Posts Tagged ‘Locarno International Film Festival’

Stranger than Paradise (1984) **** Locarno Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Jim Jarmusch; Cast: John Lurie, Eszter Balint, Richard Edson, Cecillia Stark; USA 1984, 89 min.

Writer/director Jim Jarmush (*1953) developed his first feature film Stranger than Paradise from an earlier short film project from 1982. It won the Golden Leopard at LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL where it is currently playing in the A Journey Through History strand for the 2020 special edition. It also won the Golden Camera for best first feature at Cannes in 1984 and put Jarmusch on the map of the Indie movement of that era – which also included Aki Kaurismäki, who, known for his lack of lack of dramatic highlights, called Jarmusch “the slowest filmmaker on the planet”. A compliment indeed.

Willie (Lurie) lives the contented life of a full-time loafer in his dilapidated NY bolt-hole. Now and again he meets Eddie (Edson), his soul mate, who shares in Willie’s main ‘activities’: watching American Football and eating  junk food, a leisurely existence. Then a tornado hits their idyll: Willie’s cousin Eva (Balint) arrives in the Big Apple on a stopover to Cleveland, where she will visit auntie Lotte (Stark). Whilst Eddie is taken by the charm of their intruder, Willie mostly ignores her, even leaving her out of the cinema visits. But Eva is soon gone, and the ugly flower dress given her by Willie, and thrown into the trash, is all that remains of her.

Eddie and Willie stay on unperturbed, making a living from cheating at poker. After a lucky run, they decide to take an old Dodge for the journey to Cleveland. Auntie Lotte is, in contrast to our duo, hyperactive, and talks non-stop in her Hungarian mother tongue. Willie and Eddie don’t give up in their attempt to impress Eva: taking her to Florida with the intention of  enjoying night life and beaches. But neither materialises, and life continues in the same vein as in New York. No beach or highlife, just tedium and cigarettes. Until fate takes over.

Unlike his characters, Jarmusch keeps everything under tight control, using only first takes, his episodic scenes often divided by a black screen and the laconic black-and-white images of Tom DeCillo (who would later direct Living in Oblivion). The original sound heightens the intimacy: we are in the same room as the protagonists, who speak in sound bites, nobody making too much of an effort. This is minimalism in its purest form. John Lurie’s score creates just the right atmosphere for this modern version of ‘Waiting for Godot’. AS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | A JOURNEY THROUGH HISTORY

 

Metropolitan (1990) **** Locarno Film Festival 2020

Dir: Whit Stilman | US Drama 98′

Whit Stilman’s first stab at social satire feels very dated to the modern gaze, yet thirty years ago it much have been ground-breaking with its acerbic insightfulness and lowkey wit the American director making some valid points about class; the workplace and feminism in a preppie Manhattan of the at turn of the 1990s that are still hold true today and Metropolitan set the tone for his brilliant career as a comedy satirist that still continues today with his finely-tooled scriptwriting.

Cinematically uninviting this modern day take on F Scott Fitzgerald takes place in upmarket apartments belonging to a coterie of upper class Manhattanites (the “urban haute bourgeoisie” party circuit).. And it was a masterly debut -convincingly characterised, well-paced and gracefully performed by a cast of new-comers who manage a mannered style with aplomb. He has honed his talent for wit and repartee in the films he has made subsequently: Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco, Damsels in Distress and (particularly) Love & Friendship so let’s hope his upcoming outing Dancing Mood continues the trend.

Metropolitan revolves around timid debutante Audrey (Carolyn Farina) and her love interest falls Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) – who isn’t quite up to her social standing – although she falls for him and their romance provides the dramatic heft of what is essentially a polite chamber piece and won Stilman the Silver Leopard at LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 1990. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | A JOURNEY IN HISTORY

Locarno Film Festival 2020 | 5-15 August 2020

Locarno Film Festival is still going ahead in its discreet lakeside setting but will be a more streamlined initiative, devised by Artistic Director Lili Hinstin, largely for the locals, as was this year’s Karlovy Vary, with a section entitled FILMS AFTER TOMORROW: twenty feature-length projects that were delayed in their completion, due to the pandemic. It’s unclear whether these films will be presented half-finished or whether they are a potted version of the blueprint for the full feature.

All this remains to be seen. That said, there’s twenty of them, in a suspended state, competing for the 2020 Pardo. These are the feature length projects that the selection committee, headed by Artistic Director Lili Hinstin, has chosen for The Films After Tomorrow, the strand of Locarno 2020 – For the Future of Films that has been conceived to offer proper support to filmmakers who had to put production on hold because of the lockdown.

The International selection
The following are the 10 international projects selected:

These the 10 projects from Switzerland:

Meanwhile Locarno Film Festival’s OPEN DOORS section (10 full-length and 10 short films) will be available for viewing worldwide, exclusively online, during the Festival from 5 through 15 Augustwebsite of the Locarno Film Festival The complete list of full-length films selected is as follows:

Apparition (Aparisyon), by Isabel Sandoval – Philippines/USA– 2012

Atambua 39° Celsius, by Riri Riza – Indonesia – 2012

Clash (Engkwentro), by Pepe Diokno – Philippines – 2009

Memories of My Body (Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku), by Garin

Nugroho – Indonesia – 2018

Sell Out!, by Yeo Joon Han – Malaysia – 2008

Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay, by Antoinette

Jadaone – Philippines – 2011

Songlap, by Effendee Mazlan and Fariza Azlina Isahak – Malaysia – 2011

Tender Are the Feet, by Maung Wunna – Myanmar – 1973

The Masseur (Masahista), by Brillante Mendoza – Philippines – 2005

What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love, by

Mouly Surya – Indonesia – 2013

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2020 5 -15 AUGUST 2020 

Good Manners (2017) **** MUBI

Dir: Juliana Rojas/Marco Dutra | Brazil, France | Fantasy Drama | 135′

Good Manners is a lyrical werewolf fantasy fable that explores class, sexuality and unconditional love in contemporary São Paulo.

Handling its tonal shifts with a deftness as light-hearted as its female-centric cast Good Manners is another example of the fresh and inventive filmmaking coming out of South America at the moment. It follows a young Black woman (Clara/Isabél Zuaa) who takes a job as a home help for an expectant single mother (Ana/Majorie Estiano) who is a member of Brazil’s privileged ‘nouveau riche’.

Ana spends her time shopping and exercising in her high rise luxury condo that soon becomes Clara’s home. After a sensuous pregnancy massage, Ana starts to trust Clara implicitly giving the woman all her bank details even though Clara fails to produce satisfactory references from her landlady Dona Amélia (an amusing Cida Moreira). Alarm bells ring, but it soon emerges that Clara is not the one to be wary of. Ana has some pretty strange secrets and bizarre habits which are gradually revealed in this rather slow-burning drama enriched by clever use of hand-painted scenery for the backdrop of Sao Paulo, and pleasant musical interludes to tell its beguiling story.

Clara and Ana soon enjoy a tender relationship that is refreshingly free from jealousy or resentment. One night they kiss so passionately that Clara’s lips bleed. This signals a growing intimacy between the two that is not so much a  a lesbian awakening, as a growing closeness and dependency due to Ana’s vulnerability that feels entirely natural in her current state. This is another clever way of signalling sexual fluidity, but something more unsettling then starts to take place when Ana scratches her companion’s shoulder, again drawing blood.

Ana’s backstory is clearly a troubled one and she is saddened by the recent break with her family who continue to finance her life, despite “a mistake” on her part which remains a mystery but appears – in delicately rendered pastel drawings – to involve a one-night-stand with a rather hirsute cowboy lover. Clara is enchanted by a musical box containing a tiny dancing horse that plays a tune that will haunt the rest of the film. Then Clara discovers large hunks of meat in the ‘fridge and, during the Full Moon, Ana sleep-walks into the street, her eyes turning a ghastly yellow. When Clara follows her one night she is terrorised to find Ana killing a cat and drinking the blood.

All this seems to unfold without sensationalism, the directors handle the blend of genres with graceful aplomb making this feel more like a fairy story rather than full on horror fare. Ana’s horrific gory birth scene takes on Alien proportions but the alien here is a rather sorrowful baby werewolf – and we feel for him, rather than fear him. With Ana’s death, Clara moves back to the poverty of her favela – cue musical interlude – again, more like a scene from Les Miserables than true Brazilian favela squalor. The little boy Joel is adorable, even when he transforms to a tot werewolf during the full moon when he is taken to ‘the little bedroom’, a secure place with chains and fluffy toys.

All in all, GOOD MANNERS is graceful, softly crafted horror movie that has more in common with ‘Jackanory’, with its brightly coloured ‘beanstalk’ garden, than the terror inspired by Lon Chaney’s werewolf outings, but it nonetheless exerts a thrilling tension. Rui Pocas’ cinematography evokes vibrant images in the interiors and the CGI used for the transformations is just about convincing. Ultimately a story about the power of a mother’s transformative and unconditional love rather than a tale of destruction and woe. If there’s one criticism, GOOD MANNERS rather outstays its welcome at 135 minutes, but certainly hooks us into its spell until the grand finale. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 10 JULY 2020 | LOCARNO 2017 REVIEW

 

 

 

Mariam (2019) ***

Wri/ Dir: Sharipa Urazbayeva | Drama 82′

Sharipa Urazbayeva’s directorial debut is a re-imagined drama based on reality and takes place in the windswept snowscapes of her homeland.

Stunningly filmed and convincingly performed by a cast of non-pros, Meruert Sabbusinova plays the lead character of Mariam fighting for survival in the remote Kazakh Steppe after her husband disappears and is presumed dead. Zhanash is resolutely a man’s world. Cut off from civilisation and 400 kilometres away from Almaty, her eldest son – who is about 12 – starts to assume his role as the head of the family now his father is gone. Because there is no body, he cannot be officially declared dead.

Mariam has to look after her young children in a home without light or water, running the small-holding and tending the cattle renting from the local farmer. Mariam cannot receive any benefits until her husband’s body is found and so she has to relinquish control over the animals and faces starvation. But providence comes to the rescue and a chance meeting soon improves her life considerably, until the past comes back to reveal how empty her existence was prior to her husband’s disappearance.

Mariam is a disarmingly simple but enjoyable film and Urazbayeva tells the story with minimal dialogue. The director met Sabbusinova via a news story she was working on for a local TV network. After looking for an actress to play the lead, she eventually decided that Sabbusinova was best suited for the part having experienced the lifestyle. Filming took place over a week allowing the crew to convey the harshness of life in this remote location dominated by men.  It’s quite shocking to experience the hardships and privations the locals face everyday in a society where women have literally no standing or power to determine their own lives. Talented cinematographer Samat Sharipova captures the wide open spaces of the Steppes allowing us to enter a world that seems so beautiful but also so hostile to those who have to make it their home. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

Locarno International Film Festival 2019

New artistic director Lili Hinstin unveils her eclectic mix of films for the 72nd Locarno Film Festival which runs from 7 until 17 August in its luxurious lakeside location. Locarno is known for its edgy profile and this year will be no different: Films by established auteurs Koji Fukada, Asif Kapadia, Kiyoshi Kurosawa will screen alongside an inventive array of undiscovered newcomers and sophomore cinema in a selection that embraces traditional stories and more experimental and avantgarde fare.

Hinstin takes over from Carlo Chatrian, who served as artistic director of Locarno since 2013 and now returns to the Berlinale. Hinstin is the 13th artistic director of the Locarno Festival since it was founded in 1946 and is only the event’s second female artistic director following on from Irene Bignardi (2000-5).

The largest open air cinema space in Europe, the Piazza Grande, will welcome up to 8,000 viewers for 19 full-length, 2 short films, and 6 Crazy Midnight, a total 11 world premieres. The magnificent state of the art Grand Rex cinema will pay host to this year’s Retrospective BLACK LIGHT conceived by Greg de Cuir Jr. showcasing international 20th century black cinema with stars such as Pam Grier, Ousmane Sembene, Spike Lee and Euzhan Palcy who will introduce his restored print of Rue Cases-Negres.

There will be another chance to see Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Luebbe DeBoer’s Sundance breakout Greener Grass and Kapadia’s Cannes documentary Maradona, along with the Joseph Gordon-Levitt-starring hijack thriller-drama 7500, Carice Van Houten-starring Instinct, and British comedian Simon Bird’s directorial debut Days Of The Bagnold Summer. Making its world premiere is also the  intriguing Italian horror feature The Nest from Roberto de Feo whose 2010 short film Ice Scream was one of the most awarded worldwide during the year of its launch.

Films in the main competition vying for the Golden Leopard include the latest crop of South American stories: The Fever from Brazilian director Maya Da-Rin sees a disillusioned man hovering between reality and a dreamlike existence; from Argentina Maura Delpero’s Hogar (Home) is set in present day Buenos Aires where two homeless teenagers are bringing up their kids in a religious institution run by Italian nuns. Icelandic director Runar Runarsson (Sparrows) will be there with his latest Echo. The first ever Locarno competition film in Gallego entitled Longa Noite (Endless Night) is a second surreal feature from Spanish director Eloy Enciso; and previous Golden Leopard winner Pedro Costa (Horse Money) is back with a Cape Verdean set drama Vitalina Varela. Activist and award-winning animator Mina Mileva and her Bulgarian co-director Vesela Kazakova have filmed their realist drama Cat in the Wall in Peckham, London. It follows the trials and tribulations of a mother and her daughter.

This year’s Cineasti del Presenti, a sidebar dedicated to original and Avantgarde cinema, includes works from acclaimed actress Jeanne Balibar – Merveilles à Montfermeil, and Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter’s Space Dogs explores the work of Laika, the first canine astronaut. Matjaz Ivanisin’s debut drama Oroslan shows how traditional mourning rituals help to heal the community’s grief in a village in Slovenia. From the magical midsummers of American teenagers in Tyler Taormina’s Ham on Rye to Klaudia Reynicke’s surreal female-centric drama Love me Tender– these are just some of the films in a programme full of daring inventiveness.

The President of the main competition jury will be Catherine Breillat, and she is joined by this year’s guests: Mathieu Amalric, Bi Gan, Bong Joon-ho, Denis Cote, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Maren Ade, Jake Perlin, Bi Gan, Aline Schmid, Alba Rohrwacher, Hilary Swank and Bela Tarr and John Waters whose will receive a Leopard of Honour for his daring, outrageous, often hilarious work: “Somehow I became respectable…What the hell has happened!”

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7 -17 AUGUST 2019

 

Ruben Brandt, Collector (2018) **** Edinburgh Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Milorad Krstic; Animation with the voices of Ivan Kamaras, Gabriella Hamori, Zalan Makranczi; Hungary 2018, 96 min.

Milorad Krstic (66), director, designer and script-writer of his debut animation feature, won the Golden Bear for Best Short Film at the Berlinale in 1995. Premiering here at Locarno Film Festival Ruben Brandt is mostly hand-drawn with some CG elements and very much resembles in style and narrative of the recent Folimage animation feature A Cat in Paris , even though the tone is much darker.

Psychotherapist Ruben Brandt (Kamaras) suffers from dreams and hallucinations: He is attacked by figures from famous paintings like Velazquez’ “Infanta Margarita” and Botticelli’s “Venus”. Nevertheless, Brandt goes on treating his four patients, through role-plays of stories such as Little Riding Hood. They are all highly skilled burglars; so is Mimi (Hamori), who puts Ruben’s plan into action; he wants to possess thirteen famous paintings, so Mimi heads first to the Paris Louvre, hotly pursued by detective Kowalski (Makranczi), who has been hired by various insurance companies, who put a 100million dollar bounty on Ruben’s head. But Brandt becomes increasingly desperate, his dreams growing ever more violent. We see little Ruben, his neurologist father making him watch cartoons, a favourite is Rusalocka in “The Little Mermaid”. The thieves embark on a world cruise to steal Van Gogh’s “Postman Roulin”, Titan’s “Venus of Urbino” and Picasso’s “Woman with Book”, visiting the Uffizzi, the Hermitage, Tate and MoMA. There are flying cats, and the pictures start to interact with Ruben. In the Pantheon, Ruben is asked to participate in a Western duel, before being whisked off in a plane to Arles in Provence. Matters become even more complicated it emerges that Kowalski is Ruben’s half-brother. Their father Gerhardt was a Stasi spy who defected to the USA and worked for the CIA on neurological research. He has just died, and Kowalski’s mother tells his son, “ I had to leave your father, so you could have your own dreams”. Ruben meanwhile is meeting the painter Renoir, and is trying to unravel his father’s life. After a wild hunt, when the six are hunted down by two oil-tankers and a helicopter, the chase ends in Tokyo, during the attempted theft of the last painting, Warhol’s “Double Elvis”.

On one level Ruben Brandt is a haunt caper, one the other a trip through European film history from ‘Caligari’, Eisenstein, Hitchcock to Wenders. Krstic is clear about his intentions: “To be haunted by ghosts or zombies in nightmares is a cliché, it’s more exciting to be haunted by Velázquez’s ‘Infanta Margarita’ or Botticelli’s ‘Venus.” And paraphrasing Godard he explains his aesthetic concept: “For me drawing is imagination, and animated film is imagination twenty-four times a second.” His attempt at an ‘audio-visual symphony’ might be strange at times, but is always fascinating, and even in its most absurd moments Ruben Brandt is utterly compelling. A unique, magical, trippy experience, a throwback to the Sixties with its echoes of Pink Panther.

EIFF 19 JUNE – 30 JUNE | ANIMATION STRAND | PREMIERED AT LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Ray and Liz (2018) ****

Dir: Richard Billingham | Cast: Justin Salinger, Ella Smith, Patrick Romer, Deidre Kelly, Tony Way, Sam Gittins, Joshua Millard-Lloyd | UK | Drama |107′

Turner prize-nominated Richard Billingham doesn’t miss a trick in portraying the squalid splendour of his early life in Birmingham during the early Seventies in his debut drama RAY & LIZ, premiering here at Locarno Film Festival.

Five years in the making, this impressively-tooled arthouse piece is not for the feint-hearted: In one scene the family dog makes quick work of some vomit spewed out after an enforced drinking spree. But this all adds to the glorious texture of his childhood experiences in the Black Country recorded fondly for posterity and in tribute to his parents, from collected photographs.

The Political undertones of the era are not swept under the grimy council house carpet but hardly forced in your face either. The Seventies were desperately difficult years for Britain, both politically and economically, and although Harold Wilson got the country back to work, it came at the price of inflation at almost 30%, the decade ending with Jim Callaghan’s humiliation at the hands of the unions in the Winter of Discontent and Margaret Thatcher taking over as prime minister in 1979.

We first meet Ray (Patrick Romer) sipping some kind of lethal home brew out of a plastic bottle after a night’s sleep, fully clothed, in his dismal bedroom. It’s a pitiful sight and we feel for him, yet he seems content enough although lost in his thoughts. As the narrative slips back and forward from Billingham’s early years to this final memory of his father, still in a council property and separated from his mother, there are poignant moments but also those that are painful to watch, such as when his “soft” uncle Lol is beaten senseless by his mother (with her shoe). And the cockroach-ridden mildewed walls and filthy ‘front room’ in their council flat makes grim viewing, as does the disgusting sight of bloated and chain-smoking Liz on one of her shouty outbursts. But the film is never maudlin. Welcome bursts of cheeky humour occasionally lurk round the corner even in this God-forsaken highrise hovel with its menagerie of invited and uninvited animals, such as the time when little Jason poured chilli powder into his father’s mouth while he was asleep. 

There are also echoes of Terence Davies in this social realist memoire. Ray lost his job when the kids were small and his reduced masculine pride sees him making himself scarce or – even useful – around the place in contrast to his surly, stroppy wife who spends her time flower arranging. The period detail here is extraordinary, almost to the point of cliché. It’s as if Billingham has sat down and made a list of every single item he remembered from his upbringing, and then painstakingly placed it on the set and in the dialogue which is rich in local expressions recalling the era. Not an appealing film to watch but an honest, authentic and heartfelt reflection of a point in time and place. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE | PREMIERED AT LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

https://vimeo.com/281967728

Gangbyun Hotel (Hotel by the River) *** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Dir/Scr Hong Sang-soo. South Korea. 2018. 96mins

The meaning of life seeps through the quietest moments of Hong Sang-Soo’s GANGBYUN HOTEL (HOTEL BY THE RIVER), a poetic cocktail of family dysfunction and random rendezvous laced with the Korean auteur’s idiosyncratic brand of humour and charismatic charm.

This slow-burning winsome affair sees a famous poet Younghwan (Ki Joobong) in retreat by the Han River where he is overwhelmed by a melancholy introspective state of mind as he contemplates the wintry landscape. Convinced he is going to die, he calls his two sons to reminisce and reflect with him in his Ingvar Bergmanesque final hours as snow softly falls outside. It seems that Younghwan wants to bring a conciliatory conclusion to their lives together but Kyungsoo (Kwon Haehyo) and film director Byungsoo (Yu Junsang) are keen to put their side of the story, as the trio josh a mild tiff breaks out that leads to some revelations and soul-searching. Younghwan quietly slips off to the bathroom as the others temporarily lose contact with their father, fearing the worst, while the old man was merely relieving himself.

In a quiet bedroom, somewhere else in the waterside hotel, two other troubled souls are drawn together: Sanghee (Kim Minhee) is tearfully getting over a relationship as her friend Yeonju (Song Seonmi) consoles and comforts her. But when they meet Younghwan strolling through the snow his rather embarrassing compliments about their appearance lift the mood from sadness to shared hilarity and suppressed giggles.

Enriched by the usual combination of cryptic dialogue and whimsical non-sequiturs, Gangbyun Hotel is a peaceful, reflective drama, endearingly warmed by the placid equanimity of these human resolutions. DoP Kim Hyung-ku’s bleached out and beautifully framed compositions of the snowy landscape resemble minimalist Japanese Hugusai paintings. MT

BEST ACTOR WINNER – KI JOOBONG | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

The Glorious Acceptance of Nicolas Chauvin (2018) **** Locarno Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Benjamin Crotty; Cast: Alexis Manetti, Antoine Cholet, Pauline Jacquard, Caroline Deruas; France 2018, 26 min.

Winner of the Mantarraya award at this year’s Locarno Film festival, Benjamin Crotty’s quirky exploration of everything French is cleverly conceived and inventive, both aesthetically and in its execution. THE GLORIOUS ACCEPTANCE is a social and political satire – somewhere between stand-up and Black Adder – biting and highly entertaining. It makes fun of said Chauvinism, but it also pampers to it. A true original.

Nicolas Chauvin (Manenti), legendary one-eyed farmer-soldier of the Napoleonic Wars, comes back to receive an imaginary award while regaling us with a potted history of his grim and glorious career during an outlandish stage appearance that could have been drawn from the tradition of Roman theatre, or even the alazon of Ancient Greek comedy. We’re then transported back to the place of his purported birth in 1820, the navel port of Rochefort. Derring-do was clearly the done thing for this original chauvinist who displays his excessive and unreasonable patriotism, emerging as quite the hero by bravely jumping off battlements and diving into moats without a by your leave to escape the clutches of a glass-eyed chain-mailed enemy, who later kills Nic’s charming female companion (Caroline Deruas). The two men then fiercely debate Chauvin’s psychological identity – did he repress his Oedipus complex and project his mother’s faults onto others, so creating so his paranoia? Another scene change sees him in a bar where he dallies with his next conquest (Pauline Jacquard): all this after a hymn, however barbed, to everything French, Messi plays football on the big screen. Finally, we are back on the stage where Chauvin thanks everybody from Eurosport to François Holland, bearing in mind the president sold weapons worth 8.3 billion in 2016. The elitist classes know no shame. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 1-10 AUGUST 2018

A Land Imagined (2018) *** Golden Leopard winner | Locarno 2018

Dir: Yeo Siew Hua | Drama | 95′ 

A Land Imagined could have been rather a good noirish thriller, judging from the early scenes which see a slightly sleazy Singapore detective hot on the heels of a missing migrant worker in Singapore’s crowded commercial district. What follows is a moody and sensuously cinematic arthouse drama with a subtle moral message that initially would have us believe that those who fetch up in this rich island seeking to improve their lot are somehow hard done by – or even meet a sticky end. Actor writer and director Yeo Siew Hua instead subverts expectations opting instead for a more unstructured approach that mirrors the film’s title but results in a downbeat outcome that will disappoint those hoping for twists and turns and a satisfying denouement.

