Posts Tagged ‘LFF’

The Gravedigger’s Wife (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Boiling Point (2021)

Dir.: Philip Barantini; Cast: Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson, Alice Feetham, Ray Panthaki, Jason Flemyng, Lourdes Faberes; UK 2021, 92 min.

Stephen Graham is a budding star chef in this adrenaline fuelled single-take drama that powers non-stop through the hectic kitchens of a top restaurant where staff and owner could lose their livelihoods at any minute.

Graham’s Andy is a committed workaholic, a ‘business before family’ kind of guy. But his dedication to the job is clearly not paying off. Boiling Point gets off to a simmering start with a visit from the food hygiene inspector who downgrades his restaurant’s kitchen from a five to a three, point-wise. Andy takes it all out on the staff, particularly his sous-chef Carly (Robinson) and commis chef Freeman (Panthaki). To be fair, Andy is not the only person responsible for restaurant’s shaky reputation: front-of-house maître Beth (Feetham) overplays the role of social media, particularly Instagram, and this has a detrimental affect on proceedings.

Everyone has a story to tell about Andy’s classy eaterie; there are reports of self-harm and drug misuse. And that bottle Andy carries with him seems to contain more than just water.  The fractious evening comes to a climax when TV chef Alastair Skye (Flemying) arrives with capricious food critic Sara Southworth (Faberes): A female guest is apparently feeling the affects of her nut allergy, even though the staff had been informed of her condition at the start of the evening. The ambulance arrives, and Skye puts the blame unjustly on Beth for the incident. But Andy refuses to “throw” Beth “under the bus”, leaving Skye in deep water over his £200K investment. But that’s not the end of it, new developments will test Andy to breaking point, again.

Everyone plays their part in keeping the tension going, and credit to DoP Matthew Lewis for making the best in a limited environment with his use of crane shots to break up the intensity of person-to-person conflicts. Often in these kind of films staff are either demonised for being jealous, or pushed into the eternal victim role by well meaning middle-class script writers. But in Boiling Point the focus is on competent professionals doing their jobs while falling victims to a boss on the downward spiral. AS

IN UK CINEMAS from 7 JANUARY 2022

 

Earwig (2021)

Dir:  | Wri: Lucile Hadžhalilović, Geoff Cox | Cast: Paul Hilton, Romola Garai, Alex Lawther, Romane Hemelaers | 114′

French auteuse Lucile Hadžhalilović offers another bizarre but compulsive arthouse psychodrama, this time in the surgical horror sub genre, upping her game with a star cast of Romola Garai and Alex Lawther.

Arcane and edgy Earwig is immaculately crafted with its surreal Lynchian credentials that subtly inveigle us into the horror bound story of little Mia (Romane Hemelaers) who is forced to undergo the painful daily procedure of having her teeth surgically replaced by ice-cubes due to some unexplained medical condition. Yes, this is not for everyone but fans of her quirky style will thrill to Earwig’s macabre charm.

The Lyonnaise filmmaker’s previous film Evolution (2015) saw a young boy hospitalised and subjected to strange interventions performed by a series of female cyphers dressed as nurses. Once again writing with her Evolution collaborator Geoff Cox, Hadžhalilović keeps the storyline enigmatic in a dialogue-starved scenario: no explanation is offered for the procedure as we peer at the screen desperately looking for clues, our own teeth almost twinging with the agony of expectation. Ken Yasumoto’s scraping soundscape recalls the abject terror of the dentist’s chair, brought to cinematic life in Marathon Man, but there are also echoes of Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’ Goodnight Mommy (2014).

Closely based on a book by sculptor and performance artist Brian Catling, the film actually takes its title from the male central character Albert (Paul Hilton), a singularly morose carer who tends to Mia in the confines of a squalid flat in mid century Liege, Belgium, redolently captured in Jonathan Ricquebourg’s dingy visuals where the weather is as grim as the storyline.

