Archive for the ‘Venice 2018’ Category

Carmine Street Guitars (2018) ****

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

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

Aquarela (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir: Viktor Kossakovsky | Doc | UK | 89’

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

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

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

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


The Nightingale (2018) ****

Dir. Jennifer Kent. Australia. 2018. 136′

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Our Time (Nuestro Tiempo) ****

Dir.: Carlos Reygadas, Cast: Carlos Reygadas, Natalia Lopez, Phil Burgers; Mexico/ France/ Germany/ Denmark/Sweden 2018, 173 min.

Carlos Reygadas is one of the few auteurs who have kept their independence and their unique style, Our Time is the story of a ménage-à-trois set high up in the Mexican mountains, where a Bunūel-like, surreal narrative develops in this fresh and original feature. which Reygadas also stars.

Reygadas stars as Juan living with his wife Ester (Lopez) and their three children on a huge farm, where they breed bulls to fight in the arena. Ester seems very much in charge of the enterprise, whilst Juan is more interested in writing poetry and libretti for operas. Enter horse breeder Phil (Burgers), who falls for Ester and upsets the equilibrium of family and work life. Juan is upset when he finds out about Ester’s liaison: he is not at all the man he pretends to be and Juan reacts with jealousy and temper tantrums, before a visit to a dying friend changes him: he starts to communicate with both Ester and Phil, but also wants to be near them when they make love. He begins to see the affair as a stage play where he takes part but also directs; and while he’s in control the situation is bearable, mitigating the emotional effect of the fallout . The parallels to the actual shooting of the feature eventually become obvious.

Reygadas contrasts the various strands of the narrative: Juan and Esther go to Mexico City to participate in cultural events, where he is feted. The rather long preamble shows the couple’s two younger children hanging out with friends near a lake on their farm. Meanwhile the oldest son gets a taste of first love, not wanting to return to boarding school at the end of the summer. All this is obviously dwarfed by the marriage crisis. Reygadas’ lets his zany sense of sense of humour lose in the way he allows the five-year old daughter to read out a running commentary on the state of her parent’s marriage. 

DoP Diego Garcia’s rain-soaked foggy landscape contrast poetically with the urban chaos and glittering nightime panoramas. Reygadas’ inventive narrative snakes its way to a surprising denouement, leaving the interpretation open and showing that he is still in very much in love with filmmaking in a playful way. AS


Never Look Away (2018) **

Dir.: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck; Cast: Tom Schilling, Sebastian Koch, Paula Beer, Saskia Rosendahl, Oliver Masucci; Italy/Germany 2018, 188 min.

After The Life of Others Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck makes another ambitious but deeply unfilmic foray that tackles three decades of his country’s history from Nazi Germany of the late 1930s right through to the GDR, and finally the FRG. The focus is an anti-hero and his sympathetic counterpart. 

In Dresden 1937 the young Elisabeth May takes her young nephew Kurt Barnert to see an exibition of ‘Entartete Kunst’, showing paintings by Picasso, Kandinsky and others forbidden in the Third Reich. The guide tells Kurt that he could do better than said works of art. But Elisabeth, a free spirit, tells the boy “never to look away” from beauty. Soon she is playing the piano naked. Her desperate family send her to Prof. Seeband (Koch), who is in charge of the local Euthanasia programme, thence to a special hospital where she is gassed with other citizens who are not “worth being kept alive”. 

Seeband is later captured by the Russians but helps to deliver the baby of a high-ranking officer who offers him a career in the GDR. The story then flips forward to see Kurt (Schilling), now in his twenties, falling in love with Ellie Barnert (who very much resembles Elisabeth), the two men begin an uneasy relationship. And when Ellie gets pregnant, her father carries out an abortion, making sure his daughter can no longer produce and have the Barnert family poison his own bloodline: Kurt’s father had committed suicide. 

Ellie and Kurt, both fed up with social realism at university, flee to West Berlin, and later settle in Dusseldorf where Kurt studies with a Beus-look-alike, professor von Verten (Masucci). Here Kurt finds his artistic calling, and also the true identity of his father-in-law, who had also settled very sucessfully in the FRG.

Von Donnersmarck is spot on in picturing life in Nazi Germany and the GDR, but his vision of the FRG, where the majority of ex-Nazis made a career, as far too easygoing. After all, cultural institutions such as the Art Academy in Dusseldorf, were unique places of artistic refuge. Where the film really falls down though is in the bland description of life. Considering Kurt is a painter, the cinematography is unimpressive and stale, calling to mind the “Alfred Weidemann” films of the late 50s and set in the FRG, where UFA veterans where still shooting in the style of the 1930s. Furthermore the acting is patchy, Beer the standout in a sea of rather hammy male performances. Despite a narrative spanning nearly thirty years nothing seems to change, the action is caught in a permanent time-warp where even Kurt’s final liberation feels unconvincing and artificial. Never Look Away is an uninventive saga that drags laboriously feeling even longer than its 3+ hours, AS


Your Face (2018) ***

Dir: Tsai Ming-liang | Doc, Taiwan 77′

Tsai Ming-liang’s work is very much an acquired taste. You will either love his   minimalist mode or find his slow-burning method intolerable. With Your Face (Ni de lian) he once again offers an acute observational experience, this time reflecting on the faces of twelve ordinary people whose candid reality is expressed in intimate close-up.

The characters he choses have all lived their lives, more or less. The camera contemplates their expressions often in freeze-frame and often in silence or calm discussion. And the ravages of time and their experiences – whether positive or negative – have marked their faces with characteristic lines and wrinkles. What stories do they tell or hide behind those sad eyes or emotive glances, taken from a single angle. The conceptual artist marks out another chapter in his cinematic journey seen through the dwellers of a flat in Stray Dogs or the Buddhist monk in Marseilles from in his Journey to the West.

Painstakingly he strips away extraneous detail to draw us in to these personal tales of woe or reflections of a life well-lived. Questions persist, doubts prevail, thoughts are laid bare. This is not for the faint-hearted but an immersive, often challenging proposition. But compelling, none the less, as we look into the windows or their souls in Zen-like tranquility.

Particularly engaging is the women who confesses to enjoy making money. What transpires is a tale of a twice married, business women who has a definite appeal. But it feels like she’s hiding something. Another woman expresses her regret at not spending more time with her parents, due to her work. A man owns up to his obsession with ‘pachinko’.

The final face belongs to Tsai’s young muse and collaborate Lee Kang-sheng, who appears in all his films. He shares his memoirs of student days and fatherhood. The final scene involves a long-held shot of an empty ballroom, but a human presence has either been there are may still appear. Somehow the camera reflects things that we don’t notice ourselves. It presents another view of our reality of ourselves. We have a best side, and a worse side: each project a different facet of our personalities. And this reflection shows that people are multi-faceted and richly diverse. As the camera observes them, even their stillness reveals hidden depths and throws up questions that challenge those who really observe.

Ryuichi Sakamoto’s occasional original score adds a certain integrity and dimension that very much compliments this richly meditative experience. MT


At Eternity’s Gate (2018) Netflix

Dir: Julian Schnabel | Cast: Willem Defoe, Oscar Isaac | US Drama | 111’

Julian Schnabel’s training as an artist informs another of his portraits of creativity like Basquiat, Reinaldo Arenas and Jean Dominique Bauby. With At Eternity’s Gate he turns his camera on the tragedy of Vincent van Gogh with this luminous vision of the artist’s final days in Provence.

There have been many broad brush insights into the painter’s troubled life recorders on the big screen; the most recent, Loving Vincent (2017) attempted a living painted drama of the Dutchman, while Van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing (2015) explored the prodigious correspondence with his brother Theo. The reason to see this one is Willem Dafoe’s fabulous fleshing out of the artist in his febrile, sun-drenched final days after the breakdown of his fraught friendship with Gauguin (an unremarkable Oscar Isaac).

Schnabel captures the glowering intensity of Van Gogh’s desperate descent in paranoia but also portrays the artist as a gentle introvert who was as much misunderstood as maligned by the petit parochialism of his Provençal neighbours.

Benoit Delhomme’s hand-held camera hovers around feverishly and vivid yellow predominates. Intense and intimate close-ups pan out into flaming widescreen vistas vibrating in the summer heat. The worst element is Tatiana Lisovskaya’s screeching score that will make you run for the exit. It over-eggs the already over-baked picture of dismay and despair..

Jean Claude Carriere writes with Schnabel and Louise Kugelberg (the latter also his co-editor) to sketch out the broad strokes of the narrative which opens in Paris in the late 1880s where van Gogh is an already an outsider amongst the Artistes Independents du jour. His financier and brother Theo (a well-cast Rupert Friend) cannot sell his avant-garde works, Vincent opining: “God made me a painter for people who are not born yet”. Only Gauguin appreciates his talent but the two are incompatible as housemates. 

“Go south, Vincent,” Gauguin tells him when van Gogh complains of rainy skies and fog, whereupon he moves to Arles where he discovers his yen for landscapes which glow and shimmer in the heat as Delhomme’s visuals capture the textures of roots, earth, leaves as well as the soft windswept pastures. We feel for Vincent when a schoolteacher (Anne Consigny) openly mocks his work in front of her kids, and after a violent outburst he is sent away from the town, admitting his fear of going mad – but it could be that he just hates people and prefers solitude, which is understandable amongst these cackling idiots.

With Gauguin he enjoys a companionable time until success takes him to Paris whereupon van Gogh starts to unravel emotionally with the famous ear incident. A doctor (Vladimir Consigny) suggests some therapy, that merely confines the artist to a straitjacket. Ironically this comes at the same time as an influential Paris art critic praises his work as uniquely sensual. Meanwhile a priest (Mads Mikkelsen in thoughtful mode) damns his vision and calls his work ugly. 

This sensuous re-imagining of the artist’s final days belongs to Dafoe whose craggy features and piercing blue eyes convey a lost and melancholy soul whose  sensitivity and artistic genius have now made him a household name . MT

NOW ON NETFLIX. TRAILER courtesy of Curzon Cinemas | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 Winner Best Actor: Willem Dafoe

Oscar Foreign Language Academy Awards 2019

Nine films were on the short list for the coveted Academy Awards Foreign Language title at the end of last year: Some are well known (COLD WAR, CAPERNAUM, SHOPLIFTERS) but AYKA comes from a country where there is hardly any structure let alone financing available for filmmakers, so Kazakhstan’s entry should be particularly applauded.

