Posts Tagged ‘Marrakech Film Festival’

Las Ninas Bien | The Good Girls (2018) Mubi

Dir.: Alejandra Marquez Abella; Cast: Ilse Salas, Flavio Medina, Paulina Gaitan; Mexico 2018, 93 min.

Alejandra Marquez Abella’s flawed sophomore feature is a social anthropologist’s dream: based on characters by Guadelupe Loaeza, a group of bitchy competitive Mexican wives whose the crowning glory is having Julio Iglesias for dinner. Sofia, leads the cast of mere cyphers in an episodic narrative that drains out patience even with the modest running time.

Sofia (Salas) is desperate to deny her Latin American heritage. Sending her three children off to summer camp, she warns them “don’t hang out with Mexicans”. A European background is what she and her female rivals long for. In the social whirl, Sofia’s parties are epic productions,  funded by her husband Fernando (Medina) whose   family is of Spanish heritage. Everything is a competition for Sofia, the smallest bum note could lead to a loss of face among her female friends. But we are in the early 1980s, and the Mexican Peso suddenly bottoms out. As Sofia and her circle rely on imported goods, this is a major catastrophe all round. So when credit cards get politely refused and the servants don’t get paid, doom is imminent. To make matters worse, Sofia’s arch rival, the noveau-riche Ana Paula (Gaitan), is still quids in. Her default-position is resigned acceptance, but with the Peso tumbling further, even this seems beyond the pail.

Salas is always brilliant, cool and contained, she carries the film as much as possible. DoP Daniela Ludlow succeeds in conjuring up this lush environment of petty mini-me’s in meltdown, keeping everything close and personal, despite the widescreen format. As a chick-flick study of vanity and self-deceit this is promising but lacks emotional depth and an absorbing dramatic arc. AS

NOW ON MUBI

True History of the Kelly Gang (2019) ****

Dir: Justin Kurzel | Cast: George MacKay, Essie Davis, Nicholas Hoult, Thomasin McKenzie | Biopic 124′

Australian thrillers are usually brutal and anarchic, emblematic of the scorched earth savagery of their remote and often desiccated homeland. Justin (Snowtown) Kurzel’s latest foray into fiendishness is adapted by Shaun Grant from Peter Carey’s novel, and inspired by the infamous Ned Kelly, who raged through the bush in a melodramatic meltdown during 19th-century English colonial occupation. 

This incarnation of Kelly is a tightly muscled racier beast that Carey’s animal, bred out dysfunction to become a macho psychopath of the worst order, and obsessed by an abusive mother Ellen (Essie Davis) who sold him as an apprentice to local bandit Harry Power (a scabrous Russell Crowe ) who taught him the tricks of the trade. Kurzel excels in creating vicious villains. Here he shows us the how Ned Kelly (an outlandish George MacKay) became such a hell-raiser, through a serious of episodic accounts that link the past with his criminal activities as leader of the gang. These encompass a weirdly mixed-up sexual ambivalence and a predilection for homoeroticism and cross-dressing. 

Kelly emerges a weak-willed brothel-creeper from the outset, unable to avenge his mother’s sexual abuse at the hands of an English sergeant (Charlie Hunnam), and drawn to the company of other low-life members of the English regiment. One is Nicholas Hoult’s Constable Fitzpatrick who frequents a local brothel, where Kelly falls into the clutches of Mary (Thomasin McKenzie) and morphs into full-blown insurgency against the British (The Nightingale here we go again). And it’s at this stage that film starts to visually resonate with Kurzel’s 2015 outing  Macbeth and there are also echoes of Snowtown (2012) but it’s also here that is starts to unravel into something unhinged but also hypnotic, breaking free from its period drama into a psychedelic thriller.

Mesmerising for the most part, True History is an ultimately an uneven experience unable to maintain the sheer pace of its early scenes. But its vehemence, passion and visual allure burn bright, and the final part of the film descends into extraordinary surreal psychodrama. Kelly is a chameleon character who always knows where his bread is buttered, and is able to ingratiate himself with the right people at the right time – and George Mackay once again shows his amazing talents in this transformative role. A psychedelic and shatteringly violent experience but one that is compelling despite its flaws. MT

LIVE YOUTUBE Q&A WITH DIRECTOR & CAST 28 JUNE 2020

 

WITH DIRECTOR JUSTIN KURZEL

AND ACTORS GEORGE MACKAY, ESSIE DAVIS, AND EARL CAVE

 

Knives Out (2019) *** On Demand

Dir|Wri: Rian Johnson |Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Ana de Armas LaKeith Stanfield | Comedy Drama 130′

Rian Johnson excels in this crass but entertaining old-school whodunnit inspired by crime mistress Agatha Christie and dusted down in a sleek new format for the present day. It sees Daniel Craig’s dapper Deep South detective Benoit Blanc investigating the murder of powerful patriarch and best-selling author Harlan Thrombey (Plummer) who heads up a combative family in a Gothic Mansion, somewhere in wooded Massachussetts.

Never mind the head-spinning plot twists, the cast will keep you on your toes with their stinging repartee and back-biting banter: Toni Collette is particularly good as the hard-edged daughter Joni, and the stellar cast includes a frightening Jamie Leigh Curtis, a twinkly eyed Don Johnson and a pucker Christopher Plummer who gradually expose their hypocrisies over cocktails, very much shaken not stirred while Mr Bond puts his received pronunciation on the back burner for a Southern twang. Suave and sophisticated it may not be, but entertaining it certainly is. MT

NOW AVIALABLE FROM CURZON ON DEMAND |

 

 

 

Robert Redford | Conversations with | Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Sometimes I ask myself what’s missing. What’s missing now is the dreams and enjoyment of my childhood, the sense of wonder”

When Robert Redford was growing up in small-town California it was wartime and there was no television back then, only radio. “The first movie I saw was a Walt Disney. The dream was to be able to walk to a neighbourhood theatre to see it on the big screen – I could hardly wait for the weekend. What I miss with all these screening services and advanced technology is the time when you would walk into that cinema, into the darkness with all the energy of all these people around you, and the magic was seeing things on the big screen”.

Talking during the ‘Marrakech Conversations with’ series at this year’s 18th edition, Redford looks frail but contemplative as he casts his mind back to his first cinema memories.  “The idea of being an actor was the sense of freedom, the freedom to act someone else. And if you were paying attention you would notice certain types of people. And you could embody these people and bring that forward as an art form. And acting is very much an art form”.

During his fifty years in the business, Redford has always tried to look forward, only looking back if it helped in the story telling. One of his favourite authors is Scott Fitzgerald and he had the pleasure in 1974 to be a part of that story with his film version of The Great Gatsby where he plays the Jay Gatsby in love with Mia Farrow’s Daisy. There’s a great line where Nick Carraway notices Gatsby’s great love of the past, when he’s discussing with Daisy after the big party. And she says: “Gatsby you can’t repeat the past. And Gatsby answers: “of course you can”.

Redford was a voracious reader as a young man. The writers that influenced him were Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway – ‘when he wasn’t being too macho’ – and J D Salinger. Many of the films he went on to direct look at the past of America. But he says: “When I think about my country, it’s hard not to be critical because during the war when I was about five years old, I remember the energy, when everyone was getting together for the greater good (to fight Fascism in Nazi Germany). We all came together in unison, in an act that would bind us together in something that was going to be good for our country. I didn’t really understand what that was, but it just felt good. That was my memory of the Second World War, that and the memory of going to the movie theatre, particularly if it was something by Walt Disney”. We are now in dark times and I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone reading the news that there’s a dark wind blowing through all the countries. And in America I see so many of our liberties threatened”.

The most important piece of advice he can give to young actors nowadays is to ‘pay attention’. ” You often hear the phrase: ‘God is in the details’, if that’s true then I myself should also be paying more attention. And so when I’m walking in my place in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I’m often so busy thinking ahead, that I don’t notice what is actually in front of me. And so I’d think the best advice it to see what you’ve actually got in front of you”.

Redford finds it sad when a lot of good directors don’t get attention. “Some directors work is very one-dimensional, it’s good but it’s always the same group of people, the same themes” One director who he feels was very side-lined was George Ray Hill. “he was all over the map, if you look at his biography, and I’m sad not many people have, he rises up to the top. If you think about Butch Cassidy, and you look at The Sting, he’s never really got much credit. It makes me kinda sad.”

When he was getting ready to make Butch Cassidy Redford had just come out of a comedy on the stage in New York. He was about 28 0r 29 and Paul Newman was the confirmed star of the film, all set to play The Sundance Kid, and Redford Butch Cassidy in account of his previous comedy role. But the part that interested him was actually The Sundance Kid. So he explained this to Ray Hill when they met in a bar in New York’s Third Avenue. He wanted to play the Kid based on his own experience and his sensibility of feeling like an outlaw for most of his life. Ray Hill knew Paul Newman very well, and he knew he was much more like Butch Cassidy – he was an upbeat guy. George Ray Hill appreciated the situation and turned it all around. Newman and Redford became close friends. At the time Paul Newman was highly considered, he was 42 whereas Redford was only 29. The studio didn’t really want Redford in the film and Ray Hill did. So finally Newman decided to support Redford and as a result he was always grateful to him. “Paul was always a cool guy, chewing gum and smoking cigarettes and he suited the part of Butch Cassidy, but what many critics missed was that in our following film The Sting the roles were completely reversed. In Butch Cassidy I played the cool guy, and he played the happy go lucky guy. In The Sting he was the cool guy and I was the happy go lucky guy. No one’s picked that up.”

When asked what he thought about Sydney Pollack’s maxim that “everything is political, even love” Redford raises a laugh. “Well you’ll have to ask Sydney about that, but you can’t because he’s dead”. Redford enjoyed a close friendship with Sydney Pollack. The two developed a mutual trust because they had both been actors, although Pollack worked best when he was in control. The relationship drifted apart when “Pollack realised he could not just be a director, he could be a mogul in control of a studio, and he started to drift out of that zone, and I don’t think he was entirely happy but it had a lot to do with growing up in a Mid Western town and from under-privilege. He was aiming very high and I think he saw his way forward as being in control of everything”.

In Sydney Pollack’s political thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975) Redford plays a CIA character who is trying and get to the truth when he finds all his co-workers dead on returning to his office. His character Turner asks: “Who can we trust to get to the truth? There’s a story to telling the truth. But is it a true story?. I’m not so sure”. Nowadays it’s getting more difficult to get the truth everywhere in the world”. You have to trust your faith and your instincts. But you don’t really know. Who can you really trust?. Three Days ends with a question, rather than an answer. And that’s very relevant still today. Originally adapted from James Grady’s book Six Days of the Condor, when asked why the film had been renamed Three Days of the Condor he replies: “it was about budget”. Also cutting down the time frame, tightened the tension.

In The Company You Keep (2012) trust and the search for the truth are also central themes. The bottom line here is again: “Who can you really trust to give you the truth. Someone isn’t telling the truth and you have to find out who and why?

Redford claims to be very focused on being socially conscious. And by this he means being aware of what’s going on on the political front. He very much believes in questioning the truth and firmly relies on good journalism to do so – The New York Times is a trusted source – as a way of providing a counterbalance to politicians and leaders who are often spinning their own story. Being socially aware for him is all about questioning the truth and what’s out there. In The Company he plays a character who firmly questions the truth and is prepared to be flexible in that goal, whereas his co-star Julie Christie plays a radical who actually hides from the truth hoping it will change. Their feisty dynamic provides the dramatic grist a story about investigative journalism set during the 1970s.

So what does freedom mean to Robert Redford? When scoping it out he comes up with the counterintuitive position that freedom often fails to offer a better alternative. “if you take the position that you have to get away from anything you’re given, you might be losing something really valuable”. There’s a great deal of dramatic potential to be mined from seeking the truth. And this premise has driven many of his films as a director.

In Lions for Lambs (2007) Redford explores the aftermath of Afghanistan through three stories involving those affected. One is an angry young student played by Andrew Garfield. “Are young people more self-centred and less engaged politically than the older generation were in their day? Redford ponders: “Many of them are angry. But if you assume – as Andy Garfield’s character did that being sceptical or convinced that everything is corrupt is a very one note position, but it doesn’t actually make it the truth. The truth is actually more complicated than that: Being radical is actually being very narrow-minded. Life is not just one dimension”. And the tension between Garfield’s narrow-minded character and the professor mines that dramatic tension through the movie.”

Although Redford describes himself as being more political during the Vietnam war years, he then became more self-absorbed when he got back to his acting career. But the art form of directing makes a worthy subject of politics and he started to re-engage when he started making films. “Art in a broad sense is a useful way to criticise society and maintain a balance between the power base. Art provides another point of view to correct extremes and pioneer a way forward for the truth”.

When Redford saw a documentary made by D A Pennebaker, known for his cinema verite approach to filmmaking, this inspired him in directing his own films. “They went inside their subject matter with the camera, rather than simply observing it from the outside, bringing some real dramatic tension to the form”. And so this was the approach Redford adopted when he started filming. When asked if he finds it easier to direct or act, Redford claims it all comes down to control. Also working as an artist sketching people he met on his travels in Europe helped tremendously to shape his filmmaking projects. “At that time there was a great deal of anger towards America and so I ceased to engage with people and used my sketchbook as a companion and to storyboard ideas and ‘get in the picture. being on the outside looking in and also on the inside”.

Robert Redford has now started to move back into sketching and drawing and away from filmmaking, but makes an acute observation on his change of direction:. “The trouble with retiring is that you should never announce it, otherwise people start saying – Oh could you just do this, or could you just do that – you should just retire”. However he is still working on a project which was has been in development for a few years. “It’s called 109 East Palace ” and it’s about an address in New Mexico where the atomic bomb was developed, and Oppenheimer was behind it. So I thought it was just such a great story, about the inventor of the atomic bomb. But because he was a Communist and this was the McCarthy era during the 1950s, everything was very extreme and right wing. Although Oppenheimer was a hero,  they (the authorities) went after him. What interests me is how quickly things can change because of the political climate”. He’s still deciding how he wants to approach the endeavour. “I believe in risk, and I believe that not taking a risk is a risk. It’s the only thing that pushes you forward. Because you don’t know where that going to lead you. Otherwise you will become stagnant. But it’s important to study the reasons why you want to pursue the risky strategy”. He also enjoys a challenge playing a character who is not popular and whose point of view is isolated from the mainstream “because it involves really committing to the role, and seeing it forward successfully. If you are going to play a part, you really have to inhabit that character, and it’s a risk because you can get lost.”

Robert Redford has never considered himself a Hollywood actor. “I grew up in Los Angeles, I didn’t grow up in Hollywood and I’ve never had that much regard for Hollywood. I wanted to be a serious actor and that started in New York in the theatre and I wanted to see where that led, and it led me back to Los Angeles as a filmmaker”.

When he decided to set up Sundance his goal was very simple: “Celebrating people who don’t get celebrated. Celebrating people who are either being ignored or undiscovered. Who deserve to be discovered. When I started Sundance back in the 1980s there were hundreds of independent films but they had no traction, there was no real category. It was still just mainstream films. Because I was in the mainstream I was very tuned into the idea of being independent. I was in the studio system but there was a whole world out there and I wanted to give it a chance. I wanted to support independent film with this non-profit institute called Sundance to support the stories and talent out there. ”

Robert Redford CONVERSATIONS WITH | MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2019 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marrakech Film Festival | Awards and Winners 2019

A unanimous jury headed by Tilda  Swinton awarded this year’s Etoile d’Or for best film to Colombia’s Valley of Souls directed by Nicolás Rincón Grille. The visually alluring but ultimately devastating human story concerns a tragic era in Colombia’s history back in 2002 and features locals affected by the event.

The Jury, who according to Tilda would “part as friends for life” awarded their own Prize, ex aequo, to Saudi Arabian family drama Last Visit by Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan, and Chinese feature Mosaic Portrait by Zhai Yixiang that aimed to raise awareness of the recent political turmoil through a girl’s experience at college.

Tunisian Ala Eddine Slim won Best Director for his visually striking Tlamess. The inspirational and largely existential piece was a love letter to everyone’s hopes and dreams.

In another ex aequo gesture the jury awarded Best female actor to the British actors Nichola Burley and Roxanne Scrimshaw who starred in yet another slice of British working class tragedy Lynn + Lucy.” And of course the winner had to cry to show her appreciation.

Ben Mendelsohn gamely accepted the Best Actor award on behalf of his co-star Australian actor Toby Wallace in Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth. The feature deals with the tricky theme of drug addiction which is something very close to Mendelsohn’s own heart. 

