Posts Tagged ‘LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2013’

School’s Out | l’Heure de la Sortie (2018) **** LFF 2018



Dir.: Sebastian Marnier; Cast: Laurent Lafitte, Emmanuelle Bercot, Luana Bajrami, Victor Bonnel; France 2018, 103 min.

Sebastian Marnier follows his debut Irreproachable with an impressive adaption of Christophe Dufosse’s novel of the same name. Set in a posh secondary school, it has very much in common with John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos, filmed twice as Village of the Dammed in 1960 and 1996.

Supply teacher Pierre Hoffman (Lafitte) is called to St. Joseph’s College, after his predecessor, Capadis, jumped out of the window during a lesson. Hoffman is soon confronted by a group of six very gifted students who have formed a secret society led by Apoline (Bajrami) and Dimitri (Bonnel). This lot don’t seem concerned about what happened to Capadis; they regularly meet in a disused quarry. to perform daring acts and beat each other up – they seem to be immune to pain. Apoline accuses Hoffman, who is gay, of fancying Dmitri. But this is really to get rid of Hoffman on the grounds of his collection of video tapes recording the group’s activities. One of Hoffman’s fellow teachers, a music instructor and choir mistress called Catherine (Bercot), seems to be the only teacher that understands the group. It emerges that her family were killed in a car accident, while she was driving. Dimitri and his group invade Hoffman’s privacy in revenge for him snooping on them. After the finals, the six hijack a bus in a bid to crash it into the quarry. Hoffman escapes by the skin of his teeth, but the stunning finale gives answers to the many questions which have piled up.

Shot by DoP Romain Carcanada, the visuals have a glacial quality, as if everything was set in a frozen climate, despite the stifling summer heat. But this seems to mimic the icy coolness of the group of six. Hoffman is shown as a tortured soul, detached and lacking in any real identity. Bajrami and Bonnel lead with a maturity well beyond their age in this tense and gripping thriller. AS



Devil’s Freedom | La Libertad del Diablo (2017) | Lff 2017

Dir/Writer: Everardo Gonzalez. Mexico, 2017, 74′

Mexico has become synonomous with terror when it comes to the drug trade. In dramas such as Heli and Sicario the horror and casual violence of modern life emerges through stories of ordinary people caught up in a criminal underworld, as here in Devil’s Freedom (La Libertad del diablo), a rather dry but important documentary that gives testament to the endemic corruption caused largely though drug wars, but also in criminality of all kinds, where life is cheapened by man’s desire to fight for control of land and filthy lucre.

The characters interviewed in El Paso Director Everardo Gonzalez’ often harrowing film are often fully masked as he calmly interviews them off camera, allowimg them full amd frank expression of their grief and suffering. Some of them break down as they tell of  the torture, loss of life and trauma they have endured in the war against drugs which has claimed over 100,000 lives in the past five years. This is a number that beggars belief, but the authorities are often as corrupt as the public involved.

The gruelling constant mask to camera confessions are often punctuated with sorties into indiscrimate landscapes picturing the grim light of dawn or masked gunman travelling in trucks on the desert roads, or abandoned and dilapidated sights where sinister events have seemingly taken place. Either way, this makes for gruelling viewing.

Gonzalez never resorts to sensationalism, maintaining his distance with the occasional question that begs for description rather than sympathy. Neither does he attempt to contextualise events or seek explanation for Mexico’s malaise. Sufferers and perpetrators alike express fear, regret and shame. There seems little hope for redemption or hope in film’s incediary finale. MT



The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

DIR: André Øvredal | Cast: Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch, Ophelia Lovibond | Horror | 99min

Intrigue and mystery give way to shlocky horror and gore in André Øvredal’s high-concept follow-up to his quirky and inventive Trollhunter, a mockumentary foray into Norway’s folklore and one of the highlights of London’s First Nordic Film Festival back in 2012.

Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch are cast as father and son forensic pathologists tasked with discovering the cause of death a mysterious Jane Doe who bears extensive internal injuries despite being her corpse pristine as a pin on the outside. Rather like a Patricia Cornwell paperback or an episode of CSI, JANE DOE offers a procedural autopsy of a body discovered at a traumatic murder scene where all the other victims have been savagely brutalised. Coroners are not supposed to inquire about how their cases died, that is a matter for the police and the detectives. But Jane Doe’s cause of death gives the doctors much food for thought, as well as spurting blood and active brain tissue, that seems to fly in the face of reason, questioning whether Miss Doe is indeed dead after all.

The backstory here is that Tommy (Cox) has thrown himself relentlessly into his work since the death of his cheerful wife Rae, two years previously. Austen (Hirsh) is not so keen on becoming a coroner but feels duty bound to his father and their relationship is becoming more distant since the arrival of a love interest for Austen in the shape of Ophelia Lovibond’s Emma. Initially JANE DOE provides some moments of tension as Cox and Hirsh probe question what seems like an sinister case of New English witchcraft and a corpse that appear ‘undead’. But the autopsy soon descends into a blood bath – quite literally – as the mortuary cat is found butchered to death and blood seeps from zip-locked bags in the cold storage.  Meanwhile, the radio announces a gale force storm warnings advising listeners to batten down the hatches and stay home. The usual horror tropes are rolled out attempting to scare us (jumpcuts, screeches and slamming doors) but Goldberg and Naing’s script is more a case of initial fascination dissolving into disappointment, rather than slowly mounting terror. If you’re looking for a straightforward gore fest then THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE is likely go down a treat, for others it’s a missed opportunity to delve into the occult. MT


You are My Sunday | Tu Hai Mera Sunday (2016) | LFF 2016

Writer|Dir: Milind Dhaimade | Cast: Shahana Goswami, Meher Acharia-Dar, Avinash Tiwary, Suhaas Ahuja, Pallavi Batra, Nakul Bhalia Milind | 119min | Comedy drama | India

Advertising exec turned filmmaker Milind Dhaimade offers up a feelgood snapshot of modern Mumbai in this lively and watchable comedy drama that interlaces the lives of five ordinary young men who just want to be happy and play football at the weekends on Juhu Beach. At least, that’s the plan.

According to Dhaimade, not all modern Indians are striving, high-powered yuppies, and YOU ARE MY SUNDAY certainly proves his point. The humour here ranges from witty to hilariously dark and even raucous as Dhaimade hopes to show a new world of Indian independent cinema, with a charm and honesty that is truly representative of the urban youth – Speaking in a mixture of English and Hindu – they all still live with their families, apart from one who lives with some rats.

The story kicks off during one Sunday. The group are playing a freewheeling game of footie, when a senile old man called (Appa) joins in and accidentally kicks the ball into a nearby political rally. As a penalty, the five friends are banned from their Sunday routine game and their growing frustration gradually seeps into their private lives, even seriously disrupting their close friendship. All this all unravels in a light-hearted way thanks to some dry situational humour that confirms Dhaimade has his finger firmly on the international pulse.

Taking pity on Appa, one of the guys takes the old man home where he meets his forthright daughter (Shashana Goswami) and the attraction is instant. Being shy of her sparky intelligence, he then back-peddles until a tentative romance is kindled on a glorious beach where the mood turns dreamy and introspective, as he soulfully admits:”the problem with city life is there’s no place to enjoy the little things”. But suddenly having cold feet, he deep-sixes their dalliance and the action moves on, much to her disappointment. Meanwhile, another guy is having problems with his mother who keeps harping on about his single status – nothing new there – but he urges her to “relax”. YOU ARE MY SUNDAY works best in the scenes were Dhaimade’s wicked sense of humour runs free.  One involves a ridiculous incident underlining misogyny in the workplace where one of the guys is forced to defend his co-worker when she is given the sack, her boss trying to blame her for his own internet porn habit.

