Archive for the ‘Festivals’ Category

A Date in Minsk (2022) Winner Best Film Doclisboa 2022

Dir.: Nikita Lavretksi; Cast: Volha Kavaliova, Nikita Lavretski; Belarus 2021, Drama, 88 min.

Belarus director/producer Nikita Lavretksi is best known as the pioneer of Belarus’ mumblecore, an independent style of filmmaking pioneering by Mark and Jay Duplass, A Date in Minsk is an existential and personal portrait of a couple of filmmakers who try to figure why their relationship failed by pretending to meet each other for the first time.

Lavretski and Volha Kavakiova indulged in “a toxic, interdependent relationship” for eight years continually coming to blows in their personal and professional lives. Shot by DoP Yalia Shatun in one take – no mean feat – the couple first meet first in a rundown billiard hall where it becomes obvious Volha has no idea of how to master the game. With Nikita forced into instructor mode the relationship re-boot gets off to a poor start as they both re-hash the other’s past misdemeanours which are manifold.

Nikita sometimes adopts a self-critical attitude, admitting to his “new friend” that he laughed when his ex fell over on a skiing holiday, landing arse about face in the snow.  During this “first date”, it also emerges that Volha is a games developer, and Nikita used to teach maths, and is now an independent filmmaker pioneering a radical new style.

As the date wears on Nikita becomes more and more contrite: “I am bearing the weight of being a terrible person”. They more they distance themselves from their failed relationship the happier they become; discussing their favourite comics, which, in Volha’s case is James Acaster.  She is also fond of the UK TV series “Peep Show”. Although the dump of a pool hall is anything but stimulating it was better than meeting in a cinema, they both agree as they circle each other like two Western duellists in a Mexican standoff. Shatun’s camera is as shaky as the couple’s faltering morale. Little inserts of the couple’s former life echo Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player, and after the two leave the pool hall, the film’s title appears.

On their way to the tube station, Nikita and Volha wax philosophical: do they really belong in Belarus now many of their friends have emigrated. It seems that Nikita is trying to prolong the meet-up for a long as possible, making the most of every minute.  His insecurity is palpable but Volha has already moved on with her life and left the relationship behind.

This is filmmaking as therapy, and we can clearly imagine JL Godard and Anna Karina in the place of Volha and Nikita. Radical but passionate, this is an emotional tour-de-force with improvised dialogue. It leaves Nikita like Orpheus back at the closing doors of the tube station. A Date in Minsk won ‘Best FILM’ at the ‘DocLisboa International Competition’ 2022. An inspired and refreshing choice. AS

City of Lisbon Award for Best International Competition Film. | DOCLISBOA 2022 | OCTOBER 6-16

The Sixth Child (2022) Antalya Film Festival 2022

Dir: Leopold Legrand | Sara Giraudeau, Benjamin Lavernhe, Damien Bonnard, Judith Chemla | France, Drama 92′

The desire for a child is an emotive hot potato that has recently seen a comedy treatment in Ninja Baby (2021) and a more romantic one in this summer’s Venice Film Festival crowd-pleaser The Children of Others (2022).  

In The Sixth Child two couples from opposite sides of the social divide come together in an unusual arrangement. Franck (Damien Bonnard in fine form) is a skint scrap metal dealer living on a caravan site with his wife Meriem (Judith Chemla) and his five kids. A sixth child is on the way. Julien (Benjamin Lavernhe) and his wife Anna (Sara Giraudeau), both lawyers, cannot have children. A court case brings Franck into contact with Julien who saves him from prison, and in return the naive but likeable Franck suggests an arrangement that might suit both couples. Franck declares himself broke and offers the lawyer the baby, suggesting a simple adoption where Franck and Anna will bring up the child, rather than a full fledged legal one – a long, convoluted process and terribly stressful for everyone.  

But once Anna befriends Merriem and sets eyes on the ultrasound of the baby she rather loses her critical and legal mind and becomes irrational, offering the God-fearing Franck and Merriem thousands of euros in cash – with a promise of more – nudging the arrangement into the bounds of human trafficking, and flying in the face of the law and her own professional status, as Julien later points out to her as emotions run high. They could both lose their jobs and end up in prison.  

A film touching on such basic human drives is always going to be moving, especially for those affected by the issues, and this directorial debut from Leopold Legrand certainly is, although the strong premise, based on Alain Jaspard’s novel, is poorly served by an uneven and underdeveloped script that not only fails to grapple with the complexity of the issues at the film’s core but instead opts for sensationalism with the human trafficking angle shoehorned into the film’s confusing final act. 

Sara Giraudeau’s Anna is the weakest character; purportedly a lawyer, she does nothing but mope around all day, and her attempts at closeness with the much more authentic Judith Chemla (Merriem) are unconvincing. Benjamin Lavernhe brings depth and sensitivity to his difficult role as the childless father. The Sixth Child is engaging and watchable as a tragedy where no one wins despite a seemingly ideal scenario. MT

THE SIXTH CHILD | ANTALYA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2022

A Far Shore (2022) Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Masaaki Kudo; Cast: Kotone Hanase, Yumeni Ishida, , Yumemi Ishida, Yoshiro Sakuma; Japan 2022, 128 min.

This epic drama from Japan’s Masaaki Kudo would be very much at home in the 1950s but despite the conventional aesthetic and narrative, is still manages to be quite overwhelming. In this age of minimalism and under-developed scripts, Kudo bucks the recent trend with an emotional blockbuster full of poetry and lyricism and told in a series of chapters that chart the heroine’s downfall. .

In Okinawa, seventeen year-old Aoi (a brilliant Hanase) has left school and works as a hostess in a nightclub, leaving her two-year old son Kengo in the care of her husband Masaya (Sakuma). Masaya is only interesting in gambling and drinking – and is on the verge of being fired from his job, leaving parental duties to Aoi’s grandmother.

Aoi tries to hide money from her husband, but he beats her up brutally, and eventually due to Masaya’s laziness and incompetence, the family slides into debt, and faces eviction. Aoi’s grandmother blames her granddaughter for the family’s disgrace, leaving only Mio (Ishida), a work collegue, to come to her rescue. But when Masaya gets in trouble with the police, Aoi becomes embroiled in a no-win situation with the authorities and she has to relinquish her job at the nightclub, and work as an escort as her life gradually implodes due to no fault of her own.

In this male-dominated society, Aoi is literally consumed by the men in her life, who exploit her to serve their own needs. While the feminism angle is under-played, Kudo never leaves us in any doubt at to his intentions. Set on the widescreen and in intimate close-up, A Far Shore contrasts the glittering night-scapes of the Japanese city with the squalor of ordinary people’s lives. DoP Takayuki Sugimura’s images of the seaside are a fitting highlight his third feature film. AS

KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Ramona (2022) KVIFF 2022

Dir.: Andrea Bagney; Cast: Lourdes Hernandez, Bruno Lastra, Francesco Carril; Spain 2022, 100 min.

Lourdes Hernandez is the bundle of nervous energy powering this rather slim would-be screwball comedy forward. Pretentiously told in six chapters, first time director Andrea Bagney opts for black & white and a classical score that add a certain allure to the rather underwhelming, low budget tale of indecision.

In Madrid, Ramona (Hernandez), 32, makes ends meet as a translator and nanny but desperately wants to be an actress. After striking up conversation with Bruno (Lastra) in one of the city’s old-fashioned blue-tiled bars, the two spend most of the day together before Ramona takes exception to something Bruno has said, and goes home in a huff to her chef boyfriend Nico (Carril), telling him all about the meeting. It turns out Bruno, a filmmaker, is only too delighted when Ramona turns up the following day to audition for his new film and immediately offers her the part, even though the producer and other crew members are much less enthusiastic. But Ramona is tortured with indecision: does she focus on her translation degree or devote herself to acting? Torn between her career and the two men in her life, she procrastinates endlessly in a drama that outstays even a modest running time of a hundred minutes.

DoP Pol Orpinell Freixa flips between black & white and colour – for no apparent reason. The close-ups are conventional, as are the film-in-film sequences. Somehow, we are transported back thirty years to when Philippe Garrel was at the height of his comedy-dramas such as Emergency Kisses, also set in the world of filmmaking. But Ramona says nothing about the magic of movies; Bagney’s bland debut feels like a less successful take on The Worst Person in the World without any of that heroine’s appeal or Trier’s narrative firepower. AS

PREMIERING AT KARLOVY VARY | PROXIMA STRAND 2022.

 

Paloma’s Wedding (2022) Munich Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Marcelo Gomes; Cast: Kika Sena, Ridson Rice, Ze Maria, Suzy Lopes, Samya De Lavor, Anita Souza Macedo, Ana Marinho; Brazil/Portugal 2022, 104 min.

Brazilian director/co-writer Marcelo Gomes (Waiting for the Carnival) combines the classical South American melodrama with a modern twist: In a remote village best known as Brazil’s capital of jeans, Paloma, a transgender woman with a daughter, wants to marry the love of her life in church. The tension finally erupts from all directions.

Paloma (Sena) works as a hairdresser and harvest mangoes the nearby fields. José (‘Ze’) (Rice) is very much in love with his motorcycle, but his commitment to Paloma is sometimes shaky. He tries to talk her out of wanting to marry in church but Paloma asks the local priest to perform the marriage ceremony. Jose is adamant that only the Pope can change the rules around church marriages where only a man and woman can be united in holy matrimony.

But Paloma’s not for turning and digs her heels in with a letter to the Pope, expecting a positive answer. When the priest reads the pontiff’s reply giving Paloma the bum’s rush, Paloma indulges in a one-night-stand with Ivanzilo, the driver who ferries the workers from the village to the mango fields.

Meeting up with old friends in the town of Saloa, one of them, Rikely, reminds Paloma of the wild times they used to have. Despite varies setback Paloma doesn’t lose sight of her goal and soon the local media gets hold of the story, causing more drama.

DoP Pierre De Kerchove creates vibrant images on the widescreen and in intimate closeup, the sex scenes are provocative and despite the darkness they have a poetic quality. Kika Sena’s Paloma is a brilliant portrait of a vulnerable person taking on the whole community while bringing up a child in challenging circumstances.

There is a very subtle scene featuring casual racism at a hotel swimming pool and Gomes never lets up: Paloma is always on the move, trying to fix problems – but never forgetting the dream of a church wedding. Few features have packed in so many diverse conflicts in a running time of just over a hundred minutes. Passionate and emotionally charged, Paloma is an ambiguous heroine, who wants all what heaven allows – and more. AS

PREMIERING AT MUNICH FILM FESTIVAL | 24 June 2022

January (2022) Tribeca Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Viesturs Kairiss; Cast: Kärlis Arnolds, Avots, Alise Dzene, Baliba Broka, Aleksas Kazanavicius, Juhars Ulfsack; Latvia/Lithuvania/Poland 2022, 95 min.

Latvian director/co-writer Viesturs Kairiss recreates the turbulent days of January 1991 when Latvia – and other Baltic countries – were fighting for independence from the collapsing Soviet Union. Centred around a young student at the film school in Riga, January is shot in eight and sixteen mm, giving the feature a very intimate atmosphere. Dedicated to all the documentary filmmakers who died during the period, this is a chronicle of a lost youth set against a nation in crisis.

Jazis (Avots) is facing a crisis of a different kind: that of his own identity: he fancies himself as the new Tarkovsky, and manages to impress co-student Anna (Dzene) who is fascinated by his rather pretentious lectures, but when they end up in bed incapable of satisfying his new girlfriend, and he retreats into a depression. But the main problem in Jazis’ life are his parents: His mother Biruta (Broka) has fallen out with Communism and now activates for independence. Father Andrejs (Kazanavicius) is still a believer, even though he can see the crumbling Empire.

Then Podnieks (Ulfsack), a famous filmmaker, turns up to make matters worse for Jazis, especially when he hires Anna as his assistant. But their attraction for each other soon dies and Anna turns her affections back to Jazis who has almost lost interest in her. Everything comes to a head during the mid January demonstrations when barricades are erected in the streets of Riga and soon Jazis finds himself conscripted into the Russian army because his doctor refuses to attest to his “depression”. But when violence erupts on the streets, and demonstrators storm the Interior Ministry, Jazis problems are forced onto the back burner: “I will never find out who I am really’, he laments.

DoP Wojciech Staron frenetic handheld images capture the mayhem not only in Jazis’ mind but also in the disruption brewing around him.  January is very much a testament to the liberation movement, but the lovers are still the main protagonists: caught up in radical new ideas, but very much the victims of contradictions beyond their influence. A paean to revolutionary passion with a touch of early Truffaut.

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | WORLD PREMIERE JUNE 12

Outside (2021) CPH:DOX 2022

Dir: Ohla Zhurba | Doc with Roma, Ukraine

Ukraine. A field of sunshine yellow. A boy runs laughing through the blossoms. Then back to reality. “We will defend Ukraine our homeland”. The Maidan uprising and molotov cocktails fly and vehicles blaze in the black smoke. The clamour is constant and 13-year old Roma is in the thick of it, a street sign serves as his shield against the encroaching onslaught. Then darkness.

Olha Zhurba’s feature debut follows Roma a street boy neglected by state and family who became a post boy for the Ukrainian revolution back in 2014. Seven years later he would be released from his orphanage into the adult world with nothing but a knife and a lighter. Virtually illiterate he drifts in and out of prison for petty crime to make ends meet. Bright-eyed, dark-haired and able-bodied Roma then shuttles from pillar to post looking for a ‘social dormitory’, somewhere to sleep. At last he gets his head down in a squalid bungalow with a friend (or maybe a brother) Kolia, in Yahotyn, on the outskirts of Kyiv where the police are constantly monitoring his movements on video surveillance cameras. But there are happier moments in the soft summer countryside when he meets a girl and sort of falls in love. But how can you love when your mother left you. And most of his time is spent looking for his mother, or at least her grave. Meanwhile police presence is like a silent doom bird, voyeuristic video surveillance tracking his movements on a 24-hour basis.

Zhurba makes use of a range of techniques to flesh out Roma’s backstory with flashbacks and a black screen accompanying his VoiceOver conversations back at the orphanage. Along with Volodymyr Usyk’s roving camera footage, Zhurba pieces together an impressionistic but ultimately tragic fractured narrative of survival for a opportunistic drifter who once had hopes of “getting an education and moving to America” but now rejects offers of work, scraping by as a bottom-feeder with nothing left to lose. MT

SCREENING AT CPH:DOX | COPENHAGEN DOC FESTIVAL | UNTIL 3rd April 2022.

Vilnius International Film Festival – 24 March – 3 April (2022)

Vilnius IFF will be the first international festival to actively boycott Russian film with the focus of this year’s 27th edition firmly on the recent petition from the Ukrainian Film Academy. Day Zero – on March 23rd – will be dedicated to the latest crop of features and documentaries from the besieged European country. With Lithuania now welcoming hundreds of thousands Ukrainian refugees – and adding children’s films to the line-up – there will free screenings to entertain all ages.

Five films in particular will highlight Ukraine cinema and will open this year’s celebration on 23 March 2022:

BAD ROADS  Dir: Natalya Vorozhbit (image above)

Lithuania knows a thing or two about staying silent. That silence ended on 23 August 1989 when two million people across Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia formed a human chain: the Baltic Way. Seven months later, on March 11 1990, Lithuania was the first Soviet republic to declare independence.

MARIUPOLIS  Dir: Mantas Kvedaravicius

Daily news reports have shown the devastation of this Ukrainian sea port. In his sophomore feature Lithuanian filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravicius centres on ordinary life and happenstance in a community unaware that 2022 would bear witness to a tragic loss of life and destruction.

THE DISTANT BARKING OF DOGS  Dir: Simon Lereng Wilmont (main image)

Set in Eastern Ukraine town of Hnutove, on the frontline of the war, the film follows a year in the life of 10-year-old Oleg who lives with his grandmother. As his friends gradually leave the village we witness the gradual erosion of his innocence amid the constant pressure of the unfolding conflict.

 

ATLANTIS  Dir: Valentyn Vasyanovych

Ukraine’s Valentyn Vasyanovych would go on to win a slew of awards for his first feature that highlights the camaraderie and resilience that has been the life force of this year’s Russian invasion. It sees a soldier suffering from PTSD befriending a young volunteer and hoping to restore peaceful energy to a war-torn society.

MY THOUGHTS ARE SILENT Dir: Antonio Lukich (image above)

Vadim, a sound engineer, has decided to emigrate from Ukraine to Canada at the age of 22. But before he leaves he must undertake an unusual assignment: to record the song of a very rare bird native of the Transcarpathian mountains of Ukraine.

As part of the European Capital of Culture celebration in the city of Kaunas, the festival will build a one-off theatre for a special screening of Laurynas Bareiša’s PILGRIMS (Venice, Best Film Orizzonti 2021) in the village of Karmelava where the film was shot. Vilnius IFF’s industry program Meeting Point Vilnius (MPV) also disinvited Russian projects in line with the festival’s boycott. Instead It will dedicate a special Ukrainian day to its program on April 1 with panels on political, institutional and film industry levels. The Vilnius Film Festival is supported by the Lithuanian Film Centre, co-funded by the Lithuanian Council for Culture, Creative Europe MEDIA Programme of the European Union, Vilnius City

DAY ZERO | VILNIUS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | LITHUANIA 

 

1970 (2021) Kinoteka Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Tomasz Wolski; Documentary/animation feature; Poland 2021, 70 min.

Tomasz Wolski finds an inventive way of staging the famous uprising of Polish workers in the Baltic towns of Gdansk and Sopot, that kicked off just before Christmas 1970.

The intense battle of wits plays out from the perspective of the leading communist bureaucrats and ministers played by puppets in stop motion mode. Their arguments are based on original archive phone conversations. Against this background, the director uses documentary material shot for TV and newsreel at the time of the uprising.

The quorum of six ‘decision-makers’ is led by Kazimierz Switala, the Minister of Internal Affairs, and number three in the Stalinist hierarchy, who died in 2011, without ever having faced trial. Barricading themselves in a room thick with cigarette smoke, the negotiators jabber away on multiple telephones. The protest, turning into an uprising, explodes at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, where workers lay down tools after the government increased the price of essentials by a massive 20 percent.  

Placards ask for the resignation of Wladislaw Gomolka, First Secretary of the Polish Workers Party – and even more worrying for a change of system: “Away with Communism!” The six leaders get more and more agitated when the Central Railway Station is set on fire, and three Militia officers are trapped in a fire on the third floor of a building, surrounded by demonstrators.

In scenes all too familiar with the current crisis in Ukraine, Molotov Cocktails are thrown by the protestors, people are on fire, and police water cannons have a brutal impact. The defenders of law and order are quibbling about the use of engaging the military in the conflict – they might be needed in Krakow, another hot point of protest. Six civilians are reported dead, with 19 police officers wounded – the interim score promises more casualties.

The black-and-white documentary material, shown in the original 4:3 format is frightening in its intensity: police beating up their prisoners, fires breaking out in apartment blocks. The cold makes matters worse, and the inadequately dressed demonstrators  freeze in the frosty weather. They make up for it by throwing even bigger stones at the police and militia.

In the end, the protests go on for over a week with 27 000 soldiers engaged in the open warfare, 550 tanks and 750 combat vehicles let loose by the Stalinist authorities with 1500 units of chemicals being poured over the demonstrators from low flying helicopters. 1164 protesters were injured, forty-one died. So nothing on the scale of the modern day Ukraine conflict but still a force to be reckoned with in this demonstration against the mighty kosh of the Stalinist regime.  

Over four decades later only one individual was found guilty: Czeslaw Kiszczak, one of the six in the command unit, and the only one to face trial, was given a two year suspended prison sentence.

The uprising led to a pyrrhic victory for the Workers Party: new puppets were installed by Moscow, and one of the highlights of the animated puppet show, designed by Robert Sowa, is the big hand reaching from above, and collecting the six warlords like marionettes, to be thrown into the dustbin the of history. To say ‘history repeats itself’ is once again proved true. AS

SCREENING AT KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL | 27 March LONDON 2022

 

 

Bergamo Film Meeting 2022

After the online experience of past few years BERGAMO FILM MEETING puts the audience and the idea of gathering together again central to this year’s live festival.

From March 26 to April 3, the 40TH EDITION celebrates cinematographic culture and auteur cinema kicking off with CIN’ACUSMONIUM, an acousmatic projection of the restored 35mm copy of Andrej Tarkovskij’s Stalker (1979). The legendary Russian filmmaker’s masterpiece relives on the screen in an all-encompassing sound-around cinematic experience on Friday, March 25th.

Costa-Gavras

Bergamo dedicates a complete retrospective to the master of political cinema of Costa-Gavras (Konstantinos Gavras), who was born in Loutra Iraias (Athens) on February 13, 1933. From his mother, Greek Orthodox from his mother’s side his father, originally from Odessa (Ukraine) was a Resistance fighter during World War II, and this influenced his career as a political filmmaker. In 1949 he moved to Paris where, in 1956, he obtained French citizenship. There, he attended the Institut Des Hautes Études Cinématographiques (IDHEC). Later, he worked as assistant director to the likes of Yves Allegret, Jacques Demy and René Clément, rising to the international stage with Z (France/Algeria 1969), an amusing political satire that won the Jury Prize at Cannes and the Oscar for Best Foreign Picture a year later. Z is the powerful portrayal of a political assassination in Greece. The film is inspired by a novel by Vassilī Vassilikos on the Lambrakis affair, a university professor and left-wing deputy who died in 1963 “accidentally” hit by a car.

AMEN

 

Compartiment tueurs (The Sleeping Car Murders), his first feature, was a thriller based on a detective novel by Sébastien Japrisot and produced with the support of his friends Yves Montand and Simone Signoret, who are also the film’s main characters. World War II drama Un homme de trop (Shock Troops, 1967), set in Nazi-occupied France.  L’aveu (The Confession, 1970), adapted by Jorge Semprun, followed a Czechoslovakian government minister, Jewish communist Arthur London, who was accused of treachery by party members and sentenced to life imprisonment by a Stalinist court. The film had clear implications for Costa-Gavras himself, and actors Yves Montand and Simone Signoret and forced them to re-consider their own fierce allegiance to communism.

Missing

Politics coloured his subsequent films. État de siège (State of Siege) (1973) was a direct attack on US support of South American authoritarian regimes. Séction spéciale (Special Section,1975) explores the Vichy trials, and caused an outcry in France, forcing Costa-Gavras to change tack to lighter themes with   Clair de femme (Womanlight, 1979), an intimate drama featuring Yves Montand and Romy Schneider.

Hollywood beckoned in 1982 offering Costa-Gavras  with the opportunity of directing Missing, a  denunciation of the US responsibilities in the post-Allende Chilean dictatorship. In Hanna K. (1983), Jill Clayburgh plays a Jewish lawyer struggling with a conflicted defence case, a Palestinian man accused of terrorism.

Music Box

Conseil de famille (Family Business, 1986), is a comedy about the internal contradictions of the bourgeoisie. In 1988 he shot Betrayed, a denunciation of the horrors of the Ku Klux Klan; the following year came Music box, a judicial drama in which a lawyer (Jessica Lange) takes on the defence of her father, a Hungarian exile accused of war crimes as a member of the pro-Nazi Hungarian militias. Less successful were La petite apocalypse (The Little Apocalypse, 1993), a satire on the failures and weaknesses of the European left, shot in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Mad City (1997), With Amen. (2002) Costa-Gavras tackles the thorny question of the relations between Pope Pius XII and the Nazi regime.

His latest films are: Le Couperet (The Ax, 2005), about a frustrated laid-off employee who is willing to kill his job competitors to get back on his feet; Eden à l’Ouest (Eden is West, 2009), a drama about illegal immigrants; Le Capital (Capital, 2012), about the corrupt and ruthless power struggle in the international world of finance), and Adults in the Room (2019), about the financial crisis that exploded in Greece in 2015 and the rise leftist politician Syriza to government.

BERGAMO FILM MEETING 2022

 

 

Glasgow Film Festival 2022

Glasgow celebrates its 18th annual film festival from 2-13 March. Expect to see UK premieres of the latest international arthouse films. This year’s celebration will open with The Outfit, starring Oscar winner Mark Rylance and close with Murina! an intoxicating Slovenian coming of age drama that won a top prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

So if you’re heading to Glasgow here’s a selection of  films worth looking out for:

THE OUTFIT (2022)

Leonard (Mark Rylance) is a master tailor who left England to run an unassuming little shop in the windy city of Chicago. He now makes beautiful, hand-crafted garments for people who want the best and are willing to pay for it. His most loyal customers are a clan of vicious gangsters. They do say clothes maketh the man. Then one night there is a knock on the door. A favour is requested. A line is crossed. And all hell breaks loose. We are thrilled to open Glasgow Film Festival 2022 with the UK premiere of this gripping tale of deception, double-dealing, murder and some very fine threads.

WHERE IS ANNE FRANK? (2021)

Ari Folman’s latest animation is a playfully evocative take on the tragedy of the Anne Frank (Emily Carey) whose final months are reflected through the eyes of her gadabout muse and confidante Kitty, vividly brought to life here by Ruby Stokes.

 

NOBODY HAS TO KNOW (2021)

Memories define us connecting the present with the past. In his latest drama – a first in English – Belgian writer and director Bouli Lanners plays a man whose romantic history is rewritten when he suffers a stroke.

NITRAM (2021)

Justin Kurzel blows us away with this scorching arthouse psychodrama commemorating the Port Arthur tragedy, exploring the milieu that created a murderer (Martin Bryant) who would kill 35 people on that fateful day in 1996. Not since Snowtown has a film engendered such utter terror through its central character – the titular Nitram – played by a coruscating Caleb Landry Jones – as a fully formed enfant terrible who lives with his long-suffering parents (Judy Davis and Anthony LaPaglia) in the sleepy seaside town.

MIGHTY FLASH (2021)

Life in Southern Spain hasn’t changed for God fearing and deeply suspicious rural communities locked away but dying to burst out from landlocked Extremadura, especially the womenfolk. Or at least that’s the impression we get from Ainhoa Rodriguez deliciously dark and delightfully observed feature that unfolds with a cast of non-pros on the widescreen and in intimate – often voyeuristic – closeup.

LOST ILLUSIONS (2021)

Inspired by Honoré de Balzac’s rags to riches hero who works his way through the Comédie Humaine, this lavish period drama charts a personal and literary advancement in post revolutionary France in a way that resonates with the media world of today, the clear voice of Balzac providing a guiding narration.

GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL 2022

 

 

Nelly and Nadine (2022) Berlinale, Panorama Dokumente (2022)

Dir/Wri: Magnus Gertten | with Nelly Mousset-Vos, Nadine Hwang, Sylvie Bianchi, Anne Coesens, Bwanga Pilipi | Sweden/Belgium/Norway 2022, 92′

A year in the making, Magnus Gertten’s sumptuously beautiful documentary is as much a love story as a testament to holocaust survival for two women. Nelly Mousset-Vos was a spy working against Nazi Deutschland and Nadine Hwang brought refugees over the border into safely.

Nelly and Nadine met each for the first time at Christmas in 1944, in Ravensbruck concentration camp. They would come across each other again after liberation and would stay together for the rest of their lives.

Today, Nelly’s granddaughter Sylvie unveils her grandmother’s surprising story in a collection of revealing images. The photographs, Super 8 footage and audio recordings as well as the poignant diary entries, recall her grandmother’s lesbian love affair with fellow concentration camp inmate Nadine. Like many relationships back in the day the explicit nature of their love was glossed over by the rest of the family and even close friends. But it soon becomes clear that it was far more than just a friendship.

With Gerrten’s lyrical compositions and artful editing Nelly’s story gracefully reveals its secrets, her granddaughter Sylvie uncovering more and more detail and exposing some surprising home truths. The archive material also sparks memories for Sylvie herself that go some way to explaining her mother’s behaviour and her deep understanding of the nature of love, but also her bouts of melancholy that emerged after the war. Many survivors chose not to talk about their wartime lives to loved ones and this extraordinary film once again confirms the saying “a picture tells a thousand words”. MT

Magnus Gertten wins Jury Award | TEDDY AWARDS 2022, one of the most prestigious queer film awards in the world | BERLINALE PANORAMA DOKUMENTE 2022

Terykony (2022) Berlinale Generation 2022

Dir.: Taras Tomenko; Documentary with Anastasia Danilova, Yaroslav Kuzin, Arseniy Malkov, Anton Danilov, Miroslava Malkova, Olhan Danislova, Nina Malkova; Ukraine 2022, 79 min.

After making not one but two films about the famous artists’ residence Slovo House in Kiev, Taras Tomenko explores another part of Ukraine with this timely dystopian look at the eastern city of Toretsk. Here children have to wade to school every morning through mountains of debris and bombed out buildings, just 500 yards from the front line between Ukrainian and Russian troops. Misha Lubarsky’s camera is relentless in its hyper-realistic style – with Tomenko avoiding a ‘talking heads’ approach in a visual tour-de-force.

Anyone reading the papers will know that a ‘hot’ war has been raging in the region since 2015.
Homes have been razed to the ground and the few which are still habitable have been reduced to shell-marked hovels. Nearby, in the countryside, only the shaft towers of disused mines still stand. And this is a ‘playground’ for fourteen-year-old Anastasia (‘Nastia’) Danilova whose father was killed by a bomb that decimated their home. Fending for herself amongst the rubble she teaches a boy to cry without blinking. “Boys usually don’t cry” says Nastia. Arseny, a few years younger, has found a “step father” after his parents split up, a grave digger in a Stars Wars tee-shirt who buys him clothes. Arseny and Nastia scavenge for scrap metal and finally find a dealer who gives them 30 hryvina for their collection of 30 kg. The kids roam around unsupervised; there is always something new to discover, like an old theatre with its stage still standing.

At ‘home’ they watch DVDs on an age-old computer, or play games or their handheld game consoles. “Life is not an SIM game”, one of the few father remarks, but this does not impress the youngsters who have to fight off wild dogs while unearthing scrap metal. We watch Anastasia on her train journey to the big city to visit the archaic passport office – she must apply before the age of 15 – or she will “be in trouble”.

The nearby mall advertises “European Quality” goods, a huge map of Asia hangs on the wall, with the old USSR dominating in red. Later one of the children will find volume one of Lenin’s writings; hoping that it will fetch a good price. Nastia then visits a church where the orthodox priest gives a sermon. The adventure ends with her trying on make-up and eye-liners in a club where she dances on the strobe-lit stage. Terykony leaves the audience with no doubt about the future of the children of the debris mountains, even though they look out for each other the squalid childhood will haunt the rest of their lives. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | Generation Plus 2022

Waters of Pastaza (2022) Berlinale Generation 2022

Dir: Inez T Alvez | Doc, 62′

Deep in the Amazonian rainforest between Ecuador and Peru, a community of kids live in harmony with nature learning through play and collaboration rather than formal education in this hypnotic first feature from Inez T Alvez.

The banks of the Pastaza River is home to exotic wildlife monkeys and birds that provide a wordless ambient soundscape to an ethnological portrait of a world on the cusp of change. In this remote natural setting children are left to their our devices to develop self-reliance seemingly and discover the world for themselves seemingly without parental intervention.

Dressed in the lightest of clothing and protected by rubber boots the indigenous Achuar children make their way along the river and through the jungle armed only with machetes surviving on a variety of fruit, fish and whatever they can lay their hands on. What a shame then that despite their outward vestiges of poverty and simplicity, they also rely on smartphones to keep them apace with the 21st century. Seems like the whole world – however remote – is now in touch with technology. Is this wonderful thing or another inexorable march towards progress. MT

BERLINALE 2022 | GENERATION

 

Kinoteka Polish Film Festival | 9 March – 3 April 2022

KINOTEKA celebrates its 20th Anniversary back on the big screen.

From 9th March to 3rd April 2022, the festival showcases the latest Polish films along with some vintage cult classics at the ICA and BFI Southbank and at Edinburgh’s prestigious Filmhouse cinema, and enjoy a selection at home on BFI player too.

Amongst the highlights are Jerzy Skolimowski’s IDENTIFICATION MARKS: NONE’, Andrzej Wajda’s Oscar nominated THE YOUNG LADIES OF WILKO; Andrzej Żuławski’s cult science fiction masterpiece ON THE SILVER GLOBE and Agnieszka Holland’s potent political period piece FEVER

 

The Closing Night film at the BFI Southbank, will be the UK premier of the newly restored 1924 black and white silent FORBIDDEN PARADISE (1924) directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring his Polish muse, Pola Negri as a luminous Catherine the Czarina accompanied by la live score specially composed by Marcin Pukaluk.

 

NEW POLISH CINEMA

The Opening Night film, Agnieszka Woszczyńska’s award-winning thriller SILENT LAND (2021) Also headlining this strand of New Polish Cinema is Poland’s OSCAR hopeful LEAVE NO TRACES, (2021), Jan P. Matuszyński’s award-winning story of police brutality in communist Poland set in 1983. Other films in this strand include 25 YEARS OF INNOCENCE (below) a huge box office hit in Poland. SONATA, the inspirational, true story of a deaf pianist which won the Audience Award and Best Debut Actor at the Gdynia Polish Film Festival. 1970 is a compelling documentary looking at political unrest during that time when a series of strikes and riots took place against the communist government in Poland. The film draws upon archival photography, recently-discovered telephone conversations and stop-motion animation to give a new understanding of what actually happened and why. This screening will be followed by the Q&A with director Tomasz Wolski.

SPECIAL SCREENINGS AT JW3

JW3 is to screen two outstanding and incredibly powerful films during the Festival. Ryszard Brylski’s THE DEATH OF ZYGIELBOJM  the true and little known story of the tragic fate of Szmul Zygielbojm, an exiled Jewish political activist who committed suicide in London in 1943 to draw attention to the plight of Jews in Europe. Seen through the eyes of a child called Tomek, Konrad Aksinowicz’s moving and raw BACK TO THOSE DAYS at his life with an alcoholic father, who eventually destroys his family life and childhood.

Full details on all of the films taking part in the Festival and a link to book tickets can be found on Kinoteka’s dedicated website:-https://kinoteka.org.uk/

 

Terra que marca (2022) Berlinale | Forum 2022

Dir: Raul Domingues | Portugal, Doc, 66′

I often wonder why some indie filmmakers stumble with such convolutedly arcane ideas when less is always so much more. With a strong story and a beautiful way of presenting it the rest will soon fall into place as Raul Domingues illustrates with his enchanting debut feature, an ethnographical portrait of nature entitled Terra Que Marca (Striking Land). 

The affirmative circle of life goes on year after year in a small corner of rural Portugal where two people develop an ongoing relationship with nature transforming a barren plot of land in Casal da Quinta into a gift that keeps on giving, cumulatively, as the years roll by.

 

It’s often said that people don’t own the land – it owns them. And that’s true. People return year after year to places that draw them in to an emotional bond that strengthens as time progresses. Domingues bases his narrative on a fable relating to a piece of land that came into his family generations ago and perpetuate a feeling that this land must be nurtured and cared for.

Time is of the essence and Domingues is in no hurry to tell his story dictated by the rhythms of nature, he creates a perfectly balanced structure. Senses, images and sounds blend as the year unfolds from Autumn right through to the end of the second year where the burning down of vegetation provides the ash and minerals to fertilise the loamy soil for the next year’s growth, helped along by a healthy presence of earthworms to mix and aerate the earth.  

Soon the robin redbreast makes his appearance along with some sheep and a clutch of chickens, all taking part in this thriving ecosystem. Grass grows, beans, apples and corn on the cob will flourish along with courgettes, barley, potatoes and maize for bread and polenta. Flowers in the shape of lilies, mallow and roses play their part, producing the pollen for the bees to do their stuff and the season draws to a close again as the orange trees yield a bumper crop weighing down the branches almost to the ground as they multiply in the following autumn.  

Relying on an ambient soundscape, Domingues acts as his own DoP and editor in this magical meditation on the comforting power of nature. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | FORUM STRAND

A Human Position (2022) Tromso Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Anders Emblem; Cast: Amalie Ibsen Jensen, Maria Agwumaro; Norway 2021, 76 min.

Norwegian writer/director Anders Emblem (Hurry Slowly) creates a slow-moving, considered portrait of a couple recovering from a trauma, set in the idyllic harbour town of Alesund.

The peaceful settings are not just mere background, but play an instrumental part in the interplay with the human duo: often movement is replaced by still shots, and the protagonists enter spaces or depart, dissolving into the panoramic idyll of placid landscapes, in the same style as Kogonada’s 2017 feature Columbus.

The relationship between journalist Asta Ostram (Jensen) and her partner Maria (Agwumaro) is anything but idyllic. Asta returns to work for the Alesund ‘Sommosposten’ newspaper, where she covers local news. All her colleges welcome her back, but we learn from their worried looks that all is not well with Asta.

At home, where a cat dominates the domestic spaces, the tension is even more obvious. Maria is a furniture restorer, doubling up as a composer on keyboards. She does her best to give her partner enough room for the yet unspecified wound to heal – both physically and psychologically.

Asta copes well with routine assignments, but her heart is not in it. At home, she slowly lets Maria get closer to her, very much the wounded animal. Then Asta comes clean about the case of Aslan, an asylum seeker, who ten years ago entered Norway where he worked in a fish factory near Alesund. Then the company had to close because of infringements of the Labour Laws, and Aslan, who was ‘illegal, faced forcible extradition from Norway. With Asta on the search for the elusive Aslan, she lets her guard down, and allows Maria to literally touch her injury. We hope that Asta can also find Aslan before its too late.

DoP Michael Mark Lanham uses the setting of Alesund as a background for the protagonists who fade in and out of the momentous landscapes. The attic of the couple’s flat is a peaceful sanctuary, underlining the placid atmosphere, a natural habitat for their cat. Asta’s crisis is real enough, yet the narrative feels more like a fairytale fable, where a pervasive dread often engulfs the couple as they work through their individual issues in non-verbal contemplation rather than open conflict. Human Position is an acquired taste, but patience is rewarded with a unique experience. AS

OPENING FILM OF THE 32nd Tromso Film Festival 2022

Zero Fucks Given (2021)

Dir.: Emmanuel Mare, Julie Lecoustre; Cast: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Mara Tarquin, Alexander Perrier, Jonathan Sawdon; Belgium 2021, 115 min.

This bizarre but brilliant first feature for French duo Emmanuel Marre and Julie Lecoustre follows a shameless young air-stewardess on a flight to nowhere, emotionally speaking. We soon understand why.

Cassandra (Exarchopoulos from Blue is the Warmest Colour) works for a budget airline mostly around Europe. She dreams of being hired by Emirates Airlines or even a high-paying company called Private Jets, but speaks only a little English apart from French.

From her base in Lanzarote relationships are tricky so she signs out of reality, keeps her family at a distance and opts for an online life on Tinder under the pseudonym ‘Carpe Diem’, a bare-breasted selfie setting the tone for some casual sexual encounters. In some ways she is typical of the resigned young millennial who literally doesn’t care what happens as long as she’s having fun.

Not only is the job repetitive and unfulfilling, Cassandra spends most of her time in airline terminals, a hostile and alien environment made worse since Covid. Drugs and disco are her favourite release on breaks from the inflight tedium. When her contract runs out, she is re-assigned to a course that includes saving passengers with CPR – an exercise Cassandra fails dismally, unable to interact even with a dummy: “You are breaking all his ribs” the course leader tells her, after Cassandra pummels the model doll mercilessly. Job follows job largely down to Cassandra’s ability to sell her persona on Zoom interviews – ‘Seize the day’ very much captures the economic and social climate of this disposal world.

Exarchopoulos gives a stunning performance as the women “with no attributes”, an empty vessel not even trying to find an engagement with the outside world. She is vague to the point of disowning herself, constantly on the move in transit positions. She is the modern young woman honed for the instant turnaround of her professional life, opting for a quick fix while treading water in the hope of a better opportunity, always with her eye on the main chance. Cassandra is the opposite of her sister and father: rootless and uninterested in her past, leaving them to deal with the emotional consequences of the mother’s death. DoP Olivier Boonjing excels with the cold airport images which contrast with the warmer colours of Cassandra’s hometown. Zero Fucks Given is certainly original: an almost sinister study of a modern milliennial. Hugely recommended. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE | The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Award for Best Screenplay, presented this year to Zero Fucks Given‹ by Julie Lecoustre and Emmanuel Marre |MANNHEIM HEIDELBERG FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Brazil Indigenous Film Festival 22 – 24 October 2021

Inspired by the UN Climate Summit this first edition of the Brazil Indigenous Film Festival takes place in London’s ICA cinema on the Mall from October 22 -24, featuring a dozen or so features and shorts from indigenous filmmakers sharing their stories – both fact and fiction – from all over Brazil.

Twelve films, in six languages, from seven different groups will be showing in the three-day festivalbetween 22 – 24 October 2021. The programme is split into three strands: The Right toEarth combines work on different forms of Indigenous struggle – symbolic, practical, political, mythological – for the right to land; The Ritual Dimension documents and celebrates the Maxakali andKisedjê in rural Brazil, exploring their political rituals, and Orality, Film and History brings historical, social and philosophical perspectives from the Parakanã, Guarani–Nhandewa and Guarani–Kaiowácommunities.

A few highlights from the programme: Equilibrium, an ethno-media video art by Tupinamba journalist and educator Olinda Muniz Wenderley. The female filmmaker explores through an experimental narrative the connection of the Indigenous People with the Earth and their spirituality. Two animations explore colours of nature and traditions. The Celebration of the Spirits tells the saga of a Guajajara man, who, during a search for his lost brother, ends up on a voyage of self-discovery.

Other films to look out for are Tatakox, a hypnotic ritual film that documents celebrations evoking the spirits of dead children, and Nũhũ yãg yõg hãm: This land is our land!, winner of the Best International Film prize at this year’s SheffieldDoc/Fest.

The festival also presents two productions from Alberto Alvares: Dream of Fire, an interpretation of a dream – an omen of disease, according to Guarani Nhandewa traditions, and Tekowenhepyrun: The Origin of the Soul, is based on the belief that the soul is the connection between the body and the spirit. Alberto has had works exhibited in Arts Biennales and international film festivals.

FreeLandCamp a documentary by photographer and anthropologist Edgar Kanaykõ, portraying the massive 2017 demonstration organised by APIB, when diverse ethnic groups got together in the country’s capital, Brasília to demand their rights. Ava Yvy Vera: The Land of the People of Lightning, is a depiction of the Guarani–Kaiowá peoples’ struggle for land rights that gained international recognition after the release of a joint letter in 2012, protesting against the assaults and advances of Brazilian agribusiness.

The thought-provoking Zawxiperkwer Kaa explores the activities of the Guardians of the Forest, a group that has been fighting against illegal logging and working to protect the Awá-Guajá, one of the most threatened isolated Indigenous groups on the eastern coast of the Amazon.

This festival has the support of APIB, a national reference of the Indigenous movement in Brazil. Raising international awareness about Indigenous peoples as protagonists in the fight against climatechange and resisting the destruction of their traditional ways of living is urgently needed.

Festival Schedule:

Friday, 22 Oct @18h30 (Opening Night followed by a Q&A with festival curators and special guests)

Saturday, 23 Oct @16:20

Sunday, 24 Oct @16:20

Full programme can be seen here.

Antalya Film Festival 2021

Antalya Film Festival opens on the 2nd October celebrating its 58th edition in the Southern Turkish Riviera setting with a slew of award-winning titles taking part in the International Feature Film Competition.

Fred Baillif’s sharp-sighted study of protective measures for the youth turning out to be the very source of danger, The Fam received Generation 14Plus Grand Prix at Berlinale. Winner of Best Film and Best Scenario awards at Tribeca Film Festival, Brighton 4th also brought its director and lead Levan Koguashvili Best Actor award. Reminding some classical titles about the lives and dreams of migrants left outside of both worlds, the film narrates the story of a former wrestler Kakhi, travelling from Tiflis to Brooklyn to save his son from a gang.

The winners of the International Feature Film Competition will be announced at the Closing and Awards Ceremony on the evening of Saturday, October 9, 2021.

ANTALYA FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Pordenone Silent Film Festival 2021

The PORDENONE SILENT FILM FESTIVAL is back for its 40th celebration from 2 to 9 October 2021 at the Teatro Comunale Giuseppe Verdi, in the Northern Italian town.

In 1982, when the Cineteca del Friuli and Cinemazero first joined forces to collaborate on a three-day retrospective dedicated to the French comic Max Linder, no one could have imagined this would become the first edition of a festival whose pioneering work has literally rewritten the history of the first three decades of cinema, or that the city of Pordenone would become an indispensable destination for scholars and all those passionate about silent film from the world over.

This year’s programme will consist of four screenings per day. Last year’s online edition managed to double its viewing public of silent film lovers garnering a whole new audience from all over the world. This year’s 40th edition will also be streaming a selection of films during the festival dates for the benefit of those unable to attend.

Pordenone Festival Director Jay Weissberg

Expect to see classics such Gustav Machaty’s EROTIKON and Guido Brognone’s festival pre-opener MACISTE ALL’INFERNO (1926) along with favourites such as Ernst Lubitsch’s LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN and Willi Wolff’s LOLA MONTEZ, THE KING’S DANCER from 1922.

A rediscovery in the shape of Georg Jacoby’s JOKEREN from 1928 will be showing with an accompaniment by Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius. Cecille B. DeMille’s FOOL’S PARADISE (1921) is another showstopper  and the festival closes with Alexandre Volkoff’s CASANOVA (1927).

Highlighting a strong female influence to this year’s edition there will be a a screening of Grace Cunard’s short THE PURPLE MASK (1916/17) along with an amusing array of short films entitled Nasty Women. It’s worth remembering that more women worked in film during the early silent years of the 20th century that at any time since. And these women made films for a female audience. MT

PORDENONE SILENT FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Captain Volkonogov Escaped (2021) Venice Film Festival 2021

Dir: Aleksey Chupov, Natasha Merkulova | Cast: Yuriy Borisov, Timofey Tribuntsev, Aleksandr Yatsenko | USSR Drama 120′

A muscular yet strangely poetic drama suffused with human emotion by Russian directing duo Aleksey Chupov and Natasha Merkalova whose feature The Man Who Surprised Everyone, did just that.

Classically styled and set against the backdrop of the 1938 political persecutions – the colour red serving as a thematic touchstone for Soviet ideals of valour, sportsmanship and nationalistic allegiance – it stars man of the moment Yuriy Borisov fresh from his triumphs in Cannes with Compartment Number 6.

He plays Fyodor a hard-boiled, weightlifting law-enforcer in a Russia pulsating with subversive wartime undercurrents where cowing-towing to the Soviet system is the only way to go. But when Fyodor sees his peers being interrogated by the authorities he decides to abscond. Once on the run (to rousing sounds of ‘The Russian Red Army’ and a propulsive electronic score) Fodor is hotly pursued by his wiry, tuberculosis ridden superior Golovnya (Tribuntsev), haunted by the past as it plays out in a series of haunting hallucinatory sequences featuring his old comrades. So he decides to return as surreptitiously as possible while surrounded by a seething climate of savage mistrust.

Immaculate lensing by ace Estonian cinematographer Mart Taniel makes this a visually captivating as well as thrilling with its storyline that tracks Fodor’s evasion from his steely band of brothers with a pervasive feeling of danger and gritty authentic characters who feel real in their struggle to survive against the odds in a climate of fear and suspicion that forces them to root for themselves while keeping their backs against wall in their putative allegiance to the state. That said, the few female characters are seen as weak and febrile, the men physically and emotionally rigorous.

Powered forward but some really shocking violence: an execution scene is one of the most starling: a state employee priding himself by dispatching his firing squad victims with just one shot; in another a little girl recounts how her father was tortured by Spanish Fascists and then Russian Communists, the latter the more affective in sending him to him to his grisly death. Unorthodox weapons come in all shapes and sizes – an old fashioned telephone proving an effective stunning device. But the harsh brutality is tempered by some potently transcendent moments that Andrey Konchalovskiy or Tarkovskiy would be proud of: an enormous red zeppelin glides by silently framed between two buildings; a wild dog scampers along joyfully in the morning mist, and an emaciated man breathes his last moments of life cradled in Volkonogov’s tender embrace. MT

Venice Film Festival | 1 – 11 September 2021 | COMPETITION

European Arthouse Film | ARTEKino Selection Summer 2021

The ARTEKino Festival is an innovative online film festival presented by ARTE.tv and Festival Scope aimed at movie goers from all over Europe. The festival strives to celebrate and promote European films from new filmmakers to larger audiences in less accessible countries.

This year the ARTEKino Selection is also available free at ARTE.tv. Each month a new film is featured representing the richness and diversity of European cinema.

In July, the ARTEKino Selection features Claire Denis’s 2008 film 35 Shots of Rum, currently streaming onARTE.tv. For August, Tereza Nvotová’s powerful debut feature Filthy, explores hard-hitting issues of rape, trauma and secondary victimisation. In September ARTEKino presents the potent real-world feminist fable Sibel featuring a mesmerising performance by Damla Sönmez.

The ARTEKino Selection – August 

FILTHY

Slovakia, 2017

Director: Tereza Nvotová
Available at ARTE.tv from 1 August to 31 August

Seventeen-year-old Lena’s carefree world comes crashing down when she is raped at home by her maths teacher. The attacker calmly walks away, but Lena ends up in a psychiatric hospital. But even there she can’t bring herself to tell anyone what happened to her, since it doesn’t appear the staff are prepared to combat secondary victimisation. Tereza Nvotová offers up a drama which clearly demonstrates that rape only marks the beginning of a series of distressing experiences and brings to light an often-marginalised problem exacerbated by inadequate professional help. The oppressive subject matter acquires form as an assured study of the main character and of those around her, their contours nuanced by Marek Dvořák’s camerawork and by Dominika Morávková, whose Lena comes to realise that only she can find the strength that lies within her.

The ARTEKino Selection – September

SIBEL

Turkey, 2018

Directors: Çagla Zencirci & Guillaume Giovanetti
Available at ARTE.tv from 1 September to 30 September

25-year-old Sibel lives with her father and sister in a secluded village in the mountains of Turkey’s Black Sea region. Sibel is a mute, but she communicates by using the ancestral whistled language of the area. Rejected by her fellow villagers, she relentlessly hunts down a wolf that is said to be prowling in the neighbouring forest, sparking off fears and fantasies among the village women. There she crosses path with a fugitive. Injured, threatening and vulnerable, he is the first one to take a fresh look at her.

Watch free of charge, on ARTE.tv, via the ARTE mobile app and the Smart TV app  @ARTEen

 

The Savior For Sale: The Story of Salvator Mundi (2020) Sheffield Doc Festival 2021

Dir: Antoine Vitkine | France Doc 95′

Controversy has long surrounded this emotive work of art purportedly by Leonardo da Vinci. Like a beautiful woman, many men have struggled to win her and have succeeded, but then been deceived or outwitted. But the ‘Salvator Mundi’ represents more than just a depiction of Christ, it has a deeper resonance thanks to its title: ‘Saviour of the World’ capturing the zeitgeist of our fragile planet, that resonates beyond Christendom.

Best known in France for his TV outings: ‘Magda Goebels, First Lady of the Third Reich’ (2017) and ‘The President and the Dictator: Sarkozy-Kadafi’ (2015), journalist, writer and director Antoine Vitkine explores the painting’s eventful journey from discovery to oblivion so exposing the vagaries of the international art market. This is a lushly mounted sinuously-scored thriller, its twists and turns revealing some of the most powerful players in the art world, and those making money out of them. It’s a tale of backbiting, greed and hype that shows how leverage from a handful of key players can transform a virtually valueless piece to a painting commanding millions the following day in the hurly burly of market credibility.

From the opening scenes The Savior For Sale bristles with intrigue and skulduggery transporting us into the hushed homes and yachts of the super-rich from Paris to New York, London to Monaco. A masterpiece in investigative journalism the film’s cut and thrust only adds to its allure, showing how the ‘Salvator’s’ attribution to the legendary old Italian master would see its value rise to stellar heights, becoming “the most expensive – and coveted – painting in the world”.

Modest yet deeply resonant its depiction of a serene Christ – not unlike that of the Mona Lisa – the painting’s route to success comes courtesy of a fascinating group of protagonists whose roll-call plays out like a game of Cluedo. There is “The Expert” Martin Kemp; “The Dealer” Warren Adelson; “The Journalist” Scott Reyburn; “The Oligarch” Dmitri Rybolovlev and his Swiss right-hand man Yves Bouvier. Belgian art specialist Chris Deacon also makes his case, and soon the Saudis wade in with their billions. The aim is to prove that Leornardo was the painter, not simply his studio, and there’s a great deal to be gained – and lost – financially in the process. MT

SCREENING DURING SHEFFIELD DOC FESTIVAL 2021

Scarecrow | Pugalo (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir: Dmitri Davydov | Cast; Valentina Romanova-Chyskyyray, Anatoly Struchkov, Artur Zakharov, Sargylana Lukovtseva | USSR Drama 72′

Sakha director Dmitry Davydov, a rising star internationally, has built an intriguing drama with horror genre elements on the basis of this frosty story about a social outcast ostracised by uncompromising locals whose obdurate demeanour reflects their dour surroundings and harsh outlook on life.

A modern day fable of witchery is wrapped round an astonishing central performance from Valentina Romanova-Chyskyyray who plays a healer who lives in the vast, snowy expanse of the Sakha Republic in Russia. Ostracised by the local population despite her proven supernatural powers, she is clearly a neutralising conduit of disease and toxic negativity, suffering grotesquely- or even entering a trance-like state each time she treats a patient, making this feel authentic as well as intriguing and visually arresting with its evocative occasional score that features the ‘krymppa’, a rustic violin-like instrument.

Enigmatic, spare on dialogue and immaculately photographed in picturesque widescreen long takes and in intimate close-up by Ivan Semyonov in a monochrome palette of taupe and snowy greys, Scarecrow is one of the strongest, recent examples of the flourishing Sakha cinema, where local makers stray beyond the confines of Russian cinema, creating their own cinematic identity.

Like many other Sakha makers, Davydov is a self-taught director who combines serious drama with genre elements, Sakha folklore and landscapes. The disturbing scene, shot in one long take, in which the troubled lead takes great gulps from a vodka bottle whilst crying, is haunting, mesmerising and memorable. MT

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | SUMMER SEASON | 3 -6 JUNE 2021

No Sudden Move (2021) Tribeca Film Festival 2021

Sex Lies and Videotape director Steven Soderbergh will present his latest highly anticipated crime drama NO SUDDEN MOVE as the centrepiece gala at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. The outdoor premiere will take place at The Battery in New York City on Friday, June 18 as part of Tribeca’s 12-day celebration to re-open New York and bring live entertainment back. Members of the cast will make an appearance at the live event.

Set in 1954 Detroit, No Sudden Move stars Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, David Harbour, with Ray Liotta, Jon Hamm, Amy Seimetz, Brendan Fraser, Kieran Culkin, Noah Jupe, Craig muMs Grant, Julia Fox, Frankie Shaw and Bill Duke. The story centers on a group of small-time criminals who are hired to steal what they think is a simple document. When their plan goes horribly wrong, their search for who hired them – and for what ultimate purpose – weaves them through all echelons of the race-torn, rapidly changing city.

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | 9 – 20 JUNE 2021

London Spanish Film Festival 2021

London Spanish Film Festival
10th Spring Weekend 28 – 30 May 2021

The 10th Spring Weekend of the London Spanish Film Festival is back full of energy and positive vibes setting the mood for an exciting 17th edition in September.

You’ll find the latest film by veteran Fernando Trueba, three decent debuts from women filmmakers, a hopeful and moving reflexion on what life is and a special screening of the latest treat from Maestro Almodóvar.

LAS NIÑAS  | Schoolgirls

Dir. Pilar Palomero | with Andrea Fandos, Natalia de Molina, Zoe Arnao | Spain | 2020 | 97 min | cert. 15 | London premiere | In Spanish with English subtitles

Celia is an 11-year-old girl studying at a nun’s school in 1992. She’s a responsible student and a considerate daughter but the arrival of a new classmate will open a little window Celia is willing to look out from to discover about the outside world. Together with her group of friends she’ll give her first steps into adolescence and first-times even if that means confronting her mother and questioning everything that meant comfort and security. The film has won several awards among which Best Film, Best New Director, Best Cinematography and Best Original Screenplay Goya Awards.

Fri 28 May | 6.30pm | £13, conc. £11

EL OLVIDO QUE SEREMOS Memories of My Father

Dir. Fernando Trueba, with Javier Cámara, Nicolás Reyes Cano, Juan Pablo Urrego | Colombia | 2020 | 136 min | cert. PG | In Spanish, Italian and English with English subtitles | Distributed by Curzon

Trueba’s latest film tells the story of Héctor Abad Gómez, one of Colombia’s most beloved national heroes, through the eyes of his son. He balances a nuanced portrait of Abad Gómez’s family life in Medellín and the harsh reality of the country in the turbulent 1970s and 1980s, in which corruption is common and the government cannot be criticised. Based on the book written by Abad Gómez’s son, Memories of My Father is a memorable work, a love story and the portrait of a man fighting for the basic human rights of his people: food, water and adequate shelter.

Fri 28 May | 8.35pm | £13, conc. £11 Sat 29 May | 5.50pm | £13, conc. £11

LA VOZ HUMANAThe Human Voice

Dir. Pedro Almodóvar, with Tilda Swinton | Spain | 2020 | 30 min | cert. PG | In English and Spanish with English subtitles

Jean Cocteau wrote The Human Voice in 1928 and, since then, many artists have staged or filmed their own vision of this woman’s dramatic moments after her lover of the last few years leaves her to get married with to another woman. Almodóvar’s stunning version brings to The Human Voice his sense of aesthetics, of rhythm and his peculiar, subtle sense of humour, making the pièce his own. Chameleonic Swinton, in what seems a wonderful and perfect tuning with Almodóvar, captures the essence of his style bringing to it some delightful British exquisiteness. A must.

The film will be followed by a 40 min video-Q&A with Pedro Almodóvar and Tilda Swinton with Mark Kermode. It will be preceded by a video-presentation by Prof. Maria Delgado

Sat 29 May | 4.15pm | £13, conc. £11

LA INNOCÈNCIA | La inocencia | The Innocence

Dir. Lucia Alemany | with Carmen Arrufat, Laia Marull, Sergi López, Joel Bosqued | Spain | 2019 | 92 min | cert. 15 | London premiere | In Catalan and Spanish with English subtitles

Lis is a teenager whose dream is to become a circus artist and go traveling. While she knows she’ll have to confront her parents and fight for it, she spends the summer playing around with her friends and with her boyfriend, a few years older than herself and the relationship with whom she tries to keep hidden from the constant gossip of the neighbours. Lucia Alemany’s impressive first feature film is a fresh coming-of-age story that captures perfectly the rural and festive mood without losing any realism nor honesty.

Sat 29 May | 8.45pm | £13, conc. £11

MY MEXICAN BRETZEL 

Dir: Nuria Giménez | Spain | 2019 | 73 min | cert. PG | London premiere | In English

Giménez’s debut film offers, through archive footage of home made movies, a glimpse into the life of a wealthy European couple, Léon and Vivian Barrett, after WW2 and up to the 1960s. The quality of the footage is superb and is accompanied by text from Vivian’s diary offering details of their lives, her thoughts, gossip… Mesmerising and compelling, this is a clever work of direction and of editing by Giménez, and has won her, among others, the Found Footage Award at the Internation Film Festival of Rotterdam last year.

Sun 30 May | 6.10pm | £13, conc. £11

LA VIDA ERA ESO That Was Life

Dir. David Martín de los Santos, with Petra Martínez, Anna Castillo, Florin Piersic Jr., Ramón Barea | Spain/Belgium | 2020 | 109 min | cert. PG | UK premiere | In Spanish and French with English subtitles

When María and Verónica end up meeting and sharing a hospital room in Belgium, the only thing they have in common is that they are Spaniards who came to work to this country with the hope to find more opportunities than back at home. Slowly a bond grows between them and one of them will start a journey to Almería, where the roots of the other are, initially to meet her family, finally to discover principles beyond those on which she had based her whole life. The film is poignant in his humble and intimate approach. The subtly nuanced acting of Petra Martínez in the lead role as a woman pushing herself out of the boundaries of the role in which she felt confined, adds emotion to this wonderful film.

Sun 30 May | 7.55pm | £13, conc. £11

LONDON SPANISH FILM FESTIVAL 2021 

Generation Utøya (2021) HotDocs 2021

Dir.: Aslaug Holm, Sigve Endresen; Documentary with Ina Rangones Libak, Kamzy Gunaratnam, Renate Tarnes, Line Hoem; Norway 2021, 104 min.

Commemorating  that fateful day of 22th July 2011 when Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 young people on the island of Utøya just off Norway. Aslaug Holm and Sigve Endresen have created a passionate portrait of four women who survived to tell their tale, and they couldn’t be more different.

Kamzy Gunaratnam is the child of modest Sri Lankan’ emigrants at pains to keep their daughter away from politics after their own experiences in the homeland. Kamzy believed in that ‘old chestnut’: ‘It couldn’t happen here’. But it did. On that fateful summer day, Kamzy swam away from the shore in the midst of Breivik’s killing spree that went on for over an hour. Today she is the Deputy Mayor of Oslo, a position she has to fight for at every turn, the Labour Party fully aware that her background may not win her as many votes as a native candidate. But Kamzy is indomitable, she travels the country visiting schools to bring her message into classrooms.

Ina Rangones Libak was shot three times by Breivik – she recalls her experience with an almost clinical detachment: “First he shot my hands, and I thought -that’s not too bad, then he shot at my jaw and finally my chest. I knew I might die, my last thought, at least what I believed it to be, was a drop of water falling on a leaf”. Friends kept her warm, and stemmed the bleeding and after a long battle she recovered. From 2016 to 2018 Ina was Deputy leader of the AUF, before leading the organisation in the following two years. She still has treatment for PTSD, and receives permanent online abuse, particularly after the Justice Minister of the ruling ‘Progress’ Party, Sylvi Listhaug called the Labour Party to task for “putting the interests of radical Muslims before the safety of the Norwegian people”. Ina reminded the Minister that she and her Party had been the target of a terrorist attack.

We watch Line Hoem as she works with her therapist to help overcome the debilitating psychological after-effects of her ordeal. She also finds regular exercise – particularly running – is a helpful way of easing anxiety.

Renate Tarnes has coped with her ordeal in a community-based way, helping to restore the island of Utøya as a meeting place for people who shared the same beliefs as those who lost their lives there 10 years ago: they pick flowers, and put them onto the names of the sixty-nine who were actually shot down on the island, and whose names are engraved in a large ring structure.

The directors avoid sentimentality even though the emotional consequences are never glossed over. Generation Utøya is a testament to survival – not to victimhood – but to the enduring strength of those women who live on. AS

NOW AT HOTDOCS Toronto Canada

Blue Box (2021) Hot Docs 2021

Dir.: Michal Weits; Documentary about Joseph Weits; Israel 2021, 83 min.

Israeli director/co-writer Michal Weits sheds light on a fragile episode Isreaeli history. Examining the Jewish National Fund’s Blue Boxes – part of a successful fundraising campaign to support the purchase of land in Palestine – in which her grandfather took an active part – Weits comes face to face with her own family history that unveils a painful and enlightening exploration of a nation’s past but also some unpleasant home truths.

There’s nothing more depressing than discovering skeletons in your own family cupboard. But this is exactly what happened when Weits delved deeper into the story of her mythological family figure: in this case her own great grandfather, Joseph Weits. Born in 1890 in the small Russian town of Boremal he emigrated to Palestine in 1908 where he joined the struggle for independence helping to lay the foundations for the new State of Israel. He is known as the “Father of Trees”, planting over 80 million trees in the Jewish state.

