Moop: Matter out of place refers to any object not associated with the immediate environment
A mechanical digger buries its steel fist deep into a grassy field in the outskirts of some Austrian city. Earthy clay soil soon gives way to sodden slate-coloured mud. But wait – there a tyres here, planks of wood and glass bottles, even a newspaper – still legible – a can of tomatoes and ‘Nestle’ labels everywhere. This is a landfill site revealing its fascinating contemporary history of sordid ‘treasures’ hidden deep along the water table. The man in charge of the dig has spent a whole career investigating such hidden refuse buried out of sight, but now not out of mind.
Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter has spent a lifetime documenting the world, and winning awards for his unique and enquiring vision. From The Border Fence, to Homo sapiens and Earth he takes a route less travelled to unveil the unusual and oblique that often stares us right in the face. And here he exposes the squalid world of refuse in a way that is both horrifying and compelling.
In Koman, Northern Albania, ‘volunteers for a clean space’ project have put themselves forward to collect rubbish from a limpid lakeside littered with ‘moop’ from nearby towns and villages. Loading the bags into a makeshift van, the debris soon fills the entire vehicle that trundles off to its more ecological destination. A job well done. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Meanwhile in Nepal, streams and rivulets are festooned with plastic detritus that give a ghostly appearance to the surrounding countryside. Here, lorries packed sky-high with waste struggle through muddy uphill tracks and are often given a push by forklift trucks as they transport their lofty cargoes bound for a landfill site high on the mountainside. Women there sort through the bags, often taking random items to redistribute back in their villages. There is whole industry at work involving rubbish re-sale, but that’s for another film.
Even at the summit of a snowy Swiss mountain, rubbish soon builds up from bars and restaurants there to serve skiers’ requirements. And images of these glistening widescreen snowscapes contrast with those of a palm-fringed creamy white beach in the Maldives where staff toil endlessly to sweep away any sign of moop. This is then carted off to more landfill sites where the cardboard is set alight giving off noxious fumes that only add to the pollution.
Ecological progress has been made in some countries where domestic refuse is sorted by mammoth machines and manpower, sorting plastic from glass, paper from tin and relocating the remains for further processing in the recycling battle. Geyrhalter’s fellow countryman Michael Glawogger showed how industrial waste is dealt with or – let’s say relocated – to the developing world in his shocking expose 2014 Workingman’s Death
Moop has invaded not only our countryside but also the sea. In Greece, expert divers scour the shallows and depths of the ocean to forage for moop which is then bagged and floated up to the surface where white polythene sacks will remove it by boat to the mainland.
And what about that enormous sofa or double bed that mysteriously found its way onto the pavement in the middle of the night. These are sent to specialised recycling centres to be gobbled up and coughed out by the powerful rotating jaws of industrial disposal units, and gradually pulverised with water into aggregate-style dust.
Artfully framed and (delightfully) without dialogue or explanation Geyrhalter lets his startling pictures tell a grim story whose final eerie images explode into hope at the Burning Man festival in Nevada.
This film about rubbish it is certainly not rubbish, but a fascinating, disturbing and important testament to how our planet is slowly being destroyed by ourselves. MT
Dir: Tereza Nvotova; Cast: Natalia Germani, Eva Mores, Juliana Brutovska, Marek Geisbgerg, Jana Ol’hova, Peter Ondrejicka, Iva Bittova, Zusana Konecna; Czech Republic/Slovakia 2022, 108 min.
FAMU graduate, director/co-writer Tereza Nvotova (Filthy) comes to Locarno Film Festival with a passionate and enigmatic horror film unfolding in seven chapters, supported by an impressive cast and the oppressive camerawork by Federico Cesca.
When 30 year-old Sarlota (Germani) returns to her home village in the mountains, she unleashes an orgy of violence rooted in her turbulent repressed past. Sarlota is partly to blame for what happened in her childhood: unsettling opening scenes see her running away from an abusive mother, followed by her sister Tamara who dies in a tragic accident – leaving Sarlota with a life-long trauma of guilt.
But now she must deal with the present, and sort out the house inherited from her mother. Reconnecting with those left behind she meets up with Otilia (Bittova) and her daughter Helena (Brutovska), who seem pleased to welcome her back. But there is an air of savage mistrust and talk of witchcraft in this remote mountain location where rivalries still burn bright, particularly amongst the local women.
Sarlota hopes that an eccentric herbalist called Mira (Mores) will help her deal with a recent miscarriage. The two women become very close but Helena, who had Mira to herself until Sarlota turned up, is jealous of the intruder. Local rumour also has it that Mira was cast under a witches’ spell and lured into the woods with some other local children, and it soon emerges Mira is not really whom she appears to be. And when Zofa’s sons, Elo and Marto, go missing the finger is pointed at Sarlota, who is suspected of being a witch. The male villagers, led by the sadistic Tomasz (Geisberg) decide to hunt her down, but she still has one person on her side.
Nightsiren is certainly a beguiling fantasy drama with its lustrous visual allure rather let down by a structural over-complexity: The many subplots, flashbacks and mutating emotional pairings lend confusion to the already enigmatic storyline. Misty, nighttime ballet sequences featuring fairies frolicking in a languidly coruscating netherworld make for some melodramatic romanticism; but Nightsiren‘s startling imagery is hampered by a preponderance of confusing sub-plots and flashbacks, and the mutating emotional pairings only go to increase the complexity of a film which is already an enigma in itself. All that said, Nvotova has created something unique: a feature with the breath of an epic that soars relentlessly in an all-out journey to the stars and beyond. AS
“I shall travel the world and still feel lonely: I am the forever-seeking”. Patricia Highsmith
The American novelist Patricia Highsmith (1921-95) is seen through the prism of her sexuality and personal life in this engaging documentary written and directed by Swiss filmmaker Eva Vitija, based on the author’s diaries and journals, and voiced by Gwendoline Christie giving an illusion of remarkable intimacy with Highsmith herself.
Patricia Highsmith is well known for her stealthily-plotted psychological novels and their various film adaptations such as Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, and The Talented Mr Ripley raising her profile to international status. But she also blazed a smouldering trail as a pioneering writer of gay literature, most notably in The Price of Salt, that found its way onto the big screen in Tod Haynes’ glossy, award-winning drama Carol. Ironically the films garnered more financial successful than her literature.
Vitija’s film reveals a sad childhood in Forth Worth Texas and New York where Highsmith was rejected by her emotionally distant mother Mary and grew up as a darkly attractive woman much admired for her stylish looks in the discrete lesbian bars of 1950s New York, yet held back by her mother’s hurtful comments about her appearance: “Why don’t you dress like a woman?”, and oppressive attempts to interest her in potential husbands.
Despite her homosexuality Highsmith was far from liberal in her outlook, veering towards racism and even antisemitism, although three of her lovers were infact Jewish. In common with many writers, Highsmith kept herself to herself, preferring the company of cats – even snails – to people, although she had several enduring relationships, most notably with Marijane Meaker, a friend, lover and biographer who is one of the film’s most enlightening ‘talking heads’. The two shared a house with their five cats in Pennsylvania at a time when women living together were assumed to be simply pooling their resources rather than satisfying their romantic needs. Highsmith’s complex dual identity is further fleshed out as Vitija explores the author’s other former lovers including Tabea Blumenschein, Marion Aboudaram and Monique Buffet.
Highsmith’s main protagonists were men, and she once claimed: “Women want to read about men and men want to read about men”. Meeker comments: “even though her mother had a career and was strong and independent, Highsmith maintained women in general still see themselves in terms of their relationships with men. Vitija puts forward the idea that the misanthropist character Tom Ripley, the protagonist of five of her books, was actually based on the author herself.
Relatives from her Texan family, on her mother’s side, talk at length about the need for women to be ultra feminine in an era dominated by masculine men. And this male prerogative is backed up by footage of rodeos and ranches that featured heavily in Highsmith’s early life, forcing the author on to an endless quest for identity. Even at the height of her international career she was eclipsed by her radio announcer cousin, back home in Forth Worth.
Highsmith also resided for a time in England where she bought a house to be near a woman only described as Caroline. But the affair ended in bitter rejection re-enforcing the self-internalised feelings of negativity projected onto her by her mother, and Highsmith later took refuge in France where gardening became an absorbing pastime providing solace for her disillusionment with love. The author would end her days in Switzerland where an architect was commissioned to design her a low level modernist house in Locarno where this biopic screened at the 75th Locarno Film Festival.
Enriched with plentiful photographs, cine-film footage of Highsmith herself, and clips from Carol, Mr Ripley and Strangers on a Train, the film provides intimate access to the inner life of a highly complex writer who always considered interviews a “profound indignity”. MT
Germany’s Helena Wittman made a name for herself five years ago with the experimental maritime debut Drift, and here takes another dip in the water with an enigmatic sea-faring piece that haunts the imagination – up to a point – with its woozy rhythm and limpid seascapes.
It follows a group of aimless yachties – a female captain Ida (Angeliki Papoulia) and her male sailors – who drift around the Mediterranean coast around Marseilles ending up in Sidi Bel Abbes (Algeria) when Ida becomes entranced with the vestiges of the French Foreign Legion and decides to the investigate further.
During this languorous cinematic voyage there are fleeting interludes that hint at romance for Ida and her crew but nothing of any substance in a scenario where style rather than substance is the order of the day. What starts as intriguing soon becomes torpid as we mull through the various enigmatic hints at our disposal that eventually leave us wondering – who exactly are these people, who is funding them, and what is end point of their dilettante journey into the unknown?
Women have long been portrayed in sea-going dramas – most recently in Wolfgang Fischer’s Styx where a lone woman sailor becomes involved with a group of migrants, and Lucie Borleteau’s Fidelio: Alice’s Journey a much more eventful odyssey where a female engineer entrances a male crew on board a commercial vessel, and, of course, Claire Denis’ all time classic Beau travail involving the French Foreign Legion on land (and also – curiously – starring Denis Lavant who appears here as ‘Galoup’). In comparison, while initially enjoyable, this is a flimsier arthouse film that could almost work as an art installation in somewhere like London’s Royal Academy. MT
Dir: Valentina Maurel | Cast: Vivian Rodriguez, Daniela Marin Navarro, Jose Pablo Segrada Johanning, Reinaldo Amien
A 16-year-old girl blazes a trail towards female empowerment in this sultry cinematic snapshot of contempo Costa Rica from writer director Valentina Maurel.
Impressionistic and with a lubricious eye for detail Tengo Suenos Electricos oozes sensuality in exploring every angle of Eva’s world as she struggles to make sense of her parent’s ugly separation. Held together by a stunning debut from Daniela Marin Navarra as Eva this raw but enchanting drama is one of the standouts of this year’s Golden Leopard competition lineup at Locarno Film Festival.
Eva really gets on with her father and wants to move in with him, but all the warning signs are there in a squalid opening scene where he struts violently away from the family car leaving her mother and younger sister quaking in the abandoned vehicle.
Overwhelmed by confuson, anger and bewilderment intermingled with all the mysterious changes of puberty Eva struggles to cope before finally taking control of the jealous mistrust she feels for her mother and a love/hate relationship with her broke and mentally unstable father who is experiencing a crisis of his own and has moved into a shabby apartment with his friend Dove who will give her a first taste of lust and disappointment. Eva’s baptism of fire smoulders into an often confrontational but more confident future. At least her mother has left her in no doubt about what to expect from men, she also learns that women like to talk about the ‘sisterhood’ but are in fact just competitors vying for the same sordid male gene pool.
Daniela Marin Navarra navigates the role of Eva with instinct, developing her character from sullen vulnerability to surprising maturity until she finally calls time on her father’s behaviour in a film that drenches and scalds you with its tropical charm inculcated by Nicolas Wong Diaz captivating camerawork and Bertand Conard’s inspired editing. Valentina Maurel won the Cannes Cinefondation Award for her short Paul Est La in 2017, and with Suenos Electricos now has all the makings of a very accomplished filmmaker. MT
Dir.: Julie Lerat-Gersant; Cast: Pili Groyne, Romane Bohringer, Victoire du Bois, Lucie Charles-Alfred, Suzanne Roy-Lerat, Bilel Chegrani; France 2022, 90 min.
A passionate portrait of teenage pregnancy and parental neglect from first time French filmmaker Julie Learn-Gersant who charts the rollercoaster of anxiety, mixed emotions and shifting alliances for 16-year-old Camille.
Motherhood is a challenging time for everyone. Especially when the baby is unplanned and not necessarily what Camille wants at the age of sixteen. A botched attempt at an abortion sees her heading to Casualty at Cherbourg hospital, along with her mother Clo (du Bois). Pili Groyne is stunning in the main role, a bundle of nerves and neuroses – and for good reason – later the judge will sit down with Clo and tell her, in no uncertain terms, that she has put her daughter’s life at risk.
Camille is adamant about not wanting to keep the baby: “I won’t let it ruin my life”. So in she goes to a special home for pregnant teenagers where Nadine (Bohringer) will be her counsellor. Camille is warned by the girls: “Nadine is on your back, and Salim is her dog”. Four months into the pregnancy Camille still indulges her passion for rollerblading, but Nadine gives her a word of warning. Medhi (Chegrani) her boyfriend is an apprentice seaman, and no more able to cope than Camille. He has managed to put together the money for an abortion in Holland but Camille is resigned to going through with the pregnancy and will give the baby up for adoption.
Later over dinner in a restaurant, Clo passes herself off to her lover Fred as Camille’s sister. In a sad case of history repeating itself, Camille will later find out that her that her mother gave her up for adoption but came back later to claim her – after she had spent six months with foster parents. In the home, Camille makes friends with Alison (Alfred), whose daughter Diana (Roy-Lerat) has asthma – not helped by her mother’s smoking.
Subsequently, Diana is put into care, despite Alison’s protests. A catalogue of disasters follows but Camille still insists her child will be offered to “any bitch who wants her”. Her new friend Laura tells her that she is just like a kangaroo, abandoning her offspring when the going gets tough. With her term nearly over, Camille is asked to write a letter to her by way of background for the future carers.
DoP Virginie Saint-Martin captures the volatile ambience with a lively, handheld camera in intimate close-ups, and sensitive long shots with the rollerblading Camille. The seaside location adds turbulence but also tranquility to a film that reflect in the emotional ups and downs of its hard-edged contemporary characters who seem to care about nothing but themselves. AS
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | CINEASTES DEL PRESENTE
A delightfully bittersweet Swiss Belgian comedy drama starring Francois Berleand as a po-faced widower coping with the loss of his wife and the unwanted intrusion of his well-meaning loved ones.
Last Dance mulls over familiar territory when it comes to bereavement: and for 75-year-old Germain the grief is sudden and heart felt. But he hardly has time to recover with the constant intrusive ‘phone calls to check on his well-being (and relieve the callers’ anxiety); not to mention the stream of unsolicited pies and casseroles (which he duly feeds to the cat.) Family visits never seem to stop – or end – and he wonders why his kids are unable to stick to their weekly visiting rota that he could really do without (Carole is Tuesday, Matthieu, Friday – or was it the other way round).
Lise (Reymond), his much loved wife of 50 years, was heavily into volunteering and experimental dance in a troupe led by the domineering choreographer ‘La Ribot’ (Lukumuena) and Samar (Mottet Klein) and in a bid to show willing, Germain feels obliged to take Lise’s place enacting a series of avant-garde movements that feel entirely awkward, causing him to break his bedside lamp rehearsing in the privacy of his bedroom. But he puts his foot down to the idea of taking on a mentorship for a young student until his daughter insists it will be good for his ‘mental health’. So student and mentor eventually come to a ‘win win’ situation that suits both of them – but will anyone benefit from their arrangement?.
Delphine Lehericey directs her witty insightful script with great confidence and dexterity and the performances all round are really spot on. There are some laughs to be had too in this deadpan tongue-in-cheek story about a man who resolutely refuses to mourn, in the conventional sense, after a lifetime of happiness with his lost love. MT
LAST DANCE | PIAZZA GRANDE | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022
Dir.: Lidia Duda; Documentary with Zosia, Oskar, Kinga; Poland 2022, 82 min.
A specialist boarding school in Poland explores how blind and visually impaired the children gain strength and confidence from supporting each other in Lidia Duda’s surprisingly stylish first feature that serves as a warm tribute to both staff and patients.
Zosia, Oskar and Kinga are barely out of nappies when they find themselves separated from their parents and in the care of Ewa, a strict but gentle nurse who is only satisfied when they do their best to interact in the new surroundings. Oskar is learning to play the piano but Zosia is still finding her feet away from the family home. On a speaker-phone she listens to her mother wishing her ‘sweet deams’. Sensitive to noise, Zosia finds the other kids challenging, particularly Oskar who shouts a lot.
Surrounded by toys and learning aids – the swings turn out to be difficult to master – the children also use a sort of typewriter with buttons for every letter, to learn to write. Zosia is more concerned with her mother who: “has to work, she could not come to visit, she has to earn money”. Zosia pleads with Oskar not to clap “you can clap after school, but otherwise you’ll get us expelled. You have to learn not to sleep in class”. Suddenly, Zosia is alone with no friends to play with: “I need a hug”. she cries. But despite Oskar pushing her Zosia admits that she does like him.
In this religious institution the children are taught that “God loves us all”. Oskar seems to respond, telling Zosia he loves her, but she is not so sure of him and really just wants to see her parents, desperate for them to visit: “I am in a bad mood today. I miss Kinga and Dad”. At a meeting for the whole school, Zosia is chosen to recite a poem by a well-known author. The results are impressive. But the day after her uncle and aunt finally managed to visit, Zosia complains: “Yesterday I had a bad day, a really tough day.”
Zosia finally learns to play the piano, and she and Oskar enjoy a role-play with teddy bears, the kids pretend to be doctors curing them. One bear is told he has to stay in bed for three years (!). After recovering from a emergency visit to hospital, Kinga’s birthday provides a welcome break for the kids with Oskar accompanying the celebrations on the piano, Zosia touching his shoulder gently as he turns to stroke her face.
These children are forced to grow up early – and relying on verbal communication has made them advanced for their age where speech is concerned in a world that will remain a mystery to them forever, in many ways. As a result their role-plays become very complex and mature. With sensitive black-and-white images from DoPs Wojciech Staron and Zuzanna Zachara, Fledgings is endearing but never sentimental in showing that the struggle for a non-visual identity is tough but enormously satisfying. An impressive first feature and a special achievement in every way. AS
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE LOCARNO 2022
Dir.: Ery Claver; Cast: Claudia Pacuta, David Caracol, Willi Ribeiro, Liu Xiubing, Clemente Chimuco; Angola 2022, 98 min.
In the second Angolan feature screening at this year’s LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL writer/director Ery Claver envelopes magic realism into a labyrinthine tale involving a trio of turbulent lives in the chaotic capital of Luanda. .
In this metaphor of modern times, one middle-aged woman is having a particularly hard time. In the former glory of her rambling home where he husband Bessa (Caracol) is languishing in bed with a raging fever, Domingas (Pacuta) is trying to fix a hole in the roof while mourning the recent loss of her daughter Mariana, who stills visits her in dreams. A spiritual healer has brought Domingas some hope by suggesting a shower in the bathroom might in some way help. A prologue sheds some light on the couple who are well respected members of the ruling party. Their regular meetings take place in a half-finished stadium with stands are full of shirts and trousers, rather than actual people.
Bessa is introduced by Chimuco (Chimuco) to other local luminaries, and it soon becomes clear that something is not right: their party leader is nervous, and Bessa interrupts his speech in a move he will later regret. Meanwhile, Chinese mall owner Zhang Wei (Xiubing) has imported a job lot of statues of the Virgin Mary (which glow in the dark) in the hope of making a killing amongst those who believe in her lucky powers. A third narrative strand involves Zoyo (Ribeiro), a young dreamer desperate to track down a close friend who was also in love with Mariana. Zoyo disregards his friend Zhang Wei’s advice, and steals some petrol to make a Molotov Cocktail. But where will he throw the finished article?
DoP Eduardo Kropotkine deserves the lion share of the praise with his muted domestic scenes, lively outdoor images and spectacular shots in the stadium which convey the three different levels of this divided society. Even in Angola Politicians seem to live in another world, with their staff fighting for the left-overs on the buffet in this depressing but only to familiar story brought to the screen with great style and artfulness. AS
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | CONCORSO CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE
Douglas Sirk’s entire and prodigious output is the focus of this year’s 75th RETROSPECTIVE at Locarno Film Festival, thirty five years after his death. Along with documentaries and television features centred on his features, previously unpublished documents from the archive of the Cinematheque Suisse will offer audiences a fresh look at a filmmaker much admired by the French New Wave along with Bernardo Bertolucci, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Todd Haynes.
Douglas Sirk (1897-1987) started life as Detlef Sierck in Berlin (UFA), spending his early years in his parents’ native Denmark and Hamburg before emigrating via France to Los Angeles just before the Second World War, spending his final years in Ticino, Switzerland where he died in Lugano.
Shockproof @Columbia Pictures | All Rights Reserved
Fêted for his florid anti-realist Hollywood melodramas of the 1950s such as Magnificent Obsession (1954),All that Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1955), A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958) and Imitation of Life (1959). His early features, a feature debut April, April!(1935), Pillars of Society (1935) and the Venice Golden Lion nominated Zu neuen Ufern (1936) were birds of a different feather and throwbacks to his time in Germany and early experience in theatre during the Weimar Republic before fleeing to Hollywood in 1937 where his first film was a Nazi themed thriller Hitler’s Madmanin 1943 followed by a film noir Summer Storm starring George Sanders in 1944. A year after that came the first of his melodramas All I Desire (1953) in his initial collaboration with Barbara Stanwyck. Rock Hudson was a Sirk regular along with George Sanders. Sirk also experimented with the western genre with some success in Taza, Son of Cochise in 1954.
Hitler’s Madman @copyright Locarno Film Festival
After returning to Europe Sirk settled in Switzerland, working again for the theatre in Germany and teaching at the Munich-based Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen (HFFM), where he supervised the completion of three short films.
A Scandal in Paris (1946)
Scandal is based on the autobiography of Francois Eugene Vidocq, erstwhile criminal who became the Police Chief of Paris. Adapted by Ellis St. Joseph, Vidocq tries his best to camouflage his real past: His father was a wealthy man, and probably the first victim of his criminal son.
In 1775, we meet Vidocq (Sanders) and his sidekick Emile (Tamiroff) on the verge of fleeing prison with the help of a file hidden in a cake. Vidocq is soon made a lieutenant in the French army, a perfect foil for stealing jewellery from wealthy women who fall under his spell. Next on the list is the chanteuse Loretta de Richet (Landis), who is married to the Chief of Police (Lockhart). After successfully completing his assignment, Vidocq sets his eyes on the de Pierremont family jewels owned by the Marquise de Pierremont (Kruger) and her daughter Therese (Hasso). But having trousered the gems, Vidocq changes tack, the master thief not only ‘solves’ the case, but also ‘recovers’ the jewels, becoming Richet’s successor, a move that will give him access to the vault of the Paris Bank. Events culminate in a deadly struggle at a merry-go-round in the woodlands, the exact same place where Therese revealed she knew everything about Vidocq’s shady past.
DoP Eugen Schuftan (1983-1977), a legend would go on to shoot Eyes Without a Face(1960) and early Hitchcock features, goes uncredited, with Guy Rose getting the only camerawork mention. Schuftan gives the feature a decisively European look reminiscent of Max Ophuls’ pre-war fare. Hans Eisler’s score echoes this arrestingly stylish look and Hungarian born producer Emeric Pressburger makes up the team whose roots were cultured in the old continent before the rise of fascism.
George Sanders is brilliant as the ambivalent anti-hero, the same goes for Carole Landis who, in one of her scenes as a chanteuse, very much impersonates Marlene Dietrich in Der Blaue Engel. But, alas both actors had a string of unhappy relationships and would go on to commit suicide: Landis in 1948 at the age of twenty-nine and Sanders in 1972, plagued by dementia and depression. Signe Hasso on the other hand never lived up to her billing as Greta Garbo’s successor, living a long and happy life, mainly starring in TV commercials.
Fellow émigré director Edgar Ulmer mentioned Scandal‘s sublime quality unique to Sirk’s oeuvre, that lends an ethereal touch to this romantic drama with is exquisite costumes by Norma (Koch). @Andre Simonoveisz
One of Sirk’s lesser-known films is this sleek potboiler made when he was working as an upmarket director for hire, George Sanders was still dapper and debonair (cheerfully admitting to being “an unmitigated cad”) and Lucille Ball a brittle wisecracking dame used as bait to catch a mass murderer known as the ‘Poet-Killer’ due to his habit of leaving quotes by Eugene Baudelaire.
Sirk recalled the film fondly, acknowledging the contributions of designer Nicolai Remisoff and cameraman William Daniels in creating a typical Hollywood London entirely on the soundstage.
The supporting cast recalls the days when Hollywood was awash with talent, hence the fleeting presence in supporting roles of top ghouls Boris Karloff and dear old George Zucco; all concerned to be enjoying themselves, especially the latter, visibly relishing the fact that he’s playing a comic copper in a bowler hat rather than the usual mad doctor. @RichardChatten
@Universal Pictures/Park Circus | All Rights Reserved
Magnificent Obsession (1954)
Douglas Sirk’s 1959 remake of Imitation of Life was a masterpiece that transformed the thirties original. Five years earlier Magnificent Obsessionset the ball rolling – complete with biblical references and pianos and heavenly choirs on the soundtrack – it parodies the original rather than transcends it.
The warm and sympathetic Jane Wyman (described by other members of the cast as a “girl”) is always a pleasure to watch, however, and both she and it glows in Technicolor; with Russell Metty’s photography showing early evidence of the high contrast gloss he would perfect in his later teamings with Sirk. @RichardChatten
All that Heaven Allows (1955) @Universal Pictures/Park Circus | All Rights Reserved
All That Heaven Allows (1955)
Following their success in Magnificent Obsession Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson were re-teamed in this glossy Technicolor romance set in rural New England.
To be commended for acknowledging that middle-aged women still harboured passions, Miss Wyman plays a widow who shocks friends and family by announcing her intention to marry a young hunk in a lumberjack shirt.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder encountered similar disapproval when he fell in love with a North African Arab and used Sirk’s film as the basis of Fear Eats the Soul. @RichardChatten
Barbara Stanwyck and Fred McMurray are reunited over a decade after Double Indemnity in this soulful drama that had already been made in 1934 by Edward Sloman. Sirk’s version is based on the novel by Ursula Parrot, who had ten of her books adapted for the Hollywood screen and There’s Always Tomorrow, as subversive as anything shot in the dream factory of the 1950s, is sadly often neglected.
Metty’s grainy black-and-white photography, his expressionistic use of angles, are one highlight of this feature, but let’s not forget Ursula Parrot, the came up with the story. Apart from being extremely successful, she was also quite a tearaway. In 1943, at the age of 43, she went off with a soldier who was about to be locked up for narcotic offences, right under the nose of the Military Police. Later released on bail, when cross-examined, she claimed to have “acted on impulse, and anyhow, the soldier in question was a damn good guitar player”. Somehow, it makes sense that Sirk, another outsider in Hollywood, should be the one to bring her work onto the screen. @Andre Simonoveisz
DOUGLAS SIRK RETROSPECTIVE | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022
Dir.: Jeff Rutherford; Cast: Charlie Plummer, Jeb Berrier, Oellis Levine, Connor Brenes; USA 2022, 95 min.
A father and son come together to mull over their failing relationship in this meditative rather inconclusive first feature from US filmmaker Jeff Rutherford’s. Partly Nebraska, partly Beckett,A Perfect Day is also eye candy: the gleaming black-and-white images of DoP Alfonso Herrera Salcedo, masterfully transferred on a 4:3 format ratio, are a joy to behold.
Herman (Berrier), a man in his early sixties, has come to the end of the road, and has decided to end things, but not before leaving a message for his estranged son Nate (Plummer), at which point the phone rings and Nate asks to see him. The two, both unemployed, meet with Nate’s seven- year old son Ralph (Levine) in one of those large US cemeteries that stretch out endlessly. It has emerged, from the now abandoned message, that Herman’s father died in a drowning accident and Herman’s brother jumped to his death from a bridge. Herman’s partner Tracey has recently left him, and Nate is disenchanted with his wife Sandy, having recently discovered that Ralph is not his biological son. In short, both men feel let down by the women in their life.
Meanwhile, Ralph – “who is not right in the head” – according to his father, wanders off into the surrounding countryside, and, suddenly aware of his disappearance the two men panic and an organised search gets underway during which time Herman narrowly avoids being shot by a woman with a gun. Nate starts a confessional monologue revealing how he would like to see both Sandy and Ralph dead. Not that he wants Ralph to suffer, but he feels more animosity towards Sandy for the way she diminishes him with her derisory comments: “She always laughs about my plans, even when I say I want to be a “weatherman”. Quick insert of Nate trying his hand at forecasting on the TV.
Plummer and Berrier are outstanding as the odd couple – they are clearly meant for each other, even though Nate makes a big deal of telling his father “I am different from you”. Nate is emotionally intelligent and fully aware of his marital shortcomings: “Sandy and me are bad versions of ourselves”. With the wild landscape playing the part of the third main character, A Perfect Day for Caribouis a sombre reminder of how male self-pity can often lead to violence against women and children. The dry humour barely conceals the serious implications. A commendable debut. AS
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | Concorso Cineasti del Presente
Dir: Ann Oren | Cast: Simone Bucio, Sebastian Rudolph | Germany, drama 86′
A game of willpower and discipline sees a young women transform herself – with alarming results – in this stylish arthouse drama from German director and visual artist Ann Oren, competing for the Golden Leopard at this year’s Locarno Film festival 2022.
Sharing script duties with Thais Guisasola, Oren brings her skill as a visual artist to bear in this unique piece of filmmaking driven forward by its distinctive soundscape and pristine cinematic allure captured by Carlos Vasquez’ camerawork.
The shy main character Eva (Bucio) is forced to take on her sister Zara’s job as a Foley artist when she suffers some sort of nervous collapse. Replicating the accurate sound of horse hooves trotting on the spot in the famous “Piaffe” manoeuvre – along with those recreating training and dressage positions – is no mean feat, and physically quite exhausting for Eva as she struggles to make the soundtrack for a commercial featuring a horse. But then something weird happens: Eva actually starts growing a horse tail – complete with coarse, dark hair – that luckily matches her own shade of chestnut. And somehow her newfound excrescence gives her considerable agency, allowing her to turn her love life around.
Oren has certainly created a curio: her inspired plot line and acute attention to detail is laudable, certainly qualifying her for a pole position as one of this year’s most original and intriguing arthouse features in the main competition. MT
Dir: Sylvie Verheyde | Cast: Flavie Delangle, Marina Fois, Benjamin Biolay | France, Romantic drama 110′
A dizzy iconic soundtrack captures the glories of first love and life in the six form in this frisky and freewheeling feature from France’s Sylvie Verheyde. Stella in Love is a cinematic breath of fresh air, and just the kind of film to get the Golden Leopard Competition rocking at Locarno Film Festival’s annual lakeside jamboree.
Not happy at being back at school for her final year after her blissful beach holiday with the girls, seventeen-year-old Stella (a laconic Flavie Delangle – who also narrates) is still reeling from the euphoria of sun, sea and sex. Lost in the reverie of nights with her Italian boyfriend – a first – the return to normality has come as a shock to the system, not to mention the autumn chill in Paris where irreverence is the name of the game. Her mother and father have split, the teacher is boring her with his views on Marxism, or was is Marxist Leninism? Who cares when you can drift off and dream of your lover and swimming in the Med.
In a haze of cigarette smoke and red lipstick Stella – often rocking a chic black cashmere beret – navigates problems at home, a furious feud with her mother (a feisty Marina Fois) a neon-bathed bittersweet birthday party with the gang, life on the breadline, and the shock revelation that her father (Benjamin Biolay at his most louche) has a new baby son. Then she meets Andre.
Stylishly sashaying from night clubs to the stark light of reality, the stress of final exams and working part-time in a bar, there are quieter moments too: secrets shared and thoughts revealed with her best friend Gladys. Christmas spent mooching with her sour-faced mum and the Easter holidays on horseback on a wild, windswept coast. Verheyde has come a long way since her directorial debut A Brother in 1997, and she certainly captures the mood with Stella in Love, reuniting her with the heroine of her third feature Stella (2008). Now at the top of her game Verheyde certainly knows how to make a romantic drama – and this is one of her best. MT
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | GOLDEN LEOPARD COMPETITION.
Heritage and traditional values threaten to disrupt the life of a single mother newly arrived in Zurich in this straightforward but solid debut feature from Swiss writer director Caterina Mona.
Semret feels like any other trans-cultural drama with its focus on how past trauma affects first generation immigrants trying to make a better life for their families in Europe. Writing and directing, Mona explores how these values can hold back the next generation, impinging on their freedom of choice.
Semret lives a modest and socially repressed life in Zurich where she clings to her more progressive teenage daughter Joe (Tekleab). Training to be a midwife at a teaching hospital in the Swiss German capital certainly has its challenges: And Semret struggles with the new language and a different culture, not to mention the emotional baggage she has brought with her from Etritrea. The arrival of hospital porter and fellow Eritrean Yemane (Teclebrhan) is certainly welcome at first. But this new relationship also forces Semret to face her own demons, or risk becoming a social recluse. And like many mothers all over the world, she has very mixed feelings about Joe’s friendship with Yemane’s teenage son Tesheme (Mengstab).
Although there are no surprises on the cinematic front, Mona tackles this no-frills feature with confidence, unpacking the various aspects of the immigration experience with insight and maturity. Supported by an impressive cast – many of them newcomers – Semret is a promising start from the Swiss filmmaker. MT
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | PIAZZA GRANDE 2022 | LEOPARDS OF TOMORROW
Dir.: Joao Pedro Rodriguez, Joao Rui Guerra Da Mata; Cast: Isabel Ruth; Portugal/France 2022; 88 min.
Portuguese filmmakers Joao Pedro Rodriguez and Joao Guerra Da Mata – best known for their memorable titles The Last Time I saw Macao and The Ornithologist – one again join forces to research locations for Paulo Rocha’s The Green Years which heralded Portugal’s Cinema Novo in the early 1960s.
After a promising start the directors lose their audience – to a certain degree – by assuming that everyone has an in-depth knowledge of the Rocha film and the intricacies of Lisbon’s geography and history, both prerequisites for really appreciating their latest offering.
Isabel Ruth, who played the female lead of Illda in Rocha’s 1963 drama, returns to the locations with the same passionate energy, singing and dancing throughout. The director’s grandfather designed the modernist home where Da Mata and Rodriguez reflect on Rocha shooting scenes with Julio and Illda holding hands for the first time in the rolling landscape of a nearby park which provides the setting for this languorous if reductive love letter to Lisbon.
DoPs Rui Pocas and Lisa Persson capture the essence of the place with lingering long shots. Time has moved on but the derelict buildings, now fallen into disrepair, are redolent of the glory days. Shot between 2019 and 2021 and spilling into the pandemic; public radio announcements warn of the dangers requiring the wearing of masks.
Breath-taking images of an iron bridge and a tower are certainly impressive – and we wait, in vain, for connections to the Rocha film. Instead, we get shots of deserted offices and flats. To drive the message home a placard No 215 bills the Green Years, but then no action follows for No 171 of the current documentary. At the end, Ruth dashes on to the street, singing and dancing, four cars encircling her like as if closing in on their prey. Overall, for any outsider, Where is this Street feels rather disappointing. A tempting taste of the past that could have offered so much more. AS
A slim but evocative portrait of post traumatic disorder from first time feature director Bianca Lucas, one of a group of filmmakers who were the first generation of Bela Tarr’s film.factory in Sarajevo. Essentially a one-hander Love Dog sees a Texas oil rig work retreat to his Mississippi origins suffering from emotional and physical pain after the death of his girlfriend.
Once again the animal kingdom comes to the rescue. Although the main character, played by John Dicks – who also co-writes – at first rejects the one-legged dog who will keep him company (along with copious fags and alcohol) during his house-sitting, by the end the two will become inseparable, a testament to the healing power of our canine companions.
A freewheeling, impressionistic narrative sees the man’s mood range from catatonia to utter desperation as he rages against a system that has left him high and dry without motivation or meaning in his life, as he perpetually seeks answers to questions and searches his soul for inspiring ideas that will kick start his future. MT
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE 2022
Dir.: Carlos Conceicao; Cast: Joao Arrais, Anabela Moreira; Gustavo Sumpta, Leonor Silvera, Ule Balde, Meiriulo Mendes; Portugal/Angola/France; 120 min.
Angolan writer/director Carlos Conceicao delves into the bitter Colonial history of his country in this magic realist feature set in 1974, during the final year of Portuguese rule in Angola. With enchanting camerawork from DoP Vasco Viana, Conceicao lulls us into an alluring rhythm of seductive serenity despite the gruelling nature of the subject matter.
The struggle for freedom has been a painful and long-fought battle, particularly for the innocent bystanders caught up in civil war. Conceicao establishes the violent ambience in the opening scenes set in a small village where an Angolan tribal girl Tchissola (Balde) is given an amulet depicting the Virgin Mary by a Portuguese nun (Silveira). In return Tchissola sets out to bring repay her kindness in a journey curtailed by a Portuguese soldier who prays before making love to her, only to shoot her in a seemingly motiveless attack. Meanwhile, the nun is set upon by rebels, shooting into the air with their titular guns.
The action then shifts to a walled encampment where seven disgruntled soldiers are barracked along with their presiding sadistic colonel (Sumpta) who has fostered a hostile atmosphere amongst the men by ordering one of the group, Ze (Arrais) to shoot Prata (Mendes), the cook and food provider of the camp, suspecting him of being a traitor. Ze gains promotion and is granted a wish. Asking to visit his mother again but we later find out that he does not even known her name and is possibly the victim of abduction, his request an attempt to escape.
The young soldiers are bored and frustrated with being cooped up in the confines of the camp so they swim out into the lake where they find a picture of a young blonde woman, which they hang up in one of the dilapidated buildings. Wising up the mood of frustration the Colonel brings Apolonia (Moreira) a sex worker into the camp, but when Ze is too rough with her the woman tries to escape with tragic consequences for all concerned in the surrealist finale.
The irony of the conflict sequences often collides with the grim reality, but Conceicao handles these contradictions with consummate ease managing to keen the audience on tenterhooks throughout the film’s generous running time. Boosted by brilliant performances from its ensemble cast Tommy Guns is a unique and impressive film reflecting a horrifying episode from Angola’s turbulent past. AS
Not since Gaspar Noe’s 2002 thriller Irreversible has a rape scene been so violent as pictured in this police thriller from Patricia Mazuy. The French director is no stranger to Locarno Film Festival. In 1993 she won a Bronze Leopard for an episode in the TV series Tous les Garcons et les Filles de Leurs Age.
Saturn Bowling sees her return to the lakeside competition with a moody and viciously violent police thriller that channels the savagery of the wild into a shocking story of misogyny, murder and mutilation in the suburbs of Paris.
Arieh Worthalter is mesmerising as Guillaume the police detective in the midst of the mayhem. It leaves him no time to run the bowling ring and men’s dining club – with its extensive library of horrifying hunting themed videos – he has just inherited from his late father. Romance is also on the cards with an animal behaviourist (Lucas) who is helping with the investigation. But leaving the management of his club to his troubled half brother Armand (Reggiani) is a decision he will live to regret. No sooner has his back turned than things start to go wrong. Meanwhile, women are being menaced and murdered left right and centre, and Guillaume is getting nowhere with the investigation.
Of course, from early brutal scenes we all know who is responsible, but will they be stopped in their tracks?. Mazuy keeps the tension bubbling away with her regular co-writer Yves Thomas. Simon Beaufils does the rest, seting the tone with his neon-infused visuals, keeping things dark and mysterious, accompanied by an evocative occasional score from composer trio Wyatt E, Sebastian Landauer and Stephane Rondia. A captivating modern day thriller from another female French director at the top of her game who is not afraid to tell it like it really is. MT
Dir.: Acacio de Almeida, Marie Carré; Cast: Oscar Cruz, Sabel Ruth, Luis Miguel; Portugal 2022, 67 min.
Portuguese directors Acacio de Almeida and Marie Carré expand their short but poignant essay on light and film into a full length feature, a poetic love letter to Portuguese cinema and romance with spectacular sequences of space.
A VoiceOver by camera man Oscar (Cruz) explains: “The main link is between all forms of light, but particularly the film camera”. Light illuminates the central character in every film. “The face of an actor is also a luminous point, full of emotions and feelings”. Bruno Ganz, Ornella Muti, Joaquim de Almeida and Marie Trintignant have all been illuminated for eternity. But, there are dangers too: Silver nitrate can ignite and obliterate everything in voracious flames.
Cinema is also a kind of jail, images are captured and locked down for eternity. It bears testament to the class struggle down the ages with archive footage of demonstrations in Oporto, during the 1974 Portuguese revolution. In a filmic obituary of Maria Cabal (1941-2017), the Anna Karina of Portuguese cinema, we see her in a dressing room, looking into a mirror, alongside excerpts of her films – a young ingénue and an old woman.
Oscar asks: what could light be if it does not reflect us? He also muses on the stars leaving messages of their death. Maria Cabal, in one of her most famous roles as Illda, reflected “The objects in film are imprisoned images. Films and settings belong to each for ever, places undergo transformations, the time of a film is a moment frozen in eternity, it will never exist again but remain in the memory for those who shared the experience”. Cabal appears again, as Illda, with Oscar observing: “We are composed of light, are an intrinsic piece of light.
The ending is rather grim: a piece of celluloid is held against a candle, Oscar talks about how “Man has invented light, which can destroy the whole planet in seconds. Light gives light, but also kills life.” All this in stark contrast to a long rural love scene where the man licks the breasts of his lover with milk just milked from a lamb.
Imaginative and always full of surprises, Love-Lights is a delight that never outstays its 60 odd minute welcome as a concise compendium of Portuguese cinema, with excerpts from films by Botellho, Villaverde, Gil, Monteiro and Paula Rocha among others. A worthwhile experience. AS
Dir: Michele Vanucci | Cast: Alessandro Borghi, Luigi Lo Cascio, Marius Bizau, Emilia Scarpati Fanetti | Drama Italy, 105′
Italy’s Po Delta is the setting for this atmospheric river bound Western based on a vendetta between local fishermen and poachers. Delta is a powerful feature arousing strong emotions based on racial prejudice and the desperation of those trying to escape the past or survive the privations of a future in poverty.
This impressive second feature for Italian director Michele Vanucci follows Osso (Lo Cascio) a well-meaning volunteer working to save the river from overfishing at the hands of the Florians, a family on the run from Eastern Europe who are now plundering the river’s rich fish stocks flouting local bylaws introduced in the 1980s to protect fishing rights.
The Florians have joined forces with baleful petty criminal Elia (Borghi), now back in town after living abroad. Osso and Elio go back a long way and share a bitter history. Elio had a relationship with Osso’s ex-wife Anna (Scarpati Fanetti) and is still in love with her. But however hostile Elio and his gang become in maintaining their position, Osso is not going to back down on an issue close to his heart.
Creating a palpable sense of place in this region of murky mists and rich heritage, Vanucci weaves into the narrative original archive footage and photos of traditional fisherman going about their business to illustrate the intensity of feeling the river and its wildlife hold for local inhabitants.
Overwhelmed by blind violence, the two rivals will face each other in the fog of the Delta as their internecine struggle intensifies in this compelling and original feature echoing the gritty style of Giuseppe De Santis and driven forward by passionate performances from Italian star duo Alessandro Borghi and Luigi Lo Cascio. MT
Dir: Alessandro Comodin | Cast: Pier Luigi Mecchia, Ezio Massarutto, Annaluisi Ferrari | Drama 104′
A silly argument gets out of control in the open scenes of this absurd dark docu-comedy from Venetian filmmaker Alessandro Comedian. What it all boils down to is the petty small-mindedness of everyday life in the rural village of Malafesta (Veneto) where the police spend the days justifying their existence, pursuing every line of inquiry no matter how trivial: a car parked the wrong way up a side street, a dog with an usual bark is about as exciting as it gets.
Nothing escapes the attention of inspector Pier Luigi (Gigi), a baffoonish local police officer in a sleepy backwater where nothing ever happens. All kitted out with his gun, handcuffs and truncheon the balding Gigi is desperate to see some action. Every incident – no matter how minor – gets a full investigation at the hands of this middle-aged meddler as he patrols the empty streets and byways, sneaking a cheeky cigarette, or occasionally flirting with young switchboard operator Paola (in his distinctive local accent) or shooting the breeze with some colleague or passerby on the subject of sex, or some romantic hit on the radio.
But his plans to seduce Paola over a homemade risotto are suddenly derailed when a girl throws herself under a train – possibly due to sheer boredom. And this is not the first time. Facing this unexplainable suicide wave, Gigi starts investigating a strange world, between reality and fantasy, where a garden turns into a jungle and where a sleazy policeman’s prime focus is on investigating affairs of the heart.
After The Summer of Giacomo, winner of the Golden Leopard at the Locarno FilmFestival, Alessandro Comodin returns with a picaresque comic documentary inspiredly by the rhythmic dialectic poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini. MT
Dir.: Alexandr Sokurov; Cast: Igor Gromov, Vakhtang Kuchava, Lothar Deeg, Tim Ettelt, Fabio Mastrangelo, Alexander Sagabashi, Muchael Gibson, Pascal Slivansky; Russia/Belgium 2022, 78 min.
“You strangled Satan, passion bearer, with the godly strings of your suffering” M22 K, 4-4
Russian writer/director Alexandr Sokurov has been a thorn in the side of the Stalinist authorities throughout his film career that started in the early 1970s and is still raging on with this latest opus, a compelling curio competing in the main competition at this year’s 75th celebration of Locarno International Film festival. Fairy Tale was originally due to be shown at Cannes in May 2022 after ducking the boycott on Russian directors, but Sokurov later changed his mind. Apparently the organisers “could not handle a feature uncommon in the world”, which is “far more complicated than some festivals need”. Sokurov also is quoted as saying: “the organisers in Cannes are afraid to show such things”. Others claim the master was miffed that A Bird Searches for a Cage (directed by his protégé Malika Musaeva) had not made it into this year’s competition on the French Riviera.
Fairy Taleopens with a New Testament quote: “You strangled Satan, passion bearer, with the godly strings of your suffering”. What follows is as enigmatic as it is opaque. Against a black & white backcloth, specially designed by Sokurov, animated figures of Churchill (Sagabashi, Gibson), Hitler (Deeg, Ettelt), Mussolini (Mastrangelo) and Stalin (Kuchava) meander along in a landscape – which could be hell or heaven – the Supreme Force (Gromov) directing proceedings to a certain degree, whilst Napoleon Bonaparte (Slivansky) makes a guest appearance.
Some of these world leaders seem preoccupied with the scent of their peers; Hitler, sniffing Stalin, asks “Are you a Caucasian Jew?” Hitler goes on grumbling, “even here, in paradise, they pummel Germans”. Napoleon makes an appearance, and Hitler tries to deceive the assemble, claiming he had conquered Moscow and lived in the Kremlin. Churchill is convinced “Mussolini is sort of an oddball”. Later we will see the Duce’s body, along with that of his lover Clara Petacci, in rather gruesome circumstances. Hitler is angry with himself: “Why did I not burn down Paris?”. He also reflects on his possible marriage to Wagner’s niece. Churchill meanwhile talks of resistance, we see the image of a Lamborghini. Stalin advises Hitler, “you should join the Bolsheviks, we will knock some sense in you.” Hitler then grows sentimental “I love you all”. Churchill remarks “You can Google me”. Churchill is also happy “that he talked to God alone”.
In a colour sequence we witness the masses passing the Moscow grandstands at the fabled First of May parade, set to the tones of Strauss. Churchill again meets God and tells him “I will try. They should all be coming soon”. Mussolini wails: “Where is my Clara?”. Hitler quails in his boots when Jesus reappears. Churchill tells Hitler to forget about Wagner’s niece, “Eva is still better”. Hitler promised everyone that the best is still to come, claiming he didn’t make a bad start (!). Stalin sees lilacs everywhere, but Churchill rebukes him “Communists are blind and deaf.” Churchill has another pop at Stalin: “You did not go to your mother’s funeral”. Stalin meekly responds: “I was away”.