Well-performed and intelligently scripted, TU HAI MERA SUNDAY could benefit from tightening its slightly saggy middle section. That said,  film’s optimism and sheer joie-de-vivre, helped along by some really catchy musical choices, makes this a thoroughly enjoyable ride through the domestic life of contemporary Mumbai. MT



Victoria (2015)

Director: Sebastian Schipper

Cast: Frederick Lau, Laia Costa, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit, Max Mauff

138mins | Thriller | Germany

A night out for a Spanish girl in Berlin is a life-changing experience in this self-indulgent ad lib thriller whose unique selling point its shooting, in one single take, by German actor turned director, Sebastian Schipper (Run Lola Run).

Schipper is so focused on his mobile phone experiment that pacing and authenticity falls by the wayside in this woozily kinetic, high octane night ride into danger and then oblivion. It seems our eponymous heroine (Laia Costa) has lost her way and her moral compass in Berlin. The classically-trained pianist is so desperate to meet new friends she is prepared to tolerate any kind of nonsense from the crowd of dodgy guys she meets, who predictably turn out to be wasters at best, criminals at worst. Needing to open her cafe at seven, she is no hurry to prepare to a busy day and loiters around idly, shooting the breeze, until she finds herself in deep water, as part of a heist that endangers her own life.

The star turn here is Frederick Lau as Sonne, a charismatic natural who carries the film through from its dialogue heavy first act through to its dazzlingly dramatic denouement. As Victoria, Laia Costa fizzes with energy and high-spirits, refusing to call time on the one-dimensional guys who constantly push the limits on her good nature. She has a fleeting chemistry with Sonne, but doesn’t have to be there for him through thick and thin, with a gun against her head. Her character is the weakest link in this high-octane thriller that has its moments, but pushes its luck too far. There are just too many plot-holes in Schipper’s narrative. Would such an intelligent woman seriously engage in a robbery with three men she has only just met? Is there no security in Berlin’s banks?  In the hotel bathroom, after a tense shoot-out, wouldn’t you not need to use the loo or wash the blood of your hands? These are just a few of the endless implausibilities that make this slick and easy-going roadshow much less clever than it thinks it is, in retrospective analysis.

Schipper tightens the tension in the second act, the shaky camera tracking the action against the fuzzy nightscape of Berlin’s trendy Mitte district and making great use of the natural light of a gradual dawn from 4.30am until nearly 7am. Electronic music from Berlin compose Nils Frahm often takes over the dialogue, driving the action forward with its finger firmly on the pulse. Go for the ride but be prepared to suspend your disbelief. MT


Black Souls (2014) Anime Nere

Director: Francesco Munzi

Writer: Francesco Munzi, Fabrizio Ruggirello

Cast: Marco Leonardi, Peppino Mazzotta, Fabrizio Ferracane, Anna Ferruzzo, Barbora Bobulova

Drama, Italy, France, 103 mins

Dubbed as the new Gomorrah in some circles, Francesco Munzi’s mafia family drama purrs with tension, taking the brutal Mafioso world to the rustic villages of the Calabrian foothills at the southern tip of Italy.

This is the heartland of the ‘ndrangheta, the biggest and furthest-reaching mafia group in Italy, far stronger than the Comorrah and the Sicilian mafia, but more secretive and rarely infiltrated by outsiders. It’s because the group is made up of family units that the ‘ndrangheta are so tight, but it also means that entrance to the group for descendants is tacitly obligatory. If you don’t want ‘in’, you’re asking for trouble.

That’s the case with Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane), a farmer whose brothers are long-standing members of the Carbone clan; he instead tends to his farmland of goats on the slopes of the Apennine Mountains. His son Leo (Giuseppe Fumo), however, is eager to join a group where he’ll gain respect, and in an age where Italian youngsters are frequently downtrodden by unemployment, this is something he is eager to commit to. His uncle Luigi (Marco Leonardi), a drug dealer who travels Europe, takes Leo under his wing, but after an altercation between Leo and a rival clan, events spiral to take the apparently peaceful town to gang war.

This is a slower, more composed film than Gomorrah, and doesn’t have that film’s electric socio-political edge. Instead, it works as a family drama that simmers with personal tragedy and works up to a powerful, gripping finale. Sumptuously filmed in the village of Africo, often said to be the home of the ‘ndrangheta, and with the peninsula’s craggy dialect, it convinces as a place where the state, the police, and perhaps conventional morality have trouble accessing. Among a cast of non-actors and professionals, Fumo, plucked from hundreds of local kids, is remarkable in his debut role as Leo, saying little but carrying a primordial terror with every retort at his disillusioned father.

Munzi’s script, co-written with Fabrizio Ruggirello, starts the film in Amsterdam and Milan, and perhaps could have done with setting the film more tightly in the insular ‘ndrangheta communities. Here it feels like there’s no escape, where every aspect of life is dominated by the mafia. The organisation helps local politicians gain election, bars and shops have to obtain ‘protection’ by one of the clans, and respect to members is non-negotiable. But that blinkered view of the world is also this family’s downfall, as the cracks in the foundations make the whole house fall down. Ed Frankl.


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Censored Voices (2015) |London Film Festival 2015

Dir.: Mor Loushy; Documentary; Israel/Germany 2015, 87. Min.

The Six Day War of 1967 saw Israel fighting against the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. At the end of the war, Israel had trebled its territory. But whilst the jubilation in the country itself – and, as TV documents show – with its western allies, was over-whelming, some of the returning soldiers in a Kibbutz, gathered around a tape recorder and voiced their concern for the future. Among the witnesses were the authors Amos Oz and Avraham Shapira, who today discuss with their fellow soldiers the impact of the war which changed the State of Israel for good.

Listening to the voices of the participants, one can well understand why the military allowed only 30% (!) of the transcripts to be published at the time. Most of the soldiers started the war in the absolute belief that they had to save the existence of their country. After all, Israel faced the might of three armies, which surrounded their country. But the reality of the war told the soldiers a different story. To start with, the opponents were woefully prepared and led, which is documented best by the clips from the Sinai peninsula, where Egyptian soldiers surrendered and fled when their tanks could not move in the desert. But the main impact was the general attitude of the soldiers: for most of them, war was an overwhelming and new experience. They were after all not cold-blooded killers, but soon faced the issue of how to react towards the civilian population: were they really non-combatants or were they armed, ready to attack. In the chaos of the fighting, many of the witnesses admit, they chose to err on the safe side – an only too human decision made amidst the mayhem of killing. And whilst the army had given out orders, which could be interpreted as “show no mercy”, it soon became clear that some Arab prisoners were executed. The witnesses all agree that during fighting their thoughts were concentrated on the question of would happen if the situation were reversed – again a rational thought, since the combined Arab armies had only one target: to drive the Israeli’s into the sea. Worst of all was the plight of the refugees, who were ‘evacuated’ from their towns in lorries and “resettled” in tents on the Gaza strip. As one of the participants mentioned “know I saw what the Holocaust was”. And whilst the newsreel clips show just euphoria, when the Israeli troops “unified” Jerusalem, and “liberated” the West Wall (‘Wailing Wall’), a mother of a fallen Israeli soldier cried out: “the West Wall are just stones, not worth a fingernail of my son”.

Loushy points out that it was at that point that the meaning of Judaism – which forbids the sanctification of places or objects – was distorted by those who wanted a “Greater Israel” in the name of their religion. Apart from one member of the original witnesses, all men are sure today that the victory of 1967 led to more and harsher conflicts. Even an “ABC” reporter comments, surrounded by tents at the Gaza strip, “that the only seeds growing here, are seeds of hatred”.

CENSORED VOICES is a painful document: a witness report of a moment in history when Herzl’s version of a peaceful Israel – collaborating with Arabs, sharing a land big enough for all – was laid to rest for good. The force of Zionism, which founded the state, buried it under an avalanche of permanent wars. Israel as a ‘Sparta’ in the desert is a nightmare for Jews and Arabs alike. AS


Grand Piano (2013)

Dir: Eugenio Mira; Cast: Elijah Wood, John Cusack, Kerry Bishe

Spain/USA 2013, 90 min.