But further examination of his extensive diary, reveals Weits senior was also the “Father of Transfer”: helping Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to ‘legally’ annexe villages and towns of Arabs, who had to flee after the “War of Independence” in 1948. The majority of the Weits family reacted with an outright denial of the facts.

When Joseph Weits arrived in Palestine, Arabs outnumbered Jews. In 1933, nearly a million Arabs lived with several thousand Jews in what was then the British Protectorate of Palestine. Both sides were unhappy with the status quo, and Jews started to pour into the country, after the rise of fascism in Europe. Zionists, encouraged by Theodor Herzl, tried to organise a steady Jewish immigration. In 1937, the British had plans to partition Palestine in two states. Joseph Weits was aware that the number of Jews living in Palestine would determine the nation’s future size. So he bought villages and land from ‘Effendis’, who lived outside Palestine, and sold the land of their small-holders. He also encouraged to buy directly from Palestine farmers, paying with the money of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which had been founded in 1901. In his diary Weits writes: “The man was selling his homeland, and the Jews are buying it up. And: “It’s Them or Us. We want to be clear: There is no room for both of us. If the Arabs remain, the country will be crammed and impoverished. The only solution is Israel with no Arabs. There is no room for compromise. Transfer them all!”.

At the beginning of WWII, two of Joseph’s son, Raaman and Sharon, joined the British Army, whilst the third, Yehiam, was a member of the Zionist Underground, and later killed. After the end of WWII, and the discovery of the Concentrations Camps, Joseph writes: “Building the state of Israel will be our revenge”. After the War of Independence in 1948, nearly a million Arabs fled into neighbouring countries, only a few thousand staying put. Meanwhile, the Jewish population had risen to replace what had been an Arab majority.

In Haifa, only a few thousand were left of the once burgeoning Arab population. Joseph was leading the ‘transfer’ of properties, even though “Jaffa’s silence frightens me”. By annexing land and buildings, creating a “Transfer post factum”, the Arab exodus was made permanent. The members of the Transfer Committee, Joseph was one of them, had four guiding principles: 1. Preventing the Arabs from returning to their land; 2. Assisting the Arabs to settle in other countries; 3. Settling Jews in several villages and cities; 4. Destroying as many Arab villages as possible through military action”;

Old newsreels show the bulldozers doing their job. The UN resolution 194 stated clearly that all Arab refugees could return to their properties. Weits and his committee avoided the consequences by selling 250, 000 acres of land from the absentee landlords to the JNF, since the latter was not beholden to International Law. At this point, the filmmaker is confronted by a family member: “I have no idea how this this Transfer business worked. I am not comfortable with you doing this. You would have done the same had you been around in 1948/9. I want no part of this film”.

But Joseph Weits was less in denial than parts of his family: “There are 52 refuge camps, surrounding us. The Prime Minister thinks, the problem will go away with time. But they are surrounding us with hate, they will not desist in years to come. They will be a barrier to peace making. The illusion of occupation is convenient, but the intoxication of our victory has muddled our long term thinking. We have the land, but we did not pay the Arab refugees for their land. If we paid with the blood of our soldiers to get peace, why do we not pay with money now”. In 1966, 2.4 million Jews lived in what was Palestine, in contrast with just half a million Arabs. Joseph Weits left the JNF after 35 years. He was isolated, not even asking for advice anymore. “The West Bank annexation is a burden, now and for the coming generations.”

His great grand-daughter, the filmmaker, and her family have to live with the demystified Joseph Weits: yes, he planted 80 million trees, but he was also the “Father of Transfer”. But his fate is the fate of the nation he served, where good and evil live side by side for the coming generations to solve. With an insightful array of historical documentary material, this is a honest account of a family who grew up believing in the mythos of greatness. AS

SCREENING DURING HOTDOCS FILM FESTIVAL | CANADA 2021

Man of God (2021) Moscow Film Festival 2021

Dir: Yelena Popovic | biopic Drama, 110’ |

Venerated Eastern Orthodox Saint Nektarios of Aegina (1846-1920)  certainly had a hard time of it, according to Man of God, screening in  Moscow Film Festival’s competition line-up, chronicling the life of this beloved and highly revered religious figure.

Exiled, slandered and convicted without trial, Saint Nektarios gets a worthy but rather lifeless, sepia-tinted drama dedicated to his memory with clunky dialogue more suited Silicon Valley than a 19th-set religious biopic following the trials and tribulations of the ‘Metropolitan’ who was canonised in 1961. Overall Man of God is well-researched and informative in raising the international profile of a lesser known religious figure. It’s a film that will have great appeal to those of an Eastern Orthodox persuasion.

In her first feature as solo director, and producer Yelena Popovic (who scripted L A Superheroes) adopts a straightforward narrative quickly establishing our hero as a pious and quietly-spoken miracle worker serving his community with abject humbleness – in early scenes we see him offering his shoes to a beggar – and Aris Servetalis (Apples) plays him with conviction although never quite achieving the saintly aura of Enrique Irazoqui in Pasolini’s Gospel According to Matthew.

Nektarios is soon ordained as the Metropolitan of Pentapolis (named after the five sacred places in Italy). But his acts of Godliness and virtue and his popularity amongst his flock, but incur the envy of the Egyptian clergy who fear he might become the next Patriarch of Egypt. He is discredited and quietly ushered out of Egypt, one high official still believing in him (“you seem to be the real deal”) securing him a posting in Mount Athos, Northern Greece.

Despite the magnificent scenery, DoP Panagiotis Vasilakis keeps his colour palette muted in religious respect as Nektarios who continues to impress the locals at the same time honing his literary skills which see him promoted to the Rizarios Ecclesiastical School where he becomes a Christian mentor and prolific author. Retiring to Aegina on the grounds of ill health (he still manages to rebuild a monastery with his own hands) he somehow falls foul of the system once again, accused of immorality, and goes to join his maker. The unlikely casting of Mickey Rourke (as a leper) seems appropriate for this tale of saintly redemption and purity, and he becomes the fortunate recipient of Nekarios’ posthumous final miracle at Aretaieion Hospital, in Greece. MT

MOSCOW FILM FESTIVAL | COMPETITION 2021

Four Seasons in a Day (2021) Hot Docs 2021 Winner

Dir: Annabel Verbeke | Doc, 75′

Cross-border conflict is gently played down in this light-hearted look at the Carlingford ferry that brings Catholic and Protestant together in holiday mode as they contemplate another social divide – that of Brexit.

Four Seasons in a Day leaves the Emerald Isle’s legendary ‘troubles’ behind; – at least for a while – on the sea border crossing that divides the UK’s majestic Mourne Mountains from the Cooley Peninsula in the Irish Republic, only 15 minutes away. Families are at leisure reflecting wistfully on the past and future, post Brexit – but religious and nationalistic views are there to stay.

This impressive feature debut is the second foray into geosocial dynamics for Belgium filmmaker Annabel Verbeke – who first looked at the societal legacy of the wartime city of Ypres in We Will Not Forget (2018). Here the tone is as mellow as the gentle landscape but storms clouds overhead warn how quickly the mood can change. A dip in the limpid water warns of an underlying chill: “”the fish don’t change their views” say one bright spark about the border between the two countries, which lies somewhere under the murky depths.

Verbeke lets the camera roll over wide open seascapes and onto the Carlingford ferry to eavesdrop on tourists and locals from both sides of the border to find out what the new boundary means to them. What emerges is a no-holds-barred expose of low-key racism enforced by parents who lived through the ‘troubles’ and are keen to pass their staunch genes onto their family.

A tattooed “Leave”-voting Protestant dad makes his kids aware that although he’s glad the new generation can have Catholic friends, it wasn’t possible back in the day. Meanwhile an Irish mother, sitting down to a mammoth jigsaw puzzle with her son, states categorically – on the verge of tears – that she’ll always be Irish. There are no shades of opinion here.

And while everybody ‘welcomes’ multiculturalism there’s a sneaky suspicion they’re leery of it behind the scenes as we eavesdrop on discussions through windscreens of cars driving off the ferry, in the comfort of the mobile holiday homes, the windy golf course, or even the sandy beach.

Some are celebrating a major birthday, or mourning a loved one. All are delighted to spot the friendly dolphin cavorting in the waves, oblivious of cross-border changes. Kids are there to provide unscheduled moments of humour, and candid remarks on human relations. A discussion about their future romantic plans gets down to basics: “you’ll always need someone to help with the shopping and the bills”. Meanwhile a kindly funeral director takes a sanguine view of both sides of the equation: “make the most of each day, it may be your last”

This reflective and refreshing non-political look at Brexit’s border impact won the EMERGING INTERNATIONAL FILMMAKER AWARD at Toronto’s HOTDOCS 2021. MT

 

 

 

Symphony of Noise (2021) CPH:DOX

as

 

Dir.: Enrique Sanchez Lansch; Documentary with Matthew Herbert; Germany 2021, 93 min.

Spanish director Enrique Sanchez Lansch has followed British composer Matthew Herbert for ten years to record his experimental sounds in this rather experimental film that plays out like a performance.

Herbert’s credo is that mankind should listen more closely to sounds, if they want to topple right-wing governments – even though the Kent born composer admits that this target may be too fanciful. The genre-breaker Herbert has a proven track record: over 30 albums, film scores, among one for Ridley Scott, and an Oscar for the score of A Fantastic Woman (although the opening track was actually Alan Parson’s Project classic ‘Time’. 

Whether underwater or in outer space, Herbert feels entirely at home, composing even for audiences who are asleep. But it all started much closer to home when Herbert recorded the noises of his newly-born piglets for the rest of their lives – even during their slaughter. He is tired of the repetitive approach to piano and violin, so has learned to play both instruments from scratch, transferring his critique to the cooking of an omelette.

Forty-four eggs are first selected, a bared-footed woman then crunches the shells, the sound creating a sort of entirely new sounds while the omelette is being made. Other sound mixes include people having sex; forests being cut down; and an over-ground train in Berlin. Having lived in the city, Herbert has created a sound Symphony of people dying (79) and being born (183), with his “orchestra” performing the applicable noises like the final breath and first cry.

Mahler’s music is certainly appropriate for a staged funeral, with the composer combining this performance, and discovering that Mahler had to use a flute for a birdsong, whilst the teenage boy Herbert could use a recorder to catch the original sound of the birds.

In the RIAS Berlin radio station, Herbert rehearses his BrexitBig Band“, to protest against the vote in favour of leaving the EU. “Leave all the fuckers and their hatred behind” is one of the refrains. Having watched Emma swim for 14 hours in the English Channel, we then imagine a love song between an English and French person on the shores of the English channel aka ‘La Manche’.

Tree cutting sounds remind the composer that “we are all living in an emergency situation. Nevertheless, he still has time to deep-fry his trumpet in a Fish and Chip shop, before ending in space with “the impossible sound of solar winds” and “the sound of virgin lights hurtling through space.”

DoPs Thilo Schmidt and Anne Misselwitz use appropriate images for this cacophony of sounds. And although Sanchez Lansch starts to feel like a mischievous magician pulling too many rabbits to pull out of a hat with his myriad exotic recordings Symphony is certainly inventive and full of weird ideas that occasionally stun and surprise the audience. AS

CPH:DOX COPENHAGEN 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

Bergamo Film Meeting 2021 | 24 April – 2 May 2021

 BERGAMO FILM MEETING is back for its 39th edition running from 24 April until 2 May in the alpine city in Lombardy, just north of Milan.

Mia Hansen-Løve (France) and João Nicolau (Portugal) are this year’s focus of this year’s Europe, Now!, showcasing a complete retrospective of their films – for the first time in Italy. dedicated to contemporary European filmmakers.

The Festival also includes a slew of recent competition winners and a retrospective dedicated Volker Schlöndorff, director, screenwriter, producer, actor and one of the most significant representatives of post-war German cinema; and Polish Great director, writer and artist Jerzy Skolimowski and Hungarian director and writer Marta Mészáros will honoured with a selection of their films. For animation lovers there is a section dedicated to the complete works of Polish animator Izabela Plucińska along with an array of previews. The complete schedule of the 39th edition will be announced in mid-April.

BERGAMO FILM MEETING | 24 APRIL – 2 MAY 2021

Bad Roads (2021) Vilnius Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Natalya Vorozhbit; Cast: Igor Koltovskyy, Andrey Lelyukh, Vladimir Gurin, Ekaterina Zhurakovskaya, Ekaterina Zahdanovich, Anastasia Parshina, Yulia Matrosova, Marina Klimova, Yuri Kulinich, Zoya Baranovskaya, Oksana Voronina, Sergej Solovyov; Ukraine 2020, 105 min.

Ukraine’s Natalya Vorozhbit shows how women are exploited sexually and emotionally during wartime in this award-winning feature debut adapted from her play of the same name that staged at the Royal Court Theatre in London.

In 2014 Ukraine’s Donbass region was the setting for ongoing hostilities with neighbouring Russia. Women bore the brunt of both sides of the conflict, humanitarian rules were abandoned in the survival of the fittest. Bad Roads explores four episodes in very different settings detailing man’s barbaric treatment of the opposite sex during wartime.

At a casual road stop in the war zone, a headmaster (Koltovskyy) of a nearby school is trapped in a Kafkaesque showdown with two soldiers. The teacher clearly came out with the wrong passport, that morning, and the Kalashnikov rifle in his boot doesn’t help matters. He claims it is a toy model for teaching the students, but the militia men are suspicious. Then it becomes clear why the teacher is driving around: he is looking for a female student; after spotting her, he asks the soldiers to let her go: “You are saying that you defend us, but you are fucking our children. Please leave this one alone, she is an orphan”. The headmaster retrieves his passport and the Captain (Lelyukh), gives the him “the word of honour of an officer that there is no girl in the compound of the militia”. These assurances fall on deaf ears: Both know that he is lying.

Three school girls wait at a bus stop for their soldier friends who bring them cigarettes and cosmetics in return for sex. There’s nothing new in this transactional relationship, but it has a brutal edge as the girls know full well they may be lynched when the soldiers retreat. A grandmother (Matrosova) recounts the past when she and her friends sat on the same bench waiting for their boyfriends to come home from work.

In the most inhumane scenario a human rights journalist (Klimova) has suffers an attempted rape after being detained by soldiers one of whom (Kulinich) shares his childhood memory of a pet hamster who bit him so hard he made the animal drown in his own blood. War makes monsters of these men, death becomes meaningless “at first, you were glad that you were alive, but now there are no feelings left”. The episode ends shockingly.

A young woman (Baranovskaya) driving in the countryside accidentally runs over a chicken. She tries to compensate the old couple (Voronina/Solovyov), who think she has stopped for another reason. “Have you been raped? We can call the police”. They ask candidly. Later on the couple try to bargain with the woman, putting a priceless value on their hen. Bitterness and desperation turn ordinary people to irrational acts of mental cruelty. And there are no happy endings in Bad Roads: Later on the old people hear on their radio that a young local woman was severely injured when her car ran over a landmine.

DoP Voladymir Ivanov oscillates between hyper-realism in the Spa episode, poetic realism in the episode with the three girls and a bit of horror-treatment in the last section. The ensemble cast is brilliant, particularly the three girls, who are non-professionals. But the narratives are grim and unforgiving. Bad Roads is a Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life: utter depravity of mind and body.

VILNIUS FILM FESTIVAL ONLINE | 18 MARCH – 5 APRIL 2021

People We Know Are Confused | Vilnius Film Festival (2021)

Dir.: Tomas Smulkis; Cast: Milda Noreikaite, Gabija Jaraminaite, Arunas Sakalauskas, Paulius Markevicius, Dainus Svobanas, Jolante Dapkunaite; Drama, Lithuania 2021, 102 min.

Hanging on in quiet desperation is the Lithuanian way. 

Founded in 1387, Vilnius is still shifting on the fault-lines of its turbulent past according to debut filmmaker Thomas Smulkis, who has made this resonant, unworldly feature debut with a distinct cinematic voice.

Over four summer days Smulkis distills the essence of a modern capital in flux through the surreality of three bewildered inhabitants calling it home – for the time being. An airy feeling of serenity wafts through the summery settings in the limpid light of the Northern hemisphere softened by Sigita Simkuaite’s stylish hues of eau de nil and taupe. Nature plays a signicant part here and Smulkis’ dazzling eye for detail captures everyday life on the streets in unexpected and eerily serendipitous ways.

Goda (Jaraminaite) is the most straightforward of the trio, even though her glorified existence is anything but stable. Will she be able to see the gilded trap she has built for herself? We first meet her overladen with designer shopping bags making her way into a chic apartment in a smart part of town. Goda lives alone so why are a pair of men’s shoes in the hallway? Her sister has invited a colleague to stay, although she lives somewhere else. Clearly Goda is put out, to say the least, calmly asking the stranger to leave via  email. But he stays on oblivious taking his leave on his own terms while she wanders round displaced and uncomfortable longing to regain the peace of her sanctuary.

In another part of town, medic Juste (Norakaite) and her partner and co-worker Paulius (Markevicius) are also going through a confusing time. Paulius has been offered a flat in a high rise block outside the city, but Juste does not want to live “in the middle of nowhere”. They carry on oblivious until a negative pregnancy leaves her relieved at the result. The two cycle off, and at the lights Paulius has a something unexpected to say.

In their stylish urban kitchen Vytas (Sakalauskas) placidly asks his wife of twenty years for a divorce. Later he visits his old flame Audrius (Svobanas), who is dying of cancer. A literal and metaphorical car crash sees Elena (Dapkunaite) quietly reflecting on how her ife carried for so many years in tacit denial of an emotional truth that has always been obvious for everyone concerned.

DoP Vytautas Plukas pictures these characters silently reeling in the face of calm contradiction. Vilnius reflects the silent chaos in the rubbish-strewn building sites of the centre: the character of the old city has changed forever, the capital will soon look like any other metropolis in Europe as the past is gently aid to rest – without reflection. Mostly relying on an ambient soundscape, the occasional score by Lina Lapelyte makes a weird intrusion into this perplexed but passionless world. A sensitive and aesthetically mature debut feature. AS

SCREENING AT VILNIUS FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Pariah Dog (2020)

Dir.: Jesse Alk; Documentary with Kajal, Milly, Subrata, Pinku; Canada/US/India 2019, 77min.

This homage to the stray dogs of Kolkata is the first feature documentary from US Canadian director Jesse Alk. The decaying glory of the former capital of the Raj provides an evocative setting for his labour of love, and  possibly the saddest film of the year. Alk (whose father Howard, directed The Murder of Fred Hampton 1971) influenced by Charles Baudelaire’s ‘Paris Spleen’ a hymn to the street dogs of Paris, who inspired his poetry.

The Indian Pariah dog, aka South Asian Pye dog, has been forced out of its native habitat leaving nowhere left to go in the squalid backwaters of grandiose post-colonial decay: shoeless children play on a riverbank, a man urinates against a wall while a little girl disco dances, oblivious. Shot on the hazy waterways of the coastal delta or at night under velvety street lights where goats are herded through waterfronts and slums, Uber-Drivers dart like ghosts from another cosmos.

But Pariah Dog is more about the four souls who help strays survive. It’s a symbiotic relationship, the dogs are their raison d’etre and their extended family. Artist Pinku tools wooden sculptures by day and drives a taxi at night to pay the bills. A gentle, philosophical man he lives for his menagerie of dogs, a parrot, a rabbit and a monkey, all sharing a decrepit hovel not big enough to swing a cat. Meanwhile Subrata is possibly the first yodelling rickshaw driver. His efforts to raise money with his dog-themed songs are laudable and touching, but his pleas for animal welfare donations fall on deaf ears, so he resorts to street leftovers to feed his grateful pack of hounds. In 2013 he took part in a Bengali TV show, fading posters the proud testament to his moment of glory. Later in the film he transforms into a canine troubadour encouraging others to care for “humans, animals and plants”.

Two women make up the foursome: Milly and her helper Kajal come from different castes of Hindu society, often falling out over their rules of engagement. Millly is a highly educated disillusioned romantic whose husband left her in her decrepit family pile. Of Japanese-Russian descent, she pleads poverty: her land has been taken over by squatters but the authorities couldn’t care less. Kajal lives nearby in a hut the size of a kennel. Devoted to her strays, maimed by passing cars or unkind people, she cares for them until they die, burying them with a yellow garland, a sign of Hindu respect. A supreme love for life and the vulnerable has struck a chord with their feelings of dispossession, carrying these desperate women through ructions and reconciliations, their dignified street marches to raise awareness of animal welfare are to be admired.

For dog lovers, some of the footage is too difficult to watch. Alk conjures up enough poetry in his images without resorting to sentimentality, maintaining a dispassionate eye in this cruel metropolis of 15 million where only the fittest survive. In this ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’ the spirit of Mother Theresa still survives.

AVAILABLE TO VIEW ON TRUESTORY

Human Rights Watch Festival 2021 | Women have their say

Opening this Thursday 18 March, this year’s HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FESTIVAL  kicks off with The 8th about Ireland’s women-led campaign to engineer the impossible – to overturn the 8th Amendment, a constitutional ban on abortion.

In Belly of the Beast two women wage a near impossible battle against the US Department of Corrections to expose modern-day eugenics and reproductive injustice in California prisons.

Mujer de Soldado reveals a deeply moving picture of female solidarity among four Peruvian women, who are bringing charges of historical rape against their abusers.

And in the Closing Night film on 26 March Unapologetic new talent Ashley O’Shay spent four years chronicling the lives of two young, black, queer women within the Black Lives movement in Chicago. In Ashley’s words: Unapologetic serves as a blueprint to that moment (last summer)…. I hope you walk away feeling inspired, and hopeful, and righteously rageful at the systems that have failed women.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | Tickets go on sale February 18 and can be purchased via the Human Rights Watch Film Festival or Barbican Cinema On Demand.

Tove (2020)

Dir: Zaida Bergroth | Finland, Drama | 100′

This drama about Moomins creator Tove Jansson (1914-2001) is as enchanting as her hippo-like cartoon characters that are celebrated by kids and adults all over the world.

Finnish filmmaker Zaida Bergroth brings the Finnish bisexual artist to life in this delicately sensuous and affecting biopic that showcases her unconventional loves as much as her talent as an author, artist and creator, played here by a captivating Alma Pöysti and scored by evocative soundtrack of tunes from the era from jazz to swing, Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing being the musical motif throughout with Stefan Grapelli and Edith Piaf enlivening the Parisian sequences of the early 1950s.

Eeva Putro’s gracefully paced script focuses on the immediate aftermath to WWII in a discretely decadent Helsinki where Soviet bomb raids fail to spoil Tove’s fun at lively cocktail parties where champagne continues to flow during illustrious soirees. Home is a stylish bohemian milieu where Swedish is spoken. Tove is often put down by her renown but competitive sculptor father (Enckel), although her graphic artist mother (Kajsa Ernst) adores and encourages her creative potential.

Later at art school Tove is nudged by her father towards the more highbrow artistic expression of painting, but prefers illustrating and doodling cartoons for a subversive magazine, and this is where she will eventually make her name and earn a meagre living. All this creativity naturally spills over into amorous encounters. Soon Tove is involved with a married politician (Shanti Roney as Artos Wirtanen) and a wealthy female client Viveca Bandler (Kosonen) in dizzying sexual encounters, both leaving her troubled and unsatisfied as she seeks solace in her art. Bergroth keeps the tempo romantically-charged and touching rather than tortured or soul-searching. Artos eventually proposes but Paris beckons promising other opportunities on the horizon as well as a reunion with the past.

This is such a wonderful film about female creative and sensory expression made more so by its gentle, often handheld, camerawork in Helsinki and Paris – DoP Linda Wassberg often uses that atmospheric technique of fading out the scenes in slow-mo to an echoing soundtrack lending emotional depth and a dreamlike quality to the narrative leaving us contemplating what has gone before and appreciating the intensity of Tove’s artistic and emotional truth. MT

On release from 9 July 2021

Five Films for Freedom | BFI Flare 2021

During the FLARE LGBTIQ+ BFI’s annual celebration of all things gay five festival films have been selected to screen free internationally from 17-28 March

Five Films For Freedom 2021 sees filmmakers exploring emerging sexuality, trans-activism, homophobia and genderless love at a time when people may have been adversely impacted by the pandemic.

In a new twist for 2021, audiences will be invited to nominate their Five Films Favourite via a British Council web poll, the winners will be announced via British Council social media channels prior to 28 March. Voting opens 17 March via the #Five FilmsForFreedom homepage.

The FIVE FILMS FOR FREEDOM campaign has been going since 2015 and over 15 million people from more than 200 countries have engaged with it particularly in places where homosexuality can be prosecuted and, in some cases, punishable by death.

Five Film For Freedom programme 2021:

 

Bodies of Desire (India/Dir. Varsha Panikar & Saad Nawab/3 mins), directed by Varsha Panikar and multi-award-winner Saad Nawab, uses Indian poet Panikar’s work as the basis for a visual, poetic film capturing four sets of lovers in a sensual celebration of genderless love and desire.

Land of the Free (Sweden/Dir. Dawid Ullgren/10 mins) – Ullgren’s tense Swedish drama follows the fictional David and friends as they celebrate his birthday with a nightly swim at the beach. The good mood swiftly changes after two straight couples walk by and laugh – was the laughter directed at them, or something else? Who owns the truth of exactly what happened?

 

Pure (USA/Dir. Natalie Jasmine Harris/12 mins) is the fictional debut from 2020 Directors Guild of America Student Film Award winner Natalie Jasmine Harris, centring on a young Black girl grappling with her queer identity and ideas of ‘purity’. The film is written, produced and directed by Harris – a filmmaker passionate about the intersection between filmmaking and social justice.

Trans Happiness is Real (UK/Dir. Quinton Baker/8 mins) – a moving documentary from first-time filmmaker Quinton Baker – sees transgender activists take to the streets of Oxford, England to fight anti-trans sentiments using the power of graffiti and street art.

Victoria (Spain/Dir. Daniel Toledo/7 mins) follows a bittersweet reunion between a trans woman and her ex, sparking tension and long buried resentment. Directed by award-winning filmmaker, Daniel Toledo, Victoria also features acclaimed trans actress, writer and director Abril Zamora (The Life Ahead, The Mess You Leave Behind).

All films will be available to view from 17 – 28 March 2021 via the British Council Arts YouTube channel as well as being part of the BFI Flare digital programme on BFI Player and associated platforms.

Eye of the Storm (2020) Glasgow Film Festival 2021

Dir: Anthony Baxter | UK Doc 78 mins

“In the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed man is king” Desiderius Erasmus

James Morrison (1932-2020) was one of Britain’s finest Scottish landscape painters and a founder member of the Glasgow Group of artists. A new documentary set to premiere at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival paints a lively and amusing portrait of the painter himself and his vision of climate change that became his focus in the final years of his life when failing eyesight putting an impressionistic spin on what many regard as his finest work. Apart from offering insight into the painter’s substantial body of work and methods, this is the fascinating story of his greatest challenge. With his eyesight failing, one of Britain’s greatest landscape painters attempts one final masterpiece.

Hooking us in with its climate change credentials Eye of the Storm offers much much more. Entertaining and enjoyable, this artist’s impression of our changing world, also works as a mini Scottish travelogue, brought to the screen by Anthony Baxter (You’ve Been Trumped) who shows how the laid back and likeable character was inspired to paint Glasgow’s shipyards, and the countryside of Scotland, France and South Africa, and a series of works reflecting the impact of climate change after travelling to the Arctic. The artist had long be fascinated by the changing face of his native Scotland and the countryside in general was an issue close to his heart.

In his bright and airy studio the tousled haired Morrison shares his horror of not being able to paint – his eyesight dwindling – in the build up to a retrospective of his work in The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh. His watercolour Green Valley (1972) will feature, amongst other works, in an exhibition dedicated to Angus landscapes. He began to paint the Angus outdoors in the 1970s ‘The Rolling Landscapes of Angus (1973). The following decade would see him moving to the north-west Highlands where he befriended a number of local artists, including the renowned figurative painter Joan Eardley. Yet even his famous landscapes avoid human presence:”I don’t want people, they seem an irrelevance to what the landscape is about”.

After studying art in Glasgow under David Donaldson, who taught him a technique of using a spent match (struck on his shoe heel) to get a head start on his life drawing classes, quite literally starting from a top down approach. Then after consciously moving away from the leftwing vibe of his early fellow painters in Glasgow. Morrison describes how he became increasingly drawn to painting the city’s built environment – some areas which no longer exist – and these sequences are enlivened by archive footage of tenement demolition, along with animated drawings and inter-titles featuring quotes from Cezanne, and pictures of Matisse.

In 1960 a move to the ancient East Coast town of Catterline (Scotland’s answer to St Ives with its artist community led by Joan Eardley) saw Morrison being drawn to seascapes with the fishing boats a frequent subject, a painting from the era ‘East Coast Fishing Boat’ (1962) describes in monochrome detail the magnificent fishing vessels which had already done decades of service in the unforgiving North Sea.

In 1971 Morrison found himself moving down the coast to teach at Dundee’s wellknown Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art where he made the next twenty years of his life about opening the horizons for those learning to paint, rather than setting a curriculum. During these exciting years, Morrison gave his students as much scope as possible. And it was in Dundee that he started painting ‘en plein air’ like the original impressionists, with their famous technique of getting the paint straight onto the canvas, after painting out the white, and without preparatory sketching. His hands on approach included mixing his own paints and stretching his own canvases, and it’s here that we get an impromptu visit to the famous French paintbrush shop Sénnélier in Paris.

His first visit to the Arctic came about after he met a biologist, Dr Jean Balfour (who suggested he should paint there), and these sequences are beautifully brought to life by Catriona Black’s animations and archive footage of Morrison at work. The documentary reaches its finale with a sense of anticipation as the artist goes ‘into the eye of the storm’ with his much anticipated, triumphant final work.

Talking heads include Catriona Black who animated key moments of Morrison’s life for the film, his art historian son Professor John Morrison, and the Montrose writer Dennis Rice. MT

EYE OF THE STORM is released in virtual cinemas from 5th March 2021 

McManus Gallery, Dundee

The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spotlight on Pietro Marcello

Pietro Marcello was born in Caserta in Campania in 1976. He began by studying painting at the Naples Academy of Fine Arts. Self-taught, he cut his teeth on “participative videos” shot in the prisons where he was teaching. From 1998 to 2003, he programmed the Cinedamm film events, at the Damm centre in the Montesanto district, of which he was one of the founding members. It was in this context that he directed his first short films Cartaand Scampia (2003). In 2004, he completed Il cantiere, a documentary that won the Libero Bizzarri Prize. The following year, he directed La Baracca. His first feature-length film, Crossing the Line (Il passaggio della linea, 2007), won many accolades. But it was in 2009 with The Mouth of the Wolf (La bocca del lupo), which won awards at Turin and at the Berlinale (Forum section), that he gained international recognition. In 2011, he paid tribute to Artavazd Peleshian in The Silence of Pelesjan (Il silenzio di Pelesjan), while Lost and Beautiful (Bella e perduta, 2015), in selection at Locarno and the Grand prix du Jury at La Roche-sur-Yon, brought him a wider audience. In 2019, Martin Eden, adapted from the eponymous Jack London novel, was presented at the Venice Film Festival and met with great critical acclaim. Moreover, the film embodies the move of Marcello’s work to fiction, while keeping a very strong link with the documentary genre. His new opus For Lucio (Per Lucio) premiered at the 2021 Berlinale.

MARTIN EDEN IS NOW IN CINEMAS

18th and Grand: The Story of the Olympic Auditorium (2020) Slamdance 2021

Dir.: Stephen DeBro; Documentary with Aileen Eaton, Gene Le Bell, Mike Le Bell, James Ellroy; USA 2020, 83 min.

A new film pays homage to Los Angeles’ well known sports arena and the promoter Aileen Eaton (1909-1987) who ran one of the most famed boxing bowls between 1942 and 1980.

Aileen is the focus of Stephen DeBro’s first feature about the only female (so far) inducted into Boxing’s Hall of Fame, an extraordinary achievement and all the more admirable in an era when women, let alone single mothers, were the target of abject discrimination: widowed early on in her marriage Aileen was brought up two sons who would follow her into the family business.

The Olympic Auditorium was built in 1924 and opened a year later in August. It was a great social event in the presence of – among other luminaries – Rudolph Valentino and Jack Dempsey. During the 1932 Olympic Games the venue was used for wrestling, boxing and weightlifting competitions. Los Angeles was a centre of strained race relationships and some of the fights between Latinos and the LAPD turned into riots, and this atmosphere of prevailing violence would shape the history of the stadium.

Aileen had never even seen a fight when she took over the boxing business in 1932, and the sport was in decline. Gangland LA controlled the territory and many bouts had been rigged. Aileen’s sports and entertainment empire extended all the way to the border with Mexico – how she held sway when  Mickey Cohen fancied the same turf, is a miracle – her nickname “The Dragon Lady” was well earned.

But boxing was not the only sport staged at the Olympic: Roller Derbies with the LA Thunderbirds were very popular. These encounters were anything but peaceful, serious injuries were common. Director Norman Jewison based much of the action for his 1975 feature Rollerball on these LA skating fights. Staying with the movies, countless films were shot partly in the Olympic: The Manchurian Candidate (1962), the Rocky Trilogy, Raging Bull, Ready to Rumble and Sting II.

Aileen’s son Gene Le Bell was a wrestling champion and stuntman, his brother Mike, rather more sedate, took care of the wrestling empire from a desk – like his mother. On the scene were also Dr. Bernhard Schwartz, ring doctor and bass player, as well Dick Lane, B-movie actor turned wrestling announcer. Mexican fighters dominated the early bills of the boxing events, with Manelo Ramos, Carlos Palomino and Manuel Ortiz three of the World Champions looked after by Aileen. And then there was the legendary fight between Mohammed Ali and Archie Moore in November 1962.

Blues Concerts were regularly staged. The punk movement was headlined by raves when Mountain Jack and Ten Years After performed in the Grand Olympic. GBH, The Exploited, Dead Kennedys, Suicidal Tendencies and New Regime brought in crowds that saw the place fit to bust and overflowing into the surrounding parking lot of the building. The Survivors’ promo video  ‘Burning Heart’ was shot in the building in 1985, Bon Jovi was the guest for ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’ a year later, and in 1987 Kiss filmed the music video of the namesake track of their album ‘Crazy Nights’. Later in the mid-1980s, the venue was closed for eight years, before reopening in 1993.

But by 1980 Aileen had already gone. And while commercial considerations clearly played a part, the main reason for her leaving was the death of Welsh boxer Johnny Owen. Owen (‘The Match-Stick Man’) had fought the Mexican Lupe Pintor for the Bantam Weight Championship of the World on 19.9.1990. Owen lost and died in November, a few weeks later. For Aileen, this was a bridge too far: In the 50s and 60s fight pairings were billed with massive posters on the outside of the arena with the feisty warning: “Loser will leave town”. But the brutal reality of Owen’s death forced her wisely into retirement.

Strewn with archive footage and photos to satisfy fan’s nostalgic longing this is an informative piece of filmmaking enlivened by a flood of “Talking Heads” who provide social and psychological context, crime writer James Ellroy’s insight is particularly worthwhile. DoP Tony Peck concentrates on the faces of the survivors, many of whom died during filming. Since 2005 the former arena has been recommissioned as “The Glory Church of Jesus Christ in LA”, a Korean evangelical congregation. Rather like our own Golders Green Hippodrome in London – a 3000 seat music hall that once billed Marlene Dietrich – now serves as an ‘Islamic Centre’ in another religion-based switchover. It seems the world has turned into a much more serious place.  AS

SCREENING AS THE FESTIVAL CLOSING FILM | SLAMDANCE 2021

 

Berlinale Competition – Golden Bear contenders 2021

The Berlin International Film Festival announced a line-up with a distinctly European arthouse flavour for its 71st online edition, taking place during an industry market event from 1-5 March 2021, later that its usual February slot.

Festival regulars Dominik Graf, Hong Sangsoo and Radu Jude will bring their films to Berlin this Spring, and they are joined by French director Celine Sciamma’s latest feature Petite Maman, and newcomers from Georgia, Hungary, Iran and Mexico – as well as homegrown talent from Germany.

From June 9 to 20, 2021 the Berlinale will launch a “Summer Special” for the public with indoor and outdoor cinema screenings all over the German capital whose much awaited new airport will welcome guests flying in.

The competition also features the usual sidebar sections such as Berlinale Special and Berlinale Series, Encounters, Berlinale Shorts, Panorama, Forum & Forum Expanded, Generation, Perspektive Deutsches Kino. The Retrospective showcasing films of Mae West will screen during the summer edition.

GOLDEN BEAR COMPETITION 2021

 

Albatros (Drift Away)
France
by Xavier Beauvois, with Jeremie Renier (pictured)

 

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Babardeală cu buclucsau porno balamuc) 
Romania/Luxemburg/Croatia/Czech Republic
by Radu Jude

 

Fabian – Going to the Dogs (Fabian oder Der Gang vor die Hunde)
Germany
by Dominik Graf

 

Ballad of a White Cow (Ghasideyeh gave sefid)
Iran/France
by Behtash Sanaeeha, Maryam Moghaddam

 

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Guzen to sozo)
Japan
by Ryusuke Hamaguchi

 

Mr Bachmann and His Class (Herr Bachmann und seine Klasse)
Germany
by Maria Speth

 

I’m Your Man (Ich bin dein Mensch)
Germany
by Maria Schrader

 

Introduction 
Republic of Korea
by Hong Sangsoo

 

Memory Box
France/Lebanon/Canada/Qatar
by Joana Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige

 

Next Door (Nebenan) 
Germany
by Daniel Brühl

 

Petite Maman
France
by Céline Sciamma

 

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky (Ras vkhedavt, rodesac cas vukurebt?)
Germany/Georgia
by Alexandre Koberidze

 

Forest – I See you Everywhere  (Rengeteg – mindenhol látla)
Hungary
by Bence Fliegauf

 

Natural Light (Természetes fény)
Hungary/Latvia/France/Germany
by Dénes Nagy

 

A Cop Movie (Una Película de Policías)
Mexico
by Alonso Ruizpalacios

BERLINALE | PART ONE 1-5 MARCH 2021

My Favourite War (2020)

Dir.: Ilze Burkowska-Jacobsen; Documentary; Animation by Svein Nyhus; Latvia/Norway 2020, 80 min.

Latvian director/writer Ilze Burkowska-Jacobsen tells the story of her childhood growing up under Soviet occupation. What shines through is her romantic yearning for the countryside in a self-censored biopic enlivened by delicately drawn animations, interviews and documentary footage.

Young Ilza tells her story of dislocation and dual alliances (voiced by Mare Eihe): growing up in the ancient town of Saldus in Courland where her father was an active propagandist of Soviet values – dying in a car accident when Ilze was seven. Her mother was much more critical of the State, but toed the party line – even joining – to help her daughter advance to university and study Journalism, as her father had done before her.

Meanwhile Ilze’s grandfather, deported to Siberia for opposing the collectivisation in 1930s, was fearful of his granddaughter turning to communism, sending her to play outside while he was listening to a banned Western Radio Station. Ilze was unaware of what was going on still fervently believing in the founder of the Soviet State, Lenin: who hands her an ice cream while she is out for a drive with her parents. Later on she returns home empty-handed after waiting to buy butter, because a veteran of WWII has snaffled the last pack, not needing to queue.

At a meeting of the Soviet Youth organisation “Young Pioneers”, Ilze meets her life-long best friend Ilga who tells her to pull up her socks so as not to spoil the picture of uniformity. There is WWII footage about the Cauldron of Courland, and Ilze and her schoolfriends are literally forced to worship a certain Jacobs Kunders, who scarified himself in battle to save his comrades.

Ilze does everything to get a place at university; and thanks to her efforts she is invited to the most prestigious “Pioneer” camp on the Crimea. Towards the end of the Soviet Union it emerges that Ilze and others were forced to take up shooting lessons in honour of the war heroes adorning the school walls. The class acted in solidarity, unanimously asking to be relieved from the gun exercise. Instead they are assigned to a First Aid course, and this successful class action make a great impact on Ilze.

There are some odd sequences: a Nazi soldier, buried in a mass grave, is seen on the wall of a block of flats under construction, the neighbours taking it as a sign from God and a bad omen that construction is doomed. Another animation shows a WWII Nazi plane flying from Latvia to Berlin with its cargo of cows falling out in mid-air.

And although Ilze stays true to the Soviet cause in secondary school, Ilga becomes increasingly sceptical and this questioning attitude shows up in her final essay which is rejected due to its questioning Soviet norms. Ilga, who is seen often with Ilze in the few life interviews, felt so suicidal after her rejection she nearly killed herself. But Ilze’s mother leaves for the countryside to run her own farm, opting out of a system she does not believe in and could endanger her daughter’s future (My Mother’s Farm).

Somehow, My favourite War is two films in one: the most interesting being Ilze’s stance in acquiescing to the Status Quo, and here the animation sequences are often hilarious. Then there is Ilze second-guessing herself, and drifting off into a very uncritical Latvian history lesson. These two halves don’t make for successful whole, the adult Ilze is much less interesting than her contradictory young self. AS

MY FAVOURITE WAR IS AVAILABLE ONLINE 

 

 

Liborio (2021) Mubi

Dir: Nino Martinez Sosa | Dominican Rep Drama 99′

A violent hurricane in the tropical jungles of the Dominican Republic in the early years of the 20th century is the catalyst for transformation deep in this debut feature from Nino Martinez Sosa.

And the focus for change is Olivorio ‘Liborio’ Mateo who takes refuge in a cave only to reappear much later as a messianic figure and force for positive change and healing in his local community. Will this Jesus-like figure bring lasting hope or is he just another false prophet?.

An age old question and one Nino Martinez Sosa explores with some ingenuity in his lively feature debut that shines a light on this largely unknown episode of history. His film imagines a bright and self-determining future for an impoverished farming community in the South of his homeland. And one that serves as a metaphor for our world today where injustice continue despite social and economic advancement, and it will always be thus.

Since Jesus came down from the Cross, people everywhere have being looking for redemption and positive change – through cults, sects and new-fangled religions. Based on local history, Liborio is another figure who captures the collective imagination of his community, and from the time he reappears after the storm his prophecies and healing powers enrich his group of followers who have, up to this time, been dominated by Catholic doctrines. He retreats with them into the mountains to start a commune in the name of freedom, but faces still opposition from invading US marines after the 1916 American invasion when tensions developed into an armed struggle.

Atmospherically lensed by Oscar Duran (who honed his skills on Sexy Beast) this highly sensory tale takes the form of seven scenes showing how Liborio (a luminous central turn from Vicente Santos) inspires the locals with his teachings amid hostility from Catholic believers, much as Jesus got a bad rap from the prevailing Jews in Palestine; the shadow of colonialism eventually making its presence known in the shape of the soldiers.

Today in the Dominican Republic ‘Liborism’ is kept alive in ritual, prayer and song connecting this dramatised history to the present, and is here brought to us by Martinez Sosa’s illuminating historical drama. MT

Rotterdam Film Festival | premiere | this year’s festival kicks off on 26 January 2022

The Edge of Daybreak (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir: Taiki Sakpisit | Thailand, Switzerland | Drama, 116′

Four decades of political turmoil and violent history unfold in this deeply visual monochrome meditation whose intimate focus is the family tragedy at its core.

A thematically rich feature debut for Thai filmmaker Taiki Sakpisit who has made quite a name for himself as a director of shorts to create an impressive body of work linked to his country’s history. He now takes on a much more ambitious project that traces back to the distant history of his homeland in a film that scratches at the edges of Gothic fantasy taking it roots from reality.

Experimental in nature and strangely beguiling carries with it a palpable tension as turmoil in running high in its Bangkok setting. A prominent government figure is spending his final hours in safety before fleeing into exile. In the chiaroscuro shadows DoP Chananun Chotrungroj’s roving voyeuristic camera alights on a naked body and we are led to believe by the film’s narrator this incident is connected to the family who inhabit a decrepit riverside mansion steeped in a mysterious past.

Days are marked out by silent rituals. Pailin, the mistress of the house, is recovering from a traumatic accident involving her daughter Ploy. Wordlessly moving around in spellbound somnambulant state she is one of the female protagonists with little agency, suppressed by her stultifying surroundings in a story that serves as a metaphor for the suffering of the Thai people who have undergone years of repressive regimes and brutal trauma.

Sakpisit directs with confidence keeping his distance from his mysterious protagonists while maintaining a focus on the females, and evoking a creeping sense of dread with an ominous soundscape to create an artistic response to his country’s legacy of militarisation and impunity.

This is a narrative which very much connects to the global concern that psychosis and traumatic stress disorder can be passed down to later generations into the collective consciousness eventually becoming endemic in the nation’s heart and soul.

 

Rotterdam Film Festival | FIPRESCI Award 2021

Suzanna Andler (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir: Benoit Jacquot | France, Drama, 88′

A romantic chamber piece for Charlotte Gainsbourg to strut her stuff and she makes a soigné star in YSL, faux fur and high-heels in this sophisticated drama from Cesar winning Benoit Jacquot (Farewell My Queen, Eva).

Set in a sumptuous seaside villa in Cannes – reminding us to get our skates on for this year’s revised July festival – it muses on the constantly changing dynamics of love and fidelity, and the continuing fascination for women of a certain age by younger men.

The young guy in this case is Michel (Niels Schneider most recently seen in Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats). Gainsbourg plays forty something Suzanna Andler who describes herself to the estate agent showing her the villa, as “the most cheated-on woman in the Riviera”. Her millionaire husband Jean (who never appears, but speaks to her over the ‘phone from Chantilly where he also has a lover) will spend two weeks there with the family, she will then be joined by Michel keeping a low profile, naturellement.

Jacquot bases his script on a 1960s play by the famous French novelist, director and actor Marguerite Duras (he worked as her assistant in the early 1970s), set back in the day when it was ‘de rigueur’ to have a lover to compensate for the confines of the marital bed, and here cleverly escapes the strictures of the stage with an evocative seaside soundscape, the lush villa is a character in itself, and a beachside walk with the third character Julia Roy (who also appeared in Eva) as her daughter, Monique.

Staying faithful to the original, this is elegantly performed and delightful to watch, its discursive love story playing out amid gentle lulling waves and seagulls on a spring day on the Riviera, distilling the essence of this magical part of France. MT

Rotterdam Film Festival 2021 | LIMELIGHT STRAND

Pebbles (2021) IFFR 2021 | Tiger Award 2021

Dir: P S Vinothraj | Drama, India 74′

Drought is a killer in Southern India. And the village of Arittapatti is suffering. Women keep calm and patiently carry on – roasting rats to feed the family – but the men are full of rage, against themselves and the environment.

Powered forwards by a seething debut performance from Karuththadaiyaan, who plays the central character Ganapathy, this first feature from P S Vinothraj – essentially a two hander – is as much a social portrait of rural India’s patriarchal society as a anti-buddy movie about a father and his young son (Chellapandi, also a non-pro).

Forget solidarity. The desiccated landscape has reduced humanity to desperation, Ganapathy’s wife fleeing from his domestic abuse to her in-laws in a neighbouring village. Furious and determined to get his back – she is his possession, after all – Ganapathy drags his sons on the 13 km journey across a wasteland, Walkabout style, in the searing heat of the hottest day of the year.

In an odyssey Punctuated by occasional violent outbursts, and intensified by a handheld camera, what we remember most about Pebbles is the silence: this is actually a meditation on the miracle of nature and also the cruelty of man towards the environment, seen largely through the eyes of Chellapandi, a calm and thoughtful boy who refuses to give in to his father’s draconian  dominance and physical abuse preferring to marvel instead at their  their journey through this ravaged but characterful landscape. At one point they are followed by a stray puppy, the father kicks it away but Chellapandi befriends it and takes it home, he’s emerging a nature boy and the hero of the film.

Despite a dysfunctional relationship with his father the two are inexorably drawn together, the father’s negative energy fuelling the boy’s positivity and resourcefulness. It’s an intriguing study of how opposites continue to stick together somehow complimenting each other in the face of all odds.

Minutely observed and captured on the widescreen, and by use of drones, this wonderful feature, over a year in the making, is an arthouse gem that fills the viewer with a feeling of calm contemplation. A tribute to the patient resourcefulness of poverty-stricken people all over the developing world. MT

Rotterdam Film Festival 2021 | TIGER COMPETITON WINNER 2021

 

Friends and Strangers (2021)

Dir/Wri: James Vaughan | Cast: Emma Diaz, Victoria Maxwell, Fergus Wilson, Greg Zimbulis | Australia, Comedy drama 82′

Sydney is the setting for this filmic breath of fresh air from promising newcomer James Vaughan exploring displacement and modern ennui with a humorous touch seen through the eyes of an easygoing young Australian. For fans of Joanna Hogg – this might appeal.

Setting off with a jaunty piano soundtrack the film opens with a rather awkward but entirely convincing conversation by two directionless millennials Alice (Diaz) and Ray (Wilson) who are set adrift in the holidays and discussing their putative travel plans in the balmy urban confines of a leafy Sydney’s suburb. Eventually they fetch up camping in a caravan by a lakeside. But the story’s focus then increasingly turns to Ray as his summer adventure broadens.

Defined by its freewheeling style and naturalistic performances (Wilson is particularly good) Friends and Strangers avoids a structured narrative playing out as a series of amusing vignettes that riff on the theme of wanderlust and endless travel for millennials before the constraints of Covid came along. Much of Alice and Ray’s time together is interrupted by members of the older generation adding context to their aimless behaviour and accentuating the solipsistic nature of the young characters un-centred existence. They say a lot but actually mean very little, and there is no real focus to their interactions. Maybe their whole style of language and dialogue results from their inherent lack of direction or need to do anything at all, dictated by the vague unpressurised lives they lead.

Cleverly observed and unhurried in its gentle style Friends and Strangers derives its humour from the fact that nothing really happens in their freewheeling laissez-faire lifestyle. Perceived slights and vague mood changes accentuate their lack of purpose and often arise out of the characters’ need to overthink situations, because nothing of real consequence ever happens as the days stretch out into a pointless void. Vaughan has certainly perfected millennial dialogue with its ubiquitous interpolations of ‘like’ and ‘kind of’ peppered everywhere. And dramatic heft – and texture – arrives in the scenes where Ray finds himself filming a wedding video for a wealthy art collector at an uptown house where the mounting stress levels are much more in tune with modern urban life – adding an hilarious Mr Bean twist to proceedings.

Dimitri Zaunders’ camera occasionally swings into widescreen mode giving us an enjoyable travelogue of Sydney’s sites and monuments not to mention some less crowded beaches and gorgeous modernist villas, where the Mr Bean accident occurs.

Slim but highly entertaining while it lasts, this is an ‘amuse bouche’ of a film that shows Vaughan as an acute observer of life, and a real talent in the making with a promising career ahead of him. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 8 NOVEMBER 2021 | TIGER COMPETITION 2021

Aristocrats (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir: Sode Yukiko | Japan, Drama 124′

Two women look for love and marriage in this elegant and slickly realised social drama from Good Stripes director Sode Yukiko whose third feature is in the Big Screen Competition at Rotterdam Film Festival 2021.

Dating is a highly sophisticated affair in contemporary Tokyo. Hanako is left in the lurch by her fiancé and has to find another prospective husband to satisfy her wealthy parents. Miki, comes from the other side of the tracks but both find themselves competing for the same man, the upwardly mobile lawyer Koichiro.

Based on a novel by Mariko Yamauchi, Aristocrats is refreshingly rather old-fashioned film – despite its modern setting – describing polite society in the restrained style of Hirokazu Koreeda and same sense of stillness as Kogonada’s Columbus (2017), Yukiko letting the narrative play out in the form of chapters with utmost attention to detail in beautifully framed shots that create a evocative sense of place in this highly organised society that puts great value on class, age and tradition.

The female friendships and solidarity is the remarkable aspect of the plot line, so rarely seen in romantic dramas; Miki and Hanako never vying jealously but retaining their relationship through thick and thin.

The scene where Koichiro takes Hanako back to his family home is particularly impressive. And although the path to true love is fairly straightforward there is a strange underlying tension at play throughout that makes this a compelling film to watch, Yukiko handling the material with a deft lightness of touch and leaving her finale open-ended yet ultimately satisfying and memorable. MT

Rotterdam Film Festival 2021 | BIG SCREEN COMPETITION

 

Mighty Flash (2021)

Dir: Ainhoa Rodrigues | Spain, Fantasy Drama 90′

Life in Southern Spain hasn’t changed much for the God-fearing and deeply suspicious repressed but dying to burst out from their in rural communities in Extremadura. And women are the keenest to break free. Or at least that’s the impression we get from Ainhoa Rodriguez’ deliciously dark and delightfully observed first feature that unfolds with a cast of non-pros on the widescreen and in intimate – often voyeuristic – closeup.

Mighty Flash is an amusing story of country folk and their sexual frustrations and ethnographical portrait of a remote group of people, spiced up with magic realist touches. These country dwellers may be cut off from the rest of Spain but they are as thick as thieves amongst themselves, supporting one another and sharing tales of farming exploits, folklore and strange happenings in the surrounding countryside – not to mention vicious social gossip. Like Dickens’ Mr Micawber they are constantly waiting for something to turn up, not just the Second Coming or the Madonna at the local Semana Santa processions. 

Isa records suggestive messages to herself that speak of strange events: “A mighty flash of light will appear above the village, which will change everything”, she hears herself say. “It is magnificent. We will all get a headache, we will lose our memories and we will disappear.” Cita is a deeply unsatisfied with her life and one morning leaves her warm matrimonial bed and heads to the church to pray, all dolled up in a mini dress and blow-dry. This naturally sparks criticism and wagging tongues amongst the other women: “nothing will come of her” they chunter conspiratorially. 

Although the womenfolk are frustrated in the deadbeat backwater, the men seem more contented with their daily grind. Nothing happens but actually everything happens. High hopes are met with unrealised dreams. But the tone here is drole and upbeat, always positive, never bitter.

Loneliness has no place in this community, despite its lack of potential. Days are fraught with the social round. All done up in pearls and fur coats – not to mention high heels – ladies lunch together and talk of sexual desire and personal fulfilment – and their dissatisfaction with the menfolk is fully realised in scenes enlivened by surrealist flourishes. María mourns her deceased husband, Paco. Sometimes, someone hears a sound that escapes everyone else. Can it be real or just a fantasy.? Female imagination catches fire while the men simply hunker down with their mates and animals – especially the little goat farmer who describes tricking a female goat into bringing up a kid from another litter.

Cleverly observed, pert and well-paced with its punchy electronic soundtrack and touches of magic realism deftly woven into the narrative, Mighty Flash is a real one off. Working hard – and successfully – to build a bond of trust with her cast Rodriquez’ first feature fizzes with intrigue behind its zipped-up facade. A brilliantly observed portrait of modern Spain that could be from the dark ages. Ironic, inspired and in the delicate spirit of Victor Erice. MT

NOW ON MUBI | ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | TIGER COMPETITION | VILNIUS FILM FESTIVAL | EUROPEAN DEBUT COMPETITION Best Director: Ainhoa Rodríguez

 

 

 

Gritt (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir.: Itonje Sømer Guttormsen; Cast: Brigitte Larsen, Marta Wexelsen Goksoyr, Lars Vauler, Andrine Sœther; Norway 2021, 118 min.

Gritt is slowly losing her mind and that’s a feeling many of us can appreciate as we languish in lockdown. Premiering at Rotterdam International Film Festival her story, Gritt, is the focus of first time Norwegian writer/director Itonje Sømer Guttormsen whose portrait of a desperate actor trying to combat feelings of failure by connecting with others through her art. Sadly though, Gritt is her own worst enemy.

Brigitte Larsen really shines in a standout performance as the titular Gritt, based on Guttormsen’s 2016 short film Retrett. We first meet her describing herself as an “undercover support person” in the play described as “3 Colours Ibsen” This involves looking after Marte (Goksoyr) an actor affected by Downs Syndrome, who actually appears to have a better handle on her life than her helper, and has written two books for a major publishing house.

Discussing the rest of the cast, Gritt is drawn to the male actors with a ‘soft’ personality, Marte preferring rough and ready types, like the crime writer Jo Nesbo. But then Gritt nearly falls out with Marte who is far more easygoing about things in general.

Gritt wants to write and perform a play about the end of “patriarchy and capitalism” – but she has no idea how to realise her project. Then she she meets up with a group of actors claiming to be the famous “Living Theatre”, but they are amateurs, just like Gritt.

Next she meets Lars, the director of “Theatre of Cruelty”, who wants to perform a play about the ‘symbolic nature of plastic bags’, which were a sort of currency for Polish women in the run up to 1989 (when the country completed its post-communist transformation) – although this means nothing in the West. Gritt tries to wheedle herself into the project, and soon finds herself sleeping in the theatre when her aunt Rakel (Soether) no longer needs her to housesit. Feeling sorry for Gritt, Lars offers her a room and a role filming actors during rehearsals. But Gritt has other plans: she wants to perform ‘White Inflammations”, a play about men and the middle classes, and she starts casting from refuge centres, angering Lars, and finding herself – once again – homeless.

Seeing a psychiatrist, she is told to solve her own problems, even though a stay in the ward would have been a better solution. Joining a women’s collective, she again cannot convince them to produce her newest brainchild, the Kairos project, about the biblical figure of Lilith.

Leaving with a stolen jacket, she beats a fast retreat to an old friend in the country, who is married with two children. Again, she misjudges the mood, relating the story of Lillith who “came at night and stole the semen of men” in front of the young girls. Finally Gritt retreats to the lake with her aunt.

DoPs Patrick Säfström and Egil Hâskjold Larsen have a tricky job on their hands to convey Gritt’s mental illness: at first, the dolly camera shows a settled environment, leading us to believe Gritt has a future in the world of theatre. Then comes the switch to handheld, and a gradual loss of control, mirroring Gritt’s own state of mind. Finally, we end up with Super eight home movie images during her stay at the lake. Guttormsen directs with great sensibility, treating Gritt like a child who has fallen into the world of adults. But Brigitte Larsen carries the feature, her face (nearly always neutral) showing no change in her close-ups. Gritt is not easy to watch, but very satisfying in the end. AS

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2021

My French Film Festival | Online festival 2021

 

Now in its 11th year, MyFrenchFilmFestival shines a spotlight on new generation French-language filmmakers and gives audiences around the world the chance to share their love of French cinema. The 2021 Festival runs from 15 January – 15 February with screenings online and in cinemas around the world. Audiences in the UK can watch these 11 features from this year’s Festival on BFI Player on Prime Video Channels, free to subscribers:

ADOLESCENTES (Sébastien Lifshitz, 2019)
CAMILLE (Boris Lojkine, 2019)
ÉNORME (Sophie Letourneur, 2019)
FELICITÀ (Bruno Merle, 2020)
FILLES DE JOIE (Frédéric Fonteyne, Anne Paulicevich, 2020)
JOSEP (Aurel, 2020)
JUST KIDS (Christophe Blanc, 2019)
KUESSIPAN (Myriam Verreault, 2019)
LES HÉROS NE MEURENT JAMAIS (Aude Léa Rapin, 2019)
MADAME (Stéphane Riethauser, 2019)
TU MÉRITES UN AMOUR (Hafsia Herzi, 2019)

MY FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL 15 JANUARY – 15 FEBRUARY 2021

Feast (2021) IFFR 2021

Dir: Tim Leyendekker | Cast: Trudi Klever, Oscar van den Boogard, Katerina Sereti; Netherlands 2021, 84 min.

A dramatic reconstruction of the infamous 2007 HIV case in the Dutch city of Groningen where drugged guests were injected with HIV-positive blood during sex parties.

Feast is a first feature for Dutch director Tim Leyendekker who is well known in Holland for his short films. This film essay evocatively explores how three men ended up being convicted of rape and infection of others with HIV. The main perpetrator, Peter M. was a nurse at a care home and after his early release from prison actually returned to nursing eventually being disqualified for good.

Feast – an odd and unexplained title – is really a series of seven short films, photographed by seven different DoPs. First off is a police officer (Klever) who empties three boxes of exhibits onto a table, among them many items: a dildo, lubricants, a bathrobe and an empty crisp bag. The static camera is supposed to be symbolic of the formal process leading to the trial, but gives little information. This is followed by a rather pretentious discussion by a group of seven gay men who, were are part of the group invited to Peter M.s sex sessions.

Sometimes these men are watched by another group of males behind a glass partition, another cryptic symbolic cypher. The discussion is mainly centred around Sado-masochistic sex, its rituals and meaning. It also sheds some light on how they met Peter – in one case in September 2007 – and how they viewed their participation in these orgies, where everything was allowed, participants eventually losing sight of whom they had sex with. The argument was made that the internet ads for these meetings categorically stated unsafe sex was to be practised. So the fact that Peter and his friend injected their own HIV affected blood into the bodies of others was unlikely to alter the health status of their victims since they were HIV positive at the outset. There are also explicit descriptions of how Peter injected the infected blood.

After another chapter-dividing interlude (usually a silent night-time image of naked man on a park bench, or in the waiting area of a bus stop), we arrive at the main thrust of Feast: an interview with Peter (den Boogard), who lives with his partner Wim in a very bourgeois house in the countryside. Peter is unrepentant, still maintaining he did not deserve to be sent to prison:”The fourteen people who pressed charges, assumed the role of victims. I only did what they asked me to do. I gave people drugs, but they wanted them. Things have happened, they call it rape, but I do not. They have surrendered themselves to me, when they came voluntarily to my house. In retrospect, I find it quiet beautiful, not criminal at all. What happened there was full of love”. Asked how he feels about being HIV positive, Peter answers, “that it is a nice certification. Form of belonging, sort of beautiful.” This certainly raises questions surrounding freedom of the individual along with that of eugenics.

After that, a biologist (Sereti) shares with us the positive effects of infection on tulips, turning them yellow to green. There again eugenics springs to mind, and this theme continues throughout whole feature. The chapter, in which Max tries to convince us of his right to accuse Peter, turns again into a defence of Peter’s action, with Max being accused “of being a victim”. The final section is the most enigmatic: it features a permanently changing scenes of people bathing at a lakeside retreat.

Perplexing, and often very provocative. Is Leyendekker simply a provocateur, convinced of the outrageousness of his position, or is using his role as a filmmaker to cover his position. We shall never know. If Peter or the rest of the group believed their opinions were completely justified then Feast certainly is provocative, and any criticism lays itself open to homophobia. It is up to the audience, to decide to take sides. AS

 

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

The Cemil Show (2021) Rotterdam Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Baris Sarhan; Cast: Ozan Celik, Nesrin Cavadzade, Alican Yücesoy; Basar Alemdar, Fuat Kökek; Turkey 2020, 106 min.

This first feature by Turkish writer/director Baris Sarhan is an inventive spoof, combining ‘old’ footage of classic Turkish B-pictures with a Kafkaesque setting in a modern shopping mall. Charisma alone is not enough on to justify the film’s generous running time, and so much of the playful impact is lost as The Cemil Show strains to entertain for nearly two hours on a wafer thin story.

So the plot is simple: Cemil (Celik) is a security guard in a maze-like mall where he holds down his mundane day job desperate to be an actor. When one his favourite films is due for a re-make, Cemil throws himself into rehearsing the role of his hero, the monster villain Turgay Göral from the original outing. Full of hope he then heads off for an audition, but leaves empty-handed, disillusioned and angry.

There is a silver lining when Cemil discovers Göral (Kökek) is still alive, although very much down on his luck. He then discovers his hero’s daughter Burcu (Cavadzade) is working in the same mall, and has set her heart on Zaher (Yücesoy), the draconian staff manager. A bittersweet but rather weak ending sees Cemil watching old films with his hero Göral (Alemdar), the monstrous villain in all his films.

