Archive for the ‘VENICE 2016’ Category

The Distinguished Citizen (2016) ****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Woman’s Life | Une Vie (2017)

Dir: Stephane Brize | Drama | France | 114min

Hot on the heals of his 21st century social drama, The Measure of a Man, that won the Cannes Best Actor Award in 2015, the adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s first novel, is a painterly domestic tragedy set in 18th century Normandy that tackles similar social issues occuring 300 hundred years beforehand.

Intimate in scale (shot on Academy Ratio) and delicately appealing, A WOMAN’S LIFE follows Chemla’s bon chic bon genre heroine Jeanne from her teenage years until her mid forties, echoing the the kind of tortured tragedy familiar in all Maupassant’s work – in some ways he’s the French equivalent of Thomas Hardy in that his stories are firmly rooted in the landscape with a palpable feel for Gallic traditions. We first meet the heroine Jeanne (Judith Chemla) planting lettuces in the pottager of the Chateau she shares with her Baron father (Jean Pierre Darroussin) and Baroness mother (Yolande Moreau).

Brizé’s choice of the Academy ratio – used in silent film – embodies the closeted almost claustrophobic nature of Jeanne’s domestic environment full of love and laughter until she is introduced to her future husband, a flawed and improvished nobleman, Viscount Julien de Lamare (Swann Arland). Her life will never be the same again.

Working with his regular writer Florence Vignon, Brizé condenses the novel into an engrossing drama (just short of two hours) that quails away from the habitual mannered approach of classic period dramas to create a naturalistic and impressionist portrait that retains considerable dramatic heft, thanks to Anne Klotz’ suberb editing, while also being sensitive and delicately rendered in Antoine Heberle’s exquisite visuals that flip from vibrant summer days to the wretched, rain-soaked wintery ones that hint at doom and disaster from the beginning.

The film unravels in a succession of suggestive short scenes that sketch out episodes in the narrative leaving us to fill in the gaps with our own imagination and leave time for Jeanne to contemplate and process her thoughts and feelings. Married life with Julien is no bed of roses : when Jeanne finds her maid Rosalie’s bedroom empty in the night, a brief but melodramtic scene in the garden follows implying that Julien and Rosalie are up to no good. It soon emerges that Julien’s poor family traits are inbred.

True to the page, Brize reworks Maupassant’s mistrust of religion and the church in general: The consequences of Jeanne’s reliance on the family pastor (Francois-Xavier Ledoux) for moral guidance over her husband’s behaviour lead to more heartake involving her seemingly close friend and neighbour Georges de Fourville (Alain Beigel), whose wife, Gilberte (Clotilde Hesme) flirts with the cheating Julien.

The Baron, a strong but largely silent performance from Jean-Pierre Darroussin, is extremely vocal when it comes to his grandson (played by Finnegan Oldfield as a late teenager and beyond) who appears to have inherited his father’s profligacy and lack of integrity, but Jeanne turns a blind eye to these traits, investing her love in him and channeling all her hope for the future in his empty promises.

Judith Chemla (Camille Rewinds) gives a calm but resonating performance as Jeanne generating considerable empathy as she slowly absorbs years of sadness, loss and emotional turmoil to her considerable detriment as she reaches middle age. One again Stephane Brizé has made a powerful and immersive character drama, impeccably crafted and enormously moving. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 12 JANUARY 2018

 

 

The Untamed | La Region Selvaje (2016)

Dir: Amat Escalante | 100min | Fantasy drama | Mexico Denmark |

Amat Escalalnte follows his Cannes-awarded Heli with a community based sci-fi fantasy drama inspired by the machismo, homophobia and misogyny of his native Mexico.

THE UNTAMED is an obscure and unsettling piece that deftly manages its tonal shifts – from grim social realism to sinister fantasy – in a mysterious narrative slowly unfolds, taking its characters to unexpected places while leaving them firmly rooted in contemporary Guanajuato, weighed down by their reality of poverty, overcrowding and crime.

In the outskirts of a town a large crater has opened up filled with animals that appear to have been affected by an extraterrestrial force. One of these has morphed into a benign tentacled creature capable of giving ultimate sexual satisfaction to the women who visit its cabin in the woods. But the creature can also turn nasty, like a disgruntled male. In this way, THE UNTAMED could work as a metaphor for Mexican oppression and the dire social issues facing the country, or for any other Western country caught in the current climate of political and social uncertainty.

We first meet Veronica (Simone Bucio) a willowy waif in the throws of ecstacy, courtesy of our alien-like tentacled tempter in his darkened cabin. This is one of the most bewildering scenes of the film and is captured by the same cinematographer who worked on Nymphomaniac. In a further twist, the creature is being looked after by a weird couple who are purported to possess psychic powers.

Meanwhile, back in town, young mother of two Ale (Ruth Ramos) is being abused by her husband Angel (Jesus Meza), a brutish civil engineer in a sexual relationship with her brother Fabian (Eden Villavicencio), who works in the local hospital where Veronica turns up later with a strange wound on her torso. The two are clearly attracted to one another and decide to meet up later, where it emerges that Fabian is unhappy with Angel.

The trio’s situation grows all the more desperate due to the Sci-fi occurences in the nearby woods: nothing is clear, everything seems to be degenerating both ecologically and societally for the country and its people who are caught in the grip of circumstances beyond their control.Despite the underwritten characters, Escalante’s attempts to chanel Mexico’s serious social issues into this Sci-fi drama are convincing and exciting marking him out as one cinema’s most visionary contemporary filmmakers.  MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

 

 

 

Frantz (2016)

Director: François Ozon

Cast: Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Ernst Stoetzner, Marie Gruber, Johann von Buelow, Anton von Lucke, Cyrielle Clair, Alice de Lenquesaing

Drama | France | 112min

With the theme of guilt firmly at the forefront, François Ozon takes his inspiration from Ernst Lubitsch’s ‘Broken Lullaby,’ in his first black and white film – a gloriously imagined postwar drama that flips fluidly from French to German.

The First World War changed everything – not only from a political point of view but also from a societal one. European countries were left reeling from the devastation but Ozon focuses here on the bitterness and remorse ordinary people felt at losing their dear ones to the war effort and the enemy, both from the German and French perspective.

After a lightweight dramady The New Girlfriend, Ozon is back on form with this lusciously filmed magnificently mounted masterpiece that takes place in the immediate aftermath to the Great War in a small village in rural Saxony (with echoes of Haneke’s The White Ribbon) and slowly builds to a powerful bodyblow in its emotive final scenes set in Paris and provincial France before returned to Germany. Basing his premise on a series of blatant lies, albeit white ones, the inventive French filmmaker tells a story of guilt and loss – where a young man (Pierre Niney plays Adrien) is driven to protect an old couple (the Hoffmeisters) and their daughter-in-law Anna (Paula Beer), in order to assuage his own actions in the trenches of Verdun, where Anna lost her lover in the slaughter that wiped out thousands and divided Europe in a way that many of our own relatives can still remember (beware Brexit!).

Paula Beer radiates a tragic sadness here as the complex heroine who gradually falls for Pierre Ninney’s fragile yet hopelessly handsome French soldier who manages to conceal his secret for most of the film, spinning her tortuously into a spiral of mixed emotions ranging from longing to anger, hatred and gradually, love and acceptance.

Ozon’s cinematographer Pascal Marti crafts velvety images 35mm in black-and-white. His regular composer Philippe Rombi crafts a atmospheric soundtrack of orchestral splendour that seems to continually presage doom in judiciously chosen moments, and there is an enchanting scene in Adrien’s family chateau where an impromptu piano and violin recital takes place between Anna, Adrien and Fanny (du Lenquesaing). Ozon’s theme of art as a potential healer and inspirer once again appears with Manet’s painting Le Suicide representing a potent motif. This is an accomplished and immersive period drama that will resonate with arthouse audiences and is certainly Ozon’s most mature and accomplished film so far. MT

NOW OUT ON RELEASE FROM 12 MAY 2017 at selected arthouse cinemas including CURZON | BEST EMERGING ACTOR SOPHIE BEER | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016

 

The Journey (2016) | Venice 2016

Dir: Nick Hamm | Drama | 94min | UK | Timothy Spall | John Hurt |Colm Meaney | Toby Stevens |

A rather crass comedy that reduces the Northern Ireland peace process to a glib foray into the forest. THE JOURNEY is a missed opportunity to make a really resonant and worthwhile meeting of minds between the influential figureheads of the era known as The Troubles..

The cast is superb and well chosen: Timothy Spall plays Ian Paisley, the gritty Protestant leader and head of the Democratic Unionist Party as a toothy gruffalo – almost a parody, while Colm Meaney is perfect as Martin McGuinness – he looks and sounds just like the fearful IRA member and chief negotiator for the dreaded Sinn Féin. Colin Bateman’s script places the two in a Scottish hotel near Edinburgh during the St Andrews meeting that took place in 2006, Paisley was to return to Northern Ireland to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary and McGuinness decides to accompany him during the car journey to the airport – although in reality Paisley’s celebration fell on the final day of the talks.

John Hurt makes an utterly believable MI5 agent (Harry Paterson) who has engineered their journey to the airport, arranging to bug the taxi driven by an undercover policeman (Freddy Highmore/Finding Netherland), unbeknownst to the two passengers. Meanwhile Toby Stevens plays a snarling and facetious Tony Blair who is listening in to the conversation, back at the hotel. But the car is involved in a planned collision leaving the two plenty of time to themselves while they ebulliantly thrash out their differences in a disused church in the heart of the glen.

Sadly this is a rather contrived piece of cinema that cherrypicks and tussles with the truth, jumbling historical facts. And for what? Hollowly humorous at times, and rather poignant as Hurt and McGuinness are now no longer alive, THE JOURNEY comes across as a rather trite final word from the main characters at the coalface of decades of murdering, mayhem and strife that was The Troubles – namely Eniskillen, Bloody Sunday and the 1979 murders of Airey Neave (who escaped from the Nazi’s Colditz) and Lord Louis Mountbatten . MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

 

Réparer les Vivants (2016) | Heal the Living

Dir: Katell Quillevéré

103min | Drama | France

Best known for her feature debut Love Like Poison, Abidjan born Katell Quillevere’s third feature is an ambitious but tonally uneven drama that brings together the lives of two French families through an extraordinary gift.

