and Italian filmmaker Susanna Nicchiarelli. The festival’s Big Screen Competition awards a prize of €30,000 to its winning director whose film will be guaranteed a theatrical release in the Netherlands, as be broadcast on the Dutch public TV network NPO.

Sacha Polak’s Dirty God will open the festival.

T  I G E R   C O M P E T I T I O N

Sons Of Denmark, Ulaa Salim, 2019, Denmark, world premiere

No coração do mundo, Gabriel Martins Alves/Maurílio Martins, 2019, Brazil, world premiere

Take Me Somewhere Nice, Ena Sendijarević, 2019, Netherlands/Bosnia and Herzegovina, world premiere (left)

Present.Perfect., Shengze Zhu, 2019, USA/Hong Kong, world premiere

Sheena667, Grigory Dobrygin, 2019, Russia, world premiere

Nona. If They Soak Me, I’ll Burn Them, Camila José Donoso, 2019, Chile/Brazil/France/South Korea, world premiere

Koko-di Koko-da, Johannes Nyholm, 2018, Sweden/Denmark, international premiere

Els dies que vindran, Carlos Marqués-Marcet, 2019, Spain, world premiere

B I G   S C R E E N   C O M P E T I T I O N

Bangla, Phaim Bhuiyan, 2019, Italy, world premiere

The Best of Dorien B., Anke Blondé, 2019, Belgium, world premiere

God of the Piano, Itay Tal, 2019, Israel, world premiere

Hail Satan?, Penny Lane, 2018, USA, international premiere

Joel, Carlos Sorín, 2018, Argentina, European premiere

Queen of Hearts, May el-Toukhy, 2019, Denmark, European premiere

Transnistra, Anna Eborn, 2018, Sweden, world premiere

X&Y, Anna Odell, 2018, Sweden/Denmark, international premiere

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019 

Beautiful Boy (2018) ****

Dir: Felix van Groeningen | Drama | 110’ | US 2018

Based on a best-selling memoir by journalist David Sheff, BEAUTIFUL BOY explores a teenage boy’s descent into crystal meth addiction. It’s a film that pulls no punches, but which avoids excessively wallowing in the physical misery of drug use. Instead, the focus is on the wider circumstances of the boy’s addiction and, specifically, the impact that it has on his father. It’s a personal, refreshing approach which makes the boy’s decline all the more moving.

An intelligent teenager with a bright future, Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet) is nevertheless anxious and alienated, and he starts using drugs to help him fill the void that he feels inside. Sensing a problem, his father (Steve Carell, playing David Sheff) checks Nic into a rehab facility, but the success of the treatment is short lived – ‘relapse is part of recovery’, we’re repeatedly told, and Nic’s sense of emptiness makes him a repeat user. His choice of drug doesn’t help – as an expert explains to David, the recovery rate for crystal meth addicts, as a percentage, is in the single figures.

Playing Nic, Chalamet brings a sympathetic charm to a role which borders a little on cliché – that of the tortured, gifted artist-turned-junky – but the film belongs to Steve Carrell, who excels as the caring father who feels increasingly helpless in the face of his son’s steady decline. Following his turn as a grieving father in Richard Linklater’s recent masterpiece Last Flag Flying, Carrell seems to be moving away from the comedic roles which made his name and carving out a specific dramatic niche all for himself.

Given that it’s the relationship between father and son, rather than son and drugs, that forms the core of Beautiful Boy, the film’s scope widens out, becoming a study of family dynamicsand the way that David’s preoccupation with Nic consumes him, dominating his life and impacting his relationship with his younger children (Nic’s step-siblings): scenes such as the one showing a distracted David failing to watch his younger son swimming reach beyond the drug-addition narrative. But as David struggles with his guilt and his inability to pull Nic from the gutter, the major question that arises is: can you ever really help other people, or can they only help themselves?

Quiet and understated, the film deserves praise for its non-sensationalist approach. Though at times he brings in a touch too much sentiment (including the use of the John Lennonsong which gives the film its title), director Felix Van Groeningen handles the non-linear, elliptical narrative with a commanding efficiency. If the film’s factual closing titles make its ultimate message all too clear, one can’t help but feel it’s an effective film which serves as a pertinent reminder of the devasting and wide-reaching effects of drug use – not only on the users themselves, but also on those who love them. ALEX BARRETT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Sundance Film Festival | 24 January – 3 February 2019

In Park City Utah, ROBERT REDFORD and his programmer John Cooper set the indie film agenda for 2019 with an array of provocative new titles. This year’s selection has the latest documentaries from Alex Gibney and Kim Longinotto (Shootin the Mafia). There will be biopics about Harvey Weinstein, Stieg Larsson (Millennium Trilogy), designer Halston, and tragic actor Anton Yelchin. English director Joanna Hogg’s latest drama The Souvenir will compete in the World Dramatic section, and Shia LeBoeuf’s scripting debut Honey Boy will compete in the US Dramatic section.
PREMIERES 2019 | D R A M A T I C 

After The Wedding

Isabel (Michelle Williams) has dedicated her life to working with the children in an orphanage in Calcutta. Theresa (Julianne Moore)…
Dir/Writer: Bart Freundlich

Animals

Would-be writer Laura (Holliday Grainger) and her free-spirited bestie Tyler (Alia Shawkat) share a messy Dublin apartment and a hearty…
Director Sophie Hyde Writer Emma Jane Unsworth

Blinded by the Light

1987, Margaret Thatcher’s England. Javed, a 16-year-old British Pakistani boy, lives in the town of Luton. His father’s recent job…
Director Gurinder Chadha, Writer Sarfraz Manzoor, Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

1969. Ted (Zac Efron) is crazy-handsome, smart, charismatic, affectionate. And cautious single mother Liz Koepfler (Lily Collins) ultimately cannot resist…
Director Joe Berlinger. Screenwriter Michael Werwie

I Am Mother

Shortly after humanity’s extinction, in a high-tech bunker deep beneath the earth’s surface, a robot named Mother commences her protocol….
Director Grant Sputore, Screenwriter Michael Lloyd Green

Late Night

Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is a pioneer and legendary host on the late-night talk-show circuit. When she’s accused of being…
Director Nisha Ganatra. Screenwriter Mindy Kaling

Official Secrets

Based on the book , tells the true story of British secret-service officer Katharine Gun, who during the immediate run-up…
Director Gavin Hood, Screenwriter Sara Bernstein, Gregory Bernstein, Gavin Hood

Paddleton

An unlikely bromance between two misfit neighbors becomes an unexpectedly emotional journey when one of them is diagnosed with terminal…
Director Alex Lehmann. Screenwriter Alex Lehmann, Mark Duplass

Photograph

Rafi works as a street photographer in frenzied Mumbai, snapping improvised portraits for tourists at the city’s landmarks. When his…
Director Ritesh Batra. Screenwriter Ritesh Batra

Relive

Los Angeles detective Jack Radcliff fields a distressed phone call from his niece Ashley and rushes to the rescue—only to…
Director Jacob Estes Screenwriter Jacob Estes, Drew Daywalt

Sonja – The White Swan

Before there were the Ice Capades, there was Sonja Henie. In 1936, Henie has three Olympic gold medals and ten…
Director Anne Sewitsky. Screenwriter Mette Marit Bølstad, Andreas Markusson

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Young William Kamkwamba lives with his family in rural Malawi, where he attends school regularly and shows great aptitude for…
Director Chiwetel Ejiofor Screenwriter Chiwetel Ejiofor

The Mustang

Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a tightly wound convict fresh out of solitary confinement at a maximum security prison in…
Director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. Screenwriter Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Mona Fastvold, Brock Norman Brock

The Report

Senate staffer Daniel Jones is assigned the daunting task of leading an investigation into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program….
Director Scott Z. Burns. Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns

The Sunlit Night

Summer is off to a terrible start for Frances (Jenny Slate). Her art project fails, her boyfriend unceremoniously kicks her…
Director David Wnendt. Screenwriter Rebecca Dinerstein

The Tomorrow Man

Retiree Ed Hemsler (John Lithgow) spends his quiet days watching the news, checking internet forums, and preparing for the end…
Director Noble Jones. Screenwriter Noble Jones

Top End Wedding

Lauren and Ned are engaged. They are in love. And they have just ten days to find Lauren’s mother (who…
Director Wayne Blair. Screenwriter Joshua Tyler, Miranda Tapsell

Troop Zero

Nine-year-old oddball Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace) is obsessed with space and making contact with the aliens of the universe. When…
Directors Bert&Bertie. Screenwriter Lucy Alibar

Velvet Buzzsaw

In the cutthroat world of fine-art trading and representation, up-and-coming agent Josephina (Zawe Ashton) stumbles across a secret weapon: hundreds…
Director Dan Gilroy. Screenwriter Dan Gilroy
PREMIERES 2019 | D O C U M E N T A R Y
The Brink / U.S.A. (Director: Alison Klayman, Producer: Marie Therese Guirgis) — Now unconstrained by an official White House post, Steve Bannon is free to peddle influence as a perceived kingmaker with a direct line to the President. After anointing himself leader of the “populist movement,” he travels around the U.S. and the world spreading his hard-line anti-immigration message. World Premiere
ASK DR RUTH (2019) 

Don’t let her small status fool you. She may be under five feet tall but Holocaust survivor Dr Ruth Westheimer is a force to be reckoned with, as chronicled by Ryan White in his documentary portrait of the noteworthy sex therapist.

Dir: Ryan White.

Halston

Fashion designed Halston combined talent, notoriety and sheer gorgeousness to become a legend. From humble beginnings in Des Moines, Iowa this doc explores his meteoric rise to fame.

Dir: Frederic Tcheng

 Love, Antosha

Prolific young actor Anton Yelchin was wise beyond his years and influenced around him to strive for more.

Dir: Garret Price

Marianne & Leonard

Is a beautiful yet tragic love story between Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen.

Dir: Nick Broomfield

 Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen

In the 1970s Merata Mita broke through barriers of race, class and gender.

Dir/writer: Hepi Mita

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

Using words from Miles Davis’ Autobiography, Stanley Nelson’s biopic offers insight into our understanding of the legendary musician.

Dir: Stanley Nelson

 Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Mollu Ivins

With razor-sharp wit, outspoken journalist and firecracker Molly Ivins took on the good-old-boy corruption in the political establishment

Dir: Janice Engel. Writer: Janice Engel, Monique Zavistovski

The Great Hack

Have you ever filled out an online survey? Do you wonder why you received ads for products

Dir: Karim Amer, Jehane Noujam Wri: Erin Barnett, Pedro Kos, Karim Amer

The Inventor: Out for blood in Silicon Valley

Elizabeth Holmes arrived in Silicon Valley with a revolutionary medical invention. She called it “the Edison”

Director: Alex Gibney

 Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

After a stint as an editor early in her career, this American writer got the measure of publishing.

Dir: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

 Untouchable

The inside story of the meteoric rise and monstrous fall of movie titan Harvey Weinstein is laid bare.

Dir: Ursula Macfarlane

Words from a Bear

When N Scott Momaday won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize, it marked one of the first major acknowledgements of Native America.

COMPETITION TITLES | U S   D R A M A T I C

Before You Know It

Stage manager Rachel Gurner still lives in her childhood apartment—along with her off-kilter actress sister, Jackie; eccentric playwright father Mel;…
Director Hannah Pearl Utt. Screenwriters Hannah Pearl Utt, Jen Tullock

Big Time Adolescence

It’s funny: humans have been growing up for a really long time, but somehow we still suck at it. Just…
Director Jason Orley. Screenwriter Jason Orley

Brittany Runs A Marathon

Brittany Forgler is a funny, likeable, 27-year-old hot mess of a New Yorker whose trashy nightclub adventures and early-morning walks…
Director Paul Downs Colaizzo. Screenwriter Paul Downs Colaizzo

Clemency

How do you salvage your marriage when you are struggling to salvage your soul, your sense of self, and your…
Director Chinonye Chukwu. Screenwriter Chinonye Chukwu

Hala

Hala is her father’s pride and joy. Dutiful and academically gifted, she skillfully navigates both her social life as a…
Director Minhal Baig. Screenwriter Minhal Baig

Honey Boy

When 12-year-old Otis starts to find success as a child television star in Hollywood, his ex-rodeo-clown father returns to serve…
Director Alma Har’el. Screenwriter Shia LaBeouf

Imaginary Order

For Cathy, life as she’s always known it seems to be slipping away. Her sense of significance is crumbling as…
Director Debra Eisenstadt. Screenwriter Debra Eisenstadt

Luce

It’s been ten years since Amy and Peter Edgar (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) adopted their son from war-torn Eritrea,…
Director Julius Onah. Screenwriter JC Lee, Julius Onah

Ms. Purple

In the dark karaoke rooms of Los Angeles’s Koreatown stripmalls, Kasie works as a girl, a young hostess paid to…
Director Justin Chon. Screenwriter Justin Chon, Chris Dinh

Native Son

Bigger “Big” Thomas, a young African American man, lives with his mother and siblings in Chicago. Half-heartedly involved with a…
Director Rashid Johnson. Screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks

Share

After a night of partying, high-school sophomore Mandy discovers that a series of cell-phone videos of her—half-dressed and semiconscious—have gone…
Director Pippa Bianca. Screenwriter Pippa Bianco

The Farewell

After learning their beloved matriarch has terminal lung cancer, a family opts not to tell her about the diagnosis, instead…
Director Lulu Wang. Screenwriter Lulu Wang

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Jimmie Fails has one hope in life: to reclaim the majestic Victorian house his grandfather built. Every week, Jimmie and…
Director Joe Talbot. Screenwriter Joe Talbot, Rob Richert

Them That Follow

In the rugged wilderness of Appalachia, the members of an isolated community of Pentecostal snake handlers led by Pastor Lemuel…
Director Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage. Screenwriter Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage

The Sound of Silence

A self-taught scientist, Peter (Peter Sarsgaard) works in New York as a “house tuner”—a unique, highly specialized profession he’s invented….
Director Michael Tyburski. Screenwriter Ben Nabors, Michael Tyburski

To The Stars

In a god-fearing small town in 1960s Oklahoma, bespectacled and reclusive teen Iris endures the booze-induced antics of her mother…
Director Martha Stephens. Screenwriter Shannon Bradley-Colleary
US   D O C U M E N T A R Y  

Always in Season

Claudia Lacy wants answers. When her 17-year-old son, Lennon, was found hanging from a swing set in Bladenboro, North Carolina,…
Director Jacqueline Olive

American Factory

In 2014, a Chinese billionaire opened a Fuyao factory in a shuttered General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio. For thousands…
Director Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert

APOLLO 11

NASA’s vaults open for the first time to spill this exquisite, never-before seen audio and 70 mm film footage of…
Director Todd Douglas Miller

Bedlam

is the first major documentary to explore the crisis in care of severely mentally-ill citizens. Set in Los Angeles,…
Director Kenneth Paul Rosenberg

David Crosby: Remember My Name

We’re all acquainted with archetypal rock bio-doc tropes: the unexpected rise to stardom, calamitous love affairs, a descent into drugs,…
Director A.J. Eaton

Hail Satan?

What kind of religious expression should be permitted in a secular nation? Holy hell, something is brewing! Just a few…
Director Penny Lane

Jawline

Austyn Tester—handsome and 17—feels oppressed by the confines of life in his small hometown in Tennessee. But in the online-streaming…
Director Liza Mandelup

Knock Down the House

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young, bold Puerto Rican bartender from the Bronx, works double shifts to save her family’s home from…
Director Rachel Lears

Midnight Family

With striking vérité camerawork, drops us directly into the frenetic nighttime emergency ecosystem of Mexico City. In the midst of…
Director Luke Lorentzen

Mike Wallace Is Here

Deemed the “enemy of the people” by our current president, journalism in America is on the chopping block. Lies, fake…
Director Avi Belkin

Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements

Irene Taylor Brodsky builds on her powerful first feature (Audience Award winner at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival) by delving…
Director Irene Taylor Brodsky

One Child Nation

In order to expose rampant human-rights abuses, filmmaker Nanfu Wang fearlessly confronted Chinese government agents in her 2016 Sundance Film…
Director Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang

Pahokee

Four high-school students, Na’Kerria, Jocabed, Junior, and BJ, embark on their senior year in Pahokee, a small Florida town on…
Director Ivete Lucas, Patrick Bresnan

TIGERLAND

In the span of only a handful of generations, the tiger has been transformed from a venerated creature with a…
Director Ross Kauffman

Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary

It begins as a documentary about “The Amazing Johnathan,” a uniquely deranged magician who built a career out of shock…
Director Ben Berman

Where’s My Roy Cohn?

Roy Cohn personified the dark arts of twentieth-century American politics, turning empty vessels into dangerous demagogues—from Senator Joseph McCarthy to…
Director Matt Tyrnauer
WORLD CINEMA   D R A M A T I C 

Dirty God

After a vicious acid attack leaves half her body covered in scars, Jade (Vicky Knight) must come to terms with…
Director Sacha Polak. Screenwriter Sacha Polak, Susanne Farrell

Divine Love

In the Brazil of 2027, where raves celebrate God’s love and drive-through spiritual-advice booths have become the norm, Joana holds…
Director Gabriel Mascaro
Screenwriter Gabriel Mascaro, Rachel Daisy Ellis, Esdras Bezerra, Lucas ParaÍzo

Dolce Fine Giornata

Maria Linde, a free-spirited, Jewish Polish Nobel Prize winner, lives in Tuscany surrounded by warmth and chaos in her family’s…
Director Jacek Borcuch. Screenwriter Jacek Borcuch, Szczepan Twardoch

Judy & Punch

In the rough-and-tumble town of Seaside (nowhere near the sea), villagers flock to Punch and Judy’s marionette theatre. Though Punch…
Director Mirrah Foulkes. Screenwriter Mirrah Foulkes

Koko-di Koko-da

Three years after their daughter Maja’s eighth birthday was interrupted by sudden tragedy, Elin and Tobias embark on a mirthless…
Director Johannes Nyholm. Screenwriter Johannes Nyholm

Monos

Belonging to a rebel group called “the Organization,” a ragtag band of child soldiers, brandishing guns and war names like…
Director Alejandro Landes. Screenwriter Alejandro Landes, Alexis Dos Santos

Queen of Hearts

Anne, a successful lawyer, lives in a beautiful modernist home with her two daughters and physician husband, Peter. Yet when…
Director May el-Toukhy. Screenwriter Maren Louise Käehne, May el-Toukhy

The Last Tree

Femi, a British boy of Nigerian heritage, enjoys a happy childhood in Lincolnshire, where he is raised by doting foster-mother…
Director Shola Amo. Screenwriter Shola Amoo

The Sharks

Rosina ticks away the days of a restless summer in her sleepy beachside town until she sights an ominous dorsal…
Director Lucía Garibaldi, Screenwriter Lucía Garibaldi

The Souvenir

Between script pitches and camera setups, Julie hosts a film-school cohort party where she meets a mysterious man named Anthony….
Director Joanna Hogg. Screenwriter Joanna Hogg

This is not Berlin

As Mexico anticipates the 1986 World Cup, 17-year-old Carlos is less interested in soccer and more interested in listening to…
Director Hari Sama. Screenwriter Rodrigo Ordóñez, Hari Sama, Max Zunino

WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES

One sunny day, four young strangers—Hikari, Ikuko, Ishi, and Takemura—meet by chance at a crematorium. They have all recently lost…
Director Makoto Nagahisa. Screenwriter Makoto Nagahisa
WORLD CINEMA.  D O C U M E N T A R Y

Advocate

Israeli human-rights lawyer Lea Tsemel is a force that won’t be deterred. Having defended Palestinians against a host of criminal…
Director Rachel Leah Jones, Philippe Bellaïche

Cold Case Hammarskjöld

In 1961, United Nations secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane mysteriously crashed, killing Hammarskjöld and most of the crew. . It’s understood…
Director Mads Brügger

Gaza

Facing the serene Mediterranean Sea, 17-year-old Karma Khaial stands at the water’s edge and senses freedom. But in Gaza, the…
Director Garry Keane, Andrew McConnell

Honeyland

In a deserted Macedonian village, Hatidze, a 50-something woman in a bright yellow blouse and green headscarf, trudges up a…
Director Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska

Lapü

On a windy night in the Colombian desert, a young Wayúu woman named Doris sleeps in her hammock and dreams…
Dirs Juan Pablo Polanco, César Alejandro Jaimes. Writers Juan Pablo Polanco, César Alejandro Jaimes, María Canela Reyes

Midnight Traveler

In 2015, after Hassan Fazili’s documentary aired on Afghan national television, the Taliban assassinated the film’s main subject and put…
Director Hassan Fazili. Writer Emelie Mahdavian

Sea of Shadows

The Sea of Cortez is facing total collapse because of a war at sea. Mexican drug cartels have discovered the…
Director Richard Ladkani

Shooting the Mafia

In the streets of Sicily, beautiful, gutsy Letizia Battaglia pointed her camera straight into the heart of the Mafia that…
Director Kim Longinotto

Stieg Larsson – The Man Who Played With Fire

Since his untimely death, Stieg Larsson has become one of the world’s most famous authors. His Millennium Trilogy— and its…
Director Henrik Georgsson. Screenwriter Henrik Georgsson

The Disappearance of My Mother

Benedetta Barzini is a revered Italian model who shattered stereotypes by becoming a journalist and professor and gained notoriety by…
Director Beniamino Barrese. Screenwriter Beniamino Barrese

The Edge of Democracy

Once a nation crippled by military dictatorship, Brazil found its democratic footing in 1985 and then, in 2002, elected a…
Director Petra Costa. Screenwriter Petra Costa

The Magic Life of V

Wizards, magic spells, and heroic sword battles are just fantasy for some, but for Veera they’re a meaningful part of…
Director Tonislav Hristov. Screenwriter Tonislav Hristov, Kaarle Aho
SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL | 24 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019 | PROGRAMME COURTESY OF THE SUNDANCE INSTITUTE 

The Rider (2017) **** Blu-ray

Writer/Dir: Chloe Zhao | Drama | 100min | US | 2017

Skilfully melding narrative and documentary film techniques, The Rider is set on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and follows a Lakota cowboy after an accident derails his rodeo riding dreams.

Chinese-born Chloe Zhao is a writer, director and producer known for her previous Cannes outing Songs My Brothers Taught Me. THE RIDER, her second feature selected for the Directors’ Fortnight and has won the National Critics’ Aeard. It’s a poetic cinema vérité drama that explores themes of male pride, family loyalty and thwarted ambition through a moodily soulful young cowboy who is unable to continue his vocation in the rodeo circuit due to a life-changing injury.

