Archive for the ‘Venice Film Festival’ Category

Happening (2021)

Dir.: Audrey Diwan; Cast: Anamaria Vartolomei, Luana Bajrami, Louise Orry-Diquero, Sandrine Bonnaire, Eric Verdin, Anna Mouglalis, Pio Marmaï, Kacey Mottet Klein | France 2021, 99 min.

It was bold of the Jury at Venice 2021 to award the Golden Lion to Happening, a fervent drama exposing the mental and physical cruelty aimed at women when abortion was illegal in France.

Based on Annie Ernaux’s 2001 semi-biographical novel Audrey Diwan’s sophomore feature is a powerful, uncompromising plea for women to be in charge of their reproductive rights at a time when the pro-choice movement is being pushed back; and not only in Catholic strongholds such as Poland and Republican controlled states in the USA. Carried by a brilliant cast, the harsh realism of DoP’s Laurent Tangy’s often handheld camera makes certain scenes in the final reel nearly unwatchable – but this is a past many male politicians want to recreate.

In Angoulême 1963, Anne Duchesme (Vartolomei), 23, is a dedicated student making her way successfully out of the rut lower-middle class women were condemned to. She is forced to tolerate insults from more well to do co-students who call her “a slut”. Anne is best friends with Helene (Bazrami) and Brigitte (Orry-Diquero); the three talk a lot about sex, imagining what the real thing would look like – all fun and games – but sex is taboo.

But when it finally happens at a party with Jean (Mottet Klein) a student from another college, Anne feels underwhelmed by the experience. Her world collapses when the doctor confirms her pregnancy during a routine check-up. Jean is unimpressed by the news – believing is to be her responsibility. And none of her friends, however caring, want to get involved. Abortion is a punishable offence for all involved, including the medical establishment.

At home, her parents (Sandrine Bonnaire/Eric Verdin) are proud of their daughter being the first person in the family to go to university. Anne cannot bring herself to tell them the truth, not wanting to destroy their illusions. Even her university tutor (Pio Marmaï) notices her mind is not on her studies. 

For Anne/Ernaux the choice is still clear: reproductive choice means the same nowadays as it did back then: “to have the illness that turns French women into house-wives”. Anne contemplates her own situation: “I’d like a child one day. But not instead of a life of my own”.

The feature’s rawness is underlined by the 4:3 format, conveying Anne’s isolation from her friends, and society as a whole. A minimalist score by Sacha and Evgueni Galperine, just piano and violins, also focuses on 12 weeks of hell,  Anne going from one humiliation to another. Abortion became legal in France in 1975. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Ennio (2021)

Dir/Wri: Giuseppe Tornatore | Doc 157′

Ennio Morricone was one of cinema’s best loved and most prolific composers. Giuseppe Tornatore captures his complex romantic spirit in this warmly nostalgic tribute that also celebrates their own working relationship that started with Cinema Paradiso (1988) and continued for many years. In his lifetime Morricone scored over 500 movies, one year alone completing 18 films. 

The biopic straddles film and musicology enriched by a treasure trove of excerpts and the stars that brought them to life praising Morricone’s charisma and single mindedness and describing their own experiences with a man whose modesty contrasted with his prodigious talent to amuse. The final half hour does feel repetitive with its endless clips of concert performances which add nothing to the party, and almost fly in the face of the composer’s lowkey sense of style.

‘The Maestro’ is pictured in his palatial home relaxing in a armchair as he talks expansively about a career that started with his training to be a doctor before his father, a professional trumpeter, persuaded him to become a musician.

Times were hard and the family struggled during the Second World war years when Morricone played for a pittance writing dance tunes before a classical path at the Rome’s Santa Cecilia Conservatory would see him training under the respected teacher and composer Goffredo Petrassi who would strongly influence for the rest of his career.

Working with an avant-garde collective inspired by John Cage allowed Morricone to develop his creative inventiveness using a variety of sound effects using tin cans to the famous whistles and even typewriters to produce his unique sounds during the Sixties in scores often inspired by Bach toccatas, but the bread and butter came from TV work where he was often uncredited.

Morricone often felt he was letting his classical training down preferring to remain in the background with his iconic scores for Westerns, but they allowed him to expand his contacts, and it was here that he would forge a long lasting working relationship with Sergio Leone, one of his old schoolfriends, he would go on to score all Leone’s films after A Fistful of Dollars. 

A Fistful of Dollars (1963/4) provided a springboard for other Western projects where he insisted on having control of the score, even when Leone proposed additions from another movie. He even replaced his mentor Petrassi on John Huston’s The Bible (1966), a moment he still considers regretful, and where he is uncredited. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) followed and Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence (1968). He turned down an offer from Roland Joffe saying he couldn’t score The Mission (1986) without ruining the aesthetic appeal of the images, but then went on to enhance the epic. It was nominated for that year’s Oscar but missed out to Herbie Hancock’s Round Midnight, which was not an original score, and therefore not really eligible for the category. 

This is a film that somehow benefits from its plethora of talking head stars: Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone,  Dario Argento all make valuable contributions along with Bernardo Bertolucci and Bruce Springsteen. Even the elusive Terrence Malick gives his two pennyworth on working with the maestro in Days of Heaven, who received his first Academy Award nomination for the score. The only regret during his prodigious output is that he was unable to score A Clockwork Orange for Kubrick after a misunderstanding with Sergio Leone deep-sixed the collaboration, Leone claiming Morricone was too busy with his score for A Fistful of Dynamite, which was apparently untrue).

Tornatore really gets to the heart of a genuine and deeply sensual man who clearly lived for his music at a profound level and found happiness in his marriage to Maria who provided an invaluable sounding board throughout his career and got him his first job at RAI.

Ennio provides a rich vein of lesser known Italian films from the Sixties – Giuseppe Patroni Griffi’s Love Circle, Alberto Lattuada’s Fraulein Doctor and Liliana Calvani’s I Cannibali (1970) as well as classics such as Elio Petri’s A Quiet Place in the Country, Bertolucci’s Partner; Pasolini’s Hawks and Sparrows, and Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers and Leone’s 1984 epic Once Upon a Time in America (still considered his best) whetting our appetite to re-discover these and fully appreciate how his compositions add another dimensions to cinema, Sidelined at the Academy Awards for many years he finally struck gold with Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, at 90. MT

IN CINEMAS AND ON DEMAND | 22 APRIL 2022 | PREMIERE – THE RED SEA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Dune (2021)

Dir.: Denis Villeneuve; Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Zendaya, Stellan Skarsgard, Javier Bardem, Charlotte Rampling, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa; USA/ Canada 2021, 155 min.

The forth realised adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 cult novel Dune, directed by Québécoise filmaker Denis Villeneuve (2049) is big news – with a budget of 165 million dollars Warner Brothers have taken a gamble in the hope that streaming on their platform HBO Max and good receipts at the cinema box office will guarantee a sequel covering the second half of Herbert’s book.

After the David Lynch version of 1984 was butchered by the producers (from 180 to 137 minutes), and two TV mini-series, Villeneuve’s almost two hour version could be seen as a mere set-up for the all-revealing two-and-half hour denouement – or even part of a new franchise. But Part Two is not a certainty at all, if you cast your mind back to the troubles Alejandro Jodorowsky had in the early 1970s, when even Salvatore Dali failed to get the Chilean helmer’s project off the ground, spawning only Frank Pavich’s 2013 doc exploring its contingent failure.

To their credit, Villeneuve and co-writers Eric Roth and Jon Spaiths, have played down only the background of the saga, so that non-aficionados of the Herbert novel can enjoy the more entertaining intrigues and endless battles: in the far, far future humankind has conquered the universe due to a super, life-enhancing spice that super-charges the brain endowing humans with preternatural powers of rapid mobility in space travel, that today would take millions of years. The downside is that this super-dust, called Spice, is only found on the planet Arrakis, aka Dune, where giant sandworms contribute to a very inhospitable environment.

The indigenous population known as Fremen (read Free Men) are engaged in an ongoing battle to combat the colonisation of the Emperor’s armies. Enter the House of Atreides, a noble family who is ordered by the Emperor to take charge of Dune and its rebellious population. They take over from the House of Harkonnen, but it is not clear if the Atreides are getting a promotion, or are just a toy in the hands of the Imperial ruler. Duke Leto (Isaac) of Atreides, his concubine Jessica (Ferguson) and their son Paul (Chalamet) arrive on Dune, only to be ambushed by evil Baron Harkonnen (Skarsgard). Paul’s mother belongs to a tribe of women known as the ‘Bene Gesserit’,who have been engaged for centuries in creating “The One” – but it’s still uncertain if Paul is really this long-awaited saviour.

Jessica trains her son in the art of “Voice”, which allows its user total mind control. Paul is being prepared for battle by Gurney (Brolin) and Idaho (Momoa), so he can lead the stranded family on their way to salvation on Dune, whilst taking the Spice and dreaming of Chani (Zendaya), a Fremen woman, whom we only see in Paul’s dreams. Will the enigmatic Paul and Jessica become allies of the Fremen, or is this just the start of hostilities with the black-clad Harkonnen?

The two-part script structure is clearly flawed but Villeneuve, DoP Greig Fraser and PD Patrice Vermette have created a totally unique universe where sandstorms (aka climate change?) pose an even greater threat than the mayhem caused by human armies. This is brutalist futurism where helicopters fly like birds with insect wings, and the Harkonnen army, with their hairless, pale faces bring to mind the SS ‘Angels of Death’. But the graphic descriptions of the battle scenes often feel  repetitive and gradually lose their power to shock, becoming ineffectual. DUNE is certainly a visual masterpiece, so let’s hope the producers’ pay-as-you-go strategy pays off with Part II. Shame though the the whole thing couldn’t have been down in one go. AS

NOW In CINEMAS

 

White Building (2021) Bfi London Film Festival

Dir.: Kavich Neang; Cast: Piseth Chhun, Sithan Hout, Uk Sokha, Chinnaro Soem, Sovann Tho, Jany Min; Cambodia/France/China/Qatar 2021,

Cambodian filmmaker Kavich Neang once again returns to the timely topic of gentrification in his second film – this time a drama – following his 2019 documentary Last Night I Saw You Smiling.

Housing has become big business in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. The titular White Building, built in 1963, was once a haunt for artists, but now the developers have arrived, investors from Japan and China. Boyhood friendships and family ties are going to be tested.

The story follows three men in their early twenties Samnang (Chhun), Ahco (Soem) and Tol (Tho) who spend their time chasing women – unsuccessfully – and trying to make it with a dancing routine. Their performances in restaurants and pubs are not a big hit, and they go on dreaming. But soon Tol leaves for the ‘bright lights’ of France where you can buy all sorts of cool trainers. This leaves Samnang living with his mother (Soha) and father (Hout), a former sculptor in the white building, his home since birth.

Stories about people moving from the rural areas to the newly built but morally corrupt cities have been a popular theme for Far Eastern filmmakers with some award-winner features: Stray Dogs (2013) being the most memorable. White Building sees the other side of the story. Samnang’s father is chasing the dollar on home ground, heading up the white building’s tenants’ association, and hoping to strike a good deal with the developers. But even the best outcome, based on a deal in square meters, would only secure the families with the largest flats a decent place in central Phnom Penh, with more chance of a job. Most residents would have to leave for the countryside, where employment is thin on the ground.

Samnang’s sister Kanha (Min) has already left the family, and her parents are afraid her brother will also fly the nest, conditions in the estate are rapidly going downhill and the landlord has cut off the water supply to the block. As as result of these upheavals Samnang’s father is not only relieved from his duties as chief negotiator, but also has to have part of his leg amputated as a result of untreated diabetes, In their new country home, Samnang must make a decision.

DoP Douglas Seok has an eccentric way of shooting: cameras are on drones, the angels of the buildings taking on an German expressionist look as the tenants flee the building in droves. Phnom Penh’s three-seater scooters loom large in Seok’s rowing camerawork. Everything seems out of kilter in this ‘end of days’. At the centre of the tornado, Piseth Chhun deserved to win Best Actor in Venice Horizons sidebar at the 78th Mostra last month. AS

SCREENING AT BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | WHITE BUILDING HAS BEEN SELECTED AS CAMBODIA’S OSCAR HOPEFUL IN NEXT YEAR’S ACADEMY AWARDS 2022

 

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon (2021)

Dir.: Ana Lily Amirpour; Cast: Jeon Jong-seo, Kate Hudson, Evan Whitten, Ed Skrein, Craig Robinson; USA 2021, 106 min.

A Korean teenager’s hypnotic powers create havoc in a suburb of New Orleans in this second feature from from Ana Lily Amirpour whose stylish debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) felt radical and edgy back in the comparatively tame world of 2014.

One again wrapping her story round a lone woman, Jeon Jong-seo makes for a feisty Mona Lisa, the teenager in question. A diet of junk food and soft drinks has nudged her into the autistic spectrum, but her kinetic powers soon come in handy in the confines of her high security psychiatric ward, enabling her to overpower the abusive warden and she escapes into the night. Embarking on a frenzied foray powered forward by a seething soundscape, and aided and abetted by friends Fuzz (Skrein), stripper drug dealer cum DJ Bonnie (Hudson) and son Charlie (Whitten), she is hotly pursued on her odyssey of destruction, by a police officer undeterred by his plaster cast.

Very much a bedtime story for adults this is a less appealing rif on Jonathan’s Glazer’s Under The Skin: underdog Mona Lisa morphing into the exotic heroine from far away, mastering, while not comprehending, the rules of the planet she has landed on. Mona Lisa just stays her spontaneous self, surrounded by machiavellian schemers (apart from Charlie). Her motivation is not power or money, but freedom – the desire to avoid capture and imprisonment becomes paramount in her dystopian crusade.

This is an unashamed B-picture where rules are suspended, and emotion became the primary focus: reality is submerged by the heroine’s sheer willpower and self-determination. DoP Pawel Pogorzelski’s neon-drenched aesthetic underlines the narrative’s artificial world, that hangs somewhere between Twilight Zone and a non-realised David Lynch project. Mona Lisa is just pure excitement, the supporting half of a double feature which turns out to be much stronger stuff than the main attraction. AS

NOW AT LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | VENICE PREMIERE

IL Buco (2021)

Dir.: Michelangelo Frammartino; Documentary with Paolo Cossi, Jacobo Elia, Denise Trombin, Nicola Lanza; Italy/France/Germany 2021, 93 min.

Milan born director/co-writer Michelangelo Frammartino is not in a hurry: more than a decade after Le Quattro Volte his languorous essay on nature and the limited influence of humans, is a re-staging of the 1961 speleogical expedition, the doco-fiction hybrid paints a rather sober picture of the Abisso del Bifurto at the Pollino plateau in Calabria, where the then – third largest cave of nearly 700 m was discovered and meticulously measured.

Once underground, there is only artificial light: the team’s helmet lamps illuminate the usual detritus: old newspapers with recognisable idols such as JFK and Sophia Loren their images going up in flames to provide firelight for those men and women toiling meticulously in the abyss. It being Italy, a football match takes place underground, the two players overground unable to keep the ball away from the cave entrance. Other team members snooze, with a horse poking his nose into their tent.

In the nearby village, locals gather round a TV screen as if it was a cinema: the fuzzy black-and-white picture shows the 24-story high Pirelli building in Milan, and some crackly old dancing numbers. Strangely enough one of the old villagers, a man in his eighties, steals the show. He is a bystander collecting wood borne by his donkey to the hut where he lives with other farm workers. Somehow we expect him to be there forever (like the old boy in Quattro Volte), even when the film crew is long gone – but nature intervenes. The men transport him to his home where a doctor arrives later on another donkey. We’re prepared for the grim outcome reminding us of our own mortality and the fragility of life.

Meanwhile in the cave, the speleologists tool their way down, encumbered by ropes and other instruments. Afterwards they sit in the sunshine copying their measurements on old-fashioned writing paper with a quill. It all ends in a puddle in a cul-de-sac, without fanfares and celebrations.

DoP Renato Berta lets his camera glide lovingly about the landscape and the animals, showing the descent like in a glowing string of beads. Somehow we cannot take it all seriously, the animals and farmers overground seem much more real than the heroes with their determination to discover and measure. If there is any message, it is that so-called progress is very limited – as is fame. The age-old railway which brought the climbers to their destination, and the their motley collection of tents remain in the memory, along with the old man who has ‘sneaked’ in grabbing the limelight as a major attraction. Progress is measured by human patience and observance of nature, records of all kinds are fleeting.

AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY | SPECIAL JURY PRIZE VENICE 2021

Miracle (2021) Venice Film Festival

Dir: Bogdan George Petri | Cast: Ioana Bugarin, Emanuel Parvu, Cezar Antal, Valentin Popescu | Drama, 118′

Bogdan George Petri follows his sweaty murder story Unindentified, with another discursive crime drama wrapped round the case of a young novice who goes missing from her convent in the Northern Romanian countryside.

19-year old Cristina (Bugarin) is fiercely committed to becoming a nun, but judging from her tears in the opening scene the trial period is not going to plan and early one morning she secretly leaves her cloistered confines heading for the local hospital.

The taxi ride with another passenger, a doctor, offers a taste of Romanian humour allowing Petri to share his pithy views on spirituality, the music of folk singer Gica Petrescu, the state of the nation in general, a theme that will crop up again and again throughout this thorny tale that soon becomes a seething crime investigation. On the way back to the convent after her tests Cristina takes another taxi, but she will never reach her destination

Apetri’s skilful direction includes a quietly devastating scene where the camera swings full circle around a vicious crime unfolding deep in the woods. The victim’s awful cries compete with a howling wind gusting through the trees, a pair of cattle ranchers riding by emphasising the remoteness of the location, and leaving us desperate to know the outcome from their sole witness perspective.

The police procedural is headed by inspector Marius Preda (Parvu) who brusquely cuts to the chase in his hunt for the perpetrator who will soon be have to be eleased from custody. Investigations at the convent prove inconclusive, the nuns are unwilling to cooperate in their desire for privacy, echoing Cristian Mungiu’s convent drama Beyond the Hills.

Ioana Bugarin is vulnerable yet determined as the novice at the heart of this tightly coiled mystery that sees the desperate detective committing a series of serious misjudgements. And as he races against time to convict the suspect a strange modern miracle occurs before his eyes. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Old Henry (2021) Venice Film Festival 2021

Dir/scr: Potsy Ponciroli. US. 2021. 99 mins.

There are nods to Peckinpah in this spare but rather lacklustre western that eventually catches fire in a coruscating showdown after a series of posturing gun-slinging episodes.

Writer-director Potsy Ponciroli shoots the wild west of the early 20th century as a merciless desiccated wilderness where Stephen Dorff’s Ketchum leads a posse of villains posing as law-keepers. In a grassy ditch in deepest Oklahoma cadaverous farmer Henry (Tim Blake Nelson) finds a satchel of dollars near a listless body transporting both to his homestead determined, for some unknown reason, to nurse the stranger back to health. 

Living with his sweet-natured teenage son Wyatt (Gavin Lewis) the taciturn Henry is still mourning the loss of his wife to tuberculosis a decade earlier — but her ghost is the only female to grace the cast of this macho fuelled narrative. Hot on the trail of the injured man Ketchum claims to be a sherif from another county. Henry senses something suspicious and strengthens his resolve to protect the injured man (Scott Haze), but his own identity is soon called into question, providing the reveal which comes as an anticlimax so late in a mystery that never gets under the skin.

Made up of gritty action sequences and terse standoffs this is a western in the traditional style from video and TV director Ponciroli. Old Henry is decent but pedestrian fare reliably carried by Dorff and a ghoulishly taciturn Blake Wilson who holds out stoically until the final frame.

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Last Night in Soho (2021)

Dir|Wri : Edgar Wright | Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Wood, Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp, Rita Tushingham, Synnøve Karlsen, Michael Ajao | Fantasy thriller, 116;

Only residents know the misery of living in the toilet that is today’s Soho with its sordid street eateries all night disco taxis. To the outside world louche glamour has always been the watchword for this niche quartier and this edginess is revisited in Edgar Wright’s first horror pic, a warped psychological thriller inspired by the psychotronic cinema of the 1960s and ’70s.

Last Night in Soho has vintage star power in the shape of British screen veteran Rita Tushingham, playing the protagonist’s doting grandmother, Peggy, who fondly remembers her own glory days in around Carnaby Street. Joining her is Terence Stamp and Diana Rigg, in her swansong, in a party that is refreshed for a new generation with a time travel twist and a vampire subplot that rather outstays its welcome.

Wright, best known for his zombie cult classic Shaun of the Dead, brings the dizzying dynamism and style of Baby Driver to a feature that carries us forward like a perilous ride at a fun-fare with its neon shot aesthetic and retro score of classic hits from Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw and Petula Clark but the music is drowned out by the extended horror element that overwhelms character and storyline in the final stretch.

It all starts in Cornwall where Thomasin McKenzie is ambitious dancer Eloise Cooper. Raised as an orphan by her grandmother Peggy – her mother committed suicide – Eloise dreams of Twiggy and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Awarded a much coveted place at the London College of Fashion, Eloise then heads to the capital as Peggy’s warnings about the seamier side of London fall on deaf ears.

Bitchy flatmate Jocasta (Synnøve Karlsen) proves too much for the delicate Cornish rose to handle so she moves on with down-to-earth Ms. Collins (Rigg) who keeps her on the straight and narrow, for a time. But the young girl’s dreams turn to nightmares in a tonal shift that grows sinister in the garish strobe of the lighted signage outside her bedroom. Now in a nocturnal time warp Eloise meets Anya Taylor-Wood’s blonde, back-combed singer Sandie dancing to an electro disco vibes from Steven Prince. Dreams of fame and success taunt the young Cornish creative, blind-siding her to the lascivious intentions of her seedy agent Jack (Smith) who’s all over her like a cheap suit – and wearing one too. 

There is a distinct feel of Peter Strickland’s In Fabric to the tone and styling here as Eloise’s life swings form the past to the present, her fashion career gliding sinuously through a series of twists and turns as she descends into the dark demimonde where Eloise’s forays intensify in a vivid vibe of danger.

She meets Terrence Stamp’s suave silver fox and Michael Ajao’s sweet romantic dreamer to the retro vibes of Petula Clark who trills: “forget all your troubles, forget all your cares, so go downtown.” Wright presents Soho as synonymous with glamour and vice in a musical fantasy exploring the darker face of fame and fortune. Shame there wasn’t more of the music and less of the gore. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 IN UK CINEMAS FROM 29 OCTOBER

 

Sundown (2021) Venice Film Festival

Dir/Wri: Michel Franco | Cast: Tim Roth, Charlotte Gainsbourg | Thriller 83’

Neil Bennett is just starting to relax in a plush Mexican resort with his sister Alice and her two teenagers, when a phone call shatters their idyll. Their mother has been taken to hospital and soon after dies.

Hurriedly getting their stuff together they dash to the airport. But Neil has forgotten his passport, leaving his neurotic sister to pick up the pieces back home. So begins Michel Franco’s latest thriller with his signature plot twists and nasty surprises: a blueprint for lean storytelling unravelling in just over an hour, Sundown just might change your life.

Louche, snarky and yet utterly devastating Sundown is all about serendipity – how life suddenly falls into place and then out again. You can’t help rooting for Neil, a suitably laid back Tim Roth, he does what everyone wants to do, walking away from responsibility, following his heart. Charlotte Gainsbourg is a strung-out, stressful bundle of nerves as Alice, and you just want to run away from her and that’s what Neil does. Running a successful slaughterhouse business the family is loaded. Money has never been a problem, and it shows in their flip attitude in a tight little thriller with its clipped dialogue: nothing is spare.

Leaving the airport Neil heads back to a squalid hotel in downtown Acapulco and it’s here that he finds contentment in a love affair with a local Mexican brunette.  Pretending to be organising a new passport with the consulate he drinks beer and shoots the breeze, ignoring his sister’s endless phone calls. When Alice finds him, a week later, he’s already loving the dream. And all the stress of London suddenly floods back. You may well empathise with Neil when Alice forces a ‘business divorce’ on him offering a generous retirement package while he willingly gives up his share, content to be left to his own devices.

But his laid back attitude hides a more sinister but pivotal plot twist telegraphed in the opening scene, blink and you’ll miss it. Michel Franco certainly does no favours to his native Mexico portraying it as a venally corrupt and dangerous place to visit. And we’re not prepared for the showcase showdown that brings Sundown to a grisly climax

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Scenes from a Marriage (2021) Venice Film Festival 2021

Dir/Wri: Hagai Levi, Amy Herzog | 5 episode mini series

Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac are the stars of this elliptical potboiler that offers plenty of talky têtes a têtes and raunchy sex. Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s 1974 screen classic it may make the average couple wonder why parents of one, Mira and Jonathan, are filing for divorce. Communication lines are open and flowing with candid confessions and compromises, and that’s not the only thing that flows between these lustful Jewish forty somethings who lose no opportunity in sharing their bodily juices between the sheets or on a plastic wrapped sofa waiting for the removal man.

Set in New York, Scenes is a surprisingly mature and engrossing five parter from acclaimed Israeli born director Hagai Levi best known for his standout mini series Be’Tipul that also ran on HBO (from 2005-9). Hagai and his co-writer Amy Herzog promise “love, hatred, desire, monogamy, marriage and divorce” and certainly deliver it in spades providing immersive bitesize viewing, each of the eps running for a well-judged 60 minutes. Just enough time for you to question your own relationship and fall out with your partner before bedtime. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | COMING TO HBO

 

 

The Hole in the Fence (2021) Venice Film Festival

Dir.: Joaquin Del Paso; Cast: Eric David Walker, Yubah Ortega Tellez, Raul Vasconcelos, Valria Lamm Willams, Luciano Kurti Bustamente,, DiegoLazona Caeto, Enirque Lascurain Peralta, Takahiro Murokawa, Marek Tokaocik, Jacek Poniedzialek; Mexico/Poland 2021, 100 min.

In a village in Mexico a rigid Catholic institution has long been churning out leading figures for the establishment. But its future is suddenly threatened when the titular ‘hole in the fence’ surrounding the camp is discovered by a group of rowdy teenagers in the nearby Centro Escolar de Los Pinos.

With The Hole in the Fence Mexican directorJoaquin Del Paso (Maquinaria Panamerica) and co-writer Lucy Pawlak have created a summer camp from hell. When the boys arrive in a bus they are immediately warned by staff, under the leadership of ‘Minister’ Professor Monteros (Peralta), that they should stay away from the nearby village. But boys will be boys. A brutal attack on indigenous ‘scholarship’ student Edoardo, by his mostly white roommates, sets the tone for something much more serious as the violence escalates despite ‘meditation classes’.

Another teenager, Diego (Walker), is forced to wear a neck brace and a cast on his arm but the cause of his injuries remains mysterious. The other boys continue to torment Eduardo and when they see him swimming naked with Joaquin (Bustamente) a scuffle breaks out and Josue’s (Cueto) nose is broken. His wealthy parents arrive in a helicopter to collect their son; his father, a former alumnus of the “Centro Escolar” himself, is prevemted from taking action by Monteros. But things get out of hand when the existence of the hole becomes common knowledge, and eventually all hell breaks loose as Monteros’  authority is increasingly challenged. Alarmingly his retribution is as cruel as the boys’ treatment of each other.

Cinematographer Alfonso Herrera Salcedo contrasts azure blue skies with the hell hole unfolding on the ground. He shows evil not as something abstract, but as a combination of psychological predisposition and a generalised cult atmosphere which feeds off the mayhem and the victims themselves. The ensemble acting is brilliant, with Peralta’s Professor Monteros giving a really convincing performance channelling Joseph Goebbels and a Spanish inquisitor. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

The Lost Daughter (2021) Netflix

Dir: Maggie Gyllenhaal | Cast: Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Dakota Fanning, Jack Farthing | UK Drama 124′

Olivia Colman reconnects with her past on a trip to the Greek Islands in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s first film as director.

Based on Elena Farrante’s novel, The Lost Daughter makes for a fraught psychological drama graced by another gripping performance from Colman as Leda Caruso, a professor of Italian literature looking for seclusion on a working holiday.

Not quite as brittle as Charlotte Rampling in The Swimming Pool but just as redoubtable and mesmerising, Colman’s warm smile melts to reveal a passionate determination as an academic and mother of two grown-up daughters, openly confessing that her maternal instincts were secondary to her desire for self realisation

The peace of her the secluded beach near her holiday home (rented from Ed Harris) is soon shattered by the arrival of a raucous bunch of New Yorkers from Queens whose apparent parental dysfunction mirrors Leda’s own, the reflection on the past gradually destabilising her tranquility as anxiety drifts into this newfound idyll.

Olivia Colman brings all the subtleties of age and experience to her richly complex role. Voluble when the occasion arises, she mostly keeps to herself but is increasingly drawn in by the antics of her American neighbours: the young mother Nina (Johnson) soon becoming the focus of her fascination. And Nina copes with a clingy toddler, memories of Leda’s own experiences flood back as the film plays out in a series of flashbacks fleshing out her past, Jessie Buckley playing her younger self.

Stifled by the heat and buzzing insects and hemmed in by her American interlopers Leda’s working holiday soon descends into anguish heightened by the sudden disappearance of Nina’s daughter, and her much loved doll. Leda joins the search party eventually finding the girl but keeping her doll to satisfy some unexplained maternal urge which fuels the final prt of the film as some visceral recollections of the past creep back: an early marriage, kids arriving too soon and disrupting her glittering career, precipitating her into romantic indiscretion and divorce.

Gyllenhaal’s assured direction and well-modulated narrative explores some dark nights of the soul but it’s Colman who brings it all together in an incendiary performance full of mercurial moments as well as measured maturity that keeps the hatches battened down in this stormy story about love, attraction and personal satisfaction. MT

ON NETFLIX FROM December 31st 2021 | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | BEST SCREENPLAY 2021

   

Amira (2021) Oscar hopeful withdrawn by Jordan

Wri/Dir: Mohamed Diab | 98’

Amira is a passionate but conflicted melodrama that turns on a case of mistaken identity involving one of the thousands of babies conceived through artificial insemination between men in Palestinian prisons and their wives in the outside world.

17 year old Amira (Tara Abboud) is the result of one such miracle: her father Nawar (Mohamed Ghassan) smuggling out a frozen packet of sperm from his cell in the Megiddo Prison to her mother (Saba Mubarak). But there’s an unexpected twist to the tale when it soon becomes apparent that Nawar is shooting blanks and unable to provide his wife Warda with a much wanted second child as Amira prepares to leave home to study photography.

Amira is close to both her parents, but particularly her father in his hour of need. Keen to keep him included in her life on the outside, she has skilfully photoshopped him into family snaps proudly presenting them as gifts on her frequent visits to Megiddo Prison where he has been on hunger strike.

Now her past and future descend into emotional turmoil when it emerges that Nawar is not her biological father, raising all sorts of questions not least about her real paternity, but also Warda’s fidelity.

The film gets off to a strong start with its thorny premise and fiery conflicting characters but these elements are handled with a surprising lack of finesse compared to Diab’s usual deftness so much in evidence in his previous features Clash and Cairo 678. An ill-considered final section that descends in raucous melodrama and an overbearing sound design only make matters worse.