Featuring an eclectic cast from Canada, Belgium and France, and based on Maylis de Kerangal’s novel Mend the Living, the narrative is told in two parts, the second half linked to a tragedy that unfolds in the first. The film opens with a thrilling Dardennesque escapade of surfing and skateboarding for a young French boy (a spirited debut for Gabin Verdet), and develops into a nerve-shredding struggle for survival after a spectacular accident  leaves him with life-limiting injuries. Without revealing the entire story suffice to say that the final segment is a sluggish study of a ciggie puffing bisexual middle-aged woman (a thoughtful Anne Duval) who suffers degenerative heart failure culminating in a plodding medical procedural.

Although the plot is an inspiring one, the characters involved are singularly less so apart from Simon, who has the winning charisma and ebullient energy to carry the first act forward giving it considerable dramatic heft and one of the best surfing scenes ever – followed by his subsequent tragic death. There is a delightful scene, told in flashback, where we see him flirting with his girlfriend Juliette who then takes the funicular to the top of the hill, and Simon follows her on his bike, appearing at the summit to give her a romantic surprise and a really passionate kiss. His parents – played by Emmanuelle Seigner and Kool Shen – are understandably devastated by the accident but act with tremendous courage in the aftermath. After that we never see them again. Tahar Rahim plays an amiable hospital assistant who is responsible for organising the aftercare, he is also a bird fancier (or the feathered variety) who is prepared to pay over 1000 euros for a goldfinch, adding his tousled-haired charm to the otherwise bland medical staff. After the hero of the piece is killed off, the second segment feels comes as a crashing disappointment. Anne Duval fails to generate any sympathy for her character who is a one a dimensional mother who lives for her two teenage kids (Oldfield and Cholbi) and – in a bizarre twist – is  also attempting to have an affair with a concert pianist (Alice Taglioni) but is perpetually too out of breath. Apart from being less dynamic or resonant, this second part is also more pedestrian with its needlessly graphic scenes of prolonged surgery feeling a little ‘de trop’ in what is essentially a drama. If you’re squeamish or anti-smoking, it’s prabablu time to call it a day at this point . MT

ON RELEASE FROM 29 APRIL | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

The War Show (2016)

Dir.: Andreas Dalsgaard, Obaidah Zytoon l Doc l Denmark, Finland, Syria  l 100 min.

Writers/directors Andreas Dalsgaard and Obaidah Zytoon have created a very private diary of the Syrian war, which has so far cost 400 000 lives and displacement of 11 million citizens. The emergence of Isis brought the Superpowers into the conflict, but after five years of fighting, no end is in sight.

When the Arab Spring reached Syria, radio DJ Obaidah Zytoon picked up her video camera and started filming what would become one of the bloodiest conflicts of the region. THE WAR SHOW is first and foremost the director’s personal diary, along with her friends: the poet Hisham (who was madly in love with law student Lulu); drummer Rabea Amal, an activist; dental student Argha and Houssain, who studied architecture at the outbreak of the war. Three of them would lose their lives, the rest would end up in European exile.

Told in seven chapters (Revolution, Suppression, Resistance, Siege, Memories, Frontlines and Extremism) and an epilogue, this war diary starts, like any student film, in the Sixties: the participants wanted fun, fewer restrictions and the abolishment of a dictatorship. But the dream of freedom turned very quickly into a horror show, because the Assad regime fought against their own population, using starvation as a weapon.

Zytoon’s group followed the war to her hometown of Zabadani, where the killings multiplied and the viciousness of the conflict increased: the tone of the video changes dramatically, the “playing” at having a revolution had become deadly serious. When the group reaches Homs, the capital of the uprising, Zytoon films wounded and dead children – it all became too much, “it pierced by spirit”. Later in 2012, Rabea was found shot dead in his car, Hisham was kidnapped by the security forces, Argha arrested and Houssain tortured to death in a police station.

In Zabadani, Zytoon’s Syrian odyssey finally comes to an end: confronted by Islam Caliphate forces, the forerunner of Isis, she is forced to flee: the Muslim soldiers refuse to be filmed by a woman, shouting “send us a man if you want pictures”. In the epilogue filmed in Istanbul, Zytoon consoles Lulu, who has found images of the murdered Hisham. Amal survives in Istanbul, and miraculously, Argha reaches the Turkish capital, after being released from prison.

Whilst unstructured and often suffering from the – obvious – production difficulties, THE WAR SHOW is a convincing example of cinema verite, shot directly from the heart. It is the story of a great tragedy, filmed from the perspective of a plucky, but in the end, helpless and defeated young woman, who lost her youth and many of her friends in an unwinnable conflict. AS

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 12 MAY AT BERTHA DOCHOUSE | SCREENING DURING IDFA AMSTERDAM 16-27 November 2016 | VENICE DAYS AWARD WINNER 2016

The Age of Shadows (2016) | Miljeong

Dir.: Kim Jee Woon

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Gong Yoo, Um tae-goo, Han Ji-min

South Korea 2016, 139 min.

The original Korean title in translation means Secret Agent, and writer/director Kim Jee Woon (The last Stand) offers us a dazzling spy story, set in Seoul as well as Shanghai during the 1920s when large parts of South East Asia were occupied by the Japanese. Kim gets very near to the spirit of Joseph Conrad’s Secret Agent: double crossing, based on ambivalent interests, dominates this sumptuous ballet of shadow fights played out against the alluring background of twenties architecture, lovingly recreated.

The first ten minutes set the tone: Kim Jan-ok, a leading personality of the Korean resistance movement in Seoul is chased by Japanese soldiers, led by Captain Lee Jung-Chool (Song), who once was himself a resistance fighter, before changing sides in Seoul. Cornered, Kim Jan kills himself. The whole sequence is filmed like a ballet: the soldiers jumping from rooftop to rooftop, whilst Kim tries to loose them in the narrow alleyways. Lee is truly sad about Kim’s death, and when he is ordered by his Japanese superior Chief Higashi to catch the leader of the resistance Kim Woo-jin (Gong), he remembers the time spent with Kim Woo and the beautiful Yeon Gye-soon (Han) in the underground movement.

In Shanghai, Lee meets up again with Kim-Woo, who is buying TNT from Hungarian anarchists, to use it against the Japanese in Seoul. On the train journey to the Korean capital, Lee has to kill his nemesis, Hashimoto (Um), to save Kim Woo’s life and that of the other resistance leaders. When they arrive in Seoul station, the police have surrounded the concourse, and one of the most memorable fighting sequence is set in motion – whilst Lee is still able to hide his true conviction to his Japanese superiors.

The true star of the film is DoP Kim Ji-jong, who effortlessly conjures up images of a bygone era: everything glitters in fragmented lights, cars roaming the streets, casting frightening shadows at night where the protagonists look very much like marionettes, pulled along in their own dangerous ways. The vibrant colour schemes are permanently changing, melting into each other, creating prisms and a dreamlike atmosphere. Even the violence takes place in an elegant way – apart from the torture scene with Yeon, which seems out of place. The sequences in the train feel seemless – an endless chase in a labyrinth. Song brilliantly evokes his character: a tormented man whose past eradicates his present. Kim Jee Woon directs with great sensibility, avoiding cliches as much as possible. The Age of Shadows is a real masterpiece: a paean to a people lost in the chaos of events well beyond their control, with images of true magic. AS

NOW SHOWING AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

Hacksaw Ridge (2016) | Venice 2016

Dir: Mel Gibson | Biopic drama | US | 102min

Hacksaw Ridge is one of the most violent and gory films about pacifism ever made. But there again, its director is Mel Gibson. Based on the true story of a war hero and conscientious objector from Virginia, it is a film full of cliches and contradictions that still manages to move and inspire with its heartfelt and plausible narrative underpinned by the simple message of sacrifice and faith.

In common with Gibson’s unflinching dramas: Apocalypse, Braveheart and The Passion of Christ, Hacksaw ridge is long on a brutal battle that takes place on the blood-drenched battlefields of Okinawa. Shot in Australia, Gibson and his scripters Shenkkan and Knight create a narrative that embodies all that the United States strives for, particularly in the light of the Trump era.

Andrew Garfield succeeds in the leading role of a gentle but decent man who is first seen as a weak coward who adheres to his pacifist principles, but who later goes on to achieve greatness in battle eschewing violence: he will not carry a gun due to his religious beliefs as a Seventh Day Adventist. In reality, Desmond Doss came from a poor and dysfunctional background in rural Virginia but was keen to join the war effort believing he could do so as a medic. Naively believing he would go straight to the battlefield in a white jacket and stethoscope, it soon emerges that training and combat is part and parcel of the war effort.

At home in Virginia, Doss Senior (Hugo Weaving) is a hardbitten alcoholic and First World War veteran who balks at the idea of Desmond enlisting. But a childhood accident, where Desmond nearly kills his brother, has made a big impression and he is determined to avoid conflict. When he enlists for Pearl Harbour he comes across initially as a pain in the neck by upholding his stringent religious scruples. This premise is clearly going to set the men from the boys in the abuse he receives from his comrades (Sam Worthington and Vince Vaughn) that leads to a ludicrous court martial on the grounds of his refusal to bear arms and undergo the requisite training.