This year’s festival once again hosted some memorable “conversations with” although Francois Busnel’s poor command of English and facile line of questioning left a lot to be desired in interviewing Robert Redford, who behaved like the perfect gentleman despite the inane approach:  Besnel’s special subject is literature not film, so quite why he was chosen to moderate was anyone’s guess. Redford made his own personal tribute to George Roy Hill whose career he felt had been underestimated and rather side-lined. French director Bertrand Tavernier received his lifelong tribute with customary thoughtfulness and spoke of the extraordinary contribution European émigrés such as Otto Preminger, had made to Hollywood cinema. A selection of his own features were screened during the festival including the prescient 1988 feature Death Watch with its timely themes of fake news and social isolation. 

Gillian Armstrong was one of the most impressive filmmakers talking on the subject of “unconscious bias” and encouraging women to “bluff more” – then she added “sorry, men”.

Harvey Keitel gave a hilariously entertaining conversation piece full of anecdotes and memories of his time with Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, who received tributes at last year’s festival.

The Australian retrospective was well received and showed how films can age as well as vintage wine. Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career was a case in point, although Bruce Beresford’s Black Robe felt more dated with its Colonialist theme arguably not able to reach more modern audiences.

Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra also made a flying visit offering traction with her appeal to an international fanbase, and an open air screening of her film Bajirao Mastani played at the city’s Jemaa el Fna square

In his strong tenure as artistic director Christoph Terhechte has managed to boost public attendance, and he sadly steps down early to move on to his new post at Doc Leipzig, for personal reasons.  

Marrakech takes pride in its 11th Continent sidebar which showcases more edgy and avantgarde international fare –  rather like the Horizons section of Venice Film Festival. Standouts here were the outré Czech Slovac documentary Silent Days and Denis Cote’s Berlinale drama Ghost Town Anthology 

Marrakech Film Festival also has a mission to promote African and Middle Eastern cinema and more than a third of the 65 new films came from this origin. On the home front, two Moroccan films were screened in the main programme: Maryam Touzani’s feature debut Adam, in the gala section, and Alaa Eddine Aljem’s The Unknown Saint, which competed in Official Selection.

In the Atlas Workshops, Marrakech awards films for other criteria, other than just acting and directing, and here some Moroccan films won awards. ‘Zanka Contact,” by Ismaël el Iraki, won the second prize in the post-production competition, and “The Original Lie,” by Asmae El Moudir, won the second prize in the development competition. MT

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Tlamess (2019) *** Best Director | Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir: Ala Eddine Slim |Cast: Abdullah Miniawy, Souhir Ben Amara, Khaled Ben Aissa Tunisia/France |121′.

Tunisian director Ala Eddine Slim follows his striking cult debut The Last of Us with another visually alluring reverie that is rather too opaque for its own good. Verging on the biblical, it once again contemplates themes of isolation and our relationship with nature. The evocative storyline focuses on a loner caught up in the wanderlust of his desert surroundings in a atmospheric soundscape created by Oiseaux Tempete with mesmerising art direction from Malek Gnaoui and  imaginative camerawork by Amine Messadi.

S (Miniawy) is a lieutenant in the army. State terrorism is the order of the day and we witness a brutal suicide. After hearing about the death of his mother S is overcome by grief and absconds from his army service to go  home, becoming Tunisia’s most wanted man. S soon meets the newly pregnant F (Amara), a bored and unhappy housewife left alone in luxury surroundings while her rich husband gads off around the world. The relationship develops into something more, F enjoying the wilderness much more than her pampered home.

The pair communicate only with their eyes, these extreme close-ups inscribed with Arabic are an expression of intimacy, the motives being fear, desperation and a new found equilibrium on F’s part. The monolith in the forest is a nod to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Full Metal Jacket is also quoted in the military scenes. Slim uses extreme contrasts: light and dark, sound and silence, open spaces versus claustrophobia, tradition collides with modernity Many of the protagonists are mute, Slim drawing much from silent cinema, the characters whirl through time and space in this hostile terrain. Tlamess is a visual triumph, leaving the audience much room for interpretation.

Marrakech Film Festival 2019 | WINNER BEST DIRECTOR 

Valley of Souls (2019) MUBI

Dir|Wri: Nicolás Rincón Gille | Doc 136′ | Columbia, Belgium

Valley of Souls revisits a devastating chapter in Colombian history when locals were killed or forced out of their own country by right-wing militia. Belgian director Nicolás Rincón Gille makes the social realist drama even more haunting by casting Colombians who were directly affected by the tragedy back in 2002.

This Neo-Western sees its hero Jose on a quest for the truth, his striking features and epic intensity burning fearlessly against the rain forest and riverbanks of this subtropical paradise.

Jose has returned from a day’s fishing to discover the forces have killed his two sons Rafaele and Dionisio, and thrown their bodies into the river. These thugs are known locally as the United Self-Defenders of Colombia (AUC) – but worse – they have sprayed the slogan “Death and Purification” onto Jose’s fishing hut.

Honourable in the face of anger and sadness, Jose must find their bodies and give them a decent Christian burial. So he sets off fearlessly into the unknown on a journey that some may find rather too slow-burning, but echoes of Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent and even Argentinian drama Rojo are clearly felt. Survival with be difficult in this hostile territory and, even if he finds his children, removing their bodies from the water is an act punishable by death. The river he once loved and relied upon for his livelihood is now transformed into a place of horror and mourning and the macabre backdrop to his sons’ final moments.

He finds Rafael very soon after setting off and the young man’s body becomes a weirdly comforting companion in his canoe as he continues his odyssey into the heart of darkness. One encounter sees him bravely confronting two violent paramilitaries who goad him into stripping the hapless body of a dead friend of his, just to give them the watch and necklace. Another finds him face to face with the head honcho who force feeds him a thin soup until he manages to slip away as the soldiers are celebrating a win for their sporting hero on TV.

D0P Juan Sarmiento G. shoots on an Arri mini Alexa his magnificent widescreen images doing justice to the enormity of the situation and offering up a visual masterpiece even when the story starts to slow down midway.

But Jose is certainly a tragic hero who perseveres indomitably even when this involves digging up an entire graveyard of fresh corpses to see if his son is amongst them. Naturally, this is done with gravity and respect; he even uses his own green and yellow Brazilian football T-shirt as a shroud in an act that carries with it an almost poetic sense of dignity.

Colombian cinema has really taken off recently and Valley of Souls is just another in the vast wealth of films coming out of South America today. MT

ON MUBI 15 APRIL 2021 | MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Winner ETOILE D’OR 2019

Mickey and the Bear (2019) *** Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir/Wri: Annabelle Attanasio Cast: Camila Morrone, James Badge Dale, Calvin Demba, Ben Rosenfield, Rebecca Henderson, Donna Davis, Ralph Villa | US Drama

Camila Morrone is impressive as a conflicted girl forced kicking and screaming into womanhood in this tender and richly textured first feature from actor turned director Annabelle Attanasio

Father and daughter relationships can be challenging especially when the dad has a checkered past of drug abuse and drinking. Mickey is an 18 year old in a fraught relationship with her father Hank an Iraqi war veteran who is still on the bottle, Mickey keeping him on the straight and narrow and dealing with his occasional lapses. The two live in a trailer big country Montana where Mickey works part-time in a taxidermists and widowed Hank is now retired and mooches around in a semi-permanent fog, sometimes confusing Mickey with his late wife.

Attanasio’s nuanced characters have unpredictable edges and make this drama the success that it is. Father and daughter have a joint bereavement that binds them together and somehow they rub along although sparks occasionally fly. And Hank has a habit of hiding from reality.

Mickey’s boyfriend, Aron (Ben Rosenfield), is the weak link character-wise. A controlling whinger hooked on his ability to win Mickey back whenever she tries to leave him, while. she’s applied to college in San Diego in a bid to make something of the future, Aron only sees them settling down with kids. But then she meets aspiring musician Wyatt and suddenly Mickey’s head is filled with new ideas in a story that doesn’t go where you think it might. And Mickey soon finds herself struggling with two unstable males and a disastrous bear-hunting episode, not to mention an anaconda. DP Conor Murphy captures the lyrical journey with some imaginative camerawork and Brian McOmber and Angel Deradoorian’s soundscape echoing the highs and lows of the characters’ emotional journey along with a well-chosen musical selection, and some quiet moments too. MT

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2019

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Luca Guadagnino | Marrakech Film Festival 2019

‘Do it or Die’ is Guadagnino’s motto. He never has a plan B. Even with some heavyweight hits behind him Guadagnino still feels he has a ‘bombastic gorilla’ approach to things rather than a calm confidence. 

Born in Palermo of an Algerian mother, Luca Guadagnino (1971*) spent his early life in Ethiopia where his first experience of the cinema was watching David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia. He knew immediately that he wanted to be a film director, but had no formal idea of how this was going to happen. He approached cinema is a very haphazard way without any formal idea of what he wanted to see and had no academic reflection of cinema. A particular favourite was Nagisa Oshima’s Max Mon Amour (1986) but gradually by watching everything he could lay his hands on came a realisation of how he should approach his own career as a director. So cinema started as a way to understand himself and for many years he was still trying to find himself through film. As a director he is convinced that cinema is about form. And the form is the perspective of the filmmaker. Cinema is the act of the auteur; the person who brings their own version of the story to the film. So a boring storyline about a woman who works as a prostitute becomes a profound reflection of her way of being and her importance in the world. There is a massive difference between the story and the way you tell it.

The Protagonists (1999) was his first feature and he spent a great deal of time trying to meet and persuade the main character Tilda Swinton to be part of it all. It sees an Italian movie crew fetching up in London to make a documentary about a murder case that took place a few years before. Guadagnino expresses his profound feelings about Tilda: “You love Tilda because you can’t not love her when you meet her as a person. Her joy and her work as an artist is inspiring”. Derek Jarman’s Orlando (1992) was the film that first brought Tilda to his attention.

Derek Jarman would prove to be a strong influence in his early days as a director. He met Jarman in London and found in him a level of provocativeness and yet deep wells of humanity that really appealed to his idea of cinema at the time. Jarman’s way of putting material on the screen was as exciting and seductive as anything he’d seen in Hollywood at the time. He’d seen Tilda as a regular character in Jarman’s movies such as Caravaggio and so by the time he eventually met the actress he was already in love with the idea of casting her in his owns films. When Tilda arrived in Italy to present a series on underground filmmakers, Guadagnino had already developed a profound connection with her work as an actress. She was opposed to the mainstream cinema of the UK at that time, and it was all very polemic. Six months after the death of Jarman the two met and they are still working together to this day.

Tilda Swinton: The Love Factory saw the two working together again. Alberto Barbera supported this short documentary at the Venice Film Festival in 2002, but the film was slated by the critics, who walked out in flocks. Rather than being upset Guadagnino used this as a useful way to reflect back on his film and its possible flaws. And this experience would go on to serve as an antidote against an inflated ego.

Guadagnino returns regularly to making shorts and doesn’t want to be bound to a specific medium or feature length idea. If he has a creative impulse, then he puts it on film. In I Am Love (2009) his next significant feature, Tilda Swinton stars as Emma who has left her home in Russia to live with her husband, a powerful industrialist in Italy. She becomes the respected mother of three, but feels unfulfilled in this closeted environment and is suddenly drawn to Antonio, a talented chef who she meets through her son, with devastating consequences.

Music plays a crucial part in Guadagnino’s cinema. When he was filming Melissa P,  a drama exploring a young woman’s sexual awakening, he had the chance to work with the legendary producer Gareth Williams who introduced him to the American minimalist composer John Adams. Adams took his inspiration from Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann. Adams’ triumphant music went on to shape Melissa P. And in the same way, Adams’ symphonic music compliments the final cataclysmic scenes of I Am Love. In his latest film Suspiria (2018) music and dance also play a vital part. A darkness swirls at the centre of a world-renowned dance company and one that will engulf the artistic director, an ambitious young dancer played by Dakota Johnson.

In Call Me By Your Name (2017) Guadagnino works with James Ivory on a script which starts off by being faithful to Andre Aciman’s book, although then there are significant changes. He transposes the action to the seaside instead of the countryside, and sets the story in 1983 instead of 1987. But the narrative is extremely fateful and once again dance plays a part, in a much more subtle and metaphorical way. The so-called ‘forbidden’ dance at its core gives Elio (Armie Hammer) a chance to say what he needs to say to Oliver Timothee Chalamet). Something inevitable happens in their relationship, and this has to come out into the open. So actually the ‘dance’ round the statue becomes about revealing rather than hiding their personal story. And this is brought out into the open in their striking facial expressions and body language. Guadagnino has to see his actors actually on set before he decides how he shoots the scene. He wanted Timothee to be a sexually fluid young guy who is able to break away from being too academic. In other words, he didn’t want Freddy from Room with a View.  

Luca Guadagnino | Marrakech Film Festival 2019 

 

 

 

 

Last Visit | Akher Ziyarah (2019) **** Prix du Jury Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan; Cast: Mousaed Khaled, Fahad Alghurariy, Osama Alqess, Abduallah Alfahad; Saudi-Arabia 2019, 74 min.

Times are changing in Riyadh. Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan’s realist portrait of father and son conflict serves as a moving metaphor for the underlying clash between past and present in the Arab world.

Nasser (Alquess) is a respectable middle-aged business man who has moved with the times in Riyadh. His teenage son Waleed (Alfahad) is introvert, sullen and – like most teenagers – critical of his father. But his grandfather’s sudden illness causes him to take stock of his life back in the village where his father grew up. Waleed is passive-aggressive, and initially makes it clear – without words – that he’d rather be anywhere else than at his grandfather’s bedside. When he arrives in the village with his father, there is a police roadblock – several days previously a young boy disappeared from his home and the search for him has so far proved unsuccessful. Waleed is introduced to his uncles and his cousin Faisal (Alshahrani) for the first time. The family is gathered around the dying patriarch, interrupting the wake only for prayers. Nasser expects Waleed to join in but the boy feels the need to pose as the ‘obedient son’ overbearing. His upbringing has been traditional, although their life in Riyadh is secular. In some ways this has been a poisoned chalice, his cousin seems to be having a more entertaining time in the countryside but there are clearly differences. And soon enough Waleed discovers past traumas from his father’s life in the village as the boy’s disappearance  comes to a head making their drive back to Riyadh a morose one.

DoP Amine Messadi pans faces and objects with great care reflecting the mens’ fleeting thoughts and emotions in this documentary-style drama, where the camera is on the outside, observing. Just before Waleed and Nasser leave, the camera traces back symbolically over a few cracks in the room they shared – this and the total absence of women works as a solemn critique of a society caught between a religious yesterday and a commercial present. Significantly too, Aldhabaan keeps dialogue to a minimum, only the confrontation between father and son burns bitterly in this sombre and tight-lipped drama. AS

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL | PRIX DU JURY | GOLDEN STAR AWARD 2019

 

Greta Scacchi | Tribute to Australian Cinema | Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Born in Milan, Italian Australian actor Greta Scacchi studied at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School before beginning a sustained and successful career on stage and screen. The early 1980s was a particularly prolific time when she made four films in fifteen months. Her most iconic roll is possibly as Olivia in Merchant Ivory’s Heat and Dust in 1983, and she went on to star in Michael Radford’s White Mischief three years later. International film work beckoned with The Coca Cola Kid (1985)), Three Sisters (1988) and Alan J Pakula’s Presumed Innocent (1990) when she starred alongside Harrison Ford. Gillian Armstrong’s Fires Within (1991) allowed her to play alongside her then partner Vincent D’Onofrio. Robert Altman’s The Player followed and English classic The Browning Version based on Terence Rattigan’s play. Most recently Scacchi appears in Rachel Ward’s Palm Beach (2019) and Colombian director Ciro Guerra’s Colonial drama Waiting for the Barbarians (2019) which unites Greta Scacchi with actor Mark Rylance. She also appears in Mikhael Hers’ French family drama Amanda. MT

Marrakech Film Festival | TRIBUTE TO AUSTRALIAN FILM 2019

A Son (2019) ****

Dir: Mehdi Barsaoui | Cast: Sami Bouajila, Najla Ben Abdallah, Youssef Khemiri, Noomen Hamda, Slah Msadda | Drama, 95′

Meriem and her husband Fares seem to have it all – a carefree lifestyle, supportive friends and most of all a lovely little boy, Aziz. Meriem has just been promoted in her managerial job for a Human Resources conglomerate. Life is sweet for this privileged couple. Until tragedy strikes during their drive back from a day out in the countryside. Shots are fired from nowhere and hit the family car, amid shouts of “Allah Akhbar”. Aziz is injured. A blinding rush to the nearest hospital sees the tone shift from upbeat breeziness to heart-pumping terror.

Mehdi Barsaoui’s tense and tightly scripted melodrama makes for a stunning debut feature and subverts our expectations. Films about terrorist attacks are usually set in non-Arab countries so this brave attempt to stage a terror attack in a  Muslim country show courage and a innovation on the part of this Tunisian director, and won him the Orizzonti award for best director at Venice 2019.