Enlived by the magnificent mountains and windswept prairies of America’s Badland’s National Park, South Dakota, a cast of non-professional actors Brady Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau and Lane Scott star alongside Cat Clifford, who appeared in Songs My Brothers Taught Me, make this resonant action drama feel both authentic and  informative on the subject of horse training and competitive riding.

Zhao convincingly conveys the wild excitement and thrilling danger of this male-dominated world where young cowboys are addicted to the high octane buzz of the rodeo the narrative sizzles with angst and poignant moments, where macho bravado must be tempered with patience and gentle coaxing required to tame and tackle the wild horses and train the, to be ridden, and this is where Brady has an innate ability.

Brady dearly loves his family, his father is a disappointment to him, drinking and gambling on the slot machines, but he also fails to comprehend the weight of responsibility left to his dad when Brady’s mum died leaving him to bring up his two siblings: his brother has been left brain-damaged from a rodeo accident and his kind-hearted sister clearly has learning difficulties. But after a fall competing in the circuit where he was once a leading star, the film’s unsettling tension derives from Brady’s bitter struggle to fulfill his future in the outside world, a pale comparison to his life in the wild outdoors, and he constantly torn between reality working in the local supermarket, and his desire to get back in the wild riding and training with his horses.

But this is Brady’s film and he gives a mesmerising and deeply moving turn with echoes of Montgomery Clift in The Misfitas, as a man so deeply connected to the land and his horses that he doesn’t know where else to go. MT

NOW ON BLU-RAY

The Rider won the Art Cinema Award at CANNES 2017 and National US Critics’ Award 2018

 

 

 

 

Tribute to Richard Lormand (1962-2018)

It is with great sadness that we pay tribute to one of our greatest supporters, film consultants and readers Richard Lormand who has died aged 56.

During a long and distinguished career Richard was a leading light in international communication, film publicity and marketing, specialising in launches at the Berlin, Cannes, Locarno and Venice festivals, and just recently, Marrakech 2018 where he was preparing the 17th edition, when he died.

LOCARNO credit

Richard was a true professional and always a pleasure to work with. He handled world premieres for numerous award-winning films, including Maren Ade’s TONI ERDMANN, Ildiko Enyedi’s ON BODY AND SOUL, Fatih Akin’s IN THE FADE and SOUL KITCHEN, Alice Rohrwacher’s THE WONDERS and HAPPY AS LAZZARO, Christian Petzold’s BARBARA and PHOENIX, Samuel Maoz’s LEBANON and FOXTROT, Lav Diaz’s THE WOMAN WHO LEFT, Ritesh Batra’s THE LUNCHBOX, Takashi Miike’s 13 ASSASSINS and BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, the Taviani Brothers’ CAESAR MUST DIE, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s UNCLE BOONMEE, Jerzy Skolimowski’s ESSENTIAL KILLING, Amos Gitai’s RABIN, Lucrecia Martel’s ZAMA and LA CIENAGA, Alexander Sokurov’s RUSSIAN ARK and FAUST, Jafar Panahi’s THREE FACES and THE CIRCLE, and Takeshi Kitano’s ZATOICHI and HANA-BI.

Richard was part of the press consultancy team of Locarno Festival and the producing teams of Mitchell Lichtenstein’s cult favourite TEETH, HAPPY TEARS (starring Demi Moore, Parker Posey, Ellen Barkin and Rip Torn) and ANGELICA (starring Jena Malone and Janet McTeer). He was also a producer on Amos Gitai’s DISENGAGEMENT, starring Academy Award-winning actress Juliette Binoche.

Born and raised outside Lafayette, Louisiana, Richard was the son of a Japanese mother and a native French-speaking Cajun American father. He began his career as a reporter/journalist for Reuters in New York City, then went on to work for the Cannes Film Festival (France), Taormina Film Festival (Italy), Torino Film Festival (Italy) and the Viennale/Vienna Film Festival (Austria). Richard also wrote and directed the 1994 award-winning short TI-BOY’S WIFE/LA FEMME DE TI-BOY (Clermont-Ferrand, Locarno, Torino).

His charisma, warmth and professionalism are rare in these days of increasingly faceless public relations, focussing on ‘hits’ and ‘likes’ on social media. Passionately driven by genuine talent and strong stories, Richard often took chances with small independent films and invested his time and talent to make sure they were noticed. His was a personal approach, genuine and always with heart. We shall miss him so much. MT

RICHARD LORMAND

The Favourite (2018) *****

Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos. UK/Ireland/USA. 2018. 119 mins.

The Favourite is going to be a firm favourite with mainstream audiences and cineastes alike. This latest arthouse drama is the Greek auteur’s first to be written by Deborah Davis and Aussie Tony McNamara who bring their ‘English’ sensibilities to this quixotic Baroque satire that distills the essence of Kubrick, Greenaway and Molière in an irreverent and ravishingly witty metaphor for female treachery.

Set around 1710 during the final moments of Queen Anne’s reign it presents an artful female-centric view of courtly life seen from the unique perspective of three remarkable women, while on the battlefields England is at war with the French. Besides its period setting, The Favourite coins a world with exactly the same credentials as our own Brexit and Trump era.

Sparklingly witty and endlessly amusing this is a film that could play on forever yet still feels fresh and invigorating even after two hours. There is a charming subtlety and lightness of touch that is saucy and arch but never gross or uncouth with its references to Restoration Comedies of the era: Marivaux, Pope and Swift – while feeling completely contemporary and dernier cri.

Twenty years in the making with Lanthimos attached to the project since 2009, The Favourite is based on an original screenplay by Davis developed by Australian writer McNamara and is guilded by luminous performances from Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone amd Olivia Colman (as the Queen). Stone is a distant cousin of Weisz’s Lady Marlborough and comes to the court rather down on her luck and looking for protection. Slowly she weedles her way into the crippled and ailing Queen’s affections in a triumphant trajectory of treachery.

Colman plays Queen Anne (who reigned until 1714) with vulnerability and charisma as a whiny, insecure monarch. The Duke Of Marlborough has just won a crucial battle gainst the French during the War of Spanish Succession. The Whigs are gaining ground against the landowning Tories under Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult is superb).

The whole affair centres around the battle for power between these three women who are pivotal in the success of life at court and subsequently the country. The sumptuous interiors are shot in candlelight adding intrique and a Gothic frisson to Robbie Ryan’s stunning camerawork, his fish-eye lenses evoking a sense of menace and claustrophobia. Sandy Powell creates some seriously sexy costumes and the glory is topped off with an occasionally discordance original score from Purcell, Handel Vivaldi and British composer Anna Meredith, MT.

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | BEST ACTRESS: Olive Colman | Grand Prix Venice 2018

Berlinale 2019 – First competition films announced

Opening this year with Lone Scherfig’s The Kindness of Strangers, the 69th Berlinale Film Festival (7-17 February) has announced the first competition films which include the latest from regulars François Ozon, Denis Côté and Fatih Akin.

Serbian director Angela Schanelec will present her latest film I Was at Home, but, and Emin Alper will be there with A Tale of Three Sisters, a follow up to his dazzling drama Beyond the Hill

Also competing is The Ground Beneath my Feet from Austrian filmmaker Marie Kreutzer.

In the Berlinale Special Gala Section there is Gully Boy from Zoya Aktar (India), Heinrich Breloer’s drama Brecht which stars Trina Dyrholm and Tom Schilling and Charles Ferguson’s documentary on the Watergate scandal

COMPETITION 

Der Boden unter den Füßen (The Ground Beneath My Feet) Austria/World Premiere

by Marie Kreutzer (The Fatherless, We Used to be Cool)

with Valerie Pachner, Pia Hierzegger, Mavie Hörbiger, Michelle Barthel, Marc Benjamin, Axel Sichrovsky, Dominic Marcus Singer, Meo Wulf

Der Goldene Handschuh (The Golden Glove) Germany/France/World Premiere

by Fatih Akin (Head On, In the Fade)

with Jonas Dassler, Margarethe Tiesel, Hark Bohm

Grâce à dieu (By the Grace of God) France/International Premiere

by François Ozon (8 Women, In the House)

with Melvil Poupaud, Denis Ménochet, Swann Arlaud, Éric Caravaca, François Marthouret, Bernard Verley, Martine Erhel, Josiane Balasko, Hélène Vincent, François Chattot, Frédéric Pierrot

Ich war zuhause, aber (I Was at Home, but) Germany / Serbia/World Premiere

by Angela Schanelec (The Dreamed Path, Marseille)

with Maren Eggert, Franz Rogowski, Lilith Stangenberg, Jakob Lassalle, Clara Möller

Kız Kardeşler (A Tale of Three Sisters) Turkey / Ger/ Neth/ Greece/World Premiere

by Emin Alper (Beyond the Hill, Frenzy)

with Cemre Ebüzziya, Ece Yüksel, Helin Kandemir, Kayhan Açikgöz, Müfit Kayacan, Kubilay Tunçe

Répertoire des villes disparues (Ghost Town Anthology) Canada/World Premiere

by Denis Côté (A Skin So Soft, Bestiaire)

with Robert Naylor, Josée Deschênes, Jean-Michel Anctil, Larissa Corriveau, Rémi Goulet, Diane Lavallée, Hubert Proulx, Rachel Graton, Normand Carrière, Jocelyne Zucco

Berlinale Special Gala at the Friedrichstadt-Palast 

Gully Boy /India/ World Premiere

by Zoya Akhtar (You Won’t Get This Life Again, Lust Stories)

with Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Kalki Koechlin, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Vijay Raaz, Amruta Subhash, Vijay Verma 

Berlinale Special at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele

Brecht /Germany / Austria/World Premiere

by Heinrich Breloer (The Manns – Novel of a Century, Buddenbrooks – The Decline of a Family)

with Burghart Klaußner, Tom Schilling, Adele Neuhauser, Trine Dyrholm, Mala Emde, Franz Hartwig, Friederike Becht, Ernst Stötzner, Lou Strenger

Watergate – Documentary/USA/Euro Premiere

by Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight, Inside Job)

with Douglas Hodge, Jill Wine-Banks, Dan Rather, Lesley Stahl, Richard Ben-Veniste

MORE FILMS WILL BE ANNOUNCED IN THE COMING WEEKS

Werner Herzog: Retrospective at Visions du Réel 2019

WERNER HERZOG’S WORK WILL BE CELEBRATED FOR THE 50TH EDITION OF VISIONS DU RÉEL

Visions du Réel, International Film Festival Nyon, will pay tribute to one of the world’s major filmmakers during its 50th edition. It is Werner Herzog who will be awarded the Sesterce d’or Prix Raiffeisen Maître du Réel during the 2019 edition of the Festival (5–13 April 2019). In partnership with the Cinémathèque suisse and the ECAL. The audience will meet the legendary film director at a Masterclass on 9 April and screenings of a selection of films, as well as his latest feature-length film, Meeting Gorbatchev (co-directed with André Singer), will have a Swiss premiere.

Werner Herzog was born in 1942 in Munich, Germany and has been living between the Bavarian capital and Los Angeles since 1984. A leading figure of the post-war New German Cinema, he has directed about 70 films.

Moving freely between different forms and processes, fiction and documentary, as a filmmaker whose approach is as philosophical as it is physical, Herzog constantly aspires to “walk to the ends of the earth” (The Dark Glow of the Mountains). At times omnipresent, at times leaving room for others, between heroism and testing limits (Herakles, his first short film in 1962, or The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner), megalomania (Aguirre, the Wrath of God or Cobra Verde, two of the five films made with the actor Klaus Kinski), and a certain taste for madness and the absurd, the filmmaker explores and surveys beings and places, not without humour or (self)derision (Encounters at the End of the World). Author of more than a dozen prose works, he has worked with Isabelle Adjani, Nicolas Cage, Christian Bale and Nicole Kidman among others and won the award for Best Director at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival for his masterpiece Fitzcarraldowww.visionsdureel.ch/festival/maitre-du-reel-2019

50th edition of Visions du Réel: 5—13 April 2019 | Werner Herzog in Nyon will be communicated in March 2019.

JOY (2018) **** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018 | Winner Etoile d’Or

Dir.: Sudabeh Mortezai; Cast: Joy Anwulika Alphonsus, Precious Mariam Sanusi, Angela Ekeleme Pius, Jane Okoh; Austria 2018, 100 min.

German born writer/director Sudabeh Mortezai (Macondo) spent her youth in Vienna and Teheran before studying film at UCLA. Her second feature is centred around Nigerian women sold by their families as sex-workers to Europe. In the prologue, we see the local shaman performing the ‘Juju’ ritual on one of these young women: the victims have to leave an intimate part of themselves behind so they don’t run away, and send money home regularly.

We meet Joy (Alphonsus) on a dark night in Vienna where she is soliciting. Next to her stands young Precious (Sanusi), who has just arrived from Nigeria and does not want to sell her body, in order to pay back Madame (Pius), whom she owes 60,000 Euros. Back in the flat where the girls live in cramped  conditions, Madame holds Joy responsible for Precious’ attitude and tells her that her debt will increase if she doesn’t encourage the young girl to work harder. For good measure, Precious is than raped by two men, her cries of help going unanswered. The brutal treatment makes Precious fall into line and she becomes the highest earner of the group. Madame expresses her thanks by selling her for a profit to Italian pimps. 

Meanwhile Joy and Precious are continually pestered by their families to send more money home. Joy’s family ‘invents’ a fake illnesses so her clients will take pity and pay her extra.  And Precious’ mother asks her to sleep with more more men: “Can you imagine, the woman who gave birth to me wants me to do do that!” Joy, who has a daughter Chioma (Okoh), for whose upkeep she pays a nanny, is sent with Precious to the Italian border, keeping her passport. Precious asks her many times to relinquish the passport, so that she can escape. But Joy is well aware that Madame’s vengeance would be be grim, and she reminds Precious: “This is a game of survival of the fittest. I would kill you if I needed to. Do not trust me!”. Her calculation proves right when Madame ‘releases’ her, which is not so generous as it looks since new and younger girls have arrived from Nigeria.

The director takes a detached approach throughout. The gruesome details of the women’s suffering – Joy is bleeding heavily after being raped by three men, but Madame does not allow her to seek medical help. The whole circle of violence, starting in Nigeria is repeated over and over again, because the authorities in Austria want Joy to testify against Madame, but won’t grant her immediate asylum.

JOY explores a real and continuous nightmare that is happening all the time, in nearly every European city. Shot starkly by DoP Clemens Hufnagl, mostly at night, the few interior scenes reveal the misery and fear that haunts women daily. A depressing but worthwhile film that won the Etoile d’Or at this year’s MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL. MT

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | WINNER GOLDEN STAR MARRAKECH | WINNER LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2108

 

Lynne Ramsay at the Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

We spoke to Competition Jury member Lynne Ramsay to talk about her latest project and the film that most impressed her as a child growing up in Glasgow.

Known for her ground-breaking dramas RATCATCHER (1999), MORVERN CALLAR (2002) and WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011),  her latest film YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE won Best Screenplay (ex-aequo) and Best Actor for Joaquin Phoenix at Cannes Film Festival 2018. (she asked not to be recorded due to a heavy cold).

LYNNE RAMSAY | MAMOUNIA HOTEL | MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018

https://vimeo.com/305775148

 

Rojo (2018) **** Marrakech Film Festival 2018

Dir: Benjamin Naishtat | Cast: Alfredo Castro, Dario Grandinetti, Andrea Frigerio, Diego Cremonesi | Drama | Argentina | 109′

Benjamin Naishtat captures the existential angst of Argentina’s Dirty Wars era in a sinuous thriller that chews over some weighty social themes and distils them into this subtle smalltown crime drama.

ROJO follows his previous moody titles History of Fear (2014) and The Movement (2015). His fascination is exploring the psychological effects of instability: what happens to ordinary people and their relationships during political turmoil? The pre-title scene sees a series of people gradually emerging from a house bearing armfuls of valuables and pieces of furniture. Meanwhile, it’s Saturday night in Rio Seco, a town about 500 miles North of Buenos Aires. Local lawyer Claudio (a quietly- assured Dario Grandinetti) is waiting for his wife (Andrea Frigerio) in a busy local restaurant when an impatient single diner (Diego Cremonesi) demands he vacate the table. The situation soon escalates into a frosty contretemps but Claudio refuses to rise to the bait, calmly returning to the bar where he delivers an articulate verbal put down. But it doesn’t end there. After they leave the restaurant the man pursues them with bizarre consequences, and the story flips to three months later. This tight-knit middle class community is gradually exposed as one of astonishing volatility, a moral morass of intrigue and sculduggery: a brilliant metaphor for the state of the country in general during the country’s Dirty Wars of the mid 1970s. Chunks of land are being bought somewhat illegally, law-abiding locals are becoming minor crooks, and people are disappearing without reason – with no questions asked – as a pervasive paranoia creeps like wildfire through the unsettled community. ROJO lurks in a murky Seventies aesthetic, Naishtat creating a climate of menacing fear with a screeching score of strings (from Vincent van Warmerdam) and some cleverly crafted slo-mo sequences that suggest  docudrama. Uncertainty and danger loom at every corner in a clammy climate of fear and mistrust. 

In the final hour, Alfredo Castro’s seedy detective Sinclair insinuates himself into the scenario investigating the murder of the man in the restaurant “el hippie” who, it emerges, is also related to one of Claudio’s close friends Mabel. Channelling Colombo with his stealthy exits and sudden reappearances for “one more thing”, Sinclair sets the lawyer’s nerves on edge in an uncanny set-to that is alarming and totally unexpected. It’s a superbly sinister performance from Castro who sets the cat amongst the pigeons – without any justification, Claudio feels culpable yet has nowhere to go. As the various subplots intertwine the story hints at wider implications for the nation as a whole and Naishtat keeps the tension tightly wound in this unnerving and intriguing thriller. MT. 

IN COMPETITON AT MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | BEST DIRECTOR WINNER San Sebastian 2018 

 

The Forest | Les (2018) **** Russian Film Week 2018

Dir.: Roman Zhigalov; Cast: Oleg Shibayew, Natalia Rychkova, Oleg Feokzistov, Maria Avramjova, Vladimir Malyugin; Russia 2018, 97 min.

Roman Zhigalov’s feature debut is a glum, violent and dramatic passion play. In a village surrounded by dense forest, murder, rape and arson seem to dominate the troubled community, in a microcosm of Putin’s Russia. This an important portrait of Russian society, despite its over-accentuated sombre realism. 

Sixteen-year old Danila (Shibayew) lives with oppressive mother Galina (Avramkova) and brutal father Pasha (Feokzistov). Cut off from society he has a problem adjusting to school life and is bullied for his sullen manners and total lack of interest in girls. 

Meanwhile, Pasha lusts after Katya (Rychkova), even promising her to leave his family if she gives in. Katya’s husband Kolka (Malyugin) is an alcoholic with physical and emotional impairments. Little does Pasha know that Danila shares his taste for women and is much more successful than his father in finding favour with Katya. While Pasha are his mates in a battle to prevent the local Mafia buying his sawmill for a knock-down price, one of Danila’s female classmates is gang raped by boys from the district capital, and after Galina surprises her son and Katya in flagrante, she asks her husband to take action. Events eventually spiral out of control in scenes of unrelenting and sometimes graphic, but never gratuitous violence. 

Somehow here, society has taken a step backwards, with greed and lust coming to the fore at every opportunity. The local Mafia seems to represent the regime’s semi-criminal mode of government, and their power is much greater than that of the local administration. Pasha is warned – in vain – by the local mayor to sell his sawmill to the mafia: “You remember what happened in 1989 with the land of the kolkhozes”. Violence against women seems to be the norm, men of all ages still see them predominantly as sex objects, to be conquered and discarded at will.

DoP Yury Sergeyev captures the rural violence with intense close-ups and panoramic shots of the landscape. The human presence seem to offend nature, spoiling its beauty in every possible way. Rychkova is the only positive figure, and her humble humanity is constantly abused by the rest of the protagonists. Zhigalov might have sometimes overdone his orgy of violence, but in the end he succeeds in his message, showing a Russia falling back into the senseless savagery of the eighteenth century.AS

RUSSIAN FILM WEEK 2018 

 

Tides (2017) **

Dir.: Tupaq Felber | Cast: Jon Foster, Robin Isaac, Simon Meacock, James Zubari, Amanda Rawnsley |  UK 2017, 100′

Tupaq Felber’s monochrome musings of four friends touring the canals of southern England is impressively shot but too banal to really make the same meaningful impact as, say, Andrew Kötting’s stylish Swandown, another recent British ‘roadie’

This blokish (+ a token girl) bonding trip certainly shoots the breeze and takes a long time to get going – the boat-owner’s instructions to the crew tell you everything you never wanted to know about canal boats. TIDES nearly comes to a standstill when they all get drunk and incoherent. Amanda (Rawnsley) is the only woman on board, for a fleeting visit. There are some nasty comments about Amanda’s parsimonious behaviour which soon surface when she justifiably tries to get out of paying nearly £200 for food and boat rental for just one night. The male crew then meander around in the water and it soon becomes clear that Jon (Foster) is dealing with a personal tragedy – but neither he or his mates shed any light on the circumstances. The only concrete fact that emerges about actor Simon (Meacock), married with a young child, is that his part as a ‘suspects’ in a long-running soap-opera, will soon be ‘killed off’ leaving him presumably without any means of financial support. A confident debut, TIDES would make a great twenty-minute short, but the narrative never comes near to justifying the lavish running time.

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE 7 DECEMBER 2018 | Tupaq will also attend a special preview and Q&A with the cast on 4 December at the special barge cinema

The Song of the Tree (2018)**** Talinn Black Nights 2018

Dir: Aibek Daiyrbekov | Musical Drama | 93′ | Kyrgyzstan

THE SONG OF THE TREE is an ambitiously mounted and sumptuously vivid love story: about a people’s everlasting love for the homeland, and a woman’s ardent love for a man. Based on real and mythical stories passed down from one generation to another, it is also Kyrgyzstan’s first musical film, set and filmed in this magnificent scenic country.

It follows the story of a feisty young man (Esen,Omurbek Izrailov)) who falls foul of his mountain community over time old issue of honour, after stealing some meat, which leads to the felling of a secret tree. Humiliated, he decides to leave with his love Begimai (Saltanat Bakaeva) but after they are  intercepted, the lovesick loner becomes hellbent on revenge. 

