Archive for the ‘Venice 2017’ Category

Hannah (2017)

Dir: Andrea Pallaoro | Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Andre Wilms, Jean-Michel Balthazar, Luca Avallone | Drama | Italy | 95′

Charlotte Rampling gives an extraordinary performance in this intimate portrait of a woman coming to terms with her loss of identity after her husband (Andre Wilms) is sent to imprison for a crime that has caused the breakdown of her family.

Andrea Pallaoro’s sophomore feature keeps us wondering what has happened to cause such emotional devastation all round. Hannah battles to face an uncertain future late in life and at a time where she feels unable to bounce back with the positivity of youth, and has lost her former place in society. Soul-searching her way forward from a past that is ambiguous and unresolved. The status quo has been devastated, and we are intrigued to discover the image portrayed in the photographs she is seen destroying.

Her marriage is clearly over, and her son will no longer speak to her due to circumstances beyond her control after events she had noting to do with, and she has also lost her connection with grandson Charlie (Savinin), who is told not to speak to her in a devastating scene where she brings him a homemade cake for his birthday party. Unable to cope she  dissolves in floods of tears. Later her swimming club membership is revoked without explanation. And she is left humiliated. She clearly knows the reason why.

Rampling carries the film through each slow-burning scene. Wandering aimlessly through streets in Brussels and along a beach in Knocke she is a picture of broken a life. And we feel for her. Shattered by  anguish and pitiful in her loneliness, Rampling makes the film both compelling and quietly devastating. In an effort to keep going and survive what has gone before, Hannah joins a self-help group practising the Alexander Technique, and keeps house for a woman whose own son appears to be blind. Despite this work, Hannah seems to be highly intelligent and full of graceful manners suggesting she has somehow come down in the world, from a well-to-do household. Her son is well-spoken and her own behaviour suggests good breeding.

Clearly Pallaoro had something in mind along the lines of Chantal Ackerman’s Jeanne Dielman. Hannah’s emotional fragmentation leads to her to a (symbolic) meeting with a beached whale on the beach at Knokke Heist – showing a helplessness on Pallaoro’s part, which cannot be overcome by Chayse Irvin’s stylishly cold and forbidding visuals. They show a wintry landscape, forlornly mirroring Hannah’s state of mind. MT

Andrea Pallaoro was born in Trento, Italy. He received his BA from Hampshire College before going on to study film directing at the California Institute of the Arts. His credits as director include the short Wunderkrammer (08) and the feature Medeas(13). Hannah (17) is his latest film.


Foxtrot (2017) ****

Dir: Samuel Maoz |Drama | Israel, Germany, France, Switzerland / 113’ | cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler, Yonatan Shiray

A grieving father experiences the absurd circumstances around the death of his son, in this latest critical reflection on military culture from Israeli filmmaker Samuel Maoz (Lebanon). Foxtrot is a story of bereavement and denial of guilt, played against the background of a middle-class Jewish family in Tel-Aviv.
Michael Feldman (Ashkenazi) and his wife Dafne (Adler) live in a spacious, expensively decorated apartment in the midst of the capital. When they learn of the death of their soldier son Jonathan (Shiray), Dafne faints, whilst her husband is cold and aggressive, even kicking the family dog, who wants to console him. When it later transpires that Jonathan is alive after all, Michael still behaves like a psychotic, showing no relief that his son is coming home. He insults his wife, daughter, brother and army officers, and insists on seeing his son again. With the help of a general, Jonathan is whisked away from a road block where he and three others soldiers has just shot four innocent Palestinians in their car; the young soldiers mistaking an empty beer can for a grenade.
The general who orders Jonathan’s release is also in charge of the “cleaning-up” operation: the Palestinian car is literally buried by a bulldozer: Jonathan’s final sketch, which ends up on the wall of his parent’s apartment, shows the operation. Later his mother will interpret the drawing as herself (the car) being swept away by her bulldozing husband. Which, in a way is true, since Michael is hiding a terrible secret from his family: when he was an officer in the army, he was guilty of causing the death of many of his men, causing him to remain emotionally detached from his family, and letting his frustration out on Max, the dog, who suffers from internal bleeding from his master’s frequent kickimg. But Michael is not able or willing to come clean – only a late and tragic twist will allow him him to confess his guilty secret to his wife.
The Feldman’s are representative of many Israeli families in a country at war for nearly 70 years. “This is war, and shit happens in war” says the general to the soldiers after the incident. Moaz captures the absurdity of this permanent conflict in amusing scenes at the roadblock, mixing phantasy with reality, and contrasting the hell of war, with the Feldman’s  sombre family dwelling: both existing in a parallel universe that has seemingly nothing in common. But it is the denial of emotional connection to those at home that forces Israeli soldiers to keep on killing and being killed. This schizophrenic situation has gone on for so long that it is seen as the new normal. Foxtrot is a passionate appeal to a whole country, to put an end to the situation. Samuel Maoz’s debut feature, Lebanon (which won the Golden Lion at the 2009 Venice Film Festival), was set during the 1982 Lebanon War, and shot almost entirely inside of a tank. Foxtrot, his second feature, steps away from that fevered claustrophobia to tell another maddening story of war and conflict, but this one on a much broader canvas. AS


Mektoub my Love: Canto Uno (2017) ***

Dir; Abdellatif Kechiche (France, Italy, 180’, o.v. French s/t English/Italian) starring Shaïn Boumedine, Ophélie Bau, Salim Kechiouche, Lou Luttiau, Alexia Chardard, Hafsia Herzi

Scripted by regular collaborator Ghalya Lacroix, Abdellatif Kecihiche’s follow-up to Blue is the Warmest Colour is a big-screen version of François Begaudeau’s novel. It doesn’t warrant its three hour running time, and few filmmakers would have got away with such a sparse narrative: but somehow Kechiche succeeds, always re-inventing the plot, keeping the audience on board with hypnotic images – helped by the moody mellow camerawork of DoP Marco Graziaplena.

Kechiche returns to  Sête, where he filmed The Secret of the Grain, for this sensuous celebration of sex and food. Amin (Boumedine), a young scriptwriter from Paris, arrives in the Languedoc fishing town to join his large family who run a restaurant. He visits his friend Ophélie (Bau), whose husband is serving the French navy which does not prevent her from indulging in a passionate affair with Toni (Kechiouche), one of Amin’s family. Amin himself is very reserved, preferring the company of girls like Charlotte (Charchard), who are committed to a relationship. Amine’s mother, played by the director’s sister, always reminds him to go out to the beach. Amin follows her advice, falls in love with Jasmine (Luttiau), but is too shy to make headways, whilst Toni takes what he gets – which is lot, to the chagrin of Ophélie. Whilst his friends – Tony again in the forefront – are celebrating lust and alcohol in a nightclub, Amin photographs the birth of two lambs.

The critics at Venice have all remarked how Kechiche (again) sees women from a man’s perspective, which is fine; but they forget that in many scenes women prefer their own gender when dancing and flirting, and are geting on perfectly well without men. Mektoub, meaning destiny – or thereabouts, is certainly not on the same level as Blue, but it celebrates youth, summer, food and sex; and has in Amin, a very convincing counterpart to Toni’s always-ready stud. Mektoub is like a self-indulgent extended holiday: it could be edited down to a long luxurious weekend break, without losing out on the positive benefits. A perfect Valentine film – or maybe not. AS


La Villa (2017) | The House by the Sea

Dir: Robert Guediguian | Cast: Ariane Ascaride, Jean Pierre Darroussin, Anais Demoustier Robinson Stevenin, Yann Tregouet | Drama | France | 107′

Robert Guediguian offers a paean to Provence in the 1970s when three siblings: famous actress Angèle (Ascaride), Armand (Meylan) and Joseph (Daroussin) all hark back to a jeunesse dorée at their father’s seaside villa, he has since suffered a debilitating stroke.

Armand is possibly the most stable of the trio. He has been running the local restaurant for the past two decades. Joseph pines for the good old days of the PCF, which makes him morose and depressed. The film plays out very much in line with a Checkov play where the past must be resolved before life can go on. Joseph too must face the music; his dance with a much younger fiancée Bérangère (Demoustier) must come to an end. Angèle is still mourning the drowning of her only child, and has fallen for a younger fisherman Benjamin (Stevenin), a fan of her stage appearances since he was a teenager. Neighbour Yvan is the only one in a ‘good place’ emotionally – the young doctor is in town to visit his elderly parents. Late catalysts to the party are Yvan’s parents and the appearance of three child refugees.

Director and co-writer Guediguian marks his 19th collaboration with his wife Ariane Ascaride, staying on familiar ground: he gently sketches out the older characters’ longing for the past, and the contemporary fast lane that young ones like Bérangère and Yvan cling to: for them decisions about the future are easy because they have one. Benjamin is somewhere in the middle – he is a romantic dreamer, who yearns for a life shaped on the past. Property speculators circle the coast line like vultures, Joseph cannot even put his memoirs in order. The three siblings are keen to keep the place and the restaurant open, they have to admit that nearly all their old neighbours has cashed in on the property boom. The refugee children at least provide Angèle with a sort of closure.

The ensemble acting is reliable, and DoP Pierre Milon (The Class) is kept busy, panning and tracking the hilly countryside, nature being the only stable element among the coming and going of humans who, with few exceptions, don’t appreciate the beauty of the stunning landscape. AS

Robert Guédiguian was born in Marseille. Many of his early films, including À la via, à la mort (95) and La Ville est tranquille(00), screened in the Director’s Spotlight programme at the 2002 Festival, and he returned to TIFF with his subsequent features Mon père est ingénieur (04), Le Voyage en Arménie(06), and Neiges du Kilimandjaro (11). Other credits include Le promeneur du champ de Mars (05), L’armée du crime (09), and Une histoire de fou (15). La Villa (17) is his latest film. AS


Escobar (2017) ***

Dir/Writer: Fernando Leon de Aranoa | Cast: Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Peter Sarsgaard | Spanish | Drama | 123′

Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem step into the limelight as the convincing kickass couple at the heart of this florid foray into the life of Colombian cocaine king Pablo Escobar, from Madridleno director Fernando Leon de Aranoa (Mondays in the Sun).