But what happens next is both shocking and bewildering. The trauma of Aziz fighting life is compounded by a startling revelation that sends the family into meltdown. Blood tests to work out which parent is most suited to give the child a transfusion reveal that Fares can’t possibly be Aziz’s biological father. Naturally this is devastating: Meriem is aware of her infidelity during a difficult time in their marriage but she had no idea Aziz was not her husband’s child and so she is forced to keep this dreadful fact to herself. This complicates the already fraught scenario as Islamic law forbids organ donations from outside the nuclear family. A long waiting list is their only option as the gruelling nightmare unfolds.

At this point a rather dubious character enters the fray. Mr. Choukri (Slah Msaddak) is the sort of man you wouldn’t trust to post a letter but he attempts to support Fares forcing him into an intractable dilemma and one that money will not necessarily solve. A excellent cast act out this remarkable debut but Bouajila is particularly strong as a successful man of integrity whose masculinity is challenged by a seemingly impossible set of circumstances. MT

Marrakech Film Festival 2019

 

Scattered Night (2019) **** Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir: Sol Kim and Jihyoung Lee | S. Korea dram 90′

Sol Kim and Jihyoung Lee’s first film captures the trauma of family break-up seen through the eyes of two small children in this austere cinema verite drama that gradually builds into a convincing conclusion.

Little Seung-ah Moon (Sumin) is at the centre of it all. Barely ten, she intuitively taps into the imploding relationship of her increasingly alienated parents, searching in vain for guidance, assurance or a hint of stability as she struggles to understand how her parents still care for each other but now want the family to live apart. The questions she asks are basic and natural, but she never gets a proper replay, let alone any love or attention – apart from the occasional platitude and a throwaway comment: “you’ll understand one day”.

Scattered Night is an intense experience, the camera never leaving the child’s face through its entire running time in a compelling natural performance for one so young and vulnerable as Seung-ah Moon. But the filmmakers are not interested in Sumin’s ordinary parents, who carry their own emotional baggage from the past, influenced by society’s expectations of them, fleshed out in a sequence where grandma comes to stay. The focus here is the Sumin (Moon Seung- a) and her brother Jinho (Choi Junwoo) who are barely coping with the emotional confusion of the separation. Using sustained takes and languid pacing the filmmakers carefully observe the children’s reactions to their parent’s non-committal body language, avoiding sentimentality or melodrama in crafting a subtle and resonant snapshot that shares its tragic story full of complexity, uncertainty and pain. MT

SCATTERED NIGHT | Marrakech Film Festival 2019 

 

Conversation with Harvey Keitel | Marrakech Film Festival 2019

“Stanislavsky said there are no small parts, only small actors”. Harvey Keitel proved this when he took the ‘unadvertised lead’ with a few lines and made it into a memorable one as ‘a pimp standing in the doorway’ in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Scorsese had wanted him to be the campaign worker, but he took his cue from years of living in Hell’s Kitchen amongst the drug traffickers and sex workers of the area. Spending two weeks learning to be the pimp after having first playing the girl during rehearsals the words of the real life pimp still send chills down his body: “Remember. You love her”

Later with Jody he made up the moves they danced together, and he accidentally met his father in the street while dressed in drag to see if his outfit passed muster. His father’s only comment was: “Actor smacktor – get yourself a job so you can have two weeks holiday in Coney Island”.

Well known as a long term friend and collaborator of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel was born across the river from the city in Brooklyn in 1939. Noted for his roles in arthouse fare such as Jane Campion’s The Piano, Ridley Scott’s The Duellists and Bertrand Tavernier’s Earth Watch as well as his appearances in hard-boiled US thrillers: Reservoir Dogs, Mean Streets and Bad Lieutenant, he has always tried to avoid commercial directors but has never won an Oscar despite many nominations and 27 screen awards for some 160 films he has starred in.
Harvey Keitel first realised that acting was to be his career when he started to work off Broadway in Greenwich Village, where he was advised to move from Brooklyn from the City. His father had advised him to ‘get a proper job’ but his goal was to make money from his craft and the desire to act eventually came after  three years of being in the Marines and feeling an aimlessness when he returned to Coney Island.
Martin Scorsese was the first director he made a film with. They both share the same objective and have got on like a house on fire since meeting when Scorsese was at the NYU. At the time Keitel was looking to get into acting and Scorsese was also just starting out and looking for actors to join him in his TV series Who’s That Knocking at My Door, so Keitel went along for an audition. Although no one was getting paid, he was keen on the experience and was short-listed for the lead role. Desperately needing the part, he was ushered into a small room where a guy at desk asked him to sit down. There were no introductions and eventually, Harvey, objecting to the man’s total lack of politeness told him: “Fuck you”. A fight then developed and Marty was forced to break it up. Naturally he got the part for entering into the spirit at the audition. “When you’re doing an improvisation with an actor, it’s a good idea to let him know that”, Keitel remarked later. The two then became life-long buddies in a career that would span over 60 years, their latest film together is The Irishman.
Another actor who had a great influence on him at the start of his career Anthony Manino who invited him to count all the coat hangers in a room where he went for an audition. Finding this a bizarre and fruitless idea, Keitel simple skimmed over the hangers and gave a nominal answer to Manino’s question. The response has remained with him every since and he always relays it to young actors he meets practising their craft at the Lee Strasberg’s Actors’ Studio starting out on their career: “Acting is doing things truthfully, with a purpose”.
When asked what he expects from a director, Keitel claims he just likes them: “to shut the fuck up and turn the camera on”. And although he told his agent he didn’t want to work for a commercial director he did go on eventually to collaborate successfully with Ridley Scott on The Duellists in 1977.
Robert De Niro became another close friend when the two met at the Actors’ Studio and intuitively knew they would get on before they even spoke to each other. The went on to star together in Mean Streets, and Taxi Driver. His most difficult experience on these two movies was ‘not getting paid, and trying to get paid’, although he did get a minimal fee for Mean Streets. Keitel actually approached De Niro on behalf of Scorsese to get the two together, and Johnny Boy was the result for De Niro. The three of them now often eat together, corn beef sandwiches on rye.
But Europe would beckon and Bertrand Tavernier would become a close collaborator and a friend. In his early thirties he went to see Tavernier’s The Watchmaker of St Paul (1974) and was amazed when the director offered him a part in Death Watch (1980) several years later. It was a prescient film that still resonates today with its themes of fake news and old age isolation. Keitel is still so moved by his role as a man who becomes blind after falling for Romy Schneider’s tragic central character, he is unable to even talk about it.
Playing Judas in Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ made him discover his own journey with God and he was emotionally moved by the suffering of the other characters, and particularly Nikos Kasantzakis who was actually ex-communicated for writing the book from which the film gets its inspiration, Paul Schrader adapting the script. It was also his first experience in Morocco and the cast and crew lived in a rambling mountain village, infested with insects, another element that added grist to Keitel’s performance.
Abel Ferrara invited him to play his first lead in his film Bad Lieutenant in 1992. But because the script was so threadbare, Keitel first chucked it in the bin, then decided to give it a chance, and went on to win Best Male Lead at the Independent Spirit Awards.
Then came Quentin Tarantino who had studied acting but had never directed a roll of film when he approached Keitel to work on Reservoir Dogs in the same year. Keitel claimed he had a strange feeling when reading the script but the film overreached his expectations, the two working perfectly together and sharing the same acting background. He particularly admired the way Tarantino does his own sound effects during filming, and edits on the trot.
The same weird feeling came when Jane Campion asked him to star as his first romantic lead in The Piano a year later. When asked how it felt to play the romantic lead and become the object of desire for the first time in his life he replied: “I already have, in my acting class”. He adds: “Jane Campion could film a chaise longue and it would become an object of desire”. But his best memory of that film was Holly Hunter playing her own piano. “It was a fantasy” MT
IN CONVERSATION |  Harvey Keitel | Marrakech Film Festival 2019
Just Noise (2020) Harvey Keitel stars in David Ferrario’s historical drama.

Bertrand Tavernier Tribute | 1941-2021

In December 2019 Marrakech Film Festival paid tribute to the career of noted French film director, agent, critic and producer Bertrand Tavernier – who has died at 79 – with an expansive retrospective of his films in the presence of the director himself.

Ironically, Tavernier is perhaps best known for his 1980 feature Death Watch (La Mort en Direct), a drama set in the future, when death has become very rare. It tells the story of Katherine (Romy Schneider) who finds she has an incurable disease. NTV, a major television network headed by the unscrupulous Vincent Ferriman (Harry Dean Stanton), orders cameraman Roddy (Harvey Keitel), a casual acquaintance of Katherine, to film her last days via an implanted camera/transmitter behind his eyes. When Roddy sees a live-show of Katherine on TV, he is so disgusted with himself he owns up to Katherine. But there’s a twist. The implants will lead to blindness if Roddy goes through long periods of darkness, so he can only sleep for a short bursts, and has to carry a flashlight all the time. Engulfed by his feelings for Katherine’s impending death, he suffers nervous a breakdown and loses his flashlight. When Katherine finds it, she shines it in his eyes, but he is already blind. The two visit Katherine’s estranged husband Gerald (a masterful Max von Sydow), who tells Katherine there has been a mistake and pleads with her to reconsider their relationship. But Katherine takes an overdose instead and dies, leaving Roddy and Gerald furious, wanting to kill Ferriman.

Tavernier started life as a film critic for both Cahiers du Cinema and Positif between 1961 and 1971, after having given up on his law studies in Lyon. In his documentary My Journey through French Cinema (2016) he talks about this time casting a rather uncomplimentary light on Cahiers’ writers turned filmmakers: “They were great self-promoters, because they had been journalists, and they convinced Americans they were left-wing, despite writing for right-wing publications. Godard was not a leftist, he was one of the worst contemporary tyrants”. To be fair, Tavernier also accused compatriot filmmaker Jacques Becker (Le Trou) of being a control freak “even telling the composer of the music, which notes to avoid”.

Many of Tavernier’s features are about loneliness. In his 1976 drama The Judge and The Assassin (1976), his regular collaborator Philippe Noiret is Judge Rousseau, who holds the fate of serial killer Bouvier (Michel Galabru) in his hands. Both men change during the process with Bouvier being able to talk about the process which made him kill children. Rousseau, who had a very clear view of guilt before, admits for the first time that his intransigence is part of his own isolation. The Judge and the Assassin has a lot in common with Tavernier’s debut The Clockmaker of Saint Paul (1974), based on a Simenon novel in which a grieving father tries to come to terms with alienating his son.

Political thriller Quai d’Orsay/The French Minister (2013) deals with the France and Germany resistance to the Iran War by the USA and UK government. Arthur Vlaminck (Raphael Personnaz) is a script-writer for the Foreign Minister Alexandre Taillard de Worms (Thierry Lhermite)  – based on the real life Dominic de Villipen. Arthur soon finds out the ministry is really run by Claude Maupass (Niels Arestrup), who seems phlegmatic, but is really in charge of affairs. Arthur, under fierce competition, finds a friend and ally in Maupass. The films ends with the speech by de Villipen before the UN, contradicting Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell before the Security Council. 

Later in his carer Tavernier chose to delve into costume dramas, Let Joy Reign Supreme (1975) was a prime example. In the early years 18th France, Philippe II of Orleans (Noiret) is the regent for young Louis XV. Philippe has no real power, and hopes to raise his country’s stakes with the help of the priest Guillaume Dubois (Jean Rochefort). There is a gruesome autopsy of a royal lady who lived a life of debauchery which included incest with her father. When a court conspiracy, lead by the Marquise of Pontcallec (Jean Pierre Marielle), looks like it might spark a revolution, Dubois, to the chagrin of Philippe, turns out to be an opportunist trying to elevate himself as an archbishop. For Philippe, the only hope is a proper revolution.

The Princess of Montpensier (2010) is a mixture of fiction and history, leading up to the Bartholomew Day massacre of 1572 when Catholics were slaughtered by Protestants. The religious battle between Catholics and Protestants led to infighting in the Royal family and the nobility in general. The fictional story is centred around the titular heroine (Melanie Thierry), who is married to the Prince of Montpensier (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet), but is still in love with with the Duke of Guise (Gaspare Ullieil), whom she knows since childhood. The fate of her marriage and love affair is closely linked to the religious turmoil, with the Princess being unable to convince anybody to keep the peace. AS

Marrakech Film Festival | TRIBUTE TO Bertrand Tavernier 

Bombay Rose (2019) ***

Dir/Wri/Animator: Gitanjali Rao | 90, India

Gitanjali Rao’s lavish animated fable gleams with thematic jewels almost stifling the romantic storyline buried beneath its visual splendour.

This meticulously handcrafted gem is Gitanjali’s feature debut and, to her credit, she has directed, written and delicately drawn the vibrant animations which pay tribute to the magical city of Bombay that sees criminals go cheek and jowl with market traders, school kids and ordinary people going about there business in India’s jostling cinema city .

There almost didn’t need to be a storyline as sequences unfold into sequences, cleverly tumbling in a out of each other as one thing leads to the next in the densely packed metropolis. Kamala (voiced by Cyli Khare) works as a dancer at a dodgy nightclub while hoping to seal a marriage deal in Dubai so she can raise her younger sister Tara and finance her disabled grandfather, now on his last legs, quite literally. Into the narrative she careful weaves thorny themes of corruption, misogyny and child labour. Kamala’s sexy love interest comes in the shape of Salim (Amit Deondi), a Kashmiri guy forced to sell flowers he steals from the nearby graveyard. Meanwhile there is Mrs D’Souza (Amardeep Jha), a glamorous old former Bollywood actress who lives in private splendour of her own amidst a rose garden, and helps Tara with her English lessons, explaining the intricacies of colour to the little girl as they pick roses, enjoying the heady scent.

To watch Bombay Rose is to enter a world intoxicated by colour, from carmine to indigo, purple and mauve. Exotic horses take flight on magic carpets yet on the streets of the city poverty reigns fraught with the urban clamour of trucks and bicycles and bands and musical interludes.

Sole (2019) ***

Dir: Carlo Sironi | Italy, Drama 90′

For some a baby is a prized goal in life while others can use their fertility to make some cash on the side. This is the premise in this spare but topical drama from new Italian director Carlo Sironi. It centres on a heavily pregnant Polish girl (Lena/Sandra Drzymalska) who agrees to sell her offspring to a desperate childless Italian couple, splitting the proceeds of the fee with their nephew Ermanno (Claudio Segaluscio) who poses as the biological father of the baby. Surrogacy is still illegal in Italy.

The director steers well clear of melodrama or sentimentality in this rather austere feature that keeps a tight control of its plot-line, playing its cards close to its chest: Ermanno and Lena make for a morose couple who barely rub along in their relationship of convenience, although things improve slightly with the impending birth giving Ermanno a new aim in life, a welcome break from his state of hopelessness.

Ermanno is certainly a contemporary character, a buttoned down anger simmers behind his poker faced demeanour. It’s a thoughtful performance from non-pro Segaluscio, whereas Drzymalska is more accepting of her situation, inured to the pain she has clearly suffered in the past and quietly pleased to be prized rather than put down in her new role. But when the chips are down and Lena realises her baby is just a porn in her struggle to survive, the emotional meltdown is palpable. MT

Marrakech Film Festival 2019 | IN COMPETITION

 

Cherry Lane (2019) **** Chat with Yonfan | Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir Yonfan | Cast: Voices by Sylvia Chang, Zhao Wei, Alex Lam, Yao Wei, Tian Zhuangzhuang | Hong Kong 125’

Cheeky and charming but very much intended for an adult audience – and particularly cat lovers – this intoxicating animated drama is an amusingly erotic romp through modern history, deliciously enveloped in an avant-garde love story. Set in Hong Kong of the 1960s, No. 7 Cherry Lane sees an English literature student caught in a love triangle with the woman he is tutoring and her 40 year old mother.

Celebrated filmmaker, photographer, art connoisseur, and collector Yonfan returns after a decade with this languorous debut animation that visits the cauldron of political turmoil and repressed desire that was the Hong Kong of his youth.

Based on three of the director’s own short stories, and divided into three enignatically titled chapters — Dream Charade, Play Shadow and Winter Cometh — the story unfolds within the confines of an upmarket residential block in 1967, when the streets of Hong Kong were fraught with leftist protests erupting in violence between anti-colonial demonstrators and police. Meanwhile Ziming (Alex Lam) is experiencing an eruption of a different kind, involving his own sexual awakening. As a student reading modern literature at the university, he takes on a part-time job teaching English to a family recently exiled from Taiwan. Meiling (Zhao Wei) is the daughter of Mrs. Yu (Sylvia Chang), a single mother and exporter of luxury goods to Taiwan, whose own youth has been fraught with revolutionary unrest but whose present is steeped in woozy nostalgia. Ziming’s arrival stimulates literary debate about Brontë, Proust and Cao Xueqin. They indulge in Simone Signoret matinees at a local picture palace. And while a beguiling Mrs. Robinson-like relationship smoulders in the background, the family’s collection of cats indulge in of all kinds of mischievous behaviour. Ziming is beguiled both by Meiling and Mrs. Yu, as he embarks on an education sentimental no university curriculum could possibly provide.