In scenes that are quite shocking considering the 21st century advances in female emancipation, Warda’s inlaws put her under house arrest in a locked room, confining her until she reveals the identity of Amira’s father, even before she has been proved guilty of dishonouring the family, or indeed, any crime. Diab paints the Israel faction as inhumane yet fails to see how his own countrymen are still subjugating their own women as second class citizens, and the only character objecting to Warda’s treatment is a male colleague who then falls under the spotlight as Amira’s potential father simply because of his protective stance. Despite all this Abboud gives a dignified and restrained performance in the title role as a woman whose world is blown apart bringing about the final tragic denouement. MT

Jordan’s Royal Film Commission has withdrawn Egyptian director Mohamed Diab’s drama Amira as its submission to the 2022 international feature Oscar race following a local backlash against the film.

 

 

 

Lost Illusions | Illusions Perdues (2021) Venice Film Festival

Dir. Xavier Giannoli. France. 2021. 144′.

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

In the flowing tradionally styled screen adaptation Xavier Giannoli calls his main character Lucien de Rubempre and casts a dashing and tousled haired Benjamin Voisin (fresh from Ozon’s Summer of ‘85) to play the ambitious young social climber charting his impetuous progress through the ranks from the backstreets of Paris to the corridors of power where he comes up against the ruthless establishment of the salons.

Lucien de Rubempré is an aspiring poet from Angoulême who soon captures the heart of cultured baroness Louise de Bargeton (Cécile de France). But his lowly social class causes a scandal, and Louise is cautioned by her beady eyed cousin, Marquise d’Espard (a beady-eyed Jeanne Balibar) forcing Lucien back onto the rocky road of Parisian grafting where he soon meets his rival Nathan (Xavier Delon) and the hard-nosed cynical journo Etienne Lousteau (Vincent Lacoste in fine form) who has found a way of financing his literary career through theatre criticism in the newly burgeoning tabloid press.

Lucien’s arriviste vanity and lust for life will eventually derail his dreams of lasting success, although for a while he is the toast of the town. Until then Lucien discovers the high life, champagne flows and the beau monde of Paris appears to be his oyster, Gérard Depardieu’s wealthy publisher soon signing the cheques. Meanwhile Louise has gone full circle in her spiritual evolution as a world weary aristocrat and beaten a hasty retreat to the country where she pines for her beau.

Meanwhile new love for Lucien arrives in the shape of homely showgirl Coralie (Salomé Dewaels) who becomes his mistress and confidante, her strengh and moral probity a much needed guiding light for the impetuous ingenu. And for a while the couple enjoy a meteoric rise as the ‘dernier cri’ of Paris through their hard work and genuine endeavour. But storm clouds soon gather on their moment of fame and Coralie’s  desire to keep Lucien in the dandy manner he’s not been accustomed to see the debts mounting up until all they have left is their love.

With Christophe Beaucarne’s fluid camerawork this is an opulent if rather overblown drama that could do with a trim here and there to make it a slightly more palatable watch instead of an indulgent two and a half hours. That said, Giannoli is worthy of praise for his skilful adaptation of what is an enjoyable and magnificent French classic. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

The Hand of God (2021)

Wri/Dir: Paolo Sorrentino Cast: Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo, Teresa Saponangelo, Marlon Joubert, Luisa Ranieri, Renato Carpentieri, Massimiliano Gallo, Betti Pedrazzi, Biagio Manna, Ciro Capano, Enzo Decaro, Lino Musella, Sofya Gershevich, Lino Musella, Dora Romano, Alessandro Bressanello, Birte Berg, Roberto Oliveri, Alfonso Perugini | Italy Drama 129’

Oscar-winner Paolo Sorrentino returns to Naples in the 1980s with this melodramatic coming of age drama fuelled by football, family and Fellini.

The Hand of God has all the hallmarks of Sorrentino’s signature style: the violent men, corrupt officials and voluptuous women who inhabit a larger than life landscape vibrantly brought to life by Daria D’Antonio’s lush camerawork. But this is a tragedy in the Greek style, complete with folkloric undertones and a soulful often strident chorus-line scoring the mosaic of magnificent vignettes that make up a poignant feature tainted by tragedy, and possibly Sorrentino’s most personal yet.

Naples is the star of the show, the majestic Campania coastline and the mauve mountains of Capri shimmering in the Tyrrhenian sea providing an amazing backdrop to the flamboyant storyline. In the traffic strewn Spaccanoli a big-breasted woman (Ranieri) waits wearily for her bus home. A limousine pulls up and a blue-eyed man (Decaro) claiming to be San Genaro, patron saint of Napoli, offers her a welcome life home and hints at the possibility of a much-wanted child to heal her marriage to Franco (Gallo), who the driver appears to know by name. Astonished, the woman climbs on board, but her arrival home is greeted with a brutal beating from her husband, forcing her to call her happily married sister Maria (Saponangelo) and husband Saverio (Servillo) who soon arrive with their teenage son Fabietto (Scotti) from whose perspective the story continues.

At this point it becomes clear that Fabietto is Sorrentino’s younger self: a gentle, thoughtful, football-mad teenager, desperate to lose his virginity: “just get the first time out of the way” urges his conspiratorial father Severio, a warm and loving pater familias with a fine line in tailoring and a solid job.

But Fabietto’s first love is football, hence the film’s Diego Maradona linked title – referring to a divisive goal he scored in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal. Welcome news for the lustful but lowkey Fabietto arrives when the Argentine player is signed for Naples and will turn out to be his saving grace in the final denouement.

But until then the film swelters with Neopolitan summer indulgences: robust encounters, raucous al fresco lunches and volatile viragos busting out of bikinis or stripping naked to bask in the sun. There’s a cheeky scene where Fabietto eventually scores, not in the football sense but with his much older neighbour (Pedrazzi). His creativity is stimulated by the charismatic film director Antonio Capuano (Capano) – whose 1998 feature The Dust of Naples, was co-written by Sorrentino.

Sorrentino recalls all this with nostalgia and a tender affection that steers clear of sentimentality in bearing its heart on an elegantly crafted sleeve. Scotti’s Fabietto makes for an appealing, introspective alter ego capable of extreme emotion and utter devotion in fervently pursuing his future career. MT

ON NETFLIX | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | SILVER LION – GRAND JURY PRIZE 2021 | BEST YOUNG ACTOR – FILIPPO SCOTTI

The Power of the Dog (2021)

Wri/Dir: Jane Campion | Benedict Cumberpatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst, Kodi Smit-McPhee | Western drama, 125’

Jane Campion’s Oscar-winning drama The Piano defines arthouse film and remains seared to the collective cineaste unconscious as a classic for all time.

The Power of the Dog, premiering at the 78th Venice film festival, has the same potent stillness, captivating characters and visual allure, a traditionally told Western it unfolds in a buttoned-down ranching community in 1925 Montana where outward appearances belie dastardly intentions and family dysfunction, inspired by the novel written in 1967 by Thomas Savage.

Benedict Cumberbatch holds sway as Phil Burbank, the swaggeringly macho, latently homosexual son of a cattle rearing family, an ability to castrate a head of cattle before breakfast is the touchstone to his sadistic prowess. His gentlemanly brother George (Plemons) is quite the reverse soon landing himself a wife in the shape of thoughtful  alcoholic widow Rose (Dunst) and her academic but weakly son Peter (a star turn from Kodi Smit-McPhee) whose wounded pride and keen interest in medicine and dissecting animals provides the key to this beguiling slow-burner.

Ostensibly this is a straightforward family drama about the dynamics of power that create a pecking order locked in stasis until one member cracks the code. At first it seems Phil is on track to destroy Rose and her son, but Peter is not to be underestimated, proving that canny inquisitiveness is far more potent than mere intelligence even in a toxic masculine environment where Phil lords it over the locals resting on his laurels as the sneering ‘intellectual’ cowboy whose crass manners and cruelty to animals and his fellow men makes him secretly unpopular.

Campion loads her film with subtle textural references, Ari Wenger’s widescreen set pieces glower and glow in the hostile terrain. The clever adaptation allows plenty of scope for three intensely unusual protagonists: macho Phil is ultimately trounced by his pride; Rose is weak but utterly sympathetic as a deeply affectionate woman starved of physical love and in thrall to her impossible situation. But Peter is far the most intriguing, his physical weakness hiding a steely resolve to succeed and protect his mother at all costs. MT

LFF 2021 | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 premier

The Card Counter (2021) Venice Film Festival

Dir: Paul Schrader | Cast: Oscar Isaacs, Willem Dafoe, Tye Sheridan, Tiffany Haddish | US Thriller 120’

Paul Schrder’s latest thriller turns on a ‘one more trick before retiring’  premise. Oscar Isaacs is in his element as William Tullich, an ex convict from Guantanamo bay whose decade in prison has made him an introverted, compulsive routine-junkie now earning his living as a card counter travelling around from casino to casino ‘just to pass the time’ attracted by his skill at gambling rather than his desire for filthy lucre. 

A bitier more full-blooded take on Croupier (1998), this is essentially a revenge road movie with a difference that contemplates a stale and soulless America fuelled by rancid day-old filter coffee, and reflecting on the bitter vestiges of Abu Ghraib prison where William served as a US officer complicit in the torture of inmates.

With his poker face and detached demeanour Will is driven by a subtle desire for redemption that gradually becomes more obsessive as the narrative strands mesh together revealing the true horror of how ordinary people can become monsters in a controlling environment where they are forced to create an alter ego to survive.

On the road William meets Tye Sheridan’s broken young man Cirk, a metaphor for a millennial caught up in debt and dysfunctional family relationships, whose father was also involved at Guantanamo. Will’s desire to help “the kid” will lead to a coruscating showdown in the film’s elliptical finale where Will comes face to face with his former army superior Gordon Gaddo (Dafoe). A subplot involving Will’s gambling sidekick La Linda (Haddish) is only the weak link here and doesn’t quite convince as the love story at the film’s core: neither Haddish nor Isaacs really connecting with the deep humanity of their characters as fully rounded individuals capable of expressing deep emotion. That aside this is a visually alluring and at times gripping thriller that imagines 21st century America as a lost and shallow shadow of its past. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

Django and Django (2021)

Dir.: Luca Rea; Documentary about Sergio Corbucci with Quentin Tarantino, Franco Nero, Ruggero Deodato; USA/Italy 2021, 80 min.

Italian director/co-writer Luca Rea (Cacao) pays tribute to compatriot director Sergio Corbucci (1926-1990), who, with Sergio Leone, dominated the short era of the Italo-Western in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Corbucci, who made 63 feature films, is usually shunned by mainstream critics, even though he directed huge box office successes with Adriano Celantano and Toto, as well as the later Terence Hill and Bud Spencer Western comedies. Quentin Tarantino is the main source, leading us through Corbucci’s career in seven chapters.

Sergio Corbucci, like Leone, started out as a film critic, and via screen writing became an assistant director. In 1959 Leone and Corbucci worked for Mario Bonnard in The Last Days of Pompei and their valuable contribution set them both up for a great future, even though both Sergios’ insisted the glory belonged to Bonnard alone. Tarantino maintained that Corbucci’s ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ were a settlement of his scores with Fascism, since the young Sergio grew up under the Mussolini dictatorship and WWII. He even had the ‘honour’ – as a member of the Fascist Youth Choir – to be five feet away from Mussolini and Hitler he visited Rome. Corbucci’s villains rode roughshod through all his features as sadistic, misogynist and racist monsters, in love with spilling blood – particularly the one of innocents.

Romulo and Remo (Duel of the Titans) 1961 was Corbucci’s first attempt to show a prototype of the violent men which would later dominate his Westerns. His first, Minnesota Clan (1964) was shot in the same year as Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, starring Clint Eastwood. The shooting of Django (1966) didn’t go to plan: all the horses bolted, and nobody was sure which of the film lots they were shooing on. Nevertheless, the Kurosawa-inspired revenge story (nearly all Corbucci Westerns fall into this category), “was the most violent film, before Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch came along in 1969″.

Corbucci’s Mexican Revolution trilogy of The Mercenary (1968), Companeros (1970) and What Am I Doing in the Middle of a Revolution (1972) is perhaps his most popular, but the most violent by far is The great Silence (1968). The role of Gordon, the mute avenger, was meant for Franco Nero but he decided to go to Hollywood, making an angry Corbucci cast Jean-Louis Trintignant. Klaus Kinski acted the sadistic killer Tigero, who survives, whilst Gordon is killed. Shot in an eerie, snowy landscape, The great Silence also featured another re-occurring theme of the Corbucci’s Western: the cowardly citizens of the hamlets, who would rather obey the repressor than take the side of the avenger. “It feels like Corbucci is taking a swing at John Ford. The latter’s films show the town building and solidarity of the citizens, whilst Corbucci’s folks are rather meek and cowardly”. One of Corbucci’s last Western was Sid & Jed (1972), a Bonnie and Clyde story set in a Western milieu.

Tarantino offers a clever solution to an unsolved riddle in Django. When the titular hero arrives, we see him laying flowers on the grave of a certain Mercedes. Tarantino conjures up an explanation, in which Django is a soldier who has fought the Confederates, and now returns to give a keepsake to Mercedes, the wife of his black friend who was killed in the war. He then encounters the hooded KKK, who have done away with the black population, and are targeting the Mexicans. All set in Missouri, where slavery was not abolished.

Filmmaker Ruggero Deodato, once Rossellini’s assistant, who worked with Corbucci on 13 films, gives insight into the director’s work, as do many private videos sharing some hilariously funny and candid incidents during shooting. They also show a director who certainly enjoyed his work, and who was always ready for a good laugh – even at himself. AS

NOW ON NETFLIX | Premiered at VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

The Peacock’s Paradise (2021) Venice Film Festival 2021

Dir: Laura Bispuri | Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Dominique Sanda, Maya Sansa, Carlo Cerciello, Leonardo Lidi, Maddalena Crippa | Italy Drama 87;

Laura Bispuri’s first film Sworn Virgin took Berlinale by storm in 2015 with its edgy story about a woman opting to live as a man deep in the mountains of Albania. The Peacock’s Paradise appears to be a more straightforward domestic drama, Bispuri’s long time collaborator Alba Rohrwacher this time playing a mother (Adelina ) planning a church wedding to her fiancé Vito (Lidi). But Bispuri’s other family members are an offbeat bunch, outwards appearances proving to be deceptive.

Dominique Sanda stars is the hostess Nena celebrating her birthday with her husband Umberto, their children Vito and Caterina, cousin Isabella, their daughter-in-law Adelina, her daughter Alma, Caterina’s ex Manfredi – who still lusts after her – although he’s at the party with his new girlfriend Joana. But the star of the show is Paco, Alma’s peacock, whose delicate presence and sudden fall from grace causes everyone to reflects on their own sadness and missed opportunities, as well as each other.

With its muted colours, gentle pacing and thoughtful performances this is  a nuanced, introspective film that avoids sentimentality or melodrama in exploring close close relationships, perceptively written by Bispuri and Silvana Tamma. MT

Venice Film Festival 2021 | Orizzonti 2021

Private Desert (2021) Venice Film Festival (2021)

Dir.: Aly Muritiba; Cast: Antonio Saboia, Pedro Fasanaro, Thomas Aquino, Leo Miranda, Mauro Zanata, Laila Garin; Portugal/Brazil 2021, 118 min.

A tortured amour-fou between a violent policeman and a transgender man is at the heart of this anger-fuelled Western melodrama from Brazil’s Aly Muritiba who sensitively explores how traditional family roles are replayed in gay/transgender relationships in a strongly macho culture.

Forced to live as a straight man, Daniel (Saboia), has turned into a disgruntled forty-year old, recently been suspended from duties after causing life threatening injuries to a young recruit. His relationships with women have, unsurprisingly, been fraught. Online he has just met Sara (Fasanaro), who lives in Sobradinho, in the south of Brazil, thousands of miles away from Daniel’s hometown of Curitiba. But when Sara stops answering his calls, Daniel leaves his sister (Garin) in charge of his dementia stricken father (Zanata), and heads to Sobradinho where he produces flyers with Sara’s photo, and plasters them all over the small town. There he meets Fernando (Aquino), who knows Sara (Fasanaro) who actually goes by the name of Robson. As it soon emerges, the two are an item, but the local priest has asked Robson to undertake a “re-orientation” course with his college Oswaldo (Miranda), who himself had been “cured” from being gay. Robson’s true identity made public, thanks to Daniel’s flyers, he decides to leave for Rio, but the past is far from over.

DoP Luis Armando Arteaga conjurers up stunning widescreen images of the vast sub-continent, Daniel’s drive across the country serving as the centre piece. Pedro Fasanaro triumphs in his role as Sara/Robson, Saboia finding a certain humanity in the unlikeable character of Daniel. Aly Muritaba directs with analytical insight, avoiding sentimentality in a mature and thoughtful epic.

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI

Once Upon a Time in Calcutta (2021) Venice Film Festival

Dir: Aditya Vikram Sengupta | Cast Sreelekha Mitra, Shayak Roy, Bratya Basu, Arindam Ghosh, Satrajit Sarkar, Anirban Chakrabarti | India, France, Norway – 129’ – 2021 – Bengali

Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s third feature is the only Indian film in this year’s Venice lineup. Set against the ancient city of Kolkata adapting to a rapidly changing world, this delicately observed but ultimately tragic story centres on a divorced mother who also experiencing an identity crisis after the loss of her daughter and her marriage.

When she is refused a home loan by the bank, having spend all her money of funding her daughter’s treatment, her boss, the owner of a massive Ponzi scheme, makes her a questionable offer to finance her future. But Ela feels more comfortable looking to her family for support, reconnecting with her estranged stepbrother who also lets down her down, blaming Ela for his own dark fate.

Then Ela’s childhood sweetheart resurfaces and gives her the warmth and hope for a new beginning. Just as Ela starts living the life she had dreamed for herself, she realises that she isn’t the only desperate soul clinging to a raft in a sea of scavengers.

Bengalis have strong ties to the world of cinema and communism and Sengupta chips away at the various layers of tradition to reveal a human condition that is often soulful and yet full of hope and joy. The film highlights the aspirations and struggles of cultured people gasping for breath in an ever-expanding metropolis, once home to Satyajit Ray and Rabindranath Tagore Once Upon A Time is a love letter to a city struggling in murky waters where colourful characters are constantly trying to invent new identities without being submerged in the tide of change. MT

Venice Film Festival 2021 | ORIZZONTI .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Blind Man Who Didn’t Want to See Titanic (2021) Venice Film Festival (2021)

Dir.: Teemu Niki; Cast: Petri Poikolainen, Marjaana Maijala, Samuli Jaskio, Rami Rusinen; Finland 2021, 81 min.

The Finns are well known for their deadpan humour and this latest  from Teemu Niki is also full of passion and soulfulness in the style of recent dark comedies Come As You Are and Berlinale Golden Bear winner The Other Side of Hope.

It follows two film buffs coping with debilitating illnesses – but the last thing they need is pity. Crucially, Niki is pains to point out that his physically challenged characters by no means see themselves as second class citizens, although they are often considered as such by those around them. The story unfolds through the out of focus perspective of wheelchair-user and John Carpenter fan Jaakko (Poikolainen) who doesn’t let his condition stand in his way, despite the negative views of his friends. Not to be outdone, his online friend Sirpa (Maijala) – the two haven’t yet met – is affected by some kind of blood virus and forced to travel “only three hours away in a train and taxi” for chemotherapy with its ghastly side effects. Jaakko takes this opportunity for a face to face meeting, paying her a supportive visit, despite to his mobility issues, a welcome lottery win providing much needed funds for the journey. As an ice-breaker, Jaakko brings with him a brand new copy of her favourite romcom the titular Titanic, a film he personally detests.

But as luck would have it, his backpack is stolen at the train station, the identity of the thief later being revealed as a young man wearing a tee-shirt emblazoned ‘Scorpions’. Here Niki introduces another humorous twist to the narrative involving the drug dealing pair Samuli and Rami (Jaskio and Rusinen). But will Jaako survive to deliver his gift?

DoP Sari Altonen has great fun imagining Jaakko’s outlook on daily life, giving the audience a full taste of the horrors which go hand in hand with his condition. But the biggest surprise of all is that Petri Poikolainen suffers MS in real life. A performance of great endurance and utter brilliance.

Venice Film Festival 2021 | IN COMPETITION 

Leave No Traces (2021)

Dir.: Jan P. Matuszynski; Cast: Sandra Korzeniak, Mateus Gorski, Tomasz Zietek, Alexandra Konieczna, Sebastian Pawlak; Poland/Czech Republic/France, 160 min.

Jan P. Matuszynski’s passionate if rather sprawling political thriller is testament to how ordinary people as well as the police forces were complicit in Poland’s tyrannical Stalinist regime that led to the murder of 18 year old Grgzegorz Przemyk, son of the poet and Solidarnosc supporter Barbara Sadowska (Sandra Korzeniak).

In Warsaw on the 12th of May 1983, Przemyk (Gorski) was celebrating the end of term with his friend Lezary Filozof (Zietek). But the evening was to end in tragedy after the teenager was arrested for drunken behaviour and beaten up by local police in a way that outward signs were hardly visible, according to the para-medics, Michal Wisocky (Pawlak) and Jacek Szyzdek.

The authorities, Party, Military and Police, immediately started a cover-up operation which included raids on Filozosf’s home, while the witness was in hiding. The secret police found love letters from Filozof to Barbara Sadowska, and used them to subdue Filozof’s statement. His parents, afraid that the regime would damage their livelihoods by inventing ‘irregularities’, denounced their son to the Secret Police.

But Lezary did not give in to pressure. Meanwhile, the authorities made one of the paramedics, Wisocky, admit, that he trampled on Grgzegorz. Again, they used threats against his family to elicit the false confession. Wisocky later tried to commit suicide in prison. Franziske Rusek, the independent prosecutor, was then replaced with the more pliable Jozef Zyta, who was under the influence of hardliner Wieslawa Bardonowa (Konieczna), a fierce State Prosecutor.

When the trial opened in December 1983, nearly all the defendants were cleared, apart from the guiltless paramedics, who were sentenced to two years in prison, but released earlier. Even though in 1993, after the fall of Stalinism, an independent commission tried to uncover the truth, the statute of limitation ran out in 2010, and everyone involved got off scott free. Several years later Barbara Sadowska died of lung cancer.

DoP Kacper Fertacz’ hyper realist images show how squallid the living conditions were in the 1980s, even for the supposedly middle class Lezary family. Performance wise, Alexandra Konieczna (Wieslawa Bardonowa) makes for a steely General Prosecutor masquerading as a middle-aged ‘Hausfrau’, who visits her friends for an afternoon of coffee and cakes after using her considerable brain power to destroy the witness Filozof in a frightening turn as a petit-bourgeois avenger let loose. The rather self indulgent running time of over two hours dilutes the thrust of the powerful storyline- the endless meetings of the Apparatchiks could have been scaled down. AS

NOW ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS

Giulia (2021) Venice Film Festival

Dir.: Ciro de Caro; Cast: Rosa Palasciano; Valerio Di Benedetto, Fabrizio Ciavoni, Cristian Di Santis, Mattheo Quinzi, Annalisa Lori; Italy 2021, 109 min.

This slow-burning and sensitive drama explores the overwhelming sense of loss and confusion brought on by a pandemic, a state of affairs that will be familiar to all of us. Ciro de Caro’s loose direction oscillates between impressive scenes and fuzzy vagueness held together by Rosa Palasciano’s luminous presence as Giulia, her lack of certainty leading to an identity crisis as relationships come under pressure.

In Rome, we meet first Giulia with her boyfriend Alessandro (Quinzi), he wants to split up but she insists on having ‘another baby’. She embarrasses him in front of his family then rushes off, looking in waste bins for discarded children’s toys, a habit she indulges in for the rest of the feature. Giulia’s employment track record is not looking good: working part-time looking after an old lady she ends up stealing from her. At the same time, another job in a care home comes to an end, Giulia holding Sergio (Di Benedetto) responsible. Sergio and his two friends Ciavoni (Ciavoni) and Fausto (Di Sante) are nevertheless obsessed with Giulia, the four of them driving to the seaside where they meet up with Giulia’s friend Sandra. After a stressful afternoon ends with arguments and accusations, Giulia wanders off on her own through the countryside, where she releases a horse from its tether, a metaphor for her own desire for freedom. There are elements of Neo-Realism at play, but De Caro’s narrative mostly lacks focus drifting off into banalities, feeling more like a ‘first draft’ than a polished final feature, although some may interpret his enigmatic approach as representative of Giulia’s loss of self. DoP Manuele Mandolesi limpid visuals capture the essence of the fragmenting Giulia in this languorous portrait of a woman in distress. AS

Venice Film Festival 2021

The King of Laughter | Qui Rido Io (2021) Venice Film Festival 2021

Dir: Marco Martone | Cast: Toni Servillo

Toni Servillo is the star turn in theatre director Mario Martone’s resplendent portrait of Neopolitan comic theatre legend Eduardo Scarpetta, making its bow here in Competition at the 78th Venice Film Festival.

Scarpetta (1853-1925) who first took to the stage as a four year old, was best known for his role as the light-hearted slightly air-headed Felice Siociammocca, a typical Neopolitano who, in a break from tradition, was more good-natured than the darker stereotype of Pulcinella whose origins lay in 17th century ‘commedia dell’arte’ as a stock character from puppetry. Scarpetta was also celebrated for his plays – of which he wrote more that fifty – one in particular: ‘Poverty and Nobility'(1888), was later made into a film starring starring Sophia Loren and comedy star Totò. Scarpetta’s main achievement off stage was to translate into Neapolitan the standard Parisian farce of the era: Hennequin, Meilhac, Labiche and Feydeau. He also fathered actor and playwright Eduardo De Filippo along with two other children.

Martone’s begins his story at the beginning of 1900s, when Eduardo Scarpetta has already made his name as the most successful Italian comedian of the era, his plays are all box office hits, and the stage is his exclusive kingdom. But behind the scenes his unconventional family life is proving challenging, the drama tracing his eventually descent into darker times, including the his trial with the magniloquent poet Gabriele D’Annunzio.

Servillo lends his ebullient joie de vivre to the role in this lavish production which follows the star on stage and in real life in an around Naples and Rome in the mid 18th century. Martone and his writer Ippolita Di Majo keeping us entertained for over two hours with the gracefully-paced storyline, partly in Italian, and partly in Neapolitan dialect, and classically captured by Swiss Italian DoP Renato Berta (Au Revoir Les Enfants). MT

Venice Film Festival | COMPETITION 2021

Atlantide (2021) Venice Film Festival 2021

DirWri: Yuri Ancarani | Cast: Daniele Barison, Bianka Berényi, Maila Dabala, Alberto Tedesco | Italian Fantasy Drama, 100′

Unfolding serenely in a suave jazzy vibe this splashy narrative-slim hyperrealist Venetian love letter thrums to the soft summery ambient sounds of the lagoon where it pays homage to la Serenissima.

Artful framing and a contemporary soundtrack are all that’s needed to tell the story of the venal side of Venice that unfolds fantasy docudrama-style through a series of suggestive long takes tracking the main character – Daniele, a young man from Sant’Erasmo – who takes a scuzzy psychedelic road less travelled away from the typical barchino (motorboat) way of life, aiming for something more subversive and even surreal involving ever more speedy and powerful craft.

Captured in the vibrantly inventive camerawork of DoP Lorenzo Pezzano, Atlantide is the latest from video artist and filmmaker Yuri Ancarani (a junior Jonathan Glazer) and perfectly captures the lowlife in this highlife location in a pop promo way. Lowkey yet thrilling Atlantide is a colourful subtle crime story that gradually turns more sinister driven forward by Mirco Mencacci’s majestic score in the closing stages, keeping us guessing until the final frame. MT

Venice Film Festival 2021 | Orizzonti Competition

 

 

Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, Journey, A Song (2021) Venice Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Dan Geller, Dayna Goldfine; Documentary with Leonard Cohen, Larry ‘Ratso’ Sloman, Sharon Robinson, Judy Collins, Regina Spector, Clive Davis, Amanda Palmer, Rufus Wainwright; USA 2021, 118 min.

Canadian singer, poet and novelist Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) once again comes under the spotlight in this passionate but objective new documentary from Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller (who also serves as DoP).

The focus here is Cohen’s quest for spiritual meaning, culminating in the 1984 song, Hallelujah. Inspired by “The Holy and the Broken” by author Alan Light, the directors have cleverly put together a piece of musical history, backed by prodigious researc.

Cohen was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Montreal and stayed faithful to his religion even though for a time in the late 1990s, he was drawn to Zen Buddhism, and lived for a few years at the retreat of Zen master Kyozan Joshu Sasalli Roshi on Mount Baldy. Cohen was a renowned womaniser, unable to commit to family life. He bought the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s where he enjoyed a long relationship with Marianne Ihlen, for whom he wrote “So long Marianne”. They both died only a few months apart (of leukaemia) Cohen’s last love letter formed the eulogy at Ihlen’s funeral. In the 1970s Cohen lived with Suzanne Elrod, the couple having two children, but in this case, “Suzanne” was written for Suzanne Verdal. Cohen shared most of the 1980s with the fashion photographer Dominique Isserman with whom he also collaborated on work projects. Actress Rebecca de Mornay also shared professional achievements with Cohen.

Even before Hallelujah was made globally famous by the animation feature Shrek (2001), Cohen wrote songs for Robert Altman’s noir Western McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971). The original reaction to Hallelujah on the 1984 album ‘Various Positions’ was anything but promising: Columbia Music CEO Walter Yetnikov was less than enamoured, and the album was not released in the USA. The original version was produced by the small record label ‘Passport Records’ a year later. Apart from Cohen himself, many artists have recorded the song, the most famous versions are by Jeff Buckley (who died shortly afterwards in a swimming accident), John Cale, KD lang and Brandi Carlile. Rufus Wainwright was supposed to perform Shrek for the feature, but the producers decided at the last minute to go with John Cale’s version “because it fitted better with the character of the titular protagonist of the feature”. But Wainwright did not lose out completely, his version was used for the sound track version.

Many ‘famous’ moments from music history are touched upon: the meeting between Dylan and Cohen in Paris, comparing the time the composers spent on their songs, with Dylan (15 minutes in the back of a taxi) the clear winner, since Cohen honed Hallelujah to perfection in over seven years using about 200 verses. Rolling Stone music critic Larry ‘Ratso’ Sloman, friend of Dylan and Cohen, is the most animated witness, trying to come to terms with Cohen’ ‘split’ personality, best described by the man himself: You either raise your fist or sing Hallelujah. I did both”.

In spite of the long running time, for once justified, Hallelujah, is chockfull of juicy titbits, keeps us enthralled for nearly two hours. the legendary star found himself making a successful comeback, touring the globe after his business manager absconded with all his money, including his pension fund. He leaves behind him an oeuvre of languid longing, words and music full of sentimental low level depression.AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 1-11 SEPTEMBER 2021

 

Spencer (2021)

Dir: Pablo Larain | Wri Steven Knight  Cast: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Sally Hawkins, Sean Harris | Drama 113’

An imagined Christmas at Sandringham is the latest showcase showdown in the tortured saga of Princess Diana’s fated marriage to Prince Charles.

Pablo Larraín’s Venice competition hopeful Spencer makes for extremely painful viewing as an atmospheric arthouse portrait of isolation and emotional disintegration. But the fact that it portrays two well known figures representing the British royal family makes it all the more poignant. A story of two of unhappy people struggling within the confines of tight security and rigorous protocol was never going to be joyful especially when each one is a mannered caricature of their putative selves.