The musical elements embellish the nomadic narrative rather than driving it forward, the songs are gracefully performed and, despite subtitles, the story more or less tells itself pictorially to those who hate reading the bottom line. And there’s plenty here to enjoy. Filmmaker Aibek Daiyrbekov tells his tale against the stunning widescreen backdrop of the Tien Shan range of mountains. But there is an intimacy to the story that retains our interest throughout and this often involves a singing vignette in the foreground.

Set during the 1800s the film really conveys the stridence and casual violence of these exotic people who think nothing of whipping their adversaries savagely and pulling out daggers, without a ‘by your leave’. There are some spectacular chase scenes on horseback – one in particular sees a horse roll over and over down a sandy valley. Daiyrbekov keeps our attention on the lovers story (despite the odd subplot) and this eventually culminates in a face-off between between Esen and Oguz (Jurduzbek Kaseivov), the man who cut down the tree and murdered his brother.

There’s nothing particularly unique about the plot line but Daiyrbekov’s directing and mise en scene and Akzhol Bekbolotov’s camerawork is absolutely glorious and visually exquisite. Meanwhile Zholdoshbek Apasov’s compositions and use of local instruments give the film a lyrical quality that adds to its enjoyment. With a modest running time of 93 minutes, this is a worthwhile addition to Kyrgyzstan contemporary cinema. MT

SCREENING DURING TALINN BLACK NIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL 2018

https://vimeo.com/300254926

The Song of the Tree Review Asian Movie Pulse

 

Genesis 2 (2018) *** Russian Film Week 2018

Dirs: Christian Frei, Maxim Arbugaev | Switzerland | 2018 | 113 mins

GENESIS 2 follows the yearly search for mammoth tusks in the frozen wastes of the New Siberian Islands, discovered in 1723. The task of extracting frozen genetic material from the permafrost is a tough but a worthy one intended to enable some pioneering scientists to reconstruct the long-extinct mammoth that once roamed the icy region.

Oscar-nominated documentarian Christian Frei (War Photographer) has quite literally taken on a mammoth task in exploring this hostile Arctic hinterland. Genesis 2 scratches at the edges of both horror and science, in an endeavour that occasionally feels like he has taken off more that he can chew.

As in Book of the Sea, also screening during Russian Film Week, Friel adds elements of myth to his icebound study. The film opens with narrated verses from a Yakutian epic tale, accompanied by Max Richter’s morose music, and the characters who embark on this intrepid research are all courageous – even foolhardy – enough to risk their lives for what may amount to very little: the resonance with Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World, The Wild Blue Yonder, Grizzly Man and even Aguirre Wrath of God, are clearly felt. At times Frei even sounds like the great master himself.

Many of these eco-warriors are dicing with death and several will actually meet their maker in the vain hope of returning home with a slither of genetic material that they can trade for upwards of $45,00. And while this may feed their families for some time, they must endure the downside: perishing cold and even death.

Back in the comparative comfort of a smug Boston scientific seminar we hear how “synthetic biology” is going to change everything by “taking control of evolution” by creating hybrid creatures out of horses, sheep and zebras. But that seems rather glib to the anxious tusk hunters struggling to dig up the ground in the bleak terrain of the Northern hemisphere. Peter Grigoriev (Frie terms him an intellectual because ‘he likes reading a lot”) and his brother Semyon Grigoriev, the Head of the Mammoth Museum, in Yakutsk, Siberia are the main characters in this rather sombre eco-doc, are seen wading through mud in the dripping interior of a cave where “cavemen lived for hundreds of years”. It emerges that anyone who tries to dissenter a mammoth will visited by a curse but they are also deemed “lucky” to come across three polar bears. When Semyon eventually comes across the ancient flesh of tusk specimen, he can’t help tasting it, but seems rather unimpressed. Back in the lab, the aim is to create a new animal, a chimera – just the like the woolly mammoth was back in the day. `

There is a sense of wonder and awe, but also a sense of foreboding in the sober search for animal remains. The spectacular visuals create an amazing sense of the remote emptiness of the locations and the quiet desperation of Siberians who travel here in the hope of improving their lives. The bright Boston buildings and the massive shiny headquarters of China’s National Gene bank make this ‘new life’ seem rather devoid of reality when compared to the gruelling coal face search. MT

SCREENING DURING RUSSIAN FILM WEEK | 25 NOVEMBER – 2 DECEMBER 2018

Los Reyes (2018) **** IDFA 2018 | Special Jury Award 2018

Dir: Ivan Osnovikoff, Bettina Perut | 88′ | Doc Chile 2018

Santiago streetlife plays out poignantly through a pair of canny canine caretakers in this wry and filmic foray to the capital’s largest skatepark.

LOS REYES have got it sussed. A black Labrador (Chola) and a Collie Cross (Football) are literally kings of all they survey. With shady trees and water sprinklers to cool the midday heat, they can play away from traffic in this public playground they consider their own. There’s always an odd ball or two to keep them amused, But don’t welcome motorbikes or the rubbish cart, and howl at the fire engine.

Limpidly shot on the widescreen and in intimate often minute close-up, there’s lightness of touch to this graceful and upbeat slice of city life: every twitch of a tail, every tweak of the cheek signals the dogs’ reaction to the human activities nearby. Meanwhile random male conversation is overheard from passers by. Some of it quite startling. But the kids can rest assured that their macho confessions are safe with these trusty tenants of the capital’s microcosm. On wet days they have a contingency plan – a kennel retreat by the rubbish bins. But it’s not all easygoing between the two of them. When Chola tries to hump a discarded old duvet, Football goes mad.

The film derives its subtle humour from the banal disdain of the dogs’ expressions as they tolerate the trivial and sometimes bawdy adolescent banter, shrugging off the intrusion of wildlife and a couple of donkeys who dare to cross their territory. But when uncertainty looms for the future of this canine couple, some welcome female chitchat lightens the mood. Just like humans, dogs don’t need to talk to communicate with their loved ones, but even in Santiago de Chile’s paradise park, every dog has its day. MT

WINNER | IDFA Special Jury Award for Feature-Length Documentary | 2018

 

 

Marrakech Film Festival 2018 | This year’s line-up..

The Marrakech International Film Festival has now revealed its 17th edition line-up  which runs from 30 November until the 8 December 2018.  

The competition focus is on international independent cinema, showcasing the latest from the Middle East: Mohcine Besri’s URGENT, Nejib Belkhadhi’s LOOK AT ME, and THE GIRAFFE from Egyptian filmmaker Amed Magdy. These will compete alongside sophomore and award-winning titles from this year’s international festival circuit. The 14 titles include London Film Festival winner JOY (Sudebeh Mortezai), Warsaw Film Festival awarded IRINA (Nadejda Koseva) and ALL GOOD (Eva Trobisch) which won the Best First Feature prize at Locarno 2018. Six of the films competing for the Marrakech Etoile d’Or (Gold Star) are directed by women.

The festival opens with a gala screening of Julian Schnabel’s AT ETERNITY’S GATE (above) starring Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh. There will also be another chance to see Alfonso Cuarón’s Venice Golden Lion winner ROMA, Peter Farrelly’s GREEN BOOK which stars Viggo Mortensen, and Nadine Labaki’s CAPERNAUM, which won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

There will be 17 special screenings including Gonzalo Tobal’s THE ACCUSED and Paul Dano’s WILDLIFE. Also on the specials list is EXT. NIGHT the latest drama from Ahmad Abdalla (Microphone (2010), Heliopolis (2009). Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego’s enchanting BIRDS OF PASSAGE will also be there (below).

A new strand entitled THE 11th CONTINENT aims to highlight local Moroccan fare in its Panorama section. Amongst others there will be the recent Cannes Doc Alliance winner SRBENKA, Brazilian documentary THE DEAD AND THE OTHERS, Lee Chang-dong’s Cannes breakout hit BURNING, Austrian historical drama ANGELO fresh from San Sebastian, and my personal favourite Locarno 2018 thriller TEGNAP (YESTERDAY) . 

The outdoor screenings in the famous JEMAA EL FNA square will include Martin Scorsese’s Dalai Lama drama KUNDUN (1997), Brian De Palma’s THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987), Youssef Chahine’s ALEXANDRIA, AGAIN AND FOREVER (1989) and there will be classics from Agnes Varda, Martin Scorsese, Robin Wright and Robert De Niro in the tributes section. MT

COMPETITION

GOOD GIRLS (Las niñas bien) | Mexico By Alejandra Márquez Abella

JOY | Austria By Sudabeh Mortezai

DIANE | USA By Kent Jones

THE LOAD (Teret) | Serbia, France, Croatia, Iran, Qatar By Ognjen Glavonić

THE CHAMBERMAID (La camarista) | Mexico By Lila Avilés

RED SNOW (Akai yuki) | Japan By Sayaka Kai

LOOK AT ME (Fi ‘ainaya  Regarde-moi) | Tunisia By Nejib Belkhadhi

IRINA | Bulgaria By Nadejda Koseva

VANISHING DAYS (Màn yóu) | China By Zhu Xin

URGENT (Tafaha al-kail | Une urgence ordinaire) / Morocco, Switzerland By Mohcine Besri

ROJO | Argentina, Brazil, France, the Netherlands, Germany By Benjamín Naishtat

AKASHA | Sudan, South Africa, Germany, Qatar By hajooj kuka

THE GIRAFFE (La ahdun hunak) | Egypt By Ahmed Magdy

ALL GOOD (Alles ist gut) | Germany By Eva Trobisch

THE MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 30 NOVEMBER – 8 DECEMBER 2018

Marrakech International Film Festival | 30 November – 8 December 2018

Marrakech International Film Festival (FIFM) is back this year under the artistic control of its newly appointed director Christoph Terhechte. It will run from 30 November until 8 December 2018.

Terhechte comes with considerable arthouse experience and impeccable credentials. He was director of Berlinale’s Forum section from 2001 to 2018 and also a member of the Berlinale Competition selection committee.

This year’s 17th Edition will also honour Robert De Niro, Agnès Varda and Robin Wright along with Moroccan filmmaker Jillali Ferhati. The festival president is James Gray. International stars in the shape of Martin Scorsese, Guillermo del Toro, Cristian Mungiu, and Yousry Nasrallah will also be gracing the Moroccan city and Medina. Along with Cannes luminary Thierry Fremaux.

US director James Gray will head the International Competition jury which includes actress Dakota Johnson (50 shades of Grey, Suspiria), Indian actress Ileana D’Cruz (Barfi!), Lebanese filmmaker and visual artist Joana Hadjithomas (I Want to See), British director Lynne Ramsay (We Need To Talk about Kevin, A Beautiful Day), Moroccan director Tala Hadid (House in the Fields), French director Laurent Cantet (The Class– Palme d’Or 2008), German Actor Daniel Brühl and Mexican director Michel Franco (April’s Daughter).

From November 30th to December 8th, these nine celebrities will select the recipient of L’Étoile d’Or 2018 among the 14 first and second feature films in competition.

The Marrakech International Film Festival has been one of the biggest events devoted to Moroccan cinema and the locality offers favourable conditions for global film production. Since its inception in 2003 the most prestigious names in world cinema have been hosted and celebrated in Marrakech and include Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Marion Cotillard and Johnny Halliday. Back in the day, Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie made Marrakech their winter holiday destination and were hosted at the world famous La Mamounia Hotel.

With its fabulous climate, medieval walled Medina dating back to the Berber Empire, exotic palaces and lush gardens (Yves St Laurent designed the Majorelle), Marrakech is the ideal location for an international winter film festival. MT

30 NOVEMBER-8 DECEMBER 2018 | MARRAKECH | MOROCCO

 

Jumpman (2018) Podbrosy **** Russian Film Week 2018

Dir.: Ivan I. Tverdovsky; Cast: Denis Vlasenko, Anne Slyu, Daniil Steklov; Russia/ROI/France/ Lithuania 2018, 87 min.

Ivan I. Tverdovsky follows up his zany Zoology with a darker feature, another harsh critique of Putin’s Russia. Very much in the mould of Loveless, Jumpman is a portrait of callous exploitation, the young victim literally sold by his mother to perform life-threatening stunts, just to fill her pockets and those of her cronies.

Sixteen years ago Oksana posted her newborn Denis through the baby-hatch of an orphanage where he has lived ever since, handicapped by a rare disease, congenital analgesia, which affects his ability to feel physical pain, and needs to be medically controlled. Now, forbidden from taking care of her son, Oksana (Slyu) tricks the orphanage staff, literally kidnapping little Denis (Vlasenko) and taking him home. It soon emerges that Oksana’s motive is anything but motherly. Denis does not fee pain when injured (his mates in the orphanage played some cruel games with him), and is trained to jump on cars so his mother’s friends can extort cash from the driver. First in line is Denis’ ‘instructor’ policeman Kusnetzov (Steklov), who drives a police vehicle alongside the one earmarked for the ‘accident’, and is first on the scene when Denis lays motionless on the ground. Kusnetzovs’s mother is a doctor at the hospital where Denis is taken by an ambulance crew (also on the make). But the most profitable jobs go to Judge Olga and the bribed defence lawyer. The driver is forced to pay up a huge sum of money – and Denis gets hardly a penny, after everyone else has taken their share. At home his mother treats him more like a lover, running around half naked in a drunken state, even trying to seduce him. That all changes after Denis puts his foot down –  and this leaves only one solution.

Jumpman is a portrait of a society corrupt on every level, a society where the most vulnerable victims are treated like commodities – whether they are rich, poor or just disenfranchised.. When Denis finally quits, Kusnetzov spits in his face: “We’ll find another one, the city is full of trash like you.” AS

RUSSIAN FILM WEEK | LONDON 25 November -2 December 2018 | BERLINALE 15-25 FEBRUARY 2018 | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL | 29 JUNE – 7 JULY 2018

 

The Bottomless Bag (2017) Yakhonty Ubystvo **** Russian Film Week 2018

Dir: Rustam Khamdamov | Fantasy Drama | Russia, 2017 | 104′

Akira Kurosawa was not the only auteur to be entranced by the Japanese classic story on which he based Rashomon. Filmmaker turned artist Rustam Khamdamov reimagines ‘In a Grove’ 1922) in a different light, as a truly weird and wonderful folklore fantasy, transported the 19th century Russia of Zsar Nicholas II, and enhanced by its evocative monochrome aesthetic.

This film within a film, stars Svetlana Nemolyaeva as a female courtier who regales the monarch and his empress with stories, the deadlier the better. One day the a fairytale about his son’s mysterious murder, and we experience three different versions of the event, told from , played by iconic Russian film star ​Svetlana Nemolyaeva, tells the czar a fairy tale about his son’s murder, and we see three different versions of this event.

With echoes of the silent era and references to Russian and European folklore, Khamdamov creates a poetically spellbinding atmosphere of wonder, set in this regal castle deep in the woods near St. Petersburg. But mysterious events are also unfolding in the castle itself. The courtier is looking for a bag of precious jewels (which we see in the hand of a soldier, as the film opens), the palace ghost has concealed the gems in the Christmas tree but is trying to thwart her efforts to relinquish the bag. The courtier is also accused of conspiring with the royal’s assassin. In order to solve the mystery she lies down on a polar bearskin rug and tries to commune with the house spirit, who is hiding in a chandelier. Meanwhile in the forest, a witch (Demidova), drinks her grandson’s urine from a golden bowl, and walks off into the darkness to solve the case. In the end, the courtier discovers the jewels, and leaves the wintry palace on skis, after the servants have stuffed her bag full of everything they can lay their hands on.

The Bottomless Bag actually takes its title from A Thousand and One Nights, Baba Yaga – a witch from Russian legends – is played by Alla Demidova. Sumptious and vaguely ironic, this treasure trove of dreamlike set pieces in a filmic foray into the uncovered depths of Russian culture. The only chagrin is that after his Cannes success with Anna Karamazov (1991) Khamdamov has decided to work exclusively as a visual artist: imagine what Russian cinema is missing without his remarkable talents. AS/MT

SCREENING DURING RUSSIAN FILM WEEK 2018

The Wild Pear Tree | Ahlat Agaci (2018)****


Dir/Writer: Nuri Bilge Ceylan/Ebru Ceylan | Cast: Serkan Keskin, Hazar Erguclu, Ahmet Rifat Sungar | Drama | Turkey/France/Germany/Bulgaria/Macedonia/Bosnia and Herzegovina/Sweden 2018 | 188′

For some the countryside is a retreat where hopes and dreams merge with solitude and recovery. For a father and a son in THE WILD PEAR TREE the sweeping landscapes of Western Turkey’s Marmara region are a place of shattered hopes and despair.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan imbues his melancholy mood piece with the usual visual richness in a slow-burning saga that revolves around aspiring writer Sinan (Aydin Dogu Demirkol) who returns from army service to his native village to raise the money to publish his first book. But his father’s debts catch up with him and put a stop to his personal aspirations. Running at a little over three hours, this long-awaited follow to Winter Sleep and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia takes the customary languorous and discursive pace. The wide screen splendour also makes time for quietly intimate moments but there is no melodrama or ‘major developments’ in a film that plays out contemplatively as the story naturally unfolds.

Sinan is not particularly glad to be back home in the small rural village of Çan, where he holds the community in disdain. But his father Idris’ gambling has spiralled out of control causing his mother and sister to do without, so Sinan starts to do the rounds of friends and family in search of finance for his literary endeavour.

Contrary to the title, a wild pear tree never features in the film, and there is no love lost between Sinan and his father Idris, their relationship slowly deteriorating for obvious reasons. There is a sense of longing for urban civilisation, and while the film takes much delight in the convincingly creditable characterisations and conversation pieces, which are quietly enjoyable, often philosophical (even a little bit over talky at times), it’s clear that Sinan is no more enamoured with this rural idyll than when he reluctantly arrived.

Ceylan returns to the evergreen signature themes that have been present in his work since the beginning and have gained him a reputation and a strong following, along with his elegantly crafted widescreen style and well-rounded character studies. And there is always a touch of dry wit to lighten proceedings while grounding them in community, local politics, moral and ethical issues and family concerns.

In some ways, his latest is an expansion of his FIPRESCI and Golden Tulip winner Clouds of May (1999) and has the same ripe quality of visual sumptuousness throughout. Dermirkol plays Sinan as a vaguely unsympathetic character whose ennui with his family and rural life simply demonstrates an ardent need to get on with his aspirations rather than indicating a deeply flawed personality. But maybe they are one in the same. Ceylan eyes his antihero in a detached and observational way that makes him really convincing as a representative of his generation. In contrast to the self-sacrificing heroes of the early 1900s, Sinan is a full-fledged 21st century man. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 30 NOVEMBER 2018 | Cannes Film Festival Premiere

Promise at Dawn (2017) *** UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Eric Barbier; Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Pierre Niney, Pavel Puchalski, Nino Schiffman, Catherine McCormack, Jean-Pierre Daroussin; France/Belgium 2017, 131 min.

Eric Barbier’s screen adaptation of PROMISE AT DAWN has been embellished to a length that does no favours to the original story or the audience, for that matter. Charlotte Gainsbourg comes to the rescue as the enterprising actress turned hotelier in a tour de force of Jewish motherhood.  

Romain Gary penned the wildly romantic novel in 1960 based on his mother’s life of self-sacrifice raising him in Vilnius (then part of Russia) in the early years of the 20th century. During the course of the film, Gary is variously played by Pavel Puchalski (as a child), Nemo Schiffman (as a teenager) and finally Pierre Niney, as a young man.

We first meet Roman Kacew during one of his mother’s many crisis. Nina is an actress turned struggling dressmaker who turns to her actor friend Alex Gubernatis for support, despite his alcoholism. Posing as Parisian couturiers, the two boost their potential amongst High Society Vilnius and business blossoms overnight, leaving Nina to spend more time with her son. The boy shows a talent for drawing, but Nina wants him to be rich and famous. The wayward young Roman (Niney) soon falls in love with Valentine but her brothers beat him up and call him a “dirty Yid”,  causing Nina’s to business falter, and she succumbs to diabetes. By now it’s 1934 and the family moves to Nice for the climate, taking  over the running of a hotel. But Roman’s eye for the girls soon sees him back in Paris, where Law studies are hampered by his Jewish credentials and philandering ways. Finally he joins the French Air Force, becoming a victim of Anti-Semitism and the only one of 300 cadets not promoted to officer status. Needless to say, Nina battles on undeterred, ever hopeful of making a success of her son in the diplomatic service.

Bookended by scenes featuring Gary’s first wife, the English author Leslie Blanch (McCormack), Barbier’s version loves grand sequences, and Glynn Speeckaert’s aerial battle scenes are particularly impressive. Gainsbourg plays Niney off the screen: his Roman is the weakest of the three characterisations. Promise at Dawn, is certainly high octane in stark contrast with Jules Dassin’s more thoughtfully moving 1970 version of the original.  MT

THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 |

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Border Fence (2018) **** IDFA 2018

Dir: Nikolaus Geyrhalter | Austria | Doc | 112′

Brenner Pass, Alpine border, spring 2016: the Austrian government announces the construction of a border fence expecting a shift of the refugee routes to Italy after the Balkan route is closed. The Austrian residents seem to fear the fence as much as the influx of refugees to their homeland. Two years later, the fence is still rolled up in a container. History took another route.

This gave Austrian documentarian Nikolaus Geyrhalter reason enough to go to the region with his camera and explore the mood there. Surveillance and border fences have long been themes in his work (Abendland, 2011), along with the delicate balance between humans and their environment (Homo sapiens, 2016). What was originally seen as a welcome from Austria soon switched to a crisis that has swept through Europe like a forest wildfire. Everyone feels challenged to protect their homeland (or heimat, as the Austrians put it). “As the first refugees, we were impressed by the welcome culture of Austria. But at some point in the reporting a switch was put”. This subtle change meant that suddenly these people became unwanted. Europe’s solidarity during the world wars was finally put to the challenge.

A short conversation in the toll booth is one of the many absurd scenes in the film: border functionaries air their negative feelings about the ‘refugees’ and migration, while going about their duties solemnly dispensing a 9 euro toll ticket every 30 seconds. In the nearby hillside, two male hunters talk about their experience with refugees on the so-called ‘Green Brenner’ borderline during the winter months, and admit to feeling sorry for the scantily clad travellers who are totally unprepared for the climate and thick snow. These human encounters are often forgotten or buried in the abstract political discourse. Meanwhile the local police try to carry on with their commitments. It’s a thankless task and one that clearly compromises them, trapped between the humanistic angle and their duty to their country. There are no winners here. Everyone tries to put forward their opinions delicately without appearing racist. But the protesters are not silent. 