Lonely reclamation construction worker Wang Bi Cheng (Liu Xiaoyi) has disappeared after forming a virtual friendship with a mysterious gamer. Detective Lok (Peter Yu) is the world weary cypher who gives nothing away in his search for the missing man, as gradually his trail loses focus as he aimlessly scours the streets and kicks a beer bottle along the sand-dunes at night. Wang is in no hurry to get away as he wanders in a febrile trance through sad cyber-cafes. His Bangladeshi co-worker and friend Ajit (Ishtiaque Zico) is one of the only decent, likeable characters here, the other human link is Mindy (Luna Kwok), a whip-smart cafe worker who offers him feisty company but is certainly no fool. Wang feels his chances rapidly melting away in the quicksand of this existential corner of Hell. The tone is ominous as the story drifts dreamily in a neon-lit goldfish bowl.

DoP Hideho Urata paints the working districts of the affluent hub of South Asia as an unsettling mirage where all is not what it seems. Lights twinkle softly in the distant nightscapes seen from the pearl white beaches of the reclamation land; but the sand has been imported from Malaysia. Mounds of aggregate and cement loom up like pyramids in the dusky night air. The breezy jazz score somehow allays our fears that this will not end well for our migrant worker, while groups of Bangladeshi workers dance themselves into a frenzy with mournful tunes from back home.

Lok’s attempts to get under the skin of his quarry in an effort to bring his search to a conclusion but in the end the drama drifts without any questions being answered, leaving us to ponder the existence of another artificial world created by a disenfranchised workforce uprooted from their homes and families and sucked into a meaningless existence of that serves no purpose other than to simply stay alive. MT

SCREENING IN COMPETITION | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Those Who Work (2018) **** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Dir/Writer: Antoine Russbach, Emmanuel Marre | Switzerland,Belgium | Cast: Olivier Gourmet | August 2018 | 100′

Premiering here at Locarno Film Festival, this hugely enjoyable and absorbing drama from Swiss director Antoine Russbach is uplifted by a compelling performance from Olivier Gourmet as Frank, a dedicated father of five who devotes his life to work in cargo shipping.

A strong narrative is the key to this modest parable and what starts as a potential hijack thriller in the style of Tobias Lindholm’s recent outing, soon develops into a richly thematic character study about a man’s tough decision during a crisis that loses him his job and potentially everything else he holds dear and eventually leads to some deep soul-searching. Deeply shaken, betrayed by a system to which he has given everything, Frank (Gourmet) finds his back against the wall but his tough upbringing and committed work ethic keeps him grounded in reality with a feelgood outcome that feels satisfying and rewarding in this world of political correctness.

In Frank’s world there are only two types of people: those who work to achieve a level of success so they can look after and provide for those who enjoy the benefits of the standard of living that he is able to provide. A risk-taker and a pragmatist who takes pride in the ability to deliver his company’s goods on time and with a healthy profit margin, Frank is a both a hero and an anti-hero, depending on which side of the fence you stand on this thorny issue. But to his credit, he is a self-made and self-reliant worker who has risen from an extremely modest rural background. He’s is also a calm and diligent father who always gives his kids time and consideration, particularly his youngest Mathilde (Adele Bochatay in a thoughtful debut). His wife is an understanding and devoted homemaker who cares for their comfortable house in the outskirts of Antwerp and the couple enjoy a happy marriage. Inadvertently, his kids have developed a sense of entitlement and have grown to expect the things their father can provide: the latest mobile phone and a luxurious swimming pool – but this is par for the course of today’s affluent society. And men are most fulfilled when they can are successful in their chosen careers and can provide for their family.

When the crew of his one of his container vessels inadvertently fails to spot a migrant on board, Frank is forced to make a decision in order to save his clients and his company considerable losses, and the delay of the cargo. In short, the shops will not get their goods in the time and the consumer will suffer with higher prices. The unwelcome interloper on board thought he was heading for Europe – not further afield – and has started to freak out on board, frightening to cause a mutiny amongst the sailors and disrupt the smooth running of the vessel with his suspected outbreak of Ebola virus. It’s a terrible dilemma and Frank deals with the crisis calmly and in a pragmatic way that nevertheless contravenes human rights and company guidelines. Although commercially he has saved the day, in the aftermath he becomes a scapegoat, falling from grace with his employers and his family. There follows a dark night of the soul, but Frank makes it through to the morning thanks to his steely resolve and a strong need to protect and look after his family. Antoine Russbach has made a supremely intelligent and powerful moral parable that deserves to be seen by all the family. MT

FILMMAKERS OF THE PRESENT | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 1-11 August 2018

 

Tegnap | Hier (2018) **** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Writer/Dir: Balint Kenyeres | Cast: Vlad Ivanov | Thriller | 119′

Hungarian filmmaker Balint Kenyeres is best known for his Cannes awarded short film Before Dawn and The History Of Aviation which opened the Directors’ Fortnight in 2009.

In this paradoxical psychological thriller Romanian actor Vlad Ivanov (Toni Erdmann/Sunset) plays Victor Ganz, an architect/builder who fetches up in North Africa on a business trip that will lead him into a place of unreliable memories and exotic characters. Slowly he plunges into a labyrinthine world where present and past collide, as the future gradually closes in on him – or so it would initially seem.

In HIER Hungarian auteur Balint Kenyeres creates a scenario where a seemingly decent businessman travels to an exotic country where nothing is what it appears to be. On his arrival at the bustling port Victor cuts a reassuringly suave figure at the wheel of his Swiss registered black Range Rover on route to a 5-star hotel through the shabby streets of the souk. He gives short shrift to the locals, throwing his weight around with the local cultural attaché and barks orders to his staff back home on a mobile ‘phone. On the face of it, he is the sophisticated European on a mission connected to some property he bought many years ago on a previous visit. After the affairs of the day, he retreats into the shady backstreet where the local bar The offers lives music of a chance to ‘kick back’ with an old acquaintance. But this is where the mood changes and grows more sinister as echoes of the past flood back to a long-lost lover who has mysteriously disappeared. At this point, we assume that Victor is going through some kind of mid-life crisis, as he will never be the same again. Or is the the real man emerging from behind the soigné persona. After making probing inquiries, a scuffle breaks out and Victor wakes the next morning in a building site being robbed by two young boys who make off with his wallet. Injured and empty handed, he makes his way to the villa of another old friend who sets him up with fresh clothes and the briefcase left behind on his last visit. But on the way to the airport his cranky old bus breaks down and leaves him stranded in the middle of nowhere. Perpetually making telephone calls home, Victor promises to be on the next plane home but there is no urgency in his desire to leave, the search for his old lover propelling the narrative further and further into remote corners of the desert as he desperately questions each random contact for information that may lead to the mysterious woman.

HIER is a strange and beguiling thriller with a tense undertow that makes it watchable and compelling. Shooting in Super 16, Kenveres achieves just the right grainy 90s feel without it being a retro affair. The essence of the story lies with the character of Victor, and gradually we start to question his motives. Apart from being unlikeable and difficult to connect with, he lacks conviction as a businessman or an architect, for that matter, once he moves away from the respectable surroundings of his comfortable hotel. Initially we believe in Victor: he seems plausible enoug and businesslike, going about his days with a sense of purpose. But gradually Victor becomes an unreliable witness to proceedings, an antihero unable to stick to his timetable or even stand by his word, let alone his memory. He brushes people up the wrong way, continually oversleeps and is deceitful to his partner waiting for him at home: He is the proverbial ‘man with feet of clay’; and whilst we identify with his situation, we certainly don’t identify with the way he handles it, driven by a near psychotic desire to uncover the past and obsessed with this enigmatic woman who he names ‘Sonia”. Kenyeres’ script continually subverts our expectations in his paradoxical film. The characters Victor meets in his alien surroundings prove to be increasingly more solid and reliable than he is: an old doctor who kindly stitches up his wounds; a professor researching into hyaenas and a friendly shopkeeper who finally puts him on the right trail. But Victor rewards the kindness of these strangers with truculence – even stealing the professor’s jeep – as his behaviour deteriorates into a state of lust-crazed psychosis. The enigmatic denouement is left to the imagination, making it even more powerful as the antihero is finally trounced by the very people he previously held in disdain. It’s an inventive idea for a story and Kenyeres pulls off. He raises vital questions about social stereotypes and the human condition – can we really reliably connect, identify and compare our own experiences with those of another person? And this is the crux of this unusual and compelling existential thriller. MT

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | FILMMAKERS OF TODAY STRAND 

M (2018) *** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

 

Dir: Yolande Zauberman | Doc | Israel/France | 103′

Entering the secret sexual world of Israel’s Hasidic Jewish community feels like a privilege and a revelation in this incendiary, no holds barred documentary premiering here at Locarno Film Festival.

According the findings of French filmmaker Yolande Zauberman a startling number of male kids in this orthodox religious community have undergone rape at the hands of their elders. Gaining  unprecedented access to the titular M, aka Menachem, a young Israeli man who we first meet on Tel Aviv beach at night, Zauberman unearths a history of abuse and family dysfunction leading to marriage breakdown that exposes the disturbing reality behind the silent facade of this tight-knit religious enclave. And it’s not just happening in Tel Aviv, Israel. This is a startling story that seems to connect with the narrative of sexual abuse across the ultra religious spectrum from Orthodox Judaism to Catholicism, and possibly beyond.

Speaking in a mixture of Hebrew and Yiddish, Menachem tells us how he grew up in Bnei Brak, just outside Tel Aviv. His mother was kind but never particularly affectionate, so when he started to attend Yeshiva (a religious school) and bathe in the mikvah (a cleansing pool) the elders’ attention seemed almost comforting to the young boy, until he realised what was going on. This led to problems with his marriage, and divorce. He now finds the company of Tel Aviv’s transsexuals easier to deal with as there is no emotional involvement. In a car journey with an Arab trans friend, the two compare the Hassidic stricture with being trapped inside the wrong body: both men needed to break away.

A talented cantor and a likeable but clearly troubled soul, Menachem opens up freely to the camera, finding the filming process a cathartic experience, empowering him to seek out his abusive elder, Akiva Katz, so he can obtain some kind of closure. The search for Akiva propels the narrative forward as more and more shockingly naive religious men join the conversation, glad to unburden themselves with their experiences, although many do not want to be filmed..

M is a tough and claustrophobic watch. This is in part due to Zauberman’s decision to film at night and at close quarters. Under the cover of darkness she finds people more relaxed and willing to share their feelings. “Does a woman have genitalia?” asks one young married man. Meanwhile in the background to these spontaneous (unscripted) discussions, orthodox families freely go about their business into the small hours, little kids in tow. This is a self-regulating society that seems locked in the Dark Ages, closeted away from the internet, social media and the modern world.

IN COMPETITION | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Gangbyun Hotel (Hotel by the River) *** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Dir/Scr Hong Sang-soo. South Korea. 2018. 96mins

The meaning of life seeps through the quietest moments of Hong Sang-Soo’s GANGBYUN HOTEL (HOTEL BY THE RIVER), a poetic cocktail of family dysfunction and random rendezvous laced with the Korean auteur’s idiosyncratic brand of humour and charismatic charm.

This slow-burning winsome affair sees a famous poet Younghwan (Ki Joobong) in retreat by the Han River where he is overwhelmed by a melancholy introspective state of mind as he contemplates the wintry landscape. Convinced he is going to die, he calls his two sons to reminisce and reflect with him in his Ingvar Bergmanesque final hours as snow softly falls outside. It seems that Younghwan wants to bring a conciliatory conclusion to their lives together but Kyungsoo (Kwon Haehyo) and film director Byungsoo (Yu Junsang) are keen to put their side of the story. As the three of them banter, a mild tiff breaks out that leads to some revelations and soul-searching. When Younghwan quietly slips off to the bathroom for rather a long time, the others immediately fear the worst. Meanwhile the old man was merely relieving himself.

In a quiet bedroom, somewhere else in the waterside hotel, two other troubled souls are drawn together: Sanghee (Kim Minhee) is tearfully getting over a relationship as her friend Yeonju (Song Seonmi) consoles and comforts her. But when they meet Younghwan strolling through the snow his rather embarrassing compliments about their appearance lift the mood from sadness to shared hilarity and suppressed giggles.

Enriched by the usual combination of cryptic dialogue and whimsical non-sequiturs, Gangbyun Hotel is a peaceful, reflective drama, warmed by the humour and bonhomie of these endearing interactions. DoP Kim Hyung-ku’s bleached out and beautifully framed compositions of the snowy landscape resemble minimalist Japanese Hugusai paintings. MT

BEST ACTOR WINNER – KI JOOBONG | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

Menocchio 2018 *** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Dir: Alberto Fasulo | Drama | Italy | 103′

Alberto Fasulo’s lavishly mounted imagined drama, having its premiere here at Locarno Film Festival, examines the ethical and moral issues surrounding the purported heresy of Domenico Scandella (1532–1599), also known as Menocchio, a miller from Montereale, Italy, who in the 16th century was tried by the Inquisition for his unorthodox religious views, and burnt at the stake.

Fasulo won the top prize at Rome 2013 with Tir. This, his fourth film is a costumed period piece that plays out from the POV of the inquisition’s interrogator as he encourages Scandella’s friends and associates to denounce the honest miller. Fasulo invites us into a God-fearing world where the close-knit community are dominated by the Catholic Church and potently in thrall to their religious convictions.

This exquisitely-crafted arthouse has the look and gravitas of the films of Italian masters such as Olmi or even the Taviani brothers. Each frame is elegantly composed telling the simple chronological storyline. Much of action takes place in the cloistered candlelit confinement of the ancient prison where Menocchio, his draw expression captured in the flickering candlelight, is interrogated about his views and beliefs that question the virgin birth. And Menocchio repeatedly sticks to his principles refusing to ask for forgiveness or change his mind, knowing full well that fatal punishment awaits him. These scenes contrast with the fresh and summery outdoors of the Friuli region were his associates are put to the test, some of the speaking in the region’s dialect.

Performed by a cast of mostly non-professional actors Menocchio is a quality drama that while shedding light on a little-known episode in history really needed the charismatic charge of a well-known actor to raise its worthwhile subject matter. MT.

IN COMPETITION | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

#Female Pleasure (2018) **** Locarno Film Festival 2018

Dir: Rebecca Miller | Documentary with Deborah Feldman, Vithika Yadav, Rokudenashiko, Leyla Hussein, Doris Wagner; Germany/Switzerland/UK/USA/Japan 2018, 95 min.

Writer/director Barbara Miller (Forbidden Voices), has travelled the world to connect with five different women with one thing in common: the struggle against religious/state sponsored male superiority. Some are even joined by sympathetic menfolk slowly turning the wheel of history. Miller’s straightforward, non-judgemental approach allows the women full reign to share their opinions.

Deborah Feldman, a Hasidic Jew from New York, courageously left her arranged marriage with her little son, splitting from an extended family who are now lost forever. She wants to raise her son to respect women.“The Torah”, she says, “is the word of men”. In Orthodox circles there is a feeling that women are necessary but, at the same time, are the enemy. On a walkabout Jerusalem she passes huge street signs that say:“Please do not pass through this neighbourhood in in-modest clothes: closed blouse with long sleeves, no skirts, no trousers, no tight fitting clothes”. She is emphatic “that orthodox women in arranged marriages do not have the same constitutional protection as other women”. Finding a life outside her old community with a new partner, she goes on fighting the cause.

Meanwhile in India, Vithika Yadav runs a self-help website that supports girls in overcoming the prejudices of Hindu teaching, which has veered very much from Ghandi’s approach to an aggressive male ideology, often held responsible for the many rape cases in this country. Vithika is the first woman in her family to reject an arranged marriage. According to her, Hindu teaching claims “women are the root of all sins”, Indian society is geared toward male desire and satisfaction.Yadav’s website is a great start, but she takes things even further by organising street theatre and demonstrations, trying to rope men into the fight. On the subject of rape, she is very clear: “You all see it, but you don’t do anything”. ‘LOVE matters’, is one of their slogans, and slowly more and more young men are joining Yadav’s movement.

Japanese manga artist and “Vagina defender” Rokudenashiko from Tokyo has a spirited approach to the issue, but the pretty drawing of the female sex organ on her website has already leading to her arrest by ten(!) police officers on the grounds of obscenity. Before her trial she calls a press conference telling the audience “the female body is seen as a sex toy for men. Hard core porn films are legally produced and sold, yet my art is seen as obscene”. She claims Japanese men are very brutal in bed yet pretend to be unaware of the pain they inflict. Even comics portraying images of young girls being raped are allowed to be published in Japan. There is a yearly parade of ‘Penis Worship’ and the artist and her friends make fun of this, sucking sugary phallus-sized sweets. During filming, Rokudenashiko is convicted for spreading obscene art and even sailing a canoe in the shape of a vagina on a nearby lake. She and her lawyers are determined to have the verdict overturned. “As women, we are defined by jealousy”. Buddhist teaching says, ‘that due to the sinfulness of our bodies, women have to suffer eternal torment and the Blood Bowl Hell’”. Her protests have actually found her a sympathetic boyfriend in the shape of Mike, a rock singer who does not smoke or drink and has even composed a song to support her cause. Her parting shot is typical “Long live the vagina!”

Leyla Hussein is a highly articulate and likeable Somali woman living in London where her cause is the global issue of FGM – 200 million women and girls are the victims. “Men have authority over women according to the Quran which says ‘those wives from whom you fear disobedience, beat them’. Often very young woman are forced into arranged marriages when they are still teenagers. “Let’s call arranged marriage by its proper name: Legalized paedophilia.” In London she runs a centre and a website to fight FMG where she describes exactly what FMG does to the female body – some of the younger men can hardly watch. But she is happiest back in Kenya, where Masaai support her cause: “Masaai women have no fun with sex, and that’s frustrating for men too. We have to spread the word!”

In Germany, Doris Wagner joined a Catholic order at a young age. She was systematically raped by her superior but when she reported him to the Mother Superior, the woman shouted at her; then forgave her. She feels that the Catholic Church frames women as  seductresses: “I ask myself: was the Church really founded to do good, or was it all along just intended to support the structure run by men?’ Doris now lives with her partner and son. She is writing her PHD theses “feeling like born again”.

In this substantial and engaging documentary Miller allows her contributors to voice their concerns freely in a way that is both informative and empowering for those affected by the issues. Often amusing, it occasionally takes sides but, crucially, it also raises awareness of women’s plight with a lightness of touch, showing the way forward for men to join the movement for a more liberal and pleasurable society, that can only benefit them in the long run. She feels that women should not feel imprisoned by their gender, and the sooner men learn this, the better it is for us all. Change is possible, but, as Miller point out, it is a long way off in some societies.

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 1-11 AUGUST 2018 | IN COMPETITION.

 

 

 

 

 

Acid Forest (2018) *** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Dir: Rugile Barzdziukaite | Doc | Lithuania | 63′

Rugile Barzdziukaite describes her eco-film as a creative documentary. It is set in her native Lithuania where a strange phenomenon has occurred in the forested region of the Curonian Spit, a scenic peninsular edged by the Baltic from one side and the lagoon from the other. ACID FOREST makes its premiere at Locarno Film Festival 2018.

Taking her cue from the likes of documentarians Sergei Loznitsa and Jem Cohen, Barzdziukaite’s debut feature often sees the funny side of this blot on the landscape. This humour comes out of the spontaneous comments made by unsuspecting visitors to the otherwise appealing UNESCO world heritage site, known for its natural resources and high-end beach resorts.

Training his camera on a look-out platform in the midst of the acid forest, her DoP Dovydas Korba gets a bird’s eye view not only of the tourists, but also the black cormorants who migrated back to the area nearly twenty years ago in 1989, after becoming extinct, and have since laid waste to the native pine trees with their acid-rich droppings that fall from the nesting places. where these destructive birds roost and bring up their young. But it’s not all bad. Deciduous trees have now started thrive in the area, feeding on the cormorants fishy manure. And so gradually the forest is mutating from one of pines to one of oaks and ashes. And this narrative very much chimes with the cycles of human migration that have happened all the world since time immemorial. Acid Forest is a an unusual but fitting metaphor for the surreal world that we live in. MT

OUT OF COMPETITION | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 

Alice T. (2018) **** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Dir: Radu Muntean |  Drama | Romania | 105′

Romanian New Wave director Radu Muntean follows his existential thriller One Floor Below (2015) with a similarly slow-burning contemporary portrait of narcissism and disenchanted Bucharest youth premiering at Locarno Film Festival 2018.

Drawing comparison with Uli Edel’s Christiane F, teenage Alice T is pretty, petulant and out of control. Adopted as a baby from a Rumanian orphanage she is constantly finding ways to market herself for personal empowerment and spends her directionless days hanging out with mindless friends, taking selfies, a cigarette casually in her hand. Their focus is on boys and soon Alice is pregnant, sparking a furious row with her adoptive mother (Mihaela Sirbu from Aferim!) who suffered to have her own kids but now accepts her daughter’s right to have the baby. Spurred on by this petty victory against her mother, Alice at first feels more in control; she has a weapon against her mother, a new identity and a mission to accomplish – that of motherhood. Her mother warms to the pregnancy and gradually the family are on board supporting her too. Alice finally feels she’s got somewhere with her life, but soon becomes bored with the idea of having a baby which may take the focus off number one.

Andra Guti is really impressive in her debut as Alice and Muntean, writing with two regular male collaborators (who are all fathers), keeps his distance from his anti-heroine as the observational story gradually unspools. What starts as a sad reflection on modern womanhood and the loss of feminine could have transformed into something warmer and more mature on Alice’s part. But that’s not the point. And soon her abusive narcissism resurfaces as she casts around for more attention, another power fix. This transformation is so subtle it takes a while to fully take on board the true depth of Alice’s self-centredness as the prime focus of her mother’s doting and undivided attention, calling to mind that same dedication seen by the mother in fellow Romanian Calin Peter Netzer’s 2013 drama Child’s Pose.

This female centric storyline highlights the focus on domestic trivia where low level issues form the centre of everyday conversations. The camera hangs over these scenes to the point of tedium, emphasising the sheer vacuousness of Alice’s existence. There are no hopes or dreams for anything outside this narrow domain. And Alice is not encouraged to aspire but shielded from any kind of challenge, so she is unable to learn by her mistakes on a road to nowhere. Her bad reports at school are openly questioned by her mother in the face of authority, pointing to a system where children can do no wrong, but will never really amount to anything. After the pregnancy is confirmed, her mother decides that her daughter will take some time out for the pregnancy, but this only leaves more of a vacuum in the teenager’s feckless existence and she needs to be the centre of attention.