Chilean auteur Pablo Larain has become somewhat of a dab hand at painting marginalised characters: from Jackie Onassis to a group of distressed priests in his 2015 feature The Club. And those who hate the monarchy will have a field day with how dreadful a royal weekend is made to look.

Diana  – who died 24 years ago – is victimised to within an inch of her life by the regal system, eventually falling victim to her psychosis in Sandringham’s splendour during a visit that would send anyone screaming for a taxi to Norwich, if they didn’t have their own Porsche parked outside. The film’s timing is even more significant in a year where Her Majesty the Queen has had enough to contend with, not least the death of her husband.

Kristen Stewart couldn’t be more suited to her role as Diana, her wan pallor and delicately chiselled features mirror those of the tragic Princess who doted on her boys and wanted a normal life despite her wealth and privilege. That said, she lacks the vivacious charisma of the princess – who I once met. It’s a performance that plays to the crowd rather than the cognoscenti. Spencer will prove divisive: Some will find it brittle, glib and shallow; others will delight in its sullen melodrama.

The film starts with Diana literally losing her way in the depths of the Norfolk countryside, the film was actually shot in Germany, on a bleak winter’s day. Pitching up at a roadside cafe to ask directions, she eventually finds herself in the safe hands of Sean Harris’ Sandringham chef Darren who guides her back to face the music over her late arrival.

Larrain draws clever but rather chilling comparisons with Diana’s situation and that of Anne Boleyn (Manson). Dream sequences picture the hapless wife of Henry VIII drifting through Sandringham’s gilded corridors. In fact, there’s a great deal of drifting and floating in this often haunting tragedy, as Diana frequently goes awol in frosty nights and foggy mornings, in a bid to avoid the strictures of this regimented family ‘holiday’.

Playing out as a series of grim episodes during the festive break, Diana gradually implodes:.And if she’s not hounded by equerries (Timothy Spall makes for a ghastly bully) and dressers (her only trusted aide is Maggie played by Sally Hawkins), then the press are on her tail with their long distance lenses. Forced into wearing a series of specially selected twee outfits (Christmas lunch, boxing day tea etc) Diana erupts in anguish, biting into a rope of pearls that clatters into her pea soup – a scene that leads to a bulimia attack. The pearls were a gift from Charles (played by Poldark’s Jack Farthing) who offered the same jewels (known as a symbol of tears) to his lover Camilla Parker-Bowles. Only Diana, Maggie and Spall’s equerry are fully fleshed out, the other characters are cyphers only there to serve the narrative.

Diana is seen making the most of joy-filled moments with her boys (played gamely by Jack Nielen and Freddie) and eventually there is a happy ending to this particular episode which culminates with a liberating car ride to Mike and the Mechanics. A dismally depressing, washed out watch, fraught with sorrow. A terrible tribute to the real people it depicts. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN UK CINEMAS | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Captain Volkonogov Escaped (2021) Venice Film Festival 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venice Film Festival | 1 – 11 September 2021 | COMPETITION

Dusk Stone (2021) Venice | Giornate degli Autori

Dir/Wri: Ivan Fund | Cast: Alfredo Castro, Mara Bestelli, Marcelo Subiotto, Marcel Alvarez | Drama Argentina, Chile, Spain 87’

Alfredo Castro stars in this enigmatic and rather wistful ecologically themed drama that sees a couple coping with the mysterious disappearance of their son  in the windswept coastal resort of Aldea Mar (Buenos Aires) during the end of year holidays.

It’s a wild place haunted by myths and legends, and during a long leisurely lunch with their close friends Sina and Genaro the conversation touches on a giant sea monster that haunts the area, the couple’s plans to sell their beach house and their preparations to move out. During the meal the camera’s focus in on Sina and Genaro as they work their way through the local delicacies, and listen to Greta and Bruno’s off-camera account of what happened on the fateful day.

Although the film is more cutely endearing than suspenseful, Francisco Cerda’s evocative occasional score sets a sinister tone for the soulful storyline that dwells on the couple’s muted feelings of loss, but also on the hope that the four of them might discover what happened as they relax together on their drives along the misty coastline with the family dog in tow. But nearly an hour into the film and we’re none the wiser, as gradually the mythical stories take hold of their collective subconscious and become inextricably linked to positive memories of the son as sea and sand eventually reveals an unexpected but inconclusive connection with the dreaded monster and the truth. MT

GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI | VENICE September 2021

Erasing Frank (2021) Venice – Settimana della Critica

Dir.: Gabor Fabricius; Cast: Benjamin Fuchs, Kinscö Blénesi, Ildicó Bánsági, Andrea Ládanyi; Hungary 2021, 98 min.

In Stalinist Hungary during the early 1980s a troubled punk musician is sent to a psychiatric ward where he struggles against the regime’s authoritarianism alongside patients with more serious  mental health problems. Stunningly captured in black and white by Tamás Dobos, first time director Gabor Fabricius goes for an Orwellian atmosphere showing Frank’s descent into a nightmarish vision of a system hellbent on destroying any kind of creativity, seen entirely from Frank’s POV. This is a fuzzy journey into darkness where we meet a series of periphery characters whose place in Frank’s universe never becomes entirely clear: his unnamed partner and another inmate he befriends. The aesthetics certainly carry the film, but the lack of narrative structure reduces the impact on our ability to engage with Frank and his tortured world. Erasing Frank is nonetheless a visceral visual poem portraying the misuse of psychiatry in all Stalinist countries from WWII until 1989 in one of the darkest chapters in history.

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Promises (2021) Venice – Orizzonti 2021

Dir.: Thomas Kruithof; Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Reda Kateb, Naidra Ayadi, Jean-Paul Bordres, Vincent Garayer; France 2021, 98 min.

Isabelle Huppert is the guiding light of this socio-political drama that centres on a deprived Parisian housing estate where she is Clemence Collombet the ambitious mayor with her eye on the main chance.

Modelled on local authorities like St. Denis or Bobigny, Thomas Kruithof’s sophomore feature accurately portrays the sort of self-seeking politician we have grown used to of late: Clemence has a wilful, authoritarian streak and limitless ambition. From her upmarket home she hopes the struggle on the decaying housing estate Les Bernardins will define her future, and has promised to resign after two terms, her deputy Naidra (Ayadi) – whose parents have immigrated from North Africa – is her chosen successor.

Clemence is keen to further her career and only to happy take on a ministerial post in central government when it is offered. Her chief of staff Yazid  – Reda Kateb on top form – is kept busy by her many machiavellian moves. Les Bernardins is run by the shady developer Chaumette (Garayer) and Clemence wants to replace him. The real victims are the tenants of the estate, who have seen promises constantly broken while the building falls into a parlous state of disrepair.

But the real villain is Jean-Marc Forgeat, the local Mafia boss. On the opposite side is Michel Kupka (Bordres), chair of the tenants’ association, trying to keep up a deal for renovation with the mayor and Yazid, even though Kupka does not trust the politicians. Then everything changes when Clemence’s ministerial appointment fails to materialise, and all she gets is a place in the Senate. In a furious volte face she reneges on her promise not to run again – offering the disappointed Naidra the job of mayor in three year’s time. Meanwhile Yadiz is involved in a race against time to get the renovation project off the ground, and into the hands of the local MP at an Elysee meeting.

Kruithof shows two different levels of the playing field, the mayor using the tenants merely to advance her own career. Yazid is shown as the beavering ‘nuts and bolts’ man who has still a little bit of engagement left, but is dependent on people on the ground, like Kupka, who is fighting a battle on two fronts, trying to unite the tenants in the hope that Yadiz keeps his promise.

DoP Alexandre Lamarque offers up a sophisticated looking feature reflecting the changing milieu, from council house to corridors of power, but there is simply two many plot lines going on for the audience to see things clearly. Isabelle Huppert once again running the show like a seasoned professional with composite ease.  AS

Venice Film Festival 2021

Venice has upped its game programme wise in recent years and now looks to challenge Cannes with its glittering line-up. The 78th edition opens on September 1st with mainstream film as well as arthouse fare including the hotly anticipated Princess Diana drama Spencer starring Kristen Stewart and Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. Star power is boosted by Adam Driver, Matt Damon, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Olivia Colman and Jamie Leigh Curtis

This year’s jury is headed by Oscar-winner Bong Joon Ho (Parasite) presiding over Oscar winner Chloé Zhao (Nomadland), French actress Virginie Efira (Benedetta), Italian director Saverio Costanzo (Hungry Hearts), Canadian actress and producer Sarah Gadon (Enemy), Romanian documentary maker Alexander Nanau (Collective), and British actress and singer-songwriter Cynthia Erivo (Widows).

Other major movies picking Venice for their world debut include David Gordon Green’s latest horror outing Halloween Kills starring Jamie Lee Curtis; Ridley Scott’s period drama The Last Duel starring Adam Driver, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Jodie Comer; and Edgar Wright’s hotly anticipated Last Night in Soho with Anya Taylor-Joy. All three will screen out of competition.

In the running for the 2021 Golden Lion for best film are Jane Campion’s star-studded literary adaptation The Power of the Dog featuring Kirsten Dunst and Benedict Cumberbatch, Ana Lily Amirpour’s latest Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, and actor Maggie Gyllenhaal, whose directorial debut, The Lost Daughter, starring Oscar winner Olivia Colman, will also premiere in competition at the 78th Venice Festival.

Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco is back in the main competition after his New Order won the Silver Lion Grand Jury prize in Venice last year, Sundown, an English-language features sees him working again with Tim Roth, and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Paul Schrader will be there with The Card Counter, starring Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish and Willem Dafoe.

Venice 2021 has proved of late to be somewhat of a springboard for the Academy Awards. But Italian cinema has also garnered kudos from the ‘La Mostra’ which features this year no less that five Italian titles in competition, including America Latina from brothers Damiano and Fabio d’Innocenzo, Il Buco from director Michelangelo Frammartino, Freaks Out from Gabriele Mainetti, and Mario Martone’s Qui Rido Io.

Oscar winner Paolo Sorrentino will also be on the lido with his latest The Hand of God,a rites of passage football themed drama set in Naples during the 1980s where Diego Maradona joined the city’s team.

The closing film on September 11th will also be Italian — Roberto Ando’s Il Bambino Nascoto

Other buzz worthy titles include Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song from director Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine. TV wise there’s Scenes From a Marriage starring Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac reunited after A Most Violent Year (2014) an adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s celebrated classic 1973 feature.

The Horizons section this year features a lot of new directors. Most notable here is British director Harry Wootliff whose premiere True Things, has a glittering cast of Ruth Wilson and Tom Burke, and Matt Dillon starring Land of Dreams from Iranian director Shirin Neshat and Shoja Azari, starring Matt Dillon. The sidebar closes with Rhino from the contraversal Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov. As if there wasn’t enough films the Horizons now includes an ‘Extra Section’ that explore new avenues in world cinema, ie ‘experimental’ fare.

Last year Venice successfully managed to be the first major international festival to hold an in-person edition since the pandemic broke in the February. The 2021 festival acknowledges that coronavirus is still rampant in Europe with the variants taking hold.

The full lineup of the 2021 Venice Film Festival is below.

VENEZIA 78 – COMPETITION

Madres Paralelas, dir: Pedro Almodóvar
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, dir: Ana Lily Amirpour
Un Autre Monde, dir: Stéphane Brizé
The Power of the Dog, dir: Jane Campion
America Latina, dirs: Damiano D’Innocenzo, Fabio D’Innocenzo
L’Evénement, dir: Audrey Diwan
Competencia Oficial, dirs: Gaston Duprat, Mariano Cohn
Il Buco, dir: Michelangelo Frammartino
Sundown, dir: Michel Franco
Illusions Perdues, dir: Xavier Giannoli
The Lost Daughter, dir: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Spencer, dir: Pablo Larraín
Freaks Out, dir: Gabriele Mainetti
Qui Rido Io, dir: Mario Martone
On the Job: The Missing 8, dir: Erik Matti
Leave No Traces, dir: Jan P Matuszynski
Captain Volkonogov Escaped, dirs: Natasha Merkulova, Aleksey Chupov
The Card Counter, dir: Paul Schrader
The Hand Of God, dir: Paolo Sorrentino
La Caja, dir: Lorenzo Vigas
Reflection, dir: Valentyn Vasyanovych

OUT OF COMPETITION – FICTION

Il Bambino Nascosto, dir: Roberto Ando
Les Choses Humaines, dir: Yvan Attal
Ariaferma, dir: Leonardo Di Costanzo
Halloween Kills, dir: David Gordon Green
La Scuola Cattolica, dir: Stefano Mordini
Old Henry, dir: Potsy Ponciroli
The Last Duel, dir: Ridley Scott
Dune, dir: Denis Villeneuve
Last Night In Soho, dir: Edgar Wright

OUT OF COMPETITION – NON-FICTION

Life of Crime 1984-2020, dir: Jon Alpert
Tranchées, dir: Loup Bureau
Viaggio Nel Crepuscolo, dir: Augusto Contento
Republic of Silence, dir: Diana El Jeiroudi
Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song, dirs: Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine
Deandré#Deandré Storio Di Un Impiegato, dir: Roberta Lena
Django & Django, dir: Luca Rea
Ezio Bosso. Le Cose Che Restano, dir: Giorgio Verdelli

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

Le 7 Giornate Di Bergamo, dir: Simona Ventura
La Biennale Di Venezia: Il Cinema Al Tempo Del Covid, dir: Andrea Segre

OUT OF COMPETITION – SERIES

Scenes From a Marriage (Episodes 1-5), dir: Hagai Levi

HORIZONS EXTRA

Land of Dreams, dirs: Shirin Neshat, Shoja Azari
Costa Brava, dir: Mounia Akl
Mama I’m Home, dir: Vladimir Bitokov
Ma Nuit, dir: Antoinette Boulat
La Ragazza Ha Volato, dir: Wilma Labate
7 Prisoners, dir: Alexandre Moratto
The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic, dir: Teemu Nikki
La Macchina Delle Immagini Di Alfredo C, dir: Roland Sejk

ORIZZONTI

Les Promesses, dir: Thomas Kruithof
Atlantide, dir: Yuri Ancarani
Miracle, dir: Bogdan George Apetri
Pilgrims, dir: Laurynas Bareisa
Il Paradiso Del Pavone, dir: Laura Bispuri
The Falls, dir: Chung Mong-Hong
El Hoyo En La Cerca, dir: Joaquin Del Paso
Amira, dir: Mohamed Diab
A Plein Temps, dir: Eric Gravel
107 Mothers, dir: Peter Kerekes
Vera Dreams of the Sea, dir: Kaltrina Krasniqi
White Building, dir: Kavich Neang
Anatomy of Time, dir: Jakrawal Nilthamrong
El Otro Tom, dirs: Rodrigo Pla, Laura Santullo
El Gran Movimento, dir: Kiro Russo
Once Upon a Time in Calcutta, dir: Aditya Vikram Sengupta
Rhino, dir: Oleg Sentsov
True Things, dir: Harry Wootliff
Inu-Oh, dir: Yuasa Masaaki

VENICE LA BIENNALE FILM FESTIVAL  | 1 – 11 SEPTEMBER 2021

The Human Voice (2020)

Dir: Pedro Almodovar | Tilda Swinton | Drama, 30′

This one-hander is a loose take of the original 1930 stage play by Jean Cocteau, which was itself adapted in 1948 by Roberto Rossellini for Anna Magnani

Pedro Almodóvar’s first outing in English premiered last year at Venice and is now on general release. It’s a play that’s ideally suited to an Intimate collaboration between actor and director – not to mention a beautifully behaved dog – and Swinton and Almodovar work together. There is also Ted Kotcheff’s 1966 version starring Ingrid Bergman, and no doubt there will be others to look forward to.

A graceful and imposing Tilda Swinton is ‘the voice’ in question here, a jilted woman suppressing discretely controlled but mounting histrionics as she glides exquisitely around her chic city apartment all dolled up in bright red Balenciaga and various other stylish accoutrements – and welding an axe, the dog picking up on her anxiety.

She is hoping her lover will change his mind about their relationship, but there’s a masterful quality to Swinton’s performance: she is no moaning Minnie but a woman empowered by her pain and driven by a dignified sense of decorum. Powerful stuff. Alberto Iglesias composed the needling violin score. MT

NOW ON RELEASE | Streaming here 

 

The Man Who Sold His Skin (2020)

Dir: Kaouther Ben Hania | Cast: Yahya Mahayni, Dea Liane, Koen De Bouw, Monica Bellucci, Saad Lostan, Darina Al Joundi, Jan Dahdouh, Christian Vadim | Tunisia, Drama 104′

A Syrian man turns difficulty into success in this stunning exploitation love story set in the international art world.

This Oscar-nominated follow-up to Beauty and the Dogs gives Tunisian writer director Kaouther Ben Hania another opportunity to question social injustice with her signature sensuous cinematic language.

Powered forward by an unabashedly angry performance from newcomer Yahya Mahayni as Syrian refugee Sam Ali – whose chance meeting with a famous artist sees him agreeing to be transformed into an artwork himself:. a Schengen visa is then tattooed on Ali’s back, securing him a coveted air passage to Europe, Belgium to be precise, where he reconnects with girlfriend Abeer (Dea Liane).

To say that Sam has a plucky attitude is an understatement. But his-blind-sided sense of self-belief certainly opens doors and gets him what he wants. First of all the sympathy of the controversial artist himself, Jeffrey Godefroi (De Bouw) who takes him onboard as a ‘canvas’, despite his chippiness. It also ensures the utter dedication of the artist’s assistant (a blond-haired Monica Bellucci, no less) who panders to his every whim, even after being told “F**k you”.

But what Ali really wants is the woman of his dreams who he proposes to in the deliriously romantic opening scenes, but who is now married to somebody else, and living comfortably in Belgium.

There is a dark Shakespearean downside to the story and one that gives the film a potent message: Ali must agree to give his skin back after his death, as it remains (ironically) the copyright of the artist. And there’s more, poor Ali must also acquiesce to being ‘auctioned’ which seems a gross act of human commodification, in a plotlline that makes this relevant all over the world, not just locally.

This stylish production is shot by award-winning Christopher Aoun (Capernaum). And although the rather schematic plot falls into place rather too easily, the sheer verve of the performances and the highly controversial civil liberty and refugee issues at its core makes it a soulful winner. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 23 SEPTEMBER 2021

 

Verdict (2020)

Dir: Raymond Ribay Gutierrez | Drama, 126′

 

 

One Night in Miami (2020) ***

Dir: Regina King | Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr. | US Drama, 110′

Four major forces of the black community come together in Regina King’s discursive and smouldering imagined drama that occasionally sparks into life.

It’s February 25th, 1964 and Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke find themselves together in a motel room for a night of lively debate in the wake of the civil rights movement, Clay having just emerged from the Miami Beach Convention Centre as the new Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World.

King sets just the right tone working from a script by Kemp Powers that immediately transports us back to the era with a dynamic opening sequence that leads into some compelling exchanges with these charismatic characters convincingly captured, Ben-Adir is particularly impressive as Malcolm X.  But the film rapidly runs out of steam as the discourse drags on into a rather claustrophobic chamber piece, occasionally glinting with the odd contretemps – a case in point is Malcolm X’s criticism of Sam Cooke’s musical style. King rescues the final stretch ending on an upbeat note to give this worthwhile outing a positive outcome. One Night will be remembered for its commanding and nuanced performances that will remain a cinematic tribute to the cultural icons of the day. MT

VOD RELEASE ON MAJOR PLATFORMS

Pieces of a Woman (2020) VOD

Dir: Kornel Mundruczo | Drama, 127’

Nothing prepares us for sudden death. But the most confusing part of bereavement is how is it affects those around us, and particularly those nearest to us. And this unexpected behaviour is the crux of Kornel Mundruczo’s latest film. It looks at how the loss of a child affects a professional Bostonian woman called Martha (Vanessa Kirby/The Crown) and her stevedore partner, a recovering alcoholic who hails from Seattle (Shia Leboeuf).

The Hungarian director’s first outing in English is as deeply flawed as the title suggests, a tonal mishmash: moving in parts but totally incoherent in others. The euphoric early arthouse scenes – impressively shot in one 24 minute take – show the couple during the birth, and these intensely personal moments are graphic in detail. Almost too much so. But the baby dies shortly after she is born leaving the couple in disarray and arguments and recriminations follow. And as Boston descends into a freezing winter, amid wide panoramic shots of the Charles River, so Martha retreats into herself cutting Sean adrift in an icy silence.

Based on his own personal experiences this is clearly a cathartic film for the director writing with his real life partner Kata Weber. But the film soon drifts into a more glossy family drama where the grief-stricken Martha is persuaded by her controlling mother (Ellen Burstyn in formidable form) to seek compensation from the midwife. As Martha’s relationships deteriorate all round her so the storyline unravels with no real sense of direction. There is a fraught mother-daughter strand; an imploding relationship breakdown where class and racial conflicts enter the fray – Martha is a tough Jewish uptown girl, Sean is soft-hearted but given to brutal outbursts. Their attractions are also part of their downfall when things don’t go according to plan.

Sarah Snook, Martha’s distant cousin, is hired to fight their case as the lawyer taken on to prosecute midwife Eva. And Martha’s mother, a steely Holocaust survivor, offers invaluable advice to daughters everwhere: “you have to take a stand and tell your truth, otherwise you can never move on”. You might not like her but you’d certainly want her on your side: “and when you do move on, burn your bridges”, is another chestnut.

The actors all do their best to carry the film forward and Ellen Burstyn is the most impressive, Leboeuf stymied by an underwritten role. But the script is so focussed on Martha’s simmering resentment that the final reveal – in a coruscating court scene – bears no relation to what has gone before, leaving us unprepared and perplexed.

The unsuccessful shift from arthouse to Hollywood melodrama could be due to various big names jumping on board the project with their money and therefore demanding a schmaltzy Hollywood happy ending, Martin Scorsese has put his money behind the project as exec producer but Mundruczo’s departure from his arthouse style is a bewildering film, certainly watchable but vaguely unsatisfying. MT

NOW ON VOD RELEASE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL  2020

Dear Comrades! (2020) **** VOD

Dir: Andrei Konchalovsky | Drama, Russia 120′

Veteran Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky uncovers a little known episode of the Nikita Krushchev era – the Novercherkassk Massacre  of June 1962 – in this elegant and restrained black and white feature filmed on academy ratio.

A follow-up to his last Venice offering – Sin – an imagined drama about Michelangelo – this is a more down to earth film but its refined gracefulness pictures the seriousness of the incident with a lightness of touch and even a dash of sardonic humour.

Dear Comrades! plays out during three days and is viewed through the eyes of a working woman played often vehemently by the director’s wife and regular collaborator Julia Vysotskaya. Lyuda is divorced and living with her daughter and father in the Southern city where she is a committed Communist Party official who yearns for the days of Stalin, despite its abuses which would lead to millions of Russians losing their lives. We instantly connect with her from the opening scene where she is in a rush to leave her married lover’s bed, keen to get in the supermarket queue before the shelves are emptied – due to the political regime rather than Covid19 shortages.

A strike is later announced at a local factory where Lyuda’s wilful teenage daughter Sveta (Julia Burova) is a worker and desperate to join her co-workers as they mass for the protest. Lyuda is watching the crowd swell from the balcony of her spacious offices but when the workers surge forward and break into the building she and her colleagues are advised to leave through the basement. Soon thousands are joining in the protest and the following days sees a KGB sniper shoots indiscriminately into the crowd and many civilians are killed and injured as they scatter for cover. .

The balanced script uncovers some fascinating contradictions about the Soviet era: Konchalovsky and his co-writer Elena Kiseleva are keen to point out that  the army are odds with the KGB and the forces end up taking the rap. The authorities crack down immediately ordering the main roads to be resurfaced with fresh tar macadam to hide the indelible bloodshed which has seeped into the cracks and dried in the searing sun. There is a rapid cover-up: locals are forced to sign non-disclosure agreements and sworn to secrecy upon pain of death. Meanwhile, Sveta has disappeared and Lyuda urges a KGB captain Viktor (Andrei Gusev) to help track her down.

In many ways Lyuda is a conflicted character not only for her political ideals but also for her personal ones: “Are you ashamed to share a bed with another woman’s husband?” complains her daughter when Lyuda complains about her daughter’s tarty habit of not wearing a bra.  Lyuda supports a crack-down on the protesters but when Sveta upholds her own constitutional right to protest, Lyuda tells her she should be disciplined. And the following vignette involving her father (Sergei Erlish) is a telling one as he dresses up in his military uniform and dusts down a religious icon of the Virgin Mary while reminiscing over past state abuses.

After a dignified irritation in the early scenes Lyuda start to let her emotions out of the bag in the final act, her anxiety bubbling to the surface but also her nihilistic acceptance of life under a regime which she has both aided and abetted, and is now suffering under. The final reveal topples over into a romantic sentimentalism bordering on melodrama that sits awkwardly with her stiff upper-lipped persona of the early part of the film, but this human drama is richly rewarding snapshot of life in 1960s Russia that doesn’t appear to have moved under Putin nearly sixty years later, according to Andre Konchalovsky. MT

NOW ON CURZON VOD from 15 January | Venice Film Festival 2020  | SPECIAL JURY PRIZE 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martin Eden (2019)

Dir Pietro Marcello | Italy, Drama 129′

Based on the 1909 novel by Jack London, Pietro Marcello crafts a sweepingly timeless romantic epic that follows the fortunes of a sailor (Luca Marinelli) in his captivating quest to become a writer.

Martin Eden is a hero in the classic Southern Italian style: his passionate raw charisma hides a vulnerable but trusting heart.
Marcello’s film is set in a nameless Italian port city where it blends a variety of temporal cues while remaining timeless, a restless momentum driving the narrative forward, and keeping the audience absorbed for nearly three hours.

As Eden, Luca Marinelli has an energetic physicality that pulsates with his desire to overcome the odds of his skimpy education. We first meet him as a jobbing sailer, his imagination fired into action by a chance encounter with the sophisticated Elena (a fragile Jessica Cressy) and he becomes infatuated, for a while. But Martin’s intense preoccupation with bettering himself work-wise – and socially too –  soon becomes an obsession, alienating those who have helped him, As the saying goes: ‘you can take a boy out of Southern Italy but you can’t take Southern Italy out of a boy” and his humble start in life tugs at his conscience.

Marcello’s decision to shoot on Super 16mm gives the film an atmospheric retro quality that compliments the timeless romance of this aspirational story. The use of archival footage both illuminates and intensifies this haunting flight of human passion. The desire to seek a better life against all odds is both timely and universal. MT

New Wave Films is finally set to release Pietro Marcello’s ‘MARTIN EDEN‘ in UK cinemas on 9th July.

 

Leap of Faith (2019) ****

Dir: Alexandre O Philippe | Doc, 105

Leap of Faith, a lyrical and spiritual cinematic essay on The Exorcist, explores the uncharted depths of William Friedkin’s mind’s eye, the nuances of his filmmaking process, and the mysteries of faith and fate that have shaped his life and filmography. The film unpacks Friedkin’s filmmaking process focusing here exclusively on The Exorcist, a mystery of faith inspired – according to Friedkin – by Dreyer’s 1955 drama Ordet

Already well known for his documentaries 78/52 and Memory: The Origins of Alien, Philippe jumped at this opportunity of a cosy fireside chat with the iconic director who describes himself of instinctive “one-take kind of guy” who has always relied on his gut reaction and spontaneity to make a film. Spontaneity interests him more than perfection. And this was particularly the case when it came to creating The Exorcist which he calls a ‘chamber piece’ rather than a horror movie.

Friedkin grew up with his parents in a one room apartment in Chicago where he was taken by his mother to see Clifford Odet’s None But the Lonely Heart (1944). A lowly postboy, he wanted to discover more about cinema. But the film that propelled him into a career in film was Welles’ Citizen Kane.

By the early 1970s he had already become a successful director when he happened to  read William Peter Blatty’s paperback The Exorcist. Friedkin describes wanting to make the book into a movie against all odds – it seems the whole film popped into his mind fully formed from the novel but Blatty’s script was a fractured narrative with flashbacks. The singleminded Friedkin describes how he had what Fritz Lang once called “sleepwalkers security” about the script. He knew he wanted to tell a straight ahead realist story, just like the book.

The introduction is the underpinning to the whole piece and takes place in ancient Niniver, Iraq. At some point in the town’s early history the citizens had all been beheaded along with the statues and this tragic event sets the tone for the story, the director following his instincts throughout the shoot. Another crucial factor in deciding Regan’s behaviour was an incident during his Chicago, childhood when a local girl was decapitated, her body cut up and thrown into the garden. An ancient medal found in the sands becomes the McGuffin, a significant device providing the motivation for what happens next.

Music had an overriding influence for Friedkin in the The Exorcist. But he wanted to avoid a score that drove the plot forward, and chose instead to soundscape that slowly builds into a powerful force. An overriding sense of dread that stays throughout, starting with a the lowkey opening in Iraq and ending in a quiet crescendo. Father Merrin’s premonition had to be an instinctual moment that the audience has to sense. The supernatural in our midst. An ordinary girl slowly becomes a demon. This “Expectancy set” describes how the audience comes to the cinema wanting to be scared from the outset.  Bernard Herrmann was top of the list score-wise but was quite rude about the film. “If you know St Giles Cripplegate’s organ that would be a great inspiration” said Herrmann, who by now was living in London. But what the film needed was music that “felt like a cold hand on the back of your neck” – he found it with a score made up by composer Lalo Schiffer. But that didn’t work either and drowned the subtleness of the early scenes. The score was left untouched, and they haven’t spoken since. Friedkin wanted more of a Brahms lullaby. Then Mike Oldfield then came along.

Friedkin’s use of subliminal cuts and sounds makes the movie into an experimental sound museum. Old colleague Ken Nordine was called on to create Regan’s demon voice – it needed to be a male/female voice of the kind that Mercedes McCambridge had used in the Western (Johnny Guitar/1954). She used a concoction of heavily booze, eggs and cigarettes to produce an un-God-like sound which brought about the required timbre.

Casting was another complex matter that took some time to get right. Max Von Sidow had a problem getting the intensity to play Father Merrin because he didn’t believe in God, although he had played a convincing Jesus in George Steven’s The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).  In the end he played Merrin as an ordinary man because his acting skill came from understatement rather than histrionic emotion. Blatty, who has studied for the priesthood and then dropped out, was desperate to play Father Karras but then Jason Miller stepped forward and he just embodied the priest, although he was a non-pro. Stacey Keach had been signed to the role but was immediately dropped, his contract settled in full. The Reverend William O’Malley was another non-pro perfect for the role as Father Dyer because he understood the territory. Friedkin often shot a gun in the air to achieve the right facial expression from his actors – John Ford and George Stevens also regularly used these techniques. Although he claims this kind of ploy was never needed with a great actor. Lee J Cobb, who played Lt Kinderman, was one.

Friedkin talks a great about ‘rosebud moments’ and ‘grace-notes’ during this engaging documentary which draws on his wide taste in culture and art. Regan’s makeup was inspired by the Belgian surrealist Ensor’s paintings of masks. Magritte is also an influence, the artist’s Empire of Light giving the film its iconic image.Moments of truth such as in Cartier Bressons’ photos and Caravaggio’s tortured figures were also an inspiration. Friedkin’s way of lighting the sides of his character’s faces was taken from Vermeer and Rembrandt. Particularly Vermeer’s View of Delft in 17th century. He describes the scene with the white-robed nuns walking by as one the grace notes in this otherwise grim film. Grace notes are the lovely things you remember forever, and are more significent than the larger events.