Elegantly framed and filmed in long takes, Geyrhalter remains the calm observer, distancing himself from the madding crowd, muting their anxiety and anger with placcid detachment, yet still retaining a humanistic feel. THE BORDER FENCE makes for a contemplative experience, allowing the audience space and time to process this European crisis. Geyrhalter’s documentary is a study in atavistic fear and human behaviour at its most base. And while many are vehemently opposed to the crackdown on migration, others feel threatened: “Be my guest – but don’t take over my home”.  MT

IDFA COMPETITION FOR BEST FEATURE-LENGTH DOCUMENTARY | International premiere Tuesday, 20 Nov)

Marrakech Film Festival | Industry Initiatives 2018

THE ATLAS WORKSHOPS | MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

The Atlas Workshops are an Industry and Talent Development Programme taking place at the 17th Marrakech International Film Festival, from December 2 to 5, 2018. Wholly dedicated to cinema from Africa and Middle-East, the workshops are a creative and professional platform to support filmmakers as well as a place for exchange between international professionals and regional talents.

This initiative has been designed to assist regional emerging regional directors who are currently preparing their first, second, or third feature-length narrative or documentary films. For this first edition, eight projects in development and six films in post-production, originating from nine countries, have been invited to take part.

They will benefit from a tailor-made day-long consultation with professionals who will provide them artistic feedback, as well the Industry point of view. At the end of the workshop, a jury will award a Development Prize of 10 000 € and a postproduction Prize of 20 000 € to the best projects.

The Atlas Workshops are also intended to explore questions surrounding film distribution in the region. In parallel with panels dedicated to sharing views on audience development as well as the circulation of films from Africa and the Middle East, the members of the Network of Arab Alternative Screens, which brings together 20 cinema screens across Arab-speaking countries, have been invited to convene, in the Atlas framework, in order to meet with attending professionals, as well as the talents who are presenting their projects.

Finally, the Atlas Workshops consider the process of composing music for films, in a session intended not only to encourage selected filmmakers to think about the musical universe of their films, but also to foster regional artistic collaboration by introducing talented score composers to their filmmaking peers.

In partnership with Netflix, the Atlas Workshops is delighted to gather in Marrakech from December 2 to 5, 150 Moroccan and international professionals in order to champion talents from Africa and the Middle- East.

THE 14 PROJECTS SELECTED FOR THE ATLAS WORKSHOPS, Marrakech International Film Festival

• THE DAY I ATE THE FISH by Aida Elkashef (Egypt) – documentary
• EUROPA « Based on a true story » by Kivu Ruhorahoza (Rwanda) – fiction
• IT’S FAR AWAY WHERE I MUST GO by Karima Saidi (Morocco) – documentary
• KILOMETERS 60 by Hassen Ferhani (Algeria) – documentary
• THE WOMEN IN BLOCK J J by Mohamed Nadif (Morocco) – fiction
• WE ARE FROM THERE by Wissam Tanios (Lebanon) – documentary
8 projects in developement
• PLUM SEASON by Rim Mejdi (Morocco) – fiction

• LES DAMNES NE PLEURENT PAS by Fyzal Boulifa (Morocco) – fiction
• LAUNDRY by Zamo Mkhwanazi (South Africa) – fiction
• THE NIGHTS STILL SMELL OF GUNPOWDER de Inadelso Cossa (Mozambique) – documentary
• IN THE RIVER TRAP by Nicolas Sawalo Cisse (Senegal) – fiction
• QUEENS by Yasmine Benkirane (Morocco) – fiction
• THE RIVER RUNS RED by Rami Kodeih (Lebanon) – fiction
• VUTA N’KUVUTE (A Tug of war) by Amil Shivji (Tanzania) – fiction

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 2018

The Workshop (2017) ****

Dir: Laurent Cantet | Writer: Robin Campillo | France | Cast: Marina Fois, Matthieu Lucci | 114min | Drama

Laurent Cantet follows his middle-aged rumination Return to Ithaca (2014) with an equally unsettling but darker teenage drama that takes place in a multi-cultural summer school in Provence. Youth is a subject he’s covered before in his Palme d’Or winner The Class (2008) but here the region’s working class past come back to haunt the instability of the present providing an intoxicating mix of emotions in a tense, intelligent and socially relevant drama.

The film follows Antoine who is taking part in summer school in rather downtrodden town of La Ciotat, where he hopes to write a crime thriller novel with the help of a well-known author Olivia Dejazet (Marina Fois).  Joined by seven other local teenagers from the town which has seen better days as a centre for shipbuilding – today the docks just service luxury yachts.

Whilst most of the students are critical of Dejazet’s Parisian “snootiness”, they still co-operate  – apart from Antoine (Lucci). He is provocative to both teacher and co-students, shocking them with a piece of gruesome writing, describing a mass-killer, and told in the first person singular. Downtime is spend hanging around the area, in one instance with an unlicensed firearm.  Antoine has already been playing the popular video game “The Witch3: Wild Hunt”,  where he choses the role of a Viking killer-for hire. Malik (Rammach), a young Muslim woman, is Antoine’s fiercest critic, as he continues to undermine the project, upsetting everyone with his unruly attitude. Dejazet feels hopeless – not used to open racism and Antoine’s perverse love of violence – then she tries to help him. But her efforts end in a traumatic encounter, and Antoine gives himself away: he describes the main motive of the Bataclan perpetrators as boredom, a very astute projection, considering his activities with other far-right friends.

Antoine might not have the intellectual prowess of Drieu La Rochelle, the nihilist hero of Louis Malle’ s Le Feu Follet, but there are certain parallels: both men prefer male company, the home-erotic undertones are very clear. Like many fascists, they are obsessed with death and suicide (La Rochelle killed himself in 1945 after being a collaborator), and their relationship with women tends to be antagonistic: their masculine pride does not allow them to come emotionally close to women. Antoine is a gun for hire, his phantasies of obliteration are as much directed at himself as others.

Regular collaborate Robin Campillo, who also worked on Entre les Murs with Cantet, constructs an ambivalent relationship between Dejazet and Antoine: both are aware of their social differences, but in spite this they are somehow attracted to one another. Their relationship develops into a separate story, whilst the other six students try to write their own crime novel. DoP Pierre Milon uses impressive panoramic shots, showing the empty docks, then returning to the intimate scenes of collaborate writing, without breaking the fluent movement. Cantet’s direction is  sensitive, he never denounces Antoine, seeing him as a victim of change: once he would have found a spiritual home with the dock workers, but now he is alienated and bitter. L’Atelier is a story of disenfranchisement, and storytelling – with the author as teacher, but one who’s not always in control.

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 16 NOVEMBER 2018

 

 

The Other Side of Everything (2017) ****

Dir/Writer: Mila Turajlic. Serbia. 2017. 100 mins.

Like most people who have been driven to their knees and learned how to survive their troubled history, the Serbians are tough cookies. And none more so than the indomitable a professor (who is also her mother) in Mila Turajlic’s engrossing documentary. THE OTHER SIDE OF EVERYTHING illuminates turbulent times in pre-World War II Serbia when Tito’s communists countermanded her family’s spacious central Belgrade apartment, and forced them to share their home with two other families.

Srbijanka was a tiny girl when Tito came to power in 1943. But the experiences of her childhood have made her a strong-willed and independent thinker who cuts to the chase with salient truisms such as: ” You don’t believe how it all can begin….until it begins.”. Her views and experiences are enriched by fascinating archive footage and news reels of the Tito years in a film that won Turajlic the main prize at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival in 2017.

When the communists took over, the internal doors of her apartment were locked back and have remained so for more than 70 years. Serbia is a country that has never really recovered from this shocking era. It’s the sort of place where the Census-taker asks ordinary citizens searching questions like: “Have you had links to terrorism? What about genocide?”.

But it’s the personal story of its stoical matriarch that actually makes this potted history of Yugoslavia and Serbia over the past hundred years, so engaging. And it soon emerges that the casually dressed and amiably ‘bolshie’ raconteur actually took an active part in the eventual downfall of creatures like Slobodan Milosovic.

The rather opulent apartment bears witness to Srbijanka’s upmarket background of enlightened intellectuals and professionals. Her grandfather had involvement with the formation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes that later became known as Yugoslavia. Sadly, because Srbijanka was not a Communist, she was unable to study Law, but she later became a Mathematics professor at the capital’s University and worked hard to promote pro-Serbian interests. Like so many parents who have experienced terrible political regimes, she warns her daughter to be watchful and sceptical (Mila remains off camera). Yet Mila has her doubts, and this gently probing film marks their expression throughout. The Other Side serves as a worthwhile tribute to the valiant woman at its core, and to everyone who has risked their lives to make their world a better place. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 9 NOVEMBER 2018  | IDFA 2017 REVIEW | Best Feature-length Documentary Winner 2017 | SCREENINGS IN YOUR AREA

 

For Vagina’s Sake (2017) London Korean Film Festival 2018 ***

Dir: Kim Bo-ram | S. Korean Doc | 73′

FOR VAGINA’S SAKE takes a coyly humorous approach to a bodily function that happens to half the world’s population. A woman will lose over 10 litres of blood during her reproductive years. And while in North East Asia menstruation is still often seen as an embarrassing occurrence, Dutch women treat periods much more pragmatically according to this worthwhile but rather scatty South Korean documentary debut from Kim Bo-ram.

Boram has certainly done her research and uncovered a wealth of information about this vital bodily function, uncovering startling facts from the Dark Ages and followed it through with up to date political developments. It’s a shame then that her film is hamstrung by its choppy editing, flipping backwards and forward and flitting around like a butterfly on heat, it eventually becomes exasperating in the final scenes. It’s also focused almost entirely on women in their twenties and early thirties in Holland and South Korea.

A dinner discussion in Holland reveals that young Dutch woman go for basic applicator-free protection, while in South Korea some are still scared to insert a tampon (afraid that it may get lost) in a country where periods are still taboo and anatomical ignorance is frankly shocking. We then meet an 80 year old Korean woman whose first period came after she marred at 18, and who then went on to produce five or six daughters. In those days sanitary towels consisted of natural cotton balls wrapped in cotton material. Tied with strings round the woman’s waste they often fell down, causing horrific embarrassment. And this humiliation and fear connected with staining a public seat or losing a pad in the street is still a woman’s worst nightmare today.

There follows a potted historical and religious background which verges on the macabre (if not downright misogynistic). We learn than ancient Japan women were thrown into communal pits of menstrual blood and allowed to drown, whereas in China those who gave birth would apparently go to Hell (?). Menstrual blood was considered a puny female attempt at producing sperm.

The second part of the documentary focuses on politics developments and taxes that apply to feminine hygiene products, with a discussion on the contemporary developments in sustainable protection (material pads, sea-foam, and an overlong diatribe about the menstrual cup and its advantages.

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For Vagina’s Sake uses a mixture of interviews and delicately-drawn animations to put its information across and is both subjective and observational. Graphic images dovetail with lighter more frivolous hand-draughted visuals. Fast-paced and fluffy and rather than serious and analytical – the film becomes more inspirational and empowering for its contributors as it presses on. Certainly a worthwhile film to show to teenagers and students from all nationalities who may be suffering in silence, rather than learning about a shared and very natural female experience. MT

SCREENING DURING THE London Korean FILM FESTIVAL 2018

The Return (2018) | **** London Korean Film Festival

Dir: Malene Choi | Writer: Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen | With Thomas Hwan, Karoline Sofie Lee | Doc | Denmark | 85′

Two Danish-Korean adoptees return for the first time to the country of their birth in search of their origins, in this refreshingly thoughtful and quietly devastating arthouse documentary debut from Malene Choi. Based on her own experiences THE RETURN is a stunningly photographed and touchingly resonant meditation on destiny and identity, nature and nurture. Muted visuals and Philip Nicolai Flindt’s subtle sound design lend a dreamlike quality of mystery and alienation to this contemplative study of two young people uprooted from Denmark, the country that has become their home and where they have grown up, and returned to their original their birth lands. Despite this yearned for homecoming, they somehow feel disorientated and thrown into confusion in the search for their biological parents. Both internalise their feelings into discrete expressions of loss, anxiety and sadness. So locked away is their private grief, that they often admit to feeling nothing, but the trauma clearly lives within them, hidden deep in their souls.

Thomas’s story is particularly harrowing as it emerges during the emotionally-charged first meeting with his birth mother that he was actually conceived after a one night stand. Clearly he is devastated, but remains dignified in front of his mother, suppressing the trauma that slowly seeps out in dramatic physical expressions during a trip around Seoul  – together with Karoline, where they both let off steam by going boating together and enjoy cocktails. For her part Karoline is less emotionally buttoned up but equally traumatised, especially during a meeting with a hospital adviser who tries to help but simply lacks the necessary resources to further the Korean girl’s inquiries. Clearly she is angry, but also disappointed.

Without resorting to sentimentality or even attempting to create a falsely romantic narrative arc, Choi paints a realistic and utterly convincing portrait of two people who cannot go forward until they have gone back – with satisfaction and closure. MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | Now SCREENING DURING London Korean FILM FESTIVAL 2018

UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

The 22nd edition of the  UK Jewish Film Festival this year runs from 8th-22nd November 2018 at cinemas across London, Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham, Brighton and Glasgow.

The programme features a Philip Roth Retrospective in tribute to the much loved author, with a screening of three cinematic interpretations of his work: Goodbye, Columbus; Human Stain and Portnoy’s Complaint.

Other strands include: The Alan Howard International Documentary Strand, Israeli Cinema, Made in Britain, European Cinema, Education Programme, The Sound of Silence providing a spectacular journey back to the 1920s with beautifully restored classic films, Across the World – from Argentina to Russia in 15 days.

Films in Competition for the Dorfman Best Film Award are: The Accountant of Auschwitz, Foxtrot, 2017/Samuel Maoz); Promise At Dawn (2017/Eric Barbier); Three Identical Strangers (2018/Tim Wardle); The Waldheim Waltz (2018/Ruth Beckermann/Berlinale Doc Winner); and Working Woman (Isha Ovedet/2018).

The jury presided by Michael Kuhn includes Anita Land, Clare Binns, Andrew Pulver, Henry Goodman and Michael Rose.

Best Debut Feature Award contenders are: Closeness (2017/Kantemir Balagov/FIPRESCI prize winner, Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2017); Doubtful (2017/Eliran Elya); Driver, Outdoors (2017/Asaf Saban); Red Cow (2017/Tsivia Barkai) and Winter Hunt.

Claudia Rosencrantz will lead this jury.

Up for Best Screenplay Award is: Budapest Noir (2017/Eva Gardos), Death of a Poetess (2017/Dana Goldberg/Ephrat Mishori), Foxtrot, Promise At Dawn, To Dust (2017/Shawn Snyder) and Winter Hunt. Jury headed by Nik Powell.

The Opening Night Gala on the 8th November at BFI Southbank is the UK Premiere of Working Woman, directed by Michal Aviad and starring Liron Ben Shlush, Menashe Noy and Oshri Cohen. This film has been nominated for the Dorfman Best Film Award. Released in 2018, this cautionary tale could hardly be more appropriate in the current climate, and follows an ambitious career woman who struggles with harassment in the work place.

The Closing Night Gala, Eric Barbier’s Promise At Dawn will take place on 22 November at Curzon Mayfair and stars Pierre Niney with Charlotte Gainsbourg (Best Actress Cesar Nomination) playing the overbearing Jewish mother in a powerful adaptation of Romain Gary’s memoir.

The Centrepiece Gala is the London Premiere of Three Identical Strangers, directed by Tim Wardle won the Special Jury prize at Sundance Film Festival and involves three men raised by their respective adoptive families within a hundred-mile radius of each other. These siblings Robert Shafran, Eddy Galland and David Kellman were oblivious to the fact that each had two identical brothers until a chance meeting brought them together, aged 19, for the first time since birth. MT

UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL | NATIONWIDE | 8-22 NOVEMBER 2018

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018) Netflix

Dir: Morgan Neville | US Doc | 98′ | With Peter Bogdanovich, Steve Ecclesine, Oja Kodar, Frank Marshall, Joseph McBride, Beatrice Welles, Orson Welles.

Morgan Neville (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) is back with a new doc that serves as a useful companion piece to Welles’ rather haphazard metaphor for the madness of the industry that tormented him: The Other Side of the Wind (2018).

Working with footage from the film itself, which started life in 1970, and complementing it with informative interviews and other Wellesian treasures, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead has a spirited and haphazard style that aims to capture the creative butterfly that was the larger than life, Orson Welles (1918-1985).

Those who wonder whether the world needs another Orson Welles documentary will do well to bear in mind that this Netflix affair will reach an audience that may not even have heard of the man and his genius, so the doc will hopefully find a completely new following along with its committed fanbase, amongst its viewership.

The title apparently refers to the pronouncement that Welles once made in reference to those film financiers and ‘powers that be’ who deserted him when he needed their help. And it’s reassuring to know that the film has finally been completed by those who have ultimately leant their support.

Neville has certainly set himself a tricky task but he pulls it off with the usual aplomb. His previous documentaries have been very well received: 20 Feet From Stardom (2013); Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal (2015) and Won’t You Be My Neighbour (2018). And he’s also brought his own creativity to this outing with its inventive camera angles and black & white to ease cohesion with the archive footage. The film’s interviewees were all close friends of Welles: associates Peter Bogdanovich and Henry Jaglom. This documentary’s executive producer Frank Marshall also worked on the Wind shoot and produced the reconstructed film. And there is historian Joseph McBride, who appeared in Wind. Neville’s doc also serves as a tribute to the late Gary Graver, who shot Wind and served as his personal DoP for over a decade, putting his own career and family on the back-burner, in the same way that Leon Vitali dedicated his life to Stanley Kubrick.

The story of the experimental project that was Welles’ main focus for the final 15 years of his life unfolds before us in the velvety black and white sequences. Welles once said that Wind was inspired by his belief in “divine accidents” – and this is one thing that seems to unite the genius with his fellow filmmakers: Every director from Martin Scorsese to William Friedkin reports on these serendipitous moments, and Welles was no different. Wind was repeatedly re-worked and rewritten in a narrative that followed the last day in the life of a veteran film director called Jake Hannaford  (purportedly Welles himself, although he denied it) who was played by John Huston.

Ironically, Peter Bogdanovich started off hero-worshiping Welles, until his own success as a director saw him supporting Welles’ and even offering him accommodation in his own house, with Welles almost outstaying his welcome. But his romantic companion, co-writer and collaborator Oja Kodar, who worked with her paramour on another unfinished project The Deep (1970), remains an enigmatic presence here.

Sadly, Welles’ initial effort to raise finance for Wind remains the most poignant aspect of his endeavour, and the footage of his speech to the AFI in this veiled attempt to garner support, makes for disheartening viewing. The final scenes of the documentary see Welles speculating on the nature of Wind: “maybe it’s just people talking about a movie.”

Neville certainly gives us a great deal of background about Wind in his documentary, but there is very little on the subject of how the film eventually made it to our screens in 2018. And it’s because of this slight flaw in Neville’s film, you might even be excused of thinking that Wind remained a flight of fantasy, rather than a complete feature. Orson Welles and his legacy lives on. MT

ON NETFLIX  | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Artes Mundi 8 Award | National Museum Cardiff

THE NATIONAL MUSEUM in Cardiff is playing host to the UK’s largest international art prize Artes Mundi. From the 26 October until 24 February 2019 the exhibition showcases the five finalists competing for this coveted award.

Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul has joined the list with his latest work INVISIBILITY, a short film melding cinema with contemporary art and riffing on the signature themes that permeated Cemetery of Splendour (2016) and his 2006 debut Syndromes and a Century. Also short-listed for this year’s Artes Mundi award is French-Moroccan artist and filmmaker, Bouchra Khalili. Her short film Twenty-Two Hours took part in this year’s BFI London Film Festival. 

In Twenty-Two Hours, Bouchra Khalili (left) considers how celebrated French writer Jean Genet was invited by the Black Panther Party to secretly visit them in in the U.S in 1970. The film features Doug Miranda, a former prominent member of the Black Panther Party. Echoing BlacKKKlansman, the film questions how we might transmit the historical voice of resistance into the present.

This year’s selection has been distilled from over 450 entries, from 86 countries. The judging committee includes Anthony Shapland, creative director of Cardiff’s g39 gallery. Artes Mundi is a charity founded in 2002.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apichatpong’s work deals with memory, personal politics, and social issues in his native Thailand. With over 40 films under his belt, and still only 48, he is a Cannes Film Festival regular, where he won the Palme d’Or in 2010 for his fantasy drama Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and the Jury prize for Tropical Malady in 2004. Cemetery of Splendour (2015/above) was selected to World premiere in the arthouse Un Certain Regard sidebar, and his love story Blissfully Yours won the UCR award in 2002. His surreal and enigmatic open-ended outings evoke the essence of his homeland through mysterious narratives that often remain unsolved, and are best savoured rather than explained. These fables often have a political undercurrent that we can take or leave, depending on our mood. The past and the present co-exist, and while the focus is general Thai history and folklore, the features have a universal quality exploring love and loss, tradition and the supernatural. His rich reveries explore dreams, nature, and sexuality, alongside Western perceptions of Asia. His recent outing Ten Years in Thailand (2018) is a collaboration between three of his compatriots, and premiered during this year’s Sitges – Catalonia Film Festival.

Experimental in nature, Mysterious Object at Noon (2000) is a film of captivating beauty that blends facts and fiction in a story passed from one person to another, Blissfully Yours (2002)is a languid affair that sees two illegal Burmese immigrants enjoys a leisurely afternoon at a remote rural backwater, in the politically charged location between Thailand and Myanmar). One of them is suffering from the after affects of hiding from the authorities in a septic tank. Tropical Malady (2004) sees a love affair gently blossom in the twilight zone between reality and the spirit world, and Uncle Boonmee (2010) also deals in this dreamlike world when a dying man communes with his family, past and present, roaming to the north of Thailand where spends his final days in the birthplace of his first life. Syndromes and a Century (2006) and psychic drama Cemetery of Splendour (2016) both deal with patients and their carers in a rural hospital setting in lush jungle. Bangkok and a countryside clinic is also the backdrop to the unconsummated love story Syndromes and a Century, one of  Weerasethakul’s more accessible films. Music plays a vital role in his features. More often than not, his lulling melodies and soft refrains complement the dreamlike narratives that ask us to abandon ourselves to reverie – and go with the flow. In Mekong Hotel (2012) guitar music accompanies a shifting tale of fact and fiction between a vampire and her daughter in a hotel situated by the Mekong River. Ambient sound in also a used to recreate the intensely sensuous nature of the early scenes of Syndromes and a Century. Traditional folks songs also feature in this autobiographical work that explores the director’s early days at home with his medic parents.