But when he gets to the battlefield his true grit emerges, as limbs are blown off and blood gushes in some startling combat sequences, filmed by DoP Simon Duggan and edited by John Gilbert, this is a heartfelt and inspiring action drama that will leave you upbeat and in a positive frame of mind about the power of peaceful conviction.. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 27 JANUARY 2017

La La Land (2016)

Dir: Damien Chazelle : Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone | US | Musical Drama | 129min

The 73rd Venice Film Festival opened with the razzmatazz of a rousing Hollywood musical, that is sadly not as good a film as it thinks it is, despite the much hyped critical acclaim that has it scoring more points on Imdb than some real classic masterpieces. Damien Chazelle’s much anticipated follow-up to Whiplash is a musical by theme and content and breaks into song during a title sequence that feels rather awkward and amateurish with most of the songs sung off- key, when you consider the wealth of US musical talent available.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star as LA wannabes at the bottom rung of the creative careers: he is Jazz pianist Sebastian, she as aspiring actor Mia. Gosling and Stone have worked together before with writer-director Damien Chazelle and both are decent enough dancers even if they do not have perfect pitch. They share a sparky onscreen chemistry from the outset when they first fall out during a mini fracas from their respective cars while driving into LA, and then later when their paths cross again just after Sebastian (Gosling) has been fired for playing his own tunes during his nightime gig at a fancy restaurant. LA LA LAND would work just as well, in fact better, as a straightforward drama – the banal script and musical elements sometime feel forced and unnatural although Seb does compose one catchy tune (from original composer Justin Hurwitz) which becomes ‘their’ song in an fluffy leitmotif that runs through the rest of the movie – at it is very much a movie: and boy can Gosling move.

This is a lively and entertaining film that make the mainstream crowd happy – it could be anybody’s story and resonates with most of us, whether we are working in creative fields or not, with its ‘reach for the stars premise’ of following your dream rather than settling for a safe and comfortable existence. Stone is the most vulnerable of the two as she finds the constant rejection of screen tests and auditions difficult to deal with but eventually gets into her groove. Gosling is more punchy and down to earth. Obsessed by trad jazz rather than the meandering self-indulgent kind, he eventually lands up with a well paid job playing the latter before setting up his own club which allows him to play the stuff he really enjoys. Falling in love comes naturally to them both but the road is rather rocky and involves the less travelled one on the way.

Gosling gives a suave and seductive turn throughout, never doubting himself for a moment. Stone – who won the Volpi Cup at Venice 2016 – feels more brittle and spiky, although she really puts her heart and soul into singing, dancing and acting. Damien Chazelle has a film grasp of the dark and dangerous nature of showbusiness and brings this to LA LA LAND as he did to his debut Whiplash. The final ‘what might have been’ montage works well enough to send to you off with a spring in your step. It’s a good film – but not a great one. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 JANUARY | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016 | Best Actress Emma Stone

Jackie (2016)| Best Script | Venice 2016

Dir.: Pablo Larrain; Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Max Castella, John Hurt; USA/Chile 2016, 91 min.

Director Pablo Larrain (Neruda) films Noah Oppenheim’s intricate script of JACKIE, covering four days in the life of first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy that opens on her arrival in Dallas on that fateful day in November 1963.  Roaming ecliptically, the film de-constructs the tragic and delivers a moving portrait of trauma and grief that turns into a media event.

Even though politics are always present, this is never a political film. Jackie (Portman) has to deal with the sudden wrecking ball of her husband’s death followed immediately by the loss of her family home in the Whitehouse. The presidential successor Lyndon B Johnson, follows hot on her heels, chasing her out to move in with his own family, just as Jackie has restored the place to reflect the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. With the move, shown in great detail, comes the realisation of her loss in status: Jackie is quickly becoming a ‘has-been’, her husband’s funeral arrangement are her last official occasion.

Suffering from survivor’s guilt, Jackie argues with her brother-in law, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (Sarsgaard), about marching behind her husband’s coffin from the Capitol to Arlington cemetery – which is seen as a security risk by the new administration and foreign dignitories such as General de Gaulle. Changing her mind more than once, Jackie finally decides to risk of walking alongside the cortege – as did De Gaulle. Having no illusions about her late husband’s excessive philandering, she nevertheless wants to write a final chapter to his presidency, “something the world will remember”.

The losses mount up: Jackie decides to re-bury her two lost children the next to their father’s grave in Arlington, whilst dealing with her official assistant Pamela Turnure (Gerwig), who was one of her husband’s mistresses. The awkwardness is obvious, Nathalie Portman’s performance resonates with subtle complexity in her leading role. Only in an interview with Jack Valenti , (Castella), a PR man working for Johnson, do we get a glimpse of the real Jacqueline Kennedy, who after all worked as journalist before her marriage. Acutely aware of the difference between public perception and the truth: she is not willing to give an inch in her battle to canonise her husband as a great president.

The film flashes back to a black and white re-created TV clip, shot at beginning of her reign as First Lady, explaining to the public the redecorations she had made in the White House. Here, we see Jackie, fragile and vulnerable, before she enters public office, part of the illusion played out for the adoring public. And finally we learn about the legendary “Camelot” reference which is always associated with JFK’s presidency. It turns out to the name of his favourite musical – the vinyl was on the turntable before the couple left for Dallas. JACKIE is not so much history biopic as a case study of a courageous woman who was loyal to her husband, even after his death and despite his utter contempt of her: “we did not spend many nights together, not even the [last] one in Forth Worth”

Larrain directs with great sensitivity and a good eye for detail. Only the scene with a cleric (John Hurt) come over as stilted, the rest is perfect detachment and observation. DoP Stephane Fontaine finds a perfect style for all occasions: the Dallas shooting is tense and realistic, the White House sequences show not so much glitter but a film-studio like appearance. The close-ups are always telling, separating lies from truth. Natalie Portman gives the performance of a lifetime, as a intelligent woman, adored by the public for her innate style and elan as ‘sold’ by the media. AS

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 20 January 2017 | BEST SCRIPT WINNER NOAH OPPENHEIM

The Light Between Oceans {2016) | Venice Film Festival 2016

DIR: Derek Cianfrance

Cast: Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbinder, Rachel Weisz

Based on the 2012 novel by M.L. Stedman, director/writer Derek Cianfrance picks up where he had left off with Blue Valentine: a relationship spoilt by circumstances, fate and human fragility. The epic format, rare today, suits the subject well: spanning decades, the emotions are played out in full, leaving the audience exhausted by the end of the sweepingly romantic tragedy.

Tom Sherbourne (Fassbinder), a British soldier in WWI, seeks refuge as a light keeper on an isolated rock called Janus, off the coast in Western Australia. Emotionally and physically spent, he just seeks solitude; the bloodbath in France has opened his eyes to the endless possibilities of human cruelty. Just before he leaves for his post, he falls in love on the mainland with the young and headstrong Isabel Graysmark (Vikander), who later agrees to marry him. The two live – for a time – happily in the wilderness, before two miscarriages drive Isabel into a manifest depression. When Tom rescues a rowing boat, the couple find a dead man, and a baby girl very much alive. Isabel talks the very reluctant Tom into keeping the baby, pretending it was their own and setting in motion untold drama of colossal proportions.

The Light between Oceans is somehow a meeting between Henry James/Thomas Hardy and David Lean. The emotional hurt inflicted on their protagonists by the two authors, match well with Lean’s strong sense for the epic battle in hostile surroundings. The wild, beautiful landscape is the perfect background for this drama of guilt, savage suffering and motherly yearning seen through this visceral human need to procreate. DoP Adam Arkapaw’s magnificent visuals match both the human obsessions in the intense close-ups, and the dramatic remoteness of the environment in panoramic shots. Vikander and Fassbinder, a couple in real life, play their hearts out; Vikander’s strong but elegant poise (she is a trained ballet dancer), is well opposed to Fassbinder’s tortured movement and demeanor. Weisz’ Hannah, in spite of her turmoil, being the detached chess player, setting a trap for Isabel. This might be traditional cinema, but it is emotional and aesthetically powerful, well crafted on all levels, and truly moving thanks to Alexandre Desplat’s operatic score. AS

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS VUE, ODEON, CURZON FROM 2 DECEMBER 2016 | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016 REVIEW

Austerlitz (2016) | Tallinn Black Nights 2016

Dir: Sergei Losnitza | Doc | Ukraine | 94min

In a former Nazi concentration camp where tee-shirted tourists snigger, snack and shuffle with selfie-sticks, Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Losnitza (Maidan) brings rhythm and rigour with his sober yet richly textured black and white portrait that a sense of sad irony at the banal contrast between the tortured past and the insouciant contemporary.

On the outskirts of Berlin, Sachsenhausen is now a memorial to the many thousands who met their death there. Set up as an interrogation centre during the Second World War; the Gestapo questioned prisoners of war in spartan conditions of near starvation and physical privation. The captives were then gassed alive in the showers and were later imcinerated in the vast ovens by a series of Sondercommandos (themselves prisoners) who were also regularly exterminated, although the final Sondercommando 14 unit left the site to tell their tale.

Using the burbling background of human chatter and the ambient sounds of nature as his soundtrack, Losnitza’s static camera records a typical summer’s day here in a series of long takes. The first sobering one lasts nearly fifteen minutes. Eventually a narrative emerges as we learn about the history of the camp from the (here) Spanish and American tourist guides whose desultory diatribes recount the events that took place during the Holocaust. Tourists look on, some in voyeuristic amazement. But for many the site seems just another picnic site in their daily agenda.

Contemplative and unsettling, Loznitsa’s film illustrates the spectacular banality and insuperable void between past and present. Although we look and learn can we ever really engage and comprehend the events that took place when many are faced with so many momentous tragedies of our own in the 21st century. Losnitza opens up the debate with his remarkable documentary.

Austerlitz takes its title from the final work by the German novelist W.G. Sebald. The film is a sober yet strangely satisfying piece: at the end we do feel as we have not only learnt facts but experienced the gravity of the momentous tragedy that went on here. While the film’s structure initially seems simple, each successive composition moves nearer to its subject allowing our thoughts to wander and engage with the horror of what went on during the world’s last war. MT

TALLINN BLACK NIGHTS UNTIL 27 NOVEMBER 2016

 

Arrival (2016)

Dir: Denis Villeneuve | Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forrest Whittaker | US Canada | Sci-Fi | 120min

We can always expect something fresh and exciting from Canadian filmmakers and Denis Villeneuve delivers just that with this Venice Competition entry: a Sci-fi thriller based on a positive premise: that non-verbal communication has the power to save the world.

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner star as academics hired by the US military to attempt a parly with the aliens that arrive in a mysterious pod-shaped spacecraft that lands in the Montana farmland. This is a crisp and pristinely packaged piece of kit that brings no blood-letting or gruesome images in its wake. Instead it feels like a dreamily intelligent vision giving an uplifting image of an imagined future where our scientists and, particularly, our linguistic specialists can use their brainpower and training to bring about good and heal our troubled, wartorn planet.