In perhaps the most absurd film in recent months a pianist, Tom Selznik, performs for the first time in five years; wife Emma, a singer, in attendance. Soon the already nervous Selznik (Elijah Wood) gets notes and calls from a stranger, threatening to kill him and his wife, if he does not play perfectly. Selznick leaves the podium three times during his performance (always arriving back just in time for his part in a piano concerto, having tried in vain to alert friends (who are both killed) to the danger. Style dominates substance throughout and a bizarre denouement leaves us bewildered but uncaring. The motive of the psychopath remains unclear, like most of the machinations of this charade masquerading as a film. John Cusack hardly gets a look-in. MT




The Cut (2014) – | London Film Festival 2014

Director: Fatih Akin

Cast: Tahar Rahim, Akin Gazi, Simon Abkarian, George Georgiou, Kevork Malikyan

138 mins, Drama Germany, France, Italy, Russia, Canada, Poland, Turkey

One of the hot picks for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Turkish-German director Faith Akin’s Armenian genocide epic is sweeping, if rather anodyne affair, starring Tahar Rahim as a (primarily) mute father searching for his missing daughters.

Taken out of the running for Cannes by Akin for “personal reasons” might have proved an omen, but Akin is able to rely on an old-fashioned sensibility, which only disappoints because he’s been so irreverent elsewhere. His Berlin winner Head On and Edge of Heaven were exciting indie films that talked about culture clashes and integration in a very modern and sophisticated way, but in making a historical epic in such a conventional fashion, The Cut misses out what was previously so refreshing about his work.

The film begins in 1915 in the Anatolian city of Mardin, as Ottoman troops tear away Rahim’s Nazaret from his wife and daughters under the auspices of conscription. In fact, like other ethnic Armenians, he’s dragged to lay roads for the Ottoman forces in the First World War. The slave labour is all right for some, who believe it’s better than being on the battlefield, but those who survive the dehydration and exhaustion are later faced with death marches. Nazaret narrowly survives after a civilian executioner feigns his death, leaving instead a tear in his throat that makes him unable to talk. After spending the war in soap factory – a metaphor for ethnic cleansing if you needed one – he discovers that his daughters survived, and proceeds to cross the Atlantic in search, from Havana to the plains of North Dakota.

The 1915 atrocity which killed 1.5 million remains a hotly politicised issue, which makes Akin’s conventional exploration of the story all the more baffling. This is an event that Turkey denies took place, and even Britain, unlike, say, France and Germany, also refuses to call a genocide. Directing aside, there are strong overtones with crises in the region today: at one point Ottoman soldiers order Nazaret and his fellow Armenians to convert to Islam to be set free – only a few accept the offer.

Rahim has a shaggy charm in the role, although when he stops communicating through words, he doesn’t quite have the physicality as an actor to really excel in the part. It’s strange, since his excellent performance in A Prophet depended so much on the presence he brought to the role, something found wanting here. One of the film’s more moving moments has Nazaret stop to watch Charlie Chaplin in The Kid in a town square screening, and you can’t help but regrettably compare the two actors – Rahim is even made to look like Chaplin.

The dialogue in English is not so much stilted but terribly naff, and the decision to have Armenians speak English in the film proves problematic when the film reaches, well, America. But perhaps concentrating on dialogue is taking away something from the film. This is a film about images – like when Nazaret, desperate for water, looks down a well to find piles of dead bodies – and, indeed, about silence. Silence about how the world has reacted, shrugged, at the history of the Armenian genocide that was an example to the Nazis two decades later. In that way Akin is speaking about today: while Chaplin’s job was to take people away from the horrors of the First World War, Akin and Tahar Rahim’s silent tramp is doing the opposite about today’s conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Ed Frankl


Blackwood (2013)

Director: Adam Wimpenny

Cast: Grey Wise,

Gothic horror/Fantasy

With a modest budget, a respectable cast of minor British acting talent and a quaint Oxfordshire setting, Adam Wimpenny has made a piece of fantasy horror that looks rather good.

It has Ed Stoppard as Ben Marshall, a high-flying Oxford professor whose recent mental breakdown has forced him into a less pressurised role in a minor university. With his wife Rachel (Sophia Myles) and young son Harry (Isaac Andrews), he hopes the change will help him recover and save their marriage and family life. But their move to Blackwood, a deserted manor house deep in the English countryside, gets off to a inauspicious start after a series of unsettling things that go bump in the night, and during the daytime too.

Local vicar Father Patrick (Paul Kaye) doesn’t exactly calm Ben’s fears by suggesting that the house may indeed be haunted by the victim of an unsolved murder. Their neighbour Jack (Russell Tovey), an ex-soldier, doesn’t instil Ben’s confidence either: he too is suffering emotional trauma. But it’s the arrival of Rachel’s flirty ex, Dominic (Greg Wise), that finally sends Ben into turmoil-  suggesting that he may be cracking up again.

Cinematographer Dale McReady does a brilliant job of lensing this good-looking Britflic with its Autumnal hues and lush countryside. Gorgeously shot on digital 35mm, Blackwood has the feel of a much more expensive production. Lorne Balfe’s atmospheric score also conjurs up some very unsettling vibes deep in the shires.

The problem is the story and characters feel very predictable, pushing all the right buttons, but staying in very safe territory narrative-wise: weird animal masks; lightening flashes; clocks that stop and start; mentally unstable loners: these cliches all are all textbook tropes in the horror arsenal, so Blackwood doesn’t feel very scary. The cast perform their tricks well, but they are predominantly known for their TV work; making this feel very much like a decent episode of ‘Midsomer Murders’.

So, Blackwood is a reasonable and well-made debut but let’s hope that Adam Wimpenny will really set the night on fire with something really different next time around. MT


Exhibition (2013) Bfi Player DVD

Dir: Joanna Hogg | Cast: Viv Albertine, Liam Gillick, Tom Hiddleston | 104′ UK Drama

In her portrayal of the English middle-classes Joanna Hogg has a unique voice. And she particularly understands the women.  We’re not talking about the huntin’ and shootin’ brigade: her characters are writers, artists, and creative types often played by untrained actors.

Hogg found her way into the film world after a chance meeting with Derek Jarman and her first film Caprice featured (the then unknown) Tilda Swinton.  Her first big screen release UNRELATED (2007) tells the story of a childless woman who joins her married friend’s house party in Tuscany and feels “fated to spend the rest of my life on the periphery of other womens’ families’. It won the FIPRESCI prize that year. Her follow-up ARCHIPELAGO (2010) witnesses the disintigration of a family on holiday in the Scilly Isles where the visual language speaks louder than the embittered dialogue between them.

EXHIBITION takes place in a fabulous modernist house in London (Kensington?), which is on the market. Newcomers to acting D and H (played by Turner prize nominated artist Liam Gillick and onetime punk musician, Viv Albertine) love living here but feel the need to move on with their lives and the house is full of bittersweet memories. Essentially a two-hander, it has Hogg’s regular collaborator Tom Hiddleston, as the estate agent tasked with the sale.

The house is very much a character and a part of who they are; embodying not only their artistic personalities but enforcing the pain of the past and embued with the story of their married life. Full of hope, they moved in after marrying with plans for a family and all the happiness that couples wish for, sadly not for them. But in their own way they still love each other.

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Communicating via intercom from their respective offices in the house, they evoke the typical nature of ego-driven but insecure artists: permanently at work – sometimes avoiding contact; sometimes welcoming reassurance of each other’s existence and commitment.  Competitive, independent yet needy of affirmation and understanding. Sex has died but H’s libido is still dormantly waiting for male excitement.

This is an urban London film and Hogg absolutely nails the minor and major irritations of life here: the estate agent’s glib patter; dinner parties talking about other peoples’ children; the street noise, parking problems and alarms. Here again Hogg elicits a strong visual language from her actors that requires minimal dialogue evoking their individual dynamic in the relationship: H is an appeasing mother figure, D is controlling, anal, looking for comfort.