Denmark: The Guilty (Gustav Möller)

Möller’s feature debut premiered at Sundance in January 2018, winning the audience award in the world cinema dramatic competition. The entire film takes place in the claustrophobic confines of a Copenhagen emergency services station, where a former police officer (Jakob Cedergren) has to deal with gruelling telephone calls from a kidnapped woman.

Germany: Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

von Donnersmarck is very well thought of in German cinema circles and has a previously won in the category back in 2007 for his Cold War spy thriller The Lives Of Others. His latest sees an art student involved in a difficult situation at his college. We reviewed the film at Venice where it premiered in August 2018.

Poland: Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski)

Pawlikowski’s film opened in Cannes Competition in 2018 and won him a best director prize. Searingly beautiful, it chronicles a love story between two people from different walks of life, set against the backdrop of the Cold War in the 1950s in various cities in Europe. Pawlikowski has previously won this award back in 2015 for his war-themed drama Ida – but his multi-faceted films have been arthouse staples since he started out in the 1980s with his TV fare (Open Space and From Moscow to Pietuschki in 1990), his first feature was The Stringer (1998).

Colombia: Birds Of Passage (Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra)

An arthouse title that explores the narco-trafficking industry and its profound effects on Columbian society. Gallego and Guerra’s film opened Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 2018 but their breakout success was with Embrace Of The Serpent (with Guerra directing, Gallego producing).

Mexico: ROMA (Alfonso Cuarón)


Cuarón’s latest is a semi-autobiographical take on his own Mexico City upbringing, focusing on a middle-class family and their live-in housekeeper. With so many interesting stories coming out of Mexico, this is Cuarón’s first nomination in the category, although he has been nominated for six Oscars previously, winning best director and best editing for Gravity in 2014.

Japan: Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

Kore-eda’s cheeky story of a family living on on its uppers won the Palme d’Or in 2018.

Kazakhstan: Ayka (Sergey Dvortsevoy)

Living in abject poverty in Moscow, a young Kyrgyz woman tries to survive after abandoning her newborn, to return to her job. It premiered in the official Competition at Cannes in 2018.

Lebanon: Capernaüm (Nadine Labaki)

After her lively social drama Caramel, Labaki’s Cannes 2018 Competition entry is a more heavyweight but enjoyable story for its humanity and insight. Shot on the streets of Beirut using non-professional actors, the story follows the fate of a precocious but endearing 12 year-old boy who takes his parents to court.

South Korea: Burning (Lee Chang-dong)

Lee’s Cannes Competition title was the favourite amongst the critics at Cannes last year. It’s a psychological thriller but also a subtle love story based on Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning.

THE AWARDS TOOK PLACE in Los Angeles on 24 February 2019 

The Man Who Surprised Everyone (2018) **** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Natasha Merkulova, Aleksey Chupov | Cast: Evgeniy Tsiganov, Natalya Kudryashowa, Yuriy Kuznetsov, Vasiliy Popov, Pavel Maykov, Aleksey Filimonov, Elena Voronchikhina, Maksim Vitorgan | Drama | Russia Estonia France | 105’

Russian directing duo Natasha Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov tackle a thorny subject with deftness in this classically styled and  surprisingly moving arthouse drama that had its premiere in the Orizzonti sidebar at Venice Film Festival 2018

LGBT issues are still viewed with hostility back home in Russia but the leads are completely convincing in their subtlely nuanced and solemn portrayal of a modern couple coping with extremely challenging conditions in a remote rural outpost.

Egor is a respectable family man who we first meet navigating his boat along the Siberian Taiga where he works as a forest ranger looking out for poachers. He and his wife Natalia are expecting their second child when Egor discovers he has terminal cancer but keeps his wife in the dark about his imminent death. But this is not the only secret the thoughtful middle-aged man harbours, and the filmmakers gradually draw us in establishing the couple’s joint and several feelings of joy for her, and mounting grief and unease for him: Egor must bear alone the double burden of his cancer trauma and his nascent sexual yearnings that will certainly require his wife’s forbearance. When he tells Natasha she persuades Egor to seek further help in looking for a cure. But no traditional medicine or shamanic magic can save him. Finally, left with no other option, he makes a desperate attempt to escape the reality of his death by channelling his feelings into self-identifying as a woman with initial alarm to his close community, followed by anger, disbelief and acceptance by Natasha, and we feel for both of them. His family and the local society now have to accept his new self.

Moody rain-soaked settings and subdued interiors add to the feeling of angst and quiet desperation as the couple struggle on trapped by poverty and Natasha’s ageing and ailing father in a scenario that will be feel familiar to many.

This is a grim and provocatively complex tale that needs clever handling and one that could have gone severely awry with disastrous consequences without the skill of a competent directing team. But instead clever scripting, skilful handling of the complex issues at stake and sensitive performances make for an absorbing feature and one with considerable dramatic heft as we wait for the startling denouement that requires a certain leap of faith but one that feels plausible and satisfying in the circumstances.MT


Camorra (2018) ***

Dir; Francesco Patierno | Doc | Italy 70’

Francesco Patierno offers a pragmatic but mournful insight into the criminal identity of his birthplace Naples in this historical and socio-anthropological portrait of the capital of Campania in Southern Italy.

The phrase “see Naples and die” takes on a different meaning here from the one coined during the city’s Golden Age when it was the Bourbon capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Patierno seeks to show how the city’s criminal underbelly dealt with pernicious result of unemployment and poverty through powerful self-regulation that confined crime to the working classes.

Camorra is the result of months of research among the treasures of Rai Teche and the Riccardo Carbone archive. What emerges is a surprising trove of unseen news footage and period films from the 1960s to the 1990s, enlivened by a visceral score from local musician Meg.

The Camorra ‘phenomenon’ was born from a culture of subordination. Many post-war orphaned children found in it a structure to protect them from complete poverty and homelessness. They became street workers who learnt to sell cigarettes arriving as contraband from Morocco and further afield, smuggled in by the criminal underworld. Things changed with the advent of warlord Rafaele Cutolo, who unified the activity into a single large military and economic organization providing its members with an identity of social and territorial redemption. 

The culmination of Cutolo’s power coincides with one of the darkest events in the history of the Republic, when the Christian Democrat Ciro Cirillo was kidnapped by the Red Brigades and returned after a massive family ransom was paid. Cutolo negotiated with the terrorists for the release of the politician and the State remained in his debt.

Patierno adopts a different approach to the usual one involving the violence and blood-letting for which the organisation is known. His narrative searches for a meaning and an explanation for the Camorra’s existence, tracing its history and exploring the background of its protagonists, to offer a short but engaging watch. By understanding the roots of the organisation and its methods, positive change can hopefully be brought about.MT

NOW SHOWING AT BERTHADOCHOUSE and selected arthouse venues | VENICE FESTIVAL 2018

The Favourite (2018) *****

Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos. UK/Ireland/USA. 2018. 119 mins.

The Favourite is going to be a firm favourite with mainstream audiences and cineastes alike. This latest arthouse drama is the Greek auteur’s first to be written by Deborah Davis and Aussie Tony McNamara who bring their ‘English’ sensibilities to this quixotic Baroque satire that distills the essence of Kubrick, Greenaway and Molière in an irreverent and ravishingly witty metaphor for female treachery.

Set around 1710 during the final moments of Queen Anne’s reign it presents an artful female-centric view of courtly life seen from the unique perspective of three remarkable women, while on the battlefields England is at war with the French. Besides its period setting, The Favourite coins a world with exactly the same credentials as our own Brexit and Trump era.

Sparklingly witty and endlessly amusing this is a film that could play on forever yet still feels fresh and invigorating even after two hours. There is a charming subtlety and lightness of touch that is saucy and arch but never gross or uncouth with its references to Restoration Comedies of the era: Marivaux, Pope and Swift – while feeling completely contemporary and dernier cri.

Twenty years in the making with Lanthimos attached to the project since 2009, The Favourite is based on an original screenplay by Davis developed by Australian writer McNamara and is guilded by luminous performances from Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone amd Olivia Colman (as the Queen). Stone is a distant cousin of Weisz’s Lady Marlborough and comes to the court rather down on her luck and looking for protection. Slowly she weedles her way into the crippled and ailing Queen’s affections in a triumphant trajectory of treachery.

Colman plays Queen Anne (who reigned until 1714) with vulnerability and charisma as a whiny, insecure monarch. The Duke Of Marlborough has just won a crucial battle gainst the French during the War of Spanish Succession. The Whigs are gaining ground against the landowning Tories under Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult is superb).

The whole affair centres around the battle for power between these three women who are pivotal in the success of life at court and subsequently the country. The sumptuous interiors are shot in candlelight adding intrique and a Gothic frisson to Robbie Ryan’s stunning camerawork, his fish-eye lenses evoking a sense of menace and claustrophobia. Sandy Powell creates some seriously sexy costumes and the glory is topped off with an occasionally discordance original score from Purcell, Handel Vivaldi and British composer Anna Meredith, MT.


Roma (2018) ***

Dir.: Alfonso Cuaron; Cast: YalitzaAparacio, Marinade Tavira, Nancy Garcia, Fernando Grediaga, Veronica Garcia, Jorge Antonio Guerrero; USA/Mexico 2018, 135 min

Alfonso Cuaron’s sumptuous semi-autobiographical love letter to the woman who influenced his early life unfurls during a year in Mexico City. It’s 1970 and middle-class medics Sofia and Antonio have four children, three spirited boys and a girl. Meanwhile Cleo and Sofia live high up in the attic, trying to keep the emotionally unstable household together.