And it is a woman who naturally will bring this into being. As a professor of linguistics, Amy Adams gives a deeply sensuous and emotionally intelligent performance in this adult drama whose tension and palpable terror rises out of the cherished hope that human communication could be the answer rather than malign or nefarious forces. Suffering from an intangible loss or beareavement she harnesses her innermost intuition and professional training in an attempt to reach out amicably and sensitively to the seven legged shapeshifters or heptopods that emerge from the summit of the pod. Scripted by Eric Heisserer, ARRIVAL is based on Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life,  and feels very much like Close Encounters in its subtle approach to the interplanetary arrivals unspooling as a peaceful and intelligently nuanced arthouse outing. Ambitious in scope and exquisitely mounted, there are minor flaws and ambiguities in the plotting that occasionally arise out of the parallel narrative of present and future. That said, the spirit of adventure and compromise is laudable in this decidedly upliting and inventive film that will make you leave you with a smile, if not the odd tear. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 11 NOVEMBER 2016 | REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016

 

Nocturnal Animals (2016) | Venice 2016 | Grand Jury Prize

Dir: Tom Ford | Cast: Jake Gyllenhal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Michael Sheen

116min | drama | US

Like his handmade suits or ballgowns, Tom Ford’s films are always beautiful and well-crafted and his Venice competition hopeful NOCTURNAL ANIMALS adds some inventive and surprising detailing to its exciting plot: there are shades of David Lynch, Nicholas Winding Refn and even Paul Verhoeven to this darkly louche and occasionally sordid thriller that takes you to unexpected places, even if it takes its time in getting there.

This is his most intriguing film so far and also feels like his most confident and sure-footed with its well chosen cast, fabulous locations and the sheer swaggering boldness of its aesthetic, complemented by Abel Korzeniowski’s sinister and suggestive score,   marking Ford out to be an accomplished storyteller as well as a accomplished couturier to the rich and famous. Suave and intoxicating, the narrative interweaves three strands that visit the present and past reality, and depart into a darkly imagined cul de sac that serves as a timely retribution for its heroine’s mispent romantic past.

As with A Single Man, Ford has adapted his script, this time from American novelist Austin Wright’s 1993 Tony and Susan, and the film’s title comes from the book within that novel. As the piece plays out it emerges that nocturnal animal was the name given to the heroine (Amy Adams) by her author and now ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) on account of her inability to sleep.

The film opens as Adams’ Susan is a successful gallery owner living in a sumptuous modernist lakeside home in LA and married to an attractive husband (Armie Hammer) who sleeps around. While he is away in New York one weekend, she receives a manuscript of her ex husband’s book and reading it she is drawn into its shady and provocative storyline that appears to shadow their former life together – 20 years ago –  in ways that are both louche and disturbing, leaving her emotionally shaken up and stirred.

Although outwardly a consummate professional, Adams’ vulnerability smoulders under her impeccable tailoring (Gucci?) and after a telling phonecall with her husband, she drifts off into a reverie of her past love life while she reads Edward’s manuscript. It tells how Tony (Gyllenhaal again), is driving in West Texas with his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and their precocious daughter India (Ellie Bamber) when their car is ramrodded by a trio of menacing hoodlums (one is Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the saga does not end well. Susan is transfixed by the novel through the small hours as flashbacks of her former life remerge to taunt and shame her. Gripped by its sordid storyline she reads on: enter Michael Shannon’s seedy sheriff Bobby Andes who is determined to track down the perps and – in an unexpected twist – not afraid to serve mean justice on them due to his terminal cancer. Back in her bedroom Susan realises the error of her ways reflecting on how she left Edward because he lacked the backbone to follow his dreams.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is packed with fabulous performances from Laurie Linney in cameo as Susan’s patrician mother, Michael Sheen as a gay man married to her best friend , Jena Malone as a gallery assistant, and Shannon as the quinessential hard bitten chain-smoking cop and the narrative strands cleverly dovetail into the satisfying finale that combines a gritty sun-drenched Western with the steely glamour of frigid LA.

Apart from the Seamus McGarvey’s brilliant visuals there is plenty of amusing texture to keep you on your toes in the meticulous masterpiece – from twinking nightscapes to witty interludes and Adams is luminuous as Susan in her second appearance here at Venice Film Festival. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER| IN COMPETITION

Take Me Home (2016) | Tribute to Abbas Kiarostami

Director, Scriptwriter, Photographer: Abbas Kiarostami | Editor: Adel Yaraghi | Visual Effects Supervisor: Ali Kamali
Music: Peter Soleimanipour

16min | Iran | Black & White

Abbas Kiarostami was born in Tehran to a professional artist father who influenced his decision to study design. After winning a painting competition, he went to study graphic design, working as a commercial artist, graphic designer, illustrator and eventually shooting adverts the 1960s.

This artistic training informs his filmmaking and is noticeable here in a 16 minute short entitled TAKE ME HOME. The film is really all about symmetry and gracefully illustrates Kiarostami’s natural ability and visual flair in understanding shape, form and architectural perspective.

TAKE ME HOME is engaging as a film and satisfying as a multimedia piece of art. In Southern Italy, a little boy drops his football at the top of a narrow stone stairway outside his home, As the ball bounces downwards, our eyes are drawn along with it, in an endless rhythm from side to side, as it travels to the bottom. Each perfectly framed tableau could stand as an individual piece of artwork. Put simply, the film shows the balance of lines and perspective, the chiaroscuro shadows that move and constantly change from dark to light in the black and white minimalism of shades of graphite grey and chalky white as the football cascades inexorably connecting each frame to the next in a mesmerising sprial study that draws us in, until a little boy retrieves it and goes back home. Adel Yaraghi’s perfect editing and Peter Soleimanipour’s upbeat original score give this a hopeful and positive feel. From a more complex perspective TAKE ME HOME is a metaphor for life’s diurnal rhythms soothing us reassuringly in the knowledge that whatever happens,  and despite the endless chaos of the day, all will be well in the end. MT

SCREENED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016 | TAKE ME HOME IS ON A FESTIVAL WORLD TOUR AS A TRIBUTE TO ABBAS KIAROSTAMI (1940 – 2016)  

 

 

 

The Woman Who Left (2016) | Golden Lion Winner | Venice 2016

THE WOMAN WHO LEFT (ANG BABAENG HUMAYO)

Dir.: Lav Diaz; Cast: Charo Santos-Concio, John Lloyd Cruz, Micheal de Mesa, Sharmaine Buencamino, Nonnie Buencamino, Marjorie Lorico, Jean Judith Javier; Philippines 2016, 226 min.

After winning the Berlinale Silver Bear in February for his eight hour epic A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery, Philippine maximalist Lav Diaz – as usual – directed, photographed, wrote and edited The Woman who Left, a revenge drama (running a mere 226 minutes), for which he was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival this September. Venice was where he rose to international fame, winning in the Horizon section for his seven and half hour long Melancholia (2008), a psychological drama about Philippine resistance fighters coming to terms with their defeat. The past and present of this war torn and utterly poor country, being the subject of nearly all Diaz’ films.

Horacia (Santos-Concio), a teacher, has been in prison for a murder she did not commit. We meet her first in jail, working the fields, and afterwards teaching some of her inmates reading and writing. After thirty years, she has given up any hope of a release, but out of the blue, her best friend Petra (S. Buencamino) confesses she was the culprit, having been paid by Rodrigo Trinidad (de Mesa) to frame Horacia. It seems Rodrigo wanted to punish his former lover for marrying another man. On the same day Horacia leaves prison, Petra commits suicide. After meeting her daughter Minerva, now thirty-seven, Horacia learns, that her husband has died and her son is missing. She starts leading a double life: during the day she organises the poor neighbourhood, setting up a restaurant, and teaching the children and young adults. At night, she turns into an angel of revenge, plotting to kill Rodrigo, a gangster who is living in a heavily guarded community. In the dark streets she meets the snack vendor Magbabalot (N. Buencamino) and another homeless man, Mameng (Jean Judith Javier), and finds out that Rodrigo goes every morning at five to the cathedral to pray. We watch Rodrigo, trying to confess to the priest, but he is just too proud and wicked to really repent. Horacia also takes care of the transvestite Hollandia (John Lloyd Cuz), a prostitute, who is beaten up. For the first time, Horacia opens up, telling Hollandia she was on the way to kill Rodrigo, when she found him injured in the gutter. She is unaware of the consequences this confession has, and we see her last in the fog and mist of Manila, distributing leaflets, looking for her son.

The Woman Who Left is shot in the typical Diaz way: low key black and white, with high contrast lighting. It often feels like one is watching a silent film such as Metropolis, early Eisenstein works or the first part of Mark Donskoy’s Gorky trilogy My Childhood. When Horacia walks the nightly streets, she reminds us of Murnau’s phantom. The glacial pacing contributes to a nightmarish atmosphere, the blackest of noir. Horacia uses different names for herself, indicating that her personality is splitting. We see the shadow world she moves in, out of her POV: the focus is blurring, particularly at a scene at the beach, when handheld camera images get more and more out of focus. In common with many Diaz films, the past takes over the present, destroying the main protagonist’s identity.

Making her first screen appearance for over eight years after resigning as CEO of ABS-CBS Broadcasting Corporation, Charo Santos-Concio is brilliant in the title role. Dignified, but increasingly losing her faculties, she sings to herself more and more, and joins Hollandia for a chorus of “Somewhere” from Westside Story, one of the most touching scenes of this epic journey into darkness.

Whilst the editor in Diaz is still not disciplined enough to cut the favourite images of the DoP Diaz, The Woman who Left is still very restrained, compared for example with A Lullaby. For anyone who has never seen a Diaz film, it is difficult to explain the magnetism his work has: one is literally drawn into his world, lives through the film, the absurd length strangely helping this process of going into a parallel universe. He creates another world, and after leaving the cinema, anything seems simply second best. Diaz’ magic cannot be expressed with words, but when you watch The Woman who Left, you will understand. AS

THE WOMAN WHO LEFT | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016 | WINNER OF THE GOLDEN LION FOR BEST FILM 

Quit Staring at my Plate (2016) | NE GLEDAJ MI U PIJAT |Warsaw Film festival 2016

Dir.: Hana Jusic, Cast: Mia Petricevic, Croatia 2016, 105 min.