Tudor Lucaciu’s camera pictures the scene around Bucharest and the coast in master shots and long takes showing how Alice can be anything to anybody as she casts her spell over strangers and acquaintances alike. The male characters remain unexplored and are mostly seen as bemused outsiders just trying to get on with their lives. And the finale comes as a fait accompli leaving Alice just as bewildered and lost as she must have felt back in that orphanage, and even less sure of herself than she was at the start. This is a drama that will make your blood boil. MT

IN COMPETITION | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 1-11 AUGUST 2018 | Due to release next year in the UK

Sibel (2018) **** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Dirs/Writers: Cagla Zencirci, Guillaume Giovanetti | Cast: Damla Sonmez, Erkan Kolcak Kostendil, Meral Çetinkaya, Emin Gürsoy, Elit Iscan | Drama | 95′

Turkish village life is shamelessly exposed by defiant nature girl Sibel in this ravishingly rocking fable from directing duo Zencirci and Giovanetti premiering here at Locarno Film Festival 2018. 

SIBEL is another of the directing duo’s studies examining freedom and belonging following on from Noor (2012) and Ningen (2013). This tightly-scripted and perfectly-paced suspense fable also draws similarities with Reha Erdem’s escape-themed Jin (2013) that explored the perilous life of a Kurdish guerrilla girl on the run in the Anatolian mountains, but in this more intimate drama the setting is the isolated Black Sea town of Kuskoy in Northern Turkey known for its whistled language which adapts standard Turkish syllables into piercing tones that help the scattered locals to communicate long distance when working in the steep hillsides. Eric Devin’s widescreen camerawork conveys the magnificence of this lushly forested region.

And it’s here that Sibel lives with her authoritarian father and wayward younger sister Fatma. It’s a really powerful performance from Damla Sonmez who must be the first actor to whistle her part: strong-willed Sibel is mute from birth but has a closer bond with her father who has seen no reason to remarry much to the chagrin of the local small-minded women who marginalise and menace the young woman for her feral beauty and the freedom that her so-called ‘handicap’ allows. And we feel for her.  With women like these in the community it’s hardly surprising that menfolk would want to keep them down. Sibel is ostracised by every one of them, including her sister. One particularly resonant scene sees Sibel crying silently up at camera, but her speechlessness also works to her advantage allowing her to develop self-reliance and single-mindedness that sets her apart from the others as one of the two strong female characters in the narrative. The other is her bohemian  aunt who lives alone on the hillside encouraging her to follow her instincts: “women get their power from nature” These scenes in the forest provide a refreshing antidote to the female-centric plot-line that portraying the traditional local life that is dominated by the women folk’s need to subjugate themselves to a male-domination. And it’s into this natural habit that Sibel regularly retreats to spend time reflecting and also to hunt down a mysterious wolf threatening the village. It soon transpires that this wolf is really a metaphor for the immigrant outsider feared by the villagers. But soon a stranger does emerge, in the shape of fugitive Ali (Erkan Kolcak Kostendil) who will complete Sibel’s journey to self-realisation in this tense and stunningly filmic arthouse piece.  MT

IN COMPETITION | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 1-11 AUGUST 2018

 

 

 

Diane (2018)*** Locarno International Film Festival

Dir/Writer: Kent Jones | Cast: Mary Kay Place, Jake Lacy, Estelle Parson, Andre Martin, Deirdre O’Connell, Phyllis Summerville, Ray Iannicelli US | 90′

Kent Jones has made some dynamite documentaries: Hitchcock Truffaut, A Letter to Elia; Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows. His feature debut is an earnest and perceptive drama about an ordinary woman forced to find inner strength when her family crumbles around her. Diane could also be a US version of our long-running BBC4 series The Archers with its cheesy and occasionally awkward moments of ‘raw’ sincerity very on the maudlin. It pictures Diane padding around in a pink fluffy housecoat making chicken casserole to take to a sick friend, or having one margarita too many while unwinding in the local bar. This is not Hollywood or New York but somewhere like Denver Colorado where the characters sit around in thick cardies, pouring tasteless coffee into giant mugs and reminiscing over the dead and dying in their local community. What saves it and actually makes it rather watchable is the impressive cast that Jones has assembled: Mary Kay Place gives a subtle but stunning performance as the titular heroine a divorced do-gooder whose son (Jake Lacy) has lost his way. Deirdre O’Connell is wonderfully convincing as her cousin Donna dying from cancer, and Andrea Martin simpers as her trusted friend. The whole thing plays out like ‘an every day story of countryfolk’ (The Archers’ tagline), as they support one another, do good in the community and occasionally argue but gradually work through their issues. Diane is never hard-edged, but honest and straightforward, despite occasionally striking a bum note – the scenes exploring Diane’s spiritual quest feel rather bogus as does the character of her aunt  Mame (Estelle Parsons does her best). All in all, this is a well-played and acutely observed domestic drama that reflects, in part, the world we now live in. MT

SCREENING AT LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 1-11 AUGUST 2018

Leo McCarey Retrospective | Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Although Leo McCarey (1898-1969) was feted during his career winning three Oscars and nominated for a further 36(!), he seems to have fallen out of fashion. Today he is remembered for just three features: The Marx Brother’s vehicle Duck Soup (1933), An Affair to Remember (1957), actually a remake of his superior Love Affair from 1937, and the The Awful Truth. To my knowledge, there are no book length biographies currently in print, rather odd, if you consider that McCarey directed 23 sound features. This year’s Locarno Film Festival offers a welcome opportunity to enjoy his work in a lavish retrospective dedicated to this Hollywood great.

After High School McCarey actually started out as a prize fighter before bowing to the will of his father and studying law at USC. Enterprisingly he then took over a copper mine, but the venture went bankrupt and his career as a lawyer also faltered. He next turned his hand to song-writing but athough he composed over a thousand songs during his lifetime, he would have been unable to make a living from it. Then in 1919 came his lucky break as assistant to Tod Browning at Universal. Later joining the Hal Roach Studio, he made it from gag man to Vice President. But more importantly, he was to pair Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in these ventures. McCarey checkered life experiences provide rich material for his films: Bing Crosby would play a failed songwriter in Love Affair, there is boxing content both in The Milky Way (1936) and The Bells of St. Mary (1945). Whilst liking “a little bit of the fairy tale” in his films, McCarey became a director of features just as the sound system was launching, giving him the opportunity to work with stars early on in his career. And there was always a steely side of reality imbedded in his escapist endeavours: The Kid from Spain (1932) with Eddie Cantor, Belle of the Nineties (1934) with Mae West, Six of a Kind (1934) with WC Fields and Milky Way with Harold Lloyd.

Often criticised for being ‘a director of great moments’, McCarey made it to the big times as a serious filmmaker in 1935 with Ruggles of Red Cap. Charles Laughton plays a British butler who has to serve two American ‘Nouveau Riche’ social climbers when his master ‘loses’ him in a card game. Ruggles is a blueprint for what would follow: the absurd interactions of protagonists who either try to help or undermine each other, but always with the same result: chaos.

In 1937 McCarey won his first Oscar for The Awful Truth. It stars Irene Dunne and Gary Grant (his first great success; he actually had a cunning resemblance to McCarey), as a separated couple, who try to help each other, finding a new partner, but only succeeding only in sabotaging their best efforts. It says a lot about McCarey, that he “would have rather won for Make Way for Tomorrow, shot in the same year. Make Way is the story of Lucy Cooper (Beulah Bondi) and her husband Barkley (Victor Moore) who find out on the day of their family re-union that their house is foreclosed. They move in with their middle-aged children, but separately: Mum with son George, Barkley with daughter Cora. This is, in spite of the observant humour, a real tragedy, and would inspire the great Japanese director Ozu for his Tokyo Story.

After winning his second and third Oscars for Going my Way (Best Original Script and Best Director), the story of a popular Irish priest Chuck O’Malley (Crosby), who is more interested in boxing and songs than the lecturing; Good Sam in 1948 marked the beginning of his decline. Between 1948 and his death in 1969 McCarey would only direct five more features: alcohol, drugs and illnesses taking their toll. Somehow the humanist got lost in the perfidious way of Un-American-House Committee witch hunts. My Son John (1952) is the sob story of a mother who discovers that her titular son John (Robert Walker, who died before shooting was complete), is a communist. Not much better is The Devil Never Sleeps (aka Satan Never Sleeps), his last feature from 1962 where a native Christian missionary woman in China is raped by a communist soldier, who later recants his ideology and helps her to flee the country.

Whilst McCarey’s detractors are entitled to point out that he is by no means an auteur in the sense of Hitchcock or even Capra (with whom he shares many parallels), this was mainly due to his to the width and charming versatility of McCarey’s career which started out in slapstick and in ended in social commentary. To McCarey images are mostly secondary; rhythm and sound dominate throughout his oeuvre. But the themes and motifs feature throughout make him unique in the canon of the American cinema. AS

LEO McCAREY RETROSPECTIVE | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 

Iceman (2017) ***

Dir/scr: Felix Randau. Germany/Italy/Austria. 2017. 97 mins

Felix Randau opts for a rather unimaginative approach in this imagined drama about the final days of Alpine warrior Otzi, whose perfectly preserved body was found in 1991, over 5,000 years after he perished in an Italian glacier. With its captivating Alpine scenery and visceral depiction of life back then ICEMAN is nevertheless convincing and we do feel for Otzi and the savage world he inhabits.

This is Randau’s third feature and easily his most ambitious both in scope and budget and it provides solid entertainment for those keen on natural history and truth-based stories from way back when, recalling films like Pathfinder (1987) or even The Revenant (2016) and might inspire other filmmakers to try a more dynamic approach with a film about the 3,000 year old Ur-David, a red-haired Eurasian discovered in China, or our own Lindow Man whose remains emerged from around 2,000 years ago in a peat bog in Cheshire,

The characters here speak an untranslated version of the Rhaetic language but this actually works to the film’s advantage capturing our imagination about this ancient community of nomads, and providing a more peaceful, almost meditative experience.

We first meet Kelab (Jurgen Vogel) who lives in a cave with his pigs, goats and fur-clothed family, foraging for nourishment in the local forests. There appears to be a spiritual element to their existence, and one day while out hunting, his wife and son are brutally slaughtered leaving only their baby who Kelab takes with him on his journey into the snowy South Tyrol wilderness to find the holy shrine of Tineka.

Venturing into the breathtaking beauty of windswept mountain peaks and rugged snowscapes Kelab struggles on in the wilderness as the film turns into a gripping fight for survival when a dramatic fall into a deep crevasse saves him from the spears of two vicious warriors. An eerie atmospheric score ramps up the tension as Kelab fights on, Jurgen Vogel giving a nuanced performance that considerably adds to what might have been a rather unreachable character. It’s a scenic and cinematic experience and a brilliant depiction of the sheer basic savagery of life in that grim Neolithic world. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 27 JULY 2018

Locarno 71 | Film Festival Preview

Artistic director Carlo Chatrian has unveiled his final line-up with an exciting eclectic selection of titles spanning mainstream and arthouse fare due to run at the picturesque Lake Maggiore setting from the 1st until 11th August 2018.

Piazza Grande will screen celebrated Filipino filmmaker Lino Brocka’s Maynila Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag alongside Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansmanactor, David Fincher’s Se7en and Blaze the latest film from actor turned auteur Ethan Hawke who is also to be honoured with an Excellence Award at this year’s jamboree.

There are two documentary premieres of note, screening out of competition, the first, Walking on Water (Andrey Paounov) explores the work of Bulgarian artist Christo whose Mastaba is currently gracing The Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park, the second is Etre et Avoir director Nicolas Philibert’s De Chaque Instant that looks at the life of nurses as they prepare for a lifetime of service. 

Amongst the feature debuts to world premiere is Aneesh Chaganty’s  Searching, and an animated film Ruben Grant – Collector from Slovenian artist, filmmaker and Berlinale winner Milorad Krstic, 

Hardly catching his breath since his last film Hong Sangsoo joins the International Competition line-up with Gangyun Hotel (Hotel By The River), Abbas Fahdel’s latest Yara, Radu Muntean’s follow up to One Floor Below – Alice T, Dominga Sotomayor’s Tarde Para Morir Joven, Sibel, from Turkish director duo Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti, and Britain’s Richard Billingham with his debut Ray And Liz.

Playing in the Filmmakers of the Present strand there is Siyabonga from South African directorJoshua Magor, a poetic feature showcasing the lavish landscapes of a nation riddled with poverty and crime.

This year’s Honorary Leopard is to go to Bruno Dumont who will present the world premiere of his mini-series Coincoin Et Les Z’inhumains screened on the Piazza after the award ceremony.

Retrospectives are always something to look forward to and Locarno 71 dedicates its classic spot to screwball comedy director Leo McCarey, with Carey Grant starrer The Awful Truth (1937) headlining the selection.

The Piazza Grande provides the biggest outdoor screening area in Europe and will be the setting for Vianney Lebasque’s festival opener Les Beaux Esprits and closing film I Feel Good from Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kerverne. MT

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

The Poetess (2017) ****

Dir: Stefanie Brockhaus, Andres Wolff | Cast: HIssa Hilal | Drama | 89′ | Saudi/Germany

Hissa Hilal, Saudi poet and political activist in her forties, has made some ground-breaking literary efforts to push out the boundaries for women in Saudi Arabia. Veiled in her burqa she is a vehement critic of fundamental fanatics and Islamist terrorism. To be an outspoken woman and a poet in the Muslim world is an act of courage on its own, but to attack the predominantly male audience in the studio on live TV, goes a step further.

Ms Hilal is the focus of this enlightening documentary from Stefanie Brockhaus (On the other Side of Life) and Andy Wolff. We learn how she became the only woman competitor in the “Million’s Poet Show” 2015, televised to an audience of 70 million from Abu Dhabi (United Emirates). Remia (her mother does not let her use this name on TV), is married to another journalist and poet, who stands by her during the crisis following her appearance in the reality show, filmed in a TV studio with the most garish and gilded decor known to the modern world. It is a miracle in itself that she even reaches the grand final, where she will compete against five men. Covered in an abaya hijab and a burqa, Hissa attacks the unfaithfulness of men, and even more daring, she condemns the muftis, the issuers the Fatwa, all through her clever poetry. Needless to say, a Fatwa has been issued against her, a death threat, for which she is prepared: “If they kill me, I will be a martyr for humanity”.

For Hilal, “religion is a private matter, but is manipulated today for political ends”. Clips from documentaries from the early 20th century support her thesis clearly stating that a hundred years ago, Bedouin women could move around freely, have their own business and did not wear the burqa, which was only introduced later, “because beautiful women caused conflicts in the desert”. She remembers her youth, when Saudi Arabia was a much more liberal country. She watched television in the 1970s “when the parents forbid them to watch Egyptian movies. But we stayed up, until the parents were asleep and then enjoyed the forbidden features”. The change in Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world came in late 1979, with the Juhayman incident in Mecca when 270 people were killed and over 500 were injured. The revolt was lead by Juhayman al-Oteibi and Mohammed Abudl al-Qahtan, the latter claiming to be the Mahdi. The Saudi monarchy, feeling threatened by the clerics who accused them of selling out to Western culture, placated the religious leaders by giving them control over the whole of society: media, culture, education, everything. The interaction of genders was the first victim: even in the TV studio, genders are separated.

One of the most interesting elements of the film is seeing the contrast between the cities of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi and more liberal Oman, which is photographed both from an aerial perspective and with the camera moving freely through the streets and malls, evoking a authentic feel for Saudi Arabia and the Sultanate of Oman.

Tension builds in the grand finale “Million’s Poet Show”. The audience are clearly rooting in Hilal’s favour, but there’s bound to be some manipulation behind the scenes to ensure a male wins. She does not expect to be victorious and sadly her fears are realised. “They like to see me defeated, it’s really hate”. Her income from writing enables her to buy herself a house in Abu Dhabi; in the capital Riyadh this would not have been possible, and certainly not in the UK. She might have avoided the consequences of the Fatwa, but is not sure, when she will see her family again. This real eye-opener should be screened globally for all to see. MT

THE POETESS | NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW |

Glory (2017)

Dir.: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov; Cast: Margita Gosheva, Stefan Denolyubov, Kitodar Todorov, Milko Lazarov, Ivan Savov); Bulgaria/Greece 2016, 101’

GLORY is a spare and rampantly funny satire on contemporary Bulgarian life – crowned with dynamite double twist denouement worthy of Frank Capra.

Groseva and Valchanov reunite with the cast and crew of their standout debut The Lesson. This time Margita Gosheva, is Head of PR Julia Staikova, for the Minister of Transport Kanchev, who has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. When honest railwayman Tzanko Petrov (Denolyubov) finds a Million Lev in a bag on a deserted railways line and hands the money in, Staikova is all poised for a PR stunt: Petrov will be awarded a medal by the grateful Minister Kanchev (Savov); the whole ceremony captured on TV. But Petrov desperately needs a makeover and Julia’s team sets to work on his stutter. Then Petrov reveals that his fellow workers steal diesel fuel to top up their meagre salaries -, and is prepared to name names. But Kanchev’s lack of diplomacy lets the side down and, to make matters worse, Julia re-styles Petrov with a cheap digital watch, replacing his family heirloom – a Russian ‘Slava’ – which then goes missing. The timepiece is of great sentimental value to Petrov – a metaphor for the traditional Bulgaria – and he won’t be fobbed off with a replacement – that seems to embody all that’s glib about the new. Sadly Julia’s PR stunt goes from bad to worse when a local reporter takes up Petrov’s case. The PR woman emerges a self-seeking, control freak and Gosheva plays her with ruthless inflexibility – giving no quarter to her husband, or gruelling IVF injection schedule. Petrov, on the other hand, hails from a long-gone Bulgaria where Communism and a rural existence are now out of fashion. He’s not after money (just the 85 Lev he had picked up before finding the money bag), but his watch, with an engraving from his father – his only tangible link to the past. Well- paced and punchy, Glory culminates in a well-staged off-camera finale that perfectly caps everything that has gone before in this impressive feature. DoP Krum Rodriquez avoids total realism, always finding new ways to conjure up the cataclysmic difference between the worlds Julia and Petrov inhabit. Finally, the end is a brilliant exercise in off-camera violence, closing this impressive feature. Groseva and Valchanov pull the whole thing off with consummate skill: Who says, that the second film is always the most difficult?

GLORY IS NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE VENUES | LOCARNO 2017 REVIEW.

 

Lucky (2017) Mubi

Dir: John Caroll Lynch; Cast: Harry Dean Stanton; David Lynch; Ron Livingston; Ed Begley | US | Drama | 88min

Harry Dean Stanton reached his early-nineties with a string of a hundred or so nuanced character performances to be proud of in TV, indie and mainstream fare. The Kentucky born actor kicked off his career in the 1950s with an uncredited turn in Hitchcock’s The Wrong ManCool Hand Luke and Two-Lane Blacktop followed and he made notable impressions in Alien; Paris Texas and The Green Mile – and the Avengers Assemble and Twin Peaks. He died in September 2017.

John Carroll Lynch’ feature debut is devoted to Stanton’s rich brand of dark humour and hang-dog ‘dudeyness’, where finally the American National treasure gets a film all to himself. Described as the spiritual journey of a ninety-year0old atheist, LUCKY certainly lives up its drole title. And although the film is rather a caricature of the MidWest mindset, Stanton’s poignant performance as a retired cowboy Lucky garnered a handful of US awards.

Redemption and rumination are popular themes and always make for a pithy drama – indeed, Stanton played the brother of Richard Farnsworth’s similar type in David Lynch’s The Straight Story nearly 20 years ago. Here as Lucky he is forced to review his own mortality and how its affects his loved ones, after a fall jolts him into introspection. As a debut, LUCKY is sure-footed and appealing with some memorable scenes amongst the more routine stuff of men playing cards and shooting the breeze in local bars. And Stanton is partnered by his old friend David Lynch (as Howard, an equally mellow character). A real Western gem, for anyone’s money. MT

BLURAY/DVD RELEASE COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA now on Mubi

The Reagan Show (2017)

Dir: Sierra Pettengill, Pacho Velez | Doc | US | 74′

Pettengill and Velez’ entertaining documentary captures the pageantry, absurdity and mastery of the made-for-TV politics of Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) entirely through White House footage and archive news reports. And although the directors brings nothing especially new to the party that covered the Reagan Administration  from 1980-1988), with Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House, even the Reagan presidency needs to be re-evaluated.

Asked in 1980, why Ronald Reagan was elected president of the USA, a journalist friend of mine ventured his opinion: “The powers that are, wanted to give the job to somebody who read the cue-cards the best”. He was referring to Reagan’s acting career; though mostly spent in B-pictures, Reagan was a household name, and his portraits of the average, good-natured American (in the majority of his features), made him an ideal figure to identify with. Even if the truth about him – working as an informer for the FBI – would have been leaked, it would not have made any difference at the polls. Reagan himself was much more self-aware than one assumes. Asked by a TV interviewer if it helped to have been an actor before becoming president, he answered; “I don’t know how I would have done the job, if I had not been an actor.”

Yes, he had trouble spelling names, like the one of New Hampshire governor John Sununu, whose election he sponsored: the recorded interview had to be interrupted many a times, before Reagan got it right –but hey, George W. Bush could hardly string a complete sentence together. And even if Reagan’s appearance before the TV cameras with a saw in his hand, representing his fight for a meaner budget, was truly cringe-worthy, it seems more funny than malicious today. Anyhow, ‘staging the message’ was/is always part and parcel of the ‘White House Show’ – until Trump decided to break all the rules. The reason we have so much material on the Reagan years, is, that his administration recorded more events, than the five before combined.

Reagan was a cold-war warrior, and even after only one year in office, public opinion showed that the US population was more afraid of an all-out nuclear war with the USSR than 12 months before; further more, the majority of the US population thought that nuclear war with the USSR was inevitable. The president was in/famous for two of his statements: one was his support of the Strategic Defence Initiave (also known as ‘Star Wars’), the other one naming the USSR “as an evil empire”. But being the master communicator he was, Reagan turned from a falcon into a dove in his last years in the White House. Whilst president Gorbachev hired US PR agencies to help with his image (quite successfully, he gained the support of Margaret Thatcher and Francois Mitterand), Reagan had suffered a set back in the Iran affair in late ‘86: his prisoners for weapons deal cost him the support of his political base, and, for once, the great communicator had to retreat. In the end, Reagan even retracted his “evil empire” outburst: in the presence of Gorbachev he told reporters in Moscow “this quote belonged to another time, another era”.

The footage of Ronald and Nancy Reagan in Ronald McDonald costumes, entertaining a group of children, might be the funniest of this lively and often witty documentary, the overall perception is that, even if the Reagan presidency was “an MA in PR” compared with the present White House inhabitant, Ronald Reagan was a balanced human being. MT

OUT OF COMPETITION | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW | 2-12 AUGUST 2017

Wajib (2017) ****

Dir: Annemarie Jacir. Palestine-France-Germany-Colombia-Norway-Qatar-United Arab Emirates. 2017. 96’

Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir conjures up a well-paced and watchable family drama fraught with difficulties for the patriarch and his prodigal architect son, who has returned from Rome for the wedding of his sister. Based on her own family, Jacir is familiar with the territory here in Nazareth where customs requires wedding invitations to be hand delivered, so WAJIB essentially plays out like a road movie where the two spend a great deal of the running time driving around while thrashing out their issues. The pain of Abu Shadi’s divorce still haunts him and infects the respectful relationship between the grown men that gradually grows more and more tense, especially when it emerges that Abu has been less than truthful about Shadi’s situation, failing to mention his son’s relationship while trying to matchmake at each encounter. Their journey also serves as a forum for Jacir to broaden the discussion on local politics, viewed from inside and outside the region, in this well-judged and wry drama. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 14 SEPTEMBER 2018

YOUTH JURY AWARD LOCARNO 2017 | BEST FILM | DUBAI INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 6-13 DECEMBER 2017

 

 

Distant Constellation (2017) ****

Dir: Shevaun Mizrahi | USA/Turk/Ned | Doc | 80′

An Istanbul retirement home is playfully haunted by the rich and colourful memories of its battle-scarred occupants in this impressive and gracefully composed debut from Shevaun Mizrahi.