Cuaron cleverly establishes the key credentials of the bourgeois set up where people drive enormous cars they can’t even park, and Sofia (de Tavira) is no different. Stressed from Antonio’s frequent absences for work – today he’s off to Montevideo – she earns a decent salary as a biochemist, but has no passion for it.  As it turns out, Antonio (Grediaga) will only be gone for a week, but has secretly returned with his mistress. Meanwhile the rest of the family – along with caring grandmother Teresa (V. Garcia) – are off to spend Christmas on a nearby country estate, where Cleo (Aparacio) and Adela (N. Garcia) will celebrate in the staff quarters. Sofia makes the children write letters to their father, begging him to return, Cleo discovers she’s pregnant by boyfriend Fermin (Guerrero) who is part of a right-wing militia. In a terrifying scene during the Corpus Christmas massacre meeting, Fermin appears briefly in a nearby department store where the women are buying a cradle. He denies fathering Cleo’s child, and is dragged away by his friends to beat up students in the street. Everyday life goes on in this leisurely story of middle-class Latin America – it’s an evergreen saga that plays out like a tele-novela but with a transcendence that somehow lifts out of the ordinary. Cuaron pulls out all the stops, and the glorious 65mm black-and-white images reflect tension on all levels. Sofia and her mother Teresa are the caring matriarchs. Husband Antonio is seen as cruel, petty and vindictive. Cleo and Adela are the willing victims of class and conditioning, the outside world is shown is a hostile backdrop. Cuaron never breaks with any clichés, but he is unable to be understated and analytical due to his personal links to the narrative. In contrast, Mexican director Lila Aviles’, The Chambermaid is a moving yet detached portrait of a hotel worker, echoing similar themes. Roma is graced with some scintillating performances, particularly from newcomers Yalitza Aparacio as Cleo, and Nancy Garcia as Teresa. Overall the bottom line here is that Cuaron’s a brilliant DoP, a good director but a lousy script-writer. AS


Suspiria (2018) ***

Dir.: Luca Guadagnino, Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Cloe Grace Moretz, Lutz Ebersdorf; USA/Italy 2018, 152 min.

Luca Guadagnino follows his much praised Call Me By Your Name with a rather confused and overloaded vision of Dario Argento’s horror classic, using the original script by Argento and Daria Nicoldi, re-written by David Kajganich (A Bigger Splash). 

Unfortunately the Kajganich has added new material, setting the narrative in Berlin at the height of the Baader Meinhof crisis. A running time of 152 minutes also tests the audience severely.

In the dank Autumn of 1977, Susie Bannian (Johnson) arrives from Ohio at the famous Dance School TANZ, near the Wall in West Berlin. There is an unsettling atmosphere at the academy, the two leading teachers Blanc (a luminously sinuous Swinton) and Markos are fighting for supremacy, the conflict a battle of life and death. Susie soon becomes the lead dancer, relegating Patricia (Moretz) and Sara (Goth) to the lower echelons of the troupe.

When dancers start to disappear, the sinister infighting turns more and more bloody. Enter Dr. Joseph Klemperer (Swinton in a miraculous double act spoof), a relict from WWII, who is still searching for his Jewish wife sent to the Concentration Camp Teresienstadt, where she was killed. The psychiatrist feels deep guilt over her death. As the nastiness at the Academy unfurls, a Witches’ Coven is uncovered and Klemperer’s role becomes more and more murky – in tune with this muddled affair. 

DoP Sayonbhu Mukdeeprom creates magnificently macabre images, but in the long run this is not enough to save Suspiria from emerging an awkward mixture of two films, both competing for our attention. The acting is also mixed, with Swinton being head and shoulders above the rest (quite literally) in achieving visionary eminence. In the end the German history lesson loses out to the horror strand, but the brake comes too late. A needless remake where less would have been so much more. AS


Some Like it Hot (1959) *****

Dir: Billy Wilder | Writer: I A L Diamond | Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon | US Comedy Drama | 123’

Set in Prohibition-era Chicago, this classic of all classic comedies features an all-star cast of Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe. The men play a couple of struggling musicians in the wrong place at the wrong time when they witness the Valentines Day Massacre. Finding themselves on the run from the mob, they accept a new gig out of town as part of an all-girl jazz troupe, where they will meet Marilyn Monroe. Dragged up and made-up they’re soon raring to go – but can they keep their act together?

Billy Wilder’s multi-awarded feature picked up the Oscar in 1960, for Orry Kelly’s costume design.

The film played at BFI London Film Festival 2018 and will open at the BFI Southbank and at selected venues across the UK courtesy of Park Circus.

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018) Netflix

Dir: Morgan Neville | US Doc | 98′ | With Peter Bogdanovich, Steve Ecclesine, Oja Kodar, Frank Marshall, Joseph McBride, Beatrice Welles, Orson Welles.

Morgan Neville (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) is back with a new doc that serves as a useful companion piece to Welles’ rather haphazard metaphor for the madness of the industry that tormented him: The Other Side of the Wind (2018).

Working with footage from the film itself, which started life in 1970, and complementing it with informative interviews and other Wellesian treasures, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead has a spirited and haphazard style that aims to capture the creative butterfly that was the larger than life, Orson Welles (1918-1985).

Those who wonder whether the world needs another Orson Welles documentary will do well to bear in mind that this Netflix affair will reach an audience that may not even have heard of the man and his genius, so the doc will hopefully find a completely new following along with its committed fanbase, amongst its viewership.

The title apparently refers to the pronouncement that Welles once made in reference to those film financiers and ‘powers that be’ who deserted him when he needed their help. And it’s reassuring to know that the film has finally been completed by those who have ultimately leant their support.

Neville has certainly set himself a tricky task but he pulls it off with the usual aplomb. His previous documentaries have been very well received: 20 Feet From Stardom (2013); Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal (2015) and Won’t You Be My Neighbour (2018). And he’s also brought his own creativity to this outing with its inventive camera angles and black & white to ease cohesion with the archive footage. The film’s interviewees were all close friends of Welles: associates Peter Bogdanovich and Henry Jaglom. This documentary’s executive producer Frank Marshall also worked on the Wind shoot and produced the reconstructed film. And there is historian Joseph McBride, who appeared in Wind. Neville’s doc also serves as a tribute to the late Gary Graver, who shot Wind and served as his personal DoP for over a decade, putting his own career and family on the back-burner, in the same way that Leon Vitali dedicated his life to Stanley Kubrick.

The story of the experimental project that was Welles’ main focus for the final 15 years of his life unfolds before us in the velvety black and white sequences. Welles once said that Wind was inspired by his belief in “divine accidents” – and this is one thing that seems to unite the genius with his fellow filmmakers: Every director from Martin Scorsese to William Friedkin reports on these serendipitous moments, and Welles was no different. Wind was repeatedly re-worked and rewritten in a narrative that followed the last day in the life of a veteran film director called Jake Hannaford  (purportedly Welles himself, although he denied it) who was played by John Huston.

Ironically, Peter Bogdanovich started off hero-worshiping Welles, until his own success as a director saw him supporting Welles’ and even offering him accommodation in his own house, with Welles almost outstaying his welcome. But his romantic companion, co-writer and collaborator Oja Kodar, who worked with her paramour on another unfinished project The Deep (1970), remains an enigmatic presence here.

Sadly, Welles’ initial effort to raise finance for Wind remains the most poignant aspect of his endeavour, and the footage of his speech to the AFI in this veiled attempt to garner support, makes for disheartening viewing. The final scenes of the documentary see Welles speculating on the nature of Wind: “maybe it’s just people talking about a movie.”

Neville certainly gives us a great deal of background about Wind in his documentary, but there is very little on the subject of how the film eventually made it to our screens in 2018. And it’s because of this slight flaw in Neville’s film, you might even be excused of thinking that Wind remained a flight of fantasy, rather than a complete feature. Orson Welles and his legacy lives on. MT


Yuva (2018) *** Warsaw Film Festival 2018

Dir/scr: Emre Yeksan | Drama | Turkey. 2018. 119′

From the depths of Southern Anatolia comes this exploration of subsistence in the wild. And although it very much connects with the narrative of the survival for remote communities; in this case, it sees a man trying to disconnect from his human companions in order to pursue life on his own in nature.

YUVA is writer/director Emre Yeksan’s follow-up to Körfez. Set in the heart of a wooded wilderness, Yuva relies on minimal dialogue and an evocative ambient soundtrack to guide us through a sensory rather than plot driven story of Veysel (Kutay Sandikci) who has left his urban past behind, along with his family, to seek solace in nature and the animal kingdom, Veysel is attempting to rewind his own process of evolution as a human, and so make a purer connection with his natural surroundings.

The verdant lushness of the scenery and the extraordinary otherworldly peace and quiet are the most pleasurable elements that Yeksan conveys together with his commendable sound designer and composer Mustafa Avci. Veysal appears out of the undergrowth carrying an injured animal to the base of a tree that will provide an enigmatic touchstone to this experimental drama (along with a red cross painted on the trunk), as the story unfolds. Veysel is clearly at one with his surroundings, hardly uttering a word until he is roused from his relaxed state of mind by his brother Hasan (Eray Cezayirlioglu) who arrives with some groceries and supplies. Clearly these two are close and very fond of one another and this is shown through kind gestures, one to the other. But the suggestive supernatural elements (poetic realist dreamscapes) are never properly developed. The pace soon quickens into something more febrile in the second act when this rural idyll is disturbed by the arrival of builders – the curse of modern day life – and their guns make it clear that Veysel is not welcome. Anyone who lives in an urban setting knows how miserable life becomes once the developers arrive with their schemes to make money, and more importantly noise and disruption, and this is will resonate with a worldwide audience. The coming of these sinister interlopers sees Veysel drawn back into the human sphere from which he has tried to detach himself. Perhaps Yeksan is hinting at a metaphor for a negative political climate, or even just the simple encroachment of family concerns that threaten to cloud our lives when we aim to escape for some respite.

YUVA eschews a traditional narrative and is experimental in nature, working best as a meditation in its woodland habitat, entrancing us with the ethereal sense of place captured by Jakub Giza’s mesmerising camerawork and breathtaking visuals that lull us into a sense of calm. When the ever loudening sound of chainsaws starts to rupture the placid serenity of it all, Veysel’s motivations seem entirely justified in his desire to escape. Yeksan creates a timely and innovative drama that echoes our atavistic human need to connect with nature, and to seek the peace that will contributes to our collective mental health. MT


22 July (2018) ***

Dir.: Paul Greengrass ; Cast: Anders Danielsen Lie, Jonas Strand Gravli, Jon Oigarden, Hilde Olausson; Norway/Iceland/USA 133 min.

British director/co-writer Paul Greengrass (United 93) imagines what actually happened during the Norwegian tragedy of 22. July 2011, when right-wing nationalist Anders Behring Breivik killed 69 children on the island of Utoya. Earlier in the day, he had already killed eight passers-by with a bomb in the diplomatic quarter of Oslo. The main focus here is aftermath on the island, and Greengrass ends with a moving court scene.