Leaving the house, can they leave the ghosts that haunt them behind? Joanna Hogg offers up another subtle masterpiece.  Poignant and absolutely authentic. MT


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The Past (2013) DVD

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Cast: Tahar Rahim, Ali Mostaffa, Bérénice Béjo, Pauline Burlet, Elyes Aguis, Jeanne Jestin

130min   Drama

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Following a separation from his French wife, Ahmad (Ali Mostaffa) returns to Paris from Tehran to finalise the divorce and uncovers secrets from the past.

The French are famous for their ménages à trois and here in Cannes, Asghar Farhadi’s follow up to A Separation (2011) is sure to go down well.  A richly-plotted, schematic affair that unravels gradually based on a complex web of relationships for a multi-cultural family living in Paris. Making a flying visit to Paris to sign papers for his divorce from Berenice Bejo’s Marie, Ahmad finds her living with a new love in the shape of Tahar Rahim as Samir. The fall-out of all this has naturally complicated the emotional lives of the three kids involved; two girls from Marie, and a son, Fouad, from Samir.

The_Past_�_Carole_Bethuel_002 copyMarie has been busy on the romantic front: Ahmad was her second husband and she is now pregnant by Samir. Tahir’s Rahim gives a cool-headed performance as a dutiful family man, dedicated to his son and still confused emotionally about the strange circumstances of his current wife’s suicide attempt, visiting her bedside regularly, where is she lies in a coma.  As the characters start to accommodate Ahmad’s arrival in the household, a new dynamic develops making the future relationships of those involved even more rocky, as the secrets of the past gradually unravel.

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Ali Mosaffa’s Ahmad appears to exert a calming and stabilising influence on the proceedings, particularly on the kids, but he also shows signs of being a control freak in this complicated interplay between a complex web of personalities which is slow-burning and measured in tone rather than melodramatic (although Béjo occasionally overplays her role).  The Past is immersive and well-acted throughout, although initial tension gradually subsides as the pace grows more ponderous, particularly towards the end.  Intimate in feel, the action plays out like a more intense version of the After Midnight trilogy, and will appeal to those who enjoy dialogue-heavy, romantic dramas. And although it doesn’t quite scale the heights of A Separation this feels a more mainstream European story than an Iranian one. MT

THE PAST IS ON DVD from 23 June 2014



Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013) NOW ON DVD/BLU

Dir: Abdellatif Kechiche | Writers: Ghalia Lacroix and Abdellatif Kechiche Cast: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Jérémie Laheurte | 179’ France   Drama

On her way to meet her would-be boyfriend Thomas, Adèle passes a girl with bright blue hair. The world seems to slow around her: Adèle is transfixed. In class she discusses a such fleeting glances, to love at first sight. Could this be what Adèle is experiencing? It certainly seems like it. It’s one of the weaker moments in Abdellatif Kechiche’s heart-breaking romantic drama, but it’s also a defining moment for Adèle.

During lunch with Thomas, Adèle will question whether it’s better to study books in class, or read them alone for pleasure. She likes to read, Thomas doesn’t. But later, when Adèle reconnects with the blue-haired girl – Emma – in a gay bar, we learn that her knowledge doesn’t extend to art. In fact, the only artist she knows is Picasso, in sharp contrast to Emma’s expansive knowledge as a Fine Art student. Their meeting in the bar seems, perhaps, a little too coincidental – but Emma doesn’t believe in chance, and maybe we shouldn’t either.

As a relationship begins to form between the two women, Adèle becomes uncomfortable around Emma’s friends, feeling she is not their equal culturally. Adèle might know literature, but not art or philosophy, and Emma’s knowledge in the latter area allows the girls a cover story: to Adèle’s parents, Emma is a friend who is helping her learn philosophy. There is truth in this alibi. Emma is broadening Adèle’s horizons: sexually, culturally and socially. Emma’s values, and her sense of freedom (both as a lesbian and as an artist), come from Sartre, who has taught her that humans are defined by their actions.

Sartre’s ideas, then, become the philosophical underpinning of a tale about the journey into womanhood, sexual awakening and the construction of human identities. Adèle’s reaction to Emma’s cultured friends mirrors her earlier conversations with Thomas, but with the tables turned. Culture and society form a part of who we are, who we become. As Adèle grows, becoming a woman, the film’s protracted duration allows Kechiche to leisurely build a detailed portrait, both of her personal development and her relationship with Emma – which Kechiche portrays with warmth, humour, drama and sex.

Julie Maroh, author of the graphic novel on which the film is based, has condemned the explicit nature of the sex scenes, labelling them ridiculous and unconvincing – and there’s certainly no denying that they are graphic and prolonged (their duration often seems excessive). At times, too, the camera lingers or pans over bodies in a gratuitous manner. When Emma teaches Adèle to enjoy the taste of shellfish, one can’t help but wonder if it’s all a cheap, sleazy metaphor.

But, the sex scenes aside, the film is a convincing and moving exploration of romance. Kechiche’s camera catches much of the action in close up and, if the visuals themselves at times seem rather unexceptional, the sterling work of lead actors Adèle Exarchopoulos (Adèle) and Léa Seydoux (Emma) more than makes up for it. The film’s original French title translates literally as Life of Adele: Chapters 1 + 2, and the thought of seeing further parts would be extremely tantalising, were it not for the reports of the ‘horrible’ experiences that Kechiche put his actors through on set. In response, Kechiche has even said the film shouldn’t be released, that it’s ‘too sullied’ – but that’s too far. The shoot may have been gruelling, but the results speak for themselves. Blue Is The Warmest Colour, now ten years old, is a film that deserves to be seen. Alex Barrett


Pipeline (2013) 7th Russian Film Festival in London

Director: Vitaly Mansky

121min  Russia/Czech Republic/Germany   Documentary

Dont’ be put off by the unappealing title of this amazing film about Russia today.  Vitaly Mansky has based his evocative doc around the Trans-Siberian gas pipeline, built in 1983, that connected gas supplies from Siberia with consumers in the Czech Republic and Germany.

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Like a silver cord running through this vast continent, it strings together a series of charming portraits of Russian life.  His camera is objective, unflinching and inquisitive and some of the results are daunting: if you’d rather not see inside a working cremation oven, this is advanced warning to look away.  But some vignettes are surprisingly funny: a little farm dog who lives inside a front-loader, and awe-inspiring: men fishing in a frozen Siberian river. Some endearing: a couple airing their views about Russian teenagers from their gaudily-decorated living room and a Church mass taking place inside a disused railway carriage.

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With his magnificent widescreen compositions of majestic Soviet architecture and panoramic vistas of the frozen countryside, Mansky handles his doc with a lively dash of wit, showing us wealth and poverty in all its glory, and treating every living creature with respect. That life for real people in the provinces is still the same as it every was, is his message. His Russians are just like any other Europeans.  A real eye-opener. MT

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Gloria (2012)

Dir: Sebastian Lelio | Cast: Paulina Garcia, Sergio Hernandez | 110min Drama Chile/Spain

Paulina Garcia won Best Actress at Berlin for her sunny portrayal of a mid-lifer who hasn’t reached old age but is contemplating the future and starting to see the long shadows of her mortality slowly edging into sight.

Sebastian Lelio’s third feature opens with a palm-fringed panorama of Santiago de Chile, the sophisticated capital of his thrusting South American homeland. Gloria, in her fifties, is a positive and happy divorcee looking love.