Just like Kubrick’s Obelisk in 2001 A Space Odyssey, so the silver medal appears to various characters in the film including Father Karras and Father Merrin, along with a constant subliminal theme of ascension throughout the film. Karras is a figure with an inner torment of his own: taunted by guilt about his mother and his fears for the loss of his own faith, he is the tragic hero of the piece. The Father gives up his life for the life of the young girl. He jumps out of the window taking the demon with him, having invited it into his own body, even though suicide is against the Catholic Church (an idea that departs from the book), and remains an ambiguity in the film. Blatty insists that the devil comes out of his body again before Karras leaps out of the window. He then confesses to Father Dyer at the end but Friedkin is still unhappy about this dilemma, considering it the only flaw in the film.

It seems neither Blatty not the director are convinced about the ending. “Life is so ambiguous and that’s why my films are” he claims. This informative documentary ends with Friedkin reminiscing on life and his visit to the Zen garden in Kyoto where he found peace and a series of rocks surrounded by raked gravel. “The rocks represent continents that will never come together. We are in this World alone, completely separate from each other. Driven to tears he sites this as one his grace notes. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 29 August – 7 September 2019

Nomadland (2020)

Dir/Wri.: Chloé  Zhao; Cast: Frances McDormand, David Straithearn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie, Melanie Smith, Derek Endres, Bob Wells; USA 2020, 108 min.

A woman loses everything and embarks on a epic journey across America’s midwest  re-discovering her heart and soul.

Nomadland is the follow-up to Chloé Zhao’s breakout indie The Rider and captures the same spirit of emotional release and redemption in the big country as the 2017 award winner. This time with a fatter budget and star-power, the Chinese director adapts Jessica Bruder’s 2017 autobiographical study “Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century”. The nomads in question are victims of the 2008 financial crisis – now in their 60s and 70s – live in camper vans and trailer parks, not unlike the Hobos of the Great Depression. 

Shot in Nebraska, South Dakota, Nevada, Arizona and California, the film is carried by Frances McDormand who is the quietly resilient Fern, a vigorous defender of her freedom: “I am not homeless, I am houseless”. Since her husband died and her employee folding – shutting down the entire town of Empire, Nevada (including the postcode)  -. she has joined the growing army of casual workers taken to moving around the vast expanses of the mid West in a camper vans, rather than returning to the (now broken) places of their youth. Something has changed for good: and instead of yearning for security they celebrate real American independence – with all its drawbacks –  a private plumbed in lavatory, or the lack of it, is one. And talking of toilets, Fern now cleans them in restaurants as one of her casual jobs, Another is being an “Amazon Ant” in a huge warehouse, possibly not much different from the factory floor back in Empire.

Fern – McDormand in indomitable form – gets a proper introduction to life as a traveller by a pioneer of the movement: the anti-capitalist orator Bob Wells, who plays himself. Long-term cancer survivor Charlene Swankie, is another. Charlene  is philosophical about her terminal cancer: as long as she avoids hospital, she can cope. A string of small encounters make Fern’s story memorable, young Derek Endres remembers her generous gift of cigarettes when they meet by accident again; a Shakespeare Sonnet is a point of reference for longing and loss they have all endured. “See you down the road” becomes the travellers “mot du jour”.

There are also long term relationships. Dave (Straithearn, one of the few professional actors), has a crush on Fern. After he decides to go back and live like a proper grandfather to his family, he invites Fern to visit him and offers her the shelter of a comfortable home. She is tempted – at least for a while. But when she leaves the house at night for the security of her van, we all know what will happen.

And then there is her sister Dolly (Smith), who represents the life she has left behind. Fern visits on the pretext of borrowing money, but declines the invitation to move in despite her sister twisting the emotional screws: “Your leaving has left a big hole”. But Fern has found a new direction from the ashes of her past.

Back on the road and bathing naked in a lagoon, Fern is at one with nature come rain or storm. The desert is like a magnet, replacing the longing for an orderly way of life: the strictures of yesterday have been replaced by serenity as she draws strength from solitude, and herself. In the end, her father’s phrase:”What’s remembered, lives” sums up an atmosphere close to the Woody Guthrie songs of the 1930s, when solidarity was born out of a new rules of survival. And this is the positive message of this life-affirming film about true spiritual status quo: when we become truly at one with ourselves.

DoP Joshua James Richards images, particularly of the desert, are quietly mind-blowing, yet his scenes of the daily grind and other “inconveniences”  do not stint in grubby detail. Frances McDormand’s performance is an understatement bordering on the miraculous. She represents stoicism, unflinching and without compromise, finding poetry in the everyday, she carries the past without denying the loss, striding forward to another exciting meeting with a new friend down the road. AS

Best Film, Best Leading Actress  BAFTA 2021 | GOLDEN LION WINNER | VENICE 2020 | Oscars for Chloe Zhao and Frances McDormand.

                                      

One Night in Miami (2020) ***

Dir: Regina King | Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr. | US Drama, 110′

Four major forces of the black community come together in Regina King’s discursive and smouldering imagined drama that occasionally sparks into life.

It’s February 25th, 1964 and Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke find themselves together in a motel room for a night of lively debate in the wake of the civil rights movement, Clay having just emerged from the Miami Beach Convention Centre as the new Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World.

King sets just the right tone working from a script by Kemp Powers that  immediately transports us back to the era with a coruscating opening sequence that leads into some compelling exchanges with these charismatic characters convincingly captured, especially by Ben-Adir’s masterful turn as Malcolm X.  But the film rapidly runs out of steam as the discourse drags on into a rather claustrophobic chamber piece, occasionally glinting with the odd contretemps – a case in point is Malcolm X’s criticism of Sam Cooke’s musical style. King rescues the final stretch ending on an upbeat note to give this worthwhile outing a positive outcome. But what out stands out is four commanding and nuanced performances that will remain a cinematic tribute to the the cultural icons of the day. MT

IN CINEMAS 11 OCTOBER 2020

Genus Plan | Lahi, Hayop (2020)

Dir.: Lav Diaz; Cast: Bart Guingona, DMs Boongaling, Nading Josef, Hazel Orencio, Joel Saracho, Noel Sto. Domingo, Lolita Carbon, Popo Diaz; Philippines 2020, 150 min.

Philippine filmmaker Lav Diaz (*1958) is known for his valuable contribution to the “Slow Cinema” Movement with features often lasting between 225 minutes (his 2016 Venice winner The Woman Who Left) and roughly eleven hours (Evolution of a Filipino Family (2004). His most popular film Norte – or the End of History (2013), a re-working of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, coming in with a middling 250 minutes.

So it is quite remarkable that Genus Pan lasts a mere 150 minutes – truly a short film project for Diaz, who for the first time found international producers for his Locarno 2020 project When the Waves are Gone, a Dumas re-setting of the Count of Monte Christo, interrupted by the Covid19 pandemic. 

Genus Pan is set on the island of Hugaw, known as ‘dirt island’ because of its history. During the Japanese occupation (one of many colonial powers who have invaded the Philippines) Japanese soldiers kidnapped and raped indigenous women, using them as sex slaves. Today the Vargas family rules the island with help of a para-military army, led by the Captain (Popo Diaz, who acts as PD).

The story follows a trio of miners, the young Andres (Boongaling) and the older Baldo (Josef) and ex-circus worker Paulo (Guingona), who have decided to seek work on the pier of the nearby city. Their journey across the jungle is an eventful one fraught with memories of their time at the Circus, Andres being angry with Baldo for taking a “placement fee” from the younger man, as did the exploitative bosses and soldiers back at the mine. Paulo, a devout Christian believer, smooths things over by paying Baldo the fee so he can give the money to Andres who needs it for his sister’s medical treatment. Under the influence of alcohol, the old men remember how they murdered the ‘Clown’, before killing each other. Meanwhile Andres blacks out.

Without revealing the entire plot suffice to say this is a another colourful human story involving murder and mayhem in a tight-knit community of divided loyalties and fierce family allegiances, the colonial past colliding with future hopes and dreams.

Once again the themes of Diaz’ work resurface retracing his homeland’s fractured history, the present still caught up with the repressive regime of President Marcos and today’s President Duterte. Strong mysticism also plays its part particularly in rural areas, adding a vibrant spirituality shaped by the Catholic faith and the Easter processions with traditional  rituals of self-flagellation and dedication to the Virgin Mary. 

But Diaz’ overriding strength is his potent visual aesthetic that helps us to live in the film and be completely enveloped by the experience. There are no dramatic arcs: Diaz’ films mimic life itself: there are no chapters or “artificial new beginnings”, everything flows on as a unit. A scene often begins with an empty frame showing the opulence of the jungle where Diaz’ characters will live out their experiences. Leaves flutter in the wind, clouds wander, and water ripples by. “I am trying to unify space and time” he says. The audience joins the protagonists in a daily experience that mirrors their own Cinema is “an engagement with life” for Diaz, just as it was for Tarkovsky, who is quoted: “Time becomes tangible when you sense something significant, truthful, going on beyond the events on the screen; when you realise, quite consciously, that what you see in the frame is not limited by its visual depiction, but is a pointer to something stretching out beyond the frame and to infinity, a point to life”.

Diaz’ cinema follows the flow of dreams and ideas. It takes us back to our childhood reflecting loss, joy, remorse and the harshness of everyday life. We can find a new home for our memories in his flowing images. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 1 SEPTEMBER | Venice Film Festival 2020 | ORIZZONTI AWARD for BEST DIRECTOR
     

             

 

Selva Tragica (2019) **** Venice Horizons 2020

Dir: Yulene Olaizola | Cast: Indira Andrewin, Gilberto Barraza, Mariano Tun Xool, Lázaro Gabino Rodríguez, Eligio Meléndez / Mexico, France, Colombia 96’

Mexico’s Yulene Olaizola delves into her homeland’s mystical culture in this eerily suggestive fantasy drama set deep in the Mayan jungle on the border between Mexico and Belize in 192o, a lawless territory where myths abound.

Suffused with cool lime greens of the lush rain forests this is a mediative feature that vibrates with the ancient lores of its remote and hostile territory, ambient sounds of wildlife occasionally breaking through the barrier of silence. Into this peacefully balanced ecosystem comes an unwelcome intrusion in the shape of a group of Mexican gum workers who cross paths with an enigmatic young Belizean woman dressed in white wandering around in the wilderness seemingly on her own. The jungle assumes a dominant role of antihero taking its revenge on the men its  poisonous plants, swarms of mosquitos, fierce animals fighting back as they desperately try to master its unknown depths and exotic creatures with their weapons and wilful presence.

Meanwhile Agnes is carried off by the men who take her with them as a lowkey hostage causing deep tensions in the group and arousing their fantasies and desires. Filled with new vigour, they must face their destiny, without realising that they have taken captive the legendary spirit of Xtabay, a powerful feminine spirit who beguiles them life a succubus leading them to their fate.

Selva Tragica serves as an intriguing metaphor for our ongoing destruction of the planet. Olaisola meanwhile offers up another fascinating and impressively crafted foray into Latin American culture that is currently enriching the independent arthouse film scene today. MT

Venice Film Festival 2020 | HORIZONS 2020

 

Dear Comrades! (2020) **** Venice Film Festival 2020

Dir: Andrei Konchalovsky | Drama, Russia 120′

Veteran Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky uncovers a little known episode of the Nikita Krushchev era – the Novercherkassk Massacre  of June 1962 – in this elegant and restrained black and white feature filmed on academy ratio.

A follow-up to his last Venice offering – Sin – an imagined drama about Michelangelo – this is a more down to earth film but its refined gracefulness pictures the seriousness of the incident with a lightness of touch and even a dash of sardonic humour.

Dear Comrades! plays out during three days and is viewed through the eyes of a working woman played often vehemently by the director’s wife and regular collaborator Julia Vysotskaya. Lyuda is divorced and living with her daughter and father in the Southern city where she is a committed Communist Party official who yearns for the days of Stalin, despite its abuses which would lead to millions of Russians losing their lives. We instantly connect with her from the opening scene where she is in a rush to leave her married lover’s bed, keen to get in the supermarket queue before the shelves are emptied – due to the political regime rather than Covid19 shortages.

A strike is later announced at a local factory where Lyuda’s wilful teenage daughter Sveta (Julia Burova) is a worker and desperate to join her co-workers as they mass for the protest. Lyuda is watching the crowd swell from the balcony of her spacious offices but when the workers surge forward and break into the building she and her colleagues are advised to leave through the basement. Soon thousands are joining in the protest and the following days sees a KGB sniper shoots indiscriminately into the crowd and many civilians are killed and injured as they scatter for cover. .

The balanced script uncovers some fascinating contradictions about the Soviet era: Konchalovsky and his co-writer Elena Kiseleva are keen to point out that  the army are odds with the KGB and the forces end up taking the rap. The authorities crack down immediately ordering the main roads to be resurfaced with fresh tar macadam to hide the indelible bloodshed which has seeped into the cracks and dried in the searing sun. There is a rapid cover-up: locals are forced to sign non-disclosure agreements and sworn to secrecy upon pain of death. Meanwhile, Sveta has disappeared and Lyuda urges a KGB captain Viktor (Andrei Gusev) to help track her down.

In many ways Lyuda is a conflicted character not only for her political ideals but also for her personal ones: “Are you ashamed to share a bed with another woman’s husband?” complains her daughter when Lyuda complains about her daughter’s tarty habit of not wearing a bra.  Lyuda supports a crack-down on the protesters but when Sveta upholds her own constitutional right to protest, Lyuda tells her she should be disciplined. And the following vignette involving her father (Sergei Erlish) is a telling one as he dresses up in his military uniform and dusts down a religious icon of the Virgin Mary while reminiscing over past state abuses.

After a dignified irritation in the early scenes Lyuda start to let her emotions out of the bag in the final act, her anxiety bubbling to the surface but also her nihilistic acceptance of life under a regime which she has both aided and abetted, and is now suffering under. The final reveal topples over into a romantic sentimentalism bordering on melodrama that sits awkwardly with her stiff upper-lipped persona of the early part of the film, but this human drama is richly rewarding snapshot of life in 1960s Russia that doesn’t appear to have moved under Putin nearly sixty years later, according to Andre Konchalovsky. MT

Venice Film Festival 2020  | SPECIAL JURY PRIZE 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notturno (2020) Mubi

Dir: Gianfranco Rosi | Italy, Doc 90′

Notturno is cinematic but too enigmatic in its broad brush impressionist study of everyday life in the war-torn Middle East.

Italy’s leading documentarian Gianfranco Rosi has spent three years filming life behind the battle lines in his latest film in competition at this year’s Venice Film Festival.

Endowed with his signature poetic gaze but lacking a formal narrative that made Fire at Sea so compelling, Notturno is essentially a collection of filmic episodes that drift from one to the next exploring the corrosive effects of the ongoing conflict on ordinary people. Wartime is clearly the theme behind these vignettes but without any point of contact we are left imagining, guessing and wondering rather than gaining worthwhile insight into the hapless lives, makes Notturno a largely dissociative and unsatisfying experience although some may enjoy its more freewheeling approach. And his camerawork is stunning.

The war serves as a latent but corrosive and destabilising presence for the local Libyans, Iraqis, Kurdistanis and Syrians who try desperately to keep their world together when all around them combat rages on. No finger is pointed at the perpetrators although ISIS is mentioned several times when a veiled and tearful mother takes a call from her frightened daughter.

The film opens to the rhythmic marching of soldiers in a training base, in the distance the thud of bombs and ammunition is heard as distant flames flare up in the night sky – whether they are explosions, or oil refineries is uncertain. A troupe of camouflaged female fighters let their hair down and relax drinking tea after their day is done. Five children settle down for the night on the floor of their main room where their mother will then wake the eldest at the crack of dawn to go hunting with an older man who pays him to spot flying prey. Another hunter drifts peacefully around his boat amid rushes and ducks oblivious to the danger, he carries a gun but the only gunshot is heard in the far distance. Each of these studies is revisited in finer detail.

The most disturbing segment explores the naive drawings made by children in nursery school. These feature black-masked men, torture and beheadings rather than innocent depictions of their parents, pets or playtime. A psychologist listens to their thoughts and recollections about being roused by ISIS to be tortured and witness the death of adult prisoners. The images are often sublime in contrast to the sorrowful subject matter.MT

TO ACCOMPANY NOTTURNO MUBI IS SCREENING A COMPLETE RETRO OF GIANFRANCO ROSI

The Splendour Of Truth: The Cinema Of Gianfranco Rosi, starting in February. Boatman (1993), Below Sea Level (2008), El Sicario, Room 164 (2010), Sacro Gra (2013), and Fire At Sea (2016) are an unconventional account of life on the margins, starting where the news headlines end.

Sacro GRA – 22 February
Fire At Sea – 23 February
Tanti Futuri Possibili – 22 February
Boatman – 5 March
Notturno – 5 March
Below Sea Level – 10 March
El Sicario, Room 164 – 17 March

To the Moon (2020) CPH:DOX 2021

Dir.: Tadhg O’Sullivan; Documentary, ROI 2020, 71 min.

This first solo outing for writer/director and editor Tadgh O’Sullivan is a hymn to the moon compiled of countless clips and texts from over 130 films featuring the lunar planet. Like most compendium films To the Moon stimulates the desire to revisit the originals – mostly Nordic and German films –  not just as quotes – but in their entirety.

This moon admiration marathon is divided in sections with the first three entitled: ‘Because the Moon feels loved‘; ‘Because its always alone in the Sky‘ and ‘Loom of the Moon‘. The goddess of the Moon is apparently called Luna, yet ironically the word has now come to be connected with the mentally challenged here on Earth (lunatics).

The next chapter, ‘The Werewolf’, explores intruders into the home after the hours of darkness, and particularly those of a canine variety. ‘Ebb Tide has come to me’ is a melancholic segment dealing with ageing and featuring as its themes water and death in the moon shine: “Winter of age which overwhelms everyone”.

‘Part of a Dream’ looks at children’s relationship with the moon and we watch, among others, a clip of Edgar Reitz’ Heimat, where the young narrator asks himself “Is it the same Moon over Russia as over Schabbach?”

A little boy asks a father if he is part of the moonlight dream in ‘The Moon is Ours‘ and we enjoy a clip from Fritz Lang’s horror outing The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960). Meanwhile a very unromantic Italian man drives his knife into a tree, destroying a heart carved into the trunk, his female companion looking hopefully up to the gleaming planet. Finally, ‘Earth Fragment‘ brings us back to the cruelty of nature, an owl is attacking a rabbit in the moonlight.

Three years in the making To The Moon is a labour of love, O’Sullivan has certainly done his homework, but one wonders how much is really to his credit. Impressively edited and entertaining To the Moon is an enjoyable foray into the film archives testing the audience’s knowledge of film history AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | VENICE NIGHTS 2020

UK films featured in To The Moon:

– Dangerous Moonlight, (Brian Desmond Hurst, 1941)

– The Smashing Bird I Used to Know (Robert Hartford-Davis, 1969)

– The Tell-Tale Heart (JB Williams, 1953)

– Ulysses (Joseph Strick, 1967)

– Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962)

– Der Mude Tod (Fritz Lang, 1921)

– Magic Myxies (F. Percy Smith, Mary Field, 1931)

– Floral Co-operative Societies (Mary Field, 1927)

– Cottage on Dartmoor (Anthony Asquith, 1929)

– Buxton Well Dressing (George Kemp, 1904)

– Children’s voxpop: Y Dydd (1969)

– The White Shadow (Graham Cutts, 1924)

– Lobsters (John Mathias, 1936)

– A Throw of Dice (Franz Osten, 1929)

 

 

 

 

Laila in Haifa (2020)

Dir: Amos Gitai | Drama, Israel, 90′

Gitai certainly brings out the exotic edginess of this Israeli port city bordering on the Lebanon in his feisty social satire that sees Palestinians, Israelis and Lebanese enjoying a local night spot.

Those familiar with the territory – political, cultural and social – will certainly appreciate a drama set in this complex part of the world Some of the intrigue will be missed by the mainstream unable to identify who’s who. And although we’re constantly led to believe by the British press that Arabs and Israelis are constantly at each others throats, Gitai shows us otherwise – in a multicultural set-up where opposites attract amid a heady brew of sexual chemistry that fuels the various interconnecting vignettes in a rather stagey drama with its awkward performances – often feeling as if the cast is just reading from the script. Yet there’s something mesmerising about the seedy characters. You might not trust them to post a letter, but they’re intriguing to watch

The setting is Haifa’s Fattoush Bar & Gallery adjacent to a busy railway line that occasionally drowns out the conversation between business people. And while negotiations are going on in the art gallery part of the venue, gay couples are carousing in another corner of the venue.

Laila (Maria Zreik, Villa Touma) is the owner of the gallery. She is married to canny Palestinian Kamal (Makram J. Khoury) who doesn’t give her credibility as a businesswoman or agree with the political nature of the photos in her current exhibition picturing the Palestinian Resistance, although he does appear laissez faire about her relationship with Gil the artist who shot them (actor and singer Tsahi Halevi) – the two are seen embracing before Kamal arrives on the scene.

There’s an odd scene where Kamal is accosted by a rather fiery young Arab woman (Behira Ablassi) who tries to bribe him for money by hiding in the back of his ‘top of the range’ Mercedes. He handles the situation with nonchalance cleverly giving her short shrift.

Gil entertains a sob story from his half-sister (Israeli actress and dancer Naama Preis) complaining about her sexless marriage. She turns her attentions to a good-looking young Arab guy who plies her with drinks before the two disappear into his car for a quickie.

In another part of the bar a stocky young black Arab is on a blind date with a bewigged Jewish widow (Hana Laslo). Candidly admitting he was expecting somebody younger, she confidently retorts: “I was expecting someone more Jewish”. A bizarre episode features Arab chef Hisham whose wife Khawla (Khawla Ibraheem) unwisely makes a play for his friend Gil.

Gitai’s snapshot of the Middle East feels very much like a filmed play – entertaining at times but also rather forced and artificial in its depiction of this multicultural social brew. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 5 NOVEMBER 2021

 

 

 

200 Meters (2020) *** Venice Days 2020

Dir.: Ameen Nayfeh; Vast: Ali Suliman, Anna Unterberger, Lana Zreik, Gassan Abbas, Motaz Malhees; Palestine 2020, 95 min.

In his first feature Palestinian writer/director Ameen Nayfeh tries his best to stand on the fence while exploring human rights infringements caused by the border between his homeland and Israel.

200 Meters refers to the distance between a family living on the contentious wall dividing Palestine and Israel. Mustafa (Suliman) is stayIng with his mother on the Palestinian West Bank, while his wife Salwa (Zreik) and the couple’s three children Noora, Majd and Maryam are just two hundred meters away on the Israeli side of the barrier but the family can see each other during the daytime, Mustafa crosses over to work in Israel.

His son Majd is a Liverpool fan, and particularly fond of their Egyptian striker Mohamed Salah. His mother is keen to enrol him with an Israeli football team, Maccabi, but Mustafa favours a Palestinian side. Salwa is much more pragmatic than her husband who is driven by ideology.

One day, Mustafa fails the finger print test at the border facilities, his work permit has expired and he is sent back. A day later Majd is injured in a car accident and Mustafa if forced to use a team of people smugglers to get him over the border to visit his son in hospital. The smugglers take his 350 Shekel fee, but Mustafa is forced to wait until more passengers arrive.

Along comes Anne (Unterberger), a German filmmaker who is crossing over to video a family wedding with her companion Kifah (Malees). Also in the car is Sami, a young man is search of work, and Mustafa suggests his own uncle and boss Aba Nidal (Abbas), as a possible employer. But the crossing is a botched affair and both drivers and passengers are left stranded: One of the smugglers attacks Anne, believing that she a Mossad agent, and knocks her out before fleeing. Sami almost manages to climbs over the border wall before a rival gang causes him to fall and break two ribs. Mustafa’s only chance is Anne, and her German passport. But can he trust her, or should he side with Kifah, who suspects Anne of being in league with the Israelis.

200 Meters is shot imaginatively in documentary style by DoP Elin Kirschfink. And although the ensemble acting is impressive, Anne’s near permanent presence takes away too much from the central conflict given that her character is never really satisfactorily explored leaving a gaping hole in our understanding of her role. Nayfeh’s flaws are those of a new filmmaker and he will have learned a great deal from his first outing, handleD masterfully on a shoe string budget. AS

VENICE DAYS | 8 SEPTEMBER 2020 |

      

Careless Crime | Jenayat-e Bi Deghat (2020) **** Venice Horizons 2020

Dir.: Shahram Mokri; Cast: Babak Karami, Razieh Mansouri, Abolfazl Kahani, Mohammad Sareban, Adel Yaraghi, Mahmoud Behraznia, Behzad Dorani; Iran, 139 min.

Iran’s Shahram Mokri won a Special Prize in the Venice Horizon Section in 2013 for Fish & Cat. His latest is another welcome surprise, Rivette-like in structure its repetitions coming together like a love letter to Cinema, connecting the past to the present, Mokri shows how history repeats itself. the McGuffins are all over the pace and the director works hard on his labyrinthine narrative, the past meeting the present in mirrors, the only reality being the film within the film.

In late August of 1979, six months before the Iranian Revolution, four men entered the Cinema Rex in Abadan (south-west Iran) and set fire to it with petrol. 478 People died whilst watching The Deer, directed by Masud Kimiai and starring the popular actor Behrouz Vosoughi, with the feature having a clear anti-Shah message. The arsonists had locked and removed the door handles to the only locked exits which opened inwardly so many people were crushed to death. Furthermore, the projection booth had been doused with petrol, and burst into flames. None of the cinema employees was present during the blaze. The fire engine arrived late, its water tank was empty. Only eight people managed to escape, among them one of the arsonists, Hossein Takbalizadh, who was later hanged. To make matters even more opaque, an interview in the Iranian News Update in August 2020 claimed the real arsonists now sit as MPs in the Iranian Parliament.

We meet Takbali (Kahani) who is desperately trying to get hold of his anti-anxiety medication, finally tracking down a man who might be able to provide the drugs. Ironically he works at the National Cinema Museum. Excerpts of The Crime of Carelessness, a 1912 silent movie by Harold M. Shaw, are interwoven into the narrative. Shaw had a big phobia about fire and his film centres on an arsonist.

Meanwhile Takbali meets his contact, a man in a costume, walking on stilts. He gives him the medicine, asking him to deliver a book to a friend. This leads Takbali to another cinema in the capital where The Deer is being shown, mainly to an audience of film students. Here Takbali meets Fallah (Dorani), Yadollah (Behraznia) and Faraj (Sareban), the modern day arsonists who he helps to douse the cinema in turpentine. But that doesn’t do the job, so Takbali buys gasoline to have another go later on.

DoP Alireza Barazandeh makes use of long tracking shots for his crowd scenes in the city, reserving a handheld camera for the countryside. If you’re looking for something different Careless Crime is highly recommended. AS

Venice Film Festival 2020 | WINNER BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | SHAHRAM MOKRI

 

Never Gonna Snow Again (2020)

Dir: Malgozata Szumowska Michal Englert | Drama Poland 120’

Poland has come a long way since its communist days according to this surreal and stirring social satire. Never Gonna Snow Again sees the nouveau riche residents of a soulless gated community outside Warsaw, unable to heal their own lives despite their comfortable existence.

Meanwhile from a poorer part of town lives a Ukrainean migrant masseur called Xenia. Each day he trudges each from his stalag style apartment through a Grimm’s fairytale forest and into this neurotic new town to spread his balm over troubled waters. Alec Utgoff is hypnotic and quietly muscular in the leading role but he remains a dark horse drawing us in to a story that is both intriguing and unsatisfying.

This Venice competition title is the latest from Polish director Małgorzata Szumowska and her regualr collaborator cinematographer Michał Englert. Their previous films have explored outre and challenged individuals and this is the most mysterious and eerie to-date (Body, Mug and The Other Lamb).

A hotchpotch of amusing domestic vignettes play out and  is more exasperating than the last held together by the alluring central character of Xenia whose background is gradually revealed but who potential is never properly explored. By intention he is the only appealing character, and we are impelled to watch this movie because of him, and only because of him. The idea of a guru who saves the disenchanted is one of the most powerful themes in history and is ever relevant particularly now in our time of turmoil. But it often feels like the filmmakers are trying too hard and rather than focussing on their strong storyline they throw in endless crude titbits that are distracting and also downright irritating unless you share this particular brand of humour that often mocks those in tragic circumstances.

Elements of Gothic horror, porn and melodrama seep into a story whose characters are all suffering significant loss. We feel for the woman whose husband undermines her, for the bereaved widow who has lost the love of her life, and for the husband who will shortly die of a cancer he desperately tried to defeat: we also start to understand how Xenia coped hen he was bereaved and this enriches his significant healing skills and calm charisma. The others feel no such insight into their lives but meeting Xenia gives them a sense of empowerment and hope.

There are some exciting moments in the Polish modern fairytale with its pounding soundscape full of danger and exotic promise yet somehow – like the treatment or potion that promises to deliver –  Never Gonna Snow Again is the same. Busy being loud and clever it drowns out the truth behind its story and thus never lives up to its enticing potential. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 15 OCTOBER 2021

The Painted Bird (2019)

Dir.: Vaclav Marhoul, Cast: Petr Kotlar, Stellan Skarsgard, Harvei Keitel, Udo Kier, Julia Vidrnakova, Nina Sunevic, Jitka Cvancarova, Julian Sands, Czechia/Ukraine/Slovakia 2019, 159 min.

The Painted Bird is inspired by Jerzy Kosinski’s 1965 novel based on on real interviews with holocaust survivors in Poland makes for grim viewing with some of the most horrific scenes ever committed to celluloid. Don’t be seduced by the colourful title – the film is shot in black and white, more appropriate in conveying the stark nature of its contents. 

Some might accuse the Czech director of anti-Polish sentiments – but Poland has actually faced enormous difficulties coming to terms antisemitism during WWII. And that’s not only based on the violence and racism shown in this drama. The Polish government recently legislated to make it a crime to talk about Polish collaboration in the Holocaust. The law had to be withdrawn, but the unease remains.

It sees a young Jewish boy Joshka (Kotlar) whose parents have left him with a relative (Martha/Sunevic) in the belief he will be safer in the countryside. But after Martha dies the boy starts an epic journey of deprivation. Eventually captured by the Germans, he manages to escape his elderly ambivalent guard (Skarsgard) whose mournful eyes shows he has seen enough of death. He then witnesses German soldiers killing a group of Jews trying to escape from a cattle train, heading for  an extermination camp. A sick old priest (Keitel) saves his life but Garbos (Sands), the man charged with looking after him, brutally rapes him, and suffers a particularly gruesome death: the boy has learnt his lesson and is able to be as savage as the others.

The horrific violence continues when Joshka is befriended by a miller’s wife who saves him from drowning. But worse is to come at the hands of her husband (Kier). When he eventually finds sanctuary with Labina (Vidrnakova), it seems his luck has turned. But the young woman needs a lover, not a boy. Soon it becomes clear he has switched allegiances in this descent into hell.

Vladimir Smutny creates a devastating landscape where the characters cling to life stripped of any capacity to care or love in an apocalyptic orgy of destruction and self-destruction echoing scenes from Hieronymus Bosch. AS

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (2020)

Dir.: Lili Horvat; Natasa Stork, Victor Bodo, Bennett Vilmanyl, Peter Toth, Andor Lukats, Julia Ladanyl, Linda Moshier; Hungary 2020, 95 min.