Marijana (Petricevic) has the misfortune to be a member of the most dysfunctional family in a small Croatian town. At 24, she works as a midwife assistant in the local hospital where the staff are all fearful of keeping their jobs. But life at home is even worse: her father is a tyrant, beating her with a towel when she gets on his frayed nerves. Her brother is an overweight layabout who has never worked a day in his life, but is protected by their mother, who, like her son, is only interested in stuffing her face with food. Marijana meanwhile is fit and slim, always trying to make the best of herself. Things go from bad to worse after the father suffers a stroke and she is forced to care for him whilst sharing a bed with her mother, who has fled the marital bedroom.

Without a boyfriend, Marijana takes up casual sex, but it fails to satisfy her emotional longings. Sliding more and more into a masochistic way of life. Marijana is finally ‘saved’ by her mother in an unexpected release. Although freedom now beckons, the young woman is not quiet sure yet what do with it .

Jusic crafts a fine portrait of a person who is driven to despair by her repressive family, and retreats into herself. Without a concrete identity – apart from feeding her family – she succumbs to her grim existence as a cleaner. Petricevic is brilliant, and Jusic observes her with distance and slight humour. Cinematography is also impressive, with particularly good use made of camera angles that swoop down on Marijana in her hopeless existence. Yet despite of its grim subject matter, Quit Staring is energetic and innovative drama. A little gem. AS

IN COMPETITION AT WARSAW INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 16 OCTOBER 2016

Planetarium (2016) | LFF 2016

Dir|Writer: Rebecca Zlotowski | Cast: Nathalie Portman, Lily Rose Depp, Emmanuel Sallinger, Alexandre Zloto | Drama | 105min | Franco Belgian

Rebecca Zlotowski follows her nuclear-power-based love story Grand Central with a drama that is more about psychics than physics. PLANETARIUM is of the ether and floats sumptuously and delicately through a pre-war story of supernatural powers possessed by two gorgeous sisters who arrive in Paris from New York to perform seances, connecting the living with the dead. Zlotowski has written the script herself in an meandering and impressionist style-narrative that gracefully conjures up the febrile state of Europe in the late 1930s, capturing a magical moment in time that is both starstruck and doomed. The girls’ whimsical story is firmly anchored by a powerful racist subplot involving its lead male character André Korben, a wealthy Polish Jew.

Natalie Portman is the brightest star of PLANETARIUM as Laura Barlow, but she is surrounded by a galaxy of sparkling performances from Lily Rose Depp, who comes into her own as the younger and more ethereal sister Kate;  Emmanuel Salinger as Korben, a film producer who part-finances and accommodates the girls in his elegant Art Deco home; and Alexandre Zloto who plays a silver-tongued René-Lucien Chomette (aka René Clair best known for his work with silent film in the 1930s and titles such as A Nous la Liberté and Le Million). Seeing that times are hard seance-wise in the run up to the war, Korben seizes on the potential of a supernatural-themed film harnessing the skills of The Barlow Sisters, as a potential career in acting beckons for Laura. Sadly despite a fascinating detour into cinematic methods of the era, this film within a film burns a financial hole into Korben’s production company and the story ends as a tragedy after his Jewish roots are exposed and he is sent ‘East’ (to the gas chambers). But not before the champagne flows and a seriously soigné time is had by all. So even if Zlotowski’s storyline often blinds you with its science and the odd plothole, it does so in such a fabulously enjoyable and inventive way with stunning costumes, glamorous locations and starry encounters, by the end it’s all been a blast. MT

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 16 OCTOBER 2016 | VENICE REVIEW

 

Questi Giorni (2016) | These Days | Venice 2016 | In Competition

Dir: Giuseppe Piccioni | Drama | Italy | 119min

Festival head Alberto Barbera openly lamented the lack of strong Italian titles at this year’s Venice festival and this piece of contemporary social realism certainly confirms his views. An everyday story of cardboard characters it has the luminous presence of Margherita Buy but not even she can save it from the banality of a plot and script that is vapid in the extreme.

Four young women decide to go to Belgrade: you could pick the characters off the shelf: one has cancer; another is a lesbian, the third is pregnant and the fourth has a bad boyfriend. Nothing stands out in their colourless performances and they all appear interchangeable in their personalities. Then there is Professor Mariani (a greying middle-aged man) who tries to be funny in a vain attempt to get off with one of them who must be half his age, and his pupil into the bargain. Meanwhile Margherita Buy’s character, a single mother, flits around desperately trying to gain acceptance by the younger girls, one if whom is her daughter who treats her with utter contempt.

THESE DAYS is reductive, poorly thought out and derisory to women in general and is hopefully not coming to a cinema near you. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

Paradise | Rai (2016) | Best Director | Venice 2016

Fir: Andrei Konchalovsky | 130min | Drama | Russia, Germany

Russian veteran Andrei Konchalovsky has been making films for fifty years and bringing them to Venice where he first won the Volpi Cup in 1966 with his debut Pervvy Uchitel. His élatest Golden Lion hopeful PARADISE interweaves three tragic lives during the Second World War – Olga, a Russian countess and member of the French Resistance; Jules, a French collaborator; and Helmut, an aristocratic German SS officer.

PARADISE is a dense and romantically complex piece that provides an intense experience for those who have the stamina for its complicated episodic structure, despite superb performances and outstanding cinematography from Russian DoP and regular collaborator Alexander Simonov (Postman’s White Nights) who also worked with the sadly missed Alexei Balabanov (Brat, Cargo 200). The velvety black and white visuals and combination of 35mm and 16mm perfectly conjure up the war years from 1942-44 and there is sumptuous and intimate attention to detail and lighting throughout the film’s graceful interiors and more grisly scenes in claustrophobic concentration camps evoke a keen sense of confinement. The only scene where freedom is felt is in flashback to the pre-war years where Olga and Helmut frolic on a rooftop (main picture).

Olga is played by the sinuously elegant Russian actress Julia Vysotskay who we first meet after her imprisonment for having taken two Jewish children under her wing in occupied Paris. In the offices of genial police interrogator Jules (Christian Duquesne) she is écross-examined and deftly turns the table on him by seductively opening her legs. In exchange for a Grand Cru classé (1919) she agrees to meet him the following day. But the rendezvous is never to be as Jules is later assassinated while in the woods with his son Emile.

Olga is then sent to a concentration camp but again siezes her chance for freedom when the camp’s rambunctious chargé d’affaires is caught for cooking the books, by Olga’s willowly ex-lover Helmut (Christian Clauss) who hires her as his very personal maid, and as the Nazi’s luck runs out the pair plot their escape via Switzerland until tragedy intervenes.

Scripted by Konchalovsky and Elena Kiseleva, the story unspools via sketchy face-on interviews with Jules, Olga and Helmut dressed in prison garb. These are interlaced with the action scenes and where the film requires intense concentration, making it difficult to engage with the characters and their story. Viktor Sukhorukov’s cameo as Heinrich Himmler is a fascinating interlude but is voiced by another actor in Russian and German, with some technical glitches.

And so PARADISE – an attempt by the Nazis to create a perfect Aerian world – becomes Paradise Lost. Despite the rather complicated mise-en-scene this is nevertheless an achingly beautiful and resonating picture of wartime from one of Russia’s most outstanding filmmakers. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

White Sun (2016) | Venice 2016

Dir: Deepak Rauniyar | Drama | Nepal | 94min

Deepak Rauniyar brings the only Nepalese film to Venice 2016. A delicately drawn and poignant paean to peace after a decade of civil war between Maoists and royalists (1996-2006), it takes place in the foothills of the Himalayas where nearly all the adult males have been wiped out leaving the only the weakened elders.

This is not a political film but a subtle and often intimate intergenerational cinéma vérité style parable where politics often rears its ugly head disrupting the characters’ relationships. Co-written by Rauniyar and David Barker, it takes place in the village of Nepaltra where the sudden death of the former mayor Chitra (Prakash Ghimire), poses a tricky problem: how to remove his body from the house to start the tortuous process towards the riverside where it is to be cremated according to strict traditions governing who can come into contact with the cadaver. There are no strong men to help.

Luckily, Durga (Asha Magrati) is a clever and strong-minded villager who appeals to ex-husband Chandra to make the journey from Katmandu to give his assistance, along with his brother. The long-standing rivalry between Chandra (Dayahang Rai – a famous star in his native Nepal) and his brother Suraj (Rabindra Singh Baniva) adds grist to the dramatic mill along with the fact that Durga’s young daughter Pooja (Sumi Malla) is neither his biological daughter, not that of his sibling. The subsequent journey downhill gives rise to some magnificent local views, all shot on the widescreen, as we get know the colourful local characters amongst whom is 10-year-old porter Badri (Amrit Pariyar), who has known nothing but war, and Deepak Chhetri’s priest who is the feisty star of the film, determined at any price to to resist change, in this thoughtful and deeply resonant arthouse drama. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

The Bad Batch (2016) | Venice 2016

Director: Lily Amirpour

Cast: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Giovanni Ribisi, Yolonda Ross, Jayda Fink, Cory Roberts, Louie Lopez, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Diego Luna

115min | Fantasy Drama | US | Iran

A girl walks out alone into a psychedelic desert of cannibals and crazed criminals in Lily Amirpour’s startling but generic follow up to her standout vampire drama A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night making this a visually exciting but narratively torpid experience despite its Mad Max pretensions. The Bad Batch is a brutal and bewildering blowout of surreal and dreamlike sequences that plays with some exciting toys but they all belong to other filmmakers such as Alejandro Jodorowsky, Robert Rodriguez and even Arturo Ripstein.