Outside, high-rise construction takes Turkey into an acquisitive new chapter of its history. But in the faded splendour of their palazzo building, the old guard reminisce with humour, perseverance and poignancy, remembering a time when life was fraught with war and poverty but also held together by a sense of community and the simple pleasures of sex, family, music and the visual arts. Dressed up for another day alone with their memories, the cultured occupants of this care home – who range from late seventies to much older – are left to their own devices, keeping their minds sharp with crosswords in the privacy of their rooms. Others sits together in companionable silence, gazing wistfully into the camera or staring vacantly to the world outside. Mizrahi’s one-to-one encounters are mostly observational and her static camera patiently contemplates each individual without rushing on, even when clearly some are suffering from senility, or even early stage dementia, while others are bent over and crippled by age.

Selma, an Armenian woman in her late nineties. even nods off while chatting (Mizrahi stays off camera, and we don’t hear her voice). She tells how her mill-owning family were chased from their village during the Armenian genocide; the men killed with knives and the animals burnt. “1915 was a terrible time…we were forced to convert to Islam”. Having lost the opportunity to marry, she looked after a Turkish baby for two years, and cried when she left her, never having kids herself. She advises Mizrahi to get married and raise a family when she can but is clearly philosophical about the past: “life has been good to me”.

In another room a soulful photographer attempts to load his camera, repeating over and over again: “I can’t see”. We feel for him, as French music plays softly in the background. Shaved and dressed in a suit and tie, he won’t be going anywhere today but looks forward to his birthday, checking the date on his mobile phone, with a magnifying glass. “in 9 days time, they will bring a cake”.  A photo on the wall shows him proudly posing with his camera, his glossy black hair slicked back, he looks like a 1950s matinée idol .

A couple of old boys chat in a stationary lift – which they can’t operate, or pretend they can’t. One says to the other, a heavy smoker: “I’m sick of your breath, take an eucalyptus sweet, or even two” The lift door eventually opens to let two women in. Another – rather dapper pianist – treats us to a classical flurry on the keyboards before gushing forth with some particularly florid memories with his girlfriend in the back of a car: Sexual desire – and the longing for physical touch doesn’t change with age and he is clearly concerned about his emotional future. Hoping there will another relationship in his life (he’s only 77), he swiftly proposes marriage to Mizrahi: “you’re 29, I don’t expect you to stop going out dancing with your friends”. In return, he offers his generous pension, as a dowry.

As dawn breaks, a woodpecker and some spirited birdsong ushers in another day, as residents wash and dress in hopeful preparation. But the swirling murmuration of the starlings also signals the change of season as another winter approaches, suitably recalling the words of Dylan Thomas: ‘Old age should burn and rave at close of day’. It certainly describes these spirited people, captured so charmingly here by Shevaun Mizrahi. MT

NOW ON RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dead Nation | Tara Moarta (2017) | Locarno Film Festival 2017

Dir: Radu Jude | Doc | 83′ | Romania

Radu Jude’s astonishing documentary follow-up to Aferim! is a chronicle of Romania’s anti-semitism during the late 1930s-1940s told entirely from the perspective of a Jewish doctor, Emil Dorian.

The Romanian director’s fifth full-length film takes the form of a series of stunning professionally taken monochrome photographs (often fading at the edges), featuring groups of ordinary people from the Southern village of Slobozia affected by the horrific ethnic cleansing that raged during the country’s outbreak of fervent Second World War Nationalism. The photographs picture well-dressed family groups, along with farmers posing with their animals and officials proudly sporting their uniforms.

The grisly episode in history contrasts with the benign, often smiling faces of the characters portrayed, striking a poignant note of complicity with viewers who are well aware of their fate, even before they are. Jude narrates against a soundtrack of patriotic anthems and radio broadcasts from the era charting Octavian Goga’s rise to power in September 1937. At the time we hear that a patient in the local hospital is the only Jew suffering from TB and a petition goes round that he should be thrown out. This is the seed of hate that rapidly grew and flourished throughout the country as Romania steadily falls under the grip of Fascism and a Legionnaire’s regime.

Dr Dorian’s florid account of atrocities that occurred during the genocide flows on while the figures in the pristine photographs keep beaming out, beautifully-dressed and posed, almost in defiance of the horrors awaiting them. King Carol II announces there will be no progrom, “but it would be easier for Jews if they left Romania”. Eventually in 1938 synagogues begin to be burnt down as antisemitism rages across the nation and Jewish people become scapegoats. As the country descends into chaos mass deportations take place and the horrors of genocide gradually become apparent. The only hint at personal suffering comes from Dorian himself as he describes “an endless season whose days are grey, cold and bloodstained.”

This episode in history may be not be common knowledge to many viewers (including me, for that matter) but Jude brings it to our attention in a way that makes us want to discover more, and without beating us over the head with a sensationalist portrait, which could have so easily been the case. The film is striking and poetic, the photographs collated with flair and skill. DEATH NATION is a work of art and a documentary that begs to be seen by all. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017 

Qing Ting zhi yan | Dragonfly Eyes | Locarno Film Festival 2017

Dir: Xu bing | China US | 81′ | Fantasy Drama

A young woman leaves a Buddhist temple where she has trained as a Nun, in this evocative Chinese drama created entirely from surveillance footage from with celebrated conceptual artist Xu Bing. DRAGONFLY EYES is an unsettling watch but a poetic one that melds conceptual art with cinema: Just the kind of fare that makes Locarno Film Festival tick with the edgy inventiveness that makes it different and daring.

Relying on prestige editing and clever sound design DRAGONFLY EYES rocks with a rakish rhythm while offering audiences essential time out to contemplate its artful originality. This bracing feature recalls the work of Polish artists Anka and Wilhelm Sasnal Fresh and Thai maestro Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Other artists in the shape of Matthieu Laclau and composer Yoshihiro Hano collaborate on the film scripted by the poet Zhai Yongming whose writing responded to the found footage, rather than the conventional way round. Dragonfly Eyes also features computerised voice techniques that alternate between calm chanting and more rasping vocal sounds.

After Qing Ting (‘Dragonfly’, in Chinese) has left her holy home, she finds herself working in a milking factory where she confesses to her colleague Ke Fan that she’d like to set one of the cows free. The cow in question is then seen wandering off down a road in the dark, and footage of various road accidents follows suggesting a doon-laden outcome. The next minute Qing Ting is in a dry cleaning shop and Ke Fan appears to be stalking her as they embark of a tense on/off affair. What emerges feels like the classic misogynist scenario of modern times but the experimental form it takes feels bizarre and often alarming, punctuated by an atmospheric electronic soundtrack. Different but definitely daring and fresh. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017 

 

Mrs Fang (2017) | Locarno Film Festival 2017

Dir: Bing Wang | China/Ger/France | Doc | 86′ |

Bing Wang’s low-key portrait of a woman’s final days offers an engaging snapshot of modern rural China. Highlighting our growing concern for issues such as Alzheimer’s and the breakdown of the family unit, this witty and filmic documentary never takes itself too seriously while maintaining the dignity of its central focus.

Mrs Fang (Fang Xiuying) has come home from hospital to die. In the ramshackle riverside farming village of Huzhou, she is now in her late sixties and surrounded by her extended family who gather around her bed. The chatter is irreverent and off-the-cuff – this is just another ritual in their lives together as they share every subtle nuance of her dying days. Daughter and son have given up their jobs to tend to her needs, which appear modest, as she now lies staring vacantly from her bed, a set of prominent yellow teeth bared grotesquely from a hollowed out face. Her son stands in ceremony taking a pulse, and someone says: “he acts like a doctor”. No offence taken, and none intended – this is just an example of the candidness of this community that leavens a film that could otherwise be gruelling. A brief opening scene from the year before has shown Mrs Fang walking peacefully along the river. A year later, the deterioration in her condition is remarkable.

Bing still finds beauty in this seedy backwater. As the men embark on a nocturnal fishing trip, their little boat flashes like an emerald against the cocoa-coloured night sky. The men talk continuously: “It’s a snakehead”, “the battery’s leaking”, “try for a turtle, they’re in the rushes”. Their torch buzzes loudly only drowned out by the endless roar of traffic on the highway. Later they go home, leaving a woman to gut the fish and do the dirty work. Nothing changes, even in China. But the director’s message is loud and clear: How calm, secure and dignified death can be when your family is there to look after you. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017

Una Telenovela Errante (2017) | Locarno Film Festival 2017

Filmmaker Raul Ruiz, died in 2011 after completing his best work The Mysteries of Lisbon. Such cannot be said for the Locarno 2017 hopeful A Wandering Soap Opera which has finally been completed by his widow and former editor Valeria Sarmiento.

This is not the first time a Ruiz film has been in the Swiss competition. His debut feature, Three Sad Tigers, won the Golden Leopard back in 1969. And Sarmiento did a great job with The Lines of Wellington, just after Ruiz died, but the hitherto unfinished documentary is an alienating affair, unless you’re familiar with Chilean vintage soap operas, and even then this is an acquired taste, although clearly very popular with those in the know, who created it uproariously during the Locarno Press screening.

A Wandering Soap Opera (Una telenovela errante) was shot in Ruiz’s native Chile during six days in 1990, but never edited or scored. The 16mm film explores Chile’s comedy backdrop during the Pinochet years (1973-1989) when Ruiz had been exiled to Europe returning after the president had fallen from grace but some of the humour is arcane and the rambling style and look feels rather dated but not in a good way, taking the form of seven chapters or ‘days’, each relevant to a day of shooting. Some of the humour is translatable in expressing the zeitgeist of the era: “If you behave badly in this life, you’ll become a Chilean in the next”. And the first skit is by far the funniest, for me it all went downhill comedy-wise afterwards. For those expecting something along the lines of Jodorowsky’s The Dance of Reality will be disappointed although the title does sound like it might be rather fun. This is obviously a film with a strong political undercurrent that also satirises male/female relations naturally erring on the misogynist take you might expect from a South American country, with florid language and melodrama serving the political narrative extremely well. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017

Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun | Locarno Film Festival 2017

Dir: Travis Wilkerson | Doc | US | 89′

Travis Wilkerson investigates his great-grandfather’s killing of a black man back in 1946 and regales us with a haunting pictorial history of Black and White Alabama seething with atmospheric social unrest, and a film with one of the best soundtracks of 2017.

Calling his documentary a “white nightmare” Wilkerson certainly instills plenty of White guilt into this stylishly cinematic detective story whose important social/political theme breathes life into an incident that happened over 70 years ago, and whose implications still hold sway in today’s Trump era. The Southern states of America are still a breading ground for racial hatred and a powder keg of Black versus White conflict.

Narrated by Wilkerson in an often vehement style that sets the tone for this Southern – at times almost Gothic – tale that opens by contrasting his personal family story with that told in To Kill a Mockingbird. Tinted scarlet and orange images and remixed film clips of Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch are played as a preface to footage of an angry mob, with the words: “My great-grandfather would’ve been one of the members of that lynch mob,” It emerges that a character called S.E. Branch apparently shot and killed a black man named Bill Spann in a general store in the small town of Dothan, Alabama. Spann was reported to be robbing his shop and although Branch was charged with murder, the inquiry eventually came to nothing.

The murder investigation is somehow less engaging that the political and social story Wilkerson has to tell. We discover that Branch was not only a racist but also a bad husband who abused his wife making her sleep in a small bed next to his larger one and even trying to strangle her one night. But after talking to three sisters, who are his aunts, Wilkerson eventually discovery of Spann’s unmarked grave feels underwhelming in contrast with the more important theme of racial hatred and segregation highlighted in the film. Furthermore, one of Wilkerson’s aunts, who now works as a white supremacist activist, actually contradicts the earlier claim that Branch killed Spann for robbing his shop, claiming Spann had actually threatened a fellow black woman with a knife, and Branch shot then him in her defence. A theory that Wilkerson never seems to contradict.

However, his overlying message – that the world is threatened by White Supremacy and “the White will incinerate the World” – seems wildly overreactive. Obviously Black lives matter but Wilkerson needs gain ome perspective and to travel further afield to discover that in some countries, namely South Africa, Black people legally have the upper hand in a Black Empowerment regime. His final incendiary comment: “You fired the gun!” seems to point the finger at viewers, in a rather menacing finale.

That all said, this is an astonishing documentary enlivened by a stunning soundtrack featuring the music of Phil Ochs and punctuating by Janelle Monae’s percussive protest song “Hell You Talmbout” “Say his name, say his name!,” And despite Wilkerson’s failure to reach a satisfactory conclusion to the story of his forefather,  DO YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN provides a memorable and engrossing watch. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017

 

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

Goliath (2017) | Locarno Film Festival 2017

Dir: Dominik Locher | Switzerland | Drama | 85′

Dominik Locher (Tempo Girl) explores the nature of masculinity and fatherhood in his rather bland Swiss-set screen debut GOLIATH which tries to find a new angle on unwanted pregnancy and thwarted masculinity.

Designed to appeal to new audiences, its young lead Sven Schelker plays David a timid office worker who goes all petulant when his girlfriend Jessy (Jasna Fritzi Bauer) announces her surprise pregnancy. Clearly he can’t face the thought of growing up but the couple are clearly quite keen on one another and baulk at abortion after their first appointment. Later on, David fails to man up when the couple are attacked on the train forcing him to re-examine their relationship dynamic where Jessy appears to wear the trousers. So David starts to beef up in the gym, and inject himself with anabolic steroids, slowly becoming the stereotype of dumb machismo. The effort to improve his pecs and charisma only succeeds in the former endeavour. Instead of confidence and masculine allure, the young guy develops a nasty aggressive streak with negative implications for Jessy and the baby.

Locher’s script attempts to break down the stereotypical image of Switzerland as being a pacifist and conservative country in crafting a drama that feels unconvincing and formulaic and a storyline that is predictable throughout, despite trying to go to the ‘dark side’. Obviously there a shady characters and situations everywhere but unlike the impressive thriller Chrieg which succeeded with an authentic dystopian tale, GOLIATH merely tries to overlay an everyday urban story with sinister undertones that just doesn’t convince. The characters are underwritten and bland, and despite the best efforts of its leads and Daniel Lobos’ creative attempts to ‘sex up’ Switzerland by giving the film an artistic feel, the end result is amateurish.  Switzerland is a fantastic country which should be proud of its moral and ethic excellence and fabulous lifestyle. Locher just needs to find a real story and tell it well. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL – 2-12 AUGUST 2-17

 

9 Doigts | 9 Fingers (2017) | Locarno International Film Festival 2017

Dir/Writer: F J Ossang | France/Port | Drama | 99′

Cult French auteur F J Ossang has made a handful of features: L’affaire des Divisions Morituri (1985); Doctor Chance (Locarno/1998; Dharma Guns (2010) and casts a niche selection of French stars for his latest Locarno Golden Leopard hopeful, a Noirish mystery drama with Paul Hamy, Damien Bonnard, Gaspard Ulliel and Pascal Greggory.

9 FINGERS is very much an exercise in style over substance; and if you like Ossang’s style then you will enjoy this enigmatic affair that could easily serve as a metaphor for the crisis-ridden state of the world. Shot in black and white with occasional sorties into the Academy ratio, accentuating the clandestine rather claustrophobic nature of the loose plotline, it follows a character named Magliore (Hamy) who, in the opening scenes, inherits a fortune from a dying man. Kidnapped by a gang after his loot, he then becomes their willing accomplice as they flee an unknown enemy across land and sea aboard a large steamer, beset by a mystery fever which could be typhoid. Utterly pretentious and arcane, this is nonetheless a sumptuously photographed wartime pastiche that feels hollow and bewildering despite the best efforts of its talented cast to breathe life into an episodic, threadbare narrative. Sadly, most of the audience walked out before the end credits rolled. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017

Charleston (2017) | Locarno Film Festival 2017

Dir: Andrei Cretulescu | Romania/France | Drama | 119′

Romanian cinema seems to have peaked after its recent New Wave heyday led largely by Radu Jude, Cristi Puiu and Cristian Mungiu. who have all been lauded and rewarded on the international festival circuit. The watchwords here have always been ‘lengthy and slow-burning’ often demanding our attention for over two hours, but on the whole this has been worthwhile. Sadly Andrei Cretulescu’s Charleston overstays its welcome at just short of two hours in a drama that feels distinctly self-indulgent – amateurish even.

But although CHARLESTON is not in the major league, there are elements that recommend it. Barbu Bălăşoiu’s artful cinematography showcases modern Bucharest with style and flair enlivening this tragi-comedy with its contemporary take on relationships, music, cultural and outdoor pursuits, all set to jazzy Massimiliano Nardulli’s jazzy score.

The title CHARLESTON could refer to the dance-off between the film’s central duo – although the tone here is more fraught and sorrowful than spirited, in tune with its 1920s-namesake. It may also allude to the awkward impromptu interlude that occurs midday through the action. The problems throughout is that we feel nothing for our central characters. We are also left unmoved by an opening scene where a young woman (Iona/Ana Ularu) is pictured staring at her phone before rushing headlong into a speeding vehicle. Graveside, we then meet her thuggish other half having a fag as he contemplates the future, and possibly the past. Alexandru (Serban Pavluvu is later seen celebrating his 42nd birthday with a select group of friends – a pale imitation of the one in Sieranevada. After dinner Alexandru answers the door to a strangers who then emerges as his dead wife’s former lover. Clearly our brutish hero was totally unaware of the situation – and gives the mushc younger squirt of a man (Sebastian/Radu Iacoban) a good hiding. The wounded lover still stays around, as if to serve a self-indulgent penance in his cuckhold’s former matrimonial home. This grim aftermath then develops into a mutual outpouring of anger, grief, retaliation, claim and counter claim which culminates in a bizarre road trip to the place where the couple spent their honeymoon.

This all sounds plausible and rather intriguing and there are some elements that really work, But less is always better than more in this lacklustre affair which is over-talkie dialogue-wise and underpowered dramatically. One thing is for sure, time out from the endless bickering between Alexandru and his rival Sebastian could have allowed the audience time out to contemplate the scenario from their own perspective and possibly given them more slack . MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017

 

 

 

Severina (2017) | Locarno Film Festival 2017

Dir/Writer: Felipe Hirsch | Cast: Carla Quevedo, Alfredo Castro, Daniel Hendler | Drama | Brazil | 100′

This conventional but stylish drama from Brazilian auteur Felipe Hirsch is a love letter to literature and reading in general. The story unfolds an old part of Buenos Aires or maybe Montevideo, where a man (Daniel Hendler) runs a vintage bookshop with many rare first editions. It also provides a meeting point for literary lovers to engage in the occasional relaxed soirée. The business runs smoothly and each day he opens shop but only appears to have one tentative customer in the shape of Ana (the coltish Carla Quevedo) who browses the dusty shelves teasingly but never buys. As the man develops a fascination for this young bohemian beauty who lives with her father in a nearby pensione – or so she says – and it soon emerges that her loose mannish clothing enables her penchant for cleptomania, as gradually his books disappear, as his obsession for her increases and an affair eventually develops.

SEVERINA is a delicately sensual affair which wafts enigmatically between reality and mystery until the two interweave and gradually become indistiguishable. A paean to romantic love as much as a celebration of wine-fuelled literary conversation and intellectual debate, SEVERINA recalls the languor of long afternoons and late nights spent reading in companionable silence.

The Brazilian filmmaker bases his drowsy drama on Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s book of the same name and is dedicated to the sheer pleasure of reading. But he keeps his narrative loose and enigmatic. Quevado gives a stunning performance as the seductive but manipulative minx who have the bookseller in her thrall as she comes and goes elusively claiming to live with her father – who could also be her lover – or even both, played by a louche Alfredo Castro in seedy ‘foreign correspondent’ mode. The tone turns more unsettling when he is taken seriously ill throwing the lovers together in the dusty rooms of the bookshop, as the bookseller is drawn inexorably under Ana’s spell in the sinister finale of this persuasive and intriguing Noirish drama. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST

 

Madame Hyde (2017) | Locarno Film Festival 2017

Dir/Writer: Serge Bozon | Cast: Isabelle Huppert, José Garcia, Romain Duris | France | Drama | 95′

Isabelle Huppert joins Serge Bozon for their second quirky arthouse collaboration in this French female take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s legendary novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In a gesture to French literature, the film is set in Lyon’s ‘Arthur Rimbaud’ Secondary School where Huppert plays Marie Géguil an unpopular physics teacher unable to inspire or control her rowdy bunch of mixed race pupils.

Serge Bozon has his admirers but his films are an acquired taste outside France and MADAME HYDE is no exception. It shares the same offbeat brand of humour as TIP TOP (2013) which won a special mention at Cannes that year. He also works as a writer and had a small part in Mathieu’s Amalric’s stylish thriller The Blue Room. MADAME HYDE works on two levels: as a surreal fantasy thriller, and an inspirational drama about encouraging kids to rise above their difficulties and find their vocational “beacon” in life, as Huppert Géquil does here. As such this is a worthwhile but often awkward piece of filmmaking that eventually makes it through largely due to Huppert’s game portrayal as the soon to be transformed Mrs Hyde (Géquil/Jekyll) and Romain Duris’ tourette-like comedy turn as the Head Master. There is also support from Jose Garcia as Madame’s rather dense but endearing ‘house husband’ and Malik, a tricky pupil.

And while Madame G starts off as a cowed and fearful figure she herself eventually finds her own mojo’when she becomes a ‘flaming beacon’ after lightening strikes her portacabin laboratory and transforms her into a conduit for change, for everyone concerned. She develops the power of electrical ignition simply through her touch, as the charge sparks visibly through her veins. Although these powers are not all good: the next door neighbours pair of alsatians sadly perish as does a disruptive truant. But for the most part this eerie change of life is for the better – and is not due to the menopause, as her obsequious husband suggests.

Apart from this rather sensational visual trick, Madame’s confidence soars enabling her to engage with her pupils in a special project of building a Faraday cage. She also bonds with a difficult disable pupil Malik (Adda Senani) helping him to develop his interest in physics.

On paper Madame Hyde has some really inventive and worthwhile ideas but the actual film never flows smoothly and there are too many longueurs where the action feel laboured and awkward although Huppert is particularly convincing in her role. Malik also creates an authentic portrait of a young guy struggling to find his feet in life, in more ways than one. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017

 

 

A Skin So Soft | Ta peau si Lisse | Locarno Film Festival 2017

Dir: Denis Côté | Doc | Canada | 93′

Montreal is the setting for this persuasive arthouse documentary having us believe that extreme body-building is a living art form to be admired, and revered even. It explores the muscle-flexing, grunt-ridden moments dedicated to the practice of corpulent honing for six masculine machos: a personal trainer, a wrestler and four bodybuilders. They are the gladiators of our contemporary civilisation.