Following Moloch, Taurus and The Sun, biopics of Lenin, Hitler and Hirohito and his 2015 feature Francofonia , Sokurov applies the same individual treatment for the leaders of WWII. They are reduced to ordinary citizens, complaining and trying to be correct their misjudgments in hindsight. But there is nothing heroic about any of them, on the contrary, they are petty and vengeful. Reduced to an everyman status, they have lost all the grandeur of their historical status. Now they are ready to be put out to grass.
The production design is awesome, eclipsing even Sokurov’s Faust, black & white somehow adding to the film’s phantasmagorical allure, the elusive characters fusing with the fog, like ghosts reduced to deceptive legends, their heroic personas diminished by the mists of time. Fairy Tale takes no prisoners: there is no middle-ground, and Sokoruv is a brilliant provocateur – his inventiveness never fails to beguiled and bewilder. AS
COMPETING FOR THE GOLDEN LEOPARD AT 75th LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022.
Ventriloquism is explored in this novel and darkly amusing experimental doc hybrid from US documentarian Ross Lipman who traces the phenomenon of ‘throwing voices’ from the oracles of ancient Greece to the spectacle of the modern horror film.
It all starts with a strange one-eyed man who welcomes us into his abode referred to as the ‘psycho ward’ to experience the deepest corners of human mind. The story of puppetry and ventriloquism then unfolds through a consultation between two puppets: psychiatrist Dr Labyrinth and his patient Hugo, interleaved andenlivened by a comprehensive cache of film excerpts and archive footage from the famous ventriloquist stage double acts such as Anthony Hopkins, Karru Mari, Chucky providing a terrifying and comprehensive collage of creepiness that dates back to the 17th century and possibly even earlier.
‘Ventriloquism’ comes from Latin ‘to speak from the belly’ (the Greeks called it nacromancy). Noises from the stomach were thought to be the voices of God that were interpreted by the ventriloquist – forecasting future events
Essentially a two-hander (or a four-stringer) starring Hugo and Dr Labyrinth, the ‘case of the vanishing gods’ is what the puppet psychiatrist refers to as ‘Hugo’s case’. Hugo – a Bronx-accented classical marionette – is suffering from a fear of scissors and frequent memory loss. Dr Labyrinth puts Hugo under a trance where he experiences the most fantastic dream with sybilles or immortal nymphs becoming oracles and connecting us with the spirit world. Hugo then returns the following week for another session and once again is put into a trance, this time the Gods and Sybilles have disappeared and we learn how the 17th saw ventriloquism take shape as a more earthbound mode of communication. But it wasn’t until 1886 when Costa Joe introduced the first ventriloquist dummy to the theatre – Prof Echo brought his dummy Tommy who sang on stage with tunes like Sweet Rose O’Grady and soon the puppets were appearing in silent cinema: Lon Chaney provided the dummy’s voices himself. Then came Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
All this unfolds through the medium of the patient and doctor consultations. Hugo’s memories then become darker and feature clips from the film Dead of Night (1945), Hugo somehow becoming a character friend of Michael Redgrave. Another memory has Hugo reflecting over the comedy duo where a dummy called Caesar actually takes over his ventriloquist, the dynamic dramatically switching and putting servant in control of master.
The third segment develops this sinister strand – the focus is now on puppets taking control of their owners – a worrying trend that has actually come full circle, hinting at the AI robots that are now with us in the 21st century. Meanwhile the Doc takes Hugo into his fourth session which encounters yet another memory featuring a Roubinska puppet who could see things the puppet ventriloquist could not express (“It’s schitzo Doc “).
The film touches on ‘Prophetic transition’ where the puppets become an alter ego helping us to bounce off our ideas and seek guidance for a higher unconscious and possibly unlocking the deep and potent inner resources of the human mind. The imagined puppet sequences in the first act are absolutely enchanting, delicately superimposed on Hugo’s first therapy session with the Doc. What follows is a compact yet immersive odyssey through the history of ventriloquism packing a richly thematic punch in just over a hour. And while the experimental style may not have wide appeal, content-wise Lipman offers an enjoyable dive into the history of this arcane form of entertainment. MT
Dir.: Saeed Taji Farouky; Documentary with Thein Shwe, Hwte Tin, Zin Ko Aung; France/Switzerland/Netherlands/Palestine; 90 min.
The day to day life of a family in the Magway region of Myanmar, home to the largest number of unregulated oil fields, vividly contrasts the past and the present. Myanmar – the former Burma – was once best known for its paddy fields but nowadays farming provides only a minimal income in this shift from agrarian to industrial lifestyle.
Thein Shwe and Hitwe Tin are a married couple who, like thousands of others, followed the oil-rush. now eking out a meagre living from their ‘home-based’ production of less than a barrel day. Even though this is still more profitable than working the fields, the work is just as gruelling and unpredictable. And although rigs are machine-powered: ropes and wheels drive the piston – the operation is controlled manually, like in the 19th century, before drilling became industrialised. And the oil reserves are rapidly running out.
The opening sequence is a flaming blaze of fire setting alight a landscape full of derricks and make-shift huts. Clanging, humming and banging fills the air, mud and oil are everywhere, and humidity makes the work even more arduous with Thein Shwe constantly covered in grime. But the future doesn’t exactly look promising with the parents still doing the manual work, while their three teenage children were supposed to bring financial relief through their education. But they’re not much help on that front. One of the sons Zin Ko Aung still lives at home but is unreliable, having left High School without a degree he’s now drifting between the pass and the future although one of his qualified college friends earns good money as manager of a textile company.
Thein Shwe is highly critical of Zin but realises that the teenager should make the best of his talent for football. The local Soccer Academy coach offers him a place and his parents drive him there. But the Coach then tells Zin “to cut all ties with his family”.
Meanwhile the couple resort to their Buddhist faith and Fortune Tellers who offer a comfort of sorts: Thein Shwe being told not to be greedy. A somewhat scary ritual ‘Feed the Dragon’ is connected to their work environment.
Farouky keeps his distance and even avoids social commentary. What we see is the parents’ abiding love for their offspring – a universal theme that never changes. The old-fashioned 4:3 format creates an intimacy connecting us all with it common threads. Shot by the director with a vibrant colour palette and wonderful night sequences, when absolute peace replaces the clamour of the day, A Thousand Fires is unremarkable but moving just the same. AS
INTERNATIONAL DOC FESTIVAL AMSTERDAM | 17-28 NOVEMBER 2021| Locarno Critics’ Week Winner – Marco Zucchi Award 2021
Dir.: Stefan Jäger; Cast: Maresi Riegner, Max Hubacher, Julia Jentsch, Hannah Herzsprung, Philipp Hauß, Tina Distefano, Aline Distefano, Michael Finger; Germany/Switzerland/Italy 2021, 116 min.
A detailed and rather worthy biography of Austrian avantgarde photographer Hanna Leitner who left her husband and children in 1906 to join the artist colony in Monte Verità, Switzerland before pioneering a counter-cultural movement in Brazil with Henri Oedenkoven (Finger).
Swiss director Stefan Jäger directs Kornelija Narak’s two-handed narrative centring on Hanna’s time at the artist’s colony with flashbacks to her unhappy time in Viennese society at the end of the 19th century.
Marriage to a brutish and rather mediocre photographer Anton was thwarted by his competitiveness and poor bedroom skills, so leaving him for the free-spirited artist colony near Ascona offered release and a creative outlet for the highly-strung and straight-laced Hanna who found much of the behaviour there morally questionable, members often cavorting around in the nude.
Here she meets psychoanalyst and sexual predator Otto Gross, a mentor of Freud, who preys on his female patients (rather like Carl Jung whom he influenced) and falls into a sexual relationship with him while developing her photographic talents.
Life in the Monte Verita is by no means without incident: an exhibition of Leitner’s work is destroyed by fire, and her husband arrives in Ascona with their daughters Helene (T. Distefano) and Marie (A. Distefano) threatening to have her admitted to an asylum when she refuses to go home.
Isadora Duncan, Herman Hesse and the anarchist writer Erich Mühsam (who believed women should be confined to the kitchen) also make an appearance amid the frolicking band of artists who are clearly forerunners of the hippy culture of the 1960s.
Performances lack verve, the actors more suited to theatre than film. DoP Daniela Knapp’s images add flair but are rather on the idealistic side aptly reflecting Narak’s script which is all earnest and learned, but lacks dramatic heft. The whole undertaking is not so much inspired by rebellion, but by academic endeavour. AS
Dir.: Alexander Zelkovich; Cast: Tinatin Dalakisvili, Evgeniy Tsyganov, Evgwnii Kharitonov, Yotam Kushnir, Gay Kelly; Russia 2021, 139 min.
Georgian supermodel Tinatin Dalakisvili – who is constantly taking her clothes off – is the star of this Russian take on Medea a big screen bonkbuster brought down by a clumsy script: Zelkovich uses a confessional to drive the spare narrative forward, laced with some unintentionally awkward home-spun philosophies
Life for the chemistry graduate revolves around her family, kids Misha and Yulia, and their Jewish father Alexei (Tsyganov), a business man who spends most of the time with his lover Nadya and their child.
Keen to escape the strictures of this dual existence, Alexei decides to settle in Israel, and wants to take his lover and the two children with him.But his plans are put on hold by Nadya’s security service agent brother Valera (Kushnir), who has some dirt on Alexei, and wants a big pay-off before he lets his sister and Alexei go.
Valera makes a big mistake when he reveals his plan, and it will cost him his life. Meanwhile in Israel, Alexei soon tires of the mother of his children, falling for his blonde neighbour. But his lust for women doesn’t stop there. An affair with a graffiti artist (Kelly) is next, then a soldier (Kushnir) in the Israeli secret service, who wants to die for the country, will follow. The end is brilliantly executed (like many of the scenes), but the running time is far too generous for what little Zelkovich has to say.
This Medea is a wild opportunist: she endangers her children in a concrete silo, saves their lives when the police give chase to a terrorist, and sets fire to a model on a roof terrace Overwhelming images drown out the threadbare narrative leaving us with eye candy. In trying to be mainstream, Zelkovich has squandered some good ideas. AS
Dir: Aurelia Georges | Cast: Sabine Azema, Lyna Khoudri, Maud Wyler, Laurent Poitrenaux | France, Drama 110′
Inspired by a Wilkie Collins 19th century novel The New Magdalen this female centric drama starring Sabine Azema is transposed to the verdant Vosges region of France, under German occupation during the First World War, where it turns on a case of stolen identity.
The Red Cross are busy recruiting nurses to tend to the war-wounded and Nelie – a poor but educated orphan – decides to join up. There she meets Rose a Swiss Protestant who has lost her family but soon dies in a blast, Nelie quickly assuming her identity in a bid to return to neutral Switzerland
But a letter inRose’s pocket gives Nelie an idea. So she changes her mind soon finding herself in the illustrious household of vicar Julien and his wealthy aunt Madame de Lengwil, a cultured but staunchly Catholic intellectual with strong opinions who ‘Rose’ finds challenging company, particularly when Madame starts to probe deeper into her provenance while also seeing her as the daughter she never had. And when the real Rose reappears during a musical soirée in Madame’s luxurious country house it appears that Nelie’s cover is blown in the tense third act of this gripping social drama
Like his fellow writer and countryman Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins’ ‘Victorian sensation’ novels often focused on complex and secretive domestic relationships, and Aurelia George and her co-writer Maud Ameline capture the fraught female sensibilities that sensitively reflect the mood of anxiety and enigma, elegantly performed by Azema and Khoudri in this classically styled andgracefully-paced drama which bristles with intrigue in showing women at their best – and their most devious. MT
Dir.: Tomasz Wysokinski; Documentary with Jeremaiah Marobyane, Thandi Mbatha, Louisa Mbatha, Ma Mbatha; Poland 2021, 84 min.
Polish director Tomasz Wysokinski spent four years in the shanti Town of Kliptown, Soweto for this labour of love that follows ex-child soldier and civil war commander Jeremaiah Marobyaneon on his search for missing children. “Every sixty minutes a child is lost in South Africa” is the cruel premise of the raw and resonant documentary.
The focus is his search for Angie, kidnapped six months previously from her mother Thandi Mbatha and her family. Jeremaiah sets out on gruelling mission during which he’ll come across, always coming across children exposed to violence on an everyday basis. Soweto is a hotbed of superstition and Satanists are actively kidnapping kids for ritual execution. The members of the local show clear signs of mental disorder: “by day I am a boy, but at night a girl ‘they’ want to use”.
The perpetrators practising exorcism, “taking the genital parts from the babies, like penis and testicles from boys and breasts from girls”. The cult members are convinced that “demon power will give them power to kill”. Meanwhile, Jeremaiah has arrived in the small town of Witbank where he is told that Angie is no longer alive is told, and that the witch doctors have got hold of her. Unperturbed, he pushes on further to Johannesburg, a city “which looks good in the glittering lights from a distance”, but when he arrives we see colonies of children sleeping in the streets. In the borough of Hillbrow, Jeremaiah puts up the poster of Angie, who has a distinct birthmark near her eye. The children, sleeping in boxes on the pavement, go through the rubbish in the day time, often finding the corpses of babies. One shot is particularly disturbing. “The witch doctors crush the babies, mix their blood with herbal medicine and throw them into pots while they are still alive.
Finally, Jeremaiah finds a young woman who has interviewed Angie’s father Mbengeni, who apparently confessed to having abducted his daughter. Undeterred, and walking with the titular angels, Jeremaiah makes his way to meet Mbengeni.
This no-frills documentary is highly disturbing and makes for a grim watch. It shows a South Africa still suffering from abject poverty and dangerous superstition. Jeremiah is well aware that “Apartheid has destroyed South Africa’s people”, causing bitter conflict between the various factions, but the total absence of state intervention points to some serious underlying reason for this discord.
Dir: Mari Alessandrini | Chile, France, Swiss | Drama, 105′
In the rugged windswept remoteness of the Patagonian Pampas a lonely girl vows to avenge the macho menfolk by becoming a gaucho in this deeply sorrowful Western, a feature debut for Mari Alessandrini.
Life is tough for 13 year old Mora (a gentle Lara Tortosa) in the remote community where she lives with her unsupportive Swiss Italian parents, who are ecologists, and younger brother.There don’t seem to be many girls her age so she helps her father grow vegetables and makes friends with some of the animals on long walks across the desiccated landscape full of beetles and armadillos (that she plans to roast) and the occasional condor swirling overhead. Here she meets a Mapuche who gives her a brace of river trout as a gift, her disgruntled vegetarian parents refusing to touch them.
But deep-seated resentment and hostility dogs this outwardly peaceful existence, and it soon emerges that everyone harbours a savage mistrust of their neighbour, a product of the harsh terrain:Mora’s parents seem miserable; brigands plague the locals at night stealing livestock and a beautiful white horsebelongingto Mora’s Mapuche pal – the half-blind Nazareno (Curapil) who offers a vain reward for the recapture of his lifelong ‘friend’.But the horse seems to represent a freedom that the Mora can only dream of. Meanwhile two ludicrous American missionaries fetch up to proselytise and annoy everyone, but are given short shrift by the locals.
Chloe Zhao’s Oscar-winning feature The Rider, clearly inspired Alessandrini although this is a more mournful, enigmatic feature that captures the remoteness of the wild locations, and the essence of the Mapuche, an endangered native of Patagonia and Southern Argentina.
Handling her material with confidence, Alessandrini knowns how to create tension with a lightness of touch in this alienated place at the edge of the world. With a simple score of guitar folk music and some old Italian hits from the Sixties this is a thoughtful and visually evocativeportrait of a troubled community struggling to survive against the odds amidhardship and spiritual discontent. MT
Dir.: Qiu Jionqjiong; Cast: Yi Sicheng, Qiu Zhmin, Song Xuchun, Zhang Zivi; Hong Kong/France 2021, 179 min.
A New Old Play is the debut feature for Chinese writer/director Qui Jionqjiong, best known for his documentaries. A poetic journey through Chinese history in the turbulent years between 1920 to the mid Sixties, this in depth biopic mirrors the tumultuous career of legendary Hong Kong actor and clown Qui Fu (Yi Sicheng).
Shot in exquisite, washed out colours, resembling paintings of the era by DoP Feng Yuchao ‘Robbin’, A New Old Playechoes – aesthetically and contents wise – Theo Angelopoulos’ 1975 feature TheTravelling Players. It’s a complex, self-indulgent but gratifying piece of filmmaking that requires a grasp of modern Chinese history (and the language) to be fully appreciated: Reading subtitles for three hours while taking on board the film’s aesthetic delicacy and rich detail is quite a challenge.
Qui Fu (Yi Sicheng) is called to perform for the King of Hell (a poetic way of describing death), who has sent two guards to accompany him on his journey where Qui recalls his life. It’s 1920, during the last knockings of the Sichuan Dynasty, and army generals will seize political office in a bid to survive.
One of these generals is saved by barber Pocky (Qui Zhmin), who is freed up to found the Sichuan Opera School. The Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek are fighting the Communist forces under Mao Tso-Tung and Qui Fu, an orphaned victim of war and political unrest, is taken on by Pocky as a sort of court jester cum stooge.
After the Communist victory Qui joins a theatre group, the “Army of Culture” serving – as Mao dictates – workers, peasants and soldiers. The ‘Peoples’ Sichuan Theatre’ also agitates to keep citizens out of the Opium dens. But after Mao declares “The great Leap” forward with a rapid programme of industrialisation, the economy collapses, and people are literally left dying in the streets.
By this time Qui has already been married and his second wife (Zhang Zivi) is his own boss in the Propaganda Administration. After losing a baby daughter the couple adopt another child who they discover abandoned on the steps outside their home. Later the birth mother will reclaim the child, giving the pair a pumpkin as a reward. Joy comes with the birth of a son, Ah Hei (Xuchun), who will grows up to join Beijing’s Red Guards after Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” puts students in charge.
But Qui’s career then takes a downturn when is captured and imprisoned in a cowshed by the authorities who consider him an enemy of the people. Seizing the opportunity to her own advantage, his wife goes on stage to condemn her husband, but refuses to endorse the accusations against him, even though she is warned by the government: “Do not let marital relations obscure class contradictions.”
Pocky too, has fallen on hard times, hailed “a reactionary Warlord.” And while Ah Hei tries to make his way back to the capital on a flying broomstick, his father is released and will, when fully rehabilitated, play villains on the stage. Meanwhile Qui’s eventful career sees him once again on his way to Hell where he is brainwashed with a poisoned tea in a tragic denouement. A comprehensive look at the not so glamorous world of the Chinese theatre in the mid 20th century but not for the feint-hearted.
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE OF THE CITIES OF ASCONA AND LOSONE | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021
Dir. Charlotte Colbert | UK, Thriller | 95 minutes.
Charlotte Colbert’s feature debutimagines the horror of surgical mutilation in ways that are strikingly beautiful as well as painfully visceral. Post double mastectomy, a well-known actress seeks healing solitude in the wilderness of the Scottish Highlands only to discover that a fashionable artist (Rupert Everett) and famous film director Eric Hathbourne (Malcolm McDowell) – an echo from the past – are also in residential retreat at the remote forest mansion.
Body horror thrillers are increasingly the domain of women filmmakers: Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or winning Titane is an example, but Rose Glass’s Saint Maud more readily springs to mind with its distinctly British brand of dourness: both films are set in grim locations and deal with creative cancer-stricken heroines.
Veronica Ghent (Alice Krige) is an understandably prickly patient whose artistic ego is struggling with her grisly affliction making it difficult for her to accept the sympathetic ministerings of her likeable nurse Desi (Kota Eberhardt). Travelling up in the Tartan-padded splendour of the night train (The Highland Express?) she clearly wants to be cosseted but prefers the seclusion of a quaint but isolated bothie and makes a rapid retreat there with Lois in tow, in the hope of some much-needed healing. Eschewing her medication (“tramadol is the breakfast of Stars”) through sheer exhaustion she is falls asleep and is transported into a fantasy dreamworld imagining a raging fire in the depths of the night. But the heart of her trauma seems to rest with an incident in her past involving a powerful media mogul (Malcolm MacDowell). Her solitude unearths powerful memories and sets in motion the hope of retribution in the bosky backwater.
A witty sardonic script co-written by Kitty Percy makes this darkly drole as well as mysterious and endlessly beguiling with its imaginative camerawork, Gothic undertones and recurring motifs of bloody sutures and tingling nerves are interwoven as dream sequences in a thriller also steeped in Highland folklore – not to mention the dreaded Scottish play by Shakespeare.
Rather like Jennifer Ehle’s diva in Saint Maud, Veronica is stylish and forthright; red-lipped, be-turbaned in velvet, and bedecked with a fine line in vintage furs. The peace and seclusion of the bothie gradually work wonders on her emotional state as she garners strength in weird and wonderful ways, and her rapport with Desi morphs into something fluid and fascinating in this imaginative first feature. MT
ON RELEASE IN UK CINEMAS FROM 22 JULY 2022 | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021
Swatch First Feature Award SHE WILL by Charlotte Colbert, United Kingdom
Writ/Dir: Lorenz Merz | Switzerland, Fantasy Drama 110
Impressionistic, overlong but strangely captivating Soul of a Beast is an inventive piece of visual storytelling. playing out as a stream of consciousness collage of feelings and sensations and set in and around an upbeat and summery Swiss setting that becomes increasingly apocalyptic.
With its retro Hollywood soundtrack, fashion-conscious freewheeling style and dreamy tonal wooziness this artfully involving close-up experience works well for a while in following the days of its loved-up characters: Corey (Ella Rumpf) and her lovers Joel (Tonatiuh Radzi) and Gabriel (Pablo Caprez) who is looking after his cute kid son and brother from the ditzy drunkardZoe (Luna Wedler) who seems to have drowned in a sea of booze and fags. Her own mother (Lolita Chammah) is keeping an eye on proceedings from a distance. The slow-burning narrative succumbs to aimless longueurs in the second act as the feature dwindles into an imaginatively edited art installation finally building to a tense and violent denouement.
The focus here is the escape from the zoo of two Colombian pumas and a giraffe who are roaming the city wreaking havoc and sustaining and causing injury. As usual the authorities mishandle the crisis, and nature strikes back casting a spell over the central characters as they become vaguely feral and violently inhibited in response to the climate of hostility brought about by the ecological tragedy. Escape to the countryside with Jamie seems the only way out of the mayhem for the vulnerable Gabriel who becomes increasingly confused and is savagely beaten up by the previously blissed out Joel, jealous of his relationship with Corey.
Soul of a Beast is a striking creative compositional fantasy with a perplexing Japanese occasional narration that ultimately outstays its welcome. While brilliantly cinematic and daringly executed this kind of choppy editing is extremely tiring to watch for longer than an hour and a half. Please kill your darlings – less is always more. MT
Pardo for Best Actor Mohamed Mellali and Valero Escolar for SIS DIES CORRENTS (The Odd-Job Men) by Neus Ballús, Spain
Germany and Austria have been brought to their knees after gruelling defeat in the Great War and limp home broken to a decadent Vienna amidst poverty, despair – and a serial killer on the loose – in this stylish noir thriller from Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky.
In the opening scenes a ship glides by laden with dead and mutilated soldiers, the living barely alive against a photographed atmospheric if rather stagey back-cloth of utter devastation setting the scene for a desperate homecoming, only to discover their surviving comrades are being preyed upon by a grisly murderer as the story unfolds.
Wonky German expressionistic framing and a sombre mood creates a jagged-edged rather quaint feeling echoing M by Fritz Lang or even Grimms’ Fairy tales, suffused with Klimt’s Secessionist jewel-like paintings transporting us rather evocatively backto early 1920s Vienna where a mood of mistrust prevails. The background photograph technique works wonders in conjuring up the contrast between doom and the squalid splendour of the Austrian capital. But our war hero Peter Perg (Murathan Muslu) is still haunted by the nightmarish terror of the trenches looming up in dream sequences on the vast wall behind his bed.
Against a climate of anarchy and political unrest brewing in the Vienna’s tea roomsPeter teams up with the Poirot-like Detective Renner (Marc Limpach) and pathologist Theresa Korner (Liv Liese Fries) to try and fathom a motive for the horrific murders– one particularly gruesome corpse has been decapitated and flayed with a cat o nine tails, another pierced with 19 stakes. But the team’s interest focuses on in the iniquitous murder of Perg’s war-wounded comrades Captain Krainer who appears to have been garrotted by the roaming psychopath, and as their investigations widen Peter becomes a victim himself in this evocatively seedy but highly enjoyable murder mystery. MT
Dir/Wri: Aurelie Saada | Cast: Francoise Fabian, Aure Atika, Gregory Montel, Damien Chapelle, Pascal Elbe, Mehdi Nebbou | France Romantic Drama, 102′
Aurelie Saada brings her musical training as a composer to this brilliantly executed and vivacious film about love, family life and second chances.
A crowd-pleasing winner which will particularly resonate with Jewish audiences who will appreciate its finer details, Rose is a riff on Sebastian Lielo’s Berlinale winner Gloria, Francoise Fabian is absolutely magnificent as the grieving widow Rose. Elegant and graceful in her seventy-eighth year the opening scenes see her celebrating a joyous family occasion with her debonair husband (Bernard Murat in cameo) whose subsequent death sends her spiralling into overwhelming grief and confining her to the safety of her comfortable Parisian apartment.
Family and friends offer support but bring their own issues to the party, and this familiar outpouring of collective misery is not always welcome to the person most closely affected, Rose retreating into a world of her own, understanding yet unable to offer guidance or even deal with her three middle-aged children who are all experiencing emotional trauma unconnected to their father’s death. Her daughter Sarah (Aure Atika) is in the final throes of a separation for her straying husband (Mehdi Nebbou); Pierre (Gregory Montel), a doctor with his own marital issues, and Leon (Damien Chapelle) is a prickly man-child in trouble with the law.
In her feature debut Saada brings a maturity and wisdom to this hopeful story with its convincing characterisations and perfectly pitched mise en scene. Francoise Fabian understand her role and strikes just the right balance between vulnerability and self-possession as a woman who has dedicated her life to husband and children but now realises she needs an outside stimulus, and she finds one – quite unexpectedly – in the shape of a local restaurateur (Pascal Elbe) who restores her raison d’être and offers a sympathetic ear at a time when Rose needs it most.
A powerfully emotive score of well known classics and Saada’s own compositions give this soigne romantic drama a potent kick along with Martin De Chabaneix’ lush and sophisticated cinematography. Gracefully paced, smart and highly enjoyable Rose is an upbeat flight of fantasy and a tonic for those looking for a silver lining when family is actually the last thing we need. MT
Dir: Srdjan Dragojevic | Serbia/Croatia/Germany, Fantasy Drama 122′
Miracles colour the lives of Serbians in a post-communist society readapting to Christianity in writer-director Srdjan Dragojevic’s exuberant ‘Wild Eastern’ fantasy melodrama.
Inspired by three short stories from French novelist Marcel Ayme (1902-67), the director brings this visually resplendent, thematically provocative comedy to Locarno’s main competition lineup.
Communism and Christianity are still fighting it out in the post war God-fearing impoverished rural enclave in Serbia where people are bloody but indomitably unbowed, in the first segment of the trilogy. Gun-toting Strojan (Goran Navojec) and his wife Nada (Ksenija Marinkovic) are the combative main characters bolstered by their ebullient village neighbourhood where Strojan is cheating with his next-door neighbour, stray dogs riffle through the rubbish and false teeth are still kept overnight in glasses like something out of the Sixties. Meanwhile inside the immaculately clean 1940s style town hall with its pristine marble tiling, civil rectitude still reigns supreme But whatever he does Strojan can’t get rid of his halo or the vestiges of the past. Meanwhile, in the second narrative strand Gojko is an arch villain seething in prison, awaiting the death penalty when mysterious events may somehow offer him a surprising reprieve. The third story transports us to 2026 where an art gallery curator shows a painting portraying a poignant image of a stray dog which somehow reunites the locals in a collective sense of the healing power of animals.
Heavens Aboveis a lively and imaginative snapshot of the Balkans in the post communist transition period between 1993 and the near future. Classically styled and vibrantlytheatrical, it’s also a gut -punching reflection on the pros and cons of organised religion and political coercion with its ethical and moral strictures, and how they impinge on real life in all its decadent glory reminding us of where we should be heading in this brave new post Covid era. The characters are all convincingly bonkers, but you can’t help but like them. Susan Joksimovic does wonders with his special effects seamlessly dovetailing the surreal into the mundane. Dragojevic certainly has a talent to amuse giving us plenty of bang for our bucks in this incendiary feature. MT
Dir.: Samuel Barbosa; Documentary with Paulo Rocha, Manoel de Oliveira, Isabel Ruth, Marcia Briea; Portugal 2021, 94 min.
Samuel Barbarossa makes his feature debut here as director with this enlightening biopic raising the profile of Portuguese “Cine Nova” director Paulo Rocha (1935-2012) who blazed a trail with his brand of neo-realism in the Sixties and was later known for his rigorously classical films, although sadly neither found much of an audience outside his native Portugal (unlike the more illustrious Manoel de Oliveira – who also gets a look in here with a short interview).
Rocha grew up in Oporto where his close bond with his mother appears to have affected his emotional relationships with other women. After studying Law at the behest of his father, he soon turned to filmmaking enrolling at the famous famous IDHEC (Institute des Hautes Etudes Cinematographique) in Paris, where like many directors before and since he claims to have learnt more from “watching the films of Jean Renoir and Kenzo Mizoguchi than from his academic studies”.
Rocha idealised other male artists such as Manoel de Oliveira, setting him a monument in film with “Cinema de Notre Temps: “Oliveira – L”Architecte” (1993). Another obsession was his fascination with Japan, where he lived for a while. Again, his love of the country is crystalised in a male “Super Ego”: Wenceslau Moraes (1854-1929) to whom Rocha dedicated his 1982 feature A IIha dos Amores. It took him fourteen years to finish the feature set in Japan, not filming anything for over ten years. Rocha abandoned neo-realism and melodrama for a formal, classicist aesthetic. O Desejado(1988), adapted from “Tale of Genji” by the classical author Shikibu, is set in contemporary Portugal, but very much faithful to the original text.
Like Godard (Barbosa has named the production company for his documentary Bando à Parte) Rocha taking his inspiration from newspaper articles. Isabel Ruth and Marcia Briea, who starred in many of Rocha’s features, reports that Rocha went first on location hunting, before he thought about the narrative. “The story grows whilst I visit the locations.”
DoP Jorge Quintela deftly interweaves ‘Talking Heads’ enlivened by informative clips from Rocha’s oeuvre, Barbosa offering a balanced view of the director’s contribution and whetting our appetite to discover more about Rocha’s role in Portuguese Cinema, which has been overly dominated by Manoel De Oliveira. AS
This distinctive existential feature from veteran arthouse filmmaker Ghassan Salhab has a stillness and a slow-burn sense of beauty that relies on sound and atmosphere to convey an enigmatic storyline that holds our attention for a while but is ultimately unsatisfying in the long run.
Essentially a two-hander, beguilingly captured in a series of elegantly framed cinematic long takes the film unfolds in the bosky autumnal settings in the Lebanese mountains where two characters appear trapped in an offscreen war zone that echoes around them as they share an enigmatic almost monosyllabic rapport punctuated by the threat of impending danger. Sudden raucous sound bites puncture the peaceful emptiness of the landscape and the river that runs through it – helicopters buzz overhead, along with occasional bomb blasts.
Clearly Hassan (Ali Suliman) and his girlfriend (Yumna Marwan) feel unsettled as they explore the rocky terrain and a palpable sense of tension gradually builds driven forward by the film’s glowering electronic soundscape, danger seems to emanate from deep underground, where some kind of atavistic force connected to the earth’s core signifies that nature is rebelling against man’s onslaught on its domain.
Yumna Marwan is a hypnotic presence and her feral magnetism captives Hassan. But rather than being put off by their impending danger, it actually fires up their ardour for each other in a physically satisfying encounter that dissipates the tension, for a while at least, as the two explore how their relationship seemed to exist long before they even met. But this encouraging idea is never really develops and the film drifts self-indulgently towards an aimless final half hour. Could The River be a metaphor for the garden of Eden corrupted by man’s onslaught on nature? Salhab leaves his story open to interpretation, but while the film all looks beguiling it doesn’t really reach a conclusion.
In his Cannes Jury Prize winning film Memoria, Apichatpong Weerasethakul takes his time to create an almost parallel universe using sound and atmosphere to convey a potent earthly force reacting to man’s hostile intervention on the earth. But his film language is far richer conveying a deep yet serenely meditative resonance with its far-reaching themes about man’s connection with nature and the spiritual world.
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | In competition | 14.00 on 5 Aug
Exposing deep seated xenophobia with wry humour this comedy drama setin and around the leafy environs of Barcelona takes a fresh and light=hearted look at the world of handymen in Spain’s Cataluna.
Pep and his colleague Valero (Escolar) are put out when a new member joins their team in the shape of Moroccan electrician Mohamed (Mellali). In barely disguised irritation Valero grudgingly complains to his boss but she insists so the three get down to work amid much moaning, Valero determined not to like Moh from day one, as the story follows them through an average week. Not that Moh fares any better with his Moroccan flat mates who are equally racist, mocking the Catalan languages and resenting Moh’s keenness make a better life for himself
Being a handyman to the general public often brings with it an ancillary duty of care which is part of the job and Moh – who has an intelligent grasp of things and is doing well in his Catalan classes – is particularly understanding in this regard accepting that olderpeople are often lonely and need to express themselves – the 100 year old health fanatic is a point in question with his savage mistrust of today’s dietary additives.
Then there’s the naughty little girls who lock the workers out of the house where they trying to upgrade the lightening system, or the Catalan speaking photographer who needs her air–conditioner fixing, Valero using the opportunity to gauchelychat up her models while giving poor Mohamed impromptu dating tips in the process. Moh actually lucks out with the prospect of a lucrative opportunity to pose in adverts with his soulful looks and bristling pecs looking rather like Blazing Saddles’ Cleavon Little). Needless to say the portly Valero is not impressed – realising – clearly he needs to lose weight.
With its naturalistic performances this sharply observational comedy mines a rich vein of humour in consumer bleats and rants about the good old days, shoddy modern workmanship and the downsides of retirement, Pep and Valero by no means always seeing eye to eye but getting with it all the same until they fall out big time.
As the week progresses Dramatic heft comes duringa job for a psychiatrist who manages to get Valero into a full scale argument when asking about the ‘quality’ of his working relationship’ with Moh. Neus provides and entertaining and often ludicrous snapshot of multiculturalism in full swing in modern day Spain. MT
Pardo for Best Actor Mohamed Mellali and Valero Escolar for SIS DIES CORRENTS (The Odd-Job Men) by Neus Ballús, Spain
Dir.: Rob Jabbaz; Cast: Berant Zhu, Regina Lei, Tzu-Chiang Wang, Apple Chen; Taiwan, Horror, 99 min.
In his blood-strewn, scare-mongering first feature Rob Jabbaz imagines a hyper-violent-pandemic re-surging through an exhausted Taiwan as a couple try in vain to find other.
In Taipei, Kat (Lei) and Jim (Zhu) have fallen out over holiday plans to escape the first wave of viral mayhem. They desperately need time out when the Alvin virus is finally under control after a year when the effects on humans were relatively benign. But it’s election year, and the president has relaxed all precautions. The result is total chaos and the male population inexplicably lose their self control in a rampage of murder and rape.
In the tube on her way to work, Kat is accosted by a smart but infected business man (Wang) who morphs into a maniac, poking passenger Molly in the eye, Kat conveying her briskly to the NTU hospital, where the Casualty is predictably closed. Hot on their heels the business man manages to get hold of Molly while a doctor explains to Kat about a weird imbalance of the limbic system responsible for the outbreak of violence. Jim has also been assaulted by a neighbour and wonders whether he will survive the encounter without being infected.
Certainly one for horror fans, The Sadness delivers handsomely on the gore front with graphic images that leave nothing to the imagination. But cleverly Jabbaz always has a rationale at hand, suggesting that this brutality amongst the male population has just been dormant, waiting for the opportunity to erupt. A startling finale brings matters to a satisfying conclusion. Unbridled violence, then, but not of the mindless gratuitous kind. AS
Brotherhood is a male-centric cinema verite portrait that sees religious and paternal dominance colliding with the present in a close-knit Bosnian rural community. Screening in the Filmmakers of the Present competition at thus year’s Locarno Film Festival, this is an impressive feature debut for documentarian Francesco Montagner .
Montagner and his DoP create a real sense of remoteness in the lush bucolic landscapes of deepest Bosnia where the family raise sheep, discuss Islam and still bitterly remember the Serbian conflict. Were it not for their mobile phones it would be difficult to believe that shepherd brothers Jabir, Usama, Useir lived in the modern day. Their traditional farmstead seems cut off from civilisation and their strict Muslim father keeps a draconian control over their lives with a regime of daily prayers. But when he is convicted of a religious crime that will take him away from the family for several years, the three brothers must take over and the family dynamic shifts dramatically with unexpected consequences.
Life carries on as normal for a while as the boys tend to their livestock, the youngest becoming increasingly difficult to handle. The world of Islam is never far away on the internet, and during the long winter evenings by the fire they discuss their faith and download live footage encouraging them to rise up against ‘the infidel’, Islam encroaching on their collective consciousness. Naturally school work and studying runs contrary to everyday life as shepherds, particularly when seeing off wolves seems more important than passing exams. But without their strict father figure to keep them under the cosh, their existence is increasingly threatened. Beautifully captured by Prokop Soucek’s sensitive camera, this is a revealing look at traditional rural life in an Islamic household, even if the ending is rather simplistic. MT
PARDO D’ORO – Cineasti del Presente LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021
The Giants is an Italian-Western Noir set in the famous Casa Flores in Thiesi where men come together to share their grimly nostalgic stories of violence fuelling a party for the doomed.
Stefano (Deffenu) is maudlin: his girl friend has left him with their daughter, and all he gets is a beating by her relatives. Stefano dreams up a great revenge story: he will visit the two women, who live in house near the railway tracks, the mother will not let him into the house, and, left alone with his daughter, he will throw himself under the approaching train. This way, he hopes, the daughter will hate her mother for ever, because she did not let her father into the house. It shows, that Stefano has been an actor once, he even remembers Mayakovski. After Stefano dies overnight, the trio of seven – for a short while two sex workers had joined hem, but fled the violence – becomes even more violent, fuelled by meth and alcohol. Dreams of a great drug deal are certainly wishful thinking. Ricardo (Bombagi), the youngest listens to vinyl records, and seems to be the most adjusted – before he lays into abstruse stories about Stefano’s burial. A foreboding funeral procession passes the house, and enigmatic, repeated shots in a bowling alley, featuring one of the sex workers, are the only times, the outside world intrudes into the Huis clos of self-pity and stories from a violent past. The re-enactment in the house is as bizarre as sadistic.
This is certainly a labour of love by Angius, who revels in a free-for-all re-union, sparing none of his protagonists. They are a motley crew from the outset, only held together by a guilty past. There are not so much twists and turns, but a deterioration of personalities, their desultory behaviour oscillating between drug induced tiredness and ultra-violence. Lacking a certain structure, might be even helpful in this case. Angius shows his protagonists as a lot of regressed children, who should be packed to bed by their mothers. An idiosyncratic original. AS
Petite Solange is a heart-breaking coming-of-age story that desperately wants to be liked. It’s the feature debut of writer and director Axelle Robert Set in Nantes, the feature is slow to develop, and any dramatic developments are far and few between – in spite of a heart breaking story.
Guitar shop owner Antoine (Katerine) and his wife Aurelia (Drucker), an actress, have set their sights set on new horizons after a marriage of twenty years: Antoine has fallen for his attractive assistant Gina (Astor), and Aurelia is seeing another man carefully watched over by her thirteen-year old daughter Solange (Springer), and her brooding twenty-year old brother Romain (Montana-Haroche), who gets all the parental attention.
The divorce means the kids will lose the home they grew up in, and little Solange is not even part of the decision as to where she will live. A loner by nature, does not get much help from her girlfriend Lili (Léon), or distant love-interest Arthur (Ferreira), who is more interested in getting a bargain instrument from Antoine, than in his daughter. Solange is so upset about losing her home she actually tries to commit suicide but her life is saved by cool, intellectually overbearing psychiatrist in the hospital, and she eventually goes home.
Jade Springer gives a memorable performance as Solange in whose unforgettable face and soulful eyes the cruelties of the adult world are reflected. Whilst Axelle Robert quotes Verlaine, she fails to capture the spirit of her compatriots rather maudlin poetry. Instead she ends up with a film that lacks analytical depths or emotional empathy. AS
Dir.: Hleb Papou; Cast: Germano Gentile, Maurizio Bousso, Marco Falaguasta, Sabina Guzzanti; Italy/France 2021, 82 min.
Il Legionario is a first feature for Belorussian born director/co-writer Hleb Papou who fleshes out a simplistic narrative from his award-winning Cannes short film of the same name centring on brothers Daniel and Patrick, of African parentage. Daniel is a policeman with Rome’s Riot Police, Patrick the gang-leader of a group of squatters in a building due for ‘clearance’ by Daniel’s unit.
The director’s sympathy clearly lies with Patrick (Bousso) and his cause, Daniel (Gentile) appears to be on the wrong side of the conflict. Daniel’s wife Tricia is pregnant; the fact that she is white makes Daniel’s position even more complex. The squad leader of his unit is a man called ‘Aquila’ (Falaguasta), who meets with right-wing extremists and expects Daniel to obey his orders when it comes to repossessing the block of flat from the 150 occupiers, who have been offered accommodation in Milano, which they refused. Patrick and Daniel’s mother tries in vain to reconcile the brothers, but in the end, she sides with Patrick, not wanting to leaver her own flat in the block. The fight is bloody, and Patrick threatens to throw himself from the roof. For Daniel, with ‘Aquila’ watching, there will be no more comprises.
Impressive flight scenes between the police and protestors make this a gritty action drama: Gentile’s Daniel is convincing as a man who hesitates, until it is too late. Patrick is a head banger, but still tells his son, that Daniel is one of them, acting as a spy. Passionate and visually spectacular, Papou weaves a violent tapestry, where everyone is caught up in a battle nobody can win. AS
Best Emerging Director Award of the City and Region of Locarno | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021
New artistic director Giona A Nazzaro unveils his first mix of films for the 74th Locarno Film Festival which runs from 4 until 14 August in its luxurious Swiss lakeside location. Locarno is known for its edgy profile and this year will be no different: Films by established auteurs: Abel Ferrara, and Bertrand Mandico will screen alongside an inventive array of undiscovered newcomers in a selection that embraces traditional stories and more experimental avantgarde fare. 17 films from 12 countries having their world premiere in the international competition which promises, as ever, to be eclectic and daring.
Late additions to the party are world premieres: SHE WILL a Scottish-set psychological drama from Franco-British director Charlotte Colbert that centres on a mastectomy and stars Alice Krige, Rupert Everett and Malcolm McDowell, and 100 MINUTES the latest from veteran Russian director Gleb Paniflov who won the Golden Leopard in 1969 and the Golden Bear in 1987. The film’s focus is Alexandr Solzhenitzyn’s literary hero Ivan Denisov Shukhov, in a book that would win him the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The international competition jury comprises US filmmakers Eliza Hittmann and Kevin Jerome Everson, Italian actress Isabella Ferrari, director Philippe Lacote from Ivory Coast, and Portuguese actress Leonor Silveira.
Abel Ferrara’s espionage thriller Zeros And Ones stars Ethan Hawke as an American soldier caught up in an explosion at the Vatican. Srdjan Dragojević’s dark comedy Heavens Aboveexplores the impact of miracles on the lives of three Serbians. Cop Secret is a sexually charged crime caper from Icelandic director Hannes Tor Halldórsson (who also plays in goal for his national football team and saved Lionel Messi’s penalty at the World Cup in 2018). Award-winning Indonesian director Edwin joins the main competition line-up with a comedy satire that sets nature against our macho world: Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash.
The festival’s Filmmakers of the Present strand welcomes a variety of international filmmakers with premieres from Philippines, Chile, Mexico, Tunisia as well as Western Europe.
The star of the show is the massive outdoor venue that is Piazza Grande – seating up to 7500 – the fun will start with Ferdinando Cito Filomarino’s Beckett, Oscar winner Stefan Ruzowitzky’s Hinterland,and US director John Swab’s crime Ida Red, starring Melissa Leo, Frank Grillo and Josh Hartnett.
Concorso internazionale 2021
After Blue (Fr) Dir Bertrand Mandico
Al Naher (Leb/Fr/Ger/Qat) Dir Ghassan Salhab
Espiritu Sagrado (Sp/Fr/Tur) Dir Chema Garcia ibarra
Gerda (Rus) Dir Natalya Kudryashova
I Giganti (It) Dir Bonifacio Angius
A New Old Play (HK/Fr) Dir QIU Jiongjiong
Juju Stories (Nig/Fr) Dirs C.J. “Fiery” Obasi, Abba T. Makama, Michael Omonua
La Place d’une Autre (Fr) Dir Aurelia Georges
Cop Secret (Ice) Dir Hannes Tor Halldórsson
Luzifer (Aust) Dir Peter Brunner
Medea (Rus) Dir Alexander Zeldovich
Heavens Above (Serb/Ger/North Mac/Slo/Cro/Mont/Bos) Dir Srdjan Dragojević
Petite Solange (Fr) Dir Axelle Ropert
Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (Indonesia/Sing/Ger) Dir Edwin
The Odd-Job Men (Sp) Dir Neus Ballus
Soul Of A Beast (Switz) Dir Lorenz Merz
Zeros And Ones (It/Ger/USA) Dir Abel Ferrara
Concorso Cineasti del presente 2021
Actual People (USA) Dir Kit Zauhar
Holy Emy (Gr/Fr/USA) Dir Araceli Lemos
Public Toilet Africa (Ghana) Dir Kofi Ofosu-Yeboah
Brotherhood (Czech/It) Dir Francesco Montagner
Virgin Blue (China) Dir NIU Xiaoyu
Il Legionario (It/Fr) Dir Hleb Papou
Whether The Weather Is Fine Dir Carlo Francisco Manatad
L’Ete L’Eternite (Fr) Dir Emilie Aussel
Mis Hermanos Suenan Despiertos (Chile) Dir Claudia Huaiquimilla
Mostro (Mex) Dir Jose Pablo Escamilla
Niemand ist bei den Kälbern (Ger) Dir Sabrina Sarabi
Shankar’s Fairies (Ind) Dir Irfana Majumdar
Streams (Tun/Lux/Fr) Dir Mehdi Hmili
Wet Sand (Switz/Geo) Dir Elene Naveriani
Zahori (Switz/Arg/Chile/Fr) Dir Mari Alessandrini
Piazza Grande 2021
Beckett (It) Dir Ferdinando Cito Filomarino
Free Guy (USA) Dir Shawn Levy
Heat (USA) Dir Michael Mann
Hinterland (Aust/Lux) Dir Stefan Ruzowitzky
Ida Red (USA) Dir John Swab
Monte Verita (Switz/Aust/Ger) Dir Stefan Jager
National Lampoon’s Animal House (USA) Dir John Landis
Respect (Canada/USA) Dir Liesl Tommy
Rose (Fr) Dir Aurelie Saada
Sing-Keu-Hol (Sinkhole) (South Korea) Dir KIM Ji-hoon
The Alleys (Jor/Egy/Saudi Arabia/Qat) Dir Bassel Ghandour
Dir: Fabrice du Welz | Wri: Roman Protat, Vincent Tavier |
Begian auteur Fabrice du Welz delivers a painterly if predictable paean to first love in his latest psychological thriller that thrilled audiences at Locarno’s 72nd lakeside festival, and is now on Bfiplayer.
Adoration completes his Ardennes trio that started with The Ordeal and followed on with Alleluia. Once again the director uses a ‘folie à deux’ as the premise for a filmic fantasy that rapidly departs from reality. Based on a delusional notion of love, this warped obsession takes over the life of an innocent pubescent boy living with his therapist mother in a remote residential psychiatric hospital. Played by French actor Thomas Gioria (the award-winning star of Xavier Legrand’s Custody (2017), who at still only 14 is proving to be somewhat of a prodigy), Paul is a gentle but rather suggestible boy who relies on the local wildlife for company until he sets eyes on a pre-teen patient in the shape of Fantine Harduin’s delicately-featured but damaged Gloria.