Playing out like a clunky crime caper from the 1980s Escobar is true to its era in depicting the career of the rags to mega riches drug baron who eventually burnt himself out on a hot tin roof – or so we’re led to believe in the final melodramatic moments.

Bardem’s Colombian accent is spot on and he rocks another mat-like wig (from his already extensive repertoire) and a prosthetic pot-belly that takes on a life of its own. Cruz is all glamorous in YSL couture, almost drowning under the weight of her glossy mop and gurgling on a fruity English accent. The film opens in 1993 as she’s evading Colombia on a plane: “I’ve had to leave a house to escape a man, but never a country” – or words to that effect.

As journalist Judith Restrepo, she is the voiceover filling us in on the Escobar investigations handled by American DEA agent Shepherd (a laconic Peter Sarsgaard): subsequent events show that for years she’s been playing a somewhat flirty cat-and-mouse game with Shepherd, who’s been probing her for information on her louche lover. The story then tracks back to 1981 where she meets the seedily illustrious married Escobar on his tropical estate and headquarters of the notorious Medellin Cartel. Desperate to be taken seriously as a politician -but gradually failing miserably in the endeavour – he is now lying low. Initially confident in her career, she enjoys a whirlwind courtship, but rapidly sees her reputation failing as her lover loses interest and becomes increasingly menacing: his gifts turn from diamonds to a diamante revolver – for her own protection – against him and his rivals.

Bardem creates another scary psychopath: loving to his family but threatening to his enemies, and his richly-roasted accent is brilliant in contrast to Cruz’s screechy meltdowns. Chainsaws abound and there is abundant animal cruelty in what is ultimately a mildly entertaining and well-paced chronicle of the cocaine king’s career. MT


Ex Libris: The New York Public Library (2017)

Dir: Frederick Wiseman | Doc | US | 197′

Legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman (In Jackson Heights, National Gallery) takes his cameras within the walls of the New York Public Library for his forty-third film in fifty years which again throws light on a great institution – and is again well over three hours. It would be rash to say that Wiseman is losing it – but his tone is more and more lecturing, and we find ourselves in the position of students, well aware that the professor is talking down to us. Or perhaps, Wiseman has perfected his style to the point that he really needs no audience any more: who can argue with an encyclopaedia? There is no recourse, no questions, no room for doubt: Wiseman’s documentaries are the bible on his chosen subject.

The NY Public Library system with 92 branches, was founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1911, the headquarters, a beautiful Art-Deco building on 5th Avenue/42nd Street, is impressive, and rather British with its dominating lions. But Wiseman visits many branches, and the libraries could not be more different. The same goes for the activities: a librarian is recording all of Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark, there are talks by Patti Smith and Ta-Nehsi Coates, poetry reading with P. Hodges and endless quotes: from Karl Marx, Primo Levi and Malcolm, to name a few. Wiseman even includes a job-fair in the Bronx in his meanderings in the city. “Libraries are about people” is the motto of Ex-Libris: true, but people are irrational and very contradictory, because they are alive. But in spite of the motto, Wiseman seems more interested in discovering structures, showing off how clever he is. AS


Racer and the Jailbird (2017)

Dir: Michael R Roskam | Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Adele Exarcholpoulos | Belgium | Crime Drama | 130′

Best known for his glowering Flemish thriller Bullhead, Michael Roskam is back again for the forth time with Belgian heavyweight Matthias Shoenhaerts who plays smalltime gangster Gigi in this classy high octane ‘amour noir’ thriller set on the race track.

The opening scenes introduce us to Gigi Vanoirbeek early days of danger where his father used to a fierce Alsatian to discipline him. Things have moved upmarket for Gino, who now operates in the luxury car market where he falls for young racing driver Bibi Delhany (Adèle Exarchopoulos). Their sexual chemistry is incendiary and love is spurred on by their risk-taking personalities, despite their wildly different backgrounds.

This is a stylishly fluid piece of kit and wonderful to watch as Roskam and his stars hold our attention and the action-packed hour that sparks on all cylinders fired up by the fizzing fervour of the pair’s glamorous lifestyle. But then Roskam makes an abrupt left turn, just as he did in Bullhead, and the adrenaline runs out as plot lines blur and the vehicle gradually trundles off the tracks.  This is no fault of Schoenhaerts whose mesmerising physical presence is matched by Exarchopoulos cutsy charm both in and out of bed they are a perfect couple but the script can’t sustain 130 minutes of their lust as the romance peters out with his sociopathic lies about ‘business travel’ to cover his back, and her life-challenging down-spiral after smelling a rat. Clearly Gigi has a built-in factory default that limits his reliable shelf life but Bibi can’t let go until she starts to lose her own mind and friends come to the rescue.

As a story of doomed love this feels terrifically convincing but Roskam doesn’t know how to call it a day and add fuel to his fire. That said, this is definitely one to watch with its firebrand finale courtesy of ace DoP Nicolas Karakatsanis. MT

Michaël R. Roskam was born in Flanders. He studied at the St. Lucas Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels and the Maurits Binger Film Institute in Amsterdam. His directorial credits include Bullhead (11), which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, and The Drop (14), which played the Festival. Racer and the Jailbird (17) is his latest film.



Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017) Tribute

Dir: Stephen Nomura Schible (US, Japan, 100’, Japanese/English s/t English/Italian)

Five years in the making, Stephen Nomura’s discreet yet resonant portrait Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda brings us face to face with the Oscar-winning Japanese composer of synth-pop and electronica at a time where he was being treated for cancer and was writing Async his first album in eight years. Sadly he lost his fight on 28 March 2023, aged only 71.

The documentary follows Sakamoto as he survives a near death experience, and we first meet him in his homeland tinkling the ivories of a Yamaha baby grand piano that has also lived through trauma in the shape of the 2011 tsunami. Showing his deep humanity and social engagement as an artist, Sakamoto rocks a protective jacket as he boldly explores the restricted contamination zone of the Fukishima nuclear disaster demonstrating his allegiance to those who have suffered by joining a protest at the Japanese prime minister’s Tokyo residence. In further honour of these tragedies he later performs with elegant finesse the theme tune from Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence dedicating this soigné arrangement to the victims.

To say Sakamoto is a poster boy for such calamities as the 9/11 attacks, Iraq war and climate change would be trite and kack-handed but these concerns have certainly inspired his work for a quarter of a century and his calm demeanour and contemplative nature do seem apposite qualities in a creative genius who, at 65, has certainly lived through troubled times. With his mop of silver hair and striking gracefulness he is an appealing performer who is at pains to dress stylishly and eat healthily, attributes that compliment his work, and his candidness in talking about his creative process marks him out as a man of integrity and great intelligence.

Nomura Schible keeps his film sleek and yet reasonably loose in structure without resorting to talking heads or periphera – this is a snapshot of a point in time. There are also excerpts from Sakamoto’s Oscar-winning work on film scores for Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor and The Sheltering Sky; together with Alejandro G. Inarritu’s The Revenant, and archive footage of the master conducting the relevant film pieces. These dovetail into scenes in his domestic milieu where he is pictured composing on the computer and playing his piano, a Steinway (naturellement). MT



This is Congo (2017) ***

Dir: Daniel McCabe | Doc | 91′ | Congo

Magnificent landscapes give way to mass murder and mayhem in This Is Congo, Daniel McCabe’s cinematic documentary that follows several of his compatriots surviving twenty years of conflict in this war-torn nation. Congo’s leaders have chosen war in place of an intelligent way of harnessing the country’s abundant mineral wealth, and ensuring peace and prosperity for its people.

Most of us have never been to this lush mid-African country three times the size of Texas. Fertile soil encourages agriculture and provides a rich cocoa-dusting for the country’s ample mineral reserves of tourmaline, manganese, copper, bauxite and gold.

McCabe knows from experience that filming will be dangerous here and certainly gives a flavour of the perils in the opening scene where booming mortar fire sends tremors through our seats while onscreen the fleeing Congolese protect their kids and livestock  on the run.

Bordered by Rwanda and Uganda, The Democratic Republic of Congo sounds like a country of the free and enabled. It is quite the opposite: a place divided by macho rebel forces, such as the M23, who compete with rival militia groups while the government-led forces continually strive to keep control and calm the masses under the auspices of Colonel Mamadou Ndala who eventually loses his battle – in the surprising final scenes – not to the enemy but to his jealous officers threatened by his energy and charisma.

Voiced by the melodic tones of Isaach de Bankole), the real heroes of the Congo are not the generals and fighters but the enterprising civilians: voluptuous business woman Mama Romance who trades precious gems in the main port of Goma and tailor Hakiza Nyantaba who traipses from village to village with his trusty Singer sewing machine. With great sensitivity and dispassion, McCabe shows us a nation surviving against the odds, its people forced into a peripatetic mode of existence, cheerful and philosophical despite their trial and tribulations. MT




Lean on Pete (2017)***

Dir: Andrew Haigh | Great Britain / 121’ | Cast: Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny

Andrew Haigh (Weekend, 45 Years) directs Steve Buscemi and Chloë Sevigny in a rather uneven rites of passage Pacific western about a boy who bonds with an old racehorse, and based on the novel of the same name by Willy Vlautin.

This is a film to be seen for its captivating performances rather than its meandering narrative that abandons the central soulmates (fifteen year old Charlie and his horse Lean on Pete) midday through to explore how the teen resorts to petty crime in order to survive as an orphan. We first meet him living alone with his sweary Dad Ray (Fimmel) in Portland,Oregon; Ray loves his sensitive son, but is too selfish to care for him since his mother left town due to Ray’s philandering. So when a vengeful husband kills Ray, Charlie is left alone and desperate to find his aunt Margy, who fell out with Ray, for obvious reasons. Teaming up with the disreputable horse trainer Del (Buscemi in fine fettle), the two are soon joined by jockey Bonnie (Sevigny), leaving Charlie in the cold again, when Bonnie takes over Del’s attention. So Charlie sets off on a mission to save the ageing racehorse, Lean on Pete, who is bound for Mexico – an euphemistic term for the slaughter house. Their soulful journey across the luminous desert landscape is painful for both, and ends in tragedy, leaving Charlie on an elusive quest for aunt Margy in Laramie, Wyoming.