Part of Albert’s misery is being under the cosh of a telephone taskmaster, a mysterious man who hounds him unpredictably, demanding updates on Mia’s condition. Meanwhile he continues the meticulous molar replacement mission until forced into the outside world with Mia on a hospital visit which ends in more pain, this time in a local bar where Romula Garai is another hapless victim. MT

NOW AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY | SAN SEBASTIAN PREMIERE

 

Border (2018) *****

Dir : Ali Abbasi | Fantasy Drama | Sweden | 104’

BORDER is one of those bracingly original films. Melding fantasy and folklore while teetering on the edge of Gothic horror it manages to be cleverly convincing and unbelievably weird at the same time. Fraught with undercurrents of sexual identity and self-realisation this gruesome rites of passage fable is another fabulous story with enduring appeal for the arthouse crowd and diehard fans of low-key horror. Based on a short story by Let the Right One In creator John Ajvide Lindqvist it is Ali Abbasi’s follow up to Shelley and his first with writing partner Isabella Ekloff.

Tina (Melander) has always been an outsider because she suffers from her neanderthal physical appearance of flaring nostrils and a facial gurning movement that marks her out to have the heightened sensory perception of an animal. She feels a particular affinity to the wildlife near her comfortable cabin in the heavily forested woods between Finland and Sweden, and can sense when deer or moose are about to cross the country road. As a customs officer, she also has a keen awareness for criminality but feels diminished by her ‘otherness’ and is desperately lonely, Meanwhile, her live-boyfriend Roland (Jorgen Thorssen) treats her like a pair of old carpet slippers and is more interested in his pack of dobermans.  

One day Tina spots an unusual traveller going through customs. He looks like her male double and Tina feels a palpable attraction to Vore (Eero Milonoff). Judging from the contents of his luggage he could be an entomologist, but on further examination this is not all he appears to be. Has Tina found love for the first time, or just somebody who feels familiar? There’s a tone of optimism on the romantic front, and also workwise as Tina’s sensory talents see her becoming the key investigator in the hunt for a local paedophile.

Abbasi masterfully manages the subtle strands of his storyline while keeping the tension taut and a dark humour bubbling under the surface. Melander’s Tina is a gentle and almost submissive character who keeps her tale between her legs, and we feel for her even when her confidence makes her more assertive after meeting Vore. This confidence enables her to confront her elderly father – who has clearly duped her since childhood – and her useless boyfriend. A rare curio that keeps you guessing all the way to its unexpected finale. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 8 March 2019

Destroyer (2018 **

Dir: Karyn Kusama | US Thriller | 121’

You will gawp at Nicole Kidman’s transformation in this rather bleak and messy crime thriller cum character study of a lovelorn woman whose desperate past derails her future. It comes as a shock from an actor who is used to playing vulnerable and smart but always beautiful women.

Karyn Kusama has finally given Kidman the chance to play a broken, badass bitch in Destroyer. And it’s a dynamite performance that may look unappealing but certainly strikes home. As Erin Bell, her baleful, sinister stare haunts nearly every frame and coiled anger springs out unexpectedly – this antiheroine is not out to please anyone. After a messy opening act where Kusama establishes the storyline, a fractured narrative seesaws backwards and forwards from the late 1980/90s to present day LA, Destroyer pictures Kidman as hapless antiheroine Detective Erin Bell, whose youth was spent going undercover with her partner/lover Chris (Sebastian Stan) to infiltrate a band of robbers, headed up by glib psycho Silas (Toby Kebbell). But when Silas reappears on the scene, she’s determined to put an end to his antics, which have been carrying on since back in the day. But something else happened – Erin fell in love, madly. And that love, or loss of it on a fateful day that unspools in the satisfying final act, has made her into the woman she is in the current day.

And while her character is utterly believable in both the past and the present, it’s in the unravelling of the story – particularly in fin de siècle LA, that things sometimes feel unconvincing and rather anodyne, given the nature of crime-ridden LA. But Kidman’s detective is hard-hitting, intelligent and unafraid to be unpopular – easier when you’ve got nothing to lose, or live for. And that’s the essence of her character. And although occasionally she overstates her violent vehemence in the context of what’s going on around her, teetering on the edge of caricature, it’s a corruscating performance and one to be proud of.