All said and done, The Cemil Show is a charming romp with its stylish retro B-picture extracts. DoP Soykut Turan gets a chance to show off a variety of skills, his grainy black-and-white images contrasting impressively with the more baroque colour sequences of the parallel action. Sarhan is a talented newcomer who would excels with a more disciplined approach to his filmmaking. AS

BIG SCREEN COMPETITION | ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 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

I Comete: A Corsican Summer (2021) IFFR Rotterdam Film Festival

Dir: Pascal Tagnati | France, Drama 124′

Warm, light-hearted and drôle : this free-wheeling cinema verite take on Corsican village life dances away from a formal narrative capturing the gentle offbeat nature of the Mediterranean island in summer. The first feature film from Corsican ‘theatre-maker’, actor and author Pascal Tagnati plays out in a series of quirky inconsequential vignettes – some of them quite risqué – that picture the locals at play, swimming, flirting, arguing (and even crying) as they enjoy the sumptuous scenery of this hilly island paradise at a time where villagers get together to enjoy the last days of the summer holidays.

Beautifully composed and refreshing, Tagnati’s observational approach cleverly combines drama and fiction, relying on a natural soundscape of birdsong and breeze, occasionally traditional folksongs are heard in the distance, sung in Corsican dialect (which sounds a bit like Italian, unsurprisingly), culminating in the heartrending ‘La mort de Filicone’.

I Comete is very much a collaborative effort between Tagnati and the local villagers in a cast of predominately non-pros – apart from the major roles – ad-libbing most of the way, it certainly offers an essence of the island and its people for those who’ve never been there, it works as an accidental travelogue stimulating an interest to discover more about the place. Franje, appears to be the only black resident of the village, and the kids make an older character the butt of their jokes although he seems a kind and resourceful type, and we feel quite sorry for him in his undeserved role as the ‘village idiot’. In other more downbeat moments Theo reflects on the possibility of the less happier times in his life, and Lucienne talks of freedom.

At the end of the day, the Corsicans are just like everybody else in Europe where daily life centres on friends, football, infidelity and fertility, family traditions probably loom slightly larger here than in Northern Europe but the pace is certainly slower, Tagnati lulling us into a pleasant reverie about his home, that brims with a sense of national pride and a collective joie de vivre. MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 1-7 FEBRUARY 2021 | TIGER COMPETITION | SPECIAL JURY PRIZE

Nulle Trace (No Trace) Slam Dance Festival 2021

Dir.: Simon Lavoie; Cast: Nathalie Doummar, Monique Gosselin; Canada 2020, 103 min.

Canadian writer/director Simon Lavoie borrows heavily from Bergman and Tarkovsky for this sketchy story about civil war in an unknown country. Using odd formats, like a 11:8 ratio, Lavoie’s feature relies on the stunning black-and-white photography of his DoP Simran Dewan – but you cannot rely on images alone to carry a film, however enigmatic.

Filmed in Quebec, Canada No Trace opens with a four-minute close-up of rails, filmed from the moving handcar, which is owned by ‘N’ (Gosselin), who looks like a trapper from a Western. She later emerges a hardened people smuggler who is guiding Awa (Doummar) and her baby daughter. N is afraid the child’s crying might alarm the guards at the border. But all goes well, and Awa will eventually meet up with her husband. But N loses her vehicle – and soon – her way in the forest where she later meets Awa, who has ben raped. N also finds the body of Awa’s husband, and her daughter who has been burned on the sticks.

The two survivors are hostile, with Awa, a Muslim, constantly praying. Lavoie wisely leads leaves the final stretch of his feature open-ended  fitting for a film with such a flimsy narrative.

A heavy, menacing score underlines the tone of gloom and doom and the threatening atmosphere, the screen goes blank for a time without any explanation and sometimes garbled language replaces proper dialogue. Nulle Trace is dressed up as arthouse fare, the title ironically symbolic of the lack of artistic coherence. AS

NULLE TRACE OPENS SLAMDANCE FESTIVAL 2021 FEBRUARY 12-25 PARK CITY UTAH.

Beanpole (2019) **** MUBI

Dir: Kantemir Balagov | Writers: Kantemir Balagov, Aleksandr Terekhov | Drama | Russia 114′

A bitter bond of revenge and inter-dependence keeps two Russian women viscerally entwined in Leningrad after the Second World War comes to a close.

Beanpole is Kantemir Balagov’s follow up to his kidnap thriller Closeness which took the FIPRESCI prize in Un Certain Regard two years ago. Based on a story from The Unwomanly Face of War by Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexeievich, it sees the two women brought to their knees physically and mentally after the war has devastated their city. But life goes on for Iya, a tall rangy blond known as Beanpole (Miroshnichenko), and her friend Masha (Perelygina) who served together on the front, Iya returning early due to a neurological condition, bringing back with her Masha’s little son Pashka (Glazkov) in the autumn of 1945.

This gruelling slow-burner is softened by its gorgeously vibrant aesthetic that lends a jewel-like radiance to the girls’ misery, captured in Kseniya Sereda’s brilliant camerawork. Masha is wilful, mercurial and playfully charismatic – Perelygina is simply mesmerising to watch as she plots her way forward, emotions floating across her face like clouds on a winter’s day – Beanpole is a sullen and introverted soul but the two have no one left in the world but each other, and a terrible tragedy that threatens to destroy or deepen their fraught friendship. This close friendship contrasts with the sheer scale of the horror they have experienced on the front. Confined to stuffy interiors and hospital wards   the enormity of their emotional pain and suffering swells to bursting point. In the late Autumn of 1945 Iya is a nurse in a local hospital and her neurological affects hermivement. But Pashka is her pride and joy and their closeness is deeply moving. 

By the time Masha returns from the front, a dreadful event has taken place. Balagov explores the shifting dynamic between these two women with impressive maturity for a filmmaker still in his twenties, particularly with this female centric story, men taking a backseat – the world-weary head doctor Nikolai Ivanovich (Andrei Bykov) and Masha’s irritating suitor Sasha (Igor Shirokov) who is the son of a Communist party official. Somehow Sasha’s mother and the doctor get drawn into the complex web of need, revenge, and power.

Leningrad is almost romantic in its postwar atmosphere and Sergei Ivanov’s set design adds a homely folkloric touch to the interiors. Memorable scenes are those outside Sasha’s family dacha, and Masha’s tram ride in the final moments of this striking, intense and emotionally resonant drama. MT

NOW ON MUBU : UN CERTAIN REGARD | BEST DIRECTOR | FIPRESCI 2019

The Man Without a Past (2002) Now on Prime Video

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Dir\Writer: Aki Kaurismaki: Cast: Markku Peltola, Kati Outinen, Sakar Kuosmanen; Finland/France/Germany 2002; 97 min.

Like many auteurs of his generation, Aki Kaurismaki is entirely self-taught. After a working life spent as a postman and film critic amongst other things, he turned his hand to film-making in the eighties and has been incredibly successful in his endeavour, producing his own films and distributing them through his own company Alphaville, and even showing them at his own arthouse cinemas in Finland. Often working with his elder brother Mika, they have shaped the face of Finnish cinema, crafting one-fifth of the Finnish film industry’s total output since 1981.

In love with the past and Finland’s lugubrious hard-drinking working classes, often down on their luck – anything post 1980 does not interest Kaurismaki visually and he made this retro look his trademark. The Man Without a Past sees him create another antihero, this time the director doesn’t even give him a name, in the credits he is just ‘M’.

M (his beloved Markku Peltola) arrives one Spring evening in Helsinki, with a small suitcase. Resting on a park bench he nods off and is attacked by three young men, who leave him for dead. Coming round in a rain-soaked stupor, he makes his way to A&E where retrograde amnesia is diagnosed. Discharged from hospital and homeless, he makes his way to a container site where he rents a place to rest his head from a conman called Antilla (Kuosmanen). The geezer exploits those down on their luck. His ‘fierce’ dog Hannibal turns out to be submissive, snuggling up with M on his bed. All this plays out with Kaurismaki’s classic blend of eccentric situational humour which is light on dialogue and heavy on innuendo.

M can’t remember a thing about his life but when he catches sight of a couple of metal workers down near the port he feels a strange affinity to their daily grind, leading him to believe he was a welder in a former life. Turning to the Samaritans for help, he falls in love with Irma (Outinen) and a new lease of life. Soon he’ part of a swing band with the local Samaritans, and manages to secure some welding work. But his luck turns sour when he gets caught up in a bank robbery and this brush with the police leads to his identification. It soon emerges he was married, but his wife divorced him on account of his gambling. When M travels back to his home town by train he finds her living in their former marital dwelling with a boyfriend. M is only too relieved he doesn’t have to fight it out with his rival, returning back to Irma in Helsinki and eventual revenge.

Kaurismaki’s classic absurdist humour is an acquired taste and The Man Without a Past is one of the best examples. When M cooks dinner for Irma in his container, she asks politely “Are you sure, I can’t help”. His deadpan response is: “I think it’s ruined already”. Later when an electrician has helped him connect his container to a power source, M asks how he could return the favour. The man answers matter of factly: “If you see me lying in the gutter face down, turn me on my back”.

Kaurismaki is best compared with Preston Sturges and his comedies of the 30s; his heroes are like the actors Buster Keaton used to preferred, “they can’t raise their voice, their only reaction are furrowed brows”. DOP Timo Salminen, who shot nearly all of Kaurismaki’s films, shows Finland as a morose country where suicide, poverty, hunger and alcoholism is rife. All this is borne, (according to the director) “out of the change in society from a mainly agricultural country, to an industrialised one – many feel rootless and alienated from the country, in a place where high rise blocks and unemployment kill the soul. ” This, and his beloved band music, are the touchstones of his film career that started in 1991.

The Man Without a Past won the Grand Prix at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, Kati Outinen best actress. AS

 

Murder me, Monster (2018) ***

Dir Alejandro Fadel. Argentina. 2018. 106′

Murder Me Monster’s widescreen solemnity might bring to mind the murder investigation in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia – and there are vague echoes of Amat Escalante’s The Untamed, but that’s where the similarity ends. This brooding Andes-set crime mystery is the gruesome work of Los Selvajes director Alejandro Fadel, and it is certainly not for the feint hearted with its bestial themes and deformed zombie-like characters. Infact everyone in this stomach-turning horror fantasy is on edge and whispering morosely, for one reason or another. And a series of macabre murders, where heads are torn from bodies, seem to be the reason why.

The opening scene sees the dying moments of a woman whose throat has been severed. As a herd of sheep and some other livestock are slowly make their supper of her remains, a blind man mumbles on about the murder. A feeling of unease creeps over proceedings when it transpires that the bloodshed is connected to a feral beast on the prowl and out of control in this desolate and remote corner of Argentina where the sun rarely shines.

Rural police officer Cruz (Victor Lopez) is tasked with investigating the murders and the finger seems to point to local thick-lipped weirdo David (Esteban Bigliardi) who claims that a savage creature is using certain phrases to commune with him, as if through telepathy, with a ‘silly’ voice that repeats ‘Murder Me, Monster’.

Cinematographers Manuel Rebella and Julian Apezteguia evoke nightmarish visuals often using the same technique as the painter El Greco – where the characters’ faces are often starkly backlit against a murky darkness. There’s a garish otherworldly quality to the outdoor mountain scenes in a film that takes on an increasingly Lynchian feel as the plot thickens. Pus-yellow, murky mustard and puke green make up the colour palette of costume and set designers Florencia and Laura Caligiuri. An atmospheric ambient score keeps the tension brewing.

This is intriguing stuff, if rather too enigmatic for its own good, eventually leaving us stranded in its own mysterious backwater. This study of fear and perversion in a Pampas backwater will certainly made you feel nauseous and bewildered by the end. MT

UK releasee to stream or download or own | 4th December 2020 AVAILABLE

 

Radiograph of a Family (2020)

Dir/Wri: Firouzeh Khosrovani | Doc, Iran, Norway, Switzerland 82′

Firouzeh Khosrovani’s prize-winning documentary chronicles her early life against the background of Iran’s revolutionary recent history.

Delicate and deeply moving – sorrowful even – Khosrovani’s fourth feature is a tragic love letter to a childhood and early adulthood blighted by the growing distance between her parents largely due to the revolution and her mother’s religious fundamentalism.

With its resonant cultural and political touchstones, Radiograph is an compelling and elegantly assembled collage of memories and photographs, narrated by actors and describing the simple joy of her parent’s early days together in Geneva: her father Hossein was training to be a doctor in Switzerland, inviting her mother Tayi to join him there in the early 1960s.

Recorded on Super 8 footage, ten years before the filmmaker’s birth, it tells of a couple who fell in love but whose aspirations turned to dust as the silent shadow of revolution gradually spread into every aspect of their life together, eventually threatening the stability of the family. What stands out is deep sadness and regret, rather than anger or bitterness, and we feel for Firouzeh and her broken dreams.

Switzerland is home to many Iranians and Hosseini had chosen to study medicine in the thriving cosmopolitan lakeside city of Geneva. The hard-working radiographer was able to offer a good life to his much younger wife when she arrived from pre-revolutionary Tehran. For a timid young girl Tayi certainly knew her own mind, praying to Mecca while her husband preferred to meet his urbane friends in glamorous bars and listen to music. Eventually Tayi used her new pregnancy and back problems as the kicker to return home, persuading Hossein to move back to Iran where she was delighted to be reunited with her friends and growing family.

In the 1960s Tehran was a sophisticated, thriving metropolis where the middle classes enjoyed summers by the Caspian Sea and winters on the ski slopes. But once the Shah was toppled things changed, and from then on Tayi became increasingly drawn to her religion.

Khosrovani’s enlivens her portrait with family photographs picturing her parents’ early days in Geneva before moving back to Tehran on the birth of their first child named Firouzeh (herself). Back in Iran, Tayi questions Hossein’s lack of prayer routine as she pursues Islam with growing fervency and self-determination, rejecting her husband’s way of life and even tearing up the family photos and snaps, which the director has since pieced together for her film.

Both visually and narrative-wise Khosrovani uses her family home in Tehran as a recurring motif and the feature’s fulcrum. What starts as a comfortable and soigné home soon becomes the sober backdrop to her mother’s strict religious beliefs: her parents’ elegant bedroom adorned with her father’s favourite piece of modern art (a female nude) soon morphs into a spartan single room where reflection and prayer are the order of the day, a long table accommodating her mother’s new friends, the proponents of the oppressive Islamic regime. “The revolution entered our house,” the director recalls, as her heavily veiled mother is pictured requesting the whereabouts of her Quar’an.

Radiograph is a deeply subjective view of a child’s fond memories projected into an adulthood full of anguish and sadness, that still lives on today. No matter how much happiness and contentment we find as adults, our early childhood experiences will always colour our future. Khosrovani maintains a non-judgemental approach to her parents throughout her film. And although she never condemns her mother, maintaining a neutral acceptance of her beliefs, it is clear that her father embodies her hopes and dreams. Bonds of sadness and regret can often be more resilient that those of shared joy. In the end acceptance is one form of contentment. MT

NOW AT THE DOCHOUSE Radiograph of a Family | World premiered at IDFA documentary festival in Amsterdam, where it won the main prize for best feature

 

 

iHuman (2019) **** | CPH:DOX 2020

Dir: Tonje Hessen Schei, Doc, Norway Denmark 99′ 
One of the major challenges of our times is how the global community is going to deal with artificial intelligence (AI). Who will control this technology? Has the train left the station, never to be stopped? An unsettling new documentary from Norwegian filmmaker Tonje Hessen Schei explores these issues in the same way as his film Play Again investigated the positive impact on the natural environment of kids development.
iHuman studies the benefits of AI in increasing our potential for the greater good, but crucially also highlights its negative aspects. And there’s no turning back. AI development is hurtling forward with tech companies affiliated to the defence industry and algorithms in law enforcement enhancing existing biases. Once we allow the use of such powerful technology to assist us, the brakes are off: AI is like raising a new offspring: eventually we cannot control everything it does. One day it will be in charge. And this has frightening but seemingly unavoidable consequences.
Hessen Schei has gained impressive access to a variety of leading influencers and they present a wide range of views, from tech optimism in Jurgen Schmidhuber “the father of AI,” to more cautious voices like technology journalist Kara Swisher, human rights lawyer Philip Alston, and Shalil Shetty from Amnesty International. Animated computer graphics visualise a polymorphous, self-developing structure with ever-greater autonomy guiding us forward. Computer scientist and psychographic specialist Ilya Sutskever is one of the most helpful and persuasive talking heads. He is working on how computers can max out our problem-solving abilities while ensuring they share the same goals as us. Computational Psychologist Michal Kosinski is another ‘good guy’. He sees his goal as protecting people against the risks of how algorithms are reading their most intimate motivations.
By 2025 each person will produce 62 gigabytes of data per day. And this information is increasingly being used by the vast tech companies to manipulate each of us in our lifestyle choices: how we live, vote, and even who we chose to date. And this is one of the downsides of everyone getting to have their say on social media. As social animals who enjoy interacting with one another we have chosen the path to our own potential downfall. We have all become hooked to a high performance ad machine in the shape of Twitter, Google and Facebook. Shouting for our various teams has become an enjoyable and addictive pastime, and gradually the world has become more and more polarised, our majority views encouraging others to blaze the trail. Eventually we will become obsolete, unable to finance our lives – with mass employment the result of computers taking over.
The Police and the military are also tracking in an effort to manipulate us but also – they say – to protect us. Their highly advanced systems are set up to predict and track potential criminals from early on in their lives, using algorithms. In the future their intervention and high level surveillance equipment will kick in more and more intensively so as to clamp down on the potential for crime. In the military the use of so-called  unmanned systems are actually autonomous lethal weapons to be feared because they could easily turn against those programming them.
Combining her informative talking heads with convincing data and an eerie soundtrack, Hessen Schei gives us plenty of food for thought in this well-paced and good-looking documentary. And the takeaway is positive: Ai has actually forced us to re-examine what it really means to be human. We have created it, now maybe it can re-create us. MT
The film is screening for 8 weeks from 10 December via independent cinemas including Broadway Nottingham, Chapter Cardiff, kinokulture Oswestry, Rich Mix London and Rio Cinema London. Cinema listings can be found here: https://www.modernfilms.com/ihuman

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

 

Son of Sofia (2019) **** Artekino Festival

Dir: Elina Psikou | Victor Khomut, Valery Tcheplanowa, Thanasis Papageorgiou | Greece, Drama 113′

A Russian boy escapes into a world of fantasy when forced to relocate thousands of miles away from his familiar culture and homeland.

Writer-Director Elina Psikou’s sophomore feature Son of Sofia brings to mind another film about childhood trauma Valley of Shadows (2017). Both explore the coming-of-age of two young boys who have lost their father figures and are going through the trauma of early adolescence in unfamiliar territory. In this case Misha arrives in Greece after several years away from his mother. He is barely 11. The Olympic Games are in full swing but another, much more momentous event clouds his sense of gleeful anticipation – a strange man on the scene, and suddenly the threat of rejection once again beckons, along with the scorching heat of Summer, as the odd trio try make the best of their new lives together in this doleful menage a trois.

In his debut role, Khomout perfectly captures the vulnerability of a young boy’s bitter disappointment, and it never seems to leave his tear-stained face. For her part, Sofia (Valery Tcheplanowais) is keen to make a fresh start with her ‘new’ family, greeting her son with one of the cuddly toys she makes for a living.  But however much she cares for her new partner, she cannot force Misha to feel the same way. Misha (Viktor Khomut) feels his initial relief at finding his mother again melt away as he retreats into a fantasy world in a powerfully atmospheric environment where the winds of change leave him out on a limb. Desperately clinging to his mother he is unable to move forward with any certainty and feels trapped in his own private hell in coming to terms with this new life, and potentially more heartache. The elderly man, purportedly his mother’s boss, Mr. Nikos (Thanasis Papageorgiou), soon turns out to be a rival for her affections, and a violent one into the bargain. An unusual but thoughtfully crafted story that generates a powerful sense of place and reconnects to the frightened child in all of us. MT

WINNER AT SARAJEVO CICAE | JURY AWARD TRIBECA 2017 | also now available free to watch at ARTE

 

 

 

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

Quo Vadis Aida? **** Curzon

Dir.: Jasmila Zbanic; Cast: Jasna Buricic, Izudin Bajrovic, Boris Leer, Dino Bajrovic, Johann Heidenbergh, Raymond Thiry, Boris Isakovic | Drama, 2020, 101 min.

Jasmila Zbanic follows her 2006 Berlinale Golden Bear winner (Grbavica: Land of my Dreams) with another intense look at the  civil war in Srebrenica when over eight thousand people were butchered by Serbian General Ratko Mladic on the 11th of July 1995.

The action follows Aida Selmanagic (a fierce Jasna Buricic) an interpreter for the UN in the small town of Srebrenica. When the Bosnian Serb army moves in, her family is one of the thousands desperate for sanctuary in the vast UN camp.

The UN commander Colonel Franken (Heidenbergh) has been promised by his superiors that the UN air force will bomb Mladic’s troops, if they have a go at the city. But the planes never appear, and Franken tries in vain to reach somebody at UN HQ. In vain. The UN Secretary General is on holiday. Meanwhile, Aida manages to get her husband Nihad (I. Bajrovic) and two sons Hamidija (Leer) and Sejo (D. Bajrovic) into the safe UN compound (women are the bosses in this part of the world). But when the bombardment does not materialise, ‘saviour’ General Ratko Mladic (Isakovic) his soldiers start “evacuating” the compound to a nearby place of safety. Everybody is aware of Mladic’s real intentions, and Aida fights a hapless battle to get her family on the UN list for safe conduct. The three men are herded with others into a make-shift cinema nearby, before being gunned down from the projection room. In a maudlin epilogue, Aida visits their old flat years later, which is now occupied by strangers: she has to decide if she will take up the offer of returning to her former teaching job.

All very melodramatic in spirit, and carried by the irrepressible  Jasna Buricic, Zbanic keeping everything understated, the focus is the personal conflicts at the heart of this human tragedy. Aida has a certain amount of protection due to her UN status, but gradually loses control when Mladic’s troops appear at the UN compound gates. her family reduces to pawns in the fight between Mladic and the UN forces.

Everything is going in her favour at first but as the nerve-racking plot plays out it is touch and go whether their names will appear on the final list, and some of the final scenes are emotionally charged. Major Franken (Thiry) is only technically in charge and when his superiors fail to back him up with the bombardment, he is in the hands of Mladic – having no real power to put a stop to the eventual slaughter. DoP Christine A. Maier uses close-ups to chart the emotional dynamics of Aida and her family. The images of Mladic and his thugs loading women and men into separate buses, brings to mind history’s genocides. Zbanic directs with great sensibility, never letting any of the male protagonists off the hook in this coruscating chronicle of modern war. AS

OUT ON CURZON WORLD | 22 JANUARY 2021 |

Let the Sunshine In (2020) **** Mubi

French Filmmaker Claire Denis is one of the most innovative pioneers of independent cinema and fiercely committed to her singular vision. Growing up the daughter of a civil servant in various African countries, she eventually went home to France and fell in love with cinema in the Cinematheque, Paris. Making films seemed inevitable and after studying at the Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies (IDHEC) she embarked on a career that would see her working with Jacques Rivette (who became the subject of her 1990 documentary Jacques Rivette, Le Veilleur), Dušan Makavejev, Roberto Enrico and Costa-Gavras and Wim Wenders on Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire. Through the musician John Lurie she met Jim Jarmusch and worked with him  on Down by Law. But it was with her debut feature Chocolat that she made it to the international stage in 1988. The film was selected for Cannes and the César awards, it also got her together with Agnès Godard who became her regular director of photography for all her films.

So far Claire Denis has made six documentaries and no fewer than 17 feature films, such as Nénette et Boni for which she is awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1996. Beau Travail, is one of the most stark and contemplative French films about war, standing alongside Bruno Dumont’s L’Humanite. It was chosen for Venice line-up in 1999. Set amid racial conflict in a Francophone African state, Isabelle Huppert plays a coffee plantation owner desperately trying to save her crop, her family and her life in Denis’ 2009 outing White Material.

Clearly race and post-colonial themes feature heavily in her work, but Denis has also dabbled in genres – Bastards was a thriller, 35 Shots of Rum a fantasy drama about a father and daughter in Paris. Trouble Every Day reflects the emotional anguish of a loved up but warring married coup, starring Béatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo it screened at Cannes Film Festival in 2001. Denis has also worked several times with Juliette Binoche, most recently in her critically acclaimed sci-fi outing High Life (2018) and previously in her insightfully playful comedy Let the Sunshine In. where she plays a spirited and intelligent woman trying to find love with a series of unedifyingly pompous losers. Robert Pattinson will join Denis for the The Stars at Noon (2021) which follows American traveller (Margaret Qualley) through Nicaragua during the 1980s revolution, based on the novel by American writer Denis Johnson. Her next project Stars at Noon in set in 1980s Nicaragua during the Sandinista Revolution when a mysterious English businessman and a headstrong American journalist strike up a romance as they find themselves involved in a dangerous labyrinth of deceit. MT

CURZON release NOW ON MUBI 

Filmography

High Life, 2018 Un beau soleil intérieur, 2017 Le Camp de Breidjing, 2015 Contact, 2014 Voilà l’enchaînement, 2014 Les Salauds, 2013 Venezia 70: Future Reloaded, 2013 Aller au diable, 2011 White Material, 2010 35 rhums, 2008 Vers Mathilde, 2005 L’Intrus, 2004 Vendredi soir, 2002 Vers Nancy (Segment du film Ten Minutes Older: The Cello), 2002 Trouble Every Day, 2001 Beau travail, 1999 Nénette et Boni, 1996 Nice, very Nice (segment from A propos de Nice, la suite), 1994 J’ai pas sommeil (I Can’t Sleep), 1994 U.S. Go Home (Collection : Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge), 1994 La Robe à cerceau (from Monologues, with Chantal Akerman), 1993 Keep It for Yourself  + Figaro Story, 1991 Jacques Rivette, le veilleur. Part 1 : la nuit (Cinéaste de notre temps), 1990 S’en fout la mort (No Fear, No Die) 1990 Man No Run, 1989 Chocolat, 1988 Le 15 Mai, 1969

Unidentified (2020) ****

Dir.: Bogdan George Apetri; Cast: Bogdan Farcas, Dragos Domitru, Vasile Muraru, Ana Popescu, Kira Hagi, Andrei Aradits; Romania/Latvia/Czech Republic 2020, 123 min.

Very much in the style of the classic French crime thrillers of the 1970s, Unidentified is a modern version of Yves Boisset’s Un Condé, tackling  racism and misogyny in one fell swoop in a tightly plotted murder story. Unidentified is the sophomore feature of Romanian director Bogdan George Apetri who also wrote and edited and co-produced drawing from his experiences of working in New York.

It sees scuzzy minor Detective Florin (Farcas) down on his luck, and in need of a scape goat to his appease his boss, Commissar Sef (Muraru). The sacrificial lamb soon fetches up in the shape of Roma security guard Banel (Domitru) whose been unlucky enough to have two major disasters occur during his checkered career, both seemingly connected to insurance fraud with Banel aiding and abetting the perpetrator, the owner of hotel where he was working.

Not that Florin is is squeaky clean from the personal probity angle either. Behind with his car repayments and mortgage, and he badgers his friend Mircea (Aradits) to give him more time to pay off his debts. But money worries are not the only thing getting the obsessed detective down. In Oleg Mutu’s fluid widescreen camerawork, we watch him on a hillside, overlooking a hotel and parking lot, spying on his fiancée Stela (Popescu) who is cheating on him with a married man. It’s hardly surprising given the way Florin neglects her and always seems to be in a bad mood. But what the hell? He hatches an ingenious plan to get rid of both of them in a double murder – the perfect crime. It will involve getting to know Banel and organising for him to work in the hotel where Stela hangs out. It’s got to be meticulously planned, so it looks like an accident: He invites Banel to his home, and makes him touch a beer bottle, which he will later use as a Molotov cocktail to kill Stela. So off he goes to meet Banel in the parking lot of the hotel at nine pm. But in that classic but always effective dramatic device – things don’t go according to plan for Florin. Not during the crime but afterwards, when his boss Sef picks holes in his story.

Apetri is certainly a master storyteller, overlaying his story of detective obsession with the serene score of none other than Chopin’s delicate piano music. Helicopter shots show Florin driving around manically, chasing his prey on a murderous mission. Even at two hours plus, Unidentified keeps us in its grip in exploring a psychotic law enforcement officer, crumbling before our eyes. And apparently there’s more to look forward too, Apetri’s  feature is the first of a trilogy set in small town Romania. AS

Special Jury Award, International Competition | Warsaw Film Festival 2020 | Rendezvous with French Cinema 2021

 

 

Camouflage (1976) Barwy Ochronne | Kinoteka 2020

Dir/wri: Krzysztof Zanusssi | Cast: Piotr Garlicki, Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, Christine Paul-Podlasky, Mariusz Dmochowski, Wojciech Alaborski | 106min  Comedy Drama  Polish with subtitles

Krzysztof Zanusssi’s Camouflage is a satire worthy of Lubitsch, set in a summer camp in the mid Seventies, where progressive professor Jaroslaw Kruszynaki (Garlicki) is battling it out with old hand and party faithful, Jacub Szelestowski (Zapasiewicz).

The pawn between the two kings is student Jarek, whose paper in the linguistic completion is original but does not tow the party line. When the deputy dean arrives for the prize-giving ceremony, all hell breaks loose: the Dean is bitten, chaos reigns and the police are called in.

Zanussi’s attack on the meritocracy based on party affiliation and nothing else, plays like out like an absurdist comedy, revealing corruption, disillusionment and confusion. Reality is always close by: Poland’s filmmakers of that era were competing with each other for major prizes at home and abroad: and while the more diffident amongst them gained support from political bureaucrats, the more adventurous found adulation and prizes in Venice and Cannes – doubt where Zanussi belonged. Since the censors could hardly fault his clever narrative construction – open to interpretation – they accused him of “mocking the system” in quoting Lenin, when Jacub argues “most important is the selection of staff”. Zanussi eventually gave in, changing ‘staff’ to ‘people’.

As a director whose style was more humorously subversive than Wajda with his dramatic frontal attacks; he employs down-to-earth characters who are very much aware of being totally compromised by the socio-political situation they find themselves in. They do not revolt openly but try just to survive with as much self-respect as possible. Zanussi never denounces his characters, but shows their reaction to the intellectual oppression of the state in relation to what they have to lose: in this way he is a humanist who accepts that the older one gets, the more there is to lose. Above all, Camouflage is witty and extremely subtle and a highlight of this canon. A great choice for a weird year! AS

KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL 2020 

UK Jewish Film Festival 2020 – ONLINE

The UK Jewish Film Festival presents an online edition from 5 – 19 November 2020 exploring Jewish and Israeli life, history and culture.

Festival screenings will take place on their own secure streaming platform available throughout the UK: watch.ukjewishfilm.org. Films will premiere at specific dates and times across the Festival and remain available to watch for a set period – download the film schedule here. Tickets are limited for each film so we encourage advance booking to avoid disappointment.

To ensure the best possible cinema-at-home experience, take a look at  viewing guide for ways to watch as well as our FAQs page. For support to watch the Festival with existing viewing setups, contact the box office and support team throughout the Festival duration (5th-19th November): +44(0)203 405 0710; 12pm-8pm, Sunday-Thursday; 12pm-5pm, Friday; 6.30pm-8:30pm, Saturday.

FULL SCHEDULE AVAILABLE ONLINE 

 

Marek Edelman…And There Was Love in the Ghetto (2020) Kinoteka 2020

Dir: Jolanta Dylewska, Andrzej Wajda | Cast: Aleksandra Popławska, Adriana Kalska, Maria Dejmek, Maria Semotiok, Kamilla Baar Kochonska; Katarzyna  Wajda, Mateusz Wajda, Patricya Rojecka, Julia Sierakwoska; Poland/Germany 2019, 79 min.

Jolanta Dylewska and veteran director Andrzej Wajda worked together on this wistful ‘behind the scenes’ story of cardiologist Marek Edelman, the last surviving leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943. Edelman talks to the camera about his recollections of love in the ghetto, the romantic vignettes re-imagined by actors and intercut with archive films from the 1940s and contemporary shots from the inside of the Ghetto.

Marek Edelman (1909-2009) was also a political activist in the Polish Solidarity movement, a founder member the Jewish Labour Youth organisation before the Second World War, and later in the Ghetto. He became a cardiologist after 1945, and continued to oppose Zionism after the war, writing a letter of Solidarity to the Palestinians.

His first affair involved Dola (Poplanska) who was a nurse at the Bersohn and Bauman hospital in Warsaw, where Edelman worked. One evening, she invited young Marek into a room, telling him she could inject both of them with morphine so that they could make love. Shy Marek, who was immune to morphine, excused himself, and ran away. Later, Dola met a “Volksdeutscher” (sort of second class German) called Jozefow, who worked for Germans in the Ghetto, and the two fell in love. Dola’s husband, the couple had been divorced for a long time, was suffering from Tuberculosis and Jozefow arranged for him to live in countryside, where he brought food, which Dola fed to the invalid, before making love to Jozefow.

Mrs. Tennenbaum was a doctor at the hospital, and was lucky to get “a white card” which meant, that she was safe (at least for the time being) from deportations to the death camps. But her seventeen-year-old daughter Deda had not such luck, and her mother committed suicide, instructing her colleges in writing not to resuscitate her, but give the White Card to her daughter. Her friends honoured her wish, but Deda fell in love with a young man, and whilst they were living outside the Ghetto, with an American nurse, their lovemaking was so boisterous, that informers betrayed them to the Germans. Edelman does not know, when they were deported.

Tosia was a young woman of very middle-class background. She fell in love with a health inspector, and got pregnant. They got caught up in a round-up, when she was in her sixth month. They were dragged to the “Collection Point” near the hospital, where the Jews were forced into the wagons before deportation to the death camps. An Estonian guard wanted to shot her, but her boyfriend put her hand on her belly. The guard shot through his hand, and he was later executed, but Edelman does not know where Tosia was killed.

Hindusia Himmelfarb (Sierakowska) looked like a model Aryan: she had long blond hair and blue eyes – but she went with the children in her charge to the gas chambers. Others gave her the chance to escape the Ghetto, but she could not leave the children. Edelman comments, that her sacrifice was greater than Dr. Korzak’s – because he was an old man and she a young woman.

Pola Lifszyc was a life puppeteer, who entertained 300 children twice a week, making them happy, transporting them into another world. But Pola was worried about her very sick mother. Her boyfriend Janek, who had a rickshaw, was with her, when she learned, that her mother had been taken to the “Collection Point”. She asked Janek to take her there, and he watched helplessly, as she jumped from the rickshaw and joined her mother entering the wagon.

Edelman was not just a bystander: he watched the deportations, and tried to save friends, which he dragged out of lines into the back windows of the hospital. One day, he was looking for his friend Zoria, whom had saved already three times. But on this particular day, a woman with diamonds, asked him, to save her daughter. “I was tempted, because the diamonds meant, that I could save more people”. But Edelman decided against it, and waited for Zoria – but he failed to save her his time.

There was love in the Ghetto is heart breaking, because there are no happy endings. And we can imagine Edelman staying at the gate of the “Collection Point” to wait for friends he would try to save. The three levels work very well together: particularly the re-enactments in the contemporary Ghetto hit very much home: it could happen today. AS

Screening at  KINOTEKA | The Polish Film Festival in London, Kinoteka.org.uk

Dear Werner – Walking on Cinema (2020) Seville Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Pablo Maqueda; Documentary narrated by Werner Herzog; Spain 2020, 80 min.

Spain’s Pablo Maqueda travels in the footsteps of Werner Herzog in this filmic foray that serves both as a tribute to the veteran’s 60 years in filmmaking and a study of the touchstones that brought it all to life.

The documentary is based on Herzog’s own diaries (Walking on Ice) that chronicle a winter journey in 1974, when the veteran filmmaker grabbed “a jacket, a compass, and a canvas bag of essentials” and set out on foot from Munich to Paris to visit his friend Lotte Eisner who was on her last legs – but in the end survived another decade.

The writer, critic, co-founder of the Cinematheque Francaise and ‘mother’ of New German Cinema was seriously ill, and Herzog hoped if he reached her apartment in the rue des Capucines, Eisner would recover and continue to be a fountain of knowledge for him and other young German filmmakers. The trip was a success on all fronts.

Dear Werner takes the form of a prologue, seven chapters and an epilogue, Herzog re-wrote some of his diary records, and narrated. “The book started out as a simple travel itinerary which led me deeper and deeper into Herzog’s filmography. Then I realised there was a film, in a sense, that wold talk about me through him and his cinema”. Maqueda echoes Herzog’s own doubts (he first features were slaughtered by the German press), when saying, “by making this film, I aimed to encourage and motivate my fellow filmmakers not to despair and to keep walking”. 

In “Cave of forgotten films”, Maqueda explores a real cave, imagining it as the setting for one of his own stories. He also chances upon in a huge listening device and a ski-jump hill – neither associates well with the nature-orientated images which dominate the film. Suddenly we see bears roaming around, only to discover they are actually behind the fences of a nature resort.

After crossing the border to France, Marqueda visits the War Cemetery in Charmes, and later monuments to Jean d’Arc. A chapter on Eisner’s history follows: she had to flee Germany when the Nazis came to power, but ended up nevertheless in a Camp in France, whence she fled. The future director of the Cinematheque Henri Langlois asked Eisner to hide some valuable German expressionist and Russian revolutionary films in the countryside, fearing their destruction. This meant Eisner had to refrain from lighting fires during her ordeal, the nitro material being highly inflammable,

When Herzog arrived in Paris a fortnight before Christmas 1974, he was so elated he asked the recovering Eisner to: “Open the window, from these last days onwards, I can fly”.

Dear Werner is a love letter to the German veteran and the cinema he represents. Maqueda comes over as a diligent pupil, sometimes waxing hagiographic about his idol – but then, so was Herzog when it came to Murnau. Maqueda presupposes his audience is as knowledgeable as he is about Herzog’s canon. And those new to the party may well miss some allusions. Otherwise, Dear Werner – dedicated by the director to Maqueda’s partner and producer Haizea – is a worthwhile journey. AS

SEVILLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020 

Kinoteka (2020) Celebrating Polish Cinema | November 2020

KINOTEKA Polish Film Festival will be celebrating nearly a month of Police cinema in its new fully online programme for the 18th edition of the festival. Expanding on this year’s earlier postponed programme, the screenings roll out on 12 November with the gripping love triangle debut IRON BRIDGE from Monika Jordan-Młodzianowska. The celebration will continue to work with its partners at the Czech Centre and UK Jewish Film Festival through winter right  into next Spring.

NEW POLISH CINEMA Showcasing all that contemporary Polish cinema has to offer from Borys Lankosz’s smart genre blend of film noir and thriller DARK, ALMOST NIGHT to Jacek Borcuch’s complex moral drama DOLCE FINE GIORNATA which features a standout performance from Krystyna Janda that earned her the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award at Sundance Film Festival. Also featured are Małgorzata Imielska’s touchingly honest ALL FOR MY MOTHER and the family-friendly ROCK ‘N’ ROLL EDDIE.

12.11 | Iron Bridge | Monika Jordan-Młodzianowska

13.11 | Black Mercedes | Janusz Majewski| UK Jewish Festival in partnership with PCI

14.11 | Dark, Almost Night | Borys Lankosz

20.11 | Dolce Fine Giornata | Jacek Borcuch

21.11 – 24.11 | Charlatan | (Agnieszka Holland) In partnership with Made in Prague 2020 On/Off Festival & Czech Centre

27.11 | Mr Jones | Agnieszka Holland

28.11 | All For My Mother | Małgorzata Imielska

06.12 | Rock’n’Roll Eddie | Tomasz Szafrański 

DOCUMENTARIES EYE-OPENING STORIES FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE

Diverse, historical and contemporary portraits of Polish life are presented this year. Themes of  isolation in a seemingly all-connected world are explored in Pawel Ziemilski’s IN TOUCH, Japanese students’ struggle with learning the Polish language in Bobik Matiej’s OUR LITTLE POLAND and there is a bold account of the romantic intimacy amidst the tragedy of the Warsaw Ghetto with Jolanta Dylewska’s MAREK EDELMAN… AND THERE WAS LOVE IN THE GHETTO.

19.11 | Our Little Poland |Bobik Matiej

26.11 | Marek Edelman… And There Was Love In Ghetto | Jolanta Dylewska

03.12 | In Touch | Pawel Ziemilski

RETROSPECTIVES UNDISCOVERED MASTERS

A chance to discover subversive, satirical masterpieces afresh including Krzysztof Zanussi’s  subtle but fierce critique of Communist Party politics in CAMOUFLAGE, Marek Piwowski’s THE CRUISE which is widely regarded as Poland’s first ‘cult’ film and Wojciech Marczewski’s silver bear-winning film SHIVERS.

12.11 – 6.12 | Shivers | Wojciech Marczewski

12.11 – 6.12 | Camouflage | 1977 | Krzysztof Zanussi

12.11 – 6.12 | The Cruise | 1970 | Marek Piwowski

EXTENDED PROGRAMME

The festival’s extended programme takes in socially-distanced film screenings and events into the new year including MISTER T. from filmmaker Marcin Krzyształowicz, which elegantly mixes post-war politics, vodka and basement jazz in a beautifully photographed look at the absurdities of the communist state.

Venue TBC | Mister T (Marcin Krzyształowicz)

Venue TBC | Charlatan | (Agnieszka Holland) In partnership with Made in Prague 2020 On/Off Festival & Czech Centre

OFFICIAL TRAILER

 

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

Havel (2019) *** Czech Film Week

Dir.: Slavek Horak; Cast: Jan Dvorak, Anna Geislorova, Pavel Landdovsky, Anna Kohoutova, Stanislav Majer; Czech Republic 2020, 104 min.

Slavek Horak fails to do his subject justice in this ‘buddy movie’ about Czechoslovakia’s final president and human rights activist Vaclav Havel (1936-2011) framing him as a lecherous womaniser and coward while playing down a prodigious literary talent and author of 245 plays, nine books of non-fiction and six volumes of poetry.

The film focuses on Havel’s adult life leading up to his election as first president of the Czech Republic in 1993, several years after the nation’s “Velvet Revolution” in 1989. There are two time scales: the first one covers his Havel’s life at the theatre in the 1960s the second his imprisonment and dealings in the aftermath to the invasion in 1968. Clearly Horak is not a big fan of the Czech statesman; his treatment plays fast and losse with history, paraphrasing and over-simplifying as it goes along, And this approach is born out in the dialogue. When Havel (played by a game Jan Dvorak) confesses to his wife Olga (Geislorava) “I haven’t been as morally strong as you deserved. But you have always been my First Lady”; Olga replies: “I’d rather be your only lady”. When Havel tries to be philosophical, the result is not much better: “The most interesting thing about the conscience is, that we carry it with us always”.

Havel does not fare any better with his temperamental co-conspirator, the actor Pavel Landovsky (Hofmann), during their illegal battle against the regime after 1968: “You can’t push people to join!…They join us when there are more of us, but there won’t be more of us, if they don’t join us”. Logic prevails. Most complaints come from Olga, who also had to listen to Havel’s ‘confessions’ of his adultery: “for once, would you just NOT tell me”. Further critique follows: “act like a man for once” and “you still think you can have it all?” This plays out during illegality and subversion, after Havel was expelled from the theatre and had to work at a brewery.

But pride of place goes to the exchange between Havel and his mistress Anna Kohoutova (Seidlova), the wife of fellow playwright and conspirator Pavel Kohout (Majer): “My husband is a great fan of yours.” meanwhile “My wife is my biggest critic”. Finally, having declared: “I don’t want to protest, I want to do Theatre”, Havel becomes one of the founder Members of Charter 77, which is smuggled to the West. Again Horak tackles this with platitudes, and not just verbal ones. During interrogation Havel is accused of being a martyr “You are playing the martyr, but when they pressed, you sh.t yourself”. And afterwards, he tells Olga that he only told the authorities what they already knew. “What you don’t know, you can’t tell”. Olga then counters with “Not even to yourself?”

Despite its rather lamentable content this is an elegantly crafted piece of filmmaking. DoP Petr Malasek creates an attractively muted aesthetic all in hued of gunmetal grey and dark blue. Vladimir Hruska’s set design reflects the era but still feels fresh and imaginative. But Horak’s choice of music, scored by Petr Malasek, gives into sensationalism, creating an overwhelming emotional pull that would do any Hollywood blockbuster proud. Surely Vaclav Havel deserves better than this. AS

+ Q&A WITH DIRECTOR SLÁVEK HORÁK
1 – 4 Nov 2020 Czech Centre Vimeo on Demand / PRE-ORDER NOW

Corn Island (2014) Simindis kundzuli | Georgian Retro | DocLisboa 2020

Director: George Ovashvili   Writers: Roelof Jan Minneboo, Nugzar Shataidze, George Ovashvili

Cast: Ilyas Salman, Tamer Levent, Mariam Buturishvili, Ylias Salman |  Drama, Georgia 100′

Corn Island could take place anywhere. The brooding fable is set in remote islands that surface annually from the bed of the river Enguri in Eastern Georgia, enriching them with nutrients and making them ideal farmland for seasonal crop-rearing by nomads. In the silence of a serene summer an old man and a young girl  settle in this mist-clothed island paradise where they fish and cultivate the earth as isolated gunfire mingles with birdsong in the distance. Few words are exchanged but a sinister undertone persists and a watchful vigilance that seems to presage doom.

Georgian auteur Ovashvili’s multi-award winning second feature was nominated for an Oscar in the Academy Award Foreign Language section the following year, echoes the recent conflicts that have taken place in the Caucasian States. His debut drama, Gagma napiri (2009), was also inspired by these events. Corn Island is a quiet, sensory affair that succeeds in building a considerable dramatic punch through subtle performances, clever camerawork that makes good use of the changing natural light and rich tones of yellow, blue and gold and well-paced storytelling with an atmospheric occasional score. This simple but profound tale is elevated by the events taking place at its margins and yet never does its narrative succumb to the outside world making the human story all the more powerful and profound.

This season Georgian farmer (Ylias Salman) and his granddaughter (Mariam Buturishvili), are here to spend the summer, the age-old topic of school work their only desultory conversation. Army officers pass by on the distant riverbank. The girl swims in the crystalline water in a dreamlike midnight sequence auguring her sexual awakening and, as if by chance, the next day a wounded soldier is washed ashore sparking friction between the threesome and a passing boat of Russian guards patrolling the river for signs of trouble. In these heavenly surroundings a palpable tension gently smoulders between the girl, the farmer and the soldiers sparked by fear, sexual frisson and danger. When the girl flirtatiously throws water on the soldier the pair chase into the fully grown corn. This small kingdom and wains when finally tragedy strikes from an unexpected source leaving us with to ponder our existence and our insignificance in the grand scheme of things. MT

CORN ISLAND | DOCLISBOA 2020 | GEORGIAN RETROSPECTIVE

Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance (2020) *** Raindance Festival 2020

Dir: Khadifa Wong

Khadifa Wong’s life experience as a dancer informs her lively if over-talkie debut feature about the origins of jazz dance.

Celebrating its international premiere at this year’s Raindance Film Festival, the film traces the roots of this expressive and iconically American dance form from its early history in the 19th century and through to the current day. And it all start during slavery – wouldn’t you know? Back then it was a vital form of protest, not just a way of expressing enjoyment. Well that certainly makes it a topical film with the current Black Lives Matter month in full swing.

Wong’s ground-breaking documentary also offers a political and social chronicle of the times, alighting on more weighty issues of racism, socialism and sexism while offering up a passionate and thought-provoking musical biopic.

The dancer and director has delved into the archives enlivening her film with cuttings and news footage. Over fifty experts offer up their valuable insight from choreographers to teachers and dancers themselves so it does occasionally feel overwhelming to have so much knowledge and opinion in the space of less than two hours. But the movement and dance elements are what really makes this a winner and Matt Simpkins’ camerawork captures the essence of bodies gyrating to great affect.

Curiously enough it was white men in the shape of Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins and Jack Cole who really emerged as the forerunners of the form. And one of the most engaging talking heads, dramaturg and choreographer Melanie George shares her thoughts about why these luminaries were so influential while Black innovators were often lesser known. And she discovers that their ability to codify  the various forms of jazz dance with Hollywood and Broadway that gave it a different profile that took it above and beyond its roots and origins. The lesser-known artists also have their say, Frank Hatchett, Pepsi Bethel and Fred Benjamin Wong amongst them – although none is particularly famous to mainstream audiences.

Wong cleverly makes the point that jazz dance was actually a pared down version of the tribal form of communication for many Africans, and particularly slaves, enabling them to express themselves with their bodies in highly syncopated, exaggerated and meaningful ways – almost like silent film – relying on strong facial and body language – to make their feelings known. The Pattin’ Juba and Cakewalk were both dances that originated in the plantations of the Deep South where enslavement relied heavily on this kind of vital communication for protest, or even survival.

Eventually jazz became more sophisticated and sinuous moving through the bebop and hard bop years and we start to recognise names such as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. There is also some impressive clips that show James Brown and Little Richard and really convey the seriousness of their political message – they were not just merely there to entertain.

A documentary about dance expression should always focus primarily on the dancing, and this is the only slight criticism that one can level at Uprooted. Wong has done so much research for her deep dive into the subject seems to focus on talking and commentary over movement and music. When we see Chita Rivera and Graciela Daniele doing their stuff the film comes alive — so their stories of segregation and racial alienation seem all the more poignant. There is a fascinating piece about Patrick Swayze’s mother Patsy, being the only white dance teacher in Texas to allow Black children into her school. If there’s one talent those entertainers have it’s the ability to move their bodies in magnetic and beguiling ways. And Black dancers have it in spades. MT

RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | 28 OCTOBER – 7 NOVEMBER 2020

Mr Grandmother | Chemi bebia (1929) **** Georgian Retrospective | DOCLISBOA 2020

Dir: Kote Mikaberidze | Silent, Georgia, 80′

This triumph of early Georgian silent cinema mines its absurdist humour from petty bureaucracy when the country was still part of the USSR. The Georgians are a striking bunch whose regular features and dark good looks are particularly suited to silent film – this along with bold Soviet-style editing, expressionist set designs and avant-garde camera angles make My Grandmother an imaginative and amusing insight into a country that was under the Iron cosh but thriving with ideas and rich culture.

Behind the mad hysteria of the frantic satire important truths gradually emerge about the nonsense office workers have to put up with and there is a clear resonance with life today. The film was banned in the Society Union for almost fifty years – not surprisingly – because the overriding message here is “death to red tape” and that is born out, quite literally, in the bizarre finale that certainly mocks the State and does nothing to hide its light under a bushel in doing so.

Director Kote Mikaberidze (1896-1973) would go on to helm several other features in a career that also included acting and script-writing, but was best known for My Grandmother that made use of its special effects, imaginative set design, animation and twisted dark sense of humour that sees its main character, a “bureaucrat” (Aleksandre Takaishvili) fired for his incompetence and lazy attitude.

Narrative wise, the first act minutes is dedicated to satirising the Soviet system – where office life involves doing precisely nothing. Papers are pushed, documents stamped – it’s all about creating work and then not doing it, and the pen-pushers manage to avoid any responsibility for their shoddiness into the bargain.

When “the bureaucrat” goes home jobless to his wife (Bella Chernova) her  expressions of disdain are simply priceless. The only way he can avoid a complete loss of face is by finding himself a ‘benefactor’ (0r grandmother) who will write him a letter of recommendation. So off he goes to curry favour with a higher-ranking official who will reinstate him in a job – doing precisely nothing, again.

Although this sounds pretty tedious plot-wise the feature is far from boring. Quite the opposite. Visually it’s one of the most exciting silent films of the era with its clever concoction of fantasy meets reality. At one point, ‘the bureaucrat’ is pinioned to his desk by a giant flying pen which is meant to represent the local newspaper’s lampooning him. Meanwhile, in the background stop-motion animations feature a group of tiny toys and dolls who form a sort of ridiculous audience witnesses his fall from grace. While the support characters are performing their antics with extraordinary energy the office workers are mostly comatose, but objects around them also come to life.

Chernova is particularly brilliant as “the bureaucrat’s” wife, her expressive eyebrows are a legend in their own lunchtime. Imploring with him one moment and ignoring him the next, she is a bundle of belligerent histrionics from start to finish, while he practises trying to hang himself from the light fittings, in shame.

My Grandmother shows the Georgians to be wonderfully eccentric, and completely irreverent as far as politics is concerned, certainly in their early cinema, later political and social satire was more cleverly hidden in subtext. The film was eventually re-released in the 1970s but is rarely seen nowadays and would make an interesting companion piece to the ubiquitous Battleship Potemkin.  MT

My Grandmother

SCREENING DURING DOCLISBOA | 22 OCTOBER – 1 NOVEMBER

 

 

 

 

Nocturnal (2019) ***

Dir.: Nathalie Biancheri; Cast: Laura Coe, Cosmo Jarvis, Sadie Frost, Amber Jean Rowan; UK 2019, 86 min.

Nathalie Biancheri gets off to a great start as a filmmaker with this appealing indie drama that really benefits from Michal Dymek’s imaginative visuals, but the narrative’s ambitious underlying conflict is let down by an underworked script.

At the titles suggests the film plays out mostly at night in a small English coastal town where sixteen-year old Laurie (Coe) has recently arrived. Her emotional is far more difficult to handle than would have us know. An experienced athlete she is now running middle-distance at club level, but even professional life sees her as an outsider. Her mother Jean (Frost) seems uncomfortable too. Meanwhile she crosses paths with Pete (Cosmo) a 33-year old decorator in an unsatisfactory relationship with Jade (Rowan). Pete is a drifter who avoids any commitment, but falls into a laid back friendship with Laurie. But Laurie wants more, and when Pete re-coils – the long telegraphed -secret is out. When Pete moves to Rotterdam, Laurie is left to pick up the pieces, and her mother is unable to make her realise what has actually happened.

Biancheri and her co-writers rely on atmosphere and enigma to make up for their undeveloped script: skimming over characterisations to pack it all into into 86 minutes. We only get to know the bare essentials about the main trio, most is left unsaid. There is no real introduction to the characters, and whilst we very soon cotton on to the secret, there is no dramatic arc, because the building blocks are missing. Jean is particularly under-sketched, and there’s no explanation as to why she is so cold to her daughter. We are left with a great atmosphere, the nights are full of shimmering lights and the desolate amusement pier is captured with enticing allure. But this cannot make up for a script needing much more work. AS

IN CINEMAS AND CURZON WORLD FROM 18 SEPTEMBER 2020

      

 

Waiting for the Barbarians (2019) ***

Dir: Ciro Guerra | Cast: Mark Rylance, Robert Pattinson, Johnny Depp | Historical drama 110′

Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra continues his exploration of imperialist oppression with this stunningly scenic saga set in magnificent desert surroundings where Mark Rylance plays the humanitarian face of colonialism.

WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS is the Oscar nominated director’s third drama and his English language debut following on from Embrace of the Serpent and Birds of Passage. Based on the novel by Nobel Prize-winning South African writer J.M. Coetzee, who also wrote the script, it takes place in an unspecified country and feels like a small scale version of Lawrence of Arabia with its exotic magnetism. But this is a far more sober parable that sees Rylance’s archaeologist ‘Magistrate’ falls prey to his own desires – there’s no fool like an old fool – when he falls for a young nomadic woman who has been captured in a desert raid by soldiers in the remote outpost where the he has made a niche for himself and gained the trust and respect of the locals.

‘The Magistrate’ is a cultured gentleman who speaks the local language and understands the customs – although the characters are made up of a multi racial group from North African to Mongolian and the locations are in Morocco. His experience of the country is a peaceful one very much in the vein of “live and let live”. His view is that Colonial rule is an imposition rather than a civilising influence, and that forcing the local populace to accept the ways of the interloper is tantamount to to war.

When Johnny Depp arrives as the po-faced effete Police Chief Joll he has other ideas. A couple of local “barbarians” have been arrested for thieving, Inspector Joll insists on a draconian interrogation, leaving them bloody and beaten and extracting from them a putative admission of treachery that enables him to maintain his position of colonial oppression.

All this power-posturing is as relevant now as it ever was but the choice of a non-specific cultural backdrop is more difficult to reconcile on film than it is on the page, left to our imagination. And its odd to see Mongolian tribesmen roaming around in the Moroccan desert. But the hero of the piece eventually turns into an outcast after he becomes sexually obsessed by the “barbarian” girl (Mongolian actress Gana Bayarsaikhan). His subsequent decision to return her to her family is deemed a dereliction of duty, allowing Joll to come down heavily with his metal cosh – another fantasy element to the narrative, along with the alarming finale.

Waiting for the Barbarians is an admirable drama but one that leaves us contemplating its message rather than its characters, who unreachable despite the best efforts of a stellar cast. Robert Pattinson is handed a rather bum role as Joll’s sneering secretary Officer Mandel, a farcry from his strong recent run with the French Dauphin in The KingHigh Life and The Lighthouse. Rylance manages to make us pity and root for The Magistrate up to a point, even though he becomes a figure of fun in the end for his Christ-like goodness. Fortunately the baddies get their come-uppance: and Rylance eventually finds redemption giving the film a satisfactory conclusion and some scary moments such as the menacing final scene. MT

NOW AVAILABLE TO WATCH ONLINE

 

 

 

Apples (2020) Curzon online

Dir: Christos Nikou | Drama Greece, 90

When it comes to films about pandemics nothing could be more serene than this lucid and gently crafted weird wave debut drama from Greek director Christos Nikou.

Not to say that Apples isn’s subversive in a charming way.  The idea came to Nikou long before the coronavirus crisis and yet it perfectly captures the disarming effects of its character’s quiet meltdown. Aris (Aris Servetalis) becomes a victim of amnesia that slowly spreads through his local community and beyond.

There’s nothing of the mass hysteria experienced through the globe just recently. Here the treatment is not a vaccine but involves a series of exercises to re-build his memory. And at first Aris submits willingly the tasks under the care of his amiable medical consultant. Every single event must be dutifully recorded on a camera  – visits to the cinema or shops, even amorous encounters. Everyone submits to the same regime but Aris slowly starts to object to this authoritarian situation.

There are subtle echoes of Yorgos Lanthimos here: Nikou actually trained under the director so it comes as no surprise. But the wry and slightly soporific tone makes this pleasurable to watch allowing languid time out for our own thoughts and feelings. MT

Exclusively on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday 7 May | Apples will also be available to cinemas nationwide as they reopen from lockdown closures | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | HORIZONS 2020 review

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

 

Wonders in the Suburbs | Merveilles a Montfermeil (2019) **

Wri/Dir: Jeanne Balibar | Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Beart, Ramzy Bedia, Bulle Ogier | Comedy | France, 109′

Seasoned actress turned Jean Balibar first satirised France in Par Example, Electre, starring and directing alongside Pierre Leon. Six years later her stylish but structureless solo attempt at anarchic comedy is far from wonderful but certainly colourful. Shot on location in the Parisian suburbs of Seine St. Denis and Montfermeil, it features over seventy locals and a star-studded cast, but sinks under the weight of conflicting ideas.

Kamel Mrabti (Bedia) and his wife Joëlle (Balibar) are a divorcing couple at the centre of the unfolding political farce. As active members of a new task force they are working to revitalise the locale with some exciting ideas, and although their marriage is over and new lovers have already entered the fray, the two must support their latest mayor Emmanuelle Joly (a fine Beart) in implementing a set of initiatives that include the new Montfermeil International School of Languages with the teaching 62 local languages; the ‘slowing of urban rhythms’; the introduction of a ‘Nap programme’; and social support for sexual satisfaction.

Marijuana is not only legalised under this new regime, it’s actually provided by the council, along with fresh vegetables. Naturally this is all very New Age and exciting. But behind the scenes chaos rules: the Mayor is losing it slowly, undermined but a more senior government official, and Kamel is suspected of being in league with Paris – the big enemy of devolution. Meanwhile, Joly’s secretary is learning Mandinka to keep up with her Malian lover, and the Army is lurking in the woods nearby, ready to strike.

DoP Andre Chemotoff’s visuals vamp up the histrionic mayhem in a production that looks slick and very professional. And although Amalric, Beart and Balibar shine in the leading roles they can’t rescue Balibar’s rather flawed script: breaking eggs on a sculpture of President Macon is, like the whole affair, not particularly original or impressive. MT

NOW ON MUBI | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 7-17 AUGUST 2019   

 

Venice Film Festival 2020 | Main jury complete

Preparations for the real time  77th Venice Film festival are gaining momentum with the announcement of an impressive jury headed by this year’s president Cate Blanchett – currently appearing in the BBC’s breakout series Mrs America.

Australia’s Blanchett is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning actress, producer, humanitarian, and dedicated member of the arts community. In 2018, she was one of the most engaging and affective Jury Presidents at Cannes Film Festival. A winter of three well deserved BAFTAs, two Academy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, as well as numerous award nominations. Blanchett is equally accomplished on the stage, having led the Sydney Theatre Company as co-Artistic Director and CEO for six years with her partner, Andrew Upton.

Veronika Franz (Austria), arthouse auteuse and screenwriter, Franz started her career in journalism for the Viennese daily Tageszeitung Kurier. Since 1997 and has more recently worked with director Ulrich Seidle as an artistic collaborator, and co-screenwriter on Dog Days (Hundstage, 2001), Import Export (2007) and the PARADISE trilogy (2012/13). The documentary Kern (2102) was both her debut film as a director, and the first film she made with director Severin Fiala. It was followed by her first fiction feature film, Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh Ich seh, 2014), which she co-directed with Fiala and presented in Venice in the Orizzonti section. The film won numerous awards and was selected to represent Austria at the Academy Awards. The two directors then made their first film in English, The Lodge, starring Riley Keough and Jaeden Martell, presented at the Sundance Film Festival 2019.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Joanna Hogg (Great Britain), is a director and screenwriter, unique for her depictions of middle and upper class life in London’s creative milieu. Her first feature-length film, Unrelated (2008), starring Tom Hiddleston, won the Fipresci Prize at The London Film Festival. Her second film, Archipelago (2010) won a Special Commendation at The London Film Festival and had a successful theatrical release. In 2013 she made Exhibition, starring the Slits guitarist Viv Albertine, and British artist Liam Gillick. Her most recent semi-autobiographical film The Souvenir, executive produced by Martin Scorsese, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2019 where it won the World Cinema Dramatic Grand Jury Award.

Nicola Lagioia (Italy), a writer, is the director of the Salone Internazionale del Libro in Turin since 2016 and also a radio broadcaster  on Rai Radio3. He writes for publications such as «Repubblica», «Il Venerdi», «Internazionale», «La Stampa». His books have been translated in 15 countries.

Christian Petzold (Germany), leading protagonists of the German ‘New Wave’ and one of the most significant film directors working in Germany today he won the German Film Critics’ award for Best Film three times for Die innere Sicherheit (The State I Am In, 2000), presented in Venice, Gespenster (Ghosts, 2005) and Yella (2007), presented in Berlin. In 2008, he was in Venice in Competition with Jerichow, for which he won the Deutscher Filmpreis in 2009 as Best Director. He won the Silver Bear in 2012 for Barbara (above) in Berlin, where in 2018 he won great critical acclaim for Transit. In 2020, again in Berlin, he won the FIPRESCI award for Undine.

Cristi Puiu (Romania), director and screenwriter, made his debut as a director in 2001 with the low-cost road movie Stuff and Dough (Marfa şi bani), presented in the Quinzaines section at Cannes and considered to be the film that ushered in New Romanian Cinema. In 2005 his second feature film, the black comedy titled The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, won critical acclaim and the Un Certain Regard prize at the Cannes Film Festival. He had equal success with Sieranevada, presented in Competition at Cannes. In 2020 Manor House (Malmkrog) won the award for Best Director in the Encounters section of the Berlin Film Festival.