Blending art and history, politics and eroticism. Cherry Lane showcases a new animation process, turning original 3-D illustrations into 2-D images on rice paper. Yonfan has created a delicate aesthetic that feels modern yet steeped in tradition, offering a unique paean to Hong Kong’s past that is tongue in cheek, kitsch and gently erotic. MT

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Views on the Maghreb: Colonial Past and Early Cinema | Marrakech 2019

Film critic and academic Jay Weisberg presents a compendium piece that headlines Marrakech Film Festival’s 11th Continent strand and aims to offer a taste of North Africa’s heritage from its early Colonial past (1914-1922).

It was a time when Morocco was a protectorate of the French government, under the benevolent guidance of Marshal Lyautey, who represented the interests of France and developed Morocco’s potential while respecting its traditions and culture under the auspices of the Sultan. In this way Morocco became a pro-Western country unlike its neighbour Algeria which was under French occupation. Lyautey’s vision was both paternalistic and ideological: to further education, culture and commerce while the Sultan retained his religious and legal powers in an exclusively Arab Court.

Weisberg shows how early cinema’s notable trans-border distribution means the world’s archives are depositories of unexpected treasures: the cork forests of Morocco exist only at the British Film Institute in London; French-made panoramas of Algeria from 1910 are at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.; Italian-produced images of Libya have turned up at the National Library of Oslo. These are precious visual records from cinema’s early decades when European and American companies sent cameramen across the globe. As the medium quickly developed, however, film increasingly became a tool for perpetuating Orientalism and reinforcing colonial agendas. This programme, a follow-up to last year’s Views of the Ottoman Empire, looks to engage the audience in this debate via rare short films of North Africa from the 1910s and 20s, some digitised specifically for this screening.

SCREENING AS PART OF THE 11TH CONTINENT STRAND | Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Silent Days (2019) **** Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir: Pavol Pekarcik | Cast: Sandra Sivakova, Marian Hlavac, Alena Cervenakova, Rene Cervenak, Roman Balog  | Slov/Czech Doc 80’

Award-winning director-writer-producer: Pavol Pekarcik, brings a sense of compelling wonder to this social realist ‘mockumentary’ that proves truth stranger than fiction, even when you dress it up a little, as he does here with his artful cameraman. Unfurling in a series of long static unedited takes Silent Lives blurrs the boundary between fact and fiction, reflecting with stark acuity the self-regulating lives of four struggling Roma gypsy families, affected by impaired hearing.

The Roma community have always maintained their exclusivity, living on the margins of society and fiercely protecting their identity and often physically or mentally challenged members. According to records, some of them do not even exist despite efforts from Amnesty International and the United Nations.

First we meet Sandra (Sandra Sivakova), a football mad 14-year-old girl with a passion for Ronaldinho. Her parents clearly care for her welfare but complain about still sharing a bed with her.  So they plan to marry her off to an older but decent-looking man from their community who is accepting of her challenges: “I don’t mind deaf”. He says nonchalantly. Sparse on dialog these sepia-tinted or vibrantly coloured vignettes are expertly framed and could each serve as shapshots in an ethnographical photo exhibition, their tragic narrative intensity contrasting with a strange beauty.

The film becomes cumulatively more bizarre with the subsequent family snapshots veering towards surreal horror in picturing these impoverished and impaired protagonists getting by day to day in squalid conditions. In the next story, tiny teenage Marian (Marian Hlava) is hooked on Jean-Claude Van Damme and martial arts. Clearly this is a worry to his mother who spends her time cooking and washing clothes in a nearby stream, road signage serving as a washing line. Then there is mute and chain-smoking Alena (Alena Cervenakova) and her equally challenged boyfriend Rene (Rene Cervenak). Their only goal is pregnancy and marriage. They seem accepting of their situation and just want to look after each other and their new baby. 

The final segment sees Roman (Roman Balog), Kristian (Kristian Balog) and Karmen (Karmon Balog) three siblings who have an enterprising streak as they scavenge for scrap metal and trade it for petrol to fire up their father’s generator so he can build a family bathroom. They have had no lavatory since being evicted from their previous home. But they knuckle down to it with good humour, playing imaginatively together in the ruins of the family shack. As they laugh and tease each other they to have re-discovered the art of play, far away from hollow materialism and social media. These Roma may be living on the margins but they are not lost or lonely or angry – and they all pull together to help one another. Despite their grinding poverty, there is a humanity and sense of community here that many more affluent families have lost in today’s more materially rich world. Out of the wreckage and squalor comes a beacon of hope. MT

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Noura’s Dream (2019) *** Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir/scr. Hinde Boujemaa | Cast: Hend Sabri, Lotfi Abdelli, Hakim Boumsaoudi, Imen Cherif, Saif Dhrif, Jamel Sassi Tunisia, Belgium, France, Qatar. |  92 mins.

Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution was a time of change for the nation’s working class. Filmmaker Hinde Boujemaa eyed the era with caution in her 2012 documentary It Was Better Tomorrow.

In her richly textured drama debut, Boujemaa brings the epoch to life in a flawed but fascinating story set in the crumbling backstreets of Tunis and led by a towering performance from Tunisian actress Hend Sabri.

Obviously corruption reigns and petty criminals abound in this impoverishing milieu enchanted by its once glamorous colonial buildings and now fraught with world-weary resilience amongst ordinary people just trying to make their way in life.

Hospital laundry worker Noura (Sabri) is in love with Lassad (Boumsaoudi) and the two share amorous embraces and fond glances indicative of the secrecy of their romance as Noura is seeking a divorce from Jamel (Abdelli), her jailed husband. She is a mother to three children, and her female lawyer reminds her that adultery, in Tunisia, carries a five-year prison sentence. Women beware women.

Jamel is intellectually challenged, to say the least. And when he is suddenly released from prison he starts to threaten Noura again. But Lassad offers little in emotional support. Noura is caught between a rock and a hard place: but most women will be familiar with this territory.

Sabri is brilliant as the central character. Her careworn face is a testament to suffering, yet she carries on in desperation, hoping against hope that love will find a way. Her son is just another misogynist in the making and her daughter looks on almost contemptuously as she vows not to make the same mistakes. An affecting debut that says: Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. Mt

IN COMPETITION | Marrakech Film Festival 2019 

 

 

Mosaic Portrait (2019) *** Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir: Zhai Yixiang | Drama, China, 91’

Zhai Yixiang’s sophomore feature is an enigmatic experience to say the least and aptly named, its fractured pieces never quite slotting together. In provincial China miopic teenager Xu Ying (Zhang Tongxi in her screen debut) discovers she is pregnant and accuses one of the teachers in her school.

Blurry, unfocused camerawork point to the nebulousness behind her claims, suggesting she might not really know the true identity of the father, or even care. Her largely absent migrant worker father Guangjun (Wang Yanhui decides to embark on a fruitless attempt to scope out the culprits but gets short shift from the headmaster. But the situation then comes to attention of a reporter from the nearest big city Jia (Wang Chaunjun) who starts to show an rather uncalled interest in the case by putting pressure on the school and the local police

Clearly an attention seeker Ying then steps back from the affair and having proverbially thrown the toys out of the pram seems totally ambivalent about what happens next. But her intentions are clear. She is making a protest about mainland China’s male dominated society that enforces a State controlled One-Child Policy.

But this is not a mystery whodunnit and once the identity of her baby is revealed Zing heads for the big city where she takes solace in the female centric surroundings of a home for women down on their luck. This visually appealing segment delicately captures the lives of the local Chinese girls and Zhai excels in his female gaze on proceedings that avoids sentimentality but marks this out as more of a meandering mood piece than an involving piece of storytelling, once its social comment has been made. MT

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Säsong | Ridge (2019) Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir: John Skoog | Sweden, 2019 70′

Swedish director John Skoog won this year’s CPH:DOX Award with the bewildering and visually sensational film. In some way Säsong (2019) or Ridge, is a broadening of his trilogy of shorts examining economic exploitation, starting in 2011 with Sent på Jorden; followed in 2013 by Förår and culminating with Reduit in 2014.

Best described as an ethnographical docu-drama Ridge is a love letter to Sweden’s agrarian past and the country’s deep connection to the land and nature. It prepares for the future with trepidation – Skoog’s camerawork pictures the mammoth farm machinery surging on the horizon at dawn like some great behemoth, as it cruelly savages the virgin swathes of corn, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Cows are silently harnessed to computerised milking machines sending their own gentle rhythms into disarray as stand isolated in vast soulless hangers. A few of them head for the woods, ‘demented’. Or, at least that is what we are led to believe in an opening anecdote in Skoog’s non-judgemental treatment. The burgeoning demands of the contemporary and future population are presented as a mute assault on the landscape and the Earth is crying.

Skoog celebrates Summer, and particularly MidSummer’s Day  – a big event in Sweden due to its dark winters, and a cause for much merriment and over-drinking in the verdant pastures of Skoog’s hometown of Kvidinge, a village in northern Scania County. Skoog abandons a traditional narrative opting for something more enigmatic and refreshing that forces the audience to speculate and scope out his motives and ideas – dialogue is minimal. The most loquacious segment sees a group of Polish workers, who have arrived by ferry for seasonal work, discussing how to approach Swedish women. “Not the romantic, moody Polish approach” one advises a younger member of the team.

Skoog works with family members and non-pro’s to create a portrait of a land that shares a common work ethic and where women and men are more or less equal. But there’s also a mystical remoteness and an unsettling undercurrent here in this distant rural corner. Often madness is more prevalent in the countryside, and there is certainly a human destructiveness at play here. But it is light-hearted and anarchic rather than sinister. The abstract juxtaposition of the scenes; a sunset played with an unsettling soundscape, can easily play havoc with our imagination, and our expectations. So Skoog appears to be having the last laugh here in an inventive and playful but ultimately deeply thoughtful film that resonates with the current zeitgeist on climate change and our deep connection with nature. MT

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2019

 

Our Lady of the Nile (2019) Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir: Atiq Rahimi | Cast: Main cast: Santa Amanda Mugabekazi, Albina Sydney Kirenga, Angel Uwamahoro, Clariella Bizimana, Belinda Rubango Simbi, Ange Elsie Ineza, Kelly Umuganwa Teta, Pascal Greggory, Carole Trévoux | France, Belgium, Rwanda | 93′

Afghan filmmaker Atiq Rahimi follows his sensuous story about perseverance The Patience Stone with another female centric story, this time exploring the cultural diversities between Rwanda’s Tutsi and Hutu population seen through the story of a girls’ boarding school in the tropical jungles of the region.

Based on Scholastique Mukasonga’s award-winning 2012 novel Our Lady of the Nile: Rwanda 1973, this is a compelling and often terrifying cautionary tale of inter-ethnic racism that echoes the violent conflict that seethed in the region during 1994. It all takes place in a strict Rwandan boarding school where well-to-do girls are indoctrinated with a Catholic-infused curriculum. But there are also local witch doctors a work in the region, and even Egyptian Black Pharoahs, so Catholicism has to compete with these other beliefs. Rahimi is clearly trying to expose organised religion for what it is, as it jostles with long-held cultural dogmas. But rather than offering a political treatise he opts for a non-judgemental approach, creating the heady atmosphere where the privileged are poised to take their rightful place in society. The girls have evocative names: Gloriosa, Immaculée and Modesta. And although this is a school for Hutus, a small number Tutsis are routinely admitted.  Most of them are Hutus, but a small quota is reserved for the elegantly graceful Tutsi students:Veronica (Clariella Bizimana) and her friend Virginia (Amanda Santa Mugabekazi) who capture the imagination of a local plantation owner and Frenchman Monsieur Fontenaille (Pascal Greggory). He inveigles them into his property where he claims there is an Egyptian temple that may appeal to their ancestral leanings. Rahimi’s intentions are clearly worthwhile and while he views his material with compassion and thoughtfulness, not enough attention is given to the characterisation in a script co-written with Ramata Sy. Our Lady of the Nile nevertheless provides a stylishly captured and atmospheric story from this troubled part of the world. MT

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Marrakech International Film Festival 2019 | Tributes Australian Film

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL is set to pay tribute to screen legend and Sundance pioneer Robert Redford in its 18th edition which also showcases an extensive retrospective of Australian Cinema. November 29th to December 7th 2019.

Marrakech Film Festival is one of the most glamorous events in the film festival circuit attracting professionals and film lovers from all over the World and honouring global film in all its forms. This year’s International Competition Jury is headed by Tilda Swinton, who has starred in over 70 feature films, most recently in The Personal History of David Copperfield, and Wes Anderson latest comedy drama The French Dispatch which will premiere early next year.

This year’s 18th edition taking place from November 29th until December 7th also plays host to an impressive tribute to Australian cinema, considered to be one of the oldest in the world. This year’s tribute is also the biggest get-together of Australian actors and directors ever to take place at a film festival. Australia has a tradition of a gutsy hard-nosed crime thrillers but also lyrical arthouse dramas and comedies that embody the infinite variety of the vast nation. From the hostile outback of Ayer’s Rock to the sophisticated urban centres Australia’s spectacular landscape provides a remarkable background for its visual arts. And although the average cinema-goer may only be able to remember Crocodile Dundee, the country has an impressive array of movies to draw on and one of the world’s most active film industries boasting memorable commercial and indie titles and directors as diverse as Baz Lurhmann, Gillian Armstong, Mel Gibson, Ivan Sen and film pioneer and screenwriter Lottie Lyell  (1890-1925) considered to be Australia’s first film star. During her short life she made an important contribution to the industry in the silent era with The Blue Mountains Mystery (1921) which she co-directed with Raymond Longford. Here is a selection of some outstanding Australian cult classics to put us in mind of what we might look forward during the Marrakech official selection in November 2019.

WALKABOUT (1971)

In Nicolas Roeg’s moving mystical coming of age drama an Aboriginal boy comes to the rescue to two teenagers abandoned by their father in the remote corner of the Outback. Walkabout is a bleak but beguiling feature that riffs on the theme of human kindness and cultural differences. Although Roeg and most of the cast are British, the film has been taken to Australias’s heart because it launched the remarkable career of Indigenous Australian actor David Gulpilil.

WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971)

Directed by Toronto born maverick Ted Kotcheff and also known as Outback, Wake in Fright kicked off the Australian New Wave and is now considered one of the most extraordinary Australian features ever made. Blending horror with an immersive character drama, it was ‘lost’ for many years, until veteran producer Anthony Buckley finally tracked it down in 20o4 in a Pittsburgh warehouse. Remastered and given a theatrical release and the Bluray treatment in 2014 (courtesy of Eureka) this is one film you simply must see with its standout performances from Donald Pleasence, Chips Rafferty and Sylvia Kay.

PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975)

A mesmerising and unsolved mystery about a group of school girls who disappear during a school picnic on Hanging Rock. Peter Weir’s haunting drama stays in the memory with its luminous cast and glowering background of Ayer’s Rock. Based on the novel by Joan Lindsey it was adapted for the big screen – and I mean big – by Cliff Green.

GALLIPOLI (1981)

Another haunting tragedy that tells a poignant tale of war and guarantees a tearful audience. Set in Australia just before the First World War, it follows a group of Western Australian soldiers who will eventually meet their fate during the Gallipoli campaign on Turkish soil. Mel Gibson leads a cast of men whose lost innocence and dedication to duty continue to resonate nearly forty years later.

DEAD CALM (1989) not showing

Where would Australian cinema be without British-born Sam Neill and his leading lady Nicole Kidman. Alone on a yacht off the Great Barrier Reef they face up to a psychotic monster Billy Zane in this tensely gripping thriller.

ROMPER STOMPER (1992) not showing

Russell Crowe embodies stomping but he is an actor who can also do subtlety and infinite gentleness. Here in Geoffrey Wright’s urban thriller he does the former with gusto. Set in a working class Melbourne suburb, Romper Stomper sees a motley crew of neo-Nazi skinheads rise up against their changing neighbourhood with devastating consequences.

LANTANA (2001)

Kerry Armstrong, Anthony LaPaglia and Geoffrey Rush star in this taut and emotional thriller elegantly enveloped in a characterful study of human relationships in suburban Sydney. A dead body, a detective caught in flagrante, a psychiatrist whose own marriage is floundering: these are the elements that gentle stew for two engrossing hours in Ray Lawrence’s memorable mystery movie.

JAPANESE STORY (2003) not showing

In the Australian desert, a guide and a Japanese businessman who can’t stand each other are suddenly drawn together in an awkward situation that ends in tragedy. Toni Collette gives an outstanding performance as the guide in this memorable multi-award-winning psychological drama. Sue Brooks directs Alison Tilson’s brilliant script with aplomb.