Outstaying its welcome at nearly two hours, the slim narrative wreaks of genetic or ethnic cleansing and suffers from longueurs, but the buzzy and inventive visuals make it almost worth the ride. Performances are adequate from the ensemble cast; the standout being Keanu Reaves who plays an almost sympathetic cult leader called The Dream. Ex-model Suki Waterhouse looks the part and is adequate as Arlen, the heroine loses an arm and a leg at the start of her journey into a dystopian, incandescent hell of lurid lights, surreal encounters accompanied by a sparky selection of eclectic tunes including All That She Wants, tracks from Chilean artists Darkside, South African hip-hop band Die Antwoord, and indie ambient musician Francis Harris..

After escaping from a penitentiary’s ‘bad-batch’ (delinquents) into the Texan desert, she is abducted by cannibals and maimed for their tea. Being a spunky girl with taut abs, attitude and ‘fear’ tattooed on her fingers, she escapes on a skateboard and is picked up by Jim Carey’s mute wayfarer who takes her in his shopping trolley to the Comfort community who dwell in a walled city where she is equipped with a prosthetic leg and so on. Her search for a suitable soul mate (no kidding) makes her yearn for love and a stocky Mexican called Miami Man could be the answer, but remember – this is dystopia.

The Bad Batch looks sensational and offers light-hearted fun while it lasts but its emptiness leaves you unsatisfied when the titles roll. MT

Venice Film Festival until 10 September | SPECIAL JURY PRIZE WINNER 2016 

Rocco (2016) | Venice Film Festival 2016

Dirs: Alban Teurlai, Thierry Demairziere | 112min | doc | Italy, France

The “Italian stallion” Rocco Siffredi always prayed he would be famous. Growing up in the Adriatic town of Ortona fame eventually came thanks to “the devil between my legs”  fuelled by a massive sex drive that started at an early age. Worshipping his mother Rocco is also a perfect example of the ‘madonna whore complex’ and has a fascinating ability to probe the women he meets both physically and emotionally despite his ordinary looks.

ROCCO is quite simply the self-indulgent story of his journey from council house to penthouse that starts here in the film studio where he is grooming his prospective – mostly East European – ‘porn starlets’ as he talks about his life, his mother and wife Rosa – whom he met on the set of Tarzan X, Shame of Jane . They now have several children. Siffredi has starred in more than 1,500 films over his 30-year career and also had a brief foray into French indie cinema, appearing in Catherine Breillat’s Romance and Anatomy Of Hell. Now in his early fifties, Siffredi has also decided to bow out due to disenchantment with the industry that has financed his entire life.

ROCCO is a well made: a glossy, big screen personalised version of what you might expect to see in online porn sites and, with a threadbare narrative, certainly overstays its running time of nearly two hours. But then porn sells. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

One More Time With Feeling (2016) | Venice 2016

Dir-: Andrew Dominik | with Nick Cave | Biopic | UK | 112min

Embracing the overwhelming grief Nick Cave is feeling due to the death of his son, New Zealand filmmaker Andrew Dominik has chosen to film his biopic in black and white, and with “ridiculous handheld 3D camera” – his words precisely but with the help of Benoit Debie and Alwin Kuchker things finally get on track. Leaving the 3D glasses off detracts nothing from the well-observed but overlong picture of the musician’s experience since the death of his son. Cave brings his own witty stream of consciousness to the party, as we watch the film taking shape in the studio during a pre-recording session.

With his seemingly idyllic life: a wife and soulmate, and twin sons – actor, writer and musician Nick Cave confessed to having it all in Iain Forysth’s (far superior) 20,0000 On Earth. Here he pours his grief on losing a child into a string of striking lyrics (“your legs are so long they should come with their own elevator”). He now confesses to occasionally feeling “an object of pity”, a fact that does not fit well with his own self image, but his natural self-deprecation prevents this from sounding narcissistic. Cave also admits that songs can foretell certain events, as dreams can be visionary, and this is something he shares with his wife whom he describes as multi-facetted. Clearly death and bereavement has brought them even closer together. But as he gets older he feels that “the struggle to do what I do requires more effort”.

The test of a successful biopic must surely be that it offers entertainment not only to fans but appeal to wider audiences. And here Dominik largely fails as the format and filming detracts from the subject matter. Despite these obvious flaws ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING adds a certain something to the Nick Cave experience that will appeal to his many fans and resonate with the bereaved arthouse audiences. Let’s hope there’s more great stuff to come from this engaging musician and lyricist. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

Tabl (2016) | Drum | Venice Settimana della Critica 2016

Dir.: Keywan Karimi, Cast: Amirezza Naderi, Sara Gholizade; France/Iran 2016, 95 min.

First time feature film scriptwriter/director Keywan Karimi crafts a disturbingly bleak and noirish picture of life in contemporary Tehran – the city’s name being the only concrete reference to its reality. The narrative is opaque, but everyone can decypher the code used. In October 2015 Karimi was sentenced to one year in prison and 223 lashes for defying the laws of Iran. He is still in a state of limbo, waiting to start his imprisonment.

The film opens as a lawyer (Naderi) is visited by a limping man who dumps a parcel on his desk and disappears. Soon afterwards, the lawyer’s flat is searched, and gets a visit from a man threatening with grave consequences if he does not give up the parcel. The harassment continues, and the lawyer is forced to oeave his flat, sleeping rough or taking a room in a hotel where he meets his girlfriend (Gholizade). The only other person he trusts is his best friend, who happens to be a drug addict. Tragedy eventually forces the lawyer starts to wreak revenge.

DRUM is a Kafkaesque nightmare with images worthy of any Bela Tarr film. Whilst the audience is made well aware of the enemy, the main protagonist is stubborn enough not give in to “them”. Tehran is very much a character here, portrayed as a nightmarish vision of never-ending staircases and vertiginous apartment blocks spelling danger, even in the modern hotel where the lawyer meets his girlfriend. Nothing is safe: the bleakness of the day is just a shade lighter than the nighttime, where most of the action is set. DoP Amin Jaferi evokes a world of shadows and doom where interiors are sparsely lit prison cells. Words do not help: they are either threats or enigma, the Farsi language has lost much of its meaning. Without naming the authorities in Iran, Karimi holds up a mirror to them: they have created a world of fear and hopelessness. What remains is individual resistance, the only way to bring light into the madness created by religious fanatics.

This is not the first time that a filmmaker has been threatened by authorities at home, whilst his film is being shown at a film festival abroad. DRUM is a promising debut. Let’s hope Keywan Karimi’s reprieve follows as soon as possible. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

American Anarchist (2016) Venice Film Festival 2016

Dir.: Charlie Siskel. Documentary; USA 2016, 80 min.

Providing compelling viewing filmmaker Charlie Siskel (Finding Vivian Mayer) interviews William Powell, the author of the infamous ‘The Anarchist’s Cookbook’ (still available on Amazon) in his home in Massat (France) shortly before his death in July 2016. Siskel relentless probing style and cross examination often has the effect of makimg the audence sympathise with Powell who gradually emerges as a man who has suffered emotionally during his peripatetic childhood – he was only 19 years old in 1970, when he wrote the provocative manual that lists amateur bomb-making methods during a time where the US was experiencing a period of cultural and societal shifting, similar to that seen in France with the student riots.

Powell was the eldest son of the spokesman for the UN General Secretary, and he went to be schooled privately in a UK boarding school were he felt as alienated for his ‘English upperclass accent’ as he did later on his return to New York State where was expelled from ‘a school for delinquent children of the rich’. He confesses to feel most at home in countries where he is an outsider, explaining his reason for settling in a remote part of rural France.

The near civil war atmosphere in the USA druing the Vietnam War at the end of the 1960s, made many outsiders like Powell feel that the time for revolution had come. After all, Lincoln himself had written about the right of the population to raise up against the government. The Anarchist’s Cookbook sold about 2 million copies – not bad for a book mainly copied from US Army handbooks, and found in public libraries. Powell himself sold the rights to his publisher Lyle Stuart for 10000$, and got royalties of around 5000$. Unfortunately for the Powell, 65 at the time of the film, when ‘interrogated’ by Siskel it also emerges that his book was found in the possession of the perpetrators of the Columbine School shooting, and the Oklahoma City tragedy amongst many others.  “Would you villify the makers of guns?” points out Powell, who maintains his innocence although confesses to feeling a certain amount of regret, if not remorse.

Nevertheless, Powell comes over as haunted man: his whole career in schooling pupils with special needs in Asia and Africa, was blighted by the “Cookbook”: he lost countless positions and always lived in fear that his youthful tract would catch up with him. What is surprising, is the fact, that neither Powell nor SIskel discuss the role of the USA gun lobby and State Weapon laws in the terror acts of the past. After all, the Columbine killers bought their weapons on the net! Who needs “The Cookbook” when they can buy weapons like sweets.

It is the US-gun culture, who is far more responsible for the violence in the streets than any books – and it is defended by politicians of both major parties. As long as no changes in the law are enforced, the status quo is an invitation to run amok – never mind the political/religious affiliation of the disturbed psychopath.

William Powell died suddenly this summer after one year into shooting of the documentary. He atoned all his life for his youthful provocation, helping young students to channel their alienation and aggression into something constructive. As for Siskel: we should thank him for his efforts as a filmmaker, which are invaluable. But one would except a little bit more humility from a man who was involved in controversy himself as a filmmaker of Finding Vivian Mayer and co-producer of Michal Moore’s Bowling for Columbine. Nobody should throw stones – never mind the glass house. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016 | UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

Safari (2016) | Venice Film Festival

Dir: Ulrich Seidl | Doc | Austria | 90min

Ulrich Seidl’s deadpan documentary portrait of mindless game hunters in the bushy and peaceful paradise of Namibia’s low veldt is upsetting and deeply enraging. His unjudgemental approach is the ultimate in’ less is more’ craftsmanship, leaving us quietly seething as we sit by powerless as a devastating cocktail of mixed emotions slowly percolates through our consciousness.