Ludivine Sagnier (France), is an actress whose screen debut was in Alain Resnais’ 1989 drama in I Want to Go Home! In 1990 she appeared in the epic film Cyrano de Bergerac. In 2003 she played Tinkerbelle in P. J. Hogan’s film Peter Pan. One French director François Ozon regulars she also starred in: Water Drops on Burning Rocks, 8 Women and Swimming Pool, alongside Charlotte Rampling and has become one of the most renowned and esteemed French actresses. Her most recent films include The Truth (La Vérité) by Hirokazu Koreeda, the opening film of the Venice International Film Festival 2019, and the second series The New Pope by Paolo Sorrentino.

MATT DILLON has now replaced Cristi Puiu

The Jury of Venice 77 will award the following official prizes to the feature films in Competition: Golden Lion for Best Film, Silver Lion – Grand Jury Prize, Silver Lion for Best Director, Coppa Volpi for Best Actor, Coppa Volpi for Best Actress, Award for Best Screenplay, Special Jury Prize “Marcello Mastroianni” Award for Best New Young Actor or Actress.

Vision Nocturna | Night Shot (2019) ***** FID Marseille

Dir.: Carolina Muscoso Briceño; Documentary; Chile 2019, 80 min.

Pain, Rage and Acceptance: the various stages of rape. Chilean first-time director/co-writer and DoP Carolina Muscoso Briceño has dared to go where very few have gone before her: having been a rape victim almost a decade ago while studying at the Film School in Santiago, she has since made a film diary of her life still rocked to this day by the rape trauma. Intercut with her reflexions on the assault – and not only her own experience – Night Shot is a testament to gradual liberation.

“Rape victims are ashamed of what happened to them. The first thing that mobilised me was to break with that shameful legacy and to think of a way of exposing it to cross that barrier” says the director.

Everyday life go on, in various formats. Her experiences about the attack itself and the bureaucratic engendered are set mostly against a black background. On the beach near Santiago, Carolina became separated from her friends, and came across Gary. The two decided to go for something to eat nearby, but on the way he raped her. “Afterwards I did as he told me. I stayed motionless in the bushes. He said he would kill me if I followed him. I cleaned the blood off my face, picked up my ripped shirt and headed for the highway”.  The distress was further compounded by her father’s comments when he picked her up in his car: “a friend of mine got raped by her father. That’s much worse.”

Carolina went to a hospital, and was examined two hours after the rape. But the Catholic female doctor was against offering her a morning-after-pill, on the grounds of being against aborton “on principle”. What follows adds insult to injury and later Gary Raul Lopez Montero categorically refused any connection with Carolina. “I never knew anybody called Carolina. I met no one that night. I have a one-year-old daughter, I deny any involvement in this event” His brashness compared with Carolina’s answers still under the influence of the rape, made the DA drop the case.

Eight years later, Carolina makes another attempt to get justice, seeking advice from her lawyer friend Slvio who describes recourse as an uphill struggle for the victim, particularly where they refused to complete  hospital tests and seemed to lack conviction about their own role in the matter. Chile’s systemic structure of ‘justice’, in which the rape victim had to prove the guilt of the attacker, is common in most countries. Carolina’s first psychologist had told her “You are in the middle of an emergency landing”, and whilst she talked, Carolina imagined the different ways of falling.

Later Silvio has even worse news: The time limit for prosecution of rape is usually ten years, but since Gary was a minor at the time of the attack, the limit is just five years. Carolina eventually returns to the scene of the crime: “To be back feels like a big fire, this fire accompanies me, as well as the feeling that Gary is right here. That nine years later, he never has left this place”. She films and photographs the terrain, and is asked by a rider on horseback, why she is taking the photos. Her response is candid: “I am recording this place here, because something has happened here. Yes, here in Papudo. A long time ago, seven or eight years.” The rider asks: “Something good or bad”. Caroline’s answer is “good and bad”, before stating that she did not know her feelings are ambivalent. and: “I don’t know why I think I’ll find the wallet I lost that day”. Breathtakingly honest, Night Shot is an absolute masterpiece of form and context. AS

FID MARSEILLE 2020 | INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION.

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

Homeland (Domovine) (2020) **** FID Marseille

Dir.: Jelena Maksimovic; Cast: Jelena Angelovski, Trifonas Siapalinis; Serbia 2020, 63 min.

Jelena Maksimovic is inspired by her own life experience in this feature debut, a lament about loss but above all, a feminist reckoning dedicated to the filmmaker’s grandmother Elina Gacu (1928-2017), evacuated from civil wartorn Greece to what was then Yugoslavia, now North Macedonia.

The stark winter setting makes this all the more foreboding: A car approaching a wild mountainside, a young woman behind the wheel, a banal, romantic song on the car stereo. Not the best of welcomes for the ‘homecoming’ of someone who has never set foot in her country before.

The changing seasons mark a year’s stay in this village, and her growing unfulfilled longing to find a place which connects to her grandmother who has lived here since being exiled from her homeland during the Civil War (1946-1949), the first proxy war of the global Cold War.

This young woman is a visitor but not a tourist, wanting to claim something of the place for herself. Fragments of war of are everywhere: in fortifications, ruined houses and the reminiscences of old men who recall partisans coming from the mountains to fight government troops before vanishing back into their hideouts.

The woman befriends a restaurant owner, they cook together, he and his friends perform an old folk dance. But for the most part she tries to connect with the inhospitable terrain where animals are her only friends.  Hidden traces of the combat are everywhere. Finally, after so much silence she breaks into a final poetic outburst, accusing the men of bringing warfare to the place and repressing women. She claims the trees in the woods are the only true communists, and mourns the fate of her grandmother.

DoP Dusan Grubin makes an unobtrusive foray into this melancholy setting  – his harrowing panorama shots are just a foretaste of what is to come in a paean to lost identity. The main unnamed character is a victim of fragmentation and alienation: her trial to find anything like home is hampered by the silence around her. The past is the past – whatever the partisans stood for – or whatever the war was about. Her grandmother is a bridge to this past and will lead her back to herself. Homeland is for every soul searching for a place to call their own, moored somewhere in their dreams. AS

FID Marseille | 2020 | INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION 

Shady River | Rio Turbio (2020) *** FID Marseille

Dir.: Tatiana Mazu Gonzalez; Documentary Argentine 2020, 81 min.

Amongst the wealth of stories coming out of South America at the moment is this unique and visually arresting first feature unearthing an alarming history of exploitation and repression in a Patagonian mining town.

Argentina’s Tatiana Mazu sets a combative tone to her documentary essay which takes the form of seven books, and shows a woman with rifle (the director herself?), ready to push back against old stories of witchcraft. Clearly these are a feisty bunch who don’t take kindly to a macho culture where women were forbidden to enter the underground labyrinth, which is ironically ‘female’ and talks in a women’s voice

The mine was run until 2002 by Sergio Taseli, a local asset stripper, who embarked on several high cost local projects such as the Roca-Belgrano Sur Railway, which were never completed, Taseli collecting his share of the profits beforehand.

But accidents do happen, and we see the photos of the victims. In 2004 fourteen miners died underground after a collapse. Children play amongst the wreckage in old 8mm family films, and Mazu makes use of plans, etchings, drawings, and blueprints to add grist to the grim story. It also emerges she once built a bomb with her chemistry set, intending to create havoc with the establishment.

Then there is the story of Clara who had a sex change operation, and went on to study electro mechanics. After graduating she could only find work as a secretary in the mining company offices. Nowadays, she is one of the few women working underground. But the exploitation continues: after a strike, the leaders were dismissed, and the rest of the workers had to take on their work load.

The oppressive nature of the mine is reflected in deadly silence and stark images, both In colour and black-and-white: Nature Was raped and it’s jewels torn away, crevices appearing everywhere, dark lakes and endless rows of pre-fabricated huts. There are shades of Tarkovsky in the water and the dour surroundings where industrial waste proliferates. Editor Sebastian Zanzotera takes credit for the montage of striking images that lead us into a maze of death and patriarchy.

Mazu takes us to a hidden world, far away from everything, where the newsreel images of Buenos Aires or a Miss Argentine competition seem to be from another universe all together.

FID Marseille 2020 | INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION 

Locarno Film Festival 2020 | 5-15 August 2020

Locarno Film Festival is still going ahead in its discreet lakeside setting but will be a more streamlined initiative, devised by Artistic Director Lili Hinstin, largely for the locals, as was this year’s Karlovy Vary, with a section entitled FILMS AFTER TOMORROW: twenty feature-length projects that were delayed in their completion, due to the pandemic. It’s unclear whether these films will be presented half-finished or whether they are a potted version of the blueprint for the full feature.

All this remains to be seen. That said, there’s twenty of them, in a suspended state, competing for the 2020 Pardo. These are the feature length projects that the selection committee, headed by Artistic Director Lili Hinstin, has chosen for The Films After Tomorrow, the strand of Locarno 2020 – For the Future of Films that has been conceived to offer proper support to filmmakers who had to put production on hold because of the lockdown.

The International selection
The following are the 10 international projects selected:

These the 10 projects from Switzerland:

Meanwhile Locarno Film Festival’s OPEN DOORS section (10 full-length and 10 short films) will be available for viewing worldwide, exclusively online, during the Festival from 5 through 15 Augustwebsite of the Locarno Film Festival The complete list of full-length films selected is as follows:

Apparition (Aparisyon), by Isabel Sandoval – Philippines/USA– 2012

Atambua 39° Celsius, by Riri Riza – Indonesia – 2012

Clash (Engkwentro), by Pepe Diokno – Philippines – 2009

Memories of My Body (Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku), by Garin

Nugroho – Indonesia – 2018

Sell Out!, by Yeo Joon Han – Malaysia – 2008

Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay, by Antoinette

Jadaone – Philippines – 2011

Songlap, by Effendee Mazlan and Fariza Azlina Isahak – Malaysia – 2011

Tender Are the Feet, by Maung Wunna – Myanmar – 1973

The Masseur (Masahista), by Brillante Mendoza – Philippines – 2005

What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love, by

Mouly Surya – Indonesia – 2013

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2020 5 -15 AUGUST 2020 

Cannes Classics | Festival de Cannes 2020

In the Mood for love by Wong Kar-wai twenty years after, À Bout de souffle and L’Avventuraturn 60, great filmmakers (Wim Wenders, Federico Fellini, Bertrand Blier, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Glauber Rocha, Lino Brocka), Tilda Swinton’s first major role in a science fiction film, Muhammad Ali meets William Klein, rediscoveries from the Festival de Cannes ‘60, ‘68, ‘73 and ’81, the first color fiction of Chinese cinema, an unknown masterpiece from Sri Lanka, a Serbian comedy, the new wave of Russian cinema, from yesterday’s cinema to today’s world with the first film by Melvin Van Peebles and a stricking documentary on women from Brittany, a landmark film about Charlie Chaplin, an exceptional portrait of actor John Belushi, Bruce Lee revisited and a celebration to great Italian actress Alida Valli, here is Cannes Classics 2020.

In the Mood for Love (2000, 1h38, Hong Kong) by Wong Kar-wai

The 4k restoration of the film made from the original negative was lead by Criterion and L’Immagine Ritrovata under the supervision of Wong Kar-wai. In the Mood for Love, by Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai, made its lead actor Tony Leung win the Male Interpretation Prize.

French theatrical distribution: The Jokers Films, date of release: December 2, 2020.

Actress Tilda Switon in her first big screen role to pay tribute to film director and film theorist Peter Wollen. It will be the rediscovery of a rare work.

Friendship’s Death (1987, 1h12, United Kingdom) by Peter Wollen

Presented by the British Film Institute (BFI). The 4K remastering by the BFI National Archive was from the original Standard 16mm colour negative. The soundtrack was digitised directly from the original 35mm final mix magnetic master track. The remastering was undertaken in collaboration with the film’s producer, Rebecca O’Brien and cinematographer, Witold Stok.

The Story of a Three-Day Pass (La Permission) (1967, 1h27, France) by Melvin Van Peebles

Presented by IndieCollect and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The restoration of The Story of a Three-Day Pass (La Permission) was funded by a grant from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The original film elements were found by the IndieCollect team during its inventory of Melvin Van Peebles’ New York apartment and storage facility. To create the restoration, the IndieCollect team used a 5K Kinetta Archival Scanner to digitally capture the 35mm Interpositive of the American version and combined it with elements scanned from the French version. Color grading and restoration were completed in-house by Oskar Miarka, and the titles were recreated by Cameron Haffner. Sandra Schulberg translated the French dialogue and new English subtitles were created.

Lyulskiy dozhd (July Rain / Pluie de juillet) (1966, 1h48, Russia) by Marlen Khutsiev

Presented by Mosfilm Cinema Concern. Source material: negative. 4K digital restoration. Restored by: Mosfilm Cinema Concern. Producer of restoration: Karen Shakhnazarov. Year of restoration: 2020.

Quand les femmes ont pris la colère (1977, 1h15, France) by Soizick Chappedelaine and René Vautier

Presented by Ciaofilm. The film was scanned in 4K and restored in 2K from the original 16mm negative. Image works carried out by ECLAIR Classics and by L.E.DIAPASON for the sound under the supervision of Moïra Chappedelaine-Vautier with the support of the CNC, the Cinémathèque de Bretagne and the Région Bretagne.

French theatrical distribution in 2021. DVD / Blu-ray release by Les Mutins de Pangée and in VOD on Cinémutins in 2021.

Préparez vos mouchoirs (Get Out Your Handkerchiefs) (1977, 1h50, France) by Bertrand Blier

Presented by TF1 Studio and Orange Studio / CAPAC. 4K Restoration from the picture negative and the French magnetic soud track, supervised by Bertrand Blier. Digital works carried out by Eclair laboratory in 2019.

Hester Street (1973, 1h30, USA) by Joan Micklin Silver

Presented by Cohen Film Collection. The primary source element for the restoration of Hester Street was the original 35mm camera negative. Brief sections of duplicate negative, in particular the opening title sequence with burned in titles, were cut into the original negative in order to produce the original release prints. 4K scanning and restoration work was carried out by DuArt Media Services in New York.

Ko to tamo peva ? (Who’s Singing Over There? / Qui chante là-bas ?) (1980, 1h26, Serbia) by Slobodan Šijan

Presented by Malavida Films. Restoration from the picture and sound negative. Scanning: Arriscan. Supervision: Slobodan Šijan with Milorad Glusica. Sound restored by Aleksandar Stojsin.

French theatrical distribution: Malavida Films, date of release :  October 21, 2020.

Prae dum (Black Silk) (1961, 1h58, Thailand) by R.D. Pestonji

Presented by Film Archive Thailand (Public Organization). 4K Scan and 4K Restoration from the original 35mm negative (preserved by Film Archive Thailand). Restoration made and financed by Film Archive Thailand and Thai Ministry of Culture. Mastered in 4K for Digital Projection.

Zhu Fu (New Year Sacrifice) (1956, 1h40, China) by Hu Sang

Presented by Shanghai International Film Festival and China Film Archive. 4K Scan and 4K Digital Restoration from the original 35mm image negative and sound negative (preserved by China Film Archive). Restoration made by China Film Archive. Co-financed by Shanghai International Film Festival and Jaeger-LeCoultre. Mastered in 4K for Digital Projection.

Feldobott kő (Upthrown Stone / La Pierre lancée) (1968, 1h25, Hungary) by Sándor Sára

Presented by National Film Institute – Film Archive – Hongrie.

The 4K digital restoration was carried out as part of ‘The long-term restoration program of Hungarian film heritage” of the National Film Institute – Film Archive. The restoration was made using the original image and sound negatives by the National Film Institute – Filmlab. The Digital grading was supervised by Sándor Sára. Collaborating partner: Hungarian Society of Cinematographers.

Neige (1981, 1h30, France) by Juliet Berto and Jean-Henri Roger

Presented by JHR Films. First 4k digital restoration submitted by JHR Films with the support of the CNC et de l’image animée. The restoration was carried out at L’Image Retrouvée laboratory in Bologna and in Paris.

French theatrical distribution: JHR Films, date of release: spring 2021.

Bambaru Avith (The Wasps Are Here) (1978, 2h, Sri Lanka) by Dharmasena Pathiraja

Presented by Asian Film Archive. 4K film and sound restoration was carried out by L’Immagine Ritrovata using the sole-surviving 35mm film positive. The raw and restored 4K scans, a new 35mm picture and sound negatives, and a new positive print of the restored version of the film have been produced and are preserved by the Asian Film Archive.

Bayanko: Kapit sa patalim (Bayan Ko) (1984, 1h48, Philippines / France) by Lino Brocka

Presented by Le Chat qui fume. First 4k digital restoration submitted by Le Chat qui fume. Scanning made at VDM laboratory and restoration carried out by Le Chat qui fume in Paris.

French theatrical distribution and Blu-ray / UHD release: Le Chat qui fume, date of release: February 2021.

La Poupée (1962, 1h34, France) by Jacques Baratier

Presented by the CNC. Sound and image digital work of restoration executed by the CNC and carried out by Hiventy. Follow-up by the CNC and supervised by Diane Baratier. Digital restoration made from 4K scans of the original negative. A 35mm print from the digital restoration was released. French distribution: Tamasa Distribution.

Sanatorium pod klepsydra (The Hourglass Sanatory / La Clepsydre) (1973, 2h04, Poland) by Wojciech J. Has 

Presented by Polish Film Classics. 4k Scan and 2K restoration carried out by DI Factory and the reKino team by keeping the guidelines of DOP Witold Sobociński (this restoration is dedicated to him) who could eventually achieve the image he wished to obtain in 1973. Artistic supervision: cinematographer Piotr Sobociński Jr. Right-owners: WFDiF.

French Blu-ray release: Malavida Films, date of release: May 2021.

L’Amérique insolite (America as Seen by a Frenchman) (1959, 1h30, France) by François Reichenbach

Presented by Les Films du jeudi. Restoration carried out at Hiventy: 4K scan – 2K restoration from the original negatives.

Deveti krug (The Ninth Circle / Neuvième cercle) (1960, 1h37, Croatia) by France Štiglic

Digital restoration in 2K presented by Croatian Cinematheque – Croatian State Archives with the support of Croatian Audiovisual Centre. Restoration performed by Ater and Klik Film studios in Zagreb, Croatia.

Muhammad Ali the Greatest (1974, 2h03, France) by William Klein

Presented by Films Paris New York and ARTE. First digital 2K restoration from the original 16mm negative scanned in 4K carried out with the support of the CNC. Image works were carried out by ECLAIR Classics and by L.E.DIAPASON for the sound.

SCREENING AT CANNES and at the FESTIVAL LUMIERE LYON

Clemency (2019) Prime Video

Dir.: Chinonye Chukwu; Cast: Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff, Danielle Brooks, Michael O’Neill, Wendell Pierce, Richard Gunn, Vernee Watson; USA 2019, 113 min.

Director/writer Chinonye Chukwu certainly knows her subject. The founder of a filmmaking collective dedicated to teaching incarcerated women, she has also worked as a volunteer on many clemency appeal cases. But despite a towering performance by Alfre Woodard in the lead role, Clemency is surprisingly under-whelming.

Bernadine Williams (Chukwu) is the chief warden of a High Security prison, facing the twelfth execution of her tenure. The previous one was a botched job, the anaesthetic injection and lethal substance just didn’t work. So Williams was forced to close the curtains between the execution chamber and the witness booth to the chagrin of family members.

Case number twelve is a certain Anthony Woods (Hodge), on death row for more than a decade after  killing a police officer – even though he maintains his innocence. The proceedings will test Bernadine to the last: Defence attorney Marty Lumetta (Schiff), also a fighter, and like Bernadine, on his final job before retirement. He’s hoping for a reprieve for his client. Meanwhile her deputy (Gunn) is going for another job in a prison without an execution facility. The Prison Chaplain (O’Neill), is equally disenchanted and opting for a transfer.

Bernadine is somehow left high and dry, her co-workers making her look cold and over-efficient. Her school teacher husband (Pierce) is sententious but not unsympathetic. Reading Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’ to his students, he clearly considers himself special and somehow shames his wife into re-examining their marriage, driving her to the bottle with his prim attitude. Bernadine also has to deal with histrionics from the dead policeman’s mother (Watson), and by now we have come to understand Bernadine is fighting a one-woman battle, the writer/director letting her down badly, somehow making her look incapable. Meanwhile Woods’ discovers he is now a father, and the demonstrators outside the prison are getting louder as the day of execution approaches.

Clemency is a heavy film to watch not because of its subject matter but because it is seriously down on its heroine despite her diligent and likeable personality. Eric Branco provides stylish, if somewhat over-symbolic, widescreen images and Kathryn Bostic’s score is subtle. Despite all this it feels as if Chukwu has abandoned the quietly thoughtful heroine Bernadine in favour of those who question the system. AS

GRAND JURY PRIZE | Sundance Film Festival | FRIDAY 17 JULY 2020 | CURZON HOME CINEMA  

Parasite (2019) **** In Black and White

Dir: Bong Joon Ho | Cast: Song Kang-ho, Choi Woo-shik, Chang Hyae-jin, Park So-dam, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Jung Ziso, Lee Jung-em, Jung Hyeon-jun | Drama | Korea 131′

The black and white cut of this wickedly thrilling upstairs downstairs social satire Korean-style seems even more resonant, relevant and appealing in its monochrome format.

This scabrous story is the latest in a line of hits from the South Korean master along with The Host, Snowpiercer and Okja. But this time the gloves are off as Boon Joon offers up shameless social reality and makes no bones it, dishing the dirt on the rigid class system in his homeland.

Thematically rather too similar to last year’s Plane d’Or winner Shopkeepers to offer any big surprises about South Korean life, this is nonetheless startling in its candour. The characters are ordinary people making their way as best they can. But this is a flashier film that wears its satire on its slick sleeve for all to access, and there’s nothing subtle about its social message. The ‘parasites’ are sharp individuals who cunningly see their way to the main chance. Bong Joon calls the film “a comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains.” Yet in the natural world, parasites live off their hosts, depending on them for survival, but often causing disease or harm. This certainly was the case in The Servant, but does it happen here?

Head of the family Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) lives with his wife Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin), son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam) in a squalid slum, grafting a living by preparing cardboard pizza boxes. Through his backstreet contacts, young Ki-woo inveigles himself into a wealthy household of a captain of industry Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun) where he is tasked with tutoring his teenage daughter Da-hye (Jung Ziso). Her mother Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) is a typically vacuous trophy wife who prances around their pristine modernist mansion all day, doing a spot of shopping when she occasionally ventures out with . Without giving any clues away, the Ki-woo’s entire family are drafted into the vast mansion, taking various guises, and booting out the old guard. As the narrative spools out with a series of plot twists, the tension gradually mounts and the gulf between rich and poor is ramped up to the maximum. No one comes out a winner after a lavish garden party where they all take part in some form or another, as blood mingles with the champagne.

Winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2019 and four Academy Awards in 2020, including the Oscar for Best International Feature, this is a confident and entertaining drama that beats as it sweeps, its production values as smooth as silk and laced with a dread-laden score. The kids give as good as the adults performance-wise and leave us pondering which is best: North Korea with its oppressively restrictive communist regime or the South with its dog eat dog capitalism based on the law of the jungle? MT

PARASITE WON THE PALME D’OR 2019 | ACADEMY AWARDS FOR BEST DIRECTOR, BEST MOTION PICTURE, BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY, BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE.

NOW in Black and White COURTESY OF CURZON ARTIFICIAL EYE | IN CINEMAS from 24 July 2020

 

 

 

Villa Empain (2019) **** MUBI

Dir: Katharina Kastner | Doc, Belg/France/Ger/ 25′

Katerina Kastner’s impressionistic documentary debut captures the essence of the Villa Empain, one of the most beautiful architectural masterpieces of Art Deco in Brussels. In 1930, at the age of 21, Baron Louis Empain commissioned the building of a private mansion in 55 acres on the prestigious Avenue de la Nation which was later on renamed as Franklin Roosevelt Avenue.

Using the finest materials available in those interwar years (marble, bronze and precious wood), the luxurious house consisted of four polished granite facades, surrounded by a large garden with a pergola and swimming pool. A collector and curator, Louis Empain eventually decided that the property was better served as a museum of decorative and contemporary art, and it was donated to the Belgian Nation in 1937. But the Second World War changed everything and the villa languished until 1943, when it was requisitioned by the German army, eventually becoming an embassy for the USSR in peacetime when Empain recovered his property in the beginning of the sixties, before reselling it in 1973. For nearly ten years it was rented to the TV channel RTL then falling to semi-rack and ruin during the 1990s. It was eventually saved by a wealthy family who set up the Boghossian Foundation in 2007, transforming the building into an East West cultural centre and guaranteeing the revival of its fortunes.

Shot in 16mm this is a sensual creation that resonates with the passage of time, showcasing the the house’s former glory through its trials and tribulations to its present reincarnation. The clever editing brings an eerie and fleeting sense of human presence drifting through the empty rooms and light-filled gardens where leaves swirl and valuable materials shimmer in shafts of sunlight. This short but ravishing documentary takes us on a dreamy distant journey to the coast where the family once enjoyed beach holidays in a space reflected by evocative fantasies and haunted by the war years. A century of memories recorded in a treasured place in time. MT

COMES TO MUBI ON 15 JULY 2020 |

Good Manners (2017) **** MUBI

Dir: Juliana Rojas/Marco Dutra | Brazil, France | Fantasy Drama | 135′

Good Manners is a lyrical werewolf fantasy fable that explores class, sexuality and unconditional love in contemporary São Paulo.

Handling its tonal shifts with a deftness as light-hearted as its female-centric cast Good Manners is another example of the fresh and inventive filmmaking coming out of South America at the moment. It follows a young Black woman (Clara/Isabél Zuaa) who takes a job as a home help for an expectant single mother (Ana/Majorie Estiano) who is a member of Brazil’s privileged ‘nouveau riche’.

Ana spends her time shopping and exercising in her high rise luxury condo that soon becomes Clara’s home. After a sensuous pregnancy massage, Ana starts to trust Clara implicitly giving the woman all her bank details even though Clara fails to produce satisfactory references from her landlady Dona Amélia (an amusing Cida Moreira). Alarm bells ring, but it soon emerges that Clara is not the one to be wary of. Ana has some pretty strange secrets and bizarre habits which are gradually revealed in this rather slow-burning drama enriched by clever use of hand-painted scenery for the backdrop of Sao Paulo, and pleasant musical interludes to tell its beguiling story.

Clara and Ana soon enjoy a tender relationship that is refreshingly free from jealousy or resentment. One night they kiss so passionately that Clara’s lips bleed. This signals a growing intimacy between the two that is not so much a  a lesbian awakening, as a growing closeness and dependency due to Ana’s vulnerability that feels entirely natural in her current state. This is another clever way of signalling sexual fluidity, but something more unsettling then starts to take place when Ana scratches her companion’s shoulder, again drawing blood.

Ana’s backstory is clearly a troubled one and she is saddened by the recent break with her family who continue to finance her life, despite “a mistake” on her part which remains a mystery but appears – in delicately rendered pastel drawings – to involve a one-night-stand with a rather hirsute cowboy lover. Clara is enchanted by a musical box containing a tiny dancing horse that plays a tune that will haunt the rest of the film. Then Clara discovers large hunks of meat in the ‘fridge and, during the Full Moon, Ana sleep-walks into the street, her eyes turning a ghastly yellow. When Clara follows her one night she is terrorised to find Ana killing a cat and drinking the blood.

All this seems to unfold without sensationalism, the directors handle the blend of genres with graceful aplomb making this feel more like a fairy story rather than full on horror fare. Ana’s horrific gory birth scene takes on Alien proportions but the alien here is a rather sorrowful baby werewolf – and we feel for him, rather than fear him. With Ana’s death, Clara moves back to the poverty of her favela – cue musical interlude – again, more like a scene from Les Miserables than true Brazilian favela squalor. The little boy Joel is adorable, even when he transforms to a tot werewolf during the full moon when he is taken to ‘the little bedroom’, a secure place with chains and fluffy toys.

All in all, GOOD MANNERS is graceful, softly crafted horror movie that has more in common with ‘Jackanory’, with its brightly coloured ‘beanstalk’ garden, than the terror inspired by Lon Chaney’s werewolf outings, but it nonetheless exerts a thrilling tension. Rui Pocas’ cinematography evokes vibrant images in the interiors and the CGI used for the transformations is just about convincing. Ultimately a story about the power of a mother’s transformative and unconditional love rather than a tale of destruction and woe. If there’s one criticism, GOOD MANNERS rather outstays its welcome at 135 minutes, but certainly hooks us into its spell until the grand finale. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 10 JULY 2020 | LOCARNO 2017 REVIEW

 

 

 

Kubrick by Kubrick (2020)**** KVIFF 2020

Dir.: Gregory Monro; Documentary with Stanley Kubrick, Michel Ciment, Malcolm McDowell; France/USA 2020, 72 min.

Seasoned documentarian Gregory Monro (Michel Legrand: Let the Music play) unpacks more gems, this time the focus is legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Kubrick by Kubrick sees Monro teaming up with French film critic Michel Ciment and enriched by interviews with the maestro and stars: Malcolm McDowell, Sterling Hayden, Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall amongst others.

In the wake of Kubrick memorabilia docs Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes and Filmworker Gregory, Monro goes for the jugular, with the help of Michel Ciment (who wrote a seminal book about Kubrick in 1982). Probing for the meaning behind the films. What emerges is a dry witted perfectionist; a keen intellect whose craft was everything.

Ciment (“Kubrick tolerated me for while”) started his 20+ year relationship with the interview-shy New Yorker in 1968, after writing a major article about Kubrick, the first one in France, in Positif in 1968. Kubrick had by then moved permanently to live in England: first Elstree/Borehamwood, near to the studios, then in 1978 to Childwickbury in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, where he edited his films, surrounded by his third wife Christiane Harlan (niece of NS-director Veit Harlan), three daughters and countless cats and dogs. He literally run the film world from his house. Legend has it that Kubrick was a control freak, but actors contradict this strongly: he often came unprepared for the day’s shooting, actors writing their own lines. McDowell defends the maestro’s spontaneity, claiming it the key to true creativity. Kubrick has the last word: “It’s where the ball bonces on the set, that’s where opportunities arise”. 

Peter Sellers came up with the idea of Dr. Strangelove’s ‘independent arm’ rising for the Nazi salute. And Malcolm McDowell claims the choice of Singing in the Rain, was his in Clockwork Orange. Shelley Duvall, driven to tears by Kubrick on the set for The Shining, is quoted: “After a while, an actor would get dead inside – for maybe five takes. But then, they’d comeback to life, and you’d forget all reality other than what you’re doing.”  Which does not mean, that Kubrick the perfectionist didn’t exasperate his collaborators. “I like to get things right, and this can lead to personal conflict, which isn’t popular”. Sterling Hayden complains bitterly about the soul-destroying effect of repetitive takes. But Kubrick got what he wanted on the occasion: “the fear in your eyes, that’s what I’m looking for”. Composer Leonard Roseman (who conducted the Barry Lyndon score) told Kubrick after the 105th take: “We are dealing with an insane person. You have driven everyone crazy.” And even though Kubrick watched 100 hours of documentary footage of the Vietnam war, he still insists, “that one of the things that characterises some of the failures of 20th century art, is an obsession with total originality. Innovation means moving forward, but not abandoning the classical art form you’re working with.”    

In the end, Monro has to conclude that Kubrick’s films are, for the most part, about war and violence. The field of corpses in Paths of Glory or Spartacus are just some examples of human slaughter, but war or conflict can also be on a personal domestic level as experienced in The Shining and Lolita. There’s clearly ambiguity about the violence in Clockwork Orange, as McDowell concedes: “You are not supposed to be rooting for them, but…”.

So Munro comes away with more questions than answers to his film’s pivotal question: What are Kubrick’s film about?. From his early days as a photographer and as a novice filmmaker (Killer’s Kiss), he was obsessed with boxing, his love of the sport is documented by shots of an entranced young Kubrick. And chess which, he claims, taught him patience and discipline.

We end, quite aptly, with 8 mm films of Kubrick’s childhood with his younger sister (Al Bowlly singing ‘Midnight, The Stars and You” from The Shining), and his home life in leafy Hertfordshire, a recreation of the Royal Court’s afterlife scenes from 2001 as a doll-house set provides the leitmotif, rounding up a fascinating portrait of a filmmaker who was – to a large extent – all brain, but could never totally conceal the tough New Yorker beneath. AS

The 55th Karlovy Vary IFF will take place in 2021. Meanwhile Karlovy Vary IFF is organising KVIFF at Your Cinema showcase | SCREENING DURING KVIFF | 4 JULY 2020 

The Garden Left Behind (2019) *** SXSW 2020

Dir.: Flavio Alves; Cast: Carlie Guevara, Ed Asner, Michael Madsen, Miriam Cruz, Tamara M. Williams, Anthony Abdo, Alex Cruz; USA/Brazil, 88 min.

Brazilian-born first time director/co-writer Flavio Alves, granted asylum for political reasons in the USA, has created a moving but structurally erratic portrait of a Mexican transgender woman, who lives with her grandmother as an undocumented immigrant in New York. Shot elegantly in the Bronx and Brooklyn by DoP Koshi Kiyokawa with support of the local transgender community, The Garden is carried by debutant Carlie Guevara in the central role.

Tina (Guevara) is walking along a deserted street at night when she is accosted by a carload of belligerent men shouting insults. Walking towards the camera, we sense trouble for Tina, but Alves cuts to tell her story in flashback. Tina lives with her grandmother Eliana (Cruz) in a small apartment, making money as a Uber driver. Her gender reassignment has been an expensive process, psychiatrist (Asner of ‘Lou Grant’ fame), supporting her through the different stages of the treatment. Tina has a longstanding boyfriend, Jason (Kruz), who is still ashamed to be seen with her in public, particularly in their favourite bar, tended by Kevin (Madsen). Her best friend Carol (Williams) drags Tina into the local activist scene which becomes the main focus of the feature. Support characters include a strange young man, Chris (Abdo), he seems to be negatively obsessed by Tina, scowling angrily at her during shopping trips to the local supermarket. The day-to-day scenes are strongest, we see Tina buying Eliana a new hoover, and her lovemaking scenes, to which grandma listens attentively. Both Guevara and Cruz give understated, naturalistic performances, newcomer Guevara is particular convincing, looking backwards to a past she hardly remembers, whilst being afraid of the future. Unfortunately, Alves decides on a shock-horror ending, and one which is amply telegraphed at that.

Raising the profile of escalating violence towards the transgender community, features like the The Garden Left Behind are certainly worthwhile, if not vital. In times of unrest,  these vulnerable members of society often suffer disproportionately, along with other minorities, and Alves succeeds by only featuring local members of the community – which should be a given, but is not part of the Hollywood standard. It is therefore disappointing the filmmaker lets everyone down with a melodramatic ending, attempting to tug on heartstrings in a double whammy of “revelation”. Guevara and the transgender community deserve a more subtle approach that feels real in today’s developing crisis. AS

SXSW AUDIENCE AWARD WINNER 2020
     

Family Romance LLC (2019) *** Streaming

Dir.: Werner Herzog; Cast: Yuchi Ishii, Mahiro Tamimoto, Miki Fujimaki; USA 2019, 89 min.

Werner Herzog is experimenting again and this latest feature gamely blends drama with a hybridised fiction and documentary. Based on Japanese company that hires out its founder to act as a stand-in to suit client circumstances is not particularly original, although a tongue in cheek humour shines through in some of the cameos. Yorgos Lanthimos did this much better in Alps (2011). Here Herzog somehow falls victim to his narrative’s ambiguity: We’re never sure whether this is social critique, or a hidden camera gag.

Yuchi Ishii is boss and main employee of his Family Romance LLF (Limited Liability Company). His first assignment is at Cherry Blossom time in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park where he is meeting twelve-year old Mahiro Tamimoto: hired by the girl’s mother, his remit is to impersonate her father. The Dad in question pushed off when Mahiro was very young, and her mother Miki Fujimaki needs Yuchi to replace him, on important occasions. But this is just one of Yuchi many gigs: a young celebrity-hungry actor then hires him with a posse of fake photographers to get her face into the newspapers; an elderly woman, who has won 180 000 Yen in the lottery, has wants him to create that same feeling of elation when she found out about her win. Yuchi is also hired by a railway employee to take a bollocking from his boss over the late running of a train – the humour here lies in the perceived loss of face for the worker. But when Mahiro arrives one day with an Afro-American toddler “who no one wants to hang out with” because of her “fire-burned face”, things becomes distinctly weird. And when Mahiro falls for ‘father’ Yuchi, her mother tries to have the him move in.

Herzog tries to be philosophical throughout this often awkward, often amusing oddity, but the episodes are simply too thin to invite deep reflection. When Yuchi visits a hotel run by AI service personnel (robots), we are reminded of Philip K. Dick, but the director immediately jumps to another of his numerous exploits. Herzog’s basic camerawork contributes to making this feel like a very minor work, along with Ernst Reijseger’s saccharine score. AS

VOD RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 3 JULY 2020

   

  

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     

Carmine Street Guitars (2018) ****

With Rich Kelly, Cindy Hulej, Dorothy Kelly2018 | CANADA | Doc | 80′

This genial music biopic explores the laid-back vibe of Carmine Street Guitars, a little shop in the heart of New York’s Greenwich Village that remains resilient to encroaching gentrification.
Custom guitar maker Rick Kelly and his young apprentice Cindy Hulej build handcrafted instruments out of reclaimed wood from old hotels, bars, churches and other local buildings. Nothing looks or sounds like the classic instruments they have created with loving dedication. The film shoots the breeze with Rick and his starry visitors who treat us to impromptu riffs from their extensive repertoires and talk about how much they treasure this village institution and its reassuring presence as a little oasis of calm in the ever-changing, fast-paced world of the music business.
Rick’s pleasant banter with these lowkey luminaries is what makes this enjoyable musical therapy for fans and those who have never heard of the guitars, their craftsman or those who have commissioned and cherished the hand-made instruments since the 1960s: Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Jim Jarmusch, to name but a few. A small gem but a sparkling one. MT
STREAMING ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS FROM 26 JUNE 2020

True History of the Kelly Gang (2019) ****

Dir: Justin Kurzel | Cast: George MacKay, Essie Davis, Nicholas Hoult, Thomasin McKenzie | Biopic 124′

Australian thrillers are usually brutal and anarchic, emblematic of the scorched earth savagery of their remote and often desiccated homeland. Justin (Snowtown) Kurzel’s latest foray into fiendishness is adapted by Shaun Grant from Peter Carey’s novel, and inspired by the infamous Ned Kelly, who raged through the bush in a melodramatic meltdown during 19th-century English colonial occupation. 

This incarnation of Kelly is a tightly muscled racier beast that Carey’s animal, bred out dysfunction to become a macho psychopath of the worst order, and obsessed by an abusive mother Ellen (Essie Davis) who sold him as an apprentice to local bandit Harry Power (a scabrous Russell Crowe ) who taught him the tricks of the trade. Kurzel excels in creating vicious villains. Here he shows us the how Ned Kelly (an outlandish George MacKay) became such a hell-raiser, through a serious of episodic accounts that link the past with his criminal activities as leader of the gang. These encompass a weirdly mixed-up sexual ambivalence and a predilection for homoeroticism and cross-dressing. 

Kelly emerges a weak-willed brothel-creeper from the outset, unable to avenge his mother’s sexual abuse at the hands of an English sergeant (Charlie Hunnam), and drawn to the company of other low-life members of the English regiment. One is Nicholas Hoult’s Constable Fitzpatrick who frequents a local brothel, where Kelly falls into the clutches of Mary (Thomasin McKenzie) and morphs into full-blown insurgency against the British (The Nightingale here we go again). And it’s at this stage that film starts to visually resonate with Kurzel’s 2015 outing  Macbeth and there are also echoes of Snowtown (2012) but it’s also here that is starts to unravel into something unhinged but also hypnotic, breaking free from its period drama into a psychedelic thriller.

Mesmerising for the most part, True History is an ultimately an uneven experience unable to maintain the sheer pace of its early scenes. But its vehemence, passion and visual allure burn bright, and the final part of the film descends into extraordinary surreal psychodrama. Kelly is a chameleon character who always knows where his bread is buttered, and is able to ingratiate himself with the right people at the right time – and George Mackay once again shows his amazing talents in this transformative role. A psychedelic and shatteringly violent experience but one that is compelling despite its flaws. MT

LIVE YOUTUBE Q&A WITH DIRECTOR & CAST 28 JUNE 2020

 

WITH DIRECTOR JUSTIN KURZEL

AND ACTORS GEORGE MACKAY, ESSIE DAVIS, AND EARL CAVE

 

Sisters with Transistors (2020) Bfi player

Dir.: Lisa Rovner; Documentary narrated by Laurie Anderson; France 2019, 85 min.

Paris based writer/director Lisa Rovner looks at the women pioneers behind electronic music in a lively new documentary. Sisters With Transistors shows how women opened up new avenues of creativity, despite prevailing male attitudes at the time  to these talented musicians having to wait a lifetime to hear their own compositions on the airwaves.

The honour of being first goes to Lithuanian born Clara Rockmore (1911-1998). Trained as a violinist at the conservatoire, she then took up an early synthesiser style instrument. We watch her in the garden of her New York house in 1934, with the sound artist Aura Satz commenting how Rockmore describes her art  allowing “the self-created sound to change the music”.

British composer Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001) was also an early pioneer working in the BBC’s Radiophonic workshop, surrounded by electronic generators, producing music via a TV monitor, culminating in a structural version of ‘white noise’. In her own living room she worked with huge radios, up to two meters high. At Oxford, she was part of just ten percent of female students. The Nazi bombing of Coventry, and the London Blitz, inspired her to a new world of sounds. Equally, the CND marches inspired her to compose music “from the Cold War”. But her greatest and most lasting achievement is the eerie, a-tonal intro-music for Dr. Who, a series starting in 1963. 

Daphne Oram (1925-2003), co-founder of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, composed prolifically: Amphitryon 1958, Private Dreams and Public Places – both pieces evoking Huxley’s SciFi novels. Oram worked with paint on the glass plates, which distributed the music onto the tape recorder. Her Birds of Parallax is a sort of dance music and shown with a newsreel film clip of ‘modern’ dancing’.

Eliane Radigue (*1932) grew up near Nice airport, her music was based on the very different sounds the planes made. She created a sound stage, which became a musical universe. Working as an assistant to composer Pierre Schaeffer in an otherwise male-only crew, she was told by a co-worker “How nice it is, to have you in the studio, it smells good”. At the end of the 60s when working with Pierre Henry, Radigue discovered the feedback technique, by “finding the sweet spot between a speaker and a microphone, making the sound evolve.” She called it “Sonic propositions”. 

Meanwhile, in 1952, in New York’s Greenwich Village, electronic composers Bebe Baron (1926-2008) and her husband Louis wrote the music to Belle of Atlantis by Ian Hugo and Anias Nin. In 1956 they composed the soundtrack to Forbidden Planet, but the musicians union fought successful against a credit on the feature – they had to be happy with being mentioned as “Electronic tonalities” contributors. 

Pauline Oliveros (193-2016) was a lesbian, a revolutionary and a composer of electronic music in 1950s San Francisco which was, at the time, nearly as conservative as the rest of USA. But, it was also a time, when some artists wanted to be not like anybody else. Having been given a tape recorder for her birthday in 1965, Pauline went on to make a career as a composer, starting with’ Bye, bye Butterfly’, a Japanese influenced ballet. Many composers had in common “They they were ghost riding on different frequencies”, as Mayanne Amacher put it.

All these women had to fight simply to stay alive, Wendy Carlos (*1939) is the exception. Invited by a very young David Letterman to appear on his show, she amazed him with her music producing equipment that saw her becoming arguably the first woman to secure lucrative commercials, and a staring role in Hollywood production of The Incredible Shrinking woman“.   

Rovner returns to Eliane Radiguet, who was interviewed in 2018 in Paris, listening to some of her music for the first time. “Thirty, forty years ago, it would have been impossible for musicians to play my music. I am hearing it for the first time. In the past, if often thought, I was crazy”.

In her impressive debut, Rovner wisely avoids the talking heads approach that can often spoil the integrity of a documentary, interweaving her film instead with informative historical newsreels and fascinating archive footage. AS

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

  

 

Please Hold The Line (2020) **** Sheffield Doc Festival 2020

Wri/Dir: Pavel Cuzuioc | Doc, Austria 86′

The past and the present collide in this darkly amusing deep dive into the human side of the digital age. And each are as complex as the other according to Pavel Cuzuoic, whose third documentary works on two levels: As an abstract expressionist arthouse piece and a deadpan social and political satire. What emerges is a priceless look at a society in flux in Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. The old fights with the new, refusing to give in.

Pavel Cuzuoic started his film career as a sound recordist notably for Nikolaus Geyrhalter in Earth. Essentially a series of episodes involving human experiences with the internet and telephony, this is an expertly edited atmospheric film that proves that human contact is still king. The digital age with its pretensions to slimline and simplify our connection with a wider experience often fails. Our most enriching and successful exchanges are still one to one with each other. A pile of cables in a server farm is just as messy as the chaos of human existence. And this dichotomy provides a rich thread of humour that runs through this informative film like an internet cable.

It opens in a server farm in Cricova, Moldavia, where deft and blue-coated women operatives are seen silently pushing buttons and twisting wires, a picture of quintessential Soviet efficiency. We meet the field technicians – one is Oleg who works for Ukraine’s telephone monopoly – patiently going about their work in domestic environments where they are often greeted with bewildered and flummoxed customers who enrich the film with their illuminating social commentaries in Kyiv, Ukraine, Buzău County in Romania and the seaside resort of Tsavero in Bulgaria.

Please Hold The Line is not concerned with ‘digital natives’ but the elderly and those dependent on technology to stay in touch with the wider world, but also depressed by the often Kafkaesque nature of red tape involved. While the operatives work away quietly to restore their networks ( customers take centre stage to discuss their wider concerns about easy of connectivity. An Orthodox Russian priest shares his views on Genesis “in the beginning was the word” to enforce his feelings about our online world; housewives discuss their horror at the cheapening of life brought on by the internet, citing local murders of young women and babies. There is even a hiccoughing cat. MT

WORLD PREMIERING AT SHEFFIELD DOC FESTIVAL 2020 

 

On a Magical Night, Room 212 (2019) ** Curzon World

Dir Christophe Honoré  | France, Drama 93′

What happens when a marriage goes plutonic? Christophe Honoré covers familiar ground in this Parisian drama that turns an old chestnut into a half-baked potboiler despite its arthouse pretensions and an award-winning turn from his regular muse Chiara Mastroianni as the leading star.

She is self-possessed and feisty as Maria married to Richard (her one-time partner Benjamin Biolay). Their relationship is as stale as an old baguette and nothing can warm things up between the sheets on frigid nights in their apartment in Montparnasse. Refreshingly, it is Maria who has strayed from the marital bed rather than Richard. And not just once: Maria has played the field with half a dozen handsome young studs during the course of her 25 year relationship with uber faithful Richard. After he discovers incriminating texts on her ‘phone, they have a low-key bust up that sees him crying into his cups, while she moves into the hotel opposite (hence the titular Room 212) to text pouty paramours who are then paraded before our eyes in an upbeat playful way as Maria revisits the past in this rather twee chamber piece.

On a Magical Night is Honoré’s follow-up to his sombre Sorry Angel, a gay melodrama that screened at Cannes 2018 in the competition section. Although Magical Night attempts to explore the theme of marital stagnation it doesn’t do so in a meaningful or entertaining way, actually looking more like a cheeky drama from the late 1970s. Mastroianni tries to liven things up but Briolay is rather tepid as her husband – this no melodrama – he simply mopes about tearfully as she secretly watches him from the 2 star hotel opposite.

Vincent Lacoste plays a younger puppyish version of Briolay, and his piano teacher ex, Irene, is Camille Cottin, who also breaks into charmless impromptu song. Decent at first this soon becomes tedious, leaving us checking our watches after an hour of frivolous nonsense, Mastroianni parading in various states of undress and in different positions as she attempts to straddle Lacoste in faux love-making. An interesting idea, but forgettably frothy in execution. MT

CURZON WORLD | CANNES UN CERTAIN REGARD WINNER – BEST ACTRESS

 

 

Schlingsensief: A Voice that Shook the Silence (2020) *** Sheffield Doc Fest 2020

Dir.: Bettina Böhler; Documentary with Christoph Schlingensief, Tilda Swinton, Udo Kier, Irm Herrmann, Elfriede Jelinek; Germany 2020, 124 min.

Christian Petzold’s longtime editor Bettina Böhler looks at the life of the controversial German filmmaker Christoph Schlingensief (1960-2010). His creative energy was certainly impressive: with twelve features and his his own TV Show, he also directed ‘Parsifal’ at Bayreuth and went on to garner a posthumous Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale 2010 for his German Pavilion – which had as its focus the church he served in as a teenage altar boy.

Böhler kicks off this colourful portrait with a foray into Schlingensief’s graphic design work. A blend of  astronomy, politics and psycho-therapy: it’s a very symbolic opening, trying to explain the Schlingensief’s urge to imbue his persona in everything. Although this is occasional relevant, it often took the focus away from the art itself; Schlingensief was never able to shake off his provocative identity as the’ Bogey-man of the Middle-classes’. His narcissism always taking centre stage, like it did in his TV Show ‘Talk 2000’, where he interrupted his guests to talk about his own personal problems. 

After having been rejected twice by the Munich Film School, Schlingensief, like Fassbinder, chose the auto-didactic way of becoming a filmmaker. His debut “Die Kisten sind da (The Boxes have arrived) in 1984 got positive reviews. Using many of Fassbinder’s cast members, like Irm Herrmann and Udo Kier, Schlingensief’s German Trilogy of The Last Hours in the Führerbunker (1989), The German Chainsaw Massacre (1990) and Terror 2000 (1992), dealt with fascism and re-unification – in a provocative way, it showed West Germans greeting their eastern brothers and sisters with chainsaws. In The 120 Days of Bottrop (1997) he took a pop at Pasolini, with Helmut Berger starring in the ‘remake’ of The 120 Days of Salo.

In 2004 Schlingensief directed Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’ in Bayreuth, using experience he had gained from many theatres in the German speaking countries, including the “Schaubühne am Halleschen Tor’ in Berlin. His installations always drew the public’s attention, but he was creative impulse also had ballast: after his death, his widow Aino Laberenz followed up his plans to build an opera house; a theatre; a film school and an infirmary in Ouagodougou, capital of Burkina Faso, with the German government’s help. His “Cancer Diary” was a moving comment on his life, crammed full of achievements, and – again like Fassbinder – suspecting time was running out. Tilda Swinton and Austrian Nobel Price winner Elfriede Jelinek were amongst many mourning his death at the age of only forty-nine.

Böhler just manages to steer clear of a hagiographic approach, this is a comprehensive debut enlivened by some 8 mm films from Schlingensief’s youth – he started filming at the age of seven. She shows a little boy clamouring for attention in a petty-bourgeois Germany, which had not shed its fascist past, and later, was not ready for a re-unification. Schlingensief grew up in an environment where provocation the only route to attention. And he remained a prisoner of his childhood til the end. AS

SHEFFIELD DOC FESTIVAL 2020

Stolen Fish (2020) **** Sheffield Doc Fest 2020

Dir: Gosia Juszczak  | With Abou Saine, Mariama Jatta, Paul John Kamony | Documentary – Wolof/English – 2020 – 31 min
The Chinese are fuelling the migrant crisis in Europe by fishing in Gambian waters according to this illuminating documentary debut from Poland’s Gosia Juszczak.

 

In the smallest country of continental Africa, Gambia, fish are now being caught and processed by Chinese corporations and exported to Europe and China to feed animals in industrial farming. As a result, Gambians are being deprived of their primary source of protein while overfishing is depleting marine ecosystems. The film follows three Gambians who share the sea’s bounty. Or they did up to now. Increasingly they are being forced into poverty due to overzealous fishing from Chinese boats that fail to respect the ecosystem. The Chinese have pumped finance into the country but this allows them to take the lion’s share of the fish for their factories, forcing prices up for the average Gambian because the fishermen who traditionally sold to the markets are now servicing the factories, of which there are now 50 in West Africa. Only when the factory quota is full, can the fisherman sell their catch to the locals who then sell to the markets.

The main habitat for marine fish is naturally the sea. But one young fisherman explains how the fish actually breed in the long inland Gambia River which flows throw this sliver of a country that benefits from a lengthy Atlantic seaboard, rather like Chile. The Chinese have found a way to bring their boats right up to the shallows, formally the exclusive domain of the local fisherman, capturing not only mature bonga, red snapper or catfish, but also the stock in their early stage of life with nets that also do not allow turtles, dolphins and other mammals to escape, a practice that is ecologically unsound for all marine creatures.

With a population of only 2 million Gambia has one of the highest rates of irregular migration towards Europe. But “taking the backway” or migration, is by no means an answer nowadays.  Many Gambians have drowned in the perilous crossing to Europe, or been captured by patrol boats and kidnapped by nefarious gangs or the police, and sent back before they reach the safety of the shores. So they must fight for survival eking out an existence with what’s left in the diminishing fish stocks in this narrative that very much reflects back on the global fishmeal industry and how it impacts on the lives of local people in one of the poorest areas of West Africa.

Gosia Juszczak films with an artist’s eye capturing the lush colours of this beautiful sea-faring country, surrounded by Senegal and often referred to as “The Smiling Coast” with its pleasant climate and contented people. MT

SHEFFIELD DOC FESTIVAL 2020 | IN THE WORLD STRAND

 

 

Pearl of the Desert (2019) **** Krakow Film Festival 2020

Dir: Pushpendra Singh | Doc with Moti, Nijre and Anwar Khan Manganiyar |  India/South Korea | 82′

A young Indian boy from the lower caste Muslim Manganiyars is forced to sing traditional songs in celebration of his masters in this simple but enchanting ethnographical documentary from sophomore filmmaker Pushpendra Singh (The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs). 

The Thar Desert is vast region to the North of the Indian subcontinent, a natural barrier between Rajasthan and Pakistan’s Sindhi province which forms a vibrant natural backcloth to this fascinating coming of age story of oral history driven forward by its haunting ballads that tell of love, life and hardship (“Oh opium, you made me sell my jewellery”). The Manganiyars Muslims are a people well-known for their folk music which is handed down through the generations and supported by wealthy local Rajput benefactors (jajmans) in caravan towns. Although traditionally Muslims, these troubadour singers often tour around to perform during Hindu festivals invoking the Hindu God Krishna at ceremonies for birth, death and marriage.

Singh follows a straightforward narrative structure interweaving her film with delightful hand-drawn inter-titles that explain the origins and activities of these ancient people who also play instruments such as the bowed Kamaicha; a hand drum or Dholak, and a Khartaal or type of Indian castenet. The instruments are described in the film’s second act which also introduces dancing that feels dervish-like in style. The final act sees Moti leaving his village and travelling to make a studio recording for an Australian radio programme covering a music festival. He has finally found a ‘stardom’ of sorts in these celebrity-driven days.

The crux of narrative surrounds the Manganiyars status as ‘beggars’ a title that sits badly in today’s climate and humiliates young Moti, the central character, despite the pride he feels in his singing and in his cultural traditions. But there is no bitterness here as the Manganiyars feel a natural compulsiveness to sing and can use their vocal skills and treasured heritage to earn decent money and support their families. Singh works with DoP Ravi Kiran Ayyagari to create a vivid and lyrical cinematic gem that is informative, enjoyable to watch and beautiful to look at, its nighttime scenes in the desert are particularly alluring. MT

PEARL OF THE DESERT won the GOLDEN HEYNAL for BEST DocFilmMusic | KRAKOW FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | 31 MAY – 7 June 2020

 

 

Acasa My Home (2020) **** Krakow Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Radu Ciorniciuc; Documentary with Gica Enache, Nicolina Nedelcu, Vali Enache, Rica Enache; Romania/Finland 2019, 86 min.

The Enache Roma clan are the subject of this powerful ethnographical portrait from Romanian first time filmmaker Radu Ciorniciuc.

The wilderness surrounding Bucharest’s Lake Vacaresti has for the past eighteen years been home to a couple and their  nine children on the banks of a former reservoir dwarfed by tower blocks. Four year’s in the making Cioroniciuc has followed their existence which is so radically unconventional compared to the average Romanian lived through decades of change as Bucharest moves into the 21st century.

We meet parents Gica Enache, a former chemistry lab assistant, who left the ‘wicked’ city with his wife Nicolina Nedelcu 18 years ago. Their nine children frolic around unsupervised, taking advantage of the beautiful countryside, particularly the lake. The family survive despite their financial poverty, putting a meal on the table from the farm stock that shares their dilapidated shack (we see the offscreen slaughter of a pig).

Social services has long tried to get hold of the children, and we witness another unsuccessful attempt by the authorities, when Gica asking the oldest, Vali, to take his younger siblings into a hiding constructed specifically for this purpose. Meanwhile Gica prefers to lounge around smoking rather than being involved in family matters, which are left to emaciated Nicolina, who is totally overwhelmed by the lack of amenities. Her husband is the model of an authoritarian patriarch playing the role of a free-wheeling hippy. But their days in anarchic freedom are limited: The Romanian government declares the Bucharest Delta a Nature Reserve, the Prime Minister and Prince Charles (!) appear on the scene to celebrate the occasion – followed by the bulldozers. 

The clan has no alternative but to agree to a move to the nearby capital, where they are housed and the children integrated into the school system – a traumatic event for most of them, because their contemporaries are far more sophisticated. Only Vali, soon to be eighteen, has a go at fitting in and this brings him into conflict with his father who burns the books the younger children have been given. Vali moves out to live with his girl friend, who is soon pregnant. With great insight he tells her they should not have a child “because then we would be three children”. On a visit home, Vali listens to his father who, in his usual long-winded speeches, blames everybody else for the family’s plight. He excludes his wife: “Only Nicolina has given me any hope” which Vali counters with “and what have you given her?”. The ending is melancholic: the family, who has not looked after the flat, is put into inferior accommodations’, whilst Vali works in the new Nature Reserve, which was once had been his play ground.        

Lyrical and poetic despite the challenging topic, Acasa is a powerful and passionate long term study about was freedom really means. Their upbringing in mother nature certainly appealed to the young kids, but poverty and isolation had a greater impact on their upbringing. As Vali shows, there is an alternative to strict ideological-based country living. As for his younger siblings, integration meant discovering a whole new world. Ciorniciuc maintains a detached approach never letting the growing familiarity with the clan cloud his judgement. A labour of love and a memorable one. AS

60th KRAKOW FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | CINEMATOGRAPHY AWARD WINNER | WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY SUNDANCE 2020

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 

Cannes 2020 | The Official Selection | 73rd Festival de Cannes 2020

Cannes Festival grandees announced the fifty six competition titles that should have screened during this year’s 73rd Celebration from 12 – 23 May 2020, had it not been for the Covid 19 Crisis: these films will be released in cinemas and other festivals during the remainder of 2020/21. 

There are some much anticipated films in this list – although the usual strand of Un Certain Regard comes as part of the main programme this along with the newcomers, comedies and documentaries. There are no Italian films because naturally they are now saving themselves for a showing at Venice in September.

Summer Of 85, François Ozon (France), 1h40′

Ozon is true to his provocative style in this Normandy-set story of love and passion between two young boys at the height of the 1980s. Scored by hits from Bananarama and The Cure, the film releases on 15 July 2020.

DNA, Maïwenn (Algeria, France), 1h30′

This follow up to Mon Roi, sees the director reliving her own Algerian heritage, Fanny Ardant playing her mother, Marine Vacth her sister and Louis Garrel as her best friend in a film fraught with memories and melodrama.

Love Affairs, Emmanuel Mouret (France), 2h

Passionate stories of love and tenderness seen through the eyes of an eclectic cast including Vincent Macaigne, Emilie Dequenne and Camelia Jordana

Rouge, Farid Bentoumi (France), 1h26′

Bentoumi’s sophomore feature looks at the human aftermath of an ecological scandal in Algeria.

Gagarine – Fanny Liatard, Jérémy Trouilh (France), 1h35′

In this promising debut drama a teenager shares his name with the well-known cosmonaut who was the first human to travel to outer space.

Spring Blossom, Suzanne Lindon (France), 1h13′

Arnaud Vallois (Beats per Minute) stars in this rites of passage drama that allows the director to reminisce on her teenage hood suffused with delicate memories of films, music and plays on the era.

Vaurien, Peter Dourountzis (France), 1h,35′

The human face of a serial killer is captured in this impressive debut drama that stars Ophelie Bau (Mektoub My Love).

My Best Part, Nicolas Maury (France), 1h48′

Nathalie Baye is back in a central role in this tortured debut that sees her self-mocking son desperate not to lose the love of his life.

A Good Man, Marie-Castille Mention Schaar (France),

Making her debut in the Official selection Mention Schaar tells a love story with insight, humans and universal appeal, and one that will set tongues wagging.

Teddy, Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma (France), 1h48′

A werewolf movie styled by the Boukherma Brothers’ “Grolandish’ atmosphere experienced in the first film Willy and featuring ‘man of the moment’ Vincent Macaigne

Slalom, Charlène Favier (France),

Jeremie Renier stars in this vertiginous thriller about things that go downhill between a trainer and his protegee.

Médecin De Nuit, Elie Wajeman (France), 1h40′

Once again Vincent Macaigne takes centre stage as ‘patron saint of the broken’ dashing round Paris on a mission to heal in Elie Wajeman’s third feature.

Josep, Aurel (France) | Josep, Animation, 1h20′

Jump-cut animation, alternating stills and animated images make this first film from cartoonist Aurel stand out from the crowd. It tells the lesser known story: that of the Retirada, an era when refugees of the 1939 Spanish War made an Exodus to France.

Ibrahim, Samuel Guesmi (France),

The ever popular theme of father/son relationships is the crux of this debut drama that will resonate with at least half of the audience.

9 Jours À Raqqa, Xavier De Lauzanne (France) | Documentary

We all know how the Kurds have suffered, and continue to suffer in Syria where they form the largest ethnic minority. This is a film about the feminist point view, seen from the gaze of Leila Mustapha, the Kurdish mayor the Former Islamic State capital.

Cévennes, Caroline Vignal (France), 1h35′

Caroline Vignal is back for the first time in 20 years since her feature Girlfriends  (2020) in a film described as an anti-love affair comedy based on the theme “the important thing is to travel, not to arrive”.

Les Deux Alfred, Bruno Podalydès (France),

Technology gets the better of two brothers in this moving yet upbeat comedy that stars Sandrine Kiberlain.

The Big Hit, Emmanuel Courcol (France)

Drama staged in prison is nothing new. But this film sees Irish playwright Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot staged in way that’s entertaining for all.

The Speech, Laurent Tirard (France)

A tender comedy about love and lost love based on the novel by French writer Fabrice Caro.

L’origine Du Monde, Laurent Lafitte (France)

Origine du Monde is a 1966 painting by Gustave Courbet. Laurent Lafitte’s debut as a director takes it as his inspiration for a daringly dark comedy.

Home Front, Lucas Belvaux (Belgium)

The past comes back to haunt the veterans of the Algerian war in this drama set in a small close-knit village that stars Gerard Depardieu, Catherine Frot and Jean-Pierre Darroussin.

El Olvido Que Seremos, Fernando Trueba (Spain)

Trueba combines colour and black and white to rep present and past, in this historical epic of childhood’s paradise lost, shot in Colombia and based on a sonnet by Jose Luis Borges.