Swept up by her feisty vulnerability, Paul is entranced and determined to get to know her. And despite warnings from the medical staff at his mother’s workplace, he sees Gloria’s desperate bid to escape from the confines of the institution as an exciting game. Once on the run with his new mate, he becomes intoxicated by her manipulative personality and feral beauty, and is determined to serve her needs and wishes even when Gloria leads him into increasingly perilous territory, both emotionally and physically.
Filming in intimate close-up, Manuel Dacosse draws us into this dizzying, dreamlike midsummer fantasy set in the bucolic backdrop of the Ardennes countryside. Our senses are aroused by sounds of bees and the heady scent of lime trees as Paul is bewitched by Gloria’s disingenuous charm and ruthlessness. Confused by his adolescent feelings, he is more than eager to follow these misguided instincts. Meanwhile, we desperately know that this amour fou will damage him forever when it all ends in tears, as it surely will.
Adoration is a fantasy. And a fantasy that slowly morphs into a convincing nightmare skimming over its many plot-holes, as the pair continue their journey into darkness, helped by a series of concerned and well-meaning adults, the authorities seemingly evading them at every turn. In her delusional madness, Gloria sees everybody as a threat, even when they offer food and shelter: the kindly widow played poignantly by Benoit Poelvoorde, and the loved-up couple on a boat (Peter Van den Begin, Charlotte Vandermeersch) whose sexual chemistry helps to ignite Paul’s burgeoning feelings of pubescent lust. And although Paul is able to appreciate their kindness, he is blinded by the power of his overwhelming feelings for Gloria who merely uses him to serve her needs – and it’s an remarkable performance from Harduin who manages to conjure up facial expressions of pure evil for one so young. Gioria’s Paul is a fresh canvas, a pure vessel that holds only kindness and goodwill as it hurtles towards a wild, uncertain fate. MT
Dir.: Lucile Hadzihalilovic | Cast: Max Brebant, Roxanne Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier France/Belgium 2015, 81 min.
Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s memorable debut feature Innocence dealt with a teenage girl in a boarding school. EVOLUTION centres this time on a group of boys on the crest of adolescence. Living a frigid existence by an eerie seashore with their mothers, there are no adult males to be seen. Hadzihalilovic presents a joyless antiseptic world where even the meals of strained seaweed broth appear medicinal rather than satisfying. Cinematographer Manuel Dacosses’s spare and pristine interior visuals give the impression of a wide-scale marine laboratory where a sci-fi experiment is underway and the boys are the victims.
Young Nicolas (Brebant) and his mother (Parmentier) live in this dreary community: their spartan lifestyle is marked by robotic rituals: dinner is always followed by the intake of an inky medicine, which appears to be therapeutic. Somehow Nicolas suspects that something is going on beyond the surface of enforced rigour: he follows his mother to the beach at night, where he observes her writhe in ecstacy with other women. Before he can unravel the mysterious plan, he is sent to a dilapidated early 20th century hospital where some of his friends are also patients. Weird experiments are carried out and one boy disappears completely. Nicolas is befriended by one of the nurses, Stella (Duran), who supplies him with material for his drawings. When the dreadful secret emerges, Stella tries to help Nicolas to escape.
The boys in EVOLUTION have no rights over their bodies, but what emerges is that they are the unwitting victims of some kind of freaky, gender-reversal surgery. The dreamlike atmosphere evokes a past we can not see, but the boys’ dreams suggest they have been taken away from their real families to take part in a medical experiment destined to help mankind’s survival. But dreams and reality are indistinguishable, the underwater scenes suggest more sinister plans are underway: perhaps mankind has to become amphibious to survive. The ghastly hospitals are horror institutions located underground and under the control of the sullen – all female – doctors and nurses. Syringes and scalpels take on a sadistic undertone creating a frightening parallel with medical experiments in Nazi concentration camps.
EVOLUTION haunts and beguiles for just over an hour. Hadzihalilovic and her co-scripter Alante Kavaite (Summer of Sangaile) cleverly keep the tension taught requiring the audience to invest a great deal in the narrative before any salient clues emerge – but even then much remains unexplained and enigmatic; not that EVOLUTION wants to be understood. Part of its allure is this inaccessibility, unsettlingly evoking a world far beyond any genre, it is esoteric and anguished in its unique otherworldliness. Too many films feature repetitive images and schematic self-indulgent narratives: how refreshing to find a true original revealing a totally new world in just 81 minutes. MT
Dir.: Ivana Mladenovic; Cast: Ivanka Mladenovic, Gordana Mladenovic, Modrae Mladenovic, Kosta Mladenovic, Luca Gramic, Anca Pop, Andrei Dinescu; Serbia/Romania 2019, 86 min.
Director/co-writer Ivana Mkadenovic (Soldiers: Story from Ferentari) describes her latest, a fictional autobiography, or docu-fiction hybrid is very much in the vein of this year’s IDFA winner Radiograph of a Family although far more satirical in nature. The past and the present collide in Kladovo, Serbia, near the border to Romania, where Ivana also ‘stars’ as a histrionic millennial jilted by her Romanian lover and suffering the after-affects of PTSD. Her family, friends and former lovers play the other roles.
We first meet Ivana on a train going back home to Serbia for the summer, where we get to experience just how terrible she really is. Freed from her work commitments, she accepts the mayor’s invitation to become the face of a local music festival, and finds herself the latest citizen to be honoured with an award acknowledging the bond of friendship between Serbia and Romania. It just so happens that the Trajan (Friendship) Bridge over the Danube connecting Serbia and Romania, and where Tito and Ceausescu once famously met, is also in Kladovo, on the Serbian side, adding all sorts of bilateral connotations to the narrative, along with the generational conflicts.
Far from triumphant, Ivana’s return puts the cat amongst the pigeons on all front , escalated by her fragile state of mind. To make matters even worse (or somehow better, as it turns out), Ivana’s relationship with a much younger guy is soon the talk of the town (the general consensus being that she should settle down and start a family), but this gossip soon confers a kind of celebrity status on the petulant woman, her erratic behaviour becoming par for the course. Her behaviour certainly challenges social stereotypes in the traditional community. And the arrival of Ivana’s friend (portrayed by Romanian-Canadian singer-songwriter Anca Pop – to whose memory the film is dedicated) is a another game-changer, further enhancing her bad-girl status in the village, and there is much consternation among the old-fashioned local womenfolk when an offer to have their private parts form the basis of a local sculpture is not well-received, to say the least.
Eventually Ivana gets a lift with Anca and Andrei back to Bucharest, stopping on the way to listen to some poets reading on the Friendship bridge. Another dimension to this (un)happy merry-go-round comes in the shape of a story from the Second World War when over a thousand Jews came to Kladovo where they were to be escorted by boat to the safety of Palestine. But the ship never came, and the Jews lost their lives during the ensuing Nazi occupation of the town. MT
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 highlyenjoyable 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
Dir.: Kristof Bilsen; Doc with Chutimon Sonsirichai (Pomm), Elisabeth Röhmer, Maya Gloor, Walter Gloor; Belgium 2019, 82 min.
People are living longer but not always enjoying a healthy or happy old age in Western Europe. Kristof Bilsen tackles the alarming truths behind our care home crisis in his heart-breaking documentarythat sees a Swiss family sending their mother across the world to live out her final years with perfect strangers.
But before you jump to condemn them, just consider this. Many Thai women come to the UK each year to enjoy the benefits of our strong economy that allows them to make a living by offering their unique talents as masseuses and alternative health professionals. Their kids are left with their extended families back in the East, and see their mothers only one or twice a year. Meanwhile UK care homes charge extortionate amounts of money just for bed and board ( BUPA charge a basic £100,o00 per annum in central London), while bosses cream off the profits and pay their care staff a pittance. Many of them are not trained carers, and are unable to communicate adequately with older residents due to their poor English skills. Often they have little aptitude or interest in their badly paid jobs. It’s a critical situation that seems to indicate that this Swiss family could be doing their mother a favour, and even saving her money, into the bargain.
In Thailand, Pomm looks after Alzheimers patients from German-speaking countries in the Baan Kamlangchay hospice near Chiang-Mai. Her own three children are looked after by her husband and extended family. She too is badly paid but infinitely more compassionate, working an eight hour shift, with another job to make ends meet, her relationship with her husband is strained.
In this tranquil sanctuary, Swiss citizen Elisabeth Röhmer is in the final stages of Alzheimers, but Pomm remembers when she loved to do the crossword and helped the carers learn English. After Elisabeth’s death, Pomm will be responsible for Maya, a mother of three from Zofingen in Switzerland. Her husband Walter and three daughters Joyce, Sara and Tanya are struggling to find suitable care for grandma Maya, so the clinic in Thailand seems the best solution. ”It would be selfish to keep her here so we could see her all the time. She gets much better care in Thailand”. And this true because Maya, like Elisabeth before her, will have three carers working round the clock.
Once she arrives with her family in Thailand Maya takes time to settle down in her new environment, awoken by exotic birdsong on her first morning. She is clearly not as happy about the move as the Gloor family would have us believe as they share their last Christmas together far from home. On a boat trip, they discuss how to say goodbye to Maya. Super 8 mm family films show a younger Maya in happier times. Back home in Switzerland, the Gloors Skype Maya who is still affected by their departure but adapting to her new circumstances.
So is there such a difference between East and West? Clearly in the Far East there is far more respect for adults, their wisdom and experience is highly valued both by the family and society as a whole. This extends to the process of dying as we saw in Locarno winner MRS FANG. It seems like a double whammy when elderly members of the family lose their dignity and need our care and patience while they remain critical, controlling and difficult, as in the case with dread diseases such as Alzheimers. Their dehumanisation process is disorientating, their loss of dignity strangely infantalises them in the eyes of those who once looked up to them and respected their seniority. We expect to look after our kids, but not our parents. And England has now become a child-centric culture, where children have become the objects of desire, admiration and wonder. Rather than wise elders we puts the young on a pedestal, as was seen recently in the case of Swedish teen, Greta Thunberg.
Bilsen remains objective in his fascinating and thought-provoking film, Pomm reflecting that her job has shown her the difference between rich and poor. Really? Maya has three care givers because the Swiss family can afford it, yet the carers in both countries are badly paid. The difference is that over here in the UK the care is poor even when you throw money at it; clearly compassion cannot be bought and that is reflected back in the attitude we have regarding the elderly, who also are our elders. Pomm wonders (as do we all) what will happen to her if she becomes a victim of Alzheimers. Who will care for her? All over the world we are relying on others to care for our loved ones because we are too busy looking after ourselves. MT
LOCARNO WORLD PREMIERE | AVAILABLE ON VOD ITUNES, AMAZON & GOOGLE | 11 JANUARY 2021
It you are bored with the daily grind of working from home in these tedious Covid times then spare a thought for Filipino domestic workers in the Far and Middle East.In this startling expose of modern slavery that brings us up to speed on the acceptable ways of serving lunch to a Singaporean lady, or cleaning a lavatory in a Dubai household, there are some shocking revelations, tears and sadness for these young women who are often 0ver-worked and badly treated by their employers. But their training instructors urge them: “Never cry in front of your boss, it’s a sign of weakness and Filipinos are not weak”.
Overseas is the sophomore documentary of South Korea’s Yoon Sung-a, and makes for compelling viewing although it often lingers too long on each repetitive scene. There has been a long tradition of employing Filipino workers and these women are often treated as members of the family throughout Europe. But Yoon concentrates on those destined for the Middle and Far East where the working conditions are considerably more harsh, and employment laws less kind. Clearly the financial incentives to work abroad are worthwhile and makes sense, despite the hardships. Working mothers in the Far East are fully accustomed to leaving their kids with members of their own family while they pursue the financial incentives available overseas in order to provide a home of their own when they finally return retire.
Some of the workers are lucky, but many are made to work long hours in poor conditions: one girl talks of sleeping on the kitchen floor and being woken at 5am to start her day; another was constantly given orders even while eating her meals. There is also talk of sexual abuse in a household in the Middle East.
Overseas resonates with Davide Maldi’s recent feature The Apprentice that examines the service industry in Italy and the ongoing attitudes of those employed in the sector, while Lila Aviles has explored the life of a hotel worker in Mexico City in her darkly amusing, award-winning film The Chambermaid (2018). Throughout the Europe domestic workers are more in demand than ever with middle class families paying to having help at home – both parents are often out working and their adult (working) offspring are still in residence. In the Far and Middle East the class system is more rigidly in place but times are changing and these domestic workers are justifiably become more dissatisfied with their lot. These girls are caught in the crosswinds of change.
Yoon adopts a quietly observational approach to demonstrate how the collective experience of these women is broadly negative – yet is at pains to show that they are individuals rather than just a collective mass known for their placid and obedient nature. MT
NOW ON VOD PLATFORMS
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | COMPETITION | 7-17 AUGUST 2019
The healing power of nature offers therapy for a young man recovering from cancer in this quietly fascinating second feature by Maya Kosa and Sergio Costa.
Antonin (played by an actor) has retreated to Bird Island’s Ornithological Rehabilitation Centre in Genthod in Geneva where he gradually recuperates by helping injured birds to get back on their own feet before being released into the wild. The docudrama shows how rats bred to feed the birds of prey ironically become predators themselves when several escape into the aviary injuring their feathered friends who are then put down.
A series of slow static camera shots taken from a distance and in intimate close-up combine with a subtle palette of earthy greens and blues and an ambient soundscape make this restful and calming film despite its leisurely pacing. This is also the affect it has on Antonin himself who drifts into a comatose state while watching Paul go about his business which involves killing a rat. At one point Antonin actually falls asleep on one of the work counters, in another he literally falls like a felled tree when walking across a field.
Some scenes may upset those uncomfortable with dissection and animal euthanasia (we watch a bird slowly succumbing to chemical death) and this lends a unsettling touch to this increasingly surreal documentary that drifts into the realms of soulful philosophy in considering our own fragility as humans beings in the context of these delicate yet highly evolved and intelligent creatures. MT
Dir.: Elsa Kremser, Levin Peter; Documentary with voice over by Alexey Serebryakov; Germany/Austria 2019, 91 min.
Writers/directors and producers Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter cobble together a rather meaningless documentary featuring long shots of rather scruffy dogs on Moscow’s contemporary streets. Making up more than seventy minutes of the running time, the seemingly unstructured images are edited in an unsatisfactory montage with clips from USSR spacecraft history, with a focus on experiments with dogs and turtles. The combination of the two central strands is rather tenuous, and a pretentious voiceover by Alexey Serebryakov is not always helpful.
Laika was found roaming the streets of Moscow where she was captured and sent into Space, never to return. In November 1957 she started her journey, circling the earth, before dying. In contrast, the US Space programme used a chimpanzee, captured in Cameroon, and named Number 65. He survived his journey but found himself back on Earth in a zoo in Washington DC where he was lonely having got used to human company. Number 65 died overweight and of liver failure. To bring the message home, we are shown a couple of humans in Moscow dressing a chimpanzee called ‘Buh’ like a waiter, for a performance in a nightclub. More clips from the USSR Space programme show returning dogs having an ECG and being comforted by the female medical staff. More up to date clips show dogs savagely killing a toy cat, the voice-over extolling their heroism. When two turtles approach a dog, we are informed the pair were supposed to be the first creatures from Earth, orbiting the moon. But the Soviet space capsule drifted from its calculated course, and the turtles floated through space, “hopefully finding a new world in another universe”. It all culminates with cute puppies in front of their rather ramshackle den. Above them a nightingale sings, but its warning is too late: humans put poisoned meat in front of the puppies’ den.
The mythical comments do not fit the images of the rather ordinary, scruffy dogs whose surroundings are squalid, to say the least. DoP Yunus Roy Imer succeeds in makingmodern Moscow look like a provincial town on its last legs – not just the dogs. The directors’ premise is vague. What are they trying to establish: Animal cruelty? Animal bravery? A missed opportunity. AS
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
Dir/Wri: Pedro Costa | Cast: Ventura, Vitalina Varela, Tito Furtado Portugal Drama 104mins
Drenched in profoundly mannered grief, Pedro Costa’s tortuously paced HORSE MONEY (CAVALO DINHEIRO) is a magnificent monument and/or an egregious folly, demonstrating the Portuguese director’s expertise in arresting compositions as well as the decidedly acquired taste of his opaque minimalism. Starring Costa’s regular protagonist Ventura, a charismatically stalwart, mononymic Cape Verdian, the film won Best Director at LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL’s 67th edition and is now playing in the Journey Through History strand at this year’s celebration (viewable online via MUBI).
Though German Expressionism might be an unlikely source of inspiration for Costa, there’s more than a touch of Robert Weine’s THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919) about his latest feature, which before anything else seems to entrap its listless characters in harsh quadrants of chiaroscuro lighting, with ominously shadowy depths encroaching from the extreme edges of frame. Cinematographer Leonardo Simões employs wide-angled lenses and canting horizons to distort the film’s claustrophobic interiors into a nightmarish grid of dilapidating geometry. It’s as if the very axes of the earth shifted a long time ago—and people are only now adjusting.
Also like CALIGARI, HORSE MONEY is set for large portions of its narrative in a medical centre, unfolding as a succession of dreamily purgatorial fragments that suggest a kind of hallucinatory hotchpotch of somnambulant trauma. Ventura is one of only a few patients left at this half-abandoned outpost, being treated for a nervous disease after being badly beaten by soldiers sent in to displace him and others from the Cape Verde settlement of Fontainhas decades previously (forgoing traditional drama, Costa presumably assumes his audience is familiar with the real-life history so obliquely referenced here). Claiming he’s 19 years and 3 months old, Ventura may or may not be a reliable narrator: one consequence of state violence is, apparently, the aggressive onset of senility—which of course benefits a state eager to bury its colonial guilt.
Our visibly shaken hero is visited by ghosts from rosier pasts. This circle of displaced pals posthumously places its trust in Ventura to unshackle memories and preserve the truth. Chief among such friends is Vitalina, a benumbed widow who speaks only in a monotonously stately whisper—as if wary of disturbing sleeping dogs from their slumber. In a concluding sequence, Ventura is confronted by long-suppressed horrors in an elevator—a space he shares with a street performer-like ‘human statue’ dressed as a soldier from the Revolutionary Army. Large parts of this scene arrive intact from ‘Sweet Exorcism’, Costa’s largely insufferable contribution to the typically uneven portmanteau project CENTRO HISTORICO (2012). At least on this occasion we’re given a little more context.
Like the elevator itself, the film as a whole seems reluctant to move forward: though Ventura is eventually discharged from the facility, his mental wounds don’t appear to be healed. In fact, stasis is one of the film’s visual strengths: it opens stunningly, with a series of Jacob Riis photographs. Hereafter, Costa repeatedly shows himself as a potential master of still photography, having his performers pose motionless within absorbingly framed scenarios. Moments such as that in which Ventura walks along a road in his red underpants only to be stopped at a crossroads by armed soldiers and a tank, for example, have such a potency and urgency about them that one can’t help but wonder if the director’s thematic aims would be better served by a stills exhibition.
Until then, we’ll endure these glacial temporalities the Lisboan dares to impose upon us. In passing, we’ll merely note that challenging, politicised cinema doesn’t need to be a challenge to sit through. But at least this pertains to somebody’s idea of a worthwhile artistic experience—which, for any artist wanting to do things her or his own way, is sometimes enough. MICHAEL PATTISON
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | A JOURNEY Reviewed at LOCARNO
Dir.: Jim Jarmusch; Cast: John Lurie, Eszter Balint, Richard Edson, Cecillia Stark; USA 1984, 89 min.
Writer/director Jim Jarmush (*1953) developed his first feature film Stranger than Paradise from an earlier short film project from 1982. It won the Golden Leopard at LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL where it is currently playing in the A Journey Through History strand for the 2020 special edition. It also won the Golden Camera for best first feature at Cannes in 1984 and put Jarmusch on the map of the Indie movement of that era – which also included Aki Kaurismäki, who, known for his lack of lack of dramatic highlights, called Jarmusch “the slowest filmmaker on the planet”. A compliment indeed.
Willie (Lurie) lives the contented life of a full-time loafer in his dilapidated NY bolt-hole. Now and again he meets Eddie (Edson), his soul mate, who shares in Willie’s main ‘activities’: watching American Football and eating junk food, a leisurely existence. Then a tornado hits their idyll: Willie’s cousin Eva (Balint) arrives in the Big Apple on a stopover to Cleveland, where she will visit auntie Lotte (Stark). Whilst Eddie is taken by the charm of their intruder, Willie mostly ignores her, even leaving her out of the cinema visits. But Eva is soon gone, and the ugly flower dress given her by Willie, and thrown into the trash, is all that remains of her.
Eddie and Willie stay on unperturbed, making a living from cheating at poker. After a lucky run, they decide to take an old Dodge for the journey to Cleveland. Auntie Lotte is, in contrast to our duo, hyperactive, and talks non-stop in her Hungarian mother tongue. Willie and Eddie don’t give up in their attempt to impress Eva: taking her to Florida with the intention of enjoying night life and beaches. But neither materialises, and life continues in the same vein as in New York. No beach or highlife, just tedium and cigarettes. Until fate takes over.
Unlike his characters, Jarmusch keeps everything under tight control, using only first takes, his episodic scenes often divided by a black screen and the laconic black-and-white images of Tom DeCillo (who would later direct Living in Oblivion). The original sound heightens the intimacy: we are in the same room as the protagonists, who speak in sound bites, nobody making too much of an effort. This is minimalism in its purest form. John Lurie’s score creates just the right atmosphere for this modern version of ‘Waiting for Godot’.AS
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | A JOURNEY THROUGH HISTORY
Dir. Roberto Rossellini; Writers: Roberto Rossellini, Carlo Lizzani, Sergio Amidei | Cast: Edmund Meschke, Ingetraud Hinze, Ernst Pittschau, Franz- Otto Krüger, Erich Gühne; Germany/Italy/France 1948, 78 min.
Screening in this year’s LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL Journey Through History strand comes this neorealist gem that scooped the Grand Prix and Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1948. With Germany Year Zero Roberto Rossellini completed his war trilogy that started with Rome Open City (1945) and Paisà (1946). Filming kicked off in Berlin in August 1947, and when it came to the interior scenes in Rome later in that autumn, the cast of non-professional actors had to be put on a crash diet as they all looked too well to confer the privations of famine and war. Unlike the two first parts of this trilogy, Germany was shot with back projections of the ruined Berlin. Some critics, amongst them Andre Bazin, considered this step backwards even though the film was generally met with acclaim.
Germany mines the dramatic potential of the post war crisis while avoiding melodrama. It’s a harrowing watch, and we feel for Edmund in the same way as we did for Umberto D in De Sica’s story of survival, several years later. It follows the Köhler family in bombed out Berlin with a focus on twelve-year old Edmund (Meschke) whose father (Pittau) is seriously ill. His older brother Karl Heinz (Krüger) is in hiding, fearful of being arrested for war crimes, and his sister Eva (Hinze) has a hard time keeping the family afloat, Karl Heinz living illegally in their household, without even a ration card. Eva scratches by on a shoestring, managing to avoid prostitution as a means to an end, unlike so many women of that time. Edmund is too young for gainful employment, so child labour is his only option – with limited success.
One day on his way through the bombed city, Edmund meets his old teacher Henning (Gühne) who is still very much a Nazi in his ideology, making use of local kids to work the Black Market with his old Nazi chums. Henning suggests that Edmund kills his father “because only the strong deserve to survive”. Edmund does as he is told and poisons his father, but Henning, afraid that he might be prosecuted, refuses to have any more dealings with the boy and Edmund goes back on the breadline desperate, and now also rejected by his football-playing peers. He watches his father’s body being removed from their house, from a ruined rooftop. But when his sister calls out for him, tragedy ensues.
Rossellini seems to get more and more forgotten in the canon of neorealist directors, but his themes are just as relevant as they ever were, and his style evokes the “pity of war”, as English First World War poet Wilfred Owen put it: “the poetry is in the pity”. French critic Gilles Deleuze echoed this sentiment, just after the Iraq War: ” It seems an apt time to be screening a film such as Roberto Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero as the war in Iraq draws to a close and disputes over the post-war management of the nation take on a disturbing shape. Centring on the experiences of a young German boy wandering the streets of Berlin after Allied liberation, Germany Year Zero escorts us about a city excavated by bombs and missiles – a city constituted almost entirely of rubble. Watching Germany Year Zero while images of Baghdad relentlessly penetrate my living room, I cannot shake off the uneasy feeling that in the ruins of one city I see ghosts of the rubble of the other”.
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | A JOURNEY THROUGH HISTORY
Whit Stilman’s first stab at social satire feels very dated to the modern gaze, yet thirty years ago it much have been ground-breaking with its acerbic insightfulness and lowkey wit the American director making some valid points about class; the workplace and feminism in a preppie Manhattan of the at turn of the 1990s that are still hold true today and Metropolitan set the tone for his brilliant career as a comedy satirist that still continues today with his finely-tooled scriptwriting.
Cinematically uninviting this modern day take on F Scott Fitzgerald takes place in upmarket apartments belonging to a coterie of upper class Manhattanites (the “urban haute bourgeoisie” party circuit).. And it was a masterly debut -convincingly characterised, well-paced and gracefully performed by a cast of new-comers who manage a mannered style with aplomb. He has honed his talent for wit and repartee in the films he has made subsequently: Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco, Damsels in Distress and (particularly) Love & Friendship so let’s hope his upcoming outing Dancing Mood continues the trend.
Metropolitan revolves around timid debutante Audrey (Carolyn Farina) and her love interest falls Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) – who isn’t quite up to her social standing – although she falls for him and their romance provides the dramatic heft of what is essentially a polite chamber piece and won Stilman the Silver Leopard at LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 1990. MT
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:
Chocobar by Lucrecia Martel Argentina / USA / Denmark / Mexico
Zahorí by Marí Alessandrini Switzerland / Argentine / Chile / France
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 August, website 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 SeparationfromLilia 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 TalkAbout Love, by
Dir: Ben Rivers, Anocha Suwichakornpong | Experimental, Drama | UK 97 minutes
Krabi is not just an exotic beach location in Thailand where you can ‘get a massage”, as a one banal Western couple found out. In this offbeat cinema vérité experiment Ben Rivers joins fellow director Anocha Suwichakornpong to explore the landscape and stories within the wider community of this well-known beauty spot rich in Mangrove forests, limestone cliffs and offshore islands.
The meditative often mysterious drama works chronologically, ethnologically and socially, the atmospheric use of sound – whether ambient or man-made – captures and distils the often eerie enigmatic essence of the place in a specific moment in time where the pre-historic, the recent past and the contemporary world collide. Tonally, Rivers conjures up that same resonant serenity and offbeat humour often associated with the Far East in a story that feels very much like that of Hong Sang-soo’s humorous In Another Country (2012).
A Thai filmmaker arrives in the area to research locations. She is escorted by a guide offering insight into local folklore and a chance to discover the area’s more undiscovered corners: remote caves where they come across a wild-haired shaman in a loin-cloth, stoking his glowing campfire. Bizarrely, a film shoot is also taking place nearby jolting us back into reality as the scantily clad actor clocks the shaman, Rivers contrasts this with her trip to the highly commercialised shopping area where every type of cuisine is on offer. Deep in the lush rainforest we meet an octogenarian who has lived his entire life in a wooden house. The farmstead is also home to a humpback pig and cockerels. The news that Krabi has a Biennale of its own plays out against the background of gently flowing water as a group of rowers glides by gigantic cliffs. Another black and white scene features enormous shells and skeletons in a depths of a coastal cave giving the piece at atavistic twist.
It soon turns out that the location scouting filmmaker is researching the town’s cinema that has been shut since 1981; a banner announcing the latest releases “Comming soon!” – is a dusty testament to a cinematic past where screenings ran for 24 hours a day, and were packed full.But her presence seems to be a concern only to the local police, as bats and flocks of birds flit past the ghostlike temples of spiritualism and commerce, and dusk falls in this dreamy backwater. Langourously the strands come together to exert an unsettling pull over us as we muse over this fascinating but rather enigmatic trail of events. Intriguing nonetheless. MT
BFI PLAYER from 20 JULY 2020 | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7 -17 AUGUST 2019
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
Wilful nonchalance comes across as evil in this sophisticated social thriller from Stephane Demoustier based on the script of Acusada by G. Tobal and U. Porra Guardiola and set in the Britanny town of Nantes.
Thee chilling story of modern teenagehood plays out in the stylish family home of Lise Bataille (Guers) – accused of murdering her best friend Flora Dufour – and in courtroom scenes where an intense battle plays out during the murder trial. This is probing stuff and you really have to concentrate hard on the subtitles if you don’t speak fluent French.
16 year old Lisa lives with her parents (Chiara Mastroianni and Roschdy Zem) and has been forced to wear an electronic ankle monitor after the fateful night she spent at Flora’s house. Flora was found savagely stabbed to death around midday the following morning. Lise is the main suspect and the only genetic print on Flora’s body has been traced back her. It also emerges through Lise’s frank confession, that the two purportedly slept together naked in Flora’s single bed, Lise giving her friend oral sex before they fell asleep intoxicated from an evening of drinking during which Lisa had also sucked off a boy called Nathan, an incident filmed on a mobile ‘phone, and produced in court.
This is a psychological thriller that focuses on how the witness comes across, rather than the forensic evidence of the murder. The reaction of Lise’s family, friends and those in the courtroom comes under the spotlight but her parent’s seemingly fraught relationship fails to be fleshed out, leaving us in doubt about their exact feelings for one another, or indeed if they are still together and there is no backstory to inform the aftermath of these crucial details. Meanwhile, Lise appears poker-faced and indifferent throughout, sometimes even given a unsettling stare. It’s a mesmerising performance from newcomer Guers. Both her parents express their surprise at the change in her behaviour, both stating that prior to the tragedy she was an open, pleasant and easygoing daughter. Now they start to questions her motives, as well as her innocence.
The Girl With a Bracelet puts the audience in the role of judge and jury as the rest of the courtroom tends to fade into the background. Anais Demoustier (the director’s sister) is powerful as the prosecuting barrister, and Annie Mercier is also convincing as the experienced defence counsel. But Lise’s supreme confidence and aplomb generates considerable tension for all concerned as we start to question if she’s playing us all along as a killer with no remorse, or really is a complete innocent. When this whodunnit from the court room drama genre, the crucial difference here is attitude rather than evidence. And here we are left pondering how we would anticipate a close family member to react when accused of murder, and whether we’d judge them for their behaviour in court, or give them the justice they deserved. The final scenes reveals all. MT
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.
John Waters was born in 1946 into a well-to-do Catholic family in Baltimore where he was educated privately. But his life’s work was to be far from ‘ordinary’. Nowadays he enjoys cult status in a flourishing 50 year film career that attracts more and more attention, although his last film was made over ten years ago. A Dirty Shame (2004) was not altogether a critical success and was almost a failure at the box-office. Clearly his unusual, offbeat persona attracts his growing fanbase – cineastes who enjoy his ability to shock, appall and repulse. He famously once said “you have to do work that doesn’t just appeal to your mother”. So even his mother must be special.
From an early early age Waters was obsessed with violence and gore and formed deep attachments to a group of friends who would play the characters in his filmic fantasies. The most enduring of these was Glenn Milstead, later known as Divine, who also became his muse, appearing most famously in Multiple Maniacs, and gaining the nickname Prince of Puke. He started directing before he was 20 years old, making Hag in a Black Leather Jacket (1964) and Roman Candles (1966), two short films that also marked the beginning of his partnership with Milstead, who first starred in Mondo Trasho (1969). His breakthrough came in 1972 with Pink Flamingos, a trash manifesto that defined his style, followed by Female Trouble (1974) and Desperate Living (1977). He achieved mainstream success in 1988 with Hairspray, his last collaboration with Divine, who died shortly after filming. He subsequently directed Johnny Depp in Cry-Baby (1990) and made Serial Mom (1994), a blend of his original provocative vision and the genre of political satire. After various stints as an actor, he returned behind the camera with Pecker (1998) and Cecil B. Demented (2000), the latter staring Melanie Griffith and Maggie Gyllenhaal. A Dirty Shame was yet another confirmation of his interest in defying traditional values.
So he provokes and disgusts and doesn’t seem to give a damn, and that’s probably while he is also so popular, particularly as his oeuvre is so difficult to access on DVD, Blu-ray or VOD, and this is clearly one of its biggest draws, human nature being what it is..
In recognition of his edgy, subversiveness and creative eclecticism LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 72nd edition is this year awarding his a PARDO D’ONORE, a retrospective that promises to be ‘irreverent, awkward, desecrating, and irresistible’. The American director, screenwriter and actor will be the star of the screenings of A Dirty Shame and Female Trouble, and the audience will be able to literally smell his films: Polyester will be shown in Odorama – one of the first “olfactory cinema” experiences – exactly as it was in 1981, with scratch cards handed out to viewers before the screening. The audience will have the opportunity to discuss these elements during the customary chat with the filmmaker at Spazio Forum, which is scheduled for the last day of the Festival, August 17.
John Waters selected King Vidor’s Show People (1928) to open Locarno72 last year, with music by Philippe Béran’s Orchestra della Svizzera italiana. Says Waters: “Any movie that pokes fun at Hollywood, that mocks Gloria Swanson’s first films, that features Marion Davies (the most famous “official mistress” in history), that is directed by King Vidor (I’m especially fond of Beyond the Forest and Stella Dallas), that has cameos by Louella Parsons, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, cannot be altogether bad. In fact, it sounds perfect to me.”
John Waters | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 7-17 AUGUST 2019
Dir: Pedro Costa | Cast: Vitalina Varela, Ventura, Manuel Tavares Almeida, Marina Alves Domingues, Francisco Brito, Imidio Monteiro | Portugal 124′
Portuguese director won Best Director in Locarno five years ago with Horse Money. He makes his return with Vitalina Varela a dour and enigmatic portrait of grief that has a certain resonance with his previous Golden Lion winner.
Not helped by a fractured narrative the drama drifts around but certainly looks impressive in Leonardo Simoes’ striking Tourneur-esque chiaroscuro cinematography that enriches the mostly nocturnal setting in a Lisbon backwater. The morose foreground activity of its intense and self-assured heroine (played by Vitalina Varela herself) plays out against a reassuring lowkey background hum of voices and music. It soon emerges that Varela originally fetched up in the capital from the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde Islands after her husband had left her many years previously to return to Lisbon, dying shortly after her arrival in Portugal. But the mystery surrounding her current existence is shrouded in more enigma – she very much embodies the Fado tradition – finding it hard to adapt to her reduced circumstances in Lisbon,, and she clearly regrets leaving. But eventually Varela finds meagre solace in another lost character, a lapsed Christian played by Ventura. Varela holds her own as a series of desultory characters occasionally enter the fray in this spectacular Demi-monde. MT
NOW ON RELEASE | WINNER OF THE GOLDEN LEOPARD and Best Actress Award for Vitalina Varela| LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL
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.
In 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.
In 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.
Dir/Wri: Francois Ozon | Cast: Melvil Poupaud, Denis Menochet, Swann Arlaud, Eric Caravaca, François Marthouret, Aurelie Petit, Amelie Daure, Bernard Verley | Drama, France 137′
François Ozon is known for his satirical wit and his relaxed views on sexuality. His Grand Jury Silver Bear winner By the Grace of God takes on the theme of abuse in the Catholic church and its affects on three men. But no matter how hard-hitting their experiences may be there is always a flinty glint of Ozon’s brand of dry humour peeping though to light the dark clouds of its heroes’ despair.
Grâce à Dieu is based on the real case of Father Bernard Preynat who in 2016 was charged with sexually assaulting around 70 boys in Lyon, François Ozon portrays the victims as mature men but reveals the lifelong wounds they have sustained. At the same time, the film criticises the church’s silence on paedophilia and asks about its complicity. As of January 2019, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin is standing trial for ‘non-denunciation of sexual aggression’.
Ozon casts three actors at the top of their game to play the trio: Melvil Poupaud is Alexandre a wealthy Lyonnais banker who has found success with his wife Marie (Petit) and five kids. He appears to be the one least damaged by the Preyan but when it emerges the priest is still working with kids, Alexandre decides to risk jeopardising his own settled existence and blow the whistle. His parents never gave credence to his feeling back in the day, and are still making light of them, but he goes ahead with a difficult confession to the Catholic authorities. It then turns out that happily married François is the next victim, and Dénis Menochet is less cautious about his confessions, bringing his explosive emotional potential to the part. Perhaps the worst affected is Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud) who claims his whole life has been traumatised by what happened, making it difficult for him to deal parent’s divorce and destroying his ability to connect emotionally with women, and this is played out in some incendiary scenes with his partner (Daure). Gradually others join the cause and we learn how each is struggling with their private demons while creating the self-help organisation ‘La Parole Libérée’ (The Liberated Word) is just the first step.
Some of the confessions are explicit and we’re never quite sure how far Ozon tipping the balance between salaciousness and pure honesty. This is also noticeable with reference to Lyon’s gourmet traditions and fine wine and there are frequent allusions to food which is considered as important as upsetting matter in hand when the men meet up, often leading to amusing non-sequiturs: (“anymore quiche anyone”?).
The magnificent Basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière dominates the impressive opening scene as the Cardinal Barbarin hoists a golden cross over the city, almost as a blessing for what is to come in this meaty, affecting and enjoyable saga that richly chronicles a true story whose implications and repercussions are still unfolding in the present. MT
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 highlyenjoyable drama that really shines a light on some shadowy issues in the home we call ‘broken Britain’ . MT
Dir: Fabrice du Welz | Wri: Roman Protat, Vincent Tavier |
Begian auteur Fabrice du Welz delivers a painterly if predictable paean to first love in his latest psychological thriller that screens out of competition at Locarno’s 72nd lakeside festival.
Adoration completes his Ardennes trio that started with The Ordeal and followed on with Alleluia. Once again the director uses a ‘folie à deux’ as the premise for a filmic fantasy that rapidly departs from reality based on a delusional notion of love as a warped obsession taking over the life of an innocent pubescent boy, who lives with his therapist mother in a remote residential psychiatric hospital. Played by French actor Thomas Gioria, the award-winning star of Xavier Legrand’s Custody (2017), who at still only 14 is proving to be somewhat of a prodigy, Paul is a gentle but rather suggestible boy who relies on the local wildlife for company until he sets eyes on a pre-teen patient in the shape of Fantine Harduin’s delicately-featured but damaged Gloria.
Swept up by her feisty vulnerability, Paul is entranced and determined to get to know her. And despite warnings from the medical staff and his possessive mother, he sees Gloria’s desperate bid to escape from the confines of the institution as an exciting game. Once on the run with his new mate, he becomes intoxicated by her manipulative personality and feral beauty, and is determined to serve her needs and wishes even when Gloria leads him into increasingly perilous territory, both emotionally and physically.
Filming in intimate close-up, Manuel Dacosse draws us into this dizzying, dreamlike midsummer fantasy set in the bucolic backdrop of the Ardennes countryside. Our senses feel aroused by sounds of bees, and and the heady scent of lime trees as Paul is bewitched by Gloria’s disingenuous charm and ruthlessness. Confused by his adolescent feelings, he is more than eager to follow these misguided instincts. Meanwhile, we desperately know that this amour fou will damage him forever when it all ends in tears, as it surely will.
Adoration is a fantasy. And a fantasy that slowly morphs into a nightmare skimming over its many plot-holes, as the pair continue their journey into darkness, helped by a series of concerned and well-meaning adults, the authorities seemingly evading them at every turn. In her delusional madness, Gloria sees everybody as a threat, even when they offer food and shelter: the kindly widow played poignantly by Benoit Poelvoorde, and the loved-up couple on a boat (Peter Van den Begin, Charlotte Vandermeersch) whose sexual chemistry helps to ignite Paul’s burgeoning feelings of pubescent lust. And although Paul is able to appreciate their kindness, he is blinded by the power of his misplaced feelings for Gloria who merely uses him to serve her needs – and it’s an remarkable performance from Harduin who manages to conjure up facial expressions of pure evil for one so young. Gioria’s Paul is an fresh canvas, a pure vessel that holds only kindness and goodwill as it hurtles towards a wild, uncertain fate. MT
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
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 doubtlessfind a cosy nest in the festival circuit. MT
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
Sharipa Urazbayeva’s directorial debut is a re-imagined drama based on reality and takes place in the windswept snowscapes of her homeland.
Stunningly filmed and convincingly performed by a cast of non-pros, Meruert Sabbusinova plays the lead character of Mariam fighting for survival in the remote Kazakh Steppe after her husband disappears and is presumed dead. Zhanash is resolutely a man’s world. Cut off from civilisation and 400 kilometres away from Almaty, her eldest son – who is about 12 – starts to assume his role as the head of the family now his father is gone. Because there is no body, he cannot be officially declared dead.
Mariam has to look after her young children in a home without light or water, running the small-holding and tending the cattle renting from the local farmer. Mariam cannot receive any benefits until her husband’s body is found and so she has to relinquish control over the animals and faces starvation. But providence comes to the rescue and a chance meeting soon improves her life considerably, until the past comes back to reveal how empty her existence was prior to her husband’s disappearance.
Mariam is a disarmingly simple but enjoyable film and Urazbayeva tells the story with minimal dialogue. The director met Sabbusinova via a news story she was working on for a local TV network. After looking for an actress to play the lead, she eventually decided that Sabbusinova was best suited for the part having experienced the lifestyle. Filming took place over a week allowing the crew to convey the harshness of life in this remote location dominated by men. It’s quite shocking to experience the hardships and privations the locals face everyday in a society where women have literally no standing or power to determine their own lives. Talented cinematographer Samat Sharipova captures the wide open spaces of the Steppes allowing us to enter a world that seems so beautiful but also so hostile to those who have to make it their home. MT
Charles Burnett was the daddy of African American cinema, an elder statesman who trailblazed the way forward and influenced many upcoming filmmakers shining a light on Black America and the Deep South where he was born in Mississippi in 1944.
Seven years in the making Killer of Sheep is a gentle, lyrical portrait of a working-class black family living the poverty stricken Watts area of Los Angeles, which was shot for his Masters at UCLA but somehow found its way out winning the FIPRESCI prize at Berlinale in 1981.
Now this elegantly composed film has been restored in gleaming black and white. Burnett wrote the script and acted as his own producer and DoP originally shooting on 16-mms camera himself, and splicing vignettes of family life with equally poignant ones in a sheep abattoir, where the father works in the grim task of killing sheep. And although Stan (Henry G Sanders) is happy with his loving wife (Kaycee Moore), this film is a tender reflection on how a father’s discontent with his job can slowly depress the whole family. Burnett’s daughter is enchanting in the role of their little girl. The moody score is a sublime refection of the times. In one scene she is pictured playing with her toys while innocently singing the words to Philip Bailey’s love song ‘Reasons’ (it was later covered by Earth Wind & Fire). And Burnett’s sympathy for children and animals is reflected in the poetic and peaceful pictures which are also visually striking.
There is no dramatic tension as such, rather, a playing out of various episodes in family life where friends and family also come and go in a laidback breezy way in despite the claustrophobic homes and desolate scenery. Although there is clearly unhappiness there is also a certain philosophical status quo and a pleasing nonchalance to this tale of everyday life that feels natural thanks to a cast of non-pro actors. MT
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | BLACK LIGHT RETRO | 7-17 AUGUST 2019
Dir.: Matjaz Ivanisin; Cast: Bela Ropoa, Margit Gyecsek, Erzebet Ropos, Micka Ropos, Ferenc Rogan, Ilonka Braunstein; Slovenia/Czech Republic 2019, 72 min.
Writer/director Matjaz Ivanisin follows his critically acclaimed documentary Playing Men with a haunting portrait of loss in a small town Slovenia. Adapted from Zdravko Dusa’s short story ‘And That is Exactly How it Was’ Ivanism slowly pieces together the events leading up to the recent demise of a villager in a mystery that plays out like game of Poker, his life story seeping out despite the blank faces and evasiveness of his fellow townsmen.
Ivanisin sets the scene in the slow-burning opening sequences gradually building up a picture of this tight-lipped community: in a community kitchen, meals are prepared in huge thermos flasks which are carefully put into a delivery van. A driver then drops these off at the various different houses. And slowly they are taken in – all apart from one household. Not long after a local woman knocks at the door of the house in question and her suspicions are aroused when she gets no answer. Dropping round at the pub to see what gives, she raised the alarm and several men trudge round to the house to make further enquiries.
This is a remote and close-knit village where news travels fast, and soon we see a body being removed from the house. It later emerges that Oroslan had a son and he starts to share his grief with the others revealing more information about his father’s private life with a woman called Irwanka, who could have become his stepmother. “But I made sure that they could not marry, and my father never forgave me”. More and more seeps out: his father’s alcoholism and epileptic fits. A neighbouring woman tells the story about Oroslan passing out one day after a fit, and waking up to imagine himself in Heaven, because the woman was wearing white. Anecdotes and more snippets of information gradually seep out about his work and love life. Poignantly, an Alsatian waits outside the old man’s house waiting ruefully for his return.
Oroslan is brief but affecting despite its compact running time, certainly living up to the title of the short story: in just seventy-two minutes, a whole life is captured. Gregor Bozic’s grainy 16mm camera sketches out the intimate character of the narrative. Bold and sensitive, this is a little gem. AS
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 femme.
Sadly Baird and Berger are no longer with us. The sad ending is that she died tragically in a car accident just after the film was made. MT
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | BLACK LIGHT RETROSPECTIVE | 7-17 AUGUST 2019
Basil da Cunha is back with a woozily haunting realist revenge drama of Lisbon low-lifes in the badass backwaters of Reboleira. What starts as a roaming review of this close-knit community made up of a cast of locals and non-actors, gradually gets under the skin of its despicable central character Spira. Recently released from a remand home with a string of crimes ‘as long as your arm’, he has gone back to the house he shares with his father’s girlfriend. The area is being bulldozed, and the locals are slowly losing their ramshackle homes in the hope of being re-housed by money from the EU. But they still desperately hold on to their old possessions (even lavatories and toasters). And once darkness falls they continue to rant and rage with each other while partying and drinking the night away.
Although da Cunha has upper his game since 2013, once again, we are back in After the Night territory, musing over the rights and wrongs of this Creole slum – the women desperately trying to keep the families together while the men have the upper hand and often resort to petty crime to make a living. And da Cunha lays the blame on government cut-backs – and they are clearly not pulling their weight as far as public services are concerned – but that does not mean people should break the law according to Spira’s flirty step-mother who is keen to keep him on the straight and narrow with her ‘crime doesn’t pay’ diatribe – but she’s gradually losing the battle. Spira sees himself as head of the household despite being only 18 and incapable of even fetching her two young children from school. To make matters worse he has no time to make an honest living, he’s too busy hanging with his friends Chandi and drug-dealing Giovani.
Gradually a sketchy plot emerges from the party-fuelled storyline: Spira’s arch rival and gang-leader Kikas is far from pleased to see him back in the ‘hood, particularly since Spira has torched his car, for no apparent reason other than boredom. So Kikas wacks him over the head with some piping demanding he pay for his misdemeanour, but Spira has other ideas. Meanwhile, he’s falling in love with another lost soul in the shape of teenage mother Lara (Lara Cristina Cardoso).
Da Cunha and his Dop Rui Xavier create alluring images amid the pitiful slums of this squalid part of Portugal’s capital city where the glittering nightscapes seem magical in contrast with the poverty. A sombre organ score often elevates this drama despite its sordid subject-matter. Even the affair between Spira and Lara resonates with a palpable chemistry. Their love is a thing of beauty, like a diamond in the dust. But despite this often mesmerising makeover, you just can’t like these people. MT
Dir: Gordon Parks Jr | Writer: Philip Fenty | Cast: Ron O’Neal, Carl Lee, Sheila Frazier, Julius W Harris, Charles McGregor, Nate Adams, Polly Niles
An absolute peach of a film that takes you right back to ’70s New York where Gordon Parks Jr followed in the footsteps of his father Gordon (Shaft) to make one of the best of the early 1970s blaxploitation films.
His debut, a gritty cinema verite crime thriller sees the morally questionable coke-dealing snake-Jason Priest (O’Neal), who carries his supplies in a crucifix, and swings round New York in his swaggering saloon car, rocking a full length fur coat and leather trousers.