LEAN ON PETE is a lightly-plotted family film, apart from the animal tragedy. Magnus Nordenhof Jonck’s stunning images make up for an unsatisfying storyline that starts full of promise then Peters out, limping aimlessly for two full hours. Haigh tries to see the good in everyone, often stepping over the line to out-and-out sentimentality, but his central character does not deliver. Professionally produced and well-acted, particularly by Plummer, who won the De Laurentis Prize in Venice for Best Newcomer Actor, LEAN ON PETE is not only lean of plot; but all the social realist rough edges are polished too: Charlie keeps a stiff upper lip and takes it on the chin, but somehow his soul takes a short cut into rocky terrain rather than finding redemption in pastures new. Some critics called it “a modern Huckleberry Finn” – but that would be insulting to Mark Twain.


The Leisure Seeker (2017) ***

Dir: PAOLO VIRZÌ | Drama Italy / 112’ |cast: Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland

Paolo Virzi’s drama is based on the novel by Michael Zadoorian and stars Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland in a timely tale about an elderly couple looking for one last hurrah on a bittersweet final road trip that gives full throttle to Dylan Thomas’ redolent words: “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Those on their last legs will heartily appreciate the sentiment  embodied and expressed here with feeling by Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren, who share a palpable onscreen chemistry as the amiable pair embarking on their odyssey with the full knowledge that this is likely to be their last together, and is fraught with ups and downs, and memories both good and bad.

The English-language debut of Italian director Paolo Virzì (Like Crazy), The Leisure Seeker sees Ella (Mirren) dying of cancer and John (Sutherland) stumbling on the foothills of Alzheimer’s disease. Neither is remotely interested in quietly fading away in a nursing home or hospice, at least not until they are forced to. So they hit the road in their vintage car on a trip from Boston to Florida with John behind the wheel. This is a tribute to a life lived to the fullest by people who have are cognisant of their plight; it is never maudling or downbeat but admits the inevitable with grace and good humour. The film also offers up an eventful travelogue of this part of America, brimming with insight into how the world has changed as they pass through the cities that have shaped and punctuated their time together. Keats put it rather well when he said: “Live life to the lees” – it’s a quote that acknowledges a life lived pleasurably and with gusto, and this is the feeling that permeates this entertaining tribute, offering a little taster of what’s come for all of us, and a timely reminder to make the most of it while we can. MT




Custody (2017) ****

Dir|Writer: Xavier Legrand | Denis Menochet, Lea Drucker, Thomas Gioria, Mathilde Auneveu | 93’

A broken marriage leads to a bitter custody battle in this intense family drama than won the coveted Best Director award at Venice for Xavier Legrand.

There have been some superb movies made about custody battles. This riveting drama from French actor-director Xavier Legrand is certainly among the best, braced by the filmmaker’s unerring authority and sense of what to do next, scene after scene, as the family at its centre splinters into chaos.

As Custody opens, Miriam and Antoine Besson have just divorced. Their young son, Julien, sits in family court reading out a letter denouncing his father. His sister, Josephine, having recently reached the age of majority, is not part of the dispute. Antoine is described as a violent monster, yet in court appears to be a model of calm reserve. Despite Miriam’s appeals for sole custody — also Julien’s preference — the judge gives the parents shared custody. And Antoine is not a two-dimensional beast. He tries to re-establish a relationship with a son who feels paralyzed by the competing emotional demands of his father and his mother, who will stop at nothing to remove both Julien and herself from her ex-husband’s life.

Custody is harrowing and complex, a domestic nightmare that unfolds to reveal an inventory of abuses both overt and subtle. Denis Ménochet and Léa Drucker are finely attuned to these demands as Antoine and Miriam, while Thomas Gioria inhabits the haunted Julien with heartwrenching naturalism. Legrand dissects the Bessons’ family dynamic coolly, with impressive restraint and intuition, yet still evokes profound sympathy for his protagonists. The result is mesmerizing.

Xavier Legrand is a French actor, writer, and director who received his training at the National Conservatory of Paris. His short film Just Before Losing Everything (13) was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short. Custody (17) is his debut feature film.



Walk This Way | European Hidden Gems Collection 2018

Walk this Way brings a new season of selected arthouse titles to enjoy at home on VoD. These are films that have found critical claim on the festival circuit and are now available to view online before they get a theatrical release.

HOME (Belgium 2016) sees 17 year old Kevin out of prison and into his aunt’s house where he starts an apprenticeship in her local store. Kevin gets on well with his cousin Sammy and his circle of friends, and soon meets John whose mother is in a crisis. From Venice Orizzonti Best Director  Fien Troch

Renars Vimba’s impressive debut MELLOW MUD (2016) deals with the loneliness, disillusionment and first love as seen through the eyes of an orphaned teenager living in the remote rural beauty of Latvia with her grandma and young brother. But when tragedy strikes out of the blue, Raya (Elina Vaska) is forced to face consequences that even an adult would find challenging. Crystal Bear Winner | Generation 14plus Berlinale |  



The Third Murder (2017)

Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda | Thriller | Japan | 120′
Festival favourite Hirokazu Kore-eda (Still Walking, Nobody Knows) offers an engrossing murder mystery about a defence lawyer who believes that his client — a self-confessed killer — is the fall guy for a conspiracy. A lengthy crime procedural provides the backbone to this luminously filmed but alienating arthouse affair that asks the question: who is judging the judges?

The central character is the suave and convincing lawyer Shigemori (Fukuyama Masaharu/Like Father, Like Son) who is called to investigate the case of a man who has spent three decades in prison for a double murder and has subsequently confessed to killing his factory-owning boss and burning his body. We witness the murder in the opening scene, so clearly Misumi (Yakusho Koji) must be guilty; strangely, it is Shigemori’s father who handed him a life sentence, instead of the death penalty, but times have changed.

The problem is that Misumi keeps changing his story, making things difficult for
Shigemori, the son of a retired judge, who is forced to keep writing and re-writing his script in order to get the most plausible defence for the murderer. To make matters worse, his own personal life is fraught with problems: estranged from his daughter, who is caught for shop-lifting, he is also separated from his wife. As he gets to know Misumi over their constant meetings, it soon emerges that their behaviour is very similar, they appear to be one in the same person, on different sides of the law.

This is a subtle but thematically rich crime thriller, brilliant in concept but less so in execution, despite Takimoto Makiya’s stunning camerawork, and Ludovico Einaudi’s moody score. The fault, at least for non-Japanese speakimg audiences, is its dialogue-led narrative which keeps us glued to the subtitles while scanning up and down the screen in case we miss vital clues, making it heavy-going, despite its universal themes rippling out to provide endless food for thought. MT

Hirokazu Kore-eda was born in Tokyo, where he studied literature at Waseda University. He is a master dramatist whose features include Maborosi (95), After Life (98), Distance (01), Nobody Knows (04), Hana (06), Still Walking (08), Air Doll (09), I Wish (11), Like Father, Like Son (13), Our Little Sister (15), and After the Storm (16), all of which have played the Festival. The Third Murder (17) is his latest film.


Battle of the Sexes (2017) | **** | Bfi Flare Film Festival

Dir: Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton | Writer: Simon Beaufoy | Cast: Steve Carell, Emma Stone | Sport Biopic
Emma Stone and Steve Carell star as sparkling adversaries in this colourful period recreation of the legendary 1973 tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King that made public her fight for equality in women’s tennis.

Battle of the Sexes engagingly captures the zeitgeist of the era focusing on the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs which was a turning point in the politics of their game, flagging up a protest over the pay gap between men and women on the professional circuit. Scripted by Academy Award winner Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine), Battle of the Sexes is a fitting tribute to that iconic moment.

Stone is impressive in the role of King who had decided to fund her own tour with Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) as her manager. Carell plays the suitably back-footed Riggs whose finances were depleted since his previous championship. His troubled emotional life also haunts his game and he misguidedly proffers a publicity stunt in the shape of a challenge involving a $100,000 winner-take-all match.

Beaufoy’s script cleverly contrasts the game’s blatant sexuality during a ‘pioneering era of sexual revolution’ with King’s extraordinary talent as a player – along with likes of other female champions of the time such as Yvonne Goolagong and Virginia Wade. MT



My Generation (2017) ***

Dir: David Batty | Writers: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais | Cast: Michael Caine, Joan Collins, Lulu, Paul McCartney, Twiggy, Roger Daltrey, Marianne Faithfull, Sandie Shaw, Mary Quant, Barbara Hulanicki | UK | Doc | 85′ |

As narrator and co-producer, Michael Caine turns the camera on himself for a filmic flip through the Swinging Sixties, showing how he and his talented contempories transformed Britain.

Assembled over two years, MY GENERATION is directed by David Batty, with scripters Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement ensuring an enjoyable ride through enjoyable archive footage showcasing Caine’s contempories: photographer trio: Terry Donovan, Duffy and David Bailey; fashion models such as Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton and Joanna Lumley and musicians: Roger Daltrey, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger.

Caine, now 84, contemplates the factors that caused the loosening up in the postwar set-up citing The Pill and the advent of Grammar schools as primary factors for change, while Marianne Faithfull suggests it was all down to an improved diet. Whatever the case, they were all determined to have a good time and break down barriers, bringing in a more colourful era and putting London on the map as a beacon of youth culture, as everyone flocked to the capital. Caine, who rose from solid working class stock as Maurice Micklewhite, uses the film to attack posh middle class acting talent, ridiculing the likes of cult classics Brief Encounter (1946) and taking a swipe at  Norman Wisdom who he claims was not generous to work with despite his humble origins. Paul McCartney comes up with the chestnut, “suddenly people realised the working class wasn’t as thick as it looked and it had talent.” Chippy Britain at its best.