Ammonite, Francis Lee (UK), 2h (below)

Fossilised coldness and human love and tenderness coalesce in this historical drama based on the life of palaeontologist Mary Anning, from God’s Own Country director Francis Lee.

Mangrove, Steve McQueen (UK), 2h04′

In the first of his Cannes Film competition hopefuls, McQueen returns to the subject of racial tension in the UK with this story of Notting Hill’s Caribbean locals and their fight for respect in the face of putative Police harassment.

Lovers Rock, Steve McQueen (UK), 1h08′

His second film is a more stylish trance-like drama that explores the Swinging Sixties through music.

Limbo, Ben Sharrock (UK), 1h53′

There are echoes of Ulrich Seidl and Roy Andersson to Ben Sharrock’s bittersweet second film that looks at the refugee problem on one island in Scotland.

Another Round, Thomas Vinterberg (Denmark), 1h55′

Danish Dogme filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg explores midlife identity crisis through a series of thoughtfully crafted broken characters in this tense and unsettling film. Regulars Marie Bonnevie, Thomas Bo Larsen, and Mads Mikkelsen join the star-studded cast.

Flee, Jonas Poher Rasmussen (Denmark) | Animation,

The other Danish film in this year’s selection is an animation that follows an Afghan family through Russia to Europe.

Sweat, Magnus von Horn (Sweden),1h40′

The Swedish director follows The Here After (Directors’ Fortnight, 2015) with a timely saga that addresses the taboo subject of loneliness through the portrait of a social influencer and fitness coach.

Pleasure, Ninja Thyberg (Sweden),1h45′

Swedish filmmaker Ninja Thyberg expands her Cannes Canal+ award-winning short into a full blown female portrait of becoming a porn star in the world of men.

Enfant Terrible, Oskar Roehler (Germany), 2h14′

Reiner Werner Fassbinder had a short but prolific career as a filmmaker during the 1980s. Oskar Roehler takes a deep dive into the director’s quixotic personality in a film that explores the crazy world of this highly creative genius.

In the Dusk, Sharunas Bartas (Lithuania), 2h05′

Bartas uncovers a valuable story from his native Lithuania that mines the dramatic potential of the First World War, putting the focus on small countries crushed by larger ones –  in this case the USSR – to create a timely portrait of oppression that threatens and fascinates at at the same time.

February, Kamen Kalev (Bulgaria), 2h05′

A journey from childhood to adulthood is explored in this ethereal and elliptical drama from the award-winning Bulgarian director.

Heaven: To The Land of Happiness, Im Sang-soo (Korea), 1h40′

This social satire on the South Korean modern day commercialism is given a dollop of slapstick and stars Cannes veteran Min-Sir Choi.

Peninsula, Yeon Sang-ho (Korea), 1h54h

A fast-paced genre piece from the director of Train to Busan offers thrills and spills in a sci-fi outing to make John Carpenter proud.

True Mothers, Naomi Kawase (Japan), 2h20′

Marmite filmmaker Naomi Kawase brings another offering to Cannes in this sensuous humanistic tale of adoption and motherhood set in her native Japan.

The Real Thing, Koji Fukada (Japan),

Fukada follows Harmonium with this epic odyssey fraught with emotion in the style of the K-list contemporaries Kore-eda, Kurasawa and Kawase.

Aya And The Witch, Goro Miyazaki (Japan) | Animation

Goro Miyazaki follows in the footsteps of his father with this digital animation  that quails away from manga and into the realms of the great Studio Ghibli. Ostensibly a childhood tale with its idiosyncratic adult undertones and disturbing often surreal characters, this is a very much anticipated film.

Souad, Ayten Amin (Egypt)

A wonderfully exquisite coming-of-age story that fluidly follows the hopes of dreams of young Egyptians born of tradition, but looking forward to the modern world in sumptuous Alexandria where so much potential is waiting to flower in the realm of Egyptian filmmaking.

Passion Simple, Danielle Arbid (Lebanon)

Based on the best-seller by Annie Ernaux, Passion tracks the doomed relationship between a powerful Russian diplomat and a woman whose raisin d’être is gradually corroded behind her rose-tinted view of their love. Laetitia Dosch (Jeune Femme) stars

Here We Are, Nir Bergman (Isreal)

A love affair between a father and his autistic son carries us into a different world haunted by melodrama, poignant lows and illuminating highs. Always surprising and ultimately moving.

The Death Of Cinema And My Father Too, Daniel Rosenberg (Isreal)

The final days of a parent are intensely personal and sensitively sketched out in this acutely poignant Israeli study of the end of life.

Broken Keys, Jimmy Keyrouz (Lebanon)

A pianist tries to escape his persecuted Middle-Eastern town where radical Islam holds sway. The emotional power of music speaks for itself here in a drama that seeks to denounce religious dogma in favour of humanity.

Beginning, Déa Kulumbegashvili (Georgia)

After her short film Invisible Spaces was nominated for the Palme d’Or in 2014, Kulumbegashvili offers up a study of oppression that contrasts tradition with the changing face of Georgia.

Should The Wind Fall, Nora Martirosyan (Armenia), 1h40′

From Armenia comes this impressive debut that mesmerises both visually and in its pervasive atmosphere of tension. Gregoire Colin plays an engineer in charge of the airport opening in Nagorno Karabakh, the self-proclaimed Caucasian Republic.

Striding Into The Wind, Wei Shujun (China), 2h36′

Another complete surprise arrives from China – but this is a good one and very welcome in its refreshing inventiveness.

The Billion Road, Dieudo Hamadi (Democratic Republic of Congo) | Documentary

A bright but streetwise documentary that sees a group of men fighting for their rights in the modern day Rep of Congo.

Casa De Antiguidades, João Paulo Miranda Maria (Brazil), 1h27′

The light and magnificent beauty of Brazil is magically captured in this extraordinary film that shows through a lyrical story of loneliness and disenfranchisement how countries and places own us, rather than the other way round.

Septet: The Story Of Hong Kong, Ann Hui, Sammo Kam-Bo Hung, Ringo Lam, Patrick Tam, Johnnie To, Hark Tsui, John Woo, Woo-Ping Yuen (Hong Kong),

A film that speaks for itself through a variety of local filmmakers.

The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson (USA) (below)

An international cast of stars get together in this unpredictable drama that assembles a series of vignettes telling the history of cinema.

Last Words, Jonathan Nossiter (USA)

Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling, Nick Nolte and Alba Rohrwacher are the barnstorming stars in Jonathan Nossiter’s latest, an imagined drama about the relevance of film and survival. A film that had a particular resonance in these days of pandemic and crisis.

John And The Hole, Pascual Sisto (USA)

A coming of age thriller from Ignacio Inarittu’s regular scripter Nicolas Giacobone, the action plays out in the titular hole.

Falling, Viggo Mortensen (USA)

Viggo Mortensen is the star of his directorial debut that sees a traditional dad moving in with his gay son. Laura Linney and David Cronenberg also star.

Soul, Pete Docter, Kemp Powers (USA) | Animation

A musician who loses his passion for music must reinvigorate his craft through the helpful soul of a child.

The Truffle Hunters, Gregory Kershaw, Michael Dweck (USA) | Documentary

The white truffle of Piemonte is prized by chefs and connoisseurs all over the world. And this documentary charts the history of its fascination and the secret that holds its persistent hunters in thrall.

Nadia, Butterfly, Pascal Plante (Canada)

From Canada comes a drama that tackles the thorny subject of Olympic has beens. What happens when top swimmers are forced finally to throw in the towel? Katerine Savard plays a former bronze medal winner in this valedictory exploration of physical prowess from Quebec director Pascal Plante. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 12 – 23 MAY 2020 

This is Not a Movie (2019) **** Canada Now | Curzon Home Cinema

Dir.: Yung Chang; Documentary with Robert Fisk, Amira Hass; Canada/Germany 2019, 106 min.

Canadian director/co-writer Yung Chang (Up the Yangtze) creates an energetic portrait of British war journalist Robert Fisk (*1946), who has chronicled conflict zones from Northern Ireland to the Syrian atrocities. After more than five decades in the field, and now living in Beirut since 1976, Frisk is seven times winner of the British Press Award’s International journalist of the year.

Alfred Hitchcock’s highly romantic drama Foreign Correspondent, was the kicker that started Fisk’s fascination with journalism. Growing up in Maidstone, Kent, he is fluent in Arabic after working in the devasted cities of Syria and the occupied West Bank. His father was a soldier in the Great War and refused to execute an enemy soldier “the only action my father undertook, with which I could identify”.

After starting with the Sunday Express he later changed to The Times, which he left after the Rupert Murdoch takeover, and has now found a home at the Independent, covering wars for the digital edition. Fisk interviewed Osama Bin Laden three times between 1993 and 1997. In the first article, he called Bin Laden an Anti-Soviet mountain warrior on the road to peace. The “mountain warrior” must have been impressed by the journalist, because he tried to convert him to his cause. Fisk also covered the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982, when the Israeli Army turned a blind eye to the Falange soldiers who massacred Palestinians in refuge camps. On the ‘phone to his current editor, Fisk has to explain why he made the reference in his report. Losing his patience, Fisk tells the man he should look it up on Google and try to make the connection.

Director Chang is as much a purist as is Fisk. When asked in an interview about his position in the question of film versus digital, he admits:”there is a grain, a quality and a depth to the image that is unmatched in digital video.” Some images were shot in 16mm by DoP Duraid Munajim, but did not make it into the final cut. But the still photos shot during the production are in 35 mm.

Fisk has always challenge the objectivity of “balanced” journalism, his viewpoint is visible throughout his work when he tries to interrogate all sides of the conflict. Whether in Homs, Aleppo, Douma or Palestine, he “is neutral and unbiased on the side of those who suffer”. In contrast to the mainstream media, he gives voice to the unrepresented. Both Chang and Fisk share a passion for travelling, and being taken out of their comfort zone. The dirctor is full of admiration for his older counterpart: “We started when Fisk was around seventy-two. But he is still active, still thinking and still writing incendiary articles and cracking forward-thinking stories. This had to be an active story.” AS

HEADLINING CANADA NOW | CURZON HOME CINEMA | 12 JUNE 2020

Ticket of No Return | Bildnis Einer Trinkerin (1979) *** We Are One Fest

Dir.: Ulrike Ottinger; Cast: Tabea Blumenschein, Lutze, Magdalena Montezuma, Orpha Termin, Monika von Cube, Nina Hagen; W. Germany 1979,108 min.

Filmmaker, painter and photographer Ulrike Ottinger (1942-) was one of the most important German filmmakers of the 1970s and awarded the Berlinale Camera at this year’s 70th festival which also premiered her latest autobiographical feature Paris Caligrammes.

She is probably best known for her drama Freak Orlando (1981) a potted history of the world in five episodes with a focus on man’s incompetence, cruelty and thirst of power. Ticket of No Return chronicles the West Berlin punk scene, a decade before the wall came down. It would be the first part of her Berlin trilogy. Actor, producer and costume designer Tabea Blumenschein, who died in Berlin this March at the age of 67 influenced the film.  She works as a designer (for Andy Warhol) and chanteuse in many of the capital’s nightclubs.

The drama follows She (Blumenschein), an elegant woman from the posh 16th Paris arrondissement of Auteuil, who flies Berlin/Tegel on a single ticket where her only aim is to drink herself to death in style. Designed during the 1960s Tegel Airport was a highly efficient modern hob of transport and shopping in contrast to Tempelhof, with its traditional implications of the Third Reich. She lands there as if from another universe, and will cause mayhem wherever she goes. At the Zoo station She comes across the local Zoo alcoholic (Lutze), and the drinking competition kicks off, to minimal dialogue, voiced by Montezuma Meanwhile ‘the down-to-earth-earth approach’ is handed to von Cube. Nina Hagen features as a chanteuse in a pub frequented by taxi drivers.

A woman’s voice from the informs us that She represents every woman: Medea, Madonna or Beatrice. Not that it matters: these two suicidal lushes are really just terribly loneliness, their drinking bringing thetogether in an act of vacuous solidarity. There are some hair-raising incidents: the two of them are tied to the front of a car that speeds through burning walls, and their stiletto heels destroy the illusion of anything that could be termed voyeuristic. Ottinger is not interested in reality, or even rational – drinking is a serious occupation, to be treated with respect. What takes centre stage here is not West Berlin’s new Economic miracle,  but a shadowy world lowlifes, drinking themselves to oblivious as they singing away the troubles of the past.

A startling score competes with the visual overload of this extraordinary collage that echoes Fellini and Schroeter. That said, the symbolism of glass, mirrors and lights sometimes overreaches itself. Clearly Ottinger is still feeling her way forward in this sophomore drama at a time when the mood in the Federal was rather pleased with itself and its economic miracle, Ticket was a radical rejection of everything that could be construed as a success. AS

SCREENING AS PART OF WE ARE ONE FESTIVAL | 1 JUNE 2020

MS Slavic 7 (2019) ***

Dir.: Sofia Bohdanowiez; Cast: Deragh Campbell/co-dir, Aaron Danby, Elizabeth Rucker; Canada 2019, 64 min.

MS Slavic 7 is an intriguing title for a film. It refers to the catalogue number of a collection of 25 letters archived in Harvard University’s Houghton Library, and written by the director’s great-grandmother, the Polish poet Zofia Bohdanowieczowa, to her fellow poet Jozef Wittlin during their exile after the Second World War.

This melancholic essay film is a paean to poetry and displacement, and the filmmaker Sofia Bohdanowiez and co-director/lead actor Deragh Campbell do their best to bring the correspondence  to life. Wittlin (who lived in NY City) wrote between 1957 and 1964, first from Penrhos in Wales, then later from Toronto, Canada. Sofia is the literary executor of her great-grandmother’s output, and in this function she visits Houghton Library, meets a Polish scholar (Danby) and has a few contretemps with a Polish lady (Rucker), whom she has meets at a get-together of elderly Polish exiles. 

The trauma of permanent exile is documented in Zofia’s letter to Wittlin after she arrives in Toronto: “I still don’t write, I am still exhausted by the change, and feel like a fish out of water. I have always been terribly provincial and sedentary. Even in Poland, each trip to Warsaw terrified me, and only when coming back to Grodno where the crew changed and a train inspector had asked me melodiously: ‘tickets, please’, it felt like home”. In another letter she thanks him for sending her a photo comparing his gesture “with Polish bees”. Late she sends him “a hastily and confused letter” after the sudden death of her husband; with hopes that Wittlin “would be spared from parting and loneliness”. Later, she still complains about alienation in Toronto: “I sense a hostility in the grey city. The movement of the people and the traffic feels at once absent and menacing. Still, I hope that my stupid and sterile period is going to end soon”. When they meet for the first time “it is like an apocalypse”. 

Sofia is rather less expressive when it comes dealing with her great-great grandmother’s letters, her discussions with the scholar (who ends up in her bed – both of them reading the letters) show her difficulty in grasping the poet’s personality – Sofia can only imagine what exile meant for ‘Zofia’.

One of Zofia’s last letters to Wittlin is very much like a testament: “Still, you are right indeed. There was a veil of sadness over our meeting. That might have been because Toronto (in my opinion) is a sad city. Or even because everyone has sadness in themselves – how could it be otherwise for people without their homeland nor families?. And then came this meeting along with the uncertainty if we would ever see each other again”.  

Although the director’s own input is somehow hit-and-miss, Zofia’s letters provide compulsive reading with their thoughts from one permanently displaced person to another, piecing together their musings on a new place that is alien to both of them. Their homeland becomes a distant and poignant fading memory as they waste away slowly in the cold climate of exile. A valuable and worthwhile film that will offer comfort and context to all those living forced to live away from their families or in exile.AS

NOW ON MUBI 4 JUNE 2020 | BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | FORUM 7 -17 FEBRUARY 2019

 

 

We Are One Global Film Festival 29 May until 7 June 2020

WE ARE ONE GLOBAL FILM FESTIVAL

In the light of unprecedented times for the international film industry We Are One: A Global Film Festival has been programmed to go ahead from May 29 until 7 June 2020 featuring a 10 day digital programme from 21 major film festivals for audiences to enjoy for free around the world.

We Are One: A Global Film Festival will run on YouTube.com/WeAreOne. The free film festival will not only provide entertainment during the crisis but also opportunities for organisations to receive donations: the World Health Organisation (WHO); UNICEF, UNHCR; Save the Children; Doctors Without Borders, Leket Israel, GO Foundation and Give2Asia, among others. Audiences will be able to donate to COVID-19 relief efforts through a donate button or link on every film page.

We Are One Festival White logo

The Dead and the Others (2018)| New Brazilian Cinema | Mubi

Docudrama | 114’ | Brazil/Portugal

Brazilian cinema is entering a new era in the wake of the country’s unprecedented political turmoil. Several new films are now available online along with this look at the Directed by Palme d’Or winner João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora, The Dead and the Others is a haunting docudrama based on their experiences of living for nearly a year in Pedra Branca, a village inhabited by the indigenous community of the Kraho people in Northern Brazil. The Kraho very much want to continue their way of life and traditions in their rural community, striving to be self-sufficient. Their plight connects with a global narrative of survival for small communities all over the world.

Fifteen year old Ihjãc has been suffering from nightmares since he lost his father and in the opening scene he walks through the rain forest in the light of the moon. A distant sound of chanting comes through the palm trees. His father’s voice calls him to the waterfall. It is now time to organise the funeral feast so his father’s spirit can depart to the village of the Dead and mourning for him can come to an end. Although his baby son Tepto was born in the local hospital, Ihjãc still spends most of his life with his family in the remote forest and although the village elders are urging him to fulfil his duty to undergo the crucial process of becoming a shaman, Ihjãc escapes back to the local town to avoid the transition. There, far from his people and culture, he faces the reality of being an indigenous native in contemporary Brazil.

With its themes of loss, displacement and cultural identity this eerie and woozily impressionistic piece that has a poignant urgency in its message, glowingly conveyed in vibrant, high contrast cinematography. MT

NEW BRAZILIAN CINEMA | UN CERTAIN REGARD JURY PRIZE 2018 | LET IT BURN

Robert Siodmak | Master of Shadows | Blu-ray release

Dresden 1918, Robert Siodmak left his upper-middle class, orthodox Jewish home in this epicentre of European modern art, to join a theatre touring company. He was 18, and this was the first of many radical changes that would see him becoming a pioneer of film noir, and directing 56 feature films fraught with (anti)heroes who are morose, malevolent, violent and generally downbeat (spoilers).

Robert Siodmak began his film career in 1925, translating inter-titles. Later he learnt the editing business with Harry Piel. In 1927/28 he worked under Kurt (Curtis) Bernhardt (Das letzte Fort) and Alfred Lind. But MENSCHEN AM SONNTAG (1929/30) (left) would transform his professional life forever. Together with Edgar G. Ulmer, he would direct a semi-documentary, social realist portrait that pictured ordinary Berliners, far away from the expensive “Illusionsfilme” (escapist films) of the UFA. The idea was the brainchild of Robert’s younger brother Curt (born in Kracow), who would become a screen-writer and director of Horror/SF films, and follow his brother and Ulmer to Hollywood – along with the rest of the team: Billy Wilder, Eugen Schüfftan, Fred Zinnemann and Rochus Gliese (later art director for Murnau’s Sunrise). Robert Siodmak, Ulmer and Giese would also be part of the “Remigrants”, film makers, who would return to Germany after 1945.

People_on_Sunday_2 copyMENSCHEN AM SONNTAG was filmed on a succession of Sundays in 1929. Subtitled “a film without actors” – which is misleading, since the actors – non-professionals – co-wrote and co-produced the film, had already returned to their day jobs when the film was premiered in 1930. The five main protagonists spend a weekend near a lake in a Berlin suburb: Wolfgang (a wine seller) and Christl (a mannequin) meet for the first time at the Bahnhof Zoo by accident on Saturday morning, Christl had been stood up. On the same evening, Erwin (a taxi driver) and his girl friend Annie have a violent quarrel, tearing up each other’s photos. As a result, Erwin and his friend Wolfgang travel with Christl on the following Sunday to the Nicolas Lake. And here on the ‘beach’ Wolfgang meets Brigitte (a vinyl record sales assistant), the four spend the day together; intercut with images of the forlorn “stay-at-home” Annie. The final scene returns the quartet to the heart of the metropolis: four million waiting for another Sunday. MENSCHEN AM SONNTAG is a chronicle; a document shot against the narrative UFA style of the day. There is no story, just interaction. Even in the complex narratives of his films Noir, Siodmak would always be the bystander, the person who observes much more than directs.

Inquest_2 copyINQUEST (VORUNTERSUCHUNG), Robert Siodmak’s third feature film as a director, produced in 1931, is his first ‘Kriminalfilm” (thriller). The student Fritz Bernt (Gustaf Fröhlich), has a three year-long affair with the prostitute Erna – he also receives money from her. After falling in love with his friend Walter’s sister, Fritz wants to leave Erna. Out of cowardice, he sends Walter to her flat to break the news. But Walter sleeps with Erna’s flatmate and goes for a drink afterwards. When Erna’s body is found the next morning, Fritz is the main suspect. In charge of the inquest is Dr. Bienert (Albert Bassermann), who happens to be Walter’s father. The denouement is a surprise. In many ways, INQUEST is a “Strassenfilm”, Kracauer’s definition of films where the middle-class protagonist is in love with a sexy prostitute, but goes home to roost, marrying a bourgeois girl of his own class. Some of the main scenes of the film are shot in the staircase of the house where Erna lives, the shadowy lighting clearly foreshadowing Siodmak’s Noir period. Sexuality is the enemy of bourgeois society here, and Bassermann’s Dr. Bienert is a blustering patriarch, who would sacrifice anyone to save his son.

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THE BURNING SECRET (BRENNENDES GEHEIMNIS) is based on a novel by Stefan Zweig. Shot in 1932, it was to be Siodmak’s last German film for 23 years. In a Swiss Sanatorium, the twelve-year old Edgar (H.J. Schaufuss) is bored, and pleased to befriend Baron Von Haller (Willi Forst), a racing driver. But he does not know that Von Haller is using him to get close to his mother (Hilde Wagner). Soon Edgar gets suspicious, the two adults always want to be alone. He surprises them in flagrante and runs home to his father, although he does not give his secret away. When his mother arrives, he looks at her knowingly, but stays ‘mum’. Siodmak has sharpened the edges of this coming-of-age story, the novel concentrating more on romantic and psychological aspects. There is real violence between Edgar and Von Haller, and the lovemaking of the adulterous couple, which Edgar interrupts, is more vicious than affectionate. When the film was premiered in March 1933, Siodmak was already living in Paris, and Goebbels denounced the film as un-German, not surprisingly, since both the author of the novel and the director of the film were Jews living abroad in exile.

Hatred_1 copyWhen Siodmak shot MOLLENARD (1937) in France, it would be the penultimate of his French-set features. (In 1938, he would finish “Ultimatum” for the fatally ill Robert Wiene; and in the same year he is credited with “artistic supervision” for Vendetta, directed by Georges Kelber). MOLLENARD (HATRED) is the nearest to a film Noir so far: it is a fight to the death between Captain Mollenard (Harry Baur) and his wife Mathide (Gabrielle Dorziat). Captain Mollenard is a gun runner in Shanghai, he is shown as a hero, a good friend to his crew. When he returns to Dunkirk and his wife and two children, illness renders him powerless to his vitriolic wife, who tries to turn the children against him. Mollenard attempts to use his strength to re-conquer his wife, but fails, unlike during his days in Shanghai. The son takes the side of his mother, the daughter tries to drown herself, but Mollenard saves her. In the end, his crew carries the dying man out of the house, he would end his life where he was most happy – at sea. MOLLENARD is a contrast between utopia and dystopia for the main protagonist: the sea, where he is free (to commit crimes), and the bourgeois home, where he is a prisoner of conventions. He is unable to survive in this which cold, emotionless prison. MOLLENARD is seen as his greatest film in France, a dramatic version of Noir.

Snares copyPIÈGES (1939) was Siodmak’s last French film before emigrating to the USA – and his greatest box-office success of this period. Whilst most of Siodmak’s French films featured fellow emigrés in front and behind the camera, PIÈGES only has the co-author, Ernst Neubach, as a fellow emigré– the DOP, Ted Pahle, was American, and the star, Maurice Chevalier, already an legend was very much a Frenchman: Siodmak had established himself. (A fact, which would count for nothing at the start of his US career.)  PIÈGES is the story of a serial killer who murders eleven women in the music-hall world of Paris. The police, whose main suspect is the night-club-owner and womaniser Fleury (Chevalier), chooses Arienne (the debutant Marie Dea), to lure the murderer into the open. But Arienne falls in love with Fleury’s associate Brémontière, only to find out that he is the murderer. In the end the gutsy Arienne (Dea is a subtle antithesis to the French heroines of this period) has to risk her lift to save her husband Fleury’s. There are more than a few clues to the later “Phantom Lady” in PIÈGES.  Eric von Stroheim is brilliant as a mad fashion czar who has lost his fortune and adoring women.

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SON OF DRACULA (1943) was already Robert Siodmak’s seventh film in Hollywood, his first for Universal. Scripted by his brother Curt, SON OF DRACULA was a great risk for Robert, it was his first outing in the classical Horror genre, not to mention the great ‘Dracula tradition’ started by Ted Browning in 1931. The film is set in the bayous of Louisianna, where Katherine Caldwell has inherited the plantation “Dark Oaks” from her father, who died suddenly under mysterious circumstances. She gives a party, and entertains Count Alucard (Lon Chaney jr.) an acquaintance  from her travels in central Europe. She discards her fiancée Frank and marries Alucard. Frank shoots the count, but the bullet passes through him, killing Katherine. In prison, Katherine visits him as a bat, turning into her human form (a first in film history), and asking Frank to kill Alucard, so they can live together forever as vampires. Frank grants her wish, but also burns her in her coffin. SON OF DRACULA is pure gothic horror, but suffered from Lon Chaney jr. being miscast in a role created by Bela Lugosi as his Alter Ego. Strongest are the scenes in the bayous, where the evil still lurks after the death of Katherine and Alucard: everything seems toxic, the spell of the vampire lives on.

Cobra_Woman_1.jpg_rgb copyCOBRA WOMAN (1943) was Robert Siodmak’s first film in colour, shot in widescreen Technicolor. Its star, Maria Montez, an aristocrat from the Dominican Republic, whose real name was Maria Africa Garcia Vidal de Santo Silas, would later gain cult status after her early death at the age of 39 from a heart attack in her bathtub in Paris. Maria plays Tollea, who is whisked away just before her wedding to Ramu, to her birth island where her evil twin sister Naja (also played by Montez) holds sway. Ramu and his helper Kado follow her, but Tollea has decided to sacrifice her love for Ramu to become the new ruler of the island, so as to prevent an eruption of the volcano provoked by Naja’s sins. COBRA WOMAN is pure camp, Siodmak said “it was nonsense, but fun”.

Phantom_Lady_1 copyIn 1943 Siodmak was on a roll: he would make four film that year, and PHANTOM LADY (1943) was also the most important of his American period to date: the first of a quartet, which would form with The Spiral Staircase, The Killers and Criss Cross, the classic Noir films of their creator.

PHANTOM LADY is based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich (William Irish), a prolific writer, whose novels and short stories were the basis for twenty films Noir of the classic period. They also provided the basis for Nouvelle Vague fare. Pivotal in Woolrich’s novels is the race against time. Scott Henderson, an engineer, is accused of murdering his wife. He proclaims his innocence, but is sentenced to death. His secretary Carol “Kansas” Richman (Ella Raines) is convinced he is not a murderer, and together with inspector Burges, she sets out to find the real culprit. Henderson’s alibi is a woman with a flamboyant hat, he meets in a bar, and spends the evening with, while  his wife was murdered – but they promised not to reveal their identities. The mystery woman  is illusive and when Carol tries to unravel her identity, the barman, who to denies having seen her at all, is run over by a car shortly after interviewed by Richman. Another witness, a drummer (Elisha Cook. Jr.), is also murdered, before Richman corners Franchot Tone, an artist, and Richman’s best friend as the murderer: he had an affair with Richman’s wife. German expressionism and Siodmak’s customary near documentary style dominate: New York is a bed of intrigue, where shadows lurk and footsteps signal danger. The majority of scenes could be watched without dialogue, particularly Cook’s drummer solo, which fits in well with the impressionist décor. With PHANTOM LADY, Robert Siodmak had found his (sub)genre.

Christmas_Holiday_10CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944), based on a novel by Somerset Maugham, has a most misleading title and is perhaps Siodmak’s most exotic film Noir. Lt. Mason, on Christmas leave, is delayed in New Orleans, where he meets the singer Jackie Lamont (Deanna Durham) who tells him her real name is Abigail Manette, and that her husband Robert (Gene Kelly) is in jail for murdering his bookie. In a long flashback, we see Robert’s mother trying to cover up her son’s crime. After Jackie leaves Mason, she is confronted in a roadhouse by Robert who has escaped from jail. Before he can shoot her, a policeman’s bullet kills him. Like “Phantom Lady”, CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY is photographed again by Woody Bredell, New Orleans is a tropical, outlandish setting and the film has much more the feel of a French film-noir than an American. Siodmak uses Wagner’s “Liebestod” to frame the love story of the doomed couple.

THE SUSPECT (1944) is one of Siodmak’s less convincing Noirs. Philip Marshall (Charles Laughton), a sedentary middle-aged man, is driven out by his heartless wife Cora, and falls in love with the much younger Mary (Ella Raines). Philip becomes a different person, and thrives with his new love. But Cora finds out about the couple and threatens Philip with disclosure, which would have ruined him professionally. He kills first Cora, then his neighbour Gilbert Simmons, who blackmails him. Inspector Huxley has no proof against him, and Philip could start a new life with his young wife in Canada, but he decides to stay and give himself up, just as Huxley had predicted. Shot entirely in a studio, THE SUSPECT lacks suspense, and is only remarkable for Laughton’s brilliant performance.

The_Strange_Affair_of_Uncle_Harry_3 copyTHE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY (1945) features a semi-incestuous relationship between brother and sister: John “Harry” Quincy (George Sanders) lives a quiet life in New Hampshire with his sisters Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald) and Hester. When he meets the fashion designer Deborah Brown (Ella Raines), he falls in love with her. Lettie is jeaulous, and feigns a heart attack. Harry wants to murder her, but Hester drinks the poison intended for Lettie, who is convicted for Hester’s murder, but does not give away the real culprit, since she knows that her death will prevent Harry from marrying Deborah. To mollify The “MPAA code agency”, Siodmak found a new ending: Harry wakes up at, having only dreamt the events; producer Joan Harrison resigned from the project in protest. Lettie is a psychopath in the vein of the murderer in Phantom Lady and Olivia de Havilland’s murderous twin in The Dark Mirror. But there is more ambiguity to the narrative than is obvious at first sight: there is a vey clear resemblance between Lettie and Deborah – they might have been exchangeable for Harry. THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY is one of the darkest Noirs, because all is played out on the background of a very respectable family, in small town America.

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THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945) is Siodmak’s most famous Noir, a classic because of its old-dark-house setting and the woman-in-peril theme. In a small town in New England, handicapped women are being murdered. Helen (Dorothy McGuire) is watching a silent movie in town, where a lame woman is strangled. Helen then hurries home, to look after the family matriarch Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore), who is bedridden. Since Helen is mute, she is in mortal danger: the killer lives in the house. When Helen finds the body of Blanche, who was engaged to Albert Warren (George Brent), after having left his half-brother Steve, Helen suspects Stephen and locks him in the cellar; then she tries to phone Dr. Parry, but she cannot communicate. Too late she finds out that Albert is the killer, who chases her up the spiral staircase, but his mother gets up and shoots him, causing Helen, who lost her voice after witnessing the traumatic death of her parents, to cry out loud. Very little of the background to the narrative has been mentioned: the theme being eugenics, a concept the late President Theodore Roosevelt was very keen on. Albert Warren has taken this concept a step further; he kills “weak and imperfect” humans because he believes his father would be proud of him. Like T. Roosevelt, Albert’s father was a big-game hunter. In his mother’s bedroom is a poster with a Teddy Roosevelt lookalike and the initials “TR” above an elephant’s tusk. Considering the Nazi Euthanasia programmes, this aspect of THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE has often been neglected by critics.

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THE DARK MIRROR (1946) reflects Hollywood’s interest in Freud. Two identical sisters, Terry and Ruth Collins, both played by Olivia de Havilland, are suspected of murder, when one of the women’s suitors is found dead. Inspector Stevenson is fascinated by the two woman, but would not have solved the crime without the help of Dr. Elliot, a psychoanalyst. He finds out that whilst Ruth is a very adjusted and loving person, Terry is just her opposite: a ruthless psychopath, who fabricates clues, to make Ruth look like the murderess, whilst at the same time is planning to kill her sister, before Dr. Elliot is able to expose her. Siodmak deals with the “Doppelgänger” theme, which was explored as early as in the silent film era of expressionism, by using Freudian theory to explain the perversity of the “evil” sister: rejection, confusion and lastly alienation let her spin out of control, allowing only “herself” to survive. Unlike in The Spiral Staircase, the interior is totally unthreatening, which makes Terry’s murderous lust even more terrifying.

TIme_Out_of_Mind_2 copyTIME OUT OF MIND (1946/7) is more melodrama than Noir. Chris Fortune (Robert Hutton), the son of a heartless and ambitious shipping tycoon, falls in love with the servant girl Kate (Phyllis Calvert). But in 19th century New England, this was not the social norm. Kate encourages Chris to marry a lady of his class, who turns out to be a beast and drives Chris more into alcohol dependency. Chris fancies himself as a composer, but only Kate believes in his talent. The Noir aspect is the family constellation: Chris is obviously weak, and his overbearing father (Leo G. Carroll) rules over his life. More to the point, Chris’s sister Rissa (Ella Raines) seemingly protects her younger brother, but is in reality totally obsessed by him. She represents the semi-incestuous theme running, not only through Siodmak’s, noir films.

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CRISS CROSS (1949) is perhaps Siodmak’s most personal Noir. Reworking elements of The Killers – and casting Burt Lancaster again in the role of the obsessed lover -, CRISS CROSS is the story of an “amour fou”, its emotional intensity on par with Tourneur’s classic Out of the Past. Steve Thompson (Lancaster) is still in love with his ex wife Anna (Yvonne De Carlo), who now lives with the gangster Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). But when the two of them meet in a bar, the whole things starts up again. Dundee surprises them, Thompson comes up with an excuse: he needs Dundee’s help for an armed car robbery. But Dundee is suspicious: he and his gang kill Thompson’s partner and wound him after the robbery. When Anna goes missing with the money, Dundee suspects the couple have double-crossed him. Dundee has Thompson abducted, but Thompson bribes his captors and finds Anna. She is terrified by the thought that Dundee will find them and wants to abandon the wounded Steve, but Dundee arrives and shoots them both, before running towards the police. The final scene, when Anna’s and Steve’s bodies fall literally into each other, bullets flying as the police siren’s grow louder, is the apotheosis of everything that’s gone on since the scene in the bar. From then on, in true Noir fashion, all is told in flashbacks and voice-over narration. Anna is the quintessential Noir heroine, telling Steve: “All those things which have happened we’ll forget it. You see, I make you forget it. After it’s done, after it’s all over and we are safe, it will be just you and me. The way it should’ve been all along from the start”. CRISS CROSS is my personal favourite: dark, expressionistic, melancholic and wonderfully doomed.

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THE GREAT SINNER (1948/9) is an awkward mixture of high literature and low-brow melodrama. Based partly on Dostoyevsky’s novel “The Gambler” and some autobiographical details of this author, Siodmak struggles to bring this expensive “A-picture” to life. The stars Gregory Peck (Fedya) and Ava Gardener (Pauline Ostrovsky) – in the first of three collaborations – do their best, but Christopher Isherwood’s script is a hotchpotch of the sensational and sentimental, tragic events unfold fast and furiously, logic and characterisation falling by the wayside. Told in a long flash-back, Pauline receives a manuscript from the dying writer Fedya, in which he tells the story of their first meeting in 1860 in Wiesbaden. Then, Fedya met Pauline on a train journey from Paris to Moscow, but follows her to the casino in Wiesbaden, to study the effects of gambling on the whole Ostrovsky clan. When Pitard, a gambler and friend of Pauline, steals Fedya’s money, the latter tries to save Pitard from his fate, and gives him the money so he can leave the city. But Pitard loses in the casino and shoots himself. Strangely enough, Fedya, who has fallen in love with Pauline, also becomes addicted to gambling – but telling himself, that he wants to win the money, so that Pauline’s father can pay back his debts to the casino owner Armand, and thus free Pauline from the engagement to the ruthless tycoon. But after some early success, Fedya looses heavily, tries to in vain to pawn a religious medal, which belongs to Pauline; finally, he wants to commit suicide, before he looses consciousness. Recovered, he finishes his novel and Pauline forgives him. In spite of a strong supporting cast including Ethel Barrymore, Melvin Douglas, Agnes Moorehead and Walter Huston, THE GREAT SINNER flopped at the box-office, having cost 20 m Dollar in today’s money, it lost 8 m Dollar. Siodmak, according to Gregory Peck, did not enjoy the responsibility of the big budget production, “he looked like a nervous wreck”.

The_File_on_Thelma_2 copyWith THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON (1949) Siodmak returned to the safe ground of Noir films. Thelma (Barbara Stanwyck) is unhappily married to Tony Laredo (Richard Rober), but is attracted to his animalistic sex-appeal. When she discusses burglaries at her wealthy aunt’s house, where she also lives, with assistant district attorney Cleve Marshall (Wendell Correy), the two fall in love. When the aunt is killed, and a necklace stolen, Thelma is the main suspect, because Tony has been away to Chicago. Thelma is put on trial, and Cleve pays her lawyer and plans the trial strategy with him, even though he has learned about Thelma’s past, and is convinced that she is the murderer. The aunt’s butler has seen a stranger at the crime scene, but did not recognise him. Thelma, who knows that the person is Cleve, does not give his name away. She is aquitted and wants to leave town with Tony, when Cleve confronts them. Tony beats Cleve up and the couple flee, but Thelma causes an accident on purpose, in which both are killed – but not before she has confessed to the murder. In spite of this, Cleve’s career and marriage is ruined. THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON is a neat reversal on Double Indemnity, which also starred Stanwyck as the Queen of all femme fatales. But here, Thelma and Cleve really love each other, and Thelma pays for her crime with her life, and Cleve will be ostracised by society for a long time. Whilst Wilder’s couple was evil from the beginning, Siodmak gives his lovers a much more human touch. THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON was Robert Siodmak’s last American Film Noir. He would later direct two more films, which are in certain ways close to the subgenre; but he would never again achieve the greatness of his American Film Noir cycle, even his directing output would run to another 18 films.

The_Crimson_Pirate_3In the THE CRIMSON PIRATE (1951/2) Siodmak was reunited with Burt Lancaster, who also produced the film. Set in the late 18th century in the Caribbean, Captain Vallo (Lancaster), is a pirate, who tries to make money from selling weapons to the rebels on the island of Cobra, lead by El Libre (Frederick Leicester). On the island, Vallo falls in love with El Libre’s daughter Conseuela (Eva Bartok). Later he has to rescue her father, and support the revolution – even against the wishes of his fellow pirates, who do not see the reason for such a good deed – since it is totally unprofitable! In a stormy finale with tanks, TNT, machine guns and an outstanding colourful airship, our hero, now in drag, wins the revolution and Consulea’s heart. What is most surprising is the humour and lightheartedness of the production. Everything is told tongue-in-cheek, the action scenes are overwhelming and Lancaster (the ex-circus acrobat) dominates the film with his stunts. It seems hardly credible Robert Siodmak, creator of gloom and doom, dark shadows and even darker hearts, would be responsible for such an uplifting and hilarious spectacle, 15 years before Louis Malle’s equally enchanting “Viva Maria!”. Ken Adam, the future “Bond” production designer, earned one of his first credits for this film.

It will never be absolutely clear why Robert Siodmak decided to leave Hollywood after he finished THE CRIMSON PIRATE, to work again in Germany (with a one-film stop in France, so as to repeat his journey of the thirties backwards). In the USA, he was offered a lucrative six-film deal and had shown with his last film, that he could now also handle big productions successfully. There are rumours of pending HUAC hearings, because of his friendship with Charles Spencer Chaplin, but Siodmak himself never mentioned these as a reason for the return to his homeland. Rather like Fritz Lang and Edgar Ulmer, it can only be assumed that “Heimweh” was the reason for Siodmak’s return. True, he lived in Ascona, Switzerland, but he worked nearly exclusively in Germany. What he, and other “Remigrants” did not reckon with, was the political and cultural climate in the Federal Republic of Germany. When these directors had left Germany, the Nazis had just started the transformation of the country. But in the early fifties, the democracy of the country was not chosen, but forced on the population by the Allies. Old Nazis were still in many powerful positions, and the majority of the population still grieved, full of self-pity, about their defeat. The Third Reich, and particularly the Holocaust, were more or less Taboo, both in daily life and in all cultural referenced. The film industry also suffered from the lack of a new beginning; even Veit Harlan, director of Jud Süss, was allowed to restart his career. It is no co-incidence that neither Lang or Ulmer produced anything notable after their return.

The_Devil_Strikes_at_Night_4 copyThe same can be said for Robert Siodmak, with one exception: THE DEVIL STRIKES AT NIGHT (NACHTS WENN DER TEUFEL KAM), which he directed in 1957 was, deservedly, nominated for the “Oscar” as “Best foreign film”. Set during WWII in Hamburg, the film tells the story of the serial killer Bruno Lüdke (Mario Adorf). When caught by inspector Kersten (Claus Holm), the latter’s superior, the Gestapo Officer Rossdorf (Hannes Messmer) points out that another man had already been ‘convicted’: Willi Keun (Wolfgang Peters), a small-time party member, had “been shot whilst escaping” – without informing the population about the murders, since just a monstrous criminal did not fit in with ruling ideology of the Aryan supremacy. Both, police man and Gestapo officer, now have the difficult task to start to convince the authorities that a German serial killer was on the loose for over a decade. Both will be sent to the Eastern front, to cover up the case. The film is based on real events, Bruno Lüdke (1908-1944) was mentally retarded, but may have confessed to more murders than he actually committed – to clear up unsolved murder cases. Siodmak re-creates the atmosphere of his best Noir films: the city is darkened, the image dissolves from an omniscient perspective to a particular one – particularly in the scene where Lüdke is caught in the headlights of a car. Fear and excitement permeate like a black stain throughout. Kesten’s obsession with the case create a fragmented world, where the images seem to splinter. Chaos rules, and nobody seems to be safe: the hunt for Lüdke, which frames the film, is shown like a haunting parable on the destructive nature of the 3rd Reich. Unfortunately, Siodmak fell short of this standard in the other 12 films directed in West Germany between 1955 and 1969.

The_Rough_and_the_Smooth_1In 1959 Siodmak worked in the Elstree-Borehamwood studios, to direct THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH, based on the novel by Robin Maugham. Robert Cecil Romer, 2nd Viscount Maugham, nephew of Somerset Maugham, was the enfant terrible of his family. Socialist and self-confessed homosexual, he was a very underrated novelist: The Servant, filmed in 1963 by Joseph Loosey, with Dirk Bogarde in the title role, is one of the classics of British post-WWII cinema. THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH shows similarities: Mike Thompson (Tony Britton), an archeologist, is engaged to Margaret (Natasha Parry), the daughter of his boss, who finances his work. Mike feels trapped in a loveless relationship, and falls for Ila Hansen (Nadja Tiller), a young and attractive woman. But she has a secret: not only is she in cahoots with the tough gangster Reg Barker (William Bendix), but there is a third man in her life, who has a hold over her. After Barker commits suicide, driven by Hansen’s demands, the latter tries also to blackmail Mike and Margaret. The ending is quiet original. There are very dark undertones, particularly for the late 50s, when Ila comments: “I don’t cry much, I have been hurt a lot”. THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH is a subversive film considering the context of its period. The camera pans over stultified Britain of the last 50s, where there seems to be no middle-ground between boring respectability and outright perversion. When the two worlds collide, the conflict is fought on both sides with grim, violent determination. With THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH, Siodmak, would, for the last time, come close to his American Noir films, for which he was called “Prince of the Shadows”: referring not only to the quality of the images, but also to a society, where, to quote Brecht, “we are only aware of the ones in the light, the ones in the shadows, we don’t see”. Robert Siodmak made sure that the ones in the shadows played the major roles in his Films Noir career. Andre Simonoviescz ©

MASTER OF SHADOWS | A RETROSPECTIVE OF ROBERT SIODMAK

Masters of Cinema home video release of CRISS CROSS; Robert Siodmak’s influential film noir masterpiece; to be released on 22 June 2020.

 

 

 

Human Rights Watch Festival 2020 | Now Online


The Human Rights Watch Film Festival is about documentaries and dramas that celebrate courageous people and those affected by Human Rights issues in their countries – which this year include: Armenia, Australia, Bangladesh, Bolivia, China, Guatemala, Germany, Iran, Macedonia, Mexico, Peru, Romania, the United States, and Vietnam. Ten of the 14 films selected for this 24th edition are directed by women.

In this latest online London Edition nine (out of 14) films will be streamed to UK audiences from 22 May until 5 June and each film has a live Q&A webinar discussion scheduled. For anyone wanting to get that festival feeling of watching a film followed immediately by a discussion, the festival has recommended timings to start streaming each film title, details here:

https://ff.hrw.org/london-digital-edition. Otherwise there is also a handy list of the free live Q&A’s here:

https://ff.hrw.org/venueinfo/london-digital-edition

Here are some of this year’s highlights:

Shot entirely on three mobile phones, MIDNIGHT TRAVELER follows the traumatic journey of Afghan filmmaker Hassan Fazili as he and his family escape across Europe from their homeland. It is not their choice to flee, and they are not doing so on economic grounds. Hassan’s life is in danger from the Taliban due to a fatwah.
Indigenous rights come under the spotlight in Claudia Sparrow’s doc MAXIMA which has been a favourite for audiences all over the festival circuit. It tells the story of Máxima Acuña (winner of the 2016 environmental Goldman Prize) a free-spirited and courageous woman who owns a small, remote plot in the Peruvian Highlands near another owned by one the world’s largest gold-mining corporations. The charismatic and indomitable Maxima is determined to preserve the rights of the locals in this stunning natural environment. (not in online selection)
China’s now-defunct ‘one only’ child policy has left millions of single women under immense social pressures to marry quickly, or be rejected by society. This crisis is explored in depth through the lives of three women in Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam’s LEFTOVER WOMEN (2019) that won the Best Director and Editing prizes at the Tel Aviv documentary festival DocAviv last year.

When she was 12 years old, the actress and filmmaker Maryam Zaree found out that she was one of many babies born inside Evin, Iran’s notorious political prison; Maryam’s parents were imprisoned shortly after Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979. BORN IN EVIN cuts to the chase with an appealing and lyrical approach that sees Zaree confronting decades of silence in her family to understand the impact of trauma on the bodies and souls of survivors and their children.

As witnesses of the genocide of over 200,000 indigenous people, the Mayan women of Guatemala act as a bridge between the past and present in César Diaz’ Caméra d’Or-winning debut drama, OUR MOTHERS which follows Ernesto, a young forensic anthropologist who is tasked with identifying missing victims of Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. While documenting the account of an elder Mayan woman searching for the remains of her husband, Ernesto believes he might have found a lead that will guide him to his own father, a guerrillero who disappeared during the war. (Not in selection)

Rubaiyat Hossain’s impressive debut drama, MADE IN BANGLADESH, is the final film on Friday, 20 March. Best known for her 2011 film Meherjaan (2011) the director draws on her own life experience as a women’s rights activist, shining a light on the oppressive conditions in the clothing industry through the story of Shimu and her efforts to create a trade union against all odds. The screening will be followed by an in-depth discussion with Rubaiyat Hossain and special guests.

The films are streaming through CURZON HOME CINEMA and the cost is £7.99 for the majority. The Q&As are free.

 

Woman at War (2018) **** Mubi

Dir.: Benedict Erlingsson; Cast: Haldora Geirhardsdottir, Johann Sigurdason, Juan Camillo Roman Estrada; France/Iceland/Ukraine 101 min.

Benedict Erlingsson’s follow-up to Of Horses and Men is an energetic eco-warrior drama that sees a feisty woman taking on the state of Iceland with surprising results. Lead actress Haldora Geirhardsdottir has an athletic schedule, running all over the rugged  countryside, with helicopters and drones circling overhead.

Halla Haldora (Geirhardsdottir) lives a double life: one minute she is a mild-mannered physical therapist and choir leader, the next she’s roaming the countryside, bringing down electricity pylons with a bow and arrow and wire cutters. The only person aware of her war against the multi-nationals’ new technology is Sweinbjorn (Sigurdason), who works for the government and sings in her choir. She gets support from a local farmer, who could be a distant relative, and has a sheep dog called ‘woman’.

But her adventures have more severe repercussions for Juan Camillo (Estrada), who is under suspicion himself for bringing down the pylons. Another running gag in this amusing drama involves three women wearing the Icelandic national costume, who stand at the wayside during Halla’s adventures; a trio of musicians playing drums, the tuba and accordion. Halla’s twin sister Asa, also played by Geirhardsdottir, is a yoga teacher and is about to set off for an ashram in south-east Asia, when Halla gets the news that her adoption application has been granted. As a result four-year old Nika, whose whole family has been wiped out in the Ukraine conflict, is now waiting for Halla to pick her up. But misfortune intervenes.

With a magnificent twist at the end, Woman at War is a stormy but often amusing affair. There are echoes of Aki Kaurismaki, with the dead pan humour taking away some of the tension of the countryside hunt for Halla. And Erlingsson makes a refreshing break from tradition in the super hero genre, by casting a super-fit middle-aged woman in the central role.

Making good use of the stunning country side, DoP Bergsteinn Björgulfsson’s widescreen images and towering panorama shots are truly magnificent, along with the road movie sequences that showcase Iceland’s wild scenery. Perhaps a little too generous on the running time, this feature combines hilarious scenes with a well-structured narrative and a convincing female heroine. AS

FROM FRIDAY, 3 MAY 2019 | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL SACD WINNER 2018

Only the Animals (2019) Netflix

Dir.: Dominik Moll; Cast: Damien Bonnard, Bastien Boillon, Laura Calamy, Denis Menochet, Nadia Tereszkiewicz, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Roger ‘Bibesse’ N’drin, France/Germany 2019, 116′.

German born director Dominik Moll has been sadly neglected of late. Best known for his psychological thrillers Harry He’s Here to Help and Lemming and the hilarious News from Planet Mars (which never got a UK release) he came to Venice last year with one of the best features in the Venice Days line-up . Adapted from Colin Niel’s 2014 novel of the same name, this is an intense non-linear study of human behaviour, showing greed and possessiveness as the motivator that drives us all forward in the belief we are in love.

Most of the action takes part in a remote snowbound part of the French Massif Central, but the drama opens in the port city of Abidjan in Ivory Coast. There Armand (N’drin) sets in motion a sort of Ariadne trail, with one woman paying with her life for the sins of others. Armand is a small time grafter who finds photos of Marion (Tereszkiewicz) on the net, setting her up as bait for the French farmer Denis (Menochet), who is married to insurance saleswoman Alice (Calamy).

She has fallen for one of her clients, Joseph, an unstable farmhand in Denis’ employer who has been disturbed by hallucinations since the death of his mother: “I only talk to the animals”, he tells Alice. Meanwhile back in Abidjan, Armand has succeeded in making Denis fall for Marion, extracting the first tranche of the money transfers from the farmer. Armand, who nicknames Marion ‘Armandine’ – even though he has never met her – then invents a precarious story making Denis fall into the trap of wanting to rescue Armandine – whatever the cost. But the real Marion in in a relationship with Evelyne (Tedeschi), who shares a holiday home with her husband Guillaume just down the road from Alice and Denis.

This is a complex plot, intricately put together by Moll and his co-writer Gilles Marchand (who worked with him on Harry). Suffice to say it keeps up absolutely glued to the screen, enthralled by a seductively simmering plot line, Patrick Ghiringhell’s camerawork providing plenty of visual thrills including panoramic images of the magnificent mountain region and the lively African port city. A spine-tingling score of strings primps the moments of tension.

The saying “money makes the world go round”  has never been so true, and in this particular drama it is spot on: internet and money transfers connect every part of the globe. And every character wants a part of the action. Apart from Joseph, who leaves no clues to his disappearance from the scene in this enigmatic mystery thriller. AS

NOW ON NETFLIX
https://youtu.be/5HYJ6CjOzi8

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 |

 

Cannes 2020 | Festival update

The 73rd Cannes Film Festival is not the only celebration to be postponed by the 2020 pandemic that has derailed the film calendar sending some editions online.

This is the first time Cannes has been cancelled since the Second World War, although it was also curtailed in May 1968 due to the student uprising. To think that 75 years ago we were celebrating the end of hostilities across the World, it now seems inconceivable that a human tragedy of such enormity could once again intervene.

In an interview with the trade magazine Screen Daily, festival president Thierry Fremaux spoke of plans to announce an Official Selection of films that would have taken part this year. That will hopefully come at the beginning of June 2020. All these films are scheduled to be released theatrically sometime between now and 2021, and have remained faithful to Cannes, rather than moving on to Venice or San Sebastian .

The Film Market will still go ahead with sales companies showing their Cannes 2020 slated films to buyers and professionals in a virtual line-up. But as for the Main Competition, rumours continue to circulate about possible collaboration with future festivals such as Venice, Toronto, San Sebastian and Zurich.

As for the real live festival this year’s President of the Jury, Spike Lee, intends to make back to head up next year’s 74th Edition.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | 12 -23 MAY 2020

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

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall (2020) *** Visions du Reel 2020

Dir: Sascha Schöberl | Germany, Doc 84′ 

The cult of beauty and celebrity coalesce in this deeply unsettling documentary that looks at Beijing-based plastic surgeon Dr Han and his permanent quest for perfection, not only for himself but for his clients. The film once again connects to the narrative of live-streaming, a big business in China, as we saw in Present, Perfect (2019) the Tiger Award winner at Rotterdam last year.

In her sophomore feature, German filmmaker Sascha Schoberl makes no judgement on Han’s own self-focus. This is not a case of a little nip and tuck here and there, done discretely for women of a certainly age. Dr Han’s patients are young slim, and business orientated, and their surgery is plain for all to see.

Live fashion photos of the Dr Han in various natty outfits decorate the walls of his practice. In the firmament of China’s burgeoning plastic surgery industry, he is a star. Nor does the director question his unusual professional approach, allowing a roomful of spectators to attend the and record the live surgery on their mobile phones. The patient, a young Chinese model who undergoes the procedure without general anaesthetic, has given permission because this is all part of the process of monetising live-streaming, And it cuts both ways. The participants all garner something from the process, although why the camera looks at the patient’s face rather than the operation itself, is unclear. Clearly her stoicism – and tacit endurance – adds to the compelling nature of the footage. 

But beyond achieving beauty, girls in China are really looking to make money from the process of improvement surgery. And this is made possible and achievable thanks to Chinese massive social media platforms WeChat and Weibo who attract millions of followers to experience the surgery – live-streamed from the operating theatre to art fairs via fashion shows, and the private homes of this vast nation – they will use their mobiles not only as a form of contact and entertainment, but also to finance their lives. 

Drone footage hovers over Beijing’s vast tower blocks in the opening scenes as the camera descends on Dr Han’s substantial headquarters in the centre of the Chinese capital. Dr Han goes through his spiel encouraging and mentoring as the women congregate to attend the breast enlargement operation for a young flat-chested model whose sole aim, apart from achieving her desired breast size, is to create a platform where she can showcase her assets and make money from garnering followers on social media. The only slight criticism here is a lack of backstory: who are these girls, what are their personal stories, and how about some more clarity on Dr Han?

The procedure completed, the good doctor is not relieved that things have gone well, and that the patient has emerged fit and fulsome; he is clearly dismayed not to have attracted more followers, just click bait. Meanwhile, the enhanced model is pouting happily in her white bed holding a bunch of flowers for her followers delights, having been forced to look chipper throughout the procedure, her face having being filmed continuously by another woman encouraging her to smile, despite her nervousness.

Being a woman is highly competitive business all over the World, as increasingly so. Intelligence and personality are clearly not enough, and surgeons like Dr Han have cottoned on these women’s susceptibility and panders to their vanity and insecurity. A compelling film that questions beauty as a simultaneously essential yet vain element of society in the era of selfies. MT

Visions du Reel 2020 Online | April – May 2020, Nyon, Switzerland 

 

Blind Chance (1987) | Now on Blu-ray

PRZYPADEK (BLIND CHANCE) 1987 | was Krzysztof Kieslowski’s most direct attack on the authorities, produced in 1981, it was shown only “underground” for six years. A sort of Sliding Doors narrative, it is one of the few films that manages to be deeply affecting right from its opening sequence. It tells the story of Witek Dlugosz (Boguslaw Linda), born in 1956 in Posen. His father had participated in the uprising and moved to Lodz, where Witek went to school and started to study medicine. After his father died with the words “you don’t have to do what you don’t want to”, Witek decides to take a gap year, and takes the train to Warsaw. The three endings hinge on whether or not he catches his train. Version one sees him leaving the station, and arriving in Warsaw, where he starts a career as a party functionary. In the second variation, he misses the train, than fights with a railway policeman, and becomes a fervent opponent of the system. In the last version, he again misses the train, but meets a friend from university. The couple get married, and Witek lives a life faraway from strife and politics.

When, at the end, Witek has to fly to Libya for work reasons, he changes his mind at the last minute in a decision that has disastrous consequences. Kieslowski said in an interview that the last scene was proof “that the plane is waiting for all three ‘Witold’s’. All their lives end in the plane. The plane is waiting for him all the time. But, really, the plane is waiting for all of us”. Ironically, when BLIND CHANCE was invited to the Cannes Film Festival in 1987, to be shown “out of competition”, Kieslowski enquired, why the film was not to be shown ‘in competition’. Gilles Jacob, artistic director of the festival, answered in a letter that he feared the film would not be understood by the audience. So Kieslowski cut some political scenes from the film and sent the new copy back with the label “For the French censors” – which failed to change Jacob’s mind. Last year the digitally remastered BLIND CHANCE was shown in the Classics Strand at Salle Debussy during the 67th Cannes Film Festival, proudly introduced by Kieslowski’s daughter.

NOW ON BLURAY VIA ARROW FILMS | EARLY WORKS BY KIESLOWSKI

 

Claire Denis Tribute (2020) Visions du Reel 2020

French Filmmaker Claire Denis is one of the most innovative pioneers of independent cinema and fiercely committed to her singular vision. Growing up the daughter of a civil servant in various African countries, she eventually went home to France and fell in love with cinema in the Cinematheque, Paris. Making films seemed inevitable and after studying at the Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies (IDHEC) she embarked on a career that would see her working with Jacques Rivette (who became the subject of her 1990 documentary Jacques Rivette, Le Veilleur), Dušan Makavejev, Roberto Enrico and Costa-Gavras and Wim Wenders on Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire. Through the musician John Lurie she met Jim Jarmusch and worked with him  on Down by Law. But it was with her debut feature Chocolat that she made it to the international stage in 1988. The film was selected for Cannes and the César awards, it also got her together with Agnès Godard who became her regular director of photography for all her films.

So far Claire Denis has made six documentaries and no fewer than 17 feature films, such as Nénette et Boni for which she is awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1996. Beau Travail, is one of the most stark and contemplative French films about war, standing alongside Bruno Dumont’s L’Humanite. It was chosen for Venice line-up in 1999. Set amid racial conflict in a Francophone African state, Isabelle Huppert plays a coffee plantation owner desperately trying to save her crop, her family and her life in Denis’ 2009 outing White Material.

Clearly race and post-colonial themes feature heavily in her work, but Denis has also dabbled in genres – Bastards was a thriller, 35 Shots of Rum a fantasy drama about a father and daughter in Paris. Trouble Every Day reflects the emotional anguish of a loved up but warring married coup, starring Béatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo it screened at Cannes Film Festival in 2001. Denis has also worked several times with Juliette Binoche, most recently in her critically acclaimed sci-fi outing High Life (2018) and previously in her insightfully playful comedy Let the Sunshine In. where she plays a spirited and intelligent woman trying to find love with a series of unedifyingly pompous losers. Robert Pattinson will join Denis for the The Stars at Noon (2021) which follows American traveller (Margaret Qualley) through Nicaragua during the 1980s revolution, based on the novel by American writer Denis Johnson. MT

VISION DU REEL | 17 APRIL – 2 MAY | AVAILABLE ON FESTIVALSCOPE.COM

Filmography

High Life, 2018 Un beau soleil intérieur, 2017 Le Camp de Breidjing, 2015 Contact, 2014 Voilà l’enchaînement, 2014 Les Salauds, 2013 Venezia 70: Future Reloaded, 2013 Aller au diable, 2011 White Material, 2010 35 rhums, 2008 Vers Mathilde, 2005 L’Intrus, 2004 Vendredi soir, 2002 Vers Nancy (Segment du film Ten Minutes Older: The Cello), 2002 Trouble Every Day, 2001 Beau travail, 1999 Nénette et Boni, 1996 Nice, very Nice (segment from A propos de Nice, la suite), 1994 J’ai pas sommeil (I Can’t Sleep), 1994 U.S. Go Home (Collection : Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge), 1994 La Robe à cerceau (from Monologues, with Chantal Akerman), 1993 Keep It for Yourself  + Figaro Story, 1991 Jacques Rivette, le veilleur. Part 1 : la nuit (Cinéaste de notre temps), 1990 S’en fout la mort (No Fear, No Die) 1990 Man No Run, 1989 Chocolat, 1988 Le 15 Mai, 1969

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

Fire Will Come | O Que Arde (2019)

Dir: Oliver Laxe | Wri: Oliver Laxe, Santiago Fillol, Oliver Laxe | DoP Mauro Herce | 90′

One of the strongest films in the Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2019 was this stunning docudrama from Mimosas director Oliver Laxe.

Set in the remote Ancares region in the heart of the Galician mountains Oliver Laxe’s stirring third feature transports us back to a rural way of life where the occupants live in gentle and humble acceptance of nature, eeking out their existence from the land and the animals who live amongst them.

This wild and savagely beautiful part of North East Spain is covered in rain-drenched forests and rolling mountains where the gusty winds can kindle even a small fire and send it raging incandescently through the region decimating flora and fauna. Laxe’s gaze is detached but brooding with sensitivity, inviting us into to this strangely unsettling world.

Amador grew up here with his parents and his respect for the local way of life is palpable. His regular cinematographer Mauro Herce (Dead Slow Ahead) shooting on Super 16, films a row of fir trees cascading to the ground and eventually revealing a massive bulldozer causing widespread mayhem as it moves ominously through the wooded hillside like a behemoth .

Amador (Amador Arias) comes home after serving time for causing a fire that almost wiped out the villagers, not to mention the vegetation and livestock. Set to the sonorous tones of a Vivaldi psalm we can sense this is a bitter homecoming for a middle-aged man with no one but his 83 year old mother Benedicta (Sanchez) to welcome him. She does this with a simple acknowledgement. “Are you hungry?” Both characters are played by non-pros who inhabit their roles with the naturalism professionals

Mother and son continue their day to day life as they left off. Amador is rather harsh on his sweet and obliging mother who runs their smallholding single-handedly, tending their three cows and trudging backwards and forwards with their ageing Alsatian. The other locals in this mournful corner include Inazio (Inazio Abra), who is working on a large-scale refurbishment of his parents’ stone farmhouse. Amador is emotionally buttoned down and taciturn, refusing to rise to the bait when one of the villagers shouts, “Hey Amador, have you got a light?”