Sadly this is a step back for Kusama whose brilliant thriller The Invitation (2015), was a shocker with a humane face. Here the band of brigands are almost laughably louche and lightweight, in complete contrast to Kidman’s detective character. And although they try to inject menace into proceedings, all we feel from them is disdain. The only refreshing contrast is a vignette from arch villain who sparks out interest, but not for long.

Kidman is so hard-bitten and bitter you start to feel uncomfortable watching her. Especially in scenes with her daughter’s nasty boyfriend, or jerking off a terminally ill low-life when she’s desperate for a lead. At the end of the day, Destroyer is an unpleasant, empty kind of film. It goes through the motions, but leaves you cold – and glad it’s all over.  MT

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 25 JANUARY 2019

Beautiful Boy (2018) ****

Dir: Felix van Groeningen | Drama | 110’ | US 2018

Based on a best-selling memoir by journalist David Sheff, BEAUTIFUL BOY explores a teenage boy’s descent into crystal meth addiction. It’s a film that pulls no punches, but which avoids excessively wallowing in the physical misery of drug use. Instead, the focus is on the wider circumstances of the boy’s addiction and, specifically, the impact that it has on his father. It’s a personal, refreshing approach which makes the boy’s decline all the more moving.

An intelligent teenager with a bright future, Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet) is nevertheless anxious and alienated, and he starts using drugs to help him fill the void that he feels inside. Sensing a problem, his father (Steve Carell, playing David Sheff) checks Nic into a rehab facility, but the success of the treatment is short lived – ‘relapse is part of recovery’, we’re repeatedly told, and Nic’s sense of emptiness makes him a repeat user. His choice of drug doesn’t help – as an expert explains to David, the recovery rate for crystal meth addicts, as a percentage, is in the single figures.

Playing Nic, Chalamet brings a sympathetic charm to a role which borders a little on cliché – that of the tortured, gifted artist-turned-junky – but the film belongs to Steve Carrell, who excels as the caring father who feels increasingly helpless in the face of his son’s steady decline. Following his turn as a grieving father in Richard Linklater’s recent masterpiece Last Flag Flying, Carrell seems to be moving away from the comedic roles which made his name and carving out a specific dramatic niche all for himself.

Given that it’s the relationship between father and son, rather than son and drugs, that forms the core of Beautiful Boy, the film’s scope widens out, becoming a study of family dynamicsand the way that David’s preoccupation with Nic consumes him, dominating his life and impacting his relationship with his younger children (Nic’s step-siblings): scenes such as the one showing a distracted David failing to watch his younger son swimming reach beyond the drug-addition narrative. But as David struggles with his guilt and his inability to pull Nic from the gutter, the major question that arises is: can you ever really help other people, or can they only help themselves?

Quiet and understated, the film deserves praise for its non-sensationalist approach. Though at times he brings in a touch too much sentiment (including the use of the John Lennonsong which gives the film its title), director Felix Van Groeningen handles the non-linear, elliptical narrative with a commanding efficiency. If the film’s factual closing titles make its ultimate message all too clear, one can’t help but feel it’s an effective film which serves as a pertinent reminder of the devasting and wide-reaching effects of drug use – not only on the users themselves, but also on those who love them. ALEX BARRETT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Won’t you be my Neighbor? (2018) **** LFF2018

Dir: Morgan Neville | US | Doc | 94′ | With Bill Clinton, Hilary Clinton, Al Gore, Robert F Kennedy. 

In his latest documentary Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet from Stardom) looks back on the legacy of US TV presenter Fred Rogers (1926-2003) , whose programmes during the 1950s were popular with young kids, introducing them to a broad educational agenda as well as providing light entertainment. While the nation changed around him, Fred Rogers stood firm in his beliefs about the importance of protecting childhood. And Neville pays tribute to this legacy with the latest in his series of highly engaging, moving documentary portraits of essential American artists.

Looking like a cross between Val Doonican (he donned a different cardy in each episode) and William Rees-Mogg, Fred had a calm and kindly manner in explaining, in an accessible way, contemporary political issues as well as more complex concepts such as love and divorce. He was married with his own children and advocated the government funding of children’s television before a US Senate committee.