Anders Breivik (Lie) is a narcissistic killer who prepares for his atrocities meticulously – as if the world were already watching him. After the bombs go off near government offices, he sets out for the island of Utoya, where the Youth Section of the Norwegian Labour Party is meeting. After the killing spree Breivik is contained, treating the policemen who arrest him, with cold distain, as if to say “you should be helping me, not putting me in jail”. In prison, Breivik asks for a well-known liberal lawyer, Geir Lippesad (Oigarden), who takes on his defence, even though he is emotionally repelled by his new client. Lippesad was forced to move his children out of their local schools, as fellow parents could not understand him defending a monster like Breivik. The latter had never actually met a single member of the local Norwegian fascist scene. One of its leaders, who had communicated with Breivik via the internet whilst playing video-games (!) describes him in court as a loner, not worthy of being one of the movement’s leaders – whilst also condoning his actions. Breivik’s mother (Olausson) tries to apologise for what has happened, but blames it all on uncontrolled immigration.

After the attack, Greengrass then switches his focus to Viljar (Gravli), who has been close to death after being shot by Breivik, on the island. Learning to walk again, and living in fear of the shrapnel pieces near his spine moving and killing him, he confronts his attacker in a cathartic court scene. Breivik’s isolation and loneliness contrasts sharply with the solidarity of his family and fellow-survivors.

Apart from an over-schematic script, 22. July is laudable largely because Greengrass avoids sensationalism, and concentrates on the personalities of those involved. Lie gives a brilliant performance of the isolated, arrogant and self-controlled killer, who is unable to feel empathy for anybody – apart from himself. DoP Pal Ulrik Rokseth’s images treat the events like a documentary, keeping the audience involved without becoming over-emotional. This portrait of a self-obsessed, human killing machine traces all the ambiguity of his complex personality, without reaching a conclusion. AS


First Man (2018) **

Dir.: Damien Chazelle; Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Olivia Hamilton, Patrick Fugit, Derek Stayton, Corey Stoll; USA 2018,  135 min.

Based on the novel by James R. Hansen and scripted by Josh Singer, director Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to the overrated La la Land, is a mixture of Buddy movie and historical comic-strip, painting a picture of a time where everything was still OK in the USA. But like Lala Land, Chazelle has no gift for good storytelling: everything about his narrative is episodic, there are some stunning scenes, but they never form a whole, or bridge the gap between the personal and the factual in this space adventure story, which sometimes feels quite clunky.                     

Set between 1961 and 1969, First Man tells the story of Neil Armstrong (Gosling), the titular first man to set foot on the moon. Neil and his wife Janet (Foy) lose their baby daughter to a brain tumour, and we all know immediately where her wristband will end up. Most of Neil’s mates – Kyle Chandler (Stayton), Corey Stoll (Aldrin) and Elliot See (Fugit) come across as cyphers. Only Edward Higgins (Clarke) and his wife Pat (Hamilton) are fleshed out convincingly, but Higgins is written out half-way through, dying in a fire during a test run with two colleges. 

Ryan Gosling is not the ideal choice, being too introverted for the part, stonewalling his emotions, the actor’s face betraying his real feelings. In the end Janet has to force him to tell his two sons, that he might not return alive from the Apollo flight. Lots of time is wasted with technical explanations, the running time could have easily been cut by thirty minutes. We get newsreel flashes about the Vietnam War and other newsworthy topics of the period, but the real issues are never tackled. For example, Wernher Von Braun, the program director, was a staunch Nazi in charge of the V-Weapons in WWII, who used slave-labour, for which his boss Sauckl was executed, Von Braun’ status was changed from ‘committed Nazi’ to ‘Neutral’. It is true that the USSR also used Nazi scientists for their Sputnik programme, initiating the joke “We speak German in Space”. Last, but not least, Chazelle never challenges the validity of the whole undertaking: what did Armstrong’s fellow astronauts really die for? The scientific value of the Apollo project was limited, but the political victory over the USSR – who had won the first leg of the space race – was immense. One could expect at least expect some form of statement from the filmmakers.            

Overall First Man is as disjointed as it is patriotic, centred around a male culture of bonding which is never questioned. The political issues of the 1960s are used merely as a backdrop, the only important aspect is the male world order, which is re-enforced continuously. An undistinguished feature, told with the simplicity of a Boys-Own adventure. AS 


A Star is Born (2018) Netflix

Dir.: Bradley Cooper; Cast: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliot, Rafi Gavron; USA 2018, 135 min.

In his debut as a director and co-writer, Bradley Cooper offers a soppy Hollywood melodrama just the right side of tasteful – but only just. The forth remake of the narrative, based on a 1932 story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson, is slightly superior to the Streisand/Kristofferson version of 1976, but very much in the shadow of Cukor’s 1954 outing starring Judy Garland and James Mason.

As expected with such a high profile cast, everything has to be much larger than life – or to put it simply, American. Clichés cannot be big enough, Ally’s rise can’t be too meteoritic, or the fall of Jack(son) Maine more utterly self-destructive. These are the rules of the game in Hollywood, and even for a mere 36 Million Dollars (not that much by today’s standard), you have to show where the money went.

As a director, Cooper has the decency to put Lady Gaga first, and apart from Jack’s last scene (rather ham-fisted), and some truly awful bathroom scenes which are cringeworthy in the extreme, he allows himself rather a moderate redneck performance, leaving Diva Gaga much space to go over the top. Yes, Jack beat up the man whose wife he seduced even when nearly totally blotto. But we’ve seen Cooper in much worse performances, like American Sniper. He tries to keep the tempo up, and some of the chases really create mayhem.

The support cast is actually, not surprisingly, more realistic than the lead pair: Sam Elliot as Jack’s brother Bobby, his long suffering manager, and Ally’s minder and executive Rez (Gavron) feel very contemporary. Bobby is resigned, his Honest-to-God, I’ve-seen-it-all attitude helps Ally to overcome the sadness of her loss, and Rez is very much his efficient younger counterpart: the ice-cold CEO who saves the day with algorithms and applied psychology.

The main criticism is the running time: 135 minutes is simply too generous in re-telling the not so particularly original story of a B-Picture with the budget of something much, much more. In the end, these production values make A Star is Born just above average. AS



A Tramway in Jerusalem (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018

 Israel is a complex nation of multiculturalism – and none better to convey this than author/ filmmaker Amos Gitai in his fraught and frustrating drama A Tramway in Jerusalem.

His characters seem trapped on a freewheeling journey to nowhere, going round and round on what seems like an endless trip on London’s Circle Line – the fact is they’re all in the same boat: gentiles, Hasidic Jews, Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Israeli Arabs, Palestinian Muslims and Palestinian Jews. Gitai’s embraces the chaotic nature of these Semitic people – they argue, cajole, console, sing and debate – but they are rarely silent.

The film opens with a smiling woman singing an operatic song, a man plays the oud. Mathieu Almaric slouches back on a seat with his son, visiting the city for the first time he is delighted to be there finally. A group of Hassidic men chant a religious chorus. This series of sketches trundles along offering a taster for those who have never been to the country but have heard a lot about it – and it’s very different on the inside. One Palestinian woman has a Dutch passport through marriage, another has lived abroad but they share common ground. Anyone without an Israeli passport usually gets a hard time, and Gitai shows this happening to the Palestinian woman. There is even a Catholic Priest (Pippo Delbono) who rambles on incoherently. And black humour features too – the Jews have survived by sending themselves up. In the funniest sketch, a mother is lamenting her son’s lack of a wife, he listens – rapt, while all around their fellow passengers banter and debate the issue off screen. This is Israel in microcosm. MT


Nice Girls Don’t Stay for Breakfast (2018) **** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir: Bruce Weber | US Doc | 91′

Suave screen idol Robert Mitchum comes across as a crooning hearth-throb in Bruce Weber’s starry cinematic sashay that contains previously unseen interview footage shot during the 1990s.

Bruce Weber is best known for his black-and-white fashion shots (for Abercrombie & Fitch) but here turns his camera on the prolific career of a Hollywood antihero who made over 133 screen appearances during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s – most notably in Cape Fear, Night of the Hunter and Out of the Past. 

Nice Girls Don’t Stay for Breakfast follows the usual format of archive footage (taken in 1997) and interviews with people connected to Mitchum, particularly in his later years when his nonchalant presence could change the atmosphere in a room. Shot in Weber’s stylish monochrome camera the film opens with  Johnny Depp recalling how Mitchum would always reply “Worse” when asked how he was – on the telephone. This was a response he’d picked up from Groucho Marx. Liam Neeson and Benicio Del Toro also share their memories of a much-celebrated but quietly complicated man who embodied American masculinity.

Named after the song by Mitchum’s The Wonderful Country co-star Julie London, the film explores how the macho star could also be tender and gentle despite his tough guy image, and reveals his musical talent with footage from the recording of a jazz album (that has never been released) that sees him enjoying an amusing time with Marianne Faithful as the duo record together at Capitol Records.

Mitchum certainly knew how to flirt, using some well-rehearsed one-liners and jokes. But Weber shows how he mellowed significantly in later years without losing any of his sardonic undercurrent of complexity. In a darker moment, his daughter recalls his talk of suicide, but this is an avenue that Weber never explores, along with his time behind bars for possession of marijuana. On the relationship front, we hear how he was devoted to his wife Dorothy – the two met in their teens and stayed together – despite dalliances, amongst them with Shirley MacLaine who never appears to give her side of the story.

Nice Girls is largely freewheeling and episodic rather than chronologically biographical in format: hardly anything is mentioned about Mitchum’s upbringing or the early years of his career in Hollywood. His late co-star Polly Bergen talks about her feelings during the unsettling brutal rape scene in Cape Fear when he smoothed raw egg on her décolleté, culminating in her falling in love with him. Afterwards she claimed he was the epitome of tenderness, apologising profusely after the manhandling episode where he appeared to be ‘in a trance’. Perhaps this is even a latent bid on the director’s part to explain the bad behaviour that led to the #metoo backlash, given that Weber was also fingered during the affair.