There is a solace to this spartan existence drawn by Laxe with moving simplicity. The animals complete their household. Elena (Fernandez) the vet is the only intruder and she arrives to help pull one of their cows out of a ditch. The journey back to her practice is one of poignant beauty and wry humour as Amador once again remains tacitly unfriendly while the cow’s gentle eyes look on trustingly.

This is a minimalist film of rare eloquence. Nothing is forced or spare, the unsettling narrative gradually unfolding with a growing sense of doom as, predictably, the fires come back to the mountains forcing the animals to flee amid devastation, firefighters struggling with the raw power of the mammoth flames. One image that remains seared to the memory is of a horse stumbling bewildered from the wreckage, having been singed by thefla,es. The tiny figure of Benedicta is seen wandering disconsolately across the charred landscape. And we are once again left to ponder Amador’s involvement. Fire Will Come is pure cinema. Set to the atmospheric ambient sounds of nature and full of naturalistic detail and subtle undercurrents, it is joy to behold. MT

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Moffie (2019) Digital release

Wri/Dir. Oliver Hermanus. South Africa/UK. 2019. 103 mins.

The last time South African director Oliver Hermanus was in Venice was for his Golden Lion hopeful Endless River. He returned last summer with MOFFIE, a magnetically intense drama that explores the sexual awakening of a young white male soldier conscripted into the army during early 1980s apartheid.

Based on the fictionalised memoir by André-Carl van der Merwe, this sumptuously cinematic film stands in contrast to the depiction of brutal army training in a ruthlessly homophobic Afrikaner platoon tasked with keeping the borders safe from neighbouring Angola, and the moffies – or gay cadets – at bay, homosexuality is considered a crime again God and the Christian nation.

Kai Luke Brummer is the driving force of the drama, convincingly showing how Nick develops from a shy ingenue to a confident and fully- fledged soldier. It traces his emotional arc making use of flashback to explore his incipient leanings towards gayness as a young boy in the local ‘whites only’ swimming club. Hermanus makes use of an evocative classical score lending a poignant undertone to this drama of stark contrasts. The film opens as 18-year-old Nicholas van der Swart is saying goodbye to his family before reporting his journey over inhospitable terrain to the army boot camp. His divorced father hands him a girlie magazine, as a private joke while his mother gives him a last cuddle in the chintzy home she shares with her new Afrikaner husband.

He soon makes a friend of the sympathetic recruit Sachs (Matthew Vey) who shares his views about the draconian training methods – bearing a glancing resemble to those in Full Metal Jacket – intended to prepare the men for a Communist enemy across he border but Nick is also drawn to a dark adonis in the shape of Stassen (Ryan de Villiers), who nuzzles up to him one stormy night during a training exercise when the two recruits are forced to share a sleeping bag. Nick is also forced to contend with the vicious and sweary Sergeant Brand (Hilton Pelser) who makes no bones about disciplining using violence on every occasion.

Hermanus leaves Nick’s sexuality fluid throughout although it is clear he has homosexual feelings for Stassen but needs to keep these under wraps for his own survival. Apartheid is illustrated on several scenes where the recruits verbally abuse a lone black man on a station platform but their own humanity is keenly brought to the surface demonstrating the ambivalent climate of their own masculinity and vulnerability. Music from Detroit artist Sugar Man provides a touchstone to the times – the USmusician was ‘discovered’ in Johannesburg and became the emblem of the young white South African music scene.

Dominated by a cast of talented non-pros obviously recruited for their striking physicality, Moffie makes for absorbing viewing. Jamie D. Ramsey’s lush camerawork captures the spectacular beauty of the Cape where Nick’s final encounter with Stassen in the ice cold waters of the Atlantic reminding us of the ambiguous nature of life and attraction. MT

SCREENING ON CURZON HOME CINEMA

Knives Out (2019) *** On Demand

Dir|Wri: Rian Johnson |Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Ana de Armas LaKeith Stanfield | Comedy Drama 130′

Rian Johnson excels in this crass but entertaining old-school whodunnit inspired by crime mistress Agatha Christie and dusted down in a sleek new format for the present day. It sees Daniel Craig’s dapper Deep South detective Benoit Blanc investigating the murder of powerful patriarch and best-selling author Harlan Thrombey (Plummer) who heads up a combative family in a Gothic Mansion, somewhere in wooded Massachussetts.

Never mind the head-spinning plot twists, the cast will keep you on your toes with their stinging repartee and back-biting banter: Toni Collette is particularly good as the hard-edged daughter Joni, and the stellar cast includes a frightening Jamie Leigh Curtis, a twinkly eyed Don Johnson and a pucker Christopher Plummer who gradually expose their hypocrisies over cocktails, very much shaken not stirred while Mr Bond puts his received pronunciation on the back burner for a Southern twang. Suave and sophisticated it may not be, but entertaining it certainly is. MT

NOW AVIALABLE FROM CURZON ON DEMAND |

 

 

 

The Whalebone Box (2019) **** Home Ent release

Dir/Wri: Andrew Kötting | UK, Doc with Anonymous Bosch, Andrew Kötting, Nick Gordon Smith. Philippe Ciompi, Eden Kötting, Iain Sinclair, Philip Hoare, Macgillivray, Kyunwai So, Ceylan Ünal, Helen Paris, Steve Dilworth.

Artist, writer and director Andrew Kötting has built up a string of quintessentially British films. The Whalebone Box is another of his experimental jaunts made with his regular collaborator Iain Sinclair, and the photographer Anonymous Bosch.

Discovered in LondonM the box in question is bound in fishing nets and reputed to convey healing properties in the Scottish town of its origin, which is desperately down on its luck. So the two men start their eventful journey north to return it to the Scottish home of the sculptor Steve Dilworth, a Hull native who has settled on the island of Harris, in the Outer Hebrides.

What is the secret behind this enigmatic container? Is it a relic, a survivor from a mysterious shipwreck, or a magical totem?. The mystery gives rise to an expedition suffused with evocative reveries, drenched in strange fairytales, folklore, dark humour and sonic interludes. The travellers are gradually mesmerised by the power of this enchanted object which gradually becomes “heavier and heavier, turning into a different substance”,

A parallel strand intertwines with the 800 mile pilgrimage, this features Andrew Kötting’s daughter Eden, who has already appeared in several of his earlier films. Eden suffers from Joubert’s disease and her presence lends an eerie vulnerability adding texture to the fascinating narrative. From the depths of her sleep, or adorned with a magnificent crown of flowers and binoculars, she is the film’s muse and guide, attempting to interpret the strange and mystical goings on. But so is a whale with its mournful atavistic cries – embodying nature’s suffering at the hands of humanity.

As usual there are cul-de-sacs and detours, and these feature the dead poets Basil Bunting and Sorley MacLean and the sculptor Steve Dilworth – the film also borrows from Pandora and Moby Dick and takes its 10 chapter headings from Philip Hoare’s novel Leviathan, or the Whale. One thing is sure – the box must never be opened, and therein lies a sense of anticipation and wonder – little did the men know the delirium they would unleash. Eventually they reach the white sands of Harris where they intend to return the box to its original resting place. Shot in Super 8, 16mm this is a strange, haunting and magical film. Just watch out for the post credit sting. MT

NOW ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD |

 

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

A Shape of Things to Come (2020) **** CPH:DOX 2020

Dirs: Lisa Marie Malloy & J.P. Sniadecki. US. 2020. 77′

A Lone Ranger of the worst type is how best to describe the unappealing main character in Malloy and Sniadecki’s unsettling documentary that sees a heavily bearded, raddled man living an isolated existence in the Sonoran desert, his only companions his dogs.

With its prescient themes of self-sufficiency and even social distancing this borderlands Western shows how possible it is even in the 21st country to survive as a hunter gatherer far removed from society, a telephone, vehicle and electricity the only mod cons at your disposal. The filmmakers adopt a slowing-burning and detached approach to their subject shying away from any formal narrative and letting the camera drift around following Sundog through his day. Meanwhile a growing tension gradually leads us to believe this intriguing ethnographical portrait will have a more sinister outcome than the one it started out with — Sundog emerging merciless and triumphant having shot a wild boar and leaving it to bleed out in a grim death, clearly not wanting to waste another bullet on the dying animal.

The Senoran desert is a dangerous place to live and full of snakes and poisonous insects, Sundog harnesses a desert toad and milks it for its bufotenin, a tryptamine derivative which when dried and smoked causes psychedelic trips lasting around an hour. He cackles, belches and makes strange whooping noises as he goes about his business – and we also see him doing his business. Later he shares he feelings about his lifestyle in a caustic, slightly embittered tone: “Outwitting the US government and avoiding people I have no affinity for is a win-win situation”. There are occasional glimpses of the US surveillance towers, evidence of big brother monitoring his idyllic wildlife existence. But a coiled snake continually seen lingering in the grass could shape up to be equally intrusive.

What happens next leaves us in no doubt about Sundog’s general disdain for mainstream culture, and the lyrics of a song he sings along to give a clear indication that he has possibly left some emotional baggage behind to seek solace in the wilderness. The film ends leaving us slightly unsatisfied hinting at doom but never delivering the final sting.

Known for his Locarno Golden Leopard nominated The Iron Ministry and El Mar La Mar which he directed with Joshua Bonnetta, Shape Of Things is an intriguing film and beautiful to look at with its striking desert scenery captured by Sniadecki and Molloy who also act as their own editors and composers of the film’s haunting electronic soundscape. Sundog is like the snake in the grass, simmering quietly but ready to strike at any moment if provoked in this compelling walk on the wilder side of life. MT

SCREENING DURING CPH: DOX 2020

 

 

Själö – Island of Souls (2020) **** CPH: DOX 2020 Special Mention

Dir: Lotta Petronella | Wri: Seppo Parkinnen, Lotta Petronella | Doc, Finland 78′

On a remote island in the Baltic Sea a longterm mental asylum has been transformed into a research centre for the study of local floral and fauna, particularly insects. Although devoid of human inhabitants, the place is still haunted by the souls of the women who were incarcerated within its walls, particularly those who fist arrived in 1624 suffering from leprosy, and then a hundred years later when the institution housed a variety of lunatics and the mentally disturbed.

Finnish filmmaker Lotta Petronella brings her fine art training to bear in her third documentary feature that plays out like a haunting thriller making affective use of hyper vibrant visuals and indie composer Lau Nau’s eerie soundscape to tell the story of the island’s troubled past. Arriving there in the depths of winter like some ancient mariner over the icebound sea to the south of Finland she soon discovers that the former asylum is a place with vast archives that reveal a repressed and terrifying history that emanates from letters written but never sent by the women who suffered and died there. While a young scientist is collecting samples of insects and discovering their story under the microscope, Petronella makes her own forensic study of the patients’ records to gain insight into the human element of this remote place. He finds a hidden past that permeates the fabric of the building as the archive come alive revealing their macabre past.

Själö in a restrained but profound study in memory and how history is created and shaped both by those that lived through it and their descendants. Some memories are over-glorified while others are buried and erased from the history books simply because of the nature of their existence. And this is particularly relevant in this island with its strange and disturbing past. “It is a place that makes you contemplate structures of power, science, lunacy, the ecological disaster and the soul, all at the same time. It is haunted by its past until one accepts that the ghosts are there to remind and challenge us to ‘see’ and sense the hidden memories.”
Petronella’s films have been shown internationally at film festivals, art galleries, and broadcasted widely. Her latest film LAND WITHOUT GOD (2019), a collaboration with the artists Gerard Mannix Flynn and Maedhbh McMahon, is an intimate portrait of a family coming to terms with decades of institutional abuse and the impact it still has on their lives. The film celebrated its international premiere at Docs With our Gravity, Warsaw in 2019. HOME. Somewhere (HEM. Någonstans, 2015) shot in the middle of the Baltic Sea, premiered at Docpoint Film Festival Helsinki in 2015 where it was named a highlight by Indiewire. Her first documentary film SKÄRIKVINNOR (2008) was successful both with critics and audiences and was shown on numerous television channels and film festivals. Her work has been supported by the Finnish Film fund (SES), Art Council of Finland (TAIKE), Art Council of England, KONE foundation and Finnish-Swedish Art Council.
 SJÄLÖ – Island of Souls received a Special Mention from the NORDIC:DOX Jury at CPH:DOX CPH:DOX 2020 

Celle Qui Manque (2020) *** Cinema du Reel 2020

Dir.: Rares Ienasoaie; Documentary with Ioana Ienasoaie; France 2019, 

Romanian born director/DoP/Sound designer Rares Ienasoaie has created a very personal feature documentary: having not met his sister Ioana for twelve years, he tracks her down living   in a camper van, eking out an existence from detritus, a drug addict for most of her life.

 “One day, I felt alone and I thought of my elder sister Ioana”. Ioana has not really disappeared, she travels because she wants to be forgotten. But Rares really misses her and takes his camera along on her nightly odyssey. Twelve years is a long time, even for siblings. It soon emerges her most recent relationship has come to an end – one of many endings. Ioana does read her correspondence but always finds a way to avoid contact. She loves the stories Rares tells – as long as they are kept in a mythical past. The present belongs to drugs and her dog. Ioana’s recalls being jealous at fourteen, and wanting a sporty man like her friend. She is thirty now, and does not even know what sporty means. Something she did not get – like everything else. When Rares asks her about the future the answer comes quickly: “I hope I will be still myself.” Whatever that is, because Ioana has to admit her drug dependency keeps her from having a real identity: they have put her life on hold pause. “I know, drugs are stopping me from being free”. Some of her friends have overcome their dependency on replacing it another drug, that of sexual elation. But love is not for her. “You think you are in love, and the other person is laughing at you. But with drugs, you are always aware of it – you self-destruct, but there is no chance of rejection”. The past always, the past: “The past defines us, if you don’t deal with it. I realise that I have not gotten over it: I still see myself as fat and ugly, even though I am not any more. But I don’t feel good”. 

Most of the shots are taken in the back of the camper, the only light being Ioana’s headlamp. It comes as a shock when we suddenly move to a daytime shot down by the seaside. Another Ioana emerges, and suddenly there is colour. Rares is gradually trying to persuade Ioana to visit her family, their parents in particular. But Ioana is reluctant: “I’ll never feel ready, because I’ll never be able to put things right again. It not neutral territory” When Rares reminds her that Blicourt is not her childhood home, she refuses to accept it. “Only Compiegne, that’s the only place I feel comfortable”. When her brother insists that her parents definitely bought Blicourt for them, Ioana gets angry: “They can’t believe we wanted children. No grandchildren.” Rares plays down a putative meeting: “We won’t say anything, we’ll just say you’ll come and see them. We’ll pretend everything is fine. I can’t pretend I have no sister, I am an only child. I feel like the ungrateful son”.

The Missing One finally comes to a conclusion on the beach with the dog running around, swimming happily. Ioana leans against a rock. Nothing is spared, the darkness of the camper van shrouding everything in a mournful guise, Ioana going more backwards than forwards. Like a Becket play, everything stripped to the essential gloom. AS

42nd CINEMA DU RÉEL 2020 Paris France | 13-22 March 2020

The Two Sights (2020) An Da Shealladh **** Cinema du Reel 2020

Dir: Joshua Bonnetta | Canada, Doc | 90′

Canadian filmmaker Joshua Bonnetta follows his 2017 documentary El Mar la Mar with this equally beguiling film about the phenomenon of clairvoyance, or second sight, in the Western Isles. The film also explores clairaudience, the supposed faculty of perceiving, as if by hearing, what is inaudible.

In the Outer Hebrides locals feel there is little distinction between Heaven and Earth. This untrammelled part of the British Isles is locked away from the buzz of the 21st century, its gentle emptiness, wide open seascapes and luminous cloud formations coalesce to create the ideal setting for all things surreal and inspired by unstructured consciousness, allowing the present to be sustained by the past and offering the locals a portal to their folkloric and linguistic heritage.

The Two Sights opens with the distant figure of Bonnetta silently positioning his microphone on a grassy coastline, subtly introducing the film’s main theme. Bonnetta’s delicately glowing 16mm images then provide the bewitching backcloth to a series of mysterious and ghostly tales voiced by local islanders (in Scottish Gaelic and English) recounting inexplicable sounds and enigmatic sightings that presage the passing away or continuing presence of their friends, animals and loved ones. Some claim the gift of second sight is passed down through families and generations, and now mourn its slow disappearance.

There are stories of dog skeletons, drowned villages, and family members passing away; although songs, silence and the shipping forecast are just as at home here. But like any great collection, the elements are less important than the underlying theme: the closer we are to nature, the closer we are to understanding the universe and how the past and present form a continuous loop uniting our souls forever as we pass visibly, and then invisibly through time.

The Two Sights is both captivating and compelling with its eerie beauty: a lulling ambient soundscape and breathtaking landscapes draw us into a story so ephemeral it could easily drift away in the foggy dusk of these atavistic islands. Bonnetta’s restrained approach avoids sensationalism in conveying the palpable otherworldly plane that exists beyond the six senses transporting us into a dimension that is mysterious and meaningful but not necessarily tragic or malign.

The only diegetic sound is provided by a group of local Scottish gospel singers led by a man with a smooth baritone who later manages to mingle his voice with nearby birdsong, lending a vaguely humorous twist. Wandering round this remote corner, Bonnetta adds further ethnographical texture with random sequences: a lonesome bagpipe player lends a tune and some peat cutters gossip as they unearth the island’s ancient form of fuel. “Sight by eye, sight by ear, two sights that ripple and flow together.”Bonnetta adds another muted but unforgettable film to his repertoire. MT

CINEMA DU REEL | 42nd DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL | 13-22 MARCH 2020

iHuman (2019) **** | CPH:DOX 2020

Dir: Tonje Hessen Schei, Doc, Norway Denmark 99′ 
One of the major challenges of our times is how the global community is going to deal with artificial intelligence (AI). Who will control this technology? Has the train left the station, never to be stopped? These are some of the issues tackled in an unsettling new documentary from Norwegian filmmaker Tonje Hessen Schei whose Play Again investigated the positive impact on the natural environment on kids development.
iHuman explores the benefits of AI in increasing our potential for the great good, but crucially highlights its negative aspects. And there’s no turning back. AI development is hurtling forward with tech companies affiliated to the defence industry and algorithms in law enforcement enhancing existing biases. Once we allow the use of such powerful technology to assist us the brakes are off: AI is like raising a new offspring: eventually like a real child we cannot control everything it will do. One day it will be in charge. And this has frightening but seemingly unavoidable consequences.
Hessen Schei has gained impressive access to a variety of leading influencers to debate her premise and they present a wide range of views, from tech optimism in Jurgen Schmidhuber “the father of AI,” to more cautious voices like technology journalist Kara Swisher, human rights lawyer Philip Alston, and Shalil Shetty from Amnesty International. Animated computer graphics visualise a polymorphous, self-developing structure with ever-greater autonomy guiding us forward. Computer scientist and psychographic specialist Ilya Sutskever is one of the most helpful and persuasive talking heads. He is working on how computers can max out our problem solving abilities while ensuring they share the same goals as us. Computational Psychologist Michal Kosinski is another ‘good guy’. He sees his goal as protecting people against the risks of how algorithms are reading their most intimate motivations.
By 2025 each person will produce 62 gigabytes of data per day. And this information is increasingly being used by the vast tech companies to manipulate each of us in our lifestyle choices: how we live, vote, and even who we chose to date. And this is one of the downsides of everyone gets to have their say on social media. As social animals who enjoy interacting with one another we have chosen the path to our own potential downfall. We have all become hooked to a high performance ad machine in the shape of Twitter, Google and Facebook. Shouting for our various teams has becomes an enjoyable and addictive pastime, and gradually the world has become more and more polarised, our majority views encouraging others to blaze the trail. Eventually we will become obsolete unable to finance our lives with mass employment the result of computers taking over.
The Police and the military are also tracking in an effort to manipulate us but also – they say – to protect us. Their highly advanced systems are set up to predict and track potential criminals from early on in their lives, using algorithms. In the future their intervention and high level surveillance equipment will kick in more and more intensively so as to clamp down on the potential for crime. In the military the use of so-called  unmanned systems are actually autonomous lethal weapons to be feared because they could easily turn against those programming them.
Combining her informative talking heads with convincing data and an eerie soundtrack, Hessen Schei gives us plenty of food for thought in this well-paced and good-looking documentary. And the takeaway is positive: Ai has actually forced us to re-examine what it really means to be human. We have created it, now maybe it can re-create us. MT
SCREENING DURING IDFA | 20 November – 1 December 2019

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

The Lawyer | Advokatas (2020) *** BFI Flare 2020

Dir.: Romas Zabarauskas; Cast: Eimutis Kvosciaus, Darya Ekamasovia, Dogac Yildiz; Lithuania 2020, 97 min. 

Lithuanian writer/director Romas Zabarauskas paints an affectionate rather wistful portrait of a gay corporate lawyer who has not come out of the closet. Meeting his paramours secretly at night, while fronting up in Neo-capitalist Lithuania by day, he is very much aware of being ostracised in his homophobic homeland if he breaks cover. Zabarauskas (who is openly gay and an activist) hits all the right political notes, his narrative is simply too slight to justify a 90+ minute running time. 

Holding court in his luxury apartment surrounded by younger friends, mid-thirties Marius (Kvosciauskas) is resigned to being “an old poofter in this homophobic country of ours”. At work he is glib and condescending towards his receptionist, but when nouveau-riche gallery owner Darya (Ekamasovia) turns up and wants him to take on a defamation case, he is only too willing to indulge her because of her status and bank account. The death of his father brings him up short, the two had a uneasy relationship and the funeral takes him into the countryside for a spot of navel-gazing. On his return Darya hires him for what looks like a tricky divorce, but this thread is totally abandoned when Marius is enraptured by a male model called Ali (Yildiz) he meets on a  Pay-TV channel. But it soon transpires that Ali is a Syrian Asylum seeker living in a refugee camp in Belgrade. The two fall in love, and hatch a daring plan to overcome Ali’s illegal status.

The Lawyer is basically two films in one: the first part deals with Marius and his professional persona, so to speak, dealing with clients and his family; the second is a passionate gay love story. Although this is entirely possible, indeed common, the narrative fails to knit the stories together convincingly. Kvosciauskas is terrific as the corporate whizz-kid, but less authentic as the committed lover, unable to embody the character the director had in mind, and script’s flawed structure doesn’t help.  DoP Narvydas Naujalis captures the transient nature of Belgrade and Vilnius, cities caught between a Soviet stricture and a materialistic present where human realities are best swept under the carpet. AS

BFI FLARE has been postponed and will be re-scheduled shortly | 2020                                           

In Touch (2018) *** Kinoteka

Dir.: Pawel Ziemilski; Documentary; Poland/Iceland 2018, 61 min.

Pawel Ziemilski finds an ingenious way to tackle the timely topic of distance relationships in a challenging new documentary which won the main prize at IDFA in 2108.

Since the 1980s, the Polish town of Stare Juchy (Old Blood) has seen its population dwindling with most of the young moving to Iceland, of all places. Desperate to stay in touch, those left behind resort to electronic methods of communication. And Skype seems to be the most popular. But it’s not as simple as it seems. Gradually a different modus vivendi takes hold as the emigres adapt to their new environment, become influenced by the change of language and social set-up. Most of them will never return.

But In Touch goes beyond a study of citizens chatting to relatives and friends on a screen. Ziemilski records images of the landscape in both locations and then literally projects the footage via electronic means onto a vast canvass, a sort of moving art installation that keeps the communities in touch with each other, and their environment – rather like google Earth on a grandiose scale. Ziemilski can even project absent family members into a life-size Easter meal, or show a distant daughter painting her mother’s nails in another country. A goalkeeper on the Polish pitch tries to save shots not only from the Icelandic strikers, but also from opponents elsewhere. Sounds amazing? But – and it is a big but – the whole concept fails to convince because we never find out exactly who we’re dealing with, or how they feels about the situation. Brief, subjective, person-related information would have been so much more effective than just pictures: Greta putting her Icelandic co-workers down, telling her friend in Stare Juchy that she went for a job interview at the airport, and hoping she’ll get the job “since only Icelandic girls seem to be working there”.  

The sheer variety of these visual devices is extremely impressive, opening up new ways of enabling interaction by reconfiguring the conception of spaces, and exploring the topic in formally imaginative ways. But the concept is undermined by the plethora of sub-approaches, which often reduces the outcome as pure gimmickry.

All very imaginative in theory, but the human interaction feels impersonal and lacks real  intimacy. In Touch would work far better in the formal confines of an art gallery where visitors could drift in and out. As a cinematic experience it is often too limited by its formalism, which strangles the human touch. AS

Showing 24 March @ 8.30pm at the ICA as part of KINOTEKA | The Polish Film Festival in London, Kinoteka.org.uk

  

Aether (2019) **** Visions du Reel 2019

DIR: Rûken Tekes | Doc, Turkey 82′

Time is up for the past in Hasankeyf. This ancient town in southeastern Turkey, declared a conservation area in 1981, is now at risk of being flooded due to the completion of the controversial Ilisu Dam.

Many have known exile, but to lose an entire homeland forever without trace is an unimaginable tragedy. But that is what will happen to the 20,000 or so inhabitants who will be displaced forever, torn from their roots by the project. In her debut feature, Rûken Tekes uses a lightness of touch to raise the profile of this eco-tragedy, distilling the unique mysterious essence of this ancient city doomed to disappear forever.

With over 12,000 years of rich history behind its location in the valley of the Tigris River, in the Kurdish part of Turkey, Hasankeyf will soon sink beneath an artificial lake, in order to allow for the construction of the hydroelectric dam. Tekes doesn’t try to explain the details of this annihilation but instead creates a space in which the spirit of the place can express itself in its final months. A space that transcends time and reveals the natural cycles of creation, and destruction that lie at the heart of the film.

History transcends mere words and explanations. So her portrait is a dialogue-free sensory one told through a series of exquisite widescreen tableaux vivants accompanied by an ambient , Tekes reflects on the meaning of a past so primordial and unimaginable to our modern eyes we can only watch with awe and wonder as the images unfold the ambient sound of birds and nature enhancing an experience that feels otherworldly yet very much connected to this unique place. This is a remote corner of the earth where centuries of inbreeding has taken its toll on those who have struggled to survive. A death mute woman expresses her tangible disdain for the project in the only way she is able, her lack of words enhancing the emotional pain expressed in her whole body. Another mute man attempts with sign language to convey his feelings about the movement of strategic monuments to another location so that the future can take over. Some resort to playing folkloric music, or even performing ritualistic dances.  Others just sit silently in bars, their facial expressions signalling deep sadness and disappointment for their forthcoming loss. Rather than listing the treasures that will soon be lost, the film transmit a palpable sense of doom as the heavy machinery arrives in silence in preparation for the translocation. But soon whirring engines signal the start of construction. Aether is a delicately drawn, awe-inspiring love letter to loss. MT

VISIONS DU REEL | 5 -14 APRIL 2019

Cinema Made in Italy 2020 | 4 – 9 March 2020

The focus is on women in this decade long celebration of Italian cinema that takes place from 4 – 9 March at Cine Lumiere in London. A rich and eclectic mix of the most recent films come under the spotlight including Liliana Cavani’s cult classic thriller The Night Porter (1974) starring Charlotte Rampling and Dirk Bogarde.

The six day event opens on 4 March with Ginevra Elkann’s playful comedy If Only (2019) that won critical acclaim at last year’s Locarno Film Festival.  Also to look forward to is Guido Lombardi’s road movie Volare that sees a young boy reconnected with his father returning from prison and Igor Tuveri’s stylish crime drama 5 is the Perfect Number starring Tony Servillo as a hitman in 1970s Naples. 

IF ONLY (Magari) | Director: Ginevra Elkann | Cast: Riccardo Scamarcio, Alba Rohrwacher, Milo Roussel, Ettore Giustiniani, Oro De Commarque, Céline Sallette, Benjamin Baroche, Brett Gelman, Luigi Catani | 100 mins

Alma, Jean and Sebastiano are three tight-knit siblings who live with their mother in Paris. One day they are packed off to Italy to spend the rest of the school holiday with their unconventional and completely broke father, Carlo(Riccardo Scamarcio), who they haven’t seen for two years. Instead of taking them on the skiing trip they had been promised, Carlo whisks them off to a rundown coastal cottage. They are joined by his bohemian co-writer and lover Benedetta (Alba Rohrwacher), and what ensues is a shambolic Christmas package to remember, complete with a first crush, acts of teenage rebellion, but also tender moments of reconciliation.  This semi-autobiographical film by accomplished producer and first-time feature director Ginevra Elkann received critical acclaim when it opened the Piazza Grande section at last year’s Locarno International Film Festival.

Ginevra Elkann studied film directing at the London Film School. She began her film career as assistant director on Bernardo Bertolucci’s Besieged and was also a video assistant on Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. She is an accomplished producer and distributor (respectively, at Italian companies Asmara Films and Good Films). Her production credits include Abdellatif Kechiche’s Mektoub, My Love (Canto uno), Noaz Deshe’s White Shadow and Babak Jalali’s Frontier Blues. Since 2006 she has been President of the ‘Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli’ art gallery in Turin.

FLESH OUT (Il corpo della sposa) | Dir: Michela Occhipinti | Cast: Verida Beitta Ahmed Deiche, Amal Saad Bouh Oumar, Aminetou Souleimane, Sidi Mohamed Chinghaly | 95 mins

Living in Mauritania, working in a beauty salon and addicted to social media, Verida (Verida Beitta Ahmed Deiche) is a modern girl. However, before getting married in three months’ time she needs to undergo ‘gavage’, or force-feeding, so that she gains a substantial amount of weight to become voluptuous, and thus an ideal model of beauty and wealth. This means that her mother will ensure that she eats and drinks as much as ten times a day. As the weeks of this trial go by and the impending wedding approaches, Verida starts to question her life and her country’s traditions. Michela Occhipinti’s emotionally rich film is a sympathetic portrait of a woman awakening to misogynistic conditioning disguised as cultural convention.  The film screened in the Panorama section at last year’s Berlinale.

Born in 1968, Michela Occhipinti spent her childhood in Rome, Hong Kong, Geneva and Morocco. In 2003 she spent a year in Argentina and made her first documentary film Give Us Back the Constitution (¡Viva la Pepa!), about the country’s social situation. From 2005 – 2007 she worked with the Italian channel RAI 2 to direct several reports on immigration issues. Her other documentary films include Sei Uno Nero, about the prevention of HIV and malaria in Malawi, and the feature-length documentary Lettere dal deserto (Elogio della lentezza), which was shown at over 80 festivals around the world.

SIMPLE WOMEN | Dir:Chiara Malta | Cast: Jasmine Trinca, Elina Löwensohn, Francesco Acquaroli, Anna Malvica, Mirella Mazzeranghi, Betti Pedrazzi, Paolo Graziosi, Thomas Bradley, Michael Rodgers, Cosmina Olariu, Ozana Oancea, Roberta Zanardo, Gea Dell’Orto, Elisa Liberatori |  85 mins

Since childhood, the Italian film director Federica (Jasmine Trinca) has been passionate about cinema. One film in particular has always played an important role: Hal Hartley’s Simple Men, starring the Romanian actress Elina Löwensohn. A chance encounter with her icon offers Federica the opportunity to make a film about her life. However, the real Elina Löwensohn is very different to the one in Federica’s imagination, and soon the true characters of both the actor and the director start to be revealed.

Paris-based director Chiara Malta has written and directed numerous short films in which she mixes various forms of narration, including documentary and animation. Her feature-length documentary Armando and Politics opened the 2008 Turin Film Festival. Simple Women is her debut feature-length fiction film and had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, where it opened the Discovery section.

THE NIGHT PORTER (Il portiere di notte)  Dir: Liliana Cavani | Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Charlotte Rampling, Philippe Leroy | 118 mins

Set in Vienna in 1957, a secret Nazi organisation meets periodically and ‘eliminates’ dangerous witnesses to their cruel actions during WW II. Max (Dirk Bogarde), a former SS officer, is a night porter in an elegant hotel. When Lucia (Charlotte Rampling) enters the lobby with her husband, she recognises the man who was both her torturer and protector when she was a concentration camp inmate. They eventually find a way to be alone together and replay their concentration camp scenes, thus revisiting a sadomasochistic relationship and exploring a reversal of roles. Operatic and bold, Liliana Cavani’s 1974 provocative psychological thriller deftly examines the lasting social and psychological effects of the Nazi regime.

Liliana Cavani was born in Carpi in 1933. After graduating in literature and philology at Bologna University she studied documentary filmmaking at Rome’s renowned ‘Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia’.  She is a director and screenwriter who belongs to a generation of Italian filmmakers from Emilia-Romagna who came into prominence in the 1970s, and included Bernardo Bertolucci, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Marco Bellocchio.  In 1965 her documentary Philippe Pétain: Processo a Vichy won the Golden Lion for Best TV Documentary Film at the Venice International Film Festival. In addition to feature films and documentaries, she has also directed operas.

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY | 4 -9 MARCH 2020 | CINE LUMIERE, LONDON SW7

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orlando (1992) **** re-release

Orlando - Tilda SwintonDirector/Writer: Sally Potter | Cast: Tilda Swinton, Bill Zane, Quentin Crisp, Jimmy Somerville, Toby Jones, Simon Russell Beale | 94min   Fantasy Drama  UK

Sally Potter’s inventive, vibrant and visually sumptuous adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel is the ideal vehicle for Tilda Swinton’s versatility as the metrosexual maverick poet and nobleman Orlando, who is commanded by Elizabeth I to stay eternally young. If you could only have one auteu film in your timecapsule or desert island retreat, make it this one.

The story is endlessly fascinating and enduring, engaging modern audiences with its androgynous allure and sexual enigma. The characters are exotic and compelling. The costumes and set pieces are magnificent.  In short it is a love-letter to England’s rich language and literature. MT

NOW ON RERELEASE at THE BFI WITH AN INTRO BY POTTER AND SWINTON ON 8 MARCH 2020 and BFI PLAYER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Siberia (2020) * Berlinale 2020

Dir. Abel Ferrara. Italy/Germany/Mexico. 2020. 92 mins

Willem Dafoe runs a bar in a remote and snowy Siberia in his latest film directed by Italian veteran Abel Ferrara. As Clint he occasionally ventures out by means of a sledge and five eager huskies. But we first meet him offering welcome sustenance and a sympathetic ear to the locals who talk to him but never get a response. His visitors are an old man covered in furs and an old woman and her young pregnant daughter, who opens her coat to reveal a voluptuous body. Later Clint is seen sleeping with her in a sensual reverie. This may be wishful thinking on his part, or even that of Ferrara whose female characters are merely cyphers there to serve the menfolk. But Dafoe, to his credit, presses on giving a performance of dignified integrity convincing us that Clint is clearly a troubled individual, wrestling with his past and his not too shabby present.

The night-time lovemaking sequence is just one of the fantasies enjoyed by the raddled old bartender who has retreated from life for this bout of soul-seeking, possibly borne out by a dissatisfactory relationship with his father. The failed primary relationship is hinted at in flashback sequences that picture his father, dressed as a surgeon, looking back at the camera with an air of disdain bordering on resentment.

During Clint’s daytime forays on his sledge he comes across a cave full of naked people who approach him with an air of desperation. The snowbound terrain then transforms into a rock-face whence Clint tumbles into a desert setting where the huskies seem equally energetic, Ferrara ignoring the crucial fact that the creatures find high temperatures challenging.

Quite why the film is in the Berlinale main competition section is another anomaly. Essentially a series of random widescreen sequences of varying quality (some high res others grainy), Siberia is a drama without any meaningful dramatic arc, let alone any drama. It attempts to address the self-indulgent and rather cliched premise: old man looks back on his life and concludes nothing from his navel-gazing.

Clearly trading on his strong reputation – Mary, Bad Lieutenant, Pasolini – the highlights of his sustained career, Ferrara is now clearly having a bit of fun with Siberia. He must be chuckling to himself all the way to the bank having managed to get this film in the prestigious competition lineup. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 2020

Running on Empty | Jetzt Oder Morgen (2020) **** Berlinale

Dir.: Lisa Weber; Documentary with Claudia, Daniel Gabi Gerhard, Marvin; Austria 2020, 89 min.

Video games and mobiles have had a corrosive effect on one Austrian family. Lisa Weber follows them as they struggle to make ends meet drowning in debt and an addiction to TV and computer devices which dictate the daily lives of this dysfunctional bunch.

Four years in the making the film centres around twenty-year old Claudia and her son Daniel (five), who live with Claudia’s mother Gabi and her brother Gerhard in a cramped Vienna apartment. Running on Empty is all about  over-whelming interdependence, the four characters have simply lost the plot and any kind of initiative, mentally or physically. Gerhard and Gabi are obese sofa-loungers who are either stuffing their faces with junk food, or burying them in their devices. Even the cat lolls around comotose.

Claudia has split with Marvin, Daniel’s father, who is looking for a flat for the family. Claudia has no secondary school certificate, having left school when pregnant with her son. They all live off welfare, fighting about the distribution of their spoils. Claudia is slim, and her brain is more lightweight, as she sinks in debt. When the siblings discuss emigration, Claudia questions why Muslims get a Christmas bonus when they don’t believe in God. Gerhard is a little more politic, not wanting a re-run of fascism. Hoping to celebrate his birthday in a posh restaurant, he is disgruntled about his mother and sister showing no inclination to finance it. The only car he will ever drive is the racing version on his console. Daniel’s fifth birthday ends with his parents having an row.

This is a torturous watch largely due to the family’s near catatonic way of life. Weber and DoP Carolina Steinbrecher are literally in the faces of their protagonists, who do not seem to mind: they are oblivious of anything and seem to spend their days sleeping or ‘chilling out’, a rolling camera doesn’t make any impact of their lack of decorum. Running on Empty is a decadent study of total stasis: A group of people who have given up on life, just vegetating along, letting the world go by, and they survive on state handouts. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 20 FEBRUARY – 1 MARCH 2020   

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 

       

  

My Little Sister (2020)

Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue (2020) **** Berlinale Special

Possession (1981) ****

Dir: Andrzej Zulawski  | Cast: Sam Neill, Isabelle Adjani, Margit Castensen, Heinz Bennent, Johanna Hofer | 124min  | Horror Drama  | Poland France West Germany

possession_2116In the opening scene of Andrzej Zulawski’s POSSESSION, Isabelle Adjani (Anna) meets Sam Neill (Mark) outside their Berlin apartment block, on his return from a business trip – she appears to be dressed in mourning. It then emerges she wants a divorce, and the two of them descend rapidly into a frazzled state of anxiety – Mark rocking to and fro in a cold sweat and Anna sobbing down the telephone from her new lover’s place. Mark (a self-confessed misogynist) seems less concerned about the divorce, but is eaten up with jealousy that Anna is having sex with another man – and enjoying it. Confronting her lover Heinrich (Heinz Bennent) in his spacious book-filled apartment, Mark is understandably indignant. Heinrich is dressed like a flamenco dancer; black shirt slashed to his ageing midriff. Embracing Mark, he appeals to his sense of fair-play in understanding their mutual state of flux.

Initially banned in the UK; this is the Russian-born Polish film director’s most controversial film. Many claim to be shocked and traumatised by it; others to find it a total enigma, even a laughable mess. Certainly it gives full throttle to the full-blooded emotional fall-out when a relationship goes wrong – but this is not social realism; it is mannered horror. Isabelle Adjani won Best Actress at Cannes for her histrionic, ‘obsessive compulsive’ performance – which involves an electric carving knife – and Neill is also at his most viscerally raw, switching from demonic anger to childlike vulnerability (his eyes are especially weird – an effect achieved by coloured contact lenses), as he pleads with Anna to share her feelings so he can work to make it right. Meanwhile he is also trying to negotiate a deal with his employers and look after his infant son Bob.

Filmed by ace DoP Bruno Nuytten (Jean de Florette) in the frigid blue light of a rained-soaked Berlin winter in Kreuzberg and Mitte’s empty streets, there are unsettling vignettes where Anna is at one point pursued by a government official who asks to check the windows of the apartment where she is now living (having left Mark). In this apartment, she has produced – or apparently given birth to – a strange octopus-like blob of gore, that masquerades as a gigantic living foetus. When the inspector discovers it, she glasses him in the neck with a broken bottle of red wine, having previously offered him a drink. In another she plays Helen, a teacher from Bob’s school, and turns up unannounced to read to Bob and do the washing up for Mark: the two end up in bed. The dialogue is often dead pan and banal compared with the heightened melodrama that accompanies it – after trashing Mark’s living room in a blind rage Anna announces blandly: “I have to give Bob his yogourt”.

Admittedly, the film is a carnival of sensationalism, yet we feel nothing for the characters nor their trauma as their feelings are completely unconvincing – they are merely the psychotic and narcissistic projections of sociopathic cyphers, totally lacking in authenticity or a scintilla of humanity. Although Zulawski attempts to generate horror, as an audience we feel entirely alienated and detached from the narrative, however gory, blood-soaked or deranged it becomes. A fantastic curio and the perfect antidote to romantic Valentine’s Day. MT

LEXI CINEMA | KENSAL RISE OVERGROUND | FRIDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2020

 

Garage People | Garagenvolk (2020) *** Berlinale 2020

Dir.: Natalija Yefimkina; Documentary; Germany 2020

Natalija Yefimkina’s first feature documentary is a bleak look at human survivors in the remote landscape of northern of Russia. Still toiling on long after the end of the Soviet Union, they are treated like the industrial scrap they collect: the mining industry which was once the only employer in the region but has more or less vanished, the work force living in garages at the foot of the mountain, trying to make a living amidst the post-industrial landscape. 

These garages, not a single one occupied by a car, are falling to rack and ruin like everything in the vicinity of the old mining shafts. Gas pipes poke out like medieval weapons, vestiges of a warworn past.  Scrap is collected and sold on, an old bus dragged along with a tow truck, later the two men in charge will take the roof from the bus, laughingly calling it a cabriolet.

Survival is the name of the game in this bizarre setting. Victor, an old man of 73, has dug five floors under his garage using only a shovel and a bucket. Victor has been grafting away since the age of 27, his own son just a little boy. Most of his friends have now drunk themselves to death, leaving Victor to tell his lonely story. Nothing left but to move to the ugly city nearby, dominated by the Prefab housing, to live with his wife Tatiana. “Your garage life is over”, she tells him. Victor will die in 2018, followed a year later by Tatiana, who died of liver cirrhosis having worked most of her life in the mines. Vitalik, who had the idea of creating a roofless bus, dies in 2018, just 36 years old. His closest friend was president Putin, the two met via his portrait on the wall and had long discussions about the meaning of life.

Then there is Pavel, a middle-aged icon maker. The priest visits him to commission a special icon. Pavel promises to deliver, and later we watch the priest return to collect the icon intended as a  gift for the CEO of what is left of the mining company, the director, in turn, supporting the church financially. Amazingly, there is a fledging band in all this squalor. John, Lena and Ilja L. make music in one the garages, the first two dream of a life in St. Petersburg. When they have gone, Ilja is depressed, but still goes on writing poetry. Sergej, producing dumb bells from the metal he scavenges, is suffering from progressive Parkinson’s, but goes on working. And then there is Roman, the success story of the community, raising broiler chickens and making a good living from the birds. In a restaurant called ‘Behind the Polar Cycle’, Roman meets Julia, and they fall in love, finding happiness against all odds. But for most of them it’s a grim existence, Viktor’s sums his life up in these poignant words: “I am digging in the dirt like a worm”.

Yefimkina and DoP Axes Schneppat  showcase the dreadful conditions without resorting to talking head overkill. The only of change comes in the shape of snowfall capturing the melancholic atmosphere of overriding gloom in this despondent post apocalyptic backwater.  AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | 20 FEBRUARY – 1 MARCH 2020

The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019) ****

Dir: Armando Iannucci | Cast: Dev Patel, Hugh Laurie, Ben Wishaw, Peter Capaldi | UK. 2019. 116mins

Armando Iannucci brings a wonderful exuberance to this nimble adaptation of the novel Dickens considered his favourite. The autobiographical account of an author’s formative years unfolds in a dazzling swirl of engaging vignettes and enduring characters. Often riotously funny, the drama never lose sight of the novel’s underlying central themes of poverty, class, and importance of friends. It also conveys Dickens’ sense of humour, whether dark or upbeat, that permeates nearly all his novels. Personal History Of David Copperfield should also appeal to new and younger audiences put off by the weighty and worthy tomes lining their parents books shelves. Dev Patel is wonderful in the central role, his dark looks and vivaciousness lighting up every scene.

Many directors have mined the rich dramatic potential that David Copperfield offers to the big screen and TV. Most notable is the 1935 version that perfectly showcased W.C.Fields talents and portliness in the role of Mr. Micawber. Iannucci brings an effervescent energy to his film, which feels thoroughly modern while retaining its old worldy aesthetic. New is the idea of sentences literally written across the screen, and it works due to the manic pacing and visual busyness, colours and characters vibrate with enthusiasm.

David Copperfield relied on the kindness of strangers after a childhood of abuse at the hands of his wicked stepfather. And he runs the gamut of gruelling jobs and uncomfortable dwellings remaining chipper and optimistic throughout. He is a role model for children nowadays channelling that well known phrase: through hard work, to the stars. His philanthropic nature is also to be applauded. Copperfield grows up clever, self-aware and a skilled judge of character; traits that will go on to serve him well in this great writings.

Sumptuously mounted the film looks like a jewel box and is equally uplifting with its elegant costumes and beautiful frocks. An all star cast includes Tilda Swinton as a febrile Betsey Trotwood and Ben Whishaw’s ‘everso humble’ hand-wringing Uriah Heep. Hugh Laurie’s is also back from the US with a droll and debonair Mr. Dick. A delightful  film and the perfect tonic for January. MT

NOW OUT ON RELEASE FROM 31 JANUARY 2020

 

The End Will Be Spectacular (2020) **** Rotterdam Film Festival

Dir.: Ersin Celik; Cast: Arjin Baysal, Delil Piran, Cîan Seve, Sevda Kina, Sahire Ozhari; Syria 2019, 135 min.

Ersin Celek’s feature debut celebrates the Kurdish fight for independence. Shot in the autonomous region of Northern Syria, The End Will be Spectacular tells the story of the siege of Diyarbakir and the ancient city of Sur, attacked by the Turkish army for over hundred days, from December 2nd 2015, after the declaration of independence by the Sur’s Kurdish assembly.

Zilan (Baysal) enters Diyarbakir to meet up with friends of her brother Andok, killed here fighting for the Kurdish PKK. She encounters a number of women fighters amongst them the commander Nucan (Ozhan), and Dilan (Kina) who also wants to avenge her brother. The overall leader is Ciyzger (Seve), whose titular speech ends with “When hope and resistance come together, no matter what happens: the end will be spectacular”. The slow and bespectacled Zilan is not the model of a resistance fighter. But she soon speeds, and gets quite nifty with her semi-automatic gun. Dilan (Kina) decides to burn her diaries, she feels personal memories are no longer relevant in times of hardship. Then Zilan and Nucan watch in horror as Dilan gives herself up to the Turkish forces. But to their surpise, the diary she is gives the Turkish commander is not a plan of the defence lines but an explosive device, killing a load of Turks, Zilan and Nucan saving her in  the aftermath. The Turkish army with their tanks makes progress, and there is an impressive burial scene amidst the first snows. Later, a traitor is caught having sold the location of the anti-tank mines to the Turks. He meets a sticky end. The siege grinds to a conclusion, Ciyager sending out a small group, including Zilan, who will tell the Kurdish villages and towns in the area about the heroic fight in the hope of garnering support and swelling their ranks.

Shot imaginatively by DoP Cemil Kizildag, The End resonates with Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers narrative-wise, but aesthetically it is closer to Malle’s Viva Maria!. Celik is very much an idealist at heart, and his portraits of women fighters is the highlight of his feature. A little overindulgence by Celek manifests itself in the running time of 135 minutes, but the emotional suspense created by the brilliant ensemble (including seven, who act out their roles in the real uprising) makes up for it. AS

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020

 

Filles de Joie | Working Girls (2020) Rotterdam International Film Festival 2020

Dir: Frédéric Fonteyne | Wri: Anne Paulicevich | Cast: Noemie Lvovsky, Jonas Bloquet, Sara Forestier | Drama Belgium 91′

Belgian filmmaker Frédéric Fonteyne (1968) studied film at Institut des arts de diffusion in Louvain-la-Neuve. He realised several successful short films before his two acclaimed features, Max & Bobo (1998) and Une liaison pornografique (1999), which were both screened at IFFR. This drama about sex workers starts on a light note but soon develops into a more dejected tale of life and death. An excellent cast cannot always overcome Paulicevich’s uneven script.

Sarah Forestier’s thirty-something sex worker Axelle (aka Athena) lives with her three unruly children and a cantankerous mother in a council flat. Every morning she joins neighbour Conso (Legronne) and Dominique (Lvovsky) in a battered car to drive over the border to Belgium, where they ply their trade. Conso, a long legged black women has to run a scary racist gauntlet from the youth of the estate. Axelle is separated from her husband Yann, who still has his fingers in the pie. Their their youngest son is caught in a violent incident at Kindergarten, shouting ‘Allah Akbar’ before his attack – even though he is not a Muslim. Conso meanwhile has a boyfriend, Jean-Philippe, who gives her an expensive pendant for her birthday, raising her hopes for a way out of her depressing life.

But the women’s light hearted banter soon gives way to darker developments. Axelle’s husband Yann trails her, and confronts her as a ‘customer’, threatening to take the children away from her. Then Conso is invited to a special party by Jean-Philippe. It turns out that he is celebrating the very recent birth of his first child. The devastated Conso nearly overdoses, and Dominique and Axelle decide to teach J-P a lesson. Meanwhile, the former is appalled to find her daughter Zoe (Dewaels) “earning some pocket money”, but the real drama starts when Yann attacks Axelle in a domestic set-to defused with the help of a hammer.

Suddenly this bitter-sweet comedy gets serious morphing to a real life and death scenario in a sobering and awkward tonal shift. But these feisty women have learnt to deal with their work related ups and downs – quite literally – so anything else is all in a day’s work.

DoP Juliette Van Dormael’s nimble camera-work captures the raucous near heart-breaking hysteria. Lvovsky is the leader of the pack, looking after ‘her’ girls like a lioness with her cubs  – but failing to keep her own domestic life on track. Forestier is the most ambivalent, often attacking Conso for not being ‘serious’ enough. Working Girls doesn’t always succeed in conveying the complexities of life for sex-working parents. But Fonteyne has a good certainly crack of the whip at it nonetheless . AS

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020

 

 

Kala Azar (2020) Mubi

Dir: Janis Rafa | Penelope Tsilika, Dimitris Lagos | Greece, Eco-drama 90′

The Greek Weird Wave is alive again and kicking with this bizarre eco-drama the title of which relates to a potentially fatal parasitic disease affecting humans and dogs.

The illness captured the imagination of first time filmmaker Janis Rafa whose debut feature sees animals and humans living together in virtual squalor in a timeless, nameless post-apocalyptic place somewhere in Europe.

Kala azar is a strange and for the most part disgusting film to watch. And Rafa really rubs it in, quite literally. There are scenes where ointments are massaged into animals’ open sores. If you enjoy watching people pick their nails and teeth – then this is for you. It is the disgusting side of sensuous and makes a virtue out of its squalid dirtiness – the yuck factor prevailing throughout.

Rafa plays fast and loose with a narrative largely preoccupied with putting people on the same level as animals in a world focused on extreme animal-lovers – not just those who adore their pets and want the best for them, but people who want to get down and dirty with them too.

The film follows a couple of hippies (Tslilka and Lalos) who dedicate their lives to looking after a motley brood of mutts and pit-bulls. They also offer animal funerals with individual cremations thrown in. The pair are obsessed with collecting roadkill and picking and preening their own bodies while preparing food for their personal consummation – we see them peeling eggs and grapes without ever washing their hands, any sense of cleanliness or decorum is not the order of the day, and this makes for a stomach-churning watch.

At one point the main female protagonist (Penelope Tsilika) eats an apple while rummaging through a skip full of dead animals, weirdly placing segments of the fruit in amongst the furry corpses. Ringed fingers continually rummage through jars as they fish around in the gooey contents. The couple are also seen making love with bestial urgency, cleaning their dogs’ teeth by hand rather than using a brush, and generally compromising their own hygiene at the expense of the beasts.

This gruesomeness is interleaved with touching vignettes where the couple visits those recently bereaved of their pets – budgies, fish and cats.

Constantly on the move, the lead pair recover animal corpses from the highway and assist mourners in their pet funeral arrangements ensuring a sensitive ending for their faithful companions. Even caged birds and fish, who have lived a life of containment where they’ve never been touched by their owners, seem devastated at their demise. One woman requests a cremation for her fish, reduced to bones, and wrapped carefully in a silk napkin.

For the most part dialogue-free, the film is accompanied by the ambient sounds of animals licking, clawing, howling and scuffling. There are moving and inspired moments such as the scene where an orchestra of trumpets plays an eulogy to hens and chickens before they are taken away for slaughter. When we consider that these animals endure the worst conditions in factory farming, suffering terribly when they are killed (they are left to bleed to death in halal slaughter methods) this somehow feels appropriate.

DoP Thodoros Mihopoulos hangs around at dog’s eye level, focusing on mid section shots and occasionally panning out to take in the blustery windswept landscapes of the rural locations. This is not a film to be savoured – Kala Azar explores not only loss but our increasing attachment to the animal kingdom. We now live in an anthropocentric world where our pets are elevated to human level, as important as friends and family members, and sometimes more so.

Rafa comes from a background of art-based projects relating to the celebration of mourning and bereavement in all its different forms and has captured the zeitgeist of our growing obsession with animals being an essential part of our domestic lives. But it cuts both ways: recent surveys indicate that pets are increasingly feeling stressed out by our own anxiety levels as we rely on them for support in these angst-ridden times. They can’t take it, as it runs contrary to pack mentality (rather like parents continually relying on their small children for emotional support). An odd but prescient film which may not be pleasant to watch but certainly makes a valid point. MT

NOW ON MUBI | ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 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

 

 

 

Tench | Muidhond (2019) **** Rotterdam Film Festival 2020

Dir: Patrice Toye | Greet Verstraete, Line Pillet, Tijmen Govaerts, Dominique Van Malder | Drama, Belgium 99′

Flemish director Patrice Toye adapts Inge Schilperoord’s book to create a distinctive arthouse psychodrama that veers from vaguely clinical to stylishly dreamlike in its convincing and counterintuitive study of sexual obsession.

Belgian indies Bullhead, Allelujuia and most recently Adoration see their main characters struggle with physical or emotional conflicts. And Muidhond does this with calmness serenity Toye gracefully mastering her material in a film whose troubled waters run deep only occasionally breaking the limpid surface of the sunlit domestic settings and lowland landscapes of Holland’s white sandy coast.

Tijmen Govaerts turns in an impressively subtle and deeply affecting performance as the gentle Jonathan, a complex, wistful and outwardly placid young man who is deeply troubled and has recently returned from a spell in prison – flashbacks show him taking a brutal beating from the disapproving inmates – apparently there was not enough evidence to commit him longterm for pedophilia. He channels his troubled psyche into rescuing a flaying Muidhond carp which he rescues from the shallows “you’re going to get better… and so will I”, before returning to his job at a fish factory in Schependijk, a lock complex in the Dutch city of Terneuzen.

But feelings for his pre-teen neighbour Elke will not go away despite intensive sessions in CBT with a doctor barely older than himself. Jonathan’s obsession grows scene by scene his gnawing longing for her burgeons into an uncontrollable infatuation that haunts him day and night. Naturally Elke is completely carefree and innocent in her teasing friendship with the 25 year old yet grows increasingly tuned in to his febrile behaviour. Days in the fish factory see Jonathan trying to hold down his menial job while being at the constant receiving end of physical abuse from more or less anybody in his small-minded community – at one point he is stared down by his factory colleague and showered by bucket of putrid fish – the impact of all this on Jonathan’s fragile state of mind is harrowing to watch and sensitively captured in Richard Van Ossterhout’s moody camerawork. Attempts to date a girl from the fish factory fall flat. But clearly he is not the only abused character in the softly meadowed backwater. Elke herself is recovering from some kind of childhood abuse and taunts Jonathan with the vestiges of this troubled past adding a toxic twist to their doomed yet strangely companionable relationship.

Despite the nature of his emotional damage Toye makes us root for Jonathan and we feel for his pain largely due to his obvious contrition and desperate fear of recidivism which is palpable Govaerts’ extraordinary piece of acting. A nimble handheld camera adds to the film’s trippy aquamarine aesthetic and a timidly plaintive score brings a note of hope to Jonathan’s own situation despite what transpires in the final depressing segment, Toye avoiding a happy ending but being realistic about the facts of this condition. Jonathan emerges a decent character with a terrible affliction as he returns the flourishing carp to its watery home. A creature given a second chance in life, from another who deserves one of his own. MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020

Bergamo Film Meeting 2020

BERGAMO FILM MEETING is back for its 38th edition running from 7th March until Sunday 15th in the alpine region of Lombardy. 

This year the focus is on Europe with Europe, Now!João Nicolau (Portugal), Rúnar Rúnarsson (Iceland) and Danis Tanović (Bosnia and Herzegovina) will attend the jamboree showcasing a retrospective of their entire oeuvres. The three filmmakers are known for their ability to picture the turmoil of those who find themselves at the coalface of generational issues, or torn by the complexities of socio-political conflicts – and often with dark humour.

Boys & Girls. The best of Cilect Prize, showcases a selection of graduation films from the European film schools participating in the CILECT program, and by Europe, Now! Film Industry Meetings, a brand new and all-European industry section – scheduled on 13th and 14th March – intended as a Networking Platform for European festivals, markets, training programmes and those seeking funding in a more professional and international perspective.

Also up for grabs are 7 Italian premieres that will screen in the Competition-Exhibition section; 15 documentaries in the Close-Up section; a retrospective dedicated to Polish director, screenwriter and actor Jerzy Skolimowski, one of the world’s most prominent and original figures in contemporary cinema; a tribute, accompanied by the exhibition Gwen, le livre de sable, to master animator Jean-François Laguionie; the passing of the torch between BFM and Bergamo Jazz; the Kino Club section, for young viewers; along with a diverse array of previews and events made possible thanks to the support of local cultural institutions and commercial entities. MT

BERGAMO FILM MEETING | 7 -15 MARCH 2020

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

 

7 Facts | Alejandro Jodorowsky | Bluray re-releases

The legendary Chilean filmmaker is still active at 90. His latest film, the documentary PSYCHOMAGIE, un art pour guerir came out a few months ago. He is also an author, poet, theatre director and comic book writer. Here are a few interesting facts about him.

Jodorowsky moved to Paris in 1953, at the age of 24. He felt there was little left for him in Chile, where he had grown up in an abusive household facing discrimination for being the son of immigrants. Arriving in France, he studied mime and ended up touring with the legendary Marcel Marceau. Once back in Paris, he moved on to theatre directing, working on Maurice Chevalier’s music hall comeback.

He directed his first film, a 20-minute Thomas Mann adaptation entitled La Cravate.in 1957. The short garnered praise from Jean Cocteau but was subsequently considered lost until a print resurfaced in 2006.

Santa SangreIn 1968, Jodorowsky’s first feature film, FANDO AND LIS caused a full-scale riot when it premiered at the Acapulco Film Festival. As a result, the film was banned in Mexico, which led to his decision not to release his next film EL TOPO in his adopted country, fearing another scandal.

For the American release of EL TOPO, cinema owner Ben Barenholtz, who had attended a private screening of the film at MoMA, decided to screen it as a midnight feature at The Elgin. This proved to be a successful strategy as midnight audiences were enraptured by the film, and it kept running in New York seven days a week from December 1970 to June 1971. The midnight screening platform was retained for the film’s distribution across the United States, which reportedly the result of praise from a very high-profile fan: John Lennon.

thedanceofreallity_thIn 1974, Jodorowsky was hired to direct an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science-fiction novel Dune. The project would have featured an eclectic cast consisting of, among others, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and Salvador Dalì; with the director’s own son playing the lead. It was eventually shut down due to budgetary issues, but Jodorowsky suggested someone could revive it as an animated film, using his storyboards. Frank Pavich’s documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune provides an insightful and often hilarious account of the project’s history.

He is considered a spiritual mentor by Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, and has been mentioned in the “Special Thanks” section of the closing credits in three of Refn’s films: Drive, Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon

All three of Jodorowsky’s sons have appeared in his films. Most notably, Brontis (born 1962) plays his own grandfather in both La Danza de la Realidad and Poesia Sin Fin, which also features Adán (born 1979) as Alejandro himself. MT

EL TOPO | PRINCE CHARLES CINEMA on Friday 10 January 2020

EL TOPO (1970)

Director Jodorowsky himself plays ‘The Mole’ of the title: a black-clad, master-gunfighter. In the first half, El Topo journeys across a desert dreamscape with his young son to duel with four sharp-shooting Zen masters, who each bestow a Great Lesson before they die. In the second half, El Topo becomes the guru of a subterranean tribe of deformed outcasts who he must liberate from depraved cultists in a neighbouring town. EL TOPO is considered he director’s most violent film, often described as an ‘acid western’. The film shocked and dazzled audiences back in the day of its controversial original release. A countercultural masterpiece, which ingeniously combines iconic Americana symbolism with Jodorowsky’s own idiosyncratic surrealist aesthetic, EL TOPO is an incredible journey through nightmarish violence, mind-bending mysticism and awe-inspiring imagery.

THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973)

Jodorowsky casts himself as The Alchemist, a guru who guides a troupe of pilgrims, each representing a planet of the Solar System, on a magical quest to Lotus Island where they must ascend the Holy Mountain in search of spiritual enlightenment.

FANDO Y LIS (1968)

In Jodorowsky’s feature debut, Fando and his paraplegic sweetheart Lis embark on a mystical journey through a series of surreal scenarios to find the enchanted city of Tar. On the way, they journey through urban desolation, scorched deserts and towering mountains, whilst encountering a series of terrifying and sometimes moving characters.

Boasting some of the auteur’s most disturbing images, the film is an ambitious and intense adaptation of a controversial play by Fernando Arrabal. A bizarre tale of corrupted innocence and tortured love rendered in searing, high-contrast black and white, FANDO Y LIS incited a full-scale riot when it was first screened at the 1968 Acapulco film festival. Film4 said the film ‘leaves Fellini and Buñuel spluttering in its dust’.

EL TOPO is released 10 Jan; THE HOLY MOUNTAIN is released 24 Jan; and FANDO Y LIS is released 7 Feb in selected cinemas by ARROW VIDEO. All three titles will also be released as a Limited Edition Blu-ray set in March 2020.

Present. Perfect (2019) ***

Dir: Zhu Shengze. USA/Hong Kong. 2019. 124mins

Live-streaming in China is big business. The severely disabled, wheelchair-ridden and low-paid have finally found a nifty way of making an extra yuan. Sharing their everyday lives on the internet brings them an income as well as garnering support and emotional inter-dependence. It works both ways as the streams establish a mutually beneficial connection.

Present.Perfect makes for compelling viewing – up to a point. It’s a strong premise but the execution is flawed.  What initially seems intriguing to watch eventually becomes tedious. And by the end the doc does its worthy subject matter a disservice, playing out as a laborious and repetitive slog, without any kind of narrative or real explanation. Zhu Shengze made the film from more than 800 hours of filmed footage taken from an output of 12 ‘anchors’ (sharers of their footage) over a period of 10 months. Tighter editing would have made the film more pithy and enjoyable. What we do learn is that 2016 was apparently “Year Zero” for live streaming – and now the industry has expanded exponentially. In 2017, over 422 million Chinese shared streamed films on the internet. But it’s not all doom and gloom, content-wise.