Rough editing and uneven performances from an infusion of real actors and newcomers gives this film an authenticity that really stands out as a cult classic. If you get a chance to see it on the big screen, grab it because it captures days when NY really felt edgy and dangerous. The look and lingo of the era is what makes this feel real in all its glory, along with a louche score sung and performed by Curtis Mayfield. There is one sinuous scene where Jason;s lovemaking with his girlfriend (Sheila Frazier) skilfully morphs into a street brawl between two dudish dealers.
The characters even call each other “nigger” as a term of brotherly recognition. Although the film was picketed by blacks on the grounds of its ‘glorification of drug-pushers’. Parks Jnr made only four films before being killed in a plane crash on his way to a shoot. A phenomenal film and a hundred times better than the 2018 remake – this is the real deal. And the only time you use the word “cool”.MT
ON Amazon | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | BLACK LIGHT RETROSPECTIVE
Dir: Joao Nicolau | Miguel Lobo Antunes | Portugal/France | Drama 112mins
Joao Nicolau’s musical bittersweet tragedy could be described as the sentimental swan song of a technophobe – quite literally. It witnesses the slow death of a salesman, but this Willy Loman is defiantly not going to give up without a struggle. Luis Rovisco (Lobo Antunes) is an endearing old buffer who is nearing retirement after dedicating his life to one company. His marriage is over so a paperback book keeps him company on lonely nights on the road, when he’s not bursting into impromptu bouts of song at every opportunity.
Naturally, he suffers the usual aches and pains of late middle age. And rather like Victor Meldrew he finds technology challenging to say the least: bank codes and car-parking barriers often get the better of him. But he’s no fool when it comes to dealing with old-fashioned paperwork and his verbal dexterity and negotiating skills serve him well and could run rings around many a digital native when it comes to servicing his clients.
Newcomer Miguel Lobo Antunes throws himself into the role with gusto and is totally unselfconscious in this inventive musical hybrid – which takes a bit of getting used to, and may not appeal to everyone with its slightly 1970s look. Although the film is overlong, Nicolau’s characterisation keeps us engaged because Luis feels like a real person – he may even be someone you know. His natural joie de vivre and charisma is infectious as the story wears on, Luis embodying the ideal salesman with his positive manner. And when he meets up again with a previous flame in the shape of a rather reluctant Lucinda (Luisa Cruz), who works in one of his regular haunts romance may even be on the cards again: If he can close any sale, let’s hope it’s this one. MT
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | COMPETITION | 7 -17 AUGUST 2019
Dir: Isaac Julien | Writers: Isaac Julien, Mark Nash | Doc, UK 70′
Franz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask is one of the most important films about Martinique and racial identity, along with Euzhan Palcy’s Rue Cases Nègres (1985). And here in Locarno 72 to present a re-master of the poetic film essay is its British film-maker Isaac Julien.
Julien co-wrote this vibrant, collage-style biopic that explores the life and work of psychoanalytic theorist Franz Fanon (1925-1961), who emerges a controversial and restless figure as remembered by those who knew him. Born in Martinique, he was educated in Paris then worked in Algeria, where he felt he could make most impact with his psychoanalysis during the 1950s. His life’s work was to support the anti-colonial struggle and those suffering from its repercussions, but he sadly died of leukaemia in his thirties before publication of his most famous book, The Wretched of the Earth, which became an indispensable study tool during 1960s.
This documentary-drama hybrid is really brought to life by British actor Colin Salmon who is rather too suave, tall and good-looking to be like the man himself, although we get the gist of Fanon’s charisma in these colourful vignettes where he appears in various dapper outfits, stoking a pose and glaring suitably. And there are the usual talking heads, mostly intellectuals, and his brother
There’s a bit of poetic licence when we see Fanon (Salmon) removing the chains from a mental patient in one of Algeria’s psychiatric hospitals where sallow-skinned, emaciated men peer out of their grim existence. No doubt this serves as a metaphor for him unburdening their souls. And this is what Fanon was all about. The bitter conflict takes up the lion’s share of the shortish feature and Julien offers up fascinating black and white archive footage of street battles during the War of Independence. The rest of the film wades through rather dense intellectual debate as to the various definitions of racism as seen by gay men, women and arch feminists – and this comes across as rather complex, and depends from which angle you approach it as to whether it makes any sense. Fanon himself married a white woman but another woman, identifying as a feminist, claims that Fanon regarded black women who were attracted to white men as, by definition, ‘victims of the slave mentality’.
Fanon had some fascinating and quite revealing ideas about the veil which he expounds by illustrating how, in Algeria, veiled women often carried guns and grenades to their male counterparts during the war, without attracting suspicion. And these women where regarded as “beyond reproach”. That certainly resonates now decades later with the war on terrorism.
Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask does reveal some important issues although some of his ideas and perhaps his untimely death precluded his exploring further and resolving some of the more complex and controversial matters he highlights, such as colonialism being made up of “visual experiences, ‘the gaze that appropriates and depersonalises”. But this is also the case with the gender debate that is still raging and is part of our experience as humans. As a gay filmmaker Julien comments on the white man’s desire for the black man’s body. But this is also true of the white (heterosexual) woman for the dark male. This is not racism but merely sexual preference. Don’t opposites attract? An engrossing and fascinating film. MT
BLACK LIGHT RETROSPECTIVE | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 AUGUST 2019
Dir: Patrick Vollrath | Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Carlo Kitzlinger | Drama 92, Germany/Austria
The last time we experienced a cockpit journey of this intensity was when Tom Hardy drove down the motorway in Steven Knight’s Locke back in 2013. This time Joseph Gordon Levitt is in the hot-seat as the co-pilot of a plane taken over by terrorists. 7500 is the feature debut of German director Patrick Vollrath whose Everything Will Be Ok was nominated for an Oscar in 2016. And although this claustrophobic 90 minute highjack rollercoaster takes off with great gusto it gradually loses momentum, eventually cruising into the doldrums, unlike the heart-thumping Locke. To make matters worse the terrorists are presented as a force for evil rather than real flesh and blood human beings, their personalities ironed out and never really explored. That said 7500 looks very polished and slick and will certainly be a popular choice for those seeking late night thrills as it comes down to land on Amazon TV – its final destination sometime in early 2020 – If it ever gets there. MT
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | COMPETITION | 7-17 AUGUST 2019
Dir.: Marcel Camus; Cast: Bruno Melo, Marpressa Dawn, Lea Garcia, Lourdes de Oliveira, Ademar Da Silva; Brazil/France/Italy 1959, 100 min.
Screening as part of the Black Lights retrospective comes this classic arthouse drama from Marcel Camus (1912-1982). Only his second film Black Orpheus is a stunning portrait of life and carnival in the favelas, Rio’s most deprived areas. Bursting with colour, movement and emotional drama, Black Orpheuswas a massive hit at Cannes where it unanimously won the Palme D’Or in 1959 and later the Oscar for best Foreign Film. While Camus was never able to equal this triumph it is still a ravishing treat.
A re-telling of the Greek myth, it follows the story of tram conductor Orfeo (played by the professional footballer Melo), a guitar-strumming neighbourhood hero who meets the shy Eurydice (Dawn) in Rio a day before the Carnival kicks off. On the same day, he gets engaged to Mira (De Oliveira), a feisty and jealous young woman. Eurydice has come from the country to visit Orfeu’s neighbour, her cousin Serafina (Garcia) (Garcia) who is being stalked by Death (Da Silva), who wants to kill her.
Orfeo and Eurydice fall for each other, spending a night of passion before the onset of the carnival festivities. Mira is furious and starts chasing after her – but so does Death, who disarms Mira. Eurydice escapes to Orfeo’s tram station where she hangs precariously from an electrical cable and is accidentally electrocuted when her lover arrives. In the ensuing scuffle Orfeo is knocked out by Death (Ademar Da Silva) who claims the body of Eurydice. And when Orfeo comes to he heads of to the “Missing Persons’ Office”, a place which could have been dreamed up by Kafka. Then he fetches up in the symbolic underworld (complete with a frightening Cerberus), where an old woman speaks with the voice of Eurydice, begging the singer not to look at her. In vain, Orfeo goes on to the morgue, where he picks up Eurydice’s body, and carries her into the favela. But Mira is still unhinged with anger, she hurls a rock at her unfaithful lover, sending them to their fate.
After working as assistant to Jacques Becker and Luis Bunuel, Camus’ set his first film Mort en Fraude in Saigon with an anti-colonial tone. The film was banned in French Indochina – as it was then called – and Camus was accused of showing an over-romanticised view of the deprived favelas. But ORFEU NEGRO is true to magic realism, a vision: its pleasures evoked in brash and vivid colours (Eastman Colour) by DoP Jean Bourgoin (The Longest Day). In some ways, the tram scenes on the day the two lovers meet, echo those of Hitchcock’s Vertigo: a passion found and lost in another place where trams roam the hilly city. Here love blossoms against the background of a an exotic landscape, alluring, warmed by sun and framed like classical painting (Camus taught art at university before becoming a filmmaker). But equally impressive are the scenes of impending doom, shot in sharp contrast to the feverish dancing and cajoling of the carnival itself: there is certainly a madness of abandonment, but the gloom lingers on. The chase scene is riddled with “haunting imagery” that later influenced the films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, with their saturated colours. There are also embryonic elements of a modern Slasher film, the masked killer stalking his victims – John Carpenter in particularly springs to mind. The ending shows an ambiguous, timeless solution: a hint of mystery built on the legend itself, played out by three children in front of the rising sun – which would rise in response to Orfeo’s beguiling music. AS
BLACK ORPHEUS | BLACK LIGHTS RETRO | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2019
At dusk, fourteen-year-old Luca carries food into his family’s cowshed for the last time. His life in the mountains is about to come to an end: he is enrolling in catering school to learn the trade as quickly as possible.
Doing things properly will never go out of fashion, and this is particularly true when it comes to the art of serving in hotels and eating establishments. But is this kind of work still feasible in the 21st century where machines are gradually taking over. As a “a democratic republic founded on work”. Italy has always prided itself on a reputation for stratospheric standards of service. \working in the hospitality industry is a highly respectable career and serving is an art to be proud of. Hotel School has always been one of the popular options after schooldays are over.
Davide Maldi’s third feature, a docu-drama, follows a group of young apprentices at hotel school and Luca Tufanois one of them. The young men – there are only two girls on the course – learn basic skills such as how to serve and prepare food at the table, to balance a tray, and take an order/booking over the telephone, but there is much more to learn apart from these obvious ones. The school is renowned for its strict teaching methods: students learn that the customer is king and the source of their income. The lessons on cooking, dining room etiquette, law and religion, repeated day after day, make them endlessly confront their weaknesses, insecurities and abilities. At the end of the year Luca, immaculate in his black uniform with shiny shoes, will walk into the great hall and face the first test of his new career as a waiter and future maître d’hôtel – even though his lack of people skills makes him a non-starter for this type of career. Maldi shows Maldi’s handles his subject matter with mastery and breathing dark humour into this absorbing story of the making of servants and masters. MT
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE | 7-17 AUGUST 2019
Rúnarsson gained international recognition with his multi-award-winning drama Sparrows which took the FIPRESCI prize at Gotenburg 2016. His latest feature, Echo (Bergmál), competing here at Locarno, sees Iceland getting ready for Christmas in an unconventional and seriously un-Christmassy series of vignettes.
Some of them are distinctly grim, others just downright bizarre, as a peculiar atmosphere settles over the country and the hours of light rapidly diminish, shrouding the country in darkness. An abandoned farm is burning, an open coffin stands in the church, chicken carcasses parade through a slaughterhouse, and a drug addict stocks up at his local medical centre.
Echo juxtaposes the joyful, banal and downright weird – in other words, just a normal country preparing for the festivities through 56 unrelated scenes. From the festive: a children’s rousing Nativity play; a firework shop doing a roaring trade; to the down to earth: a bloke has some highlights done while moaning about his love life. Humour also comes into the equation: a farming couple argue bitterly while their sheep rut energetically in front them; a political argument threatens to derail a family party. Some scenes are quietly moving: a girl dissolves in tears after finishing with her boyfriend; a woman gives birth joyfully, and a choir sings Silent Night round a towering Christmas tree resplendent with lights; Meanwhile a whimpering dog doesn’t know what to make of the fireworks, and scuttles under the settee.
Ultimately what makes Echo so enjoyable is its sheer element of surprise and contrariness: we just don’t know what’s coming next – yet each scene is beautifully shot and composed whatever the subject matter. Iceland emerges a nation like any other: with hope, fears and vulnerabilities all exposed at the often fraught Christmas season.
Producer Lilja Ósk Snorradóttir added: “Echo is artistic, bold but at the same time extremely beautiful and intertwines so many things like humour, grief and beauty. I allow myself to say that no film like this has ever been made and surely not a Christmas film.” It’s certainly true and thoroughly entertaining.
LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7-17 AUGUST 2019
Dir.: Jose Filipe Costa; Cast: Cecilia Rodrigues, Eduarda Rosa, Joao Azevedo, Jose Avelino, Amanda Booth; Portugal 2019, 104 min.
Director Jose Filipe Costa (Red Line) adapts Antonio Rodriguez’ play entitled ’25th April in a rural Village’ and transforms into a provocative feature, exploring how the rural population reacted to the Portuguese revolution of 1974. Often funny, but very much in a Brechtian mood, it confronts the real world with the wishful perspective of revolutionaries from home and abroad. Once again, town and country collide, as we’ve experienced in Brexit.
The protagonists from 1975 have aged considerably: we meet them travelling in a camper van (which breaks down) and by train. Mick, who came from London when he was eighteen, was one the many foreigners entering the country to live a proper revolutionary life: “I did’nt think revolution was possible in Europe, I thought, it could happen only in South America”. Others come from Berlin and France, they all are meeting in Cova da Piedale, where their Luar Cell are building a hospital for gynaecology and paediatric services.
As the outsiders gain a grasp of Portuguese, it soon becomes clear that the village males have no intention of doing any housework. The women, who also have to milk the lambs, work in the fields and look after the children. A meeting of the group is called, where the men will have to defend their laziness. Instead they spend their time in ‘creative pursuits’, writing pornographic poems – and teasing their wives about them lacking a sense of humour. The foreign women quote Reich, the inventor of Orgastic Potency, which will ‘help to bring about World Revolution’.
On the ground, men are told to do the washing up and when they refuse, one of the women gets out the dice, and three men end up with the lowest score. Embarrassed they head for the sink. But while the village women toil away every Saturday doing the washing by hand – the men spend their work-free weekend in the café. The Portuguese men start to blame the European women for the gentle uprising amongst their other halves. who complain “even the young boys behave like domineering tyrants.” The lack of sex-education and a repressive sex life seriously undermines the females’ quality of life. And in a play put on by the group, the men are seen defending the dictator Caetano, who had been brought down in 1974.
Finally in November 1975, a radio broadcast announces the Portuguese state’s expulsion of all foreign revolutionaries, “because of their destabilising interference in this country’s politics”. The village men let some of their foreign counterparts stay (even though Mick has to cut his hair short). But the women will go. There is a short scene near the end when in one of the last public meetings, the mayor declares “servants do not exist any more after the revolution”.
Costa and DoP Hugo Azevedo have used close-up intimacy and theatrical effects to show the lack of real change. Patriarchal power has not diminished, and the status quo remains unchanged: it seems that the women are prepared to except things just the way they always were. And this was very much the case with Gramsci in rural areas of Southern Italy, progressive forces have had very little impact in rural Portugal. Costa’s lesson needs to be heeded – in any society – before it can claim to be liberated from feudal structures. MT
Dir.: Noël Dernesch, Oliver Waldhauer; Documentary; Germany/Switzerland 2019, 96 min.
Hot on the heels of Istanbul United, a portrait of hard-core football fans in the Turkish capital, comes Another Reality: Noël Dernesch and Oliver Waldhauer have spent three years with petty criminals operating in Berlin’s underworld.
Although some are trying to break free from the cycle of compulsive violence, they could have played it differently from the get-go: as one of them confesses: I wanted to join the army, but I have no German passport. Or “I wanted to be a cop, applied for the Police Academy and was accepted. Just before the entrance examination, I committed my first offence. I phoned them, and they said ‘not so bad’. Then came GBH and armed robbery”. They all belong to one extended family, with members living in Lebanon, Palestine, the USA and Sweden. “At my brother’s wedding, there were 900 guests.” Family is the focus of their lives, even their criminal activities are tailored to the protection of their relatives – up to a point. “You don’t shoot somebody in front of their family, you don’t do that”. Striding about the wide open spaces of the now defunct Airport Tempelhof, another admits it all comes down to money, like in the real world. “You have to make ends meet. Look at the Rappers, everybody who thinks that their rapping is telling the truth, has no idea. But what really appeals to them is playing American gangsters”.
This is not a well-intentioned documentary to be shown in sociology classes. For a start the directors have got too close to their subject matter – which might be not be that surprising as they’ve all bonded over the three years of filming. The most important thing to emerge is the connection between Rap and criminality: at least two of the five started a musical career after being released from prison. And although Another Reality loses it distance, it is still a very watchable documentary, showing a parallel universe, and we are all living next to it.
DoP Friede Clausz make good use of a handheld camera so as not to miss out on any tricks: the more bombastic the manner, the more childish the facial expressions. Women simply do not feature in this sub-society; the men suffer the usual madonna/whore complex, so women are either icons or prostitutes. Family and honour dominate, and a rather strange utopia: “It would be cooler to heal somebody from HIV, being a medic, you know, something like that. That would be much cooler.” AS
Dir: Maura Delpero | With Lidya Liberman, Agustina Malale, Isabella Cilia, Alan Rivas, Livia Fernan, Marta Lubos, Renata Palminiello | Italy, Argentina | 91′
There are so many worthwhile features coming out of South America at the moment, particularly by women filmmakers, and Maternal is just one of them making its debut here at Locarno. With a cast of newcomers and a predominantely female crew, Delpero delicately explores the importance of secure start in life, and shows how this need not necessarily come from the birth mother.
Elegantly framed and quietly moving, Maura Delpero’s female centric story revolves around a group of frustrated teenage mums Lu and Fati who live in the calm confines of a religious shelter in Buenos Aires where novice Sister Paola has recently arrived from Rome to take her final vows.
Delpero quickly establishes the contrast between the lives of the nuns and their unruly counterparts who live upstairs. While the ‘morally loose’ girls have clearly fallen on hard times, and are unable to support their kids on their own, the nuns avoid judging them but are by now means easygoing, spending their time quietly in prayer, providing a stable environment where the kids can be looked after and given a Christian start in life. Pregnant Fati tries to keep herself to herself in the room she shares with the promiscuous tattooed Lu who has clearly gone off the rails and shows little interest in her adorable little daughter Nina. The other girls are vulgar, rowdy and competitive and although they are allowed to let off steam at ‘party nights’, they often come to blows which each other, to the exasperation of the nuns.
A bond soon develops between Nina and Paola who steps into to fill the maternal vacuum left by Lu’s absence – she is more interested in sexual exploits outside the Convent and leaves one night. Nina is very much in need of love and attention and a unsettling atmosphere gradually develops as she grows more attached to Sister Paola – now ordained – who has a moral obligation to stay neutral, particularly as Lu resents the growing closeness between the nun and her daughter when she returns.
As the story reaches its stunning denouement Delpero relies less and less on dialogue eliciting convincing naturalistic performances from her largely inexperienced cast. And the final scenes play out with extraordinary serenity given the brooding tension, as once again Sister Paola is put to the test. MT
LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7 -17 AUGUST 2019 | SPECIAL MENTION AWARD
Dir.: Sebastien Lifshitz; Documentary; France 2019, 135 min.
Five years in the making Sebastien Lifshitz’ longterm observation of two unrelated teenagers from the small town of Brive-la-Gaillarde (Corrèze) is an illuminating study of human development, and through their personal stories, a snapshot of life in France between 2013 and 2018.
Emma and Anaïs come from very different backgrounds: middle-class Emma lives with working parents who are always stressed-out by the demands of their jobs, particularly her mother who hothouses her at school, pushing for top marks in a conflict that runs through the whole film. Plump Anaïs has an obese mother who tries, unsuccessfully, to make her daughter diet. With two younger siblings to look after Anaïs rarely sees her father due to his shift work. Schoolwork dominates their lives: Both teens spend most of their time worrying about exam results. The French education system has many cut-off points, like the old 11plus in the UK, forcing the kids to pass endless tests to qualify for the next stage. Emma has her eye on being in dance or theatre; Anaïs hopes to become a Kindergarten teacher.
In the summer holidays, Emma is packed off to her family’s holiday home to skate-board and enjoy the time off. But for Anaïs there is no time for play – domestic work taking the place of her studies – she has to help her mother whose health gradually deteriorates due to cancer. In January 2015, France is rocked by the killing of Charlie Hebdo journalists. Anaïs reacts in a mature way to the killings, defending ordinary Muslims, and citing the Muslim supermarket clerk who saved Jews by hiding them from the Islamist attackers. She is adamant that organised religion is to be blamed for many wars.
Meanwhile, both teenagers do well at school, passing their exams. Although she was worried about failing, Anaïs gets better marks than Emma. Both chose vocational careers, and Anaïs is interested in teaching infants, there is a warning not to get too close to the kids. She will later change course and chose geriatric care: ”having grown up a lot”. Affairs of the heart are similarly traumatic for both girls with both suffering in their first attempts at dating.
The Balaclan concert massacre in November 2015 brings shock waves through their school life once again. Emma is slacking a bit– and her mother is not pleased – Anaïs’ grandmother dies, and she is caught in the crossfire with her brother Tiimeo. Meanwhile Emma and her mother continue their slanging matches, although her acting is going well. She gravitates towards becoming a Director of Photography, or film director – driving her to despair. The reaction to Macron’s election victory in 2017 is very different in both households: Emma’s father talks about Mitterand’s victory in 1981, and the great political involvement of his generation; Emma is less enthusiastic “As long as it is not Le Pen, it’s OK”. But there is despair in Anaïs’ household: father and daughter slumping onto the sofa claiming “It’s all for the Rich”.
With the final examinations round the corner, Anaïs mother makes a last attempt to prevent her daughter from leaving – but in vain. The results again show Anaïs getting better results than Emma, finishing with Merit. Emma only has one offer – from a university in Paris – to study film, her mother showing her disappointment in the strongest possible way. The girls meet up for a goodbye chat near the lake. Both complaining that the “Fourteen-year-olds of today seem to have slept with half the South/West coast”. They both even contemplate moving back to Brive to bring up their kids.
This personal history lesson is luminously photographed by Antoine Parouty and Paul Guilhaume, with director Lifshitz always looking over the shoulder of the main protagonists, picking up every detail and nuance in a naturalistic tour de force. Despite its lengthy running time of over nearly three hours, Adolescence is an engrossing and valuable endeavour, documenting adolescence from a female perspective, informing and entertaining in equal parts. AS
GRAND JURY PRIZE WINNER | MY FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL PREMIERE | SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE AUGUST 2019
Dir: Halina Reijn | Cast: Carice van Houten, Marwan Kenzari, Betty Schuurman, Marie-Mae van Zuilen, Pieter Embrechts, Ariane Schluter, Maria Kraakman, Tamar van den Dop, Robert de Hoog, Juda Goslinga | Holland, Psychodrama 103′
In this vicious prison drama a hospital psychiatrist and a violent rapist score points off each other – but who is chasing whom? Not an original idea but a brilliant riff on sexual in a film holds you in its uncomfortable grasp and positively radiates their palpable chemistry right through to the fizzing finale. But crucially there is nothing titillating about what happens between them and many will find what happens between them difficult to watch.
In her debut the Dutch theatre actor turned director takes on a tricky theme – and it doesn’t always work out. Although we are led to believe that Nicoline has fallen for Idris (Kenzari), clearly the feelings are mutual, and the criminal has had a lifetime to hone his abusive skills, but animal attraction shoots from the hip, rather than the intellect.
It all kicks off when Nicoline (van Houten), a rather blasé prison therapist at the top of her game, arrives at the squeaky clean seaside internment centre to deal with the transitional parole of a convicted sex offender. Although she’s keen to get on with the assignment, you get the impression there is a void in her personal life: during the induction interview her gaze drifts off in the direction of a travel poster. Clearly she’s looking for something beyond her work – but what?
Sexual sparks fly when she meets her patient Idris. Maintaining a professional approach is clearly going to be difficult in the face of this potent attraction. It doesn’t help that her only bedfellow is her mother (Schurmann), who insists on sleeping with her when she stays over in the luxury flat Nicoline occupies alone. She’s a bit too touchy feely for comfort.
Idris (Kenzari) is a mercurial character, his cheeky grin belying a nasty temper. And Nicoline tunes into this and disagrees with the other staff about the merit of his impending release back into the community. In the stark and clinical rooms where the patient and doctor meet, Reijn relies on body language and atmosphere rather than dialogue to drive the intriguing narrative forward. But what little dialogue there is – crafted by writer Esther Gerritsen – works well. And Idris’ lines expertly written lines also convey the psychological buttons he is used to pushing to get the right reactions from Nicoline. Clearly he wants her, but he wants to punish her too, and his machievellian style is learned behaviour from childhood. We find out nothing of his past, or the exact nature of his crimes, Reijn focusing on the here and now in this intimately-drawn games of wits and wiles.
Kenzari has an easier role than van Houten and he plays it convincingly. For her, it’s more of a complex role, and one that requires a great deal of subtlety, yet the subtext of her emotional arc is easy to understand. She needs to internalise her feelings, yet keep them brewing under the surface, and van Houten does this with instinct. MT
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | VARIETY PIAZZA GRANDE AWARD
Maya Da-Rin’s stunning feature debut is a beguiling exploration of cultural identity seen through the eyes of a modest indigenous Brazilian Indian torn between Manaus, the port city where he works as a security guard, and the call of the wild in the Amazon village of his birth.
We first meet 45 year old Justino – newcomer Regis Myrupu – going through the daily grind: a bus takes him in the early morning to start his first day in the new job where he is almost dwarfed by the enormous containers he will guard in the dockyard. Back home at night he joins his family in a welcoming ramshackle dwelling where they eat dinner together. Although he is now a widow, his adult daughter still lives at home and is preparing to study medicine in Brasilia.
This alluring family drama positively pulsates with the heady rhythms and ambient sounds in the vast state of Amazonas; the whirring of cicadas and exotic birdsong – you can almost feel the sweltering heat and tropical downpours that occasionally bring relief. Da-Rin absorbs us into a gentle hypnotic way of life. A member of the indigenous Desana people, who are Christians, Justino is tough, resilient and well-versed in the ways of the forest but he must now adapt to city life, which is out of sync with nature and his upbringing. He he doesn’t complain and refuses to accept benefits offering by the company as part of his “indigenous condition”.
The sounds of the city are also different and less seductive, the clanking and jarring of metal and shrill ringing of alarms. DoP Barbara Alvarez – from the 2004 classic Whisky – again enchants us with elegant framing and a vibrant colour palette reflecting the geometric shapes of the shipyard and lush forest scenery both on the widescreen in more intimate close-up as the increasingly unsettling narrative plays out with its cultural references to Desana folklore, comparing and contrasting life in the country and town.
The tone grows more urgent when Justino develops an unexplained sweating fever but he is reluctant to investigate further, preferring to soldier on stoically. Eventually the doctor runs tests, but Justino has no faith in 21st century medicine, and the results are inconclusive anyway. Eventually Justino is drawn back to the place where he grew up, to seek the answer from the depth of the forest in this captivating, atmospheric but rather too enigmatic feature. MT
NOW ON BFI PLAYER / LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | COMPETITION
Dir: Ginevra Eklann with Alba Rohrwacher, Riccardo Scamarcio, Brett Gelman | Italy, France·2019·100′
Kids are the victims of Ginevra Eklann’s sentimental saga of divorce and disarray. Opening this year’s LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL, this breezy upbeat drama sees three siblings desperately hoping their parents will get back together again – ‘if only’.
The family’s tensions finally come to a head during Christmas when their disorganised dad Carlo (Scamarcio) whisks them off for holidays that will end in sadness and sexual awakening. But before they go Alma (Oro De Commarque), Jean (Giustiniani) and Sebastiano (Roussel) arrive in Rome with their Russian Orthodox mother Charlotte and her new boyfriend. Carlo is one of those dads who is great fun but not one for detail. He is more interested in his latest script and in his co-writer Benedetta (Alba Rohrwacher) than taking care of his children. And while they’re on holiday – at the seaside rather than the usual family trip to the mountains – his only preoccupation is work.
The story is seen from the kids’ point of view. How they cope with being part of a broken marriage. And they soon catch on to the holiday romance under their noses. Seba is keenly aware of the sexual vibe going on between Carlo and Benedetta, but he’s also burdened with being the eldest, while the other two feel homesick for their mother but find their father fun and exciting – it’s a well known dynamic.
Carlo and Benedetta seem well-matched. She is flirty and fun, but a bad influence on the kids with her pot-smoking and stealing from the local market. Seba clearly fancies her but also disapproves – a heady mix that will see them having a bit of a sub-fling on a cheeky Sunday trip to church – while Carlo is busy writing. It’s a shame Eklann relies on the cliched dramatic trick of having Carlo’s dog disappear in a gimmick that we know will end in tragedy. Why do so many indie filmmakers do this?
Scamarcio and Rohrwacher are effortlessly the stars of this well-crafted family affair which is both light-hearted, sentimental and firmly tethered to reality. MT
New artistic director Lili Hinstin unveils her eclectic mix of films for the 72nd Locarno Film Festival which runs from 7 until 17 August in its luxurious lakeside location. Locarno is known for its edgy profile and this year will be no different: Films by established auteurs Koji Fukada, Asif Kapadia, Kiyoshi Kurosawa will screen alongside an inventive array of undiscovered newcomers and sophomore cinema in a selection that embraces traditional stories and more experimental and avantgarde fare.
Hinstin takes over from Carlo Chatrian, who served as artistic director of Locarno since 2013 and now returns to the Berlinale. Hinstin is the 13th artistic director of the Locarno Festival since it was founded in 1946 and is only the event’s second female artistic director following on from Irene Bignardi (2000-5).
The largest open air cinema space in Europe, the Piazza Grande, will welcome up to 8,000 viewers for 19 full-length, 2 short films, and 6 Crazy Midnight, a total 11 world premieres. The magnificent state of the art Grand Rex cinema will pay host to this year’s Retrospective BLACK LIGHT conceived by Greg de Cuir Jr. showcasing international 20th century black cinema with stars such as Pam Grier, Ousmane Sembene, Spike Lee and Euzhan Palcy who will introduce his restored print of Rue Cases-Negres.
There will be another chance to see Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Luebbe DeBoer’s Sundance breakout Greener Grass and Kapadia’s Cannes documentary Maradona, along with the Joseph Gordon-Levitt-starring hijack thriller-drama 7500, Carice Van Houten-starring Instinct, and British comedian Simon Bird’s directorial debut Days Of The Bagnold Summer. Making its world premiere is also the intriguing Italian horror feature The Nest from Roberto de Feo whose 2010 short film Ice Scream was one of the most awarded worldwide during the year of its launch.
Films in the main competition vying for the Golden Leopard include the latest crop of South American stories: The Fever from Brazilian director Maya Da-Rin sees a disillusioned man hovering between reality and a dreamlike existence; from Argentina Maura Delpero’s Hogar (Home) is set in present day Buenos Aires where two homeless teenagers are bringing up their kids in a religious institution run by Italian nuns. Icelandic director Runar Runarsson (Sparrows) will be there with his latest Echo. The first ever Locarno competition film in Gallego entitled Longa Noite (Endless Night) is a second surreal feature from Spanish director Eloy Enciso; and previous Golden Leopard winner Pedro Costa (Horse Money) is back with a Cape Verdean set drama Vitalina Varela. Activist and award-winning animator Mina Mileva and her Bulgarian co-director Vesela Kazakova have filmed their realist drama Cat in the Wall in Peckham, London. It follows the trials and tribulations of a mother and her daughter.
This year’s Cineasti del Presenti, a sidebar dedicated to original and Avantgarde cinema, includes works from acclaimed actress Jeanne Balibar – Merveilles à Montfermeil, and Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter’s Space Dogs explores the work of Laika, the first canine astronaut. Matjaz Ivanisin’s debut drama Oroslan shows how traditional mourning rituals help to heal the community’s grief in a village in Slovenia. From the magical midsummers of American teenagers in Tyler Taormina’s Ham on Rye to Klaudia Reynicke’s surreal female-centric drama Love me Tender– these are just some of the films in a programme full of daring inventiveness.
The President of the main competition jury will be Catherine Breillat, and she is joined by this year’s guests: Mathieu Amalric, Bi Gan, Bong Joon-ho, Denis Cote, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Maren Ade, Jake Perlin, Bi Gan, Aline Schmid, Alba Rohrwacher, Hilary Swank and Bela Tarr and John Waters whose will receive a Leopard of Honour for his daring, outrageous, often hilarious work: “Somehow I became respectable…What the hell has happened!”
Dir.: Milorad Krstic; Animation with the voices of Ivan Kamaras, Gabriella Hamori, Zalan Makranczi; Hungary 2018, 96 min.
Milorad Krstic (66), director, designer and script-writer of his debut animation feature, won the Golden Bear for Best Short Film at the Berlinale in 1995. Premiering here at Locarno Film Festival Ruben Brandt is mostly hand-drawn with some CG elements and very much resembles in style and narrative of the recent Folimage animation feature A Cat in Paris , even though the tone is much darker.
Psychotherapist Ruben Brandt (Kamaras) suffers from dreams and hallucinations: He is attacked by figures from famous paintings like Velazquez’ “Infanta Margarita” and Botticelli’s “Venus”. Nevertheless, Brandt goes on treating his four patients, through role-plays of stories such as Little Riding Hood. They are all highly skilled burglars; so is Mimi (Hamori), who puts Ruben’s plan into action; he wants to possess thirteen famous paintings, so Mimi heads first to the Paris Louvre, hotly pursued by detective Kowalski (Makranczi), who has been hired by various insurance companies, who put a 100million dollar bounty on Ruben’s head. But Brandt becomes increasingly desperate, his dreams growing ever more violent. We see little Ruben, his neurologist father making him watch cartoons, a favourite is Rusalocka in “The Little Mermaid”. The thieves embark on a world cruise to steal Van Gogh’s “Postman Roulin”, Titan’s “Venus of Urbino” and Picasso’s “Woman with Book”, visiting the Uffizzi, the Hermitage, Tate and MoMA. There are flying cats, and the pictures start to interact with Ruben. In the Pantheon, Ruben is asked to participate in a Western duel, before being whisked off in a plane to Arles in Provence. Matters become even more complicated it emerges that Kowalski is Ruben’s half-brother. Their father Gerhardt was a Stasi spy who defected to the USA and worked for the CIA on neurological research. He has just died, and Kowalski’s mother tells his son, “ I had to leave your father, so you could have your own dreams”. Ruben meanwhile is meeting the painter Renoir, and is trying to unravel his father’s life. After a wild hunt, when the six are hunted down by two oil-tankers and a helicopter, the chase ends in Tokyo, during the attempted theft of the last painting, Warhol’s “Double Elvis”.
On one level Ruben Brandt is a haunt caper, one the other a trip through European film history from ‘Caligari’, Eisenstein, Hitchcock to Wenders. Krstic is clear about his intentions: “To be haunted by ghosts or zombies in nightmares is a cliché, it’s more exciting to be haunted by Velázquez’s ‘Infanta Margarita’ or Botticelli’s ‘Venus.” And paraphrasing Godard he explains his aesthetic concept: “For me drawing is imagination, and animated film is imagination twenty-four times a second.” His attempt at an ‘audio-visual symphony’ might be strange at times, but is always fascinating, and even in its most absurd moments Ruben Brandt is utterly compelling. A unique, magical, trippy experience, a throwback to the Sixties with its echoes of Pink Panther.
EIFF 19 JUNE – 30 JUNE | ANIMATION STRAND | PREMIERED AT LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018
Chilean auteur Dominga Sotomayor follows her debut Thursday ’til Sunday with a freewheeling, semi-autobiographical cinema vérité story that soft-peddles through the winds of change expressed during a family New Year holiday on the cusp of Chile’s transition to democracy in 1990.
Themes of love, loss, belonging and owning are teased out through a lithe and loose-limbed interlude that takes place in the hills above Santiago where the outbreak of forest fires on the tinder dry landscape signal the death of the old and the ushering in of new forces for freedom that marked the nation’s break with Pinochet’s dictatorship.
But nothing could be less political than this woozy woodland reverie for teenagers Sofia and Lucas (16) and little Clara who now face fears of a more organic kind when their dog Frida suddenly disappears and their parents decide to part in the wake of the environmental tragedy.
Pictured in Inti Briones’ bleached out images the desiccated Summer landscape seem ready for some kind of regeneration and this gently embodied in Sotomayor clever writing and a select choice of musical hits that hark back to the era. Demian Hernandes makes her thoughtful debut as the musically-gifted and lovelorn Sofia leading a cast of mostly non-professional actors of all ages selected by the filmmaker and her casting director mother. Antonia Zegers (Elena) is the only well-known actress outside Chile.
If you’re looking for punchy plot lines, this female centric drama can at times feel a tad too enigmatic, and most of the characters, particulars the males, are suggested rather than fully developed. This sketchiness can be part of the film’s charm, providing you’re in the mood to surrender to the dreamy, bemusing complexities of young love and complicated relationships. The disappearance of the dog Frida/Cindy gives the film some direction and drama and also some of its wry humour as the outcome of this strand actually ends up being rather amusing. Delicately drawn, thoughtful and always perceptive, Sotomayor
Dominga Sotomayor made history by winning the Leopard for Best Director at the 71st Locarno Festival, making her the first female director to receive this award. She has that rare gift of lightness of touch, letting her drama take shape naturally marking her out as a real talent to watch out for. MT
Dir: Richard Billingham | Cast: Justin Salinger, Ella Smith, Patrick Romer, Deidre Kelly, Tony Way, Sam Gittins, Joshua Millard-Lloyd | UK | Drama |107′
Turner prize-nominated Richard Billingham doesn’t miss a trick in portraying the squalid splendour of his early life in Birmingham during the early Seventies in his debut drama RAY & LIZ,premiering here at Locarno Film Festival.
Five years in the making, this impressively-tooled arthouse piece is not for the feint-hearted: In one scene the family dog makes quick work of some vomit spewed out after an enforced drinking spree. But this all adds to the glorious texture of his childhood experiences in the Black Country recorded fondly for posterity and in tribute to his parents, from collected photographs.
The Political undertones of the era are not swept under the grimy council house carpet but hardly forced in your face either. The Seventies were desperately difficult years for Britain, both politically and economically, and although Harold Wilson got the country back to work, it came at the price of inflation at almost 30%, the decade ending with Jim Callaghan’s humiliation at the hands of the unions in the Winter of Discontent and Margaret Thatcher taking over as prime minister in 1979.
We first meet Ray (Patrick Romer) sipping some kind of lethal home brew out of a plastic bottle after a night’s sleep, fully clothed, in his dismal bedroom. It’s a pitiful sight and we feel for him, yet he seems content enough although lost in his thoughts. As the narrative slips back and forward from Billingham’s early years to this final memory of his father, still in a council property and separated from his mother, there are poignant moments but also those that are painful to watch, such as when his “soft” uncle Lol is beaten senseless by his mother (with her shoe). And the cockroach-ridden mildewed walls and filthy ‘front room’ in their council flat makes grim viewing, as does the disgusting sight of bloated and chain-smoking Liz on one of her shouty outbursts. But the film is never maudlin. Welcome bursts of cheeky humour occasionally lurk round the corner even in this God-forsaken highrise hovel with its menagerie of invited and uninvited animals, such as the time when little Jason poured chilli powder into his father’s mouth while he was asleep.
There are also echoes of Terence Davies in this social realist memoire. Ray lost his job when the kids were small and his reduced masculine pride sees him making himself scarce or – even useful – around the place in contrast to his surly, stroppy wife who spends her time flower arranging. The period detail here is extraordinary, almost to the point of cliché. It’s as if Billingham has sat down and made a list of every single item he remembered from his upbringing, and then painstakingly placed it on the set and in the dialogue which is rich in local expressions recalling the era.Not an appealing film to watch but an honest, authentic and heartfelt reflection of a point in time and place. MT
ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE | PREMIERED AT LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018
2019 gets off to an impressive start with two extraordinary arthouse dramas both releasing in January. Timothée Chalamet plays a young man struggling with addition in Felix Van Groeningen’s A Beautiful Boyand Saoirse Ronan gives a dynamite performance as the tragic Mary Queen of Scotsin a mesmerising historical epic from theatre turned screen director Lisa Rourke. There’s plenty more to look forward as the New Year gets under way, here are a selection of arthouse features and documentaries releasing in 2019.
The focus of Jane Magnusson’s European Award winning documentary is 1957, arguable the zenith of Ingmar Bergman’s career when he released two on his most acclaimed dramas The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, a TV film and four plays. It’s an impressive film that reflects Bergman’s mammoth contribution to the world of film and theatre. 25 January
Some critics went wild for this psychological thriller from South Korean director Lee Chang-dong. Certainly alluring, the enigmatic arthouse piece is based on a story from Haruki Murakami about a barn-burning weirdo and his struggle to win the girl of his dreams. 1 February 1st
Melissa McCarthy takes plagiarism to extraordinary ends as Lee Israel, a New York writer struggling to make ends meet – eventually by criminal means. Marielle Heller and Nicole Holofcener offer up an absorbing dark comedy drama that also stars Richard E Grant. Opens February 1st
Sometimes Always Never
One of my favourite British films this years was this amusingly cheeky indie drama – it will make you laugh and contemplate your own life too. Love, ageing, loneliness and emotional fulfilment all deftly intermingle in a ‘detective’ drama about a father (a thoughtful Bill Nighy) and his two sons, one of whom has disappeared. Set in the rain-soaked Ribble Valley, there’s a soft melancholy to the muted visuals and the quintessentially English storyline, crafted by Frank Cottrell Boyce (The Railway Man). A subtle film film but an enjoyable one.
Writer John Ajvide Lindvist’s arthouse oddity has the same fresh originality as his vampire thriller Let the Right One In, ten years on. The Swedish social satire is a romantic parable that blends fantasy, mystery and horror and won the top prize at this year’s Cannes ‘Un Certain Regard’. March 8th
Claire Denis is the latest auteur to try her hand with a Sci-fi drama. And she succeeds. This one stars Robert Pattison and Juliette Binoche and premiered at Toronto to wrapt applause. Early spring
On the Basis of Sex
In the second film about noted US jurist Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBGis already on release)– Felicity Jones stars as the fearsome feminine judge and activist who has broken down barriers since the 1950s, and continues to do so with her subtle charm and incisive intellect. February 8th
Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen star in this enjoyable road movie that delighted critics both at Marrakech and Toronto. It follows a suave African-American pianist (Ali) and a New York bruiser (Mortensen) to America’s Deep South on a voyage of discovery – of themselves and the racial tensions of the 1960s. 1 February 2019
The Young Picasso
Exhibition on Screen chronicles the early years of the Spanish painter, from his birth in Malaga to his international recognition in Paris in his mid thirties. Informative and a must for art lovers. 5 February 2019
Isabelle Huppert had a low profile in 2018, but she’s back with a vengeance in Neil Jordan’s critically divisive drama that explores the relationship between a young girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) and Huppert’s lonely widow. 19 April 2019
When Martin Scorsese offered a lifetime Tribute to his great friend Robert De Niro at Marrakech Film Festival , The Irishman was the talk of the town. Scorsese’s latest film will be releasing on Netflix,
Another Hollywood luminary – now in his 90s – Clint Eastwood will hit cinemas at the end of January 2019 with his 143rd film – in which he also stars. The Mule is a high-octane thriller set in the US drug trade January 25th
Jacques Audiard casts Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly in this sensitively-scripted buddy movie that sees the titular brothers embark on a Wild West odyssey, based on Patrick deWitt’s western novel. Skilfully avoiding a macho approach, this is insightful and great fun. April 5th
Benedikt Erlingsson follows his unusual equine-themed drama Of Horses and Men with another innovative tale from his native Iceland that sees an ambitious eco warrior in the shape of a middle-aged woman strike out for the environment. 3 May 2019
Dominga Sotomayor’s languorous Chilean family drama was a big hit at Locarno 2018, and takes place during the summer of 1990 while the country was making a dangerous bid for democracy.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino latest, another highly-anticipated controversial caper tackles the thorny theme of Hollywood during the Charles Manson era. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio star. July 26
The Woman in the Window
Based on A J Finn’s bestseller, Joe Wright and Tracey Letts create an intriguing crime thriller that explores urban angst, loneliness and voyeurism in contempo New York. Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman and Amy Adams star.
The Lady Eve
We can always rely on the classics, especially when Preston Sturges, Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck are concerned. Re-released by Park Circus this screwball comedy with a social message is possibly one of the most enjoyable films you’ll see in February, and makes for perfect Valentine viewing. 15 February.
BEST INDIE AND ARTHOUSE FILMS TO LOOK OUT FOR IN 2019
It is with great sadness that we pay tribute to one of our greatest supporters, film consultants and readers Richard Lormand who has died aged 56.
During a long and distinguished career Richard was a leading light in international communication, film publicity and marketing, specialising in launches at the Berlin, Cannes, Locarno and Venice festivals, and just recently, Marrakech 2018 where he was preparing the 17th edition, when he died.
Richard was a true professional and always a pleasure to work with. He handled world premieres for numerous award-winning films, including Maren Ade’s TONI ERDMANN, Ildiko Enyedi’s ON BODY AND SOUL, Fatih Akin’s IN THE FADE and SOUL KITCHEN, Alice Rohrwacher’s THE WONDERS and HAPPY AS LAZZARO, Christian Petzold’s BARBARA and PHOENIX, Samuel Maoz’s LEBANON and FOXTROT, Lav Diaz’s THE WOMAN WHO LEFT, Ritesh Batra’s THE LUNCHBOX, Takashi Miike’s 13 ASSASSINS and BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, the Taviani Brothers’ CAESAR MUST DIE, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s UNCLE BOONMEE, Jerzy Skolimowski’s ESSENTIAL KILLING, Amos Gitai’s RABIN, Lucrecia Martel’s ZAMA and LA CIENAGA, Alexander Sokurov’s RUSSIAN ARK and FAUST, Jafar Panahi’s THREE FACES and THE CIRCLE, and Takeshi Kitano’s ZATOICHI and HANA-BI.
Richard was part of the press consultancy team of Locarno Festival and the producing teams of Mitchell Lichtenstein’s cult favourite TEETH, HAPPY TEARS (starring Demi Moore, Parker Posey, Ellen Barkin and Rip Torn) and ANGELICA (starring Jena Malone and Janet McTeer). He was also a producer on Amos Gitai’s DISENGAGEMENT, starring Academy Award-winning actress Juliette Binoche.
Born and raised outside Lafayette, Louisiana, Richard was the son of a Japanese mother and a native French-speaking Cajun American father. He began his career as a reporter/journalist for Reuters in New York City, then went on to work for the Cannes Film Festival (France), Taormina Film Festival (Italy), Torino Film Festival (Italy) and the Viennale/Vienna Film Festival (Austria). Richard also wrote and directed the 1994 award-winning short TI-BOY’S WIFE/LA FEMME DE TI-BOY (Clermont-Ferrand, Locarno, Torino).
His charisma, warmth and professionalism are rare in these days of increasingly faceless public relations, focussing on ‘hits’ and ‘likes’ on social media. Passionately driven by genuine talent and strong stories, Richard often took chances with small independent films and invested his time and talent to make sure they were noticed. His was a personal approach, genuine and always with heart. We shall miss him so much. MT
Dir: Eva Trobisch | Cast: Aenne Schwarz, Andreas Dohler, Tilo Nest, Lina Wendel | Germany |
Eva Trobisch’s All Good, is about the dark night of the soul in the aftermath to unimaginable tragedy. Something happens, we think we can deal with it, and it goes away – at least for a while – only to return with a vengeance, as grief, anger and finally depression overwhelm and repress the human spirit.