Canadian filmmaker Denis Côté is well known for his rhythmic, eclectic documentaries: the first Carcasses explored a ‘car cemetery’; his meditation on animals Bestiaire followed and Joy of Man’s Desiring examined  the comforting cycle of work routine. Here at Locarno Denis Côté has won awards for his dramas Curling (2010) and All That She Wants (2008). A SKIN SO SOFT is his hopeful for this year’s Golden Leopard and shows his genuine almost respectful fascination for a subject that many could regard with disdain or even abhorrence. The film moves with Jaguar-like stealth over the bulbous bodies almost luxuriating in the rippling muscles and satin-like skin of the men who work tirelessly to service their physiques.

First up is the largest of the bunch of gentle brutes who has not only developed his physique but also grown his facial hair to Samsonesque proportions. The camera caresses its ebony rich lustre moving down slowly over his pumped up body that requires a special diet and strict beauty routine. The next man is younger and less developed but again devotes a quasi religious dedication to his physical development. All give little quarter to improving their conversational skills, a fact that must depress and bore their womenfolk who treat them with patience and tolerance.

These are clearly self-regarding types who take their exercise regimen seriously but there is also strangely something rather vulnerable about the way this long-suffering and stoical attention to their bodies makes them seem less powerful emotionally. If there is an opposite of anthropomorphism, this is it. One trainer has a more humorous take on proceedings, bemoaning the less than perfect symmetry of his body. And there is a wonderful scene where these scantily clad beefed-up bodies romp riotously, desporting themselves ‘en plein air’ across a field of cows. With its Kraftwerk style soundtrack A SKIN SO SOFT is magnificent stuff and another truly unique creation from the maverick Canadian director. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017

Let the Corpses Tan | Laissez Bronzer les Cadavres |Locarno Film Festival 2017

Dir: Helene Cattet, Bruno Forzani | Cast: Elina Lowensohn, Marc Barbe, Stephane Ferrara, Bernie Bonvoisin, Michelangelo Marchese, Herve Sogne | Thriller | 92′ | French/Belgian

Stylishly retro in the same way as their imaginatively entitled first feature The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, Let the Corpses Tan (Laissez bronzer les cadavres), is the latest edgy thriller from Belgium auteurs Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani, adapted from Jean-Pierre Bastid’s noted novel melding thriller with social and political critique. While Strange Colour was are intricately Art Nouveau, Corpses pays hommage to Sergio Leone’s florid close-up/long shot style of filmmaking.

Corpses’s storyline also brings to mind a racier, more vibrant (thanks to Manu Dacosse’s vivid visuals), frenzied version of Cul de Sac with a stash of gold and shoot-outs all thrown in. Well that’s the way it starts off, at least. In craggy Corsica a raddled writer (Bernier) is lazing away his days in secluded sun-drenched splendour with his loopy lover Luce (the superb Elina Lowensohn). But their idyll is interrupted when some vague acquaintances arrive hoping to conceal their stolen booty in this remote spot. But the local cops (Herve Sogne, Dominique Troyes) are on their tail and promptly arrive on the scene before crims Rhino (Stephane Ferrara) and his gang have a chance to smooth things over. And soon Bernier’s wife (Dorylia Calmel) and son (Bamba Forzani Ndiaye) also join the impromptu party, on spec.

And once the action starts all thoughts of Cul de Sac’s intricate psychodrama and Bastid’s social commentary are literally blown away by an all out stylistic gun battle which blazes non-stop unremittingly – or so it seems – for the rest of thriller. And whilst there’s a welcome Sergio Leone style twang to the proceedings – which whips you back to the ’60s with slices of Ennio Morricone and the popular Italian singer Nico Fidenco (Su nel cielo) thrown in, the hollowness echoes after the twanging shots die out.

LET THE CORPSES TAN is fabulous fun while it lasts but sadly fades from the memory (not the eardrums) once it’s over. That said, it’s just the thing for a sizzling summer night in Locarno – or anywhere else, for that matter!. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017

 

Gemini (2017) | Locarno Film Festival 2017

Dir: Aaron Katz | Cast: Lola Kirke, Zoe Kravitz, John Cho, Ricki Lake | US | Drama | 93′

This low-budget neo-Noir is a US indie version of Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper and Clouds of Sils Maria exploring the links between female friendship and co-dependence, and the nature of celebrity through the complex relationship of a Hollywood starlet and her PA, who are actually closer that they would like to admit.

Katz is best known for his ‘mumblecore’ period but GEMINI, made on a shoestring budget in down LA, sees a move mystery drama in this female-centric affair which may appeal to arthouse audiences with its enigmatic  storytelling and washed out ’80s B-movie’ visual style, similar to that of Kelly Reichardt.

Jill LeBeau (Lola Kirke) is the personal assistant in question who becomes a suspect and investigator in the ‘murder’ of her stressed out boss Heather (Zoe Kravitz), who has split from her lightweight boyfriend Devin (Reeve Carney) who was covertly two-timing her with model Tracy (Greta Lee). Heather has recently been a petulant figure for all concerned and there’s consequently a string of a characters from her côterie who could have perpetrated the crime.

Jill emerges the more intelligent and convincing of the professional partnership, further highlighting  the dubious nature of celebrity status, but loyal as she is to her boss, she also has her own integrity to safeguard and cannot risk being consumed by Heather’s neediness and narcissistic tendencies.

The film moves at a snail’s pace but the hook is Katz’ dryly witty script that provides some amusing moments. GEMINI is a drama that promises much more than it eventually delivers but will absorb you for its meagre running time with strong performances from Kirke and John Cho’s appealing LA detective. MT

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2-10 AUGUST 2017

Winter Brothers (2017) | Locarno Film Festival 2017

Dir: Hlynur Pálmason | Cast: Simon Sears, Elliott Crosset Hove, Drama | Iceland/Den | 89′

There’s a great deal to admire in Icelandic director Hlynur Pálmason’s stunning debut Winter Brothers (Vinterbrodre). Visually and thematically this is a intense portrait of fraught and uneasy brotherhood, but the narrative is too slim and meandering to really underpin this dour psychodrama.

Most of the action takes place in the dimly lit caverns of a remote limestone mine in Denmark where the brothers in question Emil (Elliott Crosset Hove) and Johan (Simon Sears) work together, their gruff conversations are often drowned out by the thudding industrial turmoil around them. Emil is the less appealing of the two and given to pinching anything he can lay his hands on, he also peddles his home brew to his fellow-workers. Johan is the more placid and older brother of the pair but clearly there is an uneasy competitive streak that threatens to erupt at any moment, and it does during one striking scene in this tough character driven piece with its occasional flinty sparks of humour.

It soon transpires that Emil’s liquor is a lethal concoction and potentially fatal for one of his workmates, turning the community against him. And as he emerges a victim, we ironically start to feel more sympathy for his mournful predicament as the lonely outsider, largely due to Crosset Ove’s skilful performance. As Emil, he also shines in the sequences where his boss (Lars Mikkelsen) brings him to heel and in his fascination for armed combat and training videos that leads him to obtaining an automatic rifle.

DoP Maria Von Hausswolff’s evokes the vastness of the wild snowbound Northern scenery to great effect, the only brightness coming from the miners’ helmets as they punctuate the bleak hell-hole of the mine. WINTER BROTHERS is a decent first feature showing a director mastering his craft and hopefully developing a stronger narrative in his next title. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 2-12 AUGUST 2017

 

Canyon Passage (1946) | Jacques Tourneur Retro | Locarno Film Festival 2017

Dir: Jacques Tourneur | 92′ | Western Drama | Susan Haywood, Dana Andrews, Brian Donlevy, Patricia Roc | US

CANYON PASSAGE (1946) is another underrated Tourneur masterpiece that fell from favour for not falling in with the standards of the genre: it is not a Western with a central revenge story nor a roadie or outlaw narrative, and the hero (or cavalry) does not save the town from attacking marauders. CANYON PASSAGE is a story about the community, the nuts and bolts that make the town work. It is a document of values, conflicts, defects and — in the end – a re-affirmation of the way people lived in the newly conquered West.

Tourneur was only confirmed as the director in July of 1945, a month before shooting began in and around Diamond Lake and Medford, Oregon. Before his appointment, Robert Siodmak, Stuart Heisler and George Marshall were all attached to the project. Set in 1856, the central character Logan (Tourneur regular, Dana Andrews ), runs a mule freight line and a general store in the small mining town of Jacksonville. Ernest Pascal’s script (based on the novel by Ernest Haycox), describes his relationship with his friends: George Camrose (Brian Donlevy), a banker, who steals gold from his customers to cover his gambling debts. George’s fiancée Lucy Overmite (Susan Hayward), is secretly in love with Logan; while Caroline Marsh (Patricia Roc) gets engaged to him during a cabin rising. Finally, there is the violent Honey Bragg (Ward Bond), a loner whom Logan suspects of various unsolved crimes. To cover his embezzlements, Camrose kills a miner. He is caught and sentenced to death by a kangaroo court. Logan helps him to escape when an Indian uprising causes confusion. George and Bragg are killed, while Caroline gives up Logan, whom she calls ‘restless’. Logan rides off with Caroline to San Francisco.

The way the film resolves conflicts seems rather modern, anticipating certain films by Sam Peckinpah (who would be Tourneur’s assistant on Wichita) and Robert Altman. The denouements are not without regret: Logan speaking George’s epitaph: “There is a fine margin between what could have been and what is…In some other kind of country he might have made the grade.” The peaceful Hi Linnet (Hoagy Carmichael) is a very modern bard who could easily make an appearance in a 1960s retro Western.

DoP Edward Cronjager excels is the poetic night scene where Linnet’s role in the developing patterns of the film are shown in all their complexity. Tourneur uses texture, movement, and his signature light and shadow in same way as in his black-and-white films. The exteriors call to mind Days of Glory, Out of the Past and Berlin Express; their towering heights dwarfing the characters. For example, the shoot-out between Logan and Bragg in the forest, uses the height of the trees to show nature’s indifference to human conflict. Finally, Logan is a true Tourneur hero: his journey has no destination: it is purely motion. And in this way, Logan resembles the later Tourneur heroes, particularly Jeff Bailey in the director’s next film, Out of the Past.

JACQUES TOURNEUR RETRO | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | 2-12 AUGUST 2017

Jacques Tourneur: Fantasy filmmaker | Locarno Film Festival 2017

IMG_3877LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL is celebrating its 70th Anniversary with a feline, canine and fantasy theme leading up to the the real mystery – who will win the coveted GOLDEN LEOPARD? There’s a surreal feel to this special edition with Isabelle Huppert struck by lightening in MADAME HYDE, a man who turns into a dog in Vanessa Paradis’ latest film CHIEN and of course the fabulous JACQUES TOURNEUR retrospective with a chance to see CAT PEOPLE (1942); THE LEOPARD MAN and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) in the Grand Piazza which seats 8,000 cinema-goers – Europe’s largest screening venue.

974750While Jacques Tourneur clearly had a feel for the surreal and a penchant for the macabre, he was not very fond of his four French features, shot between 1931 and 1934: “All those films are mixed up with each other in my mind. They resemble each other so much! It was always the same formula: musical, happy, young.”  This is certainly true for Tout Ça Ne Vaut pas l’Amour; Pour Être Aimé and Toto but Les Filles de la Concierge (1934) is a brilliant character milieu study of a concierge. Madame Leclercq is the titular heroine who wants the best for her three daughters, whatever the circumstances. She even ‘rents’ one, Ginettte, to a wealthy suitor, but the ‘happy end’ justifies her method. Les Filles must have had some impact on Tourneur because, thirty years later, he expressed the desire to remake the film: “One could make a marvellous film out of it. People don’t make enough films about concierges, they’re an amazing group.” Indeed, where would be without Carlton, Your Doorman, the legendary concierge in TV hit Rhoda?.

IMG_3929In 1934 Jacques Tourneur returned to Hollywood to work as a Second Unit director at MGM, where he also directed twenty short films. The most interesting of the shorts are Romance of Radium (1937), where the director takes us on a forty-year journey through the discovery process of what would become nuclear power, in just ten minutes! Part historical drama, impersonal chronicle and staged ‘docu-drama’, Romance is very dense; the treatment of the source as something “outside” of our world – it is clearly an early version of Experiment Perilous. What do You Think (1937) is a haunted house mystery, with the plot, structured like a Chinese mystery box, stretching out into the past, and the studios of Hollywood. It is certainly as obsessive as many of Tourneur’s features.

THEY ALL COME OUT (1939), Tourneur’s first feature in Hollywood, was first planned as a two-reel segment for a “Crime does not Pay” series of short films. It follows rather conventional lines (Bank heist and prison rehab), and, is visually satisfying, thanks to a very mobile camera, but its structure suffers from the late embellishment of the narrative.

Tourneur’s next projects for MGM were two Nick Carter features, MASTER DETECTIVE (1939) and PHANTOM RIDERS (1940). As Chris Fujiwara (who will present the retro) puts it: “Master Detective” is quicker and more immediately striking, but Phantom Riders has more in common visually with Tourneur’s later films. If MASTER DETECTIVE looks back to Tourneur’s past with its skilful interweaving of documentary and fiction, PHANTOM RIDERS anticipates the future with its sustaining of mood through rich décor and careful lighting; its low-budget exoticism; and its hint of thwarted sexuality”. But Tourneur really hated DOCTORS DON’T TELL (1941): “I detest this film, it is my worst”. All one can add, is that Doctors is really the most ‘un-Tourneresque’ feature of his career: it is bad, even for a routine film, its banality stupefying.

film-poster-for-i-walked-005So after dabbling in the art of filmmaking in the 1930s, Jacques Tourneur’s most important features were to follow during the 1940s. In 1942, Val Lewton, who worked with Tourneur on the Second Unit for A Tale of Two Cities (1935), joined RKO as the new head for B-Horror films. His first project was CAT PEOPLE (1942) directed by Tourneur; the duo would go on to create I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and THE LEOPARD MAN in 1943 for RKO, before the studio made them go their separate ways with Tourneur commenting: “We were making so much money together that the studio said, we’ll make twice as much money, if we separate them”.

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) went into production just two months after CAT PEOPLE, before the surprisingly successful release of Tourneur’s first RKO feature. Trying to decribe Zombie is not an easy task because Tourneur blurred the border between reality and phantasy in his narrative. Betsy Connell (France968402s Dee), a Canadian nurse, takes care of Jessica (Christine Gordon) on the West Indian island of St. Sebastian. Jessica is married to the sugar planter Paul Holland (Tom Conway). She falls in love with Paul’s half-brother Wesley (James Ellison). After a scene with her husband, she falls into a trauma, and after several attempts of ‘curing’ her, Mrs. Rand (Edith Barnett), Paul and Wesley’s mother confesses that she has cast a voodoo spell on Jessica for bringing the family into disrepute. Wesley finally kills Jessica, to set her free. Tourneur preferred Zombie to Cat People, and often cited it as his favourite film. Zombie is Tourneur’s purest film when it comes to cinematic poetry, combining sounds and images into a “power of suggestion”, enhanced by the film’s narrative, which is full of enigma and contradiction, eluding any attempt to interpret it in a linear way. Zombie “is a sustained exercise in uncompromising ambiguity. Perfecting the formula that Lewton and Tourneur had developed in Cat People, the film carries its predecessor’s elliptical, oblique narrative procedures to astonishing extremes. The dialogue is almost nothing but a commentary on past events, obsessively revisiting itself, finally giving up the struggle and surrendering to a mute acceptance of the inexplicable. We watch the slow, atmospheric, lovingly detailed scenes with delight and fascination, realising at the end, that we have seen nothing but the traces of a conflict decided in advance.” (Chris Fujiwara).

974754THE LEOPARD MAN (1943) is seen, perhaps wrongly, as the weakest of the Lewton/Tourneur collaborations. Based on the novel by Cornel Woolrich (Rear Window), The Leopard Man is set in the nightclub milieu of New Mexico, where club owner Dennis O’Keefe (Jerry Manning) finds a leopard for his girl friend Kiki (Jean Brooks) to perform on the stage of his club. Kiki’s jealous competitor, Clo-clo (Margo), sets the leopard free and becomes one of his – presumed – three victims. Nevertheless, O’Keefe and Kiki suspect, that the leopard is only used by the real murderer to cover his tracks. The title is misleading, The Leopard Man is not about a man who becomes a leopard, but a man who just pretends to be one. Furthermore, the narrative reveals that the three murders are not committed by one person – against the un-written law of the genre. And on top of it all, the killer’s identity is revealed at the very beginning. But in spite of this, The Leopard Man appears to be ahead of its time: the stalking of women and their violent death is not only associated with Hitchcock and his epigone Brian de Palma, but also with the Italian cult directors Mario Bava and Dario Argento. And to go a step further, “it also anticipates Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, in making the sight of a victim’s fear the factor that fascinates the killer and compels him to kill”. Tourneur “attributed the commercial success of his films with Lewton to war psychosis. In war time people want to be frightened.” Leopard Man has the clearest connection to war of the trio, Edmund Bansak comments that “the film is a courageous essay in the random nature of death. War time audience may not have liked The Leopard Man’s downbeat message – that the young and innocent also die, but it was an important one for them to grasp”. Fujiwara calls The Leopard Man ”a pivotal work in the careers of both Tourneur and Lewton. Pushing to extremes the experiment with narrative ambiguity undertaken in Cat People and Zombie, this radical unusual film has its own precise, inexhaustible poetry.”

974742FROM OUT OF THE PAST (1947) reunites Tourneur with producer Warren Duff, (Experiment Perilous) and DoP Nicholas Musuraka (Cat People). Based on the novel Build My Gallows High by Daniel Mainwaring, Tourneur claimed, “that he participated very closely in the writing of the script. I made big changes, with the agreement of the
writer, of course”. The complex and elliptic narrative is centred around Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), who runs a gas station in a small town in California. In flashbacks we learn that Jeff was a New York based detective, who was asked by the professional gambler Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) to find his mistress Kathie (Jane Greer), who had embezzled a huge sum from him. Bailey finds Kathie in Mexico, and falls in love with her. The couple hides, but Bailey’s partner Jack Fisher (Steve Brodie) finds the couple, but is shot by Kathie, who disappears afterwards. Bailey, now owner of the gas station, is visited by a member of Sterling’s gang: Sterling has a new job for him, retrieving incriminating taxation forms from his accountant in San Francisco. Kathie is living again with Sterling, and Bailey finds soon out that he is used as the sacrificial lamb. After the murder of the accountant, Kathie shoots Sterling and escapes with Bailey – not knowing that he has phoned the police to tell them their escape route. Of the major features of Noir visual style, as identified by J.A. Place and L.S. Peterson in “Some Visual motifs of Film Noir”, Out of the Past exhibits several: low-key lighting; compositions that alternate light and dark areas; the use of objects as framing devices within the frame. All these elements are however, consistent features of Tourneur’s work outside the Noir genre. They are present to some degrees in Tourneur’s shorts and in all ten American features that Tourneur directed before Out of the Past, including the Technicolor Western Canyon Passage. Fujiwara talks about “the endlessly renewable source of cinematic fascination of Out of the Past”, even though Tourneur himself only belatedly – after the release of the film in France, when he had returned in the late 1960s to his country of birth – acknowledged it as one of his major works, calling it “along with I walked with A Zombie and Night of the Demon, his poetic manifesto.”

974669BERLIN EXPRESS (1948) was – regarding the topic – a one-off in Tourneur’s work, since the film is set mainly in contemporary post-war Berlin, the divided capital of Germany. Shooting in post-war Germany was like an adventure, the footage had to be sent back to Hollywood for processing. Billy Wilder had to wait for Berlin Express to finish, before starting shooting A Foreign Affair, because film equipment was a scarce commodity. The plot is, as often with Tourneur, secondary: Dr. Heinrich Bernhardt (Paul Lucas) a famous resistance fighter, is travelling from Paris to Frankfurt under an alias. During the journey, an agent, posing as Bernhardt, is killed by an explosion. In Frankfurt, Bernhardt is kidnapped by members of a Neo-Nazi movement. Four members on the train, each representing the four powers who rule Berlin, try to locate Bernhardt, after his secretary Lucienne Mirbeau (Merle Oberon) explains the situation to them. But, as it turns out the Frenchman Perrot is actually Holtzman, the leader of the Nazi underground. He is killed after another unsuccessful attempt on Bernhardt’s life. Lucien Ballard, the DoP was married to Merle Oberon, but his stylish photography does not favour his wife more than the Hollywood star. Berlin Express is actually three films in one: the first is a melodrama, where the Nazis try to kill Bernhardt. The second part is a documentary on Germany’s destruction. The third part is a typical Tourneur study of doubt, terror and impossibility.

IMG_3929Since displacement is a central part of all Tourneur films, post-war Germany was an ideal setting. Michael Henry comments that Berlin Express “was a characteristic Tourneurian work, distilling the feeling of insecurity in which his creatures find themselves plunged as soon as they have been uprooted, placed out of their element, literally side-tracked”. But in spite of the political undertone and the ideological certainty of the protagonists, Tourneur finds ambivalence. This points towards his two 1950s films, Appointment in Honduras and The Fearmakers, both have ideological topics, but are treated with the same ambiguity and doubt as all of Tourneur’s work.

Way-of-a-GauchoProducer/writer Philip Dunne was assigned to write the script and produce WAY OF A GAUCHO for 20th Century Fox, so that the company could recoup some of the money the Peron government had frozen in Argentina. In March 1951 Dunne informed Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck that the proposed director, Henry King would not be available, due to his wife’s illness. Dunne goes on: “The man I want to suggest for director is Jacques Tourneur. I am absolutely delighted with the job he is doing with Anne of the Indies. In my opinion, he is a much better director than many who have made big reputations for themselves and draw down huge salaries. He is quick, sure and economical and he is getting flawless performances from his cast.”

Zanuck agreed, and in May 1951 Tourneur arrived in Argentina. Dunne reported a month later to Zanuck: “that the Argentine government’s interest tends to become a little overwhelming. They want to have a hand in every phase of our production. Government officials were very insistent on having big stars in the picture. No reasonable government would behave in this way, but we must remember that we are dealing with incredibly stupid, provincial people”. Whilst Tourneur and Dunne were touring the country for locations, they where invariably followed by spies. Shooting under these circumstances proved difficult. There are rumours that Tourneur drank too much, but in the absence of testimony from Dunne or Tourneur, this cannot be proven. But what is true, is that Dunne and Zanuck did not employ Tourneur to add some scenes to make the central character, Martin Penalosa, more heroic. The film is set at the end of 19th century in Argentina, where Martin Penalosa is jailed for killing a man in a duel. Instead of prison he chooses the army, but does not like the harsh treatment at the hands of Major Salinas (Richard Boone). He saves Teresa Chavez (Gene Tierney), a noblewoman, from the Indians. Martin again disappears under pressure from Salinas, and leads a band of gauchos in resistance against Salinas soldiers. Martin and Teresa fall in love, and the former gives himself up to Salinas, for the sake of his wife and unborn child. It’s easy to see why this straightforward Hollywood adventure would not play to Tourneur’s strength. There is no ambivalence, white is white, and black is black. WAY OF A GAUCHO is beautifully shot, if nothing else. But it marked the decline of Tourneur in Hollywood and he would never been employed by Fox again.