Natasa Stork plays a woman who gives up her shiny life in America to return home to Hungary in Lili Horvat’s enigmatic counter-migration movie. 

 

Natasa Stork is fortyyear old neuro-surgeon Marty Vizy who leaves a glittering career in New Jersey to start a new life when she falls for a colleague at a conference. Vizy had put all her energy and talent into her profession in a 24/7 week of total commitment. The new man in her life, Dr Janos Drexler (Bodo), promises to meet her a month later at the Pest end of Liberty Bridge in Budapest. But when she gets there he is nowhere to be seen and later insists he has never even met her. 

What could have been daft or pretentious is made intriguing by this stunning lead performance that lifts the feature out of the mundane and into a sinuous psychological game of cat and mouse.    

Marta is a very sober woman – in spite of her coup de foudre – and determined to get to the bottom of Drexler’s change of heart she continues as arranged back in Budapest (at the same hospital as Drexler) her new colleagues, especially the elderly Dr. Fried (Lukats), suspecting some kind of personality disorder, rather than the more simple explanation that she’s been ditched. Even her psychiatrist (Toth) doubts her version of events.

Her only close contact in Budapest is her friend Helen (Moshier) who helps her to rent a flat. But soon Drexler and Marta start trolling each other openly in the city in an intricately choreographed waiting game, Marta growing increasingly jealous of a young blonde woman who seems to be close to Drexler.

In her immaculately crafted sophomore feature Horvat brings all the ends together in the final ten minutes, with Marta changing from hunted to huntress. DoP Robert Maly puts an idyllic spin on Budapest, not quite an ad for the city but along those lines. But Stork steals the show, hard-edged and soulful in equal measure. The running time is just right, anything longer would have toppled the poetic structure of this modern fairy-tale. AS

Curzon announces the release date for Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time – On Curzon Home Cinema – 19th March | premiered at VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | VENICE DAYS

Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams (2020)

Dir: Luca Guadagnino | Doc, Italy 120’

Luca Guadagnino‘s warm tribute to the life and work of celebrity shoemaker Salvatore Ferragamo positively glows with pride showing how his fellow countryman rose from humble beginnings to international fame through sheer hard work and perseverance.

In his lifetime Ferragamo designed iconic shoe styles that are still in production today: such as the famous rainbow sandals created for Judy Garland and the red jewelled stilettos worn by Marilyn Monroe.  The craftsman rose to fame as a favourite with the stars of silent screen such as Pola Negri, Lilian Gish and Mary Pickford who became friends and confidents, and he was eventually providing footwear for epic productions by Cecil B. EMille.

Guadagnino takes us through the complex step by step design and assembly process that continues today in Ferragamo’s famous Florence workshop, stressing how comfort was the watchword even when vertiginous heels were the order of the day. And every design was carefully patented. Ferragamo was a shrewd business man as well as a talented cobbler.

Guadagnino dedicates lavish attention to Ferragamo’s family ethic and his rise to fame  in the early years of the 20th century when as a 13 year old he set his heart on becoming a cobbler, even though it was considered ‘lowclass’, and sailed for America  from his small village of Bonito, Naples, just before the First World War.  Relatively soon he found success in the early years of Hollywood along with other pioneers who were finding their feet in this new playground.

The film is enlivened with fascinating archive footage of the era and interviews with Martin Scorsese, Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin and Ferragamo’s extensive family, including his wife who gives insight into their first meeting  (the couple married soon after and had six children).

Clearly Guadagnino is interested in the glamour of it all and the importance of family, tripping rather lightly over the commercial side of the business which saw some ups and downs particularly during the Depression when Ferragamo was forced to file for bankruptcy. And after his death at only 60, there is no explanation as to how his wife and eldest daughter Fiamma took over the business to ensure its continued success today. In two hours there was ample time to touch on this but clearly Guadagnino has erred on starry-eyed indulgence with his subject matter. And there is a so much to enjoy in this bumper Italian success story you somehow let him get away with it. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2020

 

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The New Gospel (2020) Venice Days 2020

Dir.: Milo Rau; Cast: Yvan Sagnet, Maia Morgenstern, Enrique Irazoqui, Marcello Fonte, Samuel Jacobs, Papa Latyr Faye; Switzerland/Germany 2020, 107 min.

Swiss writer/director Milo Rau gives Jesus and his apostles a contemporary makeover as migrant workers from Africa in his ambitious attempt to breath new life into Christianity’s central premise.

Filmed in Matera, Basilicata, in exactly the same location as Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel according to Matthew (1964), and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ (2004), Rau has also assembled actors from the original dramas. Back in the early 1960s, Pasolini picked an  economics student with an astonishing spiritual radiance to play Jesus. This time veteran actor Enrique Irazoqui plays Judas Iscariot. Meanwhile, Maia Morgenstern reprises her role as Mary from the Gibson feature.

Rau lets cast and crew watch parts of the Pasolini film. Once again, a relative newcomer plays the role of Jesus (Cameroonian activist Yvan Sagnet) who really has to suffer in this no holds barred contemporary version. He is styled as the leader of the “Revolt of Dignity”, a migrant organisation that fights against the exploitation of African workers by the Mafia. The Police intervenes after a demonstration, and the workers have to leave their dilapidated camp. In keeping with the spirit of Pasolini’s Neo-realist take, tourists and citizens of Matera are included in the shooting. They play the spectators, their modern outfits clashing with the historical costumes. The crucifixion has been filmed in the Murgia National Park, in exactly at the same spot where Pasolini and Gibson filmed: the original holes for the three crosses could be used again. 

The mayor of Matera, Raffaelo De Ruggieri, was offered the Pontius Pilate role, but he declined, choosing instead to play Simon of Cyrene, leaving Pilate’s part to Italian professional actor Marcello Fonte. Particularly convincing are Papa Latyr Faye as Peter, and Samuel Jacobs as Judas.

DoP Thomas Eirich-Schneider makes everything look real and the strong cast of professionals and newcomers make it all feel very convincing. But Rau’s project to “put Jesus back on his feet” is not an overall success. An attempt to give Jesus’s story a “black lives matter ” spin – is an avantgarde idea, but a bridge too far, confusing the delicate issues at stake by conflating two very different themes. Having the crowd of Jews shouting at Pilate “crucify the Black man”, somehow takes the action out of context, and leaves the audience with some question marks. AS

VENICE DAYS | GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI 2020

My Tender Matador (2020) *** Venice Days 2020

Dir.: Rodrigo Sepulveda; Cast: Alfredo Castro, Leonardo Ortizgris, Paulina Urrutia, Julieta Zylberberg; Chile/Mexico/Argentina 2020, 93 min.

Venice winner Alfredo Castro (From Afar) is the main attraction of this full on melodrama with political overtones from Rodrigo Sepulveda (Aurora).

Based on Pedro Lemebel’s 2001 novel of the same name, this gay love story plays out in the Chile of 1986, when resistance fighters blew up Augusto Pinochet’s security offices in an attempt to assassinate him.

Carlos (Ortizgris) is part of an underground cell, planning to eliminate Pinochet. The action kicks off during a raucous evening in a local club where Castro’s ageing transvestite drag queen La Loca del Fuente is in full swing. The performance is interrupted by Military Police who kill one member of the troupe and arrest others. Carlos saves La Loca’s life, pretending they are a heterosexual couple, while the soldiers look for more victims.

La Loca lives in a derelict house in one of the poorest quarters of Santiago where he earns a modest living as a needle-smith. Smitten by the handsome revolutionary, he allows Carlos to store some boxes with “books” in his house, and also accords them total privacy when Carlos’ group has meetings, although La Loca wises up on discovering a cache of guns in the boxes, and objects to being asked to embroider a table cloth with the Chilean flag for one of his clients, Donna Clarita (Urrutia), who is entertaining Pinochet for dinner. Carlos threatens La Loca with a visit from the Political Police if he refuses the commission.

The pair become close, La Loca accompanying Carlos on a ‘scouting’ trip for the planned assassination, but La Loca comes home one evening, to find that the guns are gone. Carlos backs off after the failed attempt on Pinochet’s life, leaving La Loca lonely and heartbroken. But after Julieta has driven him to a meeting with Carlos at the beach, La Loca must make a very personal decision

In this beguiling feature Sepulveda lifts the lid on the gay scene of Pinochet’s Chile when transvestites and other sexual ‘deviants’ were much frowned upon by communists and their class enemies – especially in Castro’s Cuba. As La Loca points out to Carlos: “there are no gay communists”. Both neither Carlos or La Loca are winners. Carlos has to flee the country after the failed attempt on Pinochet’s life, not knowing the event would eventually be the end of the end of the dictatorship. La Loca knows very well that in the macho terrain of South America, sexual orientation is not a matter of choice.

DoP Sergio Armstrong plays with a bold palette of prime colours; the subdued lighting chez La Loca echoing the psychological state of its inhabitant: shutting out the day and just living for Carlos’ nightly visits. A classical melodrama, very much in the vein of the great Mexican director Emilio Fernandez. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | VENICE DAYS

 

The Wasteland (2020) ***** Venice Film Festival 2020

Dir: Ahmad Bahrami | Ali Bagheri (Lotfolah), Farrokh Nemati (Boss), Mahdieh Nassaj (Sarvar), Touraj Alvand (Shahoo), Majid Farhang (Ebrahim) |  Drama, Iran 103’

Ahmad Bahrami’s second feature is a work of stark elegance in contrast to its soulful setting in a remote mudbrick factory on the verge of shutdown in a dusty corner of Iran. A metaphor for modern Iran The Wasteland echoes Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Abbas Kiarostami in its chiaroscuro grace and artful framing and nothing is spare in a storyline that gradually smoulders to a coruscating conclusion.

Workers of varying cultures and creeds toil tirelessly in the searing heat their simmering resentments felt but barely seen until the shutdown of the factory is imminent, the boss no longer able to finance a traditional concern in a world that has changed forever. The building trade is using concrete and other sustainable products and the traditional art of compressing and baking earth into rectangular blocks has no place in the 21st century.

Forty year old Lotfolah has dedicated his life to the factory as foreman and supervisor – man and boy – now he has nowhere to go with his only companion, a trusty horse. The workers look to their boss for the future but he cannot sustain them. He must settle up their wages and send them on their way to the city. Up to now they have been united in their differences focussing on a common goal. But petty resentments and quarrels now start to break out and the smouldering environment fires up their bitterness. Ebrahim, an Azerbaijani Turk, is in love with an Iranian girl called Gohar. But her father Mashebad has other plans for his daughter back in their village. Kurdish Shanu insists on wearing a sleeveless teeshirt much to the anger of the Muslim men. But he has more pressing problems to sort out, with a father on death row. An intense undercurrent of emotion burns between Sarvar and Lotfolah who has set his heart on a future for the two on them. But Sarvar remains an enigma, proud and silent. Scenes of her in quiet contemplation against the backdrop of factory arches are amongst the most inspired in this arthouse treasure that uses academy ratio to set the action firmly in a distant era unconnected to the modern world yet reliant on it for survival.

Ahmad Bahrami uses a clever narrative device that centres on the factory owner’s announcement that the factory is to close.  This speech is played out five times throughout the first half of the film, and each time it accumulates, another part added to the existing message, the camera taking the POV of each workers, their story is then amplified into its own vignettes. The worker then returns to his family and after a discussion they eat and go to sleep.

But Lotfolah is alone in his life and we feel for him. Ali Bagheri gives a monumental and thoughtful performance that conveys a weight of emotion simmering under his mournful demeanour. As his co-workers slowly pack up and go he remains a figure of quiet desperation going about his business as diligently as in the past. And in the final act a feeling of gloom and despondency builds towards a doomladen finale. This sober end of worlds thriller came to the Venice Horizons competition modestly without noise or representation standing its ground as a minor masterpiece. MT

Venice Film Festival 2020 | HORIZONS

Waiting for the Barbarians (2019) ***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW AVAILABLE TO WATCH ONLINE

 

 

 

Residue (2020) *** Venice Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Merawi Gerima; Cast: Obinna Nwachkwa, Dennis Lindsey, Taline Stewart, Jamal Graham, Melody Tally, Ramon Thompson; USA 2020, 90 min.

This debut feature chimes with today’s Black Lives Matter theme
through the Merawi Gerima’s personal homecoming memoirs seen through the eyes of through of his main character Jay (Nwachkwa, also a debutant).

Jay is back From studying film in Los Angeles. But his old stamping ground of Washington DC: once called Eckington, now NoMa (North Massachusetts Avenue), doesn’t feel the same anymore. Gentrification has since set in. But although Gerima is keen to point out that his film is not about gentrification, it is hard to interpret otherwise.

Jay’s parents (Ramon Thompson/Melody Tally) are hassled by property developers, and his childhood friends are seemingly hostile. The parallel sequences of his happy boyhood are truly nostalgic, and ring sometimes much truer than the contemporary alienation narrative.

Jay’s parents have always been a touchstone for the troubled youth of the area, and these issues continue to abound along with unsolved drug problems and new confrontations with the White interlopers. Of Jay’s childhood friends, Mike is dead; Dion (Graham), his former older idol (Jacari Dye plays a young Jay) is in prison; and Demitrius is nowhere to be found. Delonte (Lindsay) is one of many indifferent to Demetrius: “He moved to Maryland, I think”, he tells Jay. But Delonte had his own family issues to deal with, including the death of his mother at the hands of his father, Jay is a traitor: “Don’t forget, you left us! You can’t save me now. You lived the big life in LA, whilst we held down the city. Don’t ask ‘where is Demitrius, as if you really care. You only care only about yourself and the motherf…g movie you are shooting. Anyhow, we are paved over by the Whites, like we never existed”.

Jay’s relationship with his girl friend Blue (Stewart) is also troubled. She feels rightly neglected and, after a party, a jealous Jay storms off when he sees Blue consorting with his mates. The most impressive scene is Jay’s prison visit for Dion, whose letters he had never answered. Instead of the depressing penitentiary background, Gerima stages their meeting in the woods of their childhood. This is much more intense than the staged titular scene, where a White woman’s dog craps on the Black home owner’s lawn. While the dog’s owner is cleaning up, the house owner complains “about leaving residue on my lawn”.

With the riddle of Demetrius unsolved we are left with Jay’s partly irrational anger about changes: he has lost his childhood friends and environment and struggles to replace them. The filmmaker and his main protagonists seem to have hit a wall.

Impressive camerawork by DoP Mark Jeevaratnam cannot make up for a narrative that leaves too much unresolved. A more structured approach would have helped greatly. Nevertheless, Residue is strong on intensity and benefits from convincing performances from both the younger and older Jay. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL  | Venice Days 2020

 

Pieces of a Woman (2020) *** Venice Film Festival 2020

Dir: Kornel Mundruczo | Drama, 127’

Nothing prepares us for sudden death. Pieces of a Woman sees a couple suffer the loss of their newborn child. But the most surprising upshot of bereavement is how is it affects those around us, and particularly those nearest to us. And this unexpected behaviour is pivotal to the narrative and how it plays out for a professional Bostonian woman called Martha (Vanessa Kirby/The Crown) and her stevedore partner, a recovering alcoholic who hails from Seattle (Shia Leboeuf).

Hungarian film director Kornel Mundruczo’s first outing in English is as deeply flawed as the title suggests: moving in parts but also totally incoherent in others. The euphoric early arthouse scenes – impressively shot in one 24 minute take – show the couple during the birth and these intensely personal moments are graphic in detail. Almost too much so. But the baby dies shortly after she is born leaving the couple in disarray, arguments and recriminations follow. And as Boston descends into a freezing winter, amid wide panoramic shots of the Charles River, so Martha retreats into herself cutting Sean adrift in an icy silence.

 

Based on his own personal experiences this is clearly a cathartic film for the director writing with his real life partner Kata Weber. But the film soon drifts tonally into a more glossy family drama where the grief-stricken Martha is persuaded by her controlling mother (Ellen Burstyn in formidable form) to seek compensation from the midwife. As Martha’s relationships deteriorate all round so the storyline unravels with no real sense of direction. There is a fraught mother-daughter strand; an imploding relationship breakdown where class and racial conflicts enter the fray – Martha is a tough Jewish uptown girl, Sean is soft-hearted but given to brutal outbursts. Their attractions are also part of their downfall when things don’t go according to plan.

Sarah Snook, Martha’s distant cousin, is hired to fight their case as the lawyer taken on to prosecute midwife Eva. And Martha’s mother, a steely Holocaust survivor, offers invaluable advice to daughters everwhere: “you have to take a stand and tell your truth, otherwise you can never move on”. You might not like her but you’d certainly want her on your side: “and when you do move on, burn your bridges”, is another chestnut.

The actors all do their best to carry the film forward and Ellen Burstyn is the most impressive, Leboeuf stymied by an underwritten role. But the script is so focussed on Martha’s simmering resentment that the final reveal – in a coruscating court scene – bears no relation to what has gone before, leaving us unprepared and perplexed.

The unsuccessful shift from arthouse to Hollywood melodrama could be due to various big names jumping on board the project with their money and therefore demanding a schmaltzy Hollywood happy ending, Although with Martin Scorsese being one of the exec producers this does seem surprising for this missed opportunity at Pieces of a Woman staying true to its arthouse origins.. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | BEST ACTRESS WINNER Vanessa Kirby

The Disciple (2020) Netflix

Dir: Chaitanya Tamhane  | Musical drama, India 127’

Chaitanya Tamhane dedicates the same intensity and sense of detail to The Disciple as his first feature Court (2014). This impressive second feature must surely be the definitive film about Indian Hindustani classical music, and that is something for Tamhane to be proud of. A film about devotion to the task at hand and focused perseverance is refreshing in these modern times of quick fix celebrity and overnight success.

The main character Sharad Nerulkar is a rather doleful young man determined to perfect his knowledge and skills in this most complex and subtle of traditional musical styles. And although the actor does his best to get us on board with his emotionally pent up loner, he remains a detached and avoidant soul, given to binge-eating and bouts of self-righteousness.

The task he undertakes is a difficult one, Tamhane reminding us that artistic expression relies on a relaxed mind and body to flourish and flow. His musical guru Sha Guruji (Arun Dravid) impresses this upon his rather tense student who is so desperate to pay his bills and look after his future in this classical field that he slightly misses the point for most the drama.

The musical excerpts performed by skilled practitioners are quietly mesmerising, often reaching fever pitch. But the most enjoyable scenes revolve around simple everyday life in Mumbai when Tamhane takes the camera roving to unexpected and delightful places. The musty heat of the night is almost palpable during Sharad’s slo-mo motorbike rides on the city’s highways. It’s the only time he seems really at peace. MT

Now on NETFLIX | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | AWARD FOR BEST SCREENPLAY
Chaitanya Tamhane

 

Lovers (2020) ** Venice 2020

Dir: Nicole Garcia | Drama, France 102’

Venice Film Festival is hot to trot with a selection of eclectic new European arthouse titles but this pale rider is one of the least convincing.

All dressed up with nowhere to go Lovers looks slick and sassy enough but plays out with a passionless pipe and slippers banality despite a starry cast and Nicole Garcia’s talent to amuse as a seasoned filmmaker.

The story unfolds in three chapters in Paris, Mauritius and Geneva. Catering student Lisa (Stacy Martin) is in lust with her chef boyfriend Simon (Pierre Niney), who has a sideline in drug-pedalling to wealthy Parisians: “I’m only doing it for us” he opines, as they roll naked in their fashionably taupe sheets although the sex is pretty much lifeless.

When one of Simon’s clients dies of an overdose, the two make an escape plan, but Simon disappears leaving Lisa to marry Benoit Magimel’s stout and successful bon viveur Leo, who has a chain of luxury hotels and a penchant for vintage wine. A pregnancy is not on the menu but the couple plan to adopt “a little black one” in Mauritius. But as luck would have it Simon is still the captain of Lisa’s heart although she enjoys Leo’s money and masterfulness.

Lush locations abound in Christophe Beaucarne’s elegant visuals. The interiors are straight out of House and Garden, and you notice every detail because the love story is so tepid in comparison. Lisa pines for Simon and they can’t stop following one another, but Leo is no cowering cuckhold and eventually puts his designer clad foot down. What ensues is instantly forgettable because fail to care for these lacklustre individuals and their trivial love triangle. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2020

 

Conference (2020) **** Venice Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Ivan I. Tverdovskiy; Cast: Natalya Pavlenkova, Olga Lupshina, Kseniya Zueva, Alexandar Semchev; Russia/Estonia/UK/Italy 2020, 135 min.

On October 23rd 2002 850 spectators were held hostage in the Dubrovka theatre of Moscow during the performance of the musical “North-East”. 170 people lost their lived when troops stormed the auditorium.  The perpetrators were aggrieved Chechnyans.

Russian writer/director Ivan I. Tverdovskiy (Zoology) reconstructs the events and explores the personal recriminations of the survivors in this impressive, but doom laden feature.

Centred around Natasha (Pavlenkova), a survivor turned nun, who returns to Moscow for the seventeenth anniversary meeting of victims’ families. We learn that she is estranged from her family: her daughter Galya (Zueva), who looks after paralysed husband Oleg (Semchev), cannot understand why her mother returns every year to open old wounds:  Natasha’s thirteen-year-old son Yegor was killed in the massacre. Supported in her efforts of reconciliation and remembrance by Sveta (Lupshina) – who lost husband and daughter that night – Natasha tries to convince Galya to come to the memorial in the theatre. But her daughter leaves her with Oleg, storming angrily out of the flat, even though she would later appear at the theatre.

The ‘reconstructing’ is painful to watch: everyone has to chose an inflatable mannequin to sit next to them: white for the victims, black for the attackers and blue for the survivors who could not come on the day. They talk about the surprise attack, and how it was initially thought that the attackers, who shot at the ceiling on stage, were part of the show. Only when the first victim was shot, did the gravity of the situation set in. Aslan, the terrorists‘ spokesman, asked the audience to phone their friends and families. Later the mobiles were collected and stored outside the auditorium where a young attacker played video games and talked to the friends and relatives. Many of the hostage-takers seemed to be very young: one of the Shahidwomen even prayed with the hostages. The survivors also re-enact the arrival of the buffet-trolley, the hostage takers shared snacks and water with their victims. But they also shouted at the audience, that “you got to the theatre here, whilst we have to live with war”. After a few hours, the caretaker of the theatre wants the memorial audience to leave, but Natasha talks him out of it. The witnesses talk about resistance on the night: one man hitting a Shahid woman, and another hostage-taker shooting at him but missing, killing a young woman sitting near the aisle, who is hit in the stomach. The caretaker appears again, this time he is adamant about the closure, and switches the light in the auditorium off.

By now, Galya has joined, and she listens to her mother’s accounts of the escape on the fateful night. The hostages had to queue to go to the toilet. When Natasha’s turn came, she was with a woman who opened the window and jumped out, telling the hysterical Natasha to jump too, and stop shouting. After Natasha jumped, she knew she had made a mistake, but her legs were injured and she could not go back.

After police has ended the memorial well after midnight, the theatre manager takes back the charges, and Natasha makes a final attempt to reconcile with her daughter, only to find Oleg being loaded into an ambulance, with Galya asking for her help.

DoP Fedor Glazachev changes from panorama shots of the auditorium to intensive close-ups, showing the incredulity of the situation. Pavlenkova is brilliant, so is the ensemble acting. But Tverdovskiy goes right to the bone in this no holds barred account, and while one agrees which his approach intellectually, the end of this tour-de-force of grief, denial and guilt cannot come too soon.  AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | Horizons 2030

 

AS

Apples (2020) Curzon online

Dir: Christos Nikou | Drama Greece, 90

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

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

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

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

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

Final Account (2020)

Dir: Luke Holland Doc, UK 90’

British filmmaker Luke Holland goes the other side of the fence in this definitive documentary that plunders the memories of German Second World War veterans involved in Hitler’s Nazi regime.

Final Account is a candid film that pulls no punches in its trenchant expose of German and Austrian wartime veterans – both men and women. And although the director maintain his distance – his grandparents lost their lives in the camps; what emerges is startling and often depressing.

Blue-eyed witnesses now in their 80s and 90s reminisce over their joy and excitement at being part of the Hitler Youth Movement that allowed them to indulge in a variety of sports such as swimming and athletics that had previously been denied them during the early 1930s in Germany.

But others even ended up engaging in sports of a more gruesome nature when they decided to join in Hitler’s ethnic genocide and become direct participants in the horrors of the prison camps. What emerges is not always palatable to watch and several interviewees continue to deny the gravity of their actions in the name of their country, whether through selective amnesia or embarrassment.

Twelve years in the making and enriched by footage and photographs from the personal albums of those involved Final Account is a vital and worthwhile addition to the Holocaust canon. But the casual denial and abdication of responsibility of those who took part in the Wehrmacht, or SS, will be a bitter pill for most viewers to swallow.

Most Germans claim to have been carried along on a wave of nationalistic pride, or were ‘just obeying orders’. Others state allegiance to the Hitler’s view that German Jews were becoming too successful and clicquey. One ex SS office is honest enough to admit that he didn’t particularly care when hundreds of synagogues were burnt down on Kristallnacht in 1938. Another man, pictured in his farm, explains he didn’t hesitate to telephone the police when his Jewish neighbours tried to hide in his barn to avoid capture, bringing to mind the ‘banality of evil’. Another man remembers a childhood song about “Knives sharp enough for Jewish bellies”. He now admits to be shocked at the memory. A group of women in a care home cast their mind back to the smell of burning and black smoke billowing from a nearby furnace, while they gleefully enjoy coffee and biscuits.

These are tragic recollections superbly edited by Stefan Ronowicz in a film that never descends into sentimentality or melodrama – just a stark and sober revelation of human indifference. MT

NOW ON RELEASE

Kitoboy (The Whaler Boy) **** Venice Days 2020

Dir: Philipp Yuryev | Drama, 94′ Russia, Poland, Belgium

In a remote whaling village on the edge of the world a teenager dreams of a girl he met on the internet and sets off to find her across the vast wasteland of the Bering Strait that divides Russia from America. Kitoboy brings to mind Sarah Gavron’s 2012 feature Village at the End of the World, more ruminative and soulful in tone, but not without irony in the final reveal.

Loneliness, sexual awakening and whale hunting are given a poetic makeover in this thoughtful rites of passage drama seen through ‘whaler boy’ Leshka’s eyes. Desperate for a girlfriend and living alone with his dying father, he leads a very uneventful life out at the far edge of a male-dominated community where the longing for female companionship accentuates feelings of alienation, and wonder about the opposite sex.

The internet’s recent arrival in the village puts the young man in contact with attractive girls thousands of miles away who dance entrancingly on the screen of a constantly buffering erotic webcam chat site. Leshka can’t take his eyes off the girls as they leer and gyrate lasciviously before his tender glances. Yet he talks to them respectfully in an intimate and caring way, almost falling in love at first sight. Rather than treating these semi-porn sites as lighthearted entertainment, Leshka’s desire to find love fires a feral determination to discover the physical girl behind the camera, a journey that leads him into the real world in a bleak, boys’ own adventure where reality bites.

In his first feature film as director, award-winning Russian cinematographer Philipp Yuryev crafts a delicately unusual and visually resplendent low budget action drama about an experience that is relatable for thousands of men (and women) all over the world. The drama then turns into something unexpected and alluring with an eclectic and atmospheric soundscape that resonates and often dissonates with the film’s quirky storyline. At the same time Kitoboy connects with the narrative of surviving communities on the verge of extinction in the Russian Far North, whose cultures and customs are evocatively brought into focus in this stark but richly satisfying feature. MT

VENICE DAYS  2020

 

Venice Film Festival 2020

The first physical film festival since Coronavirus VENICE returns to its origins with a bracingly auteurist competition line-up that shines the spotlight on Arthouse masters and brazen new talent From Europe, Asia and South America.

Championing female filmmakers and fraught with exciting news films from veterans Lav Diaz, Fred Wiseman, Andrey Konchalovsky, Orson Welles and Amos Gitai the 77th Venice Film will take place on the Lido from September 2-12.

Among the regular auteurs selected are Chloe Zhao (Nomadland),  Nicole Garcia (Lovers),  Michel Franco (Nuevo Orden), Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Wife Of A Spy), Malgorzata Szumowska (Never Gonna Snow Again, co-dircted by Michal Englert) and Gianfranco Rosi with his latest documentary Notturno

Buzz-worthy British films include Roger Michell’s The Duke, with Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren; and Luke Holland documentary Final Account, both playing out of competition. The Critics’ Week selection also includes The Book of Vision starring Britain’s Charles Dance and Uberto Pasolini’s Nowhere Special starring James Norton and produced by a UK/Romania/Italian team.

The festival opens with Daniele Luchetti’s Lacci, the first Italian film to open the celebrations fr quite some time. Festival director Alberto Barbera describes it as: “an anatomy of a married couple’s problematic coexistence, as they struggle with infidelity, emotional blackmail, suffering and guilt, with an added mystery that is not revealed until the end. Supported by an outstanding cast, the film is also a sign of the promising phase in Italian cinema today, continuing the positive trend seen in recent years, which the quality of the films invited to Venice this year will surely confirm.”

Competition

Nomadland (US) (above) | Dir. Chloe Zhao

Frances McDormand (Three Billboards) embarks on a road journey across America in the latest from The Rider director Chloe Zhao

Quo Vadis, Aida? | Dir. Jasmila Zbanic

And Tomorrow The Entire World (Ger-Fr) | Dir. Julia Von Heinz

The Disciple (India) | Dir. Chaitanya Tamhane

Never Gonna Snow Again (Pol-Ger) | Dir. Malgorzata Szumowska, Michal Englert

Notturno (It-Fr-Ger) | Dir. Gianfranco Rosi

Gianfranco Rosi poignant love letter to Lampedusa (Fire at Sea) won him an armful of awards including the Golden Bear at Berlinale 2016. He is back in Venice, where he won the Golden Lion in 2013, this time turning his documentary camera on Syria.

Padrenostro (It) | Dir. Claudio Noce

Miss Marx (It-Bel) | Dir. Susanna Nicchiarelli

Italy’s Susanna Nicchiarelli won the Orizzonti Award in 2017 for her dazzling drama Nico 1988

Now in the main competition with an all star British cast she explore the life of Eleanor Marx daughter of the infamous Carl.

Pieces Of A Woman (Can-Hun) | Dir. Kornel Mandruczo

In his first English language film the Hungarian director who made his name with White Dog explores the emotional journey of a woman who has lost her child.

Sun Children (Iran) | Dir. Majid Majidi

The Tehran based director has already won plaudits for best script, production design and film for his latest drama that tackles the subject of child labour.

Wife Of A Spy (Jap) | Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa

A Japanese wife is saddled with the sins of her husband in this painterly portrait set in 1940s Japan from Kiyoshi Kurasawa (Creepy).

Dear Comrades (Rus) | Dir. Andrey Konchalovsky

The Russian director known for Postman’s White Nights (2014) and Paradise (2016) returns to Venice with his latest, a political drama based on real events in Novocherkassk 1962 when Soviet troops seeking to cover up mass labour strikes opened fire on workers and one in particular Lyudmila (Yuliya Vysotskaya).

Laila In Haifa (Isr-Fr) | Dir. Amos Gitai

Lovers (Fr) | Dir. Nicole Garcia

Pierre Niney, Stacy Martin and Benoit Magimel star in this Noirish Parisian drama that sees a woman fall for her ex while on holiday with her husband.