After an ordinary night out at a school reunion Janne (Aenne Schwarz) is raped by a seemingly innocuous old school friend. Martin (Hans Löw) is now a professional, corporate type who duly accompanies her back home after the party. Both are a little tipsy but the evening did not hint at romance or even mild flirtatiousness. So it’s odd that Martin, almost as an afterthought – decided to makes a move. After a sustained attempt at seducing her, Janne finally acquiesces to Martin’s advances – the scene is well played and captures all the nuanced undertones of an unwanted encounter. In the full light of day, Janne reflects with distaste and then mild anger at Martin’s presumptuousness. But feels awkward about discussing it with her boyfriend Piet (Andreas Döhler) who’s absorbed in his own dramas.
In her feature debut, which won Best Newcomer at Locarno 2018, Trobisch uses these subtle shifts in human response to create a thoughtful and absorbing drama that kicks over the ashes of suppressed anguish with worthwhile insight and impressive command. All Good is just that, Janne fronts up well to her trauma but what lies beneath is quite a different scenario. And Janne’s increasing and unacknowledged exasperation turns slowly to simmering rage.
At work, Janne’s new boss (Tilo Nest) is also preoccupied with his own issues, and so she goes about her work with resignation and determination not to let the episode overwhelm her as a young, intelligent and independent woman in the 21st century. But life but goes on and Janne will not give up. A surprisingly mature debut with some strong performances, especially from Aenne Schwartz in the lead. MT
MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | IN COMPETITION 2018
The meaning of life seeps through the quietest moments of Hong Sang-Soo’s GANGBYUN HOTEL (HOTEL BY THE RIVER), a poetic cocktail of family dysfunction and random rendezvous laced with the Korean auteur’s idiosyncratic brand of humour and charismatic charm.
This slow-burning winsome affair sees a famous poet Younghwan (Ki Joobong) in retreat by the Han River where he is overwhelmed by a melancholy introspective state of mind as he contemplates the wintry landscape. Convinced he is going to die, he calls his two sons to reminisce and reflect with him in his Ingvar Bergmanesque final hours as snow softly falls outside. It seems that Younghwan wants to bring a conciliatory conclusion to their lives together but Kyungsoo (Kwon Haehyo) and film director Byungsoo (Yu Junsang) are keen to put their side of the story, as the trio josh a mild tiff breaks out that leads to some revelations and soul-searching. Younghwan quietly slips off to the bathroom as the others temporarily lose contact with their father, fearing the worst, while the old man was merely relieving himself.
In a quiet bedroom, somewhere else in the waterside hotel, two other troubled souls are drawn together: Sanghee (Kim Minhee) is tearfully getting over a relationship as her friend Yeonju (Song Seonmi) consoles and comforts her. But when they meet Younghwan strolling through the snow his rather embarrassing compliments about their appearance lift the mood from sadness to shared hilarity and suppressed giggles.
Enriched by the usual combination of cryptic dialogue and whimsical non-sequiturs, Gangbyun Hotelis a peaceful, reflective drama, endearingly warmed by the placid equanimity of these human resolutions. DoP Kim Hyung-ku’s bleached out and beautifully framed compositions of the snowy landscape resemble minimalist Japanese Hugusai paintings. MT
BEST ACTOR WINNER – KI JOOBONG | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018
Dir.: Benjamin Crotty; Cast: Alexis Manetti, Antoine Cholet, Pauline Jacquard, Caroline Deruas; France 2018, 26 min.
Winner of the Mantarraya award at this year’s Locarno Film festival, Benjamin Crotty’s quirky exploration of everything French is cleverly conceived and inventive, both aesthetically and in its execution. THE GLORIOUS ACCEPTANCE is a social and political satire – somewhere between stand-up and Black Adder – biting and highly entertaining. It makes fun of said Chauvinism, but it also pampers to it. A true original.
Nicolas Chauvin (Manenti), legendary one-eyed farmer-soldier of the Napoleonic Wars, comes back to receive an imaginary award while regaling us with a potted history of his grim and glorious career during an outlandish stage appearance that could have been drawn from the tradition of Roman theatre, or even the alazon of Ancient Greek comedy. We’re then transported back to the place of his purported birth in 1820, the navel port of Rochefort. Derring-do was clearly the done thing for this original chauvinist who displays his excessive and unreasonable patriotism, emerging as quite the hero by bravely jumping off battlements and diving into moats without a by your leave to escape the clutches of a glass-eyed chain-mailed enemy, who later kills Nic’s charming female companion (Caroline Deruas). The two men then fiercely debate Chauvin’s psychological identity – did he repress his Oedipus complex and project his mother’s faults onto others, so creating so his paranoia? Another scene change sees him in a bar where he dallies with his next conquest (Pauline Jacquard): all this after a hymn, however barbed, to everything French, Messi plays football on the big screen. Finally, we are back on the stage where Chauvin thanks everybody from Eurosport to François Holland, bearing in mind the president sold weapons worth 8.3 billion in 2016. The elitist classes know no shame. MT
A Land Imagined could have been rather a good noirish thriller, judging from the early scenes which see a slightly sleazy Singapore detective hot on the heels of a missing migrant worker in Singapore’s crowded commercial district. What follows is a moody and sensuously cinematic arthouse drama with a subtle moral message that initially would have us believe that those who fetch up in this rich island seeking to improve their lot are somehow hard done by – or even meet a sticky end. Actor writer and director Yeo Siew Hua instead subverts expectations opting instead for a more unstructured approach that mirrors the film’s title but results in a downbeat outcome that will disappoint those hoping for twists and turns and a satisfying denouement.
Lonely reclamation construction worker Wang Bi Cheng (Liu Xiaoyi) has disappeared after forming a virtual friendship with a mysterious gamer. Detective Lok (Peter Yu) is the world weary cypher who gives nothing away in his search for the missing man, as gradually his trail loses focus as he aimlessly scours the streets and kicks a beer bottle along the sand-dunes at night. Wang is in no hurry to get away as he wanders in a febrile trance through sad cyber-cafes. His Bangladeshi co-worker and friend Ajit (Ishtiaque Zico) is one of the only decent, likeable characters here, the other human link is Mindy (Luna Kwok), a whip-smart cafe worker who offers him feisty company but is certainly no fool. Wang feels his chances rapidly melting away in the quicksand of this existential corner of Hell. The tone is ominous as the story drifts dreamily in a neon-lit goldfish bowl.
DoP Hideho Urata paints the working districts of the affluent hub of South Asia as an unsettling mirage where all is not what it seems. Lights twinkle softly in the distant nightscapes seen from the pearl white beaches of the reclamation land; but the sand has been imported from Malaysia. Mounds of aggregate and cement loom up like pyramids in the dusky night air. The breezy jazz score somehow allays our fears that this will not end well for our migrant worker, while groups of Bangladeshi workers dance themselves into a frenzy with mournful tunes from back home.
Lok’s attempts to get under the skin of his quarry in an effort to bring his search to a conclusion but in the end the drama drifts without any questions being answered, leaving us to ponder the existence of another artificial world created by a disenfranchised workforce uprooted from their homes and families and sucked into a meaningless existence of that serves no purpose other than to simply stay alive. MT
SCREENING IN COMPETITION | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018
Working this time in colour with his DoP David Gallego, Guerra creates a fabulous sense of place in the arid windswept plains of Colombia’s Guajira desert, where a deep unsettling feeling continually pervades the heady atmosphere with Leonardo Heiblum’s ground-breaking ominous soundscape.
Embrace of the Serpent writer Jacques Vidal and co-scripter Maria Camila Arias structure the story around five songs: Wild Grass 1968, The Tombs 1971, Prosperity 1979, The War 1980 and Limbo following the age-old traditional rags to riches and then tragedy formula. That said, this is an inventive and refreshingly original film whose poetic nature is continually punctuated by episodes of brutal violence and down to earth characters echoing recent South American fare such as Lucrecia Martel’s Zama, and Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja, and anchoring Birds firmly in historical reality despite its lyrical and often dreamlike folkloric overtones.
In this strongly matriarchal set-up, themes of capitalism vie with those of spirituality showing how both can breed antagonism if left unchecked, and this is eventually what transpires when male machismo and greed topples this delicate human society with tragedy and loss the inevitable outcome. Occasionally marred by uneven pacing BIRDS OF PASSAGE is nevertheless a startling achievement marking out Ciro Guerra and his co-director Cristina Gallego as growing talents on the South American scene. MT
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8-19 MAY | DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT
Dir/Writer: Antoine Russbach, Emmanuel Marre | Switzerland,Belgium | Cast: Olivier Gourmet | August 2018 | 100′
Premiering here at Locarno Film Festival, this hugely enjoyable and absorbing drama from Swiss director Antoine Russbach is uplifted by a compelling performance from Olivier Gourmet as Frank, a dedicated father of five who devotes his life to work in cargo shipping.
A strong narrative is the key to this modest parable and what starts as a potential hijack thriller in the style of Tobias Lindholm’s recent outing, soon develops into a richly thematic character study about a man’s tough decision during a crisis that loses him his job and potentially everything else he holds dear and eventually leads to some deep soul-searching. Deeply shaken, betrayed by a system to which he has given everything, Frank (Gourmet) finds his back against the wall but his tough upbringing and committed work ethic keeps him grounded in reality with a feelgood outcome that feels satisfying and rewarding in this world of political correctness.
In Frank’s world there are only two types of people: those who work to achieve a level of success so they can look after and provide for those who enjoy the benefits of the standard of living that he is able to provide. A risk-taker and a pragmatist who takes pride in the ability to deliver his company’s goods on time and with a healthy profit margin, Frank is a both a hero and an anti-hero, depending on which side of the fence you stand on this thorny issue. But to his credit, he is a self-made and self-reliant worker who has risen from an extremely modest rural background. He’s is also a calm and diligent father who always gives his kids time and consideration, particularly his youngest Mathilde (Adele Bochatay in a thoughtful debut). His wife is an understanding and devoted homemaker who cares for their comfortable house in the outskirts of Antwerp and the couple enjoy a happy marriage. Inadvertently, his kids have developed a sense of entitlement and have grown to expect the things their father can provide: the latest mobile phone and a luxurious swimming pool – but this is par for the course of today’s affluent society. And men are most fulfilled when they can are successful in their chosen careers and can provide for their family.
When the crew of his one of his container vessels inadvertently fails to spot a migrant on board, Frank is forced to make a decision in order to save his clients and his company considerable losses, and the delay of the cargo. In short, the shops will not get their goods in the time and the consumer will suffer with higher prices. The unwelcome interloper on board thought he was heading for Europe – not further afield – and has started to freak out on board, frightening to cause a mutiny amongst the sailors and disrupt the smooth running of the vessel with his suspected outbreak of Ebola virus. It’s a terrible dilemma and Frank deals with the crisis calmly and in a pragmatic way that nevertheless contravenes human rights and company guidelines. Although commercially he has saved the day, in the aftermath he becomes a scapegoat, falling from grace with his employers and his family. There follows a dark night of the soul, but Frank makes it through to the morning thanks to his steely resolve and a strong need to protect and look after his family. Antoine Russbach has made a supremely intelligent and powerful moral parable that deserves to be seen by all the family. MT
FILMMAKERS OF THE PRESENT | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 1-11 August 2018
Hungarian filmmaker Balint Kenyeres is best known for his Cannes awarded short film Before Dawn and The History Of Aviation which opened the Directors’ Fortnight in 2009.
In this paradoxical psychological thriller Romanian actor Vlad Ivanov (Toni Erdmann/Sunset) plays Victor Ganz, an architect/builder who fetches up in North Africa on a business trip that will lead him into a place of unreliable memories and exotic characters. Slowly he plunges into a labyrinthine world where present and past collide, as the future gradually closes in on him – or so it would initially seem.
In HIER Hungarian auteur Balint Kenyeres creates a scenario where a seemingly decent businessman travels to an exotic country where nothing is what it appears to be. On his arrival at the bustling port Victor cuts a reassuringly suave figure at the wheel of his Swiss registered black Range Rover on route to a 5-star hotel through the shabby streets of the souk. He gives short shrift to the locals, throwing his weight around with the local cultural attaché and barks orders to his staff back home on a mobile ‘phone. On the face of it, he is the sophisticated European on a mission connected to some property he bought many years ago on a previous visit. After the affairs of the day, he retreats into the shady backstreet where the local bar The offers lives music of a chance to ‘kick back’ with an old acquaintance. But this is where the mood changes and grows more sinister as echoes of the past flood back to a long-lost lover who has mysteriously disappeared. At this point, we assume that Victor is going through some kind of mid-life crisis, as he will never be the same again. Or is the the real man emerging from behind the soigné persona. After making probing inquiries, a scuffle breaks out and Victor wakes the next morning in a building site being robbed by two young boys who make off with his wallet. Injured and empty handed, he makes his way to the villa of another old friend who sets him up with fresh clothes and the briefcase left behind on his last visit. But on the way to the airport his cranky old bus breaks down and leaves him stranded in the middle of nowhere. Perpetually making telephone calls home, Victor promises to be on the next plane home but there is no urgency in his desire to leave, the search for his old lover propelling the narrative further and further into remote corners of the desert as he desperately questions each random contact for information that may lead to the mysterious woman.
HIER is a strange and beguiling thriller with a tense undertow that makes it watchable and compelling. Shooting in Super 16, Kenveres achieves just the right grainy 90s feel without it being a retro affair. The essence of the story lies with the character of Victor, and gradually we start to question his motives. Apart from being unlikeable and difficult to connect with, he lacks conviction as a businessman or an architect, for that matter, once he moves away from the respectable surroundings of his comfortable hotel. Initially we believe in Victor: he seems plausible enoug and businesslike, going about his days with a sense of purpose. But gradually Victor becomes an unreliable witness to proceedings, an antihero unable to stick to his timetable or even stand by his word, let alone his memory. He brushes people up the wrong way, continually oversleeps and is deceitful to his partner waiting for him at home: He is the proverbial ‘man with feet of clay’; and whilst we identify with his situation, we certainly don’t identify with the way he handles it, driven by a near psychotic desire to uncover the past and obsessed with this enigmatic woman who he names ‘Sonia”. Kenyeres’ script continually subverts our expectations in his paradoxical film. The characters Victor meets in his alien surroundings prove to be increasingly more solid and reliable than he is: an old doctor who kindly stitches up his wounds; a professor researching into hyaenas and a friendly shopkeeper who finally puts him on the right trail. But Victor rewards the kindness of these strangers with truculence – even stealing the professor’s jeep – as his behaviour deteriorates into a state of lust-crazed psychosis. The enigmatic denouement is left to the imagination, making it even more powerful as the antihero is finally trounced by the very people he previously held in disdain. It’s an inventive idea for a story and Kenyeres pulls off. He raises vital questions about social stereotypes and the human condition – can we really reliably connect, identify and compare our own experiences with those of another person? And this is the crux ofthis unusual and compelling existential thriller. MT
LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | FILMMAKERS OF TODAY STRAND
Duccio Chiarini’s portrait of Italian middle-class malaise is familiar all over Western Europe. Thirtysomethings show a depressing lack of commitment – particularly the men. What starts as a romcom rapidly dives into melancholy meditation on modern life.
We meet wannabe write and occasional substitute teacher Guido (Parisi), naked between the legs of his girl friend Chiara (d’Amico). Clearly copulation has taken place, and Guido is looking for the burst condom. After finding it, Guido votes they should go for a baby, rather than the ‘morning after’ pill – knowing full well that Chiara is opposed to the idea: ”I have to have done something with my life before having a child”. And it’s true, neither of them has a good job, despite Chiara’s two MAs, her stint as a tour guide, and Guido’s book on Calvino, which is still waiting for publication. Nothing seems to work in their relationship either: the car is broken down, but there’s no money to repair it. And Guido’s mother (Marigliano) is still buying his underwear, as Chiara points out, although he’s pushing forty. Chiara is considering a decent offer in Canada but is unsure how to broach the topic. And this is the beginning of the end of their relationship, because Guido suspects that Chiara is seeing another man.
The focus then changes to Guido, who becomes the hero: sofa-surfing with his parents and various friends, and stalking Chiara in the meantime. His mates aren’t faring any better. Dario (Natali) has fallen in love with another woman and is about to leave girl friend Roberta (Thony), a cardiologist. “We met via Tinder”, is Dario’s lame excuse, telling Guido to have a look at Chiara’s emails. Pietro and the pregnant Lucia (Bellato), are more negative than happy about their baby, and Lucia is competing with Guido for a literary grant. This is modern life, according to Guido’s mother: “You throw away, we mend”.
Guido and his generation see relationships and careers as transient. Self-obsessed, the men in particular, fail to grow up or even learn from their mistakes. Chiarini is an insightful observer, and DoP Baris Ozbicer’s camera finds always new angles for the emotional distress of the protagonists. Overall, the feature is more entertaining than philosophical, the director too well-meaning to produce anything with sharp edges. AS
Entering the secret sexual world of Israel’s Hasidic Jewish community feels like a privilege and a revelation in this incendiary, no holds barred documentary premiering here at Locarno Film Festival.
According the findings of French filmmaker Yolande Zauberman a startling number of male kids in this orthodox religious community have undergone rape at the hands of their elders. Gaining unprecedented access to the titular M, aka Menachem, a young Israeli man who we first meet on Tel Aviv beach at night, Zauberman unearths a history of abuse and family dysfunction leading to marriage breakdown that exposes the disturbing reality behind the silent facade of this tight-knit religious enclave. And it’s not just happening in Tel Aviv, Israel. This is a startling story that seems to connect with the narrative of sexual abuse across the ultra religious spectrum from Orthodox Judaism to Catholicism, and possibly beyond.
Speaking in a mixture of Hebrew and Yiddish, Menachem tells us how he grew up in Bnei Brak, just outside Tel Aviv. His mother was kind but never particularly affectionate, so when he started to attend Yeshiva (a religious school) and bathe in the mikvah (a cleansing pool) the elders’ attention seemed almost comforting to the young boy, until he realised what was going on. This led to problems with his marriage, and divorce. He now finds the company of Tel Aviv’s transsexuals easier to deal with as there is no emotional involvement. In a car journey with an Arab trans friend, the two compare the Hassidic stricture with being trapped inside the wrong body: both men needed to break away.
A talented cantor and a likeable but clearly troubled soul, Menachem opens up freely to the camera, finding the filming process a cathartic experience, empowering him to seek out his abusive elder, Akiva Katz, so he can obtain some kind of closure. The search for Akiva propels the narrative forward as more and more shockingly naive religious men join the conversation, glad to unburden themselves with their experiences, although many do not want to be filmed..
M is a tough and claustrophobic watch. This is in part due to Zauberman’s decision to film at night and at close quarters. Under the cover of darkness she finds people more relaxed and willing to share their feelings. “Does a woman have genitalia?” asks one young married man. Meanwhile in the background to these spontaneous (unscripted) discussions, orthodox families freely go about their business into the small hours, little kids in tow. This is a self-regulating society that seems locked in the Dark Ages, closeted away from the internet, social media and the modern world.
IN COMPETITION | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018
The meaning of life seeps through the quietest moments of Hong Sang-Soo’s GANGBYUN HOTEL (HOTEL BY THE RIVER), a poetic cocktail of family dysfunction and random rendezvous laced with the Korean auteur’s idiosyncratic brand of humour and charismatic charm.
This slow-burning winsome affair sees a famous poet Younghwan (Ki Joobong) in retreat by the Han River where he is overwhelmed by a melancholy introspective state of mind as he contemplates the wintry landscape. Convinced he is going to die, he calls his two sons to reminisce and reflect with him in his Ingvar Bergmanesque final hours as snow softly falls outside. It seems that Younghwan wants to bring a conciliatory conclusion to their lives together but Kyungsoo (Kwon Haehyo) and film director Byungsoo (Yu Junsang) are keen to put their side of the story. As the three of them banter, a mild tiff breaks out that leads to some revelations and soul-searching. When Younghwan quietly slips off to the bathroom for rather a long time, the others immediately fear the worst. Meanwhile the old man was merely relieving himself.
In a quiet bedroom, somewhere else in the waterside hotel, two other troubled souls are drawn together: Sanghee (Kim Minhee) is tearfully getting over a relationship as her friend Yeonju (Song Seonmi) consoles and comforts her. But when they meet Younghwan strolling through the snow his rather embarrassing compliments about their appearance lift the mood from sadness to shared hilarity and suppressed giggles.
Enriched by the usual combination of cryptic dialogue and whimsical non-sequiturs, Gangbyun Hotelis a peaceful, reflective drama, warmed by the humour and bonhomie of these endearing interactions. DoP Kim Hyung-ku’s bleached out and beautifully framed compositions of the snowy landscape resemble minimalist Japanese Hugusai paintings. MT
BEST ACTOR WINNER – KI JOOBONG | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018
Alberto Fasulo’s lavishly mounted imagined drama, having its premiere here at Locarno Film Festival, examines the ethical and moral issues surrounding the purported heresy of Domenico Scandella (1532–1599), also known as Menocchio, a miller from Montereale, Italy, who in the 16th century was tried by the Inquisition for his unorthodox religious views, and burnt at the stake.
Fasulo won the top prize at Rome 2013 with Tir. This, his fourth film is a costumed period piece that plays out from the POV of the inquisition’s interrogator as he encourages Scandella’s friends and associates to denounce the honest miller. Fasulo invites us into a God-fearing world where the close-knit community are dominated by the Catholic Church and potently in thrall to their religious convictions.
This exquisitely-crafted arthouse has the look and gravitas of the films of Italian masters such as Olmi or even the Taviani brothers. Each frame is elegantly composed telling the simple chronological storyline. Much of action takes place in the cloistered candlelit confinement of the ancient prison where Menocchio, his draw expression captured in the flickering candlelight, is interrogated about his views and beliefs that question the virgin birth. And Menocchio repeatedly sticks to his principles refusing to ask for forgiveness or change his mind, knowing full well that fatal punishment awaits him. These scenes contrast with the fresh and summery outdoors of the Friuli region were his associates are put to the test, some of the speaking in the region’s dialect.
Performed by a cast of mostly non-professional actors Menocchio is a quality drama that while shedding light on a little-known episode in history really needed the charismatic charge of a well-known actor to raise its worthwhile subject matter. MT.
IN COMPETITION | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018
Dir: Rebecca Miller | Documentary with Deborah Feldman, Vithika Yadav, Rokudenashiko, Leyla Hussein, Doris Wagner; Germany/Switzerland/UK/USA/Japan 2018, 95 min.
Writer/director Barbara Miller (Forbidden Voices), has travelled the world to connect with five different women with one thing in common: the struggle against religious/state sponsored male superiority. Some are even joined by sympathetic menfolk slowly turning the wheel of history. Miller’s straightforward, non-judgemental approach allows the women full reign to share their opinions.
Deborah Feldman, a Hasidic Jew from New York, courageously left her arranged marriage with her little son, splitting from an extended family who are now lost forever. She wants to raise her son to respect women.“The Torah”, she says, “is the word of men”. In Orthodox circles there is a feeling that women are necessary but, at the same time, are the enemy. On a walkabout Jerusalem she passes huge street signs that say:“Please do not pass through this neighbourhood in in-modest clothes: closed blouse with long sleeves, no skirts, no trousers, no tight fitting clothes”. She is emphatic “that orthodox women in arranged marriages do not have the same constitutional protection as other women”. Finding a life outside her old community with a new partner, she goes on fighting the cause.
Meanwhile in India, Vithika Yadav runs a self-help website that supports girls in overcoming the prejudices of Hindu teaching, which has veered very much from Ghandi’s approach to an aggressive male ideology, often held responsible for the many rape cases in this country. Vithika is the first woman in her family to reject an arranged marriage. According to her, Hindu teaching claims “women are the root of all sins”, Indian society is geared toward male desire and satisfaction.Yadav’s website is a great start, but she takes things even further by organising street theatre and demonstrations, trying to rope men into the fight. On the subject of rape, she is very clear: “You all see it, but you don’t do anything”. ‘LOVE matters’, is one of their slogans, and slowly more and more young men are joining Yadav’s movement.
Japanese manga artist and “Vagina defender” Rokudenashiko from Tokyo has a spirited approach to the issue, but the pretty drawing of the female sex organ on her website has already leading to her arrest by ten(!) police officers on the grounds of obscenity. Before her trial she calls a press conference telling the audience “the female body is seen as a sex toy for men. Hard core porn films are legally produced and sold, yet my art is seen as obscene”. She claims Japanese men are very brutal in bed yet pretend to be unaware of the pain they inflict. Even comics portraying images of young girls being raped are allowed to be published in Japan. There is a yearly parade of ‘Penis Worship’ and the artist and her friends make fun of this, sucking sugary phallus-sized sweets. During filming, Rokudenashiko is convicted for spreading obscene art and even sailing a canoe in the shape of a vagina on a nearby lake. She and her lawyers are determined to have the verdict overturned. “As women, we are defined by jealousy”. Buddhist teaching says, ‘that due to the sinfulness of our bodies, women have to suffer eternal torment and the Blood Bowl Hell’”. Her protests have actually found her a sympathetic boyfriend in the shape of Mike, a rock singer who does not smoke or drink and has even composed a song to support her cause. Her parting shot is typical “Long live the vagina!”
Leyla Hussein is a highly articulate and likeable Somali woman living in London where her cause is the global issue of FGM – 200 million women and girls are the victims. “Men have authority over women according to the Quran which says ‘those wives from whom you fear disobedience, beat them’. Often very young woman are forced into arranged marriages when they are still teenagers. “Let’s call arranged marriage by its proper name: Legalized paedophilia.” In London she runs a centre and a website to fight FMG where she describes exactly what FMG does to the female body – some of the younger men can hardly watch. But she is happiest back in Kenya, where Masaai support her cause: “Masaai women have no fun with sex, and that’s frustrating for men too. We have to spread the word!”
In Germany, Doris Wagner joined a Catholic order at a young age. She was systematically raped by her superior but when she reported him to the Mother Superior, the woman shouted at her; then forgave her. She feels that the Catholic Church frames women as seductresses: “I ask myself: was the Church really founded to do good, or was it all along just intended to support the structure run by men?’ Doris now lives with her partner and son. She is writing her PHD theses “feeling like born again”.
In this substantial and engaging documentary Miller allows her contributors to voice their concerns freely in a way that is both informative and empowering for those affected by the issues. Often amusing, it occasionally takes sides but, crucially, it also raises awareness of women’s plight with a lightness of touch, showing the way forward for men to join the movement for a more liberal and pleasurable society, that can only benefit them in the long run. She feels that women should not feel imprisoned by their gender, and the sooner men learn this, the better it is for us all. Change is possible, but, as Miller point out, it is a long way off in some societies.
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 1-11 AUGUST 2018 | IN COMPETITION.
Rugile Barzdziukaite describes her eco-film as a creative documentary. It is set in her native Lithuania where a strange phenomenon has occurred in the forested region of the Curonian Spit, a scenic peninsular edged by the Baltic from one side and the lagoon from the other. ACID FOREST makes its premiere at Locarno Film Festival 2018.
Taking her cue from the likes of documentarians Sergei Loznitsa and Jem Cohen, Barzdziukaite’s debut feature often sees the funny side of this blot on the landscape. This humour comes out of the spontaneous comments made by unsuspecting visitors to the otherwise appealing UNESCO world heritage site, known for its natural resources and high-end beach resorts.
Training his camera on a look-out platform in the midst of the acid forest, her DoP Dovydas Korba gets a bird’s eye view not only of the tourists, but also the black cormorants who migrated back to the area nearly twenty years ago in 1989, after becoming extinct, and have since laid waste to the native pine trees with their acid-rich droppings that fall from the nesting places. where these destructive birds roost and bring up their young. But it’s not all bad. Deciduous trees have now started thrive in the area, feeding on the cormorants fishy manure. And so gradually the forest is mutating from one of pines to one of oaks and ashes. And this narrative very much chimes with the cycles of human migration that have happened all the world since time immemorial. Acid Forest is a an unusual but fitting metaphor for the surreal world that we live in. MT
OUT OF COMPETITION | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018
Romanian New Wave director Radu Muntean follows his existential thriller One Floor Below (2015) with a similarly slow-burning contemporary portrait of narcissism and disenchanted Bucharest youth premiering at Locarno Film Festival 2018.
Drawing comparison with Uli Edel’s Christiane F, teenage Alice T is pretty, petulant and out of control. Adopted as a baby from a Rumanian orphanage she is constantly finding ways to market herself for personal empowerment and spends her directionless days hanging out with mindless friends, taking selfies, a cigarette casually in her hand. Their focus is on boys and soon Alice is pregnant, sparking a furious row with her adoptive mother (Mihaela Sirbu from Aferim!) who suffered to have her own kids but now accepts her daughter’s right to have the baby. Spurred on by this petty victory against her mother, Alice at first feels more in control; she has a weapon against her mother, a new identity and a mission to accomplish – that of motherhood. Her mother warms to the pregnancy and gradually the family are on board supporting her too. Alice finally feels she’s got somewhere with her life, but soon becomes bored with the idea of having a baby which may take the focus off number one.
Andra Guti is really impressive in her debut as Alice and Muntean, writing with two regular male collaborators (who are all fathers), keeps his distance from his anti-heroine as the observational story gradually unspools. What starts as a sad reflection on modern womanhood and the loss of feminine could have transformed into something warmer and more mature on Alice’s part. But that’s not the point. And soon her abusive narcissism resurfaces as she casts around for more attention, another power fix. This transformation is so subtle it takes a while to fully take on board the true depth of Alice’s self-centredness as the prime focus of her mother’s doting and undivided attention, calling to mind that same dedication seen by the mother in fellow Romanian Calin Peter Netzer’s 2013 drama Child’s Pose.
This female centric storyline highlights the focus on domestic trivia where low level issues form the centre of everyday conversations. The camera hangs over these scenes to the point of tedium, emphasising the sheer vacuousness of Alice’s existence. There are no hopes or dreams for anything outside this narrow domain. And Alice is not encouraged to aspire but shielded from any kind of challenge, so she is unable to learn by her mistakes on a road to nowhere. Her bad reports at school are openly questioned by her mother in the face of authority, pointing to a system where children can do no wrong, but will never really amount to anything. After the pregnancy is confirmed, her mother decides that her daughter will take some time out for the pregnancy, but this only leaves more of a vacuum in the teenager’s feckless existence and she needs to be the centre of attention.
Tudor Lucaciu’s camera pictures the scene around Bucharest and the coast in master shots and long takes showing how Alice can be anything to anybody as she casts her spell over strangers and acquaintances alike. The male characters remain unexplored and are mostly seen as bemused outsiders just trying to get on with their lives. And the finale comes as a fait accompli leaving Alice just as bewildered and lost as she must have felt back in that orphanage, and even less sure of herself than she was at the start. This is a drama that will make your blood boil. MT
IN COMPETITION | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 1-11 AUGUST 2018 | Due to release next year in the UK
Turkish village life is shamelessly exposed by defiant nature girl Sibel in this ravishingly rocking fable from directing duo Zencirci and Giovanetti premiering here at Locarno Film Festival 2018.
SIBEL is another of the directing duo’s studies examining freedom and belonging following on from Noor (2012) and Ningen (2013). This tightly-scripted and perfectly-paced suspense fable also draws similarities with Reha Erdem’s escape-themed Jin(2013) that explored the perilous life of a Kurdish guerrilla girl on the run in the Anatolian mountains, but in this more intimate drama the setting is the isolated Black Sea town of Kuskoy in Northern Turkey known for its whistled language which adapts standard Turkish syllables into piercing tones that help the scattered locals to communicate long distance when working in the steep hillsides. Eric Devin’s widescreen camerawork conveys the magnificence of this lushly forested region.
And it’s here that Sibel lives with her authoritarian father and wayward younger sister Fatma. It’s a really powerful performance from Damla Sonmez who must be the first actor to whistle her part: strong-willed Sibel is mute from birth but has a closer bond with her father who has seen no reason to remarry much to the chagrin of the local small-minded women who marginalise and menace the young woman for her feral beauty and the freedom that her so-called ‘handicap’ allows. And we feel for her. With women like these in the community it’s hardly surprising that menfolk would want to keep them down. Sibel is ostracised by every one of them, including her sister. One particularly resonant scene sees Sibel crying silently up at camera, but her speechlessness also works to her advantage allowing her to develop self-reliance and single-mindedness that sets her apart from the others as one of the two strong female characters in the narrative. The other is her bohemian aunt who lives alone on the hillside encouraging her to follow her instincts: “women get their power from nature” These scenes in the forest provide a refreshing antidote to the female-centric plot-line that portraying the traditional local life that is dominated by the women folk’s need to subjugate themselves to a male-domination. And it’s into this natural habit that Sibel regularly retreats to spend time reflecting and also to hunt down a mysterious wolf threatening the village. It soon transpires that this wolf is really a metaphor for the immigrant outsider feared by the villagers. But soon a stranger does emerge, in the shape of fugitive Ali (Erkan Kolcak Kostendil) who will complete Sibel’s journey to self-realisation in this tense and stunningly filmic arthouse piece. MT
IN COMPETITION | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 1-11 AUGUST 2018
Dir/Writer: Kent Jones | Cast: Mary Kay Place, Jake Lacy, Estelle Parson, Andre Martin, Deirdre O’Connell, Phyllis Summerville, Ray Iannicelli US | 90′
Kent Jones has made some dynamite documentaries: Hitchcock Truffaut, A Letter to Elia; Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows. His feature debut is an earnest and perceptive drama about an ordinary woman forced to find inner strength when her family crumbles around her. Diane could also be a US version of our long-running BBC4 series The Archers with its cheesy and occasionally awkward moments of ‘raw’ sincerity very on the maudlin. It pictures Diane padding around in a pink fluffy housecoat making chicken casserole to take to a sick friend, or having one margarita too many while unwinding in the local bar. This is not Hollywood or New York but somewhere like Denver Colorado where the characters sit around in thick cardies, pouring tasteless coffee into giant mugs and reminiscing over the dead and dying in their local community. What saves it and actually makes it rather watchable is the impressive cast that Jones has assembled: Mary Kay Place gives a subtle but stunning performance as the titular heroine a divorced do-gooder whose son (Jake Lacy) has lost his way. Deirdre O’Connell is wonderfully convincing as her cousin Donna dying from cancer, and Andrea Martin simpers as her trusted friend. The whole thing plays out like ‘an every day story of countryfolk’ (The Archers’ tagline), as they support one another, do good in the community and occasionally argue but gradually work through their issues. Diane is never hard-edged, but honest and straightforward, despite occasionally striking a bum note – the scenes exploring Diane’s spiritual quest feel rather bogus as does the character of her aunt Mame (Estelle Parsons does her best). All in all, this is a well-played and acutely observed domestic drama that reflects, in part, the world we now live in. MT
SCREENING AT LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 1-11 AUGUST 2018
Dir/Writer: Kent Jones | Cast: Mary Kay Place, Jake Lacy, Estelle Parson, Andre Martin, Deirdre O’Connell, Phyllis Summerville, Ray Iannicelli US | 90′
Kent Jones has made some dynamite documentaries: Hitchcock Truffaut, A Letter to Elia; Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows. His feature debut is an earnest and perceptive drama about an ordinary woman forced to find inner strength when her family crumbles around her. Diane could also be a US version of our long-running BBC4 series The Archers with its cheesy and occasionally awkward moments of ‘raw’ sincerity veering on the maudlin side. It pictures Diane padding around in a pink fluffy housecoat making chicken casserole to take to a sick friend, or having one margarita too many while unwinding in the local bar. This is not Hollywood or New York but somewhere like Denver Colorado where the characters sit around in thick cardies, pouring tasteless coffee into giant mugs and reminiscing over the dead and dying in their local community. What saves it and actually makes it rather watchable is the impressive cast that Jones has assembled: Mary Kay Place gives a subtle but stunning performance as the titular heroine, a divorced do-gooder whose son (Jake Lacy) has lost his way. Deirdre O’Connell is wonderfully convincing as her cousin Donna dying from cancer, and Andrea Martin simpers as her trusted friend. The whole thing plays out like ‘an every day story of countryfolk’ (The Archers’ tagline), as they support one another, do good in the community and occasionally argue but gradually work through their issues. Diane is never hard-edged, but honest and straightforward, despite occasionally striking a bum note – the scenes exploring Diane’s spiritual quest feel rather bogus, as does the character of her aunt Mame (veteran star Estelle Parsons does her best). All in all, this is a well-played and acutely observed domestic drama that sympathetically reflects the world we live in now. MT
Although Leo McCarey (1898-1969) was feted during his career winning three Oscars and nominated for a further 36(!), he seems to have fallen out of fashion.Today he is remembered for just three features: The Marx Brother’s vehicle Duck Soup (1933), An Affair to Remember (1957), actually a remake of his superior Love Affair from 1937, and the The Awful Truth. To my knowledge, there are no book length biographies currently in print, rather odd, if you consider that McCarey directed 23 sound features. This year’s Locarno Film Festival offers a welcome opportunity to enjoy his work in a lavish retrospective dedicated to this Hollywood great.
After High School McCarey actually started out as a prize fighter before bowing to the will of his father and studying law at USC. Enterprisingly he then took over a copper mine, but the venture went bankrupt and his career as a lawyer also faltered. He next turned his hand to song-writing but athough he composed over a thousand songs during his lifetime, he would have been unable to make a living from it. Then in 1919 came his lucky break as assistant to Tod Browning at Universal. Later joining the Hal Roach Studio, he made it from gag man to Vice President. But more importantly, he was to pair Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in these ventures. McCarey checkered life experiences provide rich material for his films: Bing Crosby would play a failed songwriter in Love Affair, there is boxing content both in The Milky Way (1936) and The Bells of St. Mary (1945). Whilst liking “a little bit of the fairy tale” in his films, McCarey became a director of features just as the sound system was launching, giving him the opportunity to work with stars early on in his career. And there was always a steely side of reality imbedded in his escapist endeavours: The Kid from Spain (1932) with Eddie Cantor, Belle of the Nineties (1934) with Mae West, Six of a Kind (1934) with WC Fields and Milky Way with Harold Lloyd.
Often criticised for being ‘a director of great moments’, McCarey made it to the big times as a serious filmmaker in 1935 with Ruggles of Red Cap. Charles Laughton plays a British butler who has to serve two American ‘Nouveau Riche’ social climbers when his master ‘loses’ him in a card game. Ruggles is a blueprint for what would follow: the absurd interactions of protagonists who either try to help or undermine each other, but always with the same result: chaos.
In 1937 McCarey won his first Oscar for The Awful Truth. It stars Irene Dunne and Gary Grant (his first great success; he actually had a cunning resemblance to McCarey), as a separated couple, who try to help each other, finding a new partner, but only succeeding only in sabotaging their best efforts. It says a lot about McCarey, that he “would have rather won for Make Way for Tomorrow, shot in the same year. Make Way is the story of Lucy Cooper (Beulah Bondi) and her husband Barkley (Victor Moore) who find out on the day of their family re-union that their house is foreclosed. They move in with their middle-aged children, but separately: Mum with son George, Barkley with daughter Cora. This is, in spite of the observant humour, a real tragedy, and would inspire the great Japanese director Ozu for his Tokyo Story.
After winning his second and third Oscars for Going my Way (Best Original Script and Best Director), the story of a popular Irish priest Chuck O’Malley (Crosby), who is more interested in boxing and songs than the lecturing; Good Sam in 1948 marked the beginning of his decline. Between 1948 and his death in 1969 McCarey would only direct five more features: alcohol, drugs and illnesses taking their toll. Somehow the humanist got lost in the perfidious way of Un-American-House Committee witch hunts. My Son John (1952) is the sob story of a mother who discovers that her titular son John (Robert Walker, who died before shooting was complete), is a communist. Not much better is The Devil Never Sleeps (aka Satan Never Sleeps), his last feature from 1962 where a native Christian missionary woman in China is raped by a communist soldier, who later recants his ideology and helps her to flee the country.
Whilst McCarey’s detractors are entitled to point out that he is by no means an auteur in the sense of Hitchcock or even Capra (with whom he shares many parallels), this was mainly due to his to the width and charming versatility of McCarey’s career which started out in slapstick and in ended in social commentary. To McCarey images are mostly secondary; rhythm and sound dominate throughout his oeuvre. But the themes and motifs feature throughout make him unique in the canon of the American cinema. AS
LEO McCAREY RETROSPECTIVE | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018
Dir/scr: Felix Randau. Germany/Italy/Austria. 2017. 97 mins
Felix Randau opts for a rather unimaginative approach in this imagined drama about the final days of Alpine warrior Otzi, whose perfectly preserved body was found in 1991, over 5,000 years after he perished in an Italian glacier. With its captivating Alpine scenery and visceral depiction of life back then ICEMAN is nevertheless convincing and we do feel for Otzi and the savage world he inhabits.
This is Randau’s third feature and easily his most ambitious both in scope and budget and it provides solid entertainment for those keen on natural history and truth-based stories from way back when, recalling films like Pathfinder (1987) or even The Revenant (2016) and might inspire other filmmakers to try a more dynamic approach with a film about the 3,000 year old Ur-David, a red-haired Eurasian discovered in China, or our own Lindow Man whose remains emerged from around 2,000 years ago in a peat bog in Cheshire,
The characters here speak an untranslated version of the Rhaetic language but this actually works to the film’s advantage capturing our imagination about this ancient community of nomads, and providing a more peaceful, almost meditative experience.
We first meet Kelab (Jurgen Vogel) who lives in a cave with his pigs, goats and fur-clothed family, foraging for nourishment in the local forests. There appears to be a spiritual element to their existence, and one day while out hunting, his wife and son are brutally slaughtered leaving only their baby who Kelab takes with him on his journey into the snowy South Tyrol wilderness to find the holy shrine of Tineka.
Venturing into the breathtaking beauty of windswept mountain peaks and rugged snowscapes Kelab struggles on in the wilderness as the film turns into a gripping fight for survival when a dramatic fall into a deep crevasse saves him from the spears of two vicious warriors. An eerie atmospheric score ramps up the tension as Kelab fights on, Jurgen Vogel giving a nuanced performance that considerably adds to what might have been a rather unreachable character. It’s a scenic and cinematic experience and a brilliant depiction of the sheer basic savagery of life in that grim Neolithic world. MT
Artistic director Carlo Chatrian has unveiled his final line-up with an exciting eclectic selection of titles spanning mainstream and arthouse fare due to run at the picturesque Lake Maggiore setting from the 1st until 11th August 2018.
Piazza Grande will screen celebrated Filipino filmmaker Lino Brocka’s Maynila Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag alongside Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansmanactor, David Fincher’s Se7en and Blaze the latest film from actor turned auteur Ethan Hawke who is also to be honoured with an Excellence Award at this year’s jamboree.
There are two documentary premieres of note, screening out of competition, the first, Walking on Water (Andrey Paounov) explores the work of Bulgarian artist Christo whose Mastaba is currently gracing The Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park, the second is Etre et Avoir director Nicolas Philibert’s De Chaque Instant that looks at the life of nurses as they prepare for a lifetime of service.
Amongst the feature debuts to world premiere is Aneesh Chaganty’sSearching, and an animated film Ruben Grant – Collector from Slovenian artist, filmmaker and Berlinale winner Milorad Krstic,
Hardly catching his breath since his last film Hong Sangsoo joins the International Competition line-up with Gangyun Hotel (Hotel By The River), Abbas Fahdel’s latest Yara, Radu Muntean’s follow up to One Floor Below – Alice T, Dominga Sotomayor’s Tarde Para Morir Joven, Sibel, from Turkish director duo Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti, and Britain’s Richard Billingham with his debut Ray And Liz.
Playing in the Filmmakers of the Present strand there is Siyabonga from South African directorJoshua Magor, a poetic feature showcasing the lavish landscapes of a nation riddled with poverty and crime.
This year’s Honorary Leopard is to go to Bruno Dumont who will present the world premiere of his mini-series Coincoin Et Les Z’inhumains screened on the Piazza after the award ceremony.
Retrospectives are always something to look forward to and Locarno 71 dedicates its classic spot to screwball comedy director Leo McCarey, with Carey Grant starrer The Awful Truth (1937) headlining the selection.
The Piazza Grande provides the biggest outdoor screening area in Europe and will be the setting for Vianney Lebasque’s festival opener Les Beaux Esprits and closing film I Feel Good from Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kerverne. MT
Dir: Stefanie Brockhaus, Andres Wolff | Cast: HIssa Hilal | Drama | 89′ | Saudi/Germany
Hissa Hilal, Saudi poet and political activist in her forties, has made some ground-breaking literary efforts to push out the boundaries for women in Saudi Arabia. Veiled in her burqa she is a vehement critic of fundamental fanatics and Islamist terrorism. To be an outspoken woman and a poet in the Muslim world is an act of courage on its own, but to attack the predominantly male audience in the studio on live TV, goes a step further.
Ms Hilal is the focus of this enlightening documentary from Stefanie Brockhaus (On the other Side of Life) and Andy Wolff. We learn how she became the only woman competitor in the “Million’s Poet Show” 2015, televised to an audience of 70 million from Abu Dhabi (United Emirates). Remia (her mother does not let her use this name on TV), is married to another journalist and poet, who stands by her during the crisis following her appearance in the reality show, filmed in a TV studio with the most garish and gilded decor known to the modern world. It is a miracle in itself that she even reaches the grand final, where she will compete against five men. Covered in an abaya hijab and a burqa, Hissa attacks the unfaithfulness of men, and even more daring, she condemns the muftis, the issuers the Fatwa, all through her clever poetry. Needless to say, a Fatwa has been issued against her, a death threat, for which she is prepared: “If they kill me, I will be a martyr for humanity”.
For Hilal, “religion is a private matter, but is manipulated today for political ends”. Clips from documentaries from the early 20th century support her thesis clearly stating that a hundred years ago, Bedouin women could move around freely, have their own business and did not wear the burqa, which was only introduced later, “because beautiful women caused conflicts in the desert”. She remembers her youth, when Saudi Arabia was a much more liberal country. She watched television in the 1970s “when the parents forbid them to watch Egyptian movies. But we stayed up, until the parents were asleep and then enjoyed the forbidden features”. The change in Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world came in late 1979, with the Juhayman incident in Mecca when 270 people were killed and over 500 were injured. The revolt was lead by Juhayman al-Oteibi and Mohammed Abudl al-Qahtan, the latter claiming to be the Mahdi. The Saudi monarchy, feeling threatened by the clerics who accused them of selling out to Western culture, placated the religious leaders by giving them control over the whole of society: media, culture, education, everything. The interaction of genders was the first victim: even in the TV studio, genders are separated.
One of the most interesting elements of the film is seeing the contrast between the cities of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi and more liberal Oman, which is photographed both from an aerial perspective and with the camera moving freely through the streets and malls, evoking a authentic feel for Saudi Arabia and the Sultanate of Oman.
Tension builds in the grand finale “Million’s Poet Show”. The audience are clearly rooting in Hilal’s favour, but there’s bound to be some manipulation behind the scenes to ensure a male wins. She does not expect to be victorious and sadly her fears are realised. “They like to see me defeated, it’s really hate”. Her income from writing enables her to buy herself a house in Abu Dhabi; in the capital Riyadh this would not have been possible, and certainly not in the UK. She might have avoided the consequences of the Fatwa, but is not sure, when she will see her family again. This real eye-opener should be screened globally for all to see. MT
THE POETESS | NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW |
For the 71st Locarno Festival the British-Swiss design studio Jannuzzi Smith has created an abstract series of patterns to represent our symbol – the leopard. Drops of black ink spread on yellow paper, each forming one of the accidental compositions that will be used on posters, covers and animations for Locarno71.
Dir: John Caroll Lynch; Cast: Harry Dean Stanton; David Lynch; Ron Livingston; Ed Begley | US | Drama | 88min
Harry Dean Stanton reached his early-nineties with a string of a hundred or so nuanced character performances to be proud of in TV, indie and mainstream fare. The Kentucky born actor kicked off his career in the 1950s with an uncredited turn in Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man. Cool Hand Luke and Two-Lane Blacktop followed and he made notable impressions in Alien; Paris Texas and The Green Mile – and the Avengers Assemble and Twin Peaks. He died in September 2017.