THE PROPOSITION (2005) not showing

John Hillcoat directs a superb cast of Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce and Emily Watson in this bleak and feral outback Western scripted and scored by Nick Cave. What can go wrong? The answer is absolutely nothing. The Proposition won awards across the board for its thorny depiction of a criminal  family that sees an outlaw ordered to kill his older brother in order to save the life of his younger one.

ANIMAL KINGDOM (2010)

David Michod’s tense and brutal urban epic sees a mafia-style family locked in bitter conflict in 1980s Melbourne. Based on a real life Pettingill family it stars Oscar-nominated Jacki Weaver as a machiavellian matriarch playing each relative off against the other as she protects her 17 year old son (James Frecheville) without a shred of sentimentality.

SNOWTOWN (2011) not showing

With its unforgettable clanging score, Snowtown sent critics into a cold sweat. This Adelaide-based real crime thriller explores the descent into hell of a young man (Lucas Pittaway) at the hands of his charismatic mentor turned vicious serial killer, the infamous John Bunting – who went on to kill 11 people (chillingly played by Douglas Henshall). Snowtown was the feature debut of Justin Kurzel who  has gone on to deliver The Turning (2013), Macbeth (2015) and historical fact-based drama The True History of the Kelly Gang (2019).  

THE BABBADOOK (2014) not showing 

One of the best horror films in memory is Jennifer Kent’s truly terrifying and formally splendid psychological chiller. Melding a suspenseful narrative with finely crafted horror tropes, the film swept the board at the global film genre awards and is still popular with horror enthusiasts everywhere.

MAD MAX (1979)

Cinema goers didn’t know what had hit them when George Miller’s sadistic motor cycle thriller revved onto the big screen fuelled by murder and mayhem. It was a mesmerising experience and still is, with its odd combination of eccentric characters, stunning scenery and throat-grabbing barbarism that would spawn several sequels, but this was the weirdest yet.

PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975)

The 1970s was a standout decade for Australian film not least because of the Peter Weir’s languorous mystery drama suffused with an eerie delicacy and based on Joan Lindsay’s novel that sees a group of school girls go missing on Valentine’s Day 1900 in the sizzling heat of summer. Starring Rachel Roberts, Helen Morse and Jacki Weaver, the drama went on to win a BAFTA for cinematography.

MY BRILLIANT CAREER (1979)

Judy Davis won a BAFTA for her performance as a writer and contemporary female role model Sybylla Melvyn in this 19th century set debut feature for Gillian Armstrong. It garnered awards across the board but went home empty handed from Cannes in the year of release.

THE YEAR MY VOICE BROKE (1987)

A young man (Noah Taylor) suffers teenage angst as his crush and best friend (Leone Carmen) falls in love with an older guy in John Duigan’s poignantly funny 1960s set coming of age drama. A budding Ben Mendelsohn triumphs as the thuggish rugby playing criminal whose violence sets off an irreversible chain of events.

A CRY IN THE DARK (1988)

Based on John Bryson’s novel Evil Angels, Meryl Streep inspires terrifying evil as she fights to prove her innocence in Fred Schepisi’s biopic drama about the woman whose child was supposedly killed by a dingo in the Australian Outback.

During this year’s festival a distinguished delegation of Australian actors and directors will make the trip to Marrakech to enjoy this exceptional tribute and take part in a range of stage appearances and lives events in the Moroccan capital and its lush locations.

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 29 NOVEMBER – 7 DECEMBER 2019

 

Marrakech Film Festival 2019 | Competition and Special Screenings

British actress Tilda Swinton will preside over this year’s jury at Marrakech Film Festival. At the 18th Moroccan celebration she will be joined by French director Rebecca Zlotowski, British director Andrea Arnold, Franco-Italian actress Chiara Mastroianni and five male jurors: Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho, Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt, Afghan writer and director Atiq Rahimi, Australian director David Michôd, and Moroccan director Ali Essafi. 

Films in competition for the Étoile d’Or de Marrakech are as follows:

BABYTEETH / Australia | Shannon Murphy
Starring Eliza Scanlen, Toby Wallace, Emily Barclay, Eugene Gilfedder, Essie Davis, Ben Mendelsohn 

BOMBAY ROSE / India/Fr/Qatar | Gitanjali Rao
Starring Cyli Khare, Amit Deondi, Gargi Shitole, Makrand Deshpande 

THE FEVER | Brazil | Maya Da-Rin
Starring Regis Myrupu, Rosa Peixoto 

LAST VISIT  `| Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan(Akher Ziyara) /Saudi Arabia
 Starring Osama Alqess, Abdullah Alfahad, Fahad Alghariri, Mousaed Khaled, Ghazi Hamad 

LYNN + LUCY/UK | Fyzal Boulifa
Starring Roxanne Scrimshaw, Nichola Burley 

MAMONGA /Serbia | Stefan Malešević
Starring Marta Bjelica, Dražen Pavlović,  Nabi Tang, Vuk Janošević 

MICKEY AND THE BEAR /USA | Annabelle Attanasio
Starring Camila Morrone, James Badge Dale, Calvin Demba, Ben Rosenfield, Rebecca Henderson 

MOSAIC PORTRAIT | (Ma Sai Ke Shao Nu) / China
By Zhai Yixiang
Starring Wang Yanhui, Wang Chuanjun, Zhang Tongxi, Chen Di, Xie Lixun, Liu Yiying, Ke Limu 

NAFI’S FATHER (Baamum Nafi) / Senegal | Mamadou Dia
Starring Alassane Sy, Saïkou Lô, Aïcha Talla, Penda Sy, Mamadou Bayo Sarr, Alassane Ndoye 

SCATTERED NIGHT  | (Heut-eo-jin Bam) / South Korea
By Lee Jih-young, Kim Sol
Starring Moon Seun-ga, Choi Jun-woo, Kim Hye- young, Lim Ho 

SOLE / Italia, Poland | Carlo Sironi
Starring Sandra Drzymalska, Claudio Segaluscio, Bario, Barbara Ronchi, Bruno Buzzi 

TLAMESS / Tunisia, France | Ala Eddine Slim
Starring Abdullah Miniawy, Souhir Ben Amara, Khaled Ben Aïssa 

THE UNKNOWN SAINT (Sid El-Majhoul) / Morocco, France
By Alaa Eddine Aljem
Starring Younes Bouab, Salah Bensalah, Bouchaib Essamak, Mohamed Naimane, Anas El Baz, Hassan Ben Bdida, Abdelghani Kitab, Ahmed Yaab, Ahmed Yarziz 

VALLEY OF SOULS  | (Tantas Almas) / Colombia, Belgium, Brazil, France
By Nicolás Rincón Gille
Starring Arley de Jesús Carvallido Lobo  

ADAM / Morocco, France, Belgium | Maryam Touzani
Starring Lubna Azabal, Nisrin Erradi, Douae Belkhaouda, Aziz Hattab, Hasna Tamtaoui 

THE IRISHMAN / USA | Martin Scorsese
Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin 

IT MUST BE HEAVEN / Elia Suleiman
Starring Elia Suleiman, Tarik Kopti, Kareem Ghneim, George Khleifi, Raiïa Haiïdar, Gael García Bernal 

KNIVES OUT / USA | Rian Johnson
Starring Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer 

MARRIAGE STORY / USA | Noah Baumbach
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Merritt Wever, Azhy Robertson 

RAS EL SANA / Egypt | By Sakr
Starring Eyad Nassar, Ahmed Malek, Sherine Reda, Engy El Mokaddem, Ali Kassem 

NOURA’S DREAM | (Noura Tahlam) / Tunisia, France |  Hinde Boujemaa
Starring Hend Sabri, Lotfi Abdelli, Hakim Boumsaoudi, Imen Cherif, Saif Dhrif, Jamel Sassi 

There will also be a special selection of GALA Screenings 

ALL THIS VICTORY | Ahmad Ghossein – This Lebanese war drama won the Audience Award at this year’s Venice Critics’ Week

A SON | (Bik N’Ish) / Tunisia, France, Lebanon, Qatar | Mehdi M. Barsaoui
Starring Sami Bouajila, Najla Ben Abdallah, Youssef Khemiri, Noomen Hamda, Qasim Rawane, Slah Msaddak, Mohamed Ali Ben Jemaa 

SOUTH TERMINAL  | (Terminal Sud) / France | Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche
Starring Ramzy Bedia, Amel Brahim-Djelloul, Slimane Dazi, Salim Ameur-Zaïmeche, Nabil Djedouani 

STATE FUNERAL  | (Gosurdarstvennye Pohony) /  Ned/Lith  | Sergei Loznitsa | Doc

TALKING ABOUT TREES  | (Al-Hadith ’An Al-Ashjar) / France, Sudan, Germany, Chad, Qatar | Suhaib Gasmelbari | Doc 

WORKFORCE  | (Mano De Obra) / Mexico
By David Zonana
Starring Luis Alberti, Hugo Mendoza, Jonathan Sanchez, Horacio Celestino, Francisco Díaz 

(Jidar Al-Sawt) /LEBANON | By Ahmad Ghossein
Starring Karam Ghossein, Adel Chahine, Boutros Rouhana, Issam Bou, Khaled, Sahar Minkara, Flavia Juska Bechara 

IF ONLY  | (Magari) / Italy, France
By Ginevra Elkann
Starring Riccardo Scamarcio, Alba Rohrwacher, Ettore Giustiniani, Oro de Commarque, Millo Roussel, Celine Sallette, Brett Gelman 

MOFFIE / South Africa | Oliver Hermanus
Starring Kai Luke Brummer, Ryan de Villiers, Matthew Vey, Stefan Vermaak, Hilton Pelser 

NO. 7 CHERRY LANE | (Ji Yuan Tai Qi Hao) / Hong Kong, China | Yonfan
Starring Sylvia Chang, Zhao Wei, Alex Lam, Kelly Yao, Teresa Chung, Jiang Wen-li, Nathalie Duplessis 

OUR LADY OF THE NILE  | (Notre-Dame du Nil) / France, Belgium, Rwanda | Atiq Rahimi
Starring Santa Amanda Mugabekazi, Albina Sydney Kirenga, Angel Uwamahoro, Clariella Bizimana, Belinda Rubango Simbi, Pascal Greggory 

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 

At Eternity’s Gate (2018) Netflix

Dir: Julian Schnabel | Cast: Willem Defoe, Oscar Isaac | US Drama | 111’

Julian Schnabel’s training as an artist informs another of his portraits of creativity like Basquiat, Reinaldo Arenas and Jean Dominique Bauby. With At Eternity’s Gate he turns his camera on the tragedy of Vincent van Gogh with this luminous vision of the artist’s final days in Provence.

There have been many broad brush insights into the painter’s troubled life recorders on the big screen; the most recent, Loving Vincent (2017) attempted a living painted drama of the Dutchman, while Van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing (2015) explored the prodigious correspondence with his brother Theo. The reason to see this one is Willem Dafoe’s fabulous fleshing out of the artist in his febrile, sun-drenched final days after the breakdown of his fraught friendship with Gauguin (an unremarkable Oscar Isaac).

Schnabel captures the glowering intensity of Van Gogh’s desperate descent in paranoia but also portrays the artist as a gentle introvert who was as much misunderstood as maligned by the petit parochialism of his Provençal neighbours.

Benoit Delhomme’s hand-held camera hovers around feverishly and vivid yellow predominates. Intense and intimate close-ups pan out into flaming widescreen vistas vibrating in the summer heat. The worst element is Tatiana Lisovskaya’s screeching score that will make you run for the exit. It over-eggs the already over-baked picture of dismay and despair..

Jean Claude Carriere writes with Schnabel and Louise Kugelberg (the latter also his co-editor) to sketch out the broad strokes of the narrative which opens in Paris in the late 1880s where van Gogh is an already an outsider amongst the Artistes Independents du jour. His financier and brother Theo (a well-cast Rupert Friend) cannot sell his avant-garde works, Vincent opining: “God made me a painter for people who are not born yet”. Only Gauguin appreciates his talent but the two are incompatible as housemates. 

“Go south, Vincent,” Gauguin tells him when van Gogh complains of rainy skies and fog, whereupon he moves to Arles where he discovers his yen for landscapes which glow and shimmer in the heat as Delhomme’s visuals capture the textures of roots, earth, leaves as well as the soft windswept pastures. We feel for Vincent when a schoolteacher (Anne Consigny) openly mocks his work in front of her kids, and after a violent outburst he is sent away from the town, admitting his fear of going mad – but it could be that he just hates people and prefers solitude, which is understandable amongst these cackling idiots.

With Gauguin he enjoys a companionable time until success takes him to Paris whereupon van Gogh starts to unravel emotionally with the famous ear incident. A doctor (Vladimir Consigny) suggests some therapy, that merely confines the artist to a straitjacket. Ironically this comes at the same time as an influential Paris art critic praises his work as uniquely sensual. Meanwhile a priest (Mads Mikkelsen in thoughtful mode) damns his vision and calls his work ugly. 

This sensuous re-imagining of the artist’s final days belongs to Dafoe whose craggy features and piercing blue eyes convey a lost and melancholy soul whose  sensitivity and artistic genius have now made him a household name . MT

NOW ON NETFLIX. TRAILER courtesy of Curzon Cinemas | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 Winner Best Actor: Willem Dafoe

Burning (2018) Mubi

Lee Chang dong, Oh Jung mi | 143’ | South Korea | Drama 

Burning sees a rich guy and an honest worker compete for the affections of an enigmatic young woman in a mysterious slow burner that sizzles with a seductive spell and intoxicates for over two hours with its captivating storytelling and strikingly atmospheric score by Mowg.

‘A literary adaptation’ can sound warning bells but this standout psychological thriller breathes life into a short story from Haruki Murakami, adapted by Lee and his co-writer Oh Jung-mi who keep things deceptively simple yet alluring with a thematically rich ride set to Hong Kyung-pyo’s sumptuous cinematography, and enfused with themes of privilege, class, stifled creativity and revenge.

Lonely budding writer Jongsu comes from a poor and dysfunctional family background and works as a deliveryman near the North Korean border where he is unexpectedly invited into the bed of his former school friend Haemi who asks him to look after her cat during her upcoming trip to Africa. But she comes back with an unassuming new guy in the shape of Korean hotshot Ben (Yeun Steven), who seems rather too smooth to be true. But then the story becomes more complex. Jongsu (Yoo Ah-in) realises he’s really fallen for the charming but insecure Haemi (Jun Jong-seo), who remembers his harsh comments on her appearance back in the day, and has since had plastic surgery.

A loose friendship soon develops between the threesome, and for a while the story hums along gently mulling over its cultural references and glorying in its low key placid perfection. But all is not well in paradise and the tone takes a sinister turn after Ben confesses to being somewhat of a pyrotechnic with a penchant for greenhouse burning, and we witness this in a startling bonfire that blazes away in silence providing at unsettling visual counterpoint to the love story inflaming romantic desires when Haemi suddenly goes missing, and the two men become locked head to head in the violent clomax. With dynamite performances from the trio this is an elegantly crafted mystery thriller from a Korean master at the top of his game. MT

NOW ON MUBI

Roma (2018) ***

Dir.: Alfonso Cuaron; Cast: YalitzaAparacio, Marinade Tavira, Nancy Garcia, Fernando Grediaga, Veronica Garcia, Jorge Antonio Guerrero; USA/Mexico 2018, 135 min

Alfonso Cuaron’s sumptuous semi-autobiographical love letter to the woman who influenced his early life unfurls during a year in Mexico City. It’s 1970 and middle-class medics Sofia and Antonio have four children, three spirited boys and a girl. Meanwhile Cleo and Sofia live high up in the attic, trying to keep the emotionally unstable household together.