The segments from each showroom are often overlong, and the content can be extremely dull, made more so by the black and white camerawork. Do we really want to watch a woman’s gruelling trip down the road – wheel-chair bound, while she stares pitifully into the camera? Or a physically challenged guy do his washing? And then there’s a man showing his wounds bleeding, clearly he’s into self-harm. But clearly these Chinese audiences do, and they’re prepared to pay for it, finding comfort in these banal everyday lives fraught with trauma (Eastenders, anyone?). Besides the obvious need for recognition, fostered by all types of social media, there is the loneliness and alienation out there, and the streamers have tapped into this rich vein of income, benefiting in more ways than one from the comfort-seeking connection with others. Our hearts go out to the ‘anchors’ but most of us don’t need to experience their pain to understand their suffering. despite their cheerful perseverance. But that’s not the point. For those who become invested in their daily struggle to survive, the film tells a valuable story. One of mutual support, and even entertainment. Distances in China are vast and many peoplelive alone in remote locations miles away from any form of social contact. These ‘anchors’ are actually their keeping them on the straight and narrow, emotionally at least.  

Other anchors have used the streaming device as a way to drum up business. A case in point is a farmer keen on branding his particular form of labour as ‘agritainment’. There is a bored crane driver, who invites us to visit him way up in his cab that towers above a vast building site. Another, a woman, is tooling away at making men’s underpants. She shares the trials and tribulations of her love life with all her followers, as she peddles away at her gruelling work. The more you watch the stories the more you understand how compulsive the experience becomes in providing a vital support system for those reaching out from the desperation of their own lives. In the end, the banal almost becomes beautiful; providing comfort and consistency: we need never be alone. MT

ON RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS | ICA CINEMA from 24 January.

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | TIGER AWARD WINNER  2019

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

Welcome to Sodom (2018) **** WatchAUT 2019

Dir.: Florian Weigensamer, Christian Krönes; Documentary; Austria 2018, 90 min.

Austrian directors/writers Florian Weigensamer and Christian Krönes are attracted to radical material, that brings to mind the work of their compatriot, the noted documentarian Michael Glawogger (1959-2014)  Their first film A German Life, explored the life of  104 year-old Brunhilde Pomsel, Goebbels stenographer. Here they have chosen something completely different but just as fascinating.  Near the Ghanaian capital Accra is Agbogbloshie a swampland, where 250 000 tons of first world electronic dump is ‘recycled’ by about 6000 women, men and children.

The title refers to the biblical place, and Agbogbloshie is certainly making its name proud. The ground itself is unsafe, it sucks people in – after all, it’s a lagoon. Starting with a close-up of a chameleon, emaciated goats and cows roam the wasteland, where ancient dump trucks discharge old computer monitors, TV sets, fridges, printers, mobiles and cars. The mostly teenage work force are looking for aluminium, copper or zinc, anything they can glean with their self-made magnets, working away with crude mallets to break down the chassis. When they have collected enough material they take it to the dealer, who weighs their collection, before trying – usually successfully – to cheat them, reducing a meagre payment even further. Woman and girls are used as water carriers, they too inhale the poisonous dirt, the earth squelches, their health gradually deteriorates. To take their mind off things there is rap music, and even a newspaper, the ‘Daily Graphic’. And oddities, like a make-shift funeral parlour selling some expensive coffins that nobody on the site can afford to buy. A gay Jewish man from Zimbawe sells used water packets.

But there is a sense of pride among the detritus: a teenage boy declares “it’s rubbish for them, but we are the best re-cyclers”. But the common goal is to make it to France, or anywhere in Europe, “and be somebody”. Only few would admit that “this place eats up your life very fast”. Flies and filth are everywhere as the sulphur clouds hang heavy on the air. Cholera and malaria are the inevitable outcome.

Sodom makes for grim viewing but the directors avoid making this a depressing documentary, and some of the artfully framed scenes have a strange appeal, such as those when the men are burning down the metal pipes. The film plays out almost like a poem to industrial waste, dumped from all over the world. But the well-crafted images fit well with the narrative, and the sophisticated sound design conjures up the spirit of those who work in this Armageddon. There may not be much hope here; but you watch in stark  admiration, and a certain sense of shame that your next new gadget or smart phone will eventually end up polluted this dystopian hell hole and the people who spend their short lives dedicated to its daily grind. AS

WatchAUT | 13 -15 DECEMBER 2019 | Picturehouse Cinema W1       

WatchAUT | Austrian Film weekend 13 – 15 December 2019

London’s Picturehouse Central will play host to a weekend of Austrian cinema from 13-15 December 2019. WatchAUT provides a glimpse of the world as perceived by the current generation of Austrian filmmakers. 
 
The festival opens with a special gala preview of LITTLE JOE, director Jessica Hausner’s foreboding tale of genetically modified flowers starring Emily Beecham (a role that won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival), Ben Whitshaw and Kerry Fox. Emily Beecham and Kerry Fox are both due to attend and take part in a post screening Q&A.
 
Festival titles focus on today’s hottest issues including the environment, women, and migrationOther acclaimed Austrian features to watch out for include multi-award winning STYX followed by a Q&A with director Wolfgang Fischer, plus other female-focused films THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET and MADEMOISELLE PARADIS. The documentary programme comprises CHAOS, a compelling story of three Syrian women exposed to war, while EARTHWELCOME TO SODOM and THE GREEN LIE explore the many environmental issues that afflict our planet.
watchAUT | 13 -15 DECEMBER 2019

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 

Valley of Souls (2019) MUBI

Dir|Wri: Nicolás Rincón Gille | Doc 136′ | Columbia, Belgium

Valley of Souls revisits a devastating chapter in Colombian history when locals were killed or forced out of their own country by right-wing militia. Belgian director Nicolás Rincón Gille makes the social realist drama even more haunting by casting Colombians who were directly affected by the tragedy back in 2002.

This Neo-Western sees its hero Jose on a quest for the truth, his striking features and epic intensity burning fearlessly against the rain forest and riverbanks of this subtropical paradise.

Jose has returned from a day’s fishing to discover the forces have killed his two sons Rafaele and Dionisio, and thrown their bodies into the river. These thugs are known locally as the United Self-Defenders of Colombia (AUC) – but worse – they have sprayed the slogan “Death and Purification” onto Jose’s fishing hut.

Honourable in the face of anger and sadness, Jose must find their bodies and give them a decent Christian burial. So he sets off fearlessly into the unknown on a journey that some may find rather too slow-burning, but echoes of Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent and even Argentinian drama Rojo are clearly felt. Survival with be difficult in this hostile territory and, even if he finds his children, removing their bodies from the water is an act punishable by death. The river he once loved and relied upon for his livelihood is now transformed into a place of horror and mourning and the macabre backdrop to his sons’ final moments.

He finds Rafael very soon after setting off and the young man’s body becomes a weirdly comforting companion in his canoe as he continues his odyssey into the heart of darkness. One encounter sees him bravely confronting two violent paramilitaries who goad him into stripping the hapless body of a dead friend of his, just to give them the watch and necklace. Another finds him face to face with the head honcho who force feeds him a thin soup until he manages to slip away as the soldiers are celebrating a win for their sporting hero on TV.

D0P Juan Sarmiento G. shoots on an Arri mini Alexa his magnificent widescreen images doing justice to the enormity of the situation and offering up a visual masterpiece even when the story starts to slow down midway.

But Jose is certainly a tragic hero who perseveres indomitably even when this involves digging up an entire graveyard of fresh corpses to see if his son is amongst them. Naturally, this is done with gravity and respect; he even uses his own green and yellow Brazilian football T-shirt as a shroud in an act that carries with it an almost poetic sense of dignity.

Colombian cinema has really taken off recently and Valley of Souls is just another in the vast wealth of films coming out of South America today. MT

ON MUBI 15 APRIL 2021 | MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Winner ETOILE D’OR 2019

Last Visit | Akher Ziyarah (2019) **** Prix du Jury Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan; Cast: Mousaed Khaled, Fahad Alghurariy, Osama Alqess, Abduallah Alfahad; Saudi-Arabia 2019, 74 min.

Times are changing in Riyadh. Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan’s realist portrait of father and son conflict serves as a moving metaphor for the underlying clash between past and present in the Arab world.

Nasser (Alquess) is a respectable middle-aged business man who has moved with the times in Riyadh. His teenage son Waleed (Alfahad) is introvert, sullen and – like most teenagers – critical of his father. But his grandfather’s sudden illness causes him to take stock of his life back in the village where his father grew up. Waleed is passive-aggressive, and initially makes it clear – without words – that he’d rather be anywhere else than at his grandfather’s bedside. When he arrives in the village with his father, there is a police roadblock – several days previously a young boy disappeared from his home and the search for him has so far proved unsuccessful. Waleed is introduced to his uncles and his cousin Faisal (Alshahrani) for the first time. The family is gathered around the dying patriarch, interrupting the wake only for prayers. Nasser expects Waleed to join in but the boy feels the need to pose as the ‘obedient son’ overbearing. His upbringing has been traditional, although their life in Riyadh is secular. In some ways this has been a poisoned chalice, his cousin seems to be having a more entertaining time in the countryside but there are clearly differences. And soon enough Waleed discovers past traumas from his father’s life in the village as the boy’s disappearance  comes to a head making their drive back to Riyadh a morose one.

DoP Amine Messadi pans faces and objects with great care reflecting the mens’ fleeting thoughts and emotions in this documentary-style drama, where the camera is on the outside, observing. Just before Waleed and Nasser leave, the camera traces back symbolically over a few cracks in the room they shared – this and the total absence of women works as a solemn critique of a society caught between a religious yesterday and a commercial present. Significantly too, Aldhabaan keeps dialogue to a minimum, only the confrontation between father and son burns bitterly in this sombre and tight-lipped drama. AS

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL | PRIX DU JURY | GOLDEN STAR AWARD 2019

 

Scattered Night (2019) **** Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir: Sol Kim and Jihyoung Lee | S. Korea dram 90′

Sol Kim and Jihyoung Lee’s first film captures the trauma of family break-up seen through the eyes of two small children in this austere cinema verite drama that gradually builds into a convincing conclusion.

Little Seung-ah Moon (Sumin) is at the centre of it all. Barely ten, she intuitively taps into the imploding relationship of her increasingly alienated parents, searching in vain for guidance, assurance or a hint of stability as she struggles to understand how her parents still care for each other but now want the family to live apart. The questions she asks are basic and natural, but she never gets a proper replay, let alone any love or attention – apart from the occasional platitude and a throwaway comment: “you’ll understand one day”.

Scattered Night is an intense experience, the camera never leaving the child’s face through its entire running time in a compelling natural performance for one so young and vulnerable as Seung-ah Moon. But the filmmakers are not interested in Sumin’s ordinary parents, who carry their own emotional baggage from the past, influenced by society’s expectations of them, fleshed out in a sequence where grandma comes to stay. The focus here is the Sumin (Moon Seung- a) and her brother Jinho (Choi Junwoo) who are barely coping with the emotional confusion of the separation. Using sustained takes and languid pacing the filmmakers carefully observe the children’s reactions to their parent’s non-committal body language, avoiding sentimentality or melodrama in crafting a subtle and resonant snapshot that shares its tragic story full of complexity, uncertainty and pain. MT

SCATTERED NIGHT | Marrakech Film Festival 2019 

 

So Long My Son | Di jiu tian chang (2019) ****

Dir Wang Xiaoshuai | Cast: Wang Jingchun, Yong Mei, Qi Xi, Wang Yuan, Du Jiang, Ai Liya, Xu Cheng, Li Jingjing, Zhao Yanguozhang | China, Drama 185′

This delicate and deeply affecting melodrama explores one tragic couple’s life during thirty years of China’s one-child policy (1979-2013).

Wang Xiaoshuai’s So Long, My Son (Di jiu tian chang) is intimate in style but ambitious in its storyline that straddles three decades of Chinese social history during an absorbing three hours. It all begins with two young boys eager to join their friends messing about in a reservoir a northern town in 1986. Xingxing can’t swim and is nervous; Haohao tries to persuade him but eventually runs off alone. The next scene sees a family enjoying their supper. Xingxing, his father Yaoyun (Wang Jinchung) and mother Liyun (Yong Mei). But back at the reservoir again, all hell breaks loose as one of the kids appears to be lying in the mud. A frantic chase to the hospital ends in distress – clearly a child has lost his life, and it appears to be Xingxing. The story then jumps forward to the 1990s where the couple are arguing with a teenage boy called Xingxing. Did he miraculously survive the drowning or is this another boy altogether?. Reality will be revealed in a deftly devised subplot.

But from the moment they lose their first child, Yaoyun and Liyun will never be the same, the tragedy bonds them as they live a quiet existence marked by sadness – and we feel for them. One of the grace moments is a silent scene on a bus where Liyun stares ruefully into the distance while another woman chats away to her, oblivious of her pain.

Yaoyun and Liyun are close to Haohao’s parents, mother Haiyan (Ai Liya), the factory line manager, and father Yingming (Xu Cheng), but tragedy strikes again when Liyun becomes pregnant with a second child, the state policy cruelly forcing her to have an abortion. Meanwhile Yaoyun grew close to Yingming’s sister Moli (Qi Xi), who holds the key to this heart-rending social saga.

Performances are tender and utterly convincing from the lead couple, winning them prizes at the Berlin where the film premiered in 2019. This is a sumptuous slow-moving feast for the eyes that also feeds the soul with its resonant storyline. The revolutionary changes provide a subtle backdrop to this social drama with its brooding texture and grace notes that will resonate with anyone affected by their plight. MT
NOW IN CINEMAS from 6 DECEMBER 2019

Bertrand Tavernier Tribute | 1941-2021

In December 2019 Marrakech Film Festival paid tribute to the career of noted French film director, agent, critic and producer Bertrand Tavernier – who has died at 79 – with an expansive retrospective of his films in the presence of the director himself.

Ironically, Tavernier is perhaps best known for his 1980 feature Death Watch (La Mort en Direct), a drama set in the future, when death has become very rare. It tells the story of Katherine (Romy Schneider) who finds she has an incurable disease. NTV, a major television network headed by the unscrupulous Vincent Ferriman (Harry Dean Stanton), orders cameraman Roddy (Harvey Keitel), a casual acquaintance of Katherine, to film her last days via an implanted camera/transmitter behind his eyes. When Roddy sees a live-show of Katherine on TV, he is so disgusted with himself he owns up to Katherine. But there’s a twist. The implants will lead to blindness if Roddy goes through long periods of darkness, so he can only sleep for a short bursts, and has to carry a flashlight all the time. Engulfed by his feelings for Katherine’s impending death, he suffers nervous a breakdown and loses his flashlight. When Katherine finds it, she shines it in his eyes, but he is already blind. The two visit Katherine’s estranged husband Gerald (a masterful Max von Sydow), who tells Katherine there has been a mistake and pleads with her to reconsider their relationship. But Katherine takes an overdose instead and dies, leaving Roddy and Gerald furious, wanting to kill Ferriman.

Tavernier started life as a film critic for both Cahiers du Cinema and Positif between 1961 and 1971, after having given up on his law studies in Lyon. In his documentary My Journey through French Cinema (2016) he talks about this time casting a rather uncomplimentary light on Cahiers’ writers turned filmmakers: “They were great self-promoters, because they had been journalists, and they convinced Americans they were left-wing, despite writing for right-wing publications. Godard was not a leftist, he was one of the worst contemporary tyrants”. To be fair, Tavernier also accused compatriot filmmaker Jacques Becker (Le Trou) of being a control freak “even telling the composer of the music, which notes to avoid”.

Many of Tavernier’s features are about loneliness. In his 1976 drama The Judge and The Assassin (1976), his regular collaborator Philippe Noiret is Judge Rousseau, who holds the fate of serial killer Bouvier (Michel Galabru) in his hands. Both men change during the process with Bouvier being able to talk about the process which made him kill children. Rousseau, who had a very clear view of guilt before, admits for the first time that his intransigence is part of his own isolation. The Judge and the Assassin has a lot in common with Tavernier’s debut The Clockmaker of Saint Paul (1974), based on a Simenon novel in which a grieving father tries to come to terms with alienating his son.

Political thriller Quai d’Orsay/The French Minister (2013) deals with the France and Germany resistance to the Iran War by the USA and UK government. Arthur Vlaminck (Raphael Personnaz) is a script-writer for the Foreign Minister Alexandre Taillard de Worms (Thierry Lhermite)  – based on the real life Dominic de Villipen. Arthur soon finds out the ministry is really run by Claude Maupass (Niels Arestrup), who seems phlegmatic, but is really in charge of affairs. Arthur, under fierce competition, finds a friend and ally in Maupass. The films ends with the speech by de Villipen before the UN, contradicting Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell before the Security Council. 

Later in his carer Tavernier chose to delve into costume dramas, Let Joy Reign Supreme (1975) was a prime example. In the early years 18th France, Philippe II of Orleans (Noiret) is the regent for young Louis XV. Philippe has no real power, and hopes to raise his country’s stakes with the help of the priest Guillaume Dubois (Jean Rochefort). There is a gruesome autopsy of a royal lady who lived a life of debauchery which included incest with her father. When a court conspiracy, lead by the Marquise of Pontcallec (Jean Pierre Marielle), looks like it might spark a revolution, Dubois, to the chagrin of Philippe, turns out to be an opportunist trying to elevate himself as an archbishop. For Philippe, the only hope is a proper revolution.

The Princess of Montpensier (2010) is a mixture of fiction and history, leading up to the Bartholomew Day massacre of 1572 when Catholics were slaughtered by Protestants. The religious battle between Catholics and Protestants led to infighting in the Royal family and the nobility in general. The fictional story is centred around the titular heroine (Melanie Thierry), who is married to the Prince of Montpensier (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet), but is still in love with with the Duke of Guise (Gaspare Ullieil), whom she knows since childhood. The fate of her marriage and love affair is closely linked to the religious turmoil, with the Princess being unable to convince anybody to keep the peace. AS

Marrakech Film Festival | TRIBUTE TO Bertrand Tavernier 

Mosaic Portrait (2019) *** Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir: Zhai Yixiang | Drama, China, 91’

Zhai Yixiang’s sophomore feature is an enigmatic experience to say the least and aptly named, its fractured pieces never quite slotting together. In provincial China miopic teenager Xu Ying (Zhang Tongxi in her screen debut) discovers she is pregnant and accuses one of the teachers in her school.

Blurry, unfocused camerawork point to the nebulousness behind her claims, suggesting she might not really know the true identity of the father, or even care. Her largely absent migrant worker father Guangjun (Wang Yanhui decides to embark on a fruitless attempt to scope out the culprits but gets short shift from the headmaster. But the situation then comes to attention of a reporter from the nearest big city Jia (Wang Chaunjun) who starts to show an rather uncalled interest in the case by putting pressure on the school and the local police

Clearly an attention seeker Ying then steps back from the affair and having proverbially thrown the toys out of the pram seems totally ambivalent about what happens next. But her intentions are clear. She is making a protest about mainland China’s male dominated society that enforces a State controlled One-Child Policy.

But this is not a mystery whodunnit and once the identity of her baby is revealed Zing heads for the big city where she takes solace in the female centric surroundings of a home for women down on their luck. This visually appealing segment delicately captures the lives of the local Chinese girls and Zhai excels in his female gaze on proceedings that avoids sentimentality but marks this out as more of a meandering mood piece than an involving piece of storytelling, once its social comment has been made. MT

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Säsong | Ridge (2019) Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir: John Skoog | Sweden, 2019 70′

Swedish director John Skoog won this year’s CPH:DOX Award with the bewildering and visually sensational film. In some way Säsong (2019) or Ridge, is a broadening of his trilogy of shorts examining economic exploitation, starting in 2011 with Sent på Jorden; followed in 2013 by Förår and culminating with Reduit in 2014.

Best described as an ethnographical docu-drama Ridge is a love letter to Sweden’s agrarian past and the country’s deep connection to the land and nature. It prepares for the future with trepidation – Skoog’s camerawork pictures the mammoth farm machinery surging on the horizon at dawn like some great behemoth, as it cruelly savages the virgin swathes of corn, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Cows are silently harnessed to computerised milking machines sending their own gentle rhythms into disarray as stand isolated in vast soulless hangers. A few of them head for the woods, ‘demented’. Or, at least that is what we are led to believe in an opening anecdote in Skoog’s non-judgemental treatment. The burgeoning demands of the contemporary and future population are presented as a mute assault on the landscape and the Earth is crying.

Skoog celebrates Summer, and particularly MidSummer’s Day  – a big event in Sweden due to its dark winters, and a cause for much merriment and over-drinking in the verdant pastures of Skoog’s hometown of Kvidinge, a village in northern Scania County. Skoog abandons a traditional narrative opting for something more enigmatic and refreshing that forces the audience to speculate and scope out his motives and ideas – dialogue is minimal. The most loquacious segment sees a group of Polish workers, who have arrived by ferry for seasonal work, discussing how to approach Swedish women. “Not the romantic, moody Polish approach” one advises a younger member of the team.

Skoog works with family members and non-pro’s to create a portrait of a land that shares a common work ethic and where women and men are more or less equal. But there’s also a mystical remoteness and an unsettling undercurrent here in this distant rural corner. Often madness is more prevalent in the countryside, and there is certainly a human destructiveness at play here. But it is light-hearted and anarchic rather than sinister. The abstract juxtaposition of the scenes; a sunset played with an unsettling soundscape, can easily play havoc with our imagination, and our expectations. So Skoog appears to be having the last laugh here in an inventive and playful but ultimately deeply thoughtful film that resonates with the current zeitgeist on climate change and our deep connection with nature. MT

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2019

 

Arracht | Monster (2019) Bfi Player

Dir/Wri: Tom Sullivan; Cast: Donall O Healai, Saise Ni Chuinn, Dara Devaney, Elaine O’Dwyer, Elise Brennan, ROI 2019, 86 min. (In Gaelic with English subtitles)

Tom Sullivan sets his melancholic feature debut in 1845 Ireland, just before the outbreak of the potato famine known as the Great Hunger. A fisherman gives sanctuary to a stranger at the behest of a local priest. This former soldier arrives just ahead of ‘the blight,’ a disease that eventually wipes out the country’s potato crop, contributing to the death and displacement of millions.

Narrative-wise this is a nebulous and enigmatic mood piece that recreates this unsettling period of Irish history, helped along by a brilliant cast and the haunting intensity of its remote countryside setting in the costal region of Connemara. Donall O Healai is particularly impressive as the dogged Colman Sharkey who lives with his wife Maggie (O’Dwyer) and young son in a small but cosy coastal cottage. When the local priest introduces him to Patsy (Devaney), who might be a deserter from the British Army from the Napoleonic Wars, Colman takes him in. It soon becomes clear that Patsy has an uncontrollable temper: when Colman is visited by two British soldiers collecting the rent for the British landlord, he explains his reluctance to pay as – like all the other locals – he has been forced to sell his fishing boat and is nearly starving.

So Colman pays a visit to the English Landlord’s lavish abode to request a stay on rent increases that predicted to destroy his community. His request falls on deaf ears and Patsy’s subsequent actions set Colman on a path that will take him to the edge of survival, and sanity. After the mayhem Colman then takes refuge in a sea cave, where near starvation sends him to the edge. It is only upon encountering an abandoned young girl called Kitty (Ni Chuinn) that Colman’s resolve is lifted. Just in time for the darkness of his past to pay another visit.

Sullivan relies on symbolism is this often surreal fable with its striking visual allure, and echoes of poems by Seamus Heaney, and Defoe’s lyricism. AS

NIW ON BFI PLAYER

Babel Film Festival 2019 | Cagliari, Sardinia

 

The Sardinians have come up with a novel idea for a film festival. Babel focuses on ethnic minorities, and in particular linguistic ones.

Film is all about cultural exchange. Babel hopes to enrich and enliven the global debate with some marginal cinematic experiences, connecting the mainstream world with communities struggling to survive, not only physically, but culturally.

The programme offers a diverse array of documentaries, fiction features and shorts, and contributions from the world of theatre and music mining a wealth of minority languages since the dawn of time.

Now celebrating its sixth biennale edition the Babel Film Festival hopes to roll out festivities in an annual event making the Sardinian capital city of Cagliari a place for enlightened discussion and cultural exchange. Cineastes and industry professional can visit and get to know this exotic source of creativity featuring a diversity of minority languages, including dialects, slang and more. Lesser known languages are not just about communication on a basic everyday level, they are complex methods of expression in their own right, allowing speakers the freedom to wax lyrical with a nuanced and poetic vision of the world they live in.

BABEL FILM FESTIVAL | 2 -7 DECEMBER 2019

Marrakech International Film Festival 2019 | Tributes Australian Film

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL is set to pay tribute to screen legend and Sundance pioneer Robert Redford in its 18th edition which also showcases an extensive retrospective of Australian Cinema. November 29th to December 7th 2019.

Marrakech Film Festival is one of the most glamorous events in the film festival circuit attracting professionals and film lovers from all over the World and honouring global film in all its forms. This year’s International Competition Jury is headed by Tilda Swinton, who has starred in over 70 feature films, most recently in The Personal History of David Copperfield, and Wes Anderson latest comedy drama The French Dispatch which will premiere early next year.

This year’s 18th edition taking place from November 29th until December 7th also plays host to an impressive tribute to Australian cinema, considered to be one of the oldest in the world. This year’s tribute is also the biggest get-together of Australian actors and directors ever to take place at a film festival. Australia has a tradition of a gutsy hard-nosed crime thrillers but also lyrical arthouse dramas and comedies that embody the infinite variety of the vast nation. From the hostile outback of Ayer’s Rock to the sophisticated urban centres Australia’s spectacular landscape provides a remarkable background for its visual arts. And although the average cinema-goer may only be able to remember Crocodile Dundee, the country has an impressive array of movies to draw on and one of the world’s most active film industries boasting memorable commercial and indie titles and directors as diverse as Baz Lurhmann, Gillian Armstong, Mel Gibson, Ivan Sen and film pioneer and screenwriter Lottie Lyell  (1890-1925) considered to be Australia’s first film star. During her short life she made an important contribution to the industry in the silent era with The Blue Mountains Mystery (1921) which she co-directed with Raymond Longford. Here is a selection of some outstanding Australian cult classics to put us in mind of what we might look forward during the Marrakech official selection in November 2019.

WALKABOUT (1971)

In Nicolas Roeg’s moving mystical coming of age drama an Aboriginal boy comes to the rescue to two teenagers abandoned by their father in the remote corner of the Outback. Walkabout is a bleak but beguiling feature that riffs on the theme of human kindness and cultural differences. Although Roeg and most of the cast are British, the film has been taken to Australias’s heart because it launched the remarkable career of Indigenous Australian actor David Gulpilil.

WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971)

Directed by Toronto born maverick Ted Kotcheff and also known as Outback, Wake in Fright kicked off the Australian New Wave and is now considered one of the most extraordinary Australian features ever made. Blending horror with an immersive character drama, it was ‘lost’ for many years, until veteran producer Anthony Buckley finally tracked it down in 20o4 in a Pittsburgh warehouse. Remastered and given a theatrical release and the Bluray treatment in 2014 (courtesy of Eureka) this is one film you simply must see with its standout performances from Donald Pleasence, Chips Rafferty and Sylvia Kay.

PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975)

A mesmerising and unsolved mystery about a group of school girls who disappear during a school picnic on Hanging Rock. Peter Weir’s haunting drama stays in the memory with its luminous cast and glowering background of Ayer’s Rock. Based on the novel by Joan Lindsey it was adapted for the big screen – and I mean big – by Cliff Green.

GALLIPOLI (1981)

Another haunting tragedy that tells a poignant tale of war and guarantees a tearful audience. Set in Australia just before the First World War, it follows a group of Western Australian soldiers who will eventually meet their fate during the Gallipoli campaign on Turkish soil. Mel Gibson leads a cast of men whose lost innocence and dedication to duty continue to resonate nearly forty years later.

DEAD CALM (1989) not showing

Where would Australian cinema be without British-born Sam Neill and his leading lady Nicole Kidman. Alone on a yacht off the Great Barrier Reef they face up to a psychotic monster Billy Zane in this tensely gripping thriller.

ROMPER STOMPER (1992) not showing

Russell Crowe embodies stomping but he is an actor who can also do subtlety and infinite gentleness. Here in Geoffrey Wright’s urban thriller he does the former with gusto. Set in a working class Melbourne suburb, Romper Stomper sees a motley crew of neo-Nazi skinheads rise up against their changing neighbourhood with devastating consequences.

LANTANA (2001)

Kerry Armstrong, Anthony LaPaglia and Geoffrey Rush star in this taut and emotional thriller elegantly enveloped in a characterful study of human relationships in suburban Sydney. A dead body, a detective caught in flagrante, a psychiatrist whose own marriage is floundering: these are the elements that gentle stew for two engrossing hours in Ray Lawrence’s memorable mystery movie.

JAPANESE STORY (2003) not showing

In the Australian desert, a guide and a Japanese businessman who can’t stand each other are suddenly drawn together in an awkward situation that ends in tragedy. Toni Collette gives an outstanding performance as the guide in this memorable multi-award-winning psychological drama. Sue Brooks directs Alison Tilson’s brilliant script with aplomb.

THE PROPOSITION (2005) not showing

John Hillcoat directs a superb cast of Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce and Emily Watson in this bleak and feral outback Western scripted and scored by Nick Cave. What can go wrong? The answer is absolutely nothing. The Proposition won awards across the board for its thorny depiction of a criminal  family that sees an outlaw ordered to kill his older brother in order to save the life of his younger one.

ANIMAL KINGDOM (2010)

David Michod’s tense and brutal urban epic sees a mafia-style family locked in bitter conflict in 1980s Melbourne. Based on a real life Pettingill family it stars Oscar-nominated Jacki Weaver as a machiavellian matriarch playing each relative off against the other as she protects her 17 year old son (James Frecheville) without a shred of sentimentality.

SNOWTOWN (2011) not showing

With its unforgettable clanging score, Snowtown sent critics into a cold sweat. This Adelaide-based real crime thriller explores the descent into hell of a young man (Lucas Pittaway) at the hands of his charismatic mentor turned vicious serial killer, the infamous John Bunting – who went on to kill 11 people (chillingly played by Douglas Henshall). Snowtown was the feature debut of Justin Kurzel who  has gone on to deliver The Turning (2013), Macbeth (2015) and historical fact-based drama The True History of the Kelly Gang (2019).  

THE BABBADOOK (2014) not showing 

One of the best horror films in memory is Jennifer Kent’s truly terrifying and formally splendid psychological chiller. Melding a suspenseful narrative with finely crafted horror tropes, the film swept the board at the global film genre awards and is still popular with horror enthusiasts everywhere.

MAD MAX (1979)

Cinema goers didn’t know what had hit them when George Miller’s sadistic motor cycle thriller revved onto the big screen fuelled by murder and mayhem. It was a mesmerising experience and still is, with its odd combination of eccentric characters, stunning scenery and throat-grabbing barbarism that would spawn several sequels, but this was the weirdest yet.

PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975)

The 1970s was a standout decade for Australian film not least because of the Peter Weir’s languorous mystery drama suffused with an eerie delicacy and based on Joan Lindsay’s novel that sees a group of school girls go missing on Valentine’s Day 1900 in the sizzling heat of summer. Starring Rachel Roberts, Helen Morse and Jacki Weaver, the drama went on to win a BAFTA for cinematography.

MY BRILLIANT CAREER (1979)

Judy Davis won a BAFTA for her performance as a writer and contemporary female role model Sybylla Melvyn in this 19th century set debut feature for Gillian Armstrong. It garnered awards across the board but went home empty handed from Cannes in the year of release.

THE YEAR MY VOICE BROKE (1987)

A young man (Noah Taylor) suffers teenage angst as his crush and best friend (Leone Carmen) falls in love with an older guy in John Duigan’s poignantly funny 1960s set coming of age drama. A budding Ben Mendelsohn triumphs as the thuggish rugby playing criminal whose violence sets off an irreversible chain of events.

A CRY IN THE DARK (1988)

Based on John Bryson’s novel Evil Angels, Meryl Streep inspires terrifying evil as she fights to prove her innocence in Fred Schepisi’s biopic drama about the woman whose child was supposedly killed by a dingo in the Australian Outback.

During this year’s festival a distinguished delegation of Australian actors and directors will make the trip to Marrakech to enjoy this exceptional tribute and take part in a range of stage appearances and lives events in the Moroccan capital and its lush locations.

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 29 NOVEMBER – 7 DECEMBER 2019

 

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

Kamchatka Bears: Life Begins (2018) ****

Dir: Irina Zhuravleva, Vladislav Grishin | Writers: Dmitry and Igor Shpilenok | 52′ Doc, USSR

South Kamchatka Federal Sanctuary is often called bear paradise. This magnificent wild countryside lies on a peninsular to the far east of Russia on the Northern Pacific seabord. And this is where Irina Zhuravleva and Vladislav Grishin took their cameras to film the early years of life for a brown bear family.

Only the ambient sounds of the wild can be heard in this desolate but spectacular northern region where the newborn cubs’ early months play out. In this instance, the mother stayed with her cubs for three years, but often they have a much shorter time together. The directors seek out innovative camera angles, aerial shots and time lapse photography in their attempt to reveal the lives of their impressive animals and their exotic habitat . From flighting for territory and foraging for wild salmon in the lakes, to hunkering down in the closeness of their pack while foxes, and rabbits watch respectfully from a distance.

This is a far cry from Werner Herzog’s 2005 bear chronicle Grizzly Man that followed the tragic life of bear activist Timothy Treadwell and Arnie Huguenard who were killed by bears they had ‘befriended’ on the other side of the ocean in Alaska. Here the directors make no contact with the furry mammals, although their intimate close-ups certainly offer us a feeling of being apart of the wild bear pack through the spring, summer and the first snows of autumn.

Seven months in the making the extraordinary story unfolds as a meditative experience free of any commentary, bookended only by a brief introduction and epilogue accompanied by delicately drawn animations and an informative inter-titles outlining the tragic facts about bear survival. Pavel Doreuli studio’s sombre sound design accompanies this final act explaining that the main threat to Kamchatka’s wildlife is the change of habitat due to mining, construction of hydroelectric stations near the spawning streams and gas pipelines, a hazard of modern life and growing populations. The film very much connects with the narrative of disappearing animal communities all over the world. MT

RUSSIAN FILM WEEK | London 2019

You Think the Earth is a Dead Thing (2019) | IDFA 2019

Dir: Florence Lazar | Doc 61’

Parisian born filmmaker filmmaker Florence Lazar follows her award-winning documentary Kamen: The Stone (2014) with a revealing expose of one of the last vestiges of colonialism.

She discovers that the soil on the Caribbean island of Martinique is plagued by the monoculture of industrial banana plantations and poisoned by the use of the insecticide chlordecone. This is just one of the many far-reaching impacts of the slave trade on human history is on agriculture and horticulture. While the French plantation owners on the Caribbean island of Martinique had their gardens laid out in Versailles style, their enslaved workers continued their tradition of using medicinal wild herbs, which grew in hedges on the periphery of the “habitations.” The plants were known as rimèd razie, or “hedge remedies.”

Nowadays these herbs represent one of several resources through which the people of Martinique counter the health and ecological ravage caused by the use of pesticides on the banana plantations, which cover a quarter of the land.  . In line with natural resources and informed by centuries of tradition, generations of locals fight to resist pesticides and rebuild a sustainable relationship with their environment, while unearthing the pervasive and toxic legacy of colonialism.Another form of resistance is being led by farmers who are reclaiming uncultivated lands to grow indigenous vegetables, guided by expert local knowledge and without any industrial pesticides.

While pruning, chopping and harvesting the plants, local farmers explain, with extensive historic knowledge of the post-colonial era, how difficult it is to preserve biodiversity. These lively interviews alternate with more poetic and tranquil scenes of the island’s lush greenery, and of the cause of the problems: the dangling bunches of bananas, wrapped in plastic packaging. Once again plastic becomes the antihero of our contemporary world and the villain of this informative look at communities desperate to survive and flourish in the 21st century.

IDFA Competition for Mid-Length Documentary

INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL AMSTERDAM 2019

Mater | Mother (2019) *** Tallinn Black Nights Festival 2019

Dir.: Jure Pavlovic ; Cast: Daria Lorenci-Flatz, Neva Rosic; Croatia 2019, 96 min.

Best known for his TV work, Jure Pavlović’s marks his documentary feature debut with this convincing portrait of mother daughter discord mulling over the past both personal and national.

Middle-aged Jasna (Lorenci-Flatz) has arrived home from Germany to look after her dying mother Anka (Rosic) in a small-town Croatia. The opening panning shot sees her returning to the place she grew up. It’s an awkward rather maudlin home-coming fraught with mistrust on both sides, and the two women a while to get used to one another again in the dim and claustrophobic family home.

When does falling over, suddenly become “a fall”. The phrase is laced with dread, and usually doesn’t end well. And in Anka’s case it soon becomes clear she hasn’t got long to live and although she makes it home from hospital, she is now completely bedridden. Gradually things thaw slightly between the mother and daughter and they watch television together. It seems the line of least resistance, the holy cross placed judiciously over the screen. Jasna deals with all her mother’s paperwork and visits a lawyer in order to clear up some property issues. A cloud of deep resentment seems to hover over these meetings and Anca’s friends are always in the background, keeping an eye on her. There are hints of a troubled past, particularly when Jasna visits her father. gravestone. He died at the age forty in 1976. Jasna spends a lot of time skyping with her husband and two children in Germany, switching effortlessly to German when she talks to them. Keeping her own family affairs to herself and often hiding from her mother in the downstairs loo. Finally, on the eve before her family arrives to celebrate her own daughter’s birthday, the two women make peace, the party proceeds in stark contrast to everything which had gone on before.

Without going into finer detail, it’s safe to say that this mother daughter conflict hinges on repressed feelings of the past, but Pavlovic keeps his distance, leaving the ending open. Daria Lorenci-Flatz makes for a convincing fish out of water forced back to her hometown in this quietly intense slice of social realism that sees a loving woman daunted by the authority still radiating from her mother’s immobile body.

Jana Plecas’ camera echoes this detachment, observing the detail like a fly on-the-wall in this prison of souls. Overall, more clarity about the past would have made this chamberpiece a more satisfying watch. But family relationships are often far from satisfying. AS

SCREENING DURING TALLINN BLACK NIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Advocate (2018) **** UK Jewish Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Rachel Leah Jones, Philippe Bellaïche; Documentary with Lea Tsemel; Canada, Switzerland, Israel 2019, 110 min.

Advocate explores the work of Israeli defence lawyer Lea Tsemel, who defends Palestinians – suicide bombers as well as innocent clients – earning her the name “Devil’s Advocate” in her home country where the Law often stands alone in the ongoing war between Israel and Palestinians.

Born in 1945 in Haifa, Tsemel volunteered for the 1967 Six Day War and was one of the first Israeli women to visit the Western Wall. Somehow the conflict politicised her – she could not believe in the Government slogan ”War for Peace”. After studying law, she served as an apprentice to Human Right’s Lawyer Felicia Langer.

One of Tsemel’s first trials was the defence of Ahmed, a 13 year-old Palestinian boy in 1972.  Ahmed and his cousin Hassan were captured with knives and accused of an attempted suicide bombing, even though video evidence was to the contrary. Under Israeli Law, nobody under the age of fourteen can be prosecuted for a crime. But a sensationalist media called for the death penalty for Ahmed. As it is often the case when innocent Palestinians are involved, the Israeli prosecution went for a plea bargaining, and reached a guilty verdict in spite of the lack of evidence.

Tsemel’s next got her teeth into the case of Israa Jabis, a young Palestinian mother who was also accused of an attempted suicide bombing after her propane gas tank in the back of her car exploded. Although Israa was the only one injured, the case made legal history, making it illegal to use evidence from admissions gained under torture and duress at court. 

The directors use “Fly-on-the wall” techniques to show Tsemel working on two concurrent cases, one professional, the other personal – and it soon becomes clear that she is not an easy person to work for. The directors made fluent use of historical footage and TV appearances of Tsemel,  juxtaposing them with the here and now. But the application of Rotoscope and split-screens (to hide the identities of many involved), as well as the sparse use of music by Marcel Lepage, create a very unsettling atmosphere. Tsemel’s husband, Michel Warschawsky, a director of a Palestinian project, also becomes one of her clients after being arrested for his activities. Interviews with him and the couple’s son and daughter are illuminating. But Advocate would have been more convincing as a document had the filmmakers questioned Tsemel more insistently about her motives to defend violent perpetrators. Calling herself a “very angry, optimistic woman” and a “losing lawyer” she has the last word with her life’s motto “All I want is Palestinians to find justice in Israeli courts”. Tsemel has gone on to win  international Law awards in France and Germany, Tsemel’s is not as powerful in her homeland and is possibly should be. Advocate is certainly proof that truth is often the first victim during wartime. AS

WINNER BEST DOCUMETNARY | UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2019

KRAKOW FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | WINNER DOCUMENTARY AWARD.

 

 

Judy & Punch (2019) *** LFF 2019

Dir.: Mirrah Foulkes; Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Benedict Hardie, Tom Budge, Brenda Palmer, Terry Norris; Australia 2019, 105 min.

Australian actor turned filmmaker Mirrah Foulkes creates a full-on fairytale with a feminist twist that doesn’t pull its punches. A brilliant cast is led by Mia Wasikowska in this tonally off kilter comedy-drama that champions the resilience of women in a man’s world.

For a first feature this is wacky but wonderful stuff that makes use of magic tricks and  slapstick in a 16th-century village called Seaside – the joke is on the not very bright denizens, as the place totally landlocked. Said locals are not only slightly retarded, they are downright vicious, particularly when it comes to their treatment of women. There is a regular ‘Stoning Day’, and if anyone is unlucky enough to have her chickens die on that day, stare at the Moon too long or develop a rash – they are stoned to death.

Puppeteers Punch (Herriman) and Judy (Wasikowska) run a regular show that recently suffered from Punch’s boozing and violent temper. Judy is the most gifted of two and she soon emerges as the stronger. While preparing for the latest show Punch’s cruel nature once again rears its ugly head undermining her efforts to win back the audience. A tragic incident does not lead to  contrition on his part, and he makes matters worse by nearly beating his wife to death, before dumping her in the forest. He then blames their endearing servants Maud (Palmer) and her dementia-ridden husband Scaramouche (Norris), the mild protestations of police officer Derrick (Hardie) brushed aside. Meanwhile, Judy has been found in the woods and recovers to reek her brilliant revenge.

Foulkes certainly has a penchant for camp in the hotchpotch of just about everything. Herriman’s Punch channels Captain Sparrow, his charm masking a violent personality. Joined by a motley crew of villagers who dance around in Renaissance rig-outs rehearsing their tai chi moves in the ancient forest. Whether to laugh or cry or even recoil in horror, is entirely up to you. That said, DoP Stefan Duscio’s wide-screen images are impressive, his imagination running riot. Wasikowska rises to the occasion as an enterprising young woman, taking on her husband and the entire in the feisty finale. But the contradictions somehow spoil the enjoyment: swinging between utter farce and black comedy the audience loses its bearings too often. And in spite of some strong ideas and a wonderful  Wasikowska, Judy & Punch never really catches fire. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 27 NOVEMBER 2019     

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

Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (2019) PÖFF

Tallinn Black Nights runs from the 15 November until 1 December 2019 offering an extended celebration of international films. For the second year running the festival will also showcase the latest in Baltic cinema with a special sidebar dedicated to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The idea is to offer industry professionals and film critics a wider experience and offer the festival audience a taste of local talent.

Tom Sullivan’s Arracht (Monster) is told in Gaelic and set in Ireland in 1845 where a small community fisherman is persuaded to offer board to a sinister stranger. Another world premiere is German filmmaker Hüseyin Tabak’s Hamburg set Gypsy Queen, Konstantin Lopushansky’s Through Black Glass and Narges Abyar’s When The Moon Was Full.

ESTONIA

After her success with Come Back Free, documentary filmmaker Ksenia Okhapkina won this year’s Grand Prix at Karlovy Vary with Immortal exploring a Russian social mechanism that feels a lot like the political systems of the last century.

Manfred Vainokivi presents his latest documentary biography In Bed With A Writer, a portrait of the controversial and newly divorced Estonian writer Peeter Sauter. We follow Sauter in Estonia’s art and underground scene as he shares his thoughts on women, sex and ageing.

In a small Estonian town largely inhabited by ethnic minorities, Vladimir Loginov’s second documentary Prazdnik explores the age old phenomenon of the beauty pageant and whether they still have a place in modern society.   .

Having travelled the globe with his debut In the Crosswind, Martti Helde returns with Scandinavian Silence, a thriller that makes use of an unusual narrative device: the tale of a man reunited with his sister having spent years in jail.

One of the biggest box office hits in the country’s history, Tanel Toom’s literary based feature debut Truth and Justice follows the decade-spanning feud of two neighbours during the second half of the 19th century. Toom previously won the Student Academy Award with his short film The Confession.

Hot from a successful run at the Estonian box office, the comedic depiction of the global and local startup culture, Chasing Unicorns, is start-up entrepreneur Rain Rannu’s sophomore feature.

LATVIA

A culmination of one artist’s creative journey that lasted 3,5 years, Away is a fantasy animation directed, animated and composed by Gints Zilbalodis.

Chronicling the tumultuous times in Post-Soviet Latvia, Jānis Ābele’s feature film Jelgava 94 shines a light on the period where teenagers were obsessed with heavy metal.

Juris Kursietis’ second feature Oleg premiered at Quinzaine des Realiseteurs during this year’s Cannes. It’s a gritty tale of Latvian migrant workers searching for a better life in Belgium, not always on the right side of the law.

The life cycle of the Spoon in the globalised economy is Laila Pakalnina’s documentary follow up to her award-winning drama Ausma (2015) that won Jury Prize Best Cinematographer for DoP Anrijs Krenbergs.

LITHUANIA

Taxidermy, deer-farming and museum curatorship are the focus of this fascinating documentary from Aistė Žegulytė. Animus Animalis, guides us around a bizarre world where reality and artificiality blur.

Meanwhile, Ignas Jonynas’ second film Invisible presents the story of a former dancer Jonas pretending to be blind to enter a TV dance competition, as an intimate and emotional relationship builds between him and his dancing partner. He soon reconnects with the past and a dark secret.

Tomas Vengris’ debut Motherland revisits the year 1992 in a Lithuania, right after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as a single mother and her 12-year-old return to Lithuania, after a long stay in the US, to claim the property that was taken from the woman’s parents when they were sent to labour camps decades ago.

The late 1930s is the setting for Karolis Kaupinis’ historic drama Nova Lithuania where in 1938 the young Lithuanian state celebrated twenty years of independence. Meanwhile situation in Europe is becoming increasingly tense so geographer Feliksas Gruodis sets about raising finance for his novel solution to creating a “backup Lithuania” overseas, where the country’s inhabitants could move in case the whole scenario goes pear-shaped.

Legendary director Algimantas Puipa presents The Other Side of Silence, a tale inspired by the book Bumblebee Honey by Swedish writer Torgny Lindgren. It sees   two brothers living in the same village, on the same lake, by the same forest, but sharing a mutual hatred sparked by their love of the same woman.

The 23rd Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival runs from the 15th of November until the 1st of December.

 

Solomon and Gaenor (1999) *** UK Jewish Film Festival 2019

Dir/Wri: Paul Morrison | Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Nia Roberts, Sue Jones-Davies, William Thomas | UK Drama 105′

This Welsh/Jewish version of Romeo & Juliet fails to generate any heat despite fresh performances from its dynamic central duo. It went on to be the British hopeful for Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2000, but came home empty-handed.

In turn of the century Wales during an upswell of anti-semitism, largely caused by social discontent in a small community dependent on coal-mining, Welsh Christian Gaenor (Roberts) and Orthodox Jewish Solomon (Gruffudd) meet face to face when he rings her bell as a door to door salesman. His family also own the local pawnshop making Solomon’s religious affiliations seem evident. But we are led to believe Gaenor has not cottoned on to his religious persuasion and they subsequently fall for one another in coup de foudre culminating in a barn. Clearly Solomon is far less experienced than Gaenor, who is not just a church-goer, as she comments: “you’re different from other men, and different down there”. She doesn’t twig why he is different, or even think to ask. But their onscreen chemistry is convincing and heartfelt.

But Solomon – or Sam – is still keeping his light under a bushel in this dangerous game of love. The lengths he goes to conceal his Jewishness and his refusal to accept the ultimate impact of his lie on his love for Gaenor is the crux of this rather grimly-mounted drama. Sam remains a tortured soul throughout particularly when he discovers her pregnancy. But although Morrison is even-handed in his portrayal of Jewish and Welsh hostility to one another, this element is underwritten and takes a backseat to the couple’s love story that relies on romantic cliches and narrative contrivances, leading to a ludicrously melodramatic finale.

Not what Shakespeare would have hoped for, and certainly not what Zeffirelli achieved in his far superlative 1968 original with Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting. First time filmmaker Paul Morrison went on to make the more successful Wondrous Oblivion four years later, but lacked the experience to set the night on fire with this predictably maudlin Shakespeare re-imagining. MT

HEADLINING THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | UNTIL 27 NOVEMBER 2019

Russian Film Week 2019

The fourth annual Russian Film Week is back at various major venues in London from November 24 to December 1, 2019 

The eight-day festival brings the latest Russian films to London with the aim of providing a varied picture of Russian culture across this enormous nation. This year’s programme showcases a glittering array of thirty seven features and 18 shorts including several documentaries. The celebration culminates in the Golden Unicorn Awards.

The newly refurbished Odeon Luxe Leicester Square will host the world premiere of Klim Shipenko’s comedy The Peasant. It sees a modern young Moscovite being sent to a ‘boot camp’ of sorts, where he is forced to live according to the peasant traditions of the 19th century.  

Woman’s Day is one of several female-directed features in this year’s line-up. Dolya Gavanski’s feature debut shares experiences from women in the USSR who reveal their lives from the 1917 revolution to the present day. Intimate, surprising, funny, eccentric, painful and contradictory – this is the unknown history of Russian feminism. Based on the filmmaker’s own extensive research, the film focuses on rare archive footage of women experiencing at first hand the siege of Leningrad in subzero temperatures, living in communal flats, smuggling forbidden literature, flying into Space, performing the perfect Soviet ballet pirouette or even giving a new name to a husband, not to mention the political and cultural complexities. These women were brought up in a culture that had officially proclaimed women equal to men. They were told they could achieve it all. So what was their reality?

Russian filmmaker Eva Bass makes her feature debut with an impressive drama Kettle that contemplates freewill in the face of desperate circumstances. In Moscow, twenty five year old Savva is a misfit and intellectual, bored with his life running a computer club called ‘The Kettle’.  Savva’s existential crisis deepens after his old friend Roman commits suicide. Bass directs with confidence in this inquiring drama written by Nikita Kasimtsev.

Irina Zhuravleva and Vladislav Grishin have developed a meditative approach to studying the lives of bears in the South Kamchatka Federal Sanctuary. In Kamchatka Bears: Life Begins, music, ambient sounds and the absence of a human voices makes this a chance to experience nature at its purest form.

Meanwhile, war is experienced at first hand in Andrey Volgin’s gripping action drama The Balkan Line. Set in Yugoslavia, 1999, a young commander is tasked to take control of the Slatina airport in Kosovo and hold it until the arrival of the reinforcements discovers his girlfriend is among the hostages at the airport.

Critically acclaimed Uzbek filmmaker Yusup Razykov won the FIPRESCI award at Karlovy Vary several years ago for Shame his claustrophobic drama about an isolated community of women. This year the Russian Critics’ Circle awarded his a gong for his drama Kerosin. His second film this year is Sabre Dance a wartime drama set in the city of Molotov in 1942 where the Leningrad Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet (after Kirov) has been evacuated during the stressful preparations for the premiere of the Gayane ballet. The world of a theatre in evacuation is mysterious and rather cold. The privations of war give rise to half-starved ballerinas, corps de ballet members, who turn into “Pink Ladies” on stage along with performances in hospitals, defence factories and endless rehearsals. Final efforts to create Gayane coincide with the creation of the first tact of the 2nd symphony, often overlapping. Meanwhile, in 8 hours, Khachaturian dashes off his most performed creation.

Great Poetry is a portrait of loneliness, friendship and betrayal that sees two  men clinging together for survival as cash collectors in the outskirts of Moscow where their time is spent moving money for other people and gaming on cockfights at a dorm of migrant workers. Dreaming of a better future, they enrol on a poetry class but sadly find it easier to make a living as petty criminals in this wistful reflection on 19th ideals. Aleksandr Kutznetsov was awarded Best Actor or his performance in the film that also won Lungin Best Director at this year’s Sochi Russian Open Film Festival 

Although Yury Bykov’s The Factory is firmly set in the world of Russian capitalism, it harks back to the glory of the revolution. Many of the workers in a remote industrial factory have been employed there before the change from state regulation to capitalist privatisation. So when owner Kalugin, a well-connected local oligarch, announces the redundancy, a group of workers who haven’t been paid for months kidnap him for a ransom. Led by the mysterious Alexei whose motives are far from clear, the heist doesn’t end well. Kalugin’s private security guards and a police SWAT team quickly have the building surrounded and the comrades are forced to experience the coal face of their so-called camaraderie.

Alexander Zolotukhin’s elegiac portrait of a young Russian soldier pieces together the early days of the The First World War when tragedy strikes even before glory is allowed to show its face. Three decades later, at the beginning of the Second World War, Rachmaninoff will create “Symphonic dances” op.45, an even more grand and vigorous work which was also his swansong. A tender tragedy suffused with courage and melancholy.

Russian Film Week and The Golden Unicorn Awards was founded in 2016 by Filip Perkon (Perkon Productions Ltd.). The festival is supported by the Russian Ministry of Culture.

https://youtu.be/D-Rt3ENvVLo

 

The Irishman (2019) *****

Dir: Martin Scorsese | Wri: Steven Zaillian | Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Bobby Cannavale, Jesse Plemons | US Crime Drama, 2019, 208mins

Much of the hype surrounding The Irishman has focused on the fact that it reunites Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci for the first time since 1995’s Casino. It also throws Al Pacino into the mix, and marks a return to the mob-infused crime dramas with which Scorsese made his name. The excitement is understandable – Scorsese made a string of iconic hits while working with De Niro, and it was through these that he established himself as one of the great American filmmakers. 

And yet… Scorsese’s body of work has a depth and breadth to it which is often obscured by a focus on certain titles (notably GoodFellas, 1990), and there was, perhaps, a fear that Scorsese’s return to this world might present if not a step backwards, at least a retread of ground already covered. 

Fortunately, such worries prove to be unfounded: the world of The Irishman may be familiar – it even touches on the mob’s involvement in Las Vegas, which formed the backbone of Casino – but the tone is something new: though not without Scorsese’s trademark humour, the film trades the baroque exuberance of his earlier work for a more reflective pace, closer to the ruminations of Silence (2016) than the crashing excess of Casino. 

Spanning multiple timelines set over several decades, The Irishman spends as much time examining the wiles of old age as the wilds of youth. In parts, the film almost plays like a eulogy: throughout, Scorsese uses titles to tell us how characters will die, and the film’s focus on death and aging seems like a lament for the end of an era – of a certain type of lifestyle, and a certain type of cinema. In the past, Scorsese has faced accusations that he glamorises mobsters, but here everyone seems to end up worn out, tired or dead, as if those are the only possible outcomes. The religious angst which has fuelled Scorsese’s work since Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967) has here transmuted into a nihilistic acceptance of life as it is.

The story itself is drawn from the nonfiction book I Heard You Paint Houses, by former investigator Charles Brandt, and follows Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran’s career as a hitman for the mob, painting houses with other people’s blood. After being introduced by head mobster Russell Bufalino (Pesci), Sheeran becomes right-hand man to Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and a loan-shark to the mob, supplying them with funds from the Union’s pension fund. As the decades pass, the mob’s machinations extend from the union to the White House, installing and removing presidents to suit their needs – an offhand remark about one of the Teamsters’ love of golf makes for some interesting contemporary commentary. 

Throughout the years, Sheeran’s conscience is troubled by disapproving glances from his daughter (for Sheeran has a personal family as well as his mobster family), but it is Sheeran’s friendships with Bufalino and Hoffa that really form the heart of the epic narrative, and which drive it towards its tragically moving conclusion. Given that the film serves, in so many ways, as a family reunion, it’s a fitting thematic thread and one which, thankfully, weaves a powerful tribute to the legacy of what’s come before it. Alex Barrett

NOW ON NETFLIX

 

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/

 

The Forum (2019) *** DOK Leipzig 2019

Dir.: Marcus Vetter; Documentary; Germany/Switzerland 2019, 116 min.

DOK Leipzig opens with this fly on the wall look at the the World Economic Forum, a not-for-profit organisation that takes place in Davos aiming to improve the state of the world through dialogue between leaders across all areas of society. The film centres on Klaus Schwab, the 81-year-old founder of this get together. 

German filmmaker Marcus Vetter follows Schwab annual world get together is dealing with burning issues such as climate change, Brexit, the  ‘gilets jaunes’ protests in Paris, and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest among others. Trying to get inside so-called clandestine meetings, And while we learn a great deal, Schwab actually seems ambivalent about the merits of these secret get-togethers of the world’s elite – and for good reason. 

The Forum is intended to redress the imbalance between rich and poor, but history tells us that during the 50 years of the WEF’s existence, the gap between the haves and have-nots has grown exponentially – the middle classes, once the heartbeat of any society, are being slowly eroded.

Vetter sees the annual Davos meetings in a critical light, although Schwab claims he has always invited candidates seeking to question the way things are run by politicians and business leaders. There have been cancellations in the past by the self-acclaimed elite: a case in point was when Schwab invited a Brazilian Catholic leader, whose opinion were very left-wing. And while we watch Donald Trump being fawned over at the 2018 meeting, Greta Thurnberg and Jennifer Morgan of Greenpeace have much to say. The rainforest discussion between the Al Gore and the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro must also have been worthwhile.

Vetter obviously likes Schwab but he maintains his detached approach: “I believe he has achieved a lot, but that does not mean the meetings are not questionable affairs”. What is most interesting is the role of the invited CEOs. Discussed issues involving imported cotton, they dictate the terms and the many head of states concur. It is clear who is in charge and who is simply the executor of big business. The protests against climate change, Brexit and the rise of populists all over the world are directed against the current head of states, but it would be much more honest and efficient to discuss these burning issues with the CEO instead of the politicians. They can hardly be more intransigent than Donald Trump.

DoP Georg Zengerling’s images of Davos feel like a parody; the head of states arriving in their helicopters; the security details – like something out of a James Bond movie. And the small talk of the self-styled elite is no more lofty than that of a group of provincial business men. Clearly, this is not the tenor of a debate Schwab might have had in mind fifty years ago when he dreamt about how to discuss future problems and reflect; it is just an opportunity for big business, to cultivate new contacts and deals, whilst the politicians look on, waiting to be replaced without any one noticing. AS

DOK LEIPZIG DOCUMENTARY 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.

RoboLove (2019) **** DOK Leipzig 2019

Dir.: Maria Arlamovsky; Documentary with Hiroshi Ishiguro, June Korea, Matt McMullen, Ulises Cortes; Austria 2019, 79min.

Robots are the future. And according to a new documentary from Austria we should be very concerned. Humanoid robots, androids, and sex robots have always aroused our curiosity, they also awaken in us a very-human fantasy about power. RoboLove shows how robots reflect more about us than their AI creators would perhaps care to admit.

In her follow-up to Future Baby, Arlamovsky – who also co-wrote Abendland with Nikolaus Geyrhalter embarks on a provocative study of the emerging and often surprising issues concerning morality, humanity, diversity and identity, as society progresses en-masse into unchartered technological territory. With robots increasingly entering our private lives, the film gently probes the issues at the cusp of a new-age of servitude.

The Austrian director has interviewed AI designers all over the world and has made a one crucial discovery: the naivety of those designing your future helpmate – or lover – is astonishing.

RoboLove opens with an candid interview with Dinah, a female android whose most important feature is her smile. Dinah can hold an intellectual conversation, and she is proud to be a robot. Then we watch an ‘upper torso’ called Harmony in verbal debate with to her designer. Harmony can argue, and is in no doubt about her role: “I was crated to please you.”

Meanwhile the AI designers are also clear about their aims. Ulises Cortes considers robots as consumer products, like coke or coffee. He also hopes that in future they will not only be a commodity, but will support lonely old people left alone who have been abandoned by their younger relatives. The intention is for them to become emotional companions. Another AI designer, Nadia Magnenat Thalmann, has dreamed all her life of having a perfect assistant and hopes that AIs will care for her in her old age.

For Matt McMullen, his female androids are not only sex-objects, but actually active in other areas of his life. Arlamovsky posits the theory about cyberspace being a female friendly space in the future. But the feminists have got it wrong: cyberspace is a battlefield of the sexes, mainly because men have greater purchasing power, and so most of robots look like young, slender white females, who never age. This is the only range McMullen and others are intending to develop.

Other AI researchers are talking about the danger of kids getting too attached to their their robots. The idea therefore is to develop special AIs specifically for children, and investing in zoomorphic research to create AI animals. Another designer, who as a child cherished the idea everybody would live forever, and nobody would leave him, is making a range of robots who can talk about their favourite memories, and are clearly products of a childhood trauma, when relatives and friends died.

Designer June Korea makes it clear that in about hundred years, the first humans will live for an eternity, having profited from AI. There are some weird scenes, when Hiroshi Ishiguro watches his AI creation stroking a leaf, or playing his guitar, with his head in the lap of the AI. But basically, most researchers and designers support the general consensus that humans are merging into AIs. “Take the technology away from humans, and we are only apes. By technology, I mean robots, so the differentiation between robots and humans is absolute nonsense. 80% to 90% of our lives is based on technology. But even if our human organs were replaced by technology, we would still be human. The scary thing is that AIs are getting more and more on par with humans. 

But Arlamovsky’s most frightening discovery of all is that the huge majority of AI designers are not aware that humans are not just the sum of their emotional experiences, but the victims of an ongoing internal battle, which is conflict inherent, and heading for the destruction of this planet. How to merge the majority of humans with suicidal tendencies with the products of logic dominated AIs has never been even contemplated. RoboLove, with its stunning images by Sebastian Arlamovsky, is a frightening documentary: do we really want our future in the hands of these technocratic scientists, who at best will replicate the contradictions of human life today?. AS

62nd DOK LEIPZIG FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 28 October – 3 November 2019

                                          

 

Helena Třeštíková – Czech Velvet | 17-19 November 2019

November marks the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Velvet Revolution that saw a non-violent transition of power in what was then Czechoslovakia. Taking place from 17 November to 29 December 1989 it resulted in the end of 41 years of one-party rule and the subsequent transformation of the country to a parliamentary republic.

In celebration of these years London Czech centre is to pay hommage to the first lady of time-lapse documentaries, Czech filmmaker Helena Třeštíková, whose impressive film career spans over 40 years and features more than 50 documentaries including the 2008 European Film Academy the Prix Arte winner, René.

Following people’s stories over the course of several years, even decades, Trestikova builds up with openness and intimacy full character studies of her protagonists whether these are married couples (A Marriage Story), young delinquents (René) or women (Malloy). Finding the universal in her subjects and their life dramas, an unsensational excitement in their everyday adventures, Trestikova bears witness to the human condition as lives evolve before our eyes recalling of Richard Linklater´s film Boyhood.

An hommage will feature the UK premiere of her latest film Forman vs Forman, a fascinating portrayal of the Academy Award-winning director of Amadeus, Milos Forman, which premiered at Cannes Classics 2019, and MalloryTřeštíková’s long-term observation project from her series Trapped In, Trapped Out, and A Marriage Story, representing her signature series.