Lelio’s crisp, clear direction and a wealth of glossy locations and interiors, make this a mature and insightful drama for a director in his late thirties. Gloria offers gives plenty of positive food for thought without a touch negativity or self-doubt: a refreshing look at second-time love for the older generation. Gloria examines her hopes and reassesses her life through the encounters she experiences. Sebastian Lelio shows us the positives of his Latin culture without being judgemental or maudlin: strong family links, dancing, music and laughter, Chilean wine and socialising are the keynotes. There’s a touchingly romantic vignette of a man and woman singing a Brazilian love song round the piano.  The dating scene throws up rich pickings  most of which are rotten and a graduall realisation that life is good and there is future for Gloria and for Chile set against a background of political uncertainty and forty years of strife and unrest. MT


Shame (2013) 7th Russian Film Festival 2013

Dir.: Usup Razykow; Cast: Maria Semenova, Elenena Korobynikova, Helga, Filipova, Seseg Hapsasova; Russia 2012; 90 min.

Best known for his 2000 drama Women Kingdom, writer and director Yusup Razykov is a leading light in the New Uzbek Cinema movement.

His latest outing SHAME, opens with the unexplained abduction of a young woman. A symbolic introduction to a very grim film set in the Arctic Circle of Russia, Ekaterina Mavromatis screenplay sensitively depicts this study of ‘waiting women’  inspired by  the case of the submarine “Kursk”, which was lost with all men in 2000. The main protagonists are the soon-to-be widows of the garrison hamlet, who are lied to by the authorities, even though the tragedy is apparent to them. Lena (Maria Semenova), is newly married to an officer of the submarine. Cold and distant, she drinks and has a one-night-stand, whilst the other women mourn; one even kills herself and her two children.

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It slowly emerges that Lena has discovered passionate love letters from her husband to his former girl friend Irina, who is now in an ramshackle psychiatric hospital, after having set fire to a building, not able to take the six monthly darkness any longer. Lena saves her from the horror of this place, and promises her to take her into a clinic in St. Petersburg, her home town. The snowy landscape (more grey than white) and the downtrodden buildings, falling apart before our very eyes, the total lack of amenities and the darkness are the domineering elements of this film, the camera looks for humans, but only shows desolation. One has the feeling, that this place is a war zone and it only seems reasonable, that one woman says “that we need a war, because we do not know how to live without it”. SHAME is ruthless in its negative approach, never resorting to sentimentality. A stark reminder of a not so modern Russia, which is still ruled for and by a small minority, whilst the majority lives in places rotting quietly away. Andre  Simonoviescz

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Luton (2013) BFI 57th London Film Festival

Director/Writer: Michalis Konstantatos     Writer: Michalis Konstantatos

Cast: Nicholas Vlachakis, Eleftheria Komi, Christos Saupountzis, Connie Zikou

104min  Psychological Drama   Greek with English subtitles

Michalis Konstantatos’s debut feature LUTON, initially appears to have about as much going for it as its eponymous Bedfordshire town.  Suffocating in the same washed-out visuals and bland aesthetic as recent Greek “Weird Wave” outing (and Venice-winner) Miss Violence, it opens rather like an episode of EastEnders on valium, Greek-style, with monosyllabic dialogue.  Following the workaday lives of three unconnected people: Eleftheria Komi plays Mary, a lonely solicitor looking for more than sex in her life, Saupountzis is Makis, a newsagent in a rut and Vlachakis is teenager Jimmy, trapped by his strict parents: all give performances of considerable appeal.

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The film opens with dark-haired Mary exercising in the gym. We then meet Makis riffling through the pages of a newspaper, fag on the go, as he serves a blond customer.  Mary, then goes lingerie shopping for her night out. This dark lawyer is a dark horse and once inside the cubicle, she starts to fondle herself slowly. Meanwhile in a chinzy dining room, Jimmy has a stultifyingly silent dinner with his grandma and mum. Later in the park, a couple is snogging voraciously, endlessly: it’s Jimmy and his girlfriend. Mary’s evening at a nightclub ends in oral sex in the car park; no prizes for who’s the giver.  And so Konstantatos continues to flesh out the ordinary lives of his sad protagonists and we wait patiently for the drama in this drama to be unleashed.

When their disparate lives eventually collide it’s almost too fast to process, given the deliberately banal build-up.  LUTON is a slow-burner sharing its story cryptically, resentfully, eerily but eventually the pieces fall together in a cataclysmic meltdown leaving us mesmerised at its long-awaited denouement.  Bide your time, if you can,  and you will be rewarded. MT


Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia (2013) 57th BFI London Film Festival

Dir: Nicolas Wrathhall; USA2013, 89 min

Like many critics of the capitalist system, Gore Vidal, who died last year age 86, came from a very privileged background: his father Eugene Vidal was working for the Roosevelt administration in aviation (he had an affair with Amelia Earhart), his grandfather Thomas Gore was Senator for Oklahoma. Archive footage showing the young Gore in a plane with his father, declaring on embarking “that it is easier to fly a plane than a car”. His mother Nina married later into the Kennedy clan, the older Gore Vidal would be a friend of the future president, running (unsuccessfully) for congress in 1960. In the early 60s Vidal travelled with Tennessee Williams through Italy, where he would later settle for over 20 years in Ravello.

As a (prolific) writer, Vidal was to fall foul of the literary establishment early on with his novel “The City and the Pillar (1948), because of his open description of homosexual sex. The New York Times literary section blacklisted his books. In the 50s he wrote many important TV plays, like “The Best Man”, starring Henry Fonda. His reworking of the film script for Ben Hur (1959) included a subtle homosexual plot, which director William Whyler had to hide from Charlton Heston, playing the title role.


Vidal was bi-sexual, he had an affair with Anais Nin, and was engaged for a short time to the actress Joanne Woodward, who later married Paul Newman. For most of his adult life Vidal lived with his companion Howard Auster, who died in 2003; it was a true friendship, because for Vidal “sex destroys relationships, because either one looses interest in the other”. His novel “Myra Breckinridge” (1968) caused a scandal because it discussed transgender issues; it was filmed in 1970 by Michael Sarne with Mae West.

Vidal was not only critical of the system, but equally so of the politicians who run it. Asked about JFK, Vidal calls him “a most ineffectual president, in his thousand days in office he invaded two countries: Cuba and Vietnam”. Vidal’s political novels like “Burr” and “Washington DC” show the political classes, from the founding fathers onwards, as corrupt and only interested in property: Washington, a general who never won a battle, becoming rich whilst in office. Vidal’s criticism was never dull, he was witty and funny as well as angry. About Reagan he said “the establishment decided that it was easiest to have the best cue card reader as president, so they choose Reagan. But then his house burned down, and his whole library was destroyed – all two books. But the worst was, that he had only coloured in one book”. All his life, Vidal was on committee’s fighting those in power, like the campaign to remove President Bush jr. from office for war crimes.

Apart from archive footage and interviews (very moving Vidal’s meeting with Gorbachev in Venice in the 90s), the film shows long footage of the TV debates between William Buckley jr. a conservative author and Vidal. Both men, quiet patrician, sharing an upper class background, really loosing their temper, with Buckley calling Vidal “a queer, who should go away” and Vidal countering with “Buckley being a product of a system, that has only invented one art form: the TV commercial, selling soap and presidents in one program’.

A lively, informative film about a great intellectual and political campaigner.  Andre  Simonoviescz




A Long and Happy Life (2013) 57th BFI London Film Festival

Despite the ostentatious wealth of Moscow’s elite, two films at the London Film Festival show us that modern life for ordinary Russians is still hard-going and hasn’t change much since the times of Dostoevsky. Boris Khlebnikov’s A LONG AND HAPPY LIFE is actually wishful thinking.  Shot in a cinema verite-style on a hand-held camera by Pavel Kostomarov this  low-budget indie drama is the tragic tale of a struggling middle class employer.

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Alexander Yatsenko plays Alex Sergeevich, or Sasha, to his friends (and he hasn’t got many), a decent employer who has given up his city life to embrace the great outdoors and running a rural farm by a fast-flowing river in northern Russia. When faced with a compulsory purchase order from the local council  he eventually decides to take the money and run but when his poor farm workers beg him to support of their liveliehoods and keep the farm, he has a change of heart and with their support, he prepares to stand up to the authorities.