Moroccan-French artist Bouchra Khalili works with film, video and mixed media. Her focus is on ethnic and political minorities examining the complex relationship between the individual and the community. She is also a Professor of Contemporary Art at The Oslo National Art Academy and a founding member of La Cinematheque de Tanger, an artist-run non-profit organisation based in Tangiers, Morocco. She was the recipient of the Radcliffe Institute Fellowship from Harvard University (2017-2018). Her latest film installation is Twenty-Two Hours (2018).

The three other short-listed artists are: Anna Boghiguian, Otobong Nkanga and Trevor Paglen. The prize will be awarded in January 2019.

NATIONAL MUSEUM CARDIFF | 26 OCTOBER – 24 JANUARY 2019  ARTES MUNDI

 

 

The Hate You Give (2018) ****

Dir.: George Tillman jr.; Cast: Amanda Steinberg, Lisa Carter, Russell Hornsby, Algen Smith, KJ Apa, Sabrina Carpenter, Common, Anthony Mackie; USA 2018, 133 min.

Director George Tillman jr. (Faster) and his screen writer Audrey Wells have made a brulliant job of adapting the novel The Hate U Give, avoiding clichés and easy answers in this case of another shooting of a black youngster by a white police officer. Instead of solutions, Tillman explores the issues through a teenager representing both communities: she – and other young people – are the victim of a fight they did not chose.

Starr Carter (a brilliant Amanda Steinberg) lives with her family in the black neighbourhood of Garden Heights. Every morning she puts on the uniform of her prestigious prep school and becomes somebody else. Her boyfriend Chris (Apa) and ‘bestie’ Kayleigh (Carpenter) are both white, as are the majority of the students. Starr’s mother Lisa (Hall) has insisted on her choice of school. She wants security for her daughter. Her father Maverick‘Mave’ (Hornsby) is deeply politicised, Black Panther leaflets are all over the house. Starr’s half brother is also very much into his black identity. As a small child, Starr has been the key witness of her classmate’s shooting by the black drug lord (Mackie), who rules Garden Heights with an iron fist. History will soon repeat itself, when Starr is in the car with childhood friend Khalil (Smith) who is shot dead by a white police officer, who mistook a hairbrush for a piece. But, as black officer Carlos (Common) explains to Starr and her father, this is not a simple case because the officer suspected that Khalil was a drug dealer (which he actually was), and reacted in self defence.

When Mave asks Carlos if he would have shot Khalil, the officer nods. “But, if the person in question would have been a white man in a Mercedes, would you have shot too?”, asks Mave. Carlos replies that he would have asked the white man to raise his hands. This double standard is not a question of race, but of tribal law: police officers of all colours are used to dealing with drug lords like the one running the black neighbourhood. It does not matter to them, in the moment of confrontation, that the huge majority of the black population is equally afraid of the drug dealers. Nevertheless, a heated street battle is being fought, and Mave is not only fighting the police, but the black drug dealers, who suspect him of collaborating with the police. In the final analysis, Amanda surmises that hate and violence is not only a question of race.

Stylishly shot on the widescreen and revealing personal close-ups, Steinberg carries the feature with extreme maturity: she is a girl of divided loyalties. And must find a world where she can live in peace with both sides.

Without lecturing, Tillman tries to ask questions. And the audience has to to answer. And there’s no easy answer here, only an acknowledgement that the fault lines run much deeper than the agitators on both sides want to admit. At the same time, The Hate U give is a full-blooded thriller, and in spite of the length, it sustains its suspense. And the real triumph is the marriage of genre aesthetics and articulate political content. AS

NATIONWIDE FROM 22 OCTOBER 2018 | SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Lajko in Space (2018) *** Warsaw Film Festival 2018

LAJKO – GYPSY IN SPACE (LAJKO – CIGANY AZ URBEN)

Dir.: Balazs Lengyel; Cast: Tamas Keresztes, JozsefGyabronka, Tibor Pallfy, Anna Boger, Bohdan Benink; Hungary 2018, 90 min.

Director/co-writer Balazs Lengyel shows no fear: his satire about the first man is Space – of course, a Hungarian, not Gagarin, as claimed by the Soviets – is a relentless attack on Stalinism, but the re-write of history is always funny, even if not always done in the best taste.

Young Lajko, a gypsy growing up in the Hungarian country site, has always been interested in Space travel. Unfortunately, one of his first attempts sends his Mum into space, together with the outdoor toilet. As a young man Lajko (Keresztes) has designed a moored balloon to take him into the stratosphere – but he ignores the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 and is shot down by the Red Army. He is the victim of waterboarding, but his torturer has shot through too much money over the previous year, and is put in prison. Lajko can count on the help of his father Florian (Pallfy) and uncle Jeno (Gyabronka), the latter a party functionary. The three are sent to Baku, where the Soviet Space programme is being developed. Lajko has to compete with a Mongolian monk, a Baltic counter-revolutionary and Helga Mengele (Boger) to be the first one in Space. Helga is very upset, that “the good name of her father is by now forgotten”, even though he created ten different prototypes of an Aryan super-woman – of which she is the only survivor. When Brezhnev (Benink) arrives at the Space station, Florian steals his ring, and Jeno falls in love with the Soviet leader, admitting that he is gay for the first time. Lajko finally wins the race to be the first man in Space; meeting his mother there in the process. Needless to say, the beastly Russians put Lajko, Florian and Helga in a work camp (so that Gagarin can claim to be the winner), and poor uncle Jeno is shot dead, having just come to terms with being gay.

This is a romp, sometimes crude, but always enjoyable. DoPGyorgy Reder is very inventive, using different formats for the historical scenes, sometimes speeding up the tempo, like in silent movies. It is obvious that everyone had fun shooting this feature, and Lengyel always manages to keep the careering plot on the road. AS

SCREENING DURING WARSAW FILM FESTIVAL | 12-21 OCTOBER 2018

 

The Nightshifter (2018) **** LFF 2018

Writer/Dir: Dennison Ramalho | Cast: Daniel de Oliveira, Claudia Jouvin, Fabiula Nascimento, Bianca Comparato | Horror | Brazil | 110′

Communing with the dead its nothing new. For thousands of years people have been contacting their loved ones in the afterlife for guidance and reassurance, but in this evocative and darkly inventive Brazilian chiller a morgue worker takes a step too far.

Stênio (Daniel de Oliveira) works on the night shift in the central morgue of Brazil’s violent southern capital, Porto Alegre. Street brawls, venal crime and knifings provide him with a blood-soaked work load. And once the Stryker saw has done its postmortem job, Stênio makes small talk with the cadavers, relaying  their final thoughts or family messages before they go six feet under. But one dead body shares an idle rumour that Stênio’s wife is cheating on him. Riddled with suspicion, he take matters into his own hands, so breaking the strict code of the dead and bringing a tragic curse on his entire family.

Stênio, a generous-hearted father of two, works hard to make ends meet so why has his wife, feistily played by Fabiula Nascimento, turned against him? Odete seemed happy enough making cakes for her friend’s business but now she claims his whiff of ‘eau de corpse’ has put her off his advances. But she showers her affections on her lover who rewards her with new clothes. Perhaps poor Stênio needs to spend less time talking to bodies and more time pleasing his family.

Andre Faccioli’s garish visuals establish the neon-lit gang-ridden streets of Porto Alegre where sirens screech and brutal death is a nightly occurrence. Stênio is driven mad as the corpses pile up in this tricksy narrative that twists and turns like a murderer’s dagger. Macabre overhead shots see him sweeping up the bloody waste, as the gurneys overflow with gore and slaughtered bodies. Meanwhile, his homelife is just as messy; son Edson is going off the rails and daughter Ciça is frightened. The claustrophobic morgue closes in him; mangled corpses burst out of their ‘fridges. At night his cramped flat feels like a coffin, and the tension is palpable in this sordid metaphor for Brazil’s modern malaise.

In his directing debut Dennison Ramalho doesn’t rein back from the grimness of it all: Quite the reverse, there’s a subversive humour to The Nightshifter – be it ever so dark. This noirish fantasy horror lingers perpetually in the penumbral hours, relishing and regaling in the seemier side of an existence where life and death become one big twilight zone where the dead seem to hold sway over the living. MT

SCREENING DURING THE BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 10-21 October 2018

https://youtu.be/ogiPV2hafbo

22 July (2018) ***

Dir.: Paul Greengrass ; Cast: Anders Danielsen Lie, Jonas Strand Gravli, Jon Oigarden, Hilde Olausson; Norway/Iceland/USA 133 min.

British director/co-writer Paul Greengrass (United 93) imagines what actually happened during the Norwegian tragedy of 22. July 2011, when right-wing nationalist Anders Behring Breivik killed 69 children on the island of Utoya. Earlier in the day, he had already killed eight passers-by with a bomb in the diplomatic quarter of Oslo. The main focus here is aftermath on the island, and Greengrass ends with a moving court scene.

Anders Breivik (Lie) is a narcissistic killer who prepares for his atrocities meticulously – as if the world were already watching him. After the bombs go off near government offices, he sets out for the island of Utoya, where the Youth Section of the Norwegian Labour Party is meeting. After the killing spree Breivik is contained, treating the policemen who arrest him, with cold distain, as if to say “you should be helping me, not putting me in jail”. In prison, Breivik asks for a well-known liberal lawyer, Geir Lippesad (Oigarden), who takes on his defence, even though he is emotionally repelled by his new client. Lippesad was forced to move his children out of their local schools, as fellow parents could not understand him defending a monster like Breivik. The latter had never actually met a single member of the local Norwegian fascist scene. One of its leaders, who had communicated with Breivik via the internet whilst playing video-games (!) describes him in court as a loner, not worthy of being one of the movement’s leaders – whilst also condoning his actions. Breivik’s mother (Olausson) tries to apologise for what has happened, but blames it all on uncontrolled immigration.

After the attack, Greengrass then switches his focus to Viljar (Gravli), who has been close to death after being shot by Breivik, on the island. Learning to walk again, and living in fear of the shrapnel pieces near his spine moving and killing him, he confronts his attacker in a cathartic court scene. Breivik’s isolation and loneliness contrasts sharply with the solidarity of his family and fellow-survivors.

Apart from an over-schematic script, 22. July is laudable largely because Greengrass avoids sensationalism, and concentrates on the personalities of those involved. Lie gives a brilliant performance of the isolated, arrogant and self-controlled killer, who is unable to feel empathy for anybody – apart from himself. DoP Pal Ulrik Rokseth’s images treat the events like a documentary, keeping the audience involved without becoming over-emotional. This portrait of a self-obsessed, human killing machine traces all the ambiguity of his complex personality, without reaching a conclusion. AS

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Austrian Films at the BFI London Film Festival 2018

 

 

AUSTRIAN FILMS BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL

Austrian cinema is always a worthwhile presence at the BFI London Film Festival, and this year is no exception with Sudabeh Mortezai’s streetwise drama JOY featuring in the main competition.

JOY (2018) Tuesday 16 & Wednesday 17 October

Sudabeh Mortezai (Macondo, LFF 2014) presents a vital and hugely affecting drama that tackles the vicious cycle of sex trafficking in modern Europe.

ANGELO (2018) Wednesday 17 & Thursday 18 October

The powerful story of Angelo Soliman, a forced Europeanised African who makes his way through Viennese society in the early 18th century without ever belonging.

STYX (2018) Thursday 11 & Saturday 13 October

A professional woman’s solo sailing journey turns into a deadly serious ethical dilemma in this unusual and taut political allegory. (*Germany-Austria co-production)

TWENTY-TWO HOURS  (2018) Tuesday 16 October

Bouchra Khalili’s meditation on revolutionary histories considers the poet Jean Genet’s secret 1970 visit to the United States at the invitation of the Black Panther Party. *Germany-USA-Norway-Austria co-production Screened in conjunction with PROMISED LANDS, directed by Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa. Austria-Germany-Uganda 2018. 19min

YOMEDDINE (2018) Thursday 18, Saturday 20 & Sunday 21 October

Egyptian filmmaker A.B. Shawky makes his feature debut with this utterly unique road movie which charts the friendship between a leper and a young orphan. *Egypt-Austria co-production

BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 10-21 OCTOBER 2018 

Two Plains and a Fancy (2018) LFF 2018

Writers/Dirs: Lev Kalman, Whitney Horn | Cast: Benjamin Crotty, Laetitia Dosch, Marianna McClellan, Maria Cid Avila, Alex Decarli, André Frechette III, Libby Gery, Michael Murphy, Travis Nutting, Kim-Anh Schreiber, Logan Boyles | US Drama | 88′

Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn’s “spa western” is a certainly a whimsical curio. A mannered yet inspired period piece it’s set in the Colorado desert in the late 1890s but has characters that are straight out of modern day Brooklyn and smoke dope and utter lines such as “Do you take American Express?”. Along with Laetitia Dosch, it also has the latest buzzworthy star of the indie circuit Benjamin Crotty – whose short film The Glorious Acceptance of Nicolas Chauvin won the Mantarraya prize at this year’s Locarno.

Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn rose to the public gaze with their debut title L for Leisure which is set 100 years later than Two Plains but seems to feature similar fey characters to this quirky drama which takes place over three days in September 1893, after the start of the so-called ‘Denver Depression’. The film also has the same look as Blazing Saddles, without the laughs or the raciness.

To it’s credit, Two Plains doesn’t take itself seriously. There are some rather odd production inconsistencies which are clearly intentional: the signage along the desert route is all freshly painted and the cast are squeaky clean from their rough ride in the dusty landscape and occasionally speak French, eat saucisson and brie for their lunch and have ridiculous names such as Ozanne Le Perrier (Laetitia Dosch with broad French accent), Alta Maria Sophronia (Marianna McClellan) and Milton Tingling (Benjamin Crotty). After a dip in the first spa waters they encounter, their lunchtime conversation focuses on the supernatural and John Atkinson and Talya Cooper’s Sci-Fi style score suggests an ominous, surreal presence in the locale.

But this never develops into a tangible strand in the oddball narrative and the group carry on in a their dilatory fashion in search of the next spa retreat, their bizarre prandial conversations starting to become more and more irritating: amongst other banal subjects they discuss first world concerns such as back-pain, and whether to conduct a séance – which they eventually do – clearly the writers are taking the Micky out of contemporary creative types. Sophronia leads the candlelit seance with a script that sounds more like a post-yoga meditation exercise than the real McCoy. But that’s all part of the ‘humour’. Two Plains & a Fancy is a jokey experiment of a comedy that will either have you dashing for the exit early or rolling in the aisles. MT

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 10-21 OCTOBER 2018

 

Le Cahier Noir | The Black Book of Father Dinis (2018) *** San Sebastian 2018

Dir: Valeria Sarmiento | Chile | Drama | 113′

Valeria Sarmiento follows her Locarno curio La Telenovela Errante (2017) with a classically-styled lavishly-mounted 18th century drama that follows the petripatetic exploits of an (unknowingly) aristocratic Italian nursemaid Laura (Lou de Laâge) after her employer dies in mysterious circumstances leaving her in sole charge of an infant son Sebastian.

Based on a literary work by Chilean novelist Camile Castelo Branco, and adapted for the screen by Carlos Saboga, this sedate and ambitious affair establishes an air of intrigue and uncertainty with an sinister orchestral score as Laura is hotly pursued by the saturnine  Marquis Lusault (Niels Schneider), who quickly ravages her before rakishly marrying someone of better birth – or so it initially appears – until Laura’s real heritage is revealed by  Stanislas Merhar’s priest with an ill-fitting wig. The drama then takes off across Europe visiting a series of sumptuously decorated stately palaces with little to distinguish whether they’re in France, Italy and England. No expense is spared in the costume department although everyone shares the same sepia-tinted lipstick (including the men).

Gracefully performed by its accomplished ensemble cast, The Black Book is an elegantly rendered potboiler that pays homage to Sarmiento’s late husband Raúl Ruiz, sharing the same sombre pacing as his masterpiece Mysteries of Lisbon (2010) while also referencing Sarmiento’s 2012 Lines of Wellington (prepared by Ruiz) although not its breadth of subject matter. A solid and engaging drama. MT

SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 21 – 29 SEPTEMBER 2018

 

School’s Out | l’Heure de la Sortie (2018) **** LFF 2018

 

 

Dir.: Sebastian Marnier; Cast: Laurent Lafitte, Emmanuelle Bercot, Luana Bajrami, Victor Bonnel; France 2018, 103 min.

Sebastian Marnier follows his debut Irreproachable with an impressive adaption of Christophe Dufosse’s novel of the same name. Set in a posh secondary school, it has very much in common with John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos, filmed twice as Village of the Dammed in 1960 and 1996.

Supply teacher Pierre Hoffman (Lafitte) is called to St. Joseph’s College, after his predecessor, Capadis, jumped out of the window during a lesson. Hoffman is soon confronted by a group of six very gifted students who have formed a secret society led by Apoline (Bajrami) and Dimitri (Bonnel). This lot don’t seem concerned about what happened to Capadis; they regularly meet in a disused quarry. to perform daring acts and beat each other up – they seem to be immune to pain. Apoline accuses Hoffman, who is gay, of fancying Dmitri. But this is really to get rid of Hoffman on the grounds of his collection of video tapes recording the group’s activities. One of Hoffman’s fellow teachers, a music instructor and choir mistress called Catherine (Bercot), seems to be the only teacher that understands the group. It emerges that her family were killed in a car accident, while she was driving. Dimitri and his group invade Hoffman’s privacy in revenge for him snooping on them. After the finals, the six hijack a bus in a bid to crash it into the quarry. Hoffman escapes by the skin of his teeth, but the stunning finale gives answers to the many questions which have piled up.

Shot by DoP Romain Carcanada, the visuals have a glacial quality, as if everything was set in a frozen climate, despite the stifling summer heat. But this seems to mimic the icy coolness of the group of six. Hoffman is shown as a tortured soul, detached and lacking in any real identity. Bajrami and Bonnel lead with a maturity well beyond their age in this tense and gripping thriller. AS

SCREENING DURING LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 10-21 OCTOBER 2018

 

Crystal Swan | Khrustal (2018) ****

Dir.: Darya Zhuk; Cast: Alina Nasibullina, Yuriy Borisov, Swetlana Anikey, Ivan Mulin, Ilya Kapanets; Belarus/USA/Germany/Russia 2018, 93 min.

Darya Zhuk 1996-set feature debut shows how little Belarus has changed in the intervening years. Alina Nasibullina is the star turn as a disc jockey in Minsk who dreams of emigrating to Chicago, birth place of House Music. Although her performance takes on a farcical form, the comedy here is really gallows humour – vitriolic and bitter.

Velya lives with her museum curator mother (Swetlana Anikey) who like many in the older generation, yearns for the “good old” days on the Soviet block. The freedom they fought for has brought only insecurity. When Law graduate Velya gets sick and tired of the system and her childish and attention seeking boyfriend Alik (Borisov) she forges Visa documents from the US-Embassy in Minsk, somehow managing mess up her (non existent) employment details. The telephone number actually belongs to a family in a traditional factory town in the countryside, so she sets off to put things right. There she comes up against matriarch Alya who is deaf from blowing crystal in the local factory. Her oldest son Stepan (Mulin) takes a shine to Velya who plays along; having paid the phone bill, she is eagerly awaiting a call from the embassy with a glowing character reference. After Stepan rapes her, Velya goes back to Minsk with another lost soul, his younger brother Kostya.(Kapanets). Alik has moved in with her mother. But all is not lost.

Zhuk directs with great verve and energy, mastering the quickly changing narrative with considerable aplomb. Nasibullina is very much a central European version of Cindy Looper, a misfit in a country with a nostalgia for a brutal past. Velya is by no means a heroine, but a vulnerable victim of her rash spontaneity. DoP Carolina Costa avoids dour realism, crafting this flight for freedom with vibrant colours and inventive angles. 

The only black mark is the LFF’s decision to place Crystal Swan in the festival’s “Laugh” strand: a woman’s rape is anything but funny. Perhaps the selection committee, led by a woman, should take note of IMdb, where the film is rightly classified as “Drama”. AS

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 10 -21 OCTOBER 2018 | Karlovy Vary 2018

 

 

Anchor and Hope (2017) *** London Spanish Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Carlos-Marques Marcet; Cast: Oona Chaplin, Natalia Tena, David Verdaguer, Geraldine Chaplin; UK/Spain 2017, 111 min.

Re-uniting his leads Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer from 10000 KM, director/co-writer Carlos-Marques Marcet offers a modern love story with a twist, set around a houseboat in North London’s canals. Screening during this year’s London Spanish Film Festival this far from  soppy romcom is a barbed tale that proves all is fair in love, for its Eva (O. Chaplin), a 38 year old Salsa teacher who lives with Kat (Tena) on the cramped houseboat, and Roger (Verdaguer), Kat’s boisterous friend and dreadful womaniser, who soon joins the party. Eva uses the death of their cat to fulfil her longing for a child, and with the help of artificial insemination with Roger’s sperm her dream soon comes true. Then Eva’s mum Germaine (G. Chaplin) comes on board and lectures them about the responsibilities of parenthood, since neither of them has a permanent job. But the main problem is that Kat, and to a lesser degree David, want to stay free and unfettered teenagers for life. When Eva loses her baby, she accuses Kat of never wanting to be mother and leaves to stay with Germaine in Barcelona. But her  mother is not very welcoming, and soon we see Eva circling Kat and David on the houseboat like a hungry tiger in this intricate psychology drama. Eva and Kat are the sexual partners; but Kat and David are the spiritual couple, wanting to freewheel forever. While Kat is even more determined to keep the status quo, David, a much softer character behind his macho mask, comes to terms with some aspects of fatherhood. And it is exactly this realisation which drives Eva to despair: sexual orientation is secondary, when it comes to personal commitment and parenthood. Some cuts could benefit this overlong saga but overall Anchor and Hope is a well balanced story that questions how many, often colliding, relationships needs can be fulfilled. The three leads are brilliant, and DoP Dagmar Weaver-Madsen, another team member from 10000 KM, makes great use of the London settings. AS

SCREENING DURING THE LONDON SPANISH FILM WEEKEND 26 – 30 SEPTEMBER 2018

The Third Wife (2018) ****

Dir.: Ash Mayfair; Cast: Ngyuyen Phuong Tra My, Tran Nu Yen Khe, Thu Huong Maya, Le Vu Long, Nguyen Tranh Tam; Vietnam 2018, 83 min.