UnknownTHE FEARMAKERS (1958) is perhaps Tourneur’s last respectable feature before his final decline. Darwin Taylor’s novel The Fearmakers was published in 1945. Allen Eaton (Dana Andrews) returns from a Chinese POW camp after the Korean War. Eaton returns to his Washington PT office to learn that his partner Clark Baker has died under mysterious circumstances, after having sold the business to Jim McGinnis (Dick Foran). Meeting with his friend Senator Walder (Roy Gordon), Eaton is informed, that McGinnis is a suspected foreign agent (meaning he is a Communist). Eaton decides to get a job with McGinnis, and soon finds out he has forged some poll numbers for lobbyist Fred Fletcher. Eaton gains access to the poll material, and with the help of McGinnis’ secretary Lorraine (Marile Earle), proves McGinnis’ guilt. But McGinnid, with the help of his associates, attempts to kidnap and kill Eaton and Lorraine, who overpowers them and despatch McGinnis to the police. Whilst Tourneur thought, “that the film was a failure”, he certainly brings out the contradictions in the plot, featuring a McCarthy-esque Senate Committee for the defence of democracy. Eaton is a typical Tourneur hero, his vulnerability recalls the main protagonists in Nightfall and Easy Living. His recurrent headaches are the psychosomatic manifestations of his doubts. There are moments when we wonder if Eaton is fantasising part of the action. When McGinnis calls him a “brainwashed psycho”, we are again reminded of the thin ice Eaton is walking on, but the film never really challenges his worldview. Eaton is like all true Tourneur heroes – unable to leave reality, which follows him into his dreams: When the camera pans from a window across a dark room and hovers over Eaton’s bed, lit dimly with mottled shadows, we see his anguish in his haunted features. Tourneur suffused his characters with his own anxieties. AS

JACQUES TOURNEUR RETRO | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-10 AUGUST ’17

Jacques Tourneur Retrospective | Locarno Film Festival 2017

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL honours the legendary French director JACQUES TOURNEUR (1904-1977) in celebration of its 70th Anniversary this year, taking place in the town’s splendid GranRex Cinema.

Jacques Tourneur (1904-1977) is best known today for a handful of films, all shot between 1942 and 1948: CAT PEOPLE; I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, THE LEOPARD MAN; OUT OF THE PAST and BERLIN EXPRESS. Tourneur was comfortable working in various genres, from Western to Fantasy-horror, and his feature film oeuvre of thirty-three titles (and notable TV work, including a famous Twilight episode) – are all included in this astonishing retrospective. Martin Scorsese is a champion of his much neglected and lesser know features.

At the time of his birth in Paris 1904, Jacques Tourneur’s father – and soon to be filmmaker Maurice (1876-1961) – was working as an artist in a studio near the Luxemburg Gardens. It was a place of horror for the four-year-old Jacques whose early memories include searching desperately for his Christmas presents in “a very long corridor, completely black, and I could make out in the distance, the white spots, that were my presents. I walked forward all alone, torn between the desire for the toys and a fear that almost made me faint, especially as the toys in their packages started to take on a phantom-like appearance”. When Jacques was naughty his unaffectionate parents would put him in a cupboard where the family’s maid was ordered to shake a bowler hat with the words: “It’s the Thunderman!. Jacques later claimed: “this is the source for my obsession to suddenly introduce inexplicable things into s shot, like the hand on the banisters in NIGHT OF THE DEMON, which disappears in the reverse shot”.

Jacques went to the Lycées Montaigne and Lakanal in Paris, before joining his father in New York in 1914. His father still continued to make life difficult for him: “I was the only child to wear suspenders. So the other children spent their time pulling on my suspenders very hard, in order to let them snap into my back. I didn’t dare wear them any more, and walked around holding up my trousers. I think, that was what led me to put in my films comic touches in a dramatic moment, to better highlight the dramatic side: the magician disguised as a clown in NIGHT OF THE DEMON. It’s fascinating to mix fear and the ridiculous, as in the death of the clown in BERLIN EXPRESS”.

Whilst in High School, Jacques started to work as an extra in films and in 1924 joined his  father on Never the Twain Shall Meet (1925) and as a script clerk on Tahiti (1925). Jacques was twenty-one when Maurice returned to Europe after the disaster of The Mysterious Island (1929). The farewell was, not surprisingly, frosty: “ He gave me a hundred Dollar bill, saying: “Now get by’”. Jacques worked as a stock player, but his career went into the doldrums. After being arrested for drunkenness (heralding his lifelong struggle with alcoholism), Jacques re-joined his father in Berlin, where in 1929 Maurice was directing Marlene Dietrich in Grischa the Cook. It was in the German capital that Jacques met his wife Marguerite Christiane Virideau; the couple stayed together until Jacques’ death in 1977. Between 1930 and 1934 Jacques was editor and assistant director for all his father’s films, it what was mostly a difficult relationship. And whilst Maurice was working on his second French film as director, he turned to Jacques, and the ensemble cast including Charles Vanel with the words: “I saw the cut of my current film, and it’s the first time a film of mine has been well-edited”. AS

JACQUES TOURNEUR RETROSPECTIVE | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 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 

 

 

 

I Am Not Madame Bovary (2016)

Dir.: Feng Xiaogang; Cast: Fan Bingbing, Guo Tao, Da Peng Zhang Jiayi; China 2016, 138 min.

Director Feng Xiaogang (Back to 1942) and writer Zhenyun mock the Party bureaucrats but fail to give justice to the main character Li Xuelian, a woman fighting the law of an entire country, when she is wronged by her ex-husband.

Ten years ago Li Xuelian (Bingbing) and her husband Qin Yuhe got a fake divorce, the plan was to obtain another property. But after the divorce, Qin fell in love with another woman, and Li took him to court, to have the divorce annulled. But Judge Wang Gongdao (Peng) rules that the divorce stands; later Qin Yuhe calls Li a whore in front of his friends. A decade later, Wang is Chief Justice of the country, whilst Li is still protesting the court ruling at the Party Congress in Beijing. Wang asks the chef Zhao Datou (Tao), who had a crush on the young Li at school, to keep the woman away from the Congress. After raping Li, who tells him, “in spite of the rape this was the best sex I ever had”, she nevertheless leaves him when it emerges that he is spying on her on Wangs’s behalf. Much too late we learn at the end that the first divorce caused Li to have a miscarriage, and that she is fighting the courts on behalf of her unborn child.

Overlong and openly misogynist, the only saving grace is the innovative camerawork of DoP Pan Luo (Old Fish), whose circular images are a joyful reminder of silent films. But this does not compensate for the many issues director and writer have with women and their representation. AS

I AM NOT MADAME BOVARY (WO BU SHI PAN JIN LIAN) RELEASE ON 26 MAY 2017

Cosmos (2015) | Best Director Locarno 2015| Kinoteka 2016

Director: Andrzej Zulawski

France/Portugal​ Comedy ​100mins

Andrzej Zulawski gets in and amongst it with COSMOS, his first feature in 15 years. This French-language adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz’s 1965 novel is a top-to-bottom fever dream, extending the Polish filmmaker’s penchant for mania with an exceptionally reference-heavy tale of wham-bam obsession. Seconds in and we have a melodramatic score, jolting jump-cuts, opaque voiceover, plush pans and a narrative that proceeds onward like a furious sprint through a theatrical downpour. What’s not to love?

Plenty. With viscous plot and rake-thin premise (make what you will of that narrative contradiction), many a good film has been made. But it’s nigh-on impossible for any of the myriad ideas put forth here to take hold with any lasting thematic coherence. With a slickly-rendered attention-deficit (the real glue that holds his surgical focus together), Zulawski promotes his rococo vision by piling meta-echoes upon meta-echoes with such off-puttingly ugly verbosity that the engineered madness, a kind of ad hoc lo-budget ornamentalism with the hyper-jittery frame-rate of a TV movie, becomes the entire raison d’etre. It forewarns the impatient: fall for the first minute and the next 101 are a treat.

Otherwise, pith off: “You are just a face, a mask. Behind it, there is nothing.” But what a mask! Memorably gaunt-cheeked, sunken-eyed, Jonathan Genet plays Witold, a law school dropout who arrives with his pal Fuchs (Johan Libéreau) at a family-run bed-and-breakfast (with breakfast-in-bed) in Portugal with dreams of writing his first novel—and finds no shortage of inspiration there. Rocked by inexplicable spasms that run through his face like an electrical current, Witold falls for the whole affair: the gobbledygook-gabbling patriarch Leon Wojtys (Jean-François Balmer), his long-suffering wife (Sabine Azema), their daughter Lena (Victoria Guerra) and even the deformed lip of family maid Catherette (Clementine Pons). A murder mystery runs beneath all of the feigned and strained emotionalism: a sparrow, a cat and pieces of wood are all found hanged on the guesthouse’s premises.

Words, words, words. Tongue twists abound in this hotchpotch of “chasms, patterns, strata, rhythms, wounds, spasms,” and the crazed maximalism and heightened delirium make this a dramatic exercise rather than a drama per se: when one character breaks down into tears, it’s impossible to engage with the material due to the heightened delirium—and just when a scene threatens to convince us into something resembling a consistent mood, Zulawski hangs the string score in mid-air: just when we thought we were in, he wrenches us back out. As Witold himself remarks, “She is impenetrable, elusive and vast like the ceiling.” There are enough highbrow references and self-deprecating winks, meanwhile, to keep a certain crowd chuckling away to publicise their own understanding of this essentially self-serving work.

There’s an unconsummated eroticism at play here. All of the film’s secret, underlying energies are contained in Guerra, whose Lena is subtly flirtatious with and increasingly exasperating to Witold. Guerra’s beauty is her ordinary (and unexceptionally photographed) face, which explodes in later scenes into outrageously striking frivolity, tongue out between perfect teeth and eyes to be read as one wishes. In truth, it’s a test of one’s patience whenever she’s not onscreen—and the film carries all of its weight when she is. MICHAEL PATTISON

ON RELEASE FROM 19 AUGUST 2016 | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTlVAL | BEST DIRECTOR 2015 WINNER | 

Locarno Film Festival 2016 | 3 – 13 August 2016 | WINNERS

imageKnown for its edgy and eclectic selection of international titles, the Locarno International film festival takes place each year 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 ambitious programming.

This year’s festival runs from 3-13 August opens with US title THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS and closing on a Hindu note with Ashutosh Gowaricker’s MOHENIJO DAHO in a programme that includes 17 world premieres and the latest from Alejandro Jodorowsky – who this year receives a Pardo d’Onore – Arturo Ripstein (International Jury President) Rafi Pitts, Edgar Reitz, Bill Pullman and Radu Jude.

The festival offers a chance to see the latest films from Cannes in the presence of European stars such as Dario Argento – who presides over the Concorso del Presente jury – Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Ken Loach.  And where would be without the doyenne of the European circuit Isabelle Huppert?

This year’s festival celebrates the work of US film director Roger Corman and there will be a retrospective dedicated to ‘Cinema in the young Federal Republic of Germany from 1949 to 1963’ while the Open Doors focus showcases eight countries in South Asia: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

imageGODLESS by Ralitza Petrova GOLDEN LEOPARD WINNER

BEST ACTRESS: IRENA IVANOVA

Bulgaria/Denmark/France – 2016 – 99’
with Irena Ivanova, Ivan Nalbantov, Ventzislav Konstantinov, Alexandr Triffonov
World Premiere, First feature

The OrnithologistO ORNITÓLOGO by João Pedro Rodrigues | BEST DIRECTOR 

Portugal/France/Brazil – 2016 – 118’
with Paul Hamy, Xelo Cagiao, Wen Han, Chan Sua Lin
World Premiere

imageINIMI CICATRIZATE (Scarred Hearts) by Radu Jude | SPECIAL JURY PRIZE

Romania/Germany – 2016 – 141’
with Lucian Teodor Rus, Ivana Mladenovic, Ilinca Harnut, Serban Pavlu, Marian Olteanu, Alexandru Dabija, Dana Voicu
World Premiere

 

imageOSTATNIA RODZINA (The Last Family) by Jan Matuszynski

BEST ACTOR | ANDRZEJ SEWERYN

Poland – 2016 – 122’
with Andrzej Seweryn, Dawid Ogrodnik, Aleksandra Konieczna, Andrzej Chyra
World Premiere

 

Special tributes will focus on the limageate filmmakers Abbas Kiarostami and Michael Cimino.

THE FULL LINE-UP

Piazza Grande

 

 

AM TAG, ALS DER REGEN KAM by Gerd Oswald

Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) – 1959 – 85’
with Mario Adorf, Christian Wolff, Gert Fröbe, Corny Collins

CESSEZ-LE-FEU by Emmanuel Courcol

France – 2016 – 103’
with Romain Duris, Grégory Gadebois

COMBOIO DE SAL E AÇUCAR by Licinio Azevedo

Portugal/Mozambique/France/South Africa/Brazil – 2016 – 93’
with Matamba Joaquim, Melanie Rafael, Tiago Justino, António Nipita, Sabina Fonseca World Premiere

DANS LA FORÊT by Gilles Marchand

France/Sweden – 2016 – 103’
with Jérémie Elkaïm, Timothé Vom Dorp, Théo Van de Voorde, Sophie Quinton
World Premiere

 

INTERCHANGE by Dain Iskandar Said

Malaysia/Indonesia – 2016 – 102’
with Shaheizy Sam, Nicholas Saputra, Prisia Nasution

JASON BOURNE by Paul Greengrass

USA – 2016 – 123’
with Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles, Tommy Lee Jones, Riz Ahmed, Vincent Cassel

LE CIEL ATTENDRA by Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar

France – 2016 – 105’
with Clotilde Courau, Sandrine Bonnaire, Noémie Merlant, Naomi Amarger
World Premiere

MOHENJO DARO by Ashutosh Gowariker

imageIndia – 2016 – 153’
with Hrithik Roshan, Pooja Hegde

MOKA by Frédéric Mermoud

France/Switzerland – 2016 – 89’
with Emmanuelle Devos, Nathalie Baye, Diane Rouxel, Samuel Labarthe, David Clavel
World Premiere

PAULA by Christian Schwochow

Germany/France – 2016 – 123’
with Carla Juri, Albrecht Abraham Schuch, Roxane Duran, Joel Basman, Stanley Weber
World Premiere

Poesia_Sin_Fin_1_©Pascale Montandon_JodorowskPOESÍA SIN FIN by Alejandro Jodorowsky

France/Chile – 2016 – 128’
with Adan Jodorowsky, Pamela Flores, Brontis Jodorowsky, Leandro Taub

 

TEO-NEOL (The Tunnel) by Kim Seong-hun

South Corea – 2016 – 132’
with Ha Jung-woo, Oh Dal-su, Bae Doona
International Premiere

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by Colm McCarthy

United Kingdom/USA – 2016 – 110’
with Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, Sennia Nanua, Anamaria Marinca, Fisayo Akinade, Anthony Welsh, Dominique Tipper
World Premiere

VINCENT by Christophe Van Rompaey

France/Belgium – 2016 – 118
with Alexandra Lamy, Spencer Bogaert, Barbara Sarafian, Geert Van Rampelberg, Fred Epaud
World Premiere

VOR DER MORGENRÖTE – STEFAN ZWEIG IN AMERIKA by Maria Schrader

Germany/France/Austria – 2016 – 106’
with Josef Hader, Barbara Sukowa, Aenne Schwarz, Matthias Brandt, Charly Hübner
International Premiere

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION

imageAL MA’ WAL KHODRA WAL WAJH EL HASSAN (Brooks, Meadows and Lovely Faces) by Yousry Nasrallah

Egypt – 2016 – 115’
with Laila Eloui, Mena Shalaby, Bassem Samra, Ahmed Daoud, Sabrine, Alaa Zenhom, Mohamed Sharnouby, Lama Kotkot, Enaam Saloussa, Mohamed Farag, Zeina Mansour
World Premiere

imageBANGKOK NITES by Katsuya Tomita

Japan/France/Thailand/Laos – 2016 – 183’
with Subenja Pongkorn, Sunun Phuwiset, Chutlpha Promplang, Tanyarat Kongphu, Sarinya Yongsawat, Hitoshi Ito, Yohta Kawase
World Premiere

 

imageCORRESPONDÊNCIAS by Rita Azevedo Gomes

Portugal – 2016 – 145’
with Eva Truffaut, Pierre Léon, Rita Durão, Anna Leppänen, Luís Miguel Cintra
World Premiere

 

 

imageDAO KHANONG (By the Time It Gets Dark) by Anocha Suwichakornpong

Thailand/Netherlands/France/Qatar – 2016 – 105’
with Arak Amornsupasiri, Atchara Suwan, Visra Vichit-Vadakan, Inthira Charoenpura, Rassami Paoluengtong, Penpak Sirikul, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Waywiree Ittianunkul
World Premiere

 

imageDER TRAUMHAFTE WEG by Angela Schanelec

Germany – 2016 – 86’
with Miriam Jakob, Thorbjörn Björnsson, Maren Eggert, Philip Hayes, Anaïa Zapp
World Premiere

 

 

imageHERMIA & HELENA by Matías Piñeiro

USA/Argentina – 2016 – 87’
with Agustina Muñoz, María Villar, Mati Diop, Julian Larquier, Keith Poulson, Dan Sallitt, Laura Paredes, Dustin Defa, Gabi Saidón, Romina Paula
World Premiere

 

JEUNESSE by Julien Samani

France/Portugal – 2016 – 83’
with Kevin Azaïs, Samir Guesmi, Jean-François Stévenin
World Premiere, First feature

imageKAZE NI NURETA ONNA (Wet Woman in the Wind) by Akihiko Shiota

Japan – 2016 – 77’
with Yuki Mamiya, Tasuku Nagaoka, Ryushin Tei, Takahiro Kato, Michiko Suzuki
World Premiere

 

imageLA IDEA DE UN LAGO by Milagros Mumenthaler

Switzerland/Argentina/Qatar – 2016 – 82’
with Carla Crespo, Rosario Bléfari, Malena Moiron Production: Alina film, Ruda Cine
World Premiere

 

imageLA PRUNELLE DE MES YEUX by Axelle Ropert

France – 2016 – 90’
with Mélanie Bernier, Bastien Bouillon, Antonin Fresson, Chloé Astor, Swann Arlaud
World Premiere

 

imageMARIJA by Michael Koch

Germany/Switzerland – 2016 – 100’
with Margarita Breitkreiz, Georg Friedrich, Olga Dinnikova, Sahin Eryilmaz
World Premiere, First feature

 

 

imageMISTER UNIVERSO by Tizza Covi, Rainer Frimmel

Austria/Italy – 2016 – 90’
with Tairo Caroli, Wendy Weber, Arthur Robin, Lilly Robin
World Premiere

 

 

 

 

SLAVA (Glory) by Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov

Bulgaria/Greece – 2016 – 101’
with Stefan Denolyubov, Margita Gosheva
World Premiere

FILMMAKERS OF THE PRESENT

AFTERLOV by Stergios Paschos

Greece – 2016 – 94’
with Haris Fragoulis, Iro Bezou
World Premiere, First feature

AKHDAR YABES (Withered Green) by Mohammed Hammad

Egypt – 2016 – 72’
with Hiba Ali, Asmaa Fawzy, Jhone Ikram Hanna, Ahmed Hammad, Samia Hammad, Tamer Abdul Hamid, Ikram Hanna, Nabil Samy, Saad Amer, Basant Khalifa
World Premiere, First feature

DESTRUCTION BABIES by Tetsuya Mariko

Japan – 2016 – 108’
with Yuya Yagira, Masaki Suda, Nana Komatsu, Nijiro Murakami
International Premiere

DONALD CRIED by Kris Avedisian

USA–2016–85’
with Kris Avedisian, Jesse Wakeman, Kyle Espeleta, Louisa Krause
International Premiere, First feature

EL AUGE DEL HUMANO by Eduardo Williams

Argentina/Brazil/Portugal – 2016 – 95’
with Sergio Morosini, Shine Marx, Domingos Marengula, Chai Fonacier, Irene Doliente Paña, Manuel Asucan, Rixel Manimtim
World Premiere, First feature

EL FUTURO PERFECTO by Nele Wohlatz

Argentina – 2016 – 65’
with Xiaobin Zhang | World Premiere, First feature

GORGE CŒUR VENTRE by Maud Alpi

France – 2016 – 82’
with Virgile Hanrot, Dimitri Buchenet
World Premiere, First feature

I HAD NOWHERE TO GO by Douglas Gordon

Germany – 2016 – 100’
with Jonas Mekas
World Premiere

IL NIDO by Klaudia Reynicke

Switzerland/Italy – 2016 – 80’
with Ondina Quadri, Fabrizio Rongione, Diego Ribon, Sonia Gessner
World Premiere

ISTIRAHATLAH KATA-KATA (Solo, Solitude) by Yosep Anggi Noen

Indonesia – 2016 – 97’
with Gunawan Maryanto, Marissa Anita, Eduward Manalu, Melanie Subono

World Premiere

L’INDOMPTÉE by Caroline Deruas

France – 2016 – 98’
with Clotilde Hesme, Jenna Thiam, Tchéky Karyo, Bernard Verley, Pascal Rénéric, Marilyne Canto, Lolita Chammah, Tanya Lopert, Filippo Timi, Renato Carpentieri
World Premiere, First feature

MAÑANA A ESTA HORA by Lina Rodríguez

Colombia/Canada – 2016 – 85’
with Laura Osma, Maruia Shelton, Francisco Zaldua, Clara Monroy, Catalina Cabra, Francisco Restrepo, Juan Miguel Santana, Juan Pablo Cruz, Valentina Gómez
World Premiere

PESCATORI DI CORPI by Michele Pennetta

Switzerland – 2016 – 64′

World Premiere, First feature

THE CHALLENGE by Yuri Ancarani

Italy/France/Switzerland – 2016 – 65’

World Premiere, First feature

VIEJO CALAVERA by Kiro Russo

Bolivia/Qatar – 2016 – 80’
with Julio Cesar Ticona “Tortus”, Narciso Choquecallata, Anastasia Daza López, Rolando Patzi, Israel Hurtado, Elisabeth Ramírez Galván
World Premiere, First feature

SIGNS OF LIFE

300 MILES by Orwa Al Mokdad

Syria/Lebanon – 2016 – 95’

World Premiere, First feature

ANASHIM SHEHEM LO ANI (People That Are Not Me) by Hadas Ben Aroya

Israel – 2016 – 77’
with Hadas Ben Aroya, Yonatan Bar-Or, Meir Toledano, Netzer Charitt, Hagar Enosh World Premiere, First feature

ASCENT by Fiona Tan

Netherlands/Japan – 2016 – 80’ with Hiroki Hasegawa, Fiona Tan

World Premiere

BEDUINO by Júlio Bressane

Brazil – 2016 – 75’
with Alessandra Negrini
World Premiere

POW WOW by Robinson Devor

USA–2016–75′

SVI SEVERNI GRADOVI (All the Cities of the North) by Dane Komljen

Serbia/Bosnia-Herzegovina/Montenegro – 2016 – 100’ with Boban Kaludjer, Boris Isakovic, Dane Komljen

World Premiere, First feature

RAT FILM by Theo Anthony

USA–2016–82’
World Premiere, First feature

THE SUN, THE SUN BLINDED ME by Anka Sasnal, Wilhelm Sasnal

Poland/Switzerland – 2016 – 74’ with Rafał Maćkowiak  Wilhelm Sasnal World Premiere

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 3-13 AUGUST 2016

 

Chevalier (2015) | Best Film Award | London Film Festival 2015

Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari

99min | Comedy Drama  | Greek with subtitles

If you didn’t get the humour in Athina Rachel Tsangari’s first Weird Wave outing Attenberg, you’re unlikely to appreciate the subtlety of her indie follow-up, CHEVALIER, voted Best Film at the London Film Festival this year, by a jury whose president, Pawel Pawlikowski, took the trophy last year for IDA, and won the foreign language Oscar.