Cuaron cleverly establishes the key credentials of the bourgeois set up where people drive enormous cars they can’t even park, and Sofia (de Tavira) is no different. Stressed from Antonio’s frequent absences for work – today he’s off to Montevideo – she earns a decent salary as a biochemist, but has no passion for it.  As it turns out, Antonio (Grediaga) will only be gone for a week, but has secretly returned with his mistress. Meanwhile the rest of the family – along with caring grandmother Teresa (V. Garcia) – are off to spend Christmas on a nearby country estate, where Cleo (Aparacio) and Adela (N. Garcia) will celebrate in the staff quarters. Sofia makes the children write letters to their father, begging him to return, Cleo discovers she’s pregnant by boyfriend Fermin (Guerrero) who is part of a right-wing militia. In a terrifying scene during the Corpus Christmas massacre meeting, Fermin appears briefly in a nearby department store where the women are buying a cradle. He denies fathering Cleo’s child, and is dragged away by his friends to beat up students in the street. Everyday life goes on in this leisurely story of middle-class Latin America – it’s an evergreen saga that plays out like a tele-novela but with a transcendence that somehow lifts out of the ordinary. Cuaron pulls out all the stops, and the glorious 65mm black-and-white images reflect tension on all levels. Sofia and her mother Teresa are the caring matriarchs. Husband Antonio is seen as cruel, petty and vindictive. Cleo and Adela are the willing victims of class and conditioning, the outside world is shown is a hostile backdrop. Cuaron never breaks with any clichés, but he is unable to be understated and analytical due to his personal links to the narrative. In contrast, Mexican director Lila Aviles’, The Chambermaid is a moving yet detached portrait of a hotel worker, echoing similar themes. Roma is graced with some scintillating performances, particularly from newcomers Yalitza Aparacio as Cleo, and Nancy Garcia as Teresa. Overall the bottom line here is that Cuaron’s a brilliant DoP, a good director but a lousy script-writer. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | GOLDEN LION WINNER VENICE 2018

https://youtu.be/vhWut6jTA8o

Lila Alviles Interview (2018) Jury Prize Winner | Marrakech Film Festival 2018

Marrakech Film Festival Jury Prize Winer THE CHAMBERMAID plays the same thematic tune as two other festival winners this Summer: Golden Lion winner Roma and In A Distant Land which won the Golden Leopard at Locarno. They highlight the isolated and lonely lives of ordinary working people, often migrants – in this case, a Mexican national whose job in the capital detaches her from her loved ones. There is a distinct chilly humour to this acutely observed feature debut from Mexican actress, filmmaker and opera director Lila Alviles. We talked to her about her drama that won the JURY PRIZE at the 17th Marrakech International Film Festival 2018. MT

https://vimeo.com/305923453

JOY (2018) **** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018 | Winner Etoile d’Or

Dir.: Sudabeh Mortezai; Cast: Joy Anwulika Alphonsus, Precious Mariam Sanusi, Angela Ekeleme Pius, Jane Okoh; Austria 2018, 100 min.

German born writer/director Sudabeh Mortezai (Macondo) spent her youth in Vienna and Teheran before studying film at UCLA. Her second feature is centred around Nigerian women sold by their families as sex-workers to Europe. In the prologue, we see the local shaman performing the ‘Juju’ ritual on one of these young women: the victims have to leave an intimate part of themselves behind so they don’t run away, and send money home regularly.

We meet Joy (Alphonsus) on a dark night in Vienna where she is soliciting. Next to her stands young Precious (Sanusi), who has just arrived from Nigeria and does not want to sell her body, in order to pay back Madame (Pius), whom she owes 60,000 Euros. Back in the flat where the girls live in cramped  conditions, Madame holds Joy responsible for Precious’ attitude and tells her that her debt will increase if she doesn’t encourage the young girl to work harder. For good measure, Precious is than raped by two men, her cries of help going unanswered. The brutal treatment makes Precious fall into line and she becomes the highest earner of the group. Madame expresses her thanks by selling her for a profit to Italian pimps. 

Meanwhile Joy and Precious are continually pestered by their families to send more money home. Joy’s family ‘invents’ a fake illnesses so her clients will take pity and pay her extra.  And Precious’ mother asks her to sleep with more more men: “Can you imagine, the woman who gave birth to me wants me to do do that!” Joy, who has a daughter Chioma (Okoh), for whose upkeep she pays a nanny, is sent with Precious to the Italian border, keeping her passport. Precious asks her many times to relinquish the passport, so that she can escape. But Joy is well aware that Madame’s vengeance would be be grim, and she reminds Precious: “This is a game of survival of the fittest. I would kill you if I needed to. Do not trust me!”. Her calculation proves right when Madame ‘releases’ her, which is not so generous as it looks since new and younger girls have arrived from Nigeria.

The director takes a detached approach throughout. The gruesome details of the women’s suffering – Joy is bleeding heavily after being raped by three men, but Madame does not allow her to seek medical help. The whole circle of violence, starting in Nigeria is repeated over and over again, because the authorities in Austria want Joy to testify against Madame, but won’t grant her immediate asylum.

JOY explores a real and continuous nightmare that is happening all the time, in nearly every European city. Shot starkly by DoP Clemens Hufnagl, mostly at night, the few interior scenes reveal the misery and fear that haunts women daily. A depressing but worthwhile film that won the Etoile d’Or at this year’s MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL. MT

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | WINNER GOLDEN STAR MARRAKECH | WINNER LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2108

 

The Load | Teret (2018) *** Marrakech Film Festival 2018 | Winner Best Director

Writer/Dir. Ognjen Glavonić |  Drama | 98’

Ognjen Glavonić won various awards for Depth Two, a documentary about the grim discovery of war graves in his native Serbia. THE LOAD is his debut drama that fought its way out of the country inspired by the region’s 1999 NATO onslaught to tell another story from this harrowing period of Balkan history, a quietly devastating one that haunts with its slow burning revelation looming tragically out of the dreary landscape of longterm war.

This is a place full of dour-faced officials going through the motions in a country were hope has been washed away with the winter rain and bombs still cascade in the distance like incendiary stars. A few roadside blossoms tell us spring has arrived and tired-looking truck driver Vlada (Leon Lucev) is making his daily grind towards Belgrade from Kosovo with a load locked in his beaten-up lorry, the contents unknown. His instructions are clear : no stopping or diversions, he must keep a low profile until he reaches his destination.

On his way the journey starts uneventfully but at a crossing a smouldering car crash has blocked the the route to the capital. And a rather blasé teenager hitchhiker Pava (Pavle Čemerikić) offers to show him the way to his destination, tempting Vlada to bend the rules. As it happens Pava is clueless about map-reading, but doesn’t really mind that he has let Vlada down. Clearly, he represents the younger generation, shielded from the coldface of war from protective parents like Vlada, who, inured to disappointment and setbacks, motors on resigned, his face etched with the gruelling inevitability of his lot and eventually the pair start to bond.

The tone is brooding, morose and vaguely doom-laden as the men push on framed in close-up and on the widescreen by Tatjana Krstevski whose superb washed out visual also featured in Depth Two).  The two men drive on until Paja blithely announces his departure to hitchike to German and look for better things. But nature of his Vlada’s business requires him to be responsible and slowly the gruesome truth dawns making the inevitable realisation all the more haunting. MT

WINNER BEST DIRECTOR | MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 

The Chambermaid | La camarista (2018) **** Marrakech Film Festival 2018 Jury Prize | Interview

Dir: Lila Alviles | Cartol | Drama | Mexico | 90′

The Chambermaid plays the same thematic tune as two other festival winners this Summer: Golden Lion winner Roma and In A Distant Land which won the Golden Leopard at Locarno. They highlight the isolated and lonely lives of ordinary working people, often migrants – in this case, a Mexican national whose job in the capital detaches her from her loved ones. There is a distinct chilly humour to this acutely observed feature debut from Mexican actress, filmmaker and opera director Lila Alviles. It follows the daily grind of a hotel worker in one of the Mexico City’s 5 star hotels. Cartol (La Tirisia) plays Eve with infinite grace and good humour – in one astonishing scene she stands for seemingly ages outside a lift during one of those awkward silences – catching a hotel guest’s eye several times with an expression that speaks volumes.

Pristinely executed in the zen-like interiors of this palace of interior design, the film pictures an upmarket public as they often are behind the closed door of their luxury suites: ill-mannered, demanding and crude. Bereft of their clothes they also take leave of their humanity – never mind their courtesy. This is social politics laid bare. The Chambermaid also examines the crafty interactions between the low-level workers themselves: the cunning soft sales techniques of her colleague in the laundry who is trying to supplement her low-paid job by selling hand cream and Tupperware. Or just trying to con her into sharing the latest fad – in this case, a gadget that delivers a shock to stimulate a feel-good rush of endorphin. Like a some ghastly face to face equivalent of FarmVille.

The Chambermaid is set in Mexico City’s Presidente Intercontinental. Eve is hard-working and diligent, but if she tries harder she’ll be allocated the stratospheric, newly refurbished 42nd floor with views to die for and even infinity pools. Pinning her hopes on the promotion, she improves her efficiency but to no avail. The only bonus here is in the lost property cupboard. In one of her rooms Eve has found a red dress and hopes to take it home, if the owner doesn’t claim it. But her gruelling schedule leaves no time to be with her child, let alone meet a partner. Outwardly timid, Eve shows her true colours in one scene involving a window cleaner who has taken a shine to her – along with his windows. Eve acknowledges him at a distance. Her reaction is plausible – a little light relief in a sea of sameness. But Alviles restrains herself and keeps this convincing.

Stunningly captured by Carlos Rossini’s creative camerawork, this sealed and sanitised world has a strange beauty. Loosely based on the book Hotel, by Sophie Calle, The Chambermaid is a contemplative but well-paced cinema verité piece that resonates with a powerful message from both sides of the equation. Eve’s humdrum existence is piqued by moments of insight that show her in a different light as she endure the indignities of her role with calm forbearance and subdued silence. The magnificent skyscapes are hers to see but never to enjoy in her closeted existence, locked in an eternal bubble with no respite, until the final scene where the ambient sounds of exotic birdsong replace the refrigerated buzz of musak and air-conditioning.  MT

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | JURY PRIZE WINNER 

7 QUESTIONS FOR Lila Alviles – director, THE CHAMBERMAID

1: Some of the most interesting films are coming out of South America – your story is simple but has universal appeal

Alviles: When I’m asked to explain my film I realise its so simple and yet profound. The idea started 8 years ago when I saw book about a photographer who took photos of the things people had left behind in hotels. I’m originally from a theatre background so originally it was going to be a play, but then I decided to make a film – to show to the chambermaids working there what I had in mind – and in the end it turned into a feature film as I followed them through their daily lives for 6 years so I could understand their world.  

2: The hotel feels like a microcosm of Mexico or even Mexico City with its different social make-up – the rich the poor, men and women behaving badly – behaving well.

Alviles: Yes, you’re absolutely right – I had so many stories to tell and yet I had no formal training, or diplomas in film – so in some ways I was an outsider. But I was determined to make the film and that’s how it all happened, and then we premiered in Toronto. Now, I’m taking on the festival circuit. 

3. How did you finance the feature?

Alviles: The money came from my own savings but I was so passionate about my idea and so I went with it through intuition. Then my producer joined me and helped me finish the film and other producers joined us to promote it. And we filmed in 17 days and have no done 18 festivals.

4: The good thing about your film is that its minimal dialogue and meditative pacing make it an absorbing watch for all nationalities – viewers can sit back and just enjoy the visual story. And that’s its strength, apart from the intriguing narrative. Are you part of the filmmaking community in Mexico today – along with Alfonso Cuaron or Michel Franco?

Alviles: Yes but not for me! There’s a lot of great cinema in Mexico, I go twice a week to the cinema. Well it’s difficult because I’m the one who came out of nowhere with my film as I didn’t attend film school. But now my film has been shown in Morelia – Mexico’s leading film festival  – and gradually it’s gaining an international platform. For the first time in my life my work speaks for what I am – whether I’m a woman or not.

5: The central actress Gabriela Cartol is very strong – how did you cast her?

Alviles: We had instant chemistry but I knew she was right for the part instantly. I often chose newcomers for my roles. But with Gabriela we have a trust that makes everything happen.

6: Yes she holds that scene outside the life with humour and with dignity – it’s my favourite scene is it yours?

Alviles: Yes it is – it’s almost like a documentary. I wanted so much to be a filmmaker and now I realise that this is my thing!

7: Do you have a project in the pipeline?

Alviles: Well I originally come from theatre and opera – and I love music. My next story actually comes from a personal experience and I started writing it before The Chambermaid. It’s a documentary.

Lila Alviles | THE CHAMBERMAID | MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 

 

 

aKasha (2018) **** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

Dir: Hajooj Kuka | Cast: Abdallah Ahur, Ganja Chakado, Ekram Marcus, Kamal Ramadan | Drama | 78’

Akasha is the feature debut of South Sudanese documentarian Hajooj Kuka, Set in the Nuba Mountains in 2011, the energetic unorthodox comedy love story plays our over 24 hours in a war-torn rebel-held area of Sudan where the soldiers are keen to recruit young men to fight for their cause. Cockily charismatic Adnan (Ramadan) is not having any of it: a revolutionary both in his attitude to life and his guise as a soldier revelling in having shot down a MiG fighter plane with his favourite AK47 called ‘Nancy’. In order to avoid being corralled into the round-up (or “kasha”), he and his mate Absi (Chakado) decide to dress as women, much to the chagrin of Adnan’s long-suffering girlfriend Lina. But that’s not all Adnan, also experiments with the local weed to surreal effect in a flip and fun-loving and colourful caper that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is refreshingly anti-war. MT

IN COMPETITION | MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018  | LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

Lynne Ramsay at the Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

We spoke to Competition Jury member Lynne Ramsay to talk about her latest project and the film that most impressed her as a child growing up in Glasgow.

Known for her ground-breaking dramas RATCATCHER (1999), MORVERN CALLAR (2002) and WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011),  her latest film YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE won Best Screenplay (ex-aequo) and Best Actor for Joaquin Phoenix at Cannes Film Festival 2018. (she asked not to be recorded due to a heavy cold).

LYNNE RAMSAY | MAMOUNIA HOTEL | MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018

https://vimeo.com/305775148

 

The Giraffe (2018) ** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

Dir: Ahmed Magdy | 75’ | Drama, Egypt

Ahmed Magdy was the star turn in Ahmad Abdalla’s lively musical drama Microphone (2010), Giraffe is his first feature film after three short documentaries and a notable acting carreer. Magdy also wrote the script for the film, which has Amr Hosny, Shaza Moharram, Haidy Qousa, Salma Hassan, Rasha Magdy, Mohamed El-Badawy and Osama Gawesh.

THE GIRAFFE follows the rather lost and lonely character of Ahmed who roams around a ghostly Cairo, mostly at night. It’s an aesthetically appealing mood piece with some creative camera angles and a strong sense of place but the potent visual allure is not enough to carry its vague dramatic arc and shady characterisations. In the Egyptian city of disenchanted drifters, we are led to believe that Ahmed is trying to save a stranger in urgent need of an abortion but doesn’t tells us why, although it does highlight an Egyptian healthcare in crisis. The story drifts from one scene to the next and offers no real dramatic heft to retain our attention, despite its short running time. A plotline involving a giraffe that has disappeared from Giza Zoo also feels unconvincing and Ahmed appears to be lost in his own surreal madness without any plausible backstory. The female characters seem equally lost in their own issues: two appear to be seeking abortions but again this strand is enigmatic and largely unresolved and sadly does nothing to bolster the encouraging message of female empowerment that it coming out of the festival, supporting the film community across the Arab world. Magdy has a powerful artistic vision and THE GIRAFFE would work very well as a short but as a feature length drama it needs a stronger script to carry its potential message forward. MT 

SCREENING DURING MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 

Capernaum (2018) *** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

Dir: Nadine Labaki | Drama | 105’

Nadine Labaki gained international acclaim with her delightfully upbeat debut Caramel, set around a women’s hair salon in Beirut. Here she casts non-professional actors in a politically themed fable that sees a child resorting to the strong arm of the law. Just before the film screened at this year’s Marrakech Film Festival the news broke that the film would represent the Lebanon at the Academy Awards 2019.

This Cannes Jury Prize winner, and Golden Globe 2019 hopeful has the same stylish look as her previous two features but is a much more accomplished film that puts a watchable spin on dour social realism, although it does not quite reach the heights of perfection as the script resorts to disingenuous pandering in the slack final section. Subject-wise we are back to Daniel Blake territory although this is a much better crafted film than the one that bagged Ken Loach the Palme d’Or award several years ago. It also has to be said that CAPERNAUM does not bludgeon the life out of you with an agitprop hammer, despite a rather manipulative feel to proceedings. There are similarities too with Slumdog Millionaire in its upbeat fervour powered by cute and captivating performances from its newcomer children, and particularly from its lead Zain Al Rafeea.

Labaki structures her film round a trial, although this is not a courtroom procedural and most of the action is set in the chaotic streets or in cramped interiors where 12 year old Zain (Al Rafeea), who looks more like 8, is already serving a prison sentence for stabbing, is now suing his irresponsible parents for bringing him into the world. As one of several siblings, his parents never registered his birth. And all they seem to do is have children who they are unable to support and nourish, or even love. Despite cocky indignation and a bristling sense of entitlement to his rights, Zain is a likeable kid who lives with his parents Souad (Kawthar Al Haddad) and Selim (Fadi Kamel Youssef). Rather than school, he goes out to sell fruit juice in the market, where he also collects tramadol which the family grind into clothes-washing water which is then passed to Zain’s prison-serving elder brother. Later this tramadol water comes in as a usual way of earning money when Zain strikes out on his own. Although these circumstances are all startling to Western viewers, it has to be said that they are sadly run of the mill for millions of kids all over the world. But medication here in the Lebanon seems to be free at the point of collection, a fact which is difficult to believe given the current opiod crisis in the US and Europe.