In a series of limpidly filmed and perfectly formed tableaux vivants, (that recall those of his last film In the Basement), game hunters talk of their feelings of tension as they carefully track their victims and the extreme euphoria of the adrenaline rush after they have shot their prey – or ‘pieces’ as they call them. One bloated and elderly couple (who look like a pair of raddled wildebeasts) proudly churn out a macabre price list of their upcoming massacre: it would only cost them a couple of hundred euros to shoot an impala. Another young couple – kitted out in the latest safari gear and gold watches – try to defend their actions as somehow beneficial to the ecosystem. So they are killing and getting away with it as do-gooders to the universe. So this is their version of charity work or ‘giving-back’ as it’s glibly referred to nowadays.

Out in the bush Seidl’s camera tracks the hunters on foot and in their jeeps as the trackers mark out the potential prey while a professional marksman accompanies them on foot offering tips and guidance in preparation for the shoot. In one particularly graphic scene a zebra is followed and shot down. The young hunter is then congratulated before posing for photos with his lifeless trophy which we later see being butchered in the makeshift abattoir, ready for its journey back to Austria to guild the wall. Not since the death of ‘Cecil the lion’ in 2015 have we been so moved and angered. This self justification of slaughter is also partly based on the fact that their are purportedly giving the local trackers, rangers and marksman a livelihood. That ghastly feudal adage springs to mind: “it is the duty of the nobleman to give employment to the common man”. But their job is vile and the scene where they are required to skin and dismember a giraffe is one of the most upsetting pieces of footage ever committed to camera.

Humour and light relief comes from watching another raddled old bloke gently snoring – beer can in his hand –  to the ambient sounds  of animals,  as he waits for a potential shoutout behind a bogus hunting cabin.

Apart from the sheer horror of the killings, the most galling aspect of SAFARI is the glee and self-congratulatory nature of the hunters who trespass on this magnificent country. Many who have visited Southern Africa will have seen a notice: “Welcome to our country – take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints”.

The feint-hearted and animals lovers will find this documentary distressing. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

 

Sámi Blod | Sami Blood (2016| Venice Film Festival

Writer| Dir. Amanda Kernell

Cast: Lene Cecilia Sparrok, Mia Erika Sparrok, Maj Doris Rimpi, Julius Fleischandrl, Olle Sarri, Hanna Alström, Malin Crépin, Andreas Kundler, Ylva Gustafsson

110min | Sweden/Denmark/Norway.

Amanda Kernell brings her Sámi heritage to this impressive feature debut, a fresh and painterly portrait of Sweden’s little known history of racism and colonial domination, set during the 1930s and seen through the eyes of a fiercely precocious teenager who is determined to make a future for herself away from the Lapp reindeer-herding community of her childhood.

Kernell’s masterly command of framing, cinematography, script and tone is laudable and her ability to evoke powerful emotions through her central characters sets her out as a real talent  in the making. SAME BLOOD also raises the profile of the Sami community and their fight for a future which very much connects to a global narrative of survival for small communities all over the world.

The girl in question, Ella Marja is played by newcomer Lene Cecilia Sparrok as a young teen, and Maj Doris Rimpi as an elderly woman (based on the director’s own grandmother) who we first meet in the opening scenes where she has renounced her rheindeer hearding community, an event which sparks off her memories of the past which unspool gradually forming the central narrative. From the beginning Ella Marja is different from her school friends who are all happy to wear the Sami national dress in their local school.

After humiliation during a visit from Swedish scientists when she is forced to strip naked for the collection of genetic data she runs home and is set upon by a group of local Lapp louts. Deciding to call herself Christina, she then runs away to Uppsala where she reconnects with a wealthy Swedish boy she danced with at a party. The two develop a chemistry of sorts and she later turns up at his home in the mistaken belief that Swedish hospitality is as welcoming as that of her native culture. But his parents are clearly suspicious of his intentions and urge him to get rid of her, fearing she may get pregnant or become dependent on him. After attempting to join an expensive local boarding school, she finds her way back to his birthday party one night, and is cajoled into singing a traditional Sami yodelling song, as they look on condescendingly as if she if some circus clown.

Kernell makes great use of the magnificent skyscapes of Lapland and the elegance of Uppsala’s buildings and ‘beautiful people’ with impeccable attention to period detail, sumptuous fashions and glorious Scandinavian interiors . SAME BLOOD is one of the gems of the festival so far. MT

GIORNATI DEGLI AUTORI | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

 

The Net | Geumul (2016) | Venice 2016

Dir: Kim Ki-Duk | Cast:

Cast: Ryoo Seung-bum, Lee Won-gun, Kim Young-min, Choi Guy-hwa

112min | Korea | Thriller

Nobody wins in Korean maverick Kim Ki-duk’s latest film – a brutal North|South ‘defection’ tragedy that opened the new Cinema del Giardino at Venice Film Festival 2016.

With moments of dark and lacerating humour and a really grim scene where a potential North Korean spy gurgles to his death by swallowing his own tongue, this is a social and political story that condemns both the Communist regime in the North and the South’s rampant Capitalism showing that, at the end of the day, both are morally and politically corrupt and unsatisfactory for completely different reasons – although the North Korean hero, an honest fisherman who thinks the grass is still greener in his homeland until the mournfully tragic denouement.

When his fishing boat breaks down in a slim stretch of water between North and South, sending it into the ‘no go’ zone, he is captured by the South Korean security forces and remanded for questioning. Although he answers openly and frankly, his assigned investigator is an embittered sadist who is desperate to convict him for spying against the South and subjects him to a series of harsh cross examinations reducing his morale to rock bottom despite his fierce attempts at self preservation claiming his toughness and physical strength is earned him the name ‘Iron Fist’ – during his National Service days. A sympathetic guard (who secretly fancies him) desperately tries to protect him in the face of the ambivalent Head of Security but things go from bad to worse when he finally tries to make it on his own when his guard loses him while taking him on a reccy in downtown Seoul – engineered to see if he really has nefarious intentions. ‘Iron Fist’ shows himself to be a good guy by first refusing to open his eyes to avoid the corrupting forces of the surrounding commercial district, and then beating off some venal pimps who are chasing a prostitute clad only in her baby dolls. This lands him back in custody where he is practically forced to defect to the South, on ‘humanitarian’ grounds after insisting on returning home. But his problems are far from over when he is eventually released back to join his wife and daughter in the North.

Kim Ki-duk tells his political satire in a straightforward linear style taking a disenchanted look at each regime, not really coming down on either side but but exposing the gross inhumanity and injustice of both parties. At the end it is the common man who suffer; the ordinary self-employed worker. Sound familiar? MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL CONTINUES UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

Tutti a Casa (1960) | Venice Classics 2016

Unknown-4Dir.: Luigi Comencini; Cast: Alberto Sordi, Serge Reggiani, Martin Balsam; Italy 1960, 115 min.

Luigi Comencini (1916-2007) was an Italian director mainly known for his successful comedies like Till Marriage Do Us Part (1975). And Tutti a Casa, restored for the centenary of his birth seems to start off in a lighthearted manner. But soon, the narrative takes a very serious turn, when Lieutenant Innoncenzi (Sordi) and his men try to return home, instead of joning the German soldiers on 8th of September 1943, Armistice Day as Italy surrenders to the Allies Forces, but is thwarted by German troops, who kept on fighting,

The Germans start killing their former allies, if they do not fight on with them, and bring the war to the civilian population, who they suspect to hide partisans. One by one, Innocenzi’s man are slaughtered by the Germans: helping a Jewish girl to escape; hiding an American soldier and being shot in crossfire; doing slave labour for the Germans. Finally, Innocenzi is left alone, and is ready to fight with the partisans, firing the first shots in anger of the film.

Comencini here addresses certain taboos in Italy, where post-war history saw the country only as victims of the Nazis, never as their collaborators. But Tutti a Casa is anything but a war film, it is a humane portrait of pacifists who do not want fight on either side, but just want to return to their families. Italians were unable to see the moral dilemma of Italy becoming the accomplices of Nazi ideology after four years of war,- even if it was just by silent consent. Tutti a Casa is a humanist masterpiece, directed by a master craftsman. AS

VENICE CLASSICS | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

You Never Had It – An Evening with Bukowski (2016) | Venice 2016

Director: Matteo Borgardt

With Charles Bukowski

51min | US | Doc

Not really much to be learnt from Silvia Bizio’s seventies interview with the legendary American writer who appears here in LA surrounded by a psycophantic wntourage of his young chain smoking wife Linda Lee and a photographer. Interspersed with Bokowski’s maxims and truisms to a collage of grim photos of down and outs in LA – Jem Cohen style without the irony – Bizio attempts to ask leading questions as they all get drunk together, but is met with a stream of largely uninformative answers laced with plenty of references to the sex that Bukowski is clearly not getting, or managing: pithy it is not. One of two revelations emerge: He puts his candour and insight down to prolonged beatings by his father and dislikes talking to other writers describing it as “like sitting in a bath drinking water”. Bizio was right, her tapes are in poor condition and the sound in Sala Perla was screachingly loud. Stick to his books is the advice here.

SCREENING DURING VENICE FILM FESTIVAL until 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

Venice International Film Festival | Competition titles | 31 August – 10 September 2016

CochwLhXgAApL_kThe 73rd edition of Venice International Film Festival runs this year from 31 August until 10 September stealing a march on Toronto with a sparkling array of some of the most innovative arthouse world premieres of the year together more mainstream fare competing for the coveted GOLDEN LION.

Under the auspices of Jury President Sam Mendes, Venezia 73 presents the following films in Competition»

ANA LILY AMIRPOUR – THE BAD BATCH
USA, 115’

Amirpour’s follow-up to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, this dystopian love story is set in Texas amongst a community of cannibals and features locals alongside stars Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey and Giovanni Ribisi. Amirpour’s regular award-winning DoP Lyle Vincent and musical collaborator  Andrea von Foerster should make this another entertaining watch.

Une Vie © TS Productions 4STÉPHANE BRIZÉ – UNE VIE

Brize’s screen adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s first novel is a pessimistic study of love and loss seen through the eyes of a Normandy woman in the late 1888s. Starring Judith Chemla, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Swann Arlaud, Yolande Moreau it is a French Belgian co-pro.