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His on/off girlfriend Anya (Anna Kotova) has ideas to lure him back to the city, where she works in local government but he feels a strong responsibility to his workers who appear to need him more until they start to show their true colours.

As typical Russian films go, A LONG AND HAPPY LIFE, is short and brutal but nevertheless wrought with human confrontation and emotional pain.  The change that takes place in Sasha’s stance towards his business venture, seen as a tonal shift to sudden melodrama, does feel somewhat unbelievable though given his profile as a businessman. Worthwhile but unconvincing. MT



Sniffer (2013) 57th BFI London Film Festival

Director: Buddhadev Dasgupta  Writer: Buddhadev Dasgupta

Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Ananya Chatterjee, Pankaj Tripathy

132 mins  Language:  Hindi  Origin: India   Drama

A fruitful collaboration between the prominent Bengali filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta and the major Indian star Nawazuddin Siddiqui (recently seen in the highly-acclaimed Gangs of Wasseypur), SNIFFER begins as an amusing off-beat comedy and, by its end, becomes an almost-epic fable of magic-realist proportions. If the use of the word ‘epic’ implies length, the film admittedly feels a little stretched at 132 minutes, but the beauty of its ending makes the duration more than worthwhile.

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Siddiqui plays alcoholic private detective Anwar, who lives alone with his dog in a Muslim tenement, unaware that he is being closely watched by two of his neighbours: a devout Muslim who wants Anwar evicted due to his drinking, and a young woman who has fallen in love with him. But Anwar, it seems, is haunted by thoughts of his own lost love – the one that got away.

The spectre of the past, and of a simpler more honest way of life, runs throughout the picaresque narrative, in which Anwar’s belief in the common decency of humanity becomes increasingly difficult to hold on to. Through a series of cases, the sorry state of modern society is slowly revealed, alongside religious intolerance. When a case leads Anwar away from the city, he is offered the chance to journey back to his past and reconnect with his roots.

If Anwar’s drunken monologues to his dogs occasionally fall prey to exposition, the film’s quirky, surrealist tone makes them seem all the more fitting. When Anwar takes the dog for a walk late one night, he stumbles across three wailing, ghost-like figures leaning over a bright blue railing: the first has suffered from years of constipation, the second from years with no sex, the third from years of no sleep. It’s a haunting moment which nicely encapsulates the film’s blend of dark humour, social examination and mysticism. Added to Siddiqui’s excellent performance and Dasgupta’s fluid camera, it all equates to an experience which will not be soon forgotten.  ALEX BARRETT


The Long Way Home (2013)

Dir.: Alphan Eseli; Cast: Ugur Polat, Nergis Ozturk, Serdar Orcin;

Turkey 2013, 112 min.  Turkish with English Subtitles   Drama

Alphan Eseli’s debut film THE LONG WAY HOME, a gruelling masterpiece centring on the aftermath of the battle of Sarikamis in Eastern Anatolia, in which 90, 000 Turkish soldiers were killed in the WWI battle with Russian soldiers in 1915. Eseli’s heart-felt narrative is based on long stories which his late Grandfather (a survivor of said battle) told him when he was a child. The film is dedicated to him.

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Long panoramic shots open over a snowy landscape: a man tries to coax a horse pulling a carriage up a mountain, but the horse expires of exhaustion. A symbolic beginning to a film which will test the audience’s sensitivity to the limit – and sometimes beyond. The man mentioned is Saci Bey, an officer wearing civilians. He is trying to find a way to the city of Erzerum, where he is to deliver Gul Hanim and her daughter Nihan (relatives of a high ranking politician) to the authorities. The trio is forced to continue on foot and Saci Bey, always the gentleman, carries the girl for long periods of their arduous snowbound trecks. When all seems lost, they reach a village which has been set on fire and hide in one of few habitable places. Later they are joined by Coban Ali, who survived the plundering of the village, and a teenage girl from a neighbouring village.

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After the glaring shots of endless snow the images change to a claustrophobic existence, only a meagre fire lightens the room where the survivors huddle. Hunger is the worst enemy, and Coban Ali tries to convince Saci Bey to start the walk to Erzerum. But the officer is reluctant: he once lost his soldiers, because he didn’t prepare them for a snow battle. The class distinction between villagers and the three members of the upper-class are subtle but always obvious, especially when Nihan gives the peasant girl her gloves, and Coban Ali reprimands her “for having airs, because the lady gave you gloves”.

The modus vivendi is eventually disrupted when two soldiers arrive with a dying officer. One of the soldiers kills the officer and this mood of nihilism makes way for  the delirious finale where Nisan’s mother is forced to into the mêlée.


Eseli’s camerawork is impressive and the outdoor scenes are lively, the long panning shots always broken up with intimate POVs. The haunting music is by Mihaly Vig, a regular composer for Bela Tarr. The Long Way Home is a gruelling drama but Eseli never resorts to pure realism, creating a poetic disturbing atmosphere. AS


The Kill Team (2013)

Dir. Dan Krauss: USA 2012, 79 min.

To make a proper anti-war film, one has to avoid glorifying any action and Dan Krauss THE KILL TEAM shows very little war action, apart from a few stills and footage and adopts a visually unappealing style befitting its indie, low-budget nature. Instead, the film tries to answer the question: why do ordinary Americans become murderers?.

Between January and May 2010 soldiers of the 3rd Platoon of Bravo Company (US Marines) killed three civilians in Kandahar Province. One of the soldiers, SPC Adam Winfield, than 22 years old, phones his father after the first killing, asking him to help him since he feels threatened by Staff. Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, the leader of the men, who “hates” all Afghan people, and encourage his subordinates “to always carry a spare rifle, so you can shoot a man and put the spare weapon next to him as proof, that you were attacked”. As one witness at the court hearing, PFC Justin Stoner testified: “They have a lot of practice staging killings”. The first and youngest victim was 15 year old Gul Mudin, his murderers not much older than him: CPL Morlock (21) and PFC Holmes (19).

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Centred around Winfield and his family, particularly his father Christopher who was a Marine himself, the film shows the preparations for his trial and the reaction to the outcome. We see home movies of young Adam, a kid growing up in Florida, in a loving and secure family. And yet, when confronted by the murder of a man called Adahdad in May 2010, Winfield shoots at him, trying to miss. Later he blames himself for not trying to save the victim. But the real motive was fear: The photo of him and Gibbs over the body of Adahdad is the proof of his complicity, which may have saved him from being killed by Gibbs. After pleading guilty of manslaughter, Winfield is sentenced to three years in prison, Gibbs gets life for three cases of premeditated murder, still insisting on his innocence.

In conversations with his parents, Adam Winfield describes the war as “some non-event, mostly boring”. The “incidents created by Gibbs were the only “thrilling moments”. He says this matter of fact, half apology, half excuse. His family listens, only interested in getting him home, seeing him as the victim. His sentence is seen as unjust, the Army “tricked him”. And nobody ever asks the question, why the war in Afghanistan is fought. It’s just about getting Adam home.

KILL TEAM fails to answer the question why boys like Adam have to be afraid of men like Gibbs and become executioners themselves, but one reason might be that Adams parents never ask these questions. And it goes without saying that Gibbs and the 3rd platoon are only the tip of the iceberg of American war crimes (not only in Afghanistan) – all the families at home only seeing their boys as victims. The collective American psyche in the Land of the Brave, never admitting to any guilt. Andre  Simonoviescz


Le Grand Cahier (2013) 57th BFI London Film Festival

János Szász’s magnificently-crafted adaptation of Agota Kristof”s French-language: ‘The Notebook’ (hence the title) is a lesson in history and a treasure of Hungarian contemporary cinema which has lurked much in the shadows of late. Christian Berger’s sumptuous visual treatment almost blunts the harrowing nature of this Second World War tale of twin boys who are taken by their mother Gyöngyver Bognar, (Opium) to live in near-starvation with their tyrannical peasant grandmother (who  villagers call “the witch”) deep in the countryside.