Ash Mayfair (aka Nguyen Phuongh Anh) left Vietnam at the age of thirteen to study film at RADA in London and New York. Her debut is a surprisingly mature and meticulous drama that focuses on the many-layered exploitation of the women in a feudal household in late 19th century Vietnam.

May (12 year-old Ngyuen Phuong, no relation to the the filmmaker), is married at the age of fourteen to feudal lord Hung (Long), and has to share their home with his first two wives Ha (Yen Khe) and Xuan (Huong Maya). May soon becomes pregnant and competes with Ha and Xuan to bear a son to the master. Sadly she fails and gives birth to a daughter, Ha saving her life with an impromptu caesarean carried out with a kitchen knife. Gradually May is drawn to Xuan while Hung’s son (Tanh Tam) rebels against his father and his dominating regime: he refuses to touch his child bride Tuyet during their wedding night – dishonouring her in the eyes of her family. The young girl hangs herself on a tree, overlooking the river. Gradually, May becomes accustomed to the male dominated household and closes ranks with Ha and Xuan. In spite of her youth, she is already resigned to a life with no real choices. Lien, one of Ha daughter’s, cuts off her long hair in protest – but her gesture is only symbolic.

DoP Chananun Chotrumgroj’s camerawork is sublime, impressionism dominates, particularly Monet’s paintings spring to mind in a soft haze of pink, yellow and blue; every frame a jewel box, a new adventure. The mournful piano music scored by Ton That An heightens the melancholic narrative; the souls of the women are slowly drowning in beauty. But even though The Third Wife won prizes all over the globe (Toronto, San Sebastian, Minsk, Chicago and Cairo), there is something missing. Compared with most other newcomers, Mayfair seems already to be the finished article: the main message of her feature is resignation and suffering, there is no rebellion. Somehow one does expect a little wildness from a first film – but The Third Wife, has very little spirit in its perfection. It is comfortably executed, like a minor etude, playing out without sharp edges let alone barbed wire. AS

SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2018

   

Angel (2018) *** Toronto Film Festival 2018

Dir: Koen Mortier | Cast: Vincent Roitiers, Fatou N’Diaye | Belgium | Thriller | 103′

A fateful encounter between a Senegalese sex worker and a world-famous Belgian racing cyclist subverts our expectations in director Koen Mortier’s (Ex Drummer) slim but atmospheric thriller.

Angel is a lushly cinematic love story pays homage to Claire Denis but lacks the sociopolitical underpinnings of her superior work. It speaks the universal language of love across the social divide where for one dreamlike night two souls meet but do not find nirvana the following morning.

Where once tribal forces held sway Senegal is now dominated by Islam and sex workers are considered low in the social pecking order, prostitute Fae (Fatou N’Diaye) meets Thierry (Vincent Rottiers) a world-renowned Belgian racing cyclist whose career has attracted scandal because of his substance abuse. Taking a break with his brother in Dakar, Thierry meets Fae in a night club, and tries to reconcile his feelings of lust with those of love at first sight. He has never paid for sex nor is he attracted by the prospect. Fae’s beauty and elegant allure captures his imagination and the two share en extraordinary encounter. But it soon becomes clear that Thierry is a damaged despite his outwardly superior professional credentials.

With its woozy surreal sensuality and hypnotic fractured narrative Angel envelopes us into an intoxicating world where nothing is a it seems as reality and fantasy collides. Its emotional arc is familiar yet exotic, touching yet troubling provocative exploration of how words can be as powerful as the realm of this senses when we fall in love. MT

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 10 SEPTEMBER 2018

 

Blindspot (2018) **** Toronto Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Tuva Novotny; Cast: Pia Tjelta, Oddgeir Thune, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Nora Mathea Æien, Ellen Heyersdahl, Per Frisch; Norway 2018, 102 min.

Tuva Novotny’s impressive and unflinching debut documents every parent’s worst nightmare. Shot in two long takes, we witness the suicide attempt of the teenage schoolgirl Thea, and the reactions of her family, as they try to cope with something they cannot understand. The most used phrase returning again and again, is “that Tea was happy”.But when an unexpected catastrophe happens, everything about their life is called into question.

Maria (Pia Tjelta), Anders (Anders Baasmo Christiansen), and their two children — Tea (Nora Mathea Øien) and son Bjorn enjoy a settling and happy life in Oslo. We during an average day playing handball at school, and walking home with her friend Anna (Heyersdale) and greeting her (step)mother Maria (Tjelta) and her little brother Bjorn in their third floor apartment, where she makes herself a sandwich, before writing a short note in her diary. She then jumps out of window. 

The second part features Maria – the camera focuses on her grief after finding her unconscious daughter in front of the apartment block. Her father Hasse (Frisch) comes to help her, calling an ambulance which takes her to hospital and the trauma team. The arrival of her biological father Anders (Christiansen) makes everything even more fraught as he is aggressive, insisting on seeing his daughter. We learn from him that Thea’s birth mother Line killed herself and was found by her daughter and father. Martin brings bad news, 

The experience of bereavement by parental suicide of children and young teenagers is not well understood, as evidenced by the lack of empirically supported interventions for this underserved sector of the population. All we know is that “there are extra layers of bereavement” for this group. The process of healing is not much helped by the fact that children have an “omnipotent” perspective and feel responsible for the death of the parent. Children under eighteen who suffer parental bereavement are three times more likely to commit suicide as children with living parents. And, for reasons not understood, girls are three times more likely to have traumatic reactions to parental suicide than boys.

DoP Jonas Alarik treats the narrative like a documentary, there is nothing superfluous in his images, particularly the close-ups are impressive, as well as Maria’s ride in the ambulance, when she is trying to understand how his could have happen to her “happy” daughter. Anders might have given a little clue, reporting at the hospital that Thea told him when she was younger “Daddy, when I die. I turn into a lovely flower you can pick and put on to the window sill”. A heart braking study of grief, flawlessly executed by Nowotny.

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 7 SEPTEMBER 2018

 

 

SAF (2018) **** Toronto Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Ali Vatansever; Cast: Saadet Isil Aksoy, Erol Afsin; Turkey/ Romania/Germany 2018, 101 min.

Ali Vatansever’s SAF is a paean to a lesser known part of Istanbul, where the denizens of the Fikirtepe district are hounded out of their homes to make way for luxury apartment blocks. Kamil’s story is symbolic of the uprooting and exploitation of ordinary working people who then resort to racism when they are unable to fight or even identify their real enemies. SAF also reminds us that racism is rife in every corner of the world where the old guard must now accommodate the newcomers.

We first meet Kamil (Afsin) at the gates of a building site. He’s a decent bloke trying to defend a Syrian émigré against his Turkish colleagues who call him a “filthy Arab who wants to take our jobs away”. The truth is Syrian workers are paid less than the native Turks, who call them scabs. Kamil finally gets a job on another building project, replacing the Syrian bulldozer driver Ammar, laid off due to a shoulder injury. At home, Kamil’s wife Remziye (Aksoy) is saving her paltry wages so she can afford to have a baby. Remziye works for a wealthy Turkish family in one of the newbuild luxury blocks. But Remziye also starts bending the rules upsetting her husband when he discovers her taking more than their fair share from the communal vegetable garden. “It does not matter that the others do it”, he tells her.

But his troubles at work are only just beginning: Kamil doesn’t have a licence to operate the bulldozer (unlike Ammar) and the licence fee – more or less a bribe to the bureaucratic authorities – is pretty steep. Fatih won’t lend him the money but the two strike a deal to try and get rid of Ammar. But after the plan goes wrong, Kamil disappears. The final scenes are played out through Remziye’s perspective.

Vatansever’s detached style never resorts to melodrama or sentimentality in showing how innocent people are often helplessly caught up in rapid social change, Their racism is ugly but is just a deflection of their own fears. Kamil tries his best to stay neutral, but in the end he is so overwhelmed by a family demanding he bends the rules for their own advantage.  SAF is carried forward by the sheer brilliance of Saadet Isil Aksoy whose Remziye acts in an enlightened and humanitarian way when the chips are down. DoP Vladimir Panduru shows the ugliness of poverty but also the lyrical poetry that lies between the tracks. With echoes of Barnet and Pudovkin’s early films. SAF is as impressive as it’s low key, Aksoy’s presence giving it a magical touch. Ali Vatansever demonstrates how less can be so much more. AS          

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2018                    

 

     

Escobar (2017) ***

Dir/Writer: Fernando Leon de Aranoa | Cast: Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Peter Sarsgaard | Spanish | Drama | 123′

Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem step into the limelight as the convincing kickass couple at the heart of this florid foray into the life of Colombian cocaine king Pablo Escobar, from Madridleno director Fernando Leon de Aranoa (Mondays in the Sun).

Playing out like a clunky crime caper from the 1980s Escobar is true to its era in depicting the career of the rags to mega riches drug baron who eventually burnt himself out on a hot tin roof – or so we’re led to believe in the final melodramatic moments.

Bardem’s Colombian accent is spot on and he rocks another mat-like wig (from his already extensive repertoire) and a prosthetic pot-belly that takes on a life of its own. Cruz is all glamorous in YSL couture, almost drowning under the weight of her glossy mop and gurgling on a fruity English accent. The film opens in 1993 as she’s evading Colombia on a plane: “I’ve had to leave a house to escape a man, but never a country” – or words to that effect.

As journalist Judith Restrepo, she is the voiceover filling us in on the Escobar investigations handled by American DEA agent Shepherd (a laconic Peter Sarsgaard): subsequent events show that for years she’s been playing a somewhat flirty cat-and-mouse game with Shepherd, who’s been probing her for information on her louche lover. The story then tracks back to 1981 where she meets the seedily illustrious married Escobar on his tropical estate and headquarters of the notorious Medellin Cartel. Desperate to be taken seriously as a politician -but gradually failing miserably in the endeavour – he is now lying low. Initially confident in her career, she enjoys a whirlwind courtship, but rapidly sees her reputation failing as her lover loses interest and becomes increasingly menacing: his gifts turn from diamonds to a diamante revolver – for her own protection – against him and his rivals.

Bardem creates another scary psychopath: loving to his family but threatening to his enemies, and his richly-roasted accent is brilliant in contrast to Cruz’s screechy meltdowns. Chainsaws abound and there is abundant animal cruelty in what is ultimately a mildly entertaining and well-paced chronicle of the cocaine king’s career. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 16 SEPTEMBER 2018

Retrospekt (2018) **** Toronto Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Esther Rots; Cast: Circe Lethem, Martijn van der Veen, Lien Wildermersch, Teun Luijkx; Netherlands/Belgium 2018, 101 min.

Esther Rots’ follow-up to Can Go Through Skin is a portrait of psychological self-destruction told through three time-lines keeping the audience enthralled but also questioning the role of its plausible characters.

Mette (Lethem) is a busy working mother who runs a domestic violence support centre while coping with the latest addition to her  family, a daughter Michelle. Her marriage is under strain with her husband Simon (van der Veen) often away on business. Aware that Lee (Wildermersch) is also having trouble with her violent boyfriend Frank, she invites the young woman to help in the centre and stay with her during one of Simon’s long absences. Needless to say, Frank finds out where Lee is hiding and when Simon returns on the same night, confrontation in unavoidable and tragic consequences ensue leaving Mette wheel-chair bound but paradoxically bringing her closer to her estranged father – who is also in a wheelchair and suffering from dementia. The pair chatting to each other in their wheelchairs, is one of the highly symbolic scenes of this affecting indie features from the Dutch writer and director.

DoP Lennart Hillege deftly manages two different styles: from hyper-realism to women-in-peril scenes where the traumatise Mette, tries to get her mind around what really happened. The continuously changing time-frames help to crate an atmosphere, where the truth –  Rashamon-style –  becomes more and buried in an ecliptic avalanche questioning our initial perceptions of the protagonists during the course of the narrative. With its score of Brecht-like songs by composer Dan Gesin, Retrospekt is a haunting and enigmatic character study. AS

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2018

A Tramway in Jerusalem (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018

 Israel is a complex nation of multiculturalism – and none better to convey this than author/ filmmaker Amos Gitai in his fraught and frustrating drama A Tramway in Jerusalem.

His characters seem trapped on a freewheeling journey to nowhere, going round and round on what seems like an endless trip on London’s Circle Line – the fact is they’re all in the same boat: gentiles, Hasidic Jews, Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Israeli Arabs, Palestinian Muslims and Palestinian Jews. Gitai’s embraces the chaotic nature of these Semitic people – they argue, cajole, console, sing and debate – but they are rarely silent.

The film opens with a smiling woman singing an operatic song, a man plays the oud. Mathieu Almaric slouches back on a seat with his son, visiting the city for the first time he is delighted to be there finally. A group of Hassidic men chant a religious chorus. This series of sketches trundles along offering a taster for those who have never been to the country but have heard a lot about it – and it’s very different on the inside. One Palestinian woman has a Dutch passport through marriage, another has lived abroad but they share common ground. Anyone without an Israeli passport usually gets a hard time, and Gitai shows this happening to the Palestinian woman. There is even a Catholic Priest (Pippo Delbono) who rambles on incoherently. And black humour features too – the Jews have survived by sending themselves up. In the funniest sketch, a mother is lamenting her son’s lack of a wife, he listens – rapt, while all around their fellow passengers banter and debate the issue off screen. This is Israel in microcosm. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Phoenix (2018) ** Toronto Film Festival

Dir.: Camilla Strom Henriksen; Cast: Yiva Bjorkaas Thedin, Caspar Falck-Lovas, Maria Bonnevie, Sverrir Gudnason, Ellen Sandal, Renate Reinsve; Norway 2018, 86 min.

First feature of writer/director Camilla Strom Henriksen’s debut feature is a variation on The Cement Garden, in this case siblings Jill and Bo are forced to grow up too quickly by parents who fail them at every turn. Despite some terrific performances, the script loses intensity in the final third.

Teenager Jill (Thedin) is used to looking after her divorced mother Astrid (Bonnevie) and much younger brother Bo (Falck-Lovas). Astrid is desperate to succeed as a painted and insists that the whole flat is permanently cast in semi-darkness, the many-layered curtains letting in little light. She spends most of her time in bed, dependent on alcohol and prescription drugs. Her friend Ellen (Sandal) talks the local museum’s director into giving Astrid a chance: she is the only applicant for a job. Jill tries to make her mother’s first public appearance in a long time a success, buying her a white blouse. But Astrid is scathing about her daughter’s efforts: “You make me look like a director’s wife, why don’t don’t you wear it yourself, you are so proper”.

Then father Nils (Gudnason), a musician, promises to visit on Jill’s birthday. Jill is ecstatic, ready to be pampered for once. But she soon finds out, that her mother skipped the interview and later finds her dead in the basement. Not wishing to ruin her birthday Jill locks the cellar door and pretends that her mother is missing. Unfortunately for both Jill and the audience, the night out with her father and his new girl friend Kristin (Reinsve), turns out to be a disaster culminating in the admission that he is not going to tour Brazil for six months, but starting a prison sentence for drunk driving. After this bombshell, Phoenix starts to lose its narrative thrust.

Thedin is brilliant in her role as parenting teenager who morphs into a much older act to ‘seduce’ her father in taking her with him to Brazil. DoP Ragna Jorming creates some surreal images in the darkened flat where Jill sees – literally – monsters creeping around. The scenes in the ultra modern hotel where Nils takes his children are overcooked but chime with the plot’s loss of direction. As long as the action stays indoors, Strom Henriksen can not do wrong – afterwards, alas it all crumbles. AS

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2018

https://youtu.be/jk0bA3sf8-Q

Capri-Revolution (2018) ** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Mario Martone; Cast: Marianna Fontana, Reinout Scholten van Aschat, Antonio Folletto, Maximilian Dirr; Italy/France 2018, 121 min.

Mario Martione does his homeland a disservice with a turgid and distinctly un-revolutionary Golden Lion hopeful. Set on the island of Capri in the run up to the First World War this is a didactic drama which even manages to make a nudist colony look bland and boring. But worse is the misogyny with which he treats his main-protagonist.

In 1914 twenty year-old Lucia (Fontana) enjoys a bucolic island existence looking after the family’s herds of goats, but when her father dies, her grumpy older brother decides to marry her off to a rich widower, thinking first and foremost about the financial benefits for the family. Soon both brothers are off to war, and Lucia joins a nudist colony, despite warnings from the locals that they are  “devils”. There she falls under the spell of painter and commune leader Seybu (van Aschat), a composite of the German painter Karl Diefenbach who led a commune on Capri between 1900 and 1913 and his compatriot, the artist Joseph Beuys, who had not even been born in 1914.

Seybu teaches Lucia to read and soon she is multi-lingual. But the local doctor Carlo (Folletto) hopes to win Lucia’s affections, the two men fiercely stating their points in the duel between science and art. This becomes very boring with sentences like ”There is only matter and spirit, there is no duality”. Furthermore, Herbert (Dirr), a psychotherapist, tries to interfere with the all the women in order to make them more compliant towards the male egos. Lucia soon has enough and wants “to go back to dancing in the woods”.

DoP Michele D’Attanasio tries his best to conjure up a sapphic image of beauty and nature, but this is a drama much too verbose to allow our imagination to wander – dialogue getting in the way.  Martone insists that everything is debated in a principled discussion, creating the climate of a business seminar. There is no lust – in spite of the naked bodies – and art is just another subject to be discussed to the death. Fontana tries her very best, but the males around her dominate. This is a sprawlingly endless mosh-mash, Martone even managing to botch the ending. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

 

      

A Letter to a Friend in Gaza (2018) **** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Amos Gitai; Cast: Makram Khoury, Clara Khoury, Hilla Vidor, Amos Gitai, Amira Hass; Israel 2018, 34 min.

As you prepare your breakfast, think of others (do not forget the pigeon’s food).
As you conduct you cars, think of others (do not forget those who seek peace).
As you pay your water bill, think of others (those who are nursed by clouds).
As you return home, to your home, think of others (do not forget the people of the camps).
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others (those who have nowhere to sleep).
As you liberate yourself in metaphor, think of others (those who have lost the right to speak).
As you think of others far away, think of yourself (Say: “If only I were a candle in the dark”).
Mahmoud Darwish, Think of others

Israeli director/co-writer Amos Gitai (Rabin, the last Day) uses poetry to confront Israel’s on-going decimation of their Palestinian neighbours. Inspired by Albert Camus’ “Letters to a German Friend” (1943-1944), Gitai and co-writer Makram Khouri both express their hope for a future when “Israeli children will ask their parents what they have done”; with Gitai stating “I love my country too much, that I will not become a nationalist”.

The images on the huge walls separating the two nations make the Berlin Wall look decisively less threatening in contrast: DoP Oded Kirma’s camera nearly touches the monstrosity. Other scenes show Palestinian youths with slingshots fighting a professional Israeli army with machine guns; and the last image of the documentary is an antique painting of David attacking the well armoured giant Goliath with his catapult.

But it is words that take centre stage: Mahmoud Darwish’s ‘Think of others’ seems in parts like a direct reference to the destruction of water tanks in Palestine by the Israeli Defence Forces. But the poem ends lyrically.

The centrepiece is Amira Hass’ monologue about a hopeful future. Courageously, Gitai then sets the cat amongst the pigeons of today’s Israeli society: the parents’ response to their kids is that “they obeyed orders”. This was their excuse,  but it was also the excuse of the Holocaust’s perpetrators. Gitai once and for all sets a line in the sand, breaking a taboo: there is no longer any justification for the continuous war against the Palestinians, and there hasn’t been since the foundation of the State of Israel.

Allying himself with Camus on the question of the just war against the Nazis, Gitai comes very close to a “guilty verdict” for the State he fought for – and nearly died – as a soldier. He might have become the proverbial ‘candle in the dark’, but the likeliehood that the children of today’s Settler generation will leave their parents’ homes is very remote -metaphorically and practically. AS

SCREENING DURING VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

     

Peterloo (2018) ***

Dir/Writer: Mike Leigh | Cast: Maxine Peake, Rory Kinnear | Historical Drama | UK | 154′

Mike Leigh’s PETERLOO is a lavishly mounted period drama that delivers in robustly verbose detail the story of the massacre that took place in Manchester on 16th August 1816 when cavalry charged into a crowd of some 80,000 members of the public demanding parliamentary workplace reform.

While Leigh’s epic slowly builds to its climactic carnage scenes, which are brutally realistic without resorting to gratuitous gore, it expansively explores both sides of the conflict between the British aristocracy and the rebellious working classes in a plodding way that destroys dramatic tension as it trundles through its bloated running time of two and a half hours. With incendiary performances from its sterling cast – Rory Kinnear and Maxine Peake are splendidly vehement – this is certainly one of Leigh’s most heartfelt dramas, and clearly a personal moral crusade that charts a gritty and violent episode from the socio political history of England. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 2 NOVEMBER 2018 | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW 2018

L’EnKas (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018 | Orizzonti

Dir: Sarah Marx | Cast: Sandrine Bonnaire | Sandor Funtek | Drama | 85′

L’EnKas is a lucidly imagined slice of contemporary social realism described by its director Sarah Marx as “socially aware”. Her intention was to make a film about “ordinary people who weren’t born bad but who have had to follow illegal paths”. In other words, these are not natural born criminals but those who commit crime when the going gets tough. And although she takes no moral stand with her well-paced observational feature debut, its premise departs from a cock-eyed moral standpoint although its subject matter is as old as the hills. And her main character Ulysse (an impressively convincing Funtek) certainly gets off on the wrong footing, when he arrives home fresh out of prison for a minor offence. His main concern is to make as much money as possible but he is confronted by a stack of unpaid bills and a mother (Sandrine Bonnaire as you’ve never seen her before) who suffers from depression and needs treatment. So he comes up with a plan with his best friend, David. Selling a mixture of water and Ketamine, obtained from a contact who works in a Veterinary surgery, the two travel from rave to rave selling the drug mixture from their food truck.