Nuevo Orden (Mex-Fr) | Dir. Michel Franco

Franco loves exploring the psychology behind human relationships as he does here again in this latest that sees a high-society wedding gatecrashed by unwelcome guests.

The World To Come (US) | Dir. Mona Fastvold

Physical and emotional privation gives rise to a surprising love story in Norwegian filmmaker Mona Fastvold’s drama set in an US East Coast frontier town during the 1850s.

Le Sorelle Macaluso (It) | Dir. Emma Dante

In Between Dying (Az-US) | Dir. Hilal Baydarov

Out Of Competition – Drama

Lacci (It) – Opening Film | Dir. Daniele Luchetti

Mosquito State (Pol) | Dir. Filip Jan Rymsza

Night In Paradise (S Kor) | Dir. Park Hoon-Jung

The Duke (UK) | Dir. Roger Michell

Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren lead a cast of Fionn Whitehead, Matthew Goode, Anna Maxwell Martin for this British drama based on the theft of Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London in 1961.

Assandira (It) | Dir. Salvatore Mereu

Love After Love (China) | Dir. Ann Hui

Mandibules (Fr-Bel) | Dir. Quentin Dupieux

Lasciami Andare (It) – Closing Film | Dir. Stafano Mordini

The Human Voice (approximately 30’) is a loose adaptation of the original stage play by Jean Cocteau, directed by Pedro Almodóvar and featuring Tilda Swinton as ‘the voice’. It tells the story of a jilted woman (Swinton), hoping her lover will get in touch. This is Pedro Almodóvar’s first time shooting in English. Alberto Iglesias composed the score.

One Night in Miami by Regina King

Set on the night of February 25, 1964, the story follows a young Cassius Clay (before he became Muhammad Ali) on the night her defeated Sonny Liston to win the title of World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. Clay – unable to stay on at the venue because of Jim Crow-era segregation laws – instead spends the night at the Hampton House Motel in one of Miami’s historically black neighbourhoods, celebrating with three of his closest friends: activist Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke and football star Jim Brown. The next morning, the four men emerge determined to define a new world for themselves and their people. In One Night in Miami, Kemp Powers explores what happened during these pivotal hours through the dynamic relationship between the four men and the way their friendship, paired with their shared struggles, fueled their path to becoming the civil rights icons they are today.

Out Of Competition – Documentaries

Sportin’ Life (It) | Dir. Abel Ferrara

Crazy, Not Insane (US) | Dir. Alex Gibney

Greta (Swe) | Dir. Nathan Grossman

Salvatore – Shoemaker of Dreams (It) | Dir. Luca Guadagnino

Final Account (UK) | Dir. Luke Holland

Looking at the other side of the coin, Holland cobbles together interviews from those Nazis who perpetrated the Holocaust.

La Verita Su La Dolce Vita (It) | Dir. Giuseppe Pedersoli

Molecole (It) | Dir. Andrea Segre

Paolo Conte, Via Con Me (It) | Dir. Giorgio Verdelli

Narciso Em Ferias (Bra) | Dirs. Renato Terra, Ricardo Calil

Hopper/Welles (USA) | Dir. Orson Welles

Yes, another documentary about Orson Welles – can there ever be too many? This unscripted one captures a conversation between the maverick multi-talented Welles and the ingenu filmmaker Hopper that took place in 1971 over dinner, shooting the breeze over politics, personal issues and, or course, filmmaking. Made available courtesy of The Other Side of the Wind (Venice 2018) producer Filip Jan Rymsza.

City Hall (USA) | Dir. Frederick Wiseman

Out Of Competition – Special Screenings

Princesse Europe (Fra) | Dir. Camille Lotteau

30 Monedas – episode 1 (Spa) – series | Dir. Alex De La Iglesia

Orizzonti

Apples (Greece-Pol-Slovenia) – Opening Film | Dir. Christos Nikou

La Troisième Guerre (Fra) | Dir. Giovanni Aloi

Milestone (India) | Dir. Ivan Ayr

The Wasteland (Iran) | Dir. Ahmad Bahrami

The Man Who Sold His Skin | Dir. Kaouther Ben Hania

I Predatori (It) | Dir. Pietro Castellitto

Mainstream (USA) | Dir. Gia Coppola

Genus Pan (Phil) | Dir. Lav Diaz

Zanka Contact (Fr-Mor-Bel) | Dir. Ismael El Iraki

Guerra E Pace (It-Switz) | Dirs. Martina Parenti, Massimo D’Anolfi

La Buit Des Rois (Ivory Coast-Fr-Can) | Dir. Philippe Lacote

The Furnace (Aus) | Dir. Roderick Mackay

Careless Crime (Iran) | Dir. Shahram Mokri

Gaza Mon Amour | Dirs. Tarzan Nasser, Arab Nasser

Selva Tragica (Mex-Fr-Ger) | Dir. Yulene Olaizola

Nowhere Special (It-Rom-UK) | Dir. Uberto Pasolini

Listen (UK-Port) | Dir. Ana Rocha De Sousa

The Best Is Yet To Come (China) | Dir. Wang Jing

Yellow Cat (Kazakhstan-Fr) | Dir. Adilkhan Yerzhanov

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 SEPTEMBER

Venice Film Festival 2020 | Main jury complete

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

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

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

Courtesy of Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

MATT DILLON has now replaced Cristi Puiu

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

Giornate degli Autori | Venice Days 2020

Venice Days is back from 2 – 12 September this year. Live on the Lido at the famous Villa Degli Autori 
DAYS OF COURAGE is the sentiment expressing this year’s celebration. Ten new films from all over the world will compete for the main prize of the 17th edition running from 2 -12 until September. The closing film will be Saint-Narcisse presented by Canadian maverick Bruce LaBruce. The focus of this year’s Cinema of Inclusivity is Italy’s own Liliana Cavani who was nominated for the Golden Lion back in 1968 with her film Galileo. Here is a selection of this year’s competing films.
MAMA – set in rural China during the final decade of 20th century this first feature from Li Dongmei is a mature and sober drama.
200 METRES – the wall between Palestine and Israel is the focus of Ameen Nayfeh’s drama that stars leading Arab star. Ali Suliman.
 
KITOBOY – So many remarkable stories are coming out of Ukraine and this debut from Philipp Yuryev is the latest, set in a whaling community.
SPACCAPIETRE – in the Southern Italian region of Puglia a family tragedy with human repercussions gradually plays out in the De Serio brothers’ drama.
 
HONEY CIGAR  Algeria is the setting for this sensuous debut drama from Kamir Aïnouz, the sister of the well-known Brazilian filmmaker Karim Aïnouz).
RESIDUE Merawi Geriman’s moving first film echoes the recent racial tensions Stateside.
 
MY TENDER MATADOR – following his extraordinary performance in Theo Court’s White on White (Venice 2019) Alfredo Castro lends his talents to Rodrigo Sepúlveda’s queer love story set during the time of Pinochet in Santiago de Chile.
VENICE DAYS | GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI 2-12 SEPTEMBER 2020

Carmine Street Guitars (2018) ****

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

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

Only the Animals (2019) Netflix

Dir.: Dominik Moll; Cast: Damien Bonnard, Bastien Boillon, Laura Calamy, Denis Menochet, Nadia Tereszkiewicz, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Roger ‘Bibesse’ N’drin, France/Germany 2019, 116′.

German born director Dominik Moll has been sadly neglected of late. Best known for his psychological thrillers Harry He’s Here to Help and Lemming and the hilarious News from Planet Mars (which never got a UK release) he came to Venice last year with one of the best features in the Venice Days line-up . Adapted from Colin Niel’s 2014 novel of the same name, this is an intense non-linear study of human behaviour, showing greed and possessiveness as the motivator that drives us all forward in the belief we are in love.

Most of the action takes part in a remote snowbound part of the French Massif Central, but the drama opens in the port city of Abidjan in Ivory Coast. There Armand (N’drin) sets in motion a sort of Ariadne trail, with one woman paying with her life for the sins of others. Armand is a small time grafter who finds photos of Marion (Tereszkiewicz) on the net, setting her up as bait for the French farmer Denis (Menochet), who is married to insurance saleswoman Alice (Calamy).

She has fallen for one of her clients, Joseph, an unstable farmhand in Denis’ employer who has been disturbed by hallucinations since the death of his mother: “I only talk to the animals”, he tells Alice. Meanwhile back in Abidjan, Armand has succeeded in making Denis fall for Marion, extracting the first tranche of the money transfers from the farmer. Armand, who nicknames Marion ‘Armandine’ – even though he has never met her – then invents a precarious story making Denis fall into the trap of wanting to rescue Armandine – whatever the cost. But the real Marion in in a relationship with Evelyne (Tedeschi), who shares a holiday home with her husband Guillaume just down the road from Alice and Denis.

This is a complex plot, intricately put together by Moll and his co-writer Gilles Marchand (who worked with him on Harry). Suffice to say it keeps up absolutely glued to the screen, enthralled by a seductively simmering plot line, Patrick Ghiringhell’s camerawork providing plenty of visual thrills including panoramic images of the magnificent mountain region and the lively African port city. A spine-tingling score of strings primps the moments of tension.

The saying “money makes the world go round”  has never been so true, and in this particular drama it is spot on: internet and money transfers connect every part of the globe. And every character wants a part of the action. Apart from Joseph, who leaves no clues to his disappearance from the scene in this enigmatic mystery thriller. AS

NOW ON NETFLIX
https://youtu.be/5HYJ6CjOzi8

Ema (2019) ** Curzon World

Cast: Mariana Di Girolamo, Gael Garcia Bernal, Paola Giannini, Santiago Cabrera, Cristian Suarez, Catalina Saavedra

Director: Pablo Larrain | Drama Chile 102’

Music is the only star of Pablo Larrain’s story of parental irresponsibility that unfolds amidst the cool vibes of seaside Valparaiso. This South American idyll is also home to the pumping sounds of the reggaetón dance world that is only authentic element of this glib story. 

Back in the present after his lush 1960s drama Jackie, Larrain casts newcomer Mariana Di Girolamo and a reliable Gael Garcia Bernal as a couple who clash due to their immaturity and lack of life experience when juggling their artistic collaboration with a desire to have a child.

Taking on such an emotive theme exposes Larrain’s ineptitude in handling the delicate subject matter, and questions whether he has personally been affected by the issues involved – clearly not, otherwise he would have have given it more thoughtful treatment.  And although he brings his edgy cinematic talents to the party, the experiment fails. Ema is a drama that is neither engaging nor convincingly performed, even Gael Garcia Bernal cannot inject any depth to his character, apart from his incendiary outburst at Ema and her dancing troupe.

After a dynamic opening sequence featuring a massive fire at a traffic lights junctions, the film scatterguns into a series of stilted episodes as Larrain attempts to establish the storyline using the rhythm of his pulsating score as the driving factor. It’s a clever idea that fails in a drama that never gains a satisfying momentum.

Ema (Di Girolamo) is a bleached blond dancer in her early twenties who has recently adopted a 7 year old orphan from Columbia, named Polo (Cristian Suarez), because her choreographer husband Gaston (Bernal) has been declared infertile. Coming from a troubled start in life Polo soon becomes too much of a handful for his naive parents and sets their home on fire, leaving Ema’s sister with facial injuries.

So back Polo goes into the system, Ema and Gaston bemoaning their loss as if the boy was a psychopathic pet rabbit, with Ema blithely declaring she’ll ‘pick another one’, laying the blame squarely at Gaston’s feet. Gaston is the less irritating of the two but even his star-power fails to makes this rewarding or meaningful, remaining cold and distant throughout. And the visually arresting dance sequences and pumping vibes just feel incongruous, somehow reducing this to a trivial soap opera, rather than offering tonal relief from the couple’s fraught situation. A simpering social worker (Catalina Saavedra) who had pulled strings to get the couple a child, just adds to the woeful mistreatment. Is this an inditement on Chilean youth, a lowkey expose on the perils of adoption, or a novel way of raising awareness of reggaeton, either way, it does feel mildly offensive. Larrain’s co-writer Guillermo Calderon did some brilliant work on The Club and Neruda so hopefully this is just a bum note for this duo. MT

NOW ON DIGITAL RELEASE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL Review 2019 

Moffie (2019) Digital release

Wri/Dir. Oliver Hermanus. South Africa/UK. 2019. 103 mins.

The last time South African director Oliver Hermanus was in Venice was for his Golden Lion hopeful Endless River. He returned last summer with MOFFIE, a magnetically intense drama that explores the sexual awakening of a young white male soldier conscripted into the army during early 1980s apartheid.

Based on the fictionalised memoir by André-Carl van der Merwe, this sumptuously cinematic film stands in contrast to the depiction of brutal army training in a ruthlessly homophobic Afrikaner platoon tasked with keeping the borders safe from neighbouring Angola, and the moffies – or gay cadets – at bay, homosexuality is considered a crime again God and the Christian nation.

Kai Luke Brummer is the driving force of the drama, convincingly showing how Nick develops from a shy ingenue to a confident and fully- fledged soldier. It traces his emotional arc making use of flashback to explore his incipient leanings towards gayness as a young boy in the local ‘whites only’ swimming club. Hermanus makes use of an evocative classical score lending a poignant undertone to this drama of stark contrasts. The film opens as 18-year-old Nicholas van der Swart is saying goodbye to his family before reporting his journey over inhospitable terrain to the army boot camp. His divorced father hands him a girlie magazine, as a private joke while his mother gives him a last cuddle in the chintzy home she shares with her new Afrikaner husband.

He soon makes a friend of the sympathetic recruit Sachs (Matthew Vey) who shares his views about the draconian training methods – bearing a glancing resemble to those in Full Metal Jacket – intended to prepare the men for a Communist enemy across he border but Nick is also drawn to a dark adonis in the shape of Stassen (Ryan de Villiers), who nuzzles up to him one stormy night during a training exercise when the two recruits are forced to share a sleeping bag. Nick is also forced to contend with the vicious and sweary Sergeant Brand (Hilton Pelser) who makes no bones about disciplining using violence on every occasion.

Hermanus leaves Nick’s sexuality fluid throughout although it is clear he has homosexual feelings for Stassen but needs to keep these under wraps for his own survival. Apartheid is illustrated on several scenes where the recruits verbally abuse a lone black man on a station platform but their own humanity is keenly brought to the surface demonstrating the ambivalent climate of their own masculinity and vulnerability. Music from Detroit artist Sugar Man provides a touchstone to the times – the USmusician was ‘discovered’ in Johannesburg and became the emblem of the young white South African music scene.

Dominated by a cast of talented non-pros obviously recruited for their striking physicality, Moffie makes for absorbing viewing. Jamie D. Ramsey’s lush camerawork captures the spectacular beauty of the Cape where Nick’s final encounter with Stassen in the ice cold waters of the Atlantic reminding us of the ambiguous nature of life and attraction. MT

SCREENING ON CURZON HOME CINEMA

A Perfect Candidate (2019) ***

Dir.: Haifaa Al-Mansour; Cast: Mila al Zahrani, Nora al Awadh-Sara, Dae Al Hilali, Khalid Abdulraheem; Germany/SaudiArabia 2019, 101 min.

Haifaa Al-Mansour’s latest drama returns to small town Saudi Arabia where a stong-willed woman fights for political power. With its strong elements of a fable, and full of  ironic humour A Perfect Candidate feels very much like a grown up version of the Saudi director’s stunning debut Wadjda.

Maryam is played by a brilliant Mila Al Zahrani in her debut. A leading hospital doctor in a Saudi town, we see her driving through mud and dust to reach the clinic. There she is challenged almost immediately by an old man, who has suffered injuries in a car crash. He is adamant not to be treated by her and Maryam leaves him to the male nurses – who diagnose his spine injury incorrectly – the result being that Maryam has to perform surgery on the still unwilling patient. At home, Maryam lives with her two sisters Selma (Hilali) and Sara (Awad). Their mother, a famous singer, has recently died, and father Abdulaziz (Abdulraheem), an oud player, is on tour with his band. Maryam had planned to fly to Dubai to attend a conference and further her career, but at the airport she is banned from boarding as her father’s travel permit has run out – no Saudi woman can travel without male consent.

Abdelaziz and his fellow musicians come under attack from fundamentalists against music being performed publicly, Maryam tries in vain to reach him, but finds herself presented with the opportunity to be a candidate for the local council where she deals with a condescending, ignorant clerk. With the help of sister Selma, a photographer, Maryam starts her campaign with the onerous but vital task of  rebuilding the mud road leading to the hospital, which has caused massive disruption. Miraculously, the sitting councillor starts the road work immediately.

It is the little details that makes this a winner – the scene where Maryam manages to connect a cable during an otherwise rather disastrous video shoot for her campaign; she puts the men to shame as a woman being able to solve a technical problem that eluded the male professionals. Sure, the outcome may not have added votes, but the message hits home. By the end, Maryam gains a staunch supporter in the old man whose life she saved with her surgery.

Let down by its rather second-rate visuals – DoP Patrick Orth’s images are rather basic, but Volker Bertelmann’s score makes up for it. The ensemble acting and Al-Mansour’s sensitive direction makes this another success for the Saudi filmmaker  AS

AVAILABLE ON CURZON HOME CINEMA
  

The Truth (2019) *** Curzon Home Cinema

Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda | Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke, Clementine Grenier, Manon Clavil, Alain Libolt, Ludivine Sagnier | Drama, France

Well known for his family-orientated dramas, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest sees Catherine Deneuve in a role familiar to her own heart. She plays a French movie star whose newly published biography deeply affects her daughter, played by Juliette Binoche.

From the outset you wonder if her screen persona bears any similarity to her 70 something self. Deneuve still looks stunning as the narcissistic matriarch at the centre of this story of dysfunctionality. Clearly the director loves Deneuve in his first film made outside his homeland of Japan. Binoche is equally caustic as the daughter and script writer who remembers her childhood with mixed feelings. There were good times and bad, but once again, human memory can be complex and unreliable and this is a theme that Kore-eda has mused over before in Without Memory in particular. The Truth is more enigmatic and this does not always work in the film’s favour.

With his usual lightness of touch Kore-eda opens with a scene that will be familiar to the press:. Deneuve’s Fabienne is being interviewed by a sycophantic journalist and she is not making it easy. And once again, we wonder how close Deneuve really is to this woman she is playing. Meanwhile she holds her own family in lip-curling disdain where referring to her son-in-law Hank’s (Ethan Hawke) profession as “Actor is saying a lot”.

Hank and her daughter Lumir (Binoche) have arrived with their daughter Charlotte (Clementine Grenier) to stay at her elegant mansion surrounded by leafy gardens where a turtle called Pierre also roams. An uninvited guest also turns up in the shape of veteran actor Roger Van Hool (The Woman Next Door) who places Fabienne’s ex husband Pierre. 

Meanwhile Lumir is expressing her anger at not being sent a copy of the book prior to publishing and feels the relationship between her and her mother poorly reflected. Naturally Fabienne disagrees but it seems the book is merely a PR exercise. The book also mentions Sarah, an actress friend of the family who became close to Lumir, posing a threat to Fabienne, who is starring in a sci-fi film entitled Memories of My Mother with a character called Manon (Manon Clavil), who is purportedly very similar to Sarah. The sci-fi has an interesting relevance here as it is based on a book by Ken Liu, about a dying woman who buys herself more time by escaping to space, remaining unchanged while her daughter continues gets older, Dorian Grey style.

Another person whose nose has been put out of joint by the memoirs is Fabienne’s faithful personal assistant Luc (Alain Libolt). So much so that he resigns just as the Sci-fi film within the film is about to start shooting. He feels aggrieved that Fabienne has never mentioned his devoted service or the fact that he has six grandchildren. Neither does she appear the slightest bit interested in her own grand-children such is her own self focus.

The character who brings out the best in Fabienne is predictably her boyfriend Jacques (Christian Crahay), and more unexpectedly, by Manon. Cleverly Deneuve keeps up the various shades of enigma in a graceful and subtle turn in this complex study of maternal influences and also creative personalities. There are similarities here with Frankie that focused on another powerful matriarch in the shape of Isabelle Huppert, and also The Midwife where Deneuve plays an equally self-serving but bewitchingly charismatic woman at peak of her influence. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 20 MARCH 2020

 

 

The Truth (2019) ***

Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda | Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke, Clementine Grenier, Manon Clavil, Alain Libolt, Ludivine Sagnier | Drama, France

Well known for his family-orientated dramas, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest sees Catherine Deneuve in a role close to her heart as a French movie star whose newly published biography offends her onscreen daughter, Juliette Binoche.

From the outset you wonder if Deneuve’s screen persona bears any similarity to her 70 something self. She looks stunning as the narcissistic matriarch at the centre of this story of family dysfunction. Kore-eda clearly loves Deneuve in this first film made outside his homeland of Japan. Binoche is tight-lipped and caustic as a daughter whose childhood memories are far from rosy. There were good times and bad, but once again, human memory can be complex and unreliable, and Kore-eda returns to a theme he has mused over before, Without Memory a case in point. The Truth is more enigmatic and this does not always work in the film’s favour. The opening scene shows his hallmark lightness of touch: Deneuve’s Fabienne is being interviewed by a sycophantic journalist, and the diva’s curt answers give this vignette an amusing twist. Meanwhile she holds her own family in lip-curling disdain, particularly her son in law Hank (Ethan Hawke) whose loose American style jars with the prim French comme-il-faut set-up.

Lumir (Binoche) has brought her own daughter Charlotte (Clementine Grenier) to stay at the elegant family mansion surrounded by leafy gardens where a turtle called Pierre also roams. An uninvited guest turns up in the shape of veteran actor Roger Van Hool (The Woman Next Door) who plays Fabienne’s ex-husband Pierre. 

Meanwhile Lumir feels hard done by at not being sent a copy of her mother’s book prior to publishing. She also feels their relationship is poorly reflected. Naturally Fabienne disagrees but it seems the book is merely a PR exercise. It features Sarah, an actress friend of the family who became close to Lumir, and posed a threat to Fabienne. Deneuve is in the throes of filming a sci-fi outing entitled Memories of My Mother which has a character called Manon (Manon Clavil), who is purportedly very similar to Sarah. The sci-fi has an interesting relevance here as it is based on a book by Ken Liu about a dying woman who buys herself more time by escaping into space, where she remains youthful while her daughter continues to age, Dorian Grey style.

Another person whose nose has been put out of joint by the memoirs is Fabienne’s faithful personal assistant Luc (Alain Libolt). So much so that he resigns just as the Sci-fi film within the film is about to start shooting. He feels aggrieved that Fabienne has never mentioned his devoted service. This is Deneuve’s show and she is not the slightest bit interested in her grand-children, or anyone else for that matter.

The character who brings out the best in Fabienne is predictably her boyfriend Jacques (Christian Crahay). Deneuve maintains the nuances of enigma in a graceful and subtle turn in this complex study of maternal influences, and also creative personalities. There are similarities here with Frankie that focused on another powerful matriarch in the shape of Isabelle Huppert, and also The Midwife where Deneuve plays an equally self-serving but bewitchingly charismatic woman at peak of her influence. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 20 MARCH 2020

 

 

The Winslow Boy (1948) *****

Dir: Anthony Asquith | Cast: Cedric Hardwicke, Robert Donat, Margaret Leighton

Anthony Asquith and playwright Terence Rattigan worked together on three literary adaptations, but this legal-themed drama about defending justice is possibly the best. It was also a great stage success for Rattigan, reflecting the traditional values of middle-class society in a glorious portrait of Edwardian England. David Mamet’s 1999 version isn’t a patch on this black and white masterpiece with its drole comedy undertones. Based on the true-life Archer-Shee case of 1910, it sees a strong-willed father (Cedric Hardwicke) determined to risk his reputation and fortune in defending his son’s honour when the young navy cadet (an earnest Neil North) is accused by the establishment of stealing a £5 postal order (a bill of payment, rather like a cheque). Meanwhile the Winslow family relationships come under strain as the legal case plods on endlessly – nothing has changed there.

Cedric Hardwicke and Robert Donat are superb as Ronnie Winslow’s father Arthur Winslow and his defending barrister Sir Robert Morton respectively (Morton is based on a renowned Irish lawyer Sir Edward Carson). Margaret Leighton is also superb as Winslow’s suffragette sister, Catherine, looking graceful in William Chapell’s elegant designs (she was a willowy, 5.10’). Mona Washburne plays against type as an amusingly plucky female journalist who comes to cover the case for the Evening News (Morton later has a dig at the press: “What you say, will have little bearing on what they write”). There are rousing musical interludes capturing the zeitgeist of the era, and one echoes the public’s support, courtesy of Herbert Clifford’s musical compositions. Mother Grace (Marie Lohr) berates her husband for devoting his life to his son’s innocence at the expense of the rest of the family: Catherine’s upcoming nuptials are put in jeopardy by her future father in law. This is all captured in Freddie Young’s lustrous monochrome camerawork. The Winslow Boy competed for the Grand International Award at Venice Film Festival that year but came home empty-handed. The winner was Lawrence Olivier’s Hamlet, with Jean Simmons winning Best Actress, so at least the British didn’t lose out that year. MT

FULLY RESTORED AND RELEASED FOR THE FIRST TIME ON BLURAY | DVD | DIGITAL | 3 FEBRUARY 2020

Kingmaker (2019) ****

Dir/scr: Lauren Greenfield. US. 2019. 100mins

Known for her legendary appetite for shoes – 3000 pairs at one point – Imelda Marcos certainly uses them to ride roughshod over her own people. Lauren Greenfield reveals her steps to power in this eye-popping biopic exposing the gilded lifestyle of the politician and one time First Lady of the Philippines.

The Kingmaker is the latest of Greenfield’s studies of entitlement that began with The Queen Of Versailles and Generation Wealth. Clearly Marcos is a character with delusional as well as narcissistic traits, capable of styling her own persona to serve a flexible narrative. Greenfield goes back to basics to examine how this entitled 90 year old antiheroine and her husband Ferdinand first robbed their nation of its riches, and now are now shamelessly re-tracing their steps to come back to power.

Marcos takes centre stage showing us round her opulently vulgar apartment, showcasing her wealth. We learn how she quickly bagged Ferdinand using him as a vehicle to step into power as the backseat driver of a regime that instigated martial law. Now in the driving seat herself, since his death, she is busily working on her son’s path to the vice-presidency, the next step will be clear.

Condescending and manipulative she is also prides herself of her fake largesse: handing out “candy for the kids” in the shape of gifts for charities and the poor. But this cuts both ways,  barely compensating for the misery she and her husband have doled out in spades. Meanwhile the Philippines is still languishing in the third world with Rodrigo Détente waiting in the wings to be president. The Kingmaker is a detached but delicious dive into the mind of a modern day machiavellian, delivered with sleek aplomb by a filmmaker at the top of her game. MT

IN CINEMAS NOW

Aquarela (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir: Viktor Kossakovsky | Doc | UK | 89’

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

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

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

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

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Citizen K (2019) ****

Dir: Alex Gibney | US Doc, 128′
Alex Gibney explores Vladimir Putin’s Russia through the story of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a highly controversial figure: oligarch, turned political prisoner and exiled dissident who is still alive and kicking at the president’s back door.
CITIZEN K is a rip-roaring ebullient documentary rich in fascinating revelations fuelled by authoritative talking heads, captivating archive footage and a thundering original score that powers forward this ironic testament to the indomitable spirit of one time oligarch Mikhail Khodorovsky.
This is the latest of Gibney’s biopics and one of the most engaging to date, exposing the ironies of Putin’s Russia, although he loses his distance in the final stages. Ambitious in scope and striking to look with its glossy widescreen travelogue-style panoramas CITIZEN K delves into its subject matter with gusto to convey a clear message: that Putin has arch enemies and an unhappy electorate who will not be silenced, both at home and abroad.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky is one of them. As the likeable antihero of the real life gangster movie that is contemporary Russia, he is living in exile in London. Once of the wealthiest men in Russia with a fortune worth billions, he has spent the last five years on a self-funded London-based human rights project ‘Open Russia’, but admits he cannot change the nation’s system from the outside. Khodorkovsky’s dark looks and winning smile belie a will of iron.
Narrated by Gibney and chockfull of expert opinion from top journalists, amongst them the BBC’s Martin Sixsmith who explains the finer details of Russian social politics and how Putin’s rise to power and how he came from nowhere to join the Kremlin thereby eventually becoming president in 1999.  The collapse of the USSR had ushered in an era of chaos and opportunity. Russians were used to being looked after. Naively they believed their new free-market regime was axiomatically going to create them personal wealth, but they failed to realise that Capitalism involves choices not automatic riches. Pretty soon the place was bankrupt and the people were once again starving. So with Boris Yeltsin out the way, newcomer Putin struck a Faustian bargain where the oligarchs could offer money to the cash-stripped government who then handed over Russia’s assets. Soon 7 oligarchs controlled 50 percent of the economy basically creating a new form of communism controlled by the oligarchs. Not only this, but also Gangster capitalism was taking over and murder was rife – anyone with any money was in threat of being murdered.
Born into a humble but professional family in Moscow in 1963, where as a child he once built a rocket, Mikhail Khodorkovsky built his fortune from oil prospecting in the vast Russian regions to the North of Moscow using Western technology – and a certain amount of skulduggery – he took advantage of the privatisation of state assets to form Russia’s first commercial bank and set up Russia’s biggest oil company Yukos. But when he used his money to try to enter politics, he become unstuck with President Putin and ended up serving a ten-years behind behind in a Siberian prison on the Chinese border, accused by Putin of corruption and asset-stripping – basically amounting to him stealing his own oil, in what many recognised as a show trial.
Putin realised his mistake with the oligarchs but cleverly used the situation to his advantage by recalibrating his relationships with these powerful while at the same time capturing the people’s imagination by appealing to their sense of nationalism. Aware he needed to make Russia strong again – not mocked internationally for its failed transition into liberalism.
In recent years the UK has seen the mysterious death of many Russian public figures, but Khodorovsky has made it him home and continues his anti-Putin fight, helping to uncover the truth behind the Novichok scandal and supporting the outspoken female journalist Ksenija Sobchak. Hardened by his experiences, he now plays the long game against Putin, appealing to the vast the internet media that has a great influence with young people in his efforts to quell a president who 18 years after coming to power still holds sway. MT
ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 13 DECEMBER 2019
https://youtu.be/rv4EZIivr2s

 

The Nightingale (2018) ****

Dir. Jennifer Kent. Australia. 2018. 136′

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 29 NOVEMBER 2019

Marriage Story (2019) ****

Dir.: Noah Baumbach, Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Azly Robertson, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta;ion, the running time USA 2019, 135 min.
Writer/director Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) has produced his version of Scenes from a Marriage, mostly funny, but in the end veering of into something altogether more sinister. The stellar cast keeps us engaged for over two hours in what seems like an overindulgence on Baumbach’s part, especially as the film will end up on Netflix – making it even less likely to sustain an audience.
Nicole (Johansson) and Charlie (Driver) have been married for a decade and have a son, Henry (Robertson), who is at pre-school age. Charlie is the director of an avantgarde, off-Broadway theater group, Nicole his star. For a long time she wanted to direct herself, but is always thwarted by the narcissistic and overbearing Charlie, who likes to control her life like the classic patriarch men often are. The son is spoilt and even gets presents for going to the bathroom.
When Nicole finds out Charlie has slept with a colleague, the dam bursts and she goes for a divorce, taking Henry to her family home in LA. Before Nicole met Charlie, she had success as a mainstream actor, and she takes up her professional life in the same circles. At first, Charlie does not take his wife seriously, hoping that “she will come to her senses”. It soon dawns on him he will lose her, and also his son. Soon they are both getting legal advice. Nicole engages the fiery Nora Fanshaw (Dern), who makes Charlie go back to his first choice lawyer (Liotta), who is equally as expensive and as dirty as his female counterpart.
Despite the heavy subject matter, Baumbach brings a lightness of touch in the form of witty one-liners and slapstick. One scene takes place in Charlie’s LA flat, where he tries to prove to the state evaluator that he and Henry are happy. But there are darker moments, and the tone grows more hysterical – and soon sparks fly.
DoP Robbie Ryan turns out the usual cliched images of New York and LA. Hollywood’s town is a colourful circus, unlike sober, intellectual NY. Baumbach is skilled in this kind of territory – it’s clearly a subject he knows well, and lays bear the subtle nuances that lead to the end of love. Although he brings nothing particularly new to the party. This has a richer texture than his previous films, as he reworks and embellishes an already rich tapestry of replays in this sub-genre with its universal appeal. The Randy Newman score is unobtrusive, but effective. Performance wise this is a winner. Marriage Story is a tale we all know too well. AS
NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL  REVIEW 2019

What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire (2018)

Writer/Dir: Roberto Minervini | US Doc | 92′

Black lives matter. And the point is brought home again in Roberto Minervini’s new film that has raw urgency to its desperate title and glows under Diego Romero’s stunning black and white photography. For years, Minervini has made it his business to portrait the poor and disenfranchised in searingly honest documentaries such as Low Tide, The Other Side and now this meditation of the state of race in the Southern US during 2017.