John Carroll Lynch’ feature debut is devoted to Stanton’s rich brand of dark humour and hang-dog ‘dudeyness’, where finally the American National treasure gets a film all to himself. Described as the spiritual journey of a ninety-year0old atheist, LUCKYcertainly lives up its drole title. And although the film is rather a caricature of the MidWest mindset, Stanton’s poignant performance as a retired cowboy Lucky garnered a handful of US awards.
Redemption and rumination are popular themes and always make for a pithy drama – indeed, Stanton played the brother of Richard Farnsworth’s similar type in David Lynch’s The Straight Story nearly 20 years ago. Here as Lucky he is forced to review his own mortality and how its affects his loved ones, after a fall jolts him into introspection. As a debut, LUCKYis sure-footed and appealing with some memorable scenes amongst the more routine stuff of men playing cards and shooting the breeze in local bars. And Stanton is partnered by his old friend David Lynch (as Howard, an equally mellow character). A real Western gem, for anyone’s money. MT
BLURAY/DVD RELEASE COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA now on Mubi
Dir: Sierra Pettengill, Pacho Velez | Doc | US | 74′
Pettengill and Velez’ entertaining documentary captures the pageantry, absurdity and mastery of the made-for-TV politics of Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) entirely through White House footage and archive news reports. And although the directors brings nothing especially new to the party that covered the Reagan Administration from 1980-1988), with Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House, even the Reagan presidency needs to be re-evaluated.
Asked in 1980, why Ronald Reagan was elected president of the USA, a journalist friend of mine ventured his opinion: “The powers that are, wanted to give the job to somebody who read the cue-cards the best”. He was referring to Reagan’s acting career; though mostly spent in B-pictures, Reagan was a household name, and his portraits of the average, good-natured American (in the majority of his features), made him an ideal figure to identify with. Even if the truth about him – working as an informer for the FBI – would have been leaked, it would not have made any difference at the polls. Reagan himself was much more self-aware than one assumes. Asked by a TV interviewer if it helped to have been an actor before becoming president, he answered; “I don’t know how I would have done the job, if I had not been an actor.”
Yes, he had trouble spelling names, like the one of New Hampshire governor John Sununu, whose election he sponsored: the recorded interview had to be interrupted many a times, before Reagan got it right –but hey, George W. Bush could hardly string a complete sentence together. And even if Reagan’s appearance before the TV cameras with a saw in his hand, representing his fight for a meaner budget, was truly cringe-worthy, it seems more funny than malicious today. Anyhow, ‘staging the message’ was/is always part and parcel of the ‘White House Show’ – until Trump decided to break all the rules. The reason we have so much material on the Reagan years, is, that his administration recorded more events, than the five before combined.
Reagan was a cold-war warrior, and even after only one year in office, public opinion showed that the US population was more afraid of an all-out nuclear war with the USSR than 12 months before; further more, the majority of the US population thought that nuclear war with the USSR was inevitable. The president was in/famous for two of his statements: one was his support of the Strategic Defence Initiave (also known as ‘Star Wars’), the other one naming the USSR “as an evil empire”. But being the master communicator he was, Reagan turned from a falcon into a dove in his last years in the White House. Whilst president Gorbachev hired US PR agencies to help with his image (quite successfully, he gained the support of Margaret Thatcher and Francois Mitterand), Reagan had suffered a set back in the Iran affair in late ‘86: his prisoners for weapons deal cost him the support of his political base, and, for once, the great communicator had to retreat. In the end, Reagan even retracted his “evil empire” outburst: in the presence of Gorbachev he told reporters in Moscow “this quote belonged to another time, another era”.
The footage of Ronald and Nancy Reagan in Ronald McDonald costumes, entertaining a group of children, might be the funniest of this lively and often witty documentary, the overall perception is that, even if the Reagan presidency was “an MA in PR” compared with the present White House inhabitant, Ronald Reagan was a balanced human being. MT
OUT OF COMPETITION | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW | 2-12 AUGUST 2017
Dir: Annemarie Jacir. Palestine-France-Germany-Colombia-Norway-Qatar-United Arab Emirates. 2017. 96’
Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir conjures up a well-paced and watchable family drama fraught with difficulties for the patriarch and his prodigal architect son, who has returned from Rome for the wedding of his sister. Based on her own family, Jacir is familiar with the territory here in Nazareth where customs requires wedding invitations to be hand delivered, so WAJIBessentially plays out like a road movie where the two spend a great deal of the running time driving around while thrashing out their issues. The pain of Abu Shadi’s divorce still haunts him and infects the respectful relationship between the grown men that gradually grows more and more tense, especially when it emerges that Abu has been less than truthful about Shadi’s situation, failing to mention his son’s relationship while trying to matchmake at each encounter. Their journey also serves as a forum for Jacir to broaden the discussion on local politics, viewed from inside and outside the region, in this well-judged and wry drama. MT
NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 14 SEPTEMBER 2018
YOUTH JURY AWARD LOCARNO 2017 | BEST FILM | DUBAI INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 6-13 DECEMBER 2017
An Istanbul retirement home is playfully haunted by the rich and colourful memories of its battle-scarred occupants in this impressive and gracefully composed debut from Shevaun Mizrahi.
Outside, high-rise construction takes Turkey into an acquisitive new chapter of its history. But in the faded splendour of their palazzo building, the old guard reminisce with humour, perseverance and poignancy, remembering a time when life was fraught with war and poverty but also held together by a sense of community and the simple pleasures of sex, family, music and the visual arts. Dressed up for another day alone with their memories, the cultured occupants of this care home – who range from late seventies to much older – are left to their own devices, keeping their minds sharp with crosswords in the privacy of their rooms. Others sits together in companionable silence, gazing wistfully into the camera or staring vacantly to the world outside. Mizrahi’s one-to-one encounters are mostly observational and her static camera patiently contemplates each individual without rushing on, even when clearly some are suffering from senility, or even early stage dementia, while others are bent over and crippled by age.
Selma, an Armenian woman in her late nineties. even nods off while chatting (Mizrahi stays off camera, and we don’t hear her voice). She tells how her mill-owning family were chased from their village during the Armenian genocide; the men killed with knives and the animals burnt. “1915 was a terrible time…we were forced to convert to Islam”. Having lost the opportunity to marry, she looked after a Turkish baby for two years, and cried when she left her, never having kids herself. She advises Mizrahi to get married and raise a family when she can but is clearly philosophical about the past: “life has been good to me”.
In another room a soulful photographer attempts to load his camera, repeating over and over again: “I can’t see”. We feel for him, as French music plays softly in the background. Shaved and dressed in a suit and tie, he won’t be going anywhere today but looks forward to his birthday, checking the date on his mobile phone, with a magnifying glass. “in 9 days time, they will bring a cake”. A photo on the wall shows him proudly posing with his camera, his glossy black hair slicked back, he looks like a 1950s matinée idol .
A couple of old boys chat in a stationary lift – which they can’t operate, or pretend they can’t. One says to the other, a heavy smoker: “I’m sick of your breath, take an eucalyptus sweet, or even two” The lift door eventually opens to let two women in. Another – rather dapper pianist – treats us to a classical flurry on the keyboards before gushing forth with some particularly florid memories with his girlfriend in the back of a car: Sexual desire – and the longing for physical touch doesn’t change with age and he is clearly concerned about his emotional future. Hoping there will another relationship in his life (he’s only 77), he swiftly proposes marriage to Mizrahi: “you’re 29, I don’t expect you to stop going out dancing with your friends”. In return, he offers his generous pension, as a dowry.
As dawn breaks, a woodpecker and some spirited birdsong ushers in another day, as residents wash and dress in hopeful preparation. But the swirling murmuration of the starlings also signals the change of season as another winter approaches, suitably recalling the words of Dylan Thomas: ‘Old age should burn and rave at close of day’. It certainly describes these spirited people, captured so charmingly here by Shevaun Mizrahi. MT
Radu Jude’s astonishing documentary follow-up to Aferim! is a chronicle of Romania’s anti-semitism during the late 1930s-1940s told entirely from the perspective of a Jewish doctor, Emil Dorian.
The Romanian director’s fifth full-length film takes the form of a series of stunning professionally taken monochrome photographs (often fading at the edges), featuring groups of ordinary people from the Southern village of Slobozia affected by the horrific ethnic cleansing that raged during the country’s outbreak of fervent Second World War Nationalism. The photographs picture well-dressed family groups, along with farmers posing with their animals and officials proudly sporting their uniforms.
The grisly episode in history contrasts with the benign, often smiling faces of the characters portrayed, striking a poignant note of complicity with viewers who are well aware of their fate, even before they are. Jude narrates against a soundtrack of patriotic anthems and radio broadcasts from the era charting Octavian Goga’s rise to power in September 1937. At the time we hear that a patient in the local hospital is the only Jew suffering from TB and a petition goes round that he should be thrown out. This is the seed of hate that rapidly grew and flourished throughout the country as Romania steadily falls under the grip of Fascism and a Legionnaire’s regime.
Dr Dorian’s florid account of atrocities that occurred during the genocide flows on while the figures in the pristine photographs keep beaming out, beautifully-dressed and posed, almost in defiance of the horrors awaiting them. King Carol II announces there will be no progrom, “but it would be easier for Jews if they left Romania”. Eventually in 1938 synagogues begin to be burnt down as antisemitism rages across the nation and Jewish people become scapegoats. As the country descends into chaos mass deportations take place and the horrors of genocide gradually become apparent. The only hint at personal suffering comes from Dorian himself as he describes “an endless season whose days are grey, cold and bloodstained.”
This episode in history may be not be common knowledge to many viewers (including me, for that matter) but Jude brings it to our attention in a way that makes us want to discover more, and without beating us over the head with a sensationalist portrait, which could have so easily been the case. The film is striking and poetic, the photographs collated with flair and skill. DEATH NATION is a work of art and a documentary that begs to be seen by all. MT
A young woman leaves a Buddhist temple where she has trained as a Nun, in this evocative Chinese drama created entirely from surveillance footage from with celebrated conceptual artist Xu Bing. DRAGONFLY EYESis an unsettling watch but a poetic one that melds conceptual art with cinema: Just the kind of fare that makes Locarno Film Festival tick with the edgy inventiveness that makes it different and daring.
Relying on prestige editing and clever sound design DRAGONFLY EYES rocks with a rakish rhythm while offering audiences essential time out to contemplate its artful originality. This bracing feature recalls the work of Polish artists Anka and Wilhelm Sasnal Fresh and Thai maestro Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Other artists in the shape of Matthieu Laclau and composer Yoshihiro Hano collaborate on the film scripted by the poet Zhai Yongming whose writing responded to the found footage, rather than the conventional way round. Dragonfly Eyes also featurescomputerised voice techniques that alternate between calm chanting and more rasping vocal sounds.
After Qing Ting (‘Dragonfly’, in Chinese) has left her holy home, she finds herself working in a milking factory where she confesses to her colleague Ke Fan that she’d like to set one of the cows free. The cow in question is then seen wandering off down a road in the dark, and footage of various road accidents follows suggesting a doon-laden outcome. The next minute Qing Ting is in a dry cleaning shop and Ke Fan appears to be stalking her as they embark of a tense on/off affair. What emerges feels like the classic misogynist scenario of modern times but the experimental form it takes feels bizarre and often alarming, punctuated by an atmospheric electronic soundtrack. Different but definitely daring and fresh. MT
Bing Wang’s low-key portrait of a woman’s final days offers an engaging snapshot of modern rural China. Highlighting our growing concern for issues such as Alzheimer’s and the breakdown of the family unit, this witty and filmic documentary never takes itself too seriously while maintaining the dignity of its central focus.
Mrs Fang (Fang Xiuying) has come home from hospital to die. In the ramshackle riverside farming village of Huzhou, she is now in her late sixties and surrounded by her extended family who gather around her bed. The chatter is irreverent and off-the-cuff – this is just another ritual in their lives together as they share every subtle nuance of her dying days. Daughter and son have given up their jobs to tend to her needs, which appear modest, as she now lies staring vacantly from her bed, a set of prominent yellow teeth bared grotesquely from a hollowed out face. Her son stands in ceremony taking a pulse, and someone says: “he acts like a doctor”. No offence taken, and none intended – this is just an example of the candidness of this community that leavens a film that could otherwise be gruelling. A brief opening scene from the year before has shown Mrs Fang walking peacefully along the river. A year later, the deterioration in her condition is remarkable.
Bing still finds beauty in this seedy backwater. As the men embark on a nocturnal fishing trip, their little boat flashes like an emerald against the cocoa-coloured night sky. The men talk continuously: “It’s a snakehead”, “the battery’s leaking”, “try for a turtle, they’re in the rushes”. Their torch buzzes loudly only drowned out by the endless roar of traffic on the highway. Later they go home, leaving a woman to gut the fish and do the dirty work. Nothing changes, even in China. But the director’s message is loud and clear: How calm, secure and dignified death can be when your family is there to look after you. MT
Filmmaker Raul Ruiz, died in 2011 after completing his best work The Mysteries of Lisbon. Such cannot be said for the Locarno 2017 hopeful A Wandering Soap Opera which has finally been completed by his widow and former editor Valeria Sarmiento.
This is not the first time a Ruiz film has been in the Swiss competition. His debut feature, Three Sad Tigers, won the Golden Leopard back in 1969. And Sarmiento did a great job with The Lines of Wellington, just after Ruiz died, but the hitherto unfinished documentary is an alienating affair, unless you’re familiar with Chilean vintage soap operas, and even then this is an acquired taste, although clearly very popular with those in the know, who created it uproariously during the Locarno Press screening.
A Wandering Soap Opera (Una telenovela errante) was shot in Ruiz’s native Chile during six days in 1990, but never edited or scored. The 16mm film explores Chile’s comedy backdrop during the Pinochet years (1973-1989) when Ruiz had been exiled to Europe returning after the president had fallen from grace but some of the humour is arcane and the rambling style and look feels rather dated but not in a good way, taking the form of seven chapters or ‘days’, each relevant to a day of shooting. Some of the humour is translatable in expressing the zeitgeist of the era: “If you behave badly in this life, you’ll become a Chilean in the next”. And the first skit is by far the funniest, for me it all went downhill comedy-wise afterwards. For those expecting something along the lines of Jodorowsky’s The Dance of Reality will be disappointed although the title does sound like it might be rather fun. This is obviously a film with a strong political undercurrent that also satirises male/female relations naturally erring on the misogynist take you might expect from a South American country, with florid language and melodrama serving the political narrative extremely well. MT
Travis Wilkerson investigates his great-grandfather’s killing of a black man back in 1946 and regales us with a haunting pictorial history of Black and White Alabama seething with atmospheric social unrest, and a film with one of the best soundtracks of 2017.
Calling his documentary a “white nightmare” Wilkerson certainly instills plenty of White guilt into this stylishly cinematic detective story whose important social/political theme breathes life into an incident that happened over 70 years ago, and whose implications still hold sway in today’s Trump era. The Southern states of America are still a breading ground for racial hatred and a powder keg of Black versus White conflict.
Narrated by Wilkerson in an often vehement style that sets the tone for this Southern – at times almost Gothic – tale that opens by contrasting his personal family story with that told in To Kill a Mockingbird. Tinted scarlet and orange images and remixed film clips of Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch are played as a preface to footage of an angry mob, with the words: “My great-grandfather would’ve been one of the members of that lynch mob,” It emerges that a character called S.E. Branch apparently shot and killed a black man named Bill Spann in a general store in the small town of Dothan, Alabama. Spann was reported to be robbing his shop and although Branch was charged with murder, the inquiry eventually came to nothing.
The murder investigation is somehow less engaging that the political and social story Wilkerson has to tell. We discover that Branch was not only a racist but also a bad husband who abused his wife making her sleep in a small bed next to his larger one and even trying to strangle her one night. But after talking to three sisters, who are his aunts, Wilkerson eventually discovery of Spann’s unmarked grave feels underwhelming in contrast with the more important theme of racial hatred and segregation highlighted in the film. Furthermore, one of Wilkerson’s aunts, who now works as a white supremacist activist, actually contradicts the earlier claim that Branch killed Spann for robbing his shop, claiming Spann had actually threatened a fellow black woman with a knife, and Branch shot then him in her defence. A theory that Wilkerson never seems to contradict.
However, his overlying message – that the world is threatened by White Supremacy and “the White will incinerate the World” – seems wildly overreactive. Obviously Black lives matter but Wilkerson needs gain ome perspective and to travel further afield to discover that in some countries, namely South Africa, Black people legally have the upper hand in a Black Empowerment regime. His final incendiary comment: “You fired the gun!” seems to point the finger at viewers, in a rather menacing finale.
That all said, this is an astonishing documentary enlivened by a stunning soundtrack featuring the music of Phil Ochs and punctuating by Janelle Monae’s percussive protest song “Hell You Talmbout” “Say his name, say his name!,” And despite Wilkerson’s failure to reach a satisfactory conclusion to the story of his forefather, DO YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN provides a memorable and engrossing watch. MT
Dir/Co-writer: Ilian Metev | Cast: Mila Mikova, Nikolay Mashalov, Todor Veltchev, Simona Genkova | Bulgaria | Drama 83′
Ilian Metev makes the most of a limited budget in his confident but delicately drawn cinema vérité style debut exploring the day to day life of a Sofia-based family of four.
Scripted by Metev and co-writer Betina Ip, its focus is the gifted teenager daughter who is competing for chance to study piano in Germany. Mila (Mila Mikhova) is shy and introspective for her age and shares a close but often argumentative relationship with her feisty younger brother Niki (Niki Mashalov). Their father, Todor (Todor Velchev) is too consumed by his work as a physics professor to engage with his kids on anything other than scientific theory but Mila’s piano teacher (Simona Genkova) is calm and kindly, often helping Mila to relax with meditation exercises and breathing techniques as she coaches and encourages her piano practice. The elephant in the room here is clearly the mother who is mentioned but never appears, and her absence is keenly felt throughout this limpid character piece, beautifully captured by Julian Atanassov voyeuristic camara, on mid-range and intimate close-ups.
3/4 is an engaging and tender-hearted piece of filmmaking that lifts the lid on ordinary life in middle-class Bulgaria with a gentle dramatic arc that offers some subtle surprises along the way. It will certainly appeal to the arthouse crowd who will appreciate the naturalistic performances, beautiful lensing and authentic portrayal of ordinary life. MT
Dominik Locher (Tempo Girl) explores the nature of masculinity and fatherhood in his rather bland Swiss-set screen debut GOLIATH which tries to find a new angle on unwanted pregnancy and thwarted masculinity.
Designed to appeal to new audiences, its young lead Sven Schelker plays David a timid office worker who goes all petulant when his girlfriend Jessy (Jasna Fritzi Bauer) announces her surprise pregnancy. Clearly he can’t face the thought of growing up but the couple are clearly quite keen on one another and baulk at abortion after their first appointment. Later on, David fails to man up when the couple are attacked on the train forcing him to re-examine their relationship dynamic where Jessy appears to wear the trousers. So David starts to beef up in the gym, and inject himself with anabolic steroids, slowly becoming the stereotype of dumb machismo. The effort to improve his pecs and charisma only succeeds in the former endeavour. Instead of confidence and masculine allure, the young guy develops a nasty aggressive streak with negative implications for Jessy and the baby.
Locher’s script attempts to break down the stereotypical image of Switzerland as being a pacifist and conservative country in crafting a drama that feels unconvincing and formulaic and a storyline that is predictable throughout, despite trying to go to the ‘dark side’. Obviously there a shady characters and situations everywhere but unlike the impressive thriller Chrieg which succeeded with an authentic dystopian tale, GOLIATHmerely tries to overlay an everyday urban story with sinister undertones that just doesn’t convince. The characters are underwritten and bland, and despite the best efforts of its leads and Daniel Lobos’ creative attempts to ‘sex up’ Switzerland by giving the film an artistic feel, the end result is amateurish. Switzerland is a fantastic country which should be proud of its moral and ethic excellence and fabulous lifestyle. Locher just needs to find a real story and tell it well. MT
Dir/Writer: F J Ossang | France/Port | Drama | 99′
Cult French auteur F J Ossang has made a handful of features: L’affaire des Divisions Morituri (1985); Doctor Chance (Locarno/1998; Dharma Guns (2010) and casts a niche selection of French stars for his latest Locarno Golden Leopard hopeful, a Noirish mystery drama with Paul Hamy, Damien Bonnard, Gaspard Ulliel and Pascal Greggory.
9 FINGERS is very much an exercise in style over substance; and if you like Ossang’s style then you will enjoy this enigmatic affair that could easily serve as a metaphor for the crisis-ridden state of the world. Shot in black and white with occasional sorties into the Academy ratio, accentuating the clandestine rather claustrophobic nature of the loose plotline, it follows a character named Magliore (Hamy) who, in the opening scenes, inherits a fortune from a dying man. Kidnapped by a gang after his loot, he then becomes their willing accomplice as they flee an unknown enemy across land and sea aboard a large steamer, beset by a mystery fever which could be typhoid. Utterly pretentious and arcane, this is nonetheless a sumptuously photographed wartime pastiche that feels hollow and bewildering despite the best efforts of its talented cast to breathe life into an episodic, threadbare narrative. Sadly, most of the audience walked out before the end credits rolled. MT
Dir: Andrei Cretulescu | Romania/France | Drama | 119′
Romanian cinema seems to have peaked after its recent New Wave heyday led largely by Radu Jude, Cristi Puiu and Cristian Mungiu. who have all been lauded and rewarded on the international festival circuit. The watchwords here have always been ‘lengthy and slow-burning’ often demanding our attention for over two hours, but on the whole this has been worthwhile. Sadly Andrei Cretulescu’s Charleston overstays its welcome at just short of two hours in a drama that feels distinctly self-indulgent – amateurish even.
But although CHARLESTON is not in the major league, there are elements that recommend it. Barbu Bălăşoiu’s artful cinematography showcases modern Bucharest with style and flair enlivening this tragi-comedy with its contemporary take on relationships, music, cultural and outdoor pursuits, all set to jazzy Massimiliano Nardulli’s jazzy score.
The title CHARLESTON could refer to the dance-off between the film’s central duo – although the tone here is more fraught and sorrowful than spirited, in tune with its 1920s-namesake. It may also allude to the awkward impromptu interlude that occurs midday through the action. The problems throughout is that we feel nothing for our central characters. We are also left unmoved by an opening scene where a young woman (Iona/Ana Ularu) is pictured staring at her phone before rushing headlong into a speeding vehicle. Graveside, we then meet her thuggish other half having a fag as he contemplates the future, and possibly the past. Alexandru (Serban Pavluvu is later seen celebrating his 42nd birthday with a select group of friends – a pale imitation of the one in Sieranevada. After dinner Alexandru answers the door to a strangers who then emerges as his dead wife’s former lover. Clearly our brutish hero was totally unaware of the situation – and gives the mushc younger squirt of a man (Sebastian/Radu Iacoban) a good hiding. The wounded lover still stays around, as if to serve a self-indulgent penance in his cuckhold’s former matrimonial home. This grim aftermath then develops into a mutual outpouring of anger, grief, retaliation, claim and counter claim which culminates in a bizarre road trip to the place where the couple spent their honeymoon.
This all sounds plausible and rather intriguing and there are some elements that really work, But less is always better than more in this lacklustre affair which is over-talkie dialogue-wise and underpowered dramatically. One thing is for sure, time out from the endless bickering between Alexandru and his rival Sebastian could have allowed the audience time out to contemplate the scenario from their own perspective and possibly given them more slack . MT
Dir/Writer: Felipe Hirsch | Cast: Carla Quevedo, Alfredo Castro, Daniel Hendler | Drama | Brazil | 100′
This conventional but stylish drama from Brazilian auteur Felipe Hirsch is a love letter to literature and reading in general. The story unfolds an old part of Buenos Aires or maybe Montevideo, where a man (Daniel Hendler) runs a vintage bookshop with many rare first editions. It also provides a meeting point for literary lovers to engage in the occasional relaxed soirée. The business runs smoothly and each day he opens shop but only appears to have one tentative customer in the shape of Ana (the coltish Carla Quevedo) who browses the dusty shelves teasingly but never buys. As the man develops a fascination for this young bohemian beauty who lives with her father in a nearby pensione – or so she says – and it soon emerges that her loose mannish clothing enables her penchant for cleptomania, as gradually his books disappear, as his obsession for her increases and an affair eventually develops.
SEVERINA is a delicately sensual affair which wafts enigmatically between reality and mystery until the two interweave and gradually become indistiguishable. A paean to romantic love as much as a celebration of wine-fuelled literary conversation and intellectual debate, SEVERINA recalls the languor of long afternoons and late nights spent reading in companionable silence.
The Brazilian filmmaker bases his drowsy drama on Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s book of the same name and is dedicated to the sheer pleasure of reading. But he keeps his narrative loose and enigmatic. Quevado gives a stunning performance as the seductive but manipulative minx who have the bookseller in her thrall as she comes and goes elusively claiming to live with her father – who could also be her lover – or even both, played by a louche Alfredo Castro in seedy ‘foreign correspondent’ mode. The tone turns more unsettling when he is taken seriously ill throwing the lovers together in the dusty rooms of the bookshop, as the bookseller is drawn inexorably under Ana’s spell in the sinister finale of this persuasive and intriguing Noirish drama. MT
Dir/Writer: Serge Bozon | Cast: Isabelle Huppert, José Garcia, Romain Duris | France | Drama | 95′
Isabelle Huppert joins Serge Bozon for their second quirky arthouse collaboration in this French female take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s legendary novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In a gesture to French literature, the film is set in Lyon’s ‘Arthur Rimbaud’ Secondary School where Huppert plays Marie Géguil an unpopular physics teacher unable to inspire or control her rowdy bunch of mixed race pupils.
Serge Bozon has his admirers but his films are an acquired taste outside France and MADAME HYDEis no exception. It shares the same offbeat brand of humour as TIP TOP (2013) which won a special mention at Cannes that year. He also works as a writer and had a small part in Mathieu’s Amalric’s stylish thriller The Blue Room. MADAME HYDE works on two levels: as a surreal fantasy thriller, and an inspirational drama about encouraging kids to rise above their difficulties and find their vocational “beacon” in life, as Huppert Géquil does here. As such this is a worthwhile but often awkward piece of filmmaking that eventually makes it through largely due to Huppert’s game portrayal as the soon to be transformed Mrs Hyde (Géquil/Jekyll) and Romain Duris’ tourette-like comedy turn as the Head Master. There is also support from Jose Garcia as Madame’s rather dense but endearing ‘house husband’ and Malik, a tricky pupil.
And while Madame G starts off as a cowed and fearful figure she herself eventually finds her own mojo’when she becomes a ‘flaming beacon’ after lightening strikes her portacabin laboratory and transforms her into a conduit for change, for everyone concerned. She develops the power of electrical ignition simply through her touch, as the charge sparks visibly through her veins. Although these powers are not all good: the next door neighbours pair of alsatians sadly perish as does a disruptive truant. But for the most part this eerie change of life is for the better – and is not due to the menopause, as her obsequious husband suggests.
Apart from this rather sensational visual trick, Madame’s confidence soars enabling her to engage with her pupils in a special project of building a Faraday cage. She also bonds with a difficult disable pupil Malik (Adda Senani) helping him to develop his interest in physics.
On paper Madame Hyde has some really inventive and worthwhile ideas but the actual film never flows smoothly and there are too many longueurs where the action feel laboured and awkward although Huppert is particularly convincing in her role. Malik also creates an authentic portrait of a young guy struggling to find his feet in life, in more ways than one. MT
Dir: David Leitch | Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones | Action Thriller | 115′ | US
Charlize Theron tries to save MI6 while the Berlin Wall tumbles in David Leitch’s visually arresting contribution to the espionage genre that often takes itself too seriously trumping internecine intrigue with vitriolic violence. There’s one impressive scene but you’ll have to wait until the final moments to enjoy it so the first hour or so will feel in retrospect like treading water – albeit squally Neon-lit and stormy water.
As the heroine of the piece Lorraine Broughton, the blond (and occasionally brunette) – bruised and battered – bombshell possesses the requisite steely resolve to convince audiences of her integrity but is often forced to curb her characteristic verve – while displaying her unrivalled sex appeal in scenes where she’s not crossing keys or juggling fake passports in this action-packed affair from the director of stunt cult classic Fight Club (1999). ATOMIC BLOND is based on Antony Johnson’s comics and Theron stars alongside a sterling British cast of James McAvoy, as her sidekick; Toby Jones as her handler; and a rather underwritten Eddie Marsan as a Russian defector.
We first meet Theron’s MI6 agent freshly bruised in a bath of ice. She is in Berlin for a progress report with her local bosses (Jones and John Goodman) updating them on her work to flush out a confidential list of British spies operating on the Continent. From thence the plot withers in a thriller that can only be described as Besson (pre-Valerian) meets Bond. At the end of the day, ATOMIC BLONDis really just a vehicle for Charlize Theron in a rather sketchy narrative that relies on action and her saucy kit to drive its rather sketchy ‘plot’ forward, seducing you with stylistic technique so you won’t notice the rather slim storyline which is just a prelude so sit back and enjoy the ride to the fabulous finale. MT
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 2-12 AUGUST 2017 | ON RELEAE NATIONWIDE 11 Aug
Montreal is the setting for this persuasive arthouse documentary having us believe that extreme body-building is a living art form to be admired, and revered even. It explores the muscle-flexing, grunt-ridden moments dedicated to the practice of corpulent honing for six masculine machos: a personal trainer, a wrestler and four bodybuilders. They are the gladiators of our contemporary civilisation.
Canadian filmmaker Denis Côté is well known for his rhythmic, eclectic documentaries: the first Carcasses explored a ‘car cemetery’; his meditation on animals Bestiaire followed and Joy of Man’s Desiring examined the comforting cycle of work routine. Here at Locarno Denis Côté has won awards for his dramas Curling (2010) and All That She Wants (2008). A SKIN SO SOFTis his hopeful for this year’s Golden Leopard and shows his genuine almost respectful fascination for a subject that many could regard with disdain or even abhorrence. The film moves with Jaguar-like stealth over the bulbous bodies almost luxuriating in the rippling muscles and satin-like skin of the men who work tirelessly to service their physiques.
First up is the largest of the bunch of gentle brutes who has not only developed his physique but also grown his facial hair to Samsonesque proportions. The camera caresses its ebony rich lustre moving down slowly over his pumped up body that requires a special diet and strict beauty routine. The next man is younger and less developed but again devotes a quasi religious dedication to his physical development. All give little quarter to improving their conversational skills, a fact that must depress and bore their womenfolk who treat them with patience and tolerance.
These are clearly self-regarding types who take their exercise regimen seriously but there is also strangely something rather vulnerable about the way this long-suffering and stoical attention to their bodies makes them seem less powerful emotionally. If there is an opposite of anthropomorphism, this is it. One trainer has a more humorous take on proceedings, bemoaning the less than perfect symmetry of his body. And there is a wonderful scene where these scantily clad beefed-up bodies romp riotously, desporting themselves ‘en plein air’ across a field of cows.With its Kraftwerk style soundtrack A SKIN SO SOFT is magnificent stuff and another truly unique creation from the maverick Canadian director. MT
Dir: Helene Cattet, Bruno Forzani | Cast: Elina Lowensohn, Marc Barbe, Stephane Ferrara, Bernie Bonvoisin, Michelangelo Marchese, Herve Sogne | Thriller | 92′ | French/Belgian
Stylishly retro in the same way as their imaginatively entitled first feature The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears,Let the Corpses Tan (Laissez bronzer les cadavres), is the latest edgy thriller from Belgium auteurs Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani, adapted from Jean-Pierre Bastid’s noted novel melding thriller with social and political critique. While Strange Colour was are intricately Art Nouveau, Corpsespays hommage to Sergio Leone’s florid close-up/long shot style of filmmaking.
Corpses’s storyline also brings to mind a racier, more vibrant (thanks to Manu Dacosse’s vivid visuals), frenzied version of Cul de Sac with a stash of gold and shoot-outs all thrown in. Well that’s the way it starts off, at least. In craggy Corsica a raddled writer (Bernier) is lazing away his days in secluded sun-drenched splendour with his loopy lover Luce (the superb Elina Lowensohn). But their idyll is interrupted when some vague acquaintances arrive hoping to conceal their stolen booty in this remote spot. But the local cops (Herve Sogne, Dominique Troyes) are on their tail and promptly arrive on the scene before crims Rhino (Stephane Ferrara) and his gang have a chance to smooth things over. And soon Bernier’s wife (Dorylia Calmel) and son (Bamba Forzani Ndiaye) also join the impromptu party, on spec.
And once the action starts all thoughts of Cul de Sac’s intricate psychodrama and Bastid’s social commentary are literally blown away by an all out stylistic gun battle which blazes non-stop unremittingly – or so it seems – for the rest of thriller. And whilst there’s a welcome Sergio Leone style twang to the proceedings – which whips you back to the ’60s with slices of Ennio Morricone and the popular Italian singer Nico Fidenco (Su nel cielo) thrown in, the hollowness echoes after the twanging shots die out.
LET THE CORPSES TAN is fabulous fun while it lasts but sadly fades from the memory (not the eardrums) once it’s over. That said, it’s just the thing for a sizzling summer night in Locarno – or anywhere else, for that matter!. MT
Dir: Aaron Katz | Cast: Lola Kirke, Zoe Kravitz, John Cho, Ricki Lake | US | Drama | 93′
This low-budget neo-Noir is a US indie version of Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper and Clouds of Sils Maria exploring the links between female friendship and co-dependence, and the nature of celebrity through the complex relationship of a Hollywood starlet and her PA, who are actually closer that they would like to admit.
Katz is best known for his ‘mumblecore’ period but GEMINI, made on a shoestring budget in down LA, sees a move mystery drama in this female-centric affair which may appeal to arthouse audiences with its enigmatic storytelling and washed out ’80s B-movie’ visual style, similar to that of Kelly Reichardt.
Jill LeBeau (Lola Kirke) is the personal assistant in question who becomes a suspect and investigator in the ‘murder’ of her stressed out boss Heather (Zoe Kravitz), who has split from her lightweight boyfriend Devin (Reeve Carney) who was covertly two-timing her with model Tracy (Greta Lee). Heather has recently been a petulant figure for all concerned and there’s consequently a string of a characters from her côterie who could have perpetrated the crime.
Jill emerges the more intelligent and convincing of the professional partnership, further highlighting the dubious nature of celebrity status, but loyal as she is to her boss, she also has her own integrity to safeguard and cannot risk being consumed by Heather’s neediness and narcissistic tendencies.
The film moves at a snail’s pace but the hook is Katz’ dryly witty script that provides some amusing moments. GEMINI is a drama that promises much more than it eventually delivers but will absorb you for its meagre running time with strong performances from Kirke and John Cho’s appealing LA detective. MT
LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2-10 AUGUST 2017
Dir: Hlynur Pálmason | Cast: Simon Sears, Elliott Crosset Hove, Drama | Iceland/Den | 89′
There’s a great deal to admire in Icelandic director Hlynur Pálmason’s stunning debut Winter Brothers (Vinterbrodre). Visually and thematically this is a intense portrait of fraught and uneasy brotherhood, but the narrative is too slim and meandering to really underpin this dour psychodrama.
Most of the action takes place in the dimly lit caverns of a remote limestone mine in Denmark where the brothers in question Emil (Elliott Crosset Hove) and Johan (Simon Sears) work together, their gruff conversations are often drowned out by the thudding industrial turmoil around them. Emil is the less appealing of the two and given to pinching anything he can lay his hands on, he also peddles his home brew to his fellow-workers. Johan is the more placid and older brother of the pair but clearly there is an uneasy competitive streak that threatens to erupt at any moment, and it does during one striking scene in this tough character driven piece with its occasional flinty sparks of humour.
It soon transpires that Emil’s liquor is a lethal concoction and potentially fatal for one of his workmates, turning the community against him. And as he emerges a victim, we ironically start to feel more sympathy for his mournful predicament as the lonely outsider, largely due to Crosset Ove’s skilful performance. As Emil, he also shines in the sequences where his boss (Lars Mikkelsen) brings him to heel and in his fascination for armed combat and training videos that leads him to obtaining an automatic rifle.
DoP Maria Von Hausswolff’s evokes the vastness of the wild snowbound Northern scenery to great effect, the only brightness coming from the miners’ helmets as they punctuate the bleak hell-hole of the mine. WINTER BROTHERS is a decent first feature showing a director mastering his craft and hopefully developing a stronger narrative in his next title. MT
Dir: Jacques Tourneur | 92′ | Western Drama | Susan Haywood, Dana Andrews, Brian Donlevy, Patricia Roc | US
CANYON PASSAGE (1946) is another underrated Tourneur masterpiece that fell from favour for not falling in with the standards of the genre: it is not a Western with a central revenge story nor a roadie or outlaw narrative, and the hero (or cavalry) does not save the town from attacking marauders. CANYON PASSAGE is a story about the community, the nuts and bolts that make the town work. It is a document of values, conflicts, defects and — in the end – a re-affirmation of the way people lived in the newly conquered West.
Tourneur was only confirmed as the director in July of 1945, a month before shooting began in and around Diamond Lake and Medford, Oregon. Before his appointment, Robert Siodmak, Stuart Heisler and George Marshall were all attached to the project. Set in 1856, the central character Logan (Tourneur regular, Dana Andrews ), runs a mule freight line and a general store in the small mining town of Jacksonville. Ernest Pascal’s script (based on the novel by Ernest Haycox), describes his relationship with his friends: George Camrose (Brian Donlevy), a banker, who steals gold from his customers to cover his gambling debts. George’s fiancée Lucy Overmite (Susan Hayward), is secretly in love with Logan; while Caroline Marsh (Patricia Roc) gets engaged to him during a cabin rising. Finally, there is the violent Honey Bragg (Ward Bond), a loner whom Logan suspects of various unsolved crimes. To cover his embezzlements, Camrose kills a miner. He is caught and sentenced to death by a kangaroo court. Logan helps him to escape when an Indian uprising causes confusion. George and Bragg are killed, while Caroline gives up Logan, whom she calls ‘restless’. Logan rides off with Caroline to San Francisco.
The way the film resolves conflicts seems rather modern, anticipating certain films by Sam Peckinpah (who would be Tourneur’s assistant on Wichita) and Robert Altman. The denouements are not without regret: Logan speaking George’s epitaph: “There is a fine margin between what could have been and what is…In some other kind of country he might have made the grade.” The peaceful Hi Linnet (Hoagy Carmichael) is a very modern bard who could easily make an appearance in a 1960s retro Western.
DoP Edward Cronjager excels is the poetic night scene where Linnet’s role in the developing patterns of the film are shown in all their complexity. Tourneur uses texture, movement, and his signature light and shadow in same way as in his black-and-white films. The exteriors call to mind Days of Glory, Out of the Past and Berlin Express; their towering heights dwarfing the characters. For example, the shoot-out between Logan and Bragg in the forest, uses the height of the trees to show nature’s indifference to human conflict. Finally, Logan is a true Tourneur hero: his journey has no destination: it is purely motion. And in this way, Logan resembles the later Tourneur heroes, particularly Jeff Bailey in the director’s next film, Out of the Past.
JACQUES TOURNEUR RETRO | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | 2-12 AUGUST 2017
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL is celebrating its 70th Anniversary with a feline, canine and fantasy theme leading up to the the real mystery – who will win the coveted GOLDEN LEOPARD? There’s a surreal feel to this special edition with Isabelle Huppert struck by lightening in MADAME HYDE, a man who turns into a dog in Vanessa Paradis’ latest film CHIEN and of course the fabulous JACQUES TOURNEUR retrospective with a chance to see CAT PEOPLE (1942); THE LEOPARD MAN and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) in the Grand Piazza which seats 8,000 cinema-goers – Europe’s largest screening venue.
While Jacques Tourneur clearly had a feel for the surreal and a penchant for the macabre, he was not very fond of his four French features, shot between 1931 and 1934: “All those films are mixed up with each other in my mind. They resemble each other so much! It was always the same formula: musical, happy, young.” This is certainly true for Tout Ça Ne Vaut pas l’Amour; Pour Être Aimé and Toto but Les Filles de la Concierge (1934) is a brilliant character milieu study of a concierge. Madame Leclercq is the titular heroine who wants the best for her three daughters, whatever the circumstances. She even ‘rents’ one, Ginettte, to a wealthy suitor, but the ‘happy end’ justifies her method. Les Fillesmust have had some impact on Tourneur because, thirty years later, he expressed the desire to remake the film: “One could make a marvellous film out of it. People don’t make enough films about concierges, they’re an amazing group.” Indeed, where would be without Carlton, Your Doorman, the legendary concierge in TV hit Rhoda?.
In 1934 Jacques Tourneur returned to Hollywood to work as a Second Unit director at MGM, where he also directed twenty short films. The most interesting of the shorts are Romance of Radium (1937), where the director takes us on a forty-year journey through the discovery process of what would become nuclear power, in just ten minutes! Part historical drama, impersonal chronicle and staged ‘docu-drama’, Romance is very dense; the treatment of the source as something “outside” of our world – it is clearly an early version of Experiment Perilous. What do You Think (1937) is a haunted house mystery, with the plot, structured like a Chinese mystery box, stretching out into the past, and the studios of Hollywood. It is certainly as obsessive as many of Tourneur’s features.
THEY ALL COME OUT(1939), Tourneur’s first feature in Hollywood, was first planned as a two-reel segment for a “Crime does not Pay” series of short films. It follows rather conventional lines (Bank heist and prison rehab), and, is visually satisfying, thanks to a very mobile camera, but its structure suffers from the late embellishment of the narrative.
Tourneur’s next projects for MGM were two Nick Carter features, MASTER DETECTIVE(1939) and PHANTOM RIDERS (1940). As Chris Fujiwara (who will present the retro) puts it: “Master Detective” is quicker and more immediately striking, but Phantom Riders has more in common visually with Tourneur’s later films. If MASTER DETECTIVElooks back to Tourneur’s past with its skilful interweaving of documentary and fiction, PHANTOM RIDERSanticipates the future with its sustaining of mood through rich décor and careful lighting; its low-budget exoticism; and its hint of thwarted sexuality”. But Tourneur really hated DOCTORS DON’T TELL(1941): “I detest this film, it is my worst”. All one can add, is that Doctors is really the most ‘un-Tourneresque’ feature of his career: it is bad, even for a routine film, its banality stupefying.
So after dabbling in the art of filmmaking in the 1930s, Jacques Tourneur’s most important features were to follow during the 1940s. In 1942, Val Lewton, who worked with Tourneur on the Second Unit for A Tale of Two Cities (1935), joined RKO as the new head for B-Horror films. His first project was CAT PEOPLE (1942) directed by Tourneur; the duo would go on to create I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and THE LEOPARD MAN in 1943 for RKO, before the studio made them go their separate ways with Tourneur commenting: “We were making so much money together that the studio said, we’ll make twice as much money, if we separate them”.
I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) went into production just two months after CAT PEOPLE,before the surprisingly successful release of Tourneur’s first RKO feature. Trying to decribe Zombie is not an easy task because Tourneur blurred the border between reality and phantasy in his narrative. Betsy Connell (Frances Dee), a Canadian nurse, takes care of Jessica (Christine Gordon) on the West Indian island of St. Sebastian. Jessica is married to the sugar planter Paul Holland (Tom Conway). She falls in love with Paul’s half-brother Wesley (James Ellison). After a scene with her husband, she falls into a trauma, and after several attempts of ‘curing’ her, Mrs. Rand (Edith Barnett), Paul and Wesley’s mother confesses that she has cast a voodoo spell on Jessica for bringing the family into disrepute. Wesley finally kills Jessica, to set her free. Tourneur preferred Zombie to Cat People, and often cited it as his favourite film. Zombie is Tourneur’s purest film when it comes to cinematic poetry, combining sounds and images into a “power of suggestion”, enhanced by the film’s narrative, which is full of enigma and contradiction, eluding any attempt to interpret it in a linear way. Zombie “is a sustained exercise in uncompromising ambiguity. Perfecting the formula that Lewton and Tourneur had developed in Cat People, the film carries its predecessor’s elliptical, oblique narrative procedures to astonishing extremes. The dialogue is almost nothing but a commentary on past events, obsessively revisiting itself, finally giving up the struggle and surrendering to a mute acceptance of the inexplicable. We watch the slow, atmospheric, lovingly detailed scenes with delight and fascination, realising at the end, that we have seen nothing but the traces of a conflict decided in advance.” (Chris Fujiwara).
THE LEOPARD MAN (1943) is seen, perhaps wrongly, as the weakest of the Lewton/Tourneur collaborations. Based on the novel by Cornel Woolrich (Rear Window), The Leopard Man is set in the nightclub milieu of New Mexico, where club owner Dennis O’Keefe (Jerry Manning) finds a leopard for his girl friend Kiki (Jean Brooks) to perform on the stage of his club. Kiki’s jealous competitor, Clo-clo (Margo), sets the leopard free and becomes one of his – presumed – three victims. Nevertheless, O’Keefe and Kiki suspect, that the leopard is only used by the real murderer to cover his tracks. The title is misleading, The Leopard Man is not about a man who becomes a leopard, but a man who just pretends to be one. Furthermore, the narrative reveals that the three murders are not committed by one person – against the un-written law of the genre. And on top of it all, the killer’s identity is revealed at the very beginning. But in spite of this, The Leopard Man appears to be ahead of its time: the stalking of women and their violent death is not only associated with Hitchcock and his epigone Brian de Palma, but also with the Italian cult directors Mario Bava and Dario Argento. And to go a step further, “it also anticipates Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, in making the sight of a victim’s fear the factor that fascinates the killer and compels him to kill”. Tourneur “attributed the commercial success of his films with Lewton to war psychosis. In war time people want to be frightened.” Leopard Man has the clearest connection to war of the trio, Edmund Bansak comments that “the film is a courageous essay in the random nature of death. War time audience may not have liked The Leopard Man’s downbeat message – that the young and innocent also die, but it was an important one for them to grasp”. Fujiwara calls The Leopard Man ”a pivotal work in the careers of both Tourneur and Lewton. Pushing to extremes the experiment with narrative ambiguity undertaken in Cat People and Zombie, this radical unusual film has its own precise, inexhaustible poetry.”
FROM OUT OF THE PAST (1947) reunites Tourneur with producer Warren Duff, (Experiment Perilous) and DoP Nicholas Musuraka (Cat People). Based on the novel Build My Gallows High by Daniel Mainwaring, Tourneur claimed, “that he participated very closely in the writing of the script. I made big changes, with the agreement of the writer, of course”. The complex and elliptic narrative is centred around Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), who runs a gas station in a small town in California. In flashbacks we learn that Jeff was a New York based detective, who was asked by the professional gambler Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) to find his mistress Kathie (Jane Greer), who had embezzled a huge sum from him. Bailey finds Kathie in Mexico, and falls in love with her. The couple hides, but Bailey’s partner Jack Fisher (Steve Brodie) finds the couple, but is shot by Kathie, who disappears afterwards. Bailey, now owner of the gas station, is visited by a member of Sterling’s gang: Sterling has a new job for him, retrieving incriminating taxation forms from his accountant in San Francisco. Kathie is living again with Sterling, and Bailey finds soon out that he is used as the sacrificial lamb. After the murder of the accountant, Kathie shoots Sterling and escapes with Bailey – not knowing that he has phoned the police to tell them their escape route. Of the major features of Noir visual style, as identified by J.A. Place and L.S. Peterson in “Some Visual motifs of Film Noir”, Out of the Past exhibits several: low-key lighting; compositions that alternate light and dark areas; the use of objects as framing devices within the frame. All these elements are however, consistent features of Tourneur’s work outside the Noir genre. They are present to some degrees in Tourneur’s shorts and in all ten American features that Tourneur directed before Out of the Past, including the Technicolor Western Canyon Passage. Fujiwara talks about “the endlessly renewable source of cinematic fascination of Out of the Past”, even though Tourneur himself only belatedly – after the release of the film in France, when he had returned in the late 1960s to his country of birth – acknowledged it as one of his major works, calling it “along with I walked with A Zombie and Night of the Demon, his poetic manifesto.”