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But when László and András Gyémánt’s arrive at the primitive home of their grandmother (a stony-faced Piroska Molnár), they also have to live in the shadow of a Nazi officer (Ulrich Thomsen, Brothers) who has taken up residence in her farmhouse. The twins survive by immersing themselves in study and develop a punishing regime of mutual physical abuse to toughen themselves up in the harsh environment.

The tone here is bleak and emotionally distant; Szász’offering up an objective view of his survivors and making no attempt to endear us the boys who remain stern and disciplined throughout despite their young years – in contrast to the recent appealing depiction of kids in wartime outings such as Wolfskinder (2013) and Lore (2012).

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Recording their experiences in a notebook (seen and heard in voiceover), the boys provide illustrative testament to this time of suffering that has a profound effect on their psyches.  In learning to stand up to their grandmother in this powerful game of wits and willpower, Szász illustrates a psychological dynamic that makes the oppressed capable of the same brutality as the Nazi oppressors and also provides intriguing psychological texture to this wartime narrative.

Despite its harsh subject-matter, Le Grand Cahier is a beautiful film to experience accompanied by its atmospheric score. János Szász has provided a rich and important account of the impact of the war on the Hungarian countryside. MT



Honey (2012) 57th BFI London Film Festival

Director: Valeria Golino  Writers: Valeria Golino, Angela Del Fabbro

Cast: Jasmine Trinca, Carlo Cecchi, Libero De Rienzo

96min   Italy/France   Drama     Italian with subtitles

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Italian actress Valeria Golino sees euthanasia as a necessary evil in her debut feature as director.  Screening at Cannes ‘Un Certain Regard’ section, this is a low-budget drama about Irene, (nickname: ‘Miele’) a gamine and restless woman with a questionable code of ethics who sees it her duty to assist the terminally ill to die in exchange for money.

After a brave start where she travels to Mexico to procure animal drugs for her human use, the narrative soon descends into ‘lost souls’ territory as Irene (Jasmine Trinca – La Stanza del Figlio) joins her patients in the melée of lost souls from varying age-groups and walks of life.

On the face of it, Irene is having a reasonable time of it and plenty of sex with her vapid  boyfriend Rocco (Libero De Rienzo). But she is unlikeable and tense as a character and fails to warm up despite Rocco’s avid ministerings and the attention of a suave and sophisticated retired engineer, Signor Grimaldi, (Carlo Cecchi) who wants to die but actually ends up supporting her in a surprising volte-face.

Emotionally distant but flirtatious, Irene is also unconvincing as a ‘sister of mercy’ so despite Golino’s excellent premise (based on the novel A Nome Tuo by Mauro Covacich) she appears to have cast Irene as lead in the wrong film, as if she’s wandered in from the set of the Milliennium Trilogy . To make matters worse, the edgy tone of the piece melts away in the second half where Grimaldi comes to the fore as the father figure she never had and as the ethical slant on euthanasia retreats into the background we’re left wondering: “Was this woman to be taken seriously or was she just looking for love in an extremely creative way”? If so, she certainly lucks out with Grimaldi who ends up being by far the most promising character with the wittiest lines.

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This is a stylishly artistic debut from Golino, who is certainly talented as is Trinca, in her own way, as an actress; but she seems to have started with one idea and finished with another and, in the process, failed in both attempts to bring this engaging and worthwhile  story to a satisfactory conclusion. Any similarities that have been drawn between Miele and Marco Bellocchio’s euthanasia-themed film La Bella Addormentata (Dormant Beauty) are misplaced here. That is quite a different beast as it deals with the real life case of a comatose girl on life-support, which occupied the Italian media for quite some time due ethical conflicts between the Catholic Church and medical establishment. MT





Abuse of Weakness (2013) 57th BFI London Film Festival

Dir; Catherine Breillat; Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Jool Shen, Laurene Ursino;

France 2013, 104 min.  Drama   French with English subtitles

After two rather disappointing films The Sleeping Beauty and Bluebeard, Catherine Breillat has returned with ABUSE OF WEAKNESS to her usual confrontational style – chronicling the gender war in films which show that women are not always the victims as commonly assumed. Sale comme un Ange (1991), in which the heroine Barbara, married to a young policeman, falls for his superior and gently coaxes him into killing her husband in an arrest gone wrong, so that she can marry him, is a good example.  ABUSE OF WEAKNESS is an autobiographical film too.  The  protagonist, Maud (Isabelle Huppert),  is a middle-aged film director, suffering from a recent stroke, which has left her impaired.

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While recovering in bed, Huppert (in her usual ‘couldn’t-care-less mode’) sees gangster Vilko (Jool Shen) being interviewed on TV and decides to cast him in her next film. Vilko is a wild boy and Maud’s family and friends are very protective of her. They seem justified in their suspicions: Maud is lending Vilko more and more money – seemingly to keep him keep on board for the film project. Vilko’s introduces Maud to his young wife and baby and from then on the power structure changes. Whilst the sums of money Maud is giving him get bigger and bigger, so grows Vilko’s dependence on Maud  and a worrying dependency between the pair gradually gets stronger.

Breillat’s character of the hemiplegic Maud is a challenging role for Huppert and she rises to the occasion giving a magnificent performance: suffering physically, only to get stronger mentally. Vilko starts with the upper hand but he turns out to be a real pushover, unable to see the trap Maud is setting for him: luring him into her lair like a crafty cat playing with a mouse. Vilko’s only interest in life is money and he can’t work out how Maud has managed  to capture his soul. She might not be able to compete sexually with his attractive wife, put she can push the right buttons to make Vilko into her own creature, even joking “that she is doing his wife a favour”.


Breillat’s cat and mouse game develops slowly, set in the wide open seascapes of the Belgian Riviera and Brussels. The longer the films goes on, the muter the lighting becomes;  the living quarter shrink and in the end Maud and Vilko are living in a quasi building-site more or less in one room. It is a perfect symbol of their relationship: the handicapped Maud imprisons Vilko in this small room, as he slowly relinquishes his masculinity. The power of money is for once defeated by a cruel but effective woman. Her weapon is not her beauty, but her sheer strength of an analytical strategy and willpower. For  Isabelle Huppert lovers, it’s a film to be relished.

Andre  Simonoviescz



Eliza Lynch – Queen of Paraguay 57th BFI London Film Festival

Dir.: Alan Gilsenan, Cast: Maria Doyle Kennedy, Leryn Franco;

Ireland 2013, 80 min.

Some films really bring something new into one’s life, and ELIZA LYNCH: QUEEN OF PARAGUAY is such a film. Director Alan Gilsenan tells the life story of the title’s heroine in many forms: part docu-drama, part interviews and quotes from Lynch’s book “Exposition, Protest made by Eliza Lynch”, which she wrote in 1876 in Buenos Aires. To say that her life was stranger than fiction, would be an understatement. Particularly for a woman of the 19th century, she showed enormous courage under the most tragic of circumstances, which encompass most of her life.

Eliza Lynch was born 1835 in Cork, Ireland; her family fled ten years later from the Great Famine to Paris. Eliza had a failed marriage with a French officer, and might or might not  have lived as a courtesan in Paris where in 1854, she met Francisco Solano Lopez, son of the President of Paraguay, who in his role as defence minister bought weapons for his country in Europe. Eliza became pregnant and followed Lopez to South America where he installed her as his mistress in the capital Asuncion. They had seven children altogether, and after the death of his father, Solano Lopez became President in 1862. Now Eliza, who was very much disliked by the old president and the upper classes, became officially the First Lady of the country, she and her husband were one of the richest landowners in South America. In 1864 Solano Lopez started a war with Brazil, and, after some early successes, found himself facing by a triple alliance of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, Instead of giving up, he continued the war, finally loosing his life (his eldest son was also killed) in the battle of Cerro Cora in 1870, which is described as a massacre. The Brazilians took cruel revenge, 90% of the male, and 50% of the female population of Paraguay was slaughtered in what could be called a genocide. Eliza was captured and later went back to Paris. In 1875 she returned to Paraguay, trying to claim her estates, but had to flee again. She died in obscurity in 1886 in Paris. In the 1950s her remains were brought back to Paraguay by the dictator General Strasser.