Clearly Robert Mitchum’s choice of roles makes him one of the more edgy and interesting stars in the Hollywood firmament but he clearly had many strings to his bow, and one was undoubtedly a talent for carrying a tune, evidenced in his renditions of Ned Washington’s ‘Wild is the Wind’ and Mitchell Parish’s ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’ which enrich this pleasurable film along with its woozy jazz score. Irving Berlin’s ‘Dancing Cheek to Cheek’ and Gershwin’s ‘Isn’t it a Pity’ complete the audio picture of this intriguing talent to amuse. MT



Capri-Revolution (2018) ** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Mario Martone; Cast: Marianna Fontana, Reinout Scholten van Aschat, Antonio Folletto, Maximilian Dirr; Italy/France 2018, 121 min.

Mario Martione does his homeland a disservice with a turgid and distinctly un-revolutionary Golden Lion hopeful. Set on the island of Capri in the run up to the First World War this is a didactic drama which even manages to make a nudist colony look bland and boring. But worse is the misogyny with which he treats his main-protagonist.

In 1914 twenty year-old Lucia (Fontana) enjoys a bucolic island existence looking after the family’s herds of goats, but when her father dies, her grumpy older brother decides to marry her off to a rich widower, thinking first and foremost about the financial benefits for the family. Soon both brothers are off to war, and Lucia joins a nudist colony, despite warnings from the locals that they are  “devils”. There she falls under the spell of painter and commune leader Seybu (van Aschat), a composite of the German painter Karl Diefenbach who led a commune on Capri between 1900 and 1913 and his compatriot, the artist Joseph Beuys, who had not even been born in 1914.

Seybu teaches Lucia to read and soon she is multi-lingual. But the local doctor Carlo (Folletto) hopes to win Lucia’s affections, the two men fiercely stating their points in the duel between science and art. This becomes very boring with sentences like ”There is only matter and spirit, there is no duality”. Furthermore, Herbert (Dirr), a psychotherapist, tries to interfere with the all the women in order to make them more compliant towards the male egos. Lucia soon has enough and wants “to go back to dancing in the woods”.

DoP Michele D’Attanasio tries his best to conjure up a sapphic image of beauty and nature, but this is a drama much too verbose to allow our imagination to wander – dialogue getting in the way.  Martone insists that everything is debated in a principled discussion, creating the climate of a business seminar. There is no lust – in spite of the naked bodies – and art is just another subject to be discussed to the death. Fontana tries her very best, but the males around her dominate. This is a sprawlingly endless mosh-mash, Martone even managing to botch the ending. AS





Shadow 2018) **** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir: Zhang Yimou | Action Drama | China | 110’

Two-time winner of the Golden Lion at Venice for The Story Of Qiu Ju, and Not One Less, Chinese supremo Zhang Yimou relinquishes his charisteristic colour spectrum for a magnificent monochrome palette in his latest martial arts extravaganza that melds solemn Singing in the Rain set pieces with eye-popping wuxia credentials in a glorious return to form akin to Hero and House of Flying Daggers.

Grey has never looked so stunning in Yimou’s action scenes inspired by China’s tradition of ink-wash painting and creatively choreographed with the director’s signature style and inventiveness. In place of shields, lethal steel umbrellas cut and thrust in an epic tale set during China’s Three Kingdoms era during the Third century where the land of Pei is ruled by an unhinged maverick king (Zheng Kai). The king’s military commander (Deng Chao) has shown his skill on the battlefield, but running the kingdom is another matter needing political nous and diplomacy to survive. So he has trained a “shadow” (also played by Deng), who can fool the king, as well as Pei’s enemies, when required. Fighting to gain control of the walled city of Jing, the king and the commander join forces to plan a secret strategy. While the real king, a dissipated old warrior, has retreated to his lair to lick his world weary wounds, his wife Madam (Sun Li) has fallen for the younger and stronger double. 

During the extraordinary battle scenes the only contrast from the stunning steel grey, charcoal and white aesthetic is that of human flesh and blood evoking a palpable feeling of pain and suffering and bringing to mind the epics of Akira Kurosawa. This occasionally drawn out but intoxicating game of intrigue and duplicity slowly builds to a coruscating climax as Yimou manages the spectacular combat set pieces with extraordinary ingenuity both on the widescreen and in intimate close-up, the umbrellas bristling with blades as they cascade like gushing rivers of steel raining down on the floating Trojan horse centrepiece.

Aside from the visual mastery of it all Yimou offers dramatic character studies: Deng as a double-crossing demon, the gracefully feisty women Sun Li and Guan Xiaotong giving impressive performances. But it’s Cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding and production designer Ma Kwong Kwai who really set the whole production alight. Another worthwhile and thoroughly enjoyable edition to Yimou’s wuxia wonderland. MT


A Letter to a Friend in Gaza (2018) **** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Amos Gitai; Cast: Makram Khoury, Clara Khoury, Hilla Vidor, Amos Gitai, Amira Hass; Israel 2018, 34 min.

As you prepare your breakfast, think of others (do not forget the pigeon’s food).
As you conduct you cars, think of others (do not forget those who seek peace).
As you pay your water bill, think of others (those who are nursed by clouds).
As you return home, to your home, think of others (do not forget the people of the camps).
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others (those who have nowhere to sleep).
As you liberate yourself in metaphor, think of others (those who have lost the right to speak).
As you think of others far away, think of yourself (Say: “If only I were a candle in the dark”).
Mahmoud Darwish, Think of others

Israeli director/co-writer Amos Gitai (Rabin, the last Day) uses poetry to confront Israel’s on-going decimation of their Palestinian neighbours. Inspired by Albert Camus’ “Letters to a German Friend” (1943-1944), Gitai and co-writer Makram Khouri both express their hope for a future when “Israeli children will ask their parents what they have done”; with Gitai stating “I love my country too much, that I will not become a nationalist”.

The images on the huge walls separating the two nations make the Berlin Wall look decisively less threatening in contrast: DoP Oded Kirma’s camera nearly touches the monstrosity. Other scenes show Palestinian youths with slingshots fighting a professional Israeli army with machine guns; and the last image of the documentary is an antique painting of David attacking the well armoured giant Goliath with his catapult.

But it is words that take centre stage: Mahmoud Darwish’s ‘Think of others’ seems in parts like a direct reference to the destruction of water tanks in Palestine by the Israeli Defence Forces. But the poem ends lyrically.

The centrepiece is Amira Hass’ monologue about a hopeful future. Courageously, Gitai then sets the cat amongst the pigeons of today’s Israeli society: the parents’ response to their kids is that “they obeyed orders”. This was their excuse,  but it was also the excuse of the Holocaust’s perpetrators. Gitai once and for all sets a line in the sand, breaking a taboo: there is no longer any justification for the continuous war against the Palestinians, and there hasn’t been since the foundation of the State of Israel.

Allying himself with Camus on the question of the just war against the Nazis, Gitai comes very close to a “guilty verdict” for the State he fought for – and nearly died – as a soldier. He might have become the proverbial ‘candle in the dark’, but the likeliehood that the children of today’s Settler generation will leave their parents’ homes is very remote -metaphorically and practically. AS



The Summer House (2018) Les Estivants | *** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. France/Italy. 2018. 127mins |

Actor-director Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s reworks familiar territory in her latest comedy drama where she plays a vulnerable woman obsessed with a feckless younger man. This time she adds farce to the histrionics sending herself up as the delightfully dizzy delusional central character. You have to admire her cheekiness in this well-observed but flimsy piece of fun.

At the beginning Anna (Tedeschi) is tottering over a Parisian bridge with her sulky lover Luca (Riccardo Scamarcio), on the way to a cafe. Joining them is a serious be-suited man and a divorce proceedings  immediately spring to mind: they are actually attending a film financing meeting where filmmaker Anna freely admits to rehashing her plot when questioned by the team. Considering arch re-hasher Frederick Wiseman is on the panel this comes as a feminist jibe and we actually warm to her, and if you’re a fan of her formula (A Castle in Italy etc) then The Summer House is for you.

The Summer House has the advantage of some seriously sumptuous settings: this time we visit the Cote d’Azur and a gorgeous belle époque Villa surrounded by lavender-scented gardens where her real mother Marisa Borini (resembling her other daughter Carla Bruni) plays her onscreen ma, and the daughter she adopted with Louis Garrel, Oumy Bruni Garrel, is Anna’s daughter – exuding all the saucy sense of entitlement you would expect. Co-scripted by Tedeschi, Agnès de Sacy and Noémie Lvovsky, this upstairs/downstairs affair features the problems of the staff along with those of the guests – although the characterisations are shallow and rather trite – and often descends into implausible farce failing dismally as an attempt to engage us in an exploration of the human condition in all its splendour and desperation.

Bruni Tedeschi’s younger partner Luca does not join them, after hinting at a new romance, so the start of the holiday is blighted by emotional telephone outbursts and the usual melodramatic meltdowns. Anna’s alcoholic sister Elena (Valeria Golino) tries her best in an awful role where she whines and whimpers between drunken episodes as the wife of the villa’s much owner, ageing businessman Jean (Pierre Arditi). Meanwhile, Lvovsky also stars as Anna’s divorced writing partner Nathalie who appears to be recovering from some failed romance in a role that never materialises into anything meaningful.

Ever brimming with hope that her romance with Luca can be reanimated, there is much humour to be had in the way Anna swings from kittenish charisma to snarling witchery, her frustration seething under a well-disguised gamine fluffiness. Tedeschi’s attempt to introduce a sexual molestation strand to the narrative falls on deaf ears – whether this is another jibe on the #metoo theme is left to our individual interpretation. Gorgeous to look at, if mostly exasperating, The Summer House is more of the same fresh air from a familiar face. MT


The River (Ozen) *** Venice Film Festival 2018 | Orizzonti

Dir/scr: Emir Baigazin. Kaz-Pol-Nor. 2018. 108mins

This spare and rhythmic final film in Kazakh auteur Emir Baigazin’s Asian trilogy serves as a simple but mesmerising metaphor for the dangers of the digial world exploring themes of repression, release and discovery in a remote corner of Kazakhstan.

Following on from Harmony Lessons (Uroki Garmonii,2013) and The Wounded Angel (Ranenyy Angel, 2016), The River (Ozen) captivates with its austere and gracefully composed sequences in a parable that seethes with expectation throughout its spare dramatic arc establishing its appeal to arthouse audiences from the opening scenes when we first meet the brothers in their dusty, windswept village where earthy sepia and bleached khaki prevails in Baigazin’s stark aesthetic.  