BERLIN EXPRESS (1948) was – regarding the topic – a one-off in Tourneur’s work, since the film is set mainly in contemporary post-war Berlin, the divided capital of Germany. Shooting in post-war Germany was like an adventure, the footage had to be sent back to Hollywood for processing. Billy Wilder had to wait for Berlin Express to finish, before starting shooting A Foreign Affair, because film equipment was a scarce commodity. The plot is, as often with Tourneur, secondary: Dr. Heinrich Bernhardt (Paul Lucas) a famous resistance fighter, is travelling from Paris to Frankfurt under an alias. During the journey, an agent, posing as Bernhardt, is killed by an explosion. In Frankfurt, Bernhardt is kidnapped by members of a Neo-Nazi movement. Four members on the train, each representing the four powers who rule Berlin, try to locate Bernhardt, after his secretary Lucienne Mirbeau (Merle Oberon) explains the situation to them. But, as it turns out the Frenchman Perrot is actually Holtzman, the leader of the Nazi underground. He is killed after another unsuccessful attempt on Bernhardt’s life. Lucien Ballard, the DoP was married to Merle Oberon, but his stylish photography does not favour his wife more than the Hollywood star. Berlin Express is actually three films in one: the first is a melodrama, where the Nazis try to kill Bernhardt. The second part is a documentary on Germany’s destruction. The third part is a typical Tourneur study of doubt, terror and impossibility.
Since displacement is a central part of all Tourneur films, post-war Germany was an ideal setting. Michael Henry comments that Berlin Express “was a characteristic Tourneurian work, distilling the feeling of insecurity in which his creatures find themselves plunged as soon as they have been uprooted, placed out of their element, literally side-tracked”. But in spite of the political undertone and the ideological certainty of the protagonists, Tourneur finds ambivalence. This points towards his two 1950s films, Appointment in Honduras and The Fearmakers, both have ideological topics, but are treated with the same ambiguity and doubt as all of Tourneur’s work.
Producer/writer Philip Dunne was assigned to write the script and produce WAY OF A GAUCHO for 20th Century Fox, so that the company could recoup some of the money the Peron government had frozen in Argentina. In March 1951 Dunne informed Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck that the proposed director, Henry King would not be available, due to his wife’s illness. Dunne goes on: “The man I want to suggest for director is Jacques Tourneur. I am absolutely delighted with the job he is doing with Anne of the Indies. In my opinion, he is a much better director than many who have made big reputations for themselves and draw down huge salaries. He is quick, sure and economical and he is getting flawless performances from his cast.”
Zanuck agreed, and in May 1951 Tourneur arrived in Argentina. Dunne reported a month later to Zanuck: “that the Argentine government’s interest tends to become a little overwhelming. They want to have a hand in every phase of our production. Government officials were very insistent on having big stars in the picture. No reasonable government would behave in this way, but we must remember that we are dealing with incredibly stupid, provincial people”. Whilst Tourneur and Dunne were touring the country for locations, they where invariably followed by spies. Shooting under these circumstances proved difficult. There are rumours that Tourneur drank too much, but in the absence of testimony from Dunne or Tourneur, this cannot be proven. But what is true, is that Dunne and Zanuck did not employ Tourneur to add some scenes to make the central character, Martin Penalosa, more heroic. The film is set at the end of 19th century in Argentina, where Martin Penalosa is jailed for killing a man in a duel. Instead of prison he chooses the army, but does not like the harsh treatment at the hands of Major Salinas (Richard Boone). He saves Teresa Chavez (Gene Tierney), a noblewoman, from the Indians. Martin again disappears under pressure from Salinas, and leads a band of gauchos in resistance against Salinas soldiers. Martin and Teresa fall in love, and the former gives himself up to Salinas, for the sake of his wife and unborn child. It’s easy to see why this straightforward Hollywood adventure would not play to Tourneur’s strength. There is no ambivalence, white is white, and black is black. WAY OF A GAUCHO is beautifully shot, if nothing else. But it marked the decline of Tourneur in Hollywood and he would never been employed by Fox again.
THE FEARMAKERS (1958) is perhaps Tourneur’s last respectable feature before his final decline. Darwin Taylor’s novel The Fearmakers was published in 1945. Allen Eaton (Dana Andrews) returns from a Chinese POW camp after the Korean War. Eaton returns to his Washington PT office to learn that his partner Clark Baker has died under mysterious circumstances, after having sold the business to Jim McGinnis (Dick Foran). Meeting with his friend Senator Walder (Roy Gordon), Eaton is informed, that McGinnis is a suspected foreign agent (meaning he is a Communist). Eaton decides to get a job with McGinnis, and soon finds out he has forged some poll numbers for lobbyist Fred Fletcher. Eaton gains access to the poll material, and with the help of McGinnis’ secretary Lorraine (Marile Earle), proves McGinnis’ guilt. But McGinnid, with the help of his associates, attempts to kidnap and kill Eaton and Lorraine, who overpowers them and despatch McGinnis to the police. Whilst Tourneur thought, “that the film was a failure”, he certainly brings out the contradictions in the plot, featuring a McCarthy-esque Senate Committee for the defence of democracy. Eaton is a typical Tourneur hero, his vulnerability recalls the main protagonists in Nightfall and Easy Living. His recurrent headaches are the psychosomatic manifestations of his doubts. There are moments when we wonder if Eaton is fantasising part of the action. When McGinnis calls him a “brainwashed psycho”, we are again reminded of the thin ice Eaton is walking on, but the film never really challenges his worldview. Eaton is like all true Tourneur heroes – unable to leave reality, which follows him into his dreams: When the camera pans from a window across a dark room and hovers over Eaton’s bed, lit dimly with mottled shadows, we see his anguish in his haunted features. Tourneur suffused his characters with his own anxieties. AS
JACQUES TOURNEUR RETRO | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-10 AUGUST ’17
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL honours the legendary French director JACQUES TOURNEUR (1904-1977) in celebration of its 70th Anniversary this year, taking place in the town’s splendid GranRex Cinema.
Jacques Tourneur (1904-1977) is best known today for a handful of films, all shot between 1942 and 1948: CAT PEOPLE; I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE,THE LEOPARD MAN; OUT OF THE PAST and BERLIN EXPRESS. Tourneur was comfortable working in various genres, from Western to Fantasy-horror, and his feature film oeuvre of thirty-three titles (and notable TV work, including a famous Twilight episode) – are all included in this astonishing retrospective. Martin Scorsese is a champion of his much neglected and lesser know features.
At the time of his birth in Paris 1904, Jacques Tourneur’s father – and soon to be filmmaker Maurice (1876-1961) – was working as an artist in a studio near the Luxemburg Gardens. It was a place of horror for the four-year-old Jacques whose early memories include searching desperately for his Christmas presents in “a very long corridor, completely black, and I could make out in the distance, the white spots, that were my presents. I walked forward all alone, torn between the desire for the toys and a fear that almost made me faint, especially as the toys in their packages started to take on a phantom-like appearance”. When Jacques was naughty his unaffectionate parents would put him in a cupboard where the family’s maid was ordered to shake a bowler hat with the words: “It’s the Thunderman!. Jacques later claimed: “this is the source for my obsession to suddenly introduce inexplicable things into s shot, like the hand on the banisters in NIGHT OF THE DEMON, which disappears in the reverse shot”.
Jacques went to the Lycées Montaigne and Lakanal in Paris, before joining his father in New York in 1914. His father still continued to make life difficult for him: “I was the only child to wear suspenders. So the other children spent their time pulling on my suspenders very hard, in order to let them snap into my back. I didn’t dare wear them any more, and walked around holding up my trousers. I think, that was what led me to put in my films comic touches in a dramatic moment, to better highlight the dramatic side: the magician disguised as a clown in NIGHT OF THE DEMON. It’s fascinating to mix fear and the ridiculous, as in the death of the clown in BERLIN EXPRESS”.
Whilst in High School, Jacques started to work as an extra in films and in 1924 joined his father on Never the Twain Shall Meet (1925) and as a script clerk on Tahiti (1925). Jacques was twenty-one when Maurice returned to Europe after the disaster of The Mysterious Island (1929). The farewell was, not surprisingly, frosty: “ He gave me a hundred Dollar bill, saying: “Now get by’”. Jacques worked as a stock player, but his career went into the doldrums. After being arrested for drunkenness (heralding his lifelong struggle with alcoholism), Jacques re-joined his father in Berlin, where in 1929 Maurice was directing Marlene Dietrich in Grischa the Cook. It was in the German capital that Jacques met his wife Marguerite Christiane Virideau; the couple stayed together until Jacques’ death in 1977. Between 1930 and 1934 Jacques was editor and assistant director for all his father’s films, it what was mostly a difficult relationship. And whilst Maurice was working on his second French film as director, he turned to Jacques, and the ensemble cast including Charles Vanel with the words: “I saw the cut of my current film, and it’s the first time a film of mine has been well-edited”. AS
JACQUES TOURNEUR RETROSPECTIVE | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2017
Known for its edgy and eclectic selection of international independent titles, LOCARNO FILM FESTIVALthis year celebrates its 70th Anniversary in the town’s Piazza Grande in temperatures that often sizzle in the late 30s promising a scorching experience and adding a surreal touch to Carlo Chatrain’s inventive programming.
With Olivier Assayas heading the jury proceedings will be more exciting than ever at the lakeside extravaganza, which this year has a distinct fantasy flavour, mingling Hollywood classics with more
The 70th celebration kicks off with Noemie Lvovsky’s drama TOMORROW AND THEREAFTER, starring Mathieu Amalric. And Kevin Merz’ musical biopic tribute GOTTHARD – One Life, One Soul will close the jamboree on 12 August.
Other Piazza Grande titles include ATOMIC BLONDwith Charlize Theron and James McAvoy; and WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY? starring Glenn Close, Noomi Rapace and Willem Dafoe.
The main competition includes Denis Cote’s TA PEAU SI LISSE;Bing Wang’s MRS FANG; Raul Ruiz’ LA TELENOVELA ERRANTE; Ben Russell’s mining film GOOD LUCKand Serge Bozon’s MADAME HYDE starring Isabelle Huppert and Romain Duris. Other buzzy titles include LUCKYstarring Harry Dean Stanton and David Lynch; GOLIATH by Dominik Locher; and WAJIB by When I Saw You scripter Annemarie Jacir.
Stars from the independent film firmament attending this year include Mathieu Kassovitz, who has been awarded the 2017 Excellence Award; Adrien Brody, who will receive a Pardo d’Honore and Nastassja Kinski receiving a Lifetime Award. One of India’s most celebrated film stars Irrfan Khan will join Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani for their love story revenge drama THE SONG OF SCORPIONS,and veteran Fanny Ardant will attend with her new transgender-themed film LOLA PATER. Vanessa Paradis will also be on the Piazza Grande in Samuel Benchetrit’s comedy drama CHIENabout a man who becomes a submissive pet.
In a programme that features the latest European titles from Germany, Austria, Italy, Romania, Turkey, Slovenia and Belgium – not to mention Britain and the host country Switzerland – the side-bars are also promising some hidden gems, as was the case in this year’s Cannes 70th celebration. Of particular interest will be Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s follow-up to The Strange Colour of your Body’s Tears (2013): LAISSEZ BRONZER LES CADAVRES!a thriller which stars Elina Lowensohn.
In the SIGNS OF LIFE strand Radu Jude (Aferim!) will be showing his latest, a black&white historical documentary that explores Romania’s past through recently discovered photographs THE DEAD NATION.Bosnia Herzogovina’s Boris Mitic offers IN PRAISE OF NOTHING,a ‘feelgood’ documentary filmed worldwide by 100+ DoPs and narrated by Iggy Pop. Nelson Carlo del Los Santos Arias feature debut COCOTEis a drama from the Domenican Republic that examines religious cults that challenge the central character’s Christian beliefs. Brazil, Taiwan, Argentina, Columbia, Ukraine, Korea, India, the US and Canada will also be represented. In the CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE section, standouts include 3/4 from Sofia’s Last Ambulance director Ilian Metev; Pedro Cabeleira’s psychedelic drama VERAO DANADOset in a Lisbon steeped in summer torpor; DISTANT CONSTELLATION, Shevaun Mizrahi’s documentary that follows the eccentric inhabitants of a Turkish retirement home and SEVERINO, an obsessional love story from Brazilian director Felipe Hirsch and starring Alfredo Castro (No, The Club).
But probably most inviting of all is the extraordinary JACQUES TOURNEURretrospective featuring over 20 of his films including some rare and lesser known titles. There are also retrospectives for this year’s awarded stars: Nastassja Kinski; Fanny Ardant, Matthieu Kossovitz and Adrien Brody/
As Boas Maneiras | Good Manners | Brazil | Marco Dutra | 132′
Clara, a lonely nurse from the outskirts of São Paulo, is hired by mysterious and wealthy Ana as the nanny for her unborn child. The two women develop a strong bond, but a fateful night changes their plans.
Charleston | Romania | Andrei Cretulescu | 119′
A couple of weeks after the fatal car crash of his wife, Ioana, Alexandru is drunk and alone as he celebrates his 42th birthday. He receives an unexpected visit from Sebastian, a shy and younger man, who had been Ioana’s lover for the past five months. Sebastian wants Alexandru to help him overcome the despair caused by the woman’s death.
On The Seventh Day | Jim McKay | USA Spanish, English | 97′
A group of undocumented immigrants from Puebla live in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. They work long hours six days a week as bicycle-delivery guys, construction workers, dishwashers, deli workers, and cotton-candy vendors. On Sundays, they savor their day of rest on the soccer fields of Sunset Park. José, a bicycle delivery man, who is young and talented, hardworking and responsible, is the soccer team’s captain. When his team makes it to the finals, he and his teammates are thrilled, but his boss throws a wrench into the celebration when he tells him he must work exactly on the day of the final. José tries to reason with him and replace himself but all his efforts fail. If he doesn’t work on Sunday, his job and his future will be on the line.
Gemini | US | Aaron Katz | 93′
A heinous crime tests the complex relationship between a tenacious personal assistant and her boss, a Hollywood starlet. As the assistant travels across Los Angeles to unravel the mystery, she must deal with a determined policeman. At the same time, her understanding of friendship, truth and celebrity is deeply questioned.
The Asteroids | Italy | Germano Maccioni
An industrial, endless, alienating province. Once a florid one, now deeply marked by the economy crisis. A province made up of broad fields and abandoned warehouses. This is the universe in which Pietro and his friend Ivan, nineteen year olds in conflict with their family and with school, gravitate. In the background are a series of thefts in churches, carried out by the elusive “candelabra gang”, and a large asteroid looming above, monitored by the astronomy station in the area since it is about to pass very close to Earth. So close that a rather weird friend, obsessed with astronomy and philosophical issues, is certain it will plummet into the planet, wiping out mankind. And while the “end of the world” approaches, Ivan convinces Pietro to take part in one final theft.
Good Luck | Ben Russell | France/Germany | 143′ | B&W
Shot on Super16mm, Good Luck is a portrait of two mining communities operating on opposite sides of a hostile world: the state employees of a 400m-deep underground Serbian copper mine and the Maroon laborers of an illegal gold mining operation in the jungle tropics of Suriname.
Travelling Soap Opera | La Telenovela Errante | Chile | Raul Ruiz /Valeria Sarmiento | 80′
“The film revolves around the concept of soap opera. Its structure is based on the assumption that Chilean reality does not exist, but rather is an ensemble of soap operas. There are four audiovisual provinces, and the threat of war is felt among the factions. The political and economic problems are immersed in a fictional jelly divided into evening episodes. The entire Chilean reality is viewed from the point of view of the soap opera, which acts as a revealing filter of this same reality”. (Raúl Ruiz)
Laissez Bronzer les Cadavres | France/Italy/Belgium | Cattet / Forzino
The Mediterranean, summer: azure sea, sun beating down… and 250 kilos of gold stolen by Rhino and his gang who’ve found the ideal hideout in a deserted village, cordoned off from its surroundings by an artist suffering creative block. But when two cops turn up unexpectedly, this little paradise, formerly the site of orgies and wild happenings, will turn into a hallucinatory, brutal battlefield.
Lucky | US | John Carroll Lynch | 88′
Having outlived and outsmoked all his contemporaries who inhabited his off-the-map desert town, the fiercely independent Lucky, a 90-year-old atheist, finds himself at the precipice of life, thrust into a journey of self-exploration, leading towards the so-often unattainable enlightenment.
Madame Hyde | France/Belgium | Serge Bozon | 95′
Mrs. Géquil is an eccentric teacher despised by her colleagues and students. On a stormy night, she is struck by lightning and faints. When she wakes up, she feels different. Will she now be able to keep the powerful and dangerous Mrs. Hyde contained?
Mrs Fang | Doc | Bing Wang | China | 86′
Fang Xiuying was a farmer born in Huzhou, Fujian in 1948. She suffered from Alzheimer’s for the last eight years of her life. By 2015, her symptoms were already very advanced and her treatment in a convalescent home was ineffective, so it was discontinued in June 2016 and she returned home. The film follows her ordeal first in 2015, and then in 2016 during the last ten days of her life.
Quin Ting Zhi yan | Xu Bing | China/US | 81′
Each of us is captured on surveillance cameras, on average, 300 times a day. These all-seeing “eyes” observe Qing Ting too, a young woman, as she leaves the Buddhist temple where she has been training to become a nun. She returns to the secular world, where she takes a job in a highly mechanized dairy farm. There, Ke Fan, a technician, falls in love with her, breaks the law in an attempt to please her and is sent to jail. On his release, he can’t find Qing Ting and looks for her desperately until he figures out that she has reinvented herself as the online celebrity Xiao Xiao. Ke Fan decides to revamp himself.
Ta Peau si Lisse | Denis Cote | Canada | 94′
Jean-François, Ronald, Alexis, Cédric, Benoit and Maxim are gladiators of modern times. From the strongman to the top-class bodybuilder, to the veteran who has become a trainer, they all share the same definition and obsession with overcoming their limitations. They are waiting for the next competition, working hard in the gym and following extreme diets.
Winter Brothers |Denmark, Iceland |Danish English | 94′
Winter Brothers follows two brothers working during a cold winter, their routines, habits, rituals and a violent feud that erupts between them and another family.
Wajib | Annenarie Jacir | Arabic | 96′
Living in Nazareth, Abu Shadi is a divorced father and a school teacher in his mid-sixties. His daughter is getting married and he has to live alone until his son – an architect that lives in Rome for many years now – arrives to help him with the wedding preparation. As the local Palestinian tradition requires, they have to hand-deliver the invitation to each guest personally. As the estranged pair spends days together, their fragile relationship is being challenged.
9 Fingers | F J Ossang | French | 99′ | B&W
In the middle of the night, Magloire smokes a cigarette in an abandoned train station when the police show up for an identity check. He starts running with no luggage and no future until he meets a dying man from whom he inherits a fortune. Subsequently, Magloire is chased by a gang and – having nothing to lose – he becomes not only their hostage, but also their accomplice.
GOLIATH | Dominik Locher | Switzerland | 85′
A modest young couple’s relationship is put to the test when Jessy’s unplanned pregnancy causes David to question his feelings of masculinity and identity in contemporary Switzerland.
DID YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN? | Travis Wilkerson | US | 90′
When Wilkerson sets out to explores the mystery surrounding the murder of a black man by his great-grandfather in 1940s Alabama, he discovers something he hadn’t bargained for.
FREIHEIT | Jan Speckenbach | Slovakia/German/English | 100′
A mother goes away, leaving her husband and their two children in limbo. She is driven by a force she cannot ignore: freedom. In Vienna, Nora wanders through a museum, succumbs to a flirtation and then thumbs a lift to Bratislava. Nora conceals her origin behind small lies, changes her appearance, finds work as a chambermaid and makes friends with the young Slovak woman Etela, a stripper, and her husband Tamás, a cook. Meanwhile in Berlin, Philip tries to keep his family and job as well as his affair with Monika going. Against his own convictions, he, a lawyer, defends a xenophobic youngster, struggles with the role of single parent. Philip finds an – albeit unconscious – ear for his worries in the figure of a coma patient… The freedom Nora is longing for becomes Philip’s chains.
PIAZZA GRANDE – all World Premieres unless stated
Amori Che Non Sanno Stare Al Mondo | Francesca Comencini (Italy)
Atomic Blonde | David Leitch (US) (Euro Premiere)
Chien | Samuel Benchetrit (France/Belgium)
Demain Et Tous Les Autres Jours | Noémie Lvovsky (France)
Drei Zinnen| Jan Zabeil
Good Time | Ben Safdie, Joshua Safdie (US) (Cannes Premiere)
Gotthard – One Life, One Soul| Kevin Merz (US)
I Walked With A Zombie | Jacques Tourneur (Classic)
Iceman | Felix Randau (Germany
Laissez Bronzer Les Cadavres | Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani
Lola Pater| Nadir Moknèche
Sicilia!| Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet
Sparring | Samuel Jouy
The Big Sick | Michael Showalter (Sundance Premiere)
The Song Of Scorpions | Anup Singh
What Happened To Monday? | Tommy Wirkola
CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE | COMPETITION | World Premieres
3/4By Ilian Metev (Bulgaria)
Abschied Von Den Eltern| Astrid Johanna Ofner (Germany)
Beach Rats | Eliza Hittman (US) (International Premiere)
Cho-Haeng (The First Lap) | Kim Dae-Hwan (Korea) (International Premiere)
Dir.: Feng Xiaogang; Cast: Fan Bingbing, Guo Tao, Da Peng Zhang Jiayi; China 2016, 138 min.
Director Feng Xiaogang (Back to 1942) and writer Zhenyun mock the Party bureaucrats but fail to give justice to the main character Li Xuelian, a woman fighting the law of an entire country, when she is wronged by her ex-husband.
Ten years ago Li Xuelian (Bingbing) and her husband Qin Yuhe got a fake divorce, the plan was to obtain another property. But after the divorce, Qin fell in love with another woman, and Li took him to court, to have the divorce annulled. But Judge Wang Gongdao (Peng) rules that the divorce stands; later Qin Yuhe calls Li a whore in front of his friends. A decade later, Wang is Chief Justice of the country, whilst Li is still protesting the court ruling at the Party Congress in Beijing. Wang asks the chef Zhao Datou (Tao), who had a crush on the young Li at school, to keep the woman away from the Congress. After raping Li, who tells him, “in spite of the rape this was the best sex I ever had”, she nevertheless leaves him when it emerges that he is spying on her on Wangs’s behalf. Much too late we learn at the end that the first divorce caused Li to have a miscarriage, and that she is fighting the courts on behalf of her unborn child.
Overlong and openly misogynist, the only saving grace is the innovative camerawork of DoP Pan Luo (Old Fish), whose circular images are a joyful reminder of silent films. But this does not compensate for the many issues director and writer have with women and their representation. AS
I AM NOT MADAME BOVARY (WO BU SHI PAN JIN LIAN) RELEASE ON 26 MAY 2017
Andrzej Zulawski gets in and amongst it with COSMOS, his first feature in 15 years. This French-language adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz’s 1965 novel is a top-to-bottom fever dream, extending the Polish filmmaker’s penchant for mania with an exceptionally reference-heavy tale of wham-bam obsession. Seconds in and we have a melodramatic score, jolting jump-cuts, opaque voiceover, plush pans and a narrative that proceeds onward like a furious sprint through a theatrical downpour. What’s not to love?
Plenty. With viscous plot and rake-thin premise (make what you will of that narrative contradiction), many a good film has been made. But it’s nigh-on impossible for any of the myriad ideas put forth here to take hold with any lasting thematic coherence. With a slickly-rendered attention-deficit (the real glue that holds his surgical focus together), Zulawski promotes his rococo vision by piling meta-echoes upon meta-echoes with such off-puttingly ugly verbosity that the engineered madness, a kind of ad hoc lo-budget ornamentalism with the hyper-jittery frame-rate of a TV movie, becomes the entire raison d’etre. It forewarns the impatient: fall for the first minute and the next 101 are a treat.
Otherwise, pith off: “You are just a face, a mask. Behind it, there is nothing.” But what a mask! Memorably gaunt-cheeked, sunken-eyed, Jonathan Genet plays Witold, a law school dropout who arrives with his pal Fuchs (Johan Libéreau) at a family-run bed-and-breakfast (with breakfast-in-bed) in Portugal with dreams of writing his first novel—and finds no shortage of inspiration there. Rocked by inexplicable spasms that run through his face like an electrical current, Witold falls for the whole affair: the gobbledygook-gabbling patriarch Leon Wojtys (Jean-François Balmer), his long-suffering wife (Sabine Azema), their daughter Lena (Victoria Guerra) and even the deformed lip of family maid Catherette (Clementine Pons). A murder mystery runs beneath all of the feigned and strained emotionalism: a sparrow, a cat and pieces of wood are all found hanged on the guesthouse’s premises.
Words, words, words. Tongue twists abound in this hotchpotch of “chasms, patterns, strata, rhythms, wounds, spasms,” and the crazed maximalism and heightened delirium make this a dramatic exercise rather than a drama per se: when one character breaks down into tears, it’s impossible to engage with the material due to the heightened delirium—and just when a scene threatens to convince us into something resembling a consistent mood, Zulawski hangs the string score in mid-air: just when we thought we were in, he wrenches us back out. As Witold himself remarks, “She is impenetrable, elusive and vast like the ceiling.” There are enough highbrow references and self-deprecating winks, meanwhile, to keep a certain crowd chuckling away to publicise their own understanding of this essentially self-serving work.
There’s an unconsummated eroticism at play here. All of the film’s secret, underlying energies are contained in Guerra, whose Lena is subtly flirtatious with and increasingly exasperating to Witold. Guerra’s beauty is her ordinary (and unexceptionally photographed) face, which explodes in later scenes into outrageously striking frivolity, tongue out between perfect teeth and eyes to be read as one wishes. In truth, it’s a test of one’s patience whenever she’s not onscreen—and the film carries all of its weight when she is. MICHAEL PATTISON
ON RELEASE FROM 19 AUGUST 2016 | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTlVAL | BEST DIRECTOR 2015 WINNER |
Cast: Necmettin Cobanoglu, Nur Surer, Emin Sivas, Erdinc Akbas
110min | drama | Turkish
Swiss director Xavier Koller’s road movie was the first in the crop of immigration stories that now feels rather dated but still relevant with its poignant humanist appeal and Elemer Ragali’s imaginative cinematography capturing the magnificent scenery of Northern Turkey and Switzerland. In 1991 Journey of Hope won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film firmly nudging Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s Best Costume Winner Cyrano de Bergerac out of the way. Its simple but cumulatively gripping linear narrative follows a Kurdish family who naively imagine a better life in Switzerland.
For Haydar, his wife and young family life is tough but reasonably happy in their modest smallholding in Southeast Turkey. But their journey of hope soon becomes one of despair when they sell all their possessions to fund the passage to paradise, as portrayed by images of cuckoo clocks and Swiss chocolate that Haydar buys in his local village grocery store.
Unscrupulous traffickers have now become daily headline news, but 25 years ago they were still the relatively unknown root of transmigration, taking ready cash in return for a perilous and often unsuccessful voyage to Europe. And we soon discover that the family’s sea passage as stowaways and onwards across the snowbound Swiss Alps is a dangerous and misguided one that provides a hefty dose of drama as the entourage stumble across treacherous terrain weighed down by their prized possessions. Predictably fatalistic, Journey of Hope is nonetheless as harrowing and resonant today as it was several decades ago but its characters’ touching humanity and genuine honesty is what really makes it appealing as a story and the performances by the ensemble cast are genuinely moving. Naive they may have been, but there is something laudable about their desire to seek a better life tempted by a picture postcard portraying perfection in the Swiss Alps, and based on the enduring and misguided belief that the grass is always greener on the other side. MT
SCREENING at LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 3-13 AUGUST 2016
With: Ed Rushca, Michael Scott, DV DeVincentis, Anthony Peckham, Mike White
97min | Doc | US
Well known artist Ed Ruscha made an unusual piece of art in 1979 that is surrounded in enigma. He called it Rocky II for several reasons: firstly after the famous film by Sylvester Stallone, and secondly because his first attempt was a miserable failure – it got eaten by animals. The point here is how a seemingly ordinary or even mildly bizarre state of events can be easily and simply transformed into an amusing suspense thriller when it comes to Hollywood, given the right treatment.
But back to the mystery artwork; Fashioned out of wire covered by a fibreglass resin, it emerges in filmed footage that the successful boulder-like sculpture was hidden somewhere in the Mojave desert by the media-shy Rushca, who cannot remember where possibly due to being high at the time. Meanwhile his friend, the screenwriter and documentarian Pierre Bismuth (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is made aware of the existence of the piece and hires a former detective, Michael Scott (who becomes more and more irritated as he’s thwarted) to investigate the missing sculpture by following clues and contacting former colleagues of the artist, leading to this fascinating film which unfolds as Where is Rocky II. The unexpected humour largely springs from Bismuth’s fellow collaborators on the project, the screenwriters DV DeVincentis (Grosse Point Blank, currently working on The Bengali Detective) and Anthony Peckham (Invictus) who create a fiction in parallel narrative to the doc, cleverly editing it and setting it to a classicly ominous and suspenseful score, with hilarious input from Mike White (Nacho Libre).
As we are constantly reminded, truth is stranger than fiction, and the real account of events is far more engaging than the fictional one. Thus Where is Rocky II works simultaneously as a satisfying detective-style documentary; a magnificently shot chase movie and a fascinating lesson in how to make a thriller. Brilliant. MT
The film was presented in Locarno by Art Basel | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 3-13 AUGUST 2016
Director.: Arturo Ripstein; Cast: Nora Velazquez, Patricia Reyes Spindola, Guillermo Lopez, Juan Francisco Longoria;
99min | Mexico | Crime Drama
Mexican veteran director Arturo Ripstein (El Carneval de Sodoma) has again filmed a script by his partner Paz Alicia Garciadiego, telling the story of a double murder in the seedy atmosphere of downtown Mexico City.
As in most Ripstein films, destiny plays a major role in BLEAK STREET, a sordid area that certainly lives up to its name. The main reason for watching Bleak Street is the crisp black-and-white cinematography of DOP Alejandro Cantu, who shows the gloomy side streets and alleys of Mexico City with an intensity that echoes G W Pabst’s silent German classic Die Freudlose Gasse (1925) . Dora (Velazquez) and Adela (Spindola) are middle-aged whores down on their luck and lamenting the lack of work due to competition from younger talent. Experience seems to count for nothing. Their male dependants La Akita (Lopez) and Muerte Chiquita (Longoria), are twin brothers who are midgets who work in the wrestling ring where they support the normal seized fighters AK-47 and La Muerte. The brothers are so proud of their occupation they wear their masks even at home. Celebrating a big prize win in the ring they organise a special treat for their female companions which ends in tragedy all round. This is not Ripstein at his best: the main failing with BLEAK STREET being the two-dimensional characters who are not fully sketched out as real people; but simply there to carry out the film’s message – poverty ruins your life. But the gracefully choreographed shots of the dimly lit streets make up for the detachment the audience feels towards the protagonists.
In the aftermath, it becomes clear that the quartet was supposed to meet on a collision course and that the women’s guilt is secondary to the situation in which they find themselves. And how can the audience understand how masked men feel unless they take of their masks? There are other elements here of the silent films of that era, like the detective solving the murder, being seen not so much as a man of the law, but a rather sinister figure like the detectives in Fritz Lang’s films of the same period. AS
SCREENING AT LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2016
Cast: Max Brebant, Roxanne Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier
France/Belgium/Spain 2015, 81 min.
It is nearly eleven years since Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s memorable debut feature Innocence, which dealt with a teenage girl in a boarding school. EVOLUTION centres this time on a group of boys on the crest of adolescence. Living a frigid existence with their insipid-looking mothers by an eerie seashore, there are no adult males to be seen. Hadzihalilovic presents a joyless antiseptic world where even the meals of strained seaweed broth appear medicinal rather than satisfying. Cinematographer Manuel Dacosses’s spare and pristine interior visuals give the impression of a wide-scale marine laboratory where a sci-fi experiment is underway and the boys are the victims.
Young Nicolas (Brebant) and his mother (Parmentier) live in a dreary community: their spartan lifestyle is marked by robotic rituals: dinner is always followed by the intake of an inky medicine, which appears to be therapeutic. Somehow Nicolas suspects that something is going on beyond the surface of enforced rigour: he follows his mother to the beach at night, where he observes her writhe in ecstacy with other women. Before he can unravel the mysterious plan, he is sent to a dilapidated early 20th century hospital, where some of his friends are also patients. Weird experiments are carried out and one boy disappears completely. Nicolas is befriended by one of the nurses, Stella (Duran), who supplies him with material for his drawings. When the dreadful secret emerges, Stella tries to help Nicolas to escape.
The boys in EVOLUTION have no rights over their bodies, but what emerges is that they are the unwitting victims of some kind of freaky, gender-reversal surgery. The dreamlike atmosphere evokes a past we can not see, but the boys’ dreams suggest that they have been taken away from their real families to take part in a medical experiment destined to help mankind’s survival. But dreams and reality are indistinguishable: the underwater scenes suggest that more sinister plans are underway: perhaps mankind has to become amphibious to survive. The ghastly hospitals are horror institutions located underground and under the control of the sullen – all female – doctors and nurses. Syringes and scalpels take on a sadistic undertone creating a frightening parallel with medical experiments in Nazi concentration camps.
EVOLUTION haunts and beguiles for just over an hour. Hadzihalilovic and her co-scripter Alante Kavaite (Summer of Sangaile) cleverly keep the tension taught requiring the audience to invest a great deal in the narrative before any salient clues emerge – but even then much remains unexplained and enigmatic; not that EVOLUTION wants to be understood. Part of its allure is this inaccessibility, unsettlingly evoking a world far apart from any genre, it is esoteric and anguished in its unique otherworldliness. Too many films feature repetitive images and schematic self-indulgent narratives: how refreshing to find an true original which opens a totally new world in just 81 minutes.
NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS | EVOLUTION |
The Barbican is delighted to present New East Cinema, a new bi-monthly film series accompanied by ScreenTalks, which begin in April 2016. The series is a collaboration between the Barbican and Calvert 22 Foundation, and is curated by The New Social, a cultural collective bringing contemporary cinema from Eastern Europe and beyond to London. It looks across the wide expanse of land that stretches from Eastern Europe, the Baltic countries and the Balkans, through to Russia and Central Asia to uncover the most thought-provoking, daring and vibrant cinema coming from today’s ‘New East’. The series begins with a screening of Yury Bykov’s hard-hitting portrait of contemporary Russia, The Fool (Durak).
As recently suggested by Andrei Zvyagintsev’s barnstormingly brilliant LEVIATHAN, contemporary artistic renditions of Russia and its current socio-political landscape are perhaps all the better for being so ludicrously overblown. Yury Bykov’s DURAK (THE FOOL) is another hysterical snapshot of a decrepit state, as allegorised by a nine-story apartment block that’s on the verge of wholesale collapse due to four decades of administrative neglect. Dedicated to Alexei Balabanov, who died during last year’s Cannes Film Festival (where Bykov’s second feature THE MAJOR was competing in Critic’s Week), DURAK received much applause from a capacity audience this week at Locarno Film Festival, where it received its international premiere.
Humble plumber Dima Nikitin (Artem Bystrov) lives with his parents, wife and son in a cramped apartment. When he is called one evening to another block of flats in a district across town, his otherwise routine inspection of a burst pipe reveals an ominously sized crack in an interior bearing wall. Rushing to check the exterior, he notices two fissures going up the side of the dilapidated dwelling, and, after some quick bedtime arithmetic, reckons that due to its height and the degree to which it is tilting, the building is likely to fall down at any moment. Though the night’s late for ordinary folk, it’s very young for the town’s top brass, who are midway through celebrating the housing chief’s 50th birthday when Dima shows up to warn them of the impending disaster.
Bykov’s fanciful tale, of a lowly repairman taking on the local authorities on behalf of a community of disenfranchised drunks and their long-suffering wives, begins in a grippingly hyperreal fashion, making no qualms about the devastated and devastating domestic plight of the disparate working community at its centre. The long, choreographed take with which the film begins—in which an alcoholic’s daily rant to his wife and daughter escalates into horrible violence—lends a believable brutality that’s only magnified by the defeat with which the wife, tending to her bruised and swollen mouth, decides not to file charges on account that her husband needs to attend work the next day in order to secure a monthly bonus.
On the bottom rungs, volatility is never too far away. Even Dima’s situ is far from harmonious, as evinced by an amusingly claustrophobic dinner scene that boils over when his worrisome mother picks one trivial quibble with her husband too many. Though she’s quick to call Dima’s dad a fool, it’s her son who emerges as the film’s eponymous would-be hero, an honest working man who dares to address the insurmountable undertaking of saving and bettering the lives of those belonging to his own hapless class—a mission undone by communal indifference as well as in-fighting at the top.
In Russia, perhaps, absurdity is the only truth. Though on a storytelling level very little of this remains plausible, Dima’s Sisyphean task is cued by a smaller, perhaps forced metaphor early on, in which he and his dad repeatedly mend a broken bench outside their building. DURAK’s hyperrealism proves unsustainable, bleeding in the course of its proceedings into a routine symbolism. In some ways, things unfold like a more cynical update of HIGH NOON (1951)—in which Gary Cooper tried in vain to rally a town together against oncoming villains. Elsewhere, the gangsterism eventually displayed by the politicians is anticipated when Dima, perhaps channelling Robert De Niro in THE GODFATHER PART II (1974), assures two fellow plumbers that he’ll talk with the bigwigs tomorrow…
Though Dima is far from a card-carrying communist, we’re clearly meant to interpret the class consciousness he shows vague signs of as a doomed affair: if he’s not shot by the local government, he might just be beaten to death by those he’s trying to save. Such portrayals are not unproblematic, of course, but neither are they wholly inaccurate: organising any oppressed group of people in a struggle against their own circumstances is often a complicated matter. Still, Bykov’s depiction of a stunted, squalor-ridden community too frequently lacks compassion: indeed, like its self-preserving politicians, the film itself shuns these people to the margins for large amounts of its time—and having them all take a frantic, crazy-sounding Dima on his word might be one narrative convenience too far. MICHAEL PATTISON
THE FOOL WON BEST ACTOR AT LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2014
Barbican Cinema, Barbican Centre The New Social presents New East Cinema: The Fool (Durak) + ScreenTalk Wed 27 April 6:30pm, Cinema 2 barbican.org.uk/film Box Office 0845 120 7527
Having produced the likes of MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011) and SIMON KILLER (2012), Josh Mond makes his directorial feature debut with JAMES WHITE, whose bland, personifying title suggests a continuation of the previous character studies’ low-key naturalism. Taking its name from its ‘just like you or me’ protagonist (Christopher Abbott), JAMES WHITE is a moving, nuanced portrait of a twenty-something Manhattanite trying to find his place in a world that appears to be dealing him several cruel hands at once. At the beginning of the film we learn James’ father has recently died; at the weeklong Shiva, to which he shows up wearing a casual, black hoodie, James meets his father’s new wife, of whom he only heard first mention weeks previously.
We sense from the awkward welcome he extends to the stepmother he never knew that James is loyal to his own mother, Gail (Cynthia Nixon), whose pale complexion and wig-hidden bob hints towards a recent bout of chemotherapy. Asking Gail to fund a vacation so that he can have some thinking space, jobless James retreats from immediate responsibilities to a coastal resort with his pal Nick (Scott Mescudi), where he meets Jayne (Makenzie Leigh), a high school student also, by coincidence, from New York City. When his vacation is cut short by a phone call from Gail revealing she has been re-diagnosed with cancer, James continues his relationship with Jayne, but the pressures of having to care for his mother weigh increasingly heavy.
Mond handles the tonal shifts of this extremely mature story with deft precision. Though sober, the film is never austere: it neither banishes comedy nor milks the tragedy that caring for a terminally ill parent entails. Though Mátyás Erdély’s cinematography—previously showcased in Sean Dirkin’s TV series SOUTHCLIFFE, in addition to this year’s SON OF SAUL—often privileges Abbott/James with shallow-focus compositions, his notably widescreen framing evokes a wider social fabric to which the protagonist is only intermittently aware.
The strength of Mond’s drama rests upon two fundamental realisations. Firstly, that there is much dramatic potential in a premise built around an otherwise antiheroic male whose everyday experiences compel him one way (hedonism, listlessness, laziness) while the universal banality of a parent being diagnosed with cancer pulls him another. Why? Because starting from an ordinary character forces an astute writer-director to ask questions that an exceptional circumstance doesn’t (e.g., if James were, say, a remarkably promising artist diagnosed with premature sight loss, we can only imagine the dramatic liberties taken). Secondly, that it’s in the way you tell a story that determines its believability.
Here, Mond includes otherwise superfluous details that enliven rather than distract from his fictional universe. In terms of character, consider the choice to have Scott Mescudi, better known under his music-making moniker King Cudi, play Nick as a homosexual. While deleted scenes elaborated on this more, the omissions de-sensationalise the supporting character’s sexuality so as to re-humanise it. Add to this Mescudi is black, and it’s refreshing to watch a film that resists the more obvious issues-based agenda. It helps that Mescudi’s performance is excellent. For evidence that he is an actor of outstanding subtlety—encompassing both body and facial control—look no further than three separate and very different moments: when he trudges toward camera in his work uniform and declares with deadpan hyperbole that he wants to kill himself; immediately after, when he browses a store on an acid trip; and when he confronts his best pal in a hotel room, physically stifling James’ pent-up aggressions.
Mond’s brand of naturalism is also helped immeasurably by Abbott, promoted to leading man here after much smaller roles in MARTHA MARCY and A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (2014). The Connecticut-raised actor forms a plausible chemistry with each of his fellow cast members, not least of all Nixon, with whom he shares many a poignant moment. Chief among these is that heart-achingly prolonged take in which James calms his mother during a middle-of-the-night bathroom visit by getting her to imagine she’s somewhere else, somewhere exotic, away from all the shit unfolding at home. MICHAEL PATTISON
NOW ON DVD | Digital | Reviewed at LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 5 – 15 August 2015 l London Film Festival 2015
Director: Mauro Herce Writers: Mauro Herce, Manuel Muñoz Rivas
Spain/France | Documentary | 70 min
Mauro Herce’s invigoratingly nightmarish DEAD SLOW AHEAD is the masterclass in sound design that your ears never knew they needed. At 70 minutes, Herce’s feature-length debut is a lushly disquieting documentary about life at sea—though the creaks, groans and sighs of the freighter on which it was filmed are prioritised, for the most part, over the humans that inhabit and maintain it. This highly impressive, wholly immersive Spanish-French co-production won the Special Ciné+ Jury Prize upon bowing at Locarno this year, and won Best World Documentary at Jihlava Documentary Film Festival, prior to screening in both the ‘New Waves’ strand and the characteristically strong ‘Resistencias’ competition at the 12th Seville European Film Festival.
DEAD SLOW AHEAD takes place on the Fair Lady, an enormous cargo ship on the high seas of the Mediterranean. Its crewmembers—so closing credits tell us—hail from Odessa, Nicolaev, Istanbul, Port Said, Ismailia, Suez, Aqaba, Cueta, Triumph and New Orleans. That’s just about all the information we’re able to glean about their backgrounds, however, for Herce focuses more—at least for the spellbinding first half-hour—on the sound textures and rhythms at work within this languorous steel kraken, illuminating the musicality of its throbbing, horror-like pulse. (The important credits here are Daniel Fernández, sound; Alejandro Castillo and Manuel Muñoz Rivas, sound design; Carlos E. Garcia, mix; and José Manuel Berenguer, music.) Sonar beeps sound off like a track from experimental electronic band Autechre, while internal rumbles and churning whirs play out like an ancient whale’s prolonged, mournful cries. Is this an Ark for a post-industrial age, drifting across the earth’s seas in search of an ungodly land flooded long ago? Or is it the first ship to chart a new and wondrous planet?
It comes as something of a relief when Herce first cuts away from the close confines of the ship itself to a panorama of daytime mist. As if compelled by some dormant force beyond the thick fog, however, tunefully ominous sounds begin to crescendo in again: a wall of wind, industrial howls, and expressive, non-diegetic wails. In this vast, open eternity, the Fair Lady provides shelter to men from horizon-dwelling storms. The ship is a hermetically sealed universe affording its own sonic logic, with something as otherwise mundane as a ringing telephone elevated to a screech of dreadful import. “Attention, please,” says one crewmember into the receiver. “There’s water coming into the ship. An entire river is entering through the keel. That’s a lot.”
Herce would do well not to draw too much attention to the viscous velocity of his film. The Fair Lady might have actually made a better, less obvious title—for the ship is the one immovable constant in a film that otherwise makes a point of dramatic fluctuations. The same previously mentioned scene, for instance, in which a sailor reports an emergency, is shot from a fixed frame, so that while the mise-en-scène looks dead-still like a photograph, the actual backdrop—the horizon—bobs in and out of view through the windows that look from the ship’s bridge into infinity. When water begins to leak into the ship, there’s nothing the ship itself can do, as is again made evident by a tripod-fixed shot, taken from the bridge looking over the hull. It emphasises the vessel’s rigidity as it’s tossed around with hammy, old-age grandiosity by the playfully ruthless sea.
It’s perhaps unfortunate timing that DEAD SLOW AHEAD should arrive so soon after LEVIATHAN (2012), by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, or even after CRUDE OIL (2008), Wang Bing’s fourteen-hour epic about life on a remote Chinese oil field. But Herce’s is a more stylised film than Wang’s, and unlike LEVIATHAN, it’s less concerned with the processes of human labour than the vessel’s actual architecture: at one point we see the ship’s blueprints, while at others the colour palette boasts the kind of orange-green contrasts only ever seen in heavy industrial milieu (Herce graduated in engineering and fine arts before enrolling at film schools in Cuba and Paris).
Just as the Fair Lady seems disproportionately immobile, incapable and insignificant compared to the ocean that surrounds it, so the sound and ferocity of its own machinery overwhelm the fragile, human frames within it. During one scene in which we see the seamen enjoying downtime by participating in a bout of karaoke, Herce has the images of such revelry accompanied by a non-diegetic soundscape completely at odds in tone and timbre. Late in the film, we hear the men make calls home to wish loved ones a happy new year—but the images we see are mechanical pans through the ship’s deepest bowels and impossibly smooth tilts up through its pipework. The natural speed of the human conversations we hear couldn’t further contradict the supernatural slowness of the non-human mechanisms by which Herce observes his way through this geometric environment—before settling, in the film’s one explicitly derivative moment, on a ventilation duct, like that haunting penultimate sequence of Apichatpong’s SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY (2006).
DEAD SLOW AHEAD also recalls Allan Sekula and Noel Bürch’s THE FORGOTTEN SPACE (2010), an essay film about the freighting trade and its relationship to transglobal capitalism. But whereas that film was an eminently intellectual exercise, Herce’s debut is a decidedly—and, it must be said, profitably—aesthetic affair. Not that the two have to be separate, of course, but this film’s philosophical currents emerge not so much through speculative rumination (no voice-over, scant dialogue) as through its commitment to conspicuously cinematic mood-setting—and, yes, storytelling. MICHAEL PATTISON
DEAD SLOW AHEAD IS SCREENING AT SEVILLE FILM FESTIVAL 6-14 NOVEMBER 2015 | WINNER OF THE SPECIAL JURY PRIZE – FILMMAKERS OF THE PRESENT | LOCARNO 2015
Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo’s makes slow-burning, sensitively-observed films about the intricacies of relationships between men and women, often meeting for the first time. There is plemty of dialogue embued with Korean humour, which is often similar to that of the English: situational, offbeat, dryly comic as with In Another Country.
His latest – which won the stars Jung Jae-young and Kim Minhee as a film director and budding artist who meet up and spend a day together, on two simlar occasions. With In Another Country, Isabelle Huppert played three different versions of a French woman called Anne, engaging with one man, Here the two central characters play the same people and the narrative unfolds in two parts, roughly an hour each for the same meeting that varies subtly each time. As a piece of cinema, this is both unique and fascinating as we experience the inner workings of each with their different nuances in the subconscious attitudes of the pair.