What You Gonna Do When the World’s On Fire?, explores the poverty-stricken black communities of New Orleans through three groups of people preparing for the annual Mardi Gras. Their songs and dances serve as the film’s only soundtrack sending out a proud message to the outside world that they will overcome racism in a nation that doesn’t care.

We first meet brothers, Ronaldo (14) and Titus (9) wandering along the empty road, at a loose end. Titus has clearly been spooked by a haunted house street attraction that echos the real and ever present danger of shotgun crime, a daily occurrence in the neighbourhood. Ronaldo likes to pull rank on his kid brother by teaching him to box. He also tells him that soon he’ll be shooting ‘just like his older brother’. Ronaldo is keen to see his father who is in prison, but due for release. The two may not have long together before his father returns once again. Meanwhile, their mother oversees their school homework and warns them to be back home before nightfall. The kids are still too young to have violence in their lives, but it won’t be long before it happens.

Judy is a philanthropic member of the community, a proud bar-owner in her early fifties who seems to have her act together, despite her difficult childhood. But making ends meet is another daily chore and her elderly mother Dorothy faces eviction due to the gentrification of the area, making housing much in demand. Judy is close to her cousin Michael and tries to help him as much as she can, she even tries to help some local crack addicts to kick their habit, but after talking to them she starts to empathise with their stories of abuse.

Meanwhile, Krystal Muhammad, who chairs the New Black Panther Party for Self Defence, is trying to make an active difference with her food parcels delivered to the local homeless. Along with her colleagues she demonstrates in support of police shootings of black men in the area that culminated in one of them being beheaded and burnt. Softly but surely they march in the street chanting: “Black Power” – and although this seems slightly cliched, their conviction is quietly affecting. Minervini presents a resonant and contextualised picture of a black community in turmoil – bloodied but unbowed, bound by their music, strong beliefs and traditions to fight another day. MT.

From 10 May, streaming portal DAFilms will present a curated selection of Roberto Minervini’s films: Gonna Dig a Hole to Put the Devil in. The tribute features Low Tide, Stop the Pounding Heart, and The Other Side. In all three titles, Minervini captured the stories of often overlooked people living on the fringes of society. Serving as supplementary material to this special film programme will be an exclusive DAFilms live stream discussion between the director himself and Artistic Director of the renowned Locarno Film Festival, Giona Nazzaro.

The discussion can be watched on DAFilms Live or on Facebook from Wednesday, 19 May from 7pm CET.

Non-Fiction | Doubles Vies (2018) ***

Dir.: Olivier Assayas; Cast: Guillaume Canet, Juliette Binoche, Vincent Macaigne, Norah Hamzawi, Christa Theret, Pascal Gregory, France 2018, 107 min.

One of France’s most inventive and diverse directors returns to the theme of alienation  with a classically styled drama set in contemporary Paris. Non-Fiction analyses the detached charm of the intellectual bourgeoisie, seem through the lives of two middle-age couples who are losing their place in the sun thanks to the digital age. Knowledge and experience is replaced more and more by market strategies; and personal relationships turn out to be as fraught as the digitalisation of culture.

Alain (Canet), editor-in-chief of a successful publishing house is meeting one of his writers, Leonard (Macaigne) over a rejection lunch. Alain will not be publishing his new book. The reasons are purely commercial, but the situation is made more difficult by their family friendship. In the end, Alain has to spell it out, and Leonard, looking very much like his younger, unkempt student self, in contrast to the well-groomed Alain, takes it badly. At home he complains to his over-worked wife Valerie (Hamzawi), PA to a leading politician engaged in an election battle. When the couples meet later on, nothing is said about the rejection, instead everyone is ganging up against against Valerie – who is in fact the only likeable protagonist – for her engagement in politics. They all believe in the future of e-books and the power of algorithms. But their world will soon crumble: Alain is summoned to Marc-Antoine (Gregory) the owner of the publishing company, who nonchalantly admits to selling up, putting Alain out of a job. Alain’s young lover and colleague, the even more ambitious Laure (Theret) is leaving him to take up a post in London. Luckily Alain is unaware that his wife Selena (Binoche), a TV actress, has long been involved with Leonard – who has a penchant for writing for including his private life in his book – and not always well-disguised, at that.

On the surface, this is a verbal war, rich in dialogue where Adorno and Lampedusa are quoted, but beneath the intellectual surface lies growing insecurity. Alain over-estimates his power, he is totally unaware that he is a play-ball of forces he cannot control. Selena, trying to put some gloss on her mediocre career, will soon live under the threat of Leonard’s next book, whilst Leonard himself is still playing around like a teenager, not wanting to adjust to reality – even though he confesses his affair eventually, he really does not deserve his faithful but self-focused wife. 

Non-Fiction can sometimes feel overly verbose, Assayas keeps up our interest by involving the audience in his protagonists’ subterfuge. Apart from Valerie, everybody is an out and out opportunist, trying to hide behind ideas which have completely lost their meaning for them: they have become slaves of ratings and sales figures. The only humour is self-inflicted and involuntarily. The betrayals are in the end self-betrayals, but these people are too far gone to distinguish between feelings and façade: they only believe in perception. The polished aesthetics are workmanlike with a grainy indie feel that seems to suit this bookish study of greed and lust. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 18 OCTOBER 2019

 

Corpus Christi (2019) ****

Dir.: Jan Komasa; Cast: Bartosz Bielenia, Aleksandra Konieczna, Eliza Rycenbel, Tomasz Zietek, Barbara Kurzaj, Zdzislas Wurdejn, Lukasz Simlat, Poland 2019, 115 min

Director Jan Komasa (Warsaw ’44) adapts Mateusz Palewicz’s extraordinary story about a 20-year-old juvenile criminal impersonating a priest in Poland. In small town Jasliska, just south of Krakow, the past is catching up with the townspeople forcing them out of the past and into the present. Piotr Sobocinski brings the whole thing to life with his vibrant camerawork reflecting the prejudices of provincial life in this intricate and outstanding feature drama.

Twenty year old Daniel (Bielenia) lives in a juvenile correction institution where he experiences something of a spiritual awakening under the influence of one of the more charismatic priests Tomasz (Simlat) whose sermons have a such a dramatic effect of the young man he feels a calling towards the priesthood. Sadly his criminal past bars him from taking the cloth. Unperturbed, Daniel sets out  his destination, where he is to join a sawmill, owned by Walkiewicz, a friend of Tomasz. One glimpse of the place from the outside is enough for Daniel to change his mind. In church he meets Eliza (Ryembed), the daughter of Lidia (Komieczna), who helps the resident priest Golap (Wurdejn). Daniel tells Eliza that he is a priest, producing the full regalia stolen from Tomasz, and they agree to take him on.

Whilst Daniel learns about taking confession from the internet on his mobile, he is drawn into a recent tragedy: six young people died in a head-on collision with a car, driven by an alcoholic called Slawek. It was forbidden to bury Slawek in the cemetery, and his wife Barbara (Kurzaj) and the victim’s relatives have made sure the priests stick to their word. Although Eliza’s brother was one of the victims, she has doubts about Slawek’s guilt. Daniel too feels Slawek was hard done by and proposes to bury Slawek in the local cemetery. But Walkiewicz wants to keep his workers happy, and again opposes the plan. And he is not the only one. Daniel meets resistance from Pinczer (Zietek), whose brother he killed in a fight.

Komasa changes the perception of Palewicz’s novel subtly: whilst Daniel believes in his role, and tries to be humble, the majority of his parish show anything but Christian spirit and only a few following Slawek’s coffin to the grave. Corpus Christi is a mature, wise and refreshing portrait of religious bigotry, emotionally enthralling the audience for the whole two hours. AS

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE AUDIENCE | 18 OCTOBER 2019

 

La Llorona (2019) Best Picture Golden Globes Nomination

Dir: Jayro Bustamente | Cast: Gustavo Matheu, Georges Renand, Marina Peralta, Sor Jayro Bustamente, Lisandro Sanchez

This atmospheric award-winning drama blends elements of fantasy, thriller and horror to explore the final months of a retired general with a shady past.

Jayro Bustamente’s second film in this year’s London Film Festival in another tribute to Guatemala’s Mayan culture and certainly packs a powerful punch sharing the same moody vehemence as Tremors but this is a more slick and cinematic affair that makes use of DoP Nicolas Wong’s stunning visual language to portray Guatemala’s shocking regime of terror.

Elderly general Enrique Monteverde – possibly modelled on Guatemala’s dictator Jose Elfrain Rios Montt (1926-2018) – is being tried for the genocide he unleashed on the country three decades earlier. Armed and alert, he scares his domestic staff by prowling around at night in the family’s secluded villa, convinced that a mythical howling woman aka La Llorona – the spirit of a woman who has returned to avenge the dead – is somewhere in the property. It seems that his housekeeper could be reeking revenge on him for the killings of her ancestors. His wife puts the mysterious wailings down to his mental frailty believing he is suffering from stress-induced dementia,

Rios Montt took part in Guatemala’s infamous coup d’etat on March 23, 1982 but was overthrown by his defence minister Oscar Mejia Victories, and was eventually indicted for crimes against humanity and the indigenous population that included the killings of 1771 Maya Ixil Indians.

Once again Bustamente highlights Guatemala’s colonial past and a society that is still very much based on a rigid class structure in thrall to the Catholic Church. Meanwhile the indigenous Mayan population relies on its Gods, Animal Spirits and rituals making this a fascinating and haunting drama. MT

NOMINATED FOR BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE PICTURE | Golden Globes 2021|  JAYRO BUSTAMENTE WON THE FEODORA AWARD AT VENICE FOR BEST FILM and the GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI Best Film AWARD 2019

 

Joker (2019) **** Golden Lion Winner Venice 2019

Dir: Todd Phillips | Cast: Joaquin Pheonix, Robert De Niro
Joaquin Phoenix coruscates with desperate anger as a tortured mentally ill loner in Todd Phillips’ tale of the age old arch-nemesis. Imagine Taxi Driver ten years on without the heart and soul of Scorsese or Bernard Herrmann’s iconic 70s score; add some hyper violence and a dose of livid desperation and you have Joker, another rich character study not for the feint-hearted.

Robert De Niro also stars as a glib gameshow host Murray Franklin but this is Phoenix’s film and he is a firecracker as the disgruntled and delusional Arthur Fleck tending his ailing mother whilst trying to juggle various jobs, gradually losing his sanity. He is also cursed with a corrosive condition forcing him to cackle with laughter – uncontrollably and mostly inappropriately – whenever he is stressed or put upon. One such incident occurs in the opening scene where he is chased down and beaten up by kids who steal his sale placard.

Shocking in its sheer intensity, Joker is a film for everyone who has ever been scorned or short-changed, so that’s just about everyone. Joaquin Phoenix looks as if he nearly died preparing for the role, his emaciated body and strung out demeanour testament to the sheer dedication of an actor at the top of his game – thoughts of quitting should now be way behind him.

Phillips and Scott Silver’s script is not based on any of the DC Comics oeuvre, but its resonance will delight an eager fan base. In Gotham City, inspired by New York of the same era, Fleck is also fond of his role as a clown, and he is good at it. Strutting his stuff in the local children’s hospital but also imagining himself performing as a stand-up comedian – one of his jokes is “let’s hope my death makes more cents than my life”.

After the street punch up Fleck is lent a gun by a workmate, but foolishly incorporates it in his act at the hospital, a mistake that leads to his sacking and final down-spiralling. One night in the tube he becomes trigger happy when taunted by some City workers and is soon running for his life, the sheer payback exhilaration infecting the audience with complicit delight as he becomes everyone’s misguided ‘have a go hero’.

Without revealing the rest of the plot, let’s just say Arthur makes one bad choice after another. And when certain facts come to light about his family and background, he morphs into a fully fledged psychopath not caring what happens next – to him, or anybody else’s for that matter.

Phoenix brings a scathing humanity to a tragic soul in crisis. Even a romance with a neighbour Sophie (Zazie Beetz) seems to be a figment of his shattered psyche as he descends into a hellish underworld of his own making. Although technically brilliant you have to question the sheer level of the gratuitous violence. That said, this cuastic moral tale will leave everyone with a vague sense of satisfaction and sadness as Joaquin struts his stuff to Gary Glitter’s 1972 hit Rock and Roll, part 2. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 4 OCTOBER 2019

The Prince | El Principe (2019) ***

Dir: Sebastián Muñoz | Cast: Juan Carlos Maldonado, Alfredo Castro, Gaston Pauls, Sebastian Ayala, Lucas Balmaceda, Cesare Serra, José Antonio Raffo |Drama,  96′, 2019)

Based on a novel by Mario Cruz, this Chilean prison drama won the Queer Lion at Venice in competition with the far superior Moffie by Oliver Hermanus.

The Prince is Chilean set designer Sebastián Muñoz’s feature debut, and as you would expect it all looks rather stylish, if that’s possible for a jail-based film. It’s 1970, just before President Allende brought his particular brand of Marxism to a liberal democracy backed by the CIA. At the time this must have seemed quite a controversial story with its scantily-clad gay men cavorting behind bars, but now it all feels rather quaint.

The story revolves around a 20 year-old called (Jaime Juan Carlos Maldonado) serving time for stabbing his best friend (Cesare Serra), possibly in flagrante delicto, in the opening scene. In flashback, we see Jaime unable to express his sexual feelings in the Chilean town of San Bernardo, but these episodes don’t successfully inform what he has now become and play out rather like stand-alone vignettes. Sharing a cell with four other guys he soon becomes close to Stallion (Castro) a sort of prison gang leader who will open him up sexually and teach him the ways of world, jail-wise. The prison is a violent place but there’s also lots of full on sex, and Jaime soon starts to enjoy himself in this permissive set-up that would be undreamed of in the outside world, back in the day, but one that provides endless playmates for Jaime’s amusement, until it all ends in tears. Quite why Munoz has decided on this rather dated minor work- given today’s permissiveness – will be beyond most people. But it will go down well with the LGBTQ crowd despite its rather threadbare narrative.

The best thing about The Prince is Alfredo Castro (Blanco en Blanco) who puts a world weary complexity into his role as the oldest male prisoner in Jaime’s four bunk cell. He has a younger lover (Sebastian Ayala) but throws him over in preference to Jaime, hence his nickname “the prince”.

Munoz wrote the screenplay with Luis Barrales but it fails to convey Mario Cruz’ tribute to his central character as a victim of his times. Jaime is certainly an antihero but not a victim here as he seems to drift along in this sweaty paradise more or less ambivalent to his position in the pecking order. Weirdly, it appears that all the other prisoners in this clink are gay, which feels rather utopian, if you’re looking at it from Jaime’s perspective. MT

SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 18-28 SEPTEMBER 2019 | HORIZONTES LATINOS Strand

 

 

 

 

 

Venice Film Festival 2019 | Round-up

Celebrating its 76th Anniversary VENICE FILM FESTIVAL was another exciting occasion with the competition line-up featuring the latest from established directors with newcomers also presenting their work.

One of the standouts of this year’s mostra was a pre-festival showing of Gustav Machaty’s 1933 masterpiece ECSTASY which won him Best Director in the year following production,

The fun got going with The Truth by Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda. Then amongst the Golden Lion hopefuls was maverick Roman Polanski who finally brings his biopic about another controversial figure Louis Dreyfus to the competition which ran from 28 August until 7 September on the Lido.

Adapted from Robert Harris novel J’Acuse stars Louis Garrel, Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner (aka Mme Polanski). Other high profile features were Todd Phillips’ The Joker – which won the Golden Lion and starsJoaquin Phoenix. And once again the lack of women directors in competition was flagged up, although there were plenty of female stars to be seen in the elegant hotspot on the Venetian coast. 

In the 21-strong competition line-up there was one trail-blazing female director in the shape of Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour (Wadjda) who attended to present her fourth feature The Perfect Candidate. Set in Riyadh it tells the story of a woman doctor who navigates her way through the male-dominated scenery to run for the council elections. 

Other auteurs include Czech Vaclav Marhoul with a wartime drama three hours long and ten years in the making: The Painted Bird (CZE/UKR/SLO) follows the plight of a Jewish boy on the run through Nazi Germany. The film stars Stellan Skarsgard. Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain was last in Venice with The Club, his latest sees a couple dealing with the aftermath of adoption, and Mexico stars Gael Garcia Bernal heads the cast. From Colombia Embrace of the Serpent director Ciro Guerra ups his game considerably with a starry cast of Johnny Depp, Robert Pattinson and Greta Scacchi in a period drama dealing with themes of loyalty and trust in a distant outpost of the Spanish Empire. Waiting for the Barbarians is based on a novel by South African writer J M Coetzee.

In the Italian corner, there is more about the Mafia from Sicilian director Franco Moresco, who won the Orizzonti Jury prize at Venice with Belluscone. Una Storia Siciliana back in 2014. La mafia non e piu quella di una Volta is a documentary exploring the history and origins of the organisation. From China comes Ye Lou’s historical drama Saturday Fiction and Hong Kong based director Yonfan breaks his 6 year silence with No. 7 Cherry Lane that centres on a English literature tutor caught up in a love triangle with a woman pupil and her mother. And Sweden’s Roy Andersson was in attendance with About Endlessness.

Steven Soderbergh also featured in competition with Panama papers themed The Laundromat that stars Meryl Streep and David Schwimmer as journalists uncovering political tax avoidance sculduggery in the US. Noah Baumbach makes his first appearance at Venice with another domestic satire, this timed entitled Marriage Story: an insightful drama tempered with his usual brand of dark humour and a impressive cast of Laura Dern, Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver and Ray Liotta. Both these US outings are now on Netflix.

Veteran French filmmaker Robert Guedeguian presents a Marseilles-set family drama, and Olivier Assayas continues to surprises us with his versatility, this time with Wasp Network a story of intrigue involving Cuban political prisoners. Canadian director Atom Egoyan has selected an interested cast of David Thewlis, Luke Wilson and Rossif Sutherland (son of Donald) to flesh out a morally thorny story surrounding pupils in a high school. A slightly underwhelming feature that divided the critics.

Venice 76 ‘out of competition’ selection included documentaries and features –  from Alex Gibney, Costa Gavras, who tackles the Greek financial crisis in Adults in the Room; and Andrea Segre with ecological documentary Il Pianeta in Mare. Pink Floyd’s Roger Walters directs and appeared in a concert film going back over the last few years of his musical career. There was also a chance to see some remastered classics in the shape of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut; screened alongside a new doc about one of the greatest directors of all time Never Just a Dream: Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut by Matt Wells. Gaspar Noé  Paolo Sorrentino and Sergei Loznitsa also featured in the out of competition competition section.

Meanwhile in the Horizons sidebar, German filmmaker Katrin Gebbe makes her feature debut with Pelican Blood starring Nina Hoss. And Alfredo Castro (from Golden Lion winner 2015 From Afar) is back to star in a psychological drama White on White from Chilean director Theo Court. MT

MAIN COMPETITION

No. 7 Cherry Lane (HONG KONG) – Dir. Yonfan

The Laundromat (USA) – Dir. Steven Soderbergh

J’Accuse (FRA/ITA) – Dir. Roman Polanski

Joker (USA) – Dir. Todd Phillips

Babyteeth (AUS) – Dir. Shannon Murphy

Marriage Story (USA) – Dir. Noah Baumbach

Il Sindaco Del Rione Sanità (ITA) – Dir. Mario Martone

The Painted Bird (CZE/UKR/SLO) – Dir. Václav Marhoul

La Mafia Non È Più Quella Di Una Volta (ITA) – Dir. Franco Maresco

Martin Eden (ITA/FRA) – Dir. Pietro Marcello

Saturday Fiction (CHI) – Dir. Lou Ye

Ema (CHILE) – Dir. Pablo Larraín

Waiting For The Barbarians (ITA) – Dir. Ciro Guerra

Gloria Mundi (FRA/ITA) – Dir. Robert Guéndiguian

Ad Astra (USA) – Dir. James Gray

Guest Of Honour (CAN) – Dir. Atom Egoyan

Wasp Network (FRA/BEL) – Dir. Olivier Assayas

About Endlessness (SWE/GER/NOR) – Dir. Roy Andersson

The Perfect Candidate (SAU/GER) – Dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour

A Herdade (POR/FRA) – Dir. Tiago Guedes

The Truth (JAP/FRA) – OPENING FILM – Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda

Out Of Competition (fiction)

The King (UK/HUN) – Dir. David Michod

Seberg (USA) – Dir. Benedict Andrews

Vivere (ITA) – Dir. Francesca Archibugi

The Burnt Orange Heresy (USA/ITA) – CLOSING FILM – Dir. Giuseppe Capotondi

Mosul (USA) – Dir. Matthew Michael Carnahan

Adults In The Room (FRA/GRE) – Dir. Costa-Gavras

Tutto Il Mio Folle Amore (ITA) – Dir. Gabriele Salvatores

Out of Competition (non-fiction)

Il Pianeta In Mare (ITA) – Dir. Andrea Segre

Citizen K (UK/USA) – Dir. Alex Gibney

Woman (FRA) – Dir. Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Anastasia Mikova

Roger Waters Us + Them (UK) – Dir. Sean Evans, Roger Waters

I Diari Di Angela – Noi Due Cineasti. Secondo Capitolo. (ITA) – Dir. Yervant Gianikian, Angela Ricci Lucchi

Citizen Rosi (ITA) – Dir. Didi Gnocchi, Carolina Rosi

The Kingmaker (USA) – Dir. Lauren Greenfield

State Funeral (NET/LIT) – Dir. Sergei Loznitsa

Collective (ROM/LUX) – Dir. Alexander Nanau

45 Seconds Of Laughter (USA) – Dir. Tim Robbins

Out of competition (special screenings)

No-One Left Behind (MEX) – Dir. Guillermo Arriaga

Zerozerozero – Episodes 1 & 2 (ITA) – Dir. Stefano Sollima

Electric Swan (FRA/GRE/ARG) – Dir. Konstantina Kotzamani

Irréversible – Inversion Intégrale (FRA) – Dir. Gaspar Noé

The New Pope – Episodes 2 & 7 (ITA/FRA/SPA) – Dir. Paolo Sorrentino

Never Just A Dream: Stanley Kubrick And Eyes Wide Shut (UK) – Dir. Matt Wells

Eyes Wide Shut (USA/UK) – Dir. Stanley Kubrick

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 28 AUGUST – 7 SEPTEMBER 2019

Saturday Fiction | Lan Xin Da Ju Yuan (2019) *** TIFF 2019

Dir: Lou Ye | Cast: Gong Li, Mark Chao, Joe Odagiri, Pascal Greggory, Tom Wlaschiha, Huang Xiangli, Ayumu Nakajima, Wang Chuanjun, Zhang Songwen | Drama, China 126′

Saturday Fiction is not as cool as it thinks in portraying the enigmatic life of a famous actress in 1941 Shanghai. Filmed in crisp black and white over the course of a week in December it sashays all over town in telling a shady tale of love and espionage in the Japanese-occupied Paris of the East where the legendary Jean You – played by Chinese actress Gong Li – has returned to star in her ex-lover’s titular play at the Lyceum Theatre in the French Consession. Rumours have it that Yu is back to free her ex-husband from the clutches of Japanese authorities but she soon becomes caught up with paternalistic French man whose intentions are ambiguous, as is everything else in this smokes and mirrors affair.

Lou Ye establishes the plush milieu from the rain-soaked opening scenes where the graceful and elegantly coutured Yu is speedily ushered into a palatial suite in the Cathay Hotel run by Saul Speyer (Tom Wlaschiha). Her ex-lover (Zhang Songwen) is excited to see her again and has cast her as a foxy Western vamp in a play about Japanese expats in 1920s China, inspired by Yokomitsu Riichi’s 1928 Shanghai,

Sumptuously dressed characters flit in and out of the picture, and it seems they all have various guises and motives up their silken sleeves: Bai Yunshang (Huang Xiangli), for example, is straight out of All About Eve but nobody seems to know her true identity. The play’s producer Mo Zhiyin (Wang Chuanjun) is dressed up to the nines in his round glasses and fedora – all he needs is a big cigar to channel Cecil B de Mille.

Yingli Ma’s script itself is based on female author Hong Ying’s 2005 bestseller Death in Shanghai. In the 1940s this is a place where only the lucky and plucky will survive and tell their tales of intrigue but there’s a flitting, episodic feel to the way Saturday Fiction plays out. Clearly intending to beguile us with intrigue and revelation Saturday Fiction eventually starts to drift away in a puff of style over substance, always retaining a demure coyness that lacks the torrid chaleur and dramatic heft of Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, which was set in Shanghai just a few months after this story. Gong is nevertheless magnificent is a bewitching performance of charm and subtlety, he facial expressions conveying all we need to know. MT

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 5 -15 September 2019

 

White on White (2019)

Dir/Wri. Théo Court.   Spain/Chile/France/Germany. Drama. 1oo’.

South America’s Tierra del Fuego is the setting for this weirdly compelling drama telling an equally unsettling story against the background of colonialist brutality in late 19th century Chile.

Anchored by a magnetic performance from one of Chile’s leading acting talents Alfredo Castro (Rojo) this is an enigmatic film with suitably ambiguous characters. Castro plays Pedro, a photographer hired by a wealthy landowner to record his impending nuptials. But what starts as a seemingly straightforward gig soon develops into something sinister and otherworld as he finds himself drawn into a nightmarish scenario from which escape seems increasingly unlikely.

In his follow-up to Ocaso Théo Court takes us to the brink with a slow-burning mystery that chases its tale to the point of bewilderment, José Alayón’s striking widescreen cinematography capture the bleak snow-swept landscapes forming a chilling backdrop to this disquieting story  in the remotest corner of the Earth.

After painstakingly setting up his camera to photograph the timid pre-teen bride Sara (Ether Vega) in a series of alluring poses that hint at salaciousness. Pedro is then forced to languish in an isolated cabin awaiting further instructions from Mr Porter, an increasingly evasive employe, who never actually appears. The contrast between this vast wilderness and the claustrophobic interiors and oppressive characters is the crux of this fascinating film which keeps us in suspense until a shocking finale.

Co-scripting with Samuel M. Delgado, Court vaguely hints at arthouse paedophilia in his characterisation of Pedro, a man who has possibly overstepped the mark in his growing obsession for an innocent bride. You could also say he was just an artist keen to do his best in fulfilling his creative brief, but there’s something unsavoury about it all.

White on White makes an uncomfortable watch during these slightly scabrous portrait scenes. Things become even more questionable when Pedro persuades Sara’s governess Aurora (Lola Rubio) to bring the girl for another photo session at dawn. And what follows is worse. From being a respectable outsider, Pedro gradually becomes trapped in this dystopian community of ranchers who have been tasked by the absentee landowner to build an encampment and enslave the Indigenous Selkham people. Pedro eventually finds himself engaged in a more sinister commission, that of immortalising their massacres for posterity at this ‘important time in history’, as Porter describes it.

Although the Selkham people are naturally horrified, Mr Porter believes his civilising influence is somehow an act of heroism. And the final scene contrasts the absurdity of Pedro’s obsession with the compositing his shot with the vile nature of his subject matter. White on White shares a common vein with Lucrecia Martel’s Zama, and there are also echoes of Juaja here in the surreal and scary backwater that refuses to yield its exotic power to the misguided marauders in its midst. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 30 JUNE 2021 | ORIZZONTI PRIZE Winner BEST DIRECTOR | FIPRESCI PRIZE 2019

 

An Officer and a Spy (J’Accuse) **** Venice Film Festival 2019 | Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize

Dir: Roman Polanski | Wri: Robert Harris | 122’

This sober story of xenophobia and corruption sees a long-standing military man stripped of his honour in a rain- soaked square in Paris during the winter of 1894

The soldier is Alfred Dreyfus and Roman Polanski tells the story with procedural restraint and immaculate detail in this portrait of Parisian society at the time of Bonnard and Monet, the painterly historical epic brought to life in Pawel Edelman’s sumptuous camerawork.

Robert Harris wrote the screenplay based on his own 2013 book An Officer And A Spy (J’Accuse). Louis Garrel is shorn of his tousled good looks to play a wan and not overly sympathetic Dreyfus, although we do feel for him and the injustice he suffered. Jean Dujardin is rather charismatic as the maverick French officer Picquart whose gradual realisation that Dreyfus is not guilty of treason puts him up against his crusty superiors (played by a classy French cast) eventually winning the victim a reprise. The rest is history, so Polanski’s challenge was to bring drama without sensation to a tale close to his own heart. And he succeeds with a richly-textured straightforward approach, Alexandre Desplat’s atmospheric score adding an undercurrent of darkness to the gathering storm.

Galloping through the story with military precision, we see Dreyfus sent down for life to Devil’s Island after his 1894 trial. The openly anti-semitic Picquart is then promoted to head the nation’s counter-intelligence despite his lack of experience, but then follows his duty as a man of honour, in exposing another cover-up refusing to let his private feelings cloud his professional judgement. And this is where he comes up against a reluctance to turn over the guilty verdict on behalf of his superiors. AN OFFICER is an intelligent drama that unfolds slowly but surely through a series of unhurried and thoughtful vignettes each adding interest to main plot and elevating the film into a graceful period epic. There is an additional subplot with Emmanuelle Seigner playing Picquet’s married lover, and although this adds a romantic thrill to the affair it feels rather de trop but clearly offers Mme Polanski worthwhile screen time. Polanski’s keeps a distance from his subject matter, never allowing his own ant-semitic experience and fight to gain justice cloud his judgement. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 29 AUGUST – 7 SEPTEMBER 2019

The Domaine (2019) *** Venice Film Festival 2019

Dir: Tiago Guedes. Portugal. 2019. 166mins

A slow-moving simmering saga that sees a discontented family’s fortunes ebb and flow in a vast estancia on banks of the Tagus where its macho patriarch holds sway challenged by forces from within and without.