DAMIEN CHAZELLE – LA LA LAND (cover picture) USA, 127’

Chazelle’s follow-up to the ubiquitously popular Whiplash is an LA-set love story again music is the theme – this time full on Jazz. Stars Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J.K. Simmons, Finn Wittrock

THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANSDEREK CIANFRANCE – THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS
Usa, Australia, New Zealand, 133’

Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz are the troubled trio in this lighthouse-set story about an Australian couple who adopt a baby discovered in a lifeboat. With Alexandre Desplat doing the score this promises to be a sweepingly romantic love on the rocks affair with some inventive visuals from Macbeth (2015) DoP Adam Arkapaw.

El ciudadano ilustre 1MARIANO COHN, GASTÓN DUPRAT – EL CIUDADANO ILUSTRE
Argentina, Spain, 118’

Award-winning Argentinian directors Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat are best known in their native country particularly for their dark comedy thriller The Man Next Door. Oscar Martínez, Dady Brieva, Andrea Frigerio, Nora Navas, Gustavo Garzón star in this Golden Lion hopeful about a Novel prize winner who visits the town and meets the real people who have been the inspiration for his novels, with some spectacular revelations.

Spira mirabilis 1MASSIMO D’ANOLFI, MARTINA PARENTI – SPIRA MIRABILIS
Italy, Switzerland, 121’

Anyone who saw the documentary ‘Never Ending Factory of the Duomo’ at Locarno last year will be looking forward to this latest documentary offering from the prize-winning Italian director.

 

t0602charo2LAV DIAZ – ANG BABAENG HUMAYO (THE WOMAN WHO LEFT)
Philippines, 226’

Another slow and thorough drama from Diaz this time offering a leading role for veteran Philippina actress Charo Santos-Concio. John Lloyd Cruz also stars.

La región salvaje 1 © Manuel Claro Martín EscalanteAMAT ESCALANTE – LA REGIÓN SALVAJE
Mexico, 100’

Fans of the Mexican director will be thrilled to see that he is back in the competition line-up with another gritty drama from the wilds of his often violent homeland starring Ruth Ramos, Simone Bucio, Jesús Meza, Edén Villavicencio.

Nocturnal Animals 3 © Merrick Morton Universal Pictures InternationalTOM FORD – NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
USA, 115’

A Single Man director and former Gucci impresario Tom Ford’s latest drama is set in California with a starry cast of Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher and Laura Linney. It centres on an art gallery owner who is haunted by the violent subtext of a thriller written by her ex-husband. With Oscar-nominated DoP Seamus McGarvey behind the camera and Ford helming, this should be a good-looking and glamorous affair.

Piuma 5 © Antonello&MontesiROAN JOHNSON – PIUMA
Italy, 98’

British filmmaker, writer and actor Roan Johnson directs an Italian cast in this drama starring Luigi Fedele, Blu Yoshimi Di Martino, Sergio Pierattini, Michela Cescon, Francesco Colella.

IMG_2735

ANDREI KONCHALOVSKY – RAI (PARADISE) 130′

The Russian auteur was last in Venice in 2014 with his Green Drop award-winning drama Postman’s White Nights which is still waiting for a UK release. This Russia Germany co-pro follows three people whose paths cross during wartime: Olga, a Russian aristocratic member of the French Resistance, Jules, a French collaborator and Helmut a senior SS Officer. It stars Julia Vysotskaya, Christian Clauss, Philippe Duquesne, Victor Sukhorukov, Peter Kurt and is shot by ace DoP Aleksandr Simonov (Cargo 200, The Stoker, Heaven on Earth).

CocaSGWWAAAq4XhMARTIN KOOLHOVEN – BRIMSTONE
Holland, Germany, Belgium France, GB, Sweden, 148’
Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Emilia Jones, Kit Harington, Carice Van Houten

Winter in Wartime was Koolhoven’s beautifully crafted and touching wartime drama that never got a UK release but is available for less than a £1 on amazon. This promises to be an epic Western drama that boasts Spain, Hungary, Germany and Austria amongst its settings for a tale of religious vehemence, as the title would suggest.

CocaufJWcAA1veEEMIR KUSTURICA – NA MLIJECNOM PUTU (ON THE MILKY ROAD)
Serbia, GB, Usa, 125’

This film has be mired in controversy for several years, so if nothing else, it will be interesting to see it finally on the big screen. Monica Bellucci was last in Venice in 2014 for Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders and is always worth watching. Emir Kusturica, Sloboda Micalovic, Predrag Manojlovic also star in a drama that is billed as “3 periods in the life of a lucky milkman who ends up as a monk” . Go figure.

Jackie © Stéphanie Branchu copyPABLO LARRAÍN – JACKIE
Usa, Cile, 95’
Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt

Eclectic casting here will certainly make Larrain’s drama an intriguing watch if nothing else. But with his latest films Neruda and The Club still resonating amongst critics and audiences, it’s a tribute to the young Chilean director that he has finally made it to the Venice competition line-up with a biopic drama that explores the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy’s days in the immediate aftermath to JFK assassination. Surely it will be better than the last film that tackled this subject at Venice, Peter Landesman’s Parkland.

Coca343XgAQfBvmTERRENCE MALICK – VOYAGE OF TIME
Usa, Germay 90’

Malick is back with a docudrama that may not prove to be as divisive as his recent efforts To The Wonder and Knight of Cups. This sets out to be an examination of the birth and death of the Universe with narration by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Photographed by The Revenant‘s DoP Paul Atkins it should at least offer an eyeful so watch this space. Hopefully no more swirling through sunlit beaches by scantily clad nymphs…but you never know.

CocbcOlWcAAeYm1CHRISTOPHER MURRAY – EL CRISTO CIEGO
Chile, France, 85’

A drama set in a remote backwater of the Chilean desert is Christopher Murray’s third feature – the leading actor is Michael Silva who made his big screen debut in Neruda and here he plays Rafael aka Christ. He is also ‘blind’  Bastian Inostroza, Ana Maria Henriquez, Mauricio Pinto also star.

IMG_2734FRANÇOIS OZON – FRANTZ
France, Germany, 113’

After his gender-bending comedy drama The New Girlfriend, French maverick François Ozon will be in Venice to present a black and white WWII romantic drama starring Pierre Niney (Yves Saint Laurent) and Paula Beer as a couple who meet at the grave of her fiance. Marie Gruber, Ernst Stötzner, Cyrielle Claire provide support.

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GIUSEPPE PICCIONI – QUESTI GIORNI
Italy 120’

Margherita Buy is Italy’s answer to Isabelle Huppert although she tends to take on softer more tentative characters as here where she plays Adria in Giuseppe Piccioni’s literary adaptation of Marta Bertini’s novel about four provincial university friends and their trip to Belgrade, where one of them has a mysterious friend and an possible job opportunity.

Arrival 2DENIS VILLENEUVE – ARRIVAL
Usa, 116’

Set to be the action film of the late summer, premiering at Venice before opening Toronto. Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker lead a starry cast in this Sci-Fi adventure that takes place after alien crafts land across the globe inciting the military to bring in an expert linguist to discover whether they are goodies or baddies.

CoccZmtXYAARypN.jpg-largeWIM WENDERS – LES BEAUX JOURS D’ARANJUEZ (3D)
France, Germany, 97’

Wim Wenders certainly enjoys filming in 3D, this being his second foray – his first Everything Will Be Fine – was met with mixed reviews as to why he’d used the medium for a standard drama that explored the aftermath of a domestic tragedy. Experimental to the last, this stars Reda Kateb, Sophie Semin, Jens Harzer and  Nick Cave who find themselves in the contempo Spanish city of Aranjuez dealing with a complex set of moral and sexual dilemmas. Judging from his previous 3D affair this should be torrid and colourful. MT

WATCH THIS SPACE FOR FURTHER ADDITIONS TO THE COMPETITION LINE-UP | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 31 AUGUST – 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

Venice Film Festival | The 1960s and 1970s

Ivan_5Between 1961 and 1962 the Festival became a showcase for renewal in cinema. The different sections included films from free British cinema, the consecration of the nouvelle vague, and young Italian directors: Pasolini, Bertolucci and the Taviani brothers. The Lions were reliable and not lacking in courage: L’année dernière à Marienbad by Alain Resnais and the Zurlini/Tarkovsky team with Cronaca familiare and Ivan’s Childhood.

dreyerThen came the era of Luigi Chiarini, the “professor”; who from 1963 to 1968 renewed the spirit and structure of the Venice International Film Festival. A coherent and authoritative director who spent six years organising series of films according to strict aesthetic criteria regarding selection and resisting the social scene, political pressures and the interference of the film industry. Chiarini skilfully placed the work of masters with that of young emerging talents: Godard and Dreyer, Bergman and Penn, Pasolini and Bresson, Kurosawa and Bellocchio, Truffaut and Rossellini, then Carmelo Bene, Cassavetes and Cavani. This continued up until the last Lion, in 1968, that meant an opening onto the neuer deutscher Film with Alexander Kluge’s Die Artisten in der Zirkuskuppel: ratlos.

The Festival (along with the Biennale) still had a statute dating back to the fascist era and could not side-step the general political climate. Sixty-eight produced a dramatic fracture with the past. Up until 1980 the Lions were not awarded.

As an effect of the dissent, prize-giving was abolished in ’68. From 1969 to 1972 the Festival was non-competitive (the first two were directed by Ernesto G. Laura, and the successive one by Gian Luigi Rondi), and numerous parallel festivals were organised. In 1971 John Ford and Charlie Chaplin the following year, received the Golden Lion for Career Achievement assigned by the Festival. 1971 was also the year in which festival audiences saw a Chinese documentary, a filmed ballet which was screened for the first time: Hung sik laung dje ching (The Red Detachment of Women). 

In 1972 the historic city centre of Venice was used as the venue for the “Giornate del Cinema italiano”, in contrast with the Festival held at the Lido. From 1974 to 1976, under the direction of Giacomo Gambetti, an attempt was made at a “different” Festival with “proposals for new films”, tributes, retrospectives and conventions, with some screenings still in Venice. 1977 saw an event focused on cinema in Eastern Europe that was integrated into the Biennale project on “cultural dissent”. The Festival did not take place in 1978.

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 31 AUGUST UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

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