Maria Doyle Kennedy plays Eliza like a ghost returning to life, setting things straight. The lightning is diffuse, shadows are domineering, and the atmosphere is that of German impressionist film of 1930s. In stark contrast are the sober interviews with historians, who cannot  agree if Eliza was a heroine or a wicked woman, lusting only after power. But the strongest impression from the film is Eliza’s romanticism, which seems to have conquered not only her husband, but the ordinary people of Paraguay – shades of Evita Peron. Told without sensationalism, the film opens new avenues into our understanding of a rather unknown era and the courage of a unique woman.

Andre Simonoviescz



Five Tales from Europe this Weekend at the 57th BFI London Film Festival

Berlinale 2013 - Camille Claudel 1915 - Juliette Binoche CAMILLE CLAUDEL, 1915  * * * *

Juliette Binoche stars as Camille in this austere and pared-down portrait, none the less beautiful for its ascetic treatment, of a woman artist who is denied her creativity due to confinement in a mental institution in the i by her family in 1915, to remain there for the rest of her life.  while Renoir was living out his days in surrounded by love and attention further south in Provence. SEARCH BOX FOR FULL REVIEW


Eastern-Boys-001 copyEASTERN BOYS   * * * *

Accomplished scripter, Robin Campillo (The Class, Foxfire), takes a random group of illegal immigrant young men from Eastern Europe and constructs an unpredictable and unflinching thriller set in the suburbs of Paris. It revolves around a gay Frenchman (Olivier Rabourdin) in his fifties and his unexpected adventure with one of the teenagers (Kirill Emelyanov). Watchable and absorbing, this is one of the best thrillers at Venice festival this year.



Ida-001 copyIDA * * * * *

As a film, Ida seems to be built upon forbears; the spirits of Bresson, Dreyer and Antonioni are all here, alive and well, not least in the film’s stunning, 1.37:1 black and white images. If those names imply an austere coldness alongside a total mastery of the cinematic medium, then all the better – when it is handled as well as this, such a tone is surely something to commend. Ida is intensely visual, impeccably performed and quietly profound – and, at a compact 80 minutes, it may even be perfect.  SEARCH BOX FOR FULL REVIEW


under_1 copyUNDER THE SKIN  * * * * 

Jonathan Glazer’s inventively daring visual treat stars Scarlett Johansson as a femme fatale who meets her victims in the backstreets of Glasgow.  Influenced by the surrealism of David Lynch, this contemporary story is both sinister and alluring with a twist of horror.


Le_Grand_central-001GRAND CENTRAL * * * *

Grand Central’s nuclear decontamination unit provides the sinister backdrop to this tense drama of friendship, love and divided loyalties from French director Rebecca Zlotowski. Gary (Tahir Rahim) and Tcherno (Johan Libereau) are two young men who become friends as they travel to find work at the plant, set in the heart of verdant countryside. A modern French thriller with a believable storyline. Lea Seydoux also stars.  SEE SEARCH BOX FOR FULL REVIEW





The Sarnos: A Life in Dirty Movies (2013) 57th BFI London Film Festival

Director: Wiktor Eriksoon. Prod Erik Magnusson.

Sweden-Norway 2013. 78min. Documentary

Can a film about sexploitation be funny, upbeat and endearing?:  This one is. Despite a rather off-putting title, I wandered in rather by accident and, as often the case, it turned out to be a serendipitous experience.

Called the ‘Ingmar Bergman of soft porn’ (by one actress, Annie Sprinkle), Joseph W Sarno preferred to style himself as an erotic auteur.  Sweet and entertaining, he comes across as one of the least sleazy people connected to the industry.  With his exquisitely beautiful and intelligent wife and collaborator, Peggy, he made a collection of ‘sexploitation’ films on  low budgets, characterised by stark black and white photography and cleverly artistic lighting.  None of his actresses had breast implants but many wore wigs and the camera rarely travelled below their waistlines, concentrating on sounds and facial expressions to convey the ecstasy of orgasm.

The_Sarnos_-_A_life_in_dirty_movies-002 copyTitles such as Sin in Surburbia (1966) focussed on womens’ thoughts and feelings surrounding their erotic pleasure. Men were merely regarded as ‘sex objects’ in a genre that aimed to build on narratives where the female was central to the plot with suggestive stories of seduction and psycho-dramas that were seen as ‘female friendly’ and looked at life from a woman’s point of view.  The cinemas of 42nd Street (some with 1000 seats) were home to this erotic fare that was popular in the sixites and early seventies, but also had their fair share of the raincoat brigade.  Lash of Lust,  Bed of Violence and Slippery When Wet were other titles in a filmography that ran into over 121 features until his death at 89 in 2010. Joe was even called to Sweden to direct Inga, purportedly because American audiences felt that Sweden had an outré image in sexual arena.

Photographed before his death in 2010, the Sarnos make an appealingly attractive couple: she in her early seventies, he considerably older, who are still very much in love.  Asked to direct spend a part of the year in Sweden where they own an apartment they call “our castle on the hill”.  A old VW Beetle sits in the garage waiting to take them to visit friends on their annual visits.The_Sarnos_-_A_life_in_dirty_movies-003 copy

The film provides fascinating insight into Joe’s long career as a screenwriter up until 2004 – sexual positions are quaintly sketched in pencil on his scripts (an aspect Peggy glosses over) and it deals with the denouement to a sub-genre of artistic porn as the industry ushers in hardcore features by the mid 70s.  Strangely, these were to centre on male pleasure, with the ‘money shot’ (ejaculation) being the primary focus in a strange twist were females are the new ‘sex objects’ despite their emancipation in an increasingly permissive society.

The Sarnos is an important study of auteur-driven artistic porn genre but also a poignant portrait of the love story of Joe and Peggy and their remarkable artistic collaboration until his death in 2010. MT




Fandry (2013) 57th BFI London Film Festival 2013

Dir.: Nagraj Manjule

Cast: Somnath Avghade, Syraj Pawar, Kishon Kadan

India 2012, 105 min.

Manjule’s contemporary rural drama about a Dalit (untouchable) teenager Jabya is a simple but never simplistic affair. It shows that the caste system, even though officially abolished after independence, is still claiming its victims. Jabya is an intelligent boy, who would like to go to school, but the abject poverty of his family means that he has to spend many days helping his parents with their badly paid, but exhausting jobs. Somnath Avghade gives a spirited performance as Jabya, wandering around the country side with a young friend in search of the black sparrow, who would, if caught, give him magical powers.  These powers would help Jabya to conquer the girl he is in love with: Shalu, his fellow student, a member of a much higher cast, whom Jabya adores.

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The film is shown from Jabya’s perspective with lively colours. Long tracking shots dominate, the camera always in motion reflecting Jabya himself. The poverty of his family is shown in hues of brown and grey light, whilst the riches of the upper castes are shot in glaringly exotic primary colours.

After a series of personal setbacks, Jabya flees into a dream world where the magic power of the sparrow unites him with Shalu. But the reality is much more cruel: as the lowest of the low, his family is forced to hunt wild pigs, who disturb the religious ceremonies, since only they are allowed to touch animals considered unclean by the caste system. The rest of the school, including Shalu, watches the family haplessly chasing the pig. This derails the boy and is cleverly shown in two perspectives: the jeering crowd on the little hill follows a slapstick spectacle, whilst Jabya and his family are running with a tunnel vision.This degradation of all this is too much for Jabya and his shame turns into violent anger.

An important film, showing that the world of rural poverty still very much exists beyond the technological advancement of the new world of the Indian metropolis, or indeed, the pure spiritual world that so many Europeans hope to discover when they travel in search of mysticism. Andre  Simonoviescz





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