Five brothers cower under the obdurate cosh of their draconian father (Kuandyk Kystykbayev) who imposes a spartan regime of hard work and strict discipline. Like many austere fathers his intentions are protectionist rather than cruel, and the reason for this will soon become clear when a newcomer arrives in the village to disrupt the peaceful existence.

The oldest son Aslan (Zhalgas Klanov) is expected to act as second in command to his father and teach his brothers how to read and write. Unlike his father he offers some light relief to his siblings allowing them to swim in the fast-flowing river nearby, the benefits of nature are clear and the dangers self-apparent, Meanwhile in the outside world beyond their home the benefits of progress are more ambiguous,

This questionable garden of Eden is soon destabilised when Kanat (Eric Tazabekov) breezes into the village one day. Dressed in flashy yellow socks and a silver anorak, this bright young stranger also rocks a pair of headphones and carries a bleeping tablet. The boys are amazed by his swanky attire and intrigued by his computer with its News channel and games. 

The River is fraught will religious motifs from the Bible amongst them a wooden cross in the shaped scarecrow, and this all presages doom for the boys’ rural sanctuary. This is a the film whose spare credentials and minimalism belie its rich thematic content that make it an incisive and satisfying look at progress and loss of innocence. MT


Emma Peeters (2018) Venice Film Festival 2018 | Giornate degli Autori

Dir.: Nicole Palo; Cast: Monia Chokri, Fabrice Adde, Stephanie Crayencour, Andrea Ferrol, Anne Sylvain, Jean Henri Compere, Abdre Ferreol; Belgium 2018, 90 min.

Nicole Palo’s second feature is a charming but fluffy comedy about a Belgian would-be actress plagued by her embarrassing parents and fashion faux pas. Shot idyllically, mostly in Belleville Monia Chokri’s portrayal of the titular heroine is an impressive performance. 

Emma (Chokri) is in her mid-thirties and has made the decision to throw in the towel on her acting career in Paris and radically also to end her life. After visiting a funeral parlour – wearing her usual faux-sheep coat and looking very sheepish indeed – she attracts the attention of the owner Alex (Adde), whose struggle with reality is just as troubled. A good-bye visit to her annoyingly banal parents (Sylvain/Compere) in Belgium is followed by several unsuccessful attempts to get rid of her cat Jim, who clings on (clearly loving her jacket). And her friends are no great help either: Stephanie (Crayencour) is a blond, vacuous version of Emma (but a success with men of all sexual orientations) and is only interested in her friend when she wants to borrow her tiny flat to sleep with married men. Her ‘best friends’ Bob and Serge, gay hairdressers, think that a new haircut may lift her spirits. After Mum and Dad turn up for an uninvited visit, we begin to understand Emma’s pain. And when Alex finally gives Emma the promised suicide pill, we know that a happy-end awaits all concerned: Stephanie is pregnant by Bob and/or Serge, and Emma will be the god-mother.

There are shades of the late Solveig Ansbach here (Queen of Montreuil), but without her love of detail and anarchic complications. Palo just goes for the most obvious laughs, using Belleville as a background and creating a succharine atmosphere. On top there are half-baked characters like Bernadette (Ferreol), a lonely old woman who not well-disposed towards Emma. At best this quirky comedy drama could be described as endearing. AS



Sunset | Napszallta (2018) ***** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Laszlo Nemes, Cast: Juli Jacob, Vlad Ivanov, Hungary/France 2018; 142 min

Laszlo Nemes follows his Oscar-winning triumph Son Of Saul with another fraught and achingly romantic fragment of the past again captured through his voyeuristic lens tracing the febrile events leading up to the shooting of Emperor Franz Ferdinand that changed the world forever

Set in Budapest between 1913 and the outbreak of the First World War, Sunset reveals a labyrinth of enigma, intrigue, hostility, greed and lust as by Juli Jakab(Son of Saul) guides us through scenes of ravishing elegance and cataclysmic violence. What seems utter chaos gradually becomes more clear as the spiderweb is infiltrated.

Cultured beauty Irisz Leiter (Jacob) arrives in Budapest from Trieste, where she retreated after her parents’ death in a mysterious fire at their famous hat atelier. Irisz hopes to secure a position there but the enigmatic manager Oszcar Brill (Ivanov), asks her to leave immediately. Somehow she inveigles her way into the company, desperately looking out for her long lost brother Kalman, who is in hiding, having murdered Count Redey. It soon emerges he has joined the Hungarian Nationalists in their bid to overthrow the House of Habsburg, whose ruling base in Vienna in on the verge of toppling with the murder in Sarajevo of the Austrian Crown at the hand of a Serbian nationalist. Irisz’ search for her brother is continually thwarted by Brill, who is literally selling his female employees as courtesans to the Court in Vienna. Her desperate quest culminates in the trenches and the demise of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Nemes pays homage to the late Gabor Body whose Narcissus and Psyche, echo in Sunset. On an historical level Mathias Erdely’s images conjure up the fin-de-siecle fragility in the same way as Gabor’s masterpiece. In contrast, Nemes sets his epic in Budapest (and not in the countryside) conveying the crumbling decadence in the urban settings. There is surreal horror in the street scenes – characters spring out of the shadows like animals – or even vampires. After dark utter chaos rules. As daylight dawns the Habsburg police try to enforce order. Irisz emerges as ‘Alice’, but her wonderland is uncertain and menacing. Courage and a strong sense of her innate dignity will see her through but her place in the world will be destroyed forever in a narrative that very much chimes with today’s sense of cultural identity. Sunset is an everlasting testament to the past, the present and our uncertain future. A masterpiece that will need more than one viewing. As/MT


Joy (2018) Venice Film Festival | VENICE DAYS 2018

Dir.: Sudabeh Mortezai; Cast: Joy Anwulika Alphonsus, Prcious Mariam Sanusi, Angela Ekeleme Pius, Jane Okoh; Austria 2018, 100 min.

German born writer/director Sudabeh Mortezai (Macondo) spent her youth in Vienna and Teheran before studying film at UCLA. Her second feature is centred around Nigerian women sold by their families as sex-workers to Europe. In the prologue, we see the local shaman performing the ‘Juju’ ritual on one of these young women: the victims have to leave an intimate part of themselves behind so they don’t run away, and send money home regularly.

We meet Joy (Alphonsus) on a dark night Vienna where she is soliciting. Next to her stands young Precious (Sanusi), who has just arrived from Nigeria and does not want to sell her body, to pay back Madame (Pius), whom she owes 60,000 Euros. Back in the flat, where the girls live in cramped  conditions, Madame holds Joy responsible for Precious’ attitude and tells her that her debt will increase if she doesn’t encourage the young girl to work harder. For good measure, Precious is than raped by two men, her cries of help going unanswered. The brutal treatment makes Precious fall into line and she becomes the highest earner of the group. Madame expresses her thanks by selling her for a profit to Italian pimps. 

Meanwhile Joy and Precious are continually pestered by their families to send more money home. Joy’s family ‘invents’ a fake illnesses so her clients will take pity and pay her extra.  And Precious’ mother asks her to sleep with more more men: “Can you imagine, the woman who gave birth to me wants me to do do that!” Joy, who has a daughter Chioma (Okoh), for whose upkeep she pays a nanny, is sent with Precious to the Italian border, keeping her passport. Precious asks her many times to relinquish the passport, so that she can escape. But Joy is well aware that Madame’s vengeance would be be grim, and she reminds Precious: “This is a game of survival of the fittest. I would kill you if I needed to. Do not trust me!”. Her calculation proves right when Madame ‘releases’ her, which is not so generous as it looks since new and younger girls have arrived from Nigeria.

The director takes a detached approach throughout. The gruesome details of the women’s suffering – Joy is bleeding heavily after being raped by three men, but Madame does not allow her to seek medical help. The whole circle of violence, starting in Nigeria is repeated over and over again, because the authorities in Austria want Joy to testify against Madame, but won’t grant her immediate asylum.

JOY explores a real and continuous nightmare that is happening all the time, in nearly every European city. Shot starkly by DoP Clemens Hufnagl, mostly at night, the few interior scenes reveal the misery and fear that haunts women daily. A depressing but worthwhile film. AS




La Quietud (2018) *** Venice Film Festival

Director.: Pablo Trapero; Cast: Martina Gusman, Bejo, Edgar Ramirez, Joaquin Furriel, Graciela Borges; Argentina 2018, 117 min.

Pablo Trapero (The Clan) takes another look  at Argentina’s traumatic past, pairing the political and the personal in this stylishly frivolous Tele-Novela drama, which has more secrets up its cheeky sleeve than the audience initially bargained for. Centred around two incestral sisters, Trapero  invokes the Bunuel films of his Mexican period, sticking to a strict inforcement of Freudian interpretations.

After her father’s stroke, Eugenia (Bejo) returns from Paris to Buenos Aires. She is meeting up with her sister Mia (Gusman) and mother Esmeralda (Borges), who live in the very inaptly called country villa The Quietude. The sisters are close and look uncannily the same, sharing more than just the taste for the same man. Eugenia’s husband Vincent (Ramirez), soon turns up  and is greeted by a more than friendly Mia, who fetches him from the airport. Eugenia reveals she is pregnant after a long time of trying. Her tyrannical mother is over-joyed, her lover Esteban (Furriel) claims that it is his baby, and wants a paternity test. Meanwhile the father’s health detirioates, and Esmeralda finally pulls the plug in the middle of the night. After his funeral, Mia gets drunk, and whilst her sister is driving her home, she causes an accident. 

But soon an unseemly past comes knocking: the family is accused to have profited from imprisoned victims of the 1980s Military dictatorship – they signed their property over to the lawyers hoping for clemency in return. Esmeraldo claims that it was her husband who went into prison to get the signatures, but Mia, her father’s favourite, sets out to resarch her claim. Trapero ends on an implausible but romantically happy-end  for the sisters.

The wildly oscillating plot does not hide the sincerity of the conflict: obvious, dishonesty has spoiled family life for a long time, and the patriarch’s death forces a solution which might have otherwise not happened. Like with Bunuel, the family is always a place to hide guilty secrets, and children are burdend with the sins of their parents. 

Furthermore, some siblings like to stretch out their idyllic childhood into adulthood because they are disappointed by life, and want to escape into the past. The narrative and ensemble acting is convincing, images are strictly limited by a TV-style format – a shame, because the close-ups dominate and take away some of the enjoyment of the Buenos Aires cityscapes and the local pampas. But overall The Quietude is a rollercoaster ride of light-hearted lust and petty infighting. AS


Suspiria (2018) ** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Luca Guadagnino, Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Cloe Grace Moretz, Lutz Ebersdorf; USA/Italy 2018, 152 min.