And it’s a short-sighted idea that naturally sees the pair in trouble as their dreams crash and burn and their world comes toppling down. Meanwhile troubled mother Gabrielle is having private psychiatric care. Fresh and full of naturalistic performances L’EnKas is a strong debut that gets inside the simplistic minds of naive people, who fall, get hurt, get back up again, contradict themselves and have their own reasons for doing so. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 29 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2018 | ORIZZONTI

Open City Docs Festival | London 4 – 9 September 2018

Open City Documentary Festival is back for the eighth edition of the annual festival celebrating creative documentary and non-fiction filmmakers with a dynamic new programme for 2018. With 30 features and 48 shorts, 2 world premieres, 3 European premieres and 26 UK premieres across shorts and features from more than 30 countries, the festival will take place from the 4th – 9th September in a host of great venues across central London.

Marking the festivals’ Opening Night will be the UK Premiere of Baronesa (2017, Brazil, directed by Juliana Antunes. Her astonishing debut follows friends Andreia and Leid as they navigate the perilous reality of daily life in the favelas of Belo Horizonte. At first glance, their days seem calm and untroubled, but the threat of violence is never far away and Andreia dreams of moving to the safer neighbourhood of nearby Baronesa. Antunes spent five years in Belo Horizonte, working with a non-professional cast, to create a work of rare intimacy and authenticity which despite its simple structure emerges as a complex, multilayered and moving portrait of contemporary life in the favelas. Baronesa announces an exciting new voice in Brazilian cinema.

The Closing Night will be the UK Premiere of The Swing (2018) directed by Cyril Aris. A touching and emotionally rich film about keeping family truths hidden so as not to upset the patriarch. After sixty years of marriage, Antoine and Vivi have lost their most beloved daughter; but no one has dared to tell the bedridden nonagenarian Antoine, lest his heart crack. A simple solution, though everyone else in this densely interconnected family has then to live the same lie, giving no expression to their grief. A deeply affecting, beautifully shot cinematic novella; like all the best stories The Swing is a simple tale, but one that never short-changes its viewers.

For the Emerging International Filmmaker Award the following documentaries have been nominated: Angkar, dir. Neary Adeline Hay (France); Those Who Come, Will Hear, dir. Simon Plouffe (Canada); Home of the Resistance, dir. Ivan Ramljak (Croatia) and The Best Thing You Can Do With Your Life, dir. Zita Erffa (Germany, Mexico). 

The festival will hold selected retrospectives of two unique voices in non-fiction filmmaking: The innovative found footage documentarian Penny Lane and Japanese pioneer of an action documentary’, Kazuo Hara. Both filmmakers will be at the festival to present their work.

For the full programme and tickets

 

Venice Film Festival 2018 | La Biennale

Alberto Barbera has announced a stunning line-up of highly anticipated new features and documentaries in celebration of this year’s 71st edition of Venice Film Festival which takes place on the Lido from 28 August until 8 September 2018. 30% of this year’s films are made by women which sounds more positive. Obviously the festival can only programme films offered for screening.

The festival kicks off on the 28th with a remastered 1920 version of THE GOLEM – HOW HE CAME TO BE (ab0ve) complete with musical accompaniment. This year’s festival opening film is Damien Chazelle’s biopic of Neil Armstrong FIRST MAN. There are 21 features and documentaries in the main competition which boasts the latest films from Olivier Assayas (a publishing drama DOUBLE LIVES stars Juliette Binoche), Jacques Audiard (THE SISTERS BROTHERS), Joel and Ethan Coen’s 6-part Western THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS, Brady Corbet’smusical drama VOX LUX; Alfonso Cuaron with ROMA; Luca Guadagnino’s SUSPIRIA sees Tilda Swinton playing 3 parts; Mike Leigh (PETERLOO), Yorgos Lanthimos with an 18th drama entitled THE FAVOURITE; Carlos Reygadas joins from his usual Cannes slot; and Julian Schnabel will present AT ETERNITY’S GATE a drama attempting to get inside the head of Vincent Van Gogh. Not to mention Laszlo Nemes’ Budapest WW1 drama NAPSZÁLLTA, a much awaited second feature and follow up to his Oscar winning Son of Saul.

The out of competition selection is equally exciting and thematically rich. There is Bradley Cooper’s directing debut A STAR IS BORN (left), Charles Manson-themed CHARLIE SAYS from Mary Herron; Amos Gitai’s A TRAMWAY IN JERUSALEM, and Zhang Yimou’s YING (SHADOW). And those whose enjoyed S Craig Zahler’s dynamite Brawl in Cell Block 99 will be pleased to hear that his DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE adds Mel Gibson to the previous cast of Jennifer Carpenter and Vince Vaughn. There will be an historic epic set in the time of the French Revolution: UN PEUPLE ET SON ROI features Gaspart Ulliel and Denis Lavant (who also stars in Rick Alverson’s Golden Lion hopeful THE MOUNTAIN) , and Amir Naderi’s MAGIC LANTERN which has the wonderful English talents of Jacqueline Bisset. And talking of England, Mike Leigh’s much gloated over historical epic PETERLOO finally makes it to the competition line-up

Documentary-wise there’s plenty to enjoy: Amos Gitai’s brief but timely A LETTER TO A FRIEND IN GAZA; Francesco Patierno’s CAMORRA which explores the infamous Italian organisation; Frederick Wiseman this time plunders Monrovia, Indiana for his source material; multi-award winning Russian documentarian Viktor Kossalkovsky will present his latest water-themed work AQUARELA; Ukrainian Sergei Loznitsa’s film for this year’s festival is PROCESS (he’s the Ukrainian answer to Michael Winterbottom in terms of his prodigious output) this time focusing on the myriad lies surrounding Stalinism.

Out of Competition there are also blasts from the past including a hitherto unseen drama directed and co-written by Orson Welles and his pal Oja Kodar, starring Peter Bogdanovich and John Huston; and Bosnian director Emir Kusturica is back after his rocky time On The Milky Road with EL PEPE, UNA VIDA SUPREMA. 

And Malaysian auteur Tsai Ming-liang also makes a welcome return to Venice with his drama YOUR FACE. A multi-award winning talent on the Lido, his 2013 Stray Dogs won the Special Grand Jury Prize and Vive l’Amour roared away with the Golden Lion in 1994 (jointly with Milcho Manchevski’s Pred dozhdot).

Venice has a been a pioneer of 3D and VR since the screening of GRAVITY which opened the festival in 2013 amid much mal-functioning of 3D glasses at the press screening, and this year’s VR features include an excerpt from David Whelan’s 1943: BERLIN BLITZ which will be released ithis Autumn. This VR showcase experience is an accurate retelling of the events which happened inside a Lancaster bomber during one of the most well documented missions of World War II using original cockpit audio recorded 75 years ago. The endeavour is expected to be released on the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Oculus Go, Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR and Windows Mixed Reality platforms. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 28 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2018 

 

 

 

San Sebastian Film Festival 2018

The San Sebastian Film Festival is Spain’s only A-list event running from 21 September until 29th in the North West Spanish town, often known by its Basque name of Donostia. This year celebrating its 66th edition, a selection of Spanish titles and international fare competes for the Golden Shell Award in venues such as the Kursaal and the Victoria Eugenia theatre. 

Joining the main competition will be the latest from Alfonso Cuaron, Jacques Audiard and Jia Zhangke also join the lineup of features already announced: Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, in which he portrays a musical who falls for a struggling artist (Lady Gaga), Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and Damien Chazelle’s First Man starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to walk on the moon, and Claire Foy. The film premieres at Venice where it open the festival running from 28 August 2018 on the Lido

This is the first time that Spike Lee will compete for an award in San Sebastian. His film BlacKkKlansman, the story of an African-American policeman who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan, won the jury grand prix honor at Cannes and the audience award at the Locarno Film Festival. Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, also premieres at Venice, it is the story of a maid working in a middle-class district of Mexico City in the early 1970s.

THIS YEAR’S COMPETITION LINE-UP

EL AMOR MENOS PENSADO

JUAN VERA | ARGENTINA 

After 25 years of marriage, Marcos and Ana question themselves deeply on the subject of love, the nature of desire and faithfulness, making a decision that will change their lives forever.

 

ANGELO

MARKUS SCHLEINZER | AUSTRIA – LUXEMBOURG 

The story of Angelo, an African born in the 18th century, who is brought to Europe at the age of 10. Now a servant in the court of enlightened nobility, he skilfully employs his otherness to become an appreciated guest and attraction for the members of high society. Being close to the emperor, he decides to marry Magdalena, a young maidservant with whom he falls in love.

DER UNSCHULDIGE / THE INNOCENT

SIMON JAQUEMET | SWITZERLAND – GERMANY 

Ruth works in a neuroscience research lab, despite coming from an extremely traditionalist and conservative Christian family. She suddenly finds herself facing her past when her former lover reemerges after twenty years in jail, prompting her to question her feelings, her life and eventually even her faith.

EL REINO

RODRIGO SOROGOYEN | SPAIN – FRANCE 

Manuel, an influential deputy secretary of a regional government who has everything going his way for making the leap into national politics, sees how his perfect life falls to pieces after news leaks of his involvement in a corruption ring with Paco, one of his best friends. While the media starts reporting the extent of the scandal, the party closes ranks and only Paco comes …

ENTRE DOS AGUAS | ISAKI LACUESTA | SPAIN 

Isra and Cheíto are two Roma brothers: Isra was sent to prison for drug dealing and Cheíto signed up for the Marines. When Isra is released from prison and Cheíto returns from a long mission, they return to San Fernando. The reunion between the siblings brings memories of their father’s violent death when they were only boys. Twelve years have passed since La Leyenda del tiempo…

HIGH LIFE.

CLAIRE DENIS

FRANCE – GERMANY – UK – POLAND – USA 

Deep space. Beyond our solar system. Monte and his daughter Willow live together on board a spacecraft, in complete isolation. A solitary man, who uses his strict self-discipline as protection against desire (his own and that of others), Monte fathered the girl against his will. His sperm was used to inseminate Boyse, the young woman who gave birth to the girl.

ILLANG: THE WOLF BRIGADE

KIM JEE-WOON

SOUTH KOREA 

In 2029, after the governments of North and South Korea announce a 5-year plan to reunify the country, strong sanctions by the world’s most powerful nations cripple the economy and lead to a hellish period of chaos. With the appearance of an armed anti-government terrorist group called The Sect which opposes reunification, the President creates a new police division called …

LE CAHIER NOIR / THE BLACK BOOK

VALERIA SARMIENTO

FRANCE – PORTUGAL 

This is the story of the late eighteenth-century adventures of a singular couple formed by a little orphan with mysterious origins and his young Italian nurse of similarly uncertain birth. They lead us in their wake, from Rome to Paris, from Lisbon to London, from Parma to Venice. Always followed in the shadows, for reasons we don’t know, by a suspicious-looking Calabrian

QUIÉN TE CANTARÁ

CARLOS VERMUT

SPAIN – FRANCE 

Lila Cassen was the most successful Spanish singer of the nineties until she mysteriously vanished from one day to the next. Ten years later Lila is preparing her triumphant stage comeback; however, shortly before the long-awaited date she is involved in an accident and loses her memory. Violeta’s life is dominated by her conflictive daughter Marta. Every night she finds escape..

ROJO

BENJAMÍN NAISHTAT

ARGENTINA – BRAZIL – FRANCE – NETHERLANDS – GERMANY 

In the mid-70s, a stranger arrives in a quiet provincial town. In a restaurant, for no apparent reason, he sets about attacking Claudio, a well-known lawyer. The community supports the lawyer and humiliates the stranger, who is thrown out. Later, on the way home, the man intercepts Claudio and his wife Susana once again, determined to wreak his terrible revenge on Claudio.

VISION

NAOMI KAWASE

JAPAN – FRANCE 

Jeanne leaves for Japan in search of a rare medicinal plant. During the trip, she meets Tomo, a forest ranger, who accompanies her on her quest and guides her through the traces of her past. 20 years ago, in the forests of Yoshino, Jeanne lived her first love.

YULI

ICÍAR BOLLAÍN

SPAIN – CUBA – UK – GERMANY 

Yuli is the nickname given to Carlos Acosta by his father, Pedro, who considers him the son of Ogun, an African god and a fighter. As a child Yuli avoids discipline and education, learning from the streets of an impoverished and abandoned Havana. His father, however, has other ideas, and knowing that his son has a natural talent for dance, sends him to the National Ballet Schoo…

GIGANTES

ENRIQUE URBIZU, JORGE DORADO

SPAIN 

OUT OF competition

For decades the Guerrero brothers have controlled the flow of drugs from the peninsula to the rest of Europe. Now they’re faced with one of the most crucial moments in their history. The eldest brother, Daniel, is released from jail after fifteen years, eager to recover his place in the family. The world Daniel left behind no longer exists. His father Abraham is sick, ..

DANTZA

TELMO ESNAL

SPAIN 

Special Screenings

The storm breaks after a hard day’s work in the fields. When the rain eases off life springs up from the previously barren land. Fruit grows and ripens, survives disease and becomes the apples which give life to cider. Then comes the time to harvest, offer toasts and celebrate love. A story about the cycle of life and death, the fight for survival. Where the passage of time…

TIEMPO DESPUÉS

JOSÉ LUIS CUERDA

SPAIN – PORTUGAL 

Special Screenings

In 9177, give or take a thousand years (there’s no point in being finicky about these details) the whole world, and, according to some authors, the universe too, has been reduced to a single Representative Building and squalid suburbs inhabited by all of the out-of-work and hungry in the cosmos. One of the down and outs, José María, decides that by facing up to the difficul…

SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL

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SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL | 21 – 29 SEPTEMBER 2018

 

The Glorious Acceptance of Nicolas Chauvin (2018) **** Locarno Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Benjamin Crotty; Cast: Alexis Manetti, Antoine Cholet, Pauline Jacquard, Caroline Deruas; France 2018, 26 min.

Winner of the Mantarraya award at this year’s Locarno Film festival, Benjamin Crotty’s quirky exploration of everything French is cleverly conceived and inventive, both aesthetically and in its execution. THE GLORIOUS ACCEPTANCE is a social and political satire – somewhere between stand-up and Black Adder – biting and highly entertaining. It makes fun of said Chauvinism, but it also pampers to it. A true original.

Nicolas Chauvin (Manenti), legendary one-eyed farmer-soldier of the Napoleonic Wars, comes back to receive an imaginary award while regaling us with a potted history of his grim and glorious career during an outlandish stage appearance that could have been drawn from the tradition of Roman theatre, or even the alazon of Ancient Greek comedy. We’re then transported back to the place of his purported birth in 1820, the navel port of Rochefort. Derring-do was clearly the done thing for this original chauvinist who displays his excessive and unreasonable patriotism, emerging as quite the hero by bravely jumping off battlements and diving into moats without a by your leave to escape the clutches of a glass-eyed chain-mailed enemy, who later kills Nic’s charming female companion (Caroline Deruas). The two men then fiercely debate Chauvin’s psychological identity – did he repress his Oedipus complex and project his mother’s faults onto others, so creating so his paranoia? Another scene change sees him in a bar where he dallies with his next conquest (Pauline Jacquard): all this after a hymn, however barbed, to everything French, Messi plays football on the big screen. Finally, we are back on the stage where Chauvin thanks everybody from Eurosport to François Holland, bearing in mind the president sold weapons worth 8.3 billion in 2016. The elitist classes know no shame. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 1-10 AUGUST 2018

Those Who Work (2018) **** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Dir/Writer: Antoine Russbach, Emmanuel Marre | Switzerland,Belgium | Cast: Olivier Gourmet | August 2018 | 100′

Premiering here at Locarno Film Festival, this hugely enjoyable and absorbing drama from Swiss director Antoine Russbach is uplifted by a compelling performance from Olivier Gourmet as Frank, a dedicated father of five who devotes his life to work in cargo shipping.

A strong narrative is the key to this modest parable and what starts as a potential hijack thriller in the style of Tobias Lindholm’s recent outing, soon develops into a richly thematic character study about a man’s tough decision during a crisis that loses him his job and potentially everything else he holds dear and eventually leads to some deep soul-searching. Deeply shaken, betrayed by a system to which he has given everything, Frank (Gourmet) finds his back against the wall but his tough upbringing and committed work ethic keeps him grounded in reality with a feelgood outcome that feels satisfying and rewarding in this world of political correctness.

In Frank’s world there are only two types of people: those who work to achieve a level of success so they can look after and provide for those who enjoy the benefits of the standard of living that he is able to provide. A risk-taker and a pragmatist who takes pride in the ability to deliver his company’s goods on time and with a healthy profit margin, Frank is a both a hero and an anti-hero, depending on which side of the fence you stand on this thorny issue. But to his credit, he is a self-made and self-reliant worker who has risen from an extremely modest rural background. He’s is also a calm and diligent father who always gives his kids time and consideration, particularly his youngest Mathilde (Adele Bochatay in a thoughtful debut). His wife is an understanding and devoted homemaker who cares for their comfortable house in the outskirts of Antwerp and the couple enjoy a happy marriage. Inadvertently, his kids have developed a sense of entitlement and have grown to expect the things their father can provide: the latest mobile phone and a luxurious swimming pool – but this is par for the course of today’s affluent society. And men are most fulfilled when they can are successful in their chosen careers and can provide for their family.

When the crew of his one of his container vessels inadvertently fails to spot a migrant on board, Frank is forced to make a decision in order to save his clients and his company considerable losses, and the delay of the cargo. In short, the shops will not get their goods in the time and the consumer will suffer with higher prices. The unwelcome interloper on board thought he was heading for Europe – not further afield – and has started to freak out on board, frightening to cause a mutiny amongst the sailors and disrupt the smooth running of the vessel with his suspected outbreak of Ebola virus. It’s a terrible dilemma and Frank deals with the crisis calmly and in a pragmatic way that nevertheless contravenes human rights and company guidelines. Although commercially he has saved the day, in the aftermath he becomes a scapegoat, falling from grace with his employers and his family. There follows a dark night of the soul, but Frank makes it through to the morning thanks to his steely resolve and a strong need to protect and look after his family. Antoine Russbach has made a supremely intelligent and powerful moral parable that deserves to be seen by all the family. MT

FILMMAKERS OF THE PRESENT | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 1-11 August 2018

 

Tegnap | Hier (2018) **** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Writer/Dir: Balint Kenyeres | Cast: Vlad Ivanov | Thriller | 119′

Hungarian filmmaker Balint Kenyeres is best known for his Cannes awarded short film Before Dawn and The History Of Aviation which opened the Directors’ Fortnight in 2009.

In this paradoxical psychological thriller Romanian actor Vlad Ivanov (Toni Erdmann/Sunset) plays Victor Ganz, an architect/builder who fetches up in North Africa on a business trip that will lead him into a place of unreliable memories and exotic characters. Slowly he plunges into a labyrinthine world where present and past collide, as the future gradually closes in on him – or so it would initially seem.

In HIER Hungarian auteur Balint Kenyeres creates a scenario where a seemingly decent businessman travels to an exotic country where nothing is what it appears to be. On his arrival at the bustling port Victor cuts a reassuringly suave figure at the wheel of his Swiss registered black Range Rover on route to a 5-star hotel through the shabby streets of the souk. He gives short shrift to the locals, throwing his weight around with the local cultural attaché and barks orders to his staff back home on a mobile ‘phone. On the face of it, he is the sophisticated European on a mission connected to some property he bought many years ago on a previous visit. After the affairs of the day, he retreats into the shady backstreet where the local bar The offers lives music of a chance to ‘kick back’ with an old acquaintance. But this is where the mood changes and grows more sinister as echoes of the past flood back to a long-lost lover who has mysteriously disappeared. At this point, we assume that Victor is going through some kind of mid-life crisis, as he will never be the same again. Or is the the real man emerging from behind the soigné persona. After making probing inquiries, a scuffle breaks out and Victor wakes the next morning in a building site being robbed by two young boys who make off with his wallet. Injured and empty handed, he makes his way to the villa of another old friend who sets him up with fresh clothes and the briefcase left behind on his last visit. But on the way to the airport his cranky old bus breaks down and leaves him stranded in the middle of nowhere. Perpetually making telephone calls home, Victor promises to be on the next plane home but there is no urgency in his desire to leave, the search for his old lover propelling the narrative further and further into remote corners of the desert as he desperately questions each random contact for information that may lead to the mysterious woman.

HIER is a strange and beguiling thriller with a tense undertow that makes it watchable and compelling. Shooting in Super 16, Kenveres achieves just the right grainy 90s feel without it being a retro affair. The essence of the story lies with the character of Victor, and gradually we start to question his motives. Apart from being unlikeable and difficult to connect with, he lacks conviction as a businessman or an architect, for that matter, once he moves away from the respectable surroundings of his comfortable hotel. Initially we believe in Victor: he seems plausible enoug and businesslike, going about his days with a sense of purpose. But gradually Victor becomes an unreliable witness to proceedings, an antihero unable to stick to his timetable or even stand by his word, let alone his memory. He brushes people up the wrong way, continually oversleeps and is deceitful to his partner waiting for him at home: He is the proverbial ‘man with feet of clay’; and whilst we identify with his situation, we certainly don’t identify with the way he handles it, driven by a near psychotic desire to uncover the past and obsessed with this enigmatic woman who he names ‘Sonia”. Kenyeres’ script continually subverts our expectations in his paradoxical film. The characters Victor meets in his alien surroundings prove to be increasingly more solid and reliable than he is: an old doctor who kindly stitches up his wounds; a professor researching into hyaenas and a friendly shopkeeper who finally puts him on the right trail. But Victor rewards the kindness of these strangers with truculence – even stealing the professor’s jeep – as his behaviour deteriorates into a state of lust-crazed psychosis. The enigmatic denouement is left to the imagination, making it even more powerful as the antihero is finally trounced by the very people he previously held in disdain. It’s an inventive idea for a story and Kenyeres pulls off. He raises vital questions about social stereotypes and the human condition – can we really reliably connect, identify and compare our own experiences with those of another person? And this is the crux of this unusual and compelling existential thriller. MT

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | FILMMAKERS OF TODAY STRAND 

Menocchio 2018 *** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Dir: Alberto Fasulo | Drama | Italy | 103′

Alberto Fasulo’s lavishly mounted imagined drama, having its premiere here at Locarno Film Festival, examines the ethical and moral issues surrounding the purported heresy of Domenico Scandella (1532–1599), also known as Menocchio, a miller from Montereale, Italy, who in the 16th century was tried by the Inquisition for his unorthodox religious views, and burnt at the stake.

Fasulo won the top prize at Rome 2013 with Tir. This, his fourth film is a costumed period piece that plays out from the POV of the inquisition’s interrogator as he encourages Scandella’s friends and associates to denounce the honest miller. Fasulo invites us into a God-fearing world where the close-knit community are dominated by the Catholic Church and potently in thrall to their religious convictions.