The film’s first half is called Right Then, Wrong Now and we meet the indie director Ham Chunsu (Jung Jae-young) who has arrived in a town near Seoul to take part in a Q&A disccusion after a screening of his film. Due to scheduling issues, he gets there early and meets Yoon Heejung (Kim Minhee) who describes herself as “someone who paints” – in one of the town’s landmarks. After coffee and media-style banter, the pair become more intimate emotionally and Heejung admits she’s actually not a big film-goer and has never actually seen his work but knows his face and but has heard good things about hiim. At this point he expresses a desire to get to know her better. They drift into meeting some of her friends in a bar and after a great deal of drinking, she disappears for a nap and he joins her, only to be told by her to leave. She heads home and her mother berates her for srinking too much. This section ends hilariously as he turns up hungover for the Q&A and ends up going over the top, taking offence at a remark from the moderator who he later calls a “prick” when he meets her again in Part Two (actually called Right Now, Wrong Then, like the actual film).
The day starts again but with some differences – rather lke a replay of In Another Country (except with the same charactes ) or Our Sunhi, where perceptions of the characters are skewed. In the second half, we see that subtle differences can alter the dynamic between the couple and how their reactions differ as a result. In part two, it emerges. that she has given up smoking and feels stressed as a result. His amorous advances also come for a different reason this time around and demonstrates how subtle nuances can make big changes in our perceptions in meeting people.
Cinematophgraphy here is bland and unremarkable and a very simple score occasionally punctures the scenes which are framed often with the two sitting together and then the camera focusing on each one individually before zooming out again.
Whether the pair will go on to be together all depends, as in real life, on their ego concerns and what they are looking for in a prospective partner. Hangsang Soo shows how chemistry and attraction is only just a part of the relationship and how it proceeds and developes. MT
SCREENING DURING LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 7-18 OCTOBER 2015
Cast: Ariane Labed, Melvil Poupard, Anders Danielsen Lie
97min Drama France
A female engineer on a container vessel manages to have a man ‘in every port’ in this drama that navigates emotional, sexual and romantic waters on the high seas.
Fidelio: Alice’s Journey (Fidelio: L’odyssee d’Alice), is an absorbing and gripping drama that won Ariane Labed Best Actress at Locarno Film Festival 2014 for her characterful performance in the lead and at the helm of the ship. It’s also the feature debut of writer director Lucie Borleteau who manages to enfuse the masculine world of international shipping with female sensuality and a certain finesse.
There is never a dull moment on board the good ship Fidelio, once known as the Eclipse when Alice (Labed) first sailed on her, below decks. After a lusty scene on a beach with her land-based lover Felix (Anders Danielsen Lie), Alice discovers, when she re-joins the ship to replace the deceased Patrick, that her old sea-going flame Gael (Melvil Poupard) is the new Captain of her heart – literally and sexually. The two go on to enjoy a great physical and working relationship – and Labed injects her ‘all’ convincingly into both roles: personal and professionally. Meanwhile, back on shore, she re-discovers the delights of her Norwegian dalliance who admits that her long absences at sea keep the winds blowing pleasurably through their relationship sails.
Borleteau’s script – co-written with Clara Bourreau – goes full steam ahead at first and avoids over-working tedious ‘woman in a man’s world’ tropes by keeping things engaging and authentic as Alice enjoys the best of both worlds in this cut and thrust male environment of the French merchant navy; where the ship’s destination can change daily depending on commodity market movements back home. But the narrative becomes rather becalmed in the third act where Alice and Felix’s affair enters stormy seas – although this is less of a problem by this stage as the focus is on the journey ahead and Simon Beaufils’ magnetic cinematography broadens the appeal, both on the widescreen and in intimate close-ups on board the Fidelio. MT
ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 3 OCTOBER IN SELECTED CINEMAS
Cast: Grigoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikova, Rosa Babiy, Alexander Dsiadevich
Ukraine Drama 132mins
How many single-take sex scenes in cinema today show the pair going at it in multiple positions over an appreciable amount of time? Answer: at least one—that being in Cannes prize-winner THE TRIBE (PLEMYA), the debut feature by palpably talented Ukrainian writer-director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, who returns to Locarno Film Festival this year as a jury member overseeing its Pardo di domani competition, having won a prize at the festival in 2012 for his impressive mid-length film NUCLEAR WASTE.
Coming back to this sex scene though: teenagers Sergey (Grigory Fesenko) and Anya (Yana Novikova) make love on the cold, hard floor of a boiler room in the boarding school at which they both reside. It’s an unsentimental, rather passionless scene that ends with unexpected post-coital tenderness—Anya kissing Sergey with previously elusive sincerity—all the more so considering it begun with a monetary transaction. Why money? Because Sergey has for the first time just escorted Anya and her roommate Svetka (Rosa Babiy) to a nearby overnight parking lot for long-distance truck drivers, who routinely pay to have sex with the two teenagers. Witnessing the ease with which Anya accepts this scenario, Sergey fancies a go himself, and duly pays up.
There’s a twist. The whole scene, like the whole film, is dialogue-free: Sergey and Anya are both deaf mutes, attending a specialised school where new arrival Sergey has quickly fallen in with the wrong crowd—the same lot who, under the influence of their woodwork teacher (Alexander Panivan), mug innocent people for their booze and money at night, who illegally sell trashy souvenirs on local train services, and who are making money from Anya and Svetka’s exploits.
Exploits? Make that exploitation. THE TRIBE is all about the various strategies by which people are both impacting and impacted upon, how they adapt to and affect their social environment—whether through an organic chameleonism or something less subtle, such as intimidation and violence. Hierarchies are unavoidable. Upon arrival, Sergey’s lonely procession through the school canteen culminates in a pupil with Down Syndrome stealing his lunch, only for the head bully to spit on the burger and summon Sergey outside to take him under his wing. Soon after, Sergey must undergo an initiation, which entails him having to fight off his new friends—which he does so with surprising ease.
Communication goes entirely unsubtitled; to anyone unfamiliar with sign language, the literal content of the film’s many conversations will be a struggle. This is the point, of course: compare the aforementioned school canteen scene with similar examples in, say, Gus Van Sant’s ELEPHANT (2003) to realise the voluminous texture and timbre given by a wildtrack naturally composed of an indiscriminate sea of vocal chords. Consequently, this is an intensely and interpretably visual film, effortlessly blending immobile establishing shots with elegant Steadicam movements to simultaneously echo the characters’ own sensorial limitations and subsequent negotiation of the world through other, heightened gestures. Working with cinematographer (and editor) Valentyn Vasyanovych, Slaboshpytskiy opts for long-takes and, frequently, wide compositions in order to allow his performers full expressive range.
Soundlessness begets ambiguity. Without the benefit of sonic cues, otherwise disturbing incidents have a deadpan absurdity. Sergey’s initiation sequence begins with its participants warming up with comical shadow sparring and daft shoulder-nudges, and the fight itself, unfolding without edits, has a kind of emotionally constipated choreography. It’s as if we’re watching, out of earshot, the dance floor at a silent disco. There’s even something morbidly funny in the harmless way in which an otherwise vicious attack on someone walking home with their groceries one evening is rendered like a cartoon—or in that scene when one character is run over by a slowly reversing lorry as he smokes a cigarette completely unable to hear it approaching.
Obviously, to feel morbid funniness in a scene is not to claim there is an easy, go-to emotional response to it. Dragged into such tonal registers, we ourselves are tricked. And, as THE TRIBE continues, its silences seem to become more protracted, its tracking shots more suggestive, its scenes grimmer and darker. It takes a certain sort of director to alternate between strangely sweet moments, such as that in which a creepy official shares his innocent holiday photos with two teens he’s presumably paying for sex, and scenes of unthinkable physical and mental stress—such as that horrible scene in which Anya pays for and endures a backstreet abortion.
Leopards changing or not changing spots is a good starting point for JACK. An anti-thriller that subtly asks whether a killer is born or made, it received its world-premiere at the 68th edition of Locarno Film Festival, whose fitting avatar—a speckled golden feline—prowls across the screen before each film. The second feature by Austrian director Elisabeth Scharang is a curious fictionalisation of the life of Johann ‘Jack’ Unterweger (Johannes Krisch), who rose to short-lived fame as a poet and writer in 1990s Vienna, having been released from a 15-year prison stint for murdering a woman in 1974—only to be convicted for more than ten additional murders thereafter, before killing himself in 1994.
Scharang is more vague than the history books as to whether Unterweger did indeed start murdering again after his release—and the real thrust of the film’s final third has to do with how far we can take the protagonist at his word, having never really been allowed in to begin with. In 2008, John Malkovich portrayed him on the stage. Krisch, who looks like Robert Carlyle playing Willem Dafoe, depicts him as an impenetrably and vulnerably confident soul (naked foetal positions abound), in line with Unterweger’s own psychiatric diagnosis with narcissistic personality disorder not long before his 1994 conviction.
It’s not until the final on-screen text that Scharang reveals her real-life inspiration, however, which makes the film itself all the more intriguing. With a catchy soundtrack by Austrian alt-rock band Naked Lunch serving to distance us from a position from which we might otherwise discern the eponymous character’s intentions, JACK—not unlike the protagonist—keeps its cards close to its chest. It’s never really made clear what the film’s overriding purpose, its dramatic premise, actually is. That’s a strength rather than a weakness here, forcing us not merely to invest in the central character but to question whether or not we want to, or indeed should.
It’s a clever approach, given the film’s theme of rehabilitation and the institutional and social structures that propagate or deny it. For many, Jack has paid for the callous murder of a woman one wintry night a decade and a half previously, and his release from prison concludes a process that heals by means of punishment—i.e., serving time (“time is running, but my time stands still”). But at the mere hint that Jack is responsible for other murders (in Prague, Los Angeles, Dornbirn), all bar a few of his associates abandon him.
This is, more than anything else, a cool treatise on the ways in which a media circus can extract capital from a convict at the same time as enabling his continued criminalisation. Long before Jack is suspected of killing again, we see publishers, sales agents and publicists happily promoting his entry into that fickle trajectory called fame (“I’ll be famous,” he tells his lover after sex. “I’ll get to the top”). Celebrity demands content like a leech does blood: when sales figures for his book aren’t quite as high as expected, Jack is pressured into investigative journalism, forced back into his old world of pimps and prostitutes so that he can file front-line missives.
Scharang and cinematographer Jörg Widmer light this latter milieu with the same superficial sheen as those parasitic offices of the publishing world, suggesting the two have more than a mere resemblance. Rather disturbingly, in fact, the director suggests that the entire punishment/retribution debate, as perpetuated by the media at least, is a charade. In an early scene, we see Jack in an open-air prison space, standing in front of a visibly fake backdrop of painted forestry. Real freedom, it implies, is a sham. MICHAEL PATTISON
LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL RUNS UNTIL 15 AUGUST 2015
As its title suggests, NO HOME MOVIE is a chronicle of displacement. Chantal Akerman’s latest documentary is an immensely personal portrait of her mother, Natalia ‘Nelly’ Akerman, who died aged 86 in April last year. Born in Poland, like the filmmaker’s father, Nelly fled to Belgium in 1938, only to be sent to Auschwitz; surviving, she lived in Brussels thereafter. Shooting this diaristic dispatch over the course of several months, Akerman captures the mundane details of her mother’s existence, whether through Skype conversations or within her actual home, while incorporating footage of her own travels through a barren Israeli landscape.
It’s in this latter terrain that the film opens, with a lengthy take of a single tree being persistently battered by a ceaseless wind. The next shot is of the much greener and more tranquil grounds of a park, and the one after that is of the small garden that Nelly’s apartment overlooks. Akerman frames her mother’s home from unlikely angles, drawing attention to the fact that her film is a construction, and making a point, with half-obscured compositions, of its voyeuristic edge, as if to question the efficacy and even morality of such an intrusive concept.
Filming a Skype conversation that she conducts from Oklahoma, Akerman remarks, “I want to show there is no distance in the world.” Her mother is touched: “You always have such ideas.” When inside the apartment itself, the filmmaker leaves the camera running from a tabletop or a chair, evidently not fussed when it comes to polished compositions; her white-balances and exposure levels fluctuate like those in an amateur film. The title is a pun: in cinematic terms this is a dull film, not just in its unvarnished digital textures but also in its emphasis upon the domestic quotidian.
What kind of insights does Akerman glean, or expect to glean, from her mother’s life? Given her reluctance to talk of her time at Auschwitz, very little can be gathered of her imprisonment by the Nazis—which gives the more unremarkable anecdotes a doubly revelatory edge. During one scene in which mother and daughter eat lunch, one topic covered is whether or not the latter can cook well. These exchanges are the sum of their relationship. As the film progresses, less conversation takes place; Nelly’s declining health, and her worsening dementia, become evident.
Akerman mentioned in a recent interview that she probably wouldn’t have been able to make the film had she known it was to be a completed narrative from the off. Given the nature of its production, she could hardly have foreseen the way in which her mother’s physical and mental frailty grew—and so NO HOME MOVIE is frequently marred by an arbitrary structure and long sequences in which the filmmaker simply contemplates the seemingly empty apartment. Its poignant premise notwithstanding, this is a dreary film to sit through.
Given the filmmaker’s reputation and legacy (it’s some 40 years since she made her rigidly structured JEANNE DIELMAN in 1975), one can only assume that we’re to take the directorial credit here as a sign of inherent value. Experimentation and self-indulgence are two of art’s defining features, of course, but the success of the experiment depends at some point on the ‘self’ being indulged. It’s probable that making this film was a cathartic and challenging process for Akerman, and apparently she’s edited her final cut from 40 hours of footage. But when we’re asked to sit through a film-schoolishly juvenile and frankly tedious ‘scene’ in which she films her own shadow on a pond, we have to ask if the process is being valued at the expense of the product. MICHAEL PATTISON
Bruno Chatrian unveils his eclectic mix of films for the 68th Locarno Film Festival which runs from 5 until 15 August in its luxurious lakeside location. Locarno is known for its edgy profile and this year will be no different: Films by established auteurs: Hong Sang-soo, Andrzej Zulawski and Chantal Akerman (left) will screen alongside an inventive array of undiscovered newcomers in a selection that embraces traditional stories and more experimental and avantgarde fare.
Fourteen world premieres compete for the Golden Leopard including Korean comedy delights from Sang-soo’s Right Now, Wrong Then and mavericks in the shape of Andrzej Zulawski who this year brings Cosmos. Pietro Marcello’s docu-drama Bella e Perduta (above right) will compete with Athena Rachel Tsangari’s Chevalier and Belgian auteur Chantal Akerman’s hotly awaited doc Not a Home Movie (above top) is sure to delight both the press and the public. Two Sundance 2015 outings will screen in competiton: Rick Alverson’s Entertainment, exploring the journey of an American stand-up comedian andJames White, a coruscating family drama from Josh Mond. Sophomores in the section include Pascale Breton with her appropriately titled Suite Amoricaine and Georgian auteur Bakur Bakuradze’s Brother Dejan (above left). Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam’s latest film is a thriller, Schneider vs Bax. that focuses on a hit man whose mission is to kill a reclusive author (below left).
To open the festival in the open-air Piazza Grande, Jonathan Demme is back with Ricki and the Flash. Scripted by Diabolo Cody and starring Meryl Streep, it explores the efforts of an ageing rock star to get back to her roots.
Locarno is known for its European flavour such as Catherine Corsini’s La Belle Saison starring Cécile De France, Lionel Baier’sLGBT title La Vanité (nominated for the Queer Palm at this year’s Cannes) and Austrian auteur Elisabeth Scharang’s Jack (right) which tackles the thorny topic of recidivism through the story of a brutal murderer. Philippe Le Guay’s comedy Floride stars Sandrine Kiberlain and Jean Rochefort and German director Lars Kraume’s The State vs Fritz Bauer explores the story of a prosecutor in the Auschwitz trials. From further afield comes Anurang Kashyap’s Bollywood gangster drama Bombay Velvet, Barbet Schroeder’s historical drama Amnesia andBrazilian director Sergio Machado’s Heliopolis.
The CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE selection includes a fascinating array of indie newcomers with first or second films that focus on the filmmakers of the future: In Tagalog; Dead Slow Ahead (right) is cinematographer Mauro Herce’s debut (right). French helmer. Vincent Macaigne’s debut drama is Dom Juan. Kacey Mottet Klein (Sister) stars in Keeper by Guillaume Senez. Melville Poupard, Andre Desoullier and Clemence Poesy star in Le Grand Jeu, a debut for Nicolas Pariser and The Waiting Roomfrom Serbian Bosnian director, Igor Drljaca, and starring Canadian actor Christopher Jacot (Hellraiser), and those that have seen the enchanting Elena by Petra Costa will be excited to see her next experimental docu-drama Olmo & the Seagull.
SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE
This strand screens perhaps the most auteurish films of the festival with a distinctive style and look. Two new Polish films stand out, My Name is Marianna (right) from Karolina Bielawska and Brothers from Wojciech Staron (below right).Christopher Pryor’s black and white New Zealand doc The Ground We Won (above) and Aya Domenig’s The Day the Sun Fell from the Sky (left).
The Jury Selection offers a chance to see their favourite titles including Guy Maddin’s stylish drama, The Forbidden Room, Joanna Hogg’s superb study of a family holiday seen through the eyes of a single, middle-aged woman: Unrelated; and Denis Klebeev’s Strange Particles. The competition jury comprises U.S. photographer-director Jerry Schatzberg; German actor Udo Kier; Israeli director Nadav Lapid; and South Korean actress Moon so-Ri.
Locarno also screens a retrospective of Sam Peckinpah including his standout Western PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID. Marco Bellocchio will receive a Pardo d’Onore and show his 1965 classic I PUGNI IN TASCA along with Michael Cimino whoseall time seventies favourite THE DEER HUNTER stars Robert De Niro. MT
LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 5 -15 AUGUST 2015
Purportedly a metaphor for the journey from Enlightenment to Romanticism, Albert Serra’s Golden Leopard winner is a deliciously louche and languorous affair that plays on the title of Giacomo Casanova’s autobiography “Histoire de Ma Vie”. Distilled from 400 hours of freewheeling footage to a shimmering strand of candlelit and moonlit reverie, it is based on an imagined meeting between Casanova and Dracula that takes place in 18th-century Switzerland and Romania. Sensitively re-creating the leisurely pace of the era, the film opens with an al fresco supper between paramours. Scenes in Casanova’s boudoir follow, where the raffishly cheeky Catalan Marquis (Viçenç Altaió) gives decadent rein to his sensual appetite for salacious and philosophical badinage alone with his newly-acquired manservant, Pompeu (Lluis Serrat), while imbibing and grazing on grapes and completing his oblutions. Embarking on a pastoral journey that will lead beyond the Carpathian mountains to Transylvania, he is joined by said manservant and a motley crew of subservient female acolytes.
Altaió portrays Casanova as gently playful rather than sexually predatory which is possibly how he manages to satisfy his vast sexual appetite; coming across as naughtily risqué rather than oppressively letcherous: it’s an irresistible combination that evokes impish seduction rather than tyrannical oppression reflecting the cultured gentility of the age of Enlightenment.
The tone slips sinuously into Gothic Horror in the Transylvanian segment where we meet the raven-haired, elegantly-coiffed Count (Eliseu Huertas)- a sociopath of a different colour; presenting himself as a gift-horse to the unfortunate females in the travelling group and later devouring them with an horrendous volte-face nod to 19th century Imperialism. Here Casanova’s saucy superficiality is stretched to the limit as he suffers a downturn in his fortunes (redolent of Barry Lyndon) in the backlash of violent vampires as the narrative down-spirals into valium-enfused blood-letting.
This inventive twist on a classic legend with its inspired performance from Viçenç Altaió is sumptuously filmed with exquisite attention to period detail. The luminescent set-pieces are masterpieces in their own right marking Albert Serra as a creative genius in of the art of arthouse filmmaking. See this when you have time to contemplate its rare treasures. MT
STORY OF MY DEATH WAS REVIEWED AT THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2014 | NOW ON DVD
Cast: Benjamin Lutzke, John Leuppi, Livia Reinhard, Ernst C Sigrist, Ste, Ella Rumpt
106min Drama Swiss
Possibly the sharpest but certainly the most violent film to come out of Switzerland since the Swiss Army Knife, CHRIEG is writer/director Simon Jaquemet’s award-winning feature debut that sees a young boy subjected to a surreal and brutal teen-hood in the Swiss German Alps.
Driving the narrative forward with merciless intensity during the first 40 minutes, Jaquemet is unable to sustain the gritty wretchedness of it all as the story gradually unravels into a violent meltdown of European teenage trauma and machismo that will do well on the International Festival circuit and with the arthouse crowd.
Matteo (Benjamin Lutzke) is a typical confused and introverted 16 year-old who is being poorly parented by a couple of self-serving hippies; a macho, grunting father (John Leuppi) and an earthmother-type (Livia Reinhard) who has recently given him a baby brother who he is forced to ‘suckle’ in a sick and misguided attempt to get them ‘bonding’. Matteo is understandably perplexed by the all mixed messages of his disfunctional home life and seeks brief solace in the nearby woods whence he is catapulted into an Alpine bootcamp run by another couple of nutters, Henspeter (Ernst C Sigrist) and his accomplice Anton (Ste), to toughen him up during the school hols. Whilst his family home life is emotionally unsettling, the bootcamp is physically violent and he is subjected to all sorts of humiliating treatment by the other inmates who lock him in a cage and chain him by the neck in a stomach-lurching initiation ceremony. When he finally becomes part of the gang, the drama drifts into urban territory as they trash venues in typical ‘teenage’ mode.
Lutzke won Best Actor for his raw and real portrayal of Matteo and the support cast of mostly newcomers are strong and authentic in this drama which is unusual for Swiss cinema but typical of the kind of rite of passage story you might see being trotted out in the UK, France or Belgium. These are teenagers without any heart or soul or even any particularly character development: They’re just as ‘bad’ individually and worse collectively as most gangs when left to their own devices. That said, Lorenz Mertz’s inventive visuals give a giddy groove to the proceedings both in the Alpine locations and in town. This is a bleak and brutal portrayal of modern Swiss youth refreshingly devoid of cuckoo clocks and chocolate. MT
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 5- 15 August 2015 | Reviewed at Cannes Market 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking there’s a projection fault at the start of THE IRON MINISTRY, as brooding, bassy railyard hums meld, over an appreciably sustained stretch of black screen, with the high-pitched screeches of trains coming to a halt. The resulting landscape, though evoked entirely through sound, is vividly panoramic—so it comes as something of a surprise when the first images proper of the film appear to be so disorientingly and claustrophobically abstract. J.P. Sniadecki’s latest documentary is a typically immersive work, and receives its world premiere this week in the 67th Locarno Film Festival’s International Competition.
With works like DEMOLITION (2008), THE YELLOW BANK (2010) and PEOPLE’S PARK (2012), Sniadecki had already proven himself to be a key member of Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab. Though his co-directed documentary FOREIGN PARTS (2010) focused on an area of Queens, New York, the director’s body of work is growing into a committed and often compelling portrait of contemporary China, as witnessed and experienced by at a ground level perspective. The latest addition to this ongoing project was shot over the course of three years (2011-13) on the country’s vast rail network, soon to be the largest in the world.
THE IRON MINISTRY begins with the finer details—close-ups of rubber inter-carriage gangways, cigarette butts, raw slabs of beef and mutton—before allowing its many characters to emerge fleetingly from the chaos. Chaos is about right: overstuffed with families, workers, students and migrants, these passenger trains are a microcosm of human activity. Sniadecki’s camera negotiates its way through the carriages surveying what it can, proceeding at knee-height and at head-height, panning left and right to take in the crowd. Sometimes, it stops in the vestibules to absorb a conversation between smokers, or between two women in a Bechdel-passing chat about low wages, longer hours and rising prices.
On a sleeper train, one young lad ironic beyond his years welcomes everyone aboard from his top bunk, claiming that explosives are welcome and that, because it’s a civil train, pissing and shitting is encouraged. Extending limbs and heads out of the window, he quips, can help passengers contribute to China’s population control measures. On another train, the filming crew is prevented from entering a visibly less populated first-class carriage. Not long after, we hear the surreal diegetic sound of an instrumental rendition of the TITANIC theme tune mingling with the cacophonously ubiquitous drones of the train itself rattling along.
This music—presumably coincidental—is uncanny. Though the class divisions in James Cameron’s 1997 crowd-pleasing epic may have been milked for dramatic purpose, they remain militantly upheld across the world, not least of all in China, the mammoth embodiment of transglobal exploitation. Indeed, watching this film makes the flashily fanciful allegories of Bong Joon-ho’s SNOWPIERCER look decidedly less fantastical than they first seemed. The future is already here.
So, what of it? What, indeed, do we make of the many complaints, anxieties, desires and dreams expressed here, by the young and by the old, by the shoeshines and other quick-buck hopefuls? While Sniadecki’s access-all-areas approach is commendable, the anything-goes feel seems to be a matter of editorial indiscipline rather than of premeditation. One always feels that a documentary of this ilk could be three hours long or three minutes long, and the variation in canvas size wouldn’t impact our overall understanding of the content therein. It’s one thing to gain access to a social snapshot like this, but—just as a zoomed-in shot of the passing landscape outside suggests China is a patchwork quilt that denies easy comprehension—at a certain point, one must ask to what extent the artist is intervening upon matters.
At a stretch, one could argue that merely presenting recorded material is not necessarily the same as creating a picture from it. Though Sniadecki in this sense is a stronger artist than Wang Bing, his evident talent and previous achievements suggest that now might be the time to go beyond an ethnographical account and make something truly ambitious, hitting and more explicitly probing. MICHAEL PATTISON
Ukrainian director Myroslav Slaboshpitskiy returned to Locarno Film Festival again in 2014 as a jury member overseeing its Pardo di domani competition, having won a Silver Leopard there in 2012 with mid-lengther NUCLEAR WASTE.
After success at Cannes and Locarno in 2014, Slaboshpitskiy’s impressive debut feature THE TRIBE is now on release in London. Daringly deadpan and at times bedazzlingly brutal, the film takes place at a boarding school for deaf mute children, where a new arrival is taken under the wing of a violent group of thugs. Myroslav spoke briefly to Michael Pattison.
Michael Pattison: THE TRIBE is set at a boarding school for deaf mute children. Why did you decide to make a film in that setting?
Myroslav Slaboshpitskiy: I wanted to make a homage to silent film. A lot of films are being made this way, for instance THE ARTIST, a much more famous film. But I didn’t want to make a stylization—a black and white movie or a film from the start of the twentieth century. For this reason, I had only one way to make it. I take deaf people, and they can communicate with each other, but in using sign language, they can be in a modern mute film. I think I had the idea maybe twenty years ago, when I was studying. Very close to my school there was a special boarding school for the deaf. By the way, we shot THE TRIBE in my old school.
So the school you were shooting in wasn’t the deaf boarding school?
No, my school was a normal school. This school hasn’t changed much from the time I studied there.
It’s an incredible setting. You get a vivid sense of a lived-in space, that it’s been there a while. How easy was it to film there?
You have a number of problems, and a number of risks, when you invite amateur actors to take part in your film. You have a special problem when you invite young people, who today are trying to find themselves: today he’s a footballer, tomorrow he’s a rock star, and the next day he’s a movie star. This isn’t the case just for deaf people, I think it’s the case for all people. And of course it’s a risk when you have such a long production because some people can say, “I don’t want to take part in the film anymore,” and then what do you do with them? I don’t know. But, thank god, the actors were good. They were tired because we shot in the winter and we had very long filming days. A lot of rehearsals. They were tired, we were tired. But finally, I think we are happy and we didn’t have any problems.
How did you come to cast the film? Are all the actors deaf mute?
Yes, all of them are deaf mute in real life. In fact in Ukraine and Russia, they do not like it when we call them ‘deaf mute’, because they think it’s politically incorrect. I think they’re just American-influenced because people told me in America it’s ‘deaf and dumb’, but of course that is incorrect. Deaf mute, I’m not sure if it’s incorrect, but okay. We found the actors from everywhere. Kiev’s Institute for the Deaf Society helped us.
Deaf people comprise less than one per cent of the human population. As well, especially for the young, deaf people need to connect with each other to make a friendship. One of my actors told us in one of his interviews that he thinks the Internet and social networks were created especially for deaf people—[deaf people] are very active users of social networks, because they make it much easier to communicate in real life. We put out information on a lot of special websites. Not on Facebook because we looked for people on the Russian social network—it looks similar to Facebook, they call it VKontakte. And we looked on Vkontakte, and said casting will take place on this day or that day, and then we just waited to see who would come for a part. I think we probably looked at 300 people, from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. And originally we had most actors from Ukraine, of course, but [some are] from a small Belarusian village and one guy is from Russia.
There seems to be a tension in the film between a community that’s marginalised and yet is also mimicking gangster films and organised crime.
In fact, there was a funny story during casting. We’d ask one guy to do something in the screening room, and then if he interested us we’d take him and a few people to the school, and my DoP [Valentyn Vasyanovych] would take his Canon Mark II and try to shoot some scenes and see how they look together, in the scene and so on. For this reason we always had different casting: some people would come, some people would go. And one of the actors had worked at the Cultural Center of the Ukrainian Deaf People’s Society. He went to the very conservative head of the centre and told him about the script. Now, nobody sees the script, no one, the actors didn’t see the script before we filmed, they’d just have a scene before shooting, and after shooting we’d take it away again. And this conservative guy, who’s head of the Cultural Center of the Ukrainian Deaf People’s Society, said it was a bad film, and the centre stopped working with us—and regretted their membership working with us.
But anyway, we informed the actors, and they said, “Fuck the Society,” you know, and they took part. Of course, we missed some people in casting after that. But after the filming was finished, it was a strange situation. Of course, the film is fiction. The young people, and a lot of people from the international deaf community, are so proud of the film. I have a lot of deaf friends on Facebook from all around the globe, for example from Egypt or the United States or Bulgaria. And they’re so proud, in fact, that deaf people made a film that won in Cannes. That made them very proud. And I saw deaf people in the screenings at Cannes and at Karlovy Vary, and they said, “Thank you,” that they were impressed, and you know… It’s politically correct for people to want the characters to be cute, but in real life people aren’t so very cute.
READ MICHAEL PATTISON’S REVIEW OF THE TRIBE HERE. THE FILM IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 17 MAY
Uruguayan filmmaker, Alvaro Brechner is perhaps best known for his multi-award winning comedy: Bad Day to Go Fishing. His second feature Mr Kaplan is Uruguay’s official submission to next year’s Academy Awards. It centres on an emigrant Jew from Europe. At 76, he’s living out his late-life crisis in a small seaside town in Uruguay, very similar to the one in Pablo Stoll’s Whisky (2004). Jacob (Noguera) has lost interest in his family, particularly his two sons who bore him with their quarrels (one a total conformist, the other an equally convinced outsider) and he often fights with his wife Rebecca (Nidia Telles), who tries to keep his diet under control. Then, one day he discovers the beach-bar owner is German, old enough to have been a Nazi, and overnight Jacob enlists the help of portly ex-cop Contreras (Guzzini), to mount a ‘war-crime’ case against him. Jacob, seeing himself in the news as a self-styled heir to the Eichmann hunters, succeeds against all odds with his companion playing Sancho Pansa to his Don Quixote.
But after having captured their prey, they find out why “the German” is running away: he is a Jew, having served in a concentration camp as a “Kapo”, meaning he was selected by the Nazis to do some of their dirty work for them. To refuse this appointment, would have meant immediate death for any inmate. The ex-Kapo, tired of running away from hunters and himself, decides to take his own life and in an extraordinary twist of fate finds salvation.
A small film with its heart in the right place where all the characters (apart from Rebecca) appear to be more or less lost; struggling for an identity, running from the past, and ultimately themselves. Jacob, bored with his bourgeois life-style, suddenly decides to become a hero at the wrong time of his life. Whilst the consequences of his actions could have been much harsher, when he finally finds himself back in the midst of his family, he looks grumpier than before, not at all relieved to be alive.
MR KAPLAN has a some fine performances, a bone-dry take on life, a vibrant camera capturing the action from interesting angles and a stringent script, which makes the audience root for Jacob because he is such a lovable anti-hero. AS
THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 6-23 2014 NOVEMBER NATIONWIDE
Nikolaj Lie Kaas takes the leading role as a truculent Danish cop who re-opens the case of a female local councillor who allegedly committed suicide in this slick and gripping Nordic Noir outing based on a bestselling novel, and adapted here by award-winner scribe Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).
Well-cast as Inspector Carl Morck, the central character of Jussi Adler-Olson’s Department Q books, Lie Kaas is suitably taciturn and withdrawn as a man who’s failed at marriage and is also recovering from the trauma of being shot during a bungled investigation in which one colleague was killed, the other paralysed. Re-assigned to Dept Q, where unsolved cases are re-examined, he gets an assistant in the shape of Assad (Fares Fares – Zero Dark Thirty).
Although the pair don’t automatically hit it off, his attention is immediately absorbed by the cold case of the appealing figure of Merete (Sonja Richter) who apparently drowned while on board a ferry with her brain-damaged brother Uffe (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) who won best actor in A Royal Affair, and here again shines out in a skilful portrait of mental illness. Told in parallel narrative, the detectives start the investigation as Merete’s real story unfolds while suspense is cleverly maintained with vital clues withheld, continually keeping us guessing. It emerges that Merete was mysteriously kidnapped on board and held prisoner in a pressure tank while enduring gruesome torture.
Meanwhile, Kaas is suffering from depression over his broken marriage and enduring his stepson’s loud sex-life in the next door bedroom but remains stoic throughout in a dynamite performance as Mr Angry from Copenhagen. The film looks magnificent with widescreen cinematography courtesy of Eric Kress with its use of chiaroscuro combined with occasional inventive touches of chromatic brilliance during the scenes in the pressure tank. Although the climax drifts into clichéd-ground, this is an edgy and immersive drama. MT
The 67th Locarno Film Festival, kicks off on August 6th with Luc Besson’s thriller LUCY, starring Scarlett Johansson, and closes on August 16th with Tony Gatlif’s immigration drama GERONIMO. Overseen by Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian, the festival boasts a number of world premieres, thirteen of which will compete for the coveted GOLDEN LEOPARD in the festival’s International Competition section. World premiere titles in competition include Pedro Costa’s HORSE MONEY, Jungbum Park’s ALIVE, Syllas Tzoumerkas’s A BLAST, Paul Vecchiali’s WHITE NIGHTS ON THE PIER and Yury Bykov’s THE FOOL.
Alongside the International Competition films, the festival has a further fifteen features in its famed Piazza Grande strand, with the films playing outdoors on Europe’s largest screen. Anticipated highlights include: road comedy LAND HO!, Aaron Katz’s Iceland-set follow-up to COLD WEATHER, co-directed with Martha Stephens; Olivier Assayas’ CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA starring Juliette Binoche (receiving a career honour at the festival); Jasmila Zbanic’s LOVE ISLAND (receiving its world premiere); and Lasse Hallstom’s restaurant comedy THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY, starring Helen Mirren.
In addition to the International Competition and Piazza Grande strands, Locarno features a number of other strands showcasing the diversity of modern cinema. They include: the new Signs of Life strand, centring on “cinema at the frontiers” (sample film: Nicolas Pereda’s THE ABSENT); the Concorso Cineasti /Cineastes of the Present discovery strand, featuring both first and second features (sample film: Soon-Mi Yoo’s SONGS FROM THE NORTH); the Open Doors section, which focuses on a specific region every year (this year, it’s films from sub-Saharan Africa); and the Pardi di domani section for shorts.
One thing Locarno is feted for is its epic retrospectives and this year is no exception, with a strand dedicated to Titanus (one of the great Italian film production companies) that includes over fifty films, with De Sica’s TWO WOMEN and Visconti’s THE LEOPARD among them. There’s also a Histoire(s) du Cinema section, dedicated to film history, showcasing films as diverse as Charlie Chaplin’s MODEarN TIMES and Cem Kaya’s REMAKE, REMIX, RIPOFF. On top of that, there are two smaller tribute sections, one for actor Jean-Pierre Leaud and one for director Li Han-hsiang.
This year’s jury members at Locarno include Venice Golden Lion winner Gianfranco Rossi (Sacro GRA), German filmmaker Thomas Arslan (who made the wonderful GOLD, sadly still not released in the UK), Chinese director Diao Yinan (Berlin Golden Bear winner for BLACK COAL, THIN ICE) and actresses Alice Braga (City of God) and Connie Nielsen (NYMPHOMANIAC). Locarno has a happy tradition of screening films associated with its jury members, so there’s also an Official Jury Films strand, containing 15 films, including both Gold and Black Coal, Thin Ice. Alongside the main jury there are two other juries, one for the shorts strand (headed by Rutger Hauer) and one for the Concorso Cineasti strand, headed by Ossama Mohammed.
This year, the festival is honouring three different actors with career awards: Juliette Binoche will receive the clumsily named Excellence Award Moet & Chandon, Mia Farrow will receive the Leopard Club award (a recent addition to the festival) and Armin Mueller-Stahl will pick up the Lifetime Achievement Award. All three actors will also have selections of their films screened as part of the festival. In addition, there will be a number of other special guests this year, with confirmed attendees including horror maestro Dario Argento, acclaimed Spanish director Víctor Erice (also receiving a career award and a mini-strand), Melanie Griffith, Julie Depardieu, Jonathan Pryce and Jason Schwartzman.
With so much going on, Locarno audiences are pretty much spoiled for choice, but here are five films to look out for, in addition to those mentioned above.
BUZZARD (US) – Concorso Cineasti
Indie darling Joel Potrykus concludes his “animal trilogy” (his previous features include Coyote and Ape) with this low-budget drama starring regular collaborator Joshua Burge as a disaffected temp who runs a series of low-level scams from his office cubicle.
THE IRON MINISTRY US/China) – Official Competition
Director J.P. Sniadecki’s intriguing-sounding documentary explores China’s sprawling railway system and examines the social experience of train travel, meeting a range of passengers and railway employees along the way.
CHRISTMAS, AGAIN (US) – Concorso Cineasti
Director Charles Poekel took to Kickstarter to fund his feature debut, an ultra-low budget drama about a Christmas tree vendor in New York, based on his own experiences.
DOS DISPAROS (aka Two Gun Shots) (Argentina/Chile/Germany/Netherlands) – Official Competition
The first feature in a decade from director Martin Rejtman, one of the founders of New Argentine cinema. The provocative film focuses on a 16 year old boy who finds a gun in his house and impulsively shoots himself, twice, only to survive.
LISTEN UP, PHILIP (US) – Official Competition
Writer-director Alex Ross Perry’s third feature is a sharply written, darkly funny comedy starring Jason Schwartzman as a bad tempered and self-centred writer awaiting the publication of his second novel. Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss co-stars as his long-suffering live-in photographer girlfriend.
GOLDEN LEOPARD – Mula sa kung ano ang noon (WHAT WENT BEFORE) – Lav Diaz, Filippine JURY PRIZE – Listen Up Philip – Alex Ross Perry, USA BEST DIRECTOR – Cavolo Dinheiro (HORSE MONEY) Pedro Costa, Portugal BEST ACTRESS – Ariane Labed per Fidelio, l’odyssée d’Alice di Lucie Borleteau, France BEST ACTORS – Artem Bystrov per Durak (THE FOOL) di Yury Bykov, Russia SPECIAL MENTION – Ventos de Agosto di Gabriel Mascaro, Brazil
THULE TUVALU, Matthias von Gunten’s beautifully shot documentary about global warming and two regions united by a gloomily common destiny despite being 20,000km apart, isn’t the aggressive polemic you might have hoped for—but is, perhaps, all the better for it. Because while this could in fact be a significantly angrier piece about the consequences of rising temperatures and sea levels, the inevitably anxious summarising text with which the film is bound to end would be just as speculative and, apparently, helpless. This Swiss-funded film screened this week as part of the 67th Locarno Film Festival’s Panorama Suisse section.
What THULE TUVALU does do well is give a sense of what it might be like to live in either of its two eponymous places. Dividing his time equally between the inhabitants of Thule, Greenland, and those of Tuvalu in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, von Gunten accumulates two absorbing pictures of daily life, highlighting cultural similarities between the people residing in these appreciably contrasting paradises. In a strong opening, Thule resident Lars, 65, shoots a seal from afar—and many other early scenes unfussily depict hunting as a way of life. For Thule and Tuvalu inhabitants alike, animals function merely as transport, food and clothing.
Tuvalu’s temperatures facilitate more intimate means of catching food: Patrick, 42, casts a fishing net as he runs into the sea. On Namunea, the outermost island from Funafuti on Tuvalu’s mainland, we first meet 71-year-old Vevea—who incidentally has six wives and 21 children—as he cuts a pig’s throat. It’s through one of Vevea’s 21 children, 42-year-old Kaipati, that we first hear the C-words: as we learn, climate change is affecting life on Tuvalu in both short- and long-term ways, in the form of droughts and dying vegetation on the one hand and the likelihood that it could be the first country to be entirely submerged by the sea on the other. In a 2009 conference in Copenhagen, we’re told, the UN proposed to limit global warming to two degrees—a tokenistic proposition with which Tuvalu was pressured by industrialised nations into agreeing despite it more or less securing the island’s “certain demise”.
In Thule, meanwhile, the ice is melting and the winters are shortening, meaning its inhabitants are less and less able to hunt for the required amount of time each year to sustain themselves. Tuvalu’s yellowing trees are matched on Thule by an ominously unprecedented rift across a plain of ice. Such warning signs of a possibly irrevocable situation are resulting, understandably, in a great deal of uncertainty for the natives. Briefly, von Gunten travels to New Zealand to catch up with Tuvalu-born Foini, who jumped ship, so to speak, before it was too late. Not everyone can afford this option, of course—presuming they would also emigrate if able to—while others are displaced against their will. Back home, Takuaou makes a dress out of videotape for her daughter’s school performance to celebrate the region’s Day of Friendship; the ceremony took place, we’re told, on the same day a smaller island announced plans for the wholesale resettlement of its population.
For a documentary whose overriding message forbids humour, by the very virtue of spending time with these people, THULE TUVALU has many amusing and/or uplifting moments going for it. The abovementioned Day of Friendship performance is a particular highlight, while the several scenes on Thule featuring dogs are funny almost by default—as when one falls into some water, or when a puppy is distracted from the slab of raw meat with which it would much rather be left alone.
Assisted by Pierre Mennel’s often gorgeous cinematography, such scenes capture the vivid mix of Thule’s dark grey and deep pink skies as well as the serene qualities of overall life there. In a near-transcendent moment, however, the scene that unexpectedly steals the show here is that in which a narwhale is killed with several sniper shots, which dramatically punctuate the surreally quiet air—a profoundly sad encounter that touches on the sublime. MICHAEL PATTISON
For Maria (Aggeliki Papoulia), the driving force of Syllas Tzoumerkas’ second feature A BLAST, the grass is suddenly greener. It wasn’t always so, needless to say, but from the opening moments of this slippery drama the happily married mother of three is in flight from life as she has known it, having left her children and a case of money with sister Gogo (Maria Filini) and driven off into the night—some time after cruelly exiling her burdensome, widowed father to an area of coastal forest. The film world-premieres this week as part of the 67th Locarno Film Festival’s International Competition.
Through flashbacks—and flashbacks within flashbacks—we’re gradually brought to speed: Maria is one of two feisty daughters of convenience store-owning parents who one day meets and falls in love with Yannis (Vassilis Doganis), a sailor whose sexual prowess is tempered by insufferably long bouts at sea. Discovering one day that her wheelchair-bound mother hasn’t been paying her taxes, Maria takes it upon herself to sort matters out. Along the way, she apparently grows detached from things, and begins attending meetings of an ecological activist group as well as group therapy sessions for victims of domestic abuse. She may or may not be hatching a moneymaking plan.
Pasts and present mix. Juxtaposing these timelines lends the dramatic stakes a mystery, recalling the causal disconnect of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 GRAMS (2003). A BLAST also evokes González Iñárritu in other, more irksome ways, such as the nagging suspicion that it’s structure in bad faith—that it’s overstuffed in order to disguise the ridiculous melodrama beneath. Though 21 GRAMS has a thematic justification behind its patchwork storytelling, questions remained: what would happen when González Iñarritu, a director with an apparent preference for soap-like melodrama, finally braved linear storytelling? BIUTIFUL (2010) happened: a film of such po-faced poetic severity that its miserable drama began to feel like a piss-take.
Perhaps aware of this, Tzoumerkas and co-scripter Youla Boudali opted to tell their tale of high passion—and its consequences—in such a way that you barely have a moment to figure out its purpose. Tonally, the musical score suggests it’s a thriller. Editorially, it’s a mystery. Imagistically, something more ominous is at work, such as when a car pulls up alongside Maria, or when Yannis is seen in his cabin with a sweaty roommate bearing a flick-knife. It’s absorbing to a degree, of course, but when Maria’s monologue to her group therapy class is juxtaposed with her mother struggling out of her wheelchair, things appear off. The out-of-focus long shot in which the latter character crawls into the bathroom to commit suicide is telling of the director’s misguided pretensions: there’s simply no reason for it to be framed or lensed in the way it is. Other choices, such as juxtaposing passionate flashback sex scenes with Maria searching for and unashamedly watching “porn sex videos” on a public computer, are baffling.
Throughout, Tzoumerkas relies on a number of shorthand devices, which range from the merely clichéd to the mildly offensive. From the former category: Maria’s insufferably ear-splitting screams of delight upon being reunited with Yannis; Maria slapping Yannis in uncontrollable fury when he departs for another sail; over-lit handheld to invoke Maria’s happier past; Maria and Gogo talking over one another with ironically foul language to denote their chemistry and hearts-on-sleeves emotionalism. Two moments in particular appear to be offensive; both involve Yannis. The first is in a brothel, wherein he has sex with a black prostitute, and the second is a deliberately abrupt cut to him having sex with a male colleague.
Though I won’t argue too much against anyone who defends the second instance as an acknowledgement of a sailor’s sexual needs while at sea (stereotypical as that may be), there’s something very wink-wink and SHAME-like in the way the film splices it in, with something resembling a shock-cut: what better way to connote a heterosexual man’s physical needs than by showing him having sex with another fella? The first instance remains objectionable, meanwhile, because one can’t help but think of Tzoumerkas and Boudali making their only black character a professional seductress in a tastelessly puce den of adulterous iniquity—that they deliberately opted for a black prostitute because a white blonde woman like Maria wouldn’t be unacceptable enough. MICHAEL PATTISON
The Swiss lakeside city plays host to one of the highlights of the Summer calendar, and this year Locarno International Film Festival celebrates its 75th Anniversary.
Famous for its outdoor screenings in Piazza Grande – the largest town square in Switzerland, seating up to 7,500 spectators – the 75th Edition of the LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL honours actor/director Matt Dillon, political filmmaker Costa-Gavras and auteuses Kelly Reichardt and Laurie Anderson with a selection of their features.
Meanwhile in this year’s highly anticipated Retrospective the luxurious red leather fauteuils of the Grand Rex are ready tomwelcome guests for the complete works of renowned director Douglas Sirk (1897-1987) who started his film career as Detlef Sierck in 1936 and went on to make over 75 films including Hollywood titles All that Heaven Allows (1955) and Written on the Wind (1956).
The festival, taking place from 3-13 August, aims to attract cutting edge contemporary talent along with more established fare. Amongst the titles in competition for the Golden Leopard this year includes Alexandr Sokurov’s Fairytale, Helena Wittmann’s Human Flowers of Flesh, Patricia Mazuy’s Bowling Saturne, Abbas Fahdel’s Tales of the Purple House and Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Matter out of Place. A host of other celebrations will also take place in the mountainside location of Ticino.
DELTA by Michele Vanucci Italy – 2022
BULLET TRAIN by David Leitch USA – 2022
COMPARTIMENT TUEURS by Costa-Gavras France – 1965
ARIYIPPU(Declaration) by Mahesh Narayanan India – 2022
BALIQLARA XÜTBƏ (Sermon to the Fish) by Hilal Baydarov Azerbaijan/Mexico/Switzerland/United Kingdom – 2022
BOWLING SATURNE by Patricia Mazuy France/Belgium – 2022
DE NOCHE LOS GATOS SON PARDOS by Valentin Merz Switzerland – 2022
GIGI LA LEGGE by Alessandro Comodin Italy/France/Belgium – 2022
HIKAYAT ELBEIT ELORJOWANI (Tales of the Purple House) by Abbas Fahdel Lebanon/Iraq/France – 2022
HUMAN FLOWERS OF FLESH by Helena Wittmann Germany/France – 2022
IL PATAFFIO by Francesco Lagi 23 Italy/Belgium – 2022