Portuguese director Tiago Guedes maintains a masterful control of his three hour narrative. Full of unappealing characters who drink and chain-smoke their way through 45 years of Portuguese history. After opening scene set in 1946 the film gets underway in the wake of the death of statesman and prime minster Salazar who presided over the Estado Novo regime and famously fell off his deck chair in the summer of 1970 after suffering a stroke. This all ushers in Portugal’s ‘Carnation Revolution’ in April 1974, which led to an era of democracy, the film ending in September 1991.

The Domaine lacks the intensity or heft of a Nuri Bilge Ceylan drama so fails to hold our attention for nearly three hours but it is an accomplished work and benefits from the glowering magnetism  of its central character played by Albano Jeronimo who as Joao Fernandes presides over his ‘kingdom’ with a reptilian contempt for everyone around him, except his elegant black stallions and his little son Miquel.

Sandra Faleiro is equally snide as his wife Leonor, whose father is a high-ranking general, and knows she must compete with the other females in her household for her husband’s attentions which generate a hostile climate of competitive breeding amongst the women. Rosa (Ana Vilela da Costa) is one of them and is married to  Joao’s right hand man Joaquim (Miguel Borges) who runs the state.

Another key employee is the Communist tractor driver Leonel. The final act sees Joao greying as power slips between his fingers 1990s section, as 20-something Miguel, played by Joao Pedro Mamede, has become a drug-taking loser in a dismal world that festers in the restless shadows of its former pride. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Gloria Mundi (2019) *** Venice Film Festival | Best Actress winner

Dir. Robert Guédiguian. France/Italy. 2019. 107mins

Veteran director Robert Guédiguian knows his audience, his cast and muse: he makes politically aware films about ordinary working class people facing crisis in his native Marseille. The Last Mitterand and The Army of Crime are exceptions but his domestic dramas are consistently appealing to a certain type of viewer. In Gloria Mundi he jazzes things up a bit with some cinematic flourishes and a script that goes down and dirty but it is largely predictable in a solid, decently crafted sort of way.

Gloria Mundi belongs to Gérard Meylan’s Daniel, a likeable and grounded dark horse who has done time in Rennes for killing a man in self-defence. We meet him in the mellow autumn of his life, content with his own company and happy to have found a certain modus vivendi as he wiles away his post-prison days writing Haiku poetry and contemplating a soulmate who – conveniently – lives only in his dreams. He was once married to Ariane Ascaride’s salt of the earth night cleaner Sylvie who went on to enjoy a more enduring relationship with bus driver Richard, an equally mellow Jean-Pierre Darroussin, who took on her daughter Mathilda (Anais Demoustier). The couple then had Aurore (Lola Naymark) who runs a shop with Bruno (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet). Mathilda is seen giving birth to the titular Gloria as the film opens.

The appealing thing about this Midi-set drama is the way these ordinary people have come to accept their lives without rancor or resort to bitterness or despair. There is something of the Emile Zola’s about these characters: Life is tough for them but they put their backs in to earning their living, never shirking or relying on criminality to bring home the bacon. Guédiguian, like Zola, is interested in temperament here rather than character, and he tells his story straightforwardly without any gimmicks or flashbacks. Marseille is very much a character too, its stunning skyline and maritime feel suffusing the drama with a certain charm that diehard fans will find comforting, although others might consider it all a bit pedestrian. The plot is nonetheless satisfying and well thought out, reaching a surprising conclusion and avoiding the ubiquitous and nebulous enigma that it so commonplace nowadays in place of a solid – if minor – narrative.

The family fortunes take a turn for the worse after little Gloria is born. Mathilda and her husband Nicolas (Robinson Stévenin) have invested in a shiny black limousine so he can work as an Uber driver, while she goes back to helping in a clothes shop. But Nicolas has his arm broken by thieves who steal the car, and Richard is suspended from his job after the police catch him on the ‘phone while driving a bus.

Daniel then shows his true colours stepping out of the shadows to support his estranged daughter Mathilda and reconnect with Sylvie who has refused to strike with her co-worker at the cleaners’ union, and is looking after Gloria while holding down her punishing nocturnal schedule. Meanwhile, Aurore and Bruno are about to open their second shop and are enjoying a raunchy sex life fantasising about a three-some with Mathilda, who Bruno is already sleeping with, unbeknownst to Aurore and Nicolas, who is slowly losing the plot, sitting at home with a broken arm.

Guédiguian often feels like the French version of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. And here again he crafts a tale of domestic dynamics showing how economic setback can rapidly put a strain on family life. He did this first with his best known work Snows of Kilimanjaro and more recently with The House by the Sea. This is a less subtle affair that triumphs because of its engaging story of Marseillaise life and its quality performance all set to an unobtrusive Ravel score. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 2019 | Best Actress Ariane Ascaride

Lingua Franca (2019) *** Venice Film Festival

Dir.: Isabel Sandoval; Cast: Isabel Sandoval, Lynn Cohen, Eamon Farren; USA/Philippines 2019, 94′ 

Philippines born US-based Isabel Sandoval is the director, writer, actor, editor and co-producer of this semi-autobiographical labour of love. Her portrait of Olivia, a New York trans woman living in permanent fear of deportation by the ICE, tackles a worthwhile subject with boring results.

Olivia (Sandoval) is a post-op trans Filipina working as a live-in home help for Jewish matriarch Olga (Cohen) in Brighton Beach, New York. Olga is scrambling on the foothills of Alzheimers, but when her big family clan meets, she dominates the proceedings just like in the olden days. With no Green Card Olivia is haunted by her fear of deportation, and has pinned all her hopes on marriage to her boyfriend who she pays in instalments. But her man has found a better offer, and the money has been spent in vain. Then along comes 29-year old Alex (Farren), Olga’s grandson, fresh out of rehab, but still an alcoholic drifter. He works, on and off in his uncle’s grim slaughterhouse, but is not ready to adjust to adult life. He moves in with Olivia and Olga, even though his caring efforts are not particularlyj successful. In spite of their very different psychological make-up, Olivia and Alex fall in love. Alex, an out-and-out macho, is at first unaware of Olivia’s sexual identity, and when the truth finally emerges he reacts with verbal and emotional violence. Sandoval leaves an ambiguous ending, somehow between hope and realism. Lingua Franca feels rather flaccid both plot wise and in its bland aesthetics, which are more suited to a documentary feature. Alex and Olivia make unconvincing bed-fellows: more experienced actors may have been able to ride over their stilted dialogue and lack of chemistry but this is another flaw in the film. Lingua Franca is an admirable undertaking, but sadly a wasted opportunity. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI 2019

    

Atlantis (2019) **** Venice Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Valentyn Vasyanovych; Cast: Andriy Rymaruk, Liudmyla Bileka. Sergiy Katya; USA/Ukraine 2019, 104 min.

This third feature by Ukranian director/writer DoP Valentyn Vasyanovych (Kredens) is a bleak dystopian fable set in contemporary Eastern Ukraine, where anti-hero Sergiy battles not only his PTSD, but also a poisoned environment – literally and figuratively.

Atlantis is a difficult film to watch, and remains seared to the memory as it plays out mostly without dialogue, the roaming camera telling us all we need to know. Vasyanovych avoids sentimentality, his courageous protagonists having to face up to a hellish existence which is not of their own making.

This apocalyptic thriller opens with five male holograms dancing around menacingly. Cut to a reality, and a war-ravaged landscape where the rivers have been poisoned by the Russians. Sergiy (Rymaruk) and his friend Ivan (Katya) work in a smelting furnace which is soon to close. Ivan is so depressed with the futility of his existence he jumps into the burning steel lava. Sergiy, feeling guilty about his friend’s death later burns himself with a hot iron in his decrepit studio room. Atlantis shows how the deep bonds of love and homeland can help us to endure the most appalling situations, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

After the factory is shut, Sergiy takes as job as a driver for a mobile water tank, providing fresh supplies for soldiers and state employees. He is warned it will take several decades to clear the unexploded mines but things look up when he meets para-medic Katya (Bileka) who is helping to identify the many corpses still littering the countryside. Her car has broken down, and Sergiy tows her vehicle to the nearest town where we witness an exhumation performed by two pathologists. The whole scene is one of the most difficult of the entire feature, the medics going painstakingly about their business painstakingly detailing the decaying bodies. Surprisingly (or not), Sergiy is not particularly hungry afterwards, buy while Katya tucks into her food, he offers to help her on his weeks off. This work is not for the faint-hearted and she has to help him to get over the shock of the gruesome finds. Another stroke of luck comes when he saves the life of a woman who tuns out to be an ecologist for a worldwide organisation, and offers him a job abroad, “to start a new life”. But however gruelling, he prefers working with Katya, and when their vehicle breaks down, the camera zooms in from the outside through the torrents of rain, showing two deeply affected people who slowly fall for each other, their feelings an antidote to the horror of war. Vasyanovich leaves us to draw our own conclusions about this deeply affecting but enigmatic feature: “This is like a reservation for people like us, it would be hard to live anywhere else.” AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 28 – 7 August 2019

     

The King (2019) **** Venice Film Festival 2019

Dir. David Michôd. US/Australia. 2019. 133mins

David Michôd’s The King re-imagines history to give a rather intriguing version of the story of Henry IV’s least favourite son Prince Hal, a Prince Harry style character who mends his ways to become serious about the business of running the kingdom and bringing glory to England at the Battle of Agincourt.

Although there is no mention of Shakespeare here, all the traditions are respected, the costumes are magnificent and the battle scenes spectacular. Even though we know what happened on that fateful day, Michôd and his co-writer Joel Edgerton – who also stars as Sir John Falstaff – embellish the story to deliver a solemnly gripping firecracker of a film that will make you “Cry God! For Harry, England and St George” and Brexit too, if you’re so inclined.

Timothée Chalamet is sombre and rather thoughtful with a cut glass English accent in the style of a David Lean wartime hero. All peaky and pale as Hal, his transformation into a King, on the death of his father (Ben Mendelsohn), sees him exuding newfound charisma and integrity in a gentle way – Chalamet gives a performance of vulnerable allure lighting up every scene. The screen time shared with his trusted friend and ally Falstaff makes this one of the most engaging versions, Edgerton bringing a warm and witty confidence to his Sir John.

The trump card is played by Robert Pattinson as a sneering and flirty Dauphin with a tousled mop of hair and a perky French accent that would make Macron proud.

The elegant script allows plenty of time for philosophising as each powerful lord gives his liege the benefit of well-formed opinion as to the merits of spoiling for battle with France after the King is given a cricket ball as a coronation present by the Dauphin. Evidence of an assassination plot come to light courtesy of a courtier William (Sean Harris) – a decision he will live to regret: this sylph-like newly-crowned Monarch has a fist of iron and a steely resolve behind his boyish exterior, and this comes through in impetuous bursts as the story unfolds.

The battle scenes unleash their bloody mayhem with a hail of longbow arrows and a clash of steel armour and military might as blood soaks the muddy Autumn fields of Pas de Calais in 1415. The strategy is a good one explained calmly by Falstaff in his moment of glory.  This should be experienced on the large screen but sadly The King is bound for Netflix.

The female roles go to Lily-Rose Depp as the bony-faced French princess who makes her caustic intentions clear as Henry’s bride. Tara Fitzgerald has a cameo as the cantankerous  barmaid and thorn in the bibulous Falstaff’s side.

On the eve of battle he proclaims in a timely speech that still holds true today : “I die here or I die of the bottle in Eastcheap — I think this makes for a better story.” And given the parlous state of England’s care homes dying with glory seems a more sensible idea. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 29 August – 7 September 2019

No. 7 Cherry Lane (2019) **** Venice Film Festival 2019 | Best Screenplay Award

Dir Yonfan | Cast: Voices by Sylvia Chang, Zhao Wei, Alex Lam, Yao Wei, Tian Zhuangzhuang | Hong Kong 125’

Very much intended for an adult audience – and particularly cat lovers – this intoxicating animated drama is an amusingly erotic romp through modern history, deliciously enveloped in an avant-garde love story. Set in Hong Kong of the 1960s, No. 7 Cherry Lane sees an English literature student caught in a love triangle with the woman he is tutoring and her 40 year old mother.

Celebrated filmmaker, photographer, art connoisseur, and collector Yonfan returns after a decade with this languorous debut animation that visits the cauldron of political turmoil and repressed desire that was the Hong Kong of his youth.

The story unfolds within the confines of an upmarket residential block in 1967, when the streets of Hong Kong were fraught with leftist protests erupting in violence between anti-colonial demonstrators and police. Meanwhile Ziming (Alex Lam) is experiencing an eruption of a different kind, involving his own sexual awakening. As a student reading modern literature at the university, he takes on a part-time job teaching English to a family recently exiled from Taiwan. Meiling (Zhao Wei) is the daughter of Mrs. Yu (Sylvia Chang), a single mother and exporter of luxury goods to Taiwan, whose own youth has been fraught with revolutionary unrest. Ziming’s arrival stimulates literary debate about Brontë, Proust and Cao Xueqin while in the background the family’s collection of cats are capable of all kinds of mischievous behaviour. Ziming is beguiled both by Mewling and Mrs. Yu, as he embarks on an education no university curriculum could possibly provide.

Blending art and history, politics and eroticism. No.7 Cherry Lane showcases a new animation process, turning original 3-D illustrations into 2-D images on rice paper. Yonfan has created a delicate aesthetic that feels modern yet steeped in tradition, offering a unique paean to Hong Kong’s past that is tongue in cheek, informative and erotic. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | COMPETITION

 

The Laundromat (2019) ** Venice Film Festival 2019

Dir: Stephen Soderbergh | Meryl Street, Gary Oldman, Sharon Stone, Antonio Banderas | US Drama 96’

Steven Soderbergh has decided on a comic-didactic treatment to tell the story of the ‘Panama Papers’ insurance scandal of 2016. But Laundromat feels more like a tedious economics lecture than an piece of enjoyable cinema. It all opens with an introduction from the dinner-jacketed partners of the firm Mossack Fonseca played by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas with odd accents. Meryl Streep plays the archetypical middle-aged American tourist whose husband is drowned after a cruise boat accident. It soon emerges their holiday insurance is null and void due a multiple re-selling scam to avoid tax. Naturally Meryl is not going to let the insurers get away without laying down the law so embarks on a plucky quest for justice which leads her nowhere fast. Episodic and patchy, The Laundromat relies on breaking news intercuts and inter-titles with Streep pontificating about how the public has been let down by democracy and the powers that be. We all leave feeling harangued rather than entertained. MT 

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 29 August – 7 September 2019

Andrei Tarkovsky: A Cinema Prayer (2019) **** Venice Film Festival 2019

Dir: Andrey A Tarkovskiy | Russia Doc 97’

In his debut feature Andrey Tarkovskiy immediately trashes the theory that his father, the Soviet filmmaker Andrei (1932-1986) was some kind of intellectual mystic. Instead this well-organised biopic Andrei Tarkovsky: A Cinema Prayer paints a portrait of a mildly religious and loving family man who often felt misunderstood, especially by the critics (“as usual they didnt’t understand anything”)  but who was at pains to pass on his own father’s ideas on Russian 19th century culture throughout the years of revolution (Arseniy Tarkovsky (1907-1989). Andrei emerges as a joyful, kind and deeply spiritual man whose ‘screen poetry’ was his creative attempt at praying. Although he never considered himself as a good filmmaker he is now regarded as a luminary, who would go on to influence cinema in the latter part of the 20th century and continues to do so today,

Instead of the usual talking heads A CINEMA PRAYER offers a more cinematic approach: family photos and recordings distilled from hours of his father’s personal footage, and excerpts from his diaries relating to his wife and  Larisa Tarkovskaya along with his friends and the people he worked with.

Divided into chapters, the straightforward chronological narrative deals with each of his films; sharing thoughts and memorise; debunking popularly held theories and debating ideas under the headings: Childhood and youth; Work in cinema; Leaving Russia: (his time dealing with Western culture and working in Italy and subsequent conflict with Soviet authorities; and finally: The artist as a prophet, where he muses about his own faith and the meaning of life. The film does not attempts to analyse or even separate his films from each other claiming they were inter-related, and autobiographical at heart. And the director provides exact location shots for Mirror (a screen memoir of his close relationship with his mother, with poems by his father ); Stalker and Nostalghia.

Fascinating and moving, the film includes location shots of the family homes and places from where his films where made in Russia, France Italy and Sweden (where The Sacrifce was shot). MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 29 AUGUST – 7 SEPTEMBER 2019

 

Pelican Blood (2019) ** Venice Film Festival

Dir/Wri: Katrin Grebbe | Drama | 126’

Nina Hoss works wonders with a devilish script in German writer director Katrin Gebbe’s morose and over-long sophomore feature that follows her Cannes outing Nothing Bad Can Happen.

Pester power is the name of the game here and many parents will understand how difficult it is when an existing child desperately wants a sibling?  that with the ultimate damnation of adopting a child who then turns out to be a demon and you have the basic premise of Pelican Blood which opens this year’s Venice Orizzonti sidebar

Riding over glitches in the narrative and bringing a convincing vulnerability to her challenging role is what Nina Hoss does best. And she triumphs here as a fraught single mother doing her utmost not to give up on the vile 9 year old girl she has adopted from Bulgaria, German law not allowing single mothers to go down this route. Hoss just about saves the film as the stoically committed mother Wiebke living with Raya and her cheished child Nicolina (Adelia-Constance Giovanni Ocleppo) in a rural paradise where she works as a horse trainer, enjoying the occasional romantic interludes with her raunchy colleague Benedikt (Murathan Muslu), also a single-parent. But this idyll is short-lived. 

Raya’s tantrums soon prove impossible to handle but Wiebke is loathe to give up on the girl who would have to go back to an orphanage and face more trauma for a second time. Gebbe ramps up the unsettling feeling of tension with an ominous soundscape that makes this enigmatic drama chilling to watch. And although Grebbe avoids swerving into lurid horror by keeping the thrilling elements of the drama chilling rather than ludicrous, it is too far-fetched to appeal to strictly arthouse audiences. And the final denouement brings to mind The Omen amongst other features of this popular sub-genre.  MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 28 – 7 SEPTEMBER 2019

The Truth (2019) *** Venice Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Kore-eda Hirokazu; Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawk, Clementine Grenier, Manon Clavel; France 2019, 106 min.

Japanese director/writer/editor Kore-eda Hirokazu follows his Cannes winner Shoplifters with a feature which could hardly be more French despite his Japanese background: The Truth is not only set in a circle of actors (demi-gods in France), it is also all about the profession itself, with a little bit of gossip and lies as spice. And it features a cast to die for.

Deneuve assumes her usual role as Matriarch. She has just written her auto-biography, and scriptwriter daughter Lumir (Binoche) and family: husband Hank (Hawk) and daughter Charlotte (Grenier) have arrived from New York to celebrate. Actually they have really come to rehash the past: family secrets, grudges and other repressed emotions. Fabienne has always put her career first, leaving Lumir with fellow actress Sarah before she drowned under the influence of alcohol. “She wanted to steal my daughter” is Fabienne’s comment. Lumir’s biological father is always short of cash Fabienne’s current husband has taken on the role of martyr, so has the butler, who goes off in a sulk because he has not been mentioned in Fabienne’s opus. Lumir and Hank have an uneasy relationship, with him having been in rehab more than once. “Lets say he is a better lover than actor” tells Lumir, which may not mean much, since Hank himself believes that he is an second rate TV thespian. And there is the young starlet Manon (Clavel) who acts with Fabienne in her current feature, who reminds all of the famous Sarah.Needless to say, that Fabienne wins out – all he little white lies are swept under the carpet.

THE TRUTH is fun to watch, not surprising considering the cast. Kore-eda has developed a good feel for the rather superficial milieu, but he lets everyone get away with a slap on the wrist. Eric Gautier’s images are lush, particularly Fabienne’s villa is real property porn  – in spite of the prison build directly behind it. The film-in-film  sequences remind us of Truffaut’s Day for Night – which could be said for the whole endeavour. Hardly groundbreaking, but done with tender love for the cinema and its protagonists. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 28 August – 7 September 2019

Psykosia (2019) Undiscovered festival gems

Dir.: Marie Grahto Sorensen | Cast: Lisa Carlehed, Victoria Carmen Sonne, Trine Dyrholm, Bebiane Ivalo Kreutzmann; Denmark/Finland 2019, 87 min.

Danish director/co-writer Marie Grahto had great success with her medium-length films, particularly Teenland. Her first feature film Psykosia, is an enigmatic story set in a psychiatric ward, where the limits of patient/doctor relationships are tested to the full.

When middle-aged Viktoria (Carlehed) enters a psychiatric institution ran by Dr. Anna Klein (Dyrholm) to help with a particular case, we can’t help finding the environment and the relationship between the two odd. The whole place has a distinct mid-twentieth century twist making it feel like a place lost in time.

Viktoria is a researcher specialising in suicide, but she has no clinical experience so it’s surprising that Dr. Klein employs her at all. The only patient Viktoria will look after is a teenage girl, Jenny Lilith (Viktoria Carmen Sonne of Holiday fame), who has a history of suicide attempts, and so far has allowed none of the therapists to come close to her.

Jenny is close to another patient, Zarah (Kreutzmann), the two of them have been hospitalised together on numerous occasions, and they even end up sharing a bath, the water turning red after Jenny slashed her arm. Jenny tells Viktoria “death is purity, in death you are free”. Their therapeutic sessions have also helped the women to bond, but one gets the impression this is due to transference, Viktoria trying to get to Jenny via self-disclosure, mentioning her own strict upbringing.

In a chapel, next to an enormous abandoned church, Viktoria tells Jenny “that psychoanalysis is a form of art, like this chapel. After Viktoria tries to hang herself on several occasions, claiming her thoughts of suicide “can be a comfort, keeping you alive”.

When Zarah commits suicide, Dr. Klein asks Viktoria to tell Jenny the truth, but the former is unwilling, not wanting to risk the therapeutic progress she has made with her patient. Dr. Klein, looking out of the window like a threatening Super-Ego, seems to will Viktoria to make the announcement, just before the denouncement of the mysterious conundrum.

There are many coded clues to what is going on here: Jenny’s full name is Lilith, a wanton woman in Jewish mythology; Anna Klein is an amalgamation of Anna Freud and Melanie Klein, founder and rivals of theories in child development. And certainly the closeness and identification between Viktoria and Jenny is a play on transference, used by analysts to get close to patients – but leaving them often helpless when patients use counter-transference to draw the analyst in.

Subtle and nuanced performances from a strong female cast, DoP Catherine Pattinama Coleman (part of an all-women crew) using her long takes in the institutional corridors to mesmerising effect, recalling the atmosphere in Kubrick’s The Shining. Music by Schubert (Der Leiermann) and the Francoise Hardy song Il est trop loin’ help to create an atmosphere of utter bewilderment, where the borders between reality and spirituality, patients and analysts are not the only things breaking down. Sheer genius. Shame the film is still waiting for a UK release. AS

PREMIERED Venice Film Festival 2019

Venice Film Festival Classics 2019

The 76th Venice Classics strand is always special – a selection of the best restorations carried out over the past year by film archives, cultural institutions and production companies around the world.

This year’s selection includes Federico Fellini’s Lo sceicco bianco (The White Sheik) which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 1952, presented today with a view towards the 100th anniversary of the director’s birth in 2020; a “double bill” for Bernardo Bertolucci with La commare secca (The Grim Reaper), the director’s debut film at the 1962 Venice Film Festival, and Strategia del ragno (The Spider’s Stratagem), presented at the 1970 Venice Film Festival; the surprising film debut of Giuliano Montaldo, Tiro al piccione (Pigeon Shoot), which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 1961; a great film produced by RAI (Radio Televisione Italiana) deserving rediscovery, Maria Zef  (1981) by Vittorio Cottafavi; the masterpiece by Manoel de Oliveira, Francisca (1981); Out of the Blue (1980) by Dennis Hopper; New York, New York (1977) by Martin Scorsese, in a new 35mm copy, courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) on the occasion of United Artists centennial anniversary. The new copy, printed especially for the Venice Film Festival, is presented by the famous producer Irvin Winkler, who will also hold a masterclass after the end of the screening.

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN

by JACK ARNOLD (USA, 1957, 81’, B/W) | restored by: Universal Pictures

LA COMMARE SECCA (THE GRIM REAPER)

by BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI (Italy, 1962, 92’, B/W) | restored by: CSC-Cineteca Nazionale in collaboration with RTI-Mediaset

STRATEGIA DEL RAGNO (THE SPIDER’S STRATAGEM)

by BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI (Italy, 1970, 110’, Colour) | restored by: Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna and Massimo Sordella in collaboration with Compass Film

ENSAYO DE UN CRIMEN (THE CRIMINAL LIFE OF ARCHIBALDO DE LA CRUZ)

by LUIS BUÑUEL (Mexico, 1955, 92’, B/W) | restored by: Cineteca Nacional México in collaboration with Sindicato de Trajadores de la Producción Cinematográfica

LE PASSAGE DU RHIN (THE CROSSING OF THE RHINE)

by ANDRÉ CAYATTE (France, Germany, Italy, 1960, 125’, B/W) | restored by: Gaumont 

MARIA ZEF

by VITTORIO COTTAFAVI (Italy, 1981, 122’, Colour) | restored by: Rai Teche in collaboration with Cineteca del Friuli, Fuori Orario (Rai3) and Museo Nazionale del Cinema di Torino

 CRASH

by DAVID CRONENBERG (Canada, 1996, 100’, Colour) | restored by: Recorded Picture Company and Turbine Media Group (with the supervision of David Cronenberg and DOP Peter Suschitzky)

FRANCISCA

by MANOEL DE OLIVEIRA (Portugal, 1981, 167’, Colour) | restored by: Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema

KHANEH SIAH AST (THE HOUSE IS BLACK)

by FOROUGH FARROKHZAD (Iran, 1962, 21’, B/W) | restored by: Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna and Ecran Noir productions, in collaboration with Ebrahim Golestan. With the support of Genoma Films and Mahrokh Eshaghian

LO SCEICCO BIANCO (THE WHITE SHEIK)

by FEDERICO FELLINI (Italy, 1952, 86’, B/W) | restored by: Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna in the context of “Fellini 100” project, in collaboration with RTI-Mediaset and Infinity

SODRÁSBAN (CURRENT) | by ISTVÁN GAÁL (Hungary, 1963, 85’, B/W)

restored by: Hungarian National Film Fund – Film Archive

TAPPE-HAYE MARLIK (THE HILLS OF MARLIK)

by EBRAHIM GOLESTAN (Iran, 1964, 15’, Colour) | restored by: Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna and Ecran Noir productions, in collaboration with Ebrahim Golestan and the National Film Archive of Iran. With the support of Mahrokh Eshaghian and Genoma Films

LA MUERTE DE UN BURÒCRATA (DEATH OF A BUREAUCRAT)

by TOMÁS GUTIÉRREZ ALEA (Cuba, 1966, 85’, B/W) | restored by: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Archive) and Cinemateca de Cuba

OUT OF THE BLUE

by DENNIS HOPPER (Canada, USA, 1980, 94’, Colour) | restored by: Discovery Productions (John Alan Simon and Elizabeth Karr)

 EXTASE (ECSTASY)

by GUSTAV MACHATÝ (Czechoslovakia, 1932, 87’, B/W) | restored by: Národní filmový archiv (National Film Archive in Prague), thanks to the support of Milada Kučerová and Eduard Kučera and the collaboration of the Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary

MAURI

by MERATA MITA (New Zealand, 1988, 100’, Colour) | restored by: New Zealand Film Commission

TIRO AL PICCIONE (PIGEON SHOOT) main image

by GIULIANO MONTALDO (Italy, 1961, 115’, B/W) | restored by: CSC-Cineteca Nazionale in collaboration with Surf Film

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

by MARTIN SCORSESE (USA, 1977, 163’, Colour)

New 35mm print courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM), on the occasion of United Artists centennial anniversary

KALINA KRASNAYA (THE RED SNOWBALL TREE)

by VASILIY SHUKSHIN (URSS, 1973, 107’, Colour) | restored by: Mosfilm Cinema Concern (Karen Shakhnazarov producer of the restoration)

WAY OF A GAUCHO

by JACQUES TOURNEUR (USA, 1952, 91’, Colour) | restored by: Twentieth Century Fox and The Film Foundation 

Costanza Quatriglio (Palermo, 1973) is a director, screenwriter and the Artistic Director of the Sicilian branch of the Centro Speri

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

IN CINEMAS FROM 12 JULY 3019

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

ON RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS | PREMIERED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Dragged Across Concrete (2018) ***

Dir: S Craig Zahler | Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn | Thriller | US, 16o;

S Craig Zahler’s latest thriller lacks the slick, pared-down momentum of his previous outing Brawl in Cell Block 99. Overlong and often ponderous it nevertheless carries some weight in the social message it pushes forward. But two hours and 40 minutes is pushing it too far.

Mel Gibson (Lurasetti) and Vince Vaughn (Ridgeman) are cops who decide to play some criminals at their own game by disturbing a suspect’s love nest during a drug raid, giving him a bloody nose. Their boss (Don Johnson) gets to hear about it from a neighbour’s video footage, and decides to suspend them. Both have major family commitments so they turn the tables on the law to raise some much needed spondulix. Ridgeman’s plan is to make a quick buck by staking out a local safe house, and stashing aside some filthy lucre. Lurasetti is not keen on the plan, but goes along for the ride.

Suffice to say, it all goes pear-shaped and there follows a rather drawn out denouement involving another strand to the storyline. The action sequences are entertaining, particularly the one involving the slow dissemination of their vehicle. And it’s quite clear, once again, where Zahler’s sympathies lie. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 19 APRIL 2019

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

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

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019

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.

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | BEST ACTRESS: Olive Colman | Grand Prix Venice 2018

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

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | GOLDEN LION WINNER VENICE 2018

https://youtu.be/vhWut6jTA8o

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

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 16 NOVEMBER | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

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

ON NETFLIX  | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

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

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

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 

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 28 AUG – 9 SEPT 2018 | NATIONWIDE FROM 12 October 2018

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

NOW ON NETFLIX

    

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

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

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

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL CLASSICS 2018

 

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

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

 

      

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

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

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

SCREENING DURING VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

     

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

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

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

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | Best DIRECTOR | ORIZZONTI 2018

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

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI 4 SEPTEMBER 2018

 

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

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | FIPRESCI WINNER 2018

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

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 29 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2018 | VENICE DAYS AWARD WINNER 2018

 

 

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

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

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

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

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

ON RELEASE FROM 2 NOVEMBER 2018 | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW 2018

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

WHY ARE WE CREATIVE: THE CENTIPEDE’S DILEMMA

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

SCREENING AS PART OF VENICE DIRECTORS’ WEEK 2018

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      

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 28 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2018 | CRITICS’ WEEK

Friedkin Uncut (2018) **** Venice Film Festival 2018 | Venice Classics

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 must be one of the most quotable living directors. Perfectly formed truisms just flood out of him. 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 likes facts and percentages rather than ephemera. 

Yet while he’s 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. Its a job. Out of this work there can come art – but its 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 is not having been able to transcend reality in his films. Who knows if he will one day. Time is still on his side. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | CLASSICS | 31 SEPTEMBER 2018

 

 

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

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | CRITICS WEEK 2018

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 | ORIZZONTI | 28 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER

 

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

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 28 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2018 

 

 

 

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