Caine goes on to suggest that the advent of drugs brought an end to the Swinging Sixties although stresses he only smoked marijuana once as it made him laugh for five hours so he couldn’t remember his lines. To his credit Caine avoids mawkish sentimentality: “I don’t feel nostalgia. I never look back. I feel extraordinarily lucky, not about my talent or anything, but about the timing,” MY GENERATION is an entertaining romp showing how these legendary characters made the Sixties happen and made their vast fortunes into the bargain.MT


Sweet Country (2017) ****

Dir: Warwick Thornton | Sam Neill, Bryan Brown | Drama | Australia | 101′

SWEET COUNTRY is a good-looking, strong and silent type of Aussie Western providing a scenic and enjoyable ride towards a rather predictable finale. Warwick Thornton cut his teeth as a cinematographer and it certainly shows in this follow up to his 2013 outing, The Darkside.

SWEET COUNTRY crackles with racial tension in a stark outback landscape full of macho white males and their well-meaning Aboriginal workers who inhabit three remote outposts near Alice Springs in the South. Sam Neill plays Fred Smith, a respectful Christian rancher who enjoys an easygoing relationship with his Aboriginal worker Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris) and his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber). On a neighbouring ranch, we meet the churlish Mick Kennedy (Thomas M Wright) who despises his workforce amongst whom is his half Aboriginal son Philomac (twins Tremayne and Trevon Doolan take turns to play the role). But worst of all is the hateful Harry March (Ewen Leslie), who one day asks to borrow Smith’s workers for a cattle branding job.

Harry abuses both husband and wife and eventually tempers flare and Sam shoots him dead in self-defence. Suddenly we are transported to an unknown frontier town complete with saloon and makeshift cinema, where Bryan Brown’s grizzled police chief Fletcher is investigating the murder with his horseback soldiers. There appear to be three distinct types here in 19th Australia: the white population;  Sam and Lizzie who look civilised dressed in period garb, and diverse packs of native Aboriginals who frequently enter the picture killing one of Fletcher’s men, a guy called Minty, with a boomerang. A court procedural follows but Sam and Lizzie remain tight-lipped over the affair. What emerges is both clever and slightly predictable but culminates in the thrilling final denouement of this ravishing Australian thriller. MT

 Warwick Thornton was born in Alice Springs, Australia. He studied cinematography at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. He is the director of the short films Green Bush(05) and Nana (07), as well as the feature Samson and Delilah(09), which won the Camera d’Or at Cannes. Sweet Country (17) is his latest film.


The Shape of Water (2017) * * *

Dir: Guillermo del Toro | USA / 119’ | cast: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer

Last year’s Golden Lion for Best Film went to Guillermo del Toro for this utterly empty second-hand spectacle THE SHAPE OF WATER in a year where the jury and the programme largely lacked imagination (apart from Susanna Nicchiarelli’s NICO, 1988, who won the Orizzonti Award for her stunning biopic of the final years of the renowned model and musician Christa Pfaffen, played by a feisty Trine Dyrholm).

Del Toro’s very thin narrative of a mute woman falling in love with an amphibious creature, used by the CIA at the height of the Cold War, around 1962, is a total rip-off: it uses the main protagonists of Rachel Ingall’s 1986 novel MRS. CALIBAN, the creature itself is a replica of the titular CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (Jack Arnold, 1954), and the story is a compilation of countless cold war spy movies of the Eisenhower era, when the Red menace was infiltrating the USA. Clearly no money was spared on design and images, but del Toro’s feature might not have won without the help of Annette Bening, Hollywood actress and – first female – jury president.

In a US government laboratory, two workers (Sally Hawkins and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer) uncover an horrendous secret experiment that the lonely and single Elisa (Hawkins) finds strangely alluring. It involves an amphibious creature (played by Doug Jones) who is infiltrated into the installation and comes under threat by the agent in charge (Michael Shannon), who intends to do away with the beast once it serves its purpose. But Elisa falls strangely in love with the sea creature and puts her own life in danger in her bid to ensure its survival, aided and abetted by her colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer); her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), and kindly scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg in his second strong role of 2017).

Serving as a subtle social critique, there’s a great deal to enjoy in this fluid fantasy film enriched by Alexandre Desplat’s majestic score, but it is by no means the jewel in del Toro’s crown that includes  gems such as Cronos (1993), The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Hellboy (04) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), for which he received an Oscar nomination for screenwriting. AS


Downsizing (2017) **

Dir: Alexander Payne | Wri: Jim Taylor | USA / 135’ | cast: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig

Matt Damon headlines a cast that includes Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, and Laura Dern in Alexander Payne’s unconvincing sci-fi social satire about a man who chooses to shrink himself (literally) to simplify his life.

Shot in Toronto the magnificent Norwegian fjords, Downsizing provides a startlingly speculative and outlandish Sci-fi adventure that sounds intriguing on the drawing board but throws up issues that are unattractive and downright unpalatable in practiceAs the film opens, Damon’s amiable character Paul Safranek is hit with a brainwave – downsizing not only his family home – but also himself – will cut costs as his placidly mediocre lifestyle with wife Audrey (Wiig) rapidly becomes increasingly difficult to sustain, let alone finance. Payne widens to premise to include themes of human consumption and depletion of the Earth’s precious reserves with one radical and idiotic solution – miniaturisation, the idea being that a small tin of baked beans can suddenly feed the entire family for a whole week (living in a shoebox in their previous garden). Welcome to the grotesque future of Downsizing, where a wet-wipe will suddenly become an environmental hazard of even greater proportions. Once Paul is reinvented as a midget, there’s something unpleasantly grotesque and indelicate about the whole idea of giant rosebuds and diamonds as big as your head. The phrase “small and perfectly-formed” also loses appeal especially in the pastel world of Paul Safranek. There’s nothing glorious or admirable about his insipid existence as a phone salesman in the new “Leisureland”, where even he takes offence at a customer who says: “Don’t get short with me”. Meanwhile, his rather uncouth neighbours (Christophe Waltz and Udo Kier) feel too far-fetched and glib to make this new existence appealing; a better word would be ‘sad’. There could be some really appealing aspects to Payne’s thoughtful projection, but somehow he and co-writer Jim Taylor settle for a mediocre, mealy-mouthed and small-minded drama rather than a bitingly witty microcosmic satire, along the lines of previous features Sideways, About Schmidt and Nebraska. And given that most of us are already tired of the relentlessly onward march of digital technology and the dehumanisation of our daily lives, the idea that this could be taken further simply has no future in the real world. Thanks Mr Payne, but no thanks. MT


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (2017)

Dir: MARTIN MCDONAGH | United Kingdom / 110’ | cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage

In Martin McDonagh’s latest pithy social satire a frustrated and grieving mother antagonises her local police force calling to attention the lack of progress in the search for her daughter’s killer.
Confrontation is the name of the game in this unforgiving black comedy set in the Southern United States. Conflict is rife, incendiary arguments erupt, nearly everyone resorts to violence, be it for political or personal reasons. Grudging forgiveness sometimes follows, but not necessarily as a matter of course. Frances McDormand paints the heroine Mildred as an unlovable tyrant, in the smalltime, small-mindedtown of Ebbing. A divorcee, she has lost her teenage daughter, who was raped and left to  die almost on her doorstep. After a month, the terminally ill sheriff (Harrelson) has not come up with any suspects and the trail has gone cold, so Mildred pushes her own agenda forward, renting three billboards with a strong message accusing the sheriff of incompetence. This is not a particularly sensitive move but it’s an effective one, sending the townsfolk into quiet meltdown against the mother of three. Meanwhile, the much-liked Willoughby is dying of cancer. But Mildred’s vendetta knows no bounds and she finally takes her complaint further, leaving DC Dixon (a strong comedy turn by Rockwell) with terrible injuries. Strangely enough, Dixon seems to learn his lesson and channels his energy into re-opening the case. Dixon and Mildred begin a friendship, but not on the lines the late sheriff would be approve of.
McDormand is brazenly brilliant as the hard-bitten Mildred who conveniently forgets that she argued with her daughter on that fateful last evening, jokingly wishing that she would be raped for not following her advice. Race, gender, anger and forgiveness are the are all in the mix in this toxic town where casual violence is par for the course.  The narrative is anger-driven rather than goal-oriented, and the fun is very much in the process rather than the solution: this is no whodunnit. THREE BILLBOARDS is very dark, shot through with brutal stabs of humour: DoP Ben Davis catches the mood with his stark, widescreen images. This is Trump country, and the Confederate Flag rules. God help America. AS

Martin McDonagh was born in London to Irish parents. He is a renowned playwright and filmmaker, and won an Academy Award for his debut short, Six Shooter (06). He subsequently directed In Bruges (08) and Seven Psychopaths (12), which played at the Festival and received the Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (17) is his latest feature.


Caniba (2017)

Dir: Verena Paravel, Julien Castaing-Taylor | 97′ | Doc | France

Documentarians Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor (Leviathan) are back with another impressionist take on human behaviour, which although highly imaginative often raises more questions than it answers.

Their last venture somniliques (2017) focused on sleepwalking, and now their camera explores the macabre phenomenon of cannibalism through the life of Issei Sagawa, who was convicted of eating his human victims and is now living a semi-reclusive life and hoping for remission.

The filmmakers actually manage to gain access to Sagawa for a series of palpably disturbing but brief interviews conducted in his home in Japan. It transpires he was deported from France in 1981 after serving a meagre two-year sentence for the murder of Dutch student Renée Hartevelt and since suffering a life-limiting stroke several years ago, he is confined to his home under the sole care of his sibling and rival – the two are clearly in conflict. And whilst the fate of his victims was gruesome, the ageing and infirm Sagawa is not exactly living the life of Laurie since being released from his jail term (which could have been more draconian in his native Japan). As with many killers, his crimes have attracted a certain notoriety and he continues to explore his fetish through  creative expression in manga comics and porno film work. He also admits that his cannibalism cuts both ways: he expresses a desire to be eaten, and harmed.Although cannibalism is an extreme form of human behaviour, it is not as unusual or as eccentric as many assume. Some anthropologists even liken it to highly passionate sexual or spiritual desire: a wish to consume or even become one with another being, such as when Christians take in “the body of Christ” during the Communion service. So the expression: “you look good enough to eat”, has both a literal and a metaphorical significance.