A tribute to male competitiveness, CHEVALIER is a sparky and sophisticated affair that takes place on a wintry out-of-season yacht trip where six well-off men attempt to get ‘one up’ on each other over a pivotal few days on the Aegean. The one-upmanship revolves around a game. And the game is called ‘Chevalier’, named after the signet ring worn by French noblemen. By the end of the voyage, the winner of the game will get to wear the so-called Chevalier ring on his little finger, although the narrative gradually sails into more eclectic waters.

Tsangari’s usual collaborator Yorgos Lanthimos was away making The Lobster,  but she works again with their co-writer Efthimis Filippou in a narrative that concentrates on male dominance rather than female submission, as was the case in Attenberg. The men on board all vary in age, attractiveness and kudos. ‘The Doctor” (Yorgos Kentros) is clearly the most distinguished and urbane of the motley crew, he is also the owner of the critical ring. The youngest and least bankable is the pudgy Dimitris (Makis Papdimitriou) who has been brought along by his older brother, Yannis (Yorgos Pirpassopoulos) who threatens to reveal his fear of sleeping alone if he misbehaves. Yannis also happens to be the Doctor’s son-in-law, so is on his best behaviour; the suave Christos (Sakis Rouvas) is the best looking. Josef Nikolaou (Vangelis Mourikis) and Yorgos (Panos Koronis, from Before Midnight) are long-term colleagues.

Once holed-up ‘at leisure’ in the yacht with diving trips and boozy lunches to enjoy, certain patterns of behaviour start to emerge in the name of the game. The men spar and vy for superiority indulging in playful and, at times, more more ribald banter that occasionally verges on the hilarious, particularly when Dimitris does an on-deck rendition of Minnie Ripperton’s “Lovin You`’ complete with girlie high-pitched voice. The ultimate aim here is to establish who is the best at everything rather than in one thing in particular – ‘primus inter pares’ style. Challenges also include who is the ‘most loved’ on the home front – requiring the men to engage in hands-free phone calls in front of the others. There is even an ‘erection contest’ in this  male-bonding (aka  competitiveness) routine. The winner is thankfully never revealed.

For a film that takes place by the sea, the colour palette is refreshingly devoid of azure blues and dazzling turquoise: instead Tsangari has chosen a chic taupe, teal and gunmetal aesthetic which compliments this recherché masculine set-to. D.oP Thimios Bakatatakis does his best to frame and photograph within the claustrophobic confines of tight spaces to great effect, given the equally tight budget. And in the end, the individual tasks are not taken that seriously; they are simply representative of the male ego and what it is prepared to undergo and tolerate within the parameters of the game, however outlandish or absurd. At times, there are echoes here of Eddie Waring’s “It’s a Knockout”. Spot Greece’s answer to Keith Chegwin and you’ll enter the spirit of this clever satire. MT

CHEVALIER WON A SPECIAL MENTION BY THE JURY AT SARAJEVO FILM FESTIVAL 2015

 

James White (2015) | DVD / Digital Release

Director: Josh Mond

USA​ Drama ​88mins

Having produced the likes of MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011) and SIMON KILLER (2012), Josh Mond makes his directorial feature debut with JAMES WHITE, whose bland, personifying title suggests a continuation of the previous character studies’ low-key naturalism. Taking its name from its ‘just like you or me’ protagonist (Christopher Abbott), JAMES WHITE is a moving, nuanced portrait of a twenty-something Manhattanite trying to find his place in a world that appears to be dealing him several cruel hands at once. At the beginning of the film we learn James’ father has recently died; at the weeklong Shiva, to which he shows up wearing a casual, black hoodie, James meets his father’s new wife, of whom he only heard first mention weeks previously.

We sense from the awkward welcome he extends to the stepmother he never knew that James is loyal to his own mother, Gail (Cynthia Nixon), whose pale complexion and wig-hidden bob hints towards a recent bout of chemotherapy. Asking Gail to fund a vacation so that he can have some thinking space, jobless James retreats from immediate responsibilities to a coastal resort with his pal Nick (Scott Mescudi), where he meets Jayne (Makenzie Leigh), a high school student also, by coincidence, from New York City. When his vacation is cut short by a phone call from Gail revealing she has been re-diagnosed with cancer, James continues his relationship with Jayne, but the pressures of having to care for his mother weigh increasingly heavy.

Mond handles the tonal shifts of this extremely mature story with deft precision. Though sober, the film is never austere: it neither banishes comedy nor milks the tragedy that caring for a terminally ill parent entails. Though Mátyás Erdély’s cinematography—previously showcased in Sean Dirkin’s TV series SOUTHCLIFFE, in addition to this year’s SON OF SAUL—often privileges Abbott/James with shallow-focus compositions, his notably widescreen framing evokes a wider social fabric to which the protagonist is only intermittently aware.

The strength of Mond’s drama rests upon two fundamental realisations. Firstly, that there is much dramatic potential in a premise built around an otherwise antiheroic male whose everyday experiences compel him one way (hedonism, listlessness, laziness) while the universal banality of a parent being diagnosed with cancer pulls him another. Why? Because starting from an ordinary character forces an astute writer-director to ask questions that an exceptional circumstance doesn’t (e.g., if James were, say, a remarkably promising artist diagnosed with premature sight loss, we can only imagine the dramatic liberties taken). Secondly, that it’s in the way you tell a story that determines its believability.

Here, Mond includes otherwise superfluous details that enliven rather than distract from his fictional universe. In terms of character, consider the choice to have Scott Mescudi, better known under his music-making moniker King Cudi, play Nick as a homosexual. While deleted scenes elaborated on this more, the omissions de-sensationalise the supporting character’s sexuality so as to re-humanise it. Add to this Mescudi is black, and it’s refreshing to watch a film that resists the more obvious issues-based agenda. It helps that Mescudi’s performance is excellent. For evidence that he is an actor of outstanding subtlety—encompassing both body and facial control—look no further than three separate and very different moments: when he trudges toward camera in his work uniform and declares with deadpan hyperbole that he wants to kill himself; immediately after, when he browses a store on an acid trip; and when he confronts his best pal in a hotel room, physically stifling James’ pent-up aggressions.

Mond’s brand of naturalism is also helped immeasurably by Abbott, promoted to leading man here after much smaller roles in MARTHA MARCY and A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (2014). The Connecticut-raised actor forms a plausible chemistry with each of his fellow cast members, not least of all Nixon, with whom he shares many a poignant moment. Chief among these is that heart-achingly prolonged take in which James calms his mother during a middle-of-the-night bathroom visit by getting her to imagine she’s somewhere else, somewhere exotic, away from all the shit unfolding at home. MICHAEL PATTISON

NOW ON DVD | Digital | Reviewed at LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 5 – 15 August 2015 l London Film Festival 2015

Dead Slow Ahead (2015) | Seville Film Festival 2015 |

Director: Mauro Herce
Writers: Mauro Herce, Manuel Muñoz Rivas

Spain/France | Documentary | 70 min

Mauro Herce’s invigoratingly nightmarish DEAD SLOW AHEAD is the masterclass in sound design that your ears never knew they needed. At 70 minutes, Herce’s feature-length debut is a lushly disquieting documentary about life at sea—though the creaks, groans and sighs of the freighter on which it was filmed are prioritised, for the most part, over the humans that inhabit and maintain it. This highly impressive, wholly immersive Spanish-French co-production won the Special Ciné+ Jury Prize upon bowing at Locarno this year, and won Best World Documentary at Jihlava Documentary Film Festival, prior to screening in both the ‘New Waves’ strand and the characteristically strong ‘Resistencias’ competition at the 12th Seville European Film Festival.

DEAD SLOW AHEAD takes place on the Fair Lady, an enormous cargo ship on the high seas of the Mediterranean. Its crewmembers—so closing credits tell us—hail from Odessa, Nicolaev, Istanbul, Port Said, Ismailia, Suez, Aqaba, Cueta, Triumph and New Orleans. That’s just about all the information we’re able to glean about their backgrounds, however, for Herce focuses more—at least for the spellbinding first half-hour—on the sound textures and rhythms at work within this languorous steel kraken, illuminating the musicality of its throbbing, horror-like pulse. (The important credits here are Daniel Fernández, sound; Alejandro Castillo and Manuel Muñoz Rivas, sound design; Carlos E. Garcia, mix; and José Manuel Berenguer, music.) Sonar beeps sound off like a track from experimental electronic band Autechre, while internal rumbles and churning whirs play out like an ancient whale’s prolonged, mournful cries. Is this an Ark for a post-industrial age, drifting across the earth’s seas in search of an ungodly land flooded long ago? Or is it the first ship to chart a new and wondrous planet?

It comes as something of a relief when Herce first cuts away from the close confines of the ship itself to a panorama of daytime mist. As if compelled by some dormant force beyond the thick fog, however, tunefully ominous sounds begin to crescendo in again: a wall of wind, industrial howls, and expressive, non-diegetic wails. In this vast, open eternity, the Fair Lady provides shelter to men from horizon-dwelling storms. The ship is a hermetically sealed universe affording its own sonic logic, with something as otherwise mundane as a ringing telephone elevated to a screech of dreadful import. “Attention, please,” says one crewmember into the receiver. “There’s water coming into the ship. An entire river is entering through the keel. That’s a lot.”

Herce would do well not to draw too much attention to the viscous velocity of his film. The Fair Lady might have actually made a better, less obvious title—for the ship is the one immovable constant in a film that otherwise makes a point of dramatic fluctuations. The same previously mentioned scene, for instance, in which a sailor reports an emergency, is shot from a fixed frame, so that while the mise-en-scène looks dead-still like a photograph, the actual backdrop—the horizon—bobs in and out of view through the windows that look from the ship’s bridge into infinity. When water begins to leak into the ship, there’s nothing the ship itself can do, as is again made evident by a tripod-fixed shot, taken from the bridge looking over the hull. It emphasises the vessel’s rigidity as it’s tossed around with hammy, old-age grandiosity by the playfully ruthless sea.

It’s perhaps unfortunate timing that DEAD SLOW AHEAD should arrive so soon after LEVIATHAN (2012), by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, or even after CRUDE OIL (2008), Wang Bing’s fourteen-hour epic about life on a remote Chinese oil field. But Herce’s is a more stylised film than Wang’s, and unlike LEVIATHAN, it’s less concerned with the processes of human labour than the vessel’s actual architecture: at one point we see the ship’s blueprints, while at others the colour palette boasts the kind of orange-green contrasts only ever seen in heavy industrial milieu (Herce graduated in engineering and fine arts before enrolling at film schools in Cuba and Paris).

Just as the Fair Lady seems disproportionately immobile, incapable and insignificant compared to the ocean that surrounds it, so the sound and ferocity of its own machinery overwhelm the fragile, human frames within it. During one scene in which we see the seamen enjoying downtime by participating in a bout of karaoke, Herce has the images of such revelry accompanied by a non-diegetic soundscape completely at odds in tone and timbre. Late in the film, we hear the men make calls home to wish loved ones a happy new year—but the images we see are mechanical pans through the ship’s deepest bowels and impossibly smooth tilts up through its pipework. The natural speed of the human conversations we hear couldn’t further contradict the supernatural slowness of the non-human mechanisms by which Herce observes his way through this geometric environment—before settling, in the film’s one explicitly derivative moment, on a ventilation duct, like that haunting penultimate sequence of Apichatpong’s SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY (2006).

DEAD SLOW AHEAD also recalls Allan Sekula and Noel Bürch’s THE FORGOTTEN SPACE (2010), an essay film about the freighting trade and its relationship to transglobal capitalism. But whereas that film was an eminently intellectual exercise, Herce’s debut is a decidedly—and, it must be said, profitably—aesthetic affair. Not that the two have to be separate, of course, but this film’s philosophical currents emerge not so much through speculative rumination (no voice-over, scant dialogue) as through its commitment to conspicuously cinematic mood-setting—and, yes, storytelling. MICHAEL PATTISON

DEAD SLOW AHEAD IS SCREENING AT SEVILLE FILM FESTIVAL 6-14 NOVEMBER 2015 | WINNER OF THE SPECIAL JURY PRIZE – FILMMAKERS OF THE PRESENT | LOCARNO 2015 

Right Now Wrong Then (2015) | Locarno

Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo’s makes slow-burning, sensitively-observed films about the intricacies of relationships between men and women, often meeting for the first time. There is plemty of dialogue embued with Korean humour, which is often similar to that of the English: situational, offbeat, dryly comic as with  In Another Country.

His latest – which won the   stars Jung Jae-young and Kim Minhee as a film director and budding artist  who meet up and spend a day together, on two simlar occasions. With In Another Country, Isabelle Huppert played three different versions of a French woman called Anne, engaging with one man, Here the two central characters play the same people and the narrative unfolds in two parts, roughly an hour each for the same meeting that varies subtly each time. As a piece of cinema, this is both unique and  fascinating as we experience the inner workings of each with their different nuances in the subconscious attitudes of the pair.

The film’s first half is called Right Then, Wrong Now and we meet the indie director Ham Chunsu (Jung Jae-young) who has arrived in a town near Seoul to take part in a Q&A disccusion after a screening of his film.  Due to scheduling issues, he gets there early and meets Yoon Heejung (Kim Minhee) who describes herself as “someone who paints” – in one of the town’s landmarks. After coffee and media-style banter, the pair become more intimate emotionally and Heejung admits she’s actually not a big film-goer and has never actually seen his work but knows his face and but has heard good things about hiim.  At this point he expresses a desire to get to know her better. They drift into meeting some of her friends in a bar and after a great deal of drinking, she disappears for a nap and he joins her, only to be told by her to leave. She heads home and her mother berates her for srinking too much. This section ends hilariously as he turns up hungover for the Q&A and ends up going over the top, taking offence at a remark from the moderator who he later calls a “prick” when he meets her again in Part Two (actually called Right Now, Wrong Then, like the actual film).

The day starts again but with some differences – rather lke a replay of In Another Country (except with the same charactes ) or Our Sunhi, where perceptions of the characters are skewed. In the second half, we see that subtle differences can alter the dynamic between the couple and how their reactions differ as a result. In part two, it emerges. that she has given up smoking and feels stressed as a result. His amorous advances also come for a different reason this time around and demonstrates how subtle nuances can make big changes in our perceptions in meeting people.

Cinematophgraphy here is bland and unremarkable and a very simple score occasionally punctures the scenes which are framed often with the two sitting together and then the camera focusing on each one individually before zooming out again.

Whether the pair will go on to be together all depends, as in real life, on their ego concerns and what they are looking for in a prospective partner.  Hangsang Soo shows how chemistry and attraction is only just a part of the relationship and how it proceeds and developes. MT

SCREENING DURING LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 7-18 OCTOBER 2015

 

 

The Tribe (Plemya) 2014 | Bfi player

Director/Writer: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy

Cast: Grigoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikova, Rosa Babiy, Alexander Dsiadevich

Ukraine Drama 132mins

How many single-take sex scenes in cinema today show the pair going at it in multiple positions over an appreciable amount of time? Answer: at least one—that being in Cannes prize-winner THE TRIBE (PLEMYA), the debut feature by palpably talented Ukrainian writer-director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, who returns to Locarno Film Festival this year as a jury member overseeing its Pardo di domani competition, having won a prize at the festival in 2012 for his impressive mid-length film NUCLEAR WASTE.

Coming back to this sex scene though: teenagers Sergey (Grigory Fesenko) and Anya (Yana Novikova) make love on the cold, hard floor of a boiler room in the boarding school at which they both reside. It’s an unsentimental, rather passionless scene that ends with unexpected post-coital tenderness—Anya kissing Sergey with previously elusive sincerity—all the more so considering it begun with a monetary transaction. Why money? Because Sergey has for the first time just escorted Anya and her roommate Svetka (Rosa Babiy) to a nearby overnight parking lot for long-distance truck drivers, who routinely pay to have sex with the two teenagers. Witnessing the ease with which Anya accepts this scenario, Sergey fancies a go himself, and duly pays up.

There’s a twist. The whole scene, like the whole film, is dialogue-free: Sergey and Anya are both deaf mutes, attending a specialised school where new arrival Sergey has quickly fallen in with the wrong crowd—the same lot who, under the influence of their woodwork teacher (Alexander Panivan), mug innocent people for their booze and money at night, who illegally sell trashy souvenirs on local train services, and who are making money from Anya and Svetka’s exploits.

Exploits? Make that exploitation. THE TRIBE is all about the various strategies by which people are both impacting and impacted upon, how they adapt to and affect their social environment—whether through an organic chameleonism or something less subtle, such as intimidation and violence. Hierarchies are unavoidable. Upon arrival, Sergey’s lonely procession through the school canteen culminates in a pupil with Down Syndrome stealing his lunch, only for the head bully to spit on the burger and summon Sergey outside to take him under his wing. Soon after, Sergey must undergo an initiation, which entails him having to fight off his new friends—which he does so with surprising ease.

Communication goes entirely unsubtitled; to anyone unfamiliar with sign language, the literal content of the film’s many conversations will be a struggle. This is the point, of course: compare the aforementioned school canteen scene with similar examples in, say, Gus Van Sant’s ELEPHANT (2003) to realise the voluminous texture and timbre given by a wildtrack naturally composed of an indiscriminate sea of vocal chords. Consequently, this is an intensely and interpretably visual film, effortlessly blending immobile establishing shots with elegant Steadicam movements to simultaneously echo the characters’ own sensorial limitations and subsequent negotiation of the world through other, heightened gestures. Working with cinematographer (and editor) Valentyn Vasyanovych, Slaboshpytskiy opts for long-takes and, frequently, wide compositions in order to allow his performers full expressive range.

Soundlessness begets ambiguity. Without the benefit of sonic cues, otherwise disturbing incidents have a deadpan absurdity. Sergey’s initiation sequence begins with its participants warming up with comical shadow sparring and daft shoulder-nudges, and the fight itself, unfolding without edits, has a kind of emotionally constipated choreography. It’s as if we’re watching, out of earshot, the dance floor at a silent disco. There’s even something morbidly funny in the harmless way in which an otherwise vicious attack on someone walking home with their groceries one evening is rendered like a cartoon—or in that scene when one character is run over by a slowly reversing lorry as he smokes a cigarette completely unable to hear it approaching.

Obviously, to feel morbid funniness in a scene is not to claim there is an easy, go-to emotional response to it. Dragged into such tonal registers, we ourselves are tricked. And, as THE TRIBE continues, its silences seem to become more protracted, its tracking shots more suggestive, its scenes grimmer and darker. It takes a certain sort of director to alternate between strangely sweet moments, such as that in which a creepy official shares his innocent holiday photos with two teens he’s presumably paying for sex, and scenes of unthinkable physical and mental stress—such as that horrible scene in which Anya pays for and endures a backstreet abortion.

Just as the consequences of the latter scene will take time to register for Anya, one realises with belated horror—and, yes, excitement—that the violent underpinnings of THE TRIBE’s earlier scenes were glaring clues all along, setting in motion a sequence of events that can only end in the most hilariously heinous way possible. ©MICHAEL PATTISON

THE TRIBE IS ON BfiPlayer | SUTHERLAND AWARD WINNER – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL

Jack (2015) | Locarno Film Festival 2015

Director: Elisabeth Scharang

Austria Drama 95mins

Leopards changing or not changing spots is a good starting point for JACK. An anti-thriller that subtly asks whether a killer is born or made, it received its world-premiere at the 68th edition of Locarno Film Festival, whose fitting avatar—a speckled golden feline—prowls across the screen before each film. The second feature by Austrian director Elisabeth Scharang is a curious fictionalisation of the life of Johann ‘Jack’ Unterweger (Johannes Krisch), who rose to short-lived fame as a poet and writer in 1990s Vienna, having been released from a 15-year prison stint for murdering a woman in 1974—only to be convicted for more than ten additional murders thereafter, before killing himself in 1994.

Scharang is more vague than the history books as to whether Unterweger did indeed start murdering again after his release—and the real thrust of the film’s final third has to do with how far we can take the protagonist at his word, having never really been allowed in to begin with. In 2008, John Malkovich portrayed him on the stage. Krisch, who looks like Robert Carlyle playing Willem Dafoe, depicts him as an impenetrably and vulnerably confident soul (naked foetal positions abound), in line with Unterweger’s own psychiatric diagnosis with narcissistic personality disorder not long before his 1994 conviction.

It’s not until the final on-screen text that Scharang reveals her real-life inspiration, however, which makes the film itself all the more intriguing. With a catchy soundtrack by Austrian alt-rock band Naked Lunch serving to distance us from a position from which we might otherwise discern the eponymous character’s intentions, JACK—not unlike the protagonist—keeps its cards close to its chest. It’s never really made clear what the film’s overriding purpose, its dramatic premise, actually is. That’s a strength rather than a weakness here, forcing us not merely to invest in the central character but to question whether or not we want to, or indeed should.

It’s a clever approach, given the film’s theme of rehabilitation and the institutional and social structures that propagate or deny it. For many, Jack has paid for the callous murder of a woman one wintry night a decade and a half previously, and his release from prison concludes a process that heals by means of punishment—i.e., serving time (“time is running, but my time stands still”). But at the mere hint that Jack is responsible for other murders (in Prague, Los Angeles, Dornbirn), all bar a few of his associates abandon him.

This is, more than anything else, a cool treatise on the ways in which a media circus can extract capital from a convict at the same time as enabling his continued criminalisation. Long before Jack is suspected of killing again, we see publishers, sales agents and publicists happily promoting his entry into that fickle trajectory called fame (“I’ll be famous,” he tells his lover after sex. “I’ll get to the top”). Celebrity demands content like a leech does blood: when sales figures for his book aren’t quite as high as expected, Jack is pressured into investigative journalism, forced back into his old world of pimps and prostitutes so that he can file front-line missives.

Scharang and cinematographer Jörg Widmer light this latter milieu with the same superficial sheen as those parasitic offices of the publishing world, suggesting the two have more than a mere resemblance. Rather disturbingly, in fact, the director suggests that the entire punishment/retribution debate, as perpetuated by the media at least, is a charade. In an early scene, we see Jack in an open-air prison space, standing in front of a visibly fake backdrop of painted forestry. Real freedom, it implies, is a sham. MICHAEL PATTISON

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL RUNS UNTIL 15 AUGUST 2015 

No Home Movie (2015) | Locarno Film Festival

Director: Chantal Akerman

Belgium/France​ Documentary ​115mins

As its title suggests, NO HOME MOVIE is a chronicle of displacement. Chantal Akerman’s latest documentary is an immensely personal portrait of her mother, Natalia ‘Nelly’ Akerman, who died aged 86 in April last year. Born in Poland, like the filmmaker’s father, Nelly fled to Belgium in 1938, only to be sent to Auschwitz; surviving, she lived in Brussels thereafter. Shooting this diaristic dispatch over the course of several months, Akerman captures the mundane details of her mother’s existence, whether through Skype conversations or within her actual home, while incorporating footage of her own travels through a barren Israeli landscape.