After his younger sister Sahar is sold in marriage by his parents. Zain runs away and comes across Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw), an Ethiopian cleaner who is in Lebanon illegally. This strand introduces a migrant theme to the narrative which also feels timely. Zain offers to look after Rahil’s toddler while she is at  work but she later disappears leaving the two to fend for themselves in what turns out to be quite an adventure.

This is a watchable drama with some endearing turns from the ensemble kiddy cast who conjure up an intoxicating chemistry considering their lack of experience. But the star of the piece is Rafeea as the cheekily adamant Zain, a tribute to kids everywhere who feel life has dealt them an unfair start, and who set out to put matters right. MT

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | IN COMPETITION 2018

Irina (2018) **** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Nadejda Koseva; Cast: Martina Apostolova, Hristo Ushev, Kasiel Noah-Asher, Irina Jambonas, Alexander Kossev, Krassimir Dokov; Bulgaria 2018, 96 min.

Nadejda Koseva’s debut drama very much echoes the work of her compatriot Kristina Grozeva (The Lesson). Carried by talented newcomer Martina Apostolova in the title role, Koseva portrays a woman’s struggle with men and society in general. Unflinching and always ready to challenge inequality, Irina is full of passion and drive – but she must also discover what it means to love and to forgive.

Irina (Apostolava) is caught in a poverty trap. She works part-time in a restaurant near the capital Sofia, while work-shy husband Sasho (Ushev) is a stay at home father. Returning there one day, she surprises Shaso on the hop with her sister Lyudmila (Noah-Asher) but decides to turn a blind eye and instead invites the two for a drink: “I’m giving a party, I’ve been fired”. Shortly after, Shaso gets his comeuppance during a robbery at the nearby coal-mine, and is buried under the collapsed pit props. Irena saves his life, but suspects that their neighbour Varlam (Dokov) might have been responsible for the accident. But life goes on with Irina desperate for work but unsuccessful for the most part . After trying her luck as a prostitute, she answers a newspaper ad, and agrees to become a surrogate mother for payment. The wealthy couple, Eva (Jambonas) and Bozhidar (Kossev), are living in a parallel universe in Sofia, but Irina has nothing but contempt and judges them harshly. Another tragedy will bring her life firmly into focus.

For most of the time, Koseva conveys her message non-verbally, but in the opening scene, when Shasho badgers her for sex (but is happy to drink instead the beer Irina stole for him), she voices her unhappiness: “I wish I wasn’t alive”. Later on, symbolic gestures are enough: Bozhidar offers her a lift home from her gynaecological appointments in Sofia, but she prefers to take the bus. We see her refusal to be driven from the outside of the car, its windows one of many partitions, like that of the doctor’s office, which show her dis-enfranchisement. Somehow, these systemic fractures see Irina as a rank outsider trying to make her mark.

Apart from Apostolova’s strong performance, Kiril Prodanov’s striking images show that wealth can also be a trap: the many mirrors and alcoves are again partitions which shield  the inhabitants from the outside world. Koseva directs with great verve and confidence in this watchable debut, building on the experience gleaned from her short films. AS

IN COMPETITION | MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018      

 

 

Rojo (2018) **** Marrakech Film Festival 2018

Dir: Benjamin Naishtat | Cast: Alfredo Castro, Dario Grandinetti, Andrea Frigerio, Diego Cremonesi | Drama | Argentina | 109′

Benjamin Naishtat captures the existential angst of Argentina’s Dirty Wars era in a sinuous thriller that chews over some weighty social themes and distils them into this subtle smalltown crime drama.

ROJO follows his previous moody titles History of Fear (2014) and The Movement (2015). His fascination is exploring the psychological effects of instability: what happens to ordinary people and their relationships during political turmoil? The pre-title scene sees a series of people gradually emerging from a house bearing armfuls of valuables and pieces of furniture. Meanwhile, it’s Saturday night in Rio Seco, a town about 500 miles North of Buenos Aires. Local lawyer Claudio (a quietly- assured Dario Grandinetti) is waiting for his wife (Andrea Frigerio) in a busy local restaurant when an impatient single diner (Diego Cremonesi) demands he vacate the table. The situation soon escalates into a frosty contretemps but Claudio refuses to rise to the bait, calmly returning to the bar where he delivers an articulate verbal put down. But it doesn’t end there. After they leave the restaurant the man pursues them with bizarre consequences, and the story flips to three months later. This tight-knit middle class community is gradually exposed as one of astonishing volatility, a moral morass of intrigue and sculduggery: a brilliant metaphor for the state of the country in general during the country’s Dirty Wars of the mid 1970s. Chunks of land are being bought somewhat illegally, law-abiding locals are becoming minor crooks, and people are disappearing without reason – with no questions asked – as a pervasive paranoia creeps like wildfire through the unsettled community. ROJO lurks in a murky Seventies aesthetic, Naishtat creating a climate of menacing fear with a screeching score of strings (from Vincent van Warmerdam) and some cleverly crafted slo-mo sequences that suggest  docudrama. Uncertainty and danger loom at every corner in a clammy climate of fear and mistrust. 

In the final hour, Alfredo Castro’s seedy detective Sinclair insinuates himself into the scenario investigating the murder of the man in the restaurant “el hippie” who, it emerges, is also related to one of Claudio’s close friends Mabel. Channelling Colombo with his stealthy exits and sudden reappearances for “one more thing”, Sinclair sets the lawyer’s nerves on edge in an uncanny set-to that is alarming and totally unexpected. It’s a superbly sinister performance from Castro who sets the cat amongst the pigeons – without any justification, Claudio feels culpable yet has nowhere to go. As the various subplots intertwine the story hints at wider implications for the nation as a whole and Naishtat keeps the tension tightly wound in this unnerving and intriguing thriller. MT. 

IN COMPETITON AT MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | BEST DIRECTOR WINNER San Sebastian 2018 

 

Urgent (2018) **** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

Dir. Mohcine Besri. Switzerland-Morocco. 2018. 85 mins

A Casablanca hospital is the setting for this auteurish and visually appealing arthouse drama that connects a group of Moroccans from different walks of life and touches on universal themes of healthcare in crisis and how it affects the community’s physical and emotional wellbeing. URGENT is Moroccan writer-director Mohcine Besri second feature and his Golden Star hopeful at Marrakech Film Festival 17th edition. 

On a Casablanca motorway flyover a man is contemplating suicide when rather than trying to talk him out of his resolve a passing wayfarer simply asks him for his pack of cigarettes a then his scarf.  

Besri affecting drama establishes a graceful rhythm in its narrative of connecting stories and is gently moving without resorting to sentimentality or melodrama. His scientific training has given him a sense of spatial awareness and each corner of the frame is constantly put to use in providing interest throughout although the pace slackens in the final act. This subtle narrative inconsistency provides the subtle humour throughout, especially when the man’s suicide is thwarted by a lorry-full of unsuspecting sheep, which then causes a traffic jam where we meet the rest of the characters and the action moves to the more intimate setting of the hospital where the drama plays out before returning to its original location. 

Writing with Cécile Vargaftig Besri introduces to local fisherman Driss (Rachid Mustapha) and his wife Zahra (Fatma Zahra Banacer), who have come to the hospital with their little son Ayoub who is in danger of losing movement in his legs. The hope is that Driss’s brother Houcine (Saïd Bey), will provide for the treatment by paying them back a loan. Clearly this is not going to happen but Houcine feels guilty and the hospital cannot provide treatment for free due to stretched resources, and so they all prepare for the worst.

Meanwhile Ali, the motorway man, is recovering from his sprains and confiding in the hospital staff about his reasons for wanting to end his life. Clearly ‘heartache’ is the reason “but not a woman” and Besri wisely leaves this enigma hanging in the air: They won’t let you die in peace. And when you want to live…”

The hospital is packed with patients and their families but 

unwisely Besri lets his antihero Saïd Bey’s Houcine off the hook. URGENT is full of interesting interactions, a sort of arthouse version of BBC TV’s Casualty soon develops this enjoyable and affecting story elliptically to its close. MT

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Benjamin Naishtat interview | Marrakech Film Festival

We spoke to Benjamin Naishtat about his San Sebastian Best Director winner ROJO, a moody socio-political thriller set during Argentina’s Dirty Wars in the mid 1970s.

ROJO is now on general release via New Wave

Rojo (2018) **** Marrakech Film Festival 2018

Bergamo Film Meeting 

All Good (Alles is gut) ***

Dir: Eva Trobisch | Cast: Aenne Schwarz, Andreas Dohler, Tilo Nest, Lina Wendel | Germany |

Eva Trobisch’s All Good, is about the dark night of the soul in the aftermath to unimaginable tragedy. Something happens, we think we can deal with it, and it goes away – at least for a while – only to return with a vengeance, as grief, anger and finally depression overwhelm and repress the human spirit.

After an ordinary night out at a school reunion Janne (Aenne Schwarz) is raped by a seemingly innocuous old school friend. Martin (Hans Löw) is now a professional, corporate type who duly accompanies her back home after the party. Both are a little tipsy but the evening did not hint at romance or even mild flirtatiousness. So it’s odd that Martin, almost as an afterthought – decided to makes a move.  After a sustained attempt at seducing her, Janne finally acquiesces to Martin’s advances – the scene is well played and captures all the nuanced undertones of an unwanted encounter. In the full light of day, Janne reflects with distaste and then mild anger at Martin’s presumptuousness. But feels awkward about discussing it with her boyfriend Piet (Andreas Döhler) who’s absorbed in his own dramas.

In her feature debut, which won Best Newcomer at Locarno 2018, Trobisch uses these subtle shifts in human response to create a thoughtful and absorbing drama that kicks over the ashes of suppressed anguish with worthwhile insight and impressive command. All Good is just that, Janne fronts up well to her trauma but what lies beneath is quite a different scenario. And Janne’s  increasing and unacknowledged exasperation turns slowly to simmering rage.

At work, Janne’s new boss (Tilo Nest) is also preoccupied with his own issues, and so she goes about her work with resignation and determination not to let the episode overwhelm her as a young, intelligent and independent woman in the 21st century. But life but goes on and Janne will not give up. A surprisingly mature debut with some strong performances, especially from Aenne Schwartz in the lead. MT

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | IN COMPETITION 2018

 

 

The Dead and Others (2018) **** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

Docudrama | 114’ | Brazil/Portugal

Directed by Palme d’Or winner João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora, THE DEAD AND THE OTHERS is an extraordinary docudrama based on their experiences of living for nearly a year in Pedra Branca, a village inhabited by the indigenous community of the Kraho people in Northern Brazil. The Kraho very much want to continue their way of life and traditions in their rural community, striving to be self-sufficient. Their plight very much connects with a global narrative of survival for small communities all over the world.

Fifteen year old Ihjãc has been suffering from nightmares since he lost his father and in the opening scene he walks through the rain forest in the light of the moon. A distant sound of chanting comes through the palm trees. His father’s voice calls him to the waterfall. It is now time to organise the funeral feast so his father’s spirit can depart to the village of the Dead and mourning can cease. Although his baby son Tepto was born in the local hospital, Ihjãc still spends most of his life with his family in the remote forest and although the village elders are urging him to fulfil his duty to undergo the crucial process of becoming a shaman, Ihjãc escapes back to the local town to avoid the transition. There, far from his people and culture, he faces the reality of being an indigenous native in contemporary Brazil.

With its themes of loss, displacement and cultural identity, this is an masterful if rather overlong piece of filmmaking that feels woozily impressionistic but also strangely urgent in its message, glowingly conveyed in vibrant high contrast cinematography MT

SCREENING DURING MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL | VIEWS FROM MOROCCO AND THE Ottoman Empire | THE 11th CONTINENT

Marrakech Film Festival 2018 | Conversations with….

To celebrate the 17th edition – 30 November to 8 December – MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL has introduced an interactive new talk series.

CONVERSATION WITH is an initiative that offers a space for expression, exchange and reflection with screen legends and film luminaries:

Martin Scorsese (b.1942, US)

Director, writer, actor and producer is one of the most influential directors working today and also one of the most generous in his support of talented emerging filmmakers. In a multi-award winning career spanning nearly 60 years his work has been inspired by his early life growing up with Italian parents in New York City in crime dramas such as Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976) and Goodfellas (1990), and his own religious faith as in Silence (2016) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). He has captured the spirit of legends such as boxing supremo JakeLaMotta in Raging Bull (1980), Howard Hughes in The Aviator (2004) and the Dalai Lama in Kundun (1997). His animated feature Hugo (2011) was dedicated to his daughter Francesca. His thriller Cape Fear (1991) has one of the most frightening performances in film history courtesy of his long time collaborator Robert De Niro (Max Cady) and Shutter Island (2010) that was his stylistic tribute to both Out of the Past (1947) and Vertigo (1958). His other regular collaborators have been Leo DiCaprio and Bernhard Herrmann who created iconic scores for Taxi Driver and Cape Fear. His latest crime drama The Irishman based on the death of Jimmy Hoffa, is shortly to be released on Netflix.

Guillermo Del Toro (b. 1964, Mexico)

Del Toro started making programmes for Mexican TV before he directed and produced his first feature film Dona Herlinda and Her Son (1986) at the age of 21. Learning his make-up techniques from The Exorcist’s Dick Smith he got his first break in 1993 with Cronos which went on to win the FIPRESCI prize at Cannes. Since then he has won two Oscars in 2018 for The Shape of Water, a remake of Jack Arnold’s Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). He is currently working on a documentary about the filmmaker Michael Mann.

Cristian Mungiu (b. 1968, Romania)

Screenwriter, director and producer Cristian Mungiu rose to international fame in 2007 with his bleak drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days that shocked audiences with its raw depiction of backstreet abortion in communist Romania. He was the first Romanian director to win the Palme d’Or. Since then he has made a series of films exposing moral degradation in Romanian society. Beyond the Hills (2012) won his Best Screenplay at Cannes in year of its release, and his thorny depiction of family life Graduation followed four years later winning his Best Director at Cannes 2016 (ex aequo with Olivier Assayas for Personal Shopper). 

Yousry Nasrallah (b.1952, Egypt)

Born into a Coptic Christian family in Cairo, Nasrallah started his career as a film critic in Beirut in the late 1970s, soon becoming assistant  to Youssef Chahine whose company Mirs would go on to produce his films that focus on Socialism, Islamic fundamentalism and expatriation. His award-winning debut Summer Thefts (1985) was described as “the only non-ideological film on Nasserism in Egypt”. El Medina (1999) describes the struggle for creative realisation of a young Egyptian actor and After the Battle competed for the Palme d’Or in 2012.

Agnes Varda (b.1928 Belgium) 

Director, writer and photographer Agnes Varda has made over 50 films in her celebrated career. She was born in Belgium but moved to France as a baby before settling in Paris where she eventually married Jacques Demy and became one of the protagonists of the French New Wave with her feature debut La Point Courte (1951). She went on to make a series of award-winning dramas focusing on life and love: Cleo de 5 a 7 (1962), Le Bonheur (1965); L’une chante, l’autre pas (1977) and Jacquot de Nantes (1991) a biopic drama dedicated to her husband. Her latest documentary Faces Places (2017) is a rural ride through France.

Robert De Niro. (b. 1943, US)

One of the greatest actors of all time, Robert De Niro grew up in Manhattan where he launched his acting career in Brian De Palma’s The Wedding Party at the age of 26. By 1974 he had won the New York Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor in Bang the Drum Slowly, the National Society of Film Critic for Mean Streets, and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather, Part II. In 1980 he won his second Oscar, as Best Actor, for Raging Bull.

De Niro’s next project will be Netflix’s The Irishman in which he stars and is producing with Martin Scorsese, for their ninth collaboration. In 2009, De Niro received the Kennedy Center Honor for his distinguished acting and the Stanley Kubrick Award from the BAFTA Britannia Awards. De Niro was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2011 Golden Globe Awards. He served as the jury president of the 64th Cannes Film Festival.

De Niro is also known for his Tribeca Production company and the Tribeca Film Festival, which he founded with Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff. Through Tribeca Productions, De Niro has developed projects on which he has served as producer, director and actor. Tribeca’s A Bronx Tale in 1993 marked De Niro’s directorial debut. De Niro also directed The Good Shepherd in 2006.

During the interview De Niro confessed to not liking smoking on set. And has never had trouble keeping his personal life, personal. “Don’t bring your drama to the set, put it into your performance”.

https://vimeo.com/303947159/d498bda114

Cannes Film Festival Creative Director Thierry Fremaux.