Visually this is a sensual piece of filmmaking – in the most disturbing way possible. Intimate close-ups of bloated faces and distorted limbs float across the screen and the score is suggestive of sucking and licking, while explicit sexual activity actually takes place between – what we assume to be Sagawa – and an unnamed woman. The film is also enlivened by home movie footage of Sagawa and his family. The filmmakers keep their distance from the subject matter, never attempting to probe or offer any explanation. Their experimental approach is purely observational and it works. MT

NOW ON RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS | UK Premiere Saturday 16 December  Bertha Dochouse 


Suburbicon (2017)

Dir: George Clooney | Co-writers: Cast: Julianne Moore, Matt Damon, Oscar Isaac, Noah Jupe | Drama | US | 105′

Matt Damon and Julianne Moore star in this seductive but flawed satire that touches on social greed, marital dissatisfaction and insurance fraud. Directed by Clooney from a script by Joel and Ethan Coen, Suburbicon parades as a pastel and pristine 1950s family drama, but behind the scenes matters are going seriously awry in the moral compass of its squeaky clean citizens.

Gardner Lodge (Damon) is a family man who is clearly dissatisfied with his seemingly peaceful existence due to his desire for Margaret (Moore), his crippled wife’s live-in sister. Gardner and Margaret form a covert plan to stage a home invasion, collect the insurance money, and clear the decks of his wife (also played by Moore) and run away to Aruba. But the idea flounders due to the interference of Oscar Isaac’s shrewd loss adjuster – echoing TV detective  Columbo – and Gardner’s appealingly astute son (Noah Jupe).

This 1950s pastiche plays out in the style of a Noirish version of Mad Men that reveals a tawdry face racial hatred and marital disquiet behind the manicured gardens of this plastic paradise. Performances are pitch-perfect as the tale’s tone claws at the edges of unsettling paranoia. SUBURBICON is ultimately a suspenseful and highly entertaining film that throws its toys out of the pram in a misjudged melodramtic meltdown  in the final scenes.

George Clooney was born in Lexington, Kentucky. He is an Academy Award–winning actor, producer, writer, and director. His filmmaking credits include Good Night, and Good Luck (05), and the Festival selection The Ides of March (11). Suburbicon(17) is his latest film. MT


Angels Wear White (2017) Chinese Film Series 2021

Dir: Vivian Qu | Drama | China | 101′

Writer and director Vivian Qu was the producer of Black Coal, Thin Ice and rose to fame with her debut Trap Street. Her second feature is a low-key female-centred affair that deals with the complex web of corruption that emerges after two young girls are assaulted in a seaside town. This is a subtle and luminously delicate drama that leaves the details of the crime offscreen to deal with the psychological effects on the teenagers who are both underage, one of them only 12. Covering similar ground to Black Coal, ANGELS WEAR WHITE offers a bleak but affecting insight into the plight of women generally in modern China, not only from middle-class backgrounds but those who have escaped rural poverty and found themselves at odds with the criminal elements  in more prosperous areas.

Teenager Mia (Wen Qi) is a chambermaid in a resort town on the island province of Hainan. During her night shift on reception she checks in a man and two little girls, Wen (a tiny and delicately vulnerable Zhou Meijun) and Xin (Jiang Xinyue), who are staying in the room next to him. One of the girls has a blonde wig and orders drinks, but what happens next during the night is never revealed on camera, although it turns out later the girls have been abused, and undergo a hospital examination.

Clearly both teens are suffering from the strict ‘Tiger’ parenting and harsh discipline at school but they keep the trauma under wraps until Wen runs away from mother’s home and turns up at her estranged father’s in the middle of the night, sleeping on the beach when she can’t get in. Mia is scared of losing her job, so fails to give any evidence about why her older more sophisticated colleague Lily was bunking off with her boyfriend.

Police Inspector Wang (Li Mengnan) leads a cursory investigation where the girls gloss over the facts frightened to reveal the truth due to the shame they feel and how the consequences of their revelation might be viewed – not only by the authorities but also their own community and society as a whole. Mia is more streetwise, but the other two are really very naive compared to Western teens. A canny female lawyer (Shi Ke) probes further and gets a better grasp of Mia’s impossible plight.

Qu views her characters dispassionately, we cannot help feeling for them and the deplorable lives they lead, especially little Wen, who only looks about 9, but clearly understands more than she reveals in this dainty, pastel-hued portrait captured by Belgian cinematographer Benoit Dervaux. A subtle occasional score adds a haunting atmosphere to this impressive modern noir. MT


Love and Bullets (2017) | Pingyao Film Festival | Year Zero 2017

Dirs: The Manetti Bros | Cast: Claudia Gerini, Carlo Buccirosso, Serena Rossi, Giampaolo Morelli, Luciana De Falco, Mario Rivelli | Musical Romance | 133′ | Italy

Naples meets Brooklyn in this Versace-themed Mafia-musical melodrama. LOVE AND BULLETS is as subtle as a oyster poisoning but considerably more fun. What you get is high octane entertainment that never takes itself too seriously in delivering a raucous laugh out loud tale of deception that frequently breaks into warbling vibrato including a few bum notes – and not just on the music front. The jamboree outstays its welcome with camerawork that is often questionable, but there is much to enjoy — despite a few detours and dialectical complexities – that are not easy to follow, even for Italian audiences. Due to the raucous sound effects, this is one film where you can munch popcorn to your heart’s content and not disturb a fly.

We kick of in a Baroque cathedral where Donna Maria (Claudia Gerini) is mourning the death of her fish-farm magnate husband and crime boss, Don Vincenzo (Carlo Buccirosso), who suddenly comes alive in the privacy of his ornate coffin, giving forth in fruity bass tones and casting doubt over his identity to one and all.

Flipping back a few days it emerges that Maria and Vincenzo have faked his death. His two sidekicks, Rosario (actor-singer Raiz) and the more charismatic Ciro (Giampaolo Morelli), are advised to take over the reins by Donna Maria and ensure that no one finds out that Vincenzo didn’t die in a mussel tank shot by his rivals – cue the first joke: “Americans don’t know mussels from missiles”. This the tenor of the comedy.

But hospital nurse Fatima (Ciro’s first love) sees Vincenzo in hospital on the operating table, and matters are complicated when Ciro’s finds he still holds a candle for her – and she for him – making bumping her off a big problem, especially when they smooch to ‘their song’ Flashdance – (remastered by Giorgio Moroder who contributed to the foot-stamping score along with Pivio and De Scalzi); so feelings flood back but give Ciro a difficult choice: should he go for money or love?

Some of the jokes have a distinctly racist undertone, and swearing is the order of the day in the less light-hearted second half making us less forgiving of the bouts of narrative torpor. That said, this is a gutsy and well-performed musical with Gerini pulling all the stops out in a terrific turn. Morelli is the star turn on the male front and let’s hope we get to see more of his stylish chops in future. Buccirosso makes a good job of the difficult role of Vincenzo who has to be vulnerable and macho at the same time, and the film looks gorgeously lurid in its retro aesthetic thanks to DoP Francesca Amitrano, production designer Noemi Marchica and costume designer Daniela Salernitano.MT


The Taste for Rice Flower | Mi Hua Zhi Wei (2017) | Pingyao Year Zero 2017

Director: Pengfei | writers: Pengfei, Ying Ze | Cast: Ying Ze, Ye Bule, Ye Men | China | Drama | 89′

Chinese filmmaker Pengfei’s Underground Fragrance was a delicately rendered story of love amongst the ruins of Beijing’s property boom, and won him the Fedeora award at Venice Film Festival 2015. His second feature explores love of a different kind: that of a Dai woman for her only daughter and her strongly felt ethnic heritage, in the Yunnan province of China, where the drama unfurls in magnificent pastoral landscapes and vibrant interiors of her small village.

Taste of Rice Flower brims with positive energy unlike its visually alluring but oppressed predecessor and takes a more pragmatic approach to its marginalised characters who are also caught in the cultural maelstrom of 21st century change. Pengfei gently ruminates on the lives of these ethnic minorities, and the result is enchanting. Many Eastern cultures have travelled to the West and the large cities in search of work, and although it’s normal for their young to be left at home with older members of the family, the naturally presents a challenge for both children and parents, and this is the focus of the narrative. Ying Ze – who co-wrote with Penfei – plays the mother (Ye Nan) whose city experience has left its sophisticated mark on her appearance and tastes, but she is now glad to be home. But village life is far from idyllic as the local women complain about dressing in costume for an cultural event and the children have all the latest gadgets and modern labels, not to mention a newfound sense of entitlement, as they try to bargain for favours with their elders.

Sadly Ye Nan’s daughter (Ye Bule) has gone the same way, although insecurity and latest resentment could be the reason for her bad behaviour and lack of parental guidance. When he school friend Xianglu (Ye Men), falls ill the elders try to cure the girl with their shamanistic rituals — eventually leads to tragedy.

Taste of Rice Flower is a simple parable but never drifts into melodrama or cliche. If offers Pengfei a chance to raise the profile of changing values emerging out of a clash in tradition and modern life. The humour is often subtle but effective, and Liao Pen-jung’s ravishing visuals find beauty in everyday life in a thoughtful and subtle insight into contemporary China. MT


Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

Writer/Dir: S Craig Zahler | Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Tom Guiry, Don Johnson, Udo Kier, Fred Melamed | Thriller | US | 132′

Vince Vaughn plays a lean, mean, decent human being in S. Craig Zahler’s terrific BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99. infact its almost impossible to believe the integrity of the lead character Bradley Thomas who is forced to do what a man’s gotta do when his pregnant wife is kidnapped and threatened with death and the mutilation of her baby, in this tightly scripted vicious crime thriller that puts all Thomas’ problems down to the Mexican drug trade he’s involved in. With lines like: “Don’t call me a foreigner, the last time I looked the flag wasn’t coloured red, white and burrito”, this is a free-spirited affair that grabs you by the lapels with its straight-talking narrative and some of the best bare-fisted fighting scenes ever committed to celluloid. In fact the only criticism of BRAWL is the slighted bloated running time of over two hours, hardly a crime thanks to the fruity cast who keep us entertained throughout, with some awkward laughs at the unmitigated violence of it all. Vaughn is terrific as the guy who tries to salvage his ailing marriage by financing his future running drugs for a local gangster, but ends up in jail for defending his accomplices in a pick-up that goes wrong.

