Posts Tagged ‘Cannes Film Festival’

Elvis (2022)

Dir.: Baz Luhrmann; Cast: Tom Hanks, Austin Butler, Olivia DeJonge, Helen Thomson, Kodi Smit McPhee, Richard Roxburgh; US/Australia 2022, 159 min.

Elvis Aaron Presley (1935-1977) was – and still is – the most successful recording artist on this planet, so hiring Baz Luhrmann, well known for his baroque output, to make a film of the entertainer’s life, and turn in a handsome profit seemed like a brilliant idea.

But casting Tom Hanks as the singer’s gambling, cheating and lying manager Colonel Tom Parker put Austin Butler’s Presley at a glaring disadvantage. Parker, who voices the linear narrative, is also a rather unreliable witness to the story; Butler is certainly entertaining and charismatic as the titular hero, but does he do a convincing job as the hip-swivelling legend? Let’s just say few performers would have fared better opposite a behemoth like Hanks. Olivia DeJonge, as Elvis’ wife Priscilla, is even more short-changed: she brings up their daughter and suffers in silence, while her husband shags and devours pills like candies. And no mention is made of her being a teen bride; Priscilla was fourteen when she met the twenty-four-year-old Elvis for the first time in 1959.

The writers offer no real explanation as to why Elvis left for the army as a rebel in 1958, only to return two years later his bad boy instincts buttoned down. Amateur psychology is used to lay the blame on the shady Parker and his greed – we are led to believe the scrupulous manager of dubious Dutch origins had a hold over Elvis using the star as a cash cow to payoff his own mounting debts. Presley’s father Vernon (Roxburgh) was a weak role model and ended up in jail. Elvis’ actress mother Gladys (Thomson) is also just an underwritten sketch.

Luhrmann dishes up the legend’s mammoth musical history in all its glittering details weaving in a strand about his formative musical associations with the  segregated black artists Little Richard and Mahalia Jackson who lend vibrance to the story. DoP Mandy Walker, who worked with Luhrmann on Australia, pulls out all the stops in a biopic that runs for nearly three hours. Rather than zero-in on a pivotal era of the star’s career, Luhrmann merely touches on his entire life, and any depth or resonance is lost in the cacophony of flashing lights and noise.

Behind the cinematic showcase lies a hollow heart. Luhrmann, an obsessive showman himself, again goes overboard with his obsession for split screens in another sparkling montage that will satisfy the lowest common denominator. But having spent all his budget on appearances there’s nothing left for the script. The story is a classic but the straightforward chronicle approach takes away the element of surprise leaving us with an ‘all singing all dancing’ cabaret showpiece that ends in tears; a burnished biopic to please the investors rather than arthouse enthusiasts with discerning minds. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM JUNE 24TH 2022

Marcel! (2022) Cannes Film Festival

Dir.: Jasmine Trinca; Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Maavane Conti, Giovanna Ralli, Umberto Orsini, Valentina Cervi, Valeria Golino; Italy 202, 93 min.

Cruelty to animals and their tragic deaths features highly in many indie and arthouse film underlining our important bond with these vulnerable creatures. And nowhere more so that this year’s Cannes where dogs and donkeys bare the brunt of man’s callous behaviour.

Actress turned director Jasmine Trinca;s debut feature is an absurd, surrealistic comedy in the style of Fellini, but with, literally, much more bite. The titular Marcel is a canine, obsessively loved by street performer Alba Rorwacher, much to the chagrin of her daughter Maavante Conti, who just wants to be loved by her mum, and not always parked with grandparents Giovanna Ralli and Umberto Orsini.

Told in ten chapters, the story of this dysfunctional family is grim as well as fascinating. As far as mothers go, Rohrwacher is a nightmare: not only does she neglect her daughter, but she lets her pet dog Marcel sit at the dinner table, feeding him carrots. She is also a fan of divination, throwing coins around with great gusto – and to add to her talents she acts as a medium. An elderly admirer brings her flowers, and attends all her performances in the town square. Her daughter is forced to watch, but not allowed to play her saxophone, which would certainly enhance her mother’s amateurish performance.

Marcel soon goes missing, And no prizes for guessing the outcome or culprit involved in his disappearance. Later, mother and daughter drive to a county fair, were the child has to act Marcel’s part, before discovering the the macabre reality. Not having had much success with their act, the two then travel to visit family; a cousin (Cervi) is well aware of Rohrwacher’s shortcoming as a performer. Proceedings are livened with one family member fancying themselves as a hunter with the whole living room full of stuffed animals, a wild boar being next prey on the agenda.

Rohrwacher is a wonderful eccentric, Trinca calling her a “Buster Keaton disguised as a panther”. But the main reason why this often unstructured script comes together is Maavane Conti, who can be wonderfully expressionless and unfazed by the most turbulent of circumstances. Her limpid blue eyes seem to be cast out of marble, and she manages to remain obdurate in deflecting the guilt her mother accusingly projects on her with grandfather claiming:”it was your father’s dog”. Said father is absent, presumed dead, having left some dark drawings which make the flat even more gloomy.

DoP Daria d’Antonia creates the right ambience for this madcap trip, the colours being as crass as the action. Director Trinca is already planning ahead, hoping that Conti will be her “Antoine Doinel”. At least she rely on the actors baling her out, because MARCEL! has even at just 93 minutes offers too little substance. Quirky it certainly is, but if only the episodically nature could be replaced by more cohesion. Still, a stunning ending shows that Trinca is not short of of ideas. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2022

The Stars at Noon (2022) joint Grand Prix

Dir: Claire Denis | France Drama, 138’

Margaret Qualley and Joe Alwyn play a pair of star crossed expats in Claire Denis’s political thriller set in Nicaragua Sandinista regime during the 1980s and updated from Denis Johnson’s novel with a pandemic twist to further its unsettling atmosphere .

Qualley is skanky journalist turned grifter, Trish, using her body rather than her writing to maintain a precarious existence when she meets the debonair aid worker Daniel DeWaan who is supposedly there on an humanitarian mission.

Claire Denis uses her considerable seasoned talent to imbue this with a highly charged erotic atmosphere that adds a sexual frisson to the sinister goings on in this central American republic. There is an undercurrent of unrest between the locals and the neighbouring Costa Ricans and although the Qualley and Alwyn’s chemistry offers combustible screen time it does not quite offer enough heft to lift this into more heavyweight territory given the dangerous times they are living in, particularly as Daniel soon turns out to be entirely unsuitable for the tricky mission he is undertaking.

In contrast Trish is a canny survivor who has the best lines when describing her contacts and these add a dry burst of humour to their rather gruelling exploits in surviving, and their bid to escape when the going gets rough. On the road to Costa Rica they run up against an abrasive CIA agent – Benny Safdie in a punchy turn.

Based on Denis Johnson’s novel ‘The Stars at Noon’, this is certainly a sensual and absorbing  experience not least for its woozy jazz score by Tindertsticks but not quite as memorable as her early films Beau Travail or Chocolat. MT

CANNES FILMS FESTIVAL | IN COMPETITION

 

Eo (2022) Cannes Film Festival | joint Jury Prize

Dir: Jerzy Skolimowski | Drama, Poland 97’

Another film that sees the world through the eyes of an animal concluding that most humans are no better than exploitative beasts.

Cow took a bovine perspective at Cannes last year, and Gunda was all about the pecking order of pigs. Polish master Skolimowski, who at 84 has been making films since the 1960s, recreates Robert Bresson’s arthouse original Au Hasard Baltazar with a strikingly fresh and intense piece of visual storytelling and minimal dialogue save the occasional braying that endears us to its bidable beast of burden, a humble donkey called Eo.

Eo is a self-determining character whose destiny is often driven forward by personal choice rather than human ownership, his wanderlust taking him on to pastures new. And the director makes use of the donkey’s diverse life stages to expound a richly thematic narrative that trots through concerns as diverse as animal welfare, football hooliganism, family conflict and the ongoing debate about sustainable farming and the food industry. It does so with impressive artistic flair, a dynamic blood red visual aesthetic, and the masterful camerawork of award-winning DoPs Michal Dymek and Pawel Edelman.

Starting out in a travelling circus Eo will enjoy a life of extremes from a gruelling time harnessed to a scrap metal truck; to the bucolic pleasures of chomping through daisy strewn fields and a cushy billet in an Italian palazzo owned by Isabelle Huppert’s elegant countess, but he never forgets his first experience of human kindness from his circus trainer Kasandra (Sandra Dryzmalska) and suffers bouts of separation anxiety throughout these times of joy and pain. The final scenes will break even the hardest heart. This donkey’s doleful, disarming demeanour and stoical endurance make him worthy of the Best Actor award in this year’s Cannes. In reality the film went on to share the Jury Prize and Best Composer for Pawel Mykietyn’s commanding score. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | Won the Jury Prize ex-aequo

Showing Up (2022) Cannes Film Festival 2022

Dir: Kelly Reichardt | Cast: Michelle Williams, Hong Chau, Maryann Plunkett, John Magaro, André Benjamin, James Le Gros, Judd Hirsch | US Drama 108′

Kelly Reichardt’s lowkey but thematically rich tale of creative life in the West Coast town of Portland Oregon is a quietly amusing rumination on contemporary counterculture and a tribute to the famous art college there.

More zen like and offbeat than Certain Women, it follows along similar lines in depicting the everyday uneventfulness of a generation busy doing very little to change the world but making a big deal about it in the process.

Michelle Williams is Lizzy a sculptress and ‘artist in residence’ who pours her heart into her misshapen clay figures but shows no compassion for a bird mauled by her assertive pet cat Ricky. Throwing into her garden with a callous: ‘go and die somewhere else’ the animal then makes a speedy recovery under the care of her fellow artist and landlady Jo (Hong Chau). Both are stressed out preparing for their various shows in this chilled out rural backwater that makes a setting for Reichardt to expose their petty foibles and trivial existence and she does so without judgement or cynicism in a film which is truly delightful in its lowkey languorousness.

There is a veiled animosity and irritation between these women that Reichardt handles so gracefully as to be almost imperceptible and the same goes for Lizzie’s relationship with her chipper father Bill (Judd Hirsch) and his freeloading houseguests (Amanda Plummer and Matt Malloy) who have overstayed their welcome but serve to fill the void in Bill’s life since he and Lizzy’s mother Jean (Maryann Plunkett) who runs the art school, are separated. The same goes for her troubled brother Sean (John Magaro), whose main concern is losing a TV channel. Reichardt totally avoids cliche  in this tender almost wistful study of family interactions, friendship and the human need to make our mark in a world where almost everything has discovered or been done before and survival is guaranteed. MY

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | IN COMPETITION

Pacifiction (2022) Cannes Film Festival

Dir: Albert Serra | Drama, 138′

Catalan auteur Albert Serra follows Liberte his voyeuristic foray into 18th century Berlin with a kitschy French language feature – a metaphor for modern politics – in the Polynesian Island of Tahiti where the tropical climate and sultry sun-drenched sunsets are a hedonistic hideaway for a shadowy expat community headed by Benoit Magimel’s top ranking French fonctionaire De Roller, a soi-disant ‘representative of the state’. But behind this patina of charm seethes a cynic of savage mistrust.

The prowling voyeurs are back again looming out of this palm-fringed neon twilight zone of cocktail bars and nightclubs, only this time it’s the 21st century. Serra’s regular actor Marc Susini as a light-footed admiral of the submarine, and Sergi Lopez as a sleazy club owner Morton. Montse Triola’s role as a published writer returning home doesn’t quite work as the token female. But there are go-go girls and boys a plenty and the sexually ambivalent De Roller seems enamoured with their trans lead dancer Shannah (Mahagafanau). And we gradually relax into this mellow milieu inhabiting the intoxicating torpor of the tropical tale and its weird protagonists.

Serra is not a man to be hurried and once again he takes time to flesh out his antihero Romane De Roller: a bloated, besuited, supercilious, self-seeking bureaucrat who talks in repetitive platitude-strewn cliches, often finishing his sentences with a token “voila”. And Magimel is majestic in the role. Endless languorous days see him driven round the windswept island in a white Mercedes, visiting local mayors and claiming to have uncovered a rumour about the government starting nuclear testing again after twenty years, in a submarine located off the coast: You would not trust him to post a letter, let alone quell a conspiracy theory. But storm clouds soon threaten De Roller’s last days in paradise when a Portuguese diplomat turns up (Alexandre Melo) complaining to have been robbed of his papers. Is he a spy or a nuclear specialist? His appearance only adds to the sinister atmosphere of impending doom.

The most impressive scene takes place on the high waves during a surfing competition where a rip tide gives way to stratospheric ocean rollers. De Roller dices with death on the back of a jetski smugly declaring his mastership of land and sea: “I do what you do but in politics”. Serra’s bizarre style may not suit everyone but he is undoubtedly one of the most avantgarde and distinctive filmmakers of today. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | IN COMPETITION.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crimes of the Future (2022) Cannes Film Festival

Dir: David Cronenberg | Sci-fi, Horror, 138

Surgery is the new sex in David Cronenberg’s latest body horror sci-fi thriller that fast forwards us to a suture-licking future where pain has been eliminated and new organs can be generated by the body itself for practical uses or as an artform.

Viggo Mortensen is the cypher like central character, the renowned performance artist Saul who lives with his creative partner Caprice (a voluptuous Lea Seydoux). He sleeps in form-adapting orchid bed and eats plastic breakfast bars on a tentacled highchair that eases his body functions, the self-generated organs are then removed by Caprice in the custom-made Sark autopsy unit and both derive intense sexual pleasure form the procedure in subterranean twilight locations that bring to mind Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s fantasy drama Evolution. Caprice then tattoos the organs and passes them on to the National Organ Register staffed by a criminally underused Kristen Stewart as a vapid functionary (clearly stifling her disappointment in such a slight role just to be in a film by Cronenberg).  Fans will lap it all up, newcomers to the cultish shrine of Cronenberg will be bemused. The Canadian luminary is back with a vengeance. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | In Competition

Nostalgia (2022) Cannes Film Festival 2022

Dir: Mario Martone | Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Francesco Di Leva, Tommaso Ragno, Aurora Quattrocchi | Italy, Drama 117′

Mario Martone’s moody mournful thriller Nostalgia, adapted from the novel by Ermanno Rea, sees a man returning to his past in Naples having made his mark in the Middle East. But this attempt to turn back time and is not greeted with the warmth he had hoped for in all quarters.

Martone floods the screen with the faded glory of the southern Italian seaport in a lush and classically styled rumination that contrasts the positive outlook of his central character Felice Lasco (Favino) with the bitter resentments he finds back home. His moribund mother Teresa is overjoyed to see him but his attempts to reconnect with an old sparring partner, the infamous gangland ‘Badman’ Oreste Spasiano (Ragno), are less successful to say the least – their nefarious past is pictured in flashbacks  –  and he is warned to keep away from the crumbling neglected backwater of Rione Sanita where Orest now hangs out under the protection of his acolytes.

But although Felice is determined to gloss over the ups and downs of his complex relationship with Oreste, who tears up at their reunion, an unresolved incident from the past is still a sticking point between the two men; one who has found success personally and professionally, the other failure in a life of crime. The simple but satisfying plot works to the film’s advantage allowing Martone to embellish his local characters, the most memorable is the local priest Don Luigi Rega (Francesco Di Leva) who still provides a spiritual touchstone to the community from his base in the vast cathedral. Buzzing around on a motorbike in full ecclesiastical regalia he is a comforting but commanding figure, his steadfast moral compass providing the guiding light. But Felice will soon become trapped in his determination to heal the past. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL |  IN COMPETITION 2022

 

 

 

Godland (2022) Un Certain Regard

Dir: Hlynur Pálmason | Iceland, Demark | Drama, 128′

Faith is tested to the limit in this striking and spiritual fable that follows a pioneering 19th century Danish priest with a noble mission to found a church in Iceland and photography its people. The deeper he travels into the remote and rugged wilderness the more he will lose his way, literally and metaphorically.

Icelandic filmmaker Hlynur Pálmason has won multiple awards for his distinctively dour and beguiling beautiful dramas Winter Brothers and A White, White Day. Godsland shows that not all men of God are good, or even likeable. Infact, Danish missionary Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove) has no redeeming features whatever apart from his photographic skills and so it remains a mystery as to why he was chosen by the religious eminence gris in the film’s opening sequence.

Iceland is an extraordinary setting for this powerful battle of determination and adversity powered forward by the priest’s desperation to conquer the elements and reach his destination before winter closes in with its icy grip. But his religious fervour and will to serve God is no match for the sheer grit of his Icelandic guide (Hilmar Guðjónsson) and a rash decision to ignore his superior grasp of the region and hostile conditions soon lead to tragedy.

An unsettling soundscape echoes the elements. Fire, water, sodden peat bogs and incandescent volcanic eruptions provide a treacherous terrain where Lucas fails to collaborate with his fellow travellers or their animals in his dogged bid to press on at his own pace, and for once the lengthy runtime justifies this epic Herzogian slog. The academy ratio suits the mission well echoing the glass plates Lucas uses to compose his photographs.

Reduced to a chapped and blistered wreck when he finally reaches the northern outpost, his host Carl (Jacob Hauberg Lohmann), and two daughters Anna (Vic Carmen Sonne) and Ida (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir), provide a welcome warmth this sombre masculine drama but even their kindness cannot thaw the chilly heart of the intractable loner: “We don’t need men like him,” Carl tells his younger daughter who takes a shine to the pallid preacher and so begins another uphill struggle to breathe humanity into his troubled soul. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | UN CERTAIN REGARD

The Green Perfume (2022) Cannes Film Festival

Dir.: Nicolas Pariser; Cast: Sandrine Kimberlain, Vincent Lacoste, Rüdiger Vogler, Léonie Simaga, Arie Worthalter, Jenna Thiam, Pascal Rénéric, Thomas Chabrol; France 2022, 104 min.

A really seductive title that fails to live up to expectations, Le Parfum Vert tries hard, perhaps too hard, to revive Hitchcock mysteries in the style of Jacques Rivette. And while the French New Wave master would be delighted with the central pairing – two Jewish oddballs – along with the theatre setting; Nicolas Pariser is less successful when it comes to the modern version of Hitchcock: the plot is, to say the least, weak, setting aside the simplistic political plotline.

Martin (Lacoste), an actor, is witness to the onstage murder of his friend Vlad (Rénéric) during Anton Chekhov’s play ‘Ivanov’. In his last breath Vlad implicates the Green Perfume group. Martin, always the hypochondriac, freaks out when it turns out he is the main suspect. Fellow actor Caroline (Thiam) tries to calm him down but Martin is then abducted by a right-wing group with links to Russia, led by the sinister Hartz (Vogler), a cartoonish Austrian. Martin is then released the following morning, and running away from the police, led by detective inspector Louise (Simaga), meets Claire (Kimberlain), a cartoonist and owner of a bookshop, who is hounded by her sister and mother, phoning her in the middle of the night with a link to a Jewish dating agency.

Claire has spent a long time in Israel, she dislikes the snobby French but has to admit Israel is not European any more. Martin, who also spent time in Jewish summer camps, is more obsessed with his health and lack of love in his relationships: he is in the middle of a divorce and as self-obsessed as his new partner. Somehow, Louise catches up with the pair on Martin’s next engagement in Budapest where Corneille’s ”L’Illusion Comique” is on the programme. The Hartz Group will try to get hold of a super disinformation system. The clue to its whereabouts will be triggered by one of the actors who will use the wrong cue – the play is in French, the audience has a Hungarian translation. To find the traitor Claire follows Martin in the hunt, in spite of a bullet wound in her leg, before she too is abducted by Harzt and his men in the Budapest theatre.

Forget the farcical plot, The Green Parfum succeeds largely due to the compelling chemistry of the leads – both lonely and out of luck in love. A Jewish identity gets you only so far, and both have not really grown up and still hankers after ideas which are now on the scrap heap. Like Hansel and Gretel, they have lost their way home, only existing only in their imagination. Unaware of the danger of the real conspiracy, they save themselves by falling in love.

DoP Sebastien Buchmann pictures Paris and Budapest in a nostalgic glow. The chase scenes in the theatre are lively, but Buchmann is (like Pariser) most convincing, when it comes to small details, like the observations on the train when the two chases their pursuers – or find a corpse. Every day life is much more exciting than the wildest political plots – particularly when poorly executed. AS

THE GREEN PERFUME | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

Decision to Leave (2022) Cannes Film Festival 2022

Dir: Park Chan-took | South Korea, Thriller, 138′

Park Chan-wook returns to Cannes after nearly six years and his latest, a dazzling Neo-noir love story spiked with dark humour and enveloped in a crime thriller, has won him Best Director. Decision to Leave is certainly a slick and seductive character drama although the choppily editing may cause some frustration in the second half, and at well over two hours it rather overstays its welcome considering Claude Chabrol was making these kind of thrillers – admittedly on a much smaller budget – in a tightly-wound ninety minutes, always leaving you wanting more.

Decision to Leave revolves around an insomniac detective (Park Hae-li) investigating the death of a climber who fell from a shard-like mountain of the South Korean coastal location offering vertiginous contrast to the shadowplay of the more sombre domestic scenes, and adding to the thriller’s sultry allure. Seo-rae (Tang Wei), his Chinese widow, is not overly devastated by the loss of her husband and her blasé attitude leaves the pragmatic and happily married detective intrigued as he is slowly entranced by the widow’s enigmatic personality and beguiling beauty, prolonging the course of the murder investigation in a texturally rich narrative that touches on the enduring power of sex in longterm relationships, and the role of nutrition in healing the body.

Detective Hae woon’s behaviour raises suspicions not only with his wife but also his colleague who questions him about his professional commitment to crime-solving. Meanwhile Seo-rae picks up on his interest in her which goes beyond the call of duty, particularly when he invites her to a lush sushi dinner and also prepares her favourite Chinese food in the privacy of her own kitchen.

Hae-joon and his wife eventually make the decision to move to another part of town to get some distance from a situation that grows more complex when sinister details about the Chinese woman’s past emerge from police immigration records.

Decision to Leave is a sinuous piece of filmmaking and the interplay of detective and suspect offers its strongest moments, Park using his signature subtle wit to explore the sensuous serpentine dynamic between the two: the cool and procedural cop and the geisha girl with a mysterious past. The second half becomes more erratic and loses its grip, the camera jumping around with a final reveal that feels unconvincing, and an underwhelming denouement.

That said, a captivating thriller largely due to the potent interplay between Tang-Wei and Park Hai Li whose chemistry smoulders in the same way as Barbara Stanwyck and Fred McMurray in Double Indemnity (1944). But will this South Korean affair still be memorable in another eighty years? MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | BEST DIRECTOR

 

 

 

 

Little Nicholas (2022) Cannes Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Amandine Fredon, Benjamin Massoubre; Voices of Alain Chabat, Laurent Lafitte, Simon Paliu; Graphics by Jean-Jacques Sempé; script by Anne Goscinny, Michel Fessler; France/ Luxembourg 2022, 80 min.

Little Nicholas follows the adventures of a mischievous French boy (in the style of ‘Just William’). The creative child of author René Goscinny (1926-1977) and artist Jean-Jacques Sempé (Lafitte), he first saw the light in 1959 as a cartoon in the pages of the Sud-Quest newspaper. The duo would go on to create over two hundred popular children’s stories, before Goscinny died at 51. Co-written by Goscinny’s daughter Anne and Michel Fessler of March of the Penguins fame, schoolboy Nicholas is brought to life, sharing the death of his co-creator with Sempé.

The name Nicholas actually came from a passing vehicle while the authors where having coffee one day. The first episodes are rather formulaic, with Nicholas’ parents and maternal grandmother fighting over the right to bring up the child. Growing up, Nicholas will soon experience the dissolution of gender stereotypes, and a degree of anarchy at school.

The film work best in the segments involving Nicholas (voiced by Paliu) and Sempé after the death of Goscinny (voiced by Chabat, who directed the adaption of Asterix&Obelix: Mission Cleopatra in 2002) leaving Sempé, once again traumatised. Both artists shared a rotten childhood: Goscinny lost most of his family to the Holocaust while he escaped to Argentina with his parents. Sempé’s father was an alcoholic who abused his son and ruined his childhood. In the dialogue between Nicholas and Sempé it soon becomes clear that the two men created a perfect world through their character to compensate for their own misfortune. “Now René and I will live on through you” tells Sempé the boy. Anne Goscinny adds, “there is no finer way to pay tribute to my father, than to tell his story through the art he cherished the most: animation. The graphic novel was a path to the cinema and more precisely to animation”. The camera mournfully catching Nicholas, always looking at the figures of Asterix and Obelix on Sempé’s desk.

The directors chose two different styles of animation: they were inspired by Sempé’s drawings for the “New Yorker”, using classical cinematographic effects like shadow and light, where fresh primary colours dominate. For Nicholas’ world, which was originally black-and-white in the newspapers, the aesthetic is more washed out and sparse, water colours underlining the lyrical components.

Sometimes over-sentimental, and uneven in structure: the parallel narratives do not always mesh together, but the symbolism is still very persuasive, emotional loss can never be fully reconstructed in any art form. Little Nicholas is a testament to art surviving all. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | Special Screenings 2022

Burning Days (2022) Un Certain Regard

Wri/Dir: Emin Alper | Turkey, Thriller 129′

Emin Alper made his debut with Beyond the Hill, a searing thriller centred on a family holiday. A decade later and Burning Days, playing in Un Certain Regard, seethes with the same savage sense of dread as genre thriller Frenzy (2015), taking us deep into southern Turkey it tackles poverty, corruption and homophobia in a close-knit village of Yaniklar, dominated by its authoritarian mayor.

Emre (Selahattin Paşali), a clean-cut young prosecutor, represents the progressive city-dwelling face of modern Turkey, arriving from Ankara to bring order, respect and social justice to the chaos of the traditional, populist movement that thrives on corruption and nepotism in the rural backwater.

The sound of gunfire greets him as a slaughtered wild boar is dragging its bloody entrails through the streets. A drought had caused vast sink holes to open up in the desert wasteland beyond the town, not to mention a plague of rats. But Emre faces a far more serious issue in this seedy community, that of homophobia, when he forms a bond with Murat (Ekin Koc) the owner of the local newspaper.

Once again Alper generates a creeping feeling of dread and genuine fear for his earnest, upstanding central character who soon finds out the mayor’s influence overrides law and order using the microcosm of the Yaniklar to thoroughly explore Turkey’s modern malaise in an absorbing and visually striking arthouse parable. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | UN CERTAIN REGARD

 

Holy Spider (2022) Cannes Film Festival

Dir: Ali Abassi | Cast: Zar Amir-Ebrahimi, Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Hedi Bejastani, Arash Ashtiani | Thriller 114′

Border was a surreal gender bender fantasy set in Sweden. This time around Ali Abassi returns to his native Iran blending true crime and salient social comment with a scuzzy serial killer thriller that unfolds in the Islamic pilgrimage town of Mashhad, where millions come to worship at the shrine of Imam Reza .

This is where middle-aged Saeed Hanaei (Bajestani), a dedicated family man and construction worker, murdered sex workers at the turn of this century before being trapped by a tenacious female journalist who nearly lost her own life in the process as she wades through the mire of a chauvinistic society fighting off advances from an incredulous policeman to convince an unscrupulous judge.

Holy Spider sets off in the sordid backstreets of the city (filmed in Amman) where it follows ex Iran-Iraq war veteran Saeed as he picks off his victims on a motorcycle, riding them back to a squalid basement where he strangles the women with their own hijabs, earning him the name of ‘Spider Killer’.

Tehran-based journalist Rahimi (Zar Amir Ebrahimi), arrives in town determined to track Saeed down, and will stop at nothing, not least the misogyny of the police and local authorities, who undervalue women and particularly ‘loose’ women, to bring him to justice. And her ongoing investigation exposes the wider implications of these murders in a society that holds men and marriage in high regard. And Saeed truly believes he is doing a service to Islam in ridding his community of these ‘low life’ women who are seen as no more than vermin on the streets of the city.

Border was mesmerising in its zinging Nordic setting but Holy Spider an is an exotic neon nightmare, Nadim Carlsen’s intimate close-ups gripping us by the throat in experiencing the strangulations for ourselves: the twisted purple lips, the bloodshot eyes, and bruised bodies, the sordid salaciousness of it all. A droning electronic soundscape from Lajos Wienkamp-Marques escalates the tension, feeding every fear engendered by the wickedness of this anti-female annihilation.

As Rahimi pursues the murderer she is beset on every side by negative forces aiming to discredit her in a narrative that persuades us that this task is a not just about exposing the truth but managing the lies and the wide-held belief amongst Saeed’s family and supporters that he is righteous in his crusade to wipe out junkies and prostitutes. And the suspense needles on until the final horrifying moments. MT

CANNE FILM FESTIVAL | BEST ACTRESS WINNER (Zar Amir Ebrahimi)

 

 

R.M.N. (2022) Cannes Film Festival

Dir/Wri: Cristian Mungiu | Cast: Marin Girgore, Judith State, Macrina Baladeanu, Orolya Moldovan, Andrei Finti, Mark Blenyesi, Ovidiu Crisan | Drama 125′

A young Romanian boy has a nasty experience in the woods on his way to school one morning and this echoes the widespread social unrest in the Romanian village where he lives with his family.

Not quite as richly satisfying as his earlier fare, Cristian Mungiu unloads a truckload of issues in his latest Cannes Palme d’Or hopeful, a dour drama that unfolds in the multicultural region of Transylvania, once home to Dracula but now to the equally unsetting evil of racial tension and political dysfunction, both at home and further afield.  .

R.M.N is another rather time indulgent drama – and there a quite a few in this year’s Cannes competition. It casts a slow-burn gaze over one of the last countries to join the EU through a group of diverse characters trying to make the best of things. Amongst them is the rather intractable Matthias (Marin Grigore) whose bad time in Germany has brought him back to the family fold in his birthplace of Recia, where he joins his estranged wife Ana (Baladeanu), young son Rudi ((Blenyesi), who has not spoken since the forest interlude, and an ageing father Papa Otto (Fini). Matthias is also attempting to rekindle a relationship with Hungarian-speaking Csilla (Judith State), a musician who runs the local bakery where she is managing two new employees from Sri Lanka whose arrival has caused ructions in the local community, along with Matthias’ reappearance in town, in the run up to Christmas.

Once again the mountains provide a dour but scenic backdrop on the widescreen, and this allows for many scenes to play out uncut including one revealing scene where the locals air their racial musings in one uninterrupted static sequence. An impromptu concert provides a welcome burst of Christmas spirit that adds light relief to the simmering tensions of village life. Once again Mungiu provides an engaging contemporary snapshot of his changing homeland but it feels like a film we have already seen before. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | IN COMPETITON.

The Mountain (2022) Directors’ Fortnight 2022

Dir.: Thomas Salvador; Cast: Thomas Salvador, Louise Bourgoin, Laurent Poitrenaux, Martine Chevallier, Andanic Mavet, Adam Pouilhe; France 2022, 116 min.

Mountains loom large in this year’s Cannes Film Festival and this sophomore feature from French director/co-writer Thomas Salvador (Vincent), who also stars, is a supernatural love story with eco undertones. Another feature exploring the power of psychogeography on the human soul it contrasts the vulnerability of its almost wordless characters with the perilous Alpine peaks of Chamonix.

The glaciers are captured with verve by DoP Alexis Kavyrchine. Aesthetically the film is an homage to the German “Bergfilme” of the 1920/30s. The film also bears a striking similarity with its eco-surreality to Julian Polsler’s memorable feature The Wall (2012) starring Martina Gedeck.

Parisian robot designer Pierre (Salvador) is meeting his business team in Chamonix, but instead of going back to the capital, he makes the rather reckless decision to embark on a climbing expedition intoxicated by the vertiginous scenery and clear air. Inviting his family to join him, he organises provisions for his stay. His mother (Chevallier) is anxious, his brother Marc (Poitrenaus) angry, but his younger sibling Julien (Mavet) just wants him to have a good time. He also connects with Lea (Bourgoin), the chef of an alpine restaurant .

The effects of climate change have profoundly altered the glaciers, literally ungluing their icy particles, and Pierre manages to catch one of them with his hand causing his right arm to glow with an x-ray like effect, and sucking him into the rocks with intriguing consequences, transforming him from nerdish robot engineer to mountain saviour.

Léa’s past is also enigmatic: she has travelled the world, only to come home again. Both Pierre and Léa are somehow other-wordily, very much in contrast to Pierre’s work colleges and his bickering family. Beguiling and beautifully soothing, The Mountain pulls us slowly under its spell. Radical in its implications, the feature retains its ambiguity, and for once the two hour plus running time is justified. MT

DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Triangle of Sadness (2022) Winner Palme D’Or

Dir: Ruben Ostlund | Cast: Charlbi Dean, Vicki Berlin, Henrik Dorsin, Zlatko Burić, Jean-Christophe Folly, Iris Berben, Dolly De Leon, Sunnyi Melles | Drama, 144′

All you worst fears about luxury cruising will be confirmed in this savage satire from the Swedish director Ruben Ostlund whose disconcerting film The Square won the Palme d’Or five years ago with its lacerating look at the art world. The gloves are off with this louche and lurid takedown of capitalism and communism, social influencers, the idle rich, and the fashion business. There is no finesse here but there are laughs aplenty. In fact, no one escapes Ostlund’s snide-tongued first film in the English language. The simple statement here is that life is not fair.

The triangle of sadness is known in the model business as the frowny bit between forehead and the bridge of the nose. It’s not a good look on the catwalk. And this is where we first meet vapid model Carl (Dickinson) whose self-satisfied social influencer girlfriend Yaya (Charlby Dean) has won them a break on a luxury cruise. The two bicker endlessly over the restaurant bill the night before: they both want to be equal but their canny taxi driver gives sappy Carl a savvy word of warning on the way back to the hotel: “be careful, once she has all the power it’s over”.

The cruise throws up all the rich, unsavoury characters you care to imagine. And throwing up is very much the name of the game once the ship enters stormy waters: literally and metaphorically, under the captaincy of Woody Harrelson’ Marxist-leaning Master. Soon our motley crew are washed up on a desert island with nothing but their human wiles to sustain them. And naturally this sorts the men from the boys, the women coming out on top. An ability to fish and kindle a fire comes in handy for the Filippino ‘toilet manager’ (Dolly De Leon) who now rules the roost, a social switcheroo along the lines of ‘in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”. Trading favours – sexual and financial – with the survivors understand’s human behaviour despite her hitherto lowly social position. There’s no prize here for guessing who she selects to sleep with her in the nighttime privacy of the shore-marooned lifeboat. But a trek into the mountains with Yaya will turn the tables once again and the Filipino cleaner much make the most of her place in the sun.

With its crass churlishness and whip smart scenes of political and social debate Triangle Of Sadness reaffirms the sad truth: that men and women are all beasts when reduced to lowest common denominator. It’s a dog eat dog world out there whoever you are, and especially if you’re a donkey. Go figure. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | PALME D’OR WINNER 2022

The Night of the 12th (2022)

Dir: Dominik Moll | Cast: Bastien Bouillon, Bouli Lanners, Théo Cholbi, Johann Dionnet, Thibaut Evrard, Julien Frison, Paul Jeanson, Mouna Soulam, Pauline Serieys, Anouk Grinberg, Lula Cotton Frapier | Thriller 114′

Dominik Moll’s memorable arthouse drama goes to intriguing places with a realistic and richly crafted narrative more focused on the moods and motivations of its authentic characters that the whodunnit at its core. Even though The Night of the 12 is an inconclusive crime drama it leaves you with a feeling of calm satisfaction rather than jangled nerves.

On the way home from a girls’ get together Clara (Lula Cotton Frapier) is.torched to death in an otherwise peaceful village in the suburbs of Grenoble. An extensive police investigation fails to flush out her murderer but in the process we are introduced to the local French detectives Bastien Bouillon (Yohan) and Bouli Lanners (Marceau) playing a rookie and hardened duo whose personal lives add valuable insight to the police procedural by exploring the wider implications of this violent murder in the context of contemporary attitudes towards women in France.

Moll and his regular co-writer Gilles Marchand base their script on an a section of Pauline Guéna’s essay novel, 18.3 – ‘Une année à la PJ, Paris’ that deals with this real crime but translocates the action to southeastern France. The remoteness of the mountain setting thrusts our focus onto the intense exchanges between Marceau and Yohan, and adds a scenic allure to the internal scenes of the police procedural with its acerbic macho observations of modern life and the eternal ongoing conflict between the sexes.

Marceau, whose wife has just left him, is increasingly disenchanted by the modern world; the lack of romanticism and culture amongst the young, and their glib attitude towards relationships. This spills over onto his dealings with the various suspects, and he eventually retires from the case. But Yohan is the most mesmerising of the two; a deep thinker quietly fascinated by his work and the people he comes into contact with especially his new colleague Nadia (Soualem) who brings her female gaze to the investigation:”men are often the perpetrators and women the targets” and the local judiciary judge, Anouk Grinberg, sublime in a cameo role. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | SPECIAL SCREENINGS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corsage (2022) Un Certain Regard 2022

Dir: Marie Kreutzer | Drama, Austria 115′

In her fifth feature Austrian auteuse Marie Kreutzer plays fast and loose with the memory of Empress Elisabeth of Austria in an entertaining and sumptuously realised film about the curse of beauty for a woman no longer in the flush of youth who still wants to be valued for her other talents.

Corsage blends tradition with contemporary touches, very much along the lines of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, and lightly underpinned here by political references to the newly created Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Elisabeth, a fantastically theatrical creature – according to records – is played by a gracefully spunky Vicki Krieps. In modern terms she only just reached her prime, but back in the 1870s being forty was deemed ‘over the hill’. Kreutzer points at a regal middle age crisis for a woman who has been worshipped for her beauty and now feels distinctly undervalued and redundant with only her charity work, dogs and horses to keep her entertained. During a winter sojourn in Northamptonshire – an inspired choice – she flirts with a stable boy but returns minus her favourite black steed who is  killed in an accident. Elisabeth takes to her bed, unconsolable.

In the dilapidated grandeur of the palace a rigid diet of finely sliced oranges and black tea keeps her in impeccable shape, further assisted by waist-nipping corsetry. But she is hungry for love and affection and regularly visits the local mental asylum to commiserate with the deranged women chained to their beds. And when her husband the Emperor Franz Joseph (Florian Teichtmeister) offers ‘anything her heart desires’, she requests a bengal tiger or an extension to the asylum facilities. A stunningly realised drama with flashes of wit and modern music choices and another tour de force from the lovely Luxembourgeoise actor Vicki Krieps. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | UN CERTAIN REGARD 2022

 

Tchaikovsky’s Wife (2022) Cannes Film Festival

Dir: Kirill Serebrennikov | Cast: Alyona Mikhailova, Odin Lund Biron, Yuliya Org, Miron Federov | Biopic Drama 143′

Best known for his multi-award winning feature debut The Student, the exiled Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov – who was last in Cannes with Petrov’s Flu – continues to blaze a trail with another inspired biopic drama – a first to explore the turbulent, sexless relationship between the  19th century Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky from the perspective of his wife Antonina Miliukova in Moscow in the late 1870s.

It appears that Tchaikovsky was in fact a homosexual and that the innocent Antonina was oblivious to the fact: in her diaries she supposedly wrote: “Thank God he belongs to me and no-one else. Now he is my husband and no-one can take him away from me”. But Tchaikovsky cannot tolerate life ‘a deux’, and especially with a woman whose quite normal nubile demands eventually drive him away. And although our sympathies are with Antonina we are not oblivious to her faults which clearly go beyond religious insistence and eventually become tiresome in the final stages.

Those expecting a sweeping epic filled with vast tracks of the composer’s romantic music will be disappointed.True to its title Tchaikovsky’s Wife is first and foremost a lavish and lyrical but often cold-eyed portrait of obsessional and misguided love, it also touches on the prickliness of an artist trying to develop his talent, but in this respect it is less successful.

Enriched by modern dance sequences, inventive camera angles and occasional flashes of Tarkovsky, each frame is a painterly portrait straight out of Manet, or Berthe Morisot with the delicate detailing of Ingres before the tone grows more sombre and louche with scuzzy naked sequences featuring well-hung studs, inspired by Tom of Finland staged in an rather misogynist attempt to excite the young woman and lure her away from her husband.

We first meet Antonina Miliukova in 1877 as a tender young woman of fortune tentatively seeking a husband and lovestruck by her first sighting of the struggling composer. Fifteen years later she is reduced to a poverty ridden emotional wreck unable to accept that her marriage has irretrievably broken down and her affair with the divorce lawyer has turned abusive.

What starts as hopeful story of triumph over expectations, after the couple’s marriage of convenience, soon descends into a tragedy of melodramatic proportions when Miliukova’s promise of family wealth comes to nothing and Tchaikovsky is unable to countenance having a relationship with anyone but his own genius. The final scenes play out as a tragedy Miliukova having become a caricature of herself having lost her three children but determined not to relinquish the unique status of being the wife of a man who would eventually become one of the world’s most legendary composers. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | IN COMPETITION 2022

The Eight Mountains (2022) Cannes Film Festival

Dir: Charlotte Vandermeersch, Felix Van Groeningen | Cast: Alessandro Borghi, Luca Marinelli, Filippo Time, Elena Lietti | Belgium, Drama 147′

The Eight Mountains celebrates a lyrical connection with nature through the lifelong bond between two boys who grow up in a tiny mountain village in Italy, one a holidaymaker the other a permanent resident.

Felix Van Groeningen, best known for The Broken Circle Breakdown and his partner Charlotte Vandermeersch stick faithfully to Paolo Cognetti’s popular 2016 novel in a buddy movie that is gently appealing but fails to soar above its literary origins, and a narrative arc that ultimately lacks enough dramatic peaks and valleys to keep the audience engaged throughout its epic running time.

Luca Marinelli and Alessandro Borghi make for convincing chums who will stay tightly bound together through this early connection as they make their way in life from preteenagers in 1984 right through to their thirties. Pietro (Barbiero/Marinelli from Martin Eden) goes by the name of Berio, and is from a middle-class background – his mother a teacher, his father an engineer possibly at the Fiat factory in Turin. Bruno is a real ‘montanaro’ or mountain dweller – one of the remaining 14 inhabitants of their tiny village, his father has left for pastures new in the building industry leaving him with an uncle on the family smallholding where they make a living from dairy cows.

The mountains are a strong presence but never overwhelm this intimate character drama shot on 4:3 aspect ratio, with the psychogeography of the settings influencing the boys’ choices as they grow up: Glimpses of Pietro’s pokey family flat in rain-soaked Turin are the reason why he suffers early depression and is determined not to follow in his father’s footsteps. But Bruno can never imagine straying from his alpine home and the paths they both follow will ultimately lead to their their respective destinies.

Old friends always pick up where they left off, and Pietro and Bruno’s easy rapport is one of the triumphs of this drama that proceeds at a snail’s pace. A mountain trek provides one of the few moments of tension, when Pietro’s father Giovanni (Timi) attempts to lead the boys across a mountain crevasse. But a plan to finance Bruno’s education back to Turin never materialises and the two will not meet again for 15 years when Pietro inherits a ramshackle chalet high in the mountainside. The rebuilding project will once again cement their lowkey but solid relationship before Pietro becomes a published travel author in Nepal and Bruno attempts to run a mountain pasture business.

The Eight Mountains is a sombre drama weighed now by a droning occasional score of American folk music that occasionally hints at a much needed plot twist that never actually happens. The boys will both develop romantic attachments, but the joy here is in their brotherly tenderness that makes this mildly enjoyable along with the magnificent Alpine mountain-scapes seen through the changing seasons. MT

IN COMPETITION | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

 

 

 

 

Armageddon Time (2022) Cannes Film Festival

Dir: James Gray | Cast: Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Strong, Domenick Lombardozzi | US Thriller, 115′

Anthony Hopkins and Anne Hathaway star in this coming of age story about growing up in Queens in the 1980s, But they cannot save a rather bland, sentimental drama that feels overlong and underwhelming, competing here in the main competition line-up here in Cannes.

Gray is no stranger to the Cannes Film Festival. In fact the American director has been nominated four times for the coveted Palme d’Or: in 2000 with The Yards; in 2007 with We Own the Night; a year later with The Lovers. His last appearance on the Croisette was with The Immigrant in 2013, but for the first time his regular collaborator Joaquin Phoenix does not have a role.

Armageddon Times certainly seems flaccid and artificial when you think of Scorsese’s gutsy, kinetic New York urban dramas such as Goodfellas. This tale of a working class Jewish family – the Graffs – trying to fit in is certainly no kickass affair despite some violent moments at home and in the classroom. The plot lines are predictable, and references to the Holocaust are a hollow echo of much more moving dramas on the subject of antisemitism. The oblique references to the local influential Trump family feel like cheap point-scoring with intentionally unlikeable cameo roles from John Diehl as Donald Trump’s father Fred, and Jessica Chastain as the hard-faced US judge Maryanne Trump, along with the fact that the Graff family hail originally from Ukraine.

The youngest boy Paul (Banks Repeta) is possibly an autobiographical portrait of the young James Grey – unruly, artistic and at odds with the rest of the striving family, particularly his hot-headed father (Jeremy Strong), he only connects with his grandfather Aaron (Hopkins) who will finance his private education after a few dust-ups at the local ‘comprehensive’ with his black friend Johnny ending up taking the rap. Celebrated cinematographer Darius Khondji tries to lift Armageddon out of the torpid settings but all and all this is a pale rider in contrast with Gray’s previous Cannes feature, the space-hopping Ad Astra (2019). MT

IN COMPETITION | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

1976 (2022) Directors’ Fortnight 2022

Dir.: Manuela Martelli; Cast: Aline Kuppenheim, Nicolas Sepulveda, Hugo Medina, Alejandro Goic, Carmen Gloria Martinez, Gabriel Urzua; Vilma Verdejo, Yasna Ríos; Chile 2022, 97 min.

Another classically styled arthouse drama taking us back to the turbulent 1970s in Latin America seen through the eyes of a well to do Santiago woman, under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet Ugarte.

1976 is a first feature for Chilean director/co-writer Manuela Martelli who works with a predominantly female crew and seasoned actress Aline Kuppenheim (A Fantastic Woman) who gives a sensitive performance in this lowkey but thematically vibrant domestic drama as 49 year old Carmen.

Carmen is redecorating the family’s holiday home near the beach in time for the season. As she chooses paint for the walls the sound of gunshot is clearly audible in the nearby street. Back at the house, she meets the local priest Father Sanchez (Medina) who has been involving her in various charity efforts, and his latest suggestion is that she takes in a young homeless man called Elias (Sepulveda).

Elias has been classified as a fugitive from Pinochet’s ‘Secret Police’, and is currently sheltering in one of the out-houses. He seems mild-mannered enough although in need of medical attention for a bullet in his thigh. Carmen always wanted to be a doctor but her father would not allow her to follow in his path, but somehow Elias brings out her caring side, and her recent Red Cross stint certainly comes in handy to took after the young man.

Father Sanchez later reveals that Elias was put in charge of two children after the Pinochet putsch, but that he panicked and became traumatised when they were later murdered. Carmen’s three grandchildren arrive with their mother and the rest of the family, the kids complaining that their favourite TV programme has been interrupted by a broadcast from Pinochet, adds further context. During all this, Carmen looks after Elias, tending to his bullet wound, soon finding herself assisting Elias is some of his underground work. She meets Silvia (Ríos), a fellow conspirator who gives her the code name “Cleopatra”, and sets up a meeting with another link in the resistance chain, who want to spirit Elias away.

Carmen’s husband Miguel, a doctor in Santiago, arrives at the house, much more interested in his college Osvaldo, who has chosen Miguel (Goic) to “re-organise” the hospital where one of the doctors has already fled the country. But when a young girl is found dead near the beach, and the writing is on the wall. Carmen’s next rendezvous with a parish priest does not go according to plan, and she is followed in her car which is later ransacked. Carmen knows she is living on borrowed time, and her maid Julita (Verdejo) soon confirms Carmen worst fears in a rather spooky scene at dusk. Will Carmen’s status and marriage save her?

The main thrust of the narrative is the developing relationship between Elias and Carmen. Keeping her distance at first, and seeing Elias as just another charge to take care for father Sanchez. But somehow, the memory of her thwarted career, and the negligence and nagging by her husband, who seems to see her as a ‘trophy’ to show her off to family and friends, changes the dynamic between them. The tipping point for Carmen is another dig by Miguel, for wearing a dress showing off her figure: Carmen cuts the dress to pieces, but also ends all emotional ties to her status. She asks Elias jokingly, if she will be remembered after the downfall of the Pinochet regime, and he claims a hospital will be named after her. But Elias is also aware of the danger for Carmen: “Tell them, that you never saw me, that you did not know my name. They will believe you”.

DoP Yarará Rodgriguez lets the camera glide over the beautiful coastal landscape, but his close-ups of Carmen are equally impressive, marking all the changes she going through: she is anything but a dutiful member of the underground: thanks to Father Sanchez, she has stumbled into something much more dangerous than she can imagine, but she also has a point to prove: her resistance is personal, disobeying her husband and all he believes in, has become her tool for resistance. Aline Kuppenheim is brilliant as Carmen, and the ensemble cast is also equal to the task. 1976 is a small gem, made on a mini-budget it brings together the personal and he political in a subversive way. Maria Portugal’s mournful score very much underlines the lyrical aspects of the narrative. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | CANNES PREMIERES 2022

The Blue Caftan (2022) Un Certain Regard

Dir/Wri: Maryam Touzani | Cast: Saleh Bakri, Lubna Azabal, Ayoub Messioui | Drama 118′

The ancient craft of caftan styling is at the heart of Maryam Touzani’s sophomore feature, a slow-burning sensuous Magrebi menage a trois competing in the this year’s Un Certain Regard sidebar at Cannes Film Festival. 

Halim (Bakri) and Mina (Azabal) run a traditional caftan atelier in one of Morocco’s oldest medinas. Fashions are constantly changing and the married couple are aware of a need to cater for a more demanding clientele. But their decision to take on a new apprentice (Messioui) will have intriguing consequences for the business and their own relationship. Saleh Bakri and Lubna Azabal have a mesmerising chemistry as the couple at the centre of the story, but Messioui is also captivating in his feature debut performance as the gifted but impetuous young apprentice very much in tune with modern sensibilities.

The Blue Caftan is a drama as indulgent and intricately woven as the silky garments themselves. Touzani’s first feature Adam focused on love in a Casablanca bakery and this is another domestic tale of local craftsman that speaks to tradition while keeping pace with the modern world. Esentially a three-handed chamber piece the film occasionally ventures out into the sunbaked streets and hazy hammams of its coastal location, Touzani delicately teasing out her layered character study that will reveal a subtle love story that works both as a gay awakening piece and a testament to enduring marital love. And apart from the meticulous lensing the clever premise is why this sumptuous drama is so enjoyable, albeit a little over-wrought – like the old-fashioned caftans themselves – in the final heart-rending scenes. MT

UN CERTAIN REGARD | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2022

 

Esterno, Notte (2022) Cannes Film Festival – Special Screening

Dir/Wri: Marco Bellocchio | Cast: Margherita Buy, Fabrizio Gifuni, Toni Servillo, Fausto Russo Alesi, Daniela Mara, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio | Italy, Drama, 5hours

After Good Morning, Night, seasoned Italian director Marco Bellocchio turns his camera on the kidnapping and murder of Italian statesman Aldo Moro, experimenting for the first time with a broad-based serial narrative form to approach the multiple points of view of the main proponents and victims of that tragic period in Italian history.

A dour and classically styled political epic Esterno, Notte, unfolds in the tense and turbulent climate of 1978, in an Italy divided by civil war. The infamous Red Brigades, the principal armed organisation of the extreme left are locked in a battle with the State, and the narrative unfolds from the perspective of two RB partners in crime Valerio Morucci (Montesi) and Adriana Faranda (Marra) who are also lovers. After a brief domestic vignette that flips back to March 1976 the action moves onto the beach for a showcase shoot-out, the Red Brigades giving us an example of their ferocious firepower. Street violence, kidnappings, kneecappings, gunfights and murder attempts will erupt on the wide screen while behind closed doors intense internecine discussions offer insight.

Rich industrialists and their families are being tormented by kidnappings. For the first time in a country of the Western bloc, a government backed by the Communist Party (PCI) was about to take office in an epoch-making alliance with the historic conservative bulwark of the Nation: The Christian Democratic Party (DC).

Meanwhile Aldo Moro, the President of the DC (here played gamely by Fabrizio Gifuni) is the main proponent of the agreement marking a decisive step in the mutual recognition between Italys main parties. On 16 March 1978, on his way to Parliament Aldo Moro is kidnapped after an ambush in which his entire police escort is massacred. It was a direct attack on the heart of the State. His imprisonment would last 55 days, marked by Moros letters and the communiqués of the Red Brigades: 55 days of hopes, fears, negotiations, failures, good intentions and bad moves. 55 days at the end of which his body was abandoned in a car in the centre of Rome, halfway between the headquarters of the two Parties, the DC and the PCI. This is a comprehensive and highly intelligent piece of filmmaking that will resonate with those who lived through the era and offer newcomers a valuable testament to an episode of nation’s gritty past.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | SPECIAL SCREENING

Return to Seoul (2022) Un Certain Regard

Wri/Dir: Davy Chou | Drama, 115′

French Cambodian director Davy Chou has made a name for himself with his unique cinematic gaze on Cambodia and its people. His graceful prize-winning feature debut Golden Slumbers reminisced on Cambodian cinema from the 1960s to the mid 1970s.

But his latest, a drama with the apt title Return to Seoul is an obtuse look at cultural identity seen through the eyes of its main character, a twenty five year old French woman who returns to her native South Korea to track down her birth mother.

From the start you are not going to like Freddie (Ji-Min Park). Flouncing into a bar in downtown Seoul she flirts outrageously with a Korean guy who then makes romantic overtures, only to be told, point blank, that she already has boyfriend ‘back home’ in Paris. Arrogant and extremely pleased with herself, on the face of it, she then tells another lover who has selflessly accompanied her back to Seoul for one of her business meetings, later in the film, that “she could erase him from her life at any minute”.

Of course all this hides a deep emotional wound at her core: inflicted by a biological mother who first abandons her as a baby in a Seoul orphanage, and then declines to meet her when she painstakingly tracks her down via the Seoul orphanage where she was given up.

Told in a series of off-kilter episodes tracking her life from that first meeting in the bar, until her early thirties, the film is full of awkward characters that are neither appealing nor relatable, the exception being a French businessman (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) who turns from lover to employer, All the People is a brave but not always successful attempt to explore the complexities of forging ahead with meaningful personal and romantic relationships when your heart has been shattered at birth. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | UN CERTAIN REGARD 2022

The Water (2022) Directors’ Fortnight 2022

Dir: Elena Lopez Riera | Cast: Barbara Lennie, Nieve de Medina, Luna Palmies, Alberto Olmo | France, Spain, Switzerland | Drama, 104′

In a small village in south-eastern Spain legend has it that certain women are destined to disappear when the river bursts its banks during the summer storms. And this popular myth forms an intriguing premise for first time filmmaker Elena Lopez Riera, whose fantasy drama The Water screens in this year’s Directors’ Fortnight.

In the sultry heat of summer evenings the riverbank would be a perfect place to hang out if only it wasn’t for the foul stench of the water which has almost become a joke for the local teenagers who find the best way to ignore is by chain-smoking, flirting and dancing the night away. The unusual phenomenon is then explores through the love affair of Ana (Pamies) and José (Olmo) fall for each other in the intoxicating atmosphere leading up to the storm. Their lust for each other connects with the female myth that has been past on by other women in the village particularly Ana’s mother (Nieve de Medina) and her grandmother, who shares some naughty memories of her own antics as a newly married woman.

Lopez Riera skillfully combines interviews with other local women and aerial footage of the flooded village from the archives and deftly interweaves these to create a visually alluring and thought-provoking fantasy drama based on anecdotal evidence. The Water is an inventive ethnographical portrait of modern Spain that fuses reality and folklore into an impressive arthouse drama. MT

SCREENING DURING DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT 2022

Harka (2022) Un Certain Regard

Dir: Lofty Nathan | Cast: Adam Bessa, Najib Allagui, Salima Maatoug, Iqbal Harbi | 90′

French Tunisian actor Adam Bessa gives one of the most powerful performances of the festival so far as a young man dreaming of a better life but ground down by frustration and poverty in a Tunisia still down on its knees in the aftermath to the Arab Spring.

Making its world premiere at Cannes Un Certain Regard, Harka is the feature debut of US Egyptian filmmaker Lofty Nathan (12 O’Clock Boys) who won the Red Sea Souk Award at Saudi Arabia’s inaugural Red Sea Film Festival in December 2021.

Ali is making a pittance by selling gasoline, when his dreams of migrating to Europe are shattered by the news of his estranged father’s death from cancer. His two younger sisters are now entirely his responsible as his elder brother has since moved his own family to the tourist resort of Hammamet to run a restaurant. But there’s a sting in the tail when he discovers his father’s unpaid debts will mean losing the family home. 

The dust, heat and grime are potently palpable elements here along with police corruption and government bureaucracy, making it hard for the poor and semi illiterate Ali to make a living from anything but hand to mouth grifting with his illegal contraband activities. Ali fails in an attempt to take up his father’s old job at the local government offices. He then tries his hand at another black market endeavour that proves highly lucrative until the police catch up with him. Nathan keeps us engaged in a well-paced arthouse gem that plays out like a thriller with a strong dramatic arc, and although Ali is not a particularly likeable character, we feel for him in his plight. 

With his mental health at rock bottom Ali is prone to violent outbursts, darting hostile glances of savage mistrust at anyone close to him but (like the Kray Twins) reserving a tacit respect for his sisters whom he still cherishes, even buying the youngest a puppy in scenes that provide tender relief from the gritty social realism of a film that dwells on the social and political ills of a North African nation divided by wealth and abject poverty, the current affairs overhead in the coffee bars as men gather to shoot the breeze. But despite the overarching tone of anxiety and often brutal violence Tunisia’s arid landscape, vibrant colours and break-taking coastlines captured in Maximilian Pinter’s artful framing and camerawork make this a striking and emotionally moving first feature. MT

UN CERTAIN REGARD | CANNES 2022

Dalva (2022) Semaine de la Critique

Dir: Emmanuelle Nicot; Cast: Zelda Samson, Alexis Manenti, Fanta Guirassi, Sandrine Blancke, Jean-Louis Coulloc’h; Belgium/France 2022, 85 min.

Emmanuelle Nicot wrote and directed this audacious first feature about a sensitive twelve-year old girl, the titular Dalva (Sansom), who has been sexually groomed by her incestuous father, the two sharing an intimate and outwardly loving relationship, more like lovers rather than father and daughter.

Nicot’s skills as a casting agent are key to her successful drama: Samson is totally convincing in the role of the outwardly shy and vulnerable young girl who has the assured gracefulness of a Geisha girl, knowing how to play every man she meets. Dressed titillatingly in lacy black dresses, drop earrings and stockings, she has clearly been a target for paedophile clients and the film’s violent opening scenes witness her being forcefully separated from her father (Coulloc’h) who has literally kept her to himself, moving rapidly from place to place, to escape the authorities, and her mother (Blancke).

She arrives, kicking and screaming, at the foyer for vulnerable females demanding to be re-united with her father. When she is told by her new carer Jayden (Manenti) that he abused her sexually, she claims: “But I never said no”. Isolated from the other girls, she tries several times to escape, and these scenes picture her negotiating walls in slinky evening dress. Brought back to the home, she befriends Samia (first timer Guirassi) who has been raised by a negligent sex-worker mother, the two offering each other complementary tips on how to survive the rough and tumble of the institution.

But Dalva has not given up the idea of seeing her father again, and she tries to manipulate Jayden with inappropriate sexual overtures, trying to seduce him into being a second father figure. Finally, the authorities give in, and Dalva is allowed to visit her father in jail, accompanied by Jayden. In a moving vignette, her father admits to being a paedophile abuser, destroying Dalva’s world for good.

Nicot directs with assurance, guiding Samson through the often upsetting confrontations. DoP Caroline Guimbal captures the ‘female gaze’ with her delicate images of Dalva’s interpretation of mature womanhood, keeping to the role her father has groomed her for, to perfection. It’s a performance within a performance. The close-ups of Dalva are particularly evocative, Samson has that rare ability of conveying strong emotion without over-acting, quite an achievement for one so young.

But Nicot is also honest enough to show the reasons for Dalva’s insistence at being a “wife” to her father, who is acting out against her mother, still frantically searching for Dalva. This portrait of evil shows a father poisoning his daughter against his ex-wife in allowing Dalva to believe she has succeeded in replacing her mother – just to make her even more malleable to his illicit intentions. Dalva takes the audience on a strange psychological journey: the long and painful way back to girlhood, after the enforced role of being an ‘adult’ sex object. Passionate, provocative and brilliantly executed.

SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE | 17-28 May 2022

La Jauria | The Pack (2022) Semaine de la Critique

Dir/Wri: Andres Ramirez Pulido | Cast: Jhojan Estiven Jimenez, Maicol Andres Jimenez, Miguel Viera | Drama, Colombia France | 86′

Latin American directors continue to mine their turbulent history – past and present – in this thundering thriller that takes place deep in the Colombian tropical forest.

Premiering in Semaine de la Critique La Jauria is a confident debut from first time filmmaker Andres Ramirez Pulido who has fleshed out the ideas from his Palme d’Or nominated short film Damiana (2017) into a story crime story with a subtly redemptive twist.

Eliu (E.Jimenez) is serving time in an experimental hacienda-style young offenders institution for crimes he committed with his friend El Mono (M Jimenez), a recovering drug addict. The petty criminals are supervised by para-military forces under the control of Godoy (Rincon), an elderly ex-offender who practises obscure breathing exercises, believing the therapy will cure the men of the evil spirits possessing them.

The arrival of El Mono changes the dynamic in the camp and Eliu, who has always hated his father for physically abusing his mother, decides under the influence of drugs and alcohol, to murder him – only to learn later that he and El Mono have killed the wrong person. Worse still, they cannot find the place where they dumped the body in the caves. Meanwhile the police are growing tired of Godoy’s slow and avant-garde methods, and when another inmate Calate ((Vasquez), raises concerns about Godoy’s style of therapy, the punishment meted out to him spins out of control.

DoP Balthazar creates a haunting atmosphere of surreal horror which works particularly well in the night scenes. Working with a cast of mostly non-pros, Pulido ramps up the tension, his poetic realism worthy of the great Fernando Birri. The Pack is a great example of the signature cinematographic language of the South American continent, with the director overcoming the limits of his budget with vision and inspiration. AS

SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2022

 

 

Cannes Classics – 2022 restorations

This year’s Cannes Classics strand opens with Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore in celebrating of its restoration 50 years after shooting began in 1972. The mammoth undertaking runs for over three hours and would later go on to win the Grand de Jury presided by Ingrid Bergmann, and the Prix de la Critique, causing riots back in the 1973. A full retrospective of the director’s work will in slated for 2023 in French cinemas.

Sciuscià | Vittorio de Sica | 1946, 1h33, Italy

Presented by The Film Foundation and Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna. Restored in 4K by The Film Foundation and Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata in association with Orium S.A. Restoration funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation

Thamp (The Circus Tent) | Aravindan Govindan | 1978, 2h09, India

A presentation of Film Heritage Foundation, India. Restored by Film Heritage Foundation, The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, Cineteca di Bologna at Prasad Corporation Pvt. Ltd.’s Post – Studios, Chennai, and L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory, and in association with General Pictures, National Film Archive of India and the family of Aravindan Govindan. Funding provided by Prasad Corporation Pvt. Ltd. and Film Heritage Foundation.

The Trial  | Orson Welles | 1962, 2h, France / Germany / Italy

This restoration was produced in 2022 by STUDIOCANAL and the Cinémathèque Française. The image and sound restoration were done at the Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory (Paris-Bologne), using the original 35mm negative. This project was supervised by STUDIOCANAL, Sophie Boyer and Jean-Pierre Boiget. The restoration was funded thanks to the patronage of Chanel.

If I Were a Spy… | Bertrand Blier | 1967, 1h34, France

Presented by Pathé. 4k restoration, done scanning the original negative film. A project undertaken by the Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory (Paris-Bologne). Restoration funded by the Centre national du cinema et de l’image animée (CNC).

Poil de Carotte | Julien Duvivier | 1932, 1h31, France

A TF1 presentation. New 4K restoration done by TF1 studios, with the backing of CNC, using the original nitrate negative and a combined dupe negative on non-flammable film. Digital and photochemical work done in 2021 by the Hiventy laboratory.

The Last Waltz | Martin Scorsese | 1978, 1h57, USA

MGM Studios’ The Last Waltz (1978) is presented by Park Circus thanks to a new 4K digital restoration from the Criterion Collection, approved by director Martin Scorsese.

Itim | Mike De Leon | 1976, 1h45, Philippines

A Mike De Leon presentation, distributed in France by Carlotta Films. Restoration done using the original 35mm negative and optical soundtrack, stored at the British Film Institute. This presentation is a preview of the French release of Mike De Leon’s entire restored body of work, slated 2022-2023.

Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol | Glauber Rocha  | 1964, 2h, Brazil

Presented by Metropoles.com and Paloma Cinematográfica. Restored from the original 35mm negative preserved at Cinemateca Brasileira and with a brand new 4K restoration by Estudios Cinecolor and Estudios JLS, Cinematographer Luis Abramo/Rogerio Moraes and with the supervision of Rodrigo Mercês.

Sedmikrásky (Daisies)  | Vera Chytilová | 1966, 1h14, Czech Republic

Digital restoration of this film funded by the donation of Mrs. Milada Kučerová and Mr. Eduard Kučera was carried out by Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in collaboration with the Národní filmový archiv, Prague and the Czech Film Fund in UPP and Soundsquare.

Viva la muerte  | Fernando Arrabal | 1971, 1h30, France / Tunisia

Viva la Muerte! was scanned and restored in 4K by the Cinémathèque de Toulouse using the original 35mm image negative, the original 35mm sound negative of the French version, and a 35mm interpositive element containing the end credits missing from the original negative.

Documentaries

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman by Ethan Hawke The Last Movie Stars
Ethan Hawke, episodes 3 and 4 | 1h47, USA

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodwind enjoyed one of the most enduring relationships in Hollywood. Actor, director and producer Ethan Hawke and executive producer Martin Scorsese explore their lives and careers in a captivating, intellectual, and moving documentary. Divided into six chapters the film features Karen Allen, George Clooney, Oscar Isaac, Zoe Kazan, Laura Linney and Sam Rockwell, with archive interviews of Elia Kazan, Sydney Pollock, Paul Newman, who discuss the iconic couple and American cinema. Screened in the presence of Ethan Hawke and Clea Newman Soderlund

Romy, A Free Woman | written by Lucie Cariès and Clémentine Déroudille, Dir: Lucie Cariès | 1h31, France

Romy Schneider was a regular in Competition at Cannes, starting in 1957 with Sissi, and notably with Claude Sautet’s Les Choses de la Vie. This exceptional documentary recounts her illustrious career with passion and dedication.
Screening in the presence of Lucie Cariès and Clémentine Deroudille

Jane Campion, Cinema Woman | Dir: Julie Bertuccelli | 1h38, France

Director Julie Bertuccelli paints Jane Campion’s portrait with great sensitivity, humour and admiration, telling the tale of the first-ever woman to win the Palme d’Or in 1993.
Screening in the presence of Julie Bertuccelli.

Gérard Philipe, le dernier hiver du Cid Dir: Patrick Jeudy, 1h06, France

An adaptation of Jérôme Garcin’s novel Le dernier hiver du cid, this documentary built exclusively on archive footage and a delicate storytelling style celebrates the 100th anniversary of Cannois Gerard Philipe. His memory will flood back to the Croisette through a screening of Fanfan la tulipe.
Screening in the presence of Patrick Jeudy, Jérôme Garcin and Anne-Marie Philipe.

Patrick Dewaere, mon héros (Patrick Dewaere, My Hero) | Dir: Alexandre Moix, 1h30, France

The actress Lola Dewaere chronicles the film career and traumatic life of celebrated actor Patrick Dewaere, the father she never knew, under the watchful eye of director Alexandre Moix.
Screening in the presence of Alexandre Moix and Lola Dewaere.

Hommage d’une fille à son père Dir: Fatou Cissé, 1h11, Mali

Fatou Cissé accompanies her father, Malien director Souleymane Cissé, in a trip through his film career, painting an intimate and poetic picture of one of Africa’s most celebrated actors. Screening in the presence of Fatou Cissé and Souleymane Cissé.

L’Ombre de Goya par Jean-Claude Carrière | Dir:José Luis Lopez-Linares, 1h30, France

A restoration that rediscovers the magical language of the late screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, as he researches the painter Goya. An incredible trip through culture, emotion, cinema, painting and Spain. A French-Hispanic-Portugese coproduction: Screening in the presence of José Luis Lopez Linares.

Tres en la deriva del acto creativo (Three in the Drift of the Creative Act) Fernando Solanas | 1h36, Argentina

Last homage to the great director Fernando Solanas who came many times to the Festival En Competition and two times to Cannes Classics.  .

Screening in the presence of Victoria and Juan Solanas, and Gaspar Noé.

CANNES CLASSICS  | 17-28 May 2022

Cannes Film Festival 2022 – Programme additions

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL will celebrate its 75th Anniversary with a line-up featuring four previous Palme d’Or winning directors, three features by women, and nothing – one again – from the United Kingdom. That said, it’s a glittering programme featuring all the usual suspects plus a few new faces on the block. Tehran born Ali Abbasi was last in Cannes with his darkly dystopian troll fantasy Border, his latest Holy Spider is an Iranian-set religious-themed crime thriller, the detail is still under wraps.

Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi always turns up trumps – either behind the camera or infront of it – here she has her first shot at the main competition directing a drama about the trials and tribulations of pioneering a creative path in life seen through the prism of Nanterre’s famous acting school Les Amandiers. Canada’s David Cronenberg has never won the main prize but bagged the Special Jury prize back in 2004 with his contraversial 1996 thriller CrashCrimes of the Future, starring Viggo Mortensen and Kristen Stewart, will see him return to the Cannes line-up for the 7th time.

The Belgian Dardennes Brothers are now a legend in their own lunchtime with their left-leaning politically charged social dramas and Tori and Lokita is the latest in a long line of Cannes winners that started with Rosetta and The Child winning the main prize in 1999 and 2005 respectively. Claire Denis is arguably one of France’s most successful women filmmakers with a long career spanning back to her first short film in 1971 and continued with stylish arthouse fare such as Beau Travail and more recently sci-fi hit High Life. and comedy Let the Sunshine In both with Juliette Binoche. She has already bagged a Silver Bear at Berlinale this year for her love triangle drama Fire. The Stars at Noon based on a novel by Denis Johnson, is another romantic drama this time set during Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution where Margot Qualley and Joe Alwyn play the leading roles.

Arnaud Desplechin is a classical veteran of CANNES FILM FESTIVAL and made the competition line-up with Deception in 2021 and again with Oh Mercy in 2019. His latest feature will be his seventh attempt to win the coveted Golden Palme: Brother and Sister stars Marion Cotillard and Melville Poupard in a domestic drama that sees the two siblings brought together again at the death of their parents, after a long-standing feud.

A drama about a ballet dancer catapulted Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont to the international recognition as the Camera d’Or winner in 2018. Girl won three awards at Cannes for its delicate depiction of teenage gender dysphoria while Close centres on an intense friendship between two teenage boys. The sparkling Brooklyn set ’80’s thriller We Own the Night was James Grey’s first foray into the competition back in 2007. His fourth entry Armageddon Time takes him back again to New York of the era, and stars Anne Hathaway and Anthony Hopkins in a coming of age story about growing up in Queens.

Broker is another child-centred story from Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-Eda (Like Father, Like Son) his sensitive domestic dramas deal with the intricacies of family dynamics where kids are concerned. Now competing in Cannes for the eighth time, Hirokazu won the Palme d’Or in 2018 for his darkly amusing satire Shoplifters. South Korean star Bae Doona leads in this unusual story that centres on a ‘baby box’ facility where passers by can leave their unwanted children.

Nostalgia, Mario Martone’s follow-up to his biopic of Neopolitan theatre legend Eduardo Scarpetta, is another project co-written by his wife Ippolita Di Majo. He previously competed at Cannes with l‘Amore Molesto back in 1995, based on another novel by Elena Ferrante of The Lost Daughter fame.

Cristian Mungiu – in competition this year with RMN – is known for his hardcore social realist dramas: his 2007 Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days tackled illegal abortion in 1980s Romania, he took a more nuanced approach to a lesbian relationship between two nuns in a convent in Beyond the Hills which won Best Screenplay in 2012.  Contrary to its title, director Ruben Ostlund’s latest Cannes hopeful, Triangle of Sadness, (below) is a dark comedy that sees two models at the crossroads of their career. The Swedish director divided Cannes critics with his ambivalent satire Force Majeure that scooped the Jury Prize at Un Certain Regard in 2015, and the Palme d’Or for The Square two years later. Starring Woody Harrelson and Oliver Ford Davies this promises to be another off-field outing for the provactive filmmaker.

South Korean maverick Park Chan-wook scandalised Cannes audiences with his rebarbative revenge thriller Old Boy seizing the Grand Jury prize back in 2004. He stormed back five years later with a stylish vampire outing Thirst grabbing another Jury Prize. The sensually sumptuous Handmaiden followed in 2016. And this year he is back again going for the jugular (?) with Decision to Leave a detective mystery thriller set in the mountains of South Korea.

2022 is set to be American auteuse Kelly Reichardt’s defining moment: with a feature Showing Up in the main competition line-up – her fourth collaboration with Michelle Williams – and a Special Tribute at this summer’s Locarno Film Festival she is one of the most individual of directors with her richly resonant fare. Set in Portland, Oregon her follow up to First Cow centres on an artist preparing for a life-changing exhibition. Iranian director Saeed Roustaee rose to fame in 2016 with his award-winning debut Life and a Day. His first film in competition is Leila’s Brothers.

Fares Fares (The Nile Hilton Incident) and Mohammad Bakri are the stars of Boy from Heaven Egyptian filmmaker Tarik Salee’s Cannes Festival debut, it sees the death of the main Imam in Cairo’s prestigious university lead to a bitter battle for overall control. Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov won the Francois Chalais award for his impressive 2016 feature The Student  Two years later he was prevented from attending Cannes with Leto, a musical paean to the Leningrad Rock scene of the 1980s that would win the Best Soundtrack Award 2018, and Petrov’s Flu followed in 2021. Abandoning his disgraced homeland, Serebreninikov is now living in Berlin where he wrote and directed his latest lyrical drama Tchaïkovski’s Wife. 

This year’s festival welcomes Polish Greats director Jerzy Skolimovski back into the competition line-up with the enigmatically titled EO. His comedy King, Queen and Knave was in the competition line-up back in 1972, he then took the Grand Jury Prize with Alan Bates starrer The Shout six years later, and won Best Screenplay for Moonlighting in 1982. Success is the Best Revenge went home empty- handed from the competition in 1984, as did his Torrents of Spring five years later. His latest feature, a contemporary adaptation of Robert Bresson’s 1966 cult classic Au hasard Balthazar a road movie that begins in a Polish circus and ends in a slaughter house for its tragic star, a donkey. EO is described in the blurb as “a panopticon of human behaviour towards a defenceless animal, a suggestive picture of social relations and cultural exchanges taking place in the modern world”. We wish him the best of luck!

There are three late additions to the programme announced on 14th April. Catalan auteur Albert Serra is known for his audacious often provocative highly individual but always sublime fare. His latest feature follows on the heels of the exquisitely niche drama Liberte that bagged the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 2019. Starring Benoit Magimel and Sergi Lopez (Harry He’s Here to Help) Torment on the Isles sees politics clash with a coup de foudre for a crisis-ridden novelist and an ambassador on the steamy island of Bora Bora.

Sophomore director Leonor Seraille’s moves from her directorial debut and Golden Camera winner Jeune Femme to the main competition with Un Petit Frere. Father/son buddy movies are always popular with the (male) critics and Belgian directors Charlotte Vandermeersch, Felix Van Groeningen have found another winning formula along these lines with their Palme d’Or hopeful The Eight Mountains set in Italy’s Aosta mountains. MT

PALME D’OR COMPETITION

Holy Spider Ali Abbasi
Les Amandiers  Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi
Crimes of the Future – David Cronenberg
Tori et Lokita Jean-Pierre et Luc Dardenne
Stars at noon Claire Denis
Frère et sœur Arnaud Desplechin
Close Lukas Dhont
Armageddon Time  James Gray
Broker Hirokazu Kore-Eda
Nostalgia  Mario Martone
RMN  Cristian Mungiu
Triangle of Sadness – Ruben Östlund
Decision to leave  Park Chan-Wook
Showing up Kelly Reichardt
Leila’s brothers  Saeed Roustaee
Boy from Heaven Tarik Saleh
Tchaïkovski’s Wife Kirill Serebrennikov
Eo Jerzy Skolimowski

The Eight Mountains Charlotte Vandermeersch, Felix Van Groeningen
Un Petit Frere Léonor Serraille
Torment sur les Îles Albert Serra Spain

OUT OF COMPETITION  :

Top Gun 2 : Maverick  Joseph Kosinski
Elvis  Baz Luhrmann
Novembre Cédric Jimenez
Three thousand years of longing George Miller
Mascarade de Nicolas Bedos

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 17 – 29 May 2022 

The Souvenir: Part II

Dir/Wri: Joanna Hogg | Cast; Honor Swinton Byrne, Tilda Swinton, James Spencer Ashworth, Richard Ayoade | UK Drama

Joanna Hogg continues the impressionistic reflection on her twenties in The Souvenir Part II that sees her coming to terms with the abusive relationship that ended in tragedy for her boyfriend, Anthony (an archly sardonic Tom Burke) the first part.

There’s a strong feeling that Julie (Swinton Byrne) invested far more in the relationship than did Anthony. Somehow his caddish manner, pinstriped suit and ‘foreign office’ job made her believe he was worthy of consideration, love even; yet behind it all he was a fantasist and a drug addict who undermined her (“you’re lost and you’ll always be lost”) and stole from her to fund his habit. Hogg brilliantly epitomises this kind of fucked up weirdness of the 1980s that many repressed middle class girls still tolerated in the name of love, and the decent straightforwardness of her comforting parents (Tilda Swinton and James Spencer Ashworth) who provide a welcome sense of equilibrium that kept her going off the rails. But Julie resolves to go back to her London flat where the ‘love story’ forms the more authentic ‘autobiographical’ narrative for her graduation film, after the bogus script about poverty stricken Sunderland is vehemently rejected by her tutors.

Anthony remains the glowering elephant in the room, her colleagues, friends and family tiptoeing around the issue, not wanting to offend Julie who continues to elevate his memory with a solemn respect when secretly he was despised by everyone else accept his long-suffering parents, who gradually fade into the background. At one point Julie tentatively asks her flighty filmmaker friend Patrick (a standout Ayoade): “do you think Anthony worked for the Foreign Office?” He firmly bursts her bubble with: “he was a junkie – move forward”.

Still processing her feelings of grief Julie understandably lacks the conviction to take charge and direct her cast and crew with the confidence they desperately need, and Hogg deftly handles the ‘film in a film’ structure with its scenes of naturalistic on-set mayhem between all of them. Ably supported by her real life mother (Swinton), Honor Swinton Byrne glides through her performance with decorum avoiding histrionics yet imbuing Julie with all the pent up anxiety and hurt her upbringing has forced her to internalise. MT

THE SOUVENIR II IS IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 4 FEBRUARY 2022

 

 

A Hero (2021)

Dir/Wri: Asghar Farhadi | Cast: Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy, Sahar Goldust | Iran Drama 127′

Another moral satire from Asghar Farhadi that mulls over truth, honesty and family life in modern Iran.

Lowkey in its sober setting but brimming with a growing complexity the story takes place in and around a modern prison in Shiraz where the likeable working class hero Rahim (Amir Jadidi) is a regular visitor for his various petty crimes involving debt.

The Royal Tombs of Persepolis provide a striking showcase early on when Rahim meets up with his brother-in-law (Alireza Jahandideh) to discuss ways of refinancing his life and paying back the money he owes a former brother-in-law, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), who won’t let him get away with a penny, determined to make him suffer over the divorce. Meanwhile Ramin is hoping to marry career-minded Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust) once things are back to normal.

But the crux of the story revolves around a lost handbag containing a number of gold coins that turns up on a bus. Farkhondeh naively takes the bag home and Rahim tries to sell the coins through a dealer, but the amount offered doesn’t begin to cover the money he owes so he decides instead to put an announcement in the small ads, a relieved woman eventually coming forward to reclaim it.

This simple act makes Rahim a hero in the small local community boosting his self esteem with his family, and particularly his young son who has learning difficulties. But when the national press and TV get hold of the news his popularity leads to family jealousy, particularly for Bahram who now digs his feet in over the money. And so Rahim’s naive act of honesty sets him back even further, the envious family picking holes in the story, and his motivations – they can’t quite believe him to be capable of such a selfless act. Rahim’s lack of confidence causes him to change his take on events, and soon he’s up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Farhadi deftly weaves a social media strand involving false news into his thorny narrative, just for good measure, once again triumphing with this immersive, elegantly paced modern parable that shows how a little fame can boost your profile but too much soon garners envy and resentment from friends and family. More imaginative cinematography and set design would have taken this to another level. MT

IN CURZON CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 7 JANUARY 2022

Vortex (2021)

Dir; Gaspar Noe | 142′

Gaspar Noe’s latest is a tougher, spikier and less affecting version of Michael Haneke’s Oscar-winning Amour (2012) that pictured the final months of a couple in their eighties.

Vortex opens with a man and woman enjoying an evening aperitif on the balcony of their book-filled penthouse. It’s a contented, easy-going domestic vignette with improvised dialogue, but dark clouds soon gather as a split screen then follows their day to day existence, after waking up in the next morning.

Dementia is the focus and Françoise Lebrun will succumb to the illness in a fairly nuanced performance – there are no confrontations or outbursts of aggression – simply a slow downward spiral into mental disintegration. Dario Argento plays the more troubled character, a heavy smoker suffering from heart failure and desperate to complete a book about dreams in cinema – he is fractious and destabilised by his wife’s increasingly erratic behaviour and worried for her safety: “you can’t just go swanning about the place, Paris is full of really dangerous people”. Although his wicked sense of humour comes out in the scenes with their mentally unstable son (Alex Lutz) who gently tries to coax his parents into the idea of a care home – we’ve all been there before, and it doesn’t get better.

The father will protest, the son will desperately try to find another solution – but we all know the writing is on the wall. The tone here is more about resentment and desperate resignation than Amour’s tempered sadness that celebrated the glowing embers a long life full of tenderness and devotion between a couple. Vortex presents a starker more predictable scenario, and very much a Dylan Thomas style ‘rage against the dying of the light’ for Argento’s husband. There are none of the thrills and spills normally associated with the Argentinian maverick’s work. Certainly this is Noe’s most grown-up film to date. An sobering engagement with reality, maybe acknowledging his own mortality. MT

VORTEX COMES TO UK CINEMAS IN MAY 2022.

Drive My Car (2021) BAFTAs 2022

Dir/Wri: Ryusuke Hamaguchi | Cast Hidetoshi Nishijima, Toko Miura, Masaki Okada, Reika Kirishima, Park Yurim, Jin Daeyeon | Drama, Japan

Ryusuke Hamaguchi follows Wheel of Fortune and Fame with another thoughtful love story this time Hidetishi Nishijimia is Yusuke Kafuku, a stage actor and director preparing to direct Uncle Vanja at a theatre festival in Hiroshima.

Daily rides to and from work in a stylish red Saab with his shy young driver Misaki (Miura) provide a safe space to share his feelings, and as a tentative relationship develops between the two lonely hearts, secrets from the past and heartfelt confessions gradually surface.

Based on the short story Drive My Car in ‘Men Without Women’ by Haruki Murakami, the Japanese director is still riding high on his feature Wheel of Fortune and Fame that won a Silver Bear earlier in Berlinale 2021. Once again this explores loneliness and the intense human need to share and be understood. Kafuku is a passionate and highly relatable character whose professional skills and strong sense of self belie his deep longing for a kindred soul to complete his happiness.

Modest in terms of his material needs, Kafuku has a complex psyche with a rich emotional inner world, and his soul is often laid bare during intimate chats with female chauffeur Misaki. She is a woman whose harsh and extreme life has afforded her a maturity beyond her years. And although the two companions are from different generations Hamaguchi’s textured script and layered characterisations show them both to be highly intuitive and emotionally intelligent.

The film’s ample running time allows for an indepth understanding of what it is to be lonely while also being complete from an intellectual and professional point of view. It’s a subtle, engrossing and enjoyable piece of cinema showing Hamaguchi at the top of his game as one of the world’s leading auteurs.  MT

OSCAR BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE | BEST FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE | BAFTAS 2022

 

The Gravedigger’s Wife (2021)

Dir.: Khadar Ayderus Ahmed; Cast: Omar Abdi, Yasmin Warsame, Kadar Abdout Aziz Ibrahim.Somalia/Finland/Qatar/Germany/France 2021, 82 min.

This first feature from Somalian born writer/director Khadar Ayderus Ahmed – who moved to Finland aged sixteen – is full of feeling and emotional depth.

In Djibouti City, the capital of the smallest country on the African continent, employment, or the lack of it, is a major issue for nearly a million who live in and around the capital.

Guled (Abdi) and his wife Nasra (Warsame) are true romantics: they eloped as teenagers, Nasra’s family wanting her to marry an older, wealthy man. Even now, they only have eyes for each other, their teenage son Mahad (Aziz Ibrahim) has the freedom to roam the streets with his mates, but his truanting only comes to light after he has missed months of school.

Guled competes with his friends for the ‘bounty’: they are all lined up at the gate of the local hospital, ready to chase the arriving ambulances. Guled and Nasra never had much money, he left his herd of goats to his brother in their home village, after he and Nasra were expelled for disobeying the wishes of the elders.

The couple light-heartedly “borrows” a goat, presenting it as a wedding gift at a wedding they gate-crash. But their playful attitude has to stop, when Nasra develops a kidney infection requiring surgery at a specialist hospital in Ethiopia at the cost of $500 000

When Nasra’s condition worsens, the doctor has good and bad news: On a positive note the surgery can be managed locally by a visiting anaesthetist, but the price tag remains the same. So Mahad and his friends take on all kind of jobs to contribute to the staggering costs, Guled swallowing his pride, as he sets off for his home village to reclaim his goat herd.

You could call Ahmed’s debut a road movie, since most of it plays out in the streets of suburban Djibouti and the long desert road between the city and his home village. But the most intimate scenes are set in the modest family home where hope fades with day that passes, Nasra’s presence a pale comparison with her former strength in the local community, she now stays at home, her pain all too visible.

DoP Arttn Peltomaa contrasts the sun-dappled colours of the desert surroundings with sombre earthy colours of the intimate domestic interiors where the family fears for the worst.

Khadar Ayderus Ahmed adopts a less is more approach to the narrative, but the way he deals with conflicting emotions augurs well  for the future: this being the first Somali film nominated for the Oscars in the Foreign Features category. AS

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 17 OCTOBER 2021 | CANNES CRITICS WEEK PREMIERE

 

The Sparks Brothers (2021) Sundance London 2021

Dir.: Edgar Wright; Documentary with Ron Mael, Russell Mael, Mike Myers, Giorgio Moroder, Tony Visconti, Christl Haydon, Steve Jones, Alex Kapranos; UK 2021, 135 min.

At first glance, The Sparks Brothers is an odd choice as a first documentary for director/writer Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver). They were the operatic star turn with their score for Annette at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and their music has endured half a century. Hits like ‘This town is not not big enough for Both of Us’, was a great success in the UK, but ignored in the US, leaving many fans with the impression they were British – but they were born and bred LA. The Sparks have produced twenty-five albums, and Wright (a self-confessed fan) has given everyone enough space here – which accounts for a self-indulgent running time of two hour fifteen minutes.

Ron and Russell Mael had a proper cinema upbringing with their parents, who, idiosyncratically, took their kids to the cinema whenever they saw fit. No surprise then that Ron and Russell wanted to compose for the big screen. But early efforts with Jacques Tati and Tim Burton came to nothing. Luckily, they ‘escaped’ the dud Rollercoaster from 1977, which fell instead to poor Lalo Schifrin while we get an uncredited glimpse of the brothers. Finally Ron and Russell got their just reward: this year’s opening feature at Cannes directed by Leos Carax, scored by the Maels. Not bad for a duo who inspired New Order, Duran Duran and The Human League.

The brothers Mael are great entertainers, even performing with a dummy. And Wright mocks the genre roles of the documentary, with animation and CGI inlets. Wright hits the spirit of the Maels: the 1979 album produced by Giorgio Moroder, featured classics like ‘Try outs for the Human Race’, just the sort of anarchy Wright reproduced in his feature films. The Sparks Brothers is a proper head banger, celebrating the feeling of anarchic creativity. AS

SUNDANCE LONDON | July 29 – August 1st 2021

The Worst Person in the World (2021)

Dir: Joachim Trier | Wris Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier | Norway, Romantic comedy 121′

Renate Reinsve won the Best Actress award at Cannes for being ‘the worst person in the world’ in Joachim Trier’s latest film. But her only crime is indecision in this morally complex character drama about freedom of choice for beautiful young things in the 21st century.

Julie is 30. A perfect age to be alive in Oslo where she lives with her boyfriend Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie, who also stars in Bergman’s Island), a successful cartoonist who adds a thoughtful stability to Julie’s spirited self-focus. The choppily edited early scenes see Julie reinventing herself in various career choices: medicine then psychoanalysis, then photography. Her mother is supportive then exasperated in an upbeat narrative that regularly spins off in various directions but never loses its central focus in a script co-written by Eskil Vogt.

Aksel’s career is going from strength to strength and he wants to start a family. But Julie is conflicted and even more so after the two spend a fraught weekend with his family where other smug couples make her feel uncomfortable with her lack of decision. What follows is series of episodes where Julie toys with her career choices and the men in her life, Aksel becoming more and more disenchanted with her constant forays into pastures new.

Divided into twelve chapters, a prologue and epilogue, the film fizzes with light-hearted fun never making Julie out to be callous – she is sensitive and likeable – but feels a genuine uncertainty about her emotional status in a society that seems to funnel us into a lemming like direction of commitment. There is melancholy too, especially in the final chapter where Julie is made aware of the impact of her choices, or lack of them. Sometimes splashy but always entertaining this is a watchable chronicle of modern millennial life. MT

Titane (2021) Palme d’Or | Cannes Film Festival

Dir: Julia Ducournau | Cast: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, Laïs Salameh, Bertrand Bonello, Dominique Frot | France Thriller 108′

Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or winning female revenge thriller is a strange dark comedy: for a lot of the time you’re bored between outbursts of unspeakable violence, its tortured heroine taking self-harm to a different level after a dysfunctional upbringing forces her into a life of crime.

As a little kid we see her kicking the back of her stepfather’s carseat, a habit that drives him mad and sends the vehicle careering into a top spin leaving Alexia in need of brain surgery – she’ll bear the scars forever, physically and mentally. Performing a lap dance style routine on the boot of a car is the way she earns her living in a louche local nightclub. Her hairpins come in handy for fending off unwanted advances: one incident sees her piercing a fan through the ear spurting his brains everywhere, in another Monty Pythonesque moment she forces a barstool leg into another man’s mouth – calmly sitting on it.

French filmmaker Decournu’s film life started with Raw – a seedy vampire story about a student who develops a penchant for blood. Here stabbing is the method of dispatching victims, although one night Alexia gets rather more than she bargained for in a raunchy one night stand. All this is conveyed in a colour-popping neon visual style, awkward camera angles delivering a stylish avant-garde allure to what is basically arthouse body horror.

Tortured and troubled after her murder fest, Alexia retreats to a public lavatory where she breaks her nose on the ceramic sink and crops her hair into a boyish bob to escape the authorities. Now as man, she seeks refuge with her musclebound firefighter father (Vincent Lindon). But then there’s her bulging stomach – has she been impregnated? Again the hairpin comes in handy for firking about in her vagina in an effort to bring on a miscarriage.

Fluid in its sexuality, this is a Palme d’Or winner that ticks all the boxes virtue-signalling wis: Ducournau is only the second woman ever to win the top prize, the first was Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993). To complete the zany picture this year at Cannes, Jury President Spike Lee announced the winning title right at the beginning of the ceremony – a gaffe that transformed the show into Mel Brooks’ style comedy mayhem – pure Hollywood, but that’s entertainment. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL – WINNER PALME D’OR

 

 

Bunuel: A Surrealist Filmmaker (2021) Cannes Classics

Dir; Javier Espada | Spain, Doc 90′

Spanish filmmaker Javier Espada shares his birthplace of Calanda (Aragon) with the legendary Spanish surrealist Luis Bunuel whose story forms the subject of this engaging new documentary playing in the Cannes Film Festival Classics section.

As a teen during the Easter Semana Santa processions Espada escaped the loud drums of the ceremony for relative calm of his local fleapit and was instantly bewitched by  Bunuel, the image of Christ fusing with the character of the Marquis de Sade in his subconscious, creating subversive undertones.

His obsession would later lead to a lifelong friendship with Bunuel’s regular screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière whose script for Diary Of A Chambermaid would continue with cult classics such as Belle De Jour and The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie. It and would also lead to Bunuel’s memoirs ‘My Last Breath.’

A recently restored archive from stereoscopic glass plates, clips and personal photos – provided by his sons Juan Luis and Rafael – and the Luis Bunuel Film Institute is enlivened by Espada’s own thoughts and those of Bunuel providing insight into a charismatic career that started with his traditional upbringing in a well to do influential family in Calanda. But a tragic incident involving a donkey would put a subversive spin on the director’s output and much of his work would be banned banned by Franco’s regime due to its controversial subject matter. DoP Ignacio Ferrando Margeli provides a pristine black and white aesthetic in this deep dive into cinema history. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | CANNES CLASSICS

 

 

Memoria (2021) Cannes Film Festival 2021

Dir: Apichatpong Weerasethakul | Thailand, Fantasy Drama 139′

Memoria is the delicately mesmerising and meditative first English language film from Thai artist and film-maker Apichatpong Weerasethakul.  

Well known for his awarded experimental filmmaking and avant-garde art installations, he won the Palme d’Or back in 2004 for his bewitching fantasy drama Uncle Boonmee but Memoria is his most thematically rich and accessible film so far.

Tilda Swinton is the quietly haunting main character Jessica, an English expat who seems ethereal yet down to earth gliding gently through a story touching on folklore, sci-fi and mysterious happenings linked to  unusual sonic events in the Colombian capital of Bogota. Unfolding in a series of hypnotic long takes Memoria ponders the meaning of life and the negative impact of man’s imprint on the natural world in a way that is exquisitely subtle rather than forced on the audience. 

Jessica is a horticulturalist based in Medellin and visiting Bogota where her sister Karen (Agnes Brekke) is recovering from an unexplained respiratory affliction in hospital. That same morning Jessica woke to a strange sonic boom, and this sound, unheard by Karen and her husband Juan (Daniel Giménez Cacho, leads Jessica to sound engineer Hernan (Juan Pablo Urrego) to try and uncover its origins. That same night the sound once again resonates at a dinner with Karen and Juan but they are unaware of it. Further investigations seem to point to construction work in the nearby countryside where ancient bones belonging to a little girl have recently been unearthed in the disruption. There may be a connection with Karen’s illness – pointing to a covid-style virus that been released in building work but this theory remains unproved and part of the film’s enduring allure.

Hernan manages to replicate the sound – a deep metallic thud – and the two seem to be on the verge of a breakthrough. But when Jessica goes back to his studio later on Hernan appears not to have been a figment of her imagination, and he never appears again. Walking in the lush tropical surroundings of Bogota Jessica then meets another man called Hernán (Elkin Diaz) who belongs to a community who sleep dreamlessly and with their eyes open. In his ramshackle home mysterious memories start to flood Jessica’s subconscious, but whether they are hers or transmitted by the spirits unearthed in the building works is the mystery at the heart of her zen-like odyssey.

Echoing the work of Lav Dias Memoria is a film experience that places us under its spell in a parallel universe enveloping all the senses. Enigmatic, beguiling and astonishingly captivating throughout Memoria explores fundamental aspects of our existence in a natural world that is is very much a force to be reckoned with, slowing taking its revenge in subtle and unfathomable ways. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

Lamb (2021) Un Certain Regard 2021 | Un Certain Regard

Dir: Valdimar Johannsson | IFantasy Sci-fi | Iceland, 103′

This surreal sci-fi for animals lovers is one of a new breed of arthouse films that blends folklore and fantasy horror with a surprising touch of dark humour.

A first feature for Icelandic director Valdimar Johannsson, its intriguing premise invites us to suspend our disbelief when a childless couple in a remote farmstead in Iceland unexpectedly become parents during the lambing season. Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Guonason) and Maria (Noomi Rapace) realise this is no ordinary newborn. But the sense of joy they feel at finally being a family of sorts fills the couple with a warm contentment. The docile baby takes pride of place in their bedroom, and life goes on as normal.

But there’s an unsettling undertone to this birth that leaves a nagging doubt in our minds and fuels this sober arthouse curio with eerie dread. The reason for their muted joy soon becomes apparent in a way that is both amusing and bizarre, with its distinct references to Cannes 2021 title Annette and even the recent Border.

Johannsson’s spare soundscape echoes around the bleak lunar-landscapes of Iceland’s craggy peaks and windswept terrain. But the tone lightens with a visit from Ingvar’s musician brother Petur (Bjorn Hynur Haraldsson) whose reaction to young Ada is hilarious but also worrying until he gets used to the unorthodox new household. This amusing interlude provides the story with an upbeat vibe and some rather touching family scenes as the two bond both outsiders in their own special way. But the nagging suspicions remain. And it’s the film’s cruel finale that provides a tragic twist that reminds us that Ada may have been nurtured by loving parents but is still a wild child at heart. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | UN CERTAIN REGARD

The Innocents (2021)

Dir/Wri” Eskil Vogt | Cast: Rakel Lenora Flottum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, Sam Ashraf, Ellen Dorrit Pedersen, Morten Svartveit, Kadra Yusuf, Lise Tonne | Norway, 117′

The Omen meets Jack Clayton’s 1961 titular original in this haunting arthouse horror trip from Eskil Vogt who explores the parallel world of children in his chilling second feature.

The Innocents follows his eerie experimental drama Blind with this textured thematic look at casual violence and subversive behaviour in a group of young friends growing up in small-town rural Norway.

Seen entirely from the children’s point of view this is a deeply sinister and often violent film, at times frighteningly so, but subtle as a whisper. A sense of terrible dread seethes as the plot unfolds, Vogt spending rather too much time establishing the milieu of a modest domestic set-up before hitting the jugular in full blown psychological horror that dives deep below the surface of ordinary young lives.

Freed from the mundanity of running their lives kids are free to let their imaginations wander. And wander they certainly do in a serene suburban idyll surrounded by pine forests and sparkling blue skies that create an oppressive sense of isolation for the blonde-haired angel-faced Ida, played by Rakel Lenora Flottum, her autistic and mute older sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) and their kindly but ineffectual parents (Ellen Dorrit Pedersen and Morten Svartveit).

The kids are free to roam far and wide and soon become firm friends with tousled-haired Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) and the levantine Ben (Sam Ashraf impressive in debut) whose background is more troubled, in one violent scene he throws Ida’s pet kitten from the top of the stairs and crushes the crippled animal’s skull – without any remorse. Ben also develops telekinetic powers not unlike Danny in The Shining but Ben’s are put to nefarious use in sending a boiling pan of water over his single mother (Lise Tonne) while he carries on oblivious.

An eerie soundscape from Gustaf Berger and Gisle Tveito ramps up the tension as Ben’s powers come into conflict with Anna’s benign psychic sense as a turbulent battle of wills plays out completely beyond the radar of the adult world.

As the film edges towards its startling finale Vogt creates a distinctive and highly-tuned alter universe in a lushly cinematic supernatural horror that remains tethered in reality while sending out shockwaves of terror with lowkey but chilling affect. MT

Now ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS

 

Tre Piani | Three Stories (2021)

Dir: Nanni Moretti | Wri: Nanni Moretti, Federica Pontremoli, Valia Santella | Cast: Margherita Buy, Riccardo Scamarcio, Alba Rohrwacher, Nanni Moretti | Italy 119′

Nanni Moretti’s latest will certainly appeal to fans of his classically filmed dramas featuring Italy’s best acting talent. Since winning the Palme d’Or in 2001 for The Son’s Room  he has been turning out spirited stories about life for middle class people, and this circuitous story involving neighbouring families is darkly witty and enjoyable, although more muted than his earlier fare. The women are peacemakers, the men the troublemakers, apart from Moretti himself who plays a powerful man of integrity, naturally – he’s the director.

Based on a novel by Tel Aviv writer Eshkol Nevo, Moretti transports the intricately plotted action to Rome where a car accident sets the cat amongst the pigeons for those living nearby. Local resident Monica (Alba Rohrwacher) is waiting for a taxi to take her to hospital where she will give birth to her first child when a speeding car collides with a nearby pedestrian, hurtling into the ground floor flat where Sara (Elena Lietti) and Lucio (Riccardo Scamarcio) live with their 7-year-old daughter.

At the wheel of the car is a drunkun Andrea (Alessandro Sperduti), the problem son of two judges, Dora (Margherita Buy) and Vittorio (Moretti) who will refuse to pull any strings for their son, causing a long-lasting rift in the family when his prison term is finally up.

Meanwhile Monica gives birth to baby Beatrice with her usual elfin delicatesse, her alluring husband Giorgio (Adriano Giannini) is working abroad offering no emotional support to deal with the baby or her ageing mother, but female empowerment saves the day. A mini mafia subplot with Giorgio’s estranged brother gives the story another showcase for its signature male rivalry and violence, Monica batting off his sexual advances with grace.

Meanwhile Sara (Elena Lietti) and Lucio (Riccardo Scamarcio) become suspicious of the old man next door Renato (Paolo Graziosi), who regularly babysits their daughter and who provides the film’s child abuse theme that will see Lucio himself in a flirtation with young neighbour Sara (Elena Lietti) later accusing him of sexual misconduct.

Elegantly paced and thoughtful with some inspiring music choices and delightful performances, Moretti delivers another class act. MT

ON BFI PLAYER

Mothering Sunday (2021) Cannes Film Festival

Dir: Eva Husson | Cast: Odessa Young, Josh O’Connor, Sope Dirisu, Colin Firth, Olivia Colman, Glenda Jackson | UK Drama 110′

A nostalgic reflection on English family life ravaged by loss in the Great War is the subject of Eva Husson’s languorous female empowerment melodrama.

Slim of plot but indulgently languid in its evocative sensuality Mothering Sunday is seen through the eyes of a young girl in service reflecting back on a fateful summer day in 1924 when tragedy changed her life forever: and decided to become a writer. The timeline sashays backwards and forwards, Glenda Jackson adding grist as the older novelist Jane shrugging off the success of her prize-winning in the modern day.

Based on Graham Swift’s novella Mothering Sunday – a day when staff in service were given the day off to visit their mothers – evokes the sultry atmosphere of a doomed affair between a maid Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young) and Paul Sheringham (Josh O’Connor) the only surviving son of a well to do family in the verdant English countryside. Released from duties Jane spends the day in bed with her lover at his stately mansion in his parents’ absence. Paul is going to be marrying Emma in a fortnight’s time, so both he and Jane know their affair is over.

In the background Colin Firth and Olivia Colman play the Nivens, an older generation broken by loss and still mourning their sons killed in the war. But the focus here is on sensuality rather than storyline, and the camera lingers on their love scenes as Jane prances around naked. Meanwhile on the grassy lawns of Henley the Nivens keep calm and carry on over a tearful lunch with their coterie of bereaved friends, Colin fronting up well, Colman morose.

But there’s only so much loving-making and visuals of fusty libraries and flowers in a china vase a film can take. And rather than focus on Jane’s literary aspirations and how they eventually take shape and blossom professional – we see her occasionally penciling a word on a page, or in brief vignettes during a marriage in the 1940s, Husson is more concerned with the atmosphere, permeating this soulful story with a pent up feeling of loss and longing, that eventually erupts in the tragic denouement. In this sense the film is a missed opportunity to make better use of its strong cast of Colin Firth, Olivia Colman and Glenda Jackson. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

 

Benedetta (2021)

Dir: Paul Verhoeven | Cast: Virginie Efira, Charlotte Rampling, Daphné Patakia, Lambert Wilson, Olivier Rabourdin, Louise Chevillotte

Dutch director Paul Verhoeven is still best known for his scandalous sex saga Basic Instinct. It set the 1990s on fire with Sharon Stone’s memorable naked crutch shot and a brilliant script by Joe Eszterhas that felt racy and groundbreaking. Next came Showgirls and Elle, notable for their leading ladies Gina Gershon (who won a Razzie award) and the incandescent Isabelle Huppert.

Benedetta attempts to recreate the world of Ken Russell’s The Devils and Walerian Borowcyck’s Blanche without their narrative ballast despite an opening credit that proudly announces “based on a true story”: of a naughty nun in Renaissance Italy entitled’ Immodest Acts’ by one Judith C Brown.

Benedetta Carlini claimed to have seen a vision of Jesus and subsequently devoted her life to her saviour. But the only devotion here is to the misogynist male gaze in a shagged-out shaggy dog story that drew sniggers of derision from an audience of critics at its Cannes premiere in 2021.

Benedetta (Virginie Efira), works her way shamelessly through the ecclesiastical hierarchy in a convent in Northern Italy city of Pescia after hoodwinking the Abbess Felicita – Rampling adding a touch of class in a difficult role as the Convent head. Efira doesn’t hold a candle (let alone a wimple0 to Sharon Stone in the erotic scenes, her approach too raunchy and too coarse.

Benedetta is warned early on that “your worst enemy is your body,”. But this is a caveat that soon falls by the wayside when dark-eyed novice Bartolomea (Patakia) is admitted to convent escaping her father’s cruel abuse. The story soon takes a more sinister turn when the two are bonded by their fatal attraction – far less alluring or convincing that that of the Stone and Douglas affair.

What starts out a lushly-mounted period drama soon descends into a dark-edged Carry on at the Convent-style caper that is more corny than provocative. Verhoeven has a field day as his absurdist melodrama burns through a bloated budget in extraordinary set pieces, its lush Tuscan locations evocatively lensed by Jeanne Lapoirie. Under the influence of Bartolomea, Benedetta turns into a bodice-ripping virago with a deep baritone voice. Worse is to come involving CGI snakes, blood-letting and stigmata in scenes featuring a sexually ambivalent Christ on the Cross.

A series of torrid encounters between the two young nuns drives the pacy plot forward, Felicita soon ‘smelling a rat’ through a peephole in the convent wall. Verhoeven and his Elle writer David Birke attempt to add moral complexity to the story by suggesting that Felicita is jealous of ‘their thing’ and this catapults the film towards its ludicrous finale  playing out in Florence and featuring a glowering Lambert Wilson as the Catholic church’s top dog, the Nuncio.

This was a time where women were regularly burnt at the stake and had minimal social and sexual agency. In the confines of a convent cloistered exploits clearly allowed them a mode of sexual expression. But Verhoeven trivialises rather than champions the women’s cause by making these encounters porny than horny, at least for his female audience.

Overstaying its initial welcome at two hours (plus) this clunky bonkbuster feels both tedious and exploitative. What could have been seductively subversive is just silly and salaciously over the top. We are left smirking in our seats by the showcase showdown – but not in a good way – not caring what happens, as long as it ends. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 15 APRIL

 

Great Freedom (2021) Cannes Film Festival

Fir: Sebastian Meise | Drama 104’

Franz Rogowski is the dynamite that burns through this outré arthouse portrait of illicit homosexuality in post war Berlin from Austrian filmmaker Sebastian Meise.

Arrested for cottaging in the grubby confines of a public lavatory in the claustrophobic early cine-camera scenes he is Hans Hoffmann, a man who will spend the remainder of the film in prison surrounded by murderers and thieves, before homosexuality was decriminalised in 1969.

Meise makes no attempt to make his characters likeable in this sordid slice of social realism but Rogowski always brings an appealing sense of vulnerability that softens the hard edges of this overlong sober prison drama with its flecks of brilliance. The final scene is a memorable masterstroke.

The narrative unfolds across three interlinking timelines seeing Hans in a series of sexual encounters in the same sordid prison where he often finds himself in solitary confinement for doing so. The touchstones are 1945, 1957 and 1968 where he forms a close relationship with homophobe Viktor (Georg Freidrich) who is serving time for murder but whose sexual yearnings are for women, not men.

But Meise plays on the theme of sexual fluidity here in a story that very much explores sex as a physical release as much as an emotional need in a pivotal part of the storyline that leads to the men’s relationship soon developing into a close bond of friendship and reliance that touches on love but never speaks its name.

Hans dabbles in other affairs in the story’s most poignant scenes and here he gives full throttle to his signatory romantic sensuality in a gutsy performance that carries the film through its rather low-key narrative where tighter writing in the middle act could have made this more intense.

Nevertheless this is a nakedly unflinching look at a time when men weren’t allowed to show their love for each and a worthwhile warts of all expose of the German prison system of the era. MT

After Yang (2021) Cannes Film Festival 2021

Dir: Kogonada | Famtasy sci-fi drama | 107’

Kogonada’s serenely seductive cinematic style was always going to be a winner for a Sci-fi meets Artificial intelligence thriller, especially when it stars Colin Farrell in the leading role.

He is the touchstone for the old-fashioned metrosexual male whose angsty performance keeps this feature real when far into the future  robots can be hired to complete your nuclear family – if all else fails.

A sassy dance routine sets an upbeat tempo for a hypnotic drama where Kafkaesque scenarios still exist. If a robot breaks down the computer usually says ‘no’ to any simple repair job, that’s if you can get through to the call centre. Such is the case with ‘Second Siblings’ the company that provided Jake (Farell) and his partner Kyra (Turner-Smith) with an older Chinese brother in the shape of Yang for their strong-willed Chinese daughter Mika (Tjandrawidjaja).

Yang seems like a ‘normal’ teenager until he de-programmes and threatens to decompose just as we’ve met this happy multicultural family unit who live in a modernist bungalow in leafy LA. While Kyra is an ambivalent workaholic mother, Jake is left with the tech issues and that’s where the consumer nightmare starts, but the tone is ultra mellow and Jake’s mood can best be described as uncomfortably bemused.

South Korean-born Kogonada transports us to a dreamlike place in the future where technology has taken over but feelings still prevail for humans, their robo-sapiens sidekicks are just not “programmed that way”. But when Jake gets deeper into repairing Yang’s complex core he discovers a memory bank that is thrilling and out of this world.

Jake tracks down a blonde teenager who seemed to feature in Yang’s past, Ada (Haley Lu Ricardson) reveals how Yang was keen to explore his Chinese identity. Meanwhile Mika is suffering from the loss of her sibling particularly missing his sensitivity and understanding of her adoption likening it to the ancient Chinese practice of tree grafting,   playing out in an idyllic scene in an apple orchard.

Kogonada directs with alluring sensitivity in a feature that engenders a warm feeling of calm through its delicately vibrant aesthetic and quietly convincing performances. After Yang  contemplates a future that’s still far from perfect despite surreal technical advances. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

 

Rehana Maryam Noor (2021) Cannes Film Festival Un Certain Regard

Dir/Wri: Abdullah Mohammad Saad Cast: Azmeri Haque Badhon, Afia Jahin Jaima | Drama 107

Bangladesh makes its first appearance ever in this year’s competition selection at Cannes 2021.

The claustrophobic, seething, slice of social realism is a second feature for writer-director Abdullah Mohammad Saad. It follows moralistic widow Dr. Rehana Maryam Noor in her daily round at a teaching hospital in Dhaka where she works as an assistant professor and mother of a recalcitrant teenage daughter, Emu (Afia Jahin Jaima).

Invigilating in the exam room in the opening scene of this tense psychological drama, Dr Noor unceremoniously expels a medical student for scribbling notes on her yellow ruler. This draconian approach sets the tone for a vehement tirade that plays out in grim close-up as she then comes across a professor abusing a student: there will be hell to play!.

Maryam – a smouldering Azmeri Haque Badhon – has a difficult backstory which slowly unfolds in parallel with the main narrative. Unbalanced by her fraught home life she is a woman who is unflinching in her approach to anyone who breaks the rules. A tough, spiky feminist she also makes for an unlikeable heroine clearly shaped by her tough life in this male-dominated sexist society.

In sharp contrast her boss Prof. Arefin (Kazi Sami Hassan) is almost lackadaisical towards the young students in his care, giving them a cautionary ticking off when they err. Especially in the case of Annie, a student who fetches up as Arefin’s office in tears. But when it transpires that the young girl has been sexually abused it’s impossible for Rehana not to get involved, determined to make those involved come forward and take the rap to safeguard the safety of future female students. But Rehana’s severe attitude soon points to her own repressed sexual nature, gradually complicating an already complex state of affairs that plays out in the second half of the film.

There so many themes going on in Saad’s richly textured script making this an engrossing but not particularly enjoyable film to watch which its intransigent characters and baleful tone. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | COMPETITION 2021

 

 

Cow (2021) Cannes Film Festival

Director: Andrea Arnold | UK Doc 94′

Andrea Arnold returns to her native Kent for a first documentary feature that follows the daily life of a most-loved farmyard animal, the Cow. An intrusive almost wordless look that starts with the birth of a female calf to Luma, a long-lashed beauty with a glossy black and white splodged coat. Hooves first, the baby emerges and all we see is an enquiring eye looking round at the world in amazement, Luma wiping a lustrous tongue round her fluffy ear. But mother and baby are soon parted, the calf is taken away to the plastic teat of the farmer’s bottle. Dairy cow Luma will then be milked mechanically for our own consumption til the end of her life.

Cow has echoes of the 2012 shocker Leviathan where Lucien Castaing Taylor and Vanessa Paravel took an intense arthouse gaze at commercial fishing through the eyes of the fish. Gunda took a similar wide-eyed approach: A human attempt to see things from the animals’ perspective, where the animal becomes our friend and the human a cruel, opportunistic interloper. When the black bull arrives to do his business, Luma carries on unimpressed. The only moment of bliss in her life is grazing in the bucolic peace of the summery Kentish meadows, chewing buttercups and lush grass in the moonlight. Overhead a plane comes into landing its lights flashing like an alien spaceship in her natural world.

The mass production of milk is big business but Arnold doesn’t bore us with the facts or figures, or even talking heads. The only heads here are furry bovine ones, and muddy bottoms caressed by swishing tails. Bemused, bewildered and beguiling the cows look out in wonder at a world of exploitation. And when Luma’s calf disappears into a plastic pen with a plastic teat, Luma moos loudly in protest as the two are parted. And as each of her calves is born Luma comes  become protective, or at least that’s what we hear from a disembodied human voice. Clearly cows have feelings too. But here she exists to produce milk – gallons of it – and that repetitive diurnal task it what seems to lead to her tragic demise in the film’s shockingly blunt finale. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | CANNES PREMIERES

Everything Went Fine | Tout est bien passe (2021)

Dir: François Ozon | Cast: Sophie Marceau, André Dussollier, Géraldine Pailhas, Charlotte Rampling, Éric Caravaca, Hanna Schygulla, Grégory Gadebois, Jacques Nolot, Judith Magre, Daniel Mesguich, Nathalie Richard | France 98′

Francois Ozon always has a cheeky grin in his films. And Everything Went Fine is no exception. This candid end of life drama is a delightful follow-up to the darkly drole Summer of 85, a funny version of The Father with the same piquancy and sharp attention to detail. It could be anyone’s family story once parents get to ‘un certain age’. It could even be yours.

Charlotte Rampling is back, along with his regular collaborator the late novelist Emmanuèle Bernheim who wrote Under The Sand, Swimming Pool and 5X2 and on whose book this new story is based. Refreshingly honest and laced with Ozon’s classic subversiveness, André Dussollier plays the classic stroke-ridden 84 year old with an arch naughtiness and poignancy. The relationship with his long-suffering middle-aged daughters Emmanuelle and Pascale is spiky, to say the least. There’s even a cameo role for veteran Hanna Schygulla who advises on euthanasia.

What elevates this from trite comedy territory is the cast who really capture the essence of fraught family life with an honesty that tonally transcends sentimentality. Some may call it a ‘love hate relationship’ but this is exactly what happens with life and death, and Ozon craftily navigates these prickly relationships making us believe that he’s really been there himself.

Emmanuèle’s father André Bernheim is a cultured man with an ego not unlike Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Meyerowitz Stories that premiered at the festival in 2017. A rather selfish gay art collector who rediscovered his sexuality after marrying the girls’ sculptress mother – a cool-handed Charlotte Rampling – he keeps on the ball despite his stroke leaving him physically challenged.

Many may baulk at the humour Ozon playfully uses to convey a desperate family tragedy but this is really how it is – as those affected can frankly testify. And it’s this complete authenticity that keeps you glued to the screen and nodding in agreement, rather than the cardboard worthy scenario many may envisage.

Euthanasia is also thoughtfully handled, offering the film a morally meaty maze with plenty to chew on. This is a satisfyling mouthful that will make you laugh to self rather than out loud. A light-hearted comedy that unflinchingly faces reality with heart and humanity. MT

ON RELEASE from 17 June COURTESY OF CURZON | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

Val (2021) Cannes Film Festival

Dirs: Leo Scott and Ting Poo | US Doc 104′

The thing about Val Kilmer is his silly humour. It shines out in this warm biopic of an actor who struck gold commercially but still wants to make it in the arthouse world. Now in his early 60s, a glittering past is behind him, a cancer survivor clinging on cheerfully despite a robotic voice like Stephen Hawking, he still smiles radiantly. A shadow of his former self but his spirit is strong and full of positive energy for the future. And once you get used to the voice you realise he’s much the same as he ever was: just older and wiser – and more resigned.

In Val, directors Leo Scott and Ting Poo use a hotchpotch of videos and snapshots mostly taken by Kilmer himself: an actor and writer but most of all a big human whose love for life and his family radiates through the 40 years of archive footage in a documentary that takes us from his childhood years in California to the Batman years for which he is most famous, and beyond. His latest project – a tribute to Mark Twain – is still ongoing and clearly fascinates him. 

The film starts with him playing around in his trailer with Rick Rossovich during the making of Top Gun, his complex character comes out in another scene where he’s filming John Frankenheimer on the set of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Ordered to stop filming Kilmer carries on regardless. The director had threatened to walk out and so Kilmer bargains with him to stay and the camera continues rolling.

A training at New York’s Juilliard school has clearly instilled a strong sense of quality in his work. And this is probably the root cause of his reputation for being ‘difficult’. He was billed for the main role in the 1983 production of “The Slab Boys,” a Broadway hit play, Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon later pulling rank for the main parts. His creativity went on to be stymied by the commercial system that ultimately offered little by way of freedom to express himself, and this theme sets the tone for an entertaining portrait of a real man, rather than just a jobbing player of parts. This is why his story remains one of success rather than failure, despite the decrepit guy in the picture. Loss is a big theme: his marriage and divorce from Joanne Whalley affected him badly, and obviously the cancer diagnosed in 2015. But he soldiers on making us laugh with an infectious humour in this feelgood movie. 

Batman was a personal disaster for him weighed down by a heavy costume and hardly able to breathe, let alone speak. It crushed his performance and he signed out after one go at the Caped Crusader: “every boy wants to be Batman, but not play him”.

The Top Gun episode was a blast with much fooling around off set, sealing his reputation:“For the rest of my life I will be called Iceman by every pilot at every airport I ever go to.” he comments from his Malibu beach hideaway. But he wanted more than fame. Inspiration was really his watchword. In a bid to work with Kubrick and Scorsese he sent them audition tapes but nothing came of it. His force of personality projected him forward for choice roles but he didn’t always get them. Willow was another disaster but the The Doors would be special and he honed his performance again and again, even wearing the leather trousers in an obsession that ultimately cost him his marriage. 

Family intervenes throughout the film: particularly his sadness over his brother Wesley who died in a jacuzzi accident in his teens. And his mother was a big influence and he reminisces over her in some tearful sequences. Although his father was a big business man Val ultimately had to bail him out. His faith Christian Science also figures strongly and clearly gives him the strength to pursue his artistic projects. He may have fallen from the pantheon of stardom but seems to have found peace with his kids and a boundless enthusiasm drives him forward to the future. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | SPECIAL SCREENINGS

Annette (2021) Cannes Film Festival

Dir/Wri: Leos Carax | Marion Cotillard, Adam Driver, Simon Helberg | Drama France, 139′

French auteur Leos Carax last graced the Croisette with Holy Motors a weird and mysterious odyssey into the mind of one man. Annette his latest creation sees him back in Cannes nine years later with another cinematic sensation: another journey into the complexities of male psyche that explores the nature of fame and the fragility of love through his first English language film.

Adam Driver haunts this moody modern opera with a muscular expressiveness that lurches from rage to almost religious fervour as offbeat comedian Henry, although his comedy act sequences are overlong and not particularly amusing and detract from the central narrative which already has more than enough references to his anger issues. Marion Cotillard shimmers exquisitely as the diva he falls for but the baby they make together is simply out of the world.

Visually stunning in the style of Holy Motors, is Caroline Champetier once again beguiles with her luscious cinematography in a highly original film that blends its bizarre ideas and tonal switches with elegance, always surprising the audience: particularly with erotic sex scenes laced with obsidian black humour: this is a richly thematic modern classic with a focus firmly in the future.

The cult rock band Sparks performs and composes a score that is daringly racy and poignant in the style of a Greek tragedy (complete with a black female chorus) where its central character Henry (Driver) is a meglamaniac narcissist whose lust for new experiences and extreme carnal compulsion will be his devastating downfall, destroying everything challenging his dominance.

Opera singer Ann (Marion Cotillard) melts his heart with her dulcet tones – for a while at least – and the two wander deliriously in a verdant garden of Eden crooning the film’s catchy musical leit-motif “We Love Each Other So Much”. and soon their baby Annette is born and their joy now complete.

But storm clouds soon gather over on the loved-up paradise in a melodramatic tone shift. Carax goes into overdrive in a full-blown expose of macho toxicity where passions are given full throttle during Henry’s hysterical nighttime motorbike rides home to his tropical hideaway, the dizzying camerawork  recalling Holy Motors‘ nocturnal taxi forays. There is a third narrative strand in shape of Simon Helberg’s compelling turn as Ann’s spurned lover now reduced to her accompanying pianist at her elegantly-staged opera gigs. Once again Cotillard get the chance to play Lady Macbeth and this will be teased out suggestively in the film’s third act.

Baby Annette is like a benign female version of ‘Chucky’, her blue eyes and auburn locks adding an endearing appeal and vulnerability to the subtle scariness she engenders but also hinting at A.I. She will grow up to be a thoughtful and intuitive little girl, whose presence pivotal to the storyline. At this point Carax uses the female chorus to clever effect as a #MeToo theme kicks in and this feeds into Henry’s violent anger management issues which are now the central focus of the story and pivotal to the final reveal.

Annette is a compelling visual masterpiece that utterly captivates and confuses for nearly two and half hours. An atmospheric soundscape, dreamlike images and extraordinary performances coalesce in a contemporary rock melodrama the like of which has never been seen before, and it world premieres here at Cannes. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

 

 

Zero Fucks Given | Rien a Foutre (2021) Semaine de la Critique

Dir.: Emmanuel Mare, Julie Lecoustre; Cast: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Mara Tarquin, Alexander Perrier, Jonathan Sawdon; Belgium 2021, 115 min.

This bizarre but brilliant first feature for French duo Emmanuel Marre and Julie Lecoustre follows a shameless young air-stewardess on a flight to nowhere, emotionally speaking. We soon understand why.

Cassandra (Exarchopoulos from Blue is the warmest Colour) works for a budget airline mostly around Europe. She dreams of being hired by Emirates Airlines or even a high-paying company called Private Jets, but speaks only a little English apart from French.

From her base in Lanzarote relationships are tricky so she signs out of reality, keeps her family at a distance and opts for an online life on Tinder under the pseudonym ‘Carpe Diem’, a bare-breasted selfie setting the tone for some casual sexual encounters. In some ways she is typical of the resigned young millennial who literally doesn’t care what happens as long as she’s having fun.

Not only is the job repetitive and unfulfilling, Cassandra spends most of her time in airline terminals, a hostile and alien environment made worse since Covid. Drugs and disco are her favourite release on breaks from the inflight tedium. When her contract runs out, she is re-assigned to a course that includes saving passengers with CPR – an exercise Cassandra fails dismally, unable to interact even with a dummy: “You are breaking all his ribs” the course leader tells her, after Cassandra pummels the model doll mercilessly. Job follows job largely down to Cassandra’s ability to sell her persona on Zoom interviews ‘Seize the day’ very much captures the economic and social climate of this disposal world.

Exarchopoulos gives a stunning performance as the women “with no attributes”, an empty vessel not even trying to find an engagement with the outside world. She is vague to the point of disowning herself, constantly on the move in transit positions. She is the modern young woman honed for the quick-turnaround of her professional life, opting for a quick fix while treading water in the hope of a better opportunity, always with her eye to the main chance. Cassandra is the opposite of her sister and father: rootless and uninterested in her past, leaving them to fight with the emotional consequences of the mother’s death. DoP Olivier Boonjing excels with the cold airport images where contrast, the warmer colours of Cassandra’s hometown. Zero Fucks Given is certainly original: an almost sinister study of a modern milliennial. Hugely recommended. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 2021

 

Intregalde (2021) Quinzaine – Cannes Film Festival 2021

Dir: Radu Muntean | Romania, 104′

“No good dead goes unpunished” is the idea behind this latest film from Romania’s Radu Muntean (One Floor Below). Întregalde ponders how modern Romania has gone backwards and forwards at the same time through a richly thematic psychodrama playing in this year’s Quinzaine selection at Cannes.

Written by Răzvan Rădulescu, Alex Baciu and Radu Muntean it centres on three friends Maria, Ilinca and Dan (played by Maria Popistașu, Ilona Brezoianu and Alex Bogdan) who embark on a humanitarian mission to deliver food parcels to a remote part of Transylvania.

But on their way home the upbeat charity jaunt soon turns into a stress-fuelled nightmare when they pick up a mysterious old man in the forest. Kente (played by non-pro actor Luca Sabin) takes them wildly off track, before leaving them on a muddy track in the autumnal gloom of the Apuseni mountains.

Early scenes strike a familiar note for most of us used to charity efforts, food banks and child poverty, now at 21st century reality. In the back of their land-rover the two stranded women talk about relationships and fertility problems while they wait for Dan (Bogdan) to get help to repair their stricken vehicle. Arguments follow as they all fall out over their decision to leave the main road in the bitterly cold falling snow. By the morning the woods are transformed into a winter wonderland where time seems to have shifted back hundreds of years in the village of Întregalde.

Muntean gives us a sardonic vision of a country where two worlds collide: one is the complex modern existence, the other is caught in a fairytale past of painted wooden houses and rural traditions. Both exist in the 21st century: Kente still believes in his imaginative stories and folklore and lives sustainably off the land and his livestock. The three helpers have been catapulted into an economic reality where food and money are now scarce for many ordinary people, caught in the poverty trap of modern Romania. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | QUINZAINE DES REALISATEURS.

 

 

 

Europa (2021) Quinzaine – Cannes Film Festival 2021

Dir/Wri: Haider Rashid | Adam Ali, Svetlana Yancheva, Mohomed Zouaoui, Michael Segal | Italy, Thriller 75′

This gritty immigration clearly takes it cue from the 1964 Czechlovak classic Diamonds of the Night that followed two Jewish teenagers escaping from a train taking them to Dachau concentration camp. Haider Rashid’s debut may be more colourful but the sombre subject remains the same. A breathless handheld camera follows a young Iraqi Muslim who reaches the coast of Bulgarian on a boat, trafficked from North Africa. Hoping for a better life, rather than escaping certain death like the teens in Jan Namec’s New Wave debut that ends in tragedy, Europa is more enigmatic.

DoP Jacopo Caramella keeps his camera right up close to Kamal (Ali) as he rushes on through the bosky undergrowth. Occasionally the focus broadens to the near distance where his pursuers are hot on his trail. Europa is about the pain, fear and gruelling tiredness suffered by this modern refugee who may be young and fit but is also injured and exhausted by his dangerous odyssey, and ill-equipped for to endure the perilous journey that lies ahead when night falls.

Writing with Sonia Giannetto, Haider keeps the tension taut in this fact- based drama driven forward by Kamal’s terrorised POV. We feel his sheer exhaustion, his fear-fuelled energy sapping away. Eventually he reaches a safe haven in the woods but not for long. Adam Ali grew up in the safety of Manchester but his performance as Kamal is fraught with palpable terror in this tightly- wound unhurried  tragedy that ponders the unkindness of strangers. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021 

La Traviata – Mes Frères et Moi (2021) Un Certain Regard Cannes 2021

Dir/Wri: Yohan Manca | Cast: Jael Mouin Berrandou, Judith Chemla, Dali Benssalah, Sofian Khammes | Drama France 108′

A 14-year-old  boy broadens his cultural horizons caring for his bedridden mother in this fresh and lively family drama from France’s Yohan Manca.

Nour – a fresh-faced Jael Mouin Berrandou – has just finished school for the summer, but going on holiday is not on the cards. Sharing a council house with his four brothers brings tensions the usual tensions as the four of them struggle to look after their mother whose love of opera music – particularly La Traviata – fills their cramped home in the South of France.

When Nour crosses paths with Sarah (Manca’s real life partner Judith Chemla), who is teaching an Opera summer school, he finally finds the opportunity to come out of his shell and explore new horizons. Manca directs with real joie de vivre in this charming cinema verite crowdpleaser, his characters coming alive despite the challenges of the setting. There’s a raw energy connecting the men to their mother who while desperately sick still acts as a stabilising loving influence for her argumentative family. Chanelling a message of hope with its positive depiction of life’s challenges this is an upbeat feelgood contender for this year’s Un Certain Regard and Camera D’Or. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | UN CERTAIN REGARD

 

 

The Employer and the Employee (2021) Quinzaine – Cannes Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Manolo Nieto; Cast: Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Christian Borges, Justina Bustos, Fatima Quintanilla, Carlos Lacuesta, Virgine Mendez, Manuel Guedes; Uruguay 2021, 105 min.

Another big screen treat from South America in this year’s Quinzaine selection, this time from Uruguay stars trailblazing Argentine actor Nahuel Perez Biscayart who has been the toast of the international festival circuit for Persian Lessons, Beats Per Minute, and See You Up There. 

Elegantly paced and thoughtful despite its rather cumbersome title this ‘upstairs downstairs’ parable unfolds in a rural community in the north Eastern part of Uruguay near the Brazilian border where the magnificent widescreen landscape is very much the star of the show.

Uruguayan writer/director Manolo Nieto’s family affair has strong magic realist undertones: his titular boss and employee are not conventional by any means – and neither are their other halves. DoP Arauco Hernandez Holz conjures up lush, languid images in a richly textured slow burn tragedy in the style of Bunuel and Nuri Bilge Ceylan Greek where servant and master are forever bound together in a paternalistic system.

The way we meet Rodrigo (Biscayart), the titular boss, is symptomatic of all the main characters: caught at the border with some weed, he looks like your typical university dropout, and not a clever one at that. A  family doctor swings by to get his baby boy Bautista to sleep in the most unorthodox way possible. Wife Federica (Bustos), a blue eyed blonde, is concerned about Bautista’s health, and later they will take him to hospital for tests, in a nice little tense undercurrent that burbles on til the film’s finale.

Uruguay’s agricultural production had to change from traditional animal farming to soya planting, and only a few labourers can manage the sophisticated machinery for the harvest. Rodrigo sets out to meet the old retainer and farm hand Lacuesta (Lacuesta) who puts forward his teenage son Carlos (Borgoes) for the job. The young man also has a baby daughter with Estafania (Quintanilla) but lacks experience or any real commitment, preferring the more glamorous job of looking after the horses, and one in particular is Hidalgo, a race horse destined to be sold to the Arabs, if it does well in a 115 km marathon race. Carlos hopes to be selected as his jockey. But clearly he’s not up to the job of driving a tractor and a serious accident reveals his shortcomings as an employee.

Surprisingly, Rodrigo gives him another chance, even taking him to a brothel, where Carlos blacks out. The situation becomes even more bizarre when Rodrigo invites Estafanie to work on the hacienda as a maid. Federica and the young woman nearly come to blows over baby Bautista’s care. But Rodrigo is in a bind: the Farmworkers’ Union has filed a lawsuit against him as the boss with overall responsibility for the tractor accident, and so he promises Carlos can ride on Hidalgo at the famous race in Santa Fe where loyalties explode in a racy finale. Manolo Nieto delivers a calmly-paced and contemplative modern thriller that ponders on the past and the present in his native Uruguay. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | QUINZAINE DES REALISATEURS

Lingui (2021) Cannes Film Festival 2021

Dir/Wri: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun | Achouackh Abakar Souleymane, Rihane KHALIL ALIO BRAHIM Youssouf DJAORO FANTA Briya GOMDIGUE | Chad, Drama, 87′

Visual storytelling at its most resplendent Lingui is a simple tale gracefully crafted by a director at the top of his game and brought to life by his talented cast.

In a landlocked Muslim country Lingui (The Sacred Ties) follows Amina an observant single mother living on the margins of a male-dominated society with her teenage daughter Maria. The men not only hold sway, they hold themselves above the law, laying it down harshly for their womenfolk. So the women are forced to play them at their game as we discover when Maria falls pregnant and cannot, by law, have an abortion.

With his vibrant compositions and exquisite framing the director keeps dialogue to a minimum in this filmic ‘whodunnit’ relying on strong cinematic language and a propulsive occasional score by Wasis Diop to show how moments of pleasure occasionally break into the harsh realities of life in Chad’s main city of N’Djamena, where a tribal society has given way to strictly enforced Islam with mosque attendance ‘de rigueur’. Woman are expected to the subservient and cover themselves up in public, ritual circumcision is routinely practiced and performed by the women themselves when the girls are still very young. To be an unmarried mother is considered sinful whatever the circumstances and so for Maria the future looks especially bleak. And rumours spread fast.

Amina makes metal household equipment which she sells for a pittance by the roadside, but not enough to pay for illegal medical intervention. Maria is a typical young teenager: proudly defiant and living by her own modern standards, but her pregnancy will take her back to the dark ages of backstreet abortions and sham. Worse still, she won’t reveal the truth behind her pregnancy until circumstances suddenly a solution. MT

Born in Chad, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun first won critical acclaim for his short films before directing his first feature, Bye-bye Africa (Best First Film, Venice Film Festival 1999). He then went on to direct Abouna (Our Father) (Director’s Fortnight, Cannes 2002), Daratt, Dry Season (Special Jury Award, Venice Film Festival 2006), A Screaming Man (Jury Prize, Cannes Film Festival 2010), Grigris (Vulcain Prize for Best Cinematography, Official Competition, Cannes Film Festival 2013). Hissein Habr , A Chadian Tragedy, his first documentary film, was selected at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, Official Selection – Special screening. A Season in France, is his first feature film shot in France, starring Eriq Ebouaney and Sandrine Bonnaire. Selected at the Toronto International Film Festival 2017 – Special Presentation. New York paid tribute to Mahamat-Saleh Haroun by hosting two retrospectives of his films: in 2006 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and in 2018 at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). In 2010, he received at the Venice Mostra the Robert Bresson Award for his complete works and in 2013, the Fellini Medal awarded by UNESCO.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | IN COMPETITION | WORLD PREMIERE

Where is Anne Frank (2021) Cannes Film Festival

Dir: Ari Folman | With voices of Emily Carey, Ruby Stokes, Neil Barlow, Skye Bennett, Sebastian Croft, Stewart Scudamore | US Animation 109′

On a dark stormy night in Amsterdam a red-haired beauty breaks into the city’s Holocaust Museum to steal a diary from a crystal centrepiece showcase. The woman is Kitty and the diary belonged to the famous woman who created her, Annelies Marie Frank (1929-45).

Ari Folman’s latest animation is a playfully evocative take on the tragedy of the Anne Frank (Emily Carey) whose final months are reflected through the eyes of her gadabout muse and confidante Kitty, vividly brought to life here by Ruby Stokes. Bristling with ideas that buzz around like fireflies in the vibrantly rendered animations, this thematically rich slice of European social and political history pulses to an upbeat syncopated score, but doom is never far away.

Ink spots on the diary implode to reveal telling episodes of the Anne’s daily life before and after her Jewish family’s confinement in an Amsterdam attic, Folman reveals a tense and introspective young daddy’s girl (her father Otto was the sole survivor) escaping into her imagination, pushed away by an unloving mother, an envious elder sister Margot and a collection of unsuitable boyfriends in the shape of Herman Kupman and Rob Cohen, growing up in wartime Amsterdam. Finally she settles for the gentle unassuming hypochondriac Peter van Daan, thoughtfully voiced by Sebastian Croft.

In the present day, Kitty comes alive as an inquiring young girl about town desperate to find out what happened to creator who disappeared nearly eighty years ago. Gradually the past and present collide through a kaleidoscope of comic and tragic touchstones: flashbacks to Anne’s final birthday with a cake and bottle of 4711 cologne; Nazis troops marching into the city as supersized Darth Vader monsters shrouded in black, the Occupy Europe era, and the current immigration crisis shoehorned in as a pivotal plot twist, ingenious but somehow a step too far.

More convincing is the film’s ‘cancel culture’ theme that sees the wan and prickly teenage Anne confessing to missing the cinema as she huddles with her family in their attic hideout while the Nazis set fire to the city banning Jews from everywhere in the ensuing mayhem. Her dream that Clark Gable will scoop her up on a white charger and save her from the macabre encroaching Nazi forces feels real and poignant covid-wise.

In their hideout the Frank family are joined by a genteel family the Van Daans. This allows Folman to work his insightful take on human nature and the well-loved Jewish food and hypochondriac themes. These comedy moments bring relief and ponder farting from too much cabbage, and Peter’s penchant for staying in bed all day feigning illness.

After Anne’s disappearance Kitty files a ‘missing person’s report’ and meets little Ava who has managed to enter Europe by boat courtesy of her sailor father. The police are ever vigilant, one even has an Israeli accent, but the shadow of the death camps darkens the film’s final segment in haunting widescreen animations that see trains travelling East to Westerbork transit camp where Anne and her mother are briefly united before she goes with Margot to Bergen Belsen and beyond.

There is a romantic scene towards the end that captures Anne and Peter kissing under a frosty star-strewn sky, set to Chopin’s Piano Etude #3 In E. This is the loveliest memory of a film that occasionally dazzles with its  wealth of thoughts and memories of a terrible time in history when Europe was divided as it is in some ways still today. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | SPECIAL SCREENINGS

 

Evolution (2021) Cannes Film Festival 2021

Dir: Kornél Mundruczó, Kata Weber | Hungary Drama 97’

In a blistering follow-up to Pieces of a Woman, Kornél Mundruczó and Katia Weber return with this powerful drama tracing three generations of a family, from a surreal memory of World War II to modern day Berlin, unable to process their past in a society still coping with the wounds of its history.

False memories, real memories, recollections and reminiscences still haunt those affected as they surface, bob along or drown in a tide of feelings haunted by the past and connected by the Hungarian filmmaker’s evocatively visual imagery and Weber’s thoughtful storytelling.

Drawing on her Hungarian Jewish roots Weber crafts a three stranded story, the first, entitled Lena, is one of the most unusual opening scenarios of recent years set on a second world wartime battlefield, the second is about Lena, a discursive two handler that sees a mother recounting her Holocaust early months as a baby born in Auschwitz, and the third is set in modern Berlin where her own daughter is now living with a son Jonas who is having a difficult time at school. While generational traumas find new expression in the present, the family in EVOLUTION looks towards a more hopeful future despite its troubled past. MT

Retour a Reims (Fragments) (2021) Cannes Film Festival, Quinzaine 2021

Dir.: Jean-Gabriel Périot; Documentary with a narration by Adèle Haenel; France 2021, 83 min.

Adèle Haenel is the force behind this sober big screen essay film from French writer/director Jean-Gabriel Périot, based on the autobiography of philosopher and author Didier Eribon (*1953) Retour a Reims (2009) it works as a social and political commentary of the past 100 years.

Eribon is a controversial figure in French literary circles winning the prestigious Brudner Prize, which he later returned. Retour has also been adapted for the stage by Laurent Hatal in 2014.

Périot successfully avoids talking heads and instead overlays Adèle Haenel’s narration of the text with a 83-minute collection of French newsreel, documentary and feature film clips from the 20th century. As the camera slowly pans over a working class district of the city, Retour a Reims opens with a discourse on the family’s history, recounting how his grandfather, who died aged 54, kept it all going with to two jobs during the 1940s when the average live expectancy of manual workers was around 59. There then follows a long diatribe about a reconciliation with his mother, visiting her for the first time in 30 years, after the death of his homophobic father. “My hatred for him has been forged by the violence of the social world. His fate was determined by his upbringing. leaving school at fourteen like all working class kids of his generation. The powers that be knew that Culture was a corrupting force, controlled by the middle and upper classes, they were kept apart from the workers”.

An interview during the 1950s documents the power of this ruling ideology: “At work I can be free, in school we had to be quiet, but at work, we sing, talk and so on.” As in much of Europe, only the privileged entered higher education. Working class parents could not help their children with home work, they could not even, as one of the mother recalls tearfully, give the children fruit.

Eribon’s parents started their marriage in a single room without a bath. Their family was completed with two sons. In the 1950s illegal abortions were common, so some couples put their sex life on hold. After his mother’s insistence paid off, the family was given a two-bedroom apartment in one of the new estate on the city’s border. Later, his father was made redundant, and his wife was forced to work in the factory.  Traumatised by losing control of the earning power, he joined other men in the local bars near the factory gates to see if their wives were being faithful.

Most working class men had a privileged position in the family set-up: their wives managing the domestic routine often holding down part-time jobs as well as child and home care. Meanwhile the men were away for long hours of social life in the bars and fishing “to get peace from the noisy family life”. Eribon’s parents voted Communist during the 1950s and 60s. This was not so much a political project, but a reaction to the hardship of every-day life. “We don’t know what happy ness is, because we do not have it”.

The advance of the National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen in the early 1970s, was fuelled by the deep-seated racism of the white working class. “A million unemployed means a million immigrants too many”. The replacement of the Communist Party of France by the NF as the main party of the French proletariat is mirrored in a scene from a feature film: in a bar full of French workers, a mixed race couple as accosted, the white woman called a “whore”. One of the workers has a grim message: “I would simply drop an A-bomb on Algiers”. Another one has a better solution:” No bombs. What we should do is put all immigrants onto planes, and then open the doors over the sea”.

Eribon “adopted the racism against the workers from North Africa”. After his mother ‘confessed’ to having voted NF, Didier told her “that Le Pen’s Party was against abortion rights”, but she went on complaining about the hordes of immigrant children.” They have to learn that these places here are not like the hovels they have back home”. After his parents moved away from the estates, her son comes to the conclusion that “the NF is the last bastion of the working class to preserve the identity against those politicians from the right and left, who have trampled on it.” And “My mother’s racism was a compensation for her own repression, so that she could feel superior to those even worse off than herself.” But isn’t the stance of the disenfranchised? The outlook, according to Eribon, is not rosy; somebone painting a slogan on a shop window after the 2017 election “Macron 2017, Le Pen 2022”.

What makes Retour so fascinating is the mixture of personal memory and historical research. Somehow, the author’s guilt at becoming a “class traitor”, seeps below the surface of his studied distance. But most intriguing is the parallel rail of film and commentary: the seventh art as a witness of history. Brilliant. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | QUINZAINE 2021 | SUNDAY JULY 11, 2021

Small Body (2021)

Dir: Laura Samani Wri: Marco Borromei, Elisa Dondi, Laura Samani | Cast Celeste Cescutti, Ondina Quadri | Italy / France / Slovenia – 2021 – 89′ – Friulan and Venetian dialect

A spiritual journey into the unknown is at the heart of this haunting debut feature from Italy’s Laura Samani whose work explores the mystical connection between faith and womanhood.

Celeste Cescutti is the determined female driving force of this eventful odyssey that starts in a fishing community on the shores of the Adriatic at the turn of the 20th century and culminates in the lofty Dolomite mountains. She is Agata a young woman celebrating the imminent arrival of her first child with special ceremony that takes place on the seashore.

The small body of the title refers to her stillborn child – a baby girl – who is buried by her husband before Agata even has a chance to see or hold her. In the Catholic faith, baptism is only for the living, and the local priest denies the child a Christening, leaving its soul languishing in Limbo. When Agata hears about a holy sanctuary in the mountains where infants can be baptised, she courageously sets off with the body of her daughter to ensure she has a place in Heaven, against the odds.

Essentially a two-hander, Small Body (Piccolo Corpo) is an assured feature debut for Samani whose luminous style echoes the lightness of touch in Corpo Celeste and The Wonders by fellow Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher. The film explores the mystique of religious devotion and its links to folklore and ancient tradition, making use of magic realism in a way that feels tonally convincing transporting the story into the realms of spirituality despite the harsh realities of Agata’s mission in difficult conditions and a hostile terrain.

Rather like Jesus Christ’s journey in the wilderness, Agata’s ‘pilgrimage’ north is hampered by highwaymen, unsavoury characters and adverse weather. She also has to convince her mysterious guide (Quadri) not to abandon her, luring them on with a secret package, and promising to share its precious contents if the mission in successful. Quadri, who has already won awards for a role in Ariana, joins a cast of non-pros as the rather enigmatic wayfarer Agata meets on her journey north. The two rebels bond without altogether trusting one another as they pursue their individual goals. An original score by Frederika Stahl adds a sinister undercurrent to proceedings in this beguiling drama lensed by Slovenian DoP Mitja Ličen whose magnificent landscapes of Venezia Friuli Giulia and the Italian Dolomites create a surreal sense of place. MT

NOW ON RELEASE | SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Tom Medina (2021) Cannes Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Tony Gatlif; Cast: David Murgia, Slimane Dazi, Karoline Rose Sun, Suzanne Aubert, Lyes Ouzeri; France 2020/21, 95 min.

The latest from French, Algerian born director/writer Tony Gatlif is a passionate portrait of a young drifter, the titular Tom Medina, who fails to adjust to life in the romantic surroundings of the Camargue.

Drawing on his ethnic heritage as a Romani, Gatlif shows Tom in permanent transit transported by magical landscapes, DoP Patrick Gheringhell conjures up a parallel universe where Tom is much more comfortable than in reality.

Tom is a petty criminal on the run from his family heading for Spain where he hopes to become a matador. But his identity papers are in disarray and his gothic rock star daughter Stella (Rose Sun) and father are still bemused by his sudden disappearance. Now on probation along with his sidekick Bob, (Ouzeri), a marionettist who entertains everybody with his witty performances, the two are entrusted to the care of Ulysse (Dazi), a horse trainer cum probation officer, with a penchant for Provençale literature. The journey south kicks off at a bullring where Tom watches the matador leaving the stage, having crossed paths with a black cat. Tom tries gamely to replace him, but the animal gets the better of him.

In a small town not far away, Tom meets up with Suzanne (Aubert), his female alter ego. She sells bunches of rosemary in the town square, but really longs to be united with her baby-daughter who now lives with foster parents in Montpelier. On this spiritual journey of sorts the motley crew find themselves in all sorts of scrapes but luckily Ulysses always manages to save the day, Tom eventually finding satisfaction, redeemed by the power of love.

Transcended by the wild beauty of the Calmargue, the feature centres on a core collective of loveable idiosyncratic oddballs. The episodic nature of the narrative is possibly not really about to sustain the running time, but the performances are entertaining enough to capture our imagination for a while, and Gatlif directs with great sensibility and paternal care for his assorted oddballs. A Misfits for our time. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Are You Lonesome Tonight (2021) Cannes Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Wen Shipei; Cast: Eddie Peng, Sylvia Chang, Wang Yanhui, Zhang Yu; China 2021, 95 min.

Memory and obsession dominate the debut of Chinese director/co-writer Wen Shipei in a contemporary version of Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’.

Taking its title from the iconic Elvis tune which is rendered by numerous artists on various media outlets, Are You Lonesome Tonight smoulders with hallucinatory visuals from Andreas Thalhammer, most of the action taking place night in an old fashioned trippy experience.

Xue Ming (Peng) tries to get by as an air-con engineer, but hardly makes ends meet. His much younger girl friend (Peiyao), is dismayed when he misses another date in the local cinema, without even apologising. Driving along in a clapped out mini-van Ming runs over a man, and decides to dispose of the corpse rather than alert the authorities. His victim is Mr. Liang; his widow Liang Ma (a brilliant Sylvia Chang) puts up ‘Missing Person’ posters all over town. But it soon turns out Liang was also a smalltime gangster, and the lucrative spoils from life of crime are hidden in a locker at the railway station. Ming finds a key but is unaware of the fortune.

As it happens, Liang Ma’s air conditioning breaks down, and Ming is only too willing to repair it for free, in an effort to assuage his burgeoning guilt for her husband’s death. Liang Ma reveals that the police have found her husband’s body and identified his killer. Meanwhile Peng becomes obsessed with his crime and the surviving victim, following Liang Ma everywhere, desperate to make a clean breast of it, and finally finding the courage to confess.

Enter Detective Inspector Chen (Yanhui), who gets obsessed with the case. The chase and shootings that follow are the weakest part of the feature, which redeems itself with the last part, after Peng’s release from the prison after an eight-year sentence in 2005.

A non-linear structure underpins this episodic feature, so whenever Shipei shifts into action mode, the narrative loses its integrity: the key to the treasure in the railway station is merely a McGuffin, and Shipei would have done better to treat it exactly as such. Ma Liang’s guilt at wishing her husband dead, before he left on that fateful evening, is as lingering as Ming’s guilt for killing the unsavoury husband.

Detective Chen is the third member of this rimorse-ridden trio, trying to avenge the death of his partner. Their struggle to liberate themselves is a long one, but there is hope for all of them.

Are you Lonesome is a brilliant exercise in aesthetics. Fewer conventional action scenes would have made more impact in this  impressive-looking modern drama. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Softie – Petite Nature (2021) Semaine de la Critique

Dir.: Samuel Theis; Cast: Aliocha Reinert, Antoine Reinartz, Melissa Olexa, Izoa Higelin, Jade Schwartz, Mario Gallo, Romane Esch, Abdel Bensehendikh; France 2021, 93 min.

Class and gender politics are delicately explored in this sophomore feature from writer/director Samuel Theis, graduate of the famous La FEMIS film school and co-director of Party Girl (2014) which won the Camera d’Or at Cannes.

The film explores how boys process and absorb ideas of self and masculinity through ten year old Johnny (Reinert) who lives on a council estate in Forbach near the German border. Highly intelligent and mature for his age, he’s already a star pupil at the local primary school and very much the prodigal son of his broken family, taking care of little sister Melissa (Schwartz) and tearaway teenage brother Dylan (Gallo). His mother Sonia (Olexa) has just shacked up with a new boyfriend  (Bensehendikh) and now works as a shop assistant in a grocery store.

But everything changes when a new teacher arrives at the school, taking Johnny under his wing. Jean Adamski (Reinartz) lives with his partner Nora (Hegelin) in a posh suburb – light years away from Johnny’s estate. Off they all go on visits to the local museum in Metz, where Nora works. Johnny even spends the night at the couple’s home, where Nora teaches him all about body language. This short encounter has serious consequences. Johnny tries out Nora’s ideas on Jean, kissing him on the lips. Jean is horrified, and shuts down all contact with his pupil. Johnny’s life soon spins out of control.

In his debut Aliocha Reinert gives a stunning performance as Johnny. With long blond hair, his androgynous look hints at gender identification issues, even though these are mostly ambivalent. But the social gap is always made transparent, Jacques Girault’s luminous camerawork keeping things light despite the thorniness of the core themes. The rough and tumble of life on the estate, and the modest but artistic household are clearly on different planets. Theis directs with great sensitivity, always giving the actors enough leash to express themselves naturalistically. Who is afraid of the second film, then? AS

CANNES SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE | 2021

Bruno Reidal: Confessions of a Killer (2021) Semaine de la Critique, Cannes 2021

Dir: Vincent Le Port | Cast: Roman Villedieu, Jean-Luc Vincent, Dimitri Dore | France, Drama 101′

Some things you never forget. And for young Bruno Reidal it was the traumatic annual pig slaughter at his family farm.

Competing for this years Camera d’Or this classically told period drama is the feature debut of Vincent Le Port who shows with dispassion and meticulous detail how a killer is made from early childhood through his introverted sullen central character evocatively played by Dimitri Dore.

Mulling over themes of guilt, masturbation and Catholicism, there’s actually a touch of the Bruno Dumont’s about this elegant and captivating period chronicle that gracefully explores the grim genesis of murder (Jean Luc Vincent also appeared in Camille Claudel 1915 and Slack Bay).

Based on the real writings of a convicted murderer at the turn of the last century, the film opens in 1905 with a gruesome murder, the camera focusing on the strenuous efforts of young Bruno as he decapitates a child – we later see the headless body lying arms up-stretched in its leafy grave.

Bruno (Dimitry Dore) then gives himself up to the authorities denying to doctors that he a criminal or insane. So despite the serious nature of his crime, the investigating doctor Lacassagne (Vincent) puts the pasty-faced boy into a bare room and orders him to write down his life story. Meanwhile an invasive interrogation by a team of doctors forms the backbone to a lushly dramatised chronicle of Bruno Reidal’s life.

Bruno was born in rural Raulhac, Cantal (Auvergne) on June 12,1888, one of six children of modest but intelligent farming stock, his formal and undemonstrative parents were hard-working, his father would die before  Bruno even reached puberty. Taking over farming duties one summer’s day Bruno suffers a coup de soleil. And this along with the traumatic annual pig slaughter at the family farm makes an horrific impression on the boy’s rather sensitive frame of mind, seemingly turning his thoughts to matters macabre. All this is negativity is enforced by an unloving early sexual experience – he is interfered with by an old wayfarer one day in the fields and this becomes the blueprint for his obsessive need to masturbate connecting sexual pleasure with violent intent. His mother then sends him away to a Catholic seminary where the ascetic religious education sees Bruno continually haunted by terrible thoughts of killing and torturing his fellow students, and of course, masturbating. And then he meets fellow student Blondel.

The verdant rolling countryside of the Auvergne provides a glorious pastoral setting for this serene and solemnly paced drama, contrasting wildly with its cruel and murderous narrative and perverted central character of Bruno who we feel a strange pity for despite his cold and calculating personality. MT

SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

Medusa (2021) Quinzaine – Cannes Film Festival

Dir: Anita Rocha da Silveira | Cast: Bruna Linzmayer, Thiago Fragoso, Lara Tremouroux, Mariana Oliveira | Brazil horror 127′

Woman are supposed to be the fairer and more gentle sex. But not according to Medusa. This psychedelic female-centric psychodrama makes florid use of magic realism to expose the rank hypocrisy still rife in modern day Brazil through a group of friends who pretend to be morally whiter than white. Of course, quite the opposite is true as we discover in this trenchant take down of hyper-feminism and religious devotion under right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro.

In her follow-up to Mata Me For Favor (2015) Anita Rocha da Silveira’s jagged sociopolitical satire is an eye-popping yet strangely serene selection of episodes that invite us to take a walk on the wild side with its unusual characters – mostly women – who occasionally break loose when they’re not being ultra demure. The reason is to attack other women who they consider  out of order on religious or moral grounds.

Medusa kicks off with a mob scene that sees masked women at war with each other, accusing them of debauchery, during a blackout in the north-east of Brazil. The women have a band, ‘The Princesses’, which preaches obedience to men and eternal love for God. The narrative is centred around the lead singer of ‘The Princesses’, Michele (Tremoroux), and newcomer Mariana (Oliveira). The men form a cabal called ‘The Watchmen’, clad all in bright green. The spiritual leader is the narcissistic Pastor Guilherme (Fragoso), who loves the sound of his own voice.

Mari sets out to find Melissa Garcia (Linzmeyer), an actress, who, some time ago, suffered an acid attack at the hands of ‘an angel-like woman’. Both have since disappeared. Bible reading and book-burning go hand in hand, whilst at the same time – in a contradictory twist – the women must be immaculate dressed and coiffured. Disfigured by a tragic accident Mari is then sacked from her job at the beauty clinic, and work in a sinister clinic caring for comatose victims of plastic surgery, where she falls for a male nurse Lucas (Fazao), even though he is one of the ‘wordy’ men because he enjoys sex.

But Guilherme suffers a heart attack whilst exorcising a demon stage, but is saved. Whilst Mari finds clues to what happened to Melissa, Michele becomes embroiled in a fight with members of her band, and falls into a pond. After a passionate kiss with Mari, a grand finale will answer some of the many open questions, after Guilherme asks Michele to marry her and the latter refuses.

Medusa is all about grand theatre: its shock factor fired up by a potent brew of horror and over-the-top performances. DoP João Atala has a field day with his roving camera in a film that overstays its welcome in the final stretch. Da Silva certainly drives home her message, but less would have been more. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

 

 

Olga (2021) Semaine de la Critique | Cannes Film Festival 2021

Dir: Elie Grappe | Wri: Elie Grappe, Raphaelle Desplechin | Cast: Nastya Budiashkina, Sabrina Rubtsova, Jérôme Martin

It’s 2013 and a 15-year-old gymnast is torn between Switzerland – where she is training for the European Championship in preparation for the Olympics – and Ukraine, where her widowed mother is a controversial anti-government journalist, reporting on the Euromaiden revolt.

As much a sports film as a character drama Grappe and his co-writer Raphaelle Desplechin (sister of Arnaud) keep dialogue lowkey leaving the film’s strong visual aesthetic to drive the story forward, Lucie Baudinaud’s widescreen camerawork making the locations – particularly of the built environment – a star of the show, adding a strong docudrama feel to the feature along with the ample news footage of the ongoing riots that enforce in Olga a strong sense of national pride, despite her new Suisse nationality.

The female centric narrative portrays the tough physical and emotional challenges women face in their careers. It all gets off to a stunning start when Olga and her mother’s car is hit by an unidentified object on the way to dinner one night, spinning out of control in the centre of Kiev. This sets the tone for a feisty confrontation over their respective work priorities. Olga also has a fraught relationship with her French trainer who works her hard, but draws firm boundaries – the training rapport is similar to that in the recent Slalom

When she’s not training tough cookie Olga (a strong-featured Anastasia Budiashkina) must study and speak French with her fellow elite gymnasts and it’s during these online sessions that she sees her mother caught up in the violence back home, pictured in new clips. Although she channels her negative emotions into her training routines the stress clearly has a destabilising affect on the resilient teenager but often erupts into violence in the changing rooms amongst the other girls. A fiercely feminist film that packs a punch with its intense storyline and appealing visual aesthetic. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE 2021

 

The Story of Film: A New Generation Cannes Film Festival (2021)

Dir/Wri: Mark Cousins | Doc, UK 160′

A decade after The Story of Film: An Odyssey, comes Mark Cousins’ latest deep dive inquiry into the state of filmmaking in the 21st century. The Story of Film: A New Generation, sees Cousins focus on the past decade in a fascinating reflection on world cinema from 2010 to 2021. The film opens with Joker and Frozen showing the transformative power and its ability to bring stories from the desperate and disenfranchised on the world stage. Cemetery of Splendor features heavily in this exploration of recurring themes and emerging motifs, from the evolution of film language, to technology’s role in moviemaking today, to shifting identities in 21st-century world cinema.

Cousins’ research is encyclopaedic as he confidently talks us through a staggering array of films – not just from the last ten years but reconnecting to examples that demonstrate connections with the past that have influenced filmmakers of the present and future. Rather like fashion and architecture, cinema is an eternal reimagining of what has gone before marking out trends and themes only to reinvent them to appeal to a new generation, weaving in historical touchstones such as Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter as the world responds to its environment.

Plundering the archives for those iconic features there is everything from Jonathan Glazer’s visually and thematically groundbreaking Under the Skin to reworked upstairs/downstairs satires such as Parasite and Us which explores the dark and light sides of the human psyche through the an invasion thriller. In With films like Lover’s Rock and Moonlight Cousins identifies films, filmmakers and communities under-represented in traditional film histories, with a particular emphasis on Asian and Middle Eastern works, as well as boundary-pushing documentaries and films that see gender in new ways.

The streaming age has taken us from ‘cinema on show’ to ‘cinema on demand’. Cousins tracks the latest trends of the digital age with viewers calling the shots, a trend accelerated in the light of the recent pandemic. He looks forward to the future but what remains is a recurring motif that drives cinema forward: our profound desire to escape and travel beyond the ordinary, or see ourselves reflected through the medium of the silver screen as we are transported to a place of wonder and euphoria.

The Story of Film: a New Generation will be showcased to the press and festival attendees in the afternoon of Tuesday, July 6th in the Debussy Theatre of the Palais des Festivals.

Babi Yar. Context (2021) Ukrainian Conflict

Dir: Sergei Loznitsa | Documentary, 120 min, b/w and colour, 2021 | The Netherlands, Ukraine

History comes back to haunt us in this recent documentary from Ukraine’s Sergei Loznitsa. It reconstructs the events leading up to the massacre of over 30,000 Jews in German-occupied Kyiv in September 1941, and the aftermath of the tragedy and other genocides committed by the German Army, Gestapo and SS soldiers during the occupation of  Ukraine between 1941 and 1943. The prolific Ukrainian documentarian also mentions the collaboration of the huge majority of Ukrainian citizens in the crimes. His aim is to “plunge the viewer into the atmosphere of the time”.

 

After the invasion of Soviet Ukraine by German in June 1941, the vast majority of Ukrainians actually supported the invaders. Banners were put up, proclaiming “Glory for Hitler and Melinek”. In Lviv (formerly Lemberg), Ukrainian Auxiliary Forces helped to round up Jewish citizens of the city on 1st of July. The Jews were accused of collaboration with Soviet Forces and the Secret Police of the NKDW. A month later, the population greeted Hans Frank, the General Governor of Poland, to celebrate the incorporation of Galicia into the German controlled governance with Poland.

Hitler salutes of the Ukrainians, coming across as entirely genuine, and the women dance enthusiastically in their traditional costumes. Ukrainian men parade on horses, and the women offer up their flowery tributes to the Nazi leader. Banners again proclaim “Long Live Adolf Hitler the Leader of the German people”. Flags with the Nazi Party symbol are put on trams, so are photos of Hitler, proclaiming him the Liberator of ‘the Ukraine’.

On Monday, 24th of June 1941, all Jews in Kyiv are ordered to gather at 8 am at the corner of Melnikova and Dokterivska Street, bringing their valuables and warm clothing. The proclamation is stark: “all Jews not obeying will be shot immediately.” “Citizens breaking into Jews’ homes will be shot”. On September 29/30 the ‘Sonderkommando 4a of the ‘Einsatzgruppe C, assisted by two battalions of the Police Regiment South and the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police – without any resistance from the local population – shoot 33, 771 Jews in a ravine in north-west Kyiv. The local press celebrates the massacre, talking to about 150 000 Jews who have left the capital, so that hour by hour, life in the city can revert to normal: “Kyiv is liberated from oriental barbarians, finally a new life begins.” The Jews of Lubny, Poltava, Kharkov, Kremchug, Borispol and Lugotin among others, will follow. Vasily Grosman talks mournfully about the centuries of Ukrainians and Jews living peaceful together.

In November 1943 Soviet troops re-take Kiyv, not many turn out to greet the liberators. Courts hear cases of genocide, one is simply called Nr. 1679. One of the accused is SS man Hans Isenmann, his military rank would be Sergeant. He goes into details of the murders as if describing a sporting event, in which he played a winning part. “I had to round up and shoot Jews. We divided them into groups of seventy to ninety, then later into smaller groups with six men to be shot, and six to be guarded. In the end, 45 to 50 were led to the ravine. We used one machine gun, two sub-machine guns and rifles. I shot with the sub-machine gun of Unterscharführer Rennert and killed 120 Jews. The valuables of the Jews were collected by Special Commandos, but I do not know what happened afterwards.”

Witness Dina Pronicheva, an actress, told of her narrow escape – so many things had to go according to plan for her to be able to serve as a witness. She lied to a Ukrainian policeman, so she would not be shot immediately, but could sit with a group of women near the massacres, hoping to escape in the evening. But a German commando picked up the whole group, and led them to the ravine to be shot. Pronicheva jumped at the right moment and landed on the pile of corpses. Then the Germans scattered soil over the dead, and Pronicheva nearly suffocated. The Germans, wanting to keep the massacre ‘under wraps’, sent a commando unit down into the ravine to kill off the few who were still breathing. One of the SS men stood on Pronicheva’s chest and arm, the nails in his boots piercing her skin. By now it was dark, and she managed to crawl out from under the rotting corpses, the Germans had gone and she fled into the night.

On February 2nd 1946, thirteen men were hanged publicly on Kyiv”s Kalinin Square. Among them was Hans Isenmann. About 1.4. million Jews were murdered in Ukraine; even now new mass graves continue to surface. The ravine of Babi Yar is now a reservoir for liquid industrial waste.

Loznitsa’s impressive ‘Trauerarbeit’ seems even more relevant at a time when some want to re-write history and emerge as the sole victims in today’s new conflict. But like in the case of the Baltic States, mass graves do not lie.

BABI YAR. CONTEXT is Loznitsa’s 7th film presented in the Official Selection of the Festival de Cannes. Loznitsa decribes his feature as “a film about our past, it’s about our present and, possibly, about our future.” Sadly his words have come true. AS

Produced with the support of the BABYN YAR HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL FOUNDATION. The film screened in the Séance Spéciale strand of the 74th edition of Cannes Film Festival.

Drive my Car (2021) Cannes Film Festival 2021

Dir/Wri: Ryusuke Hamaguchi | Cast Hidetoshi Nishijima, Toko Miura, Masaki Okada, Reika Kirishima, Park Yurim, Jin Daeyeon | Drama, Japan

Ryusuke Hamaguchi follows Wheel of Fortune and Fame with another thoughtful love story this time Hidetishi Nishijimia is Yusuke Kafuku, a stage actor and director preparing to direct Uncle Vanja at a theatre festival in Hiroshima.

Daily rides to and from work in a stylish red Saab with his shy young driver Misaki (Miura) provide a safe space to share his feelings as a tentative relationship develops between the two lonely hearts as secrets from the past and heartfelt confessions gradually surface.

Based on the short story Drive My Car in Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami, the Japanese director is still riding high on his feature Wheel of Fortune and Fame that won a Silver Bear earlier this year at Berlinale 2021. Once again this explores loneliness and the intense human need to share and be understood. Kafuku is a passionate and highly relatable character whose professional skills and strong sense of self belie his deep longing for a kindred soul to complete his happiness.

Modest in terms of his material needs Kafuku has a complex psyche with a rich emotional inner world and his soul is often laid bare during intimate chats with female chauffeur Misaki. She is a woman whose harsh and extreme life has afforded her a maturity beyond her years. And although the two comes are from different generations Hamaguchi’s textured script and layered characterisations show them to be highly intuitive and emotional intelligent.

The film’s ample running time allow for an indepth understanding of what it is to be lonely while also a complete human being from a intellectual and professional point of view. It’s a subtle, engrossing and enjoyable piece of cinema showing Hamaguchi at the top of his game as one of the world’s leading auteurs

 

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | WINNER | BEST SCRIPT 2021

 

A Radiant Girl (2021) Semaine de la Critique

Dir/Wri: Sandrine Kiberlain | Cast: Rebecca Marder, Ben Attal, India Hair, André Marcon, Anthony Bajon and Florence Viala.

Garlanded actress Sadrine Kiberlain makes her debut behind the camera with this wartime drama about a young Jewish woman living in Paris in the early days of the German occupation in 1942.

Comédie-Française actress Rebecca Marder who recently starred in Spring Blossom, the debut feature of Kiberlain’s daughter Suzanne Lindon. She plays 19-year-old Irene whose passion for acting is only dimmed by the shadow of war.

Far too often cinema pictures the plight of Jews under the Nazis, the latter dominating, the production design getting the lion share of the budget, the victims very much stereotypes. Kiberlain offers a refreshingly different approach and appears to have solved the conundrum: her middle class Jewish family in the Parisian summer of 1942 lives under occupation, but the emblem of evil only appears for a few seconds.

Irene (Marder) is nineteen years old and lives with her older brother Igor (Bajon) in a flat with her grandmother Marceline (Widhoff) and Andre (Marcon), a father figure, Irene’s biological father is an unnamed “public accountant”. We learn this when Andre begs Irene’s drama tutor to classify her as “half Jewish” for the forthcoming audition for the Conservatoire of Dramatic Arts. By then we are more than half way through the film, which starts with rehearsals for Marivaux’s ‘La Meprise’ (The Misconception), in which Irene has a part as well as her love-interest Jo (Attal), who is also Jewish.

Irene is playful, the Marivaux rehearsals are much more dominant in her life than Marceline’s struggle: Andre had to go to the police to have a red “J” stamped in all of their identity-cards. The agnostic Marceline finally relents and gives Andre the documents, after hiding them. Andre is relieved: “Nothing will happen to us, we are French. I heard of Madame K. being arrested, but she was Polish”. Irene meanwhile feels dizzy and has fainting spells. Doctor V. prescribes vitamins and an eye test, conducted by Jacques (Metzger). Irene falls for him, since Jo has disappeared. Best friend Viviane (Hair) dresses up as a boy to take Jo’s place in the play.

When the day arrives for the results to be handed out much has changed: The families’ radio and binoculars have been confiscated, Andre finds a note asking him “to please enter the building by the backdoor”. At the bakery the family is not served: “sold out” says the shop assistant, with the racks bulging with baguettes. Igor’s long time girl friend Heloise suddenly cancels her invitation to spend the Shabbat with the family, and the only non-Jewish guest, Josiane (Viala), is no great help either: “I like Jews personally, and find other cultures interesting, like travelling”. Students share their dreams about what they will do if selected. Vivienne and Irene (now wearing the Yellow Star) have the highest hopes, when Vivienne spots something and the screen goes dark.

Kiberlain’s minimalist approach has been shot in contemporary Paris, focusing on the Germans’. psychological tactics of isolating Jews and leaving them in fear what will happen next. In spite of all this, A Radiant Girl is often playful like its titular character. We are reminded of Rivette’s La Bande des Quartre, with four treasure hunting young women also being in a Marivaux play: ‘La double Inconstance’.

Rebecca Marder is pitch-perfect: just hitting the right notes between romantic innocence and provocative wilfulness. DoP Guillaume Schiffman’s images capture the sunset of the family, conjuring  up a bourgeois Paris, where the victims are shunned by their own class. A passionate and mature debut. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

 

 

Amparo (2021) Cannes – Semaine de la Critique 2021

Dir/Wri: Simon Mesa Soto | Sandra Melissa Torres, Diego Alejandro Tobon, Luciana Gallego, John Jairo Montoya | Colombia, Drama 97′

In the early 1990s Medellín, in Colombia, was the most violent city in the world. The homicide rate reached unprecedented levels not least because of notorious cocaine baron Pablo Escobar who used Medellin as a base for his cartel. Young men were also being swept off the streets and drafted into an army, particularly in the poorest and most deprived parts of the city. And this is where Simon Mesa Soto’s feature debut Amparo takes place. It’s a cruel-eyed, claustrophobic drama that keeps a tight grip on its eponymous heroine, following her relentlessly through the backwaters of Colombia second largest city where she struggles to bring up two children from men long since gone. Her feisty mother is the backbone of the family with her finger on the pulse. The voice of Colombia’s strong matriarchal tradition she sums up her daughter’s life in a nutshell: two kids from two different fathers, one roaming the streets with no job and no money. She thinks the army may be the making of aimless Elias. But Amparo thinks differently, and Sandra Melissa Torres plays her with a gritty but glum sense of resignation.

Amparo is not a particularly likeable single mother. Worn down by the years of worry she couldn’t care less about her little daughter Karen (Gallego) but is devoted to her spoilt monosyllabic son Elias (Tobon) whose hopeless plight drives the story forward. In the opening scene he is being interrogated off camera by an officer from the army. Soon he will be transferred to a dangerous base in the southern outpost of Caqueta, rumoured to be a point of no return. Amparo will do everything in her power to keep him at home.

Simon de Soto Mesa establishes a sense of slow-burning steely determination in his world weary characters in this atmospheric first feature burnished by Juan Sarmiento’s voyeuristic camerawork that plays along with a secretive society built on transactional relationships, corruption and greed. Every single character is open to persuasion and manipulation in this dog eat dog world, but Amparo keeps her eye on the end game – to secure the release of her much loved son. And it’s a race against time where human nature is laid bare in all its depravity. But one thing stands out – a deal is a deal, even in Godforsaken Medellin. And Amparo must bargain with the men in control to let Elias go. And despite a rather predictable outcome this is an evocative thriller masterfully told. MT

SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE | CANNES 2021

 

Prayers for the Stolen (2021) Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2021

Dir/Wri: Tatiana Huezo | Cast: Ana Cristina Ordonez Gonzalez, Marya Membreno, Norma Pablo, Mayra Batalla, Eileen Yanez, Emeo Villegas Olivia Lagunas | Drama 100′

Making its premiere at this year’s Un Certain Regard sidebar this lush and haunting tale of friendship and survival draws us into the vortex of oppression and fear felt by three girls growing up during wartime in rural Mexico.

Based on the 2014 novel by Jennifer Clement this is the latest human drama from Tatiana Huezo who has been quietly raising the profile of social and personal abuse for woman all over Latin America – from Civil War in El Salvador (in El Lugar mas pequeno in 2011) to human trafficking in Mexico (Tempestad (2016)). This is her third and most accomplished feature to date.

In a tight-knit community nestled in the Mexican mountains, we first meet eight year old Ana (Ordonez Gonzalez), digging a hole in the ground with her mother Rita (Batalla). Ana will hide here when the guerrilla soldiers come to kidnap the local girls. They will be turned into captives and slaves. In the bosky remote hillside violence is an everyday part of growing up. So Ana and her two friends create their own impenetrable parallel universe where they play at being women, comforting each other with an affectionate bond of friendship, singing and painting their lips with beetroot. Soon Ana’s long hair will be cut into a boyish crop to avoid detection. On lonely days she hides out in the empty houses of villagers who have long disappeared or fled, such as Juana and Don Pancho, whose abandoned flock of cows now roams free in the village.

Strong on atmosphere the film is cinematic study of what it means to grow up as a girl in a hostile environment where men are almost constantly the enemy. Ana’s father is supposedly working on the other side of the valley but he has not sent money back for several years and so Ana and her mother are forced to fend for themselves on the brink of poverty. One surreal scene pictures Rita desperately trying to get a mobile signal on the top of a mountain, along the other abandoned women whose ‘phones light up the darkness like mini torches in the gloom.

Five years later, at thirteen, the girls become teenagers as they face the harsh reality of what being a woman really entails in this toxic climate of war and macho culture. Abstract danger becomes an inescapable threat, as a Russian roulette plays out one day when soldiers arrive to take Ana, forcing her into the dugout as her mother is threatened with death.

Some films are moving but this rich character drama is actually harrowing too, as we become emotionally invested in the girls’ story, joining them in their descent into traumatised hell as a daily experience. The casual involuntary abuse from Ana’s mother is echoed by the disorientating fear she feels from the outside threat. Ana – both as a child and a teenager – is impressively performed by two newcomers (Ordonez Gonzalez and Membreno), and is matched by Huezo’s assured direction and luminous camerawork by Dariela Ludlow. MT

UN CERTAIN REGARD | Cannes Film Festival 2021

 

 

Compartment Number 6 (2021)

Dir: Juho Kuosmanen | Cast: Yuriy Borisov, Seidi Haarla, Dinara Drukarova, Vladimir Lysenko | Finland, Drama 107′

Compartment Number 6 sees two unlikely strangers thrown together in a train journey from Moscow to the Arctic Circle port of Murmansk.

Inspired by Rosa Liksom’s award-winning novel this two-hander needs charismatic support from his cast to keep us entertained for nearly two hours. And it certainly gets it, in the shape of Russian actor Yuriy Borisov and Finland’s Seidi Haarla, who won Best Actress for her role at Cannes 2021. A feisty chemistry soon develops between the world-weary Laura, and the maverick miner Ljoha as the film flies from the confines of the original page with a Lesbian twist bringing this upbeat and playfully imaginative road movie right up to date.

Finnish director John Kuosmanen was last in Cannes to win the top prize at Un Certain Regard with his black and white debut feature, boxing drama The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, This is a more contained drama – we don’t get much in the way of scenery as the train chugs its way north, instead the camera is close up and personal as the two become acquainted in the cramped compartment number 6. Vadim’s coarse behaviour and disgusting eating habits sees Laura retreating into the dinner carriage or onto the platform on the train’s frequent stops. And it’s here that we get a flavour of a Russia still reeling from Sovietism where Finnish archeologist Laura has been studying Russian at Moscow University. She now wants to spread her wings and explore the rock formations (petroglyphs) around the Barents Sea, on a break from her lover Irina (Dinara Drukarova). Their affair is finally severed during a telephone chat during a train stop in St Petersburg station.

The journey is eventful with various newcomers breaking the tedium of the shared compartment: a woman with bawling kids is not so welcome, and a guitar playing drifter is not want he seems. Down in the dumps Laura then warms to Ljoha’s invitation to spend the night in his foster mother’s house, at an overnight stop, enabling her to see a different side to the rough and ready vodka drinker with surprising effect.

Ljoha is also going to Murmansk for work reasons and cannot fathom why Laura would want to go there for pleasure during the Russian winter – it’s still early March. And when the train finally grinds into the station the two part company, at least for a while.

The film really takes off in the final part when the unsophisticated couple embark on another journey – this time into unknown and perilous territory. Once again Kuosmanen offers up a rumbustious feelgood film, not quite as visually alluring as his first feature, with the same touching joie de vivre and an atmospheric score of 1980s hits: rousing French tune “Voyage Voyage” by Desireless, topping the bill. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Cannes Selection…now complete

There are always a few last minute additions to the official film line-up at Cannes Film Festival, and today Thierry Fremaux completed the Official Selection for the 74th ‘all live edition’ running from 5 -18 July 2021with FROM AFRICA WITH LOVE. Nicolas Bedos, Jean Dujardin and Pierre Niney star in the Final Screening of the 74th Festival de Cannes!

By renaming the closing film as the “Final Screening”, the Festival de Cannes aims to rekindle the tradition of the last screening, drawing inspiration from huge evening galas gone by like the screening of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (in the old Palais in 1982) or Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise (in the new Palais in 1991).

This year, the 74th Festival will round off with the premier of the latest chapter in the adventures of Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, code name OSS 117, played by Jean Dujardin who will appear onscreen alongside Fatou N’Diaye, Pierre Niney, Natacha Lindinger and the late Wladimir Yordanoff.

Gaspar Noe is back with a docu-drama Vortex, starring Dario Argento, and focusing on the final days of an elderly couple. Press queued all evening at the Marriott Hotel for his previous film Climax in 2018, but this – by its very nature – promises to be a more sober affaire, although with Argento at the helm one never knows.

Once again the films are distinctly Gallic in flavour with three music-themed outings joining the party: TraLaLa is a musical comedy from Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu, and Supremes looks at the French band NTM, directed by Audrey Estrougo. Of the Special screenings New Worlds, The Cradle of a Civilisation is Andrew Muscato’s musical documentary, set in Athens, Greece. It captures the final performance of Bill Murray and Jan Vogler’s European “New Worlds” tour.

Mi iubta Mon amour is the directorial debut of actor-turned-filmmaker Noemie Merlant whose smouldering performance in Portrait of a Young Lady on Fire was one of the highlights of Cannes 2019.

For his latest film Where is Anne Frank? the Oscar-nominated Israeli animator Ari Folman has gained special access to the diaries of the tragic young Jewish girl who went into hiding in wartime Holland. Seen through the eyes of her imaginary friend Kitty, to whom Anne dedicated her diary, she wakes up in contemporary Amsterdam and tries to find Anne in modern day Europe. The film plays out of competition.

Mes Freres Et Moi by Yohan Manca completes the line-up at the Un Certain Regard sidebar.

Jodie Foster will receive an honorary Palme d’Or. Spike Lee will preside over the Jury, and the world premiere of Annette with Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard will open proceedings.

OUT OF COMPETITION

Where is Anne Frank ? by Ari Folman (Israel)

Animated film

CANNES PREMIERE

Vortex by Gaspar Noé (Argentina – Italy)

starring Dario Argento, Françoise Lebrun and Alex Lutz

UN CERTAIN REGARD

Mes frères et moi by Yohan Manca (France)

starring Sofian Khammes, Dali Benssalah, Judith Chemla, Maël Rouin Berrandou

First feature

MIDNIGHT SCREENINGS

Tralala by Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu (France)

starring Mathieu Amalric, Mélanie Thierry, Bertrand Belin, Maïwenn, Josiane Balasko, Denis Lavant

Suprêmes by Audrey Estrougo (France)

starring Théo Christine, Sandor Funtek

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

Bill Murray’s party: New Worlds, the cradle of a civilization by Andrew Muscato (Greece-USA)

starring Bill Murray and the musicians from New Worlds: Jan Vogler, Mira Wang and Vanessa Perez

Mi iubita, Mon amour by Noémie Merlant (France)

starring Gimi-Nicolae Covaci and Noémie Merlant

First feature

Les Héroïques by Maxime Roy (France)

starring François Creton, Richard Bohringer, Ariane Ascaride, Clotilde Courau, Patrick D’Assumçao

First feature

Are you lonesome tonight ? by Wen Shipei (China)

starring Sylvia Chang, Eddie Peng

First feature

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | 6 – 18 JULY 2021

 

Directors’ Fortnight | Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (2021)

Cannes Film Festival is only weeks away and the Directors’ Fortnight selection has just been announced screening from 7 to 17 July 202. It’s surprising how many new filmmakers feature in this year’s slate with Britain’s Clio Barnard and Joanna Hogg joining the party with her sequel to her personal feature Souvenir (2019). 

Other noteworthy directors are Romania’s Radu Muntean (One Floor Below), Italy’s Alice Rohrwacher (Happy as Lazzaro), who joins fellow directors Pietro Marcello (Martin Eden) and Francesco Munzi (Anime Neri) in a documentary portrait of Italy’s up and coming generation. Also to look forward to is the latest from Portuguese auteur Miguel Gomes (Arabian Nights).

A Chiara – Jonas Carpignano 98′

A Night of Knowing Nothing Payal Kapadia (debut) 90′

Ali & Ava – Clio Barnard 93′

Clara Sola – Nathalie Álvarez Mesen (debut) 108′

De bas étage (A Brighter Tomorrow) – Yassine Qnia (debut) 86′

Diários de Otsoga (The Tsugua Diaries) – Miguel Gomes, Maureen Fazendeiro 108′

El empleado y el patron (The Employer and the Employee) de Manuel Nieto Zas 108′

Entre les Vagues (The Braves) d’Anaïs Volpé | 99’1h39

Europa de Haider Rashid – 1h15

Futura de Pietro Marcello, Francesco Munzi, Alice Rohrwacher 105′

Întregalde – Radu Muntean – 1h44

Jadde khaki (Hit the Road) – Panah Panahi (Debut) 93′

Les Magnétiques (Magnetic Beats) de Vincent Maël Cardona (debut) 98′

Luaneshat e kodrës (The Hill where Lionesses Roar) de Luàna Bajrami
(debut) 82′

Medusa d’Anita Rocha da Silveira 127′ 2h07

Mon légionnaire (Our Men) de Rachel Lang 106′ Closing Film

Murina d’Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović (debut) 92′

Neptune Frost de Saul Williams, Anisia Uzeyman 105′

Ouistreham (Between Two Worlds) – Emmanuel Carrère 107′ Opening
1h47 – Film d’ouverture

Re Granchio (The Tale of King Crab) d’Alessio Rigo de Righi, Matteo Zoppis 90′

Retour à Reims (Fragments) – (Returning to Reims (Fragments) – Jean-Gabriel Périot 83′

The Souvenir Part II de Joanna Hogg – 106′
1h46

Yong an zhen gu shi ji (Ripples of Life) de Shujun Wei – 120′

The Sea Ahead d’Ely Dagher (debut) – 116′

SÉANCE SPECIALE
The Souvenir de Joanna Hogg – 120′

QUINZAINE DES REALISATEURS | 7 -17 JULY 2021

 

Petrov’s Flu (2021) | Cannes 2021

Dir: Kiril Serebrennikov | Cast: Semyon Serzin, Chulpan Khamatova, Yulia Boris and Yuri Kolokolnikov | USSR, Drama

Petrov’s Flu, the new film by Kirill Serebrennikov marks the third time in a row for the Russian director at the Cannes Film Festival, uniting him once again with Semyon Serzin, the star of his 2018 drama Leto. His standout thought-provoking religious drama The Student (2016) screened at Un Certain Regard and won that year’s Francois Chalais Award.

Based on the novel “The Petrovs In and Around the Flu” by Alexey Salnikov, PETROV’S FLU is a deadpan, hallucinatory romp through post-Soviet Russia. With the city in the throes of a flu epidemic, the Petrov family struggles through yet another day in a country where the past is never past, the present is a booze-fueled, icy fever dream of violence and tenderness, and where – beneath layers of the ordinary – things turn out to be quite extraordinary.

Set somewhere between reality and imagination, PETROV’S FLU is a visually arresting experience: rough, funny, violent and psychedelic, and yet tender and poetic. A tale that is going to stick in the viewer’s mind for a long time after the credits roll. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | COMPETITION

 

La Civil (2021) Cannes – Un Certain Regard 2021

Dir: Teodora Ana Mihai | Cast: Arcelia Ramirez, Alvaro Guerrero, Jorge A Jimenez, Ayelen Muzo | Belgium. Drama 140′

La Civil is only the third Belgian Flemish feature of recent years to be included in the prestigious official Un Certain Regard sidebar at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Another startling episode in the history of Latin America was the inspiration for this feature debut from Belgian-Romanian director, Teodora Ana Mihai. This time we’re in Mexico channelling the tragic real life experience of Miriam Rodríguez through the character of a young mother Cielo who is desperately looking for her daughter abducted by members of a drug cartel. Once again, the authorities are not much use so Cielo (a feisty Arcelia Ramirez ) takes things into her own hands gradually turning from ordinary housewife into avenging activist, all for the love of her daughter.

Visually striking and packed with gritty authenticity thanks to a script from Texan born Mexican author Habacuc Antonio de Rosario the film comes alive in relating the ongoing horror of families blown apart by drug cartels, not unlike the British equivalent in the recent County Lines. At its heart La Civil is about unconditional parental love, a mother refusing to back down in the face of a venal enemy, prepared to do anything to save her child, rather like this year’s other Mexican survival drama Amparo playing in the Semaine de la Critique section.

Here the camera sees things from the victim’s point of view with strong atmospheric echoes of the US TV crime series Narcos. MT

UN CERTAIN REGARD CANNES | JULY 12TH PREMIERE

Cannes Film Festival | Programme 2021 announced

Thierry Fremaux looked proud and relaxed to confirm that the 74th Cannes Film Festival programme will go ahead from 6 – 17 July, two months later than its normal May edition.

Only one journalist looked on at the Paris Press conference as Thierry announced this year’s programme during a cosy chat with Festival president Pierre Lescure. The two Frenchmen laughed and bantered voluably – it seems that all is well on the Cote d’Azur, so far. It remains to be seen whether the British press corps and distributors will be able to make it due to government restrictions.

The twenty four films selected from almost 20,000 will include festival regulars Hong Sang-soo, Arnaud Desplechin, Mathieu Amalric, Asghar Farhadi and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Sean Penn will also be there with Flag Day  – his previous feature The Last Face screened to mass walkouts back in 2016.

Appropriately, female directors are there in force, and Spike Lee will finally get a chance to head up the main jury after last year’s fiasco was cancelled due to the pandemic.

French director Leos Carax is also back with the festival opener Annette – also in competition – his last Cannes feature was the astonishing Denis Lavant starring Holy Motors (2013, now a firm cult classic. And Finnish director Juho Kuosmenan whose breakout Un Certain Regard winner The Happiest Day in the Life of Olii Maki enters the main competition with Compartment Number 6. Justin Kurzel is also back with Nitram after his stunning version of Macbeth, in comp five years ago.

Britain will also feature with Andrea Arnold’s latest Cow, and Mothering Sunday, based on a novel by Graham Swift (who also wrote Last Orders and Waterland), forming part of the new Cannes Premiere strand, dedicated to first features.

From the US, Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, will also finally get a premiere, after missing its chance last year. And Todd Haynes will be there with a new documentary The Velvet Underground. 

The Un Certain Regard sidebar, the home for edgier competition fare features Kagonada’s latest After Yang, Alexei German Jr’s follow up to Dovlatov, Delo (House Arrest) and Tatiana Huezo’s Noche de Fuego.

Competition

Annette – Leos Carax (also opening night film)
Benedetta – Paul Verhoeven
Bergman Island – Mia Hansen-Love
Drive My Car – Ryusuke Hamaguchi
A feleségem története (The Story of My Wife) – Ildikó Enyedi
Flag Day – Sean Penn
La Fracture – Catherine Corsini
The French Dispatch – Wes Anderson
Ha’berech (Ahed’s Knee) – Nadav Lapid
Haut et Fort (Casablanca Beats) – Nabil Ayouch
Un héros (A Hero) – Asghar Farhadi
Hytti Nro 6 (Compartment No.6) – Juho Kuosmanen
Les Intranquilles (The Restless) – Joachim Lafosse
Julie (The Worst Person in the World) – Joachim Trier
Lingui – Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Memoria – Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Nitram – Justin Kurzel
Les Olympiades (Paris 13th District) – Jacques Audiard
Par un demi clair matin – Bruno Dumont
Petrov’s Flu – Kirill Serebrennikov
Red Rocket – Sean Baker
Titane by Julia Ducournau
Tout s’est bien passé – François Ozon
Tre piani by Nanni Moretti

Un Certain Regard

After Yang – Kogonada
Blue Bayou – Justin Chon
Bonne Mère – Hafsia Herzi
Commitment Hasan – Hasan Semih Kaplanoglu
Delo (House Arrest) – Alexey German Jr.
Freda – Gessica Geneus
The Innocents – Eskil Vogt
Lamb – Valdimar Jóhansson
Moneyboys – C.b Yi
Noche de fuego – Tatiana Huezo
Un monde – Laura Wandel

Cannes Premiere

Cette musique ne joue pour personne (Love Songs for Tough Guys) – Samuel Benchetrit
Cow – Andrea Arnold
Evolution – Kornél Mundruczo
In Front of Your Face – Hong Sang-Soo
Mothering Sunday – Eva Husson
Serre-moi fort (Hold Me Tight) – Mathieu Amalric
Tromperie (Deception) – Arnaud Desplechin
Val – Ting Poo and Leo Scott

Out of Competition

Aline – Valérie Lemercier
Bac Nord – Cédric Jimenez
De son vivant – Emmanuelle Bercot
Emergency Declaration – Han Jae-Rim
Stillwater – Tom McCarthy
The Velvet Underground – Todd Haynes

Special screenings

Cahiers noirs (Black Notebooks) – Shlomi Elkabetz H6 – Yé Yé
JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass – Oliver Stone
Jane par Charlotte – Charlotte Gainsbourg
O marinheiro das montanhas (Mariner of the Mountains) – Karim Ainouz

Midnight screenings

Oranges sanguines (Bloody Oranges) – Jean-Christophe Meurisse

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 6 – 17 JULY 2021

Beanpole (2019) **** MUBI

Dir: Kantemir Balagov | Writers: Kantemir Balagov, Aleksandr Terekhov | Drama | Russia 114′

A bitter bond of revenge and inter-dependence keeps two Russian women viscerally entwined in Leningrad after the Second World War comes to a close.

Beanpole is Kantemir Balagov’s follow up to his kidnap thriller Closeness which took the FIPRESCI prize in Un Certain Regard two years ago. Based on a story from The Unwomanly Face of War by Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexeievich, it sees the two women brought to their knees physically and mentally after the war has devastated their city. But life goes on for Iya, a tall rangy blond known as Beanpole (Miroshnichenko), and her friend Masha (Perelygina) who served together on the front, Iya returning early due to a neurological condition, bringing back with her Masha’s little son Pashka (Glazkov) in the autumn of 1945.

This gruelling slow-burner is softened by its gorgeously vibrant aesthetic that lends a jewel-like radiance to the girls’ misery, captured in Kseniya Sereda’s brilliant camerawork. Masha is wilful, mercurial and playfully charismatic – Perelygina is simply mesmerising to watch as she plots her way forward, emotions floating across her face like clouds on a winter’s day – Beanpole is a sullen and introverted soul but the two have no one left in the world but each other, and a terrible tragedy that threatens to destroy or deepen their fraught friendship. This close friendship contrasts with the sheer scale of the horror they have experienced on the front. Confined to stuffy interiors and hospital wards   the enormity of their emotional pain and suffering swells to bursting point. In the late Autumn of 1945 Iya is a nurse in a local hospital and her neurological affects hermivement. But Pashka is her pride and joy and their closeness is deeply moving. 

By the time Masha returns from the front, a dreadful event has taken place. Balagov explores the shifting dynamic between these two women with impressive maturity for a filmmaker still in his twenties, particularly with this female centric story, men taking a backseat – the world-weary head doctor Nikolai Ivanovich (Andrei Bykov) and Masha’s irritating suitor Sasha (Igor Shirokov) who is the son of a Communist party official. Somehow Sasha’s mother and the doctor get drawn into the complex web of need, revenge, and power.

Leningrad is almost romantic in its postwar atmosphere and Sergei Ivanov’s set design adds a homely folkloric touch to the interiors. Memorable scenes are those outside Sasha’s family dacha, and Masha’s tram ride in the final moments of this striking, intense and emotionally resonant drama. MT

NOW ON MUBU : UN CERTAIN REGARD | BEST DIRECTOR | FIPRESCI 2019

Murder me, Monster (2018) ***

Dir Alejandro Fadel. Argentina. 2018. 106′

Murder Me Monster’s widescreen solemnity might bring to mind the murder investigation in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia – and there are vague echoes of Amat Escalante’s The Untamed, but that’s where the similarity ends. This brooding Andes-set crime mystery is the gruesome work of Los Selvajes director Alejandro Fadel, and it is certainly not for the feint hearted with its bestial themes and deformed zombie-like characters. Infact everyone in this stomach-turning horror fantasy is on edge and whispering morosely, for one reason or another. And a series of macabre murders, where heads are torn from bodies, seem to be the reason why.

The opening scene sees the dying moments of a woman whose throat has been severed. As a herd of sheep and some other livestock are slowly make their supper of her remains, a blind man mumbles on about the murder. A feeling of unease creeps over proceedings when it transpires that the bloodshed is connected to a feral beast on the prowl and out of control in this desolate and remote corner of Argentina where the sun rarely shines.

Rural police officer Cruz (Victor Lopez) is tasked with investigating the murders and the finger seems to point to local thick-lipped weirdo David (Esteban Bigliardi) who claims that a savage creature is using certain phrases to commune with him, as if through telepathy, with a ‘silly’ voice that repeats ‘Murder Me, Monster’.

Cinematographers Manuel Rebella and Julian Apezteguia evoke nightmarish visuals often using the same technique as the painter El Greco – where the characters’ faces are often starkly backlit against a murky darkness. There’s a garish otherworldly quality to the outdoor mountain scenes in a film that takes on an increasingly Lynchian feel as the plot thickens. Pus-yellow, murky mustard and puke green make up the colour palette of costume and set designers Florencia and Laura Caligiuri. An atmospheric ambient score keeps the tension brewing.

This is intriguing stuff, if rather too enigmatic for its own good, eventually leaving us stranded in its own mysterious backwater. This study of fear and perversion in a Pampas backwater will certainly made you feel nauseous and bewildered by the end. MT

UK releasee to stream or download or own | 4th December 2020 AVAILABLE

 

LIBERTÉ (2019) **** MUBI

Dir: Albert Serra | Cast: Cast: Helmut Berger, Marc Susini, Iliana Zabeth, Laura Poulvet, Baptiste Pinteaux, Théodora Marcadé, Alexander García Düttmann | Drama | Spain 132′

Catalan auteur Albert Serra was born in 1975 in Girona and is known for his delicately drawn and exquisitely mounted historical dramas such as La Mort de Louis XIV (2016); Honour of the Knights (Quixotic) 2006; and Story of My Death (2013). And there’s a great deal of mounting in his latest feature which stars veteran arthouse star Helmut Berger and competes in last year’s Un Certain Regard sidebar at Cannes Film Festival.

The theme in Liberté  is essentially voyeurism. If you should find yourself in Hampstead Heath on a balmy afternoon you will notice male figures darting surrepticiousy in the shady vegetation. You may even chance upon a secret tryst (if you are unlucky enough while walking your dog). Take this image and sashay back to the 18th century, somewhere between Potsdam and Berlin, and you bring to mind the scenario in Liberté – only here both male and female characters are taking part.

The year is 1774, shortly before the French Revolution. Madame de Dumeval, the Duc de Tesis and the Duc de Wand, all libertines expelled from the puritanical French court of Louis XVI, and seeking the support of the legendary Duc de Walchen, a German seducer and freethinker in a country where hypocrisy and false virtue reign. Their mission is to export libertinage, a philosophy of enlightenment founded on the rejection of moral boundaries and authorities. Most of all they are looking for a safe place to pursue their quest for pleasure.

This louche cruising amongst elegantly attired courtiers and aristocrats sounds fascinating, and it is for a while  Slightly more portly but nevertheless soigné individuals duck and dive in the undergrowth, in various stages of undress, their white linens contrasting with tanned breasts and buttocks, larded legs and bloated beerguts. Very much like Sade, Serra explores the darker side of human desire but always with graceful discretion. The louche antic gradually become more and more explicit to the point where they actually gets a little close for comfort, eventually verging on the pornographic. Suggestive but never lewd Liberte is a clever game of subterfuge that plays on our curiosity and makes use of a richly textured soundscape to create a atmosphere of sultry expectancy. There is no narrative as such just a series of enigmatic vignettes that take place during the hours of darkness one balmy summer night.

Arriving in painted palanquin borne by his henchmen the Duc de Wand (Baptiste Pinteaux) is recalling the execution of an unfortunate individual whose limbs were pulled one by one from his body. Obsessed by bestiality and golden showers, he loves to salivate over his lascivious encounters, that often involve dogs or farm animals. Fortunately were are spared the most lurid encounters due to the bosky nocturnal shadows as Artur Tort’s roving camera spies voyeuristically on the other outré encounters taking place in the semi-darkness of the eucalyptus trees (eucalyptus trees in the 18th century? – check continuity).

Decadence is the watchword here as none of the trysts is particularly joy-filled unless you are into sado masochism or subjugation. The tone is subdued rather that lascivious, poe-faced even. The film’s enigmatic title suggests that these aristos have too much time on their hands and nothing left to lose as they skip the light fantastic in the lush setting of a midnight night’s dream: Serra’s film may not appeal to everyone but it is certainly a brave and visually alluring meditation on permissiveness. MT

NOW ON MUBI | UN CERTAIN REGARD 2019 | SPECIAL JURY PRIZE

 

Falling (2020) ***

Dir/Wri: Viggo Mortensen | Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Lance Henriksen, Laura Linney, Sverrir Gudnason, | US Drama, 112′

In his first foray into filmmaking Viggo Mortensen writes and also stars in this insightful, semi-autobiographical story of family dysfunction. It sees an irascible old farmer (a feisty Lance Henrikson) gradually losing his grip to dementia as his bewildered gay son grapples for largely unwanted control of the family.

The subject of dementia is so increasingly widespread nowadays it almost needs a genre of its own. And as such this could have been more humorous in the style of Bruce Dern’s Nebraska, or even poetic and whimsical like Miroslav Mandic’s recent arthouse gem Sanremo, but that’s not the point. Falling is a well-made if sombre family drama exploring the fallout of this dread disease, and a decent debut for this seasoned actor. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

The Salt of the Earth (2014) **** Mubi

wimDir: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado |Writer: Wim Wenders/Juliano Ribeiro Salgado | Doc Biography, 110′

This biopic of famous Brazilian photographer and philanthropist, Sabastiao Salgado, manages to be both illuminating and moving. Directed (and narrated) by Wim Wenders (pictured left at the Cannes premiere) and Salgado’s son Juliano, what starts as an harrowing and dramatic set of photographs from Africa and beyond, soon becomes a narrative with a truly inspiring and heart-warming conclusion, adding real weight to the story of this fascinating and creatively-driven man, now in his seventies.

From war zones in Ruanda and Bosnia to the deepest Amazon, the often shocking images show tremendous compassion, and a desire to connect with his subject-matter. As is often the case for the creatively committed, Salgado’s son Juliano received little attention as a child as the photographer  travelled the World, while his wife Leilia, archived and published his works, setting up exhibitions from home and organising financing and funding. There are shades of the late Michael Glawogger to his searingly shocking images and a touch of the David Attenborough to his work with his animals. A peerless tribute to humanity and the animal kingdom. MT.

CÉSAR 2015 WINNER – BEST DOCUMENTARY | NOW ON MUBI 

Toni Erdmann (2016) **** Mubi

Director: Maren Ade| Cast: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Huller, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Putter | 142min | Comedy | Germany

This quirky and hilarious satire from German  filmmaker Maren Ade is a European arthouse  classic that celebrates the intergenerational gap with humour rather than strife.

Maren Ade explores whether comedy is the right way to fix family issues – or whether we should just try to be more sympathetic and understanding. In a film that runs just short of three hours, she achieves a blend of situational comedy, embarrassing incidents, pervy sex scenes and even a good old German nudist party in the style of Ulrich Seidl or even Aki Kaurismaki .

TONI ERDMANN‘s hero is Austrian: Peter Simonichek plays Winifried, a divorced music teacher who loves playing inappropriate practical jokes on his friends but his latest pranks involve his adult daughter Ines  (Sandra Hüller). We first meet Winifried in the throes of arranging a surprise musical tribute to an old colleague’s retirement. But not everyone likes surprises or to be part of this harmless fun, least of all his serious-minded daughter who has to be at the top of her game as management consultant in the competitive macho world of Romania. When she realises her father has been up to his tricks in a bid to poke fun at her childless state and perceived loneliness, it’s already too late to block his impromptu visit in Bucharest, after the death of his dog Willi leaves him footloose and a bit down in the dumps.

As a little girl she loved his tomfoolery, but his casual arrival at her offices in fancy dress, makes her extremely irritated. Rejecting his bid to offer fatherly appreciation, Winifried then starts to behave like a stalker, popping up at Ines’ dinner dates pretending to be his alter ego ‘Toni Erdmann’ complete with wig and grotesque false teeth which he claims are from cosmetic dentistry “I wanted something different – fiercer”.

Only a woman can appreciate the intricacies of life in the competitive corporate world where women are supposed to “go on shopping trips” when they travel with their CEO husbands. Rather than hanging with the guys after work, poor Ines is forced to show the women round the shops while the men ‘kick back’ over drinks. Extremely galling. At one point she tells her boss “if I was a feminist, I wouldn’t tolerate guys like you”. Ade’s script is really spot on, brilliantly manipulating this father daughter relationship and drawing some subtle and intricately-played performances from Simonischek and Huller, who start as polar opposites in their frosty stand-off but gradually grow more sympathetic and human during the course of the film. Beneath Winifried’s silliness lies a heart of gold, he appreciates the real world but has withdrawn from it to reflect  and his daughter emerges to be far more caring and worldly than he gives her credit for.

Winifried’s old dog Willi sets the furry leitmotive for rest of the film, and he pops up in various shaggy wigs and even a full blown Bulgarian scarecrow outfit. The irony comes from the way Ines intuitively manages her difficult colleagues and local friends; her secretary Anca is the only sympathetic female character and there are some really poignant scenes at the end where Ines and her father finally let their guards down to acknowledge that blood really is thicker than water. MT

NOW ON MUBI  | WINNER OF THE FIPRESCI AWARD CANNES 2016

Downstream to Kinshasa (2020)

Dir.: Dieudo Hamadi; Documentary; Democratic Republic of Congo Belgium France, 90 min.

Twenty years ago a violent civil war raged in the Congo and was fought out between Rwandan and Ugandan forces, who supported the two Democratic Republic’s factions. Over four thousand Congolese lost their lives in Kisangani alone in a war that ignited in June 2000 and became to be known as the Six-Day war.

Acting as his own DoP, experienced documentarian Hamadi zeros in on the domestic detail and the wider issues arising from class structure which leaves a particularly brutal legacy in this post-colonial world. This is a place where life-changing injuries still haunt the victims: double amputees like Mama Kawale and Mama Bahingi, and quadriplegic Mama Kashinde have managed to make their days bearable by playing wheelchair basketball. The atmosphere is intense, and every shot at the basket counts: this is no feeling of competition except with themselves, and their individual scores bolster self-confidence.

Hamadi is familiar with the territory having grown up during the massacre. The victims of Kisangani’s war were thrown naked into mass graves, as one of the survivors recalls: “we are walking on corpses”. The survivors have clamoured for nearly twenty years for compensation from the Central government – in vain. Their plight and pain is never diminished, in fact it gets worse, and club together to select a delegation to travel downstream on the Congo river to the capital Kinsasha, where they will demand justice from government officials and their MP.

Intercut with the documentary are scenes from the Agit-Prop theatre of the survivors, which uses music and short scenes to bring home their message. Two simple boats are hitched together, and the delegation team buys food for the journey from vendors on little boats. Arriving in Kinshasa, the positive carnival atmosphere of the journey changes into disappointment when delegation is banned from accessing the government building. Their local MP is not there to engage with their concerns because of the approaching election. So they are put their time to good use raising awareness of their plight with brightly coloured banners – spelling mistakes corrected – before installing themselves in peaceful protest only to be drenched by torrential rain. It’s a pitiful sight, and we feel for them. Eventually they will have something to cheer about when the unsupportive president of the Republic, Joseph Kabila, is replaced by Felix Tshisekedi in the 2018 December elections. But Kabila leaves a legacy, allowing him to select the incumbent Prime Minster. In an elliptical ending, we return to the lively streets of Kisangani, with the delegation walking proudly with their heads high.

Downstream could be called a Road-Movie but that seems too trite a description for this pilgrimage of humanitarian relief and Hamadi reflects this in his poetic and lyrical visual treatment. Eschewing a sentimental approach as all times, Hamadi never victimises the survivors, but triumphs in their fighting spirit kept alive by their exuberant theatre work and their courageous journey to the capital. AS

DOWNSTREAM TO KINSHASA (EN ROUTE POUR LE MILLIARD) won the Golden Dove at the 63rd edition of the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film DOK Leipzig, as well as the Prize of the Interreligious Jury | 
ON RELEASE ON MAJOR PLATFORMS

Striding into the Wind (2020) *** Cannes Selection 2020

Dir.: Wei Shujun; Cast: Zheng Yingchen, Zhou You, Lin Kai, Wang Xiaomu; China 2020, 134 min.

Wei Shujun won a Special Award for his short film On the Border at Cannes 2018 and was back in the competition selection again this year with this eye-catching but flawed drama which overstays its welcome at over two hours.

Based on Wei Shujun’s own experiences, Striding Into the Wind is a footloose road movie that offers a snapshot of modern China through the life of two film school layabouts. Essentially a series of episodes that take place in and around  Beijing where restless sound technician Zuo Kun (Zhou) is taking time out from his final year studies behind the wheel of a beaten-up Jeep. Kun can’t seem to commit to anything – let alone a driving test – and we see him flouncing off in a fit of rage when things go wrong. The Jeep eventually becomes a liability: he is stopped for driving under the influence and ends up in prison, where his warden Dad is able to get him an early release.

Kun’s portly comrade in arms, Tong (Kai) is a junk food addict who rolls out of bed just in time for the college start at noon. The women is Kun’s life are more practical: his long suffering girl A Zhi (Yingchen) lends him cash, and his mother, a university lecturer, supplies exam papers which sell for good money on campus. A film shoot provides the opportunity for the pair to break loose and  decamp to Inner Mongolia where they attempt to lock down their film project and Kun makes a play for the Mongolian star actress.

What saves this from being an empty rant in celebration of juvenile delinquency is the imaginative visuals bringing to mind early 1980s features by Hsiao-Hsien Hou. Shujun’s sycophantic treatment of his two main characters adds to the overindulgent feel of a film where so much talent has been wasted on immature postering. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | COMPETITION LINEUP | BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2020

    

Summer of 85 (2020) ****

Dir|Wri: Francois Ozon. France, Romcom, 100′

This upbeat breezy retro teenage love story is set in seaside Normandy over six weeks in the summer of Summer Of 85. As usual Ozon doesn’t take things too seriously but the romance feels real and the lively score of ’80s hits and memories of holidays in Normandy make this a sunny treat for everyone.

Aiden Chamber’s paperback original ‘Dance on My Grave’ took place in Southend-on-Sea but Ozon choses the Normandy coastal town of Le Tréport for his version of the tale with its strong emotional undercurrent stemming for the elation and them pain of first love showing how the central character discovers writing as a therapy for his broken heart.

Summer of 85 is more tragic than comic but Francois Ozon has a clever way spicing his dramas with subtle and subversive humour always leaving it open to individual interpretation. And there are random moments that may raise a smile, or may not. The balance is always delicately poised.

Alexis (Félix Lefebvre) is a cherubic blond 16 year-old, who hints in the opening scenes that see him in police custody, that the film will end in tears but we are not told why. And this is the enigma that hooks us into the plot driven forward by his literature teacher Mr Lefèvre (a moustachioed Melvil Poupaud)  disguise) who tries to persuade Alexis to write about his experience even if he can’t talk about it.

Gradually the story spills out in flashback narrated by Alexis who takes us back to the start of summer when he decided to take his friend’s boat for an afternoon’s sailing. Storm clouds soon gather and he is thrown into the water only to be rescued by another sailer in the shape of David Gorman,  (Benjamin Voisin) a dark-haired 18-year-old adonis who certainly knows the ropes.

Soon the two are back at David’s where a voluptuous Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi plays a welcoming Jewish mum Mrs Gorman who also runs a business specialising in sailing tackle. Admiring Alex’s own tackle she runs him a hot bath. Realising her son needs a close friend, but does realising yet just how close, the boy’s budding relationship blossoms, and he is offered a role in the business. But there’s good fun to be had — riding David’s  motorbike and sailing – not to mention between the sheets in this hedonistic affair that positively froths with youthful exuberance especially when a Kate (Philippine Velge) a frisky young au pair from England joins the party. Meanwhile Alex’s mother (Isabelle Nanty) and father are a more down to earth couple anchoring him in the reality of their working class set-up.

Summer in Normandy in always going to be a winner visually, whether down on the beach or in the verdant hinterland the setting is strikingly beautiful and DoP Hichame Alaouie conveys a retro feel with his Super-16 camerawork. And one of the best things about Summer of 85 is its rousing soundtrack of ’80s hits from The Cure’s ’In Between Days’ to Rod Stewart’s ’Sailing’. As David, Benjamin Voisin’s striking charisma carries the film: his confident intensity and effervescent charm set him out to be a star in the making. MT.

IN CINEMAS | CURZON HOME CINEMA from 23 OCTOBER

 

The Traitor (2019) Bfi player

Dir: Marco Bellocchio | Writers: Marco Bellocchio, Ludovica Rampoldi, Valia Santela, Francesco Piccolo | Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Alessio Pratico, Maria Fernanda Candido, | Italy, Drama 135′

In the early 1980s, an all-out war rages between Sicilian mafia bosses over the heroin trade. Tommaso Buscetta, “boss of the two worlds”, flees to hide out in Brazil. Meanwhile back home, scores are being settled and Buscetta watches from afar as his sons and brother are killed in Palermo, knowing he may be next. Arrested and extradited to Italy by the Brazilian police, Tommaso Buscetta makes a decision that will change everything for the Mafia: He decides to meet with Judge Giovanni Falcone and betray the eternal vow he made to the Cosa Nostra.

With thundering vehemence Marco Bellocchio portrays the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of Sicily’s real-life ‘men of honour’, and although The Traitor certainly packs a punch, it somehow lacks the heart and soul of many Mafia-themed features – and particularly Kim Longinotto’s recent documentary Shooting the Mafia – in telling the story of the Mafioso boss turned informant. In explaining the inner working of the organisation, the director blends dark humour and brutal violence with vibrant set-pieces (in Sicily, Rome, Brazil and the U.S) to provide a visual masterpiece with a palpable sense of the era. The mammoth endeavour runs at two and a half hours, blending archive footage (of Falcone’s tragic death ) and entertaining court scenes that revel in the cut and thrust of the debate and the raucous ribaldry of the gangsters showing just how impossible it was actually to bring them to justice and how dishonourable they actually were – and some are still on the run.

Giovanni Falcone (Fausto Russo Alesi) once again emerges a gentleman and a diligent lawyer who garnered great respect from Bruscetta, and met his terrible end for simply doing his duty. Bruscetta is a macho man with a lust for life and love, and Pierfrancesco Favino is tremendous in the lead as this main mafioso figure who decided to testify before Falcone and appear in the mafia ‘Maxi Trial’ that lasted from 1986 to 1992. His testimony was historically crucial in implicating others and also securing him reduced prison sentences.

The action begins in 1980 when the two main Sicilian families in Palermo had decided to call a truce (Bruscetta from the Porta Nuova family and Toto Riina from Corleone). Tommaso had moved to Rio de Janeiro with his Brazilian wife (Maria Fernandez Candido) but left two of his eight children behind in the care of Pippo Calo’ (Fabrizio Ferracane), a big mistake as we soon discover.

After a resurgence of killing back home, shown in savage bloodshed, Tommaso decides to stay put, his sidekick Totuccio Contorno (Luigi Lo Cascio) surviving the massacre. But Tommaso doesn’t escape being arrested and tortured for drug-trafficking during which his wife is seen dangling from a helicopter over the bay in Rio. Extradited back to Italy he agrees to meet the authorities and  starts a dialogue with Falcone, mutual respect being the watchword.

The courtroom scenes are amongst the most stimulating in this bodyblow of a film, Nicola Piovani’s operatic score ramping up the emotional timbre. Once the trial is over, Buscetta and his family enter witness protection in Florida, but he is still determined to settle old scores, despite suffering from terminal cancer.

Naturally, this is not a film to be overjoyed about, but at least Bellocchio leaves us with a message of hope posited by Judge Falcone: “the mafia is not invincible; it had a beginning and will have an end,” MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

 

Cannes Classics | Festival de Cannes 2020

In the Mood for love by Wong Kar-wai twenty years after, À Bout de souffle and L’Avventuraturn 60, great filmmakers (Wim Wenders, Federico Fellini, Bertrand Blier, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Glauber Rocha, Lino Brocka), Tilda Swinton’s first major role in a science fiction film, Muhammad Ali meets William Klein, rediscoveries from the Festival de Cannes ‘60, ‘68, ‘73 and ’81, the first color fiction of Chinese cinema, an unknown masterpiece from Sri Lanka, a Serbian comedy, the new wave of Russian cinema, from yesterday’s cinema to today’s world with the first film by Melvin Van Peebles and a stricking documentary on women from Brittany, a landmark film about Charlie Chaplin, an exceptional portrait of actor John Belushi, Bruce Lee revisited and a celebration to great Italian actress Alida Valli, here is Cannes Classics 2020.

In the Mood for Love (2000, 1h38, Hong Kong) by Wong Kar-wai

The 4k restoration of the film made from the original negative was lead by Criterion and L’Immagine Ritrovata under the supervision of Wong Kar-wai. In the Mood for Love, by Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai, made its lead actor Tony Leung win the Male Interpretation Prize.

French theatrical distribution: The Jokers Films, date of release: December 2, 2020.

Actress Tilda Switon in her first big screen role to pay tribute to film director and film theorist Peter Wollen. It will be the rediscovery of a rare work.

Friendship’s Death (1987, 1h12, United Kingdom) by Peter Wollen

Presented by the British Film Institute (BFI). The 4K remastering by the BFI National Archive was from the original Standard 16mm colour negative. The soundtrack was digitised directly from the original 35mm final mix magnetic master track. The remastering was undertaken in collaboration with the film’s producer, Rebecca O’Brien and cinematographer, Witold Stok.

The Story of a Three-Day Pass (La Permission) (1967, 1h27, France) by Melvin Van Peebles

Presented by IndieCollect and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The restoration of The Story of a Three-Day Pass (La Permission) was funded by a grant from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The original film elements were found by the IndieCollect team during its inventory of Melvin Van Peebles’ New York apartment and storage facility. To create the restoration, the IndieCollect team used a 5K Kinetta Archival Scanner to digitally capture the 35mm Interpositive of the American version and combined it with elements scanned from the French version. Color grading and restoration were completed in-house by Oskar Miarka, and the titles were recreated by Cameron Haffner. Sandra Schulberg translated the French dialogue and new English subtitles were created.

Lyulskiy dozhd (July Rain / Pluie de juillet) (1966, 1h48, Russia) by Marlen Khutsiev

Presented by Mosfilm Cinema Concern. Source material: negative. 4K digital restoration. Restored by: Mosfilm Cinema Concern. Producer of restoration: Karen Shakhnazarov. Year of restoration: 2020.

Quand les femmes ont pris la colère (1977, 1h15, France) by Soizick Chappedelaine and René Vautier

Presented by Ciaofilm. The film was scanned in 4K and restored in 2K from the original 16mm negative. Image works carried out by ECLAIR Classics and by L.E.DIAPASON for the sound under the supervision of Moïra Chappedelaine-Vautier with the support of the CNC, the Cinémathèque de Bretagne and the Région Bretagne.

French theatrical distribution in 2021. DVD / Blu-ray release by Les Mutins de Pangée and in VOD on Cinémutins in 2021.

Préparez vos mouchoirs (Get Out Your Handkerchiefs) (1977, 1h50, France) by Bertrand Blier

Presented by TF1 Studio and Orange Studio / CAPAC. 4K Restoration from the picture negative and the French magnetic soud track, supervised by Bertrand Blier. Digital works carried out by Eclair laboratory in 2019.

Hester Street (1973, 1h30, USA) by Joan Micklin Silver

Presented by Cohen Film Collection. The primary source element for the restoration of Hester Street was the original 35mm camera negative. Brief sections of duplicate negative, in particular the opening title sequence with burned in titles, were cut into the original negative in order to produce the original release prints. 4K scanning and restoration work was carried out by DuArt Media Services in New York.

Ko to tamo peva ? (Who’s Singing Over There? / Qui chante là-bas ?) (1980, 1h26, Serbia) by Slobodan Šijan

Presented by Malavida Films. Restoration from the picture and sound negative. Scanning: Arriscan. Supervision: Slobodan Šijan with Milorad Glusica. Sound restored by Aleksandar Stojsin.

French theatrical distribution: Malavida Films, date of release :  October 21, 2020.

Prae dum (Black Silk) (1961, 1h58, Thailand) by R.D. Pestonji

Presented by Film Archive Thailand (Public Organization). 4K Scan and 4K Restoration from the original 35mm negative (preserved by Film Archive Thailand). Restoration made and financed by Film Archive Thailand and Thai Ministry of Culture. Mastered in 4K for Digital Projection.

Zhu Fu (New Year Sacrifice) (1956, 1h40, China) by Hu Sang

Presented by Shanghai International Film Festival and China Film Archive. 4K Scan and 4K Digital Restoration from the original 35mm image negative and sound negative (preserved by China Film Archive). Restoration made by China Film Archive. Co-financed by Shanghai International Film Festival and Jaeger-LeCoultre. Mastered in 4K for Digital Projection.

Feldobott kő (Upthrown Stone / La Pierre lancée) (1968, 1h25, Hungary) by Sándor Sára

Presented by National Film Institute – Film Archive – Hongrie.

The 4K digital restoration was carried out as part of ‘The long-term restoration program of Hungarian film heritage” of the National Film Institute – Film Archive. The restoration was made using the original image and sound negatives by the National Film Institute – Filmlab. The Digital grading was supervised by Sándor Sára. Collaborating partner: Hungarian Society of Cinematographers.

Neige (1981, 1h30, France) by Juliet Berto and Jean-Henri Roger

Presented by JHR Films. First 4k digital restoration submitted by JHR Films with the support of the CNC et de l’image animée. The restoration was carried out at L’Image Retrouvée laboratory in Bologna and in Paris.

French theatrical distribution: JHR Films, date of release: spring 2021.

Bambaru Avith (The Wasps Are Here) (1978, 2h, Sri Lanka) by Dharmasena Pathiraja

Presented by Asian Film Archive. 4K film and sound restoration was carried out by L’Immagine Ritrovata using the sole-surviving 35mm film positive. The raw and restored 4K scans, a new 35mm picture and sound negatives, and a new positive print of the restored version of the film have been produced and are preserved by the Asian Film Archive.

Bayanko: Kapit sa patalim (Bayan Ko) (1984, 1h48, Philippines / France) by Lino Brocka

Presented by Le Chat qui fume. First 4k digital restoration submitted by Le Chat qui fume. Scanning made at VDM laboratory and restoration carried out by Le Chat qui fume in Paris.

French theatrical distribution and Blu-ray / UHD release: Le Chat qui fume, date of release: February 2021.

La Poupée (1962, 1h34, France) by Jacques Baratier

Presented by the CNC. Sound and image digital work of restoration executed by the CNC and carried out by Hiventy. Follow-up by the CNC and supervised by Diane Baratier. Digital restoration made from 4K scans of the original negative. A 35mm print from the digital restoration was released. French distribution: Tamasa Distribution.

Sanatorium pod klepsydra (The Hourglass Sanatory / La Clepsydre) (1973, 2h04, Poland) by Wojciech J. Has 

Presented by Polish Film Classics. 4k Scan and 2K restoration carried out by DI Factory and the reKino team by keeping the guidelines of DOP Witold Sobociński (this restoration is dedicated to him) who could eventually achieve the image he wished to obtain in 1973. Artistic supervision: cinematographer Piotr Sobociński Jr. Right-owners: WFDiF.

French Blu-ray release: Malavida Films, date of release: May 2021.

L’Amérique insolite (America as Seen by a Frenchman) (1959, 1h30, France) by François Reichenbach

Presented by Les Films du jeudi. Restoration carried out at Hiventy: 4K scan – 2K restoration from the original negatives.

Deveti krug (The Ninth Circle / Neuvième cercle) (1960, 1h37, Croatia) by France Štiglic

Digital restoration in 2K presented by Croatian Cinematheque – Croatian State Archives with the support of Croatian Audiovisual Centre. Restoration performed by Ater and Klik Film studios in Zagreb, Croatia.

Muhammad Ali the Greatest (1974, 2h03, France) by William Klein

Presented by Films Paris New York and ARTE. First digital 2K restoration from the original 16mm negative scanned in 4K carried out with the support of the CNC. Image works were carried out by ECLAIR Classics and by L.E.DIAPASON for the sound.

SCREENING AT CANNES and at the FESTIVAL LUMIERE LYON

Parasite (2019) **** In Black and White

Dir: Bong Joon Ho | Cast: Song Kang-ho, Choi Woo-shik, Chang Hyae-jin, Park So-dam, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Jung Ziso, Lee Jung-em, Jung Hyeon-jun | Drama | Korea 131′

The black and white cut of this wickedly thrilling upstairs downstairs social satire Korean-style seems even more resonant, relevant and appealing in its monochrome format.

This scabrous story is the latest in a line of hits from the South Korean master along with The Host, Snowpiercer and Okja. But this time the gloves are off as Boon Joon offers up shameless social reality and makes no bones it, dishing the dirt on the rigid class system in his homeland.

Thematically rather too similar to last year’s Plane d’Or winner Shopkeepers to offer any big surprises about South Korean life, this is nonetheless startling in its candour. The characters are ordinary people making their way as best they can. But this is a flashier film that wears its satire on its slick sleeve for all to access, and there’s nothing subtle about its social message. The ‘parasites’ are sharp individuals who cunningly see their way to the main chance. Bong Joon calls the film “a comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains.” Yet in the natural world, parasites live off their hosts, depending on them for survival, but often causing disease or harm. This certainly was the case in The Servant, but does it happen here?

Head of the family Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) lives with his wife Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin), son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam) in a squalid slum, grafting a living by preparing cardboard pizza boxes. Through his backstreet contacts, young Ki-woo inveigles himself into a wealthy household of a captain of industry Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun) where he is tasked with tutoring his teenage daughter Da-hye (Jung Ziso). Her mother Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) is a typically vacuous trophy wife who prances around their pristine modernist mansion all day, doing a spot of shopping when she occasionally ventures out with . Without giving any clues away, the Ki-woo’s entire family are drafted into the vast mansion, taking various guises, and booting out the old guard. As the narrative spools out with a series of plot twists, the tension gradually mounts and the gulf between rich and poor is ramped up to the maximum. No one comes out a winner after a lavish garden party where they all take part in some form or another, as blood mingles with the champagne.

Winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2019 and four Academy Awards in 2020, including the Oscar for Best International Feature, this is a confident and entertaining drama that beats as it sweeps, its production values as smooth as silk and laced with a dread-laden score. The kids give as good as the adults performance-wise and leave us pondering which is best: North Korea with its oppressively restrictive communist regime or the South with its dog eat dog capitalism based on the law of the jungle? MT

PARASITE WON THE PALME D’OR 2019 | ACADEMY AWARDS FOR BEST DIRECTOR, BEST MOTION PICTURE, BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY, BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE.

NOW in Black and White COURTESY OF CURZON ARTIFICIAL EYE | IN CINEMAS from 24 July 2020

 

 

 

Litigante (2019) **** Curzon | Edinborough Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Franco Lolli; Cast: Carolina Sanin, Leticia Gomez, Antonio Martinez, Vladimir Duran, Alejandra Sarria; France/Columbia 2019, 95 min.

South America is delivering some really good films at the moment and Colombian filmmaker Franco Lolli (Gente de Bien) continues the trend with LITIGANTE. Aiming successfully for psychological hyper-realism it centres on an upper-middle class family where mother and daughter, both top-lawyers, argue each other, quite literally, to death.

Middle-aged Silvia (Sanin) is having a hard time: as chief lawyer for the public works department in Columbia’s capital Bogota, her boss has implicated her in a scandal. On the local radio she holds her own against the host Abel (Duran), and then bumps into him later at a party where he apologises. The two end up in bed, but other conflicts threaten to overwhelm Silvia: her controlling mother Letitia (Gomez) is dying of lung cancer, but is still very much in fighting mood as far as her daughter is concerned, even from her deathbed. When Letitia complains about her relationship with Abel: “he took you down in front of the entire population of Bogota in that interview”, exasperated Silvia exclaims: “You never want me to have a life that’s independent from yours”.

Then Silvia’s pre-school son Antonio (Martinez) has a tantrum, destroying toys and endangering other children. Apparently the other kids are bullying him about not having a father. And this is all because his mother refused to admit that his biological father, a high-ranking judge, actually sired her son. Silvia doesn’t even get on with the family’s housekeeper  ‘Majo’ and so her budding relationship with Able collapses even before getting off the ground.

Lolli manages the turmoil with great aplomb, creating a scenario where high octane emotional output is the norm. We watch Silvia and Letitia competing for the role of victim, trying to make each feel guilty in a classic family dynamic. Their sparring is the raison d’être of their lives – in a perverse way, they enjoy it. 

Litigante is not only much more honest than Cuaron’s Roma, it also has a stronger dramatic impact and a more convincing cast, led by the indomitable Carolina Sanin, who seemingly conquers all. DoP Pablo Romero Garcia uses handheld close-ups of the warring factions and his panoramic shots of Bogota evoke the chaos of a family in crisis.

LITIGANTE IN NOW STREAMING ON CURZON WORLD | 10 JULY 2020

The Oak Room (2020)

Dir.: Cody Calahan; Cast: RJ Mitte, Peter Outerbridge, Ari Millen, Martin Roach, Nicolas Campbell; Canada 2020, 95 min.

Breaking Bad’s R J Mitte plays a mysterious drifter who fetches up in this suspense-ridden snowbound psychodrama based on Peter Genoway’s stage play and directed by Cody Calahan.

The Oak Room brings to mind Bill Paxton’s breakout hit Frailty (2013), but goes a step further, blurring the lines between thriller and horror with a slew of sinuous twists and turns that bring violence to small-town Canada in a slow-burn game of mistaken identity, childhood trauma and transference.

It would be a shame to spoil the ending, so let’s stick to the bare bones of the story. Steve (Mitte) turns up at his local during a snowstorm to settle a score with bartender Paul (Outerbridge), a friend of his father Gordon (Campbell), who has recently died. Paul is angry Steve didn’t attend the funeral or contribute to the costs. Paul has Gordon’s ashes, and claims Steve forced his father Gordon into an early grave, selling his business to finance Steve’s further education. Clearly a waste of time, judging by appearances. Steve casts his mind back to the past, revealing childhood trauma surrounding an incident where Steve was forced by his father to kill to a piglet. The past has turned Steve into a troubled and violent man who goes on to wreak havoc on the other characters. These are stormy waters and the red herrings soon pile up, seemingly leading nowhere. But by the end we are so deeply entrenching in the complex web of deceit, transference and projection that mayhem prevails.

The film’s narrative structure is the key to its runaway success. Mitte is mesmerising as the drifter  hellbent on changing his destiny. But are his grievances real or brought on by false memory, Steven emerging an unreliable narrator par excellence, and we are forced into decoding the enigmas as the film plays out. The Oak Room is sort of ‘sleeper’ – lying low, drawing us into its spiral of sinister snowy doom. Motives rather than murders make the most impact in this paranoid tour-de-force. AS

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Gagarine (2020)

Dir.: Fanny Liatard, Jérémy Trouilh; Cast: Alseni Bathily, Lyna Khoudri, Jamil McCraven, Farida Rahouadj, Finnegan Oldfield; France 2020, 97 min.

The world’s first Space traveller Yuri Gagarin gives his name to this impressive debut from Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh. Cité Gagarine, a housing estate in the Parisian suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine, had a less illustrious time of things than its namesake, and has now been almost totally demolished along with other buildings of the HLM (habitation à Loyer Modéré), once home to many thousands.

This long version of the directors’ 2015 short starts with a newsreel showing Mr Gagarin (1934-1968), when he visited the site in 1963, enjoying a rapturous welcome from the tenants. Fast forward to 2019, and our new hero teenager Youri (effervescent newcomer Bathily) has not quite come to terms with losing his longterm home. His parents have long left the nest: his mother is now living with a new partner and baby. So his only close tie is with friend of the family Fari (Rahouadj) who will soon leave for pastures new in the South of France. That leaves Youri’s friend and sidekick Houssam (McCraven) and of course Diana (Khoudri), a teenager from a nearby Roma settlement, who shares Youri’s passion for Space travel.

When engineers from the council declare the block of flats unfit for habitation, Youri is determined to save his home, constructing an elaborate space shuttle within its walls. A solar eclipse is the ‘last hurrah’ before the old block is to be detonated. After a valedictory night of passion, Diana goes on her way, Youri agreeing to take care of the dog, renaming it Laika. Everything is now set for the great detonation, and the former residents assemble outside for the final time. Suddenly, a coordinated light show flashes from their former home. Diana and Houssam realise Youri must still be hiding inside in some outlandish act of denial.   

This French film is a revitalising tonic after so much drab British sink estate realism: Yes, bad things happen, but there is always love, and dreams. Even the drug dealer (Oldfield) is not the “bad guy” sent by central casting, but a rather disturbed young man with suicidal tendencies.

Youri’s escapist new ‘home’ is a marvel of imagination and gives DoP Victor Seguin the basis for imaginative ‘space travel’ in Youri’s parallel world. And there’s astringent humour here too: Diana having to help her acrophobic lover up the ladder to the command unit. Ever the optimist, Youri sums it all up with his starry-eyed observation “we are neighbours with the moon”.

Gagarine gives us hope at the end of the rainbow that stretches beyond our day-to-day tunnel of trauma, to infinity and beyond. Youri shows we all have the power to re-create another universe, however parlous our life may be. Far from idealising poverty, Gagarine is proof that escapism offers redemption – we just need to explore our own imagination for salvation in these unworldly times.

NOW IM CINEMAS NATIONWIDE | CANNES COMPETITION SELECTION |  2020     

A White, White Day | Hvítur, Hvítur Dagur 2019 ****

Dir: Hlynur Palmason | Iceland, Drama 90′

Hlynur Palmason follows his debut feature Winter Brothers with this stark portrait of rugged masculinity in the face of bereavement. Grimly buttoned up against the wild landscapes of his remote Icelandic homeland, Ingimundur (Sigurdsson) resolutely refuses to give in mentally and physically to the grinding grief that engulfs him after the death of his beloved wife.

The seasons pass in a series of long takes picturing the house Ingimundur is rebuilding with support of his young granddaughter Salka (Ida Mekkin Hlynsdottir in her stunning debut). His wife, a local teacher, has lost her life in a car accident and the vehicle swerves over the foggy mountainside road in the opening scene.

Ex-policeman Ingimundur is used to dealing with similar incidents and their effect on broken families but when it involves his own he carries on in disbelief as gradually the enigmatic scenario surrounding her death falls into place; whether a crime has been committed or her whether her death was accidental remains in the air as this dour and gruelling feature plays out. Sigurdsson gives a gritty performance tempered by the tenderness he feels for his granddaughter: it’s almost as if he’s channelling all the love he had for his wife into the little girl, and she soaks it up with wide-eyed innocence and an insight beyond her years.

Palmason suffuses his story with allusions to Icelandic culture and mythology and these are shared through storytelling: the craggy-faced grandfather passing on cherished folklore through bedtime stories complete with all the actions. And meanwhile the house takes shape around them, satisfyingly providing a new beginning with stunning views over the scenic countryside and sea where Ingimundur fishes for wild salmon. He also plays football and this is where he catches sight of a man he doesn’t recognise but who has appeared in a cache of his wife’s photos. Ingimundur shares his fears about a possible affair with one of his drinking pals. And the subject of female infidelity is broached with a shrugging nonchalance on the part of his friend. But Ingimundur’s fears take shape in an irrationally violent chain of events, sparked by jealousy, revenge and desperation in a tense and surprising finale which once again showcases Palmason’s inventive imagination for telling a yarn. MT

ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS from June 26, 2020

My Mother | Mia Madre **** | Mubi

Director: Nanni Moretti | Cast: Margherita Buy, John Turturro, Giulia Lazzarini, Nanni Moretti, Beatrice Mancini, Stefano Abbati, Enrico Ianniello | 106min  Italian/US  Drama

Nanni Moretti returns to his autobiographical style of The Son’s Room, for this family drama Mia Madre. This is not just a bittersweet tale of an old woman gradually slipping off her mortal coil surrounded by her son (Moretti) and daughter (Buy) in a Rome hospital. Wry humour and confrontation are injected into a story which explores the relationship between a director who is making a film while her mother is dying in hospital. Margherita Buy plays the director and John Turturro, her leading man.

Although Mia Madre lacks the gut-wrenching emotion of his Palme D’Or winner, The Son’s Room, this is another beautifully-evoked family story that brings subtly-nuanced intimacy, maturity and humour to the everlasting theme of grief and loss.  Nanni draws from his own life story and the piece is very close to home: Moretti lost his own mother while filming Habemus Papam. Essentially a four-hander, Buy is brilliantly cast here as an anxious, highly sensitive and driven professional who finds herself dealing with a teenage daughter while also moving out of her boyfriend’s flat. But the more she tries to be objective the more her filmmaking and her personal life collide. Moretti is understated as her brother Giovanni, in a laid back role that sees him languishing in the quiet resignation of his mother’s final hours. Margherita Buy is gentle yet gloriously neurotic as she describes her film about industrial conditions as “full of energy and hope” to her sceptical mother Ada (the veteran stage actress Giulia Lazzarini) who, despite the physical fragility of age, has clearly still retained her marbles and incisiveness of days as a teacher, in a full and well-rounded life that’s drawing to a satisfactory close. By contrast Margherita’s life is full of uncertainty, doubt, trauma that feels very real today.

John Turturro plays her lead actor in her film – an American ‘star’ Barry Huggins, who lightens the constant hospital visits and high octane emotion with his scatty take as a factory owner tasked with mass redundancies, while also struggling with his own demons as an actor. Full of insight and restraint, Mia Madre provides surprisingly enjoyable, grown-up entertainment. MT

NOW ON MUBI

Magic Mountains (2020) **** Cannes Market 2020

Dir: Urzula Antoniak | Thriller, Holland/Poland 82′

Poland’s Urzula Antoniak follows her enigmatic displacement drama Beyond Words with another spare and haunting psychological thriller that relies on magnificent mountain settings, evocative lighting and intense atmosphere to explore the complex aftermath of love and longing for a couple whose relationship lies in tatters.

Dutch actors Thomas Ryckewaert and Hannah Hoekstra play Lex and Hannah, still on speaking terms despite their recent break-up, instigated by Hannah for reasons unknown. In order to lay his own emotional demons to rest, Lex makes the unusual request of asking Hannah to join him in a final climbing holiday, led by Voytek (the Polish actor Marcin Dorocinski (Anthropoid, 2016) whose unsettling presence lends a sinister vibe to this doomed emotional exploration fraught with vertiginous moments of its own.

Quite why Hannah decides to continue on this challenging odyssey is anyone’s guess. But mesmerised by Voytek’s mysterious allure and Lex’s ambivalent motivations, she presses on increasingly disturbed by her strange companions and the dizzying surroundings. Magic Mountains is a simple but effective metaphor for our troubling times. Antoniak’s enigmatic storyline and Lennert Hillege’s atmospheric visuals provide the needling tension fuelling this complex mood piece that takes us to the unknown reaches of the human mind with a  devastating finale. MT

Cannes 2020 | The Official Selection | 73rd Festival de Cannes 2020

Cannes Festival grandees announced the fifty six competition titles that should have screened during this year’s 73rd Celebration from 12 – 23 May 2020, had it not been for the Covid 19 Crisis: these films will be released in cinemas and other festivals during the remainder of 2020/21. 

There are some much anticipated films in this list – although the usual strand of Un Certain Regard comes as part of the main programme this along with the newcomers, comedies and documentaries. There are no Italian films because naturally they are now saving themselves for a showing at Venice in September.

Summer Of 85, François Ozon (France), 1h40′

Ozon is true to his provocative style in this Normandy-set story of love and passion between two young boys at the height of the 1980s. Scored by hits from Bananarama and The Cure, the film releases on 15 July 2020.

DNA, Maïwenn (Algeria, France), 1h30′

This follow up to Mon Roi, sees the director reliving her own Algerian heritage, Fanny Ardant playing her mother, Marine Vacth her sister and Louis Garrel as her best friend in a film fraught with memories and melodrama.

Love Affairs, Emmanuel Mouret (France), 2h

Passionate stories of love and tenderness seen through the eyes of an eclectic cast including Vincent Macaigne, Emilie Dequenne and Camelia Jordana

Rouge, Farid Bentoumi (France), 1h26′

Bentoumi’s sophomore feature looks at the human aftermath of an ecological scandal in Algeria.

Gagarine – Fanny Liatard, Jérémy Trouilh (France), 1h35′

In this promising debut drama a teenager shares his name with the well-known cosmonaut who was the first human to travel to outer space.

Spring Blossom, Suzanne Lindon (France), 1h13′

Arnaud Vallois (Beats per Minute) stars in this rites of passage drama that allows the director to reminisce on her teenage hood suffused with delicate memories of films, music and plays on the era.

Vaurien, Peter Dourountzis (France), 1h,35′

The human face of a serial killer is captured in this impressive debut drama that stars Ophelie Bau (Mektoub My Love).

My Best Part, Nicolas Maury (France), 1h48′

Nathalie Baye is back in a central role in this tortured debut that sees her self-mocking son desperate not to lose the love of his life.

A Good Man, Marie-Castille Mention Schaar (France),

Making her debut in the Official selection Mention Schaar tells a love story with insight, humans and universal appeal, and one that will set tongues wagging.

Teddy, Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma (France), 1h48′

A werewolf movie styled by the Boukherma Brothers’ “Grolandish’ atmosphere experienced in the first film Willy and featuring ‘man of the moment’ Vincent Macaigne

Slalom, Charlène Favier (France),

Jeremie Renier stars in this vertiginous thriller about things that go downhill between a trainer and his protegee.

Médecin De Nuit, Elie Wajeman (France), 1h40′

Once again Vincent Macaigne takes centre stage as ‘patron saint of the broken’ dashing round Paris on a mission to heal in Elie Wajeman’s third feature.

Josep, Aurel (France) | Josep, Animation, 1h20′

Jump-cut animation, alternating stills and animated images make this first film from cartoonist Aurel stand out from the crowd. It tells the lesser known story: that of the Retirada, an era when refugees of the 1939 Spanish War made an Exodus to France.

Ibrahim, Samuel Guesmi (France),

The ever popular theme of father/son relationships is the crux of this debut drama that will resonate with at least half of the audience.

9 Jours À Raqqa, Xavier De Lauzanne (France) | Documentary

We all know how the Kurds have suffered, and continue to suffer in Syria where they form the largest ethnic minority. This is a film about the feminist point view, seen from the gaze of Leila Mustapha, the Kurdish mayor the Former Islamic State capital.

Cévennes, Caroline Vignal (France), 1h35′

Caroline Vignal is back for the first time in 20 years since her feature Girlfriends  (2020) in a film described as an anti-love affair comedy based on the theme “the important thing is to travel, not to arrive”.

Les Deux Alfred, Bruno Podalydès (France),

Technology gets the better of two brothers in this moving yet upbeat comedy that stars Sandrine Kiberlain.

The Big Hit, Emmanuel Courcol (France)

Drama staged in prison is nothing new. But this film sees Irish playwright Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot staged in way that’s entertaining for all.

The Speech, Laurent Tirard (France)

A tender comedy about love and lost love based on the novel by French writer Fabrice Caro.

L’origine Du Monde, Laurent Lafitte (France)

Origine du Monde is a 1966 painting by Gustave Courbet. Laurent Lafitte’s debut as a director takes it as his inspiration for a daringly dark comedy.

Home Front, Lucas Belvaux (Belgium)

The past comes back to haunt the veterans of the Algerian war in this drama set in a small close-knit village that stars Gerard Depardieu, Catherine Frot and Jean-Pierre Darroussin.

El Olvido Que Seremos, Fernando Trueba (Spain)

Trueba combines colour and black and white to rep present and past, in this historical epic of childhood’s paradise lost, shot in Colombia and based on a sonnet by Jose Luis Borges.

Ammonite, Francis Lee (UK), 2h (below)

Fossilised coldness and human love and tenderness coalesce in this historical drama based on the life of palaeontologist Mary Anning, from God’s Own Country director Francis Lee.

Mangrove, Steve McQueen (UK), 2h04′

In the first of his Cannes Film competition hopefuls, McQueen returns to the subject of racial tension in the UK with this story of Notting Hill’s Caribbean locals and their fight for respect in the face of putative Police harassment.

Lovers Rock, Steve McQueen (UK), 1h08′

His second film is a more stylish trance-like drama that explores the Swinging Sixties through music.

Limbo, Ben Sharrock (UK), 1h53′

There are echoes of Ulrich Seidl and Roy Andersson to Ben Sharrock’s bittersweet second film that looks at the refugee problem on one island in Scotland.

Another Round, Thomas Vinterberg (Denmark), 1h55′

Danish Dogme filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg explores midlife identity crisis through a series of thoughtfully crafted broken characters in this tense and unsettling film. Regulars Marie Bonnevie, Thomas Bo Larsen, and Mads Mikkelsen join the star-studded cast.

Flee, Jonas Poher Rasmussen (Denmark) | Animation,

The other Danish film in this year’s selection is an animation that follows an Afghan family through Russia to Europe.

Sweat, Magnus von Horn (Sweden),1h40′

The Swedish director follows The Here After (Directors’ Fortnight, 2015) with a timely saga that addresses the taboo subject of loneliness through the portrait of a social influencer and fitness coach.

Pleasure, Ninja Thyberg (Sweden),1h45′

Swedish filmmaker Ninja Thyberg expands her Cannes Canal+ award-winning short into a full blown female portrait of becoming a porn star in the world of men.

Enfant Terrible, Oskar Roehler (Germany), 2h14′

Reiner Werner Fassbinder had a short but prolific career as a filmmaker during the 1980s. Oskar Roehler takes a deep dive into the director’s quixotic personality in a film that explores the crazy world of this highly creative genius.

In the Dusk, Sharunas Bartas (Lithuania), 2h05′

Bartas uncovers a valuable story from his native Lithuania that mines the dramatic potential of the First World War, putting the focus on small countries crushed by larger ones –  in this case the USSR – to create a timely portrait of oppression that threatens and fascinates at at the same time.

February, Kamen Kalev (Bulgaria), 2h05′

A journey from childhood to adulthood is explored in this ethereal and elliptical drama from the award-winning Bulgarian director.

Heaven: To The Land of Happiness, Im Sang-soo (Korea), 1h40′

This social satire on the South Korean modern day commercialism is given a dollop of slapstick and stars Cannes veteran Min-Sir Choi.

Peninsula, Yeon Sang-ho (Korea), 1h54h

A fast-paced genre piece from the director of Train to Busan offers thrills and spills in a sci-fi outing to make John Carpenter proud.

True Mothers, Naomi Kawase (Japan), 2h20′

Marmite filmmaker Naomi Kawase brings another offering to Cannes in this sensuous humanistic tale of adoption and motherhood set in her native Japan.

The Real Thing, Koji Fukada (Japan),

Fukada follows Harmonium with this epic odyssey fraught with emotion in the style of the K-list contemporaries Kore-eda, Kurasawa and Kawase.

Aya And The Witch, Goro Miyazaki (Japan) | Animation

Goro Miyazaki follows in the footsteps of his father with this digital animation  that quails away from manga and into the realms of the great Studio Ghibli. Ostensibly a childhood tale with its idiosyncratic adult undertones and disturbing often surreal characters, this is a very much anticipated film.

Souad, Ayten Amin (Egypt)

A wonderfully exquisite coming-of-age story that fluidly follows the hopes of dreams of young Egyptians born of tradition, but looking forward to the modern world in sumptuous Alexandria where so much potential is waiting to flower in the realm of Egyptian filmmaking.

Passion Simple, Danielle Arbid (Lebanon)

Based on the best-seller by Annie Ernaux, Passion tracks the doomed relationship between a powerful Russian diplomat and a woman whose raisin d’être is gradually corroded behind her rose-tinted view of their love. Laetitia Dosch (Jeune Femme) stars

Here We Are, Nir Bergman (Isreal)

A love affair between a father and his autistic son carries us into a different world haunted by melodrama, poignant lows and illuminating highs. Always surprising and ultimately moving.

The Death Of Cinema And My Father Too, Daniel Rosenberg (Isreal)

The final days of a parent are intensely personal and sensitively sketched out in this acutely poignant Israeli study of the end of life.

Broken Keys, Jimmy Keyrouz (Lebanon)

A pianist tries to escape his persecuted Middle-Eastern town where radical Islam holds sway. The emotional power of music speaks for itself here in a drama that seeks to denounce religious dogma in favour of humanity.

Beginning, Déa Kulumbegashvili (Georgia)

After her short film Invisible Spaces was nominated for the Palme d’Or in 2014, Kulumbegashvili offers up a study of oppression that contrasts tradition with the changing face of Georgia.

Should The Wind Fall, Nora Martirosyan (Armenia), 1h40′

From Armenia comes this impressive debut that mesmerises both visually and in its pervasive atmosphere of tension. Gregoire Colin plays an engineer in charge of the airport opening in Nagorno Karabakh, the self-proclaimed Caucasian Republic.

Striding Into The Wind, Wei Shujun (China), 2h36′

Another complete surprise arrives from China – but this is a good one and very welcome in its refreshing inventiveness.

The Billion Road, Dieudo Hamadi (Democratic Republic of Congo) | Documentary

A bright but streetwise documentary that sees a group of men fighting for their rights in the modern day Rep of Congo.

Casa De Antiguidades, João Paulo Miranda Maria (Brazil), 1h27′

The light and magnificent beauty of Brazil is magically captured in this extraordinary film that shows through a lyrical story of loneliness and disenfranchisement how countries and places own us, rather than the other way round.

Septet: The Story Of Hong Kong, Ann Hui, Sammo Kam-Bo Hung, Ringo Lam, Patrick Tam, Johnnie To, Hark Tsui, John Woo, Woo-Ping Yuen (Hong Kong),

A film that speaks for itself through a variety of local filmmakers.

The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson (USA) (below)

An international cast of stars get together in this unpredictable drama that assembles a series of vignettes telling the history of cinema.

Last Words, Jonathan Nossiter (USA)

Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling, Nick Nolte and Alba Rohrwacher are the barnstorming stars in Jonathan Nossiter’s latest, an imagined drama about the relevance of film and survival. A film that had a particular resonance in these days of pandemic and crisis.

John And The Hole, Pascual Sisto (USA)

A coming of age thriller from Ignacio Inarittu’s regular scripter Nicolas Giacobone, the action plays out in the titular hole.

Falling, Viggo Mortensen (USA)

Viggo Mortensen is the star of his directorial debut that sees a traditional dad moving in with his gay son. Laura Linney and David Cronenberg also star.

Soul, Pete Docter, Kemp Powers (USA) | Animation

A musician who loses his passion for music must reinvigorate his craft through the helpful soul of a child.

The Truffle Hunters, Gregory Kershaw, Michael Dweck (USA) | Documentary

The white truffle of Piemonte is prized by chefs and connoisseurs all over the world. And this documentary charts the history of its fascination and the secret that holds its persistent hunters in thrall.

Nadia, Butterfly, Pascal Plante (Canada)

From Canada comes a drama that tackles the thorny subject of Olympic has beens. What happens when top swimmers are forced finally to throw in the towel? Katerine Savard plays a former bronze medal winner in this valedictory exploration of physical prowess from Quebec director Pascal Plante. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 12 – 23 MAY 2020 

The Dead and the Others (2018)| New Brazilian Cinema | Mubi

Docudrama | 114’ | Brazil/Portugal

Brazilian cinema is entering a new era in the wake of the country’s unprecedented political turmoil. Several new films are now available online along with this look at the Directed by Palme d’Or winner João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora, The Dead and the Others is a haunting docudrama based on their experiences of living for nearly a year in Pedra Branca, a village inhabited by the indigenous community of the Kraho people in Northern Brazil. The Kraho very much want to continue their way of life and traditions in their rural community, striving to be self-sufficient. Their plight connects with a global narrative of survival for small communities all over the world.

Fifteen year old Ihjãc has been suffering from nightmares since he lost his father and in the opening scene he walks through the rain forest in the light of the moon. A distant sound of chanting comes through the palm trees. His father’s voice calls him to the waterfall. It is now time to organise the funeral feast so his father’s spirit can depart to the village of the Dead and mourning for him can come to an end. Although his baby son Tepto was born in the local hospital, Ihjãc still spends most of his life with his family in the remote forest and although the village elders are urging him to fulfil his duty to undergo the crucial process of becoming a shaman, Ihjãc escapes back to the local town to avoid the transition. There, far from his people and culture, he faces the reality of being an indigenous native in contemporary Brazil.

With its themes of loss, displacement and cultural identity this eerie and woozily impressionistic piece that has a poignant urgency in its message, glowingly conveyed in vibrant, high contrast cinematography. MT

NEW BRAZILIAN CINEMA | UN CERTAIN REGARD JURY PRIZE 2018 | LET IT BURN

Cannes 2020 | Festival update

The 73rd Cannes Film Festival is not the only celebration to be postponed by the 2020 pandemic that has derailed the film calendar sending some editions online.

This is the first time Cannes has been cancelled since the Second World War, although it was also curtailed in May 1968 due to the student uprising. To think that 75 years ago we were celebrating the end of hostilities across the World, it now seems inconceivable that a human tragedy of such enormity could once again intervene.

In an interview with the trade magazine Screen Daily, festival president Thierry Fremaux spoke of plans to announce an Official Selection of films that would have taken part this year. That will hopefully come at the beginning of June 2020. All these films are scheduled to be released theatrically sometime between now and 2021, and have remained faithful to Cannes, rather than moving on to Venice or San Sebastian .

The Film Market will still go ahead with sales companies showing their Cannes 2020 slated films to buyers and professionals in a virtual line-up. But as for the Main Competition, rumours continue to circulate about possible collaboration with future festivals such as Venice, Toronto, San Sebastian and Zurich.

As for the real live festival this year’s President of the Jury, Spike Lee, intends to make back to head up next year’s 74th Edition.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | 12 -23 MAY 2020

The Whistlers (2019)

Dir/Wri: Corneliu Porumboiu | Cast: Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Rodica Lazar, Antonio Buil, Agusti Villaronga, Sabin Tambrea, George Pisterneanu | Thriller, 97′

This Noirish Romanian arthouse thriller is not the first to use whistling as a vital part of its storyline. Last year’s Locarno Critics’ prize winner Sibel showed how vital this ancient style of communication is in isolated parts of the World. And La Gomera is one of them. The craggy hideaway in the Canaries is where a dark and sinuous double-crossing drama plays out. It also travels to the Romanian capital Bucharest, and Singapore. Swinging backwards and forwards in time tense The Whistlers is a rather forboding film with a retro feeling of the Sixties and another saturnine performance from Porumboiu’s regular Vlad Ivanov (who appearing in Tegnap and Sunset).

He is Cristi, a detective under surveillance from his colleagues who is rapidly finds out that this special language from local Spanish-speaking gangsters can keep him under the radar. Porumboiu’s clever lighting techniques and a ravishing score of modern classics and operatic arias keeps the action pumping to a surprising finale.

You may find the plot rather complicated and the crooks hard to identify (I did), but basically it goes as follows: Vast wads of illegal euros are being laundered in a mattress factory outside Bucharest whence they’re transported to the crime ring in Spain and Venezuela. The factory owner and middle-man is a petty criminal called Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea) and his girlfriend Gilda (Catrinel Marlon) seduces Cristi in the sexually-charged opening sequence (which takes us back to Basic Instinct). Meanwhile Zsolt’s boss Paco (Agusti Villaronga) instructs another honcho Kiko (Antonio Buil) to teach Cristi the whistling lingo. The place is riddled with surveillance cameras and no one can really be trusted in this edgy atmosphere of uncertainty so the arcane hissing comes in handy as a form of covert communication.

Meanwhile, Cristi’s sidekick Alin (George Pisterneanu) and their boss Magda (Rodica Lazar) make up the Police contingent. All these characters are out for themselves. La Gomera takes a leading role   with its inaccessible stony beaches, crystal waters and dense wooded hillsides. The final coda in Singapore doesn’t quite dovetail into the film and has a whiff of being added just to spice things up for the glamorous reveal in a light show taking place at the Gardens by the Bay.

In true noir style The Whistlers is not a long film and slips down easily – there are no deep messages here – despite its rather intractable plot. An ambitious and intriguing addition to the Romanian filmmaker’s oeuvre. MT

ON CURZON WORLD FROM FRIDAY 8 MAY 2020

 

 

Fire Will Come | O Que Arde (2019) Mubi

Dir: Oliver Laxe | Wri: Oliver Laxe, Santiago Fillol, Oliver Laxe | DoP Mauro Herce | 90′

One of the strongest films in the Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2019 was this stunning docudrama from Mimosas director Oliver Laxe.

Set in the remote Ancares region in the heart of the Galician mountains Oliver Laxe’s stirring third feature transports us back to a rural way of life where the occupants live in gentle and humble acceptance of nature, eeking out their existence from the land and the animals who live amongst them.

This wild and savagely beautiful part of North East Spain is covered in rain-drenched forests and rolling mountains where the gusty winds can kindle even a small fire and send it raging incandescently through the region decimating flora and fauna. Laxe’s gaze is detached but brooding with sensitivity, inviting us into to this strangely unsettling world.

Amador grew up here with his parents and his respect for the local way of life is palpable. His regular cinematographer Mauro Herce (Dead Slow Ahead) shooting on Super 16, films a row of fir trees cascading to the ground and eventually revealing a massive bulldozer causing widespread mayhem as it moves ominously through the wooded hillside like a behemoth .

Amador (Amador Arias) comes home after serving time for causing a fire that almost wiped out the villagers, not to mention the vegetation and livestock. Set to the sonorous tones of a Vivaldi psalm we can sense this is a bitter homecoming for a middle-aged man with no one but his 83 year old mother Benedicta (Sanchez) to welcome him. She does this with a simple acknowledgement. “Are you hungry?” Both characters are played by non-pros who inhabit their roles with the naturalism professionals

Mother and son continue their day to day life as they left off. Amador is rather harsh on his sweet and obliging mother who runs their smallholding single-handedly, tending their three cows and trudging backwards and forwards with their ageing Alsatian. The other locals in this mournful corner include Inazio (Inazio Abra), who is working on a large-scale refurbishment of his parents’ stone farmhouse. Amador is emotionally buttoned down and taciturn, refusing to rise to the bait when one of the villagers shouts, “Hey Amador, have you got a light?”

There is a solace to this spartan existence drawn by Laxe with moving simplicity. The animals complete their household. Elena (Fernandez) the vet is the only intruder and she arrives to help pull one of their cows out of a ditch. The journey back to her practice is one of poignant beauty and wry humour as Amador once again remains tacitly unfriendly while the cow’s gentle eyes look on trustingly.

This is a minimalist film of rare eloquence. Nothing is forced or spare, the unsettling narrative gradually unfolding with a growing sense of doom as, predictably, the fires come back to the mountains forcing the animals to flee amid devastation, firefighters struggling with the raw power of the mammoth flames. One image that remains seared to the memory is of a horse stumbling bewildered from the wreckage, having been singed by thefla,es. The tiny figure of Benedicta is seen wandering disconsolately across the charred landscape. And we are once again left to ponder Amador’s involvement. Fire Will Come is pure cinema. Set to the atmospheric ambient sounds of nature and full of naturalistic detail and subtle undercurrents, it is joy to behold. MT

NOW ON MUBI

White God (2014) | Bfi Player

Dir/Wri: Kornél Mundruczó | Cast: Zsofia Psotta, Sandor Zsoter, Lili Horvath, Szabolcs Thuroczy, Lili Momori, Gergely Banki, Karoly Ascher | 119min  Drama/Thriller  Hungary

Hungarian director, Kornél Mundruczó’s art house thriller is also a revenge flick with a touch of the “Pied Piper of Hamlin’ about it. Serving as an elusive parable on human supremacy, it scratches the edges of fantasy with some bizarre and brutal elements.

Dogs, or more correctly, mutts are the stars of the story which opens with a little girl cycling through the mysteriously empty streets of Budapest, followed by a pack of barking beasts. With is canine cast of Alsations to Labradors, Rottweilers and even little terriers, WHITE GOD also brings to mind The Incredible Journey with a darkly sinister twist. Is she escaping a virus, or a human enemy?

These dogs are clearly well-trained and credit goes to the Mundruczo for his ambitious undertaking, but then Magyars have a reputation for their horsemanship and this clearly extends to the canine species. It transpires that Lilli (Zsofia Psotta) the girl on the bike, has adopted a large street dog called Hagen. Lilli’s mum is off on a business trip with her new boyfriend, leaving her in the care of her emotionally distant but rather sensitive father who ironically works as an abattoir inspector.

Their relationship is not a close one and Lilli becomes even more distant from him when he insists on her getting rid of her loveable pet. Budapest is a city full of street dogs and the Hungarians appear to be a great deal less keen on animal welfare than most European countries. Hagen is soon picked up by a new owner, an unscrupulous dog fighter, who sets about turning him into a savage warrior-dog, before he escapes and ends up in the Police dog pound, where he stages a mass canine uprising. The transformation is both sad and frightening but there are also poignant moments as Hagen as his ‘mate,’ a sweet Jack Russell, desperately try to evade re-capture by their enemies – human beings. And it is this balance of power that underpins Mundruczó’s unique drama transforming it from an animal adventure to a satire with universal appeal. WHITE DOG is quite literally, a tale of the ‘underdog’ rising up and claiming his rightful place in society: on a more sinister level it could represent the masses over-taking society. A captivating and provocative piece of filmmaking. MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER | Dedicated to the late Miklós Jancsó, WHITE GOD won PRIX UN CERTAIN REGARD in Cannes 2014.

Portrait of a Lady on fire (2019) **** Curzon Home Cinema

Dir: Céline Sciamma | Adèle Haenel, Noemie Merlant | Drama, France 120′
Sciamma is back with a enigmatic and delicate drama that glows like a jewel box in its pristine settings yet feels pure and confident at the same time. Turning her camera from the contemporary (Girlhood and Tomboy) she also shows a talent for classical fare in this latest drama set in a chateau in 18th-century Brittany. Here a member of the Italian upper classes (Valeria Golino) has commissioned a portrait of her daughter Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) so she can marry her off to a wealthy suitor abroad.
Rather than risk a male painter becoming too close to her convent-educated offspring, the mother invites artist Marianne (Noémie Merlant) to be her companion, and she arrives at the seaside location in a boat rowing, almost losing her prepared canvasses during the journey. What develops is a tentative friendship between the women that slowly grows into something more ardent. Intimate glances and long walks lead to candlelit evenings where passion burns over their needlework and literary discussions. Or is Héloïse imagining things?
Isolation is to important as it distances their story from the rest of the world. Sciamma relies on the hush of the sea and some subtle sound design, instead of a formal score. Soon the portrait painting becomes secondary to the girls’ relationship. All this is handled with a lightness of touch and the utmost decorum. And the painting sessions turn from taciturn encounters to warmer and more meaningful tetes a tetes. There are shades of Choderlos de Laclos here and the sensuality is undeniable. A faint eeriness comes into play when Marianne has repeated visions of Héloïse in her white wedding dress – luminous for a while, she then disappears. We’re used to seeing lesbian love affairs in the present day so this hark back to the 18th century is refreshing and entrancing. And their mesmerising on screen chemistry gives the film a life of its own. MT
NOW ON RELEASE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 14-25 MAY 2019 | Winner: Best Screenplay

Little Joe (2019) ****

Dir. Jessica Hausner | Sci-fi Drama | Austria, UK, Germany | 105′

Austrian auteuse Jessica Hausner creates films that are intelligent and refreshing. And none more so than her recent Cannes competition entry Little Joe. A challenging, coldly humorous hyper-realist Sci-fi that explores the unique human condition known as happiness.

Sometime in the future Emily Beecham plays Alice, an emotionally buttoned up ‘plant designer’ who develops a scarlet thistle-like flower whose scent makes people happy, and is sure to catch on  commercially. But there’s a snag: the plant also makes subtle changes in the personalities of those who inhale its pollen. It also causes seems to destroy neighbouring plants in the laboratory.

Little Joe is a mesmerising film to look at: its brightly synthetic colour schemes, geometric framing and slightly off-kilter performances are undeniably eye-catching and entirely appropriate given the subject matter: genetic modification. This is not a film to love but a film to admire, the strange storyline keeping us agog in fascination until the surprising finale.

Once her pioneering plant is in full flower Alice names it Little Joe, and brings a sample home for her teenage son Joe (Kit Connor) to tend – she’s a rotten workaholic mother hooked on Deliveroo dinners, but hopes the plant will bring out her son’s nurturing side.

Meanwhile, in their slick laboratories and mint green uniforms, Alice and her colleague Chris (Ben Whishaw) are certainly more commercial scientists than traditional plants people, but Chris is the more appealing and emotionally intelligent of the two. Their chief designer Bella is an earth mother and soon notices that her beloved shaggy dog Bello has undergone a complete change of personality since sniffing pollen from the odd-looking thistles. The staff put this down to Bella’s mental health issues and move swiftly back to their microscopes. But these weird changes cannot be ignored for long.

Sound plays an important role throughout this unsettling story and Japanese composer Teiji has devised a spooky electronic soundscape for each phase of plant development. Hausner has seemingly gone out of her way to assemble an eclectic multi-racial cast and this certainly adds flavour to this exotic con concoction but Beecham, Wishaw, Kit Connor and his dad (Goran Costic) are particularly affective in striking the right mood. And if you think Little Joe bears a strange visual resemblance to another recent Austrian chiller you’d be right: DoP Martin Gschlacht also filmed Goodnight Mommie (2014). MT

ON RELEASE FROM 21 FEBRUARY 2020

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Best Actress Emily Beecham
https://youtu.be/eKy7Iaco_rU

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018) ***

Dir: Terry Gilliam | Cast: Jonathan Price, Adam Driver, Stellan Skarsgard, Jason Watkins and Olga Kurylenko | Drama, UK 133′

Terry Gilliam’s struggle to film Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote has been as epic as the title itself. The finished version of his fantasy adventure – that sees a disillusioned advertising executive mistaken for Sancho Panza – was beset by legal potholes as it fought its way stoically towards the Red Carpet in Cannes two years ago, with a beleaguered but indomitable cast of Jonathan Pryce, who stars as El Don himself, Adam Driver, Stellan Skarsgard, Jason Watkins and Olga Kurylenko.

Miguel de Cervantes crafted a likeable story with everlasting appeal – its simple premise: that Chivalry should not die out in the ‘modern age’, a timely tenet that very much applies today. Even back in the 17th century, it was Don Quixote’s bee in his iron helmet, and he was said to be rendered mad by reading too many books on the subject of good manners. So he sets off with his trusty squire Sancho Panza and his lady Dulcinea, to make things right in the world from his titular hometown in La Mancha – where clearly he was stumbling on the foothills of dementia. During his confused and eventful journey, his worried family desperately try to get him home.

Terry Gilliam’s passion project has been two decades in the making. He had no idea that the saga would develop into its own quixotic tragedy. Keith Fulton’s 2002 documentary charts Gilliam’s doomed attempt blighted by the well-known chestnut the ‘rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain” – filming was abandoned when the set was flooded. This put the mockers on Gilliam’s cherished dream, but he pushed on undeterred and blissfully unaware that his passion project would soon develop into a nightmare.

Over the years, several actors have been attached to the film including John Hurt, Ewan MacGregor and even Robert Duvall. But not all attempts to bring Cervantes’ legendary novel to the screen have been so problematic. Some have been roaring tributes. In 1926 Danish director Lau Lauritzen cast the leading comedians of his era in the main roles: Carl Schendstrom and Harald Madsen were Denmark’s answer to Laurel and Hardy. Then Georg Wilhelm Pabst chose the esteemed Russian actor Feodor Chaliapin Sr to play the chevalier in Adventures of Quixote (1933), which appeared in three languages (German, French and English). Rafael Gil successfully followed, filming the story as a comedy in 1947 with Rafael Rivelles in the saddle as Quixote, and Juan Calvo as Sancho Panza. Orson Welles then made a valiant stab in his (unfinished) 1972 endeavour that followed a similarly tortuous path as Gilliam’s, starting in 1957. Typically, Welles run out of money and was forced to abandon filming, the project was later developed by Jesus Franco who released the dubbed version in 1992 to uninspired reviews. Robert Helpmann directed and also starred in the main role of his 1973 ballet version, with Rudolf Nureyev as Basilio. And David Beier’s 2015 version actually starred James Franco, but the less said about this one, the better. Needless to say, there have been numerous TV adaptations.

The curse continued to blight other films in Cannes 2018 when Quixote was finally screened. In a strange twist, Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov had won the Don Quixote award at Locarno for his film Yuri’s Day (2008) but was placed under house arrest, forbidden to attend the 71st Cannes festival to accompany his competition title Summer (Leto). And Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi shared the same plight. He first appeared in Cannes with his debut White Balloon (1995) which went on to win the Camera d’Or, the first major award won by an Iranian film at the world’s most famous film festival. He was forced to stay at home while his drama Three Faces screened in the main 71st competition. Luckily The Man Who Killed Dox Quixote survived its arduous journey and finally makes it to the Croisette but shlepped home empty handed, but has since won Spanish and Belgian awards for its production and make-up. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 31 JANUARY 2020  | FESTIVAL DE CANNES

 

A Hidden Life (2019) ***

Dir|Wri: Terrence Malick | Cast: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Michael Nyqvist, Matthias Schoenaerts, Bruno Ganz, Karl Markovics, Franz Rogowski | US Drama 173′

Terrence Malick brings his tenth feature to Cannes with a reputation in the balance. Although appreciated by a small cadre of Malickians, his post-Tree of Life output even his defenders seem to agree needs defending.

So is A Hidden Life a return to form, or is it another stage in a sad decline. Well, the truth is: a bit of both. It tells the true story of conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) and his wife Fani, played by Valerie Pachner, who lived in St. Radegund, an Austrian farming community. Beautiful mountains form a backdrop, an idyll just as the tropical islands did prior to the hostilities of The Thin Red Line. But war is approaching fast with Hitler, a native of the same region, glowering from newsreel footage and ripping through first France and then into Austria. At this point, Franz decides that he cannot swear an oath of allegiance to a man he views as the antiChrist. How he comes to this conclusion is unclear as Malick’s typically syllopsistic style means we never see him read a newspaper or watch any of the newsreels we see.

Everyone in the village tries to persuade Franz against his decision from the ultra-nationalistic mayor to the well-meaning priest. Again the gaps in the narrative made by the relentless moving fluttering from one beautiful image to another means that we weirdly never hear Jews mentioned, despite the fact that anti-Semitism was rife.  Hitler wasn’t some exceptional monster. His hatred and xenophobia and anti-Semitism were a product of his Austrian upbringing. This was by no means exclusive to Austria or Germany, but there was a particular virulence which made the message of National Socialism resonate. But according to Malick everyone just wanted to cut grass and drink beer.

Franz’s rebellion is religious and almost anti-political. And again Malick’s style favours this approach. There are no dialogues in Terrence Malick’s cinema and it is almost impossible to talk about politics without allowing people to actually talk. We have a series of monologues directed at characters which typically take place in the context of some photogenic meandering. The letters which form the bulk of the voiceover (yes, there’s voiceover) simply reiterate much of what we’re seeing on screen. But again I never felt that above a lot of PDAs there isn’t much of a relationship between Franz and Fani. They say they love each other a lot, but again they don’t argue and frankly I don’t trust a couple that doesn’t argue from time to time. They also have three extremely pretty daughters, Franz’s mother, who frequently looks pitiable against a white washed wall and Fani’s spinster sister living with them.

A film with no scenes is way too long at three hours. Joerg Widmer’s camera peers into faces with a distracting lack of respect for personal space before zooming off to look for something else to be interested in. Again, the absence of the conventional blocking of scenes means that often actors are left to wander like non-player characters in a mid-90s video game. And the decision to make the film bilingual with the Nazis speaking German and the protagonists English is a ludicrous one. How can you aim to be daring as filmmaker on one hand and then submit to such a lazy Hollywood convention? And one with such damaging effect on your political position.

But again, what political position? I respect the true story behind this but Malick seems to want the whole of the second world war and the moral universe to hang in the balance here. Franz is held up as an exemplar – something like Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Joan of Arc – but I couldn’t help but think of him as something of a von Trapp. His refusal to say the oath – he is offered the chance to work in a non-combat capacity – feels petty in the face of the unnamed Holocaust which is going on at exactly the same time.

Ultimately, Malick has made another technically beautiful film, with a gorgeous soundtrack and wonderful photography, that is at the same time unable or unwilling to engage with its subject. In always trying to go for the glory, he seems to miss what it is that makes us essentially human. We talk to each other. John Bleasdale

ON RELEASE FROM 17 JANUARY 2020

Sorry we missed you (2019) ***

Dir: Ken Loach | UK Drama 100′

Ken Loach is back with his regular writer Paul Laverty and another slice of social realism whose title will resonate bitterly if you’re still waiting for that parcel. SORRY WE MISSED YOU takes Loach back to the North East and the streets of Gateshead and Newcastle where hard-up grafter Ricky and his family have been facing an uphill struggle against debt since the 2008 financial crash and the rise of the gig economy and zero contract hours. An opportunity to get back into the black again comes in the shape of a shiny new van and a chance for Ricky to run his own business as a self-employed delivery driver. But things don’t quite work out as expected despite his best efforts, and we feel for him as he desperately tries to make things gel. Laverty’s script flows along as smoothly as the Tyne in scenes that showcase Loach’s talent for bringing out the best in new talent in a cast that includes Kris Hitchen and Debbie Honeywood with Rhys Stone and Katie Proctor as their son and daughter. This time humour and honesty keep sentimentality low key. The locale is very much a character too: Shields Road and Byker which we get to know like the back of our hand in this enjoyable tale of woe. Regular DoP Robbie Ryan does his stuff to perfection in what is oddly a much better film than his 2015 agitprop Palme d’Or winner I  Daniel Blake. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 1 NOVEMBER 2019

 

Amin (2018) ***

Dir: Philippe Faucon | France | Drama | 97’

Without resorting to outrage or dour social realism to convey his indignation, respected filmmaker Philippe Faucon draws on his lifetime experiences in Africa for this visually limpid ans gently humanist story of a Senegalese immigrant grafting to provide for his family back home, where the sun shines all year but life is as tough. The difference is that in France he can earn much more money, despite the increasing problems of unemployment, but his marriage starts to suffer.

AMIN is a watchable if rather predictable drama that joins other similar eye-opening interracial romances such as Laurent Cantet’s Vers Le Sud and Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Love in illustrating the plight of those with restrained financial or emotional circumstances and how this weakens their moral resolve and as they reach out to those who share their emotional pain from the other of the social or geographical divide.

Amin does his best to succeed with dignity and respect for his fellows in the noisy hostel they share on the outskirts of the big city. He is a proud and decent father of three but is growing increasingly distant from his wife who pressures him to bring the family to France. Faucon spends over half of the film slowly building a poignant picture of emotional and social strife for immigrant newcomers to France. Almost all of them have been short-changed by the system despite working hard to build up the country. Amin soon meets Emanuelle Devos’ single mother while working with some other builders to renovate her house. She has fallen out with her husband and has a little girl to support (Fantine Harduin from last year’s Happy End). The denouement is fairly formulaic but AMIN is a beautifully crafted drama that captures the zeitgeist in a charming and human way.

NOW ON GENERAL 21 JUNE 2019 | DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT  CANNES 2018

 

 

Haut les Filles (2019) ****

Dir.: Francois Armanet; Cast: Jeanne Added, Jehnny Beth, Lou Doillon, Brigitte Fontaine, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Francoise Hardy, Imany, Camelia Jordana, Elli Medeiros, Vanessa Paradis; France 2019, 78 min.

What if Edith Piaf had invented Rock-n-Roll, rather than Elvis Presley? Francois Armanet’s excellent Cannes documentary showcases the musings of ten popular French singers from the Sixties to the present day. The upshot is that Rock-n’-Roll is female and French.

Edith Piaf opens with a raunchy love song for her lover, the boxer Marcel Cerdan, who died in a plane crash in 1949. In the Sixties, it was the likes of Françoise Hardy and Brigitte Fontaine who challenged the predominance of men. Hardy remembers how naïve she and other chanteuses were at a time of total male dominance: When France Gall sang the saucy “Sucettes” songs with composer Serge Gainsbourg, she hadn’t the faintest idea of the double meaning of that ‘lollipop’.

Things have changed since. Camelia Jordana and Jeanne Added felt the freedom of being on stage, describing it as  “lifting me out into space”. Sixties photos of Françoise Hardy and singing partner Jacques Dutronc show a different picture, and one that was re-affirmed when she met Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg in the UK “where men expected women to look like Brigitte Bardot” – rather than Hardy’s androgynous look. Jagger claimed “she was his ideal woman”. Ironically even nowadays Charlotte Gainsbourg is hampered by old-fashioned male chauvinism. “I wish I looked more like my mother, but unfortunately I look like my father…he could not understand that I did not like to be on the cover of magazines”. She goes on to talk about the beautiful women in her family, such as Lou Doillon, daughter of filmmaker Jacques Doillon, although the two women had the same mother in the shape of Jane Birkin. Gainsbourg always thinks about herself as pretty and ugly (une jolie-laide), like the teenager she played in her film debut film La Voleuse by Claude Miller. Lou Doillon remembers the burden of having to be interesting to adults who were all creative. But although he father directed, her mother was very much in front of the camera.

Camelia Jordana also remembers that her voice only made an impression when it sounded sweet and sexy, when she got older. Jordana lately found her identity as a strong feminist via the works of Simone de Beauvoir, a signatory of Women’s Manifest, a group that fought to de-criminalise abortion in France. Of the ten, Fontaine is the most radical – and much more so now than in the Sixties. “Stop Talking and take arms. Down with the stronger sex. Death to it” is only one of her provocative songs on stage.

Elli Medeiros, who was born in Montevideo, started her career with the Stinky Toys and was discovered by Malcolm McLaren, who invited the band to London, where they appeared at the ‘100 Club’ in Oxford Street. Having arrived without gear, they asked the Sex Pistols to lend them their outfits, but the band declined. Stinky Toys ended up singing in garb belonging to The Clash. Medeiros reflects that she stopped ‘screaming out her rage on stage’, after she had learned to sing properly.

Vanessa Paradis “feels on stage like a shipmaster” and Lou Doillon compares her music “with making love, forgetting everything else, like religion”. Whilst Paradis was awakened to feminism by Beatrice Dalle, Doillon had to watch TV in her nanny’s room, where she was fascinated by Catherine Ringer of Rita Mitsouko fame. Doillon finally sums up the development of female Rock-n’-Roll stars: “In the Seventies and Eighties, girl bands were more violent on stage then male musicians. They paid the price for being on stage, having to be more mannish than the blokes.” Whilst for Lou Doillon and others, gender fluidity is the order of the day, Fontaine remains a radical feminist: “Fuck l’amour!”

When all is said and done, it’s a shame that women have always had to struggle just to maintain the status quo with men. Oh Les Filles will be remembered mainly for its fabulous music and TV archive clips which certainly prove that female talent is more than skin deep. AS

SCREENING DURING CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Lillian (2019) **** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Andreas Horvath; Cast: Patrycja Planik, Chris Shaw, Albert Lee; Austria 2019, 130 min.

Austrian filmmaker Andreas Horvath (Earth’s Golden Playground) has restaged the journey of the real Lillian Alling, who in 1926/27 tried to walk all the way from New York to her homeland country Russia. Debutant Patrycja Planik plays the gritty modern day heroine, who crosses the sub-continent without saying a single word.

We meet Patrycja, a woman in her early thirties, when she gives her photos to an ‘adult’ film producer, who declines the offer. “These are photos for modelling, we do hard core, your visa has run out and you don’t speak English”. In the background we see graphic examples of his trade, they could be straight out of one the documentaries of the feature’s producer Ulrich Seidl. “Go back to Russia” is the producers advise, and Patrycja takes him by his word. She breaks into a house near New York, finds a map and a huge jar with cheese balls, and sets off for her journey across he USA and Canada. When her shoes are ruined in a stream, she steals a pair from one of the many flea markets she visits, as well as from an abandoned laundrette. She sleeps in dilapidated houses and odd dwellings on the way.  She even manages to bed down in drainage pipes and under viaducts, greeted in the morning by stray cats. Scavenging for food, she steals a watermelon and eats pizza from a garbage can, and joins the kids in picking up sweets from the 4th of July parade. Hardly anybody bothers her: she looks so needy and poor, nearly always flying under the radar.

There are two encounters which are stand out: In Iowa she accosted by an elderly would-be rapist (Shaw), who chases her in vain across a corn field. Alone again, she steals a scarecrow’s shirt. In Nebraska, a sheriff (Lee) picks her up for vagrancy and treats her like a hardened criminal: she has to put her hands on the hood of his car, whilst he searches the meagre content of her bag. Later he relents, even giving her his warm sheriff’s jacket. This is the only kindness she ever experiences, before he drives her to the boundary of his county.

Whilst the landscape is breath-taking beautifully, Trump’s heartland seems emotionally dead. Somehow time has stood still in the mid-Fifties of the last century. Most people have fled to the cities, the remainers adamant to keep to the lifestyle of the era long gone by. We watch a parody of a rodeo, and a demolition derby with cars who were unfit to drive even a century ago. There are lots of religious slogans everywhere: “Smile, your Mum chose life” or “Where is your family?”. Instead of mobiles, old-fashioned two-way walky-talkies are still en vogue. After a hail storm, which she survives in an ambulant toilet, Patrycja again freshens her wardrobe up in a cloth donation bank.

Her journey comes to an end at the Yuka river, were she tries in vain to drag a canoe into the river, to continue her journey. This enigmatic ending works well with an allegoric story about men and whales: we never find out who Patrycja really is, there is no background, just a very very determined young woman, bashing on again and again with a spirited resistance to nature and everyone she meets: untouched through her ordeal, like a woman who fell from the sky.

Horvath’s photography is always dazzling, accompanied by a sparse musical score to replace the dialogue, which never materialises. Lillian is a triumph of a spirited, enigmatic women, wandering through a society, where emotions and ideas have long died.  AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | QUINZAINE DES REALISATEURS

 

 

It Must Be Heaven (2019)

Dir/Wri: Elia Suleiman | Cast: Elia Suleiman, Tarik Kopti, George Khleifi, Nael Kanj, Gregoire Colin, Vincent Maraval, Stephen McHattie, Gael Garcia Bernal | Comedy 97′

Best known for Chronicle of a Disappearance (2009), and Divine Intervention (2002) actor and filmmaker Elia Suleiman uses a blend of burlesque and sobriety in this droll observational comedy set in his native Nazareth, Paris and New York.

There is no narrative to speak of here, just a series of amusing vignettes plucked from everyday life epitomising the sheer ridiculousness of the ‘new normal’ in our increasingly paranoid world.

The common threads that run through this calming rather meditative feature focus on police harassment and surveillance, and weird behaviour of the general public. It’s a less stylised version of Roy Anderson’s cinema style. As the serene star of the show Suleiman conveys all this with a lightness of touch and elegant framing that brings out the life’s banality in all its glory.

The opening scene in Nazareth follows a solemn Easter procession of Orthodox faithful towards a some sacred wooden doors that are supposed to open at the priest’s command. Sadly, the people on the receiving end decide not to play ball, and we watch the priest give them merry hell from the other entrance, removing his mitre to facilitate his angry tirade. .

Arriving in Paris, Elia gawps at the beautiful girls from the safety of a pavement cafe. Having coffee the next day, police arrive and measure the place up, to make sure it conforms to government guidelines. Thankfully it does, and they depart poker-faced. On the way back to his apartment, a strange muscle-man stares at him disconcertingly in the metro, before performing a regular routine with a beer can. Back in his apartment, Elia looks out of the window to see three police officers inspecting a parked car, their choreographed movements on ridiculous electric scooters, are a recurring comedy motif throughout.

The next day, Elia runs into two Japanese tourists who ask if he’s ‘Brigitte”. Although this seems an innocent question on their part, the irony of the situation is clearly lost in translation, and they interpret his walking quietly away with bewilderment.

One of the best scenes involves a meeting with a film producer that is both polite, euphemistic and ironic – given the situation. Elia then runs into his friend Gael Garcia Bernal, played by the Mexican star himself. But his attempts to introduce Elia to a female producer ends abruptly: “It’s a comedy about peace in the Middle East,” says Bernal. “That’s already funny,” she replies without really thinking. In New York the mood turns more hostile. Everyone seems to be carrying guns, even the women. His Palestinian identity is greeted with either genuine amusement, or hostile suspicion.

This cinematic gem works it lowkey magic, Sofian El Fani’s widescreen camera allowing us to take in the big picture, on a global scale in pastel long takes. Uncluttered by trivia, the message is even more meaningful, Suleiman’s simple yet resonant musings are a joy to behold. MT

NOW ON RELEASE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | FIPRESCI PRIZE WINNER | MAY 2019

Once in Trubchevsk (2019) ** Un Certain Regard | Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir: Larisa Sadilova | Comedy Drama | Russia 80′

In her chronicle of life in a Russian village Larisa Sadilova has tried to integrate ethnographical elements with a predictable story of marital discontent. The result is rather a lightweight comedy drama that sits uncomfortably in its wonderful rural setting, trivialising the community’s more interesting past.

Feint echoes of Andrey Konchalovsky’s impressive village drama Postman’s White Nights (2014) rapidly fade away within the opening scenes – this is a beast of a different colour, and not nearly as resonant or memorable.

The story unfolds during a year in Trubchevsk on Russia’s Western border with Europe, known for its Jewish craftsmen who fled or were massacred in 1941, along with the old and mentally ill. Buxom blond knitwear designer Anna (Kristina Schneider) is unhappily married to Yura (Yury Kisilyov) with a young daughter. She relies on hitchhiking in passing vehicles to ply her trade in the nearby towns. One day she jumps aboard her neighbour’s lorry and one thing leads to another.

This a place full of gossip and bored housewives. But Anna (Kristina Schneider) manages to keep her affair undercover for a time. Her long distance truck driver lover (Egor Barinov) keeps promising to leave his wife Tamara (Maria Semyonova) and their son, but hopes he can have his cake and eat it (“everything will work out”), so they find somewhere to conduct the affair, renting an idyllic wooden house from an old lady who shares stories of how she dealt with her own difficult marriage and this provides a source of humour in the otherwise facile story: (“keep your mouth full of water, then you won’t say too much”).

Anna’s unsuspecting husband believes that away on work trip to Moscow, but when her lover’s truck breaks down, events come to a head. Sadilova exposes the sad nativity of some marital affairs. Consumed with their lust for each other, the two haven’t really thought things through. The only wise women are the village elders who at least have the upper hand in the family, the younger ones are spirited but lack the independence to really follow their dreams, and they still pander to the males, making them rather sad and unfulfilled.

All this plays out against a far more important story, Trubchevsk’s preparations to mark the 75th anniversary of the town’s liberation from the Nazis. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | UN CERTAIN REGARD 2019

 

 

 

 

 

Homeward (2019)

Dir: Nariman Aliev. Ukraine 97 mins

Nariman Aliev’s feature debut is a powerful cri de coeur for his homeland Crimea exploring the fractured relationship between Ukraine and Russia. The young director is only in his mid twenties but already manages his material with confidence and maturity to create a gripping and thoughtful story about family responsibility and the ties that bind.

Mustafa (Akhtem Seitablayev) has driven to Kiev to collect the body of his son who has been killed in the war with Russia. His mission is simple, to bury Nazim in the family’s home in Crimea. But the journey will be eventful and fraught with difficulty. It will also bring him closer to his teenage son Alim (Remzi Bilyalov), who joins him on the journey.

And the two are not on great terms. Mustafa is an aggressive disciplinarian father who doesn’t pull any punches, least of all with his youngest boy. His simmering rage is partly due to the needlessness of Nazim’s death – in his eyes – marrying a non Muslim woman Olesya (Dariya Barihashvilli) he set up home in Ukraine, and clearly Mustafa was never going to approve of the match.Mustafa’s intention was to leave the family farm in Crimea to his boys so clearly his nose has been put out of joint with this marriage. To make matters worse, the two have a violent confrontation when he refuses to include Olesya in the funeral arrangements, leaving her locked in her own bathroom, oblivious to her feelings, or even her survival. This mere act displays an extraordinary disregard for his late son’s wishes, and makes a broad reference to his misogynist tendencies which will again rear their head later on. The British phrase “a bit of a Tartar” certainly comes to mind with this implacable man.

Alim has also made plans that don’t involve returning to the family farm. On the drive through Kiev he points out the university where he is studying journalism and his father remains stony-faced refusing show any interest. The journey continues with the usual checkpoints and border controls and Mustafa is truculent and surly with local officials. He then gives Alim a crash course in how to defend himself with a knife and this comes in handy later on when they are robbed, and Alim is able to gain his father’s grudging respect.

Akhtem Seitablayev manages shows us a chink of humanity in Mustafa – clearly he loves his son, and death often brings out the worst in family dynamics. Alim evidently respects his father, and is totally under his thumbl: when the boy gets a chance to swim in the river with some locals, including an attractive blond girl, Mustafa later slams down his wallet on the dinner table and suggests Alim goes his own way. This is a man who has lived by his wits and his courage and we feel a strange respect for him, and his desperation to keep the family together.

Homeward is a film that looks stunning and has that extraordinary resonance of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s work. Anton Fursa captures the burning sunset and the bucolic pastures of the vast flat landscape with its wide dusty roads and fast flowing rivers that really evoke that sense of belonging for Mustafa and his family have fought for. MT

New Wave Films digital release from 23 April 2021 | PREMIERED CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | UN CERTAIN REGARD 2019

 

Nuestras Madres (2019) *** Semaine de la Critique 2019

Dir: Cesar Dias | Guatemala/Bel/France | 75′  | World Premiere | Competition Feature Film

Guatemalan filmmaker Cesar Diaz is known for his documentary Why Do Humans Burn? (2010) commemorating the massacre of 32 Guatemalan civilians during the country’s 1980s Civil War, and his work on Jayro Bustamente’s multi award-winning drama Ixcanul (2015).

Diaz returns to the subject of civil war in his debut drama Nuestras Madres that screens in the Semaine de la Critique sidebar during Cannes Film Festival 2019. During the first ten years of the civil war, the victims of the state-sponsored terror were primarily students, workers, professionals, and opposition figures, but in the last years they were thousands of mostly rural Mayan farmers. More than 450 Maya villages were destroyed and over 1 million people became refugees, or were displaced within Guatemala. Diaz sets his drama against the backdrop of the ongoing trial of the military officers accused of inciting unrest and causing the death of these ordinary villagers. As testimonials pour in from neighbouring villages, Ernesto (Armando Espitia/Heli), a young anthropologist at the Forensic Foundation in Guatemala City, is tasked with taking statements from the victim’s families and identifying people who have gone missing. But when an old lady’s turns up, claiming to have lost her husband Mateo, Ernesto thinks he has found a lead that will allow him to find his own father, a Marxist guerillero who disappeared during the war and who has never been put to rest. His fight for the truth is vehemently apposed by his boss at the Foundation, who wants the past to stay in the past. But it also helps Ernesto to grow closer to his mother (Emma Dib). Part ethnographical study, part drama Nuestras Madres is set in and around the country’s magnificent mountain and volcanic countryside (Guatemala has 37 volcanos, of which 3 are active), Nuestras Madres is a straightforward but affecting story about the plight of thousands of Guatemalans who went missing, and whose story has never been told. MT

SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE | 21 May 2019 | Cannes Film Festival 2019 

Frankie (2019)

Dir: Ira Sachs | Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Jérémie Renier, Marisa Tomei, Brendan Gleeson, Greg Kinear | US, Drama 104′

Ira Sachs makes his Cannes Competition debut with this sedate drama set amongst the balmy hillsides and fairytale castles of Sintra which is very much the star of the show. Pleasant and well-paced it has Isabelle Huppert in the title role as a terminally ill actress who gathers her family around her for a final – occasionally fraught – summer break.

This languorous drama explores the intimate interlocking stories between the nine friends and family style. Frankie (Huppert) is a luminous presence throughout the film with her dry sense of humour and effortless allure  remaining serene and very much in control despite the anxiety of her loved ones.

Writing and his regular scripter Mauricio Zacharias Sachs doesn’t look for easy connections between these rather sedate showbiz types, the pencil-slim narrative ticking all the right boxes and gradually finding its way to an unspectacular conclusion.

From the outset, Frankie hums a Schubert tune which pretty much sums up the slumbering tone of the narrative. After a winning scene that sees her diving into an aquamarine swimming pool surrounded by lush gardens, her step granddaughter Maya (Nenua) reminds her there are guests in the hotel who might take photographs: “It’s alright, I’m very photogenic.” she cooly responds. And this sardonic wit flows throughout.

Frankie is stoical about her illness as she puts her affairs in order with the family: husband Jimmy (Gleeson in lowkey affectionate mode) his daughter from an earlier marriage, Sylvia (Robinson), and Ian (Bakare), the husband she is on the verge of leaving. There’s also Frankie’s son Paul  (Renier) and his father Michel (Greggory), who married a man after Frankie left him. Frankie’s best friend New Yorker Ilene (Tomei) joins the party with docile cameraman boyfriend Gary who is eager to propose to her – a nice touch in these non-committal days – she nevertheless damns him with faint praise. Sachs adds another strand involving Tiago (Cotta), a local Portuguese guide hired to show them the sights.

Cinematographer Rui Pocas, who photographed the fabulous arthouse films Zama and The Ornithologist, captures the splendour of the setting At usual, Huppert reigns supreme throughout, even in the fading days of her life she eclipses everyone. MT

NOW IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

 

 

Diego Maradona (2019) **** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Asif Kapadia | Doc, UK 120′

Asif Kapadia is no stranger to Cannes. His Cannes biopic Amy went on to win an Oscar and became the highest grossing British documentary after its Cannes premiere in 2015, and was even more popular than his 2010 biopic Senna. DIEGO MARADONA rounds off his trilogy about child geniuses and fame. Football fanatic Kapadia is clearly fascinated by the Argentine football legend’s charisma, low cunning and leadership, but mostly by his sheer ability to bounce back from the lows in his career: “He was always the little guy fighting against the system, and he was willing to do anything to use all of his cunning and intelligence to win.” This all footage foray blends over 500 hours of grainy media coverage with home video material to transform Maradona’s story into an adrenaline fuelled two hours that sees the cheeky mummy’s boy from a poor barrio in Buenos Aires transformed into a charismatic winner whose undiluted hubris was bound to send him Icarus-style on a meteoric mission to the sun. Crucially Kapadia’s film is about both sides of the megastar’s personality: the affectionate insecure slumdog and the epic hero who would finally crash to earth. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | GOLDEN EYE | 14-25 MAY 2019

Oleg (2019) Mubi

Dir.: Juris Kursietis; Cast: Valentin Novopolski, Dawid Ogrodnik, Anna Prochniak, Guna Zarina; Latvia/Lithuania/Belgium/France 2019, 108 min.

Director/co-writer Juris Kursietis (Modris) has created a spare but thrilling feature about a Latvian emigrant in Belgium, who falls under the spell of an evil smalltime gangster from Poland. Long takes and agile handheld camerawork along with some poetic under-water scenes make for an affecting verité drama. A twist of subversive humour lifts Oleg out of the   ‘grim and depressing’ category often associated with realism.

Oleg (Novopolksi) recalls how he was deeply affected as a child by his grandmother’s tale of the sacrificial lamb. Broke and in debt he feels just like that lamb in real life. A vision of him trying to breaking through the ice as he struggles under water occurs frequently throughout the film. Eventually he lands a job in a meat processing plant in Ghent where his training as a butcher comes in handy. Unfortunately, one of his illegal co-workers is maimed in one of the machines, blaming Oleg for the accident. His mates force him to take the rap in order to avoid an investigation. Back home – and jobless Oleg again – he meets the gregarious and charismatic Andrzej (Ogrodnik), who organises a motley crew of East-Europeans, hiring them out to do various jobs.

But Andzejs turns out to be a conman, who hardly ever pays his men. Oleg runs away, even though he fancies Andrzej’ girl friend Margosa (Prochniak), who is in thrall to her sadistic boyfriend. Alone in the streets at Christmas time, Oleg walks into a Latvian restaurant and is mistaken for an actor by rather posh Zita (Zarina), who runs the place. After a night of lovemaking, Oleg confesses he’s not really an actor, and is thrown out. Briefly returning to work for Andrzej things don’t improve and so he goes to the police, and informs on the gangster, having asked his grandmother to do the same in Latvia. Now at a lose end and with his freedom back, Oleg buys a plane ticket to Riga, but the night before his flight, he meets Margosa.

Despite of the underlying harshness of the narrative this is a bracing account of life as an immigrant. Andzejs gives Oleg a ‘forged’ Polish passport, calling him a “Novopolski” and the scenes in the meat factory are extremely brutal – and if you’re still not a vegetarian, you might now change your mind. The bleached-out aesthetic seems to mirror the hollowed out lives of these illegal workers, and the underwater sequences reflect Oleg’s feelings of desperation and powerlessness: struggling to survive in every way.  Kursietis seems to have re-invented social realism, or at least put a new appealing face on the genre. AS

NOW ON MUBI | PREMIERED AT CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | Quinzaine des Réalisateurs 2019

 

The Best Years of a Life (2019) **** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir: Claude Lelouch | France Drama, 90′

Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant are back together again 53 years later in Claude Lelouch’s sequel to Un Homme et Une Femme. 

Claude Lelouch’s cult classic with its breezy romantic score by Francis Lai is one of the most popular French films ever made. Even the title harks back to that “ou la la! moment when your French lover sweeps you off your feet in a cosy bistro savouring a post prandial Cointreau.

Well that was back in 1966 but this sequel feels surprisingly slick and contemporary. Now in his 80s, ex racing driver Jean-Louis Duroc (Trintignant at 89, for the un-initiated) is in a swish Normandy care home – infinitely more appealing than the ones BUPA charges £100k a year for, even the staff are sexier.

The Best Years of a Life (Les Plus Belles Années d’une Vie)sees Jean-Louis considerably more dishevelled but the cheeky twinkle in his eye is still there as he flirts with his carer and wanders around the foothills of dementia – or is he just having us on?. Meanwhile his long-lost love, a well-preserved Anne Gauthier (Aimée, an amazing 87) is running a small shop and enjoying her daughter and granddaughter. His son Antoine (Antoine Sire, now grown up since his childhood role) persuades Anne to visit his father. Jean-Louis pretends not to recognise her at first – she is still the diffident one, and he is still a bit of a rascal. Lelouch, now 81, clearly understand Jean-Louis, and his script is insightful and extremely convincing for anyone who has a father of this age. And as the two go back down memory lane, Lelouch cleverly splices extracts from the original film: the lovers cavorting on the beach and laughing with their kids. Lelouch has even added footage of an exhilarating drive through Paris in the early hours of the morning, and layered it over images from his other films. In a way this is the director’s chance to bring his 1966 film back to life and offer a plausible and authentic conclusion to the story, attracting nostalgic older audiences – and even inquisitive new ones. And although the previous sequel, A Man and a Women: 20 Years Later (1986), was not a success, this seems to have considerably more depth and understanding.

A great deal of the film is pure nostalgia, but there’s humour too and it flows along pleasantly without any awkward moments – the flirty bits do happen as men of this generation get older. You have to remember – they grew up in a completely different century.

The Best Years of a Life was made in just under two weeks, showing how the veteran director and his ageing stars are still capable of being impressive. And with its timely themes and the impressive car sequence it competes favourably with anything in the competition line-up. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 14-25 May 2019

LIBERTÉ (2019) **** Un Certain Regard 2019

Dir: Albert Serra | Cast: Cast: Helmut Berger, Marc Susini, Iliana Zabeth, Laura Poulvet, Baptiste Pinteaux, Théodora Marcadé, Alexander García Düttmann | Drama | Spain 132′

Catalan auteur Albert Serra was born in 1975 in Girona and is known for his delicately drawn and exquisitely mounted historical dramas such as La Mort de Louis XIV (2016); Honour of the Knights (Quixotic) 2006; and Story of My Death (2013). And there’s a great deal of exquisite mounting in his latest feature which stars veteran arthouse star Helmut Berger and competes in the Un Certain Regard sidebar.

The theme in Liberté  is essentially voyeurism. If you find yourself in Hampstead Heath on a balmy afternoon you will notice vague male figures wandering around in the shady vegetation. You may even come across a secret tryst (if you are unlucky enough while walking your dog). Take this image and sashay back to the 18th century, somewhere between Potsdam and Berlin, and this is the scenario in Liberté – only here both male and female characters are taking part.

The year is 1774, shortly before the French Revolution. Madame de Dumeval, the Duc de Tesis and the Duc de Wand, libertines expelled from the puritanical court of Louis XVI, seek the support of the legendary Duc de Walchen, German seducer and freethinker, lonely in a country where hypocrisy and false virtue reign. Their mission is to export libertinage, a philosophy of enlightenment founded on the rejection of moral boundaries and authorities, but moreover to find a safe place to pursue their errant games, where the quest for pleasure no longer obeys laws other than those dictated by unfulfilled desires.

This louche cruising amongst bewigged courtiers and aristocrats sounds fascinating, and it is for a while. Soigné and slightly porkier individuals duck and dive in the undergrowth, in various stages of undress, their elegant white linens contrasting with tanned breasts and buttocks, larded legs and bloated beerguts. Very much like Sade, Serra explores the darker side of human desire which gradually becomes more and more explicit to the point where it actually gets a little close for comfort, verging on and eventually becoming explicitly pornographic. There is no narrative as such just a series of vignettes that take place during the hours of darkness one summer night.

Arriving in painted palanquin borne by his henchmen the Duc de Wand (Baptiste Pinteaux) is recounting the execution of an unfortunate individual whose limbs were pulled one by one from his body. Obsessed by bestiality and golden showers, he loves to salivate about his lascivious encounters, often involving dogs or farm animals. Fortunately were are spared the most lurid encounters due to the bosky nocturnal shadows as Artur Tort’s roving camera spies voyeuristically on to various other outré encounters in the semi-darkness of the eucalyptus trees (eucalyptus trees in the 18th century? – check continuity).

Decadence is the watchword here as none of the trysts is particularly joy-filled unless you are into sado masochism or subjugation. The tone is also rather mournful as body fluids are shed and shared. The film’s enigmatic title suggests that these aristos have too much time on their hands and nothing left to lose: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Serra’s film is brave and extraordinary well made. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | UN CERTAIN REGARD 2019 | SPECIAL JURY PRIZE

 

The Wild Goose Lake (2019) *** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir: Diao Yinan | Cast: Hu Ge, Gwei Lun Mei, Laio Fan, Wan Quian, Qi Dao, Huang Jue, Zheng Meihuizi, Zhang Yicong, Chen Yongzhong | China 113′

Chinese writer-director Diao Yinan’s long-awaited follow up to Berlinale winner Black Coal, Thin Ice is a beautiful and beguiling crime caper that somehow fails to deliver the thrills it promises, rather like the bathing beauties who seduce and tease on the murky shores of the Wild Goose Lake of its setting.

This enjoyable and elegantly styled noir thriller is certainly awash with wonderful set-pieces and exquisite visual moments which skilfully echo China’s gilded past and leave us in no doubt of its contempo criminality and territory wars. The enigmatic plot involves a sinuous gangster Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge) on the run from his own mob and the local police, one of whom he shot by accident in a frenzy-fuelled bike escapade along the lake, near the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Sashaying between various timeframes The Wild Goose Lake follows Zenong as he meets up with  with Liu Aiai (Gwei Lun Mei/Black Coal, Thin Ice) one of the bathing beauties (sex workers) who works for his boss, and may have been sent to help him. But the police have also set a ransom on his head so Liu Aiai may be tempted to turn him in.

The two chase through narrow streets and backwaters, Zenong on the run from everybody, including his shop worker wife Yang Shujun (Wan Qian), and Liu Aiai pursuing him in a chase that turns out also to be fuelled by lust. Eventually she catches up with him in a languorous lakeside scene where Zenong is lounging in a becalmed boat, bleeding profusely from his wounds. She seduces him and spits his semen out into the water, from then on the two are close allies. Swinging through the backstreets and side alleys, Dong Jinsong’s fast-moving camerawork skilfully captures the neon drenched ambiance. One scene features dancers rocking to the 70s disco hit “Rasputin” their LED-lit trainers adding a jewel-like dimension to the night setting.

But these are Noirish nights and there’s no happy ending in sight for the lovers as they rush from scene to scene. The Wild Goose Lake is at heart a wild and beautiful goose chase between the cops, the crooks, a gangster on the run and his femme fatale. But when did Noir thrillers ever have a happy ending? MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | IN COMPETITION 14-25 MAY 2019

 

Cordillera of Dreams (2019) *** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir: Patricio Guzman | DoP: Samuel Lahu | Chile, 97′

Patricio Guzman completes the trilogy on his native Chile with this follow-up to The Pearl Button (2015) and Nostalgia for the Light ((2010).

Since moving to Paris over 40 years ago, well-known documentarian Patricio Guzman admits to feeling an outsider on returning to the country of his birth. This latest Cordillera de los Suenos is probably the most politically engaged of the trio with echoes of his seminal work The Battle of Chile (1975-79) but also possibly the least engaging. The mournful reminiscence touches on the relationship between Chile’s history and the natural world but the lively interviews with sculptors and artists whose work focuses on the Andes, soon give way to video footage of the brutal Pinochet years recorded by the prolific photographer Pablo Sala who first began his work in the 1980s and has been filming public life in Chile ever since.

The Cordillera of Dreams (La Cordillere des songes) is certainly a sad reflective film and once again enjoys Guzman’s serene and measured narration which muses on the links between the country’s extraordinary geography and the human tragedy that Chileans experienced since the fateful coup on 11 September 1973, when Guzman left the country and moved to France. He now dreams of returning to his homeland and restoring the dilapidated house where he grew up in Santiago.

“It doesn’t even smell the same” says Guzman of his beloved country tucked away behind the Andes, describing it as a “chest full of poetic dreams”. Like most of the world, Chile has now moved into the 21st century and now enjoys a stable and prosperous economy that welcomes foreign investment. Samuel Lahu’s extraordinary overhead shots of Santiago are magnificent; fuzzy clouds scudding by to reveal the grid pattern of a white city walled by huge snowy mountains — the Andes – stretching to the East. But still the director yearns for the past and his happy childhood – like most of us – but sadly the future has arrived in Chile without him. Capitalism has brought prosperity – but and none of us can bring back the past, however hard we try.

Then we see overhead footage of the ‘ghost trains’ silently transporting Chile’s wealth of copper to the ports to be transported abroad. The privately owned mines are nowhere to be scene and no public roads have access to them. Along with wine, this precious national resource is one of Chile main exports, and there’s nothing new about that. The Pearl Button was fascinating in that it discovered the item from the shirt of a political victim years later at the bottom of the sea, but this film makes no such amazing discoveries, nor does it ask new questions.

We already know that Pinochet was a genocidal maniac who held the country in his thrall from his imposing tower block in Santiago – and we get a tour of the empty building echoing with the ghosts of corrupt generals. And there is ample footage of public beatings and water cannon roving the streets during his bloody regime, thanks to Sala. In his precious trove of videos, he even shows us footage of the column of men, (between 15 and 65 who were removed from their homes), filing off in a large line into the football stadium, that same ground that bore witness years earlier to Chile’s triumph in the World Cup.

But while Guzman fled abroad to the peace and prosperity of France, Pablo Salas remained to face the music, however funereal it was. So perhaps Guzman feels twinges of guilt for abandoning his homeland, and senses that Chile has possibly turned her back on him for disloyalty. Salas, now in his late fifties, is an sympathetic man who is philosophical about his country, swearing he could never leave. In his studio surrounded by boxes and boxes of video material, he is the one who has made it “impossible to erase history” and for that Guzman is grateful. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 2019 | GOLDEN EYE DOCUMENTARY PRIZE

 

 

 

The Orphanage (2019) **** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Sharbanoo Sadat; Cast: Quodrattolah Quadri,  Ahmed Fayaz Osmani, Hasibukkah Rasooli, Eshanullah Kharoti, Anwar Hashimi, Asadullah Kabiri; Den/Ger/France/ Lux/Afghanistan 2019, 90 min. 

Writer/director Sharbanoo Sadat (29) won the Quinzaine Main Prize in 2016 for her debut feature Wolf and Sheep, as well as CICAE-Festival Award for “most daring feature”. Born in Tehran, she grew up in a remote village in Afghanistan, that forms the setting of her feature debut, after studying documentary filmmaking in Kabul; The Orphanage is part of a planned quintology based on the diaries of her friend Anwar Hashimi.

Kabul 1989 is under Soviet rule, but teen-cousins Qudrat (Quadri) and Fayaz (Osmani are not really that worried about politics. Qudrat, a Bollywood fan, dreams about becoming a famous actor and the boys make some money selling scalped cinema tickets. Finally, their luck runs out and they land up in a Russian orphanage. There they immediately turn their attentions to the girls in their class, and even the female teachers. Instead of listening to the teacher, Qudrat dreams himself into the role of a heroic lover impressing his beautiful girlfriend – no other than the girl sitting in front of him in class. In his dorm, Fayaz is “christened” ‘Redhead’ by Eshan (Kharoti), the main bully on the block. Meanwhile Eshan’s best friend Asad (Kabiri) steals a new T-shirt and shoes from a much younger boy. The two are then confronted by the supervisor (Hashimi), who stands up for the younger boys. Love-sick Qudrat meanwhile somehow gets into the Deputy Headmistress’s bedroom, while she is asleep. The whole orphanage then heads off to Moscow, to spend time with a ‘Pioneer’ Group. The main focus of the trip is to interest the boys in Soviet ideology by visiting Lenin’s Tomb. But the kids are much more interested in the Pioneer girls. After their return to Kabul, Hasib (Rasoli) and some of his friends find an overturned Soviet tank. They steal bullets, Hasib has a tragic accident when of them explodes. Fayaz comes down with a mystery illness, and is transferred to a psychiatric ward, where he eventually recovers. Eshan challenges one of the younger boys to a chess game, but turns violent when he loses, and the antics eventually come to a head and Eshan is expelled. When the Mujahidin advance on Kabul, Hashimi asks the boys to burn all written material in the courtyard. An impressive finale sees Qudrat again in “cinema mode”, this time in a musical, singing “Death is our Lover”, whilst defending Hashimi from the violent Islamic State soldiers.

Shooting in Tajikistan, DoP Virginie Surdej is able to turn Sadat’s overflowing imagination into stunning images. Qudrat’s wonderfully anarchic “cinema stunts” are brilliant, and the interactions of the boys with their Russian teachers is equally impressive in their subtlety. The ensemble cast is convincing, and Sadat’s untamed approach is a refreshing change from the calculated story-telling in so many films nowadays. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Quinzaine des Réalisateurs 2019

                           

Le Daim (Deerskin) 2019

Dir: Quentin Dupieux | Cast: Jean Dujardin, Adêle Haenel, Albert Delpy, Pierre Commé | Comedy Drama, France 77′

The apparel doth oft proclaim the man, says Polonius and the apparel in Quentin Dupieux’s new film Deerskin doth certainly proclaim Jean Dujardin’s Georges pretty oft.  We first meet Georges in that typical midnight-of-the-soul location: a motorway service station. He is feeling a sudden contempt for his corduroy jacket, trying to stuff it down the toilet. Apparently in the immediate aftermath of a marital breakdown, Georges splurges a huge sum on a second hand 100% deerskin jacket with tassels. Not since Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread has a man been so taken with a sartorial item. Georges’ new jacket is tight for him and weird, and yet he’s so excited about being the height of what he calls “killer style”.

Holing up in a remote mountain hotel, Georges starts to film his jacket with a camcorder (thrown in as part of the jacket deal) and hold conversations with the garment with Dujardin doing both voices. On one level, Georges seems like a pitiable middle-aged man in the midst of a crisis: his bank account is frozen; his wife tells him he no longer exists and he even resorts to eating out of a bin. And yet Georges is armoured by his own delusions which quickly turn psychotic. Befriending a local bartender Denise (the ubiquitous Adêle Haenel), he convinces her he is making a film, which gels with her own ambition to be an editor. But the filmmaking pose is only a way toward securing his more ambitious goal – a dream he vocally shares with his jacket – of eliminating all other jackets; and therefore all other jacket wearers.

It is testament to Dupieux’s skill and the utter commitment of his two leads that Georges madness somehow feels grounded in an ordinary world. And yet it’s a world of ordinary madness. There are no police around and no consequences to the violence, even though Georges doesn’t seem to be hiding the bodies. In fact, he’s filming the killings and Denise is onboard, enthused enough by the footage to start financing the movie herself. Albeit occasionally dense – he doesn’t seem to understand computers – Georges has a fiendish talent for improvisation and the same could be said of the film. Its twists and turns, its toying with expectation, keep the shuttlecock of lunacy airborne long enough for Georges to get himself kitted out with more deerskin products and the movie to turn in some hilarious moments of violence.

Although more recently seen as a straight dramatic actor Haenel has proven comedy chops and she makes Denise both a credible foil and accomplice to Georges. But the power of the movie comes with Dujardin’s performance, which is detailed and astute, comic and unnerving. Dujardin shows Georges to be a vain preening man – he asks women in a bar if they were talking about his jacket – who demands attention and insecurely needs to be the boss. It’s like he’s playing American Psycho via David Brent.

The film is a portrait of toxic masculinity weirdly stripped of its most common denominator: misogyny. Georges doesn’t care for anyone except himself and his jacket. Deerskin is a reductio ad absurdum of male obsession and vanity and it is all done in “Killer Style”.  John Bleasdale

NOW IN CINEMAS | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Quinzaine des Réalisateurs

Sorry We Missed you (2019) *** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir: Ken Loach | UK Drama 100′

After his Palme d’Or win in 2015 with I, Daniel Black, Cannes old timer Ken Loach is back with his regular writer Paul Laverty and another slice of social realism with a title that will resonate bitterly if you’re still waiting for that parcel. SORRY WE MISSED YOU takes Loach back to the North East and the streets of Gateshead and Newcastle where hard-up grafter Ricky and his family have been facing an uphill struggle against debt since the 2008 financial crash and the rise of the gig economy and zero contract hours. An opportunity to get back into the black again comes in the shape of a shiny new van and a chance to run his own business as a self-employed delivery driver, but things don’t quite work out as expected despite his best efforts, and we feel for him. Laverty’s script flows along as smoothly as the Tyne in scenes that showcase Loach’s talent for bringing out the best in newcomers in an able cast that includes Kris Hitchen and Debbie Honeywood with Rhys Stone and Katie Proctor as their son and daughter. This time humour and honesty keep sentimentality low key. The locale is very much a character too, Shields Road and Byker which we get to know like the back of our hand in this enjoyable tale of woe, and we have his regular photographer Robbie Ryan to thank for that. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 14-25 MAY 2019

Pain and Glory (2019) **** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir: Pedro Almodovar | Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas | Drama, Spain 117’

Pedro Almodóvar has never won the coveted Palme d’Or but here he gets another chance to prove his impressive talents at portraying with probing insight and humanity a variety of tortured characters both male and female. Pain and Glory is a uniquely piquant and personal portrait that takes us into his own heart through the story of another struggling filmmaker. Once again, as we enjoyed in Julieta, this is a confident and passionate affair resonating with the work of many great auteurs before him, Fellini springs to mind, and the film is seductively set to a score by Alberto Iglesias. But this is one of his most subtle almost sensitive works to date that feels convincingly honest and spontaneous, while quailing away from theatricality it is elegant and self-assured. Maybe the Spanish director has finally let down his guard and bared his soul in this rather delicate drama. It follows one Salvador Mallo (his longtime collaborator Antonio Banderas who plays his alter ego with feeling) a filmmaker who has lost his way and now reflects mournfully on his past in lonely solitude as the present quietly collapses around him. And we feel for his quiet pain in every scene as the narrative unfolds in the context of other minor stories. Finally the fourth wall is broken and we discover the truth, in rather an abrupt finale. Mallo opines “a great actor is not the one who cries, but the one who knows how to contain his tears”. Pedro Almodovar has finally come home, but ironically Banderas wins the award. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 14-25 MAY 2019 |Winner Best Actor for Antonio Banderas

 

 

 

Rocketman (2019)

Dir: Dexter Fletcher | Taron Egerton, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jamie Bell, Harriet Walter | Fantasy Musical | UK, 121′

The Elton John biopic ROCKETMAN is an all singing all dancing affair with Taron Egerton performing the classic numbers and Dexter Fletcher behind the camera. Feeling rather like Ken Russell directing Roger Daltrey in Tommy without the cinematic qualities: this is just one big theatrical number after the other.

Told through a clever framing device, written by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot), this is a proper musical with fantasy sequences sharing an extraordinary human story of the shy but talented schoolboy Reginald Dwight from Pinner who found fame and fortune as one of the most iconic figures in pop culture, only to land up in drug therapy and finally accept his sexual orientation after a failed marriage.

Fletcher has Elton recounting the story looking back through a lens clouded with drug and alcohol abuse, and this gives the film its fantasy element, although although there is very little about what actually makes Elton John tick, and maybe that was a conscious decision to concentrate the narrative on his showman-like qualities, avoiding a warts and all approach. Egerton has a good voice; he performed a version of I’m Still Standing in the comedy animation film Sing (2016). With a nice fat budget of 40 million, Rocketman actually looks glamorous too although but like a great deal of show business, it has no heart or soul. MT

NOW ON BBC iPlayer

5B (2018) **** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir: Dan Krauss, Paul Haggis | US, Doc 95′

A new documentary from Oscar nominee Dan Krauss (The Kill Team) and Paul Haggis delves into the history of the first ward in the world for people with AIDS, at San Francisco General Hospital. The film focuses on the unsung heroes, a small collection of nurses and caregivers who banded together to provide courage, compassion and, crucially, touch to those devastated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s. Even pets were allowed to visit their afflicted owners and partners were invited to make the ward their home. 

Spiking their film with moments of sharp humour, the result is a poignant tribute to this tragic time in American history, and a celebration of the quiet heroes worthy of renewed recognition, although the directors do demonise those medical professionals who exercised prudence in their treatment of the patients. Particularly, top orthopaedic surgeon and head of the San Francisco surgical team, Dr Day, who decided to wear protective garments because she wanted, quite understandably, to avoid being infected from the spurting blood of infected patients. Also unpopular was President Reagan who introduced a raft of measures to protect those working in AIDS care. Reagan even considered exiling the sick to their own private island – as the Venetians did to stamp out the plague – and one AIDS sufferer jokes: “we’d be happy to go if it was Santa Catalina island”. Yet it was an era were America was just not ready for people coming out, let along dying at the same time, so these draconian measures were hardly surprising.

Combining archive footage and interviews with those involved and affected, Krauss and Haggis explain that those people first infected with the virus in the late 1970s went downhill rapidly, often dying within months, even weeks. As fear spread throughout the community of San Francisco and beyond, AIDS sufferers lost their jobs and were kicked out of their apartments. One dying caretaker’s desk was even burnt in the parking lot of his building. In contrast, those pioneering individuals, who offered loving support, talk of their own memories: Rita Rockett even staged parties once a week in the ward, offering musical entertainment and food. Grateful patients were allowed to say: “they loved her to bits, but not to death!”

With the arrival of protease inhibitors – antiviral drugs that block the disease – fatalities eventually went into decline in the late 1990s. And many of the talking heads featured in the documentary have lived to tell their tearful tales. Well-paced and informative, 5B is a fascinating film that could have even added a positive twist in the fight for AIDS. These point towards immunity and even the possible eradication of the disease in the not too distant future. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | GOLDEN EYE DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

 

Heroes Don’t Die (2019) **** Semaine de la Critique 2019

Dir.: Aude Léa Rapin; Cast: Couzinè Haenel, Antonia Buresi, Jonathan Couzinè, Hasija Boric, Vesna Stilinovic; France, Belgium, Bosnia Herzegovina 2019, 85 min.

Aude Léa Rapin’s feature debut drama is certainly a unique undertaking. Led by a terrific performance from Adele Haenel (The Unknown Girl) it explores re-incarnation, hope and forgiveness to deliver a passionate conclusion amid the emotional ruins of war.

The films opens with Joachim (Jo) (Couzinè) bursting into the Parisian apartment of his filmmaker friend Alice (Haenel), to report that he might be the reincarnation of a solider who died in Bosnia in August 1983 –  Joachim’s own birthday. Or at least that’s what he has just been told by a man on the street corner. It soon emerges that Alice has spent a long time looking into the aftermath of the Balkan crisis which led to the breakup of Yugoslavia. But she’s not convinced about Joachim’s claims, or his ‘nightmares’ about his military past. Jo is adamant that these are no ordinary bad dreams. So Alice packs her filmmaking equipment and sets off with her sound designer Antonia (Buresi) to Sarajevo, hoping to find a basis for Jo’s former identity as Zoran Tadic, only to discover that the tragedy is by no means over.

On entering the suburbs, they find the mass graves of the victims, with new bodies buried in small coffins – the identifications of victims still going on – often more than 8000 civilians were killed per day. Alice accuses Jo of having made it all up, but then she remembers that a cardiologist did say that Jo could die at any moment after his 35th birthday due to a chronic heart condition. They meet one of Alice’s former sources who takes them to the – now – dilapidated bob sleigh track, used at the Sarajevo Olympics in 1984. They learn, that the track was once the frontline between the two war factions. Later they meet Hajra (Boric), another of Alice’s acquaintances from her war time reporting. And soon she discovers that a beekeeper living on the outskirts of the town of Brutonac, had a husband called Zoran Tadic, who was a soldier in the war. Here the finale is both devastating and breath-taking.

This is a moody, enigmatic drama touched by eternal sadness and Haenel keeps it all together as the deus ex machina of this experiment in poetry, essay and history lesson all rolled in to one. In the end, the audience has to decide if re-incarnation is simple a device for escaping from our sins.AS

SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019      

Beanpole (2019) **** Un Certain Regard 2019

Dir: Kantemir Balagov | Writers: Kantemir Balagov, Aleksandr Terekhov | Drama | Russia 114′

A bitter bond of revenge and inter-dependence keeps two Russian women viscerally entwined in Leningrad after the Second World War.

Beanpole is Kantemir Balagov’s follow up to his kidnap thriller Closeness which took the FIPRESCI prize in Un Certain Regard two years ago. Based on a story from The Unwomanly Face of War by Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexeievich, it sees the two women brought to their knees physically and mentally after the war have devastated their city. But life goes on for Iya, a tall rangy blond known as Beanpole (Miroshnichenko), and her friend Masha (Perelygina) who served together on the front, Iya returning early due to a neurological condition, bringing back with her Masha’s little son Pashka (Glazkov) in the autumn of 1945.

This gruelling slow-burner is softened by its gorgeously vibrant aesthetic that lends a jewel-like radiance to the girls’ misery, captured in Kseniya Sereda’s brilliant camerawork. Masha is wilful, mercurial and playfully charismatic – Perelygina is simply mesmerising to watch as she plots her way forward, emotions floating across her face like clouds on a sunny day – Beanpole is a sullen and introverted soul but the two have no one left in the world but each other, and a terrible tragedy that threatens to destroy or deepen their fraught friendship. The sudden intimacy of the girls’ life contrasts with the sheer scale of the horror they have experienced on the front, and the drama is confined to stuffy interiors and hospital wards that seem to stifle the enormity of their emotional pain and suffering. Iya is now a nurse in a local hospital in the late autumn of 1945 and her neurological complaint renders her incapable of movement for several minutes at a time. But Pashka is her pride and joy and their closeness is deeply moving. 

By the time Masha returns from the front, a dreadful event has taken place. And Balagov insightfully explores the shifting dynamic between these two women with impressive maturity for a filmmaker still in his twenties. The men in their life take a backseat to proceedings but are vital to the narrative: the world weary head doctor Nikolai Ivanovich (Andrei Bykov) and Masha’s irritating suitor Sasha (Igor Shirokov) who is the son of a Communist party official. Somehow Sasha’s mother and the doctor get drawn into the complex web of need, revenge, and power.

Leningrad is almost romantic in its postwar atmosphere and Sergei Ivanov’s set design adds a homely folkloric touch to the interiors. Memorable scenes are those outside Sasha’s family dacha, and Masha’s tram ride in the final moments of this striking, intense and emotionally resonant drama. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | UN CERTAIN REGARD | BEST DIRECTOR | FIPRESCI

Atlantique (2019) ** Cannes Film Festival

Dir: Mati Diop | Wri: Olivier Demangel | Cast: Traore, Mame Sane, Aminata Kane | Drama 104′

Mati Diop, now 36, is one of the four women, and the only black female director in this year’s Cannes competition line-up. With a French mother and Senegalese father, she grew up in Paris and rose to fame with Simon Killer going on to film, direct and write several short films. Her Dakar-set debut feature Atlantics sees a young girl trapped by her love for an unpaid construction worker and her arranged marriage to a glib entrepreneur.

This Palme d’Or hopeful is similar in many ways to Diop’s short film Atlantiques (2009) and also echoes Alain Gomis’ Aujourd’hui (2012) in its glorious setting by Dakar’s Atlantic coast, atmospherically shot by Claire Mathon. Mame Sane makes for an impressive lead as the feisty but vulnerable central character Ada, but there are tonal inconsistencies and Diop’s attempt to fuse the social realism of the early scenes with the magic realist elements of the final half feel unconvincing and may leave many viewers bewildered.

A confident beginning sees construction workers on the rampage. They have been building the tall skyscraper that gives the city the skyline of a smaller version of Dubai, but are owed  three months’ pay. Assurances from the foreman that the boss, Mr. N’Diaye (Diankou Sembene) will pay up, fall on deaf ears. One of the worker, Souleiman (Traore), meets up with with 17-year-old Ada and the two share passionate embraces on the beach. But this doomed romance is bound to fail: Ada has been betrothed to Omar, a rich man who shuttles between Dakar and Italy, and the wedding is in a few days Meanwhile Souleiman has decided to take off in a pirogue with his mates hoping to find better luck in Spain.

Ada finds out about all this when she meets him later in a bar on the beach run by her friend Dior (Nicole Sougou). Her other friends Fanta (Amina Kane) and Mariama (Mariama Gassama) will be bereft now that the men are leaving town. They have all used their feminine wiles to get ahead financially and this is described by Diop as “Afro capitalist neo-feminism.” And when they see Ada’s new home they are deeply envious, she is utterly unimpressed and actively rebels against the wedding .

Luckily for Ada, someone deeply objects to the horrendous white polyester Louis XV bedroom and set fire to the whole property, although no-one is harmed. The police officer assigned to investigate, Issa (Amadou Mbow), proves unworthy of his job and seems to be suffering unexplained blackouts as proceedings take on a surreal twist with some of the characters developing white, zombie like eyes.

The supernatural soon invades the story as the film morphs into horror mode and the pacing slurs to Al Qadiri’s eerie scores that mixes electronics with African instruments. This tonal shift feels odd and take us by surprise as the action moves predominantly into the night with Diop making great use of the raging Atlantic sea that provides a malevolent background. Her inventive visual ideas mingle well with the film’s undertones of Islamist misogynism, post-imperialism and witch doctors; although these are not developed sufficiently, along with the enigmatic love story, despite the ample running time of nearly two hours. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 14-25 MAY 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Les Miserables (2019) Cannes Film Festival 2019 ***

Dir: Ladj Ly | Drama France 102′

Not to be confused with Victor Hugo’s 1862, Les Miserables is in a way a 21st update of the milieu where the French classic took place. With echoes of TV’s Law & Order Ly channels the anger and malaise of modern city life into his contemporary story, that kicks hard against the system.

Opening with documentary footage showcasing the national unity leading up to France’s 2018 World Cup victory, to the headline “There are no bad plants or bad men; there are only bad cultivators,” is an apposite one that could apply to dogs and children as well.

This good cop, bad cop urban thriller follows a day in the life of officer Stéphane (played by Damien Bonnard), who’s recently fetched up the backwater of Montfermeil from the almost genteel by comparison town of Cherbourg. Ly – who directed and co-wrote the debut feature from his own short film – grew up in this badass council estate and we soon find out that the cops are as venal as many of the locals they victimise. This soon emerges when Stephane is tasked with shadowing two Anti-Crime Squad officers, Chris (played by the distinctly unappealing (co-writer) Manenti, a really nasty piece of work, and his black sidekick Gwada (Djebril Zonga) who, interestingly, also abuses his power, and almost manages to corrupt Stephane’s straightforwardness and strong sense of public duty. The trio roam around the neighbourhood where drug dealers are free to peddle their wares and kids run wild. Meanwhile the local Muslims try to go about their business, and a petty criminal called Issa, who has stolen a baby lion from the circus, nearly loses his eye when Gwada fires a flash-ball gun further adding to mayhem. Clearly Ly is playing things up for dramatic effect but it also transpires that this community has more or less been abandoned by the authorities for so long that it has developed its own dog eat dog existence. And this sad fact is portrayed with a great deal of humour and humanity by Ly and his co-writers Alex Manenti and .Giordano Gederlini.

Julien Poupard’s camera captures the area warts and all with his brilliant images, often from the officers’ moving car and this is amplified by drone footage, adding considerably to the gritty allure of this everyday story of life in a place where little has seemingly changed in nearly 200 years. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 14-25 May 2019

Bull (2019) *** Un Certain Regard

Dir: Annie Silverstein | Drama | 104′

Annie Silverstein’s feature debut is muscular filmmaking at its best: high on atmosphere the enigmatic narrative ebbs and flows but there’s no major dramatic heft just plenty of pulsating moments of tension.

The story centres on 14-year-old protagonist, Kris (Amber Havard), who has no father to speak of and a mother (Sara Albright) in prison; without anyone to guide her she hangs out with lowlifes in a downtrodden community — directionless and full of doubt. There are shades of The Rider and Bullhead here but none of that strong storytelling.

Guided by her grandmother (Keeli Wheeler) while her mother’s behind bars, she also takes care of her little sister. Her pit bull terrier menaces and kills the chickens belonging to her African-American neighbour, almost getting her a criminal record.  Abe (a towering Rob Morgan) decides not to press charges, on the proviso that Kris agrees to help out around the house. Abe was once a Bull Rider pro, but now works as a rodeo protection advisor, bating the bulls so they chase the cowboys. Naturally, he’s a hardbitten but appealing character and there’s a terrific scene where he stares down a bull as it cowers visibly in its pen. The focus gradually moves towards Abe and he carries the film along with Kris, who exudes vulnerability but also teenage nous.

BULL is certainly a powerful first film, so perhaps Silverstein will emerge with a stronger narrative next time, building on this impressive start with its appealing cinema vérité style. MT

UN CERTAIN REGARD | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019

The Unknown Saint (2019) **** Semaine de la Critique 2019

Dir.: Alaa Eddine Aljem; Cast: Younes Bouab, Salah Bensalah, Bouchaits Essamak, Mohmed Naimane, Anas El Vaz, Hassan Ben Bdida, Abdelhaini Kitab, Ahmed Yarziz; Morocco/France/Qatar/Germany, Lebanon; 100 min.

Alaa Eddine Aljem’s debut feature is a little gem: filmed with great confidence, it is the story of a thief in a small Moroccan desert village trying to recover his loot, while the villagers pray for rain. In tune with its sun-baked environment the tautly inventive narrative unfolds in a languid style in scenes showcasing the fleshed out characters and talented cast.

On the run from the police, a young thief Amine (Bouab)has just time enough to bury his booty on a desert hill, camouflaging the scene as a modest grave. Ten years later, Amine and his accomplice, simply called “The Brain” (Bensalah) for his lack of the grey matter, return to discover a Mausoleum for an unknown Saint has been built over the grave. No rain has fallen for over a decade and the villagers are desperate; one of them, Hassan (Essamak) wants to go elsewhere, but his father Brahim (Naimane), the religious leader of the village holds him back. Then there is Aziz (Kitab), the self-appointed mausoleum guard who treats his son with contempt, his life revolving around his Alsatian dog. For some unknown reason, the new doctor (El Baz) is only getting women patients at his surgery. His long suffering nurse (Ben Bdida), who survives on alcohol and weed, explains that the women use the surgery as a “hangout”, while collecting their prescriptions. Meanwhile, Amine and his helper wonder how to tackle Aziz so they can recover the loot. This is a sinuous and slow-burning drama with just enough irony not to reduce it to a farce. The characters are larger than life, appealing despite their foibles and full of humanity and charm. Even the two criminals come across as incompetent bunglers rather than hard-edged thieves. DoP Amine Berrada uses the desert as a majestic background, his panoramas are impressive, particularly the night shots. Judging by this impressive debut, Aljem is a filmmaker with a bright future ahead of him.  

SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE | Wednesday 15 May 2019 |11.30am

 

     

   

The Dead Don’t Die (2019) Cannes 2019 ****

Dir: Jim Jarmusch | Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray | 103′ US Fantasy Horror

The peaceful town of Centreville finds itself up against it when the (un) dead start rising from their graves in Jim Jarmusch’s first zombie escapade.

THE DEAD DON’T DIE is the first festival opener to also vie for the Palme d’Or in the main competition this year at Cannes. Jarmusch has won all sorts of awards in previous editions – The Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award (Broken Flowers); Best Artistic Contribution (Mystery Train); The Golden Camera (Stranger than Paradise); and Coffee and Cigarettes III was awarded the Best Short film in 1993 , but he’s never actually taken home the top prize. And it’s possible he will with this flip but fun affair with its slim but subtle undercurrents.

Most of the starry cast are ripped apart and end up thoroughly the worst for wear by the time we get Sturgill Simpson’s catchy title tune on the brain for the journey home. But this audience pleaser will certainly go down in history with the best of them – but my money’s still on Shaun of the Dead for sheer deadpan weirdness of the cult classic kind.

The police are the first to notice untoward goings on. Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) are alerted to local power cuts and watches going awry in sleepy Centreville. And Jarmusch brings the same deadpan humour to bear as did Edgar Wright, the dead coming alive in the eerie torpor that many claim is due to climate change.

The town’s cop trio is made up by token female Mindy Morrison (Chloe Sevigny), and Danny Glover’s Hank Thompson is the token black resident who makes it possible for Buscemi’s Farmer Miller to add the requisite element of racial abuse. Other denizens include Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton), who gets to flex her Scottish credentials with a hefty samurai sword. The younger generation are there in the shape of Caleb Landry Jones, Selena Gomez, Austin Butler and Luka Sabbat who roam around their numbers gradually multiplying as the story staggers on. Then there’s a classic village loner (Tom Waits) who seems to go under the zombies’ radar, perhaps because he’s so like them.

But a wry nonchalant bonhomie permeates this dozy undead drama and maybe Jarmusch is alluding here to the dumbed-down society we live in nowadays – their unaware, don’t care attitude is the most darkly worrying aspect. Crafty old Jarmusch is using his zombie outing as a wrapper to satirise all our current ills. Even the authorities seem brain dead with Tilda giving the only sparky thrill to the piece as the slightly unhinged oddball. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 14-25 May 2019 | IN COMPETITION

Go Where You Look! Falling off Snow Mountain (2019) Directors’ Fortnight 2019

Dirs: Laurie Anderson, Hsin-Chien Huang Virtual Reality Creation | US/China

Anderson and Hsin-Chien collaborate in three virtual reality installations presented together for the very first time at this year’s  Quinzaine.

If you’ve not experienced virtual reality it really is a transformative experience: Rather like diving you enter a whole new world, but with VR you can’t actually see your body during the process.

Laurie Anderson is a musician, filmmaker, writer, digital arts creative pioneer and, ultimately, a storyteller in the broadest sense. She discovered VR only recently and her new way of exploring narrative territories is a good way to start. New media artist Hsin-Chien Huang, who has a background in in art, design, and digital entertainment. His VR collaboration with Laurie Anderson was awarded the Best VR Experience in at Venice Film Festival in 2017. But they first worked together in 1995 on the CD-ROM Puppet Motel. 

AloftChalkroom and To the Moon, are three poetically linked and complementary pieces presented together, and each lasting around fifteen minutes. The sensory, poetic and technological dimensions of these three pieces are tightly intertwined and and considerably amplify our cinematic experience, and this one takes place in Le Suquet morgue, just to add a  surreal twist to the proceedings.

Rocking a very soigné Issy Miyake rigout, Anderson explains that there are no cameras or lenses involved in Go Where You Look and it all feels very physical and interactive, as the audience very much influence the outcome of each tour. You sit on a stool, pop on a headset and the show takes off. 

ALOFT is the nearest thing to experiencing a place crash – in the most serene way possible. As the sole passenger in the airline you begin to notice some shafts of light appearing in the ceiling and floor near the cockpit. Gradually the plane starts to fall apart, in a gentle way. Suddenly you’re floating in your seat towards what looks like a town with to connected rivers. The black box floats by, and soon other objects come into view and float by as you head towards a luminous vortex. If you grab them with your gloves paws, Laurie’s voice then tells a story. There’s a lily, a mobile ‘phone and a lump of coal. If you snatch the coal it turns out to be Mars and soon you’re hovering above the Martian landscape. A typewriter appears and you can write your name as the letters floats high up into the black stratosphere. Other experiences include a placid lake. Your hands soon turn into horses legs. 

TO THE MOON uses images and tropes from Greek mythology, literature, science, sci fi space mo- vies and politics to create an imaginary and dark new moon, and a more formal narrative structure. During the 15-minute VR experience, you take off from Earth and soar up towards the blackness which then becomes the surface of the Moon. The eeriest thing is being able to see Earth revolving with Europe stretching before you. You can then climb a lunar mountain before returning – eventually – to Earth, your two handsets guiding you forward, or even speeding you up. You see the Constellations, the Great Bear etc evaporating before your eyes. In Snow Mountain you actually climb the mountain before your virtual body dramatically tumbles away into deep space, Laurie Anderson’s voice chanting about not knowing where we all came from. In the Donkey Ride you the viewer trot along on the back of a donkey through the lunar landscape. Eventually you float up and away into a universe of stars that begins to explode like fireworks.

Certainly different and worth experiencing. Maybe one day virtual reality will be able to re-create experiences that are more personalised. For example you could embark on a world tour, or even be united with a long lost lover or a a friend of family member who has passed on. MT

QUINZAINE | 15 -24 May 2019 | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019  

 

Cannes 2019 – Final additions…

COMPETITION SCREENINGS 

Thierry Fremaux hinted that there may be final additions to the official line-up and here they are – with his comments.

Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood – Quentin Tarantino (2 hrs 45)

“We were afraid the film would not be ready, as it wouldn’t be ready until late July, but Quentin Tarantino, who has not left the editing room in four months, is a real, loyal and punctual child of Cannes! He’ll definitely be at Cannes this year, as he was  Inglourious Basterds,  – 25 years after the Palme d’or for Pulp Fiction – with a finished film screened in 35mm and his cast in tow (Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt). His film is a love letter to the Hollywood of his childhood, a rock music tour of 1969, and an ode to cinema as a whole.

He added: “In addition to thanking Quentin and his crew for spending days and nights in the editing room, the Festival wants to give special thanks to the teams at Sony Pictures, who made all of this possible.”

Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo by Abdellatif Kechiche (4 hrs)

French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche returns to Cannes with the Intermezzo of Mektoub, my Love six years after his Palme d’or with La Vie d’Adèle (Blue Is the Warmest Color). The groundwork for this saga storytelling and extraordinary portrait of French youth in the 90s was laid in his Canto Uno, and it will be a pleasure to see its cast again.”

MIDNIGHT SCREENING

Lux Æterna by Gaspar Noé (50 min)

“Two actresses, Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg, are on a film set telling stories about witches – but that’s not all. Lux Æterna is also an essay on cinema, the love of film, and on-set hysterics. It’s a brilliant fast-paced medium-length film for Gaspar Noé’s return – an unexpected one until recently – to the Official Selection, for a film that the Selection Committee watched at the last minute and which will be shown in a Midnight Screening as hyped as it is mysterious.”

UN CERTAIN REGARD

La famosa invasione degli orsi in Sicilia by Lorenzo Mattotti (1 hr 22)

“Adapted from Dino Buzzati’s children’s book, this animated film by illustrator and comic book author Lorenzo Mattotti is a visual extravaganza, whose graphic ingenuity and colour work will delight much wider audiences than the fans of the Italian master. With Italian voices by Toni Servillo, Antonio Albanese, and Andrea Camilleri, and French voices by Leïla Bekthi, Arthur Dupont, and Jean-Claude Carrière. Like the other Un Certain Regard film in animation Les Hirondelles de Kaboul (The Swallows of Kabul) by Zabou Breitman and Eléa Gobbé-Mevellec, La famosa invasione degli orsi in Sicilia will also be competing next June at the acclaimed Annecy International Animated Film Festival.”

Odnazhdy v Trubchevske by Larissa Sadilova (1h30)

“Russian filmmaker Larissa Sadilova, who already directed six features, hadn’t shot a film in several years. She is back with this “chronicle from the village of Troubtchevsk”, evoking the feelings of love in the contemporary Russian countryside, shooting characters played by her formidable actors with refined direction and a gentle eye. Women aspirations, their patience, the courage that has to be displayed towards an always illusory emancipation, desire, frustration, and a certain sense of immemorial fatalism are all examined, acutely and without weight. It will be the first time the Festival de Cannes welcomes Larissa Sadilova.”

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

Chicuarotes by Gael García Bernal (1 hr 35)

“A full-fledged member of Mexico’s exceptionally talented generation, a first-rate actor in films by Iñárritu and Cuarón, Gael García Bernal, along with Diego Luna, is a devotee of Cannes, where he was on the Jury in 2014. Chicuarotes is the actor’s second feature film where he takes a deep dive into Mexican society with a story about teenagers that is an affectionate portrayal, continuing in Mexican cinema’s tradition to pay homage to its eternal country, film after film.”

La Cordillera de los sueños by Patricio Guzmán (1 hr 24)

“Patricio Guzmán left Chile more than 40 years ago when the military dictatorship took over the democratically-elected government, but he never stopped thinking about a country, a culture, and a place on the map that he never forgot. After covering the North in Nostalgia for the Light and the South in The Pearl Button, his shots get up-close with what he calls “the vast revealing backbone of Chile’s past and recent history.” La Cordillera de los sueños is a visual poem, an historical inquiry, a cinematographic essay, and magnificent personal exercise in soul-searching.”

Ice on Fire by Leila Conners (1 hr 38)

“In 2007, Leila Conners screened The 11th Hour at Cannes, a hard-hitting documentary about climate change produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. The Festival screens conflict documentaries as part of a strong and proud tradition, like it also did with An Inconvenient Truth by Davis Guggenheim, which won an Oscar and earned Al Gore a Nobel Peace Prize. Twelve years later as the alarm bells are still multiplying all around the world (and more!), Leila Conners and Leonardo DiCaprio teamed up again on the same topic to make a film with an eloquent title: Ice on Fire. ”

5B by Dan Krauss (1 hr 33)

“In the 1980s, only a number and letter were used to designate a ward at San Francisco General Hospital, the first in the country to treat patients with AIDS. While a portion of society saw these patients as pariahs, the male and female caregivers in 5B chose a different route. This film is their story.

Directed by Dan Krauss, 5B is a film about a past that questions our present. It will be distributed in the United States, all around the world, and in France, which in October will be hosting the world conference for all fund-raisers donating money over the next three years to fight HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. U2 singer Bono has been a fervent champion of the cause – and of this film, which he will be coming to Cannes to support.”

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 14 – 25 MAY 2019 

Cannes Classics 2019

The 25 years of La Cité de la peur, a Midnight Screening of The Shining presented by Alfonso Cuarón, the 50 years of the mythical Easy Rider in the company of Peter Fonda, Luis Buñuel in the spotlight with three films, the attendance of Lina Wertmüller, the Grand Prix of 1951 Vittorio De Sica’s Miracle in Milan, a final salute to Milos Forman, the first Japanese animated film in color, the World Cinema Project and the Film Foundation of Martin Scorsese, documentaries about cinema and History, masterpieces known and rare films in restored version from countries rarely honored, this is the new edition of Cannes Classics—the first section dedicated to heritage cinema ever created in a major festival.  

 The majority of the films will be screened at Buñuel Theater, Salle du 60e or at the Cinéma de la Plage, all presented by major players in the film heritage: directors, artists or restoration managers.

The 50 years of the mythical Easy Rider

Presented half a century ago on the Croisette, in Competition at the Festival de Cannes, the film won the Prize for a first work. Co-writer, co-producer and lead actor, Peter Fonda will be in Cannes at the invitation of the Festival to celebrate this anniversary.
Easy Rider (1969, 1h35, USA) by Dennis Hopper

Restored in 4K by Sony Pictures Entertainment in collaboration with Cineteca di Bologna. Restored from the 35mm Original Picture Negative and 35mm Black and White Separation Masters. 4K scanning and digital image restoration by Immagine Ritrovata. Audio restoration from the 35mm Original 3-track Magnetic Master by Chace Audio and Deluxe Audio. Color grading, picture conform, additional image restoration and DCP by Roundabout Entertainment. Colorist: Sheri Eisenberg. Restoration supervised by Grover Crisp.

Midnight Screening of The Shining 

The ultimate horror film for an event screening presented by Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón.
The Shining by Stanley Kubrick (1980, 2h26, UK / USA)

A Presentation of Warner Bros. The 4K remastering was done using a new 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative. The mastering was done at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging, and the color grading was done by Janet Wilson, with supervision from Stanley Kubrick’s former personal assistant Leon Vitali.

The 50 years ofLa Cité de la peur

The cult comedy of comic group Les Nuls will be screened at Cannes Classics au Cinéma de la Plage upon the occasion of the 4K restoration of the film for its 25th anniversary with Alain Chabat, Chantal Lauby and Dominique Farrugia in attendance.
La Cité de la peur, une comédie familiale (1994, 1h39, France) by Alain Berbérian

Presented by Studiocanal. A restoration by Studiocanal and TF1 Studio . 4K scanning 16bits from the original negative 35mm on Lasergraphics director. The pre-calibration was done in a projection room equipped by a 4k projector 4k Christie Laser by Pascal Bousquet and additional work of filtering, dusting was done to compensate the imperfection due to the age of the film. Optical illusion composited on DI on Flame to remain close to the quality of the original negative. Calibration validated by Laurent Dailland, director of photography. Original digital sound was used without modification. Work of remastering done by VDM Laboratory.

Luis Buñuel in the spotlight with three films

Three films by Mexican director and screenwriter, with Spanish origin, will be shown this year.
Los Olvidados (The Young and the Damned) (1950, 1h20, Mexico) by Luis Buñuel

Presented by the World Cinema Project. Restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project at L’Immagine Ritrovata in collaboration with Fundación Televisa, Cineteca Nacional Mexico, and Filmoteca de la UNAM. Restoration funding provided by The Material World Foundation.

Nazarín (1958, 1h34, Mexico) by Luis Buñuel

Presented by Cineteca Nacional Mexico. 3K Scan and 3K Digital Restoration from the original 35mm image negative (preserved by Televisa) and prints positive materials from Cineteca Nacional. Restoration made and financed by Cineteca Nacional Mexico. Mastered in 2K for Digital Projection.

L’Âge d’or (The Golden Age) (1930, 1h, France) by Luis Buñuel

Presented by La Cinemathèque française. A 4K restoration of The Golden Age was done by la Cinemathèque française and le Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI/Experimental cinema’s department, at Hiventy Laboratory for the image and at L.E. Diapason’s studio for the sound, using the original nitrate negative, original sound and safety elements.

Tribute to Lina Wertmüller

The first woman director ever nominated as a director at the Academy Awards in 1977 for Pasqualino Settebellezze, Lina Wertmüller will introduce the film with lead actor Giancarlo Giannini in attendance.
Pasqualino Settebellezze (Seven Beauties) (1975, 1h56, Italy) by Lina Wertmüller

Presented by Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia – Cineteca Nazionale. Restored by Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia – Cineteca Nazionale with the support of Genoma Films and Deisa Ebano from the original 35mm picture and optical soundtrack negative made available by RTI S.p.A. Digital scanning and restoration work carried out by Cinema Communications in Rome.

The 1951 “Palme d’or”

The Palme d’or was created in 1955 but the Grand Prix awarded to Miracle in Milan by Vittorio De Sica was the equivalent.
Miracolo a Milano (Miracle in Milan) (1951, 1h40, Italy) by Vittorio De Sica

Presented by Cineteca di Bologna. Restored by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna and Compass Film, in collaboration with Mediaset, Infinity TV, Artur Cohn, Films sans frontières and Variety Communications at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory. 4K Scan and Digital Restoration from the original 35mm camera negative and a vintage dupe positive. Colour grading supervised by DoP Luca Bigazzi.

Milos Forman

A devotee of the Festival de Cannes, a former President of the Jury, a director with several lives, Milos Forman passed away one year ago. The restoration of his second film and a documentary will give us the opportunity to pay our tribute and remember him.
Lásky jedné plavovlásky (Loves of a Blonde) (1965, 1h21, Czech Republic) by Milos Forman

A presentation of the Národní filmový archiv, Prague. 4K digital restoration based on the original camera done by the Universal Production Partners and Soundsquare in Prague, 2019. The donors of this project were Mrs. Milada Kučerová and Mr. Eduard Kučera. Restored in partnership with the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and the Czech Film Fund. French distribution: Carlotta Films.

Forman vs. Forman (Czech Republic / France, 1h17) by Helena Trestikova and Jakub Hejna

Presented by  Negativ Film Productions, Alegria Productions, Czech Television, ARTE. A powerful documentary that recounts with emotion the career of director Milos Forman, from the Czech New Wave to Hollywood. Oscars, politics and political upheavals for a life in the service of cinema.

All the restored films of Cannes Classics 2019

Toniby Jean Renoir (1934, 1h22, France)

Presented by Gaumont. First digital restoration in 4K presented by Gaumont with the support of the CNC. Restoration done by L’image retrouvée in Bologna and Paris.

Le Ciel est à vous (1943, 1h45, France) by Jean Grémillon

Presented by TF1 Studio. Restaured version in 4K using two intermediate and a duplicate done by TF1 studio, with the support of the CNC and Coin de Mire cinéma. Digital and photochimical work done by L21 laboratory.

Moulin Rouge (1952, 1h59, UK) by John Huston 

Presented and restored by The Film Foundation in collaboration with Park Circus, Romulus Films and MGM with additional funding provided by the Franco-American Cultural Fund, a unique partnership between the Directors Guild of America (DGA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Société des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Editeurs de Musique (SACEM), and the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW).   Restored from the 35mm Original Nitrate 3-Strip Technicolor Negative. 4K scanning, color grading, digital image restoration and film recording by Cineric, Inc., New York. Colorist: Daniel DeVincent. Audio restoration by Chace Audio. Restoration Consultant: Grover Crisp.

Kanal (They Loved Life) (1957, 1h34, Poland) by Andrzej Wajda

Presented by Malavida, in association with Kdr. Scanned, calibrated and restored in 4K under the artistic supervision of Andrzej Wajda and Jerzy Wójcik, second DOP, and regular collaborator of Wajda (Ashes and Diamonds) and one of the greatest Polish DOP. Technical supervision: Waldermar Makula. 4k Scan from the original negative, image and sound. Producted by Studio Filmowe Kadr with the participation of  Filmoteka Narodowa. French distribution: Malavida. International Sales: Studio Filmowe Kadr.

Hu shi ri ji (Diary of a Nurse) (1957, 1h37, China) by Tao Jin

Presented by IQIYI et New Ipicture Media co., ltd (NIPM). 4K Scan and 3K Digital Restoration from the original 35mm print positive materials mastered in 2K. Restoration financed by IQIYI & NIPM, and made by L’Immagine Ritrovata (Italy) and Laser Digital Film SRL (Italy).

Hakujaden (The White Snake Enchantress) (1958, 1h18, Japan) by Taiji Yabushita

Presented by  Toei Animation Company, ltd., Toei company, ltd. et and National Archive of Japan. The project celebrates the 100th year anniversary for the birth of Japan animation and 60th anniversary for the original theatrical release in 1958.
4K scan and restoration from the original negative, 35mm print, tape materials, and animation cels by Toei lab tech co., ltd. et Toei digital center are carried out. The restored data is stored in 2K.

125 Rue Montmartre (1959, 1h25, France) by Gilles Grangier

Presented by Pathé. 4K Scan and 2k restoration, using the original safety negative (negative image, intermediate and negative optique sound) Work done by Eclair laboratory for the image and L.E Diapason (Léon Rousseau) for the sound part. Restored with the support of the Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée (CNC).

A tanú (The Witness) (1969, 1h52, Hongrie) by Péter Bacsó

The original uncensored  version presented by the Hungarian National Film Fund – Film Archive. The film was restored in 4K using the original camera negative and outtakes, the only existing uncensored positive print and the original magnetic sound. The restoration was carried out at the Hungarian Filmlab. The digital colour grading was supervised by Tamás Andor (HSC, Hungarian Society of Cinematographers).

Tetri karavani (The White Caravan) (1964, 1h37, Georgia) by Eldar Shengelaia and Tamaz Meliava

Presented by Georgian National Film Center. 4K Scan from 35mm, digital restoration (color, grading, stabilization). Restoration financed by the Georgian National Film Center, the restoration made by National Archives of Georgia.

Director Eldar Shengelaia in attendance.

Plogoff, des pierres contre des fusilsby Nicole Le Garrec (1980, 1h48, France)

Presented by Ciaofilm. Restored in 2k from the original negative 16mm image. Sound restoration from the 16mm magnetic. Work done by Hiventy laboratory  under the supervision of Ciaofilm and Pascale Le Garrec, with the help of the CNC, Région Bretagne and the Cinemathèque de Bretagne. Distributed by Next Film Distribution.

Director Nicole Le Garrec in attendance.

Caméra d’Afrique  (20 Years of African Cinema) by Férid Boughedir (1983, 1h38, Tunisia / France)

Presented by the CNC. Restoration: Laboratory of the CNC. 2K scan from the original 16mm image negative. Sound restoration : Hiventy. This movie fits into the restoration scheme initiated by L’Institut français and the CNC, supervised by the commitee for the African cinematographic heritage. Right-holders: Marsa film. French Distribution: Les Films du Losange.

Director Férid Boughedir in attendance. 

Dao ma zei (The Horse Thief ) (1986, 1h28, China) by Tian Zhuangzhuang and Peicheng Pan

Presented by Xi’An Film Studio. 4K Scan and 4K 48 fps digital restoration from the 35mm original camera negative. Restoration financed and made by China Film Archive.

Director Tian Zhuangzhuang  and Cinematographer Hou Yong in attendance. 

The Doors (1991, 2h20, USA) by Oliver Stone

Presented by Studiocanal, in partnership with Paramount, Lionsgate and Imagine Ritrovatta. Restored in 4k, initiated and supervised by Oliver Stone from the original negative, scanned in 4k 16 bits on ARRISCAN at Fotokem US. Restoration managed by Imagine Ritrovatta in Italy. Calibrated work supervised by Oliver Stone. Immersive soundtrack thanks to the Atmos mix created by Formosa Group, Hollywood, under the supervision of Dolby and original mixers of the film Wylie Stateman and Lon Bender. The movie can be seen in 7.1 and 5.1. Remastered 4K now available in 4K Cinema, UHD Dolby Vision and Atmos.

Documentaries

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (USA, 1h34) by Midge Costin

Presented by Dogwoof and Cinetic Media.

The biggest directors and artists make us immerse in the history and impact of sound in cinema: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Barbra Streisand, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Patty Jenkins, Robert Redford, Ryan Coogler, David Lynch, Sofia Coppola, Christopher Nolan, Ang Lee, Walter Murch. A rich, fascinating and essential documentary.

Les Silences de Johnny (55mn, France) by Pierre-William Glenn

Presented by les films du Phœnix  in coproduction with Ciné+.

A personal and moving portrait of actor Johnny Hallyday by great cinematographer, director and friend of Johnny’s Pierre-William Glenn.

La Passione di Anna Magnani(1h, Italy / France) by Enrico Cerasuolo

Presented by les Films du Poisson and Zenit Arti Audiovisive.

The destiny of legendary actress Anna Magnani through archive footage, often unpublished. To dive into the history of Italian cinema.

Cinecittà – I mestieri del cinema Bernardo Bertolucci (Italy, 55mn) by Mario Sesti

Presented by Erma Pictures in collaboration with Cinecittà Luce.

A presentation of Erma Pictures in collaboration with Cinecittà Luce.

The last interview of the Master Bertolucci who recalls his work with precision, delicacy and philosophy. A movie lesson.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 15-25 May 2019

 

Cannes Film Festival –

Thierry Frémaux (now general delegate) has unveiled the 2019 official selection. And this year’s Cannes looks to be a glittering number with plenty of real stars gracing the Croisette (Elton John, Isabelle Huppert, Tilda Swinton and Claude Lelouch), four female filmmakers in the main Competition line-up which strikes a good balance of well known auteurs and new filmmakers – and some promising British Films: Dexter Fletcher’s biopic Rocketman; Asif Kapadia new documentary about his hero Diego Maradona, and another dose of dour social realism from Ken Loach. Cannes and Netflix are still at loggerheads – in the best possible way – but where would Cannes be without a little controversy to hit to headlines…

The four Palme d’Or hopefuls directed by women are— Mati Diop’s Atlantique (she was memorable in Simon Killer);Jessica Hausner’s Sci-fi-ish debut Little Joe stars Ben Whishaw and Emily Beecham in a story set in the world of genetic engineering (left); Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire (with its all female cast) and Justine Triet’s Sibyl a psychotherapist themed drama which has distinct echoes of Ozon‘s l’Amant Double. Infact, 13 of the 51 filmmakers (about 25%) are women. And Thierry intends to continue with the trend.

Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won the festival’s directing prize for Babel in 2006 will head up the jury. This year’s official poster (above) pays tribute to the director Agnès Varda, who died last month at age 90, and features an image from her final film La Pointe Courte. And for the first time ever, the opening film Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die will also play in competition. Styled as a zombie comedy is has a superb cast: Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloë Sevigny and Tilda Swinton.

Also in the main competition is Pedro Almodovar with Pain and Glory described as a fictionalised auto-biopic. He’s be nominated before but never won the Palme so it would be a feather in the Oscar winner’s cap. Canadian Xavier Dolan is back with a Quebec-set drama Matthias and Maxime. Il Traditore is Marco Bellocchio’s drama about Tommaso Buscetta the first mafia informant in 1980’s Sicily. Ira Sachs’s Frankie is set in the bewitching town of Sintra which will add another dimension to the story starring festival doyenne Isabelle Huppert along with Brendan Gleeson, Marisa Tomei, Greg Kinnear and Jérémie Renier. Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu tries his hand at comedy with The Whistlers which unites him once again with Vlad Ivanov (Hier and Sunset). Ladj Ly is the only first time filmmaker on the comp list and he brings a drama expanded from his 2017 short entitled Les Miserables about the Seine-Saint-Denis anti-crime brigade. Veteran favourites The Dardennes Brothers will be there will Muslim-themed Young Ahmed. Malick’s A Hidden Life (aka Radegund) explores the life of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian conscientious objector to the Third Reich who was executed in 1943 and contains final performances from Michael Nqyvist and Bruno Ganz, sadly no longer with us.

Other directors returning to competition include Oh Mercy, a Roubaix-set crime drama from Arnaud Desplechin and a family drama from South Korea’s Bong Joon-ho (Okja). And Cannes regular Kleber Mendonça Filho co-directs his latest (with Juliano Dornelle), a horror film entitled Bacurau.

Un Certain Regard sidebar has films from Catalan auteur Albert Serra – Liberté – and The Wild Goose Lake, a Chinese thriller by Diao Yinan (Black Coal, Thin Ice). Bruno Dumont’s follow up to Maid of Orleans story Jeannette (2017) is simply called Joan of Arc. 

And where would Cannes be without the megastars of the Riviera? Double Oscar-winning Claude Lelouch claimed the Palme d’Or back in 1966 with the iconic Un Homme et Une Femme. And he follows this up with the same classic duo in The Best Years of a Life (Out of Competition) uniting Jean-Louis Trintignant with Anouk Aimée. Veteran heavyweights Abel Ferrara and Werner Herzog also join the party.

TV-wise there will be a chance to sample Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s 10-parter  Too Old to Die Young. Venice started the TV-streaming service trend, and Cannes has now joined the bandwagon.

Thierry Frémaux left the press conference with his usual cheeky promise that other titles will soon be announced. And everyone was excited to hear that these could include Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood exploring the final years of the Golden Era with a starry line-up of Al Pacino, Leonard DiCaprio, Dakota Fanning and Margot Robbie.

For the time being no Netflix films will be included in the Palme d’Or competition, indeed the streaming giant does not have a film ready in time to be presented this year. Martin Scorsese has declared that special affects have delayed his entry of The Irishman which was very much on the cards for Thierry Frémaux and Pierre Lescure, and will now most likely appear at Venice.

Other regulars and possible contenders are Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat, the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems and the latest from Noah Baumach and Ad Astra from James Gray. So watch this space. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 14 -25 MAY 2019

Jury

Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Elle Fanning

Maimouna N’Diaye

Kelly Reichardt

Alice Rohracher

Enki Bilal

Robin Campillo

Yorgo Lanthimos

Pawel Pawlikowski

 

Fugue | Fuga (2018) Kinoteka 2021

Dir: Agnieska  Smoczynska | Cast: Gabriela Muskała, Łukasz Simlat, Małgorzata Buczkowska, Zbigniew Waleryś, Halina Rasiakówna, Piotr Skiba, Iwo Rajski | Poland/Czech Republic/Sweden 2018, 100 min.

Agnieszka Smoczynska re-unites with DoP Jacub Kijowski and actor Malgorzata Buczkowska who together made The Lure an international success. In Fugue, they are joined by writer Gabriela Muskala, who also  plays the lead role of Kinga, a woman suffering from severe post-traumatic amnesia.

We first meet Kinga staggering onto the platform of a station where she promptly collapses, having urinated infront in full view of the other passengers. Clearly she has lost her mind, and spends the next two years in a psychiatric ward in a Warsaw hospital, where she makes a brief appearance on TV, in the hope that someone might identify her. And they do. She is soon re-united with her husband Krystzof (Simlat) and four-year old son Daniel. Her name is Alicja, but strangely, no one appears happy to have her back, least of all Daniel. The only thing she is sure of is her credit card PIN number she and immediately makes an application for a new Identity Card. Her mysterious family friend Ewa (Buczkowska) is clearly so much more that than this, but Smoczynska keeps her cards close to her chest, revealing little in this enigmatic but captivating mystery drama. Eventually Alicja starts to re-adjust to home life with her husband, but a sudden accident in their car seems to trigger   Alicja’s memory and gradually a whole picture slowly develops of their life before the train incident. It emerges that her husband had successfully divorced her and wanted sole custody of Daniel.

In her follow up to The Lure, Smoczynska offers another convoluted and enigmatic drama: there are moments of supernatural evidence, where Alicja’s home environment appears completely alien to her. Particularly the green bathroom looks eerily like a fish tank (drawing comparisons with The Shining’s Room 237). The country house has a weird and haunted feel to it, and Alicja seems to be a prisoner within its walls, he family and even her son treating her with hostile suspicion.

Fugue is an allegorical story of a woman who is unsure of her position in the world, retreating from motherhood, and drifting between various states of being. Gabriela Muskala gives a brilliant tour de force in the leading role of this unique and beguiling Polish arthouse drama. AS.

KINOTEKA 2021 | Premiered during UN CERTAIN REGARD | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 8-19 MAY 2018

Khrustalyov, My Car (1998) ***** Bluray

Dir: Aleksei German | Wri: Joseph Brodsky | Comedy Drama USSR, 147′

Named after the apocryphal exclamation of Soviet security chief Lavrentiy Beria as he rushed to Stalin’s deathbed, this raucously, rip-roaring ride through Soviet history captures the anticipation and anxiety in the Moscow air, as the Soviet despot lay dying.

In January 1953, the Vladimir Ilin’s camera thrusts us right into a surreal snowbound Moscow where Stalin still rules like the ‘man of steel’ of his nickname. An alcoholic military surgeon, General Yuri Georgievich Klensky (Yuri Tsurilo), finds himself a target of the “Doctors’ Plot”: the anti-Semitic conspiracy accusing Jewish doctors in Moscow of planning to assassinate the Soviet elite. Captured, arrested and marked for the gulags, Yuri enters an Hieronymus Boschean hell where characters abuse each other, one stubbing a cigarette out on another. Sexual acts are degenerative and ubiquitous but caught off camera, dialogue random as the characters come and go, fight and wrestle in the dizzying dystopia. At one point Yuri wipes his nose and moustache on his wife’s fur coat. The fractured narrative of this demonic, chaotic, histrionic yet delicately poetic dark comedy captures the madness of a desperate era where everyone had lost the plot.

Filmed in high-contrast monochrome by Vladimir Ilin and directed by Aleksei German (Hard to Be a God), Khrustalyov, My Car! went on to win multiple awards long after its premiere at Cannes where it picked up the Palme d’Or. wildly provocative when it was screened at the 1998 Cannes film festival, despite being championed as the best film of the festival by the president of the Cannes jury that year, Martin Scorsese. A one-of-a-kind collision of nightmare and realism, German’s film is presented here in a new restoration with a wealth of illuminating extras. MT

ON BLURAY 29 APRIL 2019 COURTESY OF ARROW 

Vladimir Ilin won Best Cinematographer at the NIKA Awards 2000

 

3 Faces (2018) ****

Dir: Jafar Panahi | Drama | 100’

Even though Jafar Panahi’s latest 3 FACES tries to challenge Iran’s massive macho culture with a feminist film, the feeling that remains after the curtain has fallen is of a deeply ingrained male-dominated society where women are still quietly championing the male of the species, while giving lip service to feminism. 

Jafar Panahi was unable to leave Iran to present his thoughtful drama which was made on a shoestring, and none the worse for it, beautifully reflecting the arid mountain landscapes of the Turkish-Azeri speaking area of Iran, where he drives, as himself, with actor Benhaz Jafari, trying to find the girl, Marziyeh Rezaie, who appears to have killed herself in mobile footage witnessed in the film’s histrionic opening scene, and sent to Mrs Jafari the night before.

The title refers to three women, actresses from pre revolution Iran, the present and the future. With 3 FACES Panahi hopes to deliver a feminist message to encourage women to be positive about their choices. The modern world challenges traditions in this rural backwater where men are virile and women remain behind close doors. When the pair arrive in the mountain village, it soon emerges that the girl was actually crying wolf. But she is distraught that her family have forbidden her from taking up a place at a prestigious conservatory in Tehran, and she apologises profusely to Mrs Jafahi for the upset caused.

The tone is solicitous and rather worthy, and we are then treated to various local twee vignettes that demonstrate male supremacy and female submission. What works best here is the footage of farm stock, being herded, and the plight of a prize bull who has collapsed on the road while on his way to inseminate a load of horny heiffers. Once again this demonstrates how grateful females should be to exist in the world of male strength and virility.

Meanwhile back to young Marziyeh who has been forced into an engagement to dampen down hopes of an acting career (“we don’t want any entertainers here”). The third face, former actress, dancer Shahrazade, active during the Shah Pahlavi’s reign, now lives alone in a tiny hut outside the village never gets any screen time. Apparently bitter and twisted, she is now a reclusive artist who is pictured the following morning painting in a distant field. 

There is a great deal to enjoy in all the performances: Panahi is laid back and louche as the soigne man from the big city; Behnaz Jafari (A House Built on Water) is an impulsive emotional woman with a hot temper that quickly gives way to tactile warmth. Little Rezaie is a sparky, confident girl who wears her heart on her sleeve. This is a captivating little film that glows with an upbeat message of hope. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 29 MARCH 2019 | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | JOINT BEST SCRIPT WINNER  2018

 

Under the Silver Lake (2018) **

Dir: David Robert Mitchell | Cast; Sibongile Miambo, Riley Keough, Jimmy Sampson, Andrew Garfield | Fantasy Comedy  | US |

David Robert Mitchell rose to international fame with his breakout horror hit It Follows which showed at Cannes several years ago. His latest is a trippy fantasy neonoir dream with the same feel and disturbing undertones as David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive but none of the brilliance, and far too much indulgent navel-gazing. What carries you through the druggy hotch potch of wacky vignettes is Andrew Garfield’s captivating turn as a down on his luck LA creative, who resorts to voyeurism and sexual shadow-play as his mind wanders lazily through the backwaters of LA’s Silver-Lake area. But after a promising opening the film’s fascinating potential disintegrates into an incoherent and sprawling mindfuck punctuated by Hollywood references. There is far too much unfocused creativity gushing from Mitchell’s gifted pen in UNDER THE SILVER LAKE, and it ends in a messy gloopthis time. That said, he’s certainly a filmmaker worth watching out for. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 15 MARCH 2019

 

Girl (2018) ****

Dir: Lukas Dhont | Drama | Belgium | 97’

Adolescence is a terrible time of bewildering choices, sexual urges and obsession with appearance. Those ardently drawn to find a mate are the most cruelly punished, as others keep quietly buttoned down by insecurity or jealousy. Who knows what is happening physically at puberty, especially when bodies and minds feel confused about gender.

No one has expressed this better and more naturally than Belgian director Lukas Dhont with his latest feature GIRL, about a boy who wants to be a ballerina. This gender fluid teenager is played with thoughtful ease by 15 year old cisgender actor Victor Polster in a down to earth gem that rivals a A Fantastic Woman in every way.

Lara (Polster) has moved with her French-speaking father Mathias (Arieh Worthalter) and younger brother (Oliver Bodart) to study at Belgium’s most famous dance academy. So there are two important episodes that the teenager must face: preparing for transition, since she was born in the body of a boy, and working to become a professional ballet dancer. But Lara has all the support of her entourage including her family and new friends, and this is underlined in a tricky moment when the female students are asked whether they mind sharing their dressing room with their new colleague. This is all handled with consummate skill, and Lara soon settles in.

Dhont rose to fame with his titles Headlong and L’infini also set in the dance world and here he conveys Lara’s struggles through subtle body language and looks – there is a fascinating scene where Lara uses white tape to flatten her pelvic area in preparation for a skin tight ballet costume. While Lara is excited about the upcoming surgical operation, having been prepared by a Flemish psychiatrist (Valentijn Dhaenens), who does not want Lara to suffer any longer in the wrong body, his father Mathias is actually more nervous about his son’s hospital visit and the risks it involves.  

A tense tone sets in in the film’s second half where Lara suspects the hormones are not working, but this is down to impatience more than anything more serious.“You want to be a woman straight away,” Lara’s father says, “but you are an adolescent too”. The two then share one of the film’s most touching tête a tête’s. The film works best during these tender moments when we feel for the characters and their dilemma. These are crucial in preparing the audience for the startling finale, and Girl could have done with more of them. That said, Dhont manages to dovetail Lara’s physical transformation with her emotional adaption – no mean feat. 

This is very much Polster’s film and although the support cast feel natural and well-prepared, what really makes this enjoyable is the actor’s strong background in dance which is elegantly captured by strong visuals from DoP Frank van den Eeden, who focuses on the physicality and agility of the dance moves.MT

In cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema FROM 15 March 2019 

Border (2018) *****

Dir : Ali Abbasi | Fantasy Drama | Sweden | 104’

BORDER is one of those bracingly original films. Melding fantasy and folklore while teetering on the edge of Gothic horror it manages to be cleverly convincing and unbelievably weird at the same time. Fraught with undercurrents of sexual identity and self-realisation this gruesome rites of passage fable is another fabulous story with enduring appeal for the arthouse crowd and diehard fans of low-key horror. Based on a short story by Let the Right One In creator John Ajvide Lindqvist it is Ali Abbasi’s follow up to Shelley and his first with writing partner Isabella Ekloff.

Tina (Melander) has always been an outsider because she suffers from her neanderthal physical appearance of flaring nostrils and a facial gurning movement that marks her out to have the heightened sensory perception of an animal. She feels a particular affinity to the wildlife near her comfortable cabin in the heavily forested woods between Finland and Sweden, and can sense when deer or moose are about to cross the country road. As a customs officer, she also has a keen awareness for criminality but feels diminished by her ‘otherness’ and is desperately lonely, Meanwhile, her live-boyfriend Roland (Jorgen Thorssen) treats her like a pair of old carpet slippers and is more interested in his pack of dobermans.  

One day Tina spots an unusual traveller going through customs. He looks like her male double and Tina feels a palpable attraction to Vore (Eero Milonoff). Judging from the contents of his luggage he could be an entomologist, but on further examination this is not all he appears to be. Has Tina found love for the first time, or just somebody who feels familiar? There’s a tone of optimism on the romantic front, and also workwise as Tina’s sensory talents see her becoming the key investigator in the hunt for a local paedophile.

Abbasi masterfully manages the subtle strands of his storyline while keeping the tension taut and a dark humour bubbling under the surface. Melander’s Tina is a gentle and almost submissive character who keeps her tale between her legs, and we feel for her even when her confidence makes her more assertive after meeting Vore. This confidence enables her to confront her elderly father – who has clearly duped her since childhood – and her useless boyfriend. A rare curio that keeps you guessing all the way to its unexpected finale. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 8 March 2019

Everybody Knows (2018) ***

Dir: Asghar Farhadi | Cast: Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Barbara Lennie, Ricardo Darin | Drama

Penelope Cruz is the star turn of the off kilter drama. Returning to Spain from Argentina with her two teenagers, Laura is back to celebrate her sister’s Irene’s wedding. Husband Alejandro (Ricardo Darin) soon follows, and she also reconnects with an old boyfriend (Bardem) as events take a less sunny turn.

Farhadi (A Separation) directs from a script written in Farsi and translated into Spanish, which he learnt phonetically.Tepid as a psychological thriller with a telenovela-esque twist, the film’s strength and most of its attraction lies in the three dynamic central performances and the picturesque 16th century setting in the town of Torrelaguna (Madrid) which is very much a character in itself, gloriously brought to life in Jose Luis Alcaine’s zinging images. Everybody Knows provides fascinating insight into traditional Spanish country life, exposing deep fault-lines of internecine resentment, provincial pettiness and mean-spirited grudges.

The plot revolves round a secret “everybody knows” (except Laura herself) about former flame Paco (Bardem) who was devastated when she left. The whole affair seems connected to a local kidnapping that took place years previously, revealed in some newspaper cuttings that just happen to be left around in Irene’s bedroom. Soon, menacing letters start to arrive demanding money, and threatening Irene not to contact the police. This unpleasantness also lays bare a long-standing dispute between Laura’s curmudgeonly father and Paco going back years.

Laura’s absence has kept all this at bay but now it comes into full focus, re-opening old family wounds that had never really healed. Strangely nobody seems to acknowledge or discuss the perpetrators of the original kidnapping, and although this slight plothole is glossed ovrr by the polished performances of the strong cast, still remains a nagging question mark in our minds.

This is a mildly intriguing drama that rolls on despite its narrative flaws which are significantly diminished by the undeniable slickness of Farhadi’s confident direction and complemented by the lead trio in brilliant form. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 8 MARCH 2019

Capernaum (2018)***

Dir: Nadine Labaki | Drama | 105’

Nadine Labaki sprung to fame with her delightfully upbeat debut Caramel, set around a women’s hair salon in Beirut Set. Here she casts non-professional actors in a politically themed fable that sees a child resorting to the strong arms of the law.

This multi-awarded Oscar hopeful has the same warm, stylish look as her previous two features but is a much more accomplished film that puts a watchable spin on dour social realism although it does not quite reach the heights of perfection as the script resorts to disingenuous pandering in the slack final section. Subject-wise we are back to Daniel Blake territory although this is a much better crafted film than the one that bagged Ken Loach the top  Cannes award several years ago and CAPERNAUM does not bludgeon the life out of your with its agitprop hammer. There are similarities too with Slumdog Millionaire in its upbeat fervour powered by cute and captivating performances from its newcomer children.

Labaki structures her film round a trial, although this is not a courtroom procedural and most of the action is set in the chaotic streets or in cramped interiors where 12 year old Zain (Zain Al Rafeea), who looks more like 8, is already serving a prison sentence for stabbing, is now suing his parents for bringing him into the world. One of several siblings, his parents never registered his birth. Despite cocky indignation and a bristling sense of entitlement to his rights, he is a likeable kid who lives with his parents Souad (Kawthar Al Haddad) and Selim (Fadi Kamel Youssef). Rather than school, he goes out to sell fruit juice in the market, where he also collects tramadol which the family grind into clothes-washing water which is then passed to Zain’s prison-serving elder brother. Although these circumstances are all quite startling to Western viewers, they are sadly run of the mill for millions all over the world. But medication here in the Lebanon seems to be free at the point of collection, a fact which is difficult to believe.

After his younger sister Sahar is sold in marriage by his parents. Zain runs away and comes across Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw), an Ethiopian cleaner who is in Lebanon illegally. He offers to look after her toddler while she is at  work but she later disappears leaving the two to fend for themselves in what turns out to be quite an adventure.

This is a watchable drama with some endearing turns from the ensemble kiddy cast who conjure up an intoxicating chemistry considering their lack of experience. But the star of the piece is Rafeea as the cheekily adamant Zain, a tribute to kids everywhere who feel life has dealt them an unfair start, and who set out to put matters right. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE from 22 February | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | Jury Prize Winner 2018

 

The Rider (2017) **** Blu-ray

Writer/Dir: Chloe Zhao | Drama | 100min | US | 2017

Skilfully melding narrative and documentary film techniques, The Rider is set on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and follows a Lakota cowboy after an accident derails his rodeo riding dreams.

Chinese-born Chloe Zhao is a writer, director and producer known for her previous Cannes outing Songs My Brothers Taught Me. THE RIDER, her second feature selected for the Directors’ Fortnight and has won the National Critics’ Aeard. It’s a poetic cinema vérité drama that explores themes of male pride, family loyalty and thwarted ambition through a moodily soulful young cowboy who is unable to continue his vocation in the rodeo circuit due to a life-changing injury.

Enlived by the magnificent mountains and windswept prairies of America’s Badland’s National Park, South Dakota, a cast of non-professional actors Brady Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau and Lane Scott star alongside Cat Clifford, who appeared in Songs My Brothers Taught Me, make this resonant action drama feel both authentic and  informative on the subject of horse training and competitive riding.

Zhao convincingly conveys the wild excitement and thrilling danger of this male-dominated world where young cowboys are addicted to the high octane buzz of the rodeo the narrative sizzles with angst and poignant moments, where macho bravado must be tempered with patience and gentle coaxing required to tame and tackle the wild horses and train the, to be ridden, and this is where Brady has an innate ability.

Brady dearly loves his family, his father is a disappointment to him, drinking and gambling on the slot machines, but he also fails to comprehend the weight of responsibility left to his dad when Brady’s mum died leaving him to bring up his two siblings: his brother has been left brain-damaged from a rodeo accident and his kind-hearted sister clearly has learning difficulties. But after a fall competing in the circuit where he was once a leading star, the film’s unsettling tension derives from Brady’s bitter struggle to fulfill his future in the outside world, a pale comparison to his life in the wild outdoors, and he constantly torn between reality working in the local supermarket, and his desire to get back in the wild riding and training with his horses.

But this is Brady’s film and he gives a mesmerising and deeply moving turn with echoes of Montgomery Clift in The Misfitas, as a man so deeply connected to the land and his horses that he doesn’t know where else to go. MT

NOW ON BLU-RAY

The Rider won the Art Cinema Award at CANNES 2017 and National US Critics’ Award 2018

 

 

 

 

Tribute to Richard Lormand (1962-2018)

It is with great sadness that we pay tribute to one of our greatest supporters, film consultants and readers Richard Lormand who has died aged 56.

During a long and distinguished career Richard was a leading light in international communication, film publicity and marketing, specialising in launches at the Berlin, Cannes, Locarno and Venice festivals, and just recently, Marrakech 2018 where he was preparing the 17th edition, when he died.

LOCARNO credit

Richard was a true professional and always a pleasure to work with. He handled world premieres for numerous award-winning films, including Maren Ade’s TONI ERDMANN, Ildiko Enyedi’s ON BODY AND SOUL, Fatih Akin’s IN THE FADE and SOUL KITCHEN, Alice Rohrwacher’s THE WONDERS and HAPPY AS LAZZARO, Christian Petzold’s BARBARA and PHOENIX, Samuel Maoz’s LEBANON and FOXTROT, Lav Diaz’s THE WOMAN WHO LEFT, Ritesh Batra’s THE LUNCHBOX, Takashi Miike’s 13 ASSASSINS and BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, the Taviani Brothers’ CAESAR MUST DIE, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s UNCLE BOONMEE, Jerzy Skolimowski’s ESSENTIAL KILLING, Amos Gitai’s RABIN, Lucrecia Martel’s ZAMA and LA CIENAGA, Alexander Sokurov’s RUSSIAN ARK and FAUST, Jafar Panahi’s THREE FACES and THE CIRCLE, and Takeshi Kitano’s ZATOICHI and HANA-BI.

Richard was part of the press consultancy team of Locarno Festival and the producing teams of Mitchell Lichtenstein’s cult favourite TEETH, HAPPY TEARS (starring Demi Moore, Parker Posey, Ellen Barkin and Rip Torn) and ANGELICA (starring Jena Malone and Janet McTeer). He was also a producer on Amos Gitai’s DISENGAGEMENT, starring Academy Award-winning actress Juliette Binoche.

Born and raised outside Lafayette, Louisiana, Richard was the son of a Japanese mother and a native French-speaking Cajun American father. He began his career as a reporter/journalist for Reuters in New York City, then went on to work for the Cannes Film Festival (France), Taormina Film Festival (Italy), Torino Film Festival (Italy) and the Viennale/Vienna Film Festival (Austria). Richard also wrote and directed the 1994 award-winning short TI-BOY’S WIFE/LA FEMME DE TI-BOY (Clermont-Ferrand, Locarno, Torino).

His charisma, warmth and professionalism are rare in these days of increasingly faceless public relations, focussing on ‘hits’ and ‘likes’ on social media. Passionately driven by genuine talent and strong stories, Richard often took chances with small independent films and invested his time and talent to make sure they were noticed. His was a personal approach, genuine and always with heart. We shall miss him so much. MT

RICHARD LORMAND

The Image Book | Le Livre d’Images (2018) ****

Dir.: Jean-Luc Godard in collaboration with Fabrice Aragno, Jean-Paul Battagia, Nicole Brenez; France/Switzerland 2018, 85 min.

Returning to Cannes this May, and eventually winning a Special Palme d’Or with The Image Book, Jean-Luc Godard was as brazen as usual: a portrait of the artist as an iconoclast, but not in the historical sense. JLG, true to form, throws thousands of images at us, just as he’s always done. In very mutated forms – enigmatically connected, their meaning further ambiguously enhanced by free associative texts. It was announced that some of the images would travel the big cities of the globe as an installation. ~Having done away with actors, Godard decided to rely on images – his own as well as others. This event will now happen in cinemas, before an army of academics and JLG acolytes take over the diatribe.

The good news first: The Image Book is much more accessible than say Film Socialisme, it gives the audience a chance to put at least some strains together – depending on how many years one has spent in the cinema and the library, appraising his work. Before the onslaught of images, most of the film clips get away in the original form, the rest is colour distorted, saturated, over- or under exposed, played at the ‘wrong’ speed or an impaired rhythm. Godard reminds us that we think with two hands. The sounds are in discordance, distorted and often violently cut off, or altogether removed – all this to the music of Bach, Schnittke, Scott Walker, Prokofiev (Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible) among others. The clips of films, TV, mobile, newsreel and artwork are released in stunning tempo, underlined by Godard’s rasping voice plus a heavy cough attack. In the chapter ‘Remake’, he uses his own material as well others for a new message: a mix of fictional and real live killings. This is followed by a sequence of train features (always interrupted by Holocaust images) as a form of cinematic representations, starting with ‘The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat’ by the Lumiere Brothers. Then we jump to Europe just after the end of WWII, with Munk’s Eroica and Jerzy Kawalerowicz’ Night Train, and a long clip from Jacques Tourneur’s Berlin Express where the new order in Europe is established by the nominative travellers of the Four Powers.

Trying to be particularly clever, JLG quotes Dostojewski “The Warsaw train was approaching St. Petersburg”. Before we return to Europe, a short-list of features quoted: Johnny Guitar, Kiss me Deadly, The Beauty and the Beast, Vertigo and Gus van Sant’s Elephant. In Europe, JLG opines “the actions of the government cannot be separated from the actions of the citizens”. What he means is that Europeans have reduced the power of emotion by becoming a consumer society, and by killing the real meaning of language, with advertising. And there is the ever-recurring Faust question: JLG accusing Europeans of all wanting to be Kings, rather than Faust. Also spotted is a book of poems by Godard’s partner Anne-Marie Miéville, and excerpts of Hollis Frampton’s Means of Survival. The majority of clips and texts passed me by, so I long for a second, or even third viewing – just to ‘get with the programme’.

ISIS executions are scattered around The Image Book. Also in the last chapter about the Arab world, entitled ‘Joyful Arabia’ from an Alexandre Dumas novel, and with quotes by Albert Cossey: Ambition in the Desert, Godard shows the false dawn of the Arab Spring and other violent episodes – besides just the ISIS cruelties. In the end JLG quotes Max Ophuls’s Le Plaisir: a man dancing around wildly, until he collapses. Wonder what this is a symbol for, if anything?.

Well then: JLG as an audio-visual poet? A channel surfer of history? A lecturer in free association mode? Perhaps most likely just a painter of images. In a (cinema) world with little or no substance (never mind innovation), the idiosyncratic JLG stands out – for whatever reason. Yes, the huge majority switched off after Weekend – a few newcomers occasionally join the party mainly attended by his acolytes – but it’s a requires stamina to follow the leaders. AS

ON RELEASE on November 30 2018 NATIONWIDE

Shoplifters (2018) ****

Writer/Dir: Hirokazu Koreeda | Cast: Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Sosuke Ikematsu | Drama | South Korea |121′

Hirokazu Koreeda’s portrait of parenting, After the Storm, has much in common with this perceptive and often ambiguous satire about a family of small-time crooks and the misguided theft they commit for compassionate reasons, but with devastating consequences. SHOPLIFTERS is a worthwhile addition to the auteur’s preoccupations with family life, father and motherhood – both real and imagined, and is possibly his best work so far.

In Tokyo, part-time workers Osamu (Lily Franky) and his wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) complement their meagre income with a sideline in shoplifting. Aided and abetted by son Shota (Kairi Jyo), they often swipe groceries from the local store near the flat they share with fellow grifter Noboyu (Sakura Andô), teenager Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) and grandma Hatsue (Kirin Kiki), who turns the most lucrative tricks of the lot.

One day they take pity on an abused and timid teenager called Juri (Miyu Sasaki), offering her board and lodging in their already cramped home. This simple act of kindness is the catalyst for change in the family dynamic unleashing previously hidden motivations that range from short-sightedness to self-aggrandisement, and even narcissistic pride.

A tonal shift from upbeat bonhomie to gloomy sadness takes place in the film’s third segment when the family anticipate their emotional loss and start to fear the backlash of their rash altruism, and its damning formal retribution. Kore-eda and his cast bring out  tremendous pathos in this well-meaning family, and while we feel for them as do-gooders, – in the true sense of the word – they are crucially also law-breakers. And this is the J B Priestleyan crux of this upbeat and cleverly-crafted caper reflecting the subtle nuances of Japanese society. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 21 November 2018 | CANNES WINNER | PALME D’OR 2018

The Wild Pear Tree | Ahlat Agaci (2018)****


Dir/Writer: Nuri Bilge Ceylan/Ebru Ceylan | Cast: Serkan Keskin, Hazar Erguclu, Ahmet Rifat Sungar | Drama | Turkey/France/Germany/Bulgaria/Macedonia/Bosnia and Herzegovina/Sweden 2018 | 188′

For some the countryside is a retreat where hopes and dreams merge with solitude and recovery. For a father and a son in THE WILD PEAR TREE the sweeping landscapes of Western Turkey’s Marmara region are a place of shattered hopes and despair.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan imbues his melancholy mood piece with the usual visual richness in a slow-burning saga that revolves around aspiring writer Sinan (Aydin Dogu Demirkol) who returns from army service to his native village to raise the money to publish his first book. But his father’s debts catch up with him and put a stop to his personal aspirations. Running at a little over three hours, this long-awaited follow to Winter Sleep and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia takes the customary languorous and discursive pace. The wide screen splendour also makes time for quietly intimate moments but there is no melodrama or ‘major developments’ in a film that plays out contemplatively as the story naturally unfolds.

Sinan is not particularly glad to be back home in the small rural village of Çan, where he holds the community in disdain. But his father Idris’ gambling has spiralled out of control causing his mother and sister to do without, so Sinan starts to do the rounds of friends and family in search of finance for his literary endeavour.

Contrary to the title, a wild pear tree never features in the film, and there is no love lost between Sinan and his father Idris, their relationship slowly deteriorating for obvious reasons. There is a sense of longing for urban civilisation, and while the film takes much delight in the convincingly creditable characterisations and conversation pieces, which are quietly enjoyable, often philosophical (even a little bit over talky at times), it’s clear that Sinan is no more enamoured with this rural idyll than when he reluctantly arrived.

Ceylan returns to the evergreen signature themes that have been present in his work since the beginning and have gained him a reputation and a strong following, along with his elegantly crafted widescreen style and well-rounded character studies. And there is always a touch of dry wit to lighten proceedings while grounding them in community, local politics, moral and ethical issues and family concerns.

In some ways, his latest is an expansion of his FIPRESCI and Golden Tulip winner Clouds of May (1999) and has the same ripe quality of visual sumptuousness throughout. Dermirkol plays Sinan as a vaguely unsympathetic character whose ennui with his family and rural life simply demonstrates an ardent need to get on with his aspirations rather than indicating a deeply flawed personality. But maybe they are one in the same. Ceylan eyes his antihero in a detached and observational way that makes him really convincing as a representative of his generation. In contrast to the self-sacrificing heroes of the early 1900s, Sinan is a full-fledged 21st century man. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 30 NOVEMBER 2018 | Cannes Film Festival Premiere

The Workshop (2017) ****

Dir: Laurent Cantet | Writer: Robin Campillo | France | Cast: Marina Fois, Matthieu Lucci | 114min | Drama

Laurent Cantet follows his middle-aged rumination Return to Ithaca (2014) with an equally unsettling but darker teenage drama that takes place in a multi-cultural summer school in Provence. Youth is a subject he’s covered before in his Palme d’Or winner The Class (2008) but here the region’s working class past come back to haunt the instability of the present providing an intoxicating mix of emotions in a tense, intelligent and socially relevant drama.

The film follows Antoine who is taking part in summer school in rather downtrodden town of La Ciotat, where he hopes to write a crime thriller novel with the help of a well-known author Olivia Dejazet (Marina Fois).  Joined by seven other local teenagers from the town which has seen better days as a centre for shipbuilding – today the docks just service luxury yachts.

Whilst most of the students are critical of Dejazet’s Parisian “snootiness”, they still co-operate  – apart from Antoine (Lucci). He is provocative to both teacher and co-students, shocking them with a piece of gruesome writing, describing a mass-killer, and told in the first person singular. Downtime is spend hanging around the area, in one instance with an unlicensed firearm.  Antoine has already been playing the popular video game “The Witch3: Wild Hunt”,  where he choses the role of a Viking killer-for hire. Malik (Rammach), a young Muslim woman, is Antoine’s fiercest critic, as he continues to undermine the project, upsetting everyone with his unruly attitude. Dejazet feels hopeless – not used to open racism and Antoine’s perverse love of violence – then she tries to help him. But her efforts end in a traumatic encounter, and Antoine gives himself away: he describes the main motive of the Bataclan perpetrators as boredom, a very astute projection, considering his activities with other far-right friends.

Antoine might not have the intellectual prowess of Drieu La Rochelle, the nihilist hero of Louis Malle’ s Le Feu Follet, but there are certain parallels: both men prefer male company, the home-erotic undertones are very clear. Like many fascists, they are obsessed with death and suicide (La Rochelle killed himself in 1945 after being a collaborator), and their relationship with women tends to be antagonistic: their masculine pride does not allow them to come emotionally close to women. Antoine is a gun for hire, his phantasies of obliteration are as much directed at himself as others.

Regular collaborate Robin Campillo, who also worked on Entre les Murs with Cantet, constructs an ambivalent relationship between Dejazet and Antoine: both are aware of their social differences, but in spite this they are somehow attracted to one another. Their relationship develops into a separate story, whilst the other six students try to write their own crime novel. DoP Pierre Milon uses impressive panoramic shots, showing the empty docks, then returning to the intimate scenes of collaborate writing, without breaking the fluent movement. Cantet’s direction is  sensitive, he never denounces Antoine, seeing him as a victim of change: once he would have found a spiritual home with the dock workers, but now he is alienated and bitter. L’Atelier is a story of disenfranchisement, and storytelling – with the author as teacher, but one who’s not always in control.

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 16 NOVEMBER 2018

 

 

The House That Jack Built (2018) ****

Writer/Dir: Lars von Trier | Cast: Uma Thurman, Matt Dillon, Riley Keough | Thriller |  Bruno Ganz | 155′

Controversy has always surrounded auteur Lars von Trier and his critically acclaimed work lives up to his reputation as a maverick talent, fuelling fierce debate and attracting attention from his devoted fans. And he is up to his tricks again refusing to be cowed by the controversy that got him ‘persona non grata status’ seven years ago.

This time he offers up the provocative portrait of a serial killer wreaking hell in the 70s world of America’s Pacific North West. THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT confirms the director has no intention of mending his ways, although it’s never quite clear whether he intends to be a mischievous as he appears. That said, he has clearly managed to wind some viewers up with walks out at the Cannes world premiere of the film. And with various allusions to Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao and Idi Amin a mild mannered approach was never going to be the balm needing to heal the wounds of previous damage he caused. 

Anti-Americanism and misogyny are the themes firmly in the forefront of this new and naughty endeavour that has Matt Dillon in the lead role as Jack, a sociopathic criminal who subjects women and kids to a sadistic fate that would put even the Moors murders in the shade, while simultaneously moaning: “why is it always the men’s fault”. The narrative clearly runs contrary to the current polemic over sexual misconduct. Lars was never going to be acquiescent in this regard but his gorefest feels like he’s upping the ante big time! And while there are plenty of sympathisers, there are also the detractors. So the choice is yours.

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT is certainly a film to see, despite its indulgent running time. And it is worth remembering that over the years, the Danish maverick has created some memorable roles for women, assuring Emily Watson a legendary turn in Breaking The Waves, Bjork for Dancer in the Dark, and Charlotte Gainsbourg for Melancholia. In this new outing the victim to feel sorry for is Riley Keough — but von Trier cuts the victim characterisations down to a bare minimum, so as a result we know and feel little for them. They are merely there to serve the narrative’s ploy of putting a spanner in the works of the gender war that is currently raging. 

The film is seen from the perspective of Jack and the hidden voice of his mentor/shrink Verge (Bruno Ganz), who remains in the dark until he finally emerges into the limelight as Dante after some 60 killings have been reported, escorting Jack through the circles of Hell, Divina Comedia style. 

The killing spree is conducted dispassionately by Jack. It kicks off with an deliberately unlikeable motorist (Uma Thurman) who meets her maker in a surprisingly bloodless way, after showing a gross sense of entitlement to Jack, after her car breaks down. Von Trier judiciously leaving the gore to our imagination, we actually feel more empathy with Jack than the woman. The next victims are a recently bereaved widow, then Sofie Grabol and her sons, forced to enjoy a picnic before being unceremoniously ‘taken out’. The director is also clearly taking a swipe at elements of our indifferent and uncaring society that allow victims to go unaided when in peril. The ‘dumb blond’ girlfriend is the next to go, in a killing that mirrors that of Sharon Tate. But each time Lars desire to inflame the recent feminist lash-back is almost overdone and certainly too glaringly obvious to be taken seriously. 

Dillon plays Jack with suave insouciance, boredom even. Nitpicking over details such as bloodstains on the carpet – he has a cleanliness fetish – and as his trail of carnage grows, he experiments with the slowly growing mound of bodies in his cool room.

The mid section of the film is devoted to a treatise on art and its value in society – which is all a bit too arcane to be edifying in the context of a murder movie – and the constant musical motif of Bowie’s ‘Fame’ becomes a tad tiresome after a while. This detour gives nods to Glenn Gould, William Blake, gothic cathedral architecture, the work of Hitler’s favourite architect Albert Speer. A vignette about dessert wine production feels like an echo of the Silence of the Lambs fava beans episode. Ganz’s Verge is a soothing Peter Cook style psychiatrist who assures Jack that his feelings are all consistent with his personality profile as a psycho. JACK’s editor Molly Malene Stensgaard interposes archive material at various salient intervals to add ballast to the ongoing diatribe between Jack and Verge, but there is nothing particularly exciting about cinematographer Manuel Albert Claro’s grainy handheld camera work or choice of visual aesthetic, although he captures the final descent into Hell inventively.

A great deal of the film actually feels quite tedious. JACK is neither a crime procedural or a gripping character study, and when the film’s title is finally fleshed out – quite literally – we are all ready to go home. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 2 NOVEMBER 2018

Tehran Taboo (2017) ****

Dir.: Ali Soozandeh; Animation; Elmira Rafizadeh, Bilal Yasar, Zahra Amir Ebrahimi, Negar Mona Alizadeh, Arash Marandi; Austria/Germany, 2017, 96 min.

First time director Ali Soozandeh shows us the seedy tightly-belted underbelly of life in Tehran, where drugs, illegal sex and all sorts of corruption are still part of a daily routine. Using rotoscoped characters and a mixture of 3D and drawn backgrounds, he creates a vibrant picture of a place full of psychotic men and women punished for their hypocrisy.

The central character is Pari (Rafizadeh), a prostitute who takes her mute son Elias (Yasar) with her to work. The first sequence is symbolic of all what follows: Pari is giving a man a blowjob in the front of the car, whilst Elias is sitting in the back, experimenting with an condom. Suddenly, Pari’s customer spots his daughter on the pavement, she is walking hand-in-hand with a boyfriend. The customer, enraged, shouts at the young man calling him a pervert. He pushes Pari aside, and crashes his car.

Pari is trying in vain to get Elias enrolled at a special needs school. But her attempts are unsuccessful, because her husband is serving a long jail sentence for drug-dealing (“I gave them 20 million to avoid the death penalty, now they want ten million for my freedom”), he refuses to sign the application form and will not allow Pari a divorce. When she asks the clerical Judge Adel to help her, he denies her rights – but finds a nice flat for her where he can visit at his leisure, loving the rough sex she provides. In the apartment block Pari where poses as a nurse, we meet Sara (Ebrahimi), who’d rather work as a teacher than have children with her repressive husband Mohsen. Sara looks after Elias, while Pari uses Judge Abdel to get her son into a school. A third narrative strand involves Donya (Alizadeh), who has a one-night stand with musician/DJ Babak (Marandi) and needs an operation to have her hymen replaced for her marriage the following week. When Pari tries to help both Sara and Donya, she discovers that both women have secrets that will lead to their undoing.

Soozandeh makes great use of mirrors and other reflective backgrounds to show the reality, hiding behind the action in front. A typical example of male society is Sara’s father-in-law, a diabetic, who uses Elias to fetch the hidden chocolate from the shelves. He watches pornographic films in Elias’ presence – but is alert enough to quickly switch the TV channels to the state-controlled news as soon as Sara comes into the room. Although the narrative is sometimes too heavy-handed, Soozandeh succeeds in painting a picture of male debauchery and violence behind the curtain of religious purity. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6 OCTOBER 2018

Kings of the Road (1976) Bluray release

Dir: Wim Wenders | Cast: Rüdiger Vogler, Hanns Zischler | Drama |

The final part of WIM WENDERS’ loose trilogy of road movies (following on from Alice in the Cities and Wrong Move), KINGS OF THE ROAD has been hailed as one of the best films of the 1970s and remains Wenders’ most remarkable portrait of his own country.

After driving his car at high speed off a road and into a river, losing all his worldly possessions, Robert Lander (Hanns Zischler) hitches a ride with Bruno Winter (Rüdiger Vogler), who travels across Germany’s hinterland repairing projectors in run-down cinemas. Along the way, the two men meet people whose lives are as at odds with the modern world as their own. In attempting to reconcile their past, the two men find themselves increasingly at odds with each other.

KINGS OF THE ROAD is a meditation on the passing of the age of great cinema, an acute study of life in post-war Germany and to this day remains one of Wim Wenders’ most accomplished films.

WINNER – FIPRESCI PRIZE 1976 | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 1976 | RESTORED/REMASTERED IN STUNNING 4K | Commissioned by the Wim Wenders Foundation and supervised by director Wim Wenders

Faces, Places (2017) ***

IMG_3618Dir: Agnes Varda, JR | Doc | French/Belgian | 91min

The diminutive Agnès Varda comes across as a warm social animal at the ripe age of 89.  Collaborating for the first time ever with another photographer, the Ali G lookalike and French creative force JR – possibly for his able assistance and van driving skills – the pair embark on a tour of France, not just to take pretty pictures, but as a tribute to the people they meet along the way. Travelling south from the Northern mining towns to the Midi and Savoie, their aim is to record the memory of ordinary citizens by pasting their oversized photographs for posterity, on old houses and monuments.

JR’s van is painted to look like an enormous camera, and contains a photo-booth that churns out the large photographic prints. It’s a clever idea and one that generates enormous pleasure all round. By the end of their journey, Varda will even have her toes and eyes emblazed on road tanks waggons, to carry her adventure forward. Through this interchange of photographs and conversations with locals, they visit the small towns of Bonnieux, Pirou, St Aubin and Sainte Marguerite where in conversation with farmers, postmen, waitresses and dockworkers Varda builds a special portrait of contemporary France that’s also frank and sometimes even controversial along the lines of: ‘why don’t more women drive heavy goods vehicles’, or, ‘should a goat always keep its horns?’.

Varda still has a keen eye, even though she now suffers macular degeneration and has to undergo painful regular hospital injections. Claiming that ‘chance’ has always been her best assistant she clearly has a positive view of life and reminisces over her industry friends: there is Henri Cartier Bresson and his wife Marine Franke, whose graves we visit, and Guy Bourdin whose photo ends up on a beach monument. And despite happy memories of her friendship with Jean Luc Godard, when turning up at his house for an invitation to tea, the veteran director churlishly fails to appear. MT

NATIONWIDE FROM 21 SEPTEMBER 2018

 

The Nun (1966/67) ****

Dir: Jacques Rivette | Cast: Anna Karina, Liselotte Pulver, Francisco Rabal, Micheline Presle | Drama | France | 140′

Jacques Rivette is famous for his playful features such as Céline and Juliette go Boating, and his one and only excursion into mainstream fare, La Religieuse (1966), based on a Diderot novel, is also full of anarchic fun and was almost banned due to its salaciousness, but went on to be nominated for the Palme D’Or in the year of its making. Suzanne Simonin (Anna Karina), is incarcerated in a cloister against her will and soon falls foul of not one, but three Mother-Superiors who respectively treat her sadistically, tenderly, or as an object for plain lesbian lust – but Suzanne stays pure. This anti-clerical romp was very popular at the box office and served as a liberating force for Karina giving her the emotional impetus to finally divorce JL Godard after having completed their last collaboration, Made in USA, in the same year. AS

IN ARTHOUSE VENUES NATIONWIDE FROM 27 JULY 2018 with a HOME ENT release planned for September 2018 | COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

 

Reinventing Marvin (2017) ***

Dir.: Anne Fontaine; Cast: Finnegan Oldfield, Jules Porier, Gregory Gadebois, Catherine Mouchet, Charles Berling, Vincent Macaigne, Catherine Salée, Isabelle Huppert; France 2017, 115 min.

Director/co-writer Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel) is one of the most diverse French directors, and Reinventing Marvin is again a step into new territory – this time an LGTB theme carried by a brilliant cast. Sometimes uneven, over-didactic and certainly too long, Reinventing Marvin is still a film to remember.

Fontaine switches for most of the narrative continuously between the youth of hero Marvin Bijou (Marvin Jewel in English) in a village in Northern France, and the more adult young man who makes a career on the Parisian stage having changed his name to Martin Clement. Young Marvin (Porier) has the most miserable of childhoods: his parents are at best neglectful, and at worse abusive: father Dany (Gadebois) calls him a faggot blaming the mother (Salée) for the boy’s effeminate behaviour. And his is older brother, an out-and out homophobic, is most aggressive towards Marvin. At school Marvin is mercilessly bullied and sexually abused. Coming to his aid is the principal, Madeleine Clement (Mouchet), who helps him discover his acting talents. After drama school the older Marvin (Oldfield) goes to Paris where, after his coming out, he meets theatre director Abel (Macaigne), who becomes sort of a surrogate father for him. Soon Marvin adds a sugar daddy to his collection of father-substitutes – the wealthy Roland (Berling) who introduces him to Isabelle Huppert, who partners him on stage, performing his play based on the rants of his real father, who provides for an eye-opening encounter in the denouement.

Based (but not credited) on the autobiography En finir avec Eddy Belleguele by the writer Edouard Louis, who also changed his name after an oppressive childhood, Reinventing Marvin is a rich tapestry of passion and fraught emotions. Avoiding melodrama, Fontaine steers her project with the right detachment, but falls into the trap of repeating and sermonising. DoP Yves Angelo uses a richly-hued palette for the countryside but his Paris images are foremost a melancholy brown. Both Porier and Oldfield are brilliant and Gadebois shines in all his scenes, showing just enough vulnerability behind his bully-mask. Somehow the introduction of Huppert rings slightly false – just one fairy tale too much. Even still, Reinventing Marvin is a heartfelt and convincing life story of change and rehabilitation. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 14 SEPTEMBER 2018

  

Whitney (2018)

Dir: Kevin Macdonald | Musical biopic | UK | 120’

Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald looks at the real woman behind the legend that was Whitney Houston in this blistering biopic that gains exclusive access to the enigmatic star’s family and music.

The 1987 global hit  “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” was probably the most telling in the tragic star’s repertoire reflecting a romantic balladeer for whom true love and peace remained elusive. Whitney was a female vocalist who emerged into the limelight with a series of soulful ballads that captured the imagination of women everywhere, at a time where popular music was defined by bands. 

 “How Will I know,” and “Saving All My Love for You” felt personal and yet universal with their sentimental confessions that remain dance-floor delights across the generations. But who was the real woman behind these tender tunes? 

In two compelling hours WHITNEY explores the meteoric rise and sudden death at 48 in a Beverley Hills hotel, after years of addiction and a troubled marriage to rapper Bobby Brown who comes across here as defensive. Macdonald has the key advantage over Nick Bromfield’s Whitney: Can I Be Me, with his intimate access to family, friends and industry collaborators who all seem united in getting to the truth behind the public persona and cliche.

Piecing together contemporary talking heads, Macdonald and editor Sam Rice-Edwards delve into the singer’s psychological past revealing a “tough tomboy” whose parents were unfaithful, and purported sexual from family member, Dee Dee Warwick, who died in 2008. Allusions are made to Whitney’s ‘fluid’ sexuality that indicate marriage to Brown was just to conform to the celebrity image back in the day. Longtime assistant Mary Jones indicates that Whitney’s close friend Robyn Crawford was also her ‘secret lover’, and although Crawford is notably absent to confirm this, the two shared an apartment. Whitney was also dogged by the perception amongst the African-American community that her music, “wasn’t black enough.”.

Rice-Edwards’ clever editing captures the political and social climate interweaving images of Houston’s musical contemporaries and concurrent world events. The Bodyguard co-star Kevin Costner talks of her groundbreaking role as a ‘black leading lady.”  And there are suggestions that her father abused her financially, causing the estrangement that led to her emotional down-spiralling and weight loss, seen in tawdry stage appearances echoing those of tragic Amy Winehouse. And although the film does not quite match the cogent quality of Asif Kapadia’s Oscar-winning Amy, it offers compelling and deeply affecting revelations for her fans and mainstream audiences alike. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE from 6 July 2018

In the Fade (2017) ***

Dir: Fatih Akin | Cast: Diane Kruger| Drama | German | 104min

IN THE FADE is a hard film to watch after the events of Manchester, Westminster amongst many others. In it Diane Kruger plays a plain-talking hard-edged mother trying to cope with the death of her Kurdish husband and small son, murdered by a bomb in their German home town.

Since his gritty debut Head-On Turkish-German director Fatih Akin has remained faithful to his indie style and his ethnic-rooted dramas in a another film that is incessently grim, as the events would suggest. But none its characters are at all likeable accept, strangely. the German father of one of duo of bombers, who are purportedly neo-Nazi sympathisers.

Kruger’s Katya has married Nuri, a convicted drugs dealer, in prison. Clearly in love, the devastation she feels in the aftermath is palpable. And it’s a strong performamce, Kruger’s first in her native German. A really spiteful courtroom procedural records a unjust verdict and Katya repairs to the seaside to heal. Or so it would appear. It actual fact, in keeping with her tough persona, she’s pursuing the bombers to a small Greek resort. The film is a subtle as a mallet, and about as enjoyable as being hit by one. Diane Kruger won Best Actress at Cannes for her histrionic performance. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 22 JUNE 2018

 

 

l’Amant Double (2017) ***

Dir: François Ozon | Cast: Jeremie Renier, Marine Vacth | Drama | France | 104min

François Ozon is back with a meandering 90s-style erotic thriller that starts as an upbeat, intriguing psychodrama hinting at hidden depths, but then loses its sting in the final stages. Poking fun at its female-centric themes, the film opens with an eye-watering gynaecological close-up – if only the script was as tight as its heroine’s tooshie.

The female anatomy belongs to pouting pixie-like minx Chloe (Marine Vacth) who is bored in her new job at a trashy art museum. Just as well, because her love life is complex and full of energetic sexual encounters that kick off when she falls for her dishy psychoanalyst Paul (Jeremie Renier). But when they move in together Chloe is alarmed to discover Paul is not who he seems. Firking around in his things she finds his passport with a different name and realises her lover has an analyst twin brother, which at first he denies. Pretending to need therapy, she tracks down the identical sibling (Renier flips deftly between the two), and soon they too are having rampant sex.

Ozon’s twin theme recalls the obsessive psycho thrillers of Brian De Palma and Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers and even The Brood, where emotional confusion casts doubt on the central character’s state of mind. This is Marine Vacth’s second collaboration with Ozon since she sprung to fame in his 2013 drama Young and Beautiful, and here she plays a similar type who is slightly disdainful and dissatisfied with her life. Despite Paul’s amorous and easy-going nature, Chloe is curiously drawn to the more difficult character of his brother – Jeremie Renier excels in both roles. Ozon, as playful as ever, then resorts to his box of kinky tricks as Chloe turns dominatrix, in a twist obviously worked into the narrative to delight French audiences – who love this kind of thing. From then on L’AMANT DOUBLE broadens into an exploration of Chloe’s gynaecological and psychosexual issues, scuppering the suspense and  the impact of the ultimate reveal.

Thank God for Jacqueline Bissett whose vignette spices up the dragged out denouement, and Myriam Boyer who brings some light relief as the nosy neighbour with a penchant for cats. If only Ozon would return to his more satisfying early thrillers, such as Under the Sand (2000)Swimming Pool (2003) or the serious dramas such as Frantz (2016).

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 1 JUNE 2018

 

Ismael’s Ghosts (2017) **

Dir: Arnaud Desplechin | Cast: Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Louis Garrel, Mathieu Amalric | Hippolyte Girardot, Alba Rohrwacher | Drama | 110min | France

Cannes 70th Anniversary got off to a wildly pretentious start with Arnaud Desplechin’s sprawling fantasy melodrama made watchable by sparkling performances from two of France’s leading female stars: Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

The histrionic storyline follows Matthieu Amalric, in his usual tortured turn as a neurotic chain-smoking writer whose wife Carlotta (Marion Cotillard) was declared missing 20 years previously. Emotionally unstable, he falls for Charlotte Gainsbourg’s charming and calming single astrophysicist, whose cross to bear is raising her disabled brother – who never actually appears.

Into this budding romantic mêlée plops the delicately distraite adventurist Carlotta who has been wandering the globe, much to the chagrin of her dying father and her husband.  She now turns up out of the blue to reclaim her husband and have his baby. Is she a ghost or a real person, do we really care? She puts a spanner in the works for all concerned – and only to illuminate Ismael’s ambivalence about what he really wants from a partner, and out of life in general. At this point Desplechin’s adds a exotic twist to proceedings involving Louis Garrel, who plays a diplomat hired by the French government, to a mythical North African country with his new bride, a playful Alba Rohwacher. And this is where the film loses its way (and our interest) as it slips backwards and forwards, careening between sparks of quirky humour, wild reverie and erotic moments where Cotillard reveals all but, judiciously, Gainsbourg remains gracefully un-décolletée – and strangely more interesting and appealing – as Ismael’s true love).

Funny how Déplechin’s female characters are eminently more interesting but only ever exist to serve his one-dimentional men. That said, there is much to admire in this hotchpotch: a sweepingly romantic score that punctuates the occasional moments of intrigue, Irina Lubtchansky’s intricate camerawork that conveys claustrophobia in tight corridors, and soaring delirium in widescreen shots; but nothing ultimately hangs together. ISMAEL’S GHOSTS is best remembered as a vehicle for Garrel, Gainsbourg, and Cotillard, and some flashes of momentary brilliance in a rather disturbed nightmare . MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 1 JUNE 2018

Murder me, Monster (2018) *** | Cannes Film Festival 2018

Dir Alejandro Fadel. Argentina. 2018. 106′

MURDER ME MONSTER’S widescreen solemnity might bring to mind the murder investigation in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia – and there are vague echoes of Amat Escalante’s The Untamed, but that’s where the similarity ends. This brooding Andes-set crime mystery is the gruesome work of Los Selvajes director Alejandro Fadel, and it is certainly not for the feint hearted with its bestial themes and deformed zombie-like characters. Infact everyone in this stomach-turning horror fantasy is on edge and whispering morosely, for one reason or another. And a series of macabre murders, where heads are torn from bodies, seem to be the reason why.

The opening scene sees the dying moments of a woman whose throat has been severed and as a herd of sheep, and some other livestock are slowly make their supper of her remains, a blind man mumbles on about the murder, as slowly Fadel builds suspense out of a series of weird incidents that seem to indicate that a feral beast is on the prowl and out of control in this remote corner of Argentina where it invariably appears to be night.

Rural police officer Cruz (Victor Lopez) is tasked with investigating the murders and the finger seems to point to local thick-lipped weirdo David (Esteban Bigliardi) who claims that a savage creature is using certain phrases to commune with him, as if through telepathy, with a ‘silly’ voice that repeats ‘Murder Me, Monster’.

Cinematographers Manuel Rebella and Julian Apezteguia evoke nightmarish visuals often using the same technique as the painter El Greco – where the characters’ faces are often starkly backlit against a murky darkness. And there’s a garish otherworldly quality to the outdoor mountain scenes that turn increasingly Lynchian as the plot thickens. Pus-yellow, murky mustard and puke green make up the colour palette of costume and set designers Florencia and Laura Caligiuri. An atmospheric ambient score keeps the tension brewing.

This is intriguing stuff, if rather too enigmatic for its own good as a satisfying narrative that eventually leaves us stranded in its own mysterious backwater, and we feel rather nauseous and bewildered by the end. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | UN CERTAIN REGARD 2018

https://vimeo.com/268725708

 

Ayka | My Little One (2018) **** | Cannes Film Festival | In Competition

Dir: Sergei Dvortsevoy | Wri: Gennadiy Ostrovskiy | Cast: Samal Yeslyamova | Drama | Kazakhstan | Dop Jolanta Dylews

After giving birth in a squalid Moscow hospital minutes before, a young woman trudges back through blinding snow to pluck chickens in a factory outlet. Sound like your kind of film? This harrowing hunk of social realism is the delicately drawn follow-up from the man who rose to international stage with his tender Kazakh Un Certain Regard winner Tulpan back in 2008. 

Writer-director Sergey Dvortsevoy returns to the Croisette with this competition hopeful AYKA, a much more morose affair anchored by a carefully considered performance from Samal Yeslyamova, that won her Best Actress at Cannes, and who also played the main character’s sister in Tulpan.  Chased along the icy streets and tawdry interiors by awarded DoP Jolanta Dyweska’s handheld camera AYKA has the same chaotic feel as the Dardenne brothers’ Rosetta (1999). Here our back-footed heroine has had to abandon her baby to battle against a callous country populated by criminal landlords, corrupt employers, poverty and disdain. And we feel for her. 

Dvortsevoy and his co-writer Gennadi Ostrowski, trip backwards and forwards offering inklings into the Kyrgyzstani woman’s background in a drama whose themes of social injustice and transmigration are not hammered into place but lightly alluded to in a tale that makes us focus more on Ayka’s blood-stained postpartum hardships (which are not for the feint-hearted) and her fearsome fight for survival in a place where she is neither wanted nor welcome. Some of the scenes make for gruesome viewing but this is a brave and ballsy film that begs for an audience and certainly deserves one. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | BEST ACTRESS WINNER 2018

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Dogman ***** (2018) | Cannes Film Festival | Best Actor Award

Dir: Matteo Garrone | Ugo Chiti | Adamo Dionisi, Francesco Acquaroli, Edoardo Pesce, Laura Pizzirani | Drama | 120′ | Italy

The second Italian hero of Cannes Film Festival appears in Matteo Garrone’s terrific revenge thriller that returns to the filmmaker’s own stamping ground of Caserta with a richly thematic and compulsive exploration of male rivalry and belonging in a downtrodden criminal-infested football-playing community scratching a living.

Life has always been tough in this neck of the woods, infested by gangland influences: it is a terrain that Garrone knows and describes well in his 2008 feature Gomorrah. A brutal brotherhood controls this bleak beachside wilderness where everyone relies on each other to survive.

At the heart of DOGMAN is a tour de force turn from actor turned director Marcello Fonte who plays an endearing and diminutive dog grooming supremo who although popular and kind, has formed a toxic twosome with local hoodlum and sociopath Simone, a thorn in his side who is dragging him constantly into trouble. Marcello’s wife has cleared off and he has a young daughter Sofia (Alida Baldari Calabria) to look after –  and dog-grooming hardly makes ends meet, so to keep Simone sweet he supplies him with cocaine and courtesies, though secretly he wishes him dead.

Marcello possesses the same innate goodness as Lazzaro in Rohrwacher’s drama that played earlier in the competition line -up. And he’s gifted and patient with the dogs brought into his shop, and in one scene he actually goes out of his way to rescue a chihuahua who has been nearly frozen to death in a botched robbery. In short, Garrone uses similar ‘good and evil’ theme as Scorsese in his New York street thrillers where one good person is perpetually trying to redeem the others, against the odds and often at his own expense. Marcello is keen on his friends and is popular and wants to keep it that way, but Simone is a liability and one day will lead him to tragedy.

This is a gritty and violent film and often unbearably so, but there are moments of heart-rending tenderness – between his Marcello and his dependants – where tears will certainly well up. Fonte won Best Award at Cannes for his skilful portrayal that switches subtly from sad loner to desperado.

Garrone sets the desolate scene resonantly with his brilliant lighting and inventive camerawork, this time working with DoP Nicolai Bruel, who paints this part of Italy with an almost gothic desperation highlighted by Michele Braga’s mournful musical score. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL  2018| BEST ACTOR AWARD MARCELLO FONTE

The Gentle Indifference of the World (2018)**** | Cannes Film Festival 2018

Dir: Adilkhan Yerzhanov | Writer: Roelof Jan Minneboo | Cast: Sultan Abzalov, Tulemis Alishev, Dinara Baktybaeva, Kulzhamilya Belzhanova | Drama | Fr/Kazakhstan |

Roelof Jan Minneboo is a Dutch writer and script doctor who works with budding independent filmmakers to give their distinctive stories a voice. He has done this so far with the late Somalian director Abdi Jama for Queleh, with Georgian director George Ovashvilli’s Corn Island which went on to win the main prize at Karlovy Vary in 2014 and with Armenian Ilgar Najaf whose Pomegranate Orchard (2017) picked up a several awards last year for his story of a prodigal son. This is his second collaboration with Kazakh filmmaker Adilkhan Yerzhanov, after the director won the Free Spirit Award at Warsaw for his debut  The Owners (2014).

The title’s logline: Love will always be above life, fear, death and money, is an encouraging start and The Gentle Indifference of the World never disappoints with its captivating style and unusual narrative inspired by Kazakh Steppe legends. Each frame of this stunningly filmed piece of cinema is an absolute gem, once again embracing the free-spirited and unique cinematic voice that is Yerzhanov, directing with inventive conviction in a strangely poetic and offbeat thriller. Unexpected humour, gentleness and violence emerge from the bizarre yet simple tale about feisty Kazakh folk who are not afraid of taking the law into their own hands in the big sky countryside of the lle Alatau Steppe and in the corrupt city of Almaty.

After her father’s sudden death, the central character Sultanat (a gracefully charismatic Dinara Baktybaeva) is forced to move from her idyllic rural home to Almaty to raise money to pay off family debts so her mother can avoid a prison sentence. With only her faithful friend Kuandyk (Dyussembaev) for emotional support, city life proves tough for this ravishing beautiful young woman and even when her uncle comes up with a suitable husband to do the honours financially, Sultanat soon finds him wanting. She has been close friends with the faithful but penniless Kuandyk since they were little, but can their bond survive in the tough urban setting where cold reality lurks at every turn, and love must triumph over money and power which continually trump its survival? An extraordinary and evergreen story, beautifully told. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8 – 19 MAY | UN CERTAIN REGARD

 

 

 

Burning (2018)

Lee Chang dong, Oh Jung mi | 143’ | South Korea | Drama 

Lee Chang-dong’s sees a rich guy and an honest worker compete for the affections of an enigmatic young woman in his mysterious slow burner that sizzles with a seductive spell and intoxicates for over two hours with its captivating storytelling and strikingly atmospheric score by Mowg.

‘A literary adaptation’ can sound warning bells but this standout psychological thriller breathes life into a short story from Haruki Murakami, adapted by Lee and his co-writer Oh Jung-mi who keep things deceptively simple yet alluring with a thematically rich ride set to Hong Kyung-pyo’s sumptuous cinematography, and enfused with themes of privilege, class, stifled creativity and revenge.

Lonely budding writer Jongsu comes from a poor and dysfunctional family background and works as a deliveryman near the North Korean border where he is unexpectedly invited into the bed of his former school friend who later returns from a trip to Africa with suave but unassuming new boyfriend in the shape of Korean hotshot Ben (Yeun Steven), who seems rather to smooth to be true. But then the story becomes more complex. Jongsu (Yoo Ah-in) has really fallen for the charming but insecure Haemi (Jun Jong-seo), who remembers his harsh comments on her appearance back in the day, and has since had plastic surgery.

A loose friendship soon develops between the threesome and for a while the story hums along gently mulling over its cultural references and glorying in its low key placid perfection. But all is not well in paradise and the tone takes a sinister turn after Ben confesses to being somewhat of a pyrotechnic with a penchant for greenhouse burning, and we witness this in a startling bonfire that seethes in silence. This heats up the whole affair with Haemi going missing and the two men coming head to head in a violent climax. With dynamite performances from the trio this is an elegantly crafted thriller from a Korean master at the top of his game. MT

NOW ON BBC | IPLAYER | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL FIPRESCI PRIZE 2018

Sir (2018) | Critics’ Week 2018

Dir: Rohena Gera | Drama | India | 97′

Documentarian Rohena Gera’s fiction debut is a refreshing and delicately drawn character drama, a love story that takes place in modern day Mumbai between two likeable people from opposite ends of the social spectrum, one is rich the other poor.    

Ratka is a young widow whose dicey new single status has for forced her to find work in the city. So she moves from her rural village to work as housekeeper for a wealthy young man whose wedding has recently been called off. “Sir” is clearly feeling emotional and Ratka suggests to his mother that the wedding presents be kept in her room to spare him further heartache. There they fester as a constant reminder of his and her marital failure.

The lovelorn Ashwin is gradually soothed by Ratka’s kind and thoughtful personality, so different from the spoilt prima donnas from his own milieu. Impressed by her drive and ambition to become a tailor, he offers her time out to train. His own work as a writer seems like a vanity project in contrast and most of his time is spent lolling around feeling sorry for himself and secretly ashamed at his lack of ambition.

Gera makes great use of Mumbai’s pulsing metropolis as a backdrop for the pair’s palpable chemistry as sexual tension slowly catches fire between them. But Ratka’s personality is the stronger of the two and Gera takes time to flesh out her emotional qualities and sparky intelligence leaving Ashwin as a rather one-dimensional cypher with only the machismo consistent with his status to define him. Clearly something’s gotta give, and in order to bring these two together between the sheets in an elegant manner Gera has to employ a narrative device that ends up being unconvincing. That said, SIR is a watchable film and was justly awarded a prize at the Cannes Critics’ Week sidebar. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE

Manto (2018)**** | Un Certain Regard | Cannes Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Nandita Das; Cast: Navazuddin Siddiqui, Rasika Dugal, Tahir Raj Bhasin, Rajshiri Deshpande; India/France 2018, 112 min.

Nandita Das’ follows her stunning debut Firaaq, with a passionate bio-pic of Indo-Pakistani writer and author Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955), whose life was a constant struggle against censorship under British colonial rule and in the newly created Pakistan, whence he fled  from Bombay. Rather daringly, Das has integrated five of his short stories into the narrative, that are proof of Manto’s radicalism.                       

The first is Dus Rupay where a young girl from the slums is sold to two wealthy men for the afternoon: they play with her on the beach, before abusing her. Das covers the time between 1946 and 1950, with Manto (Siddiqui) working as a scriptwriter for Bollywood in Bombay, where feels very much at home before the partition. He and his wife Safia (Dugal) mourn their dead son, but are comforted by their two young daughters. Manto shows his morbid nature on his gravestone: “Here lays Saadat Hasan Manto, wondering if he is the better storyteller or God is!” Manto invariably sides with women in his writings, and it is no accident that he was a good friend of the feminist writer Ismat Chugtai (Despande), who also found herself in the British courts. When asked why he is writing about sex-workers, and not the British repression, Manto answers: “Aren’t they part of society too?”

After the partition, Manto’s friendship with the film star Shyam Chadda (Bhasin) comes to an end when an angry Muslim mob in Pakistan attacks the actor’s Hindu family in Pakistan, making them flee to Bombay, “I could kill you”, says Chadda to Manto – and even though he takes it back, the writer knows his time is up, and he moves to Lahore. But there is little to stimulate him in the Pakistani city, and he is soon in court defending himself for another shot story (Cold Meat), considered obscene. Even though he wins the court case, Manto does not feel at home in Lahore, and his drinking lands him in rehab. Symbolically, he is like the man in one of his stories who remained in no-mans land between the two states, having written “Two or three years after Partition, it occurred to the governments of India and Pakistan to exchange their lunatics, like they had exchanged their criminals. The Muslim lunatics in India were sent to Pakistan, and the Hindu and Sikh lunatics in Pakistani asylums were to be handed over to India.”

MANTO’s stylish aesthetic is photographed by Kartik Vijay in semi-sepia, and Siddiqui gives a subtle splendour to his turn as the caustic, low-level depressive writer who cannot adjust to his new homeland due to his humanist nature. Melancholic, sombre and despondent, he drinks himself to death at only 42. Writing was his life, he even gave up the typewriter to use only pens because he felt they were more pure. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL – UN CERTAIN REGARD 2018

BlacKkKlansman (2018) | Cannes Film Festival | Grand Prix winner

Dir: Spike Lee | Cast: Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Laura Harrier, Ryan Eggold, Corey Hawkins | Biopic Crime Comedy | US |

Spike Lee’s latest film follows Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado, who successfully managed to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan.

BlacKkKlansman, champions the Black Lives Matter brigade and is Spike Lee’s most engaging film in years, playing out as a straightforward 1970s style tale that sees a Black rookie detective get close up close and personal with the KKK, by posing as a potential punter over the ‘phone then sending his white colleague along to do the honours. Adam Driver plays game in fine form. 

There shades of Shaft here and other blaxploitation films of the era, but the accent is on comedy and irony rather than outright thriller, although Lee has done his research seriously offering plenty of historical detail and some archive footage from the Charlottesville riots from August last year, and the camera swivels firmly in focus of President Trump, and DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation.

The white supremacists are a nasty bunch, as you can imagine, and no one escapes their vitriol which is aimed at Jews and anyone not of Aryan blood. Topher Grace plays David Duke, the head honcho of the local branch, the film also features Black characters who are racist such as Patrice..

After joining the surprisingly racist Colorado Springs Police department, his first mission is to attend a Black Power meeting addressed by Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture. Here he meets and falls for Angela Davies Patrice (Laura Harrier). The film then charts his progress to infiltrate and bring down the KKK organisation in scenes where the tone is taut but always firmly upbeat. With lowkey natural performances from leads Adam Driver and John David Washington, and a stellar score of ‘70s hits, this is an enjoyable, informative and undivisive drama and certainly worthy of winning the Palme d’Or. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | GRAND PRIX WINNER 2018

The House That Jack Built (2018) | Cannes Film Festival

Writer/Dir: Lars von Trier | Cast: Uma Thurman, Matt Dillon, Riley Keough | Thriller |  Bruno Ganz |

Controversy has always surrounded auteur Lars von Trier and his critically acclaimed work lives up to his reputation as a maverick talent, fuelling fierce debate and attracting attention from his devoted fans. And he is up to his tricks again refusing to be cowed by the controversy that got him ‘persona non grata status’ seven years ago.

This time he offers up the provocative portrait of a serial killer wreaking hell in the 70s world of America’s Pacific North West. THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT  confirms that the director has no intention of mending his ways  although it is never quite clear whether he intends to be a mischievous as he appears. That said, he has clearly managed to wind some viewers up with walks out at the Cannes world premiere of the film. And with various allusions to Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao and Idi Amin a mild mannered approach was never going to be the balm needing to heal the wounds of previous damage he caused. 

Anti-Americanism and misogyny are the themes firmly in the forefront of this new and naughty endeavour that has Matt Dillon in the lead role as Jack, a sociopathic criminal who subjects women and young kids to a sadistic fate that would put even the Moors murders in the shade, while simultaneously moaning: “why is always the men’s fault”. The narrative clearly runs contrary to the current polemic over sexual misconduct, and Lars was never going to be acquiescent in this regard.  

That said, THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT is certainly a film to see, despite its indulgent running time. And it is worth remembering that over the years, the Danish maverick has created some memorable roles for women, assuring Emily Watson a legendary turn in Breaking The Waves, Bjork for Dancer in the Dark, and Charlotte Gainsbourg for Melancholia. In this new outing the victim to feel sorry for is Riley Keough — but von Trier cuts the victim characterisations down to a bare minimum, so as a result we know and feel little for them, they are merely there to serve the narrative’s purpose of putting a spanner in the works of the gender war that is currently raging.. 

The film is seen from the perspective of Jack and the hidden voice of his mentor/shrink Verge (Bruno Ganz), who remains in the dark until he finally emerges into the limelight as Dante after some 60 killings have been reported, escorting Jack through the circles of Hell, Divina Comedia style. 

The killing spree is conducted dispassionately by Jack, and kicks off with an deliberately unlikeable motorist (Uma Thurman) who meets her maker in a surprisingly bloodless way, after showing a gross sense of entitlement to Jack, after her car breaks down. Von Trier judiciously leaving the gore to our imagination, we actually feel more empathy with Jack than the woman. The next victims are a recently bereaved widow, then Sofie Grabol and her sons, forced to enjoy a picnic before being unceremoniously ‘taken out’. The director is also clearly taking a swipe at elements of our indifferent and uncaring society that allow victims to go unaided when in peril. The ‘dumb blond’ girlfriend is the next to go, in a killing that mirrors that of Sharon Tate. But each time Lars desire to inflame the recent feminist lash-back is almost overdone and certainly too glaringly obvious to be taken seriously. 

Dillon plays Jack with suave insouciance, boredom even. Nitpicking over details such as bloodstains on the carpet – he has a cleanliness fetish – and as his trail of carnage grows, he experiments with the slowly growing mound of bodies in his cool room.

The mid section of the film is devoted to a treatise on art and its value in society – which is all a bit too arcane to be edifying in the context of a murder movie – and the constant musical motif  of Bowie’s ‘Fame’ becomes a tad tiresome after a while. This detours involves nods to Glenn Gould, William Blake, gothic cathedral architecture, the work of Hitler’s favourite architect Albert Speer. A viignette about dessert wine production feels like an echo of the Silence of the Lambs fava beans episode. Ganz’s Verge is a soothing Peter Cook style psychiatrist who assures Jack that his feelings are all consistent with his personality profile as a psycho. JACK’s editor Molly Malene Stensgaard interposes archive material at various salient intervals to add ballast to the ongoing diatribe between Jack and Verge, and there is nothing particularly  exciting about cinematographer Manuel Albert Claro’s grainy handheld camera work or choice of visual aesthetic, although he captures the final descent into Hell inventively.

A great deal of the film actually feels quite tedious. JACK is neither a crime procedural or a gripping character study, and when the film’s title is finally fleshed out – quite literally – we are all ready to go home. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | Out of  COMPETITION 2018

Fugue | Fuga (2018) **** | Cannes Film Festival 2018 | Un Certain Regard

Dir: Agnieska  Smoczynska | Cast: Gabriela Muskała, Łukasz Simlat, Małgorzata Buczkowska, Zbigniew Waleryś, Halina Rasiakówna, Piotr Skiba, Iwo Rajski | Poland/Czech Republic/Sweden 2018, 100 min.

Director Agnieszka Smoczynska re-unites with DoP Jacub Kijowski and actor Malgorzata Buczkowska who together made The Lure an international success. For Fugue, they are joined by writer Gabriela Muskala, who also plays the lead, Kinga/Alicja, a woman suffering from severe post-traumatic amnesia.

We first meet Kinga staggering onto the platform of a station where she promptly collapses, having urinated infront in full view of the other passengers. Clearly she has lost her mind, and spends the next two years in a psychiatric ward in a Warsaw hospital, where she makes a brief appearance on TV, in the hope that someone might identify her. And they do. She is soon re-united with her husband Krystzof (Simlat) and four-year old son Daniel. Her name is Alicja, but strangely, no one appears happy to have her back, least of all her Daniel. The only thing she is sure of is her credit card PIN number she and immediately makes an application for a new Identity Card. Her mysterious family friend Ewa (Buczkowska) is clearly so much more that than this, but Smoczynska keeps her cards close to her chest, revealing little in this enigmatic but captivating mystery drama. Eventually Alicja starts to re-adjust to home life with her husband, but a sudden accident in their car seems to trigger   Alicja’s memory and gradually a whole picture slowly develops of their life before the train incident. It emerges that her husband had successfully divorced her and wanted sole custody of Daniel.

In her follow up to The Lure, Smoczynska offers us another circuitous and enigmatic drama: there are moments of supernatural evidence, where Alicja’s home environment appears completely alien to her. Particularly the green bathroom looks eerily like a fish tank (drawing comparisons with The Shining’s Room 237). The country house has a weird and haunted feel to it, and Alicja seems to be a prisoner within its walls, he family and even her son treating her with hostile suspicion. Fugue is an allegorical story of a woman who is unsure of her position in the world, retreating from motherhood, and drifting between various states of being. Gabriela Muskala gives a brilliant tour de force in the leading role of this unique and beguiling Polish arthouse drama. AS.

UN CERTAIN REGARD | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 8-19 MAY 2018

Foam at the Mouth | Ar Puma uz Lupam (2017) *** | Cannes Market 2018

Dir.: Janis Nords; Cast: Vilis Daudzins, Ieva Puke, Raimonds Celms, Indra Brike; Latvia/Poland/Lithuania 2017, 80 min.

After tackling the thorny subject of child crime in his Berlinale Grand Prix winner Mother I love You, Janis Nords comes to Cannes Market with an atmospheric thriller that scratches at the edges of horror set in a remote Latvian community where women are the only civilising influence in a community where man and beast converge.

The women here are a tough bunch and none more so than physiotherapist Jana (Puke), whose ex-cop husband Didzis (Daudzius) has lost part of his left leg is and only employable as a dog handler. To makes matters worse, the challenge to his masculinity has reduced Didzis to an hostile neurotic who feeds off his three Alsatians’ aggression, showing them affection in return, particularly his favourite Gina. The neglected Jana is surprised by her own sexual frustration that surfaces while treating seventeen year old Roberts (Celms) at the gym where she practices, and this incident provides a inventive vein of dark humour and tension to the intriguing narrative. Driving home one night, Jana and Didsis collide with a rabid boar which leaves its infected blood dripping from their truck bumper, and the dogs sniff this out. What follows is a harrowing hunt for the rapid beasts, which attack some students of the school. Meanwhile, Didzis tracks down an enemy of his own, in the shape of Roberts, whose mother soon emerges as a repressive zealot, as the grim storyline reveals that everyone’s life in danger from either from the animal kingdom or the human one.

Matthew A. Gossett’s script is taut and mischievous complimented by DoP Tobias Datum suggestive images, mainly shot at night and in the gloaming when the difference between dogs and humans is distinguishable only by their form. This is a thriller where testosterone driven males and infected dogs seem to be at war at all costs. Foam is more than just symbolic: under the superficial veneer of civilised society, men are deteriorating into atavistic creatures, just like local wild dogs. Made a shoestring, and none the worst for it, FOAM is really frightening at times, as Nords plays on the darkest fears of the human psyche in this tense little B-picture, which would make Sam Fuller proud.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | MARKET SECTION | Winner of the Moscow Critics’ Award

Shoplifters (2018)**** | Cannes Film Festival | Winner Palme d’Or (2018)

Writer/Dir: Hirokazu Koreeda | Cast: Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Sosuke Ikematsu | Drama |121′

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s portrait of parenting, After the Storm, has much in common with this perceptive and often ambiguous satire about a family of small-time crooks and the misguided theft they commit for compassionate reasons, with devastating consequences. SHOPLIFTERS is a worthwhile addition to the auteur’s preoccupations with family life and father and motherhood – both real and imagined, and is possibly his best work so far.

In Tokyo, part-time workers Osamu (Lily Franky) and his wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) complement their meagre income with a sideline in shoplifting. Aided and abetted by son Shota (Kairi Jyo), they often swipe groceries from the local store near the flat they share with fellow grifter Noboyu (Sakura Andô), teenager Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) and grandma Hatsue (Kirin Kiki), who turns the most lucrative tricks of the lot.

One day they take pity on an abused and timid teenager called Juri (Miyu Sasaki), offering her board and lodging in their already cramped home. This simple act of kindness is the catalyst for change in the family dynamic unleashing previously hidden motivations that range from short-sightedness to self-aggrandisement, and even narcissistic pride.

A tonal shift from upbeat bonhomie to gloomy sadness takes place in the film’s third segment when the family anticipate their emotional loss and start to fear the backlash of their rash altruism, and its damning formal retribution. Koreeda and his cast bring out  tremendous pathos in this well-meaning family, and while we feel for them as do-gooders, – in the true sense of the word – they are crucially also law-breakers. And this is the J B Priestleyan crux of this clever and beautifully crafted caper reflecting the subtle nuances of Japanese society. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | WINNER | PALME D’OR 2018

https://youtu.be/3zJ3_JZnH_Q

Alone at my Wedding (2018) | Acid – Cannes Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Martha Bergman; Cast: Alina Ioana Serban, Tom Vermeir, Rebecca Anghel, Viorica Tudor, Marian Samu; Belgium 2018, 120 min.

Martha Bergman’s debut feature is a wild ride, undertaken by young mother Pamela – a brilliant Alina Ioana Serban – a Roma from a small Romanian village, who is picked up on the internet by a shy, middle-aged Belgian.

We first meet Pamela in the middle of a freezing winter. She lives in a basic hut with her grandmother (Tudor) who looks after her baby daughter (Anghel), dragging the poor mite around unceremoniously in all conditions. 18 year old Marian (Sama) is  also called on to look after the baby, despite his desperation to leave the village, and the country altogether.

This picture of discontent is tempered by the arrival in her life of French speaking Belgian Bruno (Vermeir), and Pamela makes a swift departure to be with him, leaving Pamela with her grandmother. Pamela’s French is very poor, and Bruno, who is stiff but well meaning (“I respect you, you are not a commodity”), has great difficulties in communicating with her. Not content with spending her time with her new boyfriend, Pamela starts looking looking for a job and Bruno teaches his wife-to-be French. 

Bruno seems somewhat of an ingenue where romance concerns but soon the couple are sleeping together. But Pamela cannot bear to be contained, she has a one-night stand with another Roma in a car, and the two are picked up by the police. When Pamela is returned to Bruno, he is angry that the police arrested her. But when he finds out why, he throws her out, but soon relents. His parents arrive, and there is an embarrassing dance scene to Roma music. But what really makes Pamela happy is the arrival of a brand new television, she seems to be a creature of simple pleasures.  

Also co-written by fellow director Katell Quillevere, the script is refreshingly different; there are some dream sequences between Pamela and her grandmother, who dies, soon after singing the titular song: and Pamela is far from complimentary calling the old woman “a whore, like her mother”. All said and done, it is Serban who carries the feature, as much untamed as she is unfocused, Pamela is always ready for another opportunity for mischief-making, like the teenager she really is. DoP Jonathan Ricquebourg (The Death of Louis XIV) uses vibrant visuals in the scenes featuring Pamela, underlining her vivacity, and a more sombre palette for the grey reality Pamela holds in contempt. Whilst sometimes uneven, Bergman shirks narrative conventions for an upbeat tale of Roma life, in contrast to the usual victim stories we have come to expect.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | ACID SELECTION 2018 

   

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) | Cannes Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Stanley Kubrick; Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack; UK/USA 1968; 141 min.

Christopher Nolan presents a Warner Bros 70mm print struck from new printing elements made from the original camera negative in Cannes this year. This is a true photochemical film recreation. There are no digital tricks, remastered effects, or revisionist edits. Stanley Kubrick’s daughter, Katharina Kubrick, his coproducer Jan Harlan and director Christopher Nolan were in attendance.

But who better to define Science Fiction than Arthur C. Clarke, co-author of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, on whose short story of the same name Kubrick’s film is based: “Science fiction is something that could happen – but usually you wouldn’t want it to. Fantasy is something that couldn’t happen – though often you wish it would”. This rather cautious outlook is also at the heart of Kubrick’s film, which does not engage us with the thrills of conventional Sci-Fi films – neither Clark nor Kubrick could come up with plausible aliens and the film is the better for it – presenting, rather, a visual/philosophical treaty. To start with, 95 of the 141 minutes are without dialogue, dominated by classical music and/or images – the dialogue could have easily been written on the inter-titles used in silent films. Needless to say, there are no statements or solutions just questions about a future, which remains enigmatic and open to all sorts of interpretations in the final images.

The first Homo-Sapiens opens the proceedings: some apes are thrilled by the appearance of a strangely glittering monolith – inspired by his awe. One of them uses a bone as tool, jubilantly throwing it into the air, where it transforms into a spaceship. Part two opens with the discovery that the same monolith has been found on the moon. It transpires that it is sending electronic signals to Jupiter. We witness space flights, as ordinary and routine as rail travel. Part three is set in 2001, when a secret mission is send to Jupiter, to find out if Aliens are responsible for the signals from the moon. There are five astronauts on board of the spaceship; three of them are scientists, kept in coffin-like boxes, put into an artificially induced coma. Commander Bowman (Duella) and his deputy Poole (Lockwood) are keeping an eye on the instruments, but their work-rate is minimal, since the super-computer HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain), who is infallible, is in charge of the journey. When Bowman and Poole find out that HAL is malfunctioning, they huddle in a closet to resolve the matter, but HAL is able to lip read and tries to do away with the whole crew. Firstly he kills the three scientists, then he cuts Poole’s air supply off when he is out in space. Bowman tries to rescue him but HAL sabotages his efforts. The computer than locks the space ship, to leave Bowman in space, but the commander outsmarts him and switches him off, HAL pleading like a human, for his life. After a journey illuminated by whirling colours, Bowman ends up in a flat full of Louis XV furniture, where he quickly grows old and dies. At the foot of his bed stands the monolith like a sentinel.

Music plays a central role in decoding the film: The opening scene is dominated by Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathrustra” (a re-occurring theme of the film; the docking sequences of part two are accompanied by the Johann Strauss’ waltz “An der schönen blauen Donau”; Bowman’s and Poole’s lonely life on board of the spaceship is mournfully underscored by Aran Khatchaturian’s “Gayane’ Ballet Suite and György Ligeti’s Requiem is the leitmotif of the whole film.

Even after 50 years, and without any CGI, the images of A SPACE ODYSSEY are still fresh and do not give away the real age of the film. Kubrick used simple tricks, like the scene with the ballpen in the spaceship, which seems to float, but was in reality only glued to a plate of glass. The images of the astronauts floating in space were achieved with circus equipment and models in real size, filmed against a black background, the camera shooting from the floor upwards. This way, the ropes under the ceiling were hidden by the body of the stuntman; the audience has the illusion, to watch him floating from a sideways position. Music and visuals are dominating; the underlying philosophical questions, particularly the role of the computer, are still  topical and evergreen and overall 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY still feels modern and wonderful to watch. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | SPECIAL SCREENING

The Load (2018) | Directors’ Fortnight | Cannes Film Festival 2018

 Writer/Dir. Ognjen Glavonić |  Drama | 98’

Ognjen Glavonić won various awards for Depth Two, a documentary about the grim discovery of war graves in his native Serbia. THE LOAD is his debut drama that fought its way out of the country inspired by the region’s 1999 NATO onslaught to tell another story from this harrowing period of Balkan history, a quietly devastating one that haunts with its slow burning revelation looming tragically out of the dreary landscape of longterm war.

This is a place full of dour-faced officials going through the motions in a country were hope has been washed away with the winter rain and bombs still cascade in the distance like incendiary stars. A few roadside blossoms tell us spring has arrived and tired-looking truck driver Vlada (Leon Lucev) is making his daily grind towards Belgrade from Kosovo with a load locked in his beaten-up lorry, the contents unknown. His instructions are clear : no stopping or diversions, he must keep a low profile until he reaches his destination.

On his way the journey starts uneventfully but at a crossing a smouldering car crash has blocked the the route to the capital. And a rather blasé teenager hitchhiker Pava (Pavle Čemerikić) offers to show him the way to his destination, tempting Vlada to bend the rules. As it happens Pava is clueless about map-reading, but doesn’t really mind that he has let Vlada down. Clearly, he represents the younger generation, shielded from the coldface of war from protective parents like Vlada, who, inured to disappointment and setbacks, motors on resigned, his face etched with the gruelling inevitability of his lot and eventually the pair start to bond.

The tone is brooding, morose and vagually doom-laden as the men push on framed in close-up and on the widescreen by Tatjana Krstevski whose superb washed out visual also featured in Depth Two).  The two men drive on until Paja blithely announces his departure to hitchike to German and look for better things. But nature of his Vlada’s business requires him to be responsible and slowly the gruesome truth dawns making the inevitable realisation all the more haunting. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT 2018

 

Bergman: A Year in the Life (2018) | Cannes Film Festival 2018

Dir: Jane Magnusson | Doc | Sweden | 116’

Documentarian Jane Magnusson takes a swipe at Ingmar Bergman’s memory in her sprawling in-depth documentary that marks this year’s centenary of the birth of the Swedish legend. It is an informative expose that lays bare the lesser known side of Bergman and follows on from her 2013 outing Trespassing Bergman where Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen appraised the filmmaker’s staggering oeuvre.

In this current climate of moral rectitude, your judgement of the film will be guided by whether or not you think an artist’s work should stand apart from their personal life. Predicably it emerges that Ingmar was his father’s favourite and  his brother Dag Bergman reveals other intimate details about their childhood together, including his brother’s neurosis that led to stomach pains and sleepless nights.

Opting for a thematic rather than chronological narrative allows Magnusson to zoom in on Bergman’s personality, family and the women in his life in a revealing expose of a man who seemed entirely focused on his own needs. Yet he also emerges as a director who worked closely and intensively with his actors creating female roles that were appealing as well as emotionally and intellectually challenging.

So many documentaries about Bergman have been hagiographic tributes to the national hero, and when a filmmaker reaches these heady heights it becomes difficult to be critical. Since the dawn of time creators have been philanderers and poor parents, driven by their obsession with emotionally consuming work. Does this mean that they should be metaphorically ‘taken out and shot’ or have their work shunned and demonised?

Magnusson’s film is observational in style, cleverly focusing in on 1957, Bergman’s most prolific year as a filmmaker on television and the big screen, with the release of Wild Strawberries and the Seventh Seal, his most autonomous work. It was also the year of his involvement in four theatre productions – including the massive almost unstageable endeavour that was Peer Gynt. 1957 heralded the arrival of his sixth child, with wife Gun Grut, and romances leading to marriage with Käbi Laretei and Ingrid von Rosen, including an affair with actor Bibi Andersson, who starred in the year’s two films. 

Enriched by a wealth of personal photos and footage, there are informative talking heads from the world of film, theatre and literature making this a definitive and ambitious piece of work that reveals a complicated but endearing genius, despite its provocative stance. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8-19 MAY 2018

 

Cold War | Zimna Wojna (2018) | Cannes Film Festival | IN Competition


Dir: Pawel Pawlikowski | Cast| Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Syzc, Agata Kulesza, Cedric Khan, Jeanne Balibar | Drama | Poland

This beguilingly sexy and sad paean to disillusioned romantics everywhere portrays the euphoria we yearn for but cannot always sustain. Cold War spans a decade from the 1940s to the1960s where two lovers are caught inextricably in a web of passion and pain in a peripatetic relationship that saunters back and forth between Paris, Warsaw and Yugoslavia between pianist Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and singer-dancer Zula (Joanna Kulig). Pawlikowski deftly handles love’s heartaches, high and lows with supreme grace and elegance.

Apart from the dazzling artistry – each frame is a sultry masterpiece – one of the most atmospheric elements and one that becomes a character in itself is the music, from Polish and Slavic folksongs to Chopin, Gerswin and Chuck Berry bringing back memories of Polish fare of the 1950s and 1960s scored by Andrzej Trzaskowski and Krzysztof Komeda, but also unites drama with his documentary fare such as Serbian Epics (1992)

Shot in Academy-ratio, Lukasz Zal’s velvety black and white cinematography evokes the 16mm of the era, and its Iron Curtain sensibilities link it to Pawlikowski’s Oscar-winning gem Ida, although this is a more upbeat affair. Love and longing are themes that flourish throughout the director’s films from his time in England, where he shot Last Resort (2000) and My Summer of Love (2004), and the ephemeral nature of The Woman in the Fifth (2011). Pawlikowski’s work also has affinities with the films of Czech New Wave director Hugo Haas. The only subtle flaws is the abrupt departure of Wiktor’s lover Irena (Agata Kulesza)who either leaves through her disgust of Stalin or on seeing her partner caught in the fire of his new flame. But this by no means detracts from its sublime beauty as a concise yet richly-textured piece of work, and every gorgeous handmade tapestry has its endearing flaws. Flowing yet episodic, Cold War is melancholy but endlessly captivating.  

Wiktor and Zula are united by music while he and Irena are curating an ethnomusicological project for dancers which morphs into an the Mazurek Ensemble, an agitprop of the Soviet regime promoting the Aryan heritage of the Poles. Lust envelops them but Kaczmarek’s career keeps him trapped in Communist Poland and when the ensemble travels to East Berlin to perform, Wiktor decides to defect to the West pleading Zula to come with him to Paris. The two profess undying love but flighty Zula bails at the last minute and stays behind in the East. Although she a mercurial woman she lacks the social confidence that Wiktor has inherited from his more grounded bourgeois background. 

There is a deliciously spicy vignette where Jeanne Balibar plays Wiktor’s Parisian lover while Zula arrives at the party claiming to have married a Sicilian glass blower from Palermo. But it is clear that Wiktor and Zula are soul mates whose love transcends time and place. They are eventually drawn back together at the end of the 50s but their love cannot exist in this Cold War world with its privations, poverty and political regime. MT.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8-19 MAY |BEST DIRECTOR AWARD

Ash is Purest White (2018) *** Cannes film Festival | In Competition

Dir: Zhangke Jia | Cast: Tao Zhao, Fan Liao, Xiaogang Feng | Drama | China | 140’

ASH IS PUREST WHITE portrays the eventful relationship between a Chinese petty criminal and the woman whose loyalty to him never dies. This rolling contemplative saga occasionally veers off the beaten track with its indulgent running time of 141 minutes but will still appeal to the director’s ardent followers, featuring the same rough-edged characters who we first meet in 2001 and follow until the bittersweet denouement on New year’s Eve 2018.

Star of Shanxi’s creative community Jia Zhang-ke trained as an architect near his native mining town of Fenyang, just South of Beijing, and brings his aesthetic flair and some magnificent landscapes to this lasting love story set in a dying era. The director’s forte is his graceful way of portraying China’s traditional way of life with its penchant for ceremonial drumming and white-gloved officials, with the chaotic new era vibrantly captured in Eric Gautier’s resplendent camerawork.

Opening in 2001 in his Shanxi homeland, his wife and regular collaborator Zhao Tao plays the confident delicate local beauty Qiao, who frequents the nightclub of her boyfriend Guo Bin (Liao Fan/Black Coal, Thin Ice). And she is no arm candy, establishing herself as a keen advocate of the traditional jianghu codes of loyalty while embracing the modern world, spryly dancing to Village People’s YMCA. 

Respectful of her ageing father she is more playfully assertive with Bin, and when he is assaulted by thugs on motorbikes, she manages to save him by firing shots into the air in a brutal scene that really takes our breath away, but also secures her a spell in prison where she is unwilling to grass on her boyfriend about the ownership of the firearm.

The second act is an upbeat affair that follows Qiao’s release in 2006, and treats us to a sumptuous journey down the Yangtze River in another nod to the sinking glory of the old China versus the brash new world. Qin has proved a feckless boyfriend and is no longer on the scene, but Qiao is keen not to let him slip away so easily, after her sustained loyalty. And when she is robbed of her cash and passport, she bounces back cleverly in some amusing scenes where she gate-crashes a wedding to enjoy the banquet, desperate for food. Qiao finally confronts Bin in a soulful and moving episode that is visually captivating for its exquisitely calm contemplation of the end of their romance. 

As we leave Qiao she is running a gambling hall, and Bin is back in her life, attracted to her strength of character and tenacity. The two actors are mesmerising to watch in their commandingly restrained yet natural performances, exuding a fascinating chemistry that will remain in the memory for a long time after the credits have rolled. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | IN COMPETITION

 

 

Foam at the Mouth | Ar Puma uz Lupam (2017) *** | Cannes Market 2018

Dir.: Janis Nords; Cast: Vilis Daudzins, Ieva Puke, Raimonds Celms, Indra Brike; Latvia/Poland/Lithuania 2017, 80 min.

After tackling the thorny subject of child crime in his Berlinale Grand Prix winner Mother I love You, Janis Nords comes to Cannes Market with an atmospheric thriller that scratches at the edges of horror set in a remote Latvian community where women are the only civilising influence in a community where man and beast converge.

The women here are a tough bunch and none more so than physiotherapist Jana (Puke), whose ex-cop husband Didzis (Daudzius) has lost part of his left leg is and only employable as a dog handler. To makes matters worse, the challenge to his masculinity has reduced Didzis to an hostile neurotic who feeds off his three Alsatians’ aggression, showing them affection in return, particularly his favourite Gina. The neglected Jana is surprised by her own sexual frustration that surfaces while treating seventeen year old Roberts (Celms) at the gym where she practices, and this incident provides a inventive vein of dark humour and tension to the intriguing narrative. Driving home one night,  Jana and Didsis collide with a rabid boar which leaves its infected blood dripping from their truck bumper, and the dogs sniff this out. What follows is a harrowing hunt for the rapid beasts, which attack some students of the school. Meanwhile, Didzis tracks down an enemy of his own, in the shape of Roberts, whose mother soon emerges as a repressive zealot, as the grim storyline reveals that everyone’s life in danger from either from the animal kingdom or the human one.

Matthew A. Gossett’s script is taut and mischievous complimented by DoP Tobias Datum suggestive images, mainly shot at night and in the gloaming when the difference between dogs and humans is distinguishable only by their form. This is a thriller where testosterone driven males and infected dogs seem to be at war at all costs. Foam is more than just symbolic: under the superficial veneer of civilised society, men are deteriorating into atavistic creatures, just like local wild dogs. Made a shoestring, and none the worst for it, FOAM is really frightening at times, as Nords plays on the darkest fears of the human psyche in this tense little B-picture, which would make Sam Fuller proud.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | MARKET SECTION

Cannes Classics 2018

 

This year’s Cannes Classic sidebar has one or two priceless gems glittering in its antique crown. Apart from well-known legends: Ozu’s Tokyo Story, Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Wilder’s Apartment, Varda’s One Sings, The Other Doesn’t and Bondarchuks’ War and Peace, there are some worthwhile lesser known features not be missed.

To start with, there is Henry Decoin’s Beating Heart from 1940, a fitting tribute to leading star Danielle Darrieux, who died last year aged 100. The couple were married while filming this screwball comedy, which was remade in Hollywood in 1946. Darrieux plays Arlette, a young girl running away from a reform school, only to join a school for pick-pockets, run by a Fagin-like character. He instructs her to steal an ambassador’s watch, but Arlette falls in love with him. Like in most of Decoin’s well-structured films, the tempo plays a big role. Decoin was often overlooked as a director, largely because of his rather uneven output, but his post-war noir masterpieces like La Chatte (1958) are really stunning. 

Jacques Rivette is famous for his playful features such as Céline and Juliette go Boating, but his one and only excursion into mainstream, La Religieuse (1966), based on a Diderot novel, is full of anarchic fun. Suzanne Simonin (Anna Karina), is incarcerated in a cloister against her will, and soon falls foul of not one, but three Mother-Superiors: they treat her sadistically, tenderly, or as an object for plain lesbian lust – but Suzanne stays pure. This anti-clerical romp was very popular at the box office, and served as a liberating force for Karina who finally got a divorce from JL Godard after having acted in their final collaboration, Made in USA, in the same year.

Hyenas (1992), directed by Senegalese filmmaker Djibri Diop Mambety (1945-1998), is a re-telling of the Durrenmatt play ‘Der Besuch der alten Dame’ (Visit of an old Lady). Set in an impoverished African village, the old lady in question is very rich – but she has not forgotten how her lover (now the Mayor) had treated her when she was pregnant with his child. She asks the townsfolk a simple question: do they want to participate in her wealth and punish the guilty man, or would they prefer clean hands and poverty. Colourful and very passionate, this adaption of a Swiss play works very well in its African setting.

Diamonds of the Night. Adapted from a short story by Arnošt Lustig, Diamonds in the Night follows two boys (Ladislav Jánsky and Antonín Kumbera) on the run through the forest after escaping a train taking between concentration camps. Showing in the Cannes Classics sidebar, it tributes the Czech New Wave director Jan Nemec whose concept of “pure film”, urged audiences to relate their own experience to the ephemeral fractured narrative he masterfully puts together in this cinematic wartime escape drama..

Youssef Chahine (1926-2008), Egypt’s most famous director, was very critical of radical elements of the Muslim faith. Destiny (1997)  is set in the 12th century in the Spanish province of Andalusia, then ruled by Muslims. The Caliph appoints the liberal philosopher Averros as a high court judge. But his wise and humane judgement become the butt of criticism by a group of radical Muslims, who want to banish the Caliph, using Averros as a means to and end. After a long inner struggle, the Caliph sends the philosopher into exile, but the radicals lose out: Averros’ rule of law has gained popularity all over the province. Chahine, as always, directs with great sensibility, and a brilliant use of colour. 

Finally, there is La Hora de los Hornos (The hour of the Furnace) from Fernando Solanas, a documentary which could only be shown in his homeland of Argentina in 1973, five years after its premiere in 1968. Exploring a central theme of worldwide insurrection, from student unrest in the USA to Czech resistance against the Soviet invasion, Solanas paints a picture of an utopian liberation. Even Argentina, which never really had the slightest hope of a proper democracy – never mind a revolution – is shown as ripe for revolution on behalf of the working masses. Running for over four hours, La Hora is a document of hope, well-structured, passionate and idealistic – but unfortunately overtaken by a grim reality. Still, it is a worthwhile, monumental effort.  AS

THE FULL CLASSICS LINE-UP                 

Beating Heart (Battement de cœur) by Henri Decoin (1939, 1h37, France)
2K Restoration presented by Gaumont in association with the CNC. Image works carried out by Eclair, sound restored by L.E. Diapason in partnership with Eclair.

Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves  by Vittorio De Sica (1948, 1h29, Italy)
Presented by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna, Stefano Libassi’s Compass Film and Istituto Luce-Cinecittà. Restored by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna and Stefano Libassi’s Compass Film, in collaboration with Arthur Cohn, Euro Immobilfin and Artédis, and with the support of Istituto Luce-Cinecittà. Restoration carried out at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory.

Enamorada by Emilio Fernández (1946, 1h39, Mexico)
Presented by The Film Foundation. Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project in collaboration with Fundacion Televisa AC and Filmoteca de la UNAM. Restoration funded by the Material World Charitable Foundation. The film will be introduced by Martin Scorsese.

Tôkyô monogatari (Tokyo Story / Voyage à Tokyo) by Yasujiro Ozu (1953, 2h15, Japan)
Presented by Shochiku. Digital restoration by Shochiku Co., Ltd., in cooperation with The Japan Foundation. For the 4K restoration, the duplicated 35mm negative was provided by Shochiku, managed by Shochiku MediaWorX Inc. and conducted by IMAGICA Corp. French distribution in theaters: Carlotta Films.

Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock (1958, 2h08, United States of America)
Presented by Park Circus. 4K digital restoration from the VistaVision negative done by Universal Studios. The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach).

The Apartment by Billy Wilder (1960, 2h05, United States of America)
Presented by Park Circus with the co-operation of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 4K digital restoration from the original camera negative. Digital restoration completed by Cineteca di Bologna, Colour Grading by Sheri Eissenburg at Roundabout in Los Angeles. Supervised on behalf of Park Circus by Grover Crisp.

Démanty noci (Diamonds of the Night) by Jan Němec (1964, 1h08, Czech Republic)
Presented by the National Film Archive, Prague. The restoration was done by the Universal Production Partners studio in Prague, under the supervision of the National Film Archive, Prague.

Voyna i mir. Film I. Andrei Bolkonsky (War and Peace. Film I. Andrei Bolkonsky) 

by Sergey Bondarchuk (1965, 2h27, Russia)
Presented by Mosfilm Cinema Concern. Digital frame-by-frame restoration of image and sound from 2K scan. Producer of the restoration: Karen Shakhnazarov.

La Religieuse (The Nun)

by Jacques Rivette (1965, 2h15, France)
Presented by Studiocanal. 4K restoration from the original camera negative. Sound restauration from the sound negative (only matching element). Works carried out by L’immagine Ritrovata laboratory under the supervision of Studiocanal and Ms. Véronique Manniez-Rivette with the help of the CNC, the Cinémathèque française and the Fonds culturel franco-américain.

Četri balti krekli (Four White Shirts) 

by Rolands Kalnins (1967, 1h20, Latvia)
Presented by National Film Centre of Latvia. 4K Scan and 3K Digital Restoration from the original 35mm image internegative and print positive materials mastered in 2K. Restoration financed by the National Film Centre of Latvia, the restoration made by Locomotive Productions (Latvia). Director Rolands Kalnins in attendance.

La Hora de los hornos (The Hour of the Furnaces) 

by Fernando Solanas (1968, 1h25, Argentina)
Presented by CINAIN – Cinemateca y Archivo de la Imagen Nacional. 4K Restoration from the original negatives, thanks to Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales (INCAA), in Buenos Aires. With the supervision of director Fernando “Pino” Solanas. French Distribution: Blaq Out. Fernando Solanas in attendance.

Specialists / Gli specialisti)

by Sergio Corbucci (1969, 1h45, France, Italy, Germany)
Presented by TF1 Studio. Full version previously unseen restored in 4K from the original Technicolor-Techniscope image negative and French and Italian magnetic tapes by TF1 Studio. Digital work carried out by L’Image Retrouvée laboratory, Paris / Bologne. French theater distribution: Carlotta Films. The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach).

João a faca e o rio (João and the Knife)

by George Sluizer (1971, 1h30, the Netherlands)
Presented by EYE Filmmuseum, Stoneraft Film in association with Haghefilm Digital. A full 4K restoration of the original 35mm Techniscope camera negative shot by Jan de Bont. By bypassing the originally required analogue blow up to Cinemascope, this digital restoration presents a direct-from-negative colour richness and image sharpness never seen before.

Blow for Blow

by Marin Karmitz (1972, 1h30, France)
Presented by MK2. Restoration carried out by Eclair from the original negative in 2K with the help of the CNC and supervised by director Marin Karmitz. The film will be re-released in French movie theaters on May 16th, 2018. Marin Karmitz in attendance.

L’une chante, l’autre pas (One Sings the Other Doesn’t)

by Agnès Varda (1977, 2h, France)
Presented by Ciné Tamaris.
The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach) with Agnès Varda in attendance.
2k digital restoration from the original negative and restoration, color grading under the supervision of Agnès Varda and Charlie Van Damme. With the support of the CNC, of the fondation Raja, Danièle Marcovici  & IM production Isabel Marant, with the support of Women in Motion / KERING. International Sales MK2 films. Distribution in theaters: Ciné Tamaris (the film will be released in France on July, 4th, 2018).

Grease

by Randal Kleiser (1978, 1h50, United States of America)
Presented by Park Circus and Paramount Pictures. 4K digital restoration from the original camera negative. The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach) with John Travolta in attendance.

Fad,jal

by Safi Faye (1979, 1h52, Senegal, France)
Presented by the CNC and Safi Faye. Digital restoration carried out from the 2K scan of the 16mm negatives. Restoration made by the CNC laboratory. Safi Faye in attendance.

Five and the Skin (Cinq et la peau)

by Pierre Rissient (1981, 1h35, France, Philippines)
Presented by TF1 Studio. 4K restoration from the original camera negative and the French magnetic tape by TF1 Studio with the support of the CNC and the collaboration of director Pierre Rissient. French distribution in theaters: Carlotta Films. Pierre Rissient in attendance.

A Ilha dos Amores (The Island of Love)

by Paulo Rocha (1982, 2h49, Portugal, Japan)
Presented by Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema. 4K wet gate scan of two 35mm image and sound interpositives struck in a Japanese film lab in 1996. Digital grading was made by La Cinemaquina (Lisbon, Portugal) using a 35mm distribution print from 1982 as a reference. Digital restoration of the image was made by IrmaLucia Efeitos Especiais (Lisbon, Portugal).

Out of Rosenheim (Bagdad Café)

by Percy Adlon (1987, 1h44, Germany)
Presented by Studiocanal. 4k Scan and restoration. Work led by Alpha Omega Digital in Munich and carried out under the continuous supervision of director Percy Adlon. Original negative, kept in Los Angeles in excellent condition, processed in Munich for scanning and image by image restoration. The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach) with Percy Adlon in attendance.

Le Grand Bleu (The Big Blue)

by Luc Besson (1988, 2h18, France, United States of America, Italy)
Presented by Gaumont. A 2K restauration. Image work carried out by Eclair, sound restored by L.E Diapason in partnership with Eclair. A screening organized to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the screening of the film opening the Festival de Cannes in 1988. The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach).

Driving Miss Daisy

by Bruce Beresford (1989, 1h40, United States of America)
Presented by Pathé. 4K restoration made from 35mm original image and sound negatives. Restoration carried out by Pathé L’image Retrouvée laboratory (Paris/Bologne) with the collaboration of director Bruce Beresford.

Cyrano de Bergerac

by Jean-Paul Rappeneau (1990, 2h15, France)
Presented by Lagardère Studios Distribution. Scan from the original negative and 4K restoration carried out by L’Image Retrouvée for Lagardère Studios Distribution with the support of the CNC, the Cinémathèque française, the Fonds Culturel Franco-Américain, Arte France–Unité Cinéma, Pathé et Mr. Francis Kurkdjian. French distribution in theaters: Carlotta Films (in progress). Jean-Paul Rappeneau in attendance.

Hyenas

by Djibril Diop Mambety (1992, 1h50, Senegal, France, Switzerland)
Lamb

by Paulin Soumanou Vieyra (1963, 18 min, Senegal) Presented by La Cinémathèque de l’Institut français, Orange and PSV Films. Digital restoration made from 2K scan of the 35mm negatives. Restoration carried out by Eclair.

El Massir (Destiny) 

by Youssef Chahine (1997, 2h15, Egypt, France)
A preview of the full retrospective which will take place at the Cinémathèque française in October 2018, the film will be presented by Orange Studio and MISR International films with the support of the CNC, fostered by the Cinémathèque française. 4K restauration at Éclair Ymagis laboratory by Orange Studio, MISR International Films and the Cinémathèque française with the support of the CNC. The film will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage (Movies on the Beach).

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 71st EDITION | 8 -19 MAY 2018

Border | Grans (2018) | Cannes Film Festival 2018

Dir : Ali Abbasi | Fantasy Drama | Sweden | 104’

BORDER is one of those bracingly original films. Melding fantasy and folklore while teetering on the edge of Gothic horror it manages to be cleverly convincing and unbelievably weird at the same time. Fraught with undercurrents of sexual identity and self-realisation this gruesome rites of passage fable is another fabulous story with enduring appeal for the arthouse crowd and diehard fans of low key horror. Based on a short story by Let the Right One In creator John Ajvide Lindqvist it is Ali Abbasi’s follow up to Shelley and his first with writing partner Isabella Ekloff.

Tina (Melander) has always been an outsider because she suffers from a neanderthal physical appearance of flaring nostrils and a facial gurning movement that mark her out to have the heightened sensory perception of an animal. She feels a particular affinity to the wildlife near her comfortable cabin in the heavily forested woods between Finland and Sweden, and can sense when deer or moose are about to cross the country road. As a customs officer, she has a keen awareness for criminality but she feels diminished by her otherness and lonely: her live-boyfriend Roland (Jorgen Thorssen) is more interested in his pack of dobermans.  

One day she spots an unusual traveller going through custom who looks like her male double and Tina feels a palpable attraction to Vore (Eero Milonoff) who seems to be an entomologist, from the contents of his luggage,  though on further examination this is not all he appears to be. Has Tina found love for the first time, or just somebody from her own tribe? There’s a tone of optimism on the romantic front, and also workwise as Tina’s talents see her become the key investigator in the hunt for a local paedophile.

Abbasi masterfully manages the subtle strands of his storyline while keeping the tension taut and a dark humour bubbling under the surface. Melander’s Tina is gentle and almost submissive character who keeps her tale between her legs, and we feel for her even when her confidence make her more assertive after meeting Vore,  particularly towards her elderly father who has clearly duped her since childhood, and her useless boyfriend. But the denouement of is quite unexpected in this rare curio that keeps you guessing all the way to the end. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | UN CERTAIN REGARD 2018

Wildlife (2018) | Critics’ Week | Cannes Film Festival 2018

Writer|Dir: Paul Dano | Cast: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould | Drama | US | 105’

A teenage boy experiences the breakdown of his parents’ marriage in  Paul Dano’s crisp coming of age family drama, set in 1960s Montana, and based on Richard Ford’s novel.

Although once or twice veering into melodrama, actor Dano maintains impressive control over his sleek and very lucid first film which is anchored by three masterful performances, and sees a young family disintegrate after the husband loses his job.

WILDLIFE has a great deal in common with Retribution Road (2008), its similar theme of aspirational hope for a couple starting out on their life in a new town, in this case Great Falls, Montana. But here the perspective is very different – in Wildlife, the entire experience is seen from the unique perspective of a pubescent boy, Joe, played thoughtfully by young Australian actor Ed Oxenbould (The Visit).

There’s an old-fashioned quality to the film that very much works to its advantage. The date is 1960 and in the mountains behind the family house a forest fire is raging, with warnings that it could well spread to the town centre if not controlled by rangers, who Jerry Brinson (Gyllenhaal) decides to join at a wage of only a dollar an hour, after much moping around the house when he loses his job on the local golf course. This comes as a big surprise to his wife Jeannette (Mulligan), an earnest homemaker who believes in her husband’s desire to make more of himself, and she sees this as a step backwards, career-wise. Meanwhile, Joe signs on as an apprentice to a local portrait photographer, a part-time job he takes to while doing very well in his school work.

Dano and his co-writer Zoe Kazan, stick to a clean, straighforward narrative but there’s a subtle brooding tension at play, and while Joe seems emotionally grounded and resilient (a tribute to his parents), Jerry and Jeannette are less so: although Jerry’s character is the most underwritten of the three, there’s a haunted quality to him as a straightforwaed dad who suddenly implodes after the shock of his firing. Jeannette also starts to lose her own sense of equilibrium:. “What kind of man leaves his wife and child in such a lonely place?,” Jeanette casts around for emotional ballast in an much older wealthy man, Warren Miller (Bill Camp), who she meets while giving swimming classes.

In some ways this fragmented behaviour is character-forming for Joe, his parents have clearly given him a rock solid babyhood, and so he can weather the shocking fliration scenes that take place between Millar and his mother, and his loss at his father’s temporary abandonment, although he finds it all difficult to fathom. This is not a film about adult infidelity and abandonment, but about how a teenage perceives and deals with it, and as such it is beautifully restrained and supremely elegant – the audience is required to suspend disbelief and take a trip back to teenagehood and the bewildering experience it offers. Dano makes the denouement an enigmatic affair, leaving the door open to hope, while acknowledging the inevitable. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8-19 MAY 2018 | CRITICS’ WEEK |

 

Yomeddine (2018) | Cannes Film Festival | In Competiton

Writer|Dir: A B Shawky | Egypt | Drama | 97’

YOMEDDINE (Judgement Day) is a coming of age road drama where two outcasts discover the harshness of the real world outside the lepper colony where they have spent most of their tragic lives. Funded by kickstarter, A B Shawky based his film on real people he met at the Abu Zaabal Leper Colony while filming his awarded documentary The Colony: childless leper Beshay and his schizophrenic wife; Hamed, the legless former truck driver, and Nubian boy Obama. After the death of his wife, we re-join Beshay and his apprentice Obama (Ahmed Abdelhafiz) on a journey south in a donkey cart, to trace the rest of Beshay’s family and find out why his father abandoned him there as a child.

A gentle sardonic humour saves YOMEDDINE from descending into sentimentality, even though the two’s sad plight may often have you close to tears. Newcomer Gamal plays Beshay (who is no longer contagious) with vulnerability and amusing self-deprecation, and the down to earth Obama tags along on the mission.

Poverty and religion are the themes that run through this slim but poignant story. Having been judged all their lives for their looks, when will they be judged for their personalities? Obama is more confident than Beshay but the two share an appealing rapport. During their trip they encounter all sorts of nefarious characters along the way, and although there’s no strong narrative, this watchable film ambles gently on as we enjoy the rapport of the characters and the simple storyline enriched by the passing Egyptian landscapes – that veers off the beaten track, offering sites that are unfamiliar to most. YOMEDDINE is a restrained piece of work that may not travel far, but there is a powerful charm to its journey. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8-19 MAY 2018 | IN COMPETITION

Mean Streets (1973) | Masterclass with Martin Scorsese | Cannes Film Festival 2018

“You don’t make up for your sins in Church. You do it on the streets. You do it at home.  The rest is bullshit, and you know it”

Mean Streets was an autobiographical feature with Harvey Keitel’s character loosely based on Scorsese’s father’s relationship with his younger brother, played by Robert De Niro, who was always in and out of jail. Scorsese explores themes of responsibility and obligation, pondering where they end, and if they ever do in a society based on strong moral ties and close relationships, such as his own strict Catholic upbringing, in a tough working class neighbourhood of Queens, where he suffered from asthma. With no books or money, music and visits to the cinema became his abiding influences. In the film, he asks:. How do good people exist in a bad society, and can they still remain good surrounded by evil. Bad people, too, are often capable of extreme acts of kindness and generosity, so where do the boundaries lie? Most of his work closely examines his close relationships with other men, who were a particular feature of his own life, and he is most familiar with these male bonds: brother; cousins, fathers and friends.He is also interested in exploring compassion in society and how difficult it is to care for others who are challenging and cannot see the light, such as his father’s younger brother.

Before making a film, Scorsese generally locks himself away for 2 weeks and draws the entire thing on paper which he then shows to his DoP. He considers the minute geography of the film he’s working on, examining all the angles thoroughly before starting. His latest film has so many scenes, he has started working more closely with the actors, and making things comfortable for the them, often person by person. 

Robert De Niro phrase YOU TALKING TO ME happened as a pure accident while they were rushing to finish a scene, but it’s become legendary. Another happy accident was Joe Pesci’s line: “ou think I’m funny? These all happened due to time constraints. There has to be laughs during the filmmaking process because the anxiety and tension of making the dark stuff is harrowing, he makes music films as a way of balancing things out. MT 

Dir.: Martin Scorsese Cast: Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, David Proval, Amy Robinson, Jody Foster; USA 1973, 112 min.

Imagine being told by a fellow director you admire, that “you have just spent a year of your life making a peace of shit” – Martin Scorsese was told exactly this by John Cassavetes, after he’d watched Scorsese’s Box Car Bertha (1972). Cassavetes suggested that his next film should resemble his debut feature Who’s that Knocking at my Door? (1967), set in the Italian/American community in New York. Scorsese followed the advice and directed MEAN STREETS – the rest, as they say, is history.

MEAN STREETS (original title ‘Season of the Witch’) takes it title from a Chandler essay: “But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid”. Based on Scorsese and Robert de Niro’s personal experiences in “Little Italy”, MEAN STREETS is a “passion play” – not only because of the religious undertones but also in the sense of the anger and violence displayed. Charlie (Keitel, who had starred in Who’s that Knocking) is in love with money, Teresa and God – in a constantly changing priority. But Charlie’s life is complicated by his best friend Johnny Boy (De Niro), a psychotic gangster who prefers to keep his cash for clothes, instead of paying back his creditors, who will eventually get their own back on him.  Charlie not only has to look after Johnny, he also has to hide his love for Teresa (Robinson), an epileptic girl, who happens to be Johnny’s niece. And then there are Charlie’s relatives, wanting him to take over the family restaurant – very much against his will. The violence escalates after Johnny insults the loan shark Michael once too often. When he, Teresa and Charlie head out of town for a holiday they are ambushed and a professional killer (Scorsese) peppers their car with bullets. Unlike Glenn Ford who comes too late to save his wife from the burning car, in Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat – which Charlie’s uncle is watching on TV; Charlie leaves the severely injured Teresa in the car.

Amazingly MEAN STREETS was shot mainly in Los Angeles, Scorsese – the crew only spent six days in New York. The physical and emotional violence is best symbolised by Jodie Foster’s child prostitute, Iris. Foster was just eleven at the time the film was shot, and her older sister Connie had to body-double for her in the sexually explicit scenes. MEAN STREETS is the key to all Scorsese’s crime films: metaphors and quotes have vie with the violence, the integrated score(often overlaying the fighting – ironically), seventies hits such as ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘I Looked Away’, religious themes and the lack of male engagement, leading to the brutal conclusion of total annihilation.

Whilst MEAN STREETS was not a success at the box office, the New York Times’ film critic wrote after the premiere: “No matter how bleak the milieu, no matter how heart breaking the narrative, some films are thoroughly, beautifully realised, they have a kind of tonic effect that has no relation to the subject matter. Such a film is Mean Streets”. Amen. AS

MARTIN SCORSESE MASTERCLASS FOR HIS CAROSSE D’OR | THEATRE CROISETTE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018| NOW OUT ON DUAL FORMAT | BLURAY COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA

Cannes Film Festival 2018 | On the Croisette – off the cuff update

Festival bigwig Thierry Frémaux warned us to expect shocks and surprises from this year’s festival line-up, distilled down from over 1900 features to an intriguing list of 18 – and there will be a few more additions before May 8th. The main question is “where are the stars?” or better still “Where is Isabelle Huppert” doyenne of the Croisette – up to now. The answer seems to be that they are on the jury – presided by Cate Blanchett, who is joined by Lea Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Denis Villeneuve, Robert Guédiguian, Ava Duvernay, Khadja Nin, Chang Chen and Andrey Zvyagintsev.

Last year’s 70th Anniversary bumper issue seems to have swept in a more eclectic and sleek selection of features in the competition line-up vying for the coveted Palme D’Or. There are new films from veterans Jean-Luc Godard (The Image Book), Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman) and Oscar winner Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War), and some very long films – 9 exceed two hours. Three female filmmakers make the main competition in the shape of Caramel director Nadine Labaki with Capernaum, Alice Rohrwacher with Lazzaro Felice and Eve Husson presenting Girls of the Sun. Kazakh filmmaker Sergei Dvortsevoy rose to indie fame at Cannes Un Certain Regard 2008 with his touching title Tulpan, and he is back now in the main competition line-up with a hot contender in the shape of AYKA or My Little One. 

Scanning through the selection for British fare – the Ron Howard “directed” (Thierry’s words not mine) Solo, A Star Wars Story stars Thandie Newton, Paul Bethany and Emilia Clarke but no sign of Mike Leigh’s Peterloo. And although Matteo Garrone’s Dogman is there and is a hot contender for this year’s Palme, the much-awaited Jacques Audiard latest The Sisters Brothers, and Joanna Hogg’s hopeful The Souvenir Parts I and II are nowhere to be seen- but Lars von Trier is still very much ‘de trop’ on the Riviera, or so it would seem. Thierry is still thinking about this one. And on reflection he has now added The House That Jack Built – out of competition.

Apart from Godard, there are two other French titles: Stéphane Brizé will present At War, and Christophe Honoré’s Sorry Angel – in competition, and these features will open shortly afterwards in the local cinemas – to keep the Cannois happy. The Un Certain Regard sidebar has 6 feature debuts in a line-up of 15. And the special screening section offers Wang Bing’s Dead Souls with its 8 hour running time  allowing for a quick petit-dej on the Croisette before the following days’ viewing starts!

It Follows director David Robert Mitchell will be in Cannes with his eagerly anticipated follow-up Under the Silver Lake. And Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke  brings another Palme d’Or hopeful in the shape of Ash is Purest White, starring his wife and long-term collaborator Tao Zhao.  First time director A B Shawky presents the only debut feature in the competition strand Yomeddine – a leper road movie from Egypt – and it’s a comedy!. Iranians Jafar Panahi (Three Faces) and Asghar Farhadi (Everybody Knows) also make the list – with Farhadi’s film starring Penelope Cruz and husband Javier Bardem and opening the festival this year.

So out with the old guard – Naomi Kawase included – and in with the new – is Thierry’s message this year. Let’s hope it’s a good one. And stay tuned for more additions and coverage from the sidebars Un Certain Regard, ACID, Semaine de la Critique and Directors’ Fornight. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8 -22 MAY 2018

COMPETITION LINE-Up

EVERY BODY KNOWS – Asghar Farhadi

AT WAR - Stéphane Brizé 

DOGMAN – Matteo Garrone

LE LIVRE D’IMAGE – Jean-Luc Godard

NETEMO SAMETEMO (ASAKO I & II) (ASAKO I & II) – Ryusuke Hamaguchi

SORRY ANGEL – Christophe Honore

GIRLS OF THE SUN – Eva Husson

ASH IS PUREST WHITE – Zia Zhangke

SHOPLIFTERS – Kor-eda Hirokazu

CAPERNAUM – Nadine Labaki

BUH-NING (BURNING) – Lee Chang-Dong

BLACKKKLANSMAN – Spike Lee

UNDER THE SILVER LAKE – David Robert Mitchell

THREE FACES – Jafar Panahi

ZIMNA WOJNA/Cold War – Pawel Pawlikowski

LAZZARO FELICE – Alice Rohrwacher

LETO – Kirill Serebrennikov

YOMEDDINE – A B Shawky

KNIFE + HEART – Yann Gonzalez

AYKA –  Sergey Dvortsevoy, director of Tulpan, winner of the Prize Un Certain Regard in 2008.

These two films by Yann Gonzalez and Sergey Dvortsevoy are both directors’ second feature. It will be their first time in Competition.

AHLAT AGACI (THE WILD PEAR TREE) – Nuri Bilge Ceylan, winner of the Palme d’or 2014 for Winter Sleep.

The Competition 2018 will be composed of 21 films.

SHADOW – Zhang Yimou (out of competition)

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT – Lars von Trier (out of competition)

_______________________________________________

 71st CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8-20 MAY 2018

 

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) | Cannes Film Festival 2018

Dir: Ron Howard | Writers: Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan | Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Bettany | US | Action adventure | 135′ 

In 2002, it was Star Wars – Episode II – Attack of the Clones and in 2005, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. In 2018, what is one of the greatest legends in the history of cinema has returned to the red carpet here at Cannes, presented Out of Competition.

The saga’s second spin-off is the latest film of the Star Wars galaxy by Ron Howard bringing together Han Solo, his faithful Chewbacca, the crooked Lando Calrissian, the Millenium Falcon and of course the droids. This adventure takes us back to the youth of the famous smuggler, ace pilot and charming scoundrel, Han Solo. Written by Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan, and directed by Ron Howard, who starred in George Lucas’ classic American Graffiti and directed numerous popular and critical hits such as Apollo 13 (1995) or A Beautiful Mind (2002, Oscars for best film and director).

Alongside Alden Ehrenreich (Blue Jasmine, 2013) who plays Han Solo, it has local Hampstead resident Thandie Newton (Jefferson in Paris); Woody Harrelson (No Country For Old Men), Emilia Clarke (Terminator Genisys), Donald Glover (The Martian), , Phoebe Waller-Bridge (The Iron Lady), Joonas Suotamo (Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi) and Paul Bettany (Dogville).

The World is Yours (2018) ***


Dir: Romain Gavras | Writers: Noe Debre, Romain Gavras, Karim Boukercha | Cast: Isabelle Adjani, Vincent Cassel, Francois Damiens, Karim Leklou, Norbert Ferrer | Comedy Crime | France | 100′

Romain Gavras’ rambunctiously glossy gangster comedy is stashed with French household names and beats as it sweeps towards a preposterous finale. Best known for his music videos for the likes of Jaz-Z, this energetically stylish comedy is full of French verve and punchy argot making it less accessible for non-French speakers with its raucous, over-the top absurdity. Isabelle Adjani and Vincent Cassel boost a brash and ballsy plotline that sees a North African crime syndicate dream of better things from their humble Paris council flats. A Prophet‘s Karim Leklou (Fares) is the surprising standout as a feisty grifter who is desperate to make some cash so he can retire to the sun. Meanwhile his unmanageable matriarch Danny (Adjani) has her own hair-brained schemes, so it’s up to mid-mannered Fares and his motley crew to make it all happen. Bonkers but delightful if you like this kind of French caper. MT

NOW SHOWING AT CINE LUMIERE FROM 25 APRIL 2019 | QUINZAINE 2018

Wonderstruck (2017) ***

Dir: Todd Haynes | Cast: Julianne Moore, Toby Jones, Michelle Williams | Amy Hargreaves | US | Drama | 120min

Scripted by Brian Selznick based on his 2011 novel, Todd Haynes follows his gorgeously sumptuous Carol with twee and self-indulgent schmaltz. It follows similarly nostalgic lines, the childhood wonder and magic connected to happy memories of the past. But the retrospective often magical reveries finally emerging in a narrative voiceover require us to marvel at the serendipity of fate. Often we remember what we chose to and clothe it in swathes of golden glory. Wonderstruck is by no means a bad film but it often feels disingenuous and sentimentally saccharine – it is a film that congratulates itself it a glow of smugness composed of an intertwining narrative that sashays back and forth about two aurally-impaired children who grow up at different moments in time, who are lonely and head for the bright lights of the city away from the unhappiness of their rural homes.

Ben (Oakes Fegley) is a troubled kid from Gunflint, Minnesota whose single mother (Michelle Williams) was killed in a car crash before he got to know the identity of his father. When he hits the big time arriving in 1970s New York (a lovely imaginative scenes and one of the best in the film) he finds a book with a message to his mother from a person called Danny and decides to follow up on the address written there. The narrative then flips back to 1927 where Rose (Millicent Simmonds) is entranced by a Hollywood silent movie star Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore). Rose also makes her way to the big City to see her idol perform on the stage. And the two stories collide through their characters’ mutual fascination with the Museum of Natural History. Rose’s strand is the weaker and least convincing of the two. To say that her love of silent movies is connected to her deafness is rather glib and completely overlooks the vital component of orchestral accompaniment that brings this form alive. Although Ben’s strand is more engaging it lacks the ability to deal with major plotholes and inconsistencies that culminate in its absurd denouement. Wonderstuck is certainly well-meaning but ends up being worthy and caught up with its own importance in some of the longueurs in the museum. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6 APRIL 2018

 

 

120 BPM (2017) ***

Dir: Robin Campillo Writer: Robin Campillo | Cast: Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adele Haenel, Yves Heck, Coralie Russier | 135min | Drama | French

Robin Campillo’s follow up to Eastern Boys is a cinéma vérité style drama that reflects  his own years as an AIDS activist during Mitterand’s 1990s government. It makes a brave and honest attempt to communicate the frustration felt by many sufferers of the disease through an organisation that calls itself Act Up.

120 BEATS feels quite conventional in style, and clearly Campillo feels so strongly about the film’s themes that he has decided not to be too ambitious artistically – the result is rather bland and overlong at 142 minutes, but certainly valuable as a lasting testament to the era, and a fight that continues. Most impressive are the naturalistic performances, particularly from Hanaele as the strong-minded Sophie, and the evocative score with tunes from Bronski Beat.

The film opens with during a rowdy meeting of Act Up in a brightly lit venue where clicking of fingers replaces clapping as a signal of approval. The group’s members, not all sufferes, are encouraged to be vocal and expressive. There follows a raucous demonstration in the offices of a drug company refusing to release its test results. There are romantic interludes with rather overplayed graphic sex that takes place between the feisty young Chilean French Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), who has fully blown Aids,  as he falls for HIV-negative Nathan (Arnaud Valois). Their relationship is only really examined in the light of Sean’s illness and none of characters is fleshed out enough for us to engage with their plight, which is a shame.

Artistically there are one or two inventive flourishes such as when the sparkles from the disco lights are transformed into the virus, but it’s clear that Campillo does not want to cloud his central message with aesthetic mastery. Also, the aggressive energy generated by some of the more unappealing characters make it difficult for us to feel for them in their plight, despite Campillo’s witty script. Beats per Minutes has garnered much critical acclaim for its important subject matter, but a worthy theme alone does not make film brilliant and this is a decent but unremarkable third feature from Campillo. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 6 APRIL THROUGH CURZON | PREVIEWING AT BFI FLARE

The Passionate Friends (1949) *****


Dir: David Lean | Writer: David Lean, Eric Ambler; Stanley Haynes, David Lean (both adaptation); H.G. Wells (novel) | Cinematography: Guy Green | Cast: Ann Todd, Claude Rains, Trevor Howard, Isabel Dean, Betty Ann Davies | UK | Drama | 95′

Before embarking on his widescreen epics, this romantic drama was Lean’s first filming foray outside the UK when he replaced Ronald Neame as director, due to clashes with Ann Todd. For his part, Lean had been having an affair with Todd for some time and the two would eventually marry sometime shortly after filming The Passionate Friends which competed in Cannes on the year of its release.

Travelling to Chamonix and Lake Annecy in Switzerland The Passionate Friends tells a similar love story to that of Brief Encounter (1945) although on this occasion the focus is on the ménage à trois rather than simply the couple in love, although all three characters here are aware of each other and essentially out of control concealing their emotional distress with a graceful sense of propriety and aplomb. The classic English rose Ann Todd stars as a woman who has one last flirt with the man she had fallen in love with (Trevor Howard’s Steven), before marrying Claude Rains’ rich banker for stability, wealth and social position. While on her luxurious Swiss holiday awaiting her husband’s arrival, Todd’s Mary Justin reflects on her previous lover who has been (unknowingly) booked into the hotel room next to hers. Mary had refused to marry Steven fearing their sexual passion would stifle her emotional integrity, and therefore her freedom to operate as an individual. With Howard she enjoys an affectionate companionship, but it she really as emotionally independent in her marriage as she imagines? In their thoughtful script, Lean, his co-writers and H G Wells explore how habit, affection and compatibility can be just as emotionally bonding as sexual passion, where marriage is concerned.

Captured in Guy Green’s box-fresh black and white camerawork, the elegant London interiors contrast with the magnificence of the Swiss lakeside settings to offer an enjoyable moral drama, and although it lacks much of the tear-jerking emotional undertow of Brief Encounter, The Passionate Friends is unexpectedly moving largely due to Claude Rains’ impeccable performance as the financier, Howard Justin. It is also notable for H.G. Wells’ romantic storyline that explores different kinds of loving and commitment – quite a departure from his usual Sci-fi writing but displaying a consummate understanding of male and female psychology – and Lean successful employs the use of flashback to achieve considerable dramatic tension, particularly in the final denouement.

Ronald Neame was not the only one to have issues with Todd. According to David J. Skal in the biography Claude Rains: An Actor’s Voice: “Rains disliked Todd, who he felt had wasted everyone’s time through her prima donna behavior with Neame over the script and Neame’s direction. As Lean later told his biographer, Kevin Brownlow, “I said I was going to stop the picture. We couldn’t go on spending money at that rate. We had commitments to Claude Rains, and we had permission to pay him in dollars. You don’t realise how difficult that was. That had to be a top-level decision. He’d already been sitting there doing nothing for most of the time he’d been in the country.” In addition to his dislike of Todd, Rains was also concerned about Lean’s personal life which seemed to be slipping over onto the set and affecting the picture. He also knew that Lean was seeing a psychoanalyst at the time which didn’t bode well. Yet, Rains recognized Lean’s immense talent and said, “I can’t say enough about the man as a director. He’s magnificent.” (TCM).

NOW AVAILABLE ON BFI PLAYER AND DVD

 

You Were Never Really Here (2017) ***

Dir: Lynne Ramsay | Writer: Jonathan Ames| Lynne Ramsay | Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alessandro Nivola, Alex Manette, John Doman | Thriller | 95min

New York is the setting of Lynne Ramsay’s claustrophobic psychodrama about a troubled soul who brings his abusive past to bear in his work as a hit man. Featuring a tortured performance from Joaquin Phoenix, it glimpses a world much darker and more deadly that the woozy snapshot we get here. Ramsay is more interested in probing the inner workings of her character’s mind than focusing on the sordid underworld of ‘private security’ and directs from a script adapted by Jonathan Ames from his original novel.

Phoenix plays Joe, a damaged Travis Bickle-like loner and former soldier who would have us believe there is a righteous place in the world for him that is hitherto undiscovered. But until that moment arrives he is tasked with rescuing a teenager whose wealthy father wants to avoid contact with the authorities. Teenager Nina (a fragile Ekaterina Samsonov) is the daughter of minor politician Votto (Alex Manette), a sidekick in Alessandro Nivola’s election campaign for senator, and has been lured into a sex-trafficking ring. Joe is tasked with getting the teen back to Votto, in a local hotel. But the scheme backfires when other criminal elements infiltrate the ring and the film descends into a hazy contemplation of Joe’s broken psyche that gradually melds with the ambiant violence of the botched release.

Ramsay’s effort to blend a crime thriller with claustrophobic character study is a brave one that feels much more nuanced and tuned-out than Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, but sadly lacks the resonance and gutsy sense of time and place. That said, it’s a well-crafted thriller with an auteurish, almost poetic feel that contrasts impressively with the stark stabs of savage violence that punctuate this tawdry twisted tale. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 9 MARCH NATIONWIDE

After the Storm (2016) | Bluray release

Director| Writer: Kore-Eda Hirokazu | 117min | Drama | Japan | Cast: Hiroshi Abe, Yoko Maki, Taiyo Yoshizawa, Satomi Kobayashi. Cert tbc, 120 mins.

There are some really witty and perceptive moments in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s AFTER THE STORM, this is one of his more underplayed and subtle films that celebrates the comforting simplicity of everyday family life. Lighter and less sentimental than I Wish (2011), Like Father, Like Son (2013) and Our Little Sister (2015), this is a genial film with a gentle feelgood vibe as it explores the inter-generational conflict without ever being hard-egded or judgemental in doing so.

Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) is having a difficult time of being a son and a father. A failed writer and budding private detective in Kiyose (Kore-eda’s home town) he feels unfulfilled with his role as a voyeur in other people’s marriages and is working on another book. An expert gambler, most of his cash goes on feeding this habit and we’re led to believe it was responsible for his marriage breakdown to Kyoko (Yoko Maki), and jeopardising payments to his young son Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa).

Mourning the recent death of his father, Ryota frequently goes home to his canny old mother   Yoshiko (Kilin Kiki), from whom he steals lottery tickets and food whilst hoping to build bridges towards a closer relationship. The storm of the title is actually the 23rd typhoon to hit Tokyo in 2016 and it’s gradually making its presence known in nearby Tokyo. This act of God means that Ryota will have to spend the night with his mother with his ex-wife and son and sparks the beginnings of a poignant family rapprochment that is both humorous and delicately sad.

This is a well-crafted domestic drama where some of the comedy focuses on food preparation with surprising authenticity. It one scene Ryota attempts to eat his mother’s home made sorbet: “this has a refrigerator smell” – Japan may be a different cuisine and culture, but this well-observed  comment will be familiar to everyone. MT|

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY FROM 19 FEBRUARY

The Cinema Travellers (2017) ****

Dir: Shirley Abrahams, Amit Madheshiya | Doc | 96′

Indians all over the sub-continent have always been united by their love of film. From Bollywood to the arthouse cinema of Tollywood (home of Telugu and Bengal), India has one of the world’s richest and most prolific film industries giving pleasure to young and old, rich and poor alike. THE CINEMA TRAVELLERS is the story of three men and their passion to keep film alive by bringing it to their fellow countrymen, wherever they may be.

Five years in the making, this joyfully touching documentary takes filmmakers Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya on the road with two mobile cinemas that journey across rural India with the men behind the endeavour of offering their films to communities who share their love of the movies. Times have changed since the trio first put the show on the road but it is a show that must go on despite the challenges.

None of them has become rich – most of the time plying their trade to the poorest of the remote communities is a struggle for survival; a labour of love that brings deep satisfaction rather than financial gain, but they make ends meets. We meet the amiable 70-year old projector specialist whose 40 years in the repair business have seen the gradual rise of digital film, and as the future bids farewell to past, his cranky projector is finally put to rest, his rain-damaged stock of magical moving images reduced to a blur. Then there is the cinema manager with a young family clamouring for cash back home, to put food on the table. Both are driven by a desire to work in the industry they love and this authentic cinema verité portrait records their genuine zest, sometimes tempered by moments of sadness at the passing of the old days, but without ever resorting to sentimentality.

In the end, the team are excited by the future of digital projection as they unveil their brand new projector, one comments:”I’m as happy as a man on his wedding day”. There’s a gentleness and philosophy in all these men, and this subtle and atmospheric arthouse gem blends the poignancy of the past with the thrill of the future of film. In India the love of film feels on a par with Britain’s obsession with football. MT

THE CINEMA TRAVELLERS | Bertha Dochouse, The Curzon Bloomsbury at the Brunswick, London WC1N 1AW FROM 26 JANUARY 2018

The Mystery of Picasso (1956) | Bluray release

Dir: Henri-Georges Clouzot | DoP: Claude Renoir | With Pablo Picasso | French | Doc | 78”

The only mystery about Picasso to many people is his legendary popularity given his well-documented abuse of his lovers which today would, no doubt, give reason for public outcry along the lines of the #metoo campaign: “Women are machines for suffering” Picasso told his mistress Françoise Gilot in 1943, and this statement is certainly borne out in his often tortured and butchered depictions of the female subjects which was clearly echoed in real life. Picasso was a serial adulterer who drew strength and artistic inspiration from his lovers, two of whom killed themselves, and one died of natural causes only four years into their relationship.

But his skill as an artist and painter is undisputed and masterfully captured here in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1956 film showing Picasso in the act of creating works for the camera. Many of these paintings were subsequently destroyed and may only still exist on film. Clouzot was not the first to depict Picasso’s process of creation, that honour fell to Belgian director Paul Haesaerts in his BAFTA-winning A Visit to Picasso (1949) that featured the Malaga-born painter sketching out images on glass plates from the viewpoint of the camera.

Picasso was a master of simplicity. With a handful of black marks he could suggest a form that would be gradually fleshed out to a full scale sketch, collage or oil painting. Here, Claude Renoir’s camera captures each artwork’s creation as it comes into being, utilising a series of transparent canvases, until the final reel when the film switches to a CinemaScope ratio and burst into colour. The film went on to win the Special Jury Prize at Cannes 1956. Truly magnifique! MT

OUT ON BLURAY FROM 22 JANUARY 2018 together with A VISIT TO PICASSO and Man Ray’s ‘home movie’ LA GAROUPE (1937). 

 

 

Blade of the Immortal (2017)

Dir: Takashi Miike | Writers: Hiroaki Samura, Tetsuya Oishi | Action Thriller | Japan | 140′

Seasoned manga director Takashi Miike seems to be live forever like his hero Manji played by Takuya Kimura in what is purported to be the Japanese director’s 100th film. How can any artist be original with this body of work behind him, Indeed, BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL lacks the inventive touches of his earlier work but it’s certainly enjoyable and as highly polished as Majii’s extensive weaponry. Adapted from Hiroaki Samura’s manga of the same name, it follows a Shogunate samurai warrior who is endowed with immortality due to the poisoned chalice delivered on him by a white-veiled Buddist nun in the opening scenes. This curse – or boon – depending on how you look at it, is delivered in the form of ‘sacred’ bloodworms scattered on his fatal wounds inflicted during a fight to avenge his sister’s death at the hands of the ruthless Itto-ryu, a school of fighters led by the weirdly tattooed Anotsu (Soto Fukushi). In this way he is rendered impervious to lethal wounds – which heal at the drop of a sword – severed limbs cleverly finding their back to his body. Initially this sounds just the ticket for a Shogun warrior, but as time goes by he gets sick and tired of the whole charade until he meets cute Rin (teen star Hana Sugisaki), a determined tomboy who iis also seeking revenge for her parents who were also slain by the Itto-ryu. This is flesh on the bloody bones of the saga, which limps on in a gore-fuelled second act which never really develops its existing immortal characters but just keeps on introducing us to other ghoulish weirdos including Sabato Kuroi (Kazuki Kitamura) and mysterious monk Eiku Shizuma (Ebizo Ichikawa) who appears to possess an antidote to the bloodworms  in a series of subplots during its 140 minutes of blood-letting and limp-lopping tempered, with occasional stabs of humour amid the mass slaughter. All good clean fun. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 8 DECEMBER 2017

 

The Death of Louis XIV (2016)| bluray release

Director: Albert Serra Writers: Thierry Lounas | Cast: Jean-Pierre Leaud, Bernard Belin, Philippe Crespeau, Filipe Duarte, Irene Silvagni | 110min | Biopic Drama | France\Spain

Dying very slowly is always going to be a painful affair, especially in the 18th Century. The lack of medical knowledge and the quackery of charlatan doctors, not to mention the absence of pain relief, clearly made the final hours of life unbearable even for the privileged Roi de Soleil (1638-1715).

French New Wave veteran Jean-Pierre Léaud gives a performance of subtle dignity as Louis XIV in Catalan director Albert Serra’s painterly and well-paced portrait that captivates and mesmerises for just under two hours, despite its length and almost entire confinement to the interior of the King’s rooms in Versailles.

Crafted in the same luminescence as his Locarno Golden Leopard Winner The Story of My Death that explored an encounter between Casanova and Dracula, Albert Serra this time casts professional actors instead of newcomers and the result is a drama that resonates and delights both visually and emotionally..

We first meet the Bourbon King taking in the mellow pleasures of late summer in the grounds of the palace of Versailles in a scene that oozes balmy fruitfulness in the gentle Autumn  breeze. Already suffering from gangrene in his leg he is confined to a creaky wheelchair that travels at a snail’s pace like the remainder of the film – and none the worse for it.

Retiring to his boudoir after a brief glimpse of court where he flourishes a feathered hat at the ladies in recognition of their invitation to a soirée – which he declines – clearly proves he is  much loved and admired amongst his female côtérie. Although the rest of the film takes place in the confines of his bed chamber it never once feels claustrophobic or unpleasant despite the sight of his gangrenous leg and his numerous attempts to imbibe his favourite ‘Vin d’Alicante’ and biscotti. Louis cuts a fragile but endearing and rather kindly figure, if a little cantankerous late at night when he demands water – but only to be served in his crystal glass – and one who commands respect and even sympathy in final hours of suffering.

Serra manages to evoke the majesty of his legendary opulence with just a few props and trinkets obviating the need for a large budget and or a vast cast and crew. But there is still no doubt as to the power Louis commands from his court and personal advisers who are seen clapping when the king does manage to down the odd grape or two after several weeks of illness, that seem to indicate a reprise especially when he orders a ‘chicken chaud froid’ shortly before slipping away.

Louis continues to reign from the comfort of his lacy underpinnings with the assistance of his physician, Fagon (Patrick D’Assumcao), and priest Le Tellier (Jacques Henric), who crowd around his bed. Clearly they compete for the King’s praise and like many great men he exerts power over them with his waning authority still sparking imperiousness with moments of touching vulnerability as he struggles to maintain control.

Sumptuously mounted and richly textured this is a film to savour and enjoy, and its finest moment is undoubtedly when a magnificent Mozart mass plays on the soundtrack as Louis listens in all his finery. Long live the King!. MT .

NOW OUT ON Bluray

 

Devil’s Freedom | La Libertad del Diablo (2017) | Lff 2017

Dir/Writer: Everardo Gonzalez. Mexico, 2017, 74′

Mexico has become synonomous with terror when it comes to the drug trade. In dramas such as Heli and Sicario the horror and casual violence of modern life emerges through stories of ordinary people caught up in a criminal underworld, as here in Devil’s Freedom (La Libertad del diablo), a rather dry but important documentary that gives testament to the endemic corruption caused largely though drug wars, but also in criminality of all kinds, where life is cheapened by man’s desire to fight for control of land and filthy lucre.

The characters interviewed in El Paso Director Everardo Gonzalez’ often harrowing film are often fully masked as he calmly interviews them off camera, allowimg them full amd frank expression of their grief and suffering. Some of them break down as they tell of  the torture, loss of life and trauma they have endured in the war against drugs which has claimed over 100,000 lives in the past five years. This is a number that beggars belief, but the authorities are often as corrupt as the public involved.

The gruelling constant mask to camera confessions are often punctuated with sorties into indiscrimate landscapes picturing the grim light of dawn or masked gunman travelling in trucks on the desert roads, or abandoned and dilapidated sights where sinister events have seemingly taken place. Either way, this makes for gruelling viewing.

Gonzalez never resorts to sensationalism, maintaining his distance with the occasional question that begs for description rather than sympathy. Neither does he attempt to contextualise events or seek explanation for Mexico’s malaise. Sufferers and perpetrators alike express fear, regret and shame. There seems little hope for redemption or hope in film’s incediary finale. MT

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2017

 

The Summit | La Cordillera (2017)

Dir.: Santiago Mitre; Cast: Ricardo Darin, Paulina Garcia, Elena Anaya, Christian Slater, Dolores Fonzi; Agentina/France/Spain 017, 114.

Another corruscating critique of politics comes from Director/co-writer Santiago Mitre (Paulina) whose cynical eye captures the way politicians deal with each other and their citizens. In spite of structural fault lines, Mitre captures an uneasiness which also affects the personal sphere of the participants.

Argentine president Hernan (Darin) travels to Chile where the presidents of eleven South American States meet to form an Oil producing conglomerate on the same lines as OPEC. But Hernan has trouble at home: his estranged daughter Marina is mentally unstable, and her ex-husband threatens to unmask the president with a corruption scandal which happened when Hernan was a mayor. Hernan is welcomed by the Chilean president (Garcia), who has chosen a mountain retreat in the Andes, reminiscent of the Swiss Alps, for the titular summit. Behind the scenes meetings are obviously more important than public, plenary sessions, as it becomes soon clear that Hernan’s vote will be decisive. The Brazilian president is totally opposed to any participation of the USA, whilst Hernan plays a waiting game. Suddenly, all hell breaks lose with his daughter and son in law making his official duties fraught with difficulty, and the American envoi (Slater), makes him an offer that’s almost impossible to refuse. The only honourable person seems to be a journalist (Anaya), who grills the presidents mercilessly. But Hernan is not the only one well-schooled in avoiding concrete answers. The mountain resort is not only geographically removed from the population, it is a symbol of the political structure of the sub-continent. Hernan is sleeping with a mistress, and the luxury of the surroundings lacks for nothing: it might as well be Washington DC. The score by Alberto Iglesias reflects the uneasiness of the setting, and Javier Julia’s (Wild Tales) images, particularly the panoramic shots from high above, show the splendid isolation of the rulers. AS

BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | 4-15 OCTOBER 2017

Beauty and the Dogs | Aala Kaf Ifrit (2017)

1eefebec3515b791dbe30a1852af3172Dir.: Kaouther Ben Hania; Cast: Mariam Al Ferjani, Ghanem Zrelli; Tunisia/France/Sweden 2017, 100 min.

Writer/director Kaouther Ben Hania’s mockumentary The Blade of Tunis raised eyebrows in her home-country of Tunisia. For her first feature she has chosen another provocative theme: police brutality. Based on the novel Coupable d’Avoir eté Violé (2013) by Meriem Ben Mohamed and Ava Djamhidi, her film makes for a harrowing watch, shot in nine single sequences by Johan Holmquist.

Mariam (Al Ferjani) is a student, who goes to a party with her friends, where she is attracted to Yousef (Zrelli)  But the evening is far from romantic. After the pair go to a nearby beach, Mariam is captured and raped by two policeman, whilst a third forces Yousef to go to an ATM and take money out, for not arresting him. But Mariam’s ordeal has only just began and although Yousef supports her, the hostility she meets from hospital staff, both the private and public, is shocking. Doctors refuse to certify Mariam’s injuries, and send her to the police station, fearing conflict with the authorities. There, Mariam is questioned aggressively, called more or less a slut for not wearing a burka, and unfortunately, one of the police officers recognises Yousef as one of the demonstrators during the recent unrest. But worse is to come when Mariam and Yousef turn up at the station of the accused officers’ police station where the young woman is reminded, to “think about the honour of her country” and asked to withdraw her accusations. Yousef, shouting “this entire country is a prison’” is arrested, and Mariam left alone with the officers.

BEAUTY AND THE DOGS is a tour de force of resistance by Mariam, who somehow finds the strength to persevere with her case. The only criticism here is Ben Hania’s failure to reveal what really happens until the final scenes: when Mariam lays on the floor of the police station, watching it all on her mobile. This way, unnecessary tension keeps the audience in suspense and away from the unfolding drama. That said, Ben Hania offers a fearless and spirited story from her native Tunisia. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2017

The Merciless (2017)

Dir: Byun Sung-hyun | Cast: Him Si-wan, Sul Kyung-gu | Crime Thriller | South Korea | 117′

Byun Sung-hyun’s The Merciless looks absolutely stunning as it opens on the waterfront where a man is celebrating his release from prison with his gangland mentor as a series of revelations about their ambitious past slowly unfurls in this dramatic and stylish thriller that often feels a bit too clever for its own good.

Jo Hyun-su (Yim Si-wan) is the young criminal and Han Jae-ho (Sul Kyung-gu) his aspirational father figure in this noirish South Korean exploration of like-minded friendship between felons. As long as you don’t thing too much it slips down as easily as a lychee cocktail.

Although this sounds like a contradiction in terms, the two have high hopes of rising to the top the criminal underworld. Hyun-su sons proves himself to the older Jae-ho (Sol Kyung-gu)  by saving his life in a knife attack and this loyalty leads to them working together once they are back in the real world. But when push come to shove their motives are very different. Jae-ho is desperate for a chance to kill his boss, Chairman Ko (Lee Kyoung-young) who was behind the attempted prison hit. Meanwhile, Hyun-su is tasked with taking down a enterprise linked to the Russian mafia, in an operation led by the masterful Chief Cheon (Jeon Hye-jin) who is bent on putting Ko and his associates in the klink.

This is a colourful and tonally cohesive genre thriller which have echoes of Infernal Affairs. Visually it’s lushly and vibrant but narratively there are drawbacks. Performance-wise too there is much to enjoy and the rapport between the leads crackles with charismatic, especially in regard to Yim Si-wan (a Korean pop singer who also goes by the name of Siwan). And although the film is more style over content, it’s a good-looking piece of filmmaking that slightly outstays its welcome at nearly two hours. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | CANNES REVIEW

Mimosas (2016)

Dir: Oliver Laxe | Writer: Santiago Fillol | Drama | 96min | French and Arabia

In medieval Morocco, two nefarious tribesmen are tasked with accompanying a dying sheikh through the treacherous Atlas Mountains in Oliver Laxe’s eerily hypnotic arthouse drama.

Best described as a meditation on the strength of religious faith, this proves to be a gruelling journey – both physically and metaphorically – but it is resonant and ravishing to watch in its and spartan simplicity, and set to an atmospheric occasional score it has the striking otherworldly quality of Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972) and Last Days in the Desert (2015). 

The travellers Saïd (Saïd Aagli) and Ahmed (Ahmed Hammoud) are eventually aiming for the ancient city of Sijilmasa, which is the ancestral home of the sheikh and where he intends to be buried. But death does not wait and reaches him during his final journey on a bleak mountainside. The caravaneers, fearful of the mountain, refuse to continue transporting the corpse.

In a parallel narrative, set in the modern world, a couple of taxi drivers who are modern incarnations of Ahmed and Shakib, fight for the job of taking the sheikh to his final resting place in their rickety vehicles. Shakib is chosen. Once again, his assignment is clear: he has to help the accidental caravaneers to reach their destination.

As the caravan travels, so the mostly reluctant tribesmen diminish in number, as one is drowned in fast-flowing river, as the troup come under fire from bandits, French Spanish director Brings his experience of living in Morocco to bear in a thoughtful drama that sometimes feels elliptical and difficult to connect with for the uninitiated. But there is plenty to enjoy in Laxe’s magnificent visuals and the film connects loosely with Ben Rivers’ 2015 film The Sky Trembles and The Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers (2015), which featured Part of the shooting of MIMOSAS.

The cast of newcomers provide convincing performances and only occasionally angry outbursts disturb the tranquility of this placid and relaxing drama enhanced by Mauro Herce’s resplendent cinematography. MT

REVIEWED AT CANNES | WINNER, THE CRITICS WEEK GRAND PRIZE 2016 |

The Girl for Recife (2016) | Bluray release

Writer-director: Kleber Mendonca Filho

Cast: Sonia Braga, Julia Bernat, Humberto Carrao, Paula De Renor, Maeve Jinkings

140min | Drama | Brazil

Brazilian writer and director Kleber Mendonca Filho rose to fame with his debut Neighbouring Sounds. His second feature is a feisty character study that again takes place in a Recife apartment building and stars the famous Brazilian actress Sonia Braga.

Clara is an elegant and single-minded woman (Braga) and the only resident left in an upmarket seaside apartment in the coastal town in North Eastern Brazil. In flashback we see her surrounded by an extended family celebrating her recovery from breast cancer and madly in love with her husband, who has long since died.  The developers want her out that they can refurbish the block and offer an attractive price. But Clare has no intention of leaving.

THE GIRL FOR RECIFE feels like a classic throw-back to boom times of the ’70s and there are faint echoes of Sebastian Lelio’s Santiago-set Gloria to this light-footed family drama. Intimate in scale and languorous in pacing, the story is driven forward by the verve and charisma of Braga’s prima donna performance – in the best possible way. Clara is a retired journalist and still firing on all cylinders when she comes up against a young and hungry developer, Diego (Humberto Carrao), who has plans to make some money out of the building, offering her well in excess of the market price but Clara is a lady not for moving as her home means everything to her with its nostalgic links to the past. She has clearly not lost her mojo where men are concerned and this is shown in rather awkward scenes where she seduces a much younger man and also manages to meet someone of her own age in a nightclub.

Once can’t help feeling the director is slightly in awe of Braga’s Clara (and Braga herself) as she hold centre stage in every scene sometimes misjudging the extent of her popularity and considerable craftiness. Meanwhile, she continues to fight the last stand against the developers with the support of her longterm cleaning woman in scenes that not only give Diego a run for his money but also seemingly the Brazilian government. AQUARIUS is a watchable and more gently amusing than Filho’s ambitious Sounds, but nevertheless serious in its message, although overlong in its running time. MT

NOW ON BLURAY|DVD | COURTESY OF ARROW ACADEMY 

Slack Bay (2016) |Ma Loute

Director/Writer: Bruno Dumont

Cast: Juliette Binoche, Fabrice Luchini, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Jean Luc Vincent, Brandon Lavieville, Cyril Riguax

122min | Comedy | France

After success with P’tit Quinquin, Bruno Dumont is back with comedy of a different kind, an absurdist often grotesque turn of the 20th century melodrama which combines moments of poetic realism and is certain to divide audiences with its quirky brand of charm.

On a swampy coastal stretch of Britany a rotund police inspector (Cyril Rigaux) is investigating a spate of ‘mysterious’ disappearances possibly connected to a carnivorous local fisherman and his family of four kids, the eldest of whom is the titular Ma Loute (Brandon Lavieville). The arrival of the Van Peteghem family from Tourcoing signals the start of the summer holidays as the mannered aristrocratic family gain their family seat – a strangely 1930s style cement contruction called The Tymphonium – amid cries of euphoria over every aspect of local nature and particularly the splendid views. They are soon joined by Andre’s cousin Aude (a gloriously over the top Juliette Binoche), her cross-dressing son Billie (Raph) and her cousin or possibly second cousin as they seem to be an interbred  lot – apparently quite common amongst the ‘grand old families of Northern France’ –  which would explain the weird paternity that later emerges in the final scenes.

This is a charismatic and inventive curio of a film which will either delight you with its quirky humour and performances or send you home underwhelmed. The humour is very French and the best part is undeniably Guillaume Deffontaines’ perfect lensing and the magnificent seascapes which echo and re-create the lush vibrancy of those of Manet, Monet and Cezanne. Costume-wise too this is a sumptuous affair with perfect attention to detail both in the domestic settings on the resplendent beaches making this a visual feast not to be missed. Performances too are really outstanding. Fabrice Luchini ponces about with a contorted limp; Juliette Binoche faints and swoons with delight and horror and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi is simply graceful and restrained with an expression of discrete ecstacy that often dissolves in tender tears. It would be a shame to spoil the entire plot which reveals itself with delicous coyness. Suffice to say, there’s no director like Dumont for creating such a fabulous stillness and sense of place in his glowing compositions of the Brittany scenery and his deftness for combining period touches with elegant framing and a sense of magic and delicate poetry even in the more mordid aspects of this inspired comedy drama. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 16 JUNE 2017

 

 

From the Land of the Moon | Mal de Pierres (2016)

Director: Nicole Garcia   Writers: Nicole Garcia, Jacques Fieschi, based on a novel by Milena Agus

Cast: Marion Cotillard, Louis Garrel, Alex Brendemuhl, Brigitte Rouan, Victoire Du Bois, Aloise Sauvage, Daniel Para, Jihwan Kim, Victor Quilichini

Marion Cotillard is back with another intense character study that haunts this otrtured love story. In actor turned filmmaker Nicole Garcia’s eighth film FROM THE LAND OF THE MOON  she plays Gabrielle a woman from a bourgeois background who is desperate to find fulfilment in romantic love. Based on a best seller by Italian writer Milena Agus, the story opens in 1950s France where Gabrielle is driving her family to distraction with her violent and quixotic temperament. Fortunately beauty and money are on her side in an era where arranged marriages were still commonplace, so her mother organises a match with a penniless but decent Spanish builder, Jose (Alex Brendemuhl from Wakolda), who knuckles down to taking Gabrielle respectably off their hands and making an honest Catholic woman of her. From the outset, Gabrielle makes it clear that she will not be having sex with Jose and he takes this calmly knowing full well that his bedroom skills could potentially change her mind on the subject.

And Jose’s straightforward, kind and stable nature soon calms Gabrielle’s flighty temperament and emerges as one of the more  sympathetic characters in the film and a counterpoint to Gabrielle’s selfish and wayward character. Garcia and Jacques Fieschi’s script also emphasises Gabrielle’s desperate need of sexual fulfilment as we seen her standing in the cool river on a hot day trying to achieve the same sexual relief as men did during the war with the use of bromide. Obviously this is a sotry that will draw comparisons with Madame Bovary, although Gabrielle is not constrained by her social, moral or religious scruples and her husband is kind and supportive. After a miscarriage, Jose sends her off to an expensive Swiss clinic for treatment and once again her febrile sexual imagination gets the better of her. Here she meet Louis Garrel as the dashing lieutenant Andre Sauvage and is immediately smitten, especially as his keyboard skills playing Tchaikovsky are to become a leitmotif for the piece in the whimsical closing scenes.

Cotillard’s is the driving force behind this visually ravishing drama. She illuminates every scene with her serene beauty and elegance instilling calm and grace despite her brooding unhappiness which morphs into euphoria when she meets Sauvage. As  Gabrielle, she struggles to find contentment upsetting everyone else into the bargain with her toxic personality and meanness. This is a fabulously crafted classic drama that is both absorbing and intensely enjoyable. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 8 JUNE 2017

Cannes Film Festival Awards 2017

COMPETITION

Palme d’Or: THE SQUARE (Ruben Östlund) – main pic

70th Anniversary Award: Nicole Kidman

Grand Prix: BPM  (Robin Campillo)

Director: Sofia Coppola, THE BEGUILED

Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

Actress: Diane Kruger, IN THE FADE

Jury Prize: LOVELESS (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

Screenplay — THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou) and YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (Lynne Ramsay)

SIDEBARS

Camera d’Or: JEUNE FEMME Montparnasse-Bienvenüe) (Léonor Serraille)

Golden Eye Documentary Prize: FACES, PLACES (Visages Villages) (Agnès Varda, JR)

Ecumenical Jury Prize: RADIANCE Naomi Kawase)

UN CERTAIN REGARD

Un Certain Regard Award: A MAN OF INTEGRITY/ Mohammad Rasoulof

Best Director: Taylor Sheridan, WIND RIVER

Jury Prize: Michel Franco, APRIL’S DAUGHTER

Best Performance: Jasmine Trinca, FORTUNATA

Award for Poetry of Cinema: Mathieu Amalric, BARBARA

DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT | QUINZAINE

Art Cinema Award: THE RIDER  (Chloe Zhao)

Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize — TIE: LOVER FOR A DAY Philippe Garrel) and LET THE SUNSHINE IN (Claire Denis)

Europa Cinemas Label: A CIAMBRA Jonas Carpignano)

CRITICS’ WEEK | SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE

Grand Prize: MAKALA Emmanuel Gras)

Visionary Prize: GABRIEL AND THE MOUNTAINS (Fellipe Barbosa)

Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize: AVA  (Léa Mysius)

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 17-28 MAY | AWARD WINNERS | LIST BY VARIETY

Based on a True Story (2017) | Cannes Film Festival 2017

Dir Roman Polanski | Writer: Roman Polanski, Olivier Assayas | Cast: Emmanuelle Seigner, Eva Green, is back with a happy ending in this formidably-crafted tradionally styled thriller.

Emmanuelle Seigner and Eva Green go tete a tete in this tongue in cheek psychological drama adapted by Polanski and Olivier Assayas from Delphine de Vigan’s story about an author and her envious admirer (D’Apres un Histoire Vrai).

THERE are shades here of the 83-year old director’s award-winning 2010 thriller The Ghost Writer, not least because Green’s feisty character pens books for well-known people. That said AFTER A TRUE STORY wears its heart more playfully in a formidly-crafted thriller that inhabits a chic quarter of Paris and a Normandy farmhouse where Seigner’s divorced Delfine spends weekends with her part time lover Francois (played insipidly by Vincent Perez/La Reine Margot) and host of  book programme.

We first meet Delphine at a signing for her latest bestseller as adoring fans extoll the virtues of her literary genius. But Delphine is now struck by writersblock in a period of anxious navel-gazing, and this is where Elle comes into the story. At first we get the impression that the two are going to be romantically involved as they kiss warmly but this is all part of Polanski’s teasing style. Delphine exuding an air of confidence that Delphine seems to be lacking in her current state of flux but Alexandre Desplat’s unsettling score signals a warning of danger.

Alarmingly Elle soon takes over the writer’s life advising Delphine’s contacts to give her space and strangely she acquiesces. Meanwhile, Francois has dropped out of the story on a name-dropping tour to the US  (Bret Easton Ellis and Cormac McCarthy, don’t you know!) and soon the women are living together in Delphine’s flat – apparently sharing their life together, with Elle even impersonating her at a student lecture.

Green and Seigner are convincing in their roles, as the sassy Elle and more laid-back – almost submissive – Delphine,  but there’s no mistaking a steely side to the author who looks likes she’s just rolled out of bed. DP Pawel Edelman’s confident lensing and Jean Rabasse’s sophisticated set design ensure a enjoable watch in this sophisticated game of wits that, unlike Polanski’s usual fare, has a happy outcome leaving us pondering whether Polanski is softening in his dotage. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 17-28 MAY 2017 | OUT OF COMPETITION

 

The Desert Bride (2017) | Cannes Film Festival | Un Certain Regard 2017

Dir/scr Cecilia Atán & Valeria Pivato. Argentina/Chile. 2017. 78mins.

This painterly portrait of late-life love provides a subtle and gently humorous focus on contemporary Argentina. Atan and Pivato’s feature debut screened in the Cannes auteurs sidebar, Un Certain Regard, and stars Gloria’s Paulina Garcia as a woman in domestic service who gradually takes back the reigns of her single life and opens her heart to love. The desert road movie serves both as a voyage of self-realisation and female empowerment. Bearing its heart on its delicate sleeve the film interweaves the past and present and is graced by sumptuous cinematography from NO and NERUDA’s Sergio Lawrence. It’s a sweet slip of a film and utterly adorable.

Teresa is leaving her current home for a spell in San Juan in the desert region of Cuyo. Getting there involves a laborious bus journey where the vehicle breaks down leaving Teresa in the pilgrimage town of La Difunta. Here she comes across a kindly market trader in the shape of Gringo (Claudio Rossi). A storm imterupts their innocent encounter but Teresa realises her bag has been left in his trailer. After caching him up they embark on a mission to find the missing luggage as Teresa gradually warms to Gringo’s kindness and easy-going bonhomie: something she could get used to.

Garcia’s portrayal of Teresa’s understated emotional awakening is one of the pleasures of this pastel-hued slow-burner, providing a filmic focus on first love in the autumn of life. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 17-28 MAY 2017 | UN CERTAIN REGARD

Djam (2017) | Cannes Film Festival 2017

Dir: Tony Gatlif | Drama | French |

Tony Gatlif makes films about gypsy cultures from India to the near East and DJAM is his latest, although not his best, it offers something slightly off the beaten track: a female-centric road movie where his feisty belly-dancing heroine embarks on an adventure from Lesbos, to Greece and Turkey. There’s never a dull moment in this exotic musical odyssey that captures the contempo socio-economic zeitgeist of the near Middle East (immigration, female liberation etc) and celebrates rebetiko, an ancient blend of Greek and Turkish tradional folkmusic.

After leaving her uncle (Simon Albekian)  on the quayside Djam (Patakia) uses her cheeky charm to blaise a trail through a variety of hurdles she meets along the way, the first is securing a passport for a naive girl called Avril (Maryan Canon) who has been robbed. From then on the two become travelling companions.

Vibrant and lushly atmospheric this verite-style drama is carried along by Daphné Patakia’s earthy exhuberant chutzpah in the title role (for which she wears no undies), although her minxy coquettishness may be irritating for some, others may find the film a breath of fresh air, with its melodramatic and musical interludes.

Cannes this year has been remarkable for a blatant over-sharing of female issues: from Francois Ozon’s opening shot of a close quarter vaginal examination; to endless open discussions about menstruation; Diane Kruger examining her menstrual blood and here – Patakia’s Djam forcing her friend to shave off her pubic hair on the open road. None of this has particularly enriched the stories concerned, begging the question – what happened to feminine mystique?

Gatlif’s narrative plays as fast as loose as Djam and her copine as they sing and dance around like a couple of lascivious troubadours, seemingly high on their own brand of goofy naughtiness. Although Gatlif seems to be making it all up as he goes along, this is a fresh and impressively-crafted snapshot. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 17-28 MAY 2017

A Gentle Creature (2017) | Cannes Film Festival | In Competition

Dir: Sergei Loznitsa | Cast: Vasilina Makovtseva |143min | Russian | Drama

A GENTLE CREATURE is based on a short story by Dostoevsky, narrated by a middle-aged pawnbroker whose wife kills herself. The story was first adapted by Robert Bresson in 1969 as his first film in colour but its subject matter differs from its title, drawing comparisons with several other recent fraught psychodramas such as A Happy End and The Square

Sergei Loznitsa imagines a dark descent into Hell in his follow up to My Joy and In the Fog.  A GENTLE CREATURE is a film about the frustration of its central character: an earnest young woman whose husband has disappeared into the intractable Russian prison system. This parable about contemporary bureaucracy and human rights it is also a cynical takedown of our fellow man. The woman, played thoughtfully by Vasilina Makovtseva, has decent intentions that lead her into a never-ending nightmare, in a story that works on two levels: as a Kafkaesque psychological thriller and a brazen indictment of Russian society.

From her ramshakle cottage in the middle of nowhere, she sets off to personally deliver a parcel of food and clothing that has been returned to her by the prison authorities. The claustrophobic bus journey is a microcosm of Russia itself, beset with vile and unhelpful characters who bicker and bait each other, spouting vile opinions that provide rich insight into the country’s social politics.

When the woman arrives at her destination, a mesmerising dream sequence then ensues, glistening with shades of Kubrick s Eyes Wide Shut where a powerful elite of assembled guests at a dinner have the opportunity to expound on the greatness of Mother Russia, but this all culminates with a brutal rape scene as the woman is driven away in a van, hopes of visiting her husband dashed by the iron fist of the authorities who she thought were taking her to her husband. Often feeling like a contemporary version of Dante’s Inferno A GENTLE CREATURE has no happy end, reflecting on the mournful misery of mankind and the unkindness of strangers in a broken and demoralised world. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 16 APRIL 2018

 

 

 

The Desert Bride (2017) | Cannes Film Festival | Un Certain Regard

Dir:

Paulina Garcia (Gloria) as a fiftysomething housekeeper whose life changes dramatically turn when she travels across Argentina to take up a new post.

La Familia (2017) | Semaine de la Critique | Cannes 2017

Dir: GUSTAVO RONDON CORDOVA | Cast: Giovanny Garcia Reggie Ryes | 2017 VENEZUELA-CHILE-NORWAY || 82 MINS || IN SPANISH || FEATURE

Twelve-year-old Pedro roams the streets with his friends in the violent atmosphere of working class Caracas. A serious street fight leads to him fatally wounding another another boy, so single father Andrés decides they must leave the city in an adventure that will leave them closer than they have ever been.

Gustavo Rondon Cordova’s debut as director and writer is a dark and pessimistic portrait of working class Venezuela. Father and son find themselves on the run from a vengeful mob – and even though we never see the pursuers – which strangely makes the threat feel more menacing, the title is ironic – rather like Michael Haneke’s Happy End.

The absence of women in the mens’ life is key in informing the storyline: Andres’ girl-friend, Zoreida, has been a casual affair, and we only learn about Pedro’s mother because she liked swimming with him. Having to work day and night, Andres had no time to be a proper father, and Pedro resists authority in every way. The two are like hunters, fighting for a living, always confronted with the comstant threat of violence. Their flight is a metaphor: it is not just the vengeful mob they are fleeing, it is a whole way of life. The narrative unfolds episodically, to show the transient nature of their life. The unrest created leads always to more abrupt change. Both seem self-destructive: a clear sign of the lack of female input.

LA FAMILIA is always understated, even the chase lacks any sensationalist angle. Well-paced and impressively photographed: DoP Luis Armando Artega evokes a lush and magical sense of place in contrast to the their raggedness of their rat race. A really imaginative debut. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 17-28 MAY 2017 | SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE

Thr Defence of the Dragon (2017)| Cannes Film Festival | Quinzaine des Realisateurs

Dir.: Natalia Santa; Cast: Gonzalo Sagarminaga, Hernan Mendez, Manuel Navarro; France/Columbia 2017, 79 min.

Natalia Santa’s debut is a brilliantly acted tragi-comedy, full of innovative ideas and told with great aplomb. With shades of Pablo Stoll’s Whisky (2004), it follows three desperate, ageing men, who have great difficulty surviving in 21st century downtown Bogota, for different reasons.

Samuel (Sagarminaga) is a fifty-three year old professional chess player and private tutor, divorced with a young daughter – whom he neglects like all the women in his life. Joaquin (Mendez) is a watchmaker in his mid sixties, not earning enough to pay the rent, Marcos (Navarro) a 70 something homeopath completes the trio whose regular hangout is the local dilapidated Lasker Chess Club and the Normanda Café.

Samuel is gloomy and resigned, only coming alive when chess is involved. His male company is much desired, not only by his landlady’s young daughter, who tries her best to seduce him – in vain – but also by the mother of his young maths student, an illustrator adamant to set up a private meeting with Samuel. Joaquin is the most likeable of the three: He can empathise with his friends, but he is really a prisoner of times gone by – the word digital makes him feel uneasy. Marcos is really a user, exploiting his assistant not only on a professional level, but also in the bedroom. Worse of all, he is a homophobic estranged from his gay son who has been killed in a bear attack. When two of the men find themselves homeless, clearly they have to change.

Santa always keeps a certain distance from her characters: they are analysed, but never denounced. The humour is deadpan, bleak and always carries a certain undertone of mournfulness. Santa paints them as dinosaurs who have maintained a strong macho identity: silent and withdrawn. They make their way though life like little boys lost in the woods, whistling to overcome their fear and loneliness, which they naturally deny. Rarely leaving their homes, and barricading themselves in, they are characters from a bygone era in the streets of Bogota. Samuel and Joaquin live in reduced circumstances, whilst Marcos’ house is full of ornaments and paintings: he pretends to be upper-class, but is as broke as his friends and even more unwilling to change. The visuals match the narrative in their love of small details. Intricate medium shots show the inner shabbiness of these men. Santa skilfully controls her narrative keeping the tension just right in this well-paced and engrossing drama. An astonishing masterclass on a micro-budget filmaking.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 17-28 MAY 2017

The Beguiled (2017 | Cannes Film Festival 2017

Dir: Sophie Coppola | Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, Oona Laurence | 91min | Thriller | US

Set in Louisiana and shot in 35mm THE BEGUILED is Sophie Coppola’s re-telling of Thomas Cullinan’s original 1966 novel that explores the powerplay and sexual tension that erupts between a group of differently-aged nubile females and an attractive male forced into their midst during the American Civil War.

Luminously mounted (the operative word – as the movie reveals!), THE BEGUILED sizzles swelteringly in its Southern Gothic aesthetic while remaining as delicate as a starched doily. Colin Farrell is dashingly seductive as the union soldier McBurney transported to this prim and proper confederate ladies’ school when he is rescued, wounded, in nearby woods by one of the youngest girls. Presided over by Nicole Kidman’s prickly Madame Martha who disapproves of the enemy element but secretly joins the innocent ladies’ lustful queue in the shape of Kirsten Dunst’ glacial French mistress Edwina, and Elle Fanning’s disruptive teenager Alicia with an eye for the main chance, the film works as a psychological thriller and a historical drama.

Sophie Coppola makes a dramatic reverse thrust in her clever narrative once Alicia’s cat has been let out of the bag transforming the dynamic of the entire household and transferring the power from a female perspective to a rugged male one, thus unleashing anger, fear and pent up longing all round, although we are never quite sure who is ultimately in control. As McBurney gets to know Martha’s pupils, it’s unsure whether he is trustworthy or a snake in the grass with lascivious intentions. And his masculine vulnerability sparks both desire and inquietude in the young women. He also has a cunning male knack of making them all feel intimate with him showering praise and compliments, individually, in an obsequiously sincere way. Competing with each other covertly for his affections, the girls try to maintain their ladylike behaviour but on an animal level their instincts lead them in a different direction.

Philippe Le Sourd’s hazy visuals give the film a dreamlike quality as if the college is caught in a time-warp from which there is no escape, and yet a drousy longing to remain. The film also has a timeless nature dealing with evergreen themes which could easily translate to a comtemporary setting. Don Siegel made a 1971 version of the story starring Clint Eastwood as the soldier who seduces the women, gradually turning them against each other and eventually himself.

Performances are superlative especially from Nicole Kidman as the cocquettish but buttoned-up Marsha, and Elle Fanning Alicia in the first flush of  burgeoning sexuality. Both manage vague flirtatiousness while keeping their upper lips stiff. But Farrell is the standout in a complex portrait that feels ambiguous but retains an intruiging tension throughout. This is Coppola’s most absorbing and accomplished work so far. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 17-28 MAY 2017 | IN COMPETITION

Rodin (2017| Cannes Film Festival 2017

Dir: Jacques Doillon, Vincent Lindon, Izia Higelin, Severine Caneele | Biopic Drama | 119min | France

Jacques Doillon has demeaned a French national treasure with a film about Auguste Rodin that will disappoint those whose evocative takeaway of the sculptor’s work is his erotically-charged The Kiss.

Rodin’s work is the epitome of passion but this film coneys none of it. Cliched and bogged down with tedious scenes and boring exchanges, any vestige of joy instilled by the oeuvre of this great master will have left you by the end.

Vincent Lindon won best actor in Cannes 2015 for his honest portrait of a man at the end his tether. You will be at the end of yours at this second rate biopic. As Rodin he is a laborious, lumbering, grizzled, gruffalo lusting after his models as he copes with the derision of patrons and press. The public appalud him but he handles his newfound fame with glowering gloom.

His wife Rose (Séverine Caneele) is unimpressed with him; his lover Camille Claudel (Izïa Higelin) is left coping with her own flagging career. Doillon has sucked the life out of his characters and with the luminous memory of Juliette Binoche in Bruno Dumont’s Camille Claudel 1915 still hanging in the air, Higelin’s portrait struggles in a morass of mediocrity. If RODIN comes to a cinema near you, run straight in the other direction. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 17-28 MAY | IN COMPETITION

The Meyerowitz Stories (2017) | Cannes Film Festival | In Competition

Baumbach’s latest serio-comedy THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES asks the question: how do you manage a creative father who constantly puts you down?

Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler deal with their own neuroses while managing a creative father who puts them all down. Stiller is well-off LA lawyer Matthew Meyerowitz, a half- brother to failed musician Danny (Sandler) and non-entity Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) who live close by to their sculptor father (Hoffman) whose party piece is bringing the conversation back to himself.
Harold’s retrospective show brings the family back together in the Brooklyn home he shares with his fourth wife Maureen, a scatty alcoholic played amusingly by Emma Thompson. But the show is put in jeopardy when Dad suffers a brain trauma that makes his narcissism worse.
The siblings find a certain love-hate solidarity as they struggle with the inevitable fallout, all operating from a position of shame; Danny feels a failure as an artist, although he’s a good father. Matthew fails by not being an artist, despite being a financial success; Jean has emerged from Harold’s negligent parenting never achieving anything, in act of self-sabotage; and they’re all latently angry with each other. Baumbach’s clever script ensures there’s plenty of dry humour, and even open wrestling, to lighten things up. With entertaining turns from Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson and a soulful Adam Sandler as the underdog, this is a film that will feel poignantly personal for many.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 17 – 27 MAY 2017 | IN COMPETITION

24 Frames (2017) | Cannes Film Festival | Special Screening

Dir: Abbas Kiarostami | Experimental | Iran | 120min

A final experimental film from Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami, who died last year at 76, is a tribute made especially poignant in the Festival’s 70th Anniversary. Abbas Kiarostami started life as an artist and also worked as a photographer and this clearly informs this series of delicately rendered vignettes that depict scenes from a mostly wintery nature seen from the POV of the animals. These started as photographic stills taken by Kiarostami in Tehran by the Caspian Sea. He then imagines these pictures coming to life with the action continuing for around four minutes. The result is enchanting, uplifting and poignant this experimental film has no dialogue or narrative but occasional scored by popular music and may also be viewed as an art installation rather than a film with appeal to the arthouse crowd rather than mainstream audiences.

Apart from being a visual record of his personal experiences this meditative and meaningful film offers insight into animal behaviour when seen in isolation. A seagull mourning its mate, a cat pursuing its prey and lion seduces a lioness feature in these tableaux vivants. But film opens with Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1565 oil painting entitled The Hunters in the Snow.  Slowly the picture comes to life as a chimney starts smoking and birds flutter from the bare trees. What remains uncertain is how he has created these moving images but it’s clear that he was intrigued by animals and particularly birds. There is even humour in one frame taken against a turquoise blue sky: a tiny bird chirps away on a pile of logs while trees are gradually felled in the background.  With the final tree falling he flies away. Another depicts a herd of cows strolling along a beach while one lies on the sand, clearly breathing. When the tide threatens to cover the animal, it ups and moves away. This all sounds simplistic but somehow can move you to tears. Another endearing scene involves a young guard dog protecting a flock of goats from the prowling wolves. Tunes accompanying are as sublime as a choral Ave Maria and as cheesy and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music, but somehow it works.

The final 24th frame seems to echo Kiarostami’s romantic nature. In the early hours of the morning a girl is asleep by her computer where an old film is playing on slow-mo. The woman in the picture sings the Lloyd Webber hit “love will still remain.”. Somehow at the end Kiarostami breaks with his country’s strict taboos: the film contains a unveiled woman, kissing a man and singing about it alone. What a brave goodbye. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 17-28 MAY 2017 | SPECIAL SCREENINGS.

Radiance (2017) | Cannes Film Festival | In Competition

Dir: Naomi Kawase | Drama | Japan | 89min |

Despite her detractors, and there are many, Naomi Kawase is a seasoned director and her latest film here at Cannes is testament to her often unappreciated talent. RADIANCE showcases her skills in this tender and charmingly observed film about a famous visually impaired photographer (Mayasa/Masatoshi Nagase), who is gradually losing his sight. At a workshop he meets  Misako (Ayame Misaki) who writes spoken commentaries for films for the enjoyment of the visually impaired.

Upset by Mayasa’s criticism about one of her commentaries, Misako gently objects accusing him of lacking imagination, but when she discovers his own wonderful talent she reflects on her error and the two grow closer.

RADIANCE is a slim but delightful story that reflects on themes that may be oblique to the unaffected. Amongst the stark psychodramas in this year’s competition, it offers a restorative tonic to human goodness. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 17-28 MAY 2017 | IN COMPETITION

 

How to Talk to Girls at Parties (2017) | Cannes Film Festival 2017

Dir: John Cameron Mitchell | Cast: Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Alex Sharp | 100min | US | Musical RomCom

John Cameron Mitchell’s absurdly unconvincing ‘punk-retro’ musical is based on a short story by Neil Gaiman. It imagines a late ’70s London where aliens in psychedelic costumes infiltrate a corner of Croydon and create havoc by seducing kids at a local disco, where they vomit in their mouths. Elle Fanning is one of the aliens. How she got suckered into the project God only knows, but she tries her best and falls for the other only good about the film – the male lead gamely played by Alex Sharp. Sandy Powell’s costumes are worth a mention too.

Sadly these aliens are ‘programmed to self-destruct’ so the charmingly honest love story at the heart  of this charade sadly ends in tears. Clearly the director knows nothing about punk or late ’70s London so the whole thing feels like amateur dramatics staged by teenage filmmakers wandering onto the set of  Some Mothers do ‘Ave ‘Em – with a good deal of angry swearing thrown in for good measure. One to miss. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 17-28 MAY 2017 | SPECIAL SCREENING

 

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) | Cannes Film Festival | In Competition

Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos | Cast: Colin Farell, Nicole Kidman,  Barry Keoghan | Drama | Greece | 101min 

Has Greek New Wave director Yorgos Lanthimos gone too far in The Killing of a Sacred Deer that would have us believe that all families are essentially dysfunctional, and all men psychopaths. His latest film is set in a sleek but soulless Cincinnati, Ohio in the run up to Christmas. Colin Farrell is an Irish heartsurgeon who performs, as many do, to soaring choral music, adding a Kubrickian touch to the film’s blank opening scene, where open heart surgery is being completed, before blood-stained gloves and garb are then thrown into a bin. This sets the tone for a disquieting and starkly alienating parable that examines the human drive to escape death.

Farrell plays Steven Murphy, on the surface a loving husband and family man who has developed a weird friendship with a teenage boy that grows more bizarre as the film unfolds. It soon emerges that the boy’s  father died on the operating table when Murphy was the surgeon. Left with his unemployed mother, Martin is a young man with a grudge. Later in a speech Murphy tells how the doctor involved in the first heart transplant, Andreas Gruentzig, died in a plane crash: The operation was successful, but the doctor didn’t make it”.

There’s a horrible feeling throughout the film that the Sword of Damocles is going to fall on Steven, (to use an appropriate anecdote from Greek mythology) and it’s all because of Martin (Barry Keoghan) who feels resentful and envious and puts a curse on the family. Keoghan is a particularly chilling psychopath but so is Steven when he puts his mind to it in the final scenes. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 17-28 MAY | IN COMPETITION

Happy End (2017) | Cannes Film Festival | In Competition

Dir: Michael Haneke | Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-louis Trintignant, Toby Jones, Mathieu Kassovitz, Fantine Harduin Drama | 110min

HAPPY END is Michael Haneke’s satirical exploration of a rich family of industrialists whose dysfunctional daily lives become linked to the turbulent ongoing immigration nightmare that is Calais, thanks to the son and putative heir of the family building business.

This year’s Cannes Competition line-up is fraught with startling dramas and the intriguingly entitled HAPPY END joins the list with its impeccable production values, sophisticated interiors and top-drawer performances from a starry ensemble cast, including veteran Louis Trintignant and, of course, Isabelle Huppert.

This is a typical Haneke film: all his classics themes coalesce in a slow-burning treat, at times a tad too much so. These include family guilt, shame, revenge where social media and onscreen messaging enlightens the narrative adding to a gritty subtext behind the beautifully manicured domestic scenes. In one involving an impromptu moment musicale for the scion’s 85th birthday (Trintignant as Georges Laurent), the musician, a chelloist, is conducting a covert porn exchange with Thomas Laurent – revealed only to ourselves scrolling down on his onscreen messenger).

Isabelle Huppert plays Anne Laurent, the doyenne of the family’s Belle Epoque villa  (with Moroccan staff) who has recently taken over the construction business from her ageing father Georges, who is stumbling on the foothills of dementia. Recently engaged to Toby Jones’ English lawyer, tasked with handling a UK deal involving the business, her son son Pierre is a non-starter prone to drunken outbursts, and her brother Thomas (Kassovitz) has a new wife and baby and a smart little daughter (Harduin) from a previous marriage (and has broken into his computer and sussed his game). So far, so dysfunctional. Meanwhile, we are treated to glimpses of the migrant crisis on the streets of the city.

This is a malevolent movie that wears its unsettling undercurrent discretely hidden under its haute couture outerwear, and as in all Haneke’s fare, we know that the ending will be far from happy. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 17-28 MAY 2017 | IN COMPETITION

Coby (2017) | Cannes Film Festival 2017 | ACID

Dir.: Christian Sonderegger; Documentary; France/USA 2017, 78 min.

Christian Sondereggers’s feature length documentary debut COBY is not only an intimate portrait of a transgender man’s journey, but also a testimony to the support he gets from his family, who live in the small village of Chagrin Falls in Ohio.

When she was twenty-one, Suzanna Hunt decided that she would undergo a sex change process, since she “was not happy with what she saw in the mirror – it was not what I expected”. S/he took the name of Coby during the medical/psychological changing process, before settling for Jacob after the successful transformation. We meet Jacob, working as a paramedic in an ambulance, administering help to a stricken baby with his fellow workers. But more surprising than Jacob’s successful progress, is the role his family played in all the upheavels. His parents, Ellen and Williard, and his brother Andrew are interviewed at length, and it turns out that Jacob’s parents were anything but the average village people. They home-schooled their children, there was no TV, and they lived a life of tolerance as Christians. This tolerance was tested by Suzanne early on, the family had to adjust to the many stages Suzanne/Jacob went through, including a lesbian phase, which is recalled with smiles by all concerned.

Jacob is proud to be accepted as man not only by his family, but also his co-workers. But he is honest about the changes in his reactions: before he took testosterone, he would tear up in sympathy when his girl friend Sarah had emotional problems – but now he is much more reserved. ”When I have problems, I react like a gorilla”. But he still has the memories of 21 years as a woman, so he is still able to talk with female colleges in a different way as the other male workers. All in all “I don’t feel like a woman, but feel good in my femininity as a man.” As for the future, since Sarah does not want to bear children, Jacob is the only parent to be able to procreate, and he is taking all medical precautions to keep this possible open.

As for his father, the “memories of him as a girl fade slowly, being replaced by new ones of him as a man”, a process his brother agrees with. As Jacob says “I was born into the right family”. Coby is told in a simple, but not simplistic manner, somehow very close to the way the Hunt family lives: avoiding drama and ruptures, but caring for each other in a truly Christian way. They are in a way the real ‘Anti-Trump’ family: overcoming ‘otherness’ in their family with love, understanding and patience, just understanding without any dogma.

COBY IS PLAY IN THE ACID SIDEBAR | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 17-28 MAY 2017

West of the Jordan River (2017) | Cannes Film Festival | Directors’ Fortnight 2017

Dir.: Amos Gitai; Documentary; France 2017, 97 min.

It is fair to say that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has influenced the entire career of Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai: in 1973, when studying architecture, he was called up for military service during the Yom Kippur war and joined the helicopter rescue crew. He filmed some of the action with an 8mm camera, and the continuing wars (on different levels) between the two nations have been at the centre of his output, culminating in Rabin, the last Day (2015).

West of the Jordan River is, in spite of its rather poetic title, a very harsh condemnation of hard liners on both sides. More or less bookended by a 1994 interview by Gitai with the incumbent Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin – a year before his assassination by a right-wing Israeli fanatic – the documentary shows that Rabin has never found a political heir, but that the current government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing to swamp the West Bank with Jewish settlements, making a two-state solution impossible. But one is still shocked, when Gitai interviews the current Deputy Foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely (*1978), mother of two daughters and an ardent feminist. Far from even trying to show understanding, Hotovely launches into a war-mongering attack: “We are not occupying our own land. This is not a territorial war. This is a religious battle led by Islam, We can’t ignore this basic truth. This land is ours. All of it is ours. We are not apologising for that.” On the status of the Dome of Rock, the Al-Aksa Mosque and the Islamic Museum on the Temple Mount, she is even to the right of Netanyahu: “It is my dream to see the Israeli flag flying on the Temple Mount. I think it’s the centre of Israeli sovereignty. All of Judea and Samaria belong to the Jewish people”.

Gasping after such an affront, Jewish journalist Avi Shavit is well aware where the politics of young hardliners like Hotovely will lead to: “The Israel I love, if it does not make a dramatic U-turn in the next ten years, will vanish. The government is going to have 750 000 settlers on the West Bank in this period. Then you cannot share the country any more. It will be the end of democracy in Israel. Give the Palestinians full citizenship and end the State of Israel in its current borders or revoke the rights of Palestinians and end our democracy. The settlers have enacted the most Anti-Zionist policy, which is completely destroying us. We have to go back to the point, when was Rabin assassinated”.

When Gitai visits the “Parent’s Circle”, a group of Israeli and Muslim mothers who have lost their children in the war, the full cruelty of the armed conflict becomes obvious. A Jewish mother, whose son was killed, had left Iraq in 1942 as a child, states ”Israelis do not understand the Arab mentality. And we Jews always know what is good for others, we can’t let go and let others be different from us”. A right-wing journalist wants to forbid groups like the “Parent’s Circle”: “They join international groups, who want to destroy Israel”. Obviously he also means such groups like in Hebron, where Muslim women are learning to use video cameras to document the atrocities of the Israeli army. The instructor makes it clear that this is not a feature film shoot: “Zoom, but don’t forget your own life”. Another journalist agrees with the director “Netanyahu is not a religious fanatic. He sees the Arabs as a managing problem. He wants to secure the territories, which are important for Israel. But he is foremost an ideologist”. Interviews in Hebron show the total breakdown between the community and the occupiers. The story of the Bedouin School facing demolition is typical of the conflict. The school is ‘illegal’ according to Israeli settlers, “who seem to be above the law”. When Gitai interviews a young Arab boy on his balcony, he asks him about his dream for Hebron. The boy answers spontaneously “To die as a martyr.” Gitai tries in vain to convince him that to live is better, but the boy maintains his position.

The last word of this depressing documentary goes to the director: “Extremists on both side help each other to fight to the death. Nothing is more solid than the coalition between the two sides [Hamas and the Israeli government] who do NOT want peace”. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 17-28 MAY 2017 | DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT 2017

 

Alive in France (2017) | Directors’ Fortnight 2017

Dir: ABEL FERRARA | 2017 || DOCUMENTARY | Cast: Joe Delia, Paul Hipp, Cristina Chiriac

Abel Ferrara headlines a film retrospective and a series of concerts in France dedicated to songs and music from his films. Preparations with his family and friends will form the material of this self portrait, showing another side of the director of legendary films BAD LIEUTENANT, THE KING OF NEW YORK and THE ADDICTION. Ferrara is joined on stage by past collaborators, including composer Joe Delia, actor-singer Paul Hipp and his wife actress Cristina Chiriac for concerts at the Metronum in Toulouse and the Salo Club in Paris in October 2016.

 

Jupiter’s Moon | Cannes Film Festival 2017 | Competition

Dir|Writer; Kornel Mundruczo | Cast: Merab Ninidze, Gyorgy Cserhalmi, Monika Balsai, Zsombor Jeger | 110min | Sci-fi | Hungary

After his UCR hit White God (2013) Hungarian auteur Kornel Mundruczo makes it into the main competition line-up with this sci-fi thriller about a young immigrant who is shot down while illegally crossing the border into Hungary. Terrified and in shock Aryan finds his life has mysteriously been transformed by the gift of levitation.

Clearly the director has honed his craft since his breakout arthouse piece White God, that had so mqny pleasing elements. JUPITER is visually more ambitious and technically brilliant but narratively a complete mess. The bewildering storyline starts off with a great premise – a Syrian refugee becomes an angel in one of Jupiter’s Moon’s where a cold ocean known as Europa spawns new forms of life. The metaphor is clear and cleverly thought out yet the film tries to be too many things, a political commentary and an action thriller: less would have been far more effective than more. After a blindingly intriguing opening scene, the shaky handheld camera continues in a tonally uniform almost continuous take that eventually feels exhausting, and hardly ever gives up, detracting from the enjoyment of the stunning set pieces.

Zsombor Jéger is the central character but not a sympathetic or particularly engaging one as Aryan, the Syrian refugee who is gunned down by László (György Cserhalmi), the nasty leader of a refugee camp in Budapest. Aryan survives his injuries and then discovers an uncanny ability to float, and from on desperately tries to find his father with the help of a nefarious doctor, Stern (Merab Ninidze), who has been struck off for medical malpractice. Aryan is inveigled into a plan to defraud Stern’s rich patients into believing he has faith healing properties, but this is a tenuous ploy that again feels too gimmicky.

White God had a believable plot with engaging characters but Jupiter’s Moon, although a far more technically skilful film, feels hollow, glib and also frankly quite boring despite its arresting visual wizardry from White God cinematographer Marcell Rév. Ninidze’s Stern Gabor is a quixotic and cunning rogue and far and away the most exciting character in an ensemble of cardboard characterisations. Along with the visual mastery there is an impressive atmospheric score that helps to ramp up the tension and also adds a certain gravitas. A shame then that the whole things feels so underwhelming and unwieldy as a story. Clearly the director is trying to up his game but needs to establish whether he wants to go for arthouse audiences or the mainstream crowd. White God was starting to build him a fanbase but this seems like a step backwards. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | COMPETITION 2017

 

 

L’Amant d’Un Jour (2017) | Cannes Film Festival 2017

Dir: Philippe Garrel | Cast: Eric Caravaca, Esther Garrel | 77min | Drama | French

Philippe Garrel is back in Cannes with another family affair that brings to a close his trilogy this started with Jealousy. This grainy black and white Parisian story is as sweet and light as a mini croissant and just as innocuous, showing little insight into womens’ minds despite the collaboration of four writers, including the veteran Garrel. If you enjoy his work it’s watchable enough, otherwise too slim and generic to have much appeal. Daughter Jeanne (Esther Garrel) finds herself at home again with Papa (Caravaca) as her first love affair with ends abruptly. But family life is interupted by her father’s young lover Ariane who is a philandering part-time porn model. The intimate domestic trio discuss love, fidelity and friendship and Arianne frequently becomes jealous when father and daughter spend the evening together. There is a candour to the dialogue but it all feels rather trite. Esther is a natural as is Caravaca but Chevillotte’s Arianne struggles to feel authentic and her story is largely hollow and implausible. Even with a running time of 77 minutes L’AMANT fails to absorb our attention often feeling like an amateur college piece; well-crafted but threadbare in its storyline. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT

 

Loveless (2017) | Cannes Film Festival 2017

IMG_3612Dir: Andrei Zvyagintsev | 127min |Drama | Russia

Zvyagintsev’s long-awaited followup to Leviathan is the story of a divorcing couple forced back together again to search for their missing son. LOVELESS is scripted by Oleg Negin who also wrote The Banishment, Leviathan and Elena but the only similarities lie in the alienation of the characters: here Zvyagintsev would have us believe that the Grim Reaper has finally visited Russia and stolen its human soul and spirit. What remains is a collection of spiteful, self-seeking, sociopathic types whose only pleasure is shopping, selfies and social media due to a culture that breeds indifference by forcing them into loveless marriages to procreate and conform.

In Moscow a young couple have already been through a bitter divorce but are still sharing a home. Their young son Alexsei sobs silently in his bedroom in one of the most moving scenes in this otherwise emotionally barren affair, while his parents, who never wanted him, bicker about how best to sell the family flat. Boris (Alexei Rozin) is a tubby, pasty-faced office worker whose new girlfriend, an aquisitive blond, is needy and close to her conniving mother. His soon-to-be-ex-wife Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) is hostile towards her son and husband. A beautician, she is now dating a rich and cold-eyed man twice her age with a pristine appartment in an upmarket part of town.  There is nothing to recommend any of them: physically and spiritually they represent the worse form of life, alive and kicking – not just in Moscow – but in much of the civilised world.

When Alexsei disappears during his parents’ separate date nights, the film becomes a police procedural of utter desperation. Moscow feels like a frozen forest filled with creatures from another planet: these s0-called parents are merely psychopaths and narcissists going through their vacuous routine, their only despair is for themselves rather than the loss of their son. This is a bitterly depressing film but visually impressive and inventively framed.

If you’re looking for two hours of utter desperation and frightening emptiness. LOVELESS is the film to watch and it’s coming to a cinema near you. Be warned. MT

NOW ON GENERA RELEASE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW | IN COMPETITION 2017

 

 

Wind River (2016) | Cannes Film Festival 2017

Dir: Taylor Sheridan | Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner | US | Thriller | 111min

Taylor Sheridan is the writer behind Cannes UCR 2016 breakout hit Hell or High Water and scripted the competition title Sicario in 2015. He returns to Cannes this year with his own mystery thriller set in Wyoming and starring  Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen.

Shedding more troubling light on American contempo society this action thriller explores events surrounding the violent murder of a teenage girl found in a snowy corner of Wyoming and its investigation by Renner Cory Lambert, a  thoughtful and sensitive wildlife ranger who clearly has some issues relating to the recent loss of his own teenage daughter and breakdown in his marriage. Joining him in the investigation (Sicario-style in black SUV) is Olsen’s rather green FBI sidekick, Jane Banner. Clearly Cory is a hands-on type who is used to the territory, whereas she is not.

It also emerges that the dead girl has a brother whose sidekick Pete (James Jordan) seems to have some past connection with the oil company located on the Native American land, and although her father (Gil Birmingham) offers little insight into possible perpetrators, clues start to reveal that Pete is in some way connected.

Their inquiries lead them to an alarming confrontation with a group of Mexican oil-workers and this rather melodramatic second act sits uncomfortably with what has gone before. But Sheridan makes this good in the final denouement which brings us to an impressive close in this enjoyable thriller with its twists and dramatic turns. Clearly Sheridan is still learning but his directorial debut lacks the dialogue finesse of his former outings. WIND RIVER is solid entertainment showing Sheridan to be honing his skills as a consummate talent in the making. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | 17-28 MAY 2017 | UN CERTAIN REGARD

 

 

 

 

The Last Face (2016)

Director: Sean Penn

Cast: Charlize Theron, Olivier Bardem, Jean Reno

117min | Action Drama | US

Actor turned director Sean Penn brought his well-crafted but empty action film to the competition line-up in Cannes Film Festival. Many booed and there was slow clapping. Charlize Theron leads and partly narrates this wartorn saga which has not yet been picked up leaving us in no doubt at to its popularity in the harsh world of the film market where the best films are either pre-sold or snapped up within minutes of their press screening in a voraciously competitive marketplace, where the Hollywood eye is on the money. And this is a Hollywood-style movie.

Unspooling in just under two hours THE LAST FACE throw us into the harsh realities of civil war in Africa where Theron plays well-respected Doctor Wren Petersen who divides her time between her office at the UN Human Rights Department and the killing fields of Liberia where the love of her life Dr Love (Javier Bardem) slaves overtime to patch up and save broken bodies in his work for a NGO relief agency. With its melodramatic score and bleeding heart overtones THE LAST FACE is the last word in worthiness with a capital W. That these high-minded and privileged white people should be seen falling in love while they dedicate their lives to ‘poor black people’ is a premise that is both condescending and hackneyed and explicit references to female injuries, rape and pillage (“she was ripped from her vagina to her anus and yet she’s still dancing) feel both crass and strangely misogynistic, reducing women to the level of animal specimens and robbing them of the little dignity they undoubtedly deserve in this humiliating scenario where refugees merely exist to serve the narrative as the inevitable casualities of war, rather than real people with backstories.

Javier Bardem and Jean Reno give their utmost along with a quality ensemble cast, but there is nevertheless an undertow of male superiority in the film’s blatant denegration of Dr Petersens’s character which comes in the opening scenes where, in voiceover, she admits to being the daughter of a man who desperately wanted a male heir, and never felt she existed until endorsed by the love of a ‘good’ man. Whatever happens next brings nothing original to the party and the patent lack of interest in this overblown gorefest – that poses as entertainment – should send Penn sculttling back to the drawing board for some new ideas. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 12 MAY 2017

Redoutable (2017)

Dir: Michel Hazanavicious | Cast: Louis Garrel, Stacy Martin, Berenice Bejo, Micha Lescot, Gregory Gadebois, Felix Kysel | French | Biopic Drama

Agnes Varda showed us the borish side of Jean-Luc Godard in her Cannes film Visages, Villages and in REDOUTABLE, his Palme d’Or 2017 hopeful, Michel Hazanavicius shed light on the narcissistic introvert he eventually became in the late 60s, away from the bright lights and adoration of the French film industry that made him a legend.

Played here with sardonic insouciance by a balding Louis Garrel, this is an enjoyable biopic that sees Godard withdraw from society to experiment with radical filmmaking and political activism. Refusing to except that his big time was over – he is seen reliquishing control of Wind from the East, a notion that might prove controversial to some viewers. Also he has started to resent his wife Anne Wiazemsky (played by Stacy Martin) on whose memoirs the film is based, she is spending less time with him and away on location – but the pair still generate a pleasurable chemistry. And although his career and marriage are clearly unravelling, Anne still seems an important part of his life.

Naturally the film was going to be a pastiche – this was Godard’s raison d’etre and fittingly Hazanavicious makes extensive use of Godard’s visual and stylistic gimmicks and the famous intertitles in his film’s primary-coloured 60s aesthetic. The famous dark glasses are there, even if he continually breaks them. Godard himself is naturally not keen on REDOUTABLE which makes him out to be a ‘has been’ when clearly he feels he is still a happening director, capturing his audience’s imagination to this day.

There’s plenty of action and debate in REDOUTABLE but strangely played down are the riots of 1968 which affected that year’s Cannes film festival, and seem to be particularly relevant at this time. An interesting watch for his fanbase and the arthouse crowd , but not possibly one for mainstream audiences. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 11 MAY 2018

 

 

 

Cannes Film Festival 2017 | Preview

Cannes Banner | signature_banniere-longue_A-03The 70th Cannes Film Festival starts on the 17th May with an Official Selection full of established directors and some newcomers competing for the coveted Palme D’Or. Pedro Almodovar is president of a Jury with Jessica Chastain a notable member and with legendary directors turning to TV and special eps of Twin Peaks and Top of the Lake and a VR slot for Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu with Carne y Arena to show just how far we’ve come since 1947 in a festival where TV is now acknowledged along with the Big Screen for filmmakers who have already made their mark.

Filmmakers at the top of their game will be gracing the Croisette: Michael Haneke, Todd Haynes, Roman Polanski, Hong Sangsoo, Yorgos Lanthimos and Sophie Coppola. Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux assures there will be additions to the 18 films in the main line-up and more surprises in the pipe-line.

 IMG_3622ISMAEL’S GHOSTS | FESTIVAL OPENER | Arnaud Desplechin (France)

The opening film is supposed to be rousing but is often raffling and second rate. Last year’s Woody Allen was festive and funny so Arnaud Desplechin’s starry opener may surprise us all with its solid and celebrated French including Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Louis Garrel and Matheiu Amalric.

IMG_3581JUPITER’S MOON | Kornel Mundruczo | Hungary

After his UCR hit White God (2013) the Hungarian auteur makes it to the main competition line-up with a sci-fi thriller about a young immigrant who is shot down while illegally crossing the border. Terrified and in shock, wounded Aryan can now mysteriously levitate at will. Thrown into a refugee camp, he is smuggled out by a doctor intent on exploiting his extraordinary secret. Pursued by enraged camp director Laszlo, Aryan and other fugitives remain on the move in search of safety and money, inspired by his amazing powers. A cautionary thriller about disillusionment and faith from the director of the award-winning WHITE GOD.

IMG_3638THE DAY AFTER | Hong Sangsoo | Korea

Hong Sangsoo has been a busy man of late with his Berlinale feature On the Beach at Night hotly followed by this Palme d’Or hopeful that looks like being another intense drama full of tortured souls in Seoul. Meanwhile his second collaboration with Isabelle Huppert CLAIRE’S CAMERA (shot in Cannes) is to screen in the UCR sidebar. Three films so far in 2017 and it’s only April!

IMG_3623GOOD TIME | The Safdie Brothers | US

This US crime thriller from the Safdie brothers follows onscreen siblings Robert Pattinson and mentally-challenged Benny Safdie during a criminally-charged nocturnal escapade into New York. Jennifer Jason Leigh also stars.

IMG_3612

LOVELESS | Andrei Zvyagintsev | USSR

Zvyagintsev’s s long-awaited followup to LEVIATHAN is the story a divorcing couple forced back together again to search for their missing son. LOVELESS is scripted by Oleg Negin who also wrote The Banishment, Leviathan and Elena. 

IMG_3610THE SQUARE | Ruben Ostlund | Sweden

The Square is Ostlund’s English language debut and stars Dominic West and Elisabeth Moss in another satirical drama that derives dark comedy from human behaviour in a crisis. Sounds very similar to his Cannes awarded  Force Majeure.

IMG_362012o BEATS A MINUTE | Robin Campillo | France

Eastern Boys was one of the most memorable and timely thrillers of 2013 with its immigration backstory. 120 BEATS A MINUTE looks like being another politically-charged affair that follows AIDS activist group ACT UP in the early nineties. It’s great to see Campillo finally in the competition line-up with his own film after he wrote the screenplay for Palme d’Or-winner The Class. His two earlier films didn’t play in competition.

IMG_3608THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (New and Selected) | Noah Baumbach | US

The Brookyn-based filmmaker’s latest comedy centres on the tricky situation that develops between an ageing artist, played by Dustin Hoffmann, and his estranged grown-up children – one of whom is British actress Emma Thompson – during a get-together to celebrate his achievements. Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler also star.

IMG_3611IN THE FADE | Fatih Akin | Germany Turkey

Akin’s debut HEAD-ON is still his best and most fervent work so let’s hope his Palme D’Or hopeful will be another standout in this year’s Cannes competition. It’s billed to a revenge thriller set in Turkish community in Germany where Diane Kruger stars as Katja a woman who loses her son and husband in a bomb blast.

IMG_3640RODIN | Jacques Doillon | France

Vincent Lindon was an instant hit in The Measure of a Man which won him best actor in the 2015 competition. In this heavyweight drama (121min) he stars as the legendary French sculptor married to Izia Higelin’s Camille Claudel, who was last played by Juliette Binoche in Camille Claudel 1913, It remains to see how Higelin will compete after Binoche’s multi-layered portrayal of the French artist. There again, Toby Jones and Philip Seymour Hoffmann both brought their own complexity to the tough role of Truman Capote so there’s almost room for a new twist.

OKJAOKJA | Bong Joon-ho (South Korea)

The Korean director last came to Cannes with Mother which played in the UCR sidebar back in 2009. This is the story of an otherworldly being that becomes the target of a large corporation headed by Tilda Swinton’s Lucy Mirando.

IMG_3615YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE | Lynne Ramsay (UK)

Disaster strikes when Joaquin Phoenix’ ex soldier tries to save a young woman from a sex trafficking ring (Ekaterina Samsonov, also in Wonderstruck).

IMG_3613RADIANCE | Naomi Kawase (Japan)

Cannes regular Naomi Kawase will be back again, like Isabelle Huppert she is a constance presence at Cannes and always seems to have film in competition although not all are picked up for release. During a film shoot the  audioscripter (Ayame Misaki) falls for a photographer (Masatoshi Nagase) who’s losing his sight.

IMG_3624THE BEGUILED | Sophie Coppola (US)

Westerns are very much macho fare so a female-centric erotic thriller based on Thomas Cullinan’s novel set in a girls’ school in Virginia during the Civil War offers a welcome twist to the genre, particularly when it stars Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, Nicole Kidman with Colin Farrell as the token male element.

IMG_3614A GENTLE CREATURE | Sergei Loznitsa (Ukraine|France)

Sergei Loznitsa’s documentary AUSTERLITZ slipped under the radar at Venice last year but was nonetheless extraordinary and transcendent. The Ukrainian auteur’s latest film is set in Latvia and should be ready to grace the Croisette in time for the festival. Inspired by a short story from Russian author Dostoyevsky, it follows a woman who decides to track down her innocent husband held captive in prison, against his will.

IMG_3642THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER | Yorgos Lanthimos (Greece)

The Greek New Wave director’s latest is another dysfunctional domestic drama set in Ohio where Barry Keoghan (’71) is a teenager who attempts to bring Colin Farrell’s talented surgeon into his family. Alicia Silverstone and Nicole Kidman also star.

IMG_3616WONDERSTRUCK | Todd Haynes (US)

After success with CAROL, Haynes adapts a Brian Selznick novel about two lives with a mysterious connection across America. Set during parallel time periods 1927 and 1977 it starsJulianne Moore, Toby Jones and Michelle Williams.

IMG_3617HAPPY END | Michael Haneke (Austria)

Michael Haneke won the Palme D’Or in 2012 for his resplendent study of lasting love AMOUR. Five years later, Emmanuelle Riva is no longer around but Jean-Louis Trintignant will be on the Red Carpet as the star of this latest family drama set in the refugee town of Calais. Isabelle Huppert and Mathieu Kassovitz complete the sterling cast.

IMG_5522LE REDOUTABLE | Michel Hazanavicius (France)

Louis Garrel plays a young Jean-Luc Godard in the Lithuanian born filmmakers’ comedy biopic charting Godard’s love and marriage to Stacy Martin’s Anne Wiazemsky, 20 years his junior. A starry French ensemble is primped by Berenice Bejo and Gregory Gadebois.

l'Amant Double L’AMANT DOUBLE | Francois Ozon (France)

After the delicately rendered black and white war-themed drama FRANTZ that premiered at last year’s Venice, the prolific Francois Ozon has been hard at work to bring his latest in time for Cannes. And yet he always looks so charming and dapper on the Red Carpet! In L’Amant Double a young girl suffering from depression falls in love with her psychiatrist only to discover his other life.

O U T   O F    C O M P E T I T I O N 

IMG_3588BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL directed by Takashi Miike 

HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES directed by John Cameron Mitchell

IMG_3619

VISAGES, VILLAGES directed by Agnès Varda is a documentary that chronicles the friendship that develops between Varda and DoP JR when they embark on a photography trip through the French countryside in his magic bus. 

D’APRES UNE HISTOIRE VRAI by Roman Polanski and Olivier Assayas adapt Delphine de Vigan’s book a stalker (Eva Green) who becomes obsessed with an author (Emmanuelle Seigner) suffering from writer’s block after publishing her latest novel.

S P E C I A L   S C R E E N I N G S 

IMG_3626NOS ANNEES FOLLES directed by Andre Techine

Le VENERABLE W directed by Barbet Schroeder

CARRE 35 directed by d’Eric Caravaca – the director goes back to his childhood to discover more about his little sister who died aged 3.

12 JOURS  directed by Raymond Depardon

THEY directed by Anahita Ghazvinizadeh

AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL  directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk

TOP OF THE LAKE: China Girl” directed by Jane Campion & Ariel Kleiman

PROMISED LAND  directed by Eugene Jarecki

24 FRAMES directed by Abbas Kiarostami

NAPALM directed by Claude Lanzmann

COME SWIM directed by Kristen Stewart

DEMONS IN PARADISE directed by Jude Ratman

SEA SORROW directed by Vanessa Redgrave

CLAIRE’S CAMERA directed by Hong Sangsoo

TWIN PEAKS directed by David Lynch

Midnight Screenings

THE VILLAINES directed by Jung Byung Gil

THE MERCILESS directed by Byun Sung-Hyun

PRAYER BEFORE DAWN directed by Jean Stephane Sauvaire

THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL TAKES PLACE FROM 18 UNTIL 28 MAY 2017 

Un Certain Regard 2017 | Cannes Film Festival

UMA THURMAN will lead the jury to select the winning film in the Un Certain Regard sidebar at Cannes this year. 

IMG_363416 Films have been short-listed so far but this is not the defnitive list as Thierry Fremaux may well add two or three before the festival kicks off on the 17 May. Un Certain Regard betokens a certain auteurish feel to the features selected and this year’s list is no different with seasoned player Laurent Cantet presenting L’ATELIER, films from two new Bulgarian directors Stephan Komandarev and Katemir Balagov and a debut from US filmmaker Taylor Sheridan. The bare bones are here and will be fleshed out as more details emerge. The section opens with BARBARA another drama from Cannes darling Mathieu Amalric.

IMG_3631APRIL’S DAUGHTER directed by Michel Franco | Mexico

Mexican director Michel Franco won Best Script for his 2015 competition thriller Chronic. His latest is a female-centric drama that explores the relationship between a mother and her pregnant teenage daughter. Emma Suarez stars.

IMG_3577LUCKY directed by Sergio Castellitto | Italy | Jasmine Trinca and Stefano Accorsi star in this Rome set thriller that revolves around a divorced hairdresser is dreaming of opening her own salon so she can do the best for her only son.

IMG_3609WESTERN directed by Valeska Grisebach | Germany

A group of German construction workers start a tough job at a remote site in the Bulgarian countryside. The foreign land awakens the men’s sense of adventure, but they are also confronted with their own prejudice and mistrust due to the language barrier and cultural differences. The stage is quickly set for a showdown when men begin to compete for recognition and favor from the local villagers. From the director of the acclaimed SEHNSUCHT aka Désir(s).

DirectionsDIRECTIONS directed by Stephan Komandarev | Bulgaria

IMG_3630AFTER THE WAR directed by Annarita Zambrano

A convicted Italian war veteran living in France is threatened with extradition after he becomes linked to the assassination of a judge in the politically febrile city of Bologna. Fleeing France with his teenage daughter, his family in Italy face the consequences of his past misdemeanours.

IMG_3628LA CORDILLERA directed by Santiago Mitre | Argentina

Ricardo Darin, Christian Slater and Dolores Fonzi team up for this political thriller centred on events surrounding the Argentine president’s visit to a Summit in Chilean capital of Santiago.

DREGS (Lerd)  directed by Mohammad Rasoulof | Iran

IMG_3627OUT by György Kristóf | Slovakia 

A Slovakian engineer in his fifties is forced to take up an alluring offer of work in a Latvian shipyard in György Kristóf’s migration thriller debut.

THE NATURE OF TIME directed by Karim Moussaoui 

In modern day Algeria three lives come together as the past and present collide for a wealthy property developer, an ambitious neurotic, and a young woman who must make a decision between love and reason.

BEFORE WE VANISH directed by Kurosawa Kiyoshi | Japan

A mystery Sc049653.jpg-c_215_290_x-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxxi-fi thriller surrounding a young couple in a crisis. The husband disappears only to come home several days later a changed man – tender and loving. Strange events seems to be linked to his absence including the brutal murder of a local family, sending the local reporter and the police out to investigate the possible presence of aliens.

65C38608-8627-4832-90C1-237EEBF42E73-622-0000009B1C16257AL’ATELIER by Laurent Cantet | France

Antoine is taking part in a summer writing school in La Ciotat, where he hopes to write a crime thriller novel with the help of Olivia, a well-known author. But the region’s working class past comes back to haunt the instability of the present providing an intoxicating mix of emotions in the writing worshop.

WALKING PAST THE FUTURE by Li Ruijun | Chinese filmmaker returns to Cannes with his latest drama.

1eefebec3515b791dbe30a1852af3172BEAUTY AND THE DOGS by Kaouther Ben Hania | Tunisia

CLOSENESS directed by Kantemir Balagov | Bulgaria

449339.jpg-r_1920_1080-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxxTHE DESERT BRIDE directed by Cecilia Atan and Valeria Pivato | Spain  

Stars Paulina Garcia (Gloria) as a fiftysomething  housekeeper whose life changes dramatically turn when she travels across Argentina to take up a new post.

IMG_3637WIND RIVER | Taylor Sheridan (US) Debut

Sicario scripter Sheridan struck gold with this his directorial debut at Sundance in January 2017. The plot revolves around the discovery of a body on a Native American reservation in Wyoming. Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen and Kelsey Asbille star.

JEUNE FEMME | Léonor Serraille (France) Debut

This is Serraille’s feature debut developed from her graduation film at the Femis in 2013. It revolves around jilted lover Laëtitia Dosch who is abandoned by her beau when she arrive in Paris to join him.

The CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | UN CERTAIN REGARD | May 17-28 2017

Directors’ Fortnight 2017 | Cannes Film Festival 2017

IMG_3606Claire Denis, Abel Ferrara and Bruno Dumont will be included in this year’s buzzy Quinzaine Selection introducing some new names and some established auteurs to the party which runs from 18-28 May 2017. Nigerian British  filmmaker Rungano Nyoni is also amongst the chosen few in a line-up which is always eclectic and inventive in its choice of indie film.

Denis opens the festival with UN BEAU SOLEIL INTERIEUR starring Juliette Binoche, Gerard Depardieu and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi. Previously known at Des Lunettes Noires, a more edgy and memorable title, this is a film about love inspired by French philisopher Roland Barthe’s A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments. The festival will close with Sundance standout debut PATTI CAKE$ from US director Geremy Jasper.

Leonardo Di Costanzo follows up his brilliant two-hander THE INTERVAL (shot by The Great Beauty’s Luca Bigazzi) with THE INTRUDER (L’Intrusa) a Naples-set immigration thriller infiltrated by an outsider linked to the Camorra and Bruno Dumont brings his long-awaited musical JEANETTE: THE CHILDHOOD OF JOAN OF ARC adapted from Charles Peguy’s work and featured a techno score from Igor. Also there will be Abel Ferrara with a documentary ALIVE IN FRANCE, his follow-up to Pasolini starring Willem Defoe who is also attached to his next dram Siberia. In the autobiographical title Ferrara headlines a film retrospective and a series of concerts in France dedicated to songs and music from his films. Preparations with his family and friends will form the material of this self portrait, showing another side of the director of legendary films BAD LIEUTENANT, THE KING OF NEW YORK and THE ADDICTION. Ferrara is joined on stage by past collaborators, including composer Joe Delia, actor-singer Paul Hipp and his wife actress Cristina Chiriac for concerts at the Metronum in Toulouse and the Salo Club in Paris in October 2016.

CAST

And where would the festival be without veteran Philippe Garrel. His son Louis is in the main competition line-up but father will be there with the Jean-Claude Carriere scripted L’AMANT D’UN JOUR which stars another member of the family Esther (Jealousy).  Israeli author and filmmaker Amos Gitai’s WEST OF THE JORDAN RIVER compares contempo life in occupied Palestine with his memories of making his 1982 documentary Field Diary, Yoman Sadeh. Gitai (RABIN, FREE ZONE) describes the efforts of citizens, Israelis and Palestinians, who are trying to overcome the consequences of occupation. Gitai’s film shows the human ties woven by the military, human rights activists, journalists, mourning mothers and even Jewish settlers. Faced with the failure of politics to solve the occupation issue, these men and women rise and act in the name of their civic consciousness. This human energy is a proposal for long overdue change.

The List in Full so far:

Un Beau Soleil a l’Interieur (Dark Glasses)– Claire Denis

A Ciambra  directed by Jonas Carpignano
Bushwick  directed by Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott
Patti Cake$  directed by Geremy Jasper
Alive in France directed by Abel Ferrara
L’amant d’un Jour directed by Philippe Garrel
Cuori Puri directed by Roberto De Paolis
The Florida Project directed by Sean Baker
Frost directed by Sharunas Bartas
I Am Not a Witch  directed by Rungano Nyoni
Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc directed by Bruno Dumont (main pic)
L’intrusa directed by Leonardo Di Costanzo
La Defensa del Dragon directed by Natalia Santa
Marlina Si Pembunuh Dalam Empat Babak directed by Mouly Surya
Mobile Homes directed by Vladimir de Fontenay
Nothingwood directed by Sonia Kronlund
Ôtez-moi d’un Doute directed by Carine Tardieu
The Rider directed by Chloé Zhao
West of the Jordan River (Field Diary Revisited) directed by Amos Gitai

THE DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT | CANNES 18-28 MAY 2017 

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki (2016)

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is Finnish filmmaker’s Juho Kuosmanen’s dynamite debut, a black and white retro-flic based on the true story of the Finnish boxer Olli Mäki and his 1962 championship match against the American featherweight champion Davey Moore (who died shortly afterwards). As much a poignant love story as a raw and visceral sketch of pre-match preparation involving gruelling training sessions, this impressive debut also reflects the quiet pensive moments in the run-up to Maki’s happiest day in August 17th, 1962, as he determines what he really wants out of life.

With hand held camera in high contrast 16mm and cinema verite style the film captures the febrile intensity and gruelling pain of day to day match preparation for the legendary episode in Finnish sporting history and the euphoric national pride and excitement of a country on the crest of international sporting fame.

As the unassuming amateur boxer, known as the “Baker of Kokkola”, trains for his first world class fight he is also falling in love with Raija, a local country girl (Oona Airola), and their romance blossoms distracting him but also grounding him as to his true ambitions while he competes in the world of professional boxing amid the glamour, bright lights, sponsors and press.

Kuosmanen also captures the contrast between the sophistication of Helsinki’s elite and the wholesome country folk, the art nouveau splendour of the maritime capital and the open skies of the countryside where vast pine forests and lakes provide a lush setting for the romantic scenes and spartan training hours, in and out of wooden saunas and snowy woods.The film’s grainy black and white freshness and glowing fervour capture our imagination and conveys the heart-pumping joy of first love and thr the simplicity of the sixties when sport was simply about talent. Peter von Bagh would be proud. MT

OUT ON 21 APRIL 2017.| Winner Prix Un Certain Regard

 

The Transfiguration (2016)

Director/Writer: Michael O’Shea

Cast: Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Aaron Clifton Moten

97min | Drama | US

Eric Ruffin (Nature Calls) plays a dark horse called Milo in Michael O’Shea’s pseudo vampire flick that premiered at Un Certain Regard Cannes side-bar last year. This low-budget indie follows the teenage African-American orphan in his freewheeling daily grind in a story that generates a palpable tension but never seems to know where it’s going.

Although O’Shea splatters his downbeat narrative with numerous vampire tropes in this impressive first feature that takes place in the backwaters and beaches of New York’s Rockaway Boulevard, the horror element is lowkey and is most distinguished by the atmosphere of alienation and loneliness generating in a desolate urban milieu.

Grieving Milo lives a solitary existence with his brother Lewis (Aaron Clifton Moten) in a flat they once shared with their mother who appears, in flashbacks, to have commited suicide. Plagued by a crew of gangland heavies, who call him ‘the freak’ on account of his tiny stature, Milo strikes up a tentative friendship with a white girl called Sophie (Chloe Levine) who moves into his housing block but who we later see being abused by the gang in nearby grassy wasteland.

With his vacant stare, Milo strikes a melancholy figure tramping silently through the streets, clearly still traumatised by his mother’s death and withdrawing into himself while attempting to build an impenetrable poker-faced facade to the outside world. In his bedroom he watches youtube footage of animals being slaughtered and has also experimented with drinking the blood of solitary warefarers who approach him in the subway, although there is no rhyme or reason to these desultory and unprovoked attacks.

Although it feels as if Milo’s budding romantic relationship with Sophie is heading the same way as that of Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One, with roles reversed: the slightly older girl’s affection for him appears to act as a calmative influence on Milo and he soon backs off emotionally, freezing Sophie out of his life for her own salvation and ultimately his own tragic demise. THE TRANSFIGURATION eschews schlockiness to focus on building a potent sense of malevolent stillness ably assisted by a droning occasional electronic score composed by Margaret Chardiet. This is a promising debut from Michael O’Shea and his young cast but the dread of the enigmatic early scenes never really transmutes into anything meaningful. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard) 12-22 MAY 2016 

The Handmaiden (2016) | Agassi

Director: Park Chan-wook

Cast: Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong, Kim Hae-sook

Writers: Chung Seo-kyung, Park Chan-wook, Novel by Sarah Waters

The Handmaiden (Agassi) is a sumptuously mounted and kinky erotic love story set in the 1930s Orient. Neatly sidestepping tawdriness the writer take the original text and flip it over into a tale of three parts, told from differing viewpoints that gradually morph into the realms of fantasy in a challenging re-telling.

Sarah Waters’ original novel Fingersmith tells the story of a girl who leaves poverty in Victorian England using her skills as an expert pickpocket to gain fame and fortune, eventually getting her comeuppance at the hands of a wealthy swindler after serving in the household of a Japanese heiress. We first get a glimpse of young Sookee (played by newcomer Kim Tae-ri) in the slums where she grew up surrounded by unwanted babies. Korea is under Japanese rule and she is sent to the mansion of Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong), a black-tongued old man who specialises in book dealing. It soon becomes clear that she is to be the maid of his niece, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee – Right Now, Wrong Then). In truth, Sookee is a crafty petty thief sent by a pimp-style gangster called The Count (Ha Jung-woo) to help him marry the young heiress and gain control of her fortune. This is all revealed in a series of fast-moving scenes while we’re still reading the subtitles. Hideko seems to be a naive, virginal orphan who knows nothing of the real world outside her sheltered kingdom. But it soon emerges that her nonce of an uncle has groomed her from childhood to be his companion after driving her aunt (Moon So-ri) insane and later hanging herself from a cherry tree and haunting the mansion. But the Count suddenly appears presenting himself as a putative suitor from a noble family who is to add value to Kouzuki’s book collection with illustrations.

There is great deal of languorous heavy petting here between both men and women in scenes reminiscent of the Marquis de Sade’s “Crimes of Love” and this is all cleverly achieved by filming the sequences from different angles. The denouement is a complex affair in this lavish epic which is mostly filmed in the dark interiors of the mansion, although it occasionally breaks out in to some glorious surroundings of a nearby lake and shimmering landscapes. A real arthouse treat that needs to be seen again to fully appreciate the intricate plotting. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 14 APRIL 2017

 

 

Graduation | Bacalaureat (2016) | DVD release

Dir.: Cristian Mungiu |  Cast: Adrian Titieni, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Lia Bugnar, Malina Manovici, Vlad Ivanov, Petre Ciubotaru | Romania 2016, 128min.

Director/writer Cristian Mungiu’s third film, which won him the Best Director’s Prize at Cannes last year, is a bleak picture of contemporary Romania where the dark shadow of the Ceausescu still haunts those who grew up during a regime.

Dr. Romeo Aldea (Titieni) wants to make sure that his daughter Eliza (Dragus) leaves Romania as soon as possible for a scholarship at a British university. He and his wife Magda (Bugnar) returned to the country from the West in 1991, after the fall of Stalinism, but Aldea has no illusions about the place: living in the city of Cluj and working at the local hospital he is part of a system where bribery , cheating and corruption is a matter of survival. When Eliza is sexually attacked the day before the final examines, she fights off the attacker but injures her arm, which is put in plaster. But the real wounds are psychological: Eliza does not really want to leave for London, she is in love with her boyfriend, a motorbike fanatic, doubling at night as a DJ. Needless to say, that he is seen as very unsuitable husband material by Romeo. Since Eliza needs an average ‘A’ for the results to gain her scholarship, Dr. Aldea is afraid that the incident and the arm injury will put her grades at risk and so hatches a plan to ensure her success but those involved are not as loyal as he hoped, sending his world into meltdown.

This is all as sombre as it sounds with DoP Tudor Vladimir Panduru’s washed-out colours infusing every scene with bleakness, and long, mournful travelling shots in the streets and the run-down estates show the decay. But the real poverty is not just much visible in the environment, but in the souls of the represented by Dr. Aldea. Graduation is, in spite of its length, absorbing with ensemble acting of the highest standard.

Dr. Aldea emerges as a selfish victim, sacrificing himself for goals that are not shared by those around him. He disregards his daughter, belittles her boyfriend, betrays his wife. He sees himself as the loser, but not the perpetrator. GRADUATION is a fascinating indictment of contempo Romania locked in the past, still run by the ‘players’ of the establishment rather than ordinary people. Justifying every move as love for his daughter (who is just a pawn in his strategy), he is very much like the great majority of Romanians ((and many parents of the era), who failed to find a new spiritual beginning after the end of the dictatorship. AS

OUT ON DVD 15 MAY 2017 | REVIEWED AT CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2016 

It’s only the End of the World | BFI FLARE Film Festival

Director: Xavier Dolan Writer: Xavier Dolan based on a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce

97min | Drama | Canada

At 27, Canadian maverick Xavier Dolan has made six good features in eight years. So eventually there had to be an exception and it premiered here at Cannes Film Festival in the main competition.

Innovative and always inventive Dolan’s films all driven by a passionate energy and incredible insight as he strives for unusual angles and plot twists in his ambitious narratives and impressive visual style. But here’s the kicker, IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD is not his original source material and that is possible why it’s his least enjoyable feature to date.

Beautifully shot with some outstanding climaxes and lows, the drama is adapted for the screen by Jean-Luc Lagarce with some intense turns from its French cast: Gaspard Ulliel (making his second appearance at the festival this year) plays  Louis, a gay man returning home to his family after over a decade, to reveal his terminal illness and to deal with another thorny issue: “the illusion that I am the master of my life,” which he explains in an opening voiceover.

His dominating mother Martine (Nathalie Baye); his mixed up sister Suzanne (Léa Seydoux); and older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel), who brings his delightful wife (Marion Cotillard, in an underutilized role), to meet Louis for the first time in his return home after 12 years absence. Antoine is the antagonistic link is the otherwise delighted family circle, and he reacts with Cassel’s trademark belligerence which is intolerable in the car scene where is driving Louis to see his childhood home.

Intimate in setting yet far-reaching in its scope and resonance, those familiar with family disarray will find the film disturbing and disruptive but it never feels claustrophobic despite its domestic confines thanks to Dolan’s visual inventiveness, clever lighting techniques and use of occasional flashbacks to a golden past that fills Louis with nostalgia. Along with Marion Cotillard’s character, Louis emerges the most sympathetic character: softly-spoken and placcid, his eyes well up frequently at the heart-breaking scenario which all feels so familiar to his past strife and his quiet disappointment and hurt is palpably expressed in a subtle facial expressions. Realising he is better off on his own he abruptly leaves. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | COMPETITION ENTRY

 

The Salesman (2016) | Cannes Winner: Best script and Actor

Director/Script: Asghar Farhadi | Drama | Iran | 127min

Asghar Farhadi is best known for his enigmatic drama A Separation (2011). This was a film that impressed the arthouse crowd with its slowburn intensity gradually building to a shocking final. About Elly (2009) followed with slightly less acclaim and The Salesman fits comfortably into the Farhadi groove. It’s a good film but not a great one. Starring the same lead as his Fireworks Wednesday (2006) the superb Taraneh Alidoosti, it explores a similar premise and now universal theme: that something familiar and safe is now fraught with uncertainty and the resulting chaos provides the testing ground for the protagonist’s integrity, or lack of it.

There’s an artificial and rather forced quality to The Salesman, a tale of Tehrani bourgeoisie: Rana (Alidoosti) is a housewife and Emad (Shahab Hosseini who won Best Actor) teaches at the University. They both enjoy the theatre and have joined an acting group staging Arthur Miller’s ‘American Dream’ play Death of a Salesman when the film opens. Emad gets the lead part of failed salesman Willy Loman and Rana – his wife -Linda. But events are waylaid by an horrific structural collapse at the couple’s apartment block and they are forced to move out into alternative accommodation, provided by another member of their group. The previous occupier has been involved with some unsavoury characters who swing by regularly at all hours of the day and night. And one day Rana accidently opens the door to one such individual. This paves the way for some startling unpleasantness as Farhardi mixes scenes from the American play with the couple’s sombre reality. The normally restrained Emad starts to take on a rather self-congratulatory grandiosity as his masculinity is challenged, much as Willy Loman’s salesmanship is when he fails in his sales efforts- the similarities emerge between the two man, albeit in a rather fatuous way in the final twist.

Although The Salesman has possibly more mainstream appeal it lacks the subtle quality of A Separation. That said, this is an intelligent and watchable drama that provides a great deal to reflect on, winning the Best Script award at Cannes Film Festival 2016. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | Winner Best Script and Best Actor

 

Elle (2016) |

Dir: Paul Verhoeven | Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Anne Consigny, Laurent Lafitte | Drama | 130min |

Dutch auteur Paul Verhoeven’s first French-language feature came to the Cannes Competition with magnificent Isabelle Huppert in a star turn that has just won her a Golden Globe for Best Actress. Slick and seductive, when it isn’t being violent in its glossy arthouse depiction of rape and twisted mysogyny, this is an upbeat, almost chipper tale of contemporary life, piqued with mordant humour. But what else would you expect from a director who brought us Basic Instinct and Showgirls?

ELLE features several strong female characters who are well-equipped to deal with their lives with sophistication and a certain élan. Wittily adapted from Betty Blue writer Philippe Djian’s novelIa, Isabelle Huppert plays Michele Blanc, a sexy and savvy businesswoman who is stylish and perfectly in control of her faculties. A leader in her field of video games, she deals with a masked intruder, who rapes her viciously in her sumptuous Parisian house, by bouncing back with disdain and aplomb – despite some serious injuries – not least to her self esteem. Brushing herself down and disposing of her elegant black decolté she gets back to work immediately with a mission to uncover her assailant. But the incident has sparked a surprising change in the way she responds sexually to the men around her. In the Cannes Film Festival press conference, the cast and directors refused to be drawn into a discussions concerning the controversial implications of the rape scenes. Ms Huppert said her character responded in a way that served the film’s narrative, and the work was purely fiction.

Verhoeven keeps the tension taut throughout the film’s running time – just proud of two hours. And the suspects are diverse but don’t intrude into the other themes of this intelligent comedy thriller. There is her suave neighbour Patrick (Laurent Lafitte) a banker whose marriage to his devout Catholic wife (Virginie Efira) provides some grounds for humour; ex husband Richard (Charles Berling), a wannabe novelist; Robert (Christian Berkel), the husband of her best friend and business partner, Anna (Anne Consigny) who both have sexual dalliances with her during the course of this entertaining drama – even her petulant son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet), who is dating Josie (Alice Isaac) a minx with whom he is expecting another man’s child, falls under the spotlight.

Perversely, the film’s comedy surfaces from incidents that could be perceived as troubling or negative in misogynist terms, yet the female leads respond with such self-possession and insight that the rape brings out greater weaknesses in the male characters rather than the female ones and Michele choses to pluck success and inner strength from the jaws of possible failure. This is very much a French film with its exuberant family crises, sexual complexity in the way the sparky characters treat each other with an attitude that many many consider rude or offensive.

Visually the film is a delight with Isabelle Huppert sporting a sumptuous couture wardrobe ranging from classy elegance to  raunchy vamp. Academy award winner Anne Dudley’s original score pumps up the suspense adds gravitas but never detracting from the provocative atmosphere. MT

ON RELEASE AT PICTURESHOUSE FROM 10 MARCH 2017 | PREMIERED CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016

The Student (2016) (M)Uchenik

Dir.: Kirill Serebrennikov

Cast: Pyotr Skvortsov, Victoria Isakova, Julia Aug, Nikolai Roschin, Svetlana Bragarnik; Russia 2016, 118 min.

Kirill Serebrennikov’s adaptation of the stage play by German playwright Marius von Mayenburg is set in contemporary Russia, creating a vicious intellectual discourse of clashing ideologies and religious fanaticism.

Whilst Muchenik means ‘martyr’ in Russia, ‘uchenik’ translates into student – since this wordplay would not be understood outside Russia, the English title Student was chosen. But Serebrennikov’s anti-hero Venya Yuzhin (Skvortsov) is exactly the amalgamation of the two: a martyr in his own and in the eyes of the worldwide anti-enlightenment movement; a student for teachers, who educate in believing in a rational world and the importance of tolerance.

Attending secondary school in Kaliningrad Oblast, Venya is an angry pupil: his first hate object is his divorced mother Inga (Aug), who is holding down three jobs to survive. Venya attacks her with his rabid bible quotes (one of hundreds, annotated on screen), calling her a whore for leaving the father, who abused her. Inga wails: “I wish he collected stamps or jerked off all the time”. At school, Venya, afraid of his sexual orientation, rages against the girls, wearing bikinis in the swimming pool. The reactionary head teacher Stukalina (Bragarnik) even tries to accommodate Venya: she asks the PE teacher to have the girls wear one-piece bathing suits. But Venya is far from finished: he wears a gorilla outfit (shades of Karel Reisz’ 1966 British New Wave film Morgan!) in an Economy lesson, arguing against the need for industrialisation, because it does not confirm with the demands of St. John in the bible.

On a personal level, Venya is only to keen to kiss an attractive female student, and he also tries to heal a limping co-student, putting his hand on his deformed leg. Confronted by the orthodox priest (Roschin), Venya accuses him of lacking fighting spirit “unlike the martyrs of the Jihad, who want to die for their cause”. But Venya’s main enemy is the biology teacher Elena (Isakova), whose views on contraception and evolution he challenges. Again, Stukalina gives in, asking Elena to “find a tolerable mixture of scientific and religious ideology”. Venya has, in vain, asked his handicapped friend to manipulate the brakes of Elena’s motor Scooter, and clobbers him with a rock when the boy tries to kiss him. In a final confrontation, Stukalina takes sides, when Venya accuses Elena “to have fondled him”: she agrees with the priest, that Elena’s worldview is governed by her being Jewish.

The real monster of Student is not Venya, but Stukalina, whose far right-wing views on feminism, Judaism and homosexuality were the norm in Stalinist Russia. She is very much at home in Putin’s Russia, as intrinsic a nationalist state like the old USSR.

DOP Vladislav Opelyant’s visuals are breath-taking: his looping long shots set the antagonists on their confrontations. The images of Venya’s and Inga’s flat are symbolically divided: her living room is full of ungainly figurines, the walls covered with gruesome wallpaper; his ‘prison’ room is dark and spartan: the wallpaper ripped off, the windows closed with planks. Laibach’s pounding “God is God” is adequate good choice for an anthem: Serebrennikov shows a Russia of oppressive puritanism where hate is becoming institutionalised – again. AS/MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 3RD MARCH 2017 | REVIEWED AT CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 |

Toni Erdmann (2016) |

Director: Maren Ade

Cast: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Huller, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Putter

142min | Comedy | Germany

Following in the wake of some quirky and enjoyable comedies at Cannes Film Festival this year was German filmmaker Maren Ade’s TONI ERDMANN, a European arthouse drama that celebrates the intergenerational gap between parents and children with humour rather than strife.

Maren Ade explores whether comedy is the right way to fix family issues or whether we should just try to be more sympathetic and understanding. In a film that runs just short of three hours, she achieves a blend of situational comedy, embarrassing incidents, pervy sex scenes and even a good old German nudist party in the style of an Ulrich Seidl film.

And in fact TONI ERDMANN‘s hero is Austrian: Peter Simonichek plays Winifried, a divorced German music teacher who loves playing inappropriate practical jokes on his friends and colleagues, with whoopee cushions and the like. We first meet Winifried in the throes of arranging a surprise musical tribute to an old colleague’s retirement. But not everyone likes surprises or to be part of this harmless fun, least of all his serious-minded daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller), a top management consultant in Romania. When she realises that her father has been up to his tricks in a bid to poke fun at her childless state and perceived loneliness, it’s already too late to block his impromptu visit in Bucharest, after the death of his dog Willi leaves him footloose and a bit down in the dumps. As a little girl she loved his pranks, but his casual arrival at her offices in fancy dress, makes her extremely irritated. Rejecting his bid to offer fatherly appreciation, Winifried then starts to behave like a stalker, popping up at Ines’ dinner dates pretending to be his alter ego ‘Toni Erdmann’ complete with wig and grotesque false teeth which he claims are from cosmetic dentistry “I wanted something different – fiercer”.

Only a woman can appreciate the intricacies of life in the competitive corporate world where women are supposed to “go on shopping trips” when they travel with their CEO husbands. Rather than hanging with the guys after work, poor Ines is forced to show the women round the shops while the men ‘kick back’ over drinks. Extremely galling! At one point she tells her boss “if I was a feminist, I wouldn’t tolerate guys like you”. Ade’s script is really spot on, brilliantly manipulating this father daughter relationship and drawing some subtle and intricately-played performances from Simonischek and Huller, who start as polar opposites in their frosty stand-off but gradually grow more sympathetic and human during the course of the film. Beneath Winifried’s silliness lies a heart of gold, he appreciates the real world but has withdrawn from it to reflect  and his daughter emerges to be far more caring and worldly than he gives her credit for.

Winifried’s old dog Willi sets the furry leitmotive for rest of the film, and he pops up in various shaggy wigs and even a full blown Bulgarian scarecrow outfit. The irony comes from the way Ines intuitively manages her difficult colleagues and local friends; her secretary Anca is the only sympathetic female character and there are some really poignant scenes at the end where Ines and her father finally let their guards down to acknowledge that blood really is thicker than water. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 12-22 MAY 2016 | WINNER OF THE FIPRESCI AWARD 2016

The Unknown Girl (2016) | La Fille Inconnue | Cannes Film Festival | In competition 2016

Directors: The Dardennes Brothers

Cast: Adèle Hanael | Jeremie Renier | Olivier Gourmet | Fabrizio Rongione |

117min | Belgium | Drama

One wonders if the Dardennes brothers are still living in the real world with this low-key Belgian crime drama which feels stuck in the 1970s. It follows the daily life of a young GP who makes round the clock personal visits to her patients and harshly admonishes her practice intern for his lack of emotional detachment before reacting with guilt and tearful outbursts when a total stranger calls at the surgery after hours, and subsequently winds up dead.

The Dardennes’ 10th feature is a slow-burning procedural drama set in modern Liège where a solid cast perform a dreary tale of social realism amid unremitting gloom. This is not the Belgian city of frothy chocolate drinks and buttery waffles, but one of drugs and the dejected.

Hanael plays the bossy and humourless Jenny who takes great care of her patients but comes up against her intern Julien who decides to leave the medical world for good after a mild contretemps with Adèle Hanael’s good doctor. Matters take a turn for the worst when the police arrive to investigate the death of a young black girl who attempted to gain access to the surgery, just as it is closing (we feel her pain). Jenny is fraught with guilt at the incident and turns passive aggressive on several of her patients as she begins a freelance investigation into the possible murder.

For the first part of the two hour running time the film unspools in intimate close-up shots in the confines of the surgery and various domestic locations – as Jenny attempts to juggle her worthy medical activities (examining her patients’ seeping wounds, foot ulcers, stools and vomiting)- but eventually the ‘murder investigation’ takes complete hold of her and widens out into the environs of a wintery Liège where she is unable to let go of the stranger’s destiny for a predictable conclusion in the Dardennes’ trademark elliptical style.

The Dardennes Brothers have a legendary history of social realist filmmaking with successes at Cannes Film Festival winning the Palme D’Or for The Child and Rosetta and gongs for The Kid with a Bike, The Silence of Lorna amongst others. This is their least enjoyable film to date, but will no doubt appeal to ardent fans of their particular pared-down brand of realism. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | IN COMPETITION

http://www.festival-cannes.com/en/web-tv/trailer/la-fille-inconnue#vid=1112

 

I, Daniel Blake (2016) | Cannes Film Festival | Palme d’Or Winner | 2016

Director: Ken Loach. Writer: Brian Laverty  DoP: Robbie Ryan

Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Briana Shann, Dylan Philip Mckiernan

100mins | Drama | UK

It seems appropriate that a British auteur with his own particular brand of social realism should still return at 80, to a Film Festival that, at 69, still prides itself with being about the art of film rather than just the money. THE CANNES COMPETITION line-up is still gloriously auteur-driven; but you may never get to see these arthouse films at your local cinema- apart from the Palme d’Or winner, naturellement. That’s why Woody Allen, a treasured regular at Cannes still brings Red Carpet glitz and the big crowds. His festival opener Cafe Society (out of Competition) is a romantic comedy and social satire of America in the 1930s, will definitely be coming to a cinema near you.

But back to Ken Loach and this latest film that arrives a decade after he won the Palme d’Or for The Wind That Shakes the Barley and two years after he brought Jimmy’s Hall to Cannes. This is a story about an decent man, another auteur, but this time one who crafts wood, and suddenly finds himself in his fifties having to fall back on the Welfare State due to a heart attack, after years of self-employment as a joiner. His life of using his hands comes to an abrupt halt – “I can build you a house, but I can’t use a computer” –  and he feels demoralised and smoulders with quiet desperation at having to deal with the social services and a grim breed of people called ‘medical professionals’ and’ decision-makers’ instead of his regular normal customers in his Newcastle home.

Loach works with his regular co-writer Paul Laverty in this bleak but trenchant indictment of  the British Welfare System where Daniel Blake, a Geordie, is played by stand-up comedian Dave Johns. The only score is that stalwart of ‘on-hold phone lines – The Four Seasons –  but the dialogue is humorous and fraught with Geordie expressions.

Blake is a self-reliant bloke but soon he is smouldering with resentment at the humiliating situation of having to sign on for benefits having been warned by his doctor about retuning to work. Loach often offers a didactic approach which is occasionally moving and sparked with fierce humour, although the support characters often feel typecast into the nasty government types versus the compassionate underdogs. When Daniel sees a young mother (Hayley Squires) of two being denied basic support for missing her appointment slot, an unlikely friendship develops and he offers to help with the kids and odds jobs around her council flat. Although the mother’s story occasionally veers into the realms of mawkish melodrama, Daniel emerges as the hero, a truly likeable bloke mourning the death of his wife as he deals with the Kafkaesque absurdity of form-filling red tape that most of us will thoroughly identify with. Although the finale feels rather uncharacteristic in the light of Daniel’s previous sensible attitude it will certainly appeal to those who have reached the end of their tether with bureaucracy or share Loach’s signature political affiliations. It will no doubt be Jeremy Corbyn’s film of the year.

So six months down the line, after a revisit, I’m still with Robbie Collin on his Daily Telegraph review: “the award (Palme d’Or) sat awkwardly with a few critics, including myself, who felt the film’s determination to more or less frogmarch its audience around to its way of thinking felt less like the stuff of great cinema than the party political broadcast – although doubtlessly Loach and his long-time collaborator, the screenwriter Paul Laverty, would respond that right now, explicitly partisan left-wing politics is exactly what cinema needs.” MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | Winner Palme d’Or

Versus  copyIn celebration of Ken Loach’s 80th Birthday in June 2016, Dogwoof and the BFI support a film by British documentarian Louise Osmund: VERSUS: The Life and Films of Ken Loach | 

 

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American Honey (2016) | Cannes Film Festival | Jury Prize 2016

Director: Andrea Arnold

Cast: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBoeuf, Arielle Holmes, Corey McCaul Lombardi

142mins | drama | US

Andrea Arnold’s US debut is a runaway road movie that follows fiesty newcomer Sasha Lane across America’s Midwest with a crowd of defiant drifters trying to sell something that nobody really wants on a journey that never comes to much but rambles enjoyably on its way. Drawing parallels with Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park there are also echoes here of Larry Clark’s loose brand of sexuality in the partying and free-wheeling fun that goes on as the band bond with Shia LaBeouf adding his own brand of charisma. Although there are some magical moments with Jake (Shia LaBeouf), adding his own brand of charisma to the road show as head of sales in a drama that drifts along dreamily often in a drunken haze.

This is fun for the first hour but only two other characters stand out: surfer dude Corey (McCaul Lombardi), and ditzy Pagan (Arielle Holmes in a similar role to her character in Heaven Knows What). The tone is upbeat and rebellious in this melange of meandering and amorphously linked encounters, but for its scant three hour running time it lacks dramatic torque for the most part working best as a euphoric mood piece where the romance between Star and LeBoeuf is the slow peddling driving force.

The visuals are vibrant and sensual whether on the widescreen or in the more intimate spaces of the van and motel rooms and Arnold never judges her characters letting them glide on in the glory and occasionally more soberly in this (for them) memorable story with its eclectic musical moments from Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’, and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s “Careless Love,”. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016

Embrace of the Serpent (2015)

Dir: Ciro Guerra | Cast: Nilbio Torres, Antonio Bolivar, Yauenku Miguee | 122min | Adventure Drama |  Colombia

Colombian writer|director Ciro Guerra’s third feature is a visually stunning exploration to a heart of darkness that echoes  Miguel Gomes’ Tabu or Werner Herzog’s Cobra Verde or even Nicolas Roeg’s Belize-set drama Heart of Darkness (1993).

A backlash on the negative impacts of organised Religion and Colonialism, Embrace of the Serpent‘s slow-burn intensity has a morose and unsettling undercurrent that threatens to submerge you in the sweaty waters of the Amazon River whence its token German explorer, Theordor Koch-Grunberg (Jan Bijvoet) meanders fitfully in search of a rare and exotic flower with restorative powers.

Impressively mounted and elegantly shot in black and white (by DoP David Gallego) this arthouse masterpiece was dreamt up by scripters Guerra and Jacques Toulemonde, who base this imagined drama, told in parallel narrative, on the diaries of two explorers travelling through the Colombian jungle in the early part of last century between 1900 and the 1940s. Theodor and Evan (Brionne Davis) are guided by the rather fierce figure of a shaman called Karamakate (played by Nilbio Torres and later by Antonio Bolivar) the sole survivor of a native tribe which perished due to invasion.

Karamakate knows the intricate tribal nuances and the subtleties of the local fauna but is filled with latent hatred for the explorers who he blames for destroying his forefathers. Despite this he cures Theodor, virtually bringing him back to life with potions distilled from the vegetation which is alarmingly shot through a pipe at high speed into the German’s nostrils. With the Shaman they encounter a fallen Catholic mission and a poor worker with a severed arm who begs to be put out of his misery.

For all the magnificent beauty of this wildly lush and desolate forest with its flowing river, there are signs of human destruction. Scored by Carlos Garcia’s haunting ambient soundtrack this is a peaceful, if slightly overlong, meditation on the havoc man has wreaked on his own species and the planet. MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER 

Hell or High Water (2016)

Dir: David Mackenzie. Writer: Taylor Sheridan | Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine | 102min | UK/US | Crime Drama

HELL OR HIGH WATER is a rangy arthouse western with a witty political undercurrent courtesy of actor turned writer Taylor Sheridan who wrote Sicario. British director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) continues to impress with a Texas-set heist led by a laconic Jeff Bridges (with an undecipherable Texan drawl) And Texas is looking a bit tired round the edges as brothers Toby and Tanner (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) embark on the dodgy business of robbing banks. The humour sparks from their cynical repartee as they go through the motions of petty crime for paltry financial gain.

Toby and Tanner get down to business early in the morning so as to steal a march on the banking staff before they are really geared up for the day. This is a high-risk business, and they only take small amounts of untraceable bills so it’s not worth the bank’s while pursuing charges. Toby, a divorcé, was very much the apple of his mother’s eye and the sole beneficiary of her will, leaving him in control of a family property on oil land which he has signed over to his kids in trust. The bank heists have become a way of life rather than a desperate need, but he still goes through the motions to support his brother Tanner, a career criminal who got nothing in the Will, so there is a kind of irony in the plotline that spikes the dark humour.

Meanwhile, the Texas Ranger Marcus (Bridges) has his eye firmly fixed on their trail through his Wayfarer sunglasses. His partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) is a Native American and they share an affectionate relationship – this is the kind of film that doesn’t pull its punches – with some politically incorrect racial jibing – in the best possible taste. Marcus is on the verge of retiring but reticent to throw in the towel knowing that not much else awaits him but the inevitable, and the two of them  mooch around town checking in at the same old diner where the feisty old local waitress would certainly give them the cold shoulder if they went too far off the main menu selection by ordering the trout like some out-of-towner did back in 1987.

Nominated for a fistful of Oscars this is an upbeat crime thriller with some vicious dust-ups and convincing action scenes between Marcus, Toby and Tanner that feel at home in the sun-baked landscape of New Mexico and Arizona. MT

ON NETFLIX

The Blue Room (2014) | La Chambre Bleue

923195_727151780639094_8184037258253821718_nDirector: Mathieu Amalric | Crime Romance | France | 76min 

Mathieu Amalric bases his directorial debut, in which he also stars, on a 1964 crime thriller from Belgian detective Simenon. Lushly erotic, highly stylised and superbly shot on the Academy format by the capable Christophe Beaucarne, it will please the art house circuit with its skilful performances and clever fractured narrative. After making love to his mistress Esther (a sinuous Stephanie Cléau) in the eponymous blue room, tractor magnate Julien (Amalric) goes home to his lovely wife (Léa Drucker) and daughter. The story jumps forward to show him being cross-examined by a local magistrate (a masterful Laurent Poitrenaux) as it transpires that his affair with Esther is not as simple and compartmentalised as has hoped for. As the story flips backwards and forward further clues gradually emerge, fleshing out the storyline but at leaving the details as shady as Esther’s background. The Blue Room is a workable and sophisticated piece of cinema that offers good entertainment, but many critics questioned why it premiered in the Un Certain Regard sidebar at Cannes on its release. Those in the know will realise it was due to Amalric’s close relationship with the festival. Bijoux, smart and entertaining – it’s certainly a film to be proud of.  MT

OUT ON MUBI FROM 26 AUGUST 2016

Cafe Society (2016) | Cannes 2016

13227243_1104471159573819_1339233737504469676_o copyDirector|Writer: Woody Allen

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, Jesse Eisenberg, Kelly Rohrbach, Anna Camp, Steve Carrell, Parker Posey, Corey Stoll, Judy Davis, Paul Schneider, Ken Stott

96min | Comedy Drama | US

CAFE SOCIETY satirises showbiz and gangsterland America during the 1930s, all wrapped up in a bittersweet romantic love story for a young New Yorker seeking his fortune in Hollywood.

The tone is upbeat and the musical choices spot on as Woody Allen’s latest film opens the 69th Cannes Film Festival with a clever cocktail of razzmatazz and auteur-driven artistry. Sunlit and softly-focused, CAFE SOCIETY blends the hilarious humour of Small Time Crooks, the gorgeous sunsets of Manhattan, the wittiness of Annie Hall and romantic tenderness Husbands and Wives and whizzes it all into a 5-star cocktail where Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart spark like dynamite as young lovers Vonnie and Bobby who meet when the naive Jewish ingenue arrives at the offices of his uncle Phil, a big studio executive in Hollywood, where he fetches up jobless and friendless after leaving New York.

After Bobby turns down the advances of a first time hooker, also in Hollywood to make her name, a tender romance blossoms when Uncle Phil asks Vonnie to show Bobby the sights. It slowly emerges that Uncle Phil also has his finger in this romantic pie, promising to leave his wife Karen for the young brunette, in an on off affair that is celebrated when Vonnie, star struck by Phil’s power play, gives him a signed letter from Valentino for their one year paper anniversary. Meanwhile in New York, Allen plays up the other side of America where Bobby’s classic Jewish mother (a perfectly tart Shae D’Iyn) is keeping the homefires burning, in bitter disgruntlement with her loser of a husband (Ken Stott) “you don’t even have a Jewish head”, and her other son Ben (Corey Stoll), a financially dodgy nightclub owner who deep-sixes his rivals in liquid cement.

Splicing this tender but tragic love story with swipes at the Hollywood machine – “you wouldn’t know me –  I’m a writer”, and his beloved Jewish roots – “when a Jew cooks something it’s always over-done to get rid of the bacteria” – CAFE SOCIETY also offers some sublime musical choices from the vintage jazz world (often performed live) in what is Woody’s wittiest and most incisive film in a long time. Lensed by the thrice Oscar winning DoP Vittorio Storaro, this is a gorgeous film to look at as well as an enjoyable one to watch and the ups and downs of the romantic underpull keep things nicely taut in its modest running time. Jesse Eisenberg comes into his own as Allen’s alter ego, morphing seemlessly from a tentative “deer in the headlights” to a shrewd businessman but decent and disillusioned lover and Kristen Stewart is both vulnerable and alluring as the cunning love interest with her eye to the main chance. Steve Carrell is commanding as the power-punching megalith weakened by the lure of love. At 80 Woody Allen offers a happy ending in a story where the bad get their comeuppance, successful men make the best lovers, and clever women know the difference between the two. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016

The Neon Demon (2016) | Cannes Film Festival 2016 review

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Cast: Elle Fanning, Keanu Reeves, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendriks, Jena Malone, Karl Glusman

110min | Thriller | US

In his coruscating takedown of the fashion industry in contempo Los Angeles Nicolas Winding Refn’s Palme D’Or hopeful THE NEON DEMON epitomises the competitive resentment women feel for one another in this cat eat cat world.

Its subject matter clearly indicates that this is not a thriller about wallflowers or the faint-hearted. A phenomenal central performance from Elle Fanning leads a cast of international acting talent categorised by punchy female characters with two standout male roles for Alessandro Nivola and Keanu Reeves. Scripted by Winding Refn and co-writers Mary Laws and Polly Stenham, this mannered often bitchy exposé is driven forward by its blindingly magnetic visual style and a pounding electronic soundtrack from Cliff Martinez (Drive).

When 16 year old Jessie (Elle Fanning) arrives in LA from her native Georgia she cuts a seemingly demure and homespun figure amid the blare and bright lights of  LA’s modelling fraternity. Jessie is no strinking violet, but up against the hard-bitten competition she has a ‘deer in the headlights’ quality which is much sought-after by the agency heads and photographers and soon catches the eye of Alessandro Nivola’s cliquey fashion designer wannabe actor. Beauty isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. You’ve got something that other women would kill for – natural beauty”. His words will eventually bear poisonous fruit although Refn fails to delivery a satisfyingly convincing outcome for his underwritten heroine.

There are scenes in this shocking often erotic thriller that audiences will find objectionable. Elle Fanning carries through her character’s naive personality with a subtlety that connects us to the hard-edged world where most sink in the mire. The themes of vampirism and cannibalism at times feel far-fetched and outlandish but make this fantasy somehow plausible in this fake community where evil lurks in every character, a manifestation of fear of failing and losing face – quite literally.

Refn’s visionary visual style that aligns him with Jonathan Glazer in Under the Skin where unspoken scenes project us into the realms of mystery and even terror and once again, he is driven by the power of electronic sound which tinkles and throbs by turns. This is an LA inhabited by real and metaphorical vampires who ‘feed off’ their victims with a creepy and hateful fascination showcased by Klaus Kinski in Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) and Gary Oldman’s Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).

There are some impressive performances from Christina Hendricks’ model booker and , Jena Malone’s lesbian make-up artist Ruby. Jesse’s rivals Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote) seethe with poorly disguised malice in some of the most viturperative lines their vacuous characters have ever uttered, spitting venom on Jesse’s meteoric rise to acceptance amongst the male designers and photographers. Alessandro Nivola is stunningly persuasive as a cruelly narcissistic fashion designer who has models parade in front of him in their underwear before callously dismissing them. The only character who plays it straight is Jesse’s decent boyfriend (Karl Glusman) who is cast aside when he cramps her style. As despite her lack of redemption, Fanning is nonetheless our conduit into this sunny world of lost souls floundering on the dark side that Refn conjures up with conviction and aplomb leaving us without a Hollywood happy ending in the true style of Polanski. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

 

Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016) |Cannes Film Festival Directors’ Fortnight 2016

Director: Anurag Kashyap  Writers: Anurag Kashyap, Vasan Bala

Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Vicky Kaushal, Sobhita Dhulipala

Writer-director Anurag Kashyap is best known outside India for his dazzling gangster saga Gangs of Wasseypur that took the LFF by storm in 2012. His latest crossover outing is an arthouse thriller with a Bollywood signature premiering at Cannes Film Festival’s auteur side-bar Directors’ Fortnight.

RAMAN RAGHAV spins the common perception that criminals and cops have sociopathic tendancies in common. Stained by a violent misogynist streak, this is a nevertheless a strangely captivating story not least for its sizzling snapshot of modern Mumbai – a city that seethes with a sleepless outdoor population making it an ideal setting for a crime thriller. Taking its name from an infamous ’60s serial killer Raman Raghav, who killed 41 people on the streets Mumbai, this violent and rambunctiously rowdy film is fuelled by a pulsating energy and punctuated by Ram Sampath’s electronic score. With violence aplenty but hardly any gore, the director inculcates an atmosphere of palpable fear from the opening scene where we first set eyes on our narcissistic abusive anti-hero Raman (Nawazuddin Siddiqui in ferocious form). But he is not the only character wielding a weapon – a bloodied car-jack that he drags along behind him noisily – Detective Raghav, investigating the crimes, has a licence to kill that is equally illicit.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui carries the film with glaring eyes and a gleeful disassociation from the terror wreaked in his brutal killing spree: murdering just for the pleasure of it, indiscriminately and abundantly as a reflex action. Siddiqui’s greedy smile and peacock preening make him a hateful criminal as Raman in total contrast to his portrayal of a lowly office clerk in The Lunchbox, this is more in the style of Sonu Duggal in Miss Lovely.

Vicky Kaushal, who played the romantic teenager in last year’s Un Certain Regard entry Masaan, is also a nasty piece of work here as the gorgeously handsome Raghav Singh Ubbi, a coke-snorting detective who terrorises his girlfriend Simmy (Sobhita Dhuliwala in a poorly underwritten role) and arrives on the crime scene before heading off for another fix. Discovering that his pusher has been murdered, his reflex action is to take out an intruder and snaffle a package of drugs, firmly establishing him as another villian rather than the hero of the piece in the audiences’ eyes. Although he rises to the occasion, Kaushal doesn’t quite muster the requisite charisma or grist for the part.

The killing rampage goes on bruised by vibrant bursts of Bollywood-style electronic vibes as the terrible two slither in and out of each other’s clutches. Both men are killers in a crime wave that showcases the inner workings of the city with an authenticity that seems grittier and more visceral than the Mumbai of Slumdog Millionaire yet with a striking psychedelic aesthetic that makes it wicked to watch, the only thing lacking here is some strong female guts. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | UN CERTAIN REGARD

 

 

 

 

Cemetery of Splendour (2015)

Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Cast: Banlop Lomnoi, Jenjira Pongpas, Jarinpattra Rueangram

102min   Drama   Thailand

Apichatpong Weerasethakul won the Palme d’Or in 2010 with his strangely-titled piece of poetic reverie Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past LivesCemetery of Splendour premiered at Un Certain Regard in 2015. Taking up the fashionable theme of psychogeography, it is a blissful and serenely spiritual study of a group of soldiers who have fallen ill with sleeping sickness while working on a government building project. Their convalescence is overseen in the tropical surroundings of a “laying in” hospital by the calming presence of elderly volunteer, Jenjira, and a local medium, Keng, who is uses her spiritual powers to heal the soldiers. The women are also visited by the spirits of two Laotian princesses who appear naturally and calmly: dressed as mortal women.

Cemetery works as a clever allegory of the suffering of the Thai people. The twist is that this ground was once the site of an ancient Royal Palace. The spirits of past royals (who also represent the unquiet ghosts of the corrupt Thai nation) are drawing on the energy of the soldiers and using it to fight their own continued battles, causing a generalised sleeping sickness amongst the veterans.

Weerasethakul’s film is beautifully-framed in a series of long and medium shots. On a spiritual level, it serves as a meditation that contemplates the value of harsh western medicine in contrast to the curative powers of touch and silence that assist healing. An atmospheric soundtrack of ambient insect sounds and cicadas lull us into a deep sense of calm, making this an affecting and deeply restorative experience. MT

THE TATE MODERN is currently running a film installation entitled PRIMITIVE 2009 

CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR is on general release from 17 JUNE 2016

 

 

 

Rams | Hrutar | Home Ent release

Writer\Director: Grímur Hákonarson

Cast: Sigurour Sigurjonsson, Theodor Juliusson, Charlotte Boving,

90min  Iceland   Docu-Drama

The startling minimalist splendour of Iceland is the setting for this dour but touching tale exploring how blood is thicker than water in a remote farming community where the largely male inhabitants strive for self-sufficiency. Summerland director Grimur Hakonarson’s RAMS has echoes of the recent Of Horses And Men and Village at the End of the World. Two estranged but neighbouring brothers, Gummi and Kiddi, each own a flock of sheep but have not spoken for nearly forty years. Gummi is a reserved but decent man who prides himself in his animal husbandry and expert care of his flock on the snowy foothills of central Iceland. Occasionally, his brother takes a drunken pot shot at his farmhouse, particularly during the annual competition where their prize rams compete for a trophy.

Hakonarson brings his extensive documentary experience to this windswept story that pictures these bearded and weatherbeaten old men toughing in out in the hostile terrain and their hand-knitted, fairisle jumpers. Clinging to past traditions with his beloved family of sheep and faithful shepherd dog, Somi (Panda); Gummi proudly eats his Christmas dinner alone in candlelight with Christian hymns playing softly in the background. But his brother becomes a liability when his winning ram is found to be suffering from ‘Scrapie’, a dread disease that spreads like the plague and requires the slaughtering all the local flocks. Whilst compensation is due from the authorities, this is the last straw from many of the islanders, so Gummi decides to take matters into his own hands to secure his livelihood.

Despite its sombre tone and windswept landscapes, RAMS is full of wry humour especially in the scene where Gummi scoops Kiddi’s drunken body out of the snow and drops him from a fork lift truck outside Casualty at the local hospital. Sigurjonsson gives a heartfelt performance as Gummi, and Atli Orvarsson’s muted accordion score adds a touch of local charm to this melancholy but heart-warming story of brotherly conflict in a community struggling for survival. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 13 -24 May 2015 | UN CERTAIN REGARD | GOLDEN TOWER WINNER AT PALIC FESTIVAL | GOLDEN EYE WINNER AT ZURICH

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The Measure of a Man (Le Loi du Marche) |

Writer|Director: Stephane Brizé

Cast: Vincent Lindon

93mins  | Drama  | France

Le Loi de Marche is a trenchant slice of social realism. It comes from Stephane Brizé, and is France’s equivalent of the Dardennes brother’s The Unknown Girl  that polarised critics in this year’s festival, and a rather better British equivalent of this year’s Palme d’Or winner I, Daniel Blake. Although not well-known outside France, Vincent Lindon has over 67 films under his belt and once dated Caroline de Monaco. He gets down and dirty here with that well-known elephant in the room: unemployment after 50.

In a sustained and sombre character piece, Lindon carries the film as Thierry Tagourdeau, a man in his early fifites struggling to make ends meet with his wife and disabled son, after being controversially sacked from a blue-collar job. Cleary there are legal ramifications here but Thierry sensibly has decided not to pursue an emotionally draining legal fight for compenation – and we can all feel his pain and empathise from the get go. Being unemployed as a student is one thing, but when there is a mortgage to pay and a social lifestyle to maintain, it is probably the most demoralising aspect of getting older. An emotionally charged opening scene is cleverly-balanced with rather a ridiculous one where Thierry and his wife are learning to dance. Whether this was supposed to leaven proceedings is unclear, but it has an almost derisory quality to it. Laudably, Thierry he knuckles down to his job search, including an embarassing ‘skype’ interview, every nerve and sinew is focused on self-improvement and self-justification – whilst a growing sense of dread and anger quietly takes hold.

Those who can’t appreciate Thierry’s predicament should count themselves lucky. Suffice to say Lindon gives the role his best shot; aided and abetted by his supportive wife as they trying to sell a second rate mobile home and deal with their son’s education issues. In one particular scene, where Thierry is undergoing a character assassination by fellow job-seekers during a presentation skills session, Lindon’s expression gradually wilts from calm acceptance of criticism to a sort of vacant hopelessness: so subtle is this facial transformation that it’s almost imperceptible: but nevertheless it’s one of the joys of this otherwise quite dour social drama. When Thierry does find work in supermarket security, a further twist presents him with a moral dilemma that finally breaks the camel’s back. As his perseverance finally lets him down, Thierry makes a hot-tempered decision that may have a negative impact on his family. Brize leaves us with the question: is it right to do something we are morally apposed to, for the sake of our family’s welfare?

This is perhaps not the stuff for a cheery night out, but as social realism goes, it’s well-crafted and bang on the button performance-wise with Lyndon giving it all he’s got in a role that feels real. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 3 JUNE 2016 | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL Winner Best Actor 2015

Pericles the Black (2016) | Un Certain Regard 2016

Director: Stefano Mordini

Cast: Riccardo Scamarcio, Marina Fois, Valentina Acca

104min | Thriller | Italy

Stefano Mordini’s noirish thriller has Riccardo Scamarcio as a hard-bitten hitman on the run from the Camorra in Belgium. Based on the ’90s novel by Giuseppe Ferrandino and adapted for the screen by Francesca Marciano this is the one of the best crime dramas showing in the Un Certain Regard strand at Cannes this year.

It probes the seething underworld of the ultra-violent Belgian branch of the Camorra where a low-life from the coalface of the organisation comes up against his boss and is forced to leave his Brussels home and flee to Calais to avoid death.

And nobody seethes like Bari-born Riccardo Scamarcio in a role that suits his brooding sensuality and superb acting chops – he switches from seedy serial killer to suave seducer in the flick of a bag of coins – his preferred method of coshing his victims. Narrated in a voice-over by Pericle (Scamarcio), who is under the control of Don Luigi Pizza (Gigio Morra) a small-time gangster who transferred his operation from Naples to Brussels in the aim of taking over pizzerias for as little as he can, Mordini’s film feels alienating and melancholy. Any resistance from the pizzeria owners leads to a bash over the head from Pericle. But when Don Luigi falls out with a local priest, Pericle – sent is punish him – finds he has a witness in the shape of a female camorra boss, Signorinella, and in order to cover up his attack on the priest he has to kill her.

In Scamarcio’s hands Pericle is a likeable rogue who is adept at avoiding danger and skilled at getting on with strangers. Homeless and friendless when he gets to Calais he charms a sales assistant (Marina Fois) into offering him bed and board in a slightly meaningless subplot. But soon it’s time to move on and meet his destiny as the tension builds for the cold-blooded finale. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY | UN CERTAIN REGARD

 

 

 

 

Ma’ Rosa (2016) | Cannes Film Festival 2016 | In Competition

Director/Writer: Brillante Mendoza

Cast: Jaclyn Jones, Julio Diaz | 110min | Drama | Philippines

The Filipino director Brillante Mendoza returns to the social unease of midtown Manila that was so flagrantly protrayed in his 2009 drama Kinatay as a world of police corruption, dissociative violence and hopelessness where ordinary people labour under the authority of the powers that be. Ma’Rosa (Jaclyn Jones) is a shopkeeper and mother of four with her husband Nestor (Julio Diaz) who also runs a sideline in drugs to make ends meet – although they hardly ever do – in this stark slice of social realism told in the style of a docu-drama.

Eventually the police arrive and arrest the couple demanding to know their substance supplier and to pay a heavy fine or go to prison as drug traffickers. Ma’Rosa is forced to go back to the drawing board and her kids out on the street to beg, steal or borrow the money to keep the voracious cops at bay. This is a desperate drama that plays out as a gritty study of resourcefulness and instinct for survival in the crowded streets of the capital as the kids come up with demoralising ways to save their parents with the knowledge that their only future is just more of the same.

Ma’Rosa is a lucid and well-crafted piece of cinema that nevertheless fails to engage with the hearts and minds of its characters, keeping us alienated but in no doubt as to their plight at the end of the day. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | IN COMPETITION

 

 

Julieta (2016)

Writer| Director: Pedro Almodovar     Stories: Alice Munro

Cast: Emma Suarez, Adrian Ugarte, Dario Grandinetti, Rossy de Palma

110min | Drama | Spain

JULIETA, which screens at the 69th Cannes Film Festival, is Almodovar’s fifth Palme D’Or hopeful since he started wooing the coveted trophy back in 1999 with All about My Mother; winning Best Director. Volver (2006) went on to garner Best Script and Best Actress; in 2009 Broken Embraces came away empty-handed from the competition;, in 2011 The Skin I Live In bagged him the Youth Award and his festival opener in 2004 was Bad Education.

His latest, and certainly his most ambitious film to date, is a peripatetic melodrama loosely based on three tales by Canadian Nobel prize winner Alice Munro about motherhood and loss suffered by its central character Julieta played by Adriana Ugarte and Emma Suarez – in youth and in middle age respectively. Men are merely sidekicks in this sorrowlful saga that pulls out all the stops in its Palme D’Or quest: referencing Almodovar’s highbrow cultural credentials : a sweeping orchestral score from Alberto Iglesias that vigorously drives the narrative forward, capable performances from an all-Spanish cast embracing stars and newcomers; atmospheric and unusual Spanish locations, tributes to Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith and even classic works of art from the Prado, amongst other flourishes. But the watchword here is melodrama: after the frivolity of I’m So Excited, JULIETA plays out like a Greek tragedy: its tortured heroine teaches Greek language and culture, falls spectacularly in love, gives birth to a cherished daughter and goes on to suffer tragic loss. But the often ambiguous narrative stumbles over plotholes and implausibilities, making so many demands on its audience that by the end one feels exhausted, overwhelmed and even perplexed. With the best of intentions, Almodovar has thrown all his tricks into the mix and come up with a meaty but passionless potboiler. That’s not to say JULIETA is a flop, but it feels rushed and urgent – despite its generous running time – rather than well-paced and satisfying. And Julieta is the only fleshed out character in a cast that is, for the most part, underwritten and one-dimensional, merely existing to serve its heroine.

The film takes the form of a story within a story that opens in contempo Madrid. Julieta is in her fifties and planning a move to Portugal with her partner Lorenzo, when a chance encounter with an old friend brings her surprise news of a recent meeting with her daughter Antia and her three children, whom she bumped into during the holidays. Only afterwards does it emerge that her only Antia, her only daughter, is no longer a part of Julieta’s life, having disappeared in her late teens. But once she discovers that Antia is still alive and aware that she herself lives in Madrid, Julieta is devastated. Canclling her plans to move to Portugal with Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti from Talk to Her), she moves back into the old flat where she raised Antia, in Madrid’s Barrio Gotico.

Closeted in Antia’s childhood home, she spills out her emotions in a desperate letter to her daughter, as the film’s narrative gradually fragments into flashbacks informing us of the past; the ’80s see a young Julieta with punkish hair and wacky earrings taking a romantic train journey that ends in torrid sex with a tousled-haired married fisherman called Xoan (Daniel Grau). As they make love a wild buck symbolically canters past their carriage in the swirling snow.

Some time later, in another of the film’s extraordinary coincidences, Julieta chances upon Xoan’s Belle Epoch seaside villa in Galicia when he just happens to be at his wife’s funeral. His hostile housekeeper (Rossy de Palma rocking a grey Afro wig) petulantly serves coffee but Xoan’s is overjoyed to welcome Julieta their daughter – cue more torrid sex. Ava (Inma Cuesta), another ex-lover who channels her unrequited love for Xoan into weird neolithic priapic figurines, becomes Antia’s confidante, while the contented couple raise their daughter by the stormy sea in scenes reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Marnie superbly captured in DoP Jean-Claude Larrieu’s luminous visuals.

A sejourn with Julieta’s parents in their country farm provides further family background but only to sadly inform us that her garden gnome-like father (Joaquin Notario) has taken up with a Moroccan peasant girl, while her mother shrivels away in a locked bedroom. Returning to the seaside, more tragedy awaits Julieta amidst heavy weather, echoing one of the film’s various leitmotifs.

Antia’s growing years are variously played by Ariadna Matin, Priscilla Delgado and Blanca Pares, but she never really gains depth as the character who, we are led to believe, has such a momumental impact on her emotionally broken mother. And In the final dénouement, Julieta appears shocked as a reaction to her own shattered ego  and narcissistic expectations, rather than as a result of a passionate and intense love for her only daughter. This leaves us feeling underwhelmed and rather irritated with her as on once again, the doting Lorenzo is wheeled into place with a tray of tea and sympathy for the self-pitying Julieta, who clutches on to him for self-serving supoort rather than in a re-awakening of love and passion. Ultimately JULIETA is a film that has been so indulged with cult references, stylistic embellishments and tributes that it often feels unwieldy and hollow overstaying its welcome despite a reasonable running time. That said, its certainly worth a watch for its Hitchcockian overtones. MT

 

 

Money Monster (2016) | Cannes Film Festival 2016

Director: Jodie Foster

Cast: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell

98min | Thriller | US

There is no point in being serious about Jodie Foster’s latest film Money Monster which plays at Cannes – out of competition. It comes under the genre of ‘silly thriller’ and for its 98 minutes running time provides a blast of vacuous energy that will sell some popcorn and a few laughs.

Julia Roberts plays a stressed out TV producer who has to manage her frolicsome financial presenter: Lee Gates, played by George Clooney, as he delivers a TV show called Money Monster intended as a dumbed down commentary on the stock market trends. Fired by cheap charisma and wearing the sort of hat you might see on St Patrick’s Day he delivers the financial news as if he has kissed the blarney stone.

But the news he brings on the day in question refers to a company Lee hot-tipped as being worth investing in. This financial derivatives trading company has just recorded losses of $800 million and taken down the savings of the kind of people who trusted Lee’s glib advice, including a truck driver called Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) who appears on set holding Lee at gunpoint. Kyle wants as apology and forced Lee to wear a Semtex vest until he can get to the bottom of this Wall Street crisis.

Hardly the thriller to ruffle most peoples’ feathers this may delivers a few bolts of mild tension to the faint-hearted or infirm. In short, MONEY MONSTER delivers nothing new and does so in a crass way that feels as if it its slipped into the wrong decade where the far superior Broadcast News or even Margin Call were screening. Worse still, the film fails in its attempt to address or even challenge the financial system.

George Clooney brings solid star quality to Lee who ends up being a good guy and one of surprising integrity given his headwear and along with Julia Robert’s reliable turn as the authentic professional character. MONEY MONSTER is fun and throwaway and just the right film for a throwaway night out with popcorn. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | OUT OF COMPETITION | NATIONWIDE FROM 27 May

 

Paterson (2016) |

Writer/Director: Jim Jarmusch

Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani | Drama | US | 118min

Jim Jarmusch’s Palme d’Or Cannes competition entry could be described as ‘cuddly and serene’. PATERSON has Adam Driver as the eponymous New Jersey bus conductor who cherishes pretensions as a poet. The tone is upbeat, the pacing languid in a film that plays out as a meditation on untapped creative potential.

Unremarkably, Paterson lives an ordinary and cosseted existence in a town called Paterson with his pleasant Iranian-American wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and his daily duties involve walking his English bulldog, Marvin, and taking a leisurely beer at a bar while he shoots the breeze with the locals. Does he write those musings for the London Underground, one may ask? Potentially he might, for he treasures his notebook where he scribbles down lines of poignant poetry (they are, in fact, the work of the 73-year-old Oklahoma-born poet Ron Padgett.) but he quails away from publishing them as, for Paterson, these words are a private diary. Many secret writers often blog away on the internet all day with no conscious realisation that their words could potentially go viral, read by millions, but imagine they are tucking thoughts away in the ‘soi-disant’ anonymity of the web. In some ways Jarmusch has found another way of linking his narrative to contempo audiences through through this cosy tale that is influenced by 1950s pre-counterculture.

Jarmusch pictures Paterson and Laura’s life as idyllic and stress-free. Laura is a homemaker with artistic qualities that involve plastering the interior of their place in geometric patterns.The story follows the course of one week where events are slowly repeated in a pleasant clockwork routine in this simple linear narrative that mimics a well-scanned piece of poetry. A paean to a peaceful existence, this is a film that dwells in the ordinary and in the agreeable symmetry of a life well-lived but one that never pushes the boundaries. And in our rushed and aspirational society there is a great deal to be said for both. MT

PATERSON NOW ON RELEASE AT THE GATE CINEMA AND PICTUREHOUSES

REVIEWED AT CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 May 2016

Loving (2016) | Cannes Film Festival | Competition 2016

Writer/Director: Jeff Nichols

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga

121min | biopic drama | US

Hot on the heels of his mystery drama Midnight Special Jeff Nichols was back at Cannes Film Festival this year with a superbly crafted biopic of the interacial couple who rocked the headlines in 1950s Virginia for marrying against state laws.

Richard Perry Loving is played by a very white Joel Edgerton (his hair dyed blond) and Mildred Perry by the Irish Ethiopian actress Ruth Negga (Iona) in a classicly told linear narrative where Nichols rapidly skteches out the genesis of their early courtship, Mildred’s pregnancy and their subsequent nuptuals.  This is all, of course, against highly illegal and after spending a night in prison Mildred is bailed out by her father.

Nichols adopts a candid sombre approach to his re-telling as the couple are advised by their lawyer to leave the state for 25 years or risk further imprisonment. Images of close family and security are the keynotes in this painterly picture which makes atmospheric use of the lush surrounding scenery that glows with fifties wholesomeness and a regularly occuring leitmotif of a wheelbarrow full of cement leaves us replete with the cheesy earthyness of their worthy plight.  Many may muse over the perceived awfulness of having to move with your loved up spouse and growing pregnancy to a reasonable flat  in DC. But the fact remains that they are fighting a cause that feels unjust and inhuman.

Set against the backdrop of the American Civil Rights movement, the couple’s love story plays out as a convincing one – Edgerton plays Perry as mildly pugnacious and insular, Mildred the more visonary of the two, is a subtle turn for Negga which she plays with sunny dignity. A couple of clever young Jewish lawyers work hard for them ‘pro bono’ taking the case to the supreme court through thick and thin. Although the stakes are high, Nichols never gives an impression that they are villified or pressurised in any way as they move to a picturesque wooden house in the middle of wheat fields with their three growing children and Mildred plays the (outwardly) contented housewife. A little more strife and an undercurrent of pain and desperation would have served the story better as the course of justice is portrayed as pretty much of a breeze from start to finish -which clearly it was not – leaving little tension or moving moments in a drama totally devoid of any drama. A worthy and important biopic that fails to make us feel the couple’s undeniable pain. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016

 

Journey to the Shore (2015) | Dual format release

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Cast: Eri Fukatsu, Tadanobu Asano, Masao Komatsu, Yu Aoi, Akira Emoto, Nozomi Muraoka, Tetsuya Chiba, Kaoru Okunuki, Masaaki Akahori, Daiki Fujino, Kana Matsumoto

128min | Fantasy drama | Japan

Best known for his horror outings, Japanese auteur Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s JOURNEY TO THE SHORE is slow cinema par excellence. This meandering romantic fantasy sees a young widow reunited with her husband’s ghost three years after his death, echoing the 1990 cult outing Ghost.

This type of ghost is well known classic in Japan and has long-existed in Japanese kwaidan (horror) films but also in Shakespeare. In JOURNEY TO THE SHORE a completely new form of death appears. The figure here is different from the usual ghosts. Carried away by a temporary death (or physical death), Yosuke will remain in the world for three more years allowing him to prepare for his spiritual death. A certain Karma comes back into these meetings between as the couple as they delicately explore the unfinished business of their married life in a spiritual limbo that shifts backwards and forwards between the living world and the afterlife. And although this premise appears captivating at first and sets off with the best of intentions, JOURNEY TO THE SHORE is gradually becalmed by its rather dull pacing as sentimental tedium engulfs the shady interiors where the supernatural story mostly unfolds.

Loosely based on a novel by Kazumi Yumoto, the films opens with a scene that is re-worked quite movingly later in the story, and showing Mizuki teaching piano to one her pupils, a young girl whose mother blames Mizuki’s lack of enthusiasm for her daughter’s musicial ineptitude. Mizuki is clearly depressed and shortly after this episode, her dead husband Yusuke (Tadanobu Asano) makes the first of his haunting visits, three years after his death. The first time he appears, she listens quietly, hardly perturbed by his homecoming (and looking so well into the bargain), he describes his death by drowning. The following morning, she wakes up and discovers her husband is still there. Promising to show her “beautiful places,”, the two then embark on a journey to meet the circle of people who have become part of his afterlife in the intervening years.

There is the newspaper seller  (Masao Komatsu); the owners of a dumpling restaurant (Nozomi Muraoka, Tetsuya Chiba), whose daughter died some years earlier; and a nice old man (Akira Emoto) whose daughter-in-law (Kaoru Okunuki) has fallen on hard times, losing both her husband and her mind. It emerges that Mizuki’s husband has become a philanthropic teacher since his ‘death’.

There appears to be a pattern here whereby the living are somehow released by these undead people when they eventually find peace in the shadowy afterlife. And this is where we are introduced again to the piano student playingwith much more feeling  than she did before. And in the final scenes, when Yusuke’s journey is almost over, he eventually reaches a kind of karmic reunion with his placid wife. JOURNEY TO THE SHORE is a lovingly-crafted musing on death and the afterlife, hampered by the lack of convincing chemistry between the leads who, although impressive in their rather underwritten roles, fail to set the night on fire as a happily married couple and leaving us unmoved by their suffering or by their redemption.

JOURNEY TO THE SHORE tries to be mysterious and intriguing but its failure to achieve this arises largely out of the torpor of its narrative flow that lacks conviction and dramatic punch, coming over as winsome rather than emotionally involving. MT

JOURNEY TO THE SHORE IS RELEASED NATIONWIDE AND ON DUAL FORMAT BLURAY ON 23 May 2016

Un Homme et Une Femme (1966) | Cannes Film Festival Classics 2016

Dir.: Claude Lelouch; Cast: Anouk Aimee, Jean-Louis Trintignant

France 1966 | 102 min | drama

Claude Lelouch (*1937) has so far 59 credits as a director. But before and after Un Homme et une Femme, his sixth film, he has never accomplished an outstanding work; even the sequel, A Man and a Woman: 20 years Later, was a disappointment.

Lelouch will be always measured against this seemingly one hit wonder – even though his oeuvre cannot be totally overlooked. All his life, he was the proxy for Hollywood films; the anti-thesis to the Nouvelle Vague and critics and filmmakers (with the exception of François Truffaut) in his own country never forgave him for this.

At a boarding school in Deauville, two parents, both widowed, meet: Anne Gauthier (Aimée), mother of seven year-old Françoise mourns the loss of her husband, a stuntman, who had a fatal accident on set. The racing driver Jean-Louis Duroc (Trintignant), whose son Antoine is abut the same age as Françoise, lost his wife when she committed suicide, after an accident at Le Mans left him in a coma. Both adults agree that their relationship is a friendship but they gradually lose their obsessions with their dead spouses, Anne after much hesitation, and, encouraged by their children find a way to reconcile their past with a future together.

Un Homme et Une Femme is that simple. Without frills and hardly any budget: after one month of pre-production; shot with only three weeks of principal photography followed by three weeks in the editing suite, Lelouch had to rely on the emotional impact of his leading couple, and, being his own DoP, his astonishing images: a mix of 8, 16 and 35 mm cameras, and an equally originally combination of black-and-white, colour and sepia-tinged colour grading. The result is a dazzling intimacy where the rowling camera translates the rollercoaster feelings of the lovers, against their will, into a spectacular obsessive romantic pictorial broadsheet. Carried by the music of Francis Lai, Un Homme et Une femme is the ultimate romantic obsession: images, like the one of the couple meeting in the station, are part of film’s potent chemistry and history.

But Lelouch’s masterpiece has still some detractors, mainly male ones, who call it – unjustly – kitsch. The lines between the genders are drawn: after a private screening for President De Gaulle and his wife Simone, she was left in tears, whilst the general wanted to know the breed of the dog on the beach. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016

The Dancer (2016) | Cannes Film Festival 2016 | Un Certain Regard

Wirter|Director: Stephanie Di Giusto

Cast: Soko, Gaspard Ulliel, Lily-Rose Depp, Francois Damiens, William Houston, Melanie Thierry

108min | Drama Biopic | France

THE DANCER is the story of Belle Epoque dancer Loie Fuller (1892-1928) who rose to fame at the Folies Bergères and became the protégé and rival of the more famous Isadora Duncan. The debut feature of filmmaker writer Stephanie Di Giusto, the film plays in the Un Certain Regard side-bar of the Cannes this year, more for its distinctively auteurish look and feel (as the strand suggests) than for the rigour of its narrative or performances. Don’t expect to find out more about either of these famous women as the focus here is on atmosphere, visual allure (dreamily lensed by Irreversible and Enter the Void’s Benöit Debie) and turn of the century styling and costumes.

Told as a linear narrative, it stars composer Soko – in the central role of Marie-Louise Fuller, who we first meet during a rodeo where he father Ruben (Denis Menochet) is a professional rider who is killed off early on in the proceedings. Fuller’s artistic leanings are illustrated in her sketch pad drawings and secretly rehearsals of Salome. She has a mane of dark hair but is stocky and rather gauche until, that is, she sets sail for her mother’s home in the Temperance Hostel for Women in Brooklyn and auditions for a part in a play, where she uses her ill-fitting skirt to her advantage during a sartorial mishap and ends up inventing her stock in trade – a strange swirling dance requiring metres of fabirc (not unlike that of the Whirling Dervishes). Yes, this dance catches on when she turns up at the Folies Bergères for audition, and snaffles none other than soigné French aristocrat Louis Dorsay (Gaspard Ulliel) who appears to be looking for a strong and emotionally unavailable woman, having just divorced his wife. And Louis Dorsay is a gift horse of the highest order who not only allows Loie the run of his fabulous villa and estate to rehearse her own team of dancers, but also appears to fall deeply in love and dotes on her every whim, despite their obvious physical incompatibility.

When Isadora Duncan arrives from San Francisco, in the shape of the comely but ultimately bland Lily Rose Depp, whose dancing scenes are deftly edited to make it look as if she’s dancing – it’s actually a stand-in. Things take a momentary turn for the worse, as Duncan appears to adore Loie to her face, but behind the scenes emerges as a manipulative minx with a few tricks up her tutu. Although Soko manages an affecting performance in the final scenes, THE DANCER is enjoyable while it lasts, but ultimately as forgettable as candyfloss. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 12 -22 MAY 2016

 

 

 

 

Exile (2016) Cannes Film Festival 2016

Director: Rithy Panh

77min | Documentary | France

Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh is critically acclaimed for his documentaries that explore and focus on the aftermath of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. And he speaks with authoritaty: his family were expelled from Phnom Penh in 1975 by the Khmer Rouge. One after another, his father, mother, sisters and nephews died of starvation or exhaustion, as they were held in a remote labor camp in rural Cambodia.

His latest doc aptly entitled EXILE offers more footage from the past and pre-revolution Cambodia but nothing new to the present with the filmed imaginings of a solo man in exile eeking out his existence and going through the motions as he sombrely survives day to day in a pre-fab wooden hut, as he drinks rainwater and forages for insects roasted on an open flame. These are deftly intercut and invigorated with 35ml original footage of lively news cuttings and musical recordings of his beloved country during the ’60s and early ’70s, all illuminated by his initially poetic but ultimately tedious musings on a voiceover narrative. While his plight and suffering is noble and courageous, Panh’s fascinating archive footage is the only worthwhile takeaway here. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 12-22 MAY 2016

 

 

Rester Vertical (2016) | Cannes 2016 Competition

Director|Writer: Alain Guiraudie

Cast: Damien Bonnard, Christian Bouillette, Laure Calamy, India Hair, Raphael Thierry

100min | Drama | France

After winning Best Director in Cannes Festival’s Un Certain Regard sidebar in 2013, for his intriguing thriller Stranger By the Lake, Alain Guiraudie is back in the main competition line-up with another eventful drama entitled STAYING VERTICAL which is set in the wild and wolf-inhabited plateaux of the Southern Massif Central and shares the same dark and absurdist humour as his 2009 outing The King of Escape.

STAYING VERTICAL is also similarly charming and queer oddity, in bost senses of the word that follows its dorkish but likeable hero Leo (Damien Bonnard) an itinerant screenwriter who chances upon a single-mother and shepherd Marie (India Hair), while researching his writing. What starts as a bucolic love story in the farm she shares with her father, the rough-handed ogre-like Jean-Louis (Raphael Thiry), leads to the two fathering a child but Marie soon leaves for pastures new when she realises Leo has no future, leaving her with the baby.

Leo feels fulfilled with this outcome but Guiraudie has more quirky surprises in store for us in the shape of a strange local couple, Yoan (Basile Meilleurat) who he tries to invite for an audition on account of his wolfish looks – and a crabby old man, Marcel (Christian Bouillette), who seems obsessed with talking about anal sex. There’s a feeling that Leo is bisexual but this seems an option he’s prepared to explore rather than a serious predilection. However, he does draw the line when approached by Marie’s father more from the associative perspective rather than the sexual one. And this power of suggestion seeps through Guiraudie’s narrative for most of the film’s modest running time providing both a rich and seductive vein of dark humour and a ruminative meditation for the audience. As in The King of Hearts, all the male characters here share an amorphous sexuality which is both appealing and freaky due to their associative and binding ties, as they are all fathers or father figures.

As the title STAYING VERTICAL suggests, this is a film about coping with what life throws in your direction and particularly in this remote part of France, it explores a poor community who is forced to get along and make the best of things in often challenging circumstances. Once again it also flags up the narrative of sexuality being a fluid and moveable feast where comfort and support is often more imperative than erotic desire and the often graffic sex that takes place is functional rather than glamorised.

Despite its tonal uneveness, Guiraudie’s film contains some powerful political and societal themes. There are moments of wild beauty in the winding roads and bleak hillsides of this unexplored part of France and to reflect this remoteness, Guiraudie occasionally wanders into poetic scenes where Leo visits an alternative healer (Laure Calamy) and shocking ones where he is robbed by the same homeless people who he has helped during his visit to a nearby port. The theme of wolves recurs again and again throughout the film.  At first, they ravage the sheep including Marie’s treasured sheepdog and they appear again at the end of the film bringing a satisfying feeling of closure and a chance for redemption for Leo, who up to now emerges as somewhat of a loser, albeit a kind-hearted one, representing a feeling that men are the lost lambs of contempo society: in their quest to be connected with their emotions, they have ceased to fulfill their expectations as the strong protectors of the fold. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016

 

 

Sieranevada (2016) | Cannes Competition 2016

Writer|Director: Cristi Puiu

Cast: Mimi Branescu, Mirela Apostu, Eugenia Bosanceanu, Ana Ciontea, Ilona Brezoianu

123min | Drama | Romania | France | Bosnia

Almost all of Romanian director Cristi Puiu’s films belong to slow cinema and a New Wave movement called meta cinema: and SIERANEVADA, his Palme D’Or hopeful here at the 69th Edition of Cannes Film Festival is no different. In a similar vein to The Death of Mr Lazarescu, this is a rich and rewarding drama that plays out as its protagonists take each moment as it comes during the lengthy pre-prandial preceedings. Intimate in scale yet far-reaching in its implications, the director’s fifth feature explores differing opinions during a family get together to commemorate the death of a patriarch (his father) which occurred the previous year. In Bucharest Lary (Branescu) is at the peak of his professional career as a neurologist,  just home from a business trip to deal with the assembled family and the arrival of the priest.

Lary’s mother sexagenarian Nasu Mirica (Dana Dogaru) invites the extended family to the small apartment which she shared with her late husband, Emil. The event starts with the usual smalltalk and bickering and the dialogue is sharp and dilatory, in common with other Romanian New Wave filmmakers such as Corneliu Porumboiu, Radu Jude and Razvan Radulescu (the latter also co-wrote Mr Lazarescu).

This is a meal that never gets started as the narrative grows more complex as a philandering husband (Sorin Medelini) arrives in a cloud of shame followed by Cami (Ilona Brezoianu) with a friend who is already drunk and ten or so members of the clan. Discussions run from the 9/11 conspiracy theories to Communism with Lary and Laura making us feel very much part of the scene thanks to cinematographer Barbu Balasoiu’s eye level camerawork that glides and darts from face to face and room to room of the crampted apartment as political, moral or religious views are tailored and compromised depending on which family group they belong to and has ultimately forged their identity from birth. It’s an occasion where Lary learn a great deal about himself and changing attitudes and perceptions of him from all concerned.

Amusing, complicated and opaque, SIERANEVADA develops Mr Lazarescu further but most of the characters and their backstories are not fully explored – despite its generous running time. Enjoyable though if you fancy a afternoon of Romanian cultural enlightenment in the company of one of the best Romanian New Wave directors currently on the scene. MT

 

Green Room (2015) |Quinzaine des Realisateurs | Cannes 2015

Writer|Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Cast: Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Anton Yelchin, Patrick Stewart

94min  US   Horror

Saulnier emerged on the indie scene at Cannes 2013 with his richly-textured arthouse revenge thriller Blue Ruin. But this latest outing GREEN ROOM feels like he’s slid back into the teenage slasher territory of his debut Murder Party. Whilst being reasonably entertaining, this tale of a punk band who wander into the dangerous clutches of a gang of fascist drug dealers, feels slacker and less convincing with its throwaway gory violence and puerile stab at black humour that will go down well at Frightfest.

Another reason why GREEN ROOM feels less edgy and unsettling is the casting of mainstream actors, Imogen Poots and Patrick Stewart. Although this talent may be more of a box office draw, the result is a film that feels more anodyne despite some macabre moments. For a start Imogen Poots will always impart a Sloaney feel for British audiences and Patrick Stewart pales into insignificance compared with Ben Kingsley, in ‘gangleader mode’. The extreme schlocky violence is another reason GREEN ROOM fails to impress, causing many more eyes to roll, than heads and limbs. The continual meaningless re-makes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre have shown why ubiquitous hacked-off limbs and geysers of blood simply aren’t scary or horrific. Less is always more, where blood and gore are concerned.

The story follows a punk band that have just been on tour throughout the US and haven’t really been coining it. Petty arguments have broken out between band members – bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin) and drummer Reece (Joe Cole); so guitarist Sam (Alia Shawkat) and lead singer Tiger (Callum Turner) are the only ones still speaking when they fetch up at a roadhouse in Oregon. This is extreme right fascist skinhead territory, apparently. After a pretty miserable go on stage, one of the ‘Ain’t Rights’ returns to the Green Room to discover a murder scene. One of the skinhead girls has been stabbed in the head and her friend Amber (Imogen Poots) is frightened to move. In the end, they barricade themselves into the Green Room while venue manager, Macon Blair (Blue Ruin), and the venue’s owner Darcy (Stewart) hang around outside with murderous intent.

There’s nothing inventive thereafter as, gradually, the band members meet their grisly deaths in ways that will unfold for those interested in seeing the film, which, to its credit, is laced with a lacerating black comedy. Dogs are involved but, for once, don’t seem to be involved in the death count. Disappointing and predictable then as an edgy horror outing, but entertaining if outright slasher movies are your bag. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | REVIEWED AT QUINZAINE DE REALISATEURS | CANNES 14 – 24UI MAY 2015 | CANNES 2015 

 

La Quinzaine des Realisateurs| Directors’ Fortnight 2016 | Latest World Premieres

DivinesThe Directors’ Fortnight is a Cannes side-bar with a focus on auteur driven drama and documentary features that runs in parallel to the Cannes Film Festival. It was started in 1969 by the French Directors Guild after the events of May 1968 resulted in cancellation of the Cannes festival as an act of solidarity with striking workers.

logo_quinzaine_int_whiteThe Directors’ Fortnight showcases a programme of shorts and feature films and documentaries worldwide.

Divines (2016) | Drama | France | World Premiere

Uda Benyamina comes to Cannes with her debut feature, a drama exploring themes of power and success through the story of a young girl who sets off on a religious pilgrimage but meets love along the way.

Dog Eat Dog (2016) | Crime Drama | US | 

Carved from a lifetime of experiences that runs the gamut from incarceration to liberation, Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog  is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by American crime writer Edward Bunker (Runaway Train) who also started a criminal career before making it big in the movies. This Ohio set action drama stars Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Matthew Cook as recidivists who need to hit one more jackpot before they retire.


Fais de beaux reves (c) Simone Martinetto 3Fai Bei Sogni | Sweet Dreams (2016) | Drama | France | Italy |World Premiere

Berenice Bejo (The Artist) and Valerio Mastandrea star in Marco Bellocchio’s latest drama  based on Massimo Gramellini’s 2012 Best Seller exploring a man’s emotional insecurity brought on by his mother’s early death. With award-winning cinematographer Daniele Cipri on board this promises to be a visual treat.

L’Economie du Couple (2016) | Drama | France Belgium | World Premiere

Joachim Lafosse (Our Children) returns to Cannes with this Brussels-set contempo drama that stars Berenice Bejo and Cedric Kahn as a separating couple with kids, forced to cohabit their beloved marital home due to financial difficulties.

Fiore (2016) | Flower | Drama | Italy | World Premiere

Daphne is in a juvenile detention centre, serving time for robbery, when she falls for another inmate Josh. Their love feeds on exchanged glances and snatched conversations in Claudio Giovannesi’s drama about forbidden love and a strength of feeling that threatens to violate the law.

SEQ 21, J4, Cours de natation Samir et Agathe

SEQ 21, J4, Cours de natation Samir et Agathe

The Aquatic Effect | L’Effet Aquatique (2016) | Drama | France | Iceland | World Premiere

The final feature of France Icelandic writer and documentarian Solveig Anspach (who sadly died of cancer in 2015). No stranger to Cannes, her film Stormy Weather was screened in the Un Certain Regard section in 2003, and she won the Piazza Grande Award at Locarno for Back Soon in 2008. The Aquatic Effect is a drama that has Samir Guesmi and Florence Loiret Caille.

La_Pazza_Gioia_04_(c)PAOLO CIRIELLILa Pazza Gioa | Like Crazy (2016) | Comedy | France | Italy| World Premiere 

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi joins Paolo Virzi for their second collaboration, a comedy, in which she plays mental patient who strikes up a friendship with a woman from a completely different background (Michaela Ramazzotti) while being treated in a Tuscan mental home during the Summer holidays (right).

Les Vies de Thérèse | Documentary | France | World Premiere 

Filmed here at her own request by director Sebastian Lifschitz, are the final days in the life of militant feministe, actress and lesbian Therese Clerc, who died in February 2016. She also took part in his 2012 documentary Les Invisibles, which explored the lives and difficulties of older lesbians and gays in French society.

Ma Vie de Courgette | My Life as a Courgette  (2016) | Animation | World Premiere 

Based on Gilles Paris’ book on the same name, this gorgeously animated family drama is scripted by Girlhood director Celine Sciamma and set in the French Alps.

MeanDreams_TheKissMean Dreams (2016) | Thriller | Canada | World Premiere

Canadian filmmaker Nathan Morlando (Gangster) makes his Cannes debut with a thriller set in Northern Ontario and starring Sophie Nelisse and Josh Wiggins.

Mercenaire photo 3Mercenaire (2016) | Drama | France | World Premiere 

In his coming of age directorial debut, Sacha Wolff stars alongside newcomer Toki Pilioko, when they take off to play rugby in a big city on the other side of the World, and discover that manhood comes without compromises.

image1Neruda (2016) | Biopic Drama | Arg, Chile, Spain | World Premiere

Gael Garcia Bernal and Alfredo Castro again join forces with Pablo Larrain and his scripter Guillermo Calderon (No) in a biopic that explores the Nobel-prize winning poet’s time as a political fugitive in Chile during the 1940s.

Poesia_Sin_Fin_1_©Pascale Montandon_JodorowskPoesia sin Fin | Endless Poetry (2016) | Fantasy Drama | Chile | World Premiere

Chilean Maverick Alejandro Jodowovsky is back in Cannes with another fabulous family affair. Endless Poetry stars his sons Brontis and Adan and is filmed by multi-award winning DoP Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love).

Raman_Raghav_1Raman Raghav (2015) | Thriller | India | World Premiere

Vicky Kaushal was the star turn of last year’s Un Certain Regard romantic drama Massan. He returns to Cannes in Anurag Kashyap’s thriller that follows the exploits of the notorious 1960s Bombay serial killer Raman Raghav, played by Bollywood star Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Siddiqui also starred in Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) an epic drama charting the deadly inter-generational blood feuds that once took place in the city of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.

Risk_Film Still Julian Assange_Courtesy of Praxis FilmsRisk (2016) | Documentary | Germany | US 

Writer, director and activist Julian Assange has certainly captured the imagination of journalists and filmmakers with his political antics; Alex Gibney –We Steal Secrets – being one of them. Here he forms the subject of American filmmaker Laura Poitras’ latest documentary Risk that takes place in Britain (left).

DSC_7087

Tour de France (2016) | Drama | France | World Premiere

An unlikely friendship develops between an ageing art lover Serge (Gérard Depardieu) and young rapper Far’Hook, when they are forced together on a coastal journey from Northern France to Marseilles on the trail of 18th Century maritime painter Joseph Vernet, in this usual comedy drama from French director Rachid Djaidani.

Two Lovers and a Bear (2016) | Drama | Canada | World Premiere 

Kim Nguyen’s romantic drama has Dane DeHaan (Life) and Tatiana Maslany as lovers who form a spiritual bond in the remote town of Nunavut, in the Canadian North Pole (below left).

TLB_Still_17_credit_photo_max_filmsWolf and  Sheep (2016) | Drama | Denmark | World Premiere

With a cast of newcomers, Shahbanoo Sadat tells a tale about a mountain farming community in northern Cashmire and their belief in a legendary wolf with the soul of a woman.

LA QUINZAINE | DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT | TAKES PLACE DURING THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 12 – 22 MAY 2016 

 

The Arabian Nights III | As Mil e Uma Nottes | The Enchanted One

Director: Miguel Gomes | Cast: Christa Alfaiate, Chico Chapas, Americo Silva; Portugal/France/Ger/Switz |125 min.

In part of three of his trilogy The Arabian Nights, entitled The Enchanted One, Portuguese writer and director Miguel Gomes finally moves Scheherazade (Alfaiate) into the centre of this modern retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, set in a a contemporary Portugal haunted by economic decline. Part III consists of three fables that are more interconnected than in the previous section – The Desolate One.

Scheherazade’s own story is told in the outrageously sumptuous Chateau d’If (against the background of high-rise blocks in working class Marseille). The magnificent setting is further enhanced by DoP Mukdeeprom’s resplendent visuals that picture a costume drama that feels more of a f’ilm-in-a-film’ than the previous segments. Scheherazade’s father, the Grand Vizier (Silva) is kitted out in full Ali Baba regalia complete with bulbous headgear. Frightened that his daughter will run out of stories and finally lose her life, he is also lost in nostalgia for his much-loved wife, now dead; and the images of the two women intermingle in his mind. This clearly artificial and theatrical episode echoes Gomes’ Murnau take in Tabu, but it lacks focus, failing somehow to fit into the whole canon.

Leading to the second segment ‘Baghdad Archipelago’, where Scheherazade meets the paddle man (Charloto), who has 200 children, and Elvis, a robber cum street dancer, Gomes suddenly switches to a Godard mode, where multiple texts overload the attention capacity of the audience, particularly the section with subtitles. Inserts like: “From the wishes and fears of men, stories are born” seem clever, but do not add much value. Most of The Enchanted One is taken up by the 80 minute final segment “Chorus of the Chaffiniches” (shot by Lisa Persson), starring again Chico Chapas (Simao in Part II), as a birdsong expert and bird trapper. These bird trappers are mostly unemployed men, and when we one caught in a net meant for the birds, the symbolism is clear. The story of a Chinese girl, told in voice-over, who came to Portugal at the time of the depression, adds a further layer of melancholia to the trilogy’s ending. Still shrouded in enigma and inconclusive, The Enchanted One somehow loses his way, subtracting rather than adding to the whole trilogy.

The structure of Arabian Nights is obviously the main attraction; the narrative, however inventive at times, would not have carried 381 minutes. Gomes has fused Buñuel’s satire, Brechtian allegories and phantasy elements not unlike Fernando Birri in his South American poetic realism. The stylistic variations, sometimes disperse and are often overwhelming, but Mukdeeprom’s images give the Arabian Nights its unique look, and a visual coherence. Whilst the opulence of Arabian Nights is obviously part of its strength, Gomes might have overreached himself a little. He is strongest in the ethnographic chapters, when he shows serous interest in the lives of real people. His choice of popular music, from Rod Stewart to Lionel Ritchie, underlines this argument: his journey between Italian Neorealism and South American Poetic Realism is strongest, when he chooses a pictorial approach. AS

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE IN SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 6 MAY 2016

 

 

 

Son of Saul (Saul Fia) 2015 |Grand Prix | FIPRESCI Award| Oscar Best Foreign Language Film 2016

Director: László Nemes

Cast: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnar, Urs Rechn, Todd Charmont, Sandor Zsoter.

107min   Wartime Drama    Hungary

László Nemes learnt his craft under the legendary Hungarian director, Bela Tarr. His feature debut is a shocking and claustrophobic thriller exploring the little known lives of the Sonderkommando, Jews who were forced, under pain of death, to clean up the gas chambers during the final days of Auschwitz in 1944.

Clearly, Nemes is an inventive talent in the making. His restless camera tells a secret and conspiratorial story in pin-sharp close-up while in the background, out-of-focus atrocities are seen unfolding in the Nazi concentration camp and its surroundings. The action focuses on Saul (Géza Röhrig), a man whose mission is to herd his own people into massive ovens and lock them in as their pitiful cries and raging emerges.

One boy survives the onslaught, but is subsequently suffocated by a German officer. Saul appears to recognise him as his own son and sets off in desperation to find a Rabbi to say prayers and bury him according to the Jewish faith. A constant whispering and bartering in going on before our eyes, and while Saul is bribing his fellow inmates with golden and precious personal effects (from the dead)  jewellery, an escape plan is also brewing.

But unlike his master of slow-motion, Nemes offers up a fast-moving and disorientating action thriller. Sometimes the camera is behind his shoulder focusing on the chattering and internal conspiracy between the inmates,  others it focuses on the background, where German officers bait and bully the Sonderkommandos. Dead bodies are dragged by and thrown onto trucks in blurry, soft-focus. In one scene, at entire battle is going on in the hazy distance, where prisoners are being shot and forced into open burial pits as fires rage and gunfire rings out. It feels as it Nemes is running two contemporaneous film sets; one in  the foreground and one of horrific slaughter and anihilation in the near distance.  There is a remarkable single take, in pristine focus, where Saul carries the body of his “son” into a river and swims to the other side.

This is a work of supreme craftsmanship but also a harrowing and devastating tribute to the Sonderkommandos, who knew their lives would also end in slaughter, when their job was done and Géza Röhrig’s performance rings of  both subtle defiance and acceptance. The final scene seems to allow a chink of light and hope into this dreadful  darkness, as his face lights up into a gradual smile in the middle of a verdant forest.

Son of Saul serves as a positive revival of the Holocaust with other recent films such as Night Will Fall and Shoah. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE | OSCAR WINNER FOR BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM 2016 | FIPRESCI PRIZE WINNER CANNES 2016 | FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW | CANNES 2015

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Arabian Nights II : The Desolate One (2015)

Director.: Miguel Gomes |  Cast: Christa Alfaiate, Chico Chapas, Luisa Cruz

132min |Drama | Portugal/France/Germany/Switzerland

Writer/director Gomes continues on his path of re-writing Scheherazade’s classical stories of Thousand and One Nights with the second part of his trilogy: The Desolate One. After the overwhelming opening salvo of the first part, The Desolate One is perhaps the most audience friendly of the trio: full of humour, self-irony, satire and much less hectoring, the streamlined second part consists of three fables outlining the disgruntlement of  Portuguese workers during the financial austerity in the early 21st century, and connecting the present with the past.

Told with subtle irony by Scheherazade (Alfaiate), sometimes residing on a Ferris Wheel, the first tale Chronicle of the Escape of Simao – ‘Without Bowels’ is a gem. Simao (Chapas), an ageing farm worker, who earned his nickname for his life long anorexia, has murdered four women, among them his wife and daughters, and is on the run. In his hideout in the wilderness, he dreams about prostitutes and great banquets. But in spite of his crimes, he becomes a local hero for his Robin Hood style redistribution from rich to poor. Scheherazade blames his crimes on capitalism: “Evil is only a severe tendency of selfishness”.

The second story, titled “The Tears of the Judge” is a burlesque courtroom romp, where the severe judge(Luisa Cruz) presides over a case which starts out with the theft of 13 cows and continues, taking in a series of Chinese mail-order brides, a genie and a machete-wielding human lie detector. The stern judge, who almost loses it due to the complexity and buck-passing of the various witnesses and scenes involving her daughter, who has recently lost her virginity to a man selected by her mother, assuming a guise of domestic servitude which she then relegates her duties. This seems to be a metaphor for continuing misogyny and racial stereotyping in contempo Europe (yet it’s even worse in continents such as Africa, South America and India).

And, if matters aren’t complicated enough, this is the segment that won the ‘Palme Dog’ at Cannes 2015 for Dixie, the Maltese poodle, who here is passed on from one tenant to the next in a housing estate, where even the human residents have difficulties feeding themselves. Somehow there are shades of Chekov in this episode: the eviction notices spread a collective outpouring of melancholia.

Again, DoP’s Mukdeeprom’s sun-dried images are the highlight, producing serenity and beauty in spite of the poverty. Shot on 16mm and 35 mm, his work proves that our eyes, like the film stock, work on an analogue basis. The depth of these images is impossible to recreate with digital, however brilliant the HD. Gomes always tries to change, double and exchange the perspectives: This happens on the levels of images and sound, the mixing of documentation and fiction, the (sometimes overdone) multi-lingual components (which make this part particularly challenging for non-Portuguese-speaking audiences) and finally, in the episodic structure of the whole trilogy, where the actors participate in different episodes underlining the concept of total exchange. The Desolate One is made of legends: yesterday’s and today’s are finding a common platform where Gomes’ poetic realism steers his often unwieldy project to safe shore. AS

THE SECOND PART OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS IS ON RELEASE FROM 29 APRIL 2016 at SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS

 

 

Arabian Nights (2015) | As Mil E Uma Noites | Part 1 The Restless One

Director/Writer: Miguel Gomes

Cast: Christa Alfaiate, Dinarte Branco, Miguel Gomes, Carlotta Cotta, Adriano Luz

Portugal/France/Germany/Switzerland 2015,125 min.

Portuguese auteur Miguel Gomes’ three-part epic aims to seduce us with a sorry tale of his native land in crisis due to the economic downtown of the last five years. Is it possible to make a derogatory film beguiling? With ARABIAN NIGHTS not only has he tried to re-invent “political cinema”  but also to assimilate a new body of film language where genres are playfully mixed, and the audience is often left gasping in delight, but not always in comprehension.

Inspired by the classic Arabian Nights, Part One is an enigmatic string of stories that aim to encapsulate this time of austerity with an absurdist style embracing socialism realism and surrealism. If you’re hoping for something akin to Tabu (2012) or even Our Beloved Month of August (2008) you will likely be disappointed as this is much more sombre and recalcitrant fare where fables and documentary realism coalesce as often strange bedfellows, infused with the filmmaker’s own anger and sadness peeping through a narrative that gradually makes more sense but still, for the most part, mystifies.

The Restless One begins at a shipyard were the failures of the Portuguese government are apparent at the Viana do Castelo shipyard in Minho: the workers are on strike and a voice-over recounts a past where full employment offered job satisfaction and a meaningful life. As the shipbuilders clash with the anti-strike brigade, the mood turns sombre. At the same time Gomes appears, ruminating on how hornets are destroying the local bee population. Is this a metaphor for the Government and the people?. As if by magic, we are introduced to Scheherazade (Alfaiate), the princess who saved her life each night by telling a tale to make her Sultan wish for another night with her. She is introduced to the sounds of “Perdfidia” (Buñuel), telling three stories to Gomes and his strikers, who listen in rapt attention. The first one is about three bankers who wish for never-ending hard-ons in response to their erectile dysfunction, and end up getting more than they bargained for. The next is about a rooster who nearly comes to a sticky end by crowing at inappropriate moments. The rooster himself then tells a sad story about a love-triangle. Finally, we return to one of the strikers who literally feels sick when trying to tell unhappy tales about his fellow workers. It gradually becomes clear that these wild and disparate stories are all vehicles to describe Portugal’s demise. Gomes tries to re-invent the workers as modern-day crusaders in a fight to save their beloved Portugal. But they are not at all heroic but more melancholic in the style of Kafka – metaphors straight out of ‘The Trial’. Gomes wants the World to view Portugal as a prisoner of capitalism: the stories, old and new, are told to liberate the nation, or least to put off its fate until another day.

In the end, The Restless One has an attractive, experimental charm. Gomes’ choice of DoP, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (who shot Apichatpong Weerasethkul’s Uncle Boonmee), is appropriate for his drama: Mukdeeprom has an eye for details, his sumptuous images creating a unique cosmos of poetic realism. The colour palette ranges from the outrageous to the spooky. The Restless One attempts perhaps too much, but is never dull. It is a fairy tale for our times: often as puzzling, incomplete, enigmatic and contradictory as contemporary life. AS/MT

NOW OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS | ICA | Curzon Bloomsbury

 

69th Cannes Film Festival 2016 – preview

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The 69th Cannes Film Festival presents its most ambitious and diverse selection yet with a Jury presided by Australian Director George Miller (Mad Max); Arnaud DESPLECHIN (Director, Writer – France); Kirsten DUNST; Valeria GOLINO; Mads MIKKELSEN; László NEMES (Director); Vanessa PARADIS; Katayoon SHAHABI (Producer – Iran); Donald SUTHERLAND (Actor – Canada).

Woody Allen’s glitzy festival opener CAFE SOCIETY, starring Kristen Stewart, hits the Croisette on May 11 for a ten day competition line-up with other Hollywood regulars such as Steven Spielberg with his screen version of Roa