AT VARIOUS VENUES IN LONDON | 17-19 November 2019

A New Environment: Heinrich Klotz on Architecture and New Media | Doclisboa 2019

Dir.: Christian Haardt; Documentary; Germany 2019, 77 min.

This portrait of German Art Historian, Architectural Theorist and publicist Professor Heinrich Klotz (1935-1999) is a collage of archive material from German TV and Radio programmes, as well as Super Eight images shot by Klotz. After lecturing at the University of Marburg, Klotz founded the German Architectural Museum in Frankfurt/M in 1979. Eleven years later he founded and became the first director of the Centre for Art and Media Technology in Karlsruhe, a position he gave up a year before his death to found the Museum for Contemporary Art in Karlsruhe, which is a Museum for Collections. 

As it befits an academic, the documentary is told in chapters, bookended by a sort of preface/epilogue by Klotz. Here he calls himself a member of the “white” generations of Germans, who had seen war as children, and were exempted from military service because they had life experience of war and were therefore inadequately equipped to deal with it a second time around. Klotz’s sole tribute is to his wife.

His approach to life is pragmatic and functional – even though he would later criticise Modernism for having erected functionality as a dogma. In chapter one, A New Environment, he discusses urban regeneration, particularly with reference to  Frankfurt/M that only began in the middle of the 20th century. In the immediate post-war period (1945-1955) functionality was primarily a practical consideration: people needed to be re-housed after wartime destruction. By the same token, he bemoans the three decades where apartment blocks were merely “white boxes”. There are images of Frankfurt’s old town, and his own house which he renovated to save a Renaissance ceiling, after moving to the city from the countryside.

In chapter two, Functionalism, he criticises the concept of the “Märkisches Viertel” in West Berlin, a “Trabantenstadt”, which was erected in the countryside after the old city had been declared obsolete by the planners. But, like the modern buildings at Kottbusser Tor in Berlin, the “Märkisches Viertel” was inhuman: instead of “buildings of the future”, these projects were like consumer goods: empty and devoid of style. Klotz reminds us that the Bauhaus architecture of the 1920s and 30s was built on the premise of a “classical Modernity”, and that Buildings like the Neue Gedenkbibliothek or the Philharmony in West Berlin were erected in a democratic tradition, unlike “Container Cities” such as the “Märkisches Viertel”.

Chapter three sees Klotz visiting Disneyland in “Post Modernism and Kitsch”. He calls it an artificial paradise built against the impact of the new grey cities. But at the same time, the permanent music (muzag), drives him mad. He feels he can only be passive, no interaction is possible. Chapter four, Interactivity, bears witness to the first interactive TV Art in the Centre for Art and Media, Karlsruhe. The visitors could watch themselves moving on the sofa on the TV next to them. Jeffrey Shaw’s “bicycle ride through NY, features simulations, illusion. When “cycling” through the city, the visitor is confronted by huge letters, explaining what he would see, rather than actual buildings and parks. He has no desire to visit old-fashioned museums where the experience is passive, instead he looks for Playfulness. Then he goes a step further, discussing Adorno, quoting “After Auschwitz it is not possible any more to write a poem”. But Klotz himself hopes for a new Utopia, unlike Modernism which created a dogma, but in a democratic way.

Although this is a rather arcane and esoteric documentary, it certainly confirms Klotz as an original thinker, something rather unusual in post-war Germany. First time director Christian Haardt, who was a student and associate of Klotz, does his best to celebrate his mentor. AS       

https://youtu.be/zR6SaG-5H_E

Cavern Club: The Beat Goes On (2019) *** DocLisboa 2019

Dir: Christian Francis-Davies, John Keats | Wri: Bill Heckle | Doc UK 60′

This new documentary tells the colourful history of Liverpool’s iconic jazz club. Best know as The Beatles spiritual home it has also hosted some of rocks greatest bands over the years of its winding road to fame that started in 1957. The club’s location on Mathew Street in the city centre had also served as an air-raid shelter during the Second World War.

Founded by jazz fan Alan Sytner who was hoping to recreate the heady atmosphere redolent of his Parisian jazz cellar experiences, the club became synonymous with Skiffle (a hybrid of jazz, blues and folk) that was popular in the 1950s and later became a major influence on Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s band The Quarrymen even before they became The Beatles. The Fab Four have since returned to the venue for the odd gig. Another megastar in the shape of Adele also played there as recently at 2011

Director Christian Francis-Davies adopts the usual mix of archive footage and talking heads approach to an informative film that also shares grainy footage of the band in the claustrophobic confines of the club’s brick interior playing to a motley collection of young Liverpudlians who would witness and take part in a musical revolution.

After the Skiffle era of the 1950s the 1960 saw The Cavern Club host rock ‘n’ roll gigs headlined by an upcoming band called The Beatles  who went on playing there until   August 1963. From then onwards a variety of iconic bands such as The Kinks; The Who and The Rolling Stones made it their home.

Liverpool saw a downturn in its economic fortunes during the 197os and ’80s and the club suffered too, closing twice and relocating to its current address in Mathew Street where the current owner took over in 1991. Now forming an important part of Liverpool’s social history the Cavern Club today features on a bus tour of the city’s hotspots.

SCREENING DURING DOC LISBOA FILM FESTIVAL | 17-27 OCTOBER 2019

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

 

The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao (2019)

Dir: Karim Ainouz | Writers: Murilo Hauser, Ines Bortagaray | Cast: Carol Duarte, Julia Stockler, Gregorio Duvivier, Fernanda Montenegro, Barbara Santos, Flavia Gusmao, Maria Manoella, Antonio Fonseca, Cristina Pereira, Gillray Coutinho | Brazil, 139′

Two sisters are forced into separate lives in this striking melodrama set in male-dominated Rio de Janeiro of the 1950s.

The Brazilian director’s two previous films have been enjoyable but lightweight compared to this ambitious but highly intimate drama, based on a novel by Martha Batalha, The Invisible Life soaks up the vibrant sensuality of tropical Brazil and distills into an intense and passionate portrait of feminine desire and longing in a country where a woman’s only domaine was the home. But their self-determination burns brightly throughout this moving story of female emancipation. There’s nothing coy or dainty about Ainouz’s complex and fully fleshed out characters played spiritedly by newcomers Carol Duarte (Euridice) and Julia Stockler (Guida) who make this often languorous film an extremely moving experience that follows the women’s lives from early adulthood to old age, the reveal comes in the form of an ingenious coda.

It’s 1941 and Guida and her younger sister Euridice are discussing sex – or the febrile expectancy of it – as they wander through the verdant coastline surrounding their cramped family home in Rio. Daughters of a draconian father and his meek wife – described as a shadow by Euridice later on in the film – the girls are bound together by an unusual closeness forcing them to share all their hopes and dreams which will be stifled by a patriarchal set-up as the film plays out. The story is framed by a plot device that causes the girls to be separated and so their only way of communicating is through stifled correspondence and unanswered questions. What emerges is a fascinating social history of Brazil during the 1940s and ’50s seen from a female perspective, but one which is gutsy and deeply affecting.

While Guida is conducting a secret affair with darkly handsome Greek sailor Yorgos (Nikolas Antunes), Euridice is developing her keyboard skills on the family’s piano, with a view to studying at the conservatory in Vienna. We then find out – through a letter to their father – that Guida has eloped with her man on a ship bound for Athens, whence she returns alone and pregnant. Clearly Yorgos had a girl in every port, but worse, her father throws her out callously disinheriting her, and telling her that Euridice is studying in Austria. In actual fact Euridice has married Antenor (Duvivier) a crude bore who spends most of his time in his underwear, and given birth to a daughter he didn’t really want. Meanwhile, Guida finds solace in the home of a prostitute Filomena (Barbara Santos) where she brings up her son.

Ainouz has an extraordinary eye for detail and the film’s well-paced dramatic arc unfolds through tone and atmosphere closely following the literary structure, drawing us into the women’s world where we share in their intimate feelings, joys, heartache and sadness. It’s a emotional rollercoaster but one told with such intense warmth and beauty that by the end we feel a deep connection to these characters and their experiences. Something that is rare nowadays, with so many atmospheric yet empty films.

Spectacular vibrant camerawork is provided by French DoP Helene Louvart (Happy as Lazzaro) both on the widescreen and in really intimate close-up – and although some of the images are quite graphic, adding considerable gravity and truth to the alarming scenes of birth and love-making. The male characters invariably have feet of clay but in subtle ways that show them as convincing people not just hastily drawn cyphers. Each frame is exquisitely captured adding texture to an immersive family saga that bears testament to the enormous forbearance and indomitable resilience of its female characters. It seems appropriate that piano studies from Liszt, Grieg and Chopin should be the accompanying score. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 15 OCTOVER  2021 | WINNER UN CERTAIN REGARD | Cannes Film Festival 2019

 

Celebration (2019) MUBI

Dir: Olivier Meyrou | Doc, France

Olivier Meyrou’s long-shelved biopic on Yves Saint Laurent‘s final collection (aka Yves Saint Laurent: the last collections) has come to light again after screening at Berlinale 2007. The reason for its disappearance from the circuit was due to the legendary couturier’s partner and former lover Pierre Bergé, who ordered the film to be taken out of circulation after its world premiere. His subsequent death has now freed up the rights.

Don’t expect a glamorous film full of stars, celebrities and glossy locations. Meyrou takes a serious, anti-glamour approach showing just how serious the French are about the business of haute couture in a film that showcases ‘the devil in the detail’ and the often gruelling, hand-sewn meticulousness of it all. Meyrou also reveals tensions in the distance in the relationship between Yves Saint Laurent and Bergé who are seen from a warts and all perspective.

Seven years before the tall, rangy designer’s death, he cuts a dedicated but troubled  figure in his elegant tailoring and soigné accoutrements. Looking frail and wan, he gives tentative answers during a press interview where he tries to be positive about the future, while appearing decidedly diffident: “I’m the last couture house with a living couturier.” The others in the triumvirate: Balenciaga and Chanel have long lost their eminences grises.

YSL was founded in 1961 by Saint Laurent and Bergé, and later purchased by Gucci in 1999. The films opens in the former offices in rue Georges V where two women employees are effervescing about the past. This film is very much about the “backroom boys”- the people who made it all happen: the seamstresses, designers and assistants and the members of the press so vital in disseminating news during the final collections – renowned fashion journalist Suzy Menkes (now editor of Vogue International) is seen eagerly greeting Pierre Bergé, pen and paper at hand. The models too played a vital part – and each one is remembered for the outfit she wore, and for the particular strengths she bought to the catwalk. A case in point is the elegant model Katoucha Niane whose appearance is a poignant reminder of her accidental death in the Seine in 2008.

As the title suggests Meyrou’s documentary revolves around the preparations for what would turn out to be his final solo collection. He appears taciturn and introspective, the gurning movements of his jaw bear witness to the punctiliousness with which he treats his craft. And although Yves says very little, Bergé makes up for it with imperious obnoxiousness. At one point snatching a tribute from his partner after the show: “Probably, I have a part of that”.  As we all know from extensive film cannon on the designer: Bergé was the brains behind the business while Saint Laurent the heart, soul and talent. His obsession and eagle eye for getting it all absolutely right was well known and respected by all those who worked with him. Yet Bergé seems to has the upper hand and treats him with a boorishness bordering on contempt: “”Don’t lean over like a doddering old man!” he says to his partner at one point.

In immaculate monochrome Meyrou captures and contemplates the fraught energy of these behind the scenes encounters: the twittering tête à têtes of the seamstresses, the endless deliberations between Saint Laurent and his acolytes, and those responsible for the ‘tapie rouge’ and catwalk protocol.

Colour finally splashes into the film heralding the triumphant catwalk defilés: a spectacular tribute to French culture. Celebration quietly captures the era in a film that is memorable for its cool approach that feels impressionistic rather than hyped and over-talky. But those with a keen appreciation of the subject matter will find it thoroughly enjoyable and applaud Meyrou’s restrained approach. MT

NOW ON MUBI

 

La Llorona (2019) Best Picture Golden Globes Nomination

Dir: Jayro Bustamente | Cast: Gustavo Matheu, Georges Renand, Marina Peralta, Sor Jayro Bustamente, Lisandro Sanchez

This atmospheric award-winning drama blends elements of fantasy, thriller and horror to explore the final months of a retired general with a shady past.

Jayro Bustamente’s second film in this year’s London Film Festival in another tribute to Guatemala’s Mayan culture and certainly packs a powerful punch sharing the same moody vehemence as Tremors but this is a more slick and cinematic affair that makes use of DoP Nicolas Wong’s stunning visual language to portray Guatemala’s shocking regime of terror.

Elderly general Enrique Monteverde – possibly modelled on Guatemala’s dictator Jose Elfrain Rios Montt (1926-2018) – is being tried for the genocide he unleashed on the country three decades earlier. Armed and alert, he scares his domestic staff by prowling around at night in the family’s secluded villa, convinced that a mythical howling woman aka La Llorona – the spirit of a woman who has returned to avenge the dead – is somewhere in the property. It seems that his housekeeper could be reeking revenge on him for the killings of her ancestors. His wife puts the mysterious wailings down to his mental frailty believing he is suffering from stress-induced dementia,

Rios Montt took part in Guatemala’s infamous coup d’etat on March 23, 1982 but was overthrown by his defence minister Oscar Mejia Victories, and was eventually indicted for crimes against humanity and the indigenous population that included the killings of 1771 Maya Ixil Indians.

Once again Bustamente highlights Guatemala’s colonial past and a society that is still very much based on a rigid class structure in thrall to the Catholic Church. Meanwhile the indigenous Mayan population relies on its Gods, Animal Spirits and rituals making this a fascinating and haunting drama. MT

NOMINATED FOR BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE PICTURE | Golden Globes 2021|  JAYRO BUSTAMENTE WON THE FEODORA AWARD AT VENICE FOR BEST FILM and the GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI Best Film AWARD 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

 

 

Patrick (2019) *** San Sebastian Film Festival 2019

Dir/Wri: Goncalo Waddington | Cast: Hugo Fernandez, Teresa Sobral, Carla Maciel, Alba Bapista | Drama, Portugal 103′

Who would have thought the name ‘Patrick’ would be the title of two features this summer? The first was Belgian director Tim Mielants’ offbeat comedy that premiered in competition at Karlovy Vary. The second is this enigmatic post abduction story that fails to catch fire despite its visual allure and edgy atmosphere. Waddington’s enigmatic approach leads to a drama that drifts around uncomfortably but is easy on the eye.

Patrick works on a similar premise to The Imposter without the same gripping storyline. Waddington establishes young Patrick’s hedonistic lifestyle in the fleeting opening scenes: sullen and rather keen on himself, the 20-year old Belgian native (played by a terrifying Hugo Fernandez) is living in Paris where he takes good care of his body, despite suffering disfiguring acne. He is a violent and abusive misogynist – we see him in a nightclub asking a woman her age before moving swiftly on. Although he appears to be emotionally in control, a telephone call reveals the reverse. He shares a swanky apartment with another man who is not his boyfriend despite their physical closeness.

These frenetic opening scenes soon give way to a calmly observational second act where Patrick is being interviewed by police after a drug-fuelled incident at a party where he has apparently supplied the narcotics. It emerges that he is also running a porn site, abusing underage girls, and is in fact called Mario: Twelve years earlier he was the victim of an abduction from his home in the Portuguese countryside. The shock seems to have affected his ability to speak the language. And when Mario goes home to his mother, the film takes on an enervating stillness that seems to suit the narrative torpor, but fails to clarify the past.

His earthy mother Laura (Teresa Sobral) makes no real attempt to confront his about his crime; his kindly aunt Helena (Carla Maciel) and 17 year-old cousin Marta (Alba Bapista) just treat him as part of the woodwork – or the tile-work – it’s Portugal, after all. His violent past now seems forgotten in this placid rural idyll, as the women gently surround him with their feminine energy and peacefulness, hoping that Mario can heal if things go back to normal. He is left to go off into the  countryside with his cousin, who talks about her life in Brazil, amid a beguiling ambient score. They swim in a limpid lake and Mario cuddles an endearing baby fawn, with the haunting words “this is our dinner”. He later lashes out at Marta, while talking about a man who used to hang around during sports training, and insisted on calling him ‘Patrick’. But there is no explanation as to why his anger is exclusively directed towards women His father eventually makes an appearance (a fabulously moody Adriano Carvahlo) mumbling about having to go away again. His parents seem decent and loving, despite his father’s frequent absence.

So was ‘nature or nurture’ Waddington’s angle on Mario/Patrick’s violent condition? Seemingly the former, but we have to wait until the final scenes, by which time we really cease to care about this hostile narcissist. His abduction clearly unleashed a vicious anger that could have been a bi-product of depression due to his being abused. The finale sees him driving off into the city again where he finally gets his revenge. MT

San Sebastian FILM FESTIVAL | 18-28 SEPTEMBER 2019

 

Joker (2019) **** Golden Lion Winner Venice 2019

Dir: Todd Phillips | Cast: Joaquin Pheonix, Robert De Niro
Joaquin Phoenix coruscates with desperate anger as a tortured mentally ill loner in Todd Phillips’ tale of the age old arch-nemesis. Imagine Taxi Driver ten years on without the heart and soul of Scorsese or Bernard Herrmann’s iconic 70s score; add some hyper violence and a dose of livid desperation and you have Joker, another rich character study not for the feint-hearted.

Robert De Niro also stars as a glib gameshow host Murray Franklin but this is Phoenix’s film and he is a firecracker as the disgruntled and delusional Arthur Fleck tending his ailing mother whilst trying to juggle various jobs, gradually losing his sanity. He is also cursed with a corrosive condition forcing him to cackle with laughter – uncontrollably and mostly inappropriately – whenever he is stressed or put upon. One such incident occurs in the opening scene where he is chased down and beaten up by kids who steal his sale placard.

Shocking in its sheer intensity, Joker is a film for everyone who has ever been scorned or short-changed, so that’s just about everyone. Joaquin Phoenix looks as if he nearly died preparing for the role, his emaciated body and strung out demeanour testament to the sheer dedication of an actor at the top of his game – thoughts of quitting should now be way behind him.

Phillips and Scott Silver’s script is not based on any of the DC Comics oeuvre, but its resonance will delight an eager fan base. In Gotham City, inspired by New York of the same era, Fleck is also fond of his role as a clown, and he is good at it. Strutting his stuff in the local children’s hospital but also imagining himself performing as a stand-up comedian – one of his jokes is “let’s hope my death makes more cents than my life”.

After the street punch up Fleck is lent a gun by a workmate, but foolishly incorporates it in his act at the hospital, a mistake that leads to his sacking and final down-spiralling. One night in the tube he becomes trigger happy when taunted by some City workers and is soon running for his life, the sheer payback exhilaration infecting the audience with complicit delight as he becomes everyone’s misguided ‘have a go hero’.

Without revealing the rest of the plot, let’s just say Arthur makes one bad choice after another. And when certain facts come to light about his family and background, he morphs into a fully fledged psychopath not caring what happens next – to him, or anybody else’s for that matter.

Phoenix brings a scathing humanity to a tragic soul in crisis. Even a romance with a neighbour Sophie (Zazie Beetz) seems to be a figment of his shattered psyche as he descends into a hellish underworld of his own making. Although technically brilliant you have to question the sheer level of the gratuitous violence. That said, this cuastic moral tale will leave everyone with a vague sense of satisfaction and sadness as Joaquin struts his stuff to Gary Glitter’s 1972 hit Rock and Roll, part 2. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 4 OCTOBER 2019

The Prince | El Principe (2019) ***

Dir: Sebastián Muñoz | Cast: Juan Carlos Maldonado, Alfredo Castro, Gaston Pauls, Sebastian Ayala, Lucas Balmaceda, Cesare Serra, José Antonio Raffo |Drama,  96′, 2019)

Based on a novel by Mario Cruz, this Chilean prison drama won the Queer Lion at Venice in competition with the far superior Moffie by Oliver Hermanus.

The Prince is Chilean set designer Sebastián Muñoz’s feature debut, and as you would expect it all looks rather stylish, if that’s possible for a jail-based film. It’s 1970, just before President Allende brought his particular brand of Marxism to a liberal democracy backed by the CIA. At the time this must have seemed quite a controversial story with its scantily-clad gay men cavorting behind bars, but now it all feels rather quaint.

The story revolves around a 20 year-old called (Jaime Juan Carlos Maldonado) serving time for stabbing his best friend (Cesare Serra), possibly in flagrante delicto, in the opening scene. In flashback, we see Jaime unable to express his sexual feelings in the Chilean town of San Bernardo, but these episodes don’t successfully inform what he has now become and play out rather like stand-alone vignettes. Sharing a cell with four other guys he soon becomes close to Stallion (Castro) a sort of prison gang leader who will open him up sexually and teach him the ways of world, jail-wise. The prison is a violent place but there’s also lots of full on sex, and Jaime soon starts to enjoy himself in this permissive set-up that would be undreamed of in the outside world, back in the day, but one that provides endless playmates for Jaime’s amusement, until it all ends in tears. Quite why Munoz has decided on this rather dated minor work- given today’s permissiveness – will be beyond most people. But it will go down well with the LGBTQ crowd despite its rather threadbare narrative.

The best thing about The Prince is Alfredo Castro (Blanco en Blanco) who puts a world weary complexity into his role as the oldest male prisoner in Jaime’s four bunk cell. He has a younger lover (Sebastian Ayala) but throws him over in preference to Jaime, hence his nickname “the prince”.

Munoz wrote the screenplay with Luis Barrales but it fails to convey Mario Cruz’ tribute to his central character as a victim of his times. Jaime is certainly an antihero but not a victim here as he seems to drift along in this sweaty paradise more or less ambivalent to his position in the pecking order. Weirdly, it appears that all the other prisoners in this clink are gay, which feels rather utopian, if you’re looking at it from Jaime’s perspective. MT

SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 18-28 SEPTEMBER 2019 | HORIZONTES LATINOS Strand

 

 

 

 

 

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 

 

London Spanish Film Festival 2019 | 25 – 29 September 2019

London Spanish Film Festival is back again for the 15th time around bringing the latest Spanish releases to central London over five days in September. There will be the usual chance to meet the directors and talent in Q&As, offering exclusive insight and background on their craft.

BUÑUEL EN EL LABERINTO DE LAS TORTUGAS  | Buñuel in the Labyrinth of Turtles

dir. Salvador Simó, with Jorge Usón, Fernando Ramos, Luis Enrique de Tomás | Animation | Spain | 2019 | 80 min | cert. PG| in Spanish with English subtitles

Paris, 1930. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí are the figureheads of the Surrealist movement. Their masterpieces An Andalusian Dog (1929) and The Golden Age (1930) have caused intense scandal for their shocking, violent imagery. Penniless, Buñuel must postpone his next project, a documentary focused on one of the poorest regions in Spain: Las Hurdes. Yet in a stroke of bizarre, miraculous luck, his best friend Ramón Acín wins the lottery, and together they set off to film this unreported hardship. Tempers flare, however, for whilst Acín prefers an unvarnished, pared-back, no-frills approach, Buñuel manipulates reality to achieve his intended political, often manufactured effects. Based on a true story, this animated “making of” of Buñuel’s Land Without Bread (1993) asks, with a healthy dose of humour, whether the camera is always, to some extent, a partisan, prejudiced device, exploring the curious complexities of ‘fact’ and ‘accuracy’ within taped, captured footage.

Wed 25 Sep | 6.30pm | Ciné Lumière | £13, conc. £11

OLA DE CRÍMENES | Crime Wave

dir. Gracia Quejereta, with Maribel Verdú, Juana Acosta, Paula Echevarría | Black Comedy | Spain | 2018 | 98 min | cert. 12A | in Spanish with English subtitles

Leyre (Maribel Verdú) is a well-heeled divorcee enjoying a comfortable life at her villa in Bilbao. However, her world is turned upside down when her son Asier, threatened with a shotgun and nasty insults, kills her ex-husband stone-dead. In an instant, Leyre will transform from aspiring cupcake entrepreneur to protective mother, going to absurd lengths to save her son and hide the crimes from the police. As the mayhem piles up and up in this fresh, hectic, and hysterical comedy, Leyre is forced to navigate the amorous attentions of Asier’s friend Julen, the tax-fraud schemes of her ex-husband’s widow, and the volley of frank, hilarious opinions from her ageing, no-nonsense mother.

Thu 26 Sep | 8.30pm | Ciné Lumière | £13, conc. £11

TRINTA LUMES  | Thirty Souls 

dir. Diana Toucedo, with Alba Arias, Samuel Vilariño | Documentary | Spain | 2018 | 80 min | cert. 15 | in Galician and Spanish with English subtitles

Set in the sparsely-populated village of O Courel, Galicia, Thirty Souls is a mysterious, magical, and haunting meditation on the life-cycle of birth and death in rural Spain. Deeply embedded in local folkloric tradition and the fragile balance between innocence and experience, two children, Alba and Samuel, explore abandoned homes in search of missing names and vanished livelihoods. They expose the sheer power of the Galician landscape with its echoing, menacing mountains and sublime sense of imminent threat. This oneiric love-letter to a remote, enchanting region of Spain – which took a full six years to shoot – is painted through daily rhythms and cadences, exposing life at its most tender and brutal, inviting and savage.

Followed by a Q&A with the director | Sat 28 Sep | 4.00pm | Regent Street Cinema | £12, conc. £11

ABUELOS | Grandfathers

dir. Santiago Requejo, with Carlos Iglesias, Roberto Álvarez, Ramón Barea | Comedy | Spain | 2019 | 108 min | cert. PG | in Spanish with English subtitles

Isidro (Carlos Iglesias) has suffered heavily from the Spanish financial crash. He is unemployed at the age of 56, but nobody wants to hire a senior — even one with 30 years of relevant experience. His friends Desiderio (Ramón Barea), a writer of romantic fiction, and Arturo (Roberto Álvarez), a retiree desperate to be a grandfather, feel similarly out of place and behind the times in a globalised world in which image, youth, and technology reign supreme. Even so, the trio refuse to give up, joining forces to prove that they still have something to offer. Side by side they launch a modern, forward-thinking (or so they think) business from scratch: a nursery for toddlers. What could go wrong!? The first full-length feature from director Santiago Requejo, Abuelos is jam-packed with warm-hearted, feel-good humour — and a sharp critique of cultural assumptions about the elderly.

Followed by a Q&A (tbc) | Sat 28 Sep | 6.15pm | Ciné Lumière | £13, conc. £11

LITUS 

dir. Dani de la Orden, with Jorge Cabrera, Belén Cuesta, Miquel Fernández | Comedy-Drama | Spain | 2019 | 85 min | cert. PG| in Spanish with English subtitles

Three months ago, young Spaniard Litus was killed in a car accident. Now, for the first time since his death, his brother Toni gathers his friends together to reminisce about old times and find closure from the tragedy. However, Toni brings unexpected news: Litus left a series of mysterious letters of farewell, one for each companion. As hidden secrets and furtive riddles come tumbling out beyond the grave, director Dani de la Orden provides a complex, layered study of the crushing heartbreak, and tender humour, of a group in mourning.

Sun 29 Sep | 8.30pm | Regent Street Cinema | £12, conc. £11

CATALAN WINDOW

LA FILLA D’ALGÚ / LA HIJA DE ALGUIEN | Somebody’s Daughter

dir. ensemble of 4th-year students at ESCAC (Cinema and Audiovisual School of Catalonia), with Aina Clotet, Pep Ambròs, Marta Aguilar | Drama | Spain | 2019 | 72 min | cert. 18 | in Catalan with English subtitles

At the age of 30, successful Catalan lawyer Eli (Aina Clotet) has it all: the career, the boyfriend, the family (she is heavily pregnant with her first child). However, on the day of a major, high-profile court case, her father suddenly disappears, throwing the entire business into jeopardy. After several frantic calls to her nearest and dearest, Eli postpones the meeting as long as she dare, racing around Barcelona to unravel myriad, mysterious secrets that have, until now, been kept under wraps. The camera never leaves her side in this intense psychological thriller played out breathlessly in real-time, as Eli’s comfortable, bourgeois stability gradually crumbles before her very eyes… Winner of the Movistar+ award for best full-length film in the Málaga Festival’s ZonaZine, this beautifully balanced work is shot by a wide array of graduates from the Barcelona film school (ESCAC), displaying a wisdom and maturity far beyond their tender years.

Wed 25 Sep | 8.30pm | Ciné Lumière | £13, conc. £11

YO SOY LA RUMBA  | Peret: My Name Is Rumba

dir. Paloma Zapata, with Pepita Becas, Miliu Calabuch, La Chana | Documentary | Spain | 2018 | 92 min | cert. U | in Catalan and Spanish with English subtitles

The title makes it clear. Pere Pubill Calaf – Peret – is rumba. This documentary traces the life and work of an enigmatic singer and guitarist who, raised in the humble, gypsy neighbourhood of Sant Antoni, Barcelona, would be universally hailed as the ‘King of Rumba’ for his fusion of flamenco song with Latin American beats and rhythms. In a career spanning six decades, from the mid-1950s to his death in 2014, Peret rubbed shoulders with Pérez Prado, sang with Elvis Presley, and released global smash-hits such as ‘Borriquito’. From his enforced performance at Eurovision, to his long break from stardom to become an Evangelical pastor in the USA, to his triumphant return at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Peret provides a warm, intimate portrait – through heartfelt testimonies from grandchildren and friends (Petitet, Justo Molinero) – of a musician full of contradiction and paradox but also, and most importantly, a deep kindness and an irrepressible love of song. A must-see for music lovers, Peret won Best International Film at the MUVI Music Film Festival 2019.

Thu 26 Sep | 6.30pm | Ciné Lumière | £13, conc. £11

LA DONA DEL SEGLE | The Woman of the Century

dir. Sílvia Quer, with Elena Martín, Nora Navas, Àlex Monner | Drama | Spain | 2019 | 90 min | cert. PG | in Catalan and Spanish with English subtitles

Barcelona, 1919. A city awash with workers’ strikes, criminal gangs, and social divisions. Consuelo, a young woman raised in an orphanage, is mistaken for a seamstress at department store El Siglo – the exemplary bourgeois establishment of the era. Yet, rather than point out the error, she simply completes the job to an excellent standard, and is soon offered a full-time contract. However, her lowly background and lack of proper documentation, at a time of entrenched class-based prejudice, threaten to shatter her feminist dreams of empowerment and emancipation. When all seems lost, a possible lifeline emerges: might she be the daughter of famous painter Isidre Nonell and his gypsy muse? A film dedicated to all those women who bravely stirred the winds of revolutionary change at the start of the twentieth century.

Fri 27 Sep | 8.30pm | Regent Street Cinema | £12, conc. £11

PETRA (main picture)

dir. Jaime Rosales, with Bábara Lennie, Alex Brendemühl, Joan Botey | Drama | Spain | 2018 | 107 min | cert. 18 | in Spanish with English subtitles

Artist Petra arrives at the home of celebrated sculptor Jaume Navarro, ready to begin a creative residency. However, nothing is as it seems in this Catalan countryside. After the death of her mother, she is desperate for answers regarding identity and place, suspecting the boorish Jaume of being the father she never knew. Petra is soon embroiled in a series of intricate, spiralling secrecies, as the lives of Jaume’s wife Marisa, their photographer son Lucas, his housekeeper Teresa, Teresa’s husband Juanjo, and their son Pau forcefully collide in a malicious, absorbing battle of lies, myths, and broken memories. A Greek tragedy Spanish-style, complete with eerie, non-chronological shifts of time, Petra is the sixth feature from art-film director Jaime Rosales, a regular at Cannes for many years.

Followed by a Q&A with Bárbara Lennie with Prof. Maria Delgado (Royal School of Speech and Drama) | Sun 29 Sep | 4.00pm | Regent Street Cinema | £12, conc. £11

ENTRE DOS AGUAS | Between Two Waters

dir. Isaki Lacuesta, with Israel Gómez Romero, Fransisco José Gómez Romero, Óscar Rodríguez | Drama | Spain | 2019 | 136 min | cert. 12 | in Spanish with English subtitles

When filmmaker Isaki Lacuesta released The Legend of Time in 2006, part-fiction and part-documentary about gypsy brothers Isra and Cheíto, Spain’s daily El País labelled it a ‘miracle’. Fast-forward 12 years, and Between Two Waters finds the impish boys now matured into adult men with pressures, duties, and responsibilities. Having gone their separate ways since childhood, the pair are reunited once more in their hometown, the island of San Fernando. Isra is recently released from jail, desperate to win back his wife and three daughters, and Cheíto, having just finished a long mission with the marines, hungers to settle down with his family. As the brothers’ reunion sparks memories of their father’s violent death, a series of candid, piercing conversations reveals a profound sense of reconciliation, redemption, and fellow-feeling.

Sun 29 Sep | 4.00pm | Regent Street Cinema | £12, conc. £11

BASQUE WINDOW

EL INCREÍBLE FINDE MENGUANTE | The Incredible Shrinking Wknd

dir. Jon Mikel Caballero, with Iria del Río, Adam Quintero, & Nadia de Santiago | Drama, Time-Travel | Spain | 2019 | 93 min | cert. 18 | In Spanish with English subtitles

To celebrate her 30th birthday, Alba and her friends rent a woodland cottage for the weekend, eager to clink glasses, let loose, and live it up to the maximum. However, the festivities turn sour when Pablo, Alba’s boyfriend, unexpectedly breaks up with her, claiming that he needs time. In a neat sci-fi trick, Alba is suddenly frozen in her own time-loop, transported back to the car journey and condemned to relive the separation over and over – but with one hour less each time. Can she avoid the inevitable and persuade Pablo of her love, before it’s too late? It’s a countdown – and time is running out.

Written and directed by Jon Mikel Caballero, The Incredible Shrinking Wknd is a dark, poignant reimagination of Groundhog Day – but for break-ups.

MUDAR LA PIEL | The Spy Within 

dir. Ana Schulz, Cristóbal Fernández, with Juan Gutiérrez, Mingo Ràfols, Frauke Schulz | Spy Documentary | Spain | 2018 | 89 min | cert. PG | in Spanish with English subtitles

Juan Gutiérrez is a negotiator who strove to generate peace between ETA and the Spanish government during the most violent years of Spanish political conflict (1980s-90s). Roberto Flórez is his best friend and confidant – but also a double-crossing spy, who kept him under secret surveillance at all times. This is the first of countless betrayals, discrepancies, and misgivings at play in this captivating, slippery work – a documentary, but with a healthy dose of fiction – featuring intense, candid interviews with both men in turn. Winner of the 2017 MECAS Award at Las Palmas International Film Festival, first-time directors Cristóbal Fernández and Ana Schulz (Juan’s own daughter) create a deeply personal, moving film, exploring the powerful bonds of affection between parent and child, double-agent and mediator, traitor and comrade… and the best of friends.

Sat 28 Sep | 2.00pm | Regent Street Cinema | £12, conc. £11

70 BINLADENS | 70 Big Ones

dir. Koldo Serra, with Emma Suárez, Nathalie Poza, Hugo Silvia | Thriller | Spain | 2018 | 104 min | cert. 18| in Spanish with English subtitles

When little Alba is kidnapped, her mother Raquel has 24 hours to find €35,000 – or 70 €500 bills, known in Spain as binladens because everyone talks about them but never sees them. After a long, gruelling search, she finally locates a bank willing to loan the money, but halfway through the transaction two robbers suddenly burst in, taking everyone hostage and throwing her plans into disarray. Raquel must think fast, outfox her rivals, and save her daughter’s life – no matter the price. This third full-length feature from director Koldo Serra is a pulsating watch, with thrilling performances from female leads Emma Suárez and Nathalie Poza.

Sat 28 Sep | 8.45pm | Ciné Lumière | £13, conc. £11

LONDON SPANISH FILM FESTIVAL | CENTRAL LONDON | 25 -29 SEPTEMBER 2019

Normal (2019) ****

Dir.: Adele Tulli, Documentary; Doc, Italy 2019, 70 min.

Tulli makes a real visual impact with her sophomore feature that examines gender specific behaviour through a series of vignettes picturing everyday scenes in Italian life. Normal asks the question: how is male and female determined? Is it built on childhood expectations, or does it arise out of a need to confirm to society’s rules.?

Certainly, obedience is expected from females from an early age onwards: a little girl has her ears pierced and earrings inserted, whilst the man performing the task calls her brave, because she does not cry. Her mother confirms expectations: “Now you have earrings like Mummy”. Images of underwater gymnastics for pregnant women and girls keeping fit, contrast with little boys copying the “Alpha Male” role model on their mini motor-cycles, and encouraged by instructors not to show any fear. On the toy production line, pink plastic is formed to make irons, sold with iron boards for the girls. Much later a woman lectures brides-to-be: “there will be a big change in their lives after marriage: they will have to do the cleaning, cooking and shopping themselves.” And a warning to mothers with children not to neglect their husbands, or themselves. “This must NEVER happen”, the stern lady makes it clear.

Meanwhile, little boys play war games in the arcades, and semi-army instructors tell teenage boys that “the gun is an extension of your body”. A young man tells a younger male how to interview females. “Always lead the conversation, alpha males bite back, particularly with women who are bitter, you have to be able to stand-up to a woman”. In a church, the message for young brides, which we’ve already heard from a woman earlier, is reinforced by a priest: “Virginia, take care of him and yourself every day”. At a CD signing, the artist Antony has his hands full with under-age girls, overly enthusiastic to snog him. And at the ‘Miss Modena’ competition om the beach, twenty-year olds have learned to give the right answers, whilst parading in mini-bikinis and high heels. We watch two very different weddings: Illiana in her early twenties has a raucous party, with the wedding cake in the shape of a penis, whilst enormous dildos are everywhere. In contrast, a middle age couple marries in a beautiful theatre in Ferrara, in a retro 1950s affair. And finally, young mothers, pushing their prams while doing gymnastics to stay fit – are all heeding the warning given to them, not to neglect themselves or their hubbies. Ever.

Normal keeps a cool distance from its subject, playing out as a candid collection of images. In an interview Tulli said: “I consider documentary to be a “performative act” between images and the reality that they are supposed to represent. My approach to non-fiction does not necessarily pursue objective truths, but instead subjective perspectives. In other words, for me, documentary forms can be used to provoke a critical interpretation of the reality they observe. In my film, I aim to present a disorientating portrait of accepted ideas of normality, and to generate critical and open-ended perspectives to counter heteronormative narratives.” So there. AS

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 27 SEPTEMBER 2019      

The Farewell (2019) ***

Dir: Lulu Wang | Comedy Drama | 98′

Korean Chinese actress Awkwafina is best known for the standout comedy Crazy Rich Asians (2018). She gets another chance to flex her undeniable talents in this slim but enjoyable farce that explores the theory of “mind over matter” with a rather satisfying takeaway.

She plays Billi, an easygoing Chinese woman who originally moved to New York as a child and returns home for a family wedding, and to say goodbye to her beloved grandmother Nai Nai who has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Well, her granny’s unaware of her imminent demise, the family have decided to keep shtum: they simply haven’t the heart to tell her. And strangely, Nai Nai never cottons on to why they all seem so miserable, instead of relieved at her clean bill of health, after the scan.

Despite its cultural specificity, this is a convincing family tale like any other, and Wang spices her drama with plenty of light-hearted humour, tinged with understandable melancholy. Each family member expresses their sadness in different ways and degrees, and Wang keeps sentimentality at bay instead opting for something more nuanced and appealing. Awkwafina’s Billi is a triumph of independence and vulnerability and her dying grandmother (Shuzhen Zhao) manages to be calm and philosophical. The lightweight narrative builds towards in a satisfying conclusion, offering plenty of food for thought in the final reveal. MT

NOWON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 20 SEPTEMBER

Venice Film Festival 2019 | Round-up

Celebrating its 76th Anniversary VENICE FILM FESTIVAL was another exciting occasion with the competition line-up featuring the latest from established directors with newcomers also presenting their work.

One of the standouts of this year’s mostra was a pre-festival showing of Gustav Machaty’s 1933 masterpiece ECSTASY which won him Best Director in the year following production,

The fun got going with The Truth by Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda. Then amongst the Golden Lion hopefuls was maverick Roman Polanski who finally brings his biopic about another controversial figure Louis Dreyfus to the competition which ran from 28 August until 7 September on the Lido.

Adapted from Robert Harris novel J’Acuse stars Louis Garrel, Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner (aka Mme Polanski). Other high profile features were Todd Phillips’ The Joker – which won the Golden Lion and starsJoaquin Phoenix. And once again the lack of women directors in competition was flagged up, although there were plenty of female stars to be seen in the elegant hotspot on the Venetian coast. 

In the 21-strong competition line-up there was one trail-blazing female director in the shape of Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour (Wadjda) who attended to present her fourth feature The Perfect Candidate. Set in Riyadh it tells the story of a woman doctor who navigates her way through the male-dominated scenery to run for the council elections. 

Other auteurs include Czech Vaclav Marhoul with a wartime drama three hours long and ten years in the making: The Painted Bird (CZE/UKR/SLO) follows the plight of a Jewish boy on the run through Nazi Germany. The film stars Stellan Skarsgard. Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain was last in Venice with The Club, his latest sees a couple dealing with the aftermath of adoption, and Mexico stars Gael Garcia Bernal heads the cast. From Colombia Embrace of the Serpent director Ciro Guerra ups his game considerably with a starry cast of Johnny Depp, Robert Pattinson and Greta Scacchi in a period drama dealing with themes of loyalty and trust in a distant outpost of the Spanish Empire. Waiting for the Barbarians is based on a novel by South African writer J M Coetzee.

In the Italian corner, there is more about the Mafia from Sicilian director Franco Moresco, who won the Orizzonti Jury prize at Venice with Belluscone. Una Storia Siciliana back in 2014. La mafia non e piu quella di una Volta is a documentary exploring the history and origins of the organisation. From China comes Ye Lou’s historical drama Saturday Fiction and Hong Kong based director Yonfan breaks his 6 year silence with No. 7 Cherry Lane that centres on a English literature tutor caught up in a love triangle with a woman pupil and her mother. And Sweden’s Roy Andersson was in attendance with About Endlessness.

Steven Soderbergh also featured in competition with Panama papers themed The Laundromat that stars Meryl Streep and David Schwimmer as journalists uncovering political tax avoidance sculduggery in the US. Noah Baumbach makes his first appearance at Venice with another domestic satire, this timed entitled Marriage Story: an insightful drama tempered with his usual brand of dark humour and a impressive cast of Laura Dern, Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver and Ray Liotta. Both these US outings are now on Netflix.

Veteran French filmmaker Robert Guedeguian presents a Marseilles-set family drama, and Olivier Assayas continues to surprises us with his versatility, this time with Wasp Network a story of intrigue involving Cuban political prisoners. Canadian director Atom Egoyan has selected an interested cast of David Thewlis, Luke Wilson and Rossif Sutherland (son of Donald) to flesh out a morally thorny story surrounding pupils in a high school. A slightly underwhelming feature that divided the critics.

Venice 76 ‘out of competition’ selection included documentaries and features –  from Alex Gibney, Costa Gavras, who tackles the Greek financial crisis in Adults in the Room; and Andrea Segre with ecological documentary Il Pianeta in Mare. Pink Floyd’s Roger Walters directs and appeared in a concert film going back over the last few years of his musical career. There was also a chance to see some remastered classics in the shape of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut; screened alongside a new doc about one of the greatest directors of all time Never Just a Dream: Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut by Matt Wells. Gaspar Noé  Paolo Sorrentino and Sergei Loznitsa also featured in the out of competition competition section.

Meanwhile in the Horizons sidebar, German filmmaker Katrin Gebbe makes her feature debut with Pelican Blood starring Nina Hoss. And Alfredo Castro (from Golden Lion winner 2015 From Afar) is back to star in a psychological drama White on White from Chilean director Theo Court. MT

MAIN COMPETITION

No. 7 Cherry Lane (HONG KONG) – Dir. Yonfan

The Laundromat (USA) – Dir. Steven Soderbergh

J’Accuse (FRA/ITA) – Dir. Roman Polanski

Joker (USA) – Dir. Todd Phillips

Babyteeth (AUS) – Dir. Shannon Murphy

Marriage Story (USA) – Dir. Noah Baumbach

Il Sindaco Del Rione Sanità (ITA) – Dir. Mario Martone

The Painted Bird (CZE/UKR/SLO) – Dir. Václav Marhoul

La Mafia Non È Più Quella Di Una Volta (ITA) – Dir. Franco Maresco

Martin Eden (ITA/FRA) – Dir. Pietro Marcello

Saturday Fiction (CHI) – Dir. Lou Ye

Ema (CHILE) – Dir. Pablo Larraín

Waiting For The Barbarians (ITA) – Dir. Ciro Guerra

Gloria Mundi (FRA/ITA) – Dir. Robert Guéndiguian

Ad Astra (USA) – Dir. James Gray

Guest Of Honour (CAN) – Dir. Atom Egoyan

Wasp Network (FRA/BEL) – Dir. Olivier Assayas

About Endlessness (SWE/GER/NOR) – Dir. Roy Andersson

The Perfect Candidate (SAU/GER) – Dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour

A Herdade (POR/FRA) – Dir. Tiago Guedes

The Truth (JAP/FRA) – OPENING FILM – Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda

Out Of Competition (fiction)

The King (UK/HUN) – Dir. David Michod

Seberg (USA) – Dir. Benedict Andrews

Vivere (ITA) – Dir. Francesca Archibugi

The Burnt Orange Heresy (USA/ITA) – CLOSING FILM – Dir. Giuseppe Capotondi

Mosul (USA) – Dir. Matthew Michael Carnahan

Adults In The Room (FRA/GRE) – Dir. Costa-Gavras

Tutto Il Mio Folle Amore (ITA) – Dir. Gabriele Salvatores

Out of Competition (non-fiction)

Il Pianeta In Mare (ITA) – Dir. Andrea Segre

Citizen K (UK/USA) – Dir. Alex Gibney

Woman (FRA) – Dir. Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Anastasia Mikova

Roger Waters Us + Them (UK) – Dir. Sean Evans, Roger Waters

I Diari Di Angela – Noi Due Cineasti. Secondo Capitolo. (ITA) – Dir. Yervant Gianikian, Angela Ricci Lucchi

Citizen Rosi (ITA) – Dir. Didi Gnocchi, Carolina Rosi

The Kingmaker (USA) – Dir. Lauren Greenfield

State Funeral (NET/LIT) – Dir. Sergei Loznitsa

Collective (ROM/LUX) – Dir. Alexander Nanau

45 Seconds Of Laughter (USA) – Dir. Tim Robbins

Out of competition (special screenings)

No-One Left Behind (MEX) – Dir. Guillermo Arriaga

Zerozerozero – Episodes 1 & 2 (ITA) – Dir. Stefano Sollima

Electric Swan (FRA/GRE/ARG) – Dir. Konstantina Kotzamani

Irréversible – Inversion Intégrale (FRA) – Dir. Gaspar Noé

The New Pope – Episodes 2 & 7 (ITA/FRA/SPA) – Dir. Paolo Sorrentino

Never Just A Dream: Stanley Kubrick And Eyes Wide Shut (UK) – Dir. Matt Wells

Eyes Wide Shut (USA/UK) – Dir. Stanley Kubrick

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 28 AUGUST – 7 SEPTEMBER 2019

Wasp Network (2019) *** TIFF 2019

Dir: Olivier Assayas | France, Thriller

Olivier Assayas always surprises us in style, theme and genre. This Cuban-set thriller has the same energetic ambition as his other Caribbean set outing Carlos the Jackal (2010) but from then on Wasp Network buzzes in another direction altogether.

A professional pilot René González says goodbye to his wife and child as he jets off in a yellow biplane. We later discovered he has defected to the US fleeing the communist regime’s lack of opportunity and grinding poverty to live in a modern Art Deco apartments in Miami and hopes his family will join him in due course.

Not without a fight. This politically aware film sheds light on the exiles who targeted communist Cuba in the 1990s. These men are in actual fact funded spies engaged in infiltrating US-based groups opposed to Fidel Castro and sending their intelligence back home.

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

 

An Officer and a Spy (J’Accuse) **** Venice Film Festival 2019 | Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize

Dir: Roman Polanski | Wri: Robert Harris | 122’

This sober story of xenophobia and corruption sees a long-standing military man stripped of his honour in a rain- soaked square in Paris during the winter of 1894

The soldier is Alfred Dreyfus and Roman Polanski tells the story with procedural restraint and immaculate detail in this portrait of Parisian society at the time of Bonnard and Monet, the painterly historical epic brought to life in Pawel Edelman’s sumptuous camerawork.

Robert Harris wrote the screenplay based on his own 2013 book An Officer And A Spy (J’Accuse). Louis Garrel is shorn of his tousled good looks to play a wan and not overly sympathetic Dreyfus, although we do feel for him and the injustice he suffered. Jean Dujardin is rather charismatic as the maverick French officer Picquart whose gradual realisation that Dreyfus is not guilty of treason puts him up against his crusty superiors (played by a classy French cast) eventually winning the victim a reprise. The rest is history, so Polanski’s challenge was to bring drama without sensation to a tale close to his own heart. And he succeeds with a richly-textured straightforward approach, Alexandre Desplat’s atmospheric score adding an undercurrent of darkness to the gathering storm.

Galloping through the story with military precision, we see Dreyfus sent down for life to Devil’s Island after his 1894 trial. The openly anti-semitic Picquart is then promoted to head the nation’s counter-intelligence despite his lack of experience, but then follows his duty as a man of honour, in exposing another cover-up refusing to let his private feelings cloud his professional judgement. And this is where he comes up against a reluctance to turn over the guilty verdict on behalf of his superiors. AN OFFICER is an intelligent drama that unfolds slowly but surely through a series of unhurried and thoughtful vignettes each adding interest to main plot and elevating the film into a graceful period epic. There is an additional subplot with Emmanuelle Seigner playing Picquet’s married lover, and although this adds a romantic thrill to the affair it feels rather de trop but clearly offers Mme Polanski worthwhile screen time. Polanski’s keeps a distance from his subject matter, never allowing his own ant-semitic experience and fight to gain justice cloud his judgement. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 29 AUGUST – 7 SEPTEMBER 2019

The King (2019) **** Venice Film Festival 2019

Dir. David Michôd. US/Australia. 2019. 133mins

David Michôd’s The King re-imagines history to give a rather intriguing version of the story of Henry IV’s least favourite son Prince Hal, a Prince Harry style character who mends his ways to become serious about the business of running the kingdom and bringing glory to England at the Battle of Agincourt.

Although there is no mention of Shakespeare here, all the traditions are respected, the costumes are magnificent and the battle scenes spectacular. Even though we know what happened on that fateful day, Michôd and his co-writer Joel Edgerton – who also stars as Sir John Falstaff – embellish the story to deliver a solemnly gripping firecracker of a film that will make you “Cry God! For Harry, England and St George” and Brexit too, if you’re so inclined.

Timothée Chalamet is sombre and rather thoughtful with a cut glass English accent in the style of a David Lean wartime hero. All peaky and pale as Hal, his transformation into a King, on the death of his father (Ben Mendelsohn), sees him exuding newfound charisma and integrity in a gentle way – Chalamet gives a performance of vulnerable allure lighting up every scene. The screen time shared with his trusted friend and ally Falstaff makes this one of the most engaging versions, Edgerton bringing a warm and witty confidence to his Sir John.

The trump card is played by Robert Pattinson as a sneering and flirty Dauphin with a tousled mop of hair and a perky French accent that would make Macron proud.

The elegant script allows plenty of time for philosophising as each powerful lord gives his liege the benefit of well-formed opinion as to the merits of spoiling for battle with France after the King is given a cricket ball as a coronation present by the Dauphin. Evidence of an assassination plot come to light courtesy of a courtier William (Sean Harris) – a decision he will live to regret: this sylph-like newly-crowned Monarch has a fist of iron and a steely resolve behind his boyish exterior, and this comes through in impetuous bursts as the story unfolds.

The battle scenes unleash their bloody mayhem with a hail of longbow arrows and a clash of steel armour and military might as blood soaks the muddy Autumn fields of Pas de Calais in 1415. The strategy is a good one explained calmly by Falstaff in his moment of glory.  This should be experienced on the large screen but sadly The King is bound for Netflix.

The female roles go to Lily-Rose Depp as the bony-faced French princess who makes her caustic intentions clear as Henry’s bride. Tara Fitzgerald has a cameo as the cantankerous  barmaid and thorn in the bibulous Falstaff’s side.

On the eve of battle he proclaims in a timely speech that still holds true today : “I die here or I die of the bottle in Eastcheap — I think this makes for a better story.” And given the parlous state of England’s care homes dying with glory seems a more sensible idea. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 29 August – 7 September 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

The Souvenir (2018) *****

Dir/Wri: Joanna Hogg | Tilda Swinton, Tom Burke, Honour Swinton Byrne | Drama UK | 100′

Joanna Hogg is the only living female filmmaker who portrays a particular English contemporary milieu. Usually creative, invariably white and well-educated, these characters are liberal in outlook and mostly live in London. With such unique sensibilities and vision she is able to understand and convey as certain type of middle class angst (borne out of having to do the right thing, irrespective of personal choice). She did it gracefully in Unrelated (2007), Archipelago (2010) and Exhibition (2013), And she does it peerlessly again here with The Souvenir, a nuanced and delicately drawn story of addiction and strained relationships that very much echoes its time and place: the late 1980s – although it was inspired and takes its name from  Fragonard’s painting, a motif that runs through the film.

This all revolves around Julie, a dark horse and an English rose (earnestly played by Tilda Swinton’s daughter Honour Swinton Byrne) who is tentatively making a career for herself in film school while awkwardly becoming involved with her first proper boyfriend. Clearly she is talented but lacks real confidence – both in love and in life – largely due to a repressed English background. Although her mother is loving and wonderful there are clear hints that certain things were simply not discussed at home, but still waters nevertheless run deep on the feelings front. Hogg relies on an improvisational approach, stripping away clichés to distill the emotional content of each scene, often with minimal dialogue and relying on body language and atmosphere. 

Women of that era will remember the silent voids during a date where the silence spoke volumes, often marking the beginning or the end of another tortuous romance with a man who could not express himself, and chose merely to back away and then reappear with pleadings and desperate often incoherent bids to meet again. Often covering this with bluster and demeaning put-downs, Tom Burke gives a priceless performance as Anthony, a man whose emotional range does Attila the Hun a disservice when it comes to affairs of the heart. “You’re a freak. You’ll always be last,” he tells Julie. And Hogg is clearly mining these fraught memories too with this doomed romantic pairing.

Julie presses on undeterred, internalising her feelings, and clearly drawn to public school Anthony through some atavistic genetic link. Because he purports to be ‘from the right background’ – he is clearly approved of by her parents – the very mild-mannered Tilda and her on screen husband.William. One of of the best scenes sees Richard Ayoade playing a ‘cutting edge’ filmmaker and deftly spilling the beans that Anthony is a heroin addict. “I find doing heroin to be mainstream behaviour,” he jokes to a rather bewildered Julie. And we discover she’s funding his habit with donations gleaned from her mother, who does seem alarmed at Julie’s rising expenditure for film-school supplies. In a caddish moment Anthony even roughs up Julie’s Notting Hill flat, faking a burglary to raise funds for his addiction. Drugs make psychopaths and monsters of addicts. And Julie is a victim too, of love. But she keeps a stiff upper lip. Endearing scenes with her parents are a triumph in their candid intimacy, and make us reflect on the placid generosity of the British. 

Julie and Anthony share a deceptively satisfying sex life behind closed doors, shown in 16mm-styled footage that follows them on an impromptu romantic break to Venice, funded unflinchingly by Julie. She epitomises the female lack of confidence of that era, back-footed by her desire to appear cool and inclusive when pitching for a film school project, and desperate to fit in with the others. She emerges lonely and rather misunderstood, though keen to do the right thing. And the comforting presence of her concerned on screen mother resonates throughout, you stifle a snigger when she utters the words: “Anthony was taken ill in the Wallace Collection”. 

Joanna Hogg will soon embark on the second part of this semi-biopic affair with Robert Pattinson joining the cast. The story of a young filmmaker finally making her way is something to look forward to. MT

OUT ON 30 AUGUST 2019 AT CURZON CINEMAS

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

Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy (2018) ***

Dir/Wri: Justin Kelly | Cast: Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Diane Kruger, Jim Sturgess | US Biopic Dram | 108′

The story behind the literary persona JT LeRoy, created by American author Laura Albert, has certainly had some cinematic mileage. Albert took part in the documentary Author: The JT Leroy Story (2016) that screened a few years ago at the BFI Flare’s Film Festival, Here she is played by Laura Dern in Justin Kelly’s slick and lively re-imagining of one of the most brazen literary hoaxes known to mankind. Albert published three books in the early years of the 21st century, under her nom de plume JT LeRoy. They explored the life of a sexually confused teenage boy, abused in childhood. A gamine Kristen Stewart plays her sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, who comes to stay and ends up being persuaded by Albert to pose as JT for a promotional photo session. And it doesn’t end there. Dern and Stewart give luminous performances in this seamlessly pleasurable and darkly amusing drama that explores themes of gender fluidity, moral ambiguity and fraud. MT
NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | premiered at BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL | 21 -31 MARCH 2019

The Science of Fictions (2019) Locarno Film Festival 2019

Indonesia, Malaysia, France  ·  2019  ·  DCP  ·  Colour and Black and White  ·  106′  ·  o.v. Indonesian

Yosep Anggi Noen (Solitude) marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, with a curious re-imagined fable that translocates the landmark event to Indonesia.

But this strange tale has a broader context in the scheme of things, reflecting on social injustice and corruption not just in his homeland but everywhere else where truth is clouded in ‘fake news’ and people disappearing from the face of the earth during sinister political regimes.

Noen’s  adventurous premise plays out through the story of a man called Siman who  inadvertently witnesses a foreign film crew shooting a fake moon landing in a sandy farming backwater. The authorities quickly step in and Simon’s tongue is removed to prevent him spilling the beans. What’s worse, his neighbours pour scorn on his desperate attempt to broadcast his experience – by walking in slow-motion wearing a handmade space suit – and consign him to the loony-bin, turning him into a modern day village idiot.

But the poor man’s brush with reality haunts him. And although fake news is very a much a buzz word at the moment, it is by no means a new phenomenon – the massaging of fact has been going on for decades, not only but especially in Indonesia where the bloody coup of 1965 was completely buried from the media. Conversely, there are still conspiracy theories floating around claiming that the Moon landings were actually faked by NASA with the help of Stanley Kubrick (his 2001, a Space Odyssey proved he had the lenses and technological knowhow to bring it all off), amongst other collaborators, and even more outlandishly, that the Holocaust never actually happened.

In a similar vein but more ambitious and dramatically successful is Agnieszka Holland’s recent Berlinale thriller Mr Jones that chronicles a British investigative journalist’s efforts to expose 1930s Holodomor. It does seem to prove the saying that “Let he who shouts the loudest by heard first”. And although Yosep Anggi Noen’s film doesn’t quite match up to Ms Holland’s spectacular mise on scene  it offers nevertheless a worthwhile contribution to the ‘fake news’  canon, despite its flawed finale. But you only have to go to social platforms such as twitter and facebook to realise that misinformation is more dangerous than ignorance. Just because only one person experienced reality, is doesn’t make any less real, even if that person is a simple farmer in the middle of Indonesia. MT

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

 

The Nest (2019) *** Locarno Film Festival

Dir. Roberto De Feo. Italy. 2019. 107 mins

Roberto De Feo’s moody, Gothic chiller sees a mother’s obsession go to extremes with a sting in the tail not quite nasty enough to keep horror fans piqued. 

In lakeside Torino De Feo establishes the brooding scenario that has all the tropes of classic horror fare. A dank and creaky old lakeside mansion is the grim home of these morose characters that come straight out of Lovecraft or Le Fanu. In a pre-title sequence we witness the death of the father in a tragic accident that leaves his son a paraplegic, and this is where 11-year-old sickly Samuel (Alexander Korovkin) now spends his days confined to a wheelchair, his draconian mother Elena (Francesca Cavallin) ruling with a rod of iron judging by the echoing sound design. A saturnine Dr Sebastian provides medical assistance, although there’s no sign of improvement in the boy’s condition. Samuel is miserable but resigned to his fate of running the family estate, until the arrival of a flirty new maid brightens this dour existence. Denise (Ginevra Francesconi) gives him the power to stand up to his mother -not literally, or course – but things start to look up, although Elena is clearly hiding more that a few skeletons in the closet. Occasionally raising a titter from the audience with its increasingly ludicrous narrative, this genre piece will doubtless find a cosy nest in the festival circuit.  MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

Endless Night | Longa Noite (2019) Locarno Film Festival 2019

Wri/Dir: Eloy Enciso | Celsa Araujo, Misha Bies Golas, Nuria Lestegas, Suso Meilan, Manuel Pumares | Gallego | 93′ Historical Drama

Eloy Enciso embarks on an ambitious historical narrative for his third feature, a drama that journeys through three decades of Franco’s dictatorship, but in a meditative and poetic way. With Mauro Herce, the awarded cinematographer behind Mimosas (2016), Dead and Slow Ahead (2015) and Fire will Come (2019), Longo Noite has the sumptuous gravitas needed to showcase the tales of those who went through this unsettling era after the war, and also those who were prisoners in concentration camps in Galicia during the 1940s and look back on their lives and choices with inquietude, having all endured and been repressed in an authoritarian system, but who were later where able to relate their experiences. The choice of Gallego also adds a twist of authenticity – Franco was born in Galicia and gave his name to the town El Ferrol del Caudillio – the suffix having now been dropped, for obvious reasons.

Enciso has chosen a cast of non-pros in order to evoke a human insecurity of being out of their comfort this certainly comes across in their troubled faces. The woman forced on the streets to beg, the man who has made his fortune abroad and coming home to Galicia after Civil war and finding it taken over by a Fascist set-up. These are people clinging to the past and finding  comfort in nature and the certainty of the countryside; of night predictably following day; the stars following the sun. All this is is overlaid by their thoughts and meditations on a Fascist-governed Spain.

Although clearly set in a moment in time this universal endeavour also feels highly contemporary echoing the instability of the present, and resonating with political and social flux now occurring all over the world, as it swings from Communism to Fascism, Nationalism and Patriotism. Even the grounding force of nature is now under threat. A thematically rich and transcendent film that ripples out with vast implications. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | COMPETITION | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

 

La Permission (1968) **** Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir/Wri: Melvin Van Peebles | Cast: Nicole Berger, Harry Baird | US Drama 67′ , 

Melvin Van Peebles made his cheerfully artful French-language debut with a grant. Notable because it was the first feature length film directed by a black American La Permission sees a soldier – also black American – falling for a white French girl during a weekend’s leave from his army base in Paris, where the film was shot in 1967.  Harry Baird plays the soldier with a slight West Indian accent and Nicole Berger the friendly French girl with a lovely smile. 

Based on his own novel The Story of a Three Day Pass, the romantic comedy ingeniously captures the tentative nature of dating and first love with an affective way of second-guessing how each scene will play out. When the soldier first spies Miriam (Berger) in a bar he imagines her rejecting his advances, when in actual fact she goes on to welcome him with open arms, and he invites her to spend the weekend by the sea in Normandy. Slightly less successfully – for obvious reasons – is the scene where Miriam imagines him dressed in a grass skirt. But Van Peebles clearly wasn’t offended by this at the time. Another one sees him as a 19th century aristocrat entertaining his love in an elegant chateau. Needless to see, he is spotted by some fellow soldiers who snitch on him on their return to base, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel, of sorts. La Permission is upbeat and unpretentious and feels like a cross between Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Un Homme et Une femm