Best known for his Western Horror Bone Tomahawk, S. Craig Zahler packs genre tropes into a endlessly moving action thriller that continuously erupts with shocking violence. Vaughn’s Thomas is a solid mensch of a man whose stoicism and emotional intelligence is trounced only by his courage and physical prowess. After being made redundant he pulverises his wife’s car into the driveway, rather than take his anger out of her, despite her confessing to an affair, which the two resolve in calm dialogue each admitting their faults. After being convicted and set to the ‘FRJ’ prison, Thomas resolves to tough it out with his wife’s support, but a sinister threat from the beautifully-besuited Udo Kier,  sends Thomas into slowly unravelling meltdown. At this juncture, the film turns from a sober crime drama to something outlandishly deranged.  There are memorable vignettes from suave prison warder Don Johnson, snippy guard, Fred Melamed and a seething Mustafa Shakir. The dialogue is witty and sardonic as the body count rises and the nightmare reaches its astonishing denouement, with our hero setting a new benchmark for the all time action hero and 21st century man. MT


Hunting Season (2017) | San Sebastian Film Festival 2017

Dir/Writer: Natalia Garagiola. Argentina/USA/France/Germany/Qatar | 105′ | Drama 

Natalia Garagiol’s feature debut is an evocative and nuanced take of alienation that makes good use of its stunning locations in windswept Patagonia to tell a well-drawn and convincingly performed story of family discord in Argentina.

In the opening scenes teenager Nahuel (Lautaro Bettoni) is expelled from his Buenos Aires boarding School after a tiff on the games field and is shipped off by his affable stepfather Bautista (Boy Olmi) to spend some time with his distant father Ernesto in a wintery Patagonia. Here father and son keep continue to keep their distance in the new family set-up consisting of wife Clara (Rita Pauls) and three young step-sisters.

Game ranger Ernesto takes Nahuel hunting with him and teaches him how to use a gun in the hope of bonding after their difficulties and gradually the two become less frosty towards one another to despite a distinct verbal froideur in this story telegraphed by its often menacing atmosphere – mostly over the dinner table – in body language rather than meaningful dialogue. In flashbacks it emerges that the rift between the men seems to have developed after the loss of Nahuel’s mother but all this plays out in the final scenes via a video on his mobile and a roadside contretemps with his dad.

Fernando Lockett’s blue-tinged images often picture Nahuel as a distant and disengaged character who is ruminative, morose and miserable in common with the icy landscapes surrounding him. The only solace appears to be from Bautista, although it’s unclear why Nahuel can’t stay with him, rather with his hostile father, who seems to hold some grudge against him as the pair eventually thrash it out with some success. With appeal for young audiences as well as the arthouse crowd, TEMPORADA DE CAZA is a sure-footed first feature for Garagiola and a deserving winner of the SIC Award at this year’s Mostra. MT


Venice Film Festival 2017 | Awards


nico-1988Yesterday the 74. Mostra de Arte Cinematografica in Venice came to an end with a prize giving that symbolised the whole festival in many ways. The Golden Lion for best film went to Guillermo del Toro for his utterly empty second-hand spectacle THE SHAPE OF WATER. Anything really radical was mostly ignored not only by the juries, but in the programme in nearly all the sections. At least the Orizzonti Award was won by Susanna Nicchiarelli’s NICO, 1988, a stunning biopic of the final years of the renowned model and musician Christa Pfaffen, played by a feisty Trine Dyrholm.

Del Toro’s very thin narrative of a mute woman falling in love with an amphibious creature, used by the CIA in the Cold War of the 1950s, is a total rip-off: it uses the main protagonists of Rachel Ingall’s 1986 novel MRS. CALIBAN, the creature itself is a replica of the titular CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (Jack Arnold, 1954), and the story is a compilation of countless cold war spy movies of the Eisenhower era, when the Red menace was infiltrating the USA. Whilst no money was spared for design and images, del Toro’s feature might not have won without the help of Annette Bening, Hollywood actress and – first female – jury president. And talking of Jack Arnold (1912-1992), his INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) was re-made by Alexander Payne in DOWNSIZING (Competition). The Hollywood veteran had also a hand in one of the Wonder Woman TV-series of 1977.

_0000_insult_01The rest of the awards were given to worthy contenders such as Samuel Maoz for his critical view of war torn Israel in the shape of FOXTROT  (Grand Jury Prize), or simply politically correct features like SWEET COUNTRY by Warwick Thornton (Jury Prize) and Xavier Legrand with his JUSQU’A LA GARDE/CUSTODY (Best Director). Really dark portraits of the USA, like Paul Schrader’s FIRST REFORMED, were ignored, or got a minor nod for best screenplay like the brilliant THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri (THE INSULT) was equally treated, his main actor Kamel El Basha got the award for Best Actor, but the provocative feature about Palestinians living in Lebanon, went unrewarded.

zamaThe only feature worth the Venice journey was hidden in the Out of Competition section: Lucretia Martel’s ZAMA. Her story of a Spanish officer on duty in South America, who yearns for a return to his homeland but is repeatedly thwarted, is an intense study of a man losing his mind, identity and finally part of his body. This arthouse treasure is both utterly frightening and glorious to look at: Martel takes her time introducing the protagonists, before plunging head first into the demise of her hero. Why Zama was not part of the competition, is one of the many questions many asked of Venice director Alberto Barbera, but got a dusty answer in return.

l-utopie-des-images-de-la-revolution-russeOften one had to go to the Retrospective Classics, to find solace: Claude Chabrol’s rarely shown L’OEIL DU MALIN (with a very young Stephane Audran) was a discovery, Ozu’s THE FLAVOUR OF GREEN TEA OVER RICE was towering, and Emmanuel Hamon’s L’UTOPIE DES IMAGES showed the destruction of Soviet cinema at the hands of Stalinist bureaucrats. The Lion’s share of these nineteen features and nine documentaries in the Retrospective Section offered more infinitely more satisfaction than stoically working your way through the anodyne contemporary offerings.

wormwoodIronically, the only other film that stands out besides ZAMA is Errol Morris six-part Netflix series WORMWOOD, a docu-drama about the murder of an US scientist by the CIA, who participated in the biological warfare of his nation in the Korean war, and wanted to blow the whistle. A number of quality films did feature in the Awards: Sara Forestier’s debut M (Giornate degli Autori) where a stuttering girl and her illiterate boyfriend help each other to overcome their difficulties; and Alireza Khatami’s OBLIVION VERSES (ORIZZONTI), a poetic feature about death and perception. But that is not enough to compensate for all the mediocre or downright awful features littering this 74th edition of the Mostra, the standout here being Darren Aronofsky’s MOTHER! another pale imitation – this time aping Rosemary’s Baby. We will hope for better things. AS





BEST ACTRESS – Charlotte Rampling, HANNAH





Mother! (2017)

Dir/Writer: Darron Aronofsky | Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson | 120′ | DRAMA

Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer star in Darren Aronofsky’s highly anticipated psychological thriller about a couple threatened by the arrival of uninvited guests. MOTHER! is best described as a melodrama that portrays the existential angst of a young woman as she tries to build a home and tend to the obsessively humourless needs her ego-driven writer/husband in their precious early days of their marriage. Beset by anxiety about getting pregnant and pleasing her partner (Javier Bardem) in bed, she runs herself into the ground pandering to his quirky demands which become increasingly unbearable when he invites a dying and neurotic man – and gradually – his extended family into their home who they rapidly outstay their welcome with their own demands in this nightmarish scenario.
This, in a nutshell, is the plot – which sounds bad enough – but the execution is even more inbearable for both Jennifer’s Lawrence’s character, simply called ‘the mother’, and the rest of us. MOTHER! spews out from Lawrence’s POV like a free-flowing torrent of endless sewerage effluent: we are forced to endure her partner/husband Javier Bardem’s petulant posturing, then those of his guest in the shape of Ed Harris’ surgeon, who spends his time smoking, vomiting and talking about his terminal illness, and is soon joined by his snippy wife Michelle Pfeiffer who adds to the mother’s general feelings of unease with her patronising comments and bitchy jibes. Soon more characters join the fray. DP Matthew Libatique’s camera is like a voyeur scanning proceedings from above, and prowling the rooms where bloody stains (putatively representing an aborted foetus) seem to seep from every crack and cranny, with repetitive views into the lavatory basin. Mother! Lacks the rich texture and arthouse credentials of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby but it feels similar in tone, although more irritating than anxiety-provoking. Entertaining it is not, but it loosely does the job of conveying discomfort: thus achieving its goal of inducing general misery to Lawrence’s character and the audience. It’s a toxic and offensive film to watch, which will no doubt please the horror crowd. So do go and be irritated- you have been warned. MT
Darren Aronofsky was born in Brooklyn and studied live-action and animated film at Harvard. His feature films include Pi (98) and Noah (14), and the Festival selections Requiem for a Dream(00), The Fountain (06), The Wrestler (08), and Black Swan (10). mother! (17) is his latest film.

Strange Colours (2017) | Venice Film Festival 2017

Dir: Alena Lodkina | Cast: Kate Chile, Justin Cortin, Daniel P Jones | Australia | Drama | 85′

Another film from Australia had its debut in the Biennale College sidebar selection where budding filmmakers have a chance to shine away from the main competition. STRANGE COLOURS is beautifully captured mood piece directed by Alena Lodkina who co-scripts with Isaac Wall in this unsettling tale of a young woman returning to see her hospitalised father Max in the remote opal-mining outback of Lighting Ridge, near Alice Springs.