Rogers started out as an academic with a background in child development and after ordaining as a Presbyterian minister he headed for a church career, but felt an overriding need to reach out to kids through the medium of television. A pioneer of popular culture, he cared deeply about protecting the emotional needs of the nation’s children. His pre-school programme Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ran from 1968 – 2001.

His onscreen manner had nothing to do with preachy didacticism. He talked touchingly about loving one’s neighbour and respecting the community. And while it’s easy to sneer about his caring approach and these fluffy ideals, the man comes across as a really genuine character, and buy no means a pseud – unlike Jimmy Saville. Whereas nowadays kid’s attention spans are short, and TV time is precious and expensive – with a need for frequent commercial breaks, Rogers’ programmes had a leisurely pace to them, and a spontaneity that allowed time and space for contemplation, and he always made sure to repeat that his young viewers were ‘loved, and lovable’ just as they were. He created characters such as Captain Friday (who hated change) and his own alter ego Stripey Tiger.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor also engages with the idea that Rogers’ fostered narcissism and a sense of entitlement by doting on his child fans, but this was hardly the case – he was simply at pains to ease their fears and anxieties so they could develop their own sense of self-esteem. In fact, it emerges that Rogers had his own share of heartache, and actually worried about whether his programmes would make a difference to children’s lives in America’s increasingly violent culture. Neville draws on a wealth of archive footage as well as contemporary interviews to create this warm and informative portrait of a remarkable man and his legacy, whether or not you know of this humane and public figure. MT

SCREENING DURING LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 10-21 OCTOBER 2018

   

Ash is Purest White (2018) ****

Dir: Zhangke Jia | Cast: Tao Zhao, Fan Liao, Xiaogang Feng | Drama | China | 140’

ASH IS PUREST WHITE portrays the eventful relationship between a Chinese petty criminal and the woman whose loyalty to him never dies. This rolling contemplative saga occasionally veers off the beaten track with its indulgent running time of 141 minutes but will still appeal to the director’s ardent followers, featuring the same rough-edged characters who we first meet in 2001 and follow until the bittersweet denouement on New year’s Eve 2018.

Star of Shanxi’s creative community Jia Zhang-ke trained as an architect near his native mining town of Fenyang, just South of Beijing, and brings his aesthetic flair and some magnificent landscapes to this lasting love story set in a dying era. The director’s forte is his graceful way of portraying China’s traditional way of life with its penchant for ceremonial drumming and white-gloved officials, with the chaotic new era vibrantly captured in Eric Gautier’s resplendent camerawork.

Opening in 2001 in his Shanxi homeland, his wife and regular collaborator Zhao Tao plays the confident delicate local beauty Qiao, who frequents the nightclub of her boyfriend Guo Bin (Liao Fan/Black Coal, Thin Ice). And she is no arm candy, establishing herself as a keen advocate of the traditional jianghu codes of loyalty while embracing the modern world, spryly dancing to Village People’s YMCA.

Respectful of her ageing father she is more playfully assertive with Bin, and when he is assaulted by thugs on motorbikes, she manages to save him by firing shots into the air in a brutal scene that really takes our breath away, but also secures her a spell in prison where she is unwilling to grass on her boyfriend about the ownership of the firearm.

The second act is an upbeat affair that follows Qiao’s release in 2006, and treats us to a sumptuous journey down the Yangtze River in another nod to the sinking glory of the old China versus the brash new world. Qin has proved a feckless boyfriend and is no longer on the scene, but Qiao is keen not to let him slip away so easily, after her sustained loyalty. And when she is robbed of her cash and passport, she bounces back cleverly in some amusing scenes where she gate-crashes a wedding to enjoy the banquet, desperate for food. Qiao finally confronts Bin in a soulful and moving episode that is visually captivating for its exquisitely calm contemplation of the end of their romance.

As we leave Qiao she is running a gambling hall, and Bin is back in her life, attracted to her strength of character and tenacity. The two actors are mesmerising to watch in their commandingly restrained yet natural performances, exuding a fascinating chemistry that will remain in the memory for a long time after the credits have rolled. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 26th APRIL 2019

 

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