Luca Guadagnino follows his much praised Call Me By Your Name with a rather confused and overloaded vision of Dario Argento’s horror classic, using the original script by Argento and Daria Nicoldi, re-written by David Kajganich (A Bigger Splash). 

Unfortunately the Kajganich has added new material, setting the narrative in Berlin at the height of the Baader Meinhof crisis. A running time of 152 minutes also tests the audience severely.

In the dank Autumn of 1977, Susie Bannian (Johnson) arrives from Ohio at the famous Dance School TANZ, near the Wall in West Berlin. There is an unsettling atmosphere at the academy, the two leading teachers Blanc (a luminously sinuous Swinton) and Markos are fighting for supremacy, the conflict a battle of life and death. Susie soon becomes the lead dancer, relegating Patricia (Moretz) and Sara (Goth) to the lower echelons of the troupe.

When dancers start to disappear, the sinister infighting turns more and more bloody. Enter Dr. Joseph Klemperer (Ebersdorf), a relict from WWII, who is still searching for his Jewish wife sent to the Concentration Camp Teresienstadt, where she was killed. The psychiatrist feels deep guilt over her death. As the nastiness at the Academy unfurls, a Witches’ Coven is uncovered and Klemperer’s role becomes more and more murky – in tune with this muddled affair. 

DoP Sayonbhu Mukdeeprom creates magnificently macabre images, but in the long run this is not enough to save Susperia from emerging an awkward mixture of two films, both competing for our attention. The acting is also mixed, with Swinton being head and shoulders above the rest (quite literally) in achieving visionary eminence. In the end the German history lesson loses out to the horror strand, but the brake comes too late. A needless remake where less would have been so much more. AS


Peterloo (2018) ***

Dir/Writer: Mike Leigh | Cast: Maxine Peake, Rory Kinnear | Historical Drama | UK | 154′

Mike Leigh’s PETERLOO is a lavishly mounted period drama that delivers in robustly verbose detail the story of the massacre that took place in Manchester on 16th August 1816 when cavalry charged into a crowd of some 80,000 members of the public demanding parliamentary workplace reform.

While Leigh’s epic slowly builds to its climactic carnage scenes, which are brutally realistic without resorting to gratuitous gore, it expansively explores both sides of the conflict between the British aristocracy and the rebellious working classes in a plodding way that destroys dramatic tension as it trundles through its bloated running time of two and a half hours. With incendiary performances from its sterling cast – Rory Kinnear and Maxine Peake are splendidly vehement – this is certainly one of Leigh’s most heartfelt dramas, and clearly a personal moral crusade that charts a gritty and violent episode from the socio political history of England. MT


Why are we Creative? (2018) ** Giornate degli Autori Venice 2018


Dir.: Hermann Vaske; Documentary; Germany 2018, 84 min.

German born writer/director Hermann Vaske (Arteholic) asks more than fifty of the World’s most successful artists why they have chosen to express their creativity in their professional lives. Obviously, their answers are going to be superficial, since there is hardly time for a reflective answer in a film of just over an house. But there’s also no structure here, Vaske lists the answers he gets in a haphazard and roughly chronological order. It’s a trite film akin to flicking through a glossy copy of Hello! Hola or Point de Vue magazine.

Thirty years in the making, his project is the brainchild of the liberation he felt having just emigrated to London. And one his first candidates was David Bowie, who is also one of the few who turns up twice to talk about their creative impulses. Architect Franz Gehry uses drawings to explain his motives, the same goes for Damien Hirst, David Lynch and Ai Weiwei among others. Travelling to Davos for the economic summit, Vaske interviews Bill Gates and Yasser Arafat, who claims his artistic bent rises out of a desire “to carry on for the sake of the future”. In Tokyo, the director gets drunk with the photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, who tells us “I get an erection when shooting my photographs”.

Architects top the list of professions, authors are as rare as musicians, who are easily beaten by actors. But sadly women make up a tiny minority of his doc: Yoko Ono, Jeanne Moreau, Bjork, Isabella Rossellini, Zara Hadid, Vivienne Westwood, Angelina Jolie and Diane Kruger. Vaske likes his interviewees to be positive and in a good mood – if they are difficult, their answers are cut short.

Towards the end, director Michael Haneke gives the most original answer: “One should not ask a centipede why he walks, because he might stumble”. Haneke goes on, telling the famous story of the composer Gustav Mahler, who stopped seeing the father of analyses, Sigmund Freud, because the latter told the composer, that analyses might reduce his creativity.

The structure (or the lack of it) invites us to be creative in our own ways, as our attention wanders off, reflecting about what to have for supper, or where we parked the car. But what is more disturbing is the huge number of participants, who are not with us any more – so many of them victims of suicide. Surely they  deserve a less flippant approach – underlined by the amusing cartoons of Valerie Pirson and Floppy Lazare – and a more serious treatment, using the parameters of a proper documentary. AS


Adam & Evelyn (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018 | Critics’ Week

Dir.: Andreas Goldstein; Cast: Florian Teichtmeister, Anne Karis, Christin Alexandrow, Lena Lauzemis, Milian Zerzawy; FRG 2018, 100 min.

Based on the novel by Ingo Schulze, ADAM & EVELYN sees a couple’s crumbling relationship set against the final days of the German Democratic Republic in this thoughtful collaboration from Andreas Goldstein and Jakobine Motz.

In his tailor’s shop in the small town of Torgau, Evelyn surprises Adam one day ‘in flagrante’ with a much older client and, not taking his excuses for an answer, she sets out with girlfriend Simone (Alexandrow) for a summer break in Budapest. But this is no happy holiday. They arrive to discover that the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany has been forced to close its doors due to a massive influx of German citizens who are camping inside, waiting to be allowed into the FRG.

For two-thirds of the film we will witness – over the radio – the gradual downfall of the GDR regime, until they throw in the towel and open the Berlin wall and their borders in November. But Adam is totally unfazed, as if it’s nothing to do with him – an accusation Evelyn had made at the beginning. He picks up a hitchhiker, Katja (Lauzemis) and smuggles her nonchalantly over the boarder into Hungary. Near Lake Balaton, the two meet up with Simone and Michael (Zerzawy) – a West German biologist, until Evelyn lures Michael into her bed. Simone leaves but then Evelyn grows close to Adam again, sleeping with both men – a rivalry which Adam seems not to notice. The three of them end up in Austria where Evelyn discovers she’s pregnant – but unsure of the father. Adam falls under suspicion as being a spy and this is so incongruous that Evelyn starts laughing. But the point is made: when it comes to paranoia, both German states have more in common than the FRG might like to admit. Finally, Adam and Evelyn get a new flat in Hamburg where Evelyn is full of utopian dreams for her child, whereas Adam misses the restrictive, but safe GDR.

Book and film make a valid point: the uprising which brought down the regime was more or less restricted to East-Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden – in the countryside there was a sort of inertia which really did not lend itself to revolt. Evelyn is right when she remarks that “Adam did not really have to work: all the girls came to him, and he made them pretty clothes”. But there was no competition, because the state products were absolute awful.

The images in Torgau and the surrounding countryside reflect a country which time seems to have left behind: the cars are 30 years old, the houses are falling apart and sexual infidelity is the only game in town. As one commentator said, after the fall of the Wall “the GDR men had to give their women a decent sex life to make up for the material poverty of all concerned.” Adam will be a stranger forever in the re-unified country – looking backwards to an idyll, which didn’t really exist. AS      


Friedkin Uncut (2018) Tribute to William Friedkin

Dir: Francesco Zippel | US-ITALY | 107 MINS | DOCUMENTARY | with William Friedkin, Francis Ford Coppola, Quentin Tarantino, Willem Dafoe, Wes Anderson, Matthew McConaughey, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Shannon, Juno Temple

Wlliam Friedkin swaggers into the room and grabs a mug of dark coffee: “What interests me is how Hitler took a load of intelligent people down, whereas Jesus lifted them up”: He concludes “it’s a struggle for every human being to overcome their dark side”. 

William Friedkin, who is sadly no longer with us, must be one of the most quotable directors. Perfectly formed truisms just flood out of him in this amiable portrait from Francesco Zippel. Looking like an amiable astute tortoise with his smooth features and perfectly coiffed hair, he can be vociferous. When filming The French Connection he apparently shouted at his cinematographer: “What you’ve shown me so far sucks”. The two went on to make an all time classic that flopped at the box office. As Michael Shannon puts it: “Billy forces you to the dark place- he’s aware when something is phoney – he wants 200% because he’s giving 200%. Unlike Kubrick, he’s not looking for perfection, he’s looking for spontaneity.

Born in 1935 of Ukrainian Jewish parents who immigrated to the US, Friedkin did not realise the family was poor because everyone around them in their Chicago tenement was in the same boat. His father was a semi-professional soft ball player, his mother a warm and giving woman who he adored Young Friedkin started in the mail room of a TV station and worked his way up – in common with many other directors of the 1960s, but seeing Citizen Kane was the turning point that inspired him with the power of film and then he went on to Hollywood and was completely devolved of that notion. The rest is history.

Built around Friedkin’s pragmatic and pithy commentary Francesco Zippel’s doc well-structured documentary focuses on each of his films, intercut with commentary from the relevant talking heads and collaborators who discuss the way they worked with him. Friedkin is articulately frank and open about his motivations, which are interesting in themselves. A tinkly occasional score accompanies some extraordinary revelations: his film The people vs Paul Crump actually saved the man’s life. On the whole his films have a cinema vérité quality to them that is rooted in his documentary style, especially The French Connection that transports you ‘there in that era’ but the film still feels incredibly fresh and – in the view of Edgar Wright – more so than thrillers that are being made today. Infact FC is almost 95% based on truth, along with Bug and Killer Joe.  Friedkin liked facts and percentages rather than ephemera. 

Yet while filming he gets lost in the moment: Gina Gershon calls him a method director as he literally becomes part of the atmosphere during a shoot, making a suggestion and seeing what the actor does with it.