Milena (Kate Cheel) arrives in the hostile terrain after a day-long journey to get short shrift from her cantankerous dad (Daniel P Jones) who merely comments: “you’re not bouncing around like a tennis ball, are ya?”. This is macho man territory and the terse locals see her for her feminine charms rather than personal attributes, a dishevelled older man invites her to a party to meet other drifters: “Even if you’re broke, you can live here”. But she declines and gets an early night in her father’s ramshackle pad. The following morning reveals this as a backwater for single male bottomfeeders, who drink and chat to pass the days. But one of them, in the shape of mine-worker Frank (Justin Courtin), seems more intriguing, leading to the enigmatic second act of this well-paced feature debut.

There’s a cinéma vérite quality to STRANGE COLOURS which indicates Lodkina’s documentary background in a style that associates well with the local flora and fauna of the region adding textural richness to this rather mournful, elusive narrative. There’s gorgeous sequence that shows the glowing irridescent quality of the opals and brings an otherworldliness to the feature that is heightened by Mikey Young’s  eerie occasional score.

Suddenly the pace seems to quicken as Milena pursues Frank across the bleached out landscape and the two end up sharing a night together, but Milena promptly decides to leave the following day, a decision that feels prescient considering the facts that slowly emerge. This is a seductive and weirdly beguiling feature that tells the tale of lost souls and those waiting to be found in a distant country forsaken by time. MT


Tueurs | Killers (2017) | Venice Film Festival 2017

Dir: FRANÇOIS TROUKENS, JEAN-FRANÇOIS HENSGENS  | Belgium, France / 86’ |cast: Olivier Gourmet, Lubna Azabal, Kevin Janssens, Bouli Lanners

The first feature by a notorious 1990s ex-gangster turned director ABOVE THE LAW (Tueurs) is a high-octane, on the boil Belgian crime thriller that follows a hard-edged armed gangster who, in predictable style, has just completed his final heist. As the ideal suspects, Valken and his gang find themselves caught up in a criminal case dating from thirty years earlier. It looks as if the outlaws are back.

The chilling opening scenes remind us of the notorious ‘Brabant Killers’ who remained at large evading the authorities; archive footage showing how they gunned down 28 innocent bystanders in a series of town centre raids in the early 1980s. This glossy noir then takes shape 30 years later with another crime involving an explosion in the underground carpark in contemporary Brussels, where all witnesses are subsequently eliminated including the investigating inspector Veronique Perotte (Natacha Régnier). The narrative then flips back to the weeks preceding the murders where Olivier Gourmet’s Frank Valken and his gang prepare for the heist.

But the police and security forces have finally got their act together, headed by Bouli Lanners’ Dany Bouvy and astute detective Lucie Tesla (Lubna Azbal). As crime thrillers go, this is run of mill stuff but terrifically well-crafted and expertly performed in its slick Belgian settings that showcase the city’s underbelly and aerial views rather than it’s more refined venues. Clément Dumoulin’s throbbing occasional score keeps the action turning over in the breathless action sequences. MT


Oblivion Verses | Los Versos del Olvido (2017) | Venice Film Festival 2017

Dir: Alireza Khatami | Doc | Iran | 89′

Alireza Khatami’s intriguingly elusive debut feature draws you into its kafkaesque scenario where poetic realism coalesces with cinema verite elements and docu-drama to tell a tale set in a rural mortuary in the distant aftermath of murderous regimes, although the South American country of its setting isn’t named.

Juan Margallo plays the establishment’s wizened 24-hour caretaker and he seems to know a great deal more about his defunct and unclaimed residents than we initially imagine. He looks on laconically as one man arrives and weeps pitifully over a recent corpse in the morgue’s vast basement. We also meet a gravedigger (Tomas del Estal) and hearse driver (Maunel Moron)  who perform their tasks with quiet resignation when some putative assassins turn up with bodies from a recent debacle in the local town.

The narrative remains evasive in this mood piece, but there is a great deal to admire in DoP Antoine Heberle’s fizzingly vibrant images that capture the daily doings in the morgue and the fascinating characters that inhabit it and flesh out the backstories of their lives and how they met their grim fates. Haunting and arcane, this is a film that seduces you with its macabre charm and leaves you speculating and scheming for hours after the credits have rolled. MT


Nico, 1988 (2017) | Venice Film Festival

Writer/Dir: Susanna Nicchiarelli | Cast: Trine Dyrholm, John Gordon Sinclair | Biopic drama | 93′ | Italia, Belgium

Danish singer and actress Trine Dyrholm holds centre stage as the maverick ’70s icon Nico in this stylishly cinematic third feature from Roman director Susanna Nicchiarelli.

NICO, 1988 focuses on the final years of the Berlin-born Christa Pfaffen who died in 1988, aged 49, having enjoyed a full life as mother to Alain Delon’s son, lover to Jim Morrison and muse to Andy Warhol – while also writing vocals for legendary band Velvet Underground.

Resenting the ’80s, Nico emerges a single-minded sullen misanthrope who takes no hostages amongst her associates or band-members while exuding a vulnerable charisma: “I’ve been at the top and the bottom – both places are empty”. Her final lasting love is for her son, a playfully convincing Sandor Funtek (Blue is the Warmest Colour). John Gordon Sinclair gives a dour turn as her manager but Dyrholm dominates in an astonishingly powerful performance.

Even if you’re not a fan, this enterprising part-imagined drama has pleasurably Noirish undertones sashaying through live sessions based on Nico’s last European tour: Paris, Prague, Nuremberg and even Manchester look tantalising through Crystel Fournier’s vibrant lensing as each perfectly composed frame resonates with Nico’s born-again soul. MT



Victoria & Abdul (2017) | Venice Film Festival 2017

Dir: Stephen Frears | Cast: Judi Dench, Adeel Akhtar, Michael Gambon, Olivia Williams, Simon Callow, Eddie Izzard | UK | Drama | 112′

Queen Victoria had an eye for a good-looking man and clearly missed love and sex after her beloved husband Albert died. In his latest racially-themed, glossily-mounted costume drama Stephen Frears makes hay of the final years of Victoria’s reign (from 1887-1901) with this elegantly saucy snapshot of her last dalliance, purely purely based on friendship and companionship, between the Queen and an Indian clerk, Abdul Karim, sent from Agra to deliver a gold medal in recognition of her Golden Jubilee.

Judy Dench plays Victoria and we really feel for her when she tearfully expresses her feelings of abject loneliness, isolation and responsibility as longest-standing British Monarch and Empress of India: “everyone I loved has died, and I just go on”. Ali Fazal steps fills the void as a convincing Karim who goes on to become her teacher, spiritual adviser and devoted friend. Lee Hall’s witty and engaging script trips lightly over the casual racism of the era contrasting the bitter rivalry and infighting of her courtiers and fey son Bertie with the fair and liberal-minded attitude of Queen Victoria herself in this enjoyable and sumptuously-crafted royal romp. MT

Stephen Frears was born in Leicester, England, and studied law at Cambridge University. His films Sammy and Rosie Get Laid(87), Tamara Drewe (10), and The Program (15) all screened at the Festival, as did his Academy Award–nominated features My Beautiful Laundrette (85), The Grifters (90), Dirty Pretty Things(02), Mrs. Henderson Presents (05), and Philomena (13). His other films include Dangerous Liaisons (88), The Hi-Lo Country(98), High Fidelity (00), and The Queen (06). Victoria & Abdul(17) is his latest film.



La Vita in Comune (2017) | Venice Film Festival 2017

Dir: Edoardo Winspeare | Italy / 110’ |cast: Gustavo Caputo, Antonio Carluccio, Claudio Giangreco, Celeste Casciaro

A cultured mayor, a semi-retired gangland boss and a troubled teen are three of the convincing characters in Edoardo Winspeare’s tender-hearted but rambling comedy drama that doesn’t know how to end. LA VITA IN COMUNE is set in the picturesque Puglian seaside town of Disperata that, contrary to its name, is a place that hasn’t been completely abandoned by God’s salvation, as we discover in this lyrical look at life after crisis.

Thoughtfully played by its cast of mainly newcomers LA VITA IN COMUNE is a  humorous tale whose tender-hearted warmth comed from the lasting hope that literature, nature and animals can provide the power of healing for the human soul. Mayor Filippo Pisanelli (Gustavo Caputo) feels inadequate in his job of leading his depressed village towards the light, compensating with voluntary work while instilling an appreciation of poetry in the lost and lonely souls of recently released criminal Pati and his teenage son Biagetto, and ex-gangster brother Angiolino. Gradually these disenchanted men find their way back through his perseverance, and their belief in God.

The film opens as Pati Runza (Claudio Giangreco) is robbing a local petrol station killing a dog that attacked him and his brother in the process. He is taken to prison, while his brother Angiolino (Antonio Carluccio) gives Biagetto some toughening up lessons, including how to use a gun. There is also another man, who is central in all the action: the mayor Filippo Pisanelli (Gustavo Caputo). After being released, Pati is deeply affected by killing the dog and starts to dream that the animal has been sanctified in Heaven. Convinced that he has been touched by the hand of God through the dog’s death, he tries to become a better man, but Angiolino is not keen on the whole idea as he needs Pati’s help with another planned robbery. So Pati appeals to Pope Francis for support, and, low and behold, The Pope gives Angiolino a call, or so we are led to believe. Meanwhile, Pati’s estranged wife, Eufemia (Celeste Casciaro), enters the fray in a desperate attempt to knock some sense and normality into the menfollk.

Delicately captured in the rolling seascapes of Southern Italy’s stiletto, Winspeare shows the soft underside of a region normally protrayed with brutality and violence. Although the narrative drifts rather in the final stages there is much to be enjoyed in this often tougue in cheek ant-mafiosi drama.



Endangered Species |ESPÈCES MENACÉES (2017) | Venice Film Festival 2017

 Dir: Gilles Bourdos | France, Belgium / 105’ | cast: Alice Isaaz, Vincent Rottiers, Grégory Gadebois, Suzanne Clément

Gilles Bourdos’ interlocking trio of stories from American writer Richard Bausch is strangely unengaging despite the colourful antics of its central character Josephine, gamely played here by Alice Isaaz.