Thierry Fremaux has come a long way since joining the Lumiere Institute in Lyon. The Fast-talking artistic force behind Cannes also directs, along with (president) Bertrand Tavernier, the Lyon-based Lumiere Festival that each year celebrates the vitality of classic film (restored films, retrospectives and tributes). Fremaux has even made a film about the brothers (LUMIERE 2016). who were the first filmmakers with their ground-breaking invention, the cinematograph. The legendary brothers not only invented the technique of making film, but also the art and the way of bringing people together in a theatre. Thierry explains how the aim of the Lumiere Festival was to connect the past with the present – as digital internet platforms, and mobile phones now compete with the classic way of crafting films. To be ‘healthy’ with contemporary cinema we have to look to the past, and that is why Lumiere came about – back in 2009

As artistic director at Cannes his work is much more difficult than it was 30 years ago, not simply because of the volume of films presented to the festival (the team selects the line-up down from over 1800 films) but also the sheer variety. And if Cannes misses a potential new auteur then this becomes a big deal – not just a small faux pas. As he explains: “Cannes is an international festival set in France and we try to embrace the ever-widening variety of film from across every continent. In the 1990s film noir was being re-invented in Hong Kong by Phil Joanou (State of Grace), inspired by Pierre Melville. Each time a young filmmaker makes a breakout hit – the spotlight will be on him, and we can’t afford to miss that”. “Pan’s Labyrinth came as a big shock to many festival goers, as it was the kind of style that had never really been invited before, and it really surprised people about the way forward we were taking – also with animation and with documentary”. Most films “choose” Thierry rather than the other way round, as passionate filmmaking eventually shows through, as much as talent. But certain films will never be right for the competition. “You have to ask the question – is it good or not for the film to be in Cannes. Also is it suitable for the audience – or for the press – we have in Cannes”. 

At the moment Thierry works with a group of 8, sometimes 10 people to make the final Cannes selection (equally split by gender). “The culture of making films is not that same for a man as for a woman so gender equality is absolutely vital as we move to 2020. This year’s Cannes selection was criticised but we have a duty to put new names on the map. And we have to adapt Cannes for the future and to make it comfortable for the audience and the press”. Clearly there will more changes, but Thierry assures us that they will be for the better. MT

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL | 30 NOVEMBER – 8 DECEMBER 2018 | INTERVIEW AT THE MAMOUNIA HOTEL POOLSIDE, MARRAKECH 2018

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

Red Snow | Akai Yuki (2018) **** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

An island community is still haunted by the mysterious disappearance of a little boy 30 years after he went missing, in this spookily stylish Japanese crime thriller. 

Premiering at Marrakech Film Festival RED SNOW is the feature debut of Sayaka Kai known for her award-winning short Ondine’s Curse (2014). The young auteur quickly establishes a sinister mood in the eerie snowbound location where her troubled characters are all victims of their own past and still fraught with pent-up emotion and debilitating psychological scars that threaten to break out and reveal a truth too ugly to bear.

Themes of unreliable memory, child abuse and mental illness play out in the sober, icy landscapes where Takumi went missing three decades previously leaving a mood of anger, bitterness and mistrust amongst the broken inhabitants. 

The main suspect is an eccentric female cleaner with an abusive childhood – seen in repetitive flashbacks where we witness the cruelty of her sociopathic mother. Not only is she generally unpopular with the rest of the islanders, but she is also in a toxic relationship with an older man who is purportedly her pimp. And the more Takumi’s brother urges her to share her recollection of what happened, the greater her reluctance to discuss the crime, or even talk about her memory of it. 

But when a reporter arrives on the island to investigate the cold case, clues and truth start to mingle with a trail of other unsolved crimes including insurance fraud and a devastating fire. It soon appears that Takumi’s reclusive brother, a talented lacquering specialist with a workshop close to the desolate shores, could also be involved in the disappearance. 

There are distant echoes of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman of the Dunes to this baleful piece that seems to languish in its own misery. YAS-KAS’ atmospheric score sets a sober tone occasionally giving way to scenes of lingering silence thats seems to accentuate the bleakness of the remote settings. Sayaka Kai makes use of a re-occurring luxuriant red motif that connects the lushly lacquered boxes with the blood of Takumi’s presumptive murder that stains the mournful flashbacks haunting his brother’s dreams and memories, and recalling that fateful day when he left home on a brief errand. 

A strong cast supports lead Masatoshi Nagase as the man trying to solve the mystery. RED SNOW’s visual aesthetic is way beyond what we can usually expect from Japanese first features marking Sayaka Kai as a talented auteur in the making. MT

WORLD PREMIERING AT MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Ça C’est l’Amour (2018) *** Marrakech Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Claire Burger; Cast: Bouli Lanners, Sarah Henochsberg, Justine Lacroix, Cecile Remy-Boutang, Celia Mayer; France/Belgium 2018, 98 min.

Claire Burger joint project Party Girl won the Camera d’Or in 2014. Her debut as solo director is another passionate family story, but this one suffers from thematic over-loading and a certain lack of structure, despite a fine central performance from Bouli Lanners. Just as the French title implies – “That is what love is” – Burger shows true love in all its forms: from the obsessive and  possessive to the pre-sexual, always reminding us, that none of these is ideal.   

Set in Forbach, northern France, where the Belgian filmmaker spend her formative years, this starts off as the usual dysfunctional family affair. Working in local government Lanners is a bumptious father to daughters Nikki (Henochsberg) and Frida (Laxroix). His regular spates with his long-suffering wife Armelle (Remy-Boutang) who works in the theatre, finally prove too much  and she walks out suddenly, leaving Mario in the lurch. Nikki is seventeen, and ready to fly the nest – despite Mario’s severe reservations. Nikki keeps boyfriend Nazim at a distance – after a kiss she tells him “not to get any ideas”. Tomboy Frida, the younger, wants to be ‘Daddy’s girl’ but also leave home for good. She has a more complicated relationship: girl friend Alex (Mayer), might be more experienced in love, but she can be a pain in the neck for Frida, who wants total acceptance. Mario is unable to come to terms with living without Armelle, following her to the theatre and making it clear that he expects her go come back. Meanwhile, his relationship with his daughters deteriorates. Clearly something will have to give, not only in the lives of these Belgians – but also in the film’s running time. There is really too much going on in her over-stuffed narrative where marginal characters are introduced – and incidents at Mario’s workspace spiral out of control. Real Love simply runs out of space. The inter-familiar conflicts, as presented in first act are just about enough. Burger somehow fails to find a structure to do justice to her main characters. That said, there’s plenty of humour to save this from veering into a dire lecture about role models. Lanners excels in the comedy moments – the same goes for Henochsberg and Lacroix, the latter leaving the strongest impression on the feature. Burger’s error’s are mostly due to her lack of experience: we can certainly look forward to more from her in future.

SCREENING DURING MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018

     

Srbenka (2018) **** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Nebojsa Slijepcevic; Documentary with Oliver Frljic; Croatia 2018, 70 min.

Director/writer/DoP Nebojsa Slijepcevic (Gangster of Love) explores peer violence towards children  of different nationalities in Croatia, and examines how the generation born after the war copes with the dark shadows of history. 

The documentary is set in a Zagreb theatre, during the rehearsals of a play called Aleksandra Zec where the star turn is a Serbian girl who was murdered together with her whole family in 1991, just before the outbreak of war between Serbia and Croatia after the implosion of Yugoslavia. The murder of Aleksandra Zec and her family was an act of social cleansing, and Frljic wanted to show how the wounds of the war are still influencing daily life, not only in Croatia. One actor asks: “Do I become a Serb, because I am in a play about a murdered Serbian girl?” During the rehearsal and on the eve of the premiere, right-wing protesters threatened the director and his girl friend with violence. They were holding up placards saying “Why not a play about the 86 kids of Vukovar”, who were killed during a bombing raid in the civil war. Frljic wanted to detach actors from the play itself, so he let all of them talk about their feelings about the play and the Civil War. Four 12-year old girls – the same age as Aleksandra when she was killed – were also taking part in the play. They too were asked about their feelings, and some of them comment about their fear of Roma – “because when they break their arm, it heals quicker than ours, or “they are like lizards, when they lose a tail, it grows back quickly.”

Their role in the play is to ask the dead girl about her feelings towards her assailants. One of the girls has nightmares after rehearsals, she dreams about killing her sister and taking her organs out. They all admit to bullying Roma children at school. One of girl reports, that a class mate of her did not go to Catholic RE, and was called a Jew. One of the quartet, Nina Batanic, is actually Serbian, she has hidden this from her classmates, particularly from the boy who sits next to her and told her “I like to kill all Serbians, cutting their throat with my teeth”. But Nina is so brave she admits at the evening of the premiere that she is Serbian. After the play is over the camera follows her lingering on the way home.

Even after 25 years, the war is still the central issue. The fear of “the other” is kept alive by right-wing Nationalists, who see anybody who is not Croatian as an enemy. The trauma lets the violence simmer permanent under the surface. Frljic and Slijepcevic see their project as therapeutic, hoping, that when questions about nationality and minorities are brought to the surface, the resentment of ‘others’ might be reduced. But the four girls are living proof, how long the way to anything like a reconciliation still is. Srbenka is brave, but leaves little hope for the future –  and that goes for the whole of Europe. AS

SCREENING AT MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | WINNER OF SARAJEVO FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | | SCREENING DURING DOC LEIPZIG.

Marrakech Film Festival 2018 | This year’s line-up..

The Marrakech International Film Festival has now revealed its 17th edition line-up  which runs from 30 November until the 8 December 2018.  

The competition focus is on international independent cinema, showcasing the latest from the Middle East: Mohcine Besri’s URGENT, Nejib Belkhadhi’s LOOK AT ME, and THE GIRAFFE from Egyptian filmmaker Amed Magdy. These will compete alongside sophomore and award-winning titles from this year’s international festival circuit. The 14 titles include London Film Festival winner JOY (Sudebeh Mortezai), Warsaw Film Festival awarded IRINA (Nadejda Koseva) and ALL GOOD (Eva Trobisch) which won the Best First Feature prize at Locarno 2018. Six of the films competing for the Marrakech Etoile d’Or (Gold Star) are directed by women.

The festival opens with a gala screening of Julian Schnabel’s AT ETERNITY’S GATE (above) starring Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh. There will also be another chance to see Alfonso Cuarón’s Venice Golden Lion winner ROMA, Peter Farrelly’s GREEN BOOK which stars Viggo Mortensen, and Nadine Labaki’s CAPERNAUM, which won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

There will be 17 special screenings including Gonzalo Tobal’s THE ACCUSED and Paul Dano’s WILDLIFE. Also on the specials list is EXT. NIGHT the latest drama from Ahmad Abdalla (Microphone (2010), Heliopolis (2009). Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego’s enchanting BIRDS OF PASSAGE will also be there (below).

A new strand entitled THE 11th CONTINENT aims to highlight local Moroccan fare in its Panorama section. Amongst others there will be the recent Cannes Doc Alliance winner SRBENKA, Brazilian documentary THE DEAD AND THE OTHERS, Lee Chang-dong’s Cannes breakout hit BURNING, Austrian historical drama ANGELO fresh from San Sebastian, and my personal favourite Locarno 2018 thriller TEGNAP (YESTERDAY) . 

The outdoor screenings in the famous JEMAA EL FNA square will include Martin Scorsese’s Dalai Lama drama KUNDUN (1997), Brian De Palma’s THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987), Youssef Chahine’s ALEXANDRIA, AGAIN AND FOREVER (1989) and there will be classics from Agnes Varda, Martin Scorsese, Robin Wright and Robert De Niro in the tributes section. MT

COMPETITION

GOOD GIRLS (Las niñas bien) | Mexico By Alejandra Márquez Abella

JOY | Austria By Sudabeh Mortezai

DIANE | USA By Kent Jones

THE LOAD (Teret) | Serbia, France, Croatia, Iran, Qatar By Ognjen Glavonić

THE CHAMBERMAID (La camarista) | Mexico By Lila Avilés

RED SNOW (Akai yuki) | Japan By Sayaka Kai

LOOK AT ME (Fi ‘ainaya  Regarde-moi) | Tunisia By Nejib Belkhadhi

IRINA | Bulgaria By Nadejda Koseva

VANISHING DAYS (Màn yóu) | China By Zhu Xin

URGENT (Tafaha al-kail | Une urgence ordinaire) / Morocco, Switzerland By Mohcine Besri

ROJO | Argentina, Brazil, France, the Netherlands, Germany By Benjamín Naishtat

AKASHA | Sudan, South Africa, Germany, Qatar By hajooj kuka

THE GIRAFFE (La ahdun hunak) | Egypt By Ahmed Magdy

ALL GOOD (Alles ist gut) | Germany By Eva Trobisch

THE MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 30 NOVEMBER – 8 DECEMBER 2018

Marrakech International Film Festival | 30 November – 8 December 2018

Marrakech International Film Festival (FIFM) is back this year under the artistic control of its newly appointed director Christoph Terhechte. It will run from 30 November until 8 December 2018.

Terhechte comes with considerable arthouse experience and impeccable credentials. He was director of Berlinale’s Forum section from 2001 to 2018 and also a member of the Berlinale Competition selection committee.

This year’s 17th Edition will also honour Robert De Niro, Agnès Varda and Robin Wright along with Moroccan filmmaker Jillali Ferhati. The festival president is James Gray. International stars in the shape of Martin Scorsese, Guillermo del Toro, Cristian Mungiu, and Yousry Nasrallah will also be gracing the Moroccan city and Medina. Along with Cannes luminary Thierry Fremaux.

US director James Gray will head the International Competition jury which includes actress Dakota Johnson (50 shades of Grey, Suspiria), Indian actress Ileana D’Cruz (Barfi!), Lebanese filmmaker and visual artist Joana Hadjithomas (I Want to See), British director Lynne Ramsay (We Need To Talk about Kevin, A Beautiful Day), Moroccan director Tala Hadid (House in the Fields), French director Laurent Cantet (The Class– Palme d’Or 2008), German Actor Daniel Brühl and Mexican director Michel Franco (April’s Daughter).

From November 30th to December 8th, these nine celebrities will select the recipient of L’Étoile d’Or 2018 among the 14 first and second feature films in competition.

The Marrakech International Film Festival has been one of the biggest events devoted to Moroccan cinema and the locality offers favourable conditions for global film production. Since its inception in 2003 the most prestigious names in world cinema have been hosted and celebrated in Marrakech and include Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Marion Cotillard and Johnny Halliday. Back in the day, Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie made Marrakech their winter holiday destination and were hosted at the world famous La Mamounia Hotel.

With its fabulous climate, medieval walled Medina dating back to the Berber Empire, exotic palaces and lush gardens (Yves St Laurent designed the Majorelle), Marrakech is the ideal location for an international winter film festival. MT

30 NOVEMBER-8 DECEMBER 2018 | MARRAKECH | MOROCCO

 

Diane (2018) ***

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 veering on the maudlin side. 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 (veteran star Estelle Parsons does her best). All in all, this is a well-played and acutely observed domestic drama that sympathetically reflects the world we live in now. MT

Premiering at Locarno 2018 | Screening during MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Green Book (2018) ****

Dir: Peter Farelly | Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Curry | Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardelini, Sebastian Maniscalco | US Drama | 130′

An African American classical pianist and his Italian working class driver travel towards better understand in this charismatically crafted road movie from Peter Farelly (Dumb and Dumber).

Green Book is the latest in crop of racially aware films and certainly one of the most moving and enjoyable. It sees the suave classical musician and a bulky Bronx bouncer continually at odds in a stylish road movie that travels to greater understanding in the US Deep South of the Sixties. Paradoxically, the bouncer is white, the pianist black. But it doesn’t end there. There is also a delicately handled homophobic issue at play. The movie is given extra mileage and a hint of humour by a distinctive duo of Viggo Mortensen and Ali Mahershala.

The title refers to Victor Hugo Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book, which was published annually from 1936-1966 to advise black travellers where they could safely graze and stay during the dangerous days of Jim Crow and the sundown laws. Nick Vallelonga bases his script on a real friendship that arose during a tour made by the regal musician Don Shirley (Ali) and his driver who remained close until their deaths in 2013. Being classically trained, the Jamaican-born Shirley could turn his hand to tinkling the ivories in any musical style from classic to impro music, and prides himself on his aristocratic background and fluency in several languages. But his Southern tour needs the protection of a white man and Viggo Mortensen’s straight-talking family geezer Tony Villalonga fits the bill.

In his latest drama Peter Farelly isn’t afraid to experiment or go to the dark side of racialism but also knows when to pull back. Sean Porter’s luminous cinematography really sets the night on fire with his glowing glimpses of New York, Alabama and Louisiana as the two motor south in their turquoise Cadillac.

Character-wise this is a knockout: Viggo Mortensen really inhabits the short-fused Italian who is never without a cigarette or a meal in his mouth. In contrast Mahershala exudes style and panache as the prim but troubled troubadour who lives in a penthouse above Carnegie Hall, decorated with his personal throne and elephant tusks. 

Musical references are plenty and Shirley “plays like Liberace but better.” and these musical sequences from Chopin to Jazz are so convincing we’re left wondering whether playing the paino is another of this Mahershala’s many talents. MT

Screening NATIONWIDE | MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 premiere

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