It’s in this latter terrain that the film opens, with a lengthy take of a single tree being persistently battered by a ceaseless wind. The next shot is of the much greener and more tranquil grounds of a park, and the one after that is of the small garden that Nelly’s apartment overlooks. Akerman frames her mother’s home from unlikely angles, drawing attention to the fact that her film is a construction, and making a point, with half-obscured compositions, of its voyeuristic edge, as if to question the efficacy and even morality of such an intrusive concept.

Filming a Skype conversation that she conducts from Oklahoma, Akerman remarks, “I want to show there is no distance in the world.” Her mother is touched: “You always have such ideas.” When inside the apartment itself, the filmmaker leaves the camera running from a tabletop or a chair, evidently not fussed when it comes to polished compositions; her white-balances and exposure levels fluctuate like those in an amateur film. The title is a pun: in cinematic terms this is a dull film, not just in its unvarnished digital textures but also in its emphasis upon the domestic quotidian.

What kind of insights does Akerman glean, or expect to glean, from her mother’s life? Given her reluctance to talk of her time at Auschwitz, very little can be gathered of her imprisonment by the Nazis—which gives the more unremarkable anecdotes a doubly revelatory edge. During one scene in which mother and daughter eat lunch, one topic covered is whether or not the latter can cook well. These exchanges are the sum of their relationship. As the film progresses, less conversation takes place; Nelly’s declining health, and her worsening dementia, become evident.

Akerman mentioned in a recent interview that she probably wouldn’t have been able to make the film had she known it was to be a completed narrative from the off. Given the nature of its production, she could hardly have foreseen the way in which her mother’s physical and mental frailty grew—and so NO HOME MOVIE is frequently marred by an arbitrary structure and long sequences in which the filmmaker simply contemplates the seemingly empty apartment. Its poignant premise notwithstanding, this is a dreary film to sit through.

Given the filmmaker’s reputation and legacy (it’s some 40 years since she made her rigidly structured JEANNE DIELMAN in 1975), one can only assume that we’re to take the directorial credit here as a sign of inherent value. Experimentation and self-indulgence are two of art’s defining features, of course, but the success of the experiment depends at some point on the ‘self’ being indulged. It’s probable that making this film was a cathartic and challenging process for Akerman, and apparently she’s edited her final cut from 40 hours of footage. But when we’re asked to sit through a film-schoolishly juvenile and frankly tedious ‘scene’ in which she films her own shadow on a pond, we have to ask if the process is being valued at the expense of the product. MICHAEL PATTISON

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 5 -15 AUGUST 2015

68th Locarno Film Festival | Preview 2015

Bruno Chatrian unveils his eclectic mix of films for the 68th Locarno Film Festival which runs from 5 until 15 August in its luxurious lakeside location. Locarno is known for its edgy profile and this year will be no different: Films by established auteurs: Hong Sang-soo, Andrzej Zulawski and Chantal Akerman (left) will screen alongside an inventive array of undiscovered newcomers in a selection that embraces traditional stories and more experimental and avantgarde fare.

COMPETITION

dejanlost and beautifulFourteen world premieres compete for the Golden Leopard including Korean comedy delights from Sang-soo’s Right Now, Wrong Then and mavericks in the shape of Andrzej Zulawski who this year brings Cosmos. Pietro Marcello’s docu-drama Bella e Perduta (above right) will compete with Athena Rachel Tsangari’s Chevalier and Belgian auteur Chantal Akerman’s hotly awaited doc Not a Home Movie (above topis sure to delight both the press and the public. Two Sundance 2015 outings will screen in competiton: Rick Alverson’s Entertainment, exploring the journey of an American stand-up comedian and James White, a coruscating family drama from Josh Mond. Sophomores in the section include Pascale Breton with her appropriately titled Suite Amoricaine and Georgian auteur Bakur Bakuradze’s Brother Dejan (above left). Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam’s latest film is a thriller, Schneider vs Bax. that focuses on a hit man whose mission is to kill a reclusive author (below left).

Schneder vs Bax

To open the festival in the open-air Piazza Grande, Jonathan Demme is back with Ricki and the Flash. Scripted by Diabolo Cody and starring Meryl Streep, it explores the efforts of an ageing rock star to get back to her roots.jack copy

Locarno is known for its European flavour such as Catherine Corsini’s La Belle Saison starring Cécile De France, Lionel Baier’s LGBT title La Vanité (nominated for the Queer Palm at this year’s Cannes) and Austrian auteur Elisabeth Scharang’s Jack (right) which tackles the thorny topic of recidivism through the story of a brutal murderer. Philippe Le Guay’s comedy Floride stars Sandrine Kiberlain and Jean Rochefort and German director Lars Kraume’s The State vs Fritz Bauer explores the story of a prosecutor in the Auschwitz trials. From further afield comes Anurang Kashyap’s Bollywood gangster drama Bombay Velvet, Barbet Schroeder’s historical drama Amnesia and Brazilian director Sergio Machado’s Heliopolis. 

IMG_1536The CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE selection includes a fascinating array of indie newcomers with first or second films that focus on the filmmakers of the future: In Tagalog; Dead Slow Ahead (right) is cinematographer Mauro Herce’s debut (right). French helmer. Vincent Macaigne’s debut drama is Dom Juan. Kacey Mottet Klein (Sister) stars in Keeper by Guillaume Senez. Melville Poupard, Andre Desoullier and Clemence Poesy star in Le Grand Jeu, a debut for Nicolas Pariser and The Waiting Room from Serbian Bosnian director, Igor Drljaca, and starring Canadian actor Christopher Jacot (Hellraiser), and those that have seen the enchanting Elena by Petra Costa will be excited to see her next experimental docu-drama Olmo & the Seagull.

call me copySEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE

Ground we copy

This strand screens perhaps the most auteurish films of the festival with a distinctive style and look. Two new Polish films stand out, My Name is Marianna (right) from Karolina Bielawska and Brothers from Wojciech Staron (below right).Christopher Pryor’s black and white New Zealand doc The Ground We Won (above) and Aya Domenig’s The Day the Sun Fell from the Sky (left).

brothers copy

The Jury Selection offers a chance to see their favourite titles including Guy Maddin’s stylish drama, The Forbidden Room, Joanna Hogg’s superb study of a family holiday seen through the eyes of a single, middle-aged woman: Unrelated; and Denis Klebeev’s Strange Particles. The competition jury comprises U.S. photographer-director Jerry Schatzberg; German actor Udo Kier; Israeli director Nadav Lapid; and South Korean actress Moon so-Ri.

Te Premeto Anarquia

Locarno also screens a retrospective of Sam Peckinpah including his standout Western PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID. Marco Bellocchio will receive a Pardo d’Onore and show his 1965 classic I PUGNI IN TASCA along with Michael Cimino whose all time seventies favourite THE DEER HUNTER stars Robert De Niro. MT

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 5 -15 AUGUST 2015

 

 

 

Chrieg (2014) | War | Locarno Film Festival 5 – 15 August 2015

Director| Writer: Simon Jaquemet

Cast: Benjamin Lutzke, John Leuppi, Livia Reinhard, Ernst C Sigrist, Ste, Ella Rumpt

106min  Drama   Swiss

Possibly the sharpest but certainly the most violent film to come out of Switzerland since the Swiss Army Knife, CHRIEG is writer/director Simon Jaquemet’s award-winning feature debut that sees a young boy subjected to a surreal and brutal teen-hood in the Swiss German Alps.

Driving the narrative forward with merciless intensity during the first 40 minutes, Jaquemet is unable to sustain the gritty wretchedness of it all as the story  gradually unravels into a violent meltdown of European teenage trauma and machismo that will do well on the International Festival circuit and with the arthouse crowd.

Matteo (Benjamin Lutzke) is a typical confused and introverted 16 year-old who is being poorly parented by a couple of self-serving hippies; a macho, grunting father (John Leuppi) and an earthmother-type (Livia Reinhard) who has recently given him a baby brother who he is forced to ‘suckle’ in a sick and misguided attempt to get them ‘bonding’.  Matteo is understandably perplexed by the all mixed messages of his disfunctional home life and seeks brief solace in the nearby woods whence he is catapulted into an Alpine bootcamp run by another couple of nutters, Henspeter (Ernst C Sigrist) and his accomplice Anton (Ste), to toughen him up during the school hols. Whilst his family home life is emotionally unsettling, the bootcamp is physically violent and he is subjected to all sorts of humiliating treatment by the other inmates who lock him in a cage and chain him by the neck in a stomach-lurching initiation ceremony. When he finally becomes part of the gang, the drama drifts into urban territory as they trash venues in typical ‘teenage’ mode.

Lutzke won Best Actor for his raw and real portrayal of Matteo and the support cast of mostly newcomers are strong and authentic in this drama which is unusual for Swiss cinema but typical of the kind of rite of passage story you might see being trotted out in the UK, France or Belgium. These are teenagers without any heart or soul or even any particularly character development: They’re just as ‘bad’ individually and worse collectively as most gangs when left to their own devices.  That said, Lorenz Mertz’s inventive visuals give a giddy groove to the proceedings both in the Alpine locations and in town. This is a bleak and brutal portrayal of modern Swiss youth refreshingly devoid of cuckoo clocks and chocolate. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 5- 15 August 2015 | Reviewed at Cannes Market 2014

Testament of Youth (2014)

Dir.: James Kent;  Writers: Juliette Towhidi from the original book by Vera Britain

Cast: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton, Emma Watson, Dominic West, Hayley Atwell

UK 2014, 130 min. Drama

Based on Vera Brittain’s well-known wartime memoir of the name, TESTAMENT OF YOUTH is a study of loss and change. Not only the loss of a whole generation of young men in the First World War, but the loss of identity of the British middle classes and their sheltered existence of innocence and naivety. Standards, cultural ambitions and their belief in slow progress were rocked to the core and shattered in the trenches and mass slaughter in France. What arose, like a phoenix from the ashes, was the advent of feminism; the slow emancipation of women.

In James Kent’s excellent screen adaptation, Vera Brittain (a spirited Alicia Vikander) embodies both loss and change. We first see her in peace time, at the family home in Yorkshire. Her parents (Emily Watson and Dominic West) can hardly cope with their rebellious daughter, whose goal is to study literature in Oxford. Her father tries to placate her with the gift of a piano, but in vain, Vera wants it all. Supported by her brother Edward (Taron Egerton), and his friend Roland Leighton (Kit Harrington), she finally gets the parental consent and passes her entrance-examine at Somerville College Oxford. When war arrives, her father does not want Edward to serve, but Vera defends the right of her brother to fulfil his patriotic duty. Having fallen in love with Roland, who writes poetry like herself, Vera says goodbye twice. When the two men come home from the front for a short holiday, the strain is obvious. The difference between the war slogans and the traumatic reality in the trenches is enormous. Vera can’t stand the sedate life in Oxford anymore, and enrols as a nurse. In France, she saves the life of her brother, and after her mother has a nervous breakdown, she meets Roland again and they promise to marry when he comes home.

Being a BBC co-production, technical values, particularly production design and camera are in reliable hands. Yorkshire is as magnificent as the trenches are grim and the field hospitals are awash with the blood of carnage. Oxford looks spectacular with its dreamy spires gently tracing the skyline, and the Brittain’s mansion is exquisite. We have seen all this before but the reason to see this version is Alicia Vikander, who storms through the film like stick of dynamite, lifting the conventional goings to another level. Her resistance is as heartfelt as her mourning, her anger fired by indignance and ambition. She is well supported by Harington’s Roland Leighton, a sensitive poet and brave soldier, the epitome of the dashing hero of his era. Emily Watson is moving as the classic matriarch. TESTAMENT OF YOUTH is a true memoir of death on the battlefields and the last breath of an era. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 16 JANUARY 2015

 

Gare Du Nord (2013) | French Film Festival UK 2014

Director: Claire Simon        Writers: Claire Simon, Shirel Amitay, Olivier Lorelle

Cast: Francois Damiens, Reda Ketab, Nicole Garcia

119min   Docudrama   French with English subtitles

Whether this stylish docudrama will keep you captivated for nearly two hours, it certainly offers a visually appealing look at the daily comings and goings of the one of France’s busiest transport hubs. In the Gare Du Nord, Paris’s ever-shifting social and economic population rub along together sometimes positively and sometimes with outbreaks of violent hostility.  Amongst the handful of characters who regularly inhabit the station is Algerian- born Ismael (Reda Kateb) and graceful history prof Mathilde (Nicola Garcia) who strike up an unusual romance when he interviews her for a survey.  Gradually, through snatched moments of talking and flirting, from platforms to cafes, they be come involved.

Claire Simon is best-known for her documentary work such as Coute que Coute (1995). Her original approach, which aims to capture ‘the essence of reality’ with half-documentary, half fiction pieces, has been seen before in her TV film: That’s Just Like You (2000) set inside the European Parliament and big screen outing God’s Offices (2008) which tackles the world of town planning.

Here in GARE DU NORD, she focuses on four main characters: Ismael, Mathilde, Sacha (Francois Damiens) and  Joan (Monia Chokri).  As Ismael introduces Mathilde to his many acquaintances, he discovers she’s undergoing cancer treatment and suffering considerable emotional and physical strain. But when she becomes involved with a store robbery by a particularly unpleasant thief,  it’s TV comic Sacha who comes to her rescue, acting as a witness and assisting the police with their inquiries. Ismael becomes elusive and it’s at this point that the narrative starts to wander off  on more generalised and less intimate terms, adding texture by introducing incidental characters (often non-professional actors) who commiserate with each other in snatched conversations about their hopes and dreams, as the voyeuristic camera pans over the station offering well-composed widescreen visuals of majestic local landmarks and interiors. Marc Ribot’s atmospheric original score highlights moments of zen-like calm and those of anxiousness.

Alluring and enigmatic at times, confusing and arcane at others, Claire Simon offers up an inventive way of reflecting both the anonymity and the intimacy that can exist in contemporary urban settings, echoing the rich tapestry of cosmopolitan life in an everyday setting. Performances from Damiens, Kateb and Garcia give ballast and integrity to this ephemeral slice of Paris. MT

67th Locarno Film Festival 6-16 August 2014 – WINNERS

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The 67th Locarno Film Festival, kicks off on August 6th with Luc Besson’s thriller LUCY, starring Scarlett Johansson, and closes on August 16th with Tony Gatlif’s immigration drama GERONIMO. Overseen by Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian, the festival boasts a number of world premieres, thirteen of which will compete for the coveted GOLDEN LEOPARD in the festival’s International Competition section. World premiere titles in competition include Pedro Costa’s HORSE MONEY, Jungbum Park’s ALIVE, Syllas Tzoumerkas’s A BLAST, Paul Vecchiali’s WHITE NIGHTS ON THE PIER and Yury Bykov’s THE FOOL.

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Alongside the International Competition films, the festival has a further fifteen features in its famed Piazza Grande strand, with the films playing outdoors on Europe’s largest screen. Anticipated highlights include: road comedy LAND HO!, Aaron Katz’s Iceland-set follow-up to COLD WEATHER, co-directed with Martha Stephens; Olivier Assayas’ CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA starring Juliette Binoche (receiving a career honour at the festival); Jasmila Zbanic’s LOVE ISLAND (receiving its world premiere); and Lasse Hallstom’s restaurant comedy THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY, starring Helen Mirren.

imageIn addition to the International Competition and Piazza Grande strands, Locarno features a number of other strands showcasing the diversity of modern cinema. They include: the new Signs of Life strand, centring on “cinema at the frontiers” (sample film: Nicolas Pereda’s THE ABSENT); the Concorso Cineasti /Cineastes of the Present discovery strand, featuring both first and second features (sample film: Soon-Mi Yoo’s SONGS FROM THE NORTH); the Open Doors section, which focuses on a specific region every year (this year, it’s films from sub-Saharan Africa); and the Pardi di domani section for shorts.

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One thing Locarno is feted for is its epic retrospectives and this year is no exception, with a strand dedicated to Titanus (one of the great Italian film production companies) that includes over fifty films, with De Sica’s TWO WOMEN and Visconti’s THE LEOPARD among them. There’s also a Histoire(s) du Cinema section, dedicated to film history, showcasing films as diverse as Charlie Chaplin’s MODEarN TIMES and Cem Kaya’s REMAKE, REMIX, RIPOFF. On top of that, there are two smaller tribute sections, one for actor Jean-Pierre Leaud and one for director Li Han-hsiang.

This year’s jury members at Locarno include Venice Golden Lion winner Gianfranco Rossi (Sacro GRA), German filmmaker Thomas Arslan (who made the wonderful GOLD, sadly still not released in the UK), Chinese director Diao Yinan (Berlin Golden Bear winner for BLACK COAL, THIN ICE) and actresses Alice Braga (City of God) and Connie Nielsen (NYMPHOMANIAC). Locarno has a happy tradition of screening films associated with its jury members, so there’s also an Official Jury Films strand, containing 15 films, including both Gold and Black Coal, Thin Ice. Alongside the main jury there are two other juries, one for the shorts strand (headed by Rutger Hauer) and one for the Concorso Cineasti strand, headed by Ossama Mohammed.

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This year, the festival is honouring three different actors with career awards: Juliette Binoche will receive the clumsily named Excellence Award Moet & Chandon, Mia Farrow will receive the Leopard Club award (a recent addition to the festival) and Armin Mueller-Stahl will pick up the Lifetime Achievement Award. All three actors will also have selections of their films screened as part of the festival. In addition, there will be a number of other special guests this year, with confirmed attendees including horror maestro Dario Argento, acclaimed Spanish director Víctor Erice (also receiving a career award and a mini-strand), Melanie Griffith, Julie Depardieu, Jonathan Pryce and Jason Schwartzman.

With so much going on, Locarno audiences are pretty much spoiled for choice, but here are five films to look out for, in addition to those mentioned above.

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BUZZARD (US) – Concorso Cineasti

Indie darling Joel Potrykus concludes his “animal trilogy” (his previous features include Coyote and Ape) with this low-budget drama starring regular collaborator Joshua Burge as a disaffected temp who runs a series of low-level scams from his office cubicle.

THE IRON MINISTRY US/China) – Official Competition

Director J.P. Sniadecki’s intriguing-sounding documentary explores China’s sprawling railway system and examines the social experience of train travel, meeting a range of passengers and railway employees along the way.

CHRISTMAS, AGAIN (US) – Concorso Cineasti

Director Charles Poekel took to Kickstarter to fund his feature debut, an ultra-low budget drama about a Christmas tree vendor in New York, based on his own experiences.

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DOS DISPAROS (aka Two Gun Shots) (Argentina/Chile/Germany/Netherlands) – Official Competition

The first feature in a decade from director Martin Rejtman, one of the founders of New Argentine cinema. The provocative film focuses on a 16 year old boy who finds a gun in his house and impulsively shoots himself, twice, only to survive.

LISTEN UP, PHILIP (US) – Official Competition

Writer-director Alex Ross Perry’s third feature is a sharply written, darkly funny comedy starring Jason Schwartzman as a bad tempered and self-centred writer awaiting the publication of his second novel. Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss co-stars as his long-suffering live-in photographer girlfriend.

THE LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM AUGUST 6 – AUGUST 16.

THE WINNERS ARE:

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION

GOLDEN LEOPARD – Mula sa kung ano ang noon (WHAT WENT BEFORE) –  Lav Diaz, Filippine
JURY PRIZE – Listen Up Philip – Alex Ross Perry, USA
BEST DIRECTOR – Cavolo Dinheiro (HORSE MONEY)  Pedro Costa, Portugal
BEST ACTRESS – Ariane Labed per Fidelio, l’odyssée d’Alice di Lucie Borleteau, France
BEST ACTORS – Artem Bystrov per Durak (THE FOOL) di Yury Bykov, Russia
SPECIAL MENTION – Ventos de Agosto di Gabriel Mascaro, Brazil

Thule Tuvalu (2014) – Locarno International Film Festival 2014

Director/Writer: Matthias von Gunten

Cast: Foini Tulafono, Kaipati Vevea, Vevea Tepou, Lars Jeremiassen, Tukaou Malaki,

Switzerland Documentary 96mins

THULE TUVALU, Matthias von Gunten’s beautifully shot documentary about global warming and two regions united by a gloomily common destiny despite being 20,000km apart, isn’t the aggressive polemic you might have hoped for—but is, perhaps, all the better for it. Because while this could in fact be a significantly angrier piece about the consequences of rising temperatures and sea levels, the inevitably anxious summarising text with which the film is bound to end would be just as speculative and, apparently, helpless. This Swiss-funded film screened this week as part of the 67th Locarno Film Festival’s Panorama Suisse section.

What THULE TUVALU does do well is give a sense of what it might be like to live in either of its two eponymous places. Dividing his time equally between the inhabitants of Thule, Greenland, and those of Tuvalu in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, von Gunten accumulates two absorbing pictures of daily life, highlighting cultural similarities between the people residing in these appreciably contrasting paradises. In a strong opening, Thule resident Lars, 65, shoots a seal from afar—and many other early scenes unfussily depict hunting as a way of life. For Thule and Tuvalu inhabitants alike, animals function merely as transport, food and clothing.

Tuvalu’s temperatures facilitate more intimate means of catching food: Patrick, 42, casts a fishing net as he runs into the sea. On Namunea, the outermost island from Funafuti on Tuvalu’s mainland, we first meet 71-year-old Vevea—who incidentally has six wives and 21 children—as he cuts a pig’s throat. It’s through one of Vevea’s 21 children, 42-year-old Kaipati, that we first hear the C-words: as we learn, climate change is affecting life on Tuvalu in both short- and long-term ways, in the form of droughts and dying vegetation on the one hand and the likelihood that it could be the first country to be entirely submerged by the sea on the other. In a 2009 conference in Copenhagen, we’re told, the UN proposed to limit global warming to two degrees—a tokenistic proposition with which Tuvalu was pressured by industrialised nations into agreeing despite it more or less securing the island’s “certain demise”.

In Thule, meanwhile, the ice is melting and the winters are shortening, meaning its inhabitants are less and less able to hunt for the required amount of time each year to sustain themselves. Tuvalu’s yellowing trees are matched on Thule by an ominously unprecedented rift across a plain of ice. Such warning signs of a possibly irrevocable situation are resulting, understandably, in a great deal of uncertainty for the natives. Briefly, von Gunten travels to New Zealand to catch up with Tuvalu-born Foini, who jumped ship, so to speak, before it was too late. Not everyone can afford this option, of course—presuming they would also emigrate if able to—while others are displaced against their will. Back home, Takuaou makes a dress out of videotape for her daughter’s school performance to celebrate the region’s Day of Friendship; the ceremony took place, we’re told, on the same day a smaller island announced plans for the wholesale resettlement of its population.

For a documentary whose overriding message forbids humour, by the very virtue of spending time with these people, THULE TUVALU has many amusing and/or uplifting moments going for it. The abovementioned Day of Friendship performance is a particular highlight, while the several scenes on Thule featuring dogs are funny almost by default—as when one falls into some water, or when a puppy is distracted from the slab of raw meat with which it would much rather be left alone.

Assisted by Pierre Mennel’s often gorgeous cinematography, such scenes capture the vivid mix of Thule’s dark grey and deep pink skies as well as the serene qualities of overall life there. In a near-transcendent moment, however, the scene that unexpectedly steals the show here is that in which a narwhale is killed with several sniper shots, which dramatically punctuate the surreally quiet air—a profoundly sad encounter that touches on the sublime. MICHAEL PATTISON

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 6-16 AUGUST 2014

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