After his sumptuous but flaccid biopic drama Renoir French director Gilles Bourdos travels to the Riviera for his latest offering, the vividly shot but narratively over-ambitious and uneven Endangered (Doomed) Species where Josephine is variously beset by difficult characters in her life: a macho tree-surgeon husband; a difficult new neighbour and his pregnant daughter; her future husband and his PhD student whose mother is finally institutionalised.

The first two stories unfurl prodigiously showcasing Josephine’s fraught wedding night with tattooed groom Tomas (Vincent Rottiers from Renoir) ending in tears for the bride, not auguring well for their future and echoing the doomed relationship of her parents (Gregory Gadebois, Suzanne Clement). The second sequence features an incendiary phone call between the pregnant Melanie (Alice de Lenquesaing) and her father, Vincent (Eric Elmosnino) telling him of her putative marriage to a man (Carlo Brandt) nearly forty years her senior, while his news of divorce pales into insignificance in the process. The third and weakest story features Damien Chappelle’s Anthony (who is also a student of Melanie’s father’s baby) and his deranged mother Nicole (Brigitte Catillon).

Bourdos aims to explore the dynamics, pressures and loyalties of family and how ‘sins of the father’ infect future generations, but in doing so some of his characters are not as fully fleshed out as the others, particularly those of Melanie and her partner and Anthony and his difficult love life. The overbearing score often threatens to dominate a film gorgeously captured and vivaviously realised in its ravishing Riviera locations making this an occasionally enjoyable watch despite its drawbacks. MT


M (2017) | Venice Film Festival 2017

Dir.: Sara Forestier, Cast: Sara Forestier, Redouanne Harjene, Jean-Pierre Leaud, |France 2017, 100 min.

Actor and director Sara Forestier creates a simple but moving love story of two outsiders who, against all odds, give each other a new start in life. Wonderfully acted by Forestier and Harjene in the leads, M is passionate, but never soppy.

Lila (Forestier) is living with her grumpy, lazy father (Leaud) and her capricious little sister in a rundown flat. Days ares spent with household chores and looking after her sister and working towards BAC examinations. Lila stutters, and is made fun of in the classroom, even though she is by far the brightest student in the class. Then she meets Mo, an Arab guy who makes a living doing daredevil stunts with his car, and the two seem to be heading for a doomed romance with not much of a future. But Mo is able to loosen her up giving her confidence inspite of her speech impediment. Whilst Lila is progressing her life, the secretly illiterate Mo, loses his job in Lila’s father’s restaurant: he cannot function without reading the orders. Lila’s growing success turns the tables on her romance as she has a one last crack at breaking Mo’s defences down. M enjoys some amusing moments and those between the sisters, are often hilarious. Jean-Pierre Leaud is superb as Lila’s strict but tight-lipped father, hardly ever saying a word, feeling trapped by his paternal role yet never offering any emotional support. Harjane is vulnerability and macho aggression rolled into one. Overall M is a brave debut showing that detail not big ideas often make for an engaging intimate domestic drama. This is a heart-warming tale set in a world of conflicts on all levels. AS


The Insult (2017) | Venice Film Festival 2017

the-shape-of-waterA TALE OF TWO FILMS

This morning’s Venice competition films could have not have been more different. There was Guillermo Del Toro’s blockbuster THE SHAPE OF WATER, mainstream Hollywood, beautifully framed – but empty and second-hand. Then we watched THE INSULT, by Lebanese director/co-writer Ziad Doueiri (West Beirut), produced by five companies as far apart as Lebanon and the USA and shot on a shoestring, THE INSULT  is set in contemporary Beirut, still suffering from the wounds of the civil war. Del Toro’s tale is set in 1962 Baltimore, at the height of the Cold War. Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a cleaner, isolated, because she is mute. The Defence Ministry Institute she works for, is run by the security villain Strickland (Michael Shannon), who is in charge of an amphibian creature (very much the replica of the creature from the Blue Lagoon), who is also wanted by Russian spies. Elisa and the creature connect and fall in love, and in spite of being shot dead by Strickland, will have a happy under-water future. SHAPE OF WATER is not even secondhand, it is just a wishful retelling of the sort of movies produced by Hollywood in the 50s and early 60s: colourful entertainment for teenagers, before they graduate to adult entertainment. Every shot is artificially framed for the maximum effect, recreating an idyllic world of mild suspense. But the characters are all cartoon figures, making the dialogue superfluous. Production Department and DoP got the Lion’s share of the budget, but the creativity did not stretch to the script department, as is often the case. The result is Jack Arnold meets Douglas Sirk, with Del Toro as the apprentice who loses any originality in the transposition. **

the-insultZiad Doueiri tries hard to make the most out of his scarce resources and succeeds in keeping the audience engaged during the tale of a seemingly mundane conflict which could have led to an outbreak of civil war in Beirut. Toni is a garage owner in the capital, and not too fond of his Palestinian neighbours. When one of them, Yasser, who works as a para-legal for a building company, repairs the leaking drainpipe of his flat. Toni wants an apology, after having destroyed the new pipe. Toni insults Yasser, shouting that wished General Ariel Sharon had killed all Palestinians. Yasser retaliates, breaking his opponent’s two ribs. In court, Yasser is found not guilty, but Toni does not give up, engaging a new, very political lawyer for the retrial. Yasser is represented by the daughter of Toni’s lawyer, who hates her father. All sides are set for a trial by media, whilst the political atmosphere in the city reaches breaking point, as fighting breaks out in the city starts. Doueiri makes it clear that this is a story of male male egos loving nothing a verbal and physical confrontation. The men hold their other side responsible for their or their family’s suffering, overlooking the 1990s civil war where Christian Falange and Palestinian PLO fighters both committed atrocities against the civilian population. But Toni and Yasser seem to use the past as a competitive replay of whose side suffered the most. Before the opening credits, the Lebanese government insisted on a disclaimer, distancing themselves from the film. We wonder why….. ****


Rosita (1923) | Venice Film Festival 2017

Dir.: Ernst Lubitsch, Cast: Mary Pickford, Holbrook Blinn, Irene Rich, George Walsh, USA 1923, 97 min.

Countless rumors surround the making of Lubitsch’ first US film – never mind the aftermath, when Mary Pickford, whose company produced the film, had all but the last reel destroyed. She claimed that she and Lubitsch disliked each other, even though the Berlin-born director came to Hollywood invited by her “to shoot an adult picture” and get the star away from the image of a little girl. One can say  Lubitsch succeeded – surely he did not need the rumoured help of Raoul Walsh.

The story line is slim, as in the many “thousands” of films Lubitsch had directed, causing Kracauer to condemn most of them as mindless entertainment. Rosita (Pickford) is a street singer in Seville and is fancied by the philandering King (Blinn). He has her arrested, but a nobleman, Don Diego (Walsh), rescued her, killing an officer of the guard in the process. The King condemns him to death, seeing in him a rival for the love of Rosita. But all ends well, thanks to the intervention of the wily Queen (Rich).

With a new score from Gillian Anderson and updated intertitles from MOMA this feels an even more grandiose occasion. The mass scenes are brilliantly directed and Lubitsch changes colours three times: most scenes are shot in sepia-brown, the scenes in the prison are shot in dark black and white, whilst some other scenes are have a grainy, more modern feeling. Add on some spectacular orange firework and you get the idea: this would be Lubitsch’ calling card for Hollywood after he went there for good. We have the St. Petersburg film archive to thank for the negative, which allowed the restauration of this small but glittering gem. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 30 August to 9 September 2017

Venice Film Festival | Sidebar Selection | Orizzonti | Specials


COSIMO GOMEZ – BRUTTI E CATTIVI Italy/Japan , 87′ Claudio Santamaria, Marco D’Amore, Sara Serraiocco 

Israel, 92′
Ala Dakka, Tzahi Grad, Osnat Fishman AMICHAI GREENBERG –

Israel, Austria, 91′
Ori Pfeffer, Rivka Gur, Hagit Dasberg Shamul, Ori Yaniv 

Iran, 104′
Amir Agha’ee, Navid Mohammadzadeh, Hediyeh Tehrani, Sa’eed Dakh 

France/Germany/Chile/Ned 92′
Juan Margallo, Tomas Del Estal, Manuel Moron, Itziar Aizpuru

France/Japan , 79′
Kogawa Takara, Kogawa Keiki, Kogawa Takashi, Kogawa Chisato

Sadaf Asgari, Amir Reza Ranjbaran, Nafiseh Zare, Sahar Sotoodeh

Francia, Belgio, 105’
Alice Isaaz, Vincent Rottiers, Grégory Gadebois, Suzanne Clément

Usa, 91′

France, 115′
con Finnegan Oldfield, Isabelle Huppert, Grégory Gadebois, Vincent Macaigne

Argentina, Brasil, Uruguay, Germany, France, 87′
con Mora Arenillas, Mara Bestelli, Diego Cremonesi

Italy/ France , 87′
Claudio Santamaria, Marco D’Amore, Sara Serraiocco

Italy, Belgium, 93′
Tryne Dyrholm, John Gordon Sinclair, Anamaria Marinca, Sandor Funter

Germany, 93′
Ulrich Matthes, Barbara Auer

Australia, 78’
Damian Hill, Ty Perham, Kat Stewart, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Arthur Angel

Italia, 86′

Iceland, Denmark, Poland, Germany, 89′
Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson, Edda Björgvinsdóttir, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir



LUCRECIA MARTEL – ZAMA | Argentina, Brazil 115′


RITESH BATRA – OUR SOULS AT NIGHT | Usa, 101’ | Jane Fonda, Robert Redford




MICHAEL R ROSKAM – LE FIDELE | Belgium, France, Ned 130′

DAVID BATTY – MY GENERATION [ DOC | UK, 85’ | Michael Caine 


STEPHEN FREARS – VICTORIA & ABDUL | UK, 149’ | Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard


RACHID HAMI – LA MÉLODIE | France 102’ |Kad Merad, Samir Guesmi, Renély Alfred, Youssouf Gueye

TAKESHI KITANO – OUTRAGE CODA | Japan 104’ | Beat Takeshi, Nishida Toshiyuki



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