Wes Anderson likes his horror fare because the narrative pulls you in keeping you close to the characters are engaging because in Friedkin movies they’re built in reality. Casting his films to perfection avoids too many takes. Infact he’s very much a one take guy, a cording to Juno Temple who applauds the complexity of his female characters, who are sometimes even more complicated that his male characters. And he casts his films to perfection Max von Sydow was perfect in the Exorcist Ellen Burstyn  knew the territory as a lapsed Catholic herself. “He taught me how to be real in the fiction” she says.

We are treated to archive footage of an interview with Fritz Lang where the German emigre complains that his films made in Germany are worthless but al least he got to meet Goebels. Lang only appreciated the films he made in Hollywood. As a director you need ambition, luck and the Grace of God, and particularly the latter. But in the end “success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan”

In his lavishly hilltop home we are shown his drawings by Sergei Eisenstein before he discusses his film Cruising which was made inside the gay bars of New York but wasn’t a hit with the gay community on account of exposing their haunts in their raw reality. “I loved it as an exotic background for a murder mystery. But i don’t approach cinema from a political standpoint. Infact I don’t trust politics or politicians”.

He wanted to cast unknown actors in To Live and Die in LA (1985) and so low key stage actor Willem Defoe became electric casting opposite with William Petersen. In accordance with his documentary research credentials the film also involved some real counterfeiters, whom Friedkin got to know.

Friedkin never attended film school and doesn’t consider himself an artist but admires Antonioni and a Fellini and claims Kathryn Bigelow to be the best woman filmmaker working today. 

“Acting and filmmaking are professions. It’s a job. Out of this work there can come art – but it’s rare. when you start to believe in yourself as a artist – instead of telling a story with the utmost professionalism – that’s the end of a career. Antonioni and Fellini’s films are full of mood and texture”. Friedkin’s only regret was not having been able to transcend reality in his films. Sadly time is no longer on his side. MT




Tumbbad (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018 | Critics’ Week

Dirs: Rahi Anil Barve, Adesh Prasad, Anand Ghandi | Horror Fantasy | 104′

This 19th Century set fantasy thriller is the first Indian feature (out of competition) to open Critics’ Week at Venice Film Festival, the arthouse sidebar that this year features nine films by first time directors from across the world.

TUMBBAD is a mythical story that has its roots back in Hindu folklore where the ‘Puranas’ (told primarily in Sanskrit, but also in regional languages) were often linked to deities such as Vishnu, Shiva and Devi.  Six years in the making and directed by Rahi Anil Barve and Adesh Prasad the stunning Pune-set parable story revolves around three generations of a Brahmin family exploring the roots of human greed. 

Blue-eyed mega star Sohum Shah is impressive as the stubbornly conniving bastard son of the village lord in the dank backwater of Tumbbad where he lives with his long-suffering wife and family. Obsessed with a mythical ancestral treasure, he suspects the secret of its whereabouts lies with his great-grandmother, a cursed witch who has been comotose for centuries in a damp underground sewer. Confronting her in this foul sunken pit puts him face to face with the guardian of the treasure, an evil fallen god. What starts with his lust for a few gold coins, quickly spirals into a reckless, perpetual yearning, spanning decades. Vinayak’s greed escalates until he unearths the biggest secret of all, something more valuable than the treasure itself.

This fast-paced parable contrasts elegant 1920s settings with ghastly, spine-chilling scenes that unravel in the remote monsoon-drenched location imbuing in its characters a sense of quiet desperation and tortured misery as they fight for survival spurred on by their quest. Jesper Kyd’s ominous orchestral score adds depth to this magical horror mystery. Kyd composed the music for Assassin’s Creed and Darksiders series.

TUMBBAD is one of a new generation of arthouse titles coming out of India. With its spookily crafted set pieces, convincing performances and imaginatively scripted folklore-based narrative it easily competes with the best titles currently on the fantasy drama stage. MT


Stripped (2018) **** Venice Film Festival | Orizzonti

Dir: Yaron Shani | Israel | Docudrama | 118′ | EROM

Yaron Shani rose to international acclaim with his feature debut Ajami. He brings to this year’s Venice film festival the first part of The Love Trilogy entitled STRIPPED (EROM). It’s an intriguing and highly intelligent cinema vérité piece that seeks to blur the lines between fiction and documentary through its refreshingly low key approach to an extremely intimate and at times startling film where the lives of seemingly  unconnected eventually intertwine in its unexpected and quite shocking denouement. Performances are pitch perfect and naturalistic from its cast of mainly newcomers.

34 year-old Alice is an award-winning writer and filmmaker who lives with her menagerie of dogs in a Tel Aviv apartment. She is woken up one morning from a deep sleep by her boyfriend, under rather bewildering circumstances: the dogs have been shut in the bathroom where someone has scrawled a message on the mirror. Going about her day she increasingly starts to feel weird: panic attacks follow and a sense of desperate displacement and unease.  On the news, reports of a rapist are circulating. Her mother decides to come and stay so the two can look after each other for a while but none of this takes place in a melodramatic ways as Shani coaxes completely natural performances from his cast of mostly newcomers,

In the same apartment block a talented young classical guitarist (Ziv, 17) lives with his parents. His high hopes for a professional career in a local orchestra are dashed when the audition results confirm that he hasn’t got in. Soul-searching ensues with his helpful family. He heads off for his army service where the demands of adulthood will rob him of his tenderness and innocence. One of his friends is in hospital suffering from cancer. His university friends gather round his bedside as an impromptu round of jazz singing kicks off. Later they will take part in a highly charged visit from a ‘strippo-gramme’ service – some will lose their virginity in scenes of explicit nudity – it’s all light-hearted fun but it gives the boys a taste of reality. The narrative then comes full circle in the final scenes when the main protagonists lives intertwine in a shocking finale subverting our expectations.

STRIPPED feels bracingly original and refreshingly different. In order to achieve this quasi documentary feel, the cast took part in an extreme method acting experiment where they have each inhabited the lives of their fictional characters for the unusual long shooting period of over a year. The skeleton script was then fleshed out by the actors’ own personal experiences and the result is refreshingly bold in its naturalism, and despite still being fiction – clearly their input makes proceedings highly personal. It’s as if the directer invented a new form – semi-fiction or documentary fiction. MT



Venice Film Festival 2018 | La Biennale

Alberto Barbera has announced a stunning line-up of highly anticipated new features and documentaries in celebration of this year’s 71st edition of Venice Film Festival which takes place on the Lido from 28 August until 8 September 2018. 30% of this year’s films are made by women which sounds more positive. Obviously the festival can only programme films offered for screening.

The festival kicks off on the 28th with a remastered 1920 version of THE GOLEM – HOW HE CAME TO BE (ab0ve) complete with musical accompaniment. This year’s festival opening film is Damien Chazelle’s biopic of Neil Armstrong FIRST MAN. There are 21 features and documentaries in the main competition which boasts the latest films from Olivier Assayas (a publishing drama DOUBLE LIVES stars Juliette Binoche), Jacques Audiard (THE SISTERS BROTHERS), Joel and Ethan Coen’s 6-part Western THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS, Brady Corbet’smusical drama VOX LUX; Alfonso Cuaron with ROMA; Luca Guadagnino’s SUSPIRIA sees Tilda Swinton playing 3 parts; Mike Leigh (PETERLOO), Yorgos Lanthimos with an 18th drama entitled THE FAVOURITE; Carlos Reygadas joins from his usual Cannes slot; and Julian Schnabel will present AT ETERNITY’S GATE a drama attempting to get inside the head of Vincent Van Gogh. Not to mention Laszlo Nemes’ Budapest WW1 drama NAPSZÁLLTA, a much awaited second feature and follow up to his Oscar winning Son of Saul.

The out of competition selection is equally exciting and thematically rich. There is Bradley Cooper’s directing debut A STAR IS BORN (left), Charles Manson-themed CHARLIE SAYS from Mary Herron; Amos Gitai’s A TRAMWAY IN JERUSALEM, and Zhang Yimou’s YING (SHADOW). And those whose enjoyed S Craig Zahler’s dynamite Brawl in Cell Block 99 will be pleased to hear that his DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE adds Mel Gibson to the previous cast of Jennifer Carpenter and Vince Vaughn. There will be an historic epic set in the time of the French Revolution: UN PEUPLE ET SON ROI features Gaspart Ulliel and Denis Lavant (who also stars in Rick Alverson’s Golden Lion hopeful THE MOUNTAIN) , and Amir Naderi’s MAGIC LANTERN which has the wonderful English talents of Jacqueline Bisset. And talking of England, Mike Leigh’s much gloated over historical epic PETERLOO finally makes it to the competition line-up

Documentary-wise there’s plenty to enjoy: Amos Gitai’s brief but timely A LETTER TO A FRIEND IN GAZA; Francesco Patierno’s CAMORRA which explores the infamous Italian organisation; Frederick Wiseman this time plunders Monrovia, Indiana for his source material; multi-award winning Russian documentarian Viktor Kossalkovsky will present his latest water-themed work AQUARELA; Ukrainian Sergei Loznitsa’s film for this year’s festival is PROCESS (he’s the Ukrainian answer to Michael Winterbottom in terms of his prodigious output) this time focusing on the myriad lies surrounding Stalinism.

Out of Competition there are also blasts from the past including a hitherto unseen drama directed and co-written by Orson Welles and his pal Oja Kodar, starring Peter Bogdanovich and John Huston; and Bosnian director Emir Kusturica is back after his rocky time On The Milky Road with EL PEPE, UNA VIDA SUPREMA. 

And Malaysian auteur Tsai Ming-liang also makes a welcome return to Venice with his drama YOUR FACE. A multi-award winning talent on the Lido, his 2013 Stray Dogs won the Special Grand Jury Prize and Vive l’Amour roared away with the Golden Lion in 1994 (jointly with Milcho Manchevski’s Pred dozhdot).

Venice has a been a pioneer of 3D and VR since the screening of GRAVITY which opened the festival in 2013 amid much mal-functioning of 3D glasses at the press screening, and this year’s VR features include an excerpt from David Whelan’s 1943: BERLIN BLITZ which will be released ithis Autumn. This VR showcase experience is an accurate retelling of the events which happened inside a Lancaster bomber during one of the most well documented missions of World War II using original cockpit audio recorded 75 years ago. The endeavour is expected to be released on the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Oculus Go, Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR and Windows Mixed Reality platforms. MT





Copyright © 2024 Filmuforia