This exquisitely-crafted arthouse has the look and gravitas of the films of Italian masters such as Olmi or even the Taviani brothers. Each frame is elegantly composed telling the simple chronological storyline. Much of action takes place in the cloistered candlelit confinement of the ancient prison where Menocchio, his draw expression captured in the flickering candlelight, is interrogated about his views and beliefs that question the virgin birth. And Menocchio repeatedly sticks to his principles refusing to ask for forgiveness or change his mind, knowing full well that fatal punishment awaits him. These scenes contrast with the fresh and summery outdoors of the Friuli region were his associates are put to the test, some of the speaking in the region’s dialect.

Performed by a cast of mostly non-professional actors Menocchio is a quality drama that while shedding light on a little-known episode in history really needed the charismatic charge of a well-known actor to raise its worthwhile subject matter. MT.

IN COMPETITION | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

Alice T. (2018) **** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Dir: Radu Muntean |  Drama | Romania | 105′

Romanian New Wave director Radu Muntean follows his existential thriller One Floor Below (2015) with a similarly slow-burning contemporary portrait of narcissism and disenchanted Bucharest youth premiering at Locarno Film Festival 2018.

Drawing comparison with Uli Edel’s Christiane F, teenage Alice T is pretty, petulant and out of control. Adopted as a baby from a Rumanian orphanage she is constantly finding ways to market herself for personal empowerment and spends her directionless days hanging out with mindless friends, taking selfies, a cigarette casually in her hand. Their focus is on boys and soon Alice is pregnant, sparking a furious row with her adoptive mother (Mihaela Sirbu from Aferim!) who suffered to have her own kids but now accepts her daughter’s right to have the baby. Spurred on by this petty victory against her mother, Alice at first feels more in control; she has a weapon against her mother, a new identity and a mission to accomplish – that of motherhood. Her mother warms to the pregnancy and gradually the family are on board supporting her too. Alice finally feels she’s got somewhere with her life, but soon becomes bored with the idea of having a baby which may take the focus off number one.

Andra Guti is really impressive in her debut as Alice and Muntean, writing with two regular male collaborators (who are all fathers), keeps his distance from his anti-heroine as the observational story gradually unspools. What starts as a sad reflection on modern womanhood and the loss of feminine could have transformed into something warmer and more mature on Alice’s part. But that’s not the point. And soon her abusive narcissism resurfaces as she casts around for more attention, another power fix. This transformation is so subtle it takes a while to fully take on board the true depth of Alice’s self-centredness as the prime focus of her mother’s doting and undivided attention, calling to mind that same dedication seen by the mother in fellow Romanian Calin Peter Netzer’s 2013 drama Child’s Pose.

This female centric storyline highlights the focus on domestic trivia where low level issues form the centre of everyday conversations. The camera hangs over these scenes to the point of tedium, emphasising the sheer vacuousness of Alice’s existence. There are no hopes or dreams for anything outside this narrow domain. And Alice is not encouraged to aspire but shielded from any kind of challenge, so she is unable to learn by her mistakes on a road to nowhere. Her bad reports at school are openly questioned by her mother in the face of authority, pointing to a system where children can do no wrong, but will never really amount to anything. After the pregnancy is confirmed, her mother decides that her daughter will take some time out for the pregnancy, but this only leaves more of a vacuum in the teenager’s feckless existence and she needs to be the centre of attention.

Tudor Lucaciu’s camera pictures the scene around Bucharest and the coast in master shots and long takes showing how Alice can be anything to anybody as she casts her spell over strangers and acquaintances alike. The male characters remain unexplored and are mostly seen as bemused outsiders just trying to get on with their lives. And the finale comes as a fait accompli leaving Alice just as bewildered and lost as she must have felt back in that orphanage, and even less sure of herself than she was at the start. This is a drama that will make your blood boil. MT

IN COMPETITION | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 1-11 AUGUST 2018 | Due to release next year in the UK

Sibel (2018) **** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Dirs/Writers: Cagla Zencirci, Guillaume Giovanetti | Cast: Damla Sonmez, Erkan Kolcak Kostendil, Meral Çetinkaya, Emin Gürsoy, Elit Iscan | Drama | 95′

Turkish village life is shamelessly exposed by defiant nature girl Sibel in this ravishingly rocking fable from directing duo Zencirci and Giovanetti premiering here at Locarno Film Festival 2018. 

SIBEL is another of the directing duo’s studies examining freedom and belonging following on from Noor (2012) and Ningen (2013). This tightly-scripted and perfectly-paced suspense fable also draws similarities with Reha Erdem’s escape-themed Jin (2013) that explored the perilous life of a Kurdish guerrilla girl on the run in the Anatolian mountains, but in this more intimate drama the setting is the isolated Black Sea town of Kuskoy in Northern Turkey known for its whistled language which adapts standard Turkish syllables into piercing tones that help the scattered locals to communicate long distance when working in the steep hillsides. Eric Devin’s widescreen camerawork conveys the magnificence of this lushly forested region.

And it’s here that Sibel lives with her authoritarian father and wayward younger sister Fatma. It’s a really powerful performance from Damla Sonmez who must be the first actor to whistle her part: strong-willed Sibel is mute from birth but has a closer bond with her father who has seen no reason to remarry much to the chagrin of the local small-minded women who marginalise and menace the young woman for her feral beauty and the freedom that her so-called ‘handicap’ allows. And we feel for her.  With women like these in the community it’s hardly surprising that menfolk would want to keep them down. Sibel is ostracised by every one of them, including her sister. One particularly resonant scene sees Sibel crying silently up at camera, but her speechlessness also works to her advantage allowing her to develop self-reliance and single-mindedness that sets her apart from the others as one of the two strong female characters in the narrative. The other is her bohemian  aunt who lives alone on the hillside encouraging her to follow her instincts: “women get their power from nature” These scenes in the forest provide a refreshing antidote to the female-centric plot-line that portraying the traditional local life that is dominated by the women folk’s need to subjugate themselves to a male-domination. And it’s into this natural habit that Sibel regularly retreats to spend time reflecting and also to hunt down a mysterious wolf threatening the village. It soon transpires that this wolf is really a metaphor for the immigrant outsider feared by the villagers. But soon a stranger does emerge, in the shape of fugitive Ali (Erkan Kolcak Kostendil) who will complete Sibel’s journey to self-realisation in this tense and stunningly filmic arthouse piece.  MT

IN COMPETITION | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 1-11 AUGUST 2018

 

 

 

The Heiresses (2018) ****

Dir: Marcelo Martinessi | Cast: Margarita Irun, Ana Ivanova, Ana Brun

Paraguayan actress Ana Brun won a Silver Bear for her dignified portrait of loss and loneliness in Marcelo Martinessi’s finely-tuned first feature.

The Heiresses shares similar thematic concerns with a number of recent South American features recalling a gilded past such as  Jorge Thielen Armand’s Caracas-set La Soledad (2017) and Argentinian drama Tigre (2017) that played at last year’s East End Film Festival.

Living in reduced circumstances in a well-appointed but shabby apartment in the capital Asuncion, Chela (Brun) has been forced slowly to sell off her prized heirlooms in legal negotiations handled by a trusted friend, Carmela (Alicia Guerra), to save her debt-ridden but considerably more jovial partner of 30 years Chiquita (Irun) who is threatened with a spell ‘inside’. Martinessi’s elegant script enigmatically weaves tentative romantic undertones and female solidarity into his texturally rich and atmospherically evocative storyline often transporting the introspective Chela into a dreamlike reverie consistent with her daily dabbling as a painter.

But an unexpected request from her more flush and considerably less guarded next door neighbour Pituca ( Maria Martins) ushers in a gradual change of circumstances allowing Chela to step out of the sidelines and into the limelight as she slowly regains confidence and a new sense of direction availing herself of a long disused Mercedes to ferry local ladies who lunch to and from each others homes for games of bridge and social tittle tattle. And it is during these leisurely afternoons that the drama gains a gently humorous twist and an opportunity for Chela to broaden her social and romantic inclinations, and to come into contact with the languorously seductive Angy (a feline Ana Ivanova).

Delicately drawn in subdued tones and sombre interior settings The Heiresses is an intimate female-centric affair that draws seething suspense from its hauntingly enigmatic minor-key and acutely observed characterisations of the former elite going about their elderly lives in leafy and affluent Asuncion. But danger is never far away in the over-crowded streets and backwaters of the city.

Men are absent but frequently alluded to in invariably dismissive or even derogatory tones: for what they haven’t done or have done badly, not only on a personal but on a national level. By definition women have learnt to be resilient, forbearing and generally self-reliant and there is considerable warmth and solidarity amongst them, and even though the usual bouts of bitchiness occasionally creep in they are tripped over lightly and soon forgotten. The gay pair have ceased to be close in the intervening years of financial hardship (“have you used my toothbrush again” Chela chides Chiquita) but still cling fastidiously to their routines and rituals: the hair coiffed and perfumed; the jewellery proudly displayed; the morning coffee meticulously prepared and served by the willing housekeeper (Nilda Gonzalez), each cup and accoutrement in its correct place or there’s hell to pay. And it’s these rigorous daily moments that hold their lives together, while everything seems to be gradually falling apart.

Chiquita’s eventual spell in the local women’s prison provides seamy contrast to their sedate life behind domestic doors where the splendour of yesteryear is reduced to ghostly shadows and peeling paper on the wall where once hung masterpieces and family treasures. And when Chela mobilises the ancient Mercedes there’s still a certain diffidence until she gets herself back into gear. But soon her distant memories of the glory days seep back as the casual nonchalance of Angy’s feral joie de vivre proves intoxicating. And it’s here that The Heiresses draws comparison with Sebastian Lelio’s Gloria, as Chela’s slow but sure emergence from emotional confinement finally starts to emerge again quietly but defiantly in this nuanced, slow-burning but compelling drama. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 10 AUGUST 2018

 

 

Open City Docs Festival 2018 | 4-9 September 2018

Open City Documentary Festival is back this Autumn for the eighth year running with a dynamic new programme celebrating documentary and non-fiction filmmaking taking place  from the 4th – 9th September in a host of great venues across central London.

This year – through films, audio and immersive (VR/AR) projects, across screenings, special events, parties, panels, workshops and masterclasses – Open City Documentary Festival will be celebrating the art of non-fiction.

The Festival opens with the UK Premiere of Baronesa (2017, Brazil, 71’), directed by Juliana Antunes and in partnership with MUBI. Her astonishing debut follows friends Andreia and Leid as they navigate the perilous reality of daily life in the favelas of Belo Horizonte. At first glance, their days seem calm and untroubled, but the threat of violence is never far away and Andreia dreams of moving to the safer neighbourhood of nearby Baronesa. Antunes spent five years in Belo Horizonte, working with a non-professional cast, to create a work of rare intimacy and authenticity which—despite its simple structure—emerges as a complex, multilayered and moving portrait of contemporary life in the favelas. Baronesa announces an exciting new voice in Brazilian cinema.

The Closing Night will be the UK Premiere of The Swing (2018, Lebanon, 74’) directed by Cyril Aris. An assured, emotionally rich film about the lies a family tells to keep their patriarch happy and the unattended costs of their falsehood. After sixty years of marriage, Antoine and Vivi have lost their most beloved daughter; but no one has dared to tell the bedridden nonagenarian Antoine, lest his heart crack. A simple solution, though everyone else in this densely interconnected family has then to live the same lie, giving no expression to their grief. A deeply affecting, beautifully shot cinematic novella; like all the best stories The Swing is a simple tale, but one that never short-changes its viewers.

This year the festival hosts an outstanding Jury panel for each of its competitive Awards. For the Open City Award the following documentaries have been nominated: Baronesa, dir. Juliana Antunes (Brazil); Casanova Gene, dir. Luise Donschen (Germany); Flight of a Bullet, dir. Beata Bubenec (Russia); and The Swing, dir. Cyril Aris (Lebanon). The Jury will be chaired by esteemed director Sophie Fiennes (Grace Jones: Bloodlight, Bami), and features Beatrice Gibson, Nelly Ben Hayoun, May Adadol Ingawanij and Mehelli Modi.

For the Emerging International Filmmaker Award the following documentaries have been nominated: Angkar, dir. Neary Adeline Hay (France); Those Who Come, Will Hear, dir. Simon Plouffe (Canada); Home of the Resistance, dir. Ivan Ramljak (Croatia) and The Best Thing You Can Do With Your Life, dir. Zita Erffa (Germany, Mexico). The award will be Chaired by independent Dutch documentary programme cultural advisor and filmmaker Tessa Boerman (Zwart Belicht), Luciano Barisone, Cecile Emeke, Chiara Marañón and Tadhg O’Sullivan.

There will be two retrospectives in honour of non-fiction filmmaking: The innovative found footage documentarian Penny Lane and Japanese pioneer of ‘action documentary’, Kazuo Hara. Both filmmakers will be at the festival to present their work.

For the first time the festival has invited artists to present films that have informed their own practice, with special selections from DJ and producer Nabihah Iqbal and filmmaker Marc Isaacs as well as short films chosen by a number of the filmmakers with new work at the festival, screening before their own features.

The festival will also be hosting an Industry Bootcamp aimed at students and recent graduates. These sessions will be about preparing for the next steps in your career and getting ready to enter the industry. Each event is £5, or free with student accreditation.

Open City Documentary Festival is looking forward to hosting a number of exciting festival parties this year including the Opening and Closing Night Receptions at the Regent Street Cinema as well as the Nabihah Iqbal after-party at the ICA, where the DJ, Producer & NTS Radio presenter presents an evening of music inspired by 1972 documentary Winter Soldier, featuring protest songs and music from the anti-war movement from 1950-1975. Other various festival parties will be listed in the festival programme.

OPEN CITY DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL 4-9 SEPTEMBER 2018 

 

Blossom Valley (2018) **** Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Laszlo Csuja; Cast: Reti Laszlo, Berenyi Bianca, Kozma Karoly; Hungary 2018, 83 min.

The original Hungarian title of Laszlo Csuja’s debut drama is symbolic: Viragvölgy is the last stop on a children’s railway that runs through Buda Heights and the woods near Budapest.

BLOSSOM VALLEY’s impressive cast of non-professionals, Laszlo Reti (a former Special Olympics skating champion) and Bianka Berenyi) performer and lead singer of Cannibal EU are largely the reason why this eerie, melancholic and angst-ridden road fairytale won the Grand Jury Price of the ‘East – West Section” of this year’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

Just for the hell of it, feisty Bianka (Bianka Berényi) has decided to kidnap a baby but she soon meets young Laci (László Réti), who provides a calming influence despite having been declared mentally unfit to make his own decisions. The couple and their new baby settle into a family unit of sorts and – after stealing a caravan – the police are soon in hot pursuit of the trio.

Bianca is a borderline sociopath who loves nothing more than attention and mischief. Like Laci, she has issues with regressive development, but unlike him – naïve and wanting to please – she has a certain malice, which is hidden behind a childlike demeanour. Her attention span is limited, she must be entertained and worshiped permanently. Contrary to her ex-boyfriends, who see her at a nuisance, Laci adores her non-stop, accepting most of her changing moods.

Mentored by Enyedi Ildico (On Body and Soul, last year’s Berlinale winner), Csuja, very much like Enyedi, goes all out to achieve a frightening atmosphere managing the film’s tonal shifts with surprising dexterity and adding a punk rock twist to the mix. The baby – played by two sets of twins, one actually named Laura – is in constant danger, but the ‘parents’ are too focused on themselves, even though there are some moments of closeness and intimacy. The impulsive Bianca and the love smitten Laci are always a step away from disaster.

Gergely Vass’s images are full of saturated colours, the scenes in the countryside are full of magic and the car journey’s a nightmare, but there are moments of grim social realism too. All said and done though, this zany drama belongs to the leading actors. MT

GRAND JURY PRIZE WINNER | EAST OF WEST | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Locarno 71 | Film Festival Preview

Artistic director Carlo Chatrian has unveiled his final line-up with an exciting eclectic selection of titles spanning mainstream and arthouse fare due to run at the picturesque Lake Maggiore setting from the 1st until 11th August 2018.

Piazza Grande will screen celebrated Filipino filmmaker Lino Brocka’s Maynila Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag alongside Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansmanactor, David Fincher’s Se7en and Blaze the latest film from actor turned auteur Ethan Hawke who is also to be honoured with an Excellence Award at this year’s jamboree.

There are two documentary premieres of note, screening out of competition, the first, Walking on Water (Andrey Paounov) explores the work of Bulgarian artist Christo whose Mastaba is currently gracing The Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park, the second is Etre et Avoir director Nicolas Philibert’s De Chaque Instant that looks at the life of nurses as they prepare for a lifetime of service. 

Amongst the feature debuts to world premiere is Aneesh Chaganty’s  Searching, and an animated film Ruben Grant – Collector from Slovenian artist, filmmaker and Berlinale winner Milorad Krstic, 

Hardly catching his breath since his last film Hong Sangsoo joins the International Competition line-up with Gangyun Hotel (Hotel By The River), Abbas Fahdel’s latest Yara, Radu Muntean’s follow up to One Floor Below – Alice T, Dominga Sotomayor’s Tarde Para Morir Joven, Sibel, from Turkish director duo Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti, and Britain’s Richard Billingham with his debut Ray And Liz.

Playing in the Filmmakers of the Present strand there is Siyabonga from South African directorJoshua Magor, a poetic feature showcasing the lavish landscapes of a nation riddled with poverty and crime.

This year’s Honorary Leopard is to go to Bruno Dumont who will present the world premiere of his mini-series Coincoin Et Les Z’inhumains screened on the Piazza after the award ceremony.

Retrospectives are always something to look forward to and Locarno 71 dedicates its classic spot to screwball comedy director Leo McCarey, with Carey Grant starrer The Awful Truth (1937) headlining the selection.

The Piazza Grande provides the biggest outdoor screening area in Europe and will be the setting for Vianney Lebasque’s festival opener Les Beaux Esprits and closing film I Feel Good from Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kerverne. MT

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians (2018)*** Winner | Karlovy Vary 2018

Writer/Dir: Radu Jude | Cast: Ioanna Iacob, Alex Bogdan, Alexandru Dabija, Lon Razia| Drama | Romania | 140′

After his contemplative paean to Romania’s lost Jews (Dead Nation), and Berlinale winner Aferim!, a drama exploring life in 19th century Jewish settlements, Radu Jude is back with another playfully bolshy and bruising indictment of ethnic cleansing, this time concerning the events leading up to the Holocaust.

Romania was as a Nazi ally – along with several other European countries – and it’s a subject that is close to his heart, and one that has divided his homeland. The film’s title refers to the words spoken by the Council of Ministers in the Summer of 1941 that announced another episode of genocide, this time on the Eastern Front. History always repeats itself and Radu Jude choses to depict this tragic era with a dark and spiky farcical doc-drama that recreates the tragic events on the Eastern Front preceding the Holocaust 

Set in contemporary Romania this experimental film within a film takes the form of a theatre production incorporating archive footage, lengthy critical diatribes Godard style, all driven forward by the feisty character of Mariana Marin (Ioana Iacob in her debut). This is a comprehensive and ambitious piece of meta-filmmaking but its sprawling verbosity and indulgent running time makes it sometimes heavy going.  

We first meet Mariana in the grounds of Bucharest’s National Military Museum as she is preparing to stage her outdoor theatrical extravaganza based on the tragic events of Autumn1941 when Romanian troops joined Nazi forces to wipe out some 30,000 Jews in the Ukrainian city of Odessa. The military dictator Ion Antonescu had sanctioned the routing before going over to the German side in 1944. In the event roughly 400,000 Jews, Roma gypsies and other ethnic minorities were massacred. 

As in many other European countries, antisemitism is still rife even today and this sentiment is echoed during Mariana’s rehearsals when some of the non-professional extras voice their concerns about acting alongside Roma gypsies and even challenge her version of events as proceedings almost turn into a bun fight. Meanwhile, Mariana’s complex love life with her married airline pilot Stefan (Serban Pavlu) is threatening to cause 

Also taking part in the production is Romanian theatre veteran Alexandru Dabija (Afterim!) who plays Movie and tries throughout to pacify the public by appealing to Mariana to adopt a less controversial take on the Odessa massacre, namely one that doesn’t offend Romania’s wartime heroes. Sparks fly as the two engage in a dialogue that pays homage to Hannah Arendt, Elie Wiesel, Steven Spielberg,  Leni Riefenstahl et al in lively scenes captured by handheld cameras accompanied by an ambient score. Not an easy film to engage with but a worthwhile effort to bring these controversial events to the public domain. However, with its 140 minute running time this is a docudrama that may prove commercially unviable for most arthouse cinemas and will likely find its viewers on home entertainment front MT

CRYSTAL GLOBE | EAST OF THE WEST | KARLOVY VARY INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 2018

The Guilty (2018) Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2018 ***

Dir: Gustav Moller | Doc | Danish | 85′

If you enjoyed Locke (2013) then The Guilty will come as a disappointment. Running along similar lines as Steven Knight’s gripping ‘phone-call drama, this rather bland affair from Danish director Gustav Muller focuses entirely on a uniformed official speaking into a headset in an emergency call center, The Guilty  intrigues but never quite hits the high notes of the Tom Hardy dominated thriller – not least because Olivia Colman and Ruth Wilson added that extra ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the proceedings.

In his feature debut, filmmaker Moller gives us a tense time, but 85 minutes is too long to be looking at a little known actor wearing a blue shirt, as we drift off into a reverie about what to have for dinner after the film. There will no doubt be some viewers who will find this a winner, namely the Ecumenical Jury at Baltic Debuts Film Festival (2018) who awarded it their prize. But with an English-language script and a more starry performance (Tom Hardy?) this could well be terrific.

The narrative revolves round a demoted former officer Asger Holm (a decent Jakob Cedergren) who has the task of answering distress calls, the first is from a man claiming he’s been mugged by a woman in his car. As the camera slides back to reveals Holm’s monitor, and location is the red light district, this is somewhat of a non- starter. Then comes a stressed out woman’s voice (Jessica Dinnage, who we never see) speaking from inside a car, claiming she’s been abducted and forced to leave her children at home. All this is reflected through Holm’s facial expressions viewed intensively through Jasper Spanning’s intimate camera shots, with the sound effects of cries and traffic noises in the background. Lighting is sombre and almost sinister, as he sits in the semi-darkness giving a slight Noirish feel to the piece. Emil Nygaard Albertsen’s script is tightly packed, although the ultimate rev