Posts Tagged ‘Indie’

In Cold Blood (1967) DVD

Dir: Richard Brooks | Cast: Robert Blake, Scott Wilson, John Forsythe, Tex Smith, Paul Stewart, Jeff Corey, Gerald S O’Loughlin | US Crime Thriller, 130′

Truman Capote’s celebrated reporting of a Kansas murder case, In Cold Blood, is the basis for Richard Brooks’s disturbing docudrama. The film opens as a Greyhound bus roars into the darkness of a desolate prairie night, bound for Kansas City. Black silhouetted figures stand out, one is a man with a guitar. A girl passenger sees a boot with the famous catspaw soles (‘catspaws won’t slip’), and this is the clue that will eventually lead to the murderer – and the Capote’s nemesis.

Formally ambitious yet elegantly restrained the film crisply evokes the small-town Sixties Kansas in Conrad Hall’s stylish black and white visuals with a classy score by Quincy Jones. New Yorker Capote had spent over six months getting to know the Kansas locals for his ‘non-fiction novel’, and one local in particular would be his unravelling. He trusted Brooks to transfer his own ideas to the screen, and they were both sold on black and white, Hall creating a gritty true crime feel, and some stunning Wild West style panoramas, Brooks carrying the authenticity through by filming in the town and the exact house where the murders actually happened, but Capote became mesmerised by one of the perpetrators, Perry Smith.

The events of the case grippingly unfold in a chronological narrative recounting how four members of the ‘God-fearing’ Clutter family were slaughtered in cold blood one night in 1959 by two two ex-convicts looking for cash during a random burglary in the remote  rural property. They stole a radio and a few dollars and left few clues as to their identity, but Brooks shows how Kansas Police (lead by a superb John Forsythe) embark on a lengthy and painstaking investigation eventually catching and convicting the killers and bringing them to justice in 1965.

Robert Blake (Perry Smith) and Scott Wilson (Dick Hickock) are utterly convincing as the ruthless killers. And although we already know that they committed the murders from the early scenes Brooks generates a palpable tension while he fleshes out the investigation and we get a chance to fathom the broken minds of the perpetrators.

At the end of the day, who can really understand why two people only intending to rob the Clutters, and who had not committed murder before, suddenly decided to sadistically murder four innocent people on a quiet night in 1959? And what did the modest Clutters do provoke such vicious violence?

Richard Brooks’s fractured narrative flips nervously back and forth brilliantly evoking both the frenzied minds of the killers and the fervent need of detectives to nail and endite their suspects. Conrad Hall’s noirish visuals re-visit the rain-soaked scene of the crime, the remote locations and the fugitives’ brief escape to Mexico and their chance arrest in Las Vegas, while allowing brief glimpses of the genesis of their disfunctional family stories.

Brooks skilfully avoids showing bloodshed, violence or macabre crime scenes, allowing the terror to haunt our minds rather than the cinema screen. The mercilessness of the intruders and the abject fear and vulnerability of Clutters in their final moments is more evocative than any blood-soaked bedroom scene. By the time we reach the trial and imprisonment, we are glad to be done with these sordid criminals, although Brooks a scintilla of sympathy for Perry Smith who seems to have been led on. Robert Blake and Scott Wilson give chilling and resonant portrayals in the leading roles. MT

ON DVD | REMASTERED COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS FILMS.

 

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

 

The Green Fog (2018) **** Now on Vimeo

Dir.: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson; USA 2017,63 min.

Guy Maddin’s’ love letter to San Francisco and Hitchcock’s Vertigo is a montage of clips from features shot in around the Californian coastal city: around one hundred or so – no new material was filmed. Aesthetically, Green Fog settles somewhere in between Christian Marclay’s The Clock (2010) and another Maddin/Johnson collaboration, Forbidden Room from 2015. There’s no real narrative to speak of, but Green Fog will appeal to those who like their film history served with a dizzy twist of the insane.

Oblique and opaque, Green Fog shows an overbearing obsession with Hitchcock: morbid and melancholy, we follow Scottie and Judy on a drive through the city, morphing into a hell-raising ride, where love turns to disillusionment. Novak and Stewart are played by various actors: Faye Dunaway, Susan Saint James, Gina Lolabrigida; Anthony Franciosa and Dean Martin. As one actor melds into another, one forgets that they look different in this headlong rush, on foot and in automobiles, as they’re drawn to the Golden Gate Bridge and oblivion.The film’s quotes range from the thrilling (The Lady from Shanghai, 1947) to the downright bizarre (Confessions of an Opium Eater of 1962 and So I married an Axe Murderer of 1993), via obscure gems such as Obayashi’s Take Me Away! 1978, and Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (1983). The common thread is their Vertigo locations; if not directly then metaphorically. The titular fog, which saturates Judy from the neon street sign, re-appears throughout: under water, most menacingly in a hospital corridor. And there are even in the clips from The Great Fire, – which was started by a film fan no less.

Hitchcock’s obsession with voyeurism is celebrated in many scenes, from surveillance rooms, to men gazing at the screens, unsure of their targets – rather like Rock Hudson, on being quizzed “what are we looking for, Sir?” by a tape operator, to which Rock retorted: “I don’t know, but at this point I’ll take anything”. Karl Malden and Michael Douglas from The Streets of San Francisco are frequently found in their search for more contemporary perpetrators. Green Fog is a ghost story, a collage of landscapes and rooms (echoing Un Chien Andalou) which are haunted by loss and death, their doom underpinned by a Hermannesque score from Jacob Gavchik. Despite of the gravity of it all, Maddin still manages to be playful and impish throughout. AS

NOW AVAILABLE ON VIMEO

 

Orlando (1992) **** re-release

Orlando - Tilda SwintonDirector/Writer: Sally Potter | Cast: Tilda Swinton, Bill Zane, Quentin Crisp, Jimmy Somerville, Toby Jones, Simon Russell Beale | 94min   Fantasy Drama  UK

Sally Potter’s inventive, vibrant and visually sumptuous adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel is the ideal vehicle for Tilda Swinton’s versatility as the metrosexual maverick poet and nobleman Orlando, who is commanded by Elizabeth I to stay eternally young. If you could only have one auteu film in your timecapsule or desert island retreat, make it this one.

The story is endlessly fascinating and enduring, engaging modern audiences with its androgynous allure and sexual enigma. The characters are exotic and compelling. The costumes and set pieces are magnificent.  In short it is a love-letter to England’s rich language and literature. MT

NOW ON RERELEASE at THE BFI WITH AN INTRO BY POTTER AND SWINTON ON 8 MARCH 2020 and BFI PLAYER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Noël et sa Mère (2019) **** FID Marseille 2019

Dir.: Noël Herpé; Documentary with Noel Herpe, Michelle Herpé; France 2019, 103 min.
Writer/director Noel Herpé (Fantasmes et Fantômes) stages a soul-searching duel with is mother Michelle, translator, theatre director and actress. Noël is also known for his work as a film historian, particular on Eric Rohmer. In front of the camera the two wrestle with their love for each other, the quarrels often turning vitriolic. He calls Michelle a witch with the face of human mother.
Michelle Voslinsky was in Paris in 1940, being Jewish, she had to hide from the Germans. After losing her mother the age of nine “she felt not entitled to a life like others, meaning no marriage, I was sure, nobody would love me”. Her much older husband Henri (father of Noël b. *1965), was bi-polar, and capable of strange behaviour, often offering his wife to visitors. And sometime Michelle did not need his encouragement, “motherhood was not my strength”.
She raised Noül as a girl, the odd couple produced an old doll, and immediately an argument breaks out as to whether the object could be defined as a doll. Next up is an accident in a pool, when Noël nearly drowned. Although his mother insists he mistook the adult pool for the children’s one, Noël insists on an early suicide attempt at the age of four. This leads to him lamenting the lack of motherly love in general, whilst his father Henri always repeatedly told him:” I love you”.  They then discuss psychological neglect: “We are in a different film”.
Noël casts his mind back to the first film he even saw, running out frightened from the café in Avignon. I was afraid of everything that moved. No wonder I became a film-historian, it is the stillness of the past that attracts me.” The family had bough a property in Poudrigne, and Noël spend many holidays with older half-brother Olivier in the countryside and when he was five, he heard his his mother crying behind closed doors, “so I opened the door”. Since then, he has tried to forget the images – but was at the same fascinated by them. For once, Michelle is contrite: “It was harmful for you, I have to love with the guilt”. Both agree, that Henri was a repressed homosexual. His son Noel would follow in his footsteps, after taking in interest in his mother’s tights, he also borrowed her clothes and jewellery. For Noel it was life-changing: “I felt like becoming my mother”. Michelle comments: “the tights look better on your friend Cyril, who is much slimmer than you”.
A short film “Man” documents young Noel’s entrance into the life of a fetishist. But he rejects the idea of being an exhibitionist: “I am just saying I am my mother. A ghost of my mother”. After Michelle left her husband at he age of 37, Noël moved in with Henri, to look after him. Henri’s mental health was deteriorating. Mother and son agree – for once – that Michelle loved her husband, whose death was never totally explained. Michelle admits still feeling love for him today. Both mother and son worked at the theatre: “it was a period to re-connect with her. We shopped together for dresses”. But soon they argue about details of their stage collaboration, she accusing her son “of being like Trump”. Noel directed his first gay play in 1988, even though both agree that he is “a non-practising gay man.”He later confesses to  “lack any carnal dimension”. They finally come to the conclusion that he will miss her when she is gone, but he ends positing: “I set out dreaming of absolute love”.
Filmed either on a couch or on the stage of an empty theatre by Nils Warolin and Tao Favre, with family photos and old newsreels interrupting the talking heads, Noël et sa Mere, is a psychological striptease, fascinating and disturbing at the same time. Acting much more like frustrated lovers than mother and son, it is a portrait of mixed signals and double-binds. Unique and haunting. AS
FID MARSEILLE | 9-15 JULY 2019

Last Summer (2018) ***

Dir: Jon Jones | Richard Harrington, Nia Roberts, Robert Wilfort and Steffan Rhodri | UK 97′                                          

Four boys are looking forward to their summer holidays in the Welsh valleys when the adult world intervenes to spoil their fun. Instead of playing and discovering the joys of barn owls and and a sheep dog Rex, they are faced with the police and the social services as reality strikes. Catapulted into the adult world, they decide to take matters into their own hands – and who wouldn’t with a mother like Davy’s, freaking the boy out with the threat of some impending fate. Getting the melodramatic bits over early, means this well-paced drama can then unfold gradually, from the perspective of the boys.

Set during the 1970s in the stunning countryside of South Wales, and chockfull of authentic ’70s detail (right down to the anaglypta wallpaper), Last Summer is certainly  powerful emotional coming of age drama exploring the nature of growing up in a small rural community. There’s an appealing purity and an innocence to it making a refreshing change from the hardbitten sweary slices of social realism we’ve grown to expect from British filmmakers nowadays. It also introduces an outstanding cast of young Welsh actors including Gruffydd Weston, Rowan Jones and Christopher Benning with an astonishing performance from Noa Thomas as Davy. Best known for his TV fare such as Cold Feet and Northanger Abbey, this is Jones’ feature debut and he really pulls it off. The cast includes Richard Harrington (Hinterland), Steffan Rhodri (Gavin and Stacey) Robert Wilfort (Peterloo, Wolf Hall) and Nia Roberts (Keeping Faith, Rillington Place, Hidden).

ON RELEASE FROM 7 JUNE 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 

The Upside (2017) ***

122’Dir: Neil Berger | Cast: Brian Cranston, Nicole Kidman | Kevin Hart | US Drama | 

Neil Berger’s slick big budget remake rides roughshod over some serious themes and its own narrative flaws, but thanks to Brian Cranston at the wheel central role. But after a clunky first act, The Upside does improve, and culminates in an enjoyable drama.  

Cranston plays philosophical, philanthropic, paraplegic Philip who has amassed a small fortune the hard way, but is now confined to his glossy Manhattan penthouse due to a hang-gliding accident. But not only is Cranston’s Philip richer and more sassy, he’s also streets ahead in the acting stakes compared to his co-stars Nicole Kidman who plays an obsequious business manager, and Kevin Hart his full-time carer. The Upside is always going to come up and finish second to the original which was the most successful French language film of all time in Spain, Germany, Denmark, Brazil and Mexico to name a few countries. This was all largely due to the intensively moving way it presented its subject matter.

Phil is mainly depressed because he’s recently lost the love his life and the film opens with the tawdry search for someone to look after him now she’s gone. But when the crass and bungling Dell appears on the scene his bullishness somehow strikes a chord with Phil, even though the ex-con appears entirely unsuitable for the job. It soon emerges that Phil’s made the right choice. Dell’s down to earth attitude (think Eddie Murphy’s Trading Places) and refusal to be politically correct chimes with Philip’s own maverick qualities: the two have great chemistry as fearless, free-thinking individuals, and that’s why they hit it off together in this inspirational drama about friendship, forgiveness and the indomitable human spirit.

The Upside hits some high notes with its breath-taking setting: New York has never looked so majestic in widescreen skyscapes and the glitzy interiors of Phil’s lavish home. The Bronx too looks commanding and this is where predictably we meet Dell’s chuntering girlfriend and his sparky son . And there are some well-choreographed car chases with Dell at the wheel of Phil’s fleet of Ferraris and Porches. There’s humour to be had in the situational nuances: Phil’s po-faced neighbours are lampooned and so are his bathroom facilities (a shower that speaks German). Nicole Kidman is glacially prim and proper as the house manager, and certainly doesn’t convince as Phil’s potential love interest. But we soon realise he’s a true romantic who loves women and being in their company. And he’s started an old-fashioned ‘pen-pal’ courtship into the bargain.

Even though The Upside (and the original French film) is loosely based on a real story, the formulaic narrative leaves nothing to the imagination and very much toes the party line that Dell is a ‘jackass’ who’s taken the easy life of crime, and now suddenly starts admiring classical opera and developing painting skills akin to Jean Michel Basquiat. Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist, Limitless) and screenwriter Jon Hartmere have some insightful comments to make and there are a few laughs, but that doesn’t negate the film’s racial undertones, and or the slightly glib treatment of Phil’s infirmities. The Upside slightly manipulates with its charming glibness but Cranston gives things a much needed shot of nuanced dynamism, and this is what ultimately makes The Upside fly. MT

OUT on 12  JANUARY 2019

New Year, New Films | 2019 in focus

2019 gets off to an impressive start with two extraordinary arthouse dramas both releasing in January. Timothée Chalamet plays a young man struggling with addition in Felix Van Groeningen’s  A Beautiful Boy and Saoirse Ronan gives a dynamite performance as the tragic Mary Queen of Scots in a mesmerising historical epic from theatre turned screen director Lisa Rourke. There’s plenty more to look forward as the New Year gets under way, here are a selection of arthouse features and documentaries releasing in 2019.

Bergman: A Year in the Life 

The focus of Jane Magnusson’s European Award winning documentary is 1957, arguable the zenith of  Ingmar Bergman’s career when he released two on his most acclaimed dramas The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, a TV film and four plays. It’s an impressive film that reflects Bergman’s mammoth contribution to the world of film and theatre. 25 January 

Burning 

Some critics went wild for this psychological thriller from South Korean director Lee Chang-dong. Certainly alluring, the enigmatic arthouse piece is based on a story from Haruki Murakami about a barn-burning weirdo and his struggle to win the girl of his dreams. 1 February 1st

Birds of Passage

In his follow-up to Embrace of the Serpent Ciro Guerra is joined by his wife Cristina Gallego for this arthouse chronicle of the emergence of the drugs trade in his native Colombia. Spring 2019

Can You Ever Forgive Me? 

Melissa McCarthy takes plagiarism to extraordinary ends as Lee Israel, a New York writer struggling to make ends meet – eventually by criminal means. Marielle Heller and Nicole Holofcener offer up an absorbing dark comedy drama that also stars Richard E Grant. Opens February 1st

Sometimes Always Never 

One of my favourite British films this years was this amusingly cheeky indie drama – it will make you laugh and contemplate your own life too. Love, ageing, loneliness and emotional fulfilment all deftly intermingle in a ‘detective’ drama about a father (a thoughtful Bill Nighy) and his two sons, one of whom has disappeared. Set in the rain-soaked Ribble Valley, there’s a soft melancholy to the muted visuals and the quintessentially English storyline, crafted by Frank Cottrell Boyce (The Railway Man). A subtle film film but an enjoyable one.

Border

Writer John Ajvide Lindvist’s arthouse oddity has the same fresh originality as his vampire thriller Let the Right One In, ten years on. The Swedish social satire is a romantic parable that blends fantasy, mystery and horror and won the top prize at this year’s Cannes ‘Un Certain Regard’. March 8th

High Life

Claire Denis is the latest auteur to try her hand with a Sci-fi drama. And she succeeds. This one stars Robert Pattison and Juliette Binoche and premiered at Toronto to wrapt applause. Early spring 

On the Basis of Sex

In the second film about noted US jurist Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG is already on release)– Felicity Jones stars as the fearsome feminine judge and activist who has broken down barriers since the 1950s, and continues to do so with her subtle charm and incisive intellect. February 8th   

Float Life a Butterfly

Carmel Winters’s won the FIPRESCI Discovery Prize in a drama that follows the ambitions of a young and feisty boxing enthusiast (Hazel Doupe) in 1960s Ireland. Spring 2019

Green Book

Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen star in this enjoyable road movie that delighted critics both at Marrakech and Toronto. It follows a suave African-American pianist (Ali) and a New York bruiser (Mortensen) to America’s Deep South on a voyage of discovery – of themselves and the racial tensions of the 1960s. 1 February 2019 

The Young Picasso 

Exhibition on Screen chronicles the early years of the Spanish painter, from his birth in Malaga to  his international recognition in Paris in his mid thirties. Informative and a must for art lovers. 5 February 2019

Greta

Isabelle Huppert had a low profile in 2018, but she’s back with a vengeance in Neil Jordan’s critically divisive drama that explores the relationship between a young girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) and Huppert’s lonely widow. 19 April 2019

The Irishman

When Martin Scorsese offered a lifetime Tribute to his great friend Robert De Niro at Marrakech Film Festival , The Irishman was the talk of the town. Scorsese’s latest film will be releasing on Netflix, 

The Mule

Another Hollywood luminary – now in his 90s – Clint Eastwood will hit cinemas at the end of January 2019 with his 143rd film – in which he also stars. The Mule is a high-octane thriller set in the US drug trade  January 25th

The Sisters Brothers

Jacques Audiard casts Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly in this sensitively-scripted buddy movie that sees the titular brothers embark on a Wild West odyssey, based on Patrick deWitt’s western novel. Skilfully avoiding a macho approach, this is insightful and great fun. April 5th

Woman At War

Benedikt Erlingsson follows his unusual equine-themed drama Of Horses and Men with another innovative tale from his native Iceland that sees an ambitious eco warrior in the shape of a middle-aged woman strike out for the environment. 3 May 2019

Too Late to Die Young

Dominga Sotomayor’s languorous Chilean family drama was a big hit at Locarno 2018, and takes place during the summer of 1990 while the country was making a dangerous bid for democracy.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino latest, another highly-anticipated controversial caper tackles the thorny theme of Hollywood during the Charles Manson era. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio star. July 26

The Woman in the Window

Based on A J Finn’s bestseller, Joe Wright and Tracey Letts create an intriguing crime thriller that explores urban angst, loneliness and voyeurism in contempo New York. Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman and Amy Adams star.

The Lady Eve

We can always rely on the classics, especially when Preston Sturges, Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck are concerned. Re-released by Park Circus this screwball comedy with a social message  is possibly one of the most enjoyable films you’ll see in February, and makes for perfect Valentine viewing. 15 February.

BEST INDIE AND ARTHOUSE FILMS TO LOOK OUT FOR IN 2019

 

 

Pajaros de Verano (2018) **** Marrakech Film Festival 2018

Dir: Ciro Guerra |Dir/Prod: Cristina Gallego | Drama | Colombia | Cast: | Carmina  Martínez, Jhon Narváez, José Acosta, José Vicente Cotes, Juan Martínez, Natalia Reyes | 110’

Embrace of the Serpent (2015) was the first Colombian feature to be nominated for an Oscar© and won Ciro Guerra the Art Cinema award at Directors’ Fortnight. The Bogota born director returns with his fourth and most ambitious film today PAJAROS DE VERANO (Birds of Passage) that explores the origins of the Colombian drug trade through this epic yet spiritual  multi-layered story about an indigenous Wayuu family of farmers turned drug-traffickers become involved in the booming business of selling marijuana to the American youth in the 1970s. But from a tiny seed of discontent passion and honour collide, and a fratricidal war breaks out that will put their lives, culture and ancestral traditions at stake.

Working this time in colour with his DoP David Gallego, Guerra creates a fabulous sense of place in the arid windswept plains of Colombia’s Guajira desert, where a deep unsettling feeling continually pervades the heady atmosphere with Leonardo Heiblum’s ground-breaking ominous soundscape.

Embrace of the Serpent writer Jacques Vidal and co-scripter Maria Camila Arias structure the story around five songs: Wild Grass 1968, The Tombs 1971, Prosperity 1979, The War 1980 and Limbo following the age-old traditional rags to riches and then tragedy formula. That said, this is an inventive and refreshingly original film whose poetic nature is continually punctuated by episodes of brutal violence and down to earth characters echoing recent South American fare such as Lucrecia Martel’s Zama, and Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja, and anchoring Birds firmly in historical reality despite its lyrical and often dreamlike folkloric overtones.

In this strongly matriarchal set-up, themes of capitalism vie with those of spirituality showing how both can breed antagonism if left unchecked, and this is eventually what transpires when male machismo and greed topples this delicate human society with tragedy and loss the inevitable outcome. Occasionally marred by uneven pacing BIRDS OF PASSAGE is nevertheless a startling achievement marking out Ciro Guerra and his co-director Cristina Gallego as growing talents on the South American scene. MT

 

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 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

Columbus (2017) ****

Dir.: Kogonada; Cast: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey, Michelle Forbes, Rory Culkin; USA 2017, 104 min.

Seoul born director Kogonada is a visual artist known for his documentaries. Columbus is his visually alluring and quietly affecting debut feature exploring the human soul in crisis with great sensitivity and a transcendent feeling of stillness and calm. Set in Columbus, Indiana and underpinned by three fine performances, it is also a love letter to modernist architects Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei and Richard Meier, whose modernist buildings lend an air of cool contemporary splendour to the bland Mid-West.

Jin (John Cho) arrives from Seoul to look after his estranged father who has suffered a stroke the night before delivering a lecture on modernist architecture. Harassed by his editor and irritated by his Korean family commitments, Jin is drawn back in to the complex world of his father’s assistant Eleanor (Posey), a crush from his younger days. To gain some perspective he wanders around the campus where he comes across Casey (Richardson) as young graduate caring for her sick mother. Casey’s friend Gabriel (Culkin), is another young man lost in a void, hiding behind great words but clinging to the past.

Kagonada makes great use of the impressive buildings and the way they elicit a subtle or profound emotional response from their human counterparts in this  unique study in psychogeography, a subject that has been tackled before in documentary form but rarely as a feature. Each shot is a complex study in how the built environment  impacts on the human element as the protagonists react sensitively to the vibes of the mainly glass-fronted structures and the spaces that surround them. 

The two main protagonists seem trapped in their minds, but Casey feels liberated and inspired by some of these remarkable buildings that move her to dance, cry and sing: in this way architecture provides a means of escape from her days worrying about her mother. Jin feels unmoved by the buildings: he is a more pragmatic character but both are trapped in the security of inertia and familiar routine. 

Casey uses her mother as a reason to postpone decisions about her future, and Jin blames his father’s omnipotent presence for his own underachieving, loneliness and his dysfunctional relationship with Eleanor as the narrative’s dramatic arc slowly points to a solution.

DoP Elisha Christian (In Your Eyes) creates an otherworldly reality inviting us in from the outside as the protagonists glide around aimlessly, like fish in a bowl. Sometimes the atmosphere feels eerie as the buildings take over, dominating everything with their commanding presence, dwarfing and deafening the human element. Columbus is unique in its near transcendental approach, and asks for some patience, but rewards the audience with an extraordinary experience.

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE AT ARTHOUSE VENUES. 

Crystal Swan | Khrustal (2018) ****

Dir.: Darya Zhuk; Cast: Alina Nasibullina, Yuriy Borisov, Swetlana Anikey, Ivan Mulin, Ilya Kapanets; Belarus/USA/Germany/Russia 2018, 93 min.

Darya Zhuk 1996-set feature debut shows how little Belarus has changed in the intervening years. Alina Nasibullina is the star turn as a disc jockey in Minsk who dreams of emigrating to Chicago, birth place of House Music. Although her performance takes on a farcical form, the comedy here is really gallows humour – vitriolic and bitter.

Velya lives with her museum curator mother (Swetlana Anikey) who like many in the older generation, yearns for the “good old” days on the Soviet block. The freedom they fought for has brought only insecurity. When Law graduate Velya gets sick and tired of the system and her childish and attention seeking boyfriend Alik (Borisov) she forges Visa documents from the US-Embassy in Minsk, somehow managing mess up her (non existent) employment details. The telephone number actually belongs to a family in a traditional factory town in the countryside, so she sets off to put things right. There she comes up against matriarch Alya who is deaf from blowing crystal in the local factory. Her oldest son Stepan (Mulin) takes a shine to Velya who plays along; having paid the phone bill, she is eagerly awaiting a call from the embassy with a glowing character reference. After Stepan rapes her, Velya goes back to Minsk with another lost soul, his younger brother Kostya.(Kapanets). Alik has moved in with her mother. But all is not lost.

Zhuk directs with great verve and energy, mastering the quickly changing narrative with considerable aplomb. Nasibullina is very much a central European version of Cindy Looper, a misfit in a country with a nostalgia for a brutal past. Velya is by no means a heroine, but a vulnerable victim of her rash spontaneity. DoP Carolina Costa avoids dour realism, crafting this flight for freedom with vibrant colours and inventive angles. 

The only black mark is the LFF’s decision to place Crystal Swan in the festival’s “Laugh” strand: a woman’s rape is anything but funny. Perhaps the selection committee, led by a woman, should take note of IMdb, where the film is rightly classified as “Drama”. AS

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 10 -21 OCTOBER 2018 | Karlovy Vary 2018

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | CRITICS WEEK 2018

A Ciambra (2017)

Dir.: Jonas Carpignano; Cast: Pio Amato, Koudous Seihon, Iolanda Amato, Damiano Amato, Rocco Amato; Italy/USA/France/Sweden 2017, 118 min.

Jonas Carpignano’s casts non professionals in this companion piece and follow-up to his debut Mediterranea, a lively all singing all dancing immigration drama that revolves around a family of Romas who live in an enclave of Gioia Tauro in Calabria, .

Voluble teenager Pio (Pio Amato) is the youngest in the family of jailbirds, idolising his brother Cosimo (Damiano Amato) who has already served time, as has his father Rocco (Rocco Amato), he mixes easily in the multi-cultural milieu of fellow Romas, local Italians and African refugees, and the rest of their clan are under house arrest. Mother Iolanda (Iolanda Amato) keeps the family together, and Pio is a afraid of her – but not enough to stop his various criminal activities. Pio’s only confidant is Ayiva from Burkino Faso, who lives in the African section of the town and is played by the only professional actor, Kudos Seihon. Pio’s loyalities are put to the test when he discovers his clan is planning a robbery at Ayiva’s “warehouse”; but he’s proud to be a Roma and keeps his mouth shut, respecting his brother’s words: “when you are in prison, you are respected, even by the Italians, but nobody respects the Africans”.  Carpignano keeps his distance from his characters, never judging them and allowing their macho, misogyny full rein. That said, the clan live in abject poverty, crime clearly doesn’t pay for these canny immigrants. This approach works up to a point. Realism is fine, but it has to encompass more than one dimension. There are shades of The Dardenne Brothers in Tim Curtin’s handheld camerawork which follows each scenes through to the end, although the brothers take their narrative rigour from showing society as a whole, not indulging in the cul-de-sac actions of one section of the community.  Overall, A Ciambra pulls out all the stops aesthetically, allowing the audience to enjoy the ride rather indulgently, and with a dangerous lack of reflection. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 18 JUNE 2018

 

The Knack..and how to get it (1965) | Bluray release

Dir: Richard Lester | Cast: Rita Tushingham, Ray Brooks, Michael Crawford, Donal Donnelly | Comedy | UK

It’s indicative of our more conservative century that in 2001 the Wallflower Critical Guide appreciated the creative cinematography and editing of The Knack, but then said it disrupted the storytelling. That’s ridiculous. The bare storyline of The Knack makes for a comedy pitched exactly in tune with its technique: a style conveying zany behaviour, sexual freedom and cheeky irreverence. Never a case of disruption but a familiar eruption of the visual approach associated with director Richard Lester. 

Sandwiched between the two Beatles films, A Hard Day’s Night and Help, The Knack is very much a Sixties production. Amazingly, it won the 1965 Cannes Palme D’Or and has become one of the ‘swinging’ 60s films that people either love or hate. I like it, but with a few reservations. Blow-Up is the other 60s film now lazily described as ‘swinging’. Antonioni’s film doesn’t swing but provokes and mystifies: a film of its time yet also magisterially timeless; whereas The Knack has begun to look dated: caught in its own charming time capsule.

Colin (Michael Crawford) is a schoolmaster with little sexual experience of women. His friend Tolen (Ray Books) is a smug and conceited womaniser. He has the knack of seduction. Colin wants it too. Only with the disruptive arrival of Nancy (Rita Tushingham) on the scene does it seem possible that Colin’s inhibitions will be swept away by a potential girlfriend.

The Knack was adapted by Charles Wood from a play by Ann Jellicoe. I’m not sure how much of the dialogue is Jellicoe’s and how much is Wood’s. What is apparent is a strange and strained tone of both awkward misogyny and exhilarating energy. You disapprovingly groan at Tolen’s remark that women are ‘just skirt’ and that “skirt is meat”, and his assertion that “girls don’t get raped unless they want it.” These attitudes are powerfully counterpoised by Nancy’s assertive dialogue. As Tolen approaches, intent on rape, Nancy blasts out, “Mr. Smarty, Smarty, tight trousers – just you don’t come near me!” whilst her constant asking to be directed to the YWCA becomes a repeated knack leitmotif. Will the YWCA ever preserve Nancy’s virginity?  

The Knack is a semi-absurdist mishmash of Wood/Jellicoe lines that manage to attract and repel. And Lester directs his actors to speak in a frenetic, questioning manner as if they were tearing through the text of Beckett’s Godot – not anxiously waiting for redemption but running up and down stairs intent on sexual gratification.

If The Knack hadn’t been so perfectly cast then I don’t think I would be giving it very much critical attention. Michael Crawford, Ray Brooks, Donal Donnelly and Rita Tushingham deliver wonderfully winning performances. The film might be an uneven, if brilliantly photographed, fantasia on sexual drives, but I strongly identified with the frustrations and ambitions of its very likeable and very human characters. 

The comedy sometimes fall flat – both the child-like lion taming scene and the wheeling of a bed, through the London streets, are over-long – but when The Knack’s comedy works, it becomes an appealing bundle of anarchic energy. And British films are always in need of a good dose of that. Alan Price.

NOW ON BLURAY TO CELEBRATE BFI’s WOODFALL: A REVOLUTION IN BRITISH CINEMA 

Special features

Product details

RRP: £19.99/ Cat. no. BFIB1292 / Cert 15

UK / 1965 / black and white / 85 mins / English language with optional hard-of-hearing subtitles / original aspect ratio 1.66:1 / BD50: 1080p, 24fps, PCM dual mono audio (48kHz/24-bit) / DVD9: PAL 25fps, PCM mono audio (48kHz/16-bit)

 

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

 

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

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

Jeune Femme (2017)

Dir.: Leonor Serraille; Cast: Laetitia Dosch, Gregoire Monsaingeon, Soleymane Seye Ndiaye, Natalie Richard, Erka Sainte, Lila-Rose Gilberti; France 2017, 97 min.

La Femis graduate Leonor Serraille, won the Camera d’ Or at Cannes 2017, is a for this wild debut: its main protagonist Julia  – an excellent Laetitia Dosch – is nothing like the fragile, delicate damsel in distress of countless French features, but a steamroller of a personality: ready to bury anything in her way – including herself.  

Serraille introduces her heroine head on, literally: splitting her forehead, ramming it against the door of her ex-lover Joachim Deloche (Monsaigeon), a photographer, who had made a career modelling her, but has now discarded the young woman on their return to Paris. After a decade in Mexico, Julia has returned to France broke, homeless and looking after Joachim’s cat, a fluffy Persian. She is picked up and rescued, by mistake, by a young woman who believes she is a former school friend, who had heterochromic eyes, just like Julia, whose irises are green and hazel. 

After Julia’s rescuer discovers her mistake, she and the cat are homeless again Thus begins an emotional rollercoaster ride, in which Julia has to adapt like a chameleon to ever changing situations. Her mother (Richard), blames her: “you are just like your father, you leave me alone”. Finding a place to sleep on the sofa of an elderly man, is no solution either; after being told, that he does not like to sleep alone, Julia tells him “to buy himself a teddy bear” and moves out. Answering an ad, Julia then gets a job as a baby sitter, and is allowed to sleep in the maid’s chamber in the attic. This is eventful film full of gleeful energy but Seraille avoids romanticising the predicaments Julia finds herself in. The gender relations are always at the centre, ranging from rough sexual harassment to absurdity (Ousmane falling asleep whilst Julia is undressing him). Serraille, who was pregnant during shooting, never idealises her main protagonist: Julia is not a victim, but her stubborn fight for absolute autonomy results in her having sometimes a part in her own downfall. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 19 MAY 2018

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

Radiator (2014) | Home Ent Release

Writer/Director: Tom Browne | Cast: Daniel Cerquiera, Gemma Jones, Richard Johnson Leonard | 80mins  UK   Drama

Many of us will be familiar with the story at the heart of Tom Browne’s astonishing debut RADIATOR. A three-hander, it takes place in a ramshackle house in the Cumbrian countryside where middle-aged Daniel’s parents are coping with life in their 80s. Leonard, his father (Richard Johnson, sadly no longer with us), is unable to get upstairs anymore and has taken up residence on the sofa, issuing orders, and frustrated at not being in control anymore. Mariah, (a touching turn from Gemma Jones), potters endlessly around the domestic muddle, her confusion possibly down to senile dementia – she is a kindly but a desperate figure. Daniel’s personal life is far from satisfactory (he is played convincingly by Daniel Cerqueira who co-wrote the screenplay), yet he feels permanently at odds with the situation, powerless as he probably did as a child, and guilty now as an adult, taking time off work to support them, whilst being the permanent whipping boy of his curmudgeonly dad. Venturing into the village, he bumps into a neighbour who chides him further for his lack of parental support.

Tom Browne’s story resonates deeply with us all, or will eventually, as our parents become our own badly-behaved children. Just like Daniel, we grapple with our own lives and our own, often troubled, offspring. Middle-age turns into a three-pronged assault course, unless we have been bereaved already.

In Browne’s case the film is based on his own reality, with the actors playing his own parents. The narrative mirrors our own experience, and offers up empathy and strangely, a feeling of relief: a gut-wrenching feeling of pity, an overwhelming desire to help, an occasional feeling of anger at our parents’ self-centredness, a niggling feeling that this will be us one day: a desperate need to be with them as much as possible – in case they die any minute – yet a powerful reluctance not to lose the threads of our own difficult, lives. Old age is the coalface where we really get to know our parents; in the frustrations of dressing and handling their oblutions, and we argue over domestic detritus as they subtly or overtly undermine us, due to their own feelings of helplessness or even disappointment – as Leonard does here with Daniel. What he makes clear in this often poignant drama, is that parents are not going to change or even listen to our efforts or suggestions – the die is cast and we are still, in their minds, incapable children – their children, although we are now affectively their parents. No amount of shouting or arguing will change the way they have always behaved, we just have to accept and understand.

Affectingly, Browne has set the film in his parents’ house, still almost untouched since their recent deaths. It provides interesting food for thought, unless you’ve already choked on its unpalatable reality. MT

NOW ON ITUNES AND AMAZON FROM 2 APRIL 2018 | RADIATOR WON THE AUDIENCE AWARD AT GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL 2014 

 

 

Walk This Way | European Hidden Gems Collection 2018

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

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

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

WALK THIS WAY WILL DISTRIBUTE 34 FILMS IN 8 COUNTRIES ON GLOBAL PLATFORMS ITUNES, GOOGLE PLAY, AMAZON, SONY in the Original Versions with English Subtitles | from 9 April 2018 

 

Paris Square | Praça Paris (2017) ** | Rio Film Festival

Dir.: Lucia Murat; Cast: Grace Passo, Joana de Verona, Alex Brasil, Digao Ribeiro; Portugal/Argentina/Brazil 2017, 110 min.

Director/co-writer Lucia Murat (Another Love Story) has made her name as a documentary filmmaker so it comes as no surprise that her observations about class, gender and education in contemporary Rio de Janeiro are by far the strongest part of this feature. When it comes to story telling, Praca, Paris somehow lacks the same conviction. The film follows Gloria who has arrived in Rio to study the effects of violence on the local community, and hoping to work through her troubled past growing up in a favela. She consults Camila (de Verona), a young psychotherapist writing her MA thesis, as a patient and case-study subject. But the doctor-patient relationship soon comes under strain as social tensions rise to the surface and power dynamics shift in a high-stakes mind game. At the beginning, it is Gloria, who does not open up to Camila, but slowly the dynamics change: when Camila learns more and more about Gloria’s traumatic childhood, it is she who withdraws. Gloria is financing her stay by working as a lift operator in the university building, but it soon emerges that she killed her father after enduring years of sexual abuse on his part, and that the family has kept his death a secret. The most influential character here is her brother Jonas (Brasil) who is serving time on drug related charges, and still has an enormous influence on the criminal scene, even from behind bars. When Gloria’s boyfriend Samuel (Ribeiro)  tries to resolve her conflict with Camila, violence again erupts.

This rather enigmatic psychological drama takes its name from one of Rio’s great meeting places and DoP Guillermo Nieto uses great sensibility in contrasting the beauty of the park and the tranquillity of the university buildings with the jungle of the Favelas. There is no attempt to gloss over the abject poverty, or the lawlessness by men like Jonas, who use women to make a living. It’s a shame therefore that the narrative lacks the necessary vigour to support the tragic contradictions of this social reality. AS

PRACA, PARIS won Best Actress (Grace Passo) | Best Director at Rio Film Festival and is looking for distribution in the UK. 

Academy Awards | European Submissions 2018

The Academy Awards took place on 4 March, 2018 and Sebastiano Lelio’s A FANTASTIC WOMAN won Best Foreign Language film for its portrayal of a transgender woman in crisis with her traditional family in Chile. The film was awarded a Silver Bear at Berlinale 2017 for Best Screenplay and is the first Chilean film to receive an Academy Award in that category. The full list of final nominations were:

Chile: A FANTASTIC WOMAN; Sebastian Lelio

Hungary: ON BODY AND SOUL;  Ildikó Enyedi

Russia: LOVELESS; Andrey Zvyagintsev

Sweden: THE SQUARE; Ruben Östlund

Lebanon: THE INSULT; Ziad Doueiri

THE ACADEMY AWARDS | 4 MARCH 2018 |

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

7 Neo-Realist masterpieces

The Italian Neo-Realist movement kicked off just after the Second World War and brought together a group of Italian filmmakers who focused their ideas on stories set amongst the poor and the working class reflecting the austerity of the era and government cut-backs. Frequently using non-professional actors or children, or professionals playing strongly against their normal character types, the films were set in a background populated by local people brought in for the films.

NEO-REALISM rejected the strict guidelines that had been imposed during the war years by Benito Mussolini’s ‘White Telephone’ films that toed the party line and, instead, explored themes of economic hardship, oppression and social injustice in everyday life, particularly amongst the working classes. These had been brought about by the devastation of the war years and changes in the nation’s psyche after the war which caused fractures in film industry financing and actual physical damage to some film studios and equipment.  Not deterred by this a group of filmmakers got together and decided to use this difficulty to create an entirely new style: Neo-Realism was born.

1860The main protagonists of the Italian school auteur-wise were Vittorio De Sica with Bicycle Thieves (1948); Alessandro Biasetti with the photo-realist 1860,(1934); Giuseppe De Santis with Riso Amaro/Bitter Rice (1949); Luchino Visconti, who made the first film in the genre: Ossessione (1943) followed by Roberto Rossellini’s: Rome Open City, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes just after the War. Manoel de Oliviera (Aniki Bobo/1942) Jean Renoir (Toni/1935) had also embraced the style, and traditional elaborate studio sets gave way to shoots in the countryside and in the open streets.

ITALIAN NEO-REALISM rapidly declined in the early 1950s when the economic situation improved. Viaggio in Italia (1954) was widely regarded as the culminating masterpiece and the film that inspired the French New Wave and, in to a certain extent THE POLISH FILM SCHOOL and Indian filmmakers. By then, most Italians were also ready for the optimism offered by American cinema. The vision of existing poverty and despair, presented by the neorealist films, were seen as a dampener on a nation anxious to embrace the mood of optimism, prosperity and change and no longer wanted their dirty laundry washed in public, so to speak.

cropped-The_Gospel_According_to_Matthew_6-e1361801472550.jpgThe individual became the main focal point in the Italian cinema that followed in the 1960s. Antonioni’s Red Desert and Blow-Up take neo-realist themes and develop them in the search for knowledge brought on by Italy’s post-war economic and political climate. Giovanni Columbu’s Su Re (2012) and Pasolini’s Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo (1964) and Padre Padrone embody the characteristics of neorealism even though they were made much later and therefore cannot be classified as belonging to the genre.

Some filmmakers such as Vittoria de Sica and Luchino Visconti drifted away from pure neorealism into allegorical fantasy with films such as Il Miracolo di Milano (1951). One of the more tragic and moving is Umberto D (left), a story of elderly post war povertyOther features that embraced the genre are Jean Renoir’s Toni (1935), La Nave Bianca, Roberto Rossellini, (1941) Aniki-Bobo, Manoel de Oliviera (1942); People of the Po Valley, Michelangelo Antonioni (1947) Bitter Rice, Giuseppe de Santis(1949); Stromboli (Roberto Rossellini, 1950); Bellissima (Luchino Visconti, 1951); and Rome 11.00, Giuseppe De Santis (1952). MT

NOW AVAILABLE THROUGH CRITERON, EUREKA Masters of Cinema and AMAZON.CO.UK.

 

 

Tom of Finland (2017) | bluray release

Dir: Dome Karukoski | Cast: Pekka Strang, Jessica Grabowsky, Lauri Tilkanen | Finland | Biopic | 112min

Dome Karukoski’s biopic about Touko Laaksonen – aka Tom of Finland – is a thoughtfully poignant and stylish portrait of an intriguing pioneer of Gay art in the second half of the 20th century.

His story also charts the development of social and sexual mores of the Post-War era where the illicit nature of his nascent sexuality provided the erotic charge for pencilled images of well-endowed and masculine musclemen often rocking official uniforms astride motorbikes or engaged in sporting or heavy duty activity.

We first meet Touko (Pekka Strang) in the immediate aftermath to the War living in Helsinki with his sister Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky) and suffering from the after effects of killing a Russian pilot. Kaija works in the art department of an local advertising agency and he joins her, developing his own art style after hours. At a time where homosexuality is still illegal in Finland, he also dabbles in cruising in the local woods where the Police are active in combatting the activity ahead of the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics. One of his ‘fuckbuddies’ Nipa (Lauri Tilkanen) later turns up as a lodger and romantic hopeful for his sister, leading to an subtly-played  menage a trois, a script device of Aleksi Bardy’s fractured narrative structure that, despite its occasional incoherence – largely due to the ambitious time period untaken – manages to convey a believable onscreen chemistry for the males, while dashing Kaija’s romantic hopes during an evocative summer interlude in the family’s blissful country house in the lake region.

TOM OF FINLAND is a painterly affair with some sumptuous cinematic moments, not only in the glorious outdoor sequences, but also in the Art Nouveau splendour of Helsinki’s architecture. The city’s downtown soigné offices and cocktail bars and the stylish interiors of Touko’s own apartment provide a showcase for the country’s iconic designs: Aalto chairs and Lindfors lighting. And the elegantly austere colour palette of Northern Europe contrasts well with the sun-drenched segments in ’70s California, where Touko’s work is finally published and earns the nom de plume ‘Tom of Finland’. There is a witty scene with the fanzine printer who suggests: ‘Tom of Sweden would sell more,” while the editor retorts: “But it seems, Finland has bigger cocks”. While Nipa struggles with throat cancer back home, Touko meets a local gay couple: Doug (Seumas Sargent) and Jack, played by Norwegian Jakob Oftebro, who become firm friends.

Despite the minor narrative setbacks, TOM OF FINLAND is enjoyable and fascinating to watch. Strang’s Touko is an appealing almost endearing character and his love for Nipa, a classically trained ballet dancer, is completely convincing and touching. Apart from his sister, Touka’s wider family remain completely in the dark, although it is clear in final scenes that he never got the family appreciation he justly deserved for his iconic style. MT

TOM OF FINLAND IS ON BLUEAY from 20 NOVEMBER 2017

New Chinese Cinema | Pingyao International Film Festival | Year Zero 2017

PYIFF2017-founderJiaZhangke-SittingInPlatformArenaEastern Promise was lavishly delivered this year at the inaugural PINGYAO CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (PYIFF) offering audiences from all over the world a chance to enjoy the latest in Chinese independent cinema for 10 days (28 October-4 November). The indie film festival is the brainchild of filmmaker and producer Jia Zhangke who grew up in Fenyang, near the festival’s setting in the UNESCO World Heritage walled town of Pingyao (in the province of Shanxi) – a four-hour bullet train journey south west of Beijing.- was determined that one day he would raise the region’s profile from one of coal-mining to a cradle of Chinese creativity.

PYIFF also offered local Chinese cinephiles their first opportunity to sample a prodigious Jean Pierre Melville retrospective in their own homeland. The competition also paid homage, with its awards, named after Roberto Rossellini, and the Chinese director Fei Mu, and showed a selection of the latest releases including Vivian Qu’s Venice Biennale 2017 standout ANGELS WEAR WHITE and Xiaogang Feng’s rousing epic YOUTH that recently played at Toronto Film Festival 2017.

PingyaoIFF-founderJiaZhangke&directorMarcoMuellerVenice Film Festival’s long-time artistic director Marco Mueller masterminded an eclectic programme where two strands in particular showcased the talents of emerging Chinese filmmakers – the soi-disant ‘tiger’s and ‘dragons’ (also honouring Ang Lee). The CROUCHING TIGERS section offered the opportunity to see debut or second films from new directors. The HIDDEN DRAGONS gave a platform to genre fare and a NEW GENERATION series showcased mostly Chinese indie fare. Chinese cinema has had a rough ride in its homeland in the past due to the deemed unsuitability for general release of some of its titles – perhaps Xi Jingping will see fit to loosen the silk strings that restrict the autonomy of independent cinema, while standing by the communist tenet to promote  China’s cultural creativity: an uneasy paradox. The original dates of the festival were delayed by the 19th Communist Party Conference. While there is a desire to promote culture, the programmers were also forced to ban several South Korean titles due to a contretemps between Beijing and Seoul. Festival opener YOUTH had initially caused problems due to its ‘controversial’ depiction of the 1979 Sino-Vietnemese war. While press attempting to take photos during the opening gala were threatened by a fierce-looking security guards bearing truncheons (most Chinese continued to film the proceeding oblivious – in the spirit of Tiananmen Square), Chinese law also states that accredited journalists are entitled to complimentary lodging and subsistence – so none of us went hungry at lunchtime as we tucked into delicious bento boxes prepared by the chefs of Jia Jhangke’s ‘Mountains May Depart’ Restaurant which is located in a new arts centre which is gradually being developed on the site of a former industrial zone.

PYIFF2017-OpeningCeremony-actressZhaoTaoThe good news is that mainstream Chinese film production is thriving abundantly with around 700 films being made each year so PYIFF is a healthy move in the right direction, thanks to Jia Zhangke and Marco Muller, a ‘foreigner’ who enjoys a close and charismatic relationship with the Chinese. And their efforts to encourage young filmmakers have certainly paid off. But Zhangke is not resting on his laurels: filming for his title ASH IS PUREST WHITE (Jiang hu er nv) a violent noughties-set love story is already underway, his talented wife Tao Zhao (right, at the PYIFF opening ceremony) takes the leading role. MT

REVIEW LINKS to the latest CHINESE INDIE FILMS at PYIFF | YEAR ZERO | 28 OCT – 4 NOV 2017

THE TASTE FOR RICE FLOWER

A FISH OUT OF WATER 

ONE NIGHT ON THE WHARF

YOUTH 

ASH 

 

Blood Simple. (1984) Bfi player

Directors: Joel Coen | Script: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen | Cast: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedeya, M Emmet Waltsh | US | Thriller | 92′   US

The Coen brothers pull a clever mix of cinematic tricks from their box in this tightly-plotted neo-Noir focusing on four characters. With brilliant cinematography (Barry Sonnenfeld) and a darkly humorous, whip-sharp script, this neo-noir thriller keeps you on your toes til the end with more nasty surprises than an angry rattlesnake.

Very much a throwback to the Hitchcockian thrillers of the forties and fifties, the action here unfolds in a shady Texan backwater in the eighties and established the Coens as creative leaders of the American art house genre.

Supremely well-cast: Frances McDormand came on board as a newcomer in place of Holly Hunter, and subsequently went on to win an Oscar for her performance in the Coens’ Fargo. John Getz stars as her lover Ray, and baddie Dan Hedaya plays her jealous controlling husband Marty who hires veteran villain M Emmet Walsh as a private detective Loren Visser to kill them. Naturally, the plan backfires. The car scene where the two are discussing the contract killing is a masterpiece of facial expression.

 

 

Blood Simple. won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance the following year. The Coen’s had spent a year raising the development finance by going ‘door to door’ to financiers with a two-minute teaser trailer of the film they planned to make.

The latest restored ‘Director’s Cut’ is actually shorter by 3 minutes than the original 1985 version due to tighter editing, shortening some shots and removing others altogether. In addition, they HAVE resolved long-standing right issues with the music. MT

NOW Bfi Player | 12 April 2021

 

Mademoiselle Paradis (2017) | BFI London Film Festival 2017

Dir: Barbara Albert | Cast: Maria Dragus, Devid Striesow, Lukas Miko, Katja Kolm, Maresi Riegner, Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg, Stefanie Reinsperger, Susanne Wuest, Christoph Luser | Austria | Biopic Drama | 97′

Rococo Vienna is the setting for this vicarious tale of the legendary Dr Anton Mesmer seen through the experiences of a young bind pianist Maria Thereisa Paradis who sought his help to restore her sight in 1777.  Adapted by Kathrin Resetarits (Michael) from Alissa Walser’s novel Mesmerized, Barbara Albert offers a rather detached but finely-tuned and informative arthouse drama offering a flimsy but fascinating exposé of Austrian Habsburg society during the time of Mozart where metaphysics, science alternative medicine were all on an equal footing, with unregulated doctors practicing widely.

The film opens as the 18 year-old Mademoiselle is seen playing the harpsichord, her cataract-ridden eyes rolling as she jerks her head from side to side. It is not a pretty sight but the music is delightful. From a wealthy family, her talent is encouraged but a good marriage imperative in high-society. Her parents Joseph (Lukas Miko) and Maria (Katja Kolm) consult Dr Mesmer (David Striesow/The Counterfeiters) whose methods are based on animal magnetism and positive fields of energy, otherwise known as ‘healing hands’. Initial results are positive and Mesmer and his wife are keen to gain credibility in court circles to further their cause. But bizarrely, once Mademoiselle’s sight improves, so her keyboard skills deteriorate.  It’s difficult to warm to this film: not only are the characters unattractive physically, they’re also unappealing personally, so we have no emotional investment whatsoever in whether the patient is cured, or not. But there’s a certainly curiosity in Mesmer’s methods and Mesmer by no means comes across as saviour or quack. Infact he is played by Striesow as the only character here with any chink of humanity, but he stills remains rather a cipher. Dragus’  Mademoiselle comes across as a spoilt brat but an intelligent one, but her character arc is subtle and convincing and certainly forms the mainstay of what otherwise would be a rather placid affair compared with Jessica Hausner’s more satisfying Amour Fou, from the same era. MT

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 4-15 OCTOBER 2017

Bitch (2017)

Dir.: Marianna Palka; Cast: Marianna Palka, Jason Ritter, Jaime King, USA 2017, 93 min.

Writer and director Marianna Palka (Good Dick) also stars in her anarchic portrait of a woman pushed aside by her husband once too often. BITCH is a slim but taut and deftly-handled feminist parable – the sheer pace and untamed aggression making it gripping and watchable.

Jill (Palka) runs home and kids for her husband Bill (Ritter), who works for a city corporation and is hardly ever home. Spending most of his time in the office, he sexually exploits a dependent co-worker into the bargain. When she gets sacked in a widespread office cull, Bill puts in a good word for her, but is rebuffed by the boss and vents his frustration on his wife, undeservedly calling her a bitch. Something snaps in Jill and she turns into a vicious virago, making life hell for husband and four children, whom she has served efficiently for so long. Moving into the cellar of the family home, Jill starts growling and behaving like a violent dog. The family is obviously shocked, and Jill’s sister Beth (King) suggests a psychiatric home. But Bill is against the idea – what would the neighbours think?. But his absence from work costs him his job, and when his lover arrives, inquiring caringly about his wellbeing, Jill ‘smells’ her presence and goes berserk. Scots actress Palka is astonishly convincing in both animal and human form, and shows how ultimately behaviour, rather than negotiation, is sometimes the only way to bring change. DoP Armando Salas assists with a handheld camera, capturing the human dog during long runs through the neighbourhood. The jazz score by Morgan Z. Whirledge is just right for this explosive tale which should send alarm bells to all males of the human variety. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 OCTOBER 2017

Locarno Film Festival Awards 2017

962022INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION

Golden Leopard

MRS. FANG by WANG Bing, France, China, Germany

 

969151Special Jury Prize

AS BOAS MANEIRAS by Juliana Rojas, Marco Dutra, Brazil, France

 

 

961847Best Direction

F. J. OSSANG for 9 DOIGTS, France, Portugal

 

 

973045Best Actress

ISABELLE HUPPERT for MADAME HYDE by Serge Bozon, France, Belgium

 

 

962055Best Actor

ELLIOTT CROSSET HOVE for VINTERBRØDRE by Hlynur Pálmason, Denmark, Iceland

 

 

LOCARNO 2018 WILL TAKE PLACE FROM 1-11 AUGUST 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3/4 (2017) | Locarno Film Festival 2017

Dir/Co-writer: Ilian Metev | Cast: Mila Mikova, Nikolay Mashalov, Todor Veltchev, Simona Genkova | Bulgaria | Drama 83′

Ilian Metev makes the most of a limited budget in his confident but delicately drawn cinema vérité style debut exploring the day to day life of a Sofia-based family of four.

Scripted by Metev and co-writer Betina Ip, its focus is the gifted teenager daughter who is competing for chance to study piano in Germany. Mila (Mila Mikhova) is shy and introspective for her age and shares a close but often argumentative relationship with her feisty younger brother Niki (Niki Mashalov). Their father, Todor (Todor Velchev) is too consumed by his work as a physics professor to engage with his kids on anything other than scientific theory but Mila’s piano teacher (Simona Genkova) is calm and kindly, often helping Mila to relax with meditation exercises and breathing techniques as she coaches and encourages her piano practice. The elephant in the room here is clearly the mother who is mentioned but never appears, and her absence is keenly felt throughout this limpid character piece, beautifully captured by Julian Atanassov voyeuristic camara, on mid-range and intimate close-ups.

3/4 is an engaging and tender-hearted piece of filmmaking that lifts the lid on ordinary life in middle-class Bulgaria with a gentle dramatic arc that offers some subtle surprises along the way. It will certainly appeal to the arthouse crowd who will appreciate the naturalistic performances, beautiful lensing and authentic portrayal of ordinary life. MT

70TH LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 2-12 AUGUST 2017

Locarno Film Festival 2017

IMG_3877Known for its edgy and eclectic selection of international independent titles, LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL this year celebrates its 70th Anniversary in the town’s Piazza Grande in temperatures that often sizzle in the late 30s promising a scorching experience and adding a surreal touch to Carlo Chatrain’s inventive programming.

With Olivier Assayas heading the jury proceedings will be more exciting than ever at the lakeside extravaganza, which this year has a distinct fantasy flavour, mingling Hollywood classics with more

The 70th celebration kicks off with Noemie Lvovsky’s drama TOMORROW AND THEREAFTER, starring Mathieu Amalric. And Kevin Merz’ musical biopic tribute GOTTHARD – One Life, One Soul will close the jamboree on 12 August.

2_lola-paterOther Piazza Grande titles include ATOMIC BLOND with Charlize Theron and James McAvoy; and WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY? starring Glenn Close, Noomi Rapace and Willem Dafoe.

The main competition includes Denis Cote’s TA PEAU SI LISSE; Bing Wang’s MRS FANG; Raul Ruiz’ LA TELENOVELA ERRANTE; Ben Russell’s mining film GOOD LUCK and Serge Bozon’s MADAME HYDE starring Isabelle Huppert and Romain Duris. Other buzzy titles include LUCKY starring Harry Dean Stanton and David Lynch; GOLIATH by Dominik Locher; and WAJIB by When I Saw You scripter Annemarie Jacir.

scorpions_2-resStars from the independent film firmament attending this year include Mathieu Kassovitz, who has been awarded the 2017 Excellence Award; Adrien Brody, who will receive a Pardo d’Honore and Nastassja Kinski receiving a Lifetime Award. One of India’s most celebrated film stars Irrfan Khan will join Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani for their love story revenge drama THE SONG OF SCORPIONS, and veteran Fanny Ardant will attend with her new transgender-themed film LOLA PATER. Vanessa Paradis will also be on the Piazza Grande in Samuel Benchetrit’s comedy drama CHIEN about a man who becomes a submissive pet.

In a programme that features the latest European titles from Germany, Austria, Italy, Romania, Turkey, Slovenia and Belgium – not to mention Britain and the host country Switzerland –  the side-bars are also promising some hidden gems, as was the case in this year’s Cannes 70th celebration. Of particular interest will be Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s follow-up to The Strange Colour of your Body’s Tears (2013): LAISSEZ BRONZER LES CADAVRES! a thriller which stars Elina Lowensohn.

In the SIGNS OF LIFE strand Radu Jude (Aferim!) will be showing his latest, a black&white historical documentary that explores Romania’s past through recently discovered photographs THE DEAD NATION. Bosnia Herzogovina’s Boris Mitic offers IN PRAISE OF NOTHING, a ‘feelgood’ documentary filmed worldwide by 100+ DoPs and narrated by Iggy Pop. Nelson Carlo del Los Santos Arias feature debut COCOTE is a drama from the Domenican Republic that examines religious cults that challenge the central character’s Christian beliefs. Brazil, Taiwan, Argentina, Columbia, Ukraine, Korea, India, the US and Canada will also be represented. In the CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE section, standouts include 3/4 from Sofia’s Last Ambulance director Ilian Metev; Pedro Cabeleira’s psychedelic drama VERAO DANADO set in a Lisbon steeped in summer torpor; DISTANT CONSTELLATION,  Shevaun Mizrahi’s documentary that follows the eccentric inhabitants of a Turkish retirement home and SEVERINO, an obsessional love story from Brazilian director Felipe Hirsch and starring Alfredo Castro (No, The Club).

But probably most inviting of all is the extraordinary JACQUES TOURNEUR retrospective featuring over 20 of his films including some rare and lesser known titles. There are also retrospectives for this year’s awarded stars:  Nastassja Kinski; Fanny Ardant, Matthieu Kossovitz and Adrien Brody/

COMPETITION LINE-UP

969151 As Boas Maneiras | Good Manners | Brazil | Marco Dutra | 132′

Clara, a lonely nurse from the outskirts of São Paulo, is hired by mysterious and wealthy Ana as the nanny for her unborn child. The two women develop a strong bond, but a fateful night changes their plans. 

965473Charleston | Romania | Andrei Cretulescu | 119′

A couple of weeks after the fatal car crash of his wife, Ioana, Alexandru is drunk and alone as he celebrates his 42th birthday. He receives an unexpected visit from Sebastian, a shy and younger man, who had been Ioana’s lover for the past five months. Sebastian wants Alexandru to help him overcome the despair caused by the woman’s death.

971753On The Seventh Day | Jim McKay | USA  Spanish, English | 97′ 

A group of undocumented immigrants from Puebla live in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. They work long hours six days a week as bicycle-delivery guys, construction workers, dishwashers, deli workers, and cotton-candy vendors. On Sundays, they savor their day of rest on the soccer fields of Sunset Park. José, a bicycle delivery man, who is young and talented, hardworking and responsible, is the soccer team’s captain. When his team makes it to the finals, he and his teammates are thrilled, but his boss throws a wrench into the celebration when he tells him he must work exactly on the day of the final. José tries to reason with him and replace himself but all his efforts fail. If he doesn’t work on Sunday, his job and his future will be on the line.

971501Gemini | US | Aaron Katz | 93′

A heinous crime tests the complex relationship between a tenacious personal assistant and her boss, a Hollywood starlet. As the assistant travels across Los Angeles to unravel the mystery, she must deal with a determined policeman. At the same time, her understanding of friendship, truth and celebrity is deeply questioned.

971960The Asteroids | Italy | Germano Maccioni

An industrial, endless, alienating province. Once a florid one, now deeply marked by the economy crisis. A province made up of broad fields and abandoned warehouses. This is the universe in which Pietro and his friend Ivan, nineteen year olds in conflict with their family and with school, gravitate. In the background are a series of thefts in churches, carried out by the elusive “candelabra gang”, and a large asteroid looming above, monitored by the astronomy station in the area since it is about to pass very close to Earth. So close that a rather weird friend, obsessed with astronomy and philosophical issues, is certain it will plummet into the planet, wiping out mankind. And while the “end of the world” approaches, Ivan convinces Pietro to take part in one final theft.

972206Good Luck | Ben Russell | France/Germany | 143′ | B&W

Shot on Super16mm, Good Luck is a portrait of two mining communities operating on opposite sides of a hostile world: the state employees of a 400m-deep underground Serbian copper mine and the Maroon laborers of an illegal gold mining operation in the jungle tropics of Suriname.

973010Travelling Soap Opera | La Telenovela Errante | Chile | Raul Ruiz /Valeria Sarmiento | 80′

“The film revolves around the concept of soap opera. Its structure is based on the assumption that Chilean reality does not exist, but rather is an ensemble of soap operas. There are four audiovisual provinces, and the threat of war is felt among the factions. The political and economic problems are immersed in a fictional jelly divided into evening episodes. The entire Chilean reality is viewed from the point of view of the soap opera, which acts as a revealing filter of this same reality”. (Raúl Ruiz)

962175Laissez Bronzer les Cadavres | France/Italy/Belgium | Cattet / Forzino

The Mediterranean, summer: azure sea, sun beating down… and 250 kilos of gold stolen by Rhino and his gang who’ve found the ideal hideout in a deserted village, cordoned off from its surroundings by an artist suffering creative block. But when two cops turn up unexpectedly, this little paradise, formerly the site of orgies and wild happenings, will turn into a hallucinatory, brutal battlefield.

mv5bnzkymdy0ndityzy0nc00yjq1ltkzotytmje1nwewm2nmzgu1xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntezndk3ndc_v1_sy1000_cr006771000_al__jpg_191x283_crop_q85Lucky | US | John Carroll Lynch | 88′

Having outlived and outsmoked all his contemporaries who inhabited his off-the-map desert town, the fiercely independent Lucky, a 90-year-old atheist, finds himself at the precipice of life, thrust into a journey of self-exploration, leading towards the so-often unattainable enlightenment.

973045Madame Hyde | France/Belgium | Serge Bozon | 95′

Mrs. Géquil is an eccentric teacher despised by her colleagues and students. On a stormy night, she is struck by lightning and faints. When she wakes up, she feels different. Will she now be able to keep the powerful and dangerous Mrs. Hyde contained?

962022Mrs Fang | Doc | Bing Wang | China | 86′

Fang Xiuying was a farmer born in Huzhou, Fujian in 1948. She suffered from Alzheimer’s for the last eight years of her life. By 2015, her symptoms were already very advanced and her treatment in a convalescent home was ineffective, so it was discontinued in June 2016 and she returned home. The film follows her ordeal first in 2015, and then in 2016 during the last ten days of her life.

969503Quin Ting Zhi yan | Xu Bing | China/US | 81′

Each of us is captured on surveillance cameras, on average, 300 times a day. These all-seeing “eyes” observe Qing Ting too, a young woman, as she leaves the Buddhist temple where she has been training to become a nun. She returns to the secular world, where she takes a job in a highly mechanized dairy farm. There, Ke Fan, a technician, falls in love with her, breaks the law in an attempt to please her and is sent to jail. On his release, he can’t find Qing Ting and looks for her desperately until he figures out that she has reinvented herself as the online celebrity Xiao Xiao. Ke Fan decides to revamp himself.

962038Ta Peau si Lisse | Denis Cote | Canada | 94′

Jean-François, Ronald, Alexis, Cédric, Benoit and Maxim are gladiators of modern times. From the strongman to the top-class bodybuilder, to the veteran who has become a trainer, they all share the same definition and obsession with overcoming their limitations. They are waiting for the next competition, working hard in the gym and following extreme diets.

962055Winter Brothers |Denmark, Iceland |Danish English | 94′ 

 Winter Brothers follows two brothers working during a cold winter, their routines, habits, rituals and a violent feud that erupts between them and another family.

Wajib | Annenarie Jacir | Arabic | 96′

Living in Nazareth, Abu Shadi is a divorced father and a school teacher in his mid-sixties. His daughter is getting married and he has to live alone until his son – an architect that lives in Rome for many years now – arrives to help him with the wedding preparation. As the local Palestinian tradition requires, they have to hand-deliver the invitation to each guest personally. As the estranged pair spends days together, their fragile relationship is being challenged.

9618479 Fingers | F J Ossang | French | 99′ | B&W

In the middle of the night, Magloire smokes a cigarette in an abandoned train station when the police show up for an identity check. He starts running with no luggage and no future until he meets a dying man from whom he inherits a fortune. Subsequently, Magloire is chased by a gang and – having nothing to lose – he becomes not only their hostage, but also their accomplice.

IMG_3903GOLIATH | Dominik Locher | Switzerland | 85′

A modest young couple’s relationship is put to the test when Jessy’s unplanned pregnancy causes David to question his feelings of masculinity and identity in contemporary Switzerland.

 

IMG_3905DID YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN? | Travis Wilkerson | US | 90′ 

When Wilkerson sets out to explores the mystery surrounding the murder of a black man by his great-grandfather in 1940s Alabama, he discovers something he hadn’t bargained for.

 

IMG_3906FREIHEIT | Jan Speckenbach | Slovakia/German/English | 100′

A mother goes away, leaving her husband and their two children in limbo. She is driven by a force she cannot ignore: freedom. In Vienna, Nora wanders through a museum, succumbs to a flirtation and then thumbs a lift to Bratislava. Nora conceals her origin behind small lies, changes her appearance, finds work as a chambermaid and makes friends with the young Slovak woman Etela, a stripper, and her husband Tamás, a cook. Meanwhile in Berlin, Philip tries to keep his family and job as well as his affair with Monika going. Against his own convictions, he, a lawyer, defends a xenophobic youngster, struggles with the role of single parent. Philip finds an – albeit unconscious – ear for his worries in the figure of a coma patient… The freedom Nora is longing for becomes Philip’s chains.

PIAZZA GRANDE – all World Premieres unless stated

Amori Che Non Sanno Stare Al Mondo | Francesca Comencini (Italy)

Atomic Blonde | David Leitch (US) (Euro Premiere)

Chien | Samuel Benchetrit (France/Belgium)

Demain Et Tous Les Autres JoursNoémie Lvovsky (France)

Drei Zinnen | Jan Zabeil

Good Time | Ben Safdie, Joshua Safdie  (US) (Cannes Premiere)

Gotthard – One Life, One Soul | Kevin Merz (US)

I Walked With A Zombie | Jacques Tourneur (Classic)

Iceman | Felix Randau (Germany

Laissez Bronzer Les Cadavres | Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani

Lola Pater | Nadir Moknèche

Sicilia! | Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet

Sparring | Samuel Jouy

The Big Sick | Michael Showalter (Sundance Premiere)

The Song Of Scorpions | Anup Singh

What Happened To Monday? | Tommy Wirkola

CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE | COMPETITION | World Premieres

3/4 By Ilian Metev (Bulgaria)

Abschied Von Den Eltern | Astrid Johanna Ofner (Germany)

Beach Rats | Eliza Hittman (US) (International Premiere) 

Cho-Haeng (The First Lap) | Kim Dae-Hwan (Korea) (International Premiere)

Dene Wos Guet Geit | Cyril Schäublin (Swiss German)

Distant Constellation | Shevaun Mizrahi (USA)

Easy | Andrea Magnani (Italy)

Edaha No Koto (Sweating The Small Stuff) | Ninomiya Ryutaro (Japan)

Il Monte Delle Formiche By Riccardo Palladino (Italy)

Le Fort Des Fous By Narimane Mari (France/Greece/Qatar)

Meteorlar By Gürcan Keltek (Turkey)

Milla |  Valerie Massadian (France/Portugal)

Person To Person | Dustin Guy Defa (US) (International Premiere)

Sashishi Ded (Scary Mother) Georgia/Estonia)| Ana Urushadze

Severina | Felipe Hirsch (BraziL)

Verão Danado | Pedro Cabeleira (Portugal

2017 LOCARNO FESTIVAL LINEUP | AUGUST 2 -12 2017 

 

 

 

Victim (1961) | re-release

Dir: Basil Dearden | Writers: Janet Green & John McCormick | Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Sylvia Syms, Dennis Price, Nigel Stock, Peter McEnery, Donald Churchill, Anthony Nicholls, Hilton Edwards, Norman Bird, Derren Nesbitt, Alan MacNaughton, Noel Howlett, Charles Lloyd Pack, John Barrie, John Cairney, David Evans | UK / Drama / 100min

VICTIM was the second – and achieved by far the greatest impact – of a trio of topical “problem pictures” made by the team of producer Michael Relph and director Basil Dearden from screenplays by Janet Green. Sapphire (1959) had been about race relations, and Life for Ruth (1962) about religion. Of the three, VICTIM had had the most clearly defined purpose behind it, which was the repeal of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 criminalising homosexuality – described in the film as “The Blackmailer’s Charter” – as recommended by the Wolfenden report of 1957.

Janet Green (1908-1993) had read the report, and while the government of Harold Macmillan – for reasons made only too apparent by VICTIM itself – was dragging its heels, she, with her husband and co-writer John McCormick, anticipated Costa-Gavras’s Z (1969) in employing the conventions of a fast-moving, entertaining thriller to make a serious political film that packs a lot into a trim 100 minutes; embellished by handsome London locations and noirish interiors, by veteran cameraman Otto Heller (responsible for the visual impact of other classics like Peeping Tom and The Ipcress File).

It’s easy now to mock VICTIM for being dated, but politicians and other public figures today still dread the power without responsibility triumphantly wielded by our tabloid press. The role of the redtops in the fear and paranoia depicted in VICTIM is occasionally mentioned in passing; and just two years later the field day the Sunday papers had with the revelations that came out in court about the activities of our social betters during the trial of Stephen Ward vividly convey what Melville Farr could look forward to at the conclusion of VICTIM . On 9 November 1998 – over thirty years after decriminalisation – The Sun was still stoking the flames with its classic front page headline “Are we being run by a gay Mafia?”. In the United States VICTIM was refused a seal of approval by the Production Code Administration, and this remarkable passage in Time magazine that greeted its US release in February 1962 is worth quoting at length:

“What seems at first an attack on extortion seems at last a coyly sensational exploitation of homosexuality as a theme – and, what’s more offensive, an implicit approval of homosexuality as a practice. Almost all the deviates in the film are fine fellows – well dressed, well-spoken, sensitive, kind. The only one who acts like an invert turns out to be a detective. Everybody in the picture who disapproves of homosexuals proves to be an ass, a dolt or a sadist. Nowhere does the film suggest that homosexuality is a serious (but often curable) neurosis that attacks the biological basis of life itself.”

VICTIM was released bearing an ‘X’ certificate, and the era it depicts now seems as remote as the war years: a time when the police drove Bentleys and ‘phone boxes still had a button B. But anybody who considers the issues it raises moribund should remember that as I write there are about a dozen countries in the world today where homosexuality is punishable by death. One only needs look at the debate (and the language) the film continues to provoke in forums like YouTube to be reminded of how this issue still polarizes society, and that there are plenty of bigots still out there, irately convinced that they’re being muzzled by political correctness; “our crime”, as Lord Fullbrook puts it, “damned nearly parallel with robbery with violence”. While Eddy complains that “Henry paid rates and taxes…but they knew he couldn’t go out and call the cops”, it’s interesting to be reminded that one of the blackmailers accused the police of “Protecting perverts” even when homosexuality was illegal, and back in 1961 could firmly be of the opinion that “They’re everywhere, everywhere you turn! The police do nothing. Nothing!!”.

VICTIM goes out its way to avoid sensationalism, and it is precisely because it in every other respect so resembles a conventional black & white crime film of the period that one can still feel the shock audiences must have experienced in 1961 when Inspector Harris deceptively casually asks Farr “you knew of course that he was a homosexual?”, followed by the eye-watering statistic that at the time “as many as 90% of all blackmail cases have a homosexual origin”. If it seems too genteel for 21st Century tastes, the scene in which Derren Nesbitt wrecks Charles Lloyd Pack’s shop still provides a literally shattering reminder of the barely contained physical violence always ready to rear up from behind the prejudice now known as “hate crime”.

The casting of Dirk Bogarde makes the film what it is. Several other actors (including Jack Hawkins, James Mason and Stewart Granger) had understandably already turned down the role, but Bogarde accepted without hesitation; and on so many levels the film is inconceivable without him. (Anyone who thinks it was the first time he’d played a homosexual onscreen, however, plainly hasn’t seen the film he made immediately prior to it, The Singer Not the Song.) Almost as bold on Bogarde’s part was that in VICTIM he was for the first time playing his age – 40 – although this is more than compensated for by the fact that he never looked more debonair and distinguished than he does here. The entire cast obviously cared about their roles, right down to the smallest parts (as frequently happened in those days, veteran character actor John Boxer as the amiable policeman attempting to comfort Boy Barrett in his cell, and John Bennett – who in the opening episode of ‘Porridge’ was the prison doctor who asked Fletcher if he had ever been a practising homosexual – as “the bloke in the pinstripe”, make vivid impressions without being included in the cast list at the end). Although the blackmailers themselves are often described in accounts of the film as “a ring” or “a gang”, there in fact turn out to be only two of them; a pair of bloodcurdling ghouls worthy of the Addams family – the grinning, cheerfully amoral Derren Nesbitt and his vengeful associate piously convinced that “Someone’s got to make them pay for their filthy blasphemy.” As Inspector Harris (a superb performance by John Barrie) says to his stern Scottish sergeant (John Cairney), “I can see that you’re a true puritan, Bridie…there was a time when that was against the law, you know.”  Richard Chatten

VICTIM IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS

Mulholland Drive (2001) | Bfi Player

DIRECTOR 001Writer| Dir: David Lynch | Cast: Justin Theroux, Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Ann Miller | US  Mystery Thriller |

“One night, I sat down, the ideas came in, and it was a most beautiful experience. Everything was seen from a different angle…Now, looking back, I see that (the film) always wanted to be this way. It just took this strange beginning to cause it to be what it was.” David Lynch.

David Lynch’s neo-noir existential thriller is dreamily weird and strangely intoxicating to watch. Themes of denial, aspiration and unrequited love coalesce in a cryptic psychological thriller whose apparent normality mingles with a surreal and darkly comic  speculative storyline unfolding when a wannabe actress arrives in Los Angeles and befriends a semi-amnesiac woman she finds hiding in her family apartment.

Now regarded as one of of Lynch’s best films it launched the career of Welsh actress Naomi Watts who has gone from strength to strength as the vulnerable figure of hope who finds rejection and disillusionment in the city of dreams. David Lynch reinvented postmodernism making it edgy and fashionable again. Mulholland Drive was original devised as a TV series after Twin Peaks was rejected for TV, so here Lynch gave it an ending.

It also starts with a car crash the beguiling sole survivor Laura (Elena Harring) staggering disorientated from a stretch limo onto LA’s Mulholland Drive. She fetches up in a nearby apartment where wannabe actress Betty (Watts) later arrives after a long flight from Canada. So vulnerable and lost is Laura that Betty develops a strange and sympathetic attraction to her that eventually morphs into attraction and love in scenes of a graphic sexual nature.

Betty is an entirely straightforward and fresh-faced ingenue at the start of film – much in the same vein as Kyle MacLaclan’s Jeffrey in Blue Velvet (where Isabella Rossellini plays Dorothy, the equivalent of Laura). It seems that this dazed and confused female image could come from Lynch’s recurring teenage memory of a neighbour who appeared semi-naked and bleeding on the driveway of his family home, as discussed in David Lynch – The Art Life (2017).  All this feels plausible and yet imbued with a hypnotic sense of disorientation where ‘Rita’ (from a poster of Rita Hayworth) and Betty’s dark persona’s appear as Diane and Camilla. Diane is also a struggling actress and Camilla’s lesbian lover. Successful star Camilla is swept away by Justin Theroux’s film director Adam, and the jealous Diane has her killed in the ‘car crash’.

Confused? The reality depends on which side of the looking glass we are standing. Looking forward, “Betty” is vouchsafed a vision of where infatuation and professional failure could lead. Looking backward, the drama’s first part is the final anguished, transfiguring dream of “Diane”. All this is open to interpretation but in such a way as the reverie is pleasurable as well as intoxicating – like tripping on medazolam. There is a weirdly authentic cameo from Maya Bond as Aunt Ruth, and Monty Montgomery as a cowboy cum Diddy man.

Angelo Badalamenti’s languorous score washes over the feature that glows in Peter Deming’s sumptuous visuals (Peter provided the vibrant images on Oz the Great and the Powerful and Twin Peaks). MULHOLLAND DRIVE is a sensual experience, unforgettable and alluring. MT

Latest digital restoration of a 4k transfer now on BFI Player | DVD, Blu-ray & EST 

Tickling Giants (2016)

Dir Sara Taksler | Documentary with Bassem Youssef, Jon Stewart | USA 2016 |111 min.

During the Arab spring, cardiac surgeon Bassem Youssef from Cairo went to a demonstration against the regime of president Mubarak in Tahrir – an event which would change his life. Director/writer Sara Taksler, producer of Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” has followed Bassem’s rise and fall as the face of his satirical TV programme “The Show”, which saw him taking on three presidents: Hosni Mubarak, Mohamed Morsi and Fattah el-Sisi, his audience reaching 30 million at its peak.

When Bassem was demonstrating in Tahrir against the near thirty-year rule of Mubarak, he wanted to help the victims of the police brutality but a teargas attack left him incapacitated and he remembers, “I saw two different realities, the one I saw in the streets, and the other reality I saw on television”. With his friend Tarek Elkazzaz and the cartoonist JF Andeel, Bassem started a satirical show “The B+ Show” on You Tube, which became so successful that Bassem gave up medicine and started “The Show” (Al-Bernameg) on TV. Soon he became a popular figure, and after the fall of Mubarak in 2011, to which he contributed, Bassem soon found out that Mubarak’s successor Mohamed Morsi, though democratically elected, turned out to be a ruthless dictator, who wanted to change the secular constitution of the country, turning it into an Islamic Republic.

After Morsi’s overthrow by the military, led by Fattah el-Sisi, the latter was elected as the new president in 2014, garnering a staggering 96% of all votes cast. Needless to say, that Bassem did not stop attacking the new regime, which was more or less a Mubarak 2.0 version. Helped by a visit from Jon Stewart, the host of “The Daily Show” in the USA, Bassem at first seem to keep his audience, but the new regime instigated mass protests against “The Show”: A woman shouting into the camera of the State TV Station “Don’t mess with the Egyptian Army and Sisi!”. To which a Bassem supporter answered” Why are you against the man who fought against the Brotherhood?” Bassem would soon find out “how scary it was, to be a TV host”. Shot behind the scenes, we see the collaborators being equally frightened – after all the military had re-introduced Martial Law and nobody was safe. At first, the CBC TV station let Bassem and his crew go, and after they found a new station, the government blocked the transmission of “the Show”, a step, even Morsi had refrained from. With his family and friends frightened, Bassem finally gave up and said good-bye to his audience. But CBC went to court, and Bassem was convicted of having to pay a fine in the nine figures region “for breach of contract”. With two suitcases he fled with his wife and baby-daughter to the USA – trying to drum up support for a new TV show, whilst giving lectures. After Trump’s election, this may be just another ironic twist in Bassem’s search for freedom of expression.

Whilst TICKLING GIANTS tries to keep up the humour, it is truly very dark, even though Bassem jokes at the very end that he hopes that this documentary will make it easier for him to meet a nubile Italian film star –the reality is, that he could not even attend his father’s funeral in Cairo. And president el Sisi has certainly reached his long-term goal “of influencing the media”. Taksler is very professional, always interested in the changes of the show’s crew, where the participation in this daring enterprise has brought also personal liberation for the female members. But overall, there is no sign of a happy-end anywhere – the giants are marching on. AS

FROM 31 MARCH AT BERTHADOCHOUSE

The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin (2017) | Bfi Flare 2017

Dir: Jennifer M Kroot | Doc | US/UK | 91min

Armistead Maupin churned out copy like a demon according to his editor at the San Francisco Chronicle where he worked as a regualr columnist. His prodigious talent and remarkable work ethic was possibly due to his strict upbringing by a father whom he admits to hating, according to Jennifer Kroots informative biopic of the writer and longtime advocacy for queer civil rights, and creator of the popular Tales of the City franchise.

Enriched with a commentary from talking heads Sir Ian McKellen, Laura Linney and Amy Tan, Kroot’s documentary is the first to chart the life of a writer who has known success and personal tragedy and now seems to have largely vanished from the scene, so the film will certainly be greeted with warmth and appreciation by his fans and those who have enjoyed his work, whatever the critical appraisal.

Kroot covers Maupin’s career as a journalist right through to his status as a US household name with an impressive array of photographs and archive footage showing how the he struggled to come out, as the son of a white supremacist father, and ended up with a series of gay lovers, one of whom had partnered Rock Hudson, eventually emerging as an avant-garde figure of his generation, or so the luminaries would have us believe. Rather a shame then that the film has a rather lightweight quality with cartoonish 1970s visuals in the style of Monty Python or TV’s Magpie, and unimaginative and lacklustre format. MT

BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL 16-26 MARCH 2017

 

London Critics Film Awards 2017 | The Mayfair Hotel W1

In an evening glittering with frost and freezing temperatures, the stars turned out to receive well-deserved prizes at the London Critics’ Circle Awards (image courtesy of the London Critics’ Circle).

WINNERS

image3FILM OF THE YEAR
La La Land

FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM OF THE YEAR (left)
Toni Erdmann

 

 

fire-at-sea-03DOCUMENTARY OF THE YEAR (right)
Fire at Sea

BRITISH/IRISH FILM OF THE YEAR

I, Daniel Blake

ACTOR OF THE YEAR Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

SonOfSaul_Quad_Art_MH_V 3_smallACTRESS OF THE YEAR presented by Suqqu
Isabelle Huppert – Things to Come

SUPPORTING ACTOR OF THE YEAR (tie)
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Tom Bennett – Love & Friendship

SUPPORTING ACTRESS OF THE YEAR presented by Cameo
Naomie Harris – Moonlight

 

DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR
László Nemes – Son of Saul

SCREENWRITER OF THE YEAR
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

BRITISH/IRISH ACTOR
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge, Silence

BRITISH/IRISH ACTRESS
Kate Beckinsale – Love & Friendship

YOUNG BRITISH/IRISH PERFORMER presented by The May Fair Hotel
Lewis MacDougall – A Monster Calls

under-the-shadowBREAKTHROUGH BRITISH/IRISH FILMMAKER
Babak Anvari – Under the Shadow

BRITISH/IRISH SHORT FILM
Sweet Maddie Stone – Brady Hood

TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT
Victoria – Sturla Brandth Grovlen, cinematography

DILYS POWELL AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN FILM
Isabelle Huppert

THE AWARDS CEREMONY TOOK PLACE AT THE MAYFAIR HOTEL W1

Gimme Danger (2016) | Bluray release

Dir: Jim Jarmusch | With Iggy Pop, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, James Williamson, Steve Mackay, Mike Watt, Kathy Asheton, Danny Fields |Doc | US | 108min

You might expect Jarmusch’s portrait of wild child Iggy Pop to be idiosyncratic; but it is also witty, inventive and affectionate in showing how Pop’s rock band The Stooges went on to influence popular music in the four decades that have followed his often shambolic rise to fame with a brand of music that burst onto the scene in mid-sixties Michigan. On stage Iggy Pop bops and writhes around, occasionally lurching forward into the crowd like a king cobra on cocaine, but in private he is an articulate and engaging raconteur who flashes a row of even white teeth with every outrageous revelation as he wriggles around on a Louis XV gold chair in his yellow caravan. Clearly Pop’s a maverick in the music star firmament: “I don’t wanna be part of the punk crowd, the glam crowd or the TV crowd, I just wanna be”.

A long term friend of Pop, Jarmusch enlivens GIMME DANGER (lyrics from the 1973 album, Raw Power) with collages and witty animations (by James Kerr) depicting vignettes from the band’s history and these are restlessly interwoven into the narrative that zips along with photos and archive footage of Iggy and the band that go to make up this entertaining and meaty biopic, dedicated to band members who are no longer alive. Born in Muskegon, Michigan 1947, James Newell Osterberg Jr was an indulged child allowed to play his drum kit in the main room of the trailer where he grew up and eventually took over the main bedroom in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Jarmusch focuses his film on the rise and early demise of the band from the late 1960s until the mid 1970s and the Bowie association (under British manager Tony DeFries) and then follows through with the Stooges’ ‘reunification’ in 2003 until their recognition in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.

His own musical influences number R&B blues singer Bo Diddley and he irreverently disses the 1960s flower power era as being a corporate set-up. Talking heads joining the commentary are his original guitarist James Williamson who returned to the band after a 30-year career in Silicon Valley and whose intricate playing style Pop describes as “like somebody’s just let a police drug dog into your house – he goes everywhere”. There is also Stooges’ manager Danny Fields who signed the band to Elektra Records; Ron and Scott Asheton, Mike Watt and Steve Mackay.

Drugs were an inevitable part of the band’s decline but this is acknowledged in a cursory fashion and Pop is clearly much more interested in talking about musical styles and jazz and blues influences that informed his creativity. His shirtlessness is down to Yul Brynner in The Ten Commandments and there is a hilarious and well-chosen clip showing the actor flirting with Anne Baxter from 1956.

Live performances are evidence of Pop’s sheer joie de vivre that often leaves his band members playing alone as he throws himself at the mercy of the crowd during hits “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, I Got a Right and “T.V. Eye” and there are also moments with the Sex Pistols, The Ramones and the Buzzcocks who were influenced by the wildfire force of nature that is Iggy Pop. MT

OUT ON DVD \ BLURAY FROM 16 JANUARY 2017 | COURTESY OF DOGWOOF | AMAZON.CO.UK

 

 

Underwire Festival | London 2016

red-road-290x290UNDERWIRE FILM FESTIVAL exclusively celebrates female filmmaking talent across the crafts from Directing, Producing, Screenwriting, Editing, Cinematography, Sound Design, and Composing. Founded in 2010 by Gabriella Apicella and Gemma Mitchell the festival has awarded training and mentoring opportunities to over 40 filmmakers, and has screened over 300 films.

In a time of where the UK has a female Prime Minister, women still over make up only 21.8%* of a typical feature film crew. And the more opportunities available to start honing their craft, the better it will be for women in filmmaking careers and so that female stories get to be heard and to be enjoyed all over the World.

Now in its seventh year, UNDERWIRE has become a BAFTA recognised festival and is working with some of the best independent cinemas in London, including Genesis Cinema, BFI Southbank, ArtHouse Crouch End and Barbican.

UNDERWIRE FESTIVAL 2016 | ARTHOUSE VENUES ALL OVER LONDON | 30 November -5 DECEMBER

Counting (2015)

Director: Jem Cohen

111mins   Documentary  US

‘Sleeping dogs; Waking cats; Straws that break the camel’s back

The subtle urban portraiture of Jem Cohen’s work could be described as tragi comedy in motion. His recent drama MUSEUM HOURS was a hit amongst the arthouse crowd but COUNTING is a straightforward documentary that explores the peripatetic fillmaker’s wanderings through New York, Moscow, St Petersburg, Istanbul and an unknown city in the Middle East (Islamabad?).

Taking the form of 15 different but interconnected fragments, a lose narrative gradually emerges that points to a World where everyone is in contact but no one is actually engaging; people are talking but no one is listening. So COUNTING feels like an intensely personal take-down of our contemporary cities where animals and people are increasingly bewildered and alienated from their urban surroundings.

Continually leavening his film with ironic commentary that juxtaposes images of alienated people, cats or dogs photographed against the urban landscape often with poignantly amusing signs, his acute observations reflect the state of play in contemporary society. Whether faintly amusing or poignantly sad, they put Terrence Malick’s saccharine Hallmark greetingcard platitudes to shame, making Jem Cohen a unique and inventive director who deserves more acclaim. A treasure not to be missed, but not his best outing. MT

ON RELEASE 20/9/2016 FOR BARBICAN ARCHITECTURE ON FILM SERIES | BERLINALE 2015 review

Remainder (2015)

Director.: Omer Fast | Cast: Tom Sturridge, Cush Jumbo, Asher Ali | UK/Germany 2015, 103 min.

Well known for his video installations, REMAINDER is Israel-born filmmaker Omer Fast’s first full-length feature after his debut with the medium length hybrid documentary/fiction Everything that Rise must Converge. Based on the novel by Tom McCarthy, the obtuse drama deals with the function of human memory, and is difficult to classify.

Tom (Sturridge), loses his memory after being hit by a big black box falling from a highrise office block in central London. He spends the rest of this film trying to reconstruct his life before the accident. After receiving an £8 million settlement, he buys an old-fashioned mansion block, where he believed he had lived before. He then employs all the tenants to act out his memories. Two men, supposedly agents from the Security Services, kill a man with whom Tom was in contact, near a phone box out side his flat. The mysterious Catherine (Jumbo) visits him and he has her repeat some dialogue from their past. With the help of the equally enigmatic Naz (Ali), who is supposed to be an architect, Tom assembles a crew in order to restage a bank robbery in a private City bank, where Catherine works. When the restaging turns real, Tom feels as if he is caught in an endless time loop.

REMAINDER is well crafted on all levels, but lacks any emotional interest for the audience. We are tossed a few red herrings about Tom’s past but he remains a cypher along with the other protagonists in this guessing game exercise: Fast plays with the audience, but he does not engage for a moment. DoP Lukas Strebel’s images are fittingly cold and ascetic creating an atmosphere of enigma, where the protagonists float rhythmically in this soulless operation that fails to connect on any level. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 24 JUNE 2016

 

Tale of Tales (2015)

Director: Matteo Garrone

Cast: Vincent Cassel, Salma Hayek, Toby Jones, John C Reilly, Shirley Henderson

125min  Fantasy Drama   Italy

Matteo Garrone’s TALE OF TALES is an orgiastic fairytale romp in sumptuous costumes far away from the real world. Based on the fables of the 16th-century Neapolitan poet and scholar Giambattista Basile, this splendid offering is an imaginative blend that echoes Beauty and the Beast, The Singing Ringing Tree, Immoral Tales, Dante’s Divine Comedia  and every other trip to fantasy that literature has offered since the beginning of time. To watch it is to surrender to a mythical realm of the senses steeped in madness, magnificence and medieval bodily fluids – a dark and sinuously sensual world of pain and wicked pleasure.

Three fables intertwine from neighbouring imagined kingdoms drawn from the Pentamerone, a 17th-century book of Neapolitan folk stories compiled by the Italian poet Giambattista Basile: In Selvascura (Dark Wood) Selma Hayek and John C Reilly play a troubled King and Queen desperate for royal offspring. Their efforts to procreate lead them to a soothsayer who offers a remedy that results in ghastly albino twins.

Meanwhile, in Roccaforte (Strong Wood), a aptly-cast Vincent Cassel plays a corrupt and sex-obsessed King who has slept with all the available maidens in his pleasure-filled kingdom. When he becomes bewitched by the singing of a old woman, who he imagines to be a sexy nubile girl, he goes in hot pursuit of his prey. When she finally agrees to entertain him during the hours of darkness, Dora (played successively by Hayley Carmichael and Stacy Martin) emerges in her full glory, to his utter horror.

In the third Kingdom, Altomonte (Top of the Mountain) a tearful and cheerful Toby Jones plays a deranged King who decides to challenge his daughter Viola’s suitors with a bizarre test involving a giant flea the size of a cinquecento, reared tenderly in his palace. You can’t imagine the horrific outcome here.

Despite this extraordinary spectacle of grotesque black comedy – some of which is quite outlandish – the tone of TALE OF TALES is completely serious and dead pan and there are clearly stark moral lessons to be learnt from the wise Basile’s writings: Selma Hayek has the ridiculous task of devouring a giant bleeding heart, with utter dedication rather than horror. And Toby Jones is simply wonderful as the detached and mournful King, offering his daughter in marriage to the man who guesses the identity of a bizarre animal hide. Peter Suschitzky’s inventive cinematography sets this fantasy world on fire and Dimitri Capuani’s set design conjures up jewel-like contrasts from glowing candlelit interiors to sun-filled set pieces where Massimo Cantini Parrini’s gorgeous cossies glow vibrantly in gem-like crimson and indigo against pristine white and woodland green. A sumptuous treat. MT

NOW OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE  \ CANNES REVIEW 2015

Spotlight (2016) | DVD Blu release

Director: Tom McCarthy

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Richard Jenkins (voiceover)

Child abuse is as tragic a subject for the Catholic Church as Christ’s death on the cross. Tom McCarthy delves deep with this candid and intimate-feeling look at a newspaper exposé of one of their child abuse cases.

SPOTLIGHT takes the form of a rigorous and absorbing procedural by a band of journalists – not dissimilar in feel to All the President’s Man or the classical US-TV show Lou Grant (starring Edward Asner as the editor of a fictional newspaper), and  Spotlight has not made any aesthetic progress on this film or early 80s newspaper series. Stringing together ‘ah-ha’ moments from a random list of discoveries, chance conversations and ad hoc encounters until a picture slowly but surely emerges and the audience derives and even savours a palpable sense of conspiratorial satisfaction in uncovering a case concerning the extra curricular activities of nearly 100 Catholic priests’ in the Boston area (and statewide in Massachusetts) that had systematically been concealed by the Church in Boston for over a decade.

Following four senior journalists on the city’s Globe newspaper between 2001 and 2002 – Mark Ruffalo as Mike Rezendes, Michael Keaton as Walter Robinson (the Globe’s editor) and Rachel McAdams, Sacha Pfeiffer – all in relaxed ‘chinos-mode’, they are aided and abetted by experienced hack Matt Caroll (Brian D’Arcy James). Each has a different slant on their reporting but Pfeiffer, in particular, has a pleasant bedside manner and elicits candid confessions from people who had been subtly groomed by members of the clergy of which 50 percent were ‘celibate’ – amounting to around 90 priests: “this was the first time in my life someone told me it was ok to be Gay – and it was a Priest” and from the priests: “I fooled around with them but I never got any pleasure myself”.  But in no way are these revelations sensationalised as they are portrayed as part of the evidence.

Mark Ruffalo is on strong form as an earnest hack who’s like a dog with a bone in his investigating technique – attentive to every single nuance; nothing escapes his gaze as he works night and day on a case that’s unpopular as it’s unsavoury. Keaton plays it sober straight down the line. He won’t take any nonsense “we’re writing a story about the Catholic Church making a cottage industry out of paeodophilia”.

But it’s the The Globe’s new editor is Marty Baron, an unmarried Jewish guy from Florida (making him diametrically apposed to the average Bostoner) who ferrets out the original story and he gives a performance that’s quietly and impressively compelling. As children sing “Silent Night” as the sobering final moments play out. and unfortunately there are no happy endings for this intelligent and absorbing adult thriller. MT

SPOTLIGHT IS NOW OUT ON DVD BLURAY  | VENICE REVIEW 2015

 

Easy Rider (1969) | Bluray Release

Director: Dennis Hopper  | Writers: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern | Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Antonio Mendoza, Phil Spector, Luana Anders, Sabrina Scharf, Sandy Brown Wyeth | 95min | Adventure drama | US

Taking its name from a Bob Dylan number EASY RIDER is the ultimate road movie where two hippies journey across South Western America in a bid to discover themselves and freedom (“What the hell is wrong with freedom? That’s what it’s all about”). What starts as an easy-riding peaceful mission in the spirit of Woodstock, rather than the menace associated with the lawless hoodlum biker gangs of the ’60s, EASY RIDER is not entirely devoid of tragedy by the time the dudes roll into their destination of New Orleans.

Peter Fonda rocks a ‘stars and stripes’ jacket and rides a classic long-barrelled motorbike. While Dennis Hopper opts for the Native American look with tasselled buckskins, full moustache and hippy hair. Gliding through big country landscapes, canyons and mountain ranges they enjoy hospitality where they can, teaming up Jack Nicholson, as a loquacious, well-heeled but naive alcoholic, who joins them on their trip but sadly bites the dust when the trio hit more hostile terrain. The journey includes a visit to a whorehouse where the pair indulge in grass and LSD, all shot in 16m. Hopper’s direction is for the most part fluid and the script trenchant in its depiction of gratuitous violence that occasionally takes on a poetic twist.

The upshot? A visually sumptuous and enjoyable romp that hints at philosophy and folklore, engaging cult and new audiences alike with its musical backdrop redolent of a freeweelin’ America of the ’60s. MT

NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY, DVD AT THE NEW LAUNCHED CRITERION UK LABEL

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 

 

I Saw the Light (2015)

Director: Marc Abraham

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Bradley Whitford, Cherry Jones, Maddie Hasson, Wrenn Schmidt

123min  | Biopic |

Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen are the stars in Marc Abraham’s tribute to US country music legend Hank Williams which takes its title from one of the best loved songs by the singer. The biopic charts Williams’ rise to fame from his 1944 marriage to Audrey, at a petrol station in Alabama when he was just a small time ‘country’ singer, through to his tragic death from heart failure at only 29 as the best-selling, chart-topping superstar headlining the “Grand Ole Opry “show in Nashville, Tennessee (1953).

Abraham’s narrative focus here is very much on Williams’ failed love affairs that started with Audrey and continued with a series of other women, culminating in his second marriage to Billie Jean Jones (Maddie Hasson), as he desperately sought  emotional support, fuelled by alcohol and drugs, to sustain him through his short but meteoric musical career.

The film takes its title from ‘I Saw the Light’, one of the most popular songs by the country legend, but another song ‘Lovesick Blues’, would have been more appropriate for a story that fails to distill the spirit and joy of Williams’ phenomenal contribution to the music scene in 1940’s America, concentrating instead on his rather maudlin marital turmoil and succession of sad love affairs, overshadowed by the domineering presence of his widowed mother Lillie (Cherry Jones).

Tom Hiddleston dazzles in the role and the renditions – his tall and willowy frame ideal for the part of a man who suffered from a rare form of spina bifida, leaving him occasionally crippled, bedridden and addicted to painkillers. Complete with cowboy suites encrusted with diamante and an ubiquitous cowboy stetson he really looks convincing, and although he feels miscast, despite sterling efforts, in evoking the folksy charm of a “lil’ ole Southern boy” and part-time philanderer: Williams’ off-piste activities feel cheeky and playfully forgivable in Hiddleston’s take. As Audrey, Elizabeth Olsen has the same hard-voiced, unsympathetic edge to her character as she does in Avengers, competing with Williams in the singing arena, peddling her own canoe and nearly submerging his own showboat in the process as a rather bullish femme fatale who comes to the marriage with a child and has a cherished boy with Williams as they serially split and regroup in a partnership where she appears to wear the trousers.

Ultimately, I SAW THE LIGHT doesn’t carry a candle to recent biopics such as Love & Mercy and even Miles Ahead which have better showcased their artists’ iconic 20th century American success stories. None of the musical numbers here really shine out as the enduring classics that they undoubtedly have become in the American ‘country’ consciousness.

Yet despite its failure to set the musical world on fire, there’s much to be admired in Merideth Boswell’s set design and some stunning set pieces as the luminescent Lousiana landscapes really come alive in the capable hands of Michael Mann’s regular DoP Dante Spinotti (Heat/L.A.Confidential). MT

NOW OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6 MAY 2016

 

Talking about EVOLUTION with Lucile Hadzihalilovic

French filmmaker Lucile Hadzihalilovic, won the Jury Prize for Best Cinematography at San Sebastian and Stockholm last year 2015 for her marine-based fantasy Horror outing EVOLUTION. Here she talks to Matthew Turner about how teenage appendicitis sparked the original idea for the feature.

Lucile Hadzihalilovic (LH): Well, at the very beginning it was just the boy and his mother and the hospital and this idea that the mother was taking her son, who is beginning to grow up, to kind of get another child. But I think when I think back to where it comes from, I think it’s a very autobiographical film. It really came from my own childhood, I would say, my fears, my expectations and especially, when I was ten or eleven, there was a moment – so I was going to become a teenager and I had appendicitis, so I had to go to the hospital. And it was just a normal experience, like many other children have. But it’s so strange this thing, that you are in this hospital with adults who are touching and opening your body and cutting something out of it and this strange pain in the belly etc. And at the same time, this idea that I was going to have my period very soon and become a teenager, so I think these were different elements that where linked at that time. So I think it’s based on that time and then my life and this fears about metamorphosis, about pregnancy. So this is where the idea comes from.

MJT: In the hospital waiting room, there wasn’t a big aquarium with lots of starfish in it?

LH: Maybe! Maybe there was and I didn’t remember at the time, but I remember through the film. But it’s funny, because the ocean came afterwards – at the beginning it was just the hospital and I thought, okay, it’s in the city. But suddenly I realised that it should be on the seaside. And of course the ocean brings the perfect setting for the story. And then it also gives room to explore deeper feelings, maybe more primitive feelings and of course linked to the mother, to the womb, so they are a kind of lost paradise but at the same time it’s an amazing place but it’s also kind of scary and really mysterious. And the mysterious aspect of it was really very much what I was looking for, for the film. It’s like a subject by itself, in a way, the mystery of the world and all the changing.

MJT: Where were the locations for the film?

LH: We shot the film in the Canary Islands, in one of the Canary Islands, which is called Lanzarote. And when I wrote the script I didn’t know these places, but one of the producers knew them and he thought that it would be a very good place to shoot the film, for budgetary reasons, but also for artistic reasons. And he was totally right because the great thing in this island is this volcanic seaside, very black and very dramatic and at the same time there is the strength of the sea with the wind and the waves. And this village, which is both familiar and a bit strange. I was looking for this ambiguity, this ambivalence and for me it was very important that the place was very attractive but at the same time gives a kind of anxiety, this feeling of isolation – I think it’s very much about also being isolate, about being separated from the world and still kind of being in the realms of motherhood. So i felt that really, in this landscape. we had really very little to do to have this feeling of being in another reality, very close to ours.

EVOLUTION_STILLS_boyMJT: How do you see the film’s relationship to your previous film, Innocence?

LH: I know that it really looks like there are many, many similarities, to the point where people ask me if it’s like a diptych. I really didn’t think about it like that, because it wasn’t like, ‘I’ve done the girls, now I’m going to do the boys’. It wasn’t like that. It was more again, the very beginning of this script was even before Innocence and it was, as I said, a more intimate story with the boy and his mother. And I thought that it was more interesting with a boy, more striking, more nightmarish, more abnormal. And I also felt that I could portray myself as a boy rather than as a girl, in this situation. If it had been a teenager, it wouldn’t have been the same, but as a child, I thought it worked. So it didn’t come from this idea of a group of boys, it was more like Nicolas and his mother and the boy’s fear, and then I developed the idea of this whole community around them and maybe it has been influenced by Innocence, even if I really tried to go somewhere else with more narrative and this one is more of a genre film. So I tried to do something else, but I really see the similarities and also this microcosm, which is both kind of paradise and prison. And also the weird biology elements. Of course, in Evolution, it’s dark, it’s much darker than Innocence, but there’s also a kind of moment of feeling of liberation and joy, like at the end with the nurse under the water that maybe is a bit similar to that moment with the fountain at the end of Innocence, and then also this water element. And again, it’s a coming of age story. That one is more like a disturbed one, but it was not really on purpose, it just came by itself.

MJT: I certainly think Innocence prepares you for EVOLUTION, in a way. So if you’ve seen Innocence, you’re already prepared for the rhythms and moods of EVOLUTION. So you haven’t considered a trilogy then?

LH: But what could it be now, if it’s a trilogy? I guess that with children, what is interesting for me with children is that I can create kind of a new, different universe, because they are still open, quite new in the world, so they don’t know very much, so they make their own links and they are kind of creative, So I guess what would interest me in other films would be maybe to work on some kind of madness that permits also to create a world by itself. I mean to mix dreams and reality. It’s a kind of artificial narration, I guess, to have a character that guide you to this kind of thing. So with children it’s easy for me to do it. Maybe someone else has to deal with madness or so, I don’t know. So in that way, there could be the third chapter.

EVOLUTION_STILLS_sea copyMJT: How much research did you do into the mating rituals of starfish?

LH: In fact, we did a lot. I know we don’t see much in the film, really, but with my co-writer, at some point we really developed much more of the script about this universe, who exactly these women are and what their relationship is with the starfish. And we imagined things like the starfish, at the very beginning because it’s a very familiar motif, like these images of children playing with starfish gives the impression of happiness. Then if you really look at the starfish it’s such a strange animal and very far away from the kind of being we are and it has a lot of interesting characteristics that we had a whole back story for, where they could resist radioactivity, they can regenerate themselves, and also it’s a very, very primitive animal that has been on the Earth since…for a very long time – I don’t remember exactly how long. So yeah, we did a lot of research and it was also very exciting to see how they reproduce and what about the larvae and many of these marine creatures are very fascinating because they are so kind of alien. So this is the kind of research we did to feed ourselves, to feed our imaginations, rather than really being very scientific about it. And then I had to cut a lot of things in the script for budget reasons, so many details disappeared. And a few of those things were about the starfish.

MJT: What kind of things did you have to cut out? Was there anything in particular that you were sorry to see go?

LH: At the end, maybe it’s because I really don’t want to be sorry about what I cut, because it’s how it was, but there is a whole other layer in the film that was including other people, other sets, other scenes, more special effects, also, but it was not like one scene which was too expensive, no, it was really a kind of other narrative layer – probably this layer would have brought more explanation, somehow, not really explanation in the way that – it’s not who are the people that are doing these things, it’s more like there are more links, who these women are. But maybe it’s also an element that we have developed through the years because it has been very difficult to finance the film, so many times we had some reaction from people saying, ‘Oh, we don’t understand, why this, why that?’ So at some point the producer wanted me to make it more explicit, etc. So we developed it a little bit more, but also we thought it was a very dangerous path to go down, because it could have just killed the film to explain it all, because at the end it’s so not logical, it’s more like a dream, like a nightmare, it’s more like elements from the unconscious rather than a sci-fi, very logical explanation, and so it was very difficult to do that. But nevertheless, we had many elements and one at the end we had to cut again because it was too expensive. Probably it was all these additional elements that were easier to cut, because then the heart of the project was not really in these things. So it went back more to something more like a nightmare, like a dream, more oneric, rather than a moral, sci-fi thing. So there was just a little hint of it.

MJT: How important is the colour scheme to the film, the use of colours? Are they symbolic in some way?

LH: No, it was more like feelings. For instance, I very much wanted the film to be very colourful, even if we had just black and white landscape outside of the water and not so much colour in the clothes etc. So I felt the sea should be very colourful because when you see these creatures on the water or in the weeds, they have a lot of colours, very strong colours sometimes, and this is what is so exciting about shooting under the water. So I knew that I could have some colours and some kind of exuberant moment in the film. And then there is this colour of the green of the sea, and then that. should help us in the hospital to get the sea back, in a way. So we had these green walls that bring the feeling of the sea from the colour. And then there was of course the red starfish, and red is always a dramatic colour and a very strong one, especially if you don’t have so many other colours, so we had the green and the red of the starfish and then we needed to continue this red a bit, and so we had this red bathing suit on the child and yeah, it’s a way to underline or to dramatise a few moments but it’s not like a symbol.

MJT: Were there any particular visual influences on the film, in terms of maybe other films, or paintings or anything like that?

LH. Yes. I think probably the main influences visually were more like from paintings, from the surrealism, like Chirico (an Italian painter from the ’20s and ’30s), for this village where the presence of the architecture is very strong, very dramatic, this idea of a sunny place with long, enigmatic shadows or things like that. So Chirico and also painters like Max Ernst, Tanguy or even Dali, because they have painted the seaside a lot as a very alien place, but also very organic and I was really trying to be as organic as possible in this film. So yes, I had these kind of visual references. As for films, I didn’t have many references, consciously, I mean – there was one – Who Can Kill A Child? Again, not for the story but for the mood, like this white village, with empty streets and only children, so it was a bit strange. That was maybe the main conscious influence of a film that I had. And then I think there is another one that was very, very different visually, but it was more about the mood, it was Eraserhead. For instance, I always felt that we really shouldn’t have a creature, but a puppet that looked like a baby. It’s really far from being as great as the one in Eraserhead, but this was the reference, not to have the same thing, but to have a very physical presence that looked real.

MJT: What was the most difficult thing to get right?

LH: Well, it was difficult to structure the story, because I really began with feelings, situations, emotions, visuals, sounds and elements, so at some point we really had to make a story out it, to have these images that happen, so there was a difficulty there and I was very lucky to be able to work with Alante Kavaite, my co-writer – she helped me a lot, in structuring all this material. But probably the main problem was the one I was telling you about, when people were saying, ‘We don’t understand this film, what kind of film is it, is it a genre film, is it something else?’ So we really tried to make them understand. For instance, the ending was also – not for me, because for me it was really like what it is in the film, always – we should arrive at a particular place, but it’s not back to reality or it’s not a happy ending. It’s, okay, he has escaped from the island, but maybe now it’s another cycle. But it was difficult because people thought they wanted a kind of explanation or a definitive ending, ‘So, is it that or is it that? Was it true or was it not true? Where are the facts?’ So it was difficult to deal with these things without destroying the film. So the difficulty was really to try in the script to make people understand what the film was about and give a feel for the nature of the film without giving too much explanation. Like, okay, it’s metaphorical but we can’t really explain it or show you what the metaphor is about. It’s not like someone’s dream and suddenly it’s a boy who is in hospital and he’s dreaming of this island, no. But at one point we were kind of being pushed to do things like that, to be more explicit, so that balance was difficult to achieve.

MJT: Do you have a particular favourite scene or moment in the film?

LH: I guess because it was a shot that I was not there for when it was done – it’s probably the underwater shots made by the diver who was like a second unit. So we said we would like these kinds of things with weeds and so on, but I’m not a diver and neither was the DP, so at some point we had to let him do it by himself and.he came back with these amazing images and this was like, ‘Oh, wow’. They were a great surprise and I was so happy about that – I thought it would really bring a lot to the film and it was really exactly what I was looking for. So yes, it’s the underwater scenes that you see right at the beginning.

MJT: The casting is interesting because you have a couple of well-known actors…

LH: In fact, Julie-Marie Parmentier is well known, because she has done many films now, and Roxane Duran is more at the beginning of her career, but she made The White Ribbon with Michael Haneke. I thought of Julie-Marie straught away, because I think she’s really special – I think she is a very good actress and she has different qualities – she can be very attractive, but also kind of ugly, also mysterious and I think you feel like she has a real inner life. I knew that she could be kind of scary, but in a very minimalistic way and I also think that she’s very charismatic and she doesn’t need to have to read dialogue to create something. And it’s a bit the same with Roxane, the great thing with her is that she’s really sweet and she brings a very kind of human element into this atmosphere that works very well. Before meeting her I had thought that the nurse should have been scarier, in a way but when I met her I thought that it was really interesting to have someone so sweet, even if she’s doing sometimes scary things. And she’s a bit like a child, she has something that’s still very child-like, and I was really happy with them. And I also wanted to have this mood, because it’s not about performance, it’s more about the mood they give and they fit very well to this landscape.

MJT: And was it difficult to find Max Brebant?

LH: It was not really easy, of course because there is this aspect of swimming, that was one thing. And then the story might have been difficult for some parents, rather than for the children. What was very good with Max is that, in fact, he was thirteen years old when we did the film, so I think he had this sometimes more mature expression, but also his very tiny body, so he’s kind of fragile. And I really liked him very much,I found him very charismatic and very sweet, in a way, with his big face and small body – he had a fragility and a sweetness that was very interesting. Before shooting I thought that I was going to maybe try to make him express more fear, but it was really difficult and we had so little time to shoot, so we couldn’t spend a lot of time on each scene, so I decided to play it more like a blank expression, as if he was sleeping with his eyes open or something and that, and I think it works at the end because he’s very charismatic, for me, at least. So we found him quite late in the process of casting but we couldn’t begin the casting too soon, because they change quickly at that age, so we just tried to find them six or seven months before shooting.

MJT: What’s your next project?

LH: My next project, I’m a bit scared now of not choosing the right one, or choosing the one that would be too difficult and would take me too many years to find the financing, so I don’t want to talk about it, really, because I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m working on different things.

EVOLUTION IS ON GENERAL RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 6 MAY 2016

Johnny Guitar (1954) Blu-ray release

Director: Nicholas Ray  Writer: Philip Jordan. Cast: Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge, Scott Brady, Ward Bond, Ernest Borgnine, Royal Dano, John Carradine, Ben Coope | 110min  | Western | US

Nicholas Ray saw Johnny Guitar as a first step to independence. Little did he know he would be engulfed in a battle for control of the film with its star, Joan Crawford. She literally had the script re-written during the shoot to please her ego, and to denigrate co-star Mercedes McCambridge who was married to one of Crawford’s former lovers.

Vienna (Crawford), a saloon owner, is nearly bankrupt but she is waiting for the planned railroad to boost her profits. But the townspeople, led by Emma (McCambridge) want her to move on, suspecting her of the murder of Emma’s brother. With her four friends she terrorises the town with a gang led by Dancing Kid (Brady). When Kid’s gang holds up a stagecoach and kills a man, Emma wants to hang Vienna. But she is rescued by her former lover, Johnny Guitar (Hayden), and erstwhile famous gunslinger Johnny Logan. Emma burns the saloon down and after a long chase, Vienna gets her revenge.

The shooting of this cult film with its outstanding colour images by the legendary DOP Harry Stradling (Guys and Dolls) and Peggy Lee’s title song could not have been more problematic. Johnny Guitar was a project for four clients of the Lew Wasserman agency: Roy Chanslor, who wrote the novel of the same name, published in 1953, was the first. He dedicated the book to Joan Crawford, who had just finished her comeback film Mildred Pierce. Script writer Philip Jordan was a front for many blacklisted writers, particularly Ben Maddow, who wrote the The Naked Jungle and Men in War under Jordan’s name. “Just like Wasserman sold film packages, Jordan sold script packages with a guarantee of quality”.  Jordan worked with Ray during 1953 in Hollywood, their script run up to 200 pages, Ray depositing thirty pages with Cinematheque Francaise. Shooting started in mid October 1953 at Sedona, Arizona, where Republic had a Western Street, a permanent set. McCambridge, who played the villain, recalled in her memories “I felt I had a certain edge because a gentleman with whom [Crawford] had had some association, to the degree that she has given him gold-cuff-links, was now my husband”.

When Ray was filming McCambridge in the scene where she addresses the posse to hunt Vienna down, he sent Crawford back to camp. But after he finished the scene, he saw Miss Crawford sitting up on the hill watching. “I should have known some hell was going to break loose”. That night, Crawford asked for “five more scenes”, having strewn McCambridge’s clothes all over the road. As Jordan said, “They were on location, and Joan Crawford decided she wasn’t going to make the picture. They were shooting about 2 weeks without her. So Wasserman called me up and he flew out here.”

According to Ray, Crawford “got some crazy ideas. she said she wanted the man’s role.” Crawford commented: “I’m [like] Clark Gable, [but] it’s Vienna who has the leading part”. She threatened to leave for good, and the picture would have been finished. In this case, Republic might have gone bankrupt because they were used to making films for $50 000 and Johnny had budget of $2.5m.

Jordan had to rewrite the way Crawford wanted it: neither the novel nor the script mentioned that Johnny and Vienna had known each other before. And this way added much more weight to their relationship in the completedfkm. Jordan decided to let Hayden play Crawford’s part with her having the shoot-out at the end, killing Emma/ McCambridge. The 44 shooting days were very traumatic for Ray and as he was directing his next film, Run for Cover, he wrote to his actress friend Hanna Axmann: “The atrocity of Johnny Guitar is finished and released to dreadful reviews and great financial success. Nausea was my reward, and I am glad you were not there to share the suffering”. But there was no pleasing Crawford, in her autobiography she wrote, blaming McCambdrige and lashing out at Ray: “The responsibility lies with an actress who hadn’t worked for ten years [McCambridge had won an Oscar two years earlier]. There is no excuse for making such a bad film”. AS

ON BLURAY FROM 20 SEPTEMBER 2021 | MASTERS OF CINEMA

 

 

 

Friend Request (2016)

Director: Simon Verhoeven

Cast: Alycia Debnam-Carey, William Moseley, Connor Paolo, Brit Morgan, Brook Markham, Sean Marquette, Liesl Ahlers

Germany 2016, 92 min.

German director Simon Verhoeven (Men in the City) offers a self-ironic but critical contribution to the new Social Media Horror genre. Taking an seemingly normal daily occurrence, Verhoeven, who co-wrote the script, highlights the ever increasing sociological relevance of facebook and other media outlets of the same kind.

The story follows Laura (Debnam-Carey) a post-graduate psychology student who shares a flat with her two girlfriends Olivia (Morgan) and Isabel (Markham). Laura is ‘popular’ in the ether with over 800 friends on facebook and trying to add even more. But her integrity comes into question when she agrees half-heartedly to a Friend Request from Marina (Ahlers), a shy co-student who hides under her hoody. Laura is a psychologist in the making and should really have been more watchful, since Marina is signing in as Ma Rina, a sure sign of a split personality – but Laura just wants to collect friends. Marina then angles an invitation to Laura’s birthday party, purportedly “an event for two”, inviting her friends and family.

When Marina sees the party photos on Laura’s Facebook site, she flips and tells Laura “I will make you as lonely as I am” before committing suicide by hanging herself over a fire while looking into a mirror – a sure sign of black magic. Frightening videos then appear on the FB pages of the three girls and Laura’s boyfriend Tyler (Moseley) fails to calm her in the ensuing meltdown

FRIEND REQUEST is much more than a horror movie, the takeaway here is Verhoeven’s treatment of his main protagonists, focussing on their narcissistic need for continuous self-affirmation – a practice known in its most extreme form as “trolling for narcissistic supply” -facilitated and enhanced by a social media presence where there are always new people joining the circle of deceit and self-deceit in a carnival of self-glorification. Although many people use these networks to engage with like-minded individuals and family, FRIEND REQUEST on those who eschew critical intelligence, in favour of superficial self-indulgence.

Verhoeven’s film is the perfect pendant to Caroline Kepler’s novel “You”, about cyber stalking, where a man uses the social media accounts of the woman he stalks to control her, while killing his rivals. In this well-crafted creeper DoPJo Heim (Men in the City) captures the world of the ‘short generation span’ with breath-taking jump cuts that impressively showcase the tricks of social media. His horror images are seriously frightening; his use of night scenes and the finale in an old factory are perhaps not original, but show intricate composition. shot in the mellow light of Cape Town, South Africa, FRIEND REQUEST is a welcome take on the genre.

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 20 APRIL 2016

Novecento |1900 (1976)

24792350955_64a327a9c7_mDirector: Bernardo Bertolucci

Cast: Robert de Niro, Gerald Depardieu, Dominique Sanda, Werner Bruhns, Laura Betti, Donald Sutherland, Burt Lancaster, Stefania Sandrelli, Sterling Hayden, Alida Valli, Romolo Valli, Anna Henkel, Maria Monti

317min | Drama | Italy/France/West Germany

Bertolucci’s epic, combining the personal and political during the first 45 years of the 20th century, is set in the Italian province of Emilia-Romagna, were the featureless landscape and the ancient city of Parma are the background for the ongoing rivalry between families: the landowning Berlingheri and their peasant workers, the Dalcò. It is a melodrama featuring moments of extraordinary beauty – Oscar-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s sumptuous visuals glow with the resplendent luminosity of an Impressionist painting by Manet or Manet. But there is also outrageous cruelty and savage brutality and the performances, particularly by the female characters are often suffused by histrionic outbursts giving this the quality of a Greek tragedy, underpinned by Ennio Morricone’s often doom-laden orchestral score.

In 1901, the year that local composer Giuseppe Verdi died, two boys are born on the estate of the Berlingheri: Alfredo, who will inherit from his father Giovanni (R. Valli) and grandfather (Lancaster), and Olmo, son of Leo (Sterling Hayden) and Rosa Dalcò (Monti). After Alfredo’s grandfather commits suicide in the cowshed, his father dictates a false testament to the local priest, making sure that he inherits most of the estate, giving only an allowance to his brother Ottavio, a playboy, who travels around Italy. The two boys become friends, in spite of their different upbringing, Alfredo hiding from his father, whom he hates.

After Olmo (a softly-spoken Depardieu) returns from the Great War, he is greeted with open arms by Alfredo (a sultry de Niro), who wants to continue their friendship. But everything has changed and his father has since employed Attila (Sutherland), one of Mussolini’s fascists, as a foreman. Olmo warns Alfredo about the danger Attila represents, but Alfredo is only in hedonistic pleasures. After Mussolini takes power in 1922, strengthening Attila’s position, Olmo and Alfredo travel to Parma where they meet Ottavio (Bruhns), Alfredo’s uncle, and his beautiful companion Ada (a gracefully hypotic Dominique Sanda) and the two fall madly in love. Olmo’s partner and fellow socialist, the teacher Anita (Sandrelli), gives birth to their daughter Anita , but tragically dies in childbirth. Devastated by his friend’s loss, which seems to spur Alfredo on to marry Ada. At the magnificent wedding celebration, Attila and Regina (Betti), Alfredo’s cousin, feels jilted and madly jealous, as she hoped to be his bride. In a fit of angry displaced lust, Regina embraces Attila who, in a sexual rage, savagely murders a little boy and tries to pin the blame on Olmo. Alfredo does not stop the fascist mob trying to lynch Olmo, but a deranged young man, confessing wrongly to the murder, saves Olmo’s life. Ottavio, who had brought a white horse named ‘Cocaine’ as a wedding present for Ada, is disgusted and swears never to return to his brother’s house. Attila commits more and more gruesome murders, including a particularly horrendous one of the widow Pioppi (Alida Valli), to secure her home for himself and Regina. The relationship between Ada and Alfredo deteriorates and she finally leaves him, just before April 1945. Italy is liberated and Olmo, who has become a partisan, shoots Attila, celebrating their liberation from Alfredo, the ‘Padrone’, with his daughter Anita (Henkel) and the other peasants. Olmo declares the death of the ‘Master’, but keeps Alfredo alive, “so we all know forever that the Master is dead”. Alone with Olmo, Alfredo states very realistically, “the Master is very much alive.”

NOVECENTO is Bertolucci’s most ‘Viscontian’ film, premiered in the year of the older director’s death. Using a cast, many of whom had worked with Visconti (Alida Valli, Romolo Valli, Burt Lancaster), Bertolucci also explores one of Visconti’s central themes: the sexuality of fascism, here demonstrated in the murderous relationship between Attila and Regina. But in spite of history and politics, 1900 belongs to DoP, Vittorio Storaro (Strategia del Rago, Il Conformista). The childhood scenes of the first part are shot like summer: the colours are drenched, in dream nostalgia. Heavy clouds and torrential rain threaten the early stage of Fascism. The wedding is an icy winter picture, cold, harsh hues echo the deterioration of the relationships between Ada and Alfredo. Liberation brings spring’s acid primary tints; the lighting growing increasingly bright and celebratory. The mass scenes in Parma, during the socialist demonstration, are framed with impressive intricacy. The camera moves, swoops and glides in harmony with Ennio Morricone’s majestic, moving sound track, maintaining Novecento’s status as one of the great epics of film history. AS

NOVECENTO IS FULLY RESTORED ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF EUREKA FILM AND VIDEO FROM 18 APRIL 2016

Demon (2015) | Kinoteka 2016

Director: Marcin Wrona  Screenwriters: Marcin Wrona, Pawel Maslona

Cast: Itay Tiran, Tomasz Schuchardt, Andrzej Grabowski, Adam Woronowicz, Wlodzimierz Press, Tomasz Zietek, Katarzyna Gniewkowska, Agnieszka Zulewska

92min | Horror | Poland/Israel

Director Marcin Wrona’s tragic suicide haunts this atmospheric tale of possession that opens with a suitably forboding original score from vintage Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki as a ghostly dawn comes to a bucolic village south of Warsaw. It seems a fitting tribute that the film went on to win Best Horror Feature at Austin’s Fantastic Fest

Despite this unsettling start, the mood soon brightens with the arrival of Piotr who has come to marry his girlfriend Zaneta whose rambling family property is the setting for the celebrations and their future home. Clearly the two are madly in love but preparations take a sinister turn when Piotr discovers a some human remains while digging foundations for a swimming pool in the overgrown gardens. Piotr soon forgets about his ghoulish discovery as friends arrive and the wedding gets off to a boyant start; but clearly something is wrong. The tone lurches from heightened melodrama to seething dread as Piotr undergoes some kind of physical transformation involving fits and nosebleeds. Itay Tiran gives an extrordinary physical performance as the bridegroom; writhing, gesticulating and quivering like a man possessed – and clearly he is. But Piotr’s break-dancing histrionics feels like a mere side-show to the high guests’ already hysterical partying enhanced by heavy vodka drinking (a very Polish wedding), dancing and singing to the gypsy-style band. He is only taken seriously when he passes out after an ‘epileptic’ fit.  Naturally, Zaneta’s father (Andrzej Grabowski) has his worst fears confirmed – he was always suspicious of his daughter marrying a foreigner – ordering the wedding to continue, not wanting to upset or compromise Zaneta’s day. It soon emerges she is not the only bride at the wedding.

DEMON is an effecting mood piece; a great example of how music, lighting and subtle camerawork can be used effectively in the horror genre. Wrona’s script has a solid premise: that spirits from past lives can come back to haunt and meddle with the status quo. The feeling of tension and unease is dramatically heightened by Penderecki’s fantastic score which together with some breathtaking visuals from cinematographer Pawel Fils, convey a surreal, otherworldly quality to the narrative until eventually lines blur between reality and the supernatural to create a compelling fantasy ghost story rooted in the present. MT

KINOTEKA LONDON | 7 April – 28 April 2016

 

Welcome to Leith (2015) | Home ent release

Dir.: Michael Beach Nichols, Christopher K Walker | Documentary | USA 2015 | 85 min.

In 2012 Leith, North Dakota, had 24 inhabitants. An ex-boom town, left behind after the oil bonanza was over, only the most stubborn residents remained. To their great surprise, one man bought a property, unseen, for $5000, and promised to buy even more for his “friends”. This man was Craig Cobb (61), leading figure of the American National Socialist Movement (NSM).

Directors Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker followed Cobb while he attempted to turn Leith into a stronghold for his movement promoting racial hatred. By buying up all the cheap property, his aim was to gain control of the town run by Ryan Schock. WELCOME TO LEITH could easily be modelled on a novel by Jim Thompson: the psychotic Cobb wandering the streets of the town armed to the teeth, his house looking like a Christmas tree adorned with Swastikas of all sorts, advertising white supremacy. It’s worth noting that North Dakota’s population is already 90% white, and it is legal in the USA to display the Swastika symbol under the First Amendment, as ruled by the Supreme Court in 1978. Cobb and his sidekick, the much younger Kynan Dutton, took to patrolling the streets armed, and started to interrupt the City Council’s meetings. They also began a hate mail campaign, their main target being Sherill Harper, married to Bobby, the only black person in the town. “What are you doing married to a negro” they asked in a threatening manner, putting up also a sign “No Niggers in Leith”. Another target was Lee Cook and his family, who moved to Leith after their daughter was sadistically murdered, the NSM brigade trying blame racial motives for the crime, and disturbing the healing process for the family. On their “Vanguard News Network” Cobb and Dutton spread vile racist propaganda on the internet, portraying their “take-over” of Leith as a defensive stand on behalf of white people. Cobb, actually on the run for hate crimes in Canada and son of a multi-millionaire, had a DNA test taken, to prove his Aryan heritage. In front of an amused TV audience, it was announced that Cobb had 14% African blood in his veins.With help of the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), who keeps trace of White Supremacy groups in the USA (and whose funds were cut after 9/11), the citizens of Leith began their fight back, and the rest is history until the present day.

WELCOME  TO LEITH has all the qualities of a feature film, co-director/DOP Nichols achieving a true real crime atmosphere, the dilapidated, ghostly Leith the scary background to a story of violence, which could have escalated, had it not been for the solidarity of the town’s citizens. Somehow it seems fitting that the violent racists of the NSM choose a place so haunted as Leith, to build an Aryan model town. Taut and atmospheric, WELCOME TO LEITH captures true evil in the backwater of the USA. AS

NOW ON DVD | Documentary Prize Winner | East End Film Festival 2015 |

Seymour: An Introduction (2016)

Director.: Ethan Hawke

Documentary with Seymour Bernstein | USA 2014 | 81 min.

Sometimes chance encounters can lead to something extraordinary, and in the case of actor/director Ethan Hawke (Before Sunrise) meeting the concert pianist Seymour Bernstein (*1927) over dinner to talk about the stage fright both men suffered from, it lead to an extraordinary contemplative documentary about music and the meaning of art.

This is a biopic, but we certainly get to know Seymour Bernstein, who abandoned his glittering career as a concert pianist in 1977 at the age of 50, to concentrate solely on teaching. Bernstein’s family home provided no musical encouragement, his father expressed his disappointment with his son by telling friends and family “I have three daughters and a piano”. We see clips and photos from Bernstein’s time in the Korean War where he and a cellist introduced the soldiers to classical music.  Then, there is his patron, Mildred Booth, who worshipped his talents in her big mansion: Bernstein fled in spite of being showered with gifts.

But mainly, Seymour is a discourse about music and the role of contemporary art/artists. Bernstein has lived alone for the last 57 years in a large, cosy bedsit in New York. The outside world does not intrude, only his students are allowed in. He is a patient but exacting teacher with a wicked sense of humour, telling one of his students “you are not allowed to play better than me”, after she mastered a difficult passage. As mentioned, Bernstein suffered from stage fright but this was not the main reason for him giving up his solo career: the commercial and competitive aspect of music started to overshadow the actual music played and lead him to concentrate solely on teaching: “I found my creativity as a teacher”. One of his ex-students, the Times art critic Michael Kimmelman, who somehow fell short of Bernstein’s rigorous demands, is told how important personal development is for the artist. Many pianists become ‘stars’, but end up being neurotics, like Glenn Gould, who “was technically perfect, but a total neurotic mess”. Gould told a friend how he crossed his legs on purpose during a performance, to give the critics something to write about. The opposite of Gould is one of Bernstein’s teachers, the British pianist Clifford Curzon, a man without any Ego, who was just interested in interpreting the music. Another point Bernstein makes, is that “male musicians and composers are taught to subdue the feminine”, a very valid point, particularly relevant right now, after watching the macho-ideology of films such as Whiplash.

Apart from reflections about music and its role in society, we watch Bernstein teaching his students, and trying out an endless number of Steinways for his semi-private recital in March 2012. Whilst Bernstein does not embrace any faith, “in all religions, everything depends on the deity”, he believes ‘the universal order is represented through music as an extension of ourselves”. Finally, after playing Schumann’s “Phantasies” as a wedding present to his wife, the pianist Clara Wieck, Bernstein comments ”I never dreamt that with my two own hands, I could reach the sky”.

Ramsey Fendall’s images are gracefully rendered, particularly those in the interior of Bernstein’s flat which are softly lit reflecting the many lampshades in the room, creating a sort of magical impression of the pianist and his world. This is an impressive documentary debut for Ethan Hawke who structure is not always faultless, but somehow enhances the ad-hoc nature of these reflections, which are a rejection of all contemporary populist notions about art and artists in a commercial world. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE IN SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 23 MARCH 2016 

 

The Club | SILVER BEAR winner Berlinale

Director: Pablo Larraín

Cast: Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zeggers, Marcelo Alonso, Roberto Farias

98mins  Thriller  Chile

Chilean director Pablo Larraín is well-known for exploring the dark corners of his homeland to ferret out a few skeleton’s from the nation’s history. THE CLUB is such a story. There is always a place for his regular collaborator Alfredo Castro in these dark and often gloomy dramas. In this one, Castro (From Afar) gets a leading role hiding out in a windswept coastal backwater as a crusty old paedophile priest, Padre Vidal. And he’s not alone, sharing his grim beachhouse are four other priests, serving time for a variety of sexual misdemeanours in the name of God. Victoria Zeggers is Sister Monica, the young woman who keeps house for these miserable old men whose only pleasure in life is their obsession with a jointly- owned greyhound they race at competitive meets.

Sergio Armstrong’s cinematography captures the wide open emptiness of gloomy seascapes beaten by winds and endlessly suffused by a dank and dreary fog. The old buggers (quite literally) are on their last legs, rationed in their movements and deprived of any kind of physical enjoyment with limited contact with the outside world. It’s a sobering regime but a bearable one, until one night a troubled fisherman Sandokan (Roberto Farías) fetches up in the front garden hurling an unsavoury humiliating accusations at the one of the priests. His gripe, it appears, results from being repeatedly sexual abused in childhood by one of the priests. This toe-curling outpouring is unspeakably filthy and the men of God are mortified by this public take-down that is met the follow day by the arrival of Father García (Marcelo Alonso) with a mission to close down this cosy little seaside set-up. Father García is rather sultry and inappropriately attractive for the job in hand, leaving us wondering about his own motives in the scandalous affair.

THE CLUB is a sinister and suspenseful piece of filmmaking. A palpable tension hovers over proceedings like heavy fog drifting in from the sea; continually threatening but always managing to contain is subversive undercurrents. Guillermo Calderón and Daniel Villalobos contribute to a screenplay that villifies the characters but never completely demonises them, leaving much wit and wisdom for all to enjoy in the devilish den of iniquity. “I am the king of the repressed,” says Father Vidal (Castro). Darrain’s El Club is not an edifying story but an fascinating one. Meredith J Taylor.

ON RELEASE FROM 25 MARCH 2016 | REVIEWED AT BERLINALE 2015

 

Sworn Virgin (2015) | BFI Flare 2016

Director: Laura Bispuri   Writer: Elviria Dones

Cast: Alba Ruhrwacher, Flonja Kodheli, Lars Eidinger, Emily Ferratello, Luan Jaha

90mins  Italy/Albania  Drama

‘Swearing Virginity’ is an ancient practice that still exists today in remote areas of Albania. Young women sacrifice their physical and emotional freedom in order to enjoy the privileges and rights only accorded to men, who enjoy complete independence and command the respect of the womenfolk in their community .

In Laura Bispuri’s sensitive feature debut, the sworn virgin in question is Hana Doda, played convincingly here by well-known Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher (Best Actress at Venice last year for HUNGRY HEARTS). As ‘Mark’ Doda, she eventually decides to leave her mountain home and seek refuge and a new life with her sister Lila (Flonja Kodheli) in Italy, after spending a decade of deprivation in a mountain village.

In Milan life feels very different for ‘Mark’, as she gradually adjusts to the modern world and a future of freedom, while constantly revisiting her painful past, seen in flashback. Feeling awkward and alienated by these new surroundings, it is never full explained why she continues to use her male name and dress as a man after arrival in their home. Teenage niece (Emily Ferratello) realises that things are not normal, despite her mother’s protestations to the contrary, and appears understandably hostile and questioning. Lila’s husband also seems to treat ‘Mark’ with a certain degree of frostiness, particularly when he sees the sisters experimenting with a new bra. It is only when she meets a life guard (Lars Eidinger) at the local swimming pool that Hana’s female longings start to awaken and her femininity blossoms.

Laura Bispuri adopts a less is more approach to her slow-burning narrative: dialogue is minimal, both in Italian and Albanian, and a stark steely blue aesthetic lends an aura of sombre frigidity to the narrative, keeping the tension simmering while details slowly emerge as the film unspools. SWORN VIRGIN is Based on a novel by Albanian writer Elvira Dones, the medieval practice stills survives today in backward mountain areas where brides are taken fully veiled by their husbands so they are unable to find their way back home. A bullet is included in their dowry by the bride’s father, just in case they fail to please their intended spouses. MT

Now SCREENING DURING BFI FLARE FESTIVAL until 27 MARCH 2016

ERLINALE 5-15 FEBRUARY 2015 – ALL OUR COVERAGE IN UNDER BERLINALE 2015

 

The Pearl Button | Berlinale 2015 | Competition |

Director: Patricio Guzman

82min  | Documentary | Chile

Where NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT studied conditions in the Atacama Desert, THE PEARL BUTTON focuses in sparkling 2k digital on the medium water, in an attempt to link the element with the disappearance of five native tribes of Patagonia and the genocide of countless political prisoners during Pinochet’s dictatorship.

A bright light shining through a block of crystal imbedded with drop of water seems an exciting way to open a documentary on how water came to be on the Earth. But after a brief look at celestial comets that purportedly conveyed the element to our planet, the narrative then wends its way into the tribal question to examine the ancient seafarers who once inhabited the southern tip of Patagonia (Land of the Large Feet). Chile benefits from a massive 2,670 mile seaboard, providing a fabulous climate for a successful wine industry, but its maritime possibilities appear to have been thwarted by the tragic wiping out of much of this seagoing ancestry in the early 1800s, by settlers intent of making the region their home. Three survivors of these tribes still keep their native tongues of Kawesqar, Yagan and Selk’nam alive and they give testament to a vibrant past when they circumnavigated over 600 miles of the regions southern seaways and lived completely at one with nature. Guzman combines his interviews with fascinating archival footage showing some eerie photographs of tribal indians painted with body designs and garments resembling the klu kluk clan.

The Pearl Button

The title of the film comes from a young Yagan teenager who was sold to the British Navy for the price of a pearl button in 1830. It emerges that a pearl button was also discovered welded to a metal girder discovered at the bottom of the sea during Pinochet’s reign of political terror and indicating widespread genocide of innocent people. Ultimately these historical tragedies are so individually important that they each deserve a separate film rather than one that runs for under two hours.

That said, Guzman has made a visually extraordinary film that wafts over the magnificent scenery and glacial landscapes of this South American nation. A gently meditative voiceover wafts over us providing space for contemplation but leaving us feeling both bewildered and unsatisfied. MT

BERLINALE 5-15 FEBRUARY 2015 | NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE 

 

Goodnight Mommy (2014) | Ich Seh, Ich Seh

Director: Veronika Franz/Severin Fiala  Producer: Ulrich Seidl

Cast: Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz, Susanne Wuest

99min Austria (German with subtitles)

The Austrians are very good at taking ordinary life and turning into horror at Venice this year. In the same vein as Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997), Ulrich Seidl’s (Im Keller) wife and collaborator, Veronika Franz, makes her directorial debut with, along with Seidl’s nephew, Severin Fiala, in this vicious and expertly-crafted arthouse piece full of malevolence and wicked twists, set in a slick modern house buried in the Austrian countryside.

In the heat of summer, nine-year-old Elias is enjoying the school hols with his twin brother Lukas (played superbly by debut actors of the same name). They appear normal boys: swimming, exploring the woods, and keeping giant cockroaches as pets. But in the pristine lakeside home, their TV exec mother has made some draconian changes. After a relationship breakdown, she is recovering from facial surgery and bandaged up literally like a  ‘mummy’, in a draconian new regime (to assist healing) she has banned all friends from visiting the house while her recuperation takes place in total privacy. Nothing wrong with that, but the boys misinterpret her behaviour as a sinister sign that things domestic are going downhill and start to wonder whether this is an imposter or really their mother. The more they question her for re-assurance, the more fractious and distant, though strangely vulnerable and scary, she becomes. Reacting against her instinctively, the boys become convinced that their former warm and affectionate parent is a strange intruder, and decide to take control of the situation with a series of unpleasant and downright vicious tests.

Franz and Fiala create an atmosphere of mounting suspense with clever editing, minimal dialogue and the use of innocent techniques that appear more sinister and unsettling when taken out of context: window blinds that appear to signal morse code; a bloodshot eye in the bathroom eye; crunchy biscuits that sounds like cockroaches – all harmless in themselves yet unsettling and this startling paean to unbequemlichkeit, in this context. Martin Gschlacht’s cinematography switches between lush landscapes, sterile interiors and suggestive modern art to inculcate a sense of bewilderment and unease. Susanne Wuest is perfectly cast as the icy, skeletal blond matriarch with menace. The use of several characters to enforce local religious traditions and sensibilities help to ramp up tension and subversive humour: the overweight Red Cross couple, the sinister Sexton and a Catholic priest. The innocent boys transform into everyday psychopaths due to their lack of early maternal love or support, bring to mind those terrible kids from The Shining, The Innocents and even Cronenburg’s The Brood. With the complex manipulation of sound and music, this is a very clever film which contrasts images of visceral revulsion with those of serene beauty, as reality and fantasy start to blur. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | REVIEWED AT VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2014

 

 

 

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Sundance Film Festival | Prizes Announced

112263_still1_JamesFranco_SarahGadon__byAlexDukayThe first major international festival of the independent film world: SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2016 has wrapped with another “great step forward for independent film,” according to the festival director John Cooper. For ten days in January the snow-bound hub of Park City, Utah screened 120 features, 98 of which are world premieres and include a romantic drama about Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date; a two hander about a drifter who befriends a dead body and the first film to focus on the women of Wall Street.

So what’s new trendwise in 2016? Well, according to director of programming Trevor Groth: Everyone’s understanding craft so much better. There’s a changing face to what a documentary is and what it can do in the end. People are experimenting in genre in really interesting ways, so festival-goers should expect a “wild range of tones and styles” in the World Cinema dramatic competition. “Independent filmmakers are doing what they’ve always done best: connecting the dots of human existence with a deeply charged emotional current.” We look at the ones that screened during this year’s festival and the PRIZE WINNERS to look out for in the coming months.  

US DRAMATIC COMPETITION winner THE BIRTH OF A NATION (US)

US DIRECTING AWARD DRAMATIC winner SWISS ARMY MAN (US)

US DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION winner WEINER

US DIRECTING AWARD DOCUMENTARY winner LIFE, ANIMATED (US)

WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION winner SAND STORM (ISRAEL)

WORLD CINEMA DIRECTING AWARD DRAMATIC winner BELGICA (BELGIUM)

WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION winner SONITA (IRAN)

WORLD CINEMA DIRECTING AWARD DOCUMENTARY winner ALL THESE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS (POLAND)

ALFRED P SLOAN FEATURE FILM PRIZE winner EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT (MEXICO)

WORLD CINEMA AWARD FOR UNIQUE VISION AND DESIGN winner THE LURE (POLAND)

NEXT -AUDIENCE AWARD winner THE FIRST GIRL I LOVED  (cutting edge equivalent of Cannes “Un Certain Regard”)

W O R L D   P R E M I E R E S 

A showcase of world premieres of some of the most highly anticipated narrative films of the coming year.

agnus copyAGNUS DEI / France, Poland (Director: Anne Fontaine, Screenwriters: Sabrina N. Karine, Alice Vial, Pascal Bonitzer) — 1945 Poland: Mathilde, a young French doctor, is on a mission to help World War II survivors. When a nun seeks her assistance in helping several pregnant nuns in hiding, who are unable to reconcile their faith with their pregnancies, Mathilde becomes their only hope. Cast: Lou de Laâge, Agata Kulesza, Agata Buzek, Vincent Macaigne, Joanna Kulig, Katarzyna Dabrowska. World Premiere

16753-1-1100ALI AND NINO / United Kingdom (Director: Asif Kapadia, Screenwriter: Christopher Hampton) — Muslim prince Ali and Georgian aristocrat Nino have grown up in the Russian province of Azerbaijan. Their tragic love story sees the outbreak of the First World War and the world’s struggle for Baku’s oil. Ultimately they must choose to fight for their country’s independence or for each other. Cast: Adam Bakri, Maria Valverde, Mandy Patinkin, Connie Nielsen, Riccardo Scamarcio, Homayoun Ershadi. World Premiere

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Matt Ross) — Deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and re-enter society, beginning a journey that challenges his idea of what it means to be a parent. Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, George MacKay, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Ann Dowd. World Premiere

certain copyCERTAIN WOMEN / U.S.A. (Director: Kelly Reichardt, Screenwriter: Kelly Reichardt based on stories by Maile Meloy) — The lives of three woman intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail. Cast: Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, James Le Gros, Jared Harris, Lily Gladstone. World Premiere

COMPLETE UNKNOWN / U.S.A. (Director: Joshua Marston, Screenwriters: Joshua Marston, Julian Sheppard) — When Tom and his wife host a dinner party to celebrate his birthday, one of their friends brings a date named Alice. Tom is convinced he knows her, but she’s going by a different name and a different biography—and she’s not acknowledging that she knows him. Cast: Rachel Weisz, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, Danny Glover. World Premiere

FRANK AND LOLA / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Matthew Ross) — A psychosexual noir love story—set in Las Vegas and Paris—about love, obsession, sex, betrayal, revenge and, ultimately, the search for redemption. Cast: Michael Shannon, Imogen Poots, Michael Nyqvist, Justin Long, Emmanuelle Devos, Rosanna Arquette. World Premiere

THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Rob Burnett) — Having suffered a tragedy, Ben becomes a caregiver to earn money. His first client, Trevor, is a hilarious 18-year-old with muscular dystrophy. One paralyzed emotionally, one paralyzed physically, Ben and Trevor hit the road, finding hope, friendship, and Dot in this funny and touching inspirational tale. Cast: Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts, Selena Gomez, Jennifer Ehle, Megan Ferguson, Frederick Weller. World Premiere. CLOSING NIGHT FILM

Hollars copy copyTHE HOLLARS / U.S.A. (Director: John Krasinski, Screenwriter: Jim Strouse) — Aspiring New York City artist John Hollar returns to his Middle America hometown on the eve of his mother’s brain surgery. Joined by his girlfriend, eight months pregnant with their first child, John is forced to navigate the crazy world he left behind. Cast: John Krasinski, Anna Kendrick, Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley, Charlie Day. World Premiere

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE / New Zealand (Director and screenwriter: Taika Waititi) — Ricky is a defiant young city kid who finds himself on the run with his cantankerous foster uncle in the wild New Zealand bush. A national manhunt ensues, and the two are forced to put aside their differences and work together to survive in this heartwarming adventure comedy. Cast: Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Oscar Kightley. World Premiere

indig copyINDIGNATION / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: James Schamus) — It’s 1951, and among the new arrivals at Winesburg College in Ohio are the son of a kosher butcher from New Jersey and the beautiful, brilliant daughter of a prominent alum. For a brief moment, their lives converge in this emotionally soaring film based on the novel by Philip Roth. Cast: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts, Linda Emond, Danny Burstein, Ben Rosenfield. World Premiere

LITTLE MEN / U.S.A. (Director: Ira Sachs, Screenwriter: Mauricio Zacharias) — When 13-year-old Jake’s grandfather dies, his family moves back into their old Brooklyn home. There, Jake befriends Tony, whose single Chilean mother runs the shop downstairs. As their friendship deepens, however, their families are driven apart by a battle over rent, and the boys respond with a vow of silence. Cast: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina Garcia, Theo Taplitz, Michael Barbieri. World Premiere

LoveandFriendship_still1_ChloeSevigny_KateBeckinsale__byBernardWalshLOVE AND FRIENDSHIP / Ireland, France, Netherlands (Director and screenwriter: Whit Stillman) — From Jane Austen’s novella, the beautiful and cunning Lady Susan Vernon visits the estate of her in-laws to wait out colorful rumors of her dalliances and to find husbands for herself and her daughter. Two young men, handsome Reginald DeCourcy and wealthy Sir James Martin, severely complicate her plans. Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Tom Bennett, Stephen Fry. World Premiere

manchester copyMANCHESTER BY THE SEA / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Kenneth Lonergan) — After his older brother passes away, Lee Chandler is forced to return home to care for his 16-year-old nephew. There he is compelled to deal with a tragic past that separated him from his family and the community where he was born and raised. Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler. World Premiere

MR PIG / Mexico (Director: Diego Luna, Screenwriters: Augusto Mendoza, Diego Luna) — On a mission to sell his last remaining prize hog and reunite with old friends, an aging farmer abandons his foreclosed farm and journeys to Mexico. After smuggling in the hog, his estranged daughter shows up, forcing them to face their past and embark on an adventurous road trip together. Cast: Danny Glover, Maya Rudolph, José María Yazpik, Joel Murray, Angélica Aragón, Gabriela Araujo. World Premiere

SING STREET / Ireland (Director and screenwriter: John Carney) — A boy growing up in Dublin during the ’80s escapes his strained family life and tough new school by starting a band to win the heart of a beautiful and mysterious girl. Cast: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aidan Gillen, Mark McKenna. World Premiere

SophieandtheRisingSun_still2_JulianneNicholson_TakashiYamaguchi__byJacksonLeeDavisSOPHIE AND THE RISING SUN / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Maggie Greenwald) — In a small Southern town in the autumn of 1941, Sophie’s lonely life is transformed when an Asian man arrives under mysterious circumstances. Their love affair becomes the lightning rod for long-buried conflicts that erupt in bigotry and violence with the outbreak of World War ll. Cast: Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale, Lorraine Toussaint, Takashi Yamaguchi, Diane Ladd, Joel Murray. World Premiere. SALT LAKE CITY GALA FILM

WIENER DOG / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Todd Solondz) — This film tells several stories featuring people who find their life inspired or changed by one particular dachshund, who seems to be spreading comfort and joy. Cast: Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn, Julie Delpy, Zosia Mamet. World Premiere

D O C U M E N T A R Y   P R E M I E R E S
Renowned filmmakers and films about far-reaching subjects comprise this section highlighting our ongoing commitment to documentaries.

EAT THAT QUESTION—Frank Zappa in His Own Words / France, Germany (Director: Thorsten Schütte) — This entertaining encounter with the premier of sonic avant-garde is acidic, fun-poking, and full of rich and rare archival footage. This documentary bashes favorite Zappa targets and dashes a few myths about the man himself. World Premiere

FILM HAWK / U.S.A. (Directors: JJ Garvine, Tai Parquet) — Trace Bob Hawk’s early years as the young gay child of a Methodist minister to his current career as a consultant on some of the most influential independent films of our time. World Premiere

LOANDBEHOLDReveriesoftheConnectedWorld_headshot2_WernerHerzog_byNALO AND BEHOLD, Reveries of the Connected World / U.S.A. (Director: Werner Herzog) — Does the internet dream of itself? Explore the horizons of the connected world. World Premiere

MAPPLETHORPE – LOOK AT THE PICTURES / U.S.A. (Directors: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato) — This examination of Robert Mapplethorpe’s outrageous life is led by the artist himself, speaking with brutal honesty in a series of rediscovered interviews about his passions. Intimate revelations from friends, family, and lovers shed new light on this scandalous artist who ignited a culture war that still rages on. World Premiere

MAYA ANGELOU – AND STILL I RISE / U.S.A. (Directors: Bob Hercules, Rita Coburn Whack) — The remarkable story of Maya Angelou — iconic writer, poet, actress and activist whose life has intersected some of the most profound moments in recent American history. World Premiere

Michael copyMICHAEL JACKSON’S JOURNEY FROM MOTOWN TO OFF THE WALL / U.S.A. (Director: Spike Lee) — Catapulted by the success of his first major solo project, Off the Wall, Michael Jackson went from child star to King of Pop. This film explores the seminal album, with rare archival footage and interviews from those who were there and those whose lives its success and legacy impacted. World Premiere

NORMAN LEAR  – Just Another Version of You / U.S.A. (Directors: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady) — How did a poor Jewish kid from Connecticut bring us Archie Bunker and become one of the most successful television producers ever? Norman Lear brought provocative subjects like war, poverty, and prejudice into 120 million homes every week. He proved that social change was possible through an unlikely prism: laughter. World Premiere. DAY ONE FILM

Nothing copyNOTHING LEFT UNSAID: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper / U.S.A. (Director: Liz Garbus) — Gloria Vanderbilt and her son Anderson Cooper each tell the story of their past and present, their loves and losses, and reveal how some family stories have the tendency to repeat themselves in the most unexpected ways. World Premiere

RESILIENCE / U.S.A. (Director: James Redford) — This film chronicles the birth of a new movement among pediatricians, therapists, educators, and communities using cutting-edge brain science to disrupt cycles of violence, addiction, and disease. These professionals help break the cycles of adversity by daring to talk about the effects of divorce, abuse, and neglect. World Premiere

RICHARD LINKLATER—dream is destiny / U.S.A. (Directors: Louis Black, Karen Bernstein) — This is an unconventional look at a fiercely independent style of filmmaking that arose in the 1990s from Austin, Texas, outside the studio system. The film blends rare archival footage with journals, exclusive interviews with Linklater on and off set, and clips from Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Boyhood, and more. World Premiere

UNDER THE GUN / U.S.A. (Director: Stephanie Soechtig) — The Sandy Hook massacre was considered a watershed moment in the national debate on gun control, but the body count at the hands of gun violence has only increased. Through the lens of the victims’ families, as well as pro-gun advocates, we examine why our politicians have failed to act. World Premiere

UNLOCKING THE CAGE / U.S.A. (Directors: Chris Hegedus, Donn Alan Pennebaker) — Follow animal rights lawyer Steven Wise in his unprecedented challenge to break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans. By filing the first lawsuit of its kind, Wise seeks to transform a chimpanzee from a “thing” with no rights to a “person” with basic legal protection. World Premiere

U. S   . D R A M A T I C   C O M P E T I T I O N

The 16 films in this section are world premieres and, unless otherwise noted, are from the U.S.

AS YOU ARE (Director: Miles Joris­-Peyrafitte, Screenwriters: Miles Joris­-Peyrafitte, Madison Harrison) — The telling and retelling of a relationship between three teenagers as it traces the course of their friendship through a construction of disparate memories prompted by a police investigation. C​ast: Owen Campbell, Charlie Heaton, Amandla Stenberg, John Scurti, Scott Cohen, Mary Stuart Masterson.

BirthTHE BIRTH OF A NATION (Director and screenwriter: Nate Parker) — Set against the antebellum South, this story follows Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner, accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. After witnessing countless atrocities against fellow slaves, Nat devises a plan to lead his people to freedom. C​ast: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Gabrielle Union, Mark Boone Jr.

CHRISTINE (Director: Antonio Campos, Screenwriter: Craig Shilowich) — In 1974, a female TV news reporter aims for high standards in life and love in Sarasota, Fla. Missing her mark is not an option. This story is based on true events. C​ast: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Maria Dizzia, Tracy Letts, J. Smith-­Cameron.

EquityEQUITY  (Director: Meera Menon, Screenwriter: Amy Fox) — A female investment banker, fighting to get a promotion at her competitive Wall Street firm, leads a controversial tech IPO in the post-­financial-­crisis world, where regulations are tight but pressure to bring in big money remains high. C​ast: Anna Gunn, James Purefoy, Sarah Megan Thomas, Alysia Reiner.​

THE FREE WORLD (Director and screenwriter: Jason Lew) — Following his release from a brutal stretch in prison for crimes he didn’t commit, Mo is struggling to adapt to life on the outside. When his world collides with Doris, a mysterious woman with a violent past, he decides to risk his newfound freedom to keep her in his life. C​ast: Boyd Holbrook, Elisabeth Moss, Octavia Spencer, Sung Kang, Waleed Zuaiter.

GOAT (Director: Andrew Neel, Screenwriters: David Gordon Green, Andrew Neel, Michael Roberts) — Reeling from a terrifying assault, a 19-­year-­old boy pledges his brother’s fraternity in an attempt to prove his manhood. What happens there, in the name of “brotherhood,” tests both the boys and their relationship in brutal ways. C​ast: Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, Virginia Gardner, Danny Flaherty, Austin Lyon.

THE INTERVENTION (Director and screenwriter: Clea DuVall) — A weekend getaway for four couples takes a sharp turn when one of the couples discovers the entire trip was orchestrated to host an intervention on their marriage. ​Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Cobie Smulders, Alia Shawkat, Clea DuVall, Natasha Lyonne, Ben Schwartz.

JOSHY(Director and screenwriter: Jeff Baena) — Josh treats what would have been his bachelor party as an opportunity to reconnect with his friends.​ Cast: Thomas Middleditch, Adam Pally, Alex Ross Perry, Nick Kroll, Brett Gelman, Jenny Slate.

Lovesong_still1_FerrisWheelLOVESONG  (Director: So Yong Kim, Screenwriters: So Yong Kim, Bradley Rust Gray) — Neglected by her husband, Sarah embarks on an impromptu road trip with her young daughter and her best friend, Mindy. Along the way, the dynamic between the two friends intensifies before circumstances force them apart. Years later, Sarah attempts to rebuild their intimate connection in the days before Mindy’s wedding.​ Cast: Jena Malone, Riley Keough, Brooklyn Decker, Amy Seimetz, Ryan Eggold, Rosanna Arquette.

MORRIS FROM AMERICA (U.S.-Germany / Director and screenwriter: Chad Hartigan) — Thirteen­-year-­old Morris, a hip­-hop-loving American, moves to Heidelberg, Germany, with his father. In this completely foreign land, he falls in love with a local girl, befriends his German tutor­-turned­-confidant, and attempts to navigate the unique trials and tribulations of adolescence. C​ast: Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson, Carla Juri, Lina Keller, Jakub Gierszal, Levin Henning.​

OTHER PEOPLE  (Director and screenwriter: Chris Kelly) — A struggling comedy writer, fresh from breaking up with his boyfriend, moves to Sacramento to help his sick mother. Living with his conservative father and younger sisters, David feels like a stranger in his childhood home. As his mother worsens, he tries to convince everyone (including himself) he’s “doing OK.” C​ast: Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon, Bradley Whitford, Maude Apatow, Zach Woods, June Squibb. (Day One film)

SouthsideWithYou_still7_TikaSumpter_ParkerSawyers__byPatScolaSOUTHSIDE WITH YOU  (Director and screenwriter: Richard Tanne) — A chronicle of the summer afternoon in 1989 when the future president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, wooed his future First Lady on an epic first date across Chicago’s South Side.​ Cast: Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers, Vanessa Bell Calloway.

SPA NIGHT  (Director and screenwriter: Andrew Ahn) — A young Korean-­American man works to reconcile his obligations to his struggling immigrant family with his burgeoning sexual desires in the underground world of gay hookups at Korean spas in Los Angeles.​ Cast: Joe Seo, Haerry Kim, Youn Ho Cho, Tae Song, Ho Young Chung, Linda Han.

SwissArmyMan_still1_PaulDano_DanielRadcliffe__byJoyceKimSWISS ARMY MAN (Directors and screenwriters: Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan) — Hank, a hopeless man stranded in the wild, discovers a mysterious dead body. Together the two embark on an epic journey to get home. As Hank realizes the body is the key to his survival, this once­-suicidal man is forced to convince a dead body that life is worth living. ​Cast: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead.​

TALLULAH (Director and screenwriter: Sian Heder) — A rootless young woman takes a toddler from a wealthy, negligent mother and passes the baby off as her own in an effort to protect her. This decision connects and transforms the lives of three very different women. Cast: Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Tammy Blanchard, Evan Jonigkeit, Uzo Aduba.

16197-1-1100WHITE GIRL  (Director and screenwriter: Elizabeth Wood) — Summer, New York City: A college student goes to extremes to get her drug-dealer boyfriend out of jail. C​ast: Morgan Saylor, Brian “Sene” Marc, Justin Bartha, Chris Noth, India Menuez, Adrian Martinez.

U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

The 16 films in this section are world premieres and, unless otherwise noted, are from the U.S.

AUDRIE AND DAISY (Directors: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk) — After two high-school girls in different towns are sexually assaulted by boys they consider friends, online bullying leads each girl to attempt suicide. Tragically, one dies. Assault in the social media age is explored from the perspectives of the girls and boys involved, as well as their torn-­apart communities.

AUTHOR : The JT LeRoy Story” (Director: Jeff Feuerzeig) — As the definitive look inside the mysterious case of 16­-year-­old literary sensation JT LeRoy — a creature so perfect for his time that if he didn’t exist, someone would have had to invent him — this is the strangest story about story ever told.

The Bad kidsTHE BAD KIDS (Directors: Keith Fulton, Lou Pepe) — At a remote Mojave Desert high school, extraordinary educators believe that empathy and life skills, more than academics, give at-­risk students command of their own futures. This coming­-of­-age story watches education combat the crippling effects of poverty in the lives of these so-­called “bad kids.”

GLEASON (Director: Clay Tweel) — At the age of 34, Steve Gleason, former NFL defensive back and New Orleans hero, was diagnosed with ALS. Doctors gave him two to five years to live. So that is what Steve chose to do: Live — both for his wife and newborn son and to help others with this disease.

HOLY HELL (Director: undisclosed) — Just out of college, a young filmmaker joins a loving, secretive, spiritual community led by a charismatic teacher in 1980s West Hollywood. Twenty years later, the group is shockingly torn apart. Told through hundreds of hours of accumulated footage, this is their story.

HOW TO LET GO OF THE WORLD  (and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change​)” (Director: Josh Fox) — Do we have a chance to stop the most destructive consequences of climate change, or is it too late? Academy Award­-nominated director Josh Fox (“Gasland”)​ travels to 12 countries on six continents to explore what we have to let go of — and all of the things that climate can’t change.

JIM (Director: Brian Oakes) — The public execution of American conflict journalist James Foley captured the world’s attention, but he was more than just a man in an orange jumpsuit. Seen through the lens of his close childhood friend, “J​im” ​moves from adrenaline-­fueled front lines and devastated neighborhoods of Syria into the hands of ISIS.

Kate copyKATE PLAYS CHRISTINE  (Director: Robert Greene) — This psychological thriller follows actor Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares to play the role of Christine Chubbuck, a Florida television host who committed suicide on air in 1974. Christine’s tragic death was the inspiration for “N​etwork,” ​and the mysteries surrounding her final act haunt Kate and the production.

KIKI  (U.S.-Sweden / Director: Sara Jordeno) — Through a strikingly intimate and visually daring lens, “K​iki” o​ffers insight into a safe space created and governed by LGBTQ youths of color, who are demanding happiness and political power. A coming­-of-­age story about agency, resilience, and the transformative art form of voguing.

LIFE, ANIMATED (Director: Roger Ross Williams) — Owen Suskind, an autistic boy who could not speak for years, slowly emerged from his isolation by immersing himself in Disney animated movies. Using these films as a roadmap, he reconnects with his loving family and the wider world in this emotional coming-­of-­age story.

NEWTOWN  (Director: Kim A. Snyder) — After joining the ranks of a growing club no one wants to belong to, the people of Newtown, Conn., weave an intimate story of resilience. This film traces the aftermath of the worst mass shooting of schoolchildren in American history as the traumatized community finds a new sense of purpose.

Nuts copyNUTS! (Director: Penny Lane) left — The mostly true story of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, an eccentric genius who built an empire with his goat-­testicle impotence cure and a million-watt radio station. Animated re-enactments, interviews, archival footage, and one seriously unreliable narrator trace his rise from poverty to celebrity and influence in 1920s America.

SUITED ​(Director: Jason Benjamin) — Bindle & Keep, a Brooklyn tailoring company, makes custom suits for a growing legion of gender­-nonconforming clients.

TRAPPED ​(Director: Dawn Porter) — American abortion clinics are in a fight for survival. Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws are increasingly being passed by states that maintain they ensure women’s safety and health, but as clinics continue to shut their doors, opponents believe the real purpose of these laws is to outlaw abortion.

UNCLE HOWARD”​ (U.S.-U.K. / Director: Aaron Brookner) ​— H​oward Brookner’s first film, “B​urroughs: The Movie,​”captured the cultural revolution of downtown New York City in the early ’80s. Twenty­-five years after his promising career was cut short by AIDS, his nephew sets out to discover Howard’s never-­before-­seen films to create a cinematic elegy about his childhood idol.

WEINER (Directors: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg) — With unrestricted access to Anthony Weiner’s New York City mayoral campaign, this film reveals how a high-­profile political scandal unfolds behind the scenes, and it offers an unfiltered look at how much today’s politics are driven by an appetite for spectacle.​

WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION

The 12 films in this section are world premieres unless otherwise specified.

Belgica_still3_StefAerts_HlneDevos__byMenuetBELGICA right (Belgium-France-Netherlands / Director: Felix van Groeningen, Screenwriters: Felix van Groeningen, Arne Sierens) — In the midst of Belgium’s nightlife scene, two brothers start a bar and get swept up in its success. C​ast: Stef Aerts, Tom Vermeir, Charlotte Vandermeersch, Helene De Vos. (Day One film)

BETWEEN SEA AND LAND  (Colombia / Directors: Manolo Cruz, Carlos del Castillo, Screenwriter: Manolo Cruz) — Alberto, who suffers from an illness that binds him into a body that doesn’t obey him, lives with his loving mom, who dedicates her life to him. His sickness impedes him from achieving his greatest dream of knowing the sea, despite one being located just across the street. C​ast: Manolo Cruz, Vicky Hernandez, Viviana Serna, Jorge Cao, Mile Vergara, Javier Saenz.

BrahmanNaman_still1_ChaitanyaVarad_ShashankArora_TanmayDhanania_VaiswathShankar__byTizianaPuleioBRAHMAN NAHMAN (U.K.-India / Director: Q, Screenwriter: S. Ramachandran) — When Bangalore U.’s misfit quiz team manages to get into the national championships, they make an alcohol-­fueled, cross-­country journey to the competition, determined to defeat their arch­rivals from Calcutta while all desperately trying to lose their virginity. C​ast: Shashank Arora, Tanmay Dhanania, Chaitanya Varad, Vaiswath Shankar, Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy, Sid Mallya.

A GOOD WIFE  (Serbia-Bosnia-Croatia / Director: Mirjana Karanovic, Screenwriters: Mirjana Karanovic, Stevan Filipovic, Darko Lungulov) — When 50-­year-­old Milena finds out about the terrible past of her seemingly ideal husband, while simultaneously learning of her own cancer diagnosis, she begins an awakening from the suburban paradise she has been living in. C​ast: Mirjana Karanovic, Boris Isakovic, Jasna Djuricic, Bojan Navojec, Hristina Popovic, Ksenija Marinkovic.

HALAL LOVE (AND SEX)  (Lebanon-Germany-United Arab Emirates / Director and screenwriter: Assad Fouladkar) — Four tragic yet comic interconnected stories come together in this film, which follows devout Muslim men and women as they try to manage their love lives and desires without breaking any of their religion’s rules. Cast: Darine Hamze, Rodrigue Sleiman, Zeinab Khadra, Hussein Mokadem, Mirna Moukarzel, Ali Sammoury. (International premiere)

THE LURE (main photo)  (Poland / Director: Agnieszka Smoczynska, Screenwriter: Robert Bolesto) — Two mermaid sisters, who end up performing at a nightclub, face cruel and bloody choices when one of them falls in love with a beautiful young man. C​ast: Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska, Jakub Gierszal, Kinga Preis, Andrzej Konopka, Zygmunt Malanowicz. (International premiere)

MaleJoyFemaleLove_still1_DaizhenYing_Nanyu__byYounianLiuMALE JOY, FEMALE LOVE  right  (China / Director and screenwriter: Yao Huang) — Portrays an unlimited cycle of love stories. C​ast: Nand Yu, Daizhen Ying, Xiaodong Guo, Yi Sun.

MAMMAL  (Ireland-Luxembourg-Netherlands / Director: Rebecca Daly, Screenwriters: Rebecca Daly, Glenn Montgomery) — After Margaret, a divorcee living in Dublin, loses her teenage son, she develops an unorthodox relationship with Joe, a homeless youth. Their tentative trust is threatened by his involvement with a violent gang and the escalation of her ex­husband’s grieving rage. C​ast: Rachel Griffiths, Barry Keoghan, Michael McElhatton.

Mi Amiga copyMI AMIGA DEL PARQUE  (Argentina-Uruguay / Director: Ana Katz, Screenwriters: Ana Katz, Ines Bortagaray) — Running away from a bar without paying the bill is just the first adventure for Liz (mother to newborn Nicanor) and Rosa (supposed mother to newborn Clarisa). This budding friendship between nursing mothers starts with the promise of liberation but soon ends up being a dangerous business. C​ast: Julieta Zylberberg, Ana Katz, Maricel Alvarez, Mirella Pascual, Malena Figo, Daniel Hendler. (International premiere)

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Chile / Director: Alejandro Fernandez, Screenwriters: Alejandro Fernandez, Jeronimo Rodriguez) — An upper-­class kid gets in trouble with the one percent.​ Cast: Agustin Silva, Alejandro Goic, Luis Gnecco, Paulina Garcia, Daniel Alcaino, Augusto Schuster.

SAND STORM  (Israel / Director and screenwriter: Elite Zexer) — When their entire lives are shattered, two Bedouin women struggle to change the unchangeable rules, each in her own individual way. C​ast: Lamis Ammar, Ruba Blal­Asfour, Hitham Omari, Khadija Alakel, Jalal Masrwa.

WILD  (Germany / Director and screenwriter: Nicolette Krebitz) — An anarchist young woman breaks the tacit contract with civilization and fearlessly decides on a life without hypocrisy or an obligatory safety net. C​ast: Lilith Stangenberg, Georg Friedrich.

WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

All these sleeplessThe 11 films in this section are world premieres unless otherwise specified. A 12th film will be announced in the weeks ahead.

ALL THESE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS (LEFT) (Poland / Director: Michal Marczak) — What does it mean to be truly awake in a world that seems satisfied to be asleep? Christopher and Michal push their experiences in life and love to the breaking point as they restlessly roam the streets of Warsaw in search for answers.​

A FLAG WITHOUT A COUNTRY  (Iraq / Director: Bahman Ghobadi) — This documentary follows the very separate paths of singer Helly Luv and pilot Nariman Anwar from Kurdistan, both in pursuit of progress, freedom, and solidarity. Both individuals are a source of strength to their society, which perpetually deals with the harsh conditions of life, war, and ISIS attacks. (N​orth American premiere)

Hooligan sparrow copyHOOLIGAN SPARROW – right (China-U.S. / Director: Nanfu Wang) — Traversing southern China, a group of activists led by Ye Haiyan, aka Hooligan Sparrow, protest a scandalous incident in which a school principal and a government official allegedly raped six students. Sparrow becomes an enemy of the state, but detentions, interrogations and evictions can’t stop her protest from going viral.

THE LAND OF THE ENLIGHTENED (Belgium / Director: Pieter-­Jan De Pue) — A group of Kuchi children in Afghanistan dig out old Soviet mines and sell the explosives to child workers in a lapis lazuli mine. When not dreaming of an Afghanistan after the American withdrawal, Gholam Nasir and his gang control the mountains where caravans are smuggling the blue gemstones.

THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT (U.K. / Directors: Robert Cannan, Ross Adam) — Following the collapse of their glamorous romance, a celebrity director and his actress ex-­wife are kidnapped by movie­-obsessed dictator Kim Jong-­il. Forced to make films in extraordinary circumstances, they get a second chance at love — but only one chance at escape.

PLAZA DE LA SOLEDAD (Mexico / Director: Maya Goded) — For more than 20 years, photographer Maya Goded has intimately documented the lives of a close community of prostitutes in Mexico City. With dignity and humor, these women now strive for a better life — and the possibility of true love.

THE SETTLERS (France-Canada-Israel-Germany / Director: Shimon Dotan) — The first film of its kind to offer a comprehensive view of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, “The Settlers” is a historical overview, geopolitical study, and intimate look at the people at the core of the most daunting challenge facing Israel and the international community today.

sky ladder - CaiGuoQiangTheManWhoFellToEarthWorkingTitle_still1_df__byHiroIharaS​KY LADDER: The Art of Cai Guo-­Qiang​” (Director: Kevin Macdonald) — Having reached the pinnacle of the global art world with his signature explosion events and gunpowder drawings, world-­famous Chinese contemporary artist Cai Guo­-Qiang is still seeking more. We trace his rise from childhood in Mao’s China and his journey to attempt to realize his lifelong obsession, Sky Ladder. (Day One film)

SONITA (Germany-Iran-Switzerland / Director: Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami) — If 18­year­old Sonita had a say, Michael Jackson and Rihanna would be her parents and she’d be a rapper who tells the story of Afghan women and their fate as child brides. She finds out that her family plans to sell her to an unknown husband for $9,000. (North American premiere)

WE ARE X ​/ (U.K.-U.S.-Japan / Director: Stephen Kijak) — As glam rock’s most flamboyant survivors, X Japan ignited a musical revolution in Japan during the late ’80s with their melodic metal. Twenty years after their tragic dissolution, X Japan’s leader, Yoshiki, battles with physical and spiritual demons alongside prejudices of the West to bring their music to the world.

When Two WorldsWHEN TWO WORLDS COLLIDE right (Peru / Directors: Heidi Brandenburg, Mathew Orzel) — An indigenous leader resists the environmental ruin of Amazonian lands by big business. As he is forced into exile and faces 20 years in prison, his quest reveals conflicting visions that shape the fate of the Amazon and the climate future of our world. W​orld Premiere

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL | UTAH 21 – 31 JANUARY 2015 |

Turkey of 2015 | Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

Director: Sam Taylor Wood   Writers: Kelly Marcel, E L James (novel)

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Marcia Gay Harden

125min   Drama

The long-awaited screen adaptation of the E L James popular novel has thrown the cat amongst the pigeons in what is clearly one of the biggest hypes of recent cinema history – if you choose to read the Daily Mail. FIFTY SHADES OF GREY emerges as fluffy and flirty as a freshly-groomed poodle. And as Ms Taylor Wood races to the bank, her classic romcom, a softcore porno outing suitable for teenagers (who are all on pornhub anyway), has captured the imagination of vast swathes of the mainstream cinema-going public.

This saccharine ‘erotic’ fare was scripted by Kelly Marcel, whose previous credits include Mary Poppins drama SAVING MR BANKS. But the tasteful and rather sanitised SHADES is possibly the most innocuous and respectable LGBT outing in cinema history. There were certainly more salacious and revealing adventures happening in Greenaway’s EISENSTEIN IN GUANTAJAUTO premiere which screened earlier in the day during Berlinale 2015.

But don’t be disheartened. There is plenty to enjoy about Taylor Wood’s film. The bland and baby-faced Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) looks like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth and has come up smelling of expensive aftershave since being born to a crack addict who disappeared shortly afterwards. Adopted by the respectable Dr Grey (a delightful Marcia Gay Harden), he then morphs into a billionnaire (aged 27) with swanky offices in downtown Seattle: a successful career he puts down to his ‘people skills’. But this is more likely due to his being a dispassionate psychopath.

Christian Grey has plenty of time on his hands to interview college literature grad, Anastasia Steele (Melanie Griffith’s daughter, Dakota Johnson) about his business acumen. Taking a shine to Ms Steele, he then showers her with gifts and ‘love bombs’ her into his squeaky clean life of emotional denial and repression, assuring her that he will “fuck her hard”. It transpires that the sweet and sassy Anastasia is a virgin. Any young student with little experience of the male species would naturally fall head over heels for a gent who is solvent, be-suited and sweeps her off in a helicopter promising a good time between the sheets, even if he is a little ‘bossy’. But sexy he ain’t – rest assured – and the chemistry between these nubile lovers is sadly as flat as yesterday’s champagne.

After giving her a reasonable initiation ceremony into his sexual style: a bit of bondage, sexual role play and control freakery – but sleeping together; nights out for dinner and intelligent conversation are only up for negotiation by written contract. He doesn’t do romance but he does do expensive gifts, and the usual reverse psychology ensues – as it does in most early relationships – where the couple jockeys for position and the woman flirts and plays hard to get. And just as Mr Grey is falling hard for Ms Steele, her four-times married mother (a glowing and simpering Jennifer Ehle) has the best advice for her daughter: “I wish I could tell you that things get better – they don’t, you just get to know yourself”. Meredith J Taylor

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 FEBRUARY 2015 – REVIEWED AT BERLINALE 2015

 

Meet the Patels (2014)

Director: Geeta and Ravi Patel

88min  Documentary  US

Ravi Patel is an American via Gujurati and at nearly 30 he still hasnt met ‘the (Indian) one’. So with the help of his sister Geeta’s camera skills and his matchmaking parents, MEET THE PATELS documents his search for a bride.

Combining rough comic sketches, cartoons and interviews with family and friends, MEET THE PATELS is upbeat, fly-on-the-wall and fun. The first step involves compiling a ‘biodata” – a form of biography that includes family info and a personal CV. To be a Patel is to be a part of the biggest family in the world, so Ravi is sure there should be plenty of choice. And men are still the hunters, so how difficult can it be for an intelligent well-qualified decent looking actor to find a decent bride? Far from being fraught with setbacks this stab at home-movie-making is hilarious and poignant.

Ravi’s family may be traditional and old-fashioned but they are loving and reasonable, but he hasn’t told them about his his girlfriend of two years, Audrey, a flame-haired all American girl. And although the relationship recently ended, it’s clear that Ravi is not over her. What impresses here is Ravi’s close and remarkably mature relationship with his parents which is a refreshing change from the usual dysfunctional family stories that so often feature in drama. Also impressive is Ravi’s openness to experiment but not afraid to trust his heart. The idea of an Indian bride excites him and he begins the gruelling process that includes the usual internet dating  and a traditional matchmaking incentive by his mother, Champa. Ravi sets off on the family’s reguarl family vocation with intention, this time, of finding a wife.

The style here is for the most part fresh and insightful; the handheld camera helping to keep things authentic and quirkily engaging. Ravi is an amusing guy who comes across as decent, approachable and well-intentioned – certainly any girl would be happy with him as a husband. The Patel girls are cute and comely and certainly no fools. But is Ravi really ready to move on?. An engaging and enjoyable documentary that explores themes of internet dating, matchmaking and ethnic heritage and ultimately reaches a surprising conclusion. MT

SCREENING FROM 26 DECEMBER 2015 AT BERTHA DOCHOUSE AND SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) | blu-ray release

Director: Roger Corman       Screenplay: Richard Matheson

Cast: Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, Antony Corbone, John Kerr, Patrick Westwood

80min   Horror   US

“The agony of my soul found vent in one loud long and final scream” Poe

There’s an ethereal and otherworldly quality to Roger Corman’s impressively mounted opening sequence to his second gothic outing. Loosely based on Poe’s THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, it has a young English man John Kerr (South Pacific) arriving at an eerie sixteenth century hilltop castle soaring above the choppy seas of the Palos Verdes coast, (California) to visit the grave of his sister. This Spanish themed outing is set in the aftermath to the dreaded Spanish Inquisition – a time of torture and religious persecution – hence the title. Once again Vincent Price plays a suavely elegant aesthete (Don Nicholas Sebastian Medina) deeply disturbed by a woman’s influence: his beautiful (dead) wife, Elizabeth (Barbara Steele), a woman he passionately adored beyond extremes (“Life was simple, quiet; richly pleasurable”) and became obsessed with after her mysterious death. It later emerges that she was buried alive due to the error of Dr Charles Leon (a rather spivvy Antony Carbone).

Elegantly scripted by pulp writer Richard Matheson (Duel), it benefits from Floyd Crosby’s widescreen colour visuals – that frequently cut back to turbulent seascapes – and the opulently authentic set designs of Daniel Haller, which belie its modest budget. The film was shot in 15 days. Matheson constructs his own narrative for the first two acts, the third more accurately reflecting the Poe story that culminates in a horrendous denouement involving the titular instrument of torture.

This is a richly atmospheric chiller scored by Les Baxter’s cleverly composed score that hovers between high romance and spine-tingling strings. As the cursed Don Medina, Price  gradually morphs into menacing madness as Italian giallo actress Barbara Steele makes her Hollywood debut as his darkly spooky revenant wife (to benefit European distribution). The Blu-ray edition ramps up the images giving the pendulum scene an almost 3D makeover with the set design reeking of German expressionism. MT

* Superb extras include Vincent Price reading a selection of Poe stories to a live audience.

* Commentary and insight by Roger Corman on making the film

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILM AND VIDEO

 

Aferim! (2015) | Berlinale 2015| SILVER BEAR | DVD BLU

Director: Radu Jude
Writer: Radu Jude, Florin Lazarescu
Cast: Teodor Corban, Mihai Comanoiu, Cuzin Toma

Romania / Bulgaria / Czech Republic Historical Drama 108 min

MIDNIGHT RUN meets THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADAS ESTRADA in Radu Jude’s third feature AFERIM!—an unlikely pairing by which to describe a road movie set in 1830s Romania. From its opening credits sequence (lively music and foregrounded cacti) to its crisply shot rural vistas, though, there’s more than a touch of the western about this talky and occasionally very funny film, which bowed in competition this week at the Berlin Film Festival.

While a Ford or a Hawks may have felt compelled to have their protagonist transcend the moral restrictions of his time, Jude doesn’t afford his central figure such a luxury. Gendarme Costadin (Teodor Corban) is employed by a local boyor (high ranking aristocrat) to hunt down Carfin (Cuzin Toma), a gypsy who has run away following accusations of an affair with his owner’s wife. Accompanied by his son and protégé Ionita (Mihai Comanoiu), Costadin travels on horseback across the racial hotbed of feudalist Wallachia in search of his bounty, encountering various people of impoverished or inferior stations—gypsies and women chief among them.

Women and gypsies get the brunt of it in Jude and fellow writer Florin Lazarescu’s script (which, as a long list of historical texts indicates at the very end of the film, in addition to the beautiful production design and costume design by Augustina Stanciu and Dana Paparuz respectively, is the work of impressive research). Costadin refers to one woman he comes upon early in the film as a hag. Others are referred to as crows and filthy whores. Not that our protagonist is especially tyrannical. Though he claims to be “as harsh as a hot pepper, born of Father Garlic and Mother Onion”, Costadin goes about his daily routine with palpable ambivalence, making ends meet with an unquestioning deference for the prevailing status quo while admitting, in those moments of downtime he enjoys with Ionita, that “this is a dog’s life: we sweat like beasts for a piece of bread.” Later, a chemistry almost forms between the policeman and his quarry, as Costadin agrees to put a word in for Carfin upon returning him to his master—though he doesn’t quite extend such sympathy enough to free him, upon Ionita’s suggestion.

The casual, accepted misogyny that pervades the film is exemplified best by the puppet show that Costadin observes among many other onlookers, in which a male marionette beats his wife to death. Young viewers begin to inspect the motionless puppet, convinced that it’s real. Up to this point, the film has been free of explicit violence, though the darker impulses revealed in dialogue (“gypsies: are they people, or Satan’s spawn?”) prepare us for an outcome that denies a happy resolution. True to recent traditions in Romanian cinema, AFERIM! is an effectively frustrating look at how the unequal power relations of any historical period absurdly go unchallenged by those who benefit from them most.

“This world will stay on as it is,” Costadin tells his son. “You can’t change it, try as you might.” But we know different. Though inequalities still exist, the situation in Eastern Europe has changed dramatically. While it’s refreshing to see a Romanian director turning to a more remote point in his nation’s history (as opposed to, say, its search for a post-communist identity), the film speaks to the present juncture—not least of all in its authentic depiction of how gypsies were treated in the 1830s. Just as the movement for freeing gypsies (then regarded as slaves) began to gather momentum in the mid-19th century—resulting finally in the 1856 bill declaring their emancipation—we find much solace in the systematic changes that have unfolded since, and in those that are still to come. MICHAEL PATTISON

ROMANIA’S OSCAR 2016 ENTRY | REVIEWED AT BERLINALE 5-15 FEBRUARY 2015 | FOLLOW OUR COVERAGE UNDER BERLINALE 2015 | DVD BLU RELEASE

Ice and the Sky (2015)

Writer|Director: Luc Jacquet

89min | Eco-documentary | France

A great companion film to Jeff Orlowski’s CHASING ICE (2012)

Global warming:myth or reality? Whatever your viewpoint, you cannot failed to be moved and stupified by the startling revelations of Claude Lorius, the Jacques Cousteau of climate change, who is the eco-warrior of this documentary, brought to us by March of the Penguins director Luc  Jacquet. Penguins feature briefly here but only in archive footage as Claude Lorius, now in his 80s, embarks on his lifelong mission to analyse and document the link between climate change and greehouse gases.

First travelling to the Antarctic in 1953, he has spent the past half century drilling into the ice to research his findings in order to prove slowly, surely, but beyond doubt, the subtle changes that are so critical to the future of our Planet.

Jacquet’s documentary flies in the face of climate change deniers and yet there’s nothing inflammatory or vehement about his claims or the calm method with which he presents them. The tone is sombre, rational yet quietly affecting. Enduring extremes of hardship and deprivation with his colleagues –  he jokes how they ‘banned’ bads moods – and footage sees them entertaining each other during the long periods closeted in their communal heated room, salivating over descriptions of haute cuisine from the Michelin Restaurant Guide 1952 and even using “ancient ice” in a whisky toast later leading to the discovery that trapped air in the ice crucially reveals its gas content.

What emerges from his findings is based on the realisation that the ratio of “light” hydrogen atoms to “heavy” in each snowflake is closely linked to the ambient temperature of the day of the snowfall – hence the dawn of the isotopic thermometer. Through his meticulous and painstaking discoveries, Loriet builds a body of evidence that’s overwhelming in its plausibility. And Loriet seems to genuinely revel in his work, embracing the challenges and enjoying the friendships forged during his lengthy trips to the Polar regions which take his away from his wife and children for a total of 10 years.

Stephane Martin’s sparkling images makes this a feast for the eyes, but it’s not just another pretty eco-documentary: Jacquet collates his film in a powerfully cogent way that knocks the cosy smugness of denial imdustry into a cocked hat, challenges us in its final moments with an uncomfortable wake-up call: “Now that you know, what are you going to do?” ICE AND THE SKY is potent and unsettling. MT

ICE AND THE SKY IS OUT ON 5 DECEMBER 2015

Armi Alive | Armi elää! (2015)

Director: Jörn Donner | Cast: Minna Haapkylä, Laura Birn, Hannu Pekka, Robert Enkei | 84min | Biopic | Finland

Jörn Donner (1933-2020) is so far the only Finn to win an Oscar, for producing Fanny and Alexander, Ingmar Bergman’s film about two siblings in 1900s Sweden. Donner went on to make his swan song The Memory of Ingmar Bergman shortly before he died in 2020.

Armi Alive is a biopic drama about Armi Ratia, the elegant Finnish textile entrepreneur behind the iconic Marimekko brand. Donner’s focus here is on the most productive years of Armi’s career, her late thirties and forties, where she sets up and grows the fashion business that would become an international design brand during the 1950s and ’60s. Marimekko is still going strong today with its iconic designs that spoke to a postwar generation of women in Scandinavia.

@Nordic Art

Ratia is played by Minna Haapkylä as a stylish and driven and risk-taking creative force who is emotionally wrapped up in her and family but still has ample time for romance, and this side of her personality takes centre stage when she falls in love with an Englishman.

In his ‘play within a film’ Donner creates a very sophisticated visual aesthetic to match his stylish subject matter, giving the Marimekko depicted in his narrative a strong feeling of continuity that carries it forward to the present  day where is still feels as fresh and contemporary today as it did in those early ground-breaking years of Scandinavian design. At the same time, there’s a sense that Haapkylä is discovering the enigmatic character of the cutting edge designer “Maria” (the name of Armi’s character in the film) while  actually playing her in a highly individual performance. When asked what was special about Armi’s life, she declares ‘not much’. Yet she’s had an extraordinary time: losing three brothers during the war, and then twin children, and struggling against her husband’s traditional family and the banks for financing.

Back the 1950s when Armi’s created Marimekko she hoped it would epitomise a modern woman who was ‘free, natural and international’. “Uniforms for the intellectual” is how she describes her designs. Donner give her free reign showing her very much as an individual and maverick who somehow captured the imagination of a jaded population looking for new design ideas and inspiration and showing that Marimekko could be all things to all people, just as Armi Ratia intended. MT

 

 

165 Hasselby (2005) | 4th Nordic Film Festival | 3 – 8 December 2015

Dir.: Mia Engberg; Documentary; Sweden 2005, 78 min.

Mia Engberg (Belville Baby) grew up on the Hasselby Estate near Stockholm in the seventies and eighties. In this upbeat documentary she re-visits the high rise blocks of her youth, built to house people away from the densely populated city Hasselby grew out of a progressive housing policy at the time, but like most estates all over the world, it failed to encouraged the social inclusion of the inhabitants.

To start with, Hasselby is not a hopeless project like the soulless estates around Paris, or some of the slums of Glasgow: it is run down, but there is still a living spirit, a sort of constructive resistance against an establishment which has dumbed low income away from the capital. Shot between autumn 2004 and 2005, Engberg concentrates on four young people, who use their creativity positively, as so manage to rise rise above their environment, at least for some of the time.There is Ayesha, a young woman, born in Tanzania, who has lived all over the world, including India. At a benefit gig for Palestine, Ayesha shows an Israeli flag, which is grabbed by a blond girl, who later criticises her for showing “a symbol of imperialism and racism”. But she isno match for the feisty Ayesha, who tells her flat out “that not all Israeli’s are bombers, neither are all Palestinians”. We learn later, that her music video had been shown on MTV. An Italian boy Frazze (12) is the youngest of the four. Suffering from depression and ADHD, he has been expelled from school and put his family through a traumatic time but after taking up spray painting with the elder boys, and was looking forward to his new school.

Chliean Julio, is a musician who finally found love after a dispiriting battle with the authorities after a failed attempt to withdraw cash from an ATM, left him thousands of of Euros in dept In the end, he never got his money back, back found a girl friend in his native Chile, who came back to Sweden with him. With his brother he raps in front of the Nordea bank ATM which “cheated” him.

“Dino” his real name is withheld and his face is partly blacked out, because he is an illegal “painter”, has been arrested many times and fined more than 70000 SK for spraying tube trains and buildings. He talks about his hobby as an addiction – a dangerous one, because one of his friends had been shot whilst “working”. He and Ayesha get together for the summer celebration of Hasselby, but their paintings are seen as too radical and anti-American. They have to paint a new background for the stage, but the concert is a great success.

In spite of structural looseness, 165 Hasselby is a very lively portrait. Shot in guerrilla filmmaker style, Engberg’s portrait is non-judgemental and she treats her protagonists with respect – and in Ayesha’s case, admiration. AS

THE NORDIC FILM FESTIVAL | 3 -8 DECEMBER IN LONDON AND NATIONWIDE UNTIL JANUARY 2016

Chemsex (2015) |

Directors: William Fairman, Max Gogarty

85min  Doc  UK

Fairman and Gogarty investigate the increasing use of drugs in gay recreational sex in a worthwhile documentary that raises serious issues, not least for the gay community.

Recreational drug use has always been widespread in gay community including occasional weekend forays for those with non-scene profiles: ie who partner-up and remain faithful, possibly even fathering families. But here the directors dig deeper to reveal a more disturbing trend in the type of men who are falling prey to regular abuse that can lead to mental instability and fatal addiction, not to mention a rather cavalier attitude towards deliberate HIV infection.

A selection of brave young gay men tell their Chemsex stories to the camera: Enrique, Miguel, Andrew are revealed, others remain behind a curtain; the film gradually explores their lives in greater detail and some fascinating facts emerge about their mental stability. There is talk of dysfunctional backgrounds and the shame associated with coming-out that has made them ultra-sensitve and introspective about their sexuality. Drug use then becomes a crutch to lean on, giving them  confidence and emotional freedom from the shackles of fear, doubt, loneliness and isolation, particularly in large cities like London. Those coming from abroad are also vulnerable. Spanish national Enrique in a case in point, after arriving with an MA in Economics and a job in banking, he down-spiralling into prostitution after falling prey to the ‘confidence-boosting’ effects of recreational drug abuse (known as ‘slamming’). Chemsex involves substances that enhance the libido such as ‘Tina” (crystal meth) and G (GBL is stronger than GHB although they are both given the same initial). All these drugs enhance ‘feelgood’ dopamine release in the human brain at low levels, but have sedative affects with higher doses and can gradually lead to emotional collapse.

The men are caught in a vicious circle, extolling the virtues of drugged sex and claiming they would never go back to having ‘ordinary’ sex. The one who seek help, want to break the cycle. Often filmed in group orgies, or in couples, many of the men are actually on the internet sites such as ‘grindr’, looking for their next partner while still in the throes of a sexual encounter and this may be their 20th one that weekend.

One pioneer who is helping to counsel men with substance abuse is David Stuart, who works out of 56 Dean Street (Enrique started working there at the time of the film). This is a service provided by the NHS, aiming to rehabilitate addicts who feel isolated, despite their internet hook-ups, which are cited as having made socialisation worse. Before, they may have spend time with friends for dinner and cinema: now they are merely having meaningless sex and going home feeling empty. This, in some ways, mirrors the heterosexual dating trend ‘netflix and chill’ that involves endless hook-ups for one night stands, a experiences that alienates and depresses those interested in forming ongoing, steady relationships.

What emerges in CHEMSEX victims is a general picture of emotional insecurity that degenerates into mental illness, facilitated by drug abuse. But Fairman and Gogarty have only examined those who have worked with David Stuart. Presumably there are gays out there who are suffering and every dying. Everyone can fall victim to abuse: but in the gay community this manifests particularly in drug addiction that leads to abuse at the hands of others during ‘bareback’ sex parties’.  These men often deliberately become HIV-positive – and in Andrew’s case – to bring relief from the worry of eventually being infected.

But what is slightly questionable here are attempts by the filmmakers to glamorise these episodes with hazy camera shots of hedonistic ‘shagfests’ and there is made mention in the credits of ‘art direction’ which seems to fly in the face of the serious nature of some of the material.

CHEMSEX does have a positive finale with onscreen texts relating how the various men are progressing, having benefitted from the free NHS counselling service. If the NHS can offer free counselling to recreational drug abusers, the Government are making a positive contribution to gay mental health. But the saddest and most salient fact to come away with is that five gay men are diagnosed with HIV every day in London. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 4TH DECEMBER 2015

 

 

The Dressmaker (2015)

Dir.: Jocelyn Moorhouse

Cast: Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving, Sahne Bourne, Alison White, Rory Potter; Australia/USA 2015, 118 min.

THE DRESSMAKER, Jocelyn Moorhouse’s first feature film as a director for 18 years, is based on the novel by Rosalie Ham. Very much an Australian variation on Friedrich Durrenmatt’s revenge play “Der Besuch der alten Dame”, which has been adapted for the screen – on three continents – more than eight times since 1964, Moorhouse has put literally everything into this: murder, mayhem and cross dressing, all served up in farcical slapstick way.

Set in the early fifties in the small Australian town of Dungatar, the woman seeking revenge is Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage (Winslet), who was thrown out of the town at the age of ten, after allegedly killing classmate Stewart Pettyman. Having made a career in haute couture in Paris, she returns to Dungatar to get her own back on the backward and hypocritical lot. Her mother Molly (Davis) is no great help, not only is she an alcoholic, bakes wonderful weed cakes for pain relieve – but most importantly, she does not believe in Tilly’s innocence. On the opposite end, hunky Teddy (Hemsworth), believes very much that Tilly has not killed young Stewart (Potter) – but the budding romance is cut short, when Teddy jumps into a grain silo and suffocates. Tilly’s best friend is now Sergeant Farrat (Weaving), a cross dressing police sergeant, who delivers the proof of Tilly’s innocence. When uptight councillor Evan Pettyman (Bourne) is identified as Tilly’s father, his long-suffering wife Marigold (White) kills him. But Tilly is not finished with the lot: her dresses may make the female hyenas of the town presentable, but for an amateur stage competition the dressmaker crosses the ladies of Dungatar: her designs for their rival’s outfits are much superior. Finally, she gives a new meaning to the term ‘tabula rasa’ – ingeniously managing finally to do herself proud.

There are many – perhaps too many – narrative strains in THE DRESSMAKER. Moorhouse unravels the whole history of the town in two hours with many flashbacks and amazing ideas. They are often hilarious as, for example when Tilly, Teddy and Molly watch Wilders’ Sunset Boulevard in the cinema, Molly shouting “Run, run” when William Holden is kissing Gloria Swanson. But sometimes, the execution is over the top, like in the case of Sergeant Farrat’s cross-dressing. There are so many surprises and twists  and one has the feeling towards the end, that less might have been more. But the overall impact is sometimes stunning, particularly Donald McAlpine’s camera work: his sepia-coloured passages in the flash-backs are not romantic, but rather mud and tears. Winslet and Davis are playing perfectly off each other, and Weaving’s gender bent copper is a marvel to watch. Purists may recoil sometimes, but THE DRESSMAKER is a tour-de-force, an exhausting emotional rollercoaster. AS

OUT ON 20 NOVEMBER 2015

Summer of Sangaile (2015) | Seville European Film Festival 2015

Director/Writer: Alantė Kavaïtė

Cast: Julija Steponaityte, Asitė Diržiūtė

Drama | Lithuania/France/Holland | 88 min

The rapturous swoon of adolescent love is the primary focus of THE SUMMER OF SANGAILĖ, the fleeting portrait of a same-sex romantic fling between two teenage girls in rural Lithuania. Having premiered in Sundance, where it won Alantė Kavaïtė a Best Direction award in the World Cinema category, this easygoing, sensitively handled drama has already enjoyed deserved longevity on the festival circuit and screened in the ‘New Waves’ section of the 12th Seville European Film Festival.

As Lithuania’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, THE SUMMER OF SANGAILĖ is refreshingly swift and cheery in comparison to the country’s more celebrated but openly pessimistic fare. And though it might lack the steadfast political preponderance of, say, a Sarūnas Bartaš picture, it’s a commendably audience-oriented feature that taps into an increasingly mainstream market longing for portrayals of gender and sexuality that veer beyond the routine and well-trodden—a market that already included Palme d’Or winner BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR and which is now fronted by Todd Haynes’s plushly designed Oscar contender CAROL.

The eponymous protagonist of THE SUMMER OF SANGAILĖ is a lanky, slightly withdrawn 17-year-old (played with adroit minimalism by Julija Steponaitytė) who’s staying with her parents at their chic-shack holiday villa. She first encounters infectiously convivial Auste (Asitė Diržiūtė) when the latter sells her a raffle ticket at a local airshow. Though she begins to hang out with her new pal, Sangailė’s initial interest is in one of Auste’s boy friends, though the time the two girls share alone gradually blossoms into a sexual draw. Approximating the exponential way in which love can engulf us, the film intensifies its scope: for long sequences here, every other character seems to fade away, as Sangailė and Auste indulge in gambolling fashion shows, sunkissed photography sessions and, inevitably, atmospherically lit lovemaking.

Kavaïtė, working on only her second feature—her first, ECOUTE LE TEMPS, was made more than seven years ago—is perhaps well positioned to frame Sangailė as an outsider, having herself lived in France for the last 17 years. Indeed, the writer-director does well to encapsulate the unpredictable ways in which chemistries form and attractions develop. Here, the characters’ needs shift according to a complex arrangement of circumstantial factors: intimacy, trust, confidence, feelings of alienation, and so on. Bored by parental pressure to decide upon a lifelong profession (she embarrasses her mam and dad by saying, when asked, that she wants to grow up to be a whore in front of their friends), Sangailė really wants to be a pilot, watching on with equal fascination and fear as propeller planes perform daredevil flips in the film’s opening credits sequence.

It’s a fitting metaphor. Not only does it establish at the outset that Sangailė has a passion specific enough to mark her as an atypical teen (and thus, an archetypal outsider in several ways), it also helps to characterise the topsy-turvy nature of teenage love. In this, the film is helped immeasurably by a swelling strings score by Jean-Benoît Dunckel, an otherwise rousingly overdone soundtrack that here perfectly compliments Sangailė’s scorching spirals of self-discovery. MICHAEL PATTISON

THE 12TH SEVILLE EUROPEAN FILM FESTIVAL RUNS UNTIL 6 -14 NOVEMBER 2015 

The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008) | LKFF 2015

Directed by Kim Jee-Woon

Cast: Kang-ho Song, Byung-hun Lee, Woo-Sung Jung

South Korea | 139mins | Action Adventure Comedy

Kim Jee-Woon put all his experience into this rip-roaring ‘Oriental Western’ set in the 1940s Manchurian desert where lawlessness rules and many ethnic groups clash, three Korean men fatefully meet on a train.

Part tribute to Sergio Leone’s wide-angled masterpieces and part historical tribute to the Korean struggle for independence from Japan, it features brilliant set pieces, action scenes, comedy and great performances from Korea’s top acting talent-  it was also one of the most expensive movies in South Korean cinema history. The action unfurls in the vast plains of the East but should we call it an “Eastern”? It’s a style that has really caught on since 2008 and embodies the wacky humour and verve of the Korean spirit combined with Jee-Woon’s masterful technical expertise. The sheer dynamism of this film will blow you away – ridiculous fun!  Meredith Taylor ©

SCREENING DURING THE LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2 -15 NOVEMBER  2015

The Fear of 13 (2015)

Dir. David Sington. UK, 2015, 96 mins.

Hopefully, it’s not often that you’ll find yourself listening to an endless stream of drivel, delivered by an arch criminal, albeit a well-dressed and articulate one. But this is what you get with arthouse indie THE FEAR OF 13.

Director David Sington (Thin Ice) has been making award-winning films all over the world that have ‘freed the innocent and convicted the guilty’. His latest docudrama takes place in the stultifying confines of a small room in the company of ‘Nick’. with filmed excerpts intended to add interest and enlighten us further on his subject’s nefarious past – a ‘convicted murderer’ who has spent the 23 years on Death Row before the advent of DNA testing . For the most part Sington’s film feels like a confessional rather than an account of the salacious past of a murderer. Obviously there are grim details here but nothing worse than one might expect from BBC News At Ten. ‘Nick’ has the soft-spoken, calmness of a true psychopath. The tone is conciliatory and at times even poetic. Revelations spill out, often accompanied by tellingly violent gestures and a percussive tone, sometimes smiles leeringly as he unburdens his soul to reveal a tormented past of high hopes and dashed expectations over a murder he claims never to have committed.

‘Nick’s past is pitted with his unpredictable outbursts and psychotic interludes – stealing, looting, lying, deceiving for the hell of it – but in his calm and mesmerising delivery, these are played down as small fry in the scheme of his hurt feelings and disappointments with life’s setbacks. Self-justification is occasionally proffered: a poor relationship with his father or a perceived rejection by his family. He even claims to have been raped as a small boy, while walking his poodle in the woods. All this aims to justify why he went on to pursue the career of a criminal – that was never really his fault and he refuses to be defined by it – leading to the dream of eventually ‘finding himself a girl and having a family’. Clearly Nick was not interested in learning about morals  or ethical rehabilitation while on Death Row, but he did develop a passion for reading and discovered the word triskaidekaphobia – the fear of thirteen. Was he a murderer though? All is revealed in Sington’s clever third act twist.

Clearly once the sheer amazement at ‘Nick’s brazen attitude has worn away, you find yourself growing bored of this irritatingly narcissistic character who believes everyone owes him a living, and that his criminal ways are justified by his difficult past, all ‘independently’ verified, as we are informed. Cleverly, he goes to dupe the Courts and finally Sington. In a ‘coup de grace’ of the truly passive aggressive, ‘Nick’ petitions the courts to set a date for his execution. Almost like the stalker who claims to have been the victim of stalking, this is the final straw.

Sington’s direction and reasonable pacing allows events to unfold seamlessly, but the undercurrent here is one that encourages sentimentality for this Uriah Heap-style convict who is “ever so umble me lud”. As water tumbles over his chair, representing the ‘ocean of tears’ that this poor, misunderstood man has been through? Sington finally delivers his clever denouement. MT

THE FEAR OF 13 IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 NOVEMBER 2015

 

 

 

 

 

Shane (1953) | Blu-ray release

Dir.: George Stevens

Cast: Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Jack Palance, Brandon de Wilde, Emile Meyer, Elisha Cook jr

USA 1953, 118 min.

SHANE is the middle part of George Stevens ‘American Trilogy’, preceded by A Place In the Sun (1951) and followed by Giant (1956). He filmed Jack Schaefer’s novel as an archetypical conflict between cattlemen and homesteaders in the modern West; a theme that was to be taken up again in Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider and Michael Ciminos’ Heaven’s Gate.

Sometime after the enactment of the Homestead Act in 1862, Shane (Ladd), a professional killer, meets a pioneer homestead family, the Starretts, in Wyoming. Over dinner, they discuss the plight of the families fighting the brutal cattle baron Rufus Ryker (Meyer). Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) offers Shane a job and the latter accepts. Starrett’s wife Marian (Jean Arthur in her last role, her only colour film), develops a rather ambivalent relationship with Shane: on the one hand, she does want Shane to teach her son Joey (de Wilde) how to shoot, on the other hand she looks at Shane in a way which speaks of an emotional conflict. Jack Wilson (Palance), a killer hired by Ryker, taunts “Stonewall” Torrey (Cook jr.) a proud Confederate soldier, and provokes him to a duel which Wilson easily wins against the un-experienced farmer. At Torrey’s funeral, many of the farmers want to sell their land to Ryker, but in the end, Starrett convinces a majority to fight and tragedy ensues for all concerned.

An underrated director, Stevens he was a stickler for detail and had started his career as a DoP. SHANE was shot between July and October 1951, but Stevens took his time over the editing and the film was eventually premiered in April 1953. The film’s budget of 3.1 M$ was so considerable (particularly for a Western), that Paramount tried to negotiate with Howard Hughes to take SHANE off their books, but Hughes pulled out. In the end SHANE made a very decent profit. Strangely enough, the two macho heroes of the film both had their problems: The scene in which Ladd teaches the young boy how to shoot, runs to 116 takes. And when Palance jumps on his horse, it turns out, that the actual shot was of him dismounting the horse, played in reverse. In another scene, Palance was supposed to gallop into the town on his horse, in the finished film, the horse walks slowly towards the camera. And in the grand finale in the bar, when Ladd shoots Palance twice, one can see him blinking. In the rather sentimental good-bye scene at the end, de Wilde crossed his eyes and stuck his tongue out. Ladd was so angry that he told the boy’s father: “Make that kid stop, or I’ll beat him over the head with a brick”.

But SHANE is still a very modern film, as the following dialogue proves: when Shane teaches the boy how to shoot, Marian interrupts: “Guns, are not going to be part of my son’s life”. Shane argues, that “a gun is a tool, not better or worse than an axe, shovel or any tool.’”And: “A gun is as good as the man using it.” But Marian insists that everyone would be better off if there weren’t any guns, including Shane’s. AS

OUT ON 30 NOVEMBER 2015 | LIMITED FIRST RUN EDITION FEATURING TWO BLU-RAY SET (2000 COPIES) | STANDARD EDITION ONE-DISC SET AVAILABLE ONCE STOCK OF THE LIMITED EDITION IS DEPLETED | COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

Tangerine Interview | Mya Taylor and Sean Baker

Stephen Mayne caught up with Mya Taylor and Sean Baker during the UK Premiere of TANGERINE at this BFI London Film Festival 

Capturing the moment is exciting but it comes at a price. That much is evident when I walk into the room at the Mayfair Hotel to meet Sean Baker and Mya Taylor, director/writer and co-star respectively of breakout US indie hit Tangerine. Mya, elegant despite the strain of endless media engagements is commenting on her schedule for the day: “23 interviews, 2 photos shoots and 3 Q&As right?” She turns to Sean, a slender figure dressed in black, for confirmation. He’s on his way out as he answers: “I don’t know but suddenly my bladder is about to burst. Can you start and I’ll be right back?”

With TANGERINE making its bow at the 59th London Film Festival in the evening, I’m the 15th journalist wheeled in front of them already and its only lunchtime. They bear me graciously, even if Mya only acquiesces to Sean’s brief absence on the proviso I don’t ask any dull questions along the lines of how she met him. Incidentally, he discovered her at an LGBT centre around the corner from the notorious Red Light district of the Santa Monica and Highland intersection presented in the film. Not that I asked of course!

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From the streets of LA, she now faces different challenges. Having to work through the same repetitive questions clearly takes a toll for a start. “Journalists ask the same shit over and over and over. Like I just answered this shit, it’s in magazines. Why don’t you just read about it and put it in your interview.” She can turn on the charm when she needs to though. “Actually, you English people are so much cleverer with your questions. You guys are smarter than Americans.”

The furore around TANGERINE is both a surprise and somehow expected given the growing prominence of transgender issues in the mainstream media this year. The film follows two transgender prostitutes, played by Mya and Kitana Kiki Rodriquez, as they wander the streets of LA on Christmas Eve dealing with a collection of quirky characters during the course of the day. Shot on iPhones with a hyper-real feel and an impressive soundtrack, it’s high tempo, energetic madness that proves utterly irresistible. Don’t just take my word for it. Magnolia Pictures who snapped up world distribution rights at Sundance in January are even planning an Oscar push for Mya and Kitana, which would make them the first transgender actresses to receive nominations if all goes to plan.

12095166_950655494980526_4586494691274041898_o copyAcademy award glamour is a far cry from the world presented in the film, as Mya knows only too well after moving to LA at 18. “I used to be in that world. I couldn’t do much with my life even though I was trying. And now I’m an actress and known everywhere and I’m in a totally different life.” She sounds amazed but it has been kind of amazing. She’s also clear her past is a way of life she’s happy to leave behind. “It’s something you want to be away from, I guess because it’s so miserable. There was a time when I was homeless and I had to sleep inside men’s sex clubs. There’s a risk of a man trying to touch you and have sex with you. You’re trying to sleep and there’s loud music playing and people having sex everywhere. It’s nasty.”

Sleeping inside sex clubs isn’t even the worst option. “There was one time that I slept behind a dumpster because I didn’t want to be bothered. I thought the police would probably come if I was on the sidewalk. But it was so uncomfortable that other times I’d stay up all night and walk around and sleep inside the youth centre the next day. I’d get like four or five hours of sleep a day.”

At the mention of youth centres, I wonder whether there are more options now available to help people stuck in Mya’s former situation. The answer is mixed. Mya feels LA offers the most help of anywhere she’s been, but youth centres don’t address all the problems. “Think about this; if I’m up all night and I go to the centre the next day to sleep, my whole day is gone right there. You can’t accomplish anything because you’re trying to sleep. It’s the same cycle every day for a lot of the transgender girls.” Even when they can find somewhere to catch up on sleep, discrimination is never far away. “When transgender girls do actually go interview for jobs they get turned down because they’re trans. I just went to get my ID changed to say my gender is female. It will be finalised next August [we’re in October 2015 now]. Let’s say I go to an interview and have to give them my documentation. If they see I’m trans I won’t get hired. That’s just how it has been. Whether you’re pretty or passable, if that information isn’t changed, or if they just know you’re trans, you won’t get hired. The best thing to try and do is live stealth so nobody knows.”

11947967_934510543261688_5493784347438586322_o copyThere is hope that change is coming at last. Sean seems upbeat over what he’s seen. The 44 year old filmmaker, a stalwart of the indie scene after four previous features and a gloriously odd puppet sitcom Greg the Bunny threw himself into Mya’s old world when developing TANGERINE and still keeps tabs on it. He seems excited that the LGBT centre where he first discovered her now has a department dedicated to transgender people. “I think they’re doing a whole employment thing. It seems with the recent awareness that existing foundations are putting targets in place to help trans people.”

This awareness is partly why TANGERINE has drawn such notice. Aside from being rather good, it’s currently riding a wave of interest in transgender issues. But will it last or are we witnessing a well-meaning flash in the pan? Mya is unequivocal. “It’s the start of something. This something isn’t going to fade.” Sean’s equally adamant. “It’s a movement not a fad. All I know is when I started hearing the general public talking about trans issues and the fact that in the US the most generic mainstream poppy radio stations are talking about it, you know it’s broken into the mainstream. It’s an issue that has reached this point in the zeitgeist where it’s on everybody’s minds. When we set down this road two and a half years ago it must have been brewing. I thought we were the only ones thinking about it but that’s obviously not true.”

Sean credits three major events in the US that have helped to turn the tide. “You have Obama using the word transgender in a presidential address, you have Laverne Cox [star of Orange is the New Black] on the cover of Time, and you have Caitlyn [Jenner], the biggest celebrity to go through a transition publicly.”

Tangerine_still1_SeanBaker__byRadium_2014-11-26_03-37-07PMWith all this in mind, I ask what they expected when they set out on the film in 2013. Surely the excitement generated by TANGERINE must have come as a surprise. For Sean he just saw it as a chance to make another film following the release of Starlet, his fourth feature, in 2012. “I couldn’t get funding for a bigger film and was desperate to make another movie right away. I remember Mark [Duplass, executive producer of TANGERINE and established director /actor in his own right] had offered me this micro-budget thing if I wanted. It was a real step back as usually you want to increase your budget and this was less than half my previous film. It was when we got the thumbs up from Mark and started doing our research that we took it seriously hoping it would be a recognised indie that would travel the world. Getting to Cannes, Venice or Berlin, that’s the whole goal for me anyway.”

For Mya, considering where she came from and where she now is, it’s been so much more. Barring a one-off appearance as a zombie in a small TV series in 2010 this is her acting debut. From the LA of TANGERINE she’s sitting in London just days after Magnolia’s Oscar push announcement. Tired as she is, she’s clearly having a ball. “It’s my first time in London and I love it. I want to move here and get a house. I think I’m going to buy Buckingham Palace.” A note of realism does creep in. “That place is priceless though; I don’t even think Donald Trump could afford it.” I doubt she would want to be responsible for kicking the Queen out anyway. After a constitutional detour we establish Her Majesty’s ceremonial role much to Mya’s amusement. “So the Queen just happens to be very rich and luxurious and gorgeous at an old age? I love her.”

As for what’s next, who knows. Mya is certainly very sanguine about it. “I don’t really put too much expectation on my future; I just go with the flow. That’s all I have to say.” Very much in keeping with the film really.

TANGERINE IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 NOVEMBER NATIONWIDE

 

Ixcanul Volcano (2015)| Alfred Bauer Prize Winner Berlin | LFF 2015

Director/Writer: Jayro Bustamante
Cast: María Mercedes Coroy, María Telon, Manuel Antun, Justo Lorenzo

Guatemala/France Drama 91min

Writer-director Jayro Bustamante makes an assured feature debut with IXCANUL VOLCANO, a film as disciplined as it is downbeat in its study of the working routines and local superstitions that make up life at a coffee plantation below a dormant volcano in the midwestern highlands of Guatemala. The film world-premieres in-competition at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival this week, and is not unlike another South American predecessor, THE MILK OF SORROW, which may provide two good omens: that film’s director, Peruvian Claudia Llosa, is on this year’s jury, while the film itself won the top prize upon bowing here in 2009.

17-year-old María (María Mercedes Coroy) is to be married off to Ignacio (Justo Lorenzo), the farm’s significantly older, city-dwelling foreman. Ignacio arrives with a smile that disarms any would-be suspicions on the part of María’s family – all of whom are unilingual, Kaqchikel-speaking indigenous Mayans, whose general lack of education leaves them open to misinformation and exploitation: though not especially zealous in his abuse of power, Ignacio nevertheless demonstrates hesitance in allowing María’s family to speak for themselves when communicating on their behalf to Spanish-speaking authorities – firstly to a health inspector and secondly, much later, to the police.

María and her parents, Juana (María Telón) and Manuel (Manuel Antún), are without electricity and running water, while a snake infestation is a permanent source of danger to the cattle they keep. By way of a central narrative tension, the film comes into its own when María is – inconveniently for her, though a little too conveniently for the purposes of plot – impregnated by local lad Pepe (Marvin Coroy), who is much closer to her own age. Dependent upon spiritual healing rather than actual medicine, an abortion is out of the question, and the film begins to unravel as tensions build around María’s fate.

Bustamante’s film is a largely straightforward affair that benefits from more suggestive currents. Opening with a scene in which María and her mother feed rum to their pigs in order to enable mating, they soon after kill one of the animals to eat. Priming the drink-fuelled sex by which María herself is later impregnated, the pig’s fortune doesn’t bode well for our protagonist (who, alluringly played by non-professional Mercedes Coroy, is on the more sensibly talky and less irritating side of ambiguous arthouse heroine).

Not least among IXCANUL VOLCANO’s symbolic threads is the volcano itself, whose peak is never shown and whose ashen slopes are caught only fleetingly in the background of Luis Armando Arteagas’ deep-focus cinematography – which is rich in jungle greens and earthen hues. Suggesting a kind of latent pit of doom that threatens, like an unwanted baby, to come forth at any moment, the volcano smoulders and grumbles from deep within – as if asking for an outlet by which to air its stress, which the filmmakers fittingly never allow. MICHAEL PATTISON

SILVER BEAR AWARD AT BERLINALE 5-15 FEBRUARY 2015 | NOW SCREENING DURING LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2015 

Hamlet (2015) | DVD release

Director: Margaret Williams

Cast: Maxine Peake, John Shrapnel, Barbara Marten, Gillian Bevan, Katie West, Thomas Arnold

195min   Drama   UK

Margaret Williams’s stage-to-screen film has Maxine Peake (The Theory of Everything, Silk) in dynamite form in the lead of one of Shakespeare’s most tragic plays, HAMLET. She is not the first woman to play the Prince: Sarah Bernhardt and Frances de la Tour have also taken the part of Hamlet – but she is the first to be born female in the role but identifying as a boy; her blond hair cropped stylishly and wearing a marine blue sailer’s jacket, echoing Saint Exupéry’s ‘Le Petit Prince’. Filmed by Williams, who used eight different cameras in the shoot, Peake is not the only cross-gender role – Gillian Bevan is cast as Polonius and Jodie McNee plays Rosencrantz with Goth undertones.

Theatre director Sarah Frankcom chose an appropriately minimalist styling (using iconic Danish designs and tableware) for her re-telling of the Danish tragedy that was a sell-out at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre last autumn. Peake is no newcomer to Shakespeare having played Ophelia. Hamlet is one of the most difficult parts any actor can play but she pulls if off with aplomb, getting into her stride with a mixture of playful accents and a defiant swagger. By the end of the Act I she is really enjoying herself tremendously and so are we. Judiciously, she tempers fits of anger with moments of vulnerability, gentle humour and even cheekiness here and there, as she takes on the mantle of the confused and indignant son who has only just lost his father, when his mother marries again to his uncle and father’s murderer.

This Hamlet is supported by a sterling British cast: John Shrapnel, Gillian Bevan and Barbara Marten give particularly thoughtful and nuanced turns and Katie West offers up a delightful Ophelia full of charm and feminine vulnerability. The film is divided into two parts: one of 123 minutes, followed by a final one of 70 minutes. MT

The film is distributed by Picturehouse Entertainment | NOW ON DVD.

In Cold Blood (1967)

Director: Richard Brooks

Cast: Robert Blake, Scott Wilson, John Forsythe, Tex Smith, Paul Stewart, Jeff Corey, Gerald S O’Loughlin

130min   Historical | Documentary | Thriller  US

Truman Capote’s celebrated reporting of a Kansas murder case, In Cold Blood, is the basis for Richard Brooks’s disturbing docudrama is formally ambitious yet restrained with Conrad Hall’s stylish black and white visuals and classy score by Quincy Jones.

The events of the case grippingly unfold in chronological order recounting how four members of the God-fearing Clutter family were slaughtered in cold blood one night in 1959 by two two ex-convicts looking for cash during a random burglary in their substantial rural property. They stole a radio and a few dollars and left few clues as to their identity but Brooks shows how Kansas Police (lead by a superb John Forsythe) embark on a lengthy and painstaking investigation eventually catching and convicting the killers and bringing them to justice in 1965

Robert Blake (Perry Smith) and Scott Wilson (Dick Hickock) are utterly convincing as the ruthless killers. And although we already know that they committed the murders from the early scenes Brooks generates a palpable tension while he fleshes out the investigation and we get a chance to fathom the broken minds of the perpetrators.

At the end of the day, who can really understand why two people only intending to rob the Clutters, and who had not committed murder before, suddenly decided to sadistically murder four innocent people on a quiet night in 1959? And what did the God-fearing Clutters do provoke such vicious violence?

Richard Brooks’s fractured narrative flips nervously back and forth brilliantly evoking both the frenzied minds of the killers and the fervent need of detective to nail and endite their suspects. Conrad Hall’s noirish visuals re-visit the rain-soaked scene of the crime, the remote locations and the fugitives’ brief escape to Mexico and their chance arrest in Las Vegas, while allowing brief glimpses of the genesis of their disfunctional family stories.

Brooks skilfully avoids showing bloodshed, violence or macabre crime scenes, allowing the terror to haunt our minds rather than the cinema screen. The mercilessness of the intruders and the abject fear and vulnerability of Clutters in their final moments is more evocative than any blood-soaked bedroom scene. By the time we reach the trial and imprisonment, we are glad to be done with these criminals, although a papery vestige of pity remains for tawdry life of who Perry Smith who seems to have been led on. Robert Blake and Scott Wilson give chilling and resonant portrayals in the leading roles. MT

IN COLD BLOOD IS ON LONG RELEASE AT THE BFI DURING AUGUST | THE FILM HAS BEEN REMASTERED COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS FILMS.

 

The Forgotten Kingdom (2013)

Director/Writer: Andrew Mudge

Cast: Nozipho Nkelemba, Zenzo Ngqobe, Jerry Mofokeng, Lebohang Nisane,

96min   Drama   South Africa   English and Southern Sotho

A young man living in Johannesburg, South Africa, discovers unexpected enlightenment and redemption when he is forced to make a journey back to his Lesotho birthplace in Andrew Mudge’s perfectly pitched indie debut THE FORGOTTEN KINGDOM, another story of father/son estrangement.

Atang (Zenzo Ngqobe) has a buzzy life surrounded by friends and family in downtown Joburg. But duty calls him to his estranged father’s death bed in Lesotho. By the time he arrives the old man has already died of HIV, in a small remote village in the mountains, and Atang must give him a decent Christian burial. Set on the widescreen and in intimate domestic scenes, this magical modern parable is really brought to life by D.P. Carlos Carvalho’s stunningly limpid visuals that convey the luminosity of the South African countryside and the vibrancy of its people and customs. As Atang grudgingly connects with the place where he grew up, a low-key love story develops with his childhood friend Dineo (Nozipho Nkelemba), now a teacher, exerting a calm healing on his soul and helping him to come to terms with his complicated past. Atang eventually returns to Johannesburg with a greater perspective on his life and keen to earn enough money so he can make a life with Dineo. What he discovers on his return will be make or break him.

THE FORGOTTEN KINGDOM is one of those charmingly poetic indie films that actually draws you to South Africa to experience its rich culture and extraordinary beauty, in contrast to the stream of overwhelmingly negative stories that come out of a country that is is pictured as being constantly submerged by strife and conflict. Like everywhere, there are positive stories and South Africans want them to be told and while Andrew Mudge doesn’t attempt to paint an overly romantic portrait of this young man’s life, he avoids cliché while acknowledging that Lesotho does have a considerable HIV problem, but is not entirely defined by it. An absorbing narrative, naturalistic performances from a cast of newcomers and experienced actors and Robert Miller’s original and unobtrusive score, THE FORGOTTEN KINGDOM is a worthwhile, intelligent watch. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE IN SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 21 AUGUST 2015

The Devil’s Violinist (2013) | DVD | VOD release

Director: Bernard Rose

Cast: David Garrett, Jared Harris, Joely Richardson, Veronica Ferres, Christian McKay

114min  Musical Biopic    UK|US

After some interesting outings with experimental fare and psychological dramas, the most successful being Boxing Day, Bernard Rose returns to the musical biopic genre where he found fame twenty years ago with Immortal Beloved, with Gary Oldman’s dynamite turn as Beethoven. Sumptuously mounted but poorly cast, for the most part, in THE DEVIL’S VIOLINIST he has selected David Garrett for the lead. While Garrett is a popular figure for his musical talent and raffish good looks, his acting lacks the charisma and seductive elan needed for the role of the maverick Italian music-maker, Niccoló Paganini.

In 1830 things are not going well for Paganini. The opening scenes showcase his darkly tousled locks adorning the satin pillow in a hotel where he has failed to pay the bill. In comes a saturnine Urbani (Jared Harris, with a curiously rasping voice more akin to League of Gentleman’s Papa Lazarou than an Italian benefactor), posing as a dubious financier and offering his services as a manager. Before you can say ‘Machiavelli’, success arrives in spades as Paganini cuts a musical swathe through Europe womanising as he goes, while Urbani, ever at his side, looks on hissing “take your medicine”.

In London, a strand of forced feminism is interwoven into the narrative referencing a groundswell of apparently disenchanted (or spurned?) women seeking to ambush Paganini’s purported debauchery. Paganini coughs on oblivious and takes residence in the home of impresario John Watson (Christian McKay), his wife Elizabeth (Veronica Ferres, who we last met in Casanova Variations) and more pertinently, his ravishing daughter Charlotte (Andrea Deck). Charlotte is a budding opera singer who fails to fall for Paganini’s advances, calling him “a puffed up peacock”, and the two develop a wary friendship. Paganini also garners support against the feminist protestors in the shape of journalist Ethel Langham (a cockney Joely Richardson – to boost box office in the US). Meanwhile Paganini continues woodenly working his magic with the lovely Charlotte, against her better judgement.

While Bernard Rose tries his best to leverage the more sensationalist elements of the Paganini story, the resulting film lacks authentic conviction or even dramatic punch, emerging as just another period drama, albeit a well-crafted one; although at just over two hours it outstays its welcome, along with its misguided hero. Certainly, it is a lovely thing to watch and listen to but that alone fails to life the film out of its clunkiness in general. Garrett can’t set the night on fire with his acting chops but he’s certainly a wizard on the violin, in some of the more successful scenes. MT

NOW ON DVD | VOD

Len and Company (2015) | Edinburgh Film Festival 17 – 28 June 2015

Director: Tim Godsall     Script: Tim Godsall, Katharine Knight

Cast: Rhys Ifans, Jack Kilmer, Juno Temple

USA/Canada Drama 105mins

Montreal-born Tom Godsall brings together a veteran and a newcomer by way of a rising star in his debut feature LEN AND COMPANY, in which Rhys Ifans plays crabby superstar music producer Len, who wearily retreats to his country home in Upstate New York followed by his aspiring and retiring rockstar son Max (Jack Kilmer) and his newest award-winning collaborator Zoe (Juno Temple). Commendable primarily for allowing a limited performer like Ifans to play to his strengths, this curious and mostly understated drama world-premieres at the 69th Edinburgh International Film Festival.

From the moment we first set eyes on Len, whose comical grouchiness offsets the otherwise cheery tempo of Ian Dury’s ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick,’ we infer the story to come: stubbornly irritable old hand retires for some peace and quiet, only for the weak foundations of his idyll to be uprooted by unwelcome if belatedly appreciated visitors. If the particulars aren’t entirely precise, the general gist is there: it’s not long before Len’s son Max shows up, complete with inoffensively bland hairdo and a secret desire to have his dad listen to a new demo he’s made with some pals. Max finds it difficult to connect with his dad; the latter even responds to the mention of a Liverpool football match with a curt dismissal. It’s only when Zoe, the outwardly feisty but vulnerable popstar with whom Len has just made a hit record, also shows up that Len’s paternal and professional laziness are finally confronted.

For the most part (though it has its pitfalls, the most risible of which involves a final act visit from one of Zoe’s admirers) Godsall’s script, co-written with Katharine Knight, unfolds by way of casual segues rather than dramatic standoffs—unexpectedly so, perhaps, given the director’s success making TV commercials. André Pienaar’s consistently unshowy autumnal cinematography, meanwhile, helps to further subdue any would-be melodrama. The emphasis here is more on those unspoken wishes, the ones that gnaw away from within. Whatever kind of resolution is on the cards, here, it’s to be embodied by Ifans’s trademark raised eyebrow—and little more.

It’s a giant in-joke by now that any film character would find Ifans remotely appealing, and details about Len’s own artistic success here are suitably scant. Worn out by his own lifestyle and barely ready to admit to anything resembling regrets, Len prefers to sit around watching old episodes of The Sweeney and Blackadder on DVD. Likewise, Ifans keeps things relatively low-key, delivering lines like “she was an underfed coyote, poor thing” and “cheeky fucking cunt bastard” with a functional rather than expressive register. It’s a clever casting choice, all told: opposite Kilmer (Val’s son) and Temple, Ifans cuts an effectively exhausted figure, as much bemused as anyone by his own longevity. MICHAEL PATTISON

PREMIERING AT EDINBURGH FILM FESTIVAL | 17 – 28 JUNE 2015

The Misfits (1961)

Director: John Huston   Screenplay: Arthur Miller

Cast: Montgomery Clift, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Thelma Ritter, Eli Wallach, Estelle Winwood

125min   Drama Romance Western  US

The jury’s still out on posterity’s final verdict on the merits of this early road movie set in and around Reno. While it was in production a major event was anticipated: Pulitzer prizewinning playwright Arthur Miller’s script was his first original screenplay – written especially for his movie star wife Marilyn Monroe – and by the time it hit cinemas in early 1961 audiences also knew the film would mark the final screen appearance of Clark Gable. But no one could have dreamt that the film would turn out to be Monroe’s swansong too.

Miller continued ceaselessly to rewrite the script on location as his marriage to Monroe fell apart, and would later describe the shooting of THE MISFITS as a low point in his life. (The pair were divorced just before the film’s premiere). Doped up to the eyeballs, Monroe’s constant late arrivals on set – or complete no-shows – resulted in production relentlessly dragging on for months, and when Gable finally completed his scenes he sighed “Christ I’m glad this picture’s finished. She damn near gave me a heart attack. I’ve never been happier when a film ended”. Just two days afterwards Gable did suffer a heart attack, from which he died ten days later. Despite the massive advance publicity THE MISFITS received, the filmgoing public proved uninterested in the two-hour ramblings of a bunch of blue-collar losers and stayed away. The film continues to dismissed by some as a failure.

The_Misfits_1Yet from all this wreckage – aided by the immaculate location photography of Russell Metty (fresh from his Oscar-winning work on Spartacus) and the editing of Hitchcock’s regular collaborator George Tomasini (fresh from Psycho) – a beautiful and moving film somehow managed to emerge. While the fragile mental state of both Monroe and co-star Montgomery Clift are all-too apparent in the finished film, Monroe remains hauntingly beautiful in a role a million miles from the Hollywood glamour her name usually evokes. With the subsequent untimely loss first of Monroe and then of Clift the film’s morose self-pity began to mellow into melancholy (and it’s always wonderful to see Thelma Ritter again!).

Although making the film almost certainly killed him, THE MISFITS has ironically secured Clark Gable’s reputation with a younger generation that might otherwise know him only – if at all – as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind. Even those who know their old movies would be hard-pressed to name more than a couple of his post-war vehicles; and his name remains largely the property of those who cherish the classic Hollywood cinema of the thirties. (Gable himself once said that “The only thing that has kept me a big star has been revivals of Gone With the Wind“). Hence the glorious incongruity of his towering presence in this early example of independent US filmmaking; which in retrospect resembles the first of an unofficial trio of black-&-white early sixties contemporary anti-westerns, each dominated by a commanding male lead performance as a drifter in a stetson: the latter pair being Lonely Are the Brave with Kirk Douglas and Hud with Paul Newman. The late David Shipman described THE MISFITS as “an attempt by a New Yorker to come to terms with the West”. A precursor had been Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men (1952), whose star Robert Mitchum had also been John Huston’s intended lead for THE MISFITS. Mitchum however didn’t like Miller’s script (or the prospect of strenuous stunt work roping steers in the searing heat of the Nevada desert) and ironically turned it down; since the film is now unthinkable without Gable. He lost two and a half stone for the part, and at 14st looked trimmer than he had in years; and although looking every one of his fifty-nine years, the virility and charisma that nearly thirty years earlier had wowed Jean Harlow and Carole Lombard survives intact. After more than half a century THE MISFITS continues to remind audiences just why Gable was known in his heyday as the King of Hollywood; and his closing speech (“Just head for that big star straight on. The highway’s under it. It’ll take us right home”) has long ago taken its place in film legend alongside Scarlett O’Hara’s “After all, tomorrow is another day”. Richard Chatten.

THE MISFITS IS ON LONG RELEASE AT THE BFI  FOR THE MARILYN MONROE SEASON FROM 12 JUNE 2015

The Goob (2014) Interview with Guy Myhill

Here Guy Myhill talks about making THE GOOB, the first of his Norfolk-set trilogy

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A New Girlfriend (2014) | Une Nouvelle Amie

Wri/Dir: Francois Ozon | Cast: Romain Duris, Anais Demoustier, Raphael Personnaz, Isild Le Bosco,

Mystery crime writer Ruth Rendell has provided filmmakers with some plucky plot-linesl over the years: Claude Chabrol’s La Ceremonie starred Isabelle Huppert and La Demoiselle D’Honneur had Aurore Clément who also stars in Ozon’s 2014 adaptation of a Rendell short story, cheekily exploring the nature of desire.

There are shades of Almódovar too in this subversive domestic melodrama that takes place somewhere in suburbia in contemporary France. Ozon’s recent films have all dabbled in the sexual dynamics of their seemingly sorted protagonists. And he’s well known for his tongue in cheek approach to the narrative. The upshot is that sexuality can be a distinctly moveable feast that often takes us by surprise, with feelings of desire or even repulsion emerging, sometimes inconveniently and when we least expect it, and between the most unlikely suspects. In the House upturned smug coupledom with some surprising revelations and A New Girlfriend develops this further in a story that sees sudden tragedy rocking the status quo of an outwardly loved-up young married couple.

Wealthy and good-looking, Laura (Isild Le Besco) and David (Romain Duris in frisky form) start their new lives together in the faux splendour of a picture perfect housing estate, very similar to the one in Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder. But when Laura dies leaving baby girl Lucie, her best friend Claire (Demoustier) is naturally devastated, and drawn into the circle of grief as the godmother of the little girl. Clearly David must now be Lucie’s mother as well as her father, and it seems he’s taken the female role really seriously, as the heartbroken Claire soon finds out. For her part Claire, has also taken her grief to new heights to the detriment of her marriage to Gilles (Raphael Personnaz). But when her husbands’s sexual-healing fails to work, Claire takes compassionate leave and heads chez David for tea and sympathy.

Bereavement has brought out the feminine side of David and, to Claire’s surprise, she finds him dolled up in Laura’s clothes complete with a blond wig and saucy underwear. Unfortunately, Duris is one male actor whose strong masculine looks can never make him look feminine. He certainly has the chops but his heavy jawline and thick eyebrows are more suggestive of a pantomine dame than an androgynous siren in cross-dressing. There are plenty of guys out there who look pretty in long hair and eyeliner – but Duris is not one of them. So when he turns girlie, the look is weirdly grotesque and mildly frightening, rather than sexy and seductive. Maybe that’s was Ozon’s intention. As the saying goes “there’s nowt so queer as folk”

David suddenly develops a desire to go shopping and Claire, in an act of female solidarity indulges him in a date in the local shopping centre. Gradually Claire buys into David’s sexual awakening, sympathetically aiding and abetting him with make-up suggestions and underwear advice, eventually transforming him into her new best friend “Virginie”helping herself to get over the loss of Laura.

Although Oxon is clearly pushing the boundaries on heterosexuality and role-play he doesn’t denigrate David/Virginie, and there is nothing sexually provocative about this change in circumstances. With clever casting, he could certainly have pulled off something quite sensational between David/Virginie and Claire (and it wouldn’t have just have involved an Agent Provocateur thong).

Using a clever selection of songs from the archives, Ozon indulges David/Virginie’s desires to the limit and Duris certainly gives the role depth, clearly enjoying the thrill of his female guise and all that it entails. But Claire and Virginie’s sexual chemistry fails to materialise, remaining firmly in the ‘just good friends’ camp. A reference to Gilles and David’s sexual linking also fails to ignite, but there’s enough complexity at work in the performances to keep things fun and fluffy despite some longueurs. In this inspired new twist on bereavement therapy, Duris and Demoustier keep things tender rather than soppy in their mutual grief over Laura, and a surprisingly upbeat denouement makes for an entertaining watch. MT

NOW ON BFI Player 

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Samantha Fuller | Filmmaker | A Fuller Life (2014)

A FULLER LIFE, is Samantha Fuller’s tribute to her father, the iconoclastic film director Sam Fuller (1912-1997. Matthew Turner met her to discuss her debut film, which she also wrote and produced.

Samantha Fuller: Well it’s a very personal project. My father had me at the age of sixty three and I’m his first born child, and he always led me on to believe he’d live until he was a hundred and we’d have a big party for his centennial. Well he died at the age of eighty five and in 2012, which was the year he was born in 1912, it was the centennial and I thought, ‘Oh this is the year we’d be having the big party he was talking about and I’m going to have one. Well I’m not just going to have friends over for a drink, I’m not going to do a YouTube video. I want to do something really special.’ So, somehow I thought, ‘Oh, I have this wonderful autobiography he left us with’ and I left his beautiful office intact since the day he had passed. Everything is left in place, which makes for a great set and so the idea came to kind of tell his life story along with friends and acquaintances who knew him and to tell his story within his office, since he wouldn’t be present. The closest thing I could get to having him present was to be having his words spoken and film it in his office, and so that’s really how the idea came about.

So it was always going to be that way? You never considered doing a documentary where you interview journalists and film historians as well?

Samantha Fuller: No, but what I did do with the actors is after they did their reading and we had our last take, I kept the camera rolling and asked them to tell me a personal story about my father, which will be on the special features for the DVD. So there’s like a half-hour bonus doc with stories about Sam. But what I did not want to do is do a ‘Sam Praise’ documentary, where everyone’s just talking about their wonderful experience with him and ‘Sam, Sam, Sam’. I really wanted to tell his story – my father was a great story-teller, but I thought this story just as great as the stories he would tell, and he was pretty modest to not want to tell his life himself. Actually, we had to push him to write this autobiography towards the end of his life – he was reluctant to do so because he was always interested in other people’s stories and in doing research, you know, he came from a journalistic background, so he really loved to, like explore other other stories. And his own didn’t really matter to him as much. But to me, it mattered a lot, because after what he had lived through and such a life-span and such a full life, in the sense that many people don’t have these three careers that he had – there’s the journalism and the military and in the film industry – he had such a full life and he had such a positive soul and positive energy, I really wanted to pass that message along. That was my mission, is to kind of share that essence with an audience and to leave it on a very positive tone.

How long was the process of sorting through the archive?

Samantha Fuller: That was really what my mother had warned me when I told her I was going to make this film and I was going to invite our friends to read and keep their narrative, just cut back to them a few times and use all the archive material. She said, ‘You know it’s a lot more complicated than you may imagine but I’m always up for a challenge and I thought, ‘Now’s the time to do it – if I don’t use his archive now, when would it be used?’ I mean, he left me with a tremendous room – what a legacy. It’s so rich, it’s so fun to explore. And I know it won’t be around forever. I’ve been selfishly hanging on to it. The Academy and universities have asked me to donate this material, which I’ll happily do eventually, but for now it’s been, in a way, a shrine for me, to go in that office with the cigar in the tray. It still smells like my father in there and you just feel his spirit alive, that I could not bear to imagine that room empty. Besides, it’s a wonderful hobby to just snoop around in there and pick up a book and, you know… But I never thought of doing this professionally and, yeah, scanning and fact checking to make sure everything’s right. Yeah, it is very time consuming. It took about a year to do and it’s so strange how things happen because during the shoot I was making room for the sound man under the desk and I came across a box that I’d never opened before and in that box were 103 reels of 16mm film that were unlabelled and I brought them down to the Academy and manually wound through them. And what I found on them was just mind blowing, it’s almost like my father said, ‘Oh, so you want to do this now? You’d better be using this material’, because it was the footage he shot during World War Two, it was him on location scouts for films in the ’50s and it was just the perfect, perfect material, fitting to this project. So things just happened like this, and again, it was amazing.

afl_wim_wenders

Was there a point when you called your Mum and you were like, ‘Yeah, you were right, this is taking forever…’>

Samantha Fuller: Actually, I was like, ‘You were right, but I’m loving it and I want to do more’, and actually, at the end of the documentary my mother said, ‘So, when are you doing one about me? [laughs]

You said that the cast were all friends and acquaintances – obviously, they all had connections to Sam – so were they easy to approach then, in that case? Did everybody want to be involved?

Samantha Fuller: Absolutely. Everyone was easy to approach – I mean there were only two that I hadn’t been close to, really – it was the first and the last reader, which is James Franco and Willy Friedkin. But, you know, we have connections to them. They’re both very familiar with my father’s work and they were both very suited to read those certain parts. There was a very subtle casting to it – I can kind of go through a few highlights, which is so, you know, the early years of my father’s life where he’s ready to explore everything and he has such an appetite for life and art in all forms, and that reminded me a lot of James Franco and I knew that James Franco had been up to our house right at the beginning of his career. We had a friend staying with us who had auditioned him to be in a film and he came up to our home and he was very impressed by being at Sam Fuller’s home and he knew all about his life, and knew all about his films and I thought he’d also attract a younger audience appeal, because I do want this message to get through to the younger generation as well. So I thought he was very fitting for the opening part, a young Sam. And then skip through, I mean everyone has a reason. Jennifer Beals, even though she’s a woman, she played a journalist and my father played her editor in a French film called The Madonna and the Dragon, and so I thought she would be great to read the crime reporter dealing with her editor. And everybody could relate to the part that I gave them to read.

I spotted, obviously, the war connection stuff –

Samantha Fuller: With The Big Red One boys reading The Big Red One experience. Tim Roth, he reads D-Day, he departs from England, but also his grandfather was in World War Two, so he had that personal connection. Joe Dante, he’s Italian so he read the Sicilian part [laughs]. You know, it’s very subtle, but it’s there, they could relate to it. Monte Hellman, he had been to the camps, we went to the Czech Republic and visited the camps that my father had been to – Falkenau. We were together in Czech Republic and we visited the camps, so he could really relate to that segment. Obviously, Wim Wenders, for being German, I thought it would be fun for him to read the Marlene Dietrich part. You know, it’s a very subtle casting, nothing straightforward, but it’s there and it made for the readers to enjoy the thing they were reading a lot more.

So how did James Franco and Billy Friedkin get involved, then? Did you approach them?q

Samantha Fuller: Yeah, absolutely. It was Nicholas Ray’s widow, Susan Ray, who put me in touch with James Franco and Billy Friedkin, somehow we had his email. With my mother. And he had just finished writing his autobiography, which is fabulous. The Friedkin Connection is really great and so he could relate to us wanting to do a project based on my father’s autobiography. Plus, he’s such a diverse filmmaker, just like my father in that sense, that he has the best words, I think, to finish off, which is, ‘Let yourselves be heard’. And he has been such a mentor and such an inspiration to filmmakers, like my father, I thought that would be the perfect part for him to read.

Everybody I’ve spoken to that’s seen the film has said the same thing, ‘I must go out and find that book. So everybody’s trawling second-hand bookshops, as we speak.’

Samantha Fuller: Oh yeah, well it’s on Amazon. And I’m really hoping, it’s a project, I would like to do a mini-series, based on his life, because now cable and Netflix, they do these kind of one season series and my father had such an amazing historical background in his life, throughout the Great Depression, prohibition era and World War Two, France in the ’60s, I mean, it’s just a beautiful historical piece.

Has there been any thought to doing a biopic?

Samantha Fuller: No, but I would love to do that. I think it would be a little short to condense it all in a movie. That’s why I think a mini-series would be great, a mini-series would be fantastic. So, yeah, why not? It all starts – you get the man, the book, the doc and then you can do the mini-series. It’s leading there, you know?

Do you have a favourite of your father’s films?

Samantha Fuller: Well, you know, I always, when I get asked that question I can never answer because I feel it would be like discriminating towards a sibling, you know, I always feel like they’re his other children and I love some more on some days and some more on other days. But there are a certain ones that I religiously watch. Of course, The Big Red One is huge in our lives, because it’s directly his autobiography and it’s a way I get to see what he had lived through. I was a child when he made that film and I saw him re-live his war experience and it was very cathartic, but at the same time it was it was very traumatic to re-live through that and, you know, to be raised by a veteran who had to kill in order to live is just very difficult – I really have a strong sensibility towards that film. And by the way, we kept all his weapons – we have his helmet, his M1, and I have his binoculars, I have everything and I can feel it, I can put his pack on and hold his M1 and just to think what he had lived through, it was always mind boggling. And the music, I love everything about The Big Red One. We stayed very close friends with all the actors, we had Big Red One reunions, I mean it’s like that, it’s really close to my heart. But also White Dog is very close to my heart, because, once again, there too, I was part of that production as a child, it changed – it impacted our lives directly…

Are you in it?

afl_james_franco

Samantha Fuller: Yes, I’m in it, I have the one line, actually, which is pretty strong. It’s, ‘Where’s my dog?’ The little girl comes knocking, looking for her dog with her grandpa, and this killer four-legged time bomb belongs to this sweet little girl. And I loved being on that set – we shot it right in our neighborhood and there were a lot of dogs, there were five dogs playing this one dog, so I got to play with all the dogs and I got to go to the shoot every day. It was a great experience, you know? It was really my first strong memories of being on a set – great, great, lovely cast and crew, it was just really a lot of fun and it – you know, the film was very misunderstood – it was not released at the time – you know the story – and it really affected our lives personally because it led us to move to France where my father went on to making several other films and we never came back to the States till the end of his life, so that film literally impacted our family life, in the sense that we just wound up in an apartment in Paris a year later. That was very unexpected. And he was planning to stay in Hollywood after the Big Red One and White Dog and keep making pictures – there’s plenty of scripts piled up in his office. I have a lifetime of work ahead of me, because I’m very blessed – both of my parents are fabulous writers and I have great material and a lot of it has not been made. So I’m on a mission to get them made now.

Oh, fantastic. That was one of the questions I was going to ask. It’s mentioned in the film that there are these piles of unproduced scripts [that he planned to make]. So are you going to make them yourself or are you going to sell them to other directors?

Samantha Fuller: I’m still – I haven’t read them all. You know, I’m not that possessive of them, I just think it’s such a shame to leave them on the shelf, because they’re all wonderful, and their historical contents, they’re all very educational. The dialogue’s tight, they’re very well written and they’re timeless. My father had this notion of making timeless films somehow, that even though they relate to a certain period of history, it’s something that you can make any time. So, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s a matter of just finding the right circuit to get them into.

Is there a particular that you’re thinking of, that you would start with?

Samantha Fuller: Yeah. I’m actually onto one right now, it’s called Snug Harbor. It was the first pick of the litter. For some reason, I was compelled to that one. I’m calling it – my pitch is that ‘It’s The Godfather of C.S.I.’ – it’s the beginning of the forensic in the homicide department in New York in the ’40s.

That would be great! Done as a period thriller, that would be brilliant…

Samantha Fuller: It is, it is. It’s kind of to revive the film noir spirit. It’s very layered. There’s a lot going on in the film and a huge, really fun cast in there and the dialogue is so clever and so tight, I wouldn’t change a period in there. And it’s ready to shoot – when he wrote several of his scripts, he already had the vision and I know it’s not done usually, but you have over-the-shoulder shots, pans, close ups, medium shots – he writes it all in there!

He writes shooting scripts!

Samantha Fuller: So it’s already directed, so I would love to get this one done. It’s really right, it’s really ready to go.

Well, I hope that works – I hope you pull that off.

Samantha Fuller: Yeah. Yeah. And there’s plenty more. There’s two – we have historical pieces, just coming out – he was fascinated by history, so he loved to set his stories in a Civil War context or any kind of historical context, so it’s semi-educational too.

Did you cut anything out that you were sorry to see go?

Samantha Fuller: Yeah, I did. There was a longer version. There are some stories that I had to leave out because then some readers would have been longer than others and I wanted to keep it kind of at an even pace. And it’s done in twelve segments – even though there’s fifteen actors, the four guys from The Big Red One they’re reading one segment and twelve is our lucky number. You know, he was born in 1912, on August 12th, twelve’s nice and even – I don’t know, it felt like I I didn’t want to mess with that number, so I stuck with that. But yeah, I could have made a three hour doc easily, easily. The reason I kept it at 80 minutes is I wanted it to be tight and I wanted to leave people wanting more, I wanted to leave them with wanting to go get that book and read – it’s a six hundred page book – and watch his movies.

Is there a particular thing you did cut out?

Samantha Fuller: Oh yeah. Yeah. It did hurt. One of my favorite parts is in the Bill Duke segment, actually, that ran a little long. He talked about how my father met Al Capone and Cicero and how they had a very close encounter. But I think I’ll put that on the special features on the DVD. And also when we finished reading each segment, we kept the camera rolling and I improvised, I asked every reader to give me a personal story about my father, so that will be another bonus feature on the DVD. and some of them are very funny stories. So it’s really fun, it’s about half an hour.

I really loved the cartoons – I didn’t know he was a cartoonist.

Samantha Fuller: The cartoons, I have a box full of cartoons and all the war correspondence, I mean I have a lifelong mission here to get this cleaned up right. You know, my father did not have a secretary. So the organization is done in his own way – he was organized, but I really want to get this all figured out and it’s really fascinating, I’m enjoying the process. I’m a glass artist by trade, I’ve been doing it for fifteen years, but you know, honestly it’s physically exhausting being a glass artist and I feel carpal tunnel setting in and I think it’s time to do more cerebral job anyways, as I’m getting older! And, you know, being on a set and making films just gives you so much energy and adrenaline, so I feel like it’s the right thing to do.

Do you have a favourite anecdote about your father that’s not in the film, as in you didn’t capture it on film, but it’s something you’ve heard through the years?

Samantha Fuller: An anecdote. There are so many. Which one would I choose? He just has a bunch of great stories, but let me tell you one thing about my dad is that he’d be smoking a big fat cigar right here, like everywhere we went. He managed to finagle a way to light that Stogie and work his way through it. And that was always a challenge. I was just in Finland in the Midnight Sun Festival and they said he was the only one allowed to smoke in the theatres, so I asked if it was a family credit we had. I said, ‘I guess I’ll light one too – this is fun!’ I don’t know how he got away with that. That was always fun. You’ll hear the anecdotes, a lot of the readers tell their personal anecdotes that are really fun.

I met your father in 1991, very briefly, when he came to Sussex University to introduce one of his films. But I also met Budd Boetticher in Madrid and he told me a Sam Fuller story. He said that the two of them – they were friends and they were more or less the same age and they were both making low-budget independent films and they weren’t kind of in the studio system. So they were friends but they were also sort of jealous of each other all the time and he said they used to call each other regularly and scream obscenities at each other. He used to call Sam up and shout, “Fuck The Big Red One!” and slam the phone down.

Samantha Fuller: Oh, that one? Him and John Ford would do that too! On D-Day! June 6th, phone rings. The Fuck The Big Red One Story, yeah. I mean, without the Big Red One, Omaha wouldn’t be what it was. I mean, they did it, they fought through it. I’m actually going to meet a young man in Paris next week, he started the Big Red One Museum. I mean, I was raised with The Big Red One, I feel like I was part of The Big Red One. I think it’s in my DNA, it’s passed on genetically.

The Big Red Two?

Samantha Fuller: Yeah, he had some other great war yarns that I don’t feel like I could relate to so much, because he said, ‘Unless you lived through it, to shoot a good war movie, you’d have to shoot the people in the audience’. That’s a little harsh. But I kind of fought my own war in a sense – when I was a kid, I was very ill and I had to fight my way for my life. And it was my own little war I had to go through, so I feel like I can relate in the sense that I’m a survivor too. Another war, an out of control war, another form of insanity.

What are the release plans so far?

Samantha Fuller: Nothing really, yet. That’s the hard reality of making a film, is the distribution part. The fun part is making the film, it gets pretty ugly when it comes down to the business side and everyone’s in to see what kind of money can be made off of this, and of course it’s not a big audience magnet. You know it’s hard even to get people to see regular feature films these days, unless it’s a blockbuster film. But I’ve been calling theatres up myself, actually [laughs] and I’m working deals out, theatre by theatre and it will have a small theatrical release and I know most of it will be seen on Video On Demand and on DVD. And that’s fine. You know, once again I mean this for personal reasons, but now that it’s out, I do want to show it, you know, I want the world to enjoy it and it’s really about his legacy and keeping his spirit alive. And keeping that message, that positive message that he had – he was such a mentor and such an inspiration to so many filmmakers and even though he’s not around now, I hope the younger generations will still look up and be able to homage him, as other filmmakers did.

Night Train (1959) Pociag| Scorsese Selects | Kinoteka 2015

Director: Jerzy Kawalerowicz

Writers: Jerzy Lutowski, Jerzy Kawalerowicz

Cast: Lucyna Winnicka, Leon Niemczyk, Teresa Szmigielówna, Zbigniew Cybulski

99min  Thriller   Polish

Stylish and endlessly compelling, Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s NIGHT TRAIN (1959), is an accomplished psychological thriller set on a train carrying a variety of passengers from Warsaw to the Baltic coast.

Belonging to the Polish School, that flourished briefly during the fifties, a seductive Noir ‘whodunnit’ was written and directed by the renowned Jerzy Kawalerowicz, and features a seductive a subtle performance for Leon Niemczyk, in suave shades and slick-back hair, travelling to Gdansk. Having lost his ticket, he offers to buy a double cabin for sole occupation but discovers that his berth is already occupied by the foxy Marta (Lucyna Winnicka) who refuses to leave. They agree to share the carriage but their guarded behaviour sets the tone for this sinister and unsettling journey into the night.

At a brief stop-off, Jerzy buys cigarettes and is pursued by a mysterious woman, whilst Marta bumps into a troublesome ex-lover Staszek (Zbigniew Cybulski). It soon emerges that a murderer is on lose and may even be on the train, and it may even be the suspicious Jerzy. With incredibly skilful storytelling, Kawalerowicz keeps the tension taut throughout, heightened by the claustrophobia of the carriage, revealing very little about these beautiful strangers, making us do all the work, pointing the finger at Jerzy, adhering to the maxim ‘speech is silver, but silence is golden. Marta is clearly suffering from emotional strain due to the presence of Staszek. But there is no chemistry between Marta and Jerzy, despite his sultry allure. The couple remain strangers to the others passengers and to each other, eventually becoming complicit in their own status as outsiders against a World poised to indict them without evidence or proof.

Train journeys, particularly at night, conjure up the exhilaration n of the unknown, the excitement of travel, the possibility of danger, the mystery of exotic strangers and NIGHT TRAIN revels in all these elements with its smouldering jazz score by the Andrzej Trzaskowski (Innocent Sorcerers) adding to the atmosphere. Very much a triumph of less is more NIGHT TRAIN borrows from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, with its undercurrents of danger, it is a metaphor for xenophobia in a society suspicious of anything unknown or unusual, of a Poland fleeing from the cosh of Communism and Socialist Realism. MT

SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA 2015, POLISH FILM FESTIVAL IN LONDON | EDINBURGH

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Argerich 2012

Director: Stephanie Argerich

Documentary with Martha Argerich, Annie Dutoit, Lyda Chen, Stephen Kovacevich

France, Switzerland 2012, 94 min. French/English/Spanish

Born in Buenos Aires in 1941, Martha Argerich is perhaps the most important pianist of the second half of the 20th century. Known as the “tigress” at the piano, she is very protective of her private sphere. Luckily, her daughter Stephanie is a filmmaker, and has filmed her mother for over two decades; the result, BLOODY DAUGHTER is not a hagiography, but an episodic portrait of a genius who also happens to be the mother of three daughters. Her oldest, the violinist Lyda Chen (whom we see rehearsing with her mother), is the daughter of the composer/conductor Robert Chen; Annie’s father is the conductor Charles Dutoit, and the London-based pianist Stephen Kovacevich is the father of Stephanie, the youngest. Kovacevich gave the film the title, calling Stephanie lovingly his ‘bloody daughter”. Later we see the two arguing over Stephen’s failure to put his name on his daughter’s birth certificate, one of several parental omissions for which many children of great artists suffer.

Martha Argerich, who gave her first public concert at age eight, moved to Europe with her family aged twelve, supported by the president of that time, Juan Peron. The great Friedrich Gulda was her main influence, but she studied also with Nikita Magaloff. Winning major competitions, among them the Chopin Prize in Warsaw, Argerich was already a star in her mid-twenties (in an era, when musicians were called ‘young’ when they were in their forties), her stage persona, a mixture of the beautiful and enigmatic, was also helpful.

We see her re-visiting the stage of her early triumph in Warsaw, when she played Chopin’s first piano concerto in 2010, merchandise with her name being sold to adoring crowds. Whilst some of the footage may be repetitive, we get a very good picture here of how Argerich prepares for her concerts, and how she deals with the aftermath of elation in strong contrast to her pre-concert nerves. Since the early 80s, the pianist is not keen on giving solo performances, because she “feels too lonely”.

Martha interweaves her well-crafted documentary with plenty of drama from her mother’s past: revealing h0w Argerich’s mother (from a family of Russian Jews) literally kidnapped Martha’s oldest daughter Lyda from an orphanage, Martha having to give up custody of the child for her for a while. In 1995, heavy-smoker Martha  underwent a life-saving cure at the John Wayne Cancer Centre – but we see her continuing the habit, in spite of having had a part of her lung removed. On the comic side, Stephanie remembers that her mother was not keen on the idea of her attending school, writing sick notes with the help of her elder sister Annie. Furthermore, Martha had absolute no idea about the grading system of school tests, congratulating her daughter on a rather bad score. The documentary ends with the four women discussing their relationships, Martha telling Stephanie that she prefers non-verbal communication with her. But the highlights of this engaging piece are still the musical performances past and present: when Argerich performs Schumann, “every emotion of his soul is in his music”, we forget all the images of BLOODY DAUGHTER showing her minor and not so minor foibles: when she touches the piano, she changes the world. AS

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 1 MAY 2015

 

 

Gente de Bien (2014)

Dir.: Franco Lolli

Cast: Brayan Santamaria, Carlos Fernando Perez, Alejandra Borrero

France/Columbia 2015, 86 min.

First time director Franco Lolli uses neo-realsim to explore another father/son relationship -the narrative unfolding with poignance and pragmatism in his debut GENTE DE BIEN – a title that implies both decency and wealth.

When ten-year-old Eric (Santamaria) is handed over from his mother to his father Gabriel (Carlos Fernando Perez) in downtown Bogota, Gabriel is not too keen to take the responsibility for his child, or, as it turns out, anything else. Despite being highly intelligent, Gabriel works as a handyman and bottom-feeder; getting by doing odd jobs and scrounging off his family. But when his sister refuses to lend him the deposit for a flat, one of his customers, university lecturer Marie-Isabel (Borrero), takes pity on Gabriel and invites him to stay. As the kids play, her own son becomes jealous and hostile towards Eric but Marie-Isabel’s tries to reconcile them, forgiving Gabriel for stealing money. Gabriel’s concerns are that Eric will get used to Marie-Isabel’s largesse and clearly feels demoralised by his inability to provide for his son. This comes to a head when Marie-Isabel invites Gabriel and Eric to enjoy Christmas with her extended family who ostracise Eric, particularly after they learn that he has wet his bed. When Eric gets aggressive towards her, Marie-Isabel has no choice but to return the boy to his father in downtown Bogota.

Lolli offers great insight into Columbia’s social divide and the hypocrisy of the country’s staunch Catholicism in this charming and sensitive drama. Oscar Duran’s camerawork is  imaginative, showing not only the huge difference between the classes, but creating a sort of poetic realism in a scene where Eric is riding on a horse to a Flamenco version of “My Way”. The acting, particularly Santamaria’s Eric, is always natural and fluid. Even Lupe, Eric’s dog and best friend, seems always game, even though his health is deteriorating dramatically. The great strength of GENTE DE BIEN is Eric’s brave struggle in a world of adults, who for one reason or another fail him. In the case of Gabriel, this is inexcusable, but Marie-Isabel has to learn that the best intentions are sometimes not good enough, and her family perhaps not as decent as she imagines: singing hymns is one thing, but really sharing is a different matter. A principled but never censorious film in the best tradition of Italian neo-realism. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE

The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014)

Dir.: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Cast: Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright

USA 2014; 86 min. HORROR

Based on a feature film of the same title directed in 1976 by Charles B. Pierce – based on real events in 1946 – this latest remake has nothing new to add. The only saving grace is the 40s hard core-retro aesthetic, which compensates (but not too much) for an otherwise really tedious double re-make, told in episodes that are sensational (and gruesome) in themselves, but lack any cohesion.

In Texarkana, a boarder town between Arkansas and Texas, we re-visit the so-called ‘moonlight murders’, where five people where killed by a masked killer in ten weeks – a culprit was never found. Starting again from reality, the story kicks off with a screening of the 1976 version in a drive-in cinema in Texarkana which happened, until recently, on Halloween. Jami (Timlin), a timid young woman whose parents died in a car crash when she was little, hates the movie and begs her boy-friend Corey to drive off. They do and find a secluded spot in the woods to make out, whereupon the bag-masked phantom strikes again, killing Corey, leaving Jami to spread the warning  “that this is for Mary, make them remember”.

Whilst looking for the new and old murderer, the Police are having no joy and Jami’s grandmother (Cartwright) is killed at a petrol station, when the pair try to leave the town. The brutal “Trombone” murder of the original slaying is replayed, before a rather disappointing and hollow explanation. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 17 APRIL 2015

 

20 Hot Titles | Indie film | Part II

A_LITTLE_CHAOS_2 copyLooking further into this year’s treasure trove of buzz-worthy titles, April 2015 is set to be a exciting month for indie film. Cannes is waiting in the wings and the Chelsea Flower Show is on its way. April also brings Alan Rickman’s second feature, A LITTLE CHAOS, a romantic drama set in the gardens of Versailles’ where famous landscape architect, André Le Nôtre, falls for the capable charms of Kate Winslet’s, Madame de Barra.. Matthias Schoenaerts oozes a brooding sensuality as Le Nôtre, and even sings, despite being lashed by the tongue of his vituperative wife, a foxy Helen McCrory. 17 April 2015

Madding copyHotly-anticipated by the arthouse crowd is FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD. Carey Mulligan stars as Bathsheba Everdene in Thomas Vinterberg’s version of Hardy’s novel, breaking into song for the soundtrack and proving that acting is not her only skill. Joined by Matthias Schoenaerts in his second simmering male role of 2015,  he competes for her hand alongside Tom Sturridge and Michael Sheen. David Nicholls handles the Hardy’s script. 1 May 2015

salvationA burnished Danish Western with Mads Mikkelsen in the saddle and Eva Green as his love interest? Look no further than THE SALVATION. This simmering tale of xenophobia 1870s-style, sees outlaw Mads turn macho pride into full-blown anger when he reeks revenge on the outlaws who murder his family after arriving in the Midwest from his native Denmark. Out on 17 April 2015

salt ofJuliano Salgado’s brilliant biopic of his father, Sabastiao, starts as a harrowing and dramatic set of photographs from Africa and beyond and soon develops into a story with a heart-warming and inspiring conclusion, with touches of the late (and great) Michael Glawogger and Richard Attenborough thrown in. SALT OF THE EARTH will wow you with its warmth and concern for nature. Wim Wenders co-directs. 3 July 2015

EDEN_2 copyAt only 33 years old, Mia Hansen-Love has already directed four features, a considerable achievement for a woman director in France. EDEN shares with her last two outings, a central character who does not know when to give up. Set in the world of ‘French Garage’, chronicling the years from the late eighties to the current day, EDEN is a spell-binding tour de force of music and emotion, brilliantly performed by a cast of Felix de Givry, Arsinée Khanjian and Greta Gerwig. 24 July 2015.

A_GIRL_WALKS_HOME_ALONE_AT_NIGHT_2 copyIn the backstreets of an Iranian industrial blackspot, a skate-boarding vampire preys on men who disrespect local women. A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT is Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut that won her the Gotham Independent Film Award for breakthrough director. A refreshing contrast to the ubiquitous theme of war in Middle-Eastern cinema, A GIRL.. is also a stylish departure from the current glut of teen vampire movies; making it a must-see for 2015. Crisp monochrome visuals and a beguiling, funky soundtrack lend a strangely retro feel. Out on 17th April 2015.

After the triumphant success of The Great Beauty that placed him in the firmament of indie directors, Paolo Sorentino again looks to the past in THE EARLY YEARS (La Giovanezza), his second English-language film. It focuses on the friendship of two creative forces, (a conductor and a film director played by Michael Caine and Paul Dano) who meet up on holiday in the Swiss Alps, where one receives a Royal invitation. With Luca Bigazzi behind the camera, this is set to be another visual masterpiece that will most likely grace the Red Carpet at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Also stars Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda and Rachel Weisz.

tulipBased on the book by Deborah Moggach, Justin Chadwick’s TULIP FEVER follows hotly on the heels of his previous film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. With a stellar cast of Christoph Waltz, Jack O’Connell, and Alicia Vikander and Dane DeHaan, this is set to be another fascinating historical drama. TULIP FEVER also has a rather rare quality: it is a film that not only matches the mood and atmosphere of the book, but creates its own emotional cosmos of big dreams, crashing down emotionally as well in financial terms.

IMG_0993Set in Denmark and Sweden and c0-scripted by Tobias Lindholm (The Hunt, A Hijacking) Thomas Vinterberg’s drama, THE COMMUNE (Kollektivet), was inspired by memories of his seventies childhood in Copenhagen. Denmark has always been a liberal country and in this ‘no holds barred’ account he pays tribute to that spirit of independence, exploring what happens when personal desires collide with the collective responsibility. Regular collaborators, Ulrich Thomsen and Trine Dyrholm star as academic couple at the centre of the story. On release in late 2015.

British indie THE GOOB founds its way from the England to Venice last summer where it premiered in the HORIZONS strand. Guy Myhill’s enigmatic directorial debut evokes the open spaces of the Norfolk countryside veiled in golden summer. An unsettling coming of age story, it pits a young man’s burgeoning sexuality against that of his mother’s boorish boyfriend – an avid stock-car racing champion and local grower played by Sean Harris. Sienna Guillory and Liam Walpole also star. May 28th release.

saltAnd last but not least: the film we’ve all been waiting for since Venice 2014 and looks as if it’s now bound for the Riviera at Cannes 2015: CAROL – Todd Haynes’ screen adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s lesbian-themed novel ‘The Price of Salt’, a fifties story of a New York shop-girl who falls for an older, married woman. With Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara starring in the leads, this is set to be another glamorous arthouse treat, with the sinister twist in the tale of the previous Highsmith screen outings, The Talented Mr Ripley and The Two Faces of January. 

EXACT RELEASE DATES TO BE CONFIRMED

The London Spanish Film Festival’s 5th Spring Weekend | 17-19 April 2015

safe_image.phpA selection of the latest Spanish films arrives in London on 17th April, with a chance to see multi-award-winning Noirish thriller LA ISLA MINIMA (Marshland) before it goes on general release this Summer.

LA ISLA MÍNIMA | Marshland

dir. Alberto Rodríguez, with Raúl Arévalo, Javier Gutiérrez, Antonio de la Torre, María Varod | Spain | 2014 | col | 105 mins | cert. 15 | In Spanish with English subtitles | London Première / Special preview courtesy of Altitude

Two ideologically opposed detectives are sent to the Guadalquivir river marshes to investigate the disappearance of two teenage girls during the small town’s festivities only to discover that they have been brutally murdered and that there were many others before them. Marshland is a noirish and gripping thriller in which everything feels slippery as the marsh itself and, for this, oppressively real. Sevillian Alberto Rodríguez and long-time co-writer Rafael Cobos create here a captivating atmosphere thanks in part to their knowledge of the area and the depth of the characters. The film was the absolute winner at this year’s Goyas with ten awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Javier Gutiérrez).

Followed by a Q&A (tbc)

Enjoy a glass of Albariño wine courtesy of Martin Codax from 7.45pm

Fri 17 April | 8.40pm | £12, conc. £10

10.000 km (main pic)

dir. Carlos Marqués-Marcet, with Natalia Tena, David Verdaguer | Spain | 2014 | col | 99 min | cert. 13 | In Spanish with English subtitles

10,000 km makes reference to the distance between Los Angeles and Barcelona, the distance between Alexandra and Sergio, who love each other but have to spend one year apart with their computer as the only tool to fight for their love and keep it alive. Based on the director’s own experience when he had to leave Barcelona, family and friends, the film is a reflection on the immediacy of communication nowadays and how there are certain things that cannot be substituted and that are key to our lives, such as touch and smell.

Fri 17 April | 6.30pm | £12, conc. £10

Sun 19 April | 5.00pm | £12, conc. £10

LA VIDA INESPERADAThe Unexpected Life

dir. Jorge Torregrossa, with Javier Cámara, Raúl Arévalo | Spain | 2013 | col | 105 min | cert. 13 | In Spanish with English subtitles | UK Première

“Primo” lives in Spain and, between jobs, decides to pay a visit to his cousin Juanito, who lives in New York City and works as an actor. Shortly after his arrival both cousins realise that the other’s life is not as good as it seemed. Written by Elvira Lindo and based in New York City, where the Spanish artist spends part of her time, La vida inesperada is a delightful romantic comedy about the uncertainties of life avoiding cultural stereotypes. Javier Cámara and Raúl Arévalo, two of Spain’s finest character actors, wander the streets of New York trying to find a sense to their lives when nothing is what it looks like.

Followed by a Q&A with the director

Sat 18 April | 6.30pm | £12, conc. £10

TODOS ESTÁN MUERTOS | They Are All Dead

Dir. Beatriz Sanchís, with Elena Anaya, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Angélica Aragón | Spain | 2014 | col | 93 mins | cert. 13 | In Spanish with English subtitles

Beatriz Sanchís debut feature, is an inspiring film mixing evocative Mexican magic realism touches with 80s style music reminding the Movida madrileña, in which pragmatic Paquita invoques his dead son Diego to come back amongst the living to force her daughter Lupe to take responsibility for the education of her son Pancho. Best known to British audiences for her roles in Julio Medem’s Sex and Lucía and Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In, Elena Anaya delivers a stunning as well as moving performance as the traumatised ex-music star overwhelmed by guilt feelings for the death of her brother. Both Anaya and Sanchís received several Best Actress and New Director nominations.

Followed by a Q&A

Sat 18 April | 8.50pm | £12, conc. £10

EL_NINO_4 copyEL NIÑO

dir. Daniel Monzón, with Luis Tosar, Jesús Castro, Eduard Fernández, Sergi López, Ian McShane, Bárbara Lennie | Spain | 2014 | col | 136 mins | cert. 15 | In Spanish with English Subtitles | Screening courtesy of Studiocanal

After Cell 211’s hit, Daniel Monzón comes back with an enthralling drug-trafficking action film based in real facts and set in the Strait of Gibraltar enriched by the presence of the social background. With stunning visuals and an impressive cast, the film follows El Niño (“The Kid”, superbly played by newcomer Jesús Castro) who, with his friend El Compi (“The Buddy”), dreams of a better life and thinks he can get it by running drugs across the Strait in his jet ski. After him are four very human cops…

Followed by a Q&A (tbc)

Sun 19 April | 7.30pm | £12, conc. £10

THE LONDON SPANISH FILM SPRING WEEKEND | 17 – 19 April 2015

Cannes Film Festival| Projections for 2015 | 13 – 24 May 2015

In a months time the World’s most well-known film festival will once again be rolling out the Red Carpet and bringing you the latest in World cinema. Meredith Taylor speculates on this year’s programme hopefuls, ahead of Thierry Frémaux’s official unveiling in mid-April.

salt

Joel and Ethan Coen will Chair the Jury this year, so let’s start with American cinema. Todd Haynes’ glossy literary adaptation from Patricia Highsmith’s novel Salt: CAROL (below) has been waiting in the wings since being a possible opener for last year’s VENICE Film Festival. Starring Cate Blanchett it is a glamorous choice for this year’s Palme D’Or. Terrence Malick made his entrance earlier this year at BERLIN with the divisive (amongst critics) drama Knight of Cups and it’s possible that his next film, a documentary on the creation of the Earth, VOYAGE OF TIME, will be ready to grace the Red Carpet this May. Narrated by Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt, this mammoth project is currently in post production. Cannes habitué Jeff Nichols also has a new film, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, a father and son Sci-Fi road movie starring Adam Driver and regular collaborator, Michael Shannon, who discovers his boy has special powers. For star quality, Cannes thrives on US stars, and who better to add glitz to the Red Carpet than George Clooney. He stars in Brad Bird’s  TOMORROWLAND, a Sci-Fi adventure that also has Hugh Laurie. Gus Van Sant’s THE SEA OF TREES, a story of friendship between an American and a Japanese man (Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe) is another possible contender. William Monahan’s lastest, a thriller entitled MOJAVE, (Mark Wahlberg and Oscar Isaac) could also bring some glamour to the Croisette. Natalie Portman’s will bring her Jerusalem set screen adaptation of Amos Oz’s memoir A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS to the Croisette. It is a drama featuring an Israeli cast including herself, as his on-screen daughter, Fania Oz.

imageMost of this year’s films will be come from Europe and Italy has some brand new offerings from their côterie of well-known directors. Nanni Moretti was last on the Croisette in 2011 with his comedy drama WE HAVE A POPE, this year he could return with another drama co-written with Francesco Piccolo, MIA MADRE, in which he also stars alongside the wonderful Margherita Buy (Il Caimano) and John Turturro. There is Matteo Garrone’s long-awaited THE TALE OF TALES, adapted from Giambattista Basile’s 17th Century work and featuring Vincent Cassel and Salma Hayek in the leads. Another literary adaptation from Italy, WONDERFUL BOCCACCIO, is a drama based on The Decameron: the tales of ten young people who escape to the hills during an outbreak of Plague in 14th century Italy. A stellar cast of Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes and Matthias Schoenaerts appear in Luca Guadagnino’s latest, A BIGGER SPLASH, a thriller that unravels in Italy – when an American woman (Tilda Swinton) invites a former lover to share her villa with onscreen husband Ralph Fiennes, sparks fly, particularly as Matthias Schoenaerts is the love interest.  After Cannes success with The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino could be back with YOUTH (La Giovenezza), a drama of trans-generational friendship that takes place in the Italian Alps with a starry cast of Rachel Weisz, Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda and Paul Dano. Definite Red Carpet material. And Marco Bellocchio could well be chosen for his latest historical drama L’ULTIMO VAMPIRO which stars Italian actress of the moment, Alba Rohrwacher – recently in Berlinale with Vergine Giurata.

The Scandinavians could well be on board with Joachim Trier’s first anglophone outing LOUDER THAN BOMBS, a wartime drama in which Isabelle Huppert plays a photographer. Tobias Lindholm’s follow up to the nail-bitingly  rigorous A Highjacking, is A WAR. It has Søren Malling and Pilou Asbaek as soldiers stationed in Helmand Province, with echoes of Susanne Bier’s war-themed drama Brothers. Russian maverick Aleksandr Sokurov could present LE LOUVRE SOUS L’OCCUPATION, the third part of his quadrilogy of Power, following Moloch (1999) and Taurus (2001) and filmed in the magnificent surroundings of the Parisian museum. And Greeks could bear gifts in the shape of THE LOBSTER, Yorgos Lanthimos’ dystopian love story set in the near future and forecasting a grim future for coupledom, with Léa Seydoux, and Colin Farrell. There’s also much excitement about the long-awaited follow up Portuguese director, Miguel Gomes’ Tabu, with his 1001 NIGHTS, a re-working of the legendary Arabian tale; certainly destined for the auteurish “Un Certain Régard” sidebar together with Polish auteur Andrzej Zulawski’s Sintra-set COSMOS, a literary adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz’ novel and starring Sabine Azéma (the former partner of Alain Resnais).

macbeth-Further afield, it’s unlikely that Taiwanese fillmaker Hou Hsiao Hsien THE ASSASSIN will be ready to grace the ‘Montée des Marches’ but from Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s drama fantasy, CEMETERY OF KINGS, could well make it. Kiyoshi Kurasawa’s JOURNEY TO THE SHORE is in post production. The Japanese director is best known for award-winners, Tokyo Sonata and The Cure. Many will remember Australian director Justin Kurzel’s incendiary thriller debut SNOWTOWN, and his recent drama THE TURNING that is now on general release. His latest outing MACBETH (right) featured strongly in the Film Market at Cannes last year, starring Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender, so it could well enter the fray. For star quality and sheer impact MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (below) will make a blast onto the Riviera. Starring Britons Tom Hardy and Nicholas Hoult and the lovely Charlize Theron, the fourth in George Millar’s action thriller series could will certainly set the night on fire, in more ways than one.

 

SUNSET-SONG-premieres-images-du-nouveau-Terence-Davies-avec-Agyness-Deyn-47013From England there is Donmar Warehouse director, Michael Grandage’s GENIUS, a biopic of the book editor Max Perkins, who oversaw the works of Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe and F Scott Fitzgerald. Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Jude Law all take part. Asif Kapadia has two films currently in production: ALI AND NINO starring Danish actress, Connie Nielsen and Mandy Patinkin, and adapted for the screen by scripter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) from a book by Kurban Said. But his anticipated biopic on the life of Amy Winehouse UNTITLED AMY WINEHOUSE DOCUMENTARY is sadly not quite ready for screening. Other British titles could include Ben Wheatley’s HIGH RISE, a Sci-Fi drama based on J G Ballard’s eponymous novel centred on the residents of a tower block and starring Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Millar and Jeremy Irons. Veteran director Terence Davies could also be back in Cannes representing Britain. In 1988, he won the FIPRESCI Prize for his autobiographical drama Distant Voices, Still Lives. His recent work SUNSET SONG, (above left) is a historical drama based on the book by Lewis Grassic Gibbon and stars Agyness Deyn (Electricity) and Peter Mullan (Tyrannosaur).

 

Cannes PicAnd last but not least, the French have plenty to offer for their legendary ‘tapis rouge’. Cannes regular Jacques Audiard’s DHEEPAN is the story of a Sri Lankan Tamil warrior who escapes to France and ends up working as a caretaker, Gaspar Noé’s first film in English, a sexual melodrama, in which he also stars, LOVE, is ready for the competition line-up. Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s BELLES FAMILLES is the latest vehicle for Mathieu Amalric to showcase his talents. After his stint at directing made the Un Certain Régard strand in the shape of Blue Room, he appeared in the recent English TV serial ‘Wolf Hall’. Here he plays a man who is sucked back into his past while visiting his family in Paris. Marine Vacth (Jeune et Jolie) and veterans André Dussollier and Nicole Garcia also star. And what would Cannes be without Philippe Garrel’s usual contribution. This year it will be L’OMBRE DES FEMMES, a drama co-written with his partner, Caroline Deruas. Palme D’Or Winner 2013, Abdellatif Kechiche, latest film, LA BLESSURE, starring Gérard Depardieu, it not quite ready to be unwrapped. But the well-known star may well appear on the Croisette with THE VALLEY OF LOVE, Guillaume Nicloux’s California-set saga which also stars the luminous Cannes regular Isabelle Huppert, never one to shirk the Red Carpet. I’ll be bringing more possibilities as the filming year takes shape, so watch this space. MT.

CANNES INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL TAKES PLACE FRM 13 MAY UNTIL 25 MAY 2015

 

The Arbiter (2013)

Director: Kadri Kõusaar

Cast: Lee Ingleby, Bille Neeve, Sofia Berg-Bohm, Tony Aitkin, Andrea Lowe, Lina Leandersson,

100min   Thriller   Estonia

Kadri Kõusaar’s unsettling thriller draws you into its dark and morally complex web from its opening scenes in a fin de siècle mansion in the chilly depths of the Estonian countryside. Here, we meet John (Lee Ingleby), a young and respectable research scientist who has been invited for an interview. The job? To provide sperm for a rich and intelligent woman who is looking for a perfect child. And so begins the exploration of a man’s descent into madness and a bleak tale of human genetics that explores some thorny and highly questionable ethical themes.

Fast forward a decade or so and John’s promising career has hit the skids and he is working as a backroom research scientist living with his girlfriend, a corporate high-flyer. Pregnant, she is opting for an abortion, on the grounds of John’s unsuitability as the father of her future child. We see the two of them by a frozen lake, scattering the ashes of the foetus into the icy waters. John is devastated by the brutal termination of his relationship and his fatherhood and retreats into himself, deciding that the best course of action is time out to heal the emotional scars.

Lee Ingleby, best known for his TV work, is brilliantly cast here as the lead in this eerily sinister story. He has the same quality of vapid  ‘otherworldliness’ as Christopher Walken, and also brings a touch of sardonicism to the role. It is a perfect pairing with Lina Leanderrson, (who you will remember from Let The Right One In) who plays his daughter Ronja from the successful donation project, and with whom he embarks on a sinister road trip. Although it appears outwardly that John has recovered, his emotional sadness has subverted into a troubling personality change.

During his time out John has infact been brooding over some provocative issues concerning the future of his fellow humans. Initially, initially his efforts as a vigilante-style do-gooder pursuing moral rectitude are faintly amusing: he transforms a rowdy night club into a classical music event. But when he gets his revenge on a religious paedophile by pimping Ronja into the equation, it is clear that he is developing a ‘God Complex”. After gassing a busload of elderly mentally disabled passengers, Ronja draws the line and they part company. Eventually John meets his maker in a rather chilling denouement that brings him back again to a lakeside. With a chilling score, subtle performances and a great sense of place, this is a compelling and provocative film that won’t be to everyone’s taste. Viewed dispassionately, it raises some alternative issues marking Kõusaar out to be a director of intellect and talent.

VIEWED AT KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2013

 

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

Director: Monte Hellman

Writers: Rudy Wurlitzer, Will Corry

Cast: James Taylor, Warren Oates, Dennis Wilson, Laurie Bird, Harry Dean Stanton

Of the four leads in Monte Hellman’s cult classic road movie TWO-LANE BLACKTOP, sadly only one remains, the sing-songwriter James Taylor. Hellman too survives and although his offbeat and entertaining masterpiece was revered by the critics – winning two major awards for Warren Oates in his supporting role as a maverick lone-motorist GTO, and making Hellman an everlasting cult director – it was a flop at the box office.

The road movie genre had only just come into existence in the early 70s and BLACKTOP centres on a pair of loon-wearing hippies, musicians Dennis Wilson (The Mechanic) and Taylor (The Driver), who challenge Oates to a driving contest across America’s south-western states. The musicians are classic petrol-heads in their custom Chevrolet and dapper Walter Mitty character Oates drives a yellow GTO Pontiac, doling out a different diatribe to each quirky hick-hiker he meets along the way. One is played by Harry Dean Stanton, a homosexual cowboy who places his hand on GTO’s knee during the drive and gets short shrift in return: “I’m not into that!, This is competition man, I’ve got no time”.  A voluble, tousled-hair teenager in the shape of Laurie Bird (‘The Girl’) hitches a lift with the Chevrolet. She sleeps with Wilson ‘s Mechanic on the first night and later flirts with the other two before leaving them all to their own devices on the back of another traveller’s motorbike.

BLACKTOP is wittily co-scripted with a string one-liners by Rudy Wurlitzer (who also gets a small part) and Will Corry from his own story, referencing the fear surrounding the Zodiac serial killings in the area during the late 60s, early 70s:”You guys aren’t like the Zodiac killers or anything, right?” And although Dennis Wilson was one of the Beach Boys, the soundtrack, “Moonlight Drive” was written and performed by The Doors. MT

SCREENING DURING THE AUTEUR FILM FESTIVAL, CURZON BLOOMSBURY, MARCH 2015

 

The Offence (1972)

15771950614_6e4c03b14f_mDirector: Sidney Lumet

Cast: Sean Connery, Trevor Howard, Vivien Merchant, Ian Bannen

UK/USA 1972, 113 min. Drama

Sidney Lumet (1924-2011) was always interested in subjects to do with judicial justice; his first great success, Twelve Angry Man (1957) shows the interaction between very different men on a murder jury. There, as well as in THE OFFENCE, he tries to describe violent actions committed by men, whose own disturbing nature is not far removed from the suspected criminals they are dealing with.

Sergeant Johnson (Connery) is a burnt out cop who humiliates his wife Maureen (Merchant) with sadistic fervour. When confronted with the suspected child molester Kenneth Baxter (Ian Bannen), he sees very much of himself in the man, beating him unconscious in the end in this tense psychological drama that unspools within the confines of a police interrogation room. Later, when interrogated by his boss Superintendent Cartwirght (Trevor Howard), we see further parallels with Baxter: Johnson shrinks literally in front of Cartwright (“You are not up to it, still a Sergeant at your age”). Ambiguity runs through the fragmented narrative, the flashbacks underlining even more how close Baxter and Johnson are in their psychological profile. Whilst we never learn if Baxter is really guilty, Johnson’s reaction to the raped girls and murdered women leads us to believe that he too is very well capable of these crimes. Sexually frustrated and in a dead-end marriage himself, he tries to impose his own feelings onto Baxter, in order to draw a confession out of him. Finally, Johnson admits to Baxter that he has rape phantasies, and asks Baxter to help. “I have to have what you have got, help me!”. When Baxter recoils in disgust, Johnson starts killing him in an admission that he cannot bear his role as police officer anymore. The self-hatred, which could be observed before in his interactions with his wife, is projected onto to Baxter.

The script is by John Hopkins; based on his stage play. Hopkins wrote several scripts for “Z-Cars”, among them one for a very young Ken Loach. The acting, particular Connery’s ‘lost soul’ Johnson, is brilliant. And Trevor Howard also excels in his portrait of the senior police detective. Gerry Fisher’s camera catches the mood of the early 70s in Britain perfectly and the grim architecture of the Secondary Modern school where the victim (Maxine Gordon) attends school, and creates a claustrophobic atmosphere in the police interview room. In 1971, before shooting Diamonds are forever, Connery had only agreed to star in this new James Bond film, if United Artists would finance two independent films of his choice, costing not more than 2 million. In the end, THE OFFENCE, which cost £ 900 000, was the only realised project – it was a box-office flop. Roman Polanski beat Connery to the post with the second project, a screen version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. AS

AVAILABLE FROM 20 APRIL 2015 COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA | EUREKA

New 1080p presentation of the film on the Blu-ray
· Optional English SDH for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
· Optional isolated music and effects track
· Video interview with stage director Christopher Morahan
· Video interview with assistant art director Chris Burke
· Video interview with costume designer Evangeline Harrison
· Video interview with composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle
· Original theatrical trailer
· 36-PAGE BOOKLET featuring a new essay on the film by critic Mike Sutton, a vintage interview about the film with Sidney Lumet, and rare archival imagery

 

Mouchette (1967)

Director: Robert Bresson

Cast: Nadine Nortier, Jean-Claude Guilbert, Marie Cardinal, Paul Hebert, Jean Vimenet

78min  Drama   French with subtitles

MOUCHETTE  is an intense tale of a fourteen year-old-girl living in poverty, in the French countryside. She is trapped by a dependent and uncaring family. The mother is dying. The father is an alcoholic. Mouchette’s baby brother is urgently in need of care. A local poacher almost abuses Mouchette, and the villagers criticise her innocent ‘sensuality.’ This is ‘catalogue of woes’ material. Many directors would go down an easy and obvious dramatic route, either making the teenager appear a passive victim in a clunky social critique, or else have her take melodramatic revenge on the family. Yet the searing and eloquent rigour of Robert Bresson’s direction takes neither of these options. MOUCHETTE is quite simply one of the most heart breaking films about human frailty that you will encounter. It is Bresson at the height of his creative powers and a classic of French cinema. But before the review – a plot spoiler: If you don’t want to know what it is, then avoid reading the remainder of this review.

MOUCHETTE is a tragedy that culminates in the girl’s suicide. In most commercial cinema the depiction of death can often seem ridiculously matter of fact, absurdly playful, excessively brutal or grotesquely over the top. As for suicide, well that’s an even harder act to authentically portray. Pawilikowski’s IDA (2014) has the aunt of the young Ida, kill herself by jumping out of the window of her second floor flat. The record of the Mozart symphony plays on. Life is taken from us. Or a cinematic life disappears from the screen. It was sensitively directed. We deeply cared. But there was no way anyone could have intervened to prevent it from happening.

Yet what do you make of a film where a child’s suicide is shown not just to be an inevitable release from a harsh set of circumstances, but actually strikes you with such physicality and spirituality that it becomes the most spontaneously lived out and defiant of acts?

Mouchette, carrying milk for her baby brother, approaches a hillock that runs down into a lake. She has been given a dress by an old woman. The girl wraps it, like a shroud, round her body and rolls down the grass. She stops, returns, rolls again and then once more. This time right into the water. On the soundtrack we hear brief snatches of the music of Monteverdi. The girl’s death has a ‘rightness’ about it. A response, or grace, that crushes the inhumanity she has experienced. Yet Bresson neither condemns nor condones. He depicts, with such tender neutrality, the operation of casual evil.

Beautifully photographed, incisively edited (so many shots of Mouchette angrily throwing handfuls of earth), brilliantly acted by a cast of mostly non-actors (Nadine Nortier’s ‘acting’ is amongst the greatest child performances in cinema) and guided by a purity of direction, that few filmmakers could even conceptualize. The new blu-ray edition of Mouchette is essential viewing. Alan Price.

MOUCHETTE IS SCREENING DURING THE AUTEUR FILM FESTIVAL TO CELEBRATE THE OPENING OF THE CURZON BLOOMSBURY | 1 APRIL 2015 at 13.30

Kinoteka Polish Film Festival 2015 | 8 April – 29 May 2015 | 13th Edition

10264804_1084725484887340_3803537261850274160_nKINOTEKA, the annual celebration of Polish Cinema and culture, is back in London for the 13th Anniversary. Taking place in various venues including BFI Southbank, ICA, Tate Modern, Fronline Club and Filmhouse Edinburgh.

Here’s a taster of this year’s highlights:

MARTIN SCORSESE PRESENTS : MASTERPIECES OF POLISH CINEMA

Filmhouse Edinburgh and BFI Southbank will be host to Scorsese’s 21 favourite Polish Films, all sparkling in new 2k prints. Showcasing the astonishing talent from the legendary Łódź Film School where directors such as Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi, Andrzej Munk, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Wojciech Jerzy Has, Aleksander Ford, Krzysztof Kieślowski, and Roman Polanski mastered their crafts.

Opening with a screening of CAMOUFLAGE with director Krzysztof Zanussi as special guest, KINOTEKA honours the work of Zanussi with 3 titles in the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema season: CAMOUFLAGE, THE CONSTANT FACTOR and ILLUMINATION as well as the UK premiere of his latest film, FOREIGN BODY  in the New Polish Cinema section.

N E W   P O L I S H   C I N E M A – 1o April 2015 onwards

The ICA plays host to KINOTEKA’s New Polish Cinema strand from 10th April with a selection of popular and critically successful contemporary Polish films from the last year. Krzysztof Zanussi’s FOREIGN BODY, takes an uncompromising look at contemporary Poland and the struggles between capitalist reality and Catholicism, sin and sainthood, men and women. Jerzy Stuhr’s latest film, CITIZEN, a dramedy set over sixty years, tells the story of Jan Bratek who regretfully finds himself at the heart of events from the modern history of Poland, from the 1950s through to the present day.

Wojciech Smarzowski ‘s (TRAFFIC DEPARTMENT), THE MIGHTY ANGEL, is in many ways Poland’s answer to The Lost Weekend and Leaving Las Vegas. An uncompromising, naturalistic tale of addiction and redemption, Robert Więckiewicz stars as a writer hospitalised for his alcoholism and the film follows him and the patients he meets during his treatment.

Krzysztof Skonieczny’s HARDKOR DISKO, hails the arrival of a fresh voice in Polish Cinema, his incendiary, psychological thriller wowed audiences when it premiered at last year’s Edinburgh Film Festival. When a young man arrives in the city and makes his way to the door of a successful middle-aged couple, his motives for being there are unclear. What quickly becomes apparent is that his overriding desire is to kill them. Compelling and disturbing, Hardkor Disko has elements of Michael Hanneke’s Funny Games.

U N D E R   T H E   L E N S Polish Documentary film in focus

KINOTEKA showcases original, innovative documentary from Poland. Paweł Pawlikowski is primarily known in the UK for his critically acclaimed feature films, including the BAFTA-winning LAST RESORT, MY SUMMER OF LOVE and most recently the Oscar® winning IDA. He began his career in television making documentaries for the BBC, where his distinctive mixing of fact with elements of the personal and poetic challenged expectations of the television documentary format. Paweł Pawlikowski will present a special weekend of screenings at the ICA (18th/19th April), including DOSTOEVSKY’S TRAVELS about the Russian novelist’s journey to Western Europe in the early 1990s, his great grandson Dimitri makes the same journey, travelling from St Petersburg to Berlin and London to lecture about his great grandfather. Dimitri’s sole ambition is to earn enough money to buy a Mercedes. Blending real and fictional events, Pawlikowski’s film reflects on one of the pivotal moments in modern history: the fall of the Berlin Wall; ruminating on the collapse of the Soviet Union and Russia’s transition to capitalism.

In a short career before his premature death at the age of 34, influential documentarian Wojciech Wiszniewski (1946-1981) produced just 12 films in total, yet he is now considered to be one of the most outstanding personalities of his generation. Known for his cutting edge and pioneering approach, his work broke conventions by employing bold techniques of framing, distorting sound and an associative use of editing to orchestrate or create a reality. His legacy is explored in Wojciech Wiszniewski Rediscovered, a programme of 6 of his shorts at the ICA on 12th April.

The documentary strand also celebrates the work of emerging Polish documentary filmmakers. Both Aneta Kopacz and Tomasz Śliwiński who studied at the Wajda Film School have been Oscar® nominated for this year’s Best Documentary Short Film category. Aneta Kopacz’s JOANNA is a tender portrait of a woman with terminal cancer and her attempts to prepare her young family for a world without her in it. Shot by Łukasz Żal, the talented young Polish cinematographer who is also Oscar® nominated for Ida, Joanna is a story of strength in the face of adversity. Tomasz Śliwiński’s OUR CURSE, is a personal statement by the director and his wife, the parents of a baby boy born with a rare and incurable disease. The film forms part of their process of coming to terms with his diagnosis.This year KINOTEKA will draw to a close with a special screening of cult Polish comedy THE CRUISE (1970) at the ICA (29th May), to mark Second Run’s DVD release.

KINOTEKA RUNS FROM 8 APRIL UNTIL 29 MAY 2015 IN LONDON AND EDINBURGH

Good for for Nothing (2014) Buoni a nulla | Cinema Made in Italy | 5-9 March 2015

Director/Writer: Gianni Di Gregorio

Cast: Anna Bonaiuto, Gianni Di Gregorio, Camilla Filippi, Valentina Gebbia

87min   Comedy  Italian with subtitles

Best know for his recent drama, Mid August Lunch, Gianni Di Gregorio plays himself in this light-hearted comedy that follows the trials and tribulations of an elderly civil servant in Rome. Kafkaesque in the extreme it never takes itself too seriously, driving home the message that it never pays to be too kind or flexible in work or in play.

On the brink of his retirement, Gianni discovers he is going to be working another three years due to a change in Government policy. And that isn’t all. His office is re-locating outside Rome, adding another hour to his leisurely morning commute via the local Coffee Bar. Can it get any worse? Apparently, yes. In the new office location, a toxic brew of politics puts a further dampener on his working life in the shape buxom Cinzia (Valentina Lodovini) and his new boss (Anna Bonaiuto) and her willing side-kick (Gianfelice Imparato). Luckily, Marco (Marco Marzocca) seems to be the only decent employee, joining forces with Gianni on the daily grind and even offering to work on his birthday. Just when he is re-adjusting to his new situation, Gianni’s daughter (Camilla Filippi) decides to take over his flat in the centre of Rome. All this stress sends Gianni into orbit and his blood pressure suffers as a result. But his doctor advises him to treat them mean to keep them keen. All very well when decency is your default position as a human being.

Well-acted and watchable throughout its running time of just over an hour, GOOD FOR NOTHING is pleasant, light-hearted fare that doesn’t outstay its welcome and occasionally puts a smile on your face, especially if you’re a fan of Gianni Di Gregorio and his charming brand of Italian humour. MT

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY IS BACK IN LONDON FROM 5-9 MARCH 2015. TICKETS HERE

 

87th Academy Awards | Foreign Language Section |OSCAR WINNER IDA

Short-listed films for the archaicly entitled “Foreign Language Section” have been announced for the Academy Awards 2015. Eighty three were submitted to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film and only five of these are nominated. The international ceremony will take place on February 22, 2015 in Los Angeles.Tangerine_still1_SeanBaker__byRadium_2014-11-26_03-37-07PM

Here are our reviews of some of the contenders: 

WILD_TALES_1WILD TALES, Damian Szifron, Argentina (right)

TANGERINES , Zaza Urushadze  Estonia

TIMBUKTU, Abderrahmane Sissako  Mauritania

IDA, Paweł Pawlikowski  Poland (title)

LEVIATHAN_4 copyLEVIATHAN, Andrey Zvyagintsev  Russia

Ida won the Oscar in the 87th ACADEMY AWARDS ON 22 FEBRUARY 2015

 

 

 

Serena (2013) | DVD release

Director: Susanne Bier   Writer: Susanne Bier, Christopher Kyle

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones, Sean Harris, Ana Ularu

109min  Pyschological drama

After a long wait, Susanne Bier’s elegantly-crafted, depression-set retro noir makes for an enjoyable watch: there is sparkling chemistry from leads Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence who flesh out their roles with aplomb, yet feel way too starry for their characters; a glorious setting in the smoky mountains of North Carolina (actually, its the picturesque Czech Republic); darkly humorous turns from the Brits, Rhys Ifans and Toby Jones, hamming up their Southern drawls, and a thoughtful storyline that will appeal to art house audiences but has got caught up in Hollywood spin: as in A SECOND CHANCE Susanne Bier explores the corrosive force of childlessness on a power couple, but wraps it in a rather unconvincing storyline about bribery and corruption, penned by Christopher Kyle from the novel by Ron Rash.

This old-fashioned melodrama has the sinister vibes of Cold Mountain and even The Dark Valley. Bradley Cooper is screen dynamite as a debt-ridden timber pioneer, George Pemberton, who marries for money and falls in love. What he lacks in financial probity he makes up for in style and verve. Kitted out in his well-tailored hunting attire (designed by Signe Sejlund), he glows with vitality, bringing a suave masculine presence to the harsh mountainside community where everyone is down on their luck, until he fetches up with his stylish bride and heiress Serena (a luminous Jennifer Lawrence). Serena is not just a pretty face either: with her business acumen, gleaned from her father’s timber dynasty, she quickly gains respect amongst the locals and also has a winning way with birds; taming an eagle to control the snake population. But her glamour is too much for some: Pemberton’s partner Buchanan (David Dencik) feels threatened, for reasons other than business. Buchanan has a soft spot for George Pemberton, and it’s one that could go hard, given the chance. And a strange dark woman (Ana Ularu) with a baby, keep giving her menacing looks. Rhys Ivans (Galloway) is deliciously sinister as a wayfarer who comes to Serena’s aid when she saves his life in an accident, Toby Jones plays Toby Jones the Sheriff who has an implausible plan to turn the timber yard into a local amenity, but you keep wishing he’s just go away.

Ostensibly the Pemberton’s is a marriage made in heaven: until, that is, she tries her hand a child-bearing. Woody Allen was right when he said: “a relationship is like shark – if it doesn’t go forward, it dies”. And the Pemberton’s inability to create a family is ultimately their downfall. A power couple, figureheads of the community, their fragility and potent egos bound up in success and, in the Twenties, that still meant procreation. George Pemberton is similar to Andreas in A SECOND CHANCE (Bier’s film that releases here in January): they are both masculine men but there is also a vulnerability to them, and that vulnerability is their overriding need to be fathers: Their love for their offspring eclipses that of their wives. But due to his mysterious past, George Pemberton here holds the key to his wife’s undoing: and it’s alive and kicking in the same row of huts, right under their noses.

What fascinates Susanne Bier in this story; how a seemingly perfect love can not only be threatened but also de-stabilised when a woman feels let down by her biology and falls prey to mistrust and nagging self-doubt. And that is really what is crucial to understanding Serena, both the film and woman. The back-story concerning financial fraud is really just window-dressing. With Morten Soborg’s sumptuous camerawork and some great performances from the assembled cast, this is not a weak film but it is film that fails to concentrate and its crucial premise: that the pain and desperation of childlessness can cause mental instability. A that is the stuff of melodrama. MT

SERENA IS ON DVD FROM FRIDAY, 23 FEBRUARY 2015

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The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) | Berlinale 2015 | Generation

Director: Marielle Heller

Cast: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård., Kristen Wiig, Christopher Meloni

102mins  Drama   US

There are a number of films out there in the cinematic plains that are alleged to “rock”. There are probably some lost souls who claim that Cameron Crowe’s ALMOST FAMOUS “rocks”. Or perhaps some slightly more informed folk who say that DAZED AND CONFUSED “rocks”. Even typing the words feels a little mortifying. Marielle Heller’s THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL – that won this year’s Sundance cinematography award and is based on Phoebe Gloeckner ‘s book- really does sort of rock. There’s just no better word for it. In a ‘boot through the saloon door, balls to the wall’ kind of way. It’s not just a film about enjoying sex, it is (God help us all!) a film about a young woman enjoying sex. And not only that, it announces Heller as a zest fresh, ballsy first time writer/director, while introducing American indie cinema to an electric new star.

Bel Powley is that star. She jumps from her small screen role in BENIDORM (whatever that is) to play Minnie, the titular teenage girl. DIARY opens on Minnie’s first post-coital strut; slow-mo, eyeing up the world, flares waving from side to side. We’re back in the 1974; Patty Hearst’s just been kidnapped; things are getting a little wild. Minnie takes us through her first sexual experience, sleeping with her mom’s boyfriend Monroe; a dim, handsome golden retriever of a man, played by Alexander Skarsgård. She’s swept away, but is it him she falls in love with him or is it simply the sex?

Her best pal is a skinny blonde, so Minnie naturally considers herself fat and ugly (who doesn’t at that age). But sex just seems to liberate her from all that. So we follow Minnie as she goes off trying new things, leaving a trail of men behind her, making pals, taking drugs and dancing to rock and roll. She’s a cartoonist too and her illustrations, which come alive in the frame, also play a central role. This might all sound a bit familiar, but the cartoons- taken from Gloeckner’s original work and brought to life beautifully by the film’s animation team- are more in the vain of Robert Crumb’s grotesque human comedy than anything we saw sprouting out of Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer.

So Minnie’s an artist, and a badass, and she smokes pot and listens to Iggy Pop. Sounds horrendous but by some sort of miracle, it’s not annoying at all. Perhaps it’s a matter of attitude, or simply offering up two fingers to the world.

And how rare and special a thing that is. A badass story finds a badass director and an equally badass star. Bel Powley is pure lightning in a bottle; bursting at the seams with strength, vulnerability, sexuality, and youth. That (500) Days mention really is telling. By comparison, Heller’s film is like a Sundance EASY RIDER. Despite being set over 40 years in the past, it leaves that last generation of indie film looking strangely creepy and desperately old-fashioned. A last nail, perhaps, in the manic-pixie coffin.

The film screened in the Berlin Film Fest’s Generation sidebar. A program selected for young people aged 14 or over. We can only hope and pray such leniency is awarded when national ratings boards catch the scent. Whatever the case, it seems safe to wager that by this time next year, Bel Powley will be everyone’s favourite new star. Expect inundated Facebook feeds whenever Fox Searchlight see fit to release it. Hop on the wagon quick, those seats are gonna go fast. Rory O’Connor.

BERLINALE 5-15 FEBRUARY 2015. ALL OUR COVERAGE IS UNDER ‘BERLINALE 2015’

Misfits (2015) | Berlinale |

Dir.: Jannk Splidsboel

Documentary; USA/Sweden/Denmark 2015, 75 min,

After watching Jannk Splidsboel’s documentary about gay and lesbians in Tulsa, Oklahoma, one wonders why the religious fanatics of this world (in this case mainly Christians) create such hell on earth for everyone who fails to share their narrow perspective of life – whilst at the same time proclaiming endlessly publicly that these “sinners” will go straight to Hell.

Tulsa, population 400 000, is very much a soulless city and not only for these minorities. A uniformity of landscape prevails without any individual expression. It seems to have been censured by planner and inhabitants alike. A conformist force abides not only the suburbs, reducing the inhabitants to ants in a Lego world.

Now imagine being a gay or lesbian teenager in this environment. Suicides are not exceptional, doctors prescribe anti-anxiety drugs at the drop of a hat and many of the youngsters are literally thrown out of the house, as in the case of Larissa (17), whose mother simply declared “you are not part of the family any more”. The single safe heaven for these teenagers is the (only) Gay Youth Club in the city: “Openarms” has saved many lives, because people like Ben (19) feel that “it is me against the world”. For all of them, the club is “like entering a refuge, home and the family they never had”. On the wall of the meeting room is the motto of the club: “All love is equal”.

The stories these youngsters tell are disturbing – not only were they forced to go to Church but any book doubting strict religious dogma is confiscated by their parents. But not all of them have left religion behind; Benny (20) for example muses seriously about the concept of hell: “I believe in God, read the bible, and believe in hell. Where else would the bad people, the rapists and murderers go? But religion is contradictory”. All of them agree, “that no person would ever choose to be gay, looking at the trouble we are going through.” And the “trouble” is not just being thrown out of the family home, or being harassed by religious fanatics with megaphones and signs (“Remember Sodom & Gomorrah”) – one of the young men puts a knife into his boot because he has been attacked before.

The emotional turmoil these young people go through is shown with great sensibility: particularly the meeting of one couple, a transgender boy and a lesbian so full of angst (understandably, since they are literally re-inventing themselves), that the highly charged feelings are transferred to the audience. There is just one positive example here, when a young man discusses with his more liberal mother his proposed move to Dallas, to escape Tulsa for good.

Overall MISFITS suffers a little from structural issues and a restricted budget, but this is more than compensated for with a rare emotional directness. It certainly offers up a new example for the concept of “a living hell on earth”. AS

BERLINALE 5-15 FEBRUARY. OTHER COVERAGE IS UNDER BERLINALE 2015 

 

British Film | Women Directors | Great start for 2015 | Festivals

DarkHorse_headshot1_LouiseOsmond_byDozWilcox_2014-11-25_04-47-10AMSO THE BRITISH NEVER WIN ANYTHING? – well we’re off to a good start in 2015. At Sundance, the US indie film festival that kicks off the cinema year, Louise Osmond’s documentary DARK HORSE about a local steed that gets up and finishes first, took the Audience Award. Dreamcatcher_Still05 2DREAMCATCHER a documentary about prostitution won seasoned UK documentarian, Kim Longinotto, Best Director in the World Cinema strand. Another Brit, Chad Garcia, took home the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for THE RUSSIAN WOODPECKER that sees a Ukrainian victim of Chernobyl tackling his dark secret during the revolution. SlowWest_still1_MichaelFassbender_KodiSmitMcPhee__byNA_2014-11-26_10-36-58AMAnd a UK/New Zealand- filmed Western SLOW WEST was awarded World Cinema Grand Jury Prize – it was directed by a Scotsman, John Maclean, and has Michael Fassbender in the lead role.

Meanwhile over at Rotterdam International Film Festival, filmmaker Debbie Tucker Green’s look at the life of a London family, SECOND COMING, with a sterling British cast including Idris Elba and Frederick Schmidt, won the Big Screen Award. And three women directors out of five, is certainly looking more promising for this year’s crop of indie films. 201506056_1

At BERLINALE, the major European festival held in February (5-15) each year, British filmmakers are set to fly the flag with 45 YEARS, a much-anticipated drama from Andrew Haigh (Weekend) and a starry cast of Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay who play a married couple hit by tragedy when they discover a skeleton in the cupboard, in the shape of a past lover. The legendary character of Sherlock Holmes is brought to life when Ian Mckellen plays the 93-year-old detective, looking back over his sleuthing past, in a drama loosely adapted from the novel A Slight Trick of the Mind.

Helen Mirren will also be in Berlin with her new wartime drama Golden woman copyWOMAN IN GOLD. She plays a Jewish heiress embarking on a desperate search for a painting by Gustav Klimt. Directed by Simon Curtis, the drama also stars British veterans Jonathan Pryce and Charles Dance along with Ryan Reynolds. And last but not least, Berlinale will play out with Britbuster CINDERELLA ‘out of competition’. Filmed in the English countryside of Buckinghamshire, this is Kenneth Branagh’s new title for Disney and stars Brits, Derek Jacobi, Hayley Atwell, Helena Bonham Carter and Stellan Skarsgård.Cinderella_2015_official_poster

BERLINALE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 5- 15 FEBRUARY 2015 – for all our coverage follow the link Berlinale2015

 

 

Sundance 2015| 22 January – 1 February 2015 | Winners

SUNDANCE is the first major film festival of the year; a true indie festival coming to you from snowy Utah courtesy of its founder Robert Redford. Setting the benchmark for independent titles in 2015, SUNDANCE focuses on excellence in screenplays and  innovativeness in cinematography: each filmmaker is put their paces before their film can be considered in competition. Unlike the Academy Awards, SUNDANCE is purely about talent. We have highlighted the buzzworthy titles in RED and winners – watch out for them!

BEST FILMS

Grand Jury Prize: DramaticMe & Earl & the Dying Girl by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Grand Jury Prize: DocumentaryThe Wolfpack by Crystal Moselle

World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic Slow West by John Maclean

World Cinema Jury Prize: DocumentaryThe Russian Woodpecker by Chad Gracia

Special Jury Prize for Breakout First Feature: Documentary – Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe for (T)error

BEST DIRECTORS 

Directing Award: Dramatic – Robert Eggers for The Witch

Directing Award: Documentary – Matthew Heineman for Cartel Land

World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic – Alanté Kavaïté for The Summer of Sangailé

World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary – Kim Longinotto for Dreamcatcher

BEST SCRIPTS, CINEMATOGRAPHY and ACTING

Best Script: Waldo Salt Screenwriting AwardTim Talbott for The Stanford Prison Experiment

Cinematography Award: Documentary – Matthew Heineman and Matt Porwoll for Cartel Land

Cinematography Award: DramaPartisan 

World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Acting: Dramatic – Regina Casé and Camila Márdila for The Second Mother

World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Acting: DramaticJack Reynor for Glassland

AUDIENCE AWARDS 

World Cinema Audience Award: DramaticUmrika by Prashant Nair
World Cinema Audience Award: DocumentaryDark Horse by Louise Osmond

Audience Award: Documentary Meru by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Audience Award: DramaticMe & Earl & the Dying Girl by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Best of NEXT Audience AwardJames White by Josh Mond

U .S.   D R A M A T I C   C O M P E T I T I O N

advantageADVANTAGEOUS  / U.S.A. (Director: Jennifer Phang, Screenwriters: Jacqueline Kim, Jennifer Phang) — In a near-future city where soaring opulence overshadows economic hardship, Gwen and her daughter, Jules, do all they can to hold on to their joy, despite the instability surfacing in their world. Cast: Jacqueline Kim, James Urbaniak, Freya Adams, Ken Jeong, Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Kim.

Bronze_still1_MelissaRauch__byScottHenriksen_2014-11-26_12-58-37PMTHE BRONZE / U.S.A. (Director: Bryan Buckley, Screenwriters: Melissa Rauch, Winston Rauch) — In 2004, Hope Ann Greggory became an American hero after winning the bronze medal for the women’s gymnastics team. Today, she’s still living in her small hometown, washed-up and embittered. Stuck in the past, Hope must reassess her life when a promising young gymnast threatens her local celebrity status. Cast: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Thomas Middleditch, Sebastian Stan, Haley Lu Richardson, Cecily Strong. 

DTrain_still1_JamesMarsden_JackBlack__byHilaryBronwynGayle_2014-11-26_11-21-28AMTHE D TRAIN / U.S.A. (Directors and screenwriters: Jarrad Paul, Andrew Mogel) — With his 20th reunion looming, Dan can’t shake his high school insecurities. In a misguided mission to prove he’s changed, Dan rekindles a friendship with the popular guy from his class and is left scrambling to protect more than just his reputation when a wild night takes an unexpected turn. Cast: Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, Mike White, Kyle Bornheimer.

DiaryofaTeenageGirl_still1_BelPowley_AlexanderSkarsgrd__bySamEmerson_2014-11-26_06-23-30PMTHE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Marielle Heller) — Minnie Goetze is a 15-year-old aspiring comic-book artist, coming of age in the haze of the 1970s in San Francisco. Insatiably curious about the world around her, Minnie is a pretty typical teenage girl. Oh, except that she’s sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend. Cast: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Christopher Meloni, Kristen Wiig.

DOPE/ U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Rick Famuyiwa) — Malcolm is carefully surviving life in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles while juggling college applications, academic interviews, and the SAT. A chance invitation to an underground party leads him into an adventure that could allow him to go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself. Cast: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Blake Anderson, Zoë Kravitz, A$AP Rocky.

ISmileBack_still6_SarahSilverman_JoshCharles__byEricLin_2014-11-27_03-52-36PMI SMILE BACK / U.S.A. (Director: Adam Salky, Screenwriters: Amy Koppelman, Paige Dylan) —Laney Brooks does bad things. Married with kids, she takes the drugs she wants, sleeps with the men she wants, disappears when she wants. Now, with the destruction of her family looming, and temptation everywhere, Laney makes one last desperate attempt at redemption. Cast: Sarah Silverman, Josh Charles, Thomas Sadoski, Mia Barron, Terry Kinney, Chris Sarandon.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl / U.S.A. (Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Screenwriter: Jesse Andrews) is getting some great reviews, judging by the buzz currently coming out the festival crowd. Greg is coasting through senior year of high school as anonymously as possible, avoiding social interactions like the plague while secretly making spirited, bizarre films with Earl, his only friend. But both his anonymity and friendship threaten to unravel when his mother forces him to befriend a classmate with leukemia. Cast: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon. WINTER : Audience Award: Dramatic

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THE OVERNIGHT / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Patrick Brice) — In an attempt to acclimate to Los Angeles, a young couple spends an increasingly bizarre evening with the parents of their son’s new friend. Cast: Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman, Judith Godrèche.

PEOPLE, PLACES, THINGS/ U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: James C. Strouse) — Will Henry is a newly single graphic novelist balancing being a parent to his young twin daughters and teaching a classroom full of college students, all the while trying to navigate the rich complexities of new love and letting go of the woman who left him. Cast: Jemaine Clement, Regina Hall, Stephanie Allynne, Jessica Williams, Gia Gadsby, Aundrea Gadsby.

RESULTS / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Andrew Bujalski) — Two mismatched personal trainers’ lives are upended by the actions of a new, wealthy client. Cast: Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Michael Hall, Brooklyn Decker.

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SONGS MY BROTHERS TAUGHT ME / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Chloé Zhao) — This complex portrait of modern-day life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation explores the bond between a brother and his younger sister, who find themselves on separate paths to rediscovering the meaning of home. Cast: John Reddy, Jashaun St. John, Irene Bedard, Taysha Fuller, Travis Lone Hill, Eléonore Hendricks.

THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT / U.S.A. (Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez, Screenwriter: Tim Talbott) — Based on the actual events that took place in 1971, when Stanford professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo created what became one of the most shocking and famous social experiments of all time. Cast: Billy Crudup, Ezra Miller, Michael Angarano, Tye Sheridan, Johnny Simmons, Olivia Thirlby. BEST SCRIPT

STOCKHOLM, PENNSYLVANIA/ U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Nikole Beckwith) — A young woman is returned home to her biological parents after living with her abductor for 17 years. Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Cynthia Nixon, Jason Isaacs, David Warshofsky.

StockholmPennsylvania_still3_SaoirseRonan__byAaronEpstein_2014-11-26_02-04-04PM

UNEXPECTED / U.S.A. (Director: Kris Swanberg, Screenwriters: Kris Swanberg, Megan Mercier) — When Samantha Abbott begins her final semester teaching science at a Chicago high school, she faces some unexpected news: she’s pregnant. Soon after, Samantha learns that one of her favorite students, Jasmine, has landed in a similar situation. Unexpected follows the two women as they embark on an unlikely friendship. Cast: Cobie Smulders, Anders Holm, Gail Bean, Elizabeth McGovern.

THE WITCH/ U.S.A., Canada (Director and screenwriter: Robert Eggers) — Another buzzworthy title at this year’s festival is set in New England in the 1630s: William and Katherine lead a devout Christian life with five children, homesteading on the edge of an impassable wilderness. When their newborn son vanishes and crops fail, the family turns on one another. Beyond their worst fears, a supernatural evil lurks in the nearby wood. Cast: Anya Taylor Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Lucas Dawson, Ellie Grainger.

Z FOR ZACHARIAH / U.S.A. (Director: Craig Zobel, Screenwriter: Nissar Modi) — In a post-apocalyptic world, a young woman who believes she is the last human on Earth meets a dying scientist searching for survivors. Their relationship becomes tenuous when another survivor appears. As the two men compete for the woman’s affection, their primal urges begin to reveal their true nature. Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie, Chris Pine.

best of enemyU .S.  D O C U M E N T A R Y   C O M P E T I T I O N

Sixteen world-premiere American documentaries that illuminate the ideas, people, and events that shape the present day.

3½ MINUTES / U.S.A. (Director: Marc Silver) — On November 23, 2012, unarmed 17-year-old Jordan Russell Davis was shot at a Jacksonville gas station by Michael David Dunn. 3½ MINUTES explores the aftermath of Jordan’s tragic death, the latent and often unseen effects of racism, and the contradictions of the American criminal justice system.

BEING EVIL / U.S.A. (Director: Daniel Junge) —Millions know the man, but few know his story. Academy Award-winner Daniel Junge (Saving Face) and actor/producer Johnny Knoxville reveal an unprecedented and candid look at American daredevil and icon Robert “Evel” Knievel. Being Evel is a surprising tale about a childhood hero…flaws and all.

BEST OF ENEMIES U.S.A. (Directors: Morgan Neville, Robert Gordon) — Best of Enemies is a behind-the-scenes account of the explosive 1968 televised debates between the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley Jr., and their rancorous disagreements about politics, God, and sex.

call me luckCALL ME LUCKY / U.S.A. (Director: Bobcat Goldthwait) — Barry Crimmins was a volatile but brilliant bar comic who became an honored peace activist and influential political satirist. Famous comedians and others build a picture of a man who underwent an incredible transformation.

CARTEL LAND/ U.S.A., Mexico (Director: Matthew Heineman) — In this classic Western set in the 21st century, vigilantes on both sides of the border fight the vicious Mexican drug cartels. With unprecedented access, this character-driven film provokes deep questions about lawlessness, the breakdown of order, and whether citizens should fight violence with violence. Directing Award: Documentary 

CityofGold_headshot2_LauraGabbert_byJerryHenry_2014-11-26_02-27-10PMCITY OF GOLD/ U.S.A. (Director: Laura Gabbert) — Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Jonathan Gold casts his light upon a vibrant and growing cultural movement in which he plays the dual roles of high-low priest and culinary geographer of his beloved Los Angeles.

FINDERS KEEPERS / U.S.A. (Directors: Bryan Carberry, Clay Tweel) — Recovering addict and amputee John Wood finds himself in a stranger-than-fiction battle to reclaim his mummified leg from Southern entrepreneur Shannon Whisnant, who found it in a grill he bought at an auction and believes it to therefore be his rightful property.

HOT GIRLS WANTED / U.S.A. (Directors: Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus) — Hot Girls Wanted is a first-ever look at the realities inside the world of the amateur porn industry and the steady stream of 18- and 19-year-old girls entering into it.

HotGirlsWanted_still1_Tressa__byRonnaGradus_2014-11-27_12-50-07AMHOW TO DANCE IN OHIO / U.S.A. (Director: Alexandra Shiva) — In Columbus, Ohio, a group of teenagers and young adults on the autism spectrum prepare for an iconic American rite of passage — a spring formal. They spend 12 weeks practicing their social skills in preparation for the dance at a local nightclub.

LARRY KRAMER IN LOVE AND ANGER / U.S.A. (Director: Jean Carlomusto) — Author, activist, and playwright Larry Kramer is one of the most important and controversial figures in contemporary gay America, a political firebrand who gave voice to the outrage and grief that inspired gay men and lesbians to fight for their lives. At 78, this complicated man still commands our attention.

Meru_still2_ConradAnker_JimmyChin__byRenanOzturk_2014-11-26_03-22-12PMMERU / U.S.A. (Directors: Jimmy Chin, E. Chai Vasarhelyi) — Three elite mountain climbers sacrifice everything but their friendship as they struggle through heartbreaking loss and nature’s harshest elements to attempt the never-before-completed Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru, the most coveted first ascent in the dangerous game of Himalayan big wall climbing. Audience Award: Dramatic 

RACING EXTINCTION / U.S.A. (Director: Louie Psihoyos) — Academy Award-winner Louie Psihoyos (The Cove) assembles a unique team to show the world never-before-seen images that expose issues surrounding endangered species and mass extinction. Whether infiltrating notorious black markets or exploring humans’ effect on the environment, Racing Extinction will change the way you see the world.

(T)ERROR/ U.S.A. (Directors: Lyric R. Cabral, David Felix Sutcliffe) — (T)ERROR is the first film to document on camera a covert counterterrorism sting as it unfolds. Through the perspective of *******, a 63-year-old Black revolutionary turned FBI informant, viewers are given an unprecedented glimpse of the government’s counterterrorism tactics, and the murky justifications behind them. BEST BREAKOUT FILM 

WELCOME TO LEITH / U.S.A. (Directors: Michael Beach Nichols, Christopher K. Walker) — A white supremacist attempts to take over a small town in North Dakota.

westernWESTERN / U.S.A., Mexico (Directors: Bill Ross, Turner Ross) — For generations, all that distinguished Eagle Pass, Texas, from Piedras Negras, Mexico, was the Rio Grande. But when darkness descends upon these harmonious border towns, a cowboy and lawman face a new reality that threatens their way of life. Western portrays timeless American figures in the grip of unforgiving change.

THE WOLFPACK / U.S.A. (Director: Crystal Moselle) — Six bright teenage brothers have spent their entire lives locked away from society in a Manhattan housing project. All they know of the outside is gleaned from the movies they watch obsessively (and recreate meticulously). Yet as adolescence looms, they dream of escape, ever more urgently, into the beckoning worldGrand Jury Prize: Documentary

W  O  R  L  D    C  I  N  E  M  A    D  R  A  M  A  T  I  C    C  O  M  P  E  T  I  T  I  O  N

Twelve films from emerging filmmaking talents around the world offer fresh perspectives and inventive styles.

CLORO (Chlorine) / Italy (Director: Lamberto Sanfelice, Screenwriters: Lamberto Sanfelice, Elisa Amoruso) — Jenny, 17, dreams of becoming a synchronized swimmer. Family events turn her life upside down and she is forced to move to a remote area to look after her ill father and younger brother. It won’t be long before Jenny starts pursuing her dreams again. Cast: Sara Serraiocco, Ivan Franek, Giorgio Colangeli, Anatol Sassi, Piera Degli Esposti, Andrea Vergoni. World Premiere

chorusCHORUS/ Canada (Director and screenwriter: François Delisle) ­— A separated couple meet again after 10 years when the body of their missing son is found. Amid the guilt of losing a loved one, they hesitantly move toward affirmation of life, acceptance of death, and even the possibility of reconciliation. Cast: Sébastien Ricard, Fanny Mallette, Pierre Curzi, Genevieve Bujold. World Premiere

GLASSLAND/ Ireland (Director and screenwriter: Gerard Barrett) — In a desperate attempt to reunite his broken family, a young taxi driver becomes entangled in the criminal underworld. Cast: Jack Reynor, Toni Collette, Will Poulter, Michael Smiley. International Premiere.  World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Acting:Jack Reynor 

HOMESICK/ Norway (Director: Anne Sewitsky, Screenwriters: Ragnhild Tronvoll, Anne Sewitsky) — When Charlotte, 27, meets her brother Henrik, 35, for the first time, two people who don’t know what a normal family is begin an encounter without boundaries. How does sibling love manifest itself if you have never experienced it before? Cast: Ine Marie Wilmann, Simon J. Berger, Anneke von der Lippe, Silje Storstein, Oddgeir Thune, Kari Onstad. World Premiere

Ivy_headshot1_TolgaKaracelik_byunknownIVY/ Turkey (Director and screenwriter: Tolga Karaçelik) — Sarmasik is sailing to Egypt when the ship’s owner goes bankrupt. The crew learns there is a lien on the ship, and key crew members must stay on board. Ivy is the story of these six men trapped on the ship for days. Cast: Nadir Sarıbacak, Özgür Emre Yıldırım, Hakan Karsak, Kadir Çermik, Osman Alkaş, Seyithan Özdemiroğlu. World Premiere

PARTISAN/ Australia (Director: Ariel Kleiman, Screenwriters: Ariel Kleiman, Sarah Cyngler) — Alexander is like any other kid: playful, curious and naive. He is also a trained assassin. Raised in a hidden paradise, Alexander has grown up seeing the world filtered through his father, Gregori. As Alexander begins to think for himself, creeping fears take shape, and Gregori’s idyllic world unravels. Cast: Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara. World Dramatic Award for Cinematography.

PRINCESS / Israel (Director and screenwriter: Tali Shalom Ezer) — While her mother is away from home, 12-year-old Adar’s role-playing games with her stepfather move into dangerous territory. Seeking an escape, Adar finds Alan, an ethereal boy that accompanies her on a dark journey between reality and fantasy. Cast: Keren Mor, Shira Haas, Ori Pfeffer, Adar Zohar Hanetz. International Premiere

THE SECOND MOTHER / Brazil (Director and screenwriter: Anna Muylaert) — Having left her daughter, Jessica, to be raised by relatives in the north of Brazil, Val works as a loving nanny in São Paulo. When Jessica arrives for a visit 13 years later, she confronts her mother’s slave-like attitude and everyone in the house is affected by her unexpected behavior. Cast: Regina Casé, Michel Joelsas, Camila Márdila, Karine Teles, Lourenço Mutarelli. World Premiere

SlowWest_still1_MichaelFassbender_KodiSmitMcPhee__byNA_2014-11-26_10-36-58AMSLOW WEST / New Zealand (Director and screenwriter: John Maclean) — Set at the end of the nineteenth century, 16-year-old Jay Cavendish journeys across the American frontier in search of the woman he loves. He is joined by Silas, a mysterious traveler, and hotly pursued by an outlaw along the way. Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius, Rory McCann. World Premiere. World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic  WINNER

STRANGER LAND / Australia, Ireland (Director: Kim Farrant, Screenwriters: Fiona Seres, Michael Kinirons) — When Catherine and Matthew Parker’s two teenage kids disappear into the remote Australian desert, the couple’s relationship is pushed to the brink as they confront the mystery of their children’s fate. Cast: Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving, Lisa Flanagan, Meyne Wyatt, Maddison Brown. World Premiere

THE SUMMER OF SANGAILE/ Lithuania, France, Holland (Director and screenwriter: Alanté Kavaïté) — Seventeen-year-old Sangaile is fascinated by stunt planes. She meets a girl her age at the summer aeronautical show, nearby her parents’ lakeside villa. Sangaile allows Auste to discover her most intimate secret and in the process finds in her teenage love, the only person that truly encourages her to fly. Cast: Julija Steponaitytė, Aistė Diržiūtė. World Premiere. DAY ONE FILM. World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic – Alanté Kavaïté

UMRIKA / India (Director and screenwriter: Prashant Nair) — When a young village boy discovers that his brother, long believed to be in America, has actually gone missing, he begins to invent letters on his behalf to save their mother from heartbreak, all the while searching for him. Cast: Suraj Sharma, Tony Revolori, Smita Tambe, Adil Hussain, Rajesh Tailang, Prateik Babbar. World Premiere. World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic 

Sembene_still4_OusmaneSembeneandSambaGadjigo__byLisaCarpenter_2014-11-26_11-18-17AMW  O  R  L  D    C  I  N  E  M  A    D  O  C  U  M  E  N  T  A  R  Y    C  O  M  P  E  T  I  T  I  O  N

Twelve documentaries by some of the most courageous and extraordinary international filmmakers working today.

THE AMINA PROFILE / Canada (Director: Sophie Deraspe) — During the Arab revolution, a love story between two women — a Canadian and a Syrian American — turns into an international sociopolitical thriller spotlighting media excesses and the thin line between truth and falsehood on the Internet. World Premiere

CENSORED VOICES / Israel, Germany (Director: Mor Loushy) — One week after the 1967 Six-Day War, renowned author Amos Oz and editor Avraham Shapira recorded intimate conversations with soldiers returning from the battlefield. The Israeli army censored the recordings, allowing only a fragment of the conversations to be published. Censored Voices reveals these recordings for the first time. World Premiere

ChineseMayor_still4_Genglookingatthecity__byqi_2014-11-25_04-17-01PMTHE CHINESE MAYOR/ China (Director: Hao Zhou) — Mayor Geng Yanbo is determined to transform the coal-mining center of Datong, in China’s Shanxi province, into a tourism haven showcasing clean energy. In order to achieve that, however, he has to relocate 500,000 residences to make way for the restoration of the ancient city. World Premiere

Chuck Norris vs Communism / United Kingdom, Romania, Germany (Director: Ilinca Calugareanu) — In 1980s Romania, thousands of Western films smashed through the Iron Curtain, opening a window to the free world for those who dared to look. A black market VHS racketeer and courageous female translator brought the magic of film to the masses and sowed the seeds of a revolution. World Premiere

DarkHorse_headshot1_LouiseOsmond_byDozWilcox_2014-11-25_04-47-10AMDARK HORSE / United Kingdom (Director: Louise Osmond) — Dark Horse is the inspirational true story of a group of friends from a workingman’s club who decide to take on the elite “sport of kings” and breed themselves a racehorse. Showing how animals can unite the community in a common interest and cause, Osmond’s film has been well-received at the festival’s first showings. World Premiere

DREAMCATCHER/ United Kingdom (Director: Kim Longinotto) — Dreamcatcher takes us into a hidden world seen through the eyes of one of its survivors, Brenda Myers-Powell. A former teenage prostitute, Brenda defied the odds to become a powerful advocate for change in her community. With warmth and humor, Brenda gives hope to those who have none. World Premiere – World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary – SEE OUR ROTTERDAM REVIEW

HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD/ United Kingdom, Canada (Director: Jerry Rothwell) — In 1971, a group of friends sails into a nuclear test zone, and their protest captures the world’s imagination. Using rare, archival footage that brings their extraordinary world to life, How to Change the World is the story of the pioneers who founded Greenpeace and defined the modern green movement. World Premiere. DAY ONE FILM

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LISTEN TO ME, MARLON / United Kingdom (Director and screenwriter: Stevan Riley, Co-writer: Peter Ettedgui) — With exclusive access to previously unheard audio archives, this is the definitive Marlon Brando cinema documentary. Charting his exceptional career and extraordinary life away from the stage and screen, the film fully explores the complexities of the man by telling the story uniquely in Marlon’s own voice. World Premiere

PervertPark_still1_BillFuery__byLasseBarkfors_2014-11-20_07-06-45AMPERVERT PARK/ Sweden, Denmark (Directors: Frida Barkfors, Lasse Barkfors) — Pervert Park follows the everyday lives of sex offenders in a Florida trailer park as they struggle to reintegrate into society, and try to understand who they are and how to break the cycle of sex crimes being committed. International Premiere

THE RUSSIAN WOODPECKER / United Kingdom (Director: Chad Gracia) — A Ukrainian victim of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster discovers a dark secret and must decide whether to risk his life by revealing it, amid growing clouds of revolution and war. World PremiereWorld Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary 

RUSSIANWOODPECKER_still2_FedorAlexandrovich__byArtemRyzhykov_2014-11-20_05-25-34PMSEMBENE! / U.S.A., Senegal (Directors: Samba Gadjigo, Jason Silverman) — In 1952, Ousmane Sembene, a Senegalese dockworker and fifth-grade dropout, began dreaming an impossible dream: to become the storyteller for a new Africa. This true story celebrates how the “father of African cinema,” against enormous odds, fought a monumental, 50-year-long battle to give Africans a voice. World Premiere

THE VISIT/ Denmark, Austria, Ireland, Finland, Norway (Director: Michael Madsen) — “This film documents an event that has never taken place…” With unprecedented access to the United Nations’ Office for Outer Space Affairs, leading space scientists and space agencies, The Visit explores humans’ first encounter with alien intelligent life and thereby humanity itself. “Our scenario begins with the arrival. Your arrival.” World Premiere

N  E  X  T

Pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling populate this program. Digital technology paired with unfettered creativity promises that the films in this section will shape a “greater” next wave in American cinema. Presented by Adobe.

BOB AND THE TREES/ U.S.A., France (Director: Diego Ongaro, Screenwriters: Diego Ongaro, Courtney Maum, Sasha Statman-Weil) — Bob, a 50-year-old logger in rural Massachusetts with a soft spot for golf and gangsta rap, is struggling to make ends meet in a changed economy. When his beloved cow is wounded and a job goes awry, Bob begins to heed the instincts of his ever-darkening self. Cast: Bob Tarasuk, Matt Gallagher, Polly MacIntyre, Winthrop Barrett, Nathaniel Gregory. World Premiere

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CHRISTMAS, AGAIN / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Charles Poekel) — A heartbroken Christmas tree salesman returns to New York, hoping to put the past year behind him. He spends the season living in a trailer and working the night shift, until a mysterious woman and some colorful customers rescue him from self-destruction. Cast: Kentucker Audley, Hannah Gross, Jason Shelton, Oona Roche. North American Premiere

CRONIES/ U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Michael Larnell) — Twenty-two-year-old Louis doesn’t know whether his childhood friendship with Jack will last beyond today. Cast: George Sample III, Zurich Buckner, Brian Kowalski. World Premiere

Entertainment_Still_2_16bit__1_ENTERTAINMENT / U.S.A. (Director: Rick Alverson, Screenwriters: Rick Alverson, Gregg Turkington, Tim Heidecker) — En route to meeting with his estranged daughter, in an attempt to revive his dwindling career, a broken, aging comedian plays a string of dead-end shows in the Mojave Desert. Cast: Gregg Turkington, John C. Reilly, Tye Sheridan, Michael Cera, Amy Seimetz, Lotte Verbeek. World Premiere

H. / U.S.A., Argentina (Directors and screenwriters: Rania Attieh, Daniel Garcia) — Two women, each named Helen, find their lives spinning out of control after a meteor allegedly explodes over their city of Troy, New York. Cast: Robin Bartlett, Rebecca Dayan, Will Janowitz, Julian Gamble, Roger Robinson. World Premiere

JAMES WRIGHT/ U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Josh Mond) — A young New Yorker struggles to take control of his reckless, self-destructive behavior in the face of momentous family challenges. Cast: Chris Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Scott Mescudi, Makenzie Leigh, David Call. World Premiere. BEST OF NEXT AWARD

NASTY BABY / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Sebastian Silva) — A gay couple try to have a baby with the help of their best friend, Polly. The trio navigates the idea of creating life while confronted by unexpected harassment from a neighborhood man called The Bishop. As their clashes grow increasingly aggressive, odds are someone is getting hurt. Cast: Sebastian Silva, Kristin Wiig, Tunde Adebimpe, Alia Shawkat, Mark Margolis, Reg E. Cathey. World Premiere

THE STRONGEST MAN / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Kenny Riches) — An anxiety-ridden Cuban man who fancies himself the strongest man in the world attempts to recover his most prized possession, a stolen bicycle. On his quest, he finds and loses much more. Cast: Robert Lorie, Paul Chamberlain, Ashly Burch, Patrick Fugit, Lisa Banes. World Premiere

TAKE ME TO THE RIVER / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Matt Sobel) — A naive California teen plans to remain above the fray at his Nebraskan family reunion, but a strange encounter places him at the center of a long-buried family secret. Cast: Logan Miller, Robin Weigert, Josh Hamilton, Richard Schiff, Ursula Parker, Azura Skye. World Premiere

Tangerine_still1_SeanBaker__byRadium_2014-11-26_03-37-07PMTANGERINE / U.S.A. (Director: Sean Baker, Screenwriters: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch) — A working girl tears through Tinseltown on Christmas Eve searching for the pimp who broke her heart. Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O’Hagan, Alla Tumanyan, James Ransone. World Premiere – 

SUNDANCE RUNS FROM 22 JANUARY UNTIL 1 FEBRUARY 2015 IN PARK CITY, UTAH, AMERICA

Thief (1981)

Dir.: Michael Mann

Cast: James Caan, James Belushi, Tuesday Weld, Robert Prosky

USA 1981; 122 min.

For his feature debut THIEF Michael Mann (Manhunter, Miami Vice) delivers a perfect action movie and a philosophical discourse on the unattainability of the American Dream. Frank (Caan), a middle-aged professional safe breaker who has honed his skills in jail and now wants to press a button and settle down to a ready made family and a financially secure life. To remind him of his goal, he carries a postcard with cut-out motives of middle class happiness. In order to achieve this, he has to do a last caper. But instead of working with his own crew, he agrees to work with Leo (Prosky), a big crime lord.

Frank’s choice of a woman, the vulnerable, disillusioned and poorly paid Jessie (Weld), demonstrates his powers of projection: he wants to save her as much as himself. Needless to say, things don’t go according to plan. Frank’s personal life changes in 24 hours: he loses a father figure, who “told him everything about the job”, who dies of a heart attack after spending too much time in jail – Frank can’t make good his promise to spring him loose. His substitute father figure, Leo, procures a baby for the couple, after they are turned down at an adoption agency. The preparations for the job take Frank’s mind off family life; his trust in Leo is unshakable, as is his near religious belief in a happy, carefree life after crime.

The success of the heist brings in millions of dollar in form of small diamonds, but then Leo presents Frank with just $85000, the amount missing a zero at the end of his agreed share. Strangely, Leo presents an intact family life as an excuse for cheating Frank, who, after watching one of his men killed by Leo’s hired men, goes into an all-out war with Frank and his numerous enforcers. Even though action scenes dominate through pure force, Frank’s loneliness is the central aspect of THIEF. Even in the company of his men, he is the lone wolf – he takes his responsibility for them very seriously, a sort of “Pater Familias” in the crime world. His relationship with Jessie is founded on his wishful thinking, that they can both escape their past. Leo turns from a benevolent godfather into a brutal killer, whilst still keeping his identity as a family man – Frank, so skilful at work – is too naïve to see Leo’s game right from the beginning. Frank is the real outlaw, fit for any Western.

Well-cast and fabulously crafted, Donald E Thorin’s camera-work is brilliant, long shots show the city of Chicago as a decrepit background, Kentish Town on a bad night. It never really gets light, and the night drives are exceptionally emotive. Caan and Weld are a couple lost in their dreams for a future they were never made for, and Prosky’s Leo is one of the best all-time baddies. Frank Hohimer’s novel is the basis for this sleazy chronicle of unobtainable respectability. AS

A LIMITED SLIPCASE EDITION OF THIEF IS NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY INCLUDING TWO VERSIONS OF THE FILM, THE ORIGINAL THEATRICAL CUT AND AN EXTENDED DIRECTOR’S CUT. £19.99 COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS. 

 

Violette (2013)

Dir.: Martin Provost; Cast: Emmanuelle Devos, Sandrine Kiberlain, Olivier Gourmet, Catherine Hiegel | France 2013, 139 min  Drama

After his sparkling bio-pic of the French painter Seraphine Louis (2008), Provost successfully tackles another woman artist whose humble background helped and hindered her literary career in different ways: Violette Leduc (1907-72) was a protégé of Simone de Beauvoir, who valued her writing paid her for many years a generous allowance (pretending it came from the publisher Gallimard), Evenutally years later, in 1964, Leduc made the breakthrough with  her passionate and painfully honest memoir  ‘La Batarde”.

Violette unglamorously, but brilliantly played by Emmanuelle Devos, is the illegitimate daughter of a kitchen maid. At the beginning of the film she is living with the homosexual writer Maurice Sachs in Nazi-occupied France. After marrying her as a ‘cover, he mistreated her but encouraged her to write), in Nazi occupied France. She survives by trading luxury food items successfully on the black market, a ‘profession’ she continues after the end of the war in Paris. After reading a book by Simone de Beauvoir (a strong portrait by Sandrine Kiberlain ),  she visits the writer and develops an unrequited crush on her.

De Beauvoir channels her emotional feelings into serious writing but encourages Leduc whose first book “L’ Asphixie” is published by Gallimard, through de Beauvoir’s literary contact. The lack of success of her next books, coupled with de Beauvoir’s stardom, drives Leduc into a deep depression, but the restrained and outwardly frosty de Beauvoir, supports her and even  pays for her stay in a sanatorium, where Leduc is – against De Beauvoir’s will –  treated with electro shocks.

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Leduc whose writing was at least as revolutionary as de Beauvoir’s (she was the first to describe lesbian sex), suffered most of her life from lack of self-esteem, she felt unloved by her mother (Catherine Hiegel). Sets and lightning reflect Leduc’s self-image: before moving to Faucon, she lives mostly in squalor, the colours are washed out, grey is dominant. Paris is anything but the city of light for Leduc, she sees Paris more like tunnels, in which she gets lost. Her temper tantrums seem to reverberate from the shoddy walls of her rooms, she dresses with little elegance believing in her own modest background (only making an effort when meeting De Beauvoir). Leduc is always shown as coarse and unattractive  – the total opposite of her status as a literary icon and taboo-breaker who is regarded now by some as on par with De Beauvoir.

NOW ON MUBI | DVD

20 Hot Titles for 2015 | Indie | Arthouse film| Part 1

TTOE_D04_01565-01568_R_CROP-2THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING: The main reason to see this moving and ambitious biopic of our most famous living scientist Stephen Hawking, is that Eddie Redmayne’s is pure dynamite as the man himself. Combing through endless footage of the Professor Hawking’s voice recordings and photos, he literally inhabits his very being from early life at Cambridge right through to his epic achievements in the realm of Science. Co-Written by his wife, Jane Hawking. touchingly played by Felicity Jones (The Invisible Woman). Out on 1 January.

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR: If you’re ready for a grown-up thriller with a gripping storyline and fabulously crafted-performances, look no further this tightly-plotted, New York-based slow burner from J C Chandor (All Is Lost). Set in 1981, during the city’s most dangerous year for crime, if tells the story of an ambitious immigrant’s bitter fight for survival in a precarious and competitive world. Oscar Isaac (Llewyn Davies) and Jessica Chastain star.  23 January 2015

Altman_1ALTMAN: There’s nothing to beat an absorbing biopic on a prolific film director, and this one eclipses them all. Ron Mann charts the story of Robert Altman’s career from his lucky first break, to his far-reaching TV work and finally his outstanding contribution to independent cinema. A pithy, poignant and highly-entertaining portrait. Julianne Moore, Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin, Elliott Gould and Paul Thomas Anderson reminisce to add ballast. T. B. A.

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THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY: Peter Strickland’s edgy and inventive seventies-themed drama tackles the delicate subject of sexual dominance and submissiveness amid butterfly buffs in a  seventies-setting deep in the Hungarian counrtyside. Sidse Babett Knudsengarnered Best Actress for her portrayal of a lesbian with performance fatigue in this unsettling but yet darkly comic treasure. 20 February 2015

whitegodWHITE GOD (Feher Isten): ‘Superiority has become the privilege of white Western civilisation and it is nearly impossible for not to take advantage of it’. With this premise Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo’s invigorating drama WHITE GOD scratches at the edges of horror to create a richly inventive fable where dogs take over the city of Budapest. Starting out as gentle and harmless, the narrative gradually darkens into something morbid and frightening. No shaggy dog story here but certainly one to salivate over. 27 FEBRUARY

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THE LOOK OF SILENCE: Following on the heels of his devastating documentary about man’s evil to man, Joshua Oppenheimer’s THE LOOK OF SILENCE is in some ways even more affecting. For a start, it’s running time of under two hours makes it a more manageable to engage with. Don’t be fooled though. Oppenheimer probes the killers much more harshly this time and elicits some unsettling revelations from the perpetrators and those affected by the terrifying regime in Indonesia. T. B. A.

downloadMACBETH: Roman Polanski was the last director successfully to adapt this most dark and sinister of Shakespeare’s plays. Here, Australian director, Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) casts Marion Cotillard as the chilling chateleine of Cawdor Castle playing alongside Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth as the fatefully ambitious couple whose ‘follie de grandeur’ leads them depose of Scotland’s King Duncan. T.B.A

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IT FOLLOWS; David Robert Mitchell’s latest film has emerged by general consensus amongst critics to be the most heart-thumpingly horrific indie thrillers of recent years. Simple in concept, this low-fi outing is inventive in creating a fairytale atmosphere in a modern-day setting. A must-see for all audiences. 27 FEBRUARY 2015

1001 NOITES: Tabu director Miguel Gomes is back with a re-working of the fabulous legend of Scheherazade locating his film in crisis-ridden present-day Portugal. Shifting between imagination and reality, the narrative takes on familiar elements to the original but  retains the same teasing quality that Scheherazade employed on the King. T.B.A.

PHOENIX 2013

PHOENIX: Christian Petzold’s heart-wrenching drama works cleverly as both a wartime love-story and an evergreen metaphor for regeneration and identity. Starring regular collaborators Ronald Zehrfeld (In Between Worlds) and Nina Hoss (Barbara) who gives the best rendition of ‘Speak Low’ known to mankind, it has also one of the most devastating climaxes of recent years. TBA

RELEASE DATES FOR ALL THESE FILMS WILL BE ANNOUNCED SHORTLY.

 

 

 

UK Korean Film Festival 2014 | 6-21 November

A_GIRL_AT_MY_DOOR_2 copyThis year’s Korean Film Festival will focus on the work of maverick filmmaker Kim Ki-duk, who is best known for his controversial titles such as PIETA and MOEBIUS. The UK premiere of his Venice Festival hopeful ONE ON ONE will also screen during the festival. The opening night film: Yoon Jong-bin’s KUNDO: AGE OF THE RAMPANT, is a 19th century ‘Robin Hood’ style Kung-Fu thriller about a militia group of bandits – Kundo – who rise up against their unjust nobility, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.

Cult classics will again feature this year with a selection from the archives under the ‘K Classics’ strand such Ki-young Kim’s shocking melodrama THE HOUSEMAID (1960).

Other films worth watching are Seong-hoon Kims’ A HARD DAY starring Baek Jong-hwan, and July Jung’s A GIRL AT MY DOOR, which was nominated in the Un Certain Regard strand at Cannes this year. THE KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 6-15 IN LONDON AND 16-21 NATIONWIDE. Tickets and schedule available here

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Spirited Away (2001) | Blu-ray release

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Cast: Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Mari Netsuke Miyu Irino, Rumi HIragi, Suzanne Pleshette

126min  Japanese Animation

If ever a film deserved to be called ‘fantastic’ it is this one. Even if you’re unfamiliar with animation, you will be enchanted by this wittily perceptive drama from Hayao Miyazaki at Studio Ghibli.  Beautifully hand-drawn, delicately rendered and magical in its conception, Spirited Away is a metaphor for real life in the form of a fairytale for adults and children. Taking us on a fantasy ride to a mythical place of enchantment, its characters feel authentic and are often touched by poignant tragedy.

Miyazaki’s work is borne out of the great Hollywood traditions of Disney but also incorporates references to Lewis Carroll and L Frank Baum, offering up an eclectic mix of styles that feel both tender and intensely appealing on a psycholgical and emotional level.  Dazzlingly lithe and intricate visuals move effortlessly before our eyes with a complete absence of high-tech glitz. Some of the scenes across the lake are so intoxicating that they literally glow from the screen, offering intense pleasure in the enhanced Blu-ray format.

The Japanese family is usually at the core of Miyazaki’s narratives and this one explores a variety of themes from environmentalism and ecological awareness to forging our personal identity in an increasingly consumerist world. Here a professional couple are the proud owners of a smart German car which is transporting them to a new life in the Japanese countryside. But their little daughter Chihiro is devastated by the move and misses her old friends. Gradually the family get lost in the woodland, fetching up in a mysterious psychedelic world where they turn into pigs after eating a huge meal laid out for them. Chihiro is forced into hard labour in a bath house by the wicked owner Yubabu. Her only friend is a slightly older boy called Haku who helps her to restore her parents to their original human state.

Spirited Away won a string of awards on its release including the Oscar© for Best Animated Feature and the prestigious Golden Bear at Berlin. It went on to become Japan’s highest grossing film of all time. MT

SPIRITED AWAY AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL FROM 24 November 2014

 

 

Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) | Bfi Player

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Dir: Tobe Hooper Co-writer: Kim Henkel Cast:Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger, Paul A Partain, William Vail, Gunnar Hansen, Teri McMinn

83min  Horror   US

Made by Willard Tobe Hooper on a micro budget of $60,000, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre must qualify for the World’s best low budget ‘slasher’. Made on a shoestring and none the worse for it: the film is effective largely because of its simplicity. In a remote corner of Texas, some kids run into trouble when they stumble on the home of unemployed slaughter-men.

The success of Hooper’s film lies in its grainy stock and a few classic horror tropes, the horrifying soundscape pushing just the right buttons to send audiences running for the aisles. The violence takes place off-camera in a basic story that meddles with our conditioned reflexes to imagine the worst: that sound of that saw in action is redolent of a dentist’s drill – only worse, communicating pain on a primeval level without a glimpse of bloodshed.

Texas Chainsaw has become synonymous with horror. After the sound, comes the sight of that primal mask. Nothing really wrong with a mask -but it’s inhuman and detached, preventing us from identifying the enemy, preying on our subconscious fears. Detachment leads to disorientation, and disorientation is scary; especially when the wearer is called ‘Leatherface’.

When he commits the first murder, Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) drags the screaming boy back into a room and slams the door –  it’s a steel door, and metal is indestructible so there’s no way back from this place of doom-laden slaughter. With clever editing and scary sound effects – we’re peering into semi-darkness for most of the film’s 80 odd minutes – almost everything is left to our imagination. A simple skeleton suggests death has occurred here, and endless chase scenes feed our mounting hysteria. Sheer mind over matter. Pain, fear, loss of control. Simple elements; effective terror. You don’t need a massive budget, 3D, CGI or even a smear of blood to arrive at Tobe Hooper’s winning formula: The original and best. Add it to your collection on bluray. And if someone suggests watching TEXAS CHAINSAW (3D): just tell them about Tobe and his masterpiece. MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER | OUT ON BLU-RAY

 

 

 

Ulrich Seidl – A Director at Work | !0th International Zurich Film Festival 2014

Director: Constantin Wulff

52min Documentary Switzerland/Austria/Germany

Ulrich Seidl, the never-far-from-controversy Austrian director of Dog Days, Import/Export and the Paradise trilogy, is the subject of this striking portrait that follows him as he shoots his newest documentary project, Im Keller (In the Basement).

For Seidl, basements are places of darkness and fear, where people go to fulfil their deepest desires, while the living space above is only used for show. Opening on a shot of a woman naked inside a cage barely bigger than she is, the natural inclination is to imagine that we’re about to witness something dealing in depravity and degradation. And yet it proves to be not as prurient as you perhaps might have expected, with these spaces used much of the time as a place for (primarily) men to drink and do DIY. That’s not to say there isn’t eye-opening content here, much of it relating to S&M practices although, as Seidl himself says, much of what he shows is harmless stuff, meaning it’s left to the audience to fill in the gaps. Interestingly, given some of the dark events of his country’s recent past, none of this is presented as a singularly Austrian pursuit, nor is the name Fritzl ever mentioned.

The subtitle is A Director at Work, and this is very much what we get; he’s shown as a meticulously hands-on creator, managing every little detail both on In the Basement and on stage, where we join Seidl as he and his actors rehearse for his new play, Böse Buben/Fiese Männer. It’s a largely improvised examination of men’s souls, starkly evoking the likes of Fight Club with its bastions of unchecked masculinity. As extensive as the behind the scenes footage and clips from his earlier films are though, hearing from Seidl himself is the real draw. The candid interviews reveal him as a thoughtful and intelligent man, as well as his process to get to the truth of human nature, to uncover that which is buried. It’s this that ultimately marks out this short but revealing film as a profound insight into why he thinks we should be making art. PG

ZURICH FILM FESTIVAL SEPTEMBER 25 – OCTOBER 5 2014

Costa da Morte (2013) IndieLisboa 2014

Director/Writer: Lois Patiño

Spain  Documentary  80min

Recipient of the Best Emerging Director Award at last year’s Locarno Film Festival, Galician filmmaker Lois Patiño makes his feature-length debut with the alluring and impressive COSTA DA MORTE, a documentary that can’t seem to screen anywhere on the international festival circuit without winning a prize. Following wins and special mentions in places as far apart as Buenos Aires, Palm Springs, Unam, Validivia and Galicia itself, the film screened out-of-competition at the 11th edition of IndieLisboa last week.

COSTA DA MORTE is an essayistic documentary about the eponymous coastline in the remote, semi-autonomous region of Galicia in northwest Spain. The region takes its name (‘Coast of Death’) from its notorious history of shipwrecks – and indeed early images here capture the sea in all its beautiful and formidable might. The Romans took such shores to be the end of the world.

Shooting from a physical distance but zooming in so that these landscapes are optically flattened, Patiño shows himself to be an expert, intelligent image-maker: just as history itself resists easy imagistic rendering, so Patiño’s cinematography challenges notions of a harmonious, postcard-friendly sense of place.

Before anything else, then, COSTA DA MORTE is an illuminatingly imagistic introduction to the Galician coast. With a varied succession of vivid scenes, Patiño offers one haunting shot after another, from a foggy forest whose trees are being felled to the giant waves of the sea crashing down upon a group of adventure-seekers; from the deafening explosions in a local quarry to the scorching heat of a bonfire flickering into the night. In one sequence, Patiño pays possible homage to James Benning’s structuralist masterpiece CASTING A GLANCE (2007), when he captures the dramatic fluctuation of a body of water’s tide.

Like the earlier film (though it’s ultimately very different), COSTA DA MORTE is all the more digestible for being so minimal, understated and contemplative (Patiño co-edits with Pablo Gil Rituerto). Illustrating such imagery are the locals themselves, on whose amusing conversations Patiño eavesdrops as if in possession of some Harry Caul-style, long-distance microphone (in reality, the dialogues were semi-scripted and recorded separately). Such exchanges touch upon the region’s folkloric myths and working traditions, both of which have helped shape daily life there.

The film is only the latest (and arguably the strongest) addition to a growing number of works comprising a new Galician cinema; others include Oliver Laxe’s YOU ARE ALL CAPTAINS (2010), Xurxo Churro’s VIKINGLAND (2011), Eloy Encisco’s ARRAIANOS (2012) and THE FIFTH GOSPEL OF KASPAR HAUSER (2013). If notions of national cinema are still relevant to film criticism and/or scholarship, then take note: these are a distinct but by no means homogenous group of films at the forefront of Spanish Cinema—which is arguably ahead of all other national cinemas at present.

And on this evidence, Galicia has a wunderkind with truly international potential. Patiño has a natural sensitivity for not only striking and seductive cinematography, but also unassumingly politicised cinematography, and COSTA DA MORTE confirms his graduation from strong, image-driven short films such as his DURATION series (2012) and the beguiling prize-winner MOUNTAIN IN SHADOW (2012). Michael Pattison

SCREENED DURING INDIELISBOA – 24 APRIL UNTIL 4 MAY 2014 IN LISBON, PORTUGAL and KINO OTOK 4-8 JUNE 2014 IN SLOVENIA

 

Love Tomorrow 2012

Director/Writer:  Christopher Payne   Prod: Stephanie Moon

Choreographers:  Michael Nunn, Billy Trevitt

Starring: Cindy Jourdain, Arionel Vargas, Max Brown

Romantic comedy

Love Tomorrow is purportedly a love story between two dancers, Evie and Oriel, whose eyes meet in the underground and who spend the ensuing time criss-crossing London’s landmarks getting to know each other. Eva (Cindy Jourdain) is evidently hurt and upset and it’s down to Oriel (Arionel Vargas) to tease her story out of her as the film unspools.

Unfortunately, Love Tomorrow fails comprehensively and on several levels. Something like this storyline may have had legs back in the late eighties, but it feels extraordinarily toothless now. The direction is truly unimaginative, leaden, lacks grammar and, considering 8-months was spent working with the dancers, presumably on their acting, there is precious little to show for it.  The script is slow and very basic; much of the dialogue is stilted, magnified by the leads not being natural actors. They do however come alive, with some relief, in the brief moments when they dance. But there are also elementary plot holes that test the viewers patience even further; she sleeps away from home and some random girl’s clothes and trainers fit her perfectly, so she wears them, leaving all her own clothes behind. They then hop on bicycles, which also get forgotten and left somewhere, as they later travel on by cab.

The long-awaited main plot point hangs on a key performance by a qualified actor, Max Brown, but he singularly fails to deliver, for one reason or another, denying the already thin plot any remaining depth or gravitas at all.

The cinematography is dull and flat, although I’m not going to blame the cinematographer, whom I can only imagine was clamouring for some lights, any lights, to help, but the budget didn’t allow. There are also listed two editors and indeed an additional editing consultant, but the pace was excruciatingly slow and I again assume no editor was actually allowed to ‘edit’.

All in all, it very much comes across as a student effort; the sort where one experiments enthusiastically, only to realise in hindsight why one does indeed need proper actors, comprehensive professional lighting, an editor who is listened to and, most importantly, a damn good script, before it is worth going to all the trouble of actually making a film and asking an audience to sit through it.

There was without doubt a huge amount of trust and goodwill afforded this project, which makes it all the more sad that it is so poor. Considering this is the writer director’s second feature and having advertised some sort of pedigree and a huge amount of varied and illustrious support, I am all the more disappointed. You never go through all the effort of going to the cinema in the hope that a film is bad. Andrew Rajan.

LOVE TOMORROW is on general release from 8 November 2013

Gimme The Loot (2012) ***

Director: Adam Leon

Cast: Tashiana Washington, Ty Hickson, Zoe Lescaze

80min     Drama

A spunky urban adventure that focuses on two non-actor ‘dudes’ from the Bronx, Malcolm and Sofia who make it their business to up the ante on some punks from Queens who have invaded their territory on the graffiti turf wars in the Big Apple. Their goal is to write all over a well-known and important New York landmark and in order to do this they need to raise USD 500.  Director Leon was assisted by real time Polilce Officers for ‘health and safety” reasons in his endeavour.

Although these two are mouthy street-fighters they still often get the rough end of the deal and everyones’ tongues in this warm-hearted ‘gangland’ debut low-budgeter from Adam Leon, which took the Grand Jury prize at SXSW last year (2012).

With a score that’s fun and unexpected, Gimme The Loot is a fresh and colourful feel-good film that tells it like it is and doesn’t take any prisoners. MT

 

Sundance London 2013 25- 28 April O2 Arena

In 2011 Robert Redford decided his indie SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL US should go East so here we go for another year, at 02 Arena London, Greenwich, London. It’s worth the hike from central London to see a terrific slew of indie dramas and documentaries that have only just premiered in snowbound, sunnny Utah in January 2013. This year the focus is on exploring the interplay between independent film and music.

SUNDANCE LONDON 2013 will screen 18 features and a new Britflic spotlight at its Greenwich base, along with music, Q&As and other exciting events to keep you amused over a long spring weekend

Here is our review of what to go for:

THE LOOK OF LOVE **** Michael Winterbottom makes a film a year: some good, some not so good. He’s hit the jackpot this time with a raunchy, upbeat trip down memory lane sixties-style. A dazzlingly entertaining biopic of porn king Paul Raymond, played magnificently here by Steve Coogan and headlining this year’s festival. Tamsin’s Egerton’s legs are to die for and unrivalled anywhere on stage or screen.

UPSTREAM COLOUR: **** Shane Carruth’s intriguing second feature since his hit, Primer, first delighted audiences nearly ten years ago.  Upstream was the talk of the town at Berlinale in February and set to be one of the gems of this year’s festival.

BLACKFISH, a documentary about the killer whale Tilkum has a eco-friendly premise and asks the question: should killer whales ever be kept in captivity?

RUNNING FROM CRAZY:showcases the good and bad of being part of the legendary Hemingway clan. Brought to us by the Oscar-winning director Barbara Kopple.

HISTORY OF THE EAGLES PART ONE: Fans will be excited to have a documentary dedicated to this much-loved band that made the best selling album of all time.  Alison Ellwood puts together archival footage and recent interviews with the stars who are still talking..just!  Promises to be an interesting story even for non-fans interested in the life and times of a rock band in the seventies and eighties.

THE MOO MAN: Have you ever wondered how the poor dairy farmers struggle on against the leviathans of mass market food retail ? Here’s a chance to find out how Sussex farmer Steve Hook upped the ante in Andy Heathcote’s delightful documentary. 4*

In the worthy corner is BLOOD BROTHERS, a doco that tells the true story of Rocky Braat who went to India on hols and ended up working with HIV-infected children. (Grand Jury Prize Sundance US 2013).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE SUMMIT****: Everest is a walk in the park compared to the dangers of climbing K2. Nick Ryan’s skilful documentary pieces together the events surrounding one mission to the mighty mountain. More people die on the descent of K2 than conquer this treacherous snowy peak.  Winner of the Editing Award: US Documentary at Sundance 2013.

TOUCHY FEELY: ** Massage is a growth industry but what happens if you suddenly lose your desire to touch? A comedy from Humpday director Lynn Shelton and starring the watchable Rosemarie de Witt (Your Sister’s Sister) Has some great performances, particularly from Ellen Page but the uneven pace makes it a turgid affair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE KINGS OF SUMMER: Did you ever leave home as a teenager to spend some time with your friends?  This rites-of-passage teenage bonding drama has some hilarious moments and shows what can happen when things don’t work out exactly according to plan. 3***

EMANUEL AND THE TRUTH ABOUT FISHES: Kaya Scoledario and Jessica Biel star in a surreal comedy about childhood, motherhood and loss.  Freshly told by Italian director, Francesca Gregorini.

IN FEAR:  TV director Jeremy Lovering’s Britflic thriller about fear of the unknown for a couple on a creepy car journey in the depths of the English countryside.

IN A WORLD…: American TV star Lake Bell’s buzzworthy rom-com in which she also stars as a voiceover artist with a gift of the gab where accents are concerned.

PEACHES DOES HERSELF: 3*** Self-styled Canadian, Berlin-based electronic musician Peaches will headline as herself live at INDIGO2 In an outlandish show were she struts her stuff wearing a shredded penis and falls for the ultimate lady boy. She will also present the film PEACHES DOES HERSELF. MT

THE SUNDANCE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL RUNS AT THE O2 ARENA FROM 25-28 APRIL 2013.  TICKETS ARE NOW ON SALE AT SUNDANCE-LONDON

 

 

Side Effects (2012) **** Berlinale 2013

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Jude Law, Catherine Zeta Jones, Tatum Channing, Ronney Mara
104min  ****   US Thriller
Side Effects is a more persuasive endictment on the pharmaceutical industry than any worthy documentary on the subject of prescription drugs such as the recent  Fire In The Blood. It really should be on doctor’s orders.
Steven Soderbergh’s cool and clinical  thriller was a much needed shot in the arm at Berlinale this year and is purportedly the swan song for this successful indie revolutionary who broke onto the scene with Sex Lies and Videotape in 1989 and went on to win an Oscar (for Traffic) and create a lucrative franchise in the shape of Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen and now seems set to retire from directing; at least movies, that is.
Set in contemporary New York it opens as a timely tale about a fall from grace suffered by a young wife, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), whose trader husband is in prison for insider dealing. It portrays the fear, the spiralling humiliation and the hopeless depression engendered when we lose almost everything we have achieved.  And even when husband Martin (Channing Tatum) comes home the blues don’t leave. “Depression is the inability to be able to construct a viable future” says her sympathetic Dr Jonathan Banks: Jude Law in one of his most brilliant turns so far.  In fact Law’s performance is the one of the best things about Side Effects.  He comes across with genuine integrity as an ethical doctor who’s not without his own family turmoil and financial worries. And recommends the ideal pick-me-up to his patient Emily a pill that supposedly works wonders for depression. Gradually the tone turns from character study to gripping psychodrama where nothing is as it seems.
Rooney Mara as Emily is unstable and aloof but then there’s a reason for this which gradually comes to light as the horror unfolds.  Catherine Zeta Jones is sinister and surprising as Emily’s previous clinician Dr Victoria Siebert. Exit Soderbergh on a high then with an ingenious, dark Hitchcockian thriller that has more twists than a child-proof bottle. MT
SIDE EFFECTS IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 8TH MARCH AT THE TRICYCLE, VUE, CINEWORLD AND HACKNEY PICTUREHOUSE.

Hollow (2012) **

Director: Michael Axelgaard
Script: Matthew Holt
Producer: Matthew Holt
Cast: Emily Plumtree, Sam Stockman, Matt Stokoe, Jessica Ellerby, Simon Roberts

UK  2011 91mins Horror

The Axelgaard/Holt team make their first feature off the back of their Short film ‘Lollipop Man’, pulling in a group of young TV actors for this foray into the genre of ‘self-shot’ mockumentary flicks, made famous by the likes of ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and the more ambitiously budgeted ‘Cloverfield’.

Containing the nugget of a good idea: an evidently ancient tree in the woolly wilds of Suffolk is steeped in folklore and macabre mystery as a group of two young couples go down for the weekend, ostensibly to empty a recently vacated vicar’s home of the last few wanted possessions by the granddaughter, before a clearance company move in to complete the job.

Cracks in the relationships as well as the legends of the eponymous tree are gradually revealed, as time is spent with the four whiling away the hours without the benefit of a TV or computer games, all the while documented on a handheld camera.

A film employing this technique really needs to be exceptional in order to make new ground in the genre and what really lets Hollow down is both overwritten dialogue and unconvincing acting. This proves manifest in the opening sequence when a would-be Police video documenting the site of several unexplained deaths is our introduction to the film. This said, the plot itself and the manner in which it is shot and revealed is pretty good  taking into consideration this is a feature debut.

The tree, the vacant country house and the ruins of a nearby abbey are all excellent at providing atmosphere and authenticity to the intrigue but there remains some poorly thought through plot holes that would prove spoilers if I were to go into them here. This said, I am sure if the DVD was played one weekend at a girls’ sleepover, it would prove scary enough to keep more than one of them awake.

There are without doubt many worse films in the horror genre. So Hollow is good effort and it is hoped the writer director team go on to do bigger and better. AT

 

Arthouse film for the weekend -14th September 2012

The heat may have gone out of September but there’s plenty to warm you up on the arthouse circuit this weekend.  First we head down to the South of France for The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Robert Guediguian’s heart-warming social drama about love and solidarity.  It features Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Ariane Ascaride and is showing at the Cine Lumiere from Friday 14th.  We met Robert to talk about the film and his next project. 

The long-awaited release of A Separation director Asghar Farhadi’s 2009 film About Elly opens on Friday 14th.  It’s another gut-wrenching rollercoaster of a film that follows a group of Tehrani friends to the shores of the Caspian Sea for a weekend celebration that ends in tragedy for all concerned.  See it at the Curzon, Soho.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And if you could use a laugh after all that wailing and gnashing of teeth then what better than Woody Allen’s latest:  To Rome With Love.  Set in the sun-baked city with a starry cast of Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni and, of course, Woody himself, it’ll raise a few laughs but not many….on general release from Friday.        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those of you that don’t know, Anton Corbijn is a highly industrious photographer turned filmmaker who helped to create brands we now know as U2, Lou Reed, Depêche Mode

amongst many others.  His biopic Anton Corbijn: Inside Out releases this weekend at the Curzon Soho and the Lighthouse Cinema Dublin.

And at the Rio, Dalston, there’s still a chance to see the digitally-remastered Chariots of Fire starring Nigel Havers, Ben Cross, Ian Holm and John Gielgud and featuring the amazing soundtrack by Vangelis that was commissioned by Mohamed Al Fayed who also financed the original production in the eighties.  Read my interview with Mohamed for some background flavour to this all time classic and for a last hurrah as the 2012 Olympics well and truly bow out..phew!

Image subject to copyright ©

Over at the Southbank the BFI are preparing for an extended version of the London Film Festival that kicks off on October 11th 2012.  See my outline of what’s in store this year under Festivals.  Priority booking for members opens on Thursday 13th September 2012.

Also on release this weekend at the Southbank is Canadian maverick Guy Maddin’s extraordinary supernatural thriller Keyhole featuring the sultry siren of the silver screen Isabella Rossellini.  The Hitchcock Season continues there with Dial M for Murder although due to extreme popularity it’s practically sold out, so get on down there fast…


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And last but not least Nostalgia for the Light, Chilean director Patricio Guzman’s visually arresting poetic meditation set in the driest place on Earth, the Atacama Desert, is still showing at The Prince Charles Cinema, Leicester Square.  Have fun!  Meredith

 

Still showing……

Mists, mellow fruitfulness and movies on the arthouse film scene